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"