Category Archives: LIVE REVIEWS

Live Review: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Paris, France, Nov. 4, 2015


Kids today care as much about the blues as Fox News does about the blacks.

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was therefore lucky to have emerged in the big-tent ’90s, when audiences would embrace both unhinged experimentation (example: metal/rap hybrids, electronica) and unabashed retro (swing revival), when the melodramatically earnest (emo punk) could thrive alongside ironi-rock (Beck). And all of it was considered “alternative.”

JSBX embodied much, if not all, of the above.

But more than 20 years after the trio first dragged punk kicking and puking into the Delta, the blues are no longer de rigueur. Even torch bearers the White Stripes, for whom Spencer and Co. paved the way by bestowing hipster cred to the genre, have disbanded. Fortunately, there are bands whose careers outlive their genre’s shelf-life. And there are clubs for them to play in that embrace both the quaint and the avant-garde.

The venue for tonight’s show, Paris’ La Gaîté lyrique, is a self-described cultural crossroads for the digital era. It features a grandiose façade worthy of a Loire Valley chateau, yet the interior is fitted with touch screens and Tron décor.

An appropriate choice for the gig, since JSBX has always had one foot in the cotton field and one in the arcade room. 
The trio opens with “Betty Vs The NYPD”: a high-energy number that encapsulates much of the Spencer ethos. The song is raucous, chest-beating, and cartoonishly sincere. Many more such tunes from the band’s latest LP, Freedom Tower—No Wave Dance Party 2015, follow: “Funeral,” “Do The Get Down,” “White Jesus,” “Tales Of Old New York: The Rock Box” and a deliciously sharp rendition of “Wax Dummy.”

Blues purists may whine that Spencer’s shtick (I lost count of the number of times he yelled his trademark non-sequitur “Blues Explosion!!” between and within songs) is flippant, sarcastic, and blasphemous. Sure, the group has added rap, electronic knob-twiddling and even a goddamn theremin to its arsenal, but it has actually done a great service to the blues. It honors the genre by reimagining it in its own image, filtering the blues of its self-indulgent soul-searching yet retaining the beauty of its raw passion. You only imitate what you love.

Late in the show, Spencer finishes his theremin hand jive (writhing and gesticulating like he’s feeling up the Invisible Woman) and heads back to the mic. He channels the late, great James Brown, dramatically tossing off a towel draped over his shoulders by a stage hand, in an obvious riff on the Godfather of Soul’s famous “cape act.” Now, as then, it is all a bit of fun. Energy, emotion—entertainment.

More than 350 years ago in this very town, French playwright Molière wrote, “I wonder if the main rule above all other rules isn’t simply to please.” JSBX exemplifies this rule. The blues are traditionally a vehicle to vent pain, but—fuck, the genre came up with one sexy groove.

So quitcha bitchin’, and just shake ya ass.

—Eric Bensel

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Live Review: Grimes, Seattle, WA, Oct. 28, 2015


It’s almost Halloween, and so far, fall 2015 has turned into the Season of the Witch(house); Grimes’ time to shine as the world readies itself for her first full-length in three years, a much-anticipated Event Release in a year chock full of them.

And so, the Big Questions spill forth:

Will any of the early singles (which Grimes—nee Claire Boucher—herself has discredited to some extent, saying that early versions of the record which may or may not have included songs such as polarizing EDM track “Go” either “sucked” or were “depressing”) be included on her fourth/forthcoming album, Art Angels (4AD)? Or would it be a separate affair, governed only by Grimes’ unerring ear and instinct for the zeitgeist and, more to the point, whatever she was feeling artistically at the moment it was being recorded?

Would high-profile personality profiles of the sort penned by the New Yorker or New York Times truly capture the dilemma she was facing—an artist with something to say, at the top of her game, trying to make the most of her Pinnacle Moment to transform from DIY noise-art kid to fully-formed pop artist, albeit one with a mean eccentric streak—or would they simply create more hype than could possibly be delivered? (Or worse yet, play to all the time-honored pop-music clichés and diminish her immense potential by pushing her forward as merely the latest from Central Casting to do battle with the Biz Borg.)

And what’s with all this much-balleyhooed focus on “IRL” instrumentation, as signaled by the guitars that form the churning analog bed beneath the album’s insanely catchy first single, “Flesh Without Blood?”

You want to root for her. But it’s unclear whether rooting for her means that an altogether individual work such as 2012’s “Oblivion” makes it to the top of something like Pitchfork’s “200 Best Tracks Of The Decade So Far” (perhaps the most pop-sounding composition about a harrowing brush with sexual assault ever recorded), or if Going for Grimes is more akin to wishing her an unexpected, lightning-strike hit single that grants her a lifetime’s worth of artistic and economic independence?

