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?) "