Monday, March 8, 2010

3 Shows in 5 Days

The Noise Pop Festival comes but once a year and, like Santa, it never fails to deliver, unless you’ve been bad and forgotten to buy tickets in advance, in which case you rely on more pragmatic friends to save your disorganized ass. And that’s the story of how I saw three awesome shows last week: by mooching.

Show 1: Fanfarlo at the Great American Music Hall

The interior of the GAMH is baller-status, although Microsoft Word wants me to describe it as “baler-status.” It was a bordello in the early 1900’s, and it still has some of that Barbary Coast vibe. Picture red velvet curtains, ceiling frescoes, marble, and ornately carved wood paneling. Or, just look at this photo:

On top of that, the Hall only holds about 500 people, so it’s intimate-ish.

I'd already seen Fanfarlo last November at Rickshaw (all of this means absolutely nothing to you LA folk, and for that I don’t apologize, but say, come visit me, fools). Here’s a not-so-great-quality-clip from that show:

There tends to be a lot of movement on stage. It feels like each band-member rotates through a few instruments during the course of a single song. And we're talking cool instruments, i.e. a guy throws down his trumpet only to pick up a melodica. Cool, right? Although, I don't know what counts as an uncool or lame instrument. I've got to think about that one. The flute, maybe? Poor flute.

Anyway, most Fanfarlo songs (and the best songs in general) have a lot of buildup. See Harold T. Wilkins:

You've gotta wait till the last minute for the good stuff. At the show, I'd lightly tap my foot at the beginning of a song, but by the end I'd be jumping up and down. Good sign. Fun band.

PS: this is a big part of why I'll never understand the appeal of jam-bands: the songs don't go anywhere, you're stuck in musical Purgatory: what's the point?

Show 2: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes at Bimbo's

They lived up to the hype. And Lordy, they were hyped to the point that I was on the verge of being turned off. Which is an adolescent reaction, admittedly: "everyone likes this band: now I'm skeptical."

Some of my concerns were legit: their aesthetic is grating. The whole pseudo-hippie thing, the syrupy-lyrics like, "We want to feel ya! / We don’t mean to kill ya! / We come back to heal ya!" : they're a concept-band. They're selling sixties nostalgia to a generation of twenty-somethings that never experienced the sixties. The whole package is iffy.

But I can't deny that their energy onstage is huge. Here's a clip:

Actually, this was really the one time during the show where Alex Ebert seemed a little tired. You can tell he's sick of singing "Home," although he gets into it eventually. But I love this little clip because of the rando fiddler who crowd-surfs to the stage, get's a microphone, and proceeds to steal the show.

Ok, here's a clip from a different show that captures Alex's manic energy:

He was all about the audience. He talked to us and brought people on stage for half of the songs. His arm must have been on the verge of falling off from shaking that tambourine for two hours straight. He told us he loved us. We sat down on the floor for the slow jams. And after it was all over, he lingered and hung out with whoever wanted to chat.

What a mensch.

Sidenote: What's the deal with those token guys you run into at every concert that refuse to move their bodies or react to the music they're hearing in any discernible way? There's nothing worse than being stuck at a show behind a tall man (it's always a tall white man) who stands before you like a petrified tree trunk and acts like he's at an Anglican church service. I realize that the man is probably feeling a lot of feelings behind the empty chalkboard that is his face, but nonetheless--I hate that guy. He kills the mood. He was in front of me for a while at the beginning of the E. Sharpe show, but he disappeared, thank god.

Show 3: The Magnetic Fields at Herbst Theater

This one made me feel like a little kid at the grownup's table. Herbst theater is fancy-town. We're talking sit-down, assigned seating: it was weird.

Overall, the show was too sedate for my liking. I hadn't realized that Stephen Merrit suffers from hyperacusis: sounds reverberate in his left ear and grow progressively louder. Which means, he's a musician who hates the sound of applause: again, weird. It also means that the Magnetic Fields can never really rock out, because it would cause their lead singer excruciating physical pain.

Quirks aside (or maybe because of the quirks), I would pay good money to be Merrit's beard. So witty. So romantic in a fucked-up way. So talented. So gay.

If anything, the show renewed my love for pre-"69 Love Songs" era Magnetic Fields. They played almost nothing from that album, and only a song or two from "Realism." They did their more obscure stuff, and I appreciated that. They've been touring for twenty years, they've released nine (?) albums, and they've got a big catalogue of songs to chose from.

Here's the only clip I can find online from the show. Not too bad:

And that's all I have to say about that.

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