Monday, February 21, 2005

lonely, i guess that's where i'm from

I was from Canada. I think I was 14 or 15 when that song was played on the radio. I was already firmly established as a rabid Anglophile, yet that tune managed to percolate through my consciousness at a time when I swore left and right that American music sucked and my friends looked down on anything that wasn't from the United Kingdom. That line, in particular, has always stayed with me. And now, all these years later, I finally saw Paul Westerberg onstage.

Well, back up a little--I managed to wander into Virgin after his notorious in-store a few years ago, when he left the stage to put some heckling "fan" (?) in a headlock. He wasn't playing, just signing autographs. Since then, my appreciation of his work with the Replacements and as a solo artist has grown, though I'll never reach the level of his most rabid fans.

Paul Westerberg, Great American Music Hall, February 21, 2005: Even when this show was announced, I told myself to buy a ticket, but I wasn't emotionally engaged. Man, was I wrong. I could never feel the same level of excitement as his most fervent supporters, but he put on a show that managed to surprise and thrill me at many points. I have no idea exactly which songs he played, but I recognized a bunch of Replacements tunes, a few from Stereo/Mono, and a handful of covers. It's should be no surprise that the old songs got the biggest reactions, but Paul looked comfortable enough playing them. He and his band were endearingly shambolic. They veered toward chaos a few times, but they managed to hold it together overall.

Paul Westerberg and His Only FriendsFrom all accounts, Paul was relatively well behaved compared to past shows. But unlike Cat Power, that didn't mean he had been neutered in any way. He came onstage looking overdressed in tuxedo pants, shiny wingtips, a green peacoat, a striped shirt, a striped scarf, a tie, and a hat. He finally lost the coat about five songs in, and you could see by then that his shirt was unbuttoned. He played like that for a few songs before straightening up while his band played stripper-worthy accompaniment.

Some highlights:

  • At the beginning, Paul said that he saw Tommy two weeks earlier but didn't recognize him.
  • Paul repeatedly picked on his guitarist. It sounded like it was a regular thing between them, though his jibes reminded me that his backup band is called His Only Friends. For "Skyway," Paul accompanied himself on acoustic guitar, but his guitarist decided that the song needed maracas. As the guitarist and the drummer quietly started in, Paul stopped the song and asked if Harry Belafonte was in the house. He also remarked that he could tell a white man was playing them. The maracas became a running joke through the rest of the evening.
  • During (I think) "Alex Chilton," Paul's guitar didn't work, and his poor tour manager/tech guy brought him two different *ahem* replacements, neither of which worked either. The first one, Paul literally threw back at him. The second one, he smashed on the amp.
  • By the end of the main set, he was bleeding from a cut somewhere around the ear. They managed to clean him up during the short break.
  • During the encore, he asked his bassist to try to kick in his guitar, but fortunately, the wood held.
  • There was a thankfully abbreviated attempt at "Stairway to Heaven."
  • After one ragged song, Paul commented that they sounded like a "drunken Holiday Inn band."

And of course, scattered throughout the evening, there was tons of profanity, forgotten words, and a touch of violence--good times all around!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

there's a dream that i see

One of these days, I'll call it quits and decide that I can't see any more Cat Power shows. Cat Power, a.k.a. Chan Marshall, is, of course, notorious for her onstage meltdowns and erratic performances. As someone who loves her voice and her songs, I often find myself defending her and claiming that she doesn't deserve that reputation. In fact, of the six shows I've seen, half of them have been just fine and even rapturous. OK, that might not be the best track record, but the good shows have been so amazing that they cancel out the bad. The show tonight was definitely one of her more professional appearances, but I'm not sure that made it a good one.

Cat Power, Swedish American Hall, Feb. 19. 2005: Chan played all by herself this time. She came onstage with a guitar, and a baby grand piano was set to the side. Her first song was on guitar, but she immediately switched to the piano for a long medley. This would turn out to be her modus operandi for the rest of the night: playing numerous songs in a row, switching instruments, then switching back. I could identify only 6 or 7 songs, and I couldn't tell if the others were covers or new songs. Throughout the evening, she also played long instrumental passages, presumably looking for a chord progression or melody that she wanted to sing to. As always, her voice was beautiful and smoky, and the crowd was worshipful, if also a bit confused as to when they could clap or cheer. The songs I recall were: Moonshiner, I Don't Blame You, Maybe Not, He War, Satisfaction. Someone requested Nude as the News, and she started it on guitar but didn't sing it. Someone else shouted out for I Found a Reason, but she claimed to not know how to play it.

Chan's detractors often make fun of her "schtick," and fans such as myself are quick to defend her and her talents. Though I've seen her put on really bad shows, I've also seen her hold the audience's attention and leave them wanting much, much more. Tonight, I'm sad to say, was merely solid. Maybe it had something to do with my crappy seat on the side, but I found myself wanting to check the time frequently throughout her performance. I don't think anyone expects a Cat Power show to be a scripted, by-the-book gig, but even I grew tired of her dawdling.

Right now, if given the chance, I'd probably go see another Cat Power show. But it would be with some reluctance, and I definitely wouldn't recommend the experience to friends unless they were really curious. :(

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

news travels fast

I'm gonna do this, dammit. I'm gonna stay up-to-date with my posts, even if no one's reading.

Finn Brothers, Palace of Fine Arts, February 14, 2005: Tonight was the Finn Brothers show at the Palace of Fine Arts. I'm gonna skip the ordeal I went through to get there. For almost anyone else, I might have just gone home. Then again, for almost anyone else, I wouldn't have bothered picking up tix in the first place. But it was Neil Finn, one of the few childhood idols I still care for and who has never disappointed me. There was no debate on this one.

The show itself sold out in an amazingly short time, especially considering that they couldn't sell out the Warfield last time they were in town, last July. Then again, that was either before or just as the album saw its official release--the wheels had not been greased just yet. Maybe it was all those nostalgic couples who've reserved a special place in their memories for "Don't Dream It's Over" and wanted to cement the reputation of that song with a Valentine's Day show. Regardless, the tix were hot properties on craigslist, and I was glad to see the brothers getting some recognition.

I got in just as they were in the middle of the first song, "Weather with You," and found my seat. The Palace of Fine Arts is fairly intimate, so my place in Row K wasn't bad at all. As promised, this was a more stripped-down tour. Neil and Tim had only Tim Smith in their backup band (the brothers from the last round were gone), and Tim had his percussive setup of a couple of drums right in front of him. The brothers seemed to have only a couple of guitars each, but a baby grand piano sat to the side of their space. The three of them took up maybe one-third of the stage.

Apparently, Neil was quite sick and nursed all sorts of homeopathic elixirs. A couple of times, he left the stage completely. He sounded great, but his energy could've been a little higher. Perhaps the oddest thing occurred during a lovely version of "Throw Your Arms Around Me," when the PA went out. The performers couldn't tell, as they were getting all their sound from the monitors, but a few of us giggled bemusedly. At the end of the song, they were informed of the problem and took to their feet, with Neil trying to get us to sing, while Tim broke out in a small Shakespearean soliloquy. Somewhere in there is a lesson on how they differ from each other.

I'm hopelessly biased, and I did enjoy the show, though it was a different vibe from all the other shows I've seen, where I'm on my feet and cheering at the front. But they have a good rapport. In the past, I've definitely seen shows where it seems like they can't find a common conversation to save their lives, but the jibes and the compliments went both ways. Tim Smith was really cool, and he's obviously found a niche as part of the team. I hate to say this, but "Don't Dream It's Over" was, for lack of a better word, dreamy, with a slightly new arrangement. Over the years, Neil has stripped down the song more and more, and he usually gives it the solo guitar treatment, though he introduced some keyboards on the last tour. Tonight, he built it up a little more. I just think it still sounds so beautiful, and if it guarantees that Neil will always enjoy some royalties for the rest of his life, the more power to him. They didn't do a lot of songs from the new album, but once again, "Edible Flowers" turned out to be one of my favorite tracks. Perhaps that's not so surprising, however, given my penchant for those soaring Neil bridges.

