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I’ve seen about a billion and one concerts since I last posted those show reviews of Caspian, Jucifer and Salome, or so it seems. I won’t recap them all but here are some highlights.
Last night I saw the Tiptons Sax Quartet and Drums at An Die Musik. I have been starving for more experimental jazz in the DC area for the last couple of years. Things are really picking up these days (many thanks to Ed Ricart and others who are putting on awesome shows at Bossa here in DC), but this was the first jazz show I’ve been to in a long time. I think Nordic Jazz Fest last summer was the last jazz I saw. This show was a great way to ease back in - super accessible, fun and eclectic stuff. I remember seeing Rova Saxophone Quartet at Twins Jazz a couple years ago, and pretty much everything about that show went straight over my head. This was totally different: the Tiptons played nothing without a solid, head-nodding beat, and their compositions were chock-full of gorgeous melodies and stunning solos. I found Jessica Lurie in particular really impressive, and it was a treat to finally get to see Amy Denio after hearing her on so many random records (my favorite perhaps being the Cuneiform obscurity The Danubians).
Before this were a couple of female-fronted Euro-metal shows: Epica and Arch Enemy. As readers of this blog know, I am a sucker for Epica. That said, I’m less than enthused by their new album. Couldn’t tell you why just yet, but it seems to be even more bombastic than previous efforts without as much heaviness or even as much of a melodic sense. Le sigh. The band’s performance at Jaxx in Virginia was the first show of their U.S. tour, and the kinks were definitely there. Energy wasn’t all that great and guest keyboardist Oliver Palotai (also of Kamelot, and vocalist Simone Simons’ boyfriend) doesn’t quite have his parts down yet. Still, there were plenty of enjoyable moments and it was nice to see Simons fronting the band again - the last time they played the States, she was ill and a replacement singer was with them.
I’ve never been a huge Arch Enemy fan, although as far as melodeath goes they’re pretty good. Like the Epica show, the show I saw was the first night of this tour. There were fewer kinks, but again the band didn’t seem to be at their peak in terms of enthusiasm. I can’t really judge this one though as I left early and am not all that familiar with a lot of the band’s material anyway.
Otherwise, there were three shows I photographed for the Washington Post, the best of which was one I never would have gone to otherwise: a bluegrass pairing of Carolina Chocolate Drops and Red Molly. The former is a trio playing traditional black string music, and they were amazing, tons of energy, tremendous chops and all kinds of catchy melodies. The latter are also a string trio, playing a mix of standards and originals, and I found their songs beautiful across the board. I picked up one of the records and it absolutely didn’t do the show justice.
The other two were Pree, a DC-area indie-rock band who are drawing comparisons to Joanna Newsom, Neutral Milk Hotel and the like; I liked them pretty well, enough to investigate further; and Otis Taylor, famed blues guitarist, whose set was way too disjointed for my taste. There were a few times his band broke out into some amazing jams, but otherwise I’d have to say it was kind of a dull night.
So that’s what I’ve been up to so far in January… I was hoping to go see Tim Berne and a new band that he’s in, Four Limones, but the show got cancelled last minute. Major bummer. Next up is Those Darlins on Sunday… not a show I’d imagine many readers of my blog would be particularly interested in.
Last Saturday, I went to Jaxx in Springfield, VA to see Symphony X, Epica and Into Eternity on the last gig of their current tour. Of these bands I’m mostly a fan of Epica; I used to really like Symphony X but I moved away in large part from the prog-metal type stuff, oh, five or six years ago. Unfortunately, Epica was missing their inimitable frontwoman Simone Simons, who has been ill for some time now. Amanda Somerville, Simons’ voice coach (who makes an appearance on the We Will Take You With Us DVD), filled in, and her voice was remarkably similar to Simons’ — if not actually a little stronger all around. She seemed comfortable on stage with the band as well, which I suppose makes sense since it was the last gig of the tour. Still, Simons has an unmistakable charisma that I witnessed last year when Epica played this same venue — even though that time I was watching from afar and this time I was right up front — and her presence was definitely missed.
All the bands put on very good performances. The two local openers, Apothys and Tolerance for Tragedy, were solid, and the former band certainly knew their audience when they played a cover of Opeth’s “Demon of the Fall.” I’m not much of a fan of Into Eternity — singer Stu Block’s more high-pitched wailing moments just don’t really do it for me, to say the least — but Block is an excellent frontman and Tim Roth is a pretty awesome guitarist. As for Epica, well, they rocked it, although I did wish they would have played more stuff from The Divine Conspiracy. I generally find that album much more compelling than the older stuff, but of their older material they did play the best of it, so I suppose it all evens out in the end. “Sancta Terra” was a highlight for me, all cheesy bombast that’s pretty much just sheer awesomeness once you accept the nerdiness factor.
For Symphony X, I retreated to the back of the club and actually ended up leaving early. I just don’t find their music all that compelling these days, although admittedly in a live setting they are way heavier and more engaging than on record (Dave Kerman would still call it “panty-waist mallcore/prog-metal b.s.” though :). Part of my decision to give up my spot near the front of the pit was that or the last couple songs of Epica’s set, some dude who probably weighed 200 pounds more than me decided to shove his way up front and lean his entire weight into me while pumping his fists and screaming. I pretty much had to stop taking photos and brace myself against the stage railing (doing the folks in front of me a favor). After Epica’s set, he didn’t move, and I decided to find a different spot. Unfortunately, that proved impossible, the crowd was so densely packed. So I retreated to the bar and enjoyed probably half or a bit more of Symphony X from afar.
One final note: the bands were unruly themselves, it being their final show. It was actually kind of hilarious; they were throwing food and other things (silly string, as in the above photo of Into Eternity’s guitarist) at each other during the sets, and apparently things got even crazier towards the end of Symphony X’s set, after I’d already left. It was cool to see these guys having so much fun, and in front of a very appreciative crowd to boot.
Lots more photos in the full set at Flickr. Of them all, my favorite shot of the night is probably this one, of the singer for Tolerance for Tragedy:
Last night I saw my first show of the year — Unexpect at Jaxx in Virginia. I really like their latest album, In a Flesh Aquarium, although I think folks are blowing its “avant-garde-ness” way out of proportion. Just because it’s pastichey and schizophrenic and draws from a wide variety of styles doesn’t make it avant-garde. But I digress: it’s a very good album regardless, and I was excited to see these guys pull off some of these all-over-the-map compositions in a live setting.
Sadly, the band was missing their violinist for this tour. As far as I could tell, they didn’t so much compensate for that lack so much as just play over it; there was no rearranging of parts and no transcribing of the violin parts to keyboard or guitar. This actually turned out fine. There were a few places where I really missed the violin melody, but for the most part the music didn’t suffer the loss much at all. A lot of that can be attributed to the band’s sheer energy level, which was through the roof, and their enthusiasm for playing their material. This was an extremely entertaining show, to say the least. My favorite piece live is also my favorite on In a Flesh Aquarium, “Desert Urbania,” which has a totally crushing sludgy riff towards the end that was the highlight of the show.
I took my camera to this show, as I’m embarking on a project this year to take as many photographs as possible. So despite the reservations I have about concert photography, I spent the whole concert taking photos and came away with a bunch that I’m pretty happy with. These are up at Flickr and sampled below. Thanks to the band for letting me shoot and for being extremely warm and friendly in general.
So… the Nightwish show. This was their first show of their U.S. tour I believe, and it had sold out something like six months in advance, with paying customers from as far away as Russia (uh, you would think that Nightwish plays plenty of gigs a hell of a lot closer to Russia than Springfield, Virginia, but whatever). The openers were Paradise Lost, whom I did not show up for. After a seemingly interminable delay, which unfortunately I did show up in time for, the band took the stage sometime after 10pm, after a nice little pep talk from club owner Jay, who made the very good point that these guys are used to playing stadiums and arenas and it’s pretty damn cool that they were willing to play at a tiny little metal club in suburban Virginia.
They opened with “Bye Bye Beautiful,” which I thought was an interesting choice, considering that song is basically a “fuck off” towards Tarja Turunen. Eh, ok. It was alright. See for yourself — a video of part of it got posted to YouTube and is below, kind of fun to watch if you can ignore the hyperventilating fanboy going “oh my fucking god” through the whole thing. Then came another song from Dark Passion Play; again, it was alright (can you tell I’m not that enthused about the new album). “Dark Chest of Wonders” and “Ever Dream” followed, and it was really interesting to hear the new vocalist perform the old songs. “Dark Chest of Wonders” was great, “Ever Dream” not so much. Annette Olzon is a completely different singer from Tarja Turunen and gives Nightwish an entirely different sound — one that’s much less over-the-top, not operatic at all, much more mainstream. Normally I don’t really like bands that are so over the top, so one would think that I would like this more streamlined version of Nightwish better — but really, when listening to female-fronted power metal, where’s the appeal except in the over-the-top-ness?
Besides that, Olzon seemed to really strain to hit some notes, and I found myself missing Turunen a lot. This really isn’t the same band, and while it’s a little unfair to compare them to the old version, when they play the old songs the comparisons are inevitable. I left after about an hour and a half, in the middle of “Nemo,” after finding that the new songs were almost all pedestrian and the performances of the old songs just left me wishing that Turunen was singing them. Ah well.
For a different perspective (and a complete setlist), check this out. Also note that the same guy who posted the below video at YouTube also posted clips of “Nemo” and “Wish I Had an Angel.”
I haven’t seen any live music since Richard Pinhas way back in July, so last night I decided to go to a show at Jaxx — a bunch of female-fronted gothic metal bands, headlined by Epica. Circumstances had me arriving late at the venue, two hours after the appointed showtime, but the first opening band was still on. I caught two or three songs of their set, both of which were entirely forgettable. After a surprisingly short changeover time, Visions of Atlantis took the stage and played a 45-minute set. This is an Austrian group on their first U.S. tour (although their singer is American as far as I can tell); they just released an album, Trinity, from which almost all of their set was drawn. It was okay; I found myself enjoying it at first but I was definitely ready for it to be over when they finished. Their singer did a lot of your typical metal stage moves (fist-pumping and the like), but also broke out some hip gyrations that wouldn’t have been out of place at a pop concert. That was weird. Female vocals on top of metal riffing I can handle. Booty dancing (even if briefly) to said riffs is something entirely different.
Epica came on and, right off the bat, played a couple songs from their own just-released new album, The Divine Conspiracy. I downloaded this album from eMusic a little while ago and it was basically the sole reason I decided to show up at this concert. Previously I had heard Consign to Oblivion and never really thought much of it, but this new one I liked. It’s much heavier than most other female-fronted gothic metal out there, with lots of blast beats and an intriguing male vocal style that flits between death-metal growls and black-metal shrieks. It’s also insanely bombastic, boasting both metal’s grandiose cinematic tendencies and prog’s symphonic pretensions.
Live, they came off pretty similarly to the way they do on record. They were great performers and vocalist Simone Simons is a striking frontwoman. Also, the male vocals were impressive — the guy really does go from low-end growls to upper-register shrieks without even batting an eye. Seriously, his facial expressions stayed almost completely blank whenever he sang, which was really bizarre when he was screaming like a banshee. Set-wise, I had hoped that more of their performance would be drawn from the new album, as they played a fair amount of the old stuff that didn’t hold my attention quite as much. Additionally, it does seem like a lot of their songs are a few minutes longer than they need to be, with many of them going through numerous instrumental sections that seem a little redundant.
My favorite parts of Epica’s set were the heavier black metal-influenced sections. This was a reminder that while this gothic metal stuff is nice and all, its totally unashamed bombast making it a great “guilty pleasure,” what I really like is the heavy shit. I enjoyed this show, but in the end it mostly made me really excited for the upcoming Enslaved show at the same venue.
This past week I’ve missed three shows I would have really liked to see (Konono No. 1 topping the list), but I’m getting back in the game this weekend, even though the sky fell on Thursday with regards to my work. Despite working late today and getting to the show over an hour late, I caught Within Temptation on their first U.S. tour ever, and it was nothing if not fun. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you probably know that I have a soft spot for female-fronted gothic metal, even if it’s cheesy, poppy or both. Within Temptation were the band that got me hooked on this subgenre, and I was embarrassingly excited to see them live.
They played at Jaxx, a metal-oriented club way out in the burbs that has a really bad reputation around here for just kind of being a nasty club — rude staff, no ventilation, overly crowded, etc, not to mention the fact that it’s in a strip mall in northern Virginia (and let me tell you, there’s suburban hell and then there’s northern Virginia). This was the first time I’d been, and I actually kind of liked the place. The sight lines and the sound were excellent, and there’s definitely an intimate feel to the place as it’s quite small and there’s not really any divider between stage and audience. Also, interestingly enough, I saw more people there wearing earplugs than at any other show I’ve been to. I guess metal fans (not that this was an especially metal crowd, but still) know they’ve gotta wear them if they want to still have their hearing five years down the road.
Anyway, the show. It sold out a while ago. It was the band’s fourth show in the U.S.; their tour only has them playing about 15 dates in North America, so we’re lucky they played in the DC area. They were opening for Lacuna Coil, so unfortunately they played a pretty short set, and it was heavy on stuff from their new album, The Heart of Everything. I think they played the first five songs from that album, plus “Ice Queen” and “Mother Earth” from Mother Earth and “Stand My Ground” from The Silent Force. And even though I’m not really a huge fan of the new album, I have to say that the highlight of the show, by far, was “The Heart of Everything” — when Sharon den Adel breaks out the snarlier side of her vocals, the effect is awesome. And that song rocks.
As for the band, they seemed genuinely excited and happy to be playing for an audience that’s probably a tenth of the size of the audiences they play for on the other side of the pond. It helps that the fans seemed pretty deliriously happy too — most of them seemed to know the songs from The Heart of Everything, which hasn’t even been released in the U.S. yet (though, come to think of it, none of the band’s earlier albums have had a domestic release here either). Sharon den Adel has tremendous stage presence, and not just because she’s gorgeous and wears elaborate dresses — she has a real charisma that I thought came across really well in the small club. Also, it was funny to see her walk on stage and 80 percent of the males in the club break out their cameras or cell phone cameras.
In the end, the band’s live show isn’t substantially different, musically speaking, from what’s on record, so this wasn’t the most memorable show I’ve ever seen. They pulled it all off admirably, but I was mostly just excited about the novelty of seeing the first U.S. tour of a band that’s become legendary, it seems, for great live shows. Hope they can come back as headliners and play much longer sets. (I left right after their performance, as I find Lacuna Coil mostly boring.)
Tomorrow: Ahleuchatistas and Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores. Sure is a good two nights to get back into my concert-going ways!