Monday, October 26, 2009

U2 Live at Rose Bowl (with a few friends)

I hazard a guess that for those of us in the Southern California metropolis this concert will go down as one of those "where were you?" moments. Seriously, there was something like 100,000 people there and by the time I end this entry into my blog the number will have grown. This being the ninth time I have seen them (spanning two states and two countries beginning with Zoo TV and the subsequent Zooropa tours, through PopMart, to Elevation and Vertigo to this incarnation of the 360 tour), I have a sense that I can call myself a U2 live expert in grading their shows. So, in no particular order, are my thoughts;

1) THE CLAW was impressive, ugly, revolutionary and yet strangely irrelevant by the end of the evening. First glance had it reaching beyond the top of the bowl and the sheer size of it was mighty cool. But once the band hit the stage it was not that different from other shows. In fact, the giant Zoo TV set was far cooler.

2) The Rose Bowl was not equipped for that many people. I say this knowing that no venue in America is really ready for this sort of collection of humanity. It was just too much. The wait to park was long, the lines for food were long (and they ran out at one point), and the number of people compacted the whole place.

3) There is no doubt that last night's version of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was the best I have heard. For some reason the song meshed with the theme of the show of space and travel and time in a perfect symmetry.

4) The set list was certainly a change from past tours. Given the more solemn nature of the new record, the greatest hits selections leaned to the more somber. "The Unforgettable Fire" was a great choice from my standpoint, but I would imagine people would have rather had "Pride" instead.

5) Hearing "With or Without You" for the first time live was great. If I had had my way they would have ended with that instead of "Moment of Surrender". The later song felt more like a coda than a culmination.

6) My one tangent on the people there - I feel that about 3/4 of the crowd was there to see the band. the other quarter was more interested in beer, taking pictures of themselves and chatting with friends. Why would you pay in excess of $100.00 to do something you can do at any bar in LA for half that? I mean, people can do whatever they want but the number of people who spent the night traveling up and down the aisles was staggering. I bet there are 20,00o or so people who couldn't recall anything off the set list except maybe "Streets" and "Elevation".

7) "Vertigo" and "Elevation" have matured very well since their concert debuts and now have a firm place in the live show. I could say the same for "Get On Your Boots" but I think the pacing on it needs a bit or work. I could see that being a nice three song middle section next time out.

8) "Breathe" was a great opening. Other than that I thought the new stuff suffered by comparison. Maybe it's because a lot of people didn't know the material, but it seemed like Bono was working a little harder during those songs. "Unknown Caller" even came with subtitles so people could sing along; that never used to be necessary.

9) At this point in their careers, U2 can pretty much get away with anything but there is no forgiving them for torturing us with the BLACK EYED PEAS. Seriously, this is the same band that once had both PUBLIC ENEMY and RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE open for them on US tours and now we get this crap. Not even Slash could redeem them (or at least that's what I heard from my hour long wait at the snack bar).

10) "Beautiful Day" and "Where The Streets Have No Name" illustrate the greatness of this band. Say what you want about Bono and his sanctimony filtered through self effacing irony or the sheer pretentiousness of playing to that many people (not including the Youtube viewing audience as well), they still play live better than anyone else I have seen. They have the unique ability to bring people to a place that is only possible through music. A place of both spirituality and soulfulness. A place where for a few moments everyone in that place feel something magical. Every time I have heard "Streets" I have felt that. The way it builds and builds them releases the energy and force of the song is worth the price of admission alone. It's why I will keep coming back again and again, without any trace of guilt that I am a fan of the biggest rock band in the world.

Click here and here for a set from Paris off the European leg of this tour. It's a pretty good approximation of what last night sounded like. Thanks to He's A Whore for the set.

A Note about my soon to be born child: How cool is it that during the height of "Streets" he was kicking up a storm. Does that boy know what good music is or what?

A Note About My Wife: My wife is currently 8 months pregnant with our third child. By day she takes care of twin 3 1/2 old boys while lugging around a bowling ball where her stomach used to be. And yet, there she was, sitting on a hard bench with half a spilled beer on her lap from the drunk behind us, with swollen ankles and aches and pains throughout her body from the 1/2 mile trek to get in. She endured because, while she is a fan of the band, she knew it was important to me. She tolerated the pain and agony that comes with being upright for five hours so that I could experience U2 one more time. In my mind, she has never been more beautiful to me then she was last night. To quote Bono:

"And I miss you when you're not around, I'm getting ready to leave the ground, oh you look so beautiful tonight, in the city of blinding lights..."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Editors Release Their Inner New Order

Much has been made about THE EDITOR'S sound being somewhat derivative of JOY DIVSION, mostly due to the striking resemblance of lead singer Tom Smith's baritone to that of the late Ian Curtis. Although that comparison still holds some truth, the band has slowly worked it's way away from the straight up post punk of their debut and into something more reliant on synthesizers and moody bass lines. So with the release of their third album, "In This Light and On This Evening", the band jettisons it's worship of the artists formerly known as WARSAW for a tribute of sorts to what came out of the ashes of Curtis's death; NEW ORDER.

The prevalence of synths on the latest record give it a more updated feel. The lead single, "Papillon", is a dance song that Sumner and company would have been proud of. The moodiness of the title track recalls early New Order and the overall use of the bass to drive the song structure seems to echo the importance bass held to New Order throughout their career.

But this might appear to undersell the record and the band. In fact, this might be the first record that the band has made that is finally their own sound. Here are songs that have a more anthemic feel to them that was lacking on the first two records. "Bricks and Mortar" builds and builds on itself to it releases the powerful chorus towards the end. The discordant synth lines of "The Big Exit" make them sound like THE CURE for a moment. It's certainly a dark record, which is not new territory for the band. The only real complaint is the lack of real driving rock songs, which by the end makes the collection a little more muted than before. But as a transitional step to a new phase of the band, it's a welcome step in a new direction. Besides, leave the copying of Joy Division to Interpol.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

X-Lion Tamer gets in touch with his inner 80's

The sound of the 80's (Synthesizers that sound like lasers, vocals that sound like robots, cheesy lyrics about teen lust) has made a bit of a comeback the last couple of years due mostly to the hip-hop community latching onto the sound because Kanye West apparently told them it was cool. I bring this up because my first listen to tracks from X-LION TAMER reminded me of that sound. It's not the 80's per say, more a copy of the 80's filtered through a post modern sheen. It's not to say I was skeptical, after all the recommendation came from Ed over at 17 Seconds (and his taste is usually impeccable), it's just I felt the sound had been played out.

I am happy to say that the band (or the guy since it's a one man show) has earned a place of fondness for me. By his own admission, the sound is something you might hear at the end of one of those John Hughes movies starring Molly Ringwald and a pre-drug Robert Downey Jr. or James Spader. This could have come off a trite but the depth of musicianship helps save the songs and make them original. "I Said Stop" is what Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark would have sounded like had they not tried to replicate "If You Leave" for the remainder of their career. The cover of the Galaxie 500's "Tugboat" has both hints of the original and yet is also very unique in it's own right. "Life Support Machine" has all the makings of a PET SHOP BOYS song without the deadpan vocals.

It's fun (and yet surprisingly dark in lyrical make-up) and has me both nostalgic and looking to the future. If you like your music with a lot of pop, then this is for you.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Dimes -- The King Can Drink The Harbour Dry

I was eagerly anticipating this record for awhile now. I fell in love with these guys about 9 months ago and every demo song they released via their excellent website made me just that more excited about the finished product. Boy, did they not disappoint. The album is so different lyrically from anything I have ever heard. An entire record about Revolutionary Era America! It's an ex-US History teacher's wet dream. But beyond that, (which on the surface could be boring to the non-History Channel geek) is an album of finely crafted pop songs with a nice mix of Beatles, Byrds and other folksy touches. Here are my thoughts track by track:

"Damrell's Fire" (mp3) launches the record with it's subdued take on the massive fire in Boston.

A tossed on mandolin line in "The Liberator" adds depth to the acoustic blues strut of the song about the influential early Newspaper.

"Save Me, Clara" returns from THE NEW ENGLAND EP with it's achingly plaintive tale of a man of the verge of death.

"Walden and the Willow Tree" (mp3) is an audio painting of Walden Pond (which I have visited and rivals little in it's least the part that's not a commercialized public beach).

"Celia's Garden" has a nice little shuffle to it, probably the closest thing to a rock song on the album, that frames the story of Celia Thaxter's garden.

Another song about a painter, "The Ballad of Winslow Homer", is a soft acoustic number that sounds like something Elliot Smith would have recorded.

"Webster Thayer" recounts the role the crooked judge played in the Sacco and Vanzetti Trial (what other band would even try to take that on as a subject let alone write a pop song about it...)

The first of two songs about Boston the town, "Charles Street", a like taking a walking tour of the town with the benefit of a catchy chorus.

"Susan Be" tells the tale of the women's rights acitvist that sonically is a cousin to Save Me, Clara but with a slower cadence. The slow shuffle of the song has now become the signature sound of the record. This is an album for lazy Sunday afternoons.

"Lovely Mary Dyer" could be a lost Byrds song and is a fitting accompanyment to the previous tales of women figures of early American History. Clearly these guys have immersed themself in Howard Zinn's work.

"Abigail, Don't Be Long" is probanly my favorite song on the record. It's chorus is catchy and the title character sums up the album's spirit perfectly. Strong, quiet and a force to be reckoned with.

The last song, "Boston (Tremountaine)" is the second song about the city at the center of the Revolution and cleans up the album in a nice tight bow both musically and lyrically. I might have switched this and Charles Street in order but it's a minor quibble.

This is an album to be owned. Sure, you can buy it digitally but some records require the detail of album art and lyrics to grasp the entire artistic vision. In no uncertain terms, I love this album.