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Live Review: Pixies with FIDLAR at Strathmore Hall, Bethesda, MD – 26th January 2014

 
By on Wednesday, 29th January 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

My entertainment last Sunday night was more unique than most of the shows I usually attend: the headliners weren’t an indie band but instead were American alt-rock legends Pixies. How exactly do you review a band who means so much and on such personal terms to so many people around the world? What can be said on a purely newsworthy level is the appearance of touring female bassist and backing vocalist Paz Lenchantin, who replaced Kim Shattuck, who had been sacked by in the band back in November 2013, but who had replaced departing original bassist Kim Deal. Got all that? Good.

The opening band for the night were Los Angeles stoner skate punks FIDLAR, who I’m sure owe Pixies a lot: without them first showing that it was possible for an alt-rock band to dream of global success, there may never have been a FIDLAR, or loads of other noise punk-type bands. It was impossible to avoid the onslaught of hype surrounding the band at SXSW 2012 and to be honest, that decreased my desire to check them out, knowing everyone and their gran was going to see them in Austin. While I’m glad I finally saw them this weekend so I can say I’ve seen them, I’m still not sold. I can see that some young kids think of bands like them as kindred spirits, playing loud music that their parents don’t and will never understand, about a lifestyle they themselves know nothing about (see a similar phenomenon with Eminem’s popularity).

But is it really necessary to have songs titled ‘Cheap Beer’ and ‘Cocaine’? (Yes, not surprisingly, both songs are about partaking in those things.) ‘I Don’t Give a Fuck’ and ‘I Just Wanna Die’? (Umm…) To their credit, they played a pretty long set, which is not an easy feat if the majority of your songs are loud (vocal cord destroying) and played very fast. Unfortunately, because nearly each song was about providing a swift sonic assault to the ears, they were pretty much indistinguishable from each other to me. And I’m not sure which one of their band members it was, but the way one of them said “thank you” after the polite audience applause was hilarious, as if he was trying to be a child-sounding cartoon character.

The sold out venue filled out just prior to Pixies taking to the stage. Whenever I come to Strathmore for a gig, what always runs through my mind is, “this has got to be a strange venue for rock bands to play. They must feel really weird at this moment.” To their credit, Pixies’ live setup helped to minimise that ‘weird’ feeling so the band could have it under their control. When their crew brought out what looked like scores of television screens at the back of the stage, I expected images to be broadcast on them all night. But that would be too predictable, wouldn’t it? No, the screens actually acted more like windows, so it gave you the feeling of being onboard a spaceship. Pixies’ spaceship. Coloured lights gleamed in varying patterns, depending on the song and the mood desired. When off-white lights were used in a flashing pattern behind the screens as well as on the floor onstage, it was an unsettling scene that made you feel like the place was on fire. Less scary and much more warm blue and red lighting felt appropriate during newer ‘EP2’ track ‘Magdalena’.

True to his name, Black Francis wore a black t-shirt to the proceedings. The man, however, barely spoke a word to us all night, with Pixies preferring to launch into each and every song with renewed gusto, which was fine by the mostly middle-aged punters in attendance at Strathmore. (If you’re in the mood to hear the man being interviewed by Lammo, here’s a bit they did last autumn when the Pixies were in for a special 6music concert.) I’d never seen them before and I was taken aback by how hard they played and just how much screaming Black Francis does! Hats off to you, brother.

Predictably, the big hits – ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’, ‘Here Comes Your Man’, ‘Wave of Mutilation’, ‘Where is My Mind?’, Debaser’ in the encore – got the most attention, but I think it speaks to the band’s quality of songwriting that newer songs ‘Bagboy’ (complete with UFO-like light projections) and ‘Greens and Blues’ held their own against their years of musical legacy. After a pretty comprehensive look back at Pixies’ back catalogue, it becomes eminently clear that the band’s esteemed place in rock ‘n’ roll history is safe. No wonder so many bands these days list them as an influence.

After the cut: Pixies’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Pixies with FIDLAR at Strathmore Hall, Bethesda, MD – 26th January 2014

 

Live Review: Franz Ferdinand with Frankie Rose at Strathmore Hall, Bethesda, MD – 17th October 2013

 
By on Tuesday, 22nd October 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

There are certain bands that sit in my head filed under ‘Never Going to See Them, Ever’, with the assumption being that they’ll only ever play stadiums or festivals I won’t want to or aren’t able to physically be at. So when indie rock giants Franz Ferdinand were announced as a headliner, oddly enough in the symphonic hall-cum-sometimes rock show venue when hired by the 9:30 Club people, located in the DC / Maryland suburb of Bethesda, I couldn’t say no.

