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Event Coverage

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…

Mainstream Biffy

Approaching winter down under, it was predictably crisp in Melbourne this past Wednesday night as approximately 700 people waited to enter The Hi-Fi Bar and Ballroom, to see Scottish Alt-Rockers Biffy Clyro strut their stuff. While I know some gig attendees prefer to be surprised with who are supporting the headline act, this night proved why I am exactly the opposite. Unannounced, local post-rock quartet These Hands Could Separate the Sky appeared and proceeded to open up with a 10 minute instrumental. Considering Biffy Clyro’s newfound gain in popularity, the support could not have been more poorly chosen. I am definitely no post-rock expert, so these guys could have been the greatest band of all time for all I knew. However, the fit was bad and the lukewarm response they received proved it.

Post-Rock…Ugh!

Following a rather long tuning session of all instruments by 2 roadies, the Scottish trio finally arrived on stage to anything but a lukewarm reaction. Raucous is a more appropriate description as Biffy Clyro tore straight into my #4 song of 2009; ‘That Golden Rule’. Even more energetic and frantic than the studio version, the symphonic finale was barely missed since the guys worked like a well-oiled machine all night to produce a stunning musical accompaniment to Simon Neil’s rapid-fire, pleading howls. For the following hour and a half, one could not help but be extremely impressed by the front man’s ability to pull…

There’s something so entrancing about the grimy heart of downtown Los Angeles. The old, art deco theaters converted into pawn shops and jewelry exchanges, the frames of the high-rises blocking out any of the remaining evening sunlight, and if you’re anywhere more than a two blocks away from the Staples Center and LA Live how even the fast food restaurants shut down early due to the city’s overall shadiness. In this run down and burnt out shell of a bustling metropolis lies the Mayan Theater. Despite lying in the heart of what is essentially a slum, the Mayan is Los Angeles’ most architecturally stunning venue, featuring hand carved walls and supports that make visitors feel like they’ve stepped into the Temple of Doom, not to mention it also houses the biggest god damn disco ball I have ever seen over its stage. Last night Minus the Bear owned it. Having sold out the 1500 seat venue, they were joined by indie-pop upstarts Young the Giant and bluesy alt-rockers Everest.

Young the Giant started things off. With the crowd still filling in, they played a rather entertaining set full of jangly tunes that came off sounding like a slightly less adventurous version of The Dodos. Once the crowd, an awkward and segregated mix of NPR types and teenage scenesters, warmed up to them they fed off of the audience’s applause, making the final half of their set more lively than the first. Everest on the other hand, while good…

If you’ve read my reviews for Pavement’s Quarantine The Past or Malkmus’ solo album Real Emotional Trash, it’s really no secret that I adore the band. Unfortunately, I was 9 years old when Pavement broke up and at the time probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought, if I had even known. I was 9, I didn’t listen to music and I sure as shit didn’t care about some awkward indie band. I grew to care, though. A lot. Fast forward to adolescent me, trapped somewhere between overlapping fashion trends and habitual mood changes, and the demise of Malkmus, Kannberg, and co. was suddenly a big deal, regardless of how late I’d arrived to the party. Total bummer. What was left for me? Over time I’d learn every word to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, spend lazy Sunday afternoons pouring over special editions of Slanted and Enchanted and Wowee Zowee, and hell, I discovered The Fall simply because Mark E. Smith once contemptuously remarked of the band: “It’s just The Fall in 1985, isn’t it? They haven’t got an original idea in their heads”.

But, obviously, I wouldn’t be writing this if things had stayed that way. No, our old friends decided to give this whole touring business another go, no less than a decade after they originally called it quits and I was there to witness the conclusion of a 4-day run of sets at the O2 Academy Brixton. To warrant four back-to-back shows in such a high…

There’s a certain almost unexplainable grandeur about The National. It feels inherent in everything they do – the quiver in Matt Berninger’s baritone, the forcefulness of Bryan Devendorf’s drumming – and this quality was none more evident than last night at the Royal Albert Hall in London. As the lights dimmed and the five nearly still silhouettes on stage broke the nervous, excited silence with the first chords of “Mistaken for Strangers”, lead singer Matt Berninger beckoned the seated crowd beyond the standing pit to their feet, engaging them like a group of friends. The energy seemed to rush forward with every knee buckled upright, back past where I stood in the huddled standing crowd and on to the stage where these Ohio-born musicians had only just begun to charm a crowd that had long since fallen in love with them. They already had us in the palms of their hands.

All photography by David Emery


The show continued with this same momentous energy, following with “Anyone’s Ghost”, before reaching one of the many highlights of the night, just 2 songs in, “Bloodbuzz Ohio”. A staple in their live set since early 2009, it elevated the already terrific atmosphere into something close to life-affirming, the crowd moving and holding on to every word as Berninger collapsed into the exhausted “I’m on a bloodbuzz….God I am” chorus. Boxer favourite “Slow Show” was another highlight, coming in about half way through the initial…

Photo courtesy of BrooklynVegan.com

Waking up from a generous two hours of sleep on Sunday didn’t really do wonders for my outlook on the day, and it was obvious from the moment I entered back onto the festival grounds that a lot of people felt the same way. The whole vibe on Sunday was entirely different from the rest of the festival, a feeling of comedown shaded with “I can’t believe this is almost over.” It was sort of depressing, but the lineup more than made up with it with more of my favorite bands than either of the two previous days.

I first proceeded to the Sahara to see English dubstep producer Rusko, despite my earlier promise that I couldn’t handle any more wobble in my life. Rusko has always been more accessible than the darker dubstep that many of his countrymen prefer, injecting elements of house and dance with an upbeat sound that had the mid-afternoon crowd shaking off any Tiesto hangover they might have brought along. Following that I hustled over to the Outdoor Stage to see a bit of Deerhunter’s trippy live act, a frenetic set unfortunately marred by numerous technical difficulties. Bradford Cox’s unveiling of a new Deerhunter song that name-dropped “Coachella 2010” in the chorus was the clear winner amongst the crowd.

Florence and the Machine had the Gobi tent packed far past capacity by the time the redheaded songstress finally made it on stage fifteen minutes past…

Woke up at seven in the morning, went to the communal showers at the campgrounds, finally succeeded in showering by 9:30. Did I mention camping was a terrible idea? Although I had marked down Portugal. The Man as my likely first set of the day, the intense heat at the campgrounds had me headed for any shade I could find at the festival. I decided to hit up Rx Bandits on Sputnik’s recommendation and was presently surprised – despite the rather small showing thanks to the early (12:30) set time, the band played their hearts out on the Outdoor Stage, causing a number of passerby to question who they were. The guitar dueling between Matt Embree and Steve Choi was a particular highlight, the group making a good case for a later time slot next year with a high-energy set that leaned heavily on the group’s newest album Mandala.

Portugal. The Man predictably tore it up over at the Gobi stage shortly after two, playing to a crowd that was already spilling far out of the tent by 2:30. The band was expansive and appropriately psychedelic in the desert heat, with frontman John Gourley leading the way with memorable guitar lines and a confident vocal performance that the crowd took to immediately. The best received were those off The Satanic Satanist, particularly the sing-a-longs of “The Sun” and “People Say,” and the feedback-drenched jam session that they closed with set the bar quite high for the…

Photo courtesy of Format Mag

Even several days after the end, it’s hard for me to talk about Coachella in very many concrete terms. I saw a lot of artists; I met a bunch of people and even more freakshows; I spent my nights and mornings in campgrounds that would have called for UNICEF intervention in a 3rd world country; my sobriety was tested early and often; and I had more fun than I ever would have expected possible in such a short period. Those are the facts as I can see them now, and I certainly have plenty of opinions below. But as a whole? Coachella is difficult to conceptualize and even harder to summarize, a three-day festival that transforms a white-collar polo field into a musical oasis under the blazing hot desert sun. There were really only three constants over the three days: heat, drugs, and music. I was ready for the first, unsurprised but a little shocked at the overwhelming prevalence of the second, and (for the most part) utterly floored by the latter. Coachella is an experience, and anyone who tries to describe it in words will be doing a disservice. It’s more than just who played what and how well they played it, but it’s also so evasive a feeling that it’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there. So please, if you ever have a chance, be it to make it to Coachella or Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza…

The Bronx

Call me old fashioned, but there are few things in this world better than a quality punk show. The two hour dance-a-thon of a Girl Talk gig comes close, and even then, that’s more of a having a chill time fun, not the shit yourself kind of adrenaline rush fun that was on display at the El Rey theater on April 20th. Fresh off of a world-wide touring haul, The Bronx, and their mariachi alter-egos Mariachi El Bronx, were finally back home in Los Angeles, and from the looks of things, they couldn’t have been happier. Joining the LA natives were Aussie grunge-fanatics Violent Soho and the eccentric rootsy blues of Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss.

Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss kicked off the night. As they took the stage one couldn’t help but be intrigued. Wheeler’s sharp get-up and life-worn face made him seem like a visage of a younger Tom Waits at first glance, and with his guitarist Schloss armed with a beaten twelve-string and hiding behind a veil of Jerry Garcia-esque facial hair, they ripped through set of country tinged acoustic numbers filled with stories about hard women and hard drinking. Wheeler’s voice was well suited for his worldly tales, but it was Schloss that stole the show; his old guitar belting out emotive blues progressions and twangy pentatonic runs.

Mariachi El Bronx were up next. Dressed in full costume, the LA punks’ playful homage to the Mexican heritage of their hometown was…

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