I see a lot of shows for a full-time college student, part-time barista, soccer player/student senator/(insert random activity). I take this time out of my life each year to go, because there is something incredibly special about live music that cannot be recreated in any other type of setting. True emotion, true artistry, and love can all be exhibited on stage in such a way that you feel incredibly blessed to be a human. The opposite can also be true. Hereâ€™s a few of my experiences for 2007, Iâ€™ve been lucky far too many times and enjoyed myself to an extreme extent. For all the people Iâ€™ve hit with my flailing arms, blinded with my tall head, or deafened with my off-key singingâ€”I apologize. I will return in 2008. In part one (January-May), Nathan covered Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine, The National, Snow Patrol, and more.
The Polyphonic Spree
House of Blues
New Orleans, Louisiana
In the history of rock music, Iâ€™m not sure if a name has described a band so well. Every single syllable of â€œPoly-phon-ic Spr-eeâ€ screams joyful confusion and from the very moment that the lights went dark in New Orleans, all twenty plus members of the Texas band lived up to their name. If there was a musical ranking for â€œfun,â€ the Polyphonic Spree would win without any reservations. The room wasnâ€™t full but every single person smiled way too much, danced way too crazy, and sang far too loudâ€”exactly what I wish life had more of. If you had to join a cult, lead singer Tim Delaugherâ€™s dancing insanity would be exactly where I would end up. There are few things more exhilarating than a brass and strings section, and a chorus of background singers, and a harp, and a flute, and two drummers, and a stand up bass, and a pianist, and a wild eyed singerâ€”all drown you out in a gloriously raucous cover of Nirvanaâ€™s â€œLithium.â€ The Spree doesnâ€™t translate musically perfectly liveâ€”who could properly mic all those instruments?â€” but their passion rings perfectly clear. Besides, when else would you get to watch the lead singers little son dance and throw confetti along with the band? I would go see these guys any day, night or weekend that I was properly caffeinated. P.S. For something a little disturbing, yet Spree inspired try this.
Neshoba County Fair
You donâ€™t always pick the stories you cover at a newspaper, and you donâ€™t always pick the shows you go to. I got sent to the largest state fair in Mississippi to live on location for a few days and report from the proceedings. This place was hot, dusty, and filled with more life than youâ€™d find in National Geographic. While there, I interviewed Christian rockers Kutless and did a review of the show, which took place in the center of a horse track, this is an excerpt.
“â€¦When Kutless came onstage, the crowd was screaming, and kids were already trying to start jumping up and down. Of course the band wants to feed off of that energy and emotion, so all the members prepared for an electrifying beginning to their first song, â€œHearts of the Innocent.â€ The only problem was that when the bass player Dave went to swing his guitar around, in a moment of true rockstar drama, the bass went flying off his body and into the barricade separating the crowd from the stage. (If you were wondering, not quite the intended effect.)
The show itself wasnâ€™t too painful. I honestly didnâ€™t know most of the songs Kutless played, but judging by the screamed out vocals I heard coming from the crowd, there were at least a few people who had some idea what lead singer Jon Micah was singing/screaming into the microphone. The problem with hard rock shows when you donâ€™t have any idea what the lyrics are, is that all you have to go off of, is the onstage performance of the musicians and the sound of the vocals fitting into that mix.
In that respect, Kutless played a decent show. Musically, they were actually quite good. Excellent drummer, energetic bass, and a beautiful job by the two guitarists, but there just seemed to be something lacking in the nightâ€™s performance.
Despite assurance from Kutless that Christians could play rock music, there just seemed to be something strange about the coupling of hard rock with an evangelical message. Kutless was playing as a part of â€œA Night of Truth,â€ which was sponsored by a local church in the area, and before the show started, this man made a speech about how he hoped that God would convict people in the audience. Lead singer Jon Micah followed that with his own evangelizing, but unfortunately for the first few rows of the audience, his microphone distorted anything that he was trying to say.
While the show itself wasnâ€™t bad, and Kutless can play some very energetic explosive music, some of the biggest moments came during two worship songs, â€œStrong Tower,â€ and â€œBetter is One Day.â€ You could look out over the crowd and watch the faces reacting to these familiar verses. Even though there was some fist pumping in the crowd, and screaming on stage, it was difficult to figure out what everyone was mad about. The devil?
It was a little disturbing to see parents with collared shirts and hats clipped to their belt loops, trying to mosh with their children. It was like, â€œletâ€™s relive the rocking glory days of our past, but in a Christian environment.â€
Maybe thatâ€™s what a lot of Christian rock is, itâ€™s a tamed down, less dangerous form of their â€œsecularâ€ counterparts. It takes the emotion, takes the rebellious sound, but couples it to performers and an environment that parents will be much more comfortable in. Thereâ€™s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, I guess, itâ€™s the choice of the performers and the participants, but somehow you just feel like the show was more a glorified pump-up youth group party, than any type of real artistic experience. Thatâ€™s not demeaning the talents and skills of Kutless, but honestly, it would be interesting to see them play an environment where they would be forced to just play good music, rather than playing good music that never got too far away from the worship service.”
Muse w/ Cold War Kids
George Mason University Patriot Center
By David Sessions â€“ Since Nathan didnâ€™t make it to any shows in August (he says even addicts need time to cool down), I thought I would try my hand at ripping off his style and blathering about the highlight of my August, which was definitely this show. $20 taxi rides and mile-long walks in the rain (donâ€™t ask) werenâ€™t enough to ruin what was, at least as far as staging, the most impressive concert of 2007. If Muse cranks out impressive records, their live show is even more ridiculous, and thatâ€™s without the towering racks of lights, strobes, smoke, and overhead video projections, and Matt Bellamyâ€™s lust-inducing piano (okay, for my pianophile self) that sports lighted strings. I saw Muse twice this year, once at closer range (about four people from the stage) and once from a more birdâ€™s-eye position that allowed me to take in the complete spectacle.
Bellamy is this bandâ€”his mad guitar skills (look up some videos of his lightning-fast picking while holding that silver Fender â€œMattocasterâ€ over his head with both arms, and his unmatched piano prowess (sheet music to â€œButterflies & Hurricanesâ€? Impossible to play) that sometimes involves one hand swiping at his guitar and other times involves breakdowns into bits of Rachmaninoff. At the G.M.U. show, the mix was perfect, every note was hit (including the infinite number of notes that were added to the usual bunch), and Matt Bellamy all but gave his life during every minute he was onstage. And when he crouched in the smoke and thundering riffs playing â€œPlug In Baby,â€ I think my life was changed.
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Ben Kweller was absolutely phenomenal at the Kennedy Center. It’s difficult to come out and play a free show when half the crowd’s absolutely stoked to hear you, and the other half just heard that something was free. Ben didn’t hold anything back though. He played a show which completely rocked.
Long hair. Striped shirt. Tight red pants.
The kid exuded strength and humorous energy, from the very moment he bounded onto the stage. When he came back out for an encore and tried to do a cartwheel, the crowd rushed the stage, which is pretty remarkable at the Kennedy Center. Somehow the craziness of that moment was partially offset by the fact that the security guard looked like my grandmother. Penny on the Tracks rocked nevertheless, and Kweller deserved two thumbs very high up, along with the Kennedy Center. Its rare that you get to see a performer with such a natural feeling for the stage and audienceâ€”Kweller played the crowd to perfection. Nothing life changing, but definitely life improving.
This is a lie. I didnâ€™t see Andy Zipf live. I was supposed to see him directly after Kweller, but bad things happened. I was angry, Zipf was gracious, this was the result. Seriously though, Zipf is an incredible musician and performer. When I see him live on the Pfriends on Pfilm tour this January, I have no doubt, it should be epic (shameless promotion).
I actually almost forgot that I even went to this show, which is horrible because its Aerosmith and Steven Tyler is an iconâ€”an icon, do you hear me world?â€”and nothing should make you forget a night with an icon. The fact is that Aerosmith actually threw a wonderful show that made you question any reports of their demise. To watch Tyler and Perry move, you would swear that they were 20 years old and flying high all over again. Only the faces of the screaming women have aged at Aerosmith show, as the band seemed determined not to rest on their leather painted hind parts, and rather keep making incredibly beautiful music. Though the crowd only got a few of the â€œhits,â€ that didnâ€™t seem to bother many people as a class in soulful Mississippi blues was administered by Perry and Tyler.
