Live Review: Fleetwood Mac, San Jose, CA, May 21, 2009

fleetwoodmac320The last time I saw Fleetwood Mac in San Jose, there was a near-riot—and it wasn’t because people were trying to get in. When the U.K./American outfit played the half-empty, three-thousand capacity San Jose Civic Auditorium in January 1974, somebody must have thought the local residents were pretty stupid. The band that followed warm-up combo Silverhead (fronted by Michael DesBarres, husband of famed tell-all author/groupie Pamela DesBarres) onstage was definitely not Fleetwood Mac. We’d seen their photos, bought their records, and these were five guys named Moe. Patrons immediately stormed the box office, demanding their money back and were told that the band’s manager, Clifford Davis, who owned the name “Fleetwood Mac,” had fired the original members and hired an all-new lineup. Sign this list, kid, and you’ll be mailed a full refund. Still waiting for that check.

The itch was finally scratched last night when Fleetwood Mac played to a near-capacity crowd of more than 20 thousand at cavernous H.P. Pavilion, home of the San Jose Sharks. Lindsey Buckingham and Stephanie “Stevie” Nicks climbed onboard the Mac express in 1975 and shepherded the group through its superstar period during a 10-year run. Buckingham and Nicks reminisced onstage about their local connections. Both attended Menlo-Atherton High School in Menlo Park in the late ’60s, San Jose State in the early ’70s, then cut their only Buckingham Nicks album in 1973. “When we played the Fillmore West opening for Quicksilver Messenger Service,” said Nicks, “Bill Graham screamed at a guy who was heckling me, ‘Get out of my Fillmore and don’t ever come back!’ That’s when I knew we were going somewhere.” Dressed in her trademark, free-flowing ensemble, Nicks spoke warmly of the boyfriend/girlfriend days she spent with Buckingham, dedicating the band’s ’82 hit “Gypsy” to “the paper roses, the house we had in Los Gatos and the gypsies that we were.” Nicks, who just turned 60, tentatively tried a pirouette on ’76 smash “Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win)” but gave up about halfway through. With her voice as strong as ever, it’s probably time to think about switching from playing Ophelia to a long run as Lady MacBeth.

Buckingham, a year younger than Nicks, proved especially feisty, reeling off a juicy guitar break on “Dreams” (“Thunder only happens when it’s raining”) and a solid vocal turn on a re-tooled version of “Oh Well,” a searing, stop-and-start blues number first cut by the 1970 version of Fleetwood Mac that featured guitartists Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan. It was also a treat to hear Nicks perform onetime Mac singer/keyboardist Christine McVie’s showcase number “Say You Love Me.” A hired keyboard player did his best to replace the USC marching band, the original accompanist (recorded at Dodger Stadium) for stirring 1979 number “Tusk,” a revered highlight of the Mac’s masterpiece double album of the same name.

Drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie (the band’s original namesakes) remain in place, with the stork-like Fleetwood, dressed in black knickers and red shoes, particularly nimble on a gavotte-styled bow that followed big hit “Go Your Own Way.” Everyone knew what the encore would be—the only ace in the deck they hadn’t dealt. 1977 classic “Don’t Stop” gained a second life as the campaign theme song for Bill Clinton in 1992. It sounded every bit as exciting in the first term of Barack Obama.

—Jud Cost

Live Review: Green Day, New York, NY, May 18, 2009

greendaylivebImagine, at the height of their popularity, catching a set from the Who down at your local pub. Or a show from U2 in one of Dublin’s infamously gritty nightclubs rather than some flash, Pop Mart-like extravaganza. You’d feel like you’d gotten away with something, wouldn’t you? Like you and the small, amped-up horde around you had just witnessed history: something fleeting, rare, accessible but to a scant few who could legitimately claim that they’d “seen them back when.” Most important: You’d never forget that moment as long as you lived, mere feet away from an all-powerful rock tsunami usually viewed through the safe remove of binoculars at one of America’s countless sports arenas where such spectacles are typically scheduled for the benefit of the suburban masses. (And the bank accounts of the artists in question, of course.)

