Well, it’s a challenge for me to be objective on this one, as Depeche Mode is my all-time favorite band. I will be covering a total of five concerts on this European Leg of their Delta Machine Tour, which officially kicked off in recent weeks. First on my itinerary last night was their date in Budapest, Hungary at Puskás Ferenc Stadion, which is a massive outdoor stadium. Depeche Mode is touring to promote their new album, Delta Machine, which I have really enjoyed, and the set list for this tour includes a sampling of tracks from that new album as well as favorites from their huge body of work going back decades (a few reworked quite well). The band certainly has a loyal fan base in Hungary, as there was a sizable turn out of very dedicated fans (I lost count of the number of tattoos I saw with Depeche Mode-related art). They sounded incredible, and put on a great show with Dave’s typical high energy and beaming stage presence. Highlights for me included “Halo” (in my opinion one of their very best songs, and not recognized as such to the extent in which it should be) and the show closer, my favorite song of all time (from any band), “Never Let Me Down Again”. A fantastic evening and I’m more than thrilled to follow them around over the next two weeks, going to the shows in Zagreb, Croatia, and Bratislava, Slovakia, and then back to back shows at the O2 in London, England. In my opinion, this is the tour of the year, but again, I am pretty predisposed to that opinion.
Depeche Mode Delta Machine Tour (European Leg) at Puskás Ferenc Stadion | Budapest, Hungary | 5/21/2013 (Concert Review)
69… 69… 71… 65… Years old, respectively. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood. The Rolling Stones. Synonymous with rock and roll. They rocked Oracle Arena in Oakland, California last night for two and a half hours. There were more people than seats (more on that later) and (mostly, well initially) very expensive seats at that (and more on that later too), but it was a remarkable night to witness one of the most (and last standing) legendary rock bands of all time plow through 23 songs. Sure, some will point out some occasional sloppiness, but I always heard a bit of that in their studio recordings. It’s the Rolling Stones. They more than make up for some lack of precision and complexity with enthusiasm, and Mick Jagger has moves like, well, him. He possessed fans in the audience of all ages who mimicked his moves with pure glee. And really, any time Keith Richards did much of anything, the two 52-year old women sitting to my right could barely contain themselves. I quizzed them about this deep into the set, between songs, and one of them said, “the fact that he’s still alive and standing there is nothing short of a miracle”. Some miracles are self evident, and others are in the eye of the beholder. I think one’s take on the show last night is likely more about and reflective of each person as much as it is the show itself. Each person’s connection with the Stones and what they mean to him or her. Given the reactions from the crowd, I would guess a majority found it nothing short of miraculous, and certainly unforgettable.
“I don’t know if you guys will get this song or not, being that you’re from California…” part of Margo Timmins’ introduction to the last song of the night, “Fuck, I Hate The Cold”, at Yoshi’s San Francisco last night. If music is the soundtrack to our lives, songs by the Cowboy Junkies must be intended for those more soul-searching and contemplative, raw moments. They slow things down a bit and make you feel more thoughtful and introspective. The band – a real family affair, together and producing new music and touring for more than 30 years – last year completed Volume 4 of the Nomad series… an ambitious four albums added to their catalog over a scant 18 months. The concluding work in that series, Wilderness, explored themes that included “fragility, emptiness, loneliness, beauty, chance, loss, desperation“; though timeless areas of focus, it all seems especially fitting for these times, with much of their music being a bit of post-modern Blues.
Just when you think you know what to expect from a Crystal Castles concert, a naked man casually walks on stage to tend to his drum kit (not a euphemism), part of the second of two supporting bands. But of course the real show starts with the main set… and with Crystal Castles, it’s as much about the experience surrounding the music as it is the music itself. While Alice Glass and Ethan Kath don’t really have anything to say in-between songs during their thumping (with many thumps courtesy of touring drummer Christopher Chartrand) high energy shows, they certainly know how to entertain and excite once they take the stage. With their unconventional sound, seizure-inducing lighting effects, and interactivity (by way of Alice diving into the audience), a Crystal Castles show overloads the senses… so much unfamiliar and unexpected for your eyes, ears, and brain to process. Whatever your take on their brand of experimental electronic/synthpop/synthpunk music, you certainly can’t consider their live shows to be boring or uneventful. A band born to perform live, for sure. Their studio recordings are fantastic (and their third studio album, (III) is excellent), but you really need to see them live to understand their music, and get the full Crystal Castles experience.
