Category Archives: Shows

Parquet Courts

Last summer, while he was down in NC for a visit, I played some Parquet Courts for my dad, and he was immediately hooked. So, when they announced a December show in NYC, he floated the idea that he, my brother and I should all go to see them. So, that’s what we all did.

My brother already lives there, and he generously put us up, and put up with us drunken tourists, for two nights. Dad lives upstate and drove down to meet us.

We missed the opening band – Sun Ra Archestra – since we didn’t think an NYC show would actually start at 8. But it did. We go to see them walk off, though.

PQ were exactly what I was hoping for. They were energetic and tight when they needed to be, but perfectly sloppy otherwise. Set list was great, if short: lots of stuff from their fantastic new album, and good stuff from the others. No “Stoned And Starving”, however.

Mrs and I were mightily impressed by the bass player. I rarely listen to bass players on records (mostly because my ear buds do a crappy job with bass frequencies). But live, his contributions stood out. And I began to suspect that he might be the key to their sound.

I also had had too many vodka-tonics.

Psychedelic Furs

We saw the Psychedelic Furs in Carrboro, last night. And they were great!

Mrs was a fan in high school, while I only knew them from their hits – five songs, I counted them off before the show started: Pretty In Pink, Love My Way, etc.. And of course they played all of those. The surprise was the other dozen songs in their set, which ranged from melodic goth in the Siouxsie/Cure vein, to Bauhaus-y drone stuff, to angry rocking things that one could mistake for PiL – though Richard Butler’s rough baritone (which still sounds great) could never be confused with Johnny Lydon’s bratty sneer. But, they were uniformly good. Good enough that I just might have to go buy an album or two.

I had seen them before, back in 89, at the RIT hockey rink. I remember liking them then, too. But that’s all I remember. It was college, I was probably drunk.

Liz Brasher opened. She, and her band, did a fine set of fine bluesy tunes. If you like Black Keys, Alabama Shakes, etc., they’re right up your alley.

Toad The Wet Sprocket

Saw Toad The Wet Sprocket last night, in Durham. Mrs. C is the Toad fan in our house, but I still somehow knew probably 2/3 of the songs they played. They were laid-back and unassuming on stage, as you would expect if you’re familiar with their music. And for some reason, they were about 4x too loud for a band that uses nicely-crafted vocal harmonies in all their songs. What I could make out, through the pummeling, crushing roar of the PA sounded good. So, that was a good time.

We’d never heard of the opening act so we lingered at dinner before the show. And we got there in time to hear their last two and a half songs. There was a woman singing and her husband on acoustic guitar, doing some pleasant folky stuff. The final song, introduced as a “new” song was Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me”. The crowd was excited when she started singing it. And, as the song went on, I started thinking “Odd choice for a cover. But she’s doing a really good job of this.” When she was done, I pulled out my phone and looked it up and, yes, the woman was Leigh Nash, the singer for Sixpence None The Richer.

So, a very 90s evening.

Sea And Cake

Sea and Cake played a club in Durham, last night. And I was there!

I realized, while waiting for them to take a break from playing new songs and get to my favorites, that I consider ‘new’ S&C songs to be any songs released in the last 15 years.

I’m old.

They were good, though. Even those ‘new’ songs are fun, live. The old songs (I think there were three) were great.

The opener, James Elkington, was amazing. He’s an brilliant old-style English folk guitar player. The kind of player that makes me hate that I even own guitars.

James Elkington – "Make It Up" (Official Video)

I bought his CD.

Brandies

We first saw Brandi Carlisle in 2006, at a club in Raleigh. Just her and her guitar, and her army jacket. She opened for Shawn Colvin, and I remember it being very sparsely attended – like maybe 100 people. But, I wrote, at the time:

She’ll be big someday. She should be big already.

Then we saw her again in 2009, at a small theater in Carborro – maybe 300 people. She’d added two guys as her backing band (tall, bald, twins). They’d been part of her band and songwriting team from the beginning, but that time they got to tour with her too.

This time, we saw her at the largest theater in Raleigh. It’s about 200 yards from the place we first saw her, but it has more than 2,200 seats. And she (very nearly) sold it out. So, she’s big now. And deservedly so.

