Seattle locals Ivan and Alyosha opened their convention set with an acoustic version of Be Your Man. The harmonies were lifting even if the song’s message was a little strange for convention goers. But I guess that’s what you get for a corporate gig.
They played a fully plugged in show during the opening night event in a big industrial ballroom the likes that are found in the bowels of every convention center. Their set was heavy with tracks from their 2013 album All the Time We Had although they did divert for a glorious version of the Beatles’ Don’t Let Me Down.
The venue was a challenge. The vocals survived in the cavernous (and mostly empty) hall, but the sound mix suffered. The bass amp was way too intense and the mic on the kick drum vibrated the entire room. Songs like On My Way didn’t get the treatment deserved. That said, the band put on a respectable show.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: [Canada] I obsess over this band. I hear them everywhere – in everything. But they’re totally unique – totally new – to me – still. This band is in my heart and I’m in theirs. They defined my mid 20s and I defined theirs … (not really- but it sounded good). I was introduced to them in my early Austin days and never got over them. Introduced by a guy recently released from jail for dealing pot, working on a communal farm outside of Austin, and still trying to figure out how to reconcile living as a human being in the trap of society. Ironically, Godspeed You’s darkness is my perfect antidote when I feel most dark – the sweet comfort of nihilism bundled up in one little band. So getting to see them was a minor dream come true. Unfortunately, or maybe apropos, I was in kind of a fiercely bad mood – Flame claims I was being all sorts of unruly establishing our place in the line to get in – I don’t have any patience for anarchists who can’t figure out how lines work. I actually don’t know much about the band beyond the fact that they’re a Canadian collective and that the only people I meet who have seen them live in the NE US. And that they put all the other chamber rockers to shame (e.g., Explosions in the Sky). Their albums have long unwieldy names like “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven,” “Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress,” “Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend.” I imagine they started the wave of psych folk bands with similarly ridiculous names for their albums and songs. Not to mention their inconveniently placed exclamation point. So they took the stage – the crowd depleted by the onslaught of Vast Plains – with little fanfare, no costume, and no interaction with the crowd. Bombastic. Possibly a little more abrasive than their recorded material I’ve heard. Flame kind of broke of my heart when he pointed out they have somewhat of a NIN sound – which they did, at least live … I realize again and again lately that my favorite bands as an adult relate in at least some way to my teenage obsession with industrial music. And then a girl screamed, “Fuck you, you motherfucker!” It almost sounded like a set up but the fight continued in little intervals – I was embarrassed for America – the Canadians don’t need further confirmation of our loser-ness. Fortunately, soon after, a surly woman & man were escorted past us. They were classic instruments with electronic sound accompaniment. Flame was right to point out they sounded like Pink Floyd, the earlier weirder Pink Floyd. They are gripping – they have a repetitive drone quality like Wu-Tang – of course in an entirely different format… but the same all the same. You are drawn in and can become entranced. I was fascinated by a guy to our left head thrashing the whole time to what was a pretty unfollowable beat. They are an individual experience sort of music. Local reviews acclaimed their film show but I didn’t find it remarkable – repetitive black and white footage, mostly notable for its light contrasts or speed. Too bad because this band does spoken loops really well, they didn’t play any of those songs – I only fully recognized one song. I’ll still listen to Godspeed You when I need perspective, but as for this show, Vast Plains endures.
[Hell, Down Below] I came out of the bathroom and Flame was nowhere to be seen. I finally decided to see if he’d already gone in, pushed open the double doors, and was hit with a wall of hellish noise – an inferno, if you will. I pushed the doors back against the inferno, positive Flame wouldn’t have ventured in there on his own – settled back to wait. Oh but he had. Seconds later, he wandered out, twitching. We stared into each other’s eyes, nodded, and ventured in together – hand in hand – lights pulsing – abrasive music. Pound. Pound. Pound. All one repetitive screeching incessant enduring seizure-inducing tone. We wandered around, disoriented, perturbed. Pretended to look at the table of anarchist books. I eventually just had to face away from the stage – which was fine – there was plenty of people-watching to do. The only action on the stage was a dark figure huddled over a big metallic suitcase. The sucker crowd [anarchist/ punk/ intellectual – read, in black or army green clothing, aloof and nonchalant but exceedingly kind – not to mention the girl in the Laura Ingalls dress with a crocheted squirrel hat (at least she was unique)] was committed to pretending like it was all completely normal – just standard fare. Flame couldn’t take it: “Bam – that part was amazing – Oh, remember that one part!?!” It was so awful, we couldn’t stop laughing. I decided I had to partake and forced myself to stare at the lights, seizures be damned – in the end, it was transportative. In a way that left you depleted, limp, scared. I kind of liked it. The weird thing was, I was pretty sure it was an intro from Godspeed You, designed to break us down – completely- before they lifted us up. And it wasn’t – the set list, only available in-venue, listed Vast Plains. Vast Plains has no internet presence but might end up being the more memorable part of the show than Godspeed You.