Frankie Rose 2013 live 2

The oddest of the posh splendour of the place was not lost on opener Frankie Rose, who announced to everyone when she first came on stage, “this is odd!” I understand her confusion: just days prior, she’d played with the Scots at the famous Emo’s in Austin, which isn’t known as a concert hall. At all. To give you some idea about Strathmore, the place is covered in this beautiful smooth, blonde wood and if you’re there for a rock show, you almost feel like you should be whispering at a band, not shouting. To her credit, Rose played a wonderful set even though predictably, many of the ticketholders for the night showed up later only for Franz. As you all probably know from reading TGTF, I generally avoid female singers entirely, and in this particular case, the only research I’d done was pull up Rose’s Twitter account to see if I could glean any information about her style based on what she revealed about herself on there. Her description reads “CHAOTIC NEUTRAL”, all capital letters. This goes back a while, but I grew up with a brother who was obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons so much that ‘chaotic’ became part of my early childhood lexicon, so I imagined her genre to be ‘riot grrl with face paint, black nail varnish and ‘tude’.

Frankie Rose 2013 live

Thankfully, I was completely wrong. The beautiful Miss Rose came out onstage with a full band (guitarist, bassist and drummer) to complement her singing and her own guitar playing. I’m mildly psychic and can usually sense things about people, and there is just something about her that made me think, gosh, she must have been a palm reader in another life, because she seems such a kindly, wise old soul. This was further evidenced by the way she talked to us as if she was speaking with old friends, sweetly and entirely unpatronising, entirely self-deprecating while also aware that she was playing to a very large venue and quite a lot of people that probably what she’s used to on her own. Her style on brand new album ‘Herein Wild’ is more poppy than I would have ever expected: see: ‘Question/Reason’. But some songs also had New Wave and heavier rock elements to them (the wonderful ‘Street of Dreams’, ‘Into Blue’) that provide a nice segue from her previous roots in Crystal Stilts and Dum Dum Girls.

Franz Ferdinand 2013 live 1

Even before Franz Ferdinand took the stage, you could tell this was going to be an event. Full stop. Guitarist Nick McCarthy has equipment that reads “Franz Ferdinand” in an Old English (errr, Old Scottish?) style on it. (Complete with fake insects attached to it, I might add.) And you know how the new LP is called ‘Right Words, Right Thoughts, Right Action”? Three axes on stage = three amps marked with either “WORDS”, “THOUGHTS” or “ACTION”. In the right order, left to right. I don’t care what you think, that’s just cool. My first giggle of the night was when frontman Alex Kapranos – who, admittedly, I had a huge crush on when their debut album came out – announced, “hello. We’re Franz Ferdinand, and we’re from Glasgow”. Um, shouldn’t everyone already know that if they’ve bought tickets to be here? I snickered.

Franz Ferdinand 2013 live 2

While the biggest hits and fan favourites would no doubt be played -their career-breaking hit ‘Take Me Out’, and the deliciously sneering attitude of ‘Do You Want To’ and ‘No You Girls’ – the variety of a set like this reminds us why Franz Ferdinand have such a huge worldwide following, even if they made fans wait 4 years after 2009’s ‘Tonight: Franz Ferdinand’ for their latest album. They’re just so damn entertaining. I’d forgotten the beauty of the lyrics and the Beatles-esque simplicity of the guitars in ‘Walk Away’ from 2005’s ‘You Could Have It So Much Better’. The hand and arm waving antics of both Kapranos and lead guitarist McCarthy to usher in ‘Ulysses’ were hilarious. Aforementioned ‘Do You Want To’ let Kapranos act as preening rock star, getting us to chant back at him the incredibly infectious refrains of “lucky, lucky / you’re so lucky!” again and again. While everyone was on their feet from the get go, I can’t leave out the dancing. As its name suggests, ‘This Fire’ turned the place into a boogie inferno, while ‘Can’t Stop Feeling’ and new single ‘Evil Eye’ (the latter with McCarthy on keys) were totally funky.

The set proved even more special in that unbeknownst to us, sat directly behind us were McCarthy’s second cousins who were local to the area. I’m still not exactly sure why the McCarthys who emigrated to America decided on DC as their landing point, but we have them to thank for requesting ‘Jacqueline’ as the opening song to the encore, to which Kapranos quipped, “you see? We do take requests occasionally!” This is one show I won’t soon forget. The last time the band played a headline show in the DC area was 2006. Next time, guys, don’t wait 7 years to come back, ok? We love ya.

After the cut: Franz Ferdinand’s set list.

Franz Ferdinand 2013 live 3

Continue reading Live Review: Franz Ferdinand with Frankie Rose at Strathmore Hall, Bethesda, MD – 17th October 2013

 

Live Review: Keane with Mystery Jets at Strathmore Hall, Bethesda, MD – 14th June 2012

 
By on Friday, 22nd June 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

Back in the day, when it got overplayed on the radio, I hated ‘Somewhere Only We Know’. I still really do not like that song. Yet I know all the words, and when Tom Chaplin is singing them, I sing along. Why? Because I’m a Keane fan. There’s a part of me that hopes/wishes/prays that one of my greatest wishes, to sing alongside Chaplin onstage, will happen one day. The closest the band have ever gotten to my house was last Thursday night, when they played Strathmore Hall in the burbs of Maryland, in the city of Bethesda. I really could not have gotten any closer to them than I did at SXSW in March and still, eight rows back is really nothing to complain about. Especially when you consider the majesty of their shows.

To my happiness and relief, the show sold out within days of the gig. For sure, the show would have sold out much quicker if it hadn’t been for the mismatch in opener. Mystery Jets were tapped to accompany the East Sussex band on their North American campaign, and Mystery Jets are not anywhere as near as well known as they are back home. Having to explain to other concert-goers who they were and what they sounded like, coupled with seeing people sitting in their cars instead of heading into the venue early, seemed like such a waste to me. You’ve bought tickets with your hard-earned money: aren’t you at least curious to see what the opening band is like? So yes, it kind of upset me when I looked out in the crowd to see that there were far too few people sitting down for the first set.

Their loss: despite playing to only handfuls of Keane fans, both William Rees and Blaine Harrison’s voices sounded amazing and the instrumentation was loud enough yet just right for this hall that usually caters to symphonies and other classical events. The only exception was on ‘Young Love’, which many of you will remember as the first high-profile outing for a then unknown Laura Marling on Mystery Jets’ second album ‘Twenty-Two’; for some reason, the drums and bass were too heavy, drowning out Rees’ lead and Harrison’s backing vocals, making the whole affair sound like a mess.

Of the ‘Radlands’ heavy set, ‘Greatest Hits’ managed to bring English cheekiness to Maryland ‘burbs and their parting shot, ‘Luminescence’, while slow, was enchanting and allowed for a mellowness to pervade the entire hall. After signing some autographs and meeting fans near the merch table upstairs (including an incident involving yours truly becoming verklempt following having an audience with the band), the band left for another show – their own headline gig in Washington DC – and well, your faithful editor decided to stick it out for Keane, because I would have had to miss not only half of Keane’s set to make the other show, but I would have missed the bulk of the new material, which was eager to see live after the new songs had already been properly rehearsed and given to live audiences last month in the UK. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions.

I enjoy seeing Keane live primarily because of Tom Chaplin: he is the epitome of the consummate performer. Working his way back and forth across the stage, singing with his arms raised as if to touch the stars or at least fans in the upper reaches of a venue or fists pumped to indicate he’s in the zone, all of it must be incredibly tiring. But he does it, and he manages to include everyone in the audience, which is no mean feat when it comes to playing to large crowds. Mesmerising.

And while you’re watching this Chaplin spectacle, it’s almost a given that you will forget that Keane is a four-piece, anchored by the songwriting and keyboard talents of Tim Rice-Oxley, new-ish bass player Jesse Quin, and drummer Richard Hughes. Unlike the previous stage set-ups for the ‘Perfect Symmetry’ (very colourful) and ‘Night Train’ (cool illuminations) tours, the ‘Strangeland’ backdrop is pretty boring, looking too much like the Arizona state flag, except there is a circular neon sign announcing ‘Strangeland’ in the upper right hand corner. I am guessing it’s just so, as to not distract you from the music in an oohing, ahhing kind of way but still, understated and kind of disappointing.

And I suppose in hindsight, this works for a band like Keane, because you are waiting for the pomp and bombast from the band themselves and certainly in the strength of Chaplin’s voice. Sad but admittedly sappy ballads like ‘This is the Last Time’ (which brings me to tears nearly every time I hear it) and ‘We Might as Well Be Strangers’ flourish in this kind of environment, as to the newer and equally heartbreaking ‘Disconnected’: “We’ve been disconnected somehow / there’s an invisible wall between us now…” Oh god. If they could only see the tears I cry into my heart when I queue this song up. ‘Silenced by the Night’, another tearjerker, was chosen as the first single from ‘Strangeland’, and if the intention was to tug at the heartstrings, they’ve done it right. “Ohhhhhh…you and I, we’re gonna rise again…” Just epic.

But this is not to say that they don’t do upbeat and up tempo well. Nothing could be farther from the truth. ‘Sovereign Light Cafe’, revealed by Chaplin on this night to be his favourite among the songs of ‘Strangeland’, dazzled in its energy; it’s an actual cafe in Bexhill-on-Sea that will be inundated with Keane fans wanting photographed, if it hasn’t already been mobbed. So did ‘On the Road’, a driving number which serves as an optimistic pick me up to anyone who’s had a dream that seemed unreachable.

I think that’s one of many reasons I am a Keane fan; Rice-Oxley’s songwriting is unrivalled, he can write ballads that can make you cry just as equally well as those that can get you to raise your fists in a show of can do attitude. They have kept me company at some of my darkest moments, as if they understood and knew the pain I felt. Other times, they picked up me and dusted me off, only to encourage me to keep going, to remind me the sun would rise again tomorrow and I was really stronger than what I might have felt the day before. I sometimes worry that they won’t be playing much of ‘Perfect Symmetry’ in the future: they only played the title track (audience video below) and ‘Spiralling’ (which, admittedly, sounds laughable with all the combined “whoo!” provided by the audience), which leads me to believe that ‘experiment’ with synths is over and done with. Still though, if Rice-Oxley can keep this up and Chaplin continues as the charismatic frontman he’s always been, I can’t see anyone – not even Coldplay – ever matching their musical triumphs.

More and higher-res photos from this show can be viewed on my Flickr.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnuyhS74bbw[/youtube]

After the cut: set lists.
Continue reading Live Review: Keane with Mystery Jets at Strathmore Hall, Bethesda, MD – 14th June 2012

 

Live Review: Bryan Ferry with Phenomenal Handclap Band at Strathmore Hall, Bethesda, MD – 3rd October 2011

 
By on Thursday, 13th October 2011 at 4:00 pm
 

Editor’s note: I would like to thank my fellow Washington area writer Cheryl Demas for being a model of calm and composure during what was a bit of a crazy night.

Years ago on the then-new internet, I started a Duran Duran mailing list / eGroup with a new internet friend. I found out about Roxy Music through Duran Duran, who idolised the band and the sharp dressing of their frontman Bryan Ferry in his immaculate Antony Price designer suits. So adding to my calendar “covering Bryan Ferry” was a bit surreal, and showing up for the gig at the suburban retreat of Strathmore Hall in Bethesda, Maryland, was making me go a bit mad.

Opening for him was the Phenomenal Handclap Band, whom I’ve only seen multiple times but always in a club setting. Them playing a massive stage like Strathmore didn’t suit them: even though they have a relatively big band numbers-wise and have a lot of equipment, they only took up a fraction of the stage. I thought they were a strange fit for an opener for Bryan Ferry, and I was right. The line-up has changed; the have a new female guitarist but have lost one of their two female vocalists. I think the line-up change and the setting affected their sound: it’s just not as warm and full as it once was. They began with ‘You’ll Disappear’ and played their hit from 2009 ’15 to 20′ (prefaced by leader Daniel Collas quipping, “this is a song you may know, or at least your teenager does?”). A couple new songs like ‘Sun and Moon’ went down okay but none were particularly notable. I’ll wait for the new album to be released in 2012.

After the very glam Roxy Music broke up in the early ’80s, Bryan Ferry went on to have a successful solo career. His most recent release ‘Olympia’ (review here) showed him sidling up to a more urban sound admirably. While he did play ‘Alphaville’ from the newest album, the set list was an odd mixture of covers with recognisable Roxy and Ferry solo numbers. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Avalon’ was great, as was ‘Love is the Drug’, the song that finally got people on their feet and dancing. But those came so late in the performance when Ferry should have gotten things started with guns blazing.

Also disappointing was the reliance on his touring bandmates’ solos, during which time the spotlight was directed on someone playing a saxophone, a guitar, etc. People had come to see Bryan Ferry perform, not see someone other than Ferry noodling on a guitar or playing trills on a clarinet while Ferry is playing piano in a darkened corner of the stage. With two quality back catalogues, someone like Bryan Ferry needs not rely on covers, yet he ended with a cover of Sam and Dave’s ‘Hold On, I’m Comin’ when he had plenty of other gems he could have chosen. The encore felt more like an afterthought, with everyone left pondering on how it should have been ‘More Than This’.

More photos and set list after the cut.
Continue reading Live Review: Bryan Ferry with Phenomenal Handclap Band at Strathmore Hall, Bethesda, MD – 3rd October 2011

 
 
 

About Us

There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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