Sunday, March 4, 2018

Tour of Tours - Live 2018.03.02

Artist: Tour of Tours
Venue: Lido
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 2 March 2018

The Tour of Tours is an ambitious and appealing concept. Supergroups such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young might be an influence not just in terms of genre and style, but also in format. In this case, five bands based in and around Germany teamed up for a tour in which the various performers served as each other's backing band. The ten musicians traded instruments just as readily as they traded songs and almost all sang backing parts and harmonies when not taking the lead.

The bands whose various members were on stage were Honig, Jonas David, Tim Neuhaus, Ian Fisher and Town of Saints. While they all share a certain foundation in singer-songwriter, folk, and indie rock traditions, they all have their own angles and styles, which makes for a diverse presentation. Presumably not every variation will appeal to every listener, but over the three hours of the show, they covered a lot of ground. Some songs leaned closer to modern rock, some had a bit of an electronic edge, some were straight folk numbers, some were in the realm of acoustic pop, some had country overtones, and most fell somewhere in the wide spectrum called indie rock. And then there was Ryan Thomas Carpenter's hilarious/bizarre lounge number presumably titled "Is That All There Is?". Almost everyone in the collective took the lead at some point, even the quiet Italian drummer Davide Iacono.

The band played two lengthy encores. For the last one, they jumped off stage and played their one collaboratively written song, "Song of Songs", in the middle of the audience without any electric amplification. The crowd was at the ready to share the vocals in the chorus. Afterwards, the band climbed back on stage for one last number, an extended take on Ian Fisher's existentialist singalong "Nothing". It was a fitting end for a long show that featured a variety of perspectives on the meaning of life.

When the show was over and I realized what time it was, I couldn't believe that three hours had passed. The rotation of performers and styles meant that the show always had something new to keep my attention, so the time passed by without my noticing. It's hard to beat seeing five solid bands in a unique formation for the price of one show.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Belle & Sebastian / Jane Weaver - Live 2018.02.17

Artist: Belle & Sebastian
Venue: Admiralspalast
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 17 February 2018
Opening Act: Jane Weaver

01. Nobody's Empire
02. I'm a Cuckoo
03. We Were Beautiful
04. Expectations
05. Step Into My Office, Baby
06. Sweet Dew Lee
07. Sukie in the Graveyard
08. Piazza, New York Catcher
09. I'll Be Your Pilot
10. I Don't Love Anyone
11. The Same Star
12. Show Me the Sun
13. Dear Catastrophe Waitress
14. The Boy with the Arab Strap
15. The Party Line
16. Like Dylan in the Movies

17. Judy and the Dream of Horses
18. I Want the World to Stop

Despite the 7:30 start time listed on my ticket and on the venue website, opener Jane Weaver came on stage right at 7pm. She played some keyboards and was backed by a guitarist, a drummer, and a variety of preprogrammed synthesizers. Her style was heavily indebted to classic-era Stereolab, with a propulsive, snare-heavy rhythm and a trance-like shimmer. However, the music suffered from an oddly hampered energy, perhaps inflicted by a poor mix. The guitarist was nearly inaudible in most songs, and the low end was sorely lacking. A strong bassist would've given the songs a major boost. Weaver, despite being difficult to understand, was a strong vocalist, and the drummer was captivating, even though he lost three drumsticks during the last song.

[Jane Weaver. I wasn't able to get any pictures of Belle & Sebastian, but they don't look that much differently than before.]

Belle & Sebastian started with the moving opener of their last album (Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance), "Nobody's Empire", again accompanied by the same type of YouTube-style slideshow as when I saw them last in Austin. They proceeded to alternate songs from their new EPs and classic tracks with a heavy emphasis on Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003). The first deviation, "Sukie in the Graveyard" was the groovy success that it always is. However, "Piazza, New York Catcher", again played in a low-key full-band arrangement, remains an oddly overrated number in their catalog. (Seriously, why is that song the most-listened-to song by the band on Spotify? Is it just because it appeared on the Juno soundtrack?)

