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

Posts tagged “Verizon Center

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)

Foo Fighters/Social Distortion @ Verizon Center (11/11/11)

Grunge is a strange animal. It ostensibly grew out of punk and underground alternative, meaning that it was destined to be short-lived, with the burning out of Nirvana and Alice Chains seemingly inevitable in retrospect. However, this ethos was always at odds with the self-professed arena rock idolatry practiced by the bands themselves (The Who for Pearl Jam, Black Sabbath for Soundgarden, Queen for all of them); witness the evolution of Stone Temple Pilots into glam arena stars Velvet Revolver. So what to make of the Foo Fighters? Spawned out of the demise of THE definitive grunge band and conceived as nothing more than a McCartney-esque outlet for founder Dave Grohl’s musical ambitions, they always managed to walk a fine line between their grunge roots and arena rock calling. Yet their ability to survive while keeping this balance in tact is tempered by the nostalgia they inevitably inspire for a musical “golden age,” which perhaps transforms them more into the last extant remnant of the grunge movement, rather than allowing them an identity as their own band.

Just as contradictory is punk itself. Thanks to the Sex Pistols, lasting more than a matter of months is grounds for being labeled sell-outs. With The Clash the rare exception, punk bands have used this ideal to avoid change at all cost, whether it results in repetition (The Ramones) or destruction (pretty much everyone else).  Does the fact that Social Distortion continues to tour and record agree with this thesis? Clearly the current environment, in which any aging rock band can guarantee itself  a sound financial future by reforming or continuing to tour past their expiration date, is a factor. And Social D has never been one for major experimentation, sticking with their rockabilly-based sound for nearly three decades. This begs the question: is Social D still relevant? Does opening for the Foo Fighters enhance or diminish their stature? The Rolling Stones used to have their heroes open for them on tour, so it follows that today’s stars do the same. Unfortunately, the essence of Social D is lost in a 17,000 seat arena. The energy generated by the band when I saw them at the Starland Ballroom in 2007 was completely dissipated by the time their musical notes reached my ears in the top row of the Verizon Center (judging by the reaction, or lack thereof, by the audience members in the pit, it didn’t seem to travel much past the front of the stage). The indifference of the crowd was appalling but not surprising, considering the venue, the location (i.e. not on the West Coast), and the general makeup of most of the attendees. Social D gave a standard run-through of their best songs, clearly in opening-band-45-minute-set-list-of-greatest-hits mode. Not that I would ever complaining about hearing “Prison Bound” or “Story of My Life.” But it was a little depressing to be the only ones standing and rocking out throughout the entire set, and seeing the band run through a couple of album cuts would not have helped matters. I sadly doubt that the band won any converts that night; I can only hope that in hindsight, some of the younger audience members will come to realize the uniqueness of seeing a true pioneer band in person.

(In trying to come to term with this mix-up of musical genres, I would be remiss to not mention the future: The Joy Formidable opened the show with a kick-ass set. The three-piece Welsh outfit managed to pull off an amazing opening set. Lead singer Ritzy Bryan pulled out all of the guitar-god theatrics (slamming her guitar, messing around with feedback, smashing the drumkit) while dressing like Kim Gordon. Her energy was matched by her band’s frenetic playing and surprisingly strong song repitoire. For the few who were fortunate enough to catch their set, it was a glimpse of the future.)

By contrast, the Foo Fighters’ throwback set was warmly welcomed, in spite of its anachronisms. Guitar solos, guitar duels, sing-alongs, covers and performances of various snippets; the only thing keeping this from being a Rush show in 1978 was (thankfully) a drum solo. In addition to riffing on “Shoot to Thrill” by AC/DC, the band’s veritable homage to 70’s arena rock was topped off by a full-on cover of “In the Flesh?” by Pink Floyd. Otherwise, the band ran through a pretty standard set of hits, which have become (at least for this crowd) anthemic. The crowd was suitably amped up throughout, and reveled in singing along to the bands’ catalogue before going wild as each song finished.

