Tag Archives: live music

7/22/16: Savages in Indianapolis

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Jehnny Beth, lead singer of Savages, takes a stroll across the Indianapolis crowd

MY SAVAGES CONCERT EXPERIENCE actually started in May, when I wore my Adore Life t-shirt to the RiverRoots music festival in Madison, IN. I was questioned by more than one person about who/what Savages were. Then a few days ago, at the last day of the Forecastle music festival in Louisville, it happened again when I sported my Savages shirt. Not only did I get questions, I was also stopped by one couple who had seen the quartet in Chicago and were raving about the experience.

And I, lover of all things Savages, have done my part to spread the word. I’ve rattled on about my fondness for them here and here, so I won’t say much beyond this: I just keep listening to this album, over and over and over again. It’s like when I was in high school and could barely wait for Side 1 of a cassette to end so I could flip it over and listen to Side 2 … as quickly as possible, of course, because I wanted to hear Side 1 again. It’s probably been more than a decade since I’ve been as into any album as I am Adore Life.

BUT HOW WAS THE SHOW, you ask? Dearest reader, would I have gone on and on about it if it were anything but awesome? It took a few songs for the crowd to get warmed up, but as you can see from my photo above, singer Jehnny Beth, guitarist Gemma Thompson, bassist Ayse Hassan and drummer Fay Milton soon owned the room, roaring and raging, crooning and crashing, taking everyone prisoner. Savages rocked it like they were playing in front of thousands in a festival crowd, not like they were performing for a few hundred in the smallest room in the house. From T.I.W.Y.G. and Adore off of the new album to the more obscure Fuckers, Savages played every song like it was their last.

I already can’t wait to see them again.

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The Avett Brothers: 04/17/15 at Elliott Music Hall

Thou shalt not doubt the Avett Brothers. And yet I did.

This was the fifth time my wife and I had seen the Avetts live. Last time we saw them, summer of 2014 at the Lawn at White River State Park in Indianapolis, was the first time I wasn’t absolutely blown away by them. It was the first time we’d seen them with a full band, and it didn’t seem as if they were as tight as usual. Plus, one of my favorite things about these guys is when it’s just Seth, Scott and “the third Avett brother,” bassist Bob Crawford. The trio did some stuff by itself, but the new, full band was clearly the focus of the performance. Also, the crowd was easily 500 people or more larger than the previous two times we’d seen them at the same venue. The place was elbow-to-elbow, and, in an odd turn, a lot of people were there with very young children. The energy we were accustomed to was sucked out of the venue, added to that an element of claustrophobia. It wasn’t as much fun as out previous Avett experiences, and I was left with doubts.

Doubts effectively shattered and discarded. The Avetts I saw at Purdue University were tight, having fun, belting it out for the cheap seats. The new band members are now much more effectively part of the show. When Scott, Bob and cellist Joe Kwon jammed, it was more classical trio than bluegrass stomp. Violinist Tania Elizabeth soloed and sang, a standout performance on the night. The full band allowed the Avetts to take on some blues and more straight-ahead rock, something absent from previous outings. And the original three spent more time alone on stage, including a soul-stirring rendition of one of my favorite hymns, Alone in the Garden. Had they ended the show with their cover of the Grateful Dead’s The Race Is On, it would have been the perfect Avett performance.

But if I can’t have it all, that was more than good enough. Can’t wait to see the Avetts again, where ever my wife and I may find them.

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03/25/14: Delta Spirit at The Vogue

I’ve been attending concerts since I was old enough to drive a car, and something happened at the Delta Spirit’s show at The Vogue in Indianapolis that I’d never seen before.

The final song involved crowd participation, clapping on the beat and singing “woo hoo” or some sort of simple call-response. The Delta Spirit ended the song and walked off, but the “whoo hoos” kept going, and the hand-clapping evolved into foot stomping, a thundering sound that filled the room. And it just kept going. The Delta Spirit crew, revved up by the crowd and on only the second date of their tour, returned in under two minutes and – rather than launch into the first song of their encore – went straight into a reprise of the song the crowd just wouldn’t let go of.

It was a terrific moment that capped one helluva rock show. Throughout the set, the Delta Spirit’s energy ruled all, and the crowd responded. I kept thinking of other great rock shows I’d seen, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers kept coming to mind, both because the Delta Spirit play straight forward rock and roll and the way lead singer Matthew Vasquez played to those in attendance. The friend I attended with kept mentioning Kings of Leon, and I could see that, too. Delta Spirit may not have been playing to the kind of crowds those bands routinely perform before, but DS played like there were thousands watching.

I went in only knowing a little bit about the band. At the end, there was one thing I knew about the Delta Spirit for certain: I will be seeing them again live.

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10/24/2014: Whiskey Bent Valley Boys and The Stampede String Band

So I went to see a show at the Hi-Fi in Fountain Square, a neighborhood making a comeback on the east side of Indianapolis. And wouldn’t you know it, a hoedown broke out?

Indiana’s own Stampede String Band opened and represented the Hoosier State well. Turns out, Moonsville – the title of their debut album and a small burg near Alexandria – is just down the road from Muncie, my hometown. John Bahler’s work on the mandolin was a pleasure to listen to, and the combo was tight. I’m hoping to catch them again, soon. (But you can dump the Royals cover, fellas. It’s the most overrated song of the last decade, and even Lorde’s mom is tired of hearing it.)

Then the Whiskey Bent Valley Boys stepped on stage and showed why they were the headliners. Two hours of non-stop bluegrass, a full house dancing and spilling beer, lots of hooting and requests shouted out periodically. I don’t know that I’d say it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever been to, but I’ve never seen a tighter relationship between a crowd and a band in a live setting. It was clear the Whiskey Bent crew was feeding off the energy of the crowd, and vice versa. If you’re a fan of that traditional mountain music sound – and even you newgrass backers – these guys are a must-see.

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10/11/14: July Talk and Rural Alberta Advantage

Feel the rock and roll fury of July Talk!

Feel the rock and roll fury of July Talk!

I love being right about a band.

I’ve been kind of nerd-gasming in my quarterly music faves posts (albums and songs) ever since hearing July Talk’s debut, Guns + Ammunition, after it dropped early this year. My hope was that live they’d be just as energetic and engaging. And they were everything I could have hoped they would be. Imagine Tom Waits and Tanya Donelly fronting the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Peter Dreimanis scratchy, husky voice and the cleaner, poppier vocals of Leah Fay make an unlikely but fortunate pairing, fronting a furious, danceable blues-rock combo. Their stage presence helps augment their sound, creating a terrific live blast of sound and movement. Their Oct. 11 show at Radio Radio was, for me, just an invitation to go see them again.

I was not looking forward to seeing the evening’s headliner, Rural Alberta Advantage, nearly as much as I had anticipated July Talk’s performance. While I liked RAA’s first two albums, their latest – Mended With Gold – lacked punch. I was kind of expecting to see a large band – six or seven members – playing somewhat lethargic, rootsy alt rock.

I was not right about that. Rural Albert Advantage is comprised of only three people, and they bring the energy and full sound of a band of a half dozen musicians. I was a bit blown away. I think a lot of credit goes to drummer Paul Banwatt, whose spirit and ability help give the RAA a full sound for such a small crew.

The tour continues. I recommend you check it out.

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Jenny Lewis, Indianapolis, 7/31/2014

Jenny Lewis at Old National in Indy.

Jenny Lewis at Old National in Indy.

Way back in 1995 I saw Cypress Hill as part of the original Lollapalooza tour. About midway through the set, B-Real started to kick into the second verse of some song … only to begin repeating the first verse. A few lines in, he realized his error, and stopped the song. “Sometimes when you smoke a lot of weed, you forget shit.” Cypress Hill started the song over, did it right this time and played one of the most energetic sets of the day.

