Tag Archives: Arts and Entertainment

Top 20 Concerts (Part 3)

The countdown continues!

10. R.E.M. (June 2008, Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia MD)

R.E.M. probably should be higher on this list, since I absolutely adore them.  The first time I saw them in 1995, I was 13 and it was one of the highlights of my youth.  While they’ve played regularly around the DC/Baltimore area, it took me 13 years to see them again because I had very little interest in seeing songs from Up, Reveal and Around the Sun played live.  With Accelerate and with the band digging through the vaults it was time to go see R.E.M. again.

I saw this show with the largest group of people I’ve gone to a concert with – a total of 8 people.  Almost everybody in my group with the exception of my girlfriend who thought that it was funny that a music snob would like R.E.M. – though she changed her mind after the show) was a die-hard old fan.  For about half of the show, my brother  and I traded gasps and triumphant shouts with each old song that was played.  We also frantically sent texts to my other older brother who lives in Boston, and probably would have loved the show.

As for the music, Michael Stipe still remains one of rock’s best vocalists.  R.E.M.’s current drummer, while not quite as vital to the group as Bill Berry added an extra punch to the older songs that wasn’t there previously.  And as for Peter Buck, he may not be a flashy guitarist but there’s nothing like those jangling riffs he lays down.

9. Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson (August 2009, Aberdeen Stadium – Aberdeen, MD)

Bob Dylan

Willie Nelson

Bob Dylan should probably be higher on this list as well, as any reader of this blog knows, Dylan is my favorite musical artist.  Your view of seeing Dylan live really depends on how you view should play their songs.  Should they play the hits?  Should the songs be recognizable?  If the answer to this question is yes, then seeing Bob Dylan live might not be for you.  Dylan is always searching, always one step ahead – and his concerts reflect that.  No one Dylan show is the same.

Willie Nelson on the other hand, plays everything you would want to hear plus more including some choice Hank Williams cover.  It might be the dope, but Nelson clearly enjoys his job, and that love rubs off on the audience.

8. Little Richard/Al Green/BB King (August 2007, Pier 6 Pavilion – Baltimore MD)

Little Richard

Al Green

BB King

Is there a better collection of artists for a show on a late summer night?  I think not.  Each of these legends provide the perfect soundtrack for a warm night.  Al Green can still make the women over 50 swoon, Little Richard (with the exception of Jerry Lee Lewis) practically invented rock theatrics, and is every bit as cooky as he was in the 1950s.  And no living person can conjure old the ghost of the Delta blues like BB King.  What really impressed me about this show, was how tight and professional these musicians and their bands were.  There was very little room for improvisation – every note was calculated and perfected.  Yet, it still had a certain magic.  Even though you knew that each one of them played pretty much the exact same show the show before, you got the sense that they were playing it specifically for you.

7. Bruce Springsteen – (August 2008 Hershey Stadium – Hershey PA)

Jimmy Fallon recently said that Bruce Springsteen invented the rock concert.  While that may not be entirely accurate, Springsteen has continued to revolutionize what a stadium concert can be.  The only rule that Springsteen seems to adhere to is that the show must be an epic event.  Springsteen has also described the E-Street Band as the “world’s best bar band”.  Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but is there any major band out there that can play “Summertime Blues”, John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom”, Them’s “Gloria” and their own original songs in the same show?  There were several times I thought the show was going to end, but Springsteen kept pointing to signs in the audience and nodding to the band to give it a try.  After 3 plus hours, he kept going and even the band was hoping he didn’t notice another request.

This show gets the nomination for the strangest crowd I’ve ever been a part of. The outdoor stadium made it look like a carnival came to town complete with funnel cake stands and jousting (ok maybe I’m making the last part up.)  I also got into an argument with some dude in the bathroom during the main-set who was extremely pissed because Springsteen wasn’t playing the hits in favor of tracks “no one gives a shit about”.  The guy was wrong on both accounts – “The Promised Land”, “Badlands”, and “Prove it All Night” were all played in the main-set.  Second, I think there are many Springsteen fans who would be excited to hear “Reason to Believe”, “Part Man, Part Monkey” and “Because the Night”.

6. Tom Waits (June 2008 – Knoxville Tennessee)

Living in the Baltimore/DC area makes it easy to see many good shows.  When Tom Waits toured in 2008 for the first time in years, he decided to ignore the major markets and place in more obscure areas like the show I attended, which was in Knoxville, Tennessee.  It’s by far the farthest I have ever traveled for a show.

