Articles under Music

Concert Review: Rush

It's hard to believe I used to not like these guys. Back when I was a kid, my best friends were all aspiring rock musicians (I was too for a while). And if you were an aspiring rock musician in the late 70's/early 80's, you just had to be into Rush. I think I was mostly just trying to be different, but I resisted all attempts by my friends to get me hooked on the band. Then I went to college and met this very nice girl — who was totally into Rush. Well, geez, once a girl is involved everything changes. (And seriously, how many girls are really into Rush?)

I caved.

I spent most of my college years getting acquainted with their back catalog, listening to them while I shelved books at the Crerar Science Library. I think I ended up being a bigger fan than even the girl who finally turned me onto them (turns out I married her).

So, with that background out of the way, Vera and I travelled down to White River Amphitheater to check out Rush on their latest tour in support of the Snakes & Arrows album. It was quite the ordeal to get down to the venue on a Friday night, heading through some of the worst congestion in the area. Adding to the fun was the weather, which had turned rainy and nasty — thank god we didn't have lawn seats. So by the time we finally got there, three hours after I left to pick up Vera from work, we were really hoping it was going to be worth all the effort.

Thankfully, if there's one thing you can count on, it is an awesome show from Rush. The opened on a decidedly crowd-pleasing note with "Limelight", followed by "Digital Man" and the first surprise of the evening, "Entre Nous". With a catalog as deep as these guys have, it is always a great pleasure to see them not just play the same greatest hits each tour. This time around was especially cool because they ended up playing fully 2/3 of Permanent Waves, which is definitely one of my favorite Rush albums. Another surprise from the first half of the concert was hearing them play "Circumstances" from Hemispheres, another classic I hadn't seen them play live before.

The high point of the first half of the show (or was it the second half?) was definitely "Subdivisions". I can't get enough of that one. Watching it live you are able to really see each band member contribute to the overall song (especially since they had three giant screens above the stage that would often split their focus one for each band member so you could watch them play). This time, I was particularly struck by just how exquisite the drumming is in that song. It is so fundamental to the pacing and urgency of the music and yet it really is quite intricate. I still get chills just thinking about it.

Another high point of the first set was "The Main Monkey Business", the new instrumental from Snakes & Arrows that gave everyone in the band a chance in the spotlight. Finally, they closed the first half with "Dreamline" off of Roll the Bones (another personal favorite) and left for a 25-minute intermission.

I noted to Vera during the intermission that they had so far only played a couple of tracks from their new album. They must have heard me mentioning it, because when they picked up again after the intermission, they immediately launched into 5 straight songs off of that album. I was particularly struck with how concert friendly they all were. They all had great hooks and kept the crowed interested, even though I suspect that a lot of people weren't yet that familiar with them. In particular, "Far Cry" was a great opener for the second half, and "Spindrift" rocked.

After all that new material, the band decided to trot out of a couple of classics that I don't think they've played as much recently. First, we got an incredibly intense rendition of "Natural Science" from Permanent Waves, which was the closest we got last night to any of their monumental multi-part songs of the 70's (yes, there was no "2112" or "Xanadu" in evidence). And then we were treated to a nice pyrotechnic opening to "Witch Hunt" from Moving Pictures, which was an unexpected but welcome surprise.

Neil's drum solo was next. Having heard many of the same bits and pieces over the years in concert and on live albums, I was expecting it to be pretty uneventful. Thankfully, I was wrong. It was pretty much a completely new set and further elevated my opinion of his awesome abilities. When you watch him (or any of the guys in the band) play, it's hard to believe they're all 50+! After the drum solo, Alex got a chance to solo by playing his new piece "Hope" from Snakes & Arrows on acoustic 12-string.

Heading into the final stretch, we got "Distant Early Warning" from Grace Under Pressure with an awesome light show. And then you knew that "Tom Sawyer" was coming on to finish things up, but we got an unexpected and hilarious opening to that song thanks to the kids from South Park. (I suspect that must have come about due to Geddy and Alex playing "O Canada" for the South Park movie.) For an encore, we got "One Little Victory" from Vapor Trails, followed by another surprise, "A Passage to Bangkok" from 2112, and then "YYZ" finished things off.

