The End of the Night.

27 09 2013

Despite my unwavering love and adoration for Nika Roza Danilova (better known as Zola Jesus), February 18th, 2012 went down in history as one of the most miserable and aurally offensive concert experiences in recent memory. Zola would take to the stage at New York City’s Webster Hall in support of her latest album, Conatus. Unfortunately, any enjoyment to be gleaned from the majestic vocals of Zola Jesus was soured after having our eardrums viciously assaulted by opening band, Liturgy. How on earth a “Brooklyn-based, death metal” band was supposed to compliment the ambient, ethereal wave of Zola Jesus’ operatic voice is beyond me.

One concert-goer even took to the music blog, Brooklyn Vegan, to accurately describe the experience as thus: “Liturgy was one of the worst acts I’ve ever had the horrible displeasure of seeing. Samples of garbage trucks backing up and the same guitar riff over and over. Utter crap. Zola was awesome.”

Flash-forward to September 13th, 2013. Versions, Zola Jesus’ fourth LP, has been in record stores for almost three months and her tour with composer J.G. Thirlwell (a.k.a. Foetus) and a string quartet was just beginning. That night’s stop was the Foundation Theater at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). We really had no idea how majestic of an evening was in store for us. The agonizing, auditory pain experienced at Webster Hall at the hands of Liturgy would all but be forgotten.

9753060063_cbff17c007_zIt shouldn’t have come as a surprise, really. When you mix a string quartet with a talent like Zola Jesus, the end result would be nothing short of brilliance.

We arrived at the gallery early enough to guarantee front row seats for the show. The theater, with its pristine hardwood floors and floor length windows, was incredibly intimate despite the beautiful view out onto the Boston Harbor.

Zola, looking like a living Grecian statue, delivered a performance that would leave the crowd in awe. “Run Me Out” would see the petite singer travel up through the seated audience, vocals building into a powerful crescendo. Will would later joke that I appeared about ready to tackle her in a swooning frenzy when she came within arm’s length of where we sat.

As someone who has been to more live shows than I can recall, I can safely say that, at this point, it really takes something special to make a show memorable for years to come. Zola Jesus’ performance at the ICA was not just a concert but a living piece of art, thus making the venue a perfectly appropriate setting.


Lofty Cries with Trembling Thighs.

4 02 2013

Purity-Ring-Toronto-Feb-2013-2Despite the looming threat of a weighty snowstorm descending on Buffalo later in the evening, I made the trek up north to see Purity Ring take the stage at Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre this past Friday (February 1st, 2013). I had already accepted the fact that I would commute at a snail’s pace on the QEW should the weather turn unfavorable. I refused to miss the chance to see this band play as their debut record has rarely left my turntable since its release in June of last year.

Dream pop. Synthpop. Minimalist electronica. It’s kind of unfair to label Purity Ring with any specific category. Listening to their music is like sinking into a haunting fairy tale that is both beautiful and macabre.

The appropriate use of atmospheric light is obviously an imperitive element for the band’s live performances. Illuminated cocoons like the chrysalides of some futuristic, alien butterflies hung from the ceiling above the stage. Megan James would float around with what appeared to be a portable type of lamp one would often see at a construction site. A free-standing bass drum radiated a yellow glow each time it was struck during key moments of the set and Colin Roddick’s synthesizer/xylophone/musical Lite-Brite hybrid was something like I’ve never seen before; a post-apocalyptic instrument to bring gleaming melodies to the denizens of some dystopian, industrial city.

Luminous stage presence, angelic vocals, and an indescribable aural aesthetic all combined to make for a memorable evening. Afterwards, I was able to emerge from this dreamy ghost story about a mile away from home… just as the snow started falling.

Pictures or it Didn’t Happen.

19 11 2012

Before introducing the first of three opening acts, Amanda Palmer would promise the crowd the best show of the tour. This was the final performance of the Theatre Is Evil tour and it was fitting that this would be my first experience seeing Ms. Palmer live. An experience that would be filled with smashed guitars, crowd surfing, tearful ballads, and smeared eye makeup.

In a bout of rare fortune, all three of Amanda’s opening acts were quite fantastic. You can’t go wrong when one group is an spandex-clad hybrid of Le Tigre, Scissor Sisters, and the cast of a Female Trouble-era John Waters film while another consists of a duo of saxophone players whose claim to fame is covering 80s tracks like “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Take on Me.”

