Sunday, 30 September 2012

Global Festival - Central Park: Neil Young, Foo Fighters, Black Keys and more

I was fortunate enough to "win" tickets in the lottery for the Global Festival at Central Park's great lawn.

Global Citizen's own FAQ states: Global Citizen is a tool to amplify and unite a generation’s call for justice. It’s a place for you to learn, and act, to bring an end to extreme poverty.

Now, I don't know about anyone else, but I think that forcing the concert goers to not be allowed to bring in outside food and drink is not a good start to the message of ending world poverty. Unless you want to starve 60,000 people so that they might experience what it is like to go without! I had to throw out a SEALED bottle of water (and downed another), and the mountains of perfectly good food and beverage that others had to waste is really unforgivable. I figured that there would be some decent food trucks once we got out to the field (one way of scoring points to get into the draw was to buy organic food, so I thought they'd be promoting that...), but in our area there was one tiny little stall that sold a few dodgy $8 sandwiches (all of which had cheese, which meant I went through the day on a packet of crisps that cost me $3).

Once inside we were ring-fenced into "pens" which I suppose is a way to stop obnoxious doucehbags from thinking they're entitled to get to the front by turning up late and barging their way through the crowd, although it obviously just meant that many people barged their way as far as the barrier then asked the security if they could get into the front pen (I overheard one person moaning "this is the furthest away I've ever been from the stage at a gig", cry me a river...)... we arrived as they closed off the "first" pen so were at the front of the second pen, I'm guessing we were about 100 yards from the stage, not too bad all things considered, we decided to stay put for the day though we wouldn't have had much choice in that anyway since we were penned in.

So, the organisation and ethics of the day were off to a dubious start... in any case I was looking forward to the music and expected it to be interspersed with lots of overly sentimental appeals for support. That was exactly what we got, I sympathise greatly to those suffering from poverty and those in need, I'm just not sure throwing a big concert is the way to spread these ideas, the crowd were not particularly interested in the big screen videos and I could not hear any of the speakers due to crowd chatter and certainly those around me were getting agitated as the day wore on. People come to a day like this to see the bands.

Anyway, so was the music any good?! First act K'Naan was ok, a little sentimental and cheesey but he's writing about his life experiences and the genuine troubles he's had to go through, so it's hard to be too critical, it just didn't resonate with me. 

Band of Horses were up next, I'd listened to their previous record but honestly couldn't remember any of their songs, which probably says it all. They were ok but it was a bit bland, music-for-the-masses type of rock. 

Next up, John Legend, who was not on the bill, made a brief appearance and sang John Lennon's Imagine, I don't really know Legend's work but I hear the name all the time. Anyway, he mumbled the "and no religion too" lyric, which would be a great start to ending world poverty, and a sure way to end polio, which would probably have happened already if it weren't for religious influence in the three remaining countries on the planet where polio is still a problem... and then ended by saying "god bless"! Just an odd observation...

The speakers appealing for support ranged from celebrities and those involved with various charities, Olivia Wilde spoke a few times and came across as very sincere and that she was a well-rounded individual who could take in any subject, delivered in a bubbly style that is more likely to get people involved. I'd love to meet her and find out more about what it was like to have Christopher Hitchens as a babysitter!

People seemed to be going crazy because Selena Gomez was one of the speakers, I now know what it feels like to be old because I have no idea who she is...

Now we were heading toward the three main acts, The Black Keys played a decent and high energy set although for me it didn't really get going until about half-way through. I have three of their albums that I enjoy and I was expecting them to pummel out that really fat guitar sound that I know (the last album I have is Attack and Release...) but it seemed a bit cleaner and, well... nice for the most part. I'm glad I've seen them though and they saved the best to last with a rasping rendition of I Got Mine.

Next up were the Foo Fighters, I've seen the Foos twice before but not for 10 years, so I was quite looking forward to seeing them again. Some may scoff at their output but when it comes to pop-rock Dave Grohl really knows how to write a good tune, although personally I had rather tuned out after 2002's One By One, which I think is their best album, since then they've been at best average with the odd good single. In any case, those first four albums are all very good. We got a bit of a greatest hits set and Grohl really knows how to work a crowd, I think they suffer a bit too much with the false-ending of songs, that works a couple of times but quite often it's best just to finish a song rather than deliver a crescendo then go back into the song and finish it again. A few bands seem to suffer from this unnecessary excess. The band indicated that this was the last show they have planned and that they don't know when they will play again, if that does turn out to be their last ever show then I think they can be happy with such a huge send-off. Grohl said during the Foo Fighters set that they wished they could play all night, but that he wanted to see Neil Young!