The cult of Muse is something I almost understand after seeing them live. To be sure, a variety of ages and income levels came out to see their blazing road show, a mix of theatrical lights, flying set pieces and the delivery of sonic crescendo that never abates until they say it does.
I never really thought of Muse as a rock band until they walked on stage to the fanfare of flying drones and a blinding, hypnotic light show. It’s weird to think of it now but three days ago, but I didn’t think they could rock. I expected the theatricality and the crowd singalong goodness of Starlight. But I didn’t expect Psycho to shred through me like Enter Sandman or the lovesick take on Madness. Through all the layers of noise from the stage, Madness penetrated as a ballad in a way I never noticed before. The point is…this is ARENA rock.
It was a lot to take in. Things flew, balls bounced, lights flickered and screens dissolved into into sexy deconstructed women that would have worked hard for a James Bond film. The band used every inch of their elongated stage, literally running from one end to the other in an effort to connect with everyone all at once. The night’s best moments included Uprising followed by a Drones deluxe track The Globalist that closed the main set.
The band’s style is largely carefully pitched frenzy. Back to back new songs Psycho and Dead Inside set the tone early. Even a ostensibly slower track like Mercy was offered up like a tornado. And when you present that big, it takes a lot of planning and meticulous execution. The result was visionary but cold. It lacked any sense of spontaneity. There were wondrous moments and it was an incredibly entertaining night out. But moments like the [JFK] interlude were more confusing than illuminating. I saw glimpses of the cult of Muse, but I’m not quite sure I made it over the threshold to a convert.
Straight Outta Compton Intro
Hysteria/Heartbreaker/Back in Black
Map of the Problematique/Who Knows Who
The 2nd Law: Isolated System
Voodoo Child/Supermassive Black Hole
Time Is Running Out
Knights of Cydonia
As a live band, X Ambassadors swivel and gyrate between frothy punk energy and a surprisingly macho emo awkwardness – all delivered with the volume cranked way up. They present the kind of music that becomes your theme song for a really bad day – though I mean that in the best possible way. Sam Harris roamed the stage like a caged animal ready to pounce on the fool stupid enough to violate his space. That vibe permeated the opening set, from the plaintive Hang On to the pulsing – but mostly boring – closer Jungle. The best of the night was a primal take on Love Songs Drug Songs that soared high above the other songs in delivery and the falsetto-driven Gorgeous. Of course, they played Renegades because how could you not?
Love Songs Drug Songs
Touring with a full band seemed like a good way to flesh out the new Indigo Girls album One Lost Day and revive some of their best stuff from a catalog almost thirty years deep. But it was on the songs where one or more of the band was off stage where the best songs of the night appeared. They took a deep dive into their catalog, mostly avoiding hits and spending a long chunk on the new album. The setlist hasn’t varied much night to night – another effect of touring with a band that have to learn a lot of songs. The result was uneven and strangely lackluster.
There were moments though, the shining star was a finger-bleeding take on Faye Tucker about halfway through the set. The audience were on their feet for The Wood Song and campfire singalongs of Watershed and Galileo. Kid Fears, with Sean Kelley as a stand-in for Michael Stipe, created the wintry, wistful sentiment that the song can evoke anywhere, anytime. Happy in the Sorrow Key was offered with more pop than dirge – a flip of the studio version. And The Rise of the Black Messiah was a spine chilling take on a song as desperate and aching as its subject matter.
