October 22, 2010

Phoenix / Dirty Projectors /Wavves - Madison Square Garden - October 20, 2010

I rode on the E train asking myself when was the last time I saw anything at Madison Square Garden.  It took me awhile to figure out that it was the Madonna Girlie Show in 1993.  I was in the third row from the stage.  I wasn't as fortunate on Wednesday night.  I was to the left of the stage from audience perspective. Gate 62 - not too bad.  I realized the binoculars I put in my bag were old school, when I looked up at the screen on my side of the arena.  I watched the show without binoculars and without taking pictures which made experiencing the show a lot easier.  I'm sure there will be plenty pictures of the show on other sites.(Besides, my usual fuzzy smartphone photos aren't exactly high art!)

I originally did not think that Wednesday night's line up would work but I was wrong.  I thought the lineup actually worked really well.  Though the three bands were very different musically, I thought each band performed a strong set.  I wish more of the audience had shown up early to see the first two bands.

Wavves got on stage at exactly 8:02 and did a seven song set.  I enjoyed them much more live than their recordings.  The noise-pop, lo-fi classifications didn't seem to apply to Wavves as a live band.  They seemed more power punk, with Nathan Williams vocals sounding like Tom Delonge of Blink 182.

As writer and frontman, Nathan Williams is a cute guy with a good haircut especially when he's standing next to his band mates.  Along side Williams was Stephan Pop with long curly hair and a yellow flying-V electric bass. Pop danced around through the entire set looking like he was having a good time.  During the 2nd song, I caught of glimpse on screen of drummer Billy Hayes' T shirt.  The T had a drawing of a skull with long hair.  The drawing may be a logo for something but I liked it, in and of itself.

The first song of the Wavves set didn't leave too much of an impression.  It seemed more like a little ditty just to ease them into their set.  The second song was interesting - It sounded like Williams was listening to Nirvana when he wrote it.   The lyric I thought I heard Williams repeatedly sing was "But would you shit."  The actual line is "but it wouldn’t mean shit." I  watched some videos on Youtube and figured out that Williams has been singing "do shit" instead of "mean shit" which makes is sound like "would you shit."  Why I'm so concerned by how the word shit is used in a song? - I haven't got a fuckin' clue!

After hearing the songs that followed, I have to say I just found Wavves music a lot of fun.  I don't think it's intentional but I heard a bum-babum rhythmic riff in the song "Super Soaker" that reminded me of Tom Jones "It's Not Unusal." Then before doing the song "No Hope Kids," Williams said "this is a song about your Mom."  Huh? When Wavves did the song "Wavves," I heard a lyric that wasn't there.  Either Williams was playing around or he has very bad diction.  Because I could have sworn he sang a word that rhymed with sun but it wasn't gun and it wasn't punk. (oh well - never mind!)

Before doing their last two songs, Williams said "thanks for letting us play our songs for all 14 of you"  Pop said something like there are more than fourteen and Williams told him he couldn't count.  "Post Acid," which followed, was the silliest song in Wavves set but it was my favorite.  As we used to say in the 80's "it's got a good beat and you can dance to it."

As they were about to do their last song, someone from the audience screamed out the usual "we love you."  The members of Wavves told each other how they loved one another.  The little love fest ended with Williams saying "I love you Chris,  Steve - I want to have sex with you."  They then went into the title song from their newest CD which was actually the best song of their set.

Nathan Williams - vocals & guitar 
Billy Hayes - drums
Stephen Pop - bass & background vocals

Wavves Set List
1.To The Dregs
3.Super Soaker
4.No Hope Kids
5. Wavves
6. Post Acid
7. King of the Beach

Prior to the show, I listened to Dirty Projectors several times for about 2 weeks but I wasn't feeling their music until the day of the show. What changed?  That morning I sat on the bus, I take to work, closed my eyes and actively listened to their music. Viola! When I got to work and took off the earphones "Useful Chamber" was still swimming around in my head.  When I passively listened (aka listening while multitasking) Dirty Projectors seemed like a hodgepodge of ideas slammed together.  I wasn't feeling their music's underlying rhythm.  But when I made a point of listening, I found their music was well thought out and felt my head bopping along.  

"I Will Truck" started with drummer,Brian McComber setting up the beat while vocalist Dave Longstreth played high pitched repetitive notes in a sort of telegraph rhythm.  Once bassist Nat Baldwin played his part through an effects pedal the audience seemed to recognize the song.  I watched some videos of Dirty Projectors doing "I Will Truck" from of the past year.  None of the videos I watched seemed to show the band doing the song as rhythmically tight as I remember it on Wednesday night.  Either I was excited about seeing the band or the song had gotten better as Dirty Projectors continually performed it on tour- probably a little of both.

Somewhere in middle of "No Intention" with it's very strange but funky groove, I turned to my friend Jeff to say how impressed I was with band and I could tell he was feeling the same way.  That feeling stayed with us as the set got even better.

I usually can convey what a vocalist sounds like by comparing them to another artist but Longstreth 's unique vocals have me stumped.  The meter of the his lyrics on "No Intention" coupled with Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Haley Dekle doing strange harmonies made Longstreth's vocals even harder to categorize. 

All three women sang "Beautiful Mother."  It was pretty amazing to hear them sing that chord that happens 3 times at the end of each chorus.  Brian McComber started the song with a pounding kick drum that reached a crescendo and stayed there. I at first thought that the ladies were singing a cappella but I realized that Nat Baldwin was playing a pedal tone on his stand up bass along with the drum part.  I think Longstreth and Coffman were playing something as well but they weren't recognizably audible. 

Before going into "Cannibal Resource,"  Dave Longstreth said  "Hey! How's it going - you guys excited for Phoenix - well thank you for watching"  Huh? I thought we were actually listening but I knew what he meant."   "Cannibal Resource" is another one of those Dirty Projector songs with a funky groove.  But where "No Intention's" groove felt strange, I would describe "Cannibla Resource's" as quirky.   I'm not sure why I noticed but for the song, both Longstreth and Coffman put capo's on their guitars.  

Dirty Projectors did not really stop between the last 3 songs; they went directly into "Stillness Is the Move."  I know Solange Knowles has done guest appearances with Dirty Projectors to sing the song, but  for my money, Coffman sang the heck out the song on Wednesday night.  Coffman did those high pitched adlibs that I usually associate with Mariah Carey but it seemed like Coffman did them with greater ease.  I also loved the high pitch riff that Longstreth played on guitar - it sounded like a warped organ patch from a keyboard.  "Stillness Is the Move." was the highlight of the Dirty Projectors set.  How hot was it? The song was so hot that it felt like it was just waiting for a hip-hop artist to lay a rap over it.  (Maybe Solange should talk to her brother-in-law).

The Dirty Projectors ended with "Useful Chamber" which I always think is titled "Bitte Orca," simply because there is a part when Longstreth keeps repeating those two words.  The song had a little more of rock fell than the other songs in Dirty Projectors set.  The song's drum beat seemed to have the same feel as Nine Inch Nails "Closer" and guitar parts toward the end of the song sounded straight out of Yes's Fragile Album.  It was all good and it all worked. The band is amazingly original!!
 Dirty Projectors
Dave Longstreth - vocals/guitar
Amber Coffman -  vocals/guitar
Nat Baldwin - bass
Haley Dekle - vocals
Brian McComber - drummer
Angel Deradoorian - keyboards

The Dirty Projectors Set List
1. I Will Truck
2. No Intention
3. Beautiful Mother
4. Cannibal Resource
5. Stillness is the Move
6. Useful Chamber

Phoenix did quite a set on Wednesday night.  I didn't know what to expect but I can honestly say I didn't go home disappointed. The show felt like it was divided into Four parts, la première partie  I would consider songs 1 through 6, la deuxième partie I would consider songs 7 through 13 because somewhere between "North" & "Love Like A Sunset," the music increased about 5 decibels.   La troisième partie seemed like the encore which included two acoustic songs and an old favorite.  La quatrième partie was the Grand Finale with Daft Punk.

The show began with smoke from dry ice, white spot lights shinning out into the audience and the sound of one held note of a violin pad from a synth as the band took their places on stage.   Through out the show, each member of Phoenix was recognizable but there was no direct lighting on them.  From where I sat it was easier to see the band on the screens then on stage because of the lighting set up. The audience first cheered when they noticed Thomas Mars front and center, then cheered again when they heard the beginning guitar parts for "Lisztomania."

