Tag Archives: Baltimore

My Mother’s First Rock Concert: U2 in Baltimore

 

Over the years, I’ve gone to see U2 a total of four times.  Each show was special for different reasons.   In 2001, I saw them for the first time after years of trying.  Four years later when I saw them perform in Washington DC, they busted out the rarely played “Out of Control”.

I knew U2’s show in Baltimore would be a special one, too.  As a Christmas present, my older brother and I bought my mother a ticket. Not only would this be her first time seeing U2, it would also be her first rock concert.  After years of watching her sons go to the band’s concerts without her, my mother would finally get to see Bono and company in the flesh.

She’s listened to U2 for almost 25 years, mostly because my older siblings exposed her to them.   She’s always enjoyed The Joshua Tree; though it took her fifteen years to declare Achtung Baby is “one of their best”.  It’s hard to listen to “Bad” without thinking back to Friday afternoons when she made pizza in the kitchen.

When the day of the show finally came, my mother was nervous about the large crowds and the stage show.  She became concerned about the band’s moving catwalks after hearing about them on the radio.  I was a bit apprehensive about going to a concert with my mother.   After all, this was a new experience for me, too.

Naturally, I wondered if it would be too loud for her.  Maybe the giant video screen and flashing lights would be a bit much for her.  Bono’s politicizing is sometimes off-putting for even faithful fans of U2.  What would she think if he gave the audience a lecture on Africa?

On our way to the concert, my fears began to subside.  As we made our way into the stadium, my mother seemed less nervous and more excited.  She had even brought a pair of earplugs, on my friend’s suggestion.  “What’s the name of the song about Bono’s father?” She asked as we weaved our way around the hundreds of people inside the stadium.   “I like that one.”

“Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” I said.  “Though I don’t think they play that one on this tour.”

After walking half way around the stadium and climbing to the upper-deck, we finally made it to our seats.  U2’s elaborate stage with its massive spider-like claws stretching into the air, circular video screen, and giant antenna took up much of the field.  “It’s crazy isn’t it?” my brother asked.  “It’s wonderful,” she replied in awe.  She might have been referring to the stage, but it was also much more significant.  She had finally made it, and enjoying the company of her two sons.

When U2 appeared on stage – Bono appearing last – my mother let out an enthusiastic whoop.   The earplugs were no where to be found.  From the very beginning, it was clear that I had no need to worry.  After every single song – even the ones she didn’t know – she cheered so loudly that it put the audience members around us to shame.

She was amazed at how The Edge could play so well, as the catwalk beneath his feet moved over heads of the audience.  Bono kept his political talk to a minimum, and instead offered kind words and praises of thanks.  “It’s nice to hear him have such a positive view of the world,” She said after the show.

The set-list was divided between greatest hits and deep-cuts.  While I prefer the latter, I could have dealt with an entire nights of worth of well-known songs for the look on my mother’s face when “Pride”, “One” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” were played.

U2 is the biggest band in the world not because they put on great shows.  Their songs speak universal truths and offer hope in a world full of confusion.  Songs even my mother, who is almost 20 years older than Bono, can relate to.

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Matt and Kim: Baltimore 6/1/11 Recap

(Taken with my phone, so excuse the fuzziness.)  

 

I’ve said before that I’m not usually into indie-pop/dance-punk.  It’s not really my style…blah blah blah. I’m not sure what to make of it was my excuse. In recent years, my girlfriend has played me Matt and Kim, Mates of State, and Passion Pit.   My first reaction was usually something to the effect of being polite and smiling.

Turns out, I might be wrong.  Last summer, we went to see Mates of State at Baltimore’s Ottobar and I admit I was shocked by how good they were live.  The live songs weren’t carbon copies of the studio versions – they were louder, faster, and also made me appreciate the musicianship of the band.  As the Matt and Kim show approached, this hesitation was gone.  I came in knowing I would enjoy myself.

Right from the beginning, it became apparent that Matt and Kim would tear down the house.  There’s only two of them (hence the name) but drummer Kim Schifino and keyboardist/singer Matt Johnson emerged on stage, like it was the Superbowl – lots of jumping and fist pumping.  Rarely, have I seen an act so into their own show before it even starts.  Usually, the group comes on stage – maybe there’s a “hello” – and it’s “1,2,3,4” and off they go.

And their energy rarely let up as they tore through their three albums (2010’s “Sidewalks”, 2008’s “Grand” and 2006’s  “Matt and Kim”).  Matt and Kim’s sound relies on Matt’s melodic vocals and odd keyboard sounds and Kim’s pounding drums.  The chemistry between rubbed off on the audience – most of whom knew every single word – a fact that Matt admitted he still had trouble getting over.  In sections when Matt played solo Kim would stand on her bass drum, jump into the audience, stand on her drum stool and click the drum sticks in time – with a huge grin on her face the entire time.

It was impossible not get caught up in the mayhem  and not just because of their stage presence.  Seeing them live made me realize, how inventive and original this band is.  They somehow managed to have experimental tendencies, punk aesthetics, Springsteen-sized showmanship, and extremely poppy songs.

Without a doubt, the best show I’ve seen in a while.

Also check out Reptar, one of the opening bands.  At first, I was very confused.  They seemed a little ironic for their own good, but they soon won me over.  I’d describe how they sound – but I’m not sure I could really do it justice.

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Matt & Kim Tonight

 

 

I’m going to see Matt & Kim tonight at Baltimore’s Ram’s Head Live.   I’m not usually into the whole indie-pop/dance scene that seems to be gaining some legs, but Matt & Kim are a lot of fun.  Hopefully, a full re-cap tomorrow.

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Goodbye Borders

Not that it really comes as a surprise, but Borders announced its Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and plans to close 30% of its stores.  The digital age has already taken its toll on the record industry, and now bookstores are beginning to feel the heat as well, since e-books the literary equivalent of an Ipod.

Before I moving to Baltimore, Borders was essentially the only place where there was a large selection of CDS.  It was either that or Best Buy.  But Best Buy didn’t have the back catalogues of most of their artists, and they also only displayed artists with track records of moving copies.  It was also one of the few places that I was allowed to drive to by myself when I was in high school.

I would spend hours at a time just browsing through the CDs making mental notes of which artists I needed to eventually check out.  Borders was also one of the first places I remember that had a listening station for new CDs.  Usually the description of the album was off-base, but at least you were able to actually hear what you were about to purchase.  Many of my favorite albums were purchased from Borders – London Calling, Sticky FingersZiggy StardustRaw Power, several Pearl Jam bootlegs, etc.  The bargain bin (selected albums were $7.99) was also my first introduction to Sam Cooke and Ray Charles.

When I wasn’t looking at the CDs, I would wander off to the music book section and read through many of the rock encyclopedias, and memoirs.  If you’re ever wondering where most of my knowledge of artists comes from – it’s a direct result of that.  At the time, I desperately wanted to be a rock critic (still do actually) and I figured the best way to do that would be to study up on the subject.  Before I listened to Iggy Pop, I knew of his affection for peanut-butter on stage.  It was in a Borders’ chair that I first learned about the legend of Robert Johnson making a deal with the Devil at the crossroads.

Because I was there so often, many of the cashiers knew me.  When I went to purchase a copy of The Velvet Undeground & Nico , the girl at the counter seemed genuinely interested – she had never heard of them before. When I explained to her what they sounded like – shocker – she didn’t seem as interested in anymore.

Since moving to Baltimore, I hardly ever go to Borders – Soundgarden is about two miles away from my apartment – but whenever I go back to visit my parents I almost always stop by.  The last few times I’ve been have been extremely depressing.  The CD section has all but been taken away.  There are no more back catalogues of artists – shit, even Target has a better selection of artists and albums these days.

I haven’t listened to it in a while, but perhaps I’ll break out my copy of Quadrophenia tonight.  It was one of the first albums I purchased at Borders.

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Top 20 Concerts (Part 1)

I love going to shows.  It’s more than just a passion.  It’s almost a way of life.  The band comes on, and there’s lift-off – a sense of excitement where anything can happen. Nothing else matters at that particular moment in time except the people who aren’t just asking for your attention, but in some cases demanding it.

The best places to see shows, are venues that are almost downright dirty, and grungy.  The stale smell of beer.  Though most of the places I go to see shows now are smoke-free, you can still smell the smoke stained in the floor and the walls.  (This is why I think that Baltimore’s Rams Head Live is a intimate venue, it will be better in about 20 years when it’s been lived in.)

Today I’ll post 20 – 15, and tomorrow I’ll post the rest through the week.

20. The Dirtbombs (April 2008, Sonar – Baltimore, MD)

I never really heard of the Dirtbombs until my friend introduced me to them.  The Dirtbombs mix of R&B, Soul, and funk played with an aggressive twist is made for a live-setting.  It’s a non-stop party – a perfect setting for the dingy hole in the wall of Baltimore’s Sonar Club.  This show holds the record for the smallest show outside of a bar-band that I’ve seen – but it was also one of the loudest, and loaded with energy.  I’m pretty sure that The Dirtbombs only played for over an hour, but their short energized blast made it seem like they were playing for 3 hours.  After the show my friend spilled his beer all over singer Mick Collins while trying to get a poster signed.  A fitting way to end an awesome night.

19. Eddie Vedder (June 2009, The Lyric Opera House – Baltimore MD)

Normally you think of Eddie Vedder as a very serious dude, but at this solo show he was surprisingly funny cracking jokes and telling stories.  The Lyrics is actually the complete opposite of Sonar – I sat in velvet cushioned seats!  It was great to see one of rock’s modern legends in such a small place.  Despite an aborted attempt at the looped vocal chant of “Arc”, Vedder put out on a show that was both loose and tight at the same time.  Most of the material stemmed from the Into The Wild soundtrack, but he also threw in some Pearl Jam songs such as “Porch” and a pretty reverent cover of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City”.

18.. The Recipe – March 2005, 8X10 – Baltimore MD

Normally, I don’t particularly like the type of music that The Recipe specialize in which is jamming.  But, unlike say The Grateful Dead, and Phish this band is fun.  This is a show that I don’t remember much of actually, but this is one of those bands that I’ll always remember seeing because like the Dirtbombs, it was so much damn fun.  My friend and I debated who would be fun to hang out with after the show – the cute fiddle player, or the old dude playing the banjo dubbed “Uncle Eddie”.  I said Uncle Eddie, because he probably had the best collection of music in the band.

17. They Might Be Giants – June 1994- Wolftrap, Virginia

This gets an automatic inclusion just for the fact that this was my first concert.  They Might Be Giants were one of those groups that I grew up by way of my older siblings.  Sure, they’re silly but they’re kind of like The Ramones who were smarter than they actually let on.  I went to the show with my three older brothers, and while I’m not sure if I would enjoy it on the same level, back then it was one of the highlights of my youth.

16. Lou Reed – April 2008, The National – Richmond Virginia

(This is from the actual show I went to.)

With Lou Reed you kind of have to look past the fact that he can be a bit surly, and just appreciate the music.  This show was a case in point.  Reed, has nothing left to prove anymore, so it was enjoyable just to see the man play.  While there plenty of expected moments (distortion and feedback, some biting dialogue – particularly about “I’m Sticking With You”) there were also plenty of surprises including an energetic version of “Sweet Jane”, and a slow-burning take on “Ecstasy”.

More tomorrow.

 

 

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Artists and Songs Used in Commercials

Last night I was shocked to see that Subaru was using The Pogues’ “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” in a commercial revolving around a mother driving her kids to pee-wee hockey.  In an age where record sales are declining, it’s somewhat understandable that artists would give away their rights to commercials such as these, but as fan it does take away from the integrity of the specific song.  “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” at least musically has a celebratory tone (as do a lot of Pogues songs) but the title alone would at least give an indication of what the song is about.  “If I should fall from grace with God, where no doctor can relieve me,” Shane MacGowan growls through the first line.  “If I’m buried beneath the sod, but the angels won’t receive me.”  This is the song of a man owning up to his demons, admitting that perhaps he is damned after all, and seeming content with that.   The Pogues’ lyrics have more in common with The Wire’s Jimmy McNulty driving wasted and wrecking his car underneath a Baltimore over-pass then a suburban mother driving her kids to hockey practice.

It’s kind of a moot argument to cry foul and accuse artists of “selling out” when lending their songs to commercials.  I just have a problem with the context in which many of these songs are used.  I recently went to the Notre Dame/Navy game last weekend, and I was surprised that Navy actually came out to the field to Rage Against the Machine’s “Testify” – a song that criticizes mass media, Big Oil, and makes numerous references to George Orwell’s 1984.  Rage’s music is bombastic and can get a crowd moving, but did anyone involved in the sound for Navy think about the meaning behind the song?

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Songs for a Flood

It’s raining pretty hard in Baltimore today, and parts of the area are under a flood-watch.  A friend of mine told me that Fells Point is flooding.  I don’t find that hard to believe.  So here’s a list of flood themed songs for you today.

1.) Theme From Flood – They Might Be Giants

2.) Lost in the FloodBruce Springsteen

3.) Who Will Stop the Rain?Creedence Clearwater Revival

4.) High Water (For Charley Patton)Bob Dylan (Dylan has many choices, but I decided to go with this one because it’s one of my favorites of his latter-day career, less obvious.)

5. March into the Sea – Modest Mouse

6.) Walk to the Water – U2 (Joshua Tree-era B-side)

7.) The River in Reverse – Elvis Costello & Allen Touissant

8.) When the Levee Breaks – Kansas Joe McCoy, Memphis Minnie

9.) Down by the Water – PJ Harvey

10. Famous Blue Raincoat – Leonard Cohen

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