I just saw Wintersleep and two other stellar up-and-coming bands (Rah Rah http://www.myspace.com/rahrahband and Besnard Lakes http://www.myspace.com/thebesnardlakes) last week and I came to realize that I never did complete my live music series. So, here's a brief summary of some of the more memorable shows that followed in the wake of Pearl Jam's stellar gig:
The Dixie Chicks August 8th 2006. I was an instant fan of the Chicks after seeing their Shut Up And Sing doc from earlier that same year. These gals exhibited amazing musicianship during a very lively performances and kept me more than amused with plenty of now-vindicated Bush-bashing. Not to mention the fact that the crowd that night was, by far, the nicest smelling bunch of people I've ever had the pleasure of being surrounded by at the Metro Center.
This vid quality is pretty crappy here but it's still a fine example of the band's amazing live sound (not to mention the sing-along proclivities of their rabid fans!). Enjoy:
The White Stripes July 13, 2007. I never thought in a million years that indie darlings The White Stripes would ever play in Halifax. Mercifully, thanks to Jack White's ties to the region, we were a shoe-in for a stop during the Under Great White Northern Lights tour of our fair country.
Leading up to the gig, it was fun trying to anticipate where their legendary "secret show" might take place. It turned out to be the understated Locas Pool Hall. Here's a peek:
Well equipped with earplugs this time, I survived their formal auditory assault one night later. It was a real privilege to witness first-hand the borderline eerie, near symbiotic on-stage relationship between Jack and Meg as they picked up each other's cues and delivered the goods. The show was unpredictable, punishing, raw, exhilarating and certainly towards the top of my list of all-time favorite concert experiences.
54-40, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick July 24th, 2007 Although the venue (a former horse racing track outside of Charlottetown, PEI) and the logistics kinda sucked, the sound was great and that was all I cared about.
First off, 54-40 have had a tremendous career and they've produced an amazing catalog of awesome songs and albums. I would love to see a stand alone show featuring these guys and I'm always quick to rip on some idiot for thinking "I Go Blind" was written by Hootie and the Blowfish.
I've loved Cheap Trick since the dawn of time. I think their unique combination of a heavy sound, satiric lyrics (satirics?), and power-punk melody influenced a slew of my own musical heroes like Kurt Cobain, whether deliberate or not. It was a real kick watching several generations of music fans go nuts when the boys rolled out "Surrender". The older crowd knew the song since 1978 and the younger crowd likely had played it about a billion times over the past year in Guitar Hero II. Pure Gold!
Seeing Aerosmith represented a "circle is now complete" moment. My better half has been an eternal Aerosmith nut so it had been a real privilege of mine to get tickets for her to see her rock heroes live in Saint John, New Brunswick on Dec 29, 1993. Unfortunately a winter storm prevented her chauffeur from delivering her to the gig so the ticket and the opportunity went to waste. AAAARRRRGGGHHH!!!!
So, needless to say, the date in PEI was pretty friggin' important. A pre-internal-strife Aerosmith phoned it in like pros. It was a real thrill to finally see my honey groovin' to classics like "Love in an Elevator", "Same Old Song", "Cryin'", "Jaded", "Last Child", "Dream On" and "Walk This Way". No "Rag Doll" tho, so a bit of a BOOOO! from me, I'm afraid.
Here a snippet from that show:
Ozzy Osbourne January 26, 2008 Nicely completing my Metal Heroes Live trifecta (begun years before with Iron Maiden and Motley Crue), I was first in line for tickets when the Ozzman eventually decided to cometh. Amidst the epically haunting strains of "Carmina Burana" Ozzy hit the stage with the force of a low-level nuclear weapon. Though a bit wobbly on his feet and his well-toured voice wavered slightly, the sixty year old godfather of modern metal thrilled with a time-honored stage show which featured:
- Charming homilies to the audience like: "“Go f#$@%^& crazy! It feeds my f#@$%^& soul!”
- Blistering musicianship from expert shredder Zakk Wylde, hyperactive bassist Rob "Blasko" Nicholson, flamboyant keyboardist Adam Wakemen, and a real thrill for me, the punishing percussion of ex-Faith No More drummer Mike Bordin.
- Ozzy blasting the audience with a foam-launching fire hose all the while assuring us: "Don’t worry, it’s not cocaine and it won’t keep you up all night!”
- After spazzing out to "Bark at the Moon" Ozzy kindly treats us to a Moon from the Loon. Let me tell ya, you'd be scarred for life too if you saw that cottage-cheese like ass up on a jumbotron.
- Sharon joins Ozzy onstage and the fans thank her for doing her part in keeping the star attraction alive this long.
- Mike Borden rushes to the defense of a fan who mistakenly tumbles into "no man's zone" after catching one of his drumsticks. When security moves to turf the acrobatic audience member, Borden leaps to his defense and has him spared.
- Zakk Wylde's 17 minute guitar solo leaves no eardrum unpunctured and no drunken slutty chick's shirt unlifted.
- I can die somewhat fulfilled after hearing "Crazy Train", "Suicide Solution", "Mr. Crowley", "I Don't Know" and (for the love of everything unholy) "Paranoid" live!
Queens of the Stone Age May 13, 2008 Mere days before I'm scheduled to head off to Ireland and Scotland, I have the pleasure of taking in Queens of the Stone Age, one of my favorite alternative/hard rock acts. Standing amidst a bizarrely decorated stage, lead singer/guitarist/contrarian/goliath Josh Homme chain smoked and drank his way through a punishing and perverse set of blistering nu-metal. Despite the copious amounts of alcohol consumed on stage, everything was note-perfect and their flawless presentation was in the same league as those other musical machines of God: the Smashing Pumpkins. Truly amazing.
Don't believe me? There's tons of video evidence out there from this gig and here just one clip of many:
Wintersleep January 29, 2009
Wintersleep kicked off an unprecedented and amazing year for concerts that saw me taking in no less than six historic shows. After a work acquaintance lent me Wintersleep's self-titled debut album from 2003, I spun that f#$@% so much I began to wear it out. When the band came back to Halifax at the end of January, he practically dragged me to the Marquee to experience their live show. It was amazing, as promised.
After the also-impressive Plants & Animals (http://www.myspace.com/plantsandanimals) were done with us, Wintersleep took to the stage and delivered a tight, atmospheric, slow-burn set that drove the already-rabid audience totally nuts. As always, I was smack-dab right in the middle of the scrum and the coiled-spring energy of the band and the pogo mania of the revelers around me was contagious. Even though I wasn't completely familiar with all of their material at the time (something I've long since remedied), the mood was set early and maintained throughout the entire show.
Wintersleep are masters of crescendo. The centerpiece of this is a truly epic tune called "Nerves Normal, Breath Normal" from their second untitled album. By itself, this song is incredibly engaging, but coming at the apex of an already amazing live show that's been building, slowly, inexorably towards this moment, it's almost unbearably hypnotic. Here's the tune in question:
The drummer, Loel Campbell, really uses this as a centerpiece for a virtuoso marathon performance. Mop-haired double-threat Tim D'eon also tends to take this opportunity to climb atop a bar stool and lean into his keyboards like some sort of mad harpsichordist. Riveting stuff.
I've seen them two times since then. The second show was much longer (it had an intermission!) and was more informal since they were test-driving some then-unfamiliar material from what proved to be an awesome fourth album. The last show was plagued a bit by sound problems but in the last quarter, the driving relentlessness of the band kicked in and they were able to deliver in spades.
See these guys whenever you can. They are truly amazing.
Anvil, AC/DC Aug 6, 2009
I know how it feels when you want to see your favorite band live but you just can't get anyone to go with you. My buddy Andrew, like an inexplicably disproportionate amount of people in their early to mid thirties, is still laboring under the misconception that AC/DC is the best band on the planet.
Frankly, when I was getting into metal in the early 80's AC/DC was kind of passe at the time. It was widely regarded that their lackluster Flick of the Switch album likely signaled that the band's best days were behind them. Compared to metal juggernauts like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne, they just weren't on my radar.
But when I got out of metal around 1987, they were actually starting to experience a major resurgence. By the time 1990's The Razor's Edge was released they'd completed a successful comeback just in time for a new generation of music fans to seize on to them as the flag-bearers of hard rock.
Slightly older folks like myself, however, had long since jettisoned AC/DC in lieu of the grunge movement. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden seemed like more sophisticated metal that it was okay to like without looking like a meatheat. Coupled with the fact that so many "classic" radio stations were now playing AC/DC incessantly, I was completely turned off by the band's interchangeable and one-note sound.
But Andrew really wanted to see the ancient Aussie rockers (actually most of 'em are Scottish) and since I'm all about the wish fulfillment (and my better half's family kindly offered to let us crash at their place) I promised to take him to the show in Moncton.
I have to confess that going into it, I was actually much more keen to see one of the opening acts, who's self-titled documentary Anvil! The Story Of Anvil really snagged my sympathies (http://apps.facebook.com/flixster/m/770682454).
Underestimating the time it took to trek to the concert grounds, we arrived a bit later than I'd hoped. Naturally, Andrew wanted to get a t-shirt to commemorate the event but with the lion's share of 67,000 people already swarming the site like intoxicated locusts, the merch tent was nigh-inaccessible. He went to wait in the massive lineup while I edged down the hill a bit to try and get a glimpse of Anvil as they took the stage.
Bless their hearts, they played their asses off and looked genuinely grateful to have scored such a peach opening gig. Lead singer/ace axeman Steve "Lips" Kudrow, drummer Robb Reiner and bassist Glenn Five
blasted the audience with an unrelenting wall of sound. It was a sonic symposium, a crunchy metallic battery of musical goodness. I really don't know if I could ever bring myself to buy one of their albums, but damn, you can't deny their technical abilities.
They also did due diligence in priming the audience for the much-anticipated headliners. During the lull, we had plenty of time to study the elaborate stage set up. Even inert it looked impressive. Next to the massive view screens stood a high-rise wall of speakers on either side, both crested by a pair of giant red, glowing Angus caps spiked with devil's horns. The elaborate cog, gear and pinwheel frame was studded with enough lighting fixtures to successfully guide a Boeing 747 into a landing in the field behind us.
As the sun went down and the massive concert grounds were enveloped by darkness, the amorphous crowd started to light up with a sea of blinking red devil horns that thousands of fans had snatched up before the show. Little wonder the merch tents had been so busy. The mind reeled when you thought about how much money these simple but unique little keepsakes had generated alone for the band.
When the band's high-octane introductory animated video began to roll, the decibel level from the crowd grew to deafening heights. It was almost as if we were all suddenly strapped into an out-of-control roller-coaster ride bound for rock n' roll nirvana. With the runaway train headed straight for the audience, the masterfully staged sequence culminated with a huge pyrotechnics explosion and an actual friggin' train crashing out onto the stage. Jesus Christos!
The band appeared and then launched into "Rock n' Roll Train" from their Black Ice album. The band was in fine form and well represented by one of the best sound systems I've ever heard for an outdoor concert. Replete in his trademarked "schoolboy" uniform, Angus Young shucked and jived across the runway like a bratty kid. Equally game was lead vocalist Brian Johnson who did his own patented sashay/strut around the stage. Considering the "Gargling Broken Glass" peal of Brian's voice and the untold abuse he's likely put it though on this tour alone, he represented very well. The band's accomplished percussion section (represented by bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd) laid down some relentless propulsion for Angus and fellow rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young.
Highlights included a fantastic rendition of "Back In Black", a chant-worthy "Thunderstruck", and a clap-along "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap". The high water mark for the entire show, however, had to be Angus Young's milestone guitar solo during "Let There Be Rock". Pausing only occasionally to grin devilishly and solicit enthusiastic "WOOO!"'s from the audience, the fifty-four year old guitar god displayed some one-handed showmanship of hammer-on's, crawled around the stage on his hands and knees, was lifted above our heads by risers, played while lying flat on his back, and ran around like a kid one-thrird his age.
I'm tellin' ya, we all need to look at acquiring our own Rock n' Roll pacts with Satan as we grow older. It seems to be the key to immortality.
A blistering encore of "Highway To Hell" and "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)" completed the experience for me. Although I was loathe to admit it, I was converted. I had a fantastic time and the band certainly went up several notches in my eyes.
But I still don't own one of their albums. Maybe now that we have a local modern rock radio station that put a ban on AC/DC I may be able to take the plunge one of these days.
There's TONS of amazing video for this show. Here's a choice clip:
Modest Mouse Aug 17 2009
Please come back, Modest Mouse. I lurves you.
Blondie October 30 2009
Good Lord. As if 2009 wasn't shaping up to the best year for concerts EVAR, punk/pop icons Blondie made two appearances at, of all places, the Halifax Sheraton Casino. For my better half, this was going to be an important concert, since Debbie Harry and company represented one of her first musical loves as a kid. She was initially put off by the steep ticket price, but knowing the importance of the show I bought two tickets for her birthday and we were off to meet our destiny.
Although the casino is truly my idea of hell on earth, we hoped that the intimate confines of the Schooner Room would overcome the staid nature of the venue. But when we were ensconced in our assigned seats, next to a couple of bloodless mummies who'd apparently gotten their tickets free through Players Club points, we feared the worse.
Sure enough, when the band came onstage none of the anal-retentive mannequins nearby made so much as a peep. To make matters worse, they actually glowered at us as we clapped, hooted and sang along.
Mercifully a bunch of kids familiar with the band's anarchic roots, rushed the stage. Unable to remain in place with our oil-painting company we joined them and started to dance, sing and well...do what you're supposed to do at a f%$#^* punk rock concert!
A platoon of scrawny security drones tried to force us back to our seats, but that didn't last very long. Turns out the band liked the club vibe and when we rushed up a second time, we were left to our devices.
And thank God we were. This turned what might have been a boring exhibition at an Arts and Culture Center into a rollicking punk rock show. Bemused by our rebellion and energy, the band played with the same passion and abandon. They genuinely looked like they were having a blast. It was surely one of the most memorable times when the attitude of an audience clearly effected a performance. The resulting symbiotic relationship resulted in one of the most memorable experiences of my concert-going life.
Plus, I never thought in all my days I'd ever find myself standing just a few feet away form Debbie Harry. Meeeee-ooooow!
I was hoping that someone might have recorded my favorite Blondie tune "Atomic" that night, but I can't find it. Oh, well, here's Debbie beating RUN-DMC to the punch with one of the earliest raps ever in "Rapture". Mad skillz, recognize!
Stone Temple Pilots Nov 24, 2009
I had a chance to see Stone Temple Pilots at a small venue when I was in Montreal back in 1994 but I blew it. When they broke up and the brothers DeLeo formed Talk Show and then Army of Everyone and Scott Weiland joined Velvet Revolver I thought those projects were still inferior to the flawed, yet amicable glory that was STP. I didn't hold out much hope that I would ever see this band live.
Well, when the side projects fizzled out and both parties decided they were stronger together then apart, rumors of a re-union began to swirl. Color me shocked when it was announced that a reconstituted STP would be blowing the roof off the Metro Center.
After an interesting set by Melissa Auf Der Mar's band, the boys ventured out onto a stripped-down stage and were all business. They quickly clobbered the audience with no-nonsense renditions of "Silvergun Superman" and "Wicked Garden". By the time they got to "Vasoline", the entire building was hooked and gleefully screaming along with the lyrics.
