Reviews of shows I've been to (and maybe you have too!)

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Gloria Gaynor at the Library of Congress (5/6/17)

Disco? Eh, not really my thing. But history and architecture I can go for. So for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to attend a dance party featuring the Guttenberg Bible, I was willing to slap on the most outrageous outfit my friend Amanda could conjure and wait for 90 minutes in a cold drizzle to take part in the Library of Congress’s Bibliodiscotheque on May 6.

Beyond silent disco in the famous Reading Room and the Jefferson collection being turned into a photo booth, the night’s main attraction was Gloria Gaynor, who was performing in honor of her anthem “I Will Survive” being inducted into the LOC registry of historic songs. A diva until the end, Glaynor appeared for an abbreviated performance that included several covers (“Killing Me Softly”, “Never Can Say Goodbye”, “I Am What I Am”) and no less than 3 outfit changes. Her voice was surprisingly strong, a reminder of her star power that was made even stronger when she had her backup singers meekly perform while she changed clothes. Even some of her new, gospel-themed songs managed to get the crowd grooving, no easy task.IMG_0813

Of course, the song everyone was there for was the one that closed the night. Maybe I’m soulless, but hearing Gaynor lead the “I Will Survive” singalong didn’t exactly result in deep chills the way, say, hearing Paul McCartney perform “Hey Jude” did. But it didn’t matter. Everyone danced and sang like their survival depended on every note.

Overall, it was crowded, it was loud, it was fun. Come to think of it, that’s probably a pretty accurate definition of disco as a whole. Guess it isn’t all bad.

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Third Eye Blind @ Fillmore Silver Spring (12/8/16)

Dear Third Eye Blind,

I feel ya. I really do. Here you are, playing a sold-out show, nearly 20 years after you peaked in that brief, glorious summer of 1997. Clearly have some sort of draw. But you also want to show that you’ve been really productive since then. Putting out albums and EPs, touring the world, firing band members, etc. Prove that you have staying power, that you’re not just on some money-grubbing nostalgia tour.

But, but: do you think anyone cares? How many people showed up because OMG IT’S THIRD EYE BLIND THEY ARE MY FAVORITE OF ALL TIME AND I CAN’T BELIEVE I GET TO SEE THEM LIVE!? And how many just wanted to sing along to their high school soundtrack? Would it have mattered if a cover band was up there instead?

Third Eye BlindI know you know this. I’m sure you’ve struggled with this problem since the radio stopped playing your songs ad infinitum. But if you were trying to win new converts or show off your skills, then I gotta be honest: that was weak. I mean, every song you played that I didn’t know kind of sounded the same. The band members were totally anonymous. You had energy (at least you did, Stephen), but it wasn’t being transmitted: I got busted by my girlfriend because rather than watching the show, I was sneaking a peak at the football game playing on some guy’s phone. Even the hits were lagging: “Never Let You Go” barely registered, “Graduate” got a muted reception. I really only felt the crowd losing their shit once you did a frickin’ Beyoncé cover halfway through.

That being said, Stephen, you seem like you really enjoy performing. It must be an amazing feeling to have people sing your songs back to you. That’s something you can count on for the rest of your life. As for the rest of you guys, well, you at least sound like the original band.

Whatever, just play “3 AM” again. Or wait, it was “Sex and Candy.” No, “Kryptonite” right? Um, well, the 90’s rule!

 

Set List:

  1. Rites of Passage
  2. Never Let You Go
  3. Graduate
  4. Company of Strangers
  5. Queen of Daydreams
  6. Don’t Give In
  7. Everything Is Easy
  8. Mine (Beyoncé cover)
  9. Losing a Whole Year
  10. Jumper
  11. Crystal Baller
  12. Semi-Charmed Life

Encore:

  1. Dopamine
  2. Blood Bank (Bon Iver cover)
  3. How’s It Going to Be

Descendents @ Fillmore Silver Spring (10/15/16)

Sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands. Looking out at the capacity crowd at the Fillmore Silver Spring, Fucked Up frontman Damian Abraham must have been appalled at the passive, genteel vibe that was suffocating the entire venue. So, mic in hand, he hauled his 250 pound-plus body down off the stage, across the safety pit, and over the guard rail to start his own mosh pit. By the time he had made his way all the way back to the bar, leaving a trail of moshers in his wake, a sedate gathering had transformed into a true punk show.

DescendentsGiven that boost, Descendents came out firing. Surely the band would have been able to get the crowd going on their own. But Abraham’s actions ensured the massive explosion of energy that was released as the first notes of “Everything Sux” were played was as powerful as humanely possible. For the next hour, Descendents didn’t stop. No banter, no instrument checks. Just one pop-punk nugget after another, spanning the group’s entire 35 year catalog. The “classic” songs from Milo Goes to College got the loudest responses, demonstrating that the band’s legacy would have been secured with that one record alone. But the momentum kept building, even through the new songs. Watching from the rafters, it was hard not to be jealous of the fans on the floor, slamming each other in the rapidly expanding mosh pit.

Towards the end of the main set, a woman surfed her way to the front of the crowd at the end of a song and was escorted to the side of the stage. As the band returned for an encore, she raced back to the pit and somehow convinced Milo to give her the mic, whereupon she proceeded to tear into the band for supposedly promoting a rape culture at the show by playing a song called “Testosterone.” While her outburst was misdirected, the response from the band was disappointing: Milo and Stephen merely mumbled a couple of weak denials before resuming the show. Maybe I expected them to channel their punk roots and say “Fuck off!” Maybe I expected their intellectual side to show through by accepting her right to protest but challenging her to come up with a more worthy response (Kathleen Hanna certainly wouldn’t just whine into a microphone). Or maybe it’s a bridge too far to expect a guy wearing boat shoes and wrap-around glasses to bother with protests when he is basking in the adoration of a room full of fans. To each his own, I guess.

Set list:

  1. Everything Sux
  2. Hope
  3. Rotting Out
  4. Pervert
  5. Victim of Me
  6. Silly Girl
  7. I Wanna Be a Bear
  8. Nothing With You
  9. My Dad Sucks
  10. Clean Sheets
  11. On Paper
  12. Suburban Home
  13. Without Love
  14. Coffee Mug
  15. Bikeage
  16. Shameless Halo
  17. Weinerschnitzel
  18. No! All!
  19. Talking
  20. Myage
  21. Get the Time
  22. I Don’t Want to Grow Up
  23. I Like Food
  24. I’m the One
  25. Testosterone
  26. When I Get Old
  27. Coolidge
  28. Thank You
  29. Descendents

Encore:

  1. Feel This
  2. Van
  3. Smile

Encore 2:

  1. Sour Grapes
  2. Spineless and Scarlet Red
  3. Catalina

Paul McCartney at Verizon Center (8/10/16)

No one comes to a Paul McCartney show expecting surprises. The point is to revel in five decades of nostalgia, not get blown out of your seat. Even still, I was put off by the sameness of Paul’s show at the Verizon Center on August 10. If you’d seen it once (as I had in 2014, or some guy in the crowd had apparently done 108 times previously), you’d seen it all: the heartfelt yet perfunctory tributes to John Lennon (“Here Today”) and George Harrison (“Something,” featuring Paul on ukulele); the cute stories reminiscing about things that happened during his time with The Beatles, or when song X was recorded; the pyrotechnics accompanying “Live and Let Die;” the crowd sing-along to “Hey Jude.”

None of this is to take anything away from Paul himself. At age 73, he is simply amazing. While never possessing the boundless energy of Mick Jagger or guitar-god histrionics of Pete Townshend, Paul’s dynamic musicality and buoyant enthusiasm are capable of carrying a show all by themselves. His guitar playing remains stellar. His voice, though weakened slightly, was flawless, especially on the quieter numbers like “Blackbird” (though the Verizon Center’s lousy acoustics did their best to drown him out on the louder songs). He did even manage to change things up a bit by throwing in a couple of songs from his 2013 album New, along with the incongruous “FourFiveSeconds.” So I would be a fool to complain about getting nearly 3 hours of timeless music. But still.

When Paul performed in Washington D.C. for the first time all the way back in 1964, the Beatles played for barely 30 minutes, and were nearly inaudible due to the screams of the fanatic teenagers in attendance. Now that those rambunctious teenagers have aged into sedate grandparents, Paul’s performance has likewise settled into that of an age-appropriate cover band. You’ll smile and sing along, but you won’t twist and shout. Me, I’d take the frenetic energy of that first Beatles show. But we’ll see how I feel when I’m 64.

Set List

  1. A Hard Day’s Night (The Beatles song)
  2. Save Us
  3. Can’t Buy Me Love (The Beatles song)
  4. Jet (Wings song)
  5. Temporary Secretary
  6. Let Me Roll It (Wings song) (Foxy Lady outro)
  7. I’ve Got a Feeling (The Beatles song)
  8. My Valentine
  9. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five (Wings song)
  10. Here, There and Everywhere (The Beatles song)
  11. Maybe I’m Amazed
  12. We Can Work It Out (The Beatles song)
  13. In Spite of All the Danger (The Quarrymen song)
  14. You Won’t See Me (The Beatles song)
  15. Love Me Do (The Beatles song)
  16. And I Love Her (The Beatles song)
  17. Blackbird (The Beatles song)
  18. Here Today
  19. Queenie Eye
  20. New
  21. The Fool on the Hill (The Beatles song)
  22. Lady Madonna (The Beatles song)
  23. FourFiveSeconds (Rihanna and Kanye West and Paul McCartney cover)
  24. Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles song)
  25. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! (The Beatles song)
  26. Something (The Beatles song)
  27. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (The Beatles song)
  28. Band on the Run (Wings song)
  29. Back in the U.S.S.R. (The Beatles song)
  30. Let It Be (The Beatles song)
  31. Live and Let Die (Wings song)
  32. Hey Jude (The Beatles song)

Encore:

  1. Yesterday (The Beatles song)
  2. I Saw Her Standing There (The Beatles song)
  3. Birthday (The Beatles song)
  4. Golden Slumbers (The Beatles song)
  5. Carry That Weight (The Beatles song)
  6. The End (The Beatles song)

Faith No More @ Merriweather Post Pavilion (8/2/15)

Unlike paintings or sculptures or films, music presents a unique chance for artist and audience to connect face to face. The success or failure of a concert hinges on that connection, something that Faith No More’s show at Merriweather Post Pavilion on August 2 provided a glaring example of.

Having reformed in 2009 after 10 years apart and touring sporadically since, Faith No More started off the show as if they had never left, wading into a powerful version of “The Real Thing” before slamming through a solid half hour of some of their strongest material. Lead singer Mike Patton’s vocals were in top form, the thudding rhythm section of Billy Gould and Mike Bordin were locked in, and keyboardist Roddy Bottum and current guitarist Jon Hudson provided the deliciously singular hooks and melodies that have defined Faith No More’s unique sound.

But this initial burst of momentum eventually petered out, for reasons that were not entirely obvious: the band seemed comfortable and the playing was still solid. By the end of the main set, the energy in the venue had dipped noticeably, to the point that keyboardist Roddy Bottum actually asked the crowd, “Are we connecting?”

Faith No More at Merriweather Post PavilionMaybe Bottum was worried that the docile stage setup, complete with flower baskets and the band dressed in all white, was too disconcerting or tame or confusing for the audience. Maybe he was concerned that songs from the band’s 2015 release Sol Invictus were not going over as well as those from their “classic” late ‘80’s/early ‘90’s period. Maybe he was worried they had been upstaged by Dennis Lyxzén, lead singer for show opener Refused, who spent his band’s entire set pulling out every rock star move in the book (dancing, shuffling, throwing the mic, at one point even wading into and through the pit to sing from within the crowd), to enormous success.

Nevertheless, once the connection between band and audience had been severed, it was gone. Even the encore, featuring the first performance of the power ballad “RV” in 20 years, disappointingly failed to bring it back. People left the show satisfied, but not energized.

And maybe that’s our fault, for expecting the band to rekindle some feeling of nostalgia that would have made the show epic (pun intended) instead of just ok. The audience was ready to revert to their youth and channel the kinetic energy that the band’s music had inspired, but the band refused to pander or settle for clichés (such as playing “Epic” as the show closer). Faith No More should be applauded for trying to earnestly re-establish themselves, even if their quirky, insouciant approach made it tough for band or audience to truly connect. Ultimately, blame for this failure lies with both performer and audience. Patton sang it best: “Without me, you’re only you.”
Set List

  1. The Real Thing
  2. Land of Sunshine
  3. Caffeine
  4. Evidence
  5. Epic
  6. Sunny Side Up
  7. Last Cup of Sorrow
  8. Midlife Crisis (with Boz Scaggs – “Lowdown” interlude)
  9. A Small Victory
  10. The Gentle Art of Making Enemies
  11. Easy (Commodores cover)
  12. Separation Anxiety
  13. Matador
  14. Ashes to Ashes
  15. Superhero

Encore

  1. Rise of the Fall
  2. RV
  3. Just a Man

TV on the Radio @ Echostage (5/19/15)

All I wanted to hear was one moment. That breakdown at about the 2 minute mark of “Shout Me Out.” You know, where the song turns from mid-tempo groove into frantic headbanger. That point where I could lose my shit and feel the simmering energy in the venue boiling over. So that whenever I listened to that song again, I would remember that moment, that excitement, that feeling, that one thing I walk away from the best shows with.

And it didn’t happen. No real buzz. No amazement. No peak.

Instead, what I ended up walking away from TV on the Radio’s show at Echostage on May 19 with was a palpable sense of disappointment. Sure, it was a good show. There were moments, flickers when the crowd got going. The highs were most definitely high: “Wolf Like Me” got a huge reception, and it would be impossible to resist “Staring at the Sun.” But nothing rose to that ecstatic level of energy and excitement that makes a truly great show indelible.

Maybe it can be blamed on a set list consisting primarily of “new” songs from their 2014 album, Seeds. Maybe it was the fact that the Tuesday night show ended after barely an hour had passed. Maybe it was because opening band, Japanese import Bo Ningen, had filled their set with so much posturing and rock star clichés that TV on the Radio, despite the manic stylings from lead singer Tunde Adebimpe, had nowhere to go energy-wise but down.

Or maybe it was because they didn’t even play the song.

Set List

  1. Ride
  2. Lazerray
  3. Golden Age
  4. Happy Idiot
  5. Could You
  6. Winter
  7. Wolf Like Me
  8. Careful You
  9. Trouble
  10. Blues From Down Here
  11. DLZ
  12. A Method

Encore:

  1. Young Liars
  2. Staring at the Sun

Gershwin Prize Ceremony for Billy Joel at DAR Constitution Hall (11/19/14)

13 top-ten hits. Over 150 million albums sold. Six Grammy awards. A monthly sold-out residence at Madison Square Garden. Billy Joel certainly is worthy of a tribute. But judging from the ceremony honoring him as the 2014 recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall on November 19, it was difficult to discern how much actual impact his music has had.

Joel’s legacy rests on a self-deprecating, everyman persona that makes his music, much like that of Tom Petty or Steve Miller, impossible to hate. Think of “Uptown Girl” or “Only the Good Die Young,” and of course “Piano Man,” his show-closing bar-band homage. His middle-of-the-road appeal will have fans singing his songs until the end of time. But does that really qualify Joel as influential as previous honorees like Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon?

Billy Joel Gershwin PrizeSimilar to the Yoko Ono tribute I had attended back in 2009, the Gershwin Prize Ceremony featured a star-studded lineup paying homage to the guest of honor by performing their songs. Yet while it was easy to draw a (nearly) straight line between Ono’s irreverent musical recordings and visionary art to the aural experiments of Sonic Youth or Bette Midler’s deliberately gaudy performances, identifying the connection between Joel and his tributees was not nearly as straightforward.

This isn’t to suggest that there was anything lacking in the performances themselves. Boyz II Men did a great rendition of “The Longest Time,” but it’s hard to believe that they looked to Joel when they were first developing their unique brand of Philly soul. Gavin DeGraw had the entire arena energized with a rocking version of “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” though the power of the performance ultimately derived from the song itself, not its B-level performer.

Josh Groban (“She’s Always a Woman”) and Tony Bennett (“New York State of Mind”) gave the most powerful performances of the evening, belting out the standards in a way that made it seem that Joel had written the songs specifically for them. Meanwhile, Twyla Tharp presented a pair of energetic dance routines from her Joel-inspired Broadway production, “Movin’ Out,” that added a unique bent to the night’s proceedings. The only performer to completely miss the mark was John Mellencamp, whose version of “Allentown,” performed as a lifeless, Nebraska-era Bruce Springsteen protest dirge, utterly failed to move anyone in the crowd.

Interspersed between songs were interviews and concert clips from throughout Joel’s career, along with congratulatory clips from celebrities including Paul McCartney, Barbara Streisand and James Taylor. Once the tributes had finished, Joel himself appeared on stage. After being introduced by Supreme Court justice Sonia Sontamayor, Joel (flanked by House leaders Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy) said a few words before kicking into a mini-set of some of his crowd favorites. The crowd went wild for “Movin’ Out” and “You May Be Right,” as well as for the predictable finale performance of “Piano Man” (featuring a surprisingly agile Kevin Spacey on harmonica). As usual, everyone was singing along at the top of their lungs. In a way, that might be the ultimate tribute.

Set list:

Library of Congress Chorale

  1. Everybody Has a Dream
  2. Two Thousand Years

Boyz II Men

  1. The Longest Time

LeAnn Rimes

  1. Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)

Gavin DeGraw

  1. It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me

Josh Groban

  1. She’s Always a Woman

Natalie Maines

  1. She’s Got a Way

John Mellencamp

  1. Allentown

Tony Bennett

  1. New York State of Mind

Billy Joel

  1. Movin’ Out
  2. Vienna
  3. Miami 2017
  4. You May Be Right
  5. Piano Man