Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Faint / Haii Usagi / The Show Is the Rainbow - Live 2008.10.19

The first band I ever saw in concert was The Faint. I saw them in Lawrence, Kansas during their last tour four years ago. Beep Beep opened (and TV on the Radio played on every other night of the tour) and I remember really digging the show. Well, opportunity came knocking and I just saw them a second time. I bought my ticket for their show in Columbia before they announced shows in either of my hometowns (Kansas City and Saint Louis), but now they have scheduled gigs in both places in December. Regardless, I got to see a pretty special night in Columbia (and I might see them yet again).

Artist: The Faint
Venue: The Blue Note
Location: Columbia, Missouri
Date: October 19, 2008
Opening Acts: Haii Usagi; The Show Is the Rainbow

Setlist:
01. Agenda Suicide
02. Drop Kick the Punks
03. Take Me to the Hospital
04. Forever Growing Centipedes
05. Psycho
06. In Concert
07. Posed to Death
08. Desperate Guys
09. Get Seduced
10. The Conductor
11. Worked Up So Sexual
12. Machine in the Ghost
13. Mirror Error
14. Paranoiattack
15. I Disappear

Encore:
16. Birth
17. The Geeks Were Right
18. Glass Danse

Review:
The first opening act was Haii Usagi, a local Columbia duo that played a half-hour set of electronic music. It reminded me of Air's Moon Safari minus some of the layers, but a bit rockier and harder, with more active drums. One guy just played keyboards and used a laptop to add some samples in; the other guy faced him and sat on a drumset that had a keyboard where the tom-toms should have been. He usually just drummed, but on several songs he played some keyboard bits, sometimes using one hand to drum and one to hit the keys. I thought they totally rocked; I bought their handmade album after the show for just five dollars. You can't argue with that – and the album is great. Look them up on Myspace or something.

The next opener was The Show Is the Rainbow, a self-proclaimed one-man-show from Nebraska (although a friend played drums). The music was mostly pre-recorded, played off of a laptop, but the main guy did play a few guitar lines. He mostly just sang and danced around. He was incredibly energetic and active, jumping in the audience on almost every song and even crowd-surfing a couple times. Each song also had a video accompaniment, which were usually fairly lo-fi animations that sort of went along with his lyrical content. The mix wasn't very good, so I wasn't all that impressed with the actual tunes, but the energy kept it interesting and made for an exhilarating performance. After the show, he gave me a sampler from his record label with a few of his songs on it, and with the advantage of the studio, his songs sound much better. He's pretty cool. If you're already on Myspace checking out Haii Usagi, check out The Show Is the Rainbow, too.

After The Show Is the Rainbow's 40-minute set and then a half-hour wait or so, the Faint hit the stage at about 10:00. Lead singer Todd Fink came out in a scientist's white lab coat and goggles. The band immediately rushed into "Agenda Suicide" from Danse Macabre (2001), with a projector playing the music video in the background. The band appeared quite into their performance; they all danced in their little areas, with synthesist Jacob Thiele bending around especially much while still hitting his keyboard notes. Todd occasionally also played on a little synthesizer, and either he or Jacob ran the samples that they couldn't replicate otherwise. I prefer when bands do everything they can to keep things live, but they did a good job not relying on samples too much.


I was impressed with the amount of parts that they did on guitars. Dapose handled most of the guitar and Joel Peterson the bass, but on several songs, mostly the new ones, they switched instruments. On "Machine in the Ghost" Dapose added extra synth parts and Joel did guitar, and on "The Geeks Were Right" both played guitar. Clark Baechle handled the live drums well, covering even the parts that on record must be electronic. During the whole show, the projector was on, but it mostly kept to abstract two-tone images, often of the band members.

Generally speaking, I was really pleased with their setlist, especially "Take Me to the Hospital", which was only released on a compilation from their former label, Saddle Creek. The song is great but something of a rarity; I was hoping they'd play it at the last show of theirs I caught, so I consider myself lucky that they did it this time. "In Concert" (from 1999's Black-Wave Arcade) was a special treat, and "Worked Up So Sexual" (from the same album) and "I Disappear" (the single from 2004's Wet from Birth) elicited a huge crowd response. "The Conductor" was a particularly energetic and riveting performance with some awesome guitar work from Dapose. They did a good job of picking the best of their back catalog and playing the better half of their new album, Fasciinatiion (2008). I would have liked to hear "A Battle Hymn for Children" off the new album or maybe "Call Call" or "Let the Poison Spill from Your Throat" from the older ones, but what they did do was excellent.


They didn't experiment with their sound much, but some of the synth tones were different than on record. The guitar and bass parts were great; I was impressed by several of them, particularly the metallic-sounding rhythm guitar in the bridges of "Forever Growing Centipedes". Several songs featured Dapose or Jacob on processed, robotic backing vocals (like for the "like a cast shadow" line in "Agenda Suicide"). Todd used the processed mic for the verses of "The Conductor" and "Mirror Error".

The mix was good and the audience was really enjoying the show. The venue seats over 800, and although it wasn't sold out, it was nearly full. The floor was filled with people moving to the beat, and even on the balcony people were dancing to the music. It was a fun night.

After about an hour, the band left the stage, but they quickly returned for a short encore. "Birth" was particularly rocking, but "Glass Danse" was even better and the audience loved it. Todd thanked us, and Joel told us to vote for Obama before everyone left the stage.

The Faint rock. Go see them and dance your head off – and enjoy the opening acts, too.

Score: A-
[Retrospective Score for Haii Usagi: A+
Retrospective Score for The Show Is the Rainbow: B-]

Saturday, October 18, 2008

NoisefeSTL Day One - 2008.10.17

Out here in the Midwest, there's always a certain number of fascinating things going on under the surface. I've known many people to deride this part of the country, but I contend that you just have to dig a little bit to find plenty of great things. The noise scene is one of these things. It sure isn't for everyone, but here in St. Louis and in many other cities there are small albeit dedicated followings for this kind of music. Here, we have two venues very friendly to the scene: the Lemp and Camp Concentration (underneath Apop Records). I've been to the Lemp several times with friends or to see friends perform and it's always quite fun.

Since I started reviews, I've wanted to write about a show there, and now I'm finally ready to do it. This weekend is NoisefeSTL V, the fifth annual instance of bringing together noise musicians from across the Midwest to a single venue for a long weekend. I attended the first night, and I'd like to write about what I saw. I'll start by describing the bigger picture and then each performance and my reactions. I'll give each act a score.

Event: NoisefeSTL V (Day One)
Venue: Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: October 17, 2008

Review:
If you aren't familiar with the noise scene, it deserves a certain amount of explanation. The scene is dominated young musicians that tend to be male and a part of the counterculture. Most of the acts are soloists, but duos and collaborations are frequent. Full bands of three or four or more are the exception, and they tend to be more of a structured noise-rock thing, like Einstürzende Neubauten or Neptune. Many of the musicians simply have huge pedals boards that they use to process and filter whatever their input is. Simple sine-wave generating oscillators can be found right next to microphones, home-made percussion, guitars and bass guitars (often fairly maligned and atonally tuned), and the occasional keyboard or synthesizer. Signals are frequently overdriven and distorted. Tonality is normally absent and the volume levels are very high. (Earplugs are a necessity).

Most artists work just with sound, and if they vocalize, there are no audible words. Those that do sing or speak generally process and distort their vocals; the subject matter is diverse but often is based on social commentary and rarely just about relationships and the standard matter of pop songs. The overall sonic quality is very harsh, and the artists frequently get very into their music. It is not uncommon to see musicians jumping around and lashing out, occasionally even hitting each other, walls, or the audience (which, at the Lemp, stands around the artist at a distance of just a few feet without any sort of elevation or officially designated "stage"). There is usually no consistent beat to the noise, but many audience members focus on the beat frequencies of atonalities or just whatever they feel like and end up moving their bodies in any number of ways along with their notion of the beat of the music. Often, audience members' gyrations are out of sync with each other, but there is more consistency when things get intense and people start to move their bodies around more.

Crowd sizes vary; the Lemp has a dedicated base with several people who seem to be around just about every night. An official city document above the door to the place claims the fire code limit to be 70 people; I'd estimate at any given moment at this night of NoisefeSTL that number was not exceeded, but probably nearly so. Throughout the night there were probably a hundred people there.

Also: the whole night was just $6, and they had coffee, awesome lentil-butternut squash soup, and a few other dishes all for free. This was just the first night of three plus an afternoon and three workshops, so there is much more to come (that I will not be able to write about). To the artists:

Porcelain Dorsal Fin (from Milwaukee, Wisconsin): This artist used a didgeridoo as his input into a series of effects pedals. His performance was short and consisted of a lot of thick noise and distorted screaming. I liked the didgeridoo, but I felt like the sound he produced wasn't very interesting.
Score: C

Unknown (I can't figure out who this was): This artist simply used a microphone to generate massive feedback from his amplifier. I think he was playing with his input jack to generate some more noise. I was not particularly impressed; the passion was there but this is the type of thing that literally anyone can do.
Score: D

Peter J. Woods (from Milwaukee, Wisconsin): This guy started out by criticizing a few of the musicians from last year's NoisefeSTL, then explained the point of his set, which was something along the lines of "do your own thing" and "we're all family here, and if you don't like, it's just how it is". He started by reading some lyrics, then also making some very pleasant ambient drones on a bass guitar. Gradually both the vocals and the bass got harsher and harsher until he was thrashing on his bass strings and screaming "there is romance in this" over and over. Eventually he set his bass down and screamed his last lyric with every bit of his body that he could. Very intense.
Score: B

Ghost Ice (from St. Louis): I've seen him before, and he hasn't let me down yet. He uses a series of pedals in a big cabinet and has a keyboard (or maybe just oscillators?) and a mic for inputs. It seemed like he was vocalizing, but because of his processing, there was no apparent correlation between his vocals and what came out of the speakers, which is a weird thing to observe. He got a lot of sounds and was all over the place (in a good way). He had some good dynamics and several layers going on.
Score: A

Boar/ARU (from Iowa): These guys were a very intense duo. One had a drum machine and a feedback loop along with several pedals. He also had single drum that he used near the end of their performance. The other mostly vocalized (at one point putting the mic in his mouth) and maybe had some oscillators. He got really into it and started jumping around quite a bit, hitting some audience members at one point. Their noise had some movement to it, though. There was a building-up, and the beats from the drum machine and drum meant the audience had further incentive to get into it. I dug it.
Score: B+

Charlie (from St. Louis): He started with some vocal processing but then began focusing more on his keyboard and the effect pedals hooked up to that. It seemed that he used something to keep some of the keys depressed so he could fiddle with knobs with both hands and modulate more effects. Near the end he added some more distorted vocals to the mix. I liked parts of what I heard, but a lot of the middle section just seemed like jumbled blurts that didn't seem to have any connection. The result was that I'm not sure that any of the effects being modulated were really given a change to show themselves. I really liked some of the vocals and sounds earlier in his performance, though.
Score: B-

Dave Stone and Danny McClain (from ?): These guys were really a avant-garde free jazz band (if any label fits). They are a duo, sax and drums. They played a very frenetic extended piece. The saxophonist would just go all over the place and wail as he saw fit, while the drummer kept a constant clatter of snare and toms with only some hi-hat. I thought their energy was great, and I liked that they weren't on quite the same spectrum as most of the rest of the performers.
Score: B

Eric Hall (from St. Louis): He did something of an ambient dub performance with sampled loops. It started very ambient, just warm tones, but he had a drum machine come in at one point. That's where the dub qualities came in – the snare had huge reverb. He also had a DJ's CD player and would "scratch" it and play with and process that sound to add some nice touches. Near the end, either his drum machine or some other source got some extra kicks and he was making some rougher noise, but it was still fairly warm. (It reminded me of the noises in Radiohead's "Palo Alto", if that helps.) He kept it up for a while, but the beats kept the audience swaying. I liked it a lot, and I appreciated that he opted for more pleasant tones instead of the harsher tones favored by most of the other artists.
Score: A

Ben Allen (from ?): His most interesting feature was some sort of sound generator that appeared to be similar to a theremin (one of my favorite instruments, much like the ondes Martenot). His version worked such that his hand's nearness to an antenna jutting out of the box controlled either pitch or some distortion effect. He must have also had some other means of generation. He was alright but mostly kind of lost me in his continual, messy noise. I liked the instrument but once he stopped playing with it as much his dynamics were lost.
Score: C-

Overall, this was fun. I'm happy to be able to say a few words about these artists, because they are at a level of underground that simply does not ever get reported on. I was sad that there were another four artists or so listed on the tentative schedule that did not perform. Nothing was announced about them at the show.

