Sunday, August 28, 2005
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Monday, August 22, 2005
Jessica and I got back this morning from seeing The Mars Volta open for System of A Down at Hampton Coliseum in Virginia. The concert was truly exceptional, with the band playing better, and Omar and Cedric showing much more energy than they did when I saw them in Atlanta in April. Unfortunately the set wasn't as long (only an hour as compared to two and a half hours on their headlining tour), and I wasn't as close to the stage I was before. But I didn't get kicked in the head again, I met a lot of cool people and I think I've converted Jessica, who only went to placate me, into a true fan.
Hampton is about a three hour drive north from Raleigh, so we left Sunday afternoon.
Hampton is also the coliseum where I saw my second-ever concert, Van Halen on the Women and Children First tour in 1980, so the place has special meaning for me (I also saw U2 there in 1985). As I've said before, going to big concerts, especially to shows that are out-of-town, is always a lot of fun for me because that's how I first experienced rock 'n' roll. I just love the excitement of getting up on the day of the show, driving to an unfamiliar town, staying in a cheap motel, seeing the tour buses parked at the venue and thousands of people SCREAMING as the lights go down. Jessica says she prefers club shows, and club shows do have their charm, but big concerts like this one always make me feel like I'm 13 again.
Donovan, Rachel and Rachel's 16-year-old brother, Iggy, were going to meet us at the Comfort Inn (which smelled strangely like beer throughout), and I had vague plans for a meet-up with Phelpsdigi from The Comatorium. Unfortunately, I didn't count on the others eating before they arrived, so the meet-up didn't happen. In fact, my only dinner was a pack of Nabs and a Yuengling hastily downed as we walked to the coliseum. Emboldened by Jessica, who is brave enough to do just about anything, I decided slip my digital camera (which has video with sound mode) under my shirt and sneak it in. I figured the security guards would only pat down my waist and legs, but I was petrified that they'd have metal detectors, in which case I stood a good chance of losing an expensive camera. As it turned out, there were no metal detectors. The guard rummaged around in my purse and then asked if I had a camera in there. Well, I didn't have a camera in there, so I wasn't lying when I told her no.
Donovan, Rachel and Iggy had general admission tickets, so they went onto the floor to try and get near the front. The seats I ordered during the pre-sale turned out to not be as good as I thought, but I was able to sneak over a couple of sections and get down beside the rail on the left (Omar's side). I ended up sitting next to a guy from Charlottesville named Greg, who generously gave me a CD by his band, The Lazy Lane. He was hoping to give it to Omar, but since it didn't look like that was going to happen, I was the next best thing. Together we ended up laughing ourselves silly over Bad Acid Trip, which musically was pretty generic Korn-style metal, but visually was entertaining, with a front man who crawled all over the stage and at one point simulated fellatio with a doll.
The Mars Volta came on promptly at 7:45 with their usual intro, the theme song to "Fistfull of Dollars." I've been reading that audiences at other shows on this tour haven't been very receptive to their spacy jams, which really don't seem to have much in common with System of a Down's political aggro-metal. That wasn't the case at Hampton, because the crowd clearly loved them. Actually, the crowd seemed to like Bad Acid Trip too, so maybe it was just a jolly crowd. Omar, wearing his famous suit (though, thankfully, with a new shirt), was in top form, playing with real passion and dancing like he was posessed by some voodoo salsa god. The only flaw was that he was way too loud, as was bass player Juan Alderete. Cedric was a little more subdued, though he did get in a few mic-stand tosses and lots of slinky salsa moves of his own. I didn't hear much of his vocals during Drunkship of Lanterns improv, because they seemed to be really distorted, and Omar was soloing wildly over everything. Omar and Cedric have said that the live improvs are their way of communicating with each other. Well, Omar must have had a lot to say last night, and he was very happy and excited to be saying it.
I was able to get quite a few photos, but, as you can tell from the ones on this page, they are pretty blurry. The one thing I really hate about digital cameras is the split-second auto-focus. I know some cameras allow you to switch them to manual. Mine apparently doesn't. I've had so-so luck using the camera at club shows, and that's when I'm standing right by the band, and I'm not trying to be discreet for fear of a security guard catching me. I also managed to get two very rough Quicktime movies, one of L'Via (entire song) and one of part of Drunkship. Unfortunately the camera ran out of memory right before the improv. Because they're so big (L'Via is 355 MB and Drunkship is 82.3 MB), I didn't put them on my server, but instead put them on Soulseek. If you want to know my username, please e-mail me. But be warned: They're not good quality, and they are huge.
After Mars Volta, I met up with Jessica, who was absolutely ecstatic, much to my relief. I had been afraid she really wouldn't like them, but now I think she's been converted. She even sent me a text message during their set which said, "like Zep," which is the highest compliment in her lexicon. I bought a new T-shirt, The red one with the German lettering, then we hung out with Donovan, Rachel and Iggy, who apparently were able to see pretty well on the floor. Actually, Rachel, who is very small, got out of the pit when she felt herself being swept off her feet.
We went back in and watched part of System. I like them, and I love the new album, "Mesmerize," but live they didn't do anything for me. In fact, after Mars Volta's visual and musical overload, System was downright boring. Daron tried a few Angus Young-like moves, but Serj just paced the stage. It was his birthday (Daron led the crowd for "Happy Birthday") so I supposed he could do whatever he wanted. But I will say he was not a very engaging front man.
