Category Archives: Live Shows

LouFest 2012: Day #1 Wrap-UP

I’ve never before attended a festival concert.  That’s kinda strange considering how much I love live music, right?  Well here in the States, festivals aren’t quite as common as over in say, Europe.  In fact, the festivals we have here are pretty damn tame by comparison.  Back in their heyday, I remember seeing footage of Oasis shows overseas that had larger attendance than the population of my hometown.  I live in a mediuml-large American city, St. Louis, and though we are a college town, we really don’t get very many massive music festivals (I don’t count traveling travesties like Van’s Warped Tour or Oz Fest). However, thanks to a relatively new festival (this is the third year) St. Louis finally has a rock festival worth talking about.

Forest Park is the jewel of St. Louis.  That’s where our zoo and art gallery is located (both are free, both are awesome).  It’s a special place where St. Louis goes to return to nature and relax.  It’s also where I was married a few years back.  A festival concert located with the park is a great idea, and since I live within walking distance of the park (and I love rock) I decided to buy two day passes.  The bands this year are pretty good, I think.  This year’s headliners are Flaming Lips, Girl Talk, Dr. Dog, and Dinosaur Jr. Of the 16 bands performing this weekend, I’ve only see one live before–I saw Dr. Dog at an awesome, free in-store event at Vintage Vinyl many years ago (someday I’ll write a post about that with the footage I shot).

Anyway, I went down to the park right when the box office opened at noon to pick up our wrist bands (the Mrs. was along for this adventure).  Getting their super-early was nice because it gave us an opportunity to scope out the various vendors that had set-up shop.  Probably the best vendor was local record shop Euclid Records little “Festival Store.”  They had a nice fat stack of CD’s and *gasp* vinyl records for sale, representing all the bands on the line-up.  Other vendors of note were Sony, who had a PS3 mega-rig and Spotify (the killer-music service) had a big green bus where they were presumably trying to explain what the heck Spotify is.

Euclid Records Festival Store. Schweet shwag.

There was also a lot of really cool local restaurants and bars who’d come out to set up a little vending stall.  The place was a ghost town because it was so early so we took our leave until later that afternoon when around 4:00.  I felt bad skipping all the early Saturday bands, but I knew that because the majority of bands I wanted to see play tomorrow, I decided we’d better take it easy on Saturday.  After all, I’m getting to be a pretty old dude.

The skies, which earlier in the day had been bright and cheery, had taken on a nasty gray hue.  While we waited for alt-country dudes Son Volt to take the stage, the sky unleashed a ten-minute deluge.  Earlier it had been hot, now we were chilled to the bone with cold rainwater.  Such is life here in the midwest.  Anyway, it continued to drizzle off and on all night, but for the most part the major rain was over just before Son Volt came on.  I’d never really heard much Son Volt, but I found them to be pretty awesome.  As I get older, I find myself liking alt-county more and more.  With just enough (read: not too much) twang, I really enjoyed them.  The beginning of their set featured a lot of simple love songs, which I thought were the best.  My favorite was “Dynamite” of  their album AMERICAN CENTRAL DUST.  Another song I really liked was “Windfall” which struck me as being a bit Neil Young-ish. As they neared the end of their set list, the songs got a bit political/environmental, and I didn’t like them as much as the love songs.  Still, I thought the band put on a great show and helped provide some variety to the days music.

Son Volt, putting a little twang in LouFest.

The next band was Dinosaur Jr.  Now I don’t know much about Dinosaur Jr., but I did enjoy their last album FARM when it came out a few years ago.  I especially liked their song “Ocean In The Way” off that record.  Did Dinosaur Jr. play that song? I honestly don’t know.  I don’t know because the band was so loud it was pretty difficult to tell. The band was surrounded by a fat stack of Marshall amps. To say that Dinosaur Jr. was loud is a terrible, terrible understatement.  They played their entire set at volume that can only be described as “Stupid Loud.”  Watching them, a trio of aging hipsters, was actually kind of magical.  The band seemed to spin a sonic cocoon around themselves.  Washing themselves and the audience in layers of eagle-scream guitar solos and a blizzard of effect pedal wah-wah, Dinosaur Jr. seemed to transcende age.  They played with the daring and the viciousness of  much younger men.  I won’t use the term possessed, but it did seem as though something overcame them, particularly J. Mascis.  Mascic, who looks eerily like Gandalf, whipped his long white hair life a madman, it was fantastic. Unfortunately, the sound system was cranked so loud that the only song I could pick out with any certainty was their epic “Feel The Pain.”  As their most famous song, it was met with a cheer from the mixed-age crowd (there was everything from toddlers to 60+).

Dinosaur Jr. in the middle of making me deaf.

After Dinosaur Jr. finished their sonic assault on my eardrums, it was time for the evening’s headliner…Girl Talk.  Now, I’ve written about my rather mixed feelings towards Girl Talk before, so I won’t re-open that can of worms.   But for those that don’t know, Girl Talk is really just one dude, DJ Greg Gillis, who illegally samples the shit of the pop music songbook (without paying or asking for permission).  What sort of live “performance” could there really be for an act with such a schtick?  Well it was about what I expected: a nerdy white dude with a laptop, confetti cannons, balloons, toilet paper blowers, and a wall of LCD screens.  And yet, Girl Talk’s show was fun and funky, and it was just the palate cleanser one needed after the heaviness of Dinosaur Jr. The samples came fast and furious, and despite myself (and how tired I was) I found myself dancing.  Or at least, the closest approximation a fat music blogger can do.

LouFest “Orange” stage.

Overall, day one of LouFest was awesome.  My legs ache and my ears are ringing.  I can’t wait for tomorrow.

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I Miss Ticket Stubs

So here I sit, still reeling from the amazing El Monstero show I saw last Saturday…and I’m bummed out because I don’t have a ticket stub.  I got out my little box of old ticket stubs last night and took a stroll down memory lane.  Each little scrap of paper was a memory.   I know that saying this will instantly make me an old man, but: “Man, I miss ticket stubs.”  My El Monstero tickets, like most of my tickets nowadays, was a just a printed piece of paper.  It got all mangled and wadded up, so I threw it away.

Years from now, I will have no tangible link to this show.  That’s a bummer.

So many awesome memories.

Printing tickets at home is cool, when it is FREE (which isn’t offen enough for my tastes), but mostly I pine for the days of paper tickets.  Ticket stubs are such a cool keepsake, it’s a shame today’s youth are going to miss out on them.  Am I crazy?  Is this not that big of a deal? Tell me what you think in the comments section. 

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El Monstero & The Tribute-Band Phenomenon

Last night I saw the most amazing rock show I’ve ever seen.  Local Pink Floyd tribute band/St. Louis heroes El Monstero didn’t just put on a concert, it was a full-on spectacle.  The music of Pink Floyd was faithfully performed with not only a band, but with classy female back-up singers, sax players, a children’s choir (you know what song that was for), and a bitchin’ laser show.  There were costume changes, towers of multi-colored flames, confetti cannons, and an honest-to-God 70’s mirror ball.  They also landed a helicopter for the opening of “Another Brick In The Wall.”

The alternate name for El Monstero should be “Pigs N’ Hammers.”

Back in the 1970’s, this level of excess was commonplace, but not so in today’s cash-strapped times.  Oh sure, you can see U2 put on a rock-spectacle, but they are one of the few bands big enough to pull-off (and afford) such dizzying overindulgent rock theatre.  I think gimmicks are stupid as a rule, but if you’ve got the music down, a little spectacle can push the amazing into the awesome (as in actually inspiring awe).

