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Posts Tagged ‘9:30 Club’

Battles… zzzzzz

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

I saw Battles, those math-rock sensations, last night at the 9:30 Club. (Random note: for some reason, saying “math rock” to people not familiar with the genre makes them snicker. Try it, it’s fun.) I didn’t even bother to bring my camera — that’s two shows in a row (saw Robert Plant & Alison Krauss on Friday night, and never got a photo pass confirmed for that one). Left me plenty of headspace to focus on the music. I have Mirrored and, honestly, it doesn’t do much for me, which is disappointing because so many people who like the same kind of stuff I do have been raving about it. But I’ve heard great things about their concerts, and there have been many a band that turned me into a fan through their live performances, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

There was no mistaking what this band is all about, based on their stage setup: the drummer was placed front and center, flanked by three guys playing guitar or bass, each of them doubling on keyboards or electronics. Said drummer was definitely the center physically as well as visually — this guy has the most inefficient drumming style ever, with each stroke preceded by a backswing akin to a golfer’s. It was indicative of his lack of compactness of movement that he had a massive cymbal raised three feet above his head, for no good reason other than it looked cool whenever he had to raise his arm all the way up to strike it. With all that flailing, it was amazing that he could play as fast and as precisely as he did.

And no doubt, these guys are tight, and precise, and mathy. Oddly, they reminded me of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin more than anything else, in that the entire ensemble was basically one giant rhythm section, with the occasional jagged melody almost an afterthought. My complaint with Mirrored is that the melodies that do exist are kind of silly (which I realize is not an accident, and is probably the intent) and nothing to really get excited about, and that the band often get stuck in the same groove for way too long. Live, I hoped that their intensity would mitigate these things, but it didn’t really happen. They only played a 45 minute set, but by then I’d already pretty much had my fill. (If I’d been a real fan I would have been pretty pissed though.)

Guess this is one highly regarded band I’ll just have to let pass me by.

The Hard Sell

Friday, January 25th, 2008

I have a couple interesting things to write about (thoughts on a couple books, mainly), but wanted to report on the second show of 2008 for me, which was last night at the 9:30 ClubDJ Shadow and Cut Chemist. I’ll betray my total ignorance here: this was the first time I’ve ever seen a show like this before. In fact, the only time I’ve ever seen a live turntablist was when I saw The Beta Band, who at times indulged in some scratching. I do have a couple DJ Shadow albums, and I have an early album by opener Kid Koala, and have heard him on records like Deltron 3030 as well.

With this minimal experience in mind, I had a lot of fun last night. Each performer used four turntables; Kid Koala’s solo act might actually have been my favorite. He really took his set above and beyond the source material he used, including one rather jaw-dropping section where he lifted up the stylus and placed it on different parts of a spinning record, in succession, creating a melody not unlike some of those that appear on the aforementioned Deltron 3030 (I think towards the end of “Things You Can Do” is a good example, but that’s offhand and I’m not sure my memory is right).

On the other hand, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist’s performance seemed a lot less coherent, and more dependent on the source material. They used a really wide variety of 7″ records, but the whole thing was just a bit too pastichey for me. Still, their talent was undeniable (Cut Chemist in particular showed off some pretty ridiculous chops) and their closing gimmick — imitating the hyperspeed guitar riffing from Metallica’s “One” — was hilarious and awesome. These guys might not be “musicians” in the traditional sense, but they absolutely are artists, working in a particularly postmodern field.

This is going to be a common theme throughout the year — I took some photos. SLRs (for the uninitiated, this basically means professional cameras, though not exactly) were not allowed, so I was using a cheap point & shoot digital camera, but here they are anyway.

Explosions in the Sky: Post-rock for the masses

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

Post-rock for the masses came to DC last night, as Explosions in the Sky played to a sold-out house at the large 9:30 Club. I am still having a hard time comprehending how these guys have been selling out nearly all their shows, or how their latest album actually, according to their label’s latest newsletter, “debuted on the Billboard Top 100 Pop Charts at a crisp #76 (right between P. Diddy and Jill Scott)!” So bizarre. The crowd at the show was mostly indie-rockers, with a lot of college students mixed in, and it occurred to me that while Explosions‘ upbeat, major-key post-rock is very accessible for folks in general, it’s also perfect hipster date music. Sure enough, there were a bunch of couples at the show.

My friend and I skipped Eluvium, having seen him at the Warehouse Nextdoor a couple years ago in what was one of my worst concert experiences ever — he actually turned me off from staying to see the band I’d come for, Mono. Unfortunately, we arrived in time for the second opening band, The Paper Chase, who had the distinction of being perhaps the worst opening band I’ve seen since Melomane opened for Wilco last year. Aside from a few off-the-wall guitar solos, this was mostly moronic indie-cock-rock, and the only reason these guys were on the bill is because they’re from Texas, as is Explosions. Not a particularly brilliant pairing otherwise.

All was forgiven when Explosions in the Sky started their set at 8:45, the earliest I’ve ever seen a show at one of these indie clubs in DC (and after very little changeover time after The Paper Chase went offstage). It was a beautiful thing. So, at times, was the music: they played their material very close to the vest, without much variation from the studio albums at all, but they were still pretty powerful. The sound in the louder parts wasn’t great, as the interlocking guitars got pretty hard to hear, but overall it was a decent show, though as with many post-rock shows, it had its share of less exciting moments. The setlist was the exact same as the one they played a few days before in Asheville — I have a fantastic recording of that show — so sadly the element of surprise was lost for me. Oddly, they only played about half of the new album, and didn’t play what I feel is easily the centerpiece song from it, the opening “Birth and Death of the Day.” They played a lot of stuff from the popular The earth is not a cold dead place, and even a couple from Those who tell the truth…, which were noticeably more “rocking” than the more recent material.

Not surprisingly at a sold-out show, a big part of the concert experience was the crowd. The club was pretty packed, and most of the crowd didn’t seem to know when the songs ended — the band mostly transitioned seamlessly between songs — and so people were basically applauding every time the group went from loud to soft. That was kind of annoying. More annoying were the testosterone-laden, probably intoxicated, assholes who kept yelling “YEAH!!!” halfway through every soft section. Did they know anything about the show they had come to? I wonder. Anyway, none of this surprised me, nor did it actually annoy me as much as I expected it to, but it was certainly interesting to see how “post-rock for the masses” played out in a live setting to a packed house. The crowd was very enthusiastic in general though, which was nice to see, calling boisterously for an encore that never came (also not surprising, since they didn’t play one at the Asheville show; maybe they just don’t ever do encores on principle for some reason?).

Isis @ the 9:30 Club: unlistenable

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Last Sunday night, Isis appeared at the 9:30 Club to play for a mostly sedate crowd of post-rock and nerd-metal types. I was among them, and suffice it to say I was disappointed at best and angry at worst. Here’s what I posted to Bob’s ProgAndOther list:

I saw them last Sunday in DC and was really, really disappointed. Glad the show in Philly had good (if loud) sound - the DC show was ridiculous. I think there was a monkey behind the soundboard; the bass was so boomy it overwhelmed everything else, and the kick drum was equally bad - if not worse because it was so loud it took all the subtlety out of the “quiet” parts. I could barely hear the guitars at all, and even though Isis is one of my favorite bands and I know all their material, there were a couple songs I couldn’t recognize because I literally couldn’t tell what they were playing. I was pretty seriously annoyed at the sound guys and left after 45 minutes or so.

I saw them put on a great show last year, so I pretty much blame this fiasco entirely on the club’s crappy sound. Oh well - at least I did manage to snag that Live 4 CD :)

I hate it when idiot soundmen ruin otherwise great performances. And this is the second time this has happened to me lately at the 9:30; Mastodon a little while back was similarly unlistenable. Thankfully, most of the rock bands that pique my interest these days are playing at smaller venues with slightly saner volume levels.

Mastodon @ the 9:30 Club: sucked

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

Last night I saw about an hour of Mastodon live at the 9:30 Club. An hour only, because I didn’t really enjoy myself. I got there late and the show was sold out, so I was stuck in the back corner of the club, where bouncers would periodically push through to throw particularly rowdy folks out the door, and where, more importantly, the sound was atrocious. I don’t know if it was any better closer to the middle of the floor, but in the corner, the volume was nearly unbearable (and I had earplugs) and there was an omnipresent high-pitched screeching that I guess was caused by all the noise bouncing off the walls around me. So to be honest I couldn’t tell if the band put on a good show or not; the crowd certainly was eating it up. (Metal crowds are really incomparable when it comes to really, viscerally showing enthusiasm for the music.) They sounded a little sloppy to me, but, you know, not really being able to hear anything might have contributed to that impression.

An equally big problem is that for the hour that I stayed, they were pretty much just playing Blood Mountain straight through. I have come to really dislike that album, and live it didn’t come off much better; if anything, it seemed even wankier. For me, the whole concert was a battle between wanting to leave early and wanting to stay long enough to hear them do some older stuff. The former urge won out in the end.

Three fantastic 9:30 Club shows

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Thanks to the thoughtfulness of a friend (many thanks, Chris), I was, in the end, able to go to Wilco last Thursday despite striking out resoundingly in my earlier efforts to secure a ticket. The show sold out in minutes, so naturally the house was packed with plenty of enthusiastic and apparently experienced fans. Chris and I caught a decent chunk of Melomane, the opening band, whose set ranged from ordinary to awful. Their last song in particular sported some of the worst, most heavy-handed “political” lyrics ever penned — “you’re a pacifist/but sometimes you get pissed,” and something about assassinating the president and killing the people on the Hill. Right.

All was forgiven once Nels Cline and company, I mean Jeff Tweedy and company, took the stage. They chose a peculiar song to open with, “Radio Cure,” but overall played a great set with a good amount of energy. They didn’t come close to matching the show of theirs I saw last year, but that was also a show on a long tour and the second of two nights they played in DC. Then, they played for two and a half hour with a ton of interaction between Tweedy and the crowd; this time around, Tweedy was relatively quiet and the band played for a still-considerable two hours. Also, then was the first time I ever heard Cline with the band, and I was just blown away by his stuff; this time around I knew what to expect.

Oddly enough, the highlight of the show for me was a new song (probably called “Impossible Germany”) about which Chris said, “sounds like The Allman Brothers” with a somewhat incredulous look on his face. This song featured a three-guitar jam that was just beautiful, and was so unexpected that I was grinning through the whole thing. It was also at this point that I really realized, as if I hadn’t known before, that I am a total Nels Cline fanboy. He played beautifully on this song and pretty much every other one as well, for the most part adopting a smooth, high tone over which he had complete control. Of course, he was also quite adept at making a shitload of noise, but that should be no surprise to anyone.

Good show then, although I just ran across this great live review at PopMatters that makes this one pale in comparison.

Also, I failed to report on the two shows I saw a few weeks ago at the same place (the 9:30 Club, which has most remarkably clean and clear sound quality of any dingy club I’ve ever been to): Yo La Tengo and Massive Attack. They were both excellent, and the former was close to transcendent. Ira Kaplan has to be one of the absolute best in the business at making, as Robert Fripp would say, “a lot of noise with one guitar,” sounding like he’s always almost about to completely lose control, but always bringing it back down to earth and making his noise sound melodic and beautiful (I’ll stop short of “accessible,” but it’s close). His guitar work really made the Yo La Tengo show a visceral experience — their rhythm section is rather staid and static, but that’s always been their style.

Massive Attack was a completely different experience, a sensual concert with an elaborate light show that at times made me feel like I was at a dance club rather than a rock club. The band had their full complement of guest vocalists on tour with them, which was awesome, and their slow beats, gradual buildups, repetitive themes, and oppressive sexual tension translated really well into the live environment. It didn’t hurt that the inevitable rock-outs at strategic points in each song were invariably headbang-worthy. In particular, they really make “Safe From Harm” — my favorite Massive Attack song already — into a tour de force, stretching it out into the ten-minute territory with a long, loud, cleansing jam.

Mogwai and decibel levels

Thursday, May 11th, 2006

ChrisX’s comment on my previous post, urging me to invest in some earplugs because I seem to go to a lot of loud shows, is excellent and timely. Last night I saw Mogwai, a band renowned for their crushingly loud shows, at the 9:30 Club. I saw them a couple years ago at the same venue and they didn’t quite live up to that rep, but this time they were plenty loud. It was a more controlled loud than last Sunday’s show, though, which just suffered from idiotic mixing, but it still left my ears ringing. Today, however, I received a pair of Etymotic earplugs, just in time for tonight’s Mono/Pelican show which also promises to feature massive volume levels. I’ve had my eye on the Etymotics for some time — a few years ago I invested in a pair of their ER-6 isolating headphones, which are excellent, so I know they make a good product. Thanks Chris for giving me the little nudge I needed to finally go ahead and order those earplugs…

As for the Mogwai show, it was pretty good. The thing about this band’s recent output is that while it’s all very good, it’s also sort of anonymous. Most of their newer songs just aren’t as memorable as a lot of their older material — it’s still just as exciting and beautiful (and predictable), but it just doesn’t linger quite as long. So I couldn’t identify a lot of the songs the band played, which hurt my enjoyment a bit, but not much. The highlights were “Friend of the Night” — easily my favorite track from the new Mr. Beast — and the surprising selections of “Yes! I am a long way from home” from Young Team and “Christmas Steps” from Come On Die Young. The latter was an absolute killer and the high point of the show. Now, if only they would go back to playing “Mogwai Fear Satan” regularly at their shows…

Slint @ the 9:30 Club

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

So I went to see Slint last night. For those who don’t know, Slint is an almost unbelievably influential band whose two albums, Tweez and Spiderland, released in 1988 and 1991 respectively, are to post-rock and math-rock and such what In the Court of the Crimson King was to prog. I’ve only heard Spiderland and the self-titled EP the band released after a brief reformation in 1994; my thoughts on them are basically that while they clearly lay the groundwork for a vast array of bands — the sound of groups like Tortoise, Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, and even groups like Neurosis, would be completely different were it not for Slint, if they existed at all — the latter-day post-rock bands are better. Spiderland sounds like primitive post-rock, which, I suppose, is what it is, coming some 6-7 years before the major wave of post-rock bands first hit.

Anyway, the band decided to go on a reunion tour this spring, which seems strange given that they are not releasing a new album and are not planning on any more shows after this tour. Smells like a cash cow. But it’s a welcome one — as long as the shows are good, I don’t really care what the motivation is. And the show was good.

Given that there’s no new album coming and this is a one-shot deal, it’s not surprising that the band didn’t play any new material. But they did play for a solid 90 minutes, and played every song off of Spiderland and the EP, and some stuff, presumably from Tweez, that I didn’t recognize. Unfortunately they started the show with what I strongly believe is their best song, “Good Morning, Captain,” which was so damn good that everything that came after it was inevitably anticlimactic. In fact, a good deal of their material is actually a little boring: while Slint were perhaps one of originators of the “post-rock” style of repetitive, soft-loud-soft-loud cinematic rock music, and do those things quite well, what they don’t do quite as well is offer much sense of compositional movement. Their more mediocre pieces tend to be, well, repetitive soft-loud-soft-loud exercises that don’t go anywhere, don’t really change from beginning to end except for getting really loud and then really soft a couple times.

In this sense, bands like Mogwai have clearly built on Slint’s methods in a way that Slint themselves were never able to. But it’s hard to fault them for that — after all, Mogwai didn’t even exist until over a decade after Slint formed. And Slint’s material is strong enough that even 14 years after Spiderland, the best of it still sounds fresh. The better pieces from that album absolutely smoked in a live setting, in large part simply because the massive volume levels made all those dynamic shifts that much more dramatic. Most importantly, the band was incredibly tight (and the drummer in particular was sick!), playing through tricky rhythms and abrupt thematic hairpin turns with an ease that belied their 14-year hiatus.

As a show taken on its own merits, Slint’s was pretty good, but left a lot of people bored. The endless repetition and total lack of stage presence (between every song were a couple minutes of total silence in which the band pointedly ignored the crowd) seemed to turn off fans who were probably caught up in the hype of the band’s reformation but didn’t actually know what to expect from them. But as an occasion to revisit a historical body of work, a collection of songs that have influenced a jaw-dropping array of bands in the years hence, Slint’s show was a delight.

Wilco @ the 9:30 Club

Friday, February 25th, 2005

So I saw Wilco last night at the 9:30 Club here in DC. I think this might be the first time I’ve seen a Grammy Award-winning band in concert. Ha.

In any case, being a Grammy Award-winning band automatically means that the makeup of your audience is going to change slightly. In this case, it seemed to me that the audience was more annoying than usual for the 9:30 (at least compared to shows I’ve been to) - there were a lot of folks talking loudly during songs and stuff. Or maybe it was just the asshole next to me. Hmm.

Anyway, I was watching Nels Cline a lot. He was outstanding. For a large part of the show - half or more of the main set - he was the lead guitarist, with bandleader Jeff Tweedy playing rhythm. His leads were clean and beautiful for the most part - the man plays with a lot of feeling. I was a little disappointed that some of the wilder freakout sections were led by Tweedy - don’t get me wrong, I love Tweedy’s soloing, and it’s pretty out there on its own; I just wanted to hear what Cline would do given the freedom to completely let loose. It never quite seemed as if he had that freedom, but I guess that shouldn’t be surprising given that, fundamentally, despite all their weirdness, Wilco is a pop-rock band, not a free jazz combo. Cline seemed like he was really into it and having a great time; I was wondering if there would be hints of restlessness as his being a mere sideman in a pop band, but I didn’t see any.

Amusingly, for the first half of the show it almost seemed like Wilco was fucking with their new fans. They were steadfastly refusing to play the big poppy hits like “Heavy metal drummer” (though they did play “Hummingbird” fairly early, and man was it weird to see Cline play a saccharine pop song like that one!), instead focusing on making lots of noise with their guitars and electronics. By the time the encores (two of ‘em) rolled around, though, the band was in crowd-pleasing mode. That said, “Misunderstood,” the only remaining mega-hit from Being There, ends on a distinctly anti-pop note, with Tweedy screaming “Nothing!” over and over and over and over again (as part of the refrain “I’d like to thank you all for nothing at all”). I love this part of the song, if only because it goes on and on and on to the point of discomfort, and it’s fascinating to see how different people react to it. It’s the kind of thing that’s intentionally tailored towards alienating an audience, but the funny thing is that Wilco has become so popular that even that intentional alienation isn’t enough to keep fans from cheering wildly.

The closer of the main set was also the best song the band played - “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” from A Ghost is Born. This is a ten-minute Krautrock freakout which basically gives Tweedy an excuse to flail wildly on his guitar. The studio cut is a bit tame and therefore seems over-long sometimes, but I still enjoy it. Live, it’s a different thing altogether. Tweedy was shredding, and Cline - though disappointingly mostly playing rhythm - also had a few moments of complete, blissful sonic violence. Holy crap, this piece was a fucking beast. The soloing was noisy and amelodic, but so intense and passionate that everyone in the club seemed ecstatic. Great moment.

Those thoughts were pretty scattered, but suffice it to say it was a good show. They played for a long time - two and a half hours or so. I came away very impressed by Nels Cline - I would really like to see him in a jazz context now. I’m not sure I liked the show as much as the one I saw at Yale a couple years ago, but that might have been because I knew more of what to expect this time around. Two years ago, I knew to expect something a little out of the ordinary, but the avant elements of Wilco’s sound took me totally by surprise back then. This time, I might have been anticipating those avant elements (especially given Cline’s presence) a little too much.

Incidentally, the show was streamed on NPR and is still available on their website, if you’re interested.

Opeth @ the 9:30 Club

Tuesday, February 17th, 2004

I saw Opeth again (I saw them last year in New York) last Sunday night at the 9:30 Club. It was pretty good, not quite as tight as the last time I saw them, but the sound quality was definitely far, far better. They did a pretty cool set, including some tunes they had apparently not done live on earlier tours (”April Ethereal” from My Arms, Your Hearse, “The Moor” from Still Life - which was awesome - and the title track from Blackwater Park), and a couple from Damnation which were, just like on the album, pleasant but kind of boring.

One interesting thing was that the crowd here in DC was totally different from the crowd in New York. They were much tamer, with a lot less moshing and crowd-surfing. What moshing there was was sort of lame and halfhearted. I’m not one to get myself into mosh pits, preferring to pay attention to the band, but I was fascinated by the difference. There were also a lot more women in the audience (okay, girls - it was a pretty young audience as far as I could tell). I’m not sure if this is the nature of DC versus New York (the latter city almost certainly has more metal shows and thus probably has a bigger set of metalhead concertgoers), or if the band’s release of the softer Damnation brought more female fans into the fold. Who knows.

Also interesting was one of the opening bands, Moonspell. They had some good moments musically, but they were also insufferably cheesy. The front man took himself waaaay too seriously and was even waving around a pole with some sort of fake skull on top of it for one song. I found the whole affair absolutely hilarious. One of the nicer things about Opeth is that they eschew the cheesy Satanisms of some of the more pretentious death- or black-metal bands, and their front man is very amiable, joking around and bantering with the audience. Yet he still managed a threatening, larger-than-life stage presence during the heavier numbers, delivering his trademark growl convincingly. (During the Damnation pieces, on the other hand, he transformed into a vulnerable, expressive singer - if his versatility wasn’t impressive before, it certainly struck me as so this time around.)