Hey kids. You know I’m not one for showing off my bias, but the band I saw most last year (and yes, my 2010 In Review is forthcoming) is up for the cover of Rolling Stone. I know I slag the mag a lot, but this could turn it around for me (for the next four to six months or until my free subscription runs out).
We’re opening with a tribute to Aretha Franklin. It makes me temporarily worried that she has died. She is being introduced by LL Cool J.
Usher’s date is Justin Bieber. They are sitting in the front row. You can see Justin from any overhead shot because he is wearing a white tuxedo. Everyone else is wearing black. Everyone.
Aretha is being saluted by the quintet of Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride, Yolanda Adams, Florence Welch and Christina Aguilera. Everyone is singing hard enough to fuck up their wigs, which intense. Christina is notable for going first and singing the longest, by far. Florence Welch is notable for totally holding her own with America’s foremost divas. Jennifer Hudson is notable for showing off her new body in a very short suit jacket and leggings.
The crowd cam goes to Rihanna who is wearing white Christmas tree garlands hot glued to a tube of illusion netting.
The nominees for Pop Duo or Group are all people I don’t like, and the award went to Train. Katie is fast forwarding.
OMG. RICKY MARTIN IS WEARING A BLACK JACKET AND SHINY SILVER JEANS. He is gay now, so they have him introducing Gaga. She comes out of a womb and everyone is wearing sheets of latex, it looks like. The dancing is weird and good, but not sexy. The thing that fascinates me about Gaga is her complete disinterest in looking hot. Oh, she’s running to an organ. And playing that big scary piece that they always play in Vincent Price movies.
Lenny Kravitz comes out to introduce Muse and he is wearing a half a bolt of random suede draped around his shoulders. The crowd camera cuts to Elvis Costello, who is skeptical. Muse is doing the version of “The Resistance” from their stage show, only there are actors running around below them and fake fighting or something. It’s awks. Dear Grammys: Let Muse be Muse. Trust me, their show is big enough to stand on its own.
Bruno Mars, B.o.B. and Janelle Monae are performing together. Whoa! I have not seen Bruno Mars lately. He’s got this old school Little Richard pompadour.
Let me let Katie take this part. “THAT IS B.O.B. IN A MONOCLE. THAT IS B.O.B. IN A MONOCLE. THAT IS B.O.B. AND HE IS WEARING A MONOCLE.”
When we get to Bruno Mars’ section of this, they start showing it in black and white, because they’re “taking us back.” It’s mostly talking and really swinging, like a Rudy Vallee song, but in reality it’s “Grenade.” When Janelle sings, Bruno hops on drums and B.o.B. grabs a guitar. This is kind totally adorable. She also crowd surfs in the middle of her song. It cuts afterward to Cyndi Lauper, who is hollering from her seat.
They show the early youtube videos of Bieber. He’s onstage with his guitar and Usher strolls out talking about how they met in a parking lot. It is the uber creep. Then Ninjas come out playing marching band drums. He performs while gymnasts and fire breathers run around. Then Jaden Smith comes running out in leopard pants and they rap while Jaden’s mom sings along and is adorable. Why they didn’t bring out Willow, who is actually opening for Bieber. Then Usher brings a bunch of dancers in blue suede suits and then there is dancing and it is good dancing, because it is Usher. Then Bieber dances with him, and that is very good too.
I’m already thinking about the new thing. Pauley Perrette and some guy come out to present with what’s left of Paramore. Hayley Williams is wearing a dress that is black netting across the midriff and hot pink marabou around the thighs. It’s worse than it sounds. They give the best rock album award to Muse, obviously.
The CBS parade of stars continues with Donny Wahlberg presenting with Selena Gomez. Donny is wearing sunglasses and Selena looks bored. This is a Bieber category, Best Pop Album, but the award goes to Gaga for The Fame Monster. It’s technically an EP, but whatever! She’s got a black plastic dress with molded boobs and a molded butt!
David Letterman appears on pre-tape to give a Top 10 List (I thought we were over those as a people) and introduces Mumford & Sons, whose banjo player is wearing a trucker cap and a tux and spends the whole time simulating coitus with his banjo. But they are fun and intense as heck. Right after them is the Avett Brothers, who look asleep in comparison. This whole thing is under-rehearsed. The curtain in the middle comes up and Bob Dylan shuffles out with his bluegrass band clustered around him like they’re Nation of Islam bodyguards. Bob has to clamber over an upright bass. But the boys in Mumford and Avett look like they’re gonna pee with excitement over playing backup for Bob Dylan. The crowd cam cuts to J.Lo, who looks murderous with rage.
This year, they’re doing Lifetime Achievement awards as one little announcement. They don’t even go into accomplishments. Lea Michele and a very confused Green Bay Packer introduce Lady Antebellum.
Miley Cyrus and the Kings of Leon (minus the one who actually lives in LA) present Best Country Album. Caleb Followill looks like his mom is making him do this.
Cee-Lo is performing in a sort of psychedelic Elton John rooster costume, on a set like that looks like a kids show set on Mars. But his backing band and dancers are all muppets. The second verse is done by Gwyneth in a catsuit cut down to her navel, pink feather earrings and six inch heels. She climbs up on his bejeweled piano and they just sing at each other. It’s actually really adorable, like they’re drunk and singing karaoke.
I like Katy Perry’s eyeshadow. Beyond that, eh. She is on a swing with a giant train that is a screen on which they show video of her actual wedding. This would be a really fitting tribute if Russell was dead. Russell is not dead, so it’s kind of creepy. The crowd cam catches Nicole Kidman singing along to “Teenage Dream.”
John Mayer and Keith Urban play acoustic guitar and Norah Jones sings Jolene. Norah has obviously listened to this a lot, because she sounds EXACTLY like Dolly. Also, this is kind of a 60 second tribute to Dolly, who was listed in the lifetime thing, but doesn’t appear to be there, and now they’re presenting Song of the Year. “Fuck You” is listed as “(The song otherwise known as ‘Forget You’.)” Lady Antebellum wins. Katie says that’s incorrect and I have to agree.
Rihanna is performing in a skirt that is about eight feet across and really raggedly cut away to reveal yellow underskirts.
People who died, the Grammy’s philanthropic efforts, a James Brown sort of performance by Mick Jagger, who gets progressively more decrepit over the course of his five minute song. Barbra Streisand sings in about 700 yards of raisin colored netting. Eminem is given an award and still looks hostile. How can you look hostile while on stage holding a Grammy?
In other places, The Black Keys won the album for best packaging. That is amazeballs. This is the package:
Rihanna is back again, booty dancing in front of a big bonfire with Drake. Because she’s Carribbean. If you forgot.
Lady Antebellum has fucking swept this thing. I think that it’s that the rappers have split the rap vote and the rockers have split the rock vote, but without the presence of Taylor Swift, the country vote is locked.
Jason Segel seems genuinely excited to be introducing Arcade Fire. For some reason, their lighting design is just very bright lights flashing at the audience, so they are hard to see. William Buttler did not get the memo that they weren’t wearing coveralls today. There are also kids on BMX bikes riding around and they have cameras on their heads, which they show on TV. I think the Fire is rebelling against being adopted into the mainstream, since they play “Month of May” in these flashing lights and have filled in the background with random hooting.
YOU GUYS! Arcade Fire won the Album of the Year. They give a short speech, then run back to the instruments they just put down and play “Ready to Start.” It seems unlikely that it’s spontaneous, but it might be. Win Butler can’t stop smiling. It is adorable. Katie is feeling real emotion, which she was not expecting to, but it’s so cute. They are so happy! Then there are tacklehugs. Best Grammy moment everrrr.
The National is a pretty cool venue, an old theater repurposed for live music. Its calendar seems to be largely indie rock (and GWAR), which makes the fact that there is a whole section of $5000 season ticket seats kind of confusing.
David Bazan is the opener. The very existence of an opener bums out the 11 year old boys behind me. I’ve heard Mr. Bazan’s name around quite a bit, but never heard his music. It’s bluesier than I thought, but I think that’s largely down to his kinda growly voice and the way his bass player is turned up way too loud. Anyway, it sounds more like dude music than anything I’ve heard in ages. Also, I barely look at him because his drummer is excellent, fast but precise.
He prefaces a song by saying, “This is headphone music.” Worst intro for a song ever. I’m deeply glad I have a seat, because swaying or whatever to this downtempo jam would be awkward.
Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World comes out to sing an even slower jam. Dude is trim. It looks like he’s been on P90X.
This place has cupholders! Convenient.
Jimmy Eat World appeals to 20-year-old me by opening with “Bleed American.” Downside: the flashing lights are giving me a migraine. Or a seizure. Bonus upside: there’s one girl in the fancy seats who’s losing her mind. She was freaking out and dancing to David Bazan, so I thought she might be a fan of his, but she is flinging her hair and flipping her hair around now. Luckily, she’s not sitting near anybody except an epically long-suffering boyfriend.
