Zola Jesus - 09/26/2017

zolajesus-northdoorpromo.jpg

Last night, I saw Zola Jesus perform through a  head cold to about 130 people in Austin. It reminded me of the kind of show that I used to go to as a younger man. T-shirts hung behind the merch table with tape. The band took the stage with no fanfare. If fans wanted to hear "the hits," those hits all came from records released within the last handful of years.

Zola Jesus is a contemporary artist, in the upswing of her career, touring on a shoestring and making the music she wants to make without the influence of a major label marketing committee. Her sound is distinctly hers--as though she made it on an alternate Earth where SWANS were more popular than The Beatles and where Album Oriented Rock meant deep cuts by Iannis Xenakis instead of Journey. It's not difficult listening--it's clearly rooted in the Pop tradition--but it is undeniably left of center and more than a little melancholy.

Her songs weave together experimental and early electronic music influences, dissonant noise, dance rhythms, torch song vocals, and pure pop hooks in a way that probably frustrates a lot of potential listeners. But I love them. She pushes most of my musical buttons and more than that, she's sincere. Watching her take the stage and belt out an enthusiastic if often alien-sounding set, I was reminded of my favorite artists; the ones who commit to their art and take it seriously. When you are cutting your own path as an artist, that's an incredibly hard thing to do. It's so much easier to be aloof or frivolous and project to people that it's OK not to engage with the music seriously because you don't take it too seriously yourself.

If my social media feeds are to be believed, most everyone I know now is interested in bands who peaked 20 or more years ago, or in multi-day festivals with as many corporate sponsors as bands. And that's fine, if that's what you like. I mean, I wish people would be as excited about someone new like Zola Jesus coming to town as they are about KMFDM lumbering through another tour, but whatever.

What drove me towards the music I liked when I was younger was its otherness. Today's taste makers and creative directors would have you believe that everyone remembers their experiences of Depeche Mode, Joy Division and The Pixies from the 80s and 90s. The truth is that most of the kids in my high school listened to Guns N Roses, Boys II Men, Vanilla Ice, and Metallica. I got made fun of for my Violator and Meat Beat Manifesto shirts. I could count on one hand the number of people I knew who actually listened to David Bowie records. Nine Inch Nails wasn't even really a thing until MTV decided to burn The Downward Spiral into the collective consciousness. The music that got me excited in those days was not the dominant cultural force that 2017's look back at those times would have you believe. And that's part of what made it appealing. If you already felt like an outsider for not liking football and hot cars and hamburgers or whatever, it helped to find music that was likewise disinterested in the white picket fence, suburban Amercian dream.

So when someone like Zola Jesus comes to town, I get excited. She's not here to run through a set of oldies. She's not part of some hacked-together musical monolith or trendy movement. She's not riding the high of some viral sensation that overshadows her music. She's not sacrificing her art to dip into the kitsch and nostalgia coffers. She's just playing her songs, singing her heart out, and dancing awkwardly when the mood strikes her.

(No ticket since no one uses tickets anymore.)

Meat Beat Manifesto - 05/02/2008

Meat Beat Manifesto 2008

I wrote about seeing Meat Beat in 1991 (twice), 1992, and 1996 so what was it like to see them more than a decade later? I think Meat Beat Manifesto is one of the few bands I would see no matter how long it had been since their last album or tour for a couple of reasons. Chief among them is that Jack Dangers has made some of my favorite music of all time. Records like Storm the Studio feel every bit as vibrant and necessary now as they did when they were released. But beyond the music itself, Dangers has always had a knack for figuring out how to make the live show of a guy playing with computers and synthesizers a real experience.

In 2008, the big story for Meat Beat's live show was the touring video rig. By using video samplers instead of a pre-recorded or simply-mixed video stream, the visuals became part of the show in ways that I had never seen before. One of my first experiences on the internet was Christopher Miller's Meat Beat Manifesto discography. That led me to Brainwashed.com (where I used to write album and show reviews) and somewhere in that mix there was a list of samples used in Meat Beat songs. Sure, everyone in 1992 was sampling Aliens but Meat Beat was doing weird things like looping Mariah Carey's high notes to create a siren or playing rhythms out of Donald Sutherland's voice. I knew this from reading about it, but with the live show in 2008, I could see it!

And you can see it too in this 2016 clip of "Radio Babylon". Watch the projection screen in the foreground (to the left of the frame) and listen for the audio that accompanies those clips.

In short, this is what makes a great artist. I first saw MBM in 1991 and I was young and in love with the scene and the music and the style of it all. In 2008, I was much older but still just as excited about what the band was doing. Not because I was nostalgic for 1991, but because the band still possessed a certain creative urgency that spoke to me. And in 2017, it still does.

Skinny Puppy - 11/24/2009

 17 Years After My First Skinny Puppy Show

17 Years After My First Skinny Puppy Show

A Skinny Puppy show in 2009 was my Bachelor Party. Let that sink in for a minute. No drinking. No trip to Vegas. No strippers. Not even a bunch of friends sitting around talking about the good old days. Instead, my friend Bryan got me a ticket to see Skinny Puppy because that's what I told him I wanted to do.

My interest in the show was born more from curiosity than nostalgia. I absolutely loved Skinny Puppy for about five years between high school and college and then I sorta moved on. Dwayne died. Only about half of Last Rights stuck with me. My tastes changed.

Some big music magazine (it might have been Rolling Stone) did an article about Skinny Puppy and some of the reasons that they never enjoyed the mainstream success of bands like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. It was a curious situation. Korn would name drop Skinny Puppy in interviews but somehow the MTV/local mall metalheads never got into them in large numbers. And that was fine with me, because I always appreciated Skinny Puppy's idiosyncracies. Their theatrical approach to live performance inspired me. Their ability to eschew pop song and dance song rules and somehow still create catchy, danceable tracks was second to none.

By 2009, the industrial dance and goth scene was catching its second (or third) wind. Bands who were so heavily influenced by Skinny Puppy that they named themselves after Ogre's song lyrics were drawing crowds. Skinny Puppy, an indisputable original, had spawned a legion of derivatives and it bothered me that the 'scene' didn't seem to care.

The show in Atlanta was pretty fun. The stage design looked like a chaotic junk landscape that must have taken hours to construct each night. The costumes were amazing. In fact, a woman I had met on tour in Detroit made some of them! I was so proud of her. The old songs sounded great--slightly updated but still weirdly simple. The new songs--well, I wasn't a fan but I could see that most people in the crowd enjoyed them. 

It was a pretty unconventional Bachelor Party, but I was glad to see the band so many years later and to observe that they were still driven to do a lot of the same things that had made them pioneers. Even if it didn't all work for me at that point, I admired their vision. A year and a half after that show and I was no longer married and no longer living in Atlanta, but damn it, Too Dark Park was still in rotation in my world.

Clutch 02/28/2003

Clutch 2003

Little did I know it, but the "Guests" listed on the ticket for this Clutch show were The Bakerton Group. For those who might not know, the Bakerton Group is the members of Clutch in their bluesy jam band disguise. Not knowing this, we walked into the Masquerade and saw Clutch playing instrumental jam band riffs and I thought that maybe we had missed the opening act and that Clutch had gone off the deep end.

While I enjoyed The Bakerton Group, I kept listening to them with a strange sense of unease, as if one of my favorite bands had suddenly decided to change course without asking me. This was not the case, but it led to an even more important insight.

Clutch began as a hard rocking metal-y band. I don't know exactly what you'd call their sound on early records like Pitchfork and Passive Restraints, but no matter. By the time of their self-titled record, they had mellowed out a lot and they were playing much more with space. It never occurred to me that Clutch might be a jam band in disguise, but after two decades and a ton of records, it was obvious that they were doing something uniquely theirs.

But what if Clutch had turned into The Bakerton Group that night? What if they'd played none of the hits, and just decided to whig out on some mind bender jams? As a longtime Clutch fan, I would have been pretty disappointed and that points to the difficulty that long-running acts have with updating their sound. There are Nitzer Ebb fans who won't have anything to do with Big Hit but can't wait for a tour where the guys wear red and black military fashion and shout their way through "Join in the Chant" era tracks for an hour.

As an artist, where does your debt to your fans end and your room to experiment and grow begin? It's the age old tension of art and commerce, and it's one of the things that makes creative careers so hard. The fourth Larvae record sounds very different than the first one and I'm sure that I lost some people along the way, but I tried to keep some parameters in place so as not to turn everyone off when I played live. It was hard.

I enjoy seeing a band grow and change. When I really attach to a group, it's usually because I connect with what they are trying to do on some deeper level than how the music sounds. With Clutch, I love the humor in their songs. Early Clutch sounds angry. Late Clutch sounds bemused by the absurdity of it all.

As an all instrumental group, The Bakerton Group lost the humor for me, which is why I couldn't connect with it as Clutch. But maybe that was itself the joke.

Sigur Ros 09/06/2005

Sigur Ros 2005

I bought Aegis Byrjun at a small, local record store while on a business trip to Nashville in 1999 or early 2000. I had seen an ad for it in The Wire and that was good enough for me. It felt like a real discovery. When I got back to Atlanta, none of my friends had heard the record yet. It wasn't in rotation at WRAS. The album was mysterious and otherworldly and I loved it.

But part of what made it so special was that sense of discovery. In high school, I discovered bands all the time, even if they were pretty much confined to making one style of music. In college, I went on weekly bargain bin CD runs and over my four years in Tallahassee I picked up hundreds of CDs, many of them for bands I'd never heard before. WRAS was a great source of new music in Atlanta, but this was before the age of music blogs and online radio, so I knew that my tastes would be heavily curated by the programmers at 88.5 if I didn't try to find things on my own. 

In 2000, I sat in the basement of a house where I had built up my recording studio and I scrolled through pages of Napster search results for Sigur Ros. I downloaded live tracks and remixes and their first record, none of which were available at local stores in Atlanta. 

In 2003, I saw the band for the first time, an event that I've written about before.

So, it was strange to me that in 2005, this weird little band from Iceland had grown to the point that they were playing at the Woodruff Arts Center at an event for which tickets were completely sold out. I eventually scored an orchestra seat from a ticket scalping agency and crammed into the show with beautiful, normal people who were talking about articles they had read on Pitchfork.

