Brooklyn’s Radiohead – The National

The National @ The Paramount MarqueeThe Paramount, Seattle WA, 9/19/13 – Ok, I get it, The National are from Ohio, but they now reside in Brooklyn and it’s more meant as a way to understand their sound to call them “Brooklyn’s Radiohead” vs. any statement of fact.  Can we move on?

The National (@The_National) was one of those bands that I didn’t get into early but was encouraged to listen to by many whose musical tastes I have tremendous respect for.  I knew they had to be good if these people were so excited about them.  Not just “oh, yeah, they are good”, but more often, “oh man, fucking the National, so good…”  Definitely needed to check them out.  It all came to a head when a friend of mine suggested we go see them for an upcoming visit to Seattle supporting their new album – Trouble Will Find Me.

The show was far enough away that I had time to catch up on all that I’d missed, about 7 albums and 12 years worth of material.  That can be a hard thing to do, to get really into a band when you’re that far off from them. It helped that I was training for a Rainier summit (shameless plug), I downloaded their albums on my @windowsphone (REALLY shameless plug) and used them as my hiking soundtrack and began to understand why people love this band so much.  They have so much good material, it’s hard to focus on any one bit of it.  You can see why they’ve attained “emo” rock godhood with as hard as they’ve worked for almost a decade and a half.

Their music is a tightly knit mix of rock and blues put through a modernist filter that doesn’t let the occasional experiment bitter the overall effect.  The bar they’ve set on musicality and lyricism are very high and they consistently meet or beat it with each release.  Their tradecraft puts them in the neighborhood of Radiohead with their interesting work that is heartfelt, at times catchy or accessible, all while fomenting a rabid fan base. Like Radiohead, they have forgone the traditional marketing routes and have achieved what they have through hard work and solid song making.

I first heard of the band a few years ago when their breakout “hit” Bloodbuzz Ohio was all over airwaves and internet tubes.  It’s a great song and features front and center the bands centerpiece and special gravitas giver – the deep powerful vocals of lead singer and songwriter Mark Berninger.  The band has two sets of brothers that provide their sound – the Dessner brothers on guitars and keyboards and the Devendorf brothers on percussion – drum and bass.

When you first hear The National, Mark’s vocals are so deep and rich, evocative of music’s greatest baritones like Johnny Cash or Lou Reed, that you might think it’s a put on.  More than a few lead singers have aped a sound and modified their voice to mimic something that might not come naturally to them.  Think of all the lead singers who added the Eddie Vetter grumble to their “instrument” to get a sound they were looking for.  Many people I’ve talked to had the same initial reaction to Mark’s voice, “come on, that voice is too perfect to be real.”  But, I’m happy to say that it is the real thing.  After listening to more and more of their records and seeing them live, it is no doubt that not only is the voice real, so is the art.  This is a band who lives and feels what they are doing, they are not telegraphing it.

Frightened RabbitThe opening band was Frightened Rabbit. I’ve seen them a few times and they are always a great set.  They have a great if somewhat safe rootsy sound that harkens back a bit to their native Scotland.  All of their albums are worth a listen and I’d always enjoy to see them live.  Wall of sound, 3 plus guitars at times, heartfelt lyrics and big boisterous sound all delivered with aplomb.  But, they don’t take the kinds of risks that say, Arcade Fire does.  They don’t disappoint, but they don’t necessarily surprise either.

The National - 1The National set started and their stage set up was what you’d expect to see from a big bold band.  One that appreciates the art form, but keeps the focus on the music.  Large video display in the back, a variety of instruments..  Mark kept pacing around the stage, bottle of white wine in tow.  They played the first couple of songs with this tension hanging around the stage.  Mark seemed either pissed or sad or both.  After about the 3rd or 4th song, he mentioned that he’d been sick and was performing through the fog of cold medicine.  That helped release some of the tension in the room and people seemed to start to enjoy the show a bit more.

"Playing" a guitar upside down?

“Playing” a guitar upside down?

And what a great show to enjoy.  Like Frightened Rabbits, they might not be doing anything completely surprising or experimental, but they just do it so well.  Great melancholy heartfelt stuff performed by a band oozing with charisma, confidence and experience.  These are talented musicians and songwriters who can play a variety of instruments who aren’t trying to broaden their sound for mass appeal, so they go deep into the soundscape they’ve carved out and explore it completely.  Additional musicians would join the round out the sound, at one point an extra guitar was added some sonic layers as it was played standing upside down on its neck – never seen that one before.

Mark plays offstage.

Mark plays offstage.

There were several moments during the set where the band and/or Mark actively tried to engage the audience.  The pessimistic side of me would say it was gimmicky.  But what I choose to believe is that they were attempts to transcend the medium and achieve a closer connection with the audience.  Audiences have gotten more jaded over the years.  I for one am guilty of being less than engaged in a show, showing little emotion and quietly taking it in.  City after city of the majority of an audience simply staring at you might wear on a band.  Mark left the stage to sing just offstage in a stairwell.  An assistant held the mike cord for him and he performed about 1/2 the song out of view from the audience.  The last song of the set the band did an a cappella version of Vaderlyle Crybaby Geeks which encouraged audience participation.  Mark made his way through the audience signing parts of a song.  These efforts all added some element of surprise and expectation to a show that could have focused only on being appreciated vs. experienced.

This is a band that deserves our appreciation, but one that wants to engage us.  I for one am looking forward to seeing where that work ethic and anti-complacency takes this band next.

set list (Frightened Rabbits) – http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/frightened-rabbit/2013/paramount-theatre-seattle-wa-53c7fbbd.html
set list (National)- http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/the-national/2013/paramount-theatre-seattle-wa-3c7a1e3.html

Bumbershoot 2013 – Quick Service Concerting

bumbershoot_2013_limited_poster_18x24_large Seattle, WA – Labor Day Weekend 2013 – This was the 3rd time I’d attended the annual music, comedy and arts festival that has taken over Seattle Center for years.  It’s a good time when the band line-up is strong and this years had its share of standouts, more on those as you read on.  But, I realized the major drawback of the format this year – call it the disadvantages of “quick service concerting”.

To squeeze as much into the 3-day lineup as they do, bands have sets that aren’t any longer than an hour.  Most bands have sets that are 45 minutes.  It’s great exposure, there are always plenty of people on hand to see a set, even if they are waiting for the next band.   As a concert go’er there to see a few of your favorites, it can be hit or miss.  If your there for the experience all up, it is a great festival, and I’ll always love it for that.  Tons of food options, more entertainment than you know what to do with, all in the great retro-future, former World’s Fair location, Seattle Center.  If the weather cooperates, as it had that weekend, it’s a great place to be.  Throw in a beach visit and a BBQ and you can put together a great Labor Day weekend.  If the lineup is right, I’d always be happy to make a day of it and head down.

But, I think I’d temper my excitement to see a set from the bands I most want to see.  In the two days we went, the first day I turned over to my daughter basically.  She’s four and is a big fan of the latest Fun record.  Me, not so much.  Even so, happy to head into the event and bring her to her first “official” concert.  She’d seen Casper Baby Pants before, but this was her first time at a real “adult” concert.  We followed the throngs into the Key Arena – a shitty venue on the best day – and made our way up to the top section for the show.  Fun was Fun.  Did their thing, played the songs to sound almost exactly as you hear them on the album.  Isabel sang along and had a good time.  Mission accomplished.  We walked around a bit afterwards, but didn’t really see any other bands, just took in the events and activities.

On Labor Day, I made my way back by myself with my collection of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books for the down times and a plan to see Alt-J, Deerhunter & the Joy Formidable.  In between sets got to see the always fun Superchunk and Red Kross.  On the first day for the Fun show when we ended up in the nose bleed seats at Key Arena, I was worried that the floor was set only for VIPs.  My faith in Bumbershoot’s strategy for their first time use of Key Arena was restored on the 2nd day when I waited in a long line to get on the floor for the @Alt_J show.

ALT-J @BumbershootMy faith was further restored in the music fan yoots of our day.  I was very likely the oldest guy on the floor in a sea of kids excited to see Alt-J.  I think many of them were there for @whoisMGMT which were taking the stage right after, but it was clear during the Alt-J set that they were also big fans of the band.  And why not?  They were great.  There were echoes of Massive Attack and the trip hop bands of the 90s.  There was a seriousness to the show and their approach to the music.  A seriousness with a healthy dash of melody and fun to make the people go crazy.  Great musicians with a finger on the pulse of what is fresh and exciting while still being accessible.

They lined themselves up evenly across the front of the stage, rather than with the drummer set in the back.  I love that set up.  Seeing a lot more bands doing that when they have the space on the stage.  The democracy and the anti-ego of the cool kids shining through.  Their sound – as many people who have enjoyed An Awesome Wave know – is this effortless mix of psychedelic hip hop and rock.  All with a lyricism that might have you going to Wikipedia to understand the references.  It all transfers on stage, no light show needed, just high quality sound and material propelled by a band not slowing down any time soon.

After the Alt-J show, I made my way outside and over to the Fountain Lawn stage where I plopped down and pulled out my book.  I was holed up for the Deerhunter show in about 3 hours which I was VERY much looking forward to.  Here’s a plus side of Bumbershoot, grab some food – pretty much anything you ‘d want – grab a seat, do some people watching and wait, some music will come along in no time.  While I hung out and waited Red Kross and @Superchunk graced the stage.  Superchunk the stand out for me.  2nd time I’ve seen them and they are great fun.  Pure pop punk goodness.  A band that I sort of got into the first time around (Slack Motherfucker anyone?), but never really became a die hard fan.  But now, finally, having seen them a few times I can confidently say that they are trustworthy good time.

Deerhunter @Bumbershoot 2Finally, Deerhunter was up next.  Ever since my good friend Travis E from FL introduced me to them, they’ve made my top 5 bands of all time.  They are so good.  A perfect blend of psychedelic rock and punk, their albums make me want to play them over and over again.  I came in at their last record – Halcyon Digest – and went back to their first two records.  I saw how big a departure and homecoming that HD was.  It was their most accessible record to date.  Then, Monomania came out this year and challenged me.  Not as accessible as HD, but still an amazing record.  I expected to like it on the first listed.  There were a few standouts, but it was a bit of a head-scratcher.  Then, after a few more listens, it opened up to me.  Much more punk than HD. Maybe they got a few influences from their label mates The Black Lips.  Maybe this is what happens when you record the album overnight, sometimes into the early morning hours.  The band sites references from the Ramones to Bo Diddley.

Deerhunter @Bumbershoot 3Since I was introduced to Deerhunter years ago, I couldn’t wait to see them.  And it was not a let down, but it was a show that ended just as it was picking up steam.  The band had an hour or so and was billed as the “headliner” for that stage at the end of the day.  For someone as impulsive as Bradford Cox, Deerhunter’s lead singer, these kinds of restraints must drive him nuts.  The time they did spend on stage was great.  They sounded amazing, they diverted into strange soundscapes led by Bradford’s amazing guitar work from time to time, they played a great selection of songs from their catalog with a focus on Monomania tracks.

Bradford also made things interesting with his occasional diversions from the music.  He wore a wig for most of the show, he mocked the crowd for being too rowdy when we were anything but, he took a short break to smoke a cigarette behind an amp.  I think it’s the sign of a band having strong artistic leadership when their fronted by a charismatic and unpredictable artist.  The music world needs more characters.  A role that Bradford is happy take for himself as he explains in a Rolling Stone article from a few years back.   I admit I was a bit annoyed during the show that he was letting outside forces distract him, but it added to the experience instead of detracting from it.  I’d rather have a band and a front man that has high expectations, that creates a spectacle rather than one that goes through the motions.

Bradford reaches out

Bradford reaches out

After their time was up and the band reminded Bradford of the impending curfew, they ended the set with a ripping rendition of Monomania from the latest record of the same name.  It featured tons of feedback rips, crazy solos and sonic explorations.  The band left their instruments cranked and feeding back a ton of noise and they left the stage.  It was up to the concert crew to shut the instruments off.  The band was angry at the situation, Bradford was angry at us, but I was still grateful for what we’d seen.  Even a brief exposure to brilliance is better than none at all.

But, there is the difficulty with Bumbershoot, they try to put too much into it.  I’d rather there was one less band on the Fountain Lawn stage and a longer set list for Deerhunter than how they managed it.  I’d still go see Deerhunter in any circumstance vs. not having them come to town at all, but I’d have my expectations appropriately set for the future.

After the Deerhunter set, I made my way over to another stage for the overlapping Joy Formidable set that had started as Deerhunter was finishing up.  They too had a short set at the end of the day.  They also had a stage set up that had the drum kit right up front w/ the other band members, of which there are only two.  They too had struggles with their set, but theirs was with their equipment rather than their personalities.  Of their time, they probably had to spend 15 – 20 minutes of it trying to solve their drum kit problems.  The time they did spend playing music was good, a solid set.  But next to Deerhunter, it felt a little formulaic.  But, anything would.  Again, with Bumbershoot the way it is, I didn’t leave satisfied by a Joy Formidable set, like I was said by a full Arcade Fire set at Coachella from their first appearance there.  If you’ll do an outdoor festival, less is more.

Joy Formidable @BumbershootThe Joy Formidable are a great band, harkening back to the great grunge sounds of the 90s and aping a bit of Smashing Pumpkins.  They get more sound out of their 3 piece than some bands get with many more players.  Tons of energy, tons of appreciation from the band, a big loud sound.  I definitely need to see them again to really enjoy them, can’t really judge them as a live band based on what they did there, but what I did see was fun.  Two solid albums and a promising short set, I look forward to hearing what they do next, even if it won’t be as surprising or challenging as say the next turn Deerhunter will make.  It’ll be good clean fun.

All in all – Deerhunter and Alt-J ruled the weekend for me.  I’d definitely go back to Bumbershoot again, but only for a band I couldn’t miss otherwise.  If I had my druthers, their format would be more Coachella-like with bands playing full sets.  Keep the weekend packed w/ all the comedy and theater and such, but just pull back on the # of bands you try to squeeze in, let those are booked realize a full set.  Let them surprise us.

MGMeh

MGMT_Showbox_Sodo5/15/13, Showbox SODO, Seattle, WA – It seems to me like MGMT are a band at the crossroads.  One direction takes them down a more popular frat house dance track direction, while another takes them in a more exploratory electro-psych Animal Collective type of direction.  There are many more options for them, a band as good as MGMT has many options and fusions of their layered sound that will ensure they will be a fun and interesting band to follow for years to come.  They are smart artists who have the tools, but what mixture of fun and interesting will they combine in their next chapters?

Just focusing on this show, without saying anything about their albums, it seemed like the band was standing at that crossroad, determining which way to go.  As for the live performance alone, they went for the band route rather than the DJ route.  If given a choice between the two, that’s always what I’d rather see live.  But, I wish they had been at it a bit longer.  They seemed a little hesitant, a little reserved, a little unsure of the performance.

The songs that were going to be a dance party certainly were and the room was hopping for each track it should have been hopping for.  Which is to say, the show was still a ton of fun, it was an MGMT show after all.  It just felt like they were looking forward and weren’t in the moment.

The band was talented, sounded good, dancing was done, the visuals were impressive.  They are coming to Seattle again soon to play Bumbershoot, I’d definitely check them out and see how they are coming along.  Whichever direction they go from here, it’ll be worth going down the road with them.

Setlist – http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/mgmt/2013/the-showbox-sodo-seattle-wa-53d8537d.html

The Best Show I Practically Slept Through

3/29/13 Showbox Market, Seattle, WA – Clutch was a band that came out of the post-hardcore days of the early 90s when bands like Helmet and Quicksand were making a name for themselves.  When I first heard Clutch I knew they were to be taken seriously.  The first album was called “Transitional Speedway League”, featured a deerhoof lamp on its cover and my favorite song from it was “Binge and Purge”.   A song that ended with the chant “Come on Motherfucker, come on motherfucker, come on motherfucker, LET’S THROW DOWN” growl-screamed by the incomparable Neil Fallon.

That sealed it for me, these guys were for real as a menacing hardcore band.  I loved it.  I got into their 2nd self-titled album in college, but kind of lost touch w/ them after that.  I think I assumed that their amazing sound continued from album to album, that they were forever this great hardcore band with a little big of southern swagger thrown in.

