My top 10 concerts of 2018 are: twelve St. Vincent shows.
I’ve been to thousands of concerts around the world. For more than a decade, I’d go to 350+ shows each year. I have yet to see anyone do what Annie Clark does, let alone in the span of a single year.
Some artists, including Maynard, Trent Reznor, and Jack White, create new personas or launch side projects to work with other artists or explore different dimensions of their art and music (often there are business reasons for this as well). Thus far, Annie Clark has accomplished this all within St. Vincent.
She is multi-faceted, transcendent, embraces the complexities of life and relationships as well as the unpredictable and transforms it into art. She has built a relationship with those listening which supports and celebrates everything St. Vincent is and her dynamic creative expressions.
When asked “why” I might go to more than one St. Vincent show: each show is vastly – and subtly – different. Let go of expectations, don’t worry about the set list, forget your pre-show selfie. Be present and St. Vincent will create the experience with you. Each show unfolds uniquely in that moment in time, in concert with the city, venue, the people in the audience, her day – as well as yours – leading up to the show.
While, thematically, her songs tend to fall on the darker side, her shows embody possibility, spontaneity, are infused with wit and humor, take you to another world, and provide community. What’s consistent from show to show is the quality, and an experience which seems to top itself every time. Like a good relationship, the greater the foundation and understanding, the deeper you can go.
While no substitute for having your own experience, here’s a taste of my journey with with St. Vincent this year. This is not intended to be comprehensive, just some musings on each show. So much of what happens is magic, in the moment, and cannot be described. I’m not one to discuss the moments which move me the most either, and with St. Vincent there are many. So know that what you read and see here is nothing compared to what you will experience when you see St. Vincent live.
January 25: Fear The Future @ Hollywood Palladium
This show coincided with my self-imposed two week break from drinking to train for a marathon. The thought of leaving the house, traversing Los Angeles, battling traffic, parking in Hollywood, Hollywood, crowds, without the aid and “reward” of a few drinks was daunting. It’s possible this was the first time I’d be at a concert entirely sober. Would it be “as good”? I did consider staying home, but remembered the first time I saw St. Vincent perform a decade ago, and trusted the experience would be more powerful and rewarding than a drink, and well worth overcoming the pain points of leaving home.
To minimize contact with others, and enjoy a clear line of sight, I started off at the back of the venue, on the raised platform near the sound booth. St. Vincent took the stage, without a band, seemingly also embracing solitude among a crowd. Without utilizing an overt storytelling gimmick, the show told a story. As she took us through a retrospective of her earlier work, revealing more and more of the stage and herself with each song, I felt like I was being sucked into a vortex toward the stage. I fought it, stood with my feet firmly planted in my “safe place”, and marveled at St. Vincent’s ability to draw me in from the back of the room while simultaneously engaging everyone between us.
Soon enough, the pull overtook me. I began moving forward, careful not to disturb others entranced in the show, and arrived stage right, 3 rows from the rail. During that moment, St. Vincent was playing directly to the audience stage left. Within one minute of my arriving, she turned, pointed, and sang the next line of the song in my direction. Whether or not it was the case, it felt as though she knew what I was feeling, and genuinely appreciated and acknowledged my being there. Her awareness and responsiveness to the time, space, energy and people in the room is part of what makes each show unique.
After taking us on a journey through her previous work, St. Vincent performed each song on her latest album (at that time), Masseduction. Rather than launch a new album and tour the “expected route”, with a full band, St. Vincent boldly chose to take the stage alone. It made sense (to me), given the show and story she was sharing. That’s among the things I respect most about Annie Clark: if she makes a decision to do (or not do) something, it’s to further the art.
April 11: I’m A Lot Like You @ Orpheum LA
Welcome back, band. Hello lights and video. Goodbye walls, doors, ceilings, floors. Holy fuck – watch her shred. All the elements work together, creating a spectacular, immersive, otherworldly musical playground. The production value is off the charts. The show and everyone who worked on it should win an award.I envisioned the kids at Coachella losing their shit over this the following 2 weekends. It’s also when “Rattlesnake” became one of my favorite songs to experience live.
May 21: I’m A Lot Like You (VIP + out of state) @ The Fillmore, Charlotte, North Carolina
At this point in the year, I had been to. . . a lot. . . of shows, and none of them moved nor engaged me the way St. Vincent did. FYF Fest (where I had intended to next see St. Vincent) had been cancelled. I knew I wanted to see the I’m A Lot Like You show again and a cancelled festival wasn’t going to stop me.
I decided to go somewhere I’d never been, Charlotte, North Carolina, and to purchase the VIP ticket upgrade which included a pre-show performance and conversation (“Q&A”) with St. Vincent. If you’ve never been to a concert in an unfamiliar city, state, or country, I recommend it. The energy and experience is completely different, as is your perspective when you’re in a new place. I began my adventure with coffee, a walk around the city, and a pass through some parks and museums, and then made my way to the venue.
Clark entered the room, proclaiming her outfit “Unabomber Chic” and sang a couple songs, acoustic. No lights, set, band, visuals, nor elaborate wardrobe, and still able to transport us from the physical world we know to a timeless place and dreamlike state. Her voice is spectacular and mesmerizing. She’s playful and entirely present. She is genuine and generous.
Following the songs, what was billed as a “Q&A” (for lack of a better description, I imagine) was a dynamic conversation. Clark asked us questions, and we shared stories and asked her questions. In response to any topic, Clark has a relevant and entertaining story. There are as many funny asides as there are “answers”. This is when I saw something else magnificent in Clark: she is an exceptional listener. Any time someone asked a question or shared a story, she listened well beyond the words they were speaking, absorbing the subtext, inflections, tone, and body language, and would respond to the often unspoken, but actual crux of the conversation. (In a related aside, I had the opportunity to hear Maynard speak and play at The Grammy Museum a few months later. There, he noted that the most important skill a musician can have is to be a good listener. “It’s a listening process,” he said. Exhibit A: St. Vincent).
When St. Vincent returned to the stage with the full band, wall of lights, and wardrobe, she, the venue, and audience were transformed. The show begins with the band entering and taking their places, one by one. The first step St. Vincent takes as she crosses the stage is where the journey into another dimension begins.
One benefit of seeing a show multiple times is that you can focus on and absorb additional aspects of the show each time. Watching her play guitar masterfully, feeling her connect with each of us and every member of the band, the sound, energy and lights elevating us. The exchange of energy between us fueled the show. The harder we went, the harder they went. This could not – and would not – be the last time I saw this show.
July 31: I’m A Lot Like You (out of country) @ Sony Centre, Toronto
Another two months of going to concerts, some excellent, but none exceptional. I wanted to experience “I’m A Lot Like You” again. I love Canada, but hadn’t been to Toronto yet, so it seemed a sensible option. I was concerned about the venue – a seated theatre – for the rock show. I don’t like sitting still on a good day, and there’s no way I was sitting down for this show. I called the venue in advance. “If the music moves you to stand up and dance, that’s what you should do!’ Ticket purchased, flight and hotel booked.
Cruel: I was lost in the song, visually immersed in the lights and sounds. When I turned my attention back to Annie, she seemed to be focused entirely stage right. She would step forward and left for guitar solos, and then specifically turn and sing to the right, laser focused on one location or person. When I succumbed and looked to my left, a woman standing next to me was singing the lyrics along with St. Vincent, with a comforted smile and tears streaming down her face. Without taking anything away from the audience as a whole, St. Vincent gifted the song to someone who most needed it.
September 10: With Florence and The Machine @ Key Arena, Seattle
Was it an excuse to go to Seattle or was Seattle an excuse to see another St. Vincent show? What I wasn’t aware of when I made this decision is that this was the kick off show of Florence and The Machine’s tour, which is the reason many other people traveled from around the country to be there.
In my experience, an audience comprised of people who have traveled, lined up early in the morning or the night before if the venue allows, dehydrate themselves so they don’t have to miss a second of the concert, makes for an even more charged, energetic show. Most people I spoke with prior to the show hadn’t seen St. Vincent live, and it was fun to experience the show alongside them. It was also the final concert at Key Arena until it re-opens after changing ownership and being remodeled. The staff and security teams were reminiscing about the venue, shared stories and history with me. The room was ready.
The venue: perhaps not quite as prepared. Notorious for sub-par sound. Doors were held an additional 30 minutes, sometimes indicative of sound or tech issues that arise during soundcheck. I wouldn’t have given much weight to doors being held if vocals could have been heard in the mix, stage right. Whatever was happening with the sound during the first few songs, the only impact it appeared to have on St. Vincent is that she played even more furiously. The people around me who had not seen her perform previously, loved it and vowed to see her when she next plays their town.
September 18: Solo Acoustic Guitar benefit concert @ Santa Fe Opera, New Mexico
Santa Fe Opera is potentially the most beautiful setting for a concert. An outdoor amphitheater, with wonderful sound, kind staff, and the sun setting behind the stage. This was a benefit concert for Noise for Now. Andrew Bird and St. Vincent donated their time and performances to raise money and awareness in support of women’s healthcare rights and services.
Solo, on acoustic guitar, St. Vincent shared humorous observations and stories between songs. The Fear The Future and I’m A Lot Like You shows are so big and well executed, it doesn’t feel like anything is “missing”. This show was a reminder that I did miss St. Vincent’s quick wit and stories. They exist in the produced shows as well, woven into the production, videos, and her expressions, though not verbally articulated, the way only she can. She is a brilliant storyteller. She’s entertaining and engaging throughout, yet you don’t know where the story is going until you get there. Like her music, she doesn’t take the direct path, and the payoff is much greater for it. This was also the first time I’d heard the songs from Masseduction performed acoustically. Santa Fe provided the best backdrop for St. Vincent’s vocals. Her voice seemed to be carried by the light breeze. It was simply a beautiful show.
September 28: St. Vicious DJ set (and free gift with purchase show) @ Hollywood Bowl
I call this the “free gift with purchase show” because I already had tickets to see Beck. So when it was later announced that St. Vincent would be opening the Beck show with a DJ set, that was a free, and much appreciated, gift. I’d heard about St. Vicious’s DJ sets at various festivals and hoped I’d have the opportunity to experience it.
While maintaining the integrity of, and honoring, the original songs, St. Vicious gave the songs new life. It was fun, provocative, inspiring, and energetic, and left me looking forward to more.
October 2: Intimate Evening with St. Vincent Thomas Bartlett @ Belasco LA (launch of Masseducation)
I typically don’t think of myself as ranking or categorizing shows. People ask me all the time, “which was better?” Each is its own experience and I either appreciate and enjoy it or I leave. There are some artists I know I can count on to consistently deliver an exceptional experience, but in my head I thought I loved all 5 of them equally. So I was surprised at my own self when the words “you just sailed right past Nine Inch Nails” went through my mind during this show. Apparently, I had held Nine Inch Nails “at the top” and if I’d thought about it previously, would not have expected a show featuring solely piano and vocals to rival what Nine Inch Nails does on stage. That is how powerful an Intimate Evening with St. Vincent is.
An Intimate Evening with St. Vincent and Thomas Bartlett consists of a stripped down, elegant stage, Thomas on piano and St. Vincent providing vocals. There’s no guitar, band, light show, video screens. All the songs we’ve come to know on guitar take new life on piano. It’s unrehearsed, yet masterful.
There are only 3 times in my life when I’ve needed to consciously remind myself to breathe: Scuba diving, another time, and this show. I don’t think I moved (and it’s been well established I’m not a good sitter downer) the entire time.
Without the guitar, the emphasis is on St. Vincent’s voice and the way she and Thomas work together to communicate the songs. Without the layered sounds and slick production, stripped bare, the songs emerge in their own power.
A glass of tequila and the mic became the centerpiece “props” at times. The way St. Vincent holds the mic and impressions of other musicians holding the mic made for entertaining onstage banter. She whips the mic cable seductively, adding emphasis at key moments before or during a song.
The subtleties of her voice and body language become more pronounced. Each note adds meaning and she physically expresses the songs throughout her body and beyond the tips of her fingers. Between songs, St. Vincent entertains us with stories, observations, and gives us insight into a language only she and Thomas share.
The moment she “sailed past Nine Inch Nails”? She hit a note during “Smoking Section” I think she invented. It was breathtaking. Not just that note, but where and how it punctuated the way she performed the song that night. Fuck.
October 5: Outdoor show @ Stubb’s Austin
With FYF Fest cancelled, I hadn’t seen “I’m A Lot Like You” outside, nor full-festival scale production. I had been to Austin City Limits Festival once before and loved it. In my opinion, it had the best line-up of US festivals this year and I’d have the opportunity to see St. Vincent’s festival show. Of course, when this additional ACL Late Show was announced, it was a must-do.
The vibe of this show was joyous, playful, and fun. Anyone who was within the first 15-20 rows from the rail made the decision to skip Paul McCartney to be here instead. Like traveling from around the country, that collective crowd passion and energy help amplify the experience. There were no video screens and the compact nature of the stage made it easy to absorb the whole show, without switching focal points or attention. It felt like a private party. Music, connection, artist, audience, all celebrated. To be among a crowd of thousands, be seen and feel understood, is a gift St. Vincent gives time and time again. The chaos of the world outside replaced by the chaos we chose to create inside.
October 6: Festival production @ ACLFest, Austin
10 months into the year, I’m treated to the full-scale festival production of I’m A Lot Like You. The videos add dimension to the songs and the positioning of the screens allows them to interplay with the band. You can watch the videos, you can watch the band, or you can “zoom out” and see how the images onscreen interact with the band. Sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing. During the intimate shows, St. Vincent offers insight into what she’s thinking. At this show, the videos provide a glimpse into how she sees.
Again, it was the first time many people I spoke to had seen St. Vincent perform live. Hearing and seeing their reactions to the show was a blast. “She looks like a superhero,” a woman remarked to her friend. “She IS a superhero!’ her friend replied. “Best show of ACL!” someone else shouted.
One of my favorite moments was watching Annie and Toko having so much fun playing “Masseduction” (video below the video below). Another highlight was “New York”.
For all the times I’ve seen St. Vincent, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her play or sing a song precisely the same way twice. This makes the guitar solos particularly fun to watch and hear. And if you pay close attention, you’ll appreciate vocal changes, nods and references unique to that performance. Sometimes I think even she’s surprised by the direction the song takes.
October 29: I’m A Lot Like You tour wrap up @ Hollywood Palladium
After each show, the tour dates section of St. Vincent’s website shrunk. The year winding down, I was filled with gratitude for all the mind-blowing shows to date and felt greedy longing for more… yet, I continued holding onto hope. Dream-come-true. A late addition and the final show of the I’m A Lot Like You tour in 2018. This show was recorded in a multi-camera shoot (as was the Intimate Evening at The Belasco) for a mysterious future release.
This was everything I love about live music, expressed through St. Vincent. Some highlights:
“Hysterical Strength” – Matt Johnson’s next-level what-the-fuck drumming.
Everything St. Vincent did on guitar.
”Fear The Future” – gets me every time. Especially this time.
“Marrow”, “Cruel”, “New York”…. Everything. The whole fucking thing.
November 20: An Intimate Evening with St. Vincent and Thomas Bartlett @ BAM Brooklyn
Looking back on the thousands of concerts I’ve been to, including those “once in a lifetime” secret shows, without fully ranking them, I can say An Intimate Evening with St. Vincent and Thomas Bartlett at Brooklyn Academy of Music is easily in the top 5.
If I had to sum it up in three words I haven’t used yet, they would be: “Cheerleader” and “The Bed”.
Have I had enough? No. I’d like to experience as many expressions of St. Vincent as she’s willing to share.
In between scheduled tour dates, interviews, TV, and radio appearances, she was speaking and participating in a “concert experiment” at Cannes Lion, live scoring a film during Natalie Portman’s series at Boston Calling, producing and collaborating with other artists, inspiring other musicians by participating in clinics, appearing on panels and speaking at events supporting women, playing art museum fundraisers and donating her time to shows in support of charities, performing a tribute to Philip Glass during the Kennedy Center Honors, inviting students to the venue before the show, playing a few songs for them and offering guidance and encouragement for them to pursue their passions. This is merely what I’m aware of. I imagine her dedication to art and humanity extends well beyond what is noted here. All of this, coupled with the person I’ve come to know through the journey this year, equates to perhaps the purest – and my favorite – expression of St. Vincent: Annie Clark.
It’s happened. After a 2 1/2 year hiatus from Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend, St. Vincent has inspired me to write again.
During the past few years, I’ve been to hundreds of additional concerts, several of them outstanding. I’ve considered writing about some of those shows, but then life moved on, another show happened, and the backlog grew greater than Game of Thrones, thus becoming insurmountable. So here we are: nearly halfway through 2018. . . and I can’t stop thinking about a show I experienced 6 nights ago, nor the St. Vincent shows which preceded it earlier this year.
Now I have a new challenge: finding the words to describe Annie Clark and what it feels like to go on a journey with St. Vincent. Every adjective that comes to mind feels cliche when I consider using it in conjunction with Clark or her work. Some say “genius” and I agree, she is brilliant. “Genius” can infer that things come easy, but it’s Clark’s passion and dedication, in conjunction with her brilliance that consistently raise the bar with everything she does. What she puts into her music, art, storytelling, and shows, is undeniable – and potentially undefinable – when you experience it.
She’s exceptionally thoughtful, seemingly about everything she does. From writing to recording, production, artwork, creative vision, humorous album rollout, unconventional ‘press conference’, and performance. It’s clear her intention is to deliver the highest quality in all that she creates, and she does so masterfully. While thoughtful, it doesn’t feel contrived. It’s not a construct of her mind “thinking”. It’s the way she creates, and you can feel it coming from the heart (a cliche, but not in this case). You feel how deeply she cares, and that she cares because she’s creating for you.
The best analogy I can think of to describe Clark is the Galapagos. There are species which exist only in the Galapagos, nowhere else on the planet. Within the archipelago itself, there are plants and animals which exist solely on one of the islands, not the others. Traveling through the Galapagos, we saw things we’d never encountered before, which could not be defined by any word in our vocabulary nor fit into a familiar category. There was a bird-creature which looked most like a flamingo, but wasn’t; and a tree with the trunk of a palm tree, but each of its colossal branches resembled a pine tree. The brain short-circuits a bit, trying to make sense of what you’re seeing, and you become overwhelmed with awe. When you ask a Naturalist, “What is that??”, you learn there is no common word for it, just binomial nomenclature defining its genus and species. Terms you’ll likely not remember unless you’re fluent in Latin.
Now that we’ve established Clark is like the Galapagos and no description can do her justice, I will face the challenge and attempt to share my experience of seeing St. Vincent live. Perhaps it will inspire you to do the same. If I had resumed writing sooner, I would have covered St. Vincent Fear The Future at The Palladium in January, as well as I’m A Lot Like You at The Orpheum in April. Both are among the best shows I’ve experienced and similarly left me without words sufficient to describe them.
Fear The Future was an innovative and bold exploration of St. Vincent’s evolution. Clark played solo, performing select songs from her earlier work, chronologically, culminating with a performance of her latest release, Masseduction, start to finish. As you journeyed through the time capsule with St. Vincent, song by song, another layer was peeled away, and you got to delve deeper. Visually, during the retrospective portion of the show, panels were removed from the stage, one by one, revealing more of St. Vincent each time. In my interpretation, an allegory for the evolution of Clark and her music. She is allowing us in further, revealing more, courageous in the face of vulnerability, powerful in Masseduction.
If anyone else were doing it, the show at The Orpheum in April would have been considered a “warm up” for Coachella and festival season. However, the way Clark did it, this initial performance of I’m A Lot Like You transformed the intimate indoor venue into a boundless space, which felt even larger than a festival. The band was back this time around, along with immersive lighting and visuals. The show was thematically, sonically, and visually powerful. Then, as we traveled toward the few remaining songs, Clark spoke about love and imagining the many experiences people must have shared in the venue historically. Her badassery and strength is rooted in her humanity and heart. The show transcended space, time, and form. I was not an audience member at a concert, we were not on Earth. I was 100% sober, having a phenomenal trip. That’s when I committed to seeing St. Vincent at least once more this year.
“Rattlesnake” at The Orpheum – April 11, 2018
Prior to the cancellation of FYF Fest, and with persistent reminders that nothing else of this caliber was happening, certainly not with any frequency, I started looking into other cities where I could experience St. Vincent and the I’m A Lot Like You tour again. I love traveling and especially enjoy going to concerts in unfamiliar places, where adventure and discovery are inherent, the people and sights are new. I settled on Charlotte, North Carolina. Tickets purchased, car rented, hotel booked. After wandering downtown, exploring museums and parks, I made my way to The Fillmore in time for the VIP Q&A. What was it like?
Clark entered the room, proclaiming her outfit “Unabomber Chic” and sang a couple songs, acoustic. No lights, set, band, visuals, nor elaborate wardrobe, and still able to transport us from the physical world we know to a timeless place and dreamlike state. Her voice is spectacular and mesmerizing. She’s playful and entirely present. She is genuine and generous, and without words, has a way of imparting that she is doing this for you; she sincerely cares. She doesn’t merely make you feel that way, it emanates from her core. It’s who she is.
Following the songs, what was billed as a “Q&A” (for lack of a better description, I imagine) was a dynamic conversation. Clark asked us questions, and we shared stories and asked her questions. In response to any topic, Clark has a relevant and entertaining story. There are as many funny asides as there are “answers”. This is when I saw something else magnificent in Clark: she is an exceptional listener. Any time someone asked a question or shared a story, she listened well beyond the words they were speaking, absorbing the subtext, inflections, tone, and body language, and would respond to the often unspoken, but actual crux of the conversation.
Her responses were similarly manifold and meaningful. While everyone was just getting to know each other in that moment, the vibe and conversation was more akin to gathering in a living room with long-time, good, friends. It offered insight into how Clark is so attune, empathetic, and able to deeply connect. Extrapolating the attentiveness with which she listens to people to how she must observe and intake the world, I got a glimpse into Clark’s creative proficiency (and potentially, her oft referenced anxiety).
Equally magical to experience was Clark’s presence. We live in a world with infinite distractions, devices, and 140-character attention spans, but Clark is wholly present. That is a gift which breaks down the barrier of time. We all have access to a time machine – it’s our own presence and attentiveness in any given moment. Clark does it so skillfully, she brings everyone along for the ride. Experiencing this during the intimate conversation, illuminated how St. Vincent shows transcend space and time.
After thanking us for being there and acknowledging each “thank you” in return, Clark disappeared to get ready for the show, and the rest of us continued the conversation. The doors opened and the venue filled quickly. People traveled from around the country to be there. I don’t recall meeting one person who was from Charlotte, North Carolina. The energy shifted from quiet evening at home with friends to anticipation of the biggest party of the year. The forthcoming show would be spectacular, not taken for granted, but a given – it’s St. Vincent. Throughout the evolution, Clark’s commitment to quality remains constant.
The house lights dimmed, the band took the stage, and St. Vincent took us on another journey, kicking off, full force, with “Sugarboy”. I am not one of those people who “forgets to eat”, but I could watch Clark play guitar for days on end and imagine I would forget to eat. It is captivating. The earlier conversation among friends was now amplified on stage: Clark is someone who cares deeply about humanity, putting forth the best, and who doesn’t simply “deliver”, but magnetically invites and transports you to a spectacular, limitless place.
The band is outstanding, the show is magnificent, Clark’s voice and performance impeccable, you get lost in the way she commands the guitar. There’s silence, followed by an uproar of cheers when she hits the high notes in “Young Lover.” There was no doubt she would do it, but people created the space to absorb and then celebrate each moment.
Even though I know how the song goes, I always forget how hard “Huey Newton” hits. That’s by design and it works every time. The same holds true for “Digital Witness”, “Masseduction”, “Marrow” and each song in the setlist. All the times I’ve heard these songs and seen them performed live, and they feel new and astonishing with each performance.
It feels personal. You can be surrounded by hundreds or tens of thousands of people, and feel as though Clark is performing specifically, and solely, for you. A friend of mine, who saw St. Vincent in Manchester in 2014 told me of his experience, “I think she felt the joy I was receiving from the show, so she kept giving me more.” If you read Tweets or Instagram posts following St. Vincent shows, you will see similar sentiments echoed: “she winked at me,” “she smiled at me”, “she played to me”. . .
During the gathering-of-friends conversation earlier in the night, I asked if she now knows what to do should she encounter a rattlesnake in the wild. There was laughter and some suggestions from people in the room. But St. Vincent’s answer to the question came hours later, when she performed “Rattlesnake”. She stepped forward, acknowledged me with a playful and daring look, and then dropped to her knees and responded:
The more present you are, the more immersed you become, the harder you go, the harder she goes. Presence makes the concept of time vanish and communion eliminates the physical space. You are transported, transfixed, and transformed.
What came through most strongly to me is that Clark desires that everyone is well and happy, living their best life. And if she can contribute to that creatively, it’s what she wants to do – it’s what she’s here to do. Between songs, she acknowledges and responds to each shouted “I love you,” just as she shared in the moments of gratitude with us during the earlier conversation. The show concludes, and you walk away with that reflection of gratitude, strength, vulnerability, community, support, energy, badassness, happiness, and love. I’m A Lot Like You. Go.
In addition to their music, what makes this gathering so special is the humanity, connection, joy, and presence The Watkins Family exudes.
The spirit in the room feels festive and light. It’s a gathering of good friends, who’ve come together to celebrate and share stories, songs and laughter. The dynamic interaction between those on stage is shared with all in attendance. The musicians have a long history with each other, but they make sure to let the audience in on their inside jokes. With their presence and openness, The Watkins Family unites us all.
Their music carries a similar inclusive, dynamic, and evolving energy. Thanks to the tone The Watkins Family sets and Largo‘s no-cell-phone policy, it is a completely immersive experience. You can get lost in the sound, hear how each note plays off the other, and the way the instruments and voices work together, each elevating the other. Rather than simply play their part, the musicians listen to and accompany each other. It is a live music experience in the purest sense. Created in front of you, the songs feel different each time they’re played. The Watkins Family Hour is a monthly residency that has spanned more than a decade, yet the show is still refreshing, unique, and anticipation for the next one never wanes.
The dynamic atmosphere is balanced with a sense of history and tradition. Whether you’re attending your first Watkins Family Hour show or your thirty-first, it feels as though you’ve been there since the beginning. The Watkins Family transports you to another time and place, where all there is to do is enjoy music and our time together.
There are no computers, fog machines, nor fancy lighting rigs. You may feel like you’ve been invited to a family gathering at one of their homes, especially when Sean and Sara sing while standing beneath a homemade snow machine, getting doused by white flakes. Last night, The Watkins Family reminded us not to take things too seriously and to embrace and express our childlike spirit. With the snow machine and humorous elves, they also gave us the gift of another inside joke and “you had to be there” moment.
There’s music, comedy, and last night, there was snow. You can’t Auto-Tune this and it won’t translate in virtual reality. The Watkins take you on a journey which, like life, is ever-changing and more fun to navigate with music, a sense of humor, and surrounded by family and good friends.
I’ve been listening exclusively to Nine Inch Nails since seeing them perform at Staples Center Friday night. It’s been a long time since a concert inspired me to do that. I’ve been listening to this band for more than 20 years and, even today, as I listen to Nine Inch Nails, I can hear new perspectives in the music. It’s dynamic and evolving. It’s the varying degrees of tension between the instruments and the space between the noise. If you step out of the literal and just listen to the music, you can hear something new every time.
There are back up singers in this line-up and when they sing, that’s one thing. When they scream, that’s another thing. These women – and everyone on that stage and associated with this production – are essential to the show. Everyone’s role is additive and complementary to the experience.
Rob Sheridan, Nine Inch Nails’ creative director, is brilliant. Trent Reznor has an amazing ability to recognize and embrace exceptionally talented people. The creative collaboration with Sheridan is signature to the Nine Inch Nails brand. You know what this music feels like as a result of the entire production; not just the sound.
And the sound is great, no matter where they play. Staples Center can be tricky with sound because it tends to bounce around the room. A Nine Inch Nails show – loud as it may be – will not send you home with ringing ears. There’s precision in the production.
If I could use one word to describe Nine Inch Nails, it would be “integrity”. Integrity of music, integrity of art, integrity of the relationship with their fans. This band keeps their promise every time. Even if you’re not a fan of the music, I recommend seeing Nine Inch Nails for the inspiration of the vision and the aspiration of being that committed to their art.
So yeah, the show was outstanding. Where the fuck were you??
Without knowing what shape, nor time, nor place it would happen, I’d been anticipating this night for four years. “I won’t let you down,” Trent Reznor assured everyone during Nine Inch Nails’ final show of the Wave Goodbye Tour, on September 10, 2009.
True to his word, Reznor has not disappointed. During the Nine Inch Nails “hiatus”, Reznor brilliantly scored 2 soundtracks, one of which landed him an Oscar. He also co-created How To Destroy Angels with his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, which included one of the most visually impressive productions I’ve witnessed. Rather than continuously churning out albums and tours as Nine Inch Nails, Reznor recognized he needed a break, focusing on other creative and personal endeavors. The creative freedom and perspective gained from his Nine Inch Nails “break” (arguably one of the most productive “breaks” on record), was evident during Tuesday night’s show.
For all in attendance, the Nine Inch Nails show at The Troubadour was a story of miracles.
Listening to the crowd prior to the show, provided hours of “how I got in” stories. One woman was determined to win tickets for her boyfriend, so he could see his favorite band on his birthday. Another woman described her meticulous strategy for winning tickets from radio stations, including the theory that land lines provide a better chance of winning than mobile phones. People described how they enlisted co-workers, friends, and relatives to help them pound the phones each time a KROQ DJ announced “one lucky caller” would win a pair of tickets.
Prior to the show, a man worked the line, offering people $800 a ticket. Perhaps he did eventually make his way in, but from what I saw, observing the first 100 people in line, he was met with one consistent response: silence and a definitive shake of the head, “no.” Money can buy a lot of things, but it can’t replace a once-in-a-lifetime Nine Inch Nails experience.
Everybody in attendance recognized and deeply appreciated the fact that they were seeing Nine Inch Nails at The Troubadour, an intimate venue, with rich history. The atmosphere prior to the show was gracious, celebratory, and invigorating. People didn’t wait until the show began to enjoy the experience. They’d been enjoying this night since the moment they knew they would be among a mere couple hundred people who would see Nine Inch Nails play The Troubadour.
A few minutes prior to 8:30pm, the energy inside the venue shifted. There was a collective understanding that this was the time to take care of any last minute needs or desires. People worked together, taking turns buying t-shirts, drinks, and making their final bathroom run of the evening.
When Nine Inch Nails hit the stage, it was explosive. Kicking the set off with “Somewhat Damaged”, the band and the crowd took the energy to otherworldly levels. The sound – despite its high volume – was crystal clear. There was no unintended distortion. The sound being as perfect as it was, I neglected to wear earplugs.
Yep, there were lights.
I wish I could describe what it felt like to be at The Troubadour when Nine Inch Nails played. We may have been inside a small venue, but from a production standpoint, this was no little show. One third of the balcony appeared to be taken over by the band’s equipment. When the show began, the neon “Troubadour” light behind the stage was dimmed. The audience was transported to a place they’d never been, even if they’d previously seen Nine Inch Nails a hundred times before.
That is among the reasons Nine Inch Nails is widely lauded as one of the best (if not the best) live bands in the world. No matter how many times you see them, every experience is unique, and the definition of “perfection” evolves.
For me, what stands out most is how much Trent Reznor cares and how apparent that is in everything he does. This is his life, his art, his passion. He cares about the experience as a whole, that people continually walk away, as I do, drenched in sweat and nearly speechless. Every show is unique, surprising, and absolutely mind, spirit, and energy altering.
Prior to the show, people speculated about the set list. The majority of fans suspected the band would play the new album, Hesitation Marks, straight through. Some elaborated that, following the new songs, Nine Inch Nails would certainly play some of their older material. This is what happens to music fans’ expectations when Nine Inch Nails leaves the scene. We become accustomed to, and expect that, every show is about pushing a new album or promoting something else entirely. That is how most bands would do it. That is how nearly every band I’ve seen this year has done it. That is the format we’ve grown accustomed to and accept.
This is how Nine Inch Nails did it at The Troubadour:
1. Somewhat Damaged
2. The Beginning of the End
3. Terrible Lie
4. March of the Pigs
6. The Line Begins to Blur
7. The Frail/ The Wretched
8. I’m Afraid of Americans (David Bowie cover)
9. Gave Up
12. The Warning
13. Find My Way
14. Came Back Haunted
18. The Hand That Feeds
19. Head Like a Hole
20. La Mer
For those who are less familiar with Nine Inch Nails’ discography, that’s a 21-song set list, including a mere three songs from the new album.
It almost seems as if Trent Reznor takes it as a personal responsibility to make people question – and raise – their expectations. Every time I see Nine Inch Nails I’m surprised, even though I shouldn’t be. They are my favorite band to see live. I know how good they are. I know what they’re capable of. Then, they remind me: no matter how much I think I know, no matter how high my expectations, Nine Inch Nails leaves me at a loss for words with their sheer brilliance and dedication.
Their energy never wanes. Likewise, there’s no ramp-up time. When the band first burst onto stage, I felt like I had been blown back twenty feet. There was a simultaneous sound and light explosion that removed the audience from whatever day it was, whatever they had been thinking about, wherever they were – physically and mentally – and transported them to another world.
Similarly, for Nine Inch Nails, the encore isn’t when they play their “biggest hits” or “fan favorites.” NIN takes the word “encore” literally – “another.” They return to the stage for more of what they’ve done – a mind-blowing level of making people lose their shit.
In addition to his integrity and dedication, Reznor exudes gratitude. With everything they do, Nine Inch Nails’ recognition of their fans is expressed. I walk away from each Nine Inch Nails show with an overwhelming feeling that the band truly appreciates each of us; not because Reznor says “thank you” numerous times, but because of the show itself.
Nine Inch Nails kicks off their U.S. tour later this month. See them if you’re able: http://tour.nin.com/
While you’re busy trying to figure out how to save your business, doing things like launching apps and having rooftop concerts, you’re losing sight of the basics. You are often your (and your artists’) own worst enemy.
Many examples of this have been documented over the years. I’m not here to give you shit or tell you that you suck. I love music. I love musicians. I want to help you.
Within 5 minutes of trying to get more familiar with an artist – including purchasing tickets to an upcoming show – I ran into several obstacles. Here’s what happened:
I’ve been hearing about The Weeknd for a while, so:
1. I went to Facebook
It’s important for you to understand how music fans are looking for music and information about artists. They are not going to your artist’s website as a first stop, and they’re probably not going to Google first either. They are going to sites like Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, and Soundtracking. That means you need to make sure your artist’s presence on those sites is easy to find and comprehensive.
Facebook recently launched Graph Search. For the record, I hate it, but unfortunately 1.1 billion people on Facebook are stuck with it, including your artists.
When looking at search, you need to think about how people will search. Account for user error. The conversation goes:
“Have you heard of The Weekend?” or “I love The Weekend!” or “Are you going to see The Weekend at The Greek Theatre?”
Or, a radio DJ or blogger on Sirius XM’s Blog Radio will say something like, “That was the latest from The Weekend.”
What are people going to search for? Will they know it’s spelled “The Weeknd”? This is about artist discovery and during the discovery phase, fans will be less likely to know the unusual spelling of your band’s name. If you have an artist with a name like The Weeknd or CHVRCHES, then you need to look at how people will actually search for them. Do search optimization for the incorrect spelling as well, so people can easily find your artist. Have a way to direct people from the incorrect spelling to the correct spelling.
Here’s what happens now when you search for “The Weekend” (as someone just discovering the artist would search) on Facebook:
This is a new development. Before Graph Search launched, a first-time search for “The Weekend” on Facebook went like this: the artist’s official page is the FIRST result, after typing in only the first few letters (before the potential spelling error would ever take place).
You may say this is a Facebook problem – a flaw with their search. I agree. There are numerous flaws with Facebook – here’s one more we can add to the list. Unfortunately, as evidenced above, this is your problem as well.
Solution: Facebook and numerous media outlets issue alerts about new product developments and features well in advance of their launch. When this happens, your “digital person” should get on the phone with Facebook or fly to one of their offices and explore how this will impact your business.
The product is Search. That’s pretty important to your business and how people will find your artists on Facebook. You should have these conversations early and do everything you can to help avoid what’s happened in the case of The Weeknd.
As a larger business lesson: make sure you have strong relationships at every key social media site. Maintain these relationships. Have dinners and regular meetings. Don’t just call when you need something. Look to these businesses as partners and work with them consistently.
Since I couldn’t find The Weeknd on Facebook by doing a simple Facebook search, I went to a company that actually knows how to do search, Google. As expected, Google (even with an incorrect spelling) directed me to The Weeknd’s Facebook page. Once I got there, I saw they had a “Video” tab, so:
2. I tried to watch The Weeknd’s videos posted on Facebook
Here’s what happened:
Solution #1: If you aren’t actually going to make the videos available for viewing on Facebook, then don’t include a YouTube tab on your Facebook page.
Solution #2: Pull your head out of your ass.
Ok, as it turns out now – I am giving you shit. Few things piss me off as much as this. This is your artist, right? And these have been deemed as official videos/streams? I’m assuming so because they’re on your artist’s Facebook page (even though that’s fucking useless) and YouTube channel.
Why on earth would you make it so difficult for people who actually want to hear your artist’s music to listen to it through the official, LEGAL, channels? Stop bitching about file sharing sites until you stop doing shit like this.
3. I went to YouTube:
No problems here. A Google company, YouTube has efficient, easy, and effective search.
Why am I showing you a good example? So that you can maximize it. Understanding that you want people to be able to find your artists, put your money where search is most effective. Run ads on Google and YouTube, as Atlantic Records is doing for Portugal. The Man in the example above.
In the case of artists who have unique names, like The Weeknd or CHVRCHES, you should probably run ads on Facebook as well. This will help get your artists in front of fans who couldn’t find them through a simple search.
4. After YouTube, I went to Ticketmaster:
After all this, I was considering going to the show.
Ticketmaster has similar search issues to Facebook:
As it turns out, Ticketmaster’s search is better than Facebook’s though. If a user types in “The Week”, the appropriate artist will come up. Nonetheless, there is an even better solution.
Solution: On Ticketmaster, whether I search for “NIN” or “Nine Inch Nails”, I get the correct results for that artist. This leads me to believe it’s possible to optimize search for artists like The Weeknd and CHVRCHES on Ticketmaster as well.
Call Ticketmaster. Explore the option of having the correct results show up, whether somebody types “The Weeknd” or “The Weekend”; “CHVRCHES” or “Churches”.
In closing:Please pay attention – you CAN fix things like this, which will ultimately help you reach your objectives:
Increase an artist’s fan base
Generate advertising revenue (your YouTube video views will increase if you allow video embedding)
Perhaps even, sell music
I apologize for coming across angry, but this is important to me too. I’m tired of hearing about how the music business is failing. I want musicians to succeed and if you’re doing a good job supporting them, I want you to succeed as well.
Don’t lose sight of the basics:
Make sure people can quickly and easily find your artists on the sites that matter most.
Make your artist’s official content (videos, music) accessible. It’s a bit unfair to be going after fans on file sharing sites when you’re not allowing them to access the music legally, through your artist’s official channels.
Furthermore, be happy people are interested in your artists at all. We’re not on opposite sides of this. The people listening to your artist’s music – whether they’re paying for it or not – are the people you want on your team. Stop punishing people for caring about your bands. If you make music accessible, you will win.