In the end, it was over 3 hours of music. The band was having a great time playing together, and sounded incredible. The crowd was really into it. Sure there were some songs I would have loved to see them play (one guy on the bus back just wouldn't shut up about them not playing "Working Man"), but at the same time I can't think of anything from the show I would have wanted them to leave out. You can tell these guys are complete pros who know how to put on a great show.

Oh, and since I complained about poor merchandise in my last concert review, let me state that these guys got my money. In fact, there were so many cool designs it was hard to pick just one. I could tell by watching some of the other people that I was not alone in this opinion. :)

Overall, a truly awesome experience.

Concert Review: Pet Shop Boys

Last year I wrote about our NIN and System of a Down concert experiences here in Seattle. Lest everyone think I'm only into the loud headbangy stuff, we ventured off to see the Pet Shop Boys in concert last weekend. This time the concert was at the Paramount Theater instead of Key Arena, which definitely provided for a more intimate atmosphere. Vera and I also decided it was time to stop acting old and actually buy floor tickets. On the plus side, this meant getting closer to the stage and no worries about standing in front of people who didn't want to actually move to the music. On the minus side it meant dealing with tall women wearning giant dunce gaps and blocking our view, and fending off at least one slimy, sweaty, drunken guy who was either hitting on me or Vera or both, we couldn't quite tell.

There was no opening act, which mirrored the experience we had at our last PSB concert which we saw down in San Francisco during the Release tour. Apart from that, however, the show was quite different. On their previous tour, they were in seriously stripped down mode, just the two of them on stage, and Neil really the only thing to pay attention to. This time around, they brought along a troupe of backup singers/dancers to add some more visual interest to the proceedings. It was for the most part choreographed and costumed in a droll sort of over-the-top seriousness with tongue firmly in cheek. Definitely a lot of fun to watch.

I was especially surprised to hear at the very beginning when Neil shouted "Hello, Seattle ... We've waited 21 years to say that!" Apparently, they had never been to Seattle before. Which explains why I was getting a lot of interest in my T-shirt from the previous tour, and why I didn't see anyone else wearing one.

Overall, the guys covered their extensive catalog pretty well. I've actually been a Pet Shop Boys fan since their first album, well before I was even into any kind of electronic music, so it was especially nice to hear a lot of tracks from Please and Actually. They opened with "Psychological" from the new album, which was fitting and a lot less obvious than "The Sodom And Gomorrah Show" would have been as an opener. A bit later on, they did a nice segue between their new spelling song "Minimal" and their original spelling song "Shopping", with a cool animated backdrop.

The biggest surprise in the concert was the sudden downtempo performance of "Dreaming of the Queen" from Very, done with hat in hand before a giant projected image of Diana's funeral. I happen to love that song (and "The Theater" from the same album), so it was quite a nice switchup during the performance, and did the song justice.

The absolute highlight of the show was their new song "Integral" -- definitely my favorite track off the new album, eminently danceable, and the crowd was totally into it. They almost hit that high again during the encore of "It's a Sin", but it didn't quite reach the same level.

It's been a week, let's see if I can remember the songs they played:

Nothing from Behaviour or Nightlife, but I guess you can't have it all. :) I'm sure I missed one or two from that list.

Once again, a great show. With this being our second Pet Shop Boys show, they join the elite cadre of bands we've seen multiple times (along with Depeche Mode, They Might Be Giants, Rush, Tori Amos).

The only minor gripe I have has to do with merchandising: I'm perfectly willing to fork over the obscene prices for a concert T-shirt ... but it has to at least indicate that it is a concert T-shirt. If it looks like something I can buy off the web, I'll buy it off the web for much cheaper, thank you very much! I left empty-handed.

Concert Reviews

Vera and I realized recently that we hadn't been to any concerts since we moved out to Seattle. So in an effort to make up for this oversight, we recently picked up tickets to see a couple of our favorite bands live at last.

The first concert we checked out was Nine Inch Nails, which we were both really anticipating, having been into them since Pretty Hate Machine came out in 1989 (coincidentally the year we met). As seems to always happen with us, we finally ended up seeing one of our favorite bands a few tours later than we probably would have preferred to (NIN hit their peak for me around The Downward Spiral).

I have to say that the overall concert experience was, unfortunately, kind of a let down from what we were expecting. Part of the problem I think was the venue — Key Arena is a decent-sized stadium (the Sonics play there), and having bought my tickets a few hours after they went on sale, we were in the stadium part, way up in the nosebleed seats. The crowd up there was not particularly active, either: everyone was sitting down through the whole concert! I mean, Vera and I thought we might be a little on the aged side to handle the floor, but it's not like this was a Sting concert or anything. We were kind of aghast at just how placid everyone was.

The stadium crowd aside, however (the crowd on the floor was plenty excited), there was also a distinctive lack of connection between the band and the crowd. Or rather, any kind of attempt to connect with the crowd at all. Trent said, "Thank you," a couple of times and pointed out that one song was new, but apart from that, they just showed up and played the songs and didn't really do anything to indicate that they were aware of the several thousand people in front of them. And the songs themselves were really just the exact album versions, which we've all heard a billion times already. It pretty much just ended up being us sitting up in the nosebleeds listening to a few NIN songs on shuffle played really really loud. Definitely not the kind of concert experience we expected!

Technically, the band sounded, well, like the album. They played a good selection of songs, and much more early stuff than I was expecting. I was especially happy to hear Sin, Wish, and Down In It. They pretty much hit all their big singles and mixed in a few bits of the new album. There was a nice, downtempo section in the middle with a giant video projected onto a curtain in front of the band and a number of slower songs from The Fragile played live. In fact, it seemed that with all the smoke and hiding behind curtains, they weren't particularly interested in being seen, which just added to the lack of connection with the crowd. The only songs I wish they had played were Happiness in Slavery and The Perfect Drug, but I can't complain too much as I thought the overall song selection was pretty good.

The opening band, Queens of the Stone Age, were not particularly impressive. They played their three radio hits, and everything else just sounded muddy and indistinct. The lead singer was seemingly drunk and tried to get the crowd revved up, but it didn't really seem to do much. There was also apparently another opening band, Autolux, but they started and finished played well before the official concert start time. I guess there was some web announcement of it, but we missed it.

So, we were a little nervous after that concert, realizing that we had tickets to see System of a Down a week and a half later at the same venue. We had one advantage this time, however: we got the tickets very early and ended up with essentially front row seats right off the floor.

Thankfully, this concert totally rocked. It was everything we were really expecting out of the NIN concert. People were on their feet throughout the stadium, the band acknowledged the crowd's existence, it was great. Vera and I were totally exhausted after the show from dancing/headbanging. :-)

The band sounded awesome and mixed things up a bit without totally reimagining the songs. Daron, the guitarist/singer, had some great moments throwing curveballs to the audience by singing very melodic variations of songs like Cigaro as intros to the actual song. You could really tell who knew the songs well by how long it took the audience to start cheering in response. The band looked like they were having a blast, and we were as well. I still have no idea how Serj can switch between melodic harmonies and death metal growls without altering his facial expression. It's eerie, kind of like watching Trey Parker switch into his Cartman voice.

They ended up playing almost the entire Mesmerize album, a few songs from the upcoming Hypnotize album, and plenty of older stuff in between. I about lost it when they did Suggestions from the first album — that song always hits me between the eyes. The only notable omission was Radio/Video which I half expected them to do with a Russian bear dance in the middle. Oh well, you can't have everything.

I had some slight hopes that the opening band, The Mars Volta, would be worthwhile. And while they definitely had some talent, their songs just went on and on and on.... They seemed to be attempting to build up a giant wall of sound with their 8-piece band, but it really didn't impress, especially in a giant concert hall at 120dB. It was good to at least hear The Widow in concert, but sadly, that song seems wholly unrepresentative of most of the rest of their music. That said, compared to the utter cacaphony of the pre-opening band, Hella, it was a definite step up. Though I will say that Hella's drummer did the best drum machine on steroids impression I've yet to see.