Saturday, August 27, 2016

FYF Fest 2016, August 27 & 28, at L.A. Sports Arena and Coliseum, Exposition Park

By this time we knew how these festivals work, and FYF Fest in particular, our big, local fest, and what we could get away with in our day(s). We’d gotten the hang of getting to shows just in time to see the headliner (a scheme that often worked), and we applied the same thing to a weekend festival. Once the set-times came out (an event second only in excitement to the line-up reveal) we could make a plan, a necessity when there are other adult concerns in life (which could also be a friends’ kid’s birthday party). As much as we go to festivals and FYF to hang out with our people as much as see bands, we don’t usually bother to get there early without reason, and sometimes we get fairly surgical about it. There’s also the consideration of leaving two hours to get in, so it might necessitate using up a lot of the day and being there early but just not getting to see bands right after parking (which can also take a while then the walk from). Sometimes going one day is just an obligation for the two-day event and since we planned for the whole weekend in the first place. And so was our Saturday at FYF that year. We’d planned the whole weekend for it anyway, and had the headliner we most wanted to see, even if it was just because we probably wouldn’t see him anywhere else outside of a festival. So, after the walk from the parking and the line (both just as we’d planned), we got in to wander, to see where we wound up, which initially included some of Shellac, maybe just to establish seeing a band even if it wasn’t anyone we planned for; it was late in the day/early in the evening, with the sun going down, and without much of any other draw on our attention we just wandered, ending up for a minute at Air, who hadn't much advanced beyond their sound but still had the merit of establishing it in the first place, and Ty Segall, who we always seem to wind up near anyway, whether we know someone in his band or not; we finally got around to seeing Kendrick Lamar, the big draw, by far, for the weekend. It wasn’t too long before then that I had discovered To Pimp a Butterfly and found out the hype about him was true, if not understated, and that his stuff was too good to be pigeon-holed as just “rap”. FYF had progressed far beyond just being a punk show, even branching out to include hip-hop groups not just as novelty, so Kendrick might have been reaching to win over the indie and punk kids, and headlining the bill was at least enough for all the cred. He put on a full-blown show and pulled a lot of the crowd at the fest, though we didn’t see the beginning and left before long to beat the crowd out. It might have been a truncated day but for the event we got enough out of it, especially with a bigger day behind it.
Missed: Peter Bjorn, & John (probably just as well since we didn’t keep up after “Young Folk”), Diiv (I had the album ahead of time but it didn’t do much for me), Vince Staples (a renowned local guy but no one I knew), Grimes (who I should have known but didn't bother with at this one), Oneohtrix Point Never (if only by the association of having remixed a NIN track, but no reason to see even with the remote possibility of that in the set), Hot Chip (who perpetually have never done anything for me, even if they were lumped in with a lot of other acts that I’ve liked), Explosions in the Sky (who could probably be great if their songs had words), Moby (who I didn’t realize had some valid work, even after Play, but not enough of a pull to see).

Sunday worked better for us for the fest, being the day we could focus on and make more of an effort to take in, including leaving for it earlier and working some luck to only spend 30 minutes getting in. I got into Preoccupations when they were Viet Cong (a spectacularly ill-advised name, the story of which is probably less interesting than why they chose the name in the first place), and thanks to Tana on our camping trip, and they got out an early-day set that didn’t need to stand out one way or another; if it were up to Carla we might have missed Banks & Steelz, flying under the radar without their recognizable names as Paul from Interpol and the RZA. Luckily I caught it, and they ended up being a high-point for the fest. The angular music set to hip-hop beats and rhymes was disconcerting coming in on it cold but anyone can trust either of those guys to do something worth the time. They both went back to their own projects after that, but for us to get them even for a moment was a treat; soul-legend Charles Bradley was making a name for himself with the indie crowd when soul might be a harder sell to a modern audience that could be looking for it in R&B more attuned to hip-hop. But the guy was the real deal, and he brought as much energy and grit to the stage as anyone half his age. We got lucky to see him since it wasn’t much later that the passed, so we got a performance that became more special looking back; Father John Misty was arguably at the height of his fame, after the “Real Love” single, and I had been on the train, after being unable to avoid him in association with everything else I listen to. We, as a group, also couldn’t avoid the dudes with bushy beards and shaggy, long hair, which seemed to surround us, so we got back by naming them all "Misties". The man himself put on a sufficient high-afternoon set in sunglasses and a lightweight, open shirt, and spinning his cynical but tuneful songs for his flock, of girls too smart to go for that kind of thing and the dudes who may or may not be hipsters but still openly cop his look; it wasn’t until I was killing time and had randomly wandered to Ahoni that I came on the realization that it was Antony from Antony & the Johnsons. I wasn’t a big enough fan to be into more than his first albums but I had assumed that I would catch a new project (though it had been a big deal on eMusic, I figured it was for a reason beyond me). As it was I didn’t have enough time to get much more out of it than the recognition, but it was good that the new project could get a prominent place on the schedule, as well as being accepted with what could be a challenging or at least non-conventional character, though that would be the crowd to start; I never got how Mac Demarco was such a big deal. He was a dude who kept popping up on the FYF line-ups but he didn’t seem like he had much reason to have a place there. Maybe a local guy, sure, but L.A. has plenty of musicians that would kill to get in to that fest. He’s a tuneful guy but, really, just a dude with a guitar and a cap. But whatever it is I didn't pick up for the few minutes as we passed by, and if there was anything there I knew I could get it at the next one; Beach House are another band that always seem to be there, even when they don’t need to be. We might have caught a bit of them as we passed by, but by then I’d had enough of them. Haunting but not gothy light rock and I had parted ways by then; we caught a bit of Grace Jones while we were waiting, and I realized that it was probably a distinguished and distinctive appearance and we were lucky to get it but I only knew her from the weird, arty TV appearances back in the ‘80s (probably commercials, for what I don’t remember). That she was a musician was a level beyond to me, and nothing I could get my head around, in spite of it being more performance art on a large scale which could be more accessible, or because of it being such. As it was I figured that if I got it later a recorded performance could be just as good, and I could always say I was there anyway, but maybe there was just something mildly frightening about it -- and her -- coming in without proper preparation; LCD Soundsystem were the big deal for the day, finally earning a name big enough to headline, after being on the under-bill of pretty much every festival when they were originally together. It didn’t hurt that that this was part of their big, ballyhooed reunion, even if they’d only been gone five years, the length of time some bands take between albums as a matter of course (and LCD taping their last shows as if there would never be another and not just a cash cow to pay for their next side-projects). It hardly seemed like they had been gone anyway, with just a few new songs to mark any difference, and while it was good to see them back as a musical and cultural force and hopefully not leaving again any time soon, it also made it easy for us to check in and get a few songs before heading out since there was work the next day. Such was our surgical strike for FYF, knowing exactly how to hit what we needed and get in and get out, filling the time between sets with whatever friends rotated in and out of our mutual presence, and maybe picking up some new music if not a new experience, then entrusting next year's fest to come soon enough and getting on with our lives in the time until then.
Missed: the Black Madonna (who I didn’t know, but Jenn said was great, and she has a great stage-name), the Black Lips (another “Black” band that get mixed up with a lot of others if they’re not the Keys or Rebel Motorcycle Club), Young Thug (who had been getting some press but didn’t have a reason to stand out for me), Chelsea Wolfe (whose full show we’d seen, without really knowing her, and who plays more local fests than she doesn’t so we went somewhere else).

Kendrick Lamar’s set-list:
”untitled 07 | 2014 - 2016”
”Backseat Freestyle”
”m.A.A.d city (Part II)”
”Swimming Pools (Drank)”
”Collard Greens” (ScHoolboy Q cover)
”THat Part” (ScHoolboy Q cover)
”Free Lunch” (Isaiah Rashad cover) (with Isaiah Rashad)
”These Walls”
”For Sale?”
”untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.”
”Complexion (A Zulu Love)”
”Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe”
”Money Trees” (with Jay Rock)
”m.A.A.d city (Part I)”
”King Kunta”
”For Free?”
”Wesley's Theory”


LCD Soundsystems’ set-list:
”Us v Them”
”Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”
”I Can Change”
”Get Innocuous!”
”You Wanted a Hit”
”Someone Great”
”Losing My Edge”
”New York, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down”
”Dance Yrself Clean”
”All My Friends”

Father John Misty’s set-list:
”Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”
”When You're Smiling and Astride Me”
”Only Son of the Ladiesman”
”Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow”
”Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)”
”Bored in the USA”
”Holy Shit”
”True Affection”
”I Love You, Honeybear”
”The Ideal Husband”

Charles Bradley’s set-list:
”The World (Is Going Up in Flames)”
”You Put the Flame on It”
”Love Bug Blues”
”Heartaches and Pain”
”Let Love Stand a Chance”
”Changes” (Black Sabbath cover)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Belly, August 24, 2016 at the Teragram Ballroom

It was a great year for my beloved girl bands from the ‘90s to get back together, and Belly were probably the crown of them all (or at least Tanya Donelly being active again). (And, yes, I am aware of segregating girl bands (even if none of them were completely). Sometimes I wasn’t attracted to such groups because they were girls but because they weren’t guys.) I had still followed Tanya’s work, even as it got more obscure and sporadic, and she left off playing tiny venues, so it wasn’t likely that she could have come back in a notable way without her original outfit (not counting Throwing Muses, since Belly were still arguably bigger). Believe it or not, Tanya may also be one of the few musical acts who I held as an object of infatuation, beyond just the music, but I had plenty of crushes then and in the time since, and I could still appreciate just the music. The band also hadn’t bothered to put out any substantial new material for this tour, which somehow came to be more legit than touring just to flog a new album that no one particularly wants to hear. Though they still had plenty to play, even off the only two albums they made together (though as many B-sides, which I also knew), and they had as much energy as they did 20 years ago (even if they had to put an intermission in the middle). As always it was the band not just their front-woman, and she got lost amidst the songs and the compact space that they managed to fill (at least giving the appearance of it, if it wasn’t for all the old-school fans physically expanding in the years since, and was really just me standing close enough with enough sweaty bodies vying to get close to the stage to make it seem like it was packed-out), as if to prove that their comeback was welcome enough to bother with it. There was even some mystery, with a few new cuts (to be included later on Dove), burying their few, modest hits within the set like they were anything else, and a lady bassist with her head covered by a cap, who turned out to be Gail after all. (No one needed band introductions, but it's been a while and we haven't always known what's been going on with them.) For as much as I hadn’t looked up much to re-familiarize myself with the band again before the show (as I figured I'd been covered for back then and all the time since), playing their music over and over instead, I also wasn't entirely present for the show: Vanessa and Andrew were going to the show the night before ours so I got a cheap ticket and switched (for $29, then couldn’t sell our original pair for $8 for both) and we got drinks at Plan Check before, then kept drinking at the show, in the usual heavy amounts with them. But these songs had become so buried in my psyche and being and soul since the band’s heyday two decades before that I could ride it out and enjoy letting those tunes carry me and my sweaty, follow concert-goers, no matter what state I was in and how much I might have gotten over my Tanya crush (since it had been a while, but going maybe to prove that it was always more about the music).

Belly’s set-list:
”Slow Dog”
”White Belly”
”Army of Clay” (working title: “Punish”)
”The Bees”
”Low Red Moon”
”Judas My Heart”
”Full Moon, Empty Heart”

”Seal My Fate”
”Now They'll Sleep”
”Feed the Tree”
”Human Child” (working title: “Comet”)


Monday, August 22, 2016

Guns n’ Roses, August 22, 2016 at Qualcomm Stadium

It was inevitable that Guns N’ Roses would get back together. No matter what anyone says, or how much anywhere swears it’s not going to happen, as long as the band is still alive, there is a chance that they will reunite -- and even then it’s usually only just the front-man they need. Pixies (though mostly Frank Black) swore up and down they wouldn’t reform, then when they did they wouldn’t go away; if Morrissey and Marr can stay alive, the Smiths will eventually get back together (even if, or especially if, it's just those two). It was Axl who caused the most problems for GnR, and the one who swore a reunion would never happen, and he was also the one who had the most to gain from a reunion, artistically if not financially (since he was the one who connived to own the band as a company in the first place). He wasn’t hampered by not having the actual band, and he even reformed GnR for himself, and they were as solid as they could be but they weren’t the originals and that still makes a difference to some fans (casual ones since they don’t know the difference, and die-hards since they do). So eventually they got the old band back together, even if the big deal was only three of the five total (though it would have been more of a reward to get Izzy over what Steven would contribute). Anyone might think those two members would be the deciding factor, even if everything else was what Axl already had in place by that point. And even being the fan I am -- including seeing the latter Slash-&-Duff-less version -- I wasn’t moved to go, especially paying stadium prices for what would be poor seats. I’d already been there (actually literally, since it was also at what became Qualcomm): I saw the originals (well, most of them, at that point when they were just about done squandering any cred they had left after going as massive as anyone could (and also when Izzy and Steven weren't with them)) then the new version in a show that was just fine, and couldn’t tell the difference between them if you closed your eyes. And it was hard to get excited about how any new stuff would have to be grudgingly played by the old guys, and that new stuff being Chinese Democracy (by this point 8 years old). Carla wouldn’t have been an encouraging factor to go (my time with GnR in younger days was her time with bands that aged better), but it was a night out with Tom & Tati, and it’s not like they’re going to go to a club show for anything but a mass-market band. But it didn’t take twisting my arm to pony up for this show, if we were going out together, and I’m fan enough to let myself be obligated to contribute something to their effort to get the old magic back (even if they were already choking on cash). And it was pricey, and the seats weren’t great (though better in my memory than the first time, and we were on the floor back then), and it was as good a show as could be expected. They brought more energy and tunes and arm-pit sweat than anyone would have thought they had left in them, and, in a two-hour show, gave as much value to the ticket price as the band could. The others made a big deal about how the show was even better than they expected, with Carla becoming a fan for one night only, and going on about how much Slash wailed on guitar, but I knew the truth: it was the same show that Axl had been playing outside of the reunion. The only difference came down to two guys on stage, not the sound, and the fact that they could pack a stadium instead of the House of Blues. Even the set-list was the same, skipping a few of their big songs (“Don’t Cry”) to try to retain some artistic pickiness, then the Godfather theme that Finck played when he was Slash, and the same Who cover (but getting major points for airing of “Coma” and “Double-Takin’ Jive,” which could have been a concession to Slash playing, and the overlooked moment when he truly shined). This was literally business as usual for Axl, except with the popular members he could proclaim a return to greatness even if it was the same as he’d been running it for a while. The truth made it a bit queasy, that this was still a company owned by and lorded over by Mr. Rose -- Axl Rose Inc. dba Guns N’ Roses -- and the radio silence in the press for this run didn’t shed any light on what deal they all had to make to get just two of the guys to come back again (though clearly Izzy was having none of it, which would infer that it wasn’t a great deal to begin with). Slash and Duff couldn't be hurting for money, and they didn’t have anything to prove artistically, since post-OG GnR they'd kept working, unlike Axl, and it’s not likely they wanted to have to spend more time in any proximity to Axl, even on stage, but maybe one day we’ll get the story about how and why it came back together. But for that night the band was (kinda, mostly) back together, and that was good enough (and massive enough to keep us from getting inside in time to see openers The Cult, probably the only time I would have bothered to see them). They could keep flogging the same material for a while and making a big deal out of the shows and the fact that they were back together, treading familiar Pixies ground, but a fan-base that grows as the hits keeping living then get their kids into them can be a lucrative and enduring thing. Though it's clear a place is cluttered with shallow fans when they don't know the rules of concert-going enough to avoid wearing the band’s T-shirt to the band’s show. 

Guns N’ Roses set-list:
“It's So Easy“
“Mr. Brownstone“
“Chinese Democracy“
“Welcome to the Jungle“
“Double Talkin' Jive“
“Live and Let Die“ (Wings cover)
“Rocket Queen“
“You Could Be Mine“
“Attitude“ (Misfits cover; with "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" intro)
“This I Love“
“Civil War“ (with "Voodoo Child" outro)
“Speak Softly Love“ (Love Theme from The Godfather; Slash solo)
“Sweet Child O' Mine“
“Out Ta Get Me“
“Wish You Were Here“ (Pink Floyd cover; Slash & Richard Fortus guitar duet)
“November Rain“ ("Layla" piano exit intro with Axl Rose playing grand piano)
“Used to Love Her“
“Knockin' on Heaven's Door“ (Bob Dylan cover)

“There Was a Time“
“The Seeker“ (The Who cover)
“Paradise City“

Friday, August 19, 2016

PJ Harvey, August 19, 2016 at the Fonda

PJ Harvey has always been an interesting creature. Once she had some the pull from a quasi-hit in the alt-mid-’90s, she went from rough demo-level catharses to changing up her sound from the ground up with each album, which became an event unto themselves. This also led to some wholesale inconsistencies, sometimes just in alternating albums, and the moments of brilliance had to do a lot of work to make up for the lesser stuff. Still, in concert to present new stuff, she would pull in the older stuff to match it and somehow make it flow seamlessly, or at least put a new spin on material we’d gotten used to. She didn’t even have make a statement as an artist, she just did it. Still, lesser moments existed but with some rejigging weren’t an albatross in the modern shows if the new material didn’t drag them down on its own. Some of the albums took a while to come around to, and often they would work out anyway (save for the still-challenging Is This Desire?), but we were still waiting on The Hope Six Demolition Project. By the time for that show I still hadn’t found official word if that project was a side experiment or if it was an official album intended for the same level as the rest, with the attendant tour and all accompanying a full-on album release, and the fact that I had to wonder might say it all (or just take it for granted that it's all official). But every release gets its shows (at least in L.A.) and we probably would have gone anyway no matter what she was playing for. We’d had tickets for the next night at the Shrine well in advance but when Carla had a chance for the Fonda show that was announced just before, even trading a Friday night for a Thursday, we went for it (though she was playing much the same set each night, so the only big difference was the smaller and closer venue). Unfortunately, the show didn’t do anything more to sell the album/project but she had enough of the old stuff -- not being too much of an artiste to eschew the stuff the crowd might have known (and liked) more -- and reconfigured it to make it interesting for herself, if not us. In her habit of learning a new instrument and writing each new album with it, this was the one with the saxophone, which must have been ill-advised, even beyond its being out of style to the point of ironic/non-ironic ridiculousness, it at least was a way to change up her stuff. This was also the tour where she filled the stage with musicians, evidently to reach the sonic ranges she needed for the material, but it sure looked crowded up there. It might have been better to approach the material as a project instead of a release expecting the same respect that her other stuff has gotten, even the weird stuff, but as a show, even at worst it could be performance art that gets appreciation from what she’s given us for so long and how much we love her.  So, in total, a score for experimenting with the familiar (even trotting out that familiar alt-mid-’90s quasi-hit), but a failure in trying to make something moving from these experiments.

PJ Harvey’s set-list:
“Chain of Keys“
“The Ministry of Defence“
“The Community of Hope“
“The Orange Monkey“
A Line in the Sand“
“Let England Shake“
“The Words That Maketh Murder“
“The Glorious Land“
“When Under Ether“
“Dollar, Dollar“
“The Wheel“
“The Ministry of Social Affairs“
“50ft Queenie“
“Down by the Water“
“To Bring You My Love“
“River Anacostia“

“Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln“
“A Perfect Day Elise“