Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Weezer, October 14 at the Forum

I hand't planned on going to the Weezer show but not one but two of my friends asked me to get tickets for them so I thought I'd go along. Also, the new album (the self-titled "red" one) pretty much sucks but I figured at worst it would be a night out with my friends, both of which happen to be hot chicks. I got lucky in the pre-sale and got floor tickets so at least I had their gratitude and a decent view of the stage (though I would have traded it for floor tickets for the Nine Inch Nails show a few months back). I've seen Weezer a few times before, mostly at festivals, and they've never impressed me so much as a great live band. They make fantastic pop songs but for me they never sustain a full album (though Pinkerton comes really close). They played a stadium show as well as they could, for a band that shouldn't be playing stadium shows, unless they're opening. Not that I want to discount Weezer's popularity, but they're a band that should be playing really great club shows, not mostly-filled arena shows. Also, hearing their music in such a large venue quickly shows how much the production on their albums fills the spaces in their music. The most striking thing to me at this show was how interchangeable the singers could be. Rivers didn't even sing the first song ("My Name is Jonas"), just paced around the stage wearing a mask, presumably playing guitar, as the rest of the guys in the band took turns singing, which happened throughout most of the show. Rivers stopped being interested in being in the band years ago, probably around the time that Pinkerton came out and subsequently flopped. He's one of the most gifted pop-songwriters of the last 20 years but you can tell it's just a job for him. He writes songs just to keep things going and especially on the newest album he ran out of steam, finally giving in to letting the other members of the band write and sing some tracks, which would be bad enough but even Rivers couldn't pull out more than two or three of his own that are worth keeping. The new stuff played in the live show had that same feel: the other guys in the band got to play their own stuff half-way through and at least the crowd were devoted -- or polite (or not terribly interested in the first place) -- enough to not voice their own displeasure. The band should have broken up years ago but they keep it going, like employees staying in a job that they no longer put their heart into but keep in it because it pays so well and keep hoping something better will come along. And Rivers just seems like a bad boss. The only thing worse than a leader trying to impose his vision for a master plan on you is when he gives up and lets you do what you want and offers no direction. But Rivers is no dummy: the band played every one of the hits, even if it was only muscle-memory carrying them through the set. It was like someone begrudgingly playing his one hit song, the one he's played a hundred thousand times before, hoping tonight that the crowd won't scream out its title but it's the only thing they want to hear. And that's every single song (except for most of the new ones). Rivers, even playing a home-town show, didn't show a bit of enthusiasm, which brought the rest of the band down as well, until the end of the show when they did a cover of Nirvana's "Sliver," which was the most spirited thing in the whole performance but most of the audience (who were mostly babies 15 years ago when that song was on the radio) were left scratching their heads, and also brought 40 or 50 kids on stage, with every conceivable instrument, to play along with “Island in the Sun,” which was fun, if forced (it probably played better in the Mid-West). Though points for playing "Suzanne" (trying to change it up a little shows maybe they're trying to eek some kind of satisfaction out of their songs). And bringing some members of openers Angels & Airwaves, including the guy from Blink-182, on stage to help with one of the songs and I don't remember what song but they didn't get in the way so at least there's that. Weezer should have broken up years ago, to preserve their legend, but they should do now it to cut their losses. If they only want to play the hits to a stadium crowd, they should do it after being broken up for 12 years, like their heroes the Pixies. They might lose some of their audience to adulthood but at least they might reclaim the joy of playing to people who are rabid about them.
I was hoping to get there in time to see Tokyo Police Club, who opened, but getting there that early would also have meant sitting through Angels & Airwaves so I didn't mind missing them.

Friday, October 3, 2008

James, October 2 at the El Rey

I had tickets to see James in 1997, on the tour for Whiplash, also at the El Rey, and the show got canceled the day of. I assumed I would have the chance to see them at some point soon after that but their next tour of the States was on Lollapallooza (the year with Tool, Korn, and Snoop Dogg -- sorry, not enough to get me to go) then they seemed to lose traction over here and effectively broke up in 2001, news that only seemed to matter across the pond. My chance was gone but there was nothing I could do about it at that point. Then, miraculously, they reformed in 2007 and even continued putting out worthwhile music. Their only hits that had any recognition were 15 years ago but luckily that didn't stop them from giving a States-side tour another shot, actually showing up this time. There's no reason that James couldn't make it as big as The Bends-era Radiohead, as Tim Booth is just as good a singer and frontman as Thom Yorke, just that James are more interested in pop songs, even after 10 studio albums, than arty bullshit. Clearly, exceptional Britpop tunes have no place on the radio these days so James keep failing to get a real foothold in the States, and always seem to fall between the cracks when a trend for British music happens (their biggest album, Laid, and the follow-up happening before and after the Britpop invasion of the '90s, then their reunion happening in the wake of the rise of Coldplay). But people still know "Laid," even if that means they assume that James are a one-hit wonder for it. I read that they played "Laid" towards the end of a show just before this one, not as the closer, which is baffling to me, as the show at the El Rey had everyone in anticipatory excitement as the band built up to it, even though the crowd, clearly the rabid fans that James deserve, knew that they had a whole lot of other songs that are at least equal to it. (I was trying to keep track of the set-list by sending it to myself via Twitter but my messages didn't come through so I had to look up the set-list elsewhere but it should be the right one.)
Unkle Bob opened. I was going to get a drink in the lobby with friends anyway but some advice for this or any band: Don't introduce yourself to any audience by calling them by the wrong city's name (especially "Las Vegas"), even if you're joking. Whatever chance you had to win over the crowd is now lost forever. If L.A. crowds weren't so lethargic, you would have been bottled off the stage then beaten savagely.

James' set:
"Drum Thrum"
"Oh My Heart"
"Ring the Bells"
"Come Home"
"Hey Ma"
"Say Something"
"Don't Wait That Long"
"I Don't Want To Go Home"
"Out To Get You"
"Born of Frustration"
"Sit Down"

"Top of the World"

Thursday, October 2, 2008

My Bloody Valentine, October 1 at the Santa Monica Civic

I know earplugs aren't very rock n' roll. I've never worn them to a show, though there have been a few times when I wish I had remembered them during the opening band, so I could save my hearing for the headliner. I have proudly been deaf for days after some of my favorite shows. Like most young(er) people, I don't think of the long-term effects and assume I'll have my hearing for forever, no matter how many concerts I go to. But I knew that seeing My Bloody Valentine, perhaps the loudest band of the last 20 years, I should take some ear-plugs. Just in case. By the time I was getting into shoegaze in the 90s, My Bloody Valentine had pretty much already been and gone. But my life was changed once I got Loveless sometime after that. It's hard to get perspective on music in the time since MBV's advent made the world safe for artful guitar noise. What is beautifully shaped distortion and noise in the studio sounds fine on CD but it also sounds constrained and trapped, which is appealing but in a live setting is where the waves of distortion can really be free. The wide open space of the Indio Polo Fields would have been perfect but after MBV's embarrassing omission from 2008's Coachella line up, the next best place is a large venue that could withstand the volume of the band. I had a cheap pair of earplugs with me, only to find that, at the entrance to the venue, they were giving them out. Then when I got inside, I met up with a co-worker who also had some. The place was nice. I don't know how many concerts that the Santa Monica Civic hosts (though it got a mention in Slash's autobiography, that Guns n' Roses played one of their earliest shows there opening for Ted Nugent) but Bob Dylan had been there recently, it had open seating, like half a hockey-stadium and reminded me of the Long Beach Arena, bottled water for $1.50, and popcorn for $2. I don't know how much unreleased stuff that MBV played but I know they played most of Loveless so I was as content as I could possibly be. And, just like I thought it would be, that show was without-a-doubt, hands-down, unquestionably the loudest show I have ever been to. And you know by now that I've been to a lot of shows. I don't even know if it would have been quieter in an outside venue. My ears were ringing the next day even though I'd had my earplugs in. I took out my earplugs for one song at the beginning and my ears were ringing by the end of it. The drone-freak-out during the last song was a bit much, just hitting the same note for 20 minutes, but it's apparently a tradition at an MBV show. Apparently that just pounded home the point, if you didn't get it already, that at an MBV show, even more than gorgeous washes of sound and noise, the volume is the thing.
Something called Spectrum opened the show and they were not nearly loud enough so they were, therefore, completely insignificant.

My Bloody Valentine's set:*
"I Only Said"
"When You Sleep"
"You Never Should"
"(When You Wake) You're Still In A Dream"
"Cigarette In Your Bed"
"Come In Alone"
"Only Shallow"
"Nothing Much To Lose"
"To Here Knows When"
"Feed Me Your Kiss"
"You Made Me Realise"