And they still are, but so much more.  They have over 10 albums to date, the latest “Earth Rocker” came out this year.  I caught up on many of the records while I was preparing for the show and was pleasantly surprised at how varied their catalog was.  They were staying true to their roots but had clearly become (always were?) musicians who weren’t afraid to explore.

Across their catalog they honed in on their southern tinged hardcore sound, had some jamb band explorations, added horns at times, went southern-rap on one track, added a keyboardist – all things I did not expect from them at all.  I had them in this neat little box of hardcore and they expanded a lot on me.  All of it good, but some of it hard to wrap my ears around cause it was so unexpected.

I went with a friend who had gotten into them later in their career and was looking forward to a whole different part of their show.  Fun how two people can have such different experiences w/ the same band.  What I was really curious about was how Neil Fallon’s voice was going to hold up.  His amazing and unabashed growl is a big draw to Clutch for me and I wondered how it was holding up these days and how long he could keep it going at a live show.

While he’s got the gravitas to go for it, he’s also got the brains enough to take care of it.  He had plenty of water and mints of some sort on stage w/ him and was taking good care of his instrument.  He didn’t seem like a dick either.  Others in his shoes might be taken to posturing or being bored.  That they are above all of this.  That they are a badass.  This guy is a badass, but one who throws the cord of the mike around his neck, claps along with the song, dances a bit, grabs the tambourine, just has his own fun with it.  I loved that.

Then we have the guitarist – Tim Sult – who looks like my dad, just not trying to be cool or hip in any way.  Not even aware that those states of being exist.  He holds the neck of his guitar up close to his face, hangs hit gut out there and quietly kills it.  Dirge rock, ripping rhythms, awesome solos.  He’s the most understated guy in a band like this.

I love the show, but I could barely stay awake.  I came back from a week-long trip to LA that covered two TV shoots and the night before had been an epic LA sendoff with friends and coworkers that went into the wee hours of the morning.  I was practically a zombie at the show.  Which was in direct contrast to how I was feeling on the inside about the show.  It was great.  One criticism is that it was a bit short.  Would like to see them again and have them play like a 2.5 hour set.  That would cover a lot of great ground.

All of this together, Neil’s aplomb, the experimentation across their career, makes Clutch the most adventurous “hardcore” band out there.  Check them out if you don’t know them yet.

Setlist:
http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/clutch/2013/showbox-at-the-market-seattle-wa-23d88c2f.html

Quicksand!!!!

WP_20130118_001Quicksand – Showbox at the Market – 1/18/13 – The title of this post pretty much sums up my attitude going into this show. I was so freaking psyched to see these guys.  Quicksand is a band out of the early 90s made up of some members of NYC hardcore bands like the Gorilla Biscuits.  Their first album “Slip” was, and still is, a perfect album that combines the pure adrenaline of hardcore, with a good dash of NYC thrash polish that made it just a bit more accessible.

I saw Quicksand open up for Rage Against the Machine back in the day.  It was a great show.  Especially for me.  I felt like I was the only person at the front of the show getting excited about Quicksand.  Nobody knew who they were.  That was kind of their story.  They never really achieved mainstream success, even though that was the plan for their label Epitaph, who was able to find success for their label-mates at the time, Offspring.

This show was another in a short line of shows I’ve seen recently that have featured bands from my past who have reunited.  I’m not sure if this is a function of my old age or of the times, but I get really excited when these shows come along.  The last band that did this that got me this excited, that let me see a band that I’d pretty much written off was Swervedriver.

WP_20130118_003Given that the last time I’d seen Quicksand was with a RATM crowd who largely didn’t care, this show was much more a celebration.  The Showbox was almost sold out and very full of people who were just as excited, if not more excited to see their beloved band live again.  The pit in front of the stage – yes, there was one of those – was full of excited people slamming into each other and singing along to each lyric.

The band sounded great.  Yes, pretty much played the album note for note, but did vary things up enough to make things interesting.  Lead singer Walter sounded good, even with the slightly aged vocal chords.  They had a laser light show that wasn’t overly extravagant, but still seemed out of place at the show.  It does strangely fit in though, with the feeling that we all had in the room that this was an epic show that we all deserved to have come to our town and put us in a time machine for a few hours.  Great fun.

As you can see from the setlist below, with only two albums, they were able to play just about every song from both records, so you got to hear it all.  Everything that I’d been playing over and over again in the weeks leading up to the show.  That’s what was so great, and what was acceptable about them not mixing things up to much, this show delivered on the very singular and personal excitement we Quicksand fans have had to live with given only their albums to survive off of for so long.

http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/quicksand/2013/showbox-at-the-market-seattle-wa-43db8f2b.html

Now, guys, keep up the momentum, bring us a new album…please!!!!

The Epic Shows of my Former Self

A friend of mine suggested that to fill in the long spaces between new show reviews on this blog, I should look back at some of my favorite shows of all time.  These are the shows that blew my mind and left some great lasting memories. I tried to find shows that were long enough ago that they were clearly a part of my youth.  They are also the shows that I expect I’ll be able to brag about to my grand kids later, always a bonus.  If you’re a follower of my Ticket Stub Series, these are shows that I don’t have a ticket stub for, so these won’t find their way there and clearly needed a home.

311 @ the Axis in Boston:  This was the first one that came to mind.  I was a huge 311 fan back in their early days.  They were tailor-made for me as a college fool who spent high school listening to METAL and was finding a way to the alternative side.  A few bros and I made the journey down from Plymouth State College to Boston for the show and they were foolish enough to think they could get a ticket at the door.  They didn’t.  I had my college radio station connections and got in.  Lucky me.  I could have done the civil thing and bailed on the show and went out with the guys, but I was NOT going to miss 311 at the Axis.

The Axis was this little club on Landsdowne street in Boston right behind the illustrious Green Monstah of Fenway.  It’s a tiny club that held about 1,000 people.  So, it was going to be an intimate affair.  The show was just as 311 released their 2nd album “Grassroots” after the amazing debut “Music” had received decent attention. This was before the big radio hits of their 3rd record, but late enough that the buzz was big.  This was the perfect storm.  A band whose popularity is beyond the size of the space that they are booked for.  And I had my ticket to the show.

I don’t remember all the details from the show, but I do remember that it was amazing fun.  It was everyone jumping around thoroughly enjoying the show in a small club right on top of one another.  The songs from those first two albums were all plucky and fun, they hadn’t yet got into some of the poppier songs from their later records.  What I do remember is that I was having so much fun, I was compelled to take my shirt off.  I had never done that and I never have since. Then I ran into my cousin.  The stories over the next holiday were very entertaining.  It was just the thing to do at the time.  Go to a small club, see 311 in their prime, jump around like a fool without a care and have a blast.  That’s why this show pops in my memory first, it was just pure fun.

The First Time I Saw Metallica (’89):  I can’t believe I was at this show.  This is probably the one show that I’ll be able to impress the youngsters with, “Holy Shit, you saw Metallica during the ‘Damaged Justice’ tour?!”  And I’ll say “Yes, yes I did…”  I mean just scroll down a bit and link on over to the setlist from this show.  If you’re even an amateur Metallica fan, you know that this was an amazing mix of new and classic Metallica material.  This was just as their ascendance at the throne of rock god-dom was established.  “One” had been a hit for a while and they were selling out arenas all over the world.  And they came to Manch-Vegas in NH and me and some friends met there and had the best time.

This was my first serious show.  You’ll read below about the first show I ever saw, hair metal was my thing for a while.  Not that they weren’t good shows, but this was serious.  This was when I new rock could be dangerous and I loved it.  It was such a perfect set with just enough pageantry in the collapsing scales of justice that made it special without distracting from the military like assault of the music.  This one shaped my musical taste and expectations for shows forever.

Setlist – http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/metallica/1989/riverfront-park-manchester-nh-3bd6d4f8.html

My First Show Ever: Def Leppard & Tesla (’87):
Certainly a formative show given that it was the first time I ever saw a live rock show.  Mom dropped me off and picked me up and everything.  Classic in every way.  Well, in an 80s hair bend metal sort of way.  I will say that for hair metal bands, these two hold up very well.  Can’t say the same for say, Poison.  Mechanical Resonance from Tesla is still a great listen, as is pretty much all of Def Leppard’s catalog.  Again, can’t remember a lot of details from the show, but it was your big arena 80s hair band show and I’m proud to call it my first.

