Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Neil Young @MSG, Dec. 16th

On the last night of a tour, Wawa said, sometimes bands like to mix it up. So we looked forward to what might happen, and the night did not disappoint. This time we (and Julie1) got to MSG at about the same time as the night before, just before opener Everest hit the stage. We had enjoyed this new band, and this second occasion proved no less interesting. Yes, The Watson Twins showed up again, but on a cover of Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Going Nowhere," Wilco members John Stirrat and Pat Sansone came on to lend backup vocals. Cute!

Next, it was Wilco's turn to get the crowd going. Wawa pleaded that they not start with "Via Chicago" and perhaps they heard him because we heard the opening notes of "You Are My Face." We looked at each other bemusedly, wondering if anything would be switched up for this set -- would it just be song order, or additional songs (please no "Kidsmoke!"), and surely, Wilco didn't stick to the program. They made us happy with three songs in a row that they hadn't played on Monday ("I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Handshake Drugs" and "A Shot in the Arm") before going back to probably the most impressive track off their latest album, Sky Blue Sky, with "Impossible Germany" (I am a big fan of the extended buildup of guitar layering leading to what looks like Jeff Tweedy and Sansone having guitar sex). For fun, Tweedy brought out his son Spencer to play drums on "Late Greats" and we sang Happy Birthday to him as well. And if things couldn't get more interesting, on "Jesus, Etc." Norah Jones and two other ladies came out to sing backup:

I was happy to see the boys all loose and happy. They might not have been as tight as the night before, but they were charming as always. As they closed out their set with "I'm the Man Who Loves You" and Glenn Kotche stood up above his drum kit, drumstick raised in air, Tweedy said that might be the last time we'd see that. What did that mean??, we wondered. Is Kotche quitting the band? Are they retiring that song? God, I hope not to both!

So, yeah, Neil Young truly is the bat shit crazy old uncle of Rock 'n Roll. With the same messy hair, paint-splattered jacket and running shoes on again, he played essentially the same setlist as the night before (with the addition of another 'car' song and the flipflopping of two songs at the end) but brought the same amount of energy that would be impressive for anyone, let alone someone in his 60s.

We were breathless through the first third of the set (the more electrified portion), kinda bored during the seemingly neverending middle stretch of car songs (dude, we get you like electric cars and stuff, but really? "Cough Up the Bucks" really is a lemon if you want to extend the metaphor!), and restored in the grungy last part, especially when everyone on the tour came out to sing along with "Rockin' in the Free World." Yeah, it is a corny-ass song but we loved it anyway.

I was happy to see all the bands come out and take their bows. It really was a memorable night. Seeing Jeff Tweedy with Neil Young gave my music geek self quite a thrill.

(Jeff Tweedy, Pegi Young, Neil Young, Tweedy's younger son, Everest's Russell Pollard)

I was able to record two of my favorite Neil Young songs last night -- the rockin' "Cinnamon Girl" and "Needle & the Damage Done." Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Neil Young @MSG, Dec. 15th

(I owe this blog a review of TVOTR from October -- eek! -- and of Fishbone from November, but I couldn't resist putting last night's amazing show up!)

Last night was my first time seeing the legend, Neil Young. I have always considered him to be one to cross off on my list of must-sees, but difficulty in scoring reasonably priced tickets to his prior shows had kept me from seeing him. When he announced two nights at MSG a few months ago with the added bonus of my beloved Wilco as an opener, I jumped at the opportunity, especially since they made the front GA/Pit section affordable (well, sort of).

Wawa and I got there early enough to be at the front of the Pit and to catch the first opener, a sleepy band called Everest. They had a solid, jammy sound -- reminded me a bit of the time I saw Sam Roberts -- and even pulled out the not-so-creepy-anymore Watson Twins as backup for a few songs. I could envision really enjoying them at a smaller venue like Bowery Ballroom.