But the early songs fell a little flat, as though they were finding their way through Fill it Up Again and Moment of Forgiveness. While I appreciate the audience-sings-a-verse tactic of Power of Two, it didn’t quite amp the energy in the room. The new songs didn’t quite get the band back on track. Findlay, Ohio 1968 was wasted and managed nothing special with the full band behind it and in following Olympia Inn, caused an almost fatal power drain from the stage. The worst offender of the new material was Learned It On Me. Easily the brightest pop star of the new album, the band stripped it of the cocky swagger and never found the energy that should be requisite for a f-you song. Things slowed up considerably more than once with a boring take on a boring song Starkville and the beautiful but slow-motion Deconstruction. Yes, closing with pounding Ozilline and always winning Closer to Fine ended the night on a high, but it wasn’t matched by much that came before it.
Fill It Up Again
This Train Is Bound for Glory
Power of Two
Findlay, Ohio 1968
Get Out the Map
Moment of Forgiveness
Come a Long Way
Lay My Head Down
The Wood Song
Happy in the Sorrow Key
Learned It on Me
Share the Moon
Rise of The Black Messiah
Spread the Pain Around
Closer to Fine
Four young sonic holdovers from 1996-peak Gin Blossoms era offered an energetic opening act, if one that was first cousin to Til I Hear It from You (listen to Tie Me Up Again and tell me you can’t hear it). You could hear sonic references to Elvis Costello in lead singer Sean Kelley’s wispy, ballad-ready tinged vocals, but that’s going back even further and frankly they weren’t old enough to appreciate the Gin Blossoms in real time, much less Alison.
It took them a few songs to power up, but they hit their stride with Siouxsie, a song from their new album Make Me Over. Mary Lou Lord, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers joined them on the dirty jam One Way Ticket (the studio track features Joan Baez). Altogether, they satisfied the criteria for any opening act. They intrigued enough to make me want to hear more.
[Los Angeles (used to be Portland)] Entranced – I was entranced. I don’t know how I came to know this band but my awareness was cemented by their song, “Love in the Dark,” which uses deadpan synth pop to mix up small town and S&M references. And then… my female friends in Gunnison were 25 or 75 – and the ladies on the latter end of life culturally schooled me as much as the younger ones, as Gunnison people will do. For instance, OffTheGrid, a lady of exceeding grace & intelligence, raised her children off-the-grid in Telluride and now splits her time between Gunnison and Portland. Her daughter, it turns out, was the ex-girlfriend of the founder of Yacht. The point is, with all the Gunnison, Portland, person crossing, seeing Yacht became essential. They were, on first glance, two Flock of Seagull guys behind podiums with upside down happy faces on them. And then a beacon of female showmanship with minimalist white hair and a voluminous blouse, bare midriff. Deep dramatic voice – reminds me of someone I can’t place – Annie Lennox but something more too. The guys were sometimes on keyboard, sometimes on electric guitars. The woman controlled the stage and the audience with grand hand gestures, controlled dancing, eccentric singing. They’ve transitioned from Portland to LA and are described as constantly evolving art pop, but their music was, fortunately, more listenable than I feared: 80s synth pop, 90s techno, 00s hard electronica. A super light show too (as in epilepsy-inducing lights). Sometimes they did little ‘what has technology done to our lives’ skits. Moreover, they were exceedingly modern and inventive but still warm and unpretentious – traits that seem to be Portland staples. After they finished a song about ‘wanting to fuck you until I die,’ the woman joked with the audience something to the effect “I’m delighted to tell you my parents are in the audience tonight.” But she could go from that to crowd control based on a cross of domintrix crossed with 60s dinner party hostess. In one glaring mis-step, she was lip-syncing and got worse at it as the show went on. Why? I forgive her.
[Greece] New venues! A big bland room that smelled like burnt plastic – the bathroom smelled like vomit – somehow it all worked… nice big professional stage. Larry Gus was a frenetic guy (an increasingly frenetic guy) behind a keyboard. Except he usually wasn’t behind the keyboard – spazzing to the left, spazzing to the right, climbing the wall behind him. It wasn’t clear if the non-English sounding lyrics were because he was spazzing nuts or because he was from Greece. He was basically a DJ? Flame called the sound, Men at Work, Borat. Talking Heads too. Everybody, Flame, girls in the bathroom, were discussing the high likelihood that Larry Gus was coked the coke up. He was a touch flamboyantly gay but then offered up his wife to the crowd… and whatever else we wanted… and several times. A spectacle – whether you hated or loved him, you were paying attention. The big boy with the poorly wrapped man-bun, belly flush to the stage, set the tone – fist thumps demonstrating how Enraptured He Was by everything Larry Gus did.
