show review

I don’t think anyone really knows how much I nerd out about They Might Be Giants. I was 16 the first time I saw them live, the rest of high school I saw TMBG so many times I lost count. I had a group of friends that would drive all over New England with me, those were some good times. The teenage me became strongly attached to the angst filled obliqueness of the lyrics, they introduced me to the happy sounding sad song. As I got older I grew to appreciate the performance art that their live show can often be. I still hardly pass up the chance to see TMBG.

This year TMBG released two of their best albums in the last ten years and are riding high on the current nerd renaissance. The show at Showbox Sodo was pretty spot on. The recent albums have the sound of the early ones, and the show reflected their renewed enthusiasm. The Johns were  loving it. The set list covered most of their discog, with only a couple of questionable choices. I don’t think that many people really care to hear “Subliminal” or “Snail Shell”, it’s doubtful they are anyone’s favorite songs. Also, I think it is time they retire “Particle Man”, it sounds unfortunately dated, and at this point most people on earth have seen them perform it. The rest of the set list was curated nicely. The chosen new songs were good ones, highlights on “Marty Beller Mask” and a surprisingly good version of “You Probably Get That A Lot”.  “Fingertips” was one of the best versions I’ve seen, and it was awesome to hear “The Guitar” and “Dead” as the second encore.

Can’t Keep Johnny Down
Why Does the Sun Shine?
Snail Shell
Old Pine Box
Birdhouse In Your Soul
Damn Good Times
Ana Ng
Battle For the Planet of the Apes
Judy is Your Viet Nam
Withered Hope
Marty Beller Mask
We Live in a Dump
You Probably Get That A Lot
Spoiler Alert
Alphabet of Nations
Particle Man
Famous Polka
Careful What You Pack
The Mesopotamians
1st Encore
How Can I Sing Like a Girl?
When Will You Die?
2nd Encore
The Guitar


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)
What We Do
Going Under
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
Jocko Homo
Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA
Gates of Steel
Freedom of Choice
Beautiful World

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.

This isn’t every show, there were a couple of metal shows and a noise show, I don’t feel like talking about them. I saw Ian Svenonius‘s new band Chain and the Gang, it bordered on boring. I also saw Robyn, but we arrived late and were on the side under a balcony, I don’t feel like I really got to experience the show. Here are the ones I’ll remember.

Matmos & So Percussion

Matmos/So Percussion was the last show in PDX before the move back to Seattle. The Lexie Mountain Boys opened and I found them terrible.  Matmos and So Percussion were awesome. So Percussion used  drums, a string based distorter, and cacti to create rhythms that volleyed with Matmos’s musique concrete.

Joanna Newsom

Joanna Newsom for two magical nights, one in Seattle and one in Portland. The Seattle show was at The Moore, it was 100 degrees inside, Joanna and band were dripping and the theater smelled terrible. The show was perfect. In Portland she played the Aladdin Theater, which was air conditioned. The Portland show was a little looser and a bit more spine tingly than Seattle.

Red Sparowes & Boris

Red Sparowes and Boris sounded like a dream show when I heard about it, in practice the show was off. My legs were sore and the lights were in my eyes most of the time, that may have tarnished my opinion also.  Both bands were great, Red Sparowes played first and played a really mellow set, Boris was balls out glam metal. The styles clashed and I could never get into Boris.

M.I.A. & Rye Rye

One of the loudest shows I’ve ever been to, and that says a lot. Rye Rye, and her spastic bouncy hip hop, was the perfect opener. This tour bordered on performance art for M.I.A. She toned down her normal bright sensory overload of a show and turned it into a dark somewhat menacing piece about popular culture. The best show of hers I’ve seen yet.

Belle & Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian filled Benaroya Hall with aging hipsters and got them to dance. I’ve seen Belle & Sebastian many times, this time had one of the best setlists. Which I was happy about since their recent album Write About Love is not the best.

Janelle Monae & of Montreal

This show was awesome for so many reasons. Janelle Monae and of Montreal should be permanent touring partners. The show was non-stop awesome.


The last time I saw Clinic it was at the Doug Fir in Portland a couple of years ago, it was small and intimate, and they rocked. This time around they were at Neumos, and the venue didn’t work for them. They felt it and I think they sort of called in their performance.

Looking forward to the next few months of shows, I already have tickets to godspeed you! black emperor, SWANS, Girl Talk, Lykke Li and Crystal Castles.