Monday, November 15, 2010

Spring/Summer/Fall Concert experience 2010

*Note: in the interest of condensing this post and of getting this out faster, I'll be uploading a couple of reviews at a time, and subdividing the shows into three arbitrary categories I've thought up. So... expect another one or two of these posts later this week.

National Public Radio's All Song's Considered "Live In Concert" series recently produced a simulcast of Jonsi's awe-inspiring live concert in the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles (they promise to have clips of the show up soon - however, it's not the best representation of the live show, so I would take it or leave it). If you've read my review of the show and album you'd know how highly I recommend checking this out. Even eight months later I can still hear the other-worldy falsetto that opens "Grow 'Till Tall" and subsequently closes a show that will forever stick out in my mind as one of the finest live shows I've ever seen. This is saying a lot because this summer has been packed with surprising, memorable, and stay-with-me-for-life shows - Jonsi's was only the beginning.

I haven't been able to write about all of my favourite concert experiences this year (The National's Massey Hall show in June sticks out in my mind as one I really should have written about), but I'm hoping to correct some of those oversights in this post, rounding up some of the concerts I've seen this summer/fall, starting with the ones that made the most impact.


JONSI April 30 @ The Sound Academy

Jonsi's merits I've already documented, but it's important to note how lasting an impression he's made. This concert, despite being in April, feels like it kicked off my entire year. I'd never really understood the merits of a good concert until this time, and it was this grandiose, magical collaboration of visual art and sound that introduced me to the true power of a live musical experience.

It's an awkward negotiation, seeing a musician live. Performances can seem very artificial, with groups of people standing and staring at another group of people on a stage creating noise. The people on stage want you to get involved, but not so involved that you jump up and try to actually engage in the noisemaking yourself (unless it's sort of like an avant-garde thing, which would be cool and off-putting in a completely different way). In a sense, it's much easier to plug in and imagine a visual accompaniment to the sounds coming from your computer/mp3 player/walkmen/etc. than it is to sit through a live performance, which will either elevate you or leave you deflated. Thankfully Jonsi's Go tour was of the latter disposition, and is even more impressive live than it is on the album.

THE NATIONAL June 8 @ Massey Hall (the first of a two night stint)

It's difficult to describe the many divergent reasons that this performance was truly transcendent for me. A lot of it has to do with personal connections (to the music, the significance of this being the first show I'd ever seen as the venerable Massey Hall, and my late night adventure camping out behind said venerable establishment for autographs), but that would be short-changing the performance itself.

Matt Berninger is one of the most charismatic front man in indie rock today (don't let anyone tell you otherwise). Maybe it's the copious drinks he consumes on stage (a trademark, of sorts), maybe it's his delicious baritone voice that echoed around the room and commanded attention from every ear, or maybe it's the way he literally forced several audience members to their feet (causing a rush to the front, providing me and a friend with much better seats than we paid for). Oh, and there's also the two times he jumped off the stage and ran into the crowd, climbing over seats and people, screaming "My mind's not right!" like a madman who just freebased cocaine off a hookers g-string. It's that gin-soaked fun that breathes life into music and lyrics that often fall heavily into the category of morose and intellectually weighty.

Photo by Frances Olimpo

The use of horns and the occasional violin really opened up the group's sound, faithfully recreating the lush arrangements on High Violet. Stage banter between Berninger and twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner revealed many funny/interesting tidbits of information (for example: one of the Dessner's was talking about how their mother had, until recently, advised that the band get a "nice girl" to perform lead singing duties). The band went on to play two encores, which should give you an idea of how much they enjoyed the show as well.

And now for something of a rant: For those who like to label The National as "mopey indie rock," you're both kind of right and yet still missing the point entirely. To each their own, but if you haven't given The National a chance you are really missing out. "I was afraid I'd eat your brains" is not a phrase you will hear coming from many mopey indie rock bands these days, so I truly cherish the fact that there is a band out there that can not only throw out curve ball lyrics like that one, but do it with such conviction and musical finesse that I don't even care about how ridiculous it sounds.

(NB: Below is the scan of my signed High Violet CD case BY THE WHOLE BAND! I owe drummer Bryan Devendorf an edible bouquet).
Ok, more to come. Stay tuned.

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