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/
During the rare occasions when I consider the possibility of leaving Los Angeles, I remember experiences like Damien Rice playing at The Hotel Cafe Sunday night. It’s a “once in a lifetime” opportunity which thankfully has happened more than once in this lifetime.
L.A. – where you can wake up on a Sunday morning, ease into your day somewhat aimlessly, and find out that one of your favorite musicians – somebody who typically sells out much larger rooms – is playing a last-minute show, that same night, at one of your favorite and most intimate venues.
On Sunday morning, October 7th, it was announced that Damien Rice would be playing as part of Nic Harcourt‘s 88.5 KCSN Presents show at The Hotel Cafe later that night. It was the first in what is to become a monthly series hosted by Harcourt at The Hotel Cafe. It was also the first time Rice has played in Los Angeles since 2007.
The show sold-out in a matter of minutes. People who didn’t have tickets lined up 6-7 hours early in hopes additional tickets would be released at the door. People who did have tickets lined up 6-7 hours early with the goal of obtaining a prime position, close to the stage, for the standing room only event.
The evening’s openers, Kita Klane and The Lonely Wild, had an exceptionally rewarding and equally challenging job before them: opening for Damien Rice. Harcourt kicked off the evening, introducing the radio station (one of my favorites) and his new, curated, monthly concert series. He expressed his enthusiasm that Rice agreed to join the line-up, while sharing his concurrent enthusiasm about introducing the audience to two newer bands he’s passionate about. Harcourt did an amazing job of setting the tone for the evening and the audience was attentive, receptive, and engaged, during both opening performances.
The crowd’s attention to Kita Klane and The Lonely Wild is quite a testament to each band. What was once going to be an important, yet more low-key evening, was suddenly an even higher-profile show, playing to what could have been – and in many cases would have been – a difficult audience. Kita Klane and The Lonely Wild stepped up to the challenge in a way that inferred “we’re this good all the time, not just tonight.”
The spectacular evening was also a testament to the crowd. Rice’s fans appreciate music. They listen. They dance, laugh, clap, and cheer, when appropriate. They trust the venue and the evening’s curator to present shows that will be of the highest quality. Their expectations are high, as is their confidence that expectations will be met.
Rice began with “Delicate” and concluded with “Volcano”, complete with a crowd sing-along, in the round. Everything in between was as exceptional. Rice’s voice is impeccable, his songs honest.
Rice guided the audience through his set, describing the various stages of his failed relationships, the resulting introspection, and the songs that emerged in the end. He sang with eyes closed most of the time, but opened them each time he belted, “I remember it well. . . ”
His honesty and humor shared the stage with his music. Introducing “The Professor & La Fille Danse,” Rice asked the crowd to imagine if, when they were younger, someone gave them a million dollars every day, along with the advice, “do good with it.” Then, the next day they show up to give you another million dollars, and so on, for the rest of your life. ”Well, we are given a million sperm each day,” he said, adding that this is the root of failed relationships. Later, endearingly labeling himself an “asshole,” Rice debuted a new song, “Greatest Bastard”.
What happens when Rice sings – and consider this your warning – is he unsuspectingly draws you in with his exquisite voice. Then, you’re enveloped in the story and you begin to feel what he’s experiencing. The pain is mitigated by his voice, his sense of humor about it all, and the drink in your hand. As Rice sings, and the songs build, you realize you’re fucked. Welcome to Damien’s world.
His relationships may fail, but his shows are always a success.
Last night I had the honor of attending a private performance by The Stone Foxes at Swing House Studios in Los Angeles. It was an intimate gathering, during which the band previewed some new songs from their forthcoming album, along with some old favorites.
I wish more bands did this. What I mean by “this” is: consistently come from a place of complete authenticity. As I described when I last wrote about The Stone Foxes, there was no “hard sell”; no pleas to tell the world. In fact, it’s quite possible I’m not supposed to be covering this show – that wasn’t its intention. This was a party, a gathering of friends, and a celebration of music. The band only made one plea: “have a drink with us.”
Everything about the night was an expression of what music can do in its purest form. I’ve been paying close attention to The Stone Foxes for the past year and am continually impressed by what they do through their music, their performance, and how they connect with and build a community of friends who are proud to call themselves “fans”.
Here are a couple of the old favorites they played last night. You’ll have a chance to hear some new songs the next time you see them live or when their 3rd album comes out; whichever happens first. Current tour dates: http://thestonefoxes.com/shows/
September 2, 2011
The Del Monte Townhouse
Feist Secret Show
“Welcome people of the Internet! This is what the inside of the Internet looks like. . . ” Feist said pointing at the stage and band surrounding her. Feist knows the truth: there are no secrets on the Internet. As tweets about last night’s “secret show” at The Del Monte Townhouse in Venice began to circulate in the late afternoon, Feist initiated her own tweet: ”Anyone in Los Angeles will probably have a good time tonight if they can find this place by 10pm…”, along with a picture of the venue.
Feist debuted songs from her new album, Metals (available October 4, 2011) at the small venue which served as an illegal speakeasy during the Prohibition. It doesn’t take long for word to get out on Twitter and by 9:45pm the room was packed, the venue and upstairs bar were at capacity, and a line of fans hoping to get in extended beyond sight.
When you see Feist, you know she’s doing exactly what she’s meant to be doing. Everyone who was at this show (celebrities included) was a huge fan of Feist. Many people inside the venue and even more people outside the venue were alerted about the show merely hours beforehand. They cancelled plans, they drove across town, they sat in traffic on a holiday weekend, waited for hours in line or at the bar. Moreover, they’d waited years to see Feist play again. Inside the venue it was hot. Not just temperature hot, stuffy hot. If you were standing beyond 10 rows deep or were under 5’10″, chances are you couldn’t see. The sound of the DJ upstairs interfered at times with the sound of Feist. There were a lot of elements to overcome. What impressed me the most, in addition to the music of course, was Feist’s ability to unify the audience.
Feist literally took the hot, uncomfortable audience on a journey to a place where they forgot about everything but the music. It was done with intention. You could feel it. She kicked off the set with “A Commotion.” It made a statement that imbibed: “Yes, it’s true. I’m here. You’re here. This is music. Let’s go.” Upon bringing the audience to a place of complete presence, she moved into some more “mellow” songs, joking, “It’s this new punk rock concept called a ballad.” People settled in, the talking in the back of the room began to fade away, we were on our way to another destination. By the time Feist brought us to “Woe Be,” which offers words of wisdom and caution, with an edge of humor, about people who fall in love with songwriters, we arrived somewhere else.
“We’ve gone through the vortex and entered another dimension. You can feel it,” Feist exclaimed joyously. The crowd cheered in unison and agreement. ”Sea Lion Woman” set off a dance party that carried us through the remainder of the set.
“We’re only going to play a couple more songs for you,” Feist said, managing the crowd’s expectations. “You know what they say about staying in another dimension too long. Your face may begin to fade from the pictures, like in Back To The Future,” she continued. ”I don’t want to be responsible for forever changing you,” she added, leading into “Comfort Me.”
Female folk trio, Mountain Man, harmonized and played a variety of instruments that added greater depth of atmosphere and playfulness to the set. They, along with Feist and the entire band, provided the fuel that carried us through the vortex and back.
By the time the show ended, “Feist” was a trending topic on Twitter in LA. Fitting, given her intro, and the fans’ entrance, to the show.
Video cannot replace the live show. It doesn’t replicate it. It simply serves as foreplay so you’re ready for Feist when she tours this fall:
Words cannot describe the fun you’ll have at a Butch Walker and The Black Widows show, so consider these pictures and videos from their show Monday night an appetizer.
You can see Butch Walker and The Black Widows on tour beginning October 6th. Tour dates and info are posted on their Facebook page.
Butch Walker and The Black Widows’ new album, The Spade, comes out August 30, 2011. You’ll want to get it before you see them live so you can sing along with the rest of the crowd. http://butchwalker.com/
. . . and alcohol. What more can you ask for in a live show?
I dare you to not have fun at a Butch Walker show. It’s not possible. Even if your date is despicable, daft, or flirting with someone across the bar, Butch Walker will have a song to help you celebrate it.
Butch Walker and The Black Widows have been playing songs from their upcoming album, at an underground location, in what has become a Monday night residency of sorts. Even if you know where the venue is, when you arrive, the first thing you see is a sign that says: Shhhhh.
As the Black Widows take their positions on stage, Butch Walker reminds everyone why they’re here: “Let’s have some fun, alright? We’re going to play the album straight through. That’s all we’ve got for you. . . unless we get drunk later and it’s someone’s birthday and we sing a bunch of cover songs or something.” They did get drunk, it was someone’s birthday, they played the album straight through, and a good time was had by all.
It’s a rock & roll show: shots of whiskey are delivered from the bar, round upon round; there are rafters for the band to swing from. . . and they make good use of them; there are beautiful women on and off stage; guitars fall – or get knocked over – by beautiful women who are just trying to be helpful (so no one really gets upset about it); there are other beautiful women perfectly positioned to let the band know that equipment is falling; and not a drink goes untouched.
Ladies: you know what Butch Walker & The Black Widows, whiskey and beautiful women, bring to a venue? A bunch of cool men. Live music and a hell of a lot more fun than a speed-dating event.
Butch Walker & The Black Widows
If you eavesdrop on band members after the show (they really tell the truth if they don’t know you’re listening), you’ll hear every single one of them say, “It’s a lot of fun!” The show feels like a great house party just before the cops arrive as a result of numerous noise complaints, but with an amazing band as opposed to “that neighbor kid and his friends”. The band is having fun on stage and it transfers to the audience. If you see Butch Walker & The Black Widows play, you will have a good time. Guaranteed.
I have several HD videos of the show and a lot of Butch Walker fans asking me to post them. Initially, I considered that these are new songs, that the album is still being recorded, that perhaps something should remain a surprise. What fun is it if everyone knows all the songs before they’re even released?? Then I remembered the first Butch Walker show I ever attended. It was many years ago (not too many though because none of us is “old”). It was an album release show at The Hotel Cafe. Brand new songs. In fact, it may have even been a week or two before the album was released, as a “warm-up show” to kick off a tour. Regardless, it was a sold out show. People had driven in from Atlanta and Arizona and flown in from New York. It felt like a pilgrimage to hear these “new” Butch Walker songs, but the most striking thing happened when Butch Walker played: everyone already knew the words and they all sang along. That show introduced me not only to Butch Walker, but to his fans, who are among the most dedicated, loyal, and passionate fans any artist could hope for. Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend didn’t exist at that time, or surely I would have written about that show. That said, Butch Walker’s amazing fans have been a significant part of my experience of every show, so I wrote a bit about that here.
Anyway, here are a few videos for people who love Butch Walker – they deserve it:
This has become one of my favorite moments every week: