This was me when I found out rain had forced the Tegan & Sara show inside at Stage AE — without the Debbie Reynolds smooching, of course:
Now for my airing of thoughts, grievances and non-sequiturs to ponder.
Is it just me, or do lesbians only go see acts featuring openly gay musicians? I’ve never seen such a concentrated population in Pittsburgh before. Though I never went to Lilith Fair — my girlfriend at the time had her foot run over by a Mercedes on the way to the show.
Shows are just better indoors. I’m sorry if that ruins your buzz, man.
Buff dudes with no necks that have jockeyed for position at the front and center of the stage… and then proceed to sing every lyric to every song written by a female pop duo are f’ing awesome. Seriously. I love you guys.
I hate it when I don’t have any major complaints about a show. I feel like I’m not doing my job and resident mehssimist of this here site.
Opening acts aren’t always worth the effort of getting to a show on time. I have two kids I need to throw in bed — I can’t always ditch them with the wife for the witching hour. If I do just hand them over upon the wife walking in the door, you know I’ve been given a stern beatdown by the daughters. When parents talk about their need to drink, I’m willing to bet their born-again alcoholism results, almost entirely, from their children’s behavior between 5pm and 8pm. Thursday, I had one of those days. So I finished dinner, got the nod of approval from the wife and bailed. My reward: hearing My Midnight Heart. I don’t know if it’s wholly accurate but here was my initial response upon hearing the band:
Off the top of my head: MY MIDNIGHT HEART = Berlin fronted by pre-crooner Whitney Houston. Solid stuff.
I was so smitten with the group I headed over the swag table to pick up an EP. Only, it wasn’t exactly an EP, per say. It was a gold-painted flash drive. I didn’t know how to process that in my matchbook of opinions of methods of media distribution so I walked back to the floor to get a better spot for Tegan & Sara. Before T&S’s encore I wandered back over and had smashing conversation with My Midnight Heart lead singer Angelica Allen about the thumb drive as a method for distributing music (“We can include videos too. And when you get all the stuff off, you can reuse it!”), the venue (“There’s no bad place to watch a show in here.”) and the extremely receptive crowd (“There was a ton of energy, I thought, for an opening act.”). I guarantee you’ll hear more from this band. Allen has a huge stage presence — and a huge voice.
Here’s “Chest of Hearts” from MY MIDNIGHT HEART:
But back to the main attraction: Tegan & Sara.
In case you can’t tell the identical twins apart by their disparate haircuts, that’s Tegan on the left. Sara on the right. I added a helpful guide.
Now that I’m thinking about the mental notes I made during the show, it’s possible today’s Rumble is still forthcoming.
What the hell is wrong with the music industry that Tegan & Sara aren’t one of the biggest acts on the planet? Is it the industry that promotes musicians? Or is it that people who listen to music are deaf? I’m going with a mixture of both. Take a look at today’s Billboard Hot 100 chart. Oh, don’t bother. I’ll do it for you. There are maybe four or five tracks on the entirety of the Top 100 that have hooks as good as anything on Tegan & Sara’s last record. Am I being too aggressive here? I don’t think so. Pick any track off that record — and it’ll be a better pop song than just about anything on the Billboard charts. Let’s give it a try. And we’ll start with the big guns. The #1 song on the Billboard 100 vs. the #1 single on Tegan & Sara’s Heartthrob.
Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” vs. Tegan & Sara’s “Closer”
Maybe it’s not a fair comparison because I honestly don’t understand the appeal of the Iggy Azalea track. Sounds like most other slices of summer regurgitation, a bulimic rap backed with lazy synth leading to a rubbish hook. Maybe my point’s overall poorly executed, but you get the idea. The idea is that Tegan & Sara have been banished to Indierockberia when they’re writing pure pop-music. Inherently palatable and easily accessible by all. Is there a ceiling to how good pop music can be? And once you cross that threshhold you become hipster scum? What am I missing here? Is it that they’re Canadian? Or that they play for the other team? That they don’t ride magical flying dildos onto stage?
