Monday, September 20, 2010

Phoenix rising...

French pop sensation Phoenix, still touring hard on the heels of 2009's 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix', brought their show to the Santa Barbara County Bowl on Sunday night. This came the night after, what August Brown in the LA Times termed, 'a career making performance' at the Hollywood Bowl. Their outdoor stage appearance at Coachella this year drew an overflow crowd that I couldn't penetrate, but left an impression, and on their own at 'our' Bowl, they did not disappoint.

They hit the stage to a rousing take of 'Wolfgang's' opener, "Lisztomania" (above), and never looked back.

The band did a great job of translating a particularly detailed album to the jet thrust umph that an arena level show demands, without sacrificing the danceability and deadening the sound, as seems to happen all too frequently.
No elaborate production for this unit, a standard light show, and the odd full sized curtain were simple and well deployed.

Below is mid set crowd burner "Girlfriend"...

As a present to fans as they wind down their U.S. tour, the band announced that they are giving away the multi.track masters free for all your remix needs!

Not to be forgotten were tonight's opener: Neon Indian, who overcame the sparse early arrivals, (this of course being Santa Barbara), and a spotty sound mix that never seemed to gel until near the end of their set, to win over the crowd.

Interestingly enough, this was my first trip to the County Bowl this season, and I would be remiss if I didn't note, for those who haven't had the pleasure, that this is one of the finest facilities of it's size in the country, and always takes on a special tinge of magic at sunset...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ping: Let's say it's no Pong, (so far), or Ping Has Sprung!

So Apple finally makes its move on the social networking game with its newest wonder: Ping! The question is, how much should you care? Deeply? Apple trumpeted the fact that after the grand revelation, they racked up a million viewers in a very short time. Impressive by any measure, but the question is, how many will stick?

So far, the answer would be, not so much...The concept is simple, one creates a profile, follows other fans and artists, and has the ability to favor and start conversations based on record recommendations, reviews, and concerts attended. The potential there is pretty ginormous, and with an open platform, could easily be a place I spend a fair amount of time, and, quite frankly, it seems like it could be a nice middle ground between this space and Twitter.

In reality,'s a cold & barren place so far, devoid of a serious indie presence. The artist profiles have initially been extended, (by invitation), to heavy Itunes sellers and selected industry players...which for the most part leads to a heavy dose of yukkk. It did lead to some hilarious recommendations for whom I should follow.

My other point of would be all the time I spent, both before and after the 'Genius' function, of clicking on recommend buttons ad infinitum. This is the one company I not only let datamine me, but provided them a veritable landfill of information. Presumably, all this sits in a silo somewhere, virtual or otherwise. I pray that they find a way to somehow integrate this.

As the days have gone by, the 'featured artist' category has broadened as more folks have jumped onboard, including a disturbing number of dead rock stars. I maintain a presence and check it most days, half out of hope, and half morbid curiousity.

Friday, September 10, 2010

On Point With The Antlers...

First official trip to the wondrous Getty Museum, perched on a hillside overlooking the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles, not to be confused with the old museum in Malibu, now known as the Getty Villa. I had been to the new fortress once long ago, before it opened, for an interview with the book division. Obviously didn't pan out & wasn't practical, but sure would have been cool. The museum is built into the hillside, and at that point was unfinished...Taking the tram up, then elevatoring 4 stories down into the hill, checking through security, and pacing along unfinished cement corridors was pretty exciting, with all kinds of vehicles passing by, (inside), and incessant construction, it was like being in your own James Bond film. Very hip.

The return was less ceremonial, simply melding into the pack of tourists and trying to sample the amazing smorgasbord of art and photography laid out, courtesy of the late J.P. Getty. The Getty Trust is in good form, and will certainly be viable for a long time coming; the museum a heady reflection of that fact. One of the public outreach efforts it makes is to have concerts one saturday a month, the lure this particular day being 'The Antlers', from Brooklyn. Did I mention that it's free? Show was free, museum was free, parking a mere $15...(no sarcasm whatsoever, a stone cold bargain in Los Angeles).
It would have been easy to overindulge, so the plan is more on the lines of a seperate trip for each of the five main buildings...Today's pick turned out to be 'Enlightened Observers', a look at the evolution of documentary photograpy through the century. Varied and extremely moving, it alone is worth the trip.

