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/
Earlier today, a publicist friend of mine suggested I request press credentials for a forthcoming, new, music festival. “They’ll look at my site and see that I haven’t updated it in months,” I replied. It’s what I said at the outset: I’m not going to write about every show I see, but I will write about the shows I think everyone should experience.
One of the benefits of seeing Joseph Arthur play multiple times is that you simultaneously experience and witness continuous transformation. Listening to Joe play songs from his latest album, The Ballad of Boogie Christ, takes you further along the journey, while maintaining a connection to his beginnings. There’s a through-line that creates the foundation for the audience to step into the next adventure.
Walking onto the stage, in a white suit that appears to have remnants of a painting which extended beyond its original canvas, Joseph Arthur epitomizes “artist.” Appearing as though he sought out the shortest route from the art studio to the stage, he is perpetually creating. The stage becomes his art studio, whether he’s literally painting while singing (as he’s done previously), or playing a new arrangement of an older song (as he did several times tonight).
This show feels and sounds vastly different from other Joseph Arthur shows. It’s clear that this is a new chapter. There are far fewer pedals and more musicians on stage. The show is upbeat, soulful, and rooted in rock. The songs build to a crescendo and you’re enveloped in sound.
When Joseph Arthur plays, it’s more than a concert – he begins with a blank canvas and takes you on a journey. There are nods to the past, the future is optimistic, and you’re grounded – with him – in the present. As with life and relationships, every show is unique. You are part of the experience.
The venue is intimate, but the sound is big. At times it felt as though we were in a stadium, witnessing an immense rock show. “I intentionally didn’t bring a harmonica or acoustic guitar this time,” Joe told me. The instruments have changed; the sound accompanies and embraces the change. The show is infused with passion, love, dedication, and a reminder of what it means to truly be alive.
Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, we are constantly changing. The ideas, beliefs, and ways of life that keep us happy, healthy, and fulfilled, follow suit. When we’re aware of and welcome the changes, we liberate ourselves – we allow ourselves to be the dynamic individuals that we are. We’re present in every moment, constantly creating, being as we are, without attachment.
Walking away from a show, reminded of some of life’s greatest gifts – the ability to create, continuously evolve, and express different incarnations of ourselves during the same lifetime – is definitely worth the price of admission. Not to mention, the music and experience itself is incomparable.
Keep an eye on his tour page and see Joseph Arthur live when the opportunity arises.
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.
You would actually think that something as absurd as owls taking over the city was happening in LA tonight, based on the hype surrounding this gig. There were several other compelling shows going on simultaneously this evening, but if you were anywhere other than the Troubadour, then it’s probably because you couldn’t get in to see Owl City.
Let’s start with their upcoming tour dates, because you will probably want to see this band. If you check out the Tour section of Owl City’s website, the first thing you’ll notice is that the remainder of the shows on this leg of the tour are sold out. . . and then they’re leaving the country (don’t worry – they’ll be back mid-December). Next thing you’ll see is that a couple shows have been moved to larger venues “due to high demand.”
Y’know, the music business is struggling, but these guys are doin’ alright.
By “these guys” I mean Adam Young. Young began writing music in his basement and claims, “These songs are all I have to show for my sleepless nights.” Luckily for all of his fans, Young suffers from insomnia and writes music when he can’t sleep. (I write reviews about insomniac musicians when I can’t sleep). The result of Young’s sleeplessness is 3 albums, the most recent of which, Ocean Eyes, debuted at #27 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart. The fact that Young doesn’t sleep much means that most of his dreams are technically “day dreams” and many of his lyrics illicit cartoon-like imagery.
It’s no wonder Young can’t sleep, with all those dancy synth-pop sounds running through his head. Owl City’s sound does have a dreamy feel to it and Young’s lyrics speak to his young audience. “I brush my teeth and look in the mirror and LOL as I’m beaming from ear to ear” Young sings in “Dental Care.” Yes, it’s a song about maintaining good dental hygiene.
Owl City fans "put your hands up"
Having lyrics Young’s audience can relate to meant that the crowd sang along like a choir during several songs (see videos below). When it was time to clap along, everybody in the audience threw their hands in the air and clapped passionately. They weren’t just clapping to keep the beat, they were clapping as if something spectacular was going to fall from the sky if they were able to express enough enthusiasm. The crowd danced, smiled, and sang almost as much as Young himself. And instead of cheering for an encore in general, Owl City fans chanted “Fireflies” loud enough that other bands, playing at other venues in LA probably heard the request and got confused.
While the audience played the role of accompanying band expertly, Young was also joined on stage by Breanne Duren on keyboards and
backing vocals. Duren played, sang, and danced with a childlike presence, as if she were truly skipping through Young’s day dreams, while helping to create the soundtrack. As Young bounced between guitar and keyboards himself, he was also backed by a drummer, cellist, and violinist, whom doubled as back-up dancers when they weren’t playing their instruments.
At an Owl City show you get to have as much fun as the band. You get to dance and hop around as if you’re 4 years old. You leave feeling lighter, younger, and happier, with tunes running through your head that will keep you up all night.
John Baldwin Gourley, Jason Sechrist, Ryan Neighbors, and Zachary Scott Carothers – they call themselves Portugal. The Man but they may want to consider calling themselves Portugal. The Man!!!
Now I know what everybody’s been talking about. . .
Well, let me clarify – not everybody is talking yet. The show was sold-out, not a celebrity (that I’m aware of) in sight. The Troubadour was packed with actual die-hard, screaming, chanting, singing, moshing, fans. Give it time – this band is sure to become a Hollywood favorite, and before you know it Drew Barrymore will be rocking right alongside you.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Drew – she actually likes music and enjoys the shows. It’s the “celebrities” that arrive 37 minutes late and then give you dirty looks because they can’t hear their cell phone conversation over your cheering. . . let’s not tell them about Portugal. The Man, ok? Because they will want to be there. Everybody is going to want to be there when they find out what they’ve been missing. The show was epic and it’s only a matter of time until the masses find out, but for now, Portugal. The Man is the best-kept secret around.
They’re not a secret to everyone. Once you get inside you realize you’re being introduced to something that others have known about for some time. People greet you with looks that communicate: “Oh good. You finally made it.” and “Get ready. You’re in for something. . .” and “Where have you been?! You must be an idiot for not knowing about these guys sooner, but I’m glad you’re here now.” And rightfully so. . .
John Baldwin Gourley
There’s something that overtakes you the moment these guys hit the stage. You become part of this Portugal. The Man experience. You can’t stop moving, dancing, clapping, screaming. And we’re talking about LA – a city I love, but one whose residents (myself included) are so spoiled by the access they have to great entertainment that often times they just stand (or worse yet, sit) at a show, never more than a nod of a head and a polite clap. I’ve seen it happen to some of the biggest and best bands in the world. Well, that’s not happening to Portugal. The Man.
Zachary Scott Carothers
Gourley plays guitar masterfully and sings with considerable range and uncompromised passion. So you’re tempted to just want to stand there and watch him, but you can’t ignore the bass line Carothers throws down and you can’t believe he can play bass while practically doing a full back-bend. Then Neighbors takes a break from the keys and brings
further force to the music, with additional percussion. All the while Sechrist grounds the songs and the experience as he takes command of the drums. The lights are synced to the beat of the music (which is important to note if you have any hope of capturing a decent photograph of the band while they’re playing) and the crowd can’t contain themselves. Needless to say, if you wanted to just stand there and watch, there would be plenty to hold your attention. But I don’t think it’s possible to stand still at a Portugal. The Man show, and I can’t imagine that you’d want to.
Transforming The Troubadour
If you’ve heard their music and you haven’t seen them live, go see them. Travel to another city if you need to. If you haven’t heard their music, it doesn’t matter – go see Portugal. The Man – you won’t regret it. Here are their tour dates – you have no excuse.
P.TM - a religious experience
Some people will describe a show as a “religious experience”. I’ve been to a lot of mind-blowing, extraordinary shows, but I’ve yet to describe one as “religious.” Perhaps that’s because I wasn’t raised with much religion and those who were don’t speak very highly of it. . . But assuming a “religious experience” is a good thing, that it’s transformative, that it overtakes you, that you forget where you are, that you forget who you are, that for a moment nothing else matters – well, then seeing Portugal. The Man live is a religious experience.
Last night I was fortunate enough to attend Sondre Lerche‘s sold-out show at The Troubadour. Before we jump into the details, here’s what I learned during the show:
It’s all about simplicity – you don’t need a lot of equipment. . . or any equipment at all
The better you are, the less you need to sing
Sex sells. . . tickets and merch
Sondre Lerche at The Troubadour
Lerche is a musician from Norway whose U.S. career launched in 2002, and who continues to sell out shows and merch – how does he do it?
I first discovered Lerche in 2002, when Faces Down came out. It was during my Largo era (they’re not music snobs. . . they just have better taste than you). I used to spend several nights a week at Largo, hanging out with the sophisticated music insiders, which gave me an early awareness of all the truly talented emerging artists on the scene.
Lerche was the guy to hear/see/buy at the time and I was among the few people in LA who knew about Lerche during his opening stint with Nada Surf. In March 2003, I went to Nada Surf’s sold-out show at the Knitting Factory to see Sondre Lerche. Just to add further context – this was the year Nada Surf’s critically acclaimed album, Let Go, came out. The place was packed and hot, and everybody was jockeying for the best position to see their favorite band – Nada Surf – play. . . until Sondre Lerche hit the stage.
Lerche spoke very little during that show. If I remember correctly, his English vocabulary may have been quite limited at the time. From the moment he sang the first note, the audience was spellbound. He played for approximately 45 minutes while the crowd stood silently, eyes wide, mouths open (not to talk – just so they remembered to breathe). When Lerche finished his set there was an uproar of applause and then silence. He left the stage and everybody around me looked like they had just witnessed the coming of their religious icon. People, who had initially been excited to see Nada Surf, looked blankly at each other as if to say, “now what?” In fact, a significant number of people left early during Nada Surf’s set, muttering that nothing could top Lerche’s performance.
The next day, everybody in Los Angeles was talking about Sondre Lerche. That was the show to be at, that nobody knew about, and they weren’t going to miss him again. Lerche’s music broke beyond the sophisticates and to the masses of LA. His headlining shows have been sold-out ever since, which is the only reason I hadn’t been back to seem him. . . until last night.
"You knew the rules by heart. . . "
Cut to The Troubadour, 9:30pm, September 24, 2009: another sold-out show for Lerche. I believe that you can get a good gauge of how a show might go based on the energy in the audience before the show. This crowd was buzzing . . . and talking about a lot of sex. Now, I love sex, and I’m happy to talk about it, but this felt like I’d walked in on some inside joke – as if they’d passed around a note before the show that read: Discuss your wildest sex adventure between sets.I heard about people’s video-taped escapades and sex on the beach (not the drink, the act) for 15 minutes leading up to Lerche’s performance. And let’s be clear, this was not a trashy crowd – these are your neighbors, colleagues, sons and daughters – and they’re having a good time.
Boy, was the audience excited when Lerche took the stage! Other things that I noticed about the crowd (pay attention new artists and record labels) were:
It was a young audience. Lerche has managed to remain relevant 7 years later, continually gaining new fans
It was a good-looking crowd, a nice mix of women and men, but mostly good-looking women – which as you know, draws the men
They were so into the show they didn’t budge for an hour and a half – not to go to the restroom, not to get a drink (sorry bartenders, but Lerche is really good)
I hope Nelly disses me on the internet
Now none of that may seem ground-breaking or revolutionary, but what is somewhat amazing is that Lerche continues to build this loyal following, without the help of radio or mainstream media outlets. In fact, speaking about the song “Easy to Persuade,” Lerche said, “I get a lot of people saying I ripped off Nelly. So I’m hoping he disses me, disses me on the internet, or maybe on MTV. That’s probably my only shot at getting on MTV.” Lerche is one of those artists who is so good people know about him, and they will come to his shows and buy his t-shirts repeatedly. He is also extremely engaging and charming on stage. If he didn’t before, he’s certainly got a great handle on the English language now! I haven’t laughed that hard between songs in a while.
"But tell me all about our little trailer by the sea. Jessie. . ."
Lerche sang a nice mix of newer material and old favorites. He also covered “The Word Girl” by Scritti Polliti and “Jessie” by Joshua Kadison (remember this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iElty90IPiw). The “Jessie” cover was one of the highlights of the night, dedicated to Lerche’s friend and opening act, Jesse Marchant (aka JBM). Lerche’s expressive performance, infused with his humorous version of the song (achieved via pauses, inflections, and facial expressions as he sang) had the crowd begging for more. In fact, I kind of got the impression Lerche had only planned to sing the first verse and one round of the chorus, but people were so into it, he sang the entire song, a cappella.
Lerche also sang an old favorite, “Two Way Monologue”, a cappella. Although, this time not by choice. About midway through the song, Lerche encountered technical difficulty with his guitar cable and had to unplug. Not only did he play the guitar without amplification, he moved away from the mic, stood on the edge of the stage, as close to the crowd as possible, and just sang. The crowd offered support, at first cheering (until Lerche reminded them they needed to be quiet in order to hear) and then singing along. It was one of those magical impromptu moments that you dream to be part of during a live show.
Lerche captivates the audience
When Lerche sang “My Hands Are Shaking”. . . well, he didn’t have to sing. The audience sang the entire song while Lerche played guitar and lent his voice on occasion. But mostly, this song was performed by his fans. “Wow, usually on a really good day, you hope the crowd sings along for the encore. But that’s not even the encore,” Lerche said, addressing the audience graciously. Lerche also had the benefit of crowd vocal support when he played “Heartbeat Radio.” “Tell me what you think about this song,” Lerche sang, and the crowd sang back, “I love it!”
Line of fans waiting to buy merch
Lerche returned for 2 encores and the crowd left gratified, but not before stopping by the merch booth. I’ve been to a lot of big shows at The Troubadour (Queens of The Stone Age, Ryan Adams, The White Stripes, Damien Rice, etc.) and I have never seen a merch line this long. On a good night the line will extend the length of the bar. But last night, there were so many people in line that The Troubadour was forced to open the side door and allow the line to extend outside. The line of fans waiting to purchase music and merch (and hopefully meet Lerche) stretched down the block, beyond the building, to the corner of Doheny and Santa Monica.
Seven years later, Lerche upholds the promise of a show you’ll never forget.