It’s happened. After a 2 1/2 year hiatus from Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend, St. Vincent has inspired me to write again.
During the past few years, I’ve been to hundreds of additional concerts, several of them outstanding. I’ve considered writing about some of those shows, but then life moved on, another show happened, and the backlog grew greater than Game of Thrones, thus becoming insurmountable. So here we are: nearly halfway through 2018. . . and I can’t stop thinking about a show I experienced 6 nights ago, nor the St. Vincent shows which preceded it earlier this year.
Now I have a new challenge: finding the words to describe Annie Clark and what it feels like to go on a journey with St. Vincent. Every adjective that comes to mind feels cliche when I consider using it in conjunction with Clark or her work. Some say “genius” and I agree, she is brilliant. “Genius” can infer that things come easy, but it’s Clark’s passion and dedication, in conjunction with her brilliance that consistently raise the bar with everything she does. What she puts into her music, art, storytelling, and shows, is undeniable – and potentially undefinable – when you experience it.
She’s exceptionally thoughtful, seemingly about everything she does. From writing to recording, production, artwork, creative vision, humorous album rollout, unconventional ‘press conference’, and performance. It’s clear her intention is to deliver the highest quality in all that she creates, and she does so masterfully. While thoughtful, it doesn’t feel contrived. It’s not a construct of her mind “thinking”. It’s the way she creates, and you can feel it coming from the heart (a cliche, but not in this case). You feel how deeply she cares, and that she cares because she’s creating for you.
The best analogy I can think of to describe Clark is the Galapagos. There are species which exist only in the Galapagos, nowhere else on the planet. Within the archipelago itself, there are plants and animals which exist solely on one of the islands, not the others. Traveling through the Galapagos, we saw things we’d never encountered before, which could not be defined by any word in our vocabulary nor fit into a familiar category. There was a bird-creature which looked most like a flamingo, but wasn’t; and a tree with the trunk of a palm tree, but each of its colossal branches resembled a pine tree. The brain short-circuits a bit, trying to make sense of what you’re seeing, and you become overwhelmed with awe. When you ask a Naturalist, “What is that??”, you learn there is no common word for it, just binomial nomenclature defining its genus and species. Terms you’ll likely not remember unless you’re fluent in Latin.
Now that we’ve established Clark is like the Galapagos and no description can do her justice, I will face the challenge and attempt to share my experience of seeing St. Vincent live. Perhaps it will inspire you to do the same. If I had resumed writing sooner, I would have covered St. Vincent Fear The Future at The Palladium in January, as well as I’m A Lot Like You at The Orpheum in April. Both are among the best shows I’ve experienced and similarly left me without words sufficient to describe them.
Fear The Future was an innovative and bold exploration of St. Vincent’s evolution. Clark played solo, performing select songs from her earlier work, chronologically, culminating with a performance of her latest release, Masseduction, start to finish. As you journeyed through the time capsule with St. Vincent, song by song, another layer was peeled away, and you got to delve deeper. Visually, during the retrospective portion of the show, panels were removed from the stage, one by one, revealing more of St. Vincent each time. In my interpretation, an allegory for the evolution of Clark and her music. She is allowing us in further, revealing more, courageous in the face of vulnerability, powerful in Masseduction.
If anyone else were doing it, the show at The Orpheum in April would have been considered a “warm up” for Coachella and festival season. However, the way Clark did it, this initial performance of I’m A Lot Like You transformed the intimate indoor venue into a boundless space, which felt even larger than a festival. The band was back this time around, along with immersive lighting and visuals. The show was thematically, sonically, and visually powerful. Then, as we traveled toward the few remaining songs, Clark spoke about love and imagining the many experiences people must have shared in the venue historically. Her badassery and strength is rooted in her humanity and heart. The show transcended space, time, and form. I was not an audience member at a concert, we were not on Earth. I was 100% sober, having a phenomenal trip. That’s when I committed to seeing St. Vincent at least once more this year.
“Rattlesnake” at The Orpheum – April 11, 2018
Prior to the cancellation of FYF Fest, and with persistent reminders that nothing else of this caliber was happening, certainly not with any frequency, I started looking into other cities where I could experience St. Vincent and the I’m A Lot Like You tour again. I love traveling and especially enjoy going to concerts in unfamiliar places, where adventure and discovery are inherent, the people and sights are new. I settled on Charlotte, North Carolina. Tickets purchased, car rented, hotel booked. After wandering downtown, exploring museums and parks, I made my way to The Fillmore in time for the VIP Q&A. What was it like?
