Entries tagged “live.”

LCD Soundsystem and my rescue from the precipice of fogeyism

When I was in high school, I was perplexed by a trend I saw in adults’ listening habits. While I was gobbling up just about any record I could get my hands on, old folks seemed to be perfectly content with a small assortment of artists or albums. When you’re 17, every new album feels like a breakthrough, a mind-blowing horizon expansion in your eardrums. How could anyone not buy the new album by [insert critically-hyped up-and-comer here]?

I don’t think I truly understood this phenomenon until I sold all of my White Stripes records. I used to adore that band. There was a time when De Stijl would have been in the “Top 10 Albums of All Time” list in my head. But via the White Stripes, I discovered the Black Keys. I found out about Chicago blues artists like Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Magic Sam and Buddy Guy. I bought my first Stooges record (Fun House) because of the White Stripes.

After all that, I didn’t need the White Stripes anymore. Everything I loved about them was available in purer form. They were rendered redundant by their predecessors. When you have The Velvet Underground and Modern Lovers, you wonder why anyone really cared about The Strokes to begin with. Will Black Rebel Motorcycle Club ever outdo The Jesus and Mary Chain? Probably not.

This feeling of redundancy has started to plague most new music I hear, and I only passionately dig a handful of artists that formed post-2000. St. Vincent is one of them. Art Brut are great. I love Gorillaz, but mostly because I’m jonesing for a new Blur album. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fujiya & Miyagi and Arcade Fire are hit-or-miss. Cut Copy and Vivian Girls are pretty good.

2010.05.29 LCD Soundsystem @ RoselandBut LCD Soundsystem? LCD are bloody fantastic.

I’m not sure what it is about a new LCD Soundsystem album that impresses me almost as much as the first time I heard the Talking Heads’ Remain In Light. They certainly aren’t immune to the same criticisms I cast upon their peers. In their music, you can hear pieces of the Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Daft Punk, The Stranglers, The Executive Slacks, The Fall, James Chance and the Contortions, David Bowie and many others. Yet somehow, it feels like its own sentient entity.

It could be that the man behind the moniker, James Murphy, has simply combined elements of dance and house music with punk and synth-pop in a novel way, but this assessment is overly clinical at best. Regardless of what musical genres LCD Soundsystem bends or twists, the key ingredient for this band remains a hardy, consistent sense of earnest authenticity.

2010.05.29 LCD Soundsystem @ RoselandThe compositions are created without the aid of modern computers or software. The lyrics aren’t written until the day the song’s recorded. The shows are played without click tracks or samples. Any element that would distance the listener from the process of creation has been removed or minimized. Any American Idol contestant can sing and be enjoyed. It’s another quality altogether to be believable. The former is the key to radio superstardom, the latter to relevance and impact.

LCD’s show at the Roseland on May 29 was the third time I’d seen them play. The first was in 2005 at the Wonder Ballroom, an infamous show nearly derailed by overzealous PlayStation sponsorship (and exacerbated by the resultantly miffed Portland hipsters). The second was at Coachella in 2007 amidst a sea of inebriated club kids and ravers. Last week, I finally saw them perform a show without any such caveats and found myself overwhelmed by their energy, evocation and honesty.

Maybe I am becoming that cranky old man complaining about the kids and their new-fangled rock-and-roll music. Maybe I need to think about trading in my LiLiPUT and Lizzy Mercier Descloux albums for the standard-issue No Jacket Required and an Eagles compilation.

But then I hear LCD play, and all of that goes out the window.

Pixies Play Doolittle at Eugene’s Hult Center

Pixies performing, photo by rstoker on Flickr

Fun fact: Pixies frontman Black Francis and I share a birthday. Whether this is mere coincidence or evidence of a divine orchestration responsible for my ongoing love of this band I’ll leave for believers and skeptics to debate.

I vividly remember putting the Pixies’ Doolittle on for the first time and listening to it in the car on the way to school. Predictably, “Debaser” remains my favorite song, etched into my brain as soon as I heard that predatory bass guitar. Hearing Black Francis’s scream for the first time was like getting a punch in the stomach that shakes out all your dust and cobwebs. It was exhilarating and dangerous, and it changed the way I felt about rock and roll.

IMG_0444You can imagine my excitement as Mallory and I shuffled into the Hult Center in Eugene to see them perform their seminal album in sequence, in its entirety. To the possible chagrin of my fellow concert-goers’ indie hipster pretenses, I couldn’t suppress my smile. Neither could bassist Kim Deal or drummer David Lovering for the entirety of their set.

The band played the best I’ve ever heard to one of the most enthusiastic crowds I’ve ever been a part of. Doolittle was impressively solid, accompanied by some unique and appropriately atmospheric visuals (possibly a first for the band). Hearing the collective audience’s voices swell with the lyrics of “Hey” as they echoed throughout the beautiful concert hall was one of many highlights. The set was book-ended with a selection of b-sides, both oft-heard (“Dancing the Manta Ray”) and rarely performed (“Bailey’s Walk”).

The house lights came on as the Pixies took the stage for their final encore of the night, a visual indication that the Doolittle theme had been discarded in favor of roaring through songs like “Isla De Encanta” and “Where Is My Mind?” We exited the theater completely exhilarated and in disbelief. Despite having seen a Pixies performance in some form or another four times prior, they had outdone themselves almost effortlessly. Simply a stunning display.

Pixies are offering a four-track sampler of their live set for free. While I don’t think it matches the primal splendor of their live experience, it might be just the taste you need to seek them out.

Read the rest of this entry…

Experience Begets Relevance at Video Games Live

Photo 3When Erik Jung, Peter Wooley and I worked at US Digital as the company’s first internal design team, our office established a small but fun tradition. Every day, control of the room’s sound system would rotate between us. From 2-4pm, the DJ for the day would subject his co-workers to the music of his choosing. It started discussions, inspired creativity and was just plain cool.

All three of us had overlap in our musical tastes (we all dig Daft Punk, for example) but with very broad deviations. I dug a lot of punk and art rock. Erik had a passion for film soundtracks and rare, vinyl-only recordings. And Peter enjoyed video game soundtracks.

I hated video game soundtracks. They seemed to lack any context whatsoever, naked without the gameplay they were composed to support. Experiencing them on their own felt pretentious, incomplete, a mere novelty. Put simply, I just didn’t get it.

Peter and I attended Video Games Live at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall this past Saturday, and I think it changed my mind.

Photograph by Peter of VGL (pre-show)

Any reader of this blog knows how big a fan I am of live shows. Many of the bands I love today didn’t come alive for me until I saw them perform. You can’t know how textural Will Sergeant’s guitar playing really is until you’ve seen Echo and the Bunnymen live. Ray Davies’ pure craftsmanship, certainly audible in Kinks recordings, somehow ignites when performed to an enthusiastic and energized crowd. There’s something about the experience of music that is inherently visceral, perhaps even vital.

In Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists, former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne suggests that we’re hard-wired to feel this way:

David ByrneIn the past, music was something you heard and experienced — it was as much a social event as a purely musical one. Before recording technology existed, you could not separate music from its social context. Epic songs and ballads, troubadours, courtly entertainments, church music, shamanic chants, pub sing-alongs, ceremonial music, military music, dance music — it was pretty much all tied to specific social functions. It was communal and often utilitarian. You couldn’t take it home, copy it, sell it as a commodity (except as sheet music, but that’s not music), or even hear it again. Music was an experience, intimately married to your life. You could pay to hear music, but after you did, it was over, gone — a memory.


We’ll always want to use music as part of our social fabric: to congregate at concerts and in bars, even if the sound sucks; to pass music from hand to hand (or via the Internet) as a form of social currency; to build temples where only “our kind of people” can hear music (opera houses and symphony halls); to want to know more about our favorite bards — their love lives, their clothes, their political beliefs. This betrays an eternal urge to have a larger context beyond a piece of plastic. One might say this urge is part of our genetic makeup.

At Video Games Live, I experienced the history of gaming in sight and sound with the aid of the Oregon Symphony and Pacific Youth Choir, conducted by Jack Wall (Myst, Mass Effect) and hosted by Tommy Tallarico (Earthworm Jim, Metroid Prime). As I sat among my fellow geeks, cheering at the site of Sonic the Hedgehog creator Yuji Naka, the opening title of the NES Metroid, footage of Ralph Baer testing an early version of Pong in 1968 and Martin Leung playing the Super Mario Bros. theme blind-folded, I realized what we all were really responding to.

It was the experience of these games, the fun and adventure they provided, and the soundtrack that is intrinsically linked to our memories. This music, thoughtfully composed and lovingly executed, is no more shallow than any other genre strengthened by the energy of a live performance.

Needless to say, the show was a wonderfully geeky good time. Read the rest of this entry…

Depeche Mode at the Key Arena

Dave Gahan performing with Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode is an act irreversibly associated with the electricity, exuberance and androgyny of the 1980s despite the fact that their classic best seller, Violator, did not arrive until March of 1990 (Wikipedia). In that album and its successor Songs of Faith and Devotion (lovingly referred to by fans as SOFAD and arguably deserving of equal acclaim), Depeche Mode abandoned the arbitrary purity sought after by many electronic bands in favor of (gasp) playing guitars!

Debuting most perceptibly in the song “Personal Jesus” (and arguably perfected in “I Feel You”), what songwriter Martin Gore calls “electronic blues” (Spin) is really the sound of a band embracing performance in service of song over style. Monday’s show at Seattle’s Key Arena had plenty of both for over ten thousand frantic attendees.

Martin Gore performing with Depeche Mode at the Key ArenaAccompanying the band in their set of twenty-one career-spanning selections (including rarely performed treats such as “Fly on the Windscreen”) were a set of striking visuals by Anton Corbijn. While lacking the jaw-dropping “ah” factor of Nine Inch Nails’ Lights in the Sky tour, Anton’s imagery continues to define a large amount of the band’s aesthetic as it has for over twenty years. It is to his credit that the backdrops often competed with the audio for the viewer’s attention.

Frontman Dave Gahan’s well-documented (and oft-mimicked) performance style delivered itself passionately and compellingly, but Martin Gore stole the show in terms of emotional impact and heartfelt performance even when standing in the sidelines. Whether behind a keyboard, guitar or microphone, it seems Gore is extremely adept at conjuring a genuine sense of yearning and honesty.

In Dave and Martin’s bare duet of “Waiting for the Night,” the last song of the evening, the band summarized why they’ve remained an ever-present force in the ears of millions of listeners far-removed from their native decade. It’s not about the synthesizers; it’s about the songs.

(Though it certainly doesn’t hurt if they’re danceable.)

Photos from Depeche Mode’s tour blog.

Black Francis at the Aladdin

Black Francis performing at the Aladdin theaterI listened to crap before I discovered two bands in high school. The first was Blur. The second was Pixies.

When Blur frontman Damon Albarn came stateside with his band The Good, the Bad and the Queen in 2007, I traveled to California to see him. He probably could have been touring with a polka/throat-singing group and I still would have attempted to show up. Certain visionaries have so much creative impact on me that getting a glimpse, in person, of how they engineer their works of art fuels and inspires me as an artist.

Charles Thompson, a.k.a. Black Francis, a.k.a. Frank Black, is one of those geniuses. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him thrice now; once with the Pixies, once with a band in Eugene, and once last Tuesday at the Aladdin for a solo acoustic set.

The term “acoustic” is used loosely in this case, as Charles played an electric guitar. But if the sound was not acoustic in the strictest sense, it hit all the other requirements of an acoustic show:

  • Mandatory seating
  • An eclectic mix of the artist’s work interpreted in new, more minimal ways
  • An intimate storytelling experience with the artist
Having heard Charles perform many a Pixies song, it was a wonderful treat to hear versions of his earlier solo work like “I Heard Ramona Sing,” “Headache” and “Two Wheelers” in addition to staples like “Cactus” and “Where Is My Mind?” His rendition of “Velouria” in particular was moving and beautiful.

Charles’ roar is certainly best served by a solid (or at least predatory) rhythm section driving him forward, but stripped of supporting musicians it’s clear that the essence of the Pixies’ earnest-yet-dangerous sound is alive, well and playing not-quite-acoustic shows up and down the west coast.