Thanks to the many incarnations of Maynard James Keenan, 2012 was a spectacular year in live music. It began with TOOL at Mandalay Bay, then Puscifer in Escondido, and finally A Perfect Circle at Planet Hollywood. The way Maynard keeps the many expressions of himself and his art alive is astonishing and inspiring.
Bookending 2012 in Vegas made more sense as the year progressed. There are so many diverse events happening in Vegas that, on any given day, you can observe all kinds of people. There are those who go to Vegas for the sake of consumption and excess – a place where anything is acceptable. For some, Vegas is obligatory as they attend stale business conferences and witness their colleagues drinking themselves through the pain. Others show up for special events – fights, concerts, Cirque Du Soleil. Sometimes it’s hard to discern who’s who, but when fans of TOOL or A Perfect Circle descend upon Vegas, it’s clear who they are and why they’re there.
One of my highlights this year was the unified and uproarious crowd exit that followed the TOOL show at Mandalay Bay. For those whose year began with TOOL, the bar for excellence, entertainment, and art had just been simultaneously set and exceeded. . . again. You see TOOL and think, “It can’t better than TOOL.” Then you see TOOL again and realize the experience continually improves. TOOL can outdo TOOL.
The energetic conversation between the band and the crowd could not be contained within the 12,000 seat indoor arena in Vegas. A release was needed. As the crowd exited the venue, exploding through the tunneled halls and pouring out onto the casino floor, they walked with their hands in the air, cheering victoriously. Heads turned as those gambling thought they’d missed out on the largest winning jackpot ever awarded. When they saw us emerging from the venue as a unified, loud, mass, outfitted in black attire, their faces froze, jaw open, eyes wide. Those who thought they’d seen it all in Vegas had never experienced anything like this.
The energy of that TOOL show in January extended beyond the venue, after the show, consuming the casino floor. For a few moments, even those who didn’t buy tickets, knew what it feels like to see TOOL. There was an instant infusion of life and soul on the casino floor – as the crowd exiting TOOL became a living defibrillator.
That’s how you begin 2012.
How do you end the year? With A Perfect Circle. Again, in Vegas.
Everything Maynard does artistically is with intention. Regardless of whether any deeper meaning is gleaned from attending his shows, Maynard’s intent to provide an exceptional, all-consuming, experience is achieved consistently. If he toured incessantly, we may begin to take it for granted, but he doesn’t. We have time to experience other shows, to gain perspective and set benchmarks, solidifying our own expectations of what a show should deliver. Then, he reminds us of what a show can deliver. Don’t be surprised if you feel a bit ripped off from other experiences. Just be thankful you’re getting more than your money’s worth here.
One of the things that greatly contributes to the experience of A Perfect Circle is the way the audience shows up. Cameras are left at home, cell phones are put away, drinks are raised. People traveled from all over the country to be there. We met people who flew in from Colorado, Hawaii, Chicago, New York. I inquired, “Are you staying in Vegas for New Year’s?” Negative. Like us, they’d come to Vegas specifically to see A Perfect Circle. Many of them were leaving the following day.
As usual – for anything Maynard is involved in – the sound was impeccable. The sound envelops you, every cell touched and transported. I attend hundreds of concerts every year and experiencing sound this good is exceptionally rare. “How do they do it. . . every time?” “Why don’t others implement this level of care, commitment, and quality control?” I imagined Maynard – during soundcheck – standing at every single chair in the venue, making sure the sound was heard precisely as intended in each location. That was my mind trying to rationalize how perfect it was.
Sprinkled throughout the setlist, cover songs. Seven of the eighteen songs performed by A Perfect Circle Saturday night were covers. John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, Depeche Mode, Black Flag, and more, as interpreted and articulated by A Perfect Circle. Each song, a perfect complement to the setlist as a whole. A story was told, the interpretation up to each member of the audience.
