30 November 2008

Cavalera Conspiracy/Soulfly/Sacred Reich/Incite/The Asylum/Laconic @ The Marquee 11/29/2008

When I went to this show, I had no idea how closely tied it was to Phoenix. In fact, until I did a little bit of research just before writing this idea, I really had no idea what this show was all about. The show was titled "12th Annual D-Low Memorial." I had no idea who D-Low was, nor did I care much, the lineup sounded fun.

As it turns out, D-Low (Dana Wells) was the stepson of Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy frontman Max Cavalera. He was killed in Phoenix in a road accident, I don't know the details. What is particularly interesting though is that besides Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy, all of the bands that played were from Phoenix.

The Asylum were the first band I caught, and they were a smaller local band. They played a Thrashier version of an almost Metalcore rooted style, shifting between more aggressive music and songs that would almost fit into mainstream radio. As it turned out though, I thought their less aggressive songs were their best. Of course, I am really a wimpy metalhead at heart. The band was also really nice at their merch booth, very friendly.

Incite was next and these guys seemed more popular and people seemed to know the words so I assumed they were a national act until they announced that they were from here. Their music was pretty thrashy and aggressive as well, but I felt like they were not as good as the previous band. The aggressiveness never went anywhere.

Sacred Reich played a good old 80's style Thrash. The sort of Thrash that Metallica and Megadeth popularized, which can actually be heard on mainstream radio now and again. Not the totally balls-out sort of Thrash. As it turns out, this was good, I really enjoyed these guys' set, even if I was getting tired of Thrash at this point. The highlight though was their "audience participation" section, which consisted of a cover of Black Sabbath's War Pigs, a fabulous song. I was glad that the audience knew all of the words to the point that the vocalist rarely even stepped up to the mic to sing. It was a really good cover too. The saddest portion of the whole night though was when the band asked for a moment of silence in respect to D-Low (whom the entire show was being thrown in momeory of), and all of the drunks in the crowd couldn't even provide that. The vocalist was extremely upset about this fact.

Soulfly was next, surprisingly (they were listed as the headliners). They played a pretty long set, but the highlight was when they brought out a couple of drums (including a trashcan), and a bunch of random people, and just played a large drum solo. It really is amazing how much can be done with a crowd of people drumming, and how dancy and feel good such music is. Still, Soulfly's songs were pretty good too and the crowd called them back for an encore after their performance.

Cavalera Conspiracy closed the night. They began with some of their new originals, but then ventured into what I can only assume were Sepultura covers (Sepultua was the previous band both Cavalera brothers played in). In addition, for the second to last song, D-Low's little brother came out and drummed with the band for a song. That was quite cute. Unfortunately, Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy sound awfully similar, so the last 2 bands really ran together, even with the break in between the sets to change the stage setup. Both bands did unique things to spice up their performance though and in the end both performances were really great. Even the too-cool-for-school kids in the back were headbanging by the end.

28 November 2008

Dir En Grey/The Human Abstract @ The Marquee 11/28/2008

The Human Abstract were solid. They are nothing overwhelmingly amazing live, but they play their songs, play them well (syncing blazingly fast harmonized leads is no easy task!), and even throw in a little more abstract stuff and embrace their experimental side. In fact, between listening to Midheaven earlier, and seeing them tonight, I am really starting to be more impressed with them than I used to be. In fact, as a side note, all of the hate on Midheaven is totally unjustified in my opinion, it's a good album, live and on record. These guys struggled all night to get the mosh going, but in a crowd of Dir En Grey fans it just wasn't happening. It was sort of hilarious to watch some guys in the crowd trying to mosh and get glared at for it...hilarious because then everyone was moshing to Dir En Grey...a much less moshable band.

Dir En Grey want to be good, I think. The problem is, the band plays one style of music, and the vocalist does whatever he wants...which is only coherent in the context of the music the band is playing possibly 50% of the time. That may be pushing it though. For instance, they'd be playing a dancy tune, and all of a sudden the vocalist switches from cleans to growls to black metal screams and then back to cleans...and you're left wondering what just happened. Then it happens in the next song. Then the next. Soon you realize the band can't seem to put together a coherent song because the vocalist is so self-absorbed. But then, in song 4, they play a really good tune, and the vocalist stops screwing around, so you think "hey, maybe they were just warming up." Of course, this is not true. In the end, only about 1 in 4 songs is cohesive and solid. The rest are disjoint and self indulgent in the bad way. To give an idea of how self absorbed the vocalist is, I would say he thinks he is Mike Patton. About halfway into the set, the band leaves and the vocalist performs a Fantomas-esque vocal only piece with echos and reverb and so forth. Except, it's not really interesting...it almost seems improvisational, but again, not in a good way. Now, this is all not to say the vocalist is not good. He seems pretty outstanding. Decent growls, solid screams, good cleans, and a handful of weird effects to boot. Oh and great projection...several times he had the mic at his hip, and remained completely audible to the audience. The band, likewise, is not bad. The problem is the mesh of the two creative forces...or really the lack of mshing that goes on. When meshing does take place, it turns out quite nicely.

25 November 2008

Gwar/Kingdom of Sorrow/Toxic Holocaust @ The Marquee 11/25/2008

Toxic Holocaust was the opener tonight and for the first time I feel like I sort of "get" Thrash. I mean, like everyone else I listen to old Metallica, Megadeth, but I've never really been a Thrash guy overall, never appealed to me. But live, you really see what Thrash is about. It's just fast, aggressive, and high energy music. These guys didn't get the same energy going as last night, but they were certainly no slouches with large circle pits throughout the performance and generally getting the crowd hyped up. After their performace I was hanging out near the merch booth and I don't think there was a moment where the band was not talking to someone and being complimented on their performance.

Kingdom of Sorrow was next up. In some ways, they seemed to struggle by comparison to Toxic Holocaust. They are heavy in a completely different way and not really as aggressive as their predecessor, and while they kept the audience engaged (and in fact the vocalist was great about maintaining audience attention), it was rather interesting that they had to put in a lot of effort to do what the first band had done effortlessly. The music was also better than I remembered...not my style, but not the mess I had thought it would be...sounded really good.

Gwar was the headliner and, if you've never heard of Gwar's live shows, I suggest a youtube search. In a fast summation, we had: Mccain gutted, Obama decapitated, Clinton de-titted, human sacrifices, and epic robot battles. A lot of people went into the front with nice white shirts. Those people left with soaking brown shirts (brown due to the combination of red and green blood). The performace tonight was a bit unique though, in that about 45 minutes in, the band's sound was abruptly stopped, mid-song. After the band tried to play it off, it soon became apparent something had actually gone wrong. We were later informed by the staff over megaphone that the smoke had set off the fire alarm and while the building needed no evacuation, the show was delayed about 30 minutes. Ignoring that little incident though, a good performance, though it should be noted that the music being played is heavy metal...the music is really not that good, so don't go for that...go for the show.

In Flames/All That Remains/Gojira/36 Crazyfists @ The Marquee 11/24/2008

To start off, I would be totally remiss not to mention two key elements of tonight's show. Firstly, All That Remains did not play. Their vocalist was sick and unable to perform. Secondly, the band's equipment van broke down, and long story short, the show began about 9:30. But maybe bands should do that more often.

36 Crazyfists burst onto the stage, and immediately all the crowd's drunken pent up energy was hurtling in all directions at once. I have never seen an opener that the crowd got so into, even at the bigger arena-type shows. They even had a pretty successful wall of death...and they were openers. I'd never heard them before, but they played a sort of interesting metalcore style that was quite catchy, which certainly helped get everyone into dancing immediately. To be clear, this band had a bigger moshpit going than most headliners I see, and everyone was having a blast. Whether it was just pent up energy or a truly spectacular performance I couldn't say, but they defintely hyped the band up better than any opener I can recall seeing.

Gojira hit the stage next, and it seemed like the crowd had used all of their energy in that huge burst for 36 crazyfists. Everyone was mellow even while the music was much more brutal. But then they got over the rather odd transition, and starting getting into the heavy stuff, and by the end there was another solid moshpit going, and great crowd energy. I hadn't listened to these guys on CD often enough, because I was much more impressed with their live music than I recalled ever being with the CD I have.

In Flames was of course the headliner, and I'm starting to realize I should consider one of two options regarding seeing bands who have older material I like, but not so much newer material. One would be not going, but the other would be to stop going expecting the band I really enjoy. I feel like I'm finding performances underwhelming unjustly. In Flames played 1 song from Clayman, a couple from Jester Race, and played a teaser of Behind Space (I was so excited until it ended!), and for me that means about 1 in 4 songs were really good songs. Not a good ratio. But as I was listening, I realized they weren't bad songs really...just not In Flames songs. Of course, I thought I was there to see In Flames so I was disappointed, but probably unfairly. Once again I noticed the crowd died during the old songs. Such a mixed blessing that is.

23 November 2008

Trans-Siberian Orchestra @ Jobing.com Arena 11/23/2008

When I think about the monumental task of trying to describe a Trans Siberian Orchestra show, the first thing I have to do is remind myself that it's not a show. It transcends that bland label. It is an experience. The music is an important element of that experience, but there is so much more going on that makes it only a part of the experience rather than the entirety of it.

It begins with a sort of story, based on their 2004 concept album, I believe. In fact, they may have even played it in its entirety, I'm not familiar enough. The story is complete with a narrator and even an actor for one part of the story. It's a slightly cheesy story, but what Christmas story isn't? It's also heart warming. When the show gets started, half of the rock portion of the band is not on stage, but joins in about the middle, from the ceiling. They descend on platforms suspended on small wires, and the platforms shake while the musicians are rocking out.

When the full band is on stage, they rotate through many amazingly talented vocalists, supported by a stellar lights show, lasers, pyrotechnics, and even a few fireworks in their hit Christmas Eve in Sarajevo. But after about an hour to an hour and a half, the story ends. I give the standing ovation and prepare to leave, when the band is being announced on stage, but then the guy with the mic says "Alright, go ahead and sit down folks." So I sit, and he says that with that out of the way, we are now entering the part of the show where we will rock out and have a blast.

I had thought that during their story, all the stops has already been pulled out. After all, it was phenomenal. But The second half of the show blew it away. More fireworks, pyrotechnics, and lasers of course. But a stage they hadn't even used in the first half made its appearance too. It was in the middle of the arena floor. At one point, one of the girl singers came out of the floor onto that platform to sing between it and the stage, eventually waltzing amongst the crowd up to the stage to finish the song. Later on, towards the finale, one of the guitarists and one of the violinists wandered into the crowd and got on that stage, which proceeded to jump up a good 30 feet while they sang and danced on it.

Musically, they played a good mix of stuff from all albums, including songs from Beethoven even, which was unexpected in a Christmas themed concert. They also played new songs, and the new songs might have been some of the best songs they've ever written. Rarely do you think that the first time you hear a band's new songs. There was also a spattering of fun musical allusions throughout the show, my favorites being Kashmir (Led Zeppelin) and the Peanuts theme.

Despite the length of this review, it feels incomplete. I haven't even touched on so many amazing things that were incorporated. Unfortunately, I feel it is absolutely true that the only possible way for someone to get a feel for this show is to see it live. Unfortunately, they won't be back until the next holiday season.

Fortunately, you can still see one of the most amazing live performances ever devised, you'll just have to wait.

22 November 2008

The Boy Bathing "A Fire to Make Preparations"

The fact that The Boy Bathing compared themselves to Bright Eyes and The Decemberists filled me with enthusiasm. I played the album while driving home. Traffic was calm, so I knew I could listen critically. The first twenty seconds of “The Beaches Meet the Sea” grabbed my attention. It had a little flower power, but as soon as it turned to twenty-one seconds I was a goner. Honestly, I switched Cd’s. Eventually, I knew I had to listen to it, but it was a Monday. On Tuesday, on my way to school, I gave myself a pep-talk and put it in.

I basically listened to the entire album in five minutes. I found a few melodies that caught my attention and listened to them in entirety. All I have to say is that the lyrics are some of the best lyrics I have heard in a long time. They are poems rather than just words that fit into verses. The beauty of the lyrics is that they are the main focus in each song. They were not over powered by the mandolin, air organ, or even the accordion. David Hurwitz has the gift of words. Each song has purpose and a mission. He truly grasp a concept and paints it with words. The album is also relevant to what’s occurring in our society. From being a soldier off duty to a homeless in New York City, he finds a way to make them relate to an emotion or event in our own lives. Lyrics aside, his voice has a different sound, but it fits in with the melodies and the raw lyrics. The Boy Bathing is band that combines raw emotions in their poetry with Jeannie Scofield’s beautiful harmonies. When her voice layers Hurwitz’s, I received permanent goosebumps. Together they create silk with the contrast in their individual voices.

I recommend “A Fire to Make Preparations” if and only if, you can appreciate the art and the purpose behind each song. I especially recommend “Victory Walk”, “The Purpose of a Rake”, and “My Parent’s Religion.”

20 November 2008

Dig Out Your Soul, Oasis is back!

As a band, Oasis has gone through the toughest stages of stardom. Oasis was formed back in 1991. Since then, the band has peaked at the top of charts in both the UK and the United States. “Dig Out your Soul” is the first album released after Oasis re-signed with Sony BMG back in June of 2008. Nostalgia is probably the best word I can use to describe the album. It basically sounds like good ol’ British rock n’ roll back when it was dirty and hard-hitting. I was particularly excited about the album because it was familiar, but surprising. Dry lyrics keep the theme continuous throughout the album. Lately, a lot of bands have been venturing into dark and undiscovered Worlds (which is fantastic, don’t get me wrong), but eventually, as variety seeker, I have been looking for a bit more simplicity. The tracks in “Dig Out Your Soul” have a common thread that unites them, but each song has its own individuality and tantalizing undertones. Oasis has never been a cookie-cutter band, and this album does not differ.

