Monthly Archives: October 2008

Setting the Stage

“On Stage” piece from today’s Weekend section on Tom Kamm, an architect and set designer who has worked on a number of shows with Robert Wilson, among others. He designed the set for Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Boom, opening next week at Woolly Mammoth.

I feel a little silly saying this, but click on the picture to read the story.

Matthew Sweet and The Bridges at the State

Matthew Sweet, proud owner of the most decadent bird bath in rock and roll. Photo by Henry Diltz; courtesy Shout! Factory.

I’m a bit late weighing in on Matthew Sweet’s show at The State Wednesday night, and really, I don’t have a lot to say about it that my DCist colleague Dave Weigel didn’t cover yesterday. Sweet’s five-piece band sounded great on the new stuff from this year’s Sunshine Lies LP and on the equal number of oldies from 1991’s Girlfriend and 1995’s 100% Fun. Former Television guitarist Richard Lloyd nearly stole the show from the headliner.

But I’d have to call the evening a mixed success at best, because the entire show, including the three encore numbers (and two stage-exits-and-back) was a mere 70 minutes long; a pretty slight workday for a headliner. Sweet only played an hour the last time I saw him, but he was sick that night, and it was 13 years and a half-dozen albums ago. I like to be sold on album cuts I may have overlooked when I hear an artist perform, and Sweet’s catalogue is plenty deep enough to fill out a longer show. (Wouldn’ it have been groovy, Baby, great to hear Ming Tea’s “BBC”?)

“Dandelion” was the one song to which the show introduced me. Sweet seemed almost apologetic about playing it, moving promptly on to the beloved “I’ve Been Waiting” with The Bridges providing harmony support. They were back again a few minutes later to harmonize on the new record’s title track. Between came “Girlfriend,” Sweet’s very own “Satisfaction,” performed, surprisingly in the middle of the set.

Openers The Bridges, whose debut album Limits of the Sky was produced by Mr. Sweet, have a an appealing sunny-70s thing. Unfortunately, their set was defeaningly loud — louder than the death metal act I saw play in Baltimore a few nights ago, and louder than Matthew Sweet. Simply being inside the theatre — not the pit in front of the stage, the theatre — was painful.

The Setlist:

01 Time Machine
02 Room to Rock
03 Byrdgirl
04 Dandelion
05 We’re the Same
06 Feel Fear
07 I’ve Been Waiting (with The Bridges)
08 Girlfriend
09 Sunshine Lies (with The Bridges)
10 Someone to Pull the Trigger
11 ???
12 Flying
13 Sick of Myself

14 Divine Intervention
15 You Don’t Love Me

16 Superdeformed

Openers The Bridges. Photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media.

Personal Is Political: A Conversation with Henry Rollins

Henry Rollins remembers when this used to be a good neighborhood. Photo by Ben Swinnerton.

Henry Rollins is a lousy songwriter and a mediocre poet, but as a clear-eyed, self-deprecating raconteur, he’s in a class by himself. He’s long been one of my heroes, and it was an honor to interview him for DCist.

Opeth in Baltimore

I’ve managed to enjoy myself at metal shows before. The first concert I ever attended was Iron Maiden with Anthrax opening, in 1991.

Swedish death-metalworkers Opeth traffic in epic, multi-part salvos of sound that combine end-of-days riffage with touchstones of proggy sophistication: Changing time signatures! Spanish guitar interludes! At Ram’s Head Live Sunday night, a healthy crowd was happy to forgive the soft stuff on account of the bodacious plentitude of shock-and-awe. Performing, said frontman Mikael Akerfeldt, the final date of their U.S. tour before they would fly home to Stockholm, the five horsemen seemed neither tired nor exhilarated, but rather utterly professional throughout their 110-minute prophecy of doom.

Akerfeldt’s stage banter was charming and friendly even when it was profane and, well, gross – as when he speculated as to the origins of a stain on the T-shirt he declared he’s played 25 shows in without washing. The singer/songwriter/guitarist is Opeth’s own W. Axl Rose, the sole member who has performed on every album in the group’s 13-year discography. (Opeth vets outnumber active-duty members two-to-one, though Akerfeldt is not yet 35. What is it with heavy metal bands, anyway? Their retention is worse than the Army’s.) Daring to slip a ballad into the set after half an hour without quarter, he pledged to sing “with 350 percent feeling, like Jon Bon Jovi.” The black-shirted (and sometimes shirtless) faithful clapped along during this and other delicate passages, presumably as a show of involvement rather than to sabotage these rhythmically varied interludes, though the effect was the same.

In the moat between the stage and the barriers on the floor, a pair of burly security guys got a good workout catching crowd surfers and sending them gently back to catch another wave. Akerfeldt was clearly moved by our enthusiasm. “I am going to let you touch my private parts,” he announced during the encore. Then, as promised, he gripped his guitar by the neck and extended it into the throng, letting the front row cop a nice, long feel. Party on, Baltimore

A slightly abridged version of this review appears in today’s Paper of Record.

Double Shot of DRUID

DRUID’s kiss-me-quick production of two Synge plays, The Shadow of the Glen and The Playboy of the Western World, reviewed for DCist.

Don’t Worry, He Doesn’t Mean It

Behold my Stephin Merritt “MusicMakers” profile, from tomorrow’s Paper of Record.

I can’t even make the Magnetic Fields show Sunday night. I’ve only myself to blame.

Secret Machines at the 9:30 Club

This is a couple days old already. Sorry.

New York-based space rock-trio Secret Machines’ new, self-titled third album is strong evidence that in the studio at least, the group hasn’t lost a step despite the departure of guitarist Ben Curtis. His brother, frontman Brandon Curtis, has soldiered on with new axe man Phil Karnats, continuing to layer shimmering guitars and keyboards atop drummer Josh Garza’s bone-crushing, Bonham-esque rhythms, with a newfound focus on tighter song structures. This is good.

Secret Machines have played stadiums with U2 and been compared to Pink Floyd. Alas, at their funereal set at the 9:30 Club Thursday night, they seemed more like the Iron Butterfly of the iPod Age. And while everybody surely loves to hear all17-plus minutes of “In a Gadda-da-Vida” once a year (preferably in the fortnight before Halloween), the interminable new “The Fire Is Waiting” — the whole show, really — recalled that iconic, goofy tune in all the worst ways. Too often it felt like an unbroken, unbearably pompous 90-minute dirge, the luminous textures of the band’s albums lost in a muddy, drony, roar.

The stage was wrapped in what looked like strips of bandage —appropriate for an act that came off as humorless, hidebound and unable to connect. While a few members of the half-empty (well okay, half-full) 9:30 crowd were psyched enough to leap and wave during the chestnuts “Nowhere Again” and “First Wave Intact,” the audience was mostly a sea (or a pond) of heads nodding in solemn semi-communion as they fiddled with their cell phones. Dude, you should have been there!

Worse, some of the those nodding heads were on stage. Garza is fun to watch, mainly for the uncanny way he resembles Animal from The Muppet Show, but Curits was an inert presence. Before kicking off the encore with a (relatively) spare “Alone, Jealous and Stoned” that painfully exposed his vocal limitations, he murmured, “I’m glad you’re still with us.” It was a performance that must have felt like a rehearsal even to him.