My review of Sufjan Stevens’ “Christmess Sing-a-Long” — or to use its full, formal designation, the Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long: Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice — at the 9:30 Club Saturday night appears in today’s Washington Post. Continue reading
It’s a death trap! It’s a suicide rap! And so on.
My love of Bruce Springsteen is not exactly news. It may no longer even qualify as infotainment. He played the single best concert I’ve ever seen anyone play, out of hundreds of bands and artists. (This is merely a partial list.) There is nothing remotely controversial about the assertion he is the greatest live performer in the history of rock and roll.
I wrote all of this down three years ago, after I saw him play his penultimate show of 2009, in Baltimore’s appealingly small and out-of-date sports area, the end of a busy two-year tour wherein he also made one of his worst albums. Basking in the glow of that remarkable show in the days afterward, I knew if I were never to see Springsteen and the E Street band play again, I’d be fine with that.
I had a Born in the U.S.A. on cassette when I was a little kid, but it wasn’t until college that I became a hardcore Springsteen fan. His Live 1975-85 album (three discs, because I got it in the CD era) and his solo acoustic, recorded-in-his-bedroom Nebraska album were the documents most directly responsible for my conversion. At the time I was discovering this music, Springsteen hadn’t toured with the E Street Band in seven years. Another four would pass before they’d announced they were reuniting.
Those reunion shows in 1999 and 2000 were remarkable. I saw five concerts on that tour. They were different from the shows Bruce and the band had played in the 70s and 80s, the ones I had heard only on cherished (and in the pre-broadband era, expensive) bootlegs. There was no intermission. Bruce’s meandering, easily parodied, improvised on-stage stories were gone, replaced by a gospel preacher schtick. The shows tended to be about two-and-a-half hours long — a generous amount of stage time from anyone but Springsteen, who had regularly broken the three-hour mark all through his twenties and thirties.
His twenties and his thirties. Continue reading
We bought a smoke machine.
My first DCist post of 2012 is a review of a very fine show by the very fine Canadian stadium-rockers-in-waiting Metric.
Three out of five original Beach Boys are still kicking.
of Friday’s night’s Beach Boys concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion is in today’s Washington Post. I thought it was odd that the 14-piece band played along to the recorded vocal track of Dennis Wilson (d. 1983) singing “Forever” and then to a recording of Carl Wilson (d. 1998) singing “God Only Knows,” but the fact that “Heroes and Villains” made the setlist inclines me to forgive them anything. Continue reading
"44 years of performing experience! 30 years of psychiatric evaluation!" Photo by Erica Bruce.
Last Thursday, I road-tripped up to Philadelphia for what I think was my 15th Bruce Springsteen concert (but only my 14th with the pants-droppin’, heart-stoppin’, Earth-shakin’, booty-quakin,’ love-makin’, Viagara-takin’ etc., etc. E Street Band) since 1999. Three nights later, I saw my 16th (15th) here in DC at the Verizon Center.
For the City Paper, I wrote up some thoughts on the DC show, which differed significantly from the Philly one as you can see from the handy setlist table I have prepared below. Clip it out of your iPad’s retina display and post in your cubicle as a source of hourly inspiration! Continue reading
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Tagged Ben Stiller, Bruce Springsteen, concerts, Fred Armisen, music, Saturday Night Live, setlists, Steven Van Zandt, The E Street Band, The Sopranos, Verizon Center, Washington City Paper
“I’ll be your substitute teacher for the remainder of the concert,” preened 57-year-old David Lee Roth last night, midway through Van Halen’s wry, spry two-hour gig at a sold-out Verizon Center. He was freestyling a new spoken interlude, as is his wont, to a resistence-is-futile Van Halen classic that already featured plenty of chitchat, “Hot for Teacher.”
Substitute? Puh-shaw! He’s the real guy!
This wasn’t Van Halen’s first tour with their cocksure original singer since they kicked him out of the band in the mid-eighties. Roth and the trio of Van Halens — guitar god Eddie, drummer Alex, and 21-year-old spawn-of-Eddie Wolfgang on the bass — made up and made a killing on the road in ‘07 and ‘08.
This time, Eddie kept his shirt on and instead flogged A Different Kind of Truth, the group’s first new album together since 1984 in 1984, approximately 125 Earth-years ago. Performed at detail-eradicating volume, the handful of new songs sounded enough like the circa 1978-84 warhorses dominating the set that no one seemed to notice. Roth’s attempt to get the mostly age-40-and-up crowd to sing “Tah! Too! Tah! Too!” during a new jam entitled, uh, “Tattoo” flamed out a lot faster than his post-Halen solo career did, though. Continue reading
Bruce Springsteen announced U.S. tour dates this morning. He’ll be here in DC on April Fool’s Day. So I’ll just get this over with: Bruuuuuuuce!
Thank you. And now, let us proceed.
When The Boss announced the title and release date of his forthcoming album Wrecking Ball last week, I just couldn’t see past its abysmal cover, an area in which he has been a career offender. I noted that Wrecking Ball is also the title of a very fine Emmylou Harris album from 1995. Dana Stevens, Slate’s superb film critic, noticed that too.
(When I was on the Filmspotting podcast the week after Stevens, I tried to say how much I admire her writing and how honored I was to follow her on the show, but it came out wrong. I apologize for that, Ma’am.)
Anyway, we exchanged a few Tweets about that title. “Title re-use doesn’t infringe copyright, but it’s crass,” Stevens wrote. I pointed out that Emmylou got the title from Neil Young, whose song “Wrecking Ball” (from his 1989 album Freedom) Emmylou covered on her album Wrecking Ball. Got all that?
“If Bruce covers the Neil Young song on this record, then the nab is vindicated,” Stevens concluded. Continue reading
I covered the first of Beirut’s two-night, tour-ending stand at 9:30 Club last night for the Washington Post. Read all about it in the paper-paper version, or see the version on Click Track for a few more of Josh Sisk’s fine photos from the show.
Elvis Costello and the Spectacular Spinning Songbook at the Warner Theatre last night.
Surely you know all about Elvis Costello‘s fantastical, angle-free song-selecting device. I wrote about some of the lesser-known jams it chose for him to play at Warner Theatre last night.
In 2008, I wrote about Elvis’s first Warner Theatre gig in 1978. (I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard it.)
Gillian Welch posted her Strathmore setlist on her Twitter feed this morning.
Ain’t never heard a horse sing no song.
I reviewed Gillian Welch and David Rawlings‘s concert at the Music Hall at Strathmore last night for the Washington Post. It was great. It was better than that. There wasn’t a bum note all night. Continue reading
Why yes, I am fairly pleased with this hed for my DCist review of U2′s visit to Baltimore last night on their stadium-straddling 360 Tour. I can talk your damn ear off about this band, which you know if you’ve known me longer than ten minutes. Now it can be told: U2′s most famous member, whom I had more class than to refer to as “the world’s tallest short person” in my review, is responsible for the title of this very blog.
My confederate Kyle Gustafson did not take the photo above, but he did shoot many excellent photographs at the concert, which I encourage you to enjoy as part of the review or on his own site.
Also, I went to a Michael Buble concert this week. I thought it was good, even if a few people who read my review thought I was raining on the guy just because I don’t think much of most of his original songs. But I like him just fine when he’s singing standards, and as a live performer — a guy who is fully present when he’s on stage; whose mildly blue (turquoise?) quips and dance steps don’t seem rehearsed to death, and who’ll draw out a tween-song interlude to five minutes as long as the jokes don’t dry up — I really do think he’s aces. “The American media thinks that because I wear a suit and sing romantic songs that this is some Sex and the City 3 shit,” he told us. “I’m here to change that perception.” The first time I saw him play, three years ago, he did exactly that. Ring a ding ding!
When you fling a bra into the abyss, the abyss flings it back at you.
…where, ah, “the abyss” is the possibly-biggest-selling, certainly-biggest-sounding band in indie rock. Specifically, Arcade Fire. More specifically, Régine Chassagne, singer and co-songwriter and spouse of frontman Win Butler, who, late in Arcade Fire’s ecstatic 95-minute concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion last night, briefly abandoned her post behind the piano to toss that ladies’ garmet (which might actually have been a halter top; it was hard to see) back to its owner. This isn’t 1987 and we’re not Poison, her revolted glare seemed to scold.
Of course, it could very well have been circa-1987 U2, what with the urgent vastness of the music; the related sense of a big, important band grown huge and courting self-importance; and also the lack of any detectable awareness of sex– which is kind of weird, given how driving and propulsive Arcade Fire’s most arresting music is. On a tune like “Rebellion (Lies)”, the dizzying set-closer that invited the bra-throw, all eight musicians on stage were basically playing percussion, and almost all of them were shouting the lyrics whether they had microphones or not. Continue reading
(Two-thirds of) The New Pornographers. From Canada!
Who was it who said that 90 percent of success in life is showing up? Was that Woody Guthrie? Allen Ginsberg? Vince Lombardi? Brian Eno? T-Pain? It was somebody smart, and he or she was almost certainly discussing a concert by The New Pornographers, Canada’s pop musical Justice League whose legend far eclipses that of any of its individual superheroes (with the eternal exception of the exceptional alt-country chanteuse Neko Case). When the group can field its complete nine-strong roster — a feat they haven’t always managed when playing Our Nation’s Capitol — the results are seldom less then splendid. Continue reading
So there was Conan at DAR Constitution Hall last night, dressed in what he said was Eddie Murphy’s catsuit from Raw, possibly signaling his awareness of the perils that await the comic who lets his moment of cultural primacy go to his head. Raw came out in 1988. Eddie Murphy’s last good movie was, I think, Boomerang, from 1992.
Conan is even rocking Eddie’s odd pose from Raw in the first photo there. My phone is to a real camera what I am to a real photographer, but I figured you’d want to see these anyway on your way over to checking out the City Paper’s Arts Desk debrief of the DC stop on Conan’s almost-done Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour. (SPOILER: It was good, but not great, but we liked it anyway.)
This discussion, which I failed to grasp was being “recorded” and would be presented to you, the reader, with minimal editing, stars Benjamin R. Freed and CP arts editor Jonathan L. Fischer and one Christopher T. Klimek, whom I suspect may have been drunk for at least part of it. It’s choppy and discursive and long-winded and confusing, but that’s all part of the choppy, discursive, long-winded fun. Continue reading
So Elvis Costello is playing in town tonight. I am a fan. I admire a lot of things about Elvis besides the fact that he’s written hundreds of songs, a very high percentage of which I find listenable, dozens I think are pretty great, and at least a handful I don’t know how I lived without. (Not ’til I was 22 did a pal give me a copy of the The Very Best of Elvis Costello & The Attractions, if you can believe.)
Admittedly, my can’t-live-without E.C. playlist does not include anything from, say, the album he made with Anne Sofie von Otter, or the one he made with Burt Bacharach. But I commend his adventurousness and versatility, and especially his work ethic: He’s always giving songs away, interviewing Lou Reed or Bruce Springsteen or Bill Clinton on premium cable, singing on other people’s records, teaching himself musical notation 20 years into his career, composing a ballet, making unaccountable cameos in movies like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, writing an opera, and here and there tossing off another perfectly nasty rock song like it’s nothing. Dude always has four projects cooking and and nine more on the back burner, and he seems to pay for his collection of funny hats by flying around playing concerts that seldom repeat a setlist and regularly clock in around two-and-a-half hours. So: Respect.
Of course, Elvis’s productivity and idiomatic wanderlust are the selfsame qualities that can make him seem like an annoying magpie, especially to listeners who only want to hear him spit venom about Liv Tyler’s mom while keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas open up the throttle. Continue reading
“There’s something about the authoritative wrong note that I’ve always really liked,” opined John Mayer at the Verizon Center Saturday night.
You think? Ever since his racy, racially inflammatory musings in a Playboy interview* hit the web, Mayer — the 32-year-old, six-foot-plus, sensitive balladeer and guitar lothario who once took home a Grammy for a song called “Your Body Is a Wonderland” — has been in a defensive crouch. For his 3.1 million Twitter followers, the rest has been (mostly) silence since 2:26 p.m. on Feb. 10, when he fretted, “They don’t make rehab centers for being an a-hole.”
That night, he nearly broke down on stage in Nashville, fumbling through two minutes, 50 seconds of awkward, apparently heartfelt apology for saying — well, he said plenty. Let it suffice that the interview begged the question of why megaselling albums like 2006’s Continuum and last year’s Battle Studies are such stubbornly
milquetoast insipid affairs when their singularly self-aware author seems to have at least a boxed set’s worth of early-Prince freakitude inside him. Continue reading
By Thursday morning last week, I had made up my mind to give the show Bruce Springsteen played in Baltimore on Friday night a pass. My attempts to procure a ticket through honorable means had failed. The aftermarket bidding for general admission tickets to the arena floor, where my friends would be, had inflated beyond my rationally justifiable price range. I’d already seen the great man perform with the E Street Band twice in 2009; five times in the last 24 months. That’s enough Boss, surely.
Even before I was a semi-pro critic, I was skeptical of superlatives. To me, they always reduced criticism to mere marketing. I don’t even like the year-end lists nearly every professional critic is compelled to compile. So that’s why, after returning home in the small hours of Saturday morning having experienced a concert that left me elated like no rock show has in years, I hedged. “One of the three or five best gigs I’ve ever seen,” I wrote in a excited Facebook post before going to bed.
But after chewing the matter over in the cold, clear light of a couple of days, I’m prepared to go all in: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s first show in Baltimore since 1973 was the best concert I have ever attended, by The Boss or anyone else. Continue reading
Bruce Sprinsteen at Verzion Center, Monday, May 18, 2009. Photo by Kyle Gustafson.
Better: Read this review on DCist, where you can enjoy the rest of the great Kyle “Information Leafblower” Gustafson’s fabulous concert photos.
Bruce Springsteen is still Working on a Theme.
Actually, it’s more or less the same theme he’s been working on at least since Darkness on the Edge of Town in 1978, when the theme morphed from, essentially:
This town is full of losers. Let’s you and me pull out of here to win!
They’re called PufferSpheres, apparently, and they’re made by PufferFish Ltd., a firm in Edinburgh. How do I know? I just got a nice e-mail from PufferFish’s Mr. Ben Allan, thanking me for my kind (and kind of juvenile, though he was nice enough not to mention that) words about his remarkable product. (While my verdict on Coldplay was mixed-to-favorable, my estimation of the vidi-balls was an eleven-point-oh.)
I’d post a photo of one of the vidi-balls in action, but despite all of the picture-takers that David Malitz mentioned in his review in the Paper of Record, I can find only photos of the balls glowing in different colors — none that illustrate their unique video-projection properties. You can check out PufferFish’s site for some quality demo reel.
Mr. Allan continues:
And nice ‘balls’ centred punnery too – something for which we have a particular penchant, but not often the balls to go in for publicly!
No, Mr. Allan, thank you. Your balls were unquestionably the best thing about this most entertaining show.