“I ain’t gonna waste a lot of time talking. All I’m gonna tell you is this… For the next two and a half hours, I promise to take you on a roller coaster ride you will never forget…” A pledge from the Bon Jovi front man, Jon Bon Jovi, about 15 minutes into their supporting act-free “An Evening With…” concert for their “Because We Can Tour” at the massive HP Pavilion in San Jose last night, which appeared near filled to its 17,496 capacity. Admittedly, I am not a dedicated Bon Jovi follower – I am a big fan of a handful of hits – so I don’t feel as though I was the intended audience. Having said that, I tried to imagine how I would take it all in if I were a fan, and I still find the roller coaster metaphor challenging to wrap my head around, as I found the show to be, for lack of a better description… ill-suited, and frankly boring… for such a large venue. While Richie Sambora did not make it through the tour to appear at this last date on the U.S. leg of their journey in support of the new What About Now album, I can’t imagine his being part of last night’s show would have been enough to overcome the shortcomings (and fill-in Phil X was fine). Bon Jovi seems like a genuine, appreciative, kind guy, but at least from my perspective, maybe he arrived last night and forgot to load that six string on his back.
Prince with 3rdEyeGirl (Live Out Loud Tour) at DNA Lounge | San Francisco, California | Day 2 “Early Show” 4/24/2013 (Concert Review)
“How do you like your rock ‘n roll? I don’t know about you, but I like mine funky.” Early on in Prince’s “Early Show” Wednesday night – the second evening of his two-night engagement with 3rdEyeGirl at the tiny 800-capacity DNA Lounge in San Francisco – he let us know what we were in store for over the following hour and a half. And that was the theme of the entire night… funk. Since I already gushed over how the “Late Show” the evening before was one of the best concerts I’d ever been to in my life, I was hoping for more of the same. Well, it was another epic show, but somehow was altogether different from the show the night before. This gave me a different perspective on these concerts, which as precision-driven as Prince is, the concerts overall seem very much like a ripping and spontaneous jam session. A perfect collision of the planned and the unplanned… I got the feeling that there is an overall framework, and incredible planning and timing in all of it, but within that framework is a genius at work – inspired, reacting, and making up brilliant music set pieces as he goes along. He’s not there to please any particular sensibility or set of expectations. He’s there to rock the place out. And boy did he deliver. The highlight for me was, funny enough, when he took over the bass guitar and played that thing in a way I’ve never seen or heard a bass played before. And it was all about funk, without any doubt. $250 plus fees for these shows is a high point of entry, but had I known what I was in for, I honestly would have found a way to go to all four shows in San Francisco this week, they were that amazing. The must-see show of the year, hands down. [Read more...]
Prince with 3rdEyeGirl (Live Out Loud Tour) at DNA Lounge | San Francisco, California | Day 1 “Late Show” 4/23/2013 (Concert Review)
I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my life, and for a variety of reasons had never been to a Prince show before last night (as much as I rate him among my favorite artists). I can say, hands down, he is truly the most brilliant performer I’ve ever seen. It is all so effortless and mind-blowing that I can’t really put it all into words (or pictures – no photos were permitted, even from cell phones). Prince and his new all-girl band 3rdEyeGirl literally sucked all of the oxygen out of the 800 capacity DNA Lounge in San Francisco for his second and final show on Day 1 of his two-day engagement. The only negative was the idea that it was all at some point going to end, but thankfully, I am going to get a second chance for this once in a lifetime experience tonight for the early show on Day 2 at the same fantastic venue, that almost felt as if it was designed to host these very special shows. Not only one of the best concerts of the year, one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to… ever.
Sixto Díaz Rodríguez (“Searching for Sugar Man”) at The Warfield | San Francisco, California | 4/23/2013 (Concert Review)
“I’m not gettin’ old. I’m gettin’ dead.” Sixto Díaz Rodríguez, at age 70, standing before an enthusiastic, sold out crowd at The Warfield in San Francisco last night. He took time away from his set of late 60s folk protest rock and some surprising covers to engage the audience, often with humor (and some of it lighthearted and self deprecating) and incredible charm. I don’t know about the rest of the crowd, but if I could have one wish granted at the show, it would probably be to go up and give him a hug. He seems to be quite a sweet character, and beaming with happiness, which was not quite what I expected having his work on rotation for the 2.5 hour drive into the city. With boots, leather pants, black shirt and coat, and his trademark hat and glasses, he stood before us like some kind of elder statesman rock star… long lost and forgotten, that he was there at all playing on stage was as much unlikely as it seemed to be a part of his destiny. Truly an incredible opportunity to experience his music live and in person, I can’t imagine anyone in the room went away anything less that ecstatic with the show.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at The Fillmore | San Francisco, California | 4/22/2013 (Concert Review)
“We did something rather foolish here…” Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Robert Levon Been, reminiscing about a past performance at the historic Fillmore, in San Francisco where the band was born. A fitting venue from which to launch their North American tour last night, supporting the new studio album, Specter At The Feast. Robert never came back around to explain their past foolishness, but there is always a bit of mystery about this band and their music, as well as a genuine politeness, on and off stage. In any event, Robert and co-singer/guitarist Peter Hayes and drummer Leah Shapiro did not hold back at all with their overpowering sonic performance; a virtually non-stop set clocking in at about two hours and fifteen minutes. The hard rocking band only slowed down a little for a few acoustic numbers in the second half of the show and at the end, and later with the encore and set closer, “Lose Yourself”, which played out in a way that felt as if the building were unwinding itself like an overspun vintage pocket watch, beat by beat, with minimalist yet powerful drums that even improve on the studio recording. But I’ve learned to expect the unexpected with this band, who take their live sets to levels only dreamed of by other artists. It was one of those shows that felt like a special one, and I can’t imagine a better way for them to kick off what is likely to be a stellar tour.
“Do you guys remember – some of you will remember – Metric shows before cell phone cameras? It’s really funny you know; that shit changed my life.” Metric’s Emily Haines, taking a moment mid-show at the Fox Theater in Oakland last night to share some candid thoughts about how advances in technology have affected her and what she shares with audiences during concerts; a bit of a lament over the way things used to be… a simpler time. Her philosophical aside was quite interesting (salted with some humor as well); to hear her unique perspective on live concert events today and the ubiquitous technology wherein everything and anything can be recorded with ease (and how bits can carry on, out of context). Funny enough, it was something I had mentioned in my coverage of the show the night prior at Mondavi Center in Davis, though some friends of mine who have been to Metric shows that I missed said it is something she has brought up in the past as well. In any event, with that and a nice chat at the end leading into their “Gimme Sympathy” closer, there seemed to be a different kind of dynamic with each audience in the past two nights (both awesome, but different). Fox Theater offered a GA floor whereas Mondavi was seated (though ended up sort of GA as it got going), but the larger Fox has the distinct separation between stage and audience, with the security pit, so the added discussion maybe bridged that literal gap to create a different sort of connection compared with Mondavi, wherein the band could reach down and literally touch the members of the audience with ease. In any event, having seen back-to-back shows over two nights, it was fun for me to compare the two. Both were stellar shows with great performances by Metric, as they tour over a dozen shows and dates between now and June. While for me on a personal level the Mondavi show was more engaging (since I was front row for the entire show), I took an opportunity with the Fox show to enjoy the set from different perspectives, and it was quite enjoyable to even move to the very back and have a better perspective with which to take in the impressive lighting effects on the stage, which is much different from seeing it all up close. All in all, another fantastic show by Metric and they have become one of my favorite bands to turn out to see live.
“If you’re here, you know I love a sing along, so don’t let me down, alright? Hook me up.” Metric’s Emily Haines, giving her introduction to the acoustic version of their classic song, “Gimme Sympathy”, which brought the intimate show at Mondavi Center to a close last night. 2013 is shaping up to be one of the best years in some time for live music concerts, and April in particular is weighted very heavy with competing and conflicting shows all over the West Coast due to Coachella and bands doing their own headlining shows in addition to that “granddaddy of U.S. festivals”. Even so, when Metric announced a little over a dozen dates running through June, I changed around my own schedule to be sure to see them twice. The only other artist I’m seeing twice this month is Prince, so I think that speaks volumes about the esteem with which I hold this band. With their show a Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, they certainly didn’t disappoint. Pre-show, looking around the beautiful venue at the crowd, it was hard to say what kind of audience the band was going to encounter. Opener Mona delivered and got them out of their seats, and by the time Metric came on stage, they were beaming with excitement that further fueled the band. It was definitely one of the top shows I’ve been to this year, and it was one of those shows that was so good, the only negative was those fleeting thoughts that it eventually had to come to an end. In any event, it was spectacular and unforgettable, and the band is one of the must-see acts touring today.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs at The Boulevard Pool at The Cosmopolitan | Las Vegas, Nevada | 4/13/2013 (Concert Review)
“We were just having a conversation back stage – I’m not fucking with you – best Vegas show ever!” A sentiment expressed by Karen O, upon returning to the stage for the encore, leading out with “Zero”. I think many of the fans in attendance for the show were in agreement. Las Vegas seemed to be a well-suited city to host Yeah Yeah Yeahs Saturday night as they hit a handful of U.S. venues as well as headlining Coachella appearances supporting their fourth studio album, Mosquito, due out this week. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, fronted by Karen O, share much with Vegas… both exhibiting glitzy style, extroverted personality, edgy sensibility, and non-conformist attitudes. Atop the fourth floor of the Cosmopolitan, at their Boulevard Pool concert venue overlooking the Strip as well as other sights, such as the faux Eiffel Tower at the Paris resort, the band played through old and new material in the open air concert space, broadcast to the packed house as well as anyone down on the Strip who cared to watch on the giant video screen to the side of the stage. Blown up on the billboard-sized screen, Karen O put on his own waterworks show – taking large swigs of water and spitting it into the air – that rivaled anything that the stuffier Bellagio might offer with their famous water feature attraction outside of the hotel. Book ended by their two weekend Coachella appearances, I was thrilled to see the band do their thing away from the massive music festival, and based on the reaction of the audience at the Cosmo, I was not alone in those feelings.