Thursday, February 28, 2008

British Sea Power - Live @ The Echo, Los Angeles 2/27/2008 Review

What happens when you mix an overuse of power strips, UK voltage rated rated electronics, and a bit of spilled water? Aside from fried amplifiers, you get British Sea Power playing to a sold out crowd at The Echo last night. Despite every member minus the drummer having either a partial or complete equipment failure, the guys and gal from Brighton improvised enough to keep the tired crowd singing and dancing well after midnight.

What was already a late Wednesday got even later when BSP's sound check reavealed a faulty MIDI device in keyboardist Phil Sumner's rig. tick. tock. 11:45 rolls around and the Modest Mouse'y intro All In It off their recent release Do You Like Rock Music? is played over the house system. The group takes the stage. The violin has no power. tick. Then Noble's guitar has no amplification. tock. tick. tock. Sumner started the arpeggiator on his MicroKORG to make the delay feel less awkward as Hamilton did a somersault into lead singer Yan. Finally, a major piece of Noble's pedal board was found to be the culprit and amputated.

One Potential Problem

After what seemed like a year on the ocean, the band dove into the driving yet lush Lights Out For Darker Skies. One song down, the show had begun! But wait, "We seem to be having a problem with the Marshall's electricity." TICK. TOCK. TICK. TOCK. While the blame was being placed on all unsuspecting Brians in the crowd ("Anyone in here named Brian? you? This is your fault."), BSP's roadie concluded that the amp was dust. In keeping the show moving, a group huddle concluded they could at least play Spirit Of St. Lois with one guitar. In this extended-let's give the tech more time-version, Noble walked to the back of the club a la Tim Harrington while Yan anxiously kept one eye on the red power light of his amp-which never came back on. Another single guitar song followed-the spastically awesome Apologies To Insect Life.

The roadie (why do all British bands regardless of size have roadies??) finally tracked down a puny Epiphone combo and put it in place of the Marshall head. Well, you make do when ya need to make do. Commonly heard between songs: "Pete, this monitor isn't working. I just put the microphone on it and nothing." And so the show went.

It was hard to keep the chi pulsing through the fixated crowd during these extended breaks. At 12:30 in the morning even the most seasoned night owls can only hoot so long. Yan sarcastically remarked under his breath "There's a lot of energy in here". Sorry Yan, we know you tried. Blame the Echo for not catering to British Sea Power's um...power needs.

I didn't get a chnace to see the set list, but if the equipment failure was the only reason BSP played those two songs, it was well worth it. Not to discount Do You Like.. but there is a level of energy associated with their earlier material that the new album doesn't quite reach. Waving Flags was the crowds sing-along-anthem of the night and was placed rather nicely in the middle of the set. I always prefer a surprise closer than the radio single you know they've been saving just so you'll stick around. Though my eyes were heavy I'm glad I stuck around to hear their last song which was the fist pounding No Lucifer.

No doubt, the band made a trip to the hardware store today to pickup up some voltage converters for the Spaceland show. I only wish I wasn't so tired from last night's that I could sail once again.

pre-Marshall Melt Down

The Fab Four

Castledoor was absolutely enchanting as always. Imagine a slightly sprightlier/whimsical Arcade Fire minus the Canadian accent. They are definitely one of the best acts in LA right now. It is literally impossible not to love their song Magnetic Forces.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

2007 Shows I didn't write about

Shows I went to that I woulda, shoulda, coulda written about had I joined the blog wagon train sooner. Here are some blurbs.


Dec 29th - The Mars Volta @ The Echoplex, Los Angeles
I'll keep this short and sweet since I've already written so much about them. After waiting outside for nearly 3 hours in a line that stretched for blocks, The Mars Volta debuted material of their forthcoming album Bedlam in Goliath. The band played as well or even better than ever before. Cedric's voclas were spot on, Thomas is an animal on the drums and the new songs were amazing.

Mars Volta @ The Echoplex

The Mars Volta - Metatron

Dec 15th - Les Savy Fav @ The El Rey, Los Angeles
Les Savy Fav quickly became one of my new favorite bands after seeing this show. Singer Tim Harrington spent half the show giving their stagehand job security by wading through the crowd. During the encore, the band came out dressed in a Christmas theme with Harrington donning tighty-reddies and a Santa jacket. Te then proceeded to kill several over-sized teddy bears and rain their stuffing over the audience.

Les Savy Fav - The Equestrian

Dec 4th - A Place To Bury Strangers with Xu Xu Fang @ Silver Lake Lounge, Los Angeles
My old band Xu Xu Fang opened up for the minimalist psychadelia up-and-comers APTBS. While XXF is still letting the fog out, APTBS opted for a clear viewing so they could have not one but two 35mm cameras projecting trippy visuals behind them. Definitely stoney, definitely loud, definitely worth catching.

Nov 26th - GWAR @ The Catalyst, Santa Cruz
No, I'm not 17 and yes, I saw GWAR (again). I had just rolled into my hometown for the Thanksgiving weekend when my friend called saying he had a ticket waiting for me at the box office if I wanted it. Of course! Well, GWAR is GWAR. If you know what their shows are like, I don't need to tell and if you don't, then you don't want to know. This show primarily consisted of new songs and since I stopped buying their albums 13 years ago I was pretty unfamiliar with them all. Standing in a psuedo-VIP section I still managed to get sprayed a little.

GWAR @ The Catalyst

Nov 12th - Feist & Spoon @ The Gibson Ampitheatre, Los Angeles
Nestled in the back alley of the gawdy Universal City Walk were two of Indie Rocks heavy hitters performing a double-bill that scalpers drool for. Spoon is not good on a big stage. They are a standard 4-piece band that doesn't need the space. I think that'l be the last time I see them for a while. "New artist" (???) of the year nominee Fiest on the other hand needed all the space the Gibson offered and more. She was much more experimental than I could have possibly imagined- at points looping and overdubbing her voice with the Line 6 Digital Delay modeling pedal. She I most definitely recommend but I hope to never set foot on Universal's City Walk again.

Feist - My Moon, My Man

Nov 7th - Parts and Labor @ Spaceland, Los Angeles
Brooklyn, NY's Parts and Labor had been getting some regular airplay for their song Fractured Skies on Seattle's KEXP in recent months and the experimental/noise power trio's sound had really latched on to my audio cortex. Unfortunately, their live set left something to be desired in terms of provided some visual companionship to their audio in my brain. Fractured Skies was played about 20 minutes into the set and was subsequently the last song they played.

The Kooks - Review - 2/7/2008 @ The Troubadour

Brighton, England's The Kooks swooped into the first of two sold-out LA small club shows at The Troubadour. Still touring for 2006's debut Inside In/Inside Out, the young lads delivered their catchy indie pop songs with plenty of joie de vivre to keep the Thursday crowd tuned in.

It's easy to lump The Kooks in with the countless other British bands to flood the college radio scene in recent years. Not quite as danceable as Franz Ferdinand,as brash and punky as The Arctic Monkeys, or as crass as Jamie T., they sort of fall into the Adult-Alternative genre of fellow Astralwerks labelmates Athlete crossed with this-rocks-i-just-wish-the-rest-of-the-album-did favorites Bloc Party.

Half the band was apparently going for a farmer/serf theme as lead man Luke Pritchard was decked out in his open-cut farmboy shirt. It complemented his bare bones telecaster that looked as though it was parted out, then used as a weather vane for 20 years. Nary a knob or pickup selector existed on it. If Pritchard was the peasant, then lead guitarist Hugh Harris was the estate lord with his wide-brimmed fedora and black vest. Fortunately for the other two members, rookie Don Logan (Bass) and Paul Garred (Drums), they weren't given the memo that the band was playing dress-up tonight.

The hour long set was filled with nearly every track on their only released album plus 3 samplers from their upcoming sophomore release, Konk, due out in April. While the new songs showed promise in the bands inevitable maturity, no one came to see how the band had blossomed over the years. People wanted to hear the singles as evidenced by the shrieking girls at the start of Naive (Which by the way always reminds me of Presidents of the United States Peaches). To be fair to the guys in the crowd, nearly as many goateed, early 20-somethings were singing along to every word alongside the teenage girls in the front row. Interjected between the songs were enough "Luke, I love you!"'s to make one think they were at the premiere for season 2 of Beverly Hills 90210.

