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Event Coverage

With the onset of daylight saving time a mere thirty hours away and a couple of relatively warmer days just gone, the mood of the punters entering Mebourne’s Festival Hall (not so affectionately known as Festering Hall) on this particular Friday night seemed just a little more jovial than usual. Those who arrived early would have been treated to Perth act The Chemist… For this attendee however, it was to be dinner and drinks that would win out, before arriving for the surprisingly well-known international supporting act; Los Angeles alternative rock quartet Silversun Pickups.

It says something about the progression of the Australian music industry when a local band – and not exactly one which the average Joe on the street would even know – can attract such an acclaimed international support. And while there could easily have been a case for this to be a true co-headline show, Silversun Pickups fans would be treated to their own headline slot (albeit at a smaller venue) three nights earlier. On an early trip to the men’s room for yours truly, urinal talk suggested the crowd were rather evenly split as to who they were there for. And even when one already inebriated man was at a loss as to who these “Pickups” were, all was ok when he was told they had a “chick” in the band.

Brian Aubert with his “lazy eye”.

Even on record, Silversun

Having already broken out in his native England, Frank Turner is a rising star in the US punk community as of late. As if his signing to Epitaph for all his releases stateside wasn’t enough of a sign that the British singer-songwriter has been gaining his footing in the states, successful tour spots with The Offspring and Social D on top of a number of headlining runs all across the country have exposed Frank to thousands of new fans. Last night at the Troubadour, located in the west-side of Los Angeles, a sold out crowd sang their hearts out to a venerable folk-punk smorgasbord. Even California punk legends such as NOFX’s Fat Mike and Bad Religion guitarist/Epitaph Records head honcho Brett Gurewitz could be seen roaming the grounds among the fans.

The night began with Lansing, Michigan’s Cheap Girls. The only act of the night that didn’t feature acoustic guitars, Cheap Girls took control of the gathering crowd with their upbeat Texas is the Reason by way of The Replacements brand of crunchy, no-frills rock and roll. Given the context of the rest of the night, they were a wonderful appetizer to the main course of Andrew Jackson Jihad and Frank Turner. The only downside was that given the crowd’s unfamiliarity with their material and the incredibly low placement of singer and bassist’s Ian Graham’s vocals in the overall mix killed the potential audience participation factor during their performance.

Despite Frank Turner’s name being on top of…

Not far removed from the middle of winter in the southern hemisphere, it was a cold and wet Melbourne that hosted Jared Leto & Co. at Festival Hall. Touring on the back of their disappointing 3rd album ‘This Is War’, this tour was for some reason titled ‘Into the Wild’. I’d research why, but the fact this blog has been written 2 weeks after the event should tell you how motivated I am at present.

The best seat in the house?

The venue is not exactly much loved around these parts since (ignoring its summer air-conditioning issue which leaves it feeling like a sauna) it is spatially challenged. Spreading sideways instead of back, even some of the best seats in the house (ignoring a limited capacity balcony section which is centrally located) leave attendees with too much of a side view feel. Thankfully, yours truly had one of those best seats for this particular concert since there was no way I was going to submit my ears to the screaming 13 year old girls on the venue’s floor section… The fact that the floor section was also unlicensed is irrelevant… Well, not really, but anyway…

The Art

Arriving as the support band was playing their first song; it was not a great surprise to see The Art receive a lukewarm response. Previously

Leading up to this weekend, shows have been hard to come by this calendar year, however that was about to change.   On Thursday I was going to see The Antlers with Dinosaur Feathers while on Sunday I planned on seeing Cap’n Jazz twice, once with Lightning Bolt and No Age and the other with Gauge.

Image Credit: Chris Wang

Thursday night, The Antlers played a free concert as a part of the Hudson River Park’s River Rocks concert series at Pier 54.  The picturesque night started with melodious three-piece known as Dinosaur Feathers.  While they will not blow anyone away with any sort of dramatic climaxes or intricate passages, Dinosaur Feathers make up for that with their precision and dreamy pop songs, such as “Teenage Whores.”  Unfortunately for Dinosaur Feathers, the generator powering the show went down during the middle of their set, which caused a nearly thirty minute delay and Dinosaur Feathers to play at about a quarter of the original volume without electronically produced drums supporting their sound, all while organizers scrambled to get another generator for The Antlers’ set.  Dinosaur Feathers could have easily stopped playing, but they persevered through the technical difficulties, and they deserve a heap of credit for keeping a somewhat disgruntled crowd happy.