When Mars began singing the "Lisztomania," so did the audience.  It was pretty amazing to hear; there were so many people singing that each word was clearly audible over the band's playing. Guitarist Laurent Brancowitz had what looked like a small controller keyboard by his side.  He played what sounded like a xylophone patch after the part where Mars repeatedly sings "This is show time".... Towards the end of the song, Mars stood on a monitor and said "We are Phoenix, coming from Paris France" in a very deadpan voice. (Who knew?)

"Lasso" began with a count off and heavy duty drumming by Thomas Hedlund. There were several times during the show when Keyboardist Robin Coudert seem to help out by playing on a tom that was to the left of him and was part of Hedlund's kit. During "Lasso" Mars went down into the audience but not far past the barricades.  The audience was still singing along and there were points when they even seemed to drown out Mars.

Phoenix went directly into the next song which was "Long Distance Call" from their 2006 album It's Never Been Like That.  And yes, the audience was still singing along. "Long Distance Call" is a cool song that goes back and forth from a plaintively playful keyboard patch to the massive sound of jangling guitars. 

The next song, "Fences" always reminds of pop rock songs, that were recorded in the late 70's and early 80's and later ended up on soft rock stations.    I'm talking about songs like Fleetwood Macs' "Dreams" which isn't musically the same but shares that same mellow feel.   Before going into "Fences," Mars said "Thank you so much for coming - we never thought we would headline this place."  They then did the song pretty close to the recording except they played the ending by slowing down to a stop.

Guitarist Christian Mazzalai started off "Girlfriend."and did most of the noticeable guitar work.  He was basically playing lots of rhythm while Laurent Brancowitz was switching between guitar and his keyboard controller. I have to say even though Thomas Hedlund is not officially part of the band, his drumming was a really important part of Phoenix's set and really contributed to a lot of their songs like "Girlfriend."  The song ended by coming to a complete halt to which the audience responded with a roar.

"Armistice" was the last song at a comfortable sound level before the audience was taken to the land of Guitar Hero.   The audience's voices singing along were still audible over the bands playing especially on those parts when there was only one guitar and Mars singing.  I thought the organ and moog sounding part between keyboardist Robin Coudert and Brancowitz was pretty cool - I wanted it to last even longer.
Many of Phoenix's songs seem to be centered around Thomas Mars vocals but in concert it became evident that the guitar work, especially Christian Mazzalai's, was equally if not more important. For the part which I'm referring to as la deuxième partie of the show, Mars disappeared leaving the others to perform "North" and "Love Like A Sunset."  Underneath red lights the boys played the very somber "North" which reminded of fall when the leaves are blowing off the trees and the weather is getting cold.  It also reminded of the Cure's 17 Seconds which I  have also referenced in an earlier review.

For the beginning of  "Love Is Like A Sunset" white strobe lights blinked on and off.   During the start of the song there was a large white curtain dropped from above the stage as someone on keyboards was playing an ostinato (a repeating melodic fragment).   The curtain fell into the audience pit, was bundled up toward the back of the pit, and then taken away.   The stage went dark, and then Mazzalai plucked his guitar under a white spotlight. before the spot went out as well.  The entire band started to play in the dark as lighting poles behind the band occasionally flashed.  The stage lights eventually came up to where we could see everyone on stage.  A keyboard patch bend which sounded like something ringing in a nuclear holocaust sounded and then blended in once the guitars resumed playing.  Mars then reappeared to do the small bit of lyric at the end of the song.

It is really hard to describe all that happened during the two songs I just wrote about. I'm sure there are points I missed like the dome thing that is in the middle of Madison Square Garden's arena lighting up or when there was a tape outline that slowly lit up as if someone were drawing outlines around the bands equipment. However, regardless of what I missed, I can sum up the 2 instrumental songs by saying they were quite a journey from beginning to end.

Before going into to "Run, Run, Run,"  Mars stood on his monitor again to listen to applause the crowd was giving the band for the previous two songs.  Mars not only took it all in but waved the audience on for more applause which they gladly gave.   As I said earlier, the songs got harder hitting and louder as the show progressive.  So, even though "Run, Run, Run" started sort of tame, it really turned into a chaotic rock song by the time it reached the middle musical break.

"Rally" was a lot of fun - it was Phoenix's Strokes moment sin Julian Casablancas. After the song, Mars thanked the audience and threw in a merci beaucoup before saying his thank yous to Wavves and Dirty Projectors by calling them Phoenix's favorite bands.  The band then went directly into "Rome," and as they did, I could hear the audience sing every single word.  Mar's said something during the song but the sound was too distorted for me to make it out.  I think part of what he said was prompting the audience to raise their hands. By the last part of the song, everyone in the pit was jumpin' and dancin' and seemed to be really having fun.

