Wednesday, June 22, 2005

turn to crystal form

I had originally planned to bundle this with the latest Jon Brion review, but once I realized that baby was going to be a rambling monster, I cut myself off as best as I could. Thus, all two of my usual readers might make it all the way through.

Spoon, The Fillmore, June 19 and 20, 2005: I love Gimme Fiction almost as much as Girls Can Tell and many times more than Kill the Moonlight. It's right up there with Doves' Some Cities as my favorite releases so far this year. I've been accused of being fickle, but I don't think I am. I'm rather faithful to my faves, as long as they keep touring at a level where I can see them in a decent-size venue. By all indications, Spoon is steamrolling past that point, but thankfully, the Fillmore has the cache to get bands to stay for multinight stands. And there was no question I was going to both nights.

Jim Eno and Britt Daniel, or Angular RockWe were on the floor the first night, and the band did a good, tight set, as always. In addition to the expected emphasis on the current album, they pulled "I Could See the Dude" and "Utilitarian" out of the repertoire. They still use one of the sparest setups I've seen for a band that's becoming so popular, but they have a new keyboardist/guitarist who seems to be fitting in pretty well. Otherwise, it was the usual crew of Britt, Jim, and Josh. Though this was the first night of the stand, it was the second show added, so I'm guessing that the less prepared fans came out for this one. We heard a lot of "I love you Britt" and "Britt, you're hot" exultations, and there was some pushing around us, though nothing like the last time we saw the band. Also, there was a photographer running around the stage, taking pictures of the show. I wondered if she was Autumn DeWilde, who recently directed their video for "I Turn My Camera On," but I won't know for a while, I suppose. Britt was definitely playing to the camera for quite a few songs, though he didn't seem to meander much from his usual moves. I hope she got great shots and that we get to see them soon.

For the second night, we sat upstairs in the balcony, partly because my camera decided to crap out. Yes, I'm old, but I didn't want to deal with being on the floor again, though now I have second thoughts, as the crowd seemed better behaved for the second show (but actually, the first show that went on sale). This night was officially sold out, and from our spot up top, we could see what a capacity Fillmore crowd looks like. I was surprised to see so many guys at the show, as it seems that all I ever hear at Spoon shows these days is the squeal of young girls. Enough cattiness, though: if nothing else, the Fillmore sounds incredible when you're not in the front. No wonder bands love the room so much!

Other highlights of the show were "The Delicate Place." I love Jim's restraint on that song. He doesn't play at the beginning or the end of the song, but his rolling, subtle rhythm in the middle is so well done, and it's so great to see/hear someone who realizes that you don't need to fill every moment of every song. (Yes, I realize how ironic that sounds, given my Jon Brion obsession.) To my delight, they did "Vittorio E" the first night, a song that I feel gets overlooked often in favor of the short, snappy Kill the Moonlight tunes. Oh, though the studio version of "My Mathematical Mind" hasn't really hit me, the version from night 2 seriously filled the room--bringing about the apocalypse, indeed. And yeah, that beat for "I Turn My Camera On" is beyond compelling.

Before the second show started, I told Paul I wanted to hear a Wire cover that night. From my lips to god's ears! The indisputable highlight of the shows was the encore of the second night, where the band pulled out "Metal Detektor," "Car Radio," and an intense, exorciating version of "Lowdown." I've heard that song on bootlegs before, and I dig it, but holy mary, mother of god, I wasn't prepared for the full sonic assault. They brought down the house, and I wanted to run home and put on Pink Flag immediately.

I want to see Spoon as many times as I still can, but when they're hitting people like that, I don't see how the masses will be able to resist.

See also:
» i'll be out on the town
» top 5 Largo memories

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

that was hazy cosmic jive

There's no way I can be brief. Get yourself a cool glass of something or other, 'cos this is gonna take a while.

Jon Brion, Largo, June 17, 2005: First off, the setlist:

*set 1*
long intro
I Wanna Roll with You (new song)
'Round Midnight (Thelonius Monk)
Maybe You're a Different Girl/Love Will Keep Us Together (Captain and Tennille)/Maybe You're a Different Girl (new song)
Trial and Error (new song)
Knock Yourself Out
Under My Thumb (Rolling Stones)/Jeepster (T. Rex)/Under My Thumb
Mr. Rogers theme
Starman (David Bowie)
Crimson & Clover (Tommy James & The Shondells)
I Believe She's Lying
God Only Knows (Beach Boys)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John)
I Was Happy with You (new song)
You Don't Know What Love Is (Chet Baker)
Ruin My Day

*set 2*
Over Our Heads
If I Only Had a Brain (Wizard of Oz)/Singing in the Rain (Gene Kelly)/If I Only Had a Brain/Moon River (Henry Mancini)/Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head/Eternal Sunshine music/Here We Go
Someone to Watch Over Me
Strings That Tie to You
I'm Further Along (new song)
Tusk-like song
I Want to Hold Your Hand (Beatles)/Just What I Needed (the Cars)/White Lines (Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five)
Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd)
You're the Love of My Life So Far (new song)
Baby Elephant Walk (Henry Mancini)
Lady Stardust (Bowie)
Oh You Pretty Things (Bowie)
Anarchy in the UK (Sex Pistols)
Waterloo Sunset (The Kinks)

If you're still reading, I'll linger over the finer details.

Frankly, I was a little worried at the beginning of Jon's set. Though he started with the chipper "I Wanna Roll With You" after a short bout of piano and synth noodling, he announced that the two songs to follow would constitute a "public soundcheck," then promptly dragged out "'Round Midnight." I love his meandering turns as much as anyone, but I didn't necessarily want him to start the night with them. But after he navigated that chestnut, he picked up with "soundcheck part 2," which turned out to be a song build of "Maybe You're a Different Girl," with what sounded like a very long piano and bass outro. Instead, it melded into a bombastic, bass-laden version of "Love Will Keep Us Together" before returning to "Maybe You're a Different Girl." This would turn out to be a theme of the night: the reprise.

Next was a straightforward and gorgeous "Trial and Error" on the piano, then an "ode to seeming randomness," the wonderful "Knock Yourself Out," in Dylan style with harmonica and acoustic guitar. Remaining on the acoustic, he went into a jaunty "Under My Thumb." I want to say it was almost a skiffle version, it was so upbeat. In the middle of the song, he inserted a couple of verses of "Jeepster" before coming back to "Under My Thumb." At some point during this whole passage, he thanked the crowd for joining him for his "first song" and acknowledged that it took a long time in coming. Also, he pretended to have a fight with his acoustic, admonishing it for forcing their embarrassing scene in public.

I believe that at somewhere in this progression, he had started asking for requests, which is somewhat unusual for his early set. The last few times I've seen him, that's more of a second-set protocol, but of course, the crowd was willing to join in. He did a few bars of the Mr. Rogers theme on the toy piano before embarking on "Starman" on the acoustic guitar. He took a moment or two to jog his memory of the lyrics, but it's another one of those songs that everyone just wants to get to the chorus, and in that respect, we chipped in. He did, like, a sentence of "Crimson and Clover," but instead focused his energy on a song build of "I Believe She's Lying." Again on the reprise theme, when we thought the song was over, he did what seemed almost like a reverse build, taking apart each layer and, as my friend David pointed out, elaborating on one of the song's main chord progressions (as if I know what that means).

Chugging along with requests and with the stout, Jon promised to be a "live karaoke machine--on Guinness" and played one of his favorites, "God Only Knows." I'm proud to say that the audience contributed tons of harmony. Next was "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," followed by his own "I Was Happy with You." A voice in the darkness requested "You Don't Know What Love Is." Jon responded with a laughing "ha" and played a gorgeous, smoky version of the song. Finally, he ended with the piano-and-harmonica version of "Ruin My Day."

For the second set, he again sat down at the piano and asked for requests, starting with "Over Our Heads." Then he did a long instrumental turn that concluded with "Here We Go." For "Someone to Watch Over Me," he let the twin pianos do the speaking. Two of his own songs followed, then he went back to the drums for what sounded like "Tusk." Annie, however, told me it wasn't the exact song, though I heard enough of a resemblance to jump to my own conclusions. Next came "Trouble" on the piano (I wanted to hear it so badly that night too). Back with the requests, Jon stayed on the piano for a charming, midpace pop jaunt. It took me about a minute before I realized he was rearranging "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as a lush middle-era Beatles number. That somehow led to the same treatment for "Just What I Needed," and with lots of manipulation and huge push on bass, it morphed into "White Lines." I'm not sure how it happened either, but it was fun to hear and watch.

Capital City Goofball
Once again, to the acoustic guitar, this time for "Comfortably Numb" and "You're the Love of My Life So Far." He returned to the piano for "Baby Elephant Walk," which he said always made him think of the Capital City Goofball (indeed, a classic Simpsons episode). From there, he hit a couple of Bowie tunes, then honored Sami's request for Tom Waits doing a song by "some old British band." No, it wasn't Radiohead. Instead, it was the Sex Pistols. At the very end of the show, among the many voices, a woman shouted out a request for "your favorite song." He left us with "Waterloo Sunset" and rode off into it himself. (OK, not really; he actually stood near the exit and greeted well wishers and fans. He even took a picture with Annie and Luong.)

