Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pearl Jam Wash away Indifference in Cleveland

I very rarely attend concerts in venues that hold more than a few hundred people. For me to go to an arena show is almost unheard of. But when Pearl Jam hit the Q on Sunday, I was there. They're the only band I would not hesitate to shell out the money for to see at an arena show. (They're not quite my favorite band, not anymore, but none of the handful of bands I like better would have any business playing an arena.) Pearl Jam are actually the only band to be counted among my favorites in middle school, in high school, in college, and still today, as my tastes in music have changed quite a bit over those years. This was my third time seeing them live, and they can always be counted on for a great show.

Opener Band of Horses played a good set. I hadn't really listened to them before. They reminded me somewhat of My Morning Jacket, who opened for Pearl Jam the last time I saw them, although I'd say I prefer MMJ. The highlight of BoH's set was "The Funeral" (I had not heard the song before, but recognized the title).

When Pearl Jam took the stage, the excitement in the arena was palpable. To my surprise, I didn't immediately recognize the first song they played. Once it clicked, though, a wide, somewhat shocked, grin appeared on my face. They opened with "Wash," an old B-side and not a song I would have expected to hear at all. And it was a stunning opener.

A cool thing about Pearl Jam's website is that you can view setlists for every show they've played (here is the Cleveland setlist), and you can also view a list of every time that any given song has been played. So I can see that before Sunday, "Wash" had only been played once live since 2006. Talk about good luck! And that was just the beginning.

Pearl Jam always mix up their sets a lot, with a good mix of their big radio hits, tracks from their recent album, and older fan favorites. At any show, there's a good chance you'll hear a song or two that rarely comes up in their live rotation. Of course, some of those songs are better than others. If I had been tasked before the concert with making a list of songs I most wanted to hear Pearl Jam play live, "Sleight of Hand," a track from the under-rated album Binaural, would have been near the top. It had been played just twice since 2006, barely more than "Wash." Partway through the concert, Eddie went into a description of the next song, saying something about people going to work and living their lives while putting on false exteriors... I don't really remember exactly what he said, but the description sounded familiar. Sleight of Hand, Sleight of Hand... I silently pleaded... and then they played "Sleight of Hand," and I was floored. It's one of Pearl Jam's more experimental tracks, incredibly atmospheric in sound, and fantastic live. After that, and "Wash," and lots of other great songs like "Corduroy," "In Hiding," and "Immortality" (which would have thrilled me even more than "Sleight of Hand" did, except they also played it last time in Cleveland), this was already my favorite Pearl Jam concert yet.

They ended up playing for almost two and a half hours. Pearl Jam have a reputation for being a great live band, and it's well earned. They've been around for twenty years, and they're still capable of rocking out with high energy for two-plus hours a night, while putting together truly unique sets for every show. Eddie Vedder and company truly deserve to be thought of as rock legends.

In the second encore, I was delighted to hear "Black" and "Alive" - yeah, they're the big radio hits, but that's due largely to them being genuinely great songs. It was also great to hear "Smile," another of those tracks that doesn't come up so often live, although it had been played the last time in Cleveland. "Smile" was a fan request, and Eddie had the woman who was holding a sign for it come up to the front of the crowd when they played it. He then gave her his harmonica after he was done with it for the song. Lucky girl!

So it was a night packed with fantastic performances, but there was one more surprise in store for me, and it was the best of all. That list I might have made, on which "Sleight of Hand" would have appeared? "Indifference" would have been at the top. And the last song they played? After "Alive," I was expecting "Yellow Ledbetter" to close the show. When I realized they were in fact closing with "Indifference," I got giddy. The last track on Pearl Jam's second album, Vs., it's my favorite Pearl Jam song ever, and one of my favorite songs period. The mood the song creates, and Eddie's vocals ("I'll swallow poison until I grow immune/I will scream my lungs out 'til it fills this room")... wow. It was the perfect way to end an amazing evening.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Kaki King concert (or: Mind Status: Blown)

I have decided that this blog, despite all appearances to the contrary, is not dead.

Among other things, I'd like to get some concert reviews written. Here is one of them!

After seeing Kaki King at the Beachland Ballroom on May 4th, I commented, "That show pretty much blew my mind."

I've seen a lot of good concerts recently, but it's especially cool when a show is not only amazingly good, but also far exceeds any expectations I had going in. That was the case here. I only very recently started listening to Kaki King. What got me into her was hearing her new single "Falling Day" in the car on WRUW. I was instantly enthralled by the song, and although I did not catch the name at the time, I decided I would have to go check out the show playlist when I got home and see who it was. After seeing the name Kaki King, I remembered a friend had told me about her a couple months before, and that she would be playing the Beachland. I decided to get Kaki's new album Junior before deciding whether I would go to the show. I liked it - a lot - and also checked out ...Until We Felt Red for good measure. Having thus familiarized myself with a decent portion of Kaki's catalog, I was very much looking forward to seeing her live, but I had no idea what was in store.

Kaki is an amazing guitarist, and also employs an amazing variety of musical styles, all of which she pulls off very well. She opened the set with the previously mentioned "Falling Day," to my delight. Admittedly, I didn't find the live version quite as good as the album version on this particular song; I didn't think her vocals sounded as confident live. She may be getting used to singing rock vocals; her previous albums have had less singing and not really in this style. Still, it was a good opener, and things really picked up from there.

The most impressive part of the set was when Kaki's two bandmates left the stage and she played a few solo acoustic songs. This was a part of the show that I did not know to expect, and her complex finger(nail)picked and fingerslapped instrumentals were simply jawdropping.

Although her technical skills on these songs were absolutely stunning, several other songs left me even more in awe. The first of these was when she created a mini-suite by placing the fantastic new song "My Nerves That Committed Suicide" in the middle of an older song which I unfortunately do not recall the name of. This was a more epic post-rock performance than anything I saw at the Caspian and Red Sparowes concert last month. Almost as good was main set closer "You Don't Have To Be Afraid," the ending of which rocked way harder than the also fantastic album version.

Kaki did not make us wait long before coming out for a several song encore. The final song, "Gay Sons Of Lesbian Mothers," was another definite highlight. She started it off solo with a lap steel, on which she built up the various parts of the song with looping. After she played for a few minutes, her bandmates joined in, and she set her guitar down while the looping continued. She had said before the song that we were going to dance. True to her word, she came down off of the stage and danced with the delighted crowd. It culminated with Kaki dancing on a table.

Kaki played for almost two hours, and the whole show was pretty much brilliant. And as if her singing and guitar wizardry weren't enough, she also had plenty of genuinely interesting and amusing stage banter, including a story of her crazy German friend telling Kaki about a song the friend had written called "Skypefuck," which Kaki hilariously imitated with a couple seconds of exaggerated metal vocals.

So to sum up, if you get the chance to see Kaki King live, do it. And check out her albums, too.