The band – Billy Howerdel, James Iha, Matt McJunkins, and Jeff Friedl – musicianship at its finest. I don’t wear a watch and A Perfect Circle extracts you from space and time, so I can’t tell you how long the show was. I can tell you they never stopped. They’ll tell you it’s because they’re “lazy” that they don’t walk off stage, take advantage of the obligatory encore break. In reality, they have to be far from lazy in order to sustain that level of energy and musicianship, without a break. There was one break – a time out for jokes – called by Maynard. Humor is present throughout the show, so designating a time for jokes was in and of itself a joke.
As with every A Perfect Circle, TOOL, and Puscifer show I’ve attended, what the audience takes away is up to them. Similar to a painting or a sculpture, the creation is the artist’s, the interpretation belongs to the spectator. There’s no screen telling you what to think or feel, no slogans printed on t-shirts to add context. At minimum, when you see A Perfect Circle, you’ll walk away knowing you’ve experienced an exceptional rock show.
For me, wrapping 2012 with A Perfect Circle was apropos. As we end one year and venture into the next, the themes of community, solidarity, and ego-destruction rang loud. The show felt celebratory – we made it another year, another day, another minute, we’re still here, together; reflective – what will we bring to the table to improve the future?; and promising – we have a lot to look forward to and to continue to create.
Watkins Family Hour is the perfect show leading up to the holidays. With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, Sean and Sara Watkins’ sheer talent, along with a healthy dose of murder ballads are welcome reminders of how blessed we are to be alive.
Once a month, for a decade now, The Watkins have been bringing their guitars, fiddles, and friends to Largo for what has long been one of my favorite shows in LA.
They often share the stage with some other people you may recognize, including Fiona Apple, Dawes, Jackson Browne, Van Dyke Parks, and John C Reilly. Yet, Sean and Sara are the foundation of the show and even if no on else were to join them on stage, they’d still have one of the best shows in town.
To play the way these siblings do requires that they actually listen to each other, constantly. It’s as if the universe has simultaneously presented them with a brilliant gift and ever-present joke – you’ll make great music together, but you have to get along. Perhaps that’s why the only detectable sibling rivalry seems to stem from their sense of humor. The murder ballads are balanced by Sean and Sara one-upping each other with witty observations. Their snarky sense of humor showdowns are a testament to how much they respect each other, as family, as musicians, as friends. Eventually, one of them acquiesces, “Ok, that was good!” and they jump into the next song.
The Watkins Family band is unparalleled: Benmont Tench on piano, Sebastian Steinberg on bass, Don Heffington on drums, and Greg Leisz on steel pedal guitar. It’s worth attending this show monthly, for the musicianship and camaraderie alone. Throw in a lot of laughs, some special guests, frequent surprises (dancing bears and such), and the perfect venue, The Watkins Family Hour is an exceptionally worthwhile way to spend an evening.
Last night’s show was no exception. Although I attend The Watkins Family Hour monthly, I’m always moved – as if I’m experiencing it for the first time – by how uplifting The Watkins’ shows are. The shows vary significantly from month to month, but some things are consistent: beautiful voices, blended with remarkable musicianship and laughter.
The next Watkins Family Hour takes place on December 19th at Largo. Sadly, it’s the one show this year I have to miss. Luckily for you, that means there will be a couple extra tickets available. I highly recommend you get tickets in advance and round out 2012 with what is sure to be an amazing and memorable evening.
For those of you not in LA – and those of you in LA who would like to re-live some of the shows – there are 7 free podcasts of The Watkins Family Hour at iTunes. Episode 7, recorded on an iPhone due to a power outage, is the show I wrote about here. It remains among my favorite lifetime experiences to date.
Thank you for another wonderful year, Watkins Family. I’m still campaigning to have a “Season Tickets” package available for purchase.
Late last year I saw Black Box Revelation open a show at The Wiltern. I had to reference Google to remember what show it was, but I had no problem remembering Black Box Revelation.
