Saturday, December 10, 2011

Aimee Mann Christmas show, December 10 at the Wiltern

Aimee Mann does an annual Christmas show, and I remember seeing listings for it and noticed she always got impressive talent to perform at it but I knew I probably couldn't get into Largo to see it anyway.  And I didn’t care as much anyway at the time -- I’ve always been a tangential Aimee Mann fan but Carla holds her in a high, high regard.  I got tickets for us as an early Christmas gift (a bit non-festive since I bought them in October) and boned up on the acts that were going to be there.  I got a few Mann albums and cursed myself for not getting them in the ‘90s when they could have made a real difference. I assumed the show would be something like the KROQ (kinda-)Christmas shows, with the acts playing their standard sets with maybe a few Christmas songs for novelty and some kind of holiday-type flair, maybe some wreaths and a Christmas tree. The act I really wanted to see was Michael Penn, Mann’s husband, who I’ve been a fan of since 1990 and March (one of my most-obsessed-over albums from high school), and though we probably live in adjacent zip codes and for as many shows as he’s done at Largo (when I even met him in line for the restroom), I’d never seen him perform.  I thought this was going to be the big chance.  Then they added Nellie McKay a few weeks before the show and I went nuts.  Old, recent, and new musical obsessions, all in one place.  Turns out it wasn’t at all a regular show that just happened to be at Christmas-time, it was an actual Christmas show that was performed by some amazing talents.  Mann of course was the host, on stage most of the time, speaking to the crowd for an introduction and being part of some between-act skits that were stiff but at least self-aware enough to play off the fact that they were so dry.  Mann's charm comes through her music.  There were a few comedians that performed, as well as Paul F. Tompkins, my favorite L.A. comedian, who might have taken the spotlight from Mann since he was on stage so much, but it was all part of the act and she was probably relieved that someone else could take over the stage banter.  All funny, though.  Penn did one song, not his own, but mostly he was in the service to the backing band and Mann.  Predictably, McKay could have stolen the show but she’s mature enough to share the stage when she has to.  The Wiltern is a lot bigger place than she usually plays and it’s a shame she didn’t get her own spotlight since she could have won that whole place over easily.  As it was, she performed with Mann and told a few jokes that were probably a bit off-color for Christmas, but we’re all adults and it was, as always, a charming performance.  Mann did perform her own minimally-Christmas set in the middle, a scant few songs but a few new numbers.  Luckily the performance was more melancholy and comforting than depressing -- it could just be int he way you take Mann's music.  Maybe that was the point of the show, that Christmas is depressing enough but it's unavoidable so you might as well make the most of it.   Looking back, I don’t mind that we didn’t get a standard set from the acts we were there to see -- that they did a Christmas thing was unique and special.  There will be other times to see them doing whole sets of their own material, though it probably won’t involve awkward comedy.

“Linus and Lucy (Peanuts Theme)”
“Christmastime Is Here”
“Baby It's Cold Outside”
“Winter Wonderland”
“I'll Be Home For Christmas”
“What Are You Doing New Year's Eve”
“This Is The Life”
“Clean Up For Christmas”
“Save Me”
“Calling On Mary”
“Mr. Grinch”
“My First, My Last, My Everything” (Barry White cover)
“The Christmas Song”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bob Mould tribute, November 21 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall

I’d been a fan of Bob Mould since the Sugar days in the '90s but it wasn’t until just recently that I realized how great a songwriter and talent he is, as I realized that a lot of other people love his stuff too.  (It doesn't hurt that he also had his autobiography out at the time, stoking a lot of Mould appreciation.  (Of course I read it.  And it's quite good.))  I didn’t get into Hüsker Dü until just before Mould played Coachella, and of course that original band is really where he made his name, but the mark was made on me with Sugar, as that was a perfect balance of pop music and shredding guitars, as well as my having a certain personal attachment to it since my college days.  I always just thought he was a songwriter who got lucky and had a few good albums so I never realized how far his influence really went.  That he would have a tribute show, and at the Walt Disney Concert Hall no less, is a testament to how well loved the man apparently is apparently to some important people.  And enough fans to fill the place.  Mould played the Troubadour the last time he played in town, and that show might not even have sold out. His shows could realistically get smaller than that but probably nothing short of a one-time-only Hüsker Dü reunion could fill a place comparable to the Disney Concert Hall.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that some of Mould’s biggest fans are also heavyweights in the music world, and that they agreed to perform at the show.  It went through sections representing Mould’s phases of music, maybe more by the choices of the artists that were performing the songs rather than by a design to balance it all.  But Sugar was well-represented, especially when Britt Daniel of Spoon opened the show with some Sugar classics, including "JC Auto,” one of my favorite Sugar/Mould tracks, and a ferocious one at that, sold me on whatever they would do for the rest of the show.  Daniel also performed with Jessica Dobson, an L.A.-local singer-songwriter that I’ve followed since hearing her on KCRW some years ago.  Craig Finn and Tad Kubler of the Hold Steady did more Sugar, with Finn’s voice making it a much different take, but those songs are amazingly flexible.  For some reason Margaret Cho was there, and her introduction to her song wasn’t funny, and maybe she shouldn't have been singing, but she had Grant-Lee Phillips (the biggest draw for Carla, as she only had a cursory knowledge of Hüsker Dü as a connection to the show) backing her, so there are worse safety nets (and she needed it).  But she talked of how much Mould’s music moved her, performing “Favorite Thing” (another favorite of mine), and it was a testament to the punk-rock ethos of maybe not having the best in technical ability but playing like you mean it and with heart, and that’s what it’s about in the first place.  Ryan Adams strolled out and did two of Mould’s earliest solo tracks.  He didn't say anything but he didn’t have to. Mould, through the music, said all that needed to be said.  Finally the man himself appeared: Mould came on-stage along, with No Age, two guys that might not even have been babies when Hüsker Dü was on the scene.  The three tore through Hüsker Dü classics before being joined by Dave Grohl, who can apparently pull a crowd to a big concert hall on his name alone, without the Foo Fighters, who are playing stadiums these days.  It would be enough but hopefully there were some Foo Fighters/Nirvana/Hüsker Dü/Bob Mould crossovers that went to the show to see that blend of elements of that music all in one night, or at least a few that came for Grohl and stayed for Mould.  There was a lot of love there that night, and a lot of appreciation. Mould may have his heart in guitar rock less these days but we’re lucky when we can get some of it.  His muse might have moved him into electronic music these days (and something a bit alien to me, for the most part) but you know guitar rock is dyed in his soul and it's always reassuring to the faith of good music that he returns to it.  Mould closed the show solo, but with as much volume as if he had a full band behind him, playing a range of his tunes, probably stuff he plays at his own shows, in much smaller places, but on this night the music had more weight and, if you didn’t know it, you might have thought those songs had conquered the world throughout the last 30 years and that that concert hall was a stadium.  As it was, it was just a fitting tribute to a man who hopefully will be considered a legend in time while he’s around to enjoy it.  As it was, the show ended with Mould on his own in the center of the stage, showered in a spotlight and the sound of a standing ovation.  Proper appreciation by a crowd that was as moved by his music as he was moved by their appreciation.  (On the original bill were Best Coast, who would have been interesting doing Mould covers, but also the dude from Deathcab for Cutie. I reckon it balanced out.)

Britt Daniel's set-list:
"The Act We Act" (Sugar cover)
 "JC Auto" (Sugar cover)

Craig Finn & Tim Kubler's set-list:

"Real World" (Hüsker Dü cover) 
"A Good Idea" (Sugar cover) 
"Changes" (Sugar cover)

Ryan Adams's set-list:

"Black Sheets Of Rain" (Bob Mould cover)
"Heartbreak A Stranger" (Bob Mould cover)

Bob Mould's set-list:

"I Apologize" (with No Age)
"In a Free Land" (with No Age)
"Hardly Getting Over It" (with Dave Grohl)
"Could You Be the One" (with Dave Grohl)
"Ice Cold Ice" (with Dave Grohl)
"Something I Learned Today" (with Dave Grohl)
"Chartered Trips" (with Dave Grohl)
"New Day Rising" (with Dave Grohl)
"Hoover Dam"
"If I Can't Change Your Mind"
"Celebrated Summer"
"Makes No Sense At All"
"See a Little Light"

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pixies, November 18 at the Majestic Fox Theater

Carla and I were celebrating one year of being together so accordingly we wanted to do something special.   We thought to take a trip, though nothing extravagant since we were both working at the time, then we wanted to tie some special event to it, since neither of us are much for lounging around for a weekend.  Bakersfield isn't the most exciting place to go, and I got a lot of crap from friends when I said I took my lady there, but I explained it all completely with one word: Pixies.  The band was playing Bakersfield the Friday after our anniversary (we were busy the actual weekend of it anyway) and that fit for us.  It didn't matter to us where the show was -- it was within a few hours' drive of home and tickets were still on sale.  (Our first choice was the Fonda show the night after the one in Bakersfield but it had sold out before we even heard of it and we were busy that night anyway.)  So we got tickets, made reservations at the nearby hotel for one night, then that Friday both of us got off work early and we drove up there, listening to the import album of Pixies covers by Japanese garage-punk bands.  Most of the show itself was actually unextraordinary.  The band was still touring off of the Doolittle anniversary, still flogging playing it in its entirety after two years, though the twist with this tour was playing in cities they hadn't played before (not surprising that they had never gotten to Bakersfield, though a surprise that there are actually corners of the Earth that they hadn't gotten to by that point).  Both Carla and I had seen the Doolittle show already, both of us going to the show (or shows) at the Palladium, but of course it was special because we were both seeing our favorite band together (and actually together, rather than being there but separate, like numerous times before we met each other).  It was all I could ask for for a very special event.  And the band played well, by now being fine-tuned to playing that whole album of material, as well as the attendant B-sides, as we've seen before.  They seemed a little more relaxed (though that would always come and go in all the shows I saw).  The most special part of the concert itself, and what made the show for us, was a run-through of "Dig For Fire," which neither of us had ever seen them play.  We both lost it.  The band never played that back in the day, even when touring Bossanova, and they hadn't played it at any of the shows that Carla or I had been to up to that point.  They started it over once and it was still pretty rough but that they made the attempt was spectacular to us.   We were over the moon.  It would have made our night, if not the whole weekend -- if the rest of Bakersfield wasn't actually kind of great.  The Padre Hotel, where we stayed, is next to the Fox Theater (why so many concert venues in California with that name?) and it is a great, swanky hotel, a place that would fit in L.A. (though if it were we wouldn't be able to get into it).  The rest of the city was a little run-down; maybe not the kind of place I would go to if my favorite band wasn't playing there, but for that trip and that occasion it was extraordinary.  Imaginary Cities, a female-fronted pop-rock band, opened the show and they were pretty good.

Pixies' set-list: 

"Dancing the Manta Ray"
"Weird at My School"
"Bailey's Walk"
"Manta Ray"
"Wave of Mutilation"
"I Bleed"
"Here Comes Your Man"
"Monkey Gone to Heaven"
"Mr. Grieves"
"Crackity Jones"
"La La Love"
"No. 13 Baby"
"There Goes My Gun"
"Gouge Away"

"Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)"
"Into the White"

"Planet of Sound"
"Dig for Fire"
"Where Is My Mind?"

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tune-Yards, November 2 at the Music Box

The Tune-Yards are (yet) another band that I would have missed if not for Carla.  There's a chance that I might have gotten the album after I read about all the hype around it but I may not have had the patience to stick with it long enough to get through the weirdness and find the brilliance in it.  As it was, Whokill became an album that I kept playing and it ended up as my #1 album of the year.  I don't know if I could listen to a lot of albums that are as far out there but that one was just the right amount of strangeness that made most of everything else I heard stale and boring.  I figured Merrill -- basically, the band in one person -- would be just as weird in concert and I was right, though I don't know if I would have been truly disappointed if she was either more or less weird live.  Of course a lot of the album is about the production and that usually means it will be canned in concert but Merrill made it more of a live experience by looping her voice and the minimal instruments she used.  There’s a skill in that.  She was also touring with only a few other musicians, barely enough to make a band, including (and mostly) two guys that alternated percussion (mostly hitting things, not necessarily instruments, with drumsticks) and saxophones.  Merrill also made it a visual thing, with face-paint and day-glo all over everything.  If you’re going to be weird, go as far as you can with it.  The concert experience could have been just the album itself but she played stuff that wasn’t off Whokill and she didn’t even attempt to recreate what we’d already heard, just going off and doing her own thing, sometimes offering something familiar, sometimes just off in her own zone which we could only peer into for a moment.  And it was an experience as unique as the album, though the album will stand and live on as an odd but amazing artifact from the year, one that won’t be repeated, even by Merrill herself and whatever band she wanders away with after this rush of relative success, as she’s surely an artist who will do her own thing, especially since her own thing has taken her this far.  (And no, I'm not going with that weird, horrible capitalization that she usually uses for the band's name.  Weird is one thing but proper English is another.)  Cut Chemist opened the show.  We got in late, after eating dinner next door, and we regretted seeing only the second half of his set.  It was a deft mish-mash of a lot of different sounds, a great compliment to the headliners, with a visual element (images on a screen), adding some real artistry to what could have been just another DJ filler set.  I hope that was a really good meal.

Tune-Yards’ set-list:

"My Country"
"Real Live Flesh"
"Gangsta" (with Cut Chemist)
"You Yes You"

"Party Can (Do You Want to Live?) "

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Portishead, October 19 at the Shrine Expo Hall