Oh man, when they announce “Coffee & Cigarettes”, she jumps up, then flops on her back in her seat and kicks her feet in the air. What the hell? She’s amazing.
Why are these 11 year olds screaming for “The Middle”? That song came out when they were 2.
My headache is almost unbearable. They keep just turning on the strobes for minutes at a time and the strobes are pointed at the balcony. Look at them here. The top is the floods and the bottoms are strobes.
Huh, who knew that “Hear You Me” was a fan favorite. It’s the only one I’ve been able to hear the crowd singing on.
Mom, do you know why I’m never having kids? Because we’re 50 feet from the stage and the 11 year old boy behind me has been screaming for “The Middle” for the last 30 minutes.
For the record, I think it’s a bad idea when a band closes the set with something jammy. It’s just inviting people to skip the encore in favor of beating traffic.
Ok, I feel a little bad for the 11 year old. The band closed the show with the rollicking one-two punch of “The Middle” and “Sweetness,” but his mom took him home half an hour ago.
The Verdict: I’m kind of elated that songs I loved turned out to be fan favorites. And Jimmy Eat World is more energetic than ever. The new stuff is good, but I’m still hoping for a show where they play all of Bleed American like they did for Clarity last year.
The first thing I notice is the hordes of beardy, bro-y Brooklyn men, confirming Rae’s suspicion that this show was largely industry.
Panic has … boys, I thought we’d changed. For the better. I thought we’d grown. But there are white carnation wreaths. And dancers? Or something. Like ten or fifteen girls and one dude in headdresses and fake steampunk. It’s like a Regretsy fever dream. ( <– Not a compliment.)
They spent tons of label money on dancers, wreaths, tablecloths and candelabras, but didn’t pick between sets music, so the guys at the soundboard are playing their favorite, the entire Electric 6 oeuvre.
There are nine roadies/crew/etc on stage. Jess points out that there weren’t that many when we saw the Scissors here.
They have just unveiled a six foot high white carnation funeral wreath on the stage. I hope that shit is rented. I realize now that the dancers are not dancers. They can’t get to the stage. They are merely decorative. This is why the industry is dying. The four piece they’ve been playing as since the “divorce” (lead singer/etc Brendon Urie, drummer Spencer Smith, former The Cab guitarist Ian Crawford and The Brobecks’ Dallon Weekes on bass) is tight and, most importantly, they look like they’re having fun.
During “Northern Downpour,” a sort of anthem of Panic v2.1, Brendon admits to crying a little. There’s one of our number who says the same, but I won’t say which.
Brendon does his cover of “Science Fiction Double Feature” alone. He keeps giggling when people from the audience shout out the appropriate live theater response and this feels more intimate than anything I’ve ever seen Panic do. Bands like this, ones that seem to spring fully formed from a cloud of hype, going from their garage to arenas in a matter of months, often lose the ability to be able to connect with a crowd in a small space, as anything but idols. I can’t vouch for the other half of Panic v2.1 (the half that was briefly The Young Veins), as they felt disconnected during their shows, but this half is a wonderful small venue band.
From the new album, they played the two singles (“The Ballad of Mona Lisa” and “New Perspective”), dancerock wonder “Let’s Kill Tonight” (to which I couldn’t help dancing. Mom, you’re gonna love it), and the full version of the previously hinted at “Nearly Witches,” the only extant song from Panic’s never released second album (it was a musical and deemed irreproduceable on stage). For the new songs, they made awesome use of their violinist, who plucked and tapped and made her violin produce all sorts of sounds I didn’t expect.
Verdict: I fell in love all over again. If you were previously put off by this band, try ‘em again.
Note: Bowery Ballroom’s “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” album is apparently Elvis live in Vegas.
Jess points out upon entering that this is the most legitimate venue in which we have ever seen Empires. It’s pretty impressive! There’s a bar and a balcony and all. We end up standing right in front of a group of fans who drove up from Tulsa, which makes us feel less lame.
After the band plugs in their shit, the smoke machine starts up. I hope they are going to turn off. It makes it, y’know, hard to see the band. Why don’t bands understand that smoke is just for making light effects look cool. I did not come to see lighting effects.
It’s so foggy by the time the band comes on that they have trouble picking their way between the speakers. Only Empires.
My favorite audience member is a sort of Chicago dudebro in a striped Oxford in the third row who sings along with all the accompanying facial expressions and hand motions like he’s actually on stage. He clutches his dudebros and they all sing and it is adoramazing.
Sartorial notes!: Both Max Steger and the current bassist are wearing leather jackets. It’s not really that cold in here. Sean Van Vleet and tour manager Mike Kodak are wearing the same rolled up Oxford-and-jeans combo as always. Tom Conrad is wearing what looks like a supersoft pullover. Ryan Luciani has a short sleeved white Oxford happening, along with a short haircut that makes it look like he’s working at a country club for the summer. Remember that season of Saved By the Bell? It’s like that. I dig it. Super crisp and clean.
In the last year or so, Tom has really let go onstage, going from a sort of detached thousand-yard stare to throwing himself into his instrument. It really adds something. I think I always want a band to look like they’re having as much fun as me or more.
They do throw a couple of songs from prior album Howl in, despite a promise that they were retiring all those songs at the show on Black Friday. But they serve up a really great version of “Warning Mark”, gritty and a little scuffed up so it fits in with their newer stuff. It serves as a reminder of how they’ve gone from the squeaky clean rock of songs like “Believe” on the first album to the new downright creepy stuff like “Hello Lover.”
I have never seen a “NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY” sign as ignored as the one here.
Damn Things Over
I Know You Know
Something from the next album? Called Hells, apparently
Spit the Dark (A one song encore? Oh, Empires.)
Print is dead. I say this mostly because at some point in this year I bought tickets to concerts (no idea which ones!) that somehow led to me getting subscriptions to both Spin and Rolling Stone. Neither of which I want. So… Landfillage. But I might as well have opinions while I’m at it.
This week (or, really, last week, but I was on vacation): Rolling Stone’s 20 best albums and 50 best songs.
The prediction: The #1 album will be Kanye. At least five of the top twenty albums will be from legacy acts. Also, for reasons unknown, Teenage Dream will end up on here.
You may have seen me remark on Twitter that the Bamboozle preliminary lineup had only two bands I’d even heard of, which meant I probably didn’t have to go. Well, now there’s more information, and I’m still definitely not going, but I am deeply, deeply baffled. Here’s the crux: From the way the front page looks and what we know about Bamboozle (traditionally two main stages, with each stage’s headliner running unopposed), old school heroes The Gaslight Anthem are headlining on one side vs Mötley Crüe on the other (which, like, who the hell is even going to go to Bamboozle to see Mötley damn Crüe. I foresee a lot of MC fans (don’t make me do the umlauts anymore) buying tickets and then rolling in at the end of the day, leaving the earlier bands playing to very few people), while on the other day, Taking Back Sunday is on one side and Lil’ Wayne is on the other.
Remember last year, when they at least tried to thematically organize the days? A scene day and a hipster day? They gave up on that, which is fine, because how are you going to categorize Lil Wayne and MC in a way that can also incorporate the traditional litany of scene bands.
And now, the rest of the list sorted into three categories: Bands I Want to See, Except How I’m Not Going to Fucking Bamboozle Again; Bands Whose Presence on This Bill Confuses Me; and Scene Bands With Terrible Names. (Prediction: the first group will be shortest and the last will be epically long.)
Predictions: Once again, sales will trump artistry and Katy Perry will get nominated a bunch for an album I haven’t heard anyone actually praise. I will again be confused by the eligibility year. Beyonce will end up with a bunch of nods even though I don’t think she’s actually been pushing anything this year.
Let’s see how close I got!
We arrive as the Say Anything fans are streaming out. This is the problem with double (or, in this case, triple) headliners.
There is a couple here that must be seen to be believed. She’s got dreaded buns that go out a foot in either direction. He’s covered in char like he escaped a fire and came straight here.
I am having a strange realization about Motion City fans. They’re completely unlike any other New York fans (well, the non-teen ones); they prefer large quantities of cheap beer, dancing alone like spazzes (even the girls!), they’re overwhelmingly white, there’s a lot of plaid, half of the guys look like Brian Posehn, and, here’s the kicker, they’re roughly 24-32. Which means that they were probably in college when they discovered MCS, probably at a midwest school where there is nothing to do but drink cheap beer and listen to dude music at frat parties. (Mom, I didn’t do either of those things. Beer is gross.) These aren’t native New Yorkers, nor the pretentious hipsters who like to refer to NYC as if they’ve always been here. Like me, this is transplants. This may not may be my favorite band of all time, but maybe I’m home.
To further my theory, let’s break down the members of MCS as archetypes of my rural Illinois liberal arts college: Keyboardist Jesse Johnson is the frat guy who I used to see streaking drunkenly in the snow and who got so drunk he passed out on the regular. Josh Cain, rhythm guitar, is the asshole guy in my program who opposed everything I said in every class. Lead singer Justin Pierre wandered into my dorm room my freshman year (possibly he was dating the bohemian girl down the hall) and was so quirky and deep that we had to be friends. Bassist and musical genius Matt Taylor is the boy that every girl in the program was in love with, because he was cute and sweet and thoughtful, but he had a girlfriend back home he was really faithful to and the girls from the bitter big cities thought he was gay. (Girlfriend was real. They’ve got a loft in Minneapolis now.) And drummer Tony Thaxton was the secretly brilliant boy that was, in retrospect, my best friend in college.
Oh, the show’s pretty good too. I think the Best Buy (formerly the Nokia) is exactly the right size stage and venue for them. There’s enough space for hardcore fans and casual ones (the one giant mosh pit at Irving Plaza last spring scared even me) and there’s enough room for the band to thrash around the stage without their lack of set pieces or lights making them look like stranded little islands in a giant dark sea (see also any band without set dressing at the Roseland).
Justin Pierre’s voice isn’t in the best nick (he didn’t sing at all at last night’s Boston show) and I’ve heard them play tighter but, like always, they’re having a great time, and that shit is infectious. PLUS, they play “Head Like a Hole” from their legendary Nine Inch Nails set during the encore.
During the encore, someone throws a jockstrap on stage. That sums this up nicely.
I’m trying to be in a bad mood about something that happened earlier, but there’s a minivanful of tween girls who are here with homemade signs losing their mind for Metric. I feel that Metric is an excellent influence for a young girl. Plus, tweens tend to have terrible taste in music. If they were introduced to Metric by their appearance on the Eclipse soundtrack, then that film did some good.
Oh God, I just realized that there’s a chance that some of the firls here are here from Muse’s Twihard fanbase. I feel dirty.
I bought cotton candy. That helps.
Metric: While they could have filled the set with songs from their amazing post-hiatus Fantasies, Metric throws “Dead Disco” into the #3 spot. I only saw them once before the hiatus/breakup and it was one of the most disappointing shows of my life, all weird droning and everyone trying to ignore each other, making every song feel 10 minutes long. The break did them wonders, because, while they still indulge themselves in a fair bit of noodling, the set feels energetic. I do want to see them in a smaller space, because they look like they’d be amazing in a 1000 seater. Emily is working the front of the pit hard.
Muse: Do you remember what the circus was like when you were a kid? Everything was amazing and you didn’t know where to look? A Muse show is just like that. Matt Bellamy took the stage in a mirrored suit. At one point, he busts out a double-necked guitar with a spotlight inside of it. The laser show during the third song “and you feel it” makes my mouth drop open. And that’s not even addressing the unbelievable way they came onto the stage, with a set piece that makes them rock’s answer to Daft Punk.
The Resistance was probably exactly what Muse needed, since their bombastic, overpowering sound fits in so well with a show that seems to be loosely about a modern dystopia. Even when they do “Feelin’ Good” and the screens show a bee going around and pollinating stuff, the angles and the heavy bass make it seem sinister. It’s a BEE.
Okay, “Undisclosed Desires” reveals something I’d never quite recognized. When Muse tries to write a love song, this terrifying, dark thing is what pours out. And Muse has gained this Twihard following because they’re Stephanie Meyer’s choice writing music. No wonder the relationships in Twilight are so fucked up. Any romantic gesture inspired by this song would probably lead to jail time.
They play at least one song from every album, including “Plug In Baby”, during which giant delicate balloons filled with confetti are thrown from the top tier to the floor. When they eventually burst, a little chunk of the GA is showered in confetti. This show succeeds so well because it was designed to mollify Britain’s 20,000-strong crowds. Unleashing it in this hockey rink is like booking Houdini for a children’s party. The kids will shit themselves and Houdini will struggle not to yawn in their faces.
They end the show with “Knights of Cydonia,” which isn’t at all surprising. But it’s not until it starts that I realize what a perfect bookend it makes to “Uprising.” The lyrics flash on screen for both, encouraging us to pledge ourselves to this Resistance, that “No one’s going to take me alive” and “They will not control us” are such empowering lyrics in the face of the creepy, ominous tenor Muse has created that I don’t much care that I have no idea who or what I’m fighting. (Rough guess: The man.)
Verdict: If you ever have the opportunity, go see Muse. Period.