Technically, I’m retired from this sort of thing (“covering” shows and uploading a pile of videos to YouTube), but I couldn’t resist the temptation to do it one last time for some truly mind-bending guitar wizardry from an old friend. Sorry, Reeves — what I meant to say was a friend whom I’ve known for a long time.
Reeves Gabrels has an impressive pedigree. Originally based in Boston, in the 1980s and 1990s, he was in several stellar and highly-regarded bands, including Life on Earth, The Dark, Rubber Rodeo, Atom Said (thanks, lazyelvis, all my stuff is analog), Bentmen and Modern Farmer. Although people might be a little more familiar with his later collaborations, David Bowie (starting with the brilliant Tin Machine) and The Cure (of which he is currently the lead guitarist). But on this night, Reeves was bringing his imaginary friends to a tiny but ferocious little dive bar in New Haven, Connecticut called Cafe Nine.
Cafe Nine looks like a cozy neighborhood corner bar, and it indeed is that, but from what I understand, it’s also a well-known venue for some rather formidible bands. The evening began with local boys The Outer Side (Jeff Maleri, Paul de la Reza and Ryan Boudreau). They were an enlightened choice of support act for Reeves and friends, as their guitarist is quite impressive as well, flying all over his instrument. Their set was in two halves, the first one being a marvelous prog rock, King Crimson-esque voyage to the beyond, and the latter half a harder punk set courtesy of their other guitarist/bassist, who not coincidentally was wearing a Mission of Burma T-shirt.
Reeves and his imaginary band mates (not so imaginary actually — Kevin Hornback on bass guitar and Marc Pisapia on drums and backing vocals) came out onto the small stage and quickly proceeded to shred the place apart in front of a deeply appreciative audience. With awesome creative prowess, mind-numbing chops and an arsenal of magic little boxes, it was a kaleidoscopic journey through exotic aural soundscapes and tightly wound rock tracks on steroids. Hornback and Brown kept an incredibly tight ship while Gabrels galloped and meandered all over the place. They played a good selection of Reeves’ solo and Imaginary Friends songs, including tracks from their self-titled album. They even played an old Tin Machine favorite, “Bus Stop,” and an unreleased Modern Farmer song, in honor of fellow farmer Jamie Rubin, who was in the audience.
It was a great honor to see these world-class musicians at the height of their powers in such an intimate, casual setting.
I suppose what threw me off was the billing. The advertisements said “solo performance by Andrew W.K.” rather than his full band. But leave it to Mr. W.K. to require nothing more than a Roland keyboard, a few microphones and a straight man in the form of someone known only as “Krenshaw” to bring the party.
Clearly this was going to be a very different affair from the last time I saw him — a collaborative performance at a civilized Brookline theater with the uber-classy Calder Quartet. Though the headbangers were in full attendance that evening, they were joined by an equal portion of genuinely baffled symphony subscribers, in unfamiliar if not hostile territory. Tonight, I was on their turf.
In addition to being somewhat of an Andrew W.K. virgin, it was also my first time at Cuisine en Locale, a Somerville-based caterer specializing in (quite delicious) locally sourced foods. As it happens they’re also a bar, restaurant and concert venue. At first, I thought the show was to be upstairs in their cozy ONCE Lounge, but was confused by the solitary drum set on the small dance floor. As it happened, the show was downstairs in the ballroom. In retrospect, it was an incongruous sort of venue for what was to transpire, amidst its elegant carpet, dance floor and chandeliers. But for this unique triple-band lineup, presented by the Keynote Company, it felt just like home.
Mike Woo’s Raging Bone was virile and relentless, pounding away hard and keeping it up through a panting and breathless set. This exceptionally hard-rocking hardcore quintet is paradoxically from the North Shore, but don’t let that fool you. And don’t think that they’re all muscle and no method. Beneath that hard, brute force exterior is some mighty fine skill.
After the furious pace of the Raging Bone, CMB (Casey Desmond’s latest project) felt like an exotic hand-rolled smoke in a silver and tortoise shell cigarette holder, savored while lounging on a red velvet divan. She was exquisite. Well-known among the Boston music community and progeny of local music legends Bill and Katherine Desmond, Desmond is a real life goddess. She took us all on a magic carpet ride to distant galaxies. A woman armed with an ethereal voice, a Mac laptop and a bunch of twiddly knobs is a dangerous weapon indeed.
Finally, it was time for the main attraction. The festivities began with a motivational warm-up, a sort of rock ‘n’ roll party pep rally. A siren wails and the police are called in to investigate. A party is about to begin, and we’re all invited.
“Tonight is about all of the positive feelings. Tonight, all of the people here are all friends. Tonight is about having the best night of your life.”
When Andrew bounces in, all enthusiasm and smiles and biceps, dressed head to toe in white like a maniacal Mr. Clean, delirium ensues and all bets are off. From the opening notes of “It’s Time To Party,” we all become a violently churning singular living organism, throbbing and pulsating with life force. W.K. and his wing-man Krenshaw, more an insane asylum court jester than a backup singer, roughhouse their way through classics and massive audience favorites from I Get Wet.
It was an exhilarating, exhausting and life-affirming aerobic exercise — a full mind, body, soul and ears workout. The sound system, suitable for a room ten times the size of this 300 capacity ballroom, bellowed out W.K. and Krenshaw’s athletic antics while the crowd barked, brayed and cheered in appreciative response.
Three or four songs in, it was fast becoming too much of a good thing, and my eyes darted madly around me, wondering if anyone knew the safeword.
I decided to move — no, actually I physically hurled myself to the left, letting the circular motion of the human whirlpool eventually deposit me at a breathable distance. Photographic evidence proved difficult if not impossible under such circumstances, but video footage tells the story. Mixed into the breathless collection of powerful party anthems was their cover of his friend Aleister X’s “Bangers and Beans.”
Andrew W.K. is one of a kind, a genuinely unique entertainer (and some might even say educator). One third hardcore headbanger, one third motivational speaker (brilliantly demonstrated in this recent article of his Village Voice column) and, though it’s not heralded as it should be, one third extremely accomplished and classically trained pianist.
Indeed, I could have quite happily listened to Mr. W.K.’s mad scientist ministrations on that Roland synth for hours. Now that’s a party.
And just in case there was any confusion about where they were performing this evening, W.K. altered the lyrics to “I Love NYC” in loving tribute to this special occasion, to the delight of everyone in attendance.
It was a crazy and rambunctious scene, but a supportive one. When one of the many crowd surfers had a rough landing near me, everyone rushed to his aid. He was fine. Adrenaline and endorphins, raucousness and rock ‘n’ roll — the perfect, maybe even the only, way to spend a Friday night.
If all this sounds like your idea of a good time, I have great news for you. Andrew W.K. is about to embark on a big tour which will comprise solo appearances like Somerville, full band extravaganzas at festivals and even a few lectures.
Check it out! And Party Hard!
Andrew W.K. Tour
8/30 Denver, CO – National Western Complex – Riot Fest (full band)
9/2 Fargo, ND – The Aquarium (Dempseys Upstairs) (solo)
9/3 Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock Social Club (solo)
9/5 Kalamazoo, MI – Audiotree Music Festival (full band)
9/6 New Albany, IN – The Rustic Frog, Befuddled Festival (solo)
9/7 Columbia, MO – Rose Music Hall (solo)
9/9 Nashville, TN – Exit In (solo)
9/10 Charlotte, NC – Neighborhood Theater (solo)
9/11 Columbus, OH – A&R Music Bar (solo)
9/13 Chicago, IL – Douglas Park – Riot Fest (full band)
9/15 Birmingham, AL – Saturn (solo)
9/16 Atlanta, GA – Terminal West (solo)
9/18 Toledo, OH – Frankies (solo)
9/20 Toronto, ONT, Canada – Downsview Park – Riot Fest (full band)
10/10 Los Angeles, CA – Shrine Expo Hall & Grounds (solo)
10/12 Edmonton, AB, Canada – The Starlite Room (solo)
10/13 Calgary, AB, Canada – Nite Owl (solo)
10/15 Winnipeg, MB, Canada – Pyramid Cabaret (solo)
10/17 Des Moines, IA – Vaudeville Mews (solo)
10/17 Des Moines, IA – Iowa Historical Building (lecture)
11/1 Gainesville, FL – Lot 10 – FEST 14 (full band)
11/8 Austin, TX – Fun Fun Fun Fest (lecture)
This is one of my infamous “long after the fact” reviews (Febuary 26, as it happens), but I felt it deserved some mention. For an atomic blasting off of cobwebs formed over a long hard winter, there was no finer lineup. The show was headlined by the Celtic punk band of gypsies, Flogging Molly. You’d be hard pressed to find a more appropriate ensemble to heat up a cold Boston night. Not being at all familiar with them (apart from from a misinformed idea of merely a drunken and rowdy Irish rock band), I was very pleasantly surprised. Don’t get me wrong, they are a rowdy Irish rock band, but they’re a whole lot more than just that, encompassing traditional Celtic instruments, noble values and awareness of sociopolitical issues — proud champions of the working man (and woman). No disrespect to the capacity crowd of drunken revelers who playfully moshed, brawled and toasted each other with hoisted drinks throughout the evening, but I’d love to see these guys do a quiet acoustic set sometime, with their banjo and bodhran, uilleann pipes, violin, accordion and tin whistle. They’re truly a class act.