And I know this is my problem, but the whole thing just seemed a little duller by 2005. Yes, it's a good thing when a band making tremendous music gets bigger and expands its audience. Yes, it's great when they can play a fantastic venue with great sound. Yes, everyone who bought one of those tickets had an equal right to fall in love with that band and that music. And still, that feeling of discovery was gone.

I don't like to think of myself as one of those people who gets possessive about their favorite bands, but if I'm honest, that's exactly what happened. I didn't want to share Sigur Ros with people who had carpooled in from the suburbs. I wanted that show to be special--just for the artists and weirdos and music obsessives who usually filled up smaller rooms for my favorite bands. 

The truth is that the way that people were consuming music had changed by 2005. Everyone loved Radiohead, and it was only a short hop and a jump from Radiohead to Sigur Ros. Hell, I think there's probably a good overlap in the Sigur Ros and Coldplay venn diagram. This is one of the things that has been hard for an old school weirdo to get used to. The lack of scene identity and the rise of "everyone loves everything" has been hard to understand. But I'm trying.

Mogwai 05/11/2011

Mogwai 2011

I moved to Austin in March of 2011 and the transition wasn't easy. I didn't really know anyone. I was trying to leave a job of nine years behind but I didn't know what was going to come next. Just about everything in my life had been uprooted. Thankfully, there was still Mogwai.

The summer of 2011 was a hot one in Austin, Texas. One of the hottest on record. Dressed in a button up shirt, jeans, and my funkiest pair of kicks, I didn't really plan for the heat and humidity of an outdoor show in Austin in May.

Mogwai took the stage just after sundown and it was still plenty hot. As much as I love the band, I couldn't pay attention. I was focused on whether or not the posters would sell out. I could smell the Stubb's BBQ. I was distracted by my own sweat. I wondered if I would see anyone in the crowd that I'd met or seen online since I moved.

By the end of the night, I left glad to have seen one of my favorite bands but worried that Austin would remain an uncomfortable and kind of isolating place. In the six years since, we've never endured a summer quite that blistering again and Mogwai has been back to play at indoor venues, so it's all sort of worked out.

Lady Sovereign - 12/01/2006

Lady Sovereign 2006

There's a huge gap between the last ticket for Sigur Ros in 2002 and this one in 2006 for Lady Sovereign, but that fact shouldn't be used to conclude that I stopped going to shows for four years. For reasons I'm still not clear on, I stopped collecting tickets from shows in 2002 and it didn't occur to me to save them again until 2006. During this time, I'm sure that I saw Clutch, Meat Beat Manifesto, Mogwai, Mono, Low, Grandmaster Flash, and Sigur Ros a second time. Thankfully, I came to my senses when I went to see the five foot wonder, Lady Sovereign.

The DJ that opened the show was playing a weird mix that went from old school Prodigy to hot off the press dubstep dubplates, and it was a great way to warm up for the SOV. Lady Sovereign's vocal style is unique and her rhymes are funny, but the thing that pushes her over the edge for me is her production. Sure, her big label follow up to the much smaller debut wimped out on a lot of the weirder bass and rhythms that she started with, but it still gave us "Love me or Hate me" which is an absolute classic.

Make no mistake, Lady Sovereign is really only 5'1", but when she takes the stage, she commands it. She was nursing a cold when we saw her, but she still jumped all around hyping people up and yelling most of the lyrics to her songs. She's got a huge amount of charisma and it all comes through in the way she has carried herself in a world where a short white woman is not usually a star. Since this show I've not heard much at all about her. Like most flashes in a pan, she's probably burned through whatever hipster credit she got and the people from this show have likely moved on to something else. But she's a real talent and a great performer, so I hope to see her doing something else again soon.

Sigur Ros - 11/06/2002

Sigur Ros 2002

Every once in a while, I hope that a show is going to be transcendent. I put aside all of my jaded history of seeing bands, playing shows myself, and of being disappointed by artists that I really admire, and I just walk into a building hoping to be carried off the Earthly plane. There are only certain bands through which an experience like this is even possible, and usually when I hope for it, everything falls through. With Sigur Ros in 2002, still just ahead of the curve of their popularity, it seemed like I might just have a shot.

Sigur Ros makes music that wants to be transcendent. They are almost incapable of playing in the middle--everything is either tiny and emotionally compact or huge and sweeping and bombastic. I love that, and that's exactly what usually makes for a good show. The other component of a good show is a good venue, one where the sound and ambience fit the band and Variety Playhouse seemed like a good choice for Sigur Ros. Alas, my plans for a night of exceptional connection to music were foiled by the seating plan.

While the Variety Playhouse has seating, there's a standing room space in front of all of the theater seats that typically gets swollen with younger fans who want to be close to the band. After doing this for a while, I'm quite content to be back a ways, in the middle of the room where I can hear everything perfectly and see everything just well enough. I also like sitting down, especially for a band like Sigur Ros, where I'm not going to be inspired to dance or jump around as much as close my eyes and sway.

The problem with this arrangement at Variety is that when the standing room fills up, the first 15 or so rows of seats are farily useless because the room isn't sloped enough for people sitting to see over those who are standing. So people stand at their seats in the first row. Then the second. Then the third, because really, how can you see through people standing at their seats in rows one and two? This effect fans back like a slow-motion version of the wave, but where people never sit back down to let the wave ebb. When this happens, I want to stop the show and just ask if people can figure out that the seats are for sitting and the standing is for standing--but of course that would never work. So I managed to watch most of Sigur Ros with my head cranked sideways as I peered through the gap in between some guy's arm and his torso, and around someone else's head. I think I saw mostly the drummer.

So after waiting for that once in a lifetime experience and watching it fall flat through the fidgety body parts of others, I decided that maybe transcendent concert experiences weren't for me anymore. If Sigur Ros couldn't do it, and if Cocteau Twins couldn't do it, then what hope was there? Some years later, I would see a movie about a band that came close to the effect I was looking for, so I can at least say now that all hope is not lost. It's just not likely to be found on the floor of the Variety Playhouse.

Negativland - 05/10/2000

Negativland 2000

I didn't think that Negativland was going to be much of a live band. I loved the documentary Sonic Outlaws that spent a lot of its running time profiling the copyright pranks and illegal art that Negativland does so well, but none of that seemed like something you would go to a club to see on a stage. I loved what they did with "The Letter U and the Numeral 2" but again, would it really translate to a performance?

Happily, the answer was a resounding YES. Negativland not only won me over with unfamiliar material, they did so in style. The campy, psychadelic songs have never been my favorite part of their repoitoire, but even those were somehow charming in person. What they did with a mid-show puppet theater act was silly and adventurous and I loved it, but when they ended the show with a song where they ran film through a projector, stopping it long enough to melt and burn each frame as it passed in front of the bulb, I was in awe. It took a few minutes for me to figure out what they were doing because I was so interested in how it looked on stage. When I started to smell the burning celluloid, I looked over and saw someone purposefully creating a huge plume of smoke from melted film stock and I fell in love with the whole thing.

Negativland informed a lot of what I have tried to do over the years. A respect for their pioneering use of found sound and abusive copyright infringement to make a point can certainly be seen in my own work. Negativland (along with bands like Meat Beat Manifesto and Pop Will Eat Itself) helped me to forge an understanding of reappropriation as a creative choice rather than just a lazy endeavor. They also helped to solidify for me the importance of making all of that culture mashup entertaining in some way, so that it didn't seem like an academic exercise in musical diction or sound collage. Negativland not only had ideas behind their work, they also knew what would make people laugh and think and what would make people want to go home and start cutting up vhs tapes or audio files.

In the digital age, an act like Negativland is almost quaint. Culturejamming and sampling and mashups of every conceivable type have become some commonplace that there are more cultural references in an average episode of Family Guy than there were in many early works of sample/cut-up collage music. Of course most of what makes it to an audience is still mundane or obvious or without any point other than to be funny for a moment, the fact remains that a new generation of kids raised on home-made YouTube parodies are not likely to get what was so magical about Negativland doing what they did the old fashioned way.

Soul Coughing - 08/05/1999

Soul Coughing 1999

I never realized that Soul Coughing had become a well-known entity. I picked up on them around the time of "Super Bon-Bon" because that song was catchy as hell and because they had this interesting approach to pop music that was almost like a jazz quartet influenced by drum n bass who replaced the horns with a sampler. In fact, I was explaining how Soul Coughing worked to someone the other day and I was reminded of how amazing it was to see a group that relied on samples for a lot of the sound, but where the guy playing the samples was just a part of the band who had to be good at playing the samples and not just good at pressing the spacebar on a laptop. I liken what that guy was doing to someone like Kid Koala who takes pre-recorded sound and makes something entirely new with it right in front of your eyes. I perform electronic music all the time, but it's no secret that what I and what most people who perform with computers are doing is maniupulating the sounds, not triggering them in real time with the dexterity of an instrumentalist.

Of course someone with a laptop somewhere is throwing his hands up about to complain that I'm saying that there is no art to playing with a laptop, and no skill--that's not it at all. I take what I do very seriously, but at the same time I moved away from the 'how well can I trigger the sounds at the right times' model to the 'how well can I influence and mix and change the sounds in real time' model, which seems to work better for me.

The Soul Coughing guy though used his MIDI controller and his Akai sampler the same way some other person might have used a sax, guitar, or drumkit, and I found that really exciting. I wasn't sure why the Masquarade was so packed with people to see a band that I thought was my own little indulgence, but I was glad to see that a band doing something like that was getting some attention. They broke up not too long after that tour and Mike Doughty went on to make some solo records, but that configuration didn't have the same appeal for me.

Hooverphonic - 12/10/1998

Hooverphonic 1998

I don't remember buying a ticket for this, I only remember thinking that Underwater should have opened the show. I'm trying to recall a Hooverphonic song now and the only thing I'm coming up with is a Dot Allison song from around the same time or maybe a few years later. After Portishead and Tricky, there was a trip hop explosion of bands like Hooverphonic. To be fair to them (because Underwater was in a bit of the same boat,) I'm sure that they had nothing to do with being lumped in with the trip hop masses other than the fact that they rode the wave where it was going at the time. I think that after Massive Attack's Mezzanine came out, the game was up and people couldn't play the 'they are like the new Portishead' card anymore. Besides, most of the bands like Hooverphonic never had much to do with the Portishead/Tricky/Massive Attack aesthetic--they just had female singers and laid-back songs and sometimes that's all an undiscerning audience or writer needs to come up with a label, marketing plan, and concert tour.

Garbage - 10/23/1998

Garbage 1998

I bought a ticket for this, and my roomate Keith just got handed tickets for it. I remember that he didn't seem all that interested in going and even though he had gotten some free tickets, he kind of shrugged and played it off like "I'm sure there's something better to do than to go to see Garbage tonight." Maybe there was, and by the time of this show my interest in them was starting to wane, but I still got a little antsy at the thought that he was so dismissive of the gig.

Garbage was obviously stealing part of their MO from Curve, but they had taken the sound out of goth/industrial clubs and onto top 40 radio. I don't know how much of that owed to Shirley Manson's sexed up media persona and how much of it was due to the music actually being catchy, but by this time, Garbage was a popular act. When people teeter on that line between underground cool and highly-exposed pop, a band like Garbage becomes a bit of a lithmus test. Not that such things should really ever play into a decision, but the question starts to become "do you really like ?" and the answer to that question either admits you to hip society or gets you banished from it. It's funny how that works, and how it can be perfectly acceptible to like a band up until a certain point when the tastemakers turn on it, and how after that happens, any association with the band is seen as cool anathema!

I never much worried about that--I liked what I liked--whether that meant Coil or Melanie C. In time, it would become cool to like over-exposed pop music again, and I guess that kids now have a different kind of dividing line because their media is so chopped up and redistributed in different ways. If you are a a white kid from the suburbs who has moved into town for college or to make it for the first time on your own living in an apartment with three friends, it's apparently very cool to like dirty south hip hop, booty music, and Justin Timberlake. I mean, I like some of that too, but watching people go nuts for it in their Chucks and indie rock t-shirts is just a little unsettling. In a way, the cool-factor of the music you get into now seems to be more about how sincerely you approach it than it does how much you actually like it. Maybe this was always the case and I was just too immersed in my own world to notice. I make no bones about the fact that I liked and still do listen to pop music, and that I appreciate it sincerely. I don't think that it's cool or that it adds a lot to my life in any deeply artistic way, but then neither does a lot of music that sells a lot less. If I had free tickets to see Garbage today, I'm pretty sure I would still go.

Curve - 06/13/1998

Curve 1998

What do you do when one of your favorite bands of all time finally comes to town several years past when you should really care? This happened more recently for me with the Police on their reunion tour--a band I have always loved and wanted to see live, but who I gave up on in the late 80s and who decided to tour 20 years too late. Curve was absolutely one of my favorite acts in the early 90s and in fact all through college. By 1998, however, they'd ceased being near the center of my musical world and they had started to slip into that ether of bands that once released records that moved me that either no longer existed or existed only to frustrate me. Curve's post Cuckoo material isn't terrible by any means, but Come Clean was not the record that Cuckoo or Doppelganger had been--it wasn't a classic, genre-twising and defining piece of greatness. Curve it seemed had not learned the My Bloody Valentine lesson that says "sometimes when you make a classic record, you just stop because you can't top it." For me, Cuckoo is every bit as important as Loveless.

Past their prime and on the heels of a major label deal, a failed Bond theme song, and money sunk into a rare North American tour, Curve rolled into Atlanta right around the time that I moved here. I was excited beyond belief to see them until I actually SAW them. I should note that this was 10 years ago and that I've matured a bit in my perception of these kinds of things, but wow, it was kind of depressing to see my favorite band take the stage looking like old people. I have no idea how old they were, but clearly Dean was struggling with the rigor of playing on stage every night and Toni did not look like the sveldt vixen I'd always imagined. It's incredibly shallow to want your rock star idols to wow with you with that sex appeal and effortless charisma, and I've since divorced myself from those kinds of needs, but at the time, I was just incredibly disappointed that Curve looked like my aunt and uncle!

This was the first time that I really dealt with the idea of live music and rock music in particular being a young person's game. It had never really occurred to me that at some point I would start to catch up to and then surpass the age of the performers that I admire. I wasn't close to catching Toni and Dean in age, but seeing people that I idolized in my relative youth as aging and possibly over-the-hill adults who looked as out of place at a rock show as my professors from college really got me thinking. It illuminated the way that music performance is in many ways just selling that youthful, sexy, rebellious, and cooler-than-normal-people vibe that separates the performers from the audience. I've never thought much about that myself as I've performed, but as I get older now and I go to see bands or I play shows with performers who are five to ten years younger than I am, I start to get it. I've never thought of myself as the old and uncool dude who still gets up on the stage, but then I'm sure Dean didn't either at that point. Still, there will come some moment where I will realize that not only am I too old for all the ridiculous gyrations of being in a band, but that audiences will SEE that I'm too old for that and they'll wonder why I keep trying to be hip.

Maybe it helps to never try to be hip. Maybe it also helps to just make music that you love and that moves you and to care fuckall about what anyone thinks about how old you are or how cool you look or about how well you keep up with the kids and their Mac Book Pros. I know that I still love making and sometimes performing music. I know that I also don't NEED to perform it for people enough to put up with sleeping on sofas covered in cat hair for two weeks. I'm happy with my life and with the music that I make, and I want to keep sharing it with people as long as they want to hear it. I hope that I never look like that out of touch guy, but I guess that as long as I'm in touch with what I'm trying to do, the rest doesn't really matter.

To this day I still listen to Curve on a regular basis. I imagine that they are long past the touring days and I know that their latest records have continued to have a few great moments sprinkled among a lot of just OK ones. Still, I hope that they too keep on doing whatever it is they want to do no matter what us kids think of how funny they look trying to rock out through the chorus of "Fait Accompli." As long as they love it, that's good enough for me these days.

Portishead - 12/03/1997

Portishead 1997

The Portishead show required another trip from Florida up to Atlanta, and by this time I was fairly sure that I would end up living in Atlanta eventually as there were just too many reasons that it was better than Tampa, Gainesville, or Tallahassee. I wasn't sure how Portishead would come across live since so much of what I love about them is the way the samples sound and the way that I can tell the music is built up from records instead of instruments. I have the same problem with a lot of rap shows, where MCs feel like they need to replace the DJ with a band and all of the nuance of the music gets squeezed out. Thankfully, Portishead avoided this by being a fucking amazing live band.

The show kicked off with a DJ taking the audience drolly through a history of records that Portishead has sampled. No shit. It was the most condescending opening act that I've ever seen, but it was all part of the plan so it must have seemed like a good idea to someone. It was on the one hand interesting to hear some of the records that got chopped into Portishead songs, but it was on the other hand annoying that the DJ felt like giving the audience a musical history lesson. Maybe that sort of thing wouldn't bother most people at a show like that, but having thought a lot about HOW Portishead makes their music, it just struck me as too gimmicky and snobbish.

After the DJ though, the band was fantastic. The drummer had two or three different snares to replicate the sound of the looped drums from the records and he was incredibly precise with that. I loved watching the guitar and organ and other instruments come together in an organic way that still stayed true to the very looped nature of the music, and the DJ cuts and sample loops over everything kept the old vinyl pop in place. I was frankly less interested in the vocals than I would have imagined because I was fixated on how well the band played those songs, made them dynamic, but also didn't lose what I loved about them in the first place.

Garbage - 03/01/2006

Garbage 1996

Though the ticket lists The Rentals as the opening act, I have no recollection of seeing them. I love The Rentals, perhaps not as much as my friend Missy, but I would have certainly tried to catch them had they played. I had two main motivations for checking out this show. The first was that a friend of mine from the dorm in Tallahassee was a huge Garbage fan, the only person other than me that I knew who collected all the odd 3" CD singles and b-side tracks, and he wanted to go pretty badly. The second was that I had talked to my friends from Rabbit in the Moon and I had heard that Garbage would be opening their set with the RITM remix of "Queer."

That second motivation turned out to be mostly correct--the band opened their set with some loops and an intro that was from the RITM mix and then launched into the more rock-oriented version of "Queer" and it was pretty cool to see. Around this time, Rabbit in the Moon was starting to have remixes published by big names in the pop music world. It was one thing to have a dance-only 12" with their name on it, but quite something else for an internationally distributed CD Single from a major pop band to sport "Rabbit in the Moon" in the credits. I was stoked.

I've always loved watching friends go on to do great things. I've been lucky enough to be around a lot of talented people who have turned their passion for music or art or writing or science into big work that is enjoyed or used or seen by lots of people. There's something about accomplishments on that scale that I find appealing, but it's not the fame. Dave from RITM couldn't have been more humble and out-of-the-way about his accomplishment as Butch Vig was firing off loops of his remix to a sold out crowd at the State Theater. It wasn't the fame and the recognition that I admired, it was the scale of the work that had stretched beyond what seemed reasonably possible into the realm of "I can't believe this is happening." To know that friends and colleagues have worked on big and sometimes important projects, or with well-known and visionary producers, directors, and scientists is exciting for me. I've had a small bit of luck with that myself, but I think I enjoy watching others peak above their own expectations for themselves even more than I do experiencing that myself!

Godflesh - 12/11/1996

Godflesh 1996

I had to drive up to Atlanta to see Godflesh, but I would have driven a lot farther than that. Godflesh was on my short list of bands that I'd waited years to see, and while I wasn't as big a fan of Songs of Love and Hate as I was of some of their earlier work, there was no chance that I was going to pass this show up. The Rosewater Elizabeth crew had already moved to Atlanta by this point and the very early days of Underwater were under way, so I somehow convinced Jeremy to put me up for a night and go with me to see Godflesh.

I had begun to collect all things Broadrick by the time this tour rolled around, and with the help of an unlikely record store in Tallahassee called "CD Exchange," I was amassing a set of Final, Sidewinder, Techno Animal, and other odd discs. There are a few artists that I've latched on to over the years who have been inspiring in their ability to put a unique stamp on anything they do: Justin Broadrick, Mick Harris, Jack Dangers, Bill Laswell, Robin Guthrie--but none did so with more variety and experimentation than than the man behind Godflesh.