The band played five songs from the new EP series, more than most nights of the tour, yet still nothing from the last of the three, despite its release the day before the show. The new songs fit the mold of the band's modern style without advancing the bar too far. In fact, due to my relatively unfamiliarity with them, I briefly confused several with older songs. The melodies and arrangements felt familiar, which isn't to say that the songs aren't good, but most of them are interchangeable with their last couple albums. The exception was "Show Me the Sun", which prominently features an annoying "na na na" vocal hook, making it memorable for the wrong reasons.

The core six members of the band were again joined by Dave McGowan on guitar and bass; Sarah Willson on cello, keyboards, and flute; and CJ Camerieri on trumpet. All three also added occasional percussion. With nine people on stage that were generally all audible and clear, Belle & Sebastian must have a superb sound crew. The harmonies were consistently on point, and even the flutes were skillfully equalized and emphasized enough to be prominent and distinct.

"Dear Catastrophe Waitress" was introduced with a picture of the waitress in question, seemingly the same woman gracing the cover of the album of the same name. Stuart Murdoch recalled getting hit in the face with a pie by her at a show in Berlin circa 2002. He said he was sure that she was in the crowd again, and just as the song started, a woman that indeed looked very similar to the two pictures climbed on stage and danced with the band.

The same woman stayed on stage for "The Boy with the Arab Strap", and as per tradition, Stuart invited about a dozen audience members onto stage to dance with the rest of the band until the end of the set. "The Party Line", one of the best tracks from their last album, was given a strong showing, as was the classic "Like Dylan in the Movies".

No one was surprised that they came back for an encore, and after Stuart asked for requests from only the women of the crowd, they treated us to two more of their best. The superb "Judy and the Dream of Horses" was apparently the first thing Stuart heard. "I Want the World to Stop", the best track off Write About Love (2010), garnered a large number of shouts and was duly honored by the band.

The band managed to walk a fine line between the orchestrated folk of their early days and the well-produced, synthesizer-heavy pop of their recent work. They made them fit together as if they always belonged together, joined seamlessly by Stuart's wit and a large cast of talented performers. I miss the stronger emphasis on the string parts, but the flutes were still solid, and I'm also a fan of keyboards. By this point in their career, they perform as a well-honed unit. They performed songs from across their 22-year catalog nearly flawlessly. There was hardly a weak moment to be found, and even their least impressive songs are still far from bad.

Jane Weaver: C+
Belle & Sebastian: A-

P.S. Thanks to Alyssa!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Einstürzende Neubauten - Live 2017.11.14

I bought a ticket for this show a month before I moved to Berlin because I knew this was something I did not want to miss. The opportunity to see such a quintessential Berlin band in their hometown was irresistible.

Artist: Einstürzende Neubauten
Venue: Columbiahalle
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 14 November 2017

01. The Garden
02. Haus der Lüge
03. Nagorny Karabach
04. Dead Friends (Around the Corner)
05. Unvollständigkeit
06. Youme & Meyou
07. Die Befindlichkeit des Landes
08. Sonnenbarke
09. Halber Mensch [partial] → Von wegen
10. Sabrina
11. Susej
12. How Did I Die?

First Encore:
13. Silence Is Sexy
14. Let's Do It a Dada
15. Total Eclipse of the Sun

Second Encore:
16. Salamandrina
17. Redukt

The band came to the stage without percussionist Rudolf Moser or guitarist Jochen Arbeit for the performance of "The Garden". Although I like the song, I found the live performance to be a bit dull. I was concerned that the show might be a dud, but the rest of the band came out for an explosive "Haus der Lüge" and convinced me that they still had something in them. Most of the rest of the show was somewhere in between those two extremes, combining conventional beauty and restraint with chaotic energy and noise.

Seeing the band live, it becomes apparent that bassist Alexander Hacke is the underpinning of the band. His bass dominated the mix and was the foundation upon which most songs were built. The self-made percussion was also critical (and a delight to behold in person), but I was surprised by how many songs had backing tracks presumably controlled by touring keyboardist Felix Gebhard. Blixa Bargeld even commented while lighting an "herbal cigarette" for the introduction of "Silence of Sexy" that "man darf nicht alles glauben, was man hört" ("one shouldn't believe everything that one hears"). There's an irony to me that a band so focused on customized instrumentation and experimentation would still use synthesized accompaniment. Despite such assistance, the band was occasionally a bit loose. I don't expect perfection, but the lack of precision was disappointing.

I was also a bit surprised that Arbeit's guitar was pushed back in the mix. The guitar was rarely the centerpiece; it was rather a textural element, often played with an ebow to sound entirely unlike a guitar. It was amusing as well that unlike most rock bands, the guitarist and bassist never swapped out their instruments, but the two percussionists were constantly changing and adjusting their collection of tools. The band's large array of pipes, machinery, metal sheets, bars, springs, gears, and contraptions remains their greatest novelty and contributes substantially to the visual experience (to say nothing of the auditory experience!).

The other special trait of the band was Blixa's trademark bizarre screeching ability. While it is less terrifically frightening and otherworldly than it once was, it has become expertly trained with time. Otherwise, his voice was still strong, although not always perfect in time or pitch. All of the regular bandmates also contributed backing vocals, which was another nice touch.

The setlist relied heavily on Silence Is Sexy (2001) and Alles wieder offen (2007), closely matching the material on their new Greatest Hits collection. That set oddly features only one song from Haus der Lüge (1989) and nothing whatsoever from the eight years and four albums preceding that. (It also only features "The Garden" from Ende Neu (1996) and "How Did I Die?" from their latest album, Lament (2014).) The setlist was similarly biased, although they did a short version of "Halber Mensch" as an introduction to "Von wegen", which itself concluded (as in the studio recording) with a short quotation from "Sehnsucht" off their first studio album, Kollaps (1981).

"Unvollständigkeit" was perhaps the only song they played that didn't entirely work; it felt a bit lethargic and restrained. "Let's Do It a Dada", on the other hand, was a total success, despite the recorded version having limited replayability. But where was the rest of Ende Neu and Perpetuum Mobile? "Was ist ist", "Ein seltener Vogel", or "Selbsportrait mit Kater" would've been great. And while "Salamandrina" was excellent, where was what I take to be their best song, "Die Interimsliebenden"? (However, I know from recordings that the live arrangement sounds like half the song is missing.)

I like just about all the songs they played, but most lacked the intensity that dominated their 80s output. Even the experimental aspects of their 90s albums were missing. I can appreciate that they've grown and developed into yet another phase, but I still wonder where they might go from here. When I reviewed Lament, I had hoped that after seven years of little activity, they might enter a fourth stage of their creative life. However, now they are still playing the same set of 00s material and are barely acknowledging Lament. The setlist had no surprises nor any hints of the "Rampe" improvisations that once were a hallmark of their shows. Nonetheless, Neubauten still manage to fascinate me with almost everything they do, so I still harbor hope that they have more creativity left in them yet.

One more note: the band maintained their usual tradition of selling USB sticks after the show containing the complete concert. I found 25€ a bit expensive but still couldn't resist. However, when I got home and gave it a closer look and listen, I discovered that the audio was a mere 256 kbps mp3 file. The spectrogram is loud and appears overdriven and compressed. Clipping can be heard throughout the show, particularly during "The Garden". "How Did I Die?" even has skips in it. If you can ignore those faults, it's a fair record of the show. But without editing or the visual element, it sounds more like a bootleg than a professional job. I'm used to that level of quality, but at that price, I expect better. It's cool to have as a record of the show I saw, but as an independent live album, it's not particularly strong.