Perhaps the band needed to kill some time but the set list seemed designed to maximize the number of times Pritchard needed to switch between his electric and acoustic guitars. The one spontaneous moment of the night occurred when Pritchard began strumming the intro to Sofa Song. Within an instant of the crowd recognizing the intro, he broke a string. Fear not though, as a replacement was on his shoulder in T-minus 10 seconds.

Their encore began with thier album's first track Seaside featuring Pritchard a la carte. He played one more sans band then called them back to the stage one last hurrah.

The boys from Brighton infused their songs with as much gusto as they could but I think dragging their their album out from the 2006 archives for a refresher was as much Kooks as I needed. I can't imagine the show the following night at The Echo could have been that different from the Troubadour but splitting the crowds was a good move. A round of applause to their booking agent: When touring on one album, two sold out shows at small clubs is much better than one sold out show at The El Rey (oh hi Vampire Weekend, I didn't see you standing there).

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Pinhead Gunpowder - Review - 2/4/2008 @ the Troubadour

$5 doesn't go very far these days. If you want to see live music in LA for $5 you're either going to see your friends band play at the Good Hurt (re: flyer discount) or you're gonna catch a free night at the Silver Lake Lounge. Or you might get lucky. Real lucky. On Monday, February 4th, $5 was enough to get into the Troubadour to see Pinhead Gunpowder. Who is Pinhead Gunpowder right? They aren't your friends little brothers' band that you begrudgingly go see "to show support". And they aren't a pseudonym for GNR-Axl+Scott Weiland. For those in the know, Pinhead Gunpowder is the perpetual side project the man who walks the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong.

Billie Joe is a polarizing figure in pop music. He either killed punk rock or saved it. Whatever your take on the man as a musician is, his roots in music by the people, for the people were self-evident Monday night. Scheduled to play at 10pm, the sold-out crowd of yesteryear punks at the Troubadour were tipping their bartender when the entire band walked on-stage to set up their own equipment. Now that's common place at any other $5 show but the Troubadour? wow. By a 3-time Grammy winner??? Double wow. Billie Joe was dressed like he was going out to grab a slice of pizza on Gillman St in 1994-flannel, black Chuck's, and a ratty maroon beanie covering a mop of bleach-blond hair. In between tuning and setting up his amp, he was chatting it up with almost everyone in the front row. Right before the band began playing, Billie Joe shook hands with a fan then pulled him onstage along with about 10 others on each side of the stage.

With nary a 1,2,3,4 they kicked into their first song which was as fast, tight, and (s)punky as any other track you'd find on Dookie. Remember how punk shows were in high school? Everyone here did. Fists pumping, crowds surfing, stages diving. The energy level was as high as I have ever seen it for an LA show save for maybe Datarock, Les Savy Fav and of course my favs who won't be mentioned here.

Fellow guitar player Jason White took the reigns on nearly half the songs allowing Billie to sing back-up and focus on his solid power-chording and the one elusive stage dive-->crowd-surf-while-still-playing trick. With such a notable figure at such a tiny club, it was to be expected that the airspace would be flooded with the pixelated glow of digital cameras and cell phones. At one point between songs Billie said "memories...memories, How many of you have digital cameras or cell phones? How about we put them away? YouTube can't own everything. Memories are here (points to his head) and here (to his heart)" and like Moses handing out his commandments, the crowd followed his request.

About 50 minutes and a college-ruled, single-spaced setlist of songs later, Pinhead was done. The no-frills, Lookout! Records brand of punk songs was over. The house music came on and the satisfied crowd started leaving. But, before too many people could toss their wristbands on the curb though the band returned to play three more songs before disappearing into the curtained Troubadour loft forever.

I can't say I was ever a big Green Day fan, I must admit that in my formative musical years I sort of went backwards after Nirvana to The Dead Kennedys and Social Distortion. That's not to say this enigmatic, charismatic, energetic (Grammy award winning) pop-punker at a somewhat secret show wasn't a blast though. And for $5 how can anyone complain?

The Mars Volta - Review - 2/1/2008 Nissan Live Events Taping

If there's really such a notion as "too much of good thing", The Mars Volta surely have never heard of it. Hardly a month after playing a somewhat secret show for their fans at the Echoplex, the gave us Los Angelenos yet another intimate performance albeit amongst camera booms and scripted applause at the Nissan Live Sets Stage for Yahoo! Live Events.