One small confession: Throughout most of the night, I kept thinking back to just a few weeks ago, when we were singing "I Got You" and "Six Months in a Leaky Boat" to Jeff Tweedy's guitar accompaniment. ;) I wanted so badly to tell Neil about it, but given his health, I didn't want to make undue demands of him.

I didn't bring a camera tonight, and it's probably for the better, as I was too far to get a decent shot. I hope the people in the front managed some pics, though, because the lighting was beautiful. And I can't even remember how many times I've seen Neil Finn, in all his incarnations, at this point, but I don't expect this habit to die anytime soon.

Friday, February 11, 2005

it's been a while

Holy crap--so much for the idea that this would make it easier for me to remember shows and stuff. Ha! Maybe I was better off writing things in my little notebook. Well, one of these days, I'll catch up with the tons of shows I attended between September 2004 and January 2005, but here are summaries of at least a couple of them I saw in January.

Arcade Fire
Jan. 13 and 14, 2005
Great American Music Hall
San Francisco

Arcade Fire 1I can't think of another time when a new band on an indie label managed to sell out three nights at the Great American Music Hall in no time flat. The ticket saga on craigslist was a soap opera in itself. That hype, combined with my friend's warning that Win's voice was really awful at their show here in December, made me a little wary, but I knew it was something I had to see for myself. I couldn't justify seeing all three shows, but maybe that was right decision, as Win was reportedly strying to shake off a bug on that first night. However, I did miss Will ramming the wall and taking out a nice chunk of the plaster with him. His scuff marks were all over the wall as well--alongside the big cut-outs of the Victorian ladies and other artwork.

There weren't many changes to the setlist, but what was merely intense on Thursday went apeshit on Friday, including Richard and Will's tussle on "Laika" (after they had borrowed another helmet to replace the one that was stolen/lost after the first night) and a version of "Crown of Love" that could not be more moving. The second night, "Tunnels" was also mindblowing. Their epic sound filled the Great American beautifully, and I could see people standing up in their seats, all the way in the back balcony. They managed to hurt themselves both nights; Will and Win were bleeding from, respectively, a percussion-related injury and running into the mic stand. The second night, Richard split his pants when he tripped over Will's collapsed form. (I'm not sure how Richard did this, as he has the patented Indie Ass--that is, none at all.) His attempts at surreptitiously pinning the seat of his trousers back together were comedically useless, but he was eventually outed by Win. And the handful of shared Win-Regine vocals were wonderful to hear, especially on "My Heart Is an Apple." They did one new song each night, the second of which seemed to have a jauntier, poppier air. The second night, they seemed to go all out, buying a truckload of flashlights for the audience to wave around when the lights when down for the encore of "Un Annee Sans Lumiere" and "Power Out."

Arcade Fire 1If there's anything I'll take away from this show, it's the way the band seems to enjoy every moment. I love that they all sing along to the songs, adding to the choir effect when needed but belting it out even if there's no microphone near them. Right now, I can't stop thinking of the little details that jumped out at me that weren't so obvious from listening to the record, such as that wonderful guitar lick from "Une Annee" and the overall percussive domination to their sound.

And for the starspotters out there, the indie rockers were in full force, as John Vanderslice as well as various members of Beulah and Sleater-Kinney were taking in the tunes on Thursday.

After the show, the band was just kinda hanging out around the floor and fielding questions, conversations, requests with everyone who asked. Hype or no, they couldn't have been more down to earth and unaffected. Regine even told us the tragic story about how they forgot her beloved boots in the taxi that day. I've decided that the next time they come to town, I'm going to every single show, even if it kills me. Yes, they're that good and that fun to watch.
Nels Cline Singers
San Francisco

Nels fiddling with stuffWhat a difference three months makes. This Nels Cline Singers appearance saw a bigger, livelier crowd, but everyone listened raptly to the actual performance. The group itself concentrated on songs from The Giant Pin but threw in a few older and newer tracks as well. I think it was during "Fly Fly" that Devin Hoff turned in an intense bass solo, only to be answered by Nels's equally emphatic guitar-and-whisk work. One very cool and very artful new song, "Mr. Real," was dedicated to a 71-year-old jazz guitarist living in Florida whose name escapes me, but the tune is not to be missed (whenever it's properly recorded, anyway).

We said hi to Nels after the show, and he seemed surprised to see us there. I guess that after seeing us all over the country at Wilco shows, he had no idea where we were from. He gave us a couple of posters and we left for home before we fell asleep on our feet.

Colin Meloy
Cafe du Nord
San Francisco

I'm still not a huge Decemberists fan the way that a lot of people are, but I recognize their charms, and deciding to see this show was a no-brainer. I kinda have that rule about seeing the main singer/songwriter from bands I dig doing the solo thing, w/o the others. Sometimes, you get blown away by the power of the stripped-down tunes. Other times, you end up wishing the whole band was present.

Colin Meloy kneelingColin came out all by himself, except for a couple of guitars. I can't tell you the set list, but he did a numbers of tunes from the new album, all the while goodnaturedly cursing those of us who've downloaded the album as pirates. I find this incredibly ironic, considering half of the band's songs are about pirates. Go figure. Of course, he did a bunch of songs from the catalog, including the divine "Grace Cathedral Hill," perhaps my fave of their songs--the San Francisco angle doesn't hurt, either. He also did a song that didn't make it to the new album, and I think they chose wisely, as it was the narrative of the nine-fingered bandit queen. I dig their narratives, but that's a bit precious for me.

I ended up picking up four copies of the EP they were selling at the show, of Colin doing Morrissey covers. I find this so delightful for a number of reasons. First of all, the Decemberists seem to be one of the few bands who have any right to cover Smiths and/or Morrissey songs, now that the original band seems to be such a staple. I'm not really sure why I think that, but maybe Colin's lyrics at least have the same spark of creativity and uniqueness that Morrissey's did way back when. Also, I love that Colin did Morrissey covers, and not Smiths tunes. It's just so easy to proclaim the Smiths as gods these days; I love that Colin chose fairly obscure tunes from the Moz catalog instead. I had Colin sign them for the various peeps, and he couldn't have been more gracious.

Jeff Tweedy
Sooz's basement

...and then the day arrived. I got into Chicago on Friday evening, where Sooz and the gang picked me up from the El stop. Obviously, I had been looking forward to this day for a number of weeks at that point, but I guess the full import hadn't hit me. I knew I was gonna see a show and that I was gonna hang out with my buddies. Otherwise, it didn't feel that weird. And overall, it never felt weird over the whole weekend, except for maybe at the very moment Mark announced that the Tweedys were trying to find a parking space in front of Sooz's house. I made sure Heidi didn't slink away and instead stood her ground in the kitchen.

Jeff Tweedy and Arn AndersonIt took a little while to load in and set up Jeff's gear. He may have done a soundcheck too, but I was upstairs, gorging on the yummy stuff that everyone had brought. I can't remember the exact time the show started, but it was definitely an auspicious beginning with intros and intros for the intros. Thax Douglas and Tim Tutten were present, so we had the full Chi-Town rock treatment. Finally, Jeff took the "stage" and kicked off with "Laminated Cat."

I could go on for a very long time about how wonderful that night was, but I don't think I'd do it justice. The music was a delight, even when we marred the otherwise lovely tunes. The Tweedys were as sweet as can be, and the friends--they weren't just the icing on the cake, they infused every morsel of joy that evening. I try to explain it all the time, but it's impossible these days. It's like everyone who tries to differentiate between the heart and the head and realizes how futile it is. It's not just the music anymore, it's the friends as well, and neither would be as strong w/o the other. When I think back on it years from now, perhaps I will remember finally hearing "Lost Love" (my unsubtle hint in the voting obviously worked) or, more likely, I will think of me and Heidi squealing for the Split Enz songs. Regardless, it was one of the greatest nights in my life, and the following week of "real life" was the biggest drag ever. But now that I've had some distance from it, I'm appreciating it more for the awesome experience it was. You know what they say about it's better to have loved and lost? Well, maybe this isn't completely analogous, but I try to tell myself that just the experience is enough.

The full history
» i wish that i knew what I know now
» people say i'm crazy doing what i'm doing
» the message
» all the ladies and gentlemen
» that year
» springtime comes
» turn our prayers to outrageous dares
» every day is dreamlike