Posted Monday, September 29, 2003
The White Stripes
Friday, 19 September 2003 - Fillmore Auditorium, Denver, Colorado
At this year’s Lollapalooza, Audioslave did just about the last thing I expected of them when they launched into a cover of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. Yes, it’s a killer tune, but Chris Cornell covering Jack White? Who’d a thunk it? To cover a song is to celebrate it, and to cover a contemporary is a deep sign of respect from one artist to another. It says to the fans, I like this tune enough that I’m going to play it for you now, instead of all the other songs in my back catalogue that you know and love. That was the first time I realized Jack White might be more influential than I previously thought. He does seem to have created a successful brand out of little more than an honest devotion to old style bluesy rock, some strategic media manipulation, and a unique color scheme. There are legions of marketing interns in the basements of major record companies who are even now melting down White Stripes albums in a vain attempt to distill the secret ingredient of success from them. But that kind of success can only come from the inexplicable reaches of the soul and to see it resonate with a live audience is a beautiful thing to behold.
True to form, as soon as we stepped into the Fillmore that Friday night we encountered Lono, recovering from knee surgery, hobbling out for a smoke with his bride. Due to his injuries they had handicap seats with a choice view close up on the left of the stage. We moved into the crowd in front of them and had a pretty good view ourselves.
Jack White has good taste in openers. The Soledad Brothers had a good combination of blues and groove that built anticipation for the main act, as any decent warm up band should. As the best dressed roadies in the business set up for the White Stripes, vintage Betty Boop cartoons entertained the masses. By this point I had a good start on a strong Long Island Iced Tea and was enjoying watching all the people. They were generally young and good looking, trendy but not unfriendly. That drink put me in a good mood but also had me in the pisser when the White Stripes ascended the stage. Numba Wan reports that the entrance was anticlimactic and somehow Jack ended up knocking over one of Meg’s snare drums. Dammit, I wish I had seen that.
They opened with Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground and had the crowd jumping right away. A few songs later Hotel Yorba was even better. With just the two of them onstage, Jack and Meg White are fascinating to watch. Jack White had a black shirt and tight stretchy pants with one leg red and the other leg black. His dark hair partially obscured his pale face down to his chin. He would sing into the microphone up front, then step back and sync up with Meg where he had another microphone, all the while filling the auditorium with the sound of his glorious guitar. Meg would lean back with her left arm on the stool, looking at once spent but still persisting one-armed against the drums. She looked vulnerable, but sultry and suggestive, one of the sexiest women in rock today. She stepped up to the main mic for In The Cold Cold Night, and then even played the organ solo in the middle. I was a little doubtful they’d be able to do it but they rocked the sold-out Fillmore. The crowd was definitely into it. There was a fellow nearby who was jumping around very fanatically and perhaps he was involved in the fight that broke out just as we started out of the packed crowd for a bathroom trip. We split wanting nothing to do with that and wandered the cavernous hall for the rest of the show. I didn’t recognize half the songs, but as Numba Wan pointed out, they’re all pretty much the same anyway. A girl behind us in line at the bar was so impressed with the band she vowed to get the first two White Stripes albums tomorrow, since those were the ones she didn’t yet own.
Behind the stage, we saw Jack White dashing to the backstage area during the encore. Meg White appeared a moment later and when I yelled “Yeah Meg White!” she turned and gave a quick smile and wave before disappearing herself. That made my night.
Numba Wan and I agreed it was a great show, more fun than Radiohead but not as good musically. For a few drunken moments watching him play the Fillmore Auditorium, I was convinced Jack White was the man at the raw epicenter of modern rock. He is very gifted at writing catchy tunes and manipulating a fawning media, but his band has a fundamental weakness that probably cannot be overcome. Simply put, the White Stripes don’t have many ingredients to work with. The drum kit-guitar-microphone setup can be a potent combination when used effectively but ultimately can only create a relatively limited range of music. At a certain point, the songs sound the same no matter how catchy they are. Additionally, Jack White’s understandable devotion to blues has him looking backwards rather than forwards for inspiration, leaving his music decidedly regressive. This explains why the White Stripes, while being very good at what they do, ultimately can’t attain the transcendent heights of, say, Radiohead or the Verve.
The lesson is this: you don’t listen to the White Stripes to blow your mind, but you can dance a mighty fine jig to their tunes and have a blast doing it.
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Posted Friday, September 19, 2003
Tuesday, 26 August 2003 - Red Rocks, Morrison, Colorado
If Radiohead are not at the top of their game anymore, they’re very close. New album Hail To The Thief may not be a classic like The Bends, OKC, or Kid A, but it’s pretty damn good. It’s a Four instead of a perfect Five, but a Four from the likes of Radiohead is a joy to behold for any fan of progressive rock music. HTTT is remarkable in a number of respects. Musically it rocks, it soars, it puts Coldplay in their proper place. Lyrically, it’s an impressive and consistent political statement, something that is notoriously difficult in any genre of music. But Radiohead nail it right on the head, if not for the reasons they think. HTTT is an album that will be studied decades from now, along with the likes of Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky, to ascertain the peculiar unhinged paradigm and consequent powerlessness that has gripped the political Left in our troubling times. But that is a discussion for another time. Suffice it to say that while I may disagree with the politics, I love the music; HTTT has been the album of my summer and will likely be my choice for best major label release of the year.
We saw Radiohead the last time they played Red Rocks in the summer of 2001. I remember them opening boldly with The National Anthem, completely unapologetic of their Kid Amnesiac musical shift, and they didn’t look back once. The image of Thom Yorke shaking his head back and forth struck me as that of a real modern rock icon in all its uncertain deluded tortured glory. It was one of the best concerts I’ve been to and convinced us to rearrange some vacation plans to see them again in Boston a few weeks later, where they were just as good. The fact that they were playing Red Rocks this year at a particularly inconvenient time simply meant that we’d have to shift to the “Have Our Cake And Eat It Too” plan and leave for Burning Man directly from Red Rocks, which added much to the sense of adventure.
First a gripe. Traditionally, Red Rocks has the general admission situated in the front rows. This rewards the faithful who arrive hours earlier with a prime view of their favorite musicians after braving the intense sun and fierce thunderstorms of Colorado afternoons. Having the true fanatics up front adds to the quality of the performances as the artists get encouragement from the most devoted of their followers. Radiohead, for one reason or another, elected to have the reserved seating take up the first 20 or so rows thus sticking it to the faithful, myself included. I can assure you it was next to near impossible to get a reserved seat for this show and I’m even wondering if they were available to the public or if you had to get some corporate chap laid for that privilege. Perhaps Thom Yorke is less progressive in practice than he is in propaganda.
The opening band was Stephen Malkmus, of Pavement, with his side project the Jinks. They were unmemorable except for the lead singer’s propensity for animalistic shrieks that I found very jarring.
Radiohead opened with the first single from HTTT, There There. Afterwards, all went dark as the lights dropped for a second. The stage lights came up and roadies dashed about before the band started into 2 + 2 = 5. This was a pattern followed after almost every song: lights down, stage lights up, roadies scurry about moving pianos and other instruments for the next song. It had the effect of insulating the songs and prevented continuity throughout the concert. During Myxomatosis we caught the first sight of the Thom Yorke Dance: a wobbly full-bodied rag-doll affair that the audience took great delight in seeing. Thom Yorke sprightly dashed to a rearward piano, then back to the microphone during Backdrifts. A brilliant trio of songs followed: Where I End And You Begin, one of my favorite tunes off HTTT; then Paranoid Android with its haunting audience sing along “from a great height, from a great height . . . God loves his children, yeah”; and finally Iron Lung rocked as always. The roadies this time brought a piano out front and Thom Yorke led Sail To The Moon as I gazed at the clouds hovering a few thousand feet over the city. It reminded me that Thom Yorke is the original Chris Martin and always will be. When that was done the lackeys brought a different piano out front for a rather subdued version of Subterranean Homesick Alien. Just before starting Talk Show Host, Thom Yorke said “sometimes I think they should lock me away.” More Thom Yorke Dance ensued during Idioteque. The duo of National Anthem and Exit Music together kicked major ass. The piano came out again for Sit Down, Stand Up and contrary to my expectations, the numbingly repetitious “Raindrops” part was performed in full. The song ended abruptly and the band strode offstage to rapturous applause.
The first encore began with the ponderously slow We Suck Young Blood, the weakest song on HTTT and the only one we regularly skip. The crowd, who seemed well versed in the latest album, dutifully filled in the handclaps of the song. Two of my favorite tracks off the album followed: Drunken Punchup At A Wedding, after which the piano was whisked aside, and then Go To Sleep, ended with a bizarre freakout by Jonny Greenwood. Thom Yorke strapped on an acoustic guitar for Karma Police, which featured the enthusiastic audience singing along. As the band left the stage again, Thom Yorke kept the crowd singing “for a minute there I lost myself, I lost myself”. The bond between artist and fans is obviously as strong as ever.
Same as last time, we were treated to a second encore, which started with No Surprises. Everything In Its Right Place was the last song. Thom Yorke left the stage first, then the bass player and drummer, leaving Ed O’Brian and Jonny Greenwood kneeling in the front corners of the stage twiddling knobs. Ed O’Brian left while Jonny Greenwood carried the crowd for a moment before exiting, leaving it to the roadies to turn off the machines a few moments later. In tall bright lights the word FOREVER blazed across a screen behind the stage, leaving me wondering “forever what?” Forever Radiohead? Who knows? Maybe Thom Yorke himself doesn’t even know. Methinks the boys gave in to the temptation of empty grandiose gestures of the sort perfected by Bono.
Numba Wan was a little disappointed. Perhaps it was the two of us, in eager anticipation of getting on the road. Perhaps it was the crowd. I remember last time feeling a bond with the crowd; they were Our People and we felt at home among them. This time it seemed there were a lot more tourists and we felt more in opposition to the folks in attendance. As we sat in our rig, ready to depart for Burning Man 2003, already in progress a thousand miles away, the feeling crystallized into frustration. The line of cars to the left of us didn’t budge for at least twenty minutes while to the right another line of cars was slowly moving. I thought Radiohead fans were smarter than this, but people kept steering their cars into the immobile line, eventually surrounding us in a logjam of idiots. So this is how Ernest Shackleton felt, trapped in the pack ice of the Wendell Sea with a promising break a hundred long yards off. Eventually I gingerly maneuvered the beastie, loaded down with playa bikes and the famed PVC Burrito, past the blockheads all facing the wrong way and got us out of there. For all I know, they’re still there, waiting to leave. With Mars overhead blazing brighter than ever, we had Cheyenne to make that night and little patience for amateurs.
Here’s the complete set list:
2 + 2 = 5
Where I End And You Begin
Sail To The Moon
Subterranean Homesick Alien
Talk Show Host
Sit Down Stand Up
We Suck Young Blood
Drunken Punchup At A Wedding
Go To Sleep
Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any)
Everything In Its Right Place
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Posted Monday, August 25, 2003
Monday, 18 August 2003 - Red Rocks, Morrison, Colorado
Every avid concertgoer has his archetype of a great concert. For me it was Oasis at the Auditorium Theater 1999. Not that much into the boys at the time, when they kicked into Supersonic I was in pure rock and roll bliss and I became a confirmed Gallagher fan for life. Certain rock shows have come close (Radiohead at Red Rocks in 2001 comes to mind), but in my view none can top that one. No doubt Bjork at Red Rocks will play that role for many of the impressionable young adults in attendance. The Icelandic Pixie has a unique and progressive style which together with the power of her voice makes her one of the best female vocalists in any form of popular music today. We’d seen her in concert once before, headlining the main stage at Coachella 2002 that had earlier swallowed the Strokes and shot Oasis down in flames. We were in a claustrophobically tight crowd, all of us straining our necks to get a glimpse of the transcendent show. What little I did see was stunning, and on the long drive home we agreed she’d been the best performer at the festival.
Needless to say, we wanted more. Knowing that Bjork doesn’t tour much, I was surprised to see that even though she wasn’t promoting an album (yet) she’d be playing Red Rocks amongst a handful of other North American dates and I jumped at the presale as soon as I heard of it. We ended up with row 31; not the best but not bad by any stretch. With rain falling much of the afternoon, we recalled the Coldplay freeze-out a few months before and made sure to prepare ourselves for a cold evening. When we arrived the rain had stopped and an auspicious rainbow fragment hovered above the town of Morrison down below. The crowd was young and self-centered as young people are, but interesting to watch. The large number of LUGs (Lesbians Until Graduation) in attendance far exceeded their proportion of the general population.
Several unfortunate people who I talked to were at their first concert ever and are now spoiled for life; Bjork at Red Rocks will be the show to which all others will be unfavorably compared. “Sure that was good,” they will say countless times in their life, “but it wasn’t nearly as good as Bjork at the Rocks”. Poor bastards.
The opener was a sincere chap in salmon colored pants named Bonnie Prince Billy who ably accompanied himself on a mandolin-type strumming apparatus. He introduced one song as an attempt to make a virtue of adultery and several other times praised the lord with rock solid conviction.
By the time BPB strode offstage, the ever-resourceful Numba Wan returned from a scouting expedition to report on an intriguing possibility. The Rosenbergs had braved the earlier downpours and packs of rabid Bjorksters and presently occupied a pair of seats in the fifth row. Numba Wan had smartly softened their neighbors to our presence with a generous offer of sweet sweet cheeba, little though we had. Let that be a lesson to you kids: marijuana will get you nowhere in life, unless you want to get to the first few rows at a Red Rocks concert. After about half a second of careful consideration, we abandoned our seats and settled into cozy if cramped digs up close to the stage. I gotta hand it to the Rosenbergs: for a couple of peacenik vegetarians they sure can pull down a prime location at a highly desirable show. They made my night.
Not entire convinced of Bjork’s humanity, I half expected her to fly in on fairy wings.
The Icelandic String Octet strode onto the stage, followed by a lady in flowing white garb. The audience cheered their heroine with eager delight before realizing this wasn’t Bjork, it was harpist Zeena Parkins. “Sound sculptors” Matmos finished the ensemble and were followed immediately by the Bjork herself, and the crowd cheered louder than before. She was dressed in a tacky black tutu with a big pink fringe on the shoulder that would make Martin L. Gore proud.
The set opened with Unravel, with images from the video on the screen. Starting with slow and more orchestra-intensive songs, she eventually moved on to her more danceable electronic tunes. The audience, while enthusiastic, clearly wanted to move but would have to wait while Bjork indulged herself a little. During one song, images of weird fish/human-hand hybrids swam around the screens. All Is Full Of Love demonstrated that her voice was in very good form. Towards the end of Hunter, she did the requisite hand dance completely in time with the music. Hyperballad finally got people dancing. The highlight of the show was Pagan Poetry. A few times between songs she gave her distinctive “senk yew” to the delight of the fans. When they came back for the encore, she retreated behind the harp and with a heavy accent said “and now we are going to play a little song for you”. I still think she might not be human, perhaps the last of the elves. Someone threw a heart shaped balloon on stage almost hitting her in the head. She didn’t seem to notice until a few minutes later when the breeze carried it to her feet. While continuing to sing, she appeared to consider it carefully, and then after her part was done she picked it up and gave it to one of the Matmos guys.
As odd as it sounds, Bjork had the best pyrotechnics I’ve ever seen at a concert. Two rows of ten propane torches flanked the performers front and back and would send waves of flame oscillating back and forth across the stage. From my vantage point, I could feel the heat and smell the exhaust. Later, two metallic trees spouted leaves of flame. During the encore the finale of the last song, Human Behaviour, in particular was quite dramatic as all flames went off at once accompanied by a grand flash of sparks as Bjork jumped and gave a loud yelp into the microphone. The spectacle was over before we knew it, and soon the houselights came up to our great disappointment. No Venus As A Boy, no Big Time Sensuality.
The set was a short ninety minutes in duration and Bjork yet again left us wanting more, especially considering the elevated ticket price. Being in the fifth row was a real treat, and we owe a big one to the Rosenbergs. When asked what she thought of the show, Numba Wan let loose with a volley of breathless hyperbole about how wonderful Bjork is.
All in all, a great show, but not nearly as great as Oasis at the Auditorium.
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Posted Monday, August 18, 2003
Lollapalooza Ought Three
Wednesday, 15 August 2003 – Fiddler’s Green, Englewood, Colorado
I wasn’t terribly keen on making the trek down to Englewood and fighting the crowds of kids at Fiddler’s Green for Lollapalooza, especially for $50/ticket on the green. But when Sticketmaster began offering half price tickets, we found it difficult to resist. Being working stiffs, we got to the venue late, which was fine by me. I wanted to see Audioslave and Jane’s Addiction; it would have been nice to catch A Perfect Circle, The Music, and The Donnas; but I’d lose no sleep to miss QOTSA, who I’ve seen several times and never been particularly impressed with, and Incubus those teeny bopper man-whores. Our good friend Lono met us by chance near the gate and led us to the primo spot his bride had staked out hours before; we couldn’t have planned it better.
Audioslave, that unlikely Soundgarden-RATM hybrid, has released one of the better debut albums in the last year. The set was decorated with numerous mirrors arranged backstage, providing lots of cool distorted views of the band, and bizarrely their drummer was sitting facing away from the crowd into one of them. Chris Cornell strode confidently onstage blasting his powerful voice, which sounded a little strained as they opened with Gasoline. He effectively riled up the crowd, most of whom were weary after hours in the Colorado sun, with repeated references to the Denver Broncos. Lead guitarist Tom Morello was entertaining to watch as well. Most songs came from the eponymous first album and are surprisingly strong heavy tunes. A pleasant surprise was when the band left Chris Cornell alone to play an acoustic cover of Nick Lowe’s (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding. Thereafter a big peace sign lit up the Audioslave flame logo mirror hanging above the stage. Shortly afterwards the band played an unexpected and very faithful cover of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army that proved a highlight of the set, others being Set It Off and Numba Wan’s favorite Like a Stone. The band left the stage without an encore, but well received by the audience.
I must confess I didn’t “get” Jane’s Addiction before this night. The few times I forced myself to listen to Ritual de lo Habitual, they never caught fire with me. At times I was impressed, but then Perry Farrell would open his mouth and throw me off. He seemed to yelp and bark at the oddest times with his high-pitched voice that I found distracting from the enjoyment of the music. Before they even got on stage, however, I was intrigued. The set was busy and had all these curves and platforms to climb on. When the band hit the stage, Dave Navarro had on sparkly red trousers and a cool long red poofy-bordered coat, just the thing you expect out of a rock star. Then this little runt came running from the back, jumping off the drum-stand into the center of the stage. He looked like a hyperactive little boy, dressed in black shorts and a black fishnet shirt. I was sure the pint-sized weirdo party-crasher would soon be escorted offstage back to the freakazoid farm he escaped from but it turned out this was Parry Farrell, star of the show. “What a little fruitcake!” Numba Wan said to me in astonishment.
Before I forget, I have an important message to relay from Perry Farrell. If you haven’t already heard, Mars will be closer to the earth than ever before on August 22. We should all watch for the red planet that day, especially in relation to the moon, and that will help to bring us all together. So mark your calendars: August 22, Mars, moon, togetherness.
By this time, after a few shots of the Bacardi we smuggled in and a few tokes off Bride of Lono’s pipe, I was game for anything. Perry Farrell was running around like a fruitloop, humping the highly curved stripper pole, jumping off boxes, yelping into the microphone instead of singing words like normal lead singers. Dave Navarro was letting loose with some rocking riffs and the finest backup dancers in the industry were prancing around onstage. It was then that I finally “got” Jane’s Addiction. They truly rock something glorious and even Perry Farrell’s peculiar vocals made sense to me.
The crowd was a little lukewarm and by this time many of the kids had left, probably listening to Incubus on the ride home gushing over how Brandon Boyd took his shirt off. Of those that remained, there were fifty or so souls lined up before me against the fence fronting the green, and I counted three who were rocking out, lost in that amazing and unique rock. There was a little dude in front of me who was in his own world and a chick who was shaking it like a coked-up stripper in front of a billionaire Saudi prince. I was rocking out, as was Numba Wan, Lono, and Bride of Lono. Thus my scientific study reveals that not more than 15-20% of the spectators were really getting into the music; such is the price of eccentricity.
So that was Lollapalooza 2003. I like Jane’s Addiction more than Audioslave, who were a little slow and plodding for my taste. Numba Wan like Audioslave better. I got the sense from veterans that overall it paled in comparison to earlier versions. Looking back at years past, the festival booked such exciting and cutting edge acts that I want to kick my past self for being so clueless in those days. RHCP, Soundgarden, The Jesus And Mary Chain and Pearl Jam played the main stage in 1992. Smashing Pumpkins and Green Day were on the main stage and my heroes The Verve played the second stage two years later. Audioslave and Jane’s Addiction are cool, but frankly their members were at their prime a decade ago.
And don’t even get me started on Incubus.
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Posted Friday, August 15, 2003
Saturday, 9 August 2003 - Fillmore Auditorium, Denver, Colorado
Admittedly, I am not a flaming Depeche Mode fan. In fact, my experience with them is quite limited. Once I got extremely drunk listening to their singles collection and I found that between the liquor and the music, suicide became a surprisingly enticing option. Needless to say, I didn’t succumb to temptation and after that I wrote Depeche Mode off as dreary mood music comparable but not preferable to The Cure. Apparently, The Cure and Depeche Mode are similar to Coke and Pepsi in that once you decide which one you like you seldom switch teams, and since the earliest album I’m proud to admit I purchased was Disintegration (on tape!) I’m a Cure man balls to bones. My perception of DM changed Christmas 2002 when I gave Numba Wan the DVD of the band in Paris for their Exciter tour. From the moment I saw Dave Gahan prance onto the stage and start singing with his powerful baritone voice, I was very impressed. When the opportunity presented itself to see him in concert, we couldn’t pass it up.
I’ve never had such an easy time parking at the Fillmore as for the Dave Gahan show. We parked on the street a few blocks from the venue, zipped through the lineless will-call and entry, and quickly realized why it had all gone so easy: the place was nearly empty. There couldn’t have been more than a thousand die-hard Depeche Mode fans at this shindig, and all of them were either wusses sitting at the tables or the hard core faithful packed densely at the foot of the stage. That combination of sparsity and devotion, however, made for an extremely enjoyable concert, all brought together by the supreme talent of one of the best rock and roll frontmen ever to step on stage.
We wandered over to the bar to get a drink and unexpectedly ran into some friends I haven’t seen in awhile. Sara I knew from high school to be an avid DM fan, and I actually wondered before the show if she’d be there. It was Sara who lent me her U2 Achtung Baby (tape!) way back then, starting me on some serious music appreciation, and the rest is history. Way back in 4th grade recess when we played “V”, Lynette was always the evil alien leader Lydia. Meeting them was a great surprise, and we reacquainted ourselves as we waited for drinks and headed down to the floor. Proving that Coke and Pepsi can intermingle, that yes indeed we can all get along, Sara had on a Cure concert tee, which prompted lots of debate. Lynette is a big-time Dave Gahan fan (despite the fact she mispronounces his name) and she despises Robert Smith utterly and completely, poor misguided soul.
The opening band, Kenna, was a pleasant surprise. Two keyboardists flanked the drum kit, but the frontman was remarkable. A young charismatic Ethiopian with a goatee, he started out subdued in a hooded sweatshirt looking like the Unabomber, but with his engaging stage presence and piercing stare, I thought for a moment that he might succeed in upstaging the main act. The beautiful redhead behind us was defiantly unstirred and declared amidst all the cheers for Kenna, “I’m saving my voice for Dave Gahan!”
It was then I realized that women constituted the vast majority of the crowd, and a light went on in my head. Evidently scads of young women the world over want to ride Dave Gahan’s bones like a wild rocket to planet Climaxica. In fact, a recent scientific survey revealed that the man most commonly on the minds of American and British women when having an orgasm is none other than Dave Gahan, by such a wide margin, in fact, that Nicole Kidman couldn’t bear to be married to Tom Cruise a moment longer. At least, that’s what I hear. Speaking as a confirmed and confident heterosexual man, I can verify that Dave Gahan is an extremely charismatic and attractive fellow. When his shirt inevitably came off, I shared an affirming nod with the dude in front of me that we’d best stay out of the way of all these sexually charged women, lest they tear us limb from limb trying to get to Dave Gahan’s sweaty glistening torso. From the moment he stepped on stage, he had the audience in the palm of his hand. His performance was just as intense as on the DM Exciter DVD and he seemed oblivious to the half empty concert hall.
The songs they played were mostly from his solo debut album which sounds sufficiently DM-influenced to go over well with the faithful. A healthy mix of Depeche Mode favorites were thrown in for good measure and by the end of the night, he had everyone in the house but the staff doing the patented Dave Gahan arm wave. Knowing that he’s done the same in football stadiums, I felt a little sad for the guy, but he seemed very happy to be working so hard giving it to the faithful, and they gave back with adoring adulation. A true man of the people, Dave Gahan.
The ever-resourceful Numba Wan led me into the corridor in the back of the Fillmore where they rope off a section for the musicians to exit the stage. When the man of the hour came through, she yelled “David”, and mid-stride he turned to us, beamed a deeply satisfied smile, and disappeared backstage.
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Posted Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Friday, 18 July 2003 - Larimar Lounge, Denver, Colorado
First let’s get the swooning out of the way. BRMC are the real deal in my book. They are everything a good rock and roll band should be: exciting, sexy, dangerous, confident, and loud as a freight train. I know the difference between good loud and bad loud, mind you. Bad loud is a painfully obvious cover-up of bad music or bad musicianship. BRMC are loud like the godly engine of a force five hurricane, a swirling tempest of immensity and power that must be reckoned with, and on this night we caught them at full glory from an arm’s length away. I think my eardrums suffered significant damage of some sort, but nothing that couldn’t be repaired by science now or in the near future.
We arrived as the golden sun set behind Long’s Peak, lighting up the short old buildings of Denver’s Lower Downtown where rich suburban drunks fill up at the sports bars after a Rockies game. The Larimar Lounge is just outside the ballpark district bubble where the streets are a little trashier and the drunks are locals. Kerouac was here in 1947. He might have appreciated how that decrepit old brick looked in the setting sunlight, glorious if only for a moment.
I knew Dean had gone mad again. It was like the imminent arrival of Gargantua; preparations had to be made to widen the gutters of Denver and foreshorten certain laws to fit his suffering bulk and bursting ecstasies.
The Lounge is very small, with desperately trendy concert posters plastered on one wall. Cheap drinks are served at the bar in the front room, beer vended in the tiny stage room by a bored girl crammed in between the cash register and a tub of bottles. Our faces were romantically lit by blue Wifebeater Lite neon signage as we stepped into a corner to take in the scene. Numba Wan noticed guitarist Peter Hayes milling about and stepped over to give him a kind word about his music. Peter Hayes ended up spending most of the next couple hours hanging out in a corner behind the guitars smoking cigarettes and talking with anyone who approached him. I have a firm rule to avoid any celebrity encounters ever since an unfortunately over-enthusiastic ecstasy-fueled exchange with Moby many years back. It’s not that Moby was mean in anyway, in fact he was pleasantly unassuming like any good vegetarian. It’s just when it comes to the famous or semi-famous I find that I have little to say and even less desire to waste their time. Numba Wan is more gifted socially besides being a struggling artist herself, and it means a lot for her to communicate her enjoyment of a composition with the tortured soul who created it. Something about completing the circle of life, or in this case the circle of artistry.
It was when Numba Wan was speaking with Peter Hayes that the dusty wheels within my atrophied brain began turning on the seeds of a brilliant idea. This shithole of a venue provided us with a golden opportunity to see a band on the bleeding edge of cool up close and personal, but only if we acted quickly and with a singular and stubborn determination. We stepped up to the stage behind the one row of spectators smarter and quicker than ourselves, and we would hold our prime spot against that motley crowd of drunken miscreants like a ship captain lashed to the mast of his storm-tossed vessel. Our resolve was tested by the earnest but abrasive and largely ungifted warm-up band, but we have endured our fair share of shitty openers and these poor bastards would have to try a lot harder to wrest us from our position. The lead singer looked remarkably like a chap I know from my early days who has devoted his life to missionary work in Russia, dazzling poor lost students with his Aura Americana before delivering their souls from the Eastern Orthodox view of Jesus to his own. But that’s another story for another day.
Thus it was that Captain Zero and Numba Wan found themselves in such a prime locale, awaiting BRMC’s ascent to the stage. The set list was taped the to floor and had betrayed Spread Your Love as the opening track. The dude in front of me giggled like a schoolgirl in anticipation squealing, “don’t ruin the surprise!” We didn’t recognize half the songs on the list. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there was Peter Hayes, politely requesting us to let him get through to the stage so he could play his show. As soon as they started up with the fat bass line, it was clear they were unleashing a Gargantua of a different sort upon Denver. Here was the loud, confident, sexy soul of modern rock and roll, and we had a fantastic view. From here I watched Peter Hayes fumble with the small harmonica as he tried to hang it back on his microphone before calmly returning to his guitar part. Tall, good-looking bushy-headed bassist/guitarist Robert Turner was to his right and drummer Nick Jago sat buried behind the drums in the back, all dressed in black and bathed in red lights as genuine cigarette smoke swirled throughout the crowded room.
Spread your love like a fever
Don’t you ever come down
That’s pretty much the entire lyric to the song, which plods along on mid-tempo bass and drum line, guitar and harmonica flourishes filling in the rest. It’s quite amazing to see the three of them working harmoniously and filling the room with so much sound. I think I had my jaw dropped for most of the time, amazed and delighted as I was. They played most of the songs off the debut, and probably half a dozen new ones that I didn’t recognize. Whatever Happened To My Rock ‘n’ Roll is always a highlight, and when I gave a good Yee-Haw afterwards—because this is a cow town after all—a few heads turned. When they were finished with White Palms, during which they blaspheme “Jesus when you goin’ to come back? Jesus I dare you to come back home”, they declined to chant the angelic final lines, but in my head I did it for them: “I wouldn’t come back if I’d have been Jesus, I’m the kind of guy who leaves the scene of a crime”.
We finally yielded our coveted position as they started up Salvation, the beautiful yearning closer to the debut album. We weaved our way through the crowd toward the back. I turned around and realized no one back here could see a goddamned thing and thanked the stars for our luck and skill. In the men’s room above the putrid urinal was an ad for a new band seeking a drummer, musical influences were listed as The Cure, Joy Division, and BRMC. The circle of rock and roll complete, it begins anew.
I stepped out onto the street with Numba Wan at my side, that lovely tune in my ringing ears and those haunting lyrics in mind.
So Jesus left you lonely
Feels like nothing’s really holy
No one hears your calling
Falling everything is falling
Can you feel alive?
Do you feel alive?
Nights like this I’m damn glad to be alive.
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Posted Friday, July 18, 2003
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Friday, 20 June 2003 - Fiddler's Green, Englewood, Colorado
When it comes to Red Hot Chili Peppers fans, you have your Flea people on the one hand and your Frusciante people on the other. The difference is subtle, and I probably won’t be able to do it justice here, but I’d venture that Flea people are a little drunker, perhaps a little easier to entertain, and definitely a lot more willing to shout their hero’s name in public, if only because the monosyllabic word rolls easy off the tongue, and the man’s performance onstage easily evokes his moniker. Everyone likes Anthony Kiedis, but Flea people probably outnumber Frusciante people by roughly five to one. Not that I intend to disrespect Flea; besides being a very talented bassist for one of rock’s most popular and enduring bands, I hear he’s quite a jazz trumpeter, or was in his youth. No, I have no problem with Flea, but his fans are a little much for me. I myself am a confirmed Frusciante man. I prefer Frusciante’s To Record Only Water For Ten Days
to any Chili Peppers album before By The Way
, which was one of my favorite major label releases from last year and not coincidentally sees Frusciante’s influence overshadow Flea’s for the first time. Funky slap bass has its place, of course, but it can’t take you to those beautiful musical highs the boys achieve throughout that long and surprisingly strong record, the best of their career.
We got to Fiddler's Green a little late, “standing in line to see the show tonight” just like in the By The Way title track, to collect our tickets from will-call and then again to get into the sold out show. We searched for a seat on the grass while Snoop Dogg, who supposedly has quit smoking the ganja, was entertaining a fun party crowd with some rap about getting fucked up. We found a decent spot high up on the grassy slope and settled down as Snoop Dogg retired to the buses with his sizable entourage to continue the party and most definitely not to smoke shitloads of pot. The folks directly behind us turned out to be unrepentant Flea people, and just to give an idea of what I’m talking about, here are some examples of things they shouted very loudly between songs, during songs, and pretty much whenever the desire struck:
“Flea! Flea! Flea! Flea! Flea!”
“Flea, have my babies!” (?!)
“Flea! Flea! Flea! Flea! Flea! Flea! Flea! Flea!”
“Flea is God! Flea is God! Flea is God! Flea is God! Flea is God!”
Simpletons. Of course everyone knows that if the Almighty trod that stage, obviously He wore the shoes of John Frusciante, who even looked like Jesus Christ in his long hair and full beard.
In concert the Chili Peppers are a very fun high-energy band, just like every time I’d ever seen them play on TV. Everyone but drummer Chad Smith was jumping around to those infectious beats, and several times they attained an almost transcendent state where the music just has you by the balls of your very soul. It helped a lot that we were treated to the best lightening storm I’ve seen in years. In many ways, this was a better Red Rocks show than Coldplay at the Rocks a few weeks earlier. For a few hours we watched the storm descend menacingly from the mountains and creep slowly across the city toward and over us to the point we were probably in more danger of being hit than we cared to admit as a mindless collective. The Chili Peppers didn’t even seem to notice, and played on despite the numerous flashes of brilliant pink lightening, some of which brought gasps and applause from the crowd. At least our friendly neighborhood Flea people had a sense of humor. After a particularly close flash of lightening, perhaps out of repentance for their earlier blasphemy, they chanted: “Mother Nature! Mother Nature! Mother Nature!”
Songs from Californication and By The Way dominated the set, but the Chili Peppers threw in a few old favorites at moments predicable for their calculated impact. The non-exhaustive set list is as follows: By The Way, Scar Tissue, Suck My Kiss, Californication, The Zephyr Song, Venice Queen, Can’t Stop, Throw Away Your Television, Give It Away, [encore] Under The Bridge/something funky. In between most of the songs was an instrumental interlude, usually a weird Frusciante Beach Boys homage occasionally embellished with some creepy vocals. Several times I sensed the fraying patience of Flea people who were probably wondering who let this freakin’ hippy onstage.
The show ended after 90 minutes or so, and feeling adverse to herds, we waited a few minutes for the crowd to disperse before making for the exits hidden at the top of the green. Turns out those secret exits are much closer to the facility exit, and we emerged from the crowd-controlled area quicker than I’d anticipated. I glanced down at the fenced-in masses, Flea people and Frusciante people jammed together harmoniously in a huge herd being funneled up and out the gate we’d just exited. Unknowingly we’d beaten the rush and happily made good our escape.
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Posted Friday, June 20, 2003
17 June 2003 Boulder Theater, Boulder, Colorado
At sixty-one years old, Lou Reed
should be settling down to his AARP
monthly newsletter, griping about how kids these days ain’t got no goddamned respect
. He should be waging low-intensity tit-for-tat battles in an inter-generational war with the local hoodlums who whack off in his tool shed and fire projectiles at his cat. Instead he came to Boulder and played a two and a half hour set that mixed old favorites with new gems, winning the crowd over and even being won over himself by their enthusiastic adoration.
Reed opened strumming the seminal three cords of Sweet Jane, stopping a few times to banter with the audience and his fellow musicians. After introducing the band, he explained that this was how to make a career on three chords, but then let us in on a secret hidden fourth chord, which he demonstrated before launching into the song. He was in good spirits and seemed to be enjoying himself up there, cracking jokes and imparting wisdom. He has a commanding but not overbearing stage presence, yielding at appropriate times to the other musicians, but bringing it all back together.
How Do You Think It Feels turned into a very satisfying rocker that earned the first of several standing ovations for the night. They played Vanishing Act, a sparse and repetitive but beautiful track from The Raven
. A sweet love song written by bassist/guitarist/drummer Fernando went a little long, but the audience was in an indulgent mood and heaped applause. Venus in Furs was a treat, especially the discordant and transcendent cello solo at the end, which earned cellist Jane a well deserved standing ovation of her own. All Tomorrow’s Parties was radically different from the Nico fronted version, but very satisfying all the same. Dirty Blvd rocked convincingly. Mr. Reed took a poll to see who thought they lived in a small town. After conflicting applause, he said we needed to discuss it further, then launched into a song about wanting to get out of one.
A highlight of the show was the title track from The Raven
, which started off with Master Ren dancing some tae chi moves to appropriately somber moody music and led into Mr. Reed’s spoken rendition of the slightly altered Edgar Allen Poe poem
, whispering one moment and shouting the next. The standing ovation at the end of that song seemed to affect Mr. Reed, and he warmly thanked the audience and said that had never happened before. He said they should move to Boulder. The encore started with Candy Says, performed beautifully by vocalist Antony. The ensemble collected up front to bow again, then went back to their instruments and ended with Perfect Day, what seemed the perfect ending to the show. The house lights went up and most of the audience got up to leave, with a sizable minority continuing the vociferous cheering for The Man. My hep-senses were up and I had a feeling things weren’t over yet, especially when a roadie started tuning Mr. Reed’s guitar again. Evidently, Mr. Reed decided to treat us to something special and he emerged after about five minutes to a half empty house with most of the band and played the best song written in the 1960’s, Heroin
, to the utter delight of those still present. The song is as honest and affecting as they get. There I stood on a chair in the intimate Boulder Theater watching the one and only Lou Reed play such an amazing testament to bittersweet modern junkie life. The only thing missing was Mo Tucker’s heartbeat percussion. It seemed a spontaneous parting gift to an adoring crowd that had indulged and appreciated the new songs and swooned for the old favorites.
With a vague feeling of possibility, we hung around afterwards, hoping to see Mr. Reed and ask him to sign our Velvet Underground & Nico cd. A small group of young hardcore fans had gathered under a parking structure across from the back door as roadies dispassionately packed the gear up a ramp into a truck. A light sprinkle gave an appropriate urban feel to the streets of Boulder, as we waited back there to see our underground idol. I thought of all the old wet streets Mr. Reed must have trod in the caverns of Manhattan a lifetime ago, a lost modern American soul seeking his fix. Maybe in those days we would have gotten what we wanted, but the old fox slipped out the front in a van sent by the Hotel Boulderado
, probably wanting to get on with his evening and his life. I can understand, as a curmudgeon-in-training myself, that the constant demands of strangers would strain a world-weary soul.
On the way home, our car got targeted by a pack of hoodlums dropping heavy goober-filled torpedoes from a suburban pedestrian bridge at one o’clock in the morning. Their aim was surprisingly accurate, and we had to stop at a gas station to clean the windshield. Goddamned kids ain’t got no friggin’ respect.
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Posted Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Coldplay at Red Rocks Twenty Years after U2; Audience Miserable
6 June 2003 - Red Rocks, Morrison, Colorado
Friday was the second of two nights at the Rocks for Coldplay, and technically Thursday was twenty years to the day since U2
played their classic show captured on video and released as part of their Under A Blood Red Sky
live album. Chris Martin pointed out the U2 Connection, without mentioning that actually yesterday was the day. I must admit, given a couple more stellar albums, I could see Coldplay becoming the next U2. They’ve got the spark, and so far they’ve been very well received here in the States. Alas, maybe Thursday was the night to see them channel the magic. Friday, however, God Put A Steady Drizzle Into Our Faces and Coldplay failed the Is This Really Worth It test after a pretty good try.
I have to give Chris Martin credit for two things: his sympathy for the suffering masses, and his apparently improved sense of tact. He clearly appreciated our steadfast devotion, and first thing he wished for us the best night of our lives. Better luck next time, Chris. It’s a good thing he didn’t go off on politics this time, though. U2 may have played a righteous set twenty years ago yesterday, but it was exactly fifty-nine years ago from this very day that many good American kids died at Normandy to begin the liberation of the Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys and I was in no mood to hear it from an Honorary Member on this night. I would have led a minimum two-person walkout if any of that petty shit passed Mr. Martin’s lips. As it was, my surely unnoticeable protest was unnecessary. We still walked out early, just before the first encore, but that was to join the steady trickle of miserable wet softies wanting to beat the faithful out of the Red Rocks parking lot. Talk about the Mother of All Quagmires, this would surely be it.
Before that, though, Coldplay put on a decent show. The set was similar but not identical to when we saw them a few months back in the warm dry indoors of the Fillmore. They opened with Politick, which is starting to feel more like a merciless beating and less like a good opener. God Put A Smile Upon Your Face was good, but by this point the steady cold drizzle had been falling for the better part of an hour and they really needed to step up to the plate and knock it out of the park to win us over. For the record, the crowd was on its feet the entire time, and my sources down front thought Coldplay put on a great show. Chris Martin was as full of passion as ever and at one point it looked like he was trying to shag the piano. Gweneth Paltrow and a thousand other women swooned. There was even a moment during a fast paced tune that I could have mistaken them for U2 circa 1983.
I remember Radiohead
seemingly holding off a similar rainstorm a couple years back by the sheer bass-powered force of The National Anthem, but Coldplay just seemed to encourage it. That’s the lot of the Bedwetters, I suppose, as opposed to the Brave New Worlders. Why is it always rainin’ on me, Chris Martin wonders. The city was beautiful, as always, and so was Clocks, echoing off those hallowed rock walls, as we hoofed it to the covered and heated sanctuary of our fat-ass gas-guzzling American SUV.
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Posted Thursday, May 22, 2003
6 February 2003 - Fillmore Auditorium, Denver, CO
It’s refreshing to see Coldplay
being so well received in the United States, an antidote to the terrific lack of substance plaguing the charts in this country. While the anglophile snob in me wants to look down on the mainstream American masses flooding the Fillmore Auditorium, I can’t help but be heartened by the thought of all those Bon Jovi fans finally, if briefly, turning to the light of the good and beautiful adult rock emanating from across the pond. My arrogance was appeased by a couple of Oasis
tracks played after the opening act left the stage: Liam Gallagher’s inspiring and upbeat neo-Stone Roses
Better Man, and then booming loud from the sound system to warm up the crowd immediately before Chris Martin’s Boys ascended the stage, triumphant Columbia. The American masses didn’t get it, but I did, along with a handful of others you could see on the packed floor who could not help but respond to that heroic resurgent British guitar rock.
When we last saw them at the Fillmore a couple of years ago, the place was half full, and the performance was good but immature. We came away wondering who that charming frontman was. Chris Martin clumsily dove into the crowd, but evidently no one caught him and when he returned to the stage he cracked that he was no Steven Tyler. We should all be grateful for that. Mr. Martin clearly had the passion, the spark, but could use a little more focus. Likewise the songs on their debut album, Parachutes, were extremely purty and affecting and showed lots of promise, but I wanted something more, and wondered where they would go from there. I wanted to hear what they could do with louder guitars and more forceful drums. I wanted to see if they could put power to the purty-ness and create transcendent rock. I was not disappointed by their second album, A Rush Of Blood To The Head. Keeping one foot firmly in the land of Parachutes, they added stronger piano lines, made the tunes more anthemic and took a big step in U2
’s direction. Eventually it became my favorite new album released last year. Now Coldplay are going somewhere, I think to myself when I listen to it (which is a lot), and when I ponder where they might go from here, my inner audiophile squeals in delight at the possibilities.
They opened with Politik, an initially discordant strummer that tilts toward the middle on a beautiful Chris Martin piano line before toppling into its satisfying conclusion. Mr. Martin switched to guitar for God Put A Smile upon Your Face, and stayed there for Spies and Daylight. He stopped Trouble halfway through to prompt the crowd to sing along, which we gladly accepted, singing “they spun a web for me” underneath the purple chandeliers of the Fillmore. The next song wasn’t on either album, and sounded to me like a U2 song (not a bad thing) but the wife wasn’t as impressed. Next was Warning Sign and after that Beautiful World, to which he added the line, “if George Bush gets reelected then we’re in trouble”. Mr. Paltrow didn’t elaborate, but on his hand he’d written “Make Trade Fair” neatly so the keyboard cam could pick up on it during a dramatic piano line. They played their signature Yellow and then Scientist before leaving the stage with Chris Martin proclaiming he had the best job in the world. You might not agree with his politics, but who could argue with that? Loud applause from the audience saw them off the stage and back for the encore. They started with Clocks, one of the best tracks off the new album, and then dedicated the last song, In My Place, to Justin Timberlake. It was not intended as a compliment.
Coldplay finally left the stage beneath the banner for maketradefair.com
, just in case we hadn’t picked up on the hint earlier. Alright, I give! Let’s make trade fair. Free and fair trade the world over, I say, so that all humans can enjoy the fruits of their labor. I’m all for it, Chris, now will you please quit the neo-Marxist proselytizing? Somehow I doubt he will. It’s about more than fair trade, you see. After all, between the copious drugs and loose women, Rock ‘n Rollers lead some of the most decadent lifestyles a man can live, and if one wants to look more Legit and less Steven Tyler, a little sexy politics never hurts.
A word of advice to Chris Martin: Remember that Bono is only a saint in his own mind. I know you’re trying to use your newfound influence to change the world for the better. Who could be against fair trade, after all? It’s like being against warm pillows for kids. But at a certain point you cross the line from idealist to wrong-headed propagandist, and at that point you should shut the fuck up. The Iraqi people in general are much better off post-war, at least insofar as there will be no new mass graves
in that country for some time. When Mr. Martin and his lady friend Ms. Paltrow spouted off against the war at a charity benefit, Liam Gallagher rightly put them In Their Place:
"When Coldplay did this gig they banged on about the war, that's wrong. Chris Martin shouldn't be using this cause to bang on about his own views on the war. If him and his gawky bird want to go banging on about the war they can do it at their own gigs. That lot are just a bunch of knobhead students – Chris Martin looks like a geography teacher. What's all that with writing messages about Free Trade on his hand when he's playing. If he wants to write things down I'll give him a pen and a pad of paper. Bunch of students. These gigs are about kids who have got cancer, they've got to fight a war every day of their lives. That's what we're all here doing this for."
At least that’s what some people were there for. Talk about refreshing, those Gallagher boys can still nail it right on the head.
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Posted Wednesday, November 20, 2002
16 November 2002 – Ogden Theater, Denver, CO
The cold dark days of November had descended across the land, war hung in the air, and lovers stared at each other across a chasm. Sometimes things become so troubled it seems recovery is impossible, that only a miracle or some blessed magic will make them right.
Fortunately for us, Sigur Ros came to town that Saturday night, supporting their untitled new album. Critics have roasted this Icelandic group for pretension for leaving the new album’s eight haunting tracks nameless, and for the made up language that constitute its lyrics, while largely staying mute on the music, as if they don’t know what to say about it. But the music is really what all this is about, isn’t it? Musically, the new songs are among the most lush, pure, and beautiful I have ever heard. Words are sung in Jon Thor Birgisson’s heartbreaking falsetto, but they are foreign and we don’t know what they mean, so we place our own meaning into them and become entwined in the art in a deeply personal way. The concepts conveyed, instead of a sermon by the artist, become a mirror into the soul of the beholder, and alchemy blossoms. It’s the perfect music for watching civilizations clash, weather unfold, or meteors shoot across the sky.
It seemed like every Bohemian and hepcat in the city converged upon the Ogden Theater that night; I have never seen a crowd quite like it. Strangers were downright nice to each other in ways I’ve not seen in awhile. “I think this guy was next” I heard more than once at the bar.
The music of Sigur Ros has been described as otherworldly, and indeed at one point in the night it sounded like a spaceship was landing. It was easy to imagine frontman Birgisson as being an alien, genderless and delicate at the center of such incredible sounds. They opened with two or three songs from the new album. Ambiguous and haunting, the background images complemented the music well. First there was a huge face that my cohort thought looked like a newborn and I interpreted as the face of God (so typical!), and then there were a series of what looked like grainy Zapruder quality Icelandic family videos of children looking out cars windows and the like. As they started on the ethereal piano line of the third track off the new album, mirror balls descended and cast thousands of beams of light throughout, and my beloved and I perched atop a rickety old piano bench, the highest people in the room by several counts. The singer broke out his trademark bow and strummed for a minute so we knew the sound he was making. After Svefn-G-Englar, while the audience sat in silent awe, some cat yelled out “that was fucking brilliant”, and we chuckled in agreement. The band said not a word from the stage, and might have found the outburst rude, but most people clearly agreed with the sentiment. Within a few songs, the bow was severely frayed, and I imagined it was by the sheer intensity of the music.
The richness and intensity of the show took its toll on the audience. Two people in our area were on the floor apparently asleep, and a few left early. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage, except to turn to my companion to share a mutual affirmation. She thinks they could have shaved 20 minutes off the show and left everyone spellbound and wanting more instead of feeling exhausted. The ending, however, was the best part as they went into the incredible eighth new track, which begins with a beautiful guitar line soon accompanied by an ominous klaxon alarm and ends with a jaw-dropping heavy climax. To me the song’s violence is the musical embodiment of modern warfare, a soundtrack to the great movements of civilization in our time.
After the show Sigur Ros came back to the stage twice accompanied by elated applause, and bowed as a group each time before retreating. An encore was utterly unnecessary. We emerged nearly spent, but cleansed by the experience, and somehow the world had regained its magical beauty. A spark hung in the crisp air, friends met purely by divine chance, and I can even confirm reports of lovers being reconciled. The planet was approaching the Leonids one last time and Sigur Ros would be playing when they fell.
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Posted Friday, October 18, 2002
16 October 2002 - Fillmore Auditorium, Denver, CO
This was the third time we’ve seen the Strokes. The first was slightly more than a year ago, the day their debut album was released in the states. I’d been listening to the album over the internet, reading all the hype coming from across the pond, and upon hearing they were playing at Boulder’s intimate Fox Theater, dragged the wife along to what became one of the best concerts we saw all year. Serendipitously, the Strokes tour across America intersected that of BRMC, and of the handful of shows the two played together, one was in Boulder. Up to this point, we had never heard of BRMC, and hadn’t heard much of the Strokes, but the resulting show was a revelation, a ray of hope for the future of rock and roll, and since then we’ve readily consumed the debut albums by both groups. Quite often in the last year, you could find my wife and I dancing jigs in our kitchen late into the night with lust for life in our hearts and the Strokes on the stereo. The second time we saw the Strokes was at Coachella, where the lads put up a good effort, but were caught out of their element and ultimately failed to rouse the indifferent afternoon festival crowd.
By contrast the crowd at the Fillmore for this show was ready to party, enthusiastic but not quite partisan. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen that place so packed. We arrived from a satisfying dinner after both supporting bands had played, which suited us fine. The thought of a band full of Donnas frankly strikes fear into my heart. We had enough time to get a few very strongly mixed drinks and settle in for some prime people watching. The crowd had plenty of beautiful and stylish young people, but not to the point of being a meat market, and there were lots of normal looking people just out for a good time. There were even a few who were obviously older than my twenty-eight years. People were hanging out in discrete pods, their backs to everyone else as they engaged in spirited conversation, and some were milling about expectantly. The bartenders were drunk and the drinks were flowing, and the background chatter was considerable. I wondered if the Strokes would be able to turn this crowd.
The Strokes ambled onto the stage and started things off provocatively with NYC Cops, the song they dropped from the US release of their debut following the September 11 attacks. Then they played a couple of new songs, including Meet Me In The Bathroom, and another one whose catchy chorus proclaimed defiantly how Julian Casablancas didn’t need anybody for anything. While the new tunes are just as catchy as the old ones, they also reveal a weakness: they all sound alike. The songs are all old-school catchy mid to fast paced tunes with lots of strumming, topped off with Casablancas’ trademark drunken swagger. This suggests that while the band continues to turn out good music for the moment, they could lack the innovation to go beyond what is currently a winning formula. That has yet to be seen, and people don’t go to Strokes shows for innovation – that’s why God invented Radiohead – they go because it’s a damn fun time. And the crowd at the Fillmore that night was having a great time. Down in front was a mass of upraised arms with daring souls riding the sea of hands. The music was LOUD and the people loved it. Guys and girls were dancing everywhere, the girls especially as they gladly swooned for the charismatic frontman. The band seemed to enjoy their power, and Casablancas’ swagger only increased. An interesting corollary to the Law of Cool states that doing something seemingly uncool, as long as it’s done with callous indifference can paradoxically increase coolness. The lead singer proved this by wearing a tie my dad would have been proud to wear to his mid level engineering job back in the early 80’s, the kind of wide, diagonally-striped pastel tie that apparently could only work onstage at a rock and roll show, or in a Dilbert comic. Casablancas seemed very drunk, and most of his between-song banter was slurred beyond comprehension.
They played most of the songs off Is This It, including the title track, Soma, Someday, and Alone Together. Highlights were The Modern Age, Barely Legal, and Hard To Explain. The songs varied little from the recorded versions, with no extended solos or improvisation. After being onstage for less than an hour, they played the appropriate last song, Take It Or Leave It, and stumbled offstage without an encore. The audience wanted more, but as George Costanza would say, the Strokes have Hand, and after the blistering set they played, they felt little need to please the crowd more. I think a few more new songs, and maybe a cover or two, would have driven the show over the top, but with quality women and drugs awaiting them backstage, there was no need to even try. Where the Trail of Dead would have smashed the stage in a riot of musical passion, with any possibility of an encore moot, the Strokes simply walked off stage confidently, Casablancas bowing to the crowd in reverence, leaving the fans wanting more but still ultimately satisfied.
It’s nice to see that old school rock and roll can still turn the kids on.
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Posted Thursday, October 10, 2002
And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, Queens of the Stone Age
1 October 2002 - Ogden Theater, Denver, CO
A couple of days after the beautifully melodic Doves show, this one was sure to be more raucous. My partner in crime and I have seen both the Trail of Dead and Queens of the Stone Age before. After being turned onto the latest TOD album, Source Tags and Codes, we saw them in concert and were quite impressed by their energy and enthusiasm. It was the best concert we’d been to in awhile, and I imagined we’d seen the equivalent of the Clash early in their history. TOD is why we were here at the Ogden. We saw the Queens at Coachella, and were unconvinced. They had played in the afternoon on a sunny stage in front of a mingling crowd of mostly disinterested festivalgoers. The outdoor stages at Coachella claimed many a rock star scalp that spring weekend. I seem to recall the Strokes being less than impressive, and Oasis went down to inglorious defeat. We were willing to give the Queens a second shot, and I was sure they would come across better in front of partisans on the intimate Ogden stage.
Opening the night in the musty venue was Peaches, which consists essentially in two scantily clad women screaming titillating verses to a prerecorded set of electronic-rock blend, which they assured us they had written and recorded themselves. They wore strap-on dildos and implored the men to shake their dicks, and the women to shake their tits. No one did, but most eyes were on the performers and they reveled in the attention. “I’ve never had two guys turn their backs on me,” Peaches said, “but I know it means you love me anyway.” They spit on each other, and Peaches wedged a microphone between her breasts. It was a spectacle and greatly entertaining, which means as an opening act, it was a success. Put it to a live band, girls, and you may have something.
Next was the Trail of Dead, and they proved to have just as much passion and volatility as the first time we saw them. Again, they opened with It Was There That I Saw You, an appropriate stage introduction with the memorable line “we were bold and life was great”. They played Baudelaire, Another Morning Stoner, Homage and a few others from STAC, and half the songs I didn’t recognize, probably from their earlier albums. The lead singer/guitarist and the drummer switched roles a half dozen times, and each proved an engaging and charismatic frontman. Each of them jumped into the crowd several times, and their time spent onstage was rowdy and engaging. The bass player played with legs spread, throwing his head from side to side, while the other guitarist was content to stand relatively still, anchoring the mayhem. The music was as loud and raucous as the stage show, but TOD has an ear for beautiful melodic interludes, the serenity of introspection surrounded by storms of pounding drums and crashing guitar.
At one point, as the stage hands were putting the stage back together, the current lead singer ranted a short while about critics who keep saying rock needed reinvention. As far as he was concerned, rock never needed any help and was in a fine state of affairs on its own. He wasn’t that polite, but the point was made. These guys have faith in their art form, and demonstrate that faith with raucous energy.
Needless to say, we were impressed yet again by the Trail of Dead. They bring beauty and melody to heavy rock, something that seems to have gone missing since Billy Corgan scuttled the mighty Smashing Pumpkins. Incidentally, my first real concert experience was at the Ogden to see the Pumpkins on their club tour just before releasing Adore. That was truly an impressive sight, one of the best concerts I’ve seen, and quite a contrast to the last time I saw them on their farewell tour, one of the worst shows I’ve seen. At the first show, I thought Billy Corgan seemed like a true rock god up there in his magician gown; at the last show, I saw that rock god throw a spectacular musical tantrum that would tax any fan’s devotion.
Back to the concert in question, TOD seemed to falter a little at the end, which we attributed to an attempt to play to the fans of QOTSA. They didn’t play “Relative Ways”, which probably would not have gone over so well, and instead played what must have been their earlier, less melodic, more self-indulgent songs. The crowd response was warmly receptive, especially when the drum kit was destroyed at the end, and all the mike stands were unceremoniously tossed on the pile of debris. Ahh, the violent glory of rock and roll.
Queens of the Stone Age were another matter. We were certainly open to a show that would somehow shed light upon their unrealized genius. The sound was certainly better than the afternoon Coachella stage, and the light show was simple but much more dramatic. The music is the sort of muscular fist-pumping stomp that appeals to the skinhead in us all. It sounded to me like the same note played loudly in various catchy rhythmic combinations, but my ear was unable to discern anything more interesting than that. The vocals were a combination of the lead guitarist’s low-key atonal musings and the bassist’s blood-curdling screams. It certainly appealed to our neighbors, who responded with enthusiastic devil horns thrust into the air. I’m not against loud rock by any means, but I prefer a little melody and, y’know, actual musical notes in the music I listen to. Rhythm is a good thing, but there’s a reason they’re called “tunes”. We left after what sounded like the same six songs played over again with slight rhythmic variations. The only Queens song I can say I like is Feel Good Hit Of The Summer, and that’s mostly for the gratuitous drug references which, come to think of it, is about the only thing going for the song. Music is very much a matter of taste, and QOTSA just don’t do much for me.
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29 September 2002 - Fox Theater, Boulder, CO
Heartbroken after having missed the Doves when they swung through town a few months back, my wife and I jumped at the opportunity to catch them at the Fox Theater in Boulder. Upon hearing the Doves at a campus coffee shop, her sister was intrigued and elected to accompany us, along with her husband The Buddhist, who initially was reluctant to surrender the sanctity of his Sunday night. We met up with an old friend, a mathematician, at a nearby bar for drinks, and though she too was initially uncommitted on the concert, a round of Long Island iced teas soon rendered her unfit to drive home and she sensibly joined us for the show.
We stumbled into the Fox an hour after they opened the doors, hoping to avoid the opening act, and settled into the intimate theater just before the ragged looking group of hippies that constitute My Morning Jacket made their way on stage. Having seen our share of horrible openers (remember Bobby Conn?), we expected the worse, but I was pleasantly surprised by the truly inspired and beautiful music they played. They came from Kentucky, the lead singer’s voice sounded a lot like Neil Young, and they had mastered a serviceable epic sound. My mind’s eye was easily given to our drive over Loveland Pass earlier that day, and I enjoyed their music.
The Doves have released two LPs, Lost Souls and The Last Broadcast, both of which we bought this year, and have consumed readily. Both are beautiful albums, pleasant to have on in the background but engaging on a close listen. While they don’t move me at the level of, say, Richard Ashcroft and The Verve (few do), their appeal is subtle and meaningful enough to have kept both albums in constant rotation since we bought them. On our road trip out to Burning Man this year, when we whittled down our sizable CD collection to a mere 24 discs, both the Doves albums made the cut.
Doves entered well with Pounding, one of my favorite songs off The Last Broadcast, then went into There Goes the Fear. Musically it was brilliant, very beautiful and melodic, as you’d expect from them. The live versions were very faithful to the recorded songs, and the light show was good. The Boulder crowd was flat as hell. Perhaps they were unfamiliar with the material, or maybe the college town crowd was too cool to let such music take hold, probably a little of both. They played Here It Comes, Sea Song, Rise, Words, New York, The Last Broadcast, and Caught By The River, among others. They started the encore with The Man Who Told Everthing. Highlights were incredible versions of Catch The Sun, my personal favorite The Cedar Room, and the last song, the old Sub Sub tune Space Face, as a driving electronic song which I hadn’t heard before, blew my mind and was the perfect closer. Somewhere near the middle of the stoic crowd, a mathematician, a Buddhist, a hepcat, and a set of twins were enthusiastically jamming to the disco beat, having a great time.
The Doves were onstage for a little less than two hours of aural bliss and get extra points for switching instruments toward the end, as bassist Jimi Goodwin took over drumming and left Andy Williams with nothing to do in front but bang a tambourine and sing a little. If at the end the crowd was flaccid, that was because their hearts were stone and their souls unmoved by the beauty and sadness of life. They had certainly won over the three uninitiated within our party, and all of us agreed it was well worth it to defy the sanctity of a Sunday evening to catch the Doves onstage.
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Posted Wednesday, August 21, 2002
Area2: David Bowie and Moby
10 August 2002 - CityLights Pavilion, Denver, CO
We arrived at the Pepsi Center to the menacing sounds of Busta Rhymes echoing through the parking lot (site of the CityLights Pavilion). Lacking any interest in that particular genre of music, however, we headed over to the dance tent where DJ Tiesto was spinning before a semi-enthusiastic crowd. We hung out for a spell, and the wife started to get into it a little, while I was content as more of a spectator watching the kids jump around to the serviceable techno beat. DJ Tiesto must have run out of good ideas for visuals as various self-promoting logos flashed across the screen on a short and unimaginative video loop.
We departed from the dance tent, swung through a concessions line, and found our way to our seats just as the Thin White Duke appeared on stage. The CityLights Pavilion is a wide array of maybe 10,000 seats under an immense tent that was open on all sides except the stage area. From where we sat, we could look through the tent and see the lights and rides of Eliches Six Flags amusement park in the background. Looking the other direction revealed brilliant Venus about to set, and huge thunderclouds in the distance, radiating in the setting sun. We ate our overpriced but surprisingly good chicken sandwich while standing up as Bowie began his set, and one thing became clear in my mind: here was a man who brought style and class to the stage, attributes dismissed by most of today’s acts as uncool and therefore unnecessary. I was also struck by how much he seemed to be enjoying himself up there on stage. Normally, Bowie is quite a charismatic man, but when he flashes that smile, I could understand my wife’s infatuation with him, which began in her early teens watching him dance around with muppets as the big-haired well endowed evil dude in the movie Labyrinth. He bantered gamely with the crowd, praising Denver for having the best bookstore in North America at the Tattered Cover, where he apparently spent a few hours earlier in the afternoon. Imagine what a surreal experience it would have been bumping into David Bowie while searching for some obscure book. Some might call it “mind blowing”.
“Mind-blown” is a term overused in our drug-dulled underarticulated music culture; every stoner knows by experience what it means, but few can accurately put it into words. I would characterize it as a state of mind, usually while listening to good music under the influence of intoxicants, where one is so absorbed that physical control breaks down and movement is dictated by the external stimulation of the environment. For me, my mind focuses intensely on the beauty of the music while my body is left to jump around in fits and spasms featuring head banging, kicking, and thumbs-throwing only Elain Benes could be proud of. I’ve long since lost any inhibition about such moments at concerts – isn’t that what your supposed to do when you’re enjoying it? – though I’m sure it provides quite the spectacle to those behind me. Fuck ‘em, I say, I don’t care. If some people are watching me in ridicule, then hopefully others will realize that with all eyes on the Spasmatic Hippie, they are free to get more into it themselves, and loosen up a little. I look at it as spreading the love, but really I can’t help it, my mind is blown.
That having been said, David Bowie blew my mind twice that night. The first was about half-way through his set, in a blistering performance of I’m Afraid Of Americans. I remember the bridge where the song cools down a bit and I was watching the fairy tale world of the amusement park all lit up in the background, spinning lazily, and Bowie started chanting “God is an American, God is an American”, before launching into the final chorus, flanked by mighty guitars, “I’m afraid of Americans, I’m afraid of the world, I’m afraid I can’t help it, I’m afraid I can’t help it.” Sent a chill up my spine, blew my mind, and my body rocked out with relish. The second time was during the forceful guitar crashing of the final song, Ziggy Stardust Plays Guitar, which he introduced as having been written after a night of serious drug indulgence. I haven’t listened to much of Bowie’s music, but I was astounded by his live performance, and feel very fortunate to have seen a true legend on stage.
I think it would have been better to let David Bowie finish the night, because anyone would seem a lightweight in comparison, but Area2 is the creation of Moby, so he got to finish things off. While they were setting up for his show, we wandered back to the dance tent, and found more of the same going on. That’s the trouble with techno music, in my opinion: it all sounds much the same, is good for dancing, but I never listen to it for its own sake. I suppose it just doesn’t speak to my soul, which is not to say I haven’t had plenty of profound moments listening to techno, just that during those moments it was my ecstasy enraptured soul talking to itself, which is a different thing entirely. Unimpressed, we wandered back to our seats, through lots of kids who looked to be having a good time. The people-watching was great at Area2. Directly in front of us was an interesting group of kids, clearly heavily intoxicated and thus entertaining indeed. One of the lads was well built and showing off shirtless with a rolled up cowboy hat that matched the one his girlfriend wore. He alternately flirted with her and ignored her all night. His buddy was a drunk doofus with a sideways Spanky cap who had his arm around his girl all night, slurring platitudes into her ear; it’s always nice to see young love taking hold of the next generation. They seemed to have a great time, but spent a good deal more time interacting with each other than watching and listening to the show. Behind me to my right was a middle-aged woman who enthusiastically flopped around like a fish to Moby’s upbeat live act, but her energy slowly waned through the night. I thought she might be one of those lucky older souls who accidentally took one of her kid’s ecstasy pills some fateful day, stumbled across a Moby tune on the radio, and was never the same afterwards, a fan for life. You know they’re out there somewhere.
Moby was just as enthusiastc on stage as the fish lady was off. He was constantly running around like an idiot trying to get people off on his energy, and to a large extent he succeeded. After each song he’d mumble a half dozen thank-yous, and then ramble on about something supremely dorky. He noted that playing a monster guitar crunch on stage before thousands of strangers could make balding runt like himself feel like a superman. He teased the crowd with the first bars of a number of rock classics, just enough to get the head banging, then stop abruptly and rattle off some pointed remark. The overall effect was disarming rather than annoying, and his song material was strong and high energy. He introduced his large, black back-up singer as the lady who paradoxically injected steamy sex into a gospel tune, and she went on to prove it by matching her soulful performance on record.
Near the end, Moby recounted how everyone in the music business had predicted failure for his musical menagerie tours, but complemented the crowd for making it a success. He was right, and one can only speculate what it might have been like if he’d gotten his wish and Radiohead had joined the tour. Oh well, I guess we’ll have to settle for the likes of David Bowie and Moby, not bad even for the steep ticket price. Moby has successfully combined diverse musical tastes and brought them to the masses. The only thing missing was a Ramones cover, so he launched into an appropriately raucous version of Blitzkrieg Bop, and sent us on our way with a warm fuzzy feeling that comes from the deep satisfaction of a great time had.
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Posted Sunday, July 28, 2002
21 July2002 – Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
In our first concert in months, we accompanied a Bohemian-looking Buddhist and his wife to Denver’s Pepsi Center to see Tool. Our seats in the first row of the third level gave us excellent views of the stage and general admission area below, which look like a massive riot zone. Several times during the night, half a dozen security people would eagerly dash into the crowd with their flashlights and haul out troublemakers like the Gestapo going after Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. The only things missing were dogs and guns, and the music of Tool proved an oddly appropriate soundtrack to the whole spectacle.
The stage was flanked by two large screens that in a normal arena shows would be used to project massive images of the band so the people in the nosebleed sections could see the action on stage. But Tool is a band that consciously shuns tradition in favor of a novel concept in popular music today: a message. Here is a band that through its career of videos has developed several unique styles of imagery that combines dark and oppressive animated allegory with Alex Grey's mystical spiritual anatomy to perfectly accent their music, and those images were the ones projected on the screen. The musicians were downplayed so their music and message could be fully portrayed. What a weird concept in modern rock! The weirdness didn’t stop there. Two guitarists stood in the front on extreme ends, with the drummer in the central rear of the stage. For the first few minutes I could hear the singer but couldn't see him. Where could he be? I wondered, scanning the stage. The Rock n Roll handbook clearly stipulates that the lead singer should be front and center, in the spotlight as the focal point of a band's live performance. After the first song, I realized singer Maynard James Keenan was there, to the drummer's right on the rear of the stage, hiding in a intentionally dark void between the lights illuminating the guitarists. He was on a slightly raised platform that turned out to be an additional screen, upon which was to be projected some of the same grotesque images showing on the main screens. But for now, the only hint of Maynard was the vague figure lurching around in his madness there in the dark space on stage. He introduced one of the songs as a song about “assets”, which he said all the others were about as well. He’d checked the itinerary and was told he was in Denver, but this couldn’t be Denver, he said between songs, because the last time he was in Denver, the people were naked. He seemed to portray a lunatic, and I could have sworn at one point a person in a white laboratory jacket approached him on his platform, and when the “doctor” left, Maynard was jumping around like a monkey. Truly bizarre, but quite a show.
The audience was rabid, and their electric enthusiasm could be felt the moment we entered the lobby of the arena. Most were drinking something, or smoking something, and seemed to have a special connection to the music. I could hear them singing the words to songs I was only vaguely familiar with. A pretty young woman with long blond hair and bare midriff danced like a stripper in the aisle, and the normally serious Bohemian Buddhist was letting himself get possessed by the music, only to get puked on several times by the stoner sitting next to him. While very well executed, and rabidly consumed, there was little spontaneity, as the band was synched with the images on the screens, and on Maynard’s platform. I thought they lost momentum slightly near the end, as they indulged in another long digression, but the climax of the show during the long last song was breathtaking. When the song ended, they embraced triumphantly in the middle of the stage. Bizarrely, Maynard, now that he emerged from his dark stage hole, appeared to be painted blue and nearly naked. After all that it was only a mild shock to hear him preaching positivity before they exited to voracious applause.
Tool is a band that consciously shuns the modern rock band archetype. They simply speak a different language than mainstream rock acts like Creed. Their music always carries a message, and their message has progressed from a dark and depressing (thus primitive) image of society-crushing-the-individual to one of ultimate spiritual transcendence, ably assisted by the art of Alex Gray. That such a band could sell out arenas across the land brings a smile to my face.
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Posted Monday, May 27, 2002
Sasha and Digweed
17 May 2002 – Fillmore Auditorium, Denver, CO
The wife was in the mood for dancing, and said she really liked the youthful energy of a good techno dance, so we went to one of our favorite indoor venues, the Fillmore Auditorium, which hosted Sasha and John Digweed Friday night. She had a feeling it would be good, and her intuition is often right on these things. Indeed there were lots of beautiful and energetic kids out for a good time standing outside the venue when we arrived. Always a good sign, we agreed. We got in the line to get in, and quickly realized she was in the guys’ line with me. She deftly snuck over to the girls’ line with her ticket, but I soon realized she would need her id. As soon as I started looking around for her, our eyes met, I mouthed “You need your ID, and passed it to her across three rows of people. The night seemed to have that sort of spontaneously alert energy.
Pairs of purple-lit chandeliers span the length of the Fillmore’s spacious hall over a large open dance floor surrounded by probably six bars. The wall on one side is covered with hundreds of concert photographs of all your favorite rock stars in action. We stepped up to one of the bars to order a Long Island iced tea for the missus and a screwdriver for me, when we realized the bartender was a friend of a friend who we’d met a few times and had once smoked up with me in the parking lot of a Bronco game. Angie recognized us and danced behind her dark glasses as she prepared our drinks; we surveyed the photographs along the wall. Besides a number I couldn’t name, we saw a sexy and tortured Fiona Apple up there plus one with the lead singer – a hooligan perhaps – poised slumped to the right, arms clasped behind his back. “Is that Oasis, Angie?” I asked, though I knew it must be, and she stepped over to confirm it. “We love those guys,” we confessed to her and she said she saw them last year with the Black Crowes. So had we, of course, and then she dropped a Bombshell of Earth Shattering Proportions. She’d heard a few days ago one of the Gallagher brothers had murdered his ex-wife in cold blood. We were stunned. I hadn’t heard of that, and though I tend to pay close attention it could have happened below my radar, and it’s interesting in theory just how plausible the story was. I could easily see either a drunken Liam or a calculating Noel doing something like that, which could only lead to the very public discrediting and ultimately humiliating disintegration of my favorite band. It would be a tremendous spectacle, the OJ Simpson of Rock ‘n’ Roll, only bigger and with a low-class Lymie accent.
I was rolling the idea over in my mind, ruing the fact I couldn’t confirm it Right Now as I’ve become accustomed in this Information Age, as we stepped onto the dance floor. We grew more tipsy as we snaked our way through the crowd toward the stage, finally parking ourselves in a high-traffic zone against a bank of huge speakers. Every half-second was a thunderous beat, and a pretty but timid melody surfed atop it, and tribal images flashed across the multitude of screens, as lights flashed abundantly. A fog machine occasionally belched a cloud of vapor, which a battery of laser shot through toward the back of the hall. Kids were dancing everywhere, most of them having a great time talking and scamming and making the rounds. The wife started losing herself in dancing, which is what she wanted and therefore what I wanted too, and my mind became reflective.
After an hour or so on the dance floor, we had finished four Long Island iced teas and a vodka-orange between us, and we stumbled to the back of the cavernous hall and parked ourselves at a convenient overlook right beneath a dozen laser beams emanating from the stage. It was there that a friendly young fellow named Matt introduced himself. Matt was from Shreveport, Louisiana in town visiting friends. He introduced his friend Daisy "from England" who hugged each of us and then absently bounced off into the crowd. Matt hung around awhile, and he explained to me the Secret of Sasha and Digweed, whose music had struck me thus far as serviceable but unremarkable. All night I had noticed there was only one dude up on the stage, and mused that either Sasha or Digweed had called in sick today. Matt explained that they do it tag team style, first one will spin for a time then the other will take over. That explained the periodic but subtle breaks in the flow. All in all I think they worked effectively as a tag team, but most of the kids there seemed lost in their own techno-fueled worlds of ecstasy and intrigue, and probably didn't care much beyond the excuse to party. I thanked Matt for the explanation and recommended he get his friends to take him to a show at Red Rocks next time he was in town.
A few minutes later, we headed for the car, and drove home through quaint little downtown Denver under a hazy fat crescent moon to the Verve's early gem Storm In Heaven. After forty-five minutes that felt like ten, we arrived at our home in the mountains and I ran upstairs to log on and check if one of the Gallaghers had gone and killed his ex, ruining everything.
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Posted Tuesday, May 14, 2002
CONCERT REVIEW: Alanis Morissette
11 May 2002 – Magness Arena, Denver, CO
You have to be careful of mystical signs. True, they often and easily lead one astray, but they can also warn of imposing danger. For example, if I had known beforehand that the moon and Venus were nearing conjunction
, the thought of going to this concert might have given me pause; you never know how such celestial mechanisms can affect the mysterious mind and body of the human female. Men, you will be heartened to know I have returned from an Alanis Morissette concert unharmed. I wasn’t stomped into the ground by campus femi-nazis raging at the oppressive patriarchy, nor torn limb from limb by bloodthirsty lesbians sacrificing to almighty Luna.
Before I get too carried away, let me reveal the dirty little secret behind Alanis’ songs: sure, they’re almost exclusively about relationships (has she written any lyrics in the third person?), and her considerable angst is usually directed at men, but deep down beneath all that, rest assured, the music does have balls.
We drove down from a friends’ party near Boulder, stopping at a liquor store for a couple shooters to sneak into what we wrongly feared would be another dreadfully dry all-ages concert in neoprohibitionist Denver. An hour and a half after the scheduled start time of the concert, we arrived at the University of Denver’s Magness Arena. Fortunately, our friend Kevin’s theory about rock shows never starting on time proved true in this case, as we walked in the door just as the opening act finished their last note. Good timing, we thought to ourselves, as we shunned our reserved seats and settled into the deserted stands across from the stage for a good view of the whole arena. A tangle of lighting structures bent over the stage, and roughly 2-3000 very enthusiastic fans crowded around. When Alanis finally mounted the stage forty-five minutes later she was greeted with a tremendous response, and the crowd was warm and zealous throughout; her fans clearly share a strong bond with her, and she heaped flattery on them all night long. “You guys rock,” she would say shyly in response to loud cheers, or “You guys are awesome!”.
Alanis is a very interesting character to watch onstage. She wore what looked like black leather pants with a black tank top, and her dark hair reached down to her lower back, providing her signature stage prop. More than once she could be seen bent over, swirling her head and hair around in great arcs with the music. Other times she was head banging ferociously, hair everywhere. She was clearly impassioned by her music, and so were the five men backing her. The three guitarists behind her were surprisingly energetic, jumping around and bobbing heads to their rock music. But the focal point was always the frontwoman, who paced around the stage like a lion in a cage. She’d take huge confident steps toward a corner of the stage, then step backwards a few steps before deciding whether to tack to the other corner or charge in the same direction again. Musically, the sound was better than I expected for what is essentially a huge barn, and the lighting was sufficient but clearly not the main point. She played at least half of the songs from her latest album, Under Rug Swept, but added a satisfying number of old classics. The highlight of the show was a blistering rendition of You Oughta Know that sounded so fresh and pissed off it could have been 1995 all over again. As I instinctively covered my balls, I was surprised to find that Alanis’ delivery was solid and inspired throughout. Doesn’t she tire of always singing so passionately about all these old but intensely personal experiences? I would, especially when I consider what must be a grueling tour schedule, and yet there she was dishing it out to a crowd that loved it. By the end of the second encore, she was chasing around the stage like Achilles after Hector around Troy, and quite a sight it was with her hair flying in tow.
All in all, it was an inspired – though not necessarily inspiring – concert and upon reflection the whole thing makes me long for a little old fashioned inconsequential male-driven rock ‘n’ roll. Where are the Strokes when you need them?