New Orleans Voodoo Experience: More Than A Music Festival

October 30 – November 1, 2009
New Orleans, LA

Jane's Addiction

Jane's Addiction

The Voodoo Experience in New Orleans is in its eleventh year and still going strong.  This year’s event attracted a reported 100,000+ people during Halloween weekend. The line up – which included Eminem, Jane’s Addiction, Kiss, Mutemath, Wolfmother, The Flaming Lips, Lenny Kravitz, Janelle Monae, The Black Keys, Gogol Bordello, Silversun Pickups, and Widespread Panic – definitely helped draw the sizable audience.  In addition to the impressive line up, the festival benefits from taking place in New Orleans during Halloween weekend, and offers a diverse range of entertainment and New Orleans cuisine.

Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae

In the spirit of Halloween, Friday was disguised as a warm sunny day, only to reveal its stormy nature following a captivating set by Janelle Monae.  Earlier this year, I attempted to see Monae in Austin during SXSW.  However, the club where she performed was too small to accommodate the crowd.  We made it inside the venue, but couldn’t see Monae through the packed audience. Nonetheless, we could feel her energy and she sounded great.  Monae’s SXSW appearance peaked my interest enough to ensure we arrived at The Voodoo Experience in time to catch her set (even forgoing a visit to Cafe Du Monde).

Monae is an engaging performer whether she’s dancing with fervor or singing while elevated on a chair.  She commands the stage and the audience with her expressions and energetic dancing, but Monae doesn’t let you forget that what she came to do is sing.  Her voice is beautiful and music is a full-body expression for Monae.

Marching band

Marching through the mud

“The day wouldn’t be complete without muddy feet,” became the mantra of this year’s Voodoo Experience after Friday’s torrential downpours turned the festival grounds into a muddy obstacle course for the remainder of the weekend.  Contrary to what you may expect, the wind, rain, cold temperatures, and mud, added to the experience as good-humored music fans and dedicated musicians braved the elements, in the name of music.

Silversun Pickups

Silversun Pickups meeting fans before the storm

Due to the heavy rain and winds, Silversun Pickups had the option of rescheduling their set and playing a club in New Orleans later that night.  Just moments before they were due at the main stage, the band decided to perform their set as scheduled, at the festival grounds, during the worst part of the storm. Their fans were appreciative and didn’t seem to mind enduring the pounding rain while the band played.

The New Orleans Bingo! Show

The New Orleans Bingo! Show

Knowing we would see Silversun Pickups in LA the following week, we opted for shelter and took cover in the Bingo! Parlour circus tent during the storm.  Thankfully, Voodoo Experience offers a wide range of quality entertainment.  Inside the Bingo! Parlour we were treated to none other than The New Orleans Bingo! Show.  This isn’t your grandma’s Bingo — The New Orleans Bingo! Show includes aerialists, clowns that smoke and drink, dancers, and theatrics that transport you to another era.  Clint Maedgen takes the lead on vocals, pump organ, keyboard, guitar, tenor saxophone, squeaky dolphin, and more.  At the same time, an aerialist hangs upside-down above the crowd, doing tricks on the trapeze.  Dancers and clowns add to the experience.  Not only did we forget about the rain, we forgot where we were. The New Orleans Bingo! Show kept us dry, smiling, and dancing for an hour and a half.

“If you were in New Orleans and you didn’t see Eminem, then you missed everything!!” the Starbucks barista told us as he handed over our Saturday morning caffeine.  Friday night’s performance was Eminem’s first full concert in 2009.  Well, we missed it, and the city wouldn’t let us live it down.  With the constant reminder of our Venti lattes in hand, we hailed a taxi to the festival Saturday. “Did you see Eminem last night??” the driver asked when we told him where we were headed.  Before we could answer the question, the driver proceeded to tell us that Eminem last played The Voodoo Experience nine years ago.  “Eminem,” “Eminem,” “Eminem” – you could hear his name ringing throughout the festival grounds early Saturday as fans reminisced about the set he played Friday night.  Just when we were beginning to feel like we might have missed the highlight of the festival, The Voodoo Experience hit us with a wave of great music, exceptional live performances, and the reminder that there’s more than one highlight at Voodoo Experience.

Mates of States Fans

Mates of States fans sing along

When we arrived Saturday afternoon, we were greeted by sunshine and the uplifting music of Mates of State.  Costumed fans sang along as Kori Gardner (keyboard/vocals) and Jason Hammel (drums/vocals) played their catchy tunes.  Mates of State got the crowd amped up which turned out to be essential because that energy was necessary for the back to back music that hit next.

Mutemath's Paul Meany

Mutemath's Paul Meany raises the bar

Mutemath played immediately following Mates of State.  Not only did they further set the tone for the day, they raised the standard for live performance in general.  A separate review of the Mutemath show will follow because enough can’t be said here.  Between their brilliant music, Paul Meany’s voice and keyboard handstands, Darren King standing on top of his drum and diving into the crowd, Greg Hill’s guitar pedal wizardry, and Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas on bass and whatever else he could get his hands on, Mutemath quickly became a favorite of festival goers.

Gogol Bordello

Gogol Bordello

It should be noted that in addition to the music reviewed here, there were at least 3 other artists performing concurrently on other stages at the festival.  Since I still haven’t mastered being in 4 places at once, I stuck with a friend’s recommendation and caught Gogol Bordello.   Now I know why this band has been on my to-see list for a while.  Gogol Bordello had the majority of the audience jumping, clapping, and singing along throughout the duration of their set.  When their show came to an end, the crowd demanded an encore and  Eugene Hütz and the dynamic band delivered an even more energetic, lengthy encore.

Wolfmother

Wolfmother

The Voodoo Stage and Playstation/Billboard.com Stage faced each other on opposite ends of a running track.  So when Gogol Bordello finished their set on the Playstation/Billboard.com stage, we turned around and walked toward the Voodoo Stage to catch Wolfmother.  I’ve seen Wolfmother perform at other festivals, but something about their set at Voodoo blew me away and exceeded my expectations (which are high).  First of all, I was able to hear Andrew Stockdale’s amazing voice in a way that I hadn’t heard before.  The entire band seemed to play much tighter than when I saw them previously.  This may, in part, be due to the fact that two of the original band members have been replaced.  I ran into Stockdale and Ian Peres a few times during the festival.  In addition to being exceptional musicians, they are extremely funny and kind.  Although, there was that incident with Hotshot Robot. . . More on that in the additional, forthcoming Wolfmother review.

Wolfmother with a beheaded Hotshot Robot

Wolfmother with a beheaded Hotshot Robot

So up until this point, you’ve got Mutemath, Gogol Bordello, and Wolfmother absolutely crushing it.  Fans, whose feet otherwise may have been tired from standing, were blessed to have the cushion of mud to soften the impact from 3 hours and 45 minutes of incessant jumping. Some people began losing their voices from screaming and out-singing their neighbors and others opted to forgo food and restroom breaks so they wouldn’t miss anything.  These are bands who just got on stage and played music.  No light shows.  No dramatic stage set-ups.  No real spectacle.  They entertained, they crowd surfed, and at times they banged on things in an unconventional manner, but they did not succumb to an over-the-top stage setup or seizure-inducing light show.  And they don’t need to.  Mutemath, Gogol Bordello, and Wolfmother can blow you away simply by playing music.

Cut to Jane’s Addiction and Kiss, who rounded out Saturday’s line-up.  These are seasoned musicians who’ve been doing this forever.  Perhaps they add spectacle just to keep themselves from getting bored – who knows? The question is: do they need it?

Jane's Addiction

Jane's Addiction

I’ve seen Jane’s Addiction several times over the years, including a very cool “rehearsal show” at a sound stage in LA.  Sometimes they’re great.  Sometimes they’re a little less than great.  But irrespective of my subjective opinion of any given performance, Dave Navarro and Stephen Perkins always nail it.  If Navarro weren’t a musician, I think he’d carry a portable stage around with him, set it up daily, and just strut around.  And I’ll bet people would watch him too – that guy was born to be a performer.  It also doesn’t hurt that he can PLAY guitar.  Perkins, I could listen to or watch for hours, even if he were playing unaccompanied.  He’s a phenomenal drummer.  It’s also good to see Eric Avery back on bass.  It was original Jane’s doing what they originally set out to do – play music and entertain.

Kiss

Kiss playing (safely) with fire

Kiss, on the other hand, I had never seen live.  That band is all about spectacle.  Although, being live music veterans, they’ve learned to do things in moderation.  Sure they’ve got face paint, hair, and silver and black outfits, but forget pyrotechnics (perhaps because paint is highly flammable).  So when they perform, Kiss simply shows images of flames surrounding them on screen.  The part about not using pyrotechnics is not entirely true – there was a nice fireworks display at the end of their set.  While there were a lot of fans who have been with these bands for many years, it was nice to see a new generation of music fans enjoying Kiss and Jane’s Addiction at The Voodoo Experience.

Sunday was another beautiful day in New Orleans.  By this point, there were enough paths made through the mud and it was considerably easier to navigate the festival grounds.  We spent much of the day enjoying the non-music activities offered.  We checked out several food vendors and sampled desserts including fried Oreos and white chocolate bread pudding ice cream (be on the lookout for New Orleans Ice Cream, rolling out nationwide!).  We stumbled upon the special Vooboo  stage set up for kids and watched families enjoying the festival experience together.

JJ Grey

JJ Grey

Eventually we made our way over to see JJ Grey & Mofro.  I had been curious about JJ Grey ever since this I saw this clever music video.  Well, they left the barbies at home for this show, but JJ Grey & Mofro were able to get the crowd groovin’ on their own.

Trombone Shorty

Trombone Shorty

Next up, Trombone Shorty.  The first time I saw Trombone Shorty he was opening for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band in Los Angeles.  He was so good that I actually forgot where I was and thought I was in New Orleans.  So to see Trombone Shorty in his hometown of New Orleans was better than a fried Oreo.  Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews has been playing New Orleans clubs since he was 12 years old.  He’s now 23 and if there had been tables to dance on at Voodoo Experience, people would have been on them.  If you have the opportunity to see Trombone Shorty, then do it (even if The Flaming Lips are playing at the same time).

The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips shooting confetti

That said, we did head over to catch part of The Flaming Lips‘ set.  I know I just suggested you do one thing and then I did the opposite thing, but with that experience behind me, I stand by my original recommendation — see Trombone Shorty.  I do like the Lips, but the sole reason we ventured across the muddy field to see them was out of sheer curiosity, to see if they did anything different.  I’ve seen them perform for years.  I stopped seeing them perform for years.  I revisited them during their tour this summer.  And then, thinking they may pull out something new for the festival crowd, I saw them again at Voodoo Experience.  If you’re somebody who doesn’t like change, rest easy – The Flaming Lips are doing exactly the same thing they were doing years ago.  The show begins with Wayne Coyne rolling out on top of the crowd in a large bubble.  Then, there’s confetti, enough balloons for everybody to play, and furry creatures dancing on stage.  Songs may be performed in a slightly different tempo – “Fight Test” was played ultra slow at Voodoo – but essentially a Flaming Lips show is a Flaming Lips show.  They provide good old-fashioned fun that you can always count on.

Voodoo Experience

Voodoo Experience: good times guaranteed

Similarly, New Orleans Voodoo Experience provides good fun and music you can count on.   However, that may be the only constant.  New Orleans Voodoo Experience is truly unique and offers a diverse range of entertainment and activities.  There’s something for everyone at Voodoo Experience – that’s why more than 100,000 people showed up.

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New Orleans Voodoo Experience – Halloween

October 31, 2009
2009 Voodoo Experience
New Orleans, LA

Mute Math's Darren King

Mutemath's Darren King

Day 2: So much music, so little time to write!! Mates of State, Mutemath, Gogol Bordello, Wolfmother, Jane’s Addiction, Kiss. . . I will write an in-depth review as soon as the music stops or the city sleeps. In the meantime, some highlights and pictures.

Here’s how the Voodoo Experience differed Day 2 to Day 1:
Day 2: Sunny
Day 1: Torrential downpours

Day 2: Halloween
Day 1: Not Halloween, but you wouldn’t know it in New Orleans

Day 2: Exceptional music back to back
Day 1: Exceptional music back to back

Day 2: Experienced great live performances hour after hour
Day 1: Heard some great live music (with rain as a backing track) from the safety of a dry tent

Day 2: Hotshot Robot mysteriously beheaded
Day 1: Hotshot Robot happily roaming the festival, in-tact

Only Wolfmother really knows what happened to Hotshot Robot:

Wolfmother and Hotshot Robot

It was Wolfmother, in the bar, with the neck of a guitar

 

Mates of State welcomed the crowd and the sunny day with an uplifting, fun set:

Mates of State

Mates of State

 

The crowd welcomed the sun and Mates of State by singing along:

Mates of States Fans

Mates of States fans know all the words

 

Wolfmother interview:

Wolfmother

Wolfmother dodging questions about the Robot

 

Mutemath sets the tone not just for Voodoo Experience, but for live music performance as a whole:

Mute Math's Paul Meany

Mutemath's Paul Meany - this is live music

 

Mute Math

Mutemath takes it to the next level

Gogol Bordello makes the crowd go insane:

Gogol Bordello

Gogol Bordello

 

Wolfmother: They exceeded my expectations and my expectations were high:

Wolfmother

Wolfmother!!

 

Wolfmother captivates the audience:

Wolfmother crowd

Wolfmother crowd

 

Jane’s Addiction kicks off the night:

Jane's Addiction

Jane's Addiction

 

Kiss – enough said:

Kiss

Kiss

 

Seasoned musicians know how to play with fire:

Kiss

Kiss

 

Off to catch some more music! Stay tuned…

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The 2009 Voodoo Experience – New Orleans

October 30, 2009
2009 Voodoo Experience
New Orleans, LA

Voodoo

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 Vettes

The Vettes

The Cool Kids

The Cool Kids

Silversun Pickups

Silversun Pickups meeting fans

Janelle Monae: all will be revealed with the full Day 1 recap (hint: she’s awesome)

Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae

Hotshot Robot interviewing the band Glasgow:

Hot Shot Robot

Hotshot Robot

This isn’t your grandma’s bingo:

The New Orleans Bingo Show

The New Orleans Bingo Show

Fischerspooner

Fischerspooner

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Spaceship Rides Aren’t Cheap, But They’re Worth It: U2 at The Rose Bowl

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

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.

IMG_8136

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”).

IMG_8208

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.

IMG_8167

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.”

IMG_8028

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.

IMG_8059

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.

IMG_8088

Blast off

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.

IMG_8174

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.

IMG_8180

"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.

U2 Stand up to rockstars

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)”

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Nine Inch Nails “The Downward Spiral” Live at Webster Hall

Webster Hall, NY

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.

You can watch the full show, track by track, here:  http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=7E15146D2F523968

For more info or to download the DVD, visit This One Is On Us.

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The Pilgrimage of U2

Preparing for Sunday’s show at The Rose Bowl

U2, Honolulu 2006

A Pilgrimage

“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

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 2006

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

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

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.

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