A world of false choices.

One sure way to tell whether any of this teapot tempest is real or not is to watch the artist experiencing just such a period play live. That way, you can draw your own totally subjective conclusion (free from the bothersome influence of the media or the mosquito-hum nudging of the internets to color your view): Can she deliver the goods onstage, or no?

Last night’s show here in Seattle—one of the first dates on her Rhinestone Cowgirls tour, in support of the new LP—went quite some way in affirming her myriad gifts with a shouty “Hells, yes.” This version of Boucher’s alter ego bears a strong resemblance to the one I saw in NYC a few years ago, but with some key evolutionary signifiers: This one has dancers, fierce grrls dressed in flight suits bumping and grinding in a somewhat coordinated fashion, but not one that you’d confuse with the Hollywood polish of Left Shark vs. Right Shark. This Grimes will proudly tell you, in her totally discombobulated but charming between-song banter (littered with f-bombs, contradictions and self-deprecating asides), that she is “proud” to play “Go” and “Phone Sex,” songs she created in partnership with her red-hot producer friend/fellow Canadian Mike “Blood Diamonds” Diamond. Today’s iteration is totally OK giggling to a packed house that she “hit the wrong button” in firing up her onstage rig just prior to rebooting “Oblivion,” then killing it with a degree of execution her live show hasn’t really demonstrated before.

In other words, Grimes is a work in progress. A glorious mess. An artist who reminds me as much of people like Prince or even Michael Stipe—bloody-minded independents not given to explaining themselves or their art, creating aural moodboards with the same passion and determination as their radio-ready pop—as she does Bikini Kill, Joanna Newsom or any of the other points of reference that are frequently mentioned in the same breath as Boucher.

Watching her bounce around onstage at the Showbox last night was somewhat akin to watching age-group soccer – the ball flies off in one direction, and 20 kids tear after it, more thrilled and focused on the chase than on any sort of game-winning strategy. This is Grimes, writ large – an artist so enamored of the sound, of the pursuit of what she’s hearing in her head, that any attempt to channel her art into something “au courant” or explainable to anyone other than Boucher is to kill the spirit of it, utterly. From her opening track – “Circumambient,” one of the highlights from 2012’s Oblivion – to new cuts getting worked out right before our eyes such as “Venus Fly” and “Kill vs. Maim” (her “encore” that wasn’t really an encore because leaving and coming back onstage “just feels fake, right?”), Grimes is in charge of this shit. Even if (and especially when) she isn’t, exactly.

I, for one, can’t wait to see how she develops. It’s not going to fit into anyone’s preconceived notions of greatness for her. Boucher is going to follow her muse down a flurry of one-way streets, dead ends, and rock-strewn roads. And we’re still gonna dig the hell out of it every step of the way.

—Corey duBrowa

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Live Review: Raw Power (A Tribute To Iggy And The Stooges), Seattle, WA, Aug. 23, 2015


“Radio burnin’ up above/Beautiful baby, feed my love.” (“1970”)

Wither thou, radio?

You used to be something magical—the original wireless, a transmission from the satellite heart that filled our ears with static, speech and song.

Then you were replaced by the internet—what with all of its torrents, dark-web dumps, “free” this and that, and LOLcats—and suddenly you struck us as antiquated. Less relevant. Quaint, even. “Stuff dad used to prattle on about.”

Thankfully for humanity, institutions such as Seattle’s KEXP-FM still exist: community-supported radio stations free of playlists, payola, robo-DJs and corporate influence. And in an effort for one of our nation’s last remaining bastions of “all music, errywhere” to remain proudly on its own two feet (sort of like radio antennae ears, upside-down), KEXP is relocating to new digs that will sustain the station well into the future and, in doing so, has sponsored a series of benefit gigs intended to raise the capital required to free itself of the few links that still tether it to something as trifling (yet, real) as a “rent payment.” Wilco recently came to town and added a night to its touring itinerary for the sole purpose of raising some of the funds still required to complete the station’s new home. So on this night, four Jet City music heroes lent their capabilities to the cause by playing a one-off gig whose proceeds (private afterparties, etc.) will facilitate moving the station into what will become its permanent site in Seattle Center in 2016.

Mark Arm (Mudhoney shouter and bemused cynic for all seasons), Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Skin Yard, Mad Season, Tuatara), Mike McCready (energetic Pearl Jam six-string slinger/Hendrix channeler) and Duff McKagan (former Guns n’ Roses and Velvet Revolver bassist, but more relevantly for Seattleites, ex-Fastbacks drummer and hilarious if only sporadic columnist) spent a hazy summer evening up on the roof of the iconic Pike Place Market making one helluva racket, channeling the angst, anger and aggression of prime Iggy And The Stooges while an appreciative (free) audience of 9,000 grunge holdouts, indie kids, rock n’ roll survivors and tourist types looked on at the spectacle as though it were either a miracle beamed down from above, or final validation of Martians walking among us.

