Concert Review: Beck @ Prospect Park Bandshell, Brooklyn, NY – August 4, 2013

I think one of the greatest feelings after seeing a concert is when you leave knowing that whatever expectations you had were exceeded. I usually go into a show with a certain level of excitement and some assumption of what I’m going to see, whether it is based on previous experiences or from what I’ve heard or read. I’ve been lucky enough that most shows that I’ve been to have at least met my expectations, but I’m always exhilarated when I leave knowing that I a better experienced than I ever imagined. This is how I felt after I left Beck‘s recent concert in Brooklyn.

Now I had seen Beck before, but my previous experience left me wanting more. Let me explain. It was 1998, and Beck was touring with Ben Folds Five as one of his openers, along with Elliott Smith. Being the big Ben Folds Five fan that you know I am, I wanted to go see them. My younger brother, Sam, was (and still is) a big Beck fan, so it was an easyBeck-Third-Man-Records decision for my dad to get tickets to the show. At the time, I wasn’t really into Beck, but I liked most of his stuff, especially off of Odelay, and knew of his reputation for putting on a great show, so it just added to my overall excitement for the show. The concert was at Jones Beach Ampitheater which is about 2 hours away from where I grew up, and it was on a school night. Adding to this was the fact that I had a biology practical the following day, of which I did almost no studying for. So when Beck started around an hour and a half after Ben Folds Five finished (did I mention it was drizzling the whole night?), I knew we would not be staying for the whole show. We left about 45 minutes into Beck’s set. However, what we saw was fantastic, and just made me hope that I would be able to see Beck in concert again. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get the chance, though my brother did during The Information tour, which he said was one of the best shows he’s ever seen (I mean they had marionettes and set pieces). So when I saw that Beck was going to be playing a show in Brooklyn with a full electric band (something he has not been doing much of lately), I jumped at the opportunity.

Going into the evening, I tried to temper my expectations, due to the fact that there were a lot of unknown variables. Neither my brother (who came with me) nor I had been to the venue before, so we had no idea what the setup would be or what the sound would be like. We also had no idea who would be playing in his band, and were wondering what songs he was going to play. We got to the venue a little bit after 6pm, and were able to find a spot just in front of the seated area (for VIPs only) directly in front of the sound board, which was dead center of the stage. The concrete GA area is on a slope which made it easy for us to see the stage, even with people in front of us. Around 7pm, the opening act, Adam Green and Binki Shapiro, came on and put on a nice set, full of alt-country/folk and fun stage antics.

As we waited for Beck to come on, my brother and I mused about who would be playing with him. Sam knew that Beck’s longtime bassist and musical director, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, was not going to be at the show, which was a disappointment to both of us. From one of my conversations with Bleu during our recording session, I knew that Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. was going to be playing keyboards. I hoped that Joey Waronker was going to be playing drums, and based on the funky left-handed set, it seemed he would be playing (which he did). The question now was, who would be playing guitar and bass? A little after 8pm the band came out. I was surprised and excited to see that the first person out on stage and heading to play bass was Jason Falkner (I’m a big fan of his solo material). As expected, Waronker and Manning both came out on stage, and the mystery man of the evening turned out to be guitarist Smokey Hormel. Then the band started playing and the last lingering question of the evening was answered.

As Beck and his band opened in blistering fashion with “Devil’s Haircut,” “Black Tambourine,” and “Soul of a Man,” I knew we were going to be in for one helluva night. I turned my brother and told him that we had IMG_0342already gotten our admission’s worth for the night. While it was partly due to the fact that he played those songs, it was also attributed to Beck’s energy and his band’s cohesiveness musically. Sure his band was made of veteran musicians, and yes they had already played a few shows in previous days, but the fact that they sounded like a band that had been playing together for years is what got me. (Beck later stated that this was the band that played on the Sea Change tour and was his “dream band.”)

After going solo on “One Foot in the Grave,” his band came back out and continued to tear things up, running through an incredible mix of songs that essentially covered Beck’s career. The crowd went crazy when they started playing Soft Cell‘s version of “Tainted Love,” which after a verse went into “Modern Guilt” (though Beck messed up and called a redo during the transition). “Think I’m in Love” was given a cover add-on as well, having Donna Summer‘s “I Feel Love” tacked on as an outro. After the upbeat and dancy “Gamma Ray,” Beck began playing the memorable slide guitar opening to “Loser,” as the crowd erupted with ecstasy. Almost everyone was dancing and singing along, and the concert truly became a musical party. After another trio of danceable songs (“Hotwax,” “Que Ondo Guero,” and “Girl“), Beck and the band went into a few ethereal tunes, that were absolutely gorgeous sounding. While “Soldier Jane” sounded like it came right off of the record, “Chemtrails” was simply epic, thanks in part to Joey Waronker’s pounding, yet tasteful drumming.

Beck then shed his electric guitar for an acoustic and told the crowd that he was going to be playing a few songs off of Sea Change. After settling down after an ecstatic applause, the crowd was treated to fantastic versions of “The Golden Age” and “Lost Cause.” Admittedly, I have never really given Sea Change much of a proper listen, but in the middle of “Lost Cause” I turned to my brother and told him that I needed to listen to the album more.

