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2015 Concerts in Review: Part 3

It has finally happened. I have written a Part 3 to something! This in itself is cause for celebration. But I digress. Here is a quick summary of the bands I saw at 8035 Music Festival and Hinterland Music Festival in 2015. Two good festivals, but I have to admit I liked Hinterland that much more. So here goes:

17. Wilco at 8035 Music Festival, Des Moines, IA: I remember buying a CD of Wilco’s ‘A Ghost is Born’ from the local record store about 4 years ago. To this day, I believe that is his best album. I love ‘Summerteeth’ and I strongly believe that ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ is overrated. He is as good as a songwriter and singer as he is a bad lyricist. But my ratings of his albums and his ability to write good lyrics had absolutely no bearing when I saw him play a few blocks from my apartment at the 8035 music festival. For some reason, I had believed that 8035 would be a perfect place for him to play, and that pretty much just happened. I unfortunately do not remember much from the show as I was sufficiently inebriated and all I pretty much remember is just swaying to his music, singing along and having great fun. I do remember he played most of his greatest hits, including some 3-4 songs from ‘A Ghost is Born’. That’s it. I truly do not remember much else. I am glad I got to see him play some of my favorite songs live, but I also do wish I could remember much from it.

18. Weezer at 8035 Music Festival, Des Moines, IA: I have absolutely no idea how long ago it was that I had heard to Weezer last. The ‘blue album’ was good and I had heard a few of their other songs. Good show to sing along to. I remember it was night at 9 or so and my friends and I were just so damn tired that, admittedly, we just stayed at the back of the crowd and had a low key experience of the show. They did play Islands in the Sun and that was good enough for me.

19. Lettuce at 8035 Music Festival, Des Moines, IA: Hands down the best band that played at the 2015 8035! There is something about jam bands and watching them live. It is like driving through the forests of Colorado in Fall. That is just exactly how you must experience it. And Lettuce put on a great show. It didn’t matter if you were familiar with the band or not, you were dancing! They even got a touring singer come out and sing vocals for a few really groovy funk numbers. Definitely the highlight of the entire music festival.

Hinterland Music Festival, St. Charles, IA: A new music festival that was scheduled to take place at the Waterworks park, less than a mile from my apartment had some last minute changes in the venue due to flooding concerns. With the venue moved at the last moment from Des Moines to St. Charles, a small town half an hour down I-35, I was a little bit apprehensive about the venue but it turned out to be just great. And the whole music festival went so well, that the organizers are going to stick with St. Charles for this year’s edition. Works for me!

20. Future Islands at Hinterland Music Festival, St. Charles, IA: This is a band that I don’t think I will get tired of seeing them live. This was my second time, having seen them at Wooly’s in 2014, and it was an even better show. That lead singer can dance. Clearly a ladies’ man (he was even wearing golden color boots), he was sweating and “ready to take all the women to the moon” by the end of the show (overheard at the show). This band really does redefine bass grooves and showmanship. Grace Potter, true to her name, puts on a show with enormous amounts of grace. This man, on the other hand, puts on a show with sheer raw energy and intensity. Regardless of whether you are familiar with this band or not, you WILL be dancing at their show. I also do sincerely hope they starts playing Like the Moon at their shows. I could make an argument that it is their best hidden gem, and it is so good that it doesn’t deserve to be hidden anymore. On a personal note, this band brings back strong memories from my solo vacation to Colorado. I was, after all playing ‘Singles’ for a good part of the 1600 mile drive. FYI, I could start dancing right now listening to them on my earphones in the coffee shop.

21. St. Paul and the Broken Bones at Hinterland Music Festival, St. Charles, IA: Second time as well, having seen them at Wooly’s in 2014. Mr. Paul, the lead singer, really is the Ottis Redding of this generation. And the band’s basslines will always remind me that I love playing the bass guitar. They played an hour long set at the festival in the sweltering 95 degree heat, AND they did so wearing full fledged suits! I think they did a bit of sweating. But this band is one of my favorite bands and they introduced me to a genre I didn’t know existed and I love. ‘Half a City’ is a great debut album and I am looking forward to an even better sophomore. And then some more shows!

22. Madisen Ward and Mama Bear at Hinterland Music Festival AND Vaudewille Mews: That is right. I saw this band twice last year, and it is right at the top of bands I discovered in 2015. This is a mother and son duo who play folk music. I have not been naturally attracted to folk music like I have been to so many other genres. I had always felt that most bands focus more on the sound of folk music than on the melody of the songs. Which is why I fell in love with MW first time I heard Silent Movies. But Silent Movies was just one of the 12 beautiful and melodious songs on their debut album ‘Skeleton Crew’. In fact, it was also an anomaly, as it seemed to be a rather happy song. Almost every other song on their album is the kind of song you listen to just before you throw yourself off a cliff. I could go one step ahead and say that listening to them when you are feeling gloomy can make you feel that the ‘jumping off a cliff’ part is actually a reasonable idea. Perhaps, at this point, I should point out that the most depressing song I heard in 2015 was from ‘Skeleton Crew’ and it is Dead Daffodils. Yes, I know just the name of the song can make you feel like giving up on life altogether. The song will make sure you do just that.

As far as the shows went, I have to admire the old woman’s passion to travel so much and have all that energy at that age to play so many shows in a year. At the Vaudewille Mews show, she played a haunting, stripped down version of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams and Ben E King’s Stand By Me. The VM show was a very intimate one and I was right in front of the band. And this really is a band that one should watch in an intimate venue. Madisen Ward has a beautiful voice that seems to be singing in the most appropriate genre and melody. Down in Mississippi will always be a highlight at their shows just because of the power of MW’s voice and the spell that it casts on the audience, captivating them completely. And that effect is amplified best at an intimate venue.

I am hoping to catch them again in Kansas City this July. It won’t be at an intimate venue, but it will do just the same. And I will definitely be on the lookout for their sophomore album.

23. TV on the Radio at Hinterland Music Festival, St. Charles, IA: Take David Bowie, mix it with copious amounts of Nine Inch Nails, then add some Prince for good measure, and you might just begin to envision how TVOTR sounds like. ‘Seeds’ is the best summer album I have heard since ‘Evil Friends’ by Portugal. The Man. And with a back catalog that has songs such as Wolf Like Me, Staring at the Sun, this band’s live shows do not disappoint. There is a lot of DJ stuff in their sounds, and a lot of live instruments as well. I don’t mind either way simply because they have created a very refreshing new sound that you can sing along (Happy Idiot), dance to (Lazerray) and even get charged up ready to smash some windows (Wolf Like Me). I also do hope they start playing Right Now – easily the best dance track of their entire catalog – on their shows. ‘Seeds’ is an album I will always associate with the summer of 2015 and everything it felt like. I still do need to properly explore their back catalog and will be on the lookout for their next album/tour. Strongly recommend this band!

24. Brandi Carlile at Hinterland Music Festival, St. Charles, IA: Country music has always been at the wrong end of my taste spectrum. I have always felt that mainstream country has its focus more on song structure, sound and lyrics and not much on creating new melody (kinda like blues too). Brandi Carlile is one of the exceptions and I fully enjoy her music. Her show was high energy with the entire crowd singing along to most of the songs. But I have to admit, the highlight of the show when she got the members of the Old Crow Medicine Show join her on stage to play a bluegrass version of Led Zeppelin’s Going to California! She poured her heart and soul into singing the high pitch portions of the song, and it was truly impressive and powerful! That’s when it hit me that here is a bluegrass band and a country singer covering a rock n’ roll classic by Led Zeppelin. I suppose all is well with mankind after all. I am looking to see her in concert this month (June) again in Des Moines, and I know I won’t be disappointed.

Honorable mention to Old Crow Medicine Show and a not so honorable mention to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (Edward Sharpe was drunk and high and could barely get himself to sing to the most basic standards. Shame on him for such lack of professionalism).

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Bosnian Rainbows Concert in Minneapolis: Reviewing Omar’s New Sound

Last year my friend introduced me to this man who went by the name of Omar. (Till then, the only Omar I had heard about was the trench-coat wearing, shotgun wielding badass who robbed drug dealers for a living). It turned out that this new Omar had about half a dozen musical projects going on all at the same time and that he had a really good ear for progressive rock and experimental music. Without having to spend much time or effort, I was immediately captivated by the sound of The Mars Volta and most of his solo work (including that extremely disturbing album Despair). And now he has got this latest band – Bosnian Rainbows – and they were on tour with their last date at Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis on Feb 28.

So there was just this small matter of doing the 4 hr drive from Des Moines to Minneapolis on a Thursday afternoon, watch the concert, do the 4 hr drive back to Des Moines that same night and then go to work at 8 on Friday morning. Well, of course I was always going to do it! And I did do it.

Omar Rodriguez Lopez (L) with his new band Bosnian Rainbows at Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis

This was the first time I was going to a concert wherein I had not listened to ANY music of the band at all. Bosnian Rainbows has not yet released an album and I had not listened to either of the 2 Live singles they had released. But make no mistake. This band sounds real good Live. Omar has created a refreshing new sound that is not only well textured and oozing with craftsmanship, but it is also very catchy (Wiki calls it Alternative rock, experimental rock, electronic rock, art rock, and art punk). There is a generous dose of catchy electronic beats that is layered with Omar’s equally catchy guitar riffs. Deantoni Parks, the Mars Volta drummer, played a lot of drums, electronic percussion and keyboards (at the same time) and I am really curious to see how that sounds in the album recording. A defining characteristic of this band is the near perfect blending of the percussion, the electronic beats and Omar’s guitar riffs. But what pulls it all together is Teri Bender’s soaring vocals. Her voice gives this sound that cutting edge which it would otherwise have missed badly.

Most of the songs were about 4-6 minutes in length and did not contain any expansive passages or for that matter, any room for improvisations. As Omar had indicated in an interview earlier, these songs are very tight compositions with well defined structures. But, as with ANY Omar compositions, irrespective of how catchy or poppy this sound may be, all the songs are meticulously written and executed and some inevitably contain experimental passages.

A quick word about the performance. This was the first time I was seeing Omar Live, and boy does he get involved in the music! For extended periods of time, he appeared to be lost in the music and living in a different plane of existence. Immersed in the music, he was vigorously moving his body to get into the groove of his guitar riffs. He spoke very little to nothing at all except towards the end when he acknowledged the audience by thanking them profusely for showing up and supporting the band all the time and every day. The fact that he said this directly to the crowd  instead of to the microphone tells me that he really meant it.

Teri Bender really did steal the show with her robotic movements and gyrations to accompany the music. She even crawled on the floor where the crowd was standing at one point. Her stage presence does indeed complement her voice. Deantoni Parks, on the other hand, looked like he just came back from a workout session at the gym. This man is huge and with his massive muscles, was playing the drum kit, electronic percussions and the keyboards  – all at the same time!

A quick note on Omar himself. This man looks really really young. He looked like a college graduate who was just looking for a job. Humor aside, this in fact is an important reminder of how much he has composed and produced in such a young age (he is right now 37). The more I think about it, the more I am prone to draw analogies between him and Steven Wilson. Both have several projects going on, do the writing on most of them, produce all the albums, give special attention to releasing albums instead of singles, and are always looking to explore new sounds. It is the last part that makes me develop true respect for people like Omar and Steven Wilson. The fearlessness that is needed to go ahead and create a new sound that may very well be against what they are popularly known for among their fans is something to be admired. With regard to Omar, making this well textured and meticulously written music, albeit in a catchy song structure, had to be a challenging process – but one that did not deter him from going ahead.

As much as I am disappointed that both Omar’s The Mars Volta and Wilson’s Porcupine Tree are on a hiatus, I am not unduly worried about it as both Omar and Steven Wilson continue to write music exploring new sounds. And as long as they don’t stop doing that, I wont have much to complain.

Oh and turns out I will be watching Steven Wilson Live at the exact same music venue in the first week of May. Already have my tickets for it and looking forward to watching him Live for the second time in a pub.

 

PS: Special mention to MARRIAGES – the opening act for Bosnian Rainbows. Imagine Sigur Ros and a slightly heavier version of Sigur Ros. This band is pretty close to the latter. The female vocalist is really worth the comparison. Cool artwork too.

Remembering THAT Weekend in Chicago: Part I – Roger Waters Live

NOTE: This post (and the next) is easily more than 2 months late. But figured it was something that had to be said before I forget. All pics courtesy my good friend who got conned into coming to the concert through a text message! 🙂 Anyway, here goes: 

At the risk of jinxing myself in the future, allow me to share with you a recent realization. It goes thus:

When I want to go to a concert, the universe conspires with me in helping me achieve that aim.

And so it has been for the past so many months, when I had the opportunity to watch a number of bands live.  And so it was again a couple of months ago, when I was blessed to see two of the biggest acts  in a span of 3 days: Roger Waters and Radiohead. Yes, you read that right – Roger Waters AND Radiohead, within 3 days.

I do not intend for this post to be a review of the concerts at all. Instead, I want to write down what this meant to me and how it made me feel. The Radiohead experience will be documented in the next post.

ROGER WATERS – THE WALL LIVE @ The Wrigley Stadium, Chicago

I had seen Roger Waters Live before, when he had come to Bangalore, India way back in 2002 – and when the music of Floyd had just begun to grow on me. I do remember that experience quite well but not vividly enough. That concert was good, but it was completely devoid of all the reasons a Floyd concert is known for – lighting, multimedia, props, the ‘wall’ et al. And so when I found out that Waters was planning to do the highly acclaimed The Wall tour for the second time  all around the world, my plans just got made for me. (I also used my chicanery to convince a friend of mine to cough up $300 and to drive  2 hrs to give me company for this event! Turned out I could have easily conned her of that money!)

The Wall is really an album. Irrespective of how much more popular certain singles may have become over the decades, the complete essence of the work is revealed only when listened to as a complete single unit – not as a collection of discrete singles. And for those of you who know a little more of the history of this album, you will be aware of how Roger Waters initially did NOT prefer to play this album in stadiums. The irony, of course, was that The Wall sounded like it had been specifically made to be played Live in large stadiums. Over time, Waters did embrace the stadium experience and went back to them over and over again. And so it was, that he brought The Wall show to Wrigley Field in Chicago on the 8th of June 2012.

Me at Wrigley Field for the Roger Waters Concert

A lot of musicians – past and present- are capable of filling in entire stadiums and arenas during the peak of their careers. But so very few are capable of repeating that act 45 years into their music career – and very much in their twilight. Roger Waters is one of those few. And Wrigley field was indeed sold out with people of ALL ages –  young and old – paying big bucks (I paid close to $300) to watch this one man play his magnum opus for possibly the last time ever. Waters has publicly stated that this could very well be his last tour, describing it as his ‘swan song’. And I was never going to miss that for anything in the world.

And like the album, my experience was something that can only be described as a whole, single unit – not as a collection of how I felt when each song was played. This happens only when a number of factors come together to take the whole experience to a whole new level: a place where you haven’t been before. And they were ALL there that night for sure. The huge and gigantic wall, the hypnotizing and jaw dropping art and multimedia  projected on the wall, the massive surround sound speakers in full effect, Roger Water’s (surprisingly) crisp clear vocals singing with all the venom and purpose in the world, and not to forget the music itself – ALL came together in the right proportions and combinations to make this concert into an experience like none other.

But every such an experience has to have a peak –  a point during which you transcend everything around you and break that invisible barrier into the realm of that higher state of mind; something that will make you look back at that experience one day and mark it as a reference point in your life. During the show, that point came with the words:

“Is there anybody out there?”

Comfortably Numb

Sure, I might have heard it a thousand times before, and I for sure know every single note and bar on the song. But watching Roger Waters sing that same song live in that haunting setting, and watching one of the 3 stand-in guitarists (for Gilmour obviously) standing on top of the wall rip through that captivating guitar solo with note to note perfection, I realized that this song still has the ability to give me the jitters and make my hair stand on its end.

Special note on the stand-in guitarist at the top of the wall: he really did play the full solo NOTE for NOTE. No attempts at improvisations and no mess ups. And as far as I was concerned, I didn’t attempt to sing along to the song, and I realized not many around me were trying to either. I guess there are few songs you just don’t sing along to (and a few guitar solos you don’t improvise)  – at a concert. You just shut the fuck up and  experience it – and then feel blessed.

But in all seriousness, watching him perform on stage with the energy and passion of a 25 year old, I realized that all this had to mean something more to him than just a way to remind people around the world of the legacy that he leaves. And he did have something to say for sure. Interpreting The Wall album through a contemporary looking glass replete with references to today’s problems – the government, capitalism, religion and war- was always the idea and motivation behind this tour. (Waters himself has said this). And I have to admit, I was also thoroughly impressed with the clarity in his voice at this age (68?), and even while singing at a high pitch.

At the end of the day, I left Wrigley Field happy and thoroughly satisfied that I had experienced The Wall album the way it was meant to be – in a stadium, with surround sound, a massive wall, hypnotizing multimedia and the man who created it all.

Blessed I am indeed.