Tag Archives: Washington DC

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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Pogues Show Recap

Have I said how much I love the 930 Club?  According to my friend, artists love playing there as well.  I have no basis other than my friends’s word, but I’d say that The Pogues love playing there as well considering they played two shows there this week.

There have been numerous times that I have been subjected to terrible opening bands, but I still like to show up and check whoever the supporting act is.  To me, it’s part of the show.  And Tuesday’s opener Titus Andronicus was one of the better openers I’ve seen in a while.  The lead singer could have been mistaken for Devendra Benhart, but he definitely had a stage  presence that took more from Iggy Pop – though nowhere near as extreme.  While it definitely hard to make out the lyrics, they definitely nailed it when they stuck to jamming out.  Perhaps I’ll actually check out some of their stuff sometime soon.

As for the Pogues, once again they failed to disappoint.  Shane MacGowan may have started the first few songs off-time with the rest of the band – “Stream of Whiskey” and “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” were a little rocky, and he completely messed up the lyrics to “The Broad Majestic Shannon” – the rest of the band seemed as tight as ever.  The songs aren’t quite played with the reckless abandon of their youth, but the band never seems fully energized especially on “the faster songs like The Sunny Side of the Street” and “Bottle of Smoke” .  Going through the motions is something The Pogues never do.  The biggest surprise of the night of the night was a full band treatment of “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda“.  MacGowan seemed particularly into the performance of this anti-war anthem.

While The Pogues stick to a fairly standard set-list, there’s still an air of unpredictability to the show.  It’s kind of hard to tell which way it will go.  Will the band grow tired of MacGowan’s antics?  How many songs will he be off stage for?  MacGowan often announces a what the next song is, only to be told by Spider Stacey, that is it something different.  His onstage banter is kind of warbled, but once he starts singing in his warbled voice, it’s still with the same conviction and belief that he had in his younger (and more focused days).  And that is what truly matters, and why people keep coming back to their shows despite no new music in nearly two decades.

 

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Pogues Show Tonight & New REM Album

 

The Pogues – Fiesta

Tonight, I’m going to see the Pogues in DC, for what I believe is the 6th or 7th I’ve seen them.  It will definitely be an awesome time, as I ranked them #5 on my Top 20 Concerts of All time. I may try and update before the show, as I downloaded a WordPress App for my phone the other day.  I haven’t used it yet, so we’ll see how it goes.

Also of interest, REM’s latest album Collapse Into Now comes out today.  I’ll probably write it about later on during the week.

R.E.M. – Uberlin

 

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Top 20 Concerts – The Final 5

5. The Pogues (March 2006, Washington DC – 930 Club)

Is there a better way to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day then going to the see the originators of Irish-folk punk?  Last year was an exception, but since 2006 I’ve been going to see the Pogues every March when they tour the East Coast.  Some years I even went twice.  Shane MacGowan’s vovals might be more warbled than they are on record, but the musicianship of the band more than makes up for it.  The Pogues can easily tear through songs such as “Streams of Whiskey”, “The Sunnyside of the Street”, and “Bottle of Smoke” with reckless abandon that can cause even the squarest of concert-goers to let loose.

Even the slower songs as such as “The Old Main Drag” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes” truly come alive in concert.  “Thousands Are Sailing” a lament about the troubles of Irish immigration becomes a triumph, when the song’s writer Phil Chevron takes over on lead vocals (MacGowan uses this a break to take a piss – I’m not joking).  The fan-favorite “Body of An American” can become something of a bit of bro-mance – when was the last time you saw so many dudes with their arms around each other’s shoulder singing loudly?

4. U2 (June 2001 Washington DC – Verizon Center)

I personally think that the 2005 Vertigo Tour had better performances (saw them twice that year) but on the 2001 Elevation Tour U2 showed not only were they back after the disaster that was Pop, but proved that concerts can be an uplifting and cathartic experience.  U2 perhaps more than any other group, excel at this.

This was the first U2 show I went to, after years of trying.  I had desperately tried to buy tickets several times, only to find Ticketmaster inform me that the show was sold-out.  Less than a week before the show, I read on a U2 fan-site that leftover tickets were being released.  Nervous that I would be locked out again, I quickly logged on.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I snatched up a pair of tickets for my older brother and I.

By June, even the newer songs off of All That You Can’t Leave Behind seemed like classics – particularly “Beautiful Day”, “Kite” and “In a Little While”.  Even the classic warhorses seemed to gain a new life.  Whatever you may think of him, Bono remains one of rock’s greatest frontmen – restless, until he reaches out to every single person in the arena.  It’s rare that a band seems to be so aware of every single person in a 20,000 person arena.  And The Edge’s ice-y guitar chords never sounded so glorious.

One of U2’s strengths has always been to make their old songs, relevant and contemporary.   The bridge of “I Will Follow” linked the past to the present as Bono recalled playing clubs in DC during the group’s early days.  “Bullet the Blue Sky” included an anti-gun rant, and “One” shed light on the troubles in Africa.

I just wish I had seen the post 9/11 shows when U2 songs seemed to be a soundtrack for a wounded nation.

3. Elvis Costello (May 2007, Washington DC – 930 Club)

I should probably pick the Costello show with Allen Touissant.  But, I only remember half of the show, so I don’t think that should count.  As I stated many times during this list, I’m in in love with small venues.  And seeing Elvis Costello, five feet from my face at the 930 Club is about an intimate as you can.  Being this close to one of your heroes is an experience that has evaded me until this show.

It wasn’t just the closeness that made this show great.  Costello was touring behind a collection of his “rock” songs, and as such the show centered around material from his earlier days when he looked liked and act like a pissed off Buddy Holly.  While Costello has mellowed a bit in his songwriting, the performances retained every bite and sting he left on record.  “Lipstick Vogue” was particularly snarling with its length instrumental bridge.  “There’s No Action” was a little tighter than the version found on This Year’s Model, but still seemed on the verge of veering out of control.

“Shabby Doll” was even darker than its studio counterpart, and the live favorite “Watching the Detectives” was given an extended reading, which suited the song’s reggae feeling.  Costello is often known for his love of The Beatles, and the group’s rendition of “Hey Bulldog” was a highlight.

2. Leonard Cohen (May 2009, Columbia MD – Merriweather Post Pavilion)

For a man that doesn’t tour very often, Leonard Cohen put on one hell of a show.  And like Willie Nelson, Cohen also seemed to be enjoying himself through the over 3 hour set which included all of his best known songs, “Suzanne”, “So Long, Marianne” “Tower of Song” and of course “Hallelujah”.  As for Cohen himself, he seemed a lot more animated than you would expect a 75 year old man to be.  He also seemed extremely humbled to be in the presence of “friends”.

The constant rain didn’t seem to do anything for the atmosphere.  Despite being soaked for most of the night, the show could have gone on for 3 more hours and I wouldn’t have cared.  Unlike Bob Dylan, your chances of seeing Leonard Cohen live are few and far between.

1. Van Morrison (February 2009, New York City – Wamu Theater)

(Note: I couldn’t find a video from the Astral Weeks tour)

A once in a life-time show.  I’m usually not lucky enough to go to “special performances”, but I did manage to get tickets for this sold out show (at a hefty, but extremely worthwhile price).  Like Cohen, Van Morrison doesn’t tour very often but in late 2008 he surprised everybody by not just playing a few shows, but by performing Astral Weeks in its entirety.

For me, Astral Weeks is a life-changing album, and I had no doubt that seeing Morrison perform Astral Weeks live would be a life-changing experience.  Usually, I’m not a fan of concerts where you have to sit down, but this was one concert where sitting back, taking in the music was a perfect suit.  In its original incarnation, Astral Weeks a reflective mood piece – one that commands you to sit down and listen.  And the same went for the show.

The first half of the set contained many standard Van Morrison songs. While he was every professional, Morrison seemed to plow right through the set (“Domino” was particularly short winded).  I wouldn’t suggest that he was actually bored with own material, but it was clear that he really wanted to do the Astral Weeks set.  In contrast to the first set, Astral Weeks was given a slow jazzy treatment that didn’t take on the songs original arrangements, but retained the spirit of the record.  “Slim Slow Slider” was given an expanded ending with Morrison repeatedly chanting, “I start breaking down”.  It’s a song that I never gave enough attention to on the record, but it became one of the highlights for me.

Astral Weeks has always existed in its own plane.  It’s not rock, it’s not folk, and it’s not jazz.  It can be a combination of these things – but it’s also about the passage of time – looking back and seeing the past.  Morrison made many great records since Astral Weeks, but he never made a better one.  And in 2008 and 2009, Morrison finally looked back into the past and finally admitted what everyone already knew – Astral Weeks isn’t just a record, but an experience.

 

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Top 20 Concerts Part 2

I should note that some of these artists I have seen multiple times, so I will only list my favorite concert from each particular artist.  Otherwise the top 10 could easily include multiple repeats.

Pearl Jam (May 2006 – Camden, New Jersey)

I’ve seen Pearl Jam a total of three times over the past few years, and I have yet to see a bad show by them.  Pearl Jam treat their shows like every single one is a special event.  Eddie Vedder is the Pete Townshend of lead singers – jumping across the stage and doing guitar acrobatics that lesser men would like downright silly even to attempt.   The last time I saw them in DC in 2008, they only made it about a minute into “Evacuation” before the band stumbled.  In the old days, Vedder might have walked off screaming.  Instead the band laughed it off, and went on to the next show like nothing happened.

I realize that I probably might get shit on for including Pearl Jam on this list by some people I know.  I still think that the lady at the concession lying when she said that drinks were no longer being served at the “artists’ request”.

 

The New Pornographers (October 2007 – 930 Club, Washington DC)

Twin Cinema is easily one of the best rock-pop records of the 2000s.   On record The New Pornographers have a lot of energy, but live they are well-oiled machine.   Neko Case and Carl Newman remain the band’s not-so secret weapon united in harmony, but it’s amazing to see them pull it off so effortlessly on songs like “All The Things That Go Make Heaven and Earth”, and “Use It”.  And when the coda for “The Bleeding Heart Show” kicks in, you wish it would go on forever.

 

Kings of Leon (October 2005 – Sonar, Baltimore MD)

In 2005, Kings of Leon were down right sleazy.  Not like the pretty boys and rock- pop cons you know today.  If the whiskey soaked songs, and dank of Sonar weren’t enough, the show included girls dancing on poles between sets and a magic show.  You could feel the sweat flying from the Followills foreheads as they blazed through countrified-punk versions of “The Bucket” and “Slow Night So Slow”.  Appropriately enough, they closed with the aptly titled, “Trani”.

The concert was awesome, but things turned sour later on, including being stuck in a traffic jam with the gas-tank on empty, and a fall down a flight of stairs.  (Both incidents turned out to be ok, but the gas tank was a close-call.)

 

The Black Crowes (August 2007 – Sonar, Baltimore MD)

Another show at Sonar. This is not really a criticism, but The Black Crowes are the best Rolling Stones cover band with original songs.  It was an old-fashioned rock and roll show at its best.  I distinctly remember it being the hottest night of the year – it was so fucking hot, and the compressed venue of Sonar only made it worse.  But somehow, it only seemed fitting to see the Crowes that way.

The Pixies (December 2009 – Constitution Hall, Washington DC)

I ended up going to this show at the last minute.  I got a phone-call in the afternoon from a friend telling me that an extra ticket was available.  So off I drove to DC during rush-hour to go see The Pixies.  I was almost late because I got lost to my friends house on the way – even though I had driven there at least 5 times prior.

This show was part of The Pixies “Doolittle Tour”. Prior to this show, I had never seen a whole album show, and was curious about how it come off.  The songs off of Doolittle are short and concise, so even the duds (there are really only about 3 off of an otherwise great album) are over before you know it.  The big songs – “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Here Comes Your Man” got the most response, but it was on “There Goes My Gun” and “Vamos” The Pixies really came alive.  The former proved that even in his mid 40s, Frank Black can still scream like a motherfucker, and the latter included an extended feedback solo that peeled the paint off of the otherwise stale Constitution Hall.

 

 

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