Tag Archives: Live Music

From the ticket stub bin – Rodrigo y Gabriella

Today’s Music: Groovelily


Every so often, I hear a new band that makes me stop what I’m doing and listen.
One band like that was Rodrigo y Gabriella. The first time I heard their debut CD, it was all I could listen to. I’d been taking guitar lessons at the time, and I went between wanting to play like them, and just thinking I should put it down and give up.

Rodrigo and Gabriella had been in a speed metal band that broke up. They picked nylon sring acoustic guitars, went to Ireland and started busking, developing a style that was a combination of speed metal and classical guitar, with flamenco flares. The result is astounding.
So when they announced dates at Terminal 5 in Manhattan, I made sure I got tickets.
Terminal is a good sized room (capacity ~3000), with 2 balconies and plenty of bars. No seats, and the crowd gets a bit sloppy (watch where you step!)
The night of the show, I met my girl (the most wonderful girl in the universe!) for a quick dinner nearby, and we went over to the venue.
It was packed. Sold out.
The main floor was wall to wall bodies, as were the balconies. Not sure how full the rooftop smoking lounge was, but everything inside was full.
There was an opener. I don’t remember who the opener was. That’s a good thing, as the opener wasn’t good at all.
Then Rodrigo and Gabriella came out.
Just the two of them, on their two classical guitars. Beating. The. Hell. Out of them.
They were really good. At times their hands were moving faster than my eyes could easily track. Rodrigo was stretching the individual strings, doing leads over intricate chord and rhythm patterns Gabriella was pounding out. And she was also working in slaps of her guitar top, doing rhythm guitar and percussion at the same time!
They played through the whole album, but the highlight of the show for me was Gabriella’s solo.
Rodrigo did his solo, then left the stage and Gabriella came back on by herself. She started off slowly, speeding up as her chord changes grew more complex and her strumming hand also drummed the guitar top faster and faster between strums.
Then, and this is what really blew me away, she laid her head down on the side of her guitar and kept playing, even faster and more intricately.
I’ve never seen anything like that. Her entire body was attuned to and focused on her guitar. Her music was transcendent, going beyond a performance to almost a religious experience.
When she slowed down and finally stopped, smiling out at the crowd, the room exploded in applause.
Rodrigo came back out, and the two of them played the rest of the set, which was incredible.
All told, they did about an hour and forty five minutes, a decent length set.

But if they had only done twenty minutes, and that twenty minutes was Gabriella’s solo, that would have been worth the price of admission.

The Cars Live (at last!!!)

Today’s Music: The Cars – Move Like This
Today’s Adventure: Removing my head from my bottom

The Cars came out of New Wave, but transcended to main stream success in a way few other “New Wave” bands did.
Their songs had great hooks, occasionally great lyrics (though honestly, it was sometimes very hard to figure out what the heck Ric Ocasek was talking about!), and as a band that came of age at the start of the music video era, some great videos.

And then, in 1988, they broke up. The band members wandered off to their own projects, Ric Ocasek got into producing and writing songs for others,and Benjamin Orr, the bassist, died.

The story goes that Ric Ocasek was going through a bunch of songs he wrote , trying to decide on studio musicians to record it with, and instead, called up his former bandmates –
Elliot Easton on guitar, Greg Hawkes on keyboards (and now bass as well), and David Robinson on drums. Ric plays rhythm guitar, sings and writes the songs.
And they put out Move Like This. Which sounded exactly like The Cars.
And they announced a tour.

For me, this was a big deal. The Cars were one of the first bands I was aware of and wanted to see, but they broke up (you can keep the New Cars, thanks) and a member died, and Ric Ocasek said “no way in hell” to a reunion.
When tickets for the new tour went on sale, there was no way I would miss it.

I ended up seeing them at Sound Academy in Toronto(a story for another post), and Roseland in NYC.

Both shows were in mid-size Standing-Room-Only venues, about 2000 – 3000 capacity. Both stages were the same, both sets were the same.
They came out and opened with Let the Good Times Roll , a classic. From there they moved into Blue Tip from the new album, and the set list was a nice combination of old and new.
The sound of the new songs is so consistent to the old band that there was nothing jarring in the set list, no feel of jumping from one era to the next.
Ric Ocasek stayed up front the whole show, often just strumming his couple of chords. There was very little interaction with the crowd, and he moved very little.
Hawkes was frenetic behind the keyboard, and at times seemed a bit overwhelmed, especially when coming around to the front and strapping on the bass (when he also gave a shout out to Benjamin Orr).
Easton had several songs where his leads transported him. While The Cars are not (and never were) a jam band, his solos were interesting and far ranging, going from high tinkling notes all the way up the neck, to crunching lines that growled out of the amps.
Robinson on drums kept time solidly, but there was not much beyond the basic rhythm – no interesting fills in his set.

It was good to see them, but in some ways, it was like watching a live video of their albums. One of the joys of going to see live music is the additions, the interaction, hearing new twists on lyrics or music, and The Cars offered very little of that besides the guitar solos.
But the band was on, they played well, and as someone who waited twenty two years to see them (and got to see them twice!), I though they put on a really good show.
the stage dressing and lighting was used to silhouette the payers, and added a nice touch. The sound at both venues was great, and the music was clear and easy to follow.
The crowd was into it, and their enthusiasm made up for the straightforwardness coming off the stage.
Ric even looked a bit uncomfortable, a few times saying “Thank you” after a song, then staying at the microphone a bit longer, without saying anything, for a brief awkward pause. Then the next song would start and they’d get right back into it.

The Cars of yesteryear were icons. The Cars of today seem like they were going out there to acknowledge that, even if they couldn’t quite match it.

But their new album, Move Like This, is great.
And in the words of Irish Paul: “The Cars? Seen ’em”.

What makes a song great?

Today’s Musice:Dave May – great traditional country
Today’s Adventure: Adapting a dynamic climbing line to be a surfboard roof rack (bad idea!)
I listen to a lot of music. It’s one of the things I enjoy most in life.
And sometimes I wonder about what makes a song great.
There are songs most people agree on – The Beatles – Twist and Shout, Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven, Eric Clapton – Layla.
There has to be a hook. It might be something catchy that sets your feet to unconsciously tapping. It might be something haunting that grabs you low in your gut or make you joyously, ecstatically happy.

The musicians have to know what they’re doing.
I saw a guy recently open for Buckethead (who was incredible). The opening act, however, was singing through his tuba. Couldn’t understand a word (not the venue’s fault). He was playing riffs then looping them over each other.
He was crap. There was no musicality to it. I can appreciate the skill in techno, in industrial, and  in anarchistic screaming punk, but if you’re going to take my money to see you perform, at least have one song recognizable as such.

There’s nothing at all wrong with using technology. Kraftwerk are nothing without electricity. And check out this video of K.T. Tunstall – Black Horse and a Cherry Tree. A master class in using loop pedals, but don’t tell me that song isn’t stuck in your head, at least for a little while…

On the other end of the scale are performers like Lou Reed, who once said he knew 3 chords, and was still trying to perfect those, but Walk on the Wild Side shows he’s got them down just fine.

I’ve been subjected to some hideously memorable hooks over the years. the worst lately is the Ting Tings, who I hate. But just typing “Ting Tings” has started the endless loop of “that’s not my name” in my head. Where it will be for the next 3 hours.

But what about great songs that don’t find an audience?
A lesser known song I’ve been listening to is They Might Be Giants – Anna Ng. If that song were coverd by the Foo Fighters, it would be in the top 10, but aside from Ironic Hipsters, how many people do you know that recognize that song, let alone They Might Be Giants.
Sometimes it’s cool knowing about a song that no one else has heard of yet. I saw David Gray perform Babylon right before it exploded, and that night, it didn’t seem like there was any way possible it would be a monster hit.
I hope everyone will hear and love The Vaccines Wrecking Bar, partly because it’s a great song, and partly because then I’ll be so much cooler for hearing them first!

But the songs that stick with me after the “Breakfast at Tiffanys” and “Tub Thumbings” have faded away into “whatever happened to…” status, are ones that make a point – Neil Young – Rockin in the Free World (great hook, good lyrics, strong statement) or Paul Simon Spirit Voices which gets me every time, especially at the bridge.

You may think I’m full of it, and that every song I’ve singled out is crap. You may have your own list that has nothing to do with mine, filled with Trance and Industrial and other sounds I really don’t like.
But if we put our lists side by side and described what it was about those songs that moved us, that made us think they were great, we would probably both be saying the same thing – we are emotionally invested in them, because they make us feel something. They make us angry, or they inspire us, or they let us let it all out and forget our problems and lose ourselves in the moment.

Isn’t that what makes a song great?

More on Guitars

Today’s Music: Dale Goodridge

Yesterday, I didn’t really say much about what the guitar means to me. There were some cool pics, but not a lot of information on “why” I love the guitar
So here you go…
It has all the emotions, from the happiest joy, to the angriest rage.
It has satisfaction of technical skill in making changes form one chord to another, or of finding a riff that sounds great and resonates.
It’s being able to express ideas and emotions, when sometimes it’s hard to find the words for them.

I keep my guitars out where I can reach them, quickly. Often when I’m making dinner, I’ll step away, grab a guitar, and just strum or lead while the water boils/sauce reduces/meat broils.I have several phrases that caught my ear over time. Most are in the minor pentatonic scale, between 1st and 3rd position, and I find their pattern reassuring, like old friends.

Those 5 simple notes, whatever the combination, pull at me. Hard. To hear them (even when I’m playing them), opens a window into another world, where color is sharper, sound is crisper, feeling is freer.
Gimme a good blues rift, and I’m happy man. Even if I’m blue.