The album opens with “Bag it Up,” a song about overindulgence and promises of feeding an addiction. Continuing on with “The Shock of Lightening”, “To Be Where There is Life,” and “Soldier On” a sense of taking back control guides each song. Oasis’ trajectory has been one of immediate stardom. Prior to releasing the album “ Be Here Now,” the band was bombarded with the reality that their album was going to have major sales. The management was worried that overexposure was going to sabotage their success. As they predicted, the album soared in sales and overexposed Oasis. The band decided to continue recording in smaller scales, but “Dig Out Your Soul” is the album that will put Oasis back into circulation in the mainstream World. It is definently not holding back…and I love it!

18 November 2008

Five FInger Death Punch/In This Moment/Bury Your Dead/Split the Enemy/Howitzer @ The Marquee 11/18/2008

Howitzer opened the show, but as often happens I got there a touch late (mostly due to the traffic to get parked...now I know how it feels to see an actually popular band at The Marquee!), so I missed them for the most part. They sounded alright from what I heard in line though.

Split the Enemy was a sort of Metalcore/Post-Hardcore hybrid band, and to be honest I could have really liked this if it weren't so generic. A lot of songs seemed like one 5 minute breakdown and I'm sorry but that's just too much. I finally sort of saw what people get out of the whole breakdown thing, but that's not all you can do when you write music.

Bury Your Dead played really bad music. Really really bad music. Not only was it generic, it was so uninspired I think I actually died a little inside seeing a band like this on stage. The problem is, they're great live. The music sucks, but the band is a lot of fun. They were the best at involving the crowd out of any band all night, up to and including a wall of death. The crowd interaction was top notch, and you could really tell when they were at their merch booth afterwards and everyone was stopping by to say hi. They make quite an impression.

In This Moment was the band I actually came to see, and they were enjoyable, but the problem with this band is they have some sort of identity crisis going on. They think they're a Metalcore band sometimes, but sometimes they think they're more of a Pop Power Metal band or, as I describe it, Paramore goes metal. Though admittedly Haley is cuter and more talented than Maria. So all of the songs where Maria sticks to clean vocals and pretty, catchy songs, they rock. For the songs where she screams and the try to be hardcore, they aren't so good. Hopefully their next album moves totally in the pop direction, I dig it.

Five Finger Death Punch made me question the sanity of the average music listener. There were many times during their show when I felt like leaving. When they went on a rant about how great it is that our troops are fighting for our freedoms and they wanted a moment of silence so whatever, cool, to each their own I guess. But the crowd chants of "USA!" made me start edging towards the door. Then the tough guy attitude and preaching from the stage that you should be hurting other people in the crowd made me again question why I was still at this show. But, offensive as these things were, in the end none of them made me leave. Why I eventually left was solely due to the lack of quality being played, which is really a shame. The instrumentalists can play fine, but this band can't write a good song to save their lives. I think in the end that fact is what prompted my early departure from the show. But in all honesty...I can't fathom why so many people love this band. When I heard a single by them a year or so ago, I thought it was alright, but the sound was unlike what I saw at this show, to my dismay.

17 November 2008

HANDS ON FIRE // O'DEATH @ Modified Arts

Hands on Fire//O'Death

Noah And The Whale: The 2008 Album of Love

Yes, the "Love" Album of the year has arrived (actually has been around now for 3 months....whoops!).

The album in discussion, of course, is the debut album from English folk-rockers Noah and the Whale, entitled "Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down". I've been meaning to share my opinions on this album for awhile, but had not easily gotten around to it; to be honest, I could barely stop listening to it to actually begin writing about it. And whenever I thought of what I would write, I thought "I couldn't possibly explain it the right way!"....But I'm going to try.

