Monday, August 25, 2008

Radiohead, August 25 at the Hollywood Bowl

How can you justify seeing a band more than, say, twice in one tour? If they put on a different show every night. And if that band is Radiohead. Musicians can get by playing the same set every night: play hits, do a few new songs to indulge your musical abilities and so people can go to the restroom, encore with the really big stuff, and the crowd, who probably didn't see last night's show in some other town, will be happy. some bands change it up, maybe almost completely, to challenge themselves, to make it interesting, to give something to the fans they know are seeing multiple shows on the tour, for whatever reason. Radiohead is one of those kinds of bands and that's what makes them great to see more than once. There are some stand-bys – most of the new album, “Fake Plastic Trees” (or maybe that's just because I saw them more than once in California) – but you can't really always count on the same set night after night. After six albums (and all sorts of extra material), they have enough crowd-pleasing songs that, paced correctly, can keep the more casual fans going while they also throw in some more obscure stuff, to please the hardcore (and traveling) fans. At this show they played a bit more than the two hours they gave at the festivals recently, they threw in a track from the In Rainbows bonus disc (“Go Slowly”) and Thom performed a song by himself from his solo album (“Cymbal Crash”). The only consistent thing is that you never know what they're going to do. Which, along with their catalog of amazing songs and solid musicianship, make them one of the best live bands going right now. That's three shows in the less than a month and each performance just keeps getting better. Hmm, maybe I should see them more often.

Radiohead's set-list:
"There There"
"15 Step"
"All I Need"
"Pyramid Song"
"Weird Fishes/Arpeggi"
"The Gloaming"
"Talk Show Host"
"Faust Arp"
"Tell Me Why" (Neil Young cover)
"No Surprises"
"Jigsaw Falling Into Place"
"The Bends"
"The National Anthem"

"House Of Cards"
"Planet Telex"
"Go Slowly"
"Fake Plastic Trees"
"True Love Waits"
"Everything In Its Right Place"

"Cymbal Rush"
"Karma Police"

Friday, August 22, 2008

Outside Lands, August 22 - 24 in San Francisco

Continuing my travels to see concert festivals, I went to San Francisco for the first Outside Lands. Between Coachella and Lollapalooza, a festival can't be too incredibly different: there are a few big fields and a bunch of bands playing on a bunch of different stages and a bunch of people there. Though like Lollapalooza, this event was held in a park at the center of the city. But the most notable difference is the weather: the first few days it never got over 70 degrees (and that's being generous), generally overcast, though the air was crisp and clear, if misting rain at random points. And this is how San Francisco usually is every day. In August. Which is supposed to summer, I just got used to it in places that have reasonable seasons. On Saturday at the high point of the day I had on a sweat-shirt and was still shivering like it was winter. Though Sunday I underestimated the city and it was warm enough to get a sunburn on my face so fair play, San Francisco. I was up there for the weekend and stayed with Heath, who also went to the show with me, and Kris, who also came to the show to hang out for a bit. Heath is always a great concert companion. Of course he was there most for Radiohead but I was there for the whole concert experience in general.

