Friday, June 29, 2012

Alabama Shakes Don't Live Up to Hype & March of the Penguin Prison

I did a double-header last Sunday: Alabama Shakes at Rumsey Playfield, followed by Penguin Prison at Brooklyn Bowl. I'm probably going to upset a number of you when I say Alabama Shakes are really good, but not great, live. If you want to just believe all the hype and quit reading now, I understand. You're a hipster. But if you're a real music fan, I encourage you to read on.

Doors for the 3pm show were at 1:45, and I was actually freaking out during my commute, believing that I wasn't going to get in because I was going to arrive around 2:15. Thankfully, there was no line, and I made my way to a choice spot in the center. The standing room tightened with each minute and by the time Houston-based Robert Ellis walked onstage, the venue was about 500 humans short of capacity. Those who made it early were exposed to his take on outlaw country, from barnstormers like "No Fun" to introspective ballads like "Photographs," the title track off his latest release (which I would've bought if the vinyl wasn't fucking $25. Come on.). Having played to eight people, one of which was his wife, the previous night in West Virginia, Ellis and his band lapped up the energy from the mass of people, and injected it back into the highlight of the set, a cover of the bluegrass tune, "Ruby, Are You Mad?"

After a short break, the nine to eleven members of Diamond Rugs, who I was almost more excited to see than Alabama Shakes, piled onto the stage. After about a minute of incoherent chatter, they oozed into "Hightail," the first song off their eponymous album. John McCauley of Deer Tick fame grabbed the mic for second song, "Gimme a Beer," with joyous trombone and baritone sax parts punctuating the chorus. Hardy Morris of Dead Confederate took the reigns for "Big God" and traded the microphone back to McCauley for what is sure to become one of my favorite songs this year, "Call Girl Blues." It was at this point I realized they were playing their album in order, and they kept this formula for their set. It worked well, though, because no one member sang lead vocals for more than two songs in a row. "Totally Lonely" was exponentially better live than recorded, with all the members joining producer Justin Collins on the final refrain. For the set-closing "Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant," which I had seen Deer Tick perform before, the group thinned its ranks to a duo of McCauley and Los Lobos' Steve Berlin. The fact that it was merely days after the summer solstice only amplified the beautiful sadness of the song.

The most glorified band of the year, Alabama Shakes, were up next, packing Summerstage to its limits. Thankfully they chose to forgo the rigidity of their album, quietly welcoming the crowd with "Goin' to the Party," which I had predicted would be the only placement for the song in a live setting (It kind of kills the momentum of the album, but it probably wouldn't work as an album lead-off track either.). Exploding into "Hang Loose" and "Hold On," the Shakes had the crowd eating it up, but I wasn't totally sold.

Here's the deal. Frontwoman Brittany Howard is a sight to behold. Her powerful voice, accentuated by the pronounced shapes of her mouth while she's howling out her lyrics, makes her the prime candidate to lead a band. Unfortunately, the rest of the members don't live up to her. Don't get me wrong; the Shakes are all great musicians and they do sound better live than on record. But they made me realize how important stage presence is. Save for a few smiles from guitarist Heath Fogg, you couldn't
tell if the band members were actually enjoying it, or even if they knew they were playing to a crowd. Perhaps this concentration is what keeps them on top of things musically, but I like a little showmanship with my rock 'n' roll. When Brittany set aside her seafoam green Gibson and took the mic from its stand for "Be Mine," things improved. Stuck behind her stand for the previous numbers, she barely moved, aside from her aforementioned mouth and her curls billowing in the summer breeze. When she traversed the stage, you could follow her with her eyes, distracting you from the statues making the bluesy funk behind her. I hope that with more and more stage time, the young band will develop a little more sizzle in the future, or at least acknowledge that they are playing to 5000 adoring fans.

I hightailed it home so I could eat dinner and a half a brownie before heading over to Brooklyn Bowl for the next show. It started an hour later than advertised, so I made it in time to see two shitty support acts. Before Penguin Prison's set, I situated myself about three people back in the center. Chris Glover and band geared up and took us on a trip on the "Golden Train," with Glover climbing off the stage and into the crowd, pacing through us as he sang. It's not uncommon for artists to bring the show onto the floor, but I don't think I've ever seen it happen during the first song. I think it represents Chris Glover's newfound confidence by using the Penguin Prison moniker. He has always seemed a little socially awkward introducing songs, though it usually came off as funny, almost Hedbergian. Now that he has reincarnated himself as a new disco/remix artist with a ridiculous name, he seems more comfortable in that he's playing a game, not baring his soul. Hell, even when he performed as Chris Glover, he made sure to put it in quotation marks ("Chris Glover"). "Golden Train" segued nicely into "The Worse It Gets," as did "Animal Animal" into "A Funny Thing." He finished the set with "Blue Jeans," a remix/cover of a Lana Del Rey song, which you can download here. As I could give two shits about Lana Del Rey, it was a little disappointing. For the encore, he broke out "Multi-Millionaire," this time entering the crowd with his guitar. My main criticism would be the meager 47-minute set duration. Chris Glover has several unreleased songs from the period of his career directly preceding Penguin Prison that I find to be his best work. A well-placed "Hold My Soul" or "Tear Stains" would not be too much of a departure from his new sound, and would undoubtedly prove his versatility. I can't really complain. I had a great time dancing and singing along, and isn't that what it's all about?



Westbound Train / Comin’ Home / What’s in It for Me? / Two Cans of Paint / Flames of Hell* / Pride / No Fun / Photographs / Jam > Ruby, Are You Mad?

DIAMOND RUGS – 06.24.12 – RUMSEY PLAYFIELD (58 minutes)


Hightail / Gimme a Beer / Big God / Call Girl Blues / Out on My Own / Country Mile / Totally Lonely / I Took Note / Blue Mountains / Motherland / Tell Me Why / 100 Sheets / Hungover & Horny / Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant

ALABAMA SHAKES – 06.24.12 – RUMSEY PLAYFIELD (1 hour, 4 minutes)


Goin’ to the Party / Hang Loose / Hold On / I Found You / Rise to the Sun / Always Alright > Boys & Girls / Be Mine / I Ain’t the Same / Mama / Hurricane Strut / Makin’ Me Itch / Heavy Chevy / You Ain’t Alone


Worryin’ Blues / On Your Way / Heat Lightning

PENGUIN PRISON – 06.24.12 – BROOKLYN BOWL (47 minutes)


Golden Train > The Worse It Gets / Something I’m Not / Animal Animal > A Funny Thing / Fair Warning / Don’t Fuck with My Money / Hollywood / Blue Jeans



Saturday, June 23, 2012

Free Fun in Williamsburg

Last night, Fun played a free show for fans at Music Hall of Williamsburg. While the setlist was an abridged version of their recent run at Terminal 5, the small venue experience enhanced some of the performances.

My friend got into a 300-person line two hours before the 9pm door time. I had to catch a $25 cab (so much for free), but was able to join up at 9, the line obviously swollen since 7:00. Slowly inching around the block, inhaling secondhand smoke, and being rained on, it was quite the nerve-racking experience. Would it all be for naught?

Right before 10pm, security cut the line off about 20 people behind us. Success! We showed our IDs and made our way into the only available spot at the rear. Before we could even get our bearings, the house lights went down, and screams gave way to the opening notes of "One Foot." "I'm standing in Brooklyn, just waiting for something to happen," sang Nate Ruess, quenching the desires of a crowd who had done just that in line. "We've only been off tour for like three days. It feels so much better to be back," he admitted.

The set was so similar, it didn't feel very different from T5, aside from the awful squealing of lyrics by the girl behind me and the presence of camera cranes and dollies for a broadcast of the show on Walmart's website in July. The déjà vu remained until Ruess took a break to remove his shoes, and informed the crowd that Nelly's "Ride Wit Me" had just popped into his head. Andrew and Jack found the chords and led the crowd in a sing-along of the chorus. The fun moment was followed by a reflective "The Gambler," in which Nate had to stifle the handclaps of an eager crowdmember. "You're not gonna find the beat, my friend. I dictate the beat."

When the drumbeat to "We Are Young" kicked in, the show elevated to new heights. The acoustics of the room combined with the choral singing of the crowd really made this a special moment, seeing the hit single of the hottest new band performed in such an intimate setting. No one could remember the smoke-choked line we waited in in the rain; only that we were young and we were going to set the world on fire. Perfect.

As the band slipped into "You Can't Always Get What You Want," the Terminal 5 surprise seemed less unique... until they trumped it with this version, all in the face of incessant talking from the girl behind me, too young to know the Stones. The band left the stage, and the audience began chanting, "One more song!" which thankfully later morphed into "Encore!" Why only ask for one more song? Why not eight? Fun listened to the first chant and went with "Some Nights." The "oh-oh-oh-oh-ohs" bounced off the walls amazingly, and Jack took the opportunity for a shimmering guitar solo.

The sonic hat trick at the end of the concert had me giddy at actually being able to get into the show. I wish I could've seen them when I started listening in 2009 before they got huge, but I never had the chance. I just realized that next year they will likely follow in the footsteps of many artists who've been around for years and yet are still nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy. And I'm fine with that, as long as they win, and as long as you know I was listening to them way before you.

FUN – 06.22.12 – MUSIC HALL OF WILLIAMSBURG (1 hour, 4 minutes)
One Foot / Walking the Dog / Why Am I the One / All Alone / At Least I’m Not as Sad (as I Used to Be) / Carry On / Ride Wit Me (tease) / The Gambler / All the Pretty Girls / Barlights / We Are Young / You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Some Nights

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Soulive and Karl Denson Play a Quick Set

I went to Summerstage today to see Soulive play with Karl Denson. I've had mp3s by the goateed saxophonist for ten years now, and I was introduced to Soulive five years ago, when I worked with the Evans brothers' brother. This was right when they released No Place Like Soul, adding Toussaint the Liberator to their lineup as vocalist. Purists rejected the new sound and Toussaint moved on, which was a letdown for me because I found him to be quite a welcome addition. Admittedly, I've never been a huge jazz fan. I can appreciate it, but it's not something I listen to frequently. I'd never seen Soulive or Karl Denson, so now was the time.

The line to get into the event was long, likely due to opener Riq & Rah (Black Thought and Rahzel). I caught some of their performance, but mainly had to listen in line as they covered recent hip-hop songs like "Hip Hop is Dead" and "Otis." "If your friends are out there now, wave goodbye to 'em," informed the security guard who let our batch of the queue inside. I made my way in just as they took things way back with Slick Rick's "Children's Story." Their set ended with the last verse of "The New Style" in a tribute to Adam Yauch.

Soulive and Denson took the stage modestly, and then dropped a bomb on the crowd, with what would possibly be their funkiest song of the night. Guitarist Eric Krasno played with an intensity that suggested he was fighting inner demons, and Neal Evans spun sonic spiderwebs with his Hammond B3. Karl then traded out his sax for a flute, and they played the title track off their collaborative EP Spark! that comes out on Tuesday. The release is a tribute to jazz guitarist Melvin Sparks, but I'm not sure if the songs are covers or just similar in sound to his work. Song three featured an amazing saxophone solo by Denson (Maybe it was the funkiest?) and some slick drumwork by Alan Evans, who holds his drumsticks in the traditional grip, making it appear so effortless.

After three jazzy workouts, the final song was a misstep in my opinion. It began with some ominous bass keys and flute, but then Krasno started sprinkling Moroccan guitar riffs into the mix, causing the groove to sort of unravel. Amping up the licks with Hendrixian distortion towards the end of the song seemed a last ditch effort to bring it back together. It would've been less of a disappointment if they had played another song after, but those 37 minutes were it. It burned bright at the start, but before you knew it, it fizzled out and was over. Spark indeed.

Pre-Father's Day Fun.

Fun (I refuse to put periods where they impede upon sentence structure, so deal with the lack of stylized punctuation.) started off their run of two sold-out nights at Terminal 5 tonight. Who would've thought that only a year ago when I saw them open for Panic! at the Disco (Yet I had no problem putting an exclamation point there?), and they began their set with "We Are Young," that it would become the spring hit of 2012?

Well, it did, and that meant thousands of fans packed like sardines, singing along to songs from both Some Nights and Aim & Ignite. The sound was actually very good for Terminal 5, allowing me to fully appreciate Jack Antonoff's bright guitar-playing. As you'd expect from Fun, the show was bursting with energy and rarely set aside much time for banter (aside from one notable discussion of how New York is now their hometown, even though Nate still has an Arizona license. "He looked like Steve Buscemi before we all got to know him as a great guy. You know, the first time you saw him, he stressed you out a little bit," said Jack.). The show also featured the lengthiest eruptions of confetti I've ever seen, causing whiteout conditions, as evidenced in the photo below.
The surprise of the evening was not ending the set with "We Are Young," but launching into a cover of "You Can't Always Get What You Want." While I've heard better versions, it was nice to see them defy expectations. Also kind of shocking was the limited use of auto-tuning (I only noticed it during "Some Nights.") so liberally employed on the new record. Highlights for me were "All Alone" and the first encore tune, "One Foot." I hope they play the same exact set tomorrow, so I don't have to feel any shame in trading my tickets for tonight's show.

FUN – 06.16.12 – TERMINAL 5 (1 hour, 25 minutes)
Some Nights (Intro) / Some Nights / Walking the Dog / Why Am I the One / Light a Roman Candle with Me / All Alone > It Gets Better / At Least I’m Not as Sad (as I Used to Be) / Carry On / The Gambler / All the Pretty Girls > Barlights / We Are Young / You Can’t Always Get What You Want
One Foot / Take Your Time (Coming Home)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Grace Potter Gives a Private Show

Move aside, Emily Haines. A new favorite frontperson is in town.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals rocked Irving Plaza last night as part of Rolling Stone's Private Concert Series. I'd seen Grace Potter maybe five years ago, when she was pretty much just known on the jam band circuit. I remember enjoying that show, but last night I was fairly blown away.

At 9:37, the band took the stage to the tribal drums of the title track off their newest album, The Lion the Beast the Beat. Having released the LP on Tuesday, the set was heaped with fresh tunes, and Grace wasn't ashamed of it. "If you don't know it, just fucking pretend you do." The album sounds different than anything they've ever done before. I've always thought of Grace and the Nocturnals as a band that you could drop into the late '60s/early '70s and they'd fit right in. Their eponymous 2010 album delved into mid-to-late '70s-era pop/rock, and The Lion leaps forward into the '80s. With its angular guitar lines and drum machines, tracks like "Never Go Home" sound more like Tom Tom Club than Janis Joplin. How would this sonic departure fit into their live show?

Surprisingly well. While the band tended to have more fun with the older material (The end of "Oasis" featured a jam with some killer Allman Brothers-style guitar interplay.), they were quite confident with the new tunes. By the time they hit "Timekeeper" halfway through the set, they were all smiles.

And so was I. Grace Potter looked amazing in her post-Memorial Day shirt/dress thing with matching Daisy Dukes. She danced the whole show all over the stage. (I don't think she ever learned to just walk anywhere.) You could actually watch her feeling the beat as it convulsed through her body and out her mouth off the tongue that seemed to so frequently emerge. When she belted out a song, she didn't just sing with power; she channeled her love of music into her vocals, and it's awesome. On ballads like "Stars," you could see her dealing with the same pain she felt when she penned the song. Trying to quell my recent vinyl addiction is going to be damn near impossible after seeing her seductively twirl her microphone stand while singing, "I will be your record, and you will be my turntable." She ended the set with "Medicine," and I immediately felt withdrawal symptoms.

They didn't last long, however, as the band reappeared for an encore of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," both parts of "Nothing But the Water," and a rousing Rolling Stones' cover "Happy." Hell, it was Rolling Stone's event. "There are a lot of parties in New York, but there aren't a lot of good parties," said Miss Potter. This was one of the good ones.

GRACE POTTER & THE NOCTURNALS – 06.14.12 – IRVING PLAZA (1 hour, 47 minutes)


The Lion the Beast the Beat / Never Go Back / Ah Mary / Sweet Hands / Parachute Heart / Stars / Timekeeper / Oasis / Turntable / Keepsake / Stop the Bus > One Heart Missing > The Divide / Paris (Ooh La La) / Medicine


White Rabbit > Nothing But the Water (I) > Nothing But the Water (II) > Happy

Thursday, June 14, 2012

TV Show Review: Veep

Veep sucks.

Backlogged/Waterlogged Concert Reviews

Recently, I have been mainly posting concert reviews on this blog. People have expressed that they like reading them, so that's what I've been doing. I'm gonna post some pictures of ice cream and maybe start reviewing other things and possibly even finish Kid Nation, but I've been busy. I have a bunch of concerts that I attended that I would still like to share on here, so hopefully too much time hasn't passed. Also, hopefully my notebook, soused at last night's Ozomatli concert, is salvageable.

Here's some backlogged ones I'm gonna write:
ALO at Brooklyn Bowl
Ben Taylor at City Winery
2 Skinnee J's at Irving Plaza
Great Googa Mooga Festival

Here's some that I will write that have yet to happen:
Grace Potter at Irving Plaza
Fun at Terminal 5
Soulive at Rumsey Playfield

So get psyched.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ozomatli Soaked in Strings

Yesterday, Los Angeles-based multicultural band Ozomatli took the Central Park Summerstage by storm... literally. A soggy day deterred the crowds, but those who attended (maybe 200 tops) were fortunate enough to witness something special as the group played its songs with accompaniment by the New York Pops, a professional symphonic orchestra. The Pops, led by Steven Reineke, added a variety of touches to Ozomatli's anthems. Songs like "Elysian Persuasion" and "Saturday Night" went into disco territory, while "Cuando Canto" was a beautiful waltz.
Although the rain stopped for the start of the show, about halfway through the set, the skies opened up and things got downright torrential. (Cue token comment about how much I hate the people around me at shows.) Too bad the asshole in front of me had to pull out the world's largest umbrella and block my view. I backed up and moved out of the center, and the band kept playing. Ozomatli and the Pops were joined by some Harlem School of the Arts' jazz students, including one amazing 11-year-old blind keyboardist, for oldies "Cumbia de los Muertos" and "Como Ves." The latter was taken to new heights with the orchestral backing.

I've never seen Ozomatli do an encore. They've always finished their set, and started a chant of "Ozomatli, ya se fue, ya se fue!" They then grab portable instruments and venture into the crowd for sing-a-longs of anything from the theme of Sesame Street to "Give Peace a Chance." After the set, the band waved goodbye, and the orchestra began packing up. The house lights came on and the PA started playing some music. Diehard Ozo fans like the ones who stayed for this monsoon of a show weren't going to just leave without a little more. After 3 minutes, the band came back out. "You ready for us to do this L.A.-style?" asked bassist Wil-Dog Abers. "Yeah!" we cheered, expecting "City of Angels," which come to think of it, would sound awesome with strings. But "City of Angels" we did not get. "Caballito," in my opinion, a weak song, closed the night, and they never came out into the audience. I guess people from L.A. melt if they get wet.

OZOMATLI WITH THE NEW YORK POPS – 06.12.12 – RUMSEY PLAYFIELD (1 hour, 25 minutes)
La Gallina / Elysian Persuasion / Dos Cosas Ciertas / Can’t Stop / Nadas por Free / Believe / Cumbia de los Muertos / After Party / Ya Viene el Sol / La Temperatura / Malagasy Shock / Chango / Cuando Canto / Here We Go / Saturday Night / La Misma Canción / Como Ves


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Jimmy Cliff Busts Open the Bandshell

Jimmy Cliff kicked off the 34th season of Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park tonight with a set of favorites. You'd never know that Cliff is 64 the way he dances rambunctiously around the stage. While his voice sometimes went a little flat in his old age (He was never one to hold back, so he still belts this shit out of his songs.), the show was fun and full of energy. The backing band was solid, with a real horn section, including a trumpeter that toasted and sang.

Leaping right out of the gate with "You Can Get It If You Really Want" set the tone for the hit parade that was to come. Following that with a cover of Rancid's "Ruby Soho" was an inspired choice, charging my brain with the task of figuring out who had actually written the song. The first of three medleys came next, a Special-themed one going from "Treat the Youths Right" into "Rub-a-Dub Partner" to "Reggae Movement" back into "Rub-a-Dub."

Listening to Cliff on my iPod this morning, I wondered if Cliff would play "Viet Nam." "Yesterday I got a letter from my friend fighting in Vietnam," doesn't exactly reek of topicality in 2012. As if he read my mind from the B train, Cliff changed the song to "Afghanistan," even going so far as to sing, "Yesterday I got an email." I guess snail mail is even out-of-fashion in Jamaica.

Jimmy skanked all the way along the amphitheater stage for a ska medley of his early '60s singles "King of Kings" and "Miss Jamaica," but the real audience treat was the set-closing mash-up of the Medlodians' "Rivers of Babylon" and Cliff's own "Bongo Man." Leading everyone on stage on hand drums and everyone in the crowd on vocals, Cliff saturated the air with such a communal vibe, one could not help but feel "irie."

JIMMY CLIFF – 06.05.12 – PROSPECT PARK BANDSHELL (1 hour, 33 minutes)


You Can Get It If You Really Want / Ruby Soho / Treat the Youths Right > Rub-a-Dub Partner > Reggae Movement > Rub-a-Dub Partner / Wild World / Rebel Rebel / Save Our Planet Earth / Afghanistan (Viet Nam) / World Upside Down / King of Kings > Miss Jamaica / Many Rivers to Cross / Let Your Yeah Be Yeah / I Can See Clearly Now / Rivers of Babylon - Bongo Man Mash-Up


One More


One More


The Harder They Come / Sitting in Limbo / Wonderful World, Beautiful People