Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Brandi Carlile - Live at the Oregon Zoo - 2008-08-22

Apologies to anyone paying attention for the long delay in posting this review. In addition to only recently having heard much of Brandi and therefore not having the setlist to this show for a while, I'm a lazy git.

So how many concerts have you been to where you can walk across a field to your seat on the lawn with a newly-purchased bottle of wine in your hand? Seventeen? Ok, good on you, I should have seen that coming. But now, how many of those had a gated area where you could have a peek at some Asian elephants, one of which was preparing to give birth that night? [If you're answer was anything other than "golly gee Jay, never ever!", then I tip my safari hat to you).

I'm not going to feign familiarity with Ms. Carlile's catalog of songs here, but I will let you in on this secret -- she and her band could burn the paint off a pistol with their take on CCR's 'Fortunate Son' (and they ain't too shabby on 'Folsom Prison Blues', either). As for her own material, I think even Brandi was surprised at how the audience beat her to the punch and started singing the harmonies for 'Turpentine' before she even had a chance to assign the vocal parts to sections of the crowd. She had commented earlier about how she dreamed of headlining this venue on her home turf after having opened for Chris Isaak here before, and nowhere was her pure joy of this performance more clear than at this moment.

She closed the show with two solo songs that paired well together: an emotionally-charged, unreleased song called 'That Year' which was written about her response to a friend's suicide in high school (and might have been a last minute addition to the setlist, based on her countdown of how many more songs she had left to do), followed a cover of Leonard Cohen's ubiquitous 'Hallelujah'. Now that was a fine exit.


What Can I Say
Have You Ever
Fall Apart Again
Late Morning Lullaby
My Song
Fortunate Son
Love Songs
The Story
Folsom Prison Blues
Pride & Joy

That Year

Friday, August 22, 2008

Radiohead -- Live at the White River Ampitheater, Auburn, WA 2008-08-21

With the inconstant rain dredging up vivid flashbacks of the 2001 fiasco in Washington D.C. where I was *supposed* to see Radiohead on the Amnesiac tour, but instead was treated to the watery wrath of an angry god that flooded the entire area, Sabre and I made our way up the White River Ampitheater in Auburn. Fortunately, all precipitation-related crises were averted. *

The band opened with "15 Steps" and a stage show that would be the envy of any Pink Floyd laser light extravaganza. About 100 or so LED lighting columns were suspended from the stage scaffolding and used to amazing effect, ranging from full-motion, 3D-like graphics reminiscent of media player visualizations, to scrolling words and song lyrics. Even more impressive, the cables were thin enough to provide a lot of visual pop without obstructing the view of the band members onstage, but they also had cameras mounted on them that projected live images on a five-panelled film screen behind the band. This was undoubtedly the best stage set-up I've ever seen in terms of balancing spectacle with subtlety.

All of which leads us to the music. For two hours, the band cherry-picked from the best of their back catalog while playing every song from In Rainbows, minus 'House of Cards.' They even pulled out 'In Limbo', the first time they've played that since 2003 (which was ironically also at White River). I got a little chuckle out of the "it should be raining line" in 'The Gloaming', considering it was raining on those poor folks out on the lawn, and the acoustic guitar duet between Thom and Jonny also pulled a laugh out of the crowd when Thom flubbed his part and Phil (the drummer) came out onstage and threw a dollar into the buskers' virtual hat anyway. Favorite moments of mine included a spectacularly strange 'Climbing Up The Walls,' which took on a low-budget, science-fiction movie vibe with the sound effects Jonny was wringing out of the synthesizers, a gorgeous take on 'All I Need' featuring a full-size piano, and a nod to The Bends with 'Talk Show Host', a favorite of Sabre's that she was hoping to hear so she could visualize the scene in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet that used the song to such great effect.

Thom didn't say much throughout the show, but he did dedicate 'You and Whose Army?' to the protestors of the WTO convention in Seattle in 1999, denouncing the WTO as still being corrupt. They followed this song with 'No Surprises,' perhaps as a not-so-subtle continued commentary on the present state of political affairs; it's a shame that such observations have been relevent for far too long.

The band ended the show fittingly enough with 'Everything In Its Right Place', and then they were gone. When your only criticism of a performance is that you didn't get a little more, that's when you can be sure you've just witnessed a great show.

* Unfortunately, The Liars made us feel like we were being musically waterboarded. The forty minutes of inanity that this band put us through seemed to be a calculated effort to guarantee that Radiohead sounded like the BEST BAND EVER, if only by comparison to the travesty of their opening act. I cannot believe that such a sub-par band managed to wrangle the opening slot. I'm guessing that there is some nepotism afoot.


