I’ve been seeing live music, almost every night, around the world, for the better part of 15 years (including many Radiohead shows), and I’ve never experienced what occurred last night at The Fox Theater in Oakland. If there’s something beyond “music,” then it happened last night and I, along with 2,799 of the most energetic and dedicated music fans, witnessed it.
Thom Yorke, Joey Waronker, Flea, Nigel Godrich, and Mauro Refosco make up Atoms For Peace (formerly known as “??????” or “The Thom Yorke Band“). Before they had a name, the band debuted and played three rehearsal shows in Los Angeles. Having been to all 3 shows, I had high expectations for last night, but I didn’t expect that the Thom Yorke Band could get much better than the phenomenal group they were in October 2009. They announced their new name, Atoms For Peace, on March 1st and along with the name, they became something else. They have transcended music.
I’m going to share something with you that nobody else who reviews the show will. If you want to understand what’s happening to you, or the people who swear by Radiohead/Thom Yorke/Atoms For Peace, when you’re at one of their shows, close your eyes. Each song transmits a different and definitive directional vibration. You can feel it moving through your body – sometimes pulsing down, through your feet, to the earth; sometimes swaying, rocking, or pounding side to side; sometimes spiraling from the core out, literally taking you outside yourself; and often times straight up from the earth, through your feet, up your body, and beyond the sky. Sound is vibration, and it’s healing. Thom Yorke has an understanding of how to articulate that vibration in an exceptionally powerful way, which is why people are so passionate about the music — you feel it, it physiologically moves you. Many musicians write songs. Thom Yorke is a composer. He’s precise and intentional. When you consciously experience it, you realize that it’s beyond music, it’s Channeled. Downloaded. Shared. When people talk about it as a “religious experience” that’s what they mean.
It’s so powerful that at one point last night, Yorke got so caught up in the sound and dancing, that he forgot to start his part. The music kicked in, Yorke felt it, and got lost in the dance. Next thing everybody knows, he’s forgotten to actually start singing. “Oh, that was me. . .” he said with a laugh as the band stopped and restarted.
Atoms For Peace
Be sure to open your eyes again and watch Mauro Refosco and the instruments he plays, from around the world, that contribute greatly to that vibration. Refosco is among the best percussionists in the world and Atoms For Peace teams him up with the also-brilliant, Joey Waronker on drums. You need to really watch them in order to constantly remind yourself that there’s no drum machine making this happen, these guys are creating those beats live. Observe how the vibration moves through Flea – sometimes it appears as if he has to reign it in in order to hit the next note on the bass. Then, there’s Nigel Godrich, who has produced Radiohead, Beck, and Travis to name a few. Seeing him on stage, watching the countless smiles that cross his face while he plays, you begin to understand how Godrich creates what he does, in collaboration, with these bands.
I’m not the only one who felt that way after last night’s show. Following the 2nd encore (or “third bit” as Yorke likes to call it), the lights came on, the house music came on, the mics came off, equipment was removed. The stage was well on its way to being broken down (as much as it would be considering they’re playing there again tonight). The crowd cheered for at least 20 minutes. The roar, clapping, and chanting was intense. At times, some people would feel defeat (as more and more equipment was removed from stage, and the house music seemed to get louder). But as that happened and you looked around, you felt the collective consciousness of the people in the room reminding you not to give up. “Do not stop until we bring them back,” was the overwhelming sentiment. Then, another surge of applause, stomping, and cheers would erupt. As this happened, you couldn’t help but feel life at its most perfect manifestation – a community of people, making things happen, not allowing others to give up or admit defeat, supportive, encouraging, enduring, with passion and fervor, to achieve a shared vision. This was communicated first through the music, embodied by the audience, and then reflected back to the band. That’s how you say, “thank you!”
Then, the mics were replaced, the equipment was moved back to position, and Thom returned to the stage, signaling, with deep gratitude, that we were crazy. And he’s right. Until the majority realize and embody the power of collective positive intention, we will be the “crazy” ones. That’s okay because we were also the exceptionally happy ones and the first audience to experience a third encore on this tour. Shrieks of “We did it!!”, thunderous applause, and high fives circulated among the audience and then Atoms For Peace played a few more “bits.”
If at any point in life you encounter somebody who was at *that* show, you will know it. You will feel something different emanating from them.
I only captured “3 bits” of this, but it’ll give you a better idea of what that moment felt like:
April 11, 2010
This One Is On Us
The Echoplex, Los Angeles
Nine Inch Nails: Another Version Of The Truth
On Sunday night fans inside The Echoplex went off. The energy in the room was higher than what you’d see at many live concerts. But there was no concert at The Echoplex Sunday night. Instead, there was a screening of a live, fan-created, Nine Inch Nails DVD project: Another Version of The Truth. This is among the most energetic live concert DVDs ever produced, which is not hurt by the fact that it features one of the (if not the) best live bands in the world, Nine Inch Nails.
Here’s some background on the project as posted on the official website, ThisOneIsOnUs.org: On 5th May, 2008, Nine Inch Nails released “The Slip” for free via their website, as a gift to their fans. Or as Trent Reznor put it: “This one’s on me”.
On December 13th, 2008, dozens of Nine Inch Nails fans recorded the last show ofthe Lights In The Sky tour at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas.
On January 7th, 2009, over 400Gb of video from the Victoria, Portland and Sacramento shows from the same tour were unofficially released by the band.
By working together, the Nine Inch Nails fan community have created “Another Version of the Truth” – a 3 disc release bringing together numerous editors, designers, and web programmers to create a professional digital film, followed by a physical release created by fans for fans.
For the past twenty plus years Nine Inch Nails has consistently pushed the boundaries, done things their way, maintained their integrity and the art of what they do, and in the process, have built a trusting and enduring relationship with their fans. Another Version of The Truth is one result of this relationship and should be an inspiration to bands and fans — this is how good it can get. This is what happens when you do it “right.”
March Of The Pigs
Every artist should strive for a fanbase as loyal and supportive as Nine Inch Nails fans. Every music fan should be so moved by their favorite band that they will invest not only their money, but more important, their energy, their creativity, and their undying passion, in a long-term relationship with the band. Every record label should pay attention. . . because this is what it’s about. However, until labels figure out how to authentically build an enduring relationship between Artist and Fan (as opposed to getting in the way of it), thankfully there are bands like Nine Inch Nails and fan groups like This One Is On Us who know what they’re doing.
Head Like A Hole
This One Is On Us did an amazing job with Another Version of The Truth. It may be fan-created, but it is professional quality and absolutely brilliant. They took hundreds of gigabytes of footage and created a piece that actually makes you feel like you’re at the show. I am a live music junkie and I’ll be among the first to tell you that there’s no substitute for being there. That said, I felt the drive, enthusiasm, and impact of the Nine Inch Nails Lights In The Sky tour – it felt like we were there. The audience sang along, screamed along, cheered and clapped. When I felt it was nearing the end, I actually got sad – I didn’t want it to end. When it was over, I had that post Nine Inch Nails concert rush and “All That Could Have Been” was my soundtrack for the drive home. If they truly don’t play live again and you never saw Nine Inch Nails, Another Version of The Truth will make you hate yourself for missing it. For those of you who have seen NIN live, Another Version of The Truth will help you relive it. I recommend watching it at least once a day.
The This One Is On Us organizers did an amazing job hosting this event. The sound was great, the screen was placed at a perfect height so that the audience at the screening was watching from the same perspective as the audience at the concert. When there were crowd shots, you were among them. When the audience at the screening put their hands in the air, they were among the hands on the screen. In fact, when I posted videos from the event on YouTube (see below), people emailed me asking if it was 3D. The organizers secured The Echoplex for the screening which added to the energy of the event. Nine Inch Nails played one of their final Wave Goodbye shows at The Echoplex last year. You could still feel the energy of the band in the venue which added to Sunday’s event.
Finck, Cortini, Sheridan, Freese
As it turns out, several members of the band from the Lights In The Sky tour were in the venue and participated in a surprise Q&A following the screening. Josh Freese, Robin Finck, and Alessandro Cortini sat on a panel and graciously answered audience questions about the tour, rehearsals, and the possibility of a reunion. Rob Sheridan, Nine Inch Nails’ creative director, was also in the house to answer questions. Sheridan shared a great deal of amazing information about the technology used on the tour, decisions that needed to be made based on budgets, what happened when things didn’t work, along with funny anecdotes about how Reznor and Freese worked with the technology.
Below are some videos of the screening itself. Yes, that’s the audience at the screening singing, cheering and clapping along with the band and audience on screen. Screenings of Another Version of The Truth are taking place around the world – check listings here. And, since chances are Sheridan and the band may not show up at other screenings, I’ve also posted some clips from the Q&A.
There is another fan-created project to be on the lookout for as well: Nine Inch Nails: After All Is Said and Done, produced by A Tiny Little Dot. After All Is Said and Done will document Nine Inch Nails last show ever that took place at The Wiltern on September 10, 2009. I was at that show (review, pics, set list and videos are posted here) and met the organizer of A Tiny Little Dot, “Synthetikz”. He’s a really good guy who obtained some amazing footage. I posted the trailer below so you can see for yourself.
There’s no end to my love for The Stronghold, and there’s no end to my love for Joseph Arthur. If Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend had been around eleven years ago, you would have read a lot of Joseph Arthur reviews by now. Of all the musicians I’ve seen repeatedly throughout the years, Joseph Arthur may be the only one whose shows in Los Angeles I have not ever missed.
Joseph Arthur Live Painting
Among my many favorite Joseph Arthur memories are the days when he’d come to Los Angeles for a month at a time and play a residency at Largo. I’d go to every show (as previously stated) and each one was completely unique. That was nine or ten years ago, when Arthur’s catalog wasn’t nearly as extensive as it is now. Yet, he managed to make every set feel different – not just a different Joseph Arthur show, but a different experience altogether. There were times he’d talk about almost mythical, sometimes dark, dreams he’d had the night before. Other times he would show us recent drawings, or pages of lyrics written in his notebook and then sing us a newly penned song. He would recreate a song you thought you knew really well (because you had listened to it repeatedly on one of his albums) and you would hardly recognize his live rendition of it at first. Then, you’d hear the lyrics, and beneath the layers of sound Arthur built in front of you, the through-line of a familiar guitar note or beat. He’d talk about darkness and fears – sometimes completely introspective; other times, so external that the conversation seemed to take place on another plane of time and space.
Joseph Arthur at The Stronghold
A decade later, a lot has changed, but Arthur’s shows are consistent, and they have evolved. Instead of holding up a sketch book and showing us his illustrations, Arthur now throws canvases up prior to his set and paints live, while singing. His notebook of new songs has grown exponentially – it takes effort to lift and hold steady while playing and singing. He still wrestles with fear, although now it’s infused with humor. “I’m gonna put these on now. . . because I’m scared, ” Arthur said with a smile as he put his sunglasses on Friday night. He still manages to play his songs different every time. There may be subtle differences in meter or drastic differences in the melody.
Arthur not only plays songs for you, he creates them for you, before you. He begins with a sound, or a beat, or a chord, then he samples it and loops it. Then, he adds another sound, beat or chord, and samples and loops that. Then he’ll layer on vocals and more sounds. The band joins in and Arthur begins to sing, stepping on and off pedals to bring various sounds in and out throughout the song. You may have seen other musicians do this before, but never like this. Often, when a musician does this, they recreate the song and all the sounds the same way every time, so that you get a song that sounds like the recoded version, without a big band. What makes Arthur different is – well, he does it different every time. I’ve been watching Joseph Arthur create music for eleven years and I have yet to see him play a song the same way twice. And this is how, and why, I go to every single Joseph Arthur show in the area.
Joseph Arthur is playing Fridays in April, at The Stronghold in Venice. They’re closed this week, but try and hit the last Fridays of the month. Go more than once, you never know what’s going to happen. . .
Here are some videos from the past two Fridays of Joseph Arthur’s residency. One thing about The Stronghold is that it feels like a private loft party, where you’re surrounded by a large group of friends, which is really cool. That said, when you get a large group of friends together at a house party, they talk. Ordinarily, at a typical music venue, this would annoy me. But at The Stronghold, you realize it’s just a solid community of great people who enjoy each other and gather around music. The conversation, laughter, and fact that nobody’s “too cool” to talk to anybody else is one of the best things about The Stronghold. So the chatter is forgiven in the room, but apologies for some of the background noise in the videos (it tends to die down a minute into each song):
I remember seeing The White Stripes at The Troubadour a few times a year, in the very early 2000’s. We also used to go see these singer-songwriters named Katy Perry, Sara Bareilles, and Brett Dennen, play at The Hotel Cafe all the time. I was one of 8 people who stumbled into The Mint and saw Jack Johnson play in 1999 or early 2000, well before the masses knew who he was. The Strokes, Metric, Snow Patrol, Keane, Scissor Sisters, Ben Harper, The Airborne Toxic Event, Amos Lee, Ray LaMontagne, The Black Eyed Peas (way, way, way back), Ryan Adams, Bright Eyes, Muse, Arcade Fire, Queens of The Stone Age, Portugal The Man (you’ll see what I mean about that one soon). . . the list of “new bands” that I’ve seen perform in tiny venues, before most people knew who they were, is endless.
What does this have to do with Jamie Drake? Well, if you want to get in early on this one, now’s the time. I was introduced to Jamie via a contest she won. Jamie was hand-selected by A&R veteran Michael Rosenblatt (Madonna, Depeche Mode, New Radicals, etc.) to receive his guidance and to record an EP with a respected producer. “Listen to this! Listen to THIS!” Rosenblatt would command, while bouncing out of his seat, with a huge smile on his face, referencing Drake’s early demos. Then, 2 minutes later, “did you listen to it??” By the third minute he was playing Jamie Drake’s music for me from his computer. At that time, I had worked with Rosenblatt for nearly one year and had never seen him that excited about anybody.
On first listen, Drake’s songs are unmistakably good. Upon subsequent listens, they’re brilliant. The art of the album is dying – people are buying (or not) singles and EPs. The coming generation isn’t familiar with the concept of the album as a holistic piece of work, as a story and art of its own. People are consuming songs, legally or illegally, at a rapid pace and churning through them as quickly as they find them. Yet to endure, the songs need to be better. As a listener, you need to feel something every time you hear a song, not just a catchy little tune that will soon annoy you, as it becomes overplayed. You deserve something that moves you, something you can revisit several years from now and still connect with, songs that are themselves a holistic piece of art. Jamie Drake gives you that.
The better an album is, the longer it takes me to get though the first listen. I geek out on songs, listen to them on repeat, hear all the parts, identify where the emotional hooks are, understand the impact of the intersection of the sound of various instruments at a specific moment, inflections in the singer’s voice. . . It took me two weeks to get to the final track of Drake’s album – which also happens to be the title track, and my favorite – “When I Was Yours.”
I listened to tracks one through eight, over and over, on repeat until I understood, down to the second, where and how each song made me feel a specific range of emotions. Eventually, I made my way to track nine, “When I Was Yours.” That song is still on repeat. Minutes 2:12 – 3:02 will break your heart even if your heart has never been broken before. But it’s minutes 0:01 to 2:11 that get you there. Drake’s songs are not simply “good,” they get inside you and fuck you up. The songs stand alone, but they also, conceptually, take you through the journey of the album as a whole. And just like we want to relive the best parts of our lives, I’ve repeated my way, song by song, through the album numerous times now.
I’ve seen Drake perform live a handful of times. The more she plays, the better she gets. Even if she never gets any better than this, she’ll still blow you away. Drake is currently playing Crane’s Tavern in Hollywood on Wednesdays and has an album release show at The Hotel Cafe on May 13th.
There are some bands I will continue to write about; Nico Vega is one of them. It was great to see such a sizable crowd arrive early to see “the opening band.” That’s only in quotes because Nico Vega is much more than an opening band, and the next time they play The Hollywood Palladium, I expect that they’ll be headlining.
Their set was too short. Yet, within that compact set, fans were treated to more energy, fire, and great music than you often experience during another band’s full set. Aja Volkman can sing, scream, and thrash around on stage, with grace. Both women and men seem to admire her combination of ferocity and poise. The only people who didn’t know how to receive Volkman were Palladium security whom, upon seeing Aja balance on the rail to sing amongst the crowd, looked as if they were going to go into cardiac arrest.