Thankfully, the lack of creativity in the set list was balanced by the spontaneity in the band’s playing. Perhaps the most revelatory observation was Dave Grohl’s complete transformation into a hybrid of Bono and Angus Young. Grohl spent the entire evening running back and forth between sides of the stage, interrupted only by his frequent soirees to a mini-stage set up in the middle of the arena.  His obvious excitement about playing in his (quasi-)hometown was evident in the giant smile on his face, as he made references to various local hotspots (and coldspots) while regaling the crowd with tales of DC back in the day. Sadly, Grohl’s dominance meant that the rest of the band was kept anonymous. Guitarist Chris Shiflett got to share some of the spotlight during some drawn-out guitar interplay with Grohl, and drummer Taylor Hawkins sang lead vocals on a new song, but second (or even third at this point) guitarist/punk legend Pat Smear remained mainly firmly in the background throughout the evening..

Highlighting the show was the encore break, in which Grohl and drummer Taylor Hawkins taunted the crowd about their return. Each cheer added another song to the evening’s set list, each lull brought a chorus of boos and feigned anger by the Foos. The feedback cycle continued until Grohl appeared at the center stage to perform “Wheels,” “Best of You” and “Times Like These” acoustically, with the crowd providing all the backing he would need. Out of nowhere, the band kicked back in during the final stanza of “Times Like These,” before Grohl played to both his musical and D.C. roots by bringing former Hüsker Dü frontman (and current D.C. local) Bob Mould out to play a song from the new Foo Fighters album. Disappointingly, the band eschewed a possible performance of a classic Hüsker Dü song in favor of a rather random cover of “Breakdown” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Yet in hindsight, the performance actually represented the perfect culmination of an evening of paradoxes: arena-rock smashed together with the ‘80s underground alternative scene that emerged out of the punk rock movement founded on the basis of destroying arena rock, performed by one of the last remaining grunge bands. Clearly, the Foo Fighters are comfortable wrapping all of their influences together, while remaining free of the genre labels that confounded their predecessors. My my, hey hey

Social Distortion Set List:

  1. Bad Luck
  2. So Far Away
  3. Machine Gun Blues
  4. Story of My Life
  5. Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown
  6. Reach for the Sky
  7. Prison Bound
  8. Don’t Drag Me Down
  9. Ring of Fire

 

Foo Fighters Set List:

  1. Bridge Burning
  2. Rope
  3. The Pretender
  4. My Hero
  5. Learn to Fly
  6. White Limo
  7. Arlandria
  8. Breakout
  9. Cold Day in the Sun
  10. Stacked Actors
  11. Walk
  12. Monkey Wrench
  13. Let It Die
  14. These Days
  15. This is a Call
  16. In the Flesh? (Pink Floyd cover)
  17. All My Life

Encore:

  1. Wheels
  2. Best of You
  3. Times Like These
  4. Dear Rosemary (with Bob Mould)
  5. Breakdown (with Bob Mould) (Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers cover)
  6. Everlong

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band @ Verizon Center (4/1/12)

The Stones have done it longer. Led Zeppelin did it louder. U2 does it with more spectacle. But no one gives a concert quite like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. For more than 3 hours, they (or more accurately, Bruce) rocked an April Fool’s Day crowd at the Verizon Center like an opening band singing for its supper. The famous Springsteen stage histrionics were all present: massive guitar solos, stage sprints, crowd surfing, and even a reprise of his famous Super Bowl camera crotch slide (this time joined by a 10 year old boy pulled from the crowd). Strangely, all of Bruce’s energy only served to push him further away from his always steady but never spectacular backing band. Clearly, the loss of Clarence Clemons has removed an element of cohesiveness that cannot be replaced (though his nephew did a decent job musically). However, that can’t explain Little Steven’s near invisibility or Nils Lofgren’s timid playing. Even Max Weinberg’s drums seemed muted.

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Not that any of this mattered to the crowd. Springsteen fans are perhaps the most dedicated crew of aficionados outside of Deadheads, and the ones surrounding us in the floor standing-room section knew every song after three notes and sang their hearts (and vocal cords) out. Springsteen’s modern canon dominated the beginning of the set list, with nearly half the songs coming from albums released since the E Street Band was reunited more than a decade ago. Born to Run was well-represented as always, but the personal highlight of the night was a tour premiere performance of “Adam Raised a Cain” (notwithstanding the idiot behind me yelling throughout the song).

