Category Archives: Concerts

Fillmore Scene

At the Zero 7 concert, opening act Jose Gonzalez is covering The Knife’s “Heartbeats” on an acoustic guitar.
Guy: Does the original version sound like this?
Me: No, The Knife is an electronica band—it’s very different.
Guy: When were they big?
Me: Well, currently.
Guy: That’s weird, I’ve never heard of them.
Me: [realizing] Well, “big” in the sense—
Guy: Oh, in that particular scene.
Girl: Travis, are you a scenester?
Me: No! I just… listen to scenester music… by coincidence.
I don’t think she believed me. Will “Travis, are you a scenester?” replace “Travis, are you a math major?” I don’t get the latter question much anymore.
(The Knife’s version can be heard here [except it may not be working, so also try here] and Jose Gonzalez’s version here and also in that cool Sony commercial with the bouncing balls in San Francisco.)

Recent inattentiveness

I was already kicking myself for missing Built To Spill’s three San Francisco shows last weekend, only remembering to check for tickets once they had all sold out. Then Saturday night I stopped by the lab to change some batteries, and I heard the sounds of a concert at UC Berkeley’s Greek Theater. I didn’t know there was a show tonight, I wonder who’s playing?. By the time I got to Birge Hall I was close enough to hear the music, and when the singer came on I thought he sounded familiar…
…a half second later I recognized the voice as Thom Yorke.
I managed to miss not only Built To Spill, but also Radiohead playing at my place of employment last weekend. I really need to watch the concert listings more closely…

Coachella Report: Verdicts

Best vocals: Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio)
Best guitar: Ted Leo
Best drums: Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney)
Best synth: Ladytron
Most engaging: The Go! Team
Best audience: Depeche Mode
Most t-shirts worn by attendees: Tool
Most crush-worthy female musician: Mira Aroyo (Ladytron)
Most crush-worthy male musician: Ted Leo
Best use of a windchime: TV on the Radio
Most cowbell: Sleater-Kinney
Most innocuous object confiscated by a security guard: My Pilot rollerball pen
Best stage (acoustics and layout): Outdoor Theater
Best stage (schedule): Mojave
Most random cover: Ted Leo playing Daft Punk’s “One More Time”
Favorite band: Ladytron
Bands I wish I’d had time to see: Sigur Rós, Cat Power, Bloc Party, Wolf Parade
Best new find: Art Brut
Best overall performance: TV on the Radio
Songs on my High Noon Sun mix CD that I heard live:
The Go! Team, “Junior Kickstart”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Cheated Hearts”
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, “In This Home On Ice”
Cat Power, “Love & Communication”
Mogwai, “Glasgow Mega-Snake”
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, “Me And Mia”
TV On The Radio, “Ambulance”

Coachella Report: Lessons Learned

Would I do it again? Hell yes. Here are some lessons I should keep in mind for next time.
Arrive early. The traffic becomes pretty hideous when the bulk of the crowd arrives, so it can easily add an hour to the travel time. Plus, undoubtedly some of the really obscure bands that play early in the afternoon are really good. (The trick is to find them.)
Spend the night camping on-site. Shuttling back to Pasadena on Saturday night was brutal. I was envying the people who could walk a few yards to their tents and go to sleep.
Get your ID checked right away. The lines at the ID check booths become long by midafternoon and remain that way all day. If you do it right away, you can walk right into the beer gardens anytime you want later. This is important even if you don’t plan to pay $7 for a Heineken, because:
The shortest lines for food and water are in the beer gardens. People are going into the beer garden for beer but mostly not for food, but they do sell it there. Generally you can just walk right up and get something rather than waiting in line at the main food court. Water is available where they sell beer and there’s hardly any line there either.
If you’re going to buy a shirt, do it early on the first day. The better shirt designs sell out quickly.
It’s worth arriving early for shows to get close to the stage. Especially in the tents the acoustics aren’t so good, and it’s hard even to hear the bands. On the main stage the crowd can get so big that you can’t see anything if you don’t arrive early enough (although hearing the music is less of a problem on the outdoor stages).
See one of the headline shows. The sheer hugeness of the show and the crowd makes it a powerful experience.
Be too cool for one of the headline shows. When everyone’s off at the main stage the crowds at the other stages are small enough that the experience is much more intimate, and the bands really appreciate your presence there. Plus you can make snide remarks about fans of the main act.
Stay hydrated. Obvious but true. I had a brush with dehydration on the first day and it really sapped my energy, even after I got some water and started feeling better.

