The artist, songwriter, musician, and overall celebrated tortured genius Daniel Johnston performed a capricious set Wednesday night at the Highline Ballroom in New York City. While his severe bi-polar condition and episodes have mythologized his persona and recordings they have also erected a dubious boundary within is work, one between mind and reality, good and evil. One thing, however, remains painfully clear: Mr. Johnston’s songs are haunting vignettes of concentrated emotion, providing mainstream fans, as well as artists, a continuous well of authentic sentimentality, often replete with humor. Though Mr. Johnston frequently cites the humor overshadowing his music (and favorites like “Speeding Motorcycle” easily conveyed this at the Highline) many songs are hesitantly, and uncomfortably, comic, especially after seeing Mr. Johnston’s demons delineated in the acclaimed 2006 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston. Wednesday he shared a recent dream: “I had a dream last night this guy was sentenced to death for attempted suicide. And that guy was me! And I’m sitting in the back of the courtroom saying ‘No, no, no, you got the wrong guy!’” The resounding laughter presented the obvious question if people were laughing at or with Mr. Johnston. Either way people screamed his name and cheered wildly during his solo set, even while singing sympathetic lines like “I love you all but I hate myself.” Opening band the Capitol Years (Weezer-harmonizing indie pop) then joined Johnston for his second set, accompanying him on both his own numbers, like “Fake Records of Rock and Roll” and “True Love Will Find You in the End” from his latest Is and Always Was, as well as some poignant Beatles covers, “I’m So Tired” and “Day in the Life.” Often times his brother Dick played along on acoustic guitar as Mr. Johnston’s uncontrollably fidgety hands gave up on guitar and also inadvertently unplugged his mic several times, which also prompted wild cheers of encouragement (“You don’t need that thing Daniel!”) Daniel’s own ambitions were always to be a famous artist, but what cost that imposes on his own condition is, at best, difficult to measure and unsettling to endure. Throughout the set his hands tremored and social anxiety loomed. Hopefully his parents and brother can successfully enshrine his body of work so that ultimately they aren’t undermined, or glorified, as a result of his accompanying condition.
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What if I told you that Tegan & Sara, Kele Okereke of Bloc Party and Jónsi of Sigur Rós were all on the same album? What if I said it was a techno album? Tiësto—often ranked the world’s #1 DJ—has a new album, the aptly titled Kaleidoscope, packed with myriad indie-crossover collaborations.
On a very late Wednesday night, Tiësto put on an excellent, just-over-two-hour long, show for a sold out crowd at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory. Fueling people with his apparent inexhaustible energy, Tiësto crafted his mixes front and center but danced along at every chance he could. Throughout the set his beats were enhanced by blinding strobe lights and large LCD displays covering the front of his mixing consoles and the back of the stage, incorporating kaleidoscopic shapes, emblems and logos as well as visual segments of the new album’s vocal collaborators.
The crowd could not be blamed for anticipating some massive trance anthems and dance-floor smashes considering that Tiësto has four artist albums and countless remix credits. So after being herded into the venue from a line nearly the length of the block, people jammed into every inch possible; some pushed precariously close to the edge of the balcony and some, unlike any of the club shows I’ve seen, even crowd-surfed.
The first song I caught was a bit of Metric’s Emily Haines singing “Knock You Out” before Tiësto played “Century” featuring Scottish producer Calvin Harris, whose statement to “get your hands in the air” was quickly realized by the crowd. The catchy Quin sisters track, “Feel It in my Bones,” had them singing while disembodied green heads twirled around before sweeping off the LCD screens. During “Traffic,” the screens flashed numerous city names rapidly before stopping on Philadelphia and alternating with a command to “MAKE SOME NOISE.” That really set the crowd off.
“Traffic” began as an intense streak of songs with one standing out: “Love Comes Again”, an older collaboration with producer and vocalist BT, gave the crowd the opportunity to sing the encouraging lyrics when Tiësto dropped out the music. Unexpectedly, he continued into “He’s a Pirate”, a remix of the epic-sounding Pirates of the Carribean movie score, before going into his trance-reworking of Barber’s classic and dark “Adaggio for Strings.” Its climactic strings over pulsating beats again threw the crowd into a timed frenzy.
Approaching the venue’s cut-off time, Tiësto took a moment to thank the amazing crowd and encourage them to go even more crazy. But instead came the low point of the night: he played the cheesy Zombie Nation song that I will never appreciate. It was a minor blemish in an otherwise energetic finale of a strong show.
Closing the two hour session, Tiësto tossed his headphones into the teeming dance floor before leaving the stage. The profusely sweaty, skeptical crowd chanted for him to return but soon after the house lights came on and people began streaming out into the chilly night, broken down that the show ended so quickly but reassuring themselves that Tiësto would come again.
