Best Music Poll concert, City Hall Plaza, Boston - August 1, 2009

A beautiful day for The Best Music Poll Concert @ City Hall Plaza.

After the billowing gray skies and torrential downpours of Friday, it was a joy to wake up to a perfect sunny day. Especially considering the next two Airborne shows were at City Hall Plaza in Boston, and some street in downtown Providence. My mom’s condition was improving but not enough to get her home, so I visited with her and my dad at the hospital for a while before I headed back to Boston.

The day before I received an email from two friends I had met at the Fratellis/Airborne show at Roseland in New York City back in March [shout out to Matt and Drew – yeah!!]. They’re from Pennsylvania (not Philly either, from the “god knows where” inland area), and had driven in for the show. Apart from us all losing about 5 lbs. from heat prostration at that steamy gig, they arrived as Fratellis fans and left as Airborne Tox devotees (this was happening a lot). The email read “we’re coming to the Boston show!”, and coordinating our journey via cell phones, we found ourselves at one point on different sections of the Mass Pike in a spacey “road race” towards downtown Boston. By some bizarre circumstance of perfect timing, we ended up by chance on the same Green Line train at Park Street station.

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The day was magnificent, the mood happy and vibrant. Early arrivals had staked out places in front of the stage and on the plaza steps, making for a low-key outdoor theater (they often have free concerts here, with the historic buildings of Government Center as a dramatic backdrop).

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We arrived late for Ra Ra Riot (from Syracuse NY), so unfortunately only caught the last few songs of their set, but they have a really nice dreamy sound, complete with cello and violin. They’ve been around since 2006, and the band consists of vocalist Wes Miles, bassist Mathieu Santos, guitarist Milo Bonacci, cellist Alexandra Lawn, violinist Rebecca Zeller, and drummer Gabriel Duquette. I will definitely be purchasing their CD (The Rhumb Line, 2008) and investigating further.

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Hometown favorites Passion Pit were up next. They had just won Best Local Act, Best Local Album, Best Male Vocalist in Boston, and Best Song (“The Reeling”), so needless to say, people were looking forward to seeing them. (from Wikipedia): “Passion Pit is an American electronic band from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Formed in 2007, the group consists of Michael Angelakos (lead vocals/keyboards), Ian Hultquist (keyboards), Ayad Al Adhamy (synth/samples), Jeff Apruzzese (bass) and Nate Donmoyer (drums).” Um, yes. I happened to catch them on this excellent ABC News show called “Amplified” back in June, which included an interview and profile of the band. Who had any idea ABC News even did a show like this? They have some pretty awesome bands on there as well (Moby, St. Vincent, The Thermals, Phoenix – just to name a few), so you should definitely check it out.

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So, Passion Pit. If you’re not familiar with them, I would describe their sound as electro-synth-soul-pop. Or something like that. Now here’s a situation that I find myself in sometimes. They’re great musicians, and it’s got that ’80s charm for the kids who were just being born then (or not even). And, though I tend to be quite nostalgic for decent electronic dance music, I guess these days I’m veering towards a more stripped down and basic sound with heavy lyrical focus. I did jot down “nice keyboards”, and indeed they were. Having said all that, the real problem I have with this band are the falsetto vocals (as good as Michael Angelakos’ vocals are). Just not my thing, I’m afraid. And yes, it is a personal problem, and should in no way affect anyone’s opinion of the band, and obviously won’t, since they’re hugely popular and have a massive tour of festivals here and in Europe lined up. Here’s a nice Rolling Stone review of their debut album “Manners”.

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The next band up, Metric, were most certainly “my thing”, especially this acoustic incarnation of it (the drummer had just become a father and understandably wanted to be with his family). So performing today (and at the Providence block party the next day) were Emily Haines on piano, vocals and tambourine; and James Shaw on acoustic guitar (who also perform with Broken Social Scene). Gorgeous. A great first date and chance to get to know them; to really hear their music and lyrics. I was familiar only with one song, the massive radio hit “Help I’m Alive” (which happens to be fantastic and quite infectious). Emily’s sweet, pretty vocals blended so nicely with the piano and guitar.

I’m not suicidal, I just can’t get out of bed

I drift into a deep fog, lost where I forgot to

Hold it, I can feel you most when I’m alone

I can feel your ghost when I’m alone

– Satellite Mind

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They also performed a wonderful cover of Pink Floyd’s shiver-inducing “Nobody Home”, which made me a little teary (an acoustic version of this is available as a bonus track with their most recent album “Fantasies”). The only downside to their performance was that since they were the third band on, people were by then pretty well lubricated. Lucky me, I happened to be next to some guy who said he was covering the show for a blog, and I won’t do him the honor of naming it, ’cause during an especially lovely part of their set, he yelled out something quite stupid and obscene. If you were at the show (and seriously, I mean if you were any one of the estimated 40,000 people there that day), you’ll know what he said so I don’t have to repeat it). Not the best venue for a quiet acoustic set. They were more politely and enthusiastically received in Providence the next day, probably due to a much smaller audience.

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Next up was Gaslight Anthem, a perfect choice for the rapidly-growing-rowdy crowd. Completely unfamiliar with Gaslight Anthem (except that I’ve “heard of them”), they really impressed me with their driving, forceful rock – noisy and angry, but I sensed with a lyrical sophistication, though I’d have to sit down with words to the songs to confirm that. Kinda like some cool punkish Brit or Scottish band (though they’re from New Jersey) mixed with Bruce Springsteen (ok, so that makes sense). Ok, so I lied – I have heard “The ’59 Sound” before. Decent track, from their second and most recent album of the same name. Brian Fallon – vocals and guitar, Alex Rosamilia – guitar, Alex Levine – bass, and Benny Horowitz – drums.

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Also of note: record number of crowd surfers I’ve seen in a single show. Ever. I lost count, but it must have been at least 15 of ’em. All of which were were carried up to the front barrier, pulled over by security guards, and then (I presume) escorted out. Why they didn’t insist people move them sideways instead of forward, seeing each preceding person get ejected… I don’t know. Maybe it was worth it, for those 15 seconds of fame? So um, yes, Gaslight Anthem was definitely a crowd favorite.

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Drew & Matt getting *really keyed up* just before Airborne came on

Drew & Matt getting *really keyed up* just before Airborne came on

Ahhh… Airborne. A much nicer “venue” than Hartford’s Webster Theatre and infinitely better sound, I was really looking forward to this, and I wasn’t disappointed.

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To awesome audience response and a massive sustained sing-a-long, they performed a similar set to Hartford though I think a bit shorter, as Gaslight Anthem went a bit over their time limit. And I have no explanation of why I don’t have at least a frantically scribbled set list, except that I remember remarking to Matt and Drew afterward that I “went away somewhere”. Incredible.

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I know I was swept up in emotion from the crowd’s reaction. WFNX has been so incredibly supportive of the band; one of the first radio stations in the country, I believe, to start playing their music. And because of that, they’ve developed an enormous following here, which is pretty wonderful. In addition to that, musically everything sounded so fantastic at City Hall Plaza. You don’t always get great sound quality at a club, so it’s often more just a chance to party with the band and dance and go crazy, rather than be able to attentively listen, clearly hear musical nuances and lyrics like you would at a theater performance. But this was different. And now I realize this was the first time I had ever seen them out of doors. A unique experience and one I would absolutely recommend, if at all possible.

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The order of songs was a bit different, and I was a little surprised when “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” appeared mid-set. As always, the audience erupted at the opening chords. Unlike as always, when Anna ventured out over the barrier, the crowd started by lifting her straight up in the air and I was thinking she was especially brave to go for her surf in that crowd, especially after witnessing the mayhem during Gaslight Anthem’s set. Mikel, meanwhile, decided he was going to personally inspect the soundness of the stage scaffolding, and climbed something like 30 feet in the air, to massive cheering. Coming down, he casually said, “I’m glad I didn’t die.” Uh… yeah. Us too.

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From my video clips, I know they started with “Wishing Well”, that “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” followed “Something New”, and that Mikel asked “Where are we going drinking after this?” just before they performed “This Losing”. “Sometime Around Midnight” followed just or soon after, and then (or soon after that), “All I Ever Wanted”. They must have played “Missy”, and I’m pretty certain they closed with “Innocence”. But if someone can enlighten me as to the complete set list, I’d be greatly appreciative.

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The Bravery were the headliners, and as they set up for them, we noticed at least one of Airborne Tox’s amps still on stage, and a stage crew guy tuning up and testing Steven’s guitar, so we realized at least Steven would be joining them at some point. We stayed for the first part of their set (which sounded really great, and the audience absolutely loved them) before heading over to the F.Y.E. tent where Airborne would be doing a “meet & greet” and signing autographs, so we could say a quick hello.

The Bravery

I’m somewhat familiar with The Bravery‘s music, especially the song “Believe”, which reached #4 in Billboard’s Modern Rock chart as the one of the singles from their 2007 release “The Sun and the Moon”. It was a situation of hearing them on the radio a few years ago, forgetting about them, and then looking them up again when I realized they’re managed by Pete Galli, who also manages Airborne. And then having that “oh yeah…” moment. So pretty cool that they would share a bill together.

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Hailing from New York, there’s Sam Endicott on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Michael Zakarin on lead guitar, John Conway on keyboards, Mike Hindert on bass, and Anthony Burulcich on drums (and everyone on backing vocals). They’re currently working on their third album, due out in the fall.

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Anna, Noah and Steven joined The Bravery onstage during their encore, for a surprise rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”. I wouldn’t have guessed that song in a million years! They were also joined by WFNX’s Paul Driscoll as “guest drummer”. I learned that night that they received their very first radio airplay on Paul’s ‘Alter Ego’ show. How cool! (you can read more about their story on their Wikipedia page).

Posing for photos. Nice hat.

Posing for photos. Nice hat.

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Wow… what a day (and evening). *Thank you* to all the great bands for such a magnificent time!

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Ouch! Daren shows off his twisted ankle from Tokyo

Ouch! Daren shows off his twisted ankle from Tokyo - fortunately not his bass drum foot, but still, what a pain... literally!

All photos up on Flickr

Rest of video up on YouTube

Mikel is presented with a large selection of CDs and DVDs for the long tour ahead.

Mikel is presented with a large selection of CDs and DVDs for the long tour ahead.

Boston Phoenix coverage: Review and photos | Official and Fan Photos & Video

Note: In my reviews, I’ll sometimes include photos with fans that I think are especially nice. If you see yourself in one of these and you’d like it removed, please let me know, and I’ll do so immediately. Alternately, I’d be happy to send you the much larger version.

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