The concert: B
The recording: C-

P.S. A recent concert at the new Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg can be seen on YouTube here. It's a slightly stronger set than what I saw and you can see all of the percussive creations in their full glory. The audio gets oddly terrible in the last song ("Redukt"), but otherwise it's quite well done.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Ride / Dead Horse One - Live 2017.11.05

In recent years, three of the biggest and best shoegaze bands (My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and Ride) reformed, went on tour, and eventually released a new album. In each case, I saw a live appearance before they'd released any new music, then purchased their new album, and then have seen them live again. In each case, the new album was no disappointment. With My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, the second show was markedly better than the first, almost like the new album infused them with newfound energy or confidence. I even gave the Slowdive show I saw a month ago an A+. However, I'd already given Ride an A+ the first time I saw them (at Fun Fun Fun Fest in 2015), so my expectations for this show were rather high.

Artist: Ride
Venue: Festsaal Kreuzberg
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 5 November 2017
Opening Act: Dead Horse One

01. Lannoy Point
02. Charm Assault
03. Seagull
04. Weather Diaries
05. Taste
06. Dreams Burn Down
07. Pulsar
08. Cali
09. Twisterella
10. Impermanence
11. Lateral Alice
12. From Time to Time
13. Leave Them All Behind
14. All I Want
15. OX4
16. Vapour Trail
17. Drive Blind

18. Rocket Silver Symphony
19. Grasshopper [with Anton Newcombe]
20. Chelsea Girl

Dead Horse One are a five-piece from France. They played a strong and entrancing set that seemed like a perfect match for Ride. Other than the obvious shoegazer link, they drew from the psych sound of bands like The Black Angels. They would fit in quite well with at Levitation! They let the keyboard take a lot of the melodic role while the two guitarists created a dense, warm ball of sound. There were a few bits of reverb-laden gothic rock guitar as well as moments of heavier, darker energy. I was actually disappointed that they only played for a terse 30 minutes.

[Dead Horse One with a guest tambourinist.]

Ride came out to the sound of the keyboard that opens their new album, Weather Diaries. They ended up playing most of the new album, but interspersed it with several of the best tracks from their early classic albums and EPs. Some of their new songs ("Charm Assault", "Cali") have a distinct pop angle, but the band has still retained their core astral guitar sound. Early in the set, the band proved that they haven't shunned their roots by jamming out an extended and captivating take on "Seagull". Other particularly strong classic songs were "Dreams Burn Down", "Leave Them All Behind", and "OX4".

The incorporation of electronic elements is often a challenge on stage, but the band handled it comfortably by treating their occasional backing tracks as a mere backdrop to add just a bit of texture behind the main attractions. "All I Want", a song that is on the line of sounding like an annoying electronic pop remix, came through surprisingly well. Although some of the other new songs felt a bit weak and less energetic than the classics, there were no duds, and I appreciate their willingness to write and perform new material. We were even treated to one of the first performances of their new non-album single "Pulsar", released just a couple weeks before the show.

By the time they got to "OX4" and "Vapour Trail", the closing tracks of their best two albums, I was expecting the show to end at any moment, but they didn't slow down. "Drive Blind" sounded even better than the original studio version, and they did their standard trick of extending with a long noise jam in the middle.


And then came the encore. First they played "Rocket Silver Symphony", which featured drummer Laurence Colbert's vocals in the verses, and then they introduced a guest: Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, who happens to live in Berlin! They elected to play "Grasshopper", a b-side from 1992 that they claimed never to have played live before (although disagrees). Newcombe's guitar wasn't very high in the mix, so it wasn't entirely obvious what he contributed, but it was still cool.

The quality of the mix was the one issue that distracted from a great set. It is possible that my position near the back of the venue was at fault, but throughout the entire show, the vocals were muddy and indistinct. The bass lacked punch and the whole package lacked clarity. It took away from some of the power and intricacy of their performance.