"Rome" went directly into the sound of a metronome ticking.  A camera picked up the metronome and showed it on the two side screens. Mars sang "Funky Squaredance" with a vocal vocorder on his his mic. The set ended with a tremolo of a processed organ/moog sounding synth patch (I'm stretching to find a description) as the band walked off stage. The ending was big - really BIG but there was more to come.

There was no music for what felt like more than 2 minutes ......and then la troisième partie began. Mars and Mazzalai appeared on the audience floor toward the back of the auditorum opposite the stage. I could not even see where they were both standing until my friend Jeff pointed them out and they appeared on the 2 screens.  I originally thought that they had only performed "Love For Granted" but they actually performed it together with "Honeymoon."  I was unfamiliar with both songs so didn't realize it was originally two songs when I heard them performed.

For their second acoustic song, Mars and Mazzalai performed what Mar's introduced as a Johnny Hallyday song from the 60's "La Fille aux cheveux clairs."   I was nice to hear the guys do something in French; I would have even liked to have heard them do more.   I checked out Johnny Hallyday on YouTube.  He did a cool French version of "Black is Black" by Los Bravos in the 60's ("Noir c'est noir" ), but a very bizarre version of "House of The Rising Sun" made famous by The Animals.

Brancowitz and Coudert played keyboard parts as Mars and Mazzalai traveled their way back to the stage. The parts were basically a synth note with Fender Rhodes piano adlibs over it.  Once the boys were in place the keyboards stopped and band's guitars broke into "If I Ever Feel Better."  The audience roared and sang along.  Toward the end of the song Mars said "Can we get some light please - everyone put your hand up in the air." The house lights went up for about one minute before the song ended, then we were in the dark.

The audience roared.....and then in the spotlight behind keyboards on the left side of the stage was DAFT PUNKLa quatrième partie had begun.  There was a minute or two of slow church pipe organ sounding music as Daft Punk sang an intro for "Harder, Better, Fast, Stronger," then Phoenix joined in by picking up the pace as the song went into "Around the World."  When the mesh-up ended. Daft Punk returned to playing organ music again along with a loop repeating the word "Together." 

When the loop ended Phoenix and Daft Punk performed "1901," which went on for quite awhile.  The song felt like it concluded with a long sounding chord from Daft Punk, but then Christian Mazzalai started up again by plucking one note jabs on his guitar before breaking into The Theme From Close Encounters.  Mazzalai played the theme several times until Daft Punk joined in.  Then Daft Punk repeated the tail end of the theme a few times until Mars' counted the band off in French to play a little more of "1901."   Mars once again asked for house lights but this time he went body surfing once the lights came up.  Mars surfed for a short while before returning to the stage and ending the song.   The entire show finally ended with Daft Punk and Phoenix holding hands and bowing center stage.

My friend Jeff said he really enjoyed Phoenix as a basic pop rock band.  He put the emphasis on the word rock. I agree. They were not only a great band but they gave an arena size performance. My only disappointment, on Wednesday night, was that it was my first time seeing them. I would have liked to have seen them before the reached arena status and added all the bells and whistles because I bet they were just as good, maybe even better.

Thomas Mars - vocals
Deck d'Arcy  - bass /backing vocals
Laurent Brancowitz - guitar - backing vocals
Christian Mazzalai - guitar

Additional Musicians
Thomas Hedlund - drums
Robin Coudert - keyboards

Daft Punk
Thomas Bangalter
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo

Phoenix Set List
1. Lisztomania
2. Lasso
3. Long Distance Call
4. Fences
5. Girlfriend
6. Armistice
8.Love Like A Sunset Pt.1
9.Love Like A Sunset Pt.2
10. Run Run Run
11. Rally
12. Rome
13.Funky Squaredance


14. Honeymoon / Love For Granted
15. La Fille aux cheveux clairs (Johnny Hallyday cover)
16. If I Ever Feel Better
17. Harder, Better, Fast, Stronger- (with Daft Punk)
18. Around the World - (with Daft Punk)
19.1901- (with Daft Punk) including solo guitar interlude playing Theme From Close Encounters

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