After performing his cover of The Korgis‘ “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime,” which he recorded for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Beck took out a copy of his most recent “album,” Song Reader, which is actually a book of sheet music. Beck explained how in the past he had looked at the transcriptions of his songs into music books and had felt sorry for whoever had to transcribe his distorted, backward, compressed vocal screams into piano notes. So, he decided to write and arrange simple songs that could be easily put into sheet music, and do it the old-fashioned way, allowing people to interpret the song however they wanted. He then performed two songs from the songbook, “Just Noise” and “Heaven’s Ladder.” Just to clarify, there is no official recordings of these songs, so for me, it was the first time I had ever heard these songs. And yes, they were good.

After running through “Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods,” Beck ended the set with a barnstorming version of “Sissyneck.” During the breakdown in the song, Waronker slightly IMG_0346changed his beat, and Beck went around his band asking if they knew what it was. The crowd seemed to know, but Hormel and Manning feigned ignorance, before Falkner said he knew what it was, and broke into the infamous bassline of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” Beck asked, “Can we do this?” and the crowd answered with a massive cheer, as Beck started to imitate the King of Pop’s dance moves, before jumping into the first verse. Falkner took the lead on the bridge, showing his own vocal prowess, before everyone sang the chorus together. The band then kicked it back into “Sissyneck” to end the set, leaving the stage to a massive applause.

A few minutes later, the group came out, and Beck said they were going to “play something loud.” The band then launched into the heavy “E-Pro” which kept the high energy going and the crowd rocking. The night ended with an extended version of “Where It’s At,” in which Beck did an (assumingly) improv monologue. The band responded appropriately to his actions, adding in little riffs and fills. After telling the crowd he wanted to take things “higher,” Beck counted the band back in and totally brought the house down. Beck played off the crowd’s energy, having them do call and responses, and then having both Hormel and Falkner do a coordinated slide, bringing back memories of that show in 1998, before ending the song and the show.

This show was one of the best that I’ve been to in the last few years, and possibly ever. Everything seemed to be perfect. The weather, crowd, and sound were all great, as was Beck and his band. But more than just sounding great on stage, Beck and his band seemed to genuinely be having a damned good time. Not only were they fooling around and getting into the music, the band seemed to have a looseness and synergy to it, even though they had only really been playing for less than a week together. I really can’t say much more than it was just simply a fantastic show and it greatly exceeded my expectations (though I would’ve loved to have heard a tune from Midnight Vultures, but whatever).

I just hope it won’t be another 15 years before I see Beck again.


Setlist
Devil’s Haircut – Odelay
Black Tambourine – Guero
Soul of a Man – Modern Guilt
One Foot in the Grave – Stereopathic Soulmanure
Modern Guilt (w/Tainted Love intro) – Modern Guilt
Think I’m in Love (w/I Feel Love outro) – The Information
Gamma Ray – Modern Guilt
Loser – Mellow Gold
Hotwax – Odelay
Que Ondo Guero – Guero
Girl – Guero
Soldier Jane – The Information
Chemtrails – Modern Guilt
The Golden Age – Sea Change
Lost Cause – Sea Change
Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (soundtrack)
Just Noise – Song Reader
Heaven’s Ladder – Song Reader
Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods – One Foot in the Grave
Sissyneck (w/Billie Jean interlude) – Odelay
Encore:
E-Pro – Guero
Where It’s At – Odelay

Concert Review: The Black Crowes @ Terminal 5, New York, NY – April 5, 2013

It’s amazing how for as long as this blog has been going I have yet to discuss or even mention The Black Crowes. I say this because they are one of my favorite bands, and have been since I was about 14. They are one of three bands/artists I have seen more than 10 times (Ben Folds and Medeski Martin & Wood being the other two) and have been one of the most important musical influences in my life. I could give a whole back story on my affinity for the Crowes, but I’ll refrain so we can get right down to last night’s show.

There is no doubt in my mind that The Black Crowes are one of the best live bands out there. Not only do they play as a cohesive unit, they also have an extensive catalog of songs, filled with a plethora of originals and an immense amount of covers. What this means is that no matter what night you go see them, you will be treated to a totally unique show and setlist. On top of all of this is the fact that when they headline, their shows run for a minimum of two hours. Essentially, you are going to get your money’s worth, that is if you are okay with the probability of not hearing most of their singles and listening to some extended solos and/or jams. Still, if you want to hear some great rock music played by a band that has been at it for over 20 years, then this is your band.

This was my twelfth Crowes show (if you include a Chris and Rich Robinson acoustic show) and I can easily say, while I’ve never seen a bad show from the band, this one was pretty great. Right from the start, the band was cooking, and visably having fun playing with each other (which if you know anything about the band, wasn’t always the case). With one minor exception, the setlist was incredibly solid. A great mix of originals and covers, the band actually played more “hits” than usual, and had only one song that would be even remotely considered a deep cut from their back catalog. Ironically that song, “Garden Gate,” was also the outlier of the night, but more on that later.

For the most part, the show was one where you saw a band get back to what it was primarily known for, which in this case meant a band playing some straight ahead rock and roll. More than half of the songs came from their first three albums, Shake Your Money Maker, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, and Amorica, which was fine by me since they are definitely three of their best (the latter two being, in my eyes, their two screen-shot-2013-02-28-at-10-38-55-ambest). This made the show feel like the band was just throwing musical haymakers all night, which not only delighted myself, but most of the crowd as well.

The band started off with a bevy of these early songs, including an interesting mini-medley of “My Morning Song” into “Stare It Cold” into a gospel breakdown before going back into “My Morning Song.” While this seems to be a new twist to some older songs, it was easily one of the best moments of the night having amazing energy throughout the entire medley. Interestingly another highlight of the show was another mini-medley of “Hard to Handle” into Deep Purple’s “Hush.” While the execution of “Hush” could use some tightening up (they’ve only performed the cover a few times), the band’s vocal harmonies were on full display, which is saying something.

Let me take a moment to step back and explain what I mean. Lead singer, Chris Robinson, has one of the most rock and roll voices of all time (my father once said he was the next Paul Rodgers), and his voice is one of the reasons the band was so successful and well known. However, most of the band’s previous lineups did not consist of guys who had great voices, for harmony or lead. This was compensated by the fact that the band toured with two female backup singers for most their career. However, it seems that the band has abandoned that concept for the time being. Thankfully, they now have guys who can sing well. Guitarist, Rich Robinson’s (Chris’s brother) voice has gotten better over the years, and is now at the point where he can sing lead and I can actually enjoy the song. Bassist Sven Pipien has an underrated voice, and easily the best man for harmonizing with Chris Robinson. Keyboardist Adam MacDougall added some depth to the harmonies, as did new guitarist Jackie Greene. It was definitely a pleasant surprise to see and hear the band do this, and I though I loved the backup singers, they weren’t missed at all.

I should also take the time to talk about the band’s playing last night. Overall, they were great, even with a couple of interesting moments (mainly due to Greene not knowing all of the songs as well as the other five members). Chris Robinson was, as expected, dominant. As I said earlier, he has one of those ultimate rock and roll voices, having the ability to sing with such passion and cockiness, while being perfectly in tune. He is also, in my mind, one of the best frontmen in rock, following in the footsteps of Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, and Paul Rodgers. Guitarists Rich Robinson and Jackie Greene were ripping it up all night, though there was a lot less interplay between the two than there has been between Robinson and other former Crowes guitarists (I’m sure this will come in time as long as Greene stays on with the band, though he will never be Marc Ford).  Drummer Steve Gorman was his normal rock solid self, keeping the groove going the entire night. Keyboardist Adam MacDougall was fantastic, and though he is no Ed Harsch (the band’s original and longtime keyboardist), has definitely brought a different (more jazzy) element to the group, especially during the solos. Oh, and he loves playing the clavinet, and there is never too much clavinet. Finally, there is bassist Sven Pipien. Like his singing, Pipien’s bass playing is, to me, underappreciated. Not only is he always in the pocket with Gorman, but his ability to add little licks and riffs in the middle of songs adds another layer to the band. Yet, he knows his place, never trying to overstep the rest of the group, while still doing his thing. It is simply a joy to watch and listen to him play. Then again, seeing this band live is always a treat. But let’s get back to the setlist…

Besides the aforementioned songs, other highlights from the night were “Wiser Time,” “Thorn In My Pride” (but when is this song not a highlight?), and a cover of Traffic’s “Medicated Goo.” The two Crowes originals are songs that are played regularly, and for good reason. Both songs have emotional buildups that bring the crowd to a frenzy, as well as having extended breakdowns/solos/jams in the middle of the tunes. “Thorn” regularly runs about 15 minutes, and is sometimes accompanied by the jam known as “Thorn’s Progress” which can run up to 10 minutes, while “Wiser Time” includes a keyboard solo (which was very jazzy last night) and two guitar solos in the middle. Yet, neither song is “jammy,” just extended live versions. As for “Medicated Goo,” it’s just simply one of my favorite songs by Traffic and was just a treat to hear live.

Which is something I can say about all of the songs from last night, with the exception of “Garden Gate.” Now I have no problem with the song, it’s just that it just seemed to be totally out of place for the set. Now, if they had played two sets instead of one, and opened the second set with that song, it would’ve worked, but playing an acoustic folky song in the middle of an electric rock set really kills the momentum (though they did play “She Talks to Angels” with an acoustic guitar and mandolin, and that worked fine). But thankfully, it was only one song, and the band kept the energy level high for most of the night.

When you go to a Black Crowes show, you expect to experience a great rock band playing some great rock tunes, and that’s what last night was. They were focused, playing well, and having fun, which is all you can really ask for from a band. It wasn’t the best Crowes show I’ve seen, but was it was a great one, making me want to see them again some time soon. Hopefully you’ll want to see them, too.


Setlist (from Crowesbase.com)
JEALOUS AGAINShake Your Money Maker
HOTEL ILLNESSThe Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
MY MORNING SONG ->  – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
STARE IT COLD ->  – Shake Your Money Maker
MY MORNING SONG
MEDICATED GOO – Last Exit (Traffic)
OH JOSEPHINE Warpaint
WISER TIME – Amorica
SHE TALKS TO ANGELS – Shake Your Money Maker
GARDEN GATE – Before The Frost…Until The Freeze
HIGH HEAD BLUES Amorica
SOUL SINGINGLions
SEEING THINGSShake Your Money Maker
THORN IN MY PRIDE – The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
REMEDYThe Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
HARD TO HANDLE ->  – Shake Your Money Maker
HUSH ->  – Shades of Deep Purple (Deep Purple)
HARD TO HANDLE
– encore –
APPALOOSABefore The Frost…Until the Freeze
OH SWEET NUTHIN’Loaded (The Velvet Underground)
WILLIN’Sailin’ Shoes (Little Feat)

Concert Review: Cake @ The Wellmont Theatre, Montclair, NJ – January 12, 2013

It’s always an interesting feeling going to a concert for a band or artist that you like, but being well aware that you are more a casual fan than a “true” fan. I say this because you usually like the music of the band/artist and know their hits really well, but are only familiar with the rest of their catalog, so unless the show is completely mind-blowing, you probably won’t be into the show as much as the majority of the fanbase. This was the case when I saw KISS, Aerosmith, Galactic, Donald Fagen, and Tom Petty (all different shows). Still there have been a few situations where I was more into a show than I ever expected, specifically the Foo Fighters/Weezer concert I saw in 2005. However, last night’s Cake concert was more like the former than the latter.

Overall, the show was good. Kind of odd, but good. The musicianship of the band was much better than I ever anticipated. Since the band’s music isn’t anything extravagant, and pretty consistent in sound and feel, I was just expecting to see a fairly loose band having fun. However, the band was incredibly tight, having each song down to a science, 0109F_cake50peven without a setlist. Each musician’s part never overshadows the others, creating tightly woven music that is superficially unassuming, but impressive when closely examined. Guitarist Xan McCurdy was incredibly skillful, showing off his talents not with gaudy guitar solos, but with tight riffs and licks reminiscent of Steve Cropper. Bassist Gabe Nelson was rock-solid, laying down the backbone for each song. Drummer Paulo Baldi was incredible, and so in-the-pocket that unless you were paying close attention, you would have no idea how syncopated his beats actually were. Multi-instrumentalist Vince DiFiore filled in the gaps with keyboards, percussion, and, of course, his masterful work on the trumpet.

And then there was lead singer/guitarist John McCrea. Vocally, McCrea was exactly what I expected, with his limited range and deadpan voice. And his guitar work was fine, and kind of impressive at times. Yet, it was his antics, hand motions, and often off-time vibraslap playing that took away from the rest of the band. McCrea seemed to be attempting to conduct the band with awkward hand motions, which not only was unnecessary (since the band was super tight), but distracting, at least to me. He also seemed to have no sense of timing during different songs, hitting the vibraslap at weird moments or on the wrong beat. Of course, he was on cue when it counted, like during “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.” But it was hard to shake the notion that he was either just messing around, or actually had no idea where the beat was, in regards to both the hand motions and vibraslapping.

However, McCrea’s performance was only one of the several odd instances that happened during the show. The show started with an incredibly 80s style instrumental song, with neon lights in the background, that went on just a little too long. And when the band did finally come on the stage, they didn’t start right away, creating a weird transition before they started with the Willie Nelson ballad, “Sad Songs and Waltzes.” If they had come on while the song was ending, and started immediately after the canned music was finished, it would have been a lot more effective.

Another odd aspect of the show was the fact that though there was no opener, and the band did play two sets, the second set was half as long as the first, and included a total stoppage of music so that McCrea could pick an audience member to take home a fig tree (with the hope that this person would plant it and take pictures of it for the rest of their life). While I had no problem with the tree giveaway in the middle of the set, it was the fact that right before the tree giveaway he stopped after starting “Jesus Wrote a Blank Check” and then went and explained why he was stopping (there was no setlist and he was following his muse), which preceded him going into the tree giveaway. This whole sequence caused a very awkward moment in the show, which killed the momentum the band had going for it. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen, but the other times have been during Ben Folds shows, when it was just him and a piano, and the atmosphere was much more intimate and less formal. As I mentioned, the second set was half as long as the first, which not only was odd, but made me question why they even had two sets. The whole thing left me with a weird, unsatisfied feeling.

With all of that said, I still had a good time, and was happy to know that the band was giving all of their merchandise proceeds to help Hurricane Sandy relief causes. The band was solid, the music was good, and the crowd was into it. Still, I never found myself totally immersed in the show, like I am with many of the bands I see. In my mind, Cake sounded exactly like did on their records, and while it was an enjoyable show, I left feeling like there was no real need to see the band again for a while, unless their next record is completely different from and a lot better than their previous six albums. But if you get a chance to see them, you should. I just wouldn’t go out of my way to do so.


Setlist
1. Sad Songs and Waltzes – Fashion Nugget
2. Opera SingerComfort Eagle
3. Stickshifts and SafetybeltsFashion Nugget
4. Arco ArenaComfort Eagle
5. WheelsPressure Chief
6. Ruby Sees AllMotorcade of Generosity
7. Frank SinatraFashion Nugget
8. Love You MadlyComfort Eagle
9. Long TimeShowroom of Compassion
10. Bound AwayShowroom of Compassion
11. Mustache Man (Wasted)Showroom of Compassion
12. Sick Of YouShowroom of Compassion
(intermission)
13. Federal FundingShowroom of Compassion
14. ComancheMotorcade of Generosity
15. Jolene Motorcade of Generosity
16. ThrillsB-Sides And Rarities (during tree giveaway)
17. Sheep Go to HeavenProlonging the Magic
18. Rock ‘N’ Roll LifestyleMotorcade of Generosity
19. Never ThereProlonging the Magic
Encore
20. Short Skirt/Long Jacket – Comfort Eagle
21. The DistanceFashion Nugget

The Magic of Medeski Martin & Wood

There are artists. There are bands. There are supergroups. There are musical collectives. And then there is Medeski Martin & Wood. Not just simply a band that makes music, the trio is musical force that embodies the essence of what Jazz (and essentially making music) is all about.

Having been together for over 20 years, it would be easy to simply say that the three members, John Medeski (keyboards), Billy Martin (percussion), and Chris Wood (bass), have a good musical rapport with each, but that would be doing a disservice to what they really have: a connection so strong that it’s almost palpable during live performances (well, you know what I mean). If you sat down and listened to all of their studio albums in chronological order, you would be able to not only hear a progression in their musical style, but also in the cohesiveness of their playing together. The bond the three have is, at this point, unbreakable and, in my mind, permanent. Each member has done several side projects over the course of the band’s career, yet instead of splintering, these breaks have made the group more creative and loose, and more connected on stage. Every time the group puts out a new studio album, I always wonder if they still have ideas left, and every time I’m amazed at how the band is able to create songs that sound fresh and new, but still have that MMW sound and feel.

And then there are their live shows, which are not just musical performances, but experiences. Seeing the trio live is like watching master artisans create a masterpiece in front of your eyes, because, well, it is just that. Normally, when you see a band, particularly a rock band, you know what you’re going to get. You know what they are going to sound like and you’re pretty sure of a few songs that will be played. With a MMW show, you never know what to expect. Sure, if they are touring to support an album, you can assume they will play a few tracks from it, but like any other jazz artist/group you never know how it will actually sound. But unlike many jazz performances, the band also loves to throw in chunks of free improvisation that may or may not lead into a song. By changing up setlists every night it keeps things fresh for the audience, and I can only imagine it keeps things fresh for the band. Yet no matter what you hear, you know that the quality and execution of the music will be at a truly elite level.

This can all be heard on the band’s newest release, Free Magic, a live album that captures the band during their 2007 acoustic tour. As you listen to the album, you can hear how in the pocket the three are with each other, allowing each to seemingly do their own thing at the same time during solo and improv sections, yet still being aware of each other, enabling them to create spontaneous, magical moments. The maturity of the band is also audible, especially when compared to the group’s previous live, acoustic album, Tonic, which was taken from performances in 1999, 8 years prior to this material, but also only 8 years into the band’s existence. While Tonic oozes with energy and ferocity, it lacks the cohesiveness within the band that Free Magic showcases. Tonic also has the sound of the band trying to force themselves into a box, saying, “We know we’re known for being an organ-based jazz-funk trio, but we can also play REAL jazz!” whereas Free Magic sounds like the band trying to push their own collective boundaries by limiting the available sonic materials, yet still challenging themselves to create a masterpiece. It’s amazing what an extra 8 years of playing together can do.

Each of the five tracks on Free Magic has its own identity. The opener, “Doppler,” is the typical MMW show opener, having about 6 minutes of free improvisation from the group before the trio locks into the tune. The song, eventually recorded for the group’s 2011 digital-only album 20, has a moderate groove that allows the group to easily play with each other and gives the soloist enough room to really move around. The second track, “Blues For Another Day,” is more mercurial in feel, going from total chaos to a slow blues, before slowing building up back into the chaos, ending, once again, with the slow blues. If anything this song shows the collective control and communication the group has, which is just one example of what makes their live shows so much fun. This is followed by “Free Magic/Ballade in C minor, ‘Vergessene Seelen’,” a combination of an 8 minute free improvisation and 4 minute, eery sounding song that haunts, yet still grooves. This is the only track that features a non-acoustic instrument; Chris Wood plays his Hofner bass. “Where’s Sly?” is next up, and though the song was originally recorded with Medeski playing electric piano and a horn section (on It’s a Jungle In Here), it is as beautiful as ever. The sonic landscape that was created on the studio release is reinvented with the sheer beauty of the sound that comes from Medeski playing a baby grand piano. Halfway through the track, a Billy Martin drum solo appears, showcasing the percussionist’s arsenal of toys and ideas, closing out the track. The album closes with a “medley” of tunes by Charles Mingus and Sun Ra, “Nostalgia In Times Square/Angel Race.” The group does justice to both songs, of course adding their own twist to the tunes, showing that the trio are still students and admirers of the greats that came before them.

Hearing the band in this type of setting is one thing, but seeing them live (like I’ve said before) is another story. The main difference is watching the talent that is John Medeski. Yes, Chris Wood and Billy Martin were amazing, as they always are, but what they were doing was not unique to a MMW show. Normally, Medeski is surrounded by keyboards, organs, and an acoustic piano, and most of his prodigal playing is overshadowed by the sounds that he is creating, which I must admit are always amazing. Yet, on this recording and on their recent acoustic tour, which I was able to witness on October 8 at the Bergen Performing Arts Center, he was only armed with a baby grand piano, a “prepared” upright piano, and a melodica. Being able to watch his hands effortlessly move across the keys, and hearing the ideas that just spew from his brain, was eye-opening. I have always been in awe of the man’s ability to play, but seeing it in its raw, natural form for two hours, without the veil of synthesized sounds, was truly an experience. (Watch this clip from the Englewood show, which I did not take, of the band doing Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” to see what I’ve been talking about.)

Though I’m incredibly biased towards this band, I cannot stress enough how talented the trio are, and how after 20 years they have not only gotten better, but they’ve been able to continue to sound fresh. None of their albums or their shows are ever the same, so every time you listen to or see them, it’s always a new experience. So do yourself a favor, and take a listen, if you haven’t already, and even if you don’t like what hear, just allow yourself to experience their music, because it’s something special. Hell, it really is (at times) magic.