Amanda and her Grand Theft Orchestra took the stage almost immediately after the third opener finished. They would start off with “Smile (Pictures or it Didn’t Happen)” and immediately segue into “Do It With a Rockstar.”  Amanda and her guitarist jumped into the crowd to ride the wave of fans. A guitar neck was smashed into a pedal board. The microphone stand was thrown across the stage and a drum stick hurled into the crowd. Two songs into the set and the stage already looked like the aftermath of an encore. Apparently this was not the symptom of Ms. Palmer and co. collectively blowing their loads too early but moreso a mere warming up of the crowd.

One of the more moving parts of the evening was the performance of “The Bed Song” which Amanda dedicated to her husband Neil Gaiman, who was present that evening, stating her wishes that their relationship never, ever mirror the lyrics of the song. Standing at her keyboard, tear-streaked and emotionally vulnerable, she would move most of her more dedicated fans to sobs.

The entire evening was the perfect mix of rockstar schenanigans, nostalgic antics (a cover of “Careless Whisper” by Wham!, complete with dueling saxophones, was quite the showstopper), and raw emotion. It would be a blatant lie to say this wasn’t one of the best shows I’ve seen in 2012 (note: I’ve seen a lot).

Amanda Palmer is a performer and an artist… of the highest caliber.

If You Built Yourself a Myth…

24 07 2012

Beach House

Summer 2010 was the first time that I had the opportunity to see Baltimore dream-pop duo, Beach House, live. The show was in a small theater amidst a rather rundown Cleveland suburb. My early arrival at the venue guaranteed a front row spot right in front of where Victoria Legrand’s keyboard would be set up. The show was beautifully moody and enchanting. I would end up seeing them perform in Toronto and Buffalo a few weeks later.

That Cleveland show would be the start of an unofficial tradition for me, at least for the past few summers, where I would make a few mix CDs, gas up the car, and enjoy a roadtrip to a never-before-visited city to take in the sights and a show. Summer 2011 was Columbus to see The Kills. This past Saturday was Pittsburgh and Beach House once again.

After a day/afternoon of seeing some of the sights in the area, I arrived at the venue, Mr. Smalls Theatre in Millvale, with a few hours to kill. Millvale, a Pennsylvania borough bordering Pittsburgh, was once a hub for iron manufacturing, saw works, stone works, lumber mills, and breweries. That would explain why the area reminded me of a cross between Twin Peaks and one of the little hamlets from a Stephen King novel with its hilly terrain, plentiful greenery, ravines, and older architecture. It definitely felt like one of those quaint, rural areas seeped in history that we city folk drive through on our way to go camping.

Parking right outside the theatre gave me the added bonus of being able to listen to the band’s soundcheck while catching up on some reading. Since I already had the front row experience back in 2010, I wasn’t really in a rush to beat the crowd so it was a relaxing late afternoon with the printed page prior to the show.

One thing to be said about Mr. Smalls Theatre is that they really pack ’em in… almost to an offensively uncomfortable level. I think I felt less claustrophobic when I was front row at Terminal 5 for Crystal Castles than back near the sound booth for this Beach House show.

Jan Hammer’s “Crockett’s Theme” from Miami Vice was the band’s intro. Appropriate? Absolutely. The aural throwback segued perfectly into “Wild,” the second track from Beach House’s latest record, Bloom.


The set was very Teen Dream and Bloom heavy which was understandable considering they are the two latest releases and undoubtedly the most critically acclaimed of their catalog. Victoria Legrand would remain bathed in heavy backlighting for most of the show, leaving her in a shadowy silhouette that, when coupled with her husky yet beautifully sultry voice, would leave one to wonder if Nico of The Velvet Underground had been reincarnated onstage.

I suppose the Nico reference is more than appropriate considering the early part of that afternoon was spent at the Andy Warhol Museum. He painted a banana for the cover of The Velvet Underground’s record. Perhaps, one of his famous flower paintings would have been his choice of cover for Beach House’s Bloom.

Bringing on the Weekend.

8 07 2012

Class Actress @ Town Ballroom

There are a handful of bands that must be seen live in order to receive the full effect of their music. After last night’s show, I have no choice but to include Brooklyn’s noir-pop trio, Class Actress, amongst them.

I was unfortunately too young to truly enjoy the 80s in any other way than vicariously through my older half-siblings and cousins. The music. The big hair. The fashions. I remember it vividly but the memories, themselves, don’t belong to me. Enter Class Actress whose first full-length LP, Rapprocher, was released back in October 2011. Upon first listen, there is no denying that the music of Class Actress hearkens back to a time when MTV was flooded with the pulsating beats of synthpop and folks like Pet Shop Boys, Gary Numan, Thompson Twins, Flock of Seagulls, Tears For Fears, and Depeche Mode ruled the roost. It felt like this wonderful era of decadent music left us an aural time capsule to unearth when we were in need of a reminder about what good music should sound like.

The evening of July 7th, 2012, saw them take to the stage at Buffalo’s Town Ballroom in support of Sleigh Bells (who I had previously seen back in 2010 at Mohawk Place). Elizabeth Harper took to the stage with her band as the epitomized physical embodiment of her music. A beautiful hybrid of Laura Branigan/Ally Sheedy/Tiffany. Her hair voluminous and draped over the shoulders of a long-sleeved white button down shirt with uncuffed French cuffs that started off underneath a black blazer. As she danced from one end of the stage to the other, you could easily envision Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall dancing along to that very same music after-hours at Prince and Company.

“Come on, Buffalo… it’s Saturday night… let’s do this right!” Elizabeth would say as the group segued into their single, “Weekend.”

And in case anyone in the crowd was too naive to pick up on the flood of 80s deliciousness that Class Actress was dishing out, the set ended with Ms. Harper yanking her keyboard from its stand and playing it like a keytar. Stellar!

Still Raising Her Own Hell.

2 07 2012

Fiona Apple at Boston’s Wang Theater

When Fiona Apple’s debut record, Tidal, was released in 1996, I was a mere sixteen years old, wallowing in a mixture of self-pity, misery, and confusion… much like most teenagers of the 90s. We were all Angela Chase looking for someone to give a voice to our ebbing and flowing emotions.  Tidal quickly became the soundtrack for my angsty teen years.

Flash-forward roughly sixteen years. Calling the world “bullshit” during a 1997 MTV award acceptance speech, her letter to Bill Magee,  and the “Free Fiona” campaign surrounding Extraordinary Machine seem like a lifetime ago. A superstitious person (albeit one with impeccable taste in music) would find some sort of connection between my age at the time Tidal was released and the amount of time to pass until I would have the opportunity to see her live.

Still seething with raw emotion, Fiona took to the stage at Boston’s Wang Theater this past Saturday, June 30th. The set opener was “Fast As You Can” which she sang through gritted teeth. From our seats (6th row, center), there was no mistaking the distinct pouting lips, cheekbones that could cut glass, and the cords in her neck straining as she delved into what would be an amazing performance. “Sleep to Dream” would see the waif-like siren pulling on her hair (which would alternate between being tied back in a ponytail and hanging loose past her shoulders) and writhing around like a beautifully broken marionette.

Artists like Fiona Apple and the show she put on this past weekend could be seen as signs that perhaps the music industry hasn’t been completely lost to an assembly line of commercialism and frivolity. Her ability to fuel her craft with complete passion and brutal honesty may be a dying art form but I would, without a doubt, wait another sixteen years to experience it again if I had to.



Beloved Freaks.

2 06 2012

Buffalo, New York. July 2nd, 1996. Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. The first time seeing Garbage live was actually my first concert ever. Shirley and co. were the supporting act  for The Smashing Pumpkins on their Infinite Sadness tour.

I went to the show with my best friend at the time. He was a pseudo-metal head who lived across the street and was two or three years my senior. We initially bonded over our love of alternative rock music… Garbage being no exception. I looked up to him like a he was a cool and rebellious big brother. I remember him introducing me to new music to obsess over with every shipment he received from Columbia House.

Garbage (Phoenix Concert Theatre 05/28/2012)

The show was to be one of the last handful of events at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. Later that night, seats would be ripped up as the crowd surged when the Pumpkins went into “1979.” I don’t recall exactly where our seats were but I know they were probably about halfway up from the floor of the arena slightly to the right of the stage. People piled into the Aud, filling it to capacity. The weirdos. The outcasts. The kids who were always picked last for dodgeball. The bookworms. The queers. The freaks. All of them coming together because they all find support and acceptance in the music of a fiery-haired, Scottish “supervixen” and her bandmates.

Toronto, Ontario. May 28th, 2012. Phoenix Concert Theatre. “This song is for the freaks,” Shirley Manson would coo into the microphone before segueing into “Cherry Lips” from their third studio album, beautifulgarbage. She would also go around to each band member and ask them what made them freaks in their younger years. Steve Marker responded that he was a member of a marching band and Butch Vig smoked a lot of pot.

If there is one thing to be said about Garbage, it’s that they have always welcomed and championed their “beloved freaks” and those who “may not have made the football team.”  They have always had a way of making an outcast feel less, well, outcasty. Returning to a tedious world of normalcy is always more bearable after immersing yourself in a big pile of Garbage.