Tuesday, December 05, 2017

never perfected the simian stroll

Rocktober is pretty great around here, but if you're lucky, the touring goodness extends into the next month, as bands make their last journeys across the country before winter arrives. Unfortunately, November doesn't have a catchy musical nickname, so we'll have to enjoy it on its own merits and for such occasions as the return of Elbow to the Fox Theater in Oakland.

Elbow, Fox Theater, November 13, 2017: I have no idea how the music industry works anymore -- how bands break through or even how they decide when and where to tour and which cities will be the hot ticket. In fact, the original plan to see Elbow in Washington, DC, fell through partly because the gig sold out almost immediately (also: employment instability on my part). Once upon a time, Elbow didn't come to the United States much, but now it seems like they've hit a three-year cycle of tours. Hey, I'm not complaining; I'm glad to see them gaining fans along the way. Oddly, Elbow's show happened to coincide with Liam Gallagher playing San Francisco on his first solo tour of the States. I can only imagine the dilemma that dedicated Mancophiles (?) had to face as they chose between Our Kid and Our Other Kid. I stand by my decision wholeheartedly.

I'm completely removed from the UK music scene these days, so I don't know what size crowds Elbow plays to back in England, but a venue like the Fox seems to be a good fit for them over here. Back in the days when I saw them at Bimbo's (though minus the Independent gig I missed because the show sold out before I could buy a ticket), they clearly needed a bigger stage, not only because of the size of their band, but also the size of their sound and ambitions. The Fox gives them exactly that, and this time, they filled the room all the way up to the balcony pretty well.

I've read the prog-rock labels applied to Elbow, but I simply don't care. They've always been a band of sweeping sounds, strong emotions, and evocative lyrics, anchored by a charismatic singer. You might be surprised by the rarity of the combination when you listen to as much indie rock as I do. Anyway, that formula hasn't diminished on this go-around, and in fact, the addition of two new female violinists/backup singers further upped the musical bonafides.

Speaking of indie bands, I spent much of my formative years as a concert-goer watching bands who barely acknowledged the audience, much less themselves. We're talking shoegazers, by genre and by self-indentification. To this day, I feel a bit self-conscious when the rock ritual begins, whether it's a call and response or waving arms or whatever. Mind you, I do it too, but a part of me notes the silliness and the mob mentality (before I decide to do it anyway).

Elbow has a lot of this. Guy Garvey urges you to wave your arms often, and sometimes we clap (which I actually love), and I'd probably whistle along to "Lippy Kids" if I could carry more than two notes in a huff. It's an observation of behavior I don't indulge in a ton at the shows I typically attend.

Another funny thing about this show: Guy urged us to sing along for a few tunes. In fact, it became a running joke as he implored more than once, "If you know the words, sing along. If you don't know the words, sing along." But one of his chosen tracks, "My Sad Captains," was incredibly wordy! It took at least three swings through the chorus before most of the crowd (or maybe just me) could reasonably fake our way through it. Fortunately, we took up the slack with beloved tunes like "The Birds" and "One Day Like This."

By my calculations, Elbow will be back in 2020. If we're still here, I look forward to the next round of waving, clapping, and singing along.

See also:
» give us G&T and sympathy
» one day like this a year
» throw those curtains wide

Saturday, November 18, 2017

it's time that we grow old and do some shit

Hey gang, I'm not dead yet, and despite my reduced concert schedule, I couldn't resist the opportunity to see Broken Social Scene in its latest incarnation at the Fox Theater in Oakland. Oh Canada!

Broken Social Scene, Fox Theater, October 26, 2017: In perhaps my favorite episode of 30 Rock, "Cougars," Liz Lemon goes on a date with a much younger man, and when he tries to convince her to hit an afterparty, she pleads, "I'm 37, don't make me go to Brooklyn." As Liz Lemon is my spirit animal, I know exactly how she feels, except I'm no longer 37 and substitute Oakland for Brooklyn. You have to make a pretty good case for me to venture over the Bay Bridge (or, more precisely, under it, via BART) for a show. Broken Social Scene offers a solid argument for the trek.

Last time Broken Social Scene came around, they were on ostensibly their last tour, but even then, they admitted that they weren't so much breaking up as taking a breather. Even if they hadn't said it, I would've assumed that was the case, what with the modern trend of bands reuniting again ... and again. In addition, I imagine that's the nature of such a loose collective. Band members are free to come and go to pursue their own projects, so you can't bank on a set schedule. In any case, I was glad to see them back. Even if the band hadn't returned, I would've been entirely happy with my last memory of them: a lengthy, sprawling show, filled with guest musicians, friendly tributes, and family shout-outs that fell slightly short of a free-for-all.

In the years since, Broken Social Scene hasn't pared back much, as far as I can tell. I didn't bother to count the warm bodies on stage, but most of the principals were present, including Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, and Andrew Whiteman. Often the question with Broken Social Scene is which female collaborators will show up; tonight, only Ariel Engle, who happens to be married to Andrew Whiteman and plays a major role on the new record Hug of Thunder. Personally, it's not a huge concern for me, and Ariel has a lovely voice in her own right.

The band mixed up the song selection, with old favorites such as "Fire Eye'd Boy" and the beloved closer "It's All Gonna Break," as well as choice tracks from the latest album. "Hug of Thunder" is the standout track for me, and it's kind of a no-brainer to do "Protest Song," but the big takeaway for me were the Forgiveness Rock Record tunes. Maybe I didn't give it enough time? Because hearing "Texico Bitches" and "World Sick" reminded me that album has great songs.

