Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The xx at the House of Blues San Diego


Coachella seemed liked a haze running around from stage to stage in order to capture as many bands as possible. One of the few sets that I vividly remember not wanting to leave was during The xx. Initially, their debut album didn't click with me right away but somehow their icy, cool tunes gained a sheen of repeat listening warmth.


A large white scrim hung in front of the stage positioned as the target for Phantogram's array of visuals that blended well with their arresting electronica laced dream pop. Supporting their latest release on Barsuk records Eyelid Movies, Phantogram conjured various twinkling synthesizers, pulsating synthesizer bass lines and textured guitars to hypnotize the audience.

The mix for Phantogram was criminally low as chatty patrons in the back of the bar were overpowering the band on stage. "Mouthful of Diamonds" was not nearly as propulsive as it should have been due to the lack of volume. Some fans in the front were yelling in between songs to tell the band to turn it up. Unfazed by the sound problems, Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter still managed to pull off a solid set.

Another visual aspect of their show that should be noted was their intermittent use of strobe lights during the noisy parts of their set that blitzed your sensorium. Despite the sound problems, Phantogram is on my list of bands to check out when they come back around the area.

The xx

Icy. Calculated. Cool. These are just some adjectives that raced across my mind while watching The xx. Ever since I started photographing concerts, paying attention to lighting is a vital component to capturing the right moment. The lighting director for The xx deserves an award for their outstanding use of lighs in a concert setting.

A large white scrim flashed the shadows of Romy Croft and Oliver Sim while they initiated the tension mounting "Intro". When the scrim dropped, the band immediately started into "Crystalised". The lighting director methodically alternated the spotlight between Croft and Sim when they were trading vocals. Visually, it made the members pop out of thin air and vaporize instantly after singing their respective part.

Knowing the songs was key for the first three songs as I quickly aimed my camera back and forth. The sparseness of "Islands" was impressive with Sim adding some extra kick on his sliding bass notes. Croft deftly handed the ringing guitar notes of "Heart Skipped A Beat" while Jamie Smith pounded away at his electronic drum pad.

Things became moody with the calm quietness of "Shelter" as the tension building guitars would ignite momentarily before quickly folding back into a wash of reverb. The lack of drums throughout the track pulls in the listener and adds a shade of contrast to the bleakness of the song.

Twinkling keyboards of "VCR" elicited cheers from the crowd as many started to sing along. The xx would sequentially tackle "Basic Space", "Infinity" and "Night Time" to close their main set. The background of the stage changed to numerous illuminated "Stars" for another visual ace serving as the perfect encore.

The fire alarms that went off before The xx played should have sounded at the ending of their set. It was that good. The xx will be back on 9/22 at the Hollywood Palladium.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Place To Bury Strangers and The Big Pink at the El Rey Theater

The pairing of The Big Pink and A Place To Bury Strangers was not for those faint of ear. The audience collectively lost a tiny percentage of their hearing at the El Rey Theater. I severely lagged in posting these pictures but figured I would wait awhile to give everyone a reminder that they should get tickets to A Place To Bury Strangers at Spaceland this Saturday.

A Place To Bury Strangers

The Big Pink

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The National at Spreckels Theatre

Is it too early to crown High Violet as the album of the year? After a four hour flight back to Los Angeles from St. Louis, I drove two hours down to San Diego to catch The National at the Spreckels Theatre. Remembering how superb their performance was at the Wiltern Theater helped combat the fatigue of travel weariness.

Ramona Falls

Brent Knopf spends most of his time in Menomena but still manages to find time to create records under the Ramona Falls moniker. Appearing on stage by himself, Knopf strummed his acoustic guitar for the see saw notes of "Russia" from his album, Intuit.

Alternating between a guitar and his synthesizer, Knopf worked through a handful of wistful tunes. It was nice to see Ramona Falls on the bill as Menomena are old touring partners with the National. Menomena is gearing up to release their new album, so I don't expect to much touring for Ramona Falls for a little while.

The National

Spreckels Theatre was perfectly suited for The National's haunting atmospheric tunes. Matt Berninger would comment that the venue was beautiful quickly followed by a quip that it was "no Casbah though". The National launched their first volley in the form of "Start A War" with its dulcimer tones.

A propulsive drum beat of "Mistaken For Strangers" had Berninger clutching his microphone with his eyes closed belting out the lyrics in his rich low baritone voice. Aaron and Bryce Dessner coaxed out the yearning guitars of "Anyone's Ghost" that washed over the audience. A horn section added some extra sheen to the urgency of "Bloodbuzz Ohio" while the Dessner twins added backing vocals.

"Afraid of Anyone" is another stand out track from High Violet that sonically reminds of something that Morrissey would have done in the Vauxhall and I era. As the night progressed, Berninger's dived more viciously into his performance and eventually making his way out into the front row of the seated theatre.

The horn section filled in the gaps again for "Slow Show" with the twinkling guitars also coloring the sound. "Squalor Victoria" had Berninger stammering around the stage uncontrollably passionately screaming the chorus. A bouncing piano line signified the melancholy vibe of "Little Faith". Tremolo guitars signaled "Conversation 16" which is in contention as my favorite track from High Violet.

The National's setlist choices were flawless selecting such tunes as "Daughters of The Soho Riots", "Abel", "Sorrow" the majestic "England", and "Fake Empire" to close out their set. Berninger hilariously kicked over his ice bucket that contained his wine bottle which summoned roadies to quickly jump from the wings of the stage to mop up the mess. After the roadies left, Berninger cooly poured out more wine telling the roadies they missed a spot.

"Runaway" and the outstanding "Lemonworld" kicked off the encore before things turned chaotic for a rousing rendition of "Mr. November" and the shimmering "Terrible Love". While the printed setlist stated that would be the end of the show, The National did reemerge for the live favorite "About Today". The National will be back on October 16th to play the Fox Theater in Pomona. I wouldn't miss it and you shouldn't either.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

a-ha at Club Nokia


Back in the '80s, my brother and I constantly watched and recorded music videos. While we mostly were looking for Iron Maiden and Judas Priest videos, we frequently came across the classic a-ha video for "Take On Me". Even though we heard the song hundreds of times, we seemingly would never hit the fast forward button.

a-ha's popularity unfortunately waned in the States, but they continued to conquer the rest of the world and could be considered as Norse gods in their homeland. a-ha announced their farewell "Ending On a High Note" tour with a few select dates in the US. I was fortunate enough to catch the second night at Club Nokia and left wondering why a-ha would even think of retiring.


If you are going to dub your farewell tour as "Ending On A High Note", my expectations were fairly high. a-ha exceeded these expectations by turning in a sparkling performance. A large LCD screen hung behind the band and I noticed additional speakers were placed in the venue for one of the best sounding shows at Club Nokia.

a-ha are consummate professionals. From the opening synthesizer sparkled moments of "Bandstand", a-ha put on a slick performance with no obvious flaws. Morten Harket looked like he stepped out of a time machine as he perfectly sang along. Magne Furuholmen was stationed behind a two tiered keyboard stand and enthusiastically clapped his hands to engage the audience.

Soaring visuals of trees flashed behind Harket for the acoustic laced "Foot of The Mountain". a-ha played their material in reverse chronological order and dipped back to their eighth studio album for the electronic infused "Analogue(All I Want)". "Forever Not Yours" was the lone representative from their album Lifelines.

It was remarkable how Harket's voice was still vibrant and capable of reaching a number of different octaves. "Minor Earth Major Sky" and "Summer Moved On", kept the momentum going and it was impressive to see the crowd eating up every note. A wave of nostalgia really poured over the audience once they ventured back to Stay On These Roads by playing "The Blood That Moves The Body" and a glistening rendition of the title track of the album.

The iconic James Bond intro flashed on the screen prior to a scorching rendition of "The Living Daylights". Utilizing synthesizer patches that were a few memory banks from Depeche Mode and Erasure, "The Swing of Things" really had the crowd dancing. "Manhattan Skyline" was another top notch tune that prominently featured some sounds of a Roland Juno keyboard.

After a brief rest, a-ha came out for the encore of "Hunting High and Low" with background vocals provided by the entire audience. A montage of old television footage from the '80s provided the backdrop to "The Sun Always Shines On T.V.". Chants of "Take On Me" provoked the band back to the stage for a second encore as the video played in the background when the pulsating synth line kicked things off. A rapturous ovation capped the evening as the band thanked crowd stating "Goodbye America! Thanks for being loyal." It is hard to believe that they will never be back.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Hum at Millennium Park


It seems like it was years ago that I traveled to Chicago to see two nights of Hum at the Double Door on New Years Eve and New Years Day. Even though my head was still in the clouds from Hum's blistering performance at the Old Rock House in St. Louis, I was still in disbelief when I boarded a plane heading toward Chicago for a free Hum show at Millennium Park.

Things became more interesting when I heard the weather report about severe thunderstorms in Chicago. What if I flew out all the way to Chicago to have the show get cancelled? According to my cab driver, it had just stopped raining when I landed in Chicago. This was a good omen.


Hum definitely has a devoted fanbase. The few thousand people that turned out at Millennium Park reaffirmed these suspicions. The line for the Hum merchandise booth was packed well before the start of the show as I quickly swooped up a souvenir poster. Hum could have played the exact same set from St. Louis and I still would have been ecstatic.

When Tim Lash unleashed the opening chords of "The Pod" on his Jackson guitar, it was difficult not think about the St. Louis show as this was the same opening song. The notable difference being that I was surrounded by a few thousand people in a beautiful outdoor venue compared to a few hundred in a sold out club.

It was exciting to watch Hum perform in front of a much larger audience and play for fans who may never have had a chance to see them. After the metal crunch of "Iron Clad Lou", the crowd was surprised to hear "Stars" as the third song. I was surprised when Hum detoured from their St. Louis setlist and dropped the atmospheric "Ms. Lazarus".

Watching other fans in the front row jump up and down going nuts hearing these songs added an extra degree of enjoyment to the show. "Green To Me" was fantastic with Jeff Dimpsey hammering his G&L bass in time with the thundering drumming of Bryan St. Pere. "Comin' Home" was played at a rapid fire pace due to St. Pere playing the beat nearly twice as fast.

St. Pere was on fire as multiple drumsticks were destroyed and flailed in the air throughout the length of their performance. The grey dusky skies perfectly matched the atmosphere of "Afternoon with the Axoltols". I would quickly receive the shock of a lifetime when Hum dusted off "Hello Kitty" which is one of the few tracks I don't own. The trip was already worth it at that point.

Roaring guitars highlighted the metal shrapnel of "Scraper" but proved to be the enlightening moment of the evening with Matt Talbot stating that he wasn't that angry anymore and that "I have a lot of joy in my life and thanks for being a part of it". Trademark Hum guitar chords of "Suicide Machine" devolved into a power chord crunch chorus. Hum simply was sounding amazing.

"Inklings" was unrelenting with its cluster bomb attack of guitars and cymbal smashes. Hum seemed to stretch out the ending by continually crushing the main guitar riff. "I Hate It Too" also was teased out during the ending with the band firmly interlocked with each other. Chants of "Hum! Hum!" brought the group out for an encore.

When Tim and Matt grabbed their alternately tuned guitars, I knew "The Scientists" would quickly follow. Matt proceeded to announce that they would be playing the final selection of the evening before leaning over to tweak his MXR Phase 90 pedal for the intoxicating swirls of "I'd Like Your Hair Long". It still feels like it was dream as I write this. The question is whether I fly back to Illinois when Hum plays a hometown show in Champaign on July 10th. Anyone want to go?

Hum setlist at Millennium Park Pritzker Pavillion (5/31/10)
"The Pod"
"Iron Clad Lou"
"Ms. Lazarus"
"Green To Me"
"Comin' Home"
"Afternoon With Axoltols"
"Hello Kitty"
"Suicide Machine"
"I Hate It Too"
"The Scientists"
"I'd Like Your Hair Long"