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.

May 072009

First, let me say that, while it’s sad that the old Blvd building has been torn down (they tore it down to put up a parking lot, cue the “oooooh bop bop bop bop”s), I’m quite pleased with the new Blvd.  First of all, it’s in the old B-Side.  Which, while not as awesome as having the old B-Side back, means that a great venue building is now back in the hands of people who know how to run and manage rock shows.

It’s got great acoustics, and a nice stage set up, with a surprisingly sizeable pit/dance floor area.  The stage is a little on the low side and doesn’t provide very easy access for the band.  (The only ways to access are from the back alley or climbing up over the monitors from the floor.)  All in all, though, a surprisingly awesome bar venue.

I got there about a half hour after the show was supposed to start, so of course I had time to wade through the crowd and grab a beer before the first act even took the stage.  The opener was a fairly talented local blues artist whose name I didn’t catch.  He had a pretty good slide guitar touch and passible picking skills.  His music sometimes wrote checks his voice couldn’t cash, however, and so tunes that were meant to be soulful sometimes wound up as off key and warbly.

Unfortunately he also brought a couple of truefans who spent his whole set being loud, foul-mouthed, obnoxious dickheads.

After his set, there was about a half hour lapse before the Red Elvises took the stage.  During soundcheck they seemed a bit perturbed by the size of the venue and seemed to have a few communication issues with the sound guy.  They must have gotten them sorted out, however, since the mixing and acoustics were fantastic right from the off.

Which is a good thing, because it actually managed to do justice to some really impressive musicianship from the band.  It’s been a LONG time since I’ve seen that many truly gifted musicians on one stage.  The two-man horn section wailed.  The keyboardist played her synth like it was a lover.  Both guitarists/vocalists were impressive in both their roles.  (The second guitarist was an especially nice surprise.  I knew what to expect from frontman Igor Yuzov, but the tour guitarist not only shredded, but sang lead on a few tunes with a dusky, agile blues voice that totally blew me away.)

And then there was the drummer and the bassist.  Those two dudes seriously must have been created in a lab somewhere.  They were technically flawless and musically brilliant.  Their solos were easily among the best I’ve ever seen at a live show.

The band played two full sets and an encore, covering a sizeable swath of their discography.  Especially awesome were their renditions of “Juliet”, “Boogie on the Beech” (both of which had the whole crowd screaming along with the chorus), and “Me and My Baby”.

The band’s stage presence and demeanor throughout were awesome.  They were energetic and dynamic and obviously enjoyed playing for the audience.  They danced, clapped, bantered, and solicited audience interaction for the entire 2-ish hours they were on the stage.

Simply put, the show was amazing.  If you ever get a chance to see the Red Elvises, definitely do so.  They’re about as energetic, talented, and charming a band as I’ve seen in ages.  They have plenty of dates scheduled for through the end of this year, so if they’ll be in your area, they’re well worth seeing.

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 162007

"Wail like an infant atop a white baby grand"

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The wonderfully inimitable Ann had informed me that Bright Eyes is going to be playing my humble city of Spokane, WA on the 15th. If you’re in or around the area, it should be an awesome show. If even half the talent (e.g. Gillian Welch, Mike Mogis, Nate Wolcott, M. Ward, et al. ) that Conor Oberst collected with him on Cassadaga hits the road with him, then those live shows are going to kick prodigious amounts of ass.

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.