See also:
» top 5 Largo memories
» get a load of the lengths I go to

Friday, June 17, 2005

penny rich & dollar dumb

Whoa, I have a lot of ground to cover this time. Another big update to follow.

Aqualung, Great American Music Hall, June 6, 2005: I asked Lila if she wanted to go this show, as I figured it was right up her alley in terms of wimpy British music, but she didn't come. Granted, she might have been a little tired from her four-month Glasgow adventure, but I didn't sell the band too hard. I still think she would've liked it, but maybe she'll realize it later.

The opener was a guy named Cary Brothers--well, him and another guy on guitar, but the guitarist stated early on that they were not brothers. He too understood how confusing his name could be and commented on that early in the set. He played very earnest folky stuff, and he sounded pretty good. He seemed an odd match with Aqualung, but the guys from Aqualung joined him for his last song, so there must've been some connection.

I've heard a few Aqualung songs on KEXP, and I liked them, though I haven't run out to buy the albums. They've come to San Francisco a number of times now, but I've always had other plans, so this was my first chance to check them out. Overall, the show was OK. The faster songs were pretty good, but the quieter songs were precipitously wimpy. The main guy, Matt Hales, talked a lot between songs, but he never raised his voice above a mellow whisper--not exactly filling the room and almost encouraging me to fall asleep on my feet. One woman yelled out a request for a song he had written about the Castro last time they were in town playing the Swedish American Hall. Instead, he asked what neighborhood we were in and responded with a song about the Tenderloin, rhyming "meat" and "meet" in the process.

I hate lazy music journalism and the need to lump bands in with one another, but even as I took in the show, I realized how easy it would be to group Aqualung in with the current batch of post-Coldplay bands getting much more attention they deserve--Keane being the most disturbing example. I'm old enough to remember, for example, the supposed post-Oasis flurry of UK guitar bands and how bad they were, not to mention their overwhelming commercial thud in the United States. I'm reluctant to join the knee-jerk reaction of filing them in the same category, but then again, I can hear the similarities too.

Wilco, Greek Theatre (Berkeley), June 11, 2005: It was as much a surprise to me as anyone that Wilco was coming back to California, much less the Bay Area, so soon and in so big a venue, but who am I to refuse when they're playing my former campus? It's yet another testament to my dementia that I willingly chose to see them in a amphitheater I have skipped many, many times in the last few years, even when bands I like have played there.

We had a good group of people at the show, including a visit from the Canadian branch of our sect, and I was so happy to see that we could welcome them to our fair city while the sun was shining and the birds were singing. It was a warm day by Bay Area standards, and I'm sure all of us got a nice glow from sitting out in the sun, waiting for the gates to open. I love Berkeley in the summertime, and we managed to squeeze in a trip to Caffe Intermezzo and the original Amoeba.

I was absolutely delighted to hear "Misunderstood" as the opener, just because I was back in my old neighborhood. Other highlights include "Sunken Treasure," which is the perfect song when you want those gorgeous, lonesome notes to hang in the lovely summer night air; and "Just a Kid," which was the first time I've heard a proper full-band version of the song. Jeff was in an incredibly goofy mood and started yakking from the get go, barely letting up through the course of the gig. Not surprisingly, he flubbed the lyrics to "Shot in the Arm," but in a completely unexpected move, he missed the first line from "Sunken Treasure," as well. Also, Nels was in a great mood, smiling and laughing quite a bit throughout the show. Because of the height of the stage, I could barely see Glenn or Mike. At the very end, after "Heavy Metal Drummer," Nels stood by, looking at Jeff and holding his guitar lead held out expectantly, ready to break into another song. Though we had 15 minutes left before curfew, they cut the gig short and left the stage. Ah well, I had a good time, and as a bonus, I got to show off my old campus.

obligatory Nels Cline shotWilco, Greek Theater (Los Angeles), June 14, 2005: In recent years, I've been surprised at how much I really dig Los Angeles. As a Northern Californian, you're practically required to hate LA, but I've seen a lot of good shows there not spoiled by the supposedly jaded and self-serving crowd. Sometimes, it makes me think that our NoCal reserve is an embarrassment. I was hoping that by the end of this trip, Maudie and Paul would feel the same.

We got to the Greek Theater at a ridiculous time and, with nothing else to do, sunned and took in the gorgeous surroundings. Griffith Park is a huge, woodsy area slightly up the hill. I believe you can hike up to the Hollywood sign via one of the paths; however, according to the posted warning signs, you need to be careful of mountain lions and rattlesnakes. Eeek! I couldn't get over how gorgeous the weather has been lately. The Bay Area was warmer than I expected, and LA was cooler--both hitting the perfect equilibrium. I have no complaints on either end.

I had told my pals that, according to some old videos I've seen, the pit area is very, very close to the stage, and we would have a great vantage point. When they finally let us in, my prediction turned out to be exactly right. The pit was tiny, you needed to have your ticket stub and a staff-issued wristband to get in, there was no barrier at the front, and the stage was only waist high. We soon realized that despite the size of the venue, this was the most intimate GA gig we had seen in a long time. Yeehaw!

?uestlove, the guy on the leftThe Roots came on first, around 7:30. They were ostensibly the main reason I had chosen to hit this gig. I really wanted to check them out, and a double bill seemed like the perfect solution. They put on a great, energetic show, but the Greek was, at most, 1/3 full. We appreciated their set, but I can't say the same about many of our neighbors. I'd really like to see them with a crowd of their fans, someday. We had a great view of ?estlove, who called out musical cues to the rest of the band. The MC called him the "maestro," and there was no arguing with that. Also, Vernon Reid, formerly of Living Colour, joined them on guitar, and he was every bit as smoking as I remembered. It was a pleasure and a privilege to check them out.

I don't go into shows with expectations about what I want to hear and what the band is required to play. There are some songs I don't like, there are many songs I've heard countless times, and there are sometimes those transcendent experiences. But regardless, I try to take home a memory or two that is unique to that one show, whether it's an ad-lib, a different course of guitar noodling, or crowd interaction, and I believe that Wilco is still capable of that, regardless of the number of times I've seen them live. For this show, it had to do with the undeniably family-friendly atmosphere. Jeff dedicated "Remember the Mountain Bed" to Nels's mom because [paraphrased] she's his hero and to Nels, because he's the band's hero. Nels, ever so elegant, acknowledged the applause and did his usual amazing work on the steel pedal. Later in the show, you could see Jeff staring out into a specific point in the audience. He told the crowd that he could see that his five-year-old was asleep and apologized for what he had to do next, which went against all his instincts as a parent. With that, he launched into the scorching intro to "I'm the Man Who Loves You."

Jeff and Sam TweedyFor the "second" encore, during "Hummingbird," Jeff jumped off the stage and into the pit, where his family had been watching the show. He took Sam from Susan's arms and danced around with him, kissing his forehead, and holding him gently. The whole family, along with their friends and extended family, danced as well. With some effort, Jeff came back onstage at the end of the song, but by then, Susan, the boys, and their crew had made their way to the front of the stage. Susan let Sam sit on the edge of the stage, and he looked very much like he had just been awoken from a sound sleep. Jeff commented that Family Services would be along soon, and those of us up front can verify that it was incredibly loud at the edge. Jeff pretty much played to them for the rest of the show, and at the end, he scooped Sam up in his arms and took him backstage, with Spencer trotting after them.

And once again, I stand by my conviction that LA can be a great place to catch a show.

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, the Fillmore, June 15, 2005: I was back on the first flight out of LA, spent about 10 hours in the office, managed to squeeze in a 30-minute power nap at home, then off to the Fillmore to catch Steve Malkmus and the Jicks. Cuong decided to join me tonight--totally weird but always welcome. Can you believe it was his first time at the Fillmore ever? Who are these people, and how are they related to me???

first bad shot of Steve MalkmusMartha Wainwright opened, this time with a full band. She seemed slightly out of it, but I quite like her, though I have yet to buy any of her music. It's funny how "Bloodymotherfuckingasshole" sneaks up on you. You think you're listening to some soothing folksy ballad, then you realize she's cursing up a storm. I wish her the best of luck. It's probably not easy trying to get a piece of the spotlight when you're in such illustrious family company.

I was so happy to see that the Jicks are intact. I thought that maybe they had lost John Moen for good after he signed up with the Decemberists, but it turns out that he was on the hook for only a temp assignment. They opened with "Jenny and the Ess-Dog," everyone's favorite. Obviously, there was a huge emphasis on the new album tracks, and the record has grown on me over the last few weeks, due in no small part to Cuong's appreciation of it. Even the Pig Lib songs sounded good. Steve started out sounding like his usual laconic self, but by the end of the show, I couldn't decide if he was stoned or drunk. I was delighted to see John take the mike and the guitar (while Steve played drums) for one of his own songs, though I think he admonished someone for being asleep during his turn at the front. He's a good foil for Steve, though there's no denying who runs the show. I came away thinking that Steve is a really cool guitar player, and his vocals have improved drastically over the years. Perhaps the tension that helped make Pavement so great to see isn't there anymore, but that's not a fair comparison, is it?

second bad shot of Steve MalkmusWhenever I see the Jicks or PSOI, I always wonder if this is how the old Uncle Tupelo fans feel about the split, that no matter how either player continues to evolve, it won't ever be the same as the original. I'll buy Malkmus and Kannberg CDs as long as they continue to release them, and I don't want to rain on any of the new fans' parades, but man, if they only knew the glory of Pavement when they were still around.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

i know she's here in California

It's 6 p.m., and I don't have a ton of work on my desk, so I figured I can sneak in a personal report. Here goes!

Glen Hansard, Swedish American Hall, May 25, 2005: Back in 2000 or so, I went to see the Waxwings opening for a band at Bottom of the Hill. The headliner was the Frames, and I have to admit that I didn't stay for the entire show, as I noticed some white guy from the Frames wearing dreadlocks wandering around the crowd. Yeah, I'm shallow, but I just wasn't in the mood for it that night. However, Maudie invited me to this solo acoustic show by the main songwriter in the band, and I couldn't say no. Oh, I should clarify that I think he's the main songwriter. I don't really know anything about the band, so I can't say.

The Heavenly States opened, also treating us to an unplugged-type performance. In contrast to the opening set they played at the British Sea Power show, there were only three people onstage: the singer, the violinist, and a keyboardist. I wasn't thrilled by their BSP set, but I was very pleasantly surprised by their performance this time. Granted, I'm a huge sucker for acoustic shows, but they were nowhere as snarky as they seemed previously. It turns out that they played a bunch of songs from their to-be-released album, so maybe it was the material. Regardless, they did a great job.

Glen took to the tiny Swedish American Hall stage with a very sparse setup. I think he had two guitars, and the hall's piano sat at the side. He was sort of what you'd expect from an Irish singer/songwriter: heartfelt songs, passionate vocals, charming stories, a self-deferential manner. For about half the songs, he was accompanied by a woman on the piano and backing vocals. He initially introduced her as Bunny Lebowski, though he referred to her by her real name later; unfortunately, I can't remember it right now. I was confused because I thought she was some local friend who happened to be available that night, but her knowledge of the songs quickly disabused me of that notion.

I didn't go because Maudie quoted some source that said he was Ireland's version of Jeff Tweedy. A friend's recommendation and the acoustic setup was enough for me. He was quite good, and I enjoyed myself, but in the end, I wasn't terribly moved. On a number of songs, he sang in that overwrought way that some singer/songwriters do (including people I really dig), though the majority of the tunes were very lovely. Who knows why we like what we like? The list of good points is quite long, but I just couldn't get into him.

Pixies, the Warfield, May 30, 2005 (late show): Like the Glen Hansard show, this gig coincided with the band's appearance over the Memorial Day weekend at the Sasquatch music festival in Washington state. I skipped the Pixies at the Greek Theater last year because I'm a venue snob, but I couldn't say no to a show at the Warfield. Unfortunately, I adhered to my "last concert" rule and bought tix to the late show, which wasn't scheduled to start until 11:30. Fortunately, I got decent seats, so there was no threat of falling asleep on my feet.

The opener was the Bell-Rays, advertised as "soul-garage." The singer had a hell of a voice, but I'm a big wimp and have never liked that kind of sound. Well, they had a few melodic songs, but the others just sounded fast and loud to me--not that there's anything wrong with that. They were off by midnight.

The Pixies' setup was grouped at the front of the stage, with a huge expanse at the back housing big lighting rigs. It was hard to tell what they were. From the balcony, they looked kinda like metallic sunflowers. Even now I'm not sure what was their purpose on the stage. In other towns, the Pixies have been doing "hits" sets and b-sides sets, and the rumor was that the late show was the hits set. I don't know if this was ever confirmed, but it was fairly hit-heavy, with "Velouria," "Monkey Gone to Heaven," "Head On," and others. The only hit they didn't do was "Here Comes Your Man"--ahhhh, their indie cred has been saved!

I was expecting to feel insanely tired, but my spirits perked up as soon as the music started, and the band sounded great. I'm still surprised by how much I enjoyed the show. And contrary to earlier reports, the band seemed to be in good spirits, actually interacting with each other and acknowledging the crowd. I'm still kinda depressed that I've seen so many reunion shows lately, but it's hard to deny the music you love.

On the taxi ride home, I struck up a conversation with our cab driver, who turned out to be a huge music fan and who was into all the same bands. That was hilarious. And in a true testament to how energized I still felt, I couldn't fall asleep for another hour. Oh well, it's just work.