I don't go to as many shows as I'd like to. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I'm from a town in the middle of Wisconsin, something like 3 1/2 hours from Chicago, which is where all the good stuff is. Hopefully in the future I'll see a bunch more and not make this list so short?
The Moody Blues, Resch Center, Green Bay (2005) ***
I'm not much of a Moodies fan, but I do like some of their albums, so when a friend of mine really wanted to go, I figured I'd entertain him. As I figured, we were among the youngest there at the ripe age of 20. With no opener the Blues just ripped right into it with "Lovely to See You". See, the Moodies really don't rock, in fact much of the power of the songs comes from Hayward's voice (which, I'm happy to say, sounds pretty much the same as it did in the 60's), but that night they put on a pretty rockin' show. The Moodies are the textbook dinosaur band - they didn't play much that you wouldn't hear on a Greatest Hits album, which of course included "I Know You're Out There Somewhere". That wasn't the only thing that I booed, they also said "Here's a new song from our Christmas album" or something equally frown-worthy. Only one song from To Our Children's Children's Children, and no "Voices in the Sky"? We said "Steppin' in a Slide Zone" instead? (which, okay, rocked a lot harder than I thought) They closed with Nights in White Satin, drawing out the old lighters from the crowd, and came back for an encore of "Question" and "Ride my See-Saw". Good way to close the evening, I guess. A few notes though: for one, not all five Moodies were there, as it was just Lodge, Hayward, and the drummer Graeme Edge, who really can't even drum anymore. He had to be backed up with a session drummer. It was funny seeing him dance like an elf on "Higher and Higher" though. I admire the long set, but seriously, it was TOO LOUD! Give me a break. During "I'm Just a Singer in a Rock n' Roll Band" the solo was so loud it not only eclipsed the rest of the song but was physically painful to listen to. Aren't these guys supposed to be mellow??
They Might Be Giants, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago (2006) ****1/2
I wish I was as big into the Giants as I was during high school, for this would have been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Oh, it took a while though...the opener Tally Hall was pretty good, and then came on Ralph Covert & the Bad Examples, who played NINETY MINUTES of the most generic blues-rock garbage you can imagine. I didn't remember how the songs went 30 seconds after they were over! Luckily, the Giants made up for it, playing a long set full of newer stuff, old favorites, and lots of unexpected tunes. The setlist is available on tmbw.net, so I'll make the comments there:
Snail Shell - Weird opener, huh? Never thought I would hear this one.
New York City - Flansburgh screwed up the bridge on this one, but it was okay anyway. Lots of self-deprecating humor resulted.
Istanbul (Not Constantinople) - Lots of jamming, which was great. Dan Miller is fantastic.
"Dang" Good Times - Since there were kids in attendance, they decided to censor themselves, although they accidently said "damn" a few times anyway. Much worse, there were people smoking pot at the concert - normally I don't care (and kind of wish I had some myself) but, at a show with kids?
Why Does The Sun Shine? - Pretty much the same as the Severe Tire Damage version
Bee Of The Bird Of The Moth - The first new song of the evening. Linnell referred to the new album as "Major Label Debut" then.
In The Middle, In The Middle, In The Middle - Flans sang this one. Dan Miller messed up during this one and they played it twice, which was pretty funny.
Boss Of Me - Not the full version, just the bit you hear on "Malcolm in the Middle"
James K. Polk - A fantastic, often overlooked track. Certainly it wasn't just me who realized how much they liked this song that evening.
Older - A very strange performance, mostly because of the way Linnell sang it. I never liked this song much.
Don't Let's Start - Really great performance of a classic. This band really rocked tonight, and songs heavy in guitar really emphasize that.
We Live In A Dump - From the podcast. First time I heard the song, but I enjoyed it. I think Flans said the podcast could be found at "depechemode.com"
Spider - Really unexpected, but I was glad to hear it!
The Guitar - As usual they did the extended bridge with the "future of sound" instrument. Flans lets someone play his guitar in the crowd. A little overindulgent in weirdness in the middle, but still a great song.
Everybody Conga - The place was so packed (it was sold out), I don't see how anybody could. This was just a lead in to the next song.
No One Knows My Plan - One of my favorites from them, needless to say I was really happy to hear them play it. Hope they do it on their next tour too!
Drink! - Flansburgh demanded a bit of audience participation, but kept saying we weren't doing it right. I don't think any of us knew what it was supposed to sound like.
The Famous Polka - Finally, Linnell breaks out the accordion. He's damn near a virtuoso on that thing.
Alphabet Of Nations - Flans: "I don't think you can play your own walk on music, Dan".
Doctor Worm - Maybe the best performance of the night. I wasn't expecting it at all. They really powered through this one.
The Cap'm - Another new song. It turned out much better on The Else, here it was slower and Linnell kind of drew out many of the syllables.
Asbury Park - From Venue Songs. I don't think this was necessary, but I guess they wanted to get a little more mileage out of those tunes.
Twisting - Had a great ending solo. Flansburgh pulled out five of the strings of his guitar (one of which he cut himself on!) and soloed on the last one. Really cool.
Particle Man - Everyone was waiting for this one. Probably the loudest sing-along of the night, unsurprisingly.
Experimental Film - When explaining why they couldn't do requests: "Our light show is already programmed!". One of the best from The Spine, I was surprised they didn't play more of it.
Birdhouse In Your Soul - The entire crowd jumped along to this, as though they had been waiting this entire time to hear it. I'm sure some of them were.
We're The Replacements - Another unexpected track, again making me realize how much I liked the song. Weird note to go out on, though.
