After dishing out grumpy-boy posturing in Nashville, Detroit and NYC, alt-country sassypants Ryan Adams had us hoping for our own dose of “Summer of ‘69” drama in Portland Oregon. We were sorely disappointed. The only entertaining moment of the night came during the opener’s encore (Canadian duo Tegan and Sara may have been the best career choice he’s made yet). If ever there was a poster-boy for Alcoholics Anonymous and the American Lung Association, Adams is it. Hell-bent on demonstrating how fucking cool he is, boy-wonder kept a cigarette lit the entire night and bragged about his dastardly drunken ways. Oh, to be living proof of talent wasted in the name of rock-star excesses.
When the Vines media blitz of early summer was nothing more than a few press releases saved in the inboxes of magazine editors and television producers, the Aussie band played a small show in New York City. Said show was attended largely by three types of people: 1) those aforementioned media types, poised to catapult the Vines into stardom, whether they liked it or not; 2) musical gurus who take to finding their new favorite bands from the pages of Mojo, Q, or other British publications that tend to be hyperbolic in their fawning and 3) stiffs who happened to stick around for the set following openers the Candy Butchers, the very folks who might provide the kind of viral marketing needed to give this band indie cred. Needless to say, the pressure was on. You could see it as lead singer Craig Nicholls paced around the stage, ready to crawl out of his own skin, screaming like there were hundreds of others crowded inside his head. He postured, then gave up; sang, then looked depressed; climbed high, then cowered like a kitten stuck in a tree. Not even Nicholls’ fresh-faced attempts at Osbourney anger or Cobainy angst—which were about as cute as a really, really angry five-year old—could have pulled this show out of the proverbial shitter.
Despite the sunny meta-narrative pumped out by the Vines PR machine, the word on the street is that their weeks on the road this year resulted in bigger, uglier repeats of their Big Apple missteps. A schizophrenic but decent recorded band, the Viney ruse of tortured mania turns their live shows not into powerful rock-rages, but either pathetic jokes or really pathetic displays of utter incapability. There’s nothing Highly Evolved about their act other than the acute sense of agony one feels at the end of their set. Now, put that in your press release and press send.
Not only the worst concert of the year, but the worst concert I have ever seen. In the review I wrote for my local newspaper , I said the fearsome fivesome sounded like “a fleet of 747s doing a flyby inches above your head while a chainsaw slowly rips through your skull.” It wasn’t that they were loud, it was that they were screechingly, thuddingly, stupidly, monotonously loud. I just don’t get it, kids. There’s no melody, groove or vitality in this music, and in my book, you need at least two of those three to be worth something. There’s no real passion, either. Just calculated rage. Nothing has sold better the last few years than self-absorbed crybabyism, and there’s no bigger band of crybabys than Jonathan Davis and company. Like the band, Korn kids seem to be in love with their own non-conformity. Too bad all 4,000 of them acted exactly the same way, which was violent, selfish and doltish. When was the last time moshing was considered revolutionary anyway? 1982? Not that it matters. Korn kids would have been first in line to beat the shit out of wussy Black Flag fans back in the day, no doubt. The only good I took from the show was the depleted number of these kids in the audience . It was close to half what Korn drew two years earlier at the same venue. Untouchable? You wish. Here come the White Stripes, motherfuckers.
Pete Yawn is right. Touring ceaselessly during the first half of the year on the strength of a promising debut album (2001’s musicforthemorningafter) that had some critics hailing him as the next Bruce Springsteen, Pete Yorn and his dull-as-dirt live act demonstrated that he’s not yet ready to keep such illustrious company. From the patter-by-the-numbers interaction with his (mostly teenage girl) audience to the unimaginative set list composed almost entirely of album tracks sounding exactly as recorded, from the overactive fog machine to the excessive use of backlighting à la U2 circa Rattle and Hum, nothing about Pete Yorn live gave any indication that he knows how to engage a concert audience in any language other than that of rock and roll clichés. Here’s hoping that in the new year Yorn stops cribbing from Rockin’ Out For Dummies and develops a live persona that matches the maturity and nuance of his recorded one.
Christine Di Bella
My friend’s Indian-born father recently described what he first noticed and fell in love with about the United States thusly: You can drive all the way across the country and everyone speaks the same language and everyone eats the same food. The first thing that came to mind was a landscape dotted with factory outlet malls and chain restaurants. The second thing that came to mind was Zero 7.
The British DJ duo and erstwhile soul troupe got a healthy dose of attention this year for the Mercury Prize-nominated simple things. They weren’t unworthy of the praise—simple things, for all its high-gloss sheen and predictable moodiness, is an album that fits just fine in the background on a Sunday morning while you have the newspaper sprawled out in front of you. Saturday night in a dark club, though, is a different story.
The band was high on its own critical and commercial success as it arrived on US shores for a limited tour last spring. As they made their way to major-market cities near you, they spoke a language we could all understand and fed us slow-motion grooves we’ve all tasted before. Henry Binns (for fans of Mike Judge’s Office Space, Binns is Zero 7’s requisite flare) couldn’t be bothered to get out of his bathrobe for the New York gig. The rest of the band just couldn’t be bothered as they laid tracks that, with precious few exceptions, sounded exactly like they do on the album. But, all in all it was a pleasant night out—the subtle beats and smooth rhythms were hot and plentiful, the service was excellent and there were no reports of food poisoning. It was a little pricey, though, and as we left for the night we couldn’t help but think that maybe we’d have enjoyed ourselves more and saved some money if we’d just stayed at home and ordered take-out.
Atlanta’s coffeehouse king may sing, “I want to run through the halls of my high school”, but a more appropriate mantra for his concerts may be “I Wanna Be Adored”. His live shows are like Backstreet Boys Unplugged: the audience is teeming with the loudest girls on earth, each one programmed to sing every word at glass-shattering volume. So loud, in fact, that Mayer and his band are all but inaudible. Mayer himself doesn’t discourage this hero worship in any way. In fact, he exaggerates it by putting his entire backing band 10 feet behind him. Love me, love me, say that you love me . . .
The songs are faithfully reproduced, until the set is derailed with a bluesy noodle jam that would bore even the staunchest HORDE fan. The banter is clearly aimed at the females, with jokes about Cosmo quizzes. The cover version of the evening: “I Want It That Way”. How fitting.
It’s not his fault that he’s cute, though he’s not really that cute. But it is his fault that he’d rather be lusted after than respected, and his live shows are intolerable because of it.