Which—either way you look at it—is what winning looks like in 2015.

McCready essentially bootstrapped the quartet and gave it its musical direction, telling local journos that he had first discovered the Igster at a 1982 party he had attended in which members of Green River (hence, Arm) had been present. “’Search And Destroy’ had the meanest-sounding lead in it. ‘I’m a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm/I’m a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb!’ Those lyrics say it all about why I love this record!” So: enthusiasm, sloppiness and sheer manic energy were clearly meant to be the order of the day, and on that score, Raw Power delivered in just about every way imaginable.

Perhaps the coolest part of the event was how non-obvious the entire thing was. The Raw Power quartet had a mere four rehearsals under its belt by the time the gig rolled around, and even though bands that the individual members have played in have covered the Stooges before (G’nR raced through a reckless version of “Raw Power;” Mudhoney has messily covered “I Wanna Be Your Dog;” Pearl Jam has taken a turn on “Search And Destroy”), the setlist for the evening was far from a “bust out Iggy’s fan favorites” affair. After opening with a guttersnipe take on “Little Doll” (McKagan taking center stage in a pair of aviator shades and a “In Memory Of I Don’t Remember” black tank top), the band segued quickly into “TV Eye,” “I’ve Got A Right” (with McCready switching from his tortured vintage Strat to a Johnny Thunders-esque double-cut Les Paul Jr., wah-wah’ed into infinity) and a downright sleazy version of “I Need Somebody,” with Arm hilariously/profanely recalling the fuzzy details around how the entire gig was assembled. The four then quickly raced through the rest of their set: “Down On The Street,” “Search And Destroy,” and a killer version of “Loose” to close things out. It was a short, sharp shock to the heart of Seattle, with the patient living to tell the tale over drinks at the bar afterward.

No “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” No “1969.” No “No Fun.” Not even “Raw Power,” ironically enough. Just the Stoogemusic the band loves best, played as loudly and forcefully as possible, kicking out the jams for Seatown’s faithful high above the fishmongers.

The artist known to Ann Arbor, Mich., as James Osterberg, Jr. wouldn’t actually have a close brush with radio until much later in his career (via “Lust For Life” and his pal David Bowie’s take on the Iggy-penned “China Girl,” which finally secured his financial future if not exactly his mental stability); the Stooges were all about proto-punk, a slobbering, drooling mess of a band that would set the stage for the New York Dolls, the entire downtown CBGB scene and the London punk wave that followed, who were all equally inspired by the Stooges’ unique blend of atonal skronk (think: Coltrane’s weirder flights of fancy) and their raw, unschooled barre chords played at max volume through a slippery wah filter. It was a seminal sound but one that radio wouldn’t come anywhere near at the time of its creation—that moment would have to wait for bands like Nirvana to make viable two decades later.

I can’t help but think that a guy who established his bona fides by more or less inventing stage diving, or carving up his bare chest and bleeding on his audience, would have appreciated four fans bringing Seatown traffic to a standstill for an hour by generating a tornado of noise. Turn up the radio, y’all.

—Corey duBrowa

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Live Review: Modest Mouse, Bethlehem, PA, July 20, 2015


Driving into Bethlehem, I asked a buddy of mine what he thought we could expect out of Modest Mouse’s live performance, to which he simply responded, “I have no idea, man.” This response wasn’t due to any sort of dislike toward the band, rather the uncertainty that seems to surround them. Between issuing Strangers To Ourselves (the band’s first release in seven years) to very mixed reviews, to hardly ever touring, to their live performances typically being met with either praise or scrutiny, it’s difficult to know what to expect out of Modest Mouse these days. There was no way we could have known that we were about to witness Isaac Brock play his guitar with his teeth for nearly five minutes, or accidentally incite a physical altercation among fans. Because here’s the thing that makes Modest Mouse so wonderful; they’re totally unpredictable.

And so we arrived at the Bethlehem Steel Stacks as two devout Modest Mouse fans, without a clue whether we should be overrun with excitement or worried about being let down.

Before digging deeper into Modest Mouse’s performance, I think it’s important to talk a bit about last night’s opening act, Gene Ween. You know how a lot of times you go to a show and the conversation you’re having with your friends about where you are going to drink this upcoming weekend is far more compelling than the opening act themselves? This wasn’t that kind of show. Former Ween vocalist Aaron Freeman and his band had the crowd’s utmost attention through the entirety of their 45 minute set. His interaction with the crowd was met with plenty of laughter throughout the set’s entirety, most notably after making the statement, “This song is about vagina. Unshaved vagina, that is.” before going into fan favorite “Black Bush.” All in all, Freeman provided a more than solid opening act, which had the crowd dancing, laughing and singing along the whole time. Not an easy feat when opening for Modest Mouse.

It was directly after Freeman’s performance that I noticed something strange. I started looking around at the people in the crowd waiting to see Modest Mouse and I realized how diverse it was. Standing to the left of me was a middle-aged couple, maybe in their 50s, accompanied by no children. To the right of me was a man covered head to toe in tattoos with quite possibly the largest gauges I’ve ever seen in any one’s ears, consistently smoking his vaporizer every minute or so. Behind me there were a group of, uh, let’s call them “college bros” wearing tank tops, khaki shorts and backward baseball caps. A few rows in front of me was an older gentleman carrying his Mohawk-haired toddler on his shoulders. This crowd diversity quickly made me realize that I was about to witness something really, really special.

That’s when Modest Mouse stepped onstage to an overwhelming wall of cheering and shouting.

“Hey, we’re the band tonight. Wait, wait, that can’t be right. I think you’re the band tonight?’ muttered frontman Isaac Brock while pointing into the crowd. After taking a sip from his beer he quickly corrected himself, smiling while pointing out the obvious, “Nope, never mind. I had it right the first time. We’re the band tonight.”

Not surprisingly, the band began their hefty two-hour set with a few songs off Strangers To Ourselves, which, also not surprisingly, were received with a bit of a mixed response. Sure, people were dancing and enjoying themselves, but it wasn’t until the fourth song in that Brock’s voice was entirely drowned out by a sea of fans screaming his lyrics back at him. “OK, so, we’re gonna play an older one now if that’s all right.” said Brock with a grin on his face like he knew the overwhelming response he was about to receive. As the band began to play “Out Of Gas,” it was clear that it was a turning point for the rest of the set.

The nearly 20-year-old singalong “Out Of Gas” was followed by several other fan favorites, including “Dashboard” and “Bukowski,” to name a couple, both of which were performed beautifully by the nine multi-instrumentalists making up Modest Mouse’s live band. Although having only two original band members left (Brock on guitar and Jeremiah Green on drums), the seven other musicians accompanying the stage (including Brock’s girlfiend Lisa Molinaro on violin) only added to the band’s live performance. Not only was the stage crowded with fantastic musicians, but a plethora of instruments such as trumpets, trombones, a cello, two sets of drums, a synthesizer and a banjo to name a few. It seemed as though every song had the musicians onstage playing a different instrument, making every song all the more pleasurable to watch.

If we’re talking about musicianship we need to talk about Brock. The man is fucking amazing. For all the qualms people have regarding his vocals, there is absolutely no taking away his ability to absolutely shred on guitar. During classic “Doin’ The Cockroach,” Brock began screaming lyrics into his guitar as he was playing. Now, I’ve seen musicians do that before, and while not entirely original, it’s always great to watch. What came next, however, I had never seen. Brock began a scratchy guitar solo, lasting nearly five minutes, the majority of which was played with his teeth. Yes, you read that right. Isaac Brock played his guitar with his teeth for nearly five minutes, and it was nothing short of amazing.

About three-quarters of the way into the set came the highlight of the entire show. The band played “The World At Large,” “Night On The Sun” and mega-hit “Float On” back to back to back. An argument can be made for each of these songs being the best material the band has offered to date, and seeing them performed was a dream come true for any Modest Mouse fan.

In the midst of this wonderfully positive experience came one negative moment. “Have you guys ever been stung by anything?” asked Brock before performing “Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes,” the last song of the set. “I’m only asking because I saw you guys swatting at what looked like bees.” A man in the crowd yelled something back at Brock, to which he responded, “You shouldn’t answer questions anymore. Seriously, don’t answer questions anymore,” in a very obviously joking tone. While Brock’s joking tone seemed very obvious to me as an audience member, it seems as though it wasn’t quite as obvious to others. “Asssshole, asssshole, Asssshole,” chanted members of the crowd at the man who answered Brock’s question about bees. This chant was followed by a physical altercation among the fan that Brock was addressing and another man in the crowd, to which Brock intervened, “Come on. Don’t hurt him. I was joking. I’m the asshole. This is the game I play with the crowd. Come on. Don’t hurt him.” The altercation quickly subdued, and Modest Mouse began their last song.

