Year in Concerts 2012, part 1

I love live music! My record streak was eight straight nights of live music at age 20 or so. Since then, I’ve fallen off, but I still try to get out once a month. My annual concerts summary post is always too long (see 2011 here2010 here, 2009 here), so I’m splitting 2012 up into two.  This time, I saw Garbage, Jane’s Addiction, Delta Spirit, Alabama Shakes, Chairlift, Henry Rollins, and more!

Yes those are real live women in huge dresses dancing while hanging from the rafters at the Jane’s Addiction show.

House of Blues, Chicago, January

So House of Blues is a bit corporate, but we thought Chicago was the original one so we’d give it a shot. Turns out the original is not the Chicago one, and not even the New Orleans one, where I’ve also been, but the House of Blues in Boston. WHAAAT? Chicago’s was #3. Still enjoyed some free live blues by some white guy before we bolted in protest of the institution shortly after finding this out. Unable to rally to go to any real blues clubs, I had to leave Chicago with a bit of regret…

Alabama Shakes and Terraplane Sun, Belly Up, San Diego, January

Both punchy acts playing straight ahead rock/ country rock.

Alabama Shakes is fronted by a big black woman with a great set of pipes. From the south, they could have almost recorded in the 50’s with their sound. Very enjoyable, entertaining, and extremely emotional vox. A bit like Janis Joplin. But the 5-piece band made things a bit cluttered; I think a most stripped down approach might highlight her voice more.

The one other thing I will say is their songs just ended, abruptly, no warning. Kind of nice that they’re short and not theatrical, but because it happened every time, but seemed a bit like a dysfunction.

For a group that seems to have added little musical or lyrical innovation since music twice as old as their ages, they seemed fresh

Terraplane Sun are more or less a local band, from LA. But they put on a very confident performance. Voclist had excellent stage presence and his faux country accent also evoked the mid-atlantic and new mexico (where is he from? can’t be LA). Their straight ahead rock when they switched to a standard lineup wasn’t as powerful as their boogie-inducing country vibe songs.Was best with the electric mandolin, harmonica and tambourine.  At their heights, they were even better than Bama Shakes, but not as consistent. Still, kept it clean and powerful, no drama, just entertainment.

Lake Street Dive, Queen Bee Cultural Center, February

New-Jazz, this four piece act demonstrated superb musicianship. Excellent coherence of seven years together showed. Was not overly impressed by the George Michael and Paul McCartney covers, but the originals, written by all members of the band, were quite good. A bit of a Brooklyn hipster attitude. But easily forgiven by the quality of music…My first time at this venue, it’s more of an art showroom.

Henry Rollins (Spoken Word), San Diego Women’s Club, March

Three hours straight without water, telling all kinds of wacky stories. Rollins is probably the only public figure who shares all of my interests of travel, politics, music and destroying oneself physically and athletically (add in religion-which Rollins doesn’t care much about and that’s all folks). So I really enjoy seeing him. He last came to SD in 2010.

The most interesting bits were his travel stories–from Haiti, North Korea, Cuba, and a snake holding, turpentine drinking, Pentecostal congregation in Kentucky. I like Rollins because he really tries to approach everybody. He’s still an 18-year-old kid in his energy and idealism.

Other interesting stories were of his efforts to out-perform (out-insane) Iggy Pop, for which he went 0-3. And his letters from fans, which revealed a lot about his as in individual, especially because a lot of military people write him. You could see his humanity as he struggled at writing to vulnerable soldiers and parents who had lost their kids.

This time, unfortunately had him dwelling a little negatively on nonsubstantitive points about his political enemies. Rollins is usually good at staying in the fray but on the moral high ground. However this time he got a bit into standard leftist jokes (e.g. gay jokes about Santorum), which I find unproductive for the dialogue.

Rollins did dwell on one point that I had just discussed with some friends a couple weeks prior: coverage of non-issues by the media. And he used the same example: the media’s coverage of Rush Limbaugh. While the underlying issue is an important one, a commentator’s comments are neither newsworthy nor interesting and I (as well as Rollins, apparently) was very perplexed about why this was big news.

Not Rollins’ strongest showing, but good enough to keep me coming back. Rollins!

Chairlift, The Casbah, April

Peer pressure brought me to this one as synthpop is not normally my favorite genre, but it’s fun enough now and then. And if you have a good frontman (or woman), the sound often doesn’t matter, just the energy. Caroline definitely entranced me with her attitude, poppy yet emotional singing and syncopation to the beats. She walked the line finely between art and attitude on one side vs. Brooklyn pretension on the other. In other words, another Brooklyn band I didn’t hate. Not bad. In fact, I really liked it, and more than nodded my head to the synthbeats…

That said, I liked it better when the backing musicians played live, rather than hitting the programming or using the drumpad. But the bassist (the other “real” member) laid down some excellent grooves on the live jams; there was a surprising diversity of sound between songs. And there’s no substitute for an attractive energetic singer. Small venues and up-and-coming bands trying to make it. A good combo. What live music is about.

Delta Spirit, Belly Up, May

A San Diego band, these guys are right now making it big and it’s great to see the energy they bring back to our hometown when they come around. A sort of indie rock meets Appalachian music, not sure how this was generated in San Diego, but we are proud! I was exhausted from the PCT 50 but still stayed awake!

They got the audience into their songs, clapping and singing with intense energy, especially from frontman Matt Vasquez, whose stage presence walks the line of obnoxious–and maybe almost narcissistic, but he is good natured enough to not be annoying. The band rocks hard and energetically, giving a good name to live music. With a pretty small catalogue, they played all their hits, which is how we could tell they wouldn’t be back for a second encore…I will definitely catch these guys live again.

Shirley Manson grooves while Garbage plays

Garbage, X-Fest, Cricket Wireless Ampitheatre, June

“For those who don’t know us, we are Garbage. For those who hate us, we are we are Gar-bage. And for those who love us. We. Are. Garbage. ”

Shirley Manson’s image is seductive and disturbed. In her mid-40’s now, she still seems to pull it off. It’s San Diego, with no rain, and though it was clearly an act, no she didn’t seem so happy. But she also knows she’s a star, and plays it up.

They didn’t play the World is Not Enough, but Shirley was creepy enough with #1 Crush and a slew of all of their other hits. She’s definitely still got it as a performer, electrifying and active, all interacting with the audience.

Crooning and prancing, sometimes lying on her back on the stage, this obsessive and attractive diva truly makes the band, in comparison to almost no personality whatsoever from the other members. Yet she really seemed to be into their music, moreso than her own performance.

Garbage is the most refined and exact pop band, with perfectionist Butch Vig (who almost ruined Nirvana’s Nevermind by producing it with such a poppy sound) exploiting pop sensibilities to appeal broadly. The live versions sound exactly like they do on record, with not a lot of live additions except Shirley’s personality. But I felt her contributions were enough to outweigh the bland predictable sound, even in a huge venue. Nicely done.

Also at X-Fest, San Diego 91.1 fm’s annual summer festival, we saw San Diego bands Angels and Airwaves and POD earlier in the day. The former was as unlistenable, crass, needlessly offensive and off-putting as their predecessor, Blink-182; the latter perplexingly closed with a Sublime cover. Not representing America’s finest city so well.

Jane’s Addiction, X-Fest, Cricket Wireless Ampitheatre, June

Perry Farrel is an icon, a hero of alternative rock. He saved Coachella; he started Lollapalooza. He also did so many drugs he broke up Jane’s Addiction in its prime, right as alternative rock was about to launch mainstream. I’ll reserve judgment of him. Farrel’s distracting antics are legendary, but so is his creativity. So you have to take the wheat with the chaff.

Huge statues of naked women, dancing lengerie clad girls and women in odd dresses suspended from the rafters were unfortunately part of the price of admission. I tended to just close my eyes and listen to Dave Navarro shred, which was amazing. The rhythm section was also intoxicating, so good. Live the songs shone, and extended grooves allowed you to become part of the vibe. I really wish they had been more coherent and consistent throughout their career, I think they could have been legendary.

“Mountain Song” and “Been Caught Stealing” were the biggest rewards for hearing Perry rant that “San Diego Means Whale’s Balls, I’m from a whale’s balls, I’m a giant sperm,” a “Skinny Jew from New York”, “remember Ron Jeremy from Anchorman” “tattooed  sweaty guys take off your shirts” and other such nonsense. They encored with a version of “Jane Says” that was actually listenable, which surprised me. Still, I would have preferred it to end with their very well done all-out jam of the regular set closer, the classic “Stop!” Or even better if they would have played some other songs in addition–they didn’t even play “Had a Dad.”

Truly a strange performance, as anticipated.  Even discounting that they were introduced 10 minutes before they went on stage, and their first song was Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine,” which they did not play at all, they just stood there as the stereo played it. So strange.

If Jane’s Addiction’s music wasn’t awesome, there is no way I could stomach their shenanigans for a second. But it is really great, and I felt fortunate to see these guys live for the first time, even in their 40’s.

Every year for the last 4 years I’ve bought tix for one show that I end up not being able to go to. Mogwai, Anti-flag, Alice in Chains…this year the Chocolate Drops, curses!

About zoomloco

I zoom-zoom loco like the pony express.
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