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.

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.