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Springsteen’s rare ability to reduce grown, professional men to a slobbering heap of drunken yodelers cannot be matched (well maybe by Jimmy Buffett but no one has ever envisioned the themselves escaping Margaritaville). Somehow, their perceived dedication only reminded me of current state of rock concerts, in which getting to nostalgically sing along to your favorite song trumps the band’s actual performance. Watching these bozos wrap their sweaty arms around each other’s shoulders as they belted out off-key harmony vocals reminded me not of blue collar folks legitimately touched by Springsteen’s down-to-earth realism, but rather drunken frat boys singing “Pour Some Sugar On Me” at last call. This is through no fault of Springsteen’s, as demonstrated by the set list- he pulled out “American Skin (41 Shots)” (in honor of Trayvon Martin) and seemed reluctant to do “Dancing in the Dark.” To me, the most honest moment of the night was when Bruce relayed his love of Smokey Robinson and the entire Motown scene before making his way out to a platform at the center of the crowd (almost within touching distance for us) to lead the crowd through a medley of the Motown standards “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “634-5789.” Most definitely a preacher amongst his congregation.

Set List:

  1. We Take Care Of Our Own
  2. Wrecking Ball
  3. Night
  4. Death to My Hometown
  5. My City of Ruins
  6. Seaside Bar Song
  7. Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?
  8. Jack of All Trades
  9. Trapped (Jimmy Cliff cover)
  10. Adam Raised a Cain
  11. Easy Money
  12. She’s the One
  13. Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
  14. The Promise
  15. Apollo Medley- The Way You Do the Things You Do/634-5789
  16. American Skin (41 Shots)
  17. Because the Night
  18. The Rising
  19. We Are Alive
  20. Thunder Road

Encore:

  1. Rocky Ground (With Michelle Moore)
  2. Out in the Street
  3. Born to Run
  4. Dancing in the Dark
  5. Land of Hope and Dreams
  6. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Radiohead @ Verizon Center (6/3/12)

ImageFor a superstar, A-list band, Radiohead is still held by its fans as the little indie band that could. How else to explain the number of people who actually paid to download the freely available In Rainbows? The love is reciprocal, as the band has stuck to its indie ideals throughout its two decades together, even if that meant creating “music” that alienated mainstream followers (like me) who never graduated past (the incredibly overrated) OK Computer. So the idea of seeing them in concert was simultaneously and worrisome; given every great review of a Radiohead show I’ve heard, I was concerned that I was merely hearing from the converted. Not being a huge fan myself, and lacking an intimate knowledge of their catalogue, I challenged Radiohead to impress me based purely on performance. I was in the perfect position to be won over. And I was. But not for the reasons I expected.

Opening act Caribou put on the kind of atmospheric light-show that would have been perfect for the 9:30 Club or Black Cat. Unfortunately, the mammoth bowels of the Verizon Center zapped most of the effect. Radiohead received the standard hero’s welcome, as the crowd roared its approval for every intro. Epitomizing the fanbase were two large, unshaven gentlemen in front of us, both wearing overalls and reminding me of the infamous McGuire twins sans motorcycles. During each song (which they heartily sang along to), one would offer up his hands in prayer to the heavens, and the other would respond by making it rain. These gestures were as animated as the crowd got, unsurprising given that Radiohead’s repertoire is not exactly Tom Petty sing-along style. Obviously, the only two songs that I knew (“Airbag” and “Paranoid Android”) were the only ones that stuck out for me. The rest of the songs were interesting enough, but given the band’s disdain for hummable melodies or standard song structures, nothing was going to get stuck in my head.

Visually, however, it was the most stunning show I have ever seen. The band played against a screen backdrop- not so unusual. However, the specialty came from a series of smaller screens hanging above the stage that moved up and down, sideways, even at one point all planking above the band. The camera angles were not standard face or instrument shots, but rather came from angles at the side, on the floor, or behind an amp. Colors brightened and faded as the screens shone their projections outwards. It was almost impossible to watch the actual performance, given the captivating swirl of digital activity happening simultaneously. For an expert fan, it may have distracted from the songs, but for an amateur, it was the perfect complement to the wall-of-sound musical performance from a major league band that still wants to think it is playing in the minors.


 

Set List:

  1. Bloom
  2. Airbag
  3. Kid A
  4. Bodysnatchers
  5. Staircase
  6. Codex
  7. Meeting in the Aisle
  8. The National Anthem
  9. Nude
  10. Morning Mr. Magpie
  11. Identikit
  12. Lotus Flower
  13. Go to Sleep
  14. The Gloaming
  15. Feral
  16. There There

Encore:

  1. You and Whose Army?
  2. 15 Step
  3. Supercollider
  4. Paranoid Android

Encore 2:

  1. Give Up the Ghost
  2. Separator
  3. Reckoner