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.
When I first became totally obsessed with In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the prospect of ever seeing Neutral Milk Hotel live seemed slim-to-none. The group's singer / songwriter / guitarist Jeff Mangum had originally broken up the band in 1999 following a nervous breakdown, leading him into a self-imposed exile during which In the Aeroplane's legend (and popularity) only grew. In 2011, to much fanfare, Mangum finally emerged to perform an East coast solo tour, which I had the pleasure of catching during his stop at NYC's Town Hall in October. It was a joyous evening, with Mangum frequently urging the eager crowd to join him in singing along, and the people gladly obliged.
Why has the cult of In the Aeroplane flourished so mightily over the years? Well, people love a good backstory, and this one's a humdinger: tortured artist Mangum reads The Diary of Anne Frank in his 20s, becoming obsessed with the story and the sad plight of the book's young protagonist. The intensity of his fixation eventually leads him to be tormented by vivid, recurring dreams in which he is able to travel back in time, saving Frank from her death at a concentration camp. Mangum then creates a song cycle partially inspired by this obsession, but also populated by a circus freak, various unnamed (and unscrupulous) family members, and all manner of brilliantly vivid imagery.
Of course, an intriguing backstory alone doesn't elevate ordinary art to greatness, and the excellence of the music on In the Aeroplane allows the album to stand on its own. Aeroplane somehow manages to inform its childlike sensibilities with incredibly weighty subject matter, all bound together with instantly memorable melodies and charming, rickety instrumentation. In my estimation, it's one of the ten greatest albums by anyone, ever.
This show was the *fifth* and final sold-out show Neutral Milk Hotel would perform in NYC over the course of a week. Yes, I'd been eagerly anticipating the show for months, but I wasn't the only one; the line to get into Webster Hall was the longest I've ever seen at the venue, stretching literally around the block and going all the way past the movie theater entrance on 3rd Ave. While waiting in the queue, I was approached by a girl who "interviewed" me briefly on behalf of the Village Voice about my NMH fandom; I responded with dumb answers and gave her a fake name.
Neutral Milk Hotel's set began around 10:20 PM with Mangum walking alone onstage and starting "King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One," the rest of the band joining him during the song and into "King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three." The playing was absolutely spot-on and faithful to the album versions, with Scott Spillane blowing horns (trumpet, trombone, french horn) and playing occasional guitar, Julian Koster on bass, squeezebox, accordion and singing saw, longtime NMH collaborator Laura Carter (from opening band Elf Power) guesting on trumpet and what may or may not have been a couesnophone, a/k/a a goofus, and other folks guesting on whatever else throughout the show. (Pretty sure Uilleann pipes were played at some point.)
The setlist included nearly everything off of In the Aeroplane (except "Communist Daughter"), as well as several from On Avery Island and Everything Is. Incredibly, the players managed to pull off the idiosyncratic, ramshackle aesthetic of the studio recordings, no easy task; too much polish would've robbed the tunes of their character, although too little proficiency would've distracted from the gorgeous, hypnotic melodies.
To that end, the show's most striking moments occurred when the players were combining to create their unholy racket. The "Ghost" > "Untitled" sequence in particular was simply outstanding, and the title track from In the Aeroplane was wonderful. This, of course, takes absolutely nothing away from the moments during which Mangum was performing unaccompanied. "Two Headed Boy," and the epic "Oh Comely" had the packed room rapt, and if you weren't moved to tears by "Two Headed Boy Pt. Two," then you may actually be a soulless monster.
I had hoped for big things from this show, but I was thoroughly unprepared for how deeply affecting the music would be. Furthermore, it was wonderful to see a NYC crowd as wholly appreciative and respectful of a performance as they were this one. I highly doubt that I'll see a better club show this year, and you bet your britches that I'll be snagging tickets for their show this summer in Prospect Park.
[You may have noticed that there are no photographs or videos accompanying this post, which, for me is pretty rare. Twice, the band requested that people not use cameras, once before the set and once by Mangum himself during the set. It was great to see people obliging by this request - as of the time of this writing there are *no* videos on YouTube from this show.]
I spent, oh, maybe 30 seconds debating whether or not I should go to this show due to factors that really shouldn't've been a consideration (relatively high ticket price; opening slot for a mediocre band) before my buddy Salvador talked some sense into me. Holy Fuck's ~50 minute set reminded me what an excellent live band they are (not that I ever forgot), while giving the band the opportunity to perform a bunch of new material live.
In mid-November, Holy Fuck announced that they had just recently started mixing their upcoming album, the follow-up to 2010's excellent Latin LP, which is great news considering I'm pretty much obsessed with this frickin' band, and have been since I first heard LP back in 2008. They're on the short list of bands that I'll do whatever I can to get out and see live whenever they come around, and they've always delivered. (This was the sixth time I've seen them live.)
The last time I saw Holy Fuck perform was at a "secret" show at Death by Audio about a year ago, at which they treated the (relatively) small crowd to several new tracks, mixing them in along with plenty of the "hits" (ha!). It was, as can be expected, fucking awesome. This time around, however, they skipped over most of the more melodic stuff (no "Royal Gregory," "Lovely Allen," "Stay Lit," "Silva and Grimes") in favor of a whole raft of new stuff, much of which definitely fell into the category of "rhythmic" as opposed to "melodic." Of course, I thought the same thing when I heard the songs from Latin the first time, so what the fuck do I know. (See above and below for clips of a couple new ones. Also, here's the setlist - as you'll notice, a few recognizable names but mostly new shit.)
Needless to say, I didn't bother sticking around for !!!'s set (fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice...) Stay tuned for more Holy Fuck updates... here's their blog. Apparently they embarked on a tour of China shortly after this show. Who knew?
Whew. Whatta year, amirite?! Yes, new music may have been a bit lacking, but fortunately the one constant that remains is that there's a shit-ton of great live music coming through NYC year-round. When I moved to Williamsburg in '08, I did so almost entirely because of the proximity to so many music venues; nearly 6 years later, that remains my biggest motivation for sticking around.
In fact, my show-going affliction reached new heights this year - I did a rough count last week, and if I wind up going to the New Mastersounds afterparty following the Phish show on December 29th, I will have seen a robust *98* distinct concerts in 2013. According to Jalepzerz' / MeatBox archives, that's a personal record (although I've eclipsed 90 shows in several other years), and as proof, I uploaded literally hundreds of videos to my YouTube channel, effectively documenting my own crime spree.
So, here I sit on Christmas Eve, workin' on my final post of the year for this blog; a post that focuses solely on the highlights of my showgoing for the year. In 4 evenings, Phish NYE Run starts, and if some notable, epic shit goes down, several of these lists could be (at the very least) a bit out of whack and (at most) completely irrelevant. I welcome that. :->
See you in the new year, everyone!
Best Live Show of the Year - Phish at Hampton Coliseum, 10/20/13
Top 10 Phish shows I personally attended this year:
10.) 10/25/13 DCU 9.) 11/1/13 AC 8.) 8/4/13 BGCA 7.) 11/2/13 AC 6.) 7/6/13 SPAC (fuck off, I loved this damn show) 5.) 10/19/13 Hampton 4.) 7/14/13 Merriweather 3.) 10/27/13 Hartford 2.) 10/26/13 DCU 1.) 10/20/13 Hampton
The best three non-Phish arena shows I saw in 2013:
16.) Split Open and Melt at SPAC, July 6 15.) Rock and Roll at BGCA, August 3 14.) Crosseyed and Painless at Holmdel, July 10 13.) Twist > Under Pressure at AC, November 1 12.) Theme from the Bottom > Shaft theme at AC, November 2 11.) Drowned at Worcester, October 26 10.) Harry Hood at Merriweather 9.) Runaway Jim at BGCA, August 4 8.) Stash at Merriweather, July 14 7.) Carini at SPAC, July 6 6.) Carini at AC, October 31 5.) Golden Age at Hartford, October 27 4.) Piper > Taking Care of Business at Hampton, October 20 (yup, this is cheating) 3.) Light at Merriweather, July 14 2.) Seven Below at BGCA, August 2 (in spite of the butchered composed section) 1.) Carini at Hampton, October 18
Not gonna lie. I went into this show kinda expecting to come out the other side of it disliking Palma Violets. I've had their debut record, 180, in heavy rotation for the last couple months, but there's something about it that had me thinking the live show could wind up being a bunch of poncy, preening, poser bullshit. Boy, am I glad that I was I wrong.
Palma Violets put on a great set - everything one could possibly hope for from this band of upstart Brits. Beverages were thrown, choruses received the shout-along treatment en masse, pogoing was, uh, pogoed (?), and asses were rocked. So, while I've been recently starting to let certain things about 180 bother me (the lyrics; the fact that they seem to rip off "Sweet Jane" on half of their songs, etc.), I left this show with an appreciation for Palma Violets' deft wrangling of rock / classic punk tropes. In many instances this makes itself evident in the little things, like their gift for pacing - they're great at taking it down a notch at just the right moments, which makes those rousing choruses just seem that much more rockin'. Also, it's obvious that these guys really, REALLY seem to enjoy performing.
Booking Webster Hall may have been a bit audacious (the floor was far from full, and the entire balcony was reserved for VIP), but those who were in the crowd came to party, and at times Webster Hall's dancefloor was buckling to the beat of all the pogoers. The band set the precedent for rowdiness early on, when bassist / singer Chilli chucked a cup of ice into the crowd at the beginning of the set, and as is evident in the videos I captured, the crowd returned the favor many times over throughout the set. Great night!