Checking Out A Local Band: The Regulars

Last week I received a message from some guy I didn’t know on this blog’s Facebook page. In the message he stated how he enjoyed my writing and if I would come out to see his band at The Bitter End in New York City. This was the first time since I began this blog that I have been asked such a thing. I was apprehensive at first, but I figured that it would be an interesting experience to say the least.

The band I went to go see is called The Regulars, and all I really knew about them was that they played jangle/power pop, which is a genre of music I really do enjoy (see the Big Star and Bleu posts). I had asked Joe (the man who messaged me and the lead singer of the band) to see if he could put me on the guest list, but when I got to the club, they said there were no guest lists (I later found out he did in fact put me down, but that’s all in the past). Add this to the fact that I also couldn’t find someone to go with me to the show, and I was starting to think that this was going to turn out horribly. I don’t mind going to shows alone, but that’s usually because I am seeing a band I want to see. This was something totally new for me.

After sitting through a very interesting set from another band, The Regulars hit the stage. Knowing none of their songs I was trying to take in the overall feel and sound of the band, gauging whether or not what I was listening to was quality or not. From the beginning of their set, I could tell that these guys had a good understanding of what jangle/power pop really encompassed. They reminded me a lot of the Raspberries and Badfinger, especially with their vocal harmonies, that were, at times, really good. The other thing that the band had from start to finish was amazing stage presence. Not only was the band moving around on a very small stage, but they were all genuinely having a great time. I could see the bassist grinning euphorically for the entire set, and at times sing along to the song they were playing.

Song wise, there was little that really stood out to me, yet nothing was downright bad. The best song the band played was one of their new songs that was called (I believe) “100 Shades of White” which was really good. It was a moment where I went from thinking that the band was “ehhh” to thinking “Oh, okay, these guys have something.” The other moment that stood out, though not for the same reason, was the band’s mashup of Cheap Trick‘s “I Want You To Want Me” and The Beatles‘ “Help.” Though I thoroughly enjoyed, and was surprised by, the opening of the first going straight into the second, I really was not a fan of how the band went back and forth between the two songs. I personally thought it would have been better if they had just used the opening and closing of the Cheap Trick tune to bookend the classic from the Fab Four. Some of the crowd, however, loved the entire thing, and in the end, that’s the most important thing. The crowd also went a little crazy during the band’s last song, dancing in between tables and getting others to get up and dance, which was appropriate seeing as the band’s last tune was one of its most upbeat of the entire set.

Overall, I enjoyed the band’s set and would not be against seeing them again, and think that they have a solid foundation to build upon as they continue to play. However, I would suggest that the band listen to and learn from some of the less jangly and more power of the jangle/power pop artists, like Big Star, Jason Falkner, Matthew Sweet, Jellyfish, and Teenage Fan Club (if they haven’t already), and start to expand their sound to something bigger which may (or may not) help them gain some new fans. At the very least listening to those bands and artists would expand their musical knowledge and give them some inspiration to create some more great pop/rock songs.

Concert Review: Ben Folds Five @ Central Park Summertage, New York, NY – September 14, 2012

I have never, in my life, paid more than $70 to see a concert, and that’s including the extra fees. But I paid $125 to see Ben Folds Five last night in Central Park, and it was worth every single penny.

Now, before I get into the review of the show, let me explain the ticket cost. My $125 ticket granted me early access to the venue and a shirt that was unique to the show. So really, if you break it down, the regular tickets cost about $60 before fees, throw in a shirt that would probably be $15-20, and then add the fact you get in before everyone else, which allowed me to be, literally, front and center to see my favorite band of all time, and the price really isn’t that bad.

Now this was not the first time I had seen Ben Folds Five. As some of you may recall from my entry, A Personal History with the Music of Ben Folds, I have seen the band three times prior to last night’s show, twice before their breakup, as well as their first, one-off reunion show in 2008, but that did not hamper my excitement to see them. They are, as I just mentioned, my favorite band, and as much as I wanted to love Ben Folds’ other bands as much as I love him playing with Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee, it just was never the same. Thankfully, the show last night was everything I hoped for (besides a two-hour set) and any worry about them not being as good as they were back in the 90s was totally put to rest.

The show started incredibly early, with the opening act, Kate Miller-Hiedke, going on at 6pm and leaving the stage just after 6:30. Being that this was an outdoor show in the middle of Manhattan, I was not that surprised that it started early (the My Morning Jacket show in Williamsburg started at 6:15, with the band going on at 7:30). I was more shocked at how quickly Ben Folds Five came on after. At 7:03, the guys came on stage and started their 100-minute show.

They opened with “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later,” my favorite song off their new album, The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind. This song has everything you want to hear from Ben Folds Five, fuzz bass, gorgeous harmonies, pounding piano and drums, and from the very start the band sounded great. There was a moment, however, when everything could’ve fallen apart during the song. At the end of the second chorus, Folds messed up and accidentally kept going like it was the third chorus, but luckily Robert Sledge kept playing the right part, and Folds soon recovered, giving Darren Jessee a look that said, “Well, I messed that up,” which was returned with a smile by the drummer. That moment told me that these three men who, over the last 12 years, had only played a handful of shows together, were back on the same page, and were truly a band, once again, even if mistakes were made.