01. 15 Step
02. Reckoner
03. Optimistic
04. There There
05. All I Need
06. Pyramid Song
07. Talk Show Host
08. The National Anthem
09. The Gloaming
10. Videotape
11. Lucky
12. Faust Arp
13. Jigsaw Falling Into Place
14. Climbing Up The Walls
15. Dollars and Cents
16. Nude
17. Bodysnatchers

18. How to Disappear Completely
19. Arpeggi/Weird Fishes
20. Idioteque
21. In Limbo
22. Street Spirit

23. You And Whose Army?
24. No Surprises
25. Everything In Its Right Place

Sunday, August 10, 2008

2008-08-09 Joseph Arthur and the Lonely Astronauts, KEXP BBQ (Seattle)

After his acclaimed performance in the KEXP studios last month, the radio station asked Joe to play at their 6th Annual summer BBQ, and not only did he agree but he brought his band with him. He might have also brought fortunate weather as well, since the rainstorm that pelted us all during Common Ground's set (and threatened during Helio Sequence's) finally cleared and rewarded us with a beautiful double rainbow of happiness that Joe in particular seemed to appreciate. Sometimes it's the little things which have the greatest effect, but coincidence or not, the band went on to perform magnificently.

This was the first time in several months that the Lonely Astronauts had played out, and although Jen Turner was unable to make the show due to a prior commitment, Kraig Jarrett Johnson handled both his and her guitar parts admirably well, and he clearly relished what he was doing. Everyone else on-stage were in equally high spirits, with Sybil Buck literally bouncing up and down and around several times. Maybe they got high off the fumes from Greg 'G-Wiz' Wieczorek's birthday candles earlier (or our in-concert sing-a-long of 'Happy Birthday'), I dunno. But it was an exciting, energetic set that started off with the excellent new song, 'Temporary People' and alternated mostly between tracks from "Nuclear Daydream" and the soon-to-be released, "Temporary People", with one nod to "Let's Just Be" coming in the form of 'Spacemen'.

The band were supple but sharp. Sybil had some hesitation during a bridge breakdown during 'Turn You On,' as she switched to playing slower single notes and looked to Kraig for direction, but she covered herself well and made it back to the verse just fine. This song in particular seems to have undergone some changes, with the (re-?)introduction of a new bridge section that wasn't there during Joe's solo performances of the song.

This was the first time I'd heard (or even heard of) 'Say Goodbye', and it was powerful in it's elegance. Joe dedicated this one to the late Bernie Mac, although I'm sure Isaac Hayes (or at least "Chef") would have been included as well, if only we'd known.

A fiery version of 'Spacemen' closed out the show at full tilt, with one of G-Wiz's sticks flying away from him, Joe jumping up on the kick drum and launching himself off, Sybil positively aglow doing backup vocals, and Kraig channeling the spirit of two guitars through his lone instrument. That, my friends, is a rock and roll show.

And if I was in danger of forgetting it, there were a handful of fake fans fighting their way to the front to remind me, several of them screaming about how much they love Joe, while then proceeding to scream/talk at their friends during the entire song. Joe fans are generally less vapid than that, and I'd almost forgotten what true festival ambience was like when the starpower (and beer) goes to their heads and people are desperate to make themselves part of the experience. Ah, the madding crowd!

Photo courtesy of: the intrawebs (thank you intrawebs!)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Joseph Arthur - Live at The Triple Door, Seattle, WA 2008/07/22

Joe's performance at The Triple Door last night was brilliant, although that much is a gimme due to the dozens of tiny lights twinkling behind him. The Triple Door is an unusual venue, not just for it's star-like backdrop, but for the dinner theater vibe, complete with candle-lit tables and waitstaff whisking appetizers, entrees, and expensive wine to patrons (formerly known as "the crowd"). Joe even addresses this later in his set: "“It’s really nice here. I don’t even mind you all eatin’.”

Joe's on-stage arrival was not as intense and focused as it was in Portland yesterday, as he had to stop a few seconds into 'Chicago' to fix a self-inflicted sound glitch, but he went on to do an amazing set of songs for the sold out crowd of 300. Aside from my secret wish for the quiet euthenization of a couple of irritating geezers up front who laughed loudly in all the wrong places (such as during "Invisible Hands", when Joe sings that he needs Jesus to come back and die for him again), it would be hard to ask for a better crowd; I don't think I heard one person beg for either "In The Sun" or "Honey And The Moon", and that's saying more than you might know.

As he did the night before in Portland, Joe offered to take requests, and he was immediately greeted by a cacophony of sounds. “You all gotta calm down," he replied with a grin. "All I hear is 'WHAAA-AAA'! I don’t got a song called 'WHAAA-AAA!’”

Highlights included the delicate "A Smile That Explodes," frenzied energy on "I Donated Myself To The Mexican Army", and an encore that included worthy crowd participation on the sing-along "One By One".

By the end of the show, Joe had pronounced this his favorite gig of the tour. “Hey, don’t tell New York I said this, but Seattle is the best.”