The new material might not be their best, but in some sense Weather Diaries seems like an alternate version of where they could have gone in the mid-90s. After the raw, early-era My Bloody Valentine ripoff of the Ride and Play EPs (both 1990), the sublime shoegaze of Nowhere (1990) and the Fall (1990) and Today Forever EPs (1991), and the slightly more mainstream, power pop-inflected Going Blank Again (1992), what if they had tried out an electronic edge instead of espousing generic 90s rock cliché and regurgitating bland 60s references? It seems like everyone, including the band, would rather forget their latter-day albums Carnival of Light (1994) and Tarantula (1996). (They only played one song, "From Time to Time", from the former and nothing from the latter.)

Despite a few flaws, Ride played a strong show, and I appreciated that the kept going for two hours. It wasn't quite as perfect as the last time I saw them, but I like their new album (and single), and I'm glad they were willing and able to grow and still keep their best elements.

[Ride with Anton Newcombe.]

Dead Horse One: A-
Ride: A-
Smile (compilation of Ride and Play EPs): B
Nowhere (with or without the Fall EP appended): A+
Today Forever EP: A+
Going Blank Again: A-
Carnival of Light: D
Tarantula: D
Weather Diaries: B+

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Tomatito y grupo - Live 2017.10.28

Artist: Tomatito y grupo
Venue: Konzerthaus
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 28 October 2017

Tomatito, the renowned flamenco guitarist from Andalusia, may have spent two decades accompanying singer Camarón de la Isla, but he now fronts his own group. He was joined by his son, José del Tomate, a proficient guitarist in his own right; his daughter, vocalist Mari Ángeles; vocalist Kiki Cortiñas; percussionist El Piraña; and percussionist/dancer El Torombo. Most (but not all) of their songs featured vocals, but the star of the show was usually Tomatito's guitar. His technique ranged from lamentful, minor-key arpeggios to whirlwind runs that were faster than the mind could follow.

The only other tonal instrumentation came from José del Tomate. While he mostly played rhythm parts underneath Tomatito's firestorm, he took a couple solos that were just as impressive as his father's. The vocals from Mari Ángeles and Kiki Cortiñas were similarly dramatic. They typically sung in harmony, and while they clearly had expressive voices, I found their style to be less compelling than the instrumental performers.

The percussionists were both a special treat. El Piraña initially played in a rather restrained style, but he gradually picked up energy as the night went on. His drumset consisted of a snare, a conga, several cymbals, and a cajón, all of which he struck only with his hands. He took one solo near the end that became a wild and fantastic fury of rhythm.

The real surprise came from El Torombo. I was initially amused that he appeared to be solely a professional handclapper. All of the performers contributed hand percussion in some form of another, but the one microphone near El Torombo was pointed at his hands from underneath, and he neither played an instrument nor sang. However, shortly before the end of the show, he got up in the middle of a song and slowly but carefully walked to the center of the stage. In a sudden flash, he swung himself around and began dancing in an elaborate manner with rhythmically complex footwork. He continued this role for the next song as well. It was an astonishing act in itself, but the music matched the rhythm of his dance with an incredible precision, even when the tempo increased to a frenzied peak.

Tomatito and his group put on a captivating show. His guitar playing was fascinating on its own, but combined with a talented group of complementary musicians, it was a continual pleasure. Some of the slower songs that focused more on the vocalists dragged slightly, but the instrumental showpieces were a delight on every occasion. I appreciated that each member contributed something vital to the show. The combination of incredible guitarwork, well-crafted rhythm, and the bonus dancing made this a quite memorable performance.

Score: A-

P.S. Thanks to Alyssa!

[The Konzerthaus interior.]

Sunday, October 29, 2017

St. Vincent - Live 2017.10.26

I enjoyed seeing St. Vincent at Austin City Limits Festival a few years back so much that I immediately bought a ticket for this show as soon as I heard about it. This was before Masseduction was even announced. Once I finally heard the album, I was a bit skeptical, but still more than curious enough to see what she had to offer.