Posted by Andrew on 10th October 2015 in Comedy
Margaret Cho has always used comedy as a way to touch on touchy subjects. In that way, she mirrors the attitude of her mentor, Joan Rivers. Rivers’ passing, and that of Robin Williams, clearly influenced Cho’s latest tour Psycho. She came out with salvos aimed at Ann Coulter, the Pope and Jesus but didn’t stop there.
This tour was more political than we’ve seen Cho in many years, due as much to the climate of the nation, the mass gun shootings, and death threats against Cho’s life. The combination was stunning and relentless. She reflected the anger and hopeless that a lot of people feel in the wake of what is becoming endless gun violence, but her message was one of empowerment. She encouraged the audience to fight back, to take back their bodies. She said when people use racial slurs and homophobia and hate words, that’s raising the white flag because they have run out of cogent arguments to give you.
There were less jokes imitating her mom, less poop jokes (but a little of both) than on some of her previous tours, but her act always finds the humor even when the topics are deadly serious. Cho knows how to find the punchline without sacrificing her point. To a gay man in the audience, she asked “Would you eat pussy if that would make it rain in California?” Followed by a five minute pantomime of him doing that. Both bleak and ruthless, but exceptionally on point.
Posted by Andrew on 10th October 2015 in Comedy
Selene Luna used her small stature to great effect in her thirty-minute comedy routine, talking about how her family thought she wouldn’t live past 20, but didn’t tell her until she was 43. Her act is foul-mouthed and pot-laced, offering spitfire takes on sexual fetishes, dating in her 40’s, in style close to Margaret Cho but with a lot more I-don’t-give-a-damn baked in.
[Portland OR] Despite the “anarchy,” everyone was exceedingly polite and well socialized – the set changes were efficient. People in Portland wear Carharts – it’s bizarre. Noise rock – three guitars & a drum – everyone bouncing to an uncomfortably absent beat. I ended up liking the band before better. I’ve been reading too much sociological theory lately and couldn’t help watching how everyone was social objects, so aware of how they looked. The venue had really amazing descriptions of the band – they know music.
[Portland, OR] How anarchists make me chuckle. This was a bookstore with a shabby room in back for the band. While I waited for the music, I strolled through the books – academics are the consensus (this is not good), watch out because they will sell out. How they make me chuckle. The one on uterus vacation (not the good kind) was painful to read. The atheist one was boring. When I’d dragged out skimming the zines as long as I could, I ventured to the back. 4 people on a ramshamble couch – a couple making out enthusiastically in the corner. Sigh. I unfolded a chair and sat firmly, hands crossed on my knees. One guy on the couch was going on about the government and how terrible it is – it took all my ability to not go off on how great societies and cooperation are. Sludgy no wave. 90s indie rock. Voice altered like Butthole Surfers but without any screaming etc. In fact, they were generally kind of pig-fuck for you genre freaks. I wasn’t happy with their discordance at all but they got much better by 2nd song. Angular. Kind of drone or stoner. Good but a little simple – the bass lines were not killer – 4 notes repeated and I had the songs figured out one minute in. This guy in the crowd yelled “next time, play the heavy one” and I found myself nodding because I’d been thinking damn they’re not that heavy – but then I realized the yeller was making a joke, as in oh how hard it had all been.
[Seattle, WA] Totally different from the first two bands but as unexpectedly pleasing. Hidden Cameras crossed with TOPS. My new friend from Eastern Washington thought they were Karate (wha???). They were really pretty, really fresh, and still really modern – thus TOPS. The guy’s style of singing and voice was verbatim Hidden Cameras & I love those Cameras.
[Seattle WA] Thrilling. At first hear, they made me think of The Coathangers but they’re way less dirgy, dirty and unhappy. They’re more garage pop, punk n roll but with a tinge of riot grrrl. Some new wave sound – Delta Girls, Slits. Lyrics are often political but sometimes silly. The singing was great but the music was terrific – amazing bass lines, great riffs. Maybe they’re just straight happy punk. JC Satan for sure. Female-centric for sure. I almost never buy albums at shows but this band was a wow – and the girl told me they only had cassettes – silly hipsters. Outside of that, everyone but everyone in Portland is ridiculously nice and unpretentious, similar to Brooklyn – Austin tried really hard.
