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[ATTENDED: October 22, 2018] Johnny Marr

My friend Garry got me into The Smiths in high school. I had been exclusively into metal before that, but there was something about the guitars and lyrics of The Smiths that I really enjoyed.  And I quickly became a huge fan of Johnny Marr.

The Smiths broke up in 1987 and that was that.  Johnny Marr has since gone on to play with dozens of bands, including Electronic, The The and Modest Mouse.  He has also been releasing solo albums along the way, but I didn’t really listen to any of those.

Because of my love for The Smiths and much of Morrissey’s solo work, I tried to see Morrissey last year.  Of course that show got cancelled.  So I assumed I’d never get to see any members of The Smiths live (I have no idea what the bassist and drummer have been up to).

Then I saw that Johnny Marr was doing a one-off in New York City for his new album Call the Comet (which was getting great reviews).  I tried to get tickets but didn’t.  Oh well, no big loss.  Then a few months later, he announced a small U.S. tour including a stop in Philly.  He has only played Philly in 2003, 2013 and 2014.  So this seemed like my only chance.

I don’t know much about the guy himself.  Morrissey, as we all know, is a prat.

But what about Johnny?  Is he an aloof 80s alt rock star?  Like hell he is.  His merch all says “Johnny Fuckin Marr.”  He was chatty and funny.  He had on a great shirt and smiled a lot.  He was generally a load of laughs.  Who would have guessed?

But the real question is, Is Johnny Marr to stuck up to play Smiths songs?  Like hell he is.  Actually I didn’t know if he’d play any Smiths songs. But i was pretty psyched when he played six of them.

But he was there to promote Call the Comet and so he started out with a new song called “The Tracers.”  It had a repeating “whooo whooo” refrain and a rocking guitar part.  Knowing what I know about Marr, I never expected his songs to rock out like this.  And yet they did rock out.  Virtually every song he played was rocking and full-bodied.  And his backing band was fantastic James Doviak played guitar and keys.  I enjoyed that he supplemented Marr, playing mostly rhythm guitar but occasionally taking on some of Marr’s signature sounds as well.  Despite the shades, he never stepped into the bright lights

Johnny then delighted me and everyone in the room by playing the opening chords of The Smiths’ “Bigmouth Strikes Again.”  This is one of the first Smiths songs I’d ever heard and it was amazing to hear it live.  The crowd went berserk (so many old men dancing!) and then Johnny sang.

Johnny is no Morrissey and he does not try to be. He does not sing like Morrissey, but he does have the same Mancunian accent so while it was no Morrissey it was not exactly wrong either.  The delivery was less arch but was still right.  It was an awesome treat.  If that was the only Smiths song he played I would have been happy.  But he had a few more tucked away.

He followed that up with the new song, a B-side to “Hi Hello” called “Jeopardy” which had a rockin riff and trippy vocals.  Then he played “Day In Day Out” which has an acoustic-sounding guitar.  Doviak didn’t switch guitars, he juts switched effects which was pretty cool.

Johnny sang from the center of the stage where the soft lights were on him.  Sometimes he was obscured by white, other times, he was faintly visible.  But every time he took a guitar solo he walked up to the front of the stage where the spotlights shone on him and we could see him in all of his leather jacketed or heart-print-shirted glory. The only bad thing was that the really tall men (are all former goths really tall? At least none of them had Robert Smith hair) would put heir heads together blocking my view to scrutinize his playing, leaving me looking at pomade and bald spots.

He said, “Hi guys, how are you all doing.”  He then corrected that he wasn’t only talking to the men.  He’s from England, if he was only talking to the men, he’d say “hello darlings.”  This was an introduction of sorts to “Hi Hello.”   And then came the opening riff to “The Headmaster Ritual.”  So there would be more than one Smiths song!  This song, in addition to having a great guitar riff also has a notable bass line which Iwan Gronow played perfectly.  It was like hearing the band (except that Johnny sang “same old suit since 1982”).

The next cover was a huge surprise because I had forgotten that Johnny was in the duo Electronic (with Bernard Summer from New Order).  Neil Tennant was a guest on “Getting Away with It” (Neil did not guest at TLA, of course).  It was odd because I knew this song pretty well but it sounded so different. The original has lots of keys but this song had far more guitar than synth (and no Neil Tennant).  But the guy next to me (short with a nice head of white hair) danced like a fool.

“Hey Angel” has some great guitar soloing.  Then Johnny switched gears to play a beautiful “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.” It was interesting as he sang the words and I wondered what he thought about Morrissey’s lyrics.  They are so distinctly The Smiths, but would he have ever written anything like that himself?  Certainly he doesn’t now.  Did he feel weird singing it?  I can’t imagine that Johnny Marr has felt that way in decades 🙂

He joked that politics was fun eh?  Given Morrissey’s recent proclamations, who knew where he was going with this, but he just proceeded to say that “Bug” was dedicated to “you know who.”

Then he asked, “Any requests?  Bet you weren’t expecting to hear that!”  People shouted some favorites and he responded “That’s no one of our songs, sir.” And then finally he said, “What’s that you say sir ‘Get the Message’ from 1991.  Yea I think I can do that.”  This was another Electronic song although I wasn’t as familiar with it (but that other guy sure was).

“Easy Money” from his previous album also sounded familiar.  Perhaps it had some airplay a few years ago.  The guitar chords were very Johnny Marr but the riff was heavy and the verses were very synthy.  Either way it was pretty great.  He followed it up with another song from Playland, “Boys Get Straight.”  It was also a solid rocker, with great drums from Jack Mitchell.  Clearly I need to check out his solo albums.

Just as I was wondering how long of a show Johnny Marr would do, he started playing the most iconic riff in all alternative rock.  “How Soon is Now” was just amazing.  Johnny played the echoing chords and Doviak plays the searing note  The only downside to the whole thing was that I could barely see him or Doviak the whole time.  However, being in the same room as the guy playing those chords was more than enough.

That was a set ender and frankly could have been a concert ender, it was something I’d hoped for and I got and I was satisfied.

But they did indeed come back for an encore.   As has become traditional, the encore included two songs from the new album before getting onto real encore material.

He played that chord and we all knew it was “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.”  I never thought I’d hear a room full of middle-aged men sing “to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die!”  It was amazing.

When that song was over he told us that we were the last night on his tour so how about one more?  (It turns out he played the same two songs back to back on all of his shows.  In fact it was the same setlist all tour, but he did make us feel special).

And who cares if he was lying when the opening notes of “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby” rang out and once again, we all freaked out.  It was an awesome end to the show and left all of us singing and happy.

I had basically written off Morrissey bailed on us last time.  I basically felt that I would maybe go see him if he ever came back, but possibly not.

But now that I’ve seen Johnny Fuckin Marr play “How Soon is Now” what do I need Morrissey for?

 

SETLIST

  1. The Tracers 
  2. Bigmouth Strikes Again š
  3. Jeopardy (b-side of single)
  4. Day In Day Out €
  5. New Dominions 
  6. Hi Hello 
  7. The Headmaster Ritual š
  8. Walk Into the Sea 
  9. Getting Away With It 
  10. Hey Angel 
  11. Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me š
  12. Bug 
  13. Get the Message 
  14. Easy Money 
  15. Boys Get Straight 
  16. How Soon is Now? š
  17. encore
  18. Rise 
  19. Spiral Cities 
  20. There is a Light That Never Goes Out š
  21. You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby š

Call the Comet (2018)
Playland (2014)
š The Smiths cover
Electronic cover

 

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[ATTENDED: October 13, 2018] Modest Mouse

This is my fourth Modest Mouse show (NJ, Bethlehem, NJ, Bethlehem).  I wasn’t expecting to see them again so soon, but when they do three shows all within an hour of your house it’s a sign that you should go to at least one.

The fans were less obnoxious this time (although they were especially drunk, I believe).  The band had a different stage setup than usual as well.  Isaac Brock was in the middle of the stage instead of off to the right like the last few times.  This worked out very well for me as I had moved to the left side of the stage to get away from a really drunk and loud girl.  So I was right by Isaac and had the best view of him and his guitar (and his outfit) of any show.

Modest Mouse likes to test the fans’ patience.  They waited about 45 minutes before going on, which is a bit much, frankly.

But as soon as they come out the mood was lifted (especially with Isaac wearing a plaid onesie).

The main draw for me at a Modest Mouse show is the thought that I’ll hear songs I haven’t heard live before.  I didn’t know if that was possible on my now fourth show but amazingly, they played 8 songs that I hadn’t hear live before.  They have over 100 songs officially released, so I don’t imagine hearing all of them, but I have heard 55 songs at four shows, which again, is amazing. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 11, 2017] Modest Mouse

I saw Modest Mouse at Starland Ballroom a couple of years ago.  And then I saw them outdoors at Steelstacks in Bethlehem, PA.

