Thursday, August 28, 2008

Nine Inch Nails - The IZOD Center

I was going to preface this review with a story about buying bootlegs of Nine Inch Nails concerts on tape in the late 90s, but that kind of fluff isn't necessary: there's so much to talk about as it is that the bootleg story can wait until another time.

This concert was one of the best three concerts I've seen in my life (the other two: Tool at the Verizon Wireless Arena in 2002 and Metallica at Gillette Stadium in 2003), drawing on a common theme of a complete audio/visual experience. As it turns out, play a rockin' show is good...blowing my mind with a great light show is even better. Let me explain what I mean:

First there were the rows and rows of lights arranged in a grid behind the band. Some were strobes; most were stage lights set on swivels. For the first half hour, the stage lights operated in sequence with the music, creating Matrix-style patterns during "March of the Pigs," flaring green and blue and moving in coordinated waves during "Reptile" while the strobes, well...strobed. Strobbingly. The effect probably varied depending on your location, but from twenty feet in front of the stage it was wonderfully dazzling. I remember coming up from headbanging during "Wish" and stopping, stunned for a moment as the wash of blue and red lights hit me in the face like a sledgehammer. You can see a little bit of what I mean from this photo.

Then there were the screens: three scrims, made out of a mesh of steel bars, that dropped vertically from the top of the lighting rig to fall in front, behind, and above the band. When they were off, it was a bit like watching the band through a chainlink fence...but they weren't off very often. Instead, they broadcast all kinds of fun things:
  • A rain-like pattern (I think during "Closer") that surrounded the stage, making it look like the band was playing in the middle of a tsunami.
  • Black and white static, which when combined a partially transparent front screen and the musicians' black clothing made the band look like they were made out of static. At the end of the song, Trent retreated to the back of the stage, looking like he was disappearing into the static.
  • Before "5 Ghosts 1," the front scrim went completely opaque and the band came out front with stands for keyboards and Robin Finck's slide guitar. While they played "5 Ghosts 1" and "17 Ghosts II", the screen displayed three enormous color-changing circles that echoed the tour's "lights in the sky" theme.
  • An enormous desert scene with clouds flying out into the audience during "19 Ghosts III."
  • Five enormous blue ovals, each bisected by a different pattern of current, which floated in the air behind the band (now back inside the confines of the scrim circle) during "Piggy." At the end of the song, the ovals turned into a blue wash that covered the whole set of scrims. A roadie came out at the end of the song and - using either some well-timed choreography or motion-sensing elements in the screen, "wiped" the whole front clean using his flashlight. The rest of the blue wash then exploded into glass shards that flew out towards the audience.
  • During "Survivalism: A replication of the security monitors from the song's video, with feeds of Trent, fans at the front of the house and fans at the back of the house taking up three of the screens.
  • During "Only," first black and white and then RGB static filled the front screen. When Trent sang, a hole opened up in the static; when he moved, it followed him around. As the song built to the climax, the static changed into washes of different opacities, which Reznor was then able to pick up and throw off the screen like balls.
  • The blow my mind moment of the night: At the start of "Echoplex," the rear screen displayed a series of white horizontal blocks with a red line running through them (consistent with the artwork from The Slip). Drummer Josh Freese came out and touched the blocks to light them up, building the drum pattern of the song in the process, as if he was controlling an enormous sequencer. He repeated the process at the end of the song to deconstruct the beat.
That was just the light show; the music kicked ass, too. Openers Does It Offend You, Yeah were the opposite of offensive, contributing a little bit of a mind trip of their own by making a sonic transition from Nitzer Ebb to Mudhoney to The Cars (if The Cars were English) in three songs. "Head Like a Hole," "Terrible Lie," and the cuts from Broken were the brutal, moshpit-inspiring buzzsaws that had fueled my adolescent rage. The selections from The Downward Spiral matched that album's desperation to a T. Year Zero's black cynicism (there's nothing quite like a darkly-grinning Trent Reznor leading a chorus of "I'm a part of this great nation" howled by a room full of maniacs), The Slip's punk-edged industrialism, Ghosts' beautiful, brilliant ambience; they were all there, crisply delivered (the sound put the engineers of any other band I've seen in that arena to shame) with only minimal mixing issues. The heavy electric songs, the noise rock, the acoustic set in the middle of the show; it was a perfect balance of the different elements of the catalog, with the right breaks, the right ups, the right downs.

Favorite musical moment of the night: "Piggy" at the end of the acoustic Ghosts set. Surrounded by blue light, rocking a heavy lounge jazz feel, "Piggy" was simultaneously cool and laid back and very, very menacing. You couldn't help but feel, as you listened to Reznor growl out the words, that the person he was singing to had really screwed him over and was going to pay for it in the very near future in a very bad way.