I thought of that when Jenny Lewis and her band stopped Late Bloomer, a track from her newest disc, The Voyager, on Thursday night in Indy. It was their first time playing the song live, and there was some confusion at the end of the second verse. The band, Jenny and the crowd had a brief discussion about what was to come next, and when the correction was agreed upon, Jenny and the band started again and finished to great applause.

That’s what the live show is about: Figuring out how those perfect, clean, heavily tinkered with songs from the album translate in the less-than-perfect real world. Some artists throw fits, argue or yell, creating tension in the group and between the group and the audience. When artists handle it with aplomb, such as B-Real and Jenny did, it sets a relaxed, enjoyable tone.

As a whole, the show was terrific. I’ve always through Jenny has a pretty voice, a flawless voice that plays nicely off the lyrics about flawed individual. What I didn’t realize is how strong her voice is, and live that surprised me more than anything that happened on stage. She and the band played a majority of the new album – Late Bloomer, Aloha & The Three Johns, She’s Not Me, Slippery Slopes, Just One of the Guys, Love You Forever, etc. – tossing in a few from Rabbit Fur Coat (including my favorite from that album, Rise Up With Fists) and Acid Tongue, and even a Rilo Kiley track (the powerful A Better Son/Daughter).

If you didn’t walk in a fan, you sure walked out one.

Other notes …

* The Apache Relay opened and weren’t bad. But I’m confused as to why they needed their third guitarist-slash-second keyboardist. He didn’t seem to add anything to the mix other than another body on an already crowded stage. They also didn’t seem to go off script much. If you’re going to have that many instruments up on stage, someone should jam or go off at some point. Decent, but a bit tepid.

* I got the distinct displeasure of hearing someone absolutely butcher the sound for Perry Farrell’s vocals during Jane’s Addiction’s set a while back at Old National Centre. Last night, Jenny’s voice kept getting buried in the mix. I’m not sure how you hid the voices of such two powerful singers, but I sure as hell wish that would stop happening. Beginning to think it’s not worth it to go to Old National to hear a band, because you aren’t likely to hear the singer.

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The record vs. the live show

I attended the River Roots festival in Madison, Indiana, this past weekend. I was struck by the incredible variances in the artists’ albums and their live performances in a way I never had been before.

For example, Rusted Root. Before I go cracking on their live show, let me say there was a complete meltdown of the sound system prior to their headlining performance, and that probably didn’t help their rhythm and cohesiveness. However, based on their albums and what I’d heard from pals who had already seen Rusted Root live, I expected a drum-heavy set, probably more reggae- or African music-influenced. What I got was an above-average, middle-of-the-road, rock-and-roll cover band. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t worth the headliner billing and definitely not what I – and the increasing number of people heading for the doors during their set – was looking for.

Contrast that with the Black Lillies. They were the headlining act the opening night, and I had been thoroughly underwhelmed by what I’d heard on their albums. But the Black Lillies I saw at River Roots put on one helluva country-inflected rock and roll show. The difference in the energy between the Black Lillies live and on disc was substantial. It really was almost like I was seeing an entirely different band.

That dynamic played out a lot over the course of the weekend. Elephant Revival put on a nice show, but they sounded awfully close to their recorded selves. It would’ve been nice to see them go more off-script. Cincinnati’s Shiny and the Spoon delivered on the second stage, but the quirky folk group I heard on their albums evolved to a more straight-up country act at the festival. Not bad, but unexpected. Spirit Family Reunion were solid on record, but when they played live, it was like I expected to see the words “Passion” and “Intensity” tattooed on the each of the band members’ knuckles, a la Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear.

But the band who took it to another level was St. Paul and the Broken Bones. I’ve already raved about them on my best albums of 2014 (so far) list, and I was psyched for the live show. I’ve never had a come to Jesus moment, but I think watching St. Paul live was as close as I’ll get. The band is absolutely tight, just wrecking each soul track with precision and passion. Lead singer Paul Janeway looks a bit like a guy who might try to sell you life insurance, then the show starts and he’s singing like Otis Redding and moving like a lost Blues Brother.

Apparently, for St. Paul and the Broken Bones, the medium doesn’t matter. They’ll own it no matter what.

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