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.

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.

A Perfect Fitting Blouse.

9 05 2012

Blouse performs at Sonic Boom Records in Toronto.

There is something to be said about having the opportunity for “face-time” with a musician/band that you admire and respect on an artistic level. There’s even more to be said about such “face-time” when the musician/band in question has genuine affection for their fans and is humbly grateful for the support they receive.

Shooting the breeze with Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells. Doing shots of whiskey with Cults’ Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion. Debating CDs vs. vinyl records with the members of Exitmusic. There was no ego. No pretention. Just a mellow interaction with some very talented and down-to-earth artists.

During this past weekend’s visit from Will during which we had planned to see both St. Vincent and M83 play Town Ballroom, we decided to make a trek up to Sonic Boom Records in Toronto for an in-store performance by Blouse, a dreamy indie-pop band from Portland. I heard of Blouse after reading a blog entry on BrooklynVegan which compared the band to several other acts receiving heavy rotation on my turntable. After a quick visit to the iTunes store, I was completely enamored. Spin likened their beautiful and haunting synth-oriented music to that which would have been heard by the denizens of Twin Peaks on an evening at The Roadhouse. In my humble opinion, Blouse as the opening act for Julee Cruise on the night Maddy Ferguson was murdered would have been perfection.

When taking possible weekend traffic on the QEW and border crossing delays into account, I had concerns about making it back in time for the St. Vincent show later that evening… especially since I missed her back in December due to the event being cancelled (allegedly so Annie Clark could film her cameo on Gossip Girl). Needless to say, it all worked out in the end and we made it back to Buffalo with plenty of time to spare.

Sonic Boom Records is located amongst the narrow streets of the pedestrian mall known as the Kensington Market; a multicultural neighborhood lined with sidewalk stands of fresh produce, outdoor cafes, and eclectic shops. I immediately made a mental note to return at another time to explore the area a bit more.

Upon entering the store, we encountered a handful of artsy hipster types pawing through racks of vinyl LPs along with an upbeat and friendly staff. The drums and speakers were already set up so I took a prime spot right in front of where the band would be playing.

Within about 10 minutes of our arrival at Sonic Boom, Blouse showed up. I was instantly smitten with drummer Jacob Portrait’s vintage Dick Tracy t-shirt. How could any child of the early 90s not be smitten with a vintage Dick Tracy t-shirt donned by someone in 2012?

I was still standing by myself near the band’s equipment at this point and was able to partake in some small talk with singer Charlie Hilton who is a perfectly delicate blend of Nico and Beach House’s Victoria Legrand. I asked how the tour was going and mentioned how we came up from Buffalo on a whim to see them prior to the aforementioned St. Vincent show back home. Charlie was genuinely surprised and flattered that we would drive all that way just to see them.

The very intimate show started shortly thereafter. Roughly 15-20 people filed in to the store to hear Blouse play most of their debut record and the single “Shadow” (previously released through SubPop Records). The sound was surprisingly good given that we were all crowded into a small retail space. It was actually the clearest that I’ve heard a band sound live in a while.

Following the close of the set (side note: “Into Black” is one of my favorite tracks on the record), Will and I chatted up the band members a bit more. Charlie thanked us again for coming all that way and wished us a good evening at the St. Vincent show. They were all also gracious enough to sign my LP and numbered print advertising the in-store show. We said out goodbyes and hit the road back to the States.

It wasn’t until we were well on our way that Will put into words exactly what I was thinking, “I love that she remembered that we were going to St. Vincent tonight.” Something as simple as remembering our brief exchange prior to the beginning of the set was enough to make my day.

 True, it was probably only an hour between conversations with Charlie Hilton about our plans later that evening but it’s simple moments like those that can give a fan a lifelong memory.

Fathers’ Music Syndrome.

12 04 2012

To quote Portlandia: “Do you remember the 90s?”

The programming on MTV was relevant. Britpop reached its height. Kids roamed around in wide-leg jeans and Airwalk sneakers listening to their Walkmans (or Discmans if you were fortunate enough to have a decent allowance). Music was a genuine artform instead of a mass-produced marketing gimmick that humps on autotune the way a dog humps a leg.

Blood for Poppies

Garbage "Blood for Poppies"

If you are like me, refreshing every music blog/website/tumblr from Spin to Pitchfork and Consequence of Sound to Brooklyn Vegan, then you are well aware that the decade that paved the way for the modern indie-rock scene to come to fruition is making quite the resurgence.

Garbage will be touring for the first time since 2007 and has been selling out shows in mere minutes of the tickets being made available. Mazzy Star (dream pop pioneers who were Beach House before Beach House was Beach House) reunited to release their first material since 1996 with promises of a full-length record and tour to follow. Melancholic waif, Fiona Apple, releases her fourth record (The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do a.k.a. The Idler Wheel…) in June just prior to a summer tour that takes her across the United States and Canada. Irish alternative band, The Cranberries, also released a new record after a 10-year hiatus.

These were some of the big names in music in the 90s that helped define who I was during my high school years. In fact, Garbage was the first live show that I saw (they opened for The Smashing Pumpkins at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in July of 1996).

My first reaction to the news that some of my favorite bands were returning to the spotlight and releasing new material was to wonder if I was suffering from what I call “Fathers’ Music Syndrome.” If you grew up in a household where your father was a music junkie, you might have a pretty good idea of what it is that I am referring to.

I will be the first to admit that when I was a teenager and engrossed in the music that was popular at the time (namely Seattle-based grunge rock), I couldn’t help but throw a side-eye of judgment at my father when he would pull out records by The Beach Boys or The Rolling Stones (it would be a few more years before my love for music developed enough and allowed me to appreciate these rock-n-roll legends). This was the music he grew up with. The music he loved. I remember being taken to see The Beach Boys at Pilot Field (currently Coca-Cola Field). I remember thinking to myself that only washed-up bands must play at minor league baseball games.

Have Fiona Apple, Garbage, et al become my (our) own “Fathers’ Music Syndrome?” Save for the fact that they can still sell out shows, still record amazing music,  and have cult followings decades later, there’s still that part of me (us) that finds comfort in the familiar sounds of a youthful era. I’ll be the first to admit that I would be the first in line to see Courtney Love play a free show at a baseball diamond.

Ironically, Hole just started playing on my iPod.