This is what it was like to see Green Day at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom (max capacity: 600) as the band warms up for its first world tour in three years later this summer. Having launched the dense and dramatic 21st Century Breakdown straight into the mouth of the recession late last week, the band has embarked on a barnstorming tour of New York, scheduling club gigs at the Bowery, Webster Hall and Tribeca’s P.C. Richard & Son Theater as well as a free show in Central Park (as part of its appearance on Good Morning America). Sure, it’s a savvy marketing move at a time when the recording industry is desperate for anything remotely resembling a “must have” release and corresponding tour, but by making a band that can easily sell out 50,000-seat stadiums around the world accessible to contest winners and fan-club members at small venues, the folks at Warners are cleverly cementing the myth of Green Day as The People’s Band, which tonight’s gig did absolutely nothing to contradict. For nearly two hours, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, Tré Cool and the handful of friends who serve as the expanded lineup for Green Day’s upcoming tour played their new album and a set of choice encores as though their very lives depended on it.

The band’s first set consisted exclusively of songs from 21st Century Breakdown, an 18-track, hour-plus sprawl that will likely take months if not longer to settle in with the band’s faithful (even as radio gravitates almost immediately to the focus track, the now-ubiquitous anthem “Know Your Enemy”). A running narrative loosely based on the trials and travails of a young couple—Christian and Gloria—on the run from the economic meltdown and societal dissolution that surrounds them in a post-Dubya U.S. of A., it’s a shaggy summary of everything the band is capable of doing from a songwriting and performance point of view. You have your trademark hammer-down stompers (“American Eulogy,” “Horseshoes And Handgrenades,” “Murder City”), Beatlesque moments of melodic majesty that would completely shock the troops who once claimed these guys as their own back in their Gilman St. days (“Before The Lobotomy,” “21 Guns”), power pop that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Cheap Trick album (“Last Of The American Girls”) and moments that are more Meat Loaf or Elton John than punk (“Restless Heart Syndrome”). It’s clear that Green Day is enjoying the act of playing together again; Armstrong was decked out in a sheriff’s getup (complete with silver star and bullet-casing belt) and whipped around the stage like a man with his pants on fire, marching in time one minute, windmilling like Pete Townshend the next, high-fiving the fans down front and recklessly throwing himself into the crowd at one point. Like American Idiot before it, this is an album that will give the band plenty of elbow room for experimentation and expansion in a live setting, so I fully expect these songs to take on a very different set of dimensions by the time the tour is about midway through its worldwide run.

That said, this was an exclusive fan-club show (thank you Sam from Craigslist!), and it was during the encore set that the real action took place. The band playfully grabbed songs from the recesses of its back catalog, from early favorites such as “Going To Pasalacqua,” “She” and “Longview” (the latter a crowd participation exercise in which a heavily tattooed young woman was hauled up onstage to sing the song in Armstrong’s stead) to latter-day hits such as “Minority,” “American Idiot” and a 10-minute take on what I maintain is Green Day’s finest recorded moment, “Jesus Of Suburbia.” Drummer Cool was even given the mic (after Armstrong took a moment to teach him the chords, to the amusement of the rest of the band) to sing his Kerplunk!-era country joint “Dominated Love Slave,” causing convulsions in the crowd and a bemused Armstrong to note, “Oh my god, that just really happened.” But for me, the moment that best illustrated what this band is all about and how far it’s come in its 21 years together was a medley of old-time rock and soul: “Shout!” “(You’ve Got The Cutest Little) Baby Face” and “Stand By Me,” performed while the band was on its collective backs onstage, having commanded the crowd to “get down low” for the finale. The show periodically took on the flavor of a family reunion; one kid down front caught Armstrong’s eye, prompting him to tell the crowd, “I haven’t seen this guy in four years! Where have you been, college? In Buffalo? Oh man, that’s almost as bad as Oakland!” Green Day is in its element in an intimate live setting such as this one, connecting with its legion of fans, sweating its way to salvation and generally having one helluva good time in the process.

It’s safe to say I won’t forget this night for a good long while. And I’ll bet there are about 600 others who streamed into the New York night saying exactly the same thing.

—Corey duBrowa

Live Review: The Shins, Philadelphia, PA, May 16, 2009

shinslive550bA concert venue featuring crooning indie-rock superstars the Shins was the perfect environs for serial-monogamist hipsters to bring their girlfriend/boyfriend of the moment. You could almost hear some of them squealing, “That’s our song!” when the band played “New Slang.” The newly revamped Shins—longtime members Marty Crandall and Jesse Sandoval have been replaced by Ron Lewis (Grand Archives, Fruit Bats) and Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse)—performed an alternately poppy and mellow set that suited the implicit date-night atmosphere at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory. Sentimentality poured from the speakers and riveted the audience, as giddy teens and balding boomers alike contemplated their sunset-and-margaritas-swilling trip down the shore two years ago.

Singer/guitarist James Mercer’s multi-faceted, octave-hopping voice penetrated bone marrow as the Shins segued from the jangly, carbonated “Know Your Onion!” to the musical NyQuil of “Weird Divide,” which gave me an urge to trudge to the lounge area and fight for a futon inside the cabanas at the back of the Factory. Listening to the cerebral lyrics of past albums such as 2001’s Oh, Inverted World and 2007’s Wincing The Night Away, I’d envisioned each group member sporting a James Lipton goatee and smoking a well-hewn pipe. While only Mercer had a beard, the band’s witty onstage banter and brown corduroys made me feel like I was in a debate-club meeting at Dartmouth College.

The Shins provided plenty of non-offensive tweaks and surprises, from a funky, Bonnaroo Festival version of “Sea Legs” to new material that sounded like a Shins-ified Austin Powers theme song. Even though you’d be hard-pressed to interpret any of Mercer’s lyrics as romantically inclined, the Shins sear an emotional brand into your brain that makes favorable associations inevitable. Those hipsters definitely knew what they were doing when they took their significant others to the show.

—Maureen Coulter

“Know Your Onion!” (download):

Live Review: M. Ward, Oakland, CA, May 16, 2009

mward_370A less likely rock star than M. Ward hasn’t come down Oakland’s Nimitz Freeway in many a moon. With an almost awkward stage presence that kept the between-songs chatter to a bare minimum, and a “Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates” kind of singing voice, Ward relied heavily on his startling talent with the guitar and his undeniable ability to write songs you swear you’ve heard before—and take ones you do know in totally unexpected directions. Make no mistake about it, Matt Ward hung 10 tonight on a giant wave of fan adoration at the recently refurbished Fox Theater, an ancient movie palace whose sumptuous interior dates from somewhere in between the Indiana Jones and Fry’s Electronics dynasties.

Even the uninitiated should have had some idea what was coming tonight after what sounded like a hand-picked set of pre-concert tunes that included semi-obscure ’60s nuggets that ranged from Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By” to a Roger Miller double-play of “Dang Me” and “Chug-A-Lug.” It’s easy to see why Ward gets on so well with former Grandaddy studio rat (and recently launched solo artist) Jason Lytle. They both revere Brian Wilson and Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne. Before he takes it in a totally different melodic direction, Ward’s “To Save Me” begins with a whisper of a quote from “You Never Can Tell,” a 1964 hit by Chuck Berry (whose rocking guitar was one of three ingredients Wilson used to create the Beach Boys’ trademark sound).

After a lovely live version of “To Save Me,” played by two guitars, keyboard, bass and drums, Ward revisited the Berry mother lode with a rollicking run-through of “Roll Over Beethoven,” much less refined than E.L.O.’s 1972 version, whose snippets of Ludwig Van’s famous Fifth Symphony must have caused the old dead gentleman to do a subterranean 360. Then, just to keep everyone on their toes, Ward unveiled his complete retooling of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On,” a highlight of Ward’s latest album, Hold Time. In his capable hands, the song trades Holly’s rockabilly hiccups and Lubbock yelp for tubular bells and a cherry-pie/coffee-shop ambience that makes it sound like it’s been cut by N.R.B.Q. under the direction of Phil Spector before he went off his trolley.

Ward has told me on several occasions that it’s the artist’s job to blur the lines between various elements in a song. For his solo-acoustic centerpiece tonight, he conjured the spirit (if not the letter) of Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” on “Fuel For Fire,” originally found on 2005’s Transistor Radio. “Hold Time” did a fine job of further muddying the waters with a sighing, Harold Budd-like synthesizer worthy of an updated film-noir soundtrack that wheezed its way around a heavily echoed, Lynne-style vocal by Ward.

For all his pulling the rug out from under people’s musical expectations (a funereal re-invention of Don Gibson’s jaunty “Oh Lonesome Me” on Hold Time, for example), Ward could never have been the irritating dorm roommate who put a bucket of water over the door and waited for you to walk in. He’s more like the slightly weird comic-strip character Liō, who played tennis with a giant squid and a zombie on the same weekend you went home to get your laundry done.

—Jud Cost

“Rave On” (download):

Live Review: Bottomless Pit, Pittsburgh, PA, May 15, 2009

bottomlesspit390Bottomless Pit shouldn’t even exist, but when a bizarre and tragic event took the life of Michael Dahlquist, drummer for the group Silkworm, in 2005, that treasure of a band appropriately folded and the remaining members (Andy Cohen and Tim Midgett) soon found their way back to the music in the form of Bottomless Pit. The band is looser and rangier and more serious-sounding, and you can hear the heartbreak and bewilderment and simple missing-you feelings in so much of Bottomless Pit’s mature, downcast guitar rock. (In case you don’t know the story: Dahlquist was killed on his lunch break along with two friends when a suicidal woman intentionally crashed her car into theirs, which was stopped at a traffic light. She lived and is now in jail.)

The Chicago-based Bottomless Pit has toured sparingly since forming about three years ago. A warm spring night in Pittsburgh found the band near the end of a few-days tour around the Midwest. The 31st Street Pub has a heavy-metal, biker-bar feel. There’s a display case of fake skulls and other freaky bones, and part of the ceiling is decorated in autographed symbols from drum kits. The Iron City beer is cheap. The place is rock ‘n’ roll. Opening, as usual when Bottomless Pit stops in Pittsburgh, was Karl Hendricks, a ‘burgh staple whose namesake Trio/Rock Band has been around for ages. It’s now a more back-burner concern for Hendricks, and he still puts out records but rarely plays live. You wouldn’t know it, though, as the three-piece didn’t exhibit any rust. Hendricks’ formidable guitar skills kept the set interesting despite the loud, murky sound and drowned-out vocals.

Expanded from Silkworm’s spare trio formation (Midgett has jumped from the bass to join Cohen on guitar, and the band is rounded out by Brian Orchard on bass and Chris Manfrin behind the drums), Bottomless Pit has a more layered and textured post-punk sound that delves into expansive classic-rock noodling and math-rock arrangements.The classic-rock leanings were most evident on the handful of new songs that opened the band’s set. Serious and stoic, Cohen and Midgett aren’t hell-raisers onstage. They executed their songs in a precise, thoughtful way, with the rhythm section so subtly holding down the back end that you sometimes forgot they were there. After the batch of promising new songs, the band played selections from its two records to date, 2007’s Hammer Of The Gods and 2008’s Congress EP, starting with the catchy “Dogtag,” which features a trademark driving chorus from Cohen. As with the Hendricks set, the sound at the club wasn’t as crisp as it could’ve been. Cohen has a great, flat Midwestern baritone that was lost in the mix. Despite that, it was a compelling, albeit brief show. There were a number of enthusiastic fans jumping around up front, but most people stood quietly listening, maybe seeing Bottomless Pit for the first time and not knowing the back story or maybe thinking about Silkworm and feeling that collective loss.

Bottomless Pit doesn’t play Silkworm songs. No one at any of the band’s shows I’ve seen has ever yelled for a Silkworm song. I think everyone just understands. They know you shouldn’t look back. While Midgett and Cohen have always appeared quite serious when playing, Dahlquist was the ham of Silkworm, almost always performing shirtless, talking to the crowd from behind the kit he played so thunderously, drenched in sweat and glee. That’s missing now. And that’s the heaviness and seriousness you feel at Bottomless Pit shows and on the band’s records. It’s an unsecret loss. When Midgett sang, “Silver moon/Hanging up in the sky/The same moon that you see/From the other side,” on the elegiac, set-closing “Red Pen,” you could feel a tangible weight because you knew exactly what he was talking about.

That was it. A few words of thanks. No encore. No frills. On the way out, I thanked Midgett for playing. While many of us wish Bottomless Pit didn’t ever form, we’re still very glad the band did.

—Doug Sell

“The Cardinal Movements” (download):

Live Review: The Vaselines, San Francisco, CA, May 11, 2009

vaselines410It must have been a shock for patrons entering the cavernous (700 capacity) Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco’s North Beach to find the place nearly packed. How could so many people possibly remember obscure Glasgow band the Vaselines, who broke up in 1990 after releasing one album and a couple of EPs? Surely, there can’t be that many Kurt Cobain devotees still around who recall (or care) that Nirvana took them out on tour, cut a pair of their songs (“Molly’s Lips” and “Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam”)—and that Cobain named his daughter Frances Bean after one of the Vaselines’ vocalists, Frances McKee.

The Scottish outfit’s other singer, Eugene Kelly, looked somewhat baffled when he and McKee strode onstage, backed by guitar, bass and drums. “In the old days there were only about 10 people and nine of them were throwing things,” Kelly smirked. The club PA had just blared out something from the Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch EP when the reformed Vaselines launched into “Son Of A Gun,” a perfect recreation of their somewhat twee, boy/girl vocal tandem with Velvet Underground-style buzzsaw guitar. It sounded as though they had never left. Anyone even slightly versed in Scottish rock history would have no trouble slotting the slim volume of grainy, indie-rock snapshots by the Vaselines into the big picture created by the Pastels, Teenage Fanclub, Belle And Sebastian, the Delgados and Franz Ferdinand. Stephen Pastel produced the second Vaselines EP, and McKee and Kelly have played a few reunion shows with members of Belle And Sebastian.

“You’re probably wondering why it’s been so long since our album came out,” said an earnest McKee, giggling nervously. “Well, we’re finally getting around to touring for the album.”

“Actually, Frances has spent a lot of time in jail, writing depressing songs,” joked Kelly.

The new material, sprinkled in among their early stuff, is moodier, slower and quieter. After taking flak from McKee for his ever-present guitar-tuning problems, Kelly responded with, “Yeah, I’m the straight man, and you’re the funny girl.” Kelly drew a slight gasp from the unwary when he announced, “This song’s about the Lord God, Jesus Christ,” then paused a full 10 seconds before adding, “and how I don’t believe in him.” If there were any lingering doubts, “Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam” and “Teenage Superstar” answered all questions about the Vaselines’ lapsed state of conventional spiritual awareness.

“You’ve made an old couple very happy,” said Kelly at the conclusion of the one-hour show, the band’s first-ever in San Francisco. “We’re just like Donnie & Marie,” he said, pointing a thumb at McKee. “She’s a little bit country, and I’m a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.