When we got to the show, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the in-between-bands music wasn't more Earache metal, but instead Basic Channel type minimal techno. This had to have been Broadrick's doing, and I've always wondered why more bands don't take the opportunity to mix things up like that. After all, when you're at a loud ass metal show with a number of bands that are all going to be blazing away with Marshall stacks, it's a fantastic way to give ears a break and cleanse the palette so to speak to put on something completely different. Broadrick was one of the guys who helped me warm up to the idea that purely electronic music and muscular, guitar-driven rock could sound different but come from the same place. That undercurrent of isolation and despair and sometimes defeatism that runs through Godflesh can also easily be picked up in the bleakly minimal drones and clicks of Basic Channel records, and it's actually easy to see now how someone like Broadrick moves around into different guises but always maintains his distinct voice.

Godflesh took the stage and proceeded to pound out the loudest show in the history of loud shows. Swans was loud, but part of that was the acoustics of the venue and the way that the sound focused on an area near the back of the room that made it gut-rumbling. Meat Beat in New Orleans was loud, but that was more about a proper mix of frequencies in a small room than pure decibels. Godflesh on the other hand was simply pushing me back from the stage further and further with each song. I started out thinking that I would brave it somewhere near the pit, but by the end I was on the other side of the wall at the Masquarade where the bar sits. At one point, Jeremy had to go to the bathroom and so I walked that way with him and I remember squinting my eyes as we neared the speakers in some vain attempt to keep the sound from forcing its way into my skull, knocking bits of my brain out of my ears.

I still would have liked to have seen the Pure-era Godflesh or the Selfless/Merciless Godflesh that played long, extended dirges, but the Love and Hate Godflesh was still a great treat. Besides, Jesu perfected what Merciless was hinting at anyway, and more than a decade after this show, I'd get to see Jesu playing Conqueror which made up for everything!

Orbital - 11/24/1996

Orbital 1996

The number of Orbital tickets on this list scares me, frankly. I'm pretty sure that the main reason that I went to see Orbital this time was that Spring Heel Jack was opening, and by the end of 1996 I was on a heavy Spring Heel Jack kick.

I drove down to Gainesville for this one and visited with Esther. I was expecting Spring Heel Jack to put on a great show, but I was sorely disappointed with their set. The music was good and loud, but I've never seen two guys who looked less interested in performing than those two. I had hyped SHJ up to my friends and I had to backtrack quickly when I realized that they made great records but that they weren't too hot on the stage. Spring Heel Jack eventually veered off into jazzier territory and I still collected just about everything they released, but this show was a real downer.

The only other memorable bit was the fact that a guy from my high school was a bouncer at the Florida Theater, and it was a job that he took far too seriously. I'm sure that he didn't remember me at all--we weren't friends, but I recognized him and also recognized that since he'd gotten to college, he had probably been working out. He had sort of ballooned into the kind of person who looks like they have to be pumped up with air before they leave the house. Having known him as a mostly good-natured and kind of geekier kid, I was surprised to see how much the working out and the small little bit of authority went to his head. He slung trash cans around and checked people's badges and he carried a mag light and he moved with a quick, deliberateness that seemed to scream "I'm busy and important and I know what I'm doing." It was OK to me if none of those things were true, but he'll probably never know that.

Meat Beat Manifesto - 09/14/1996

Meat Beat Manifesto 1996

I decided that it would be fun to take a trip to New Orleans to see my friend John and to catch a Meat Beat show. This kind of plan seemed to hatch itself every once in a while when I was in college, but I'd be hard-pressed to find a concert that I'd be willing to drive 5 hours to get to these days. In a way, that's a little sad because it's a tangible affect of losing that connection with music and with specific experiences that seems to have come with getting older. My ability to really be a "fan" of bands started diminishing early as I started playing my own music and sometimes playing shows with bands I had once idolized. When I had shared a bill with Nitzer Ebb, it was a little harder to have a poster of them on my wall and think of them as some untouchable musical gods. I had seen Meat Beat a number of times already, but New Orleans was calling and I was ready to go.

One of the most interesting moments of this trip came when we got to the part of town where she show was happening and I realized that we were parked right outside of Emeril Lagasse's restaurant! After I moved out of the dorm for my Junior year of college, I started working about 30 hours a week on top of going to class. I would usually get home from Pizza Hut and wind down by flicking on the TV and watching the Food Network until the wee hours of the morning. It wasn't called TV Food Network then, and it was really an unpolished, kind of amateurish-looking affair, but I would watch almost anything they put on. I spent hours and hours watching David Rosengarten talk about wine and cheese and all the kinds of snooty stuff I had no interest in. I loved the Two Hot Tamales. "How to Boil Water" was my favorite show as I loved watching the really cute and straight-laced chef fend off the goofy comedian who was ostensibly trying to learn to cook on camera. Emeril was never my favorite, but like I said, I would basically watch anything they threw on.