[Portland, OR] It was an ill-planned night. I kind of intended to go to the Fir Lounge to see Gin Wigmore (Rockboy used to talk about her) and Patrick Park (I came upon him somehow and both me & DeepSister really like him) but didn’t intend enough to buy a ticket beforehand. Because come on, do singer/songwriter shows really sell out? Yes, yes, they do. And with a line around the corner. Being a Dara, I had a backup plan – not to mention, I didn’t fucking want to see any singer/songwriters anyway (even if they’re as good as Patrick Park is – I was kind of surprised how downplayed he was in the billing for the show). So I headed toward the first show on the list of possibilities for the night, which happened to be super close to my new place. I was pleased the music would be harder but didn’t expect much. The venue was quiet and didn’t have a striking vibe either way. Just right for tonight. So I was surprised when this band turned out to be solidly solid. New Order crossed with The Slits. No wave. Done really well.
[Seattle, WA] Concert in a park in West Seattle – kids playing, adults picnic-ing. Nice. The best thing about the show was the complete disjunction between the paper’s description of the band and the reality. They were described, see below, as some cross between hip-hop (because they’re black???) and punk (because they are black yet use guitars???). They were Ben Harper, blues rock – did a ton of Jimi covers. It’s possible they were toning things down for the setting. … “Seattle guitarist and frontman Ayron Jones (Eh-Rahn), has become one of Seattle’s hottest up-and-comers with his brand of Seattle Rock. Jones has taken a hybrid style of guitar playing, in which the chord and solo are played at the same time, and infused the raw energy of punk with the inner-city attitude of Hip-Hop. The result is a soulful reincarnation of that iconic Seattle sound. Think, Stevie Ray Vaughan meets Nirvana.”
[New York, NY] I was kind of excited to see them – I don’t know why I have them but I classify them as death rap – it’s a good genre. They really weren’t. It was stoner rap and the crowd started becoming everything the reviews on this event had warned. And then it started to rain and these strange Pacific Northwesterners all whipped out rain gear they had stored in some mysterious part of their body. I had an old-fashioned umbrella and started getting flack from people near me within a few minutes – apparently, I lack umbrella etiquette. I got sad. I left.
Posted by Dara on 26th July 2015 in New Wave
[New York, NY] I associate Kathleen Hanna with guilt – 90s feminist icon and I never listened to her. Her latest band started and I realized I didn’t listen to her because she’s NOT A RIOT GRRRL. A personal misclassification… ??? The Julie Ruin are new wave, Slits, B52s, Bow Wow Wow – once I adjusted, I really liked her. For one, she handled her age (and sickness) with grace – cute but not stupid – fun but not silly – pretty but not slutty – kind of awesome. So now that I’m out of the exhausting mess that was the Capitol Hill Block Party, or that was Dara that day, I realize I do know Kathleen Hanna – Le Tigre, a kind of recent band of hers, is very similar but better than this band. I was always so mystified why this riot grrrl had a band like Le Tigre – well all the confusion is maybe justified. Because she was a riot grrrl!! The one song I did discover (in the 2010s) from her 90s band Bikini Kill is amazing and one of my favorite songs (that I can’t remember) – blends girl power with girl respect and a little touch of girl love. Recommitting to watching the documentary. And listening to Bikini Kill.
[Seattle, WA] This band saved the day. Dark. Despairing. Abrasive. Clean. They were picture-perfect synth punk… well being that the Pacific Northwest apparently never ventured far from the 90s, they were more 90s industrial – NIN. Ironically, it had never occurred to me that there was possibly a connection between my current obsession with what I call synth punk and my teenage obsession with what I called industrial. Thank you CHARMS. And this was about when I decided this event was AOK – not hipster-y at all – no drunkenness – crowds manageable. A little stage-raising and sound equipment improvement all that’s needed! Thank you CHARMS.
[Everett, WA] This was the second band I saw on this stage and it became clear the venue’s sound just wasn’t right. Nonetheless, this first quite decent band was three guys with all sorts of guitars and keyboards. Electro rock, soul rock, soul electronica – dense, pretty, big. They reminded me of NoCeremony but not as glorious. I picked them based on the pretty lead singer’s great voice but that ended up not being their standout feature. They weren’t one dimensional (although not a fat mess of diversity like the last band). Upbeat without being cheesy. They’re the music that would accompany you as you ran through a city – because you had something to do – not because you were being chased. Also a bit of disco rock like Bright Light Social Happy Hour – but more dangerous. I started this band in a fairly bitter mood & so was doing a little bit of work in the back of the club – turns out it was the part of the club where people do their drugs – drug use is generally more public in Seattle – maybe because pot was just legalized … although I saw a guy shoot up in public during the broad daylight a few days later.
