Sunday, December 16, 2012

Silversun Pickups / Grouplove / Cloud Nothings - Live 2012.12.12


I barely knew about this band a month ago, but when a friend told me about this show and provided me their umpteenth recommendation, I figured it was time to give them a try. At the time of writing, I only have their first album (Carnavas), which I rather enjoy despite some modest flaws.

Artist: Silversun Pickups
Venue: Peabody Opera House
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: December 12, 2012
Opening Acts: Cloud Nothings, Grouplove

Setlist:
01. Skin Graph
02. The Royal We
03. Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)
04. Simmer
05. Gun-Shy Sunshine
06. Little Lover's So Polite
07. Mean Spirits
08. The Pit
09. Catch and Release
10. Panic Switch
11. Dots and Dashes (Enough Already)
12. Lazy Eye

Encore:
13. Busy Bees
14. Well Thought Out Twinkles

Review:
I only knew in advance of there being one opening act, so I was quite surprised by the presence of the first opening band. Apparently, the Cloud Nothings' first two albums are some sort of indie power pop, but they must have only been playing material from their latest album, which is supposedly a dark, heavy, doom-laden digression in the opposite direction of their past work. I suspect I might enjoy the first two albums. I suspect I would despise the third. To say the least, the performance was awful. They played maybe four songs, two of which were essentially ten-minute guitar jams. The crowning jewel was the second of these extended pieces, in which the bassist played one note until the last 30 seconds. There were no vocals until the presumed bandleader began barking halfway through, followed with repeated, brutally screamed lyrics to the effect of "I am not a part of this". Then why was he on stage?

After the Cloud Nothings' brief set came Grouplove, apparently quite a hit with the teen and college crowd right now. As you can guess, I'd never heard of them. Their current claim to fame is being in an iPod Touch commercial. They are megahipsters playing the bounciest, indiest, most danceable music that really sounds like it wanted to have come out of 1991. This is only encouraged by the surfer-hippie vibe of the guitarists interposed against the confusion of a bassist that looked like someone from Lynyrd Skynyrd, a female vocalist with inhuman energy, and a drummer that looked like a track star but is actually the son of Trevor Rabin. This band had a lot of things going on at once but if you could stop staring at them jumping around stage you might realize that the music wasn't particularly complicated. I liked the stray harmonies they used, but most of their riffs were unsurprising. At least the lead guitarist, while hiding behind his long hair despite jumping around as much as the others, had figured out how to lay some cool effects on his instrument to make his lead parts sound unique. Otherwise, I was bummed by their reliance on backing tracks but impressed by their raw energy. They seemed really young, but not as young as the Cloud Nothings.

When the Silversun Pickups finally came out, it was hard not to notice a change in the line-up: bassist Nikki Monninger was replaced on stage by Sarah Negahdari from the Happy Hollows. Monninger had just given birth to twins and thus is on maternity leave. Negahdari was a little hard to take seriously (she was awfully bouncy and artificial in her movement compared to the rest of the band) but she seems to fill the role just fine.

The setlist focused on the band's newest album, Neck of the Woods, but a few of the favorites from the first two albums still made it out. While I admittedly did not recognize most of the material, I could feel the connection to the work I did know, as well as some level of distinction and growth from their early material. At the risk of being way off the mark, their earliest material seemed directly indebted to bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine, but the newer songs seem to have taken that foundation and really made their sound their own. The influences are still clear, but I think they've become more willing to stand on their own feet.

The band seems to let singer/guitarist Brian Aubert really take center stage, but nonetheless, when I could hear the basslines, they counterpointed the guitarwork superbly, and keyboardist Joe Lester filled out the space beautifully. Aubert did all the talking and was the only one to move around the stage, while Lester and drummer Chris Guanlao hid behind their equipment and seemed to be happy to follow the flow. Negahdari's occasional harmonies also blended well, but I was continually impressed with how big they sounded for only having one guitar. Aubert is clearly skilled with his effects, and Lester may have also playing a role in such sound manipulation, but it made for a powerful overall sound.

Generally speaking, the band rocked. They played for maybe 75 minutes and focused on their more energetic works, even if in some cases the energy was a slow and dramatic build. "Lazy Eye" is the perfect example of a song in that mold; it's a long song with a gradual build, and even though the biggest parts aren't that big, something about the whole feels like it was all so well worth it. It's a great song that is probably far simpler than it seems. I'd expected them to close the show with that song, but they closed their first set with it with the anticipation of an encore still looming.

Of course, they came back out and gave us two more songs, although there were probably more calls for Grouplove to come back out than for the Pickups. The final closer was another song from their first album, "Well Thought Out Twinkles". While not quite as effective as "Lazy Eye", it too has a strong, swirling, gradual build of guitar energy.

This was a fun show, only helped by the fact that the newly reopened venue is spectacular. The Cloud Nothings may have disappointed, but Grouplove was probably better than I would have expected, and Silversun Pickups lived right up to their reputation. They make strong music, even if it doesn't always feel like it's their own. They still do a damn fine job refining their influences and creating something surprisingly fresh.

Scores:
Cloud Nothings: D
Grouplove: B-
Silversun Pickups: B

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Smashing Pumpkins - Live 2012.10.18


Although the number of original members of the Smashing Pumpkins remaining in the band has dwindled to just one (Zwan now officially had more original members of the Pumpkins than their current configuration), the band (i.e. Billy Corgan) is still making music – and despite the annoying production qualities of their recent recordings, some of the songwriting and instrumental work is actually quite good. After being surprised by Oceania, and slowly coming to mildly appreciate the rest of the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope project, I decided it was worth seeing them live when they came to my town.

Artist: The Smashing Pumpkins
Venue: Chaifetz Arena
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: October 18, 2012
Opening Act: Anberlin

Setlist:
01. Keyboard intro → Quasar
02. Panopticon
03. The Celestials
04. Violet Rays
05. My Love Is Winter
06. One Diamond, One Heart
07. Pinwheels
08. Oceania
09. Pale Horse
10. The Chimera
11. Glissandra
12. Inkless
13. Wildflower
14. Space Oddity [David Bowie cover]
15. X.Y.U.
16. Disarm
17. Tonite Reprise → Tonight, Tonight
18. Bullet with Butterfly Wings
19. Shock Me (tease) → Detroit Rock City (tease) [KISS covers]
20. A Song for a Son
21. Guitar instrumental → Zero
22. Cherub Rock

Encore:
23. Ava Adore
24. Guitar Duel → Whole Lotta Love (tease) [Led Zeppelin cover]
25. Muzzle

Review:
Last time I saw the Smashing Pumpkins, they were playing a greatest-hits setlist based on their 20th anniversary. This time, they're promoting a new record and doing their best to get people to listen to it. If the first half of the setlist looks oddly familiar, it's because it's the exact tracklist of the new album, Oceania, which they've been playing in sequence at every night of the tour. The album is clearly an attempt to connect with their core audience that fell in love with Siamese Dream, as the clever use of melodic guitar hooks and impressive drumming dominate the album. It also features a surprising amount of keyboards (some almost overtly retro and cheesy) and some of the best bass parts ever seen on a Pumpkins release.

Corgan's many interviews lead one to believe that he is certainly trying to talk up his new bandmates and prove that they play key roles in the recordings. He might actually be telling the truth – new bassist and backing vocalist Nicole Fiorentino is at least more consistent than D'arcy was, even if she isn't necessarily better; the very young drummer Mike Byrne picks up right where Jimmy Chamberlin left off; and guitarist Jeff Schroeder, despite appearing even more shy than James Iha, somehow manages to meet Corgan's high standards. It's hard to tell how much of the guitarwork on Oceania is actually Jeff's (my guess is not much), but the basswork and drumming is almost assuredly from the new members.

Seeing the band perform live the new album in its entirety might have been cool if I hadn't bought the record yet, but since I had, it was a bit boring. The songs weren't really rearranged, there were no extended jams or new parts, and no extra members filled out the sound. While some of the guitarwork was exciting to see live, some parts were left unused, and samples were too often used to add the extra keyboard and percussion parts. In some cases, it appeared that those parts could have been played by the members of the band (or a touring keyboardist!) but instead the members just stood there. I was surprised; it struck me as inauthentic and unnecessary. All four members did play some keyboards, but not as much as one might expect for the work of setting up the instruments for each member.

After playing the album, stage hands cleared all the keyboards, as if the band was now returning to "normal". Few samples were heard from here on, and the band seemed to loosen up just enough to notice. They played a rocked-up cover of Bowie's "Space Oddity", which was great aside from some odd vocal rephrasings, before digging into a quick overview of some of the band's biggest singles. Unlike previous tours, where the band mixed major hits with top-notch album cuts and assorted oddities, there were no surprises to be found after the Bowie cover. A few songs were slightly rearranged, but those familiar with the Pumpkins' live history would not find anything new.

Many of the remaining songs felt predictable and relatively uninspired. "X.Y.U." has never been one of my favorites, and this rendition offered nothing noteworthy. "Zero" and "Cherub Rock" were also played straight by the numbers (except for the pleasantly cascading guitar instrumental preceding "Zero"), and even "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" was played conventionally after starting off with a heavier take borrowed from live renditions from years ago.

"Disarm" seemed like a lazy choice, as the band played a lackluster version dominated by a sampled string section. I feared the same treatment would be given for "Tonight, Tonight", but I was proven wrong. It instead began with the low-key "Tonite Reprise" as an intro, featuring Jeff on E-Bow. After playing about half of that version, Mike began playing the easily-recognized drumroll to lead into the full-band version of the song. Instead of a sample orchestra, Jeff continued using his E-Bow to play a similar part. It was an excellent version.

The only other new song played all night was "A Song for a Son". Clearly already recognized as a high point since the band's resurgence, the band hoped we'd recognize the song and started into a rocking job of it. Near the end, they dragged it into a quieter jam, but something sounded out of tune or just off. The bass seemed to resonate with something in the building, but it threw off the rest of the song, and when the band tried to bring the energy back up, it still didn't jell quite right. The core of the song sounded great, but the five or six minutes of whatever after that seemed a bit lifeless.

Although "Ava Adore" was done in a fairly solid heavy rendition, the ending of the song ended oddly. Although the two guitarists hit the brief harmonized solo perfectly, they ended the song with a guitar duel that got progressively weaker until it just fell flat. After Corgan started screwing up, they ended up just laughing and tossing around tired Led Zeppelin riffs. They meagerly tried to bring things to some kind of decent close, but they made up for it by tearing into a great version of "Muzzle".

I'm never quite sure what to make of the Smashing Pumpkins anymore. After a rocky start to their reunion, I'm happy that it seems like the band has settled on a stable configuration. It's still unclear if Corgan has abandoned the completion of his ambitious Teargarden project, but he's certainly given up on the original vision in favor of the traditional album format (which he'd previously claimed he had forsaken entirely). Something must have changed in Corgan's head, because Oceania is noticeably superior to everything previously released from the Teargarden project. The songwriting and performances are clearly a step up, although the production is still obnoxious. Seeing the album performed live brings up a big question: why doesn't Corgan realize that his live sound is better than his studio work?

Scores:
Live performance: C+
Oceania: B

P.S. This show was bootlegged and is available for download here. This is entirely legal as the band permits taping of their concerts. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Crosby, Stills & Nash - Live 2012.07.28


Ever since I became a fan of Neil Young and CSNY in college, I've been plagued by tours of Neil and/or the other three that were far too expensive for me to attend. I was even supposed to see Neil Young in high school – until I had to have an appendectomy the day before the show. I've still never seen him live, but when I heard about the other three doing a new tour, it was hard not to be tempted. Of course, the Saint Louis tickets were exorbitantly priced, but some enterprising sisters-in-arms discovered that CSN were scheduled to play in the rather small town of Paducah, KY, a mere three hours' drive away, for almost half the price. The apparent rationale was that the touring band's guitarist hails from Paducah! [Edit 2012.12.04: Never mind, apparently this a running joke with CSN, first used back in 1969.]

Artist: Crosby, Stills & Nash
Venue: Carson Four Rivers Center
Location: Paducah, Kentucky
Date: July 28, 2012

First set:
01. Carry On/Questions (originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
02. Chicago (originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
03. Long Time Gone
04. Just a Song Before I Go
05. Southern Cross
06. Lay Me Down (originally performed by Crosby & Nash)
07. Radio
08. Marrakesh Express
09. Almost Gone (The Ballad of Bradley Manning)
10. Bluebird (originally performed by Buffalo Springfield)
11. Déjà Vu (originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
12. Love the One You're With (originally performed by Stephen Stills)