In a quick summary to end the suspense: Yes, this is one of the best new bands I've heard all year, and this is a HELL of a debut album to put out. It is folksy, dramatic, optimistic, poppy, sad, and soul-wrenching (yes, its a phrase). And all of this on top of the fact that it's hard enough these days to write a heartfelt album about love without it sounding like a bad Hallmark card with chords.
To put it very bluntly: in a way, this album has single-handedly raised my standards for folk rock for the future. (Yeah, they seem like strong words, but I told you I couldn't easily explain it the right way)

There are seriously lyrics in here that no one could possibly say they feel nothing for, as well as lyrics that can't help but make you smile every time. The vocals are nothing astonishing; singer Charlie Fink barely breaks into second octave throughout the album. But the words make Fink's voice unbearably addicting, and you find yourself listening to everything he has to say, or what words he'll rhyme with the next. The music is relatively simple, each track usually sticking to 3-4 chords. But the combination of humble acoustic guitar, intriguing fiddle, and modest amount of bass and drums make you evermore aware of the words over the music; They blend together brilliantly. There are a few times where the music is a little too slow, I'll admit, and the lyrics aren't quite up to par, but I can honestly say that there isn't one single "bad" song on this entire album (the first time I have said that in a VERY long time, I assure you...). As always, there are a few tracks that top the others. My personal favorite has to be the ominously optimistic "Give A Little Love", whose chorus lyrics should be in the ultimate list of quotes (or some Chinese Proverbial handbook, at least). Right up next to it are the tracks "5 Years Time", "Rocks & Daggers", and the title track "Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down".

So if you're into folk, slow rock, indie, pop rock, acoustic rock, or any weird combination, do yourself a favor and buy Noah and the Whale's debut album as soon as possible.

Listen through the album in its entirety, and I dare you to not listen to it again.

15 November 2008

Minus the Bear/Annuals/27: One Concert Goer's Experience 11/13

Assignments like this are always tough. I knew Vince would be writing the review for this show, so I made it my mission to put myself into the mindset of an actual fan and music enthusiast in an effort to tell your story, which too often goes untold.

I began the night by scanning the crowd. Previous to arriving at the Marquee, I spent some time pondering on the type of crowd I might find at a Minus the Bear show but I came up with no ideas. I knew the night was going to completely blow me away with surprise.

Okay, so maybe it wasn't that shocking of an evening, but I'll run down the list of mildly interesting (or at least mentionable) people I encountered on Thursday night.

  • A girl in a Pokemon shirt wearing denim short shorts
  • A man in an Arizona Cardinals shirt
  • A man cheering for Minus the Bear while Annuals were playing until he realized that they weren't Minus the Bear. He did however look relieved once he figured out why he didn't know any of the words
  • Lastly, was the shirtless guy sagging his boardshorts. And as the night went on, at least three others appeared, and when Minus the Bear came on, man, they went nuts.
In fact, these guys deserve an entire paragraph. Not to berate anyone, but this group did not seem (to me) to be the type of hardcore Minus the Bear fans I would expect. But they knew every word, and they really wanted everyone around them to know this. Even though it's not really mosh pit music, they managed to get a small circle pit going to the right (that's stage left) of the stage. and as they sweat all over me and everyone else around them a revolving cast of friends(??) and couples came to makeout or dance briefly in the middle of everything. Any of these things on their own might not seem so strange, and as I'm writing this, it sounds like a fairly normal occurrence at any concert, but trust me, it was strange.

Fans love talking to people in bands! But the headliner is rarely out at their merch booth, so in true fan fashion, that is, without an audio recorder, I chatted up Ms. Christopher of the opening band, 27 for a few brief moments before Minus the Bear went on. When asked about the tour, she told me that this was their last night. She said that they got along great like family with Annuals and Minus the Bear and that leaving was going to be very difficult. She also told me that they are working on another album and that it may be available sometime after the snow melts in Cambridge, their home town. Check for updates from 27 here and here.

After speaking with 27 I remembered the girl selling cigarettes by the patio, and in an effort to really delve deep into the psyche of the Minus the Bear crowd I wanted to see how much they smoke. "About half as much as at Mudvayne," is the response I got.

Finally, no fan night would be complete without a blurry cell phone photo of the headliner (included above). So there you have it, in full and living color, my night as a fan.

Mission Accomplished.

14 November 2008

Maggie is Thoroughly Offended: Deerhoof/Experimental Dental School/Kit @ The Clubhouse 11/13

Great, great show. I can safely say it lived up to expectations. 

San Francisco no-fi act Kit kicked things off in mere seconds, gravitating around a drum set on the floor near stage right. The thing was a-shambles, cracked ride cymbal and all, and after a humble introduction, "We like you, Tempe!," its cause of damage became clear. Guitar and bass screeching triumphantly into cacaphony collided with charismatic yelping, as the drummer--the glue holding this volatile outfit together--proficiently beat the shit out of his set. One could easily combat this formula with raised eyebrows and the declaration "not music, just noise," but undeniable wasthow wonderfully alive the group felt in all its screaming glory. I imagined this as being vaguely how Deerhoof sounded, circa mid-90s. 

