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.