Category Archives: Concert reviews

Sharon Van Etten – 10/25/12 @ 9:30 Club

Even amidst Halloweekend, Hurricane Sandy nerves, and feeling starstruck after seeing Malia Obama in Georgetown last night, I cannot stop thinking about Sharon Van Etten’s performance at the 9:30 Club last Thursday.

For those of you who don’t know SVE, she’s a singer-songwriter, originally from New Jersey, who has released three albums, Because I Was in Love (2009), Epic (2010), and Tramp (2012). The first two of those are pretty clearly about a love gone wrong; she had a terribly abusive boyfriend for a while, and she reacted to the dissolution of their relationship by writing songs. At some point, she also cut her hair short, and frankly, she looked like an angry man herself. I don’t want to speculate too much about SVE’s personal life, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she had been extremely clinically depressed for at at least some stretch of time during that ordeal. At some point, she was noticed by other musicians, receiving promotional and production help from her friends in The National, later collaborating with a number of other well-established musicians on Tramp and playing alongside them at festivals.

Sharon Van Etten at the 9:30 Club (Photo: Allie Prescott)

On Thursday night, Sharon Van Etten appeared not as some broken woman, but as a strong, confident, and humble musician who could easily blow you away whether playing alone or with the other three members of her band. She had no fancy set or light show, nothing theatrical – even with only her music to offer, nothing was left to be desired. What’s amazing about SVE’s music is that it doesn’t need the light show or the fancy clothes or the staged interactions between band members. All that it needs are listeners who are willing to experience it for what it is – pure, honest, heartfelt poetry, set to music that matches it mysteriously perfectly.

From the moment Sharon and her band walked on stage and launched into “All I Can,” we in the crowd stood in awe – respectful, but clearly filled with anticipation as the song built. One of my favorite moments was when Sharon sung, “The memory of you/ the love overdue/ to carry a face/ I cannot re-trace.” In her delivery of those words was an energy that was never abandoned throughout the show.

After playing the third track in the set, “Save Yourself,” Sharon finally engaged in some charming conversation with the audience, humble enough to admit that she’d accidentally sung the words “shave yourself” during one of the choruses in the song. She told the audience, “If anyone here works for Gillette, I just want you to know that I use your products…occasionally. So we should talk or something.” It was this kind of self-deprecating humor and banter throughout the night that made Sharon so damn human. I don’t know if it’s just the fact that as a 20-year-old not-a-girl-not-yet-a-woman, I look up to Sharon for her ability to put in song what many of us just keep quiet, but to see that she is just a normal person convinced me to stop poking fun at the fact that I like this “angry woman” music so much.

Playing through tracks from her latter two albums, Sharon showed off the best of her repertoire, everything from “Peace Signs” to “Serpents” to a strikingly rich rendition of “I’m Wrong” whose textures captured the musicians to the point that they all ended up on the floor in a frenzy of sound. For me, the highlight of the show came in the middle with Sharon’s solo debut of a new song. I couldn’t find a video from the 9:30 Club, but I found a low-quality version from a Paris show earlier in the month. Yes, it is about a complex heartbreak, but…well, just listen to the song. It’s magical.

Look, I can’t do this show justice through words. I’d hoped that NPR Music would have recorded it so I could share the music, but I saw Bob Boilen from All Songs Considered walking around and not  near any recording equipment, so I doubt we’ll get that live recording. All I know is that I left on a high that was, yes, partially from meeting SVE after the show, but mostly from the music and passion and perfection.

Me looking totally starstruck next to SVE.

 

See that lady in the stripes? She’s my new musical idol.

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Stars Prove Less Than Stellar in Concert

[The following is my third column that was published for the guide, the lifestyle magazine of The Hoya. The print version of AMPlify runs every other Friday. You can find the originals by searching my name at thehoya.com. Let me just say that this was not written in my proudest moment. I was majorly stressin’ for a number of reasons when I wrote this.]

Canadian baroque-pop band Stars returned to the 9:30 Club on Sunday night after two years. While the band played a few favorites to please their older fans, more than half of their set was tracks from their latest album,The North, whose 44 minutes consist of mostly forgettable tracks interspersed with some catchy, cinematic gems.

Luckily, Stars chose opening acts worth mentioning. The concert opened with Chicago-based California Wives, whose sound blends that of Stars and Silversun Pickups. A standard four-piece rock setup yielded a pleasantly upbeat, chill sound, smoothed out by raspy, shy vocals. “Tokyo” and “Marianne” were memorable, but otherwise, most of their songs sounded similar. The relaxed mood they instilled in the audience, though, was no preparation for the act that followed.

California Wives – 9:30 Club – 9/23/12

Indeed, Toronto artist Diamond Rings was nothing less than a theatrical act. The performance started with three young men in black clothing who wouldn’t have looked out of place playing the role of the Jets in West Side Story. As the audience took that in, Diamond Rings made an entrance in all white.

Diamond Rings – 9:30 Club – 9/23/12

Like a taller, gender-bending version of Swedish pop star Robyn, his dancing was just as wacky and reminiscent of convulsions as are some of the moves in her music videos. He played flamboyant, appealing songs with forward, metaphorical lyrics, thumping beats and catchy electronic riffs. He and his men in black had no problem getting the audience pumped for the main act but couldn’t bridge the genre gap between their band and Stars.

Diamond Rings – 9:30 Club – 9/23/12

As is expected at any sold-out concert, the audience roared when Stars walked on stage against a simple backdrop of apartment buildings, reminiscent of their latest album art. They opened with “Theory of Relativity,” their first single from The North. By following it with “Fixed,” a track from 2010 album The Five Ghosts, Stars put forth the idea that they would play tracks both new and old, much to my pleasant surprise. However, from that point onwards, it was a constant back-and-forth between their latest songs and ones that I listened to on the 2005 “The O.C.” soundtrack. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for the Stars songs I played in middle and high school, but the song order the band chose really put me off. They neither presented their new album as a whole in order to give the audience a taste of how it sounds live, nor did they play many of the songs from their earlier albums that really defined who Stars was as a band in its younger, more active years. The band took the audience for a ride on a musical roller coaster, and I can’t say I had much fun. Though certainly dependent upon one’s liking for The North, the show’s structure was generally confusing and bizarre.

Amy Millan from Stars – 9:30 Club – 9/23/12

One thing to be said for Stars, though, is that they always deliver a passion that clearly demonstrates their love and appreciation of their fans. Having seen them in concert a few years ago, I knew to expect the emotional, poetic words of gratitude from singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. Torq made a point to thank the audience for spending money on concert tickets during these tough times, and Amy reminded everyone to vote. Though the band members are making their way into their forties and slowly losing the energetic element of their performance, it’s clear that they appreciate their younger fans and will always try to empathize with them. Few bands present themselves as down to earth these days, but Stars does. Stars champions a maturity that is much appreciated when we consider artists who sometimes get caught up in the musician lifestyle rather than make actual connections with their audiences.

As a whole, Stars put on a great show. Neither the opening acts nor the set Stars chose made much musical sense, but the element of passion they put into their music was laudable.

Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan of Stars – 9:30 Club – 9/23/12

 

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I <3 London. Theophilus, that is.

This weekend I went to visit my honorary third sister in New York City. She originally invited me because of a free Amadou & Mariam concert in Central Park. Turns out they didn’t quite live up to one of their opening acts, Theophilus London.

I hadn’t heard much Theophilus before coming to the concert. What I knew had been introduced to me almost a year ago by Georgetown rapper Tate Tucker, and I’d pretty much forgotten all I’d heard. It really didn’t matter though. This guy put on one hell of a show. Being front row for it was incredible. And did I mention it was free in Central Park?

Theophilus London in Central Park, August 4, 2012

The guy and his bandmates were sincere. They didn’t take themselves too seriously. They connected with the crowds by noting their Brooklyn origins and were pumped, but not outrageously so. I have a hard time judging rap and hip-hop since I don’t know the genres too well, but this was one hell of a show, I can tell you that much.

Theophilus London & fans, August 4, 2012

He danced with some fans.

…including his friend’s son. It was so cute that all the hipsters in the audience were squealing.

As for Amadou and Mariam, the blind couple from Mali whose music was my first introduction to African pop/rock, I was somewhat disappointed. Granted, 1) they are blind, 2) they don’t know much English, and 3) they are not exactly youthful. I just found it a bizarre and pleasant surprise that a rapper like Theophilus London would open for them. Their music sounded like lullabies, not unpleasant lullabies, but lullabies nonetheless.

Amadou & Mariam, Central Park, August 4, 2012

This was one of the rare, rare moments when they smiled.

The music was technically spot on, but the show was operating at a 50-80% energy level. There were no frills, and I didn’t expect any, but I had hoped to hear at least one song from their older albums. “Je pense à toi” (I Think of You) and “Ce n’est pas bon” (It’s Not Good) are two of my favorites. Even songs like “Sabali” would have brought a welcome burst of energy to an otherwise lagging performance. Look, I give them so much credit for doing what they do. I just wish I could have liked it more. And yeah, I didn’t know their new album coming into their performance, but I didn’t know Theophilus at all, so in this case, there’s not much excuse.

Hipsters & co., August 4, 2012

At least the people-watching was fun for A & M. Note the two hipster couples, the artsy lady, and the CRAZY WOMAN on the right who was dancing a lot like Robyn for the duration of the show.

Part of Theophilus London’s entourage, August 4, 2012

Thank god this guy was hanging around for both Theophilus and A&M. He was so happy, and he had some killer dance moves. Also, I had his shirt circa age 4.

AMPlifiability – Theophilus London: I’d share this with my friends. All of my friends. Maybe not my grandma just yet. 

AMPlifiability – Amadou & Mariam: I’m intrigued – turn it up a bit. (But not too much, please.)

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Robyn, a dancer on her own. Literally.

From when I was pseudo-goth and obsessed with them at the age of 13, I know that A.F.I. have a song called “The Great Disappointment.” I almost brought it back out in order to mourn in despair over Robyn’s performance as an opener for Coldplay on Sunday night.

“Call Your Girlfriend” and “Dancing on My Own” have launched Robyn into American stardom in recent months. Forgive me for being all “I knew her first,” but at least in comparison to many people I know, I actually knew Robyn first. Her music was the soundtrack to my freshman year of college, not my sophomore year (though it’s so good that I’ve brought Body Talk back out). I played her at a DJ battle hosted by my college station and got a very cool audience reaction. I have a feeling that this wouldn’t happen if I did the same thing this year. My possessiveness of my familiarity with Robyn aside, she was almost the opposite of Coldplay in terms of how her live performance compared with her recorded music.

People who don’t know her well might think that Robyn is trying to be Lady Gaga, but since they are from such different backgrounds and have different agendas, I’d argue that. Robyn generally isn’t political – she’s there to entertain, and even though she’s apparently famous among grandpas in her native Sweden (according to an old WaPo article), as far as I know, she doesn’t have hoards of “little monsters” clawing at her ankles. Robyn is consistent in her style with her blond bowl cut – sometimes modified with extensions toward the front – her platform shoes, and her of 90s-galactic clothing. You won’t see her in a meat dress or Louboutins.

Now that we’ve reviewed  Lady Gaga and Robyn, just imagine Robyn as I described her, only 10 times more bizarre than Lady Gaga. You might ask how it’s possible for Robyn to achieve such a high level of freakdom without a troupe of leather-clad backup dancers, being borderline sacrilegious, and writhing around in fake blood after being attacked by a mechanical monster, all parts of Gaga’s Monster Ball tour. It’s easy. Just give Robyn some space, and she will dance on her own. I’d seen in all the live videos I’d searched that Robyn was a crazy dancer, but none of it prepared me for how she would be when I saw her right before my eyes. Think of that girl/guy at any party or club you’ve ever been to – you know, the one blackout drunk and dancing alone in the corner – and Robyn was infinitely weirder, but also being that girl in front of thousands. My parents, both doctors, told me about Saint Vitus Dance  a few weeks ago, and judging from the YouTube videos we watched of people with the condition, I would say that’s the closest example I can find of  how Robyn danced. It wasn’t in an ironic or charming Katy Perry way either. It was just…weird.

As for the music, I don’t know what Robyn or her show managers were thinking. She played very few of the danceable hits from Body Talk, and instead opted for the ones that required minimal actual singing on her part, like “We Dance to the Beat,” and “Don’t F*cking Tell Me What to Do.” If her goal was to get the audience pumped for Coldplay, she failed hugely, save for her cover of the band’s “Every Tear Drop is a Waterfall.” If, on the other hand, she was trying to make Coldplay look that much better by comparison, she gets a gold medal. When my friend and I weren’t sitting with our mouths hanging open at the fact that this performance actually cost money, we were trying to figure out what all of those non-Robyn fans in the audience must have been thinking. Clearly her music didn’t move them, as only a few people were dancing. Robyn plays club music – I get that. In fact, she DJed sets at U Street Music Hall over the weekend after the Verizon Center  shows. Maybe she was out of her element in such a huge arena, but that’s no excuse for delivering a truly boring and freaky performance. It pains me to admit that one of my favorite artists was such a disappointment in concert, but not as much as it would pain me to have to watch her again.

In the mean time, I will keep listening to Robyn as I traditionally have been – in headphones, on the metro, as I subtly move my feet and dance on my own.

AMPlifiability: I listened to this (and saw this) once. Once was enough.

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Coldplay really does rule the world.

Coldplay’s a snore.

All their songs sound the same.

Chris Martin is married to one of the world’s craziest women.

Whatever your beef is with Coldplay, get ready to get rid of it. I’m reviewing their show at DC’s Verizon Center four days after the fact – partially because I got caught up doing other things, but more because I’m still thinking about this show and telling everyone I see about it. Their recordings and personal lives aside, this band has a reason for being one of the most famous bands on the planet. See them live, and your mind will be blown.

Ever a skeptic of arena concerts, I was convinced that Coldplay’s music would fall flat and allow itself to be disguised in what was sure to be a treasure chest of stage effects. From the remotely controlled LED-lit wristbands given to every person at the door, to the cannons of confetti that launched within the first ten minutes of the show, it was clear that Coldplay spared no expense. (Literally. Don’t even ask me what my friend so generously paid for our tickets.) They somehow managed to turn what is often regarded as soundtrack music or study music into a true rock concert. I’ve never seen people truly rock out to Coldplay, but it really is possible, and yes, I and thousands of my closest friends did exactly that. Playing a mixture of old staples and new hits, the band kept everyone entertained and ecstatic even when the fancy effects stopped and gave way to simple (in comparison) colored lasers.

While the band members were undeniably working their best showmen’s tactics, the efforts never felt insincere or calculated, save for one moment when Martin pretended to sing the wrong verse and made the band stop over during “Yellow,” a tactic he apparently used at Monday’s DC concert as well. Still, the show was relatively tame in effects in comparison even to Muse’s, a band whose talent I would normally place above Coldplay’s, but whose live show is full of political messages. There were the lights in the audience, but never any fire, fog, or crazy displays of anything other than the band. The focus was undeniably on the music, and the music delivered. It’s as simple as that. There was a passion in the performance that I think can sometimes be lost when we listen to Coldplay through our headphones or in our cars, and it wasn’t just because the music was loud. You could have taken away the other thousands of people in that place, turned the lights on, and turned off half the speakers, and I would still have felt a crazy sense of euphoria while listening to a band that I hadn’t credited much before. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment in the music that made me fall in love with this show so much – it’s one of those things I wish I could just share with everyone. It really was that good. I’m still on a high five days later. If you ever have a chance to see Coldplay in concert, I promise it will be worth whatever outrageous price you’ll have to pay.

Before I end this review, I should mention that there were two opening acts, Wolf Gang and Robyn. Wolf Gang was a band of -how do I say this-studly British men who put on an energetic, charismatic show. Admittedly, I Google-imaged them before I even opened iTunes to buy their music, but looks aside, they were a very fitting opener for Coldplay.

As for Robyn, she’s going to a whole post devoted to her. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that she must have been partaking in some WAS (weird-ass shit) before hitting the stage. I just don’t know how else to say it. And this is coming from a hardcore Robyn fan.

Until then, I’ll leave you with my AMPlifiability level for Coldplay. For reference, a scale is in the sidebar.

AMPlifiability: CRANK IT UP. This music should be shared with the world.

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