Feb 022010

A. A. Bondy @ the Blvd., 2010.1.25

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First of all, I’d like to go on record as saying that I really like the new Blvd. While it may not be a return to the glory days of the B-Side or the old Fat Tuesdays, it is a great addition to the Spokane music scene.  It’s also a damn sight better than the old Blvd, which was basically a lame dive bar that just happened to have bands most weekends.

The new Blvd is a fairly nice, professional, all-ages venue in the old B-Side building (230 W Riverside).  It’s got good acoustics and professional, friendly staff.  It’s also got a good sound system, and a clear floor that runs right up to the stage.  The show last Monday was a fairly low-key affair.  The turn out was decent, though hardly the sold out crowd I was expecting.

The opener, a local folk artist named Karli Fairbanks (MySpace, web site), was a pleasant surprise.  Her guitar work was much better than most folk artists.  It clean and strong, with unique melodic voicing and worked well with her singing.  Her vocals were also excellent, if stylistically unoriginal (she used the soft, light-vibrato voice that’s been used by so many female folk artists that it’s hard to recall who first pioneered it).  All in all, I’d be very inclined to see her again.  If you’re a Spokane folk-fan, definitely make an effort to get out and see her.

The next act was a country artist named Willy Mason (MySpace).  How he managed to fly under my radar for so long is unclear to me, but I was very impressed with his set.  He’s got a much more classic, folk-influenced voice than most modern country artists.  Put a drum kit and some synthesizers behind him and some Pitchfork twerp would be claiming that “he’s no Jeff Tweedy”.  Which is fair insofar that he does sound much more like a stripped down Uncle Tupelo than he does a stripped down Toby Keith.

A. A. Bondy (MySpace) and his band were, of course, phenomenal.  The trio included Bondy, a drummer/slide guitar player, and a bassist/keyboardist.  They were professional almost to a fault (other than thanking the crowd for applause, they didn’t seem interested in interacting with the audience.)  They played a solid set of material taken from both of Bondy’s albums.  They played with a great deal of energy, and played enough with the form of the songs that they seemed both fresh and familiar at the same time.  Highlights of the set included great versions of “O The Vampyre” and “A Slow Parade”.  The only tunes they didn’t play that I wished they had were “How Will You Meet Your End”, “American Hearts”, and Bondy’s cover of “John the Revelator.”

The show was truly an excellent one.  A great venue hosting some amazing talent.  The openers were amazing, and I will be definitely purchasing their albums as soon as I can lay my hot little hands on them.  Bondy continues to impress and I look forward both to seeing him in concert again and to whatever new music he turns out next.

Oct 092009

Flogging Molly – The Knitting Factory – Spokane, WA – 2009.9.16

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Unknown openers for a major act are, almost by definition, a hit-or-miss prospect.  Which is one of the reasons why it can be such an exhilarating experience to encounter a band you’ve never heard before that totally rocks your socks off.  The Flogging Molly last week at the Knitting Factory had in store two such bands.

The first, a Motown band from LA called Fitz and the Tantrums (MySpace), takes everything I like about Motown (the energy, the vocal dynamism, the groovy bass lines) and replaces everything else with polished, energetic pop sensibilities. They are highly recommended for anyone who likes funk, fusion, Motown, etc. Hit the link to their MySpace above to sample some of the awesome.

Next up were an groovy ska combo called Hepcat.  (MySpace – Be sure to check out their version of “Dance Wit’ Me”).  Apparently they’re fairly well known in LA and in the ska scene, but this was my first exposure to them.  They were well-coordinated, talented, and charming.  They were also very high energy, managing to get a fair portion of the crowd jumping around and dancing.  They certainly weren’t doing anything revolutionary with the genre, but when the genre is one that’s as effortlessly enjoyable as ska, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  They’re truly masters of form.  They know what they do, and they do it amazingly well.

So after a couple topnotch openers, Flogging Molly took the stage.  And, continuing the momentum of the evening, they certainly did not disappoint.  They played a good mix of newer and older material, focusing mostly on their punkier, more high-energy stuff.

Highlights of their set included “What’s Left of the Flag”, “Drunken Lullabies” and “Lightning Storm” which they dedicated to Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, and Ronnie Drew.  I was also a big fan of their live rendition of “If I Ever Leave This World Alive”, which lead to a giant round of cheesy swaying-and-shoulder-hugging camaraderie in the audience.

Definitely an awesome show.  Easily one of the best I’ve been too in ages, and probably a strong candidate for my top 10 of all time.  The combination of two brilliant and unexpected openers and a headliner who know their audience and are professional and talented to boot made for a truly epic show.  Aside from a few audience members being complete twats*a good time was had by all.

*Seriously guys, shoving people who don’t want to be in the pit into it isn’t funny, clever, cool, badass, etc.  It just flat makes you an immature jackass.

Sep 292008

The Shondes and Peter Parker @ The High Dive, Seattle, 2008.9.19

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Thanks to leaving late and the Freemont Neighborhood being slammed for an Octoberfest celebration (which seemed a bit premature to me, it being September) I missed most of the opener (a group called Ms. Led and arrived just in time to see them start clearing the stage to make way for the Shondes.

Let me just say right off: if any of you get a chance to see the Shondes live, do so. They put on one of the most energetic, talented, and charming live shows I’ve seen in a long time. It’s rare to find a band who is so obviously skilled at and passionate about making music, and a real treat to see them live.

Elijah Oberman makes the violin sound like it was made for rock and roll, which is quite a feat. Temim Fruchter drums with tons of exactly the sort passion and intensity that makes rock drumming great. Ian Brannigan, while the least animated on stage, laid down some truly epic guitar lines. Louisa Solomon lead the band with grace and wit, sang with beautiful intensity, and backed it all up with some thunderous, infectious bass lines.

The Shondes are really one of those bands that sounds better live than on their album. Post production takes a lot of the edge of their musical sound and saps some of the emotion from Louisa and Elijah’s exceptionally evocative vocals. The few parts of the Red Sea which sounded forced or strained on disc sound natural and effortless in person.

Their set, while shorter than I would have liked it, was well-planned, hitting some of the best cuts off of their album and including enough new material to get fans (or at least this one) excited about the prospect of a new album. They had the sort of stage presence that many bands with twice their time in the industry and orders of magnitudes more fans can’t even hope to match.

In short: go see them. The High Dive, a good venue though it may be, was too small for the Shondes. They’re a great and important band who really deserves to be playing the nations top venues.

The truly amazing Shondes, however, weren’t the only band to deliver a great set that night.  After they’d cleared the stage, Seattle local act Peter Parker took the stage.  Before I arrived at the high dive, I had never heard of them.  This, I quickly found out, was my loss, because they are easily one of the best noise-rock bands I’ve heard in quite awhile.  Their fuzzy, guitar-and-drum-driven sound was energetic and fun.  The band were musically tight and were exceptionally professional and confident in their stage presence, despite some technical difficulties.

Being both well-skilled and local, they came equipped with their own cheering section.  This was a nice touch since I can think of no place I would rather be then a local rock show, listening to awesome music from a passionate band, surrounded by people who also would rather be nowhere else.

So impressed was I with the four-piece noise-rockers that as soon as I got a chance, I tracked down copies of their two LPs, which available as CDs through J-Shirt Records or digital downloads via the band’s MySpace.  As an aside: their first album, Migliore!, is all kinds of awesome.  I would tell you how many times I’d listened to the track “Goldenstate” in the past week, but I’m not sure numbers go that high.

Simply put, this show was one of the best I’d attended in quite awhile.  Both bands that I had the pleasure and privelege to hear (and I’m sad that I couldn’t hear the other two that played that night; I also had to leave before the last band of the night played, so that I could down to my brother’s place at a reasonable hour) gave absolutely stellar performances and are highly recommended to anyone who gets a chance to catch one of their shows in the future.

One last note: for any who are interested, there are some pictures up on my flickr account.  Unfortunately I continued my near-perfect record of forgetting my camera, and so they were taken on my phone.  As a result, they are not only dark but also marred by that stupid little Helio watermark which I loath which an almost super-human passion the likes of which is rarely seen outside H. P. Lovecraft villains.  (Most are also a bit blurry, but that’s mainly owing to the fact that it’s difficult to take pictures whilst in the process of dance one’s ass off.)

Aug 312008

Ryan Adams and Oasis @ the Wamu Theater, 2008.8.26

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First of all, I’d like to congratulate Tickets West for continuing to create innovative new ticketing technologies. I had no idea they had tickets that would change to reflect changing show times, for instance. Or at least that’s the only explanation I can think of for why I could have sworn the show started at 8 when I bought the tickets but then started at 7 when I checked the tickets again day of…

Okay, okay, so maybe I’m just getting a little senile in my old age. At any rate, thanks to the new show time, we (my friend Trevor and I) got out of Spokane an hour later than we really needed to and into Seattle about a half an hour after the show started. Ryan Adams had already taken the stage, but had apparently only played a couple of songs when we found our way to our seats. (Side rant: there’s NO reason that it should have been a seated show. The “high-school-band-concert” folding chair thing just doesn’t work for a rock show.)

As semi-expected, Adams and a few of his bandmates appeared to be exceptionally stoned. (I’ve heard that this is pretty much par for the course for him.) This meant that, as entertaining as the music was, it was almost equally fun to hear his rambling, surreal commentary between tunes. (Bison, apparently, “aren’t, like, unicorns, they’re like, multicorns or some shit.”) It’s a strong testamony to Adams’ musical abilities that, despite being too stoned to talk coherently, he still sang and played pretty well. He played a good spread of material off of his various albums, with surprisingly little material off his latest album, Easy Tiger. (Though I will say that by far his best tune of the night was the Easy Tiger cut “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.”)

Ryan Adams and co. played for a solid hour after we arrived, stopping only to lament the goring of “Ray” by a bison and to talk bad about math for awhile. (“Once you count to, like, 4 or 5, everything else is just ‘a lot’. Or as we say South of the Mason-Dixon Line, ‘eleventy’!”) Unfortunately, I think Mr. Adams’ pharmaceutical habits may have been sapping his energy by the end of the set, because he definitely didn’t have quite the expressivity left in his voice that he started with.

Once the Cardinals vacated the stage there was a fairly short change-over before Oasis took the stage with high-energy renditions of “Fucking in the Bushes” and “Rock and Roll Star”. And oh man do those Mancunian rock geniuses do “high energy”! The whole show had the crowd on its feet and dancing. They played a fairly wide spread of material, giving the audience a healthy mixture of singles, b-sides, and tracks off of their upcoming album, Dig Out Your Soul. They played about half of the “must-play” crowd favorites (including absolutely amazing versions of “Wonderwall” and “Cigarettes and Alcohol”, which both featured truly excellent drum work from Chris Sharrock).

Interesting side note: Sharrock (who only first appeared with the band earlier this month) apparently got his start with Robbie Williams. Liam Gallagher, who apparently isn’t a fan of Mr. Williams, was, uh, “disinclined” to accept Sharrock because of that. In an interview with MOJO magazine, Noel said “I went home and thought about it and it was just too much of a temptation to piss Robbie Williams and Liam off in one phone call.” If this show is any indication, they made the right choice: Sharrock gave one of the best performances I’ve heard from a drummer in years. The rhythms were solid and supportive, the fills were interesting and impeccably timed, and he effortlessly gave the audience that classic, tom-heavy Oasis sound that we all know and love.

Some other highlights of the set included Noel Gallagher’s acoustic version of “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, a great one-two closer of “Champagne Supernova” and “I Am the Walrus”, and the cacophony of the entire audience trying to sing along with “The Masterplan” despite the fact that, apparently, no one actually knows all the words.

In summation: brilliant show. Two great bands, two great sets. As Trevor and I fought our way out of the city and back onto I-90 for the trip home, we both agreed that the soundtrack for the drive would be Standing on the Shoulders of Giants followed by Love is Hell. Nothing says “great concert” like driving away tired, hoarse, and still wanting more.

Sep 302007

One of the (many) things that keeps me going to shows is the chance to experience true musical professionalism first-hand. Some bands have it and some don’t, but when I see real pros making music that they’re obviously passionate about, it really is staggeringly cool. That is one of several reasons why the Destroyers show was so awesome.

Unfortunately it got off to a slow start, with George and company not taking the stage until almost 45 minutes after the show was supposed to start. In a mark of typical Big Easy disregard for the audience, no explanation was offered for this delay, and people were expected to mill around and drink and just have faith that George Thorogood and the Destroyers would, eventually, play a show.

We were then treated to a few canned songs piped over the sound system after the house lights went down and the first of many blatant attempts to shill George Thorogood merchandise. Now, I understand that most bands make their money off of shows and merchandising. But it seems a little classless to run a full-blown commercial before you take the stage. Everyone knows there’s a merch table. At 90% of venues they had to have passed it coming into the show and will have to pass it again when they leave. Maybe, if you want to make sure that even the particularly slow and/or chemically altered members of your audience know that, hey they can by stuff with your logo on it, make an onstage announcement near the end of your set. “We have stuff for sale at the merch table” is every bit as effective as a fullout pre-recorded audio-visual commercial and seems a whole lot less douchey. I mean, we all know you’re only in it for the money, but at least give us, the audience, the illusion that you enjoy performing for us and aren’t just doing it for ticket money and on the vain hope that we’ll buy your swag. And you know, honestly, maybe I wouldn’t be so ranty about the topic if Mr. Thorogood and his compatriots hadn’t seen fit to play their call to capitalism three times throughout their set.

But aside from being a bit over-eager to sell us Destroyers merch, and being late to the stage (something which they may or may not have anything to do with; the Big Easy has a track record of being a bit lackluster in its treatment of audiences), the band were phenomenal. They played all the old classics (“Bad to the Bone”, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”, “Love Doctor”, etc.) with energy, enthusiasm, and exceptional stage presence. George Thorogood, in particular, has obviously become used to playing the audience as much as his guitar and seemed to revel in his onstage aged bad-boy persona.

Between a solid initial set and two fairly awesome encores, the band played about two hours all told. It was wall-to-wall excellent blues-rock the whole way through. Thorogood and the boys may be old, but they’ve definitely not lost the ability to put on an exceptional rock show. And if the Spokane show is any indication, they definitely make it a point to play their material that people definitely know. So if you’re a Destroyers fan and they show up at a venue near you, you can expect a solid fix of some of your favorite Destroyers tunes along with a heavy dose of “please please PLEASE buy our stuff” self-merchandising.

Aug 032007

Headliner: Paul van Dyk
Opener(s): DJ Vize, DJ Dig Dug, FACTORe, Freaky Flow, DJ Taj, Rabbit in the Moon, Steve Porter
Venue: Qwest Event Center, Seattle Washington
Date: 2007.7.21

A few weeks ago, my brother Brian, who’s big into trance, techno, and other kinds of electronic music, called me up and enthusiastically informed me that Paul van Dyk would be playing USC’s 10th anniversary party in Seattle. Upon checking the lineup, I also learned that Rabbit in the Moon and Steve Porter would also be playing, two acts that I’ve had highly recommended to me, but had never heard. So I was intrigued. Unfortunately, I was also relatively broke. But then Brian offered to buy my tickets and get me a room to crash in after the gig. So major thanks and good mojo for my Brian and his wife Amy for making it possible for me to catch this show. ([Plug] I doubt any of my readers are the kinds of people who own their own yachts, but if’n you are or ever do, you should definitely check out Brian’s company, Yacht Excellence. [/Plug])

So on Saturday afternoon I hopped in my van (Rosenante) and made the trip out west. After picking up my friend Josh from the bus station, getting checked into the hotel, and meeting up with Brian and Amy for dinner, walked the half-block to the event and proceeded to wait in line. Unfortunately, we found out while waiting in line, that digital cameras weren’t allowed in the venue and, seeing as I had no place to stash mine to sneak it in, I ran it back to the hotel.

We finally managed to navigate the various lines, get our customary groping from security, and get shuffled inside the venue. After we got our bearings we made a b-line for one of the stages, getting there just as DJ Vize was turning the decks over to DJ Dig Dug. DJ Dig Dug’s set was a solid hour of great dance tunes, heavy with raeggae influence and well-sampled, trance-y vocals.

After DJ Dig Dug’s set, Josh and I headed off towards the main stage and, after running into Brian and Amy again, learned that they’d somehow lost power to said main stage. “Somehow” turned out to be some asshat pulling the fire alarm. Fortunately, USC and the Qwest Events staff had their shit pretty well together and the power wasn’t out for long and once it was restored, DJ Taj took the decks, more or less on time. He treated us to a great, pounding set, complete with some great breaks, awesome track selection, impeccable transitions and even dancing girls. It was, in short, a solid, well-crafted, well-thought out dance set. No show-boating, nothing fancy, just great dance tunes, well-spun.

I was totally unprepared for the next act. Rabbit in the Moon came on and gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in my life. The music was sinister and pounding, the effects videos in the background were creepy (I actually had a freaky dream about one of them, a giant, spastic eye ball, when I finally crashed that night), and the on-stage antics were phenomenal. Rabbit in the Moon’s unique brand of psychadelic trance music makes for great dancing and it perfectly soundtracked a series of characters played by the front man, Bunny. Between duck-taping a ton of glow sticks to himself and dancing like a madman, crowd-surfing in a giant, inflatable hamster ball, dressing up in a vinyl labcoat and exhorting us to worship a giant, bloodshot eye, and rampaging around the stage in a shaggy costume equipped with hand-stilts, Bunny’s antics were far from boring. In fact, for as kitchy as they had the potential to be, they simply weren’t. He was charismatic and energetic, and he definitely sold the whole show. Meanwhile the other member of the duo, Confucius. calmly laid down, heavy, eerie beats in the background.

I felt kind of sorry for Steve Porter, whose set was sandwiched between Rabbit in the Moon and Paul van Dyk. RITM was an insanely hard act to follow, especially when everyone’s been dancing for hours and is chomping at the bit to hear and see PvD on the decks. But he put up a valiant effort. And while his set was a definite step down in the energy level, it was competent. In retrospect, it was probably every bit as energetic and well-spun as DJ Taj’s set, but DJ Taj had the distinct advantage of coming several hours earlier, when everyone was fresh and hadn’t danced through several other great artists. The net result was that Steve Porter’s set was fairly unmemorable. I suppose the most accurately thing that could be said about it is that the set competently filled the time gap between the charismatic Rabbit in the Moon performance and the main event, Paul van Dyk.

Paul van Dyk finally took the decks shortly after 2am and proceeded to lay down a two hour set of pure energy. The trance-heavy tunes were flawlessly mixed and interspersed with clever and sparse sampling. (One notable moment was PvD dropping into a great break by playing the tell-tale bass line from “Seven Nation Army” . . . exactly once. The crowd went absolutely nuts. I thought was bringing in Adam Freeland’s great remix of the tune, but alas, he was just toying with us.) PvD was his usual, affable self and fulfilled at least one request from the audience (a hastily-scrawled sign asking for “For an Angel”). He played quite a few tunes that I’d never heard before and, judging from the extent to which the videos were pimping it, I’d imagine they’re off his up-coming album, In Between. If they are, it’ll be an album to snag. They were high-energy, groovy, and managed to make me dance like a mad man.

All in all, the USC 10th Anniversary party was a solid 8 hours of excellent music and highly professional DJs and was, simply put, an amazing time. If you’re in Seattle and are looking for a great party, any of USC’s events should be a pretty safe bet. If this is your kind of thing, be sure to mark your calender for the end of October, for USC’s annual Freak Night event. I managed to catch it a few years ago and it was spectacular.

Great party, USC, and happy 10th.

May 142007

Headliner: Morrissey
Opener(s): Kristeen Young
Venue: The Big Easy, Spokane, Washington
Date: 2007.5.5

Ann and I had the good fortune to score tickets to the Spokane stop on Morrissey’s 2007 U.S. Tour. (Hat tip to Ann for procuring them.) And, after we figured out there’d been a venue change, we arrived at the Big Easy significantly early. It was originally going to be in the INB Performing Arts Center, but got moved to the Big Easy which, for as decidedly mediocre of a venue as the Big Easy is, was an excellent decision, since the INB is a concert hall, with nothing but fixed seating, meaning no pit. I am adamantly pro-pit and pro-crowd when it comes to shows, so I, for one, was pleased with the venue change. (The one downside: expecting nose-bleed INB seats, I didn’t bring my camera, so alas there shall be no Morrissey pic goodness with this review.)

The opener, Kristeen Young, was an accomplished keyboardist and vocalist with an agile voice that could go from pleasant to peel-the-paint-off-walls shrill in a second. Unfortunately she did the shrill thing a little too often and a little too well. She was far overshadowed, however, by her drummer, “Baby” Jeff White. White is the kind of drummer who renews my faith in the drum kit as an instrument. It’s too easy to get used to hearing drumming that is “perfect” in the “uninteresting, but rhythmically correct” sense of the word. White’s drumming, on the other hand, was absolutely enthralling. Aside from his impeccable rhythmic sense, he had a perfect sense of musical timing, always ready with exactly the right fill. But more impressive was just the raw, visceral energy of his unpatterned, engaging style.

After a set break of full of vintage stock footage projected on the wall and piped over the sound system, Morrissey’s intro tape started and ran for a few minutes before Morrissey and his band took the stage to a thunderous crowd to kick off a set which was energetic, engaging, a thoroughly classic. He played a good deal of Ringleader of the Tormentors material (“I Will See You in Far Off Places”, “You Have Killed Me”, “Life is a Pigsty”, “In the Future When All’s Well”), but also some classic material (“Every Day is Like Sunday”, “First of the Gang to Die”). It’s amazing to see an artist who’s been doing live shows long enough to have really gotten it down as an art form. Morrissey long ago committed to the role of the sad sex symbol and it works equally well for him on stage now at 50 as it ever has. The man’s stage presence is energetic, sexually charged, and largely self-effacing. He bantered easily, finding a very hapy medium between dragging monologues and laconic silence (*in his smooth, Mancunian accent*: “Oh yeah, we’re from Wichita. . . Wih-chi-taw”).

Morrissey’s voice is as even and mournful as ever and his stage presence is, in a word, captivating. He is, without a doubt, the only pudgy, pale, 50-something singer today who can so enthrall an audience as to elicit wild cheers from most of the audience when he rips his shirt off suggestively. And while this may say more of the fan base than of the artist, it does speak to the rapport he build with the crowd. The level of energy on-stage and off was amazing and far more than I’d expected. Normally when one thinks Morrissey one does not think packed, surging crowds and near-mosh pit, but that’s exactly what it was. Morrissey, for his part, didn’t just sing his tunes, but truly committed to them, contorting and strutting across the stage while lending to each the power of his expressive Tenor.

From a musical stand point of view, the set was perfect, not in the boring “didn’t hear any mistakes,” album-flawless way, but in the energetic, sad-to-hear-the-song-end way. His backing band are talented and energetic, with none of them being a primadonna (that is, after all, Morrissey’s job).

This was one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a long time. Morrissey’s stage experience, energy, tremendous backing band, and unflagging sense of morose, self-effacing flare made for a great live experience. I highly recommend seeing the man in concert if a chance presents itself. And despite my heel-dragging in getting this posted, you still have a number of opportunities this year. If you can, do.