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.
- Over and Over and Over
- High Ball Stepper
- Hello Operator (The White Stripes song)
- Cannon (The White Stripes song)
- Everything You’ve Ever Learned
- Hotel Yorba (The White Stripes song)
- Hypocritical Kiss
- I Cut Like a Buffalo (The Dead Weather song)
- Love Interruption
- Catch Hell Blues (The White Stripes song)
- Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes song)
- Sixteen Saltines
- Ice Station Zebra
- We’re Going to Be Friends (The White Stripes song) (with Lillie Mae)
- You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket (The White Stripes song)
- I’m Slowly Turning Into You (The White Stripes song)
- Connected by Love
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.
Backed 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.
- Devils Haircut
- The New Pollution
- Que Onda Guero
- Black Tambourine
- Think I’m In Love
- Mixed Bizness
- Go It Alone
- Lost Cause
- Say Goodbye
- Heart Is a Drum
- Raspberry Beret (Prince cover)
- Lovely Lady (Kool Keith cover)
- Up All Night
- I’m So Free
- Where It’s At
- 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)
- One Foot in the Grave
- Where It’s At (Reprise)
“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.
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.
- Quiet Storm (Mobb Deep cover)
- Rebel Rock
- Paid in Full (Eric B. & Rakim cover)
- Slide Back
- Black Rebel
- Get Freaky
- Respected Destroyer (Brandee Younger cover)
- If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) (Nas cover)
- Living in the World Today (with GZA)
- Duel of the Iron Mic (with GZA)
- Liquid Swords (with GZA)
- The Spark (with GZA) (acapella)
- Shimmy Shimmy Ya (Ol’ Dirty Bastard cover) (with GZA, featuring Talib Kweli)
- Push Thru (with Talib Kweli)
- Hot Thing (with Talib Kweli)
- The Blast (Reflection Eternal cover) (with Talib Kweli)
- I Try (with Talib Kweli)
- Alright (Kendrick Lamar cover)
- Get By (with Talib Kweli, featuring Frédéric Yonnet on harmonica)
“Hey, show’s starting. Let’s get a good spot”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Ok, bathroom break!”
“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.”
“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?”
The Birthday Party (film)
- Marry Me
- Now, Now
- The Strangers
- Actor Out of Work
- Strange Mercy
- Digital Witness
- Birth in Reverse
Part 2 (MASSEDUCTION)
- Hang on Me
- Los Ageless
- Happy Birthday, Johnny
- New York (Dedicated to Christina)
- Fear the Future
- Young Lover
- Dancing With a Ghost
- Slow Disco
- Smoking Section
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.
- Need You Now
- Black Rainbows
- Where I’m Going
- Living Upside Down
- Free Your Mind
- Counting Down
- Pharaohs & Pyramids
- Hearts On Fire
- Standing in the Middle of the Field
- Take Me Over
- Out There on the Ice
- Meet Me In a House of Love
- Lights and Music
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
- Crumbling Light Posts Pt. 1
- Back to the Future
- Like a Mighty River
- Flute Solo
- I’ll Be Your Woman
- Tears in the Diamond
- All I Ever Wonder
- I’m Torn Up
- Band Jam (instrumental)
- The National Anthem (Radiohead cover)
- Brain Matter
- Midnight on the Earth
- I’ve Been Working (Van Morrison cover)
- Broken Bones & Pocket Change
- Call Me
- Loran’s Dance
- Eventually (Tame Impala cover)
- Half the City
- Burning Rome