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.