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...: