Pittsburgh crowds rarely impress me for being *into* a show.
Last night, I was impressed — not just with CHVRCHES — but with the crowd. I want you to recognize how monumental that admission really is. If there’s any deterrent to me enjoying a show, it’s almost always the crowd. It’s like I seek out some reason to be intensely annoyed. On this occasion it was only the really odd girl who kept dancing at the bar when the opening act was playing.
I’m prepared to propose a law that refuses to serve people that dance while in the queue for beer. Don’t. Act like you’ve been there before.
Unprovoked rhythmic clapping and rampant fist pumping during bursts and rebirths of sound. I absorb and reflect and occasionally join the rhythmic clapping. But grand displays of enjoyment just ain’t my bag. Anything more than regular head nodding and I’ve probably had too much to drink and you might think to call me a cab. That’s just the way it goes, so it might seem strange to be “impressed” by a horde of Pavlovian concert-goers. Clap here. First pump here. Bounce here. And perhaps there’s the rub — none of it was choreographed by the band and none of it was premeditated. That’s what most impressed me, the rare spontaneity.
At the Fitz and the Tantrums show last year at Mr. Smalls, the band constantly called to the crowd for more energy. They’re a high energy band. They want a high energy crowd and they got what they wanted, but in order to get their wish they must have said “Pittsburgh” and cajoled us to great cacophony at least 27 times to get that sold-out crowd in the mood to party. Lauren Mayberry, frontwoman for the Glasgow synth-pop trio first spoke to the crowd after the third or fourth song. She admitted it was her first time in Pittsburgh. Cheers. Applause. And then admitted that all she knew about Pittsburgh came from the movie That Thing You Do when Jimmy dumps Fay and says “I shoulda dumped you in Pittsburgh!”
And that was pretty much it for the Pittsburgh talk or any talk in general. She popped back up to the podium once more to talk about how she’d also experienced her first Tornado Warning that day as well. (Happy to provide a memorable stay, Lauren, you beautiful little pixy!) But the radio silence wasn’t because she was awkward or uncomfortable speaking to the crowd. In fact, she had a warm, casual report. She just knew when to get back to the music.
If you’ve been read any of my year-end lists from the past two years you might remember CHVRCHES featuring prominently. (See here, here and here.) I’ve spun this record more than any record of the past dozen years and I’m pretty sure the folks that follow me on Twitter probably got tired of seeing this:
#nowplaying CHVRCHES, The Bones of What You Believe #vinyl
Some shows I just can’t understand. The empty show for Savages at Mr. Smalls, for example. I’m still stunned at the attendance. WHY WAS NOBODY THERE?!? The age of the crowd at Naked and Famous. WHY WERE YOU SO YOUNG?? And so on and so forth. Obviously CHVRCHES has struck a chord with me, but I hadn’t anticipated the widespread devotion of a sell out crowd at AE. All ages. All varieties of people. The gathering defied irresponsible generalization on my part.
CHVRCHES played a by-the-book show with tremendous energy. And though I was initially skeptical of the histrionic gyrations of Iain and Martin on their tandem synths/samples — they provided an entertaining contrast with Lauren’s general stoicism. And when Martin Doherty stole the mic for his first of two lead vocals (on “Under the Tide”), he commanded every inch of his available stage, wacking about as if on ice skates, finally unleashed from his stationary synths and samples. Of their catalog (and I believe they played all but one song) “Night Sky” was the live track that most stood out from its album counterpart. That B-Side track from Bones of What You Believe found new life and vigor. The fist pumping registered off the charts with every “oh oh oh,” the rise and fall of that track amplified ever greater by the acoustics and fiercely in-tune crowd.
A “Night Sky” sample from a recent show in Cambridge:
A night of preposterous bass (thank you, AE, for threatening me with the brown note during the encore) and killer synth and then out into the Pittsburgh night with enough time to hop over to PNC Park to catch the last of the rain-delayed Pirates game. Not that I did, mind you, because I’m an old, tired dad with two kids. I went home to turn the game on in bed… and catch up on some of the #Bond_age_ live tweeting of A VIEW TO A KILL that I’d missed out on that evening so I could finally catch CHVRCHES in the flesh… and they were well worth the wait and the sacrifice of missing out on the roast of one of the worst Bond films.
I’ll leave this post with some more CHVRCHES content because I can’t get enough.
NPR Tiny Desk
CHVRCHES covering Arctic Monkey’s “Do I Wanna Know?”
Not all live music, of course. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of live acts that just don’t live up to the hype. I don’t need to relive my Mumford & Sons experience. Of course, that Mumford show lingered in the back of my mind when I committed to drive across the broad state of Pennsylvania to attend the Franz Ferdinand show at the Tower Theater. That’s 4 1/2 hours driving each way. That’s the cost of a hotel room. Plus whatever other unexpected obstacles would present themselves along the way.
My wife and I went back and forth for a week about whether to go. I waffled! I admit! And I’m the guy that’s been wanting to see Franz Ferdinand since he first saw the “Take Me Out” video on MTV, now almost a decade ago. That’s a long damn time to wait. I’ve written intermittently about the cathartic power of live music. All the what-ifs and worries shouldn’t have tormented me. Another night on the couch catching up on movies I’d DVR’d off TCM or Franz Ferdinand in Philadelphia? The choice should have been a simple one. (more…)
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.