Friday, March 27, 2009

PJ Harvey & John Parish @Irving Plaza, March 26th

Last night, I caught the forever amazing PJ Harvey with her longtime collaborator, John Parish. They were at the Fillmore Irving Plaza in New York promoting their second album together, A Woman A Man Walked By. I was fortunate enough to secure a place on the rail up front with little effort (as opposed to the previous night's Morrissey adventure). Having heard the duo's initial album, Dance Hall at Louse Point, which was an avant-garde bluesy mix, I had no predictions as to what the evening would be like. I wondered if this small venue experience would be anything like the time I was fortunate enough to catch Polly in 2004 at the itsy bitsy Knitting Factory, where she absolutely blew my fuckin' mind.

The dynamic duo and their band came onto the stage promptly at 9:15 and played for about 75 minutes. First most, I was struck by the contrast between the Woman and the Man. The petite Ms. Harvey stood barefoot at center stage with her porcelain skin enhanced by her simple flowing black dress and red lipstick, while Parish towered over her dressed in a jacket and fedora, looking almost impassive. She was the more conversational of the two, though I would hardly call it that. The focus here was the music, which drew from a mix of selections of both albums.

Like the two before us, the music was a study in contrasts. They opened up with the excellent
"Black Hearted Love," perhaps the most radio-friendly of their songs. From there, the songs differed extensively, allowing us to savor the schizophrenic nature of PJ Harvey's performance -- at one moment, she is the delicate, demure woman with the soaring angelic voice, at other times, punk vixen, howling with a sense of urgency. God, I love her.

The music itself was great -- I was only familiar with some of the Dance Hall songs and "Black Hearted Love" -- other than that, everything was new to me. Most of the songs did not contain your usual song structure but rather, seemed narrative in nature, reflecting different moods. It'll be a great listen on a blustery day. I look forward to purchasing this album when it comes out next week.

Here's a quieter cut from their new album entitled "The Soldier":

The opener was a friend of theirs -- Howe Gelb, an old-timer from Tuscon, AZ, who's been around the block and back. He entertained us for about 1/2 hour with a mix of nonsensical storytelling and guitar strumming, talk-singing kind of like Lou Reed with a sense of humor and a southwestern flair. I really dug his snakeskin suit which emitted cloud dusts everytime he moved.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Morrissey @Webster Hall, March 25th

Dear God, no matter how many times I swear I will never spend another dime on this abominably frustrating man, he manages to draw me in like Circe with her siren's call. Tonight, Morrissey was utterly charming, and I have no regrets waiting in line for over five hours today to get closer to him. Absolutely none! (Okay, well, maybe the kick to the head I got at the end during the mad rush for the stage stunned me a little...)

Strangely enough, each time I've seen Moz, the venues have gotten progressively smaller (and he perhaps progressively larger *wink*) but hey, who's complaining? Although a few months ago I said this'll be my last Moz show, after
tonight's show, which was the closest I've gotten yet, I may have to reconsider.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart @The Bell House, March 13th

Last Friday, to celebrate the divine Ms. Shana's birthday, we headed over to The Bell House in Gowanus for the sold out gig of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Andie and I were pretty excited to check out the newish venue somewhat within walking distance of us in Brooklyn.

When we decided a month ago we'd check out this much-buzzed about indie band, I, ahem, "previewed" the album and gave it a good listen about ten times in doing my homework. It wasn't bad -- a little twee, kinda shoegazy, sorta catchy. Every time I heard the opening notes of "A Teenager in Love" I was immediately reminded of David Bowie's "Modern Love." So, like I do with many newer bands, I decided what the heck, it's a cheap ticket, and if the band wows me over with its live show, I'll be the first person in line buying their cd legit.

We arrived at The Bell House after walking off our delicious meal from Zaytoons in Carroll Gardens just in time for the second opener, a band from London called Let's Wrestle. These three young lads reminded me of seeing a friend's younger brother's high school battle of the bands act -- rough around the edges, some raw talent, eager, energetic, pretty sucky. I thought the lead singer's vocals needed a lot of work -- perhaps in five years, it'll mellow out and be less Peter Bradyesque. Their best song was the last one in the set -- basically an extended jam, with no vocals!

But maybe I judged them too harshly. The main reason for being there, The Pains, promptly hit the stage and played pretty much the entirety of their album for about 40 minutes. They didn't exhibit much of a stage presence beyond just playing their music. And to our befuddlement, while the instrumentation sounded okay, the vocals were mixed in low and were off-key! First we thought it might be our positioning on the side by the wall, but Andie and Shana moved around to a number of places, including right in front of the sound board, and did not find any improvement in the vocals.

Yikes! What was going on? Did the singer in Let's Wrestle suffer from the same inability to hear themselves? The vocals for both acts were so poor, it got me and Andie wondering if it was a Bell House issue -- we'll have to think twice before making the shlep out to the venue again. And strangely, the packed house seemed to enjoy it fine. Were they drunk enough not to care?

Needless to say, I did not stop by the merch table to pick up a copy of the cd. I'm all about supporting small bands, but sorry, what a disappointment. Happily, I had my friends and good food to lean on. And a nice brisk walk home.

Fishbone @Knitting Factory, Nov. 29th

(Sorry for posting this late and out of order after the Neil Young at MSG reviews. That's just how the cookie crumbles sometimes.)

As part of Bestest Boy's birthday bonanza, I decided to rally the boys to catch one of their all-time faves, Fishbone. I hadn't been to the Knitting Factory in nearly a year, since the time I saw GZA perform Liquid Swords. It was also an occasion to catch one of the last shows at the venue as it was due to close shop in early 2009.

I had a vague knowledge of Fishbone, remembering them best from my high school days of listening to 92.3 WDRE back in their hey day during the mid '80s to early '90s. I knew them to have influenced many a ska/punk/funk band, several of which ended up surpassing Fishbone's level of fame. This was my first opportunity to see Fishbone, and I wondered about their capacity to endure over three decades. Bestest Boy told me about seeing them twenty years ago at shows filled with leather jackets, boots and sweaty bodies moshing in constant kinetic movement. How would they fare in 2008?

To my amazement, Fishbone is still running strong, even despite a few personnel changes, largely on the back of its front man, Angelo Moore, a lean, muscular man of 43 years. He started off the evening with a stirring solo spoken word performance. When the rest of the band joined him on the stage, he strapped on his baritone sax and adeptly led them and the crowd through a few hours of sheer madness. His vocals sounded great, and his energy was unbelieveable, even singing while surfing through the crowd all the way to the bar. To my delight, I easily knew at least 1/2 of the songs, and even the songs I didn't know were accessible and totally fun.

The intimacy of the Knitting Factory really added to the energy, as it was virtually impossible to avoid being part of the moshing throng. Not since college had I felt the crowd surge with such movement. I tried not to think too much about the ick factor of all these sweaty guys smashing up against me, a funny mix of guys in their late 30s/40s, like Bestest Boy and his friends, and young kids who might not have been born yet in 1990. Instead, I absorbed the vibe and just went with the flow. Chi-tastic!

It was particularly funny when Bestest Boy and Nick decided to enter the heart of the moshing, handing me their glasses for safe keeping. I'll never stop laughing at the site of them disappearing, and then reappearing, sweaty and out of breath. Hee hee!

Here's a taste of the intensity of the evening -- Fishbone performing their seminal hit, "Party at Ground Zero":

TV on the Radio @The Brooklyn Masonic Temple, Oct. 15th

(Sorry for the five month delay in posting this -- I went on vacation the day after the concert and never got around to posting, but better late than never, I guess.)

Wawa and I met up the day for a quick pre-show bite at The Smoke Joint in Fort Greene before heading over to The Brooklyn Masonic Temple a few blocks away for one of our favorite acts, TV on the Radio. Unfortunately, our indulgence in pulled pork and baked beans resulted in the typical itis, but luckily the main floor of the Masonic Temple is flanked by an upstairs seating level and we were able to grab two seats dead center early on. We pointed at the hipsters congregating on the floor and laughed, deciding that we were no longer in terrible need of being pressed up in front of the stage against sweaty skinny bodies, especially when seats are available.

To our dismay, the opener -- a Dave Sitek produced band called Telepathe -- was HORRIBLE. I imagined one could employ such hideous music in torture sessions. My eardrums felt like they were bleeding. Perhaps they did literally bleed -- I crammed anything I could find in my pockets into my ear canals to soften the blow. But for our good seats, I think I woulda found any excuse to leave the building, even develop a smoking habit. Thankfully they were on maybe 1/2 hour. I dunno. I can never get that part of my life back again.

At last, TVOTR came on, and they did not disappoint. Having caught the guys many times before, including a really amazing time up front at Prospect Park, I was eager to hear their newer material from the much-lauded album, Dear Science. Similar to the Prospect Park performance where they were augmented by Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, the band this time included a horns section which provided for a fuller sound. Tunde never fails to disappoint as showman, with his spazzy energy bouncing along with every groove.

It was a nice, relaxed experience, seeing TVOTR from the balcony, although it became oppressively hot upstairs by the end. We moved downstairs for the encore where it was much cooler and left with our ears buzzing with the last notes of the blissful classic "Staring at the Sun."