March 4, 2010
Rooftop parking lot
Downtown Los Angeles
Broken Bells Record Release Laser Light Show
If, when Broken Bells created this, they imagined how happy and grateful they could possibly make somebody feel, I feel even better than that. And by “created this” I mean: not only the Record Release Laser Light Show Drive-In, but the music, the art, and the experience of it all.
This is what music is
It’s an experience
That’s why people are going back to vinyl
They want to touch something
They miss the experience
It’s a community
They want to be part of something
At 8:00pm tonight Broken Bells took over a roof-top parking lot in downtown Los Angeles for a drive-in style laser light show, synchronized to their debut album. And it wasn’t just fancy shapes and pretty colors – it was an actual choreographed, scripted, 3D, laser light music video for each song, weaving several stories together into an album. It took time. It was thoughtful. It added meaning. It moved me. It gave me renewed hope for music. . .
Y’know, U2 has this whole “360” spaceship show. And it’s visually spectacular. But it feels like they did it just to be big, to do something nobody’s done before, to be larger than life. And that’s respectable, on its own. But it didn’t feel all that relevant to the music. It was just an awesome visual show. . . oh, and also. . . there was music. It’s costing $750,000/day to keep that tour going and the carbon impact can’t be good.
Don’t get upset – I’m not giving U2 shit (and this will come full-circle back to Broken Bells). I love U2. I like to get lost in Larry Mullen Jr.’s drumming. The drums in U2 songs are some of the best there are. I love that The Edge created a sound that is unmistakably his, and therefore, unmistakably the band’s. I love watching Adam Clayton swinging that bass around like it’s his dance partner. And Bono, your voice is great. . . So, you don’t need to go flying through the air on an illuminated neon megaphone. It doesn’t add anything to the music. In fact, if you re-read my review of that show (which I think is very complimentary), it doesn’t speak all that much about the music. It’s mostly about the visual aspect as a stand-alone experience. I already got my ticket for U2’s next spaceship 360 show in the LA area, but I’d rather see the show I just described.
House abducted by spaceship
What Danger Mouse and The Shins‘ James Mercer (aka Broken Bells) created tonight added something to the music. What Nine Inch Nails creates adds something to the music. What Portugal. The Man creates adds something to the music. What Radiohead creates adds something to the music. What The Soundtrack of Our Lives creates adds something to the music. There are Artists doing it every day (including U2 – I just don’t think the current tour is the best example of it). And it’s great. I only mention these other Artists within a Broken Bells review to illustrate that there are many paths to creating an exceptional experience. Not right or wrong. Some more about the music than others. From one of the biggest bands in the world, to a brand new concept, to a band you may not have heard of but you will know them when you see them. . .
It's too late to change your mind
Danger Mouse gets it. He does it every time. He knows what’s happening. He knows where we’re headed. He’s a little ahead of the game, so not everyone is going to get it at first.
Tonight’s event left me feeling like Broken Bells created this as part of the music; that they originally set out to do exactly this. It wasn’t just an afterthought; it’s more than simply a cool way to promote something. They didn’t want to just make a record – they wanted to create a mutil-sensory experience. I’d love to know more. Perhaps an interview at SXSW?
Broken Bells 03-09-10
On March 9, 2010 (that’s Tuesday), we really should buy the Broken Bells album. Some of us can buy extras for those who can’t afford to buy one, but everybody should have one.
PS – The Broken Bells Laserium glasses are the gift that keep on giving. And they didn’t even exploit the opportunity to paste some marketing message on them — they knew I’d remember where I got them.
One of my friends asked me what I was doing tonight. When I told him I was going to see Wolfmother, he responded, “Wolfmother? I don’t know what that is, but I wanna go.” And that’s why I’m friends with that guy – he knows a good thing when he hears it.
Maybe it’s due to my long holiday away from live music . . . Or perhaps it’s just the fact that Wolfmother is an outstanding band, but that was one hell of a show. The audience was among the best I’ve seen in LA – clapping, stomping, jumping throughout every song. If they weren’t already standing, the audience would have given a standing ovation after every song. There were times it looked as if the band was thinking, “Wait – is this our encore?” during the thunderous applause and cheering that followed every song. No, no. . . that’s just your third song, but you played it like it was an encore and the audience responded with the same level of enthusiasm. Wolfmother played every song as if it were their banner hit – a larger than life, extremely energetic and passionate performance start to finish.
