Category: ‘Concerts’

It changes shape with you, it changes shape with you

[Concerts] (10.04.09, 10:03 pm)

School of Seven Bells were playing at a nearby venue “The Drunken Unicorn” last Tuesday. Naturally, we got tickets. The Drunken Unicorn is a tiny but cozy little space nestled away by a few bars and restaurants. The audience appeared to be a hip, young student variety. We got there around 9 in the evening, and the show lasted until about 1 in the morning. The opening act was Tea Lights, a fascinating and complex group native to Atlanta, which used an impressive diversity of instruments. Most pleasing was their use of a cello alongside drums, electric guitars, and electronic samples. I’ve recently been thinking that cellos are entirely underutilized as band instruments, and Tea Lights showed just how effective one can be.

After Tea Lights, another indie-electronic group, Phantogram, began their setup. This setup involved assembling a stand full of equipment, including a keyboard, a mixer, a strobe light, some sort of voice processor, and a number of other devices I couldn’t recognize. Phantogram consisted of two performers, Josh Carter, who manned an electric guitar, and Sarah Barthel, who controlled the hub of electronics. Both sang, and used the voice system to create intense, ethereal, reverberating effects. The music itself was layered and distorted, but pulsing enough to be quite danceable.

When Phantogram finished, School of Seven Bells began setting up, and started their set. They sound very differently live than in their album. The sound is coarser, the vocals were covered but not drowned by the ambient guitar noise. The upside of this is that the songs are more energetic and danceable. Particularly satisfying was “iamundernodisguise,” which is introspective and even reserved on the album, but was played with vibrant force and pulsing energy. The band played several new tracks as well, which suggests that there might be a new album in the works, so we have something to look forward to.


[Concerts] (09.28.09, 3:55 pm)

Much earlier, over the summer, Audrey and I got tickets to see The Decemberists, who were going to be playing at the Fox theatre. We were notified of the tickets in an email from Ticketmaster, which knew we were in Atlanta, and knew that we liked The Decemberists. Unfortunately for us, the particular theatre being advertised was the Fox in Oakland, California, not the Fox here. Fortunately for us, The Decemberists were playing in Georgia this past weekend. Not in Atlanta, mind you, but in Athens.

So, we got a couple of good friends together and decided it was time for a road trip. There was some sort of massive sporting event taking place at Georgia Tech that Saturday, making transportation around the area rather difficult. The weather was also rather nasty, with a intermittent light rain that lasted throughout the early afternoon. After getting coffee for the road, we set out and made it to the highway. Immediately thereafter, the light rain turned into a downpour, and we plodded along the normally very busy interstate 85 at 45 miles per hour as waves of water poured over the car. Despite this, the car ride went smoothly and we arrived in Athens around 7:00. We were surprised by the amount of traffic, and also by numerous banners with very particular coloring. As it turns out, there was yet another massive sporting event taking place in Athens. Parked cars lined the roads as every available space accessible from the road was occupied by large SUVs and minivans. We faced a difficult parking situation. The venue itself was full, so our options seemed to be finding a parking spot some some great distance away in an unfamiliar residential neighborhood, or alternately forking out the exorbitant $40 for a parking lot. Instead we decided to drive around and find dinner.

Dinner worked out without too much hassle, and we miraculously found a lone parking spot for the duration of the meal. When we returned, there were parking openings in the venue at a convenient $5. So we went in and got ready for the show. This was another numbered-seating show, so I am reminded of the Death Cab show earlier in the spring. We started off having seats in the top row of the theatre, which had a good view, but was so far back. After seeing that the seats at the side (which I guess are the box seats) were unoccupied, we stealthily maneuvered over and took them, hoping that no one else would come by and kick us out. Fortunately, that never happened, so we had a great view of the performance. The opening act was Laura Veirs. Her songs had a folksy-but-ominous feel, and the spelunking song was particularly delectable. Afterwards, The Decemberists came on and played the set from The Hazards of Love, which was strung together to create a solid but continuous performance. Having read more about the album afterwards, it is a single continuous story, almost operatic in nature. Each of the songs linked into the next, and there was nary a pause between them. They played Audrey’s favorite, “The Rake’s Song” and recurred with powerful performances of “The Wanting Comes in Waves”. What was impressive about this was not just the seamless integration of the songs, but this compounded with a surprising diversity of styles and genres in the songs themselves.

Once they finished the Hazards of Love set, they came back and played something more like an ordinary set. The band seemed to loosen up after this, did a few rounds of call and response songs, and concluded before the encore with a surprise cover of “Crazy On You.” When all was done, we wandered over to the green room and milled about waiting for any of the band members to drift out. This was Hank’s idea, as he is used to visiting green rooms, but none of the rest of us had done anything like that before. There was very little in the means of security, so we just moseyed on over there. We didn’t see Colin, but we did see a few of the other members, and we talked to the organist and acordionist Jenny Conlee for a little while, which was fun. When we finally filed out it was around 1:00, and we got on the road to go back home.

Ronan Harris thinks we’re beautiful

[Concerts] (07.24.09, 12:46 am)

I just got back from a VNV Nation concert. It was absolutely outstanding. The opening acts were good and fun, but the main set was incredible. VNV Nation is well known for encouraging audience participation of all kinds on its shows, shouting, hand-waving, dancing, and the like. The audience gave the band everything. Ronan Harris, the singer and the charismatic frontman, seemed surprisingly impressed with the energy of the audience. He also kept us well entertained during the couple of occasions in which the light system stopped working properly. The actual set list featured quite a number of old favorites, and a few ones off their new album. I was a little surprised that they didn’t perform as many of the sweeping symphonic songs, Beloved and Solitary were very danceable, everything was full of energy.

I have a special place in my heart for this band. April 15th, 2002, Audrey and I had our first date at a VNV Nation concert. April 15th, 2005, we got married. Isn’t that sweet?


[Concerts] (05.16.09, 11:12 am)

Thursday night, Audrey and I went to brave the night and go to another concert. This wasn’t really a concert, though, so much as a set. Most recent events we have gone to have had bands on stage, complete with real instruments and several people playing them. I have missed the days where we would go to clubs with an honest to goodness DJ, hovering over a mountain of electronic equipment, doing inscrutable things that cause lovely music to come out. This was a nice change of pace, and was a flashback to other experiences sorely missed. I do so love electronic music.

The tickets said that the show started at 8:00, so we get an early dinner and head over to Masquerade. This is the first time that we’ve been over there. I had passed this venue many times driving down North avenue, but never been to an event there. I had asked about parking on the phone, not realizing that the massive empty lot next to the building is all parking. And it was mostly full. There was a line for admittance that stretched halfway around the block. This was very odd, as Dieselboy is not really what one would consider… well, the sort of artist to draw in such a massive crowd. The line had a lot of goth and metal types, which we discover later were headed to a different show, as the venue has several levels: “Heaven,” “Hell,” and “Purgatory.” Our show was situated in Hell, the other group was a death metal band playing in Heaven. Awesome.

We find out once we get in there that the show actually did not start at 8 as advertised, though, but at 9:30. Not so awesome. Dieselboy started at 10:30, and then another DJ would come on at 12:30. Both Audrey and I spent the time contemplating our inevitable exhaustion for the next day, and talked about work.

The first set that came on was Two Fresh, which was incredible. This group consisted of two DJs, who I would later learn were twin brothers, who moved in uncanny synchrony, and a live drummer. They used a very interesting variety of samples, and did a sort of genre blurring that was very cool. The samples came from all over the place, there were a number of clearly R&B influenced clips, as well as some more jazzy ones, but these came alongside powerful beats and other ambient and rhythmic tones. Samples were often juxtaposed with background music that contrasted but did not clash. The live drummer contributed this very sharp and crisp sound to the percussion, which gave the set a sort of liveness that is hard to get when most drums are played with a drum machine.

Dieselboy came on afterwards and launched right away into the grinding, machinic, dissonant noises that he is well known for. This was immanently enjoyable, but it was at this point where the crowd began getting really obnoxious. Actually, that’s not entirely true, they were pretty obnoxious throughout Two Fresh, but I was too into the music to really pay attention. Dieselboy is interesting stuff, it is hard to listen to, but, like any acquired taste, rewards the palette with experience and paying attention. It was the paying attention that was especially difficult. Maybe now that I’ve had some distance from the club scene that I have lost my tolerance for thick crowds and having others around me constantly moving around. I’ve never been on Japanese public transportation, but that is the mental image that comes to mind. The set was very cool overall, it had one moment that was absolutely great, but I don’t remember what it was at all.

After Dieselboy went off, Audrey and I were thoroughly exhausted. It was after midnight and she would have work early in the morning. The last DJ to come up would be Pretty Lights, who we sadly missed. I feel bad for not having stayed, but don’t really regret it. I looked the group up after we got home and suddenly realized that I love this sort of music. Pretty Lights is classified as downtempo, a magnificent genre that is extremely listenable, consistently interesting, and very good as background music. I frequently listen to Chromanova while I work. So, it’s better, I think, to listen to while in a somewhat more relaxed environment than the writhing club. Pretty Lights has three CDs for free download on their website, it’s good stuff.

Death Cab

[Concerts] (05.09.09, 8:54 pm)

Wednesday evening, Audrey and I went to see indie rock outfit Death Cab for Cutie. Unlike most of our other concertgoing experiences, this was at the Fox Theatre, a historic Atlanta landmark, but one we haven’t gone to until then. The theatre is huge, collossal, even. It was originially intended as a mosque, which makes the presence of liquor sales somewhat bizarre and disconcerting. Well, actually, according to Wikipedia, the building was going to be a “mosque” for a Shriners’ organization, which makes it sort of less wierd, but only sort-of. The place is still enormous, and the entire theatre was packed. The crowd was different from our usual theatre-going crowds as well. We are used to the punks and goths, with dyed and spiked hair and visible piercings and tattoos. This was very different. It was a much younger, frattier, crowd. They were pretty loud and obnoxious. During an opening act, there was a really obnoxious group sitting behind us that talked incessantly through the set and shouted requests at the stage. It bears noting that we had what Audrey calls “nosebleed” seats, and were at least far enough that any catcalls would be inaudible. By the time the main set came on, fortunately, somehow, they disappeared. There was a sign saying “no photography,” but this didn’t stop the incessant camera flashes. There was also a wide swath of glowing rectangles in the crowd, as the audience recorded the live songs on their phones. I’m not opposed to that, and it’s happened at every concert I’ve been to, but it was an interesting thing to see from a distance.

The actual main act was very good, the light show was fun but blinding. The vocals were crisp and clear, and they played a lot of good songs. I was surprised, though, that many of the songs were either upbeat or sung very cheerily. Death Cab for Cutie is one of those bands whose songs are so deeply bitter and resentful, but the entire set was full of positivity. They also neglected to play some of the songs that we really love, which was sad. Don’t get me wrong, the set was great and a lot of fun, but we like to nitpick.

Ladytron again!

[Concerts] (04.22.09, 12:53 am)

Ladytron came to play in Atlanta on Saturday. Audrey and I went along with a couple of friends. It was again a magnificent experience, but was not quite as intense as the last one. The original item on the Variety website I thought read Ladytron with The Faint, but I may have been mistaken. The opening set was done by a strange noise/distortion band, The Crocodiles, they were fun, but a little oddball. After they left, we waited for a while as the tech crew changed the set, and… surprisingly, Ladytron came on. Which was puzzling, since we were expecting them to be the main act… The set was good, it was very similar to the last time, and I shouted and hollered, but they still wouldn’t play Blue Jeans. Tragic I say. Halfway through their set, in the middle of Witching Hour, the sound on the microphones went out, which was a little distressing. I think the audience managed to shout along enough as support through the remainder of the song. It was very odd, as though a hole was punched through the song. For a group that relies so strongly on electronic support, the song changes texture dramatically when a piece is removed. I don’t remember if this was the case last time, but the vocals also seemed to be much more blurred and distorted beneath the rest of the instruments, they lacked that crisp clarity that Ladytron tends to have.

Afterwards, the band leaves, and we waited for half an hour as they got ready for the next act. The doors also opened, and a lot of people who were standing around us actually left. During this time, more people moved to the front, making the crowd denser. It was also a different texture of crowd, more aggressive. Eventually, The Faint came on. I had never heard them before, but the music was pretty interesting, so I am planning on checking them out further. As they played though, the audience convulsed and started banging up against us. I am thinking of it pretty fondly now in retrospect, but it was infuriating at the time. I guess that the kinetic jostling of the crowd is part of the experience of the concert, and it can’t really be separated from any other part of it. It was also wierd because most of the people surrounding us seemed to know the band, know the music, and know the lyrics. It was a feeling of sudden estrangement. I am much more familiar with Ladytron, shouted along to their music, and then suddenly was a stranger in a very different environment.

Fun, still, despite all.

Who Killed Amanda Palmer?

[Concerts] (11.19.08, 12:44 pm)

This past Sunday, Audrey and I went with a few friends to see Amanda Palmer. The show was fun and off the wall. The first opening act was Vermilion Lies, a very silly cabaret duo, almost vaudeville. After that was another band, The Builders and the Butchers, who were really great. They are somewhat Americana, (they remind me a lot of The Decemberists), and initially seemed somewhat out of place. Over their set, though, all their songs revealed an ominously morbid tone, which helped them fit right at home.

Opening acts have an interesting role in concerts. The opening act is primarily responsible for entertaining and riling up the audience so that they are enthused for the main show. As a result, there is an interesting aesthetic to the acts. They aren’t supposed to be the focus of the show, so there is a freedom to be eccentric and not perfect. Because they have to get the audience excited, opening acts tend to have a lot of participatory elements as well. Their lyrics tend to repeat and the audience is encouraged to sing along. In this way, the opening act is very dependent on the audience, but the main act is meant to stand on its own.

When the main act comes to stage, the performance shifts in nature. The audience moves from being participants to really being just the audience, and there is a pressure for the show to be more perfect and authentic. Amanda Palmer’s act was especially noteworthy in this regard because she was accompanied by The Danger Ensemble, who are an Australian performance troupe. They brought an entire theatrical dimension to her show, which converged and worked in a lot of ways.

The set itself had a bunch of songs from her new CD, as well as a few songs from the Dresden Dolls, as well as a few new surprises. I had been reading about her European tour and was sad not to see Zoe the Cellist, but we did have Lyndon Chester, who could play a mean fiddle. Watching Amanda play the keyboard was pretty remarkable in itself. She was never trained to read music, so she is self taught, and I could see all of that crazy obsessive emotion and energy pounding into the instrument. Without drums to support her, she practically played it percussively.

Audrey also got hugged by Mark of the Danger Ensemble during “We Have to Drive”. I’ve been looking photos, but haven’t been able to find one of her getting hugged yet. Just have to keep looking!

Edit: One omitted detail that I forgot about: There was an encore at the end of the show, where Amanda teamed up with both Vermillion Lies and The Builders and the Butchers to sing a couple of songs, a Bon Jovi cover (for donations to the Danger Ensemble) and then Leeds United. Afterwards, there was another encore, but it was a bit different this time. Amanda came back on stage alone with a ukelele, an out of tune ukelele, and sang Radiohead’s well known song, Creep.

This was a great moment because it totally subverted the idea of officiality in performance. Much of the audience had left at this point, leaving a large huddling mass near the center of the stage. We were all very much together, and we were all singing along. The instruments weren’t plugged into the speakers, there was no microphone, so it was just her and the audience together. All of us were necessary to make a sound, and we were all singing, not necessarily in tune, but we were all part of the song together.

I mentioned earlier that the main act of a concert usually works independently of the audience, but that notion was subverted in this last song. The voice of the audience was necessary for the song to have any volume, as was especially evident when she hit the high notes of the song and we couldn’t keep up. Briefly, the audience was quiet and it was just her singing alone. Vermillion Lies came back on and did some acapella rhythm for her, but that last moment was pretty incredible.

Also also: A couple got engaged during the “Ask Amanda” session. I can’t believe I forgot to mention that. It was very sweet.


[Concerts] (11.13.08, 2:37 pm)

This past Tuesday, Audrey and I went over to East Atlanta, to the Earl for a nice indie music concert. We knew we were in for something, but really weren’t quite prepared for it. The actual concert started at 9:30 and the doors opened at 9:00. Audrey unfortunately had a class that normally gets out at 8. That’s right, 8 PM. We graduate students just live it up, don’t we? Fortunately, she managed to get out a bit early, and we scooted over there and tried to find dinner.

Fortunately, and we noticed this once we started wandering around, the Earl is also a restaurant. They had a wide variety of menu items that seemed to cater very precisely to the our demographic: the pretentious indie music crowd. I mean this endearingly! I had a guacamole burger, which was outstanding. It was just very amusing. We sat next to a couple of guys who were going to do some photography and conduct an interview with M83 frontman Anthony Gonzalez.

The show itself opened with School of Seven Bells, which I had heard about a few days ago. Their music is sort of an ethereal and spacey, with an unusual strong sense of rhythm. Their music has a somewhat otherworldly quality to it, sounding like a soundtrack that scores a journey to some lush but remote and isolated destination. I heard about them a week before the concert, and then found out that they were opening for M83, which was a pretty nice coincidence. There are three members to the band. The vocalists are sisters and occupy guitar and keyboard. There is also another guitarist who spent a lot of time rocking out. The singers layered together creating a nice resonance, that created not just music, but really something more like a textured soundscape.

When School of Seven Bells finished, they dismantled their set, and the stage crew began setting up for M83. They brought up a large quantity of fascinating and delightful looking electronic equipment. The setup took quite a while, but eventually the band itself came on stage.

M83 opened with an extended version of Run Into Flowers. The case with this, and with all of the rest of the tracks they played, was that the original song was not a script so much as a guideline. No song really was close at all to the album versions. Because M83 exists in a complex hybrid between pure electronic music and Explosions In The Sky-style instrumental music, the actual set combined elements of performance of electronic music with more traditional stage performance. Guitars were layered on top of each other to create a texture, and the actual electronic elements, coming from keyboards as well as Gonzales’ laptop, came together to sound like they were being mixed live before us.

Each song was layered with a great deal of complexity. The guitars were primarily responsible for creating a sense of texture, and came together with such resonance that they faded into the background. On top of those, the keyboards and vocals gave shape to the auditory space. On more than one occasion, when the leading instruments stopped or subsided, it sounded like silence, until we gradually realized that the music was still there, that it had never left us. When the instruments picked up again, they had the feeling not of individual instruments constructing a whole, but of waves that washed over us.

The band consisted of Anthony Gonzalez, the mastermind behind M83, who alternated between keyboard and guitar. There was also another guitarist and a drummer, who hammered away behind his drum cage. However, there was also another keyboardist, Morgan Kibby, who contributed to vocals as well. The word “contributed” doesn’t really begin to describe it, though. Kibby was a ferocious bundle of energy. She sang a lot of the tracks from saturdays=youth, and pounded away at those keyboards like she was possessed. Both she and Gonzalez were brimming with enthusiasm and energy. It was impossible to see them without having that energy rub off.

I’ll leave you with an emblematic video of a live performance of Couleurs, though the sound quality doesn’t remotely do it justice.

Magnetic Fields

[Concerts] (10.18.08, 7:38 pm)

Audrey and I went to see the Magnetic Fields last night. It was really great. My goodness can Sam Davol play the cello. The concert was a really unusual experience. It was a sit down experience at a symphony house in Atlanta, which is extremely different from most concerts we are used to visiting. The crowd generally was full of young, white, straight couples. I don’t know why this seemed so strange, because Audrey and I are a young, white, straight couple. Still it was very odd. It seems like we should have had much more representation from the gay community here, what with Stephen Merritt being gay and all…

The music itself was really good, a joy to see in person. It wasn’t as intense as other things we’ve visited, but that cool self-conscious detachment is part of the experience, I suppose.

At the beginning of the concert, there was a surprise visit by Stephen Hearst, who read a bunch of very silly short stories and played a few very short, very silly songs. Check out Songs for Newsworthy News if you are interested in that sort of thing.


[Concerts,General] (06.17.08, 10:51 am)

I’ve been finding it hard to write about work related things, especially research related things, because over the past several weeks there has been very little time to devote to them. The primary reason for this is the move. Overall, the move has gone very well, and we are happy with the new apartment, but it is one of those things that is enormously taxing in terms of time and energy. We decided to hire professional movers, which, ultimately, I think was the correct decision. The process of moving our possessions (including no less than twenty boxes of books) into the truck took them a mere two hours, where in the past it has taken something on the order of six or eight. So, we’re all set, aside from needing to unpack, which will probably take another three months or so.

In other, more exciting news. We went to see Ladytron at the Variety Playhouse. It was extremely awesome. I shouted along to all of the songs I knew until at the end I could barely speak. They played a lot from their new CD, which is outstanding and ethereal, but, sadly, they did not play Blue Jeans. Woe is me.

More later when things settle down.