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Live Review: Marina and the Diamonds at the 9:30 Club, Washington, DC – Monday 6th September 2010

 
By on Friday, 10th September 2010 at 11:00 am
 

This past Monday, the DC branch of TGTF put on their finery and headed into DC to see Marina and the Diamonds play at the well-loved 9:30 Club. The local hotspot has seen thousands of amazing shows over the years and has played host to some of the greats (the Police, the Ramones, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers… even Bob Dylan has played there).  And Marina Diamandis, I believe, is poised to join their ranks. Already enjoying success in the UK, she is just starting to break through in the US, and as she told me in our Q&A,  “I’ve been here quite a few times now. I have never done anything more exciting than this trip though. You all feel so right! My future is here.” And even though the show didn’t sell out, judging by the crowd’s reaction, I think she’s right!

First up was opener Young the Giant from Orange County, California, who we introduced you to a couple of weeks back. I had high hopes for them because I’d loved what I heard online, and they were every bit as amazing as I expected. Their 8-song set (see the partial setlist below) was packed with energy,  with the band members literally bouncing off of each other and the instruments. Amazingly, the only casualty was the beer of one of the guitarists. Playing tambourines and maracas and dancing and strutting to the music, lead vocalist Sameer Gadhia had fantastic stage presence. Despite the fact that their debut album wont even be released until October, they had a good number of fans in the crowd, and they seemed to quickly convert the rest of the audience to being fans. Heck, even the gut who shouted “MARINA!!!” every 5 seconds eventually shut up. My favorite songs they played were ‘I Got,’ ‘Cough Syrup’ and ‘My Body,’ and these were also the songs that went over the best with the crowd. ‘I Got’ is a slower song in 6/8 time with a gorgeous melody and great vocal harmony, and their single ‘My Body’ is a high energy stomper that can really whip the crowd into a frenzy. They’re well worth seeing if they ever play near you.

But as good as they were, the night was really about Marina. She took the stage in a variety of outfits, from lingerie and a cut-up t-shirt to a letterman jacket to a full-length, long-sleeved velvet dress that caused her to exclaim in her Welsh accent, “I tell you what, this black velvet is a bitch. It’s so hot I actually want to peel my face off.” And while her stunning looks and her strutting around the stage would make anyone fall in love with her, it was her voice that really stole the show.  It is incredibly powerful and versatile and she doesn’t hold back with it at all — it sounds just as good live as it does on her record, ‘The Family Jewels,’ if not better.

As Marina mentioned in our interview, the crowd favorites were ‘Obsessions,’ ‘I Am Not a Robot’ and ‘Hollywood’ — they really had the crowd singing along, which made her face light up. She told me “American audiences are a lot more loving and expressive. They make me feel uninhibited” But some of the most special moments of the night were also the simplest and most understated. She sat down at the keyboard to play ‘Obsessions’  and the room went silent. ‘Starstrukk’ was another highlight for me. The way she can take a  mildly offensive pop song by an act as heinous as 3Oh!3 and turn it into something unsettling and thought-provoking is mind-boggling.

When she wasn’t awing the crowd with her voice, she was jumping around the stage, doing dances and playing with props — her enthusiasm was infectious. While her more serious songs like ‘Numb’ are musically enthralling, it’s hard not to have fun when Marina is gesturing with stuffed hamburgers, light-up hearts and robots. A Marina and the Diamonds show is truly a treat for the senses, and is NOT something to be missed.

Set lists and photos are under the cut.

Continue reading Live Review: Marina and the Diamonds at the 9:30 Club, Washington, DC – Monday 6th September 2010

 

Live Review: OK Go with Earl Greyhound and Robert Francis at 9:30 Club, Washington, DC – 5 May 2010

 
By on Monday, 10th May 2010 at 12:00 pm
 

Having been a fan for years but never making it to one of their shows, last Wednesday I made it down to beloved DC venue the 9:30 Club to see if OK Go‘s live show was up to the standard of their amazing music videos (see ‘Here It Goes Again’ and ‘This Too Shall Pass’).  In fact, I think their live show is even better, combining their creativity with an immediacy and intensity you can’t get on your computer screen.

The first opener was Robert Francis. He had a nice voice – deep, but also adept at falsetto – but it was often hard to hear over the music, which was too loud (especially the drums) and not mixed properly. His set was fine, but lacked any real spark that would get the crowd involved.

The second opener, Earl Greyhound, went over much better. They played rock that was both harder and more funky, and their style was very 70s. They were incredibly skilled on their instruments, especially the drummer. Their energy was phenomenal and they really got the crowd ready for OK Go.

But of course, the real highlight of the night was OK Go. They brought the same creativity and innovation from their music videos to their live show, yet refrained from just re-creating their videos. They had cameras mounted on their equipment, including lead singer and guitarist Damian Kulash’s mic, that allowed them to show interesting angles of the gig on the screen behind them. They saved some of their best tricks for the encore: they had LED-covered jackets that spelled out “OK GO” on the back (1 letter for each of the 4 members), lit-up fiberglass creating a “halo” effect around their guitars, and lazer beams coming out of the necks of their guitars. And in one of their most brilliant ideas, they had USB drives for sale after the show that came pre-loaded with their newest album, ‘Of the Blue Color of the Sky,’ and audio of the entire show from that night.

But OK Go is not just about gimmicks, their music is fantastic – very catchy songs played with a lot of enthusiasm. Damian’s voice is very versatile, flitting between his normal range (‘A Million Ways’), falsetto (‘Oh Lately It’s So Quiet’), “gravelly rock voice” (Pixies cover ‘Debaser’) and screaming (‘Skyscrapers’). Some of the best moments of the nights were also musically the simplest.  During ‘Last Leaf,’ Damian ventured out into the middle of the crowd with just a mic and an acoustic guitar for a beautiful solo. On ‘What to Do,’ the whole band played handbells – it was simple and beautiful, and something I’ve yet to see another band do. The way the music drops out in ‘Needing/Getting’ when they sing “It don’t get much dumber / than trying to forget / a girl when you love her” is just as captivating live as it is on the album. But the best moment of the night was probably when they got the entire crowd singing “Let it go, this too shall pass” – gorgeous.

Even the spaces between the songs were fun, with Damian’s hilarious and charming banter and his incredible rapport with the crowd. He said that DC is their favourite place to play, most likely because it is where he grew up. Between talking policy (net neutrality and off-shore drilling) and making jokes about things only locals would know, they were perfectly suited to the crowd. Hell, the ticket price is worth it for Damian’s stories alone. He told a particularly hilarious anecdote about going to a Mexican restaurant on Cinco de Mayo (“a made-up American holiday for celebrating somebody else’s independence”) and them spilling ceviche on his suit (“f**king fish juice and VINEGAR!! Nothing smells good about ceviche, people!”)

If you get the chance to go to an OK Go gig, then take it – you’ll have a fantastic time.

After the cut: OK Go set list and more photos

Continue reading Live Review: OK Go with Earl Greyhound and Robert Francis at 9:30 Club, Washington, DC – 5 May 2010

 

Live Review: Arctic Monkeys with Sleepy Sun at Ram’s Head Live!, Baltimore – 7th April 2010

 
By on Tuesday, 13th April 2010 at 2:00 pm
 

Apologies in advance, but we have no live pictures from this show because cameras were not allowed.

There are a few bands that I will put up with just about anything for, and Arctic Monkeys is one of them. So last Wednesday I braved the rush-hour traffic between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore to go to their sold out gig at Rams Head Live!, one of my least favorite venues. The 3-level venue is a weird shape, and the shape and placement of the balconies is inexplicable – it’s almost impossible to get an unobstructed sight line from anywhere on the balconies, because they stick out in strange places and at weird angles. But even that couldn’t make the show any less fantastic.

