MGMT live in Brooklyn, July 1, 2009

 

The electronic/disco/pop/rock group MGMT has made a huge splash, earn­ing spots on tours with no less than Paul McCart­ney and Beck. The wildly catchy “Time to Pre­tend,” “Elec­tric Feel,” and “Kids” (the lat­ter fea­tur­ing a truly deranged music video) are not out of keep­ing with the rest of their reper­toire in terms of style and instru­men­ta­tion, but the infec­tious hooks do stand apart from the for­get­table rest. At their Cel­e­brate Brook­lyn con­cert in Prospect Park on July 1, they debuted a few new songs set for their forth­com­ing sopho­more album that didn’t imme­di­ately grab me either.

MGMT live in Prospect ParkMGMT live in Prospect Park

For a band called “synth-hippies” by Pitch­fork, they all looked rather clean-cut to me (but they evi­dently have a very young and boozy audi­ence — one kid passed out and lit­er­ally col­lapsed on our feet only a few songs into the con­cert). Their sound may be very elec­tronic and a throw­back to disco, but their live instru­men­ta­tion is very rock gui­tar ori­ented. The only excep­tion being “Kids,” for which the band put down their ana­log instru­ments and let the syn­the­siz­ers and sequencers take over, even recre­at­ing a live fadeout.

MGMT live in Prospect ParkMGMT live in Prospect Park

Offi­cial band site: www.whoismgmt.com

Buy the MGMT album Orac­u­lar Spec­tac­u­lar from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Explosions in the Sky live in Central Park, June 30, 2009

 

Explo­sions in the Sky is an instru­men­tal post-rock quar­tet from Texas. Their char­ac­ter­is­tic for­mula of a chim­ing gui­tar power trio on top of pul­sat­ing drums is a bit more palat­able than their extremely loud, men­ac­ing Scot­tish peers Mog­wai (read The Dork Report review of their April show in New York). Per­son­ally, I hear a kind of homo­gene­ity to much of Explo­sions’ music that I don’t hear in other post-rock out­fits like Mog­wai, Sigur Rós, and Tortoise.

Explosions in the Sky live at Summerstage Central Park New YorkExplo­sions in the Sky

To over­sim­plify their his­tory, the band is pri­mar­ily known for two fac­toids. In an unfor­tu­nate coin­ci­dence, their album Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live For­ever, released a few days before 9/11, fea­tured a cover illus­tra­tion of a plane and a cap­tion read­ing “This plane will crash tomor­row.” Long before I actu­ally heard any of their music, I do recall this story help­ing to feed the 24-hour-a-day broad­cast news hys­te­ria that fol­lowed. Bet­ter bol­ster­ing their repute, they com­posed the pop­u­lar score to Peter Berg’s 2004 film Fri­day Night Lights, and they’ve attracted a sig­nif­i­cant fan base — sell­ing out out­door Cen­tral Park Rum­sey Play­field even in the rain.

The band’s des­ig­nated spokesman Munaf Rayani began the show by announc­ing it was their 10-year anniver­sary as a band. They played for about an hour and half with­out inter­rup­tion, blend­ing songs together into a con­tin­u­ous flow. From where I stood, the appre­cia­tive audi­ence rec­og­nized and cheered many tunes. But Rayani apol­o­gized at the end of the show for things hav­ing “going off the rails,” and they walked off with­out an encore despite there still being some time before the Cen­tral Park cur­few. For all I know, that may be their cus­tom, but it was really sur­pris­ing, and audi­bly dis­ap­pointed every­one around me. Awkward.


Offi­cial band site: www.explosionsinthesky.com

Buy the lat­est Explo­sions in the Sky album All of a Sud­den I Miss Every­one from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

California Guitar Trio & Tony Levin’s Stick Men, live at the B.B. King Blues Club, New York, June 22, 2009

 

The Cal­i­for­nia Gui­tar Trio may not actu­ally be from Cal­i­for­nia (they actu­ally hail from Bel­gium, Japan, and the US), but there are indeed three of them and they each play a gui­tar. In a way, that tells you every­thing and noth­ing you need to know. As des­ig­nated spokesman Paul Richards explained dur­ing their June 22nd show at The B.B. King Blues Club in New York City’s Times Square, they met as stu­dents in one of Robert Fripp’s early Gui­tar Craft courses. The promis­ing pupils became mem­bers of the tour­ing out­fits The League of Crafty Gui­tarists and The Robert Fripp String Quin­tet, and formed the CGT to present their orig­i­nal reper­toire inter­spersed with well-chosen pro­gres­sive rock and clas­si­cal cov­ers. As a King Crim­son fan, I’ve wound up see­ing them live no less than three times, all with­out hav­ing specif­i­cally meant to. The 1992 R.F.S.Q. show in Philadel­phia still stands in my mind as one of the best con­certs I’ve attended, and I recall their open­ing sets for King Crim­son in 1995 (also in Philly) and The Trey Gunn Band in New York in 1997 going over great with audi­ences (dur­ing most con­certs I’ve been to, audi­ences can’t be pried away from the bar dur­ing the open­ing act). Richards also told the crowd they had been record­ing and tour­ing the world for 18 years, long since deserv­ing to cease being described as for­mer stu­dents of Fripp. (but a lit­tle name­drop­ping never hurts!)

California Guitar Trio liveCal­i­for­nia Gui­tar Trio

Mon­day night’s con­cert was also an unmiss­able chance to see Tony Levin’s Stick Men, a new band formed with fel­low stick player Michael Bernier and drum­mer Pat Mas­telotto. The droll, genial Levin is one of the world’s great­est bassists, a fan-favorite (lis­ten for the inevitable moment when crowds go wild as Peter Gabriel intro­duces him on any live album he’s released in the past 25 years), and not to men­tion one of the world’s longest-running blog­gers. Mas­telotto is a pow­er­house, a true drum demon obvi­ously enjoy­ing him­self enor­mously on his array of acoustic drums plus var­i­ous elec­tron­ics a drum geek would have to iden­tify (com­ments below, please). He shat­tered a stick at one point (star­tling Bernier as a bit of shrap­nel flew in his direc­tion), but deftly swapped the casu­alty for a new one. I’m not famil­iar with Bernier’s music, but as if his tal­ents weren’t obvi­ous on Mon­day night, Levin gave him props as a player who influ­enced his own tech­nique (mean­ing a lot com­ing from the leg­end that helped pio­neer the Chap­man Stick instru­ment in the first place). Also, Bernier’s got a lit­tle bit of a Hugh Grant thing going on.

California Guitar Trio liveCal­i­for­nia Gui­tar Trio & Tyler Trot­ter per­form Tubu­lar Bells

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the Trio gave a mel­low, con­tem­pla­tive show, while the Stick Men came out blast­ing with some very dense, funky, mostly instru­men­tal prog rock. They were really, really loud — very glad I brought my earplugs — and even chased a few peo­ple out of the venue. I’m shame­fully behind on my CGT and Levin album-buying, so I wasn’t famil­iar with much of the later reper­toire of either trio. I only own the first three CGT albums (includ­ing what I think is a rare copy of an epony­mous cd I pur­chased at the R.F.S.Q. show, that isn’t even listed on their offi­cial site). Copies of their lat­est are on order from Ama­zon as I write, but I picked up a pristine-sounding live record­ing avail­able for sale right after the show. Here’s the set list accord­ing to Hideyo Moriya’s Road­cam, along with some of my sub­jec­tive comments:

  1. Punta Patri
  2. Unmei — Beethoven’s 5th Sym­phony rearranged by Moriya in a 1960s surf gui­tar style that totally, unex­pect­edly works.
  3. Cathe­dral Peak
  4. Tubu­lar Bells / And I Know / Walk Don’t Run — A con­densed ver­sion of the album-length pro­gres­sive rock epic by Mike Old­field (per­haps more famously known as the theme music from The Exor­cist). Their sound guy Tyler Trot­ter joined the band on melodium.
  5. Port­land Rain
  6. Androm­eda
  7. TX
  8. Moon­light Sonata — Richards briefly described Fripp’s Gui­tar Craft les­son of “cir­cu­la­tion” as a key tech­nique that has stuck with them. Here they’ve dis­trib­uted the notes among three gui­tars, pass­ing sin­gle notes from one to another. I’m not an expert, but when it comes to clas­si­cal music, Bach in par­tic­u­lar seems well-suited for the guitar.
  9. Echoes — Long­time Pink Floyd fans (myself included, I must admit) rec­og­nized it from the first note, but when the major melody appeared, the audi­ence went nuts, even more so than when some King Crim­son cov­ers appeared later in the evening! The CGT ver­sion includes a gor­geous ambi­ent inter­lude, stretch­ing the bounds of what an acoustic gui­tar can do when con­nected to all sorts of elec­tronic devices.
  10. Eve — Levin joined them for this bal­lad, sound­ing a bit like his own “Waters of Eden”
  11. Mel­rose Avenue — A great, terse rocker. With Levin & Mastelotto.
  12. Block­head — With all three Stick Men. One of my favorite CGT tunes, but they omit­ted any kind of solo (Fripp him­self plays a stun­ner on the R.F.S.Q. album The Bridge Between). Amaz­ingly, they started cir­cu­lat­ing power chords.

The Stick Men stayed on stage for the next set, which included the fol­low­ing (and a lot more):

  • Sasquatch
  • Red — The clas­sic King Crim­son barn­stormer, which Levin mod­estly iden­ti­fied as “we didn’t write that one.”
  • Indis­ci­pline — Sung by Bernier.
  • Soup (or Superconductor?)
  • Encore: Larks Tongues in Aspic Part II — An effortless-seeming ver­sion with the CGT. King Crim­son fans will know what I’m talk­ing about when I say here’s another pos­si­ble inter­pre­ta­tion of the “Dou­ble Trio” concept.

California Guitar Trio & Stick Men liveCal­i­for­nia Gui­tar Trio & Stick Men

Levin con­grat­u­lated an audi­ence mem­ber in the first row for con­sum­ing a slice of cheese­cake dur­ing one of the rock­ier num­bers. He also described their recent, greatly mean­der­ing Euro­pean tour, which sounded very excit­ing to some­one with a nor­mal day job. No doubt a pro­fes­sional musi­cian will quickly counter that that much trav­el­ing and border-crossing is gru­el­ing. But if there’s time for even a few days off along the way, it sounds to me like a great way to see the world. Or maybe it’s just hell.

Tony Levin's Stick Men liveTony Levin’s Stick Men

Thanks for read­ing, and I invite any­one to please com­ment below. And finally, if any­one cares enough to have read this far, one last thing: fel­low New York­ers might know what I’m talk­ing about when I say that some days New York is more New Yorky than usual. Mon­day was one of those days, and the nut­ters were out in force. On my way to the venue, I was blessed (or cursed, maybe, I’m not sure) but a green-clad street preacher wield­ing a cross made of twisted wire. Min­utes later, the guy sit­ting next to me in Star­bucks got an ear­ful from a totally dif­fer­ent preacher. And then, in B.B. King’s, one audi­ence mem­ber in the back near me was obvi­ously stoned; not on some­thing rel­a­tively harm­less that merely makes you stu­pid, but rather on the sort of thing that makes you manic and insane (cocaine? speed?). He couldn’t stop loudly bab­bling for the entire con­cert, and was almost lit­er­ally bounc­ing off the walls. I kept hop­ing the man­age­ment would toss him out, but no luck.


Offi­cial band sites: www.cgtrio.com and www.tonylevin.com

Buy the Cal­i­for­nia Gui­tar Trio’s Echoes and Tony Levin’s Stick Man from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

The Decemberists Live at Radio City Music Hall, June 10, 2009

 

Robyn Hitch­cock & The Venus 3 (includ­ing Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Bill Rieflin of Min­istry, R.E.M., and The Humans) opened with an enjoy­able 30-minute set. I was unfa­mil­iar with Hitch­cock, but by total coin­ci­dence had just days before seen his appear­ance in Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Get­ting Mar­ried. His quirky non sequiturs between songs (“I had a root canal this morn­ing, which is why I’m wear­ing a hat” — which he wasn’t) con­trasted with his focused, tight songs. The Decem­berists’ Colin Meloy briefly joined in on tam­bourine and back­ing vocals.

Robyn Hitchcock and The Venus 3 live at Radio City Music HallColin Meloy joins Robyn Hitch­cock & The Venus 3 as they warm up the crowd

I’m a late­comer to The Decem­berists, only catch­ing on with their third album The Crane Wife (2006), which fea­tures a guest appear­ance by Laura Veirs, one of my favorite singer/songwriters, on the won­der­ful track “Yan­kee Bay­o­net.” My inter­est was fur­ther piqued by a review (that I now can’t track down) that com­pared them to early Gen­e­sis, of which I am also a long­time fan. It’s a bold com­par­i­son, for few would clas­sify The Decem­berists’ music as pro­gres­sive rock. But it is fit­ting inso­far as their com­po­si­tions are often epic nar­ra­tives, encom­pass­ing styles rang­ing from pas­toral folk to hard rock, all per­formed with high musi­cian­ship that eschews flashy indi­vid­ual solo­ing. Fur­ther bol­ster­ing their prog rock cred, the first half of The Decem­berists’ set was the entirety of their 2009 con­cept album, The Haz­ards of Love.

In ret­ro­spect, a con­cept album was inevitable for a such a band that had already shown a pen­chant for lengthy story-based songs like “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” (on Picaresque, 2005) and “The Crane Wife Parts 1–3.” Com­pared to Gen­e­sis’ grand but slightly incon­sis­tent epics “Supper’s Ready” and The Lamb Lies Down on Broad­way, The Haz­ards of Love is actu­ally one of the most cohe­sive con­cept albums I’ve heard. It rivals The Who’s Quadrophe­nia for clar­ity of vision and cohe­sive­ness of its recur­ring musi­cal themes.

The Decemberists live at Radio City Music HallMy cam­era is momen­tar­ily over­whelmed by the proceedings

An instru­men­tal organ intro (sorry to keep bring­ing them up, but pos­si­bly an idea bor­rowed from Gen­e­sis’ “Watcher of the Skies”) launches the epic fairy tale. The role of a girl that falls in love with a for­est crea­ture is sung on record and live by the airy, sweet voice of Laven­der Diamond’s Becky Stark. My Bright­est Diamond’s Shara Wor­den, a pint-sized, multi-instrumentalist pow­er­house, blowed everybody’s hair back as the evil for­est queen. How does a girl that small have such pow­er­ful pipes?

Although a few tracks can stand on their own (espe­cially “The Rake’s Song”), the entire suite deserves to be heard in one piece. It was a very bold move to release a 58-minute song suite at a time when the long-player album is dying, and music is con­sumed track-by-track and ran­domly shuf­fled by iPod algo­rithms. Per­son­ally, I had found the album a lit­tle slow to absorb, but now that I’ve wit­nessed the whole thing live… wow. It’s bril­liant, and made to be expe­ri­enced live, in one piece.

