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i was there: a week of shows in review

25 Sep

As I’ve mentioned previously, the tough thing about writing a live music blog is that live music often happens during prime blog writing time. As such, allow me to do some catch-up.

Last week was my birthday week, and in true celebratory fashion, I attended not one, not two, but three shows over the course of five days. What could be better/more appropriate? Also, each of the shows was a totally unique and diverse experience- I traveled to see a cult-status jam band, caught a local up-and-comer at a loft party in my neighborhood, and saw the Pitchfork-band-of-the-moment change lives at the 930 club. I think that covers all of my concert bases, no?

Here is the rundown:

1) Saturday, September  15: Lotus at FDR Park in Philadelphia

For the past 10-15 years or so, a troupe of electro-funk-dance bands have garnered Grateful Dead-like followings with their own sub genre of jam. Usually, if you’re into one, you’re into them all- it’s such a great live experience that once you’ve seen one, you’re drinking the Kool-Aid. The group of bands I’m talking about include festival favorites such as Disco Biscuits, Umphreys Mcgee, String Cheese Incident, and (my personal favorite) Lotus.

Lotus got me totally hooked on this genre when I saw them for the first time back in college, and it’s been a jam love affair ever since. Unlike some of the other bands I mentioned, Lotus’ studio albums are pretty enjoyable on their own; however, your appreciation totally changes after just one live experience. This show in Philly was my fourth time seeing them; it was my favorite thus far, and it certainly won’t be the last.

For beginners, I suggest checking out Lotus’ most recent album, which you can stream for free.99 on their website. Here is a sample. First listen up, then find out when is the next time they’re coming to your town, then buy tickets immediately.

Lotus, “Molluskunk”

 

2. Wednesday, September 19: Margot MacDonald at a “Loft Soiree” in Adams Morgan

Even though my birthday was not until yesterday, my boyfriend and I celebrated on the 19th due to some out-of-town travel this weekend. Well, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as there just so happened to be a DIY show happening in my neighborhood that night.

One can argue that DIY shows are hit-or-miss in terms of quality; but honestly, I’m so on board with the concept itself that I’m willing to see rougher shows if it means that people are putting in the effort to cultivate the DIY scene in DC. There is something incredibly refreshing and special about having the opportunity to see live music in an intimate, personal setting that is not at all driven by profits. It blends the best aspects of a house party and a show into one multipurpose night of fun, not to mention that it’s a terrific way for local artists to build up their following.

Case in point: Margot MacDonald. Standing in that Adams Morgan loft last Wednesday, Margot’s voice kicked me square in the stomach, in the best way possible. Her voice is opera-quality good, and she is blending her vocal talents with some incredibly cool, minimalist Zola Jesus-style beats that I dug so hard. This is definitely a local artist to watch, closely.

Check on Margot’s music here.

 

3. Thursday, 9/20: Grizzly Bear at the 930 Club

A few months ago, or whenever tickets for this show originally went on sale, I made the tough decision not to go after tickets. Don’t get me wrong, I like Grizzly Bear and thought their 2009 breakthrough Veckatimest was great. I also would’ve been thrilled to see Unknown Mortal Orchestra, their weirdo-cool opening act. However, I was trying to save money and cut back on ticket purchases, so I passed.

Then, Shields came out last week, and all bets were off. You guys, this album is incredible, and Grizzly Bear is doing beautiful crazy things with their instruments that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard. The guys got super ambitious in the composition of this album, and their risks paid off big time. The resulting album is so layered and full of texture that it feels like you could never listen to it the same way twice- and isn’t that the most rewarding kind of album for a fan?

I lucked out big time finding tickets to this show, and I’m so glad I went. As a friend captioned in this show photo, Grizzly Bear “destroyed song structures and changed lives” that night.

Here is a sample track, and then go listen to the full album over at NPR First Listen.

