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.