By this point, a sizeable crowd had gathered around the half-circle surrounding Kit's set as Portlanders (Portlandites? Portlandians?) Experimental Dental School diverted their attention to the stage proper. Apparently a former four-piece who has opened for Deerhoof on previous tours, XDS in their current incarnation are a drummer and guitarist with alternating vocal duties. Sounding like a cross between Blonde Redhead's harsh guitar chimes and Beefheart-esque herky-jerk, the experimental dentists played a set full of mathy hooks. Fun stuff, and a really solid opening act overall. 

At last, Deerhoof assumed the stage, completely living up to the hype. I had heard great things about their live show for years but had always missed a shot at the live experience. The 'hoof have perfected an impeccably tight instrumental setup over which vocalist/bassist Satomi's shrill voice hovered. Each song, the majority of which came from this year's Offend Maggie ("The Tears of Music and Love," "Snoopy Waves," "Buck and Judy," etc.) faithfully matched its counterpart on-record, with added amounts of the mischief, fury, and fun that define them. Other highlights included one from Apple O' (I am terrible with that album's track titles), the singles "The Perfect Me" and "+81" from last year's Friend Opportunity, "Twin Killers," and of course, the closer "Wrong Time Capsule." 
The brief encore was a performance of Offend Maggie's "Bastketball Get Your Groove Back," in which Satomi paraded around the stage wielding a tiger mask. Quite possibly the most gleeful encore I've seen since witnessing Dinosaur Jr. unintentionally blow a stacked amp.

13 November 2008

Minus the Bear/Annuals/27 @ The Marquee 11/13/2008

27 started slow but ended strong. It was their last night with Minus the Bear and it was obviously a bit of a sad situation for all of the bands. It ended up creating a nice dynamic though, between the shots from one band to another and Minus the Bear's bassist and drummer jumping in to jam with 27, there was plenty of fun to go around, and that's just for the opener. Most of the best songs this band played were when MTB's drummer and bassist were joining them, mostly because it really helped fill out the sound. Good band though they were, there's only so much you can do as a three piece, so the extra players added an extra level that pushed the performance to great.

Annuals were next up, and I will make the argument that they upstaged MTB at this show. Certainly, being a six piece band stocked up with male and female vocals, several guitarists and pianists makes for a fair amount of energy and fullness of sound intrinsically, but this band brought even more energy to the stage than what was intrinsically there. Especially when MTB's drummer came out and made it a 7 piece act. Some songs were great, and most were mediocre, but the performance itself stands out more than MTB's without a doubt.

Minus the Bear were of course the headliners, and I'm tempted to review the audience instead of the band here. The reason is as follows: last year, I remember when people would come up to me, trying to tell me about this amazing new band called Minus the Bear that had just put out an album called Planet of Ice. It was rumored to be one of the albums of the year. But here's the thing...it was a mediocre album. I struggle to even call it a Minus the Bear album, just because the sound changed pretty significantly...moving from fun, dancy indie rock, to overly serious college rock. But the problem with this show was that the people in attendance were the same people who thought it was an amazing album. The band seemed to be aware of this beforehand, because they played almost entirely new songs. The couple old songs (and by old, I'm not even sure there was anything from Highly Refined Pirates in the set) they played had about 70% of the audience flat on their feet. Thank god, that would have ruined the band for me...I can deal with the fact that they now appeal to soulless drunks, but if those "fans" had delved into their back catalog where there actually was some amazing music, I would have been very sad. To sum this review up: thank god I saw these guys back in 2004.

12 November 2008

Pale Young Gentleman "Black Forest (Tra La La)"

Pale Young Gentlemen's sophomore album "Black Forest (Tra La La)" can be described a lot of ways, but trust me: "pulse-beating" isn't one of them. Not only have they strayed pretty far from their debut self-titled album, but it seems they have created a fair blend of trends going on through the indie scene right now (and put it into a lullaby soundtrack).

I'll say this once, but this is going to be it: I really enjoyed this album this first time I listened to it. It was new, creative, interesting, enjoyable. But after a few listens, it grew a little dull. There are definitely songs on here that caught my attention immediately (and still have it). Arguably, the best song on here is the opener "Coal/Ivory". It's folksy (a common theme throughout the album), and has simple guitar, simple drums, and some flavorful string riffs. The words are good, and the vocals are decent.
Again, a common theme for this record. The bands undoubtably spent far more time on the strings than on vocal training. The second track "I Wasn't Worried" is also great musically, but definitely lacking vocally/lyrically.

The music is good throughout the entire album, yes. But amazing? Sorry, but no. "Goldenface, Morninglight" is very slow, not as musically engaging as the first 2 tracks, and at times, sounds like an overdramatic movie score. "The Crook of My Good Arm" is a very good song; it is much different than the others, faster-paced, and the vocals are good (for a nice change). The album continues in this "I like it!" to "Please change to the next song, I'm falling asleep" pattern until its end with the creepy lullaby of "She's All Mine, I Think".