The Decemberists live at Radio City Music HallBecky Stark & Shara Wor­den join The Decem­berists to cover Heart’s “Crazy On You”

The sec­ond set mostly fea­tured songs I didn’t know, so it’s time for me to visit Ama­zon MP3 to buy up their back cat­a­logue. Peter Buck came back out to join them for a cover of “Begin the Begin” from my favorite R.E.M. album Lifes Rich Pageant (I was unable to shake Michael Stipe’s hook “The insur­gency began and you missed it” from my head the entire walk home from the show). Stark and Wor­den rejoined the band for a full-blooded cover of all things, Heart’s “Crazy On You.” Their ren­di­tion was totally faith­ful, and yet some­how man­aged to sound both like a Decem­berist orig­i­nal as well as some­thing Fleet­wood Mac might have done. They ended on a high note for me, with one of my per­sonal favorite Decem­berist songs, “Sons & Daughters.”


Offi­cial band site: www.decemberists.com

Buy The Dece­me­berists’ The Haz­ards of Love and Robyn Hitch­cock & The Venus 3’s Good­night Oslo from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Nine Inch Nails & Jane’s Addiction live at Jones Beach, June 7, 2009

 

STREET SWEEPER SOCIAL CLUB

Street Sweeper Social Club, the new band formed by Rage Against the Machine gui­tarist Tom Morello, opened. Their badass cover of M.I.A.‘s “Paper Planes” was a highlight.

Nine Inch Nails live at Jones Beach New York

NINE INCH NAILS

It felt wrong some­how to see a band as moody and dark as Nine Inch Nails play while the sun was still up. But clouds soon moved in, obscur­ing a sun­set that would have been impres­sive over the water, mak­ing every­thing suit­ably gloomy and very, very cold as NIN chased sum­mer away. This stripped-down four-piece ver­sion of the band played a great cover of David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Amer­i­cans,” the best song Nine Inch Nails could have but never wrote, and ended with the over­whelm­ingly sad “Hurt.” Sur­pris­ingly omit­ted was “Closer,” what I would assume to be a req­ui­site entry in any NIN set list (but the end theme did fea­ture in a short instru­men­tal jam). Speak­ing of, said jam was one of only two instru­men­tal por­tions of the set (the other being The Fragile’s ambi­ent inter­lude “The Frail”). A lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing, given that Trent Reznor has been becom­ing more and more musi­cally exper­i­men­tal and adven­tur­ous of late, with whole chunks of The Frag­ile and the entirety of the mas­sive two-disc Ghosts being instru­men­tal. Per­son­ally, when it comes to Nine Inch Nails, the music (not so much the gloomy lyrics) is where the action is for me.

Nine Inch Nails live at Jones Beach New York

JANE’S ADDICTION

All thanks to Reznor for play­ing peace­keeper in reunit­ing the noto­ri­ously frac­tious and unsta­ble Jane’s Addic­tion, at least for the length of the NIN/JA tour. Basi­cally a funk/prog/metal power-trio fronted by the antics of Perry Far­rell, a… unique indi­vid­ual whose ego (he once re-released a raft of Jane’s Addic­tion songs under just his own name on a solo great­est hits album) has often cre­ated con­flict with bassist Eric Avery. The full moon peek­ing out from the clouds prob­a­bly only added to Farrell’s lunacy. They opened with their mag­num opus “Three Days,” an epic fea­tur­ing more dis­crete gui­tar solos by Dave Navarro than I could count. Hon­estly, where do you go from there? They kept find­ing high points to hit, how­ever, includ­ing “Ocean Size” and the closer (what else?) “Jane Says.” It only took a few songs for the age­less Navarro’s vest to dis­ap­pear (he must have one heck of a per­sonal trainer, not to men­tion a chest hair waxer), and Perry’s shirt fol­lowed shortly thereafter.

Jane's Addiction live at Jones Beach New York

THE FUTURE

Reznor has made vague noises about Nine Inch Nails com­ing to some kind of end fol­low­ing this tour. It remains to be seen whether he means retir­ing the name in favor of solo work, start­ing a new band, or sim­ply ceas­ing to tour for a while. He’s report­edly been clean & sober for some time now, and engaged to be mar­ried, so more power to him. If he retreats now, he’d be going out on a high note. I hope the orig­i­nal lineup of Jane’s Addic­tion man­ages to keep it together to con­tinue work­ing in some form or another. With only two stu­dio albums to their credit (I’m not count­ing the awful Strays, writ­ten & recorded with­out Avery’s inim­itable bass), the world needs some new songs from them.

GETTING THERE AND BACK

I had a lit­tle unex­pected adven­ture on the long trip from Man­hat­tan all the way out to Jones Beach. Met a few fans on the Long Island Rail­road as we debated the var­i­ous ways of get­ting there, all of which suck. Thanks to Kim & friend for the impromptu car ride to the venue! But I didn’t have the same luck on the way back, an ordeal that included wait­ing a full hour for a LIRR train to arrive. Pic­ture dozens of hun­gry fans, shiv­er­ing atop an ele­vated plat­form in the mid­dle of nowhere.

Jane's Addiction live at Jones Beach New York

THE VENUE

Blech. Sur­rounded on three sides by water, Jones Beach sounds nice in the­ory, but in per­son it’s cold. Never mind if you’re going to a show there dur­ing the sum­mer; dress warmly. Also, for a music lover used to all kinds of venues in Man­hat­tan and Brook­lyn, it’s in the mid­dle of nowhere, with no food or water for lit­er­ally miles. The exor­bi­tant con­ces­sion prices are, let’s be hon­est here, graft. Just to keep from dehy­drat­ing and get­ting a migraine from all the second-hand pot smoke, I reluc­tantly paid $6.50 for a bot­tled water, which I cer­tainly hope the venue recy­cled. Also, the sound sys­tem is kinda crappy. Jane’s were notice­ably louder than NIN, but Farrell’s mike sounded pretty muf­fled, espe­cially on the first and last songs.

THE AUDIENCE

The audi­ence was a weird mix­ture of goths, met­al­heads, and gray­ing thir­tysome­things like me. Although NIN has remained extremely rel­e­vant for some time now, the orig­i­nal Jane’s lineup has been out of action for more than a decade, and both bands date back to the late 80s / early 1990s, when I was in high school. The black-fingernailed lon­ers didn’t sur­prise me, but I didn’t really expect so many head­bangers. I even saw a middle-aged, bearded, fat dude in a skirt, a look I thought fiz­zled on arrival in the mid-90s. In ret­ro­spect, I shouldn’t really have been sur­prised, but I come at Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addic­tion from a dif­fer­ent angle. Lis­ten­ing to NIN is an exten­sion of my appre­ci­a­tion for elec­tronic and pro­gres­sive rock, and Jane’s vis­cer­ally filthy, slightly sleazy rock owes more than a lit­tle to Led Zep­pelin (who were also arguably a bit prog).


Offi­cial band sites: www.nin.com and www.janesaddiction.com

Buy The Slip, Nine Inch Nails’ lat­est album, and the new Jane’s Addic­tion rar­i­ties boxed set A Cab­i­net of Curiosi­ties from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Mogwai live at The Music Hall of Williamsburg, April 2009

 

The Scot­tish instru­men­tal rock out­fit Mog­wai earned their rep­u­ta­tion in part for sheer vol­ume, like My Bloody Valen­tine and The Who before them. Their music is also notable for explor­ing the kinds of extreme dynam­ics you usu­ally only hear in elec­tron­ica or pro­gres­sive rock, wholly unlike the fatigu­ing con­stant loud­ness of most pop, punk, and metal.

My teeth are still res­onat­ing. This was far and away the most vis­cer­ally phys­i­cal con­cert I’ve ever attended. In all seri­ous­ness, I believe it would be pos­si­ble for a deaf per­son to enjoy a Mog­wai show. I don’t mean to be offen­sive to the deaf com­mu­nity here; I felt the waves of sound as much as I could hear them.

This con­cert, part of a three-night stand at The Music Hall of Williams­burg, was filmed and might appear on a future DVD.

Mogwai live at The Music Hall of Williamsburg, April 2009Mog­wai fear nothing

Offi­cial band site: www.mogwai.co.uk

Buy Mogwai’s lat­est album The Hawk is Howl­ing from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

David Byrne, Live at Radio City Music Hall, February 28, 2009

David Byrne On Tour Poster

 

David Byrne and Brian Eno, both Dork Report favorites, col­lab­o­rated exten­sively between 1978–1980. Many of these clas­sic albums have passed into the musi­cal canon, most espe­cially Talk­ing Heads’ Remain in Light (1980) and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981). I believe there are some lin­ger­ing rumors of inter­per­sonal fric­tion, cer­tainly within the four Talk­ing Heads, but Byrne and Eno appear to have remained in light, as it were. As Byrne relates the story in the liner notes to their new album Every­thing That Hap­pens Will Hap­pen Today, the pos­si­bil­ity of his com­plet­ing sev­eral of Eno’s stock­piled instru­men­tal demos arose over din­ner. The even­tual result is a bril­liant new album that is unmis­tak­ably the prod­uct of these two unique musi­cians, but is cer­tainly no sequel or retread of past glories.

David Byrne Live at Radio City Music HallSquint and you might see more than some blotches of color

Tour­ing to sup­port the new mate­r­ial, Byrne chal­lenged him­self with the self-imposed restric­tion to draw from only the five albums on which he worked with Eno: More Songs about Build­ings and Food, Fear of Music, Remain in Light, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and Every­thing That Hap­pens Will Hap­pen Today. Even with this self-imposed lim­i­ta­tion of albums that are all, frankly, kind of weird, it’s amaz­ing how many toe-tapping pop songs they contain.

The excel­lently sequenced set list, mostly alter­nat­ing between the weird and (rel­a­tively) nor­mal, kept the mas­sive Radio City Music Hall audi­ence singing along. Strange Over­tones, my favorite song from the new album, came first. Talk­ing Heads’ Crosseyed and Pain­less proved an early cli­max, bring­ing the entire audi­ence to their feet for most of the rest of the show. The only dis­ap­point­ment was that Byrne selected only one sin­gle track from the leg­endary My Life in the Bush of Ghosts: Help Me Some­body. It was imag­i­na­tively rearranged with live voices replac­ing the original’s found vocals (or as Byrne noted that we would call them today, sam­ples). Why not try the same with some of the other great tracks on that album?

David Byrne Live at Radio City Music HallThe long white splotch in the mid­dle is David Byrne and the Rockettes!

The stage design was per­fectly aus­tere, and decep­tively sim­ple. I espe­cially liked the stark, mono­chro­matic light­ing design. The entire band was clad in white, and three mod­ern dancers accom­pa­nied sev­eral songs with wit­tily chore­o­graphed rou­tines. The show cli­maxed with a truly barn­storm­ing ver­sion of Burn­ing Down the House, with the entire band dressed in frilly tutus. It could only be com­pleted by the star­tling appear­ance by… wait for it… the bloody Rock­ettes! OMGWTF!? Need­less to say, the crowd went bananas.

In short, I had a grand time. Here at The Dork Report, I have fewer qualms about rat­ing movies on a five-star scale than I do con­certs. Movies are cheap enough to rent in con­sume in large gulps. I end up see­ing many bad or mediocre movies, but few con­cerst that sucks. The likely expla­na­tion is the expense involved, which often lim­its the con­certs I go to to artists that I already very much like. The only rea­son I didn’t rate this par­tic­u­lar show higher is that I could imag­ine that if I could time-travel back to the 1980s and see the orig­i­nal Talk­ing Heads (prefer­ably dur­ing the period Adrian Belew was in their live band), that would eas­ily by five stars.


Offi­cial album site: EverythingThatHappens.com

Buy David Byrne and Brian Eno’s album Every­thing That Hap­pens Will Hap­pen Today from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Low live at Mercury Lounge, New York — September 22, 2008

 

I hope I’m totally wrong, but I picked up on a few hints that this lat­est tour by Low might mark the end of the band. My half-baked evidence:

  1. Alan Sparhawk seems to be hav­ing suc­cess with new side project, the Ret­ri­bu­tion Gospel Choir.
  2. This tour is not in sup­port of a new album release.
  3. The shows were mar­keted as “An Evening With Low,” lingo for shows with no open­ing acts. Pitch­fork reported that Low would be play­ing extra-long sets.
  4. Sparhawk him­self told the Mer­cury Lounge audi­ence to set­tle in for a long night, and omi­nously said a “ret­ro­spec­tive” show is like the prover­bial “nail in the coffin.”
  5. Bassist Matt Liv­ingston has left the band after a rel­a­tively short tenure, replaced by Steve Garrington.
  6. David Kleijwgt’s 2008 doc­u­men­tary You May Need a Mur­derer (read The Dork Report review) had a notably more frank and final tone com­pared to the 2004 Low in Europe (read The Dork Report review). Could Low be prepar­ing their legacy?
  7. I read later that on Sep­tem­ber 13, at the End of the Road Fes­ti­val in Dorset, Sparhawk flung his gui­tar into the crowd. As seen in You May Need a Mur­derer, Sparkhawk has some issues with his men­tal health. Whether it was an act of rage or ela­tion remains an object of debate online.

Like I said, I hope I’m wrong, and one of my favorite bands will con­tinue on. Recent albums The Great Destroyer and Drums & Guns were both great leaps for­ward, and as a lis­tener I see no rea­son why the band can’t keep evolving.

Low live at Mercury LoungeAlan Sparhawk & Steve Gar­ring­ton live at Mer­cury Lounge, NY (I could barely see Mimi Parker from where I was standing)

Some lit­tle anec­dotes of the evening:

  1. The first half of the set was acoustic (albeit using an array of elec­tronic devices), and Sparhawk switched to an elec­tric gui­tar for the sec­ond half. Gar­ring­ton used an upright acoustic bass throughout.
  2. Mimi Parker stated that the evening’s ren­di­tion of “Drag­on­fly” could have been called “Dragging-fly” Sparhawk agreed, admit­ting it was a “Extra Dragging-fly.”
  3. Low debuted a sequel to their clas­sic Low Christ­mas EP: “Santa’s Com­ing Over,” soon to be released on vinyl and dig­i­tally. Its the first exam­ple of self-parody by Low that I’m aware of. The Low Christ­mas EP is actu­ally somberly beau­ti­ful, but in “Santa is Com­ing” Sparhawk sings patently silly lyrics in full doom-and-gloom melo­dra­matic slow­core style. Per­haps I should have filed this note in my list of “half-baked evi­dence” above…

Low live at Mercury Lounge Alan Sparhawk & Steve Gar­ring­ton live at Mer­cury Lounge, NY (I could barely see Mimi Parker from where I was standing)

Offi­cial Low site: www.chairkickers.com

The Swell Season live at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park, New York — September 17, 2008

 

Glen Hansard (of The Frames and The Com­mit­ments — read The Dork Report review) and Markéta Irglová recorded an album together called The Swell Sea­son, and now tour under the name. They fell in love while film­ing the excel­lent Once (read The Dork Report review), and are now a couple.

Inter­est­ingly, they got their Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” out of the way right away, per­haps to avoid hav­ing the audi­ence call it out as a request over and over through­out the evening. Per­son­ally, I felt Hansard goofed off a bit too much, even dur­ing seri­ous songs like a new one I believe was called “Broke Down.”

swell_season.jpgGlen Hansard live in Cen­tral Park

Offi­cial band site: www.theswellseason.com

Buy Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová’s album The Swell Sea­son from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

King Crimson live at The Nokia Theater, Times Square, New York City, August 16, 2008

 

King Crim­son is my favorite band.

There, I said it. The more music and films I’m exposed to, the more point­less it seems to pick favorites. (Isn’t it kind of absurd to say that King Crim­son is “bet­ter” than, say, The Mahav­ishnu Orches­tra? While I’m on this par­en­thet­i­cal tan­gent, has any­body else ever noticed the sim­i­lar­i­ties between John McLaughlin’s jazz fusion group and the 1972–74 “Larks Tongues” incar­na­tion of King Crim­son?) Time and again on The Dork Report, I feel silly enough try­ing to con­dense my opin­ions about movies and con­certs into a five-star rat­ing tem­plate, and now even more so that I’ve seen Crim­son blow the top off my scale (just like the back cover to the album Red). So, yes, they’ve earned a rare Dork Report 5-star review, an honor I hope the Crims appre­ci­ate (yes, I’m kidding).

I absolutely enjoyed Thursday’s show at The Nokia The­atre in Times Square, New York City, as I hope was clear from my review. I wasn’t there on Fri­day, but Sat­ur­day night’s was some­thing else alto­gether, an extra­or­di­nary per­for­mance that rivalled the best of Crim­son that I’ve heard on record, be it live (with­out ques­tion B’Boom — Live in Argentina) or stu­dio (that would be Thrak — I invite read­ers to counter-argue in the com­ments below). So much so that my reluc­tance to play favorites is tem­porar­ily on hold; King Crim­son is finally, offi­cially, My Favorite Band.

King Crimson live at The Nokia Theater, Times Square, New York City, August 16, 2008Bend­ing the “No Pho­tog­ra­phy” rule, Part II

So who’s going to give cre­dence to the biased opin­ions of an acolyte pre­dis­posed to pos­i­tively rave about his heroes? In defense, I cer­tainly don’t think they can do no wrong; I am pre­pared to declare their 1971 album Lizard an almost unlis­ten­able piece of crap. But I hope that I can con­vey some of what made last night’s show an order of mag­ni­tude “bet­ter” than Thurs­day. The band was incred­i­bly tight, hope­fully putting to rest fans’ often-expressed fears that they have been a bit sloppy across this tour (a gripe I indulged in myself in my Thurs­day review). The crowd seemed more appre­cia­tively rowdy and keyed-up than before; indeed the over­all energy level was high. Per­haps it was just my dif­fer­ent van­tage point (slightly fur­ther back, and almost per­fectly cen­tered), but even the venue’s sound qual­ity seemed bet­ter; I didn’t have the impres­sion that Fripp and Belew were fight­ing to find the few audi­ble fre­quen­cies left untram­meled by Har­ri­son, Mas­telotto, and Levin. The video cam­eras were turned off this time, being some­thing of a trade­off. On one hand, the flat panel TV screens scat­tered about the venue had made it pos­si­ble to see all sorts of details invis­i­ble to the nose­bleed seats on Thurs­day, but on the other hand, the glow­ing screens were dis­tract­ing intru­sions to my periph­eral vision. But more likely, the band prob­a­bly objected to the intru­sion upon their performance.

The show began with a real treat not part of Thursday’s New York debut; when I walked in at about 7:30, Robert Fripp was already on stage per­form­ing Sound­scapes. For the unini­ti­ated, Sound­scap­ing is Fripp’s term for the ambi­ent, loop­ing class of his solo work, orig­i­nally chris­tened (tongue-in-cheek) Frip­pertron­ics dur­ing his orig­i­nal 1970s col­lab­o­ra­tions with Brian Eno. When I saw Fripp live with The League of Crafty Gui­tarists at the New York Soci­ety for Eth­i­cal Cul­ture in Novem­ber 2007, it was clear from the gen­eral audi­ence chat­ter around me that some were unaware that Fripp ever played any­thing other than burn­ing, shred­ding rock gui­tar. So I wasn’t sure how much of this audi­ence would be open to this avenue of Fripp’s work, but there was enough applause at the end of each piece to indi­cate that peo­ple were lis­ten­ing and appre­cia­tive. It helped that these par­tic­u­lar Sound­scapes were of the more beau­ti­ful and melodic vari­ety, as opposed to the dis­so­nant and night­mar­ish sort heard on the album Radio­phon­ics. It was a rather low-key opener, cer­tainly in com­par­i­son to the supremely fun Cal­i­for­nia Gui­tar Trio that toured with Crim­son in 1995.

For this Dork Reporter’s ears, the high­light of the evening was a shock­ing new arrange­ment of Sleep­less. It was a wild, more omi­nously threat­en­ing rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of the slightly poppy orig­i­nal. Mas­telotto and Har­ri­son kicked it off with some utterly insane dum­ming (which I mean as a com­pli­ment), soon joined by Levin rock­ing the famous bassline to roar­ing approval from the crowd. Levin used his famous inven­tion the funk fin­gers instead of the orig­i­nal slap­ping tech­nique I’ve seen on the live DVD Neil and Jack and Me. Does any­one know if he also used the funk fin­gers for it in the 1990s, as heard on the live album B’Boom? It seems they had long since dropped the song from the setlist by the time I saw them in Philadelphia.