For me, I was there to see Neil Young. Foo Fighters and the Black Keys were a nice bonus, but I'm a big NY fan. I was flabbergasted to see a bit of an exodus after Foo Fighters finished! Anyway, after a bit of wait Neil Young and Crazy Horse came out onto the stage and played an absolutely blistering set! One word of praise for the whole day, I have to say, is that the sound was incredible for an outdoor concert, it was faultless for all the bands. They opened with an extended version of Love and Only Love from Ragged Glory, which seemed an appropriate message for the day.

We then got old favourite Powderfinger followed by two new songs, Born in Ontario and Walk Like a Giant which was stretched out to about 15-minutes, Young's guitar playing was as incendiary as ever and it was a real thrill to hear that great sound scream out. I'd seen Neil Young play in Hammersmith a few years ago, playing an acoustic set followed by an electric set, but seeing him with Crazy Horse seems to invigorate his playing. 

After the sonic assault of Walk Like a Giant, Young calmed things down with The Needle and the Damage Done, followed by another new song, Twisted Road, which is his tribute to Bob Dylan.

The highlight of the evening was Fuckin' Up, one of my favourite songs in the whole discography and it was delivered with suitable power and of course, extended! 

The whole evening was brought to a close with Rockin' In the Free World, joined on stage by all the previous acts, including Grohl and Dan Auerbach playing guitar, both of whom looked as though they could scarcely believe they were on stage playing with Neil Young.

While the organisation of the day seemed to me to be a bit chaotic and the message was fumbled and a missed opportunity, going hungry and having to stand in the same spot for 6 hours was worth it to see Neil young absolutely nail through his set and deliver numerous crushing guitar solos. 

We all have a duty to be aware of the problems that many face in the world, be it financial or social, and the day had a good message, but didn't deliver it terribly well. And while most people in the world avoid the elephant in the room (religion is not a net force for good), we have to base all future efforts on  shared humanistic values and the best evidence and methods possible (leaving faith out of the picture completely). The ideal of the global citizen is an endearing one, however.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Grizzly Bear - Radio City Music Hall 24th September 2012 review

I saw Grizzly Bear at the Roundhouse in London back in March 2010 and it was one of the best performances I've ever seen (easily blasting its way into the top 5) so my expectations for this show were significant to say the least.

Grizzly Bear at the Roundhouse - March 2010

The band have just released new album, Shields, which is another fine addition to their discography, coming off the back of the majestic, Veckatimest, it must be difficult for a band to follow up something like that, but Shields is certainly one of the finest releases this year.

View from our seats
Radio City Music Hall is truly a wonderful venue, I saw Pulp there earlier in the year (my wife's review) and it is a beautiful room in which to see a band.

Support band, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, a rock trio led by guitarist Ruban Nielson ploughed through a garage-rock set but were not afraid to cut loose on some long and ferocious guitar solos.

The acoustics of the room were perfect for Grizzly Bear's lush melodies and soaring harmonies, the sound at the venue was crystal clear and the best I've ever experienced. The light show had been upgraded from the last tour, which had featured lights in glass bottles suspended in mid-air, we were treated to a "floating lantern" type of display, creating different formations during the course of the night. It was all tastefully done and knew when to drench the hall in light and when to dim everything down low, our seats were up on the first mezzanine so while the view wasn't the most intimate we did get the full effects of the lights.

Radio City Music Hall - 24th September

The set focused heavily on the latest album, with 8 of the 10 tracks played (6 from Veckatimest, 3 from Yellow House and 1 from Horn of Plenty completing the set), all of the new songs come across incredibly well live, like old favourites already.

One thing that is utterly mesmerising about their live show is the vocal harmonies, which are so enchanting on the records and are performed immaculately on stage, you can feel your spirits race as the vocals ejaculate across the room time and time again to utter perfection. An orgy involving the Byrds, Beach Boys and the Beatles could scarcely compete.

Special mention should also go to Aaron Arntz who is joining them onstage on this tour playing a myriad of instruments. He takes a backseat while the band take up their customary positions in a line across the stage, giving each member an equal footing up front.

Picking highlights is virtually impossible when the setlist has such a wonderful flow to it, and being performed so well. There's no sitting around waiting for them to play a crowd favourite. Having said that, Sleeping Ute, Yet Again, A Simple Answer, Cheerleader, Ready Able were all performed with such sweeping beauty that it seems reasonable to give them a shout out. And of course While You Wait for the Others is a behemoth of a song that seems to have everything.


In my experience of New York so far, one observation is that audiences don't really make all that much effort for an encore. I don't know if that's just a lazy attitude and people know a band are going to come back anyway (they don't always) or what, but the audience really demanded an encore here and the roar when the band came back onstage was spine tingling. We were treated to a dreamy rendition of Knife (though for the first 30 seconds the amps weren't turned up all the way!) and then On a Neck, On a Spit both from Yellow House.They ended with an acoustic version of, All We Ask, which was transformed into a longing lullaby, as the band harmonised for a final time the chorus seemed to resonate the relationship this particular listener has with their music perfectly:

I can't
Get out
Of what I'm into
With you

The band are so in tune with their music and masters of their craft, and while some bands may have felt pressure at playing such a prestigious venue in their hometown with many friends and relatives in the audience (Ed's 91 year old Grandmother flew in to see them for the first time), everything seemed like a celebration of what they had achieved up to now. A victory for music integrity. I suspect the band will see it as a significant moment in their career and for me it was quite simply the best concert I have ever been to.

Set List:
Speak in Rounds
Sleeping Ute
Yet Again
Ready, Able
A Simple Answer
While You Wait For The Others
What's Wrong
Two Weeks
Sun In Your Eyes
On A Neck, On A Spit
All We Ask

The band have a few North American dates left this year before heading to the UK and Europe, finishing off in Australia and New Zealand. Miss them at your peril, tour dates here.


Saturday, 8 September 2012

Bob Mould - Williamsburg Park - 7th of September 2012: Live Review

I have been a fan of Bob Mould for about 8 years (a drop in the ocean compared to the length of his career!) but had never managed to see him live until now (not for the want of trying). Originally this show was going to be at Webster Hall but was moved (and subsequently made free) to Williamsburg Park.

To coincide with the 20th anniversary of Sugar's resplendent masterpiece, Copper Blue, Mould has been playing it in full this year, and seemingly inspired has just released his latest studio effort, Silver Age, which is very much in that power-pop style, lead single The Descent has the following promotional video:

The show was opened by Cymbals Eat Guitars, I enjoy both of their albums so it was good to see them rattle through selected cuts from both (including my favourite track, Rifle Eyesight), doubly-so because I missed their set supporting The Flaming Lips at the Troxy in London in 2009 (train delays!).

Playing as a trio (just like Sugar and Husker Du, of course), Mould is joined on bass by Jason Narducy from Telekinesis and Jon Wurster from Superchunk on drums (whose playing was particularly ferocious). They blitzed through Copper Blue with the enthusiasm and freshness of a new release.

We were then treated to a couple of cuts from Silver Age, I thought that we'd get most of the album having just witnessed a celebration of material 20 years ago, but after three new songs we were treated to a quartet of Husker Du songs, including one of my very favourites, Hardly Getting Over It.

The set was rounded off with another song from Silver Age, Keep Believing. Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn joined the band in the encore to sing Husker Du's Something I Learned Today. I have to confess I'm not really a fan of the Hold Steady and I didn't recognise him, but he performed the song as if fulfilling a life-long fantasy.

Representing almost all of the Husker Du discography, the band also ripped through early single Keep Believing before returning for a second encore and blasting out Makes No Sense At All from Flip Your Wig.

Hopefully I'll catch Bob play many more times in the future, this concert was utterly thrilling. Such  is the strength of his solo material, I came out thinking about dozens of songs I'd have also loved to hear, and while the Husker Du songs felt like a treat, I was surprised how little we got from his solo material (only 4 songs from the latest album).

I also picked up both Sugar re-issues for $15 each from the merch stand and am looking forward to the live discs in particular. 

        (Copper Blue played in full)
        The Act We Act
        A Good Idea
        Hoover Dam
        The Slim
        If I Can't Change Your Mind
        Fortune Teller
        Man on the Moon
        Star Machine
        The Descent
        Round The City Square
        Hardly Getting Over It*
        Could You Be The One?*
        I Apologize*
        Chartered Trips*
        Keep Believing

        Something I Learned Today*
        In A Free Land*
        Encore 2:
        Makes No Sense At All*

*Husker Du songs