Photo: Eric

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Joseph Arthur - Live at the Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR 2008/07/21

Last night's one-man show at the Doug Fir was excellent, relieving my concerns about hearing that Joe was leaving the JamMan loops at home for this tour. It was exciting to see him open with an intense version of the soon-to-be-released 'Temporary People' and kick over the music stand holding the binder full of cheat sheets for new songs. Initial reviews of the tour characterized his setlist and performances as being a bit rigid, so perhaps he was making an intentional effort to loosen up a bit. Having a room full of longtime friends and devoted fans undoubtedly help him do just that, and he was soon bantering back and forth with the crowd about spiked water bottles and the Portland art scene (separately, of course), as well as jokingly thanking us for coming "to the dress rehearsal" while the club sorted out some sound problems with the monitor speaker.

The 80-minute set was full of new and obscure songs, the finest of the bunch probably being 'Turn You On' (which will be on the forthcoming Lonely Astronauts cd in September). Against expectations, he then actually opened the floor to requests this time out. Closet classics like 'Favorite Girl' and 'Ashes Everywhere' were quick to be called out, as well as requisite fair-weather fan favorites like 'Honey in the Moon' and 'In The Sun'. Joe wended his way through them all, and by the encore he had recovered and brushed off his notebook to do the forthcoming 'All the Old Heroes,' a wordy, Dylan-esque folk ramble that is clearly near and dear to him. I've got a feeling this one might drop out of the setlist (or be radically reformed) once the Lonely Astronauts join him for the next leg of touring.

Check out a few video clips from this show (courtesy of bombers66 and Woody):

Slide Away
Turn You On
Electrical Storm
Favorite Girl

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Foreign Girls and beyond

Or "Underwater", as it seemed to be code-named on when the actual title could not be located for a week. Either way, this is the fourth (and last) of the ambitious ep series that Joseph Arthur embarked on this year, and it's a worthwhile spin despite being the most uneven of the bunch. There are some gems that sparkle here, the two brightest of which are 'The Killer' and 'New Satisfaction'. This pair of retro-rock-flavored cuts (hint: the last track's title is a knowing reference) build up an exciting momentum, but then leave you at the end of the disc wanting for more.

A simple reordering of the tracks would have helped a bit, but no matter how you shuffle the deck, 'Foreign Girls' would be a bit uneven, with weaker songs like the dopey title track and the innocuous but forgettable 'Stay' siphoning the ep's energy. The lo-fi but lovely track 'Candy & Cars' is wedged in between these, but dig it out -- it's a sleeper.

Taken as a set, the 2008 eps have seen Joe widen his range of styles to include the electronic elements that were first (absurdly) hinted at on "Puppets" from 'Our Shadows Will Remain', and have even seen him skirting territory that was trail-blazed by Prince. Combined with the many unreleased tracks that he has posted on Bag Is Hot, as well as the full-length disc with The Lonely Astronauts that drops next month, there's no denying that the man is as amazingly prolific as ever. The fact that he hasn't become a household name and ended up being played ad nauseum on radio stations everywhere is an act of criminal negligence, but I suppose America has worse to answer for these days.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Third Time Charm

For fans of circa-Y2K Joe, the new Vagabond Skies ep will be a welcome addition to the catalog as soon as they press 'Play.' 'Slow Me Down' is easily the most accessible song here on the disc, and is particularly appropriate at the halfway point of this current series of releases given that the chorus stresses that the singer refuses to be slowed down by anyone. The easy-going acoustic guitar strum of 'Even When Yer Blue' lightens the mood a bit, but attests that while everyone hurts, everyone is also on their own to some degree in this world, recalling another Joseph's (Conrad) observation that, "we live as we dream - alone."

Of course, it's difficult for Joseph not to rail against such an isolationist mentality and return to the concept of a happily-shared misery, which is precisely what he does on 'Pretty Good Company'. He even manages to shake off the unhappiness for 'She Paints Me Gold', a languid, dreamy song full of echoey, falsetto voices swirling above a simple guitar, piano, and drum arrangement; it isn't until an overdriven guitar line cries out and takes over the song that we realize the euphoria won't last.

The manic dichotomy of 'Second Sight' follows, it's distorted backing vocals and layered keyboard lines kicking the choruses into a faux-spooky realm with it's repeated "run aways", before pulling back to the non-threatening strings and drum machine beats of the verses. The Twilight...-era Twilight Singers vibe of 'It's Too Late' circles back to the abandonment mentioned in 'Slow Me Down,' only this time the singer is leaving not because anyone is slowing him down, but because his muse didn't slow down enough to share any moments of true connection: "Every time I try to tell you how I feel/ By the time you listen none of it is still real," he sings, with plaintive choruses of "it's too late" filling in between the verses. He is still the one who has walked away under the vagabond skies, but ultimately it's him who has been left wandering.