Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ben Folds at the House of Blues; or the Anti-Hipsters

One thing I enjoy about seeing Ben Folds is knowing that I will be in a crowd of unabashedly sincere fans, otherwise known as a hipster-free zone. Since my tastes have run toward more of the obscure and indie over the past several years, I often find myself drowning in a sea of hipsters. And I really hate hipsters. I was having a conversation with some friends of mine about this and I got a completely blank stare when I mentioned the word “hipster.” Evidentially it’s not the universal term I thought it was? So before I go any further, let me briefly explain what a hipster is just in case the term’s unfamiliar to you (Jen and Laura, this is for you!).

So let’s play a game of “You might be a hipster if…” You might be a hipster if your clothes look like they came from a thrift store but you actually spend $200 on your jeans. You wear 80s-inspired shirts and dresses (girls) and v-necks and cardigans (guys). You have an ironic beard or mustache. You eat only organic foods. You ride your bike everywhere even though you have a car. You no longer like a band or artist once they break into the mainstream or (God forbid!) get played on the radio. Hipsters are almost always white and were raised upper-middle class but look down on people that are wealthy and successful. Hipsters abhor anything that’s considered mainstream and pride themselves on being non-conformists even though they’re All. Exactly. Alike. Above all, hipsters want to be thought of as cool and original; they all want to be artists of some kind even if they have no discernable artistic talent. Hipsters live in fear of being considered un-cool. More than anything, hipsters hate sincerity so they’ll never admit to loving anything.

And that’s why you’ll never find a hipster at a Ben Fold show, because Ben Folds fans really LOVE Ben Folds. They know every word to every song so his shows always turn into big group sing-a-longs which is just so much fun. And the singing along includes not just the words but every la-la-la and bum-bum-bum. During “Bastard,” from his second solo album, Ben treated the audience as a choir, separating them into four vocal parts to do crescendo-ing background vocals during the song’s climax. It’s a complicated song, with a combination of unusual time signatures, that Folds dubs “Math rock.” And he’s a piano virtuoso, who could easily change things up live. The fact that he doesn’t says something about his relationship with his fans.

A lot of singer songwriters dramatically change their songs up live because they get so bored of playing their songs the same way over and over again (anyone who’s seen Bob Dylan in the last 20 years can attest to this – he makes his signature songs all but unrecognizable). My friend Erin was commenting on what a musical genius he is and how he could easily rearrange his songs live, but he doesn’t because he knows how much his fans enjoy participating in the songs. And it’s obvious he enjoys them as well, often grinning widely at the crowd during their more boisterous singing. It’s pretty much a love fest and I always leave his shows in a good mood, happy to be surrounded by anti-hipsters. Moving to Texas, I’m looking forward to the fact that I’ll have a lot less hipsters to contend with. Now I’ll just have to deal with country music fans. Sigh.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Jakob Dylan at The Wiltern; or Attack of Nostalgia

“It is a curious emotion, this certain homesickness I have in mind. With Americans, it is a national trait, as native to us as the roller-coaster or the jukebox. It is no simple longing for the home town or country of our birth…we are torn between a nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange.” – Carson McCullers

Now that it’s official that I’ll be moving to Texas next month, everything’s starting to take on a strange nostalgic air. Walking into the Wiltern Theatre in LA last week to see Jakob Dylan started to bring back a lot of great (and some not so great) concert memories I've had there. My first Ani Difranco show…That time I saw Live and realized what a completely pretentious douche lead singer Ed Kowalczyk is (I recall something about a Jesus pose while he wrapped himself in an American flag)

One of the most memorable was a charity show featuring Beck, Mike Ness (of Social Distortion), and Eddie Vedder (if you don’t know which band he’s from, you’re not allowed to read my blog!) Seeing Eddie and Mike trade verses on “Ball and Chain” was one of those moments I’ll never forget. This concert will also live in infamy as “the concert where I missed Thom freaking Yorke!” My friend and I left toward the end of Beck’s set; she was tired and wasn’t a big fan (I know, I know). So the next day I’m reading a review and turns out Thom Yorke was a surprise guest after Beck’s set. Considering that Radiohead has been the white whale of my 15 years concert-going career, the memory is still painful. Now, as a rule, I NEVER leave a show until the houselights come on. Because you just never know when Thom Yorke might appear!

And beyond the artists and music, there’s the people I went with…the friendships and relationships that are still strong and the ones that have slipped away. Which got me thinking about the permanence of music versus the transience of relationships. So with all of this in my mind, I had pretty high expectations for my last (…at least for awhile) show at the Wiltern. And while it wasn’t necessarily a show I’ll remember five years from now, it provided a perfect blend of the new and exciting and comforting and familiar. Touring behind his lovely “Women and Country” album, Dylan put on an inspired show, in no small part to back-up singers Kelly Hogan and Neko Case (who was criminally underutilized IMO – why didn’t she open?!)

While the last two Wallflower albums and Dylan’s first solo effort have been hit or miss, he’s found his sweet spot with these understated folk-gems. His work with the Wallflowers was always heavily influenced by Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen; it seems he’s got enough musical confidence now to withstand comparisons to that other Dylan. The songs came across great live and even featured guitar by uber-producer (Counting Crows, Wallflowers, Elvis Costello) T-Bone Burnett on two songs (he once toured with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue!). And then there were the new takes on old favorites Three Marlenas and One Headlight. Neko and Jakob traded lines on a slowed-down version of Marlenas and One Headlight brought down the house. I can’t tell you how joyful it made me to hear those songs that I had so loved in high school. And that’s what’s so great about music – it can excite you with new sounds and new artists and console you with beloved songs and familiar voices. And as I chase new experiences and memories in new places with new people, I’m glad for those familiar songs that will remind me of the people and places I already love.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Metric at the Hollywood Palladium; or Top 5 Rules of Concert Etiquette

After you’ve attended as many concerts as I have (I should break 100 by the end of this year), you become aware of certain rules and etiquette. And you become even more aware of the fact that 90% of concert attendees tend to be ignorant of these rules. Going to see Canadian indie-rockers Metric at the Hollywood Palladium last weekend, I was annoyingly reminded of these rules as I was surrounded by their flagrant disregard. So in hopes of enlightening even one soul, here are my Top 5, in no particular order.

  1. Don’t wear the band’s shirt to the concert or blast their music in the parking lot. This one’s pretty obvious. We know you like the band, that’s why you just shelled out $40+ to see them play. We don’t need to be reminded of your fandom and which tours you’ve attended. On a similar note, there’s no need to blast their music in the parking lot before the show. You’ll be hearing it live in a few minutes and no one wants to hear you singing along off-key; it just ruins the mood. My friend Kyle is even anti-listening to the band on the way to the show.
  2. Don’t invade my personal space. This rule obviously doesn’t apply to hardcore punk/metal concerts where moshing, crowd surfing and other such faux-violent practices are the norm. I don’t know if it’s turning 30, but I am becoming less and less fond of general admission standing-only shows. To begin with, I’m so short I have to resort to wearing tall heels to be able to have any chance of seeing the band. After the Metric show ended, I could barely walk to the car and finally had to remove my self-imposed torture devices and walk barefoot. And of course, I had the good fortune of standing behind what had to be the two most annoying people in the room. The girl in front of me was dancing/doing cheer-like routines and constantly bumping up against everyone around her while the guy with her was awkwardly dancing and clapping off key, like one of the clueless guys in Night at the Roxbury. There is plenty of room in the back of the room to dance/perform cheers so please don’t ruin everyone else’s enjoyment of the show. Every time I go to a general admission show, I promise myself I’m never going to do it again. I’m reminded of the immortal words of Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, “I’m too old for this shit!”
  3. Don’t sing louder than the band. This especially comes into play at general admission shows where it can feel like someone’s singing directly into your ear. This isn’t your car or the shower, so please keep your singing at a level that is only audible to you. I’m not anti-singing along; I enjoy singing along to songs but I don’t want to hear you above the artist I’m paying my hard-earned money to see.
  4. Please take your personal conversations elsewhere. There was a couple in front of me who had to be on their first or second date and were more interested in talking and flirting than watching the activity on stage. Do us all a favor, go out to dinner for your first date; we don’t all need to participate.
  5. You’re not a documentary filmmaker so please refrain from taking hundreds of pictures and videotaping the entire show. I don’t mind if you take a few pictures with your phone, I’ve been known to do that. But to be fixated on getting the perfect shot and recording your favorite songs seems to be missing the whole point. Instead of fully experiencing the moment, you’re anticipating being able to have the best quality video on youtube or sharing it with your friends later. Concerts should be about losing yourself in the music - connecting with the band and fellow fans in a way that can only happen live. You’re going to miss those magic moments that every great show offers if you’re preoccupied with getting that perfect picture or video. You can find hundreds of pictures of the band online and most bands have a concert DVD or two, so it seems like a complete waste to view the better part of a show through your camera lens, phone, or video camera.

Well, this post is already longer than I meant it to be and I haven’t even mentioned the band! This was my first time seeing Metric live and I’m a fairly new fan. It was definitely one of those shows that made me a bigger admirer of the band. Lead singer Emily Haines’ voice is great live and she strutted and danced around the stage with the stamina and exuberance of someone much younger than her 40 years. The band is tight and you can tell they’ve been playing together for a long time. The band recently had a sorta radio hit with “Help I’m Alive” which you might have heard the two or three times KROQ has played it. That was a highlight, along with the Clash-inspired “Monster Hospital,” with the refrain “I fought the war and the war won.” And they had one of those magic moments at the end of the show, when they closed with “Combat Baby,” and Emily asked the audience to sing along. It was just her and guitarist James Shaw playing a pretty acoustic version of one of their earliest songs where she pleads for a former love to “come back baby come back.” And it’s because of moments like these that I can overlook the loud talkers, sore feet and bad dancers.

Album to check out: Fantasies

Key tracks: "Help, I'm Alive," "Sick Muse," "Curtain Call"

Friday, March 12, 2010


So my friends have been bugging me for awhile to start a music blog so here it finally is! Pretty soon after meeting me, people know about my music obsession and my frequent concert-going. And I’m always attempting (forcing?) to get my friends to listen to the music I love. I tend to judge people by the music they like, which I’ve been told by some people is weird. But I think the music we listen to is often a reflection of our emotional state, our outlook on life and the way we see the world. So this space will be a place where I share the music I love through concert reviews, lists and some rants and raves. If I can turn one person on to some great music, then I’ll consider it a success!

First up…

Tegan and Sara
3/3: Copley Symphony Hall, San Diego

Part of the fun of going to see Tegan and Sara live is getting to hear the funny stories the two sisters share on stage that night. Their witty, longwinded banter is as much of a draw as their finely crafted indie-pop songs. I had seen them previously when they opened up for Death Cab for Cutie at the Hollywood Bowl, but they do much better in a smaller venue like this where they can create a more intimate setting for their fans. And that’s what they do: sing their intimate songs on love and heartbreak, while sharing intimate stories about say, their experiences at summer camp, the embarrassment of shopping for bras with their mom, and…pony farms?

It was a bit of “The Tegan Show” as she did a majority of the talking and sang a few more songs then Sara did. (The duo splits up songwriting duties, only assisting on back-up vocals on each other’s tracks live.) I prefer Tegan’s more straightforward emotional singer-songwriter songs to Sara’s more abstract punkier songs. My sister, who bought me the concert tickets as a birthday present, prefers Sara (to the point that we actually got into a 30-minute debate about it because, yes, we’re total music nerds). So after starting off with a few songs from their new dance-inspired album “Sainthood,” Tegan talked about how being on tour is like summer camp except for the fact that she hated summer camp and would call her mom and beg her to come get her. And how when she was growing up she dreamed of being in a band. “But not this band, like a cool punk band.”

The duo went on to play fan favorites from all of their previous three efforts, including their critically acclaimed and fan-beloved “The Con.” While they have a backing guitar/bass/drums band, they’re at the forefront, switching easily between guitar and piano. On arguably their most catchy song, the Sara-penned “Back In Your Head,” Tegan even pulled out the xylophone (!) while Sara sang. It’s such a perfect pop song that it’s a mystery to me why it’s not a radio hit, as mysterious as why the treacly Taylor Swift is beloved by millions.

Of course, Tegan and Sara are as eagerly beloved by their (albeit smaller) fan base. The audience hangs on their every word and shouts of “I love you Tegan” and “I love you Sara” were heard throughout the night. And then there were the overeager fans who threw bras and other apparel at the sisters (Tegan: “Do you think that I’m coat check?”). The bra throwing precipitated Tegan’s lament on the trauma of shopping for bras with her mom as a teenager and how having them thrown on stage brings back the shameful feelings. On a more upbeat note, Sara mentioned how they’re using the offending undergarments to make a quilt!

Before launching into the pretty “Call It Off” with the lovelorn refrain “Maybe I woulda been something you’d be good at. Maybe you woulda been something I’d be good at,” Tegan pleaded to the audience to stop screaming and sing-a-long instead. Sara: “Yes, less like you’re running away from bears and vampires.” But it’s obvious that they deeply appreciate their fans and that’s why they create such an intimate atmosphere. Before ending with fan-favorite “Living Room,” Tegan thanked the audience for continuing to come out and support them. “I want you to know that I never ever take it for granted…even when I’m on my pony farm dressed in diamonds.”