Sufjan Stevens, Pabst Theatre, Milwaukee (2006) ****1/2
I really like this venue - for the first (and only so far) time I didn't feel like "this would be great if they could just turn the volume down a little!" Awesome sound, even though our seats were a little high up. Opener was My Brightest Diamond, who I think is one of Sufjan's backup singers. A decent show, although a little eccentric. Soon, Sufjan came on, dressed as a bird and played a bunch of songs about birds with a band of butterflies. Material was mostly from Seven Swans and Illinois (and surprisingly, none from his new outtakes album, The Avalanche), with a fast run-through of "Detroit, Lift Your Weary Head!" (fast as in it was only seven minutes). It was a damn fine band, sounding kind of like a high school marching band full of child prodigies. Sufjan himself played piano and banjo on a few tracks. If it weren't for those bird wings, (well, and the fact that he's singing) we wouldn't even know who he was - it would be mighty tough to pick this guy out of a crowd, leading people around us to ask, "which one is he?" (see, the opener, "Sister", was instrumental, so it was hard to tell). He talked to the crowd quite a bit, telling the stories behind the songs. His speaking voice is surprisingly normal for a guy who hits as many high notes. A few crowd favorites were played ("John Wayne Gacy" was of course the song everyone wanted to hear, as were all of the good songs from Seven Swans), and a few weren't (I wanted to hear "The Man of Metropolis" or "The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders"), instead he played a new song about another bird. It was really good, following the same formula as the best songs off Illinois before suddenly going into a funky breakdown. That was unexpected, and by the time the song was over the audience was in agreement that it was one of the best of the evening.
Of course, my favorite part was the ending, playing "Jacksonville" and "Chicago" in a row, easily two of Sufjan's best. They sounded awesome live, by the way, and the crowd was really getting into it. Sufjan and two other people came out for an acoustic encore - not sure if Sufjan was expecting it, seeing as most of the band was absent and they had changed costumes. Didn't recognize any of the songs though, which was okay - it was more of an epilogue than anything, after all it would be really hard to top "Chicago", which I believe to be one of the greatest songs of the decade. So everyone leaves happy, including a couple who remarked that it was "worth the 9 hour drive" (!)
Devo, Onieda Pavilion, Green Bay (2006) ****
I remember the day - finals were approaching, I had a number of projects due, lots of things to study, and the homework assignment that was due tomorrow had hit a dead end that I didn't think I could figure out. But my attitude changed quick, the instant I found out that Devo was going to be playing in the same city I was currently living in. I was so bummed out that I had missed their show in 2005 at the Chicago House of Blues due to a misunderstanding with a friend, so I was really excited for this.
Funny enough, the openers were another one-hit wonder from the 80's, Bow Wow Wow. Their hit was "I Want Candy", released when the lead singer was still 15 or 16 and sporting an off-putting mohawk. She's in her late 30's or early 40's now, and let's just say she's been keeping in shape. After watching her bounce around in a skimpy outfit for only a couple of minutes I think all of my friends were thinking the same thing I was. Oh, and the music was pretty good, too.
Devo took the stage after a loooong wait during which they must have ran through the entire E-Z listening disc with a short video to introduce the band, and with "That's Good", the band took off. They definetely looked the part of "band that formed over 30 years ago that just got back together" - the two Casale brothers were fat and balding, Mark's hair was all gray, and Bob Mothersbaugh, well...looked pretty much the same as he always did. But it didn't matter - these guys rocked, and rocked hard, albeit at a slower pace than they used to (I really missed the fast tempo of "Satisfaction", but I think that was because the drummer couldn't play like that too fast). Pretty much all their greats were played, which included lots from their first album, and I shouted along to every one of them. There was a "just going through the motions" aspect to some of it ("Uncontrollable Urge" had the same stage act as it did nearly 30 years ago, and you could tell Mark was tired of it), and Casale tossed off a stupid remark just to show he knew what city he was in ("Is the bay really green?" har har har). But the concert was good enough that I didn't care, and, as a life-long fan of Devo, just being able to see them live made this a huge event for me. During "Jocko Homo" I even got flashbacks of when I was 6 listening rock out to the song off my parents Greatest Hits album. Overall, I was very satisfied - these guys can really play, putting most younger bands to shame. I think anyone who came only knowing "Whip It" was surprised at not only how many great songs there were, but also just how guitar based this band was.
LCD Soundsystem, Metro, Chicago (5/6/2007) *****
A monumental show. I've always thought LCD was one of the greatest bands of the decade, and this show, coming off a fantastic release this year, only proved it. Not only was I getting huge into LCD that year, but it also fell on my 21st birthday. The opener was YACHT, a great opening act for three reasons. One, he was immediately likeable, two, he played the same sort of music that LCD played, and three, he didn't go on for too long. It was one guy with a laptop, who sang and danced along to his own songs. His dancing was the focal point - you couldn't help but be reminded of the dance scene in Napolean Dynamite. He's also tall and lanky with a goofy hairstyle, but he could dance, and was really friendly with the crowd. I liked the songs so much that I bought a CD and he signed it. I like the CD quite a bit too, but it's hard to play it without seeing him dance in my head (at least during "The Magic Beat"). He played eight songs and walked off and LCD began their set up routine. I was a little disappointed there - he was just a guy and a laptop, couldn't they have set LCD up before? Funny enough, the band set themselves up, but I don't know how many people recognized them. Testing all the instruments, a small sample of the synth beat from "Get Innocuous" was played and the crowd went wild, thinking it was "Losing My Edge", which they didn't play. No matter though, because this set ruled anyway.
Starting with "Us v Them" the band tore through their setlist, dropping bomb after bomb, quite a feat for a band with only two CDs out. "Daft Punk" was played second and it rocked really hard, but surprisingly they were able to keep the pace throughout. This was the most involved I've ever seen a crowd - believe me, they knew all the words too, and during the second half of "Movement" the place nearly turned into a mosh pit. I was just glad that I lived up to the promise I made to the people I went with that it would be a good show - out of the five of us, three didn't know any songs by the band, but from song one they were dancing and jumping along with everyone else. One of the few bands that actually would make it worth it to pay $3 for a bottle of water. "Someone Great" was requested a lot, and I didn't know if it was because it was a fantastic song or if they wanted a break from dancing so much. They didn't play it though, which is really my only complaint. The last song of the set was "Yeah", which once again got everyone freaking out. We just couldn't stop dancing, no matter how exhausted we all were. The fact that they extended it to 20 minutes didn't help, but I'll be damned if it wasn't the set's highlight, especailly when Murphy took some spare drumsticks and began pounding right alongside the actual drummer, who was a machine by the way. Really, really great show, even though the encore was weak in comparison, featuring a Joy Division cover and "New York, I Love You", which I didn't think should have been played in Chicago. Unforgettable nonetheless, and after the show Murphy was DJing downstairs with a few others, and I got to meet him, get a few pictures taken and my CD signed. Easily my best birthday (although you may be disappointed to know I only had one beer on my 21st) and one of the best days of my life. Can't wait to see them again!
