Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Bloody Valentine - live at Roseland 9/22/08

My Bloody Valentine - Live at Roseland - Monday the 22nd of September, 2008

So much has already been written about the after-16-year reunion of this, the greatest shoegazer band of all time. What is then that I could possibly add?

Well, one thing (and its really the only thing in my book) - I can add are my own unique impressions and experience on it all.

Anyone familiar with this current tour knows the deal by now. Band makes never-matched, unparalleled album "Loveless" in 1991. Band eventually dissolves under a cloud of label bankruptcy (and claims of another type of smokeable "cloud"). Band goes on "hiatus" for - oh, I dunno - say 17 years or so.

But that's all history. They're back together now. They've just dazzled audiences in upstate New York, New York City (two unbelievalbe, amazing shows) and now I see Canada too. They move on to the midwest and then the left coast.

As for the show I attended - their first show back in NYC (in those aforementioned 16-17 years) - it was everything I could hope it to be.

It was all there. The pitch bends; the guitar distortions - all folding into each other and cresting in warm, diaphanous layers. Dense drones and formidable crescendos. Vocalists Kevin Shields and Belinda Butcher melding their voices into each other with twisted murmers and hissing spaces. It was all perfectly executed. Dreamy, heartbreaking hooks that are warped and melded into a white-noise wall of sound, and overdriven amplifiers to the max.

I was just a bit surprised to see that the dreamy Belinda Butcher had cut her long hair short - but getting past that initial shock, I couldn't help but notice how well she had held up over the years. In fact, she is just as hot as ever - if by "hot" - it is someone (on appearance and stage presence) is so outwardly shy and reticent - which of course makes her perfect for this band.

Here is the opening song of the night:
"I Only Said"

Kevin Shields was, naturally, his brilliant self. It has been reported that the band spent approximately two hundred thousand British Pounds (roughly $366,000 US dollars) on equipment for the tour. It showed, as the view on the stage showed a force of 15 precariously stacked amplifiers and shiny new guitars on stands. Kevin was also quoted as saying he has hundreds of effects pedals, but only used 30 onstage.

The second song of the night:
"When You Sleep".

Belinda took frequent water breaks between songs.

Third song played:
"You Never Should"

Bassist Debbie Googe and Drummer Colm O'Ciosoig were a ferocious, thundering rhythm section. I was most impressed with the way Debbie would just physically punish her bass - pounding it with her fist - while Colm (who has to have the coolest name in rock) was a complete tasmanian devil on the kit. These two never let you forget that despite all the ethereal-to-distortion stuff going on out front - that this is in fact very much a rock band.

Fourth song:
"When You Wake (You're Still In A Dream)"

Fifth song:
"Cigarette In Your Bed"

The light show that accompanied each and every song was at times completely blinding. Flashing red strobes that just pummelled your senses during the dramatic and forceful moments of the song - which would alternate with a dark and quiet backdrop during the moments Belinda or Kevin would sing verses.

Sixth song:
"Come In Alone"

Belinda and Kevin changed their guitars on nearly every song. Belinda worked a red, blue and sparkly white hollow-body mustang throughout the night. It was without a doubt one of the most heavenly, mind-bending concerts I've experienced in quite some time. What amazed me was how effortless it all appeared to the two guitarists, and yet the sheer force and wave of sound they produced was stunning.

The seventh song:
"Only Shallow"
At this point I was openly singing out what I always thought were the words to this song - but mostly was just making sounds and trying to mimic whatever Belinda was doing. You could do that and no one around would even notice. Or hear you. The all enveloping sound completely crushing whatever was coming out of your own voicebox.

The eighth song:

A lot has already been written about how loud the band was as well - and although I don't own earplugs - I do make sure to have tissues with me to just dampen the decibels just enough so that no permanent hearing loss is sustained. Just the week before I was at an A Place To Bury Strangers show (who held the title of "loudest band in NY") and I was adequately muffled for that. I didn't think My Bloody Valentine were any louder than that show - and based on my physical position in the audience (pretty much center and about 5-7 standing rows back) thought the overall volume was what it should be.

Getting this set list took some work.