Dan = drums
Dan Epand used to play drums. He’s since become the drums. Whereas he used to hit the drums and cymbals to create the sound, now his body is merely a more flexible extension of the drum kit. He levitates off his seat each time he strikes the drum. There’s an illusion that Epand has really long arms as he extends the drumsticks well overhead before hitting the next beat. I watched him walk off stage after their set because I expected the entire drum kit to move with him. Epand, whom some may mistake as the shy quiet one, has become an animal on the drums. Just remember – the “quiet” ones are usually the most fun.
While Volkman is climbing, jumping, twirling, writhing, and flawlessly singing, Rich Koehler is doing the equivalent, balanced with cool restraint, while playing guitar. Koehler may not be wireless yet, but that guitar cable does not restrain him from jetting around the stage, often in playful musical conversation with Volkman.
All of this is happening while the crowd sings all the words, jumps, and screams for more. The audience was ready for this show – they responded as if they had been craving Nico Vega for a very long time. And that’s indeed possible. Nico Vega represents all that’s cool, sexy, smart, raw, edgy, kind, authentic, strong, and graceful. You may find yourself feeling anxious between Nico Vega shows as you await your next “fix” (I often do). Nico Vega – the 100% legal drug – just say “Yes!”
Standing outside the Viper Room moments before Janelle Monae was set to take the stage, the guy standing next to me exclaimed, “Did you see THAT?!”
“What?” I asked him.
“There were all these people… and they’re wearing cloaks and hoods… and there’s a bunch of them… and they just walked into the Viper Room!!” He took a moment to catch his breath and then said, “what was that??”
That, my fellow music lover, is Janelle Monae. Welcome to the experience.
The first time I saw Janelle Monae was during SXSW 2009, at a small venue called, Vice. Let me clarify, I didn’t see Monae at all actually. The stage is low, people in Austin are tall, Monae isn’t tall, neither am I. The venue also may not be that small, but it was so crowded in there that it felt like we were playing a musical version of that How-Many-People-Can-You-Fit-In-A-Phone-Booth game. So, I didn’t see Monae at all, but I felt her. Everybody felt that performance, as well as Monae’s 3 previous shows earlier that week. Village Voice named Monae “Best In Show” at SXSW 2009.
The second time I saw Monae, I saw Monae. New Orleans Voodoo Festival 2009. The stage was elevated and so was everybody else. Not by substance, but by the energy and fire that emanated from Monae and the talented ensemble of musicians that surrounds her.
Good things come in 3’s and the third time I saw Monae was at the Viper Room, capacity 250. The moment I walked inside the venue and felt the energy of the crowd, remembered the compact, elevated the stage, the way the room wraps around it, making you feel like the person standing at the other side of the stage is a long-lost friend, the energy Monae is known for and the way it moves the audience, I actually considered the fact that The Viper Room may not be standing the next day. “You are about to be part of a show that crushes The Viper Room,” I thought to myself.
The house music came down, as did the lights, and Monae’s voice was heard overhead, describing the Emotion Picture experience, a 2-evening, multimedia, multi-sensory event, that was about to envelop you and everybody around you. Consider yourself warned. This is different. Monae encouraged people to come both nights to get the full Emotion Picture experience, but, if you couldn’t make it to both nights, Monae assured you, “We’ll see you where we always see you. . . in the future. . . ”
As the curtains drew back, another voice was heard, this time a man whose introduction to the show further reinforced the fact that we were all part of something unique and powerful (a good reminder about life in general). “By now you should have already Tweeted,” he said moments after I actually had Tweeted that the Viper Room may not be standing the next day. “Your Facebook status update should say, ‘I’m at the sold-out Janelle Monae show at The Viper Room’ and if you’re still on MySpace, kindly excuse yourself.” The crowd laughed, the curtains opened, a movie screen lit up center stage. Emotion Picture had begun. Cloaked and hooded, the band made their way to their instruments and began playing. At that moment, the audience went from watching an Emotion Picture on screen to experiencing it. This, and more, is what happened next:
Monae is right — we will see them in the future. They’re going to be around for a long time.