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Review: Arcade Fire at MSG

22 Sep
Arcade Fire In Concert - New York City

Credit: Billboard

When I attend a concert I intend on reviewing I take a series of mental notes to add content and spice to the review. Generally, the notes are brief and dull, a collection of tracks the band performed well and perhaps some words on the audience. However, Arcade Fire’s Sept. 12 performance at Madison Square Garden garnered an eclectic series of notes, perhaps most akin to that of a tropical birthday party of an eccentric retired boxer.

  • Boxing ring for a stage. Seriously, not just a box stage. There are ropes. The band enters through the crowd on the floor while mock boxing statistics are projected onto the board.
  • The board features some jerky animated individual with a western drawl and TV static for a face. It’s mighty odd. That is replaced with alien advertisements for products during songs from the Everything Now album – the band is on point with its social commetary
  • Haitian dancers for “Haiti.” That makes sense. Nice touch
  • Great moment for Hurricane Harvey relief – Win Butler plays The Suburbs in honor of the city of Houston and urges individuals to donate to a charity that is projected on all of the screens
  • The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the opening act, comes back for the final tracks during the encore – the sound is electric.

Pair those notes with a sold out MSG crowd with a crowded dance floor and perpetual sing-alongs, especially with “Wake Up” – which was practically yelled by the crowd – at the end of the concert, and you have a vibrant, eccentric concert. Like anyone would expect anything less from the Indie Rock superstars. Since released Funeral in 2004, Arcade Fire has blended creative Indie Rock with mainstream sing-alongs and accessible tracks – always balancing aberrant, polarizing sounds with catchy melodies. That is Arcade Fire’s charm, and a big reason why they were able to sell out MSG with an unsurprisingly engaged collection of fans spanning the band’s history.

I saw the band once before during their Reflektor Tour, but this go-around seemed more electric and inspired. The band seemed more confident. They sprawled around their boxing ring stage like predators, playing each track with an effervescence engendered by the raucous crowd. You could sense just how much the band enjoys what they do and there appreciation that people like the product. This vivacity never faded throughout the concert and the band practically had to be forced off the floor, playing an amalgamation of the chorus of “Wake Up” and “Stand By Me” as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band buttressed the performers as they walked toward the side entrance, Win Butler, the lead singer of Arcade Fire, singing until he finally got to the tunnel. A fitting end to a unique concert by a skilled band at the prime of its career.

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Black Sabbath Blazes Jones Beach – 8/17/16

25 Aug
of Black Sabbath perform onstage at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on August 18, 2016 in Wantagh, New York.

Black Sabbath perform onstage at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on August 18, 2016 in Wantagh, New York. Credit Getty Images

On the concert poster that supports Black Sabbath’s “The End” farewell 80-date tour an inferno encompasses the Northern Hemisphere of Earth. That includes the south shore of Long Island that at times this summer has felt a bit like the portrayed firestorm. On August 17, Black Sabbath started the second leg of the North America swing of its farewell tour at Jones Beach Theater and with the help of 15,000 raucous fans set the beach ablaze (figuratively, of course) with a vehement and booming show.

Before I get to breaking down Sabbath, let’s start with the turn out. I’ve been to plenty of concerts at Jones Beach, and I’ve never seen it as crowded as it was that night. The turn out was a fascinating mix of black-clad Sabbath fans. The mark of a great band is its ability to attract a range of fans, and Sabbath has developed that loyal following over the 45+ years of existence. The opening act was a band I had the opportunity to profile back in February. You can check that out by following that link. The band was an excellent choice as an opening act. Rival Sons plays a style of Southern Rock injected with heavy metal vocals and instrumentals. Back in February I wrote that the band features “old-style rock n’ roll music with a keen blues sound, driving percussion, and raspy vocals,” but after seeing them live I’d like to emend those descriptions, and add that the band can also crush a lick and headbang with the metal bunch. Rival Sons is an original sound, and you should check them out. Plus, the keys/synth player has an Amish-style beard that is all kinds of awesome.

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                   He’s the one on the left but you can’t really see the mega beard

Black Sabbath played a 14-song set in around 2 hours. The set featured the classics, but the band dispersed the hits throughout the nights, which was kind of them: I hate when bands wait until the last three songs to play the top hits. After a dystopic video opening (the video was a cool supplement throughout the show except for when it stopped working for around 15 minutes, but what are you going to do), Black Sabbath came out to the apropos “Black Sabbath,” and Ozzy, the grand master of wicked ceremonies, greeted the crowd with an energy that can be best described as effervescence. Throughout the night, he bounced around the stage, throwing up his hands to rile up the crowd, and leading several call-and-response lyric and clap sessions. He even prostrated twice and professed his love for the fans. He was Ozzy at his finest, and he made it explicitly clear how much he enjoys to be on stage. The concert must have also been joyous for Tony Iommi, who was diagnosed with the early stages of lymphona in 2012 but announced only a few days prior to the concert that his cancer was in remission. Iommi is a wonderful guitarist, and he proved it with his usual stage adeptness and fretboard adroitness that he has had his entire career. Also, let’s give love to Geezer Butler whose bass is not made with any animal products; he is a strict vegan (which I find excellent as a vegetarian and husband to a vegan). Butler mans a potent bass guitar, and did so throughout the concert. The rest of Black Sabbath is keyboardist Adam Wakeman, who strangely played the role of man behind the curtain, as he was not actually visible on stage; Ozzy said it was because he was too ugly, but I think the massive amplifiers blocked him, and session drummer Tommy Clufetos, who played a sick drum solo during “Rat Salad” that gave the rest of the band a piss and water break, and entertained the crowd thoroughly.

All-in-all, what else can I say. Black Sabbath was tremendous. The crowd loved every second of the show. It was a riotous affair. Yes, Ozzy, we had fun. Excellent show. Get tickets to this one if you can.

Musicians on Tour – Great Concerts in 2016

31 Jan

Are you available to see a concert in the year 2016? You are? Excellent. This post will have some applicability for you. A great concert is ineffable. From the purchase of the tickets to the anticipation to the moment when the band/artist comes out on stage to the tinny sound of ringing ears as you are pouring out the venue, live shows have a special place in the musical muscles of melody seekers. To help you in the quest to find that perfect concert this year, here are a few tours that might be coming to your backyard in 2016.

Note: Billy Joel is not on this list, even though he has almost taken a permanent residence in Madison Square Garden – much like a Broadway play or Las Vegas residence.

Black Sabbath – The End Tour

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Although Ozzy had to postpone some recent dates because of a bout of sinusitis, Black Sabbath – as current constituted with Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, and Geezer Butler – started its goodbye tour in Omaha to be completed in September. The pioneers of heavy metal music are technically touring their recent release The End. This is the last time you will be able to see the band that brought the music world “Iron Man,” “Paranoid,” and, well, Ozzy Osbourne.

Tour Dates

Fall Out Boy – Wintour is Coming

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Fall out Boy has made an impressive comeback after a 4-year hiatus (which ended in 2013) with songs like “Uma Thurman” and “Centuries,” which line its new album American Beauty/American Psycho. Now, the band is touring, and if the Game of Thrones pun is any indication the tour will be quite engaging. What’s even better is FOB wisely chose AWOLNATION (and Pvris) to open for the show; AWOLNATION is one of the most exciting bands out there. This should be an awesome show.

Tour Dates

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – The River Tour

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BRUCE!!! To celebrate the release of The Ties that Bind: The River Collection, a 52-track, 4-hour video collection celebrating the 35th anniversary of The River, Bruce has once again set out on a massive tour that will seem him traversing the continental U.S.; he will also be heading to Portugal for a date in May. The show has been typical Bruce, fit with 30+ songs from his extensive collection.

Tour Dates

Florence + The Machine – How Beautiful Tour

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Florence Welch, who my sister widely regards as “The Goddess,” is an unbelievably talented musician who, with her tremendous Machine, recently released How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, which features songs like “What Kind of Man,”  and “Queen of Peace” and has been widely regarded as a mature, strong release. The tour, which starts in May, is well worth seeing if you have the ability to do so.

Tour Dates

Coldplay – A Head full of Dreams Tour

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Oh, Coldplay. You have to give the Britpop band some major credit; Coldplay has been around since 1996 and is still creating unique music. The band is a true chameleon; it is constantly transforming its sound, not necessarily to create mass-market sounds, but, instead, to constantly recreate its music. This strategy is clearly working as the band is gearing up for another tremendous world tour that will include a stop in San Francisco next week for the Superbowl. Go to a Coldplay show if you can; the band is awesome live.

Tour Dates

Ben Folds and yMusic Rocked That Paramount

2 Nov

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One of the reasons why Ben Folds has found consistent success over his now quarter-of-a-century-old music career is his musical malleability. Folds has now done everything from releasing successful albums with Ben Folds Five to collaborating with musicians like Regina Spektor and Weird Al Yankovich. He has created experimental literature/music compilations with writers like Nick Hornby and has even starred as an erudite judge in the NBC a cappella show “The Sing Off,” where he was able to show off his musical knowledge and pipes. Yes, Ben Folds has seemingly done it all. His next endeavor: combining forces with a classical music troupe with a penchant for modernizing orchestral music.

So There, released this past September, features several pieces with yMusic Ensemble, and might just be his best collaboration yet. Folds’ music, specifically his solo material, is adorned with elegant instrumentals that sparkle like bedizened clothing, but do not touch rococo overemphasis, instead including just the correct amount of tasteful musical goodness. In celebration of his new album, Folds just embarked on a tour with yMusic, and I had the opportunity to see them at the Paramount in Huntington, a beautiful club venue that is spacious and modern. The concert, like all Folds’ concerts, was conversational and effervescent; Folds is himself – like him or not – and this candor finds its way into his verbal ramblings and music theory rants.

Folds always garners a knowledgeable crowd and almost everyone in the audience was aware of Folds’ on-stage antics, which did not change – if anything they were highlighted – despite the appearance of yMusic, who created a U around Folds’ piano, which was set a little back on stage adjacent to the drums. Folds mused on stories that formed songs and the dangers of sleep deprivation, all while nailing every note and assuring that all members were held accountable, including himself – at one point he stopped the beginning of a song because he did not like his opening note. When improvising his always topical “Rock This Bitch,” he seemed to have fun challenging his panel of accomplished musicians with complex scales and pauses.

The highlights of the night were the band’s energetic performances of Jesusland,” “Steven’s Last Night in Town,” “You Don’t Know Me,” and, of course, the crowd-aided, encore song about a LSD trip turned born-again Christian conversion, “Not the Same.” Each song was played with such eager ardor; Ben Folds loves what he does.

Seeing is Believing: Astronauts, etc, Harriet Brown, and Swim Team

13 Jul
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Astronauts, etc

Last Tuesday marked Astronauts, etc’s first LA performance, and much to Anthony Ferraro’s surprise, tons of people turned up. And it’s easy to see why: all three artists on the bill are signed to Hit City U.S.A., one of my favorite labels currently. (Also signed: Kisses, Lord Huron, James Supercave. Right?!) Continue reading

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