Apparently Palma Violets played a show at Glasslands the following night, and I bet shit got bonkers. They're in Mexico early next week before coming back up the West Coast, so check 'em out if you're into stuff that's awesome.
Man, was Monday rough. Still hurting from Sunday's unexpected debacle, I got back from "work" and immediately passed out for a couple hours. This did not help things. I got up 8ish, drank about 64 Gatorades, and drove over to MHOW. Fuck.
This would be the third time I've seen The Kills live, with the first time being in September '06 at Southpaw, for what (if I'm remembering correctly) was basically a one-off show (not part of a full tour or nuthin'). I remeber this being an excellent show, and VV and Hotel played the part of fucked-up derelicts to the hilt; I remember remarking at the time that that was the most fried I'd seen an onstage performer since Trey Anastasio's infamous meltdown at Coventry. But fuck it, when The Kills do it it actually adds to the intensity and the drama of their garage / blues / beatpunk jams. Next time I saw them was May '08 at Webster Hall for a Midnight Boom -heavy set, which was interrupted by the NYFD when Webster Hall apparently CAUGHT ON FIRE. Despite me (and, presumably, other members of the sold-out audience) remembering this, nobody fucking budged, which was odd. Good set although it woulda been gooder if the bastards at Webster Hall would have turned on the AC.
But back to the present. The evening's first band was Magic Wands whom I had seen with Young Knives last year at Mercury Lounge. It's pretty rare that a headlining band (in this case, The Kills) chooses an opening band that's so shamelessly copping their aesthetic (in this case, Magic Wands), but there you have it. Still totally exhausted, I was not the least bit in the mood for this, heading upstairs and sitting the f down. I did notice this time around that Magic Wands' music leans a lot on '80s teen pop influences, from the lyrics to the piped-in synth.
Next up were British post-punkers The Horrors, for whom I actually chose to stand up. The music was fairly generic post-punk fare, with the most distinguishing characteristic being the tall, gangly singer's monotone barking singing style. Nothing terribly interesting here, but at least they got my head bobbing. (Directly following their set, an overenthusiastic dude who had apparently misjudged my enthusiasm grabbed me by the arm and exclaimed "fucking GENIUS!" which was funny in its sheer wrongness.)
After about 20 minutes, The Kills came onstage and from the intro beats of "URA Fever," the house was sufficiently rocked. There's really not another group I've ever seen that has a similar stage presence to The Kills, as it's tough to pull off tough / cool / sexie bit without seeming really really insincere, but they succeed. Indeed, no one on the corner quite matches VV and Hotel's swagger. Musically, the evening's biggest surprises were a cover of "Crazy" (yes, the Patsy Cline song) and a dark take on "I Put a Spell on You," with the highlights for me being "No Wow" and "Hook and Line" (no, they didn't play "The Good Ones"). Non-musically, there was some genuine oddness caused by an incredibly aggressive heckler. At first Hotel repelled by jabbing him in the forehead with his guitar neck, but eventually the dude (who as it turned out had ripped jeans making his ass visible) made it onstage, making a halfhearted attempt at chasing VV before being tossed offstage by a roadie with a sickening/hilarious thud. Weird shit.
Having had basically no exposure to !!!'s catalog (save the occasional random compilation track), I basically went into this hoping for a less, uh, "flamboyant" version of the Rapture. I had read earlier in the day about one of the vocalists departing !!! so he could focus on his other group, Free Blood, who are fucking amazing (saw 'em in January at Knitting Factory opening up for Gil Mantera's Party Dream). Basically, knowing what Free Blood sound like -- think goofy white kids getting other goofy white kids to shake their asses -- I had to like the chances of !!! at least being danceable and fun.
Shitty weather all day led to delays on the LIRR, so I wound up not getting to Union Square until after 9 PM, where I met my friend Cynthia. We got some cheap beers at the dank, fratty Bar None on Third Ave., then walked over to 15th Street to enjoy the fall air around the l'il park dealie which is down there.
Got inside Webster Hall about halfway through The Field (some dude with a laptop)'s set, which consisted of groove-heavy trance with plenty of bass. After a few beers I'm generally pretty easy to please musically but this really, really hit the mark. As Cynthia remarked, it's pretty doubtful that this set would have been as great had we not had a few, but so fucking what, it was fantastic.
!!! took the stage at about quarter past 11, and right off the bat I was really digging their style: goofy white kids getting other goofy white kids to dance indeed. The first two songs were based around strong grooves and rock-solid bass thumpin', which had me moving around as much as a cripple can. And, again, I was fucked up, but the percussive vocals (perilously bordering on -- but fortunately avoiding -- the pitfalls of white-guy rap) augmented the two drumkit setup nicely.
After the first couple of songs, however, the music got shittier and I started to find the frontman kinda obnoxious, not gonna lie. Musically, shit devolved into slower tempo stuff and boring drum patterns (bass was totally MIA), occasionally with super-generic R&B vocals hollering over the top. Soulless quasi-eclecticism is not my cup of tea. But, yeah, the frontman was bugging the shit out of me
I didn't really enjoy much during the meat of the set, but just when all seemed lost !!! locked into an amazing groove towards the end of the show. Long story short, I enjoyed probably about 30-40% of the set. So, yeah, glad I saw these guys live but it's doubtful I'd be back for a return performance. (Sign me up for the next umpteen Free Blood shows, though.)
'06 is destined to be remembered by me as "the year I saw all those shows." I doubt that I'll ever be able to do this much showgoing, for two simple reasons: 1.) my job, which I really would like to keep, requires that I get up at 6 AM every day. This is not conducive to going out on weeknights. 2.) My physical condition is worsening every day. Between my back, my knees, my ankles and my feet, I really don't expect much improvement. At this rate I'm going to need a kickstand attachment if I'm going to be attending General Admission shows, sooner rather than later.
Anyway, I'm now up to 50 concerts attended this year, and with any luck that number may increase this weekend (Panthers Sunday night perhaps?). When you get out that often and go to that many shows, you're going to be turned on to all kinds of new shit that otherwise you would never have sought out on your own. Truth be told, I have practically no friends who give a holy horsefuck about indie rock, so the only semi-reliable sources of new music info I have are Pitchfork, Postal Blowfish (a Guided by Voices mailing list), and live performances. Fortunately, amongst the shows I've seen there have been some geniunely oddball bills, none more incongruous than when Death Vessel opened up for Mission of Burma in mid-July at Warsaw in Brooklyn.
Honestly, are there two acts that have less in common than MoB and Death Vessel? In MoB's case, you have middle-aged New Englanders playing their brand of deafening/angular/muscular/tuneless/syncopated/anti-melody. Death Vessel, on the other hand, consists solely of tiny Joel Thibodeau, androgynous in both appearance and voice, gently fingerplucking a miniature acoustic guitar.
I remember being out of the room when the Death Vessel performance started, eating some of Warsaw Bistro's own pirogis and kielbasa by the merch stand. I don't even remember hearing the soundman cutting the preshow music; instead I was lured towards the stage by the music being performed. Immediately puzzled by Thibodeau's gender bending appearance, I also initially (and, in retrospect, somewhat embarrassingly) found myself trying to figure out exactly what the _language_ was in which the lyrics were being sung. Of course, it was English, but with a unique nuanced enunciation, seemingly representing a gaelic tongue, perhaps mixed with some type of quaint, elfin dialect known only by toadstool-hoppers and berry scavengers. It wasn't until I fully understood the opening song's chorus ("now that yoooove dropped the A-bomb") that I was given any confirmation that the performer onstage was, in fact, actually of this world.
It seemed as though much of the crowd shared my intrigue; those who had arrived early were staring silently, some even seated on Warsaw's dance floor, reverentially inviting every syllable to sink in. With a performance as delicate as this, any minor disturbance in the crowd could have destroyed the room's perfect balance and crystal-clear acoustics, and thankfully the crowd remained well-behaved.
The highlights of the set were "Deep in the Horchata," "Later in Life Lift" and a song whose title I was unable to identify, which had the simple chorus of "don't laugh, don't laugh." Mostly, the songs were minor key and mournful, and delivered with a quiet urgency similar to Mia Doi Todd. Some sample lyrics:
You've put a mute on cicada's song Now that you've dropped the A-Bomb
What could I do to make you say enough? Now that I have gone and shut up?
Now, make no mistake, I am fully aware of how the very nature of an acoustic performance can be very manipulative. By relying on sparer musicianship, it's easy to mistake a simple reduction in volume for something genuinely "heart-rending" or overly sincere. But Death Vessel's oeuvre should not be confused with "Godsmack Unplugged" or some other such vainglorious bullshit. Thibodeau's songs stand up to the scrutiny, however, and are matched by a Jeff Mangum-like flair for off-kilter accenting and pronunciation.
Later in the month I again had the privilege of catching a Death Vessel opening set, this time at Webster Hall opening up for Os Mutantes. Unlike the thoughtful, considerate crowd at Warsaw, the audience was largely intoxicated and very chatty. But this time the performance, to me, came to represent something different: where at Warsaw I had been captivated by the simple beauty emanating from the stage, struck dumb by an unexpected treat, at Webster Hall Thibodeau's performance illustrated the importance of appreciating beauty when ya can get it, since in life we're often surrounded by inconsiderate, loud, irritating morons. Well, something like that, except less lame.