Sunday, March 26, 2006

Can't stop the music, and nor would I want to

My mission for March 2006: Finish the March issue of L.A. Youth (of which my students were contributing more than half the stories), put finishing touches on eight-year grad school reunion in Vegas (which I'm planning and happens at the end of this month) and attend five concerts in one month, including three in one week. The best part is that three of these shows were on "school nights" and I'm 30.

Sunday, March 19: The New Pornographers opening for Belle and Sebastian (The Wiltern)
I went to this show with my most frequent and favorite concert buddy (and future King of Comedy David Wright--watch the episode of Malcolm in the Middle he co-wrote, which airs Easter Sunday). At concerts Dave and I are frequent victims of the wedgers--the people who spot the space between two concertgoers and wedge themselves into the gap, however small. Granted, Dave and I often forget to compensate for being in a show and allow outdoor personal space boundaries to apply, hence our frequent victimization. But this night, dammit, I wasn't going to take that.

So we get in just as the New Pornographers take stage. We head toward the front, but stop at the second-section from the stage, to avoid crazy younguns. It's crowded but we find enough space for Lisa, Dave and I to stand essentially single-file three deep. Since we're all of different heights, this worked fine. And more importantly, since we all knew each other (well, I met Lisa that night, but she's a friend of Dave's so it was all good) I stood less than a foot behind Lisa, just to her left (like my head was over her left shoulder). I was at this show to see the New Pornographers, more than Belle and Sebastian, so dammit I was not going to get railroaded out of my spot.

They started with "Twin Cinema," which rocked and I was feeling like this was going to be very smooth. But then we noticed that the couple on our right was really into ... their conversation. Or more accurately at least, she was into talking. Thankfully she would get a couple drinks during the set sparing us from her inane chatter. What was really great about her, and I've been remiss not to mention this yet, is that she talked louder as the music got louder. THAT FUCKING RULED!

Anyway, the New Pornographers sounded amazing, even without the sublimely talented Neko Case (who is out touring in support of her new album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, which has been my second-fave album of the year thus far). Kathryn Calder really stepped up vocally and did a great job, far better than I've heard her on previous Neko-free recordings. Even on "The Bleeding Heart Show," which features lots of Neko (including harmonizing with Kathryn) and is my fave song from the album.

Then we were visited by another great concert guest, this time on our left. This was the guy who has to be the center of attention in his group of friends at all costs in all situations. At the New Porn show he decided the best way to accomplish this was to clap loudly, randomly (as in not on the beat) and often. Thankfully, even his girlfriend was annoyed by this and she told him to shut up. His response to this: "I'm the world's loudest clapper." He in fact, was very loud, but given that that was how he responded to his girlfriend's entreaties to shut the fuck up, well, that shows what kind of asshole he was, right?

Had those been the only two bad concergoers, I probably wouldn't have minded that much and perhaps not even blogged about it, but ... then I got a girlfriend. Or at least someone who decided to play one at the concert. This girl was the ultimate wedger. During the show Lisa, Dave and I didn't deviate from our standing pattern, especially as the crowd started to fill in. Well, a group of late-arriving girls decided that they really wanted to watch the NP up close so they started sidling into our section. I decide that DAMMIT I was not going to give ground this time. I even shifted my weight toward my right foot, to steel my resolve against letting them in creep in. Well, somehow (perhaps violating the laws of physics governing spacetime) she managed to squeeze into the 10 inches between Lisa and myself. I was literally breathing into the back of her hair to the point I could see it swaying under the power of my exhales. If I had a girlfriend, I wouldn't want her that close to me at a show. Let alone this skank.

The final funny moment of the show ... after the NP set, Dave and I decide to get a second round of beers. We asked Lisa whether she wanted, but she declined. As were walking back, I tell Dave that I'm done with the second section and am going to find a more airy spot in the back. Lisa, god bless her young soul, is willing to take a dive for the team and joins Dave and I in the back. In the spirit of oldmanedness, I start going off on a rant about how next time we should get tickets that are in the balcony, b/c you get a seat! Dave chimes in to agree and then Lisa disappears. When she returns a few minutes later it's with a beer in hand, b/c we freaked her out with our old man complaints.

finally: Belle and Sebastian were outstanding. They have earned a new fan. Check 'em out. The band is a lot better than the lamo Nickelodeon cartoon.


Thursday March 23: Metric w/ End of Fashion and Islands (Henry Fonda Theater)

Not bad fans, but a really bad band.

Dave and I went to see Metric, a female-fronted quartet from Toronto. Let me get this out of the way now, they're awesome! Like really awesome. Loud, vigorous, but with melody and sex appeal. What else could you want in a band. I highly recommend them, a more enjoyable to actually listen to Sleater-Kinney might be the best way to describe them. But that's not doing them justice. Do yourself a favoe and listen to Monster Hospital (bad pun coming), it's the cure for all that ails ya!

First opener, End of Fashion was good. Nothing spectacular but enjoyable and hurt your ears loud--in a good way. Second loudest band I've ever heard, after Pantera. I won't be buying anything by them, but I'll pimp them a little right here.

But the something-to-write-home-about from this night was the band Islands, which is composed of the detritus The Unicorns. [i refuse to pimp them with a link, sorry Dave.] If you've seen Revenge of the Nerds 2: Nerds in Paradise, this might make sense. If the band that the Nerds had formed ever went on to become a real recording act, they would have become Islands. The first thing I noticed about them is that they were all wearing WHITE. However, unlike a band like the Hives which goes all out for the visual style, Islands wasn't selling this well. Everyone had on something different. The clothes didn't fit well for everyone and a couple of them looked kind of embarrassed to be wearing the clothes.

OK, the next thing I noticed ... they had a fucking bass clarinet player. Now, as a former licksticker, I've always wished I had played an instrument that would have allowed me to join a rock band--hell, even saxophone b/c then i could aspire to be the next Clarence Clemons. But i chose an instrument more classically inclined. But here was an alleged rock band with a bass clarinetist, two violinists and mismatched all-white outfits. YIKES. Then they started playing and they weren't in tune very well, rhythmically very loosey goosey, lyrically inaudible or incoherent and oh yeah, they liked to turn their songs into really long jams. DOUBLE FUCKING YIKES!!! So I refuse to devote any more time to these fucking pieces of musical scheit.

Bottom line, go buy a Metric CD and your aggressions will be buffaloed, like the Snake Charmer after Black Mamba buffaloed him.

coda: this show went until 12:40 a.m., Metric played for 90 minutes! awesome, except that I had to work on Friday morning at 9 .m. :( [i wish i knew the emoticon for tired. anyone?]


Saturday March 25, KCRW Sounds Eclectic Evening (fundraiser-festival show at the Gibson Amphitheater)

This show featured a huge bill, as all festivals do: Goldspot, Feist, Sia, Gomez, Ben Harper, Death Cab for Cutie, plus special guests. It was set to start at 7:45 p.m. sharp. Speculation has been running rampant throughout the past few months as everyone tries to figure out who the special guests are. As Dave and I approach the amphitheater we scope out the merch table see Franz Ferdinand shirts. Um, they're not on the bill, I wonder they they're shirts are there? oh yeah, they must be the super-secret, not yet-announced special guests, who were just announced by fucking T-shirts.

Quickie hits:

Goldspot: a local Los Angeles band, that i'd give big thumbs up to. A good, energetic rock sound. won't cure zits, but worth listening to. I intend to buy and hope to see them again some day.

Feist: she's quirky, she's Canadian. She's someone I've heard before and didn't like so much. But I've heard her CD since then and in this live performance she had a band. and my opinions have changed. She was great, except for the mic problems. Her microphone wasn't working well and so her vocals disappeared for a spell and so did her guitar, like mid-song. OUCH. Given that it's a quick-change, rapid-fire festival show. Unfortunate but forgiveable, right?

Sia: She filled in for Lewis Taylor, who cancelled. I had never heard anything of hers except "Breathe Me," which you may know from the series finale of Six Feet Under. It's an amazing song, that plumbs emotional depths without clichés and is absolutely haunting with her voice. She's amazing. BAD FAN ALERT. Somehow the two women in front of us were channeling that first annoying girlfan from the NP show and started to talk and talk and talk, as if they weren't at a concert. And they also talked louder as the music got louder. RIGHT FUCKING ON!!! Thankfully the woman next to me had way more sac than I asked them politely to shut up and they did. YAY! Her music did have a wee bit of sameness, but she's unbelievably talented and has a uniquely powerful voice. Like blows you away that such a haunting voice would come from this sweet looking, funny blonde girl from Australia.

rest coming tomorrow. Well, it's tomorrow ...

Well, now it's time for the first special guest, Britt Daniel from Spoon. Sorry, Mon, but I'm not a Spoon guy so this didn't really mean anything to me, although the guy and dude next to me were ultra excited. He started channeling the bad clapper from the New Pornographers show. But his performance was very strong. He actually can sing and played well. I just don't really know any Spooon stuff, so whatever.

Gomez: Well, it's just the three non-rhythm section members. They're excellent. Very talented, tight musically (Islands could freaking learn), but once again more sound problems. At some point midsong there was a huge feedback explosion. That was awesome. I know public radio is a shoestring op sometimes, but you'd think that they'd hire someone for the sound board, not accept amateur volunteers. I thought we only got to work phones during the pledge drives.

Ben Harper: This is the guy who would qualify as the show-stopper this year. (btw, I'm watching Pee Wee's Big Adventure.) The audience went nuts for him, including a guy who was big and thick, think HS football linebacker body, he was in his mid to late 20s with glasses. He stood, raised his arms in exultation when Harper did, thrust his arms repeatedly toward the stage with pointing fingers and danced like he got his rhythm watching the stoned hippies in the Woodstock movie. But he was into the music, so though I jab at him here, I do it fondly. It's never a bad thing when someone is into music. And Harper was pretty amazing. He was backed by a huge band, with lots of rhythm and percussion. He bounded around the stage and for his finale was joined by Ziggy Marley on a cover of Bob Marley's "War." People have started to leave at this point, not many but a few dozen of the 6,000. Enough to notice a tiny stream of people in the aisles.

Now it's time for Nic Harcourt to come out and announce the special guest, b/c it's getting late and Death Cab will still have to perform. So Nic remarks how despite the rampant rumours of who the guest might be, no one has guessed correctly. (except for Dave and I). When he announces that it's a band that got its U.S. start on KCRW and did its first in-studio performance on KCRW, people start buzzing, but not nearly as much as one would expect (mainly b/c by this point it's obvious most everyone else knows). When he announced Franz Ferdinand people go excited, but not crazy. I mean this is the whitey, westside alt-rock crowd (Obvioulsy that's a broadbrushed overgeneralization) that should jump up and down for the lads from Scotland. But they don't b/c it's not a FUCKING surprise.

Franz Ferdinand: They open with "Do You Want To?" and it's good, but to be frank, it's off. Something's flat in the performance and the audience can tell. They just don't get that into it. Not many people stand (granted not many people do at this show. It's in a carpeted indoor amphitheater in Blade Runner's L.A. with the front row seats going to the station's biggest financial supporters, meaning old people), no one seems to be singing along. But I'd say part of that is because the band's performance is autopilotish. Of course, the sound problems have continued as they have during every band's performance. The sound guy should be canned. And with the exception of "Take Me Out" pretty much every song goes the same. It's all just off. Given that they did a small club show in L.A. a few years ago that's considered one of the best shows in recent Los Angeles club history, I'm disappointed. Don't get me wrong, seeing them was cool and they weren't bad by any stretch, but it just felt like an 85 percent show. Given that I paid like $55 for all these acts, I'm not complaining though.

Once FF finished the place emptied. BigTIME. Like streams were headed for the door and now the HEADLINER, Death Cab for Cutie, was about to take the stage, after some talking and thanking.

Death Cab:
came on and the sound problem thing was really bad. They cannot settle on a level for the bass. It's so bad that during the song, the bassist is signaling to sound techs, after the first song the singer, Ben Gibbard, remarks about it and they delay the start of the second song just to fix things. The best part about this ... it gets worse. It's just uneven. And so for "Soul Meets Body" they turn it up. WAY TOO UP. So much that it literally ruined the song. Two notes sent every chest cavity shaking and drowned out the rest of the band. Yikes!! And people just continue to exodus from the amphitheater, which was a real shame b/c DCFC did a cover of R.E.M.'s "Driver 8" that fucking ruled. One thing I hadn't realized about Seth Cohen's fave band is that they actually really rock it out on some songs. And despite all the people walking out, they are genuinely happy. Like talking to the crowd, talking about how cool KCRW is, thanking the crowd, smiling. It's really cool and I cannot help but feel sad for them that they are playing to an undeserving audience. Also, Gibbard's vocals were a little low, so his strength as a lyricist was sublimated, which hurts, b/c part of DCFC's appeal is the songwriting.

The big problem, dave and i agreed, was that this year's show lacked a true headliner. Last year Coldplay was the headliner and it was on the eve of a highly anticipated new album. So even though you had artists like Café Tacuba, Van Hunt, Nellie McKay, it was clearly a Coldplay show with great openers. But this year, some people were obvioulsy Ben Harper fans and they left after he performed. So an alt-cult band like DCFC just couldn't hold people.

All in all this year's show was like a steady stream of acts playing at an 8 or 8.5, while last year's show was more like a heart attack EKG. Weak acts like Aqualung and Keton Simons balanced out by the amazing Van Hunt, Café Tocuba and second-ever performance of stuff from X&Y.

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