Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A New Era

After a long hiatus from writing... I shoulder-shifted my content to a new home.

Godspeed y'all.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Live Review: The Gaslight Anthem - Brian Fallon's Broken Heart Ratcheted to 11 - Pier 26 - July 28th, 2013

"Oh, and I, would just die
If you ever took your CONCERT away”

For those who weren’t satisfied with the 14-song, rather rollicking, quite solid Gaslight Anthem set — hoping the encore would take things from good to great — at Pier 26 Sunday night: THAT is exactly what happened. Lead singer of Gaslight Anthem, Brian Fallon, became the overtly ultra-sensitive character he plays (and GA fans LOVE) when he writes songs, and decidedly “heartbroken,” usurping the carpet from under a few unruly fans, and overall a pretty poor audience in general. But, in a quasi-unrelated story, he also took a quality show away from those that love him/them in the process.

He more or less told the audience they ruined the show, and later wrote on the band’s website that they (we?) broke his heart, finding that record stopping moment leaving anyone with any sense (drunk, high, haters, etc) jaw-dropped in the awkward moment. It was approximately 55% of the Ryan Adams “Summer of 69” debacle. It was very real, emotional, and disappointing if you are a big fan and didn’t contribute to the chaotic melee. 

(Writer's note: The below Tweet/link is imperative to this piece) 

So, how did we get here?

It all started with The Hold Steady. Technically, one might point out it all started with the rain, but that happens at outdoor shows. I’ve been to a number of quality rain shows this summer, and that is something you have to deal with. I don’t know why people choose to deal with The Hold Steady. Apparently, they are one of Brian Fallon’s favorite bands. I must say, I’ve seen them a half-a-handful of times and they are one of my least favorite bands. That happens. Sometimes you have to endure through a set you don’t want to, even if you hope you’ve arrived late enough to miss them.  It’s raining and I’m listening to The Hold Steady. It’s still beautiful outside, the rain is not intrusive, and one of my favorite bands is eventually going to take the stage. Life isn’t too bad. Yet.  

My biggest problem with the Hold Steady is that so many people like them. Why? I don’t get it. I must say, I LOVE the lead singers stage presence. I just wish he were a silent film. I don’t like what he has to say, and I don’t like the way it all comes together. There really isn’t much more I can say about it. Something doesn’t strike me right, and when I hear the words coming out of this clown’s (again, I enjoy the spastic presence, but the guy is a clown) mouth, I just cringe. They were given an elongated set, or so it seemed, and quite a popular one at that. I feel like, as many people were there to see the Hold Steady as the Gaslight Anthem. It’s always kind of strange to move up 15 rows at a concert when the opening band leaves the stage. Right from the get-go, this had the feel of a split, semi-ambivalent crowd. 

Anyone that’s been to a Gaslight Anthem show at MHOW, Bowery or say Webster, would attest to the spirit. It’s typically a pretty unified, fist-pumping crowd, intimidatingly so, even to me, and I’m a big guy. I’m pretty sure I wrote once that I’d love to get more (or any for that matter?) tattoos, a tight black T-shirt, and perhaps some kind of airborne martial arts training to get my game right for these kinds of shows. Something like that, sometime. Anyway, the point is unity, and perhaps it was substance abuse (pick your poison, it was very obvious as I was sick all afternoon, and sober), the rain, the billing, but it was decidedly lacking on this particular evening.

The Gaslight Anthem takes the stage, business as usual. Vocals were a little low to start, but were adjusted in a timely fashion. Lots of energy, lots of Brian Fallon smiles, there was scattered fist pumping and, really, I think everyone was having a good time. The new material sounded great. I know Handwritten isn’t their most popular album, but there are a number of intriguing songs on it, and they play the new ones with more immediacy than the old ones, so they have a little luster to them. Boisterous “45” and the huge hook of “Blue Dahlia” were the winners of this set. Everyone sang, loud and proud, the choruses to these songs, “45” to the point that Brian Fallon could leave the mic stand and direct the “gospel choir” himself. All the usual GA qualities were present. There were a few old songs, at one point during the show Brian Fallon told a gregarious story about how everyone you see on stage is “just a bunch of guys from New Jersey in a band!? (shrug).” Towards the end of the set there were a few slow songs, “Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts” most notably, a rare cut called “Halloween” I was digging capriciously, and “The Backseat” brought the set to a close. Rock. I love it. Fantastic. I was having a shitty day, and it was much better for having seen this show. All I would like is a few more of my favorite songs during the encore, and I will feel really good about this purchase. This band. My life. I think of Snatch when ALL Brad Pitt needs to do is STAY DOWN.

Then, the encore happened. And, now, we’re fucked

The premise was solid. Brian Fallon wanted to buddy-buddy with the audience in a real way. Like a human being. Like the sensitive man he seems to be. He had a bottle of beer in his hand, with an “I just got out of work, let’s sing some of our favorite songs” kind of vibe. After all, he DID just complete a three-night stand in NYC. I do this with my roommates from time to time, when I get home from a long, long day of work and like to unwind with brew. He explained that he didn’t necessarily like the kitschy call-and-response stuff of arena shows, but, together, singing some classic hits can be kind of fun. So, he started things off with “Ice Ice Baby” and gave some whimsical banter about the man, the legend. The opening verse went well and eventually faded out at the word “dance,” to which Fallon lamented, expectedly, “that’s about where that stops.” And, pretty much, that’s the last moment this show was fun.

What proceeded from here was really awkward to the point that I don’t remember the order it all went down. I remember having my jaw on the floor and saying/thinking to myself, “is this really happening!?” There were probably several thought bubble “OMG’s” floating throughout the night sky, enough to cloud the delicious view of the Freedom Tower just off to the left. Because, I can’t remember the order specifically, I think the best way is to bullet the problematic proceedings

(Writer's note: I apologize for the spacing of this bulleted list. I've given up trying to fix it. The only way I know how is through the HTML, which on bulleted lists is just a mess.) 

·       Brian Fallon engaged in a back-and-forth with one audience member who said something about Bruce Springsteen, to which Fallon sharply throttled him with, “that’s a cool thing that happened to me, NOT YOU.” Swiftly ending the engagement by telling the person to “go see his (Bruce Springsteen’s) show!?” 
·       Following Vanilla Ice, he tried to get the crowd to sing Lady Gaga. This failed miserably! To which Fallon, kind of agitated, but still trying to remain playful, said something like, “wow, that is terrible, that SUCKED, we did this last night with a couple hundred people and they WIPED THE FLOOR WITH YOU!?” 
·       This lead to another back-and-forth with an audience member who obviously bashed Lady Gaga, to which Fallon went on a tirade, hilariously mocking Jersey Shore types that are too “tough” to like Lady Gaga, rallying the crowd around the fact that, “this is NYC, and even hardcore dudes love GA shows, because THEY like to have fun.” 
·       He didn’t give up, yet, on the sing-a-long idea. He proceeded to try to give the audience OPTIONS, hoping to rally everyone around his vision. Unfortunately, he didn’t foresee the progression he inevitably lead himself down. I don’t remember the next song he suggested, but I DO remember the second song was Bon Jovi’s (New Jersey?) “Living on a Prayer,” which he followed with a teasing, “orrrr,” to which the crowd erupted "Bruuuuuuuuuuuce!" If you think about it, there are two sides to this street. He pretty much teased this out of the audience, but anyone that knows anything about GA knows they are SO SICK of this, and wouldn’t dream of asking for that. And, obviously, this was the last straw. 
·       From there, he literally threated to, “go Axl Rose and not play another song.” This, I think, at would have been the right call. Perhaps in hindsight, Fallon wishes the same thing. 
·       Instead, like a crotchety old man swatting a fly, he said, “ahhh, you ruined it.” Like a GIF in my head, I cannot scrape this from my memory. I wish I could. 
·       He angrily slung his guitar over his shoulder proclaiming they’re going to play Gaslight Anthem songs, and played three GA songs with ZERO enthusiasm whatsoever, and closed ironically with the Who’s “Baba O’Riley.”
·       The band set down their instruments and flatly walked off stage.


(Writer's note: After completing this piece, I found an NPR posting a video of the actual event. I think it's ironic to note how far OFF my memory was. That just tells you how much of a state of shock I was in at the time.)

I’m a Huge Fan of Brian Fallon

Because of what Brian Fallon wrote in his letter about spiteful critics, I feel the need to profess my love for the man. I love this guy. The Gaslight Anthem has continued to climb the “charts” if you will of my favorite bands. Over the few GA shows I’ve been to the guy won me over hand over fist.

First and foremost, his lyrics are THE BEST. He is my favorite lyricist, hands down. Perhaps, I try to think of myself as too much like him. We’re both blonde haired, sensitive guys that are “cut to ribbons” by girls eyes. (I know this description is incredibly narrowing) Yes. We even pretty much have the same name. I just like the approach he has to writing these edgy hard rocking songs, with these almost flowery, poetic, lovin’ the ol’ times with tears running down your face lyrics.

Second, he seems like an awesome dude. I love how he smiles the entire time he sings, and after seeing that encore, it’s quite apparent that the songs really need to be sung with emotion, or they are really fucking flat. That emotion means a great deal. In that way, what happened was shined an illustrious light on that necessary variable. Besides the unconditional happiness he seems to sing with, I love his banter. He destroys hecklers with sharp wit. He’s obviously very quick and loves to use it. He always tells stories that are coy about his fame, and typically end with something along the lines of, “we’re just average guys that happen to be in a band. We quit our regular jobs and THIS is what we do now. Thank you for coming to our show, we’re going to work really hard to make a product that makes you proud in the future.”

I can get behind that.  

I will always be a big fan of the band because of these concepts. The ‘59 Sound will always be in the conversation when I talk about my favorite albums of all-time. The time I saw them at MHOW (A few months prior to Handwritten being released if I do recall) is one of the best concerts I have ever seen. I’m always going to hang on to what we’ve had and the memories I have tied to these gracious entities—whether they become muddled amongst the heap remains to be seen.  

I cannot wait to see Gaslight Anthem again.

I Get It, I Really Do

But, seriously, I’m now in a position that I HAVE to see Gaslight Anthem again. I need to see them put on a great show, or I will forever have a bitter taste in my mouth. I need to cleanse the Gaslight Anthem palate!? In the words of General Hummel, from Alcatraz, “Damn you (Brian Fallon) for putting me in this position.”  

With that said, I get it. From what I can gather, there have been little murmurs and slight disturbances throughout Fallon’s recent touring that would indicate that this is all getting a tad old. He’s tired of ungracious patrons of shows trying to jack his show up with inattention and retarded banter. Audiences are getting more and more A.D.D. with phones, camera’s and other assorted technology. You see so many people go to shows and just take pictures of themselves the whole time and upload them on Facebook right there at the show. It’s the new next day t-shirt?! And, when you get bigger, more and more folks come out, just to say they were there. Do these people really even enjoy going to the show? Crowds are so unresponsive that artists that rely on audiences for feedback, have to come up with new ways to “live in the moment” on stage. Like a standup comedian telling jokes in an empty studio. It’s very sad.

The band itself is CLEARLY at a crossroads. They probably feel like they’ve brought it upon themselves from the course they’ve paved rising to the top, but really, it’s something EVERY band has to go through, and there is no reason to feel singled out or embarrassed. I think that’s why there’s a “Rule of 5” for bands. If you can make it as a band through five albums, you’re a legit band. You’ve had to wind through a trend or two, and diversify your sound a time or two, not to mention the core human element of just living as a band family of human beings. People that change and have to spend obscene amounts of time together in close quarters, most of the time without money. There are uppers, downers, girl drama, and all kinds of life problems that someone in the family is going to battle and need support threatening to bring the whole band family production to its knees. It’s a real accomplishment.

GA is definitely at a point where they need to find something new for their fifth album, and Fallon has alluded to the band taking a No Code (Pearl Jam’s surprising change to a mellower tone) type of turn” with their next album. I would expect it would be more acoustic based, mature and eerily complex. I’m really fucking excited about it to be honest with you. Hearing Brian Fallon play GA songs solo, they definitely carry over. See you on the flip-side, sir!? Some of the songs sound completely different and will certainly have a whole new resonation with long-times all the way through first-timers, which is a rare and beautiful thing when bands can do that with their songs. My favorite band, the Foo Fighters, are absolute wizards at this maneuver.

With these things in mind, I think it’s entirely possible Mr. Fallon was in his head a little bit, and just became, honestly and purely heartbroken. When you’re sensitive, and live by the emotions on your sleeve and let your heart drive you, life can be a rollercoaster. As someone who lives this way, it’s definitely worth it, but at times you have to be able to coach yourself out of the very thing that makes life so amazing. You can’t berate your strengths when they become weaknesses. That emotional jolt leads one down ridiculous paths and causes the pot seemingly inexplicably boil over. When in front of an audience, even the experienced get frazzled and don’t have time to think through actions.

People with broken hearts usually don’t follow logic and make the best decisions. More often than not, a guy that gets his heartbroken will immediately try to fight for whoever did the heartbreaking, when in fact, this is almost never the right choice. It’s what the heart wants, but the heart doesn’t have the thought process to do the make the right move in that situation, which is almost always: Focusing on yourself and reacting indifferent to the heartbreaker, until they realize THEY made the mistake. It’s fucking that simple. It really is. Anyone that follows their heart first will make this mistake, and have to live by it.

I think that analogy reigns supreme in this situation and it caused Brian Fallon to make an illogical choice, punishing himself, his band, and the actual fans that were in love with the show. The very fans that realize the band supersedes the faulty, stereotypical, utterly ridiculous and unfair branding of a Bruce Spingsteen tributary pop-rock cash cow, and ultimately the show became crippled because of it.

I can’t say I haven’t done the same in similar situations (I’m obviously not a rock star), but in hindsight it makes it easy for me to pontificate to this laptop and discuss why it was the wrong call. In some ways what happened at Pier 26 was awesome, because it was real, and it solidified the lyrics in Gaslight Anthem songs as something that comes from a real human being, not just a talented writer, though if you’ve read this far, you realize Brian Fallon is that, in spades, as well.

Why It Was Wrong?

Again, I think the show would have been better if they walked off stage when things went bad. Walk away before you do and say things you don’t mean. But, Brian Fallon claimed he was going to, “play Gaslight Anthem songs.” He did that, yes. But, unlike what Grantland and countless others reported, they didn’t do it diligently or professionally. He played the material to say he finished his setlist, and to avoid potential pandemonium. What he really did is murder his own material. This is never ok.

