Friday, August 10, 2007

Concert Coverage - Volume 7: John Mayer

(As seen on MTV's You R Here)

John Mayer feels understood. And he rather be understood than sell a boatload of records, he told the crowd of thousands at the Sound Advice Amphitheatre Wednesday.

Mayer had the entire Florida audience hanging by every fret of his guitar, for a two-hour show heavy on his debut Room For Squares and his recent Continuum. The refreshingly older crowd sat for much of the show, but never hesitated to show appreciation for his chops on the ax.

The stage, designed to look like a grimey music bar set in an abandoned warehouse (think Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” video), evolved with the mood of the song being played: the show-opener, the political “Belief,” had a dull, mellow stage appearance, while fan-favorite “Neon” transformed the stage into a colorful palette of rapid movement.

On this last show of the Continuum tour, Mayer almost completely neglected 2003’s Heavier Things (only performing “Bigger Than My Body” from that album) and didn’t play some of his biggest hits (“Your Body Is A Wonderland” and “Daughters”), but his virtuosity shined on the newer bluesy material like “Gravity” and “I Don’t Trust Myself,” with his seven-piece band often extending the songs into jam-session-like solos.

But in the end, Mayer was the highlight of his show, even crashing opener Ben Folds’ set-closing performance of “Rocking The Suburbs.” Mayer (dressed like Folds, in a tight t-shirt and thick, nerdy glasses), along with some of his band members, played a game of musical chairs with Folds’ band, which started with Mayer on piano and Folds on bass, and ended with Folds on percussion and Mayer ripping a guitar solo behind his back, a la Hendrix.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Concert Coverage - Volume 6: Rock The Bells (Miami)

(As seen on MTV's You R Here)

On a night when Nas and Wu-Tang Clan headlined the biggest hip-hop event Miami had ever seen, it was mid-carders Mos Def and Talib Kweli, along with their special surprise guest Common, that stole the show and received the most ruckus (no pun intended) reaction from the crowd.

Talib Kweli entered the stage at Bayfront Park just as the scorching Miami sun began setting behind Dowtown’s high-rise-condominium-laden skyline. After performing his bigger solo hits “Move Something” and “The Blast,” along with songs from his upcoming Ear Drum like “Listen!!!” and “Hot Thing,” he was finally joined on stage by his partner-in-rhyme Mos Def for the fan favorite “Get By.”

With the energy already at a fever pitch, the duo launched into their Black Star collaborations “Definition” and “Supreme Supreme,” before Common ran out on stage. With the hip-hop-show-deprived Miami crowd of several thousand whipped into a frenzy, the trio jumped into “Respiration,” followed by Common’s new single, “The People.”

Unfortunately, when Kweli and Common left Mos Def onstage alone, the show quickly spiraled into a low point. Although Mos eventually tackled classics like “Mathematics,” “Ms. Fat Booty” and “Umi Says,” the anxious crowd was subjected to almost 40 minutes of what essentially was Mos Def’s iPod playlist of favorite songs, as he danced around and told us why he loved hip-hop. Many of the same people who excitedly sung along to every Black Star song just minutes before, began filing out for the concessions as Mos wasted away his set time.

Headliners Wu-Tang Clan closed the show with an hour-long set focused heavily on pre-1998 classics. Masta Killah was absent, but nobody seemed to mind as Gza and Ghostfacce filled in for him on the set-closing “Triumph.” Method Man, who was vocally displeased with last week’s New York Rock The Bells crowd several times, said Miami was the most energetic crowd on the tour thus far, and rewarded the crowd with a pseudo-encore performance of “Gravel Pit.”

The most touching moment of the set came when Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s son joined the Clan for a dedication performance of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.”

Nas gave a crowd-satisfying performance that touched all facets of his career. What he lacks in stage presence and breath-control, he makes up for with his deep catalogue of classic songs. He performed everything from smash singles (“If I Ruled The World,” “Made You Look”), to album cuts (“Shoot ‘Em Up,” “Black Republicans”), to songs that only die-hard fans would know (“Doo Rags,” “No Idea’s Original). It was a bit jarring to hear most of Illmatic, and “Oochie Walley” performed in the same set, but Nas rewarded his varying fan base handsomely.