What struck me about their show at The Wiltern was its authenticity. It didn’t feel like it was about money or fame, a “hit” nor a label. With Jan Paternoster and Dries Van Dijck (Black Box Revelation) it was simply: music. After that initial show, I vowed to see them the next time they came to L.A.
October 17th was a particularly busy night in Los Angeles, musically speaking. There were, at minimum, five competing shows I would have liked to see. Depending on the set times and the distance between venues – if you’re not drinking – it is possible to see 2-3 shows in one night in Los Angeles. I’ve done it before, but on this particular Wednesday night I was drinking and I was determined to see one band: Black Box Revelation, at The Troubadour.
When Paternoster and Van Dijck started playing, I forgot about all the other places I had considered going, the other bands I might have seen. There was a reason I vowed to see Black Box Revelation the next time they played in L.A. and I was rewarded for sticking to the plan.
Perhaps it’s because they hail from Brussels where, I imagine, if you’re playing music, it’s truly for the sake of playing music. It could be the lack of props and a light show that keeps the focus on the music. Or, maybe it’s the way some people compare them to The Black Keys and The White Stripes, which makes sense in that they play rock music and it feels familiar. Yet, Black Box Revelation is different. Perhaps the familiar feeling is the comfort that comes with consistency in quality.
During the course of two shows, I’ve identified numerous things I find appealing about Black Box Revelation, yet they still maintain a sense of mystery. Not only do they play rock & roll music, they are rock & roll, to the core. Their music is your invitation into their world. The rest is up to you. Don’t expect this band to put out a lyrics video. They won’t stop the show to explain the meaning of the next song they’re going to play. They don’t hard-sell you to visit the merch table. Black Box Revelation doesn’t insult your intelligence. They trust you’ll get it.
Before the music business there was music. Black Box Revelation is keeping that era alive.
Somebody should have recorded the sound of the crowd following the first encore. I think that would best express what happened when David Byrne, St. Vincent, and their phenomenal brass band performed at The Greek Theatre Saturday night.
In fact, if that’s all you heard about the show – the sound of the audience as it concluded – that should be enough to get you to seek out a time and a place to catch this tour. David Byrne and St. Vincent took the notion of a “concert” and created something so unique it shouldn’t be classified. It was more like a spectacular dream than anything else you’d have experienced musically.
The evening unfolded, surprising and unique, every step of the way. It’d probably serve you best not to seek out the videos captured on cell phones, the set list, nor look at photos posted on Instagram. Even if you come away thinking you know what this show is about, you won’t know until you experience it. It’s so special that I’m only going to share bits and pieces.
Even if I wanted to, I don’t have more photos to share. I couldn’t be bothered to take more than 3 pictures. It was all I could do not to spill my wine, I was so mesmerized. Here’s what I can tell you:
From the moment the audience entered the amphitheater, they were part of the experience, before the “show” began. This provided the opportunity to transition out of the day, beyond traffic, parking, the world at large, and into “the night” (as interpreted by David Byrne and St. Vincent).
The songs danced in harmony with the voices in my head. We’re not alone in this world, especially when you consider the beautiful absurdity of it all.
Annie Clark (“St. Vincent”) is phenomenal.
The one woman in the audience who was encouraging people to sit down was sorely outnumbered. She eventually stood up.
This is a show that’s worth paying more for, in order to have seats closer to the stage. You can always watch the video monitors, but you’re going to want to see their feet.
Byrne and Clark don’t appear to perform music. Music appears to perform them. You can see every note winding its way through each of them. The music takes form inside of them, before it’s articulated into sound externally.
There are certain tones in music that hit corresponding points in the body. You can feel the notes move through you and understand how they move through Byrne and Clark. It’s a two-way conversation, this David Byrne/St. Vincent show.
If you’ve been listening to their album, Love This Giant, this show’s arrangement will be an additional treat for you.