I knew nothing about the opener, San Francisco band Sleepy Sun, before the gig, but I was blown away. They mixed so many genres together that it’s difficult for me to even describe their sound. The biography on their website describes their sound as “dead blues shaken alive, razor sharp and ramblin’, soul, sonic science and dead-on pop surgery. Wooden, earthy, stratospheric, and swinging…California music of beautiful contrasts for conflicted times,” and that sounds pretty spot-on to me. The 6 band members, on electric and acoustic guitars, drums,  bass and tambourine, came on stage to the sounds of classical music looking incredibly retro. Take the male lead singer, for example – with ’70s inspired clothes, long hair and a moustache, he reminded me of a pre-“Only By the Night” Caleb Followill. And to go along with that, he had a raw, raspy edge to his voice that was incredibly compelling , especially during the song “Sleepy Son,” for which he also played harmonica.  He split vocal duties with the only woman  in the band, who also had a great voice. Although their voices were great separately, they worked fantastically well together.

Throughout songs like “New Age” and the sexy “Red/Black,” as well as new track “Horses,” which they introduced as “the freshest shit we have,” there was an incredible intensity and power to their performance. They were so into it, it almost seemed at times like they didn’t remember the audience was there. Their songs were long and complicated, with varying tempos, and they were absolutely captivating. The only negative thing that I can say about Sleepy Sun is that the intensity of their live show isn’t quite captured in their studio recordings.

As impressive as Sleepy Sun were, everyone was really there to see Arctic Monkeys, and they didn’t disappoint. They are a band that lets the music speak for itself. They barely moved around the stage at all, but it didn’t make the performance boring because they channeled all of that energy into the songs, playing them so powerfully and flawlessly that you couldn’t care about anything other than singing and dancing along.  Having been to an Arctic Monkeys gig before, I knew not to stand on the floor if I wanted to be comfortable, so looking down from the balcony I could see at least 10 people get pulled out of the crowd throughout the night for crowd-surfing.

Though they’ve had months to get used to the songs from ‘Humbug’, the crowd still seemed to react more to old favorites like ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ than to newer songs. It’s a testament to how much the band completely owns every song that they still had the crowd going wild with the new mid-tempo song ‘Joining the Dots’ and with their cover of Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand.’ There’s a definite “Arctic Monkeys Sound,” but that doesn’t mean that all their songs sounded the same. In every song there was a least one thing that made it really special. Matt Helders’ drumming in opening song ‘Dance Little Liar’ was absolutely mindblowing, and the way they managed to stay in perfect time with each other during the wonky, chugging breakdown of ‘Potion Approaching’ was very impressive. Another great moment was when lead singer Alex Turner said they were going to “turn the temperature down” before launching into ‘Cornerstone,’ and lighters were up and waving within seconds. But the moment of the night that couldn’t be topped was during ‘505,’ when the entire crowd shouted “but I crumble completely when you cry” at the same time. It’s a rare and beautiful thing to be at a concert where the entire crowd is so completely immersed in the music.

Even after 17 songs, it still seemed to early when they left the stage for the first time. When they came back on they played ‘Fluorescent Adolescent,’ and the crowd rather impressively sang along with Alex’s rapid-fire vocals. Their choice to end on the b-side ‘Nettles’ at first seemed like a very strange choice, as it’s got a stuttering and stalling rhythm that makes it hard to dance to and nobody knows the words to sing along. But it’s one of their loudest, most thrashing songs, and they played the hell out of it, so it turned out to be the perfect ending. Acting every bit the rock star that he is,  Alex walked off the stage with his guitar in the middle of the song and kept playing from the wings, and then tossed the guitar back onto the stage at the end, leaving the crowd dazed and delighted. A fitting end to an amazing show.

After the cut: Arctic Monkeys Set List

Continue reading Live Review: Arctic Monkeys with Sleepy Sun at Ram’s Head Live!, Baltimore – 7th April 2010

 

Live Review: Jamie Cullum with Imelda May at the 9:30 Club, Washington, DC – 7 March 2010

 
By on Monday, 8th March 2010 at 2:00 pm
 

Note: There are no live photos in this review because there were absolutely no cameras allowed at the gig, sorry!

Reading my gig reviews, you could easily make the assumption that I say that every gig is one of the best I’ve ever seen, but I promise you, this has just been a spectacularly good year for gigs! Sunday night I had the pleasure of seeing everyone’s favorite pocket-sized jazz musician, Jamie Cullum, and opener Imelda May at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. I went into this sold out gig worrying that there was no way it’d live up to my expectations – I’ve been trying and failing to see Jamie Cullum live for about 5 years now, and I wanted it to be something extra special to make up for the fact that I had to miss watching the Oscars to see it. Basically, if it was anywhere short of Jamie’s amazing performance in his ‘Live at Blenheim Palace’ DVD, then I was going to be thoroughly disappointed. Fortunately, both Jamie and Imelda completely blew me away!

Dublin rockabilly songstress Imelda May played a powerful, vibrant 40-minute set to a nearly packed venue, and had everyone dancing along. She has a deep, raspy, soulful voice that captivated the audience, and she seemed to be having a lot of fun up on stage. She played more than 10 songs,  including ‘Johnny Got A Boom Boom,’ ‘Big Bad Handsome Man,’ and ‘How High the Moon.’ One of the best parts of her set was her wonderfully cheeky lyrics, like “Count my fingers, one and two / one of them is just for you / Count my fingers, one, two, three / the one in the middle’s to you, from me.” With the backing of her band, including a drummer, electric and acoustic guitarists, and a double bass player, Imelda thoroughly warmed up the crowd for Jamie.

Jamie Cullum is an absolutely fascinating and captivating performer. The energy with which he throws himself completely into his performance is just mesmerizing. He can switch from slow, brooding intensity to manic and impossibly intricate piano solos in the blink of an eye. At the end of his packed 2-hour set, I was amazed that he could still stand, he’d put so much energy into his performance.

As if his music wasn’t captivating enough, he was also hilariously entertaining between songs. In the first non-sung words out of his mouth, he said “Hello, my name is Justin Bieber.” Later he quipped, “Just picture me as Johnny Depp, I’m sure it’s not the 1st time…why are you laughing?” At one point he described the double bass player, Chris Hill, as a monster and said “That man has a fist full of sausages!” – I’m just going to  assume that’s a good thing in Jamie’s world.

But back to the music: not one of the songs got away without a generous helping of improv – I mean, come on, he is a jazz musician, after all. During crowd favorite ‘Frontin’,’ Jamie used the piano as one giant percussion instrument while beatboxing and singing. Even the slower songs like ‘What A Difference A Day Made’ were a big hit with the crowd. We all tried (and failed) to sing along, prompting Cullum to say “It’s hard trying to sing along with a jazz singer, isn’t it?” He had the crowd completely in the palm of his hand, whether he was making them scat along during ‘Wind Cries Mary,’ sing along and jump up and down to ‘Mixtape,’ or listen in complete silence to ‘Gran Torino.’ During the encore, he even convinced the crowd to sing the entire second verse of ‘All At Sea,’ and it sounded gorgeous.

But the indisputable highlight of the show was also its most unexpected. Toward the end of his set, Jamie had the band bring all of their instruments to the front of the stage, and instructed the crowd to part down the middle. The band then launched into Justin Timberlake‘s ‘Cry Me A River,’ and the crowd went mental. Over top of that, Jamie sang the jazz standard ‘Cry Me A River’ off-mic, and then jumped down off the stage with his horn players, and proceeded to sing a capella from the middle of the crowd – simply amazing and completely unexpected. There’s really nobody like Jamie Cullum for genre-bending, mad scientist-type brilliance. This gig will be hard to top!

After the cut: Jamie Cullum Set List!

Continue reading Live Review: Jamie Cullum with Imelda May at the 9:30 Club, Washington, DC – 7 March 2010

 

Live Review: Muse with Silversun Pickups at Patriot Center, Fairfax, VA – 1 March 2010

 
By on Wednesday, 3rd March 2010 at 2:00 pm
 

Set list and photos courtesy of Mary Chang, USA Editor and gigmate extraordinaire.

Somehow, after years of loving British music, neither member of the D.C. branch of TGTF had ever been to a Muse gig, so when they announced they were coming to the Patriot Center, we knew we had to go. Having miraculously managed to get two general admission floor tickets (it sold out within 2 hours of the tickets going on sale), we headed down to the venue nice and early and staked out a spot on the left side of the stage just one row back.

Stood in front of what looked like three skyscrapers, opener Silversun Pickups went on right on time and played a solid 45-minute set, including ‘Substitution’ and ‘Panic Switch’. They weren’t quite my style but they sounded good and they thoroughly entertained the crowd as they filed into the 10,000-seat arena. The best part of their set, for me, was lead singer and guitarist Brian Aubert’s quips between songs, like “this is our second show on this tour – the band, not you guys – you don’t remember last night? You were reeeaaalllly drunk.” Plus, they get bonus points for having a female bassist and being unfazed by such a huge crowd.

After a 45-minute break, during which Mary and I were treated to what I shall refer to as a “smoke machine facial,” the light’s dimmed to thunderous applause from the now-packed arena. In quite possibly the best gig opening I have ever witnessed (and I’ve been to a LOT of gigs), they dropped the building-looking cloths to reveal each of the 3 band members in the middle of their own massive column with video screens on all sides, at least 6 metres up from the stage. With that, they launched straight into ‘Uprising,’ whipping the crowd into a chanting, fist-pumping frenzy. Throughout the show, they raised and lowered the bottom half of these columns, allowing the band to either seem to float above the crowd or to walk around the massive oblong stage.

These video columns were the biggest part of the set, but every aspect of the setup was spectacular: there were spotlights, lasers, a piano with a see-through lid and a rotating drum kit (not to mention Matt’s bedazzled leather jacket and trousers). But the real highlight for me was during the amazing ‘Time is Running Out,’ when they released giant balloons into the crowd that looked like eyeballs. When the balloons popped, they showered the crowd with red confetti. It was so much fun trying to hit the balloons that I nearly knocked off Mary’s glasses in a fit of joy.

They played all the crowd favorites, like ‘Supermassive Black Hole,’ ‘Resistance’ and ‘Starlight,’ plus ‘Knights of Cydonia’ in the encore, and in every song Matt, Chris and Dom played insanely well while acting like it was nothing – they’re just that badass. Their playing on ‘New Born’ was particularly spectacular, and Matt Bellamy has a surprisingly versatile and powerful voice live. In one of my favorite moments, Matt brought out his keytar and strutted about the stage playing the incredibly sexy ‘Undisclosed Desires’ (however, Mary argues that ‘Plug in Baby’ is far sexier). And Muse’s show is undeniably sexy: it’s the result of what happens when you successfully straddle that fine line between confidence and arrogance. They are extravagant and over-the-top, but they don’t take themselves too seriously, and because of that, the show is so much fun for the audience. It’s impossible to come out of a show that fun and not be entirely smitten with the band, so if you have not seen Muse live yet, then by all means, GO!

After the cut: set list and more photos!

Continue reading Live Review: Muse with Silversun Pickups at Patriot Center, Fairfax, VA – 1 March 2010

 

Live Review: Field Music with the Spinto Band and the Mugs at the Bell House, Brooklyn – 30 January 2010

 
By on Monday, 1st February 2010 at 12:00 pm
 

Located in a slightly run down industrial area of Brooklyn, there’s not much about the Bell House from the outside to recommend it. Once you get inside, however, the venue is fabulous. There’s a cozy bar with very friendly servers open from 5pm, which is convenient if you’re mental like me and like to show up hours early for gigs. Inside the performance space, which is built in a converted 1920s warehouse, there are “25-foot wooden arched ceilings, a 450-square foot stage, and unobstructed views from any part of the room.” Three large chandeliers light the room between acts, and their playlist was fantastic (Phoenix, Yeasayer, Field Music, Fleet Foxes, the Beatles and Travis, to name a few). Although this was my first visit to the Bell House, I’m fairly sure that it would be impossible to have a bad gig experience there, and that was certainly true of the phenomenal Field Music show on Saturday night.

The first of two openers, the Mugs, are a local band who according to the barman play at Bell House so often they’re practically the house band. Featuring great harmonies and driving beats, this four-piece was very energetic, dancing around on stage through most of their songs, and had the crowd moving with them as well. A couple of highlights for me were the guitar breakdown in their third song and the song later in their set where the singer brought out a megaphone. Although the venue wasn’t packed yet and the crowd mostly hung back from the stage, they seemed to have a strong local following.  By the end of their short 30-minute set the crowd was yelling for an encore. While they sound much better live than they do in recordings, the Mugs are definitely worth a listen.

Second opener, the Spinto Band, came all the way from Wilmington, Delaware, for this gig, their first of the year. The band’s six members contributed to their rich, full sound. In all, they boast 3 guitarists (1 acoustic, 2 electric), a bassist, a drummer and a keyboardist. Their set was full of energy from start to finish, and their music was very dance-y.  While they definitely sounded like a modern indie band, something about their sound, most likely their harmonies combined with “oohs” and “aahs” and hand claps, reminded me of an earlier era. They made their set even more fun with the addition of the ukulele and the kazoo on a couple of songs. The only minor complaint I can make about their set is that it was sometimes hard to hear the vocals above the music, but overall they were a great opener, and they got the crowd energized before Field Music took the stage.

But of course the real highlight of the night was Sunderland band Field Music. They were originally scheduled to perform here in late November, but they had to reschedule because David came down with flu-like symptoms in the middle of the swine flu pandemic. They flew all the way from England (and returned the next day!) for this one-off gig because they felt they owed it to the fans and to Skippy, the venue’s booker, on whose birthday they were supposed to play in November.

In an industry that’s rife with gimmicks and auto-tuning, it was very refreshing to see the real thing: four men sitting down at their instruments to play their own distinctive style of pop music. Saying “we’re not very good at jokes,” they let the music do the talking, with just a short “thank you very much, indeed!” between songs.

Their set was a mix of about half “classic” Field Music songs from before their hiatus in 2007 and half tracks from their new album, ‘Field Music (Measure),’ due out in the UK on 15th February and in the US on 16th February. While the two live-only members, Kev and Ian, stayed on the guitar, keyboard and bass throughout the show, David and Peter Brewis rotated every couple of songs between drums, guitar and keyboards, with David even coming up front for a few songs from his side project, School of Language. The Brewises  later admitted to me in an interview that they’re terrified of playing the new songs live and are more comfortable with the others, but they seemed to have a great time playing them and they sounded fantastic. It’s a testament to both their performance abilities and the brilliance of their new material that the audience was just as into the new songs as they were their old favorites. The band’s signature complicated rhythms and intricate sound were somehow even better live than they are on the albums. For two men who have a very clear vision for their sound and control every step of the recording process themselves, it’s great that they’ve been able to find two men to play in their live band that can both fulfill their vision of the songs and add a little something special on top.

This was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to quite a few, so I’m begging you, if you get the chance to see Field Music, then by all means, take it!

After the jump: set list and photos.

For more Field Music goodness, keep your eyes on TGTF over the next couple of weeks. We’ll have an interview with David and Peter Brewis, as well as a review of the new double album, ‘Field Music (Measure)’.

Field Music will be embarking on a three-week tour of the UK and Ireland starting on 15 February 2010 in London. Visit their myspace page to see if they’re playing near you.

Continue reading Live Review: Field Music with the Spinto Band and the Mugs at the Bell House, Brooklyn – 30 January 2010

 
 
 

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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.

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