Wilco came on and played a short set of nine songs -- about 50 minutes worth. They were tight and did a nice sampler platter of their music, giving the audience a bit of the old and the new, the alt-country, the jam and the blips and boops. Wawa was dismayed to hear "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" even though it is a great song because it is such a time-consumer, and they were working under time limits, but whatevs. I'm generally happy to see Wilco whenever I can. They are so fantastic live, and it was great to see them play a large venue like MSG. And Jeff Tweedy's awkward little dance during "Hummingbird" always makes me happy!

I had been looking at recent setlists from Neil Young's Fall tour and was surprised that he did not hit the stage until 10:10. Would New York be shafted by a curfew and get a shorter setlist? No way, man! Neil did not disappoint -- he played a full set of 25 songs for about 2 hours and 25 minutes. It was chock full of old songs I knew including my favorite "Cinnamon Girl" and "Heart of Gold" and a stunningly gorgeous "Needle and the Damage Done."

I was surprised by how hard this dude rocked! He did not pause for much banter and played every electrified hard song as though it were his last one of the evening. Even a stale song like "Rockin' in the Free World" felt fresh and new to me. I felt fortunate to be able to see him so close and hear ever word during a surprisingly good sound mix for the front. Unlike the times I've seen Bob Dylan, another old fogey, this rumpled mess of a man brought it. He closed out the evening with a nutso cover version of The Beatles' "A Day in the Life" which broke several of his guitar strings so bad, he ended up thrashing his guitar with the broken strings.

Man, that was insane! I really felt like I got my money's worth with this evening, and can't wait to repeat it all again tonight! =)

Here he is playing "Heart of Gold":

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Beck @United Palace, Oct. 8th

Looking much like a rich man's David Spade, our favorite Scientologist rocker Beck Hansen played the first of three nights at the United Palace, where I was less than a month ago. I had better seats this time -- 4th row -- but the sound mix up front was not so good (during a jaunt upstairs for the ladies' room, I checked out the sound from the lower loge and it was really good). Despite the rough sound up front, Bestest Boy and I had a good time seeing the diminutive man and his crew bop through a heavy setlist, which kicked off with his seminal hit, "Loser," much like the time I saw him in Jersey City.

As a performer, Beck seems to avoid spending too much time on chitchat. He ripped through 25 songs in about 75 minutes, including an uneven "rap" set that seemed to experience technical problems with the headsets worn by the band:

Happily, like the last time I saw him, there was a nice acoustic interlude that drew upon Beck's less popular album, Sea Change. I grabbed a video of him performing "Lost Cause":

As a side note, there was a digital timer to the right of the stage, as well as a handheld camera at the foot of the stage filming the action. Perhaps this means the show is being recorded for a DVD or something, which might suggest that the setlist for the next two nights will not be so different from tonight's...

We also caught the opener, the buzzband of the moment, MGMT, who reminded me a lot of the time I caught The Rapture.

Unfortunately, I think their music suffered a little from being in a larger venue like United Palace and probably would be better suited to a smaller joint like Webster Hall, but they still were decent as an opener and I enjoyed seeing them.

The Pretenders @Highline Ballroom, Oct. 7th

Tuesday night, Bestest Boy and I headed to the Highline Ballroom for an intimate gig by The Pretenders, one of rock's iconic bands. Her supporting band may have changed its lineup more than a few times, but Chrissie Hynde remains one of the coolest ladies to pick up a guitar and rock. The size of the venue and her tough chick exterior reminded me of the time I saw Joan Jett up close. Both are strong women who continue to demonstrate why their music endures. I still can't believe Hynde is only two years younger than my mom!

While primarily promoting a new album, Break Up The Concrete, The Pretenders knew what was good for them and played a good number of their greatest hits, including "Back on the Chain Gang," "Kid," and "Don't Get Me Wrong." Hynde's voice sounded as good as the original recordings and she had an ease with the crowd that proved most charming. Really, really pleased I finally caught The Pretenders live, and in such a great setting.

Here's a cut off the new album, "Almost Perfect":

Ben Folds @Terminal 5, Oct. 1st

Thanks to Wawa and his desire to catch his beloved Chicago Cubs in playoff action, Bestest Boy and I ended up with Wawa's tickets and last minute plans to see the always fun Ben Folds at Terminal 5 -- my first trip to this venue. We got there early enough to stand through the opener, a pleasant and talented but ultimately unremarkable Missy Higgins, her greatest hit to date featured on an episode of Grey's Anatomy. We did think the sound at T5 was actually pretty decent, about 6 or 7 people back from the stage.

By the time Ben Folds hit the stage, the place was packed with an interesting mix of Ben Folds diehards and irritating young'uns who probably comprised the musical theater clique in high school. I swear I never wanted to pop so many kids before in my life! As Wawa remarked the following when I recapped the show for him, we must be at an age where General Admission standing is no longer an attractive option.

Once the music started, Bestest Boy and I were, for the most part, able to forget the annoyances and jump right into the music. Bestest Boy has very little prior exposure to Ben Folds (other than what randomly has come up on my iPod on shuffle), and
I'd seen Folds a few times prior, the best time being 2nd row center at Town Hall. The great thing about Folds' music is that he is so crazy energetic, you needn't know all his songs by heart to have a good time. In fact, I only own Whatever and Ever Amen by Ben Folds Five. Folds is such a fantastic performer -- he truly seems like he is having a blast shakin' his piano and shakin' his ass. Why he even has a stool, I do not know, for there was not a lot of sitting going on.

With his dorky glasses, rumpled hair and striped rugby shirt, he reminded me of a zany children's program host, or some kind of pied piper, leading us through his lyrically creative music. In fact, much of the set featured alternate versions of songs from his latest release, Way to Normal. He explained that to circumvent the official album being pirated online prior to its release date, he and the band made up fake versions and leaked those, but had so much fun writing them, they figured why not play those too on this tour. Why the hell not?

Thankfully, Folds also played many of the hits that the crowd was hungry for. I got to hear a bunch off of my one cd ;).

Sigur Rós @United Palace, Sept. 18th

(I've been way negligent in blogging...many apologies for the delay of this post!)

Nearly a year since the last time I went to United Palace, I met up with Shana for a gig by the much beloved Icelandic band, Sigur Rós. Now, not everyone digs their music; some deem it too artsy-fartsy, and their lyrics literally gibberish (or at least unintelligible by 99.99% of the audience). However, I am not one of those critics -- sometimes the words are not the most important part of a song. When I listen to Sigur Rós, it is for the emotion generated by the music, and whatever emotion is felt is determined by me. Because I am not going to go through the effort of interpreting their lyrics, oftentimes I associate certain Sigur Rós songs with what was happening in my life while I heard them for the first time, be it a heartbreak, a makeout session, what have you. And that feeling is most certainly subjective -- one person's moment of solitude or depression could be another's sense of relaxation.

Anyway, enough of that general analysis -- the gig itself was breathtaking to me. Shana and I were about ten rows from the stage, which allowed us to enjoy the music, acoustically-speaking, without much distortion. Though I've never sat up in the loge/balcony of the venue, I imagine the music must have soared up to that part of the theater quite nicely. This was the second time I caught the band, the last time being in September 2005 at the Beacon Theatre, but unlike that occasion where they were augmented in sound by their tour mates at the time, Amina, this concert featured Sigur Rós in its basic quartet version. Despite this stripped down iteration of the band, they managed to make a sound so grand at times, I felt as though we were staring at a nuclear explosion, especially in conjunction with the moody lighting, which was as much a part of the show as was the music.

Lead singer Jónsi's angelic voice rose above the mostly respectful crowd. Like I said, it really makes no difference if you understand the lyrics or not -- you'd have to be completely numb not to feel anything.