But now about the show.
I’d heard much about their tours. I don’t know how I was never able to catch one of their shows before. I bypassed their trip to Pittsburgh last year because A) they were opening for fun. and B) it was outside. If I’m really into an act, I have no trouble paying a premium to watch them open for someone else. BUT. You compound the lukewarm reception of an opening act with the distracted attentions of an outdoor crowd AND a zeitgeisty headliner that makes me question the extent of humanity’s tone deafness, that’s a surefire recipe for 30Hz rage. Thankfully, T&S deemed Pittsburgh worthy of a return headlining trip. And thank goodness for that.
Some acts force banter. I’ve discussed the importance of banter here and there around the site for some time, but it probably requires some retread here. If you can’t banter, don’t. If you don’t like improvisational anecdotes, don’t improvise. I value an act that gets up there, plays their songs and goes home. It is, after all, all about the music. That said, an act that engages the crowd with earnest appreciation and enthusiasm amplifies the enjoyment of a show. The duo played a handful of songs before breaking for their first bout of banter. Sara does most of the talking, but both radiate off-the-cuff eloquence. During one song (I can’t remember which — shame on me) Sara lost her train of song and just kept strumming her guitar while she tried to figure out where she’d gone wrong. Tegan took it upon herself to shake her tambourine with greater exuberance, a mid-track tambourine jam and a bit of showmanship that allowed her sister to collect herself.
After the song, Sara shook off the misstep by relating songwriting to parenthood. She said she imagined that messing up a favorite song during a live set like was a lot like parenting. (And I’m paraphrasing here… ) You have two children. One destined to be a brilliant scholar. You know they’ll go far and do great things. The other, well, you just hope they eventually move out of the house. And then you just end up dropping the brilliant one on its head and you can’t help but think, as that future Nobel Prize winner tumbled to the ground… why couldn’t I have dropped the other one?
Sara boasts a bit of an edge, like a permanently dissatisfied singer-songwriter stuck on a lyric while Tegan comes off as the free spirit that would make everyone in the audience green tea if she had the opportunity. If I were casting their bio pic I’d go for Ellen Page and Anna Kendrick. But they’d have to be twins, so that complicates everything.
Was there something more to be said? Plenty. But I’m not a fan of the weather in Indieblogberia. I’ll just half-ass this last bit to make sure I don’t bust through that glass ceiling of quality blog writing.
In closing, here’s a tremendous, acoustic version of “I Was a Fool” from Heartthrob.
…and here’s another clip from the same event that showcases Sara’s humor and eloquence on the mic.
Perhaps you read my tirade about outdoor live music in the post I wrote about the Mumford & Sons show last year. If you need a refresher, here ya go.
Now to test out a new section of my live music commentaries. I’ll call it The Rumble. It’s really just an everyday Festivus-style airing of grievances.
Outdoor shows and the people that attend them. Next on Springer.
Jack White has a point about those goddamn digital devices. Put them the hell down. Let’s start with detachment of 30 seconds. We’ll work up to a minute. Maybe by the end of the summer, you can go 20 without holding it up in my face.
To the very very very short woman who stood on her tiptoes in front of me to film the show, I really do hope you enjoy the back of the tall dude’s head soundtracked by the blaring redline static of music recorded on iPhone speakers.
Did I looked like I want to be sprayed with a hose like a zoo elephant? It was only 80 degrees. Humid, yes, but still 80 degrees.
Let’s play count the glowing screens.
These are not people taking quick pictures. These are people recording on their phones. I took my obligatory random shot of shit on stage and put my phone away. That’s how I roll. You see how it’s blurry? It’s because I held my phone up for a second, snapped three pictures and hoped one looked less blurry than the others. Occasionally, I’ll take a second shot later if I want to remember a moment for a writeup later. I say this because, yes, I’m trying to sound holier than all the rest of these morons who are watching a show through an itty bitty phone screen rather than just LOOKING AT THE SHOW THAT IS RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF THEM.