Second set:
13. Helplessly Hoping
14. In Your Name (originally performed by Graham Nash)
15. Girl from the North Country (Bob Dylan cover)
16. Guinnevere
17. Cathedral
18. Military Madness (originally performed by Graham Nash)
19. Our House (originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
20. Almost Cut My Hair (originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
21. Wooden Ships

Encore:
22. Teach Your Children (originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
23. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

Review:
It's hard to know what to expect from a band as big and as old as Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The three of them are all about age 70 as of writing, each of them either balding or sporting wild gray hair. (It appears that David Crosby hasn't even come close to almost cutting his hair!) The three of them were joined on stage for most of the show by an organist, a drummer, a bassist, a guitarist, and a keyboardist (who just so happened to be James Raymond, Crosby's son). I was surprised by how little Crosby and Nash played instruments, but I was not surprised that Nash spent the night barefoot.

Opening the show with "Carry On" was also no surprise at all, but the performance rocked. What once was often a set closer extended with a lengthy jam was here kept to a more conventional length. Stills already proved himself to be the keynote musician, providing smooth and elegant guitar lines between the fantastic vocal harmonies. This trend only continued as the night wore on. Nash and Crosby dominated the melodious higher harmonies, while Stills played almost every guitar solo of the night. Although the songwriting and lead vocals were shared fairly equally, there is a separate concept of the division of labor. Nash and Crosby only occasionally played rhythm guitar or keyboards, leaving Stills and the backing band to do everything but the vocal parts.

I suppose it's always been this way, but I was surprised to see that Stills was the main musician of the night. His songs tended to have the most guitar noodling, but he paraded his guitar about more often than not. It's hard to complain, because he generally does an excellent job of providing the exact amount of guitar virtuosity to fit in these songs between the nominal focus of the band, the vocals. I was most surprised to see Nash or Crosby sing lead on some songs without even playing an instrument, but Crosby still played his wonderful part for "Guinnevere" note-for-note, and Nash hammered out "Our House" almost as if he'd been playing the part for 40 years. Anyway, I can't begrudge them; if I had a golden voice, why would I worry about playing the instrumental parts I wrote? Why not hire my son to do it for me?

Most of the highest-praised classics came in the second half of the show. Other than an odd Bob Dylan cover (and "Lay Me Down", written by Raymond), the band stuck to their own songs, using their standard mix of solo and shared songs. Ultimately, they played most of their first two original albums, a wide mix of career-spanning hits, and a few recent compositions. Nash's new songs shone the brightest: "In Your Name" was a beautiful and poignant condemnation of the misuse of religious judgment, and "Almost Gone" spoke out against the prison treatment of Bradley Manning, the soldier that leaked countless documents to WikiLeaks. I'm always happy to see that an old band can still write meaningful music, even if most of the audience still just wants to hear the hits.

Crosby finished off the main set with two strong rockers, "Almost Cut My Hair" and "Wooden Ships". Both provided more showboat opportunities for Stills' guitarwork and Crosby's ever-powerful voice. During the encore break, my companions noted the two biggest omissions from the setlist up to that point and thus correctly predicted the encore selections. Both were again near-perfect performances, with "Teach Your Children" not having aged a day and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" still serving as a dynamic song with countless excuses for guitar showmanship from Stills.

If there is a weakness to be found, it is merely that Stills' voice is a bit rougher than it once was. Although all three had moments of vocal inaccuracy, their harmonies still sounded better than some of the bootlegs I've heard from the 70s. Furthermore, this just tells me that they are (literally) too good for autotuning. I don't expect a note-perfect rendition of studio material when I see a band like this live, and that's not what I'd want, anyway. I'm happy to see that all three are as jovial as ever, still capable of laughing, joking, and connecting with an audience. I'm glad Crosby hasn't cut his hair, that Nash still prefers shoelessness, and that Stills can still rock hard. It's hard not to be impressed by the fact they can still put on a show this good at the ages they're at.

Score: A-

P.S. I saw the new Neil Young documentary, Journeys, the day after the concert. It turns out that Neil has probably aged worse than the other three, although he's probably always rocked even harder, and he has an even better reputation for being uncompromising.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Andrew Bird / Eugene Mirman - Live 2012.03.22

Artist: Andrew Bird
Venue: The Pageant
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: March, 22 2012
Opening Act: Eugene Mirman

Setlist:
01. Hole in the Ocean Floor
02. Nyatiti
03. Danse Caribe
04. Desperation Breeds...
05. Polynation
06. Give It Away
07. The Naming of Things
08. Lazy Projector
09. Bein' Green [The Muppets cover]
10. Eyeoneye
11. Near Death Experience Experience
12. Effigy
13. Lusitania
14. Orpheo Looks Back
15. Plasticities
16. Tables and Chairs

Encore:
17. So Much Wine [The Handsome Family cover]
18. I'm Goin' Home [Charley Patton cover]
19. Fake Palindromes

Review:
When I first heard that the opener was a stand-up comedian, I was concerned. Knowing that a lot of stand-up doesn't do much for me, or outright offends me, I wasn't feeling too great about the prospect. But I figured it was worth giving a shot, so arrived early enough to catch Eugene Mirman's performance and a comfortable seat. I was surprised; he actually was fairly funny, but I was disappointed to find that much of his humor relied on ableism. He walked the line of overt offensiveness, and it's debatable if he strayed too far on the wrong side, but at least I could appreciate his political humor.

Andrew Bird came onto the stage alone to perform the longest track off his new album, "Hole in the Ocean Floor". His trademark looping was abundantly clear here, as without it the song would have been all but impossible. As it was, he was able to build up a huge network of parts that wove in and out of each other. Since it was just him, it was a rather transparent process: it was quite easy to watch as Bird added and subtracted parts as he went along.

For the rest of the main set, Bird was joined by guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, bassist Mike Lewis, and his usual drummer/multi-instrumentalist partner, Martin Dosh. Bird mostly stuck to his violin, but played guitar parts on many songs as well, and occasionally threw in glockenspiel bits when he felt like it. And of course, nearly everything he did was looped back. The last time I saw him perform, he appeared to also sample the guitarist's parts, but this time he seemed to just operate on his own instruments and voice. However, on some songs, it appeared that Dosh was manipulating some of Bird's parts, so I can only imagine that the wiring involved here is highly complicated. Dosh also performed some keyboard parts and threw down some percussion samples while ostensibly holding the beat with his drumset.

Ylvisaker was usually found to be doing something interesting with a slide or with some array of interesting effects, but he got off to a rough start when some element of his equipment appeared to malfunction. During "Desperation Breeds..." he was unable to perform for most of the song, and a stage hand rushed on stage to try to help. Bird didn't seem to mind too much; at one point he glanced back, noticed that Ylvisaker was out of action, and appeared to play what was presumably the guitarist's part on his glockenspiel. One quickly gets the impression that much of Bird's performance is improvised or at least only loosely scripted. After finishing "Desperation", Bird again looked back to see that Ylvisaker needed more time, and broke into what seemed to be an unplanned rendition of the brief instrumental "Polynation".

The setlist largely consisted of material from Bird's new album, Break It Yourself, which he said he really liked to perform, along with a couple favorite songs from each of his past few albums. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) many of these older selections were captured on the live Fake Conversations EP that he released a couple months ago as a giveaway for concert ticket buyers. As a result, there were few surprises to be found in the setlist, but that's not to say there were none. The biggest was probably the cover of "Bein' Green", which Bird claimed wasn't on the setlist but somehow just made him feel better. Apparently he was feeling "under the weather", which is strangely appropriate: a recent documentary following Bird's previous year-long tour, Fever Year, focused on the fact that Bird was battling some form of a cold for almost the entirety of the tour.

Bird's encore saw him come back to stage with just Ylvisaker and Lewis. The three crowded around a single retro-looking microphone and announced that they were going to play like in the old days. With no amplifiers, just acoustic instruments and voices, the three performed two covers and then retreated back to their normal posts. Dosh returned to his set as well, and the band played a manic, extended version of "Fake Palindromes". I had expected Bird to come out and play some more songs solo (as he had on his last tour) but this did not occur.

My biggest complaint of the night was that the encore seemed a bit dull. The idea of grouping around the single mic was interesting, but the covers weren't so special, and I would have preferred some more jems from Bird's own extensive back-catalog. The opener was okay but I probably would have preferred a hand-picked musical performer more in line with Bird's sound. (But I suppose Mirman was indeed better than the last tour's opening act, the Heartless Bastards.)

