Tag Archives: concerts

Music Monday: A Metal Show

WHAT? Hold on, you’ll have to speak louder. My ears are still ringing.

About once or maybe twice a year, I find myself packed into a small venue around sweaty people tense with anticipation. We all know why we’re there. We know what’s at stake.

Like last night, when a friend and I headed to Asheville to see the first show in a spring tour by the prog metal band Between the Buried and Me. We had a young padawan in tow, a show newbie. Showing him the ropes.

The house lights dim. A soft blue-red glow illuminates instruments on a stage. The crowd roars as 5 men walk to the front (and once in a while, a woman – still too rare a sight in live performance) to pick up their tools of creativity and violence.

A pause. A coiled spring of anticipation.

A hand plucks a string, a man grabs the microphone and growls.

And sound explodes from two dozen speakers hanging from the ceiling or stacked on the sides of the stage, the crowd explodes with them.

Arms flailing, heads flailing, bodies crashing into one another. The chords throb with energy and passion. Someone shoves into his neighbor in a friendly, universal gesture of “let’s open up a mosh pit!”

Join in our get out of the way. The room writhes with fans bouncing into each other like overenergized molecules in a beaker. No chemist can illustrate atoms’ movement as well as a 15-year old flinging himself again and again into the pile of moshers in the pit. 

Call me crazy if you want, and there are days when I think, “Man, I’m really getting to old for this,” but nothing beats the experience of hearing music live, loud, and smashed into the dozen people around you all jumping up and down at the same time.

It’s loud, sweaty, hot, a little gross (byproduct of “sweaty”), a little dangerous (but not really – people are actually quite nice). You’ll reach for the Advil when it’s over, and if you’re smart, you’ll reach for a set of earplugs before you head in. (I never remember mine.)

Most of all, it’s an experience inaccessible if your music stays locked into your headphones, if every concert experience you enjoy involves sitting in a chair reservedly nodding your head.

Yup, that's us last night at The Orange Peel before the show. So no one looks too exhausted yet from all the prog awesomeness of hearing BTBAM in person
Yup, that’s us last night at The Orange Peel before the show. So no one looks too exhausted yet from all the prog awesomeness of hearing BTBAM in person

I often do a concert review after I’ve been to a show. Here’s the compressed version from last night:

Opening band: The Atlas Moth.  Garden variety Scandinavian-style death metal. *yawns*  They were good at what they do. Just not my thing.

Headline band: Between the Buried and Me.  Setlist opened with Selkies (omg! omg! omg! still love hearing that 7/4 introduction live) and also included Sun of Nothing (Colors), Disease, Injury, Madness (from The Great Misdirect) and several songs from the newest pair of albums (Parallax I & II), plus a new single from the upcoming album.  Encore was White Walls, of course.   A little disappointed that they don’t play anything from their first 3 albums anymore, really, but that’s what CDs are for.

Postscript:  It may be that a live concert featuring metal bands is the perfect activity for a teen boy. There’s energy, lots of noise, socialization, and plenty of aggression (but not directed at other people.)  Violence without harm or anger. Intense emotional release, a communal sacrifice of calories and sweat and joy. Is your kid into metal? Calm down. It’ll be ok. 🙂

Concert Review: Gentlemen of the Road, St Augustine

Man, THAT was a music festival.

I always come out of epic experiences thinking, Gee willikers! This will make an amazing blog post! Then I get home and life eats me up and that’s the end of my verbal aspirations.

So before the evening gets away from me completely and I turn into a pumpkin (it’s a work night, after all), let me run down the basics for ya:

Gentlemen of the Road
St Augustine, FL
September 13-14

Bottom line:  GOTR was a wonderful outdoor way to enjoy Mumford & Sons and their hand-picked lineup of bands in the lovely town of St Augustine. Why does it work? Mumford puts their stamp of approval on the town, the events, the bands, the experience. If you find them awesome, you’ll probably enjoy GOTR. And it really was that good.

Bands I liked on Friday:  Willy Mason (kinda bluesy rock), Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes (holy crap what an amazing set I had no idea they would be that fantastic and fun!)

Bands I liked on Saturday:  Bear’s Den (though I missed their set, I loved what I heard of them on the GOTR web site via links, and I’ll definitely check them out live when I can), Half Moon Run (what a lush guitar sound!),  John Fogerty (what?! YES! amazing), Mumford & Sons (duh). And JOHN FOGERTY!!!

Great fan-made overview of the weekend — wow. Thorough.


The whole story:  Just what is GOTR?

Basically, Mumford & Sons like to tool around the country setting up the coolest music festival ever in a select list of small “quintessential” American towns.  Not that Brits would necessarily know a quintessential American town, and St Augustine isn’t exactly small. But still, it’s a cool idea. They hand pick the bands and work hard to make sure all the experiences of the weekend are locally owned or produced…. or at least curated. Two days, a bunch of bands, tons of local food & music & art to enjoy, and happy people wearing mustaches.

A window of Mumford song lyrics and obligatory mustache in downtown St Augustine
A window of Mumford song lyrics and obligatory mustache in downtown St Augustine

When did mustaches become THE THING?  I digress…

So let me just sum it all up with a top-7 list (or whatever) – I’ll quit when I run out or fall asleep.

1. Awesome:  St Augustine.  What a great town!  25,000 people fell in on top of them and they didn’t whine, break down, throw objects, scream and yell, or even act inconvenienced.  They worked hard to make the festival run smoothly for all the visitors, and I’d rank them high in the “friendly” and “helpful” categories. Plus the beaches are amazing, the weather was lovely, and we enjoyed amazing food.

2. Awesome.  fun. dropped out.  How is that a good thing?

Because John Fogerty, of Credence Clearwater Revival, stepped up to fill in. Got on a jet plane Friday night, flew to FL with his instrumentally-skilled two sons, and got down to work teaching his “backup band” the music for that night’s absolutely, ridiculously incredible set.  Unbelievable.

Video of Mumford & Songs and the Vaccines playing behind Fogerty and his sons

3. Awesome:  Mumford & Sons set on Saturday night.  Though boozy and tired from the day’s work in preparing to back John Fogerty and all the stress that probably prompted a lot of drinking, Mumford & Sons rocked it with improvised bluesy introductions to their tunes from both albums.  What’s a Mumford show? The biggest, funnest, dance party -sing-a-long you’ll ever attend.  

Video of their introduction and first song “Lovers Eyes,” which took us from darkness to light

Video of the quiet a capella encore – 30,000 people listening quietly to 4 guys sing. Yeah.

I would also like to point out that all of these videos are proof that most people are tone deaf. Or they had drunk too much by this point to sing on key. 😉

One more link: This SceneSC review of the Mumford show in Greenville, SC just a few days before GOTR hits all the highlights of their set, which was the same in FL as it was in SC.

shadowy self- portrait in the shop window alter to Mumford :)
shadowy self- portrait in the shop window alter to Mumford 🙂

4. Awesome:  the guys who stepped up to be Fogerty’s band at the last minute, at the end of their own exhausting tour, on a night when they had played or would play their own stuff for an hour or more.  The Vaccines (British punk) and part of Mumford & Sons played with Fogerty’s sons and it.was.just.absolutely.amazing. Are you jealous?  You should be.  I sang every CCR song that matters WITH JOHN FOGERTY IN PERSON.  And 25,000 other exhilarated people around me.   [Cool article about it with footage.]

But back to the backup players…. two tidbits.  One, it was fun to watch Fogerty direct these songs on the fly, nodding across the stage to his so-famous stand-ins so they’d play the songs correctly. And two, totally hilarious for Marcus Mumford to blow the drum line at one point in the set, leading Fogerty to poke fun at Mumford after the song. Priceless.

5. Awesome: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.  Wasn’t prepared for this — I’d listened to some of their music on Spotify and it was OK but MAN. Their Friday night headlining set was a blast.  They clearly enjoyed their music and had a ball letting the crowd dictate what songs would come next in true festival style.

6. Awesome:  Food & drink in St Augustine.  Man, I didn’t even know Polish restaurants exist!  But we stumbled into one and had some damn fine food .  In fact, every place we tried was great, from the little pubs to the coffee shops to the fudge places.  Thumbs up, St Aug. You know how to feed a crowd.

7. Awesome:  Unintentionally, accidentally booking our rooms right beside the shuttle stop.  Boom.  Best unintentional planning EVER.

8. Awesome:  Big huge dude raising a barbel to the sky sculpture that M&S haul around with them on these festivals now.  Cheerio and all that.

Can I explain the barbell statue? No. Was it cool? Yes. 🙂

9. Did I mention Fogerty?  Damn, that was epic.

10.  Awesome:  Getting to take a cool vacation with Coart.  Is there anything more perfect than getting picked up after work and blazing down the road toward adventure?   Rhetorical question.

I’m so glad I leaped on faith and bought the tickets in February, not knowing whether we’d actually be able to go. It was the right choice.

If you love music, if you like Mumford & Sons at all, if you want to share that experience with other lovers of good tunes and good food and good places…. then you should book a GOTR ticket next summer. 🙂

Concert Report: Yann Tiersen

Sometimes you end up in the presence of a true musician, someone who lives and breathes music. Rhythm and melody are their blood; they feed on life but mix it with creativity to offer lucky audience members a taste of what God must have intended for the human race.

Yann Tiersen is such a soul.

Shout-out to Sam, who messaged me a month ago to ask if we wanted to accompany him & Nate to Tiersen’s show in Atlanta this weekend. I’ve been familiar with Tiersen’s work ever since Nate IM’d me a YouTube video with the command to “Watch.”  I’ve learned to trust Nate’s music sensibilities — his radar is calibrated to “quality” — and I was intrigued.

Yann plays I-don’t-know-how-many instruments. A rough list would include piano, various keyboards & synthesizers & electronic bits, mandolin, accordion, guitar & electric guitar, and violin.

For example, he can tear up the violin….  or break your heart with gorgeous melody …  or mix it all togetherinto a great composition.

Returning to my story —

The Atlanta concert was a true delight. An odd time, though — Tiersen was scheduled to play at The Masquerade with doors opening at 9:30pm. The Masq is the main hardcore venue in Atlanta, and they had a major show running on the upstairs stage that same night. As we waited patiently for “something” to happen downstairs in Hell (the upstairs and downstairs Masq stages are titled Heaven and Hell, appropriately), we saw the ceiling above our heads thump and sway at least 6 inches beneath the weight of hundreds of moshing teenagers. [The Masq always looks like it’s going to literally fall down on your head — it’s part of the atmosphere. lol]

After the opening act and then watching a hardworking sound guy set up 12 instruments by himself, our patience finally was rewarded by the emergence of Yann & friends.

And it. was. AWESOME.

“One! Two! Three! Four!!” …. soft mandolin notes opened a song of marvelous beauty.  The stage musicians included a bass player, drummer, guitarist (Gibson SG), a guy on some kind of electronic thing that I can’t identify, another guy on keyboards and ukelele, and Yann himself playing guitar, mandolin, or violin as needed.

I find an intense joy in watching an artist glory in his art — squeezing every drop of JOY out of the experience of stepping onto a platform and baring his creative soul to the mass of people drinking it up. Nothing replaces the exuberance of a live performance. Every raw note stands as its own monument to ART, to creativity, to expression.

It was a good audience too, for the most part. Older than typical for the Masq, and culturally diverse. They were etiquette-diverse too — I was pushed or jostled by people speaking at least 2 different languages (besides English or Spanish) and some giant hairy fellow stepped in front of Sam to “take this empty spot right here.” (It wasn’t “empty” at all, and we asked the red-haired giant to please not stand in front of us since it was impossible to see overtop of him.)  But those were isolated incidents. Mostly, we all just stood and enjoyed every bit of the 90 minute set.

I recommend spending some time with Yann Tiersen on YouTube or Grooveshark if you like “world music,” classical, folk, indie rock, or Phillip-Glass-style movie soundtracks.  We could all use some more beauty in our souls, and Tiersen channels enough for us all.

Concert Report: Mumford & Sons (Sun); Chanticleer (Mon)

The calendar fairy handed me back-to-back musical experiences.  “When it’s good, it’s really, really good!”

Mumford & Sons, Cadillac Sky, King Charles — Buckhead Theatre, Atlanta, 11/7/10
Chanticleer — Brooks Theater, Clemson, 11/8/10

Mumford & Sons from our perspective at the Buckhead Theater in Atlanta
Mumford & Sons from our perspective at the Buckhead Theater in Atlanta

People underestimate how much power an audience has over our enjoyment at a concert. On the one hand, some shows need a young, high energy group of young people to really get things going.  On the other hand, immature audience members often fail to appreciate the nuances of excellent musicianship, less-popular genres of music (like most “classical” works), and the heritage that all of our current musicians share with others around the globe.

I was surprised Sunday to walk into the Buckhead Theater in Atlanta and find a crowd of yuppies and college students and middle aged people waiting eagerly to hear British folk-rock-bluegrass band Mumford & Sons. It was truly an interesting mix of very polite, very excited fans of the good looking quartet with their lovely collection of traditional instruments (and the banjolin). We’ve been listening to their CD almost non-stop in our household as soon as I got it in July, but most of the people at the show could top that: They could sing pretty much every word of every song!

Mumford & Sons brings a gravitas to their performance that few 20-somethings can ever dream of marshalling even when they add a few more years to the pile.  Lead singer Marcus Mumford offers up his soul on the back of his guitar for each song, staring down the crowd and forcing people to come to terms with their lyrics — which are rich and deep and reflective. Every man threw himself into the performance, whether Ben rocking out the keyboard or accordion, or Winston on the banjo/banjolin, or Ted beautifully handling the tall double-bass.

But what made the show incredible — truly an experience — was the audience. You can’t mask an audience’s passion for an artist, not the screaming teenie-bopper attention that big-name pop stars earn, but a deep, fierce loyalty a music-lover can have for his/her favorite musicians.  Bring those musicians and those fans into the same room, and you’ll have magic. And the Buckhead Theater was a charmed venue on Sunday night. Every album track the band played — and I believe they played them all — was thundered back at them by the audience. Even a couple of the 4 new songs had already been leaked to the Internet, and the guys standing behind us were singing every word.  Marcus smirked with satisfaction late in their set when he was finally able to find a song the audience didn’t know…. but we loved it anyway. 

The band mates would make eye contact with each other and laugh as if to say, “What is going ON?! We’re in Georgia! How do these people know this music so well!”  They powwowed in tight little sweaty conferences at the back of the stage, probably mumbling stuff like Hey, maybe we should throw in this one too? … and then it would happen. When you can watch four friends doing what they love and loving every minute of it, no one in the audience was willing to let them off the stage until we’d heard every recorded track and then some.

I’d be remiss not to mention opening bluegrass band Cadillac Sky in my review.  They were outstanding musicians. I’ve never seen someone “shred” on a banjo …. but I did last night!  The lead violin player was amazing, though the crowd didn’t give him nearly enough applause for his talent. The guitar player was crazy and did things with an acoustic guitar that shouldn’t be possible. The double-bass guy was JAMMIN’. I think the group brought 6 or 7 people to the stage for their set, which was a lot of fun.  Definitely a show well-worth the ticket price (and extra Ticketmaster service fees).

I have a feeling Mumford & Sons will be back among us next year. They won’t forget to visit their new “favorite crowd ever” (Ben’s words).  If you haven’t heard the album, I highly recommend finding some tracks on YouTube or MySpace and giving them a listen . . .

I didn't feel like I could take photos at a "formal" concert, so you'll have to make do with the program instead.
I didn’t feel like I could take photos at a “formal” concert, so you’ll have to make do with the program instead.

Switching gears completely, Coart & I found ourselves at the Clemson University Brooks Center tonight on row B enjoying 12-man-wonder-singers Chanticleer. We’ve been Chanticleer fans for more than a decade now, chasing them to various local cities when we’re lucky enough to have them close by.  My favorite venue for an a capella performance is the hall up at Brevard College — perfect acoustics! But Brooks is a good performance space too, and I heard every glorious note of tonight’s program.

What do you get when you assemble 12 of the finest vocalists on the planet? Twelve guys who can sing anything from medieval chant to Italian madrigals to Schumann lieder to 20th C experimental music, R&B, gospel, and jazz.  These concerts provide such a variety of musical material — I’m always fascinated!

Tonight’s “special” or unusual selections were very interesting. One, “Observer from the Magellanic Cloud” suggested the sounds of a future satellite traveling in the nearby galaxy we call the Magellan Cloud, catching a whiff of a signal from Earth of the Maori people in New Zealand dancing their tribal dance in honor of those stars (which they believe bring them crops & a good growing season). The piece slowly changed from a vocalization of something that would suit a sci-fi movie soundtrack into a Maori tribal dance/chant … and then swirled together as the two “signals” became one.

