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After the Hartford madness (which actually turned out perfectly, considering) and the all-day (and night) outdoor bash at City Hall Plaza in Boston, I woke up Sunday feeling quite crispy. And this is without any alcohol consumption, mind you. As I tried to organize myself for the hour+ drive down to Providence, I felt a new understanding and appreciation of the daily mechanics of this constant touring schedule, and admiration of Airborne’s, well… stamina.

As I’ve done pretty exhaustive (and exhausting) reports of Hartford and Boston, I’ll try something a bit different for this last one, and will just touch on the salient points of the show. Or at least try to.

The Venue and The Occasion. WBRU Summer Concert Series/McFadden’s Block Party, downtown Providence. Tom Morello, Metric, Cage The Elephant, and The Airborne Toxic Event. It was something of a challenge trying to negotiate the city’s one-way streets (and I pulled some traffic moves one should never try at home), but once I was there, it was a perfectly relaxed, low-key affair with a wonderful audience… and amazingly, no rain!

A great crowd and amazingly, no rain

Tom Morello – Wow. Major revelation, as I wasn’t very familiar with his bands, Audioslave and Rage Against The Machine (I know, I know). Suffice it to say, he completely blew me away. Powerful, political, great acoustic guitar and wonderful voice (really wonderful), and an absolutely commanding presence. He mentioned being at the Newport Folk Festival, and I think now that must have really been something. Someone like that can jolt people out of complacency and bring confrontation and directness back to folk music where it rightfully belongs.

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I have in my notes “f*cking AMAZING” (with a box drawn around it), and that pretty much sums up my reaction to him. He began his set with “One Man Revolution”, which I know I’ve heard before but I can’t recall where. Incredible. He played a mix of his own solo “Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman” material, plus a few tracks from Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave as well, I believe – much to the delight of some obviously hardcore fans of his up front who were really keyed-up to see him in such a “venue” (a block party in a downtown Providence parking lot; maybe 2,000 people at most). He also performed “Whatever It Takes”, “House Gone Up In Flames”, and this hilarious rap about a protest by Rage Against The Machine at one year’s Lollapalooza festival.

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He closed his set with an audience sing-a-long to an amazing cover of the Woody Guthrie classic “This Land Is Your Land” (complete with two rarely-heard verses). His two upcoming shows are at the Epicenter Music Festival in Pomona CA, August 22, and Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in San Francisco, August 29. His latest release is The Fabled City (2008).

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Definitely check this guy out. You won’t be sorry.

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Metric (acoustic). I had the great pleasure of seeing the duo of Emily Haines and James Shaw perform Metric songs acoustically at the Best Music Poll show in Boston the day before (drummer Joules Scott Key just had a baby daughter). They were once again marvelous, and as it was a smaller audience, the quiet acoustic songs seemed to go over much better.

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They have shows coming up in Milwaukee, WI (The Rave/Eagles Club on August 18), Hasslet, Belgium (Pukkelpop Festival, August 21), Lowlands Festival in the Netherlands (August 23), Picture House in Edinburgh, Scotland (August 25), Leeds Festival (August 28) and Reading Festival (August 29). If you purchase their new album, Fantasies, from the ilovemetric.com store, it includes two exclusive acoustic bonus tracks (“Gimme Sympathy” and their wonderful cover of Pink Floyd’s “Nobody Home”).

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Cage The Elephant – Crazy punk rock shit! Seriously, not a weak band on this bill, and these guys were out of control and fantastic. Quite a pendulum swing, now that I think of it, from the forceful, literary protest music of Tom Morello, to the sweet sounds of acoustic Metric, and then these guys… good heavens. I was only familiar with their radio hit, “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked”, which, while it’s a great tune, isn’t really indicative of their unleashed, unhinged punk sound. I mean hell, it’s a bluegrass number, complete with dobro! And it sounded amazing in that Providence parking lot, as did their out-of-control stuff. From Bowling Green Kentucky, there’s a Southern rock sound to them also, but hard-edged. Really fun, and perfectly suited to the partying crowd.

Uncaged Elephant

Uncaged Elephant

Lead singer Matt Shultz is riveting, whether he’s belting it out onstage, offstage in the arms of the audience, or perched on a speaker. He’s truly a force of nature – crazed, reeling, whirling and ricocheting around nonstop, and it’s amazing I was able to get any photos of him that are actually in focus. Great stuff.

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Matt Schultz, vocals; Brad Shultz, guitar; Jared Champion, drums and percussion; Daniel Ticheor, bass and vocals; Lincoln Parish, lead guitar. Upcoming tour dates: lots of them. Schuba’s in Chicago on Aug 8, Lollapalooza on Aug. 9, Minneapolis, then Canada (Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver), Eugene Oregon… See their MySpace for full schedule. And check out their self-titled debut album.

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Airborne: The Soundcheck. My guess is that they didn’t get one, or that things changed drastically during the afternoon. Because their guitar tech Justin was all over that stage, testing the guitars, adjusting microphones, etc. You could see how hard the guy works to get the sound as perfect as possible, despite what must be a ridiculously wide range of acoustical set-ups, from cavernous holes to, well, outdoor stages in parking lots. Just a word of appreciation after that lengthy sound check – which included checking Anna’s viola (that came last, and elicited one of the better crowd comments of the day – “Needs more rosin!”)

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A Word about Wishing Well. I just wanted to say how much I love the introduction they’ve been doing for a while now – everyone in the band participating in the slow build up with Mikel on keyboards, slowly growing into a cacophony of sound with Mikel banging away maniacally in pure abandon, which then dissolves into the familiar opening. Absolutely gorgeous.

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Goodbye Horses, written by William Garvey. I always thought this was a beautiful song, but recently learned of its true meaning (which is quite spiritual) due to the very sad passing of the man who wrote it, William Garvey. Mikel, being deeply affected by this news, as the song means a great deal to him and has become a staple of their set, wrote a beautiful eulogy.

All I Ever Wanted. Their most recent new song, and quite lovely. Apparently it’s based on a short story from a collection Mikel was reading during a rare break when they were in Germany back in April. Really looking forward to hearing this on their next album (and seeing the actual lyrics).

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The Missy/Smiths Medley. Wonderful newish arrangement with snippets of two brilliant songs by The Smiths, “Ask” and “Panic”. Awesome.

“Shyness is nice and shyness can stop you
from doing all the things in life you’d like to
Shyness is nice and shyness can stop you
from doing all the things in life you’d like to.

So, if there’s something you’d like to try
If there’s something you’d like to try
Ask me, I won’t say ‘No’, how could I?”

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Great audience reaction. This goes for the Hartford show as well, which was really powerful and exciting; everyone just adored them. And here too, in Providence. Hopefully this means more East Coast dates (in addition to Boston and NYC) on future tours!

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All photos up on Flickr | Rest of video up on YouTube

Photos from WBRU Blog

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Thank you so much, guys, for a beautiful weekend.

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