Category Archives: Live Shows

Send Defending Axl Rose To See Kanye West

Hello. Well this is awkward. A few weeks ago I found out that Kanye West would be touring in support of his latest album/magnum opus THE LIFE OF PABLO. Normally, this would be great news except he wasn’t coming to the city I live in. I was pretty bummed out. Then, a few days after my birthday, my parents got to see Guns N’ Roses in Kansas City. While very happy for them, this also really bummed me out. I should have gone to that show, but unfortunately a new job and a new baby (plus lack of money) meant that I’d have to skip seeing GNR. I’m barely able to live with myself, people. I swore that the next time a “Holy Fuck!” artist went on tour I’d do everything in my power to go and see them.

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Which leads me to Kanye. I was once offered free tickets to see Kanye open for U2, but I had already made unbreakable plans was was forced to pass up the opportunity. My relationship with Kanye started in the fall of 2005. I was living in the dorms at the University of St.Louis-Missouri when hurricane Katrina hit. The kids studying in New Orleans were distributed to colleges all across the nation. I remember sitting on the front porch of my dorm building, smoking Camel cigarettes, when a van pulled up and deposited two such refugees. The school representative helped them with their luggage, gave them vouchers for food, and then basically said “good luck” and drove off. I could tell that these kids were shell-shocked and in need of help. I didn’t really know anyone in St. Louis at the time, having just moved there myself, so I sympathized with them. I took them out for lunch and we became friends. They introduced me to Budweiser (up until that point I did not know there was any variety other than Bud Light), Tyler Perry movies, and Kanye West. LATE REGISTRATION had just dropped and they insisted that I hear it. That was my gateway to rap music, a gift that continues to enrich my life over ten years later.

This year’s LIFE OF PABLO is my number one favorite album. It’s the album I listen to when I run and when I speed to fast on the highway. In short, I need to see this man, but I can’t afford a trip and concert without help. Please take a moment to consider donating to my Go Fund Me campaign.  It feels weird asking for this money, but at the same time you’ll be getting something out of this, too. For starters, I plan on writing extensively about both the lead-up to the concert, the concert, and my post-concert thoughts/feelings. Maybe some of you would pay to NOT get my thoughts on a Kanye West concert, to those people I say: “Why are you still reading this post?” I’m going to reward my top donors with a thank you package and wear the names of everyone who donated to the fund on a special t-shirt when (if?) I attend the show.

I promise not to be annoying about this and post about it ad nauseam. I also won’t make this a “thing” that I do for every concert I go to. I can afford a $35 ticket to see Weezer in the city where I live, I don’t expect people to pick up the tab on that sort of thing. I do feel like I’ve turned my readers onto good albums and songs over the years. And I know I’ve made you laugh (at least once) even it was at me and not necessarily with me…that has to be worth a buck or two, right?

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Best Coast & Wavves at the Bluebird February 27th 2016

Let’s get this out of the way: this is going to be a terrible concert review. If you want a track-by-track accounting of the Best Coast/Wavves show I attended on Saturday February 27, 2016 you should look elsewhere. The show was probably very good and not the massive existential crisis I am about to make it out to be. Both bands are great and combining them in one show really is a fantastic sensory experience. While the two bands couldn’t be further apart in terms of style and fan appeal, seeing them back-to-back was an incredible experience. I’d seen Best Coast twice and Wavves once by themselves, but seeing them together was something else entirely. I liken it to mixing peanut butter and chocolate, the mixing of two different, complementary, flavors that combine to make something even tastier.

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This is face of a man who is scared shitless (and full of Miller Lite).

This concert was important for me historically because it was the last concert I will attend as a childless man. My wife and I are expecting our first child in mid-April and the specter of parenthood which has been hanging over me is reaching its cold, icy fingers of responsibility around my throat. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be happier and am genuinely excited to be a father, I can tell that I am at the end of an epoch. I’m now very much sensitive to the passage of time and my mortality. Which brings me to the Best Coast/Wavves concert. The tour was billed as “Summer Is Forever II” which played on the fact that both bands are from California and sing a lot about summer and the beach. Bethany Cosentino, whose songs are usually very introspective and melancholy despite having a veneer of sunshine, fronts Best Coast. While Nathan Williams leads Wavves, a pop-(stoner)punk outfit who are increasingly reveal themselves to be more introspective and insecure with each subsequent album. The romance between Cosentino and Williams has been widely reported, and though they’re probably only friends now, the tour definitely played up there past.

This show had plenty of yings and yangs, but let me fixate on the ones that really mattered. For one thing, the very notion of “Summer Is Forever II” is both appealing and stomach churning. I walked into the Blue Bird Theater about 30 minutes before the start of the show, the crowd slowly filling with fans sporting the telltale black “X” of the under 21. I found a spot in the middle of the venue, confident that nobody would really get near me until the sold-out crowd showed up later in the set. I was right. For the most part I was invisible. Not yet old enough to be the “old guy” at the rock show, I was old enough to be be apart from the majority of the crowd. Ying: young fans Yang: old ass blogger.

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Sipping a Miller Lite from a plastic cup, I stared at the open band Cherry Glazerr and pondered the “Summer Is Forever II” banner at the back of the stage. I’m going to skip over the part where this tour is a sequel to a 2011 Best Coast/Wavves tour, and instead focus on the fact that a sequel can only happen if the first one ends. That would seem to suggest, to me at least, that summer isn’t forever. Best Coast took the stage and after a few songs Bethany remarked that she was sad that the tour was ending in a week. Already the magic was broken: all of this was going to come to and end…and soon. I’d seen Best Coast in September, at the same venue, and I thought that this Saturday performance was better than the one I’d seen on a weeknight.  The songs sounded better and the crowd was really digging the music. The songs that play sad and a bit navel-gazey at home in my earbuds felt more upbeat and playful live. There was really only one song I wanted to hear, “In My Eyes” with its sing-songy chorus and when it was played in the middle of the set I felt satisfied. Ying: A young lead singer. Yang: She was wearing an old Sublime t-shirt.