Even more amazing was a set of pieces by an Australian composer, I’ll have to look at my program to find her name, who was haunted by aboriginal melodies and sounds.  One piece was mostly harmonic overtones — the singers used their mouths to create a variety of precisely pitched sounds which, taken together, started to “shimmer” throughout the room in overtones. High pitched harmonies seemed to coalesce from the very air, conjured by the magic of physics/acoustics and the human voice.  I was truly stunned. Not an electronic instrument (or any instrument) in sight except the human voice and some incredible vocal training.

Do yourself a favor: Find some Chanticleer for your Christmas (or world/follk/classical) CD collection.
Look up videos/clips of Chanticleer singing Francis Biehl’s “Ave Maria,” or the Vaughn Williams arrangement of “Loch Lomond.” Those are both gut-wrenchingly gorgeous.

I guess that’s the end of our concert budget for a while. At least we wrapped up 2010’s season with an unforgettable 24 hours. 

Concert Report: The Restoration (Album release: Constance)

There are local musicians, and there are local musicians. Friday night we were privileged to hear Daniel Machado lead The Restoration in an incredible performance of their new album Constance. The evening was so awesome that it deserves its own report. 

I love how this band dresses the part for whatever story they're trying to tell
I love how this band dresses the part for whatever story they’re trying to tell

The Restoration is a collection of talented musicians who play a variety of instruments. I’m not sure what genre fits them best; perhaps folk-rock? They incorporate older styles and skills into a modern musical landscape, blending the modern with the traditional.

What grabbed my attention about Constance several months ago was its back-history. Daniel was researching the history of his own hometown (Lexington) and was struck by the insidious racism that marked South Carolina’s history for a century (or more) after the Civil War. His research led to creative impulse, and this incredible album is the result.

The Columbia newspaper did a series of articles on the band and their historic/social project — I highly recommend them. The first one includes a lengthy interview with Daniel and the USC American Lit professor who helped him find literary voices from America’s racist past:
Restoring the past in hopes of a better future
Paste Magazine: 50 States Project (review)

Daniel Machado published two interesting articles on Scene SC while they were recording the album:
Part 1: Out of a Nashville Studio and into the Heart of Local Racism
Part 2: Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places, and Angry White Men

And you can watch the band’s short film about the use of shape-note singing in Constance
The Making of Constance

The CD release show was a great example of how music and performance and literature and art can all combine to communicate unified story. I felt like I was watching a living “Multi-Genre Project.” The release show band included additional musicians — our friends Steven & Collin; a cellist, a sax player, etc. If you hit The Restoration’s site you can hear some of the tracks, but the entire experience of sitting in the Trustus Theater and watching the music unfold live can’t really be reproduced in a recording studio. Sometimes the emotions behind the music get lost in the digitization. I still prefer the energy of a live show to a “perfect” CD.

(If you go listen, don’t miss “Constance.” That song will stick in your mind for days.)

I should mention that two interesting acts prepared us for the performance onslaught of The Restoration. The first were dancers from the Alternacirque dancers in Columbia. I don’t know what else to say other than “a displaced tribal belly dancer originally from New Orleans found herself in Columbia and opened a studio.” Lol.  It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen ….

Incredibly cool = getting to hear Riley Baugus play his Appalachian tunes in person. Riley is a world-famous banjo player and Appalachian mountain music man. He currently lives 10 minutes from Stevo in Winston-Salem (who promises me they’ll get to hang out soon, and I’m quite jealous). Riley gives you the history behind his tunes as he picks up the banjo or guitar or violin to transmit to us a tiny bit of America’s musical heritage. The modal melodies of the Appalachian tunes, the thumping rhythms, the lyrics/themes that suck your heart out through the sound of his raspy voice — that unmistakable blend of African and Irish/Scot/English and Native American — it takes me back to the PA mountains of my upbringing. I felt like someone had set a musical icon in front of me.

All this for $6. Ridiculous.  I should mention too that the TRUSTUS Theatre is a really cool performance space! Black interior, uber-comfy seats, lots of leg room & places to put your snacks, a clear view of the stage. Thumbs up.

I bought the Constance book that accompanies The Restoration’s album, which includes lyrics and photos and the full short story which brings Daniel’s vision into focus. Holler if you want to borrow.

And if you want to hear The Restoration for yourself, they’re playing with Riley Baugus in Columbia at the end of May. Show dates/info are posted on their MySpace.