And in both instances, I found their fan base to be pretty obnoxious (for various reasons).  I really wanted to see them again (their lives shows are pretty great), so this time I was prepared for obnoxious fans, which made everything more palatable.

And now having seen them three times, I understand why they sell out all the time–their lives shows are amazing and the crowd is somewhat justified for being so obnoxious–it’s a wild and raucous time.

The band came out and set up–horns, violins, percussion–it’s a pretty large group up there. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 11, 2017] Metz

2017-10-11-20-23-18-e1508356087344 (1)I knew of Metz from NPR, which is kind of funny given the kind of in your face pummeling metal noise that this three-piece from Canada makes.

I was pretty psyched that they were opening for Modest Mouse (not exactly the most logical fit).  But I should have learned from the last time I saw Modest Mouse at Starland Ballroom that there would be a huge line outside–I missed a lot of Mimicking Bird’s set last time.  This time I missed the opening minute or so of Metz’ set.  But it was loud enough that I could hear it from where I was standing.

And when I got onto the floor itself it was plenty loud enough. (more…)

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dfwSOUNDTRACK: BUILT TO SPILL-Ultimate Alternative Wavers (1993).

Bts I am going to see Built to Spill this Friday.  I was supposed to see them back in 2001, but then some bad things happened in New York City and their show was cancelled (or I opted not to go–I see on Setlist that they did play that night).  Since then, I have enjoyed each new album more than the previous one, so I am really excited to see them.

I thought it would be interesting to revisit their earlier records.  In reading about the band I learned that Doug Martsch was in Treepeople (which I didn’t know and who I don’t really know at all).  I also learned that his plan for BtS was to have just him with a different line up for each album.  That didn’t quite work out, but there has been a bit of change over the years.

Their debut album is surprisingly cohesive and right in line with their newer material.  It’s not to say that they haven’t changed or grown, but there’s a few songs on here that with a little better production could easily appear on a newer album.  Martsch’s voice sounds more or less the same, and the catchiness is already present (even if it sometimes buried under all kinds of things).  And of course, Marstch’s guitar skill is apparent throughout.  The album (released on the tiny C/Z label) also plays around a lot with experimental sounds and multitracking.  When listening closely, it gives the album a kind of lurching quality, with backing vocals and guitars at different levels of volume throughout the disc.

But “The First Song” sounds like a fully formed BtS song–the voice and guitar and catchy chorus are all there..  The only real difference is the presence of the organ in the background.  “Three Years Ago Today” feels a bit more slackery–it sounds very 90s (like the irony of the cover), which isn’t a bad thing.  The song switches between slow and fast and a completely new section later in the song.  “Revolution” opens with acoustic guitars and then an occasional really heavy electric guitar riff that seems to come from nowhere.  The end of the song is experimental with weird sounds and doubled voices and even a cough used as a kind of percussion.

“Shameful Dread” is an 8 minute song.   There’s a slow section, a fast section, a big noisy section and a coda that features the guys singing “la la la la la”.  Of course the most fun is that the song ends and then Nelson from The Simpsons says “ha ha” and a distorted kind of acoustic outro completes the last two minutes.

“Nowhere Nuthin’ Fuckup” is one of my favorite songs on the record.  There’s a sound in the background that is probably guitar but sounds like harbor seals barking.  I recently learned that the lyrics are an interpretation of the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin.”  They aren’t exactly the same but are very close for some verses.  The rest of the music is not VU at all.  In fact the chorus gets really loud and angular.  I love the way the guitars build and then stop dramatically.

“Get a Life” opens with a wild riff that reminds me of Modest Mouse (who cite BtS as an influence), but the song quickly settles down (with more multitracked voices).  I love how at around 4 minutes a big swath of noise takes over and it is resolved with a really catchy noisy end section.  “Built to Spill” starts out slow and quiet, and grows louder with a catchy chorus.  In the background there’s all kinds of noisy guitars and superfuzzed bass.

“Lie for a Lie” is pretty much a simple song with s constant riff running throughout.  The verses are catchy, but the middle section is just crazy–with snippets of guitars, out of tune piano, a cowbell and random guitar squawking and even shouts and screams throughout the “solo” section.  “Hazy” is a slow song with many a lot of soloing.  The disc ends with the nine minute “Built Too Long, Pts 1,2 and 3”  Part 1 is a slow rumbling take on a riff (with slide guitar and piano).  It last about 90 seconds before Part 2 comes in.  It has a big fuzzy bass (with a similar if not identical riff) and wailing guitar solos.  Over the course of its five or so minutes it get twisted and morphed in various bizarre ways.  With about 30 seconds left, Chuck D shouts “Bring that beat back” and the song returns, sort of, to the opening acoustic section.

While the album definitely has a lot of “immature” moments (and why shouldn’t the band have fun?) there’s a lot of really great stuff here.

btstix

[READ: September 26, 2015] Critical Insights: David Foster Wallace

It’s unlikely that a non-academic would read a book of critical insights about an author.  Of course, if you really like an author you might be persuaded to read some dry academic prose about that author’s work.  But as it turns out, this book is not dry at all.  In fact, I found it really enjoyable (well, all but one or two articles).

One of the things that makes a book like this enjoyable (and perhaps questionable in terms of honest scholarship) is that everyone who writes essays for this collection is basically a fan of DFW’s work.  (Who wants to spend years thoroughly researching an author only to say means things about him or her anyway?).  So while there are certainly criticisms, it’s not going to be a book that bashes the author.  This is of course good for the fan of DFW and brings a pleasant tone to the book overall.

For the most part the authors of this collection were good writers who avoided a lot of jargon and made compelling arguments about either the book in question or about how it connected to something else.  I didn’t realize until after I looked at the biographies of the authors that nearly everyone writing in this book was from England or Ireland.  I don’t think that makes any difference to anything but it was unexpected to have such an Anglocentric collection about such an American writer (although one of the essays in this book is about how DFW writes globally).

Philip Coleman is the editor and he write three more or less introductory pieces.  Then there are two primary sections: Critical Insights and Critical Essays. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 25, 2015] My Morning Jacket

2015-07-25 22.10.21I had made a list of bands that I really wanted to see.  My Morning Jacket was pretty near the top of it.  My friend Jay and I marveled over singer Jim James’ use of a cape (which sadly he did not wear at this show).  Of course, it wasn’t just the cape we wanted to see, it was the whole band.

So when they were announced to headline the XPNFest, I knew I had to get tickets (the fact that St. Vincent was co-headlining was a huge bonus).

While the crowd was good for St. Vincent, they were ecstatic for MMJ.  Everyone was on their feet the whole show.  And what a show.  The band played for 2 and a half hours, running through much of their new album as well as classics from their past few records.

I had heard that MMJ were a big time jam band, and indeed they were.  In fact, even though Neil Young did some amazing jamming and soloing during his recent set, this was the first real “jam band” show I’ve been to.  Where the band takes a song in different directions, wending through different moods and styles like the 20 minute “Deodato”–more on that later.

2015-07-25 23.27.05In fact, each song was extended by some impressive soloing.  Interestingly, Jim James took a number of solos that were just himself on stage.  And I felt like his solos weren’t really that impressive.  There was a bluesy one that was very cool and one or two others that were more textural than “impressive.”  It’s clear that lead guitarist Carl Broemel can solo amazingly, but he didn’t get any features, just wailing solos during the songs.

I was pretty excited that they started with “Off the Record” which had some pretty impressive jamming in the middle.  Jim James was wearing an awesome jacket with neon stripes all over it and a pair of sunglasses that he never removed.  It was 90 degrees out that day.  How did he stand it? (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 20, 2015] Modest Mouse

2015-07-20 21.06.16Just as I had seen Neil Young less than a year ago, so I had seen Modest Mouse less than a year ago.  The last show I saw with them was a sort of preview of the then unreleased new album.  Now the album is out and there’s a single from it and everything.  This show was announced very quickly and it was in the Levitt Pavillion at Steelstacks, a venue I didn’t know, but which I will certainly return to.

It was awesome being about seven or 8 people away from Isaac to really watch him go nuts.

Modest Mouse can be really catchy, but they are often dissonant and Brock is known for being prickly.  So, imagine starting off your show with the third from the last song from your new album.  And from there, Brock sang and raged and jumped around and was a total maniac.

He seemed to get shocked twice (from sweating a lot?–it was 85 degrees at night) and said “Did you see that?  That hurt so much!”  And man can he yell. (more…)

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