I’ve got to devote a least a para­graph to Mastelotto’s shout-outs to his pre­de­ces­sors. Dur­ing Neu­rot­ica, he res­ur­rected a sam­ple of the lit­tle elec­tronic “tink!” sound Bill Bru­ford scat­tered all over the 1982 album Beat. Frankly, I find the omnipresent “tink” sound makes Beat very annoy­ing to lis­ten to, but I nev­er­the­less invol­un­tar­ily laughed and clapped in appre­ci­a­tion when I noticed the sam­ple last night. He also busted out some very Jamie Muir–esque sound effects to add a lit­tle extra sonic color to The Talk­ing Drum / Larks Tongues in Aspic Part II one-two punch. I also really loved the elec­tron­ica drum sounds he added to the (rel­a­tively) quiet bits in Indis­ci­pline. Who could have guessed, but it was exactly what the song needed.

I men­tioned in my review of the Thurs­day show that I con­sider Level Five to be among Crimson’s most “dif­fi­cult” pieces for the audi­ence to lis­ten to, and judg­ing by the furi­ously fly­ing fin­gers, also obvi­ously so for the band to play. But while I’m still try­ing to find my way into the song as a lis­tener, it clearly went over like gang­busters, earn­ing one of the most appre­cia­tive ova­tions of the night. If noth­ing else, hun­dreds of jaws dropped at the insanely rapid runs shared by Fripp & Levin. That kind of play­ing just isn’t human.

King Crimson live at The Nokia Theater, Times Square, New York City, August 16, 2008Worse seat, bet­ter sound?

Which reminds me of another thought I’ve always had about King Crim­son. Need­less to say, most mem­bers have been known as among the best-ever prac­ti­tion­ers of their instru­ments. Fans often gush about how dif­fi­cult the parts are, as if how speed­ily fin­gers move is directly pro­por­tion­ate to how “good” the music is. But I’d like to pro­pose the idea here that that is to miss the point. The high level of musi­cian­ship in Crim­son is not the goal, but rather a pre­req­ui­site to be able to play what­ever is required, be it one note or a thou­sand. I’d argue that some of Fripp’s best play­ing is actu­ally slower than what he is phys­i­cally capa­ble of, when unleashed at max­i­mum veloc­ity. If that’s what fans of tech­nique look­ing for, might I direct you to Level Five or the 900 MPH solo to Sar­tori in Tang­ier. But to my ears, Fripp’s most affect­ing play­ing is in the gut-wrenchingly emo­tional solo in the Sylvian/Fripp song Wave and the slow-motion under­wa­ter solo in the Robert Fripp String Quin­tet piece Blue.

Fur­ther evi­dence the band was more ener­getic and con­nected: dur­ing the drum duet (as yet unti­tled?) at the begin­ning of the first encore, Levin elicited a some laughs by the­atri­cally drum­ming along on the top of his amp with his funk fin­gers. Har­ri­son & Mastelotto’s duet was infec­tious enough to get Belew’s head bob­bing, and, shock of all shocks, I could see even the top of Fripp’s head rock­ing to the beat.

Any­one fol­low­ing the reviews being posted on DGM­Live will be aware that Fripp does not join the band in com­ing to the front of the stage at the end of each show, instead stand­ing off in the shad­ows. He very point­edly chooses to applaud his four band­mates, at once show­ing his appre­ci­a­tion for them and direct­ing the audience’s atten­tion to the play­ers. To indulge in a lit­tle arm­chair psy­cho­analy­sis, per­haps he wants to avoid fans’ wor­ship or rebuke, and instead direct the audience’s pos­i­tive energy towards the band.

I’d like to close with two anec­dotes, past and present. A minor but amus­ing inci­dent from Thursday’s show I for­got to include in my review was an early cameo appear­ance by Adrian Belew. Long before show­time, Belew entered the venue through the crowd, mounted the stage and walked acriss into the wings, all the while tot­ing his dry clean­ing over his shoul­der. When the audi­ence noticed him and applauded, he hammed it up a lit­tle bit, pre­tend­ing to sheep­ishly tip-toe across the stage. True story. Don’t venues have trap­doors and secret pas­sages for the per­form­ers to sneak in and out? Per­haps he got acci­den­tally locked out, and maybe Fripp’s ongo­ing comic book saga blog will tell us the full tale of how Belew was acci­den­tally beamed out­side the Crim moth­er­ship on an extra­plan­e­tary away mis­sion to the space sta­tion dry cleaners.

And also, one telling moment I still recall from a Pro­jekct Two show in 1999 at Irv­ing Plaza, New York. Fripp had been typ­i­cally focussed on his play­ing through­out, out­wardly unemo­tional, until one moment between pieces when he sprung to life, turned to Belew and Trey Gunn and announced “Guys, I want to rock out!” He then turned to face the audi­ence for the first time and repeated “I want to rock out, you guys!” And they did.


Offi­cial site: DGMLive.com