Scores:
Eugene Mirman: C+
Andrew Bird: B+

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Radiohead / Other Lives - Live 2012.03.09

I just couldn't say no to this concert. It was worth the expensive ticket, even if seeing a concert in 19,000-seat hockey arena is weird.

Artist: Radiohead
Venue: Scottrade Center
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: March 9, 2012
Opening Act: Other Lives

Setlist:
01. Bloom
02. 15 Step
03. Airbag
04. Little by Little
05. Morning Mr. Magpie
06. Myxomatosis
07. Kid A
08. Videotape
09. The Daily Mail
10. The Amazing Sounds of Orgy
11. Karma Police
12. Identikit
13. Lotus Flower
14. There There
15. Feral
16. Reckoner

First Encore:
17. Separator
18. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
19. Lucky
20. Electrolite [R.E.M. cover tease] Everything in Its Right Place

Second Encore:
21. Give Up the Ghost
22. You and Whose Army?
23. Idioteque

Review:
This show rocked. I don't know when the last time was that I saw a concert this good – and I saw some good concerts last year! I think a large part of my satisfaction comes from just how good the openers were. I hadn't heard the name until I heard they'd be opening the show, but it turns out that Other Lives are a top-notch band. Hailing from Oklahoma and performing as a six-piece, they produced a dense, nearly orchestral sound. Despite the difficulty in ascertaining who was producing what sound in the mass of guitars, keyboards, and strings, they reminded me of a less abstract My Bloody Valentine, or a more compact Godspeed You! Black Emperor, or of the more complexly arranged Radiohead songs from OK Computer or In Rainbows. Suffice it to say, I liked them a lot.

Speaking of Radiohead, the first surprise of the show for the unsuspecting observer was the presence of two drumsets – guest drummer Clive Deamer has become a steady live member of the band for this tour. To open their set, Radiohead played three album-openers, each of which benefited greatly from the expanded percussion. While "There There" has always featured additional percussion from guitarists Johnny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien, "Bloom" also featured Johnny on percussion, and Clive's presence on almost every song of the show certainly set the theme of their performance.

The new material from 2011's The King of Limbs benefited greatly from this percussive focus. Since the album already showed an emphasis on reducing sonic complexity in favor of rhythmic precision and ingenuity, it only makes sense that the band would further expand on that front live. Despite my relative lack of enthusiasm for the new album, most of the songs carried a fantastic energy when performed live. "Feral" still remained a formless, weak, meandering half-song, and "Separator" lost some of its subtle wonder, but the others were surprisingly good.

The rest of the setlist was solid. They played their newest single, "The Daily Mail"; an obscure Amnesiac-era b-side, "The Amazing Sounds of Orgy"; and the brand-new, unreleased "Indentikit". Other highlights from their extensive back-catalog were "Reckoner", "Lucky", "You and Whose Army?", and three Kid A songs that all garnered massive crowd approval. Oddly, nothing from before OK Computer was performed; other setlists from this tour usually have one song from The Bends, but at this point in Radiohead's career, they can probably afford to forget about their more mainstream alt-rock days.

The band was in top form, clearly extremely well-rehearsed. The rhythms were unbelievably tight and intricate. Clive added quite a bit in that regard to the classic material – especially to songs like "Reckoner" and the Kid A material. (Perhaps that's why those songs stood out to me so much.) On other songs, Clive's influence seemed minimal, superfluous, or even undetectable. I have no idea what he added to "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" or "There There", for example. "Lucky" and "You and Whose Army?" were the only songs he sat out on, presumably because there was literally almost nothing to add. (Well, there was also "Give Up the Ghost", which was performed by just Thom, Johnny, and a sampled beat, but that's a different story.)

The only weak moments were "Feral", a screwy-sounding guitar part by Johnny on "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi", and some flubbed lyrics on "Karma Police" – which Thom joked about by then changing the chorus: "This is what you get when you forget the words". But every other moment was a perfect performance, and the encores were incredible. It's fascinating to see a crowd respond so well to a song as abstract as "Everything in Its Right Place". The closing song, "Idioteque" went over quite well, and the performance was even more intense than normal, escalating into an extended frenzied jam at its conclusion.

I'm not sure what else to say. It was an incredible performance, possibly even slightly better than the last time I saw them. And Other Lives were probably the best opening act I've seen since Haii Usagi opened for the Faint.