Anyway, if you like the avant-garde and are into sonic experimentation, check this scene out. Many of these artists have MySpace accounts, they usually play shows fairly frequently, and many have highly-independent albums and singles out. If you catch this post in time, try to catch the show tonight or one of the ones tomorrow.

Overall score: B

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ben Lee / Tim Session - Live 2008.09.26

The night before driving up to Chicago for the My Bloody Valentine and Nick Cave concerts, I actually attended yet another concert. Much like last year when my university brought in Mat Kearney, this year we brought in Ben Lee, and I got to work at the concert, mostly blocking cars from entering our street. Getting sworn at because of making people take a two-minute detour is great fun.

Artist: Ben Lee
Venue: Webster University (Parking Lot E)
Location: Webster Groves, Missouri
Date: September 26, 2008
Opening Act: Tim Session

Review:
Just like with Mat Kearney, I'd never heard of Ben Lee before. I quickly learned that he's an Australian pop musician, but that's all I knew going in. I have no idea what the setlist is, and I could only halfway pay attention to the whole show, so I must give a word of caution that my review can't be considered too seriously; I wasn't an active participant. From where I was standing for most of the night, the sound was bouncing off our parking garage and creating some weird delay, so I don't think I got the full auditory experience (or visual, considering that I was a ways away from the stage). Nonetheless, I'll say a few words about my general feeling about the show.

Opener Tim Sessions played four or five songs. He is a a guitarist and singer, but he has some of that fancy overdubbing and playback equipment so he can record loops live and play different parts or instruments over that all by himself. It's pretty cool, but I think anyone that can do that (that is, buy the whole electronic setup) is kind of cool. He didn't really do anything that out there, but it was fine.

Ben Lee hit the stage after a short break and brought just his acoustic guitar and a fellow keyboardist. He played for something like 75 minutes. With just two instruments and his voice, he wasn't making a big show, but his songs worked pretty well. He's a poppy singer/songwriter, so I think a certain amount of where he's coming from is is pretty uninteresting and dull, but he did a good job of doing what he does. I wouldn't call his music bland, just unexceptional: not much in the ways of surprises, fairly basic structures, fairly constant tone throughout the set. He had plenty of catchy bits and kept things lively, but not much stood out strongly.

I wasn't really enthused about the concert, but it was pleasant. It was music that if I heard it in a store or at a low-key party I wouldn't mind, but it's not the sort of thing I would go for on my own prerogative. I kind of wonder what his album sounds like, but I don't really like many of his guest musicians and famous friends (Mandy Moore, members of Good Charlotte, etc.).

However, I wish I could have caught more of his lyrics, because I heard him mention that one song was dedicated to Yoko Ono. Well, after the show, he invited everyone to come say hello to him at his CD booth, and once I finished my work, he was still over there, so I went up and asked him about the song. Turns out the song is named after and written for Yoko. I said that I thought that was great, since I think everyone unfairly looks down on her, and he said that was the point of the song. I have to admit that I'm impressed.

It helps that he was really friendly, and even though the crowd was fairly small (probably just a couple hundred), he was appreciative to everyone there and seemed happy just to play. I particularly liked that when his main set was over, he told the audience that instead of leaving the stage and coming back, he and his keyboardist would just turn their backs, let the audience cheer for two minutes, and then turn around to play the last two songs. He might do that at every show, but it was kind of fun and he seemed sincere about it. It felt like he had to have made a more intimate connection with the crowd to be able to do that, even if it was perhaps aided by the smallish quantity of people.

Score: C
[Retrospective Score for Tim Session: C+]

P.S. Here's a link to what I'm sure is the only other review of this show out there. (It's from my school newspaper).

P.P.S. It's sad that I thought Ben Lee was a notch better than Mat Kearney but Kearney attracted like four times as many people. Such is the nature of popular music, I suppose. The year before that, though, was Edwin McCain, and I only stayed long enough to see the opener, my friend the talented Ian Fisher. Oh, and this past spring semester we got the Roots (and I worked at that one, too). I'd meant to review that one and never did. I'd give them... a B. Not really my thing, but they did a good job, and that place was packed. People were way into that. And the openers were Illphonics, whose frontman is a charismatic and intelligent figure around my university.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds / Black Diamond Heavies - Live 2008.09.29

As promised, here is the second concert I went to while in Chicago:

Artist: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Venue: Riviera Theater
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Date: September 29, 2008
Opening Act: Black Diamond Heavies

