Reviews

Bruce Springsteen: 8 May 2009 - Washington, DC

If this is indeed America's funeral, she is going out with a bang, and Bruce Springsteen is the grand marshal for death's parade.

Bruce Springsteen

City: Washington, DC
Venue: Verizon Center
Date: 2009-05-18

Is it strange that I was halfway through Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's epic two-and-a-half-hour-plus set before I noticed that the Boss and his cohorts were dressed entirely in black? Either my powers of observation have atrophied, or there is something so stupidly optimistic about Springsteen's revivalist stadium rock that it belies the worst of recession-era gloom and crumbling-earth eschatology. If this is indeed America's funeral, she is going out with a bang, and Springsteen is the grand marshal for death's parade.

Perhaps the airborne ecstasy in a room lit by Springsteen's presence is not unrelated to the work required just to get there. At face value, tickets to this Verizon Center performance sold between $60 and $100, and that was after you carpal-tunneled yourself clicking refresh on Ticketmaster.com and avoided the price-gouging trap set by sell-on websites. And by showing up to the concert themselves, fans were in effect declining the opportunity to scalp their tickets for two hundred bucks or more. Faces around the arena reflected a giddy anticipation usually found in dogs tossed a plate of leftover filet mignon or grandmothers let loose into a room of their own grandchildren -- this is the best moment of my week, month, life.

In turn, Springsteen seemed to perform as if this particular show at Washington, DC's Verizon Center was fated to be his last, best, ever. For anyone who has seen him live before or, really, knows anything about him, the guy's limitless enthusiasm is old news, but still: That he loves being onstage begs to be repeated. This was my first Springsteen concert, and I have never seen a musician so addicted to audience gratification, and I have never seen an audience so enthralled to the band onstage.

The E Street Band's wall of sound was in full effect, aided by the participation of Springsteen's wife Patti Scialfa, whose appearances on the current tour have been sporadic after a horse-riding accident, and drummer Max Weinberg, whose duties as Conan O'Brien's musical director have occasionally caused him to miss shows. The first sax solo from Clarence "Big Man" Clemons, who nearly seems as well loved as Springsteen, inspired a frenzied response from the audience. At times the sound was a little too muddy, as if there was little more to the band than pounding piano chords and a driving drumbeat, but on the whole the band defied its age by zigzagging through Springsteen's compositions with the athleticism of a young buck.

More expert Springsteen-followers than me have noted that the band is going all-out in terms of pleasing the audience on this current tour, and I can believe it. The request portion of the show would speak to that, during which Springsteen took posters requesting songs both classic ("Out in the Street") and bizarre ("Hava Nagila"; "Little Latin Lupe Lu") and lead the band into rollicking, unrehearsed renditions. Springsteen's willingness to let every child within arm's length of him sing a lyric and his donning of a cowboy hat for the song "Outlaw Pete" were moments that bordered on outright cheese, but for some reason they seemed more palatable than might be expected. Springsteen's charmingly earnest antics have been winning fans for decades, and no doubt he won more than a few on this night.

At the beginning of the show, after coming on to thunderous applause, Springsteen asked, "Are you ready to be delivered?" and then launched into "Badlands", the Darkness on the Edge of Town opener that mixes classic Springsteenian blue-collar concerns and a galloping accompaniment. This kind of faux-preacher message of hope followed by songs that are lyrically dark yet musically upbeat gave the concert's overt enthusiasm a perplexing shade. Where exactly are we being delivered, again? To a place, according to "Badlands", where "you spend your life waiting for a moment that just don't come" and where you "Let the broken hearts stand / As the price you've gotta pay." Now that's something to shake a fist to! Towards the middle of the set, Springsteen went into a lengthy, Sunday-style testimonial about "building a house of hope," only to transition into a song -- Nebraska's "Johnny 99" -- about a laid-off auto worker who goes on a shooting spree. Suffice it to say that the home envisioned in "Johnny 99" is probably not the kind of "house of hope" President Obama, the likely executioner for much of the American automobile industry, wants to build.

Besides the obligatory "Born to Run", which with the lights up and all twenty thousand singing themselves hoarse was thrilling if in a predictable way, the concert's high point was perhaps "The Promised Land", a mid-tempo stomper featuring an effervescent Clemons harmonica line. The verses feature a typical Springsteen anti-hero, toiling under the hood of some jerk's car, driving out into the desert to shout down his fate, but the chorus could not be more blunt: "I believe in the promised land," the arena sung out with gusto. At which point it occurred to me the utopia of which Springsteen sings may not have a geographic location, and it may not depend on a certain level of socioeconomic equality or justice. For Springsteen and his fans, the "Promised Land" can be found in one place for sure -- namely, a Springsteen concert. After the failure of politics, dreams, and everything else, his music, for a lot of people, has become the only thing left worth believing in.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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