Reviews of music shows I've been to. Maybe you've been there too…

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MC50 at 930 Club (9/11/18)

Let me tell you ’bout Wayne and his deals of cocaine
A little more every day
Holding for a friend till the band do well
Then the D.E.A. locked him away

  • The Clash, “Jail Guitar Doors”

In 1968, or 1978, Wayne Kramer probably had little belief that he would still be around in 2018, let alone touring the music of his seminal counterculture band, the MC5. His attitude throughout his show with a reconstituted MC5 (dubbed MC50) at a half-full 9:30 Club on September 11 clearly reflected his appreciation for living on borrowed time. “What do I have to worry about?” he asked rhetorically. “I’m here with all my friends, I’ve got the best band in town.”

The crowd was definitely more friend than foe, but his second point was indisputable. Backed by Fugazi’s Brendan Canty (who received a rapturous hometown welcome) on drums, Faith No More’s Billy Gould on bass and Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil on rhythm guitar, and fronted by Zen Guerilla behemoth Marcus Durant, the MC50 band sounded as tight and powerful as any of the supergroup’s members’ own bands. Despite Thayil being woefully underused, the unit rocked through a high-energy set that only flagged during the obligatory 70’s-era space jam “Starship.”

Surprisingly, the show stayed almost entirely apolitical (on 9/11 no less!), despite the radical reputation that had made the MC5 famous (or infamous). The only nod towards politics was a brief shout-out to the current administration and a heartful remonstration for audience members to vote. Is Kramer out of fight? At this point in his life, it’s clear that he would much rather fade away than burn out. Should he be admired for surviving? Or is he the epitome of the death of the hippie dream?

Set List

  1. Ramblin’ Rose
  2. Kick Out the Jams
  3. Come Together
  4. Motor City Is Burning
  5. Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)
  6. Borderline
  7. I Want You Right Now
  8. Starship
  9. Call Me Animal
  10. Sister Anne
  11. Shakin’ Street
  12. Future / Now
  13. The American Ruse
  14. I Can Only Give You Everything (Them cover)
  15. Looking at You

 

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Jack White at The Anthem (5/29/18)

The problem with pop music is that it’s popular. Ever musician wants fame and fortune, but at some point, the quality of the music and quality of the musician seem to almost be subsumed by the idea of the musician. Like, I’m sure the Beyhive truly adore Beyonce, but do they really love her music and complete body of work, or do they just worship the aura of her? At a certain level of popularity, is it even possible to separate the artist from the art?

Which brings us to Jack White. Fronting one of the most successful, popular rock bands of the past 20 years, he became a Rock Star with a back catalogue of music that rivals Pearl Jam or The Ramones. Ever since, his actions (such as preferring vinyl for releases and playing home-made guitars) have cemented his indie icon status. While no less proficiently musically, he has definitely turned away from the catchier pop songs that made the White Stripes into legends. Yet he is still immediately recognizable, a name brand, a huge draw, and so, therefore, popular.

I bring this up because Jack White is not one to coast on his popularity. His concert at The Anthem on May 29 was one of the most punk shows I’ve seen in years, probably since the last time I saw X (the Descendents show I saw the Fillmore was a sing-along hits-fest by comparison). He exuded pure energy, prized musicianship over sing-alongs, and honestly tried to win the audience over by force of nature. The problem is, having been so popular and well-known, White will forever be identified with those famous songs (“Seven Nation Army” being the ultimate example). So when the audience cheer every maneuver (like the pre-show video showing a countdown clock), or go ape-shit at the slightest recognition of a song (e.g. “Hotel Yorba”), it is hard to discern whether they are actually appreciating the performance, or just mindlessly applauding because it’s JACK WHITE! Given those factors, I would have much preferred to have seen this show at a smaller venue, where the performance would come across on its own merits (related: does any big act even bother playing the 9:30 Club anymore?)

Some musicians reject what made them popular and dare their audience to go with them in a radically new direction (Radiohead, Van Morrison); others accept it and try to maintain a balance between old and new (David Byrne, U2); still others embrace it and make it central to their identity (pretty much every classic rock band). As Jack White heads into middle age, I’m fascinated to observe which road he takes. Even more fascinating will be whether his audience follows him.

 Set List:

  1. Over and Over and Over
  2. High Ball Stepper
  3. Corporation
  4. Hello Operator (The White Stripes song)
  5. Cannon (The White Stripes song)
  6. Everything You’ve Ever Learned
  7. Hotel Yorba (The White Stripes song)
  8. Hypocritical Kiss
  9. I Cut Like a Buffalo (The Dead Weather song)
  10. Love Interruption
  11. Catch Hell Blues (The White Stripes song)
  12. Humoresque
  13. Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes song)

Encore:

  1. Sixteen Saltines
  2. Ice Station Zebra
  3. We’re Going to Be Friends (The White Stripes song) (with Lillie Mae)
  4. You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket (The White Stripes song)
  5. I’m Slowly Turning Into You (The White Stripes song)
  6. Connected by Love

Beck at The Anthem (4/26/18)

Who is Beck? For me, he’ll always be the slacker-turned-hipster icon of my developmental years. That also means that he ceased to be relevant to me once the calendar turned past the year 2000. So I admit to being surprised to belatedly learn that he has consistently been churning out music for the past two decades, music ranging from Grammy-winning ballads to a recent turn towards electropop. All of which set up some fascinating intrigue for his show on April 26 at The Anthem: what (or better yet, who) should I expect?

Coming out looking like a body double for David Spade, Beck shocked an unsuspecting crowd with an onslaught of greatest hits to kick off the show: “Devils Haircut”, “Loser”, and “The New Pollution.” Such was the level of surprise that the crowd was barely able to rouse themselves to sing along or generate the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for such fan favorites. I myself was stunned to hear him play “Loser”, assuming that overplayed track had been relegated to the history bin.

7AEBF6E3-688F-42C9-B475-2499444C0A8FBacked by an eight-person band capable of carrying any style, Beck quickly made his way through his set without ever settling on one genre: Alt-rock indie legend? Check. Faux hip hop b-boy? Check. Acoustic crooner? Check. Dance pop crossover artist? Check. It was a Bowie-esque whirlwind of impressive versatility, but one that failed to provide a sufficient answer as to identity. Which version of Beck am I supposed to like or take seriously? Anyone who claims to like them all equally is lying. So which one is real? Which one is current? Which one, ultimately, is most influent, most memorable, most likely to be remembered in the pantheon of music history?

Which brings me back to my original question: who is Beck? After seeing him, I don’t think I have any better of an answer than when the show began. But at least I know that he still is, and will continue to be.

Set list:

  1. Devils Haircut
  2. Loser
  3. The New Pollution
  4. Que Onda Guero
  5. Wow
  6. Black Tambourine
  7. Think I’m In Love
  8. Colors
  9. Mixed Bizness
  10. Go It Alone
  11. Lost Cause
  12. Say Goodbye
  13. Heart Is a Drum
  14. Debra
  15. Raspberry Beret (Prince cover)
  16. Lovely Lady (Kool Keith cover)
  17. Dreams
  18. Up All Night
  19. Girl
  20. E-Pro

Encore

  1. I’m So Free
  2. Where It’s At
  3. Good Times / Miss You / Cars / Once in a Lifetime / In the Air Tonight (medley; Chic cover/ Rolling Stones cover / Gary Numan cover / Talking Heads Cover / Phil Collins cover; included band intros; ended with a drum solo)
  4. One Foot in the Grave
  5. Where It’s At (Reprise)

Soul Rebels featuring GZA and Talib Kweli at 9:30 Club (3/29/2018)

“Hotter than Africa.” That’s how co-headliner Talib Kweli described the atmosphere at the 9:30 Club on March 29. Metaphorically, of course, thanks to the blazing music being pumped out by New Orleans funk group the Soul Rebels. But literally too- the abnormally warm weather outside combined with the mass of bodies inside to push the mercury through the roof.

All of which would seem to indicate a hopping show. But the problem with a sold-out funk show is that the density of crowd-goers makes it nearly impossible to actually get in a groove. There’s no room to dance; there’s barely enough room to twist from side to side, trying to avoid spilling your beer or accidentally groping the dude in front of you.

Without the physical release of dancing, the show then had to fall back on to the music on its melodic merits. And while the horns blared and the drums pounded out the rhythm, a set full of instrumentals gets stale after a while, especially under these circumstances. Worse, the band’s attempt to interject some energy by means of covering crowd favorites fell flat. Leading the crowd in sing-alongs of “If I Ruled the World” and “Alright” is White Ford Bronco territory.

Soul Rebels

GZA performs with the Soul Rebels at 9:30 Club

Thankfully, the headliners were up to the challenge. GZA, as expected, drew the loudest cheers (and the obligatory “Wu/Tang” chants, which sound like a parody coming from the predominantly white crowd). His performance showed how a legend, a true professional, runs his game. He isn’t motor-mouthed like Eminem, or full of playa smooth like Jay-Z. Just laid-back, smooth, biting rhymes dished as effortlessly as breathing, illustrated most clearly on an acapella version of his Big Bang Theory homage, “The Spark”. Somewhere up there, Stephen Hawking is smiling and shouting out to Wu-Tang.

Following GZA, Talib Kweli was a bit of a letdown. He has more natural energy and stage presence, which worked well with the Soul Rebels’ backing. But his rapping just didn’t quite match up to GZA’s, and even he noticed that his performance had failed to raise the energy in the venue. Thankfully, the show ended on a high note, thanks to a virtuoso showing by Stevie Wonder band member Frédéric Yonnet during the encore. Emulating his guru down to the last note, Yonnet gave a spectacular harmonica performance that was hotter than July, showing that the only way to beat the heat is to turn it up.

Set List

  1. Intro
  2. Quiet Storm (Mobb Deep cover)
  3. Rebel Rock
  4. Rebelosis
  5. Paid in Full (Eric B. & Rakim cover)
  6. Slide Back
  7. Black Rebel
  8. Get Freaky
  9. Drive
  10. Respected Destroyer (Brandee Younger cover)
  11. If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) (Nas cover)
  12. Living in the World Today (with GZA)
  13. Duel of the Iron Mic (with GZA)
  14. Liquid Swords (with GZA)
  15. The Spark (with GZA) (acapella)
  16. Shimmy Shimmy Ya (Ol’ Dirty Bastard cover) (with GZA, featuring Talib Kweli)
  17. Push Thru (with Talib Kweli)
  18. Hot Thing (with Talib Kweli)
  19. The Blast (Reflection Eternal cover) (with Talib Kweli)
  20. I Try (with Talib Kweli)
  21. Alright (Kendrick Lamar cover)

Encore:

  1. Get By (with Talib Kweli, featuring Frédéric Yonnet on harmonica)

St. Vincent at The Anthem (11/27/17)

Act I

Dim lights

“Hey, show’s starting. Let’s get a good spot”

Curtain opens

“Wooooo! Woooo!”

Play movie

“Ha ha, cool intro. Can’t wait for the band to walk on. Wonder what the ‘reveal’ will be.”

“Alright, so this is kind of surreal. Why’d the guy die? Is that her playing the maid?”

“This is creepy. What does this have to do with the show? Am I supposed to be getting something, because I’m not. Fucking hipsters.”

Movie ends

“Really, everyone’s applauding? God, people will cheer anything even if they don’t know what it means. Ok can we get some music now?”

Cue lights

“Um, what? Where’s the music? Is that it? Dammit, why did we rush to get here at showtime?! Didn’t really have to spend $10 on that hot dog.”

 

Intermission

“Ok, back to the bar. Oh, hey John! Yeah, cool venue. No, it’s our first time. Definitely got here too early. Oh really, that long? Well, we rode our bikes so that’s fine. Should be a good one.”

 

Act II

Dim lights

“Ok, here we go. This has to be the real thing.”

Curtain opens slightly, reveals a single microphone, stage right.

The singer appears, alone.

“What’s happening? No I can’t really tell either. Is that her? Shit, we should have stood on that side. This place is so huge.”

Cue music

“Ah, finally. I like this song. Where’s the rest of the band? Must be behind the curtain. But they sound good. Love the acoustics in this place, they really did it right. Not like Echostage.”

Curtain pulls farther back to reveal a second microphone

“Ok, now she’s got a guitar. Yeah, I can sort of see her too. Quite an outfit. I think Lady Gaga would approve.”

Curtain fully opens

“Wait, it’s just her? The music is recorded? Ok that’s a little weak. Now how am I supposed to know how good the sound is from a real show?”

“Well her singing is good. Some good guitar shredding. Glad I can finally see her, otherwise I’d be getting bored. Yeah, I like this song.”

“Now there’s ANOTHER microphone? Is there a point to all this moving around?”

“Ooo this is a good one. Dance time. She really doesn’t like to dance while she’s singing, does she? Whatever, let’s jam out.”

Curtain closes

 

Intermission

“Ok, bathroom break!”

 

Curtain opens

Act III

“Shit, she’s starting- hurry up!”

Singer reappears, in new costume

“Ok good, at least she’s center stage. Wait, I think she’s on the floor. Look at where the spotlight’s pointing.”

“I think this is from her new album.”

“Yeah yeah, DC, woo hoo. No sermons please. Alright thanks, that was short.”

“Trippy visuals. Really reminds me of that Radiohead show. God she’s such an *artist*. Well, if there’s no band I might as well watch those.”

“Who’s Christina? Great, glad she was so inspirational for you.”

“Ok that’s the problem with using pre-recorded music. Now it just looks weird for you to re-start the song. Not sure what I expected but this Howie Day shit was old when he was doing it. Good thing the music is so good.”

“Encore? Maybe?”

Cue lights

“You like it? Yeah, pretty good for a first show here. Wonder how much different it would have been at 9:30.”

“Nope, still no clue what that movie was about.”

“Glad it’s not too late. Now how do we get out of here?”

Setlist

The Birthday Party (film)

Part 1

  1. Marry Me
  2. Now, Now
  3. The Strangers
  4. Actor Out of Work
  5. Cruel
  6. Cheerleader
  7. Strange Mercy
  8. Digital Witness
  9. Rattlesnake
  10. Birth in Reverse

Part 2 (MASSEDUCTION)

  1. Hang on Me
  2. Pills
  3. Masseduction
  4. Sugarboy
  5. Los Ageless
  6. Happy Birthday, Johnny
  7. Savior
  8. New York (Dedicated to Christina)
  9. Fear the Future
  10. Young Lover
  11. Dancing With a Ghost
  12. Slow Disco
  13. Smoking Section

Cut Copy at 9:30 Club (11/29/17)

Music (and even art more broadly) is escapism. A way to live (if only briefly) in an alternate reality. Sometimes, the best art has something to say about its own scene, a specific relevant issue, society at large, anything beyond the current moment. Sometimes, however, that escapism is just about that moment, with no deeper meaning or relevance.

The crowd at the 9:30 Club for Cut Copy’s show on November 29 didn’t really seem to care about anything deeper than having enough space to bust a move. Luckily, neither did the band. A minimum of banter meant that the music kept rolling for 90 straight minutes. No diatribes about politics, no attempts at uplifting “love everyone” speeches; just a steady groove and a deluge of colored lights. Bandmates Dan Whitford, Tim Hoey and Ben Browning put on an impressive display of technical virtuosity, switching off instruments song to song, while drummer Mitchell Scott kept the pounding beat. Everyone danced, most got sweaty, some sang along, and the whole crowd left happy and energized.

As they should. This show was a pure sugar rush, a diet of empty calories. But for one Wednesday night in November, it was enough.

IMG_2231

Setlist

  1. Need You Now
  2. Black Rainbows
  3. Where I’m Going
  4. Airborne
  5. Living Upside Down
  6. Free Your Mind
  7. Counting Down
  8. Future
  9. Pharaohs & Pyramids
  10. Hearts On Fire
  11. Standing in the Middle of the Field
  12. Take Me Over
  13. Out There on the Ice

Encore:

  1. Meet Me In a House of Love
  2. Lights and Music

Broken Social Scene at 9:30 Club (9/20/17)

Showing up to see a hipster band is seemingly more important than the show itself. Everybody bathes in the same glow of inside jokes, the vibe is that of a class reunion, the songs roll out one after another to warm (though rarely exuberant) appreciation, nobody gets hurt and everyone goes home satisfied. So it was for Broken Social Scene’s show at the 9:30 Club on September 20, where the music was nice if not catchy, the singing was good but rarely emphatic, and the audience was harmoniously along for the ride. Even the makeup of the band itself reflected this one big happy family ethos: a rotating cast of performers who (except for drummer Justin Peroff) spent the show switching off instruments, a different lineup on nearly every song.

Broken Social Scene

In fact, the biggest crime one can commit in this situation is to leave early. As the band wrapped up their main set and frontman Kevin Draw launched into a monologue about the ridiculous tradition of band encores, he started calling out anyone who was sneaking out before the end of the show to beat the weeknight curfew. Thankfully, his Canadian manners ensured his tone was less sanctimonious scolding and more measured disappointment. Those who did stay were rewarded when the band proceeded to plow through an additional 25 minutes of music, finishing with the crowd-pleasing “KC Accidental.” It was almost enough to make a new fan feel welcomed into the club. Almost.

Setlist

  1. Cause=Time
  2. 7/4 (Shoreline)
  3. Halfway Home
  4. Protest Song
  5. Fire Eye’d Boy
  6. Stay Happy
  7. Texico Bitches
  8. World Sick
  9. Victim Lover
  10. Handjobs for the Holidays
  11. Superconnected
  12. Almost Crimes
  13. It’s All Gonna Break

Encore:

  1. Hug of Thunder
  2. Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl
  3. Looks Just Like the Sun
  4. Skyline
  5. KC Accidental