The Drowning Men were the reason I came into town. I’ve loved these guys for a few years now. It was an inspired pairing of kindred spirits, apart from the fact that they’re on Flogging Molly’s own label, Borstal Beat Records. These bands work phenomenally well together. What more can I say about The Drowning Men that I haven’t said before? Their music is the sonic equivalent of an adventurous and slightly askew ocean voyage aboard a wayward schooner. By the end, you’re left feeling intoxicated, exhilarated, satiated… and a little dizzy. Suffice it to say they most certainly delivered this night.
Opening the evening was Lenny Lashley’s Gang Of One (previously the lead singer and guitarist of Boston punk band Darkbuster). He was great as well, performing no-nonsense, heartfelt music that appealed to this hometown crowd.
I ask a lot from my music. A strong beat, something tuneful or catchy, isn’t enough for me. It’s not enough to hold my attention, and it’s not enough to inspire me to write. There has to be philosophical inquiry, social observation, searching, or struggling, scathing commentary, yearning, mourning, hunger. If it doesn’t provide me with answers, at the very least it has to ask the right questions. Whether it does this in words, in music, or both, I really don’t care. But it has to do something.
I don’t know if Lorde can be trusted. Is she the youngest philosopher of our time, or a savvy business woman light-years beyond her earthling age? In either scenario, if she indeed is the author of these coming of awareness tales, precociously making her social observations and spewing her venom towards mainstream culture while starkly framed by the skeletal remains of modern tribal electronica, then she’s a genius.
A Los Angeles story of madness and awakening, in twelve parts
The Airborne Toxic Event with the Pacific Symphony at the Pacific Amphitheatre
Part X: Impressions of Costa Mesa, missteps at Laguna Beach and the Wavelength Festival with Delta Spirit and The Airborne Toxic Event
Driving around Costa Mesa, looking for a decent vegetarian breakfast, it occurred to me how much the city is like a sprawling Simsbury, Connecticut — or, for you Bostonians, perhaps Newton. There were the endless upscale shopping centers, pristine landscaping and not a single non-white person to be seen at the outdoor yuppie-style cafe I finally came across in one of the many fancy yet nondescript strip malls. Even the name was vaguely elitist: Haute Cakes. Perfect. Two haute couture women were sitting next to me, chattering non-stop, while their equally stuffy and primped little dog wound itself around my leg. The food was good but no match for the ‘Angel’s Mess’ at Millie’s in Silver Lake, which was life-affirming.
I was thinking about the importance of the show I would be seeing that night. I’d been a fan of The Airborne Toxic Event since 2008, and though they’ve performed with an orchestra before, this was the first time they’d done so in the Los Angeles area. It was part of the Wavelength Festival, and they’d be appearing with the 85-piece Pacific Symphony at the state-of-the-art Pacific Amphitheatre. Fellow Angelinos Delta Spirit, a marvelous band and headliner in their own right, was opening for them. Over the five years I’ve known Airborne, they’ve continuously raised their game. They’ve become more accomplished musicians and performers, and their musical arrangements, particularly for the orchestral shows, ever more impressive. I can’t imagine how much time and energy it takes to work out parts for 85 additional players. Add to this the majesty of performing in a world-class amphitheatre with a world-class symphony orchestra, in front of what most certainly would be Southern California’s finest in terms of sophisticated music aficionados. All of that was bound to add up to a beautiful experience, right?
A Los Angeles story of madness and awakening, in twelve parts
Joey Siara at the final Henry Clay People show at the Echoplex during Echo Park Rising
Part V: Echo Park Rising, An Evening at the Echoplex
On this first evening of Echo Park Rising, it was all about The Henry Clay People. This was a band I first discovered in 2009 when they toured with The Airborne Toxic Event. Actually, it was before that, early on in 2008, as I was bouncing around from band page to band page on MySpace (remember MySpace?). If there was any band that captured the feeling of good ol’ classic rock ‘n’ roll and that careening out of control, celebratory and reckless spirit, it was HCP. Sadly, theirs was another one of those “almost but not quite” success stories. Here was a band that really seemed poised for at least the semi-big time, especially after major tours with Airborne and Silversun Pickups. But it didn’t happen as much nor as quickly as it needed to happen, and other important life events had to take precedence. So here we had their final performance, at Echo Park Rising, and Echo Park did indeed rise to the occasion.
Daren Taylor, Mikel Jollett and Noah Harmon of The Airborne Toxic Event at Boston Calling
Despite it being a rather corporate affair and priced out of the reach of many of this city’s music fans, the Boston Calling Festival did a lot of things right, as large outdoor concerts go. They made an effort to include two more local bands and support a Boston charity through their Sonicbids contest, with a portion of proceeds from the submission fee donated to Boston Children’s Hospital (VIVA VIVA! played on Saturday and Royal Teeth on Sunday). Though they served alcohol (naturally), they did so in a special “beer garden” set away from the stages, which I think contributed to the fact that most of those close to the music were there for the music, and not just to get shitfaced with their friends. This was no small thing, and was greatly appreciated. The downtown setting was unique, convenient and was I’m sure a great sales boost to local businesses. There were a few problems at the start (mostly to do with what was and wasn’t allowed on site and consistency between various entities), but as they sorted out the stage placement, I’m sure they can deal with this as well. I still believe the cost is prohibitive, considering that festivals elsewhere with more performers and stages are similarly priced. I’m disheartened by all shows that cost more than $20-25, but the whole “concert-going elite” subject is a much larger topic.
Boston Calling, City Hall Plaza, at high noon.
People begin to gather at the blue stage.
Onto the music, which was absolutely superb. They wisely divided up the bands between the more “indie rock” types and the “dance/hip-hop/electro” types, which made sense and helped those who could only afford to go one day. I planted myself in front of the blue stage for most of the day, so my photos are of those bands. Everyone was clearly energized by the audience, which was among the best I’ve seen at something like this. Extremely engaged, friendly, supportive… just great. I’m sure this might not have been the case further back or as the night wore on, but my experience was very positive, and typically I’m not a lover of large music events, far preferring the small sweaty (more intimate) club scene. But I have to say, this was a lovely day. Onto the photos and my personal favorites.
If you’re a wannabe hippie like me who didn’t go to Woodstock because you were too young — or if you were at Woodstock and have been wondering where all the East Coast hippies went, most of them were at the glorious NINES Festival in Devens, Massachusetts earlier this month. Although an embarrassing three weeks have elapsed, warm and strong remembrances of a pleasant and peaceful day in the sun with a truly stellar musical line-up, beautifully organized event and super-cool vibe is still putting a big smile on my face. This was the first year for this newly-minted festival that was presented by 3Rivers Arts and Great Northeast Productions, Inc., and I hope it’s just the first of a many-year tradition. If these fine folks can be accused of anything, it’s being overly ambitious for their first time out — but those lucky enough to be in attendance benefited from being at the best-kept secret in Massachusetts that weekend.
In my attempt to tell the story of a bleary and beautiful three days of travel underscored by the music of The Airborne Toxic Event, it occurs to me that the backdrops were dramatically different and provided a glimpse into three distinct East Coast ecosystems. What links them all together is a relatively new emergence of a rabidly devoted — and slowly growing — community of fans. The beautifully written and exquisitely performed new songs from Such Hot Blood have been embraced like dear old friends and added to the communal singalong repertoire in this rock ‘n’ roll moveable feast.
This is to be a tale about an epic performance in a big hall, and those little things that most people will never notice. The massive preparation and myriad of minute details of a touring rock ‘n’ roll band, and the inexplicable magic of people reaching a place of connection in a piece of music.
A Grand Production
It’s obvious that a lot of forethought goes into The Airborne Toxic Event’s live shows. There’s the planning of the set list, which on this current tour to support their new release, Such Hot Blood, seems to mutate not only to keep things fresh for the band and for the “frequent flyers” in the audience, but also to reflect particular local favorites and tweeted requests as they come along. Additionally, set lists are adjusted “on the fly” to accommodate mood shifts and atmospheric changes in the venue. Seriously. You rarely if ever see that level of attentiveness on the part of a touring musician. For a full stage performance like the House of Blues in Boston, there’s the stage set, which for the last few tours has been minimalist but incorporating the emotionally-charged, instantly recognizable symbols from their debut album. Those leafless winter trees and the injured bird who flies bravely on despite being pierced through by one of life’s arrows are a metaphor for the band’s central theme of enduring hardship and dancing through disaster. There’s even synchronized lighting, which helps turn a cool rock show into musical theater, complementing the orchestral arrangements and poetic lyrics and visuals. All of it comes together to bring the audience along on an emotional journey. Each song is a mini soundtrack unto itself for a loosely choreographed act of a play where band members move between instruments, interacting with the fans and with each other. Nothing less would be fitting to introduce such a dramatic and emotional album.