Here is the band performing "Sæglópur" from their last album,Takk...:


Saturday, September 27, 2008

R.I.P. Paul Newman

Monday, September 8, 2008

Muppets Take Brooklyn Heights! Sept. 8th

Muppets! In Brooklyn Heights! No, it has nothing to do with music, though Kermit did have to mouth (lip sync? Do frogs have lips?) the intro to a song numerous times in this upcoming Xmas special being filmed. Even Hizzoner showed up for a cameo. Way cooler than running into yet another episode of Law & Order...

Way hotter than Brangelina!

Mike Bloomberg and his co-stars

That's Dave Goelz, who has performed Gonzo forever. <3

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wilco @McCarren Pool, Aug. 13th

It had been a year and a day since the last time I came to McCarren Pool for a gig. I'm not the biggest fan of this venue -- oftentimes, I feel the sound can get muddled between the acoustics of the concrete and the din of the hipsters. However, for tonight's show, Wilco ought to pay their sound guys beaucoup bucks because they sounded great. Just like the green jacket that lead singer Jeff Tweedy sported, the band was sharp and played like the professionals that they are, albeit kind of a safe set, if you ask me.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I LOVE Wilco, especially after winning a contest to see them in Chicago six months ago. And prior to that, I saw them up close and personal the last time they played Brooklyn, at the intimate Warsaw. So, perhaps my slight feeling of ennui had to do with my socks being knocked off by the rarities dropped on us at those two prior gigs, and not much to drool at tonight. Or maybe a symptom of having now seen them 4 times in the last year promoting Sky Blue Sky. Or maybe choosing to stand on the side of the stage away from the guitar hero blazes of Nels Cline (although Pat Sansone's antics were pretty damn amusing). Today I even got McCarren Pool early and managed to secure a spot right up front on the rail. But despite such a great position, somehow the performance, while fun and exciting as usual, felt like it was missing something and merely ranked a solid from me. Mind you, a Wilco solid does blow most other bands out of the water, however...

Perhaps I just prefer the rumpled, denim jacket look -- when the boys seemed looser and freer while rocking out. That green jacket, while a fine garment, I'm sure, seemed to lend an element of formality that I've never really encountered before with Wilco. They usually have such a carefree sense to them that translates into their playing. Part of me even missed Nels' red pants.

Anyway, I look forward to the next time they come to town, with new songs in hand.

Here are the guys playing "Pieholden Sweet" from Summerteeth:

My Flickr set here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Aimee Mann @Music Hall of Williamsburg, Aug. 1st

Last Friday, I met up with Ste & Lora, Julie1 and Wawa (man, it had been a long time since I last saw him) for an evening featuring the ever-so-droll Aimee Mann at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Much like my prior visit to the venue, we preceded the concert with some drinks and greasy 'cue from Fette Sau, which may have somewhat dulled our abilities to pay attention. This was my third time seeing Ms. Mann (first at St. Ann's Warehouse and then at Town Hall), and it was the closest I had ever been to the blonde sliver of cool, but despite our proximity to the stage and the intimacy of the venue, I was more distracted by the people surrounding me than ever before.

I am by no means an ardent fan of Ms. Mann, but I have always appreciated the plaintive quality of her songs dealing with regret, heartbreak, relationships, and so forth. Her music may not be the most stirring but it is consistent in its lyricism and cleverness. I have a few of her albums and find that even when I'm not up to date with her catalogue, her shows are quite enjoyable for her casual banter (although how many times must we hear her bash on Phil Collins winning the Oscar over her for his Tarzan song over "Save Me?") and skilled musicianship. She does not overindulge and seems to connect with her audience quite well. Even though at first I found the group of large men behind me singing along every word kinda off key a nuisance, by the end of the show, Ms. Mann found a way to bring them into the fold, when she stumbled on the words for an audience request, and the men helped her out, to which she responded with something like, "Who knew my music could be like a German drinking chorus?"

Here is a good chunk of her probably most well-known solo song "Save Me" (before security tapped me on the shoulder to stop recording):