Wavves are by no means a “hard” band, but they’re certainly rougher than Best Coast. And it’s not just a boy/girl thing either; their approaches are completely different.  That’s part of the mystique surrounding their sometimes coupling: he’s so coarse and unrefined and she’s so sensitive. The two had a real Beauty and the Beast thing going on, the kind of thing Hollywood couldn’t invent on its best day. While I think Wavves make the better music, I haven’t been following their music as closely as Best Coast. Mostly because Wavves second-to-last album was a dense collaboration with Cloud Nothings title NO LIFE FOR ME. They actually played a song off this record that sounded pretty good live, which makes me think that I’m probably wrong about not liking it so much and need to give it a re-listen. Wavves started out as a kind of neo-stoner rock surf outfit that’s slowly mutated into a neo-Grunge band in the vein of Nirvana. I can’t blame them for aping Kurt and Company, who were acting indifferent and complicated back when Wavves were just an itch in their daddies shorts.

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The crowd got rowdy during the Wavves set and the house started throwing kids out for stage diving. I immediately noticed a member of the Wavves staff whose job it was to monitor the goofballs clambering onto the stage. The first few meekly jumping off as soon as they got on stage and them more brazenly trying to shuck and jive on stage or take a quick selfie with the band. The dude working for Wavves either pushed them back into the crowd or carted them off stage and out the emergency exit. The soon-to-be father part of me couldn’t help but worry about the bigger dudes when they leapt into the crowd, sometimes headfirst. The section where I was standing wasn’t moshing, but the first few rows were really…enthusiastic. I was glad to be standing apart from the fray, mostly because I no longer want a lot of sweaty contact with co-eds.

Wavves played the song I most wanted to hear, “Demon To Lean On” from their second album AFRAID OF HEIGHTS, though it sounds like it could have come from mid-1990’s Seattle. They played “Heavy Metal Detox” which is the only song I remember from their most recent album V. Other highlights from the show include “Nine is God” which is on the Grand Theft Auto V soundtrack and  “Green Eyes” off their second album KING OF THE BEACH. Both of those songs made me remember why I love Wavves so much. Ying: They don’t give a fuck. Yang: They give so many fucks.

After a fairly long set of stage-diving, sweaty choruses, and inflatable alien dolls; Wavves bid us goodnight and walked off the stage. Then the house lights came up and it was clear that the show was over without an encore. A younger me would have felt cheated and would have complained, but I’m old and so I was grateful I was getting to go home. And just like that, I shuffled out into the cold and waited for my Uber to come so I could go home. That was it. That was my last rock show as just “Jason” before becoming “Dad.” Anticlimactic? Hell yes. Just like how summer isn’t forever, everything has a season. And those seasons all end, without exception. I remember going to shows in 2003 with one, two, sometimes three encores. I remember leaving with ears that would ring for a day or two after the show. I’ve caught guitar picks and pieces of drum kits. I’ve been pushed in a crowd and pushed back. I once saw a domestic dispute at a Tina Turner concert, how’s that for seeing everything? It feels like the show is over and everybody has to go home, but really it’s just me that has to go.

I have tickets to see The Flaming Lips in May, which I’m super-stoked about, but it feels like this is the end. This “Summer Is Forever II” show couldn’t have been a better ending for me. I love how superficial and finite it felt. Both bands perpetuate a kind of youthful exuberance that appeals to the aging hipster in me. Part of me likes to think that when I’m home doing dad-things they’ll be out there somewhere rocking…like the Dude in the Big Lebowski taking it easy for the rest of us. But the truth is, both of these bands are getting older. Nathan got a haircut since the last time I saw him in 2011. The long-haired rocker has become the sensibly coiffed crooner. Everything keeps moving forward and everything comes to an end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lemmy is dead and GnR Lives?

It’s been a crazy week in the world of rock and more than one person has asked me if/when I was going to write a post. I wish I had a good excuse for posting so infrequently, but I don’t really have one. I’m just a lazy bastard. But there were two really big news items this week, so here I am.

First, the legendary lead singer of Motorhead, Lemmy Kilmister, died this week. I wasn’t surprised by this as Motorhead had cancelled a couple of tour dates earlier this year due to Lemmy not feeling well. Like most Motorhead fans, when I heard the news I assumed Lemmy had succumbed to his addictions. Besides being a first rate hellraiser, Lemmy was what can only be described as a “power drinker.” The fact that the dude made it to 70 is really a miracle, if you ask me. When I learned it was cancer and not excess that claimed Lemmy, I was genuinely shocked. Now, did Lemmy’s boozing ways contribute to or even cause his cancer? Perhaps, but the fact remains he didn’t die of liver failure which was what I was expecting.

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Rest In Power, Lemmy.

I saw Motorhead once in the middle 2000’s in St. Louis. They played a killer show with Valient Thorr that to this day ranks in my top 10 concerts. Lemmy’s voice was gravelly and unmistakable; there was never any mistaking him for someone else. I’m not the biggest metal-head, but the metal bands I do like tend to have vocalists that sound unique. Lemmy sure was unique. He also looked like a rock ‘n roll warthog from hell. One of my favorite Lemmy memories was his cameo in 1990’s comedy AIRHEADS where he proclaims that he was “editor of the school magazine.”

His brief cameo is a fun moment made extra-meta because earlier in the movie Lemmy is mentioned by name in a pretty funny exchange with Harold Ramis:

I’ll also never forget the time in 2002 when it was reported that Lemmy was considering having his famous facial warts removed in order to sell them online. I’m not even sure how true that rumor was, but I distinctly remember it being in the news. Anyway, Motorhead is truly an excellent band and Lemmy was one of the last remaining metal gods, he will be missed.

Also this week, it was announced that the rumors were true: the original line-up of Guns N’ Roses were reuniting next year.  Although the only gig that’s been confirmed is a headlining gig at this year’s Coachella Festival in April, the word on the (proverbial) street is that GnR will be also be launching a massive 25 date stadium tour in 2016. This is a huge deal because as we all know, GnR has been steadily touring for the past 20 years but with only Axl Rose as the sole original member of the band.

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Coming to a town near you? 

Does it excite me that Axl and Slash have buried the hatchet and are going to tour? Of course it does! Now the big question: will I be interested in going to see the band play live? I saw Slash earlier this year open for Aerosmith and it was kinda…sad. Slash was perfectly fine, but it was obvious that he was yearning to return to the glory of Guns N’ Roses. The lead singer he’d recruited for his band was an obvious Axl-clone. And while it was an audience who’d shown up to see Steven Tyler and Company, the only reactions the band really got was from the GnR songs they played.

I liken a reunited Guns N’ Roses to the most recent STAR WARS movie. People are only excited about this because of the nostalgic feelings it creates inside them. Nobody really wants to see an older, bloated, graying rock band get up on stage and embarrass themselves. Well, maybe some people do, but I don’t. A reunited GnR would be a time warp to an earlier era in all GnR fans lives. An era that should probably be left in the past, if we were all being honest. I’m sure Slash and Axl could whip themselves into fine-ish form but the real question everyone should be asking is: to what end? Will this be a greatest hits cash-grab-mega-tour? I’d rather they get together and write new music and release an album than just travel across the country using Pro-Tools to mask the ravages of time and sell a couple thousand T-shirts. But that’s just me.

There a many reason I’m not going to Coachella–I’m about to be a father for the first time being just one of them–but I’d consider seeing them on tour if they came to my town. And the tickets were reasonable. And that’s the rub with reunions like this, isn’t it? These tickets are going to be insanely expensive so many long time fans are probably going to be shut out (another reason I’d prefer we just get another album).

Everyone seems to be lusting for the past everywhere I look (again, STAR WARS) and this GnR reunion just seems like another example of that trend. I’m really torn between stoked to potentially have the chance to see Guns N’ Roses live and a little disgusted that the only concerts people get excited about anymore are these Dinosaurs of Rock Reunion Showz. Don’t get me wrong, I am 100% a classic rock fan, but I wish there was a new band grabbing headlines (and dollars) like a reformed GnR.

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The Darkness at The Summit Music Hall 10/16/2015

I still remember hearing The Darkness for the first time 12 years ago. Their first, and best known single, “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” was all over the radio and the music video was a big deal at the time, too. Actually, I think that was the last time I saw a really cool music video on MTV.  The Darkness belong to a bygone era of rock music, which is probably why I love them so much. An era of huge hooks and killer guitar riffs. I’ve been following the band’s career through lineup switches, break-ups, and changes in facial hair…and in 12 years they’ve never let me down. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t worried about the band delivering the goods live. I’d read online that the band was great live, but I was still unprepared for just how good The Darkness are live.

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I got to the Summit Music Hall early, like I usually do, and my first impression was “Jesus, this place is small.” I realize that America is no longer a bastion of rock fans, but even I was shocked at what a tiny venue the band was playing. Overseas, The Darkness headline big music festivals and are a bit of rock royalty…here in my home State of Colorado they were just thin dudes in funny clothes playing a club show. I’m grateful that I got to see this band up-close and personal, but if there were any justice in the world we’d have been at the enormous Pepsi Center across town. My friend Dylan, also a huge Darkness fan, shared this sentiment upon seeing the size of the room the band was playing.

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Something weird happened to the opening band and a local band In The Whale filled-in. In The Whale was a noisy two-piece that reminded me of Death From Above 1979 with a dash of rockabilly. As is usually the case with two-piece bands, the sound they made was mostly noise. They had a couple of songs that weren’t awful, but at no point were my friends and I compelled to leave the bar area. When The Darkness hit the stage Dylan and I were ready to rock, primed with beer and free Strongbow (a sickeningly sweet-variant of hard cider). The band opened with “Barbarian” off their latest album LAST OF OUR KIND (you can read my review of that here). Front man Justin Hawkins strutted out onto the stage in a weird stripy catsuit-thingy. Shirtless and covered in tattoos, Hawkins had a Jagger-ish quality to his stage presence which kinda surprised me because I always mentally compare him to Freddie Mercury (for obvious reasons). Justin’s brother, lead guitarist Dan Hawkins, was downright normal by comparison with his mane of rocker curls and tight Thin Lizzy t-shirt. Bassist Frankie Poullain won hands down for most-interesting/I-can’t-stop-staring-at-you with his massive puff of frizzy hair, New Wave-ish business suit, and Hell’s Angels facial hair. Meanwhile the band’s current drummer, Rufus Tiger Taylor, did an adequate job but didn’t really stand out.

Look at that hair, glorious!

Look at that hair, glorious!

The band barreled though a set list of tracks skewing heavily towards the band’s first album PERMISSION TO LAND with key tracks from the other three albums sprinkled throughout. At the mid-point of the show, Justin invited a slightly middle age looking couple onto the stage because they were getting married the next day. Or so they claimed, I’m always skeptical of these kind of people. Justina and Co. got them comfy and then proceeded to serenade them with “Get Your Hands Off My Woman.” This was an amusing choice because, in case you aren’t aware, the song is peppered generously throughout with “motherfuckers.” I’m sure that glorious moment will be retold for decades to come by this happy couple, perhaps to coca-sipping grandchildren.

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Pretty much any Darkness song you’d want to hear the band played (though they did not play the one song I yearned to hear “Keep Me Hanging On” off the third album). Songs like the super-appropriate “Friday Night,” “One Way Ticket,” and “Love Is Only A Feeling” were all played with propulsive precision. Sometimes seeing your favorite band play your favorite tracks live is a bit underwhelming, but The Darkness’ charm and musicianship were high and at no time did I find myself thinking this is cool and all, but it sounded much better on the album. A roadie was constantly shuffling on stage to bring Justin a Gibson guitar, only to return once his guitar bit of the song was over so he could bop across the stage unencumbered. The spastic lead singer actually sat down for two songs to play keyboard, which I wasn’t expecting.

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Yes, the band played “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” and they didn’t save it for the encore, like I was expecting. I’ve heard this song more times than I can count, and to be honest, I would have been 100% fine not hearing it live. But it was rad hearing it live and feeling the crowd’s energy during this classic number. Usually when I leave a really good concert, I find myself in love with a song that I wasn’t as big a fan of prior to hearing it live. To this day, I absolutely love “Tumbling Dice” by the Rolling Stones, a song I had no real feelings for prior to witnessing the band play live on The Bigger Bang tour a decade ago. Well that Darkness song is “Love On The Rocks With No Ice,” which popped up during the encore. I am still catching myself humming this tune two days later!

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Also worth mentioning: the band played one NEW song about 2/3’s of the way through the show. It was a great song, though I didn’t catch the name of it at the time (ringing ears and all). A quick check online reveals this song to be titled “Rack of Glam.” If this track is any indication of what might be on the next album, then I think we have another great album on the horizon. Though there wasn’t as much stage banter as I’d have thought, there were a couple of great moments (besides dragging the couple on stage). The audience was really into crowd surfing, and near the end of the show, Justin surfed out into the audience and climbed up onto the balcony. Watching Justin dive back into the crowd mere feet away was definitely my top rock moment of 2015.

Up close and slightly personal.

Up close and slightly personal.

Bottom line: I’d see them again, right now if I could. It’s rare these days to see a band that’s able to be both awesome sounding and off-the-wall fun live. The Darkness put on one hell of a show…truly they are the last of their kind.

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Van Halen Announce 2015 North American Tour–They’re Playing Where You Live

I’ve been out of it lately and I’ve been meaning to do some writing…well today Van Halen announced a pretty big North American tour and shook me from my malaise. I missed the band the last time they reunited and toured–so this news has me pretty stoked. Sure, Michael Anthony is still out of the band and he-who-shall-not-named is still playing bass (and fat), but this announcement has me reaching for my Visa card.

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Sure, I’m still trying to recover financially from buying a pair of Replacements tickets, but this is Van Halen. Van fucking Halen. One of THE last truly great, truly massive rock bands. I’m sure this won’t be their last tour, but this will probably be the last chance I’ll ever get to see them.

And look at all the chances Van Halen is giving me (and you) to see them this summer:

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And the dates keeps going! Too many dates for one screen grab!!!

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That’s pretty much every American city worth a damn, and then some. Hell, the band is even playing my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and they only have one horse! Since moving to Denver a year ago, I’ve yearned for seeing a concert at Red Rocks (Morrison, Colorado) and this might be my chance to finally pull the trigger and visit that epic outdoor venue. But who will accompany me? Mrs. Defending Axl Rose ain’t the biggest Van Halen fan, and these tickets are gonna be expensive. I hate dragging her to stuff, but I really hate dragging her to concerts that cost $100 a pop. My fantasy list of people I’d like to see this show with would be: my Dad, Robin Renee, Gandhi, and maybe my 8th Grade Science lab partner who liked to scribble “Van Halen” on his trapper keeper (sorry dude, I have forgotten your name).

Alas, I’m broke as hell but I’m gonna fill out a home equity loan application tomorrow so I can buy tickets for this tour. I’ll keep you all posted. In the meantime, how about a little mood music?

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Overpaying For Concert Ticket PreSales Suck Or How I Learned To Relax And Love LiveNation (NOT)

About a week ago there was a major announcement in Defending Axl Rose-land: The Replacements were going on tour. Luckily for me, one of the stops would be my hometown of Denver. The band reformed about a year ago for a few festival dates, but I wasn’t able to attend any of those. This announcement was the second-chance I never thought I’d get. Once the initial thrill of a Replacements tour dissipated I was left with one thought: these tickets are going to cost a fortune.

Anytime a legendary band re-forms and goes on a reunion tour there’s a ton of money to be made. The Replacements broke up in 1991 and though they’re highly influential, I don’t know anyone personally who actually likes them. So I had no idea just how highly coveted would these tickets be. I’m a terrible judge of popularity—the larger populace more often than not greets the things that seem incredibly important to me with a resounding “meh”. Still, there was no way in hell I was going to pass up a chance to see The Replacements, so I resolved to see them. No matter what. Come hell or high water. *Insert other cliché here*.

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My first move was to see when tickets would go on sale, so I hopped online and went to the band’s trusty website…which immediately linked me to LiveNation. Fucking LiveNation. When I clicked that link I swear my computer made a cash register sound. I won’t bore you with my own personal tale of poverty; I know that there are people worse off. But let’s just say that despite being paid a handsome salary as President & C.E.O of Defending Axl Rose Industries; I don’t have an unlimited supply of funds. Anytime I deal with LiveNation I end up spending double what I thought I was going to pay. Going on their website is akin to being pulled over by a police car. Scrolling through the website is just like rolling down the window and forking over my driver’s license. How much, I think, is this shit going to end up costing me?

LiveNation’s website indicated that The Replacements tickets were going on sale to the public on Friday but that there was a “Presale” the day before. Gripped with a nerdy fear that I might not get to go due to a lack of tickets, I instantly jumped on the hope that this mysterious presale offered. There was zero information explaining what the rules or requirements of the presale was, so I had no choice but to set a timer in my iPhone and check back at the time of the presale.

I know exactly none of you care what my opinion of presales is, but I’m going to tell you: I hate them. Essentially presales are insulting to most fans, rewarding the lucky few who possess a Visa Rapid Rewards Card or who belong to KQRC’s Morning Madness Fan Club. Want the privilege of buying overpriced tickets before anyone else? Sign up for our annoying ass mailing list. Despite being such a massive music nerd, I have no love for fan clubs and don’t think I should have to give the Kaiser Chiefs my personal info to score tickets to their show before all of you other sweaty basement dwellers.

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When the day of the presale came I hit up LiveNation’s website to see if they’d explain what hoops I’d have to jump through to score tickets. It turned out the presale wasn’t for a credit card or fan club I didn’t belong to…it was for a local radio station and users of the LiveNation app! The idea of downloading a free to app to score a code to buy tickets a day early didn’t seem so bad. I went to the App Store and quickly downloaded the app. Then I spent five minutes or so setting up an account with the app. Then I navigated to the Replacements concert within the app, thinking there I’d be allowed to purchase tickets for the show. Nope.

I was treated to a rage-inducing notice that tickets would go on sale the next day. Well played, LiveNation. The whole purpose of the app-only presale was to get me to stupidly download their app and give them my information, which I happily did. Too bad I wasn’t paid in kind for my cooperation. I double-checked myself, just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. When I was sure that I hadn’t, I angrily deleted the app from my phone. Then I went back on LiveNation to see if I was confused or had missed something. The website insisted that as an app user I’d be provided with a code I could use for the presale. I resigned myself to having to wait a day to buy tickets. Then about 20 minutes later I downloaded the app for a second time and tried it all over again.

Pissed off and feeling foolish, I decided to double-down on the amount of time I was going to waste on this presale and went back to LiveNation’s website in order to file a complaint. At the very bottom of their page I found a FAQ/Help link. There I found a section about presales which offered this nugget of wisdom:

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Guess what, LiveNation: FUCK YOU.

I couldn’t believe it, could it really be that simple? Did all I need to do was type “beatbox” and I’d magically be allowed to give them my money? Yep, it really was that simple. I deleted the app off my phone for the second time and swore under breath. Then I dropped $121 I didn’t really have on concert tickets. Much like songstress Jewel, these foolish games are tearing me apart.

I get that with this presale LiveNation wanted me to download and use their app, but without doing what they said it was going to do (i.e. give me a code to buy presale tickets) it makes it look like LiveNation doesn’t know what it’s doing. Being a multi-million dollar company, this level of incompetence casts LiveNation in an evil, manipulative light. So which is it, LiveNation are you incompetent or evil?

Sadly it doesn’t matter if they’re evil, because even though I wasn’t happy with them, I still gave them my money. What choice did I have? I guess I could have waited a day and half and gone down to the venue to purchase tickets, but I’m not even sure if I can do that anymore. And waiting on tickets can mean missing out on shows, especially when scalping computers swoop in to buy up all the tickets for those shady online re-sellers.

I can’t even remember the last time I bought tickets anywhere other than online. Much like cable companies, LiveNation and other giant ticket sellers have all us music fans by the balls. I love seeing bands play live, but I hate everything about buying concert tickets. As the music industry shrinks faster than the polar icecaps, I get understand that concert revenue has become increasingly important. I get that high tickets are paying for my evil, music streaming-ways. And if I truly love a band, I’ll pay way more than I should to see them in concert, but why do ticket retailers like LiveNation have to give me an electronic wedgie when I try to give them my money?

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Rhett Miller at The Soiled Dove Underground 01/30/2015

On Friday night I saw Rhett Miller in concert, the last time I saw him was eleven years ago in St. Louis. I did the math while sipping a Moscow Mule before the show, and I’ve been listening to Miller and his band Old 97’s for fourteen years. Most artists today seem to appear on the music scene and then dissapear after two or three years. Longevity, along with album sales, seems to have vanished from the music industry. I guess that’s why I’m shocked I’ve been listening to Miller for so long.

I discovered Old 97’s while trolling music magazines on my lunch break, back when I was working for minimum wage at a chain drugstore. The band’s blend of rock and country fascinated me…and Miller had a cool haircut…so I bought FIGHT SONGS and the then-newly released SATELLITE RIDES. I was blown away and the band quickly became one of my favorites. Pioneers in the “alt-country” scene, like The Jayhawks (another great band I’ve only recently discovered), the Old 97’s are one of those great bands that haven’t had massive mainstream success in large part because they don’t fit neatly into one genre.

Guy still has a cool haircut.

Guy still has a cool haircut.

Rhett went solo in 2002 with THE INSTIGATOR* and for a moment I feared the 97’s were done for. Luckily for all parties, Miller quickly proved that he can walk the delicate balance between band and solo career. I saw the Old 97’s just before I moved away to college, the show was more raucous and raw than I’d imagined. But as I waited for the show to start Friday night I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to see Miller by himself a decade later.

It takes a special kind of talent to go up onstage alone and play songs by yourself, especially when the songs everyone knows and lovers were recorded with a full band. If I’d had my choice prior to the show, I’d have preferred to see Miller play with the Old 97’s rather than just bang away on his guitar alone. But I must admit there was something really special and intimate about seeing Rhett with only a guitar. The stripped back set also reminded me once again what a powerful set of pipes he’s got, his voice still boyish and ragged. The set list was surprisingly heavy on Old 97’s material, with the best songs from his solo output peppered in between. I wasn’t expecting as many of his band’s songs to be included since it was a solo show.  Despite being pared down, all of these songs sounded great.

The venue, unfortunately named The Soiled Dove Underground, was small and intimate. I’d estimate it could hold about 200 people and the crowd was about half that size. The Soiled Dove is a sort of yuppie jazz club, which clashed a bit with the Texas-twang Miller was throwing off. I was seated at a table, which made my knees happy, and the audience was brimming with a white hair. That said, I wasn’t the youngest person by far—an 11-year-old girl named Nora was in the front row, sitting dead center of the stage. I know her age and name because both Miller and his opening act made a big deal about their being a kid in the audience. Though two sets of people sent shots of tequila up to the stage for Miller (he politely said thanks but didn’t drink them, sticking to whiskey the entire evening) the show was much tamer than the night I saw Old 97’s in St. Louis.

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About halfway through the set, Miller confessed to not really having a set list and began taking requests from the audience. There were a lot of requests for older, twangy-heavy 97’s tracks like “Murder or a Heart Attack” and “Timebomb,” which was to be expected. More interestingly, though, there were also few oddball requests that Miller was all to happy to oblige. The first and best oddball request was for REM’s “Diver 8” off that band’s 1985 album FABLES OF THE RECONSTRUCTION. Not only was Miller happy to sing this song, he also prefaced the song with an anecdote about seeing Peter Buck in his boxer shorts in Mexico.

Later, after the audience was good and liquored, there was a great swell of enthusiasm for Miller to play “Murray” songs. This of course was a reference to Murray Hammond, the bass player for Old 97’s, who has over the years contributed a handful of really kickass songs to the band’s repertoire. Miller did an admirable job replicated the solemn “Valentine” off FIGHT SONGS as well as performing a valiant though lyrically incomplete run through of “W. TX Teardrops” off 1997’s TOO FAR TO CARE. I dearly love both of those songs and seeing them performed live, although by a different singer and with giant lyrical holes, was a nice treat.

Time’s been kind to Rhett Miller and his ability to give a crowd exactly what they want. Before playing his final song, Miller said that he’d be back later this year in Colorado with the Old 97’s. I’m not sure I’d have gone prior to seeing this show, but Miller has definitely sold me a ticket to that show.

As a side note, Miller’s opening act was a record producer friend of his who seemed really interesting. I tried to remember his name, but it escaped me. I’ve tried to look it up online, but both the venue website and Miller’s tour page fail to name him. I love seeing new acts and find being introduced to an artist for the first time live is a really great way to discover new talents. I wish artists/bands would make it easier for us in the listening public to find out who they are. The opening act doesn’t have to be on the marquee or anything, but if you got a strange/unusual name, maybe say it more than once or twice?

 

 

*I don’t count the out-of-print MYTHOLOGIES from 1989.

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(Un) Joining A Fan Club

At the end of last month I left the Guided By Voices fan group on Facebook after I realized I’m not really a fan. Oh, I love GBV and still regard them as one of my all-time favorite bands, but I’m not a “fan.” The term “fan” is short for “fanatic,” something I only came to realize on August 24th when I woke up and checked the band’s Facebook group. The night before the group had played a live-streamed concert at New Jersey’s famed Stone Pony club. I haven’t seen the footage, but everyone online was chatting about how incredibly drunk/out-of-control lead singer Robert Pollard got as the night progressed.

"How's my drinking?"

“How’s my drinking?”

Guided By Voices is a phenomenal indie-rock band that rides the bizarre line between power-pop and prog rock. They’re known for short, incredibly catchy hooks. But the band is also just as famous for their incredibly drunken live shows. I’ve seen the band four times; twice the band was so drunk it ruined the show. The first time I saw the band was the best, and that was because they drank only a handful of Miller Lites. In recent years, the band has taken to drinking from bottles of tequila and Crown Royal. It’s mostly a shtick, Pollard take a nip and then passes it to the crowd. When I last saw the band live in June, I was relieved that the band was taking it easy as far as the drinking was concerned.

Then the show in August at the Stone Pony happened. Fans on the Facebook group page were clearly divided the morning after the show: some were horrified by how drunk Pollard had gotten, while everyone else seemed to pile on those concerned people and tell them it was “none of their business.” Pollard’s wife even jumped into the fray, defending her husband’s health and state of mind. I was shocked at how angry the thread became, after all everyone in the group likes GBV’s music. I felt like all the comments of concern were valid and made in a respectful way. And yet, everyone who dared ask if Pollard should drink that much was attacked and vilified. The comments defending Pollard’s drunken behavior came from people with really old looking profile pictures, so I knew these weren’t dunder-headed frat boys. Clearly some (but not all) of these people had substance abuse issues themselves. Perhaps that was why the energy of the Stone Pony thread became so poisonous. I love GBV, but not so much that it degrades my common sense. And that was when it hit me: I’m not a fanatic.

I have worried for some time that Pollard’s drinking was due, in part, because of fan expectation. The joy of going to see a live GBV show has twisted into a sickening mix of music and watching Pollard get lit. Could we all be enabling a guy to essentially kill himself? Worse yet, were we guilty of killing the goose that laid the golden pop song? I don’t know Robert Pollard personally, so my desire for him to go on living is pretty selfish—I just want him to keep making albums. Death by booze is both a rock cliché and a terrible thing for fans to thrust upon an artist. Pollard is an adult, older than myself by several decades, so what he chooses to do to with his mind and body is up to him. I can let Bob “be Bob,” but I discovered I couldn’t take part in the online GBV fan community. I’m not a fan in the truest sense of the word—I’m not a fanatic. I’m still able to think for myself and form my own opinions. I love GBV but I can still view them objectively, both as musicians and as regular people. Robert Pollard is not an infallible pop demigod (Pop Zeus, if you will); he’s flesh and blood. I can’t make Pollard stop drinking, but I can remove my voice from the chorus of people online chanting, “Chug! Chug! Chug!”

The older I get, the less fanatical I am when it comes to musicians and authors. I respect a lot of bands, but I no longer feel the need to (angrily) defend the actions of people I’ve never met simply because I like their albums or books. I’m taking a measure, adult approach to my appreciation of all art. I judge the work by itself and I don’t judge the (wo)man who made it at all. Every online fan group/webpage I’ve frequented seems to hold only two camps: people who hold their idols far too high and people who derive pleasure from antagonizing the first group. I don’t fall into either category. I’m not in anyone’s fan club.

 

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About That Paul McCartney/Nirvana Song

Last night a pretty incredible benefit concert was held at Madison Square Garden to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.  This so-called “12/12/12” concert was jam-packed with tons of talent: The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, and The Who were there just to name a few.  Of course today all anyone can talk about is Sir Paul McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana. Apparently Nirvana and McCartney got together and recorded a song for a documentary Dave Grohl put together called SOUND CITY.

The song’s called “Cut Me Some Slack” and it’s surprisingly not the horrible train-wreck you’d expect from a Paul McCartney-fronted Nirvana.  Not that there’s anything wrong with either Paul or Nirvana, it’s just not two things I’d expect to go together very well.  Sure, Cobain worshipped The Beatles and infused his own music with their unique pop-sensibilities (although he made them heavier) but when I think of Nirvana I don’t think of The Beatles.  Whereas The Beatles were very much a peace and love band, Nirvana was angry and moody.  Plus, McCartney is really getting up their in years and I’ve always associated Nirvana with youth.  Destructive, unbridled, youth.

paul-mccartney-nirvana

I guess maybe that’s why “Cut Me Some Slack” works so well: this isn’t a young version of Nirvana.  Hell, this isn’t even really Nirvana.  Yes, I went there.  I realize that there are bands that can exist without their lead singer, but Nirvana sure ain’t one. Don’t get me wrong, it was really cool to see all those guys playing together again. It was especially nice seeing bassist Krist Novoselic on stage again, as he’s mostly dropped out of the music world, opting to direct films and study law.

Had the song sucked we could have blamed McCartney for being too old and for mucking about where he didn’t belong.  Thankfully the song is good enough, and their performance was energetic.  I was reluctant to write anything about this because I’m starting to feel weird writing so much about all these old dinosaurs of rock. I was looking over my Top 10 Albums of 2012 and I feel kinda strange about having so many classic rock artists on it.  Rock has always been about the here and now AND young people.  I’m not saying that old people can’t contribute to rock music or that rock artists should shut up (or be killed LOGANS RUN-style when they get to old) but the previous generation’s shadow is stifling this generations artists.

As if to drive this fact home, I got an email from Live Nation that really turned my stomach.  Take a glance at the upcoming concerts in my area:

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Memories of Elvis? An Allman Brothers Tribute?Dark Star Orchestra (which is a Grateful Dead tribute)?  Not only are these older acts not going away, when they do (usually only when death intercedes) we are then given tribute bands to fill their places.  Why in the hell aren’t we just going to see new bands? I’m just as guilty as anyone.  In fact, the next concert I’m attending is a Pink Floyd tribute. Just like the film industry won’t let old franchies go, the music industry won’t let old brands die.  And make no mistake, The Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd are nothing but brands at this point.  Three tribute bands/acts in a long list of upcoming concerts isn’t so bad, I guess.  And this is a Live Nation email, which is designed to goad aging hipsters into hiring a babysitter and having a night out.  I get that.  I also get that every night in this city there are awesome, young bands playing their hearts out.  I just wish the Nirvanas and the McCartney’s of the world would bow out gracefully and let them into the limelight.

Ah, don’t listen to me…I’m just an aging rock fan.

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LouFest 2012: Day #2 Wrap-Up

The second day of LouFest was almost dangerously-loaded with bands I wanted to see. Not that I wasn’t stoked about seeing the Day 1 bands, but the second half of the festival was wall-to-wall acts I was dying to see. Taking many of the lessons we learned from Day #1, my wife and I headed down to Forest Park with folding chairs and a change of clothes. Change of clothes? Yep, despite the bevy of awesome bands before us there was darkness literally looming on the horizon. With a 50% chance of rain, we knew we were gonna get wet…little did we realize just how wet we were going to get.

Day #2 started (for us) around 2-ish. We skipped the first two bands and started the day with fellow Missourians Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (SSLYBY). I have SSLYBY’s first album, BROOM, but I don’t consider myself to be a huge fan. They do have a very pleasant indie pop-rock sound somewhat akin to something off the early Weezer albums. As we set up our little chairs, we also popped in ear plugs. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I used ear plugs, but after standing close to the (way too loud) Dinosaur Jr. stage the day before, I still had a lingering ringing in the ears. When given the choice between looking/being cool or retaining my hearing, I’ll choose my hearing every time. Still, it felt like a very old man thing to do. My friend Mark randomly stopped by and made me feel better about using them*.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

SSLYBY were about as good as they are on their records, which isn’t really a compliment or a criticism, it’s just a fact. I wish I could muster some feeling for them one way or the other, but I can’t. They did play my two favorite songs of theirs, “Sink/Let It Sway” and the uber-fantastic “Pangea.” Up next was a band I’d never heard of, Wild Nothing. The band, who hails from Virginia, has a pleasant, slightly 80’s-ish pop sound. We didn’t move over to their stage, but what I heard wafting across the field was pretty good. They’re definitely a band I plan on checking out on Spotify.

The day’s first disappointment was Cults. I was really looking forward to seeing the guy-girl rockers. I was hoping they’d show up with White Stripes-style two-person set-up, but instead they came with a full band. And while that made them sound fuller (and more like the album) it kinda bummed me out. They played, among other things, their most popular song “Outside” and a pretty cool Leonard Cohen cover, “Everybody Knows.” Lead singer Maeline Follin was cute in her little white dress, and the music was solid–but they just didn’t do it for me. I was hoping they’d show some chutzpah, instead I felt Cults played it pretty safe.

Cults & Crew

After Cults it was time for Dawes, a band I was really looking forward to seeing. Dawes hand’t even shown up on my radar until a few weeks ago when I was messing around on a message board for Warren Zevon fans where they were mentioned as having Zevon-like qualities. Dawes has a vibe that’s closer to Jackson Browne in my mind than his friend Zevon, but they have some Zevonian tendencies. What I really like about them, though is that how they have that carefree, California sound but also seem really down-to-Earth. When the band took the stage, the storm clouds that had been threatening us all day somehow managed to get even scarier. Living in tornado country, summer thunder storms are taken pretty seriously here, so it was both a relief and a bit unnerving when the band announced they’d play until “they were told to stop.” Call me crazy, but I always think it’s a bad idea to trust money men/bean counter’s with my life. Anyway, it started to lightly rain during Dawes’ set, but we still got to hear a lot of really good tunes. My favorites of the set were “Fire Away,” “When My Time Comes,” and my personal favorite “A Little Bit of Everything.” The set was good but cut short by a downpour of rain.

Evil clouds lurked behind the Magical Mystery Horn.

Running across the field in the rain, my wife and I were able to take shelter under one of the few picnic table umbrellas they festival had mercifully set up. We found ourselves huddled with a handful of young (but grizzled) festival goers. As we watched the rain fall, they enlightened us on the art of sneaking drugs and alcohol into concerts. One particularly devious trick they shared involved using hot water to reseal a vodka-filled Dasani bottle. Checking our iPhones, we saw that the festival had been “postponed indefinitely.” With $70 (a piece) tied-up in the day’s tickets, and nowhere really else to go, we bravely waited for the rain to stop. When it did, we were all thoroughly drenched. The umbrella had become so thoroughly drenched that the water was able to pass right through it. There were kids slip n’ sliding through the mud and chicks going sans shirts. It was actually pretty rad.

Dawes…please excuse the crappy photo but it was scary outside.

Then word got out, via Facebook, that the last two musical acts would indeed play, and there was much rejoicing. We set-up near the Dr. Dog stage, determined to finish the festival. I really loved Dr. Dog’s debut album, but a lack of funds kept me from really getting into their music when I was in college. At the time they came out, the band seemed poised to follow a path to breakout success much like the Kings of Leon. Alas, that breakout never came and I always wondered why. Though I wondered, I never really caught back up with the band’s output, to see what they were up to. Dr. Dog’s sound is a throw-back to classic rock bands with a backwoods sensibility, like The Band and Gram Parsons. I had high hopes for the band’s LouFest appearance, but the deck was stacked against them: we were soaked and Wayne Coyne was on the other stage periodically rushing out and confetti-bombing the crowd while the band’s crew set-up. As I watched Dr. Dog play, I kept seeing people turn and look over at The Lips’ stage. Once the The Flaming Lips techs were testing the band’s laser, there was a small exodus over to where The Flaming Lips would play at 8:00. I’d never seen a Flaming Lips show, but I knew the legends–and I knew we had to abandon Dr. Dog so that we could get as close as possible.

I changed into some dry clothes, took a piss, bought a beer, and then hunkered down in the hippie-fest that is a Flaming Lips crowd. Though it was dark and drizzly, it was impossible to miss the cloud of pot smoke hovering near the stage. There were kids dressed like X-Men and Astronauts, chicks with balloon animal hats, face paint: basically all your typical Flaming Lips freaks. The show started, the clouds parted, and The Flaming Lips bombared the crowd with streamers, confetti, massive ballons, and super-trippy music. Oh, the music was trippy. The band opened with “Race for the Prize” which was so sun-shiny-super that it banished all memory of the terribly cold rain. The band’s stage show is the stuff of legend, and I’m here to tell you: it’s all true. The confetti blizzard, the strange characters (giant rabbits stalking through the crowd), Wayne climbing in the plastic ball and running over the crowd, the lasers…it’s all true.

Wayne in a ball.

Do you remember that scene in MAN ON THE MOON when Jim Carrey (as Andy Kaufman) has that big show at Carnegie Hall at the end? The one where he keeps up-ing the sweetness ante, until by the end of the show he has Santa Claus come out and everyone gets on a bus to enjoy milk and cookies? That’s what a Flaming Lips show is like. It’s much, much weirder, but the band projects that child-like joy/everything is possible feeling. The Flaming Lips are one of those bands that somehow never got the memo that irony is “in” and sincerity is “out.” I truly believe that Wayne Coyne thinks that all one needs is peace, love, and drugs. He could just be a really good actor, but I doubt it. In today’s musical clime I find that sincerity to be very refreshing.

The Flaming Lips perform “Laser Hands.”

The band played the awesome “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and everyone was feeling super-groovy. I expected them to continue playing light, cotton-candy festival fare but things took a darker, more obscure turn. The band played a couple of gloomy songs back-to-back. Well, they were gloomy for The Flaming Lips…which means there was still giant foam hands that shot multi-colored lights at a massive disco ball. Their newer stuff is more creepy electronica than it is trippy psych-pop, which is what I expected them to play. The band ended the dark part of their set with a strange song called “Drug Chart” which I had never even heard of. Things became more upbeat as the band finished up with “What is the Light?” before closing with the awesome “Do You Realize??”

“All You Need Is Love” and huge balls of confetti.

“Do You Realize??” is The Flaming Lips version of “All You Need Is Love” and “Hey Jude.” It’s a simple, but powerful, song that manages to walk the line between very happy and very sad. I did not expect them to play this song (even though it is so popular) because they seemed to be digging a bit deeper than the typical festival setlist of “hits”. It was a tremendously upbeat way to end a 2 day festival mired by by weather. It was awesome seeing The Flaming Lips live and I would recommend to anyone reading this: if you get a chance to see them do not hesitate, do it. You will not regret it.

The second day was quite the adventure. I had a lot of fun at LouFest 2012 and hope the organizers can continue to grow this fledgling festival into something with staying power. If the line-up next year is HALF as killer as this year’s I’ll definitely be buying tickets. If the bands aren’t as good I think I might volunteer and see it for free. Anyone want to pour water or sort through recycling with me?

*My friend Mark is a bit like Gandalf from LORD OF THE RINGS in that he tends to show up only when he is truly needed. And like Gandalf, he can never stay for very long. There is no doubt a trilogy’s worth of material on what the hell he does when he isn’t  in the main tale.

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