After “Michael Praytor,” the band went straight into “Theme from Dr. Pyser,” a ferocious instrumental B-Side from the 90s, which was followed by two BF5 classics, “Jackson Cannery” and “Selfless, Cold and Composed.” All three of these older songs sounded fantastic, with the band sounding like they had never broken up to begin with. “Selfless, Cold and Composed,” was especially amazing, if only for the fact that Jessee’s drumming was just plain stellar. On the song he plays an incredibly intricate and concise jazz waltz beat, which really makes the song, and he pulled it off perfectly. It should be noted that Jessee had not been playing a lot of drums during the breakup of Ben Folds Five, so for his drumming to be as good as it was last night was just an absolute treat.

Erase Me,” the opening track of the new album, was next, and was followed by the classic “Uncle Walter,” which is easily one of the band’s best live songs. The band then went into a fantastic version of “Alice Childress,” and then “Sky High,” another song from their new album, which sounded absolutely stunning.  The band continued to play a mix of new an old material, performing “Battle of Who Could Care Less,” “Mess,” The Sound of the Life of the Mind,” “Emaline,” and “Do It Anyway,” all of which sounded superb. However, the background vocal harmonies on “The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind,” really stood out, and were actually mind blowing. Sledge and Jessee’s vocals were so perfect, that I honestly could not tell if they were coming from their mouths or a recording. It was another moment during the show that reinforced why I love this band so much.

The band closed the set with four of their stalwarts, “Brick,” “Philosophy,” “Army,” and “Song For The Dumped.” Even though I had seen them three times prior, I had happily never heard them perform “Brick” live (I was never a big fan of the song), but I must admit that the band’s biggest song sounded truly wonderful last night. “Philosophy” got the crowd into a frenzy, sounding, unsurprisingly, great, with the highlight being the extended jazzy solo from Folds, which was amply backed by Sledge and Jessee. “Army” put the crowd on another level, and even though it was usually Sledge and Jessee doing the horn parts in days past, the band allowed the crowd, who needed no cue or direction from the band, to sing the parts instead. The guys were silent as we went through the horn section about three times before being joined by the band. It was truly a wonderful moment.

And then there was “Song For The Dumped.” For anyone who was ever lucky enough to see Ben Folds Five in concert back in the 90s, knows that this was always the show closer, and the time when the band would go absolutely crazy on stage. Well, due to a mistake made by Folds, the song lived up to its legacy and turned out to be the best song of the night. Overall, the song sounded amazing (I mean you had Robert Sledge’s patented fuzz bass back in action, how could it not be amazing?), but it was the built-in jam, that almost wasn’t, that truly made the song. After the third verse, the band would almost always go into a jam led by Sledge, who would unplug his bass, and start tapping the live cable on his hand, producing a sound every time there was contact. Well, Folds forgot about it (for some reason) and he went straight into the last chorus. Sledge interjected during a pause in the lyrics, saying, “Not tonight, I guess” (or something similar, I don’t remember exactly). Folds realized his mistake, cut himself off, and told Sledge to start it up, which he eventually did. Later, Folds start to sing that he was sorry, and Sledge soon joined in, singing that it was okay, before saying he probably should get another bass solo, which happened soon after. The jam that followed was different than the typical “Dumped” jam, and eventually led into a rendition of “Weather Channel Music,” a jazzy improvised jam that Folds was prone to doing at his solo shows, before getting back to the song and finishing the set to a thunderous applause.

Now you may be wondering why the hell I just detailed what happened in a part of a song. The reason is that this was the moment that I knew that Ben Folds Five was truly back together. The band could’ve played a two hour set perfectly, and it still would not have been as important as what happened during last night’s rendition of “Song For The Dumped.” Long before Ben Folds did “Rock This Bitch,” Ben Folds Five would do impromptu songs like “That’s Robert Sledge,” “Satan is My Master,” and “Cybernet.” And though Folds would continue this trend into his solo career, the interaction between him and Robert Sledge that would happen during these made up songs showed that the band had a level of communication and understanding that would allow them to deviate from the written setlist. These were the moments that not only made Ben Folds Five shows special, but made the band, itself, special. So that’s why the jam, that almost wasn’t, in “Song For The Dumped,” was the most important and the best moment of the night last night.

After the band left the stage, the crowd started chanting, “Ben Folds Five! Ben Folds Five!” as they waited for the band to return to the stage. “Underground” was first up, and the crowd went totally crazy as Darren Jessee said, “I was never cool in school. I’m sure you don’t remember me,” to begin a phenomenal rendition of the song. The night closed with the band playing “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces.” While I would have preferred “Song For The Dumped,” the song was a great way to end the show, especially hearing the three of them play through the breakdown of the song. The song kicked ass, and the guys were totally into it. The show officially ended with Folds throwing his piano stool at his piano.

Overall, it was a fantastic night and a truly great show. Not only did the band sound awesome, but they were visibly enjoying themselves, which is an indication that they are definitely happy to be working together again. This was most evident on Darren Jessee’s face, who for most of the night was smiling, something that I did not expect. I say this because at the first reunion show in 2008, he was the most reserved and seemed to be the least into the show. So, even though he has scaled back his stage presence (he was prone to standing up while playing), the fact that he was smiling and laughing meant that he is truly enjoying playing with his bandmates. Honestly, it seems they all are, and it showed last night on stage.

So, let it be known to the world, Ben Folds Five is, indeed, back, and they sound just as good as they ever did. And I, for one, could not be happier about that.


Setlist:
Michael Praytor, Five Years Later – The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind
Theme From Dr. Pyser – B-side of The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
Jackson Cannery – Ben Folds Five
Selfless, Cold, and Composed – Whatever and Ever Amen
Erase Me – The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind
Uncle Walter – Ben Folds Five
Alice Childress – Ben Folds Five
Sky High – The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind
Battle of Who Could Care Less – Whatever and Ever Amen
Mess – The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
The Sound of the Life of the Mind – The Sound of the Life of the Mind
Emaline – Naked Baby Photos
Do It Anyway – The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind
Brick – Whatever and Ever Amen
Philosophy – Ben Folds Five
Army – The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
Song For The Dumped – Whatever and Ever Amen
—————————————
Underground – Ben Folds Five
One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces – Whatever and Ever Amen

(Note: “Best Imitation of Myself” was originally in the setlist but was cut, and as you can see below the original setlist was different than what they played.)

Concert Review: My Morning Jacket @ Williamsburg Park, Brooklyn, NY – August 19, 2012

When you see a band multiple times you always hope to see a show that is as good or better than the time(s) before. In my experience, most of the time you will get a fairly similar show, especially if the band is a solid band live, and when this happens, you usually leave with a good feeling regardless of how it compared to the previous show(s). Last night, however, I left last night’s show with a whole different feeling.

Last night, I went to go see My Morning Jacket for the second time (third if you count seeing them play with Preservation Hall Jazz Band at their 50th anniversary show in January) at Williamsburg Park in Brooklyn. I came in having extremely high expectations since I was blown away the first time I saw them live. Last night I left with those expectations totally shattered. The band was not just good, they were mind blowing.

Not only was the set list spectacular (see below), but the energy the band exuded on stage was the most intense that I have seen at any show in several years, including the first time I saw them live. Now that’s saying something, because if there is one thing that the band is known for, it’s their stage presence, and last night was just simply a wonder to watch. Singer/guitarist Jim James is normally all over the place, rocking out to almost every song, but last night he was on a whole different level. He was all over the stage, interacting with both his bandmates and the crowd. He danced while playing his guitar during several of the songs, and at one point was running around guitarist Carl Broemel during his solo. Speaking of Broemel, he too gets really into the songs, but last night he seemed to be much more energized, playing to the crowd and jumping around a lot more than I have seen before (including on videos of live performances). And then there is drummer Patrick Hallahan, who is literally a beast on the set, and plays with such intensity that you could call him a real-life Animal. He too was going nuts throughout the night, especially during “Run Thru,” where he did his patented arm movements during the breakdown of the song. Bassist Tom Blakenship and keyboardist Bo Koster, were a little more reserved than the other three, though still rocking out hard, especially Blankenship, who was in a power stance for several of the songs.

But like I’ve told many people before, stage presence alone does not make a performance good, and last night MMJ played an incredibly stellar setlist, playing for almost two and a half hours. The band opened with the rarely performed “The Dark,” one of four selections played from the band’s first album The Tennessee Fire, and didn’t look back. The band played at least one selection from each of their studio albums, as well as covering George Harrison’s “Isn’t It A Pity” (which also featured Dean Wareham from the band Luna) and Prince’s “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” which was one of several highlights of the night. Other highlights included “Gideon,” an extended version of “Dondante,” “It’s About Twilight Now,” a full version of “Run Thru,” “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream, Pt. 2,” Jim James playing “I Will Be There When You Die” solo, and the show’s closer “One Big Holiday,” which had the crowd in a total frenzy. On top of this, the band was noticeably extending the intros and outros of several of their songs, showing that they are starting to evolve their songs in a live environment, something that good live bands do.

It’s hard to say if this was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, but I know that it was definitely one of the most intense. I can easily say, however, that My Morning Jacket is one of the best live bands out there. They encompass both a great stage and light show and great music that is performed consistently at a high level. They are also very in-tune with their fans, especially the hardcore ones, understanding that without them they would be nothing. All of these characteristics make a great live band, and My Morning Jacket is one (yes, I know I just said that). I highly suggest going to see them in concert, especially if you like their music, because it really is an experience to see them live.


Setlist
1. The Dark – The Tennessee Fire
2. Outta My SystemCircuital
3. CircuitalCircuital
4. Gideon – Z
5. Lay LowZ
6. MahgeetahIt Still Moves
7. DondanteZ
8. War BegunThe Tennessee Fire
9. It’s About Twilight Now – The Tennessee Fire
10. Run Thru – It Still Moves
11. Off The RecordZ
12. Holdin On To Black MetalCircuital
13. Phone Went WestAt Dawn
14. Smokin’ From Shootin’Evil Urges
15. Touch Me I’m Going To Scream, Pt. 2 – Evil Urges
16. Good Intentions  – Evil Urges
Encore:
17. I Will Be There When You Die – The Tennessee Fire
18. Isn’t It A Pity (w/ Dean Wareham of Luna) – All Things Must Pass (George Harrison)
19. Victory DanceCircuital
20. Wordless ChorusZ
21. I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man – Sign “O” the Times (Prince)
22. One Big Holiday – It Still Moves