Favorites like "Big Empty", "Plush", "Interstate Love Song", and "Trippin' On A Hole In A Paper Heart" insured that my voice would resembled that of Mercedes McCambridge in The Exorcist. I love seeing a band live when you're so familiar with their songs that you can scream along. Murder on the pipes, but damn, it's a good time.
The band sounded fantastic and I'm happy to report that they all seemed to be in good spirits. Their last album was a bit of a mixed bag for me but I sincerely hope they stick around and keep hammering at it.
Here's a l'il sample:
Alexisonfire and Billy Talent April 15, 2010
Ever since I first heard the rage and unique sound of Billy Talent's "Try Honesty", I've always wanted to see them live. I got a great opportunity when they came to town at the Cunard Center as a twofer with pals Alexisonfire.
Alexisonfire is certainly one of the better "screamo" acts. How can you not love a band that describes their own sound as "two Catholic high-school girls in mid-knife-fight"? Truly their music is a perfect fusion of beauty and horror. Any given song can veer drunkenly from harmonious and melodic tones into bursts of guttural rage.
Their showing here really put them on the radar for me. They displayed a superhuman level of intensity and despite their ferocity, their sound is super-polished. They certainly made a fan out of me.
Billy Talent also didn't disappoint. If you could have harnessed the energy they expended that night for us in the name of entertainment you could power the entire eastern seaboard for a month. Now, they weren't trying to overcompensate for any lack of technical ability. They successfully replicated their material live with pitch-perfect precision but also weren't afraid to riff off in new and interesting directions from time to time.
This vid is great; it actually shows approximately where I was standing during this show and how boisterous and well-received it was by the audience. Electrifying...
Rich Aucion, Classified, Hot Hot Heat, Weezer July 24, 2010
One of my "bucket list" bands came to Halifax this year. After their now-classic Pinkerton album went over like a lead balloon back in 1996 it was rumored that Weezer might pack it in. They came storming back in 2001 with their Green album and have been knocking out records consistently ever since.
And even though their more recent material hasn't reached the creative heights as their debut album, Pinkerton or Maladroit, I've always had them on my top five list of must-see bands. Four days after my fortieth birthday, I finally got my wish.
See, the boys got entangled in an ill-conceived outdoor music fest organized by a promoter who obviously didn't know his ass from a hole in a mini-putt course. Instead of creating a festival with a consistent theme (like all pop, all metal or all alt-rock) these clowns thought they could suck the masses in my trying to appeal to everyone.
So we got this Frankenstinian patchwork of a concert featuring The Jimmy Swift Band and The Stanfields for local fare, Classified for the urban market, Rich Aucoin, Hot Hot Heat and Weezer for the alterna-crowd and - Sweet Baby Jesus - The Mother-F#@$%^ Black Eyed Peas for people dropped on their heads as children.
Then they decided, in their infinite wisdom, to charge over $100.00 for this entertainment-related abortion. Seriously? It's little wonder that Power Promotion, the geniuses behind the gig, went tits-up three months later (http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nova-scotia/story/2010/10/05/ns-halifax-concert.html).
Soooo, basically, I knew a slew of people that really wanted a full set from Hot Hot Heat and Weezer but refused to buy a ticket for fear it would go towards a free lunch for the f%$^&' Peas. Plus I also witnessed a slew of simpletons standing around watching Rich Aucoin, Hot Hot Heat and Weezer trying to figure out what these bands were doing with all those odd accessories and accouterments. By the way, they're called instruments, you tools.
But, if it got me a chance to see one of my favorite bands of all time, I'd fiddle for the devil.
Well, on to the autopsy. The Stanfields bored the piss out of me. The Jimmy Swift Band was interesting and original at least. Rich Aucoin gave a spirited performance and did what he could to engage the the limited (and confused) crowd. His creative use of samples, overdubs, props, witty lyrics ("We are not dead, we are UNDEAD!") and crowd surfing (?) really won me over.