Coachella Report: Day 2

We arrived a bit earlier on Sunday, and traffic wasn’t as bad, so I was able to make it to an earlier show and then get a terrific spot for Ted Leo.
Mates of State: This is a husband-and-wife synth pop duo that I went to on Julianne’s recommendation. It was a good one to start with, not too intense and fairly upbeat. It’s impressive what they can do with just a keyboard and a drum kit.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists: I’ve been wanting to hear Ted Leo since I bought Shake the Sheets last year, and have managed to miss them the last three times they visited San Francisco. I didn’t intend to miss them this time, and staked out a spot pretty close to the stage. In fact, I was close enough that I could watch his hands while he played the guitar, which was very interesting in itself (damn he’s fast). He seemed annoyed by the heat but played like a demon anyway, at one point taking “Counting Down The Hours” into an extended rendition of “Little Dawn” without a break. Definitely as fun and energetic as I’d heard.
Wolf Parade: Well, actually I didn’t see Wolf Parade. I waited for about twenty minutes after their scheduled start time, but due to technical problems they didn’t get going until after I had already left to get in position for Sleater-Kinney. Everything in the Mojave tent was delayed about half an hour after this.
Sleater-Kinney: This is actually the only band here that I’d seen live before, so I knew what to expect: it would be loud and awesome. Many of the musicians here seem amazed by the experience, but Sleater-Kinney were completely unperturbed. (Of course, they’ve been around a while and have probably done it before.) Mostly they played selections from The Woods, spending about twenty percent of their set on “Let’s Call It Love”, along with a few songs from One Beat and “Get Up” from The Hot Rock. At one point there was an exchange something like this:
Carrie Brownstein: We’re more like Tool than Madonna.
Corin Tucker: [alarmed] I don’t think so.
I also overheard a related dialogue among some people near me in the audience:
Girl: Are you going to see Madonna later?
Guy: I don’t know. She is the Queen of Pop. Someday my kids are going to ask me if I ever saw Madonna. “No, I went to Massive Attack instead.” “I don’t know who the fuck that is!”
Anyway, Sleater-Kinney were awesome as usual, and as a bonus I was close to the stage for
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Despite being a bit disappointed with their latest album, I was quite impressed by this show. Karen O has a ton of energy and really lived up to my pre-Show Your Bones expectations. It also helped that they played some of my favorite tracks from Fever To Tell, namely “Black Tongue”, “Pin”, “Maps”, and “Y Control”. Even coming right after Sleater-Kinney, the music was expecially raw and intense, and being near the front of a huge crowd, the effect was pretty powerful.
Mogwai: Watching the sound check I thought it seemed like they had an unusually large number of amps on stage, and indeed this band has a ridiculous number of guitars. At one point they had four people playing guitar simultaneously, and they seemed to switch guitars between every track. They didn’t interact with the audience much, and the effect wasn’t too different than it would be to play their CDs at incredibly loud volume. However, it does sound good that way.
The Go! Team: This band was on the other end of the spectrum in terms of audience interaction. Although the music didn’t sound as good as it does in recording—they make heavy use of recorded samples and it doesn’t translate very well into a stage show—they more than made up for it by getting the crowd involved. Their frontwoman, a British rapper who goes by the name Ninja, was expert at getting the crowd moving and singing along, and I found myself dancing more energetically than at any other performance, despite the fact that by that point in the day I could barely stand. As a result it was a terrifically fun show and brought my energy back up for the last hour of the festival.
Dungen: We decided we were too cool for Tool (also, school) and went to the now-sparsely-populated Mojave tent to catch Art Brut, only to find that (due to the aforementioned delays) Dungen were still playing. We only caught the tail end of the last song, though, so I can’t say much about it.
Art Brut: I’d heard this band was good but knew nothing about them, so I didn’t know what to expect. It turns out that they are total goof-offs. It’s not that they play joke songs, although “Rusted Gun of Milan”, a song about impotence with sixties-pop style backing vocals, is indeed pretty funny. It’s more that they have a kind of playful approach to rock, especially frontman Eddie Argos who carried on a running (but somewhat one-sided) conversation with the audience, sometimes in the middle of songs; played jump-rope with the microphone cable (and seemed surprised when he tried to use it afterwards and it had popped out of its socket), and delighted in running overtime (he claimed it cost the festival $2000 a minute to go over curfew, and then announced he would use the extra time to play b-sides). This was one of the most entertaining performances I saw, and I definitely plan to buy their album when the U.S. release comes up (next week, I think). Between the Go! Team and Art Brut the end of the festival was immensely fun, and I left with a smile on my face.

Coachella Report: Day 1

Now that I’m back in Berkeley I can finally do all the Coachella-related blogging I’ve been itching to do. Here’s what I saw on Saturday:
The Duke Spirit: The first act I saw was this British rock band, which I knew of only through one track on that Snow Patrol mix CD (which has been a fruitful source of interesting music). That song, “Cuts Across The Land”, was also the first one they played at Coachella, and I was pleased to find that the rest of the set was of similar quality. They have a female lead singer with a powerful voice, and some catchy songs. Until recently their CD was only available as an import, but it’s now been released in the U.S. and I’ll be looking for it. . The performance was a bit sparsely attended, as it was on the main stage in the midafternoon—around this time of day the shows in the tents were attracting a much larger audience.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: This show, on the other hand, had an audience nearly spilling out of the Mojave tent which was slowly being exposed to the setting sun. (It’s not clear why they chose an east-west orientation for the tents, unless they were trying to sell more $2 water bottles.) I didn’t arrive early enough to get a good spot, and couldn’t hear much from the back of the tent. Fortunately I was able to work my way forward gradually; a lot of people mysteriously left after “The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth”. (Maybe they were going to Kanye West?) So I was able to hear about two songs really well, but didn’t get a good sense of the performance as a whole.
TV on the Radio: This is a band that I am mostly indifferent to except for a couple of songs that I really like. I probably would have seen My Morning Jacket instead, except that we wanted to get up in front for Ladytron (who followed TV on the Radio). This was extremely fortunate, because this show was amazing, and a totally different experience from listening to the CD. The band was passionate, dynamic, and relentlessly inventive. Tunde Adebimpe sang with an emotional force that was unmatched by anyone else I saw at the festival (except maybe Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), and when their guitarist wasn’t playing with windchimes hanging from the headstock he was beatboxing on a rendition of “Ambulance” that was far removed, and yet just as amazing, as the a capella track on the album. I’ll definitely be watching for the next time this band visits San Francisco.
Ladytron: This was probably the act I was most looking forward to, and the only disappointment was that it was too short. In contrast to the emotional intensity of the preceding band, Ladytron were cool and detached, coming out onstage dressed like Star Trek villains and looking entirely bored with the whole proceeding, except when they would command the audience to dance with a single imperious finger. “High Rise” was a great choice to open the set, with the sun setting behind us. After this they played songs from all three of their LPs; I was mostly hoping to hear Witching Hour material but it was nice to hear “Playgirl”, and “Seventeen” was inevitable (being the major single from Light and Magic).
Franz Ferdinand: I missed the beginning of their performance since I was at Ladytron; does anyone know if they played “L. Wells”? I was hoping to hear that. I did manage to hear “The Fallen” which is probably my favorite Franz Ferdinand song. They put in a strong performance but I wasn’t as close to the stage as I would have liked to be, as a result of arriving late.
Cat Power: I only caught a few of her songs, since she also overlapped with the previous act. Moreover, I was in the back of the Mojave tent and couldn’t hear anything. I suspected she was playing a cover of “House of the Rising Sun” but couldn’t confirm it until I came in much closer. I did get to hear “Love & Communication”, with which she closed her set, and I was a bit sorry I didn’t see the whole thing.
Depeche Mode: This being the headline show, the audience was huge, and even though I’m not terribly familiar with Depeche Mode it was fun just to be part of such an enormous undertaking. Hearing a hundred thousand people sing along to “Enjoy the Silence” was especially impressive. I was way the hell back and couldn’t see much, except for what was on the video monitors, but on the plus side I had enough room to dance. I need to take another look at Violator for my 90’s music collection.
Daft Punk: I was really tired by this point and didn’t have the energy to make my way into the Sahara tent, so I watched a bit on the screen outside and then left a bit early. I have a feeling this was a little better inside the tent.
We then shuttled back to Pasadena and promptly lost consciousness, catching some six hours of sleep before getting up to make the drive back for the second half of the festival.