I can’t honestly say I was a huge Portishead fan when they were big back in the ‘90s.  I had both of their albums, almost out of obligation, and since everyone around me, it seemed, adored them, but I just never made a deep connection with their music, even after listening to those albums hundreds of times.  I liked them enough and there were a few songs, mostly off their first, that I liked but that was generally as far as I went.  I even mostly skipped their set at Coachella '08, and knew that I didn’t have to invest in them so much since they had such a infrequent presence in the first place.  Predictably, everyone went crazy over Third and I got it, again mostly out of obligation, but I found that very quickly, to my surprise, I really dug it.  It took them a ridiculous amount of time after the album release to do a full tour but at least that gave me the chance to reevaluate my taste for them and to fall madly for their newest album.  I suppose what everyone else liked about them -- that morose, faux-goth strain of a sound -- was what made them difficult them for me, even though I certainly like that kind of music elsewhere, and while I was ambivalent about their music before, their new stuff was a lot more forward and less melancholy, and that suited me well.  I was making connections between Third and Radiohead’s In Rainbows, and it's clear to see that those two bands have had a lot of crossed paths, musically and historically if nothing else (more to the point that Radiohead shared their drummer on tour and I heard that they covered “The Rip” live); Beth singing with Radiohead as the band and the Portishead guys on production could be mind-blowing, though we would happily settle for a Beth/Thom duet.  Portishead played the Shrine Expo Hall, which is a non-traditional location: there's an auditorium there that has the occasional concert but the expo hall is where I've been for monthly comics conventions.  But it seemed the right size and I think they still sold out the two nights there (Carla and I getting lucky with tickets for the second night).  The show was as expected, a lot of it pre-programmed, with Beth shunning the spotlight but adding the only real spontaneity.  The music was all familiar, and it’s all surely meant to be heard alone, in a dark, cold room, curled in a fetal position, but there was something about hearing it there, in a dark, cold room, but surrounded by people that brought a warmth and excitement to it.  The band presented their music, meant to be enjoyed in an individual, very personal way, to a crowd of individuals and it worked with the crowd, though it really helped that the often-robotic mechanics of the newest album, almost bordering on new-school industrial (and maybe it is, in this day and age), could carry it.  The older stuff might be too depressing to sustain for an hour and a half but mixed in with the clamor of the new tracks, it went well.  The crowd wasn’t even as old as I would have expected, which goes to show that the band is still picking up fans even after going away for something like a dozen years.  And for the first time, I really wish they would come back soon with new music.  Now that they’re again exploring new territory with their music, it could be exciting to see where they go, as well as what they do in concert with it.  And I'll be there, as much a fan as those around me.

Portishead’s set-list:

"The Rip"
"Sour Times"
"Magic Doors"
"Wandering Star"
"Machine Gun"
"Glory Box"
"Chase the Tear"

"We Carry On"

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Joy Formidable, September 14 at the El Rey

The Joy Formidable came up the way a good band is supposed to and the way that seems so rare anymore: put out a collection of great songs and tour the hell out of it.  A lot of bands don’t have the great songs but these guys, with touring or without, got the word out early, with the A Balloon Called Moaning EP, and quickly they were moving up festival bills, then when the full album, The Big Roar, came out it seemed like everyone (within a certain circle of music fans) knew them.  It’s very forward music, not necessarily aggressive, just heavy, sometimes sludgy tunes that are balanced by a pixie-ish singer who can float her voice above all the heaviness.  You could guess that the heaviness comes from the production on disc but they bring it live too, even with just a three-piece band.  How that chick can play guitar like that and sing like that at the same time is beyond me.  She could be a force before too long, though hopefully it will be with the rest of the band.  It would be great if they could break onto radio but this is yet another of those bands that wasn’t designed for pop consumption, instead just doing music for those who can appreciate a breath of fresh air, as those who were at the El Rey that night were.  The venue was a good fit for the band, since they couldn’t quite make it to the Wiltern at that point in their career.  But they had stayed out on the road, getting their name and music out, at that point already out for at least a few years and still on for another half of that.  Being road warriors is one way to earn some success as a rock band, as it’s always been, but a band being up for anything anywhere is best served by having some great music and a fantastic persona as a group, and they have all of the above.  They even seemed to have traded confidence for exhaustion, remarkable for being out on the road for as long as they had been.  The measure of success for a band isn’t what it used to be, and it’s hard to see that a band has really broken through if they’ve only made it to the El Rey, but the Joy Formidable are a young band with hopefully a long road ahead of them, in a lengthy career of touring and putting out more fresh, heavy rock music.

I know and like Telekinesis, the openers, but I don’t know how they are live so I don’t know if Carla and I made the right decision in skipping them and eating at the Tex-mex place across the street.  But we needed to eat and the place is pretty good (though more being about the only place around the El Rey to get dinner before a show).

The Joy Formidable’s set-list:
"A Heavy Abacus"
"Greyhounds in the Slips"
"The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade"

"The Magnifying Glass"
"I Don't Want To See You Like This"
(I don’t recall it being that short a show but I don’t remember if they played more than that.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The National/Neko Case/Sharon Van Etten, September 11 at the Hollywood Bowl

Even a cursory glance at what I’ve written on this blog would show that the National have a special place in mine and Carla's relationship. We would probably have gone to any other show they put on but to see them at the Bowl would even more special. It was also since we knew we were going to go to that show, and since there were so many other great shows that summer at the Bowl, that I got the five-show ticket deal, though this one was the main one, and one we certainly would have gotten tickets for even if it wasn't part of a package. To say nothing of the fact that the bill also featured Neko Case and Sharon Van Etten, the latter being one of the first, new musicians that Carla got me into, as well as also having music that became a special connection for us. And even if we didn’t have a personal connection to those artists, that’s still an astounding, near-unbeliveable pairing and array of amazing music, for anyone. It was also impressive to see the National going from playing the Wiltern (or, where we both (individually) saw them, in Pomona) and making it to headlining the Hollywood Bowl at the other side of the tour, though it was quite a while that they were on the road and a whole lot of appearances they made at a lot of cities and festivals; it’s good that they could break through and rise to an impressive height, as ubiquitous as they seemed to be for a while. (And even more that they made it that far on the back of an album that I still hadn’t come to love as much as their other stuff by the time we saw them then.) It was a very similar show to what they had played numerous times before, but it seemed to fit so much better at the Bowl, in that expanse of space open to the sky on a calm, California night, and it was so practiced that it was so polished and slick and easy that it could flow and be graceful and beautiful and intense, maybe even all of those at the same time. They might have had a (relative) hit about a zombie eating your brains but the music and the way they perform it turn it into a shimmering, wondrous tune, something you could slow-dance to. St. Vincent came to sing back-up on a few tunes, a great surprise but a bit out of place. She was on the cover of Spin that week, not the National. And it’s not like the band needed any help. The band might have been worn-out from being on the road for forever but they carried it well, and pulled off probably the biggest headlining show of their career, unless they come back next time with something to top it, which, considering their trajectory, could happen (especially if they can survive being on tour again, maybe for even longer). Neko Case was splendid and gorgeous as usual, but her voice and her grace are one of the most reliable things in all of current music. She probably could have done just fine headlining the Bowl herself but as it was, with her being an addition, it was just a killer bill. She performed a suitable range of her music, never having to pander and play a crowd-pleaser (not even that song in the credit card commercial), just everyone there knowing that she would knock everyone out with the sound of her voice, which she did. She wasn't as intense as the National and she didn't need the pop sounds of the New Pornographers, she didn't even require special-guest T-Bone Burnett (an interesting choice, with the modern-legend producer coming out of the studio but only being buried under Case's performance so hopefully the drinks backstage were good), but she proved that she could stand on her own on that stage, as if there was ever any doubt. Sharon Van Etten fared as well, even in the opening slot, but in a show like that, being any part of it was significant. She fought being swallowed by the place, as it was only her out there with a very minimal stage set-up, but she did just fine, seducing the folks shuffling in as the sun set over the Bowl and the show began. At the time she fit best in a smaller venue just for the intimate and fragile beauty of her voice and songs, so to fill a space like that will take some experience, which just might come in time. As it was, it was the most beautiful evening we've had at the Bowl, a perfectly fitting night to close out the summer season for us. Every day and every show with Carla is a special thing, but there are a few that will last in our memories well beyond a small space in time.

The National's set-list: 

"Anyone's Ghost"
"Bloodbuzz Ohio"
"Slow Show"
"Squalor Victoria"
"Afraid Of Everyone" (with St. Vincent)
"Conversation 16"
"Cardinal Song"
"Sorrow" (with St. Vincent)
"Thirsty" (with St. Vincent)
"Fake Empire"
"Think You Can Wait" (with Sharon Van Etten)
"Mr. November"
"Terrible Love" (with St. Vincent)
"About Today"
(Apparently "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" was supposed to close the show but was cut due to time.)

Neko Case's set-list: 

"That Teenage Feeling"
"Maybe Sparrow"
"Margaret vs. Pauline"
"Hold On, Hold On"
"City Swans"
"Magpie to the Morning"
"Calling Cards"
"Bracing for Sunday"
"Don't Forget Me" (Harry Nilsson cover)
"Vengeance is Sleeping"
"Star Witness"

Sharon Van Etten's set-list:
"Peace Signs"
"Save Yourself"
"One Day"
"Don't Do It"
"All I Can"
"Love Me"

Saturday, September 3, 2011

FYF Fest, September 3 in L.A.

The line-up for the 2011 FYF Fest blew us away.  I might even venture to say that I liked it better than the Coachella line-up for the year.  There were more bands that I hadn't seen before and I was impressed that they had thrown together so many different, but great, acts.  Coachella usually does pretty well with getting some exciting, young bands, but those are usually on the undercard of the line-up and FYF seemed like it was all about exciting, young bands.  I was also encouraged by knowing that this festival would be easier to get to and around, being local, even though my own plans stopped me from knowing 100% if I would be able to go until just before it happened.  Even though I had gone -- or tried to go -- to the 2010 FYF Fest and it was a mess, I wanted to give the '11 a try.  '10 was so much beyond a horrible experience, so I heard, that any improvement would be huge, and they would certainly do all they could to make up for the bad PR they got in '10.  Even though I couldn't even get into the '10 fest (though, to be fair, I had only gone to see one band and only gave it a half-hour to get in and get out), I was willing to give the festival another try.  Really, the line-up was so amazing, I was willing to potentially put up with a lot.  And as it turned out, they really did clean up the thing and made up for the previous year.  We took the subway in, which was easy enough, and walked right in to the festival, as easy as could be.  It was a busy weekend for, with a show the night before then having to get up early the next day so I could run in the Disney Half-Marathon in Anaheim, but we were doing our best to get as much out of the festival as we could.  Entering and getting our bearings, we heard The Head & the Heart but I couldn’t say anything about them more than they sounded pleasant enough.  We met up with Andrew & Heather, who we hung out with off and on throughout the day, and Jen was there as well.  The show was originally supposed to take place downtown, which made everyone excited since they thought that if they had it at the Historic Park like they did it last year it would be a disaster again, but what they did to fix what had happened worked and the location was just fine.  And no matter how you slice it, a festival like that for only $45 a ticket is a deal that’s hard to beat.  And no one could control it but the weather was wonderful, sunny and not too hot, and that always makes a difference.  Early on I got separated from everyone for some reason and wandered over to see Ty Segall, which I couldn’t say much about, but I was interested enough to look up on Wikipedia if he was one person or a group.  I also wandered over to check out Off!, who Andrew said were great at Coachella but I missed then.  I’m not familiar with the admittedly impressive pedigree of that band, and I still don’t know much about the Circle Jerks, but I could appreciate them for the old-school L.A. hardcore sound that they came from.  The Smith Westerns had had a lot of fuss made about them that year and they were good but they seemed caught between the expectation for a group of punks and in reality being good soundsmiths.  Didn’t really help that they weren’t local, though that wasn’t a requirement, it did seem to help.  Carla was surprised that I didn’t know Japandroids, and I dug them, and not for a lack of two-man bands out there that day (and in general).  Cults was another band caught between two worlds.  I wanted them to be wild and bratty but they really were just good, and a bit poppy, maybe more than anyone out there was interested in.  I’d heard about The Weakerthans years ago and knew they’d be good for a festival, and they sounded great, but they were also that performance during nearly any festival that I lay down and take a nap during.  For music or for dozing, they were fantastic.  No Age are another two-man band but one that has done exceedingly well in L.A., if not elsewhere.  I don’t know if it’s just local pride or if the rest of the world realized that they’re pretty great but it seems they’re a big deal when they do an L.A. show, the FYF Fest being no exception.  We wandered around after that, as the sun was going down, and we heard some Four Tet, which was, to me, one of the strangest picks for the day, as I recalled that act as being kind of a DJ.  But hey, if people dug it then it fit right in.  No one seemed to throw a fit about any of the acts that were selected to be out there anyway, and I applaud the organizers for being adventurous about who they chose.  It was a much better festival for being something more than local punk bands (though there was a selection of them too).  Broken Social Scene was another odd choice but seeing them they seemed to work, though it was really only a warm-up for us and to be at the right stage for our main attraction: Guided By Voices.  Of course it was GBV that jumped right off the line-up at me and the biggest reason I was going, though the rest of the festival probably would have been enough to get me to go.  It also set the standard for a certain flavor of the event, that they had no problem having a veteran act there, though they were probably a big influence to a lot of the young bands out there that day.  I had missed them twice before (and that was only counting after they got back together) and I really didn’t want to miss this time.  Heck, it would have been worth it for me to spend the entire cost of the ticket just on them (and actually make it to the show).  They certainly didn’t disappoint.  I don’t know how active Pollard was on stage back in the day and I don’t know how the other stuff they’d play that wasn’t originally performed by that line-up sounded, but that they had less than an hour to play, they packed a set with enough great stuff that it was everything that I had waited and hoped for.  The band didn’t have to work that hard to win over the crowd, as everyone there would either know them or not and probably not be so interested in wandering over if they didn’t already have some kind of background with them.  Maybe they could have turned it up just a bit more, but what they did was hold the course and ran it as hard as it needed to go.  Hopefully they satisfied their fans that made it out, maybe even increasing the median age of the entire festival crowd by a few years.  They did their thing then left the stage and that was great.  And as it turned out, we had to leave then too, since we had to get up just a few hours later.  But as far as I was concerned it was a mission accomplished and though I’ve rarely left so early from a concert festival, I got what I wanted out of it, from GBV and from the other acts and from the festival and from the day.

We missed: Cold War Kids, Yacht, Glass Candy (another really interesting pick), the Descendents, Death from Above 1979, Dead Milkmen (the last two being most significant, headliners that we would have loved to see.  Maybe it was better that way since it would have been tough to decide between the two (though it would have been the Dead Milkmen since I’d never seen them before and never thought I would again.  But oh well.))
"Late Nineties Bedroom Rock for the Missionaries"
"Shampoo Suicide"
"Texico Bitches"
"7/4 (Shoreline)"
"Water in Hell"
"The World At Large" (Modest Mouse cover)
"Meet Me in the Basement"
"It's All Gonna Break"
"Love Cry"
"Spirit Fingers"
"The Curse"
"Never Heal Myself"
"Most Wanted"
"You Know What I Mean"
"Never Saw the Point"
"Rave On"
"Go Outside"
"Oh My God"
new song
"Younger Us"
"The Boys Are Leaving Town"
new song
"Wet Hair"
"Rockers East Vancouver"
"Young Hearts Spark Fire"
"For the Love of Ivy" (The Gun Club cover)
"Imagine Pt. 3"
"Fallen in Love"
"Only One"
"End of the Night"
"All Die Young"
"Still New"
"Gimme Some Time"
"Dye the World"
"Black Thoughts"
"I Don't Belong"
"Poison City"
"Now I'm Pissed"
"Jeffrey Lee Pierce"
"Killing Away"
"Full Of Shit"
"Sexy Capitalists"
"Fuck People"
"Compared To What"
"Crawl/Rat Trap"
"Peace In Hermosa"
"Panic Attack"
"Upside Down"
"Goodbye Bread"
"Standing at the Station"
"Imaginary Person"
"You Make the Sun Fry"
"My Sunshine"
"The Floor"
"The Drag"
"Lost in My Mind"
"Sounds Like Hallelujah"
new untitled song (Sally Walks Into a Bar)
"Down In The Valley"
"Rivers and Roads"

Friday, September 2, 2011

Human League/B-52’s, September 2 at the Hollywood Bowl

It was billed as “Totally ‘80s Night” but that could be an insult to the bands that played, since they’d moved beyond being ‘80s kitsch (or acted as if they had) and had even put out new material, at least one band playing there as part of the tour for their new material, but those bands also wouldn’t be able to play the Bowl on the strength of their new material or from being a longevity band.  So a “totally ‘80s night” it was.  As long as the bands played a hit every third song, the audience, most of which was well liquored-up and either gay or a parent with the night off, didn’t mind.  I wasn't particularly a fan of every band on the bill but I thought it would be a fun night and it was another show to go toward the 5-shows-at-the-Bowl deal I got.  We were there for the B-52’s, who I’d never seen before.  Maybe a gigantic monstrosity of a venue isn’t quite the best place to see them, and maybe the clubs they still play isn’t either, but probably any place you can party at was enough for them.  The tickets said the show started at 7 so we thought we’d be fine to get there by 9, surely with time as the bands before them played, so we thought we had plenty of time but we got there around 8:30 and the outside area of the Bowl was already cleared out, everyone inside to see the B-52’s, who were already on.  We only missed a song or two but it was the biggest mess we’d ever had to try to find our seats, fighting through the alternating darkness and strobe-lights, and the crowd that’d already been drinking since before sundown.  We brought our dinner but it was such chaos it was difficult to eat, and since everyone was so obnoxiously drunk around us, we were a bit put off of drinking ourselves, though we did anyway, just to deal with everyone else.  And nothing against those partying around us -- that’s what they were there to do, I just wish we had gotten there in time so we could settle in and get to a place, both physically and in our intoxication, we could enjoy it ourselves.  And certainly no reason to not party with the B-52’s: their new stuff just about fits in with their hits, at least if you’re drunk you couldn’t tell them that much apart, and they have the wild spirit and experience to be able to mix it all up anyway.  Doesn’t even matter how old the band is, they’re probably going to be partying with the same gusto long after the rest of us are gone, and well into heaven.  They can party with the entirety of the Hollywood Bowl and still have lots of energy to spare.  I don’t know why they weren't headlining that night at the Bowl; you’d think everyone was there for them but most of the place stuck around for the Human League.  I don’t know how it turned out that that band were the headliners but maybe it wasn’t based completely on popularity.  They have more hits than I remembered, and it was enough to carry the show, but they were playing it like it was just another show for them; I don’t know how they could think that they could get into the Hollywood Bowl when their last American hit was over two decades and at least one whole head of hair ago.  But the crowd that was left still seemed into it, and maybe the Human League are still making decent music, maybe even stuff that’s charting somewhere in the world (though not nearly in America), but it could also be the case that everyone was wasted and wanted to keep partying and didn’t feel up to staggering back to reality quite yet.  I was impressed that the band was confident enough to not even have a full band, instead being that lead, bald guy, then just two guys in the back playing synthesizers and the two chick singers who hadn’t completely fallen apart in the years since they had videos on MTV, though it was probably that same confidence, maybe even arrogance, that made them think that they were headlining the Bowl on the strength of their current music and appeal.  We never got into the groove that the party had going on but it was a good enough show, seeing a band that didn’t quite deserve the Bowl but had a few tunes worth hearing.  I was good just with "Human," which came about half-way through (surprising that they would play what I thought was their biggest hit but they had other stuff that they played at the very end that was good enough).  I’d rather see a band that could be held up by their music rather than a nostalgic venture but I’m good just to see legends like the B-52’s.  We got there too late to see Berlin and the Fixx, which we were fine to miss, especially since they also had new material, though I’m not sure if that would work for or against them.

The B-52's set-list:
"Private Idaho"
"Give Me Back My Man"
"Party Out Of Bounds"
"Love In The Year 3000"
"Cosmic Thing"
"Hot Corner"
"Love Shack"
"Planet Claire"
"Rock Lobster"

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Serge Gainsbourg tribute, August 28 at the Hollywood Bowl

Serge Gainsbourg is a legend, at least in France or the part of the world that isn’t the U.S.  There have probably been a multitude of live tributes to him but probably not as big a deal as an event not only in the U.S. but on a summer night at the Hollywood Bowl.  Truth be told, I’m not a particular student of Gainsbourg -- most of what I know came from a documentary I saw in Austin a few years ago and a best-of disc (Comic Strip) that I got a while after that.  And of the package I got tickets for for that summer, I honestly thought it would be the least of the shows, more of a cultural event than a real concert, which it was, to an extent, but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a thrilling exhibition of music and a once-in-a-lifetime performance of some beautiful, influential music by some amazing performers. The music was the focus, as it should be, but also impressive was the different worlds that were split by the incredible range of musicians there to interpret the music, showing how influential Gainsbourg was to so many different genres of music, over so much time, up to even today, and certainly beyond: Zola Jesus, who I really wasn’t into at the time and who I missed opening the XX show at the Palladium, but showed a wild side that would have fit in just fine coming down the tree starting from Gainsbourg; Sean Lennon, who makes me nervous just being within a mile of since his dad was, after all, John Fucking Lennon; Ed Droste, the guy from Grizzly Bear, who I didn’t know but apparently was big enough a deal to stand alongside the others; Victoria LeGrande, the chick from Beach House, whose greatest relevant attribute to being there might have been her French-sounding last name; and Mike Patton, who tied it all together, seemingly doing whatever songs he wanted, along with dueting with most of the other performers, especially the ladies.  Patton can write his own ticket wherever he wants, and the only thing more interesting than the fact that the guy who went crazy with Faith No More was there was that he fit in to this show so perfectly.  A singer doesn’t need much range to cover Gainsbourg’s classics, which had more talking than actually singing, so the extra room that Patton had in his interpretation of the music meant he could put his own spin on it, though he showed restraint by not going too heavy or too weird with it, really no heavier or weirder than Gainsbourg made it in the first place.  The whole thing was curated by Beck, a fact I didn’t known until we got there; I thought he was just another performer at the show.  Apparently Gainsbourg was a huge influence on Beck, which starts to make sense once you make the connection.  I always take Beck for granted, since he’s always been so ubiquitous not only to the culture I most relate to but also because of his preferred geography of L.A. (even though the most notable times I’ve seen him have been outside of L.A.)  Also present was Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a strange choice since he’s not known at all as a singer.  There really wasn't a lot of actual singing in Gainsbourg's music so a lot of it is about the presence.  And Gordon-Levitt had it.  He probably could have done more but, as appropriate for that night, he was pretty cool and didn't do much except "singing" and letting all the girls in the audience, of which there were many, apparently, scream at him.  He emulated the kind-of singing that Gainsbourg had in his music, and being a capable stage performer, Gordon-Levitt brought the slick confidence that Gainsbourg patented.  He actually fit in very well among the performers.  There was a big deal about Jean-Claude Vannier, the conductor who originally worked with Gainsbourg and conducting at the event, and while I’m not familiar with that artist and his story, I know it was a special thing to see him there.  As was the entire night, as might have been the case for more there than just me, that I may not have a direct relation to the cultural relevance of Gainsbourg as a legend, even one foreign to this country and culture, I could relax and enjoy the music and the evening for what they were and could be comfortable knowing that this experience could take me beyond where I was and what I knew about it before I went there.  This was also the night that the bottle of wine that Carla got for us dropped over the ledge by our feet and shattered, eliciting sympathetic sighs from those around us.  Oh well.  We didn’t need to drink to enjoy it.  It seems very un-French of us but we just let the music intoxicate us.

Serge Gainsbourg tribute set-list:

(A dump of the songs performed, though I don't remember the relevence within the context of the show, who performed which songs, or if the spaces between sets were particular to pauses in the performances.)
"L'eau a la Bouche"
"Couleur Café"
"La Noyée"
"Requiem Pour un Con"
"Chanson de Prévert"

"La Horse"
"Harley Davidson"
"Le Poinçonneur des Lilas"
"La Javanaise"
"Black Trombone"
"La Décadanse"
"Initials B.B."
"Le Chanson de Slogan"
"I Came Here To say"

"Comic Strip"
"L'homme A Tete De Chou"
"Bonnie & Clyde"
"Je t'aime... Moi Non Plus"
"Ford Mustang"
"Sea, Sex, and Sun"
"Teenie Weenie Boppie"
"Les Sucettes"

"Ballade de Melody Nelson"
"Valse de Melody"
"Ah! Melody"
"L'hôtel Particulier"
"En Melody"
"Cargo Culte"

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hall & Oates, July 4 at the Hollywood Bowl

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t completely want to see Hall & Oates out of some amount of irony.  No one can argue that they’re not the epitome of ‘80s soft-rock and the stuff that your parents listened to.  Though they’ve done quite well being both, enough to play three nights at the Hollywood Bowl after all these years.  I got some best-ofs by them a while before the show to get ready and was shocked by how much I connected to the music, since it was so much of what I listened to when I was little (even had one of their later albums -- on cassette -- in high school and listened to it as much as anything else) but also because there really is some kind of depth to a lot of the tunes.  I never really thought of them as more than a pop act but they actually had roots in some sort of soul music, something I didn’t realize until I actually heard more, real soul music later in my life.  We didn’t have plans for July 4th, a holiday I usually skip over, but I felt the need to see Hall & Oates at some point in my life.  And the Hollywood Bowl had a deal that if you got tickets for five shows, you would only have to pay services charges for one and you would get the tickets before they officially went on sale, which also meant better seats, and since there were other shows we wanted to see at the Bowl, this became part of that deal.  (Another was Eddie Izzard on July 20, which was a comedy show and not strictly a concert so I don’t have it included here in this blog.  But it was a great, perhaps legendary, performance.)  We were just coming back from being Palm Springs for the weekend so we didn’t have a lot of time to get everything together for the show but we got our dinner and wine and that was all we needed.  Really, if a venue lets you take in food and alcohol, you absolutely should take advantage.  The show started off with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra playing some patriotic tunes, and that was fine as a warm-up, but I was there for Hall & Oates.  Then the fireworks, essential for a July 4th show, and they were predictably breath-taking, then more music from the orchestra.  Really, at one point you’d think it was their show.  Finally Hall & Oates took the stage and they moved through a set they’ve surely played a thousand times or more before.  Fair enough, they’ve been doing this for a while and it’s not like I’d seen it before.  Hall was either bored with the set or he’d done his own celebrating before the show because he often seemed to be moving at a different speed than the rest of the band, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, usually pretty detached, like he didn’t completely want to be there but he was doing it anyway, and he knew that everyone there would accept whatever state he was in as long as they played the hits.  And every song was a hit from their hey-day, save for one obscurity that you could allow them as an indulgence and maybe a gift for the die-hards fans.  If you had enough to drink, which surely a number of the attendees had, and as long as you were rocking out to songs you’ve been hearing for more than 30 years, you probably wouldn’t even notice a song you didn't know or how Hall was playing.  As it was, it seemed like an abbreviated concert, that even with the orchestra playing they had to be done before it got late, which felt a bit like a cheat.  I doubt that Mssrs. Hall and Oates would argue if they were told they couldn’t play their full set, since that meant they could be done with it earlier, and who is going to argue against patriotic music on the 4th of July?  But I was there to see Hall & Oates and I’m not sure I got enough for my satisfaction.  A band like that could play for hours with just the hits, and less than that seems just not enough.  They probably picked their biggest hits to fit in to the time they had but they still left a lot on the table.  They probably didn't care what songs they played since it was just another night on the job so might as well play the most popular stuff then be done with it, until they had to play again.  As it was, overall it was a good show, and with food and drink and my lady, I can’t remember when I’ve had a better July 4th.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

U2/Lenny Kravitz, June 18 at Angel Stadium

Everyone should see U2 in concert at least once.  Even if you don’t think you know their music, you know easily half of their songs; even if you don’t go to concerts, you’ll be taken over by the spectacle of their show; even if you have no interest in any of this, you ought to get out more.  U2 has done the skyward-anthems thing for a while now and it could be argued that no one does it better.  It seems impossible for them to turn down the grand spectacle of it all, both in their music and in the production of their stage-show, but it would be weird to consider that they would do anything other than be the biggest band in the world, whether they are or they aren’t (though they probably are).  They’ve put out some masterpieces that were devastating when they turned the volume down to, say, 9 and a half, but since the mid-’90s they’ve been out to prove just how big they are, and how much bigger they could be.  Pass or fail, they make that attempt.  It might be just Bono’s ego but bands that are so ambitious, with the means to back it up, are rare these days.  U2 came up over most of our lifetimes and they paid their dues, and while none of them are extraordinary musicians, they hit all the right notes.  There would be no sense in their playing anywhere smaller than a stadium; their music fits an open-air monstrosity anyway.  As far as their stage-show goes, they’ve never rested on their laurels and just done the same thing every tour.  Every time it’s bigger, and the audiences have followed, and they still fill every place they play.  But they add something new to it every time, adjusting their set-lists and performances of the songs to fit, and usually it works.  They haven’t done an album that really deserves to be heard in about 19 years but they’re at least aware enough about this and they put in enough of not only hits but songs they know are some of their best, along with the odd obscurity or left-field choice.  We got a lucky night.  I’ve seen U2 before, a few times, and they once played one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen but they’ve also had some thrilling performances, as well as probably the best show I didn’t see, on the Zoo TV tour, a concert regret I will likely hold to my grave.  I also skipped the Rose Bowl show earlier in the tour, thinking I didn't necessarily need to see them again, though I found out later that it was fairly legendary (relatively, I would wager, for latter U2).  I thought I would have been able to skip this show but Carla got tickets for us as well as Cid & Jon and I didn’t see any reason not to go to the show.  Carla isn’t the biggest U2 fan in the world but she’d never seen them before and I urged her to go.  I had an idea of the set-list they’d do but they make adjustments each night, usually to the beginning of the set and the encore.  That they keep it loose makes each show unique, keeping the spine of the set night to night but changing it up just enough that you know you’re not getting a copy from the night before.  Also much to their credit they didn’t play a whole lot from No Line on the Horizon, which they’d been flogging for more than two years.  Now that it’s obvious that the album isn’t gaining any more traction, they’ve limited how much they play each night, to a surprising degree: maybe three songs the night we saw them.  That was the first bit of luck but the next was even greater: the very beginning of the concert was like an Achtung Baby mini-concert, playing no less than five tracks from the album, including “The Fly,” which was the first time they’d played the song on this tour and the first time they played it live since 2006.  I wouldn’t have even thought that was something I could wish for in that concert.  It was like they were playing it just for me (though probably more the case that they were celebrating its 20th anniversary, without saying so but just playing the selections off of it all at once).  They didn’t play as many tracks from that album the night before (though they got “Stay (Farawary, So Close)” which would have been worth the trip).  From there it was a lot of the same set they’d been doing, including going right into “Where The Streets Have No Name,” the first time they played it early in a set since 1990. (The set-list I found has various notes of the songs, including noting a lot of snippets they played that I didn’t catch. It also notes a number of times they played a remixed version, but those versions didn't sound too different from the originals to me, or at least no more than a band would normally change up a song when playing it live.)  The rest was probably best seen to be believed.  A huge, stadium-size stage underneath some claw-like monstrosity that could have have taller than the stadium but with only four, tiny Irishmen to take up the space, of course they throw in as much eye-catching spectacle as they can: huge video monitors that at once let the cheap-seats (of which there were many) see the show and also telescoped to reach down to the surface of the stage, still showing video images, which made for a neat effect.  Of course Bono and the Edge have to have a walkway to go into the audience and of course they have to have something like a jacket and hanging microphone with laser lights all over it for when they do “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” (another welcome selection from Achtung).  U2 don’t do well with subtlety but there’s no reason that they would have to.  They do big-as-the-sky songs and shows and they do them better than anyone else could. It could be that they fit their own ambition or maybe they really do deserve it.  It’s better than Nickelback being a big band.  I’m glad that Carla finally got to see U2, and she agreed that it was a pretty amazing show.  Heck, even I was converted once again.  The only question is, could they possibly top it?  You might even ask if they should even try but it’s just part of the power of the band -- and Bono’s ego -- that you know they’re going to try.  And they might even succeed. Lenny Kravitz opened the show (we weren’t lucky enough to get Interpol) but fortunately I missed most of his set as I was just getting there.  If he’s not going to play Let Love Rule back to front then I’m not interested.

U2’s set-list:
intro: “Space Oddity” (David Bowie song)
"Even Better Than The Real Thing" (remix version)
"The Fly" (tour debut, first performance since 2006)
"Mysterious Ways"
"Until The End Of The World" (with "Anthem" snippet)
"Where The Streets Have No Name" (with "Amazing Grace" and "All You Need Is Love” snippets)
"I Will Follow"
"Get On Your Boots" (with "She Loves You" snippet)
"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
"Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" (acoustic)
"Beautiful Day" (with "Space Oddity" snippet)
"Elevation" (with "California Soul" snippet)
"Pride (In The Name Of Love)"
"Miss Sarajevo"
"City Of Blinding Lights"
"Vertigo" (with "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)" snippet)
"I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" (remix version, with "Miss You”, "Discothèque", and "Please" snippets)
"Sunday Bloody Sunday"
"Walk On" (with "You'll Never Walk Alone" snippet)

"Ultraviolet (Light My Way)"
"With Or Without You"
"Moment of Surrender" (with "Jungleland" snippet)

Lenny Kravitz’s set-list:
"Come On Get It"
"It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over"
"Always on the Run"
"American Woman" (The Guess Who cover)
"Fly Away"
"Let Love Rule"
"Are You Gonna Go My Way"

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Janelle Monae/Bruno Mars, June 12 at the Gibson Amphitheater

I thought I got into The ArchAndroid way too late but Janelle Monae was still doing increasingly bigger and bigger shows so apparently I was along the way of her upward trajectory.  We were baffled that she didn’t play Coachella, since musically she would have fit in just right there, but I can see now, with the big production of her shows why it wouldn’t work on a quickly-flipped stage in the desert.  And its certainly a show -- it’s beyond just the music.  A full band (though surely a lot of it was sequenced) and back-up singers and dancers, all to serve the weird, wild genius of Ms. Monae.  Maybe too weird, which explains why she was opening for Bruno Mars.  (Yeah, they were co-billed but it was unavoidable that she played first, and his stage was as big and complex as hers so they can’t blame her set-up time.)  What makes her so great -- her way-far-out-there-ness, somewhere near the planet of Outkast but a little more female (or at least omnisexual) -- is also what makes her a little impenetrable from a more massive fanbase (one that's more casual and lazy so maybe she's better off without it).  Her type of slick hip-hop/R&B works better when there’s at least of masculine violence but she mixes in some sci-fi and icy femininity and shiny robots and it all works, even when it's terribly overstuffed.  That it's so overdone, in a world of boring, beat-driven production, shows that she's putting everything up front and not keeping anything back.  We were craving to see if she could pull it off live.  Carla and I had no idea who Bruno Mars was besides being a guy who maybe had a few pop hits but the rest of the crowd did.  It didn't bother us that Monae was sharing a bill but it seemed strange that there was no faith that she could headline her own show (albeit in a smaller venue, judging by her overall popularity).  Rachel and Vanessa came along to see both acts.  (The Saturday morning the tickets went on sale, I went in to get two pair and they were sold out.  I kept trying and suddenly, after a half-dozen tries, I finally got through and got them.  I wouldn't have imagined that they would sell out the place.  They added a second night but I already had our tickets.  It's good advice: don't give up when the show seems to sell out.  Don't give up right away.  Give it a few tries.)  Monae was amazing, as predicted, though listening to her album came out to be a cut above the show, since it’s an hour and a half and her concert was half of that, if that.  She’s a wizard at putting on show, reviving the lost art of all-out, everything-that-will-fit-on-stage performance and entertaining.  There was even a magic trick, when three performers in robes came out at the beginning that you wouldn’t notice since you were looking for Monae then she dropped the robe and was one of them!  The music, of course, held its own, so the rest was even superfluous but it made for an astounding, unique show.  She could be on the level of Michael Jackson and Peter Gabriel stage-shows in a short while if she could get out a few more hit songs and pull a bigger crowd.  There’s no reason why she couldn’t.  Heck, she could just continue to be weird and brilliant and let the world come to her.  If she keeps being herself and is true to her art and keeps producing, it will.  We stayed for Bruno Mars and it was immediately clear that the packed crowd of teeny-boppers was for him, which was fine.  I can’t tell if Monae got any new fans that night (though it would be a crime if she didn’t); there were at least two fans that Mars didn’t get.  He had an acceptable show and he’s a charming showman, and maybe he’ll be something more interesting in a few years as he ages into a mature pop star (if that isn't an oxymoron), but his sugary songs didn’t move me to seek out more.  I’d see the bill again, though better if Monae is rightfully on top.  Mayer Hawthorne opened but we were too busy drinking at the Karl Strauss to get there in time to see him.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Twilight Singers, May 25 at the Fonda

Greg Dulli has had a lot of things with music going on the last few years -- with the Gutter Twins and with Mark Lanegan (both of those separately, for some reason) and his own solo stuff -- but it’s all still him, with all of it mixing together with each other, making the boarders of each nearly non-existent.  Though none of those are the Afghan Whigs, there’s still occasionally some of that in there too, at least in spirit.  But the Twilight Singers have been his most consistent project post-Whigs and since it’s really only him, it’s probably what he’ll continue to do, assuming he won’t make some monumental shift in what he produces as an artist.  The original point of the Twilight Singers was that it would be a rotating cast of singers, though after the first album it became Dulli and some co-singers and back-up singers, which is perfectly fine, and he’s made some great records.  The man certainly is comfortable with collaboration, though when you get down to it, he’s strong enough on his own and doesn’t require others, so it’s probably just for the company.  In concert you never know who may show up (though it’s usually Lanegan) but sometimes it’s just a straight-ahead rock show.  Predictably Carla and I got tickets for the show, not minding the overlap of all the stuff he would play that we’ve both heard before at other shows.  This show was about as straight-forward as you could get: no notable special guests and no left-field music selections, and Dulli doesn’t chat as much on stage as he used to (though that might be the sobriety talking).  Just the Twilight Singers (even though it’s only one singer) doing stuff from their newest album Dynamite Steps and some choice cuts from past albums, in particular “Teenage Wristband,” which is on the level of his older stuff.  The music played live doesn't have the production flourishes that Dulli throws down in the studio but it doesn’t need it; they just played a rock show and they didn’t need any extra, fancy stuff.  At this point, Dulli is a self-aware professional musician and he’s been doing this long enough to know where he stands, heading away from a commercial peak but towards a classy elder statesman status, so he puts on a slick show and heads a band that’s just off the middle of the road but he knows how to navigate the detours.  The only surprise was that there were no surprises, just an undiluted rock show.  That was good enough for me, though I have to admit that I was, as always whenever Dulli is playing, no matter what name the show is under, hoping for the surprise of an Afghan Whigs track played live again.  Margot & the Nuclear So & So's opened the show and we saw maybe half of their last song, since we were getting drinks next door at the Blue Palm.  I'm sure they were just lovely.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

TV on the Radio, May 11 at the Fonda

It seems like TV on the Radio’s new album and subsequent tour came together really quickly, from out of nowhere.  Last I heard they were on hiatus and had a bunch of side-projects (which I didn’t seek out, just to show you that I’m not quite to the point of obsessiveness about them).  Even stranger that Nine Types of Light came out within a week of Coachella and they didn’t play there that year (though twice already was quite a lot).  Anyway, Carla is a fan like me so we had to go.  We got seats in the balcony, though that might have been by choice -- I don’t know how much we would have felt like dancing that night.  As I’ve said on this blog, TVoR shows run hot n’ cold.  I think they do better when they’re not trying so hard.  Playing the Fonda was a bit of a step back from playing the Wiltern like they did last time but the space suited them.  They didn't have to work as hard to fill the space with sound so it could a little more subdued affair in the moments it needed to be, though the moments when they brought it up to rock out really exploded.  Since I haven’t seen an amazing show by them every single time, I sometimes forget that they’re overall often a really amazing live band.  But to be amazing doesn’t always mean that it has to be consistent.  That not every show is great makes the great shows even greater.  And that was one of the better ones, even though they didn't burn the place to the ground.  It was really just them running through music and giving back to the crowd, though in a  much more immediate setting than usual, especially over the times they’re playing in the middle of a field during the height of the afternoon (though not always the worst placement).  Also significant was that this was a show they played shortly after the passing of their bass player.  No one would have blamed them for taking some time off to grieve but maybe they took it out through their sounds and voices and rollicking music. 

Glasser opened and we made a bit of an effort but just didn't get there in time.
"Halfway Home"
"Caffeinated Consciousness"
"The Wrong Way"
"Blues From Down Here"
"Will Do"
"Red Dress"
"Young Liars"
"Staring at the Sun"
"Wolf Like Me

"A Method"


Saturday, May 7, 2011

New Orleans Jazz Fest, May 7 in New Orleans

The original plan was that we were going to go to New Orleans to see a Greg Dulli show but that changed into meeting up with Carla's music friends to go to Jazz Fest.  Seemed like a great idea.  I've never been to New Orleans and it looked like a great festival with a great line-up.  We started making plans then all her friends (but one, who we never met up with) dropped out but we went ahead with it anyway since it would at least be a trip for us.  We still planned to do Jazz Fest of course but we had to change plans when it became best for us to fly in on Friday.  It was cheaper and easier but we missed Wilco at the fest on Thursday then Arcade Fire on Friday (when they performed with Cyndi Lauper, who we passed on the street in downtown on Saturday morning but that wasn’t part of our concert).  So the trip changed from a destination for a concert festival to pretty much just a few days over a weekend in New Orleans and stopping in at a concert festival.  We had a great time in the city and might have been fine with doing something else rather than going to the festival but we felt some obligation since that was part of the original plan.  Overall for three days it was a good line-up but spread out, for each individual day, there wasn’t an overwhelming amount of bands we knew beforehand, especially on Saturday, so we were pretty much left with the Strokes as headliners. We got there in the afternoon and checked out the other stages, sometimes just to get out of the oppressive, Southern sun, but there was a great range in depth of music out there: gospel, blues, soul, and actually some jazz.  There were probably a lot of local acts but I didn’t research to see.  It would have been a great music festival just to wander without a plan and soak up some unfamiliar sounds.  About the only musical genre that wasn’t completely represented was rock, and that was held up by the headliners.  The park was also full of food and art and performances and booths selling stuff and lots of things to walk around and see.  A lot of local flavor, but you get that anywhere in that city, maybe more than than other place I’ve been to in the world.  We didn’t see Lauryn Hill at Coachella since we thought we would see her here but she was up against the Strokes, which was the act we were there to see in particular.  The Strokes put on the same show they’ve put on every other time, which isn’t to say that it was bad, and the music was as amazing as it always is and has been, but they’re really not much to watch, and a bit out of place on a big stage in the middle of a swelteringly hot field, but apparently by now they’ve earned the status of big-festival-headliners.  As a band at something billed as a “jazz fest” they seemed out of place, and local musicheads probably protested their inclusion, but it certainly brought in a fair share of people, though I have no idea if it sold out or who much the Strokes contributed to that or if anyone complained that the place had too many Strokes fans.  There were a lot of kids there and it’s hard to say if they would have done it if it wasn’t for seeing a (relatively) young rock band.  It kinda sucks that they’d have to go to a big music festival in a field to see just that band (especially a band that’s much better indoors, out of the light, and playing to somewhere less than 60,000 people) but hopefully they were old enough to see them the first time back in the day.  We left before the Strokes had finished to beat the crowd (which was shipped in and out in quickly-overflowing buses) and that was before 8.  The sun was still up!  Not very rock n’ roll but there were probably curfews and all sorts of city ordinances and it was probably difficult enough to have a music festival in a park within the city anyway, but it gave us time back in the city that night.  I’d like to go back to Jazz Fest just to wander and take in as much music as possible, without aim or expectation.  Going for a headliner is fine but there’s more to that event than music you already know.  And I’d certainly go back to New Orleans.  The rest of the weekend was great, maybe the best trip I’ve ever had, though the details of that aren’t really the province of this blog.  But if you go to Jazz Fest, get a lobster po’ boy.  The sandwich was recommended to us but we didn’t have a chance to try it.  Maybe reason to go back again.

"Under Cover of Darkness"
"The Modern Age"
"I Can't Win"
"Life Is Simple in the Moonlight"
"Hard To Explain"
"Taken for a Fool"
"You're So Right"
"You Only Live Once"
"Is This It"
"New York City Cops"
"What Ever Happened?"
"Last Nite"
"Automatic Stop"