Wolfmother played every song as if it were an encore performance
I wonder if Wolfmother knows this was the best show they’ve ever played. I wonder if, from the band’s perspective, this was an exceptional show. . . or have they all been this good? Andrew Stockdale’s voice, guitar solos, and dynamic stage presence took the show to another level. At one point, Ian Peres was playing keyboards with his right hand and bass with his left hand, simultaneously. At another point, Peres was playing keyboards and his feet weren’t touching the ground at all. Peres frequently needed to untangle himself from the cable he’d gotten caught up in while tearing around the stage.
Andrew Stockdale and Slash
Wolfmother weren’t the only ones tearing around the stage. During the encore Stockdale invited Slash out to play “By The Sword.” Whatever the audience was doing before Slash hit the stage, they turned up 300 notches when he did take the stage.
This was the last show of Wolfmother’s U.S. tour. Wolfmother doesn’t just get up there and play — they GET UP THERE AND PLAY!
And the fans continued screaming and cheering as they traversed the parking garage, on the way to their cars.
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.
The last time I was at the Henry Fonda Theater it was to see Nine Inch Nails’s second-to-last concert (theoretically) ever. NIN absolutely destroyed the place! Not cosmetically, but existentially. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever experienced. They took all my previously fond memories of past concerts at that venue, crumpled them up, and made them seem like insignificant moments in time. A reader posted the following comment on my review of the Nine Inch Nails show at Henry Fonda Theater:
September 11, 2009 at 6:37pm
They should just burn down the Fonda, because there will never be a better show there again.
If they leave it standing they should no longer be allowed to have any more concerts there. b-ill-one
I’m not condoning arson, but I couldn’t have agreed more. Something so outstanding took place that night that the Henry Fonda could have closed its doors forever and nobody would question it.
Fever Ray at Henry Fonda Theater
Well, it’s a good thing they stayed open because, tonight, Fever Ray resurrected the Fonda ghosts and turned that venue upside-down. . . again. Does that make it right-side up now? If so, then the Henry Fonda is back in business.
I will admit that between opening acts I looked up at the stage and nostalgically felt that Nine Inch Nails show all over again.
But the instant Fever Ray hit the stage, all thoughts dissipated as the characters (aka the band) – led by Karin Elisabeth Dreijer Andersson (formerly, The Knife) – transformed the Henry Fonda Theater once again. Fever Ray’s full, layered sound filled the room, complemented by the pulsing laser show. There were costumes and face paint, and fans swayed in reverence.
I don’t believe a word was spoken on stage between songs and if so, I was too entranced to notice. You didn’t just hear the music, watch the lights, see the smoke – you felt the music, felt the lights, felt the smoke (some more than others).
This has been one of the most anticipated shows in LA since the tour was announced on May 12, 2009. It may remain among the most talked-about until May 12, 2010. . . or whenever Fever Ray returns.
By the way, speaking of Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor was at the show tonight, but nobody seemed to care. Every now and then somebody returning from the bar or restroom would say, “Hey – Trent Reznor’s here!” And without turning their head, without shifting their eyes, the friend would respond, “yeah. . . ”
So this is what it’s like to go to a Fever Ray show: your friend can tell you that your hero just walked in the room, and as if you were talking about the color of the carpet, you’d say, “yeah. . . cool.”
I’ve seen a few shows since and scattered in between the final Nine Inch Nails concerts.
The reason I haven’t written about these shows is that they pale in comparison to the NIN experiences of the past week. The musicians I’ve seen are all very talented – exceptionally talented – and they deserve more than an uninspired review from me.
NIN Wave Goodbye at The Wiltern
In some ways NIN has f*cked up music by being so good. If you don’t think so, spend some time with their albums. The songs are layered, large, intense, spacious, melodic, unpredictable, calming, and frenetic. They are true compositions. The stories and lyrics are timeless, allowing the meaning of the songs to evolve as we do. That’s why songs written 20 years ago maintain the impact they would have if they were written today. Making music of this magnitude allows the band to launch innovative extensions of the songs – full-blown characters and story-lines, a potential TV series, DRM-free video files for infinite fan-created remixes. It also allows them to refrain from lyrics altogether and to release strictly instrumental compositions and projects such as Ghosts.
