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Riot Fest Chicago 2013 – Three Day Review

October 23, 2013 Leave a comment

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If you follow live music, you have to admit that the mega festival movement is getting a bit stale. Every year we get massively overhyped announcements from the likes of Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo that have music blogs buzzing for a few days before everyone realizes the lineups are basically the same and tickets, flights, and hotels would cost a small fortune.

Riot Fest is by just about any definition, a mega festival. This year’s edition featured some big names (Fall Out Boy, Blink-182), some even bigger reunions (The Replacements), four different stages, and thousands and thousands of attendees who packed Humbolt Park in Chicago over three days.

What makes Riot Fest special however, is what it lacks in comparison to its counterparts. For one, the festival isn’t all that diverse. It was created to celebrate Chicago’s proud punk rock tradition, and while its lineup now stretches to include more mainstream acts and a few oddballs (Public Enemy, anyone?), it continues to have a more focused lineup than most other major festivals.

It also lacks the commercialism of many of today’s larger festival. Local food trucks and vendors provided the food, and there was plenty of booth space for independent record labels, local clothing startup-ups, and charities selling bottled water for a buck. The tickets were cheap as well, especially if you bought early. My three-day pass cost a whopping $70.

Riot Fest also lacks the type of party atmosphere that defines so many major festivals. This isn’t to say that attendees weren’t ready to have a good time, but for most part, the primary focus was always on the music. Artists repeatedly marveled at the enthusiasm of the giant crowds that came to sing along, even in Sunday’s pouring rainstorms.

Friday’s lineup got things off to a good start as fans searched for the best vantage points and learned the lay of the land. While a number of small acts took the stage early, some attendees played speed pitch at the carnival located just behind the main stage, while others hopped on the Ferris Wheel.

On the “Rise” Stage, Andrew W.K.  made at least one reference to partying between every song and was  followed by GWAR, who showered the crowd in fake blood and defeated Giant Zombie Jesus (seriously).

Later that night, Fall Out Boy used every trick in the book to captivate the hometown audience, with ramps, a giant light show, and a piano that magically appeared from underneath the stage. Their set was capped off by a visit from Chicago Blackhawks executive Danny Wirtz, who happened to bring the Stanley Cup along with him.

Saturday welcomed the festivals biggest crowd, with many in attendance gathering at mid-day to watch back to back sets from punk stalwarts Pennywise and Flag (featuring members of legendary hardcore outfit Black Flag).

Blink-182’s headlining set that night had fans lining up as far as the eye could see, and their hour and fifteen minute performance was impossible not to sing along to.

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Sunday started with an 11:30 set from Hot Water Music’s Chuck Regan. Despite the early start and drizzle that had began falling, hundreds of die hards still showed up to appreciate the master at work.

The rain began to pick up as more and more fans arrived, but slowed slightly during a thirty minute set from Connecticut’s Hostage Calm, who made a good impression on the large crowd that had gathered in anticipation of the Wonder Years set that was up next. The Philly crew, led by lead singer Dan “Soupy” Campbell put on one of my favorite sets of the entire weekend, with their energetic live show receiving a huge reaction. Campbell later said the day was one of the best of his life. High praise indeed.

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Saves the Day took the stage for a set filled with older fan favorites as the storm hit it’s peak. I couldn’t see lead singer Chris Conley very well around all the umbrellas, but he did sound pretty good.

As the Saves the Day set ended and the rain began to lighten, what seemed like the entire park converged on the “Roots” stage for one of the weekend’s most anticipated sets. While the Brand New camp has been relatively quite over the past few years, the band remains a huge cult favorite and a “can’t miss” live act. I felt bad for anyone trying to compete with them on one of the other stages.

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After opening with three tracks from 2009’s polarizing Daisy, the band strung together some of the most recognizable tracks from across their catalog.  After group closed with an epic version of “You Won’t Know”, a large portion of the crowd rushed over to the main stage, where AFI had just kicked off their set.

The final performance of the festival belonged to the Replacements – a band that had played exactly one show in the past 22 years, with that coming only a few weeks earlier at the Toronto edition of Riot Fest. Their return has generated an unbelievable amount of excitement from their fans, and a whole lot has been written about their Toronto performance (google it if you don’t believe me).

My first impression was that this didn’t look or sound like a band making a much hyped comeback. There was no flashy stage setup, and lead singer Paul Westerberg even stopped mid-song to admit that he couldn’t remember the verse on more than one occasion.  Despite these miscues, the band sounded good and was able to captivate not only their longtime fans, but also an entirely new generation of fans that had the chance to observe the historic return.

The Replacements’ set was a good representation of the festival as a whole – it may have lacked the polish and shine you expect from such a happening, but if you were there for polish and shine, you were probably in the wrong place to begin with.

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Rancid And The Transplants Live At The House Of Blues

June 25, 2013 Leave a comment

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Rancid
The Transplants
House Of Blues Boston
June 16th 2013

If there ever has been a band that perfectly embodies the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra, Rancid would have to be considered a strong contender for the title. The Bay Area legends have been playing their distinct brand of melodic punk rock for over 20 years, and they’ve built a huge fan base while doing it. When you put on a Rancid record, you know what to expect.

The same can be said for their live show: no matter where or when you see them, you can expect the band to go heavy on the hits, throw in a few deep cuts, and inspire a raging circle pit throughout the entire performance. The band returned to Boston in June for two shows at the House of Blues, just a year after having played a similar two night stand at the same venue. While the set list didn’t change much from the previous year and the band didn’t debut any new material, they still proved that $30 on a ticket to a Rancid show is one of the best investments you can make right now.

Crown of Thornz was the opening act, and although we missed their set, at least I can say I’m now aware of another band that may have as many spelling issues as I do. Next up was the Transplants, the “super group” made up of Rancid guitarist/vocalist Tim Armstrong, former Rancid and AFI roadie Rob Aston, and superhuman Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. This band has always been a head-scratcher for me: are they a punk band? Are they rappers? Are they serious? They’ve been around since 1999 but have only put out two albums and have toured only a handful of times.

The Transplants

The Transplants

The group’s opening slot on this tour  is in support of their recently released record “In A Warzone” – their first album since 2005’s “Haunted Cities” . The band had been on hiatus since cancelling a major headlining tour back in 2006, and apparently they’ve moved beyond the riff that had caused the long break.

Armstrong, Barker, And Ashton were joined on stage by a young-ish looking bassist and an even younger looking  guitarist (think 8)  who may have been Barker’s son. They opened with what was apparently the title track off their new record, and then went on to play for a full hour. A 60 minute opening slot for a band with only two albums and a lead singer who’s pulling double duty sounds like it might be a little strange, and it was.

Some of the songs the band played did receive a pretty big reaction from the crowd, including “Diamonds And Guns” (which apparently is their biggest hit), and the very catchy “Gangsters And Thugs”. Armstrong seemed to be conserving energy for the Rancid set by barely playing his guitar on most songs, and Ashton’s rapping left something to be desired. The drumming of Barker, on the other hand, was by far the highlight of the set.

Barker could drum circles around just about anyone without putting in much effort, but from where I was standing it looked like he was really going for it. If  Barker, as one of today’s the most talented and well known drummers, had mailed it in while playing an opening slot in someone else’s side project, I don’t think anyone would have blamed him, so he deserves a lot of credit for making the set at least bearable on this night.

Rancid took the stage after the Transplants in front of the same “20th Anniversary” banner they used a year earlier and opened with a string of about seven of their best known songs.  I’ve seen a band open with a hit or two, but it’s rare that anyone gets out of the gate as quickly as they did here.

Rancid

Rancid

Armstrong’s Transplants set seemed to have provided a good warm-up as, as he sounded about as good as someone with his distinct singing style could and spent plenty of time spinning around the stage throughout the set. Guitarist Lars Frederiksen, standing off to the left of the stage and not pretending to be quite the showman that Armstrong is, still made his presence felt by providing most of the between song banter and handling vocals on a few of the night’s best received tracks. Even bassist and founding member Matt Freeman took his turn on vocals, stepping up to the mic to sing on “Rejected” from 2009’s Let The Dominoes Fall.

In all the band would play 29 songs  and managed to keep  the pit moving the entire time. If you’ve ever been to a punk show during the summer, you can probably imagine the amount of shirtless bro moshing taking place. Songs that inspired the most participation were “Read Hot Moon” and “Fall Back Down” from 2003’s Indestructible, along with 1994’s “I Wanna Riot” and “Gunshot”. 

The band ended the show with a 3 songs encore that consisted of “Tenderloin” from 94’s Lets Go sandwiched by the band’s biggest tracks: “Time Bomb” and “Ruby Soho” from their platinum effort …And Out Come The Wolves. The crowd roared their approval for each one, especially “Time Bomb” which Armstrong jokingly introduced as a “newer song.”