As for the show itself, it was part a Vaudeville show, and part story-time with Tom Waits.  Waits is famous for his onstage banter, and he failed to disappoint in this regard telling tales – which may or may not have been true.  Musically, most of the show relied on a slow pre-rock jazzy crawl especially on such songs as “Way Down in the Hole”.  “Innocent When You Dream” became a lullaby with audience participation, and “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis” received a strong ovation.

I probably would rank this show a lot higher if I knew as much of Tom Waits catalogue then as I do now.

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Bowie Collaborations: “Sister Midnight”

I bought the Iggy Pop anthology ” A Million in Prizes” a few years back.  I wanted a good introduction to his career, and I only had the Stooges albums at that point.  The only solo song I knew by Iggy was “Lust for Life”, which I loved.  I expected most of the set to be hard rock, and in the vein of either “Lust for Life” or the Stooges.

The last thing I expected to hear on this set was electronic, Kraftwerk-inspired, sounding funk.  Pop sang into a distorted almost, monotone voice, that recalled little of his Stooges’ days. With any given Stooges song, you felt as if the earth might fall beneath you.  Anything could happen. “Sister Midnight” on the other hand, was tied together tightly, and well constructed.  Yet, the song gave Iggy enough room to breathe something that was rare in a Stooges’ song.  (The only major exception is “We Will Fall”,  a slow-burn of a song, but not representative of the band’s output.)

Bowie co-wrote The Idiot (on which “Sister Midnight”appears) with Pop.  The Idiot is generally regarded as one of Pop’s best albums, and would have an enormous influence on punk and post-punk.  The Edge has cited it as major influence in interviews, and Ian Curtis of Joy Division was found dead with The Idiot spinning on his turn-table.

For Bowie, this collaboration was important in many ways.  Having been strung out on coke during the making of his last album, Station to Station, Bowie moved to Berlin with Pop to begin work on The Idiot, and its follow-up Lust for Life, and what would become known for Bowie as the Berlin Trilogy. Taking the helm for The Idiot, allowed Bowie to experiment and find out what sounds he wanted for his own albums.  As Bowie himself says about The Idiot:

Poor Jim, in a way, became a guinea pig for what I wanted to do with sound. I didn’t have the material at the time, and I didn’t feel like writing at all. I felt much more like laying back and getting behind someone else’s work, so that album was opportune, creatively.

 

 

 

“Sister Midnight”:

 

 

 

 



 

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Anniversary Week – Tuesday: “Your Hands (Together)” – The New Pornographers

I’ve been a fan of the New Pornographers since 2005/2006.  One of my friends was playing them while we were hung over and driving to get some greasy food.  Perhaps I was just in a certain frame of mind at the time, but the power-pop bliss of “Use It” stayed in my head for weeks.  And it’s never really gone away either – it’s my second most played song on Itunes.

I was disappointed with 2007’s Challengers because it seemed like the New Pornographers finally admitted that they were just a side band for almost every single member.  Only a couple of songs stood out in an otherwise lackluster album.  Luckily they bounced back with this year’s Together. They realized that they might all be in different groups and have different musical outlets, but together they create some pretty kick-ass music.

“Your Hands (Together)” is the New Pornographers at their best – it somehow manages to blend both Cheap Trick (an average band who sounds awesome when you’re drunk enough to do karaoke) and Black Sabbath.  It begins with a chunky power chord that’s ripped right out of “War Pigs” – there’s even breathing room for the cymbals to heard without headphones on.  The star of the show here is Neko Case, who once again proves why she is a star in her own right.  The way she harmonizes with Carl (aka AC) Newman is nothing short of amazing.

The song rocks, but for The New Pornographers it’s the closest they’ll get to Led Zeppelin or Sabbath.  Newman describes the genesis of the song here.

“Your Hands (Together)”:

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Women Singers: Billie Holiday: “Strange Fruit”

If I had to pick my favorite female singer, without a doubt it would be Billie Holiday.  Once you hear voice, you automatically know it’s her.  Prior to Billie Holiday, jazz singers did not personalize the songs that they sang.  As a result of being forced to sing standards and Tin Pan Alley songs, she would often sing around the beat and improvise.

Holiday was often quoted as saying that she tried to sing like a horn – and if you listen to her recordings it makes sense.  It’s soothing and she she works around the song, and is not bound by it like many of her contemporaries.

Probably her most famous recording is “Strange Fruit”.  Holiday didn’t write the song  – although it’s associated most with her.   “Strange Fruit” is protest music before Guthrie, Dylan, and Lennon.  Abel Meeropol’s poem about Southern lynching already cuts to the core, but under Billie Holiday’s voice it becomes a tearjerker.

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