Scores:
Other Lives: A
Radiohead: A

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra with the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago - Live 2012.02.17

It'd been a good long while since I'd been to the SLSO, but this seemed like a special opportunity.

Event: Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Robertson, with the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Venue: Powell Hall
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: February 17, 2012

Program:
1. Le nozze di Figaro Overture, K. 492, composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1786
2. Arcangelo, choreographed by Nacho Duato, 2000:
   a. Preludio (Largo) from Concerto grosso in F major, op. 6, no. 9, composed by Arcangelo Corelli, 1714
   b. Vivace and Grave from Concerto grosso in G minor, op. 6, no. 8, "Fatto per la notte di Natale"
   c. Adagio from Concerto grosso in G minor, op. no. 8
   d. Preludio (Andante largo) from Concerto grosso in C major, op. 6, no. 10
   e. Sarabanda (Largo) from Concerto grosso in B-flat major, op. 6, no. 11
   f. Preludio (Andante largo) from Concerto grosso in B-flat major, op. 6, no. 11
   g. Adagio and Vivace from Concerto grosso in D major, op. 6, no. 4
   h. Largo from Concerto grosso in D major, op. 6, no. 7
   i. "L'innocenza peccando perdeste" from Il primo omicidio, composed by Alessandro Scarlatti, 1707
3. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048, composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, c. 1718
4. twice (once), choreographed by Terence Marling, 2011:
   a. Within Her Arms, composed by Anna Clyne, 2008-2009
5. Concerto in E-flat, "Dumbarton Oaks", composed by Igor Stravinsky, 1937-38
6. As few as 3000, choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, 2011
   a. Toccata e due canzoni, composed by Bohuslav Martinů, 1946

Review:
My first surprise of the evening was that the advertised Hubbard Street Dance Chicago did not hit the stage immediately. When the musicians and David Robertson came out, I became keenly aware of the open space on the stage left for the dancers, since the musical component of the evening was raised on an otherwise absent platform. The SLSO opened up with the overture of Figaro, which certainly made for a lively mood, but the piece itself offered no great surprise.

The next piece brought the picture into focus. Almost as soon as the orchestra bowed into the work, a pair of dancers hit the stage. The dance piece was set to an amalgamation of works by Corelli and Scarlatti, and as the musicians moved nearly seamlessly from one selection to another, so too alternated the dancing duos on the front stage.

The Brandenburg Concerto was another standard work done without choreographed accompaniment, but after the intermission this was followed by the much more dynamic and exciting Within Her Arms, a somewhat more abstract and moody piece that was matched by the dancers' rendition of twice (once). While the music often dwelled in distant realms of mild atonality and deep obscurity, the dancers too seemed to be playing with the spirits and the otherworldly.

Another unaccompanied piece, "Dumbarton Oaks", followed. It matched the feel and mood of the first half of the concert but almost seemed too familiar, which I found to be an unexpected response to a Stravinksy work. While blending a little too closely to ground already trodden, it also contrasted sharply with the works performed on either side of it, both of which had a far more experimental nature. The closing piece, Martinů's Toccata e due canzoni, was a little more unusual and presented me with something I was hitherto rather unfamiliar with.

The lasting impression is that the addition of a dance company to the performance entirely changed the aesthetic of the night. Normally, movement on the stage of a symphony orchestra is limited, constrained to small boxes. It is subtle and is focused solely on the movements required for the musical performance, with little extraneous motion or sound. The dance company, however, provided a dynamic, physical presence. One couldn't help but watch them. They drew the focus, and whenever they were present, the music became a background item, an easily overlooked element of the picture.

Although I enjoyed the dances quite well, I found it difficult to focus on both the motion and the music. Increasingly, I found myself giving up and just watching the dancers. This, then, led to a feeling of something lacking when the dancers were not accompanying the music. In retrospect, it is easy to understand that the dancers were likely worn out and needed time to rest between their performances, but as an observer in the moment it was hard to ignore the sudden lack of visual stimulus.

Hence, while I cannot begrudge the orchestra for performing while the dancers rested, it did make the evening feel unbalanced. The unaccompanied works began to feel like interludes that one wished would come sooner to an end. Nonetheless, the performances were solid, both by the orchestra and the dance company. The collaboration was fruitful, for the works in which they were on stage together stood out as a beautiful convergence of art forms.

Score: B