October 30, 2009
2009 Voodoo Experience
New Orleans, LA
It's not just a music festival
The Voodoo Experience in New Orleans is in its eleventh year. Yet somehow, year after year, it’s one music festival I had yet to enjoy until yesterday. Voodoo has been on my to-do list for several years, not only because I hadn’t done it yet, but because it’s in New Orleans (one of my favorite cities), during Halloween weekend.
This year’s line-up includes Eminem, Justice, Silversun Pickups, The Black Keys, Fischerspooner, The Vettes, Janelle Monae, Kiss, Jane’s Addiction, Gogol Bordello, Wolfmother, The Black Lips, The Flaming Lips, Mutemath, Brand New, the Pogues, and many more.
There will be an in-depth review to follow including my interview with The Vettes and their adopted brother (who’s also in the band). While I leave you with that cliffhanger, here are some pictures and quick highlights from Day 1.
The Cool Kids
Silversun Pickups meeting fans
Janelle Monae: all will be revealed with the full Day 1 recap (hint: she’s awesome)
October 25, 2009
U2 360 Tour
The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Bono – you’ve made some mistakes, but all is forgiven.
U2 – with The 360 Tour, you reminded us why you’re #1 (you were facing some competition there for a while).
The Claw: this is what $750,000/day buys you
Some amazing new music has been released and several extraordinary live shows have been experienced this year. I questioned whether U2′s “Claw” was worth a $750,000 per day operations budget (the cost, regardless of if the band is playing a show or has a day off) and 200 trucks to transport it. I was so conflicted about this show (the band’s largest ever) in particular that I wrote about it in advance of the event (see: The Pilgrimage of U2).
When I go to a U2 show, I go to see U2. I don’t need the spectacle. I’m not disappointed if they conserve some electricity, tone down the light show and just play their songs. One of my favorite U2 concerts was shortly following 9-11, when U2 performed without an elaborate stage set-up. The set was simple, just a few screens that displayed the names of 9-11 victims in memoriam. That show moved most of the audience to tears. A band like U2 doesn’t need to go above and beyond with their production. In fact, they’re often criticized when they do.
Until last week, I didn’t care one way or another about the elaborate stage set-up for U2′s 360 Tour. I would have gone to the show without the big production. However, I did consider that U2 could save money and the environment if “The Claw” truly didn’t add much to the experience and, therefore, ceased to be part of the show. At the same time, I was happy to hear that 333 people are employed to assemble the stage during this tour. If nothing else, U2′s 360 Tour is stimulating jobs.
Astronomy lessons with U2
Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, it was only fitting that this weekend began with an Astronomy lesson on the streets of Pasadena. In addition to celebrating the largest U2 concert of all time, Pasadena was paying homage to Galileo and the 400 year anniversary of the telescope. As we were walking to dinner Saturday night, 4 Astrophysics PhD students stopped us and asked if we’d like to “see Jupiter’s moons.” “How much does that cost?” we asked. After they assured us it was free, we took turns peering through the large telescope the students had set up at a busy intersection of Downtown Pasadena. It was a magnificent sight, if you really thought about what you were witnessing (and we did). With the assistance of the powerful telescope, one could clearly see Jupiter and four of its moons in perfect alignment. This sparked numerous questions which the graduate students were kind enough to answer during an impromptu astronomy lesson on the street corner. We discussed galaxies, the universe, and the recent blasting of the moon in great detail. Later, when we sat down to dinner, we noticed an informational film about Astronomy was playing on the large movie screen in the main courtyard, outside the restaurant. This was either a lucky coincidence or a masterfully planned stunt by U2 as they descended upon Pasadena in their spaceship (aka “The Claw”).
A space creature introduces "Ultraviolet"
The show was entirely “space” themed, with Bono often referring to the stage as a spaceship. In fact, it did feel as if we were traveling through the universe (see video footage below). Bowie’s “Space Oddity” filled the stadium just prior to U2′s entrance. The Claw lit up; bridges and arms of the stage spun around; light shot into the sky from all directions, intersecting above the needle of the “spaceship.” We were greeted by an alien who introduced “Ultraviolet (Light My Way).” We viewed images of the Earth from above as we shot further through space. The last verse of “In A Little While” was spoken by an astronaut in the International Space Station. Bono replaced the line “you turn me on” with “space travel turns me on” during the same song.
The Claw as Space Station
“Are you ready for lift off?” Bono asked the crowd just prior to launching into “Elevation.” Bono himself seemed to defy gravity as he drifted above the stage, swinging from a large illuminated microphone, during “Ultraviolet (Light My Way).” U2 and nearly 100,000 fans visually “created a galaxy” at The Rose Bowl during “Moment of Surrender.”
A Pasadena yogurt shop welcomes U2 fans
The “360″ in U2′s 360 Tour seems to refer to more than just the stage set up. The experience itself surrounds you from every angle. Preparation for last night’s show included arriving in Pasadena early (in some cases, days early) to avoid traffic and secure parking and transportation. A Pasadena frozen yogurt shop welcomed the band and fans with “U2 Vanilla Bean” ice cream. It became the focus of local news media, as if all of Los Angeles truly were boarding a spaceship and shooting into space. Not only did U2 take over The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, and YouTube (the concert was broadcast globally via live stream), they managed to capture three of Twitter’s Trending Topic positions throughout the show.
The live stream of the concert on YouTube effectively allowed U2 to cover the globe from all angles. Rocco, one of the 333 people responsible for assembling The Claw each night, kicked off the evening with a statement that summarized the magnitude of this event: “This time, when you raise your voices, you won’t only be heard here, but all around the world.” He further elaborated, “Tonight’s show is the biggest global concert ever.” In that vein, historically, U2′s show at The Rose Bowl might rank among one of the most spectacular live events.
The voices of the audience quickly overtook Bono’s voice as the band played “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” until Bono held the mic behind his back and turned the vocals over to the crowd. The amplification of nearly 100,000 voices singing the chorus in unison made it sound as if perhaps Bono was still on the microphone. I’ve witnessed plenty of audience sing-a-longs at U2 concerts, but this one was the most phenomenal. Watch the video here (more after the jump):
The entire audience waved their hands in the sky, from left to right during “Mysterious Ways.” Moments like these illustrated that the visual spectacle at U2′s 360 Tour is not solely a result of The Claw. As with the thousands of voices singing “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” in unison, seeing tens of thousands of people waving their hands in the air was magnificent as well. Watch below (more after the jump):
The Edge strummed his acoustic guitar during a stripped down version of “Stuck In A Moment” and Bono’s voice sounded phenomenal and better than ever throughout the 2 hour 20 minute concert. Larry Mullen, Jr. added more soul and fire to “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” banging passionately on a bongo drum. Adam Clayton’s bass line also sounded more pronounced in this energetic live version of the song. And that’s just the music – which is what I thought I came for. . .
When I first saw The Claw, just prior to The Black Eyed Peas opening set, I wasn’t all that impressed. At 164 feet tall, the sheer size of The Claw could not be ignored. The massive racks of speakers suspended around the top of the contraption were also worth paying attention to. But other than that, illuminated by the stadium lights, The Claw just looked like an over-sized mechanical hand that picks up stuffed animals in an arcade game.
The Claw, powered up
Considering the cost of The Claw (both environmentally and financially), I’d come to expect that it would actually pick us up and transport us through space. With the help of spectacular visual effects and lighting, a cylindrical screen that moved vertically throughout the show, the light of the moon shining over the stadium, and the audience’s incessant jumping during “Elevation,” it felt as though we indeed did launch a spaceship.
It was visually overstimulating as smoke shot up from the set, beams of light shone hundreds of feet into the sky, the needle of the spaceship illuminated and morphed into various colors, lights flashed throughout the stadium seating, and the arms (or fingers) of The Claw itself lit up.
Images are projected 360 degrees
At the same time, the screen moved up and down during the songs. In its simplest form, we were able to follow footage of the band playing on screen. Animated characters and pulsing light shows were also projected on screen. “Reality” became blurred as live video of the band was inter-cut with canned footage of the band and then layered with visual effects. Check out the use of the screen during “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” (more after the jump):
The visual impact of “City of Blinding Lights” was also extraordinary and helped further bring the spaceship experience to life (more after the jump):
As the band began playing “Moment of Surrender,” Bono suggested that fans raise their cell phones into the sky. The majority of lights dimmed, while the glow of mobile phones and flickering blue and white lights pulsed throughout the stadium so that it looked like we were surrounded by a mass of stars. As Bono promised, the effect of this coordinated effort was the creation of a virtual galaxy. Watch the transition here (more after the jump)
While introducing “Moment of Surrender” (at 6:41) Bono instructs the crowd to raise their cell phones into the sky and “create the Milky Way”:
The virtual galaxy continues to unfold throughout “Moment of Surrender”
Halfway through the show, the man standing to my left leaned over and said, “I think the stage is worth it.” I’d have to agree.
"Radio Tehran, can you hear us?"
As is the case with most U2 shows, messages of peace, empowerment, social movements, and positive change were highlighted. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was dedicated to Iran, “Walk On” was performed in honor of Aung San Suu Kyi, and video of Archbishop Desmond Tutu stating, “God will put a wind at our back and a rising road ahead, if we work together as one, ” served as the introduction to “One.” Bono also thanked fans for supporting (RED) and ONE.
“Don’t leave us now. We hope this is not the end,” Bono said just before the band walked off stage for the evening. Well, much to the dismay of thousands of people, they couldn’t leave even if they tried. As could be expected, there was one more light show to be had – the lights of brakes on cars formed a steady, line leading to the nearest exits. For those of us on foot, getting out of the Rose Bowl was was much more expedient, although as somebody exclaimed while climbing through a chain-linked fence, “this is like a human maze.” We passed cars rapidly and followed the line of traffic up the hill. In an attempt to take a short-cut, dozens of people then scaled a steep, grassy hill that was full of mole holes, climbed through two chain-linked fences, only to find themselves on the edge of a freeway. People darted across the freeway exit, and then raced across the freeway entrance to the safety of a path that lead directly to Colorado Boulevard. The final challenge was dodging rotating sprinklers while walking on the last stretch of sidewalk leading to Colorado Blvd. Of course, there’s always that one guy who has to get in the sprinklers. Just as the adventure of this event began before the concert itself, the experience of U2′s 360 Tour did not end when the band walked off the stage. To further punctuate that sentiment, within minutes of walking out of the stadium 2 emails arrived via my Blackberry – one from Live Nation and one from U2. The message of each was the same: U2′s 360 Tour will continue into 2010, with more North American dates added next summer.
At the band's request. . .
U2 – that show was impressive, one of the most spectacular events I’ve attended. Individually and collectively you have done a lot of good in the world. You’ve personally impacted the lives of millions and have empowered individuals with information and tools to make contributions to the greater good as well. The results of your dedication and commitments to the world include helping people enjoy a longer life, providing clean water, food, and medication. All of that is fantastic and nobody expects you to “do it all” or single handedly “save the world,” but one can only image that your carbon footprint from this tour is more massive than The Claw itself. If you’re not already doing so, please consider taking additional steps or making a financial contribution to offset the carbon footprint of your 360 Tour. If you are already doing so, please have your publicist let the world know because it’s not being recognized by the media nor your fans.
Important message from the space creature who introduced “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)”
Although I attended each of the Nine Inch Nails club shows during the Los Angeles leg of the “Wave Goodbye” tour, I did not go to their show at Webster Hall in New York. Nine Inch Nails’ performance at Webster Hall was unique because they played The Downward Spiral in its entirety, start to finish. Thankfully, I was able to experience The Downward Spiral when NIN repeated that set during their show at the Hollywood Palladium the following week.
However, as every live music fan knows, even if the set list is the same night to night, each show takes on a life of its own. That’s, in part, why fans follow tours around the world. It’s why people read message boards, blogs and reviews as a tour progresses – to get a sense of what happened differently that night; to find out what they missed or to relive the show again.
One of the many reasons I admire Nine Inch Nails is that they allow their fans to truly engage with their music. They maintain an open camera and recording policy, as well as provide raw footage and audio tracks so fans can create and share their own remixes.
This One Is On Us, a project headed up by a Nine Inch Nails fan, recently compiled and released a DVD of Nine Inch Nails’ performance of The Downward Spiral at Webster Hall. So what? Well, the DVD is comprised entirely of fan recorded footage from the show, shot from multiple angles and it’s available (in several formats) free of charge. Several sources were used in the making of this DVD which gives viewers the ability to experience the show from various perspectives.
“Every time we play here it’s like a pilgrimage” Bono said to my friends and me following U2‘s 2005 show at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. That show was also a pilgrimage for the four of us – two traveling in from New York, one traveling from San Francisco, and myself coming from Los Angeles.
When I was 13 years old and feeling trapped in a small town, listening to U2 albums was my escape. I remember the precise moment, sitting alone in my bedroom blaring U2 and thinking, “I want to see this band play in Dublin. Someday, I’ll see them play in their hometown.” I knew then that in order to realize that dream, I’d have to get out of my hometown.
At 13-years old I had a very influential pep-talk with myself about the path I was headed down and the drastic changes that were necessary if I was going to experience a life that involved fulfilling my dreams around the world. To the people who discount the impact and influence of music — that night in my bedroom, under the influence of U2, I made the decision to turn my life around for the better. For that reason and their music, U2 will always remain one of my favorite bands.
U2 Claw - The 360 Tour
Tickets for this weekend’s concert at The Rose Bowl went on sale months ago. I was vaguely aware that the show was approaching this weekend, but hadn’t thought much about it. Then Wednesday, thanks to a very helpful blog posted by the LA Weekly, I was reminded. I was also alarmed by the article’s headline: “U2 in Pasadena: Clusterf*ck Nearly Guaranteed Unless You Read This Post.”
U2, Honolulu 2006
I’ve been to a lot of big concerts around the world over the years, including U2 in Dublin (82,000+ in attendance) and Honolulu (the closing show of the tour), without any hassle whatsoever. So it didn’t occur to me that this one, in my own backyard, could be a “clusterf*ck.” I hadn’t given it any thought. The show started at 7:00pm, I’d leave my house at 6:00pm, park, and stroll right into the Rose Bowl. Wrong.
As LA Weekly reported, nearly 100,000 people are expected to descend on the Rose Bowl Sunday. LA Weekly and the Rose Bowl’s official website offer warnings about the lack of ample parking and encourage very early arrival (between noon and 4:00pm). Traffic is sure to be extremely congested. This is LA – traffic is congested even without U2.
With that I had a look at my ticket. $250. Suddenly I was pissed off. It’s not that I feel a U2 show isn’t worth $250, but during the past 7 weeks I’ve seen amazing shows, at small venues, minus the “clusterf*ck,” for much less money. Nine Inch Nails’ last show ever was only $65. Thom Yorke’s secret show at The Echoplex, with fewer than 700 people in attendance, was a $20 ticket.
It wasn’t a question of whether or not to attend Sunday’s concert – it became a question of “how?” I called a wise friend who suggested getting a hotel room in Pasadena Saturday night. “Relax, hang out by the pool, wake up, have brunch, walk around Pasadena, and stroll over to the Rose Bowl. That’s the only way to experience this show without a headache,” he suggested. So at 10:00pm Wednesday night I began researching hotels in Pasadena. Apparently my friend is not the only wise person and evidently a fair amount of other wise people actually planned ahead for this event. Website after website, phone call after phone call, I was met with the words “SOLD OUT!”
Finally, it seemed a room was available online. I called the hotel to inquire about parking. “Oh, we’re sold out,” they told me at the reservations desk.
“Well, it says you have a room online,” I replied.
“It might say that, but our computers update more frequently than the website and we’re definitely sold out. Oh wow – all of our properties in the area are sold out!”
“Do you have a wait list?” I asked.
“No, no, we don’t. Sorry,” she said.
I ran back to the computer and clicked the “reserve now” button on the screen that showed 1 available room. Thankfully, the website must have considered my request “in progress” and held the room for me while I was on the phone with the reservations desk. As quickly as I could type, I filled in the required fields and practically begged the hotel to charge my credit card.
When I received the confirmation screen I smiled and relaxed. Took a few deep breaths. . . Entertained the gracious thoughts swirling around my mind. . . And then, realized the absurdity of it all. I’m staying in a hotel, to see a concert 25 miles from my home. “This U2 show better be good!!!” I thought to myself and then Tweeted to the world.
Delivering a message of peace
A few hours later I reconsidered the weekend. Saturday afternoon I’d be sitting by the pool, surrounded by friends. After a day by the pool we’ll head to dinner, have some laughs, and catch up. Everybody who’s in Pasadena this weekend will be there to see U2. I recalled the vibe on the streets of Dublin prior to the concert in 2005. Every shop was playing U2 songs. The energy was high and so were the people. Just kidding – but everybody was in a very happy, outgoing mood. Pasadena will likely feel the same. Sunday night, we’ll all be treated to an amazing performance. I say that with confidence because this band will not subject you to a “clusterf*ck” and then disappoint. U2 puts on spectacular live performances. I remembered the roar and shake of the stadium as 82,000+ fans experienced U2 at Croke Park. There will be nearly 100,000 fans at The Rose Bowl.
See you guys Sunday
Bit by bit my perspective shifted. I thought about the power of this band and their music to inspire 100,000 people to endure traffic, limited parking, and crowds, in order to gather at a single location, for 3-4 hours of live music. I thought about the crowd at Croke Park and how their feet rarely touched the ground as they jumped incessantly during the concert in 2005. I remembered that night in my bedroom, in my small town, and considered the amazing, worldly life I’ve lived ever since. This is what I love about music. Music brings people together. Music is a movement. Music is a dialog. Music can inspire change and positive action. Music can articulate how you feel when nobody seems to understand. This “clusterf*ck” is evidence of the importance of music. It’s the result of a band that’s been creating and playing music, while remaining relevant and making a positive difference in the world for three decades.
Suddenly I was thankful that U2 has once again provided the opportunity for a pilgrimage. What’s even more impressive is that it’s a pilgrimage within my own city. Now I know what Bono meant when he used that word to describe playing in Dublin 4 years ago.
You would actually think that something as absurd as owls taking over the city was happening in LA tonight, based on the hype surrounding this gig. There were several other compelling shows going on simultaneously this evening, but if you were anywhere other than the Troubadour, then it’s probably because you couldn’t get in to see Owl City.
Let’s start with their upcoming tour dates, because you will probably want to see this band. If you check out the Tour section of Owl City’s website, the first thing you’ll notice is that the remainder of the shows on this leg of the tour are sold out. . . and then they’re leaving the country (don’t worry – they’ll be back mid-December). Next thing you’ll see is that a couple shows have been moved to larger venues “due to high demand.”
Y’know, the music business is struggling, but these guys are doin’ alright.
By “these guys” I mean Adam Young. Young began writing music in his basement and claims, “These songs are all I have to show for my sleepless nights.” Luckily for all of his fans, Young suffers from insomnia and writes music when he can’t sleep. (I write reviews about insomniac musicians when I can’t sleep). The result of Young’s sleeplessness is 3 albums, the most recent of which, Ocean Eyes, debuted at #27 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart. The fact that Young doesn’t sleep much means that most of his dreams are technically “day dreams” and many of his lyrics illicit cartoon-like imagery.
It’s no wonder Young can’t sleep, with all those dancy synth-pop sounds running through his head. Owl City’s sound does have a dreamy feel to it and Young’s lyrics speak to his young audience. “I brush my teeth and look in the mirror and LOL as I’m beaming from ear to ear” Young sings in “Dental Care.” Yes, it’s a song about maintaining good dental hygiene.
Owl City fans "put your hands up"
Having lyrics Young’s audience can relate to meant that the crowd sang along like a choir during several songs (see videos below). When it was time to clap along, everybody in the audience threw their hands in the air and clapped passionately. They weren’t just clapping to keep the beat, they were clapping as if something spectacular was going to fall from the sky if they were able to express enough enthusiasm. The crowd danced, smiled, and sang almost as much as Young himself. And instead of cheering for an encore in general, Owl City fans chanted “Fireflies” loud enough that other bands, playing at other venues in LA probably heard the request and got confused.
While the audience played the role of accompanying band expertly, Young was also joined on stage by Breanne Duren on keyboards and
backing vocals. Duren played, sang, and danced with a childlike presence, as if she were truly skipping through Young’s day dreams, while helping to create the soundtrack. As Young bounced between guitar and keyboards himself, he was also backed by a drummer, cellist, and violinist, whom doubled as back-up dancers when they weren’t playing their instruments.
At an Owl City show you get to have as much fun as the band. You get to dance and hop around as if you’re 4 years old. You leave feeling lighter, younger, and happier, with tunes running through your head that will keep you up all night.
Monsters. What do you think of when you hear the word “monsters”? Now imagine you hear the words “monsters of folk”. . . Do you hear it as “Monsters!! (arrrgggggrrrrr) of folk!!!”?? Or do you read it to mean that they’re so folk – the extreme folk – monsters? Did you expect really loud, monstrous rockin’ folk songs? Or did you expect quiet, extreme-folk, folk songs?
Monsters of Folk
Well let’s just say, with Monsters of Folk, you get it all. Their set tonight was quite diverse. Quiet. Loud. Sit. Stand. Sit. Sit. Stand. It was like church. And everyone knew when to sit and when to stand. In fact, Jim James thanked the audience for being respectful and remarked, “Sometimes it’s hard with a folk show. The audience never really knows what to do. Some songs are loud. Some songs are soft. But you guys – you know exactly what to do.”
That said, there were one or two occasions when a couple people in the audience would cheer off-cue (usually prematurely) and others in the audience would shush them. It was a bit comical (not the fact that people cheered “early,” but the fact that other people actually shushed them).
The lights corresponded perfectly with the sentiment of the music. At times, the lighting gave off a monochromatic look. It almost felt as though you were watching a black and white TV, with a few sepia tones thrown in to keep things interesting. Other times, the lights changed fluidly from bright solid color to bright color solid color, in time with the music. On occasion the lights would flash rapidly with the beat of the drum. The lights really helped set the tone. If you were confused about whether a song was a “sit” song or a “stand” song, you could just look to the lights for guidance.
This was a "stand" song
You all know how I feel about Conor Oberst (if you don’t, you can read up about it here). Well, tonight reminded me why I love him so much.
And you don’t know how I feel about Yim Yames (Jim James), but it began when My Morning Jacket made it rain at Bonnaroo in 2004. It was further confirmed during a conversation with MMJ backstage at Austin City Limits later that year. It was topped off with a lengthy discussion about one-off bugs — bugs that have sex once and then die (are killed) - i.e. praying mantis, black widows, etc. I think highly, fondly, and – I say this with affection – strangely, of Yim Yames.
Then there’s M. Ward. Check. And Mike Mogis. I wasn’t consciously aware of Mogus, although he’s produced and engineered several albums I own.
Tonight’s show took place at The Greek, a theater I love. It’s so beautiful up there and the sound is great. They really should allow cameras so people can see what they’re missing.
The first half of the show was pretty mellow. Even the more rockin’ songs were somewhat low-key. The audience was very quiet and respectful – it was a civilized, adult show.
There's no right way or wrong way - You just have to live
Then something happened. . . they turned the sound on. Or at least it felt like they turned the sound on. The show took a turn and became loud, rebellious, fun, rock (relatively speaking, of course. It was no Tool). The audience was on their feet, cheering, the remainder of the night.
They played some Bright Eyes songs, some My Morning Jacket songs, some of the guys’ solo material, and some stuff off the new Monsters of Folk album. One thing I noticed during the first set is that many of Oberst’s songs are sweet, catchy tunes about dark subjects.
I’ve been sleeping so strange at night
Side effects they don’t advertise
I’ve been sleeping so strange
With a head full of pesticide
On the contrary, many of James’ songs are sad-sounding, happy songs. “Wonderful. . . beautiful. . . love. . . blah blah blah.” But they sound like songs of grief.
That’s kind of how the show was – you never knew what to expect. And just when you thought you did know what was coming next, you’d realize you didn’t really know a thing.