While the band pulled mostly from their most successful albums and didn’t stray far from the formula they had employed on previous tours, no one left unhappy.  After years of filling venues around the world, they seem to have the whole live show thing under control. The next thing for the band to work on is their recent penchant for taking 4-5 years between every release. Rumor has it they’ll put out their first album since 2009 later this year. And that can only mean more touring, more Tim Armstrong swinging his guitar, and more circle pits. And hopefully fewer Transplants.

Rancid Setlist House of Blues, Boston, MA, USA 2013, Rancid & Transplants

Fall Out Boy Comeback Tour Hits Boston

pat b&w

Fall Out Boy
NK
May 26th 2013
House Of Blues Boston 

Fall Out Boy. There’s a lot to say about this band, but nothing that hasn’t already been said before. And that’s why I’m ending this review right here. Or at least I should, because it’s probably going to be a lot longer than it needs to be, so here’s the short version:

Fall Out Boy returns from four year hiatus. Announces new album and club tour. Tour sells out in seconds. Band releases Save Rock And Roll, which debuts at #1. Band makes triumphant return to Boston in ridiculous fashion. Show includes teenage girls lining up in the freezing rain 12 hours prior to doors opening, Pete Wentz wearing leather pants and some sort of kilt, a lot of flashing lights, and Patrick Stump completely stealing the show.

If that last sentence didn’t make you gag and you’re still reading, here’s the unabridged version:

The show started with scores of people standing in line in the wasteland that exists behind the House of Blues. I’ve seen long lines at this venue, but never one that wrapped all the way around the building like this. The box office had opened at 3PM to allow fans to pick up their “will call only” tickets, and it was obvious that hundreds of fans had arrived much earlier than that.

Despite the line, everyone seemed to make their way inside in time to catch the opening set from Long Island’s NK (formally know as North Korea). The group is led by Ryan Hunter, the charismatic former lead singer of Envy on the Coast. Hunter’s previous band was an underground favorite that had unfortunately called it quits after only two albums in 2010. Hunter is joined in the band by Envy guitarist Brian Bryne, as well as Dilinger Escape Plan drummer Billy Rymer.

NK's Hunter and Bryne

NK’s Hunter and Bryne

“Diverse” would be a good way to describe the band’s sound, as they bounced from Rage Against The Machine-like aggression to Incubus-esque polish, even including a slowed-down “island jam” towards the end of the set. The band’s performance was surprising in that it sounded almost nothing like any of the member’s previous work. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it also means it will be an uphill battle to establish the same type of fan base Envy On The Coast once enjoyed.

After thanking Fall Out Boy for the opportunity to open the show, NK made their way off stage as the countdown to the headliners began. There was very little movement in the crowd, as those who had waited hours in line for a good spot had already staked their claim to the prime viewing spots. As the break carried on past the standard half hour, everyone in attendance began to get antsy, until the lights and music finally cut off and a spotlight illuminated the giant white screen covering most of the stage.

Behind this screen, the shadows of the four band members could be seen as they made their way on stage to Jay-Z’s spoken word intro to “Thriller”. Soon enough, the white screen fell to the floor, revealing the band behind it and inspiring even louder and more ear-splitting shrieks from the crowd.

Lead singer Patrick Stump bounded up to the microphone to start the song while Pete Wentz jumped off a riser at the front of the stage and started spinning in circles like a top. Stump’s booming vocals, Wentz’s theatrics, the falling curtain and all of the flashing strobe lights made for an appearance completely befitting of a band that seems to relish this kind of spectacle.

While some things never change (Wentz’s penchant for showboating instead of actually playing the bass), some thing’s certainly have since the band’s early days. Lead singer Patrick Stump, for example,  has always seemed rooted to the microphone stand and entirely uncomfortable in front of the screeming masses. There was also a time when he wasn’t that great of a singer. What a difference a few years and a couple of gold records makes.

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The newly slimmed-down Stump literally stole the show, rendering Wentz an unlikely supporting character. When not belting out the huge choruses that make up most of the band’s songs, Stump was racing from one end of the stage to the other or jumping up on the risers, all the while keeping up with his responsibilities as the band’s rhythm guitarist.

Stump commented at the start of the show that he was starting to loose his voice and he would need the crowd’s help in singing along. If this is what his voice sounds like on a bad day, it’s hard to imagine what it sounds like on a good day. Stump handled just about all of the set’s 20 songs with ease, and if there were times when he was off, the crowd was too loud for anyone to notice.