Pharoahe Monch, along with half of his backing band (his guitarist and keyboardist were mysteriously absent) and his backup singers, provided an entertaining performance of newer songs like “Desire” and “Free,” along with his more well known “Oh No” and “My Life.” The set-closing “Simon Says” was the closest a hip-hop show could get to a mosh pit.

Immortal Technique, never one to shy away from his highly-political opinions, shied away from most of his usual Republican-bashing (maybe since Miami is a very Republican city), but chose to address social and racial issues that plague Hispanic people living in the United States. Joined on stage by Diabolic, his most energetic performance came with “Peruvian Cocaine.”

Philadelphian collective Jedi Mind Tricks received a surprisingly rousing response, with a set focusing heavily on their 2000 release Violent By Design.
Miami acts Fresh Air Fund, and ¡Mayday!, of mtvU “Groundhog Day” fame, opened. Scheduled performers David Banner and UGK both no-showed.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Concert Coverage - Volume 5: Rock The Bells (New York, Day 1)

(As seen on MTV and Okayplayer)

Under a full moon on a hazy, starless New York Saturday night, one giant red Zapatista star shined for tens of thousands of people as Rage Against The Machine played their second show since disbanding almost seven years ago.

With a simple “we’re Rage Against The Machine from Los Angeles, California,” frontman Zach De La Rocha launched into the final, fiery set of Rock The Bells’ first night in Randall’s Island, and second night of the tour.

De La Rocha and company barreled through songs like “Testify,” “Bulls On Parade,” and “Vietnow” without missing a note. The band played tight and cohesively, with Tom Morello pulling out all the stops and reminding us why he is one of music’s best guitarists, as his Che Guevara-clad amplifier stared back ominously.

On a day filled with strong political statements, it was De La Rocha’s choice words at the end of “Wake Up” that truly hit the hardest.

“[President Bush] should be brought to trial as a war criminal and should be hung and shot,” De La Rocha said in response to a Rage Against The Machine criticism in April by “those fascist motherfuckers at the Fox News Network.”

De La Rocha further criticized what he believes is the United States’ dependency on starting wars with helpless countries in order to remain a world superpower, and encouraged the audience to resist the American occupation of Iraq like the Iraqi youth have. The band ended its set with “Killing In The Name,” changing the second verse’s lyrics to “some of those that burn crosses are the same that hold office,” as the massive crowd morphed into a chaotic mosh pit.

Earlier in the evening, the eight living members of the Wu-Tang Clan united under a giant black and white Shaolin Temple banner to breeze through a concise hour-long set, consisting mostly of pre-1999 classics. The group paid tribute to the deceased Ol’ Dirty Bastard with energetic renditions of “Shame On A Nigga” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” The sea of thousands in attendance held their hands up in a “W” that blocked the stage for most, while everyone gladly sang along.

Method Man gave the wildest performance, often encouraging the audience to bring more energy, as he dove from the stage several times. Redman made a surprise appearance to assist Meth on “Da Rockwilder.”

After plowing through “C.R.E.A.M.,” “Protect Ya Neck,” and “Reunited,” the Clan left the stage with a full performance of the epic “Triumph,” reminding the fans that its new album, 8 Diagrams, will be out soon.

Cypress Hill entertained the crowd with hits like “How I Could Just Kill A Man,” “Latin Thugs” and “Insane In The Brain,” before closing out with “Rock Superstar.” At one point, during “I Wanna Get High,” a giant inflatable Buddha appeared onstage, as rapper B-Real lit up a joint and percussionist Bobo took a hit from a yard-long bong.

The Roots, joined onstage by Philadelphia-quartet Brass Heaven, delivered a tight set high on songs, and low on their typical covers and extended solos. Unfortunately, the crowd reception was lukewarm even to hits like “Next Movement” and “The Seed 2.0.” On the hottest day in New York since Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, most were impatiently anxious to see Rage Against The Machine and Wu-Tang.

Public Enemy, flanked by its band and S1W security team, began their highly political set with crowd-pleasers like “Bring the Noise” (with Scott Ian of Anthrax on guitar), “Welcome To The Terrordome” and “He Got Game,” with Chuck D often inserting his opinions about the Bush administration. Sadly, the set was derailed when Flavor Flav decided to steal the spotlight. With Chuck D and Professor Griff visibly upset, Flav hogged the microphone for the last 20 minutes, insisting on thanking the audience for his VH1 success, introducing his three children, and showing off a new drum beat.

Talib Kweli showed his reinvigorated stage prowess with “I Try,” “Too Late,” and “Move Something.” When Mos Def appeared for Black Star staples “Definition” and “Respiration,” their set peaked. From there, Mos Def spiraled downward with a disjointed and unorganized collection of freestyles and subpar recent material like “Ghetto Rock.” The crowd, already drained from heat exhaustion and dehydration, stopped caring. Only last-minute renditions of “Brown Skin Lady, “Ms. Fat Booty” and “Get By” were able to save Black Star’s set from the audience’s apathy.

The on-again, off-again duo EPMD, 19 years into their career, delivered a brief and uninspired performance of their early singles. But with 1992’s “Headbanger” being the newest song performed, the young audience responded with tepidity.

Pharoahe Monch, along with his new band, performed mostly newer material, including “Push,” and “Let’s Go.” Once again, the crowd was indifferent until he played his biggest singles, “My Life” and “Simon Says,” which seemingly awoke the dead as many jumped up and down.

Peruvian MC Immortal Technique, joined onstage by Poisen Pen, Pumpkinhead, Diabolic and PackFM, rushed through “Peruvian Cocaine” and “Industrial Revolution,” often voicing his leftist political beliefs regarding President Bush, and the effect the American government has on Central and South American countries. He concluded the set with his controversial song “Bin Laden.”

Jedi Mind Tricks, the first act to perform, received an atypically excited reaction from the eager, early-arriving crowd. Scheduled opener David Banner was a no-show.

Rapper Supernatural and beatboxer Rahzel were the between-set entertainment, and appropriately kicked the entire show off with an improvised performance of LLCoolJ’s “Rock The Bells.”

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Concert Coverage - Volume 4: Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy was unafraid Saturday in West Palm Beach to address a recent scuffle bassist Pete Wentz had with a fan. In fact, the group responded with a humorous cover of “Don’t Matter,” the recent single by Akon, who’s had his fair share of recent concert drama.

But besides an energetic and vivid cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” which helped show the true vocal talent of underrated lead singer Patrick Stump, Fall Out Boy sound like a poor cover band of themselves. The already basic melodies found on their studio recordings are further dumbed down for the live performance, even though the thousands in attendance at the Sound Advice Amphitheatre didn’t seem to mind.

Focusing mostly on its recent album, Infinity On High, the band had total control of the crowd throughout their regular set, with songs like “Thriller,” “Sugar, We’re Going Down,” “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race,” and “Golden,” which was performed solo by Patrick Stump on keyboard. The extended encore drew even more excitement, with “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs” and “Dance, Dance” bringing the crowd to a feverish pitch. Unfortunately, “One & Only,” an album cut from Timbaland’s recent Shock Value, went completely unrecognized by the majority in attendance.

The opening acts for the Honda Civic Tour included +44, which did a rousing rendition of Blink 182’s “Rock Show, Fall Out Boy labelmates The Academy Is and Cobra Starship, and misplaced Houston rapper Paul Wall.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Concert Coverage - Volume 3: Stephen and Damian Marley

Marley Fest passed in Miami in March, but it was essentially repeated Tuesday night at Studio A downtown.

As part of its Secret Show program, presented Stephen Marley and his half-brother Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley in a rousing two-hour performance backed by their six-piece band, two back-up singers, a bearer of the Ethiopian flag, and Stephen’s toddler son brandishing his own diminutive flag.

The set served primarily to promote Stephen’s new album, Mind Control, but also featured several cuts from Damian’s Welcome To Jamrock, in addition to a handful of Bob Marley covers, including “No Woman, No Cry” and “Buffalo Soldier.”

Damian’s energetic raps on “Pimpa’s Paradise,” “All Night” and “Traffic Jam” were the perfect balance to Stephen’s mellow singing, which has an uncanny resemblance to his father’s. Meanwhile, former Lost Boyz frontman Mr. Cheeks jumped on stage for a performance of “Iron Bars” that captivated the small club’s crowd of about 600.