Set List (via Brooklyn Vegan)
  1. 999,999
  2. 1,000,000
  3. letting you
  4. discipline
  5. march of the pigs
  6. head down
  7. the frail
  8. reptile
  9. closer
  10. gave up
  11. the warning
  12. vessel
  13. 5 ghosts I
  14. 17 ghosts II
  15. 19 ghosts III
  16. piggy [ghost]
  17. the greater good
  18. pinion
  19. wish
  20. terrible lie
  21. survivalism
  22. the big come down
  23. 31 ghosts IV
  24. only
  25. the hand that feeds
  26. head like a hole

  27. echoplex
  28. god given
  29. the good soldier
  30. hurt
  31. in this twilight

Saturday, August 23, 2008

King Crimson at the Nokia Theatre

Robert Fripp is either an evil genius or someone's disapproving grandfather. Seated behind his rack of effects, Gibson in hand, plucking away in gamelonian counterpoint to Adrian Belew's animated strumming, slight scowl on his face, Fripp - who was just visible from my excellent seat - looked like he was either trying to direct the show from a hidden bunker 30 stories underground (you know, like an evil genius, or an evil guy who happens to be a genius with his guitar playing), or glaring at the crazy kids and their rock music (you know, like someone's grandfather, an impression helped by Fripp being the only member of the band with completely white hair). Occasionally Belew would do something particularly expressive with his guitar and Fripp would crack a grin, but that was the exception; Fripp even shuttled himself off to one side during the applause, staying out of the stage lights and away from the glory. It was an experience only slightly more unique than seeing King Crimson itself.

I mentioned seats above; that was another unique element of this concert: everyone had assigned seats. I had no problem with this arrangement, in part because my seat was so good, but also because the seats (and the temperature-controlled atmosphere) removed the physical discomfort I felt the last time I saw Tony Levin perform; the aching legs, the dehydration, etc. that probably played a large factor in that night's disturbed sleep. That's not to say I want to have seats every time I go to rock, but when the point is to sit back and groove, to watch a piece of performance art that's as much like ballet or theatre as it as like rock concert, it's better to do so seated, comfortable, relaxed.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Welp...This Pretty Much Blows My Mind

Via Metal Inquisition

Perry Farrell Doesn't Keep Up With the News Much

Perry Farrell on the possibility of a Jane's Addiction reunion: "There's as much likelihood of that happening as there being commercial space flights." I know some of the more recent commercial efforts have had problems, but if this article is any indication, I'm pretty sure the beginning of commercial space flight is coming up in a few years. So does that mean a Jane's Addiction reunion is only a few years away, or that Perry doesn't pay attention to technology news?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dio > Ozzy

Listening to the Live Evil portion of Rules of Hell, the box set Sabbath just released of the Dio-era recordings and I have come to the conclusion that when he wants to, Dio absolutely slays Ozzy on the Ozzy-era tracks. I'm thinking "Black Sabbath" specifically; up until now, the benchmark for evil in that song was the Type O Negative version from Nativity in Black, but Dio's rendition totally blows that away. Seriously: I have chills. The man knows how to channel (or accentuate, according to some reports) the very badness that the lyrics of "Black Sabbath" conjures up.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I [Heart] Soundgarden...For Historical Reasons

Was breezing through the latest post on the Lefsetz Letter when I spotted a section called "Like Suicide." Since I've loved the word to music association game since high school like a fat kid loves cake, I jumped to the first reference that came to my head: "Like Suicide," the track from Superunknown. Turns out Bob and I were on the same page, because he was writing about the same song, how he'd just heard it for the first time because he'd given up on Soundgarden after Loud Love. How the song struck him like "Rooster," but not quite as strong.

What he said made me laugh for a few reasons. First: When I was in college, a friend of mine from high school IMed me. He was trying to convince his girlfriend at the time to give Alice in Chains another shot by making her a mix and wanted to know what song I thought he should leave out. "Rooster," I said. "It's their weakest song." I'm not sure I'd say the same today - the end of Facelift, for example, falls a little flat on the promise offered by the album's opening tracks - but in a list of favorites by AiC, "Rooster" still wouldn't come out on top.

Second: I bought Superunknown when it came out in 1994; when "Spoonman" and "Black Hole Sun" were in heavy rotation on the local rock radio stations. I was thirteen; I was not particularly sophisticated in my musical tastes. I didn't get the album at all; I remember wanting to skip "Superunknown" and "Head Down" (sacrilege for me; any album in the trial phase of new ownership should never have a track skipped and any album worthy of ownership should not have a track bad enough to need skipping. I have very weird standards when it comes to music) so I could get to the singles and get back to familiar ground.

Flash forward two years later. I start hanging out with that same friend who later asked me for mix CD advice. That friend loves Soundgarden; has all of their albums, comes up with theories about how the band changed after Hiro Yamamoto left, how "Hands All Over" is about arms limitations and "Superunknown" is about the experience of seeing Soundgarden live, thinks "Circle of Power" is one of the purest expressions of the rock 'n roll spirit ever recorded. Crazy, beautiful stuff that makes me dig deeper, see the band in a new light, fall in love with their sounds. I fill out my collection, put "4th of July" on a mix tape because it's the heaviest thing I've heard thus far. After we get our licenses, we drive around singing along to songs like "The Day I Tried to Live," "Fresh Tendrils," "Power Trip," and "Like Suicide," the ultimate bottom-heavy downer of an album closer. Soundgarden's music became an indelible part of my adolescence, so it's a little funny for me to read about someone much older than me discovering them for the first time. How could they miss something that good?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Heaven & Hell Wanted Neon Knights, Fate Said Otherwise

Hey, how about that: I guess the normal rules of encores didn't apply for the Metal Masters tour. According to Blabbermouth (quoting quasi-official site, Heaven and Hell didn't play "Neon Knights" on Saturday (or Sunday, for that matter) because of "technical difficulties," a situation that caused them "extreme dismay" because "Neon Knights is one of their favorites to play." I'm not sure how a band could have the same problems two nights in a row at two different venues (not that I doubt them; I'm just curious), but I do feel a bit vindicated, knowing I was on the side of right, foiled only by fate.

"Neon Knights" is Dio-era Sabbath's signature tune; here are a few others (with props to Seth) that seem like "must plays" for the live sets of the bands who wrote them:
  • Iron Maiden - The Trooper
  • Ozzy Osbourne - Crazy Train
  • Metallica - Creeping Death (although I might be projecting my love for the bridge) / Enter Sandman / One
  • AC/DC - Back in Black

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Metal Masters at PNC Bank Arts Center

MetalSucks pretty much nails the main takeaway of this show in their review: Judas Priest was very good, but Heaven and Hell were so hella awesome they blew Priest off the stage. I'm pretty sure the roof of PNC's big concrete shell was shaking when Dio and crew left the stage and the energy in the room was palpable: openers or no, we all wanted Heaven and Hell to come back out and finish the night with "Neon Knights." If the band doesn't use this groundswell to write a new album, they're soft in the head. The public is ready for much more Dio-fronted Sabbath. A few other notes:
  • Testament started out strong, but their sound fell apart during "The Formation of Damnation" about halfway through their set. Their selection of material wasn't what I would have picked - I was looking forward to hearing "Henchmen Ride" after seeing a troop of guys on motorcycles on the way in - but sound problems aside, I have no real complaints.
  • Motorhead was completely incomprehensible and sounded like they were playing a 200 person club, not a 17,000 person concert shed. I'm guessing that's a part of their "everything louder than everything else" mentality (I've never seen them live before), but I spent most of their set shirt watching.
  • Speaking of shirts (and the rules of appropriate concert t-shirt wear), the winner of Best T-Shirt for this show goes to the guy rocking the vintage Rainbow shirt (because I'm a fairly optimistic person, I'm assuming the shirt was a vintage item and not a "relic" constructed through with the aid of a washing machine full of pebbles), who gets five points out of a possible five and a spot in the Concert T-Shirt Hall of Fame. The bar's been set for the rest of you concert goers.
  • Metalheads are, sad to say, pretty ugly people (yours truly excluded, of course. I'm no model, but I felt pretty good comparing myself to my metal peers). People from the more rural areas of New Jersey are, sad to say, pretty ugly people. Combining the two makes for a whole mass of really fugly people. If a bomb had gone off, the gene pool would have been grateful.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Metal in the Middle East

Interesting post on Washington Post blog Islam's Advance by a guest writer (a professor from UC Irvine) on the blossoming of metal communities in the Muslim countries of the Middle East; large groups of fans in countries from Morocco to Pakistan who love the more extreme forms of metal for two reasons: first, the themes of desolation common to the lyrics match the listener's daily experience; second, metal offers a community that stands in opposition (and boy, us young people love us some opposition) to the repressive authority represented by their governments. Intriguing ideas, for two (more) reasons:

First, while there will always be plenty of disenfranchised people in Europe and America happy to create and listen to extreme music, there is (for most) a disconnect between what we're experiencing and what we're listening to. I'm happy not to be living in a world where Slayer lyrics aren't a representation of real life, but I appreciate the fact that those lyrics and the music that goes with them are not utilitarian art. Instead, they're removed from reality, where we can appreciate them, put them back on the shelf, and reengage with our daily lives. It's not quite disposable art, but it's something we can appreciate when we want to. The metal heads in the Islam's Advance post don't have that opportunity. Metal gives them an outlet now, which is cool, but as this phenomenon develops we may very well see the creation of a whole new take on metal, adding a unique interpretation to the art form, which is pretty awesome.

Second, the post notes that there's another group of young Muslims struggling against the authorities: fundamental Islamicists. In some cases, the metal heads and Islamicists stand in opposition; in others, there are connections: former metal heads who get religion, religious people who feel that one can love metal and be a good Muslim. Metal is hardly a tempering force, but any cross pollination between the two forces has to be good for cultural relations between the West and the Near East. One day we'll probably see the Muslim version of Christian Metal, but we might also see some better level of understanding between two long-standing groups of adversaries. Not bad for the healing power of music.