Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Concert Reviews

I've been slacking again. Sorry. There are only so many times I can apologize for this behavior before you all realize that it's not a valid excuse.
Over the course of a little more than a month, I went to 3 pretty amazing concerts. I will now share those concerts with you...well, as much as I can, anyway.

Tom Waits: June 29 @ The Civic Auditorium in Knoxville, TN
Attendees: Me, Brittney

Do you want to see a true performer? Someone who treats a live show like theatre? Someone who knows how to put on a show, as well as play some ridiculously awesome music? Tom Waits is that man.
He came out onto the stage, stepped onto his own personal riser, and threw himself into an amazing rendition of "Lucinda" (not one of my favorite songs of his, but this live version was unreal). As he sang, he stomped on his rider, letting loose a cloud of dust that rose and fell...rose and fell...until it was a dense cloud about waist high. Words can't quite describe the look of this, but it looked great, and we were hooked.
We were sitting about 12 rows back, left-center of the stage. Great seats. We could see everything perfectly. Yet, I was left to wonder: what does one have to do to get closer? I got on the second they went on sale, and purchased them within 45 seconds (I was prepared). And yet, somehow all those people had gotten in ahead of me? I refuse to believe that, but I guess I don't know what else it could be. Don't misunderstand me: I'm not complaining. We had amazing seats. Just musing, is all.
We had seen Tom Waits once before (at the Louisville Palace in 2006), but I think this show blew that show out of the water. The biggest difference was the band: at the Palace show, he was touring with Duke Robillard, a renowned blues guitarist. The problem laid with him. Robillard was good, but his playing was just too smooth. A Tom Waits guitarist needs to make a guitar sound rusty; like he's banging out the songs on 50-year-old strings that he's not altogether familiar with. The band behind Waits this time were fantastic, and they really brought out the rawness of the music. The guitars were nasty, the percussion was huge, and the horns/harmonica sounded like they were coming out of a radio. The sound was perfect.
The sound was perfect, and the performance was magnificent. He jumped all over with his song selections: "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis", "Chocolate Jesus", "Innocent When You Dream", "Falling Down", "God's Away on Business", etc. He closed with "Come On Up to the House", a perfect closing song.
My favorite song that he did was "9th and Hennepin". I've always loved his narratives that show up on albums, and this was one of his first. I always felt that there was something missing. I always thought, "If he did that today, it would sound competely different. I'm sure he could make it better." And he did. With the band lurking in the background, Tom stood in the middle of the stage, with nothing more than a single lightbulb hanging directly to his right that would flicker on and off...on and off. Again, I can't explain it in words, but it was much better than the album version. Breathtaking, even. He is a terrific songwriter, but his passion has always seemed to be storytelling. That passion was on full display on this performance. For me, it was one of the best "songs" I have ever seen performed live.
If you get the chance to see Tom Waits, don't pass it up. He doesn't tour often, but, when he does, it's worth the price to see him.

She & Him: July 30 @ The Mercy Lounge in Nashville, TN
Attendees: Me, Sharon, Kari, Flash, Matthew

The Mercy Lounge is a small club in Nashville. There couldn't have been more than a couple of hundred people there. We got there early, so we were able to get really close to the stage. There were only two people between us and the stage, so that was cool. Unfortunately, those people were jackass high school kids, one of whom was auditioning to be Andy Samberg. These guys didn't buy tickets in advance: they opted to wait outside and bug everyone until they got tickets...then they muscled their way to the front of the crowd and refused to leave, deciding it would be much better for everyone if them and their sweaty heads bopped directly in front of the stage. There was also a creepy bald guy who raised his hands above his head and muttered "Zooeyzooeyzooey" over and over again, trying to touch her at every opportunity (he never succeeded). When she went to sit at the piano, he shoved his way over, trying to look up her dress. When he couldn't get in prime creep position, he left. Just walked out the door. I kept waiting for him to come back, but he never did. We were all excited about that.
Now...the music.
Charlie Louvin opened the show. And, while he's 300 years old, he actually put on a good show. He didn't move much, but his band was good, and he still has a decent voice. He looked like he was having fun, and that's really all that matters. He made a number dirty old man comments, and talked about his "ladycrippling" guitarist way too much (to the point that the guitarist was visibly uncomfortable), but it's all good. He's old, and I give him leeway.
She & Him took the stage to massive applause...the lead singer is a movie star, after all. Once they started playing, the noise died down, and you could actually hear the music...which was nice. They had a wonderful backing band, including a guitarist who looked like Billy Connolly, a drummer who looked like The Boss, an extremely pregnant bass player, and a space cadet for a back-up singer (who I found out was Becky Stark, aka Lavendar Diamond. She sang one of her songs, and it was terrible...glad she wasn't the opening band).
Zooey was fantastic. Her voice sounded just as good (if not better) than it does on the album. She was nice and smiley and seemed genuinely happy to be there, which was pretty cool. She didn't move a whole lot, but she liked to rock the tamborine quite a bit. She played the piano on a couple of songs, too, so that was cool. She also jumped up and down like a crazy person during "Sweet Darlin'". She was smiling so big you couldn't help but love it.
M. Ward was probably my favorite part of the show. He knew he wasn't the main attraction, so he just kind of slunk around in the background at first. As the show went on, he ventured out onto the stage a little more. When he rocked out his guitar solos (which he did on occasion), all eyes were on him. He had a look on his face the entire time, like he was surveying the crowd and saying to himself, "I'm better than that person, and that person, and that person...". It killed me. By the end of the show, people seemed to be less focused on Zooey and more focused on the band as a whole.
While I don't remember the exactly setlist, I do know that they played everything on their album, as well as some other songs. They played a new song (I don't remember the title), and they also did a cover of Joni Mitchell's "You Turn Me On I'm a Radio", and that was pretty cool. They came back out for the encore with some friends, including Jack White's model wife (no...not Meg). During the last song, David Rawlings crept onto the stage and started playing guitar. It wasn't until halfway through the song that anyone knew they were there. By the end of that song, Gillian Welch had appeared out of nowhere. Because of their new friends, they launched into one last impromtu song. It was a little rusty, but everyone looked to be enjoying themselves.
Great show. It was well worth the paltry $20 they were charging. Good times all around.