On the way in, we got a sampling of the prospective acoustics in the courtyard, as the band ran through a brief soundcheck.

The barren intimacy of the songs from their '09 record 'Hospice', were taken up a notch, thanks to incessant touring, but maintained the ability to connect emotionally.

It was fascinating to watch outside the hardcore of fans clustered at the foot of the stage, back to the tourists who would stop and watch, sometimes engage, and sometimes move on...

If you listen closely enough during 'Bear', (above), you can hear the meeting of the 'Valley Singles Club' cloistered near us, doing what singles at free events the world over do...

As dusk fell, the stream of tourists tapered off, and the crowd settled in as the band moved into the heart of their set, nearing the end with a stunning version of 'Two', featuring guest vocalist Holly Miranda.
The perfect capper to a lovely evening at the Getty.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Eyes On The Prize(s)

Monitoring the Polaris Prize (Canada) and the Mercury Prize (UK) is always entertaining, and unlike the Grammys, educational as well...
Shortlists for both have been announced amidst the usual weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and both are intriguing...

Breaking down Canada: the shortlist includes Tegan & Sara, Shad, The Sadies, Radio Radio, Owen Pallett, Dan Mangan, Karkwa, Caribou, Broken Social Scene, and The Besnard Lakes. The last two will undoubtedly be familiar to followers of this space, while Tegan & Sara have built up a nice following here in the states with their last few records, and The Sadies are starting to nab some very high profile opening slots (Arcade Fire) this fall. Caribou and Owen Pallett (as Final Fantasy) also have indy profiles down here with their last few works.

Juries on both are geared to industry professionals, and for some reason tend to come down left of center in their choices, compared to the inbred miasma of the Grammy process. (Which, to be fair, has lightened up a bit in the last two years, but has a way to go...) Interesting to see how it plays out: while Broken Social Scene's 'Forgiveness Rock Record' is a great and varied piece of work, my heart ultimately sides with 'The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night', which will be part of my year end conversation about best LP's, regardless of geography. It's a sprawling, densely layered record that reveals different pieces everytime I listen to it. Concept or not, an LP that hangs together that you can totally get lost in is an increasingly rare commodity.

Now, across the pond, the Mercury Prize has its by now usual collection of the unusual...Nominees this year are: Biffy Clyro, I Am Kloot, Dizzee Rascal, Paul Weller, Corinne Bailey Rae, XX, Villagers, Kit Downes Trio, Foals, Laura Marling, Wild Beasts, and Mumford & Sons.

Dizzee Rascal and Laura Marling, (from completely different directions), seem to figure in most of the learned handicapping thus far. Dizzee seeking to fill the slot of a country desperate for its own conquering hip hop multimedia figure, a la Snoop Dogg or Ice Cube. Ms. Marling gets major points for overcoming a well reviewed first album and not succumbing to the sophomore jinx.

For some reason, Mumford & Sons have an elevated profile on this side of the pond, stealthily racking up the sales for no discernable reason.

In the sentimental bracket, old hand Paul Weller has made his feistiest effort in quite some time, the nervy "Wake Up The Nation", and Corrine Bailey Rae has rebounded from grave personal issues to totally trump her also well received debut with "The Sea", an ambitious record that takes her closer to Joni Mitchell territory, (in terms of emotional depth), than all of the Joni wannabees that litter the highway...

At the end of the day, though, there seems to be no escaping The XX, who's self.titled record has evolved into a steady seller stateside, thanks to relentless touring, and a stubborn belief in their songs. Like Beach House's 'Teen Dream', it doesn't necessarily work on paper, but after living with it, there's no way to purge these songs from your head...

September is upon us, and these prizes are soon to be announced, but the bottom line is: Congratulations to all the nominees, and thank you for an interesting year of music...