Category Archives: Shows

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.

Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie

Saturday night, downtown Raleigh.

Rumor is that these two were working on songs for an upcoming Fleetwood Mac album but because Stevie Nicks wasn’t available, they just went ahead and put it out as “Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie”. The other two members of Mac weren’t with them Saturday night, but they are on the album. So, we basically got a cheap Fleetwood Mac show in a small venue with a couple of Lindsey Buckingham solo tunes thrown in, and without any Stevie songs. Perfect! (just kidding, Stevie songs are good songs, too). I think we paid $60 each for the seats, 20th row, just a few thousand people outdoors on a nice night. I think it was $250 each for back-end seats in the Atlanta MonstroHugeEchoDome when we saw FM there in 2014.

The two of them started off with a set of songs where Lindsey played acoustic guitar and Christine played some minimal keyboard backups (Lindsey’s “Trouble”, “Never Going Back Again”, etc.), which were great. He is a fantastic guitar player, and his voice is as good as ever. Christine McVie’s voice is still good, though she was assisted by a fuckton of distracting canned backup vocal tracks.

They played most of their new record, which I don’t know. But most of it sounds like good ol’ Fleetwood Mac. So: acceptable.

Highlight was a blistering “I’m So Afraid” from the first Fleetwood Mac album to feature Buckingham and Nicks (their second self-titled). It’s one where Lindsey can really stretch out and wail away on his weird little electric guitar.

The Wallflowers opened. Due to dinner issues, we only caught their last three or four songs. But, we got to hear two of the songs you’d expect them to play: “One Headlight” and “The Difference”. From what we saw, they were good! And Jakob Dylan looks just like his dad – who we saw on the same stage four years ago.

Next up… Blondie + Garbage. This has been a busy spring/summer for concerts!

Silversun Pickups & Third Eye Blind

Saw Silversun Pickups & Third Eye Blind Saturday night.

I know Third Eye Blind belongs to the group of bands that put out a bunch of inescapable alt-rock songs in the 90s: Third Eye Blind, 311, Three Doors Down, Seven Mary Three, Smashmouth, Sugar Ray, Sublime, Semisonic, etc.. But, until I looked it up just now, I couldn’t have named a single song they did. Turns out, Third Eye Blind was responsible for “Semi-charmed Life”.

Third Eye Blind – "Semi-Charmed Life" [Official Music Video]

Doo doo doo. Doo de doo doo.

Silversun Pickups, on the other hand, are nothing like that. They started out in the 00s, sounding like a slightly sunnier and less-angst-filled Smashing Pumpkins.

Silversun Pickups – Lazy Eye

But they’ve grown into their own sound, these days.

Silversun Pickups – Nightlight (Official Video)

They were fun, live. The singer/guitar player was having a lot of fun, and the drummer is a blast to watch – he has a crash cymbal way up over his right shoulder that he whacks with this great overhead left-hand smash. But, the guitar was inaudible about half the time: a big blow to a band that uses guitar like they do.

We left about five songs into Third Eye Blind.

No more shows this week. But next week: Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie!

Train, Paul Simon

What two things do Paul Simon and Train have in common?

A) We saw them both this week, separately, at outdoor concert venues.
B) They both played “Call Me Al”.

We got Train tickets from one of the guys in the band, a long-time friend of Mrs C’s. We also got to go backstage after the show and hang out with (some of) the band – drink their beer, eat their snacks, listen to rock star stories. Our seats were in the guests-of-the-band section, so we had the owner of a golf course where the band had spent their afternoon on one side. On the other side was … a guy in a hat. After the show we learned that he is a well-known guitar tech who current works for AC/DC and Aerosmith (among others). Ain’t we special. Train’s music is mostly not my cup of tea. Their first album was pretty good, but their recent stuff doesn’t really click with me. Still, they’re a good band and they put on a good show. They even played a fine version of Chris Cornell’s “Black Hole Sun”! So, it was a good time.

There was no backstage loafing with Paul Simon for us. But, we did get to see him play and that was plenty good enough. He’s surprisingly animated and fun to watch. His voice still has that fantastic tone, though he’s lost a bit of his range. But best of all, he has that amazing Paul Simon song catalog to choose from! He played a solid two hours but I’m sure he could have played another two hours without having to play a bad song. He didn’t play “Kodachrome” or “Slip Sliding Away” or “One Trick Pony” or “Mrs Robinson” or “Something So Right” or “Cecilia” or the other half of the “Graceland” album! And, this might be a first, but I would have even liked to hear more of his newer stuff – his recent two records are both very good! Very glad I got to see him.