Once The Antlers took the stage, another generator was in place and the sun was setting over the Hudson.  Flowers lined two keyboards as “Kettering” began ever so softly.  One detail that…

After an exhausting Friday night, which in keeping with the day before it didn’t end until sunrise the next day, Saturday would prove to be the death knell in SputnikMusic’s head-first dive into NXNE 2010.

Like the day before, my Saturday started at the Dakota Tavern to see Jack Marks and his Lost Wages, a sometimes six, sometimes seven piece country outfit led by singer-songwriter standout Jack Marks. Like Sandman Viper Command of the two previous days, Marks and his band of mice-fights are a bit of an ol’ faithful for me. In truth, I’ve long since lost count of how many times I’ve seen them over the past year; a handful of times at the Cameron House, some more at Dakota’s and a few other little gigs around the city (my favourite being in the bar-room of the Tranzac, which was in the middle of hosting a barbed-wire wrestling event in its main room).
Arriving to see a surprisingly sparse Dakota Tavern I took my perch on the bar-rail, sitting behind none other than A.A. Bondy and his Farmville enamoured bassist, to catch what would prove to be a familiar but all the while noteworthy performance from one of Toronto’s finest roots acts. Working through his usual mix of songs from his debut Two of Everything and his upcoming, seemingly still untitled new release, Jack Marks and his Lost Wages did their best to draw in a seemingly filled with media personal and executives. A showcase in the…

If I thought Day 1 was packed, Day 2 took things to a whole new level, making it extremely hard to walk anywhere efficiently (and definitely not without a group constantly linking hands), and making the floor of the main stage a lost cause before I even arrived. I dared to see some trance at the Neon Garden when I first arrived, catching Aly & Fila and a whole bunch of fluorescent-painted individuals who must’ve been the happiest concertgoers I’d seen yet just fist-pumping like it was Jersey Shore West Coast-edition. Next up was will.i.am at the main stage, who stuck out like a sore thumb on the lineup sheet and played a predictably oddball set heavy in funk classics to liven the crowd up as the sun began to set.

Photo courtesy of Spin.com

Filipino/Dutch DJ Laidback Luke followed will.i.am, and was playing when what was easily the most surreal experience of the festival occurred. The floor had long been closed to any more spectators, but as Luke continued to play unruly concertgoers began to wash over the high fences barricading the stands from the floor, spilling onto the floor and causing absolute havoc among security. The sound was soon cut off, and from my vantage point way up in the stands, the combination of what looked to be a surefire riot, helicopters suddenly swooping low overhead, and the stadium in a frenzy, was terrifying but really, really fucking cool all…

Over 80 artists and DJs. Five stages running the gamut from house to dubstep to trance and more. 185,000+ people attending and dancing until 2 a.m. over two days. More Ecstasy pills than the population of Los Angeles. Calling the annual L.A. Electric Daisy Carnival a mere “rave” is an insult to something that has to be considered one of the largest music events in the world, not to mention an intense kaleidoscope of sounds and visuals that require far more work and setup than your average festival show. Oh, and don’t forget the varied array of carnival rides, from your standard Ferris wheel and fun house to spinning tops and massive swings (best ridden sober). With such a breadth of artists and experiences to be sampled it’s practically impossible to catalogue every highlight of the weekend, and the fact that the Coliseum grounds where the event was held was nearly impossible to traverse effectively past sundown made it difficult to see everyone I wanted, but those I did rarely disappointed.

…and this was EARLY

Opening at 2 in the afternoon every day, the festival was already jam packed by the time I arrived (usually around 4-ish), and like Coachella before it, EDC’s popularity has skyrocketed over the past couple of years. The main stage (the Coliseum stadium including the floor) was half empty during the Friday headliner in 2009; this year they closed off floor access before sunset,…

Part One

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Friday, June 18th.

Much like the day before it, North by Northeast’s Friday schedule would prove to be chocked full of music-y goodness. So much that it all seemed to overlap. My plans were to start the day off in the late afternoon by seeing Neutral Uke Hotel perform on a patio at Yonge and Dundas Square. Needless to say, I slept in. So then I figured I’d see them a few hours later, playing a 9 o’clock set at The Painted Lady. Well, that didn’t happen either, since I discovered shortly thereafter that Old Man Luedecke was also playing a 9 o’clock set just a few doors over at The Dakota Tavern. Needless to say I decided on the latter; while the prospect of a ukelele-fronted Neutral Milk Hotel cover band was peculiar and promising, and their press release was certainly enthusiastic, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see one of Canada’s finest songwriters up close and personal. Plus, if we’re talking plucky sounding instruments, I’ll take the banjo over the uke ninety nine times out of a hundred. So I’m sorry, Neutral Uke Hotel, for passing doubly on my intentions to see you. It just didn’t work out.

Old Man Luedecke, beardless for the first time in 14 years

Old Man Luedecke, beardless for the first time in 14 years.

I’m glad I ended up where I did since Old Man Luedecke was absolutely incredible. Playing to a packed house, Old Man Luedecke…

Part Two

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Thursday, June 17th.

North by Northeast is not South by Southwest. Not yet, at least. They’re on separate scales, so when you’re reading what will ultimately be a three part write up, keep that in mind. With that out of the way, I’ve got another disclaimer: NXNE ran, officially, from June 14th to June 20th, and I’ll have three day-each write-ups. The math doesn’t make sense because not every day was worth writing about. The 14th and 15th were part of NXNEi, the festival’s inaugural interactive conference series.

Onto the 16th, the opening day of performances. I came in from Hamilton, which is about a 45 minute bus-ride from Toronto, to get my pass. Having seen Shad—who was as incredible as ever, by the way—the night before, I was at least a little bit hungover, but since NXNE is an event filled with media and musicians, I was definitely not the only one. I got my pass and looked at that night’s schedule and, well, it sucked. Wednesday night was barren. There was an ‘invitation only’ event featuring k-os, Kathleen Edwards and the Arkells. I wasn’t invited. The Eagles of Death Metal were playing the Phoenix, but it was a regularly ticketed event with only the first 200 wristbands guaranteed admission. I had a priority pass, not a wristband, so I could probably have gotten in, but not only is the Phoenix out…

6/18/10 New York City, New York -

Before getting in depth about the Isis’ performance, let me say that Isis are without a doubt one of the most consistent bands this decade has seen.  In fact, they are generally the first act linked with quality post-metal, as their influence has been that defining.  After all, they practically own the genre.  It all started with their first full-length, way back in 2000, when the gritty and often brutal Celestial was released, but the tidal wave of followers had not come until after Oceanic dropped in 2002. Ever since, Isis never looked back at what they were doing and how they approached their music, until last month, May 18th to be exact.  That date was the end of Isis and the end of an era, and they certainly were not leaving quietly.

Due to Webster Hall’s petty dance parties that begin at 11:00 P.M., the show started and ended rather early, and Isis took much of the grunt from that(approximately three songs cut short from their standard tour setlist).  Unlike many bands, Isis performed their own soundcheck and set up most of their equipment, showing their business-like approach to shows.  Once everything was in place, they wasted no time, beginning with the tremendous closer from Wavering Radiant, ”Threshold of Transformation.”  From that moment on, the crowd moved with every beat and crushing riff, and while Isis hardly prance around on stage, they are fully enveloped in each song, headbanging as far…

As I walked across the ruins of the What Stage early Sunday afternoon, I had no envy for the cleanup crew of Bonnaroo. Bottles of water, beer, and god knows what else lay scattered across the immense area, trampled upon, despite Bonnaroo’s valiant efforts to get the concertgoers to take care of their own waste. I never remembered, in 2009 or 2010, seeing so much waste anywhere in Bonnaroo the day after a big show. Even the Flaming Lips confetti extravaganza seemed much less of a shock. Perhaps Bonnaroo was trying to send a message to the 80,000 strong who seemed to care very little about the sustainability portions of Bonnaroo. The sight was frightening.

Japandroids

Equally dirty, grimy, but in a very different way wonderful was the first set I saw at the Sunday portion of Bonnaroo, Japandroids. Perhaps it is a curse I have, but I only manage to see the second half of any Japandroids set. My day started later than I anticipated, so I got there a half hour late. A similar thing happened to me a few months ago at South by Southwest, when I found myself wandering Austin looking for the venue. I showed up in time for “Heart Sweats”, and saw most of the end of their breakthrough album Post-Nothing. Thrown into that set, however, was a surprise performance of “Darkness at the Edge of Gastown” from their compilation of old EPs, No Singles. With a stronger, fuller…

After a long, exhausting, and unbeatable Friday at Bonnaroo, Saturday paled in comparison. Even before attending, it was clear that Saturday had the weakest lineup of any of the days, and this held true when the day finally came. Seeing nothing enticing on the lineup until 3:30 PM with Isis, I showed up at 12:30 PM to get in line to see Conan O’Brien. Unfortunately, due to a poorly communicated (read: not communicated at all) ticket system made me get in the stand-by line, only to see them let about fifty people in, and I get fifteen people from the front of the line. So, unable to see O’Brien, I had two and a half hours to kill before seeing Isis.

I spent most of my time at the Troo Music Lounge, a small stage for lesser known groups, mostly because of the misting fans, seats, and shaded areas. While I was there, I heard the last song of Elmwood, a jam band that offered nothing new to the palette in terms of sound and structure, but their solos were some of the most proficient, impressive jam band solos I’ve heard. The drummer only had a few tricks up his sleeve, mainly Danny Carey-inspired tom fills, but the bassist, guitarist, and saxophonist all turned in long, impressive solos that kept the audience interested despite their length. Following them was Truth and Salvage Co., a fairly boring country band that started promising with great vocal harmonies, but hardly progressed from there.…

The National stood on the Which Stage with foreshadowing of The Flaming Lips’ fluorescent orange set standing like a monolith behind them, a constant reminder that The National wasn’t the only reason I came to Bonnaroo, wasn’t the only reason why the thousands standing and listening to them kill their set found their way to little Manchester, Tennessee. The mud on my shoes. The dryness in my throat. The aching of my feet. Everything hinted that after the final melodies–no, primal screams–of “Terrible Love”, I would simply move onto the next show, as if that ninety minute set did not quench my thirst for great live music. And perhaps the biggest compliment I can give to The National’s incredible set is that, despite all of these hints at two and a half more days of Bonnaroo, I never once thought about what came before and after them. I simply remained transfixed by what took place on that stage (and, in the more incredible moments, in the crowd when Matt Berninger turned the show into what a friend of mine brilliantly termed “a punk show with wine”).

Yet, the biggest compliment I can give Bonnaroo 2010 is that despite the transcendent set of The National late Friday afternoon, Friday would get even better. Friday was easily the longest, most grueling day of Bonnaroo, seeing a total of eight different groups from 12 PM to 2 AM. Not to mention the 100°F heat index destroying the crowd for most of the afternoon.…

Just one example…

Manchester, Tennessee is one of the most unlikely places for a major music festival. It could hardly be called a suburb of Nashville, more than sixty miles outside the city, and has very little to offer to a huge influx of people. Most of all, the town of Manchester is a conservative place (drive around reading the church signs for proof), and hardly seems to accommodate the most liberal music festival in America that spends as much time promoting sustainability as it does music. Yet, the festival goes on, and Manchester seems to eat it up more and more each year.

The 80,000 that multiply the population of Manchester, Tennessee by eight for four days descended upon the isolated farm slowly on Thursday, as an inconvenient, inefficient will call line miles away from the festival, plus a reportedly day-long traffic jam caused massive delays. Through various means, I managed to get to the farm at about noon, four hours before any of the music began, and established my bearings in Centeroo, the area where the main attractions of the festival took place. The festival consists of five main music areas, broken into two stages (What Stage and Which Stage) and three tents (This Tent, That Tent, and The Other Tent), and assorted other stages such as the Troo Music Lounge, where lower-profile groups would play, and the Sonic Stage, where groups would perform short, stripped-down sets.

Fanfarlo

Fanfarlo kicked off my Bonnaroo at…

One of my great regrets from this year’s Coachella was not being able to catch Swedish-American electro trio Miike Snow Sunday evening, but I wasn’t going to miss Spoon on the main stage and Phoenix’s ridiculously energetic set. God bless Los Angeles, then, for hosting four (!) separate dates by the pop uber-producers, whose only non-sold out show was the one I made it to a half-hour away in Pomona last night. I was worried that this would be the band’s weakest set coming at the tail end of more prominent shows in Hollywood, but they put on a four-hour set that might crack my Top 3 concerts of all time once my ears finally stop ringing.

Although there were still tickets available at the door, the Fox Theatre, a mid-sized theatre with a sizable balcony, was still packed almost to the brim by the time openers Canon Blue headed off and Miike Snow arrived to the tribal beat of “Cult Logic.” Along with singer Andrew Wyatt and DJs Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, the band had enlisted another keyboardist, bassist, and drummer to put on their entirely live show. The band’s superb eponymous debut, released last summer, was a largely electronic one, but the group played everything live through what looked like some very expensive sets of synthesizer and DJ equipment. They also came out inexplicably decked in Jason-esque masks that weren’t removed until the charged wall-of-sound guitar solo that ended “Black & Blue” about halfway…

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