At a certain point during the Of Monsters and Men show last night it became painfully aware that I’m fond of music that is also “hearted” by teenage girls. When did this happen? How did it happen? Either I need to find some semblance of peace with this or I just need to go full on Pitchfork asshole and only listen to bands that repel not only reasonable human beings but woodland creatures as well.
Welcome to the third installment of THE, LIKE OHMIGOD, MOST AMAZING CONCERT WEEK IN PITTSBURGH INDIE-ROCK HISTORY edition of the 30Hz Rumble. I’ll be your host. Statler of the famously crotchety Muppet duo Statler and Waldorf. I’d like to begin by saying:
So it goes with me and outdoor shows. I like live music (clearly). There’s nothing wrong with being outside. There’s nothing wrong with listening to music outside. But somehow, when you compile listening to live music outside I turn into an old, crotchety fart. Of Monsters and Men played a short, tight set. Much like Alt-J, they have a limited catalog from which to choose and they played it with much attention to detail. The outdoor version of Stage AE also sounded remarkably good (for an outdoor venue). A good time was had by all. It was a nice, placid, laid-back, one-beer night. But is that enough? Is that memorable? If we’re not seeking transcendence, why are we making the effort — the babysitters, the traffic, the people who idle in front of the concessions without any desire to partake of said concessions — to patronize live music? Perhaps this is too much of a conversation for me to tackle today. I need more coffee. I also need to write more #Bond_age_ essays. So it goes.
That was my view from left field. And as I said it was constant placidity until it was pointed out to me, however, that many of the songs played by Of Monsters and Men contain a “HEY.” I started to listen for that “HEY” obsessively. The songs in their catalog then become divided between those that have a “HEY” and those that don’t have a “HEY.” And then you start obsessing over all the other alt-folk-indie-whatever that have songs in which they say “HEY.” It’s a downward spiral from there. The Icelandic Of Monsters and Men plays a great, if too-palatable brand of zeitgeisty indie-folk. They’re a hard act to see immediately after The National, who, to my knowledge, doesn’t say “HEY.” The show further emboldened my appreciation for what I’d seen and heard the night prior.
I paused the spiral for a moment to really soak in “Little Talks” before setting off into the night, for the last time in THE, LIKE OHMIGOD, MOST AMAZING CONCERT WEEK IN PITTSBURGH INDIE-ROCK HISTORY. I was tired. Three nights out in a row is a lot for an old concert going curmudgeon like me. And as it turned out, it wasn’t quite so OHMIGOD AMAZING, after all. But hyperbole is always more fun, ain’t it? And please, in the future, dear promoters, put all the bands I care about inside.
I imagine you’ll hear from me again after the Yeasayer show at Mr. Smalls near the end of the month. Until then…
Welcome to Part 2 of the THE, LIKE OHMIGOD, MOST AMAZING CONCERT WEEK IN PITTSBURGH INDIE-ROCK HISTORY edition of the 30Hz Rumble. I’m sure everyone’s got an old story about how they saw The National playing their grandmother’s powder room. Small venue stories for a band that’s been around for a decade are de rigeur. That said, I first saw The National at Lollapalooza in 2008. They played an afternoon set. I walked up five minutes before they began playing and had a spot right next to the stage. And this was approximately a year after the release of The Boxer. In broad absolutely flipping daylight. I’d missed seeing them on a few occasions in Boston and was ecstatic to get a chance to finally see the band. Fast forward two records and you’ve got this:
Almost descript The National blobs playing “Anyone’s Ghost.”