Radiohead: August 3 @ Verizon Wireless Music Center in Noblesville, IN
Attendees: Me, Ben

First off, I have to say that this concert worked out extremely well. Ben is a good friend of mine, but he lives in the DC area, so I don't get to see him very much. This concert happened to fall on his birthday, so he drove down and we went together. Above seeing my favorite band, that really made the show for me.
We got there a little late, and found out that parking was free. Always good news. We got into the venue (outdoor) after being searched and whatnot, and found that the opening act, Grizzly Bear, had already started. The last time I had seen Radiohead, we drove to Wisconsin, got there late, and missed Steve Malkmus & The Jicks due to the extreme unorganization of the people putting on the show. I was mad about that. Coming in late for Grizzly Bear? I really didn't care. I know a lot of people like them, but I really don't. The majority of their set (what we heard of it, anyway), was more background music than anything. There were a couple of occasions where I actually got mad at how bad the song was. I had purchased Yellow House when it was released, based on all the good reviews I had read. When we got back from the show, I took it off my shelf, put it in a bag, and sold it to CD Central within 5 days. That's how unimpressed I was with Grizzly Bear's live show.
Fan note: directly in front of us were two high school kids, a boy and a girl. I think they spent more time sucking face and sucking cigarettes than they did actually watching the show. At one point, I looked down to see them on their blanket. He had a cigarette in one hand and a Slim Jim in the other. She had a cigarette in her hand. I watched him take a bite of the Slim Jim, then take a drag from his cigarette. She also took a drag from her cigarette. They exhaled, then promptly began making out. My face twisted in disgust. I guess I just don't understand kids these days.
It took Radiohead a little bit to get to the stage. It was getting dark by the time they started playing, but it was well worth the wait. I have never left a show and said to myself, " that was a good light show," but I did after this show. The screens and lights were more artistic than any other show I had been to. They weren't distracting; in fact, they seemed to add something to the show.
They kicked off with "15 Step", then broke into "Bodysnatchers", which led to Ben and I looking at each other and wondering if they were going to play the entire In Rainbows album in order. But then they played "There There" and dashed that thought. They still played the entire In Rainbows album, but just not in order.
Highlights: "The Gloaming" was surprisingly great. This was never one of my favorite songs off of Hail to the Thief, but there was a different kind of energy in this version. "Climbing Up the Walls" was completely unexpected...and utterly mindblowing. The sound that came from that song seemed to fill up the entire area we were in...and it was an outdoor venue! I always preferred the live version of "Idioteque" to the album version, and this time was no different...only this version of "Idioteque" is the best one I have ever heard. There was a breakdown at the end that seemed to come out of nowhere. "Karma Police" is always great, and it was no different here. They played "Bangers and Mash", which I liked pretty well on the album, but this version (once again) had a whole other level of energy in it. So good.
About halfway through the show, they played "Videotape". Ben and I were back quite a ways, but we could still see mini-Radiohead playing on the stage. The sky was gorgeous: there were clouds, but they were lit by the lights of the stage, giving them an eerie sense of movement. I found myself staring at the clouds as the song came to its crashing climax. I imagined a comet coming down through the clouds and smashing into the stage, while the sounds from the song continued to fill up the air. As the song gradually died down a little bit, I was still staring at the clouds. The song ended, and everyone erupted into applause. Ben looked a little dazed. He turned to me and said, "You know...I could die right now and not have a single problem with it."
"I feel the same way," I responded.

I'm going to try to get back to writing more. I figure I'll start back up the Band of the Week (we kind of got stalled), and try to write some short reviews of stuff I've been listening to. There's just so much great music out there.
Thanks for reading.


Fosterface said...

Thanks for bringing that experience back. That was awesome. I kept wanting you to look at the sky too, just for the sheer scope and beauty of it all, and I kept wanting to tell you to, but, as you said, I was a little dazed by it all. I spent much of "Pyramid Song" in a similar state.

And the Slim Jim story is still great.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad we went to see She & Him - though I'm happy to blissly and selectively remember only the non-icky parts of the whole experience!! Their performance was pretty amazing, and I always love seeing great musicians like M. Ward and Zooey dC. live and in person! Thanks for buying me a ticket! :) luv, sharon