Friday, May 06, 2005

from the books you don't read anyway

Today is a sad, sad day for me, as my iPod decided to go crazy. Despite my every attempt, it refuses to resuscitate, so I'll try a couple of measures tomorrow, then it'll be off to the *gasp* repair shop. I'll probably just cry on my auntie's shoulder and whine to her until she takes the thing back to her client/Apple guy. Boo hoo. Fortunately, I've come off a simultaneously exhilirating and exhausting week of cool shows, and I will gladly reveal the details below.

Jeff Tweedy and Nels ClineWilco, Price Center Ballroom, April 29, 2005: Though San Diego is the second-biggest city in California and 200 miles away from the heart of Los Angeles, it seems to enjoy an entirely different lifestyle from its much gaudier northern neighbor. So when Wilco announced a show at (basically) a conference room on the UCSD campus, I couldn't resist, especially as it also meant sharing a couple of days with some of my favorite rock tourists. We got in Thursday and enjoyed a wonderful meal at Jake's by the Sea in Del Mar (on my cousin Khang's suggestion), followed by a nightcap at the historic Hotel del Coronado. I was loving every second of Heidi's reports of the recent Jon Brion whirlwind in New York, and it just made me more excited that I have a reservation to his show on Friday the 13th (cue Psycho theme). And Paul, well, when aren't I glad to see him? Of course, the last time we were hanging out, it was back on the Continent, halfway around the world, but variety is the spice of life. Heh heh.

The UCSD campus is gorgeous and a great place to spend the day. Yes, San Diego indeed has beautiful weather: warmer than my corner of the world but nowhere as oppressive as Los Angeles. We soaked in the sun and the breeze and the eucalyptus scent in the air. Sigh. One of the student organizations was setting up a luau for the evening, something called the Ring of Fire. As the day progressed, we noticed that the ring was a misnomer--it turned out to be more of a copper bowl of fire, though I don't think it mattered to the participants. We were kinda sad to miss the interactive drum circle, but we had other obligations.

grinning at a certain little girlThe Price Center is quite small. We estimated perhaps 1,000 capacity. However, it's as flat as a pancake, and the stage was quite low, so I felt bad for anyone shorter than 5'5" and farther than five rows back. Of course, this was not our problem. The openers, Polar Goldie Cats, were totally fun and, unsurprisingly, had a feline theme going on. I recognized their bass guitarist as Bob Bruno, former tech to Jon Brion. That explained why I haven't seen him at Largo lately!

The single highlight of Wilco's set was probably "Bob Dylan's Beard," on which Nels used a new guitar. It was quite small, especially on his lanky frame, and shaped almost like a harp. Regardless, he sounded great, and Jeff teased him about his new toy. I'm always excited to hear "Misunderstood," and I think we were pretty convincing on "Political Science," but I really, really dig "Something in the Air." I think it has to do with the way all three singers belt out the vocals and how good it feels to sing right along with them. It's such a simple song, too, but I clearly recall feeling soooooo good when they played that song.

After the show, we got a chance to say hi, and I noticed Rick Moody hanging out with the band, though I didn't get to talk to him. Demonology is a great book, if you haven't read it. And even better, it's a short story collection, so you don't have to slog through too many chapters to get to the pay-off (though the last story involves a patented Rick Moody recurring theme). After that, it was off with my cousin to Roberto's for the promised carne asada fries. Meanwhile, back at the hotel, Brianne had brought the vaunted crancheddar, and we had been snacking on Heidi's Dancing Deer flavors. That's living, folks. ;) To top it all off, we spent the wee hours of the morning celebrating Trish's birthday. The McCormicks are such awesome people; I love counting them as my friends, neighbors, and fellow music nerds.

Yan, from British Sea PowerBritish Sea Power, the Independent, April 30, 2005: For a self-proclaimed music nerd, I have a weird history with rock festivals in the United States. I've been to a few of them (the original Gathering of the Tribes, the precursor to Lollapalooza; All Tomorrow's Parties; WOMAD), but I've completely skipped all the big ones over the years, the ones that will inevitably show up in history books down the line. I still haven't gone to Coachella, though it's in my own state, partly because all of the bands I really want to see tend to stop in San Francisco either before or after the big show. This was again the case, and British Sea Power was the first of the Coachella-related bands on my gig list.

I seriously love this band. My fate was sealed at that first show I saw, when I didn't know a whole lot about them except that they were British and playing Bottom of the Hill. But when I noticed the taxidermy onstage and saw the guitarist (who I didn't know was a member of the band at the time) positioning fresh foliage on the amps, I was definitely intrigued. When they hit the boards in cricket uniforms and looking like British schoolboys from the early 1900s, I was ready to paste their photos to the inside of my locker. And when they went nuts during the show, turning cartwheels, giving each other piggyback rides, and so on--well, I wanted to change my last name to Sea Power at that point. It also didn't hurt that their songs paid powerful homage to the '80s bands I loved, with a huge debt to Echo and the Bunnymen.

Hamilton, from British Sea PowerI like the new album, "Open Season," even if it doesn't have the same punk energy as the first album. To my ears, the guitars sound so cool on this one--fluid yet cutting and just so damn melodic. Tom hears notes of Kitchens of Distinction in the album, and though I can't fully agree with him, I can see where he's coming from. But it would take a much worse record to deter me from catching them in concert again.

Before BSP took the stage, we first saw sets by Kelly Stoltz and the Heavenly States, both local bands. I've seen Kelly before, though in his Echo and the Bunnymen-aping incarnation with Spiral Stairs. He did a great short set, and I decided I need to buy his CDs soon. San Francisco has too many "states" bands, and I couldn't remember if I had seen the Heavenly variety. They weren't my thing--a little emo in parts, a little Green Day in others--but they had great energy.

On to the headliners: I noticed what looked like a wooden pheasant on the side of the stage before the show, but it never made its way front and center. However, the foliage was present, and we could smell the pine scent emanating from the freshly shorn branches. The stage was set.

The show was a good mix of the early punkier material and the new, mellower songs. They did my two favorite songs from the new one, "North Hanging Rock" and "Larsen B" (about an ice shelf!), as well as the earlier hits. They managed to play it pretty straight for most of the show until the very last medley, a monster of a performance. Yan had been wearing a red scarf tied around his knee, but he removed it early in the show. Meanwhile, Hamilton kept his on. I'm not sure if technical problems were involved, but Noble, the guitarist, put away his guitar and at first crowdsurfed. When he returned to the stage, he picked up Yan's discarded scarf and proceeded to blindfold Yan. He did the same to all the other band members except the drummer. For himself, he tied the arms of his jacket around his eyes. It was a glorious mess by the end.

I find that we're ridiculously lucky to have hosted this little UK band three times already. I've always urged people to take advantage of these circumstances while they can, and BSP has once again proved to me that I can't possibly miss them when they come to town.

Gang of Four, the Fillmore, May 3, 2005: I've seen more reunion shows than I thought I'd ever bother with, but sometimes, you can't say no. I own one album (yes, on vinyl) from Gang of Four, but in light of the recent rash of imitator bands, I welcomed the chance to see them for myself.

I can't comment that much on the music, as I'm not that familiar with their work, other than the hits, but no, they didn't play "I Love a Man in a Uniform," though it had apparently turned up the first night. Still, they played with tons of energy, and we had a great time playing "what band ripped off this song" game. The first track was clearly cribbed by Bloc Party, and one other song was half of the Franz Ferdinand album. We were curious to see the tech setting up and miking a microwave before the band took the stage; it later turned out to be a percussive element, and a very convincing one at that. Tom said you could tell which songs were from the horrible second album, and as he mentioned that, I realized it wasn't my imagination that some of the songs sounded alarmingly arena rock, far from the art punk that I associate with the band. But perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the evening was watching how many people were seriously into the music and who were so moved by the show. I'm an unapologetic fangirl, so it's nice to see that same enthusiasm (I hope other people see it as enthusiasm) shared by others. This time, I was happy to stand at the side.

Coldplay, the Fillmore, May 4, 2005: I don't want to sound apologetic about my fondness for Coldplay. I like them. I don't love them, but I think they're far from the scourge of the current music scene. Granted, I don't own the second album, but then again, they don't need me to buy another copy. Of course I wanted to get tix to the Fillmore show when they first went on sale, and though I was denied, I still wanted to go to this truly intimate show, especially since I have no plans to see them when they come back to play the arenas and amphitheaters. Fortunately, I got in, thanks to leaving work early, waiting about 3 hours in the drizzle, and being #25 for 33 available tickets. Yippee!

There was no opening act, and the Fillmore stage looked strangely sparse. We were right at the front barrier, in front of Johnny. I love hearing his guitar, so I was glad we got that spot. Chris's piano was right in the middle, and it had been personalized with Make Trade Fair symbols. Also at the front and center was a Tesla coil, which Chris used for only one song before the tech stole it away (we speculated that maybe the band had visited the Exploratorium). I couldn't see Will at all, as the drum kit was completely obscured by the piano, and on the other side, Guy worked the bass and a console of some sort.

Coldplay took the stage at 9 p.m. and played for about 90 minutes. I think there were about six or seven new songs, with a fair sprinkling of the older material. I loved their attempt at "Don't Panic," still my favorite of their songs and the one that kicked it all off for me, even if they couldn't remember how it went. I'm not besotted with Chris Martin, but I found it impossible to take my eyes off of him. He seems so damn sincere and passionate that it's hard for me to not think (hope?) he must be an OK guy. Regardless, he has an incredible amount of energy (at one point, he jumped over the piano), and though Coldplay is so huge these days, he didn't seem that different from the other times I've seen the band, when they weren't yet selling millions of records. They still look very boyish, and no one pulled any messiah moves *cough*bono*cough*, and there was no grandstanding either. What can I say? I love that humble shit.

I happened to have read the New York Times review of Coachella, which noted that Coldplay's new songs aren't as straightforward as their earlier tunes. Based on what I heard Wednesday night, I'd have to agree. The new single ("Speed of Sound," I think) is easily the most accessible of the new songs we heard, and old tunes such as "The Scientist," "Clocks," and (of course) "Yellow" elicited the biggest responses of the night. I also recall many reviews that mentioned a certain swagger in the second album. I'm not sure I agree with that, but I can say that reviewers probably won't say the same thing about the new album. At the least, the crowd gave the band their full attention on the unfamiliar songs. For one tune, the guys convened as if gathered around a campfire, with Johnny on slide guitar, Chris on acoustic, Will on piano, and Guy on harmonica for a little, understated song. There were also a couple of patent ballads, featuring Chris on piano.

On a couple of non-music notes, I gotta say that the San Francisco glitterati were out in force that night. I noticed that they cordoned off a much larger part of the balcony than usual, to accomodate the overflow, I assume. Before the show, we saw Robin Williams wandering around, and after the show, Steve Young walked right past us. And on a much cooler note, the lighting was beautiful! If we had been allowed to take photos, I would've shot about three rolls because the angles and shadows were so beautiful.

I'm really glad I got to see this show, as it may be the last time I ever see Coldplay in concert. Then again, I thought that the last time as well. Hahahahaha. I'll always have a soft spot for this band.

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