Artist: St. Vincent
Venue: Huxleys Neue Welt
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 26 October 2017
Opening Act: The Birthday Party (short film)

First Set:
01. Marry Me
02. Now, Now
03. The Strangers
04. Actor Out of Work
05. Cruel
06. Cheerleader
07. Strange Mercy
08. Digital Witness
09. Rattlesnake
10. Birth in Reverse

Second Set (Masseduction):
11. Hang on Me
12. Pills
13. Masseduction
14. Sugarboy
15. Los Ageless
16. Happy Birthday, Johnny
17. Savior
18. New York
19. Fear the Future
20. Young Lover
21. Dancing with a Ghost
22. Slow Disco
23. Smoking Section

I hadn't heard anything about an opening band, so when the 8pm showtime came and went without any appearances, I wasn't too surprised. Besides, the house music was Brian Eno and David Byrne jams that were a pleasure to hear on such a large sound system. But fifteen minutes later, when a projection screen was revealed, it all became a bit clearer: we were getting treated to a showing of The Birthday Party, a short film directed by Annie Clark, the sole member of St. Vincent.

The film depicts a woman trying to hide the death of her husband from their child on the morning of the lattermost's birthday. It relied on suspense and black humor, but the suspense was overplayed by the extremely heavyhanded audio cues. The final scene was accompanied by intense music from St. Vincent, which matched the emotional content of the action, but I found the whole setup rather predictable. The film was artfully produced and not without its clever touches, but the plot wasn't notable and the style was just a bit gimmicky.

When St. Vincent appeared on stage in person, she was alone with just a microphone. The curtains still hung around most of the stage, implying that there was still something to hide. After performing a song from her debut album to a backing track, a masked stage hand brought her a guitar. She continued to play songs from her career in chronological order, mostly in pre-recorded arrangements that seemed toned down and scaled back. The curtain revealed the rest of the stage at some point, but there were no additional musicians or instruments, just a couple microphones. The backing tracks initially focused on arty, less rock-oriented arrangements, culminating in "Strange Mercy", which featured nothing but strings and Clark's voice. The songs from St. Vincent (2014) were more fully synthesized with the expected dance beats.

And then she left the stage. The stage lights came on for just a few minutes before the curtain came up again. St. Vincent appeared again with her guitar and a change of costume. She proceeded to play the entirety of her new album, Masseduction, in full. Again, she used backing tracks for everything she couldn't do herself. She left again and that was it.

It was a strange concert. St. Vincent's persona is always somewhat affected, sarcastic, bizarre, and mechanical, so part of the show felt like she was making a big joke and everyone was in on it. Her choreography and movement felt like something from the Talking Heads Stop Making Sense playbook, except that she was the only live performer. The decision to rework and play around with the arrangements of her older songs was solid, but without a live band to give them any life, they felt stiff and artificial. St. Vincent's guitar style was wild and fascinating, but she wasn't even manipulating the pedals and effects herself.

The chronological ordering of the material was another interesting choice. but it meant that the show built up to a crescendo in the first half, then slowly came down as the performance of Masseduction reached its end. I'm usually skeptical of full-album performances and this was no exception. Coupled with the reliance on backing tracks, the set was entirely predictable. Worst of all, there was no encore. A few strong back catalog tracks could have brought the show to end on a high note, but we were left with nothing further.

St. Vincent's vocals and guitarwork were as strong as ever, and her stage presence was commanding. I appreciate her style and her willingness to experiment with different ideas, but I don't think many of her choices succeeded at this show. Most of the best elements that drew me in when I saw her perform with a band at ACL were absent. Playing to a backing track sapped away most of the energy and excitement. The songs were good, but there was hardly any spirit in it. If St. Vincent goes the way of an electronic pop star, then so be it. At least she can still play a mean guitar.

