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)

My Top 10 Albums for 2012

In some semblance of an order:

  1. Deep Sea Diver – History Speaks
  2. The Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
  3. Dan Deacon – America
  4. Porcelain Raft – Strange Weekend
  5. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel is Wiser…
  6. David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
  7. Tennis – Young & Old
  8. The Big Pink – Future This
  9. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
  10. The Ting Tings – Sounds from Nowheresville

Honorable mentions:

  • Beach House – Bloom
  • Aimee Mann – Charmer

 

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.

Top Fucking Shelf

David Byrne & St. Vincent – 5th Avenue Theater, 10/17/12 – Seattle: I was a little skeptical going into this show, I have to admit.  As much as I love David Byrne and The Talking Heads, the only time I’d ever seen him live was years ago during his solo years at a show at Berkeley in Boston.  It was a very experimental and avante garde show.  I couldn’t get into it.  Mr. Byrne had since released the amazing “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today”, which saw him returning to fertile ground in his partnership with Brian Eno.  It’s an amazing album.  I missed him for that tour, bummer.  So, ok, this would be the next best thing.

Now he was working with an unknown quantity (to me at least) on his collaboration with St. Vincent on the recently released “Love This Giant”.  People were telling me how awesome St. Vincent was, but I hadn’t had time to listen to her before the show.  I also didn’t have a ton of time to really let their collab album sink in.  I could tell there were moments of genius, but I hadn’t really absorbed it yet.

A random group of us with my friend Emily as the nucleus had a great dinner before the show and unfortunately got there 1 song in, they played the single form the album – ‘Who’.  I hate when that happens, but we rolled with it.  The 5th Avenue Theater is a place where a lot of “theater” happens and it is a beautiful place with a lot of seats in the balcony, so we quickly found our home. Proceed with the mind-blowing.  The show was amazing.

David was in his white suit with a headset mic; St. Vincent had her guitar and a honkin’ foot petal set up off to stage left; behind her a keyboardist/synch/sounds guy; back right was the drummer and walking, dancing, strutting, generally killing it was a bevy of wind musicians who rounded out the sound with a ton of big-band-like depth.  You could see Mr. Byrne’s hands all over this, the musicians (save for the drummer and the keyboardist) didn’t just rock, they performed art.  There were choreographed routines where the band with Byrne and Ms. Vincent would march around stage as they performed their songs.  For “Cheerleader” from St. Vincent, the whole band laid down on the floor while she performed a huge powerful cord masher, David Byrne sitting up from his prone position during the rockin parts, his only role on the song without his vocals was to round out the performance art in an interesting and unique way reminiscent of the performance art he would work into the live shows for the Talking Heads.  They did come out of RISD after all…

David Byrne is listed first in the presentation of their group – David Byrne and St. Vincent – but based on the jaw dropping performance of Ms. Vincent, it would be understood if you called them St. Vincent and David Byrne, she was incredible.  The performance they put together with those amazing musicians made me appreciate their album anew, in listens afterwards I heard songs that they played that night that were so amazing and deliver most of what we saw on stage even in a less than ideal car setting.  It also made me understand all of what people were saying about St. Vincent before the show.  I needed to immediately become a fan of hers.

She towers over everything that she does.  She has this raw sexual energy, vamped out in a mini skirt and heels, and a serious understanding of music as theory and as raw emotion.  In my subsequent research, I learned that she started playing guitar at a very young age and attended Berkeley, and the child-like excitement and the technical prowess both shone through.  She is a force to be reckoned with.  There is something I like to call “PJ Harvey 2.0” going on between her and the lead singer for Deep Sea Diver, Jessica Dobson.  All three dark-haired beauties who command and get respect through command of their craft.  Amazing to listen to, transfixing to watch.

Now that I was a convert of Ms. Vincent and this collaboration, I could enjoy all that it had to offer and it offered a lot.  Classics from the Talking Heads like “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” and “Burning Down the House” to songs from St. Vincent’s catalog that were amazing and of course songs from the album.  “Naive Melody” made everyone in the room so freaking happy, there was raw joy in the air that led to a very long-standing ovation afterwards.  St. Vincent told this great story of how she first came to learn about The Talking Heads from the movie “Revenge of The Nerds” which led into “Burning Down The House” after a pit stop at another song.  It was a great tease, “she’s talking about ‘Burning Down the House’, I can’t believe they are going to play that, I’m so excited…oh, they aren’t going to play it…ok…that’s fine…WAIT they are!!!”  The one that was grabbing my attention from their album before the show and delivered completely was the hauntingly poppy “Ice Age” which prominently features St. Vincent.

Overall, this was top fucking shelf entertainment in every way.  Complete professionals at the top of their game and a great collaboration of extremely talented musicians young and old.  Can I have some more please?

Setlist from a San Francisco show, which was very similar to what we heard here, couldn’t find our set list:

Dinosaur Jr. Broke My Ears

The Neptune, Oct. 12th, 2012, Seattle, WA – Dinosaur Jr. was a big band during my college days back in the early 90’s.  They were one of the bands who helped make my transition from heavy metal to alternative rock an easier one.  Dinosaur Jr. had that alternative college rock sound but had a hard edge and a ripping guitar solo in every song that I responded to.

Green Mind was the big album at the time and the bands major label debut.  I’m just now reading up on the on Wikipedia on their history and learned a few things.  I knew they were from Western Mass, so there was some home town pride involved, but I was reminded (I swear I knew this at one point) that the bassist my friend Todd and I were standing inches from was Lou Barlow, the indie rock impresario who started the band with J. Mascis and who had his own seminal side project Sebadoh which he focused on after he was kicked out of the band.

So, with that aside – if you want to get more history, check out the Wikipedia page – let’s focus on the show itself.  Something else I didn’t know until hearing it among the crowd that night is how loud Dinosaur Jr. is live.  You don’t hear that mentioned often enough these days, that a band is loud.  Just that is so old school.  I loved them for that.  In looking at the stage set up they had going on, it was clear they were going to rock, they had a ton of equipment on the little stage and the stacks were pushed up near the front for maximum ear bleed potential.  On top of that, my friend Todd and I secured a spot really close to the stage near the beginning of the show.  We were right next to one of the PA speakers.

Todd, meet Mr. Speaker

At first, when Dinosaur Jr. played the first few songs, it felt like I wasn’t going to be able to make it.  My eardrums are pretty blown out at this point, so it’s not that I’m not used to some loud noise, but the sound was coming through so muddy.  I couldn’t make out the individual parts, it wasn’t a good clean sound.  This is something I’ve been more in tune to recently, and I worry that one of my favorite spots to see shows in Seattle – Neumos – suffers from band sound design.  Or no sound design.  I haven’t experienced that at the Neptune yet, but being right up front seemed to be a problem.

I kept looking over at Todd to see if he wanted to bail and to his credit he didn’t, we stuck it out, and it paid off.  After a few songs, my ears had built up enough tolerance and I started to be able to distinguish between the songs different parts.  And I loved that we were where we were for the show.  It’s rare that you get that good a spot without a crush of people behind you.  And, as it turns out we had one in front of the amazing Lou Barlow.

Lou Barlow

For me, rock n’ roll in a picture

I enjoyed every song, it was a ton of fun being that close.  I recognized only a few tracks – Dinosaur Jr has a huge catalog and I didn’t follow them too religiously back in the day – but watching those guys work and get so into it, Mascis and his amazing guitar work, while we leaned on the stage was a special thing.  It was fun to see on their bigger songs a fairly large mosh pit break out, not too often you see those these days, but I shouldn’t have been too surprised that it happened in Seattle.

This pic here of Lou Barlow got retweeted by the band @dinosaurjr – a geeky social media trend I’m digging, Dan Deacon favorited a post of mine recently.  Sorry for the bit of navel gazing, but I think it’s interesting how connected we can be to the artists these days, if you can consider Twitter engagement any kind of connection.

I look forward to the next time Dino Jr. comes to town, but for the ear hangover I had for days after, I might enjoy it from further back.

Aimee Mann Is So Fucking Hot

Aimee Mann on Bass

Aimee Mann on Bass

The Neptune, Seattle, 10/3/12 – Can I just get the least interesting part of this post out-of-the-way?  Aimee Mann is so fucking hot.  A tall blonde in glasses who can play guitar, wears cool clothes and is quick to crack a joke?  And she’s originally from the Boston area, so that helps.  I have to admit that some part of my being drawn to her is her picture-esque-ness.  She’s just so damn hot.

Ok, with that out-of-the-way, we can get down to business, the music business.  What drew me to Aimee Mann originally was the amazing movie that holds a spot in my top 5 of all time – Magnolia, by the amazing Paul Thomas Anderson.  The Master – in theaters now!  As the story goes, PT had heard songs that Aimee was developing for her 3rd album – Bachelor #2 – and loved them so much, that the characters she was drawing were very similar to those he was imagining for his movie that he opted to 9 songs for his movie and its soundtrack.  So ingrained the songs were in the movie that at one point the characters sing the song “Wake Up” in a scene, in a little musical montage.  It’s just one of the clever little twists PT did in the movie that make it unique and forever tie Aimee Mann to Magnolia.

The characters that PT and Aimee were fleshing out at the time are characters that Aimee tends to write about – folks on the fringe of our society, down and out but tending to find that spark that keeps them moving forward.  The most obvious example of this is her “concept album” – “The Forgotten Arm” from 2008 that weaves its songs around the story of a boxer and his struggles through a waning sport, relationships, drug problems.  These are the gritty realities that Aimee writes about and finds interest in.  From her “Till Tuesday” days with “Voices Carry”, her characters would not do the expected or fall in line, they would fight.

For someone who tends towards the harder edge, I do find it challenging at times to warm right up to a new Aimee Mann record, her sound is more on the pop blues end of things and at first listen seems not to have any real edge to it.  But when you listen to an album like “Lost in Space” – her best album IMHO, you hear those gut wrenching stories set to the weepy guitar and Aimee’s elegant voice and you can’t help but be drawn in.  I’m probably giving her more of a chance with each record than I would a similar artist given how hard I fell for her when Magnolia came out.

Her latest record “Charmer” is not her bestAimee Mann Neptune Marquee record, but definitely has a few tracks of greatness like “Barfly” or “Living a Lie” featuring James Mercer of the Shins.  I wasn’t too worried about that going into the show at the Neptune, any Aimee Mann show is going to be a good one, and this one was, but it was a little sad too.  It was very sparsely attended.  I had high hopes for this show to return Aimee to form for me seeing her live, and this show did that for me.  The show before this one was when I saw her at the Woodland Park Zoo a few years ago.  That was a calamitous show.  Don’t get me started.  This show was definitely better, but didn’t get her all the way back to the amazing Brooklyn gig from the “Lost In Space” tour.  Those shows were collected in an excellent CD/DVD set “Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse” that is always a great view and listen.

Aimee Mann @ the NeptuneAimee travels with this great set of musicians, but all the personality from the show comes from her.  One of the great moments of the show was when John Roderick, the lead singer from the Long Winters, joined her on stage to take the place of James Mercer on the formerly mentioned duet.  There was a bit of comedy as John struggled with his mike stand.

The set featured quite a few visits to the new record and a few visits to the past, like Humpty Dumpty, which was one of my favorite tracks.  Her and her band sounded great, the musicality and the skill never in question.

I’ll never give up on Aimee Mann, just as she never gives up on her characters, I just hope that more people over time discover how great Aimee is and that her great live shows are experienced by more and more people.

My Fried Chicken Jacket

Fried Chicken @ MMJ

Fried Chicken Foreground

My Morning Jacket, Marymoor Park, Redmond, WA, 9/7/12 – As soon as I saw the ad for the My Morning Jacket show in my goto punk rag – The Stranger – I immediately hit the interwebs, went to the Ticketbastard web site and got two tickets and invited my wife.  My wife doesn’t go to many shows – sadly she has rheumatoid arthritis and can’t join me at the club gigs where you have to stand for a few hours.  Not that she’d want to – our music taste differs slightly.  But, I had the feeling that a summer night at Marymoor outside with a picnic dinner and some lawn chairs would be an easy sell.  Gladly, it was.

I’d never been to Marymoor Park, although we’d tried once before. We had tickets to the park to see Death Cab for Cutie a few years back, but I’m pretty sure I accidentally put those tickets in the mail.  I learned to stop putting tickets in envelopes in the same place as the outgoing mail at our house.  I hope someone got to enjoy the show.  Given that I’d never been, had screwed myself out of going once and that I am a recent and passionate My Morning Jacket (MMJ) convert, I was very much looking forward to the show.