Tracklist: (from tiestotracklists dot net)
01: Tiesto feat Jonsi – Kaleidoscope
02: Tiesto - Flight 643 (Laidback Luke Edit)
03: Tiesto & Sneaky Sound System - I Will Be Here (Tiesto Remix)
04: Jose Nunez, MYNC, Harry \\\‘Choo Choo\\\’ Romero - Boogers (Avicii\\\‘s Dumb Dumb Remix)
05: Sander van Doorn – Ninety
06: Tiesto feat C.C Sheffield - Escape Me (Extended Mix)
07: Tiesto feat Emily Haines - Knock You Out (Remix ID Unknown)
08: Tiesto feat Calvin Harris – Century
09: Deadmau5 – Strobe
10: Tiesto feat Priscilla Ahn - I Am Strong
11: Tiesto feat Carry Brothers - Here On Earth
12: Tiesto - Always Near (Extended Mix)
13: Tiesto feat Tegan & Sara - Feel It In My Bones
14: Editors - Papillon (Tiesto Remix)
15: Tiesto - Louder Than Boom (Original Mix)
16: (ID Unknown)
17: Tiesto - Traffic (DJ Montana 12\\\” Edit)
18: Tiesto feat BT - Love Comes Again (Original Mix)
19: Tiesto - He\\\‘s A Pirate
20: Tiesto - Adagio For Strings
21: (ID Unknown)
22: Ben Nicky - Special Moment (Original Mix)
23: Nenes & Pascal Feliz – Platinum (Tech Mix)
24: Boys Noize & Erol Alkan – Waves
25: Zombie Nation – Kernkraft 400 (Laidback Luke Edit)
26: Tiesto - Surrounded By Light
When thinking of punk rock what bands come to mind? Maybe the Sex Pistols, Screeching Weasel, NOFX, or Naked Raygun? What about the Butthole Surfers? I normally would not have associated the Butthole Surfers with punk, that is, until I witnessed them headline the opening night of Riot Fest in Chicago. The aim of the five night event was to showcase generations of punk rock music of all shapes and sizes.
Normally punk is not my first choice of music; I associate it with teenage friendships, an adolescent rite of passage soundtrack if you will. But what drew me to Riot Fest was the Butthole Surfers, a band I have enjoyed since seeing them on Beavis and Butthead.
Photo by Patrick Houdek
Hesitant about their association to punk rock I really did not know what to expect. The venue was filled with an eerie glow from a screen serving as a stage backdrop. As the band took the stage, audience members packed in as close as they could to best glimpse the imminent spectacle. The backdrop began to flash, spastically, three different montages as the band hammered out “Something,” with guitarist Paul Leary on lead vocals. Meanwhile usual front man Gibby Haynes danced around, honking on the saxophone. Jeff Pinkus slammed his bass, and percussionists King Coffey and Teresa Taylor drove a steady yet intricate rhythm on various drums. The lineup of Haynes, Leary, Pinkus, Coffey and Taylor represented the band’s original roster from the mid-‘80s. After the first song I knew it was going to be one hell of a ride.
The music got increasingly loud, intense, and stylistically interesting. Every song featured Haynes’ patented “Gibbytronix” voice modulator, which tweaked sounds and altered his vocal pitch. Other effects included an abundance of distortion pedals, industrial soundtracks, a megaphone, sirens, squeaking, squawking, and plenty of noise trails. Interacting with the crowd, Haynes chatted about how many girls were there, the number of people wearing glasses , how many were bald, and how young the crowd seemed. He described the scene as “unprecedented.”
Photo by Patrick Houdek
Known for their extreme debaucheries on stage the Butthole Surfers played a relatively tame show. The only shock value came from the blood, guts, fear, fury and skin projected on the backdrop. Some film scenes were recognizable—such as It, Silence of the Lambs and Killer Klowns from Outer Space—while others just included surgeries, zombie/slasher films, bugs, geometric shapes, explosions, combusting heads and more. It was not unlike A Clockwork Orange, being force fed images of violence and gore.
Their set closed with “Who was in My Room Last Night?,” with Haynes performing an inspiring interpretive dance as the song rumbled to a close. Then the backdrop went black and the stage remained still for almost half a minute. At this point the venue reeked of B.O. and smoke, thanks to a smoke machine filling the room with a thick fog.
Coming back for an encore, Leary confided in the crowd: “Normally we’re this really good rock and roll band [who] plays normal shit…it takes special people to come see us!” Their encore, lasting almost 20 minutes, was full of monster solos from each member, and more deafening psychedelic freak outs. It felt like a finale to one of the slasher films projected in the background, when the apparently doomed teen knows they will eventually get out alive. The show officially ended with grinding noise, like helicopters hitting pavement, topped off with bass reverb.
Reflecting on punk, the theme of Riot Fest, and how the Butthole Surfers fit into the picture, I thought that their sound was not all-out punk, but instead their energy and ethos reflected the genre. They took the audience for a twisted ride, razed some eardrums, and upheld their legacy of being a motley band of bizarre, discombobulated chaos, who ultimately leaves their fans satisfied.
Set list obtained by Allison Taich
Calling Justin Vernon a nice guy is like saying the Rolling Stones are a good blues rock band. They’re both whopping understatements. Bon Iver’s frontman goes out of his way to make you feel welcome. And the guy’s so polite that he apologizes for being so polite. It’s this sincerity that made his performance Sunday night at Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater such a treat.
Vernon’s tall tale, and now familiar, back-story has always threatened to eclipse his music (Raleigh folkie breaks up with girlfriend and band; moves back to northwestern Wisconsin hometown; locks himself in cabin for three months and composes beautiful debut album) 2007’s For Emma, Forever Ago. But here in Milwaukee, a place where fans want to claim Bon Iver as their own, Vernon and company are calling it quits for “an indefinite amount of time.” Not surprisingly, Vernon won’t stop thanking people.
The hiatus coincides with Vernon’s latest release with his side project, Volcano Choir, featuring the Milwaukee group Collection of Colonies of Bees. There were murmurs of a possible invitation to the group to join him on stage, but nothing came of it. The thought must have whirled around Vernon’s head, but it would’ve been an imposing, egotistical move. Someone with his grace wouldn’t sideline his own band to introduce his new outfit, especially on the former’s final gig.
Vernon’s whinny falsetto has always defined Bon Iver’s sound, but it was his backing band that gave the group its ethereal beauty on Sunday. Michael Noyce’s guitar creaked, evoking rusty, wooden doors; multi-instrumentalist Sean Carey’s quaint wind chimes opened “Lump Sum,” giving the song an eerily pastoral feel. The two’s percussion, along with Matthew McCaughan, rang like thunder on “Skinny Love.” During this tune, along with “Flume” and “Lump Sum,” Vernon, with unkempt hair and scraggly beard, transplanted the audience back to his solitary Eau Claire cabin. He didn’t leave them there long, though, mixing his set with shredding solos on “Creature Fear” and “Blood Bank,” showing glimpses of his experimental side.
A staple of their live shows, Bon Iver covered The Outfield’s “Your Love,” bringing some ‘80s camp to the otherwise serene night. “The Wolves (Part I And II)” transcendentally closed the set as the crowd repeated the line “what might have been lost,” crescendoing louder and louder into a full-out burst of energy. As the seats rumbled it was obvious that, no matter how courteous, Justin Vernon still puts on a hell of a rock show.
The entire performance can be streamed here.
One of the greatest benefits of live band journalism/photography is the exposure you get to artists that are not yet in the mainstream. In most cases, these artists are opening acts who perform their hearts out attempting to make a lasting impression and ideally, warm up the audience for the acts that follow. Such was the case Saturday night at the El Mocambo in Toronto when the UK’s the Brakes (known as BrakesBrakesBrakes in North America due to a Philly based punk band’s claim on the truncated name) started the evening with an adrenaline boosting set of super-catchy pop songs. Fronted by former British Sea Power member Eamon Hamilton, the band formed in 2003 and has toured with the likes of Belle & Sebastian and the Killers, their experience evident both in ability and crow-pleasing interaction.
Next up was Glasgow’s We Were Promised Jetpacks, labelmates of the night’s headliner The Twilight Sad. The four-piece was immediately greeted by a wild group of cheering fans, whistling and clapping before they even had instruments in hand. They performed a tight set of shoe-gazey heart-felt melodies, all through which their fans openly sang along.
The room became electrified when headliners The Twilight Sad finally stepped on stage. After what I had just witnessed, I expected nothing short of an epic performance. Musically, the band sounded equally good live as when studio produced, covering songs from both Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters and the recently released Forget The Night Ahead, but their stage presence lacked the group unity the two previous bands exemplified. Band member interaction was virtually non-existent as each performer stood in expressionless stoicism throughout the entire show, with the exception of singer James Graham who, in his attempt to convey the angst and melancholy of the lyrics, sang on his knees and, at times, beat the drum set with his own stick. His whole performance felt too contrived, unconvincing and was more distracting than anything. Looking behind me to gauge how the rest of the room might be feeling, I wasn’t surprised to see the crowd had thinned considerably and those who were still there didn’t appear to be really into it either. By the end of the set, which concluded with a solid five minutes of feedback from the strings and Graham standing motionless staring off into space, I was ready to go home as well.