The Birthday Party: C
St. Vincent: D+

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Jesus & Mary Chain / Cold Cave - Live 2017.10.12

The Jesus & Mary Chain were one of the first "older" bands that I was introduced to in high school, and yet after hunting down several of their albums, I lost interest. Psychocandy may be novel, but Darklands is the only album I still listen to regularly. They always had a rather crass and debauched side to them, and over time that increasingly bothered me. When they reformed and played at Levitation in 2015, I had a passing interest, but they were doing one of those full-album shows for Psychocandy and I just wasn't sold on it. But with a new album in tow, I figured it was finally worth giving them a chance.

Artist: The Jesus & Mary Chain
Venue: Astra Kulturhaus
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 12 October 2017
Opening Act: Cold Cave

Setlist (with some help from here):
01. Amputation
02. Happy When It Rains
03. Head On
04. Always Sad (with Bernadette Denning)
05. Black and Blues
06. Mood Rider
07. April Skies
08. Between Planets
09. Snakedriver
10. Teenage Lust
11. Cherry Came Too
12. All Things Pass
13. Some Candy Talking
14. Halfway to Crazy
15. Darklands
16. Reverence

First Encore:
17. Just Like Honey (with Bernadette Denning)
18. Cracking Up
19. In a Hole
20. War on Peace

Second Encore:
21. Sidewalking
22. I Hate Rock 'n' Roll

When Cold Cave hit the stage, the venue was still quite sparsely populated, so I got up close despite the loud volume. They matched their retro synthpop/darkwave sound with a stark look emphasized by heavy shadows and white light. It was hard to tell what was pre-programmed, what was synthesized on the spot, and what was the result of heavily treated guitar and drums. I liked their use of effects, but it did make me wonder what exactly I was hearing. Their uptempo, danceable songs sometimes sounded a bit too much like New Order, except that it continually seemed like there was a melody or something in the high end that was missing. It's possible that the problem was just that the mix was poor, especially since it seemed like the keyboardist's backing vocals were mostly inaudible.

[Cold Cave.]

The new album from The Jesus & Mary Chain, Damage and Joy, isn't particularly notable except that it sounds a lot like their classic work, despite being released about 19 years after their previous album. I admittedly had only marginal interest in seeing the new songs live, but they largely fit in right alongside the older ones. The most bizarre part was that Jim Reid sounded identical to his younger self from 30 years before. Also strange was that Jim sang all of the songs, even the ones that William Reid had sung on record. Meanwhile, William stuck to the shadows with his guitar, and Jim didn't even touch an instrument. Drummer Brian Young, bassist Phil King, and rhythm guitarist Mark Crozer rounded out the band, although none of them retreated from the shadows.

I was concerned about the quality of the performance after I caught a few stumbles by William and Young in the first few songs. However, they quickly hit a stride and pumped out some solid tunes. Not every one of their songs was a winner, but they mostly kept to the better half of their catalog. Only a couple of their choices reminded me of their less appealing side (e.g. "Teenage Lust"). Furthermore, it seemed that the band share my feelings about their career peak: they played four numbers from Darklands, more than any other album except their latest.

Their lyrics have never been particularly strong, but sometimes (as with "Darklands" or "April Skies") they get a combination of mood, melody, and music together to make something affecting. Their best songs might just be a combination of 60s bubblegum pop and heavy distortion, but sometimes that just works. There were also a few successful exceptions, like the dense, swampy, extended "Reverence".

Thankfully, the band didn't live up to their reputation of being antagonistic and short-tempered. There were no drunken brawls and it was not just a brief affair of pure sonic assault. They played a long set (with two encores, even!) and thanked the crowd. That said, it was incredibly loud. My ears were ringing despite using my strongest ear plugs. Even if they aren't as wild and exciting as they may have once been, I think consistency and reliability have their merits, too. The show ended up being a bit better than I was hoping, and far better than I feared it could be.

[The Jesus & Mary Chain with Bernadette Denning.]

Cold Cave: B-
The Jesus & Mary Chain: B+