[Seattle WA] Despite their billing, they were not garage pop. Just straight up rock n roll – boring rock and roll. They started with a Van Morrison cover – why why why would they do that? Their second song was a lot better – more 70s punk. Then they were spaghetti punk. No identity – I hate a band with no identity. So you get a picture of the sweet venue instead.
Posted by Dara on 26th July 2015 in Art Rock
[Seattle WA] Awful. Weird to be weird. Can’t craft a song. Or won’t. They reminded me of Captain Beefheart and I hate Captain Beefheart. People can stop pretending Beefheart is proto-punk – I don’t understand why people equate weirdness with punk music when punk music is simple, straightforward, three chords. Annoying music is art rock ART ROCK. Anyway, in the one bright point of their music, it was sludgy – this was the beginning of my realization that the 90s are still alive in the Pacific Northwest. They’d switch off lead singers and one of the fools had something like a mini fluorescent toilet plunger stuck on his forehead. It’s possible I was wary because of the crazy negative reviews on this entire event I made the mistake of reading right before leaving the house – basically massacre-ing hipsters, drunk hipsters, young people, drunk young people. One band member was wearing a Sublime shirt – maybe ironically – maybe not – I stopped caring. I was mostly watching the crowd of youngsters pretending like they liked them. Kathleen Richards, Seattle’s The Stranger: “In theory music festivals expose you to a bunch of different bands that you normally wouldn’t pay to see individually – too often the music festival will just make you want to kill a teenager.” I did like the venue – the area felt like home, like Austin.
[Gainesville, FL] “Gender is over!” said the lead singer’s t-shirt. I have been mildly obsessed with this band for the last couple years. I haven’t heard a song by them I don’t like but my body flushes with joy for “Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart.” And then I fell into the story about the lead singer’s transgender journey and I googled for some pictures and fell weepily in worship with the lead singer. I guess I expected hardness and bitterness for all her hard times but her face only communicated vulnerability and hope in the face of our sad mean world. You know, writing this, I realize it could be that my love for this band was borne on a day of serous PMS … except! that glow of hope was evident in the whole tone of the show. There’s some people who wear an aura you can see across a room – so maybe Laura Jane Grace is my punk Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Not to mention, I think they’re described as drawing on Bruce Springsteen and, with my secret passion for heartland rock, me not liking gender-bending punkish heartland rock would be weird. Like the first band, and like her google pictures, Laura Jane Grace was unpretentious and just nice. Male-ish skinny pants, a heavy metal style shirt, and fantastic eyeshadow – I was disappointed her long hair covered her face throughout the whole show – as the torch-holder I assume she is for a bunch of kids, I would have liked less hiding but easy for me to say… The only other band member I remember was the crazy guitarist in the mod-ish bowl cut who wore a huge foolish grin the entire time and literally did a metal kick at one point. I don’t hear them as punk – I suppose there’s some influences – they’re in my ipod as “folk punk” which is strangely becoming an increasingly prevalent genre – but they sounded pretty much straight classic rock or power pop. Musically, they were frankly less impressive than the other two bands – they sounded same-tone and messy – maybe the venue wasn’t working for them. Laura Jane Grace’s talent was apparent though – she switched guitars for practically every song and the room stopped silent for an acoustic version of “The Ocean.” Maybe a singer/songwriter at the root – truly great voice and lyrics – she almost reminded me of The Mountain Goats (the incredibleness of his live show – not recorded). If there’s any punk in there, it’s anthemic, oi!, Irish. For instance, they started one song and Laura Jane Grace warned the audience that the song was really uplifting and it made her uncomfortable – she laughed and said she supposed it was an “atheist spiritual.” I laughed because, no offense Laura Jane Grace, but the whole set had been pretty uplifting. As evident in a completely entranced fist-pumping singing-every-word-to-every-song crowd.
Posted by Dara on 19th July 2015 in Emo
[New Jersey] I was really sad when this band started, emo as all get out. But suddenly I was converted by the small big-nosed guitarist with his black shirt billowing behind him. How could I have missed it?! They were punk pop – totally different. Good energy – sped up Weezer. Their friend from Homeless Gospel Choir (?) came up to do a cover of a Jawbreaker (? – maybe heard of them) song with them: “One. Two. Three. Four. Who’s punk – what’s the score?” Then one of the band’s own songs (“this will make your eyes bleed”) veered way too close to a Deftones sound – I don’t hate The Deftones but I don’t need to hear current bands apeing them. Their youtube videos had a similarly irritating sensibility – lots of cliché symbols of how tormented & hard they are. They were good live, at least to this music-starved girl.
[San Francisco, CA] Even though I’d been driving for weeks and life had been weird for months, I was enthused for this show. I had uncharacteristically bought the ticket more than a month beforehand. I had timed my arrival in Seattle to ensure I was in-city for the big day. All for the headliners, Against Me! … but there were problems – what would Against Me! fans be like? What would the venue be like? What would live music in Seattle be like? Fresh and early for dinner in the area, I scoped out the venue beforehand. Not looking good. A long line of very young and aggressively countercultural kids. I firmed my shoulders, headed across the street for a salad and glass of white wine, and conducted a private critique of the Seattle alt-weekly as compared to Austin’s (The Chronicle won, of course). Dinner done, shirt tucked in, I shouldered my purse and returned to the melee. Fortunately, the crowd had diversified with the arrival of the older & less eager. An exceedingly civilized venue. There were seats in certain areas. The bar sold earplugs. There were seats. There was helpful staff everywhere. There were seats. And all the bands started exactly on time. I think the seats were reserved – like I wanted to sit anyway… This band was a grower rather than a shower. Female singer, female bassist, male drummer, male guitarist. I invented a genre for them: ITM – intelligent thrash metal. Psychy – mathy – lots of musicality, and some songs with Gun Club style rolling drums. The singer was sweet and genuine, thanking Against Me! for mentoring the band, thanking the crowd for coming, thanking her mom for birthing her (jk). The crowd cooed back at her. Sweet and genuine became the theme for the night – not sure if it’s Seattle or the sort of fans Against Me! attracts. And I knew for sure I was going to be all right when Roky Erickson was the dedicated filler music between band 1 and 2.
As Billy Joel himself pointed out, his last time charting with a hit song was 22 years ago and he’s still selling out 30,000 seat venues month after month. He’s a showman on every level, from talking about ignoring his critics (in reference to marrying his new wife) before launching My Life to giving the audience a vote on performing Vienna over Honesty (“I never liked Honesty either,” he quipped.)
It was all pretty straightforward and entirely fantastic. Dipping into every era of his catalog, from 1974’s The Entertainer to 1993’s River of Dreams, there was a stylish energy throughout the set. He knew when to pound out the music (Say Goodbye to Hollywood) and when to move with a more delicate hand (The Longest Time was performed a capella and during Goodnight Saigon, he brought out some local servicemen and women to the stage and then proceeded to shake each of their hands after the song ended.) Vocally, Vienna and An Innocent Man were just gorgeous. And the roaring Scenes From an Italian Restaurant was the best version I had ever heard.
Even the missteps were memorable. The Downeaster Alexa was downright upbeat live, completely missing the solemn tones of defeat that shred your insides on the studio track. Given the intensity of the lyrics, it was a odd contrast. We Didn’t Start the Fire was one of the craziest, muddled trashcan fires of a performance I have ever heard. The vocal mix was all over the place, the melody was swampy and completely lost at points, and the background visuals were a hot mess.
Still, when Billy Joel is rolling, he is ROLLING. The encore blew the roof off of the place (okay, it was more of a tarp over the stage than a roof) with pulsing, breathtaking takes on It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me and You May Be Right. The entire night was an absolute treat from beginning to end.
Billy Joel Setlist
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (Instrumental)
Say Goodbye to Hollywood
The Downeaster Alexa
All for Leyna
An Innocent Man
My Life/Ode to Joy
The Longest Time
Keeping the Faith
Sometimes a Fantasy
Don’t Ask Me Why
She’s Always a Woman
We Didn’t Start the Fire
The River of Dreams/Summer in the City
Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
You May Be Right
Only the Good Die Young
Bleachers opened enthusiastically for Billy Joel although frontman Jack Antonoff seemed disappointed by the less than enthusiastic crowd’s reaction to his band. They marched on stage to the song Tomorrow (as in “The sun will come out” from Annie) as the sun was setting before launching into their hit Like a River Runs. It had a suitably stadium-anthem air to it reminiscent of U2 circa 1993. What followed a 45-minute set with some pop and melody that frothed the crowd with varying degrees of success. Wrapped in crowd-pleasing sonic bubble wrap, too many of their songs had too-long, chaotic instrumental interludes that seemed forcibly interjected into the performance.
So on the one hand, you have the confectionery singalong I Wanna Get Better and on the other, the timid emo diary lyrics of Wake Me. I suspect (and they must too) that it all translates better in a smaller venue. Still Shadow and Rollercoaster were romps. Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac cover) and the endless You’re Still a Mystery (complete with the unnecessarily extended band introductions/solos) fell flat.
All in all, I thought they did their job. They made me interested in hearing more.
Like a River Runs
Go Your Own Way
You’re Still a Mystery/Band Introductions
I Wanna Get Better
Posted by Dara on 9th July 2015 in Country
[Apple Valley, CA] Three guys and one woman – all AVHS graduates! Billed as southern rock but more classic and modern country. Solid cover band. Best part was immersion in Apple Valley culture, edition 2010s – middle-aged folk in seats the solid core, old folk (one in booty shorts) line dancing up front by the stage, young folk strolling the perimeter looking for mates.
Posted by Andrew on 14th June 2015 in Folk
The Led Farmers are an Irish band playing while the sun was still shining near Marienplatz in Munich. Leaning heavily on Irish folk traditions (read: banjo) the music had a spiritual quality and a devilish enthusiasm that you would expect. Except that there was as much talking as performing, it was a fine set. When the banjo strings really started to fly, it even began to sound like home.
Weird Al is part ringmaster, part freakshow, and he puts on an outstanding concert. From the joyous opening of Tacky which he performed marching through the bowels of the Wilbur Theater in his tackiest suit (with a stop outside to chat with some cheerleaders, well, his cheerleaders) the show was a non-stop party.
It’s really an amazing thing to witness, especially since it has to be a carefully crafted event given the number of costume changes and video segments incorporated into the 90-minute set. Yet the show comes off as spontaneous and inventive. And he looks likes he’s having as much fun as the audience. That’s not easy to do night after night.
From the soaring pop anthem Perform This Way (dressed as Ursula’s lower half) to the classic rock parody Smells Like Nirvana (dressed like Kurt Cobain), the show was mostly end to end hits. A medley of some of his best songs (Canadian Idiot was particularly great) included mid-medley costume and set changes. And when they brought out candles and seats for the musicians in a half circle – like an episode of MTV Unplugged – Weird Al performed an absolutely jaw-dropping loungey-version of Eat It. The new stuff held up well among the the older songs. Back to back performances of Word Crimes, from the new album Mandatory Fun, and Amish Paradise, brought the house to a deafening roar. And even though he said he was finished, he wasn’t finished. He closed with a familiar coda, the jokingly written (well, “jokingly” even for Weird Al’s repertoire) We All Have Cell Phones leading into The Saga Begins dressed in full Jedi gear and flanked by stormtroopers and yes, Darth Vader.
“Weird Al” Yankovic Setlist
Lame Claim to Fame
Now That’s What I Call Polka!
Perform This Way
Dare to Be Stupid
First World Problems
Smells Like Nirvana
Party in the CIA / It’s All About the Pentiums / Handy / Bedrock Anthem / Another One Rides the Bus / Ode to a Superhero / Gump / Inactive / eBay / Canadian Idiot
Wanna B Ur Lovr
Eat It / I Lost on Jeopardy / I Love Rocky Road / Like a Surgeon
White & Nerdy
We All Have Cell Phones / The Saga Begins
Posted by Dara on 20th March 2015 in Punk
[Cleveland] So the old guy who had been staggering/swaggering around was actually a performer. And the one I was going to stick to my seat for, while I waited for friends to sludge through the rain and save me. His singing was a little rough because of age, drink, or both. The crowd’s level of interest motivated me to ask the kid next to me who he was – Cheetah Chrome! (of Dead Boys fame). We’d tried to see him the year before and got stuck with a local yahoo instead. The show wasn’t amazing but still felt like my annual SX miracle, and a fine way to close things out. He ended with the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer” which made everybody really happy.