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.
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Free never sounded so good, and felt so bad. Sufjan was playing with members of the National Symphony Orchestra, and the show was being put on for freeâ€”the catch was that it was first come, first serve, and Sufjan was hot. We waited all night in the freezing cold for tickets, but ended up with great seats to the show.
Iâ€™ve seen Sufjan twice, and each time I walk out of the theater, I feel like Iâ€™ve had my soul taken on an emotional roller coaster. You donâ€™t stand up for his shows, the audience doesnâ€™t scream, but thereâ€™s just as much tension and drama in those quietly powerful moments than any hair metal show. Each person in the theater is on the edge of their seat, just waiting for the next note to come off the stage like its some revelation from God. Sporting a beard and perfectly tailored suit, Sufjan looked a little unsure of himself in the massive theater, but still sounded absolutely incredible.The orchestra just accentuated his songs, covering the gamut of his releases, and culminating in an absolutely riveting performance of Majesty Snowbird. Full review here.
Iron and Wine w/Dave Bazan (Pedro the Lion)
There are shows that you dance at, there are shows you cry at, there are shows that you scream at, and then there are those where you just sit on the floor and listen quietly. While the rest of my classmates were dancing the night away in pre-Valentine festivities, I made my way up into Pennsylvania and onto the small campus of Messiah College. Sam Beam (Iron and Wine) and Dave Bazan (Pedro the Lion) make a perfect unified bearded musical duo providing soulful perspective on the nature of life. I felt like I was sitting by the fire listening to an old man tell about his life, with the singers serving as the storyteller and their songs as the fire. When the show closed with Beamâ€™s powerful â€œTrapeze Swinger,â€ there wasnâ€™t a cold heart in the house. Two more views of the show here and here.
Sam Beam (Iron & Wine).
Iâ€™ve had a soft spot in my heart for this whisky-soaked, existentially confused young troubadour, and when my California spring break plans fell through, Connor was a more than welcome companion. It was a cold, vodka-stained night at the 9:30 Club and by the time that the apathetic opening acts had left the stage, eyes were bright and ready for the perennially troubled performer. Bright Eyes, as a collective whole, put on an incredible show for the packed crowd, playing a style of music that leaned folk rock over any type of whiny shoegaze angst. The crowd pushed hard, sang loud, and cheered raucously at the end of each song, knowing the catalogue far too well. It was a party for everyone, including Connor, as he bounced his emotions off folk artisan M. Ward and a band who played like they were from Mississippi, not Omaha. Walking into the cold night, you couldnâ€™t help but think that youâ€™d seen something specialâ€”even Connor never lived up to the legacy of Dylan.
Connor Oberst (Bright Eyes).
Snow Patrol w/Silversun Pickups
Itâ€™s fun to play at being snobby, but if you do it for too long, you might just miss something incredible. Itâ€™d be easy to hate on Snow Patrolâ€™s derivative epic rock sound, but thereâ€™s something special for their openhearted take on music and life. I think itâ€™s probably the same reason that I really get into Stars, both bands donâ€™t mind being a little sloppy, a little rough, and neither mind completely diving into their music and fans. Snow Patrolâ€™s live show gets better each time that I see it, and despite nearly being suffocated in a mass of screaming rock-show virgins, the night at Bender Arena was anything but average. Gary Lightbody has been watching way too many U2 concert films (which is never a bad thing in my mind) and has become Bono (minus a little talent and the messiah complex). These guys translate incredibly well live, and if you walked out of that arena without a smile on your face, you need to stop listening to music entirely.
Silversun Pickups sound like what would happen if you took the bastard stepchild of an unholy pairing between Billy Corgan and Kirk Cobain, and then ran that child through a steady regiment of shoegaze pop. The bandâ€™s not incredibly easy to love, but oh so much fun to listen to. Besides, the lead singer gets trashed during every show, doesnâ€™t hold anything back, and has a banshee scream erupting at just the right time.
T.V. on the Radio
This show wore me out. Thatâ€™s honestly about all I can say. TVOTR put on one of the most intense shows Iâ€™ve ever seen in my entire life, as each member sweated, thrashed and screamed their way through each song. I wrote up a review of this show awhile back that I think describes it better. For the record, I would see these guys anytime and anywhere, and if I was a experimenting man, I would trip with them anytime on anything.
TV on the Radio.
Arcade Fire w/ The National
D.A.R. Constitution Hall
This quite possibly may have been the best show I saw all year. Itâ€™s not because you had two high profile bands playing togetherâ€”ironically The National didnâ€™t really have a nationwide impact until after Boxer dropped, which was after this show (I can pretend I saw them before they were big)â€”rather, itâ€™s because you had two bands who could tell a good story and believed in it.
The National plays songs that sound like they should be the audio accompaniment to silent films, and lead singer Matt Berninger looks like he wishes he was in one. Constitution Hall was less than half full when the band came on, and even though many people were barely paying attention, The National went through their set without any reservations. I sat on the armrest of my chair and tried to catch each word dropping from Berningerâ€™s lips. Iâ€™m not sure if Iâ€™ve ever heard a more powerful love song than â€œSlow Show,â€ when Berninger was staring up into the rafters and singing, â€œyou know I dreamed about you for twenty nine years, before I saw you,â€ he was the only real person in the room and we were but plastic bystanders.
Then Arcade Fire came out, and rather than try to recreate something that I havenâ€™t felt in awhile, Iâ€™m just going to post part of an email I sent to a member of our school faculty.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see the band at D.A.R. Constitution Hall in D.C.
You’ve probably never been to D.A.R., so let me give you a quick scoop on it. The theaterâ€™s a Greekish, magnificent-looking theater whose pretentious outside is only matched by the overbearing, expansive interior, with huge sound swallowing ceilings that is patrolled by no-nonsense no-deviation-from-protocol security guards. It’s not hard to see how this could be a problem for rock shows, and I’ve experienced the damping effect a number of times.
The Arcade Fire were coming, though, and I didn’t care if they were playing in an old wooden shack in the middle of a train station, I was going to be there. The diverse, expectant, old and young crowd packed into the theater, somehow I managed to jump a few rows and end up in an empty seat at the beginning of the orchestra rows, and then the lights went dark.
A video of a screaming female televangelist was projected onto the spotlight-shaped screens, surrounding the pipe organ and assortment of other instruments (did I mention
they play an organ?)
The band started filing onto the stage, red light poured across the arena, and I felt a little bit of the same feeling that I experienced when Dylan walked out in August at a little
baseball stadium, it’s the feeling, that goes something like, “I can’t believe it’s really them, they’re actually here.” I’ve seen a ton of bands, but Iâ€™ve only seen a handful that could give me anything of that sensation. Maybe it’s how the kids felt when the Beatles walked out in that New York stadium. Whatever it was, I felt it.
The band ran through most of Neon Bible and much of Funeral, and honestly, I’ve very rarely heard songs that could be so accurately described as â€œanthems,â€ songs that are more of hymns than pop melodies, songs that are sung with a reverent rather than joyous inflection in your voice, and the kind of notes that makes even Presbyterians even want to worship with their hands held oh so high, But this band did it.
The one thing that kept bugging me through the night, was the fact that the ushers made people stay in their seats. Even so, the people kept encroaching- dancing and moving all
across the arena.I kept praying, God, just let me get a little closer
(and don’t let the ushers find out that I don’t belong in this seat) Maybe God didn’t hear my prayer, but Win sure did, because right before “Power Out,” he at the crowd and said, “I know the ushers are going to hate me, and I know they don’t want me to say this,
but you can’t dance in your seats, just come on down, come on down.”
I started running.
The band played about 3 more songs, took an encore, played â€œIntervention,â€ then began walking off the stage. The crowd was screaming. Win looked out, stopped a few of his bandmates, talked to them for a few minutes, went backstage and brought the rest out, plugged back in, and started the “dun dun dun” guitar riff to “Wake Up.”
The thing about Wake Up is that it has this absolutely amazing opening that’s meant for big arena choirs, a middle that’s meant for the depressed of spirit, and an ending
that’s meant for the hopeful, love-starved child. Listening to 6,000+ people sing and dance their way through this song, is something I’ll never forget, ever. When I walked out of that arena, I believed in the Arcade Fire.
Ben Gibbard and Dave Bazan
After The Arcade Fire, most shows would seem pretty tame, and the Gibbard/Bazan acoustic set at 9:30 didnâ€™t break that mold. It wasnâ€™t that the show was bad, itâ€™s just that I was a little letdown after the Arcade Fire and preparing for finals. The thing was, the person I was with made the show far better, because to just stand up on the second level and listen to Gibbard and Bazan tell stories, thatâ€™s not such a bad way to spend a Thursday night. Gibbard has a beautiful voice, Bazan has beautiful stories, and NPR does a beautiful job recording shows. Iâ€™ve listened to that podcast so many times driving around. Gibbard did some absolutely gorgeous covers that I had never heard including a killer one from his time with Styrofoam and a passable version of â€œAll Apologies.â€ Good music isnâ€™t just about the notes that are played and the words that are spoken, itâ€™s about the story thatâ€™s told and the live music experience doesnâ€™t just encompass the stage, itâ€™s everything. That night, the stage didnâ€™t sell me on the experience, the person I was with wrote the story, Gibbard and Bazan were just the soundtrack for my night.
Nathan Martin is an assistant editor at Patrol.
All photos by Nathan Martin.
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