El Monstero is not a good Pink Floyd tribute band, they’re an exceptional one.  I don’t know if they sounded like Floyd sounded live, I am too young to know, what I can tell you is that El Monstero perfectly replicates the way the albums of Pink Floyd sound, in every single detail.  That by itself is no small feat, and worthy of much praise.  The band’s been around for over a decade here in St. Louis, slowly building a rabid fan-base.  Apparently the band started out in the (sadly gone) Mississippi Nights night club, playing for a few hundred people.  Last night, the band upped their game playing for a few thousand.  Rather than just “merely” replicating the sound of Pink Floyd, the band replicated the theatrical nature of the band, and their famous 70’s tours (like the one they did in support of THE WALL).  Equal parts rock show, opera, circus, and LSD trip, the concert at Riverport (aka The Verizon Wireless Amphitheater) blew just about every other tribute band I’ve seen out of the water.

Tribute bands are a funny thing.  On one hand, you have grown men dressing up like 20-something-Liverpudlians, singing “She Loves You” while praying their wigs don’t fall off.  At the other end of the spectrum, you have serious musicians studying, mastering, and performing classic rock–basically treating Pink Floyd like it’s Beethoven.  And why shouldn’t Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin be treated like Beethoven or Bach?  Why do some fans cringe at the mere mention of the term “tribute band”? Rock ‘n roll has always been about celebrity, but I think it was MTV that cemented the notion that anyone playing the songs of Pink Floyd that isn’t Pink Floyd are only imitators.  I find this funny, because when the St. Louis Symphony plays the music of Beethoven no one considers that to be “low rent” or “low brow.”  Or ridiculous.  A symphony isn’t imitating Beethoven; they’re just playing his music.

Part of the issue is the fact that, as I’ve said, rock music is just as much about personalities/celebrities as it is about music.  That’s petty and sad, but unfortunately the truth.  Another part of the issue, though, are how these tribute bands focus on the wrong elements of their act–I think it’s better for a band to replicate the sound of Led Zeppelin than to necessarily look like Led Zeppelin.  Many of the Beatles tribute bands that I’ve seen over the years fall into this trap, sacrificing quality of sound for quality of visual presentation. El Monstero, for example, don’t go out of their way to “become” Roger Waters or David Gilmour. They don’t mess with fake mustaches or wigs; instead they’re about recreating sounds.

*Sigh*

The spectacle I witnessed last night, while not a direct copy of a classic Pink Floyd concert, captured the essence of the band’s giant circus-like tours.  Rather than being actors sticking to a script, a great tribute band will use creative license to replicate the music.  I know that seems pretty obvious, but I’ve seen Beatles tribute bands that tell actual jokes John Lennon said at early Beatles concerts.  I’ve seen jittery “actors” playing Paul McCartney do mannerisms that Paul did on film, often doing these McCartney-isms 50 times during a performance because it was something that Paul actually did (even though there’s no way he was that fidgety).

One thing that takes the so-called “cheese factor” off of El Monstero is that the band doesn’t stumble onto the stage, with fake British accents, and pretend that they’re actually Pink Floyd.  Instead El Monstero is just a band that just happens to play Pink Floyd tunes.  As time marches on, and we lose more classic rock bands (and the people who’ve seen them in concert), I think the demand for professional tribute bands will greatly increase.  I also think the “stink” of being a tribute band will also lessen.  It may take a very, very long time…but if we don’t blow up the Earth with nuclear war, I can foresee a time when elegant men and women will go to their local Opera Houses to see professional musicians perform the works of Lennon and McCartney sans-stigma, like they were going to see a classical music concert.

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The Worst Opening Act

I try to keep it positive here at Defending Axl Rose, but sometimes you have no choice but to be negative.  We’ve all been there: hot, sweaty, pressed up against complete strangers in a darkened room desperately waiting for your favorite band to take the stage.  But before they can rock your socks-off, however, you gotta sit through the opening act.  There was a time when I didn’t care much for seeing opening bands.  Most of the time, when you see a “big” artist in a “big” venue, you only have to sit through one band that you didn’t pay to see…but if you’re a club-rat, seeing a shitty band in a shitty dive, you usually get to see TWO opening bands.

So there’s two ways to look at this: there’s the glass half-full and the glass half-empty approach.

1. Half-Empty: You got to sit/ stand-pressed-against-a-fat-guy-you-don’t-know through two bands you didn’t pay to see and probably don’t care about.  

and

2. Half-Full: You get to sit/stand-pressed-against-a-fat-guy-you-don’t-know through two bands you didn’t pay to see and probably don’t care about.

Now what’s the difference? Your attitude.  Once I grew up and actually wanted to TRY and EXPERIENCE new things, I found myself actually excited to see what the opening bands had to offer.  In most cases the opening band is related, in some way, to the headliner.   That relation might be tangential at best*, but there is a relationship.  Once I started opening my ears and my mind, I found myself often walking out of dive-bars/clubs with a new favorite band.  In some cases, I actually liked the opening band better than the headliner.  Blasphemy? Only if you’re 13 years-old and you only want to hear the headliner’s latest hit-single.  Me? I’m a deep-album cut sort of fellow.

A few years back I took my wife to see The Kings of Leon here in St. Louis.  The Kings of Leon were good but the opening band, The Features, blew us both away.  We fell in love with them and they soon became her all-time favorite band.  We’ve since seen them five or six times because we love them dearly (and they tour like madmen).  Now, what if we’d have skipped the opening act? What if we’d showed up just as Kings of Leon took the stage?   The Features are the better band and the only reason we ever heard of them was because we showed up early for the concert and politely listened to a band we’d never heard of.  The sad part is, I think that happens a lot—and by that I mean really great bands opening for ones that are just “alright.”  In a perfect world, The Kings of Leon would be opening for The Features, not the other way around.

The Features, 1000% better than any headliner.

Want another example? I saw Rooney back in 2003/2004** and was really impressed by their opening band The Redwalls.  The Redwalls had better songs and rocked harder than Rooney***.  To this day, I own more Redwalls albums than Rooney albums and I feel that my life has been enriched by waiting patiently through an opening act that turned out to be damn sweet.

Of course, there have been some really awful opening bands I’ve had to suffer through.  The worst of all-time was a band called White Williams.  I was seeing Vampire Weekend (again with the wife) and White Williams was the first of two opening bands.  Actually, that’s not right…White Williams was not a “band” but rather two dudes in sweaters.  One had a laptop and the other had a guitar.   I’m all for experimental music, and I think there’s some really awesome stuff some artists are doing with loops and simple guitar licks, but these guys weren’t actually doing anything.  One guy just stood there with his guitar, looking like he was asleep, while the other dude dramatically pressed a few buttons on his laptop.  When I say dramatically, I mean this guy was pressing one button on his laptop every few seconds like he was Eddie Van Halen SHREDDING on a solo.  He had that intensity on his face like he was lifting the continent of Antarctica on his shoulders while at the same time working on a cure for cancer. In short, he was a acting like a complete douchebag: all he was doing was standing there with a sweater…pressing buttons.

The lead-laptopist of White Williams, taking a rare break from lap-topping.

What does the name White Williams evoke? Does it make you think of bland, vanilla, anglo-static?  Well that’s what I think that name evokes for me, and it turns out that’s what White Williams sounds like.  They’re the worst, bland electronica you can imagine.  I seriously hope one of the guys in White Williams is in a relationship with someone in Vampire Weekend, because if having them on the bill that night wasn’t a John-making-Yoko-happy-by-letting-her-sing-on-the-album situation then Vampire Weekend are idiots****.  People often talk and check their cell phones during an opening band, but I saw people drift dangerously close to falling asleep during White Williams’ set.  I don’t think rock bands should do idiotic stunts, but you’ve got to do more to wow an audience than simply show up with your sweater and laptop.

Another mistake White Williams made was essentially play one song for twenty minutes.  During their set they said nothing to the audience, for all I know they really did only play one song.  The only reason I know they’re called “White Williams” is because the guy with the laptop mouth-breathed it once just before exiting the stage*****.

I know all of that seems pretty harsh, but you have to understand, I did not pay to see White Williams.  I didn’t make that choice, they were thrust upon me.  I think if you’re going to be in the ENTERTAINMENT industry you should, at the every least, be ENTERTAINING.  But there’s a bad apple in every bunch, and for the most part I still maintain that opening bands are worth your time and your respect.  Be an adult and let the White Williams’ of the world actually let you down before you completely dismiss them outright.

ENDNOTES:

* Like they’re represented by the same management or were called last-minute to fill-in.

**It was a long time ago, I can’t really remember.

***Who eventually turned into a just okay pop band, which by the way is not a crime.

**** Read: I hope the dude in White Williams is blowing someone in Vampire Weekend.

****That’s a systemic problem in rock shows these days, nobody bothers so say who they are anymore.  I can’t count the number of really cools bands that get onstage, rock my world and then leave without adequately explaining who the fuck they are.  Don’t want me to buy your records, visit your website, blog about you, become your fan? Okay dude, good luck with that. TELL US WHO YOU ARE MORE THAN ONCE!!!

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C. Berry

Last winter I saw the King of Rock ‘n Roll.  It’s pretty hard to believe that he’s still alive, let alone still performing, but it’s true.  Once a month Chuck Berry plays a concert at a place called Blueberry Hill here in St. Louis.  It’s a kitschy restaurant full of dusty memorabilia cases and old arcade games.  There’s two bars, one upstairs and another in the basement which is called The Duck Room.  Named after Berry’s signature dance move (you’ve seen it even if you didn’t know what it was called, Michael J. Fox does it at the end of BACK TO THE FUTURE) The Duck Room is not a glamorous place, it looks exactly like the basement of a restaurant.  Only with a bar and a funny ha-ha duck decor.  Blue Berry Hill has quite a few concerts down in the Duck Room, I’ve seen a few acts there–but the only time I’ve ever seen the place sell-out is when Chuck Berry plays.

Usually The Duck Room is a standing-room-only affair, but for Berry they owners brought out a few crappy chairs.  The audience was mixed, young and old, there were more than a few people pushing 70 in the crowd.  Which seems about right considering Berry himself is 85 years old.  A serviceable cover band opened the show (sorry I can’t remember their name) and once they finished, Chuck Berry’s band, which consists of his children and family friends, took to the tiny stage.  After a little intro music a very tall, very spry man shuffled up onto the stage.  He was wearing a white captains hat and had a guitar.  If you’ve ever seen a picture of Chuck Berry, from any year, then you know what he looks like to this very day.   It’s amazing how some people age…and how others don’t.  I’d like to think that in Berry’s case, it’s rock ‘n roll that’s kept him young.

Seeing Chuck Berry play songs like “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “No Particular Place To Go,” “You Never Can Tell,” and yes “Johnny B. Goode,” was akin to the times I saw  Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones.  It still doesn’t feel real to me that I’ve been in the same room as them.  And as amazing as they were, Berry is in a whole class to himself.   Open up Keith Richards (excellent) autobiography LIFE.  Go ahead, open up that massive book to just about any page and chances are you’ll see Chuck Berry’s name–he talks about Berry endlessly.  I’ve read more than one rock biography or interview where Berry’s name was spoken as though he were a living, breathing God.  We sort of take it for granted now, but once there was a time when there was no rock music.  White people liked really boring big band music (or whatever) and black people played blues music for each other. Berry didn’t invent rock ‘n roll, that suggests that he plucked it out of thin air or that it’s components didn’t already exist.  No, Berry took rhythm and blues music and he distilled it like Jack Daniels, into the potent concoction we know today.

It’s pretty amazing that Berry is still alive and even more amazing that he still performs regularly.  I feel honored to live in the same city as the man who changed pop music forever.  The rest of St. Louis feels the same way because recently a monument was built in Berry’s honor.  Located directly across the street from Blueberry Hill (and a stones throw from Vintage Vinyl, the city’s best record store), the monument features Berry’s lyrics carved into the ground, an illuminated wall that displays the musical notes for “Johnny B. Good,” and an 8-foot bronze statue of the man himself.  All hail the King of Rock ‘N Roll! Long live the king.

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Guns N’ Roses: The Pinball Game

Last night I was at The Firebird (downtown St. Louis) seeing Nashville-rockers The Features with The Sun and The Sea.  I really like The Features and should probably do a write-up on them sometime…

Anyway, I looked over during The Sun and The Sea’s set, and what did my eyes spy? A Guns N’ Roses pinball machine!  Ignoring everything I made a bee-line for the machine to check it out, and boy was it cool!

The machine’s game board had a really nice/ludicrous theme of roses, guns, and snakes.  But what was really cool was that it had two plungers (the thing that releases the balls) one was the butt of a handgun and another that looked like a rose.

Awesome! My birthday’s in two weeks, you all now know what to get me.  

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That Time I Saw The Apples In Stereo

Back in my college days, I used to trudge down to the local record shop (as in vinyl records) and film some of the free in-store performances.  The first one I ever did was of The Apples In Stereo, who were in town promoting NEW MAGNETIC WONDER. If you’ve never heard The Apples In Stereo, give them a listen they’re a great pop band.

Wait, who is playing? Seriously though, Vintage Vinyl is a fantastic store.

The band came out on time (noon) but it took them a half hour to get settled in. They had them set up in the Jazz section, and while Robert the lead singer settled in (he’s kind of a prima donna) the rest of the band kept yanking out jazz CD’s and saying “Holy crap! I need this” or “Hey don’t you collect these guys?” I was surprised at how steeped in jazz those guys were. I figured all they listened to was rock and pop…but then again, why should they? I’m not in a band, and I listen to all sorts of music.  I discovered in college that people that play instruments tend to listen to all sorts of crazy stuff.

Well I was pretty nervous, to be honest. I always read about these stories in Rolling Stone about Guns ‘N Roses going ape shit at the sight of a camera. I guess filming is different because there is no flash (which I think would get a little old after a while…I mean who wants to be blinded?). Anyway, I whipped my camera out and filmed three of the 7 or so songs they did. I was really hoping that they’d do the new single “Energy” and they did! I almost got them doing “Go!” from THE WORLD INSIDE THE MOONE but they decided they didn’t have enough instruments (this was, after all, a free show in the back of a small-ish record store…they didn’t have drums or anything). I thought they did a great job, especially considering that they’d been up all night drinking and playing rock the night before. All I did was watch and I was exhausted!!!

By the way, if you’re ever in St. Louis you need to visit Vintage Vinyl. 

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New podcast is Available!

EDIT: Sorry for the horrible audio quality.  I think I need to drink less when I do these shows…

There’s a new episode of the Rock ‘n Roll Jolly Roger available for your listening pleasure.  I bitch about Valentines Day, play some new music, and offer…well you’ll have to listen to find out.

Go to iTunes and search “Rock n Roll Jolly Roger” to download.

Click here to stream/listen.

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New Rock ‘N Roll Jolly Roger Podcast

This week’s podcast is up on iTunes or you can download/listen here.

There’s plenty of pop, rock, and obligatory metal.  Enjoy kiddies! Argh!

 

 

Rock ‘n Roll Jolly Roger Podcast #2

Well I recorded a new podcast.  If you want, go to iTunes and search “Rock ‘n Roll Jolly Roger” and subscribe. Or you can can listen by clicking here.

There was no theme this week, I just played some really good music including: Wavves, The Strokes, Mastodon, The Cult, The Yahoos, and more!!!

I’m a little rusty podcasting, but I’ll find my podcast-legs soon enough. I’m going to try to do one show a week.  Comment if you have any song suggestions/requests.

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