I’m a big enough fan that I’ve been running the Gaslight Anthem pretty heavily in my music rotation, despite the disappointing aftertaste. Typically a bad concert will cause me to put the bands catalog on ice. After a poor Tom Petty concert, I didn’t listen to the man for five years. It can be THAT serious. I think just yesterday I ran through GA’s entire catalog twice. Hey, I am writing this piece, and my current love life needs Brian Fallon’s vulnerable vernacular. I did, however, skip three songs both times. Can you guess which they were? 1) “Here Comes My Man” 2) “Mulholland Drive” 3) “She Loves You,” yeah, yeah, yeah. (Note: Setlist included at the bottom)

In fact, I’m reading the Pete Townsend autobiography right now, so I’ve also been listening to the Who a great deal, and I’m skipping “Baba O’Riley” currently as well. That album just doesn’t sound as good starting with “Bargain,” though that may be my favorite song the famed album (Who’s Next). I just can’t with that shit right now. You can’t kill your songs. It’s like hanging with a bunch of people that suck AND aren’t much fun at karaoke (dealing with one is tolerable). Every selection they make is like shooting a flaming arrow into your collection. It heals, yes. “Mulholland Drive” is too good of a song to remain on ice. I’m not sure the other two will make it for me. I just don’t know at this point. It’s very raw and unseasonably sensitive right now.

When you kill your own songs you’re punishing your own fans. Why, would anyone do that? Do you think the hecklers shouting about Bruce Springsteen have the iTunes exclusive “She Loves You” American Slang B-Side? There is nothing to gain by playing a song some audience members don’t want to hear, poorly. Nobody wins. Everyone losses.

There has to be some options where SOMEBODY gets what they want. Honestly, the encore performance was so terrible it was comical. If Brian Fallon was truly heartbroken and he did this to punish people, I just think there were better options, than playing your own songs flat, and bitching to your band mates about the audience while playing. That’s what it looked like was happening. He wasn’t even really enunciating the syllables. It. Was. Bad.  

I, however, have some suggestions that would be more constructive, or more comical so SOMEONE wins and can gloat at those that lose. Isn’t that what it’s about?

1.     Play BRUCE songs poorly – You want Bruce? Play a handful of Bruce Springsteen songs as terribly as possible. I once watched Ben Folds bastardize “Brick” by playing a heavy metal version on just a bass, essentially sticking it to people that came to hear his biggest hit—Screaming, “SIX AM!!!! DAY ATFER CHRISTMAS!!!!!?!?!” It was fucking awesome!  Comical for those that knew what he was doing and horrific for those that wanted their live moment with that 90’s super-staple. Can you imagine like a ukulele version of “Born to Run” or perhaps a choppy unrehearsed take of “Glory Days!?” Oh my God, that would be hilarious.

2.     Play YOUR songsBETTER – You won’t sing my sing-a-longs? You want covers? Here are 10 Gaslight Anthem songs down your fucking throat, fuckers!??!! These songs fucking rock, we’re a great live band and nobody can stop us!!!! Play them hard, play them emotional, and play them without banter. Say, “we are Gaslight Anthem, you’re not, FUCK YOU.” Walk off stage. This would be AMAZING for the diehards!? It would take the voice out of the hecklers, and besides the extra work, be a pretty amazing thing. If you’re going to sit around, and post a heartbroken letter four hours after playing anyway, wouldn’t you rather do easier work like playing songs you know by heart? Make your point by playing your best show ever, and gain three hours getting drunk with The Hold Steady. You can win a crowd over!? I saw it this summer with Born Ruffians. That was a first; I wish this had been the second. Pete Townsend, to spite the critics of Tommy when it was initially not well received, invited all the critics he could, put them in a room, gave them free beer, and proceeded to put on the best performance possible, winning the critics over and launching the band into the next level of musicianship. That’s rock ‘n roll.

3.     The Andy Kaufman Treatment – Grab a Bruce Springsteen lyric book and read it to the crowd until everyone leaves. You know what? I think it’d be funny enough that not everyone would leave. Start with Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973) and see where it takes you.

4.     Poorly Executed Technology Gag – Have Bruce Springsteen call or record some voice message greetings and play them to the crowd. Play them over the phone in a way where everyone would have to be quiet (this would be a spectacle, possibly lead to a couple fights) to hear what he’s saying. The gag would be, he would never end up saying anything exciting. He would just talk about mundane things like what kind of salad he’s eating on tour.

5.     Bring the Hold Steady Back Out – I can’t imagine a worse line item, the Hold Steady cover Bruce Springsteen. Or, you could jam with your buddy’s, produce something unique, fuck around hanging out and having fun in front of an ungrateful audience. Why care if you’re just jamming with your buddies? How about a song like, “For All Y’allThat Wear Fanny Packs!?”

6.     Play the Same Bruce Song on Repeat – Again, this is alot of work, but Jay Z (mimed “Picasso Baby” for six hours topromote Magna Carta Holy Grail) and the National (played “Sorrow” for six hours straight) just accomplished it for the sake of “art.” Pick a song and play it over and over again. By the third or fourth time, I think people would get the point and it’d turn into a true rock spectacle. People have already started the movement, put the fuck you in the movement by sticking it to the haters, and giving the people that want something unique a little something unique!?

7.     Play “Fred’s Got Slacks” – Just once I want a legit band to play this. Not my most thematic suggestion.

I hate to say it, but I don’t know what the big deal is? I know ANY joke or reference gets tiring over and over and over again!? This has been happening for EVER. How about “Free Bird?” You know? I’ve seen two separate bands (Builtto Spill and Ben Folds, this is my fourth Folds reference in this piece, yikes) stick it to audiences that yell “Free Bird” by actually playing “Free Bird” in its entirety. There has to be a way to embrace your idols and be yourself in the same breath, but embrace your idols. Embrace where it’s gotten you. (GA has done this well, and even in his note he did this profusely) The comparison is a GOOD THING. If people called me Klosterman Zerfas or whatever and constantly compared me to my idols of writing, I would be flattered. It would get old and I’d try to separate myself from it, but I can’t imagine biting the hand that feeds.

Besides, it’s an unfair comparison anyway. Anybody that knows anything about music would realize GA have made changes to their sound over time and have proven to be a band that’s beyond the Bruuuuuuuuuuuuce shadow.

Why is this album NOT Bruce? A quick album arc of Gaslight Anthem

·       Sink or Swim – This does have some of the old time flare (records, Judy Garland, boys and girls being boys and girls) that I think helps the association. I just think it’s more of a punk album, more like the Clash. Not as much like Bruce.

·       The ’59 Sound – You can’t write a song like “Meet Me By the River’s Edge” and not garner Bruce comparisons. This is the breakout album that cemented this comparison, and even myself, on this day to a friend that hadn’t heard the band before, painfully, and with unintentional foreshadowing, dropped the Bruce Bomb. This album lead to Bruce joining the boys on stage. There is a great deal of diversity on this album with, “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” a song that has the depth and guitar sound of an ACTUAL blues song and “Film Noir” which is a stomping punk rocker that reminds me of the Living End.

·       American Slang – Not at all like Bruce. This album has a tasteful whisk of Motown and plays out like a rolling collage of driving heartfelt pounding the pavement soul, with a full snapping fingers gospel choir, kids playing basketball turning their heads to the parade, and a road trip with a lot of bridge tolls. That may sound like Bruce, but really, it’s Brian. It’s too intrinsic to be altruistic. It’s a fun diversion from the previous two albums, without losing the essence of the band.

·       Handwritten Just a straight rock record. Bruce doesn’t record straight rock records? Sure, he has an “ooooooh” on “Born to Run,” but almost every song here requires a rock chorus of some kind of chanting vowel sound. I think Bruce would get bored, but I wouldn’t. It’s a damn good rock record. Like Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedos with bigger choruses and a divine obsession with the Ramones. It’s simplistic, yet effectively communicative.

The people that love you, know you’re not Bruce. The people that don’t, are too stupid to dignify with a response. You guys are doing a great job; I can’t wait for the fifth album, apparently coming out sometime in ‘14. We’re all eager, and I’m betting you’ll make enough of your fans proud that the Bruce ordeal will decrescendo at tad. And a tad more over time. Furthermore, I’m predicting their sixth album, whenever it comes out, will be even HARDER rocking than any of these other albums. I honestly am projecting a masterpiece. I think these guys have it in them. They will make a softer, beautiful adult album, and then, much in the vein of the Foo Fighters Wasting Light they will want to rock one more time before they get “old.” Razor sharp, reinvented and so G.D. effervescent, Bruce will join them again, and it won’t even be a big deal. Because it’s all going to blow over.

Unless you keep acting out like this. Then, you’re writing your own eulogy, and even “spiteful critics” won’t be able to save you. Enjoy the extra press, press your grown up button ups and get that fifth album to the press—you are the new idols.    

No retreat, no regrets.

The ’59 Sound
The Diamond Church Street Choir
Biloxi Parish
We Came to Dance
Blue Dahlia
Old Haunts
Great Expectations
Too Much Blood on the Page
Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts
The Backseat

Here Comes My Man
Mulholland Drive
She Loves You
Baba O’Riley (Who cover)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Live Review: She & Him - July 6th and July 8th, 2013 - Central Park SummerStage

I spy with both of my bleary eyes…summer. I see lovers. I see buzzing bees. I see Zooey Deschanel jumping up and down with a tambourine!? This makes me giddy to no end! Wake up the overworked and underpaid, we like the same things and I like your smile: Crushes and cold drinks abound!?

I reckon it can’t be beat. And, I’m not talking with the perverted nature of The Man Show when they would have women with big bouncy boobs jumping on trampolines, though, obviously, Zooey is very beautiful. I’m speaking of a good, clean, giddy-fun rock show at one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

·       Did I mention the giddiness of Zooey Deschanel jumping around stage with a tambourine?
·       They played 25 & 28 songs respectively. In my mind, that’s giving it all you have. They played all my favorites!
·       The band put a strict cease and desist (not really, but lots of posts and security verbal reminders) on cameras and phones during the show. A stand I’d like to see taken more often and more hardcore in the future, if, somehow possible.
·       Anytime M.Ward would sing, the crowd would go berserk! His guitar playing was buzz-worthy. M.Ward has my full attention as a potential sleeper guitar God.
·       Vol 3 is a masterpiece album. The (new) material not only holds up, but it advances the sonic fortitude of the band. Reminds me of The Beach Boys Pet Sounds, but with female vocals. As I wrote on my Twitter, “Sunny with waves of darkness blended with effervescent romantism.”
·       Fantastic stage set up with a myraid of diverse lighting sets.
·       No gimmicks: How awesome would it be to hear M.Ward sing, “Who’s that girl?” Or, I think Zooey should wear a M.Ward shirt and M.Ward should wear a New Girl shirt. Though, I understand that they are more “fashionable” than that.
·       Lots of well-done, re-worked, unexpected covers.
·       That fun-go-lucky music just flourishes in the beautiful setting of Central Park. It’s lushness frolics through the parks nooks and crannies and into your brain, fresh and park air clean.

·       Zooey’s stage banter was sheepish. A bad sheepish. I was looking forward to this part of the show, and I just walked away not gushing all over her as my dreams had me. Perhaps my expectations were to high. She would ask mundane questions to the audience, as a time waster, but it wasn’t sincere or funny. Did anyone else think this?
·       Saturday’s show was TOO HOT. Not the band’s fault, but stuff like that does affect the overall mood.
·       Zooey didn’t pick me out of the audience and marry me on stage. )-:

She & Him just played two nights of glorious smile-glazed harmonies at Central Park’s Summerstage. Now, it wasn’t all greetings of giggles and blowing bubbles in the gentle warm sun. Saturday (the 6th) was a dense, compacted battle against the sun and its army of humidity, whereas Monday’s show (the 8th) was forced to grin and bear through a 15, or so, minute rain delay. The rain was hard and cold, but not as much of a nuisance as one might think, coming and going quickly and unabashed. The degree to which the audience was soaked, only seemed to amp up anticipation for the upcoming ZooeyFest.

Make no mistake about the duo’s name: It’s Zooey’s show. Though, at times, I would watch M.Ward with such a mesmerizing trance, it would seem like the band I was seeing was Him & She. This was quite unexpected, as I have followed the band from the beginning (though never live…), but my love of Zooey blossomed exponentially with New Girl, though again I would argue the best parts of that show are the Hims: Nick Miller and Schmidt. With that said, Zooey is the epicenter of fun, cute, quirky and all-world talent (actress, songwriter, performer, what can’t she do? What a life!?) allowing these amazing entities to orbit around her, with her own brand of grace.

It’s been well documented that M.Ward is more than fine taking the back seat to Zooey’s show (he does so with such a professional luster I might add…), as the whole thing started with a series of demos Zooey sent him, which eventually became Vol. 1. M.Ward a troubadour, a journeyman, a sleeper guitar God in his own right, makes out pretty well in the deal. He gets to work with someone that really has a gift for crafting top-notch melodies and lyrics and Ward can turn them into harmonic perfection. I wish I made this up, but the best thing I’ve ever read about Ward is so true it’s comically ridiculous: M.Ward can make a song from today sound like it was recorded in the 50’s and a song from the 50’s sound like it was written yesterday. The guy has a gift for tunings and knob turnings that can make anything retro, but at the same time, find that Rick Rubin digging into the personality of the musician, and make it come to life raw and urgent. That’s what he does with Zooey. With  She and Him, he’s brought the Zooeyness to the forefront of the music, along with lending an illustrious creditability to the end product that channels his idols: The Beach Boys and the Beatles, with the chemical artistry of a batch of Walter White crystal meth. 99% vs. 96%. Chuuch.

Speaking of The Beach Boys, She & Him’s new album appropriately titled Vol 3 I’m lovingly titling Pet Sounds with a Pussy. You may not like that word. You may think it’s unfair to compare any album to Pet Sounds. But, if you listen to “I’ve Got Your Number, Son” and “Never Wanted Your Love,” I really don’t see what other conclusion you can come to. M.Ward, mad scientist, uber-genius, really cooked one up here. Accept the reference and the alliteration!? It’s a lovely and updated sound, and with cute female vocals. What’s this world coming to, right? It’s so effervescent and fresh smelling park grass. Even the album cover has two beautiful faces with florescent bubbles flying around it. The art is right on. So, put your headphones on, wait for a gust of wind, and get the kite blazing! That, or find yourself a windy road and a convertible and let your hair fly on a lush coastal beach. These are the two places this album takes me. Either way, the Wilson brothers would be proud!

The first thing I wonder about a She & Him show, is how are they going to replicate all the layering of her vocals. Many times their songs break into multiple, sometimes as many as five, vocal layers. I call it a “brain full of cycling Zooey’s.” Ah, it’s a wonderful thing!? The more Zooey’s the better, am-I-right? For the tour, they have anywhere from just She & Him (two people if you’re counting) all the way to about a dozen people, on an occasional string boosted song. Just awesome. The “brain full of cycling Zooey’s is simply two backup singers (little Zooey’s?), who might I add are snapping and swaying in unison the entire show. It’s amazing to me how those little details make something so special. Just ask anyone that was in a Marching Band. The difference is in the details. Anyway, if you’re keeping score, the means the TOURING version of the band is: She & Him & Him & Him & Him & Him & Him & Her & Her (little Zooey’s).  

I was definitely impressed at Zooey’s vocal prowess. On the new album, Vol 3, her voice has a deep richness to it I haven’t heard before. It looks like when she sings the songs with this robust flavor live, she needs her full elongated straight up posture to hammer it out, but it sounds amazing. Like a singing Zooey oak tree. I would say about 96% of the show, she sounds elite and about four percent of the time she sounds like someone who’s really good at karaoke missing a note or two. As in, a couple of the songs like “Stars Fell on Alabama” (Frank Sinatra) and even though I love it, a couple of times I thought it sounded flat, “Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me” (Mel Carter). On the closing anthem of the show, M.Ward gently strummed a rockin’ “I Put a Spell on You” (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins/CCR) to which Zooey left the mic stand, getting as close to the audience as possible and seemingly tried to blow everyone away with her voice. Literally. Physically. Using the wind of her voice like a powerful tornado. Show’s over, folks, you’ve been blown OUT of the park!!!? It was powerful, comical and quite impressive all at the same time. It reminded me of Tenacious D’s “Master Exploder.” It was THAT over the top and awe thumping. Everyone not bowled over, was at the very least knocked back to their heels and impressed. 

This was the last straw for me to make THIS comparison. She & Him, and Zooey, remind me a great deal of Jack Black and Tenacious D. Albeit more snapping your fingers, clean and poppy, lots of dick jokes to literally ZERO dick jokes… There are some crisp similarities. 1) We’re talking about an actress making music, but I and most I know, prefer the music 2) An A-list comrade to smooth out the edges, give illuminating credibility, and generally take things to the next level. For The D, it’s Dave Grohl, who plays most electric guitars, drums, THE DEVIL, lends his Studio 606, etc, etc. For She & Him, it’s M.Ward. 3) “Master Exploder” 4) They’ve both recorded three albums (we’ll say The D’s HBO show and S & H’s Christmas Album cancel each other out) 5) The D’s obsession with ROCKING correlates directly with She & Him’s songcraft to come up with a retro-style hook. 

Saturday's show was a heat stroke waiting to happen, with the pressure cooker of being a Saturday night in NYC. Saturday nights during the summer of NYC, just have a feel. Like something amazing is supposed to happen. It usually does, but there is still that kind of date-y like pressure. Monday's show, wasn't as hot, sold out, compact or pressurized. It was loose. Zooey's family was in attendance. It just seemed like everyone had a little bit of a better time. It made me very glad I decided to go to BOTH shows. If I only saw the Saturday show, my Midwest mindset perhaps would have left me feeling the band was conceited. Not in a terrible way, but Saturday's event wasn't the most gracious display. It's NYC. It was hot. They did their job, but there wasn't that feeling that this was THE MOST FUN THING EVER for them to do. I always love that feeling. Monday's show was at least a little closer to that. 

I did dig Zooey's Tweet. Perhaps it was PR, but it still made me feel good, and because of PR, and the diminishing returns of expectations, this is a real, real nice gesture...
“Never Wanted Your Love,” reminds me directly of the buzzing bees feeling of Pet Sounds “I’m Waiting for the Day.” Zooey’s lyrics are so cutting and urgent, “take a win, take a fall/I never wanted your love/but I needed it all/I’m tired of being clever/everyone’s clever these days.” That’s just flat out brilliant, and with that rolling drum beat and a rich “I could sing this song in the shower for hours voice,” it’s hard not to fall. Ok, make that a COLD SHOWER. All head over heels and drooling aside, Zooey is a lyrical and melodic force, with an absurd amount of sing-able, maudlin, love struck, love pained, well rounded, outright top-shelf tunes for your listening, discernable ears. I want to buy a tambourine and dance around my room with this shit on full blast. Her songs are as good, if not better than any of my favorite female artists: Norah, Feist, Carina Round, etc, etc. She has to be there, and with Vol 3 and a salient tour—the force is set free.

So cut the chit-chat haters, summer bubbles and bee stings are here. I’ve been stung and I cherish the wound. So, let yourself fall in love and have this retro-ly delicious soundtrack to do so. Buzz. Buzz. Swoon.

I Was Made for You
I’ve Got Your Number, Son
Over it and Over it Again
Take it Back
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me (Mel Carter cover)
Turn to White
I Thought I Saw Your Face Today
Brand New Shoes (Sat only)
You Really Got a Hold on Me (The Miracles cover)
Stars Fell on Alabama (Frank Sinatra cover)
Unchained Melody (Alex North cover)
Me and You
Ridin’ in My Car (NRBQ cover)
Don’t Look Back
Rave On! (Sonny West cover)
Magic Trick (M.Ward song)
This is Not a Test
Never Wanted Your Love
I Could Have Been Your Girl (Sat only)
Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?
In the Sun

Sunday Girl (Blondie cover)
Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck Berry cover) (Sat only)
Sweet Darlin’

I Put a Spell on You (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins cover) 

Author's Note: I DID adhere to the no pictures or phone 99% of the time. The pictures you see, were taken during the double encore of the Saturday show, when a bunch of people left. No, I'm not proud, but it DOES add to this blog post. So, I did it for YOU readers. I did it for YOU. (-: 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Live Review: Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine - Bowery Ballroom - July 3rd, 2013

Stolen Clip Art.
From the opening chords of “Too Drunk to Fuck” by the Dead Kennedys, smoothly transitioning into the ever catchy chorus from Nine Inch Nails, “I want to fuck you like an animal” in the most relaxed lounge way possible, and even for good measure, Khia’s “My Neck, My Back (lick my pussy and my crack),” Richard Cheese was the consummate professional. A lounge-y, well dressed, vulgar as fuck, lounging against the machine…professional.