Then there is the technical end.
When I first learned a basic chord change on open chords, it took weeks to get it right. Getting the fingers to move together, getting them to come off the strings completely before moving them, getting them to come down on the right strings.
Then being able to do it fast. I shudder at what my parents must have thought all those years ago, listening to an endless cycle of D, E, D, E, D, E, then getting the C, A, and some minor chords thrown in.
It sounded even worse when I started learning barre chords. I have thin bony fingers, which makes it even harder to get them to hold all the strings, instead of just sort of dulling or muting them.
It took weeks of practice to get clean changes up and down the neck.
But the first time I played Hotel California, it was totally worth it.

Finally, there is the union of the two, being able to play the music I hear in my head.
That’s very hard for me, as my ear is undeveloped, and I don’t have the technical skill to translate from one to the other.
But sometimes, the brain and the fingers talk without me having to be part of it, and the music just spills out, with me watching my hands go at it, listening, amazed, wondering what I’ll think of next…

All these years later, I’m not a great guitar player. And I’ll leave it up to others to decide if I’m even any good.
But I still feel a sense of accomplishment when I pull off a clean change between 2 chords, and I keep the tempo. I’m proud of the callouses on my fingertips, and the guitar pick that I always have in my wallet is like a badge of office.

And I still have a sense of wonder when I jam two sounds together into something bigger than the sum of their parts.

For those of you who are interested, check out Clapton’s Guitar – Watching Wayne Henderson Build The Perfect Instrument. It’s a fantastic book about Craftsman/Artist, and the way he builds his guitars.

Beware the Eskimo friend!

Todays Music:Decca – Quintet of the Hot Club of France
Todays adventure: Buying a Surfboard off Craigslist.com
I love music. Even when I don’t like a particular genre or song, I still appreciate the skill, talent, artistry of the performer(s). Even if I think they suck, hey, they’re making a living through their music, while I can get as far as a decent blues progression and pentatonic lead.
So when I get to to go to a live show, I stay for the whole thing. Maybe one of the  songs will blow me away. Maybe an improvised riff will make the hair on my neck stand up. Or the frontman will tell such good stories that it doesn’t matter that the music wasn’t to my taste. And maybe one of the songs performed will introduce me to God.
I get into live music, waiting for that transcendent moment, when the music will take me away.
So I don’t leave live shows. Except once…

These tickets came to me by way of IrishPaul.
“Hey, I’ve got tickets for 2 shows tonight. You want the ones to Damien Rice?” (IrishPaul does that alot.)
“Sure”, I said. “Happy to take em off your hands”.
Like I said, I love going to see concerts, and I’ll see anyone. Damien Rice was the It boy of the moment. He was a local indie radio station’s Golden Boy, and since I generally like that station (unless they point me to Raul Midon), I thought it would be good to check him out.
So my girl and I went for an evening at the Beacon Theater. And to Damien’s credit, the show really didn’t start that late.
He took the stage with his band, and played a few songs. I didn’t get into it right away, but the crowd seemed to, so I thought I’d give it a bit more time, see if I could pick out anything I liked, anything that got me excited.
In between songs, Damien would tell stories – about dives he played on his way up, some of the troubles of life on the road in strange cities, confusion at being mistaken for other musicians. They were funny, fun stories, and he told them well.
But the music wasn’t working for me. At all.
As the set went on, I think the people immediately around us realized that my girl and I weren’t enjoying the show as much as them. they looked a bit put out by that.
Not that we were worried. The people I could see clearly all looked like 20-something yuppies or yuppie wannabes filled with their own importance, following the man who spoke for them. When the man who spoke for them spoke, he was very entertaining. But the music fell flat to us. They were all slow minor tunes, all about sadness and woe.
And the crowd loved it. My girl and I looked around, then at each other, then back at the crowd and again at each other, each of us with the same mystified “what the hell are we missing?” expression.
Then came Damien’s apparently big hit, Eskimo
And the crowd went nuts. 3000 people swaying back and forth, more lighters flaring than at a Bon Jovi concert. And my girl and I looked around again, then back at each other, this time trying not to laugh – as 3000 (minus two) people sang along for the chorus “I look to my Eskimo friend“, looking rapturously at their prophet.
I looked at my girl. She looked at me. And we both realized that if we cracked up now, there would not be a happy ending. So we grabbed our stuff and ran for the doors, making it to the lobby just before we both exploded with laughter. We stood there for a few minutes, just laughing. When we slowed down and looked at each other, we started all over again.
We didn’t go back in. But we did laugh all the way home. And for the next few weeks, whenever one of us would say “Hold on – I’m looking at my Eskimo friend”, we would start laughing all over again. As I sit here typing this, I’m laughing quietly to myself…
It makes what was an otherwise bad show a fun memory.
So maybe Damien Rice isn’t the worst show I’ve ever seen.

But Lord, it wasn’t good…

From lighterclips.com