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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.

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.

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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

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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.

Jack’s Mannequin Celebrates The End With Final Benefit Shows

November 15, 2012 1 comment

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Jack’s Mannequin, Matt Thiessen – November 11th, 2012, El Ray Theater, Las Angeles 

Farewell shows are tricky. When is the last time you heard someone say “I can’t wait to see my favorite band breakup and play their last show”? Unless Weezer was involved, the answer is probably “never”.  Unfortunately, breakups happen, and once the shock of the split has passed, the rush to grab tickets to the farewell performance begins.

The news that Jack’s Mannequin was calling it a career after seven very successful years did not come as a surprise to those who followed the band. Lead singer/mastermind Andrew McMahon had hinted that the band would be disbanded in numerous interviews prior to the announcement, and even the most die-hard fans had to admit that the Jack’s Mannequin moniker had had a pretty good run.

Starting as a Something Corporate side project in 2005, the group’s debut album Everything In Transit had struck pop-rock gold, helping to swell McMahon’s already sizable fan base and generating radio and TV success with lead single “The Mixed Tape.” This success came despite the fact that McMahon was busy battling leukemia when the album was released.

After winning the battle and hitting the road to promote the album, the band’s success would continue through the release of 2008’s The Glass Passenger and 2011’s People And Things. 

Speculation as to why the band was calling it quits didn’t revolve around the typical factors. For one, it has always been understood that McMahon is the man in change and controls the artistic direction of the band. It is therefore unlikely internal strife played much of a role. While the group’s meteoric rise had slowed a bit of late, People And Things had been well received by fans, and the ensuing tours had sold out large clubs around the country.

According to McMahon’s rather cryptic breakup message, it seemed that he was simply tired of writing songs as Jack’s Mannequin, and instead wanted the freedom that a solo career would bring. He had gone on record as saying that he would continue to play JM songs at live performances, so the farewell shows the band scheduled for November 11th and 12th in Los Angeles weren’t exactly the last time we would hear from McMahon.

In addition to being the band’s last two performances, these shows would serve as a benefit for the Dear Jack Foundation, which McMahon had created in 2006 to help fight the effects of young adult cancer. The two nights would end up raising a very impressive $50,000 for the charity.

I was lucky enough to score tickets to what was originally scheduled to be the final JM show on 11/11. The second show was added after ticket sales for the first night crashed servers and caused an uproar among fans who hoped to catch one last glimpse of the band.

Our tickets allowed us the chance to see the band’s sound check before the show, which was a 45 minute affair where the band played a number of complete songs and parts of others. McMahon joked with the crowd during the session and then signed autographs afterwards. It was a great way to give fans more access the band while raising money for the foundation. Tracks included “The Mixed Tape,” “Spinning”, “Annie Use Your Telescope” “Amy I”, “Bloodshot” and pieces of “Restless Dream”, “Hammers And Strings,” And “MFEO”.

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Once the entire crowd made their way inside the 700-person capacity El Ray Theater, the night began with a set from Matt Thiessen. The Reliant K front man was the only opener, and he said he was “honored” to be joining JM for their final performances.

Thiessen started off on the piano with a handful of Reliant K tracks that many in the crowd seemed familiar with, including “Be My Escape” And “Sadie Hawkins.” He then moved from the piano to an acoustic guitar to perform a number of solo tracks he had recently written, including the country-inspired “Pot of Gold”, which earned quite a reaction from the audience. To close his set, Thiessen was joined on stage by Jack’s Mannequin guitarist Bobby Anderson for a cover of Toto’s “Africa.” Anderson expertly hit the high notes during the song’s instantly recognizable chorus, and the pair received a big ovation as they left the stage.

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Between sets, Dear Jack Foundation Executive Director Steve Smith appeared to thank the fans for their support and to give an update on the charity. He introduced Erik Cwiertney, representing the Matt Cwiertney Memorial Foundation, a charity that provides cancer patients iPods with pre-loaded playlists that include artists such as McMahon, Dave Hause, Matt Costa, and many others. Cwiertney explained the “Matt’s Mixed Tape” iPod program and thanked the Dear Jack foundation for their support of the endeavor.

Shortly afterwards, the red curtain that had blocked the stage was drawn, revealing Jack’s Mannequin, already at their posts and ready to start the show with “Holiday From Real.” Beginning with the opening track from their debut album, this was the perfect way to start the night. The band would stick with upbeat, early album tracks until the show’s fifth song, “Annie Use Your Telescope” slowed things down a bit.

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Thiessen made his way back on stage for “Amy I,” which McMahon explained the two had written together during their time together at Thiessen’s Nashville home. Thiessen was not the set’s only special guest, as the band was also joined by original bassist Jonathan Sullivan, aka “Dr. J.” for a number of songs, including the bass heavy crowd favorite “Bloodshot.”

While there were few surprises in the setlist, the band displayed more energy than I had ever seen them bring to a show, and the addition of Thiessen’s second guitar on a number of songs only added to the atmosphere. The crowd returned the group’s energy, singing along and cheering loudly at the conclusion of every song.

“Hammers And Strings” and “Dark Blue” would serve as the final two songs of the set. While both tracks have been live staples for years, these farewell performances seemed to breathe new life into both. After the band left the stage, the crowd begged for more, and McMahon and company were happy to oblige.

Before playing the first song of the encore, McMahon addressed what he called the “elephant in the room”. He apologized for the fact that this was not the final JM show, as originally promised, and he justified it by saying the second night had raised an additional $25,000. McMahon then said he had a special treat or “giant bear hug” for the crowd, and while he admitted it might seem blasphemous, he quietly kicked into marathon Something Corporate hit “Konstantine.” The crowd roared its approval, their initial gripes now forgotten. McMahons promised the band absolutely would not play the song the next night.

ImageAt the conclusion of the nine and half minute epic, the band would then play an epic of their own, the eight minute “MFEO/You Can Breathe Now”. This snapped the crowd out of their Konstantine trance, and the momentum carried into the final song of the night, “La La Lie”.

As the band made their way off stage, there wasn’t the sense of finality that you would expect from this type of show. Of course, this was due to the fact that the band would have one more at bat the next night, but it can also be attributed to the fact that everyone knows McMahon’s musical career is far from over. This hadn’t stopped many in attendance from going very far out of their way to be in attendance, as McMahon noted that he had talked to more fans from the East Coast than from the West Coast.

This is evidence of the type of connection Jack’s Mannequin had built with their fans in just seven years. While it’s a shame that that legacy will disappear along with the name, this series of benefit shows seemed like the perfect way to celebrate that legacy and close this chapter of McMahon’s career.

If you’re interested in donating to the Dear Jack Foundation and increasing that $50,000 total, visit http://www.dearjackfoundation.com/donate/

Jack's Mannequin Setlist El Rey Theatre, Hollywood, CA, USA 2012

Tigers Jaw And Transit Play Late Night Encore Set In Allston

October 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Tigers Jaw
Transit (Acoustic)
What We Talk About, Allston MA
October 12th, 2012 

Have you ever been to a basement show? I for one have not, but I
can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard someone say they saw a
successful band in someone’s basement before they got big. Whether
these claims are true or not is hard to say, but it’s easy to
understand why these basements shows are often recounted as borderline
religious experiences.

A set played without barriers, security, rules, or even a stage
pretty much removes everything that is bad about live music –
everything that puts the performers both literally and figuratively
above everyone else in the room.  A basement show is all about the
music and the energy it creates, and everything else gets left at
door.

On Friday I got a chance to experience what is about as close as I’m

probably going to get to a basement show. Scranton, PA’s Tigers Jaw had

just played a sold-out show at the Democracy Center in Cambridge
earlier in the night. Apparently, a number of fans had gotten shut out
of the show, and instead of being left out in the cold until the band
made it back to Mass, they told those who had been turned away to
check their Facebook page for details on a second set later that
night.

Sure enough, the band posted plans for a set in Allston, but they only
sent the address to those who posted in a certain thread. With a
little bit of research, I was able to find out the show would be held
at a venue known as “What We Talk About”, which is about a ten minute
walk from my apartment. By this point is was around midnight, but, why
not?

Tigers Jaw

We headed over to the venue, and while the space isn’t technically a
basement, the lack of windows and exposed piping could have fooled
anyone into thinking it was. Tigers Jaw took their spot on the floor
as maybe 40-50 people gathered just a few feet from their mic stands.
I had never actually listened to the band before, and maybe a basement
show isn’t the best introduction considering the sound quality, but I
thought they sounded very good throughout most of the set. The crowd
at the front was very enthusiastic, even if many of them were hearing
these songs for the second time of the night.

Next up was an acoustic set from Stoneham, MA’s Transit featuring lead
singer Joe Boynton and guitarist Tim Landers. According to Boyton, the
band was back home after a recent tour and were looking to play as
many shows as possible. They had jumped on this show last minute after
(apparently) attending the first Tigers Jaw set.

While the crowd had thinned, about 25 people stayed to hear the duo
play about 5-6 songs, all of them from their most recent release
Listen And Forgive, save for “Outbound” from the Stay Home EP. To say
the set was laid back would be an understatement, as Boyton joked
with those at the front, including one fan who accused him of
stealing his hoodie, which Boyton said he had bought at Target for
$20. Clothing jokes aside, the Listen and Forgive tracks continue to
shine in a live setting.
By the time Transit wrapped up their set, it was after 2AM – meaning
both bands had traveled across town to work some serious overtime in
order to make their diehard fans happy. It’s the type of dedication
and sincerity you don’t see from many bands today. It’s also why it’s
easy to imagine everyone in attendance recounting the story of how
they saw Tigers Jaw and Transit in a basement before they got big a
few years down the road. I know I will be.

“You Should Have Ran While You Had The Chance” – Morrissey Opens North American Tour In Boston

October 9, 2012 Leave a comment

Image

Morrissey – Wang Theater, Boston – October 5th, 2012

Morrissey has long been one of music’s most polarizing figures. To some,
he is a living legend and pop-culture icon. To others,
he is a self-absorbed ego maniac. Love him or loathe him,
you have to admit that part of Morrissey’s appeal lies in the fact that he is a
walking contradiction: a wildly successful rock star who sings
about misery and loneliness. That
contradiction is what brought thousands of adoring fans to Boston’s
striking Wang Theater to see the first date of Morrissey’s massive
North American tour. The trek will see him visit just about every major
and minor market across the country, culminating with a stop at the
Staples Center in Los Angeles.

While I’m not very well versed in the specifics of Morrissey’s set list
choices over the years, I do know that the former
Smiths frontman often sprinkles in a few choice cuts from his former
band. I also knew that he tends to stray away from the more
radio-friendly fare that helped make him a household name as a solo
artist in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Beyond these unwritten rules, the possibilities seemed endless on the
first night of the tour. As Morrissey stepped out on to the stage
with his band following close behind, the crowd erupted. The cheers
got louder and louder as Morrissey calmly stepped to the front of the
stage to take a pre-show bow, and then kicked off the set with “You
Have Killed Me”.

From the very start, it was obvious that Morrissey had come to put on
a show, looking and sounding well rested and ready to tackle North
America for the first time in three years. He added a certain amount
of grit to his normally polished songs, often growling certain words
or lines for extra emphasis. His band was happy to play along, sounding
louder and heavier than on any recordings.

While the set was expertly performed, it would best be described as
“uneven” in terms of song selection and pacing. More upbeat fare
(maybe upbeat isn’t the word) such as “Every Day Is Like A Sunday” and
“I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” garnered huge reactions from the
crowd and were some of the best moments of the set. However, most of
these songs came at the start of the night.

The show lost a good deal of momentum in the middle of the 90 minute set, as the
band strung together the quartet of “Last Night I Dreamt That Someone
Loved Me”, “Fantastic Bird”, “People Are The Same Everywhere”, ” And
“Meat Is Murder”. The latter featured a graphic animal cruelty video projected on the backdrop.
At that point, the crowd was getting anxious.
Morrissey and crew then segued into “Scandanavia,” which was one of four
songs that the band played that hadn’t been include on any other 2012 set list.

Following this, Morrissey broke out the Smith’s classic “I Know It’s
Over”, which sounded absolutely perfect and helped to revitalize the
crowd. The set would then close with “I’m OK By Myself”, the last
track from his most recent album, 2009’s excellent “Years of Refusal”.
By this point, many of those who had front row seats were rushing the
stage, and while the crew did their best to repel them, a few
did slip by to score an awkward embrace with the man himself.

After a short break, Morrissey and the band returned to the stage for
a one song encore, the Smiths track “How Soon Is Now”. Stretching nearly seven minutes long, the song gave the overly eager fans at the front another chance to bum-rush the stage, and they certainly took advantage of it.
At the conclusion of the song, Morrissey and the band joined arms and
took a post-show bow.

While the set certainly was not the feel good event of the year, most
fans got exactly what they were looking for out of this performance.
Both Morrissey’s vocals and his band were spot-on, and his stage
presence is unmatched. While this was far from a greatest hits set, it did represent a good
cross section of Morrissey’s career. While this appealed to the many
die-hard fans in attendance, the show probably wouldn’t win
over anyone who had been on the fence, but most of those people probably
made up their minds on Morrissey years ago.