Setlist:
01. Hold On to Yourself
02. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
03. Tupelo
04. The Weeping Song
05. Midnight Man
06. Red Right Hand
07. The Mercy Seat
08. Nobody's Baby Now
09. Deanna
10. God Is in the House
11. Moonland
12. Get Ready for Love
13. We Call Upon the Author
14. Papa Won't Leave You, Henry
15. More News from Nowhere

Encore:
16. Jesus of the Moon
17. Hard On for Love
18. Stagger Lee

Review:
Originally, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds were scheduled to play just one show in Chicago: this one. Me and some friends got our tickets right away, which was quite to our luck as the show sold out. At some point, though, they added another show the night before. That one didn't sell out, but that's the one all the local reviewers went to.

Anyway, the show started at 8:00, opening with the Black Diamond Heavies. For being a two-piece (just a drummer and a keyboardist/vocalist), they kept the volume and intensity pretty high. The keyboardist had a few guitar pedals to make his tones a bit fuller and more distorted, but they sure pulled off a heavy, thick sound for only two instruments. They kept it up for about 45 minutes. I wasn't too into it, but it was an appropriate introduction for the more multilayered but fairly intense headliner.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds hit the stage around 9:15 and rolled right into a couple songs off the new album, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! Although the sound was a bit muddled for the first few tracks, I thought their take on the title track was great. The song rocked a bit more than the studio version and felt a bit looser (which worked to its advantage). The backing vocals (coming from just about every member of the band) sounded particularly good.


Sadly, their performance of "Tupelo" was subpar, and while the music to "The Weeping Song" was fine, Nick Cave forewent the normal duet nature of the vocals. In the studio version, former member Blixa Bargeld (also known for being the frontman of Einstürzende Neubauten) did a fantastic job of trading verses with Cave. With Blixa being sadly absent (which is quite a shame, considering how well he'd fit with the noisier tendencies of the last two albums), I was hoping one of the other members would pick up the part, but Cave just did it himself.


In any case, "Red Right Hand" was performed extremely well; the band was tight and Cave slinked around the front of the stage while delivering the lyrics. On the whole, the song selection was pretty good; they picked plenty of songs scattered throughout the band's long career. I'm still not too familiar with the new album, which is naturally where many of the songs came from, but I was quite surprised that they picked just one song from their previous album, the double-CD Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus (2004).

The band performed the material well, and Cave definitely kept command over the audience, but it felt like something was just a little bit off. I think that after Cave formed Grinderman (a band composed of himself and three of the other Bad Seeds) and recorded a raw, noisy album with them, he wanted to bring some of that intensity and power back to his main band. Considering that the Bad Seeds started as a fairly raucous post-punk band that grew out of the ashes of The Birthday Party, an even noisier No Wave band, maybe it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that Cave and the Seeds are going strongly in that direction. However, that's overlooking several albums in the 90s and 00s where Cave started playing keyboard more and more, Warren Ellis joined the band to provide violin (and later, mandolin, flute, and other instruments), and the general tone of the band became more personal, softer, and less harsh. These are some of Cave's most beautiful works (especially The Boatman's Call (1997) and No More Shall We Part (2001)). One of my co-attendees likes to differentiate between "Old Testament" Nick Cave and "New Testament" Nick Cave.


It is perhaps because of that shift that Bargeld had left the band: his experimental/noise background and spooky guitar tones (and voice) didn't mesh well with the softer sound, but ironically, right as he left, the band created Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus, which sounded a lot punkier that anything they'd done in ten years. The Grinderman album saw Ellis move from making traditional, sweet violin sounds to acting as a sample-master while distorting his violin into incredible feedback and noise, and that's only continued onto the new Bad Seeds album, where he also plays electric mandolin and tenor guitar. Live, he took things yet another step farther. He now looks like a wild pariah hippie Jesus, he leaps and lunges around onstage, and he distorts all his instruments to the point that I think he was covering some of the parts that are normally done on electric guitar. Oddly, Ellis' role has become most like what Blixa's once had been (and certainly what Blixa's role is in Einstürzende Neubauten!), but he now seems to play one of the most important roles in the band, acting as a background (and foreground) noisemaker and a key rhythm and lead player.

The point of this long divergence will come clear in a second. The other change Grinderman brought about was Nick Cave picking up the electric guitar. On Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, Cave still mostly plays keyboards, but live he played keyboard on just a couple songs (notably, "God Is in the House" and the solo in "Red Right Hand"). Mostly he just thrashed on his guitar or just strutted around while singing. The problem that I mentioned before I think is rooted here. All of Ellis' noise and Cave's messy guitar means that the band rocks quite a bit, but what they've gained in rocking they've lost in texture and intricacy. The band actually has two keyboardists right now (not counting Cave nor Ellis' and guitarist Mick Harvey's occasional contributions to the same instrument), but one, James Johnston, barely plays on the new album and isn't with the band on tour. The other, Conway Savage, just does handclaps and backing vocals on the album, and although he did perform live, there were a few songs where he walked off stage or sat on the side, and many were he just played auxiliary percussion. When he actually was playing keyboards, he was often entirely drowned out.

For most of the material, the main things coming through the PA were Cave's voice and Ellis' various parts. Harvey's guitar was often slightly audible, but if both him and Cave were playing guitar, one was always drowning out the other. Martyn P. Casey's bass was there if I looked for it, and the drums were there, but since there are two drummers (Thomas Wydler and Jim Sclavunos), their parts sometimes blended together, too (although they did often trade different percussive roles). It just feels weird that an eight-piece band that is quite capable of using each member quite well could just as easily been cut down to a four- or five-piece for the show and hardly anyone would have noticed the sonic difference.

It was fun to see the band play more rocking versions of their songs, but I view it is a harsh trade-off that might not have worked totally in their favor. I felt their complexity was often absent. In the same vein, Cave's more melodic and beautiful vocal tendencies were traded in for his raunchier, darker, and slightly sloppier side. It fit with the music, but I value both sides to his swagger. However, much as I'm complaining, I still recognize that this is simply a byproduct of the band growing and transitioning. Perhaps I should be glad that a 25-year-old band can still grow, although certain elements are quite reminiscent of their earliest records.

Despite the general noisier tone to the concert, both "God Is in the House" and "Nobody's Baby Now" were performed closer to their more melodic studio versions. "The Mercy Seat" and "Deanna" were both rousing renditions of classic tunes, and "More News from Nowhere" was treated with an especially good performance. To solidify which side of things Nick Cave was on for the show, his encore included the rough "Hard On for Love" (complete with references to Lazarus and Leviticus) and closed with what is perhaps the crudest song in the band's oeuvre, "Stagger Lee".


Even if I have some misgivings about some of the angles with which the band approached the performance, I had a lot of fun, and the concert totally rocked. The instrumentation got a bit mixed up in the delivery, but most of the songs turned out fine, and several were great. On the whole, this was a very good concert.

Score: B+
[Retrospective score for Black Diamond Heavies: C-]

P.S. Thanks to Keagan for getting me a ticket and for providing his perspective and domain knowledge. Actually, thanks to Niza and "the Czech", too. The input of all three helped me write this review and the last.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

My Bloody Valentine / Hopewell - Live 2008.09.27

This past weekend I had the rare pleasure of road-tripping up to Chicago with some friends to see not just one of my favorite bands, but two. Here's the first one:

Artist: My Bloody Valentine
Venue: The Aragon Ballroom
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Date: September 27, 2008
Opening Act: Hopewell

Setlist:
01. I Only Said
02. When You Sleep
03. You Never Should
04. (When You Wake) You're Still in a Dream
05. Cigarette in Your Bed
06. Come in Alone
07. Only Shallow
08. Thorn
09. Nothing Much to Lose
10. To Here Knows When
11. Slow
12. Soon
13. Feed Me with Your Kiss
14. You Made Me Realise

Review:
I've been a fan of My Bloody Valentine for years, but I'd counted them amongst the many bands that had stopped making music and that I would never, ever see a performance of. The band never did actually break up; it was just that after recording Loveless (1991) and spending forever to make a new album, they just stopped functioning. Frontman Kevin Shields has often talked about reissuing this or that album or EP or unreleased thing, but finally his band has made some real progress and has decided to regroup and do an international tour. I was lucky that one of their five US dates happened to be within 300 miles of my residence.


Anyway, I got their fairly early and had a fairly good spot on the ballroom. The opening act, Hopewell, came on stage early at about 7:50pm. The five-piece played for about 40 minutes. I'd never heard of them before, but then again the opening act had never been announced before the show – it was a complete surprise. Their version of rock, a bit psychedelic, a bit indie, a bit noisy, and a bit dancey, was rather enjoyable and worked well as an opening act for a beautifully noisy rock band. One of my friends particularly enjoyed the selection of a Jane's Addiction cover as the closer.

My Bloody Valentine took their sweet time to hit the stage. It was about 9:15 by the time they came out. The members, by now certainly in their 40s, still look good and have largely kept their heyday looks. Kevin had a large array of pedals and switched guitars for just about every song. Belinda Butcher remained much more constant, using just a few guitars and pedals. Debbie Googe kept to the same bass for every song but one, and Colm Ó Cíosóig didn't bring out any surprises behind his drumset, except for maybe a few samples that would take a little much trickery to play live (although they could have hired a keyboardist).

The choice of material wasn't really a surprise, either. They played over half of their acclaimed second album, Loveless, and four songs each from their first album, Isn't Anything (1988), and the preceding You Made Me Realise EP. Despite playing every song but one from that EP, nothing from their other numerous other EPs and mini-albums appeared. I'm not trying to make a big deal about it, but it is a slightly odd distribution. Regardless, I am complaining that their setlist hasn't changed for several concerts and the previous ones had only a few alterations. I would have loved to hear "Sueisfine" or "Sometimes", but the songs that they did perform were well-chosen.


Much as most of these songs really rocked, I can't get over the fact that the general sound was pretty monotonous. I was able to recognize each song and catch the different parts, but the vocals were mixed so low (even lower than on the records!) that I barely caught a word more than "slow" from the song of the same name. The guitars sounded awesome, but at the same time were often just slightly distinguishable tones. I could barely tell that they were playing "Only Shallow", which on record is such a distinctive song. At other times I had to just focus on the bass to tell what was going on. One of my co-attendees was a total neophyte, and she gave the clichéd but appropriate criticism that it all sounded the same.

The one big "trick" that My Bloody Valentine is fond of pulling in concert is extending the closer, "You Made Me Realise" into a 25-minute so-called "holocaust", in which the bridge is converted from a noisy one-minute drone into a 23-minute sonic assault. Even my co-attendee that was a fan was left unimpressed. I knew what was coming, since they've pulled this at every show they've done since the 90s, but it was a bit much. I understand the purpose – getting lost in the intensity could be quite an interesting mental and physical sensation, but my mind just wandered and I'm surprised I didn't get impatient. It was an experience, even slightly enjoyable from my perspective, but I can't recommend it to anyone but noise musicians and curious meditators.


Both the holocaust and the general noisy distortion are only enhanced by the extraordinary volume of the concert. The band is considered to be one of the loudest ever and the doormen to the venue gave out free earplugs with an appropriately strong recommendation. The whole intensity of the thing is further amplified by the annoying lighting. Throughout the whole concert, during just about every song, the stage lights are directed at the audience and often strobe brightly into their eyes. I know the band are pioneers of the Shoegazing genre, but I prefer to be able see the bands I pay money to see. Again, I understand that it's their "thing" to be so unengaging, but they said all of two things to the audience throughout the whole night: a thank-you from Belinda followed by a barely sincere "Yeah, thanks" from Kevin.

In spite of all my criticisms, I still think the show rocked. It was flawed and I really wish they'd do some new material, but it was awesome to hear Debbie fuzz out her bass far more than as heard in the studio versions and then rock out in her part of the stage. Colm was active, but he is a drummer and the band's music videos sure made it seem like he was the only one capable of movement anyway. The songs were all well-performed (except for a slightly off-beat sample in "Come in Alone") and it was fun to see Kevin trade his guitars for all his different tunings and sounds. He even got out an acoustic for "Cigarette in Your Bed".

I'm quite happy that had I had the opportunity to see My Bloody Valentine in the body, and it was a whole lot of fun. Their 75-minute set was fairly rocking, the opener was good, and I'm not really surprised that the gig was sold out. I just wish they weren't quite so seemingly distant... and apparently unwilling to do an encore.

Score: B-
[Retrospective score for Hopewell: B+]


[Edit 2016.06.27:] I finally found Hopewell's setlist!
1. The Angel Is My Watermark
2. Realms of Gold
3. Stranger
4. Afterglow
5. Calcutta
6. Trumpet for a Lung
7. Of Course [Jane's Addiction cover]