Friday, November 6, 2009

The Raveonettes live at Webster Hall, October 14, 2009

With the release of their latest album "In And Out Of Control," The Raveonettes have now embarked on a strategically placed tour of (first) US cities and then the rest of the globe, as they bring their ever evolving live sound to the people.

Having been fortunate to secure entry for their first official show of the tour (they would add one date a night earlier at Maxwell's in Hoboken) at the glorious Webster Hall in New York City, all was set for an evening of extraordinary live music.

Since 2003, every New York show attended (and I've been to them all) has become something more than just a concert. It has also served as a gathering of good friends established through a mutual love of the bands music. New Jersey 's Quicklime Tom and his brother Chris can always be counted on to be there. This time bringing an even bigger crew with him (Kelly for the first time!) Brooklyn 's cris never misses either. Lately I am now constantly crossing path's with fellow writer Lindsey, who seems to be always where the best shows are happening. Unique to this gathering was the first time appearance of Alan Rassmusen and his brother Frank who made a special trip from Denmark. Now that's dedication.

For the first part of the tour (east coast and midwest) the Raveonettes were supported by the wonderful Black Angels. Their music is epic, jammy, psychedelic and has an overal organic feel to it. It was their lack of precise and regimented song strucure that contributed to their ultimate appeal. In particular Christian Bland on lead guitar and Stephanie Bailey on drums stood out as exceptional driving forces in the band.

Support slot over, it was time for the main attraction. You could feel the excitement in the air as the packed house buzzed with anticipation. Even though I was holding a "VIP pass" which entitled me to the lofty viewing area the balcony, I chose to stay down on the floor (mid-to-back) with my fellow Raveonettes friends and experience the electricity at crowd level. Though you are more likely to get better photos and video clips from upstairs, the atmosphere on the floor is much better.

Photo: Tom King

They opened the show with "Gone Forever," one of the outstanding tracks from their recently released album. Driven by a classic Wagner riff and sweet maraca percussion shake, it gets right to the lyrics where Sune sings "baby baby I won't forget you, in the night when I drink my head off, memories of you and I, help me help me please." It's an instant classic, that becomes even more endearing to this New Yorker when you hear the name check of The Ramones and Rockaway Beach . Marvelous. But it's the hook where Sharin comes in and sings out front that really gets to you. "And when you said everything's a mess, I know you meant you and me, meant you and me. That's when I knew baby this is the end, this is the end." Yeah, it's a sad song - a break up song. There's lot's of 'em on this album. Clearly Wagner would rather actually write about universal themes that also most-likely happened to him over the last year or so, than some made up fantasy. With Foo's sweet voice adding an additional layer to it all, it becomes something even greater.

Photo: Tom King

Not content to just roll out one new tune after another, the band quickly changed gears and dipped all the way back to the "Whip It On" period for an electro-charged version of "Do You Believe Her." One of the things I've always admired about the Raveonettes live show was how they managed to balance perfectly the use of pre-recorded voices and sound effects with their live playing. I have heard a few grumblings from time-to-time that too much of their show is "canned," but I believe that to be far from the truth. I think in songs like this, it is necessary to get those samples from the album (the "honey!") that add the essential familiarity. Sune & Sharin's vocal are sung in perfect tandem here - so crisp and clear. During the verses is just Sune's single guitar line, with stripped down bass and drums. Two minutes of pure pop joy.

Photo: Tom King

Speaking of bass and drums, back with the band for this tour are the two outstanding musicians that played with them during their summer shows - Jens and Adrian from the Danish band Mellemblond. Hinted at prior to the start of this tour was that some things would be a bit different than what they had done in the past. Of course the obvious is new songs, but that happens for every new album support tour. I believe that what that referenced was how the songs would be presented. For instance, on another of their stand-out new songs "Break Up Girls," Sune & Sharin reversed the approach of how it appears on record. Putting their instruments down and picking up tambourines, both vocalist stepped to their respective microphones and began singing the lyrics in a near acapella form. With just the bass guitar line behind them, the dual jingle of their tambourine hits created a dramatic feel to the overall spaciousness. Of course the audience was clapping along, creating an additional percussive presence. As the bass line continued, Sune and Sharin put down the tambourines and picked up their guitars. Everyone who had the album already knew what was coming. A Strobe light flickered and then the guitar assault began. One thing I absolutely love about Sharin as a guitarist is how she'll immediately go for "Sonic Youth-style" effect. Hunched over and hand all the way up the neck on the frets, she saws away with precision and purpose, creating the sonic shards and wall of sound synonymous with this style of playing. Sune plays the single note riff that rides over top of it. It's a dazzling display of sound immersion. It comes to a sudden stop and everyone in the audience seems stunned and catching their breath.

Photo: Tom King

It has to be noted that the lighting for this show was absolutely spectacular. I was told that the band put a lot of financial resources into creating a unique, one-of-a-kind light show and it certainly showed. Some of the richest hues of red, blue, purple and yellow bathed the entire stage at crucial moments throughout each song. In addition to that were these heavenly spotlights that just shimmered like spectral shafts from above.

Photo: Tom King

Shifting gears again, the band then pulled a number from their previous release ("Lust, Lust, Lust") and the Foo sung "The Beat Dies." For this, another surprise as Sharin put her guitar down and headed back behind the drum kit. Now anyone who has followed the band for a while already knew that Sharin could play the drums - as witness when they toured a few years ago as a duo - and both Sharin and Sune would switch between guitar, bass and drums throughout the set. However, it was a bit of a surprise to see her take to the drum kit on this tour, as a full time drummer was already in place. It made for an interesting visual, as she was singing lead from this very position. In fact, she was the only vocalist for this entire performance. The song itself is quite romantic and beautiful. It's dreamy in a way that would not be out of place attached to a scene in one of David Lynch's movies (or his Twin Peaks tv show). I've always felt a special attachment to the lyric "the first love, you can't escape." Sune's guitar melody soared so triumphantly over it all.

Photo: Tom King

With Sharin still behind the drum kit, the band delivered another one of the outstanding new songs - "Heart Of Stone." Now bathed in a golden light, Sharin clicked out the time on her sticks while Sune played that unmistakable hooky riff. With an homage nod to The Yardbirds classic "Heart Full of Soul" Wagner hits the mark once again. The lighting shifted quickly on the beat going from the opening gold to blue, then red, to a dominant green, finally resting (momentarily) on a copper colored hue as Sune & Sharin began the lyrics in tandem. "I get away just for a while. I get to pine I get to cry. Being without you - I think my world is tumbling down." Now the lighting settles for a while on deep sea-like blue, while the song reaches the catchy change and phrase that sticks in your head - "You know the reason I can't hurt - I got a heart of stone." The central guitar solo Sune plays is particularly sweet as is the extended outro riff.

Sharin now returning back out front on guitar the band lauched into another extremely appealing song from their latest release, the dance friendly "D.R.U.G.S." With it "woah, oh ee oh" vocal hook and a chorus that spells out its title, Wagner and Foo alternate taking the lead vocal on each verse. Sune's post-chorus guitar melody riff is typically melodic and strong. It's interesting to see as this band progresses and develops, how Sharin is taking more solo vocal passages within the songs. For instance, for this performance she sang the entire second verse by herself - "you're off your head, you look like a corpse" - with Sune coming back in to sing the "and I know you want it, and I know you like it" passage.

As they continued to roll out one great brand new song after another, it was "Breaking Into Cars" up next in the set. Again the visual presentation was stunning as the lighting quickly shifted from blue and gold, to a blood red hue - only to gradually soften in a near copper color. Yet-another incredibly memorable chorus goes "You drive me round and round, you drive me round and round until I crash into the stars."

Also played was Sune's powerful social statement "Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)". It is an impressive combination of harsh lyrical commentary embedded in a poppy sonic envelope.

Photo: Tom King

The last song played before going off the stage (for the first time) was the brilliant "Suicide" from their latest album. Another one of the new songs that I absolutely adore. The chorus is so big and thematic that you can't help but bounce and sing along. It is about rejecting the notion of suicide and getting "your fun in this trashy world."

On returning to the stage for their encore(s) Sharin amusingly remarked that they "forgot to play their latest single". And so they did - the heartbreaking "Last Dance".

A beautiful song that is so sad and tragic. Designed for that crushing realization when you know the "magic" is over. Someone let it slip away.

They ended the show with a wired version of "Beat City," bringing the night's performance full circle and back to their original "Whip It On" sound.

Photo: Tom King

As the house lights came up, no one was left for wanting more. The band had delivered a show worthy of their headline status. As we were milling about on the main floor, Allan pointed out legendary Rolling Stone writer David Fricke upstairs in the VIP area. I recognized the gentleman he was talking to - even more legendary record producer Richard Gottehrer. Both men have long and storied histories with The Raveonettes, having been influential in the development of the bands career. Never one to waste an opportunity, I quickly flashed the VIP pass and headed up to chat with the men. I kept it respectfully brief and then headed back downstairs. I would find out later that fellow upstart rock journo Lindsey found her way up there from the other (less conventional side - a side I have used myself in the past) and had her own chat with Mr. Fricke.

Back downstairs, we made one final visit to the merch tables to pick up those items you didn't want to crush during the show. Now it was after-party time. Allan and Frank - the boys from Denmark - had gotten wind of it from one source. I had heard about it from another. Lindsey was down for it as well. Members of the Raveonettes and The Black Angels were rumored to be in attendance. So off we headed to a low-ceilinged basement club on Ludlow Street called The Darkroom. After a short while, the man himself - Mr. Sune Rose Wagner was the first to show up. He seemed in good spirits and we all toasted a great performance with him. Then I spotted Jennifer Fraser of the band Zaza waving at me. Jen played bass with The Raveonettes on their tour the previous winter. Heading over to chat with Jen, I nearly bumped into Sharin Foo. When I had told Richard Gottehrer that there was an afterparty, he said that "Sharin would never show up." But - there she was. Dazzling and chatting away. Then the DJ started playing some fun dance music and Lindsey and I headed over to join the other dancers. Soon Allan and Frank jumped in, and I spotted Jennifer Fraser dancing away as well. Well - what would you expect from a Raveonettes afterparty? It was the perfect ending to night where the Raveonettes once again, proved just how much they rule this town.

The Links: