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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.

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

Refused Ends 20 Year Boston Wait, Makes Every Other Band Look Bad

July 26, 2012 Leave a comment

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Refused and Off! – House of Blues Boston – Friday July 21st, 2012

“The greatest band in the world right now.” “Unreal” “Best live show ever.”

The hyperbolic statements were everywhere, and I could only hope they were true. Refused hadn’t been a band in a very long time. After releasing what is arguably the greatest and most influential hardcore record of all time in 1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come, the band abruptly split up. They became the rare example of a band that would grow to be exponentially more popular once they were gone, and they hadn’t been heard from since.

When news leaked that the band would be reuniting for this year’s Cochella Festival, even long-time fans and those in the know seemed somewhat shocked, as band members had gone on the record as saying there was no chance they would ever share the same stage again.

Fast forward about six months, and their comeback has been tremendously well received. What was originally planned to be a one-off gig became a few shows in New York (which sold out almost instantly), and then a full blown world tour, including stops in major North American cities and large festivals throughout Europe.

Boston happened to be one of those North American cities, and the band was ready to play what was apparently their first (and most likely last) area show.

They were preceded by Off!, a band with an impressive legacy of its own. Frontman Keith Morris had at one point fronted Black Flag, while the other members of band cut their teeth in acts such as Burning Brides, Redd Kross, and Rocket From The Crypt. While they were on stage for less than 45 minutes, they had time to play about 15 songs. Morris did his best to psych up the crowd in between songs and get them ready for “The Refused”.

While the Off! was entertaining and Morris’s banter made him seem like a pretty likeable guy, it was obvious that most in the crowd hadn’t dove into Off!’s catalog in preparation for the show.

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While Morris promised the headliners would be out in 15-20 minutes, standard House of Blues protocol applied, and the wait was actually 30. This was punctured by the lights going down fifteen minutes prior to the headliners taking the stage behind a giant black screen. During those fifteen minutes, a noticeable buzz was piped over the PA, and as the house lights slowly scanned downward  the band could be seen through the transparent spots in the screen.

As they played the opening notes to “Worms Of The Senses/Faculties Of The Skull”, the screen fell and the crowd charged forward. As the seven minute epic ebbed and flowed, so did the energy of the crowd, building to a furry towards the end of the song as those at the front of the stage screamed “Let’s Take The First Bus Out Of Here” over and over again.

What followed were two of the night’s most intense numbers: the frantic “Refused Party Program” and the schizophrenic “Liberation Frequency.” It was here that frontman Dennis Lyxzén took control of the show, proving himself to be one of the most talented and charismatic lead singers I’ve ever seen.

While countless bands have attempted the sing/scream dynamic over the past decade, none have pulled it off with the surgical precision that Lyzen displayed, deftly moving between the band’s restrained verses and thundering chorus.

Lyxen’s vocal work was not the only impressive aspect of his performance. He moved around the stage with the energy, and in this case the furry, of a man half his age (he is 40). At one point he could be seen launching the mic into the air, only to leap from the drum riser to catch it on the way down. This was only slightly less impressive than his trip into the crowd, where he sang much of a song as he was held aloft by the fans below.

While most of the set was focused on the band’s magnus opus, they did play four tracks from Songs To Fan The Flames of Discontent, including the crushing “Hook, Line And Sinker.” These four songs were just as well received by the crowd as were the better known tracks from The Shape of Punk To Come.

The band would close their set after 12 songs with “The Shape Of Punk To Come” and make their way off stage. Those towards the first front of the venue found themselves covered in sweat, thoroughly exhausted, and most importantly, 100% ready to expand whatever energy they had left on the band’s two song encore.

Returning to the stage after a longer-than average wait, Refused started with the long intro to “New Noise”, which garnered a roar from the crowd as they readied for complete chaos. By the time the band hit the first chorus, the amount of adrenaline in the room could have matched an Olympic weight lifting session.

The show would then come to a climatic ending with another epic number, the 8-minute long Tannhäuser / Derivè. With its multiple peaks and valleys and changes in pace, the song perfectly represents Refused’s work as a whole and ended the set on a high note.

The band came together at the front of the stage to take a bow and soak in the crowd’s enthusiasm. Throughout the show, Lyxzén had discussed the band’s very political lyrics and how they still seemed as relevant today as they did back in 1997. The Shape Of Punk To Come was years ahead of its time, and to this day, no band has been able to match it.

It’s very rare that a group playing this type of music is mentioned in the “best band’s in the world right now” discussion, but with their stunning live show, Refused have staked their claim to a spot at the top of that list. It is even more impressive when you consider how long the band was away, and how short-lived the reunion is likely to be. The band has added another chapter in what was already a very impressive story, and with their live show, they’ve once again set the bar so high it’s hard to imagine it being matched anytime soon.

Refused Setlist House of Blues, Boston, MA, USA 2012

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Going Out in Style: Thursday’s Farewell Tour Hits New Haven

December 29, 2011 2 comments

Thursday Farewell Tour
Toad’s Place, New Haven CT
December 28th 2011 

With the release of 2001’s Full Collapse, Thursday changed the course of alternative music. While the scene they helped create may not be remembered in the most favorable light, the band has consistently challenged musical conventions over the past 11 years, and done so with as much sincerity and integrity as any band could.

That is why it is a shame they have never equaled the success of Full Collapse. With each album, the band’s record sales and popularity fell, despite the fact they continued to earn glowing reviews for both their new releases and live shows. In April of 2011 they debuted their fifth proper full length, No Devolucion. It was a radical, “art rock” departure from their earlier work that quickly became one of the year’s best reviewed albums, even if not one of its best selling.

Short openings slots on tours with My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday in front of largely uninterested crowds followed before the band then announced a proper headlining tour. In late November, they proclaimed the tour would be their last, save for a brief run of Australian dates in 2012. The band cited personal issues for calling it quits, but it can be assumed the difficulties of making a living as a band for so many years had taken its toll.

Their final headlining tour would come to a close with a string of East Coast dates during the holidays, with New Haven, CT being the third to last stop. The band had a history of playing at Toad’s, a venerable rock club close to the campus of Yale University. Their final show there would prove to be a memorable one, as both the band and their fans poured all of their energy into one last performance.

The night began with opening sets from Aficionado and Connecticut’s own Make Do and Mend. I was able to catch a number of songs from the latter, and wasn’t terribly impressed until their closing number, “Night’s the Only Time of Day,” which showed quite a bit of potential.

New Brunswick, NJ trio Screaming Females followed, showcasing their bass-heavy brand of garage rock. In addition to playing a very impressive lead guitar, frontwoman Marissa Paternoster is a vocal powerhouse, and her talents help the act stand out from many of their peers. While the band doesn’t have fantastic stage presence, they sounded great, and their set seemed well received by the large crowd that had already gathered.

The main support act was Philadelphia’s MewithoutYou. The band has earned somewhat of a cult following after touring extensively with the likes of Thursday and Brand New in the past, but has never earned the same type of breakout success as those two bands have. They played a nearly 45 minute set that had many in the crowd moving and singing along. They tended to blend at least a few of their songs together, and took only short breaks between others. While I’m not terribly familiar with their work, I would say they sounded much better than they had the one other time I had seen them.

After a nearly 40 minute wait (which is really pushing it at a show with five bands), Thursday took the stage to the tune of No Develucion’s “Open Quotes.” The crowd immediately surged towards the stage as fists flew through the air. While not one of the band’s better known songs, the intensity the band and the crowd displayed during this number would set the tone for the rest of the night.

Next up was “For the Workforce, Downing”, which is one of the band’s best known songs. The intensity was turned up a few more notches as frontman Geoff Rickly climbed on top of a monitor at the front of the stage, grabbed onto a support beam and leaned as far as he could into the crowd. With no barrier separating the stage from the fans, literally dozens of   people made their way on stage during this song alone, forcing the band to take a short break afterward to rearrange all the gear and peddles that had been trampled during the melee.

While Thursday had played 16 songs sets at previous shows, Rickly announced they would be playing longer on this night due to special requests from their road crew, the first of which was “I Am the Killer” from Full Collapse. The band would do a very good job showcasing songs that spanned their career while still featuring six songs from their most recent effort. This was important because this tour would prove to be the only chance they had to play anything from No Develucion as a headlining act.

Throughout the set, the crowd somehow maintained their level of intensity. At times it seemed the only ones getting more of a workout than the fans were the bouncers responsible for corralling crowd surfers as they reached the stage. Even during the set’s more mellow moments, the crowd continued to rage. At one point, Rickly said something along the lines of “We need to play a fast song now because you guys are killing each other during these slow songs.” The band would then launch into “At This Velocity” from 2003’s War All the Time, which was one of the set’s best performances.

For someone who has a reputation for between-song story telling, Rickly’s between song banter was at least somewhat constrained, although he did thank the fans on numerous occasions for sticking with them throughout the years and for their enthusiasm on this night. This enthusiasm would peak during “Cross Out the Eyes,” the song that had helped put the band on the map ten years earlier.

The only full length that Rickly and Co. seemed to ignore was 2008’s “Common Existence”, that is until the schizophrenic  “Resuscitation of a Dead Man” was featured as the last song of the set. After a very short break, the New Brunswick crew made their way back on stage and promised a three song encore, which began with the slowed down “Stay True.” The song was dedicated to the night’s first two opening acts, who Rickly credited with reminding him of “why he got into punk rock in the first place.”

After a nod to the holiday season, the band played the opening notes to

“Jet Black New Year” and the crowd swung back into action. The marathon (once again, considering there were five bands)  20 song set would then conclude with fast-paced closer “Turnpike Divides.”
It was now 12:15, and the sun had officially set on Thursday’s final New Haven show. Their powerful performance reminded everyone in attendance why they had grown to love the band in the first place, and why it would be tough to see them go.   While they may have ended up a casualty of a flawed record industry and shifting tastes, those in attendance are likely to remember Thursday as the band that poured their souls into every album and every live show, especially their last one.

Thursday Setlist Toad's Place, New Haven, CT, USA 2011

Weezer Brings The Blue Album and Pinkerton to Chicago

January 9, 2011 1 comment

Weezer Memories Tour
Aragon Ballroom, Chicago
January 7th and 8th, 2011

A cynic might see Weezer’s six city “Memories Tour” as a type of peace offering to their longtime fans who have suffered through the release of six subpar albums since 1994’s iconic Weezer (the Blue album) and 1996’s beloved Pinkerton. A cynical fan might also view the tour as a shameless attempt to cross-promote their newest single, appropriately titled “Memories.”

However, both cynics and non-cynics alike can agree that the “Memories” tour was a tremendously enticing idea, with the band playing two nights in each city, performing the Blue album in its entirety on the first night and Pinkerton the next night, along with a number of the band’s other hits. The tour made its final stop at the cavernous Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, and as expected, the results were spectacular.

Night One: The Blue Album

Much like Weezer, the Aragon Ballroom is strange. It has certainly seen better days (insert Weezer joke here), but it’s size and general admission floor made it a good fit for a tour that was certainly in high demand, yet deserved a more intimate setting than an arena or seated theater. The venue features a Spanish villa theme, with Terracota balconies, private boxes, and even castle spires. All of this sits below a ceiling painted like a nighttime sky, complete with twinkling stars.

Both nights began with an unimpressive set from electronic rock act, the Limousines. They sounded like a cross between Metro Station and MGMT. Needless to say, the crowd was not into it. On the second night, the band failed to even mention their name until after their last song.

Weezer kicked off their set with “Memories” from 2010’s Hurley, which received only a luke-warm response from the crowd. The band would play the first half of the show as a five-piece band, with drummer Pat Wilson stepping down from the kit to handle the guitar work normally covered by frontman Rivers Cuomo. Cuomo was therefore free to work the crowd and make his presence known throughout the venue.