Her – “their”, actually; she said it’s more like a band called “Brandi Carlisle”) – their, new record is a bit different than their earlier records. There are fewer simple folky acoustic tunes, and a lot more muscle: big loud anthems and clap-along stadium-pleasers. For me, the bigger songs all worked much better on stage than the recorded versions do. I suspected they might; since they seem designed to be played live.

They played the entire new record, nothing from the first record, and just two songs from the second.

She had a seven piece band behind her, including the twins, a string trio, a drummer and a keyboard/horn player. There was a light show, and an Elton John cover. And the opener, the always-great Brandy Clarke, came out to do a duet of “Stand By Your Man”. So, it was a full production. And it was a very good one. Good for her / them!

Robert Plant

Saw Robert Plant this weekend.

He played old stuff, new stuff, black stuff, blue stuff. The new stuff sounded better than the older stuff, though. His voice is, understandably, not the voice he had in the 70s, and his newer songs suit this newer voice. I think I counted five Zeppelin songs this time around. Either out of boredom or to suit his voice (he can’t get to those high notes any more), he’s changed their arrangements to varying degrees: “Baby I’m Gonna Leave You” was mostly original, but “Misty Mountain Hop” was totally unrecognizable and the words didn’t really fit the song the band played – he just kindof spilled them over the top of the music. It took me a verse and a half to figure out what was going on. But, “Gallows Pole” and “That’s The Way” were good. I think he only did one of his big songs from the 80s (“Mood For a Melody”).

Might have been the night, but it seems like he is slowing down a bit – not quite as animated, a bit less spark. The kids behind us in line to get in were talking about how they were about to see the “greatest front-man in the history of rock”. I hope they know that they missed that Robert Plant by about 30 years. Today’s version is more elder statesman and less hypnotic blues imp.

The band was great, especially the two guitarists.

So, it was a good show. But I could see myself taking a pass if he comes around here again.

Aimee Mann

We saw Aimee Mann in Durham, over the weekend.

I don’t actually own any of her albums. Somehow, I just know all these Aimee Mann songs from the atmosphere or whatever. Plus, I thought my wife had all Mann’s albums, so I never bothered to buy any myself. But it turns out she doesn’t have any, either. She says she’s going to buy them all, now.

Even though I could only see the bass player most of the time (who was too loud and out of tune for the first couple of songs), the show was really good. Mann is a great singer and songwriter, and delivers her songs effortlessly.

She brought along an opening act, Jonathan Coulton, who I previously knew as the guy who wrote the fantastic closing song for Portal and as the musica host on NPR’s “Tell Me Another”. So, I was surprised to see him opening for Aimee Mann. But, it turns out that he was a co-writer on her new album, and is a fantastic songwriter (and guitar player and singer!) in his own right – mostly funny stuff. The two of them did several songs together, both during his set and hers.

She closed with “Voices Carry”, which she introduced with a shout-out to the Women’s March.

We saw her at the same venue, many years ago. There was a snow storm and we were new to the area and didn’t know that snow is the end of the world. So, there were maybe 100 people in this big old theater and just her and her guitar.

I’ve Heard Them All, I’ve Heard Them All, I’ve Heard Them All

Went to see David Rawlings last Saturday in beautiful Saxapahaw NC. It’s the same group of people that used to be called the “David Rawlings Machine”, but now it’s just “An Evening With David Rawlings.” MmmK.

Tenth time seeing them (either lead by Gillian Welch or by David Rawlings). This pushes them ahead of Robyn Hitchcock.

It was a sold out show, so it was packed and hot and stuffy. And it’s a club, so you gotta stand. And the other three people who were supposed to come with me (and whose idea it was to go in the first place) all bailed at the last minute. So, I wasn’t like totally stoked to be there. But, I went, dammit!

He has a new album out, as “David Rawlings” (no more “Machine” there either), which is good because I’ve been watching him play what seems like the same set for years. But, unfortunately, I just don’t care much for this new record.

So, I got there early, got a decent place to stand. And as soon as they started, the guy in front of me started making me miserable by getting three inches taller, creeping backwards, leaning backwards, very slowing rocking side-to-side. He had three feet in front of him, where the rest of his party was standing, but he needed my space, too.

So, shitty mood firmly established…

They played a bunch of my least-favorite tunes from the new record. Then they played a couple of tunes I like but which I’ve heard him play a hundred times before. Then Gillian Welch got to do a song, “Back In Time”, which she did last time I saw The David Rawlings show. Then Willie Watson got to do a song; but before he started he said (paraphrasing) “I was thinking maybe I would do a different song this time. You know Gillian always ends up singing ‘Back In Time’, and I always do this one. Maybe we should switch it up for a change? But it was decided that we should just stick with what works.”

And then he did the song he does at every David Rawlings show. It’s a good, fun song, but I didn’t need to hear it again. And he obviously didn’t want to sing it again. At that point I realized I that was bored. I’ve seen them on that same stage several times before and have been just awestruck and mesmerized. But this time, I was just bored. So I stood for one more song before they took their intermission and then I left.

They just announced a Gillian Welch show around here in April. I rolled my eyes.

St Vincent

The first time I saw St Vincent, she/they were opening for Andrew Bird at the Cat’s Cradle.


Nikon D90, 18-105mm
2009

I’d never heard St Vincent before, and since we were right up front and they were the opening band, the sound was terrible. I had no idea what they were playing. But there were actual instruments on stage, and people were playing them, along with a lot of sequenced electronics. It was obvious the star was Annie Clark, but she was still one of the band.

The next time I saw them/her, it was at another small club. But they had graduated to a full-on stage show with intricate choreography and costumes. There was a drummer and two keyboard players. Annie Clark sang and played guitar. But, it was hard to say if the drummer was just playing along to a drum machine or not, and keyboards are always suspect – one of the keyboard players did a lot of performing while the music happily played away. They were never featured musically. Basically, Annie Clark was so much the star that the other people were nearly stage decoration.


iPhone (repost)
2014

But on this tour, in proper theaters not little clubs, she has gone ahead and made it clear. Through a clever series of reveals and misdirections over the first eight or ten songs, she shows everyone who St Vincent really is: Annie Clark. The whole show is her, alone on stage, with just a microphone and a guitar, playing to thunderous backing tracks. No amps, no pedals, no cords.


iPhone

Behind her, a giant screen showed videos (mostly of her) and the lights were dazzling. She must have a dozen of her signature guitars, in different colors – fluorescent orange and pink, blue and yellow, a gold one tuned for playing slide, etc.. All of them color coordinated with the movies and lighting. It was an impressive, almost overwhelming, presentation.

And the music was good, too! She played almost everything I wanted to hear, and it all sounded fantastic. Even though I’m a little naturally skeptical of pre-recorded backing tracks, she made the show work. Instead of having a few bored-looking people behind her poking at keyboards pretending to play, she just went ahead and made herself the whole show, which she’s always been anyway.

Garbage, Blondie

We saw Garbage and Blondie last weekend.

Can’t say I know anything about Garbage except the hits that saturated radio at just about the time I stopped listening to music on the radio. But, I know Butch Vig, who produced Nevermind is a member. For some reason I thought he played guitar. Nope, drums.

They were good – much better than I thought they’d be, even. The band is very slick and polished, just like they sound on the radio. But it at least looked like they were actually playing it all. And their singer, Shirley Manson, is a lot of fun to watch. They played a bunch of songs I didn’t know, and ended with a few that I did know. All of their songs sounded exactly like distilled 1990s.

Blondie did all their hits, and quite a few new songs (a couple of which sounded like old songs reworked just a bit). By comparison to Garbage, they sounded much less polished and sculpted. Not sloppy, just less fussed-over. Punk rock, I guess. Also, Debbie Harry is now 72 and doesn’t have the voice she did 35 years ago – or even six years ago. But, she’s still Debbie Harry. Original drummer, Clem Burke, is still amazing. They saved it for last, but my favorite Blondie song is “Dreaming”, and I’ve always loved the tornado of rolls that he does all throughout it.

Blondie – Dreaming

And he can still do it.

As far as I can tell, they didn’t use any backing tracks. I find it so shitty that this is even something that I find myself looking for, every show I see anymore.

Next month, Green Day.