Clark entered the room, proclaiming her outfit “Unabomber Chic” and sang a couple songs, acoustic. No lights, set, band, visuals, nor elaborate wardrobe, and still able to transport us from the physical world we know to a timeless place and dreamlike state. Her voice is spectacular and mesmerizing. She’s playful and entirely present. She is genuine and generous, and without words, has a way of imparting that she is doing this for you; she sincerely cares. She doesn’t merely make you feel that way, it emanates from her core. It’s who she is.
Following the songs, what was billed as a “Q&A” (for lack of a better description, I imagine) was a dynamic conversation. Clark asked us questions, and we shared stories and asked her questions. In response to any topic, Clark has a relevant and entertaining story. There are as many funny asides as there are “answers”. This is when I saw something else magnificent in Clark: she is an exceptional listener. Any time someone asked a question or shared a story, she listened well beyond the words they were speaking, absorbing the subtext, inflections, tone, and body language, and would respond to the often unspoken, but actual crux of the conversation.
Her responses were similarly manifold and meaningful. While everyone was just getting to know each other in that moment, the vibe and conversation was more akin to gathering in a living room with long-time, good, friends. It offered insight into how Clark is so attune, empathetic, and able to deeply connect. Extrapolating the attentiveness with which she listens to people to how she must observe and intake the world, I got a glimpse into Clark’s creative proficiency (and potentially, her oft referenced anxiety).
Equally magical to experience was Clark’s presence. We live in a world with infinite distractions, devices, and 140-character attention spans, but Clark is wholly present. That is a gift which breaks down the barrier of time. We all have access to a time machine – it’s our own presence and attentiveness in any given moment. Clark does it so skillfully, she brings everyone along for the ride. Experiencing this during the intimate conversation, illuminated how St. Vincent shows transcend space and time.
After thanking us for being there and acknowledging each “thank you” in return, Clark disappeared to get ready for the show, and the rest of us continued the conversation. The doors opened and the venue filled quickly. People traveled from around the country to be there. I don’t recall meeting one person who was from Charlotte, North Carolina. The energy shifted from quiet evening at home with friends to anticipation of the biggest party of the year. The forthcoming show would be spectacular, not taken for granted, but a given – it’s St. Vincent. Throughout the evolution, Clark’s commitment to quality remains constant.
The house lights dimmed, the band took the stage, and St. Vincent took us on another journey, kicking off, full force, with “Sugarboy”. I am not one of those people who “forgets to eat”, but I could watch Clark play guitar for days on end and imagine I would forget to eat. It is captivating. The earlier conversation among friends was now amplified on stage: Clark is someone who cares deeply about humanity, putting forth the best, and who doesn’t simply “deliver”, but magnetically invites and transports you to a spectacular, limitless place.
The band is outstanding, the show is magnificent, Clark’s voice and performance impeccable, you get lost in the way she commands the guitar. There’s silence, followed by an uproar of cheers when she hits the high notes in “Young Lover.” There was no doubt she would do it, but people created the space to absorb and then celebrate each moment.
Even though I know how the song goes, I always forget how hard “Huey Newton” hits. That’s by design and it works every time. The same holds true for “Digital Witness”, “Masseduction”, “Marrow” and each song in the setlist. All the times I’ve heard these songs and seen them performed live, and they feel new and astonishing with each performance.
It feels personal. You can be surrounded by hundreds or tens of thousands of people, and feel as though Clark is performing specifically, and solely, for you. A friend of mine, who saw St. Vincent in Manchester in 2014 told me of his experience, “I think she felt the joy I was receiving from the show, so she kept giving me more.” If you read Tweets or Instagram posts following St. Vincent shows, you will see similar sentiments echoed: “she winked at me,” “she smiled at me”, “she played to me”. . .
During the gathering-of-friends conversation earlier in the night, I asked if she now knows what to do should she encounter a rattlesnake in the wild. There was laughter and some suggestions from people in the room. But St. Vincent’s answer to the question came hours later, when she performed “Rattlesnake”. She stepped forward, acknowledged me with a playful and daring look, and then dropped to her knees and responded:
The more present you are, the more immersed you become, the harder you go, the harder she goes. Presence makes the concept of time vanish and communion eliminates the physical space. You are transported, transfixed, and transformed.
What came through most strongly to me is that Clark desires that everyone is well and happy, living their best life. And if she can contribute to that creatively, it’s what she wants to do – it’s what she’s here to do. Between songs, she acknowledges and responds to each shouted “I love you,” just as she shared in the moments of gratitude with us during the earlier conversation. The show concludes, and you walk away with that reflection of gratitude, strength, vulnerability, community, support, energy, badassness, happiness, and love. I’m A Lot Like You. Go.
In addition to their music, what makes this gathering so special is the humanity, connection, joy, and presence The Watkins Family exudes.
The spirit in the room feels festive and light. It’s a gathering of good friends, who’ve come together to celebrate and share stories, songs and laughter. The dynamic interaction between those on stage is shared with all in attendance. The musicians have a long history with each other, but they make sure to let the audience in on their inside jokes. With their presence and openness, The Watkins Family unites us all.
Their music carries a similar inclusive, dynamic, and evolving energy. Thanks to the tone The Watkins Family sets and Largo‘s no-cell-phone policy, it is a completely immersive experience. You can get lost in the sound, hear how each note plays off the other, and the way the instruments and voices work together, each elevating the other. Rather than simply play their part, the musicians listen to and accompany each other. It is a live music experience in the purest sense. Created in front of you, the songs feel different each time they’re played. The Watkins Family Hour is a monthly residency that has spanned more than a decade, yet the show is still refreshing, unique, and anticipation for the next one never wanes.
The dynamic atmosphere is balanced with a sense of history and tradition. Whether you’re attending your first Watkins Family Hour show or your thirty-first, it feels as though you’ve been there since the beginning. The Watkins Family transports you to another time and place, where all there is to do is enjoy music and our time together.
There are no computers, fog machines, nor fancy lighting rigs. You may feel like you’ve been invited to a family gathering at one of their homes, especially when Sean and Sara sing while standing beneath a homemade snow machine, getting doused by white flakes. Last night, The Watkins Family reminded us not to take things too seriously and to embrace and express our childlike spirit. With the snow machine and humorous elves, they also gave us the gift of another inside joke and “you had to be there” moment.
There’s music, comedy, and last night, there was snow. You can’t Auto-Tune this and it won’t translate in virtual reality. The Watkins take you on a journey which, like life, is ever-changing and more fun to navigate with music, a sense of humor, and surrounded by family and good friends.
I’ve been listening exclusively to Nine Inch Nails since seeing them perform at Staples Center Friday night. It’s been a long time since a concert inspired me to do that. I’ve been listening to this band for more than 20 years and, even today, as I listen to Nine Inch Nails, I can hear new perspectives in the music. It’s dynamic and evolving. It’s the varying degrees of tension between the instruments and the space between the noise. If you step out of the literal and just listen to the music, you can hear something new every time.
There are back up singers in this line-up and when they sing, that’s one thing. When they scream, that’s another thing. These women – and everyone on that stage and associated with this production – are essential to the show. Everyone’s role is additive and complementary to the experience.
Rob Sheridan, Nine Inch Nails’ creative director, is brilliant. Trent Reznor has an amazing ability to recognize and embrace exceptionally talented people. The creative collaboration with Sheridan is signature to the Nine Inch Nails brand. You know what this music feels like as a result of the entire production; not just the sound.
And the sound is great, no matter where they play. Staples Center can be tricky with sound because it tends to bounce around the room. A Nine Inch Nails show – loud as it may be – will not send you home with ringing ears. There’s precision in the production.
If I could use one word to describe Nine Inch Nails, it would be “integrity”. Integrity of music, integrity of art, integrity of the relationship with their fans. This band keeps their promise every time. Even if you’re not a fan of the music, I recommend seeing Nine Inch Nails for the inspiration of the vision and the aspiration of being that committed to their art.
So yeah, the show was outstanding. Where the fuck were you??
Without knowing what shape, nor time, nor place it would happen, I’d been anticipating this night for four years. “I won’t let you down,” Trent Reznor assured everyone during Nine Inch Nails’ final show of the Wave Goodbye Tour, on September 10, 2009.
True to his word, Reznor has not disappointed. During the Nine Inch Nails “hiatus”, Reznor brilliantly scored 2 soundtracks, one of which landed him an Oscar. He also co-created How To Destroy Angels with his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, which included one of the most visually impressive productions I’ve witnessed. Rather than continuously churning out albums and tours as Nine Inch Nails, Reznor recognized he needed a break, focusing on other creative and personal endeavors. The creative freedom and perspective gained from his Nine Inch Nails “break” (arguably one of the most productive “breaks” on record), was evident during Tuesday night’s show.
For all in attendance, the Nine Inch Nails show at The Troubadour was a story of miracles.
Listening to the crowd prior to the show, provided hours of “how I got in” stories. One woman was determined to win tickets for her boyfriend, so he could see his favorite band on his birthday. Another woman described her meticulous strategy for winning tickets from radio stations, including the theory that land lines provide a better chance of winning than mobile phones. People described how they enlisted co-workers, friends, and relatives to help them pound the phones each time a KROQ DJ announced “one lucky caller” would win a pair of tickets.