The rest of the show:

Ninth song:
"Nothing Much To Lose"

Tenth song:
"To Here Knows When"
(what Brian Eno called the vaguest pop song he ever heard)
Eleventh song:
(My fave song off of the You Made Me Realise sessions - it slithers like a snake. Lyrically, their most sexually suggestive song?)
Twelveth song:

For me - the highlight of the night. Already one of my all-time fave songs of theirs - ever since I bought the 4 song "Glider" EP when it came out in the early 90's. And it has been in semi-regular rotation on my evolving-with-the-times listening devices. The place went crazy on this one. Everyone was just dancing and hopping up and down. I was singing along with every muffled almost-lyric. This one really gets to me. I imagined that Belinda saw me singing along with her - and she gave me a secret, knowing smile. It was that blissful concert moment you hope will happen. When your whole body chills and vibrates. It is the pure essense of why I love this kind of music.
Thirteenth song:
"Feed Me With Your Kiss"
One of those truly classic boy-girl vocal tradeoff songs. What makes this is Debbie's violent bass pounding and Colm's equally downbeat punctuating drumming.
Fourteenth song:
"You Made Me Realise"

Here just the "song" part - a mere minute-and-a-half before the "sonic holocaust". Having gotten ahold of a copy of the bands debut show in London this past June 13th - I knew what was coming. What to expect. It was poinless for me to try and record it, and frankly I wasn't sure if I would be able to stay through the whole thing. Plus, I knew others would probably capture it better. Go out and find it on the internet if you truly must hear it. But hearing a recorded version of it bears little resemblance to actually experiencing it. Yes, I stayed through the whole thing. On this night it was actually cut short a bit (due to a soundsystem that was clearly straining under the sonic weight of it all). But, for the 14 minutes it went on - I felt its waves bathe all over me. Of course I had my earplugs reinforced by this point. You physically felt this sound. It drove you backwards and wraped itself all around you. I expected people to leave (and hoped they would so I could move up closer) - but no one did. At least no one in front of me did (much to my disappointment). Instead, everyone put their hands up in the air. Yes, we were all "feeling" the soundwaves with our hands. During the 14 minute onslaught, I looked around at people. I looked up in the balcony and saw famous "celebrities" there. Local NY rock icons. I studied their faces. Wanted to see how they were reacting to it. As I looked back periodically - some were gone. They moved away. Couldn't take it I suppose. Others moved into their position.
It was truly a "mind blowing" experience, and all I could ever have hoped for.

Back on earth, the merch stalls were doing a brisk business.

Supporting the band on this night was Kevin Shield's brothers band - The Wounded Knees.

Jimi Shields played an acoustic guitar, run through so many effects it no longer sounded "acoustic".

Apparently they are friends with legendary Dinosaur Jr frontman
J Mascis

J Played with them!

Listen to the master riff with them here:
There was one other band on the bill - a french outfit named
Le Volume Courbe

They were pleasant and inoffensive.
My Bloody Valentine fullfilled all of my hopes and expectations, in this, one of the truly great concert experiences of the last decade.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sian Alice Group & A Place To Bury Strangers

On Monday night, the 15th of September of now this autumnal year of 2008, I caught the opening show of The Sian Alice Group and A Place To Bury Strangers tour, that runs through the end of October (and nearly 30 shows).

I had already seen The Sian Alice Group perform earlier in the year, when they played a show at the Gary Snyder Project Space and Art Gallery back in late March of this year. I was most impressed with them then, and this show was equally as good.

Band visionary Rupert Clervaux playing keyboard
while Sasha Vine played the electric violin

The band was begun by Rupert Clervaux, Sian Ahern and primary guitarist Ben Crook. Ben plays seated throughout the shows, much like Robert Fripp has been known to do.

Along with taking a spot in the band as an additional guitarist, Mike Bones (pictured above here with lead vocalist Sian) is also a solo artist in his own right.

Multi-instrumentalist Sasha Vine a steady competent presence, on keyboards, violin and background vocals.

Filling out the band capably is bassist Eben Bull.

Rupert, Sasha and bassist Eben

Mike keeps his "cool guy" shades close by
while Sian explores the many nuances of triangle playing

Though his keyboard playing is quite competent, Rupert really shows his sophisticated musical touch from behind the drum kit. Much of The Sian Alice Group's power comes from Rupert's tribal patterns on the kit.

Sian has the most lovely, ethereal voice. Overall the band is contrast in delicate, spacious meditations - and harsh, stomping tribal rhythms, that build to sonic crescendos. For instance, on the song "Way Down To Heaven" a repeating downward drum pattern sets the tone for guitarist Ben Crook to create ferocious sonic textures over top. All the while Sian claps in a trance-like state in time with the percussion.

The band is visually attractive, which only complements their unique sonic textures.

Listen to this clip, which features their "light" meditative side.

Sian is a sharp contrast in black and white.

On their song "Motionless" we find a piece that is based around a trance-like drum pattern played by Rupert, that can bring to mind those of Indian ragas. It has a decided "jungle drum" feel as well. When I saw them perform this the first time 6 months ago , Eben put down his bass guitar and instead struck a small box instrument with thin mallets. This time, however, he kept his bass on and provided textures of the 4 string variety instead. Now they've added a floor tom-tom for Sian to pound out the percussive rhythm as Rupert plays a bell-like percussion instrument that he has imbedded within his drumkit. This is just a brief interlude as he quickly switches back to his full trap kit and this time with a full on cymbals thrashing. Sasha still shook a tambourine from her seated position at the keyboard. Sian took to the early part of the song by singing in a clear and controlled manner. However, in this live setting, the song took on more of an all out rave-up quality. Sian furiously shakes her head (and hair) back and forth as she violently shakes the percussion bells-on-a-stick instrument. Ben infuses shredding-guitar texture in these later stages. It really is an impressive display of jammed-out passion. See a clip of this on display, here:

Sian lets the hair fly as she jingles here percussion bells.

Later on in the evening (after all the performances were over) I caught up with Sian for a lovely catch-up chat in the downstairs lounge area of the venue. Many friends came by to talk and wish her well also. Rupert and Eben were around and I was able to have a few lively discussions.

As for the night's headliners, this was my first A Place To Bury Strangers show.

I was supposed to see them previously - when they supported The Jesus & Mary Chain in New York back on the 22nd of May, 2007. However, there were some mix ups with the passes and we didn't get in to the show until after they played. So, I had always regretted that, and here was an opportunity to finally see what all the buzz was about.

The band is a stripped down "power trio" structure of guitar, bass and drums.

Drummer J Space

However, the overall sound that comes of these guys is closer to what you might hear from an army of musicians.

Lead guitarist and vocalist Oliver Ackerman is an unsmiling, intense individual who thoroughly abuses his instrument. I was told by more knowlegable fans in the audience that all his effects pedals are homemade. That he is something of an eletronics innovator when it comes to this sort of thing. Doing some quick research I see this to be true. He has designed and built the effects that the band uses to create their sound, and they can actually be purchase at his own company:

The sound emanating from his and bassist Jono MOFO devices were like no other I've ever heard.

The music is stomping and brutal. It's psychedelic and ominous at the same time. On their records, you can't miss the JAMC influence, however on this night I hear echo's of Joy Division in the vocal stylings. At times they sound like The Cure (the really dark songs) and alternately I hear bits of My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Curve, Spaceman 3, Bauhaus (minus all the "goth" stylings) Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Alan Vega's Suicide. The band makes most effective use of flashing strobe lights and an video screen behind the drummer that displays a constant flow of fantasy images that are at times disturbing and at others science fiction like.

At a key moment of the nights performance (the grand finale song, before they came out for an encore) Oliver started swinging his guitar over head and and violently pounding on it.

He leaned into his amplifer and exacted what could only be understood to him - just what were the right amount of squalls and shrieks.

He took the guitar off and swung it forward. He thrashed it so hard that strings began to pop off of it. All the while the drummer and bassist (who had a huge array of effects pedals of his own) - who got sounds out of his instrument that went far beyond what anyone might ever equate to a bass guitar - kept up this wall of sound that was thoroughly explosive.

The guitar was then thrown to the ground.

And then one of the broken strings was sawed across the pickup area, creating a hellish cacophony that, surprisingly, did not sound out of place and fit the assault on the senses perfectly.

Knobs were twisted on effects pedals in a manner that only the artist could comprehend. All we could do was listen (and it was a glorious noise).