Of course I'm going to go back to You Forgot It in People again and again because it remains one of my favorite records of this century. Fortunately, the band seems to like it too, as a significant portion of the show was devoted to those tracks, including the opener "KC Accidental" and the closers "Lover's Spit" and "Cause = Time." By the way, I admit I often can't remember the titles -- much less the words -- to Broken Social Scene songs, but in the case of "KC Accidental" (for one) I can easily hum the bass line and guitar track. Needless to say, I love it. Ariel handled the vocals for "Almost Crimes," and the two women from the opening band Belle Game joined her for "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl," which I'm glad to see has been acknowledged as a modern masterpiece. Brendan took his usual turn on "Stars and Sons" as well (another fantastic bass line, in case you hadn't noticed).

The last however many times I've seen Broken Social Scene, they've lingered past the usual curfew, and this show was no different, even if not quite to the lengths of the marathon at the Fillmore (or the Warfield, now that I think of it). Kevin polled us on which song we wanted to hear: the aforementioned "Lover's Spit" or "Cause = Time." As noted above, we got both, which isn't much of a surprise considering the band's more-is-more approach to performance.

For "Lover's Spit," Kevin came down from the stage and wandered into the crowd, even giving hugs to several fans, kind of like a Canadian version of Bono, minus the pomp (though he touched on political themes, as he reminded us that Canada continues to support the United States, especially in such trying times). I had voted for "Lover's Spit" because the song's majesty and drama always get me, but I admit the energy of "Cause = Time" seals up a show much better, and it lets us sing "fuck the cause" at the top of our lungs. Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Fox Theater staff, who helped Kevin over the barrier and back as if they'd been practicing it all tour. They were so smooth.

Speaking of Kevin, how underrated is he? We tend to think of Broken Social Scene as a collective, and if anyone gets individual attention, it's usually the female singers who pass through the group, but you have to give credit to the guy who is the glue of the band. Also, his voice is damn good. In fact, I almost never get FOMO, but the pangs hit me not long ago when he joined Zach Galifianakis for a handful of shows at Largo.

I'll end with perhaps the most Broken Social Scene -- er, scene I may have yet witnessed in the Bay Area. They started the show with Antibalas as the horn section, but the group had to rush off to its own show at the New Parish in Oakland after a couple of numbers. Somehow, they found another brass ensemble to help close out the show! I can't remember their name, but leave it to Broken Social Scene to up the ante. I can't wait to see how they top it next time they come back.

See also:
» the good times are killing me
» talking trash under your breath

Thursday, October 19, 2017

every word seemed to date her

Thus begins Hardly Strictly weekend in San Francisco, though I didn't make it to the festival at all. Fortunately, there was tons of music in the Bay, starting with Gillian Welch at her annual show at the Fillmore.

Gillian Welch, the Fillmore, October 6, 2017: I don't know how it happened, but it seemed like nobody got tickets to this show via the regular channels and ended up paying high prices on the secondary market. But thanks to a friend, I made it in at face value for a great start to the night.

Anyway, this show has been an annual tradition for a while, as either Gillian Welch or Dave Rawlings grace the Fillmore with a gig around the time of Hardly Strictly. They don't even need new material because the audience is so dedicated around here, but this date was dedicated to promoting the vinyl release of The Harrow & The Harvest -- which was released six years ago?! Where has the time gone?! Of course we'll take any excuse to see the duo.

I'm a hypocrite who's claimed I'm over musicians playing older albums in order, from track 1 all the way through, but this is now the second show I've seen of the variety. And you know what? I'd do it again if the right bands come through.

Truthfully, because I didn't have tickets in hand initially, I forgot who I was seeing that night -- Gill or Dave? But once the premise was established, I had no problem getting into the flow and appreciating the record (again). Time (The Revelator) is one of my all-time favorite records, and though the release dates don't match up, in my mind it's the companion piece to Wilco's Being There. The two records cemented my love of American folk music, and I haven't looked back. Perhaps because of my undying love for Gillian's earlier record, I can't say I enjoy The Harrow & The Harvest to the same extent, but it's hardly a slouch. The show was a welcome reminder of all the great tunes on the album and a kick in the pants to spin the songs more often.

As noted above, the duo ran down the song order exactly as tracked for the first half of the show, and as with the last time they toured the record, Gill reprised her dance for "Six White Horses." The one big difference I noticed between this performance and earlier shows: Gill was fairly talkative! For example, a fan in the crowd called out for "White Rabbit" during a quiet moment, to which Gill replied, "Would that I have wrote it," and offered us a "double suicide" song instead ("The Way It Will Be," I think). She also explained the genesis of her rhythm work in the song, as well as the rigorous process by which they chose the piece of plywood for her dancing and included an anecdote of her friend calling the routine "Girls Gone Wild in the 1800s."

After a brief intermission, Gill and Dave went into old favorites, including my beloved "Revelator," as well as "Everything Is Free" and the obligatory San Francisco track "Wayside (Back in Time)." They honored Tom Petty with "Elvis Presley Blues" and cited their first time opening for Johnny Cash as the inspiration for "Dry Town." Speaking of Johnny, they went with "Jackson" in the encore. Though I can't point to a specific recording or example, I feel like they've been changing up their treatment of this song over the years. I remember a more traditional take on the song before, whereas now it's more a speedier rave-up, which I love all the same.

They rounded out the set with "I'll Fly Away," which is one of the few religious songs I enjoy singing, and their classic "Go to Sleep Little Baby," accompanied by Willie Watson, which marked the first time I've seen two men on the song, as opposed to the more typical predominantly female renditions I've seen. The tune didn't suffer in the least.

One more note on the show: We sang "Happy Birthday" to Gillian, as we've often done. I love being able to lend our voices to her celebration every year.

See also:
» when we came here today
» that's the way the cornbread crumbles