Friday, August 31, 2012

Old 97’s, August 31 at the El Rey

I've seen the Old 97's a number of times, enough to be pretty good with not needing to pile up more times (especially since I haven't gotten any of their new material in quite some years) but much for my love for them comes from my passion for Too Far To Care. They sure have a lot of great songs but that album could be the start and finish of them for me. There's not a song on that album that I don't dig.  And there's something about the album as a whole, maybe the production, that I just really like.  The sound is forward but not aggressive, and it all gels into a rousing but comforting mix.  So when they said they were going to tour playing the whole album, I knew I'd be in.  As far as I'm concerned, that's the ultimate Old 97's gig.  Playing the whole album, as is the trend with a number of bands lately, is a bit of a trick, since, as a lot of albums have the best or most aggressive songs at the front, if the band is playing the album in chronological order, they have to play those songs up front, while they're still warming up.  Some bands get around this by playing the album out of order (Sebadoh), first doing B-sides (Pixies) or a greatest-hits of the rest (Weezer, Peter Gabriel), or dropping in other songs as they play (Catherine Wheel), but there's something admirable about just jumping right in to it, if they can pull it off.  Since the crowd is there for a album, it just makes sense to come out and tear right into it straight-off, but there's something to be said about shaking the dust off and being energized enough to get it to sound as good as it should.  Of course, "Timebomb" had to open the set and the show, as it opens the album, and while it was good because it's a great song, there was something stilted and forced and maybe even cold about it. This song, one of the band's best, is what they most often close the night with, which they've been doing for years.  They play that song when they've been on fire and just one push to really put that song over the edge to finish the night, and it's a great way to end. Maybe not a great way to start.  They didn't really catch a spark until a few songs in, but once they had it they really had it.  A shame that they had to sacrifice a few of those great songs from the beginning of that album to warming up but it was still great to hear them, the few that they don't already play frequently (as they've played a lot of that album at shows I've seen anyway).  Then a break and for the second set a slew of apparently new songs, since I wasn't familiar with many of them, and the band seemed glad to be doing stuff that wasn't so worn but they seemed to be happy to play the hell out of so much of their best stuff.  As always they played energetic alt-country that veers a lot harder toward rock, not bound by any easy classification except as a great live band.  And to show that they could really do it, and do it better, they closed with "Timebomb", playing with it with more energy and enthusiasm and thrill than before, taking it beyond just being a great song.  The only bummer about the show is that I don't think I need to see another Old 97's show since I can't imagine how they could do anything to top that one (though there's some new material I could eventually get around to).  Before the show Carla & I met up with Rick and some friends but lost them when the show started.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Concrete Blonde, August 29 at the Troubadour

At this point Concrete Blonde can pretty much do whatever they please.  They had the big, hit song in the '80s and it gave them the money and fanbase for their own independence, even until today (probably since they didn't get ruined by drugs or record companies).  They never reached the same heights from back then in the time since but they've still been able to put out good records and tour whenever they've felt like it.  The group might have broken up a few times but since it's always just been pretty much Johnette and Jim, they can get back together and do as they like under the band name ​(​though Johnette has done plenty of commendable stuff under her own name or with other collaborators).  Lately they'd been doing informal concert sessions that they would broadcast online and I don't know how a real-world tour connects with that, or why they would even leave their home to tour if they didn't want to but it seemed they wanted to get out on the road for a few shows, including a tiny club date in Hollywood (still).  Of course there have been periods in their history when they've been able to play much bigger places but I'd like to say that playing such a small venue was by their choice rather than a shrunken fanbase.  They still play like it's their heyday and Johnette's voice only gets better with age.  It's completely just the two of them, along with Gabriel, who's been Johnette's drummer for quite a while.  They have no more interest in taking it slow in their advanced ages than they ever did and they still play like they have something to prove, even though by now they don't.  They mixed up their set with a few new tunes along with their old ones, knowing what the crowd wants but indulging themselves with a few things they've done recently.  Just to show that they're under no one's control, they did a Midnight Oil cover, a weird crossover with a contemporary from three decades ago, and it wouldn't have seemed like it worked on paper but they brought it.  They might have even played it more ferociously than the originators of the song.  That it was an evening of a mish-mash of songs, not all originals, it worked.  With a Heads song that Johnette sang on (sadly forgotten by anyone but me) and most of my favorite tunes by them (missing "Little Conversations" but only if if it had been a more sedate show), there's not much I would have changed about their choice of a set-list.  This is one of the bands I know much better than Carla does, and though she was of course familiar with them, she'd never seen them, and she was impressed, both how they've held up and also by Johnette's majesty.  And of course the band played "Joey," early in the set, just to note it and then get on with the rest of what they wanted to do.

Concrete Blonde's set-list:
"Beds Are Burning" (Midnight Oil cover)
"I Know The Ghost"
"God Is a Bullet"
"Damage I've Done" (The Heads song)
"Take Me Home"
"Mexican Moon" (with Johnette on lead guitar, Jim on bass)
"Ghost Riders in the Sky" (Stan Jones cover)
"Everybody Knows" (Leonard Cohen cover)
"Happy Birthday"
"Les Cœurs Jumeaux" (with Bernadette Colomine sharing lead vocals w/Johnette)
"As Tears Go By" (Marianne Faithfull cover)
"Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man"
"Heal It Up"
"Scene of a Perfect Crime"
"Run, Run, Run"
"100 Games of Solitaire"
"Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)"

"The Real Thing"
"Still in Hollywood"