Wednesday, December 10, 2008

the Pretenders/Bloc Party, December 10 at Club Nokia

I'd listened to a lot of the Pretenders but surprisingly had never seen them in concert, despite the fact that they've been around and playing consistently for almost longer than I've been alive. Indie 103 were having their Christmas show and while it was considerably less formidable than KROQ's (though, pound for pound, I'd still go with Indie's, as well as the fact that it would be a lot less trouble to get tickets), I decided to go. These radio-station Christmas shows used to be really special, and KROQ still seems to sell out theirs, even when the acts are crappy (like most of that year's (except for Franz and the Cure)). But this one didn't sell out until the day of so it just goes to show that people are dumb and have no taste. I was also interested in checking out Club Nokia, a brand-new concert venue that had opened just a month or so before. I had high hopes for a great, new place to see shows, since there can never be too many, and a lot of the sound-systems in the old stand-by venues can't keep up with new acts. The place itself is fine -- clean, shiny, open -- but it's everything else that makes it a drag: decent parking nearby is $20 and it's greatly more difficult when there's a Lakers game that night; the bouncers and staff were completely indifferent (not much for a Christmas spirit); it's the same L.A. club mentality of you can't stand here, you can't stand there; the floor in front of the stage and the balconies were all V.I.P., leaving people who had actually bought tickets shoved into the back of the place, still well enough to see the show since the place isn't gigantic, but still enough to feel dejected by the hierarchy (since, as usual, the V.I.P.s, who probably got comped tickets, barely had any idea or care who was performing), and, shockingly, the supposedly brand-new sound-system kinda sucked. Luckily, the bands didn't disappoint. I missed the Black Kids but Bloc Party were great. I don't know why everyone slagged them after their first album but all of their stuff sounded great mixed together live, with the exception of a few new songs that relied way too much on sound effects, which show how difficult it is to replicate the sounds on their albums in their live show, and showing they should concentrate on the song before the sound. The Pretenders, of course, were the stars of the show. Chryssie Hynde and crew played a set that tended to be a bit uneven, jumping back and forth between classic songs that were so well-worn that they could have played themselves, to getting out new stuff, which is their right, but none of it stuck (even after I bought their new album there from the merch table). It was only as uneven as any other band with a history stretching decades and I certainly wouldn't count them off, especially since they played everything I wanted to hear (especially "Don't Get Me Wrong"). Yeah, I should have seen one of their full shows and I shouldn't have put so much faith in a Christmas show, especially one with a crowd so disjointed, seeing as it would be hard to find fans of all three acts there (CSS played after the Pretenders but I skipped it) and not just the fans with bland taste in music (if any at all) who are just familiar with the radio station, like KROQ depends upon. But I was most disappointed by the venue, which has fortunately not featured anyone else I would care to see (except a Prince show that was apparently reviled for the sound-system) so I had no reason to go back soon. New places can have growing pains and start out shaky so I'd be willing to give them a second try but hopefully it won't be for a while. There are other places to go.

Bloc Party's set:
"Trojan Horse"
"One Month Off"
"Hunting for Witches"
"Positive Tension
something from Intimacy
"Song for Clay (Disappear Here)"
"This Modern Love"
"The Prayer"
"Like Eating Glass"

Pretenders' set:
"Boots of Chinese Plastic"
"Don’t Cut Your Hair"
"Talk of the Town"
"Message of Love"
"Don’t Lose Faith in Me"
"Love’s a Mystery"
"Back on the Chain Gang"
"One Thing Never Changed"
"Stop Your Sobbing"
"Day After Day"
"Don’t Get Me Wrong"
"Brass in Pocket"
"Break Up the Concrete"

"The Wait"

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Smashing Pumpkins, December 3 at Gibson Amphitheater

The day after the first of the two shows I looked up a review of the Smashing Pumpkins show in Chicago and compared the set-lists of both first nights. Exactly the same (with the exception of a song or two switched out, completely insignificant). Sometimes I'm disappointed in bands that play the same set every night, as it can come off as stale; spontaneity can be the funnest thing about a live event. Then again, the show is new to me, no matter how many times they've played it, and if it's any good at all, that might very well come from the amount of practice they put into it. I'm also one of those people who doesn't always like surprises and if it's within my power, I will ruin a surprise for myself just to know what's going on. So I looked up the set-list from the review of the second night. Again, another solid set. And I knew to get there on time. They only went on a few minutes late and the crowd that was there on time were in for a treat, as the band played some of their biggest hits early, either to get them out of the way or to confound the audience. (The hits maybe too early, as one fan held up a sign for the rest of the show begging for "1979", which the band played third in the set. Corgan noticed and essentially told them they were S.O.L. for it.) The set was somewhat frustrating, as the band started strong with the hits then went right into an acoustic set of a few new numbers. Maybe this was to burn some of those songs while the crowd filed in, but if that was the case, why open with the hits? Right after that was the blistering, one-two-three blast of "Cherub Rock", "Zero", and "Bodies", some of their heaviest, fastest numbers, then into more obscurities. Then into Fleetwood Mac's "Landside" and "Disarm", two more hits, and an orchestral version of instrumental "Mellon Chollie and the Infinite Sadness", some more obscurities, and for some reason bringing the guitarist from Dokken on stage for a piece or two then a punk-thrash cover of "The Sounds of Silence", which I wouldn't even have recognized as a Simon & Garfunkel cover if it wasn't for the set-list. Then ended with some other stuff no one new, and an encore of an acoustic version of "That's the Way (My Love Is)" which was pretty but much less spectacular than on disc, outstandingly so since it was the only thing they played that night from the new album. And ultimately ending on the most obscure tune in their catalog, the second part of "I Am One", whatever that means. I don't know if it was paced deliberately to have some crowd-pleasing hits for the audience then a few that the band wanted to play, grouping them so the crowd could tune in and drift out in clusters of songs, or if they were just trying to confound the audience, or if they just didn't give a crap, playing what they wanted and only doing the hits as charity. It really doesn't even matter what their plan was since it was actually a great show, despite featuring so many songs that no one knew. The band was so tight, even on the meandering jams (especially evident on the first night), that if you didn't know what was a hit and what was an obscurity, you would think it was all just a great, rock-out show. No one ever seems to know where Corgan is going to go next but if he follows this direction, it might be some great stuff, especially if he acheives the resurrection of this once-iconic band, which, once improbable, now seems like it could happen.