The band did include all of their biggest songs, many of them coming early in the set, including “A Little Less 16 Candles A Little More Touch Me”, “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race”, and “Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy” (and wow does this band have some obnoxiously long song titles).

While it was nice to hear the hits, it was all of the non-hits the band played that made the set special. These tracks included “Disloyal Order Of The Water Buffalo” and “What A Catch Donnie” – both from 2008’s Folie a Deux. While the album may not have been as well received as their previous work (and was a big reason they went on hiatus), I think these tracks stack up well against anything else they’ve done, and the rest of the crowd seemed to agree based on their reaction.

Another of the show’s high water marks came in the form of “Hum Hallelujah” from 2007’s Infinity On High. Wentz dedicated the song to Boston, saying the city had “been through a lot over the last month”, and then stepped aside to let Stump’s soaring vocals to once again steal the spotlight.

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While primarily focusing on newer material, the band did dust off a few choice cuts from their landmark 2003 effort Take This To Your Grave, including “Tell That Mick He Just Made My List Of Things To Do Today”. Many of those in the audience may have been under 10 years old when the record was released,  but that didn’t stop these songs from inspiring huge sing-alongs that at times made Stump’s presence seem unnecessary.

The set came to a close with two more  solid performances, beginning with a  lively rendition of “I Don’t Care”, the Folie a Deux lead single that may have been a radio flop, but was very well received on this night. They then transitioned into current lead single “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)” – which has not suffered the same fate as “I Don’t Care”, selling over 1 million downloads since its release.

After making their way off stage for a quick break before the encore, the band returned to play “Save Rock And Roll” while the screens behind them displayed images of rock legends like the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, and Johnny Cash. While it seems ridiculous for a band like Fall Out Boy to be insinuating that they are carrying on in the same tradition as these heavyweights, you do have to appreciate the ambition. During the song, Stump did his best to channel another legend, pounding away at the piano and covering the vocals sang on the album by one Elton John.

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Bringing down the curtain on the show was the duo of “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs” and “Saturday”, the Take This To Your Grave track that has served as the band’s set closing number for as long as anyone can remember. As is the norm, Wentz put down the bass during this song to climb into the crowd and pass the mic to those who had dedicated their entire Sunday to being close to the stage for the 90 minute set.

The band then took their bows and made their exit while many in the crowd lingered, hoping to find a stray guitar pick on the floor or the friends they lost track of at some point during the set.

If you were at the show, you would probably agree that Fall Out Boy’s comeback is looking like a huge success. Of course, when you are a band that was as big as Fall Out Boy was, you’re always bound to have a dedicated fan base that sticks with you and can help you pack smaller venues like this. The real test will come this fall, when the band embarks on a national arena tour, which will provide a good indication as to whether this comeback is going to be short-lived on whether the band really is primed to return as one of rock’s biggest acts.

Show Review – Alkaline Trio With Bayside In Boston

Skiba

Alkaline Trio
Bayside
Off With Their Heads
House of Blues Boston
May 18th, 2013

It feels like it’s been years since I’ve written a review on this blog. If  you are wondering what caused the long absence, the answer is simple: I stopped going to shows. Just got tired of it. Too loud, too expensive, too time consuming – not worth the effort.

I’m kidding, of course. Since my last entry I’ve been to plenty of shows. Most of them have been awesome. There was Andrew McMahon playing his first solo show in Boston, Titus Andronicus tearing through a late-night set in Cambridge, and the The Bronx’s lead singer, Matt Caughthran,  singing an entire song while crowd surfing when opening for Bad Religion at the House of Blues.

While these shows were great, none of them inspired me to finally sit down at the keyboard and hammer out a review. That changed when one of my all time favorites took the stage for what was likely one of the largest headlining shows they’ve played in years at the House of Blues in Boston.

That band is of course Alkaline Trio –   an artist forever cursed by the fact that they released a number of excellent albums very early in their career. Since that time, every new record has been held to an unrealistically high standard and any attempt at refining their sounds or experimenting with a new approach is scorned by the fans who helped them become unlikely cult heroes.

For that reason, and despite a number of solid releases over the past few years, most Alkaline Trio fans would not argue the group is at the top of their game. Luckily for the band, you would have had no idea this was the case if you witnessed their latest Boston performance.

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The night started with a 30 minute set from Off With Their Heads. Fresh off the release of their third album, the band seemed to be in a great spot to grow their fan base by bringing their brand of gruff punk rock to the Trio-worshiping masses. Strangely enough, lead singer Ryan Young had gone on the record as saying he wasn’t all that excited about the tour due to the unenthusiastic crowd reaction the band was likely to receive (read the interview here).

Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but few in the crowd seemed excited by the band’s work. The Minneapolis quartet did seem to win over at least a few new fans with a very solid performance. The title track from their recent album Home was a mid-tempo show stopper while most other tracks featured the same frantic energy that made their last two records critical favorites.

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Bayside was the primary support for the tour, which must have been an honor for a band that started their career sounding like a pretty decent Alkaline Trio tribute band.

They opened their set with “Devotion and Desire” – a song they have (obnoxiously) closed almost every show with over the past seven years. It did get the crowd moving and kicked off what would become the kind of set you’ve always wanted to see the band to play.

Instead of the the three static figures seemingly rooted to their microphones on stage that we’ve seen in the past, lead singer/guitarist Anthony Raneri, guitarist Jack O’Shea, and bassist Nick Ghanbarian made a concerted effort to move around the stage and look like they were interested in the songs they were playing. During the final song, Raneri even put down the guitar to climb down to the barrier with the mic and let the crowd sing along.

As is always the case, the band sounded great, and O’Shea’s fret board theatrics took center stage whenever the song called for a solo. The band surprisingly made no reference to their allegiances to New York sports teams – which was surprising considering the show was across the street from Fenway, and the Bruins and Rangers were set to square off in in game 2 of their second round playoff series the next day.

It was probably for the better as the band was able to pack 11 songs into their set, which primarily focused on 2011’s Killing Time and also included standout tracks from 2007’s The Walking Wounded and their self-titled record. They closed with a rousing version of “Dear Tragedy” to a rather massive applause.

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Next up were the headliners. The last time the band was in Boston two year’s earlier, they played at the Paradise Rock Club, a venue less than half the size of the House of Blues. That’s why the venue choice seemed surprising when the tour was announced. Despite this, the venue was packed as fans jostled for space on the first floor and the balconies.

The band took the stage and kicked off the set as they often do – with the opening track from their most recent album. This time it was the bouncy “She Lied To The FBI” – which received a surprisingly good reaction from the crowd. They followed with b-side “Hell Yes” and then “Clavicle” – a huge fan favorite from their debut album which ratcheted up the energy level considerably. They then followed with two deep cuts from 2003’s Good Mourning in “If We Never Go Inside” and “Donner Party (All Night Long)”. For a big Good Mourning fan like myself, hearing these songs played live was a huge treat.

Right out of the gate, it was obvious the band was willing to switch up the set list quite a bit and wasn’t going to playing just  the hits. By the end of the night, the band had completely ignored 2008’s Agony And Irony and 2010’s This Addiction, while playing nearly as many songs from Good Morning (4) as they did from the recently released My Shame Is True (5). It didn’t seem like anyone in attendance had a problem with this, as the band constantly commended the crowd on their effort and even threw in the “best show of the tour” designation at one point.

With the crowd in top form, the band didn’t disappoint with their performance. Guitarist Matt Skiba and bassist Dan Andriano traded vocal duties, with Dan sounding surprisingly good on his songs, notably “Crawl” and the new track “Young Lovers”.

The high point of the set (at least from where I was standing) was the 1-2 punch of “The Torture Doctor” and “My Friend Peter”. The two songs couldn’t be more different: the former is from the band’s latest album and features a huge, glossy chorus, while the latter is a 2 minute blast of punk energy from the band’s early catalog that has long been a fan favorite. The two choices, and the huge sing-alongs they inspired perfectly represented the band’s entire set – whether the song was new or old, the crowd ate up every minute.

Skiba and Co. have made it a point of closing most shows with one of two old favorites: “Radio” or “97”. On this night, the band treated the crowd to both. Skiba ended the night playing the last few cords on his back after leaping off the drum riser while drummer Derek Grant flung drum sticks to the outstretched hands on the floor.

At one point earlier in the set, Skiba had stopped to stare out at the huge crowd and remark “we’re not going to say we don’t like seeing so many of you here.” The sheer size of this show was a reminder of just how dedicated the band’s fan base is. Like many of those in attendance, I had seen Alkaline Trio plenty of times, and like everyone else, I’ll keep going back as long as they keep putting in solid performances like this.

The Ten Best Shows Of 2012

January 11, 2013 Leave a comment

2012 was a great year for live music in the Boston area. Here is the creme of the crop, according to me:

 

1. Refused at House of Blues Boston, July 20th

One of the greatest hardcore bands of all time proved that their reunion was not just a Cochella money grab when they announced an extensive world tour that stopped in Boston in August. Their 90 minute set was overwhelmingly intense. The aggression  precision, and showmanship the band displayed defied every law that should govern a group of 40 year olds that had called it quits 14 years earlier. It would seem natural to say I wish I could have seen them in their prime, but I’m pretty sure this was it.

2. Bruce Springsteen at TD Garden, March 26th 

There’s no such thing as a bad Bruce show, but a few factors made this one special. It was Sprinsteen’s first Boston show in three years and coincided with the release of his new album Wrecking Ball. While the tour would make multiple stops in New York and New Jersey, this was the only scheduled Boston show and had sold out in minutes. The three hours sets included a soul melody inspired by the band’s recent performance at the Apollo Theater, an epic encore with the house lights on, and everything else that has made Sprinsteen and Co. rock’s most consistent performers.

3. Motion City Soundtrack Double Header at Bamboozle Festival, May 19th 

While there was no explanation as to why MCS was slated for two slots on the same stage at the Bamboozle Festival in Asbury Park, NJ, you weren’t going to hear any complaints from me. Their two appearances, one in the early afternoon and one much later at night, covered a good chunk of their discography and included very few repeats. They garnered the most enthusiastic crowd reaction that I saw all day, which is pretty impressive considering they were competing with the likes of the Foo Fighters on the main stage.

4. The Gaslight Anthem at the Middle East Downstairs, July 22nd 

The Gaslight Anthem is way too big to be playing a 550 capacity venue, but that didn’t stop them from doing a small club tour in advance of their new album Handwritten this summer. Their show at  the Middle East featured a lot of old tracks, previews or a few new ones, and a whole lot of sweat. 

5. Jack’s Mannequin at El Rey Theater, November 11th 

The band’s final two shows acted as a benefit for the Dear Jack Foundation and helped to raise $50,000 for childhood cancer research. Andrew McMahon and company’s second to last show featured a very well crafted career spanning set list that even included Something Corporate favorite “Konstantine”

6. Crime In Stereo and I Am The Avalanche at Gramercy Theater, November 24th 

Crime in Stereo quietly called it a day in 2010, leaving their fans with little information as to why they had broken up or what they planned to do next. Their 2012 reunion was as unexpected as their breakup, and their first show back proved they still had it.  An adrenaline packed opening set from local favorites I Am the Avalanche started things off on the right foot, and had the crowd ready for what would be a memorable 90 minute performance from the headliners. Their set mirrored their discography in that it was as haunting as it was powerful. Frontman Kristian Hallbert danced in and out of the venue’s brilliant, bliding spotlights while the rest of the band tore through each song as if they had never been apart.

7. Coldplay at TD Garden, July 29th 

Chris Martin and Co. returned to the Garden for two sold out shows that featured all of the theatrics you would expect for $130 a ticket. This included light-up bracelets that were handed out to everyone in the arena, which the band controlled to made the show look a whole lot like the recently completed Olympic Opening Ceremony.

 

8. Fun at House of Blues Boston, April 21st 

It’s not very often that you get to watch a hardworking band get the attention that they deserve, but that’s exactly what happened to fun in 2012. After their excellent debut album Aim and Ignite was largely ignored, a Super Bowl ad and a few radio spins helped fun become one of the year’s best success stories, and they made a stop in Boston just as their stock was about to shoot through the roof. The crowd’s reaction to the band’s every move made it obvious that a sold out show at the House of Blues was just the start of something very big.

9. Frank Turner at Royale, September 6th 

Frank Turner also had a standout 2012, shooting from cult favorite to rock radio staple. He would play two sold out shows at Royale in September, and the first proved that the success certainly hasn’t gone to his head. Turner and the Sleeping Souls played great mix of songs new and old and made sure they weren’t overshadowed by opening act Larry and his Flash, who had put on a great show in their own right.

10. Bouncing Souls at House of Blues Boston, August 4th

While a half empty House of Blues may seem like a strange location for a Bouncing Souls show, the surprising absence of both bouncers and a barrier in front of the stage made for the what was easily the craziest show I’ve been to at the venue since it opened four years ago. After an excellent opening set from the Menzingers, the Bouncing Souls took the stage for what at first seemed like a snooze fest, as the band debuted a number of tracks from their recently released album Comet. When fans realized there would be no repercussions for making their way on stage, the stage diving competition was in session for the rest of the show.

 

Very Honorable Mentions

Say Anything, Murder By Death, Fake Problems at House of Blues Boston

Neon Trees at the Paradise

The Killers at Agganis Arena

Andrew Jackson Jihad at TT the Bears

Joyce Manor at TT the Bears

Top Ten Albums And Songs Of 2012

December 30, 2012 1 comment

Image1. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

The Gaslight Anthem have now churned out four outstanding full lengths in only five years, and this might be their best yet. It takes everything everyone loved from their earlier work, smooths out the rough edges, and turns the volume way up.

Favorite line:

Now do you blow it out come Friday night?
See if you wanna, you can find me on the hood under the moonlight
Radio, oh radio, do you believe there’s still some magic left
Somewhere inside our souls? – “Howl”

Image2. The Menzingers – On The Impossible Past

While I would love to declare a tie for my favorite record of the year, I can’t do that, so I’ll have to relegate this masterpiece to second best. It is nearly perfect in all ways – from the deeply personal lyrics, to the dual vocal attack of Greg Barnett and Tom May, to the fact that it is such a huge improvement over it’s predecessor, 2010’s Champerlain Waits. This is the album that announces the arrival of one of today’s brightest up and coming acts.

Favorite line:

Like when we would take rides
In your American muscle car
I felt American for once in my life
I never felt it again – “Good Things”

Image3. Fun – Some Nights

This band is huge for a reason. Some Nights is the rare album that makes a statement while still being extremely accessible. While every song sounds like it is being fueled by a mixture of cotton candy and sweet tarts, the lyrics hint at lead singer Nate Ruess’s struggles with his own past, high expectations, and society’s notions of what a rock band is supposed to be.

Favorite line:

I was never one to believe the hype – save that for the black and white
I try twice as hard and I’m half as liked, but here they come again to jack my style –                                                                                                 “Some Nights”

Image4. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

After the not-so-great Working On A Dream, Bruce and Co. came out swinging on Wrecking Ball and created an album that is as vital as anything the band has created over their 30+ year career.

Favorite lyric:

Gambling man rolls the dice, working man pays the bills
It’s still fat and easy up on bankers hill
Up on bankers hill the party’s going strong
Down here below we’re shackled and drawn – “Shackled And Drawn”

ImageNeon Trees – Picture Show

While it might not be the most consistent album, Picture Showstandout tracks deliver on the promise the band displayed on their wildly success debute EP, Habits. “Everybody Talks” proved that good music can still make it’s way to the radio, but “Weekend” is the album’s best example of pop gold.

Favorite Line:

don’t you know how it feels
to get days and months and years
trapped inside a waking dream
I bet you you and I could sit back

tonight and try
to make it more than just a fantasy – “Weekend”

ImagePOS – We Don’t Even Live Here

I like this album because POS makes it clear that he is mad at everyone and everything. It’s an album about the Occupy Movement from someone who hates the Occupy Movement.

Favorite line:

Cold world
Cool new blanket
Stole it from the shelf at the Walmart thankless
Threat level awesome
Threat level orange juice
Who’s gonna stop ’em
We ain’t gotta throw stones at a glass house
We break in, just so we can smash out

– “All Of It”

ImageThe Vaccines – Come Of Age 

While they had a lot to live up to after their debut album  made them an overnight sensation in the UK, they meet those exepcetions with Come of Age. It is therefore ironic that one of the album’s standout tracks (“No Hope”) is all about letting everyone down.

Favorite line:

And I could make an observation,
If you want the voice of a generation,
but I’m too self-absorbed to give it clout. – “No Hope”

ImageHostage Calm – Please Remain Calm

While Please Remain Calm certainly has some catchy tunes, it’s value lies in the lyrics. Vocalist Chris Martin and Co. are able to capture what it means to live in our Great Recession society better than any band I’ve heard.

Favorite line:
Turned a circus for gamblers and gawkers and thieves.
When the word got around, we spilled out on the streets.
As the banks decorate every house in defeat. – “On Both Eyes”

ImageSharks – No Gods

The debut full-length from this English quintet is similar to Hostage Calm’s debut album in that what sets it apart from other releases is its lyrics. Lead singer James Mattock paints in broad strokes, leaving almost every song open to interpretation, proving there is much more to the record that the straight forward rock you’ll hear upon first listen.

Favorite line:

We’re the overestimated underdogs

What you await from us, now you can get for yourself – “Til The Wonders Rise”

Image

The Killers – Battle Born

 While their last effort was dressed up with electronics and slick production, Battle Born returns to the stripped down rock and storytelling of 2006’s Sam’s Town. It may not be as radio-friendly as their earlier work, but tracks like bombastic lead single “Runaways” and “Miss Atomic Bomb” can still blow the roof off of any arena.