So when I saw Emeril's restaurant, I got a little excited. As we passed by looking for a parking spot, I swear that I saw him through the window and then I really freaked out! I was having a geeky fanboy moment for a tv chef that cooked food that I had almost no interest in as I was on the way to see one of my favorite bands--was this a turning point? Years later, I'm happy to say that my love for Meat Beat has continued and that the thought of running into Emeril is kind of annoying. Maybe that's what happens when something gets TOO big--I just can't follow along anymore.

The Meat Beat show was good, but it was one of the only gigs that I ever walked out of before it was over. The band was in full swing and they were playing songs that I loved, but the bass was so loud and the venue so cramped that I started getting nauseous. I don't think it was the dreaded brown note, bass weapon kind of reaction, but I definitely wasn't enjoying it. I remember popping back in and out of the show until it was over and then we went back to John's dorm.

Dead Can Dance - 08/19/1996

Dead Can Dance 1996

Having missed my chance to see Dead Can Dance in 1990, I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity when they finally came back to the states for another tour in 1996. A lot about Dead Can Dance had changed in the intervening years, or at least a lot of my perception of them had changed. The old DCD records always seemed firmly planted in the romantic goth world, but with their later efforts, they were clearly trying to play up their world music and folk music inspirations and shift away from the batcave crowd. They might have picked a better name if they really didn't want to be pigeonholed!

We had to drive to Plant City to get in line for tickets because we were pretty sure that this show would sell out. Somehow we figured that a Plant City Ticketmaster would be a better option than the one in Brandon or somewhere else that might have a bigger contingent of DCD fans. Little did we know that Alanis Morrissette tickets were going on sale the same morning, so despite driving to Plant City early in the morning and waiting outside of Specs there, we wound up getting pretty crappy seats because we were about 10 people back in line of folks looking for Alanis Morrissette and sporting event tickets.

The closest that DCD was going to play to Tampa was Miami, and having never been to Miami, I figured that this would be a good excuse to go. We made the long trek through swampy southern Florida and wound up in one of the parts of Miami that seems to be reserved for fashion models and club promoters. As soon as we parked the car, an impossibly-built woman wearing a "dress" that was essentially a white fishing net with nothing on underneath strolled by. OK, you didn't see that every day in Tampa! We walked around and saw the shops selling sludgy Cuban coffee and we finally ducked into a clothing boutique that had skater jeans and hoodies and Fluevog shoes and that sort of thing. I looked at some JNCO jeans that were cut an extra 12" too long in the leg and commented that it was silly to put some embroidery at the bottom of the pant leg that would obviously have to be rolled up to avoid being stepped on. I don't know if it was this comment or just the fact that we weren't part of the South Beach elite, but the guy running the shop made his contempt for me fairly obvious. I bought something just to spite him and we were off.

We got to the show at a posh theater and noticed right away that they were not selling t-shirts. I had heard this was the case and I got a kick out of the merchandise guy who had to repeat the line over and over that "Dead Can Dance has never sold t-shirts at their performances," which was all kinds of pretentious. The statement was made all the more amusing by the fact that the guy was saying this to mostly gothy girls ALREADY WEARING DCD t-shirts! I believe that the band doesn't produce shirts, but really, who do you think you are that you are too good for t-shirts? I picked up a poster and a program and we were off to find our seats.

As luck would have it, we were up in the balcony which afforded a great view of the stage. I was also happy to see that sitting just 3 or 4 rows in front of us was the clerk from the skate-jeans store who looked back and saw us and smirked that he had 3-rows better seats. For all of his obvious looking down his nose at me, I couldn't help but think that it was funny that he worked in a store that we shopped at and we were both going to the same show, and yet he still seemed to feel like we weren't quite cool enough to be in his space.

The show was amazing, but it was also amazingly familiar. Having seen the Toward the Within concert film half a dozen times, every note and every turn in the show was something that I'd already seen. I got a great kick out of watching everyone play instruments live and I found that watching the band pull the music together was a lot more interesting than watching the group's two stars sing. I got a little choked up at one point when Lisa Gerrard kicked into ethereal vocal overdrive, and then without much fanfare, it was over.

Orbital - 07/11/1996

Orbital 1996

I can barely remember this show at all which means it must not have been all that special. Somehow, Orbital became a band I saw quite a few times despite the fact that I didn't own any of their albums and didn't know many of their songs. I wound up buying the brown album on cassette sometime in college, and I got a kick out of the Star Trek samples in "The Mobius," but that was about it. I always liked the way they performed, but the music outside of that live setting never did much for me.

Though the ticket says "Voyourspace" I think that the opening act was in fact Vapourspace, maybe doing some kind of voyuer themed performance? I actually had a Vapourspace album but I couldn't pick it out in an audio lineup of ambient-minded techno records if you paid me. I bought a lot of ambient techno in the early nineties and I never found much of it to be good for anything other than falling asleep to.

In fact, the only thing about this show that I remember with any clarity is the set-ending version of SATAN that Orbital played. I believe this was around the time that they were experimenting with mashing up remixes into their set finale and for some reason I'm remembering Orbtial mixed with Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer." Come to think of it, that was probably one of the first mashup style remixes I ever heard live. his might have been one of those shows that I went to with my other college roommate, Anthony, because he was a huge Orbital fan.

Wow, on this one, I've really got nothin'.