Review: Crown of Love: Arcade Fire Turn in Kingly Performance at Shoreline, Sept. 21*

September 27, 2007


By Luke Pimentel
2007.09

The reigning darlings of indie rock are indie no more.

It became official on September 21st, when Arcade Fire took their electrifying anthems to the most commercial of settings – the gargantuan Shoreline Ampitheatre in Mountain View, California – and filled it with 15,000 souls’ worth of irony-free singing and fist-pumping.

Going in, it all seemed so wrong: Arcade Fire playing in a shed? With assigned seating? The whole set-up seemed to go against the intimacy and idealism fans have come to love about the Canadian ten-piece. Would the band be in a good mood? Would the crowd stay on its feet, or would they fall asleep, chained to their chairs? Sure, Arcade Fire’s sound has always been big, but does that mean they’re REALLY big enough for the big time?

The ominous flicks of lightning and thunderclaps in the distance seemed to foretell disaster. Instead, they foretold a night of supreme triumph, a night where the band put the finishing touches on a banner year, firmly cementing themselves as one of the world’s very top rock acts.

Instead of succumbing to Shoreline, Arcade Fire made it their own.

There was, perhaps, no better place for the final jewel to be fitted in the crown; the band’s affection for the Bay Area has been well-documented. Local fans are still recovering from an epic pair of shows at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre last June. Coming into Shoreline, their expectations for a return engagement were mighty high.

On Friday night, the band answered the challenge, showing its appreciation early and often.  ”I know it seems like we play here a lot,” lead singer Win Butler said, smiling broadly underneath his canopy of blondish-brown locks.  ”That’s because we f*cking love playing here.”

Their first act of business was to allow the ticketholders in the front rows up to the foot of the stage, so that the all-important connection between band and audience would not be totally lost. Though the rest of the audience would unfortunately remain stranded at their seats, any lingering doubt that Arcade Fire’s wall of sound could make it all the way to the rain-drenched back lawn was quickly dispelled, as the ominous, crackling strains of show-opener “Black Mirror” quickly got the whole crowd moving.

Their second order of business was to unspool one of the most expansive and exciting setlists of the entire Neon Bible tour. All the usual highlights – from the clattering drum cadences and violin squeals of “Neighborhood 2 (Laika)” to the mournful inner torment of “My Body is a Cage” were present, but also bookended by a handful of rarely-played gems, like “Cold Wind” (from the soundtrack to the HBO series “Six Feet Under”) and, in a major surprise, “I’m Sleeping in a Submarine,” from the long-departed days of the band’s debut EP. Butler even threw in a brief solo rendition of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton,” stalling after one verse and confessing, “I can’t remember the words!”

The inclusion of both “Submarine” and “Cold Wind” were particularly resonant for longtime fans. Both were nods to the band’s extended love-in with the Bay, and telling signifiers of how far the band has come in such a short period of time.  ”If you go to San Francisco,” Butler sang to cheers during “Cold Wind”, “leave some flowers on the gravestone.”  Although the tune is about a departed relative, it might as well have been a serenade, consciously echoing the spirit of Scott McKenzie and Tony Bennett, whilst self-consciously acknowledging the end of the band’s days as club-dwelling neophytes.

Other tunes – the stomp/shout theatrics of “Haiti,” with Regine Chassagne sashaying across the stage to her own manic-pixie dance steps and hummingbird vocals – or the bubbling pianos and chiming guitars of “Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels)” – were attacked with ferocious energy. Although the performers were clearly road-weary after dozens of shows in dozens of countries, they graciously laid out everything they had left at the edge of the stage, and it was more than enough.

Before finally bringing down the twin tentpoles of Shoreline’s roof with a raucous, whole-audience sing-along to “Wake Up,” Butler mentioned that it would most likely be a couple of years before the band returned.  ”Maybe I’ll be able to grow a mustache by then,” he joked.

The humor provided little levity to dull the sting of Arcade Fire being away for such a long stretch of time; who knows how big they’ll have gotten by the time they drop LP number three.

On Friday night, though, they proved that no matter how big they get, they will always remain true to themselves, and to their fiercely loyal, ever-growing legion of alt-rock believers.

For more information on Arcade Fire, please visit the band’s official website at http://www.arcadefire.com.

‘Pop’ and Circumstance: U2’s PopMart on DVD*

September 24, 2007


By Tracey Hackett, Contributing Editor
2007.09

Long considered a master of live performance, U2 might also now be called a master of ‘pop’ and circumstance with last week’s re-release on DVD of its 1997 PopMart Live from Mexico City concert video.

The audio-visual feast of the limited edition DVD production begins with its packaging. The cover features the same familiar kickboxing Bono in front of a McDonald’s-esque golden arch on an iridescent background as the VHS format released in 1998. But the two-disc set also includes an extensive sleeve note, featuring colorful, kitschy photos and graphics that bring continuity to the PopMart theme, the reprint of an article by Danny Eccleston for MOJO Magazine – and best of all, a (not quite larger than life) pop-up band member.

In describing the PopMart stage production, Eccleston writes, “The presentation satirized global consumer culture as much as it wondered at it.” The same philosophy could be applied to the packaging of the DVD set itself.

As for the Mexico City show it documents — filmed on Dec. 3, 1997, at the Foro Sol Autodromo — the band’s performance is proof that the message and entertainment value of its music transcend cultural, political and linguistic borders. Although U2’s presentation of “Mofo,” “Last Night on Earth,” “Wake up Dead Man” and other songs from the Pop album can be described as nothing short of monumental — thanks to stage props like a giant olive on a 100 ft. cocktail stick and 170 ft. Technicolor video images of pop culture artworks by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Haring and others — the band’s true power is perhaps best reflected in the performances of its more classic songs, such as “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Desire.”

The audience interaction is so strong during this portion of the concert, in fact, that at one point, a smiling Bono acquiesces his own voice to the hum of 10,000 others whose collective singing is louder than his own. The God’s-eye-view of the event, of watching the entire audience give expression to the show’s energy, is breathtakingly memorable.

Live performances of some U2 classics — like “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “Bullet the Blue Sky” — often take on a quality of enduring timelessness, and the Mexico City show doesn’t disappoint in its presentation of those songs. The concert’s single greatest achievement, however, might perhaps be the seamlessness with which material from the Pop album is sewn together with those classics. Songs still popular from the band’s earlier Zoo TV tour and Achtung Baby album serve as the transitional thread that binds it all together.

Songs like “Lemon,” “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” and “Mysterious Ways” could create a difficult juxtaposition with such standards as “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With or Without You,” but all of the gilded glamour and techno-flash that was the PopMart tour somehow create a successful all-inclusiveness that is captured on the Mexico City DVD.

Of course, it could be argued that the PopMart tour was all about difficult juxtapositions anyway. The stage design — which provides continuity to the Pop album design — seemed created specifically for the purpose of allowing armchair critics to accuse the band of selling out to high-profit consumer culture, yet lurking underneath the surface glitter and glam were songs with deeper, darker lyrics than U2 had ever before (or since) released, such as the haunting opening to “Wake up Dead Man,” as a man who feels alone in the world pleads with Jesus for answers that seem to never come.

The song from Pop that perhaps best captures the recording’s seemingly incompatible contrast is “Playboy Mansion,” but it is disappointingly absent from the Mexico City set list.

Almost making up for that absence, however, is a spine-tingling solo performance by the Edge of “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Eccleston writes in the DVD liner notes that the presentation is “exquisite” because it is “suddenly stripped of troublesome, ambiguous machismo.” What he fails to mention is that the Edge, in his understated introduction of the song, notes that it was among the numbers the band had recently performed at its historic concert in post-war-torn Sarajevo.

Among the many extras on the limited edition DVD set is a documentary about the Sarajevo show, as well as documentaries about the technology behind the tour and about the 40 ft. self-propelled mirrored lemon that transported the band to the B stage for its encore performance. Bonus live footage from Rotterdam and Edmonton is included, and there are bonus videos of “Staring at the Sun (Miami Version)” and “Last Night on Earth (First Night in Hell).”

“Our job is to blow our own minds, as well as everyone else’s,” Bono says in the liner notes.

The limited edition DVD is certainly capable of doing that — just by the sheer volume of video it contains. It was probably more difficult for U2 to figure out how to make it seem cool to drive a lemon.

Review: ‘All thriller, no filler’: Jamie T Debuts in Boston, September 12, 2007*

September 23, 2007


By Kimberly Egolf, Editor
2007.09

“We’ve been in Boston for two days now, and we fuckin’ love it!” announced Jamie Treays to the September 12th crowd assembled at Boston’s Great Scott.

Sporting an upturned Red Sox cap atop a mop of messy hair, Jamie T – Treays’ stage moniker –flashed a lopsided and mischievous smile before literally launching himself into his first song.

Propelled by the heavy bass beat of album track “Pacemaker,” Jamie leapt off the stage and into the midst of the expectant audience. Heavily-accented and half-intelligible lyrics spilled from his mouth as he bounced energetically around the floor.

The fact that no one really knew what the hell he was singing didn’t detract from the enjoyment of these first moments with an exciting emerging artist and showman.

The UK has been enjoying Jamie T since the January release of his debut album Panic Prevention, a highly-praised record which draws heavily on the sights and sounds of Jamie’s suburban South London upbringing. The story of the title goes as such: Jamie used to suffer from panic attacks. To soothe him, his mother would make mixtapes stuffed with notably kitschy tunes. Feigning disdain at the time, Jamie has since come to love the random mixture of sounds that can be assembled in such a compilation.

In fact, it’s a technique he employed to cobble together his album. Using the bare minimum of instrumentation – acoustic bass and guitar and an old Casio keyboard – Jamie crafted an album of original songs and hooky riffs which has propelled him to fame and earned him favorable comparisons to the Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen, and The Streets. Indeed, over the past year, Jamie T has been conquering hearts and charts in the UK, even bagging NME’s award for Best Solo Artist 2007 and earning himself a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize – the UK’s most distinguished award for songwriting.


(Photo credit: Derrick Santini)

And now Jamie T and his tape deck are hitting the US for a string of debut dates.

Supported by his band The Pacemakers (who also happen to be his best friends), Jamie T has spent his time in the country wowing audiences with his frenetic and exciting shows. The Wednesday night audience at Boston’s Great Scott was certainly impressed with Jamie’s energy and personality. After the rousing “Pacemaker” literally launched the set, Jamie raced through album tracks “Ike & Tina” – which “goes out to Tina…and definitely not out to Ike” – and “Operation” – dedicated to Smooth, the band’s randy bus driver.

Continuing with the odd dedications, the next song went out to the cheap beer PBR. As Jamie quietly started strumming the choppy and spare guitar riff of his hit single “If You Got the Money,” it became apparent that there were some very dedicated fans in the audience. One fan standing close to the stage even got a chance to make his concert debut when Jamie pointed the microphone right at him and invited him to sing the song. While most of the crowd couldn’t master the slangy lyrics of the verses, they did all join in a fun chant of “Money, money, money” as Jamie grinned at them from the stage.


(Photo credit: Kimberly Egolf)

There were many such moments throughout the evening. Moments in which it didn’t matter if you could understand the lyrics, you were still invited to the party. Indeed, Jamie’s accent and slang are part of his charm, but also, perhaps, his curse. His heavy use of peculiarly English slang can make his songs difficult to penetrate lyrically for American audiences. But there is no misunderstanding the unique mixture of pop, punk, and hip-hop which underlies Jamie’s tales of adolescent suburban hijinks. Tales which take up grand themes of love and life.

None more so than the pulsing “Dry Off Your Cheeks.” In concert, the song became an epic tale of love, loss, and self-discovery wrapped up in a hooky and tripping rhythm. As Jamie’s weathered and cracking voice screamed out the chorus – “My old heart, it’s been thirteen hours. Too much of you my friend, my dear and now I cower” – the singer was literally cowering on the stage floor with his back to the audience.

It’s not only the impressive energy with which he performs, but also the singer’s empathy for his characters that makes it so easy and enjoyable to watch him. Slices of 21st century adolescent life reflect and connect audience and singer alike.

The UK has already connected in a big way with Jamie T. And though he’s now playing smaller clubs in the US, his showmanship and his smashing tunes destine him for much, much bigger things. In his own words: It starts off small but it’s gonna get bigger.

For tour dates and information about Jamie T, please visit his official website at http://www.jamie-t.com/.

Review: Emmy Rossum: From the Big Screen to the Music Studio*

September 22, 2007


By Matthew Anderson
2007.09

Once upon a time it was something of a joke for an actor or actress to have enough hubris to actually go into the music studio and record an album. Things only got worse when the album was given the light of day, sometimes to an unintentionally legendary effect. Anybody care for a spin of William Shatner’s The Transformed Man?

I didn’t think so.

Well, now it’s more common for artists to seek crossover appeal and making the leap from TV to the big screen or from movies to pop music doesn’t carry quite the same skepticism it did in the days of yore.

Russell Crowe rocks it out with various incarnations of his band between movies. Billy Bob Thornton throws in the occasional bluesy tour between acting gigs. Mandy Moore’s been hop-scotching between singing and acting with at least fairly respectable results.

Heck, even Bono’s got a cameo in the upcoming Julie Taymor Beatles flick, Across the Universe. OK. That’s a bit different. Bono and a Beatles-inspired movie go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Of course, there are also the train wrecks and perpetual press magnets, such as Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan, who, in the process of creating entire cottage industries out of their lives, dabble in movies, music, and much more dubious pursuits.

All of that leads to the latest entry in the crossover sweepstakes: Emmy Rossum.

Perhaps you don’t recognize the name, but you’d probably recognize the adorable face. She’s the young star of the movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. She has also appeared in the high-profile movies Mystic River, The Day After Tomorrow, and Poseidon.

That gig with the Phantom made the announcement of Emmy’s foray into pop music a pleasant surprise rather than a forehead-smacking “oh no.”

The results so far are also pleasantly surprising. Three songs from her forthcoming album are now available on iTunes and they serve as a tease of an album that promises more along the lines of Enya or Sarah Brightman than Britney or Paris.

Even more impressive, Emmy not only supplies the vocal pipes, she also shares songwriting credits. Who does she share them with? Stuart Brawley (he’s collaborated with Don Henley and ‘NSync) and Bridget Benenate (she’s written with Alice Cooper and Kelly Clarkson sings her song “Breakaway”).

On screen, Rossum carries herself with a considerable amount of grace. That same quality, so evident in her performance as Christine, the chorus girl and dancer who became the Phantom’s infatuation, is also on tap in her new musical dalliance.

Fittingly, the songs feel theatrical as well as pretty, poppy and peppy. They’re a nice change of pace and they reflect more artistic ambitions than the typical debut by a movie star turned pop singer.

In “Falling,” which features the most aggressive vocal range of the set, and “Stay,” Emmy sings about the intoxicating, disorienting frenzy of love. They’re the kind of fun, catchy, smooth pop songs that grow more enjoyable and agreeable with repeat listening.

Over all, the songs feature the same kind of atmospheric, echoing backing vocals and new-age style ambience akin to an Enya tune. Given that, the songs at times sound a bit over-produced, which is a particular shame considering Emmy has a proven, solid voice. Nonetheless, there’s nothing to be ashamed of here.

In fact, perhaps the most refreshing thing about these songs is how they lack the “true confessions of a pop diva” subject matter that is so in vogue today. Reading about pop and rock stars in magazines is one thing, listening to them sing about their luxurious lifestyles is boring.

The best songs certainly derive from personal experience, but they don’t feel exclusive to the singer or the writer. The ability to identify with the artist through shared, common experiences is what makes music such a powerful medium.

That’s what can be found here. While “Falling” and “Stay” skew toward the romantic side, in “Slow Me Down” Emmy sings about the frantic pace experienced by many on a daily basis:

My head and my heart are colliding – chaotic
Pace of the world – I just wish I could stop it
Try to appear like I’ve got it together
I’m falling apart
Save me
Somebody take my hand
And lead me

Newly-turned 21, Emmy’s already managed to work with some of the biggest names in the business without falling into the “big ego” trap, or she’s at the very least managed to steer clear of the scandal sheets. Fingers are crossed that she won’t slow down and, more importantly, won’t fall apart.

An official release date for Emmy’s full album has not yet been set.

For more information on Emmy Rossum, please visit her official website at http://www.emmyrossum.com/.

Review: Peter Bjorn and John Love Boston’s ‘Young Folks,’ September 7, 2007*

September 14, 2007


By Kimberly Egolf, Editor
2007.09

Peter Bjorn and John are back in the United States for their second tour this year, and they want you to whistle along with them.

In late 2006, three Swedish men under the clever moniker Peter Bjorn and John took US radio stations by storm with that song… you know, that whimsical little song with the bongo drums and the whistling. “Young Folks” is the big single that catches you, but, as Boston concert-goers quickly discovered last Friday, there is much, much more to the trio.

The crowd of hipsters sporting skinny jeans slung low on their hips, hair frizzled with unwash, grew excited as the lights dimmed and the strange drone of a sitar began to echo from the omnipresent speakers. Smiles of recognition dawned on their faces as they picked out the melody of “Young Folks” cleverly transformed into a raga by Mr. Peter Morén himself – clearly a talented sitar player.

In the dim blue light, the figures of Peter Morén, Bjorn Yttling, and John Ericksson could be made out as they moved to their instruments. And as the eastern strains of sitar faded from our ears, the band kicked into the retro sound of western ‘60s surf. Belying their recent reputation (based on popular single “Young Folks”) as mellow songsters, the band opened by channeling the ghosts of ‘60s pop music. Leading off the evening with anti-relationship anthem “Let’s Call It Off,” the band proved to have eerily Beatles-like harmonizing abilities while playing music more at home on American Bandstand than on college radio.


Peter Bjorn and John in Boston. (Photo credit: Kimberly Egolf)

After a few more Top 40-esque hits, the venue was abruptly plunged into darkness. As ghostly synthesizer noises swirled around the room, a backdrop curtain of stars threw the band members into faint relief. An insistent drumbeat began, over which John’s echoing voice sang the heartbreaking strains of the ballad “Start to Melt.” A single spotlight illuminated the drummer and singer as his bandmates turned to face him. It was a gesture of solidarity showing the band members’ support for each other as they shared singing duties. Indeed, their popular third album Writer’s Block showcases singing and songwriting from all three members of the band – something they have shied away from on their previous two albums, the self-titled Peter Bjorn and John (2002) and Falling Out (2004).

The trio continued their intimate pow-wow even as the song climaxed with a sprawling jam. Eventually, the slow and resounding drumbeat of this melting dreamscape morphed into the supercharged and haunting soundscape of “The Chills.” The only songwriting collaboration between all three band members, the song belied its upbeat tempo with desolate lyrics of fear and loss.

The heavy atmosphere created by these songs was quickly dispersed by the whimsical ditty “Amsterdam” which featured a shaker and some entertaining dancing courtesy of Peter.

The shaker, wielded by the singer like some sort of sonic weapon, appeared again as the band swept into their hit single “Young Folks.” Amidst rousing cheers from the audience, Peter began the distinctive whistling that has made the song popular. Though doing double duty singing both parts of the duet on the verses, the singer graciously let the eager audience sing the chorus for him as he jumped around the stage with glee.

The band leaped from one high to another as “Young Folks” was followed by the punk-rocking song “Teen Love” from the band’s sophomore album Falling Out. The high energy performance riled the crowd and only made the groans of disappointment deeper when Peter announced that the next song would be their last.

Their latest album is titled Writer’s Block but is filled with introspective and perceptive lyrics, none of which provide more evidence of these gentlemen not having any sort of blockage than the closing song of the main set. “This is a song about me!” declared Peter with a grin, “but you can pretend it’s about you.” And with smiles adorning their shining faces, the band launched into the driving and life-affirming “Objects of My Affection.”

And the question is, was I more alive then than I am now?
I happily have to disagree.
I laugh more often now, I cry more often now,
I am more me.

With their pounding drums and guitar and their hopeful lyrics, Peter Bjorn and John struck just the right note to end the evening. As they left the stage after a two-song encore, Peter began to blow affectionate kisses toward the audience that had whistled and cheered all evening. The love is mutual and Boston can’t wait to whistle along again.

Peter Bjorn and John are currently on tour in the United States. To find out tour dates and more, please visit the band’s official website at http://www.peterbjornandjohn.com/.

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