Wednesday, May 20, 2009

TV On The Radio

This is a concert review I wrote for Randomville. I also included some videos of the band if you're interested. The first is a live version of "Golden Age" on the British show Later...With Jools Holland. The second is a live version of "Dancing Choose" on Letterman. Enjoy.

5/18/09- It’s amazing that with all the success TV On The Radio has had over the past few years that I would find them in a place like the Diamond Ballroom in Oklahoma City on Monday night. It’s not that the venue is bad or too small but after being hailed as one of the best bands of this generation by everyone from Rolling Stone to Spin magazine, I expected to find the band in much different circumstances.
The Diamond Ballroom is on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, down the street from a Budweiser factory, and has a dirt parking lot. The inside looks like it was once used as a country-western bar where people would square dance and the stage at the north end of the venue was added as an afterthought. I was highly excited. It’s not that often that a person catches a great band in such a strange and intimate setting.
The opening band was, “Little Dragon”, and though the vocals from lead singer Yukimi Nagano immediately reminded me of Bjork, their music was much more upbeat and danceable-a perfect opening band for TV On The Radio. Their set was heavily driven by the keyboards of Hakan Wirenstrand that always seemed to add that little extra-something to the mix to make them not only fun but interesting as well. Their songs would often devolve into percussion-driven and ambient interludes that always threatened to lose the interest of the crowd before vocalist Nagano would grab their attention with an ear-catching melody. The crowd was very warm to the band, which is always nice to see.
It was close to 40 minutes before TV On The Radio took the stage after Little Dragon closed their set and by that time, the Diamond Ballroom was packed and stifling. Without any air-conditioning and only three exits that were open to the night air, it was damn hot in there. It was interesting to see that the band had no great stage setup, no smoke machines or even great lights. But none of that mattered when they opened their set with “Dirtywhirl” because the crowd immediately began to dance and move and sing along, totally forgetting their previous predicament of being hot and of the band not having a big production for them to see. I was surprised that though the crowd was somewhat small, they were completely dedicated to the band, singing along to all of the songs and clapping when prompted to do so by lead singer Tunde Adebimpe. I loved watching him dance around the stage with so much charisma and passion.
The band played a tight set, playing 10 of the 11 tracks (I don’t count “Silence” because…well, it’s nothing but silence) from Dear Science. Towards the middle of the set, they played fan favorite “Golden Age” and a rousing version of “Wolf Like Me” back-to-back and it was great to hear the crowd sing “We’re howlin’ forever!” at the end of the song. Other great live songs were “Dancing Choose” and “Red Dress” with rhythm guitar player Kyp Malone taking the lead vocals on the latter song and declaring, “I’m scared to death I’m living a life not worth dying for”. It seemed like the night could go on forever,
For the encore, they played a beautiful version of “Family Tree” which is heavily-driven by a string section on the album but was instead driven here by a delay-effect on the guitar of lead guitarist and producer Dave Sitek. The song was intimate and emotional and really calmed the crowd down after all the rabble-rousing of the evening. They closed the show by inviting members from opening band, Little Dragon, and a few other friends of the band to play, “A Method” from their album, Return To Cookie Mountain. The song features nothing but various percussion instruments and a bass and as a stage spectacle, one of the friends of the band poured a full bottle of water onto his giant drum so that water would spray in all directions as he hit it. It was a great closer.
Despite the band having a few sound problems (which I blame more on the venue than the band), the show was absolutely amazing as the songs of the band were really meant to be played live. If this band is coming your way anytime soon, do yourself a favor and go see them. If you’re lucky, you might catch them in an intimate setting like I saw them because it is only time before this band is playing stadiums.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The NINJA Tour

Here is a piece I wrote for Randomville that did not get published because competing sites had already published similar articles.

5/14/09- The NINJA Tour came through Albuquerque this evening on a beautiful night in the desert. The weather was in the low 60s and stayed there through the remainder of the show which I, and the rest of the crowd were very happy about.
I arrived there a little late but got there just as the first band, Street Sweeper Social Club, began to perform. Street Sweeper Social Club is Tom Morello’s new band and they set the bar high for the night with their energy and enthusiasm. You really couldn’t ask for a better opening band. A lot of people are already beginning to talk about how the band is “not as good as Rage Against the Machine”. Who the hell cares? Their lead singer, Boots Riley, might not have the fire of De La Rocha but what he lacks in passion he makes up for in charisma. He was great to the crowd and it was great to see him dancing, and sometimes rolling around the stage. A few songs into their set, they covered “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. and replaced the gunshots on the chorus with distorted guitars and the sound of the cash register with harmonics. It was a great cover. At the end of their set, they offered a chance for a fan to come back stage and meet them by texting “Street” to a number that they then provided. I texted them but was not chosen. I guess you can’t have everything. But it’s not a problem because I greatly enjoyed their set and began to think that they just might steal the show from the two remaining bands. How wrong I was.
I need to take a moment here to applaud the stage crew that worked at Journal Pavilion in Albuquerque because they were hands down the best crew at a concert I’ve ever seen, which is saying a lot. It was only a mere 20 minutes before Nine Inch Nails took the stage and they must have felt the energy from Street Sweeper Social Club because they came out fierce and explosive. On the opening song, a riotous version of “Somewhat Damaged”, Trent Reznor and company did everything they could to trash the stage from throwing mic stands and guitars all over the place. It was great to see. There was no slowing down either. Throughout their 20-plus song set, they never once played a song that you could label as “quiet” or “slow”. Towards the end of their set, they played “Head Like A Hole” and it was wonderful to hear thousands of people scream “I’d rather die than give you control”. Before their closing song, Reznor began to talk about how it was great that so many fans had stuck with the band over the years and that after this current tour the band was going to take an “extended break”. I don’t know what to make of that statement but if this tour is the last the band ever plays, then they must be determined to go out with a bang. I can honestly say that it was the most explosive set I’ve ever seen.
Once they finished, it was only another 20 minutes (seriously, this is unprecedented) before Jane’s Addiction came out. Before they began to play, they showed a clip from the movie, The River Wild, where Kevin Bacon talks to a kid about Jane’s Addiction and the kid remarks, “Wish I could’ve seen them before they broke up”. Perry Farrell and crew came out and Perry Farrell yelled, “Good evening, Santa Fe!” Oops. However, the crowd didn’t mind and Farrell apologized later on in the show. Although people have always thought Farrell to be odd and eccentric, the one thing that I’ve always admired about him is his happiness and enthusiasm, as he’s always smiling and dancing around with the crowd. Halfway through the set, they played “Been Caught Stealing” and a fan jumped on stage and began to slowly dance around Farrell. Farrell yelled, “You better bring it if you’re gonna be up here” and danced around with the man for awhile before security shooed him offstage. The band hasn’t lost any speed, as all the members of the band have seemed to improve at their instruments. It’s still amazing to watch Dave Navarro, Eric Avery and Stephen Perkins play as they’re all virtuosos at their instruments. The highlight for me though, was when they played “Mountain Song” which got a big reaction from the crowd. I think a lot of us were waiting for that one.
All in all, it was an amazing show and it has set the bar high for the rest of the summer. If the NINJA tour is coming through your town, do yourself a favor and go see it. You might not get another chance to see anything like it again.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Food Network Foray

There comes a time in every unemployed person’s unemployment when things take a strange turn. For bizarre and often unknown reasons, the person always begins to create a routine that becomes more important than everything else in their life. By keeping the routine, they create a sense of normalcy when what is actually happening is far from anything normal. They need the routine. It means everything. It is everything. This is how I came to know the answers to all of the great questions of life by religiously watching the Food Network.
While that statement might be a little hard-to-swallow, it is easier to see once you have watched it as closely as I have. There are statements throughout the various shows of the Food Network that could apply to all of the great questions of humanity. Why are we here? According to Marc Summers’ Unwrapped, there is a company that now makes organic cotton candy. This could also be read as: We are here to help create a utopia where people can strive to not only make things better but to learn from the mistakes of their past so that they can create a better future. This is why organic cotton candy not only tastes better but is also better for you rather than enlarging areas of your body that you do not want to enlarge. What are the most important things in life? According to Sunny Anderson’s Cooking For Real, it is fun, time and flavor which could also mean: It is important to enjoy life and experience all the ups and downs of life before our time is up. Who knew that food could be existential?
Whether I’m watching Guy Fieri eat cheeseburgers the size of his head or Alton Brown explain the science of the steel in common cutlery, there are always lessons to be learned. Duff Goldman has taught me that anything is possible, specifically in regards to making amazing cakes but also to other once-thought impossible challenges. Will America ease tensions with North Korea? All Kim Jong-Il needs is a large cake from America based on some aspect of his life portrayed through cute fondant caricatures. It could show him ordering people around, acting totally insane, etc. He’d love it. Will humans ever have world peace? Yes, provided that there is a cake as big as the moon that incorporates a fountain, staircase or some kind of moving element, preferably a spinning penguin. Will humanity ever repair the tear in the Earth’s atmosphere? Yes, provided that there is a crap load of fondant.
Though I’ve spent every single night for the past few months watching various Food Network shows, it never makes me any better at cooking. As the wonderful cooks and chefs offer loads of tips and tricks in the kitchen, I always think to myself, “Huh, I need to try that” before getting up and going to Wendy’s to order a spicy chicken sandwich. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve watched informative shows on how to cook healthy meals while surrounded by leftover bags and large, empty cups from a plethora of fast food restaurants. They're like empty but all-too-present vessels of failure.
So, what does this tell us? Cooking food can offer the secrets of the universe as long as those secrets don’t have to do with actual food. Sure, they offer useful information but unless you are sitting with a pen and pad, furiously scribbling down extensive instructions, or if you happen to have a memory like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, there is no way that you will remember it all. Instead, you get different pieces to hundreds of different puzzles that you will never be able to put all together. I’ve learned how to put a rub on ribs, but know nothing about what to do after that. I’ve learned how to sear a steak, but do not know how to add flavor. And while this is unfortunate that I could learn everything but still know nothing in regards to food, I’m much more interested in learning about the universe. Or maybe I just want someone else to cook.
Whatever the reason, the next time you are wondering about the world around you, don’t pick up Kierkegaard or Socrates, Nietzsche, or Kant. Turn on your television to the Food Network where the real philosophers reside whether it’s Paula Deen, Bobby Flay or the earthly angel, Giada de Laurentiis. I might be crazy to think all of this nonsense about food and existence but…..another episode of Iron Chef America is coming on and I’ve been desperately wanting to know when human beings will be able to fly. And if Masaharu Morimoto has anything to say, it’s probably soon.