Grizzly Bear, “Sleeping Ute”

i was there: jack white (secret show) at reckless records

9 Aug

Let me tell you a story. Everyone likes a good story, right?

This story takes place during my first trip to Chicago on the weekend of August 4, 2012. Why yes, festival fiends, that was the date of Lollapalooza 2012. And no, strangely enough, I did not have tickets.

I was in Chicago for many reasons that did not include live music- namely, to celebrate a friend’s engagement. While I was stoked to see Chicago and celebrate the impending nuptials of my two friends, it was hard to avoid some Lolla FOMO while staying at a hotel downtown, a stone’s throw from Grant Park. Particularly when you’re on a packed train at midnight, en route to a bar, and it’s full of post-festival revelers, dripping with sweat and basking in the glory of that night’s headliners (Black Sabbath, Bassnectar, and Black Keys).

But even without Lollapalooza, Chicago gave me a million things to love that weekend- I couldn’t get enough of the city’s architecture, energy, views, food- not to mention the great friends I got to see.

So there I was, happy as a clam, wrapping up a great trip with a Sunday afternoon excursion to Wicker Park (which I dubbed Chicago’s own Lower East Side). We ate lunch at a vegan cafe, I scored some sweet deals at a secondhand shop, and we hit up some record stores- life was good. But I was totally unaware that my weekend was about to get smacked upside the head with a whole new dose of awesome.

When I walked into Reckless Records, a large crowd huddled was huddled at the front of the store. I quickly found my gentleman companion in the group and asked him why everyone was standing around. “There’s going to be a surprise show!” he told me excitedly.  I asked who, but no one seemed to know. A fellow bystander speculated Franz Ferdinand, saying he had seen the lead singer in the store earlier. “Oh, that would be neat,” I said. But probably only neat enough to wait for 20 minutes or so, particularly with our flight home looming.

Just then, another shopper chimed in casually: “Didn’t you guys notice the Third Man Record truck outside? That’s Jack White’s label. It’s going to be him.”

Hooooold up. THE Jack White? Are you telling me I might see one of my favorite contemporary musicians, and arguably a top five most talented living guitarist, play right here in the store? Yes, that’s what he was telling us. Shit just got real.

We started frantically speculating how long we could hold out before we would miss our flight. I started scouring Twitter for clues, while my companion checked us into our flight and plotted our best taxi route. If our suspicions were correct, this would be worth some travel stress.
Soon enough, we were validated. Some guys in Detroit Tigers hats (White’s hometown) started to crop up. When the band finally took the stage, we knew- this was Jack’s band, no doubt. After a prolonged warm-up/intro that seemed to last for eternity, there he was- a legend with pale skin, crazy hair, and some weird cowboy shirt strolled through the shop’s front door and took his place 10 feet in front of us, guitar in hand.

Our faces were, of course, melted. Jack White is as talented a performer as he is a musician, and that is no small feat when you’re a genius like White. I’d seen him perform once before (with the Raconteurs in 2006), and during both shows White’s energy and engagement with the crowd seemed so effortless- like all the greats, he makes it look easy. Just as a great politician makes you feel like the only one in the room when they’re schmoozing, White makes you feel like you’re the only fan in the room when he’s shredding.

The show seemed to pass in a flash, though in reality White packed in two White Stripes tunes (including the classics “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground” and “We’re Going to Be Friends), two from the new album, and a meandering ad-lib jam at the end that I couldn’t identify. The band was having a blast, he was having a blast (as much as Jack White ever does, anyway), and the crowd ate it up.

This clip doesn’t begin to do justice to the experience, but it will at least give you a taste of why I fell thoroughly in love with Chicago this weekend (well, one of the reasons). It was one of the most memorable musical experiences of my life, and I wish similar good fortunate on all music fans out there. For all the money you spend on tickets, time you spend standing in sweaty crowds, and energy you spend trekking to concerts any night of the week- everyone deserves a little live music karmic retribution once in awhile.

i was there: radiohead at the verizon center (guest post)

5 Jun

You all are in for a treat this week. This week, instead of reading my same old stuff, you get to read the thoughts and ideas of some special guest contributors. First up, a review of Radiohead at the Verizon Center this past Sunday, written by a friend with whom I attended the show. Enjoy!

***

Guest contributor: Sean F. Dugan

I came across Radiohead late. It was 2008, one year after In Rainbows had been released, and most of you had spent years feasting on their work. I, on the other hand, had yet to listen to OK Computer. I hadn’t even heard of The Bends.

This all changed after a night of heavy drinking during the summer before my senior year in college, whenI awoke to the usual sounds coming from my alarm clock. I had to be at work in less than an hour, I still felt drunk, and I was going to Lollapalooza that night. Yet for some reason, my roommate was standing over me in my room with his iPod in hand.

“You should take this into work today,” he said.

I asked why.

“Because you’re going to see Radiohead tonight. You should probably get familiar.”

And so I did. I was half asleep on the bus to work (that’s the 147 for you Chicago folk), I turned on OK Computer, laid my head against the window, and closed my eyes. I didn’t really know what to expect; I was listening to them just 10 hours before I was set to see them that night, and I wasn’t in the mindset to have a musical epiphany.

But then, an airbag saved my life.

The distorted and almost nauseating guitar rhythms, intricately woven together into a harmonious barrage of sound and brought to greater heights by Thom Yorke’s vocals, immediately grabbed my attention; four years later, they still haven’t let go. Fast forward to June 2012, and there I was seeing Radiohead at the Verizon Center. “Airbag” was the second song in their incredible set last night, and it sounded as fresh and new as it did that morning on the bus – back when the song was already 11 years old.

It’s difficult to convey just how much Radiohead took over my life after I saw them for the first time at Lollapalooza. I must have listened to every album at least thirty times since then, and some maybe double that. They are the only band I can jot down a set list for at a show without even thinking. They are, perhaps too often, the standard by which I compare other bands’ musical talent. They will forever remain the band that moved my musical interests away from classical and classic rock toward genres I never knew existed or thought I would like. Forgive my hyperbole, but I believe them to be the greatest working band alive.

Radiohead proved my hyperbole correct yet again last night in Washington, D.C. During this 2012 tour, almost every set has started with “Bloom,” just as every set of their 2008 tour started with “15 Step,” which rang loud in last night’s first encore. Like “15 Step” for In Rainbows, “Bloom” is the first song off 2011’s The King of Limbs, and the live rendition of it is extraordinary– especially with the extended harmony sections between the song’s two parts. Even at 43, Yorke’s vocal range is incredibly impressive. The distinctness of his tenor voice and beautiful use of falsetto hasn’t changed much in his 20 years of touring. The indoor arena was a marvelous setting in which to be enchanted, and at times haunted, by his voice as it echoed through the Verizon Center.

Of the 23 songs played last night, seven were from The King of Limbs, and the rest of the show came primarily from In Rainbows, Hail To The Thief and Kid A. Needless to say, when “The National Anthem” came blasting through the towering speakers halfway through, the crowd was surging.

The first encore brought us “Paranoid Android,” which, along with “Airbag,” were the oldest songs they performed last night. But for me, the biggest surprise of the evening was “You And Whose Army?” Perhaps the most fun song on Amnesiac, this took the audience by storm, and you could truly feel the band’s excitement as they played it.

When they came back out for the second encore, I knew it would be the last. But before taking their final bow, they left us with “Reckoner,” my favorite track off In Rainbows.

See, one of Yorke’s strengths as a lyricist is that he can truly jar a listener; he leaves you feeling a little strange and pondering the mind (and mental state) of the writer. Is Thom Yorke insane? What does he mean when he says “Cut the kids in half” on “Morning Bell”? Yorke very well may be at a perpetual distance from us, but in the last lines of “Reckoner,” and also in the final lyrics of the concert, we see Yorke reaching out to all of us when he says, “Dedicated to all of you, all human beings.”

i was there: M83 at 930 club, early show

14 May

Wow, three weeks without a post? How did that happen?! Oh, I know: I went to Europe for two weeks. And, as anyone who travels knows, the week following a 15-day trip pretty much requires exhaustive effort just to get out of bed in the morning and deal with the fact that you’re not traveling. Sigh.

BUT! I am back in action. Specifically back in show action, with the long-awaited M83 double show at the 930 Club this past week. While I had tickets to both instances of the double-header, I decided to share the wealth and sell the tickets to a friend.

Those of you who went probably recall that this show wasn’t originally listed as a two-parter. Back in February, 930 Club announced the show and it sold out instantly (as in, less than 5 minutes instantly). Those of us who scored tickets felt beyond victorious- our time spent glued to Ticketfly and hitting refresh had paid off!

But our gloating was short-lived. A few weeks later, the show time was moved up and a late show was added. All of the sudden, “the show” was now “the early show.” I don’t think I was alone in feeling a little perturbed by this move. The tickets were pricey, and having an early and late show implies that each one will be at best short and at worst incomplete. So, while I was obviously stoked for this musical experience that was months in the making, it felt a little strange arriving at the 930 Club when it was still light outside for an event that was supposed to be the highlight of my show season.

Nonetheless, I went in with a positive attitude and was antsy to see if the band would live up to my friends’ raves about their Coachella set. And ultimately, the show met all of my expectations. Yes, the sound/energy/song choices were awesome; yes, it was too early and too short.

Given the structure and content of M83’s albums, at least their two most recent ones (Hurry Up We’re Dreaming and Saturdays = Youth), I was less concerned about the actual song choices, but more concerned about their order and how they fit and flowed together. More so than almost any band I listen to regularly, I refuse to listen to an M83 album out of order. The songs are strong, but the album is really a mosaic; the beauty is in the holistic experience. If you listened to their tunes as singles, many of them simply wouldn’t make sense. You wouldn’t get why a voice track of a little girl talking about frogs is awesome and not random (“Raconte-Moi Une Histoire,” sadly not played).

With that criteria in mind, I think the actual performance was spectacular. The band played a wide spectrum of songs, ticked off most of the hits (except no “Kim and Jessie” whaaaat?), but- most importantly- it flowed really well, even though the songs obviously didn’t follow album order.

I was also pleasantly surprised at the number of musicians on stage with Anthony Gonzales, M83’s only permanent member. The bevy of artists and instruments on stage obviously made for a richer, fuller sound without the need to rely on loops, and many of the band members straight multiplied the amount of energy on stage- I was grateful for their presence and their head banging throughout.

Other specific song highlights include “New Map,” the anthemic “Midnight City” (obviously brought the house down), and the encore, which made the previously lackluster crowd finally get on board and move their feet.

But, of course, it ended far too soon. I’m looking forward to reading about the late show and figuring out if the experience would have been any better had I stayed for the late show, but really I feel I shouldn’t have been faced with that choice. On the bright side, though, it was quite nice leaving the 930 Club with essentially a whole Saturday night ahead of you. I could get used to that.

 

i was there: sleigh bells at the 930 club, 3.28.12

29 Mar

Not wearing earplugs last night was a supremely poor life decision.

Sleigh Bells. The loudest band around. The only one that can make bang your head, shake your groove thing,  pump your fist, and cover your ears in pain/pleasure, all in a 49-minute sprint of a show.

Tuesday was my third time seeing the Bells, but the first since they released their second album Reign of Terror. My expectations for a Sleigh Bells show are always incredibly high, but I always come away with the same conclusion: so damn good. Too damn short.

These whippity quick sets were easier to justify when the Bells had only released one album- they somehow toured for over two years on just 32 minutes of recorded material(!!!). Now with two albums under their belt, I expected more longevity during this tour. But, true to form, the Bells stormed the stage for 49 minutes that passed in a snap. However, given the bone-crushing energy that the New York duo pour into each and every song they perform, I can forgive it.

The biggest thing that struck me about the Bells’ performance on Tuesday is just how much they have, despite their best efforts to hide it, matured. Sure, bad ass frontwoman Alexis Krauss still howls like a werewolf at opportune moments. Also, for the first half of the show, I thought she was wearing sunglasses- nope, just layers upon layers of dark eye makeup. The basic formula of the Bells’ show remains the same: they thrash and scream and the audience moshes and it’s a big sweaty mess. But now, it feels a bit more professional.

Most importantly, the Sleigh Bells I saw on Tuesday convinced me that I actually like their new album. When I first listened, I was intrigued by the direction they took with their softer tunes like “Crush” and “Leader of the Pack.” But the album as a whole felt a little disjointed, and I wasn’t confident it would work live.

Fortunately, I was wrong. The Bells have fine-tuned their craft and know exactly how to weave the hard and fast with dance-y and soft and everything in between. They commanded that show like expert puppet masters who understood what each song would do to the audience. They brought us up and down and threw us all around, but the entire show felt perfectly balanced. They seamlessly wove all of their disparate sounds into a very cohesive show that displayed the best of everything Sleigh Bells does well.

Third time was a charm, but here’s hoping the fourth and fifth times are just as swell.

Sleigh Bells, from Reign of Terror

on my boombox: walk the moon- great band OR greatest band ever?

7 Feb

Walk. The. Moon. Where to begin? This band stormed into my life as a force to be reckoned with back in May 2011. As I prepared for my first trip to Bonnaroo, I sent the lineup to a fellow audiophile friend with my projected show schedule highlighted for each day—Type A fandom at its finest. Said friend replied with some comments, and he ended with “Oh, and you cannot miss Walk the Moon.”

I investigated further and learned that the band was slated to play multiple sets at the festival’s smaller stages. Intrigued, I downloaded the first few tracks from their 2011 album I Want! I Want! …boom, hooked. I quickly spread the word about my new find to my ‘Roo crew, and some of the guys downloaded “Anna Sun” and felt the same love at first listen that I experienced.

Fast forward to Bonnaroo day two, when we rallied our group to catch Walk the Moon’s final set of the weekend. Wow. Just wow. In that 40-person crowd, there was a palpable mutual feeling that we were all seeing something that was going to blow up. But honestly we could barely think about that at the time because we were too busy jumping around like idiots.

See for yourself- action shot: me during Walk the Moon’s set at Bonnaroo. 

Look at that face. Does it not scream “I AM HAVING THE BEST TIME OF MY LIFE RIGHT NOW!”? Slash, “Hot damn, I need to shower.

From that point on, I Want! I Want! played on repeat at our campsite during the festival, as well as on my iPod for the next… eight months. Trust me, if a song can get you pumped while you’re melting in Tennesee heat and subsisting on a diet of Doritos and Budweiser, it’s a keeper.

Which brings us to today. After appearing on countless “2011 best of” lists, as well as “bands to watch in 2012” lists (if my own list hadn’t excluded males they would’ve taken spots 1, 2, and 3. Scratch that: 2, 3, and 4. Santigold’s still my #1 girl), the band is poised to cause a real ruckus with their follow up material.

Today, in a shrewd business move, the band released an Anna Sun EP with three singles (one old and two new) ahead of their full-length album due in the spring. Uncoincidentally, today I heard my new favorite song, the absurdly catchy “Next In Line.”  The synth. The pulsing backbeat. The shredding guitar solos. The chorus that just begs for a loud obnoxious sing along and accompanying dance party. Tracks like this make a hit sound effortless. You listen and think, “Why doesn’t every band make songs I like this much? Walk the Moon does it over and over again.”

This will surely comprise about 50 percent of my workout soundtrack for the next several weeks. At which point I still won’t tire of it. I dare you not to be obsessed.

Walk the Moon, “Next in Line.” Listen to I Want! I Want! on Spotify.

i was there: real estate at black cat, 1.22

30 Jan

Exactly one week ago, I saw a really amazing show. A show that I did not anticipate would be as amazing as what transpired that night. So amazing that I needed a week to let it resonate—to gather my thoughts, to let the impressions stew, to listen to the band’s discography impulsively to reevaluate how the show transformed my feelings toward their music.

Now that I have sufficiently procrastinated mulled, I finally feel prepared to offer an insightful take on the show, albeit with the input of some friends who understand this band on a deeper level than I.

Last Sunday, a New Jersey-based quartet called Real Estate rolled into town for the first time since fall 2009 to play at Black Cat. (Sidenote: what’s with all of these impossible-to-Google band names? “Girls”? “Real Estate”? “The The”?! You guys are making my smart phone work waaay too hard). After releasing their self-titled debut in 2009, Real Estate built their reputation as ambassadors of chill; their sound is the epitome of dreamy and laidback, but with enough bells and whistles to keep things interesting. In fact, the first time I listened to Real Estate I instantly declared, “Oh, neat, a West Coast version of the Shins.”

Incorrect assumptions about geographic origin aside, a beach bum aesthetic pervades each and every song as it drifts down a musical lazy river, with lyrics that romanticize the mundanities of daily life in a small beach town. Yet the simplicity of their lyrics is completely calculated, and they serve as a neutral palette for the supremely crisp, multifaceted, and expertly edited instrumentals. When the band recorded their second album Days in 2011, they stuck to this formula and, quite simply, did it better. They keep the lyrics uncomplicated and let their beautiful instruments play the starring role.

That being said, Real Estate’s music never made me think, “I cannot WAIT to see these guys live.” I couldn’t predict how their sound would translate on stage. If performed improperly, “dreamy” music can easily border on “drowsy” in a live setting. However, if the band could amplify every shimmering, gorgeous layer of their tunes into a casually grandiose experience, then that show could be a treat.

Last Sunday, I happily experienced the latter. On stage at the Black Cat, Real Estate conveyed exactly what makes their music so uniquely special: they capitalize on the carefree simplicity in their lyrics to make their instrumentation soar, and the band’s live presence felt nonchalant but genuine. Bassist Alex Bleeker donned a Giants sweatshirt and clearly struggled to focus on the performance as the G-Men went into overtime, and lead vocalist Martin Courtney’s dance moves never strayed far from some turtleneck head-bobbing.

In a breezy 90 minutes, the band at least touched on all 10 tracks from their latest album. They set the bar high by opening with a rock-solid rendition of “Green Aisles,” a standard to which not every subsequent song could meet—though many came close. Also, I would have appreciated a bit more time dedicated to “All the Same,” the superb 8-minute number that closes out Days. The swells and spirals of that tune offer a glimpse of a future Real Estate, one that can leap out of their comfort zone, and I would have loved to see them really lay into the jam session parts of the song.

Ultimately, however, the award for “having more fun than anybody” definitely went to lead guitarist Matthew Mondanile, particularly when he fell off stage during the encore. That’s ok, though. Even before his puzzling tumble, Mondanile was the best performer of the bunch, taking the energy up a notch at times when, frankly, it needed to be taken up a notch. The group relies on him for that ounce of traditional charisma that they normally dodge, and that ounce is all they need to put forth a performance that could convert a skeptic into to a believer (myself included).

More iPhone photos for your enjoyment. Real Estate is also not so down with the flash from a DSLR, according to Black Cat.

Lead guitarist Matthew Mondanile: drunk or just clumsy?

Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney, gettin his turtle on. Real Estate Bassist Alex Bleeker reppin the New York Gians. #Dynamicduo