So, when I walked into a store this weekend and they were playing some diluted pop-hip-hop “song” I had to leave. I don’t know what song it was – I didn’t recognize it and I certainly wasn’t going to hang out in the store to find out. I actually found the “music” insulting. It was manufactured, meaningless, and lacking soul. Summer camp songs have more depth than some of the stuff that’s currently on the radio.
Perhaps part of the reason people aren’t buying music the way they used to is because much of it just isn’t that good. It was crafted quickly and in a formulaic fashion to be a “radio hit”. It lacks depth and therefore timeless endurance. Which means people are paying for songs that they may like for a couple months to a year, until they themselves outgrow it or it gets overplayed on the radio. What makes it even harder to sell music like that is that some of the best bands of our time – Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails – give their music away for free. Why pay for crap when you can get the good stuff for free? By the way, I think Radiohead and NIN are genius for doing this.
Last night the VMAs were on. I didn’t watch them. I didn’t have to. Every trending topic on Twitter was VMA-related. Friends, colleagues, and musicians were updating their Facebook status with commentary about the VMAs. And what I learned from reading enough sub-140 character descriptions of the show is that I didn’t miss a thing. The people who were ranting about the show for hours, they’re the ones who missed something. . .
Taking it a step further – hopefully you’ve seen Nine Inch Nails live. They’re now taking an indefinite break from touring and while it’s understandable and admirable, it still feels like a loss. The band will continue to make music in some form together and as individuals with other bands, but for the foreseeable future they will not be touring together.
Trent addressing somebody in the audience
I think what makes them so good is that they’re so real. While there may be light shows and spectacle, the authenticity of each moment is felt by the audience. I’m not sure the crowd even feels like an “audience” – from my perspective, the audience is hugely participatory in creating the experience of Nine Inch Nails shows. This is one example of a consistent energy exchange between musician on stage and fan in the crowd that is felt by all. The set list changes dramatically every night. New songs may be added, without the ideal rehearsal time, keeping the band on their toes so the performances don’t feel like performances. It actually feels like the band is playing the songs and it’s the first time you’re seeing them live (even if you’ve seen them dozens of times).
Trent is also a perfectionist – more for the fans than for himself. If a song isn’t going off right on stage, if there are technical difficulties, if he isn’t authentically feeling his performance in that moment, he’ll bag it. Additionally, NIN has a tendency to make even bad-sounding venues sound good. While the audio quality on some of the live videos I shot isn’t good (due to the technical limitations of the equipment I was using), in-person, at every show, Nine Inch Nails delivers impeccable sound. It’s one of the few concerts I’ve never had to wear earplugs to. And that says a lot when you consider how loud and “noisy” some may consider their music to be. But that goes back to the composition – it’s not really “noisy” – it’s layer upon layer of sound. And Trent wants you to hear all of that, so they present it live with the perfect mix. . . every time.
Nine Inch Nails at Santa Barbara Bowl, NIN/JA Tour
They are so exceptional live that even seeing another “great band” just doesn’t hold up. I remember seeing NIN at the Santa Barbara Bowl during this Summer’s NIN/JA tour. The first thing that struck me about that show is that they were playing outside, during the daylight. What, no lights? So many people look forward to NIN’s light shows and seem to feel they’re integral to the whole experience. And yet, when you see them without all that spectacle, you’re reminded of their sheer talent. They don’t need lights or visual effects. All they need to do is play.
Nine Inch Nails was “opening” (although, it was billed as “co-headlining”) for Jane’s Addiction. Now, Jane’s Addiction is a really good band. I’ve seen several great Jane’s concerts during the past decade. There are some amazing musicians in that band – Stephen Perkins and Dave Navarro are some of my favorites. Perry Farrell is a wonderful performer. He’s dynamic, energetic, dramatic – a true showman, an amazing front-man. And yet, when Nine Inch Nails finished their opening set, I looked at my friends and said, “I love Jane’s Addiction, but we may need to leave. I don’t know how they’re going to come anywhere close to that!” In the end, we stayed throughout Jane’s set and we had a good time. They were fun. They sounded great. But Nine Inch Nails. . .
