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/
I was first introduced to Nico Vega when I was working with an online music video company several years ago. The band was coming to our offices for a video shoot and, as happens before a shoot, the production team had numerous conversations about what the set should look like.
When Aja Volkman, Dan Epand, and Rich Koehler (“Nico Vega”) arrived, the creative director asked them if they were ok with the set design or whether they wanted any changes. “No, we can go with this. . . Thank you,” they replied. Nico Vega has repeatedly shown that they can play in any location, without requiring anything special. Among some of the more unusual places they’ve played: in the kitchen while cooking, on rooftops, in bathrooms, and while trapped in an elevator during the middle of the night.
When Nico Vega played unplugged at our office that day, you hardly noticed they were playing in front of a warehouse garage door, surrounded by pink balloons. The band was mesmerizing, their power and presence undeniable. The production team’s deliberation about the set design was a professional thing to do, but it wasn’t necessary.
I’ve since seen and been equally blown away by Nico Vega a dozen times.
Flash forward four years. . .
Every summer I visit my family in Colorado and, naturally, the weekend trip is planned around at least one concert. When I checked the local listings and saw Nico Vega was playing at The Bluebird Theater on July 14th, the date of this summer’s trip was set.
If you haven’t traveled outside of your hometown to see a show, I highly recommend it. Getting away from the routine, experiencing new venues, and dropping into an unfamiliar crowd is a great way to expand your perspective.
Being outside of LA, away from the “business”, was liberating. It felt almost as if I were experiencing Nico Vega for the first time. I was able to appreciate everything I love about this band – their music, their empowering messages, and how they interact with the audience – in an expansive, new way.
What I experienced at The Bluebird Theater wasn’t just a show; it was a conversation. Nico Vega isn’t merely playing and singing songs, they’re engaging the audience in a constant dialog. The exchange is dynamic. Everyone – band and audience – participates.
The conversation is about integrity, life, love, compassion, equality, justice, power (individual and collective), empowerment, freedom, strength, gratitude, growth, and change.
It’s not only communicated in their lyrics, it’s part of every beat of Dan’s drum, the way Rich plays guitar and shuffles onstage, Jamila Weaver’s harmonies and bass, each note Aja sings and every piece of equipment she climbs. Nico Vega embodies everything they’re singing about – on and off stage, which makes their shows powerful and transcendant.
When people talk about stage presence, they’re often referencing showmanship. In the case of Nico Vega, it’s truly about presence. They are entirely present, immersed in the moment, feeling and communicating the songs with every cell in their bodies. They somehow manage to connect with each person in the audience, individually, and the crowd responds in turn. Not to be confused with theatrics, an “act”, a show, or even a performance — Nico Vega simply is everything they play and sing about.
The audience shows up and they know their part. The band doesn’t need to cue the claps nor sing-a-longs – it’s felt organically. This was my cousin’s first time seeing Nico Vega and she wasn’t familiar with their songs. However, she was singing along at every opportunity and throwing her hands in the air with each empowering drum beat of “Beast”.
This is true of all the Nico Vega shows I’ve been to. However, at the Bluebird Theater, outside of my usual environment, I was able to further absorb and articulate what was happening. I experienced what makes their shows so potent, beyond the outstanding musicianship, exceptional stage presence and Aja’s powerful voice.
When Aja sings, she is the song. She’s able to communicate the music and messages of Nico Vega on a truly soulful level. It’s expansive, invigorating, and inspiring. It appears as though all in attendance are not only listening, they’re feeling. They feel the empowerment, their feet leave the ground, their hands touch the sky, they lean in toward the stage as Aja’s presence reaches every inch of the venue.
At times she sits down and sings so powerfully that you forget she’s sitting. When she leans over the edge of the stage, it feels as though she’s hovering above the entire crowd. She makes eye contact, smiles, shares the microphone, sings from atop the drum set or a Nico Vega trashcan. Aja is not constrained by the mic stand – she knows it’s not locked to the stage and she moves about accordingly. The way she covers the entire stage is a physical expression of the words she’s singing. Meaning is conveyed in everything this band does, collectively making an even greater impact.
One of the moments that moved me most was when Aja sang a song she wrote upon regaining her voice after an extended hiatus from singing, due to vocal strain. While it’s not possible to truly “know how it feels”, having not experienced it firsthand, Aja shared her experience in a way that allowed me to feel the range and arc of emotions she felt throughout that ordeal. The song came to life, transported us back to that time, and carried us – as it carried Aja – back to the stage, in the present moment.
After the show, the band made their way to the lobby to greet their fans. I watched as Aja, Dan, and Rich, graciously signed posters, arms, t-shirts, and tickets, but what struck me most is the way the band listened to everyone who approached them. They took their time with each person and absorbed everything they had to say. Their presence, attention, and energy was as consistent and strong off stage as it was on stage. Nico Vega is dynamic – musically and personally. At the same time, the integrity of who they are is unwavering. The conversation that took place on stage spilled out into the lobby and is continuing still today.
Nico Vega is on tour now and I highly recommend you see them, even if you need to travel out of town to do so.
If you’d like to experience the conversation for yourself immediately, the band is sharing their music, stories, insights, and friendship over at PledgeMusic. You can pre-order their new album Lead To The Light there, as well as receive personal updates from the band, and see what happens when they try to act.
July 8, 2013
Red Bull Sound Space
KROQ, Los Angeles
What better way to kick off the Monday following a long holiday weekend than with a free show by an amazing band.
Having been to several “radio shows” before, I was a bit skeptical – not of Portugal. The Man‘s performance (I have complete confidence in that), but of the venue and format of the show. Any concerns I had were eliminated instantly upon arriving at the Red Bull Sound Space at KROQ. Representatives from KROQ, as well as Red Bull, were friendly, inviting, and engaging. Rather than emitting the vibe “You’re so lucky to be here,” the team’s message to all who were there was: “We’re so happy you came. Thank you.”
Nobody has to tell you that you’re lucky to be at a show like this. The moment you enter Red Bull Sound Space, you feel it. The space is intimate, accommodating approximately 150 fans. The backdrop of the stage is like a music time capsule – it’s constructed of speakers, turntables, boomboxes, receivers, and an assortment of other equipment. Rather than being covered in corporate branding or advertising, there is only one element of the backdrop that is branded, and its view is sometimes obstructed by the band. We see the branding, we know it’s Red Bull and KROQ, but when the band walks on stage, it’s about music and nothing else. This is very refreshing.
The show began with a brief, informed, and entertaining interview. It became clear that KROQ’s Nicole Alvarez is truly a fan of the band. She was very familiar with Portugal. The Man’s vast catalog, spoke about her personal connection to the music, and asked relevant questions. I know all of this seems like it should be a given, but it’s not to be taken for granted. This is not something all interviewers do well.
The band’s sense of humor and wit contributed greatly to the interview, as did the way they chose to answer – or not answer – the questions. Not to be confused with selective hearing - John Gourley has an impressive skill: selective responding. Clearly listening to each multi-part question, Gourley zeroed in on aspects where he could provide enough insight, while maintaining some mystery.
When asked about the meaning of their latest album, Evil Friends, or whether or not there’s a theme when they record, Gourley focused on the writing and recording process. He described how the band comes together to write and record in a way that makes you feel like you’re there, in the studio, with them. He left the meaning of the album up to the listeners.
Zach Carothers took on answering some of the questions, as well as chiming in during Gourley’s stories. Each time Carothers answered, he infused humor, often leading to a burst of conversation and laughter among the entire band. During these moments the dynamic personalities, quick wit, and friendship among Portugal. The Man members was undeniable.
My favorite moment during the interview came when Alvarez noted that Portugal. The Man puts out a new album nearly every year. Alvarez added that it seems as though the band is always either touring or releasing an album; they don’t stop. “That’s what we set out to do,” Gourley responded, adding that the band’s chosen goal is to make and play music as much as possible.
Portugal. The Man is a band that understands what it truly means to be musicians – just keep playing music. It’s a simple concept, but it takes constant discipline and dedication, which is what makes it hard for many to achieve. In addition to their music, it’s easy to appreciate and admire Portugal. The Man’s work ethic and commitment.
Playing songs from their latest album, Evil Friends, Portugal. The Man took us on a journey. This is the most stripped-down I’ve seen the band. Even when they played The Troubadour several years ago, Portugal. The Man brought in some of their own “lights” (in quotes because it’s nowhere near the setup they have now). The absence of lights and fog allowed me to appreciate the show on an even deeper level.
It was fun to watch the band build the songs – all the layers, the harmonies, the bass, guitar, keys, percussion, and the timing. When you hear the music, it sounds great. When you see what it takes to create the sound live – the precision of it all – it allows you to appreciate it that much more.
I feel that way each time I see Portugal. The Man. No matter the venue, the lighting, the stage, or the setlist, I take away something new at every show. Their shows are expansive and dynamic. There’s always more to discover when Portugal. The Man plays. They are one of very few bands I see every time they’re in town.
After playing Creep In A T-Shirt, Evil Friends, Modern Jesus, and Sea of Air, Portugal. The Man announced the next song would be the last of this concise radio set. The audience let out a sigh of ”Noooooooo….” that was audible until the band launched into “Purple, Yellow, Red, and Blue.” At that moment, the sighs became cheers.
When reviewing my pictures from this show, I was surprised to find this. It appears my camera captured “Purple. Yellow, Red, and Blue” in the midst of the show. That’s one hell of a photo bomb, PtM.
Portugal. The Man is on tour now. Get tickets before they sell out.