Check out this clip I took of their encore:

Needless to say, I liked this band a lot.

For more about both of these bands above, check out their various web resources:
For The Sian Alice Group:

For A Place To Bury Strangers:

Catch this great double bill while you can.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Steve Shiffman & the Land Of No - live at The Cake Shop

On Friday night, the 12th of September 2008 - I decided to ramble on down to The Cake Shop to check out a show from local NYC band Steve Shiffman & the Land Of No.

I had gotten to know of Steve and his band of "No-ness" through my being a fan of Nicole Atkins & The Sea. Guitarist dAve Hollinghurst is a member of both groups, and although his duties with The Sea may garner him a bit more attention, I suspect he has nearly as much fun playing with the Land of No.

Steve Shiffman, in all his bearded and stringy tie glory

I first caught Steve (with dAve) and the band's act when they were doing their residency at Pete's Candy Store in Brooklyn way back in January of this year.

Here's a clip from that night:

The angular, hooky and completely infectious "Here Comes The Cigarette Girl"

ON this night, however, the venue was that bastion of cheap low lighting and a stage just big enough to fit a 5 piece band (and essentially nothing else) The Cake Shop.

Now, don't get me wrong - I always have had the best times whenever I've gone to see a show there. However, at the same time - and purely from a showcase and staging point of view - I wouldn't put it on the same level as The Mercury Lounge or even Don Hill's - which have far better stages, lighting and sound.

Drummer Pete Hayes makes grit-teeth faces while
sir Hollinghurst dazzles with sounds uniquely his own

After a night of false starts for me - and driving around a while to find a parking spot in the usually reliable lower-eastside area that is the home of so many of these clubs - I arrived just in time - literally minutes before the band was to go on.

Guitarist Alex Ferrell makes evil eye faces
while harmonizing with Steve.

The place was pretty full already, but I was able to snake my way up to the front. The rabid, die-hard Steve Shiffman & The Land of No fans were already in place, pumped and ready to rawk out!

Steve and the boys did not disappoint as they ripped through a well rehearsed set of 11 hooky tunes .

Give a listen to their tune "Jet Lag" here:

The spirit of "hot rod Lincoln" lives in that one.

Pete and dAve - doing what they do best
providing shuffling rhythms and bending notes

To me though, this band has that loose-good-timey feel that The Replacements were so well known for. On the surface its pure "garage band", but if you listen closer and dig a bit deeper, you'll see there is a wit and intelligence behind it all. Add the six string mastery of a dAve Hollinghurst - who lifts it all out of the "garage" and takes it to an entirely other level - and you have a truly enjoyable listening experience.

The band furiously "getting down"

Steve and his band also (sometimes) bring to mind another "Steve" who's music I'm fond of - that being Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, whom I've already written extensively on in this here blogosphere of mine.

Alec and Pete slash chords with a serious intensity

There are also elements (at times) that feel like the groove and pacing of PJ Harvey and her band, when they first hit the scene.

Check out this clip of their song "Tweed Skirt"

The elaborate effects pedal array of dAve Hollinghurst

Bassist Ken Heine took the "Bill Wyman award" for stay-in-the-shadows-be-heard-but-not-be-seen activites - however his playing was crucial to the overall sound and proved to be as solid as they come.
One more clip - here drummer Pete Hayes takes the lead vocals - and Lord Hollinghurst plays the most amazing, chill-enducing extended-hook/solo.

The Full set list

As I have mentioned previously, this lower-eastside are of NYC is my fave area to check out shows. For starters, the close proximity to the Williamsburg bridge makes it easy access to drive in and park on the street nearby. Plus, there are just so many of the clubs and venues, all packed into one area. Just off the top of my head - The Mercury Lounge, The Bowery Ballroom, The Annex, The Delancey, The Cake Shop, Arlene's Grocery, Pianos - all within easy walking distance of each other.

Adding to this nights already crowded streets from all the activity happening everywhere - there was a film crew set up on Ludlow Street, right outside of The Cake Shop. It was soon discovered that they were filming scenes for the hit TV series Gossip Girl.

Check out this clip I took:

As for Steve Shiffman & the Land Of No, you can check them out here:
and here: