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Anti-Flag Brings Angry Back to Boston

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment

“The Economy Sucks, Let’s Party” Tour
The Paradise Rock Club,  Boston MA
February 2nd, 2010

Despite their overtly political lyrics and outspoken criticism  government, big business, weapons manufacturers, and just about every other type of establishment, Anti-Flag has never been a favorite of the punk community. They have long been branded as “too poppy,” and their brief stint on a major record label didn’t earn them much credibility either.

I’ve never shared this view. I  respect the band because they’ve done their best to have their voices heard, unlike so many bands who toil in obscurity for years in a vain attempt to “keep it real,” or whatever they like to call it. It’s because of Anti-Flag that thousands of suburban kids who would otherwise not give a second thought to politics are familiar with the things like depleted uranium, war crimes, government hypocrisy, and anything else the band has ranted about over the past 15 years.

Anti-Flag has always put on an intense and fiery live show, and tonight was no different. The band brought a diverse mix of support bands along with them, beginning with New York’s Star Fucking Hipsters. As front woman Nico de Gaillo and guitarist Sturg traded off gravely vocals, the group received the type of reaction from the crowd that most openers can only dream of. The circle pit raged on throughout their thirty minute set despite the fact that few in the audience seemed familiar with the band.

Next up were Canadian act Cancer Bats. While their array of guitar theatrics and metal breakdowns were amusing for a while, they all started to sound the same to me after a few songs. This didn’t seem to bother the rest of the crowd, as not one, but two circle pits took up most of the  floor.

Aiden, the night’s third act divided the venue like neither of the first two bands had, as some fans rushed to the front while other happily drifted to the back. I was among the latter, and I thought the Seattle “goth punks” tried a little too hard to mimic AFI. Their lyrics dealt mainly with razor blades, death, and drugs. They were laughable at best. However, the band’s performance was as intense and energetic as anyone’s, and lead singer Wil Francis was happy to acknowledge the take it or leave it nature of his band’s material.

After a short wait, the headliners took the stage and immediately got the crowd involved by ripping through first-pumpers “The Press Corpse” and “Sodom, Gomorrah, Washington DC.”  An early highlight of the set was “The Modern Rome Burning,”  with its dramatic breakdown that inspired near bedlam in the pit.

While the band quickly moved through the first half of the set, it wasn’t long before front man Justin Sane took to his soap box, criticizing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while also praising “the fair city of Boston.” Musically, the band focused on tracks from their most recent release, last summer’s The People or the Gun, as well as 2006’s For Blood and Empire but also mixed in a number of older tracks such as “Drink Drank Punk” and “Fuck Police Brutality” that satisfied everyone in attendance.

While the disaster that was the presidency of George W. Bush has inspired a great deal of the group’s back catalog, it would have been foolish to think the band would soften their approach once Barack Obama took office. At one point, Sane criticized the current president for doing nothing to help the situation in the Middle East, fix the health care system, or crack down on the financial institutions who had “robbed millions of Americans.” While some acts may have jumped on the anti-Bush bandwagon in an attempt to sell more records, it is obvious that this was never the case for these Pittsburgh punks.

After closing the set with “You’ve Got to Die for the Government,” the band would leave the stage before returning for an encore that began with a medley of Clash covers, including “I Fought the Law” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” Drummer Pat Thetic and bassist Chris #2 would then climb down into the crowd and help finish the set with the very appropriate “Power to the Peaceful.”

Despite the fact that the set lasted just over an hour, it still provided everything a fan could want, including fist-pumping sing-alongs, raging circle pits, and an impassioned performance by the men on stage. While Anti-Flag might never be remembered as one of punk’s greatest bands, the influence they continue to have, along with their ability to stay relevant while other political bands have fallen by the wayside, is something every band should aspire to.

Setlist was identical to New York show listed below.

Billy Talent at the Paradise

October 18, 2009 Leave a comment

billy_talent1Billy Talent
Poison the Well
The Paradise Rock Club, Boston
October 9th 2009

The Paradise Rock Club in Boston isn’t the city’s flashiest venue, and Billy Talent certainly isn’t one of the city’s best known bands, but when the two came together on a rainy October night, the results were anything but shabby. The Canadian quartet, along with South Florida’s Poison the Well, put on the type of show that delighted and damaged the hearing of those who packed the grungy club.

The show began with a set from AM Taxi, which I unfortunately did not witness (there was a Qdoba next door…). When we did make our way into the venue, we didn’t have to wait long for Poison the Well to take the stage. While I may not be a huge fan of the entire metalcore genre, witnessing them play was an enlightening experience. The band simply killed it. They performed a set that was that was insanely fast, ridiculously technical, and epically loud.

While many in the crowd (including myself) were unfamiliar with the veteran quartet, lead singer Jefferey Moriera displayed the type of stage presence that kept the audience completely absorbed throughout their 40 minutes on stage. Moriera mixed gruff screams and howls along with melodic choruses, while the rest of the band deftly sprinkled atmospheric elements in with their hardcore shredding. It served as the perfect warm up for Billy Talent’s headlining set.

Lead singer Ben Kowalewicz led the chart topping Canadian act on stage and they immediately burst into a rousing rendition of “Devil in a Midnight Mass.” Despite the over zealous security and “no moshing” rules at the Paradise, it was obvious from the start this show would be anything but tame.

The crowd surged towards the stage and shouted along throughout the set, and the band used this energy to their advantage. Kowalewicz spent most of the show at the foot of the stage, going face to face with those in the first few rows. With eyes wide and veins bulging, the dynamic front man alternated between melodic singing on tracks such as “Surrender” and frenzied screams on crowd favorites such as “Line and Sinker.” 

Between songs, Kowalewicz ran through the normal Billy Talent banter, most of it revolving around sports. He praised Boston for its successful teams, and declared his hatred for the Yankees.  Kowalewicz also made note of the large student population surrounding the club, joking that a group of  well dressed college girls had thrown change at him earlier in the day thinking he was a bum.

The musical portion of the set included an even mix of tracks from the band’s three full lengths. Songs from the recently released Billy Talent III sounded great and received a nice reaction from the crowd, but they couldn’t match the intensity of more familiar songs such as “The Ex” or “Try Honesty,” which closed the set.

The band would return for an encore consisting of “Fallen Leaves” and “Red Flag,” both from 2006’s Billy Talent II. The crowd filed out of the club more than satisfied with what they had witnessed, and looking forward to a promised return engagement in 2010. The group certainly seemed to enjoy their stop at the intimate venue, especially considering many of their shows in Canada take place in monstrous arenas that set fans far back from the stage. In fact, the band had announced an enormous 2010 Canadian arena tour with support from Alexisonfire and Against Me! earlier in the day.

While they might not be playing arenas in the states any time soon, Billy Talent is quietly building a dedicated fan base on the strength of their stellar live shows. High profile opening slots for bands such as Thursday, Rise Against, and Rancid have helped, but the quartet has proven that they can hold their own as headliners in any setting.

Set list (probably not exact)
Devil in a Midnight Mass
This Suffering
Line and Sinker
Rusted for the Rain
Saint Veronika
Surrender
Diamond on a Landmine
River Below
The Dead Can’t Testify
The Ex
Devil on my Shoulder
Turn Your Back
Try Honesty

Fallen Leaves
Red Flag

Let’s Go Home Together, and Die at the Same Time

April 1, 2009 Leave a comment

hpim0552Friendly Fires
White Lies
The Soft Pack
Paradise Rock Club, Boston
March 28th, 2009

In the UK, White Lies have already seen their debut record reach #1 on the charts, been compared to legendary acts such as Joy Division, and played numerous sold-out headlining shows. In the US, however, the band is relatively unknown, aside from a Letterman appearance and a few mixed reviews from the music press. While it is difficult to say if the band will ever catch on in the states like they have across the pond, it is safe to say it won’t be their  live performance that holds them back. The band took the stage at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club on March 29th, opening for fellow UK buzz band Friendly Fires and performed a short yet satisfying set that offered a glimpse their enormous potential.

The show opened with a 30 minute set from San Diego’s The Soft Pack, who performed in front of the sparse crowd that had made its way into the club at this point. The intimate venue began to fill up after the band’s solid, yet unmemorable set. White Lies, who are lead singer/guitarist Harry McVeigh, bassist Charles Cave, and drummer/keyboardist Jack Lawrence Brown took the stage dressed (appropriately) in black and began thier set with “Farewell to the Fairgrounds,” a solid if not spectacular track from their dark, post-punk tinged debut release “How To Lose My Life.” The band would then transition into “To Lose My Life,” the single that has garnered a good deal of radio play in the UK and many a sarcastic comment from US critics for its overly-dramatic chorus in which McVeigh belts out “Lets go home together, and die at the same time.” At this point, the small but enthusiastic section of the crowd familiar with the band made their presence known
singing along and generally having a great time.

What was surprising about the performance was just how good the band sounded in a live setting. There were two reasons why this was so unexpected, the most important being the vocal health of McVeigh. The band had been forced to shorten it’s set in New York only three days earlier due to the singer’s sore throat, and he admitted to the crowd it was still bothering him on this night. Despite this, McVeigh sounded great throughout most of the performance, and he was aided by an excellent mixing job from the club’s sound technicians. Each instrument stood out and was clearly audible, which helped showcase the talents of the three musicians, most notably McVeigh, who in addition to covering the vocals, is also the band’s lone guitarist. The band would play “E.S.T., “From the Stars,” “Fifty on our Foreheads” and “The Price of Love” before thanking the crowd and performing one more song.

That song, of course, would be “Death,” which was originally featured on the Death EP that gave most fans their first taste of the band. The soaring, five minute epic was possibly better live than on cd, as the crowd at the front responded in way they hadn’t all night, singing along and pumping their fists. The band would leave the stage to a loud round of applause, obviously having won over a good percentage of those in attendance.

Next up would be the headliners Friendly Fires, who brought their schizophrenic blend of disco beats, rock guitars and pop hooks to the stage in front of what was now a sizable audience. While most in the crowd seemed to enjoy them, and some even danced along, I wasn’t familiar with their work, and I felt it all started to blur together after only a few songs. They do deserve credit for the energy they brought to the stage however, especially front man Ed Macfarlane, who pogoed around as if hooked to an AMP energy drink IV. Overall, the night (for me at least) belonged to White Lies, who, by this time next year could either be “the next big thing” or  another group of dour Brits who were never able to transfer their success across the Atlantic. Either way, they’ve released a great debut album and certainly have the live chops to back it up.

Ok Go in Boston and Northhampton

March 14, 2009 Leave a comment

hpim0526Even if you don’t know Ok Go, chances are you know Ok Go. They’re “that treadmill band,” the one that got big based on the absurdity of  their choreographed video for “Here It Goes Again,” which quickly became one of the most watched videos on the Internet when it was released in 2006. While they write catchy pop songs, their work has always been just a little too complex to gain any serious radio play, but this hasn’t stopped the band from becoming an act that can draw sell out crowds to clubs all across the country, as shown by their current national headlining run. Their two shows in Northhampton and Boston Mass. proved that fans can expect great things from their forthcoming record, but it also proved that there are some drawbacks that come with the fame the band has achieved.

Wednesday night saw the band play the Pearl Street Ballroom in Northhampton, a small college town in Western Mass. The openers Openhiemer and Longwave were greeted unenthusiastically by the crowd that packed the aging, VFW Hall-esqe venue. While Longwave is slated to support big name acts such as Bloc Party and the Presidents of the United States in the coming months, it was often difficult to distinguish one of their songs from the next, and the band did nothing to engage or interact with the crowd.

Ok Go, or more specifically lead singer Damien Kulash and bassist Tim Nordwind took the stage and started their set on a rather unusual note. hpim0506Nordwind, sans base, hammered out a beat with two mallets on a large drum, while Kulash performed a new song with an acoustic guitar. Mid-song, the duo was joined by guitarist Andy Ross and drummer Dan Konopka, and the band transitioned into more familiar territory with “Get Over It” and “A Million Ways.” Between songs Kulash would joke with the crowd and talk about the band’s new record, creating a connection with the audience that neither of the openers had. Among the topics discussed by Kulash included an upcoming Woodstock movie he has a part in, an e-mail from a church choir hoping to perform the band’s songs, and the time the band has spent sequestered in the studio as of late.

The band would follow “A Million Ways”  with two more new songs, which sounded very good but didn’t garner much of a reaction from those in attendance. The rest of the show would follow a similar pattern, with the band mixing almost equal parts new material with older material as a disappointingly quite and disinterested crowd stared on.

hpim0517While it seemed like some in the crowd would rather be doing other things with their free time, it became apparent what the members of Ok Go had been doing with theirs. The band performed “What To Do” not as a full band or acoustically, but instead using hand bells, and not just one or two hand bells, but a collection so large a special velvet-draped table was needed to hold them. The band somehow managed not to break out in laughter during the song, but the crowd wasn’t so successful in containing theirs. It was obvious that if there were ever an award to be given to the band with the most free time on their hands, Ok Go would win in a landslide.

The band would finish their set with “A Good Idea at the Time” having played five new songs, thrown out multiple Ok Go tambourines, and shot off a confetti cannon twice. They returned for an encore and began with a new song that was heavy on bass and featured Kusash screaming “I couldn’t breathe” at the top of his lungs. “A Good Idea at the Time” was then played, and the band ended the show with “Invincible,” and a lot more confetti.

The next night the quartet would head east to Boston to play a show at the sold-out Paradise Rock Club. The band would perform the exact same hpim0544set, displaying just as much energy as they had the night before. However, the crowd seemed even less interested this time around, if that’s possible. Many simply stood and stared at the band, even during their biggest hits, while those who were actually into the show stuck out like sore thumbs. The Paradise, for all it’s supposed charm, is a pretty terrible venue, with polls blocking what would be prime viewing locations and a staff that  could be described as “unfriendly” at best. While these elements did detract somewhat from the show, it wasn’t hard to see just how good Ok Go is in a live setting. Most impressive was guitarist Andy Ross, who juggled a handful of different instruments, including an 18 string guitar and a large set of hanging bells. Overall, Ok Go certainly catered this tour to the band’s most dedicated fans, offering an extensive preview of their new record before a release date has even been confirmed. Those in the crowd who knew the band only from their treadmill antics seemed unimpressed, but for the trained ear, the band’s performance hinted at big things to come.

Setlist:
New Song (Shoot the Moon)
Get Over It
A Million Ways
New Song (White Knuckles)
New Song (I Want You Here)
Oh Lately It’s So Quiet
New Song
Don’t Ask Me
Here It Goes Again
What To Do
New Song (Damien solo)
It’s A Disaster
New Song (When The Morning Comes)
Do What You Want

Encore:
New Song (I Couldn’t Breathe)
A  Good Idea At The Time
Invisible