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

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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
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St. Paul and the Broken Bones @ Wolf Trap (6/16/17)

White boys have been playing at being soul men since even before Mick Jagger became the little red rooster. So while the idea of St. Paul and the Broken Bones isn’t exactly unique, their performance is still a fascinating spectacle, always a guaranteed fun time. Lead singer Paul Janeway is incredible, floating across the stage with a few (but only a few) James Brown-esque dance steps and belting his high-tenored soul out. It was enough to (eventually) get the crowd at Wolf Trap out of their (rain-soaked) seats.

Janeway is so dynamic, in fact, it made me come up with the following thought experiment: trade Sharon Jones (RIP) from the Dap Kings for Janeway. Which band suffers most? Which combination gets better?It’s a tough call but given that the Dap Kings have created some memorable music to critical and commercial acclaim (not only by themselves but having backed Amy Winehouse and Bruno Mars among others), I’m going to have to say that they would do more for Janeway than Jones could do to heal the Broken Bones.

It’s not a big difference but it says something to me about the band: that they lack a truly dynamic instrumental prowess. On stage, Janeway covers up those deficiencies. But on record, that dynamism doesn’t quite come across in the same, memorable way. Still, I’m hopeful that the rest of the band will catch up to Janeway and turn this band into a musical powerhouse that can match their performing credentials. Because I could always use some plastic soul.

 

 

Possible set list

  1. Crumbling Light Posts Pt. 1
  2. Back to the Future
  3. Like a Mighty River
  4. Flute Solo
  5. I’ll Be Your Woman
  6. Tears in the Diamond
  7. All I Ever Wonder
  8. I’m Torn Up
  9. Band Jam (instrumental)
  10. The National Anthem (Radiohead cover)
  11. Brain Matter
  12. Waves
  13. Midnight on the Earth
  14. I’ve Been Working (Van Morrison cover)
  15. Broken Bones & Pocket Change
  16. Call Me
  17. Loran’s Dance

Encore

  1. Sanctify
  2. Eventually (Tame Impala cover)
  3. Half the City
  4. Burning Rome

Feist @ Lincoln Theater (6/7/17)

Feist at Lincoln Theater

It started well. “Pleasure”, the opening song of Feist’s set at Lincoln Theater (which is also the first track of her new album Pleasure) moved with a sparse, rumbling groove reminiscent of Tunnel of Love-era Springsteen. But as the show slowly progressed towards Nebraska-era Springsteen, things went downhill. One soft acoustic number after another lugubriously rolled off of Feist’s guitar, with melodies and rhythms hard to discern. Even the Howie Day-like electronic vocal tricks Feist used to harmonize with herself only served to emphasize the sparseness of the atmosphere.

The vibe in the theater was respectful but not energized until Feist kicked off the second half of her set with some her better known songs and invited the crowd to “fill the aisles.” Fill they did but it was too late for me. I hate to admit it, but I got bored. Maybe I need a more punk-like energy, or maybe I need massive, obvious hooks, or maybe the comfy seats were too soporific. Whatever the reason, I just couldn’t get into the show.

And when I get bored, my mind starts to wander about random things. For example, why doesn’t Feist have any female backing musicians? Does St. Vincent? Did Joni Mitchell? Would it have made any difference for the show? Maybe not. But in general, it would be nice to see a few more X chromosomes laying down rhythms, playing leads and keeping the beat. Surely the male-dominated world of rock and roll has room.

 

Set list:

  1. Pleasure
  2. I Wish I Didn’t Miss You
  3. Get Not High, Get Not Low
  4. Lost Dreams
  5. Any Party
  6. A Man Is Not His Song
  7. The Wind
  8. Century
  9. Baby Be Simple
  10. I’m Not Running Away
  11. Young Up
  12. My Moon My Man
  13. How Come You Never Go There
  14. Sealion (Nina Simone cover)
  15. The Bad in Each Other
  16. Caught a Long Wind
  17. I Feel It All
  18. Let It Die

Encore:

  1. Mushaboom (Acoustic Solo)
  2. Gatekeeper (Acoustic Solo)
  3. 1-2-3-4

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)