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Monthly Archives: March 2011

When I was a kid, probably around 8 or 9 I had a walkman and two tapes, Culture Club‘s Colour By Numbers and DEVO‘s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!. I’ve known all my life that I had to see DEVO, something I can now cross off my bucket list. And it unintentionally became a date night for Morgs and I, dinner, shopping and a show. We got to the show about half way through The Octopus Project‘s opening set. They were pleasantly tolerable, mostly instrumental new wavey psych with a theremin thrown in every now and then.

After a montage of their music videos DEVO took the stage dressed like the grey hornet, I became a total fan boy. They played all the major hits and many of the fan favorites. They were loud and played just as fast. Mark Mothersbaugh‘s voice sounded older but just as urgent and rallying. Throughout the show they changed into costumes from their pasts, and did their best to keep the energy up.

I’m thinking this is like a secret final tour, because the show had a very “greatest hits” feel about i, it wasn’t cohesive. For the most part their musicality showed no age, yet there were several awkward moments where they seemed unrehearsed. My last negative comment is that the order of the song in the set list could have been better, and the last song was a terrible choice. Overall I loved the show, but left somewhat unsatisfied.

The Set List

Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)
Peek-a-Boo
What We Do
Going Under
Fresh
That’s Good
Girl U Want
Whip It
Planet Earth
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (The Rolling Stones cover)
Secret Agent Man (Johnny Rivers cover)
Uncontrollable Urge
Mongoloid
Jocko Homo
Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA
Gates of Steel
Freedom of Choice
Beautiful World

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Every year I watch The Tony Awards to hear at least one song from a couple of the new musicals. The year Next To Normal was on it instantly struck me, going on to win best new musical. The soundtrack easily entered my top ten. Finally getting to see the show I can say that the Next To Normal is one of the best I’ve seen. Next To Normal is a family portrait blurred by a heavily medicated mother with psychotic tendencies. The music is loud and the production is in your face. The stage is a multi-tiered structure with moving panels and lots of lighting, was a mixed bag. The scaffolding used for the bones of the set often seem in the way.While the scene transitions are seamless and the lighting is excellently cued. The score permeated with electric guitar and loud drums, but the songs and melodies are almost classic broadway, and will stick with you for days. This touring production has the leads from the Broadway show, which recently closed. Unfortunately the show I saw was Alice Ripley‘s first night back after being out sick for days. Her voice was great at times, when she had to go loud and big it was hard to listen to. Having the soundtrack I knew what it should have sounded like, the rest of the audience left confused. I still loved the show. The rest of the cast was perfect and the story is so strong, I teared up several times during the second act. I will definitely see it again, and would like to see it made into a movie.

A couple of years ago in Portland friends got me tickets to see Crystal Castles at Backspace a tiny coffee shop/performance space. At the time I knew nothing about them. The show was beyond crowded and we couldn’t see a thing, aside from the occasion arm or flap of hair. They sounded alright, their use of low-fi electronics and punk vocals was intriguing  enough for me to get their first album. The album was good, but I never fell in love with it. They released their second album last year, and my opinion of them changed. The second album is all sorts of dynamic and it became one of my favorite bike riding albums.  I knew it would be worth seeing them again when their show at Showbox Market was announced. Unfortunately the show got moved to Showbox SoDo, which is a terrible, terrible venue. Before Crystal Castles came out somebody warned us that Alice Glass had broken her ankle and was told to cancel the tour, moments later the venue went dark and the music started pounding. Because of the warehouse nature of the venue the sound was full of reverb and echo, but that didn’t matter. The light show, the energy from the music, and the ultra excited crowd brought the show to a frenetic level of enjoyment. Most of the time Alice Glass stayed supported by the mic stand, other times she was floating over the crowd kept aloft by the packed house and not missing a beat. They tore through a set comprised mostly from the most recent album, and  amped yet very dark versions of the older songs. I’m not ashamed to admit that I danced my ass off. I look forward to hearing the directions they go in, for such a young group, I expect good things of them.

 

One of my exes introduced me to the brutal sounds of Swans, a band I was ignorant of even though I was so close. They broke up a couple of years before I became aware. Michael Gira, the sonic genius behind Swans, moved on to solo projects and the less epic but more heartfelt Angels of Light. None of which really came close to Swans, which were always about the crushing power of sound. When Gira announced a new version of Swans would record a new album and tour I could only hope they would be able to come close to the original. The album made my best of the year list, even with it lacking the strength of the earlier albums, it has more in common with Angels of Light. Even thought I’ve been able to see Angels of Lights and Michael Gira (solo) several times, I was still online to get tickets for this show as soon as they went on sale. The show was beyond expectations. It was probably the second loudest show I’ve been too, a Mogwai show holds the title still. They opened with a new song that took twenty minutes to get started, a slow throbbing build up the climaxed with such beauty that could never be captured on record. Songs from the new album were played in a manner that was almost unrecognizable and guttingly gorgeous. Large chimes and two drummers took them closer to the original Swans line up and sound. The older songs, at least one from each album, shook the venue and the crowd to the point where we part of the sound. While I doubt we got even close to the experience of seeing the original Swans, I would happily (and eagerly) watch that show over and over.

I was blown away by this show, I didn’t think I would ever get the chance to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor, this is their first tour in a very long time. As excited as I was for the show,  I knew it wouldn’t be much to watch.  There would be a bunch of folks (mostly seated) playing subtle music that slowly builds to a frenetic apex, with songs lasting up to 20 minutes. I was a tad worried that Godspeed’s apocalyptic chamber rock sounds great on headphones or lounging at home, but possibly hard to stand through. It wasn’t, they took us to another place for 2 1/2 hours. I mean holy crap do they have their sound together. The set list stretched all their albums, but I have no idea of the songs titles. When they are playing they are one beast, and I could have watched them for days. Do yourself a favor and spend some time with GY!BE

The only other time I saw So Percussion they were playing with Matmos in Portland. I had a good idea what to expect from the show. Working anything that vibrates and makes sound they construct soundscapes with intricate rhythms. So Percussion uses buckets of water, the sound of sharpies writing, hand claps,  as well as drums, chimes and toy pianos to create the highly choreographed and the spontaneous. They played a couple of Steven Reich and John Cage songs, and a few of their own compositions.  Town Hall is not one of my favorite venues, the room is a bit echoey. That echo worked phenomenally well for So Percussion, with every turn of the head the sound changed. A reception was held after the show,  I went mainly for the snacks. It wasn’t too surprised to find my friend Ginger talking to one of the members. I casually snuck in there to ask some questions.  I’ve tried to figure out how they played and processed the cactus that was highlight of last summer’s show and only played briefly at this show, he happily explained the technique, which was super simple. A great show by a group that understands how to manipulate sound.