Nothing, though, would compare to the crowd’s deafening response as Damian and Stephen ran through “Welcome To Jamrock,” immediately followed by brother Ziggy Marley joining them onstage to cover their father’s “Could You Be Loved” to close the set.

The encore failed to live up to the set’s previous climax, but it featured Stephen’s hypnotizing percussion playing and singing on “Inna Di Red,” and a show-ending performance of Bob Marley’s “Exodus” blended with Damian’s “Move.”

The Marleys put on a hell of a show, one that lives up to their father’s legendary performances.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Concert Coverage - Volume 2: Bloc Party

It’s not very often when one sees converse-wearing, hoodie-clad indie kids with Tony Montana accents, but that’s the type of crowd Bloc Party draws in South Florida.

The British rockers played to a crowd of about 3,000 at the Pompano Beach Amphitheatre Sunday, performing a fair blend of material from their two albums, Silent Alarm and A Weekend In The City.

The material from their debut album, which is more energetic and danceable, translated better in the live environments, with the definite highlights being lead singer Kele Okereke’s crowd visit during “Like Eating Glass,” the melancholy performance of “So Here We Are,” and the collective crowd bounce of “This Modern Love.”

Their current single “I Still Remember” was played very early in the set, while bassist Gordon Moakes played a xylophone for a handful of songs, including “Waiting For The 7.18.”

After a relatively short set of less than an hour, the band left the stage as rain began pouring on the audience, while stagehands quickly assembled a mirror image drum-kit on the drum riser (including the text “YTRAP COLB” on the kick-drum). But after a three song encore, it quickly became apparent that the second drum kit wouldn’t be used for an intricate drum solo or impressive display of backwards-playing. Instead, it was just a victim of Russell Lissack’s projectile guitar at show’s end.

And thus concluded a satisfactory show, but one that failed to truly impress.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Concert Coverage - Volume 1: TV on the Radio

[Note: This is part one of a summer-long series in which I cover shows in words and photos. Stay tuned for upcoming pieces on Bloc Party, Fall Out Boy, K-OS, Rage Against The Machine, Wu-Tang Clan, The Roots, John Mayer, and many more.]

TV on the Radio defies genre convention. With their highly nuanced sound and busy arrangements, they touch upon everything from free jazz and doo wop to electronica and punk. For this reason, I was highly skeptical about their live show. How can five mortals recreate the clusterfuck of sound heard on their albums?

Forgive me for pre-judging.

The cramped Rion Ballroom at the University of Florida was filled to the brim with the most diverse cast of characters I’ve seen on campus, or any show in general: hip-hop heads in fitted caps and hoodies, emo kids in extra-medium t-shirts and skinny jeans, indie girls in skull-and-crossbones, and frat guys in loafers and collar-popped-polos.

With the first highly distorted guitar notes played by guitarists Kyp Malone (the afroed one) and Dave Sitek (the one with the wind chime), the crowd began a hypnotizing and rhythmic swaying that remained for much of the show, with the exception of the near-mosh-pits caused by “Wolf Like Me.”

Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe has a commanding presence that could convince his eager crowd to jump off a bridge, if need be. Which is why the band’s between-song banter was so uncanny. They seem like such an enigma on stage, that it takes Adebimpe’s declaration that “your state is really hot, you know” and other random jokes to really humanize him.

From the lush tandem harmonies of Adebimpe and Malone on “Province,” to the eerie detailed musical layers of “Dreams” and “Dirty Whirl,” the crowd thought they had seen it all during the band’s regular set, but nothing could prepare us for the encore.

After a brief hiatus, the band returned to the stage with opening act The Noisettes and with random percussion instruments in tow. The resulting performance of “A Method” was powerful, to say the very least. The minimalist interpretation found Adebimpe smacking a cymbal and Sitek releasing his anger on a floor tom, with the crowd eagerly clapping along in unison as bassist Gerard Smith pounded away at the Moog organ.

The show concluded with a rousing rendition of “Let The Devil In” delivered through a megaphone, and their first moderately successful single, “Staring At The Sun.” After one and a half hours, I was left convinced that TV on the Radio was, indeed, capable of living up to their studio sound. But there’s no way in hell they’re mortal.