The band would then work backward through their catalogue, playing their biggest hits from Raditude, The Red Album, and 2005’s Make Believe. When the band made their way back to 2002’s “Keep Finishing,” Rivers literally scaled the balcony and made his way up a private box, and then to visit a large groups of fans seated to the side of the stage. All the while, guitarist Brian Bell handled the singing duties.

Rivers would return to the stage as the band turned their attention to Pinkerton track “Falling for You.” The crowd loved the spectacle of the set, especially when Cuomo ventured down on to the floor to share the mic with those in the front row.

The band would then leave the stage for an unexpectedly long “intermission.” This period would feature its own brand of entertainment, as a group of pre-teens from “The School of Rock” made their way onstage to perform “Photograph” and “El Scorcho.” I’m not sure what this says about the complexity of Weezer’s songs, but they sounded pretty much spot on. Next up was a slide show presented by the band’s longtime roadie Karl Kotch. Kotch took the audience on a quick tour of Weezer’s history, showcasing show flyers at classy venues such as Club Dump and an early show review that bashed the band’s poor live performance.

Weezer would then make their way back to the stage, having changed clothes, and apparently their demeanor. They were now all business, functioning once again as a quartet with Pat Wilson returning to the drum kit.

With very little between song banter or stage movement, the band would power through The Blue Album in sequential order as those in the crowd basked in the moment. Each song sounded perfect pumping through the Aragon’s powerful sound system. The show built to an epic crescendo, with “Only in Dreams” acting as the grand finale. The fan favorite, which has rarely been played live in recent years, received a huge reaction from the crowd that inspired the group to lock arms and take a bow at the front of the stage.

Night Two: Pinkerton

While the first half of Weezer’s night one set had been quite enjoyable, the band hadn’t exactly displayed much creativity in choosing to play a radio hit or two from each record. Going into night two, I was expecting more of the same, but luckily, I was wrong.

After the Limousines set, Weezer took the stage and once again began with “Memories.” They then skipped over Raditude and went straight to the huge hooks of 2008’s hit “Pork and Beans.” Rivers would then make his way out into the crowd during “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived.” “Perfect Situation” and the excellent Maladroit track “Dope Nose” would follow. The band then took a surprising turn into b-side territory, playing three rarely heard tracks in a row, those being “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly,”  “Susanne,” and “Jamie.” Weezer would then close the first half of the show with “Only in Dreams,” which once again had the crowd up in arms.

During this night’s intermission, The School of Rock kids returned, all be it with a different cast to perform Blue Album favorites “In the Garage” and “Say It Ain’t So.” Karl would then take the stage with an amusingly updated slide show as well.

Finally, Weezer would return for a forty-five minute set that would completely overshadow everything that had come before it, including the previous night’s Blue Album performance. Beginning with “Tired of Sex” and continuing straight up to the moment that Cuomo would strum the closing notes to “Butterfly,” the band turned in the type of performance that would have even the most jaded longtime Weezer fans tipping their hats.

Songs such as “Getchoo”  and “Pink Triangle” exploded from the speakers and enveloped the crowd, while “El Scortcho” inspired the type of pushing and shoving that is rarely seen at Weezer shows. The highlight of the night (at least for me) was “Across the Sea,” with the band conveying all of the song’s twists and turns perfectly. Much like the night before, the band moved little on stage and talked even less, letting the music speak for itself.

While the show’s closing number didn’t quite pack the same emotional punch as “Only in Dreams,” Cuomo’s solo performance of “Butterfly” still provided a poignant ending to the “Memories” tour.

As the crowd slowly (and I mean very, very slowly) made their way out of the venue, it became clear that fans had seen something they probably won’t get the chance to see again. It was the closest we’ll come to stepping into a time machine to see Weezer in their prime. The set provided forty-five minutes to forget about “At the Mall” and a Lil’ Wayne cameo, and be reminded of why we fell in love with Weezer in the first place. Was it worth the airfare, the hour long wait for the coat check, the Chicago winter, and even having to hear songs from Raditude? You bet it was.