Prior to the show, a man worked the line, offering people $800 a ticket. Perhaps he did eventually make his way in, but from what I saw, observing the first 100 people in line, he was met with one consistent response: silence and a definitive shake of the head, “no.” Money can buy a lot of things, but it can’t replace a once-in-a-lifetime Nine Inch Nails experience.
Everybody in attendance recognized and deeply appreciated the fact that they were seeing Nine Inch Nails at The Troubadour, an intimate venue, with rich history. The atmosphere prior to the show was gracious, celebratory, and invigorating. People didn’t wait until the show began to enjoy the experience. They’d been enjoying this night since the moment they knew they would be among a mere couple hundred people who would see Nine Inch Nails play The Troubadour.
A few minutes prior to 8:30pm, the energy inside the venue shifted. There was a collective understanding that this was the time to take care of any last minute needs or desires. People worked together, taking turns buying t-shirts, drinks, and making their final bathroom run of the evening.
When Nine Inch Nails hit the stage, it was explosive. Kicking the set off with “Somewhat Damaged”, the band and the crowd took the energy to otherworldly levels. The sound – despite its high volume – was crystal clear. There was no unintended distortion. The sound being as perfect as it was, I neglected to wear earplugs.
Yep, there were lights.
I wish I could describe what it felt like to be at The Troubadour when Nine Inch Nails played. We may have been inside a small venue, but from a production standpoint, this was no little show. One third of the balcony appeared to be taken over by the band’s equipment. When the show began, the neon “Troubadour” light behind the stage was dimmed. The audience was transported to a place they’d never been, even if they’d previously seen Nine Inch Nails a hundred times before.
That is among the reasons Nine Inch Nails is widely lauded as one of the best (if not the best) live bands in the world. No matter how many times you see them, every experience is unique, and the definition of “perfection” evolves.
For me, what stands out most is how much Trent Reznor cares and how apparent that is in everything he does. This is his life, his art, his passion. He cares about the experience as a whole, that people continually walk away, as I do, drenched in sweat and nearly speechless. Every show is unique, surprising, and absolutely mind, spirit, and energy altering.
Prior to the show, people speculated about the set list. The majority of fans suspected the band would play the new album, Hesitation Marks, straight through. Some elaborated that, following the new songs, Nine Inch Nails would certainly play some of their older material. This is what happens to music fans’ expectations when Nine Inch Nails leaves the scene. We become accustomed to, and expect that, every show is about pushing a new album or promoting something else entirely. That is how most bands would do it. That is how nearly every band I’ve seen this year has done it. That is the format we’ve grown accustomed to and accept.
This is how Nine Inch Nails did it at The Troubadour:
1. Somewhat Damaged
2. The Beginning of the End
3. Terrible Lie
4. March of the Pigs
6. The Line Begins to Blur
7. The Frail/ The Wretched
8. I’m Afraid of Americans (David Bowie cover)
9. Gave Up
12. The Warning
13. Find My Way
14. Came Back Haunted
18. The Hand That Feeds
19. Head Like a Hole
20. La Mer
For those who are less familiar with Nine Inch Nails’ discography, that’s a 21-song set list, including a mere three songs from the new album.
It almost seems as if Trent Reznor takes it as a personal responsibility to make people question – and raise – their expectations. Every time I see Nine Inch Nails I’m surprised, even though I shouldn’t be. They are my favorite band to see live. I know how good they are. I know what they’re capable of. Then, they remind me: no matter how much I think I know, no matter how high my expectations, Nine Inch Nails leaves me at a loss for words with their sheer brilliance and dedication.
Their energy never wanes. Likewise, there’s no ramp-up time. When the band first burst onto stage, I felt like I had been blown back twenty feet. There was a simultaneous sound and light explosion that removed the audience from whatever day it was, whatever they had been thinking about, wherever they were – physically and mentally – and transported them to another world.
Similarly, for Nine Inch Nails, the encore isn’t when they play their “biggest hits” or “fan favorites.” NIN takes the word “encore” literally – “another.” They return to the stage for more of what they’ve done – a mind-blowing level of making people lose their shit.
In addition to his integrity and dedication, Reznor exudes gratitude. With everything they do, Nine Inch Nails’ recognition of their fans is expressed. I walk away from each Nine Inch Nails show with an overwhelming feeling that the band truly appreciates each of us; not because Reznor says “thank you” numerous times, but because of the show itself.
Nine Inch Nails kicks off their U.S. tour later this month. See them if you’re able: http://tour.nin.com/
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.