As opposed to the Alt-J show the prior night, The National can’t help but own whatever space they play. I’ve seen them outside. I’ve seen them in a library. And now I’ve seen them in the 2000+ capacity Stage AE. Lead singer Matt Berninger embodies the gut punch/imperfect perfection model of frontmanning. At one point he just forgot a repeated line in “Green Gloves” and shrugged it off, threatening to play the song over again to get it right because that was the best line in the song. At every show he starts out a little tentative, a little tic-laden but the man gets geared up, like a 747 for takeoff, with a little gumption and some (and by some, I mean lots of) vodka in a Soho cup. By the time he screams the finale of “Squalor Victoria,” he’s airborne. In this show he broke three microphone stands and just threw the microphone at least as many times, if that gives you any indication of how the man attacks his duties. By the time he made his traditional Matt Berninger slog through the crowd during “Mr. November” I didn’t know if it was the vodka or the audience keeping him upright. He brushed by me and clotheslined me with his microphone wire. Twice. There’s nothing perfect or pleasant about his performance while he’s being mobbed by hundreds of fans. But the song is The National’s coup de grace, the final kick to the testicles. When you’re listening, idly, to the band on your iPod or computer, the full range of emotion is neutered by the inherent nature of recorded material. It’s not that reproduction is emotionless, but The National’s live show is an amplification of the beauty and rage and sadness and joie de vivre contained within their music. The way live music should be.
But back to the part about The National being motherflipping rock stars. The band commands the stage. Last night they weren’t overly affable or talky. They’ve been moreso in the past. During the show at the Carnegie Library Music Hall a couple years ago, Berninger shared a couple of stories about growing up in Cincinnati, visiting Pittsburgh frequently and eventually how they played some tiny venues to little fanfare. There was some mention of those lackluster days of yore playing the Club Cafe, but they were casual discards, buying time as band members swapped instruments. It was just enough talky interaction to engage the crowd and get back to blowing our collective minds. It was the lights, the 60′ video screen turning them into silhouettes. It was the Dessner brothers raising their goblets of rock as they, pardon my lingo, shredded. Yeah, that’s right. Shredded. Apparently more comfortable in their “rock star” status than in past, more understand performances.
The unsung hero of the National, clouded perhaps by the down tempo nature of much of their music is drummer Bryan Davendorf, the man who would be Tommy Chong in wristbands if he weren’t a drummer for a brilliant indie-rock band. During your next listen of The National, isolate the drum track. He is the backbone over which all of that gooey, brilliant humanity is draped. His parts aren’t easy; he just makes them sound that way. The National proved they can command any size stage, playing every song like a #1 Billboard charter. The crowd lost some of it’s mojo during new tracks from Trouble Will Find You, but not its rapt attention. It wasn’t until after the show that I realized the band failed to play my personal favorite track “Slow Show” from The Boxer. It just didn’t matter. Despite some curious setlist omissions of old standbys (No “Murder Me, Rachel” or “Mistaken for Strangers”), there was no cause to idly check my phone or tweet snark about the lovers quarrel to my left. You make amends to finish a National show. You just do. For the entirety of their near two-hour performance, we were all drinking from the Matt Berninger Soho juice. And it was glorious.
Tonight I’ll be back at Stage AE, checking in with the Icelandic folkers Of Monsters and Men with the conclusion of this three-part THE, LIKE OHMIGOD, MOST AMAZING CONCERT WEEK IN PITTSBURGH INDIE-ROCK HISTORY digest.
Also, one final note about The National’s opening act, The Dirty Projectors. I know they have their loyal followers, but I don’t get the appeal. Cacophony turned up louder, does not make cacophony sound any better.
The Dirty Projectors make me hemorrhage a little bit. You don’t have to sound like someone is beating a cat.
I Should Live In Salt
Don’t Swallow the Cap
Sea of Love
Afraid of Everyone
I Need My Girl
This is the Last Time
(Hard Rock Outro)
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
Again, I will leave you with some music to go. This time, with the song I wished The National had played last night.
Long time lurker, first time poster. Or at least it seems that way. With #Bond_age_, the James Bond Social Media project going on, I’ve allowed my blog to collect cobwebs, doing a half-assed job of upkeep by posting the James Bond essays. It’s still something, right?
But now that we’re back in full-blown concert season I’ll do my best to throw some thoughts up here to keep the wheels turning, juices flowing, reverb blowing you’re f’ing mind.
I’ve dubbed this week THE, LIKE OHMIGOD, MOST AMAZING CONCERT WEEK IN PITTSBURGH INDIE-ROCK HISTORY. Last night our normally musically-deprived city hosted the Local Natives and Alt-J and I found myself at Mr. Smalls for the Alt-J show. They released one of my Top 3 records of 2012. So despite my affection for Local Natives, I couldn’t pass up Alt-J. Had to be there. Plus I’d been hearing about their live shows ages from some UK Twatter acquaintances. If I had some 30Hz Correspondents like Jon Stewart has for the Daily Show I could cover everything. Sadly, they’d be the most under-worked and under-appreciated staff in the history of staffs. And I temped at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, so I know how low the bar can be set.
Nondescript Alt-J blobs playing the intro to “Tesselate.”
Regarding the picture above, I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I do not stand there at a show and take videos and dozens of pictures of the band I’m seeing. I may Tweet a ton before the act get on stage but once they’re up there, I’m locked in. Unless they play some slow jam filler, in which case I might check the baseball box scores, Twitter, etc. Point is, that for these shots of bands on stage, I take one picture. Just one. Whatever happens, happens. I do it out of obligation to you, reader. Proof that I have some reason to talk about the things I do. Now moving on.
Alt-J didn’t disappoint. They’re a tight band that skirted metronomic precision. What you hear on the record is what you heard in the show. I noticed a few minor variations, including an ever-so-slightly extended conclusion to “Fitzpleasure.” So minute was the adjustment that I only recognized it because I played the hell out of that song last year. Maybe adjustment is overselling it; it’s actually more like adding a few Cheerios to your bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats, just to go crazy one morning at breakfast.
I will say that there’s a sonic schism between their music from An Awesome Wave and everything else. And this is made more apparently live. Everything other than Wave felt, for lack of a better term, languorous in direct comparison. Even certain tracks from Wave, rearranged, became the filler they are on the album, due to the absence of of the album’s careful construction. The crowd visibly sank at times during the show. Perhaps because some of these tracks just weren’t as well known. I could have done without the few interruptions. Play other stuff in the encore and dispatch the “Real Hero” a cappella cover, which is a sagging repetitive commercial jingle taken out of the context of the movie Drive anyway.
I cherish the album construction on An Awesome Wave perhaps more than I care for the individual songs. The tracks comprise a single entity rather than individual bits to be “singles” or components of an arbitrary playlist. While “Tesselate,” “Breezeblocks” and “Fitzpleasure” are more than willing to stand on their own, they are all emboldened by their placement on the record. Part of me hoped Alt-J would suddenly change their entire live set just for Pittsburgh, just to play An Awesome Wave uninterrupted. But, alas, they did not bow to my subliminal demands. Instead they threw their entire (albeit small) catalog into a bingo wheel. The shizophrenic show never really gained much momentum in any one direction, to my ears anyway. I appreciated the craftsmanship of a band surely destined to play bigger venues in front of larger crowds, but felt some disconnection. Was it me? Was it them? I longed to feel some visceral emotion here, the same I feel when listening to An Awesome Wave. The crowd rallied around the three aforementioned tracks, especially “Breezeblocks” but their enthusiasm never seemed to met by the band. After their relatively short set I was merely granted an early evening and a greater conscious appreciation for their musicianship but no post-concert buzz, no desire to run off into the night spouting the lyrics from my favorite Alt-J songs. There just wasn’t any gut punch. Contemplative, a little weary from lack of sleep (fatherhood, #amiright?) I got back in my car. Royal Teeth’s “Wild” came on XMU (see them Friday for $10 at Stage AE!). So I rolled down my windows, cranked it up and headed off towards the Pittsburgh skyline.
I’ll wrap up my brief Alt-J conversation with a self-proclaimed *gold* tweet I shared with my twatterverse last night.
I consider myself pretty fluent in garbled microphone Brit-speak but I have no f’ing clue what this guy from Alt-J is saying.
Now it’s time to turn my attention to the rest of the week’s schedule for THE, LIKE OHMIGOD, MOST AMAZING CONCERT WEEK IN PITTSBURGH INDIE-ROCK HISTORY. This was actually the term I was using when The Gaslight Anthem still planned to play two dates at Mr. Smalls. It’s not quite as amazing any more, but I’d rather stick with the grand hyperbole AND be able to see Gaslight when they come back to play that canceled show in September.
Tonight: THE NATIONAL (w. Dirty Projectors) tonight at Stage AE.
Wednesday: OF MONSTERS AND MEN at Stage AE.
Friday: WILD TEETH at Stage AE.
And if you’re lucky I might check back in tomorrow after seeing The National for the third time. Three wildly different venues. Maybe I’ll even rank the shows. Everybody loves arbitrary lists of things.
This is my first concert writeup in what feels like forever. I had a long break between shows and I neglected to write up the two shows prior to that. I feel refreshed, like I could spill words all over this page like my 3yo spills, well, everything. And they might make just as much sense. Or maybe I’m just here to let my bl-g know I’m still alive.
Imagine this dude, the fist pump champion, in the first row at Passion Pit. And then multiply him by five dozen.
Passion Pit last night at Stage AE. As always my preoccupation with the chemical makeup of the crowd became a foremost concern. An oddity last night even as “dudes” fist-pumped gleefully to Passion Pit’s breed of bubbly-electro-pop ear candy. And by “dudes” I mean guys I would have placed more readily at an Arena Football League game. Stage AE crowds, in my experience, have been the most energetic of concert goers. By and large, they are barely old enough to drink and therefore hammered as a direct result. Hence the energy. This portion of the crowd mingled with the teetotaler portion of the crowd whose eyes shared time with the TVs above the bar, eagerly awaiting election results to come pouring in. It was a house divided. There was also a guy in grey suit wearing a massive cardboard Romney head. He appeared without a bighead Obama for equal representation. This solo appearance just made him seem desperate. And then I, instead of tweeting about the show I was watching (at the time Youngblood Hawke), per my normal concert routine, became far too concerned about the Massachusetts Senate results and scrolling twitter for confirmation of the false confirmation results which then lead to confirmation of the official results. Or something. You know how Twitter goes.
Political map tapping set to Passion Pit just can’t be beat.
But I digress politico. And that’s not why anyone’s reading this shit.
I’ll skip discussing Youngblood Hawke in depth, except to mention that if I had been Tweeting last night I’d have gone overboard describing the lead singer’s plaid track suit. I couldn’t figure it out. Regarding the music, the set sounded disjointed. Their “radio hit” felt gleefully manufactured next to the freeform nonsense of the rest of their jams. In a word, frenetic and forgettable. They reminded me of The Format, without the fun. But not like the band fun. Because I don’t find fun. much fun at all. (Format’s lead singer is now the lead singer of fun. if you didn’t catch why I became obsessed with that nonsense just now.)
Youngblood Hawke’s “We Come Running”
But Passion Pit surprised me. I have been wary of electro-based live acts for some time. I don’t want to denigrate electronic bands’ talent as musicians but something is often lost in translation. The artifice of the music undermines the guise of spontaneous creation. M83 dominated his/their show earlier this year. Yeasayer’s more-electro tracks from their latest album underwhelmed compared to their early jams. Michael Angelakos turned the stage into his own personal treadmill. And while he engaged in the typical histrionics of most voice-only frontmen, his particular and dynamic vocal range played like an instrument. The band had a live presence, driven by a tight band — perhaps most notable was the metronomic precision of Nate Donmoyer on drums that occasionally played cadence that was drum machine on the record. The instrumental accomplishment, perhaps, shouldn’t have been a surprise considering the Cambridge-born band (with the exception of Angelakos) attended the Berklee School of Music in Cambridge, MA.
The set began with the tub-thumper and current hit single “Take A Walk.” The near capacity crowd salivated, perhaps a Pavlov’s dog response, craving Taco Bell. (You know, because “Take A Walk” is featured prominently in a Taco Bell commercial.) Really, you know you’ve made it when your single’s selling grade-D taco beef on a Dorito shell. A true American success story. I thought it was an odd choice to lead with the song on everyone’s brain.