Smashing Pumpkins' set:
"Ava Adore"
"Cupid De Locke"
"99 Floors"
"Cherub Rock"
"I of the Mourning"
"A Song for a Son"
"Mellon Chollie and the Infinite Sadness" (redux)
"As Rome Burns" (with George Lynch)
"The Sounds of Silence"
"The March Hare"
"Age of Innocence"

"That’s the Way"
"I Am One Pt. 2"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Smashing Pumpkins, December 2 at Gibson Amphitheater

I saw the Smashing Pumpkins back in '96 and it was one of the worst concerts I've ever been to. The band wasn't at all interested in being there, the material was sub-par (the Mellon Chollie album), and, worst of all, my seats were pretty bad. I've always been a fan of the band, not a huge one but I had the albums, I like most of the hits, and I appreciated Billy Corgan's work ethic. After that show back then, I just assumed they were a crappy live band or whatever it was that was great about them in concert had been lost by the time they went big. I didn't ever care to see them again after that though I still bought (most of) the albums. Then they broke up and I gave Zwan a try for old time's sake but I got burned on it and figured anything Corgan did from there would hold nothing for me. Then they (kinda) reformed and for some reason I gave them another chance. Zietgeist was good but I still was hesitant about the live show. But I heard they were great in concert again and for this tour they were doing two nights in the major markets, with a completely different set each night, they said. I'm intrigued by shows that are off the track and I figured, if they played enough for two nights of shows, there would be more of a chance to hear some of my favorite obscure stuff, even if the current version of the band was only half of the original. They were playing a venue down the street from me so I got tickets to both nights, just in case they were going to play "Mayonnaise" on the night that I didn't pick to go. I had made up my mind to go, even though I got a crappy seat (almost the same one for each night), despite the fact that I was only looking for one ticket and that I logged-on to get tickets online about 10 seconds after they sent on sale (and it didn't sell out immediately). There wasn't an opening band listed and I had read that each show was lengthy but I still thought I had time to get there the first night, not that the show would really start at 8:15 like it said on the ticket, I thought. I got there at just before 8:30 (after a bottleneck getting into the place) and had already missed a few songs but in time for "Mayonnaise." If I had missed that song, the band would have seen me at their next tour stop. The first night leaned more toward the sludgier stuff, leaning toward the new album, and some jams that were done more to do it than to fill the space with noise. The show flowed well and the music sounded great, though some of the hits, in particular "Tonight, Tonight" and "Today" seemed rush and less involved, which actually helped, if only to differentiate the live version from the studio one. The most notable thing was that the band didn't sound like they were just pacing through the material, even the hits, which certainly made this performance more invigorating than I would have imagined, and they pulled off the epics they've always tried to make out of their songs; anthems are hard to play when your heart isn't in it. The Pumpkins' secret weapon: drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. I would expect that most nights the show hangs on his mood and if he's brought all his power or not. I have no reason to think that he doesn't feel like not being quite possibly one of the best and certainly the most underrated drummer in rock today. Turns out that Corgan is actually a pretty good guitar player too (though he'd better be, to make up for Iha pissing off). If the Pumpkins were a new band and not veterans, they would probably have the same-size crowd just as quickly and people would be pissing themselves about how good they are and not moaning about how nothing is Siamese Dream anymore. But this is what they are now and, for the first time in a long time, Corgan is making the most of it. And it's actually good.

Smashing Pumpkins' set:
"Roctopus" (Jimmy Chamberlin’s opening drum solo)
"Everybody Come Clap"
"Tonight, Tonight"
"Speed Kills"
"Transformer" (may not have been included. I don't remember it, at least)
"United States"
"Once Upon a Time"
"Again, Again, Again (The Crux)"
"The Rose March"
"Bullet with Butterfly Wings"
"The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning"
"Heavy Metal Machine"
"Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" (Pink Floyd cover)

"We Only Come Out at Night"
"Close to You"