Despite the crowdâ€™s appreciation for the new, when the opening chords to â€œDream Onâ€ began floating out across the outdoor amphitheater, the place went absolute psychedelic with cameras waiting to capture â€œthe moment.â€ If I was going to sit back out under the night sky at Nissan again, I donâ€™t know if I would pick a different band, or a different group of people to go with… (whoa, I think I got a little carried away, Coldplay at Nissan was right up there with Aerosmithâ€¦ but itâ€™s Steven Tylerâ€¦ heâ€™s an iconâ€¦an iconâ€¦ Chris Martin isâ€¦wellâ€¦)
Girl Talk w/Dan Deacon
This was right up there with Arcade Fire as one of the greatest shows of the year, if not my entire life. Iâ€™ve got paragraphs of praise in my journal just dying to get out into public view, but Iâ€™m afraid if I let most people read those thought, they might become completely convinced that Iâ€™m a trip-head of colossal proportions.
Youâ€™d have to be completely unemotional not to buy the stuff Greg Gillis (Girl Talk) and Dan Deacon were selling that sultry night at the Black Cat, and Iâ€™m anything but that. Iâ€™d ingested a foot long Subway and a Vitamin Water mixed with red bull and I would need every possible legal substance to hang with the dance crazy trip loving marathon. It started with the slow trance of White Williams, and by the time Dan Deacon had set up his green glow skull on the floor, the crowd was suffocating every free bit of space around the geek star. Deacon drops this insane blend of thumping beats which reach down inside of you and seem to pull something entirely new out of your body and soul, but then he mixes that intoxication with these carefree melodies on top that never let the mood get too serious. The sweat was pouring throughout his hour long set, and the crowd seemed to fuse closer together with each pulsating bass line. Heâ€™d take those lines, start them slow, and build them faster, faster, and higher, *yellow lights flash* until finally exploding with a thunderous explosion that would see everything go dark except for this green skeleton that was at the center of the mass of humanity.
And then it stopped.
We breathed deep. Tried to slow our hearts, dry our faces, and find our clothes. You put your face up, because up was the only way you could get any type of air unspoiled by 200 people breathing it before you. And then the lights went dark again.
The screen started to blink. (girl talk repeat/cascade) and then this little voice over the speakers started the mantra: â€œgirl talK/ girl taLK/ girl tALK/ girl TALK/girL TALK/ giRL TALK/ gIRL TALK/GIRL TALK.â€ A sunglassed, dark-haired hoodie kid came out, threw a plastic guitar into the audience, and asked D.C if, â€œyâ€™all are ready to party.â€ Flipped open a laptop, clicked a few buttons, a bass line started to pulse. â€œHold up, hold up, wait a minute, wait a minute.â€
Then the lights and stage exploded.
I ripped my knee open trying to climb up on the stage. We fought past the two security guards, surrounded the already sweating gillis. And the insanity began. He sat there. Pushing buttons, checking levels, feeling every note before it emergedâ€”our job was to feel it once it came out of the speakers. There was a glow in the dark 10 foot tall spider with shades in the corner, and every inch of the stage was pulsating with a mass of flailing body arms and lips.
No one can be cool at a Girl Talk show, too much sweat and too little space, but every single person can pretend that theyâ€™re in a room of their very best friends, most of them trashed, dancing to a scrapbook of their favorite songs. Grace was lusting over Greg, begging me to take a picture of her touching his hand, Kimbell disappeared off the stage and onto the gyrating floor, I just tried to stay standing up.
I wanted to capture every single moment of the night, but Girl Talk isnâ€™t meant to be captured, itâ€™s meant to be lived. Youâ€™re not going to understand it from Youtube clips, album cuts, or even from sitting at the bar. Youâ€™ve got to be on the floor with Gillis, lustfully calling for each and every song to take you to a place that youâ€™ve never been, and for the people around you to take you there with them.
You donâ€™t know who youâ€™re dancing with, you donâ€™t know whoâ€™s behind you, you donâ€™t know why you just took off your shirt and tied it around your head like a bandanaâ€”you just know that the music told you to move, and youâ€™ve got to move.
Even when the music stopped talking, when the power got unplugged from the thundering movement, when the P.A. lit up to ask if you knew _____ because both of them had fallen and were with an ambulance outside, even then people kept moving, kept chantingâ€”they didnâ€™t control their bodies anymore, Gillis did, and he hadnâ€™t said to stop.
He was the voice of our fragmented insanity, telling us to forget all dreams of rational existenceâ€”we gladly followed. Girl Talk was about letting go of all pretension and plugging into a completely equal existence as a worshiper of the muse of rhythm. When he finally closed with a screaming cover of â€œScentless Apprentice,â€ catapulting into the crowd, it was our cue to be released.
Standing in the cold black air outside, I felt like every adrenaline gland in my body had been emptied, my body kept trembling, my hair was wet, and somehow, Iâ€™d never think of a concert the same way again. Maybe thatâ€™s because Girl Talk isnâ€™t a concert, itâ€™s a mass experience with Gillis as the conductor. I donâ€™t know if I could handle riding with Gillis everyday, probably wouldnâ€™t be healthy, but dear bacchus, hold on tight, because when I go again, itâ€™s going to be crazy.
Iâ€™ve got a minor love affair with this band, thatâ€™s all there is to it. Theyâ€™re sloppy, theyâ€™re way too open hearted, a bit clichÃ©, and think that everything theyâ€™re doing on stage is monumentally importantâ€”I love every bit of it. Iâ€™ve seen these guys twice and each time I walk out of the club, I canâ€™t help having a smile on my face and a little more love for my fellow man. Itâ€™s something about the way Torq becomes progressively more intoxicated during the night, forcing each word out of his mouth, as if itâ€™s the latest pronouncement from his scribbled diary. Itâ€™s Amy, shy, sultry and more than just a little bit sexual, with the voice of an angel whispering through the microphone as she caresses her gleaming white guitar. Itâ€™s Evan, shaved head and all, playing the bass guitar as if heâ€™s the disco dance leader of your most sensual dreams.
This is why I would be a horrible critic, I fall in love far too easily, get that heart broken even easier, and itâ€™s also why I canâ€™t help but loving Starsâ€”they are what I would want to be, if I were a musician (and couldnâ€™t be Bono). This band isnâ€™t afraid to put itself entirely out there, each time that they walk out onstage, and if you donâ€™t buy that, then youâ€™re not going to buy Stars. The show at the 9:30 didnâ€™t rock my entire paradigm for existence, but it was inspiration and fuel for the days ahead. Thereâ€™s nothing like dancing and singing with Torq and Amy, (unless itâ€™s nearly drinking and smoking with them, remind me to tell you about it sometime). The thing is, even if that love doesnâ€™t work out, even if your heart gets shattered and left for something more importantâ€”Stars understands and theyâ€™re right there for you. Itâ€™s like Penny said, â€œIf you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.â€ Stars is your friend for every moment that you felt like being open, honest and vulnerable, and they are your comfort every time that all your honesty and openhearted love is trampled on and labeled as clichÃ©â€”they understand because theyâ€™ve been there. My love affair with Stars isnâ€™t just one born out of an appreciation of their talent and musical showmanshipâ€”itâ€™s born out of a common humanity. Every time I see them live, Iâ€™m just reminded that Iâ€™ve got something close to them, something special, and no matter how bad life gets, that truth is not going to change.
Over the Rhine w/Rosie Thomas
I donâ€™t really want to write about this show at all. Rosie can sing. She can laugh. Sheâ€™s been hurt. Sheâ€™s got a strange speaking voice. But she can sing.
Over the Rhine got smooth. Karin is still sultry and beautiful. Linford is still self-deprecating. They got an incredible jazz drummer, a stand up bass player, and some socially correct political views. They still sing beautiful songs, but somehow it didnâ€™t seem as genuine or humble as when they were in that small church in Harrisonburg (more here).
Nathan Martin is an assistant editor at Patrol. David Sessions is the editor of Patrol.
Muse photo by Krista Burtner. All other photos by Nathan Martin.
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