He also donned the teacher cap, and taught the relatively middle aged, sold out, audience at Bowery Ballroom that the power of pussy comes in three’s—leading a chant of Prince’s “Pussy Control,” holding the mic out to, yes, “pussy-pussy-pussycontrooooooooool.” That’s a new jam on his latest release, The Royal Baby Album.
The day before Independence Day should ALWAYS be riddled with satire, laughs, too much booze, and the ultimate party host. And, really, what’s more American than all of that?

It seems like every single time Richard Cheese has been in town; I haven’t been able to go. This show seems like the kind of commodity that happens all the time in NYC, but not as often in other parts of the world. It’s why I love the ENDLESS options of living in NYC, but somehow, I haven’t been able to put it together until THIS TOUR. After eight long years, I finally got to see the Richard Cheese and the Lounge Against the Machine stage show!? Sardonic satire at it’s finest. Oh, Lordy what a treat!!

I remember back in dorm life (sigh…) this was some of the funniest shit ever. And, to me, a middle-aged white guy singing the most vulgar and hardcore pop songs from all eras will never cease to lose its amusement, or run its course. The one thing I didn’t think about, and I put this in my head by reading a few reviews prior to the show, will it over saturate itself during the show?

I typically enjoy a Richard Cheese laugh a couple tunes at a time, laugh, laugh some more, and then mosey my way onto something else. It’s always a treat to play for friends that haven’t heard it at the end of a party or something. I haven’t really made it a habit to listen to an ENTIRE Richard Cheese album in one sitting. Some of the reviews, albeit I randomly was reading them off Ticketmaster, fancied the idea that these cheesy lounge songs get old after two hours. Bah humbug!?

I didn’t really have that problem.

Musically, the show carries itself well enough, but what makes the show special is the ability Cheese has to ham it up with the audience. The Richard Cheese show is pretty much a comedy show. Obviously, it’s going to be hilarious, and that’s the point, but one way to transcend the songs and keep everything seamless, is an element of working a room and showmanship you really see out of standup comedians. This is the KEY element!

He had a wireless microphone and would walk around the room at his heart’s desire (he even went all the way up in the balcony) and mock people, banter, make jokes, do stupid shit, and for lack of a fancier team…entertain the masses. At one point, he even had everyone go on Twitter, and the facilitated a Tweeting contest!? Best Tweet including Richard Cheese would win a pretty ambitious music package from the band, including all their albums and so on and so forth. 
There were about 100 chairs (up front) at Bowery Ballroom, and sitting in the chairs, more or less meant you were in the show. Most of the front row was heckled on end, by name, the entire show. This particular show, some chick in the front row named Debbie was berated endlessly to the amusement of…well…seemingly everybody. Even Debbie. Her reward? She got to be the “Baby Got Back” dancer. To answer your question…yes.
The shtick is pretty predictable, yet impossible not to like. There were four jacket changes, from the neat and tidy tux, to the martini jacket, to the tiger stripped jacket and eventually back to the regular tux. Jazz hands. Self-depreciating humor by the truckload. Lots of talk about drinking. Enough cock jokes to capsize an Apatow or Todd Phillips screenplay. Yet, everything keeps moving right along, as Cheese continued to crank out the "hits." He pretty much played everything I wanted to hear, and made me laugh as much as I wanted to laugh..if that makes sense. For Bowery $35 dollars is an expensive show, but I can’t imagine getting more for my money anywhere else. It’s just an lovely evening of vulgar lounge music!? Like Sinatra on molly! I mean, Sinatra was probably on his generation's molly, but you get the point. 

It's all as delicious as a big block of Dick Cheese. 

Zerfas' Top 5 Richard Cheese Cuts:
5.     Gimme That Nutt – Easy-E (New addition. Holy shit I was on the floor)

(87.7% accuracy. Didn’t write it down, I was too drunk (to setlist?), and having too much fun. Order is askew, but for the most part this is how it went down. I may have missed a song or two. I don’t remember “Rape Me” or “Billy Jean” which are Cheese staples. Didn’t mean they didn’t happen!? I’m 97% sure they didn’t though.)

Too Drunk to Fuck (Dead Kennedys)
Closer (Nine Inch Nails)
Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 (Pink Floyd)
We Are Young (Fun.)
Brass Monkey (Beastie Boys)
Beastie Boys Medley (mostly turned into him saying Beastie Boys titles to Lounge Music. Still Funny.)
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Theme (audience request)
Tik Tok (Ke$ha)
Three’s a Company Theme
Buddy Holly (Weezer)
Gin and Juice (Snoop Dogg)
Like a G6 (Far East Movement)
Ice Ice Baby (Vanilla Ice)
Chop Suey (Sytem of the Down)
Sponge Bob Square Pants Theme
Gimme That Nutt (Easy-E)
You Shook Me All Night Long (AC/DC)
Hash Pipe (Weezer)
Pussy Control (Prince)
Down With the Sickness (Disturbed)
Baby Got Back (Sir Mix-a-Lot)
Fight for your Right (Beastie Boys)
My Neck, My Back (Khia)
Creep (Radiohead)