I finally saw Cold War Kids, after missing them at the previous two festivals and maybe seeing them at the next one (they're a band that follows me around, apparently). They did some new stuff but I didn't hear "We Used To Vacation" though we missed about half the set; Manu Chau was fine, I'm sure, but I only saw five minutes of his set before heading over to another stage, leaving a lot of time since there was a ridiculous and unexplainable bottleneck to get between the main area and a meadow that had two other stages; at first I wasn't completely looking forward to seeing Radiohead, since I had just seen their festival-headlining set just two weeks before (and since I had gotten separated from my friends, whose enthusiasm was helping mine along) but they changed up the set enough to make it nearly a whole other show, even switching up the order of the songs they repeated. They still played most of In Rainbows but they played a lot more of OK Computer, particularly "Airbag" and "Exit Music (For a Film)," and "Talk Show Host." At this performance I was a lot farther afield than in Chicago so I wasn't being smooshed by 75,000 people and it wasn't humid and hot. The only bruise on such a great performance was when the sound cut out – twice – for about a minute each, with no explanation, and it happened the next night but I don't know if it was common on that stage; there's not been a moment of Nellie McKay's life that she hasn't been disarmingly charming. She played the teeny-tiniest stage of the festival, which suits her, and I couldn't imagine her playing a much bigger place but it's a shame she doesn't pull a bigger crowd, even though she got a good number to her performance. She did her catchiest songs, alone on her piano or ukulele, including "Mother of Pearl", the funniest song ever about feminists and an awkward song about zombies, appropriately titled "Zombie," but it showed her goofy side – always charming; Regina Spektor was on a big side-stage, performing by herself, and she got a good-sized crowd so I couldn't closer to check out her rack; Cake still attracts a decent crowd, though I'm not really sure why. Nothing against them or their music, which are fine, but I don't recall them having a hit for over 10 years; Tom Petty put on a fine show for the people there, who presumably haven't been following him on tour, but it was a bummer for me since he played a lot of the same set he played at the Hollywood Bowl a few months ago, to the point that I was guessing – correctly – each song he was about to play next. Nothing wrong with that if that's the only show of his you're going to see, which would apply to most of his fans, who are well past the age of going out for more than one night a year for a concert, but it was disappointing for me, when I expected at least a bit more of a show; Stars are an all-time favorite band of mine and it's endlessly frustrating to me that they're not much bigger than they are. As it was, their set was the reason for me going to the show far earlier than any other day (2 o' clock!) but it was worth it. There are no exact words for it but it was a transcendent experience; a week before the show I read a review about Bonnaroo and the reviewer was going nutty about K'Naan, whose set fit into the schedule so we checked him out and he turned out to be one of the best acts of the weekend. Minimalist roots-rap with a message but that message was as important as it was catchy; I saw some of Andrew Bird, mostly on Stars' recommendation and because his slot fit into my schedule, but he didn't do anything for me. I can't even describe his music. Just fairly beyond me at the time; I don't know Broken Social Scene but I'm a big fan of Stars and Feist, who are all part of the same big, Montreal circle. The crowd was really excited for them and I'll check out their stuff when I find it; I also went to see Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings but they were in the background since I was hanging out with friends at the time, which, even more than the music, is what a festival should be about. The same thing about the Walkmen (playing a too-small stage), ALO (know nothing about but they sounded good), and Rogue Wave (which I was mildly avoiding, having not gotten them last time); I'm as big a Wilco fan as they come but I've been left cold the last two times I've seen them. They're a fine live band no matter what they do but when I've seen them they just didn't seem that into it, playing more songs instead of playing with more enthusiasm at the headlining show. This time, though, they were excited to be there, or about something, and you could tell. They ran through a good set and the tightness of it only helped, being that they only had an hour and a half to play (on the bill under Jack Johnson? Who screwed that one up?). Definitely a highlight of the festival, as well as a great way to end the show.

Radiohead's set-list:
"15 Step
"There There"
"All I Need"
"Talk Show Host"
"The National Anthem"
"The Gloaming"
"Weird Fishes/Arpeggi"
"Karma Police"
"Jigsaw Falling Into Place"
"Exit Music (For A Film)"

"Pyramid Song"
"You and Whose Army?"
"Paranoid Android"
"Fake Plastic Trees"
"Everything In Its Right Place"

Tom Petty's set-list:
"You Wreck Me"
"Listen to Her Heart"
"I Won't Back Down"
"Even the Losers"
"Free Fallin'"
"Mary Jane's Last Dance"
"End of the Line" (Traveling Wilburys cover)
"Can't Find My Way Home" (Blind Faith cover)
"Gimme Some Lovin'" (The Spencer Davis Group cover)
"Saving Grace"
"Honey Bee"
"Learning to Fly"
"Don't Come Around Here No More"

"Runnin' Down a Dream"
"Gloria" (Them cover)
"American Girl"

Wilco's set-list:
"Remember The Mountain Bed
"Company In My Back"
"You Are My Face"
"Spiders (Kidsmoke)"
"I Am Trying To Break Your Heart"
"Handshake Drugs"
"Jesus, Etc."
"Impossible Germany"
"Via Chicago"
"California Stars"
"Hate It Here"
"I'm The Man Who Loves You"

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lollapalooza, August 1 to 3 in Chicago

Oh, yes, I have no problem going clear across almost to the other side of the country for a concert. It was obvious from the moment the line-up for Lollapalooza was announced that it was the one to beat in 2008. I made plans with Seth who flew up from Kansas to meet me in Chicago for the show and he had a friend who let us crash at his place, which meant I really only had to get the tickets and a flight so no problem there. I wonder why I don't travel to more festivals (well, outside of California, that is). The non-traveling Lollapalooza is a fantastic show on its own but I can't help but compare it to Coachella and that's a good enough hook for this review:
* The city park, Grant Park, in the heart of downtown Chicago, just feet from Lake Michigan, is smaller than Coachella but has a capacity for more people (75,000 vs. 60,000 (reportedly)). This made it feel a lot more claustrophobic but that's probably because I'm so used to the wide-open spaces of the Indio polo fields. You can also take the El train around the city to get to the park, just a few blocks away, so it certainly makes it a lot easier to move in and out of the place.
* Lolla has six stages going at a time, Coachella has five. But while Coachella has a variety of acts playing across all the stages, and something people with eclectic tastes may want to see, Lolla has one stage just for kids and families, which is great that they do but offered nothing for me, and one tiny stage of Perry Farrell-picked DJs, so there were really only three or four stages going, at least two of which had their last act go on hours before the day ended, and the acts on those stages could have been changed around easily, the only difference between them being the size of the crowd they would draw. The biggest and second-biggest stages were across the field from each other but they scheduled the times such that when one act got done on one stage, the one across from it would be beginning only a few minutes after it. This is great if you just want to go back and forth between those two stages but to go to the other big stages across the park, it could take up to 20 minutes of walking and maneuvering the crowd. The stages were also mostly far enough away from each other that there was no overlap in sound, except for two stages that were almost back-to-back to each other and had acts playing on them at the same time, which is perplexing to me but I guess we can just chalk it up to the organizers having no other place to put the smaller stage and putting smaller acts on it anyway.
* The crowd definitely skewed a lot younger. The Coachella crowd seems to lean toward late 20s, on average, maybe closer to my age, but the people at Lolla seemed in their early 20s, if not teenagers, and it was noticeable. I don't know if it's because it's easier for young people to get around the city to make it to the show and Coachella takes people with at least a driver's license and the day to spend to get out there and back as well as the time off of school. It was also of note that the crowd was really young for headliners who were big 10 years ago, when those kids were still in elementary school.
* Indio is a dry heat; Chicago is humid. Friday at the show got pretty warm (especially being in the middle of a crowd of almost 100,000), Saturday was nearly perfect, and Sunday was overcast and really muggy though it wasn't terribly hot.
* Lolla is about as corporate as you can make it. Company names are plastered everywhere you can imagine, even the stages are named after corporations, almost so much to the point where you think that it must be a joke. Now, I know Coachella has its share of corporate sponsorship (especially in beer sales) but it's not nearly as blatant. But if Lolla has to do it to keep ticket-prices down (and the tickets are, indeed, cheaper than those to Coachella) and it gets the big acts there, then I say go for it.
* Coachella ends at midnight, give or take, depending on a headliner wanting to play an encore or in case someone went on late at some point in the day; Lolla was over at 10 on the dot. But really, these festivals live and die on the strength of their line-ups: my friends loved Manchester Orchestra at Coachella and I liked them enough to see them at Lolla but I want to get some stuff by them on disc before really becoming a fan; a friend recommended Rogue Wave but I didn't see the big deal with them. They're playing other festivals so maybe I'll get into them later; I didn't dance during the Go! Team's set, as I should have, since I was conserving my energy, but they deserved it; I don't know why I had to travel to see Louis XIV for the first time, since I like them and they're from San Diego and they play around here a lot; I would have seen the Kills but by the time I got over there they were finishing 15 minutes early; I've seen Gogol Bordello a whole lot but I'm still trying to make sure the rest of the world sees and loves them. In this case I was telling people trying to decide between them and the Black Keys (who I also wanted to see) that Gogol Bordello would change their lives. The fact that they played "American Wedding" made this performance beat out this year's Coachella appearance (but not the first time I saw them at Coachella, which, indeed, changed my life); Mates of State sounded great from across the field and I wish I had had them in the plan to see; I would have seen Bloc Party even if we weren't trying to get in good position for Radiohead. Some advice for manipulating through to the front of a crowd: pick a pushy female and follow her, acting like you're her boyfriend (and she won't know you're behind her anyway); Radiohead played unopposed, with no one going on at the same time as them, with 75,000 people there to see them and only them. At that point we had worked our way pretty close to the stage (well, half a mile but that was a lot closer than most everyone else) and they did the standard, solid show, playing a few hits early on (no "Karma Police" but yes, "Lucky"), and eventually playing most of the new album sprinkled in among their two-hour set. No surprises (pardon the pun. But they didn't play that either) but excellent headliners (if not the biggest headliners of the whole weekend); the Ting Tings were a breakout surprise. I hadn't seen the iPod commercial, I'd heard maybe one of their songs, we just went to see them because we were there early enough in the day. And they were great. At every festival you should walk away with at least one new favorite band and that was mine. (I later got very much into them); a high-point of the festival for me I knew was going to be the Gutter Twins, though it's really strange seeing them on-stage during the day and I sure wouldn't mind if Lanegan would make some sign of having some appreciation of being there (or even of being alive); I've pretty much decided that I'm just never going to be into MGMT but they were nice to watch from the other side of the field (since, apparently, 75,000 people wanted to see them) and it was a beautiful part of the afternoon; Explosions in the Sky could probably be huge if they had words in their music, but other than that they were pretty good, a good place to rest, at least; a friend recommended Okkervil River to me and I might be seeing them next month. They were okay. They reminded me of the Decemberists, in dress if not music; I probably wouldn't have been so excited to see the Toadies but that was the high-point of the festival for Seth and we got to the front of the stage a half an hour before they went on, while they were setting up, so we could be up close (and also heard a bit of Lupe Fiasco on the other stage from there). And it was worth it. There aren't many Toadies hits but of course they played "Possum Kingdom" (the "so help me Jesus" song) and closed with "Tyler," which I'm sure is because we were screaming/chanting it halfway through; the biggest decision of the weekend: Wilco or Rage Against the Machine. Now, I'm a much bigger Wilco fan than a Rage fan, I saw Wilco a few months ago and seeing them again in a few weeks, but Rage doesn't tour often, though I've actually seen them more than I've seen Wilco (including twice at Coachella). I was so torn that I decided to let a consensus of my friends help me decide over text-messages but that was also a split vote so it didn't help. I decided to go along with our post-Toadies high and, since Seth pretty much hates Wilco, I just went along and saw Rage and they were great. Also, we were drinking heavily and meeting girls. I'd still be interested to see what crowd showed up for Wilco (especially since the crowd for Rage was, predictably, pretty rowdy); I was right that Saul Williams is better in a larger venue, even if it was on a smaller stage; of course Gnarls Barkley played "Crazy," no surprise there, but no funky costumes, and that was a surprise; I'll probably be seeing the National at some other point soon but I'd been listening to their album (Boxer) obsessively lately so I thought I was obligated to check them out. And they were great though, as usual, subduded; the other big decision: Kanye vs. Nine Inch Nails. Obviously I picked Kanye. I figured I probably wouldn't see him if he was playing his own show, as I would NIN, but I was certainly interested in what he would do live, especially after a number of people said he sucks live, but they were clearly very wrong. Acts I missed: I tried to see Cat Power but by the time I got over there I heard half a song and had to head back to see the next band in the plan; I knew Mark Ronson wasn't going to have any really notable guests with him so I skipped everything but the last song (which was that limp, overwrought Smith cover); also missed CSS, Duffy, Stephen Malkmus (still no Pavement stuff?), Flogging Molly, the Whigs, Broken Social Scene, and Girl Talk but I replaced them with other stuff and I'm sure I'll catch up to them again.

Radiohead's set-list:

"15 Step"
"There, There"
"All I Need"
"Weird Fishes"
"The Gloaming"
"The National Anthem"
"Faust Arp"
"No Surprises"
"Jigsaw Falling Into Place"
"The Bends"
"Everything In Its Right Place"
"Fake Plastic Trees"

"Paranoid Android"
"Dollars & Cents"
"House of Cards"

"2 + 2 = 5"

Rage Against the Machine's set-list:
"Bulls On Parade"
"People Of The Sun"
"Know Your Enemy"
"Bullet In The Head"
"Born Of A Broken Man"
"Guerrilla Radio"
"Ashes In The Fall"
"Calm Like A Bomb"
"Sleep Now In The Fire"
"Wake Up"

"Killing In The Name"

Kanye West's set-list:

"Good Morning"
"I Wonder"
"Heard 'Em Say"
"Through The Wire"
"Get 'Em High Play"
"Diamonds from Sierra Leone"
"Can't Tell Me Nothing"
"Put On" (Young Jeezy cover)
"Flashing Lights"
"Touch The Sky"
"Gold Digger"
"Good Life"
"Jesus Walks"
"Hey, Mama"
"Don't Stop Believin'" (Journey cover)

Bloc Party's set-list:
"Hunting for Witches"
"Waiting for the 7.18"
"Song for Clay (Disappear Here)"
"So Here We Are"
"The Prayer"
"This Modern Love"
"Positive Tension"
"Like Eating Glass"

Gogol Bordello's set-list:

"Not A Crime"
"I Would Never Wanna Be Young Again"
"Supertheory of Supereverything"
"Wonderlust King"
"Tribal Connection"
"60 Revolutions"
"American Wedding"
"Start Wearing Purple"
"Think Locally F**ck Globally"

Gnarls Barkley's set-list:
"Charity Case"
"Gone Daddy Gone" (Violent Femmes cover)
"Run (I'm a Natural Disaster)"
"Blind Mary"
"Just A Thought"
"Going On"
"Storm Coming" (The Doors cover)
"A Little Better"
"Who's Gonna Save My Soul"
"Reckoner" (Radiohead cover)
"Smiley Faces"

MGMT's set-list:
"Of Moons"
"Birds & Monsters"
"Weekend Wars"
"The Youth"
"Future Reflections"
"4th Dimensional Transition"
"Pieces Of What"
"Electric Feel"
"Time To Pretend"
"The Handshake"

The Ting Tings' set-list:

"We Walk"
"Great DJ"
"Fruit Machine"
"Keep Your Head"
"Be The One"
"That's Not My Name"
"We Started Nothing"
"Shut Up And Let Me Go"

The Gutter Twins' set-list:
"The Stations"
"God's Children"
"Live With Me" (Massive Attack cover)
"Bonnie Brae" (The Twilight Singers cover)
"Idle Hands"
"Seven Stories Underground"
"Bête Noire"
"Down the Line" (José González cover)
"Each to Each"
"Number Nine" (The Twilight Singers cover)

The Go! Team's set-list:
"Flashlight Fight"
"The Wrath of Marcie"
"The Power Is On"
"Fake ID"
"Grip Like A Vice"
"A Version of Myself"
"Junior Kickstart"
"Bottle Rocket"
"Everyone's a V.I.P. to Someone"
"Flashlight Fight" (reprise)
"Lady Flash"
"Doing It Right"
"Keys to the City"

Okkervil Rivers' set-list:
"The President's Dead"
"A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene"
"The Latest Toughs"
"A Girl in Port"
"Plus Ones"
"John Allyn Smith Sails"
"Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe"
"For Real"
"Unless It's Kicks"

Explosions in the Skys' set-list:
"Catastrophe and the Cure"
"The Birth and Death of the Day"
"Your Hand in Mine"
"Have You Passed Through This Night?"
"The Only Moment We Were Alone"