Cornelius, Park West, Chicago (5/7/2007) *****
Who knew the best concert I had ever seen would be topped just ONE DAY later? Yep, this one went the day after LCD, and it was no less mind-blowing. The opener was called Holy Fuck, sort of a post-rock jam band. I liked them quite a bit, but they were quite unlike Cornelius. They played a very short set and we rushed the stage. We were lucky enough to get front and center. I don't think many of the people there had gone to many shows, with a lot of Asian people in the crowd there to see the Japanese Cornelius.
To be honest I was a little nervous. I hadn't heard what he'd be like live, and didn't want my friends to be disappointed after last night's show. But they were put to rest soon - the crew put a certain out to separate us from them and flashed bars of light on it (to match the Sensuous album cover) and the band 'warmed up' by having their silhouettes flash as they played famous quotes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Beat It, and Super Mario Brothers. That sure got the crowd going. Not long after that, the band was revealed. A drummer, a guitar player, a bass player, and Cornelius himself. They played against a backdrop that showed the music videos, which were perfectly synced up to what the band was doing, and if you watch the video for "Fit Song" on Youtube, you might realize just how much rehearsal this must have taken. I was surprised they could play the song at all. It was a crowd favorite too, as was the man's iconic song, "Count Five or Six", set against a collage of boxing matches, where every cymbal crash was augmented with the video of a KO punch. They went right into "I Hate Hate", which was, amazingly enough, played FASTER than the album version. Besides that, the only pre-Point material we got was a fantastic "Star Fruits Surf Rider", and the surprising inclusion of "Brand New Season" from 69/96, where he grabbed a man from the crowd and 'played' his hand on the theremin. Exactly the kind of thing that made this show great - the band is ridiculously talented and well-rehearsed, but Cornelius came across as a friendly and fun guy besides.
Lots of great moments here - holding my girlfriend and watching the fantastic video to "Tone Twilight Zone" was an unforgettable moment for both of us, but altogether the show was just amazing. I was a little worried at first, knowing that most of Sensuous would be played, but even the real ambient tracks went down really well. The encore was neat, featuring a hard rocking track that doesn't show up on any of his albums, which is unfortunate because it was awesome. Those of us in the front row even got to play his giant calculator-like device that made sound effect noises. Like the show the night before, this performance was unforgettable. Keep an eye on this man - if he plays in your city, you simply must go see it.
Stan Ridgway, Shank Hall, Milwaukee (8/12/07) ***1/2
Hardly a household name, but most people would probably recognize him as the former lead singer of Wall of Voodoo, who had a pretty big hit in '82 with "Mexican Radio". This show was part of a tour to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Call of the West album, which I find to be pretty overlooked - I mean, people consider Q: Are We Not Men? and The Pleasure Principle to be essential New Wave albums - and they are, but I think Call of the West ought to be right beside them.
Unfortunately, Ridgway and WoV never quite got the recognition they deserved, which is why he was playing for 60-70 people at Shank Hall. It's too bad - he's a one-of-a-kind (and I don't just mean his voice!), but I think he can do better than this small venue, which, judging from the pictures on the wall, has attracted quite a few big names. Opener was Danny something and Loose Change. Why do local bands need to put a person's name in it like that? I can see "Elvis Costello and the Attractions", but this guy seems like some dude that not even the people he went to school with remember. Oh, he sang his heart out, but for the stage banter he just sort of mumbled into the microphone. Good lyrics, decent music, and a free CD, so all together it could have been much worse. 30-35 minutes later Stan comes on with his wife, Pietra Wexstun on keyboards, whose first AND last name I can't pronounce, a mustached and ponytailed guitar player, and a drummer with black rimmed glasses. He was great, by the way - if you've ever heard Wall of Voodoo, surely the clink-clank pots n' pans approach to the drums would stick out, and the drummer NAILED it. He was fun to watch, unlike Pietra, who seemed pretty bored on stage. I couldn't even really hear what she was playing (I think Stan made a comment about that).
Stan himself played guitar and harmonica, which he is actually really good at. They started with "Tomorrow", which I was really happy to hear, but unfortunately it didn't have the synth line in it. The lyrics were a little different from the album version. After that we got "The Big Heat", where Stan (unfortunately) forgoes the uncharacteristically high notes on the chorus, which was probably my favorite part. He told us, it was "great to be in Minneapolis". Oops. Strike one. He caught his mistake and referenced it several times during the show - but despite that, let me tell you, Stan's one of the kings of stage banter. He gives a minute or so in between songs, although he hardly bothers to talk about the songs themselves. He's a funny guy - very naturally witty and friendly.
Okay, so the set continued, with Stan devoting about equal time to his Wall of Voodoo stuff as his solo material. Four songs from Mosquitoes and only one from his new album, which I've heard is very good. So that was surprising. All three of the big songs from The Big Heat were played. "Camouflage" started out like WoV's "On Interstate 15" for a while, after which Stan broke a string on his acoustic. I guess he thought he could finish the song anyway, but after half a minute he tell us, "I need that string!", and plays it with an electric guitar instead. "We're trailblazing tonight!"
Lots of WoV material too, including five songs from Call of the West. The title track was great, with his ending rant made out to be about Wisconsin, which was cool. "Factory" was done at a slower tempo. I didn't really like it. But he did so further back than that album, giving us great performances of "The Passenger" and "Call Box". You could probably count on one hand the number of people who knew those songs, much less the people who knew all the lyrics (like I did!) The set closer was their cover of "Ring of Fire" which got a nice response, and the closing jam was much more intense than the studio version. Definitely a high point. Oh, and they did "Don't Box Me In" too, from Stewart Copeland's Rumblefish soundtrack. I love that song! The drummer did a pretty good Copeland impersonation, which must have been a tough job. I don't think anyone else can really play quite like that.
Okay - so of course, he does play "Mexican Radio", and it ruled, getting a standing ovation and all, and even though Stan gave it his all, he made it very clear he was sick of the song. He goes out into the crowd and kind of lost it, yelling out, "I'm so sick of this fucking song!" and "This song is so fucking stupid!", saying afterwards, "Sorry about that, I had a little stroke over there". The people behind us left after that, I guess they just wanted to hear that song. I think all that bitterness was directed at people like that.
He did two encores, finally ending with "A Mission in Life", which was even better than I remembered it. Afterwards he went to the merchandise booth and yours truly got to meet him and get a poster signed. He liked my Devo shirt, saying he knew "Mark and the boys" personally, having opened for them many times. I got in pretty early - I'm sure the meet n' greet went pretty long, as Stan seemed to really like talking to his fans. Good show altogether - not the best I've seen, but a very nice way to spend the evening.
Polysics, Eagle's Ballroom, Milwaukee, WI (10/29/07) ****
If you haven't heard of Polysics, check 'em out on Youtube. They're a 4-piece Japanese New Wave band taking heavily from Devo and P-Model, right down to the visors and matching suits. Their music is seriously energetic and catchy, giving the Milwaukee audience a show they're not likely to forget. The band was somehow picked as an opener for the Myspace Music Tour, featuring emo bands Say Anything and HelloGoodbye as the headliners. As a result, Polysics didn't play too long, giving us only about 35-40 minutes over 9 songs, but it was so high-octane that they were the talk of the night among those who actually bothered to show up to watch the openers. This was one seriously divided crowd - I'd say it was about 40-50% high school girls, which even made ME feel old - most of whom didn't take too kindly to Polysics' over-the-top and loud brand of rock music where lead singer Hiro more or less screamed into the mic every song. As out of their element as they were, Polysics still managed to rock most of the crowd, giving us a good selection of their more popular tracks ("New Wave Jacket", "Kaja Kaja Goo", "Electric Surfin' Go-Go"). Some of it went pretty well with the audience - "I My Me Mine" was pretty well-liked, and the cover of "My Sharona" was as amazing as I imagined it would be. Despite the fact that only a handful of people turned out to watch them, Polysics gave it their everything, featuring a particularly electrifying performance from Hiro and Fumi. After the show they went by their merchandise booth to sign posters and CDs and talk with the fans - their English isn't too great, but I was able to chat with Hiro for a couple of minutes, who was pretty impressed with my knowledge of New Wave music. Even cooler, he recommended me a couple of bands and taught me a few Japanese phrases - talk about appreciating your American fans. I stuck around to watch the other bands and they were okay - however, as put by a friend of mine who went with his girlfriend without knowing any of the bands, Polysics were "an impossible act to follow".
They Might Be Giants, Turner Ballroom, Milwaukee, WI (11/9/07) ****1/2
Once again, I was pretty damn impressed by the Giants, who rocked the newly formed Turner Ballroom. They've just released a new album, their best in 10 years, but despite that, pretty much everyone who is a fan is so because of the old stuff. You could tell that everyone was there to see "Birdhouse" and "Istanbul", but some of the new material fared pretty well - "The Mesopotamians" was a huge crowd favorite, and rightfully so, and "Take Out the Trash" got a good response. The show really took off near the middle - a horn section, featuring three damn talented brass men, showed up on the balcony to play "Mr. Me", which was one the best performances up to that point, but when they came down to play with the rest of the band, the show started to get really good. They took pretty frequent (and welcome) solos, allowing songs like "She's Actual Size" to take flight, and the final improv section of "Spy" was way better than the studio version would make it sound. Just an all-around great show - the Johns have found one seriously talented band to tour with, and Flansburgh's stage banter was unforgettable - last time I saw them it was in a zoo, so I didn't know just how much he seems to like dropping the F-bomb. The two encores were fantastic, with an unforgettable performance of "Fingertips" and a version of "Istanbul" with a long acoustic guitar solo as an intro. Definitely can't wait for the next time they come around.
Modest Mouse, The Rave, Milwaukee, WI (11/11/07) ***1/2
I'm not much of a Mouse guy, I do think they're a great band, as well as the favorite of three of my friends, so I had to go. With two openers, I figured we were in for one hell of a night. The first one, Love as Laughter, I didn't remember much of, but the second, Man Man, was amazing. I'm sure a good 10-15% of the huge crowd was there for these guys and they got a great response, playing pretty goofy but high-octane compositions featuring a variety of instruments, including lots of interesting percussion. The songs were all over the place and had a lot of obnoxious elements, but I loved every minute of it - after listening to their CD however, I've determined that the huge amounts of energy and frantic atmosphere doesn't transfer so well to the studio. Mouse hit the stage 30 minutes later to a deafening response and opened with "Bury Me With It", "Paper Thin Walls", and "Dashboard", which was definitely my favorite part of the show. I was afraid that they'd stick to their newer material, but they did play "Doin' the Cockroach" which made me a happy camper, and the nearly 10-minute jam of "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" was epic, if a little disorganized. They seemed to enjoy playing their more disco and funk-inspired songs the most, making sure the crowd would be dancing the whole night, with the occasional old throwback like "Talkin' Shit About a Pretty Sunset" or "Out of Gas". And yeah, "Float On" was pretty good too. They played a 4-song encore, ending with "Parting of the Sensory", which came off pretty good. Nice to see the new material is holding up, but I really wanted to hear more from their first few releases - in particular, I really wanted to hear "Dramamine", which most Mouse fans would agree is one of their top songs ever, but sadly went missing here.
Boredoms, Logan Square Auditorium, Chicago (3/26/08) ****
Boredoms are one seriously intense band. After a number of freeform and noisy releases featuring screaming, guitar, and more screaming, the band eventually decided to turn into a more rhythm-based Krautrock-esque freakout, and I gotta say I've loved them ever since. Although after 2000's Vision Creation Newsun Boredoms have been kind of hard to track down - a few scattered releases did appear, but the official story was that they'd broken up and were now the Vooredoms (oo being infinity). Well, I suppose they're back, playing one of Chicago's more hidden venues. Now I know that seeing one of your favorite bands is usually an exercise in waiting, but this was almost too much - the doors opened an hour late, and the opener started about 30 minutes after that. The Boredoms had a round stage about 25 feet away from the main stage, where the openers would play. The first opening act, Human Bell, was an instrumental post-rock group that started by playing a simple bass line, then the drums would slowly come in, and then a guitar part, repeated over and over, getting louder and more intense until the song comes to a climax and breaks. Really really not that interesting, and EVERY SONG WAS THE SAME!! Next up there was Human Bell. Definitely more rocking and more energy, but it seemed to be missing *something*. Being in front of the round stage I couldn't really see the 'band' - I found out later it was just one guy!
Okay, so after 35 more minutes of stagehands checking everything possible (which was pretty lame - everything was set up already!), finally Eye and the rest of the Boredoms hit the stage. The band was three drummers and Eye, who came out with this glowing ball of light, which was some sort of theremin, which would make staticy noise as he waved it around. The drums came in slowly and Eye was basically acting like a freak the whole time. The 'centerpiece' was definitely the 7-neck guitar, which Eye would play with a huge stick by whacking it across 3 or 4 of the necks at once. Once the drummers got going, it was amazing - totally trance-inducing, but at the same time very rocking and danceable. The drummers were seriously impressive - they were extremely coordinated, and never seemed to get tired. By the end of the night they were still chugging along, and even though most of the strings on the 7-tar were broken, the show was only growing in intensity until their 90-minute set was done. They came out for an encore, which was more of a slow burner, but in the end it was faster than ever, which really caused the crowd to lose it, despite everyone seeming to be really, really tired (you know that feeling you get when you need water so bad you're willing to pay $4 a bottle? That's a good show for you..) - at least, those who stayed; it seemed a good 20% of the crowd left midway, apparently getting more than they bargained for. Altogether I'd say the ridiculous amount of waiting and sitting through opening bands besides, the show was great, even if it took 25-30 minutes for me to really get into it. The material was all new, by the way...hopefully they'll release it soon!
Kraftwerk, The Rave, Milwaukee (4/20/08) *****
Now here's a band that you really have to jump on the chance to see, because with such a sparse touring schedule, you have to wonder if any given opportunity to see Kraftwerk will be the last. I'm really happy they chose Wisconsin as one of their 4 (!) tour dates in America this year - I would have traveled a lot further if it was necessary. With no opener, Kraftwerk came out about 10 minutes after we arrived, and the response was terrific. First of all, the place was jam-packed and it was HUGE. Secondly, the crowd seemed to eat up every note, with sections of people crazy-dancing and jumping along to pretty much every track. I of course was among them - how can you not get caught up in this kind of music? Their sound works so well live - the bass was very deep and powerful, the kind you felt in your chest, and the rest of the sounds so pristine that you could really hear everything; possibly the best sound I've ever heard at a live venue. But I do concede, other than the "I was there!" feeling, what did we get that wasn't on the Minimum-Maximum DVD? Well, the setlist was rearranged a little, with "Numbers" and "Computer World" segueing from "Planet Der Vision", and "Computer Love" and "Showroom Dummies" were added to the setlist. The downside? "Pocket Calculator", one of my very favorite Kraftwerk tunes, was missing! And that one's a staple! But I guess it's okay - there wasn't really a single tune that seemed to fall flat, as is par for the course for these guys. And what, exactly, did those guys do? Pretty much nothing - they were perched behind their Sony VIAO's the whole show, with Hutter playing keyboards and doing the occasional vocal, and the others twisting knobs. Maybe bobbing their heads and moving their feet a little, but this isn't really a band that rocks out, or really interacts with the crowd at all - besides a "good night" at the end, they didn't seem to even acknowledge we were here (not even an encore!) But that's part of their image - as we had all hoped, they did do "The Robots" with the robotic dummies, which was certainly a high point. Well, when a band has this many great songs, pretty much everything is a high point, but in particular, "Robots", "Radioactivity" (which started a slow burner, but halfway through switched to a modern-sounding club beat, getting the whole floor moving), and "Tour de France Etape 2" (after the "Chrono" breakdown) seemed to really have everyone captivated. Of course, one of my favorites was saved for last - "Music Non Stop", with its driving dance beat and robot beatboxing, was a great ending to a fantastic night, and the crowd certainly seemed to think so too. There was even three kids there, around 15-16, wearing shirts with the words "BOING", "BOOM", and "TSCHAK" on the back - how cool is that?
One other thing - I know that the lineup of the band has changed since the 'classic' days, and I kind of noticed that Schneider didn't look as I'd pictured him - I found out later that night that he actually decided not to join the rest on the 2008 tour, and was replaced by someone named Stefan Pfaffe. I guess I could be upset about this, but really, what's the difference?
The Presidents of the United States of America, The Rave, Milwaukee (5/7/08) ****
Wow, have I really been a Presidents fan that long? Their debut was released in 1996, when I was just 10 years old, and like many my age I rushed out to buy it, considering it had some of the catchiest songs on the radio at the time, wasn't full of schlocky love songs, and had some damn good music videos to accompany it. No surprise then that the crowd was full of 20-somethings who probably got into the band the same time I did. Openers were Right Rongly, a two-man combo with a drummer and acoustic guitar player. They were pretty good, especially for the last two songs - the guitar player really seemed to want to be Les Claypool, playing his acoustic the same way Claypool plays the bass - in other words, lots of slap moves. I haven't seen anyone play quite like that. The second band was called Black and White, a Nu Rave-type band that was reminiscent of the DFA kind of sound - a disco-style drumbeat, catchy guitar licks, and a jerky, yelping lead singer (in this case with a 70's style porno moustache). I liked the band despite the crappy on-stage sound, but unfortunately haven't been able to find any information about them on the internet.
The Presidents came out soon after (on time too, imagine that!). Let me say that Chris Ballew, the band's only frontman since Dave Deterer left (his replacement was certainly competent, but didn't seem to be having as much fun as the rest of the band), has really got some rock star presence - the crowd was following his every move, and on several occasions nearly started a mosh pit. Now, as for the setlist, it was more or less what I expected - a good smattering of tracks from their first album (in fact, they did everything from that album except for "Naked and Famous", "Feather Pluckin'", and "Body"), by far their most famous and probably their best, as well as tracks from their recently released These Are the Good Times People. There were 3 tracks from II (including "Tiki God" which kicked things off - what a strange choice), three from Love Everybody ("Love Everybody", "Some Postman", and "Zero Friction"), and of course their awesome "Video Killed the Radio Star" cover. Although their set up was pretty sparse, leaving a lot of the studio touches to be discarded ("Deleter", which still ruled), the band simply rocked out every track. Ballew looked for (and got) lots of audience participation, and many of the older songs seemed to have little added bits ("Kick Out the Jams" went at least twice as long as the studio version and absolutely ruled). Hearing all of this at once led me to this realization - almost every Presidents song has a high-tempo rock-out in the end, which could have gotten monotonous if the songs themselves weren't so catchy. Also the crowd favorites from the first album like "Peaches" and "Kitty" got the best response, the new material seemed to go over well, especially considering they only played the good songs off it. They're still as clever and quirky as ever, but at their core they're a damn fine rock band. If you were one of the kids who couldn't get enough of the band in their mid-90's heyday, I strongly recommend you see them if they come to your town.
The Knack, Metro Jam, Manitowoc (6/5/2008)
Manitowoc has a modest (but growing) population, is about an hour and a half from a major city (Milwaukee), and half an hour from a decent sized one (Green Bay) and has a county named after it, making it a great place for music's faded glories to shake things up. We got Hootie and the Blowfish five years after their fall from grace and every year we seem to get one fairly well-known one-hit wonder group who never had much of a following, like Joan Jett at our county fair, and, well, the Knack, at our yearly music festival. Sure, I have never met the Knack, but their hit ("My Sharona", if you don't remember) was great, and they were kind of a New Wave band, which means they can't be that bad. They turned out to be a pretty good - okay, it's weird to see old people playing this type of music, but they were seeming to have a lot of fun, so who cares? You've got the singer Doug Fieger (who still wears a skinny tie), who it turns out was ALWAYS weird-looking, a skilled guitarist who looks like Harrison Ford, an energetic drummer who was clearly enjoying himself, and a bass player with sunglasses and slick hair who was just having no fun at all.
The Knack really aren't a great or mind-blowing band, but they were still pretty good, and most of their songs were just plain good rock-n-rollers, with a few "Sharona"-style riffs kicked in. Of course, they didn't play their big hit until the very end, whereupon the audience rushed the stage, which was (I felt) kind of disrespectful to the band - they had played an hours worth of good music, yet the audience only responded to the one song they knew. Okay, so it was their best song, but I was never bored, and the band's fiery cover of "Tequila" that interspersed "Break On Through To The Other Side" quite simply ruled. The only disappointment was that only one of my friends wanted to go - come on, the show was free, and within walking distance, and besides, these events always bring out Manitowoc's weirdest. Well, I had a good time.
Boris, Turner Hall, Milwaukee (7/19/2008)
I don't really like metal and I have only heard this band once (their latest, Smile, on a bus), but hell, it was only $13 and on a night where we had nothing else to do, so why not? Well, after sitting through two opening metal bands, full of cookie monster vocals and one-note riffs playing more or less the same song over and over, I had a good reason, but thankfully when Boris came out things got a lot more exciting. The band is made up of three skinny and reserved looking people in dark clothes and a really energetic and outgoing drummer, who pretty much WAS the center of attention. I recognized some of the tunes from Smile, from which the first song, "Flower Sun Rain" came - after the openers, I really appreciated a straightforward pop song, and when it started to intensify, I was finally glad I came. They were powerful, and plenty loud (I usually wear earplugs since my hearing's pretty sensitive and goes screwy if something's really loud, but this was just over the top - anyone who didn't have them was probably deaf for a few days, but I suppose metal fans get off on that), showing off a barrage of heavy-hitters with the occasional quieter passage. The singer had a pained and affecting voice, which displayed plenty of emotion (even if we don't speak the same language). I could see getting into this kind of music someday. The final song was an epic - I remember it was a two-part, 30-minute piece on Smile, but it went 10-15 minutes longer here, with the drummer taking a stage dive at the end. Very cool, but I was kind of glad when it was over, you know? Altogether a decent evening, and there was one metalhead dancing in such a strange and hilarious way it was practically a show in itself - during the epic, he shouts out "DON'T STOP NOW!" during the quiet part, which the crowd seemed to appreciate. And then there was me, at a metal show, wearing a Devo shirt - not for the show, it was just what I happened to be wearing - maybe this kind of music really wasn't for me, but the end I'm glad I went.
The Police with Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Summerfest Grounds, Milwaukee (7/25/08)
If you had told me 10 years ago I was going to see the Police, I would have absolutely flipped out - and don't get me wrong, I still love 'em (as you can see by my review page) - however, they're no longer the only band I ever listen to, and I just couldn't get away from the band even after I got into other ones - they're all over FM radio, after all. Plus, they aren't really the greatest live, judging by their Synchronicity-era live disc, and that was when they were still young! Not saying guys can't rock past 50 - hell, I saw the Knack really rock out and they're from the same era - but given they've pretty much played everything BUT rock music in their post-Police careers (Copeland excepted), I couldn't help but wonder how they would be (especially since I've heard their reformation shows described as a "soulless money-grab" just a week prior to this one). Still, they're an amazing band in the studio, and let's face it, there's just no way I'd miss them in my home state. Now, Elvis Costello, I really DID want to see, despite me not knowing any of his post-Trust material yet - he's been musically active for a long time and is still sharp, so I expected a great show from him.
Unfortunately, we ran into a little bit of an E-Cost tragedy - we didn't allocate enough time given that this venue was quite a bit bigger than the ones we usually go to in Milwaukee, and therefore would require 10-15 minutes walking time, and plus one of the exits was under construction and forced a detour that led us straight in the middle of downtown Milwaukee on a Friday evening (meaning each traffic light had to cycle 4-5 times before we could pass the intersection), with no idea of how to get to our destination. And, to rub it in, just as we went to cross a bridge, it went up! Still, we managed to get there in time for "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding", which ruled, but that's all of Elvis's set we got. I guess the consolation is that he's still active and is still going to tour, plus he was playing less than an hour as the opener here.