Classified's stocks, on the other hand, fell a couple of points in my eyes. I loved the smart and patriotic rhymes I'd been made familiar with by osmosis with singles like "Oh...Canada" and "Anybody Listening" but his stage show kinda fell back into the stereotypical trappings of a typical rap act. Considering how many kids were in attendance it seemed kinda in bad taste to me to constantly drop f-bombs and blaze up a big fatty on stage. Didn't bother me, but kinda seems stupid for such a clearly clever dude to be frontin', is all.
Hot Hot Heat was fantastic, but were probably left wondering "What the hell are be doing here?" Looking like Carrot Top's...well, like Carrot Top used to look before he hit the juice and the eyeliner, lead singer Steve Bays climbed the risers and stacks to try and engage the near-static audience. Sorry, guys, but the two of us could only make so much noise for you...
Here they are trying vainly to spark some audience participation amongst the slack-jawed troglodytes standing around:
As a giant gold-lame curtain bearing the band's name was readied I suddenly became terrified for Weezer. I knew there were a lot of people around me who were there to specifically to see them, but I feared that the majority of mouth-breathers standing around wouldn't have a clue how to react. As it turned out, my fears were unfounded.
There was a time when frontman River Cuomo considered being the frontman of a rock band to be a bit of an albatross around his neck. More recently, however, he's come to see the importance of his role. By taking on touring drummer Josh Fresse, this frees up usual skinman Pat Wilson for guitar duties, thus allowing Rivers to launch into full audience engagement mode.
And engage he did. Rivers attacked the stage like a hypoglycemic kid after horking down an entire box of Frosted Flakes. At once he could be seen bounding off a trampoline, co-opting camcorders, tossing inflatable beach balls into the crowd, stealing headwear, destroying a guitar, running along the outer fringes of the audience, heaving rolls of toilet paper into the gathered, climbing a tech tower and usurping the camera, and was willingly groped by a pack of hoochies on the beer patio. He seemed obsessed with getting close to people, engaging their attentions and making an impression.
His bandmates displayed some fantastic on-stage camaraderie. Dynamic bassist Scott Shriner cut a mean grove while clad in an appropriately bitchin' kilt. Guitarist Brian Bell rocked out and got a chance to quote some the Bard (he and Rivers had taken in Shakespeare By The Sea's performance of Twelfth Night the day before!). Drummer Pat Wilson looked like he was having a blast. Moving to the forefront on guitar really let his on-stage charisma come through.
They played the lion's share of their first album and a slew of their best-known singles. It's was almost as if they would have taken great personal umbrage if every single person there wasn't watching them at all times. To engage the kids who's interest in music obviously went back no further than three years, Rivers and company broke out a brilliant MGMT and Lady Gaga mash-up just to make sure they were all paying attention.
Some other notable spectators could be seen standing just off-stage. At one point in time all the members of the Peas (Wil.i.am, Fergie, Josh Duhamel, even the the Asian dude) were standing in the wings, looking suitably impressed. It was almost like they were taking notes on how to entertain an audience and, in turn, shitting bricks that they had to follow such an engaging and well-received act.
Anyway, enough blabbering about the gig. Here's one crazy clip amongst many:
My only gripe about the performance: it wasn't two hours long. God, I hope they come back and ditch the baggage this time! And I ain't talking about just Fergie...
After they vacated the stage, we wormed our way out of the crowd towards the exit. Most people were still standing around trying to figure out what they'd just witnessed. Many of them looked like they'd just been clubbed in the head with a railroad tie.
Thank you Weezer, for showing these kids what a real outdoor rock show should be like. They took a crowd of 20,000 people and made it feel as if we were seeing them in a small club.
As we left the concert ground before our sights and senses were assailed by the f$#%^&* Peas, security stopped us and said:
"Wait, you can't leave!"
"Why not?" I returned.
"Because if you leave you can't get back in!"
"Is that a promise?" my better half asked.
They stared at us as if we were nuts. Why would someone pay a hundred bucks and not even bother to stay for the headliner?
Well, as far as I was concerned, we'd just seen the headliner.
FAIL: Thank God I've never witnessed anything close to these debacles: