Saturday, August 20, 2011

Summer Concert Catch-Up

As it seems I tend to do, I've fallen behind on my blogging again. As always, my response to any complaints (of which I have heard none, naturally): somebody please, please, please give me a writing job! Anyway, I've been to some awesome shows, and I shall now talk about them.

Titus Andronicus and Okkervil River at the Wiltern, 6/23/11
Lots of shows can be chalked up to the headliner, and then a bunch of detritus that is barely worthy of your partial attention while you spend too much on drinks, discussing your new favorite band with others who patiently wait their turn to agree with you in slightly different words. Sometimes, though, you get a double-billing that actually makes you want to show up early. It should come as no shock that my two favorite occurrences of this involved Queens of the Stone Age: first with the late, lamented Rocket from the Crypt at UCSD's Winterfest in 2003 or 2004 (thanks, Rishi!), and later at the Hollywood Bowl with Nine Inch Nails. (I can only imagine how I would have rationalized ranking both of those higher than the now-legendary Arcade Fire/LCD Soundsystem show I missed, but since I wasn't there, mine are totally better, man!)

Both of these bands came in riding the respective records that had made me a fan, but I was curious how they would translate live and if they would be a compatible pair. Titus Andronicus came out blazing, opening with the epic "A More Perfect Union," which they somehow played faster than the studio version. Lead singer/guitarist Patrick Stickles raged and rocked in all his bearded glory, but the sound people apparently didn't know he was playing the solos for at least a song or two, and some of the greatness was lost in the mix. Still, the band was tight and explosive, and when they closed with "Four Score and Seven," their best, most anthemic song, I sweated and smiled and almost lost the glasses off my face, a problem I was happy to see I wasn't too old to experience.

Okkervil River would have to reproduce the double-drummed clamor of their seriously awesome I Am Very Far record to live up to that. Did they, you ask? Well, no. In fact, the lack of impact of the songs that hit so hard in my car was a little disconcerting. Was this really the same band I saw blow up the Fonda last summer as Roky Erickson's backing band? I don't know if it was another sound issue or just fewer musicians than they had in studio, but right off the bat I was denied the ferocity I was hoping to hear. "White Shadow Waltz," a standout and suitably epic choice for opener, somehow lost its grandiosity. A couple songs later they played the best new song, "Rider," but the acoustic guitar strumming that gives it so much of its depth couldn't rise above Will Sheff's voice, which was entirely too loud in relation to the music. The lack of a second drummer hurt as well, but I had thought they would have found a way around it. (To be fair, that song's Ramones reference, 'down on Rock-, Rockaway Beach' had an extra 'rock' thrown in to match the cadence of the original song, a nice touch.)

Despite my affinity for the band being a byproduct of the new album, the songs that worked the best for me were the older ones, and I couldn't have named a single one of them if you'd paid me. Ultimately that was ok, despite my slight disappointment with the execution of my favorites, but I kept thinking about Titus Andronicus throughout. Whether that's a criticism of Okkervil River or just a serious compliment for their openers, I'm not sure. Probably both.

Titus Andronicus Set List: A More Perfect Union / Richard II or Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (Responsible Hate Anthem) / No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future / The Battle of Hampton Roads / Titus Andronicus Forever...and Ever / Four Score and Seven

Okkervil River Set List: White Shadow Waltz / Pop Lie / Black / Rider / Starry Stairs / Wake and Be Fine / Piratess / The Valley / John Allyn Smith Sails / A Stone / So Come Back, I Am Waiting / Your Past Life as a Blast / For Real / Our Life is not a Movie, or Maybe / Lost Coastlines

Encore: Unless It's Kicks

Soundgarden at the Great Western Forum, 7/22/11
When I saw The Who in either 2002 or 2004 at the Hollywood Bowl--sorry, 2003 is right out--I was among the youngest people there at a spry twenty-one (or -three). It was the first older act I had seen, and it was amusing how many people there were talking about how this was real rock and roll, man. I mean, they totally kicked ass, and Roger Daltrey's voice held up better than I would have hoped for, but the idea that the excellence of The Who somehow put newer bands to shame was laughable to me.

Fast forward to 2011, I've just recently turned thirty, and now I'm the one shelling out silly amounts of money to see a band that I came of age musically with, and hold in much higher regard than most current  groups. Soundgarden's Superunknown is the first CD I ever went out and purchased for myself (probably at The Wherehouse, but possibly Blockbuster Music), and one of the few I never sold back in a fit of adolescent impatience and poverty. I've never sat down to actually rank my entire musical library--do I smell a future blog post?--but I imagine it would rank in my all-time Top 20, easily. Sadly, the one time I saw Soundgarden before they broke up was at Lollapalooza 1996, along with Metallica and the Ramones, and I barely remember it. Too much pot smoke floating around Irvine Meadows that day for my fifteen year old self to hang.

Now they were back, and though I was a bit younger than the fogies talkin' shit at that Who show, I finally understood where they were coming from. (And wasn't any less wrong. It happens.) Even more than Daltrey, Chris Cornell's voice still sounded amazing, and the band sounded like they'd never been away. If anything, Cornell flexed his pipes a little too much, going high in spots on songs like "Spoonman" that sound better with his low end. And this was no greatest hits spotlight; right off the bat they started playing songs from the very beginning of their career. Normally I'd be all about the deep cuts, but when it started to look like every album but the last two was going to get that treatment, I got a little disgruntled. After they did "Black Rain," a song that they surely love a lot more than anyone in the audience did, I turned to my girlfriend and said "You know, it'd be nice if they pulled a little from Superunknown!" Almost like they heard me, six of the final seven selections from the main set were from that album, including a killer rendition of the title track with Pearl Jam's Mike McCready on dual lead, and hidden gem "Head Down."

The encore was more choices for the hardcore fan, closing with Badmotorfinger epic "Slaves & Bulldozers," but I think my favorite moment was when they did the hit single from that record, "Outshined." As thousands of people sang out, in unison, "Show me the power, child, I'd like to say that I'm down on my knees today," it gave me the butterflies, making me feel like I was thirteen again in all the best ways.

Set List: Searching with My Good Eye Open / Spoonman / Gun / Jesus Christ Pose / Room a Thousand Years Wide / Blow Up the Outside World / Loud Love / Big Dumb Sex / Ugly Truth / Fell on Black Days / Flower / Outshined / Black Rain / Rusty Cage / The Day I Tried to Live / My Wave / Burden in My Hand / Black Hole Sun / Head Down / Superunknown (with Mike McCready) / 4th of July

Encore: Beyond the Wheel / Hunted Down / Mailman / Slaves & Bulldozers

Fucked Up at the El Rey, 7/26/11
Bands led by big fat hardcore screamers aren't necessarily my thing, but Fucked Up's new David Come to Life received such universally great reviews that I had to check it out. Plus, you know: fuck! (Tee hee!) Well believe the hype, because this record is the fuckin' balls, children. It's an epic in all the best ways, and I haven't even tried to dissect the larger story it's trying to tell because I'm so busy making my ears bleed from some of the best fuckin' guitar riffs and solos I've heard in a long time. Damian Abraham's vocals take a little getting used to, but the music is so compelling it doesn't matter.

I was not-so-secretly hoping they would play the whole fuckin' album, and when they opened with the musical intro "Let Her Rest" I felt something coiling inside me, ready to explode at the opening riffs of "Queen of Hearts." The rest of the crowd appeared to be feeling the same thing, as the whole place started moving and Abraham jumped right into the sea of people in front of the stage after only a few fuckin' words. This took me out of it for a moment because while I love that level of energy and intensity, I'm a real stickler for hearing the songs as close to how I know them as possible, so when lines were being dropped because he was bouncing around the pit I got annoyed. Then I decided to stop being such an uptight fuck and rolled with it.

After it became clear that they weren't playing the entire album, the motherfuckers came back to it with one of my favorites, "Turn the Season." With killer backup vocals and lead guitar that sounds like a fuckin' boomerang, it's the catchiest track and got the house worked up even more. As it turned out, they only played six songs from David, but it didn't matter at all. It was just an hour and a half of crazy, pissed off punk rock done right. You're fuckin' A.

Set List: Let Her Rest---->Queen of Hearts / David Comes to Life / Turn the Season / Black Albino Bones / Running on Nothing / Crooked Head / I Hate Summer / The Other Shoe / Twice Born / A Little Death / Magic Word / Police / Son the Father

Encore: Baiting the Public / Generation

Titus Andronicus and Okkervil River photos by Andrew Youssef, Stereogum. Soundgarden photo by David Hall, OC Register. Fucked Up photo by Wally Skalij, LA Times.


LJA aka LA said...

As someone who was about the same age when I saw Zeppelin at The Forum in 1977 as you were when you first saw Soundgarden, I am probably guilty of the sin you describe. But to my credit, I do have a certain level of animosity to old rockers my age who scream out "Free Bird" at concerts because I do continue to listen to new music.

From that set list, Head Down makes me the most excited, probably because it's got Kim Thayil's Indian influence all over it in the guitar work, and it was the absence of Kim Thayil over the years that made me sad Soundgarden had dissolved. And as an old Led Zep fan, you can imagine how much I appreciate Cornell's vocal gifts.

Have you ever seen Lindsey Buckingham live and solo? Strongly recommend if you are a fan of masterful guitar work, though his audiences usually have a handful of KLOS-type idiots.

Hatfield said...

Hooray for new visitors from other corners of the internet! Though admittedly not that far.

Yes on "Head Down!" I almost commented on the difference between that whole album and the previous ones, where the Eastern sound had crept in, but then I decided I had gone on long enough. My older brother and best friend were both excited to hear they played it too, so I guess it's a secret favorite. I was hoping for "Fresh Tendrils," but I ain't complaining.

Never seen Buckingham. I've done a decent job of seeing the older rockers--in addition to The Who, I've seen The Stones, John Fogerty, Al Green, Levon Helm, McCartney, Roger Waters--but he's one the ones I'd still like to catch.

LA said...

He's got a new album coming out this fall, tour likely to follow. He usually plays multiple locations in SoCal. I cannot stress enough how talented and underrated this guy is. Blows my mind every time, I went a live show of his for first live show 18 years ago and it about blew my mind (and I also had better seats than Stevie, just sayin').

I've seen McCartney, circa Wings Over America (my first concert, in fact, I was 13). I'm dying to see David Gilmour. Regret missing Nirvana. Mike Campbell has a side project that plays locally several times a year called the Dirty Knobs. Very much a music lover's type of gig, it's basically song setup and guitar solos. He's got an impressive collection of axes and you never know who is going to be there. Steve Ferrone and Ron Blair used to be in the band, but TP forced them to quit. Jason Sinay from Five Easy Pieces is in the Knobs, too.

LA said...

Okay, too many "blew my mind" references, sorry, I'm usually more elegant.