Setlist – http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/def-leppard/1987/cumberland-county-civic-center-portland-me-43d063b7.html

Hardcore!

Fugazi @ The Channel in Boston (’91): If I’m ever to claim any kind of real street cred, it will be because I’m a diehard Fugazi fan and because I saw them in the early 90’s at this seminal Boston rock club.  The long defunct “Channel” on the now gentrified waterfront in Boston was the home to many shows for me back in the day.  Mostly trash/death metal shows that couldn’t find a home anywhere else.

And Fugazi, they hold a very special place in my ear memories for a band that just has it all and never exploited it.  Their sound is a perfect mix of hardcore and accessible alternative.  This was a perfect small club gig in the early 90s when grunge was just making a name for itself and geeky little suburbanite like myself were coming to Fugazi gigs and sullying the waters for the true hardcore kids.  I didn’t care, or at the time, I didn’t even notice.  They sounded great in this little club, the audience was entertaining to watch and I will forever be glad that I got to see the seminal band live.

The Channel – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Channel_(nightclub)

Dan Deacon Should Rule the World

Dan Deacon, Neptune Theater, October 30, 2012 – I don’t feel like I am worthy of writing about the amazing and vast creative force that is Dan Deacon, or that I’ll be able to sufficiently capture the awesomeness of his live shows, but I’m compelled to give it a go.

I first came to know Dan Deacon back in 2008 when a friend Gabriel Mirlin suggested I go check him out at Bumbershoot that year.  I had no idea what I was headed for.  Gabriel just told me to trust him, that it was going to be a great show.  Gabriel has very good taste in music so I went for it, by myself.  The show was in a large underground room in one of the many buildings that dot the Seattle Center grounds.  It was kind of like a room in a big high school that you’d play dodge ball games in occasionally.

Dan Deacon's Set Up

Wires & Fruit

At one end of the long room was a stage, but the “set up” was located on the floor in front of the stage instead of on it.  The room quickly filled with mostly kids who sat quietly and patiently on the floor right up close to the front and waited for the show to start.  How the show got started I don’t recall, but I know that I proceeded to have some of the most fun I’ve ever had at a show.

This initial experience of mine with Dan Deacon was completely that, experience. I hadn’t listened to any of his music before I went to the show, I just went on the faith of a friend.  I did think the music was great, but what was much more impactful that first time was how fervently devoted his fans were, how much fun everyone was having, how clean the fun was and how masterfully Dan lightly orchestrated it all.

I had so good a time at that first show, that I posed pictures on Facebook, told anyone who would listen that they had to see him live, just reveled in the warm glow of the show. Amazing music, full on friendly rave scene, surprising “activities” like a relay race and a dance off.  Interestingly, I didn’t immediately go out and find his music.  I was happy enough to just enjoy the show.  I did check out the album that I now see is him at the crossroads between goofy and serious – “Spiderman of the Rings”.  It’s an album I would come back to occasionally, but only to listen to some gems like “Woody Woodpecker”.  I now know it’s an amazing album, but I only dabbled at the time.

Dan Deacon MarqueeFast forward a few years and I grab myself a copy of Bromst, cause it’s free.  I dabble again.  Nothing serious.  Then I found out that Dan Deacon is coming back to Seattle, and I’m beside myself.  I buy tickets WAY in advance.  I get myself whipped up into a lather.  I can’t wait to experience that pure, unadulterated fun again.  I convinced a few friends that they should come, and I’m very happy to report that 3 daring people who clearly have good taste took me up on the adventure.

I tried to tell them how much fun it was going to be, shared pictures, showed them YouTube Videos, they were excited.  They just didn’t understand yet. They couldn’t before they experienced it themselves.

Then “America” came out.  My friend Todd listened to it before I did, and he then understood Dan at a deeper level.  Cause that’s where DD went with America, a deeper level.  It’s an amazing, complex, enjoyable, utterly fascinating record. It was clearly more serious record than his earlier work, although he’d started down that path with Bromst.  How might that affect his live show?  The first time I saw him, it was so stripped down and awesome.  If he was taking his music a bit more seriously now, what would that mean for the crazy fun of his show?