Not surprisingly, the band was begged by the crowd to return to the stage for an encore through a series of typical chants by the crowd. Upon returning to the stage, Modest Mouse pleased fans with a four-song encore, ending with fan favorite “The Good Times Are Killing Me.” Brock apologized once again for accidentally inciting a fight among fans, thanked the crowd for an amazing time and concluded the incredible experience Modest Mouse put on for their fans.

For all the uncertainty that seems to be surrounding Modest Mouse as of late, one thing became clear. Modest Mouse is a band that provides fans with an unforgettable concert-going experience. As soon as I finish typing this, I am going to purchase a ticket to Philly’s annual Made In America festival, solely so Modest Mouse can melt my brain once again. You should do the same. I promise you won’t regret it.

—Wes Akers

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Aarhus Jazz Festival, 2015


Welcome to Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark, an original settlement for the Vikings more than a thousand years ago, and a home to jazz since the 1950s. The 27th edition of the Aarhus Jazz Festival begins at the end of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, allowing for some natural crossover, and features some of the finest jazz artists Denmark has to offer.

Monday’s programming was rewarding, as the Nicolaj Hess Nonet had an early show at the Kunsthal Aarhus venue, showcasing Hess’ piano skills as well as his compositional savvy. Using musicians from Denmark and Norway, the sounds were often gentle, leaning into European-classical terrain while incorporating Brazilian, Latin and African rhythms and leaving space for improvisation. The ace rhythm section of Anders “AC” Christensen on bass and Nicolaj’s brother Mikel on drums was augmented by percussion, reeds, brass, guitars and singer Sissel Vera Pettersen, whose wordless vocals added an ethereal quality to the proceedings. Nicolaj and Mikel Hess split their time between Denmark and NYC, so keep an eye out for them stateside.

Interestingly, Monday’s late night Aarhus show featured another large group, the Jakob Bro Tentet featuring poet Peter Laugesen (who makes it 11 people onstage). Jakob Bro is Denmark’s most auspicious guitar player, and much like Nicolaj Hess, he performs in a variety of settings with a number of different players. He also has a recent CD release on the ECM label. Jakob Bro’s Tentet was compelling, featuring two drummers and three bassists—Nicolai Munch-Hansen, the great Thomas Morgan and again, Anders “AC” Christensen. I can’t tell you what Laugesen’s beat-styled poetry was about besides some jazz references, but the band surrounded his spiel with emotive strength, and showcased three saxophonists, alto man Jesper Zeuthen and Americans Andrew D’Angelo and Chris Speed. Bro’s playing was understated and sonically textured, making for a dreamlike evening that was easy to enjoy. You can check out Bro’s amazing Tentet on the album Hymnotic/Salmodisk, which is also available on vinyl, bro.

—Mitch Myers

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Copenhagen Jazz Festival, 2015


Shouting Fire! Orchestra In A Crowded Theater
The 37th Edition of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival has just concluded after 10 full days of music and celebration. While the fest is more loyal to authentic jazz than most other large festivals, they still endeared themselves to the masses with pop shows by the likes of Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, Al Jarreau and Jamie Cullum. Besides other high-profile jazz acts including the Brad Mehldau Trio, singers Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright, Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock and Brazilian legends Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil, the fest’s programming was actually quite progressive.

With more than 100 venues participating all over the city, there was never any trouble finding left-of-the-dial, improvisational and/or free/jazz gigs. That said, Italian pianist Enrico Peiranunzi played at Gustavs Bistro, which harkened back to the days of classic piano bars (like the old Bradley’s in NYC). Other piano legends such as Kenny Barron and Kirk Lightsey appeared, as did modernists like Vijey Iyer and the Bad Plus with guest saxophonist Joshua Redman.

One of the more unusual highlights was undoubtedly the Fire! Orchestra, which played two action packed shows at the Jazzhouse. Led by Swedish power saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, the Fire! Orchestra is a huge, sprawling collective with at least 20 members. The band brings to mind other anarchic jazz armies like Sun Ra’s band or Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. Boasting multiple horn players, guitarists, drummers and singers, Gustafsson led his troops through a wailing, thrashing, high-energy show that kept the Copenhagen audience fully engaged and set everyone’s minds on fire. This frantic mix of Scandinavian musicians epitomized the wild experiences possible at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. The only question is how to take this band on the road—perhaps Babylon by bus? I repeat, Fire! Orchestra. Listen now.

—Mitch Myers

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Montreal International Jazz Festival, Part 1


It’s the 36th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

One Nation Under A Groove
The 36th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal is officially in full swing. The fest is 10 days and nights, running from June 26 through July 5, and although jazz is the byword, the ambitious music programming also encompasses rock, blues, pop, flamenco, folk, hip hop and EDM for a well-rounded, populist experience. Big fun for serious music lovers with plenty of distractions for the whole family, the Montreal fest features hundreds of concerts, many of which are free on outdoor stages as well as a number ticketed gigs held within a range of indoor venues. Hosting recognizable mainstream artists like the Steve Miller Band, Erykah Badu and hometown favorites like the Barr Brothers, the Montreal fest has fought off some rainy weather and ultimately seems just too big to fail.

Hardcore jazzers have had their hands full with tons of quality options. Italian trumpeters like Enrico Rava and Paulo Fresu both attracted attention, as did American horn-man Christian Scott, the hip-hop-inflected Robert Glasper Trio, the Bad Plus with guest saxophonist Joshua Redman, and the Joe Lovano-John Scofield Quartet. Veteran fusion stars Stanley Jordan, Al Di Melola and Stanley Clarke were all crowd pleasers, as was contemporary axe-man Kurt Rosenwinkle, who hosted three consecutive nights for his part of the vaunted Invitation Series. Jazz elders Gary Bartz, Al Foster, Buster Williams and Larry Willis brought the old-school back to life as the Heads Of State, progressive cornet player Ron Miles mixed it up nicely with guitar hero Bill Frisell and drummer Brian Blade at the Monument-National, and the amazing Wayne Shorter Quartet was once again a festival highlight.

Still, the Montreal crowd loves to move and groove, and nothing got them going like the Snarky Puppy show at the Metropolis dancehall. A swirling, funky big band with two drummers, two keyboardists and a thriving horn section, these guys have quietly grown from playing under the radar to recent Grammy nominations and nonstop touring. Playing original material as well as snatches of P-Funk and even the pounding melody of “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” these guys brought all the different jazz generations together, as in, “one nation under a groove.”

That’s the Montreal Jazz Fest, pure and simple, which keeps on trucking through the holiday weekend—how about you?

—Mitch Myers

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Live Review: The Firefly Festival, 2015


Two years ago, when I mentioned that I was going to Firefly in the weeks preceding the festival, I got mostly blank stares. “Um, what’s Firefly?” Now, even the kindly old lady who rings me up every day at Wawa said, “Oh, I’ve heard about that! It’s in Delaware, right?” My co-worker told me that her teenage daughter has been wearing her Firefly wristband since she received it in the mail several weeks ago, and every major TV and radio station in the Philadelphia metro area ran coverage of the festival.

Four years after the inaugural event in The Woodlands at Dover International Speedway that drew about 30,000 attendees, the East Coast can now lay claim to a premier music festival—the kind that hippies and college kids will drive creaky, spray-painted Volkswagon buses to from across the country in droves.

If you are not a camper, or even a glamper, you needed to book 12 months in advance if you wanted to score a hotel room within a 50-mile radius of the festival this year. In 2015, all 90,000 four-day passes sold out a week prior, prompting giddy press conferences from local leaders about the millions of dollars in economic benefits it will generate, as well as grumblings from Dover residents who just wanted to grab toilet paper and cereal from Walmart that weekend.

The West Coast has Coachella and Sasquatch. The Midwest has Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. The South has, well, Austin, Texas. And now the East Coast has Firefly.

Like previous years, the main headliners (Paul McCartney, Kings Of Leon andtThe Killers) were yawn. You see the same 10 headliners at every festival. The real meat was in the second-and third-tier acts, which are fresher and more intriguing. Big Data, Vacationer and Walk The Moon came out of nowhere to dominate radio waves. Modest Mouse isn’t much of a touring band and has recently put out its first album in seven years. Matt And Kim and RJD2 always perform a lively show. And the rest of the bill has been popping up all over Soundcloud and iTunes playlists.

For those needing a break from the music, there was an arcade, a hammock hangout area, a secret woods rave and a coffee house that offered a full cafe experience and music performances throughout the day. Wine and craft beer bars also scattered the festival grounds. With stage names such as the Porch, the Lawn and the Backyard, Firefly gave festival-goers a carefree summer weekend vibe, despite uncooperative weather.

The day before festivities were scheduled to begin, 65,000 campers stared down a strong chance of thunderstorms Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and periodic drenching all four days. With the gloomy forecast, I was grateful for the hotel room I booked six months prior. Even though it was 40 minutes from Dover, I had premonitions of leaky tents and long lines for a cold rinse in a communal shower and opted for clean sheets and a continental breakfast. My broke college days are long gone, and I can’t tolerate wet sleeping bags and beer for breakfast like I used to.

After waiting in the muddy press area behind the Backyard Stage on Friday afternoon and straining to listen to garbled songs and muffled cheers from fans while anticipating several artist interviews, I was ready to hear some music.

Even with minimal touring experience and only one album under their belt, Durham, N.C.-based duo Sylvan Esso has been creating buzz. Watching them in the flesh, it’s easy to see why. Listening to a Sylvan Esso song live is a pretty transcendent event. Singer Amelia Meath’s striking voice makes you feel like you’ve just stepped into a hot shower after a long day on the ski slopes, simultaneously warm and tingly and content. Her down-to-earth lyrics filter through the membrane of your soul, while producer and keyboardist Nick Sanborn’s throbbing-yet-simple bass lines circulate through your body.

The diminutive Meath stomped onstage with studded four-inch platforms, no makeup, and a messy bun, commanding the crowd with a cheerful confidence. Those in the audience weren’t just there because they wandered by and wanted to check out a random band—they love Sylvan Esso. The way legions of glitter-covered festival-goers sang along with the lyrics and screamed excitedly every time the first chords of one of their less-popular songs were played, you would swear you were at a Taylor Swift concert. It’s only a matter of time before they are a household name.

Suddenly, ubiquitous AWOLNATION ripped through an energetic set early Friday evening as the sun singed its last couple faces and backs before sinking behind the tree line. Since first album Megalithic Symphony exploded in 2011, the Southern California product, fronted by singer/producer Aaron Bruno, has been heard everywhere from television shows to Red Bull commercials. The set started out with the intense title track from latest album Run and culminated in seductive hit “Sail.” In between, Bruno threw his body around the stage like a BMX rider at the X-Games, throttling the microphone during “Thiskidsnotalright” and the anthemic “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf).”

Modest Mouse drew a Paul McCartney-sized crowd for its set. The indie-rock legends released a long-awaited new album in March, but made sure to include a substantial dose of old favorites such as “Dashboard,” “Dramamine” and the banjo-heavy “Satin In A Coffin.” Singer/guitarist Issac Brock delighted the senior millennials in the crowd, who were reliving their best high school years that night as they listened to his distinct growling voice and deliberate guitar twangs.

While more wet weather had saturated the already sloppy grounds overnight, Saturday afternoon and early evening offered sunny-yet-sticky festival conditions. Thankfully, I was given a reprieve from the scorching rays when I was invited to an exclusive performance by 311-esque, reggae-tinged rap/rock group Dirty Heads at the Treehouse, a timber stage nestled in the woods. The “Treehouse Sessions,” hosted by Mixradio, gave select festival-goers access to multiple Firefly acts throughout the weekend. This afternoon, the small crowd enjoyed an intimate performance under a glorious canopy of trees, listening to unplugged versions of “My Sweet Summer” and “Dance All Night.”

Later in the day, Matt And Kim unleashed their characteristic frenzied routine of crowd incitement and Master P interludes, with a couple of actual Matt And Kim songs thrown in. Their uncanny ability to control the audience would make Oprah jealous. A rowdy intro injected Red Bull energy into the throng of sweaty festival-goers, priming them for what was next. To the chagrin of the security personnel, Matt shouted, “Who here has never crowd surfed?” Thousands of hands went up. “Well this is your time!” Dozens of people were hoisted in the air and rolled around atop a sea of hands as the duo banged out “Now.” The very next song, Matt instructed, “I want you to get up on the shoulders of the person next to you!” About 200 girls’ heads popped up above the crowd. For the finale, 75 percentof the audience members’ shirts came off, and they waved them above their heads like Terrible Towels.

Over the past two decades, Spoon has generated a body of work that includes such beloved and critically acclaimed albums as Girls Can Tell and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. On Saturday night, unfortunately, the band’s uninspiring set belied its talent. Spoon is at its best when it plays its simplest, catchiest songs such as “Don’t You Evah,” but the band chose to stick mostly with its fuzzier, less-refined tracks and succeeded in sounding like a lo-fi version of itself.

On the other side of the field, Vacationer started up immediately following Spoon. The band’s easygoing, tropical sound fit perfectly with the welcome breeze flowing over countless sunburned arms and legs as dusk fell. Unfortunately, the relief was short-lived. Around 9:30 p.m., reported nearby storms forced festival organizers to evacuate the grounds. Campers retreated to their tents and RVs while the rest of the crowd formed a long line of cars by the exit.

Fickle weather couldn’t dampen the vibe, or my excitement for next year. Firefly is no longer “under the radar.” For the fourth straight year, Firefly has continued to cement a reputation as one of the can’t-miss summer festivals. I plan to book my hotel today for 2016.

—Maureen Coulter

Another photo after the jump.

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Live Review: Nashville Pussy, Paris, France, May 21, 2015



There, I said it.