Once he left, the people started flooding in, especially in the places nearest the stage, where the tickets are $200 apiece. How you could pay that and choose to ignore the opening act, especially one as big as Elvis, is beyond me. There was almost no set up required for the Police, and they actually came out ON TIME, perhaps a first for the shows I've been to. They started with the immortal "Message in a Bottle" riff and I suddenly realized it's not the end of the world because I missed E-Cost...
Now, I don't have a Sting page, and I really didn't rip into him much on my Police face, so let me just say this - Sting is an arrogant prick. His lyrics are kind of pretentious as they are, but I still enjoy them - that is until he decides to point out that by the way, he WAS an English teacher, and one with a mortgage and a pension, but maaaan what happened? Yeah, you're a billionaire rock star now, we get it. Don't forget those other two guys on stage, the ones who made you who you are today - couldn't you play at least ONE of their songs? Well, the setlist was entirely predictable, except we didn't get "Spirits in the Material World" or "Synchronicity II". We DID get "Demolition Man" however, which was nice, and a nice segue from "Voices Inside My Head". We all knew the material though for the most part. "Can't Stand Losing You" with the "Reggatta de Blanc" middle section was amazing, while "Invisible Sun", with the jumbo-trons showing close ups of starving children was really tacky and just made the audience uncomfortable - plus the performance of it wasn't too hot either. So maybe they DID neuter "Roxanne" and "Next to You", but it was still a nice performance from two guys in their mid-50's, and one in his mid-60's. Sting looked confident and seemed to be having a good time, while Andy Summers looked like he wanted to be anywhere else. Then there was Copeland, the man who I really DID want to see, and he was just amazing. Sting may be the guy who wrote nearly a dozen huge hits and the voice and face of the band, but Stewart represents everything that was truly great about the Police, and seeing him up there as a still-amazing drummer was great, especially since he was REALLY getting into it, looking like a kid who just wanted to "feel" the music. I could watch that guy all day. Unfortunately, he got no solos, while Andy got one in nearly every song. Oh well. It was a great time anyway, Elvis or no Elvis, and the crowd was absolutely enormous. I read in the paper that day that this tour was set to be the highest grossing of ALL TIME at this rate - meaning that the Police are perhaps more popular today than they were in '83, and back then they were HUGE! Say what you want, but besides maybe U2, none of the other big acts of the 80's, not Madonna, not Duran Duran, not Prince - NONE of them could get the crowds these guys did (Michael Jackson excepted). And that's a huge testament to their talent and appeal.
Dan Deacon, Turner Hall, Milwaukee (5/5/09)
One of the great things about Bromst was that it shows the young Deacon hitting a real stride and refining his music into something both playful and grand. When I heard he was going to bring a 13-piece band to the show, I was kind of skeptical (as he played all his shows solo prior to this year), but somehow I knew that Deacon could pull it off. The orchestra was basically a rock band augmented with a few auxiliary instruments, and they were fantastic. Deacon’s music may be weird and needlessly avant-garde at points, but the guy brings off a sense of unpretentiousness that’s really refreshing – he set up his own equipment (including a trippy green skull, although he did not play “Trippy Green Skull”), talked with a few audience members and mingled among the remaining crowd after the show was over. For someone who gets pegged as a weirdo so often, he’s got a very down-to-earth sense of humor – the band took the stage to the Seinfeld theme music, which was hilarious in a way that I can’t really explain. After a few minutes of tuning their instruments and stage banter, they kicked into “Get Older”, and immediately we all knew that we were in for a great time – in a concert atmosphere, with live instruments, the music was simply mindblowing, but that wasn’t all. Deacon’s shows are famous for their audience interaction – he used to play right in the middle of the crowd – and this night was no exception. He had the audience play all sorts of little games, including a dance circle that a friend and I were picked to start (probably because we were wearing goofy outfits – yes, that was me with the bear hat) during “Woof Woof”. Probably the most ambitious was the ‘human tunnel’ experiment, where he led a tunnel of people that led all the way outside (some took it as an opportunity to smoke). At the end of the show, we were all exhausted and insanely thirsty with goofy smiles on our faces – honestly, the crowd vibes here were as positive as I’ve ever seen – everyone there acted cool and friendly, which is surprising for such a hipster-oriented Pitchfork-approved band. This may be the best $10 I’ve ever spent.
Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Summerfest, Milwaukee (7/5/09)
After sadly missing E-Cost when he opened for the Police due to unexpected highway construction blocking off exits and a gross underestimation of how long it would take to get to the Ampitheatre, I could almost call this a ‘redemption’ show. At this point, he had just come out with a new country album Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane, plus 2008’s Momofuku was still new. I haven’t heard either, but all the tunes he played from them were pretty good (the audience singalong on “Monkey to Man” went over surprisingly well). To be honest, I didn’t know what level of energy to expect – the man’s 55 years old, but he rocked out nearly every song, proving himself to be a surprisingly versatile guitar player – then again, he has been in the business for over 30 years. As the main event on the Classic Rock stage, you’d imagine that most of the people who came out to see him didn’t know his catalog all too well, so Elvis satisfied everyone by playing a lot of his ‘classic’-era tunes – which isn’t too surprising, as much of his 90’s and 00’s work required a special band or was a duet. You really couldn’t argue with the setlist – “Pump It Up”, “I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea”, “Radio, Radio”, “Watching the Detectives”, “Accidents Will Happen”, “Clubland”, and “Beyond Belief” were all performed with a new sense of energy (“Detectives” had so many solos that it ran nearly 10 minutes). The encore, which featured “You Belong To Me”, “Waiting For the End of the World”, “Red Shoes”, “Alison” (with “Suspicious Minds” and “Tears of a Clown” mixed in) AND “What’s So Funny Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?” was pretty much the best encore ever. I went with a few people who only knew My Aim is True and a couple who didn’t even know who Elvis Costello was, but we all walked away pretty happy. It was great to see the crowd so excited to see one of the best songwriters of the past 40 years, and Costello himself was more full of energy than any other ‘classic rock’ act I’ve ever seen.
No Age, Deerhunter, and Dan Deacon at Turner Hall, 8/7/09
After the show in May, Dan Deacon has basically become "must see" material for us, and the opportunity to see him with two other bands seemed like an interesting night - Deerhunter was more or less the main attraction, as most the people there seemed to be there to see them, and No Age from what I had heard sounded pretty good. They were basically both noise-rock bands, with No Age being a little poppier, and for both bands there was a heavy emphasis on the rock portion. How the 'round robin' tour was put together was a bit of a disappointment - it was billed as having songs from all three of them intertwined into one endless piece, with Deerhunter on stage and the other two bands lining the wall. In fact, they all just took turns playing a song or two, with both No Age and Deerhunter were both on stage and Deacon off on the right wall...so naturally we gravitated to the right.
As for the openers...we didn't catch all of the first guy's show, as my buddy's iPhone GPS suddenly couldn't differeniate between Pabst Theater and Turner Hall, but what we did catch was pretty amusing - it was one skinny, unshaven guy with a giant drum...one moment he'd be singing softly and the next he'd be shouting like a lunatic. I mentioned to one of my buddies that they found the guy performing outside the venue and someone in front of me turned around and asked, "really??" The crowd liked him enough and he DID play "Freebird" when we shouted.
Second guy was a younger dude who went on stage with this little electronic box, sort of crouched over it and started breating into the mic. He was definitely one of the least capivating openers I've ever seen - it wasn't until about 5 minutes in to his performance that the crowd realized that he WASN'T just a roadie testing the equipment. People didn't really pay attention until the volume got up to nearly unbearable levels. Essentially, he was humming or breathing into the microphone. and his electronic box morphed it into this static-like noise. It raised two questions - one, "how is he making that noise?", and two, "when is he getting off the stage?".
As for the main act - well, we were basically there for Deacon, who got quite a nice reception, with those close to him jumping around and generally freaking out. He 'played' almost all stuff from his new album - by that I mean he did the vocals while the track played in the background. But just the chance to experience the guy's music at high volume in a crowd of young sweaty people is enough - the crowd hung on his every word, and many people commented that he was stealing the show. Once again, there was plenty of crowd interaction, but this time all did not go smoothly - for "Of the Mountains", Deacon invited Randy of No Age and Brandon of Deerhunter to lead a dance contest, during which Randy slipped on a spilled beer and seriously injured his shoulder. Even though I'm a tall guy, I was way off to the right and had no idea why the music had stopped. For some reason, we started a chant of "gimme that fish, bitch" (don't ask...I was drunk) One guy went on the main stage and informed everyone of what happened, but said "the show must go on!" Unfortunately, a few seconds later the main lights went on and we were told to file out. Bummer. So we booked it, hearing Randy's screams of pain the whole way out - the guy must have been seriously hurt. Still, it was a neat show up until then, even if Dan never got to play "Wham City" (we talked to him during one of Deerhunter's songs and he said it was definitely on the setlist). I guess I have to give this one a grade of "incomplete".
Datarock at Double Door, Chicago, 9/11/2009
Look, we all know that the New Wave period provided the best 5-or-so years of rock music, so it's great to see that there's at least one band out there that's trying to bring it back, even if they originated from Norway - the other real "new wave revivalist" band I can name is Polysics, and they're from Japan - come on America, can't you get the hint? The band sort of remains on the cusp of making it big - in a perfect world, Red would be the album of summer 2009, but as it stands the only Datarock fans I know are guys I've introduced to the band myself. So I definitely liked the idea of being surrounded by other fans of the group, seeing as I never really met one myself. I grabbed one of my Datarock buddies (sadly, it was only 21+) and made the trek to Chicago. 4 hours later (construction traffic is brutal) we made it, only to have to wait in line for over half an hour to get in despite showing up right when the doors were supposed to open. The one positive was that I saw Fredrik (the singer/guitarist of the band) wandering around and figured I'd go talk to him - as with pretty much all the musicians I've met, he was a super nice guy.
Anyways, we finally did make it in, only to be treated to an hour-long DJ set - he wasn't a bad DJ, but people generally don't dance to DJs when they're waiting for live music - it is great to hear while the bands set up their stuff, but I couldn't help notice that Datarock themselves didn't take the stage until after 11. The opening act (Esser) was a pretty neat band that was sort of New Wave themselves, with plenty of tricks up their sleeves. Suddenly, the once-sparse stage area became packed. Datarock, fully clad in huge sunglasses and red tracksuits hit the stage - there was Fredrik on guitar, a drummer, a bass player, and Ket-ill playing around with electronics and doing some sax. And yeah, the show was fantastic. Having a reputation as a great live band comes partly because their songs seem generally written for high-energy live performance, and seeing the crowd sing along word for word to future classics like "Give It Up", "True Stories", and "Sex Me Up" was awesome.
Highlight for me was Fredrik asking the crowd if anyone knew "the Running Man" - little did he know that in Manitowoc, that is the only dance we know! He pulled me on stage to show the crowd how to do it while they played "Princess" - I think I got it half right. One, the stage was too sticky, so you couldn't slide your foot at all, two, it was a small stage, and I was afraid I'd trip over a wire or something, and three, "Princess" is too fast for the Running Man Manitowoc-style. Regardless, I had a blast - everyone in the crowd was dancing, and looking back, how could you not? Datarock knows why people see live music, and even the people who told me they'd never heard of the band before said that it was the most fun they'd ever had at a show. The group connects with the crowd in a way I've almost never seen - even after the encore, Fredrik pulled the band out again because he knew we wanted more. Did 90 minutes ever pass so quickly? With that, Datarock join Underworld in the list of bands that I'd even fly a state or two over to see. Plus, did I mention the band was awesome in person too? After the show, I waited around to get my record signed (colored vinyl + CD for only 15 bucks), and we got invited to the afterparty. Very cool. I can't imagine a more fun bunch of guys. Definitely, definitely do not miss it if they come to your town.