Why buy a ticket? Just watch all the YouTube videos tomorrow.
The wife and I rarely attend concerts together. If we do it’s because we both really wanted to see a killer show. The last real rock show we would have seen was Franz Ferdinand… and we anticipated something similar from the Arctic Monkeys.
We weren’t wrong. Unfortunately we can’t live in a vacuum and select the people who attend a concert around us. We knew we were in trouble when our newly high-school graduated babysitter commented upon hearing we were attending the AM show, “Oh, like half my school is going to that.”
I’m not teenager phobic. I’m not standing out on my lawn waving a broom at any of the kids that walk by my property. Teenagers are dumb. I accept this about them. I remember being a dumb teenager. In theory, we’re good with this understanding that they’re dumb and I’m, like, kinda old (remember when 35 was f’ing ancient?).
I’m not good with idiots of any age, however, that somehow diminish my enjoyment of a good show. For example, yes, a 17yo girl of ample proportions wearing only a sports bra and cutoff shorts is not a welcome sight, but I file these images away in my geezer box, to discuss in great detail at a later time. (“How do we keep this from happening to our daughters?”) Oh, you plucked your eyebrows into independently functioning yin and yang shapes? Interesting. You had an older boy buy you beers for the first time and then tried to impress him with your alcohol tolerance? Cute. Now go puke with your girlfriends, preferably somewhere far away. But if you’re holding your phone up right in front of my face for entire songs on end, you are impacting my experience. Jack White was fucking right to have one of his trademarked hissy fits about this very topic. I think I’m having one now. What is it about outdoor crowds that turn everyone into a digital slave?
After “Crying Lightning” I turned to my wife and said, “Whenever you’re good, I can leave.” Before she could answer “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High” came on. We listened intently, peering between cell phones, then she elbowed me. “Now I’m done.”
Our early exit was a disappointment. Frontman Alex Turner is something to behold, full of swagger and Elvis hips with a swath of Joe Strummer. As soon as he walked on stage — all eyes fixed on Alex Turner. He’s a refreshing throwback to the days when lead singers could be superstars. In a different world, one with less divided attentions, this could be our Mick Jagger.
But as a band they’re just not Franz Ferdinand.
In my mind the two bands are inextricably linked by space and time and shared ancestors. Arctic Monkeys’ live show compounded this connection with one major difference. Franz blew me away last year in Philadelphia. Old songs sounded fresh, and their performance allowed varied layers of their musicality to shine. By any measure, Arctic Monkeys are currently the bigger band. Broader appeal, more recent releases, greater production value and swagger. And, by and large, a younger crowd by at least a decade. But they lacked that *wow* factor. Despite Turner’s best efforts, the music somehow didn’t quite carry the venue. I’ll chalk it up to the Monkeys shallow (but still very visceral) musicality. Fun and frivolous, but transient.
After the show, the wife and I elected not to go home to relieve the babysitter just yet. We’d been gone for less than 90 minutes. So we partook in a longstanding concert tradition. The late night (in this instance an early bird late night) stop at Eat’n Park (or Denny’s per my own high school tradition). She ordered a grilled cheese and potato pancakes. I had coffee. We opened that aforementioned geezer complaint box and detailed the inexplicable sights we’d witnessed among the crowd, briefly touching upon the fact that it would have been nice to have enjoyed more of the Arctic Monkeys show.
Some nights pure enjoyment just isn’t in the cards, and on those nights, perhaps, it’s just better to cut your losses and enjoy the rest of the evening with good company, once again without the view of everyone else’s portable electronic devices blocking your view.
Anyway, here’s a sample of the live set from Austin City Limits to send you on your way, featuring my personal favorite Arctic Monkeys song.
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?”
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.