About halfway through System's set, I went back outside to find the gang. As it turns out, they'd been watching Mars Volta's roadies load all their equipment into their trucks. From the second floor balcony that surrounds the coliseum, they had a great view into the backstage enclave. I walked over with Iggy to have a look, and saw that the band was now milling around back there. Omar was happily chatting away with a couple of folks, Marcel was talking on a cell phone, and Ikey, Paul and Adrian were kind of walking around.
As Omar walked underneath us to go inside, Iggy called out to him, and he looked up, smiled and waved at us. I decided to take a picture, but did so without a flash because I really didn't want to draw more attention to myself. I've heard too many weird stories of people following them around in stores and generally acting like fools around them, and I had sworn that if I ever got around them, I wouldn't do that. But truthfully, I felt weird taking the picture. It just felt a bit intrusive. After a while, the whole scenario began to make me feel like I was watching animals in a zoo, and I suddenly didn't envy them their fame.
Rachel and Jessica came over to where we were as Juan and Cedric walked out. Rachel, who only went to the show to chaparone her brother, asked who Cedric was, and I told her. Suddenly Rachel called out, "hey Cedric!" as I turned away, mortified.
"Great show," she called out, adding "have a nice evening!" He turned and waved at us and Rachel curtsied for him. I bet he doesn't get curtsied at very often.
Jessica and Rachel kept trying to get me to go down there. They kept pointing at a girl wearing silver hot pants who was letting Paul sign an autograph on her back, and telling me if she could do it then so could I. But as I said, I didn't want to be the weird fan making a fool of herself, and I felt like I was already treading dangerously close to that line, so I decided we should go back to the hotel.
Back at the Comfort Inn we drank more beer, watched the videos on my camera and made an incredible racket that I'm sure had our neighbors quite peeved. I talked to Iggy, who is a left-handed guitarist, about music and his guitar, which is a beautiful 1980 tobacco-burst Les Paul Custom. I get bored with small children, but kids who are in their early and mid teens are awesome. I used to want to be a seventh-grade English teacher, and sometimes I wish I'd stayed on that path. I had a great time talking to him, probably because the whole concert experience had me feeling like a teenager myself.
Posted by Karen A. Mann at 3:31 PM
Thursday, August 18, 2005
A review of Drunk Horse's "In Tongues" (Tee Pee Records)
I know Jessica will disagree with me on this:
Have you ever been attracted to someone simply because they remind you of someone else? Maybe they give you the same intense gaze as your former lover, or maybe the sound of their voice brings back a moment from years ago. Perhaps it’s a certain something that only the beer goggles will bring into proper focus.
That’s the feeling I get when I listen to Drunk Horse’s latest CD. There’s a whole lot here that reminds me of some of my past musical loves, notably Blue Oyster Cult, ZZ Top and Foghat, with a little Thin Lizzy thrown in for good measure.
The rhythm section is tight, and singer/guitarist Eli Eckert’s voice has plenty of swagger and attitude. Eckert also has a flair for writing hook-filled riffs (as well as a propensity for using them over and over again), and guest Josh Smith of The Fucking Champs provides the right touch of guitar-god theatrics on “Grinding Teeth.”
But despite a few brilliant riffs, there really isn’t a whole lot here that hasn’t been done elsewhere. Even the CD’s best song, the epic instrumental “Skydog,” lifts passages nearly wholesale from King Crimson’s “Red.”
If you ever spent time doing bong hits and listening to “On Your Feet or On Your Knees” through your Koss headphones, this CD is going to sound awfully familiar to you. In fact, if you’ve recently spent time listening to Queens of the Stone Age, Fu Manchu or just about any other band mining the ‘70s stoner rock quarry, it will sound familiar to you too. But familiarity alone isn’t enough to hold my interest for very long.
Posted by Karen A. Mann at 6:27 PM
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
The new Cherry Valence CD
As much as I’ve always loved seeing The Cherry Valence live, their records didn’t quite capture their raw intensity. Now the band has a new line-up, a new CD and, in many ways, an entirely new sound. Guitarist Cheetie Kumar and bass player Paul Siler have departed to form a fine new band, the Alice Cooper-ish Birds of Avalon. Gone with them is the previous line-up’s pounding rawness. In their place are guitarist Erik Sugg (Dragstrip Syndicate) and bass player Charles Story (The Weather), and with them comes a more relaxed, refined and bluesier sound. And with that new sound comes the best album the band has ever released.
The CD’s opening track, “Sunglasses and Headlights” has all the hallmarks of a ‘70s rock anthem (blistering guitar riffs, driving bass, fist-pumping chorus), as does the closing track, “Caves of Steel.” In between you can hear a variety of ‘70s rock influences, from James Gang to Led Zeppelin to (surprisingly) Steely Dan. Vocalist/drummer Nick Whitley sounds so much like Donald Fagan on “Stayin’ Out All Night” that I actually thought the song was a cover. The band goes acoustic and slightly folksy for “333” and the opening parts of “Trees.” They even throw in a couple of drum solos (thankfully, short ones) for “Low Class Warrior,” the song that sounds the most like Cherry Valence or yore.
Whitley and the band’s other vocalist/drummer, Brian Quast, are both at their best vocally. Sugg complements guitarist Jamie Williams perfectly, and Story provides a solid backbeat. True, this CD is not as raw and unpredictable as what folks may expect from the Cherry Valence, but it’s solid in a way this band has never been before.
Posted by Karen A. Mann at 9:47 AM