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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.

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

Seeing is Believing: Bells Atlas, Pegasus Warning, and Mark de Clive-Lowe

1 Jul
Bells Atlas

Bells Atlas

Last Friday, June 26th, was a big day. Yesterday I dedicated a medley to the Supreme Court ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, but with that my day was only just getting started. That night, I also saw Bells Atlas give a life-affirming performance at the Lyric Theater.

The warm up act was something to behold. At times, I wanted to call it a stereotypical weird local act, but Pegasus Warning undoubtedly has talent. Pegasus Warning is the moniker of Guillermo E. Brown, and I was tempted to shout, “Pegasus, that’s you!” but I controlled myself. He had a voice that impressed, but all in all it was quite a lackadaisical performance. Even still, Brown had a good rapport with the crowd, which gave him the perfect platform to experiment, and he certainly left his mark.

Bells Atlas were next to take the stage, and they did more than just take it, they commanded it. The talent exuded in all of them individually is what draws me to their music, showing that such an amalgam of sound can be so satisfying, and seeing it live was breath-taking. The driving force of Bells Atlas is obviously in their vocalist Sandra Lawson-Ndu, whose voice killed it in person.

Guitarist Derek Barber

Guitarist Derek Barber

My favorite track, “Bling,” which features quite an interesting lyrical construction, truly came to life in the live performance. As an aspiring drummer (in my head only), I also thought that Geneva Harrison was on point. The precision of each track is often dependent on her rhythm, and she lived up to the challenge. Bassist Doug Stuart offered his vocals on “Sugar For the Queen,” another track that expands on the versatility of this band. If you haven’t heard their Hyperlust EP yet, set aside fifteen minutes later today and give it a go, you will not regret it.

To cap off the night was a rousing set from New Zealand-born, LA-based DJ, Mark de Clive-Lowe. Nia Andrews joined him on few tracks, and her voice floated beautifully along with the beats of Clive-Lowe. Most of the crowd disappeared after Bells Atlas concluded, which made the venue seem pretty empty, but that just meant more space for- and less people to judge- my uncoordinated dancing.

Buy Bells Atlas’s Hyperlust EP here. Find more information on Bells Atlas on their website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Find more information on Pegasus Warning on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Find more information on Mark de Clive-Lowe on his website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Soundcloud.

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