One show I did go see this past week was the closing show of the season at The Hollywood Bowl – Seu Jorge and Bebel Gilberto, with the LA Philharmonic. That was nice. It’s outdoors, at one of my favorite venues, and it’s enough of a departure from what I usually see that there was no potential for comparison. I did briefly contemplate the idea of Trent playing Ghosts (perhaps all 4 current volumes, or the new ones that are due to come out) with the LA Philharmonic at some point. Then the fireworks began and brought me back to the present moment.
There’s not much to say. Last night marked the final performance for Nine Inch Nails for the foreseeable future and I was standing 5 feet from the stage. It doesn’t get much better than that. In fact, it might not get any better than that. Unless, of course, NIN says “just kidding” and start touring again next year.
The thing is – it didn’t seem to matter where you were standing for this show – everybody who was there was just happy to be there. I saw a post from a woman who was in the furthest seat back in the balcony and she sounds as moved and excited as me.
It hasn’t really hit me yet that this is the last time we’ll be seeing this band perform live, especially since I got used to seeing them almost every-other day during these final four shows. I even ran out of black t-shirts to wear. I’ll post some videos, pictures, and the setlist below, but let’s start at the beginning.
Any Nine Inch Nails show is an experience, but the experience of this show began with fans trying to get tickets during the original on-sale and people traveling in from around the world to be at what was actually supposed to be the second-to-last show ever. As evidenced on the tour posters and shirts, the schedule changed last-minute when Trent became too sick to perform following the initial show at The Palladium. This meant the Henry Fonda (2nd) and Wiltern (3rd) shows had to be rescheduled. The Echoplex show, which was originally billed as the final show, went on as scheduled last Sunday, making it the 2nd show instead of the last show. Confused? Imagine how the bosses, family members, spouses and friends of all the people who took time off work, traveled across the country (or from other countries), and camped outside days before each show felt! I met people who couldn’t tell their family they were in town from Chicago because they surely wouldn’t understand why they popped over to LA for a day to see Nine Inch Nails, but haven’t visited the family in a year. But in the end it all worked out. Trent was well enough to perform the shows the way Nine Inch Nails is known and will be remembered for, and some fans who couldn’t previously get tickets were able to get into the rescheduled shows (although others who originally planned to be there had to return home to their jobs and families).
Speaking of family – Nine Inch Nails fans are family in a way that I haven’t experienced with any other band. There are definitely communities of fans that become friends through their shared love of a band. And jam band fans in particular run into each other while following their favorite band around the country. But Nine Inch Nails fans might as well be blood relatives. They look out for each other and NIN in a way that only a protective family member would. And the band does the same for their fans. In a fairly successful attempt to eliminate the scalping of tickets for these shows, Nine Inch Nails controlled all ticket sales, limited 2 tickets per person, printed the buyer’s name on the tickets, required ID of the buyer for ticket pick up, both the buyer and the buyer’s guest had to be present to pick up the tickets and then a wristband was placed on both people for entrance into the show. When the band found out that somebody was purchasing large quantities of event shirts and selling them on eBay (causing shirts to sell out at the venue before the fans who were there could purchase one), they limited people to one t-shirt per customer. And although they announced their Summer tour would be their last, Nine Inch Nails realized the impact this would have on their fans and added these final intimate club dates as a proper send-off. And then they played their souls out.
A small section of the line that spanned for blocks
Driving up to The Wiltern was quite a sight. I passed by the venue Wednesday at midnight and there were already a good 15 – 20 people camping outside. Dave Navarro also stopped by, brought water and snacks for the fans, and hung out for a bit. Then, by 2:00pm Thursday, the line wrapped around the block so that you could look through the alley and wave to the people waiting on the next street over.
