Category Archives: Shows

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

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)

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.


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.

Robyn Hitchcock

… at the Carrboro Arts Center.

Tenth time seeing him! First time was in March, 1997.

This set was mostly requests that he took on Facebook. So it was a lot of stuff I’d never heard him do live before: One Long Pair Of Eyes, The Ghost Ship, I Want To Destroy You, A Skull, A Suitcase…. And, he picked one of my suggestions: Luminous Rose. In addition, he played almost all of my favorites: Guilford, Glass Hotel, Briggs, etc.. If he had also played Chinese Bones, he would’ve completed my top five. He also played a lot of songs from his (very good) new record, which all sounded great done with just an acoustic guitar.

Local singer, Skylar Gudasz, opened with a set of excellent tunes – minimalist and intimate in the style of Cat Power or Joni Mitchell at her best. Worth checking out.

Three weeks till Paul Simon.

Adrian Belew

The Adrian Belew Power Trio stopped at the Cat’s Cradle last weekend, and we went to see them, as we always do. And he was good, as he always is. It was the usual blend of mind-bending instrumental math rock and poppy Beatlesque numbers, including an actual Beatles’ song (“Free As A Bird”), a bit of David Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging” (on which Belew originally played) and several King Crimson classics.

He was notably more active and lively this time around. Last time he was here, he spent a lot of time on his very fancy bouncy stool. Regardless, he always seems so dang happy to be playing – like he’s constantly surprised that he just made his guitar do that!

Our view of Belew was partially obscured by people. But we got a good view of bassist Julie Slick doing her stuff. And she’s fantastic at it.

So, a good time.

Duran Duran

Friday night, we saw Duran Duran in Wilmington NC. The show was literally in a large parking lot down by the river. It was on a nicely-sloped parking hillside, so there wasn’t a bad space in the lot. And even in such an unglamorous setting, the band is still slick and fun to watch. Don’t know how many people were there, but it felt like a pretty big crowd.

They played most of their old hits, of course.

Several times I found myself trying to figure out who was playing the music I was hearing. Something was playing the basic low bass stuff, somewhere, while John Taylor smiled and waved at the audience in between his signature slap-n-pop riffs. Probably the keyboard player? The drummer seemed to be playing along with drum machine/taped drum tracks. Pre-recorded vocal tracks backed-up the back-up singers. Once I started noticing the other stuff, I couldn’t help but watch Simon LeBon like hawk, to see if he was lip-syncing or not – I don’t think he was. His voice still sounds good.

They did a quick Bowie tribute as part of ‘Planet Earth’, which was nice.

Stevie Nicks & The Pretenders

We saw The Pretenders open for Stevie Nicks, last night. I was a little wary of seeing them, so long after their heyday – could they still play, could Chrissie Hynde still sing? Yes, and emphatically yes! She actually sounds as good as she ever has, and she seemed to be in good spirits. They played a few newer songs at the front of their set, and then went on to play most of their hits and great early songs. Their set was pretty long, for an opening band; but they could’ve played three times as long and I wouldn’t have minded.

I was pleased to see that their steel guitar player was using a Carr amp. They’re made in our little town of Pittsboro, NC. I’d have one, if I could justify the (considerable) expense.

The show was at our local 20,000-seat NHL stadium, so the sound was atrocious: huge drums, sizzling highs, and everything else smashed into a roaring and reverberating mid-range miasma.

I’m not really familiar with Stevie Nicks’ solo stuff other than the big radio hits, and she played all of those, and some Fleetwood Mac classics. But she also played a lot of stuff that was unreleased or forgotten or stuff that she wanted to improve on the original recording – a deep tracks set for true fans, I guess. So, I was lost for most of the set. Mrs knows Nicks’ solo records, but there were a few songs even she didn’t recognize. Helpfully, Nicks introduced nearly every song with a long story about how it came to be. She still sounded remarkably good, though.

Norah Jones

Saw Norah Jones this past Tuesday. She was exactly as you’d expect: very mellow and low-key, even on her more upbeat songs. But, she sounded great and the band was really good. Most importantly, they played everything I wanted to hear them play. So, success.

The encores were done acoustic, in front of a single microphone that might not have even been on -- it certainly wasn’t doing much. Still, that was a nice way to hear “Creepin In” and “Sunrise”.

The band, less Jones, opened with a set of instrumentals.

We sat next to a bunch of drunk people, they were loud and annoying. And in front of us was a guy who was incredibly excited to see her -- he was literally shaking with joy at times.

Just got Paul Simon tix! Sunday we go see the Pretenders & Stevie Nicks. Trying to talk myself into going to see Tortoise tomorrow night. Also have tix for : Duran Duran, Robyn Hitchcock, Adrian Belew, Silversun Pickups and Green Day. Next few months will be busy!

Norah Jones - Sunrise