Gratuitous? Well, that’s kinda the point, for Nashville Pussy is provocation personified. In fact, the band has conjured an entire career out of little more than titillation and bravado. As for the actual music, any number of labels suffice: redneck rock, biker boogie, white-trash cowpunk, Southern-fried scum metal. Granted, a tag is nothing more than an invitation to take a whiff. Once you stick your nose in deep, you can determine if it really passes the smell test.

But in this case, the Pussy does indeed reek of all of the above.

In the late ’90s, the group’s raunchier-than-thou, AC/DC-meets-Skynyrd shtick, packaged in a live show suitable for softcore porn, garnered a rabid following and even a Grammy nomination. Then-bassist Corey Parks—a 6’3” former model who wore leopard-skin bras and sported an “Eat Me” tatt a hair north of the cooch—would tongue-kiss guitarist Ruyter Suys onstage then throat-fuck her with a beer bottle. The shows would end shortly after Parks jumped into the crowd and belched a mushroom cloud of fire at fleeing fans.

Not surprisingly, the spectacle tended to overshadow the music. Which, to be honest, was probably for the best: an actual pussy can fart better melodies.

A decade and a half after the group’s debut, the lineup has changed, but the music hasn’t. Gone are the pyrotechnics and lesbian peepshow, but the sentiment is still orgy-cum-bar fight.

Tonight, the grease and grime of the band’s studio work are faithfully reproduced in concert. The quartet runs through highlights from all six of its LPs (“Go Motherfucker Go,” “Struttin’ Cock,” “Keep On Fuckin’,” “Good Night For A Heart Attack,” “I’m So High,” “Rub It To Death” and a dozen more shit-kickers). In the closest that Nashville Pussy gets to “sensitive” (the slow-yet-muscular “Go To Hell”), the band tacks on a few verses from the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.” The two songs dovetail seamlessly, which isn’t exactly a recommendation for either.

To be fair, such music should not be judged on its artistic merits but rather on its effect on the listener. Nashville Pussy speaks directly to our basest desires: taking drugs, getting laid, making noise and beating the hell out of those who done us wrong. The band preaches a hedonist gospel, and it’s hard not to testify.

“How many of you are high tonight?” asks lead singer Blaine Cartwright. “I heard this is a stoner club.” With that clever setup, the group launches into—wait for it—“High As Hell.”

Ah, out of the mouths of babes. And out of the lips of Pussy.

—Eric Bensel

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Live Review: Mudhoney, Rouen, France, May 2, 2015


The drum break in set closer “In ‘N’ Out Of Grace” builds toward orgasm. The guitar sprays thick wah loads and then lets a power chord resonate like a delirious exhalation. Mudhoney singer Mark Arm steps to the mic and—with his trademark nasally snarl—screams, “Oh god, how I love to haaaaate,” through a wry smile.

It is the quintessential Mudhoney moment. Yes, the distorted frenzy following a slow build is textbook grunge formula, but the band’s dung-in-cheek animosity always set it apart from its Pacific Northwest brethren. Where Soundgarden wailed, Mudhoney sneered. Where Nirvana wrung hands, Mudhoney grabbed balls.

More than a quarter century into its career, and Mudhoney is still authentic, which may account for its lack of household name recognition. In fact, prior to tonight’s show in Rouen’s 106 club, Arm and guitarist Steve Turner conducted a radio interview, during which the local DJ cheekily commented that Mudhoney was witness to the grunge phenomenon, as it unfolded.

The insinuation wasn’t lost on Arm: “[The other bands] were on the playing field. We were in the front row.”

Indeed, despite recording multiple full-lengths for a major label in the ’90s, Mudhoney never left the garage. But for all its dust and dank, that garage produced a number of enduring anthems.

The performance tonight features a healthy dose of those classics: “If I Think,” “Broken Hands,” a cover of the Dicks’ “Hate The Police” and, of course, the incendiary “Touch Me I’m Sick” with the most irresistible riff since the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” Although they may lack some of the bite of the original recordings, “Suck You Dry” and “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More” compensate by sounding so much heavier, which actually adds an interesting new color.

Even the newer tracks impress and excite: the celebratory bounce to “I Like It Small” and the hardcore hysteria of “Chardonnay” (both from 2013’s Vanishing Point) energize a crowd that is 5,000 miles removed from the group’s hometown Seattle and on average two decades younger than the band members. But great punk—and Mudhoney certainly fits that description—transcends geographical and generational barriers.

That rich, healthy hatred expressed in the final encore just may explain why Mudhoney is so genuine, so consistently refreshing. Punk is about revolution, and revolutionaries require a foil to piss them off.

An extensive backlog of punk masterpieces, an unfailingly snotty attitude, and a mastery of the form that has survived middle age. What’s not to hate?

—Eric Bensel

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