The funniest thing to see were these huge straw patio umbrellas that several people seemed to have. It was HOT outside and once people discovered that Ralph’s sold patio furniture, they cleaned them out. Straw patio umbrellas were only $8 and they sold out in a flash. This was also one of the few places where the line for the men’s restroom was longer than the women’s. At one point, a guy drove by, blasting Lady GaGa. If you drive by hundreds of Nine Inch Nails fans, with Lady GaGa as your soundtrack, you deserve the ridicule you receive. There was a fan who walked up and down the line, giving everybody candy. “I’ve stood in this line 3 times (for the previous shows). I know how it is,” she said. Somebody asked me, “is there a show happening here?” I answered, “no” – you’ve got to be at least one step ahead of that for me to respond to you seriously. Somebody asked a guy next to me “who’s playing?” and the guy, who had been answering that question since he arrived at 7:30am said, “Michael Jackson.” Now, you might not think that’s funny. But the person’s response was, “oh – cool!” and that’s either funny or scary. Then, there’s the “t-shirt douche” – the guy who bought NIN event shirts en mass and tried to sell them on eBay for more than $200 each. As soon as fans figured out who this guy was they took a picture of him and posted it online (along with some additional descriptive graphics added in Photoshop). They shared it on Twitter and in the NIN forums and told everybody to be on the lookout for the “t-shirt douche.” But what was even better than that is that people passed out fliers with the guy’s picture on it while everybody was waiting in line. So now you have a line of several hundred people, holding these fliers that look like an R-rated version of an “America’s Most Wanted” poster and what happens? The “douche” walks by, head down, as fans call him out and require him to leave. Do not f*ck with Nine Inch Nails fans.
Once inside, there were the celebrity sightings: Tony Hawk, Ron Jeremy (for whom the crowd chanted and cheered), Rick Rubin, Tony Kanal (No Doubt), and Penn Jillette. But mostly there was the anticipation, excitement, and a bit of sadness that loomed in the air as everybody waited for Nine Inch Nails to take the stage for the last time. The show was amazing. All of these shows have been. I’m actually afraid to see live music for a little while because it’s going to take a lot to move me after this.
There are Artists, Musicians, Singers, Composers, Performers, and Songwriters. Some people are only one of those; Trent Reznor is all of them. He writes some of the most beautifully composed music you’ll hear. His music constricts and expands, extremely intense at times and then giving you space to breathe and expand with the notes. He has the ability to take all those sounds he hears in his head, and to articulate and translate them into something I can hear, process, and that moves my soul. His voice is exquisite – speaking and singing – I could listen to him for days. He’s honest and raw and 100% who he is – whether you (or he) like it or not – which makes his performances as real and authentic as they get. He’s given us 20 years of exceptional music and outstanding live performances. Even if you don’t like him, you gotta love him.
Numan and Reznor
The set list was 3-4 pages in length and they played for over 3 hours. Dave Navarro joined for a couple songs, as did The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mike Garson (Bowie), and Gary Numan. When they came out for the second encore Trent asked the crowd, “Are you guys tired?” Of course the crowd screamed “no!” and cheered. “No? Ok, I’m gonna test you.”
Although I don’t typically post set lists, I’m doing it for these shows because they’re the last shows and you can tell that a lot went into constructing a set in-line with such an event. So here it is:
2. Somewhat Damaged
3. The Collector
5. March of the Pigs
6. Something I Can Never Have
7. The Frail
8. The Wretched
10. Head Down
12. Just Like You Imagined (with Mike Garson)
13. La Mer (with Mike Garson)
14. Eraser (with Mike Garson)
15. The Becoming (with Mike Garson)
16. Down In The Park (Gary Numan cover) (with Gary Numan)
17. Metal (Gary Numan cover) (with Gary Numan)
18. I Die: You Die (Gary Numan cover) (with Gary Numan)
20. Letting You
22. Suck (Pigface cover)
23. Down In It
24. The Hand That Feeds
25. Head Like a Hole
26. Me, I’m Not (with Atticus Ross)
27. The Warning
29. Gave Up
30. Mr. Self Destruct
32. Atmosphere (Joy Division cover)
33. Dead Souls (Joy Division cover)
34. The Good Soldier
35. The Day The World Went Away
37. In This Twilight
Here are some videos and photos from last night’s show, including Trent’s final speech to the audience. But first, a thank you to Nine Inch Nails for the past 20 years, the music, the shows, the love, the heartbreak, and the friends met along the way. Look forward to hearing what you guys do next.