The setlist choice paid off, however, in spades. I waited, perhaps too impatiently for “Sleepyhead” as we navigated a number of humdrum also-rans from the new record Gossamer . “Sleepyhead” is the beginning and end of the conversation about “Best Passion Pit track.” If you have another opinion, you’re probably wrong. I’m not being facetious. As the synth from the penultimate track bled into the immediately recognizable “Sleepyhead” synth, the members of both opening acts joined Passion Pit on stage. I hadn’t seen an on-stage clusterfuck as impressive since a Wu-Tang Clan show in 1997. When the beat dropped, on-stage performers showered streamers and confetti out over the crowd. The paper fireworks remained, suspended, overhead as the cacophony of performers burst to life. Many beating drums, some just dancing or singing along with Angelokos. On a night stepped with bi-partisan politics, the swollen collection of performers writhing among confetti created a hopeful parallel. It’s not really a reasonable connection to make. A bunch of like-minded musicians joining together on stage to play one killer song. …but consider this. Passion Pit shared the stage with Hollerado and Youngblood Hawke for the song everyone wanted to hear. It’s pretty common for bands to share the stage with other acts on the bill, but I can’t remember the last time I saw this brand of camaraderie during a band’s biggest song. The idealist in me wants to see this as something greater. I’m a writer. I like to draw parallels. So I choose to draw them here for a lack of anything else to discuss.
The act of sharing in the spotlight, fostering joy, just for the sake of it — is inspiring. It makes me want to believe that we can find inspiration in greater quantities moving forward. Even if it’s just a five-man band from Boston and their barely-known opening acts, there’s something to take away here. Music can and always will inspire hope. It is good. And it is natural, even if it’s largely false and misguided… and maybe, just maybe, we’ll have an NHL season this year if those bastards learn to share, like Passion Pit. Hrm? What’s that? Did you think I was talking about the deadlock in government caused by bi-partisan shenanigans and Republican held House of Reps? Pfft. I could see why you’d think I was going there with the whole election thread, but there’s no hope for any reconciliation there. Don’t be ridiculous.
If you’re in Pittsburgh and available on the evening of 10/10, go see the Dig, a NYC-based indie-rock outfit that Consequence of Sound likens to a cross between Vampire Weekend and the Antlers. Read the full review here. If you’re not in Pittsburgh, at least check them out because they’re definitely worth some ear-time.
I first heard Imagine Dragons in late January on XMU on XM Radio. “It’s Time” was introduced with a small warning by the DJ that the band was probably going to be a big deal at some point in 2012. It was a far better than average pop-friendly radio song with a great hook. At that time, the band hadn’t even released their Continued Silence EP. I downloaded the album as soon as it was released — I like to be ahead of the curve (read: I like to be the asshole telling you about this great new band of which you’ve never heard) – and shared it with my wife, who was smitten… if you couldn’t tell by her guest bl-ggery here.
Hmm. What’s interesting about this picture?
As time went on and my wife and I grew older and greyer (second children will do that. It’s an alarmingly accelerated decline), Imagine Dragons just kept popping up. She’d been pushing the album to any of her friends that would listen. It’s tremendous alt-pop music, but worthy bands just don’t necessarily get a fair shake. We expected very little out of their career trajectory. My three-year-old daughter could pretty much sing along with each of their six songs, for whatever that’s worth. (She’s actually a very good judge of the next big thing. She knew all the words to Gotye before he became big, too.) Anyway, I felt similarly about Remy Zero’s career trajectory. And whatever happened to Remy Zero? (Okay, so they provided the theme from Smallville, and appeared on a number of soundtracks, which is something, but did you honestly remember the name of the band that opened Smallville?) Their third album The Golden Hum was an alt-rock masterpiece and a highlight of that barren musical landscape immediately post-2K. The album was so well received that after that album they broke up.
But back to Imagine Dragons… their songs started getting more and more airtime on XM after the release of the EP. And then the bomb drops. Their music starts showing up movie trailers for major release films like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Frankenweenie,” in commercials, American Idol promos. Glee justcovered “It’s Time” in the season opener. This band was anonymous five months ago. But why the meteoric rise? What’s the secret? And why am I no longer special for knowing the band Imagine Dragons?
I pondered these questions as I crammed into Altar Bar on Thursday to catch my first Imagine Dragons show. Imagine Dragons, who were opening for Awolnation, a band whose fame they’d eclipsed over the duration of one little tour. At the beginning, relatively unknown. At the end, the main attraction. And yes, we left after Imagine Dragons. I was hungry and wanted to go drink. It was my birthday after all. (Happy birthday to me.)
You’ll be happy to know that I’ve solved the success of Imagine Dragons.
Ready? It’s the bigass, motherflippin’ bass drum.
That’s it. Take a gander.
If you’re familiar with the band you’ll know that Dan Reynolds, the lead singer, beats on a bass drum at the front of the stage while he’s singing. If you’re not familiar with the band, I just told you by not telling you. Nice, right? There’s been a swell of lead singers who are more than just frontmen, but most of these guys are firmly contained within the straightjacket genre label “indie-rock.” Rarely do they branch out into pop-music proper.
For pop-music Reynolds is a kind of novelty. He’s an affable, humble chap on stage. He (and the rest of the band) seemed positively overwhelmed by their rapid success. (They’re even still setting their own stage and doing soundchecks.) Reynolds comes off as a less-glam, more everyday Brandon Flowers (The Killers). That they’re both Mormon probably has much to do with the favorable comparison in presentation and personality. But all of this might be irrelevant if he didn’t beat a motherflippin’ bass drum. Singer-only frontmen maintain an air of otherworldliness. They must do this to justify the fact that they only sing and often barely do that. Their gift is their stage persona. See Bono, Mick Jagger, et al. Nobody cares that they don’t play an instrument. But these are the greats, the once-in-a-generation rock gods. Their bands, however, are just guys with instruments. Follow this logic with me. If you saw Bono and Larry Mullen walking down the street together, who would you be more comfortable chatting up? Larry Mullen, of course. He’s no god. He’s just a guy that plays in a band fronted by a crazytown rock god.
There are so many different bands and kinds of music and distractions that without something unique to call their own, a talented band will more toil in anonymity than reach any measure of commercial success. Critical success, perhaps, but not commercial. Reynolds’ drum breaks down the barrier between the singer and his fans. He’s a singer, but he’s also just a guy that intermittently gets taken up in the moment and decides to unleash fury on some mylar (the material of which drum heads are most likely made – the more you know, eh?). When he’s singing and suddenly takes up the mallet, there’s a swell of excitement among the crowd. The anticipation of the drum beating is unmistakable. For these songs he gets the loudest applause and the most crowd love. For someone first seeing or listening to Imagine Dragons, the communal adulation at these shows will sell records. It is a novelty, sure, but it is also greatly entertaining and displays the dude’s sincere passion for the music. Because nothing says sincere passion like a winded, sweaty human beating a bass drum with all the fiber in his being.
I have some reservations about the band growing too big for these more intimate live shows. Imagine Dragons doesn’t embrace arena-rock in the same way the Killers do. Their sound, while poppy, and occasional quite possibly rocking, might get swallowed up by larger crowds and venues. The bass drum might lose its prestige as the centerpiece of their show. In a small venue, the drum commands the room. And if the bass drum loses its prestige, it’s on Dan Reynolds to make up the distance.
Oh, and there’s also the music… because there’s probably (just maybe) people into Imagine Dragons that haven’t seen a live show. Valid argument. Again, the element that sets their music apart… the bass drum. Beating a bass drum with a mallet rather than using it in a drum kit creates such a distinctly different sound and cadence. Take the drum out of Imagine Dragons what do you have left? Solid pop-music but no live drama. And no drama means no trailer spots, no commercial gigs and no more meeting Hermoine at the VMAs.
The magical thing about “It’s Time” is that Reynolds’ beats nary a drum. But how many of these A+ pop songs can he write? The perfect pop soundbite. Maybe he only needs one to launch a career, but that won’t speak to the longevity of the band. It’s the B-sides where a band proves its worth. And, so far, it’s on the B-sides (being any song other than “It’s Time” at this point) that the drum carries its weight. See “Radioactive” or ‘Demons.”
In conclusion, and because I’m out of words for today, a picture of Emma Watson. Just because she’s the closest thing we’ve seen to Audrey Hepburn since Audrey Hepburn.