Favorite line:

They say I’ll adjust
God knows I must
But I’m not sure how
This natural selection picked me out to be
A dark horse running in a fantasy
“Flesh And Bone”

 

 

Honorable mentions:

Joyce Manor – Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired
Titus Andronicus – Local Business
Hot Water Music – Exister
Japandroids – Celebration Rock 

Top Ten Songs of 2012:

1. The Menzingers – “Burn After Writing”
2. The Menzingers – “Good” Things”
3. Hostage Calm “On Both Eyes”
4. The Gaslight Anthem – “Howl”
5. Neon Trees – “Still Young
6. The Vaccines “Teenage Icon”
7. Sharks “‘Til The Wonders Rise”
8. Japandroids “Continuous Thunder”
9. Bruce Springsteen – “Death To My Hometown”
10. Hot Water Music “State Of Grace”

Honorable mentions:
Titus Andronicus “Still Life With Hot Deuce On Silver Platter”
The Rolling Stones – “One More Shot”
Neon Trees – “Weekend”
Blink-182 “Boxing Day”
The Gaslight Anthem – “Mulholland Drive”
Neon Tree – “Everybody Talks”

Book Review: “Bruce” By Peter Ames Carlin

November 24, 2012 1 comment

ImageI’ve never written a book review before, except maybe in an elementary school English class, but now seems like a good time to post my first. Peter Ames Carlin’s Bruce chronicles Bruce Springsteen’s career in often painstaking detail, giving fans a rare look into the mind behind one of rock and roll’s must successful and revered acts.

  Reviewing Carlin’s Springsteen biography, is somewhat less daunting than reviewing one of his live shows. I’ve seen Bruce multiple times this year, but haven’t written a single review. The band’s live performances are jam packed with memorable moments, basically three hours of rock euphoria. It’s the type of show that words can’t do justice.

In Bruce, Carlin attempts to capture the passion and energy that Springsteen brings to the stage and help fans understand what fuels it. While there have been plenty of books published chronicling Springsteen’s life and career, this is the first book to be written with input from the Boss himself, which certainly helps Carlin achieve his goal. 

The author had no contractual agreement with Springsteen or the band’s management, and was therefore free to be brutally honest at times.  Carlin notes in the text that Springsteen had told him his only responsibility was to paint an accurate picture of the band and its leader, and it certainly seems like he was successful in doing so.

Over a musical career that has stretched over four decades, Bruce has become an iconic, almost mythical figure in the eyes of millions. His  charisma and stage precense, as well as  his devotion to his craft and his fans has earned him a spot as one of the most recognizable and respected musicians of all time. However, the most intriguing aspect of this book is not in the illustration of these characteristics, but is instead  in the examples and stories that prove Bruce is human and flawed, just like his legion of fans.

Springsteen’s often complicated and turbulent relationship with his family, band members, managers, and label executives paint him as a somewhat selfish perfectionist who sets standards very few can live up to. Bruce’s history with the E Street Band is explored at length, and the often cold relationship between the lead singer and his right hand men, including Steve Van Zandt and Clarence Clemons is especially surprising considering the on-stage chemistry the band has shared.

While Carlin explores Springsteen’s flaws and career missteps, the book does in fact confirm many of the  traits that are at the core of the Springsteen legend. These traits include his focus on  everyday Americans – both in his songwriting and in his charity work, his dedication to his fans and his home state, and of course, his undeniable drive to be the best live act in the world.

The most impressive aspect of the book is how well researched it is. From the very start, it is obvious that Carlin has talked to just about everyone who has ever had a connection to Bruce. Input from fellow Jersey shore  musicians provides great insight into Bruce development from scrawny teenager, to local hero in the 70’s and then international star 80’s.

Also central to the story is the way in which Carlin chronicles Springsteen’s extensive touring career and describes landmark performances in great detail, including Springsteen’s luke-warm reception at his first show in London and his mammoth Born In The USA stadium tour.

For any die-hard Bruce fan looking for greater insight into Springsteen’s music, this is a must read. It perfectly illustrates how Sprinsteen, unlike many of his peers over the last thirty years, has achieved such tremendous staying power and can still connect with fans and sell out stadiums 35 years after “Born To Run” hit the airwaves. For the casual fan, the book might provide more information than you’re looking for, but if you’re in the market for a Springsteen biography, I can’t imagine there are any better than this.