Heheheheheheh. Ah, 2014: another year where I tell myself 'this is the year my obsessive show-going addiction ends;' another year where I see more shows than anyone I know who isn't employed at a performance space / venue. WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!
A quick list of locations where I've seen shows this year:
--Brooklyn (double natch)
--on a boat circling Manhattan
--Commerce City, CO
--Miami (in 7 days!)
As of this very moment, I've seen 93 concerts this year, and I've got at least three more coming up - Uncle Ebenezer at Knitting Factory Saturday night, Television (first time seeing them) at Irving Plaza on 12/28, and a little up-and-coming rock band who I think are called Assface in Miami on New Year's. The following is my totally subjective, largely meaningless, and wholly amusing (to me) recap of the best stuff I saw in '14.
Oh, and Happy Holidays to all!
The Ten Best Phish Shows I Saw All Year:
1.) Phish, 10/31/14 MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
2.) Phish, 7/13/14 Randall's Island, NYC
3.) Phish, 7/27/14 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
4.) Phish, 8/29/14 Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
5.) Phish, 11/2/14 MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
6.) Phish, 10/22/14 Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara
7.) Phish, 7/26/14 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
8.) Phish, 10/28/14 Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Fran
9.) Phish, 7/11/14 Randall's Island, NYC
10.) Phish, 8/31/14 Dicks Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
After hearing multiple reports about last weekend's White Denim show at the Black Cat in DC being borderline disastrous, I was worried that, the band's live prowess may have waned a bit. Furthermore, this was the first "regular" NYC-area show that White Denim has played since last year's release of Corsicana Lemonade (their sold-out outing at Mercury Lounge during CMJ and the invite-only show at Bowery notwithstanding), so I was eager to see how - if at all - their decidedly more "mature" approach on the new album had affected their live show. Fortunately, just a few minutes into the set, it was perfectly obvious that White Denim still has "it," and then some. IMNSMFHO, White Denim is one of the three-or-so best club acts in the world.
This was, to my knowledge, the first time White Denim has played an area show at at a venue the size of Webster Hall. (This was the eighth time I've seen White Denim live, and the first since last summer's Brooklyn Bowl shows.) For years, it seemed at every White Denim show I attended I'd inevitably wind up in conversations with complete strangers lamenting why this great band hadn't yet found the popularity it deserved, and it seems as though the higher profile accorded Corsicana Lemonade has led to the band successfully filling bigger rooms. Selling out Webster Hall is nothing to sneeze at, and these guys deserve a good deal of respect for reaching this level, gradually developing their fanbase over the past near-decade.
The band took the stage at about quarter to 9, and plowed through a 100+ minute set (including encore) of tightly-wound, impeccably executed tunes. The songlist ran the gamut of the many styles White Denim wields in their sonic arsenal, from riffy blues rockers ("At Night in Dreams") to flashfingered instrumental workouts ("At the Farm") to Southern-fried garage stompers ("Shake Shake Shake") to songs in several other genres that I haven't made up yet. The dude next to me said their playing reminded him of the Dead, but to me on this night White Denim sounded more like the Allmans on Adderall.
Although I arrived towards the end of opening band The Districts' set, I enjoyed what I heard and was compelled to purchase their recent 5-song EP at the merch table for $7. Aside from the bandmembers' youth, their most immediately striking characteristic (to me at least) was that they sounded like My Morning Jacket if MMJ was fronted by personal fave Bobby Bare, Jr. In other words, good stuff.
White Denim's headlining tour continues for the next month or so, and they'll hit a few domestic festivals in early summer too before heading over to Europe. Check 'em out before they're filling your local EnormoDome.
Had the opportunity to catch Karl Denson's Tiny Universe during my most recent trip to DC, along with my buddies Bricer and Salsa. I'd never heard a note of KDTU's music prior to this show, and I was glad to get a chance to catch their set after their recent Brooklyn Bowl shows, about which I'd heard great things. There are very few things in the world more eminently danceable than fast, tight funk grooves, and when these guys played in that style, I found myself hopping around like a jackass, which is always best-case scenario when going into a jammy show.
In particular, we really appreciated the guitarist, and, in fact, we actually felt that his skills were woefully underutilzed in relation to those of the other players. Not for nuthin', but I find too much horns to be monotonous, and flute makes me sleepy. Also, even with my favorite funk acts, about 45 minutes to an hour is plenty. At one point in the show, they invited several guest horn players onstage, each of whom it seemed was offered a turn at vocals. Apparently many of these fellows were local musicians, and although I'm sure this was a thrill for them, good luck dancing to that type of bullshit. We chose to leave.
So, if you like your funk with lots of horns, occasional flute, and nowhere near enough guitar, check these guys out!
You may have noticed (but probably not) that I didn't complete my Summer Tour reviews, skipping the run at Dick's over Labor Day weekend. I *do* intend to finish those up at some point, but the sheer awesomeness of Fall Tour BY FAR supercedes anything they did at Dick's IMHO. I honestly think that Fall Tour '13 had Phish performing consistently at a level unmatched since the Fall Tour '97 / NYE Run '97 / Island Tour '98 era.
This would be my first trip back to Hampton since those initial reunion shows back in March, 2009, for which I improbably scored tix through initial TM onsale (!!). After the embarrassing, unpleasant shitshow that was Coventry, I found myself barely listening to Phish from summer '04 until Phish announced the dawn of the 3.0 era in late '08. Those first Hampton shows featured both a band and a fanbase refreshed by the lengthy layoff, reenergized with eager enthusiasm, and champing at the bit to get rockin'. It was the (re)birth of a beautiful, beautiful relationship.
Back to the present, I left Brooklyn Thursday a little before noon, heading to DC for the evening, with the plan being driving my buddies Bricer and Salsa (who had also been my companions at the '09 Hampton shows) down to Hampton Friday morning. Had a successful stopover in the District, starting with a lovely meal with my brother at the Park Rd location of Pho 14, continuing with me petting a wonderful dog, and ending with me drinking a bunch of Fat Tires and watching sportsball at Salsa's.
Friday morning, I took care of errands (mailing out my DCU extras, gathering groceries and assorted sundries for the trip, etc.) before we loaded up my car and rolled out of town, giddy with excitement and fueled by FlavyMilkz. We were fortunate enough to largely avoid traffic issues until the last 40 or so miles of the drive, at which point Bricer and Salsa capably navigated us through back roads on our path to freedom.
We finally got to Hampton 5:30ish and checked into the infamous Hampton Days Inn for the weekend. (I had remembered driving past this very Days Inn on our way into the Coliseum lot for those '09 shows, and was incredibly envious of those enjoying the seemingly lawless scene that was going on; I vowed that if I ever came back to Hampton for a run of shows I'd stay here. In fact, this time around, I reserved our rooms weeks before Fall Tour was even announced.) Immediately after getting settled we made nice with our friendly neighbors, who hailed from North Carolina. They had what seemed like fourteen or so people crammed into two rooms, and as such they were so happy to receive my extra parking pass that they gave me a twelver of Fat Tire, gratis. Not too shabby right there!
Our pre-show continued thusly, with our festive spirit(s) being amplified gulp by gulp by Bricer's scrumptious vodky / Red Bull / etc. "LotBev" concoction. While my buddies loaded up pre-show on some tasty gourmet potato chips (a/k/a ZorboKrisps), I foolishly deferred. The brief walk over to The Mothership was colored by sharing in the excitement of our fellow fans, a dangerous amount of LotBev, and our first encounter with the Ticket Tree. Once inside the venue, we were pleased to find ample space on the floor in front of the soundboard, Mike-side. On to the show!
What better way to start off the tour with some familiar first set staples, amirite? Things got underway with a pleasant "Wolfman's" opener, allowing the band to tread on familiar funk-blues territory. "Jim" follows, with the band venturing out briefly into "plinko" territory. A generally well-executed "Mound" comes before a perfunctory "Chalkdust." "Army of One," as always, allows Page to showcase his contemplative, pissbreaky side, and "Nellie Kane" supplies the tour's first foray into bluegrass. The ensuing "Stash" is decent, but never really threatens to break any new ground, with the exception of the botched ending and the humorous banter afterwards. "Ocelot" is a song that always seems just one outstanding version away from turning the corner and becoming more than just the poor man's "46 Days," but in the meantime we're all still waiting for that one outstanding version. "Rift" and "Bouncing" are marred by a series of Trey flubs. Hard to believe that "Walls" has only been performed 29 times ever, but equally improbable to learn that 6 of those have occurred in the past four months alone. (Personally, I've seen 6 of the last 7 versions of "Walls.") This was a fairly succinct, rockin' version that ended the first set on an upbeat note.
All in all, this opening stanza of the tour has words like "average," "standard" and "warmup" stamped all over it. Lots of flubs, not much improv, plenty of opportunities to drain one's bladder. Perfectly understandishable, considering that it's the first set of the first show of the tour. Euphemistically put, this is the type of set that was "decent" but "hopefully serves for a springboard for greater things later on." So let's leave it at that, mmm-kay?
(On a personal note, if you were on the floor at this show and were randomly hugged / picked up off the ground by a large, bearded, blissed-the-fuck-out jackass, pleased ta meetcha. I came away from this weekend with the nickname "Huggy Bear," possibly my favorite nickname I've ever gotten. Also, if you're a tiny redheaded idiot, please keep your distance from here on out, or you're likely to receive the anti-hugging of a lifetime. My wrist still hasn't healed, goddamn it!)
Second set leads off with a nice "Twist" -- nothing mind-blowing, but with more than a few opportunities for Trey to whip out some tasty, melodic leads. It seems I get a "Free" during every multi-show run (at the time of this writing, I've been in da hizzy for 9 of the last 10 "Free"s overall), and this one didn't really differ much from the last bunch I've seen. The "Roggae" that came next was on par with the gorgeous BGCA1 version from the summer, highlighted by Trey's pretty leads interlocking perfectly with Mike's helicoptering bass licks. A well-executed "Sparkle" always provides a nice little pick-me-up, and "Cavern" does the same... but the real fireworks were about to start.
"Carini" is always a welcome hear, but, as shown during the SPAC2 version, Phish has shown they can just as easily use the song as a platform for gorgeous, uplifting improv as they can for the brooding, formidable noisy awesomeness that characterizes many "Carinis." At 6:30 in, the jam takes its sudden turn into major-key territory, with some dazzling, fist-pumpin' licks by Page on the organ. By 8:30 Trey starts up with some of the most cheerful, joyous leads I've ever heard, bolstered by Mike's melodic bass riffs. I can say without exaggeration at the time of this writing there is absolutely NO other piece of music written or performed by anyone ever that I'd rather hear than the next 3 or so minutes of this jam. The Phunk shows up at 11:30, with what sounds like some tight hey-hole action. Fish starts on the cowbell at 12:00 (cowbell in a "Carini"?! Hello 12/30/12!!!), and at 13:15 - holy shit, this is *definitely* a "YEM" jam if I've ever heard one, with more nimble page organ licks. 14:40, just when it seems like things are going to peter out, Page is back with a vengeance, and by 15:00 Fishman is patiently lending support. Abruptly ended by...
..."Number Line" is the song that everyone (and, uh, by everyone I mean "me") hates to admit that they enjoy. Seemingly invigorated by the world-beating "Carini," Trey's upbeat, happy-as-heck soloing in this version is a real treat and a prime candidate for "noodle dance special" of the evening. "Twenty Years Later" is next and oddly, out of nowhere my buddy Salvador predicted by text, "they're finally gonna jam this one out!" Of course, during this show that may have seemed absurd, but after hearing the incredible (and unexpected) jam they tacked onto the end of the Reading version a couple weeks later... yeah, just listen to that version. "Wading" deals us the dreaded second consecutive ballad in the fourth quarter. Rough. To quote Maya Angelou, "...in the land of the Q4 ballad, the dude with but a single solitary minute of hose is king." Fuck. "Antelope" shuts down the second set with its usual blustery hoopla, with this version, uh, "enhanced" by Trey pointing out Mike's impressive footwear, and Mike's brief power drill solo. "Circus Comes" + "Suzie G" = McPhish encore, with Trey humorously offering Fishman a shot at redemption (from the first set "Stash" shenanigans, remember?!) during "Suzie."
Obligatory post-show recap: I think it's fair to call the opening show of Fall tour a "warmup show-plus," but that "plus" is a massive, undeniable, and unforgettable one. At the time of this writing (three-plus months later), I still think that this "Carini" is, quite possibly, the BEST version of ANY song I've ever seen Phish perform. EVER. Yup. And I've been there for some of the best - the Went; 4/3/98; Big Cypress; 2/28/03; all kinds'a other great jams - as I said before, there's absolutely nothing I'd rather listen to at this point than the Hampton1 "Carini." Now, I realize that the "Tahoe-eezer" is much-beloved by anyone that knows anything (myself included!), but for my money this "Carini" is probably the best thing I've ever heard, possibly second only to the Went Gin.
Great stuff, more to come at the Saturday and Sunday shows, recaps of which I should have posted sometime this month. I should say that even with the insane "Carini" at this show, there's no way that anyone could've predicted the amazingness that was to come over the following two weeks during the remainder of Fall Tour, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been there for the majority of these shows. Ta ta for now.........
I saw The Thermals perform less than three months ago, when they stopped by at Maxwell's on their pre-SXSW tour. On that night, the setlist was divided pretty much evenly between their decade-old debut album, More Parts Per Million, and their (then) as-yet unreleased new LP, Desperate Ground. Although the Thermals never really stopped rocking over their previous couple of albums, focusing on the punkier early stuff and the new material (which was described by the band at the time as a purposeful return to their skuzzier, more lo-fi beginnings) seemed to be a conscious effort to scale back the more despondent, emo-ish leanings of '09's Now We Can See and '10's Personal Life.
The Thermals appeared on my home turf at Bowery Ballroom on the two nights prior (5/28 and 5/29), but I skipped those in favor of this show, knowing I was going to be in DC anyway for "work" and to see a few friends during this weekend. Started with some beverages at my pal Bricer's place before meeting up with another buddy, Salsa, at vaguely British-themed pub The Codmother. Several further potent potables and a brisk evening stroll later, we found ourselves at the nearby Black Cat, a venue I'd never been to before.
First impressions of The Black Cat were pretty damn great; the layout actually reminds me a bit of a balcony-less Bowery, in that the crowd enters the room towards the right (if you're facing the stage) in the way back, which means that sneaking up close to the stage on the left is easy. We did so immediately, although we probably wound up too close to the speakers, for which my cheap earplugs were no match (left ear still ringing 4 days later). I liked that the bars flanked the floor, which allowed for many PBR tall boy purchases throughout the evening, and the sound wound up being great, as well. Really, really, really like this room.
We skipped the opening acts, and less than 10 minutes after entering the building, The Thermals began their set with Desperate Ground's "Where I Stand". I had marveled at the band's spirited display at the Maxwell's show, and it amazes me that they seem to manage to put out maximum effort like this night after night. Of course, this sort of sweaty, dynamic presentation fits perfectly for a band whose catalog regularly draws upon themes of perseverence and struggle.
I bitch a lot about Brooklyn crowds sucking, and, for the most part, the crowd at this show was no different. (For the record, the single lamest crowd I've ever seen was Van Halen at DC's Verizon Center last March, and friends who live in the area have often lamented DC's apathetic crowds.) Several kids up front seemed to be rocking the fuck out, and there was some stage diving, but overall those standing motionless greatly outnumbered the people who seemed to be enjoying themselves, which is a fuckin' shame any way ya slice it. Fortunately, this didn't affect the band's performance one iota, as Hutch rabidly sweated through his shirt, Kathy pogoed joyously, and Westin stage dove with abandon - hell yeah.
Just as at the Maxwell's show, the setlist delved heavily into More Parts Per Million and Desperate Ground, but at this show equal time was given to their 2006 masterpiece, The Body, the Blood, the Machine, songs from which made up several of the evening's finest performances. Other highlights for me were the show's lone representative from Fuckin' A, "How We Know," and MPPM's "No Culture Icons," which served as the evening's encore (see above and below for video of both).
Going to shows like this is an invigorating experience for me, which is why I try to get out as much as I can. Of course, there are few bands that are as enjoyable live as The Thermals. If you live in the southwest or Cali, do yourself a favor and check them out over these next few days while they're still on tour, and when you do, don't be afraid to move around a l'il.
[This is a guest review written by my good buddy Bricer - the video above was shot by him, too.]
So my boy Tuddd skipped the 2/19 Tame Impala show in NYC, mostly due to high ticket prices on Stubhub and a crappy venue - the much maligned Terminal 5. Heck, I don't even live in NY and I've heard enough bad things to hate it. I had a (more or less face value) ticket at a decent venue (the 9:30 club) and was able to catch this show in DC last week.
I had two main questions going into the show: 1.) would they be able to recreate the dreamy sound of their hit album, Lonerism, which seems to ooze "studio magic"? 2.) - Would this awesome but mellow album, seemingly best suited for a pair of headphones and a special brownie, be rockin' enough for a standing room only club show?
After skipping the opener, The Growl, in favor of some warm up sauce at local dive Dodge City, I made my way to the 9:30 club. Tame Impala took the stage at a punctual 9:31 with frontman (ok only actual band member) Kevin Parker accompanied by 2 more guitarists, a keyboardist, a tiny woman bassist whose shortness was amplified by her back row placement, and a lanky mop-headed drummer. A screen behind the band projected appropriately psychedelic squiggles, flames, and other mind-bending imagery throughout the show. My first question was answered immediately as the band launched from a brief fuzzy intro jam into a really nice version of Lonerism's "Apocalypse Dreams." The song sounded almost exactly like the album, with just enough edgy guitar tone and chaotic drumming (this guy was ALL OVER the kit) to let you know you weren't at home with a pair of headphones on.
Question 2 was answered almost as promptly. The band launched into my favorite track from 2010's Innerspeaker, "Solitude is Bliss," which reminds me of a modern-day Cream song. As they ripped into the guitar solo, the amount of fuzz and distortion sounded more like a grunge act than the shoegaze-y vibe of Lonerism.
A quick nod to the (notoriously lame) DC crowd. While their feet remained stuck in concrete as per usual, there was enough head bobbing and applause to let you know these kids were really into it. Also, at a venue known for tight security (think guys on elevated watchposts in each corner of the venue scanning for monkey business), plumes of THC seemed to waft through the club at all times.
The rest of the set consisted mostly of Lonerism tunes, nearly all of them with reverb-drenched intro or outro jams to beef them up a bit. Hit single "Elephant" included an off-kilter drums and funk jam (complete with an "Entrance of the Gladiators" tease) that was so weird that I thought at first they were just killing time due to a broken guitar string or something. Nope, just really out there!
The highlight of the set was the closer, "Half Full Glass of Wine," a song I’d never actually heard before off their 2008 self-titled EP. This song absolutely rocked (see clip above), with a driving 70’s rock-ish lead guitar riff that sounded like a different band altogether. The song finished with an awesomely spacey guitar-driven jam that built to a soaring, majestic peak before returning to the song’s structure to close the set. This left me wondering just how awesome these guys could be if they added jams like these to more of their live material.
If I had any complaints, it would be 1) that Kevin’s voice didn’t always quite hold up to what you hear on the albums, particularly in the higher registers, and 2) The performance sounded almost too much like Lonerism at times, leaving you wondering if some of the accompanying music was canned rather than actually being performed live. My buddy Beaf caught this show in Dallas, and said this effect was even more pronounced there. But you know what they say, “Everything’s way way way worse in Texas.”
In short, check these guys out. Really solid show from one of the better bands out there right now.