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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.”
A very thoughtful review of Nightwish’s new album, Dark Passion Play, got posted today at PopMatters. I’ve given this one a few listens, enough to form a brief opinion about it, but I’ll save most of my thoughts for a proper review. In short, I pretty much agree with the PopMatters review. What this all brings to mind is something of a tangent: why are there so few metal review sites that are worth a damn? Anytime I read a review at Metal Observer, Metal Storm, or any of those sites, I never feel like I’ve come away feeling like I know whether or not the given album is any good. Part of that is uneven or downright bad writing; part of it is that all of these sites seem to give positive reviews to practically everything.
For the record, there are a few metal sites that I find quite valuable, but few of these really keep up with new releases on a regular basis: Satan Stole My Teddybear and The Dark Legions Archive both boast good writing, intelligent musical commentary, and useful critical viewpoints, and Encyclopedia Metallum has a ton of user-written reviews that are actually of generally good quality. The upstart avantgarde-metal.com looks interesting, but so far the quality of writing is very uneven. Outside of those, I haven’t found too much, especially in terms of sites that are willing to review the more extreme forms of metal (very few of them, even those that write about death and black metal, seem to do much in the way of grindcore and the various death/grind hybrids out there). Any suggestions?
If you’ve actually been following the last.fm widget up there at the top of the blog, you might know some of this, but in any case here is what has been occupying my ears for the past couple weeks.
Anekdoten - A Time of Day — Well, it’s better than Gravity, but that’s not exactly high praise. Jury’s still out on this one for me; I could see it being a grower.
Cato Salsa Experience & The Thing with Joe McPhee - Two Bands and a Legend — This was on my previous list of this sort, from back in April, and it’s still in heavy rotation. I’ll be reviewing it soon.
Do Make Say Think - You, You’re a History in Rust — This one is also a long-lasting pleasure, and will likely end up being one of my favorites of the year. This is post-rock at its most beautiful, yet sacrificing nothing in depth (unlike, say, some of the material by Explosions in the Sky).
Dungen - Tio Bitar — My first impressions so far are just that; nothing has really stood out to me. For some reason I get less and less excited about this band as time passes, and I was hoping this album would change that. Hasn’t happened yet.
Grails - Burning Off Impurities — This is a really hard band to pigeonhole; they’re somewhere between post-rock and prog and metal and ambient and world music, or something. Previous albums have not really excited me, but this one has some really great moments.
Isis - Live.04 — Isis’ latest limited-edition live CD is a mixed bag of cuts mostly from Celestial and Oceanic. Oddly, I like the earlier stuff the best; the band’s raw power really comes through in the live context.
King Crimson - Live in Heidelburg 1974 — Highlight of this one is pretty clearly the funky “Heidelburg II” improv, in which Bruford comes through with some of the most agile playing I’ve heard him pull off in a KC improv, and Wetton just levels everything in his path.
Joanna Newsom - Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band EP — I’m not really that thrilled by the re-recorded versions of “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie” and “Cosmia,” but the new song “Colleen” is up there with anything else Newsom has yet recorded. I cannot wait for her next release, and I’m even more excited for her next tour.
Nightwish - End of an Era — There are so many things I don’t really like about this band — the silly bombast, the terrible male vocals, the lyrics — but somehow in the end I’m always won over by their sheer energy and the obvious joy they get from playing their music. This DVD is addictive, and although there are several throwaway pieces, it’s great fun.
Pelican - City of Echoes — Not sure what I think about this one yet; I think I like it better than The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, but I could be wrong. It definitely seems more dynamic, although the Pitchfork review is dead-on in picking out the drummer as a factor holding the band back from greater heights.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - In Glorious Times — Well, duh. This has been dominating my speakers for weeks now. My review basically says all I need to say about it: it’s awesome.
The Thing - Live at Blå — Basically two half-hour pieces consisting of “covers” of barely recognizable songs strung together by free improv sections. Definitely not the most accessible place to start with this band, and I find myself thinking it definitely has some dead spots that could have used cutting, but it’s an accurate picture of what they do when they play live.
Wilco - Sky Blue Sky — Now this is a huge disappointment. Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche are two premier innovators on their respective instruments (and the rest of the band are hardly slouches), but instead of a worthy followup to the skewed indie-pop of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, we get a middle-of-the-road, mostly boring, totally straightforward album of pop-rock that’s to the band’s earlier output as David Gilmour’s On An Island is to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Some reviewers have been saying “but it’s so well-crafted!” but I disagree with that, too — some of Tweedy’s vocal lines and melodies here are nothing short of cringeworthy.