The lucky 200 fans were shuttled to the stage at Fox Studios in Century City during the strict time frame of 5-6:15 pm (I ended up on the second to last one thanks to work). After a pat-down and wanding check that would make Homeland Security proud, my roommate and I entered the sound stage to the tune of Muse's Knights Of Cydonia and raucous applause and rocking out. Of course, Yahoo! just needed to make sure they had enough stock footage of Volta fans clapping and grooving but there were more eyes rolling in this room than in Jim Jones' compound.

My jaw dropped when I saw the acoustic guitars brought on stage. This was to be the second time the band had ever performed an acoustic set-the first being New Years Eve. The studio unfortunately chose the most disinterested fan possible to introduce the band. She could barely muster a glint of enthusiasm when the mic was put in her face to say "The Maaaaaars Volta!". She was more like "themarsvolta". Nonetheless, Omar, Pablo, and Cedric the Forehead (that's the sig I've got from him) emerged seconds later.

Again, cue clapping. More clapping. Don't you like themarsvolta? Ok, we've got enough clapping. The band looked a little awkward but proceeded to settle into thier stools. The Acoustic set consisted of Miranda...This Ghost Isn't Holy Anymore, Asilos Magdalena, and Televators. It was absolutely enchanting. Cedric's vocals were spot on. Televators has to have some of my favorite lyrics of any songs ever-"someday this chalk outline will circle this city".

Q&A followed The Mars Volta Unplugged set. A few scripted questions read by nervous fans to an uncomfortable band is always a good time. "How does Latin Music incorporate itself into your music and how do you make it your own?" Come on. the best question was asked by my friend Michelle, "What pop music do you listen to as a guilty pleasure?" Omar joked Coldplay, Cedric defended them as nice guys even though he doesn't like the music. Someone in the audience yelled "Sparta" and Cedric defended them as his brothers. Someone definitely wore their magnanimous pants this evening.

After Q&A, the rest of the band (who were sitting a few feet away from me the entire acoustic set watching) joined the deers in headlights on stage for a fully electrified set. The band began with Roulette Dares, then Viscera Eyes followed by the new single Wax Simulacra. Beyond that song everything they played felt like a bonus after all we had seen already. They continued on with new tracks Goliath and Ouruboros. After they finished Ouruboros, Cedric asked the producer how much time they had left. Apparently they still had about 20 minutes as they proceeded to play the epic Tetragrammaton which clocks in above the 15 minute...and that's if it's played fast.

Then, abruptly upon the end of Tetra, Cedric said "I think we're gonna stop playing now. Thank you." and they all left the stage. And we all woke up from our dream and are still debating whether or not that amazing event was all just in our head.

Check out Yahoo! Live Events on February 15th for the debut of this performance.

The Mars Volta - Review - 1/30/2008 @ Bren Center UC Irvine. Smelled Like balls

I knew what I was going to. It wasn't going to be as nascent as the Echoplex. It wasn't going to be as intimate as the Troubadour last April. It wasn't going to be as exploratory and primal as the Catalyst last March. But it also wasn't going to be like seeing them open at a SOAD or RHCP show (I must confess/toot my horn, in 12 shows, I've never seen them as an opener). It was somewhere in the middle. Like the RIMAC arena. That was my first live experience with them way back in April, 2005. People who were excited-not always for the best reasons-to see the best live band, the best studio band, the best band for your brain today and maybe ever, The Mars Volta.

The Mars Volta played the UC Irvine Bren Center last night. It was broadcast live on Indie 103.1 which, despite being commercial radio was pretty damn cool. I wasn't sure if they'd be subject to censoring due to the live broadcast but Cedric's frequent dropping of the f-bomb between songs assured me there was a slight radio lag and they would be able to perform the show they were meant to perform.

The floor was packed and the security were enforcing the "You gotta be on the blue or get outta here" law. I stood tippy-toed on the blue until the passed then straddled the line separating the floor with the walkway till the show started. They must have been taking some lessons from the El Rey.

Their long-standing intro, "Fistfull of Dollars" (recently given a brief vacation) began around 8:45 pm. The crowd rushed the front as I knew they would. Omar's ring mod kicked in and those who knew, knew what was coming. Roulette Dares opened the show. I think that song has been played at ever Volta show since the Druids built Stonehenge. And Stonehenge is still fucking there too. Drummer Thomas Pridgen (it's been a year and a half now so we should all stop calling him the "new guy") breathes new life into the song particularly at the jam section during the 6/8 second half. And no, he doesn't use a double kick.

I was most pleased to hear that Omar was still taking his sweet time between songs and indulging in his loop pedals with the show being broadcast on the radio. Nearly two minutes passed between the end of Roulette Dares and song number 2.

Viscera Eyes gives me chills during the second half. I can't stop dancing. Watch my videos from the other times I've seen them play that song, they suck! I uncontrollably move too much! PT II from the EchoplexThe Orpheum Theater 4/3/2007

Up next was their new single Wax Simulacra. This song took a while to grow on me. I didn't like it last year when it was played under the moniker Idle Tooth. It felt like an etude then. It's evolved into one short mother though. I was glad to hear Cedric reprimand the crowd between songs about the aggressiveness. "Save that shit for the Warped Tour." As I mentioned earlier, a show like this draws equally from people who wish to experience the cerebral Volta experience and those who hear spastic drums and fast tempos and think it's their golden ticket to take their shirt off and throw their fists around.

Goliath, aka Rapid Fire Tollbooth was the first real new jam highlight of the night. This song just keeps progressively getting better and better (and faster ad faster) every time it's played.
New song time! Ouruboros!!! "Don't you evah, evah, evah,..." Oh my god. The "and all you ask is why" section currently boggles my musical clockworks.

The 16 minute suite, Tetragrammaton was next followed by new song Agadez then the only song from 2005's Frances the Mute opus, Cygnus...Vismund Cygnus. For how intense their music is (read: "Intense", not "heavy"), I don't think there is another band out there with as many genuine smiles as this one. It was during the jam section of this song Cedric decided to make some friends in the audience and ran up the bleacher stairs. One fan who had apparently been waiting for this moment all his life ran down the stairs and gave Cedric a bear hug. I don't think Cedric knew he was there. Cedric rocked on the barricade for a few seconds then returned on stage as the safety leader of the Bren center with his emergency exit sign and all. He placed it on top of Omar's amp where it remained the rest of the night (was Thomas tired of losing his cymbals to Cedric the gnome?). Cedric then ran up the other side of the event center and returned sporting a ratty FuBu-esqe sports shell from some generous member of the crowd. That man definitely knows how to work the audience. from where I was, right up front, I was getting more of the bands acoustic/non-house system sound which helped make the show feel like it was at a more intimate setting-with 4,000 people pushing some guys elbow into your back.

The highlight of the night for me was their next song, the second of the new album Bedlam in Goliath, Metatron. The verse kicks into an austere double-time feel that just says dance. And I'm pretty sure that when J.S. Bach was working out counter-point way back in the 1500's, his biggest mistake was not making 5 the the standard for all music time signatures. Listen to the second half of this song and you'll see what I mean. Second guitar man/sound manipulator Pablo Hinojos-Gonzalez brings Cedric's vocals into another dimension on this song.

Back to the classic Drunkship after Metatron. This song, like Roulette Dares is constantly being worked on but I personally think it's time to trade it out for another oldie. But then gain, listen to Adrian's accents on the block. Perhaps this one can stick around for a while longer. The crowd definitely got a little out of hand for this one-mustered up their flagging energy and got a little pushy.

One last new song, Ilyena was next. Reminiscent of...nothing comes to mind it's so good. Baphomets, the closer of all closers ended the night. This final moments of this song, when Omar's brother Marcel begins his bongo run, gives me chills every time I hear it.

The Mars Volta, like no other band today, did all this with smiles across their faces. The dynamics in the band appear to be the best they've ever been as the music pushes new boundaries and the musicians push themselves. The energy of their live shows is something that is hard to find anywhere else and see this band at any/every opportunity possible. But take your dancing shoes, not your steel-toed boots because as Cedric notably said early in the show, "There's too much testosterone here, it smells like balls."

Yeasayer - Review - 1/26/2008 @ The Echoplex

Was it the waiting in the rain? Was it the confusion of the show first being moved from the upstairs Echo to the underworld Echoplex? Or maybe the half-hour-after-you-eat rule was in effect as the show was pushed up an hour from its initial start time (not that shows ever start when they're supposed to at the Echo)?Whatever it was, I am embarrassed on behalf of my fellow Los Angelenos for the reception that was given to Brooklyn, NY's Yeasayer last night.

Co-headlining with fellow East-Coasters MGMT, Yeasayer was poised to play their first Los Angeles show to a sold out crowd. It's evident from the initial billing that the draw of this and was underestimated-tickets were $8 (before fees) and the show was slated to play the tiny upstairs Echo. Over the past two weeks though, tickets had sold out and Spaceland Productions decided to move the show to the much larger Echoplex which also subsequently sold out.

The long line of people waiting in the rain were those who were waiting to buy tickets as I was able to walk right in.

Oakland's Port O'Brien opened the show to a somewhat empty house. I definitely recommend checking them out if you like the idea of Arcade Fire sans strings in place of a banjo. Their song "I Woke Up Today" is great. I'll be seeing them out again when they return to play with Delta Spirit in a few weeks (is it the Troubadour or the Echo?? it's double booked).

Yeasayer took the stage at 9:30 to a nearly full Echoplex and kicked the show off with "Worms". The technical problems of the first song set the tone for their set unfortunately. You see, it wasn't just the audience that tried to bring these New Yorkers down, the sound check apparently didn't occur on bassist Ira Wolf Trotters microphone. Not surprisingly, they work better when they're plugged in. As anyone who has their album All Hour Cymbals knows, this band's usage of vocal harmonies would make John Lennon proud.

After their second song "Waves", keyboardist/singer Chris Keating noted the lethargy in the crowd and mercifully tried to justify it to the weather or the early. Thanks for trying Chris, but the sad fact of the matter is you were right- It seems a lot of Los Angelenos go to shows for the sake of having the "Them? Meh. I saw them last year..." notch on their ticket stub belt. Yeasayer was one of the biggest buzz bands of 2007 thanks to Seattle's KEXP and Pitchfork.

After another commentary on the sluggish state of the audience, the crowd made an overly emoted effort to wake up but the falseness of it was spotted and called out. C'mon LA! Wake up!


Their masterful use of synthesizers and MIDI effects was one of the highlights of their live performance. At times, Ira made his bass sound like a violin with the Electro Harmonix HOG. Even drummer Luke Fasano used a loop and overdub effect for the intro of "No Need To Worry".

No Need To Worry

The end of "No Need to Worry" was the most unfortunate moment of the night. Chris Keaton, blindly tossed his maraca into the crowd at the end of the song. During the intro to the next one, a voice could be heard over the monitor "You hit a girl in the head.." The band stopped and the sound man asked "Who threw the maraca? you hit a girl in the head and it landed on my soundboard." After the band made sure she was alright, ice was thrown on them by most likely her boyfriend. Now, that sucks on all ends. But c'mon Echoplex...what was the point of interrupting the set and ruining Yeasayer's groove to tell them they did that? You could see they felt terrible about it and realized it was a stupid thing to do but the Echoplex should have waited till after their set to reprimand them. The time spent apologizing ate up their setlist and after they finished the song they had to restart (name unknown), they were told rather rudely "1 more, make it count". They finished with "Wait for the Wintertime". They didn't play "Sunrise" which surely would have been their closer.

To the people of Los Angeles,
if you go to a show and don't know the band too well or are checking them out for the first time let me offer a word of advice: Please, please, uncross your arms, stop watching the show through your camera, and dance. Or at least bob your heads. Something! Something to let the band feedback a little off the energy. Live music is give and take.

Yeasayer's Setlist:
Wait For The Summer
Final Path
No Need To Worry
(unknown song)
Wait For The Wintertime

MGMT was a little lackluster after the uber-eclectic sounds of Yeasayer. I'm glad I saw them now. One more band I don't have to worry about catching at Coachella.

Let's just hope Yeasayer wasn't so deterred by the crowd that they return again. Along with fellow New Yorkers Battles, they are one of those bands that have to be seen live to truly experience.