Dan Deacon Seattle 2012I’m happy to report that DD has put a deft hand upon his live show and effectively married frivolous fun with the respect he is due for being a serious musician.  Going into the show, I wondered, would he have live musicians, would he still be on the floor, was he going to “nerf” his approach and sterilize what was an organic and wonderful experience the first time?

Ok, so enough lead in.  The show was amazing.  With the ability to look backwards after the show ended, I realized that he had his opening bands as the projects of the members of his band that he had supporting him.  In total there were 4 opening acts, all totally different and surprising.  I can’t go into all of that, cause there are probably 2 – 3 other blog posts required just to talk about the weird awesomeness that was the opening acts.  One of which was a 15 – 20 PowerPoint presentation about a guy and his virtual version of himself he created.  It was weird and funny and awesome and unexpected.

So, I can’t write words here that can sufficiently describe the feeling one gets from a Dan Deacon show.  It’s just not possible, you just have to see it for yourself.  But, he did find an amazing balance between making his live show more “professional” while also maintaining that stripped-down, kid-like fun that I experienced the first time.  He didn’t have his set up on the floor, he had a “electronic pulpit” for himself and one next to him for his other band member.  He also had a keyboardist and a drummer.

Dan Deacon Show 1And then, he had the “activities”.  Dan is famous for them at his live shows, and it’s what I came away from the first show talking about at length.  Dance offs.  Relay races.  The first activity at this show was that Dan asked us all to take a knee and point to this sun sculpture on the ceiling.  Everyone did.  All except one guy.  Dan called him out, but in a nice way.  Not sure if he took a knee or not.  If I remember right, the first show included something like this, something that brings the crowd together and prepares the community to have a good time and respect each other.

We're Outside!!!!

We’re Outside!!!!

Over the course of the rest of the show, there were a few activities, most notably the human tunnel that was created by asking the entire audience to connect hands with a neighbor and make space in front of each pair for a person to file under.  It started with a dozen or so couples and then people funneled through.  As each person went through, they built a pair with the another person.  The tunnel built it’s way out of the Neptune, onto the street and around the building and back in.  It was awesome. Rushing through a tunnel of your peers was such a simple and good time.  Cheering people on outside as they went through, making your way back into the venue.  Totally juvenile and totally fun.  This one would have felt a bit forced if I didn’t immediately understand when I participated.

Dan, get back on the decks!

Dan, get back on the decks!

Grabbing some snaps on my cell phone while cheering people on, I even happened to randomly catch the man himself coming through his own glorious creation.

The other piece of performance art that made an impact was a point when everyone was asked to take out their cell phones, those who noticed the URL during the beginning of the show had downloaded a Dan Deacon app, or maybe they already had one.  They were asked to turn the app over to the “live show” section.  He did a few tests.  Dan Deacon Live - Phone SyncEveryone’s phones responded in perfect unison.  It was like a progression from what Arcade Fire did at Coachella a few years back with balls that were released into the crowd that had a synchronized light show embedded in them.  During the song that DD played next, the phones blinked different colors, the flashlights in the phones strobbed on and off.  It was a fun little addition to the show and make me wish they released the app on my Windows Phone.  =(

Dan Deacon LiveThe rest of the show was an electro dance party of the highest order.  The highlight for me was ‘Wham City’ from Spiderman of the Rings.  Such a fun song.  He cut it short a bit, which I get, it’s an 11 minute song.  It was the Saturday of Halloween weekend, so the band came out with Kiss makeup and green wigs, which made for a bit of fun.  They are celebrating that with a pic of the brand pre-show on Dan Deacon’s web site.

I really can’t wait for the next time Dan comes to town, I just hope it isn’t a holiday when a lot of people are distracted doing something else, the show should have had a lot more people at it.  Dan Deacon is working really hard to entertain us, to challenge us to have some good clean fun, it’s the least we can do to show up and comply.  He wants to make the world a better place by spreading joy one show and one nutty fun activity at a time.