Yes, it sounds like I haven't made up my mind about this album. But it's made up, I assure you. I'm contradicting myself between songs because that is EXACTLY what this album is: a contradiction of musical talent from track to track. There is great potential in Pale Young Gentlemen to hone their knack for quivering strings and humble storytelling, (maybe one day to stand side-to-side with the likes of Arcade Fire), but "Black Forest (Tra La La)" isn't there yet. There are great tracks in there, yes, but it's just not entirely whole as the album it should be. I recommend the purchase if you enjoy slower, very (sometimes too) thoughtful lyrics, and creative string infusions. Definitely recommend purchasing the singles "Coal/Ivory" and "I Wasn't Worried". Seriously, they're good songs.

But if you're looking for the next big indie orchestra, wait another few albums. Because I'm sure they'll be there.
This just isn't it...

08 November 2008

Iced Earth/Early Man/Vektor/Malnurture @ The Marquee 11/7/2008

Malnuture were the openers, and one of two local bands opening the show. They played a style quite similar to Iced Earth with some screaming and even growling over a more traditional heavy metal backdrop. Though they lacked the polish of a more seasoned band, but some seeds of good music existed there and without doubt if they keep playing they will have a nice sound. Mixing wasn't awful but one thing that drove me crazy was that the backup vocals were louder than the lead vocals...never something that should happen.

Vektor was the stronger of the local bands, and in fact the energy the crowd had when they were playing rivaled Early Man, a band actually on the tour. Vocals were definitely lacking, but I think the band was aware...they played predominately instrumental music with vocals only mixed in every now and then. All the musicians were very talented, I was debating buying a CD, but opted not to because I felt they too had not quite defined their sound. One sad note was that they announced this show was their bassist's last show...which was sad because dude held a mean groove.

Early Man sort of fell flat for a band on tour with Iced Earth. Which is not to say they were bad. They were quite enjoyable and definitely had that polished sound the local openers lacked. But much as their Thrash-y style appealed to me (especially with the clean vocals at time reminding me of Rush with their high pitch), there was something missing. Maybe it was just the first night and they weren't on their game yet.

Iced Earth, on the other hand, was definitely on their game. Though not a band particularly engrossed in stage antics, they still manage to be energetic and draw the crowd in (which was helpfully full of very loyal fans). Additionally their music plays very well live. Though my favorite songs were those with which I was already familiar, I enjoyed the rest of the set too. While many bands can be boring live if you are unfamiliar with their music, Iced Earth is not one of those bands. The music was not executed on the same sublime level as a band like Opeth, but these guys definitely know what they're doing.

07 November 2008

Meaghan Smith, The Whispertown 2000

Meaghan Smith - The Cricket's Quartet
Jazzy, folksy, playful and fun...I adore this album start to finish. There are only four songs [I Know, A Little Love, If You Asked Me, Drifted Apart] and all are strong and memorable. The songs give you a rush of nostalgia, sending you back to a simpler time with full orchestras backing charismatic singers. The music is classic sounding, mixed with quirky little details that modernize it. I've found a new favorite artist!

The Whispertown 2000 - Swim:
A little folksy again, but...this isn't really my style. I don't like the singing, it's too whiny sounding for my taste. I'll be honest...I'm not into the whole singing like a 7-year-old thing. I like the music, it's unfortunate that their style of singing offsets it so poorly. I could appreciate tracks 3 and 6. Tracks 5 and 11 weren't completely objectionable. I found myself wishing the album would end soon, with no desire to listen to it in its entirety ever again.

03 November 2008

Danzig/Dimmu Borgir/Moonspell/Winds of Plague/Skeletonwitch @ The Marquee 11/3/2008

Today we are going to recount one of the worst concert experiences of my life.

To begin with, I did not see the first two bands (out of five), not because I was late as usual...I was actually on time for once. No, I did not see the first two bands because I spent an hour or more in the security line, waiting to get inside. Apparently cameras were grounds for automatic ejection (not using them, just bringing them in), and taking your cellphone out in the auditorium would, again, be grounds for automatic ejection. We were scanned with a metal detector. I felt like I was at the airport.

Moonspell was the first band I caught. For whatever reason, I had thought these guys were Gothic Metal, so needless to say I was surprised by the end of the first song. At first I really disliked the vocalist, but he grew on me and by the end of their (short) set I thought it fit quite well. The big disappointment for these guys though was that almost all of the keys were tracked. If you can't play the music live, don't record it on CD that way. I understand if you lsoe a member or something, but otherwise, stick to what is playable live...tracking just isn't the same.

Dimmu Borgir was really the only band I went to see. It was disappointing. I suppose part of the disappointment was the fact that they played 1 old-ish song and only 1 other song not from their latest album (I believe). But in hindsight, maybe that is for the best seeing how they ruined Stormblast in their new take on it. Vortex is great though...but every time he sang I couldn't help hearing Arcturus in my head (RIP). Besides the set list though, I can't really complain about the show...the musicians are solid and even if they are nowhere near Black Metal anymore (not that they were ever close to begin with), the corpse paint is still fun.

But this brings me to the ruiner of the show for me. That is the audience. Maybe I'm just some elitist prick, but man I just cannot stand MTV metal fans who think they are so tough being at a "Black Metal" show. I think the internet has also ruined music just a little bit, because whereas before when a band got big later in their career, you could distinguish "real" fans of the band by talking about older obscure out of print stuff. Nowadays when a band gets on MTV the kids just download their entire discography and all of a sudden they can pass for a real fan. Disgusting. This show was filled with so many un-elite metal fans you could actually smell it, and it was very unpleasant. At least when a show like Opeth is packed, it's full of real fans. Here, I could have picked out maybe a dozen guys I would have thought were into the band just 5 years ago, and here's a hint, they were the ones over 15 who weren't there for Danzig.

Danzig was the closer, by the way. His show was alright and everything, but the music was super boring. I was tired, so I left after a few songs. Misfits, he is not. Bad move leaving, on his part...he can't seem to write good music since.

02 November 2008

Coheed and Cambria/Cartel/The Stiletto Formal @ Gammage Auditorium 11/2/2008

Let me preface this review by stating that any ire present in this review is not directed at the organizers of this event...they did a fantastic job in my opinion. The ire would be directed primarily at the students. Also no small amount of ire is directed towards the sound guys at a professional venue like Gammage who still cannot mix live music worth a damn. I swear I am so close to no longer attending shows with all of the terrible live mixes I've been experiencing lately.

Although not part of the concert, I feel obliged to mention the fair prior to the show, primarily because there was free Hungry Howie's and Naked Juice and Powerade, which in my opinion makes the fair completely awesome and successful.

The Stiletto Formal were great. Musically, they were not what I remembered, either from an evolution in sound over the last couple years, or a bad memory on my part. I won't say it was a bad change...just a bit disappointing in that it was a lot more towards the trendy experimental indie rock than I remember it being. That being said, they rivaled Coheed and Cambria in terms of on-stage energy and drew the audience in pretty well for an opener.

Cartel were mediocre. I've had at least one of their CDs on my computer for years and never gotten into it so that was expected, but a bit of a let down after Stiletto Formal. It also didn't help that they didn't seem to find their on stage energy until about midway through their set (after a cover of Oasis' Wonderwall, interestingly). They also very shortly broke into Freebird when someone yelled it. Their new music seemed extra uninspired which was too bad...the old stuff (that I have) was much more energetic and enjoyable live.

Coheed and Cambria played only 2 songs from their latest album, a good choice in setlists on their part. In fact, barring the 2 songs from the latest release (which I felt was subpar), the set list was about as good as they could make it...every song I love was in it I think. Their decision to keep the singles till towards the end was interesting, and no small number of students ended up leaving before they even got to them...hooray for ASU student apathy. They started off the set with In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth, one of my favorite songs by them, if not the single favorite. Excellent opener. Then after a foray throughout their catalog they closed with The Final Cut...in the best way possible. Between voice modulated guitar solos, guitar solos played with teeth, and an instrument played by waving your hand in the air, this song had everything. Then after all of that, there were short solos by the keyboardist (who is nothing special) and the bassist (who lightened my criticism of him during his tasteful solo), and finally an epic Chris Pennie solo. Throughout the show, I found myself thinking "Chris Pennie is totally wasted in this band" about every five minutes (Chris Pennie is the ex-drummer for Dillinger Escape Plan). When they started The Final Cut though, I knew I was in for something special...his groove was phenomenal from the outset. Then, after an amazing ten minute drum solo, the entire band rejoined him on stage to finish the song that you had forgotten they never got around to finishing. The one criticism I will give for the performance is that the stage setup was very minimalist, yet since i last saw them they added a keyboardist, two female backup singers, and replaced the drummer and bassist. Yet for all of that, I thought the music did not sound any better this time around, drum solo aside. It seems to me they should spend their money on interesting banners and videos and dump the lackluster vocalists and keyboardist.