MMJ-Circuital

Some great recent album art

I’ve experienced MMJ in reverse order. I’d heard some songs from their recent records “Z” and “Evil Urges” on our beloved Seattle KEXP, had heard enough to intrigue me to sit down and really give a serious listen to their latest, 2011’s “Circuital”.  It’s awesome, from beginning to end.  Not a bad track on it.  A great blend of psychedelic rawk, upbeat toe-tapping folksy tunes and none of it takes itself too seriously.  They play somewhere in the space between Wilco and Kings of Leon.  Thankfully closer to the Wilco side. I found myself many a time singing to myself playing the album near full blast in the car.  It completely satisfied and had me wanting to start back again from the beginning.

From there, I went back and got a feel for “Z”, an album I actually had in my digital collection but hadn’t really explored.  It was the first album that saw the departure for the band from their earlier, southern folk rock sound.  I like to think that bands like MMJ or Wilco have been influenced by Radiohead to push the boundaries of their rock sound.  Probably my Radiohead bias creeping in, but I think there’s something to it.  MMJ could have been a largely forgettable band had they stayed on the course set out on their early records.  Whatever had them adding to their sound, it’s a course I very much appreciate.  The follow up to “Z” was “Evil Urges”, which finds lead singer Jim James exploring some falsetto levels of his voice.  It firmly established the more fun side of the band.  I almost think of the two records as one experience, since I really heard them both for the first time so close to one another.  Through all of this MMJ broke into my current top 10 bands, no small feat for someone who always has a crowded musical mantlepiece.

Live stage @ Marymoor Park

Our real estate for the night

Marymoor Park is a great place to see a show.  Their summer musical calendar is kind of limited, but if you can find a band you’d like to see there, I highly recommend it.  The live stage is tucked into the corner of a very large state park and holds about 5,000 people.  My wife and I had big plans for the night (more on that later) and had someone bringing our daughter home from day care, so we were fee and clear to get to the spot early and enjoy the evening and have a bite to eat.  The rules are very lax at Marymoor Park, also making it super enjoyable.  Just don’t bring in booze or glass and you’re fine.  Bring in a beach chair, a picnic, sit and enjoy.  Swing on over to the beer tent and bring a beer back to your spot.  My wife picked up a box of Ezell’s Fried Chicken and we packed a cooler full of accoutrement and were well on our way.

Ezell's Fried Chicken

Oprah’s favorite fried chicken

I’ve never eaten fried chicken at a concert before and I highly recommend it.  I wasn’t immediately hungry, so I didn’t start eating until MMJ had started and there was still a bit of light in the sky.  I highly recommend that experience if you can get it.  Nice night, sitting in a beach chair with my wife, drinking a beer, eating fried chicken and listening to some live rawk music from one of my favorite bands.  I loves me a good rawk club show, but it’s hard to beat the rock n’ roll high life.

MMJ Live Show

MMJ Live Show

So, how was the show itself?  Great.  Although I didn’t think so at first.  The show played out the same way as their catalog, with their earlier stuff coming first, and the more psychedelic later catalog coming later in the show.  It made me nervous at first that I wasn’t going to know as many songs or enjoy the show as much, but it turned a corner for me mid way through the show.  I started to recognize a lot more songs and enjoy the set a lot more.  Their sound is so well suited for an outdoor setting.  Big, spacey drawn out sonics driven by a great Southern rawk tradition that keeps it from ever getting too jam bandy.

It is the 2nd half of MMJ’s career that occupies that psychedelic space that I like the most and I was glad to see the concert head in that direction.  They played many of the songs I wanted to hear.  Now, I’m realizing that I didn’t catch up on one of their records – It Still Moves.  I’m looking forward to going back and seeing what that sounds like.  Kind of works in my favor though, since we left the show a bit early and missed a few of the encore tracks from that record. See a link to the set list below.

I typically don’t leave a show early, especially one that I look forward to this much for a band this good.  But, my wife and I were going to a club opening here in Seattle.  Yeah, we’re that cool and I’m that vain to mention it.  This never happens anymore for this married couple with a 3 year old.  A concert and a club opening in one night.  Any kind of club opening for that matter.  Turns out our night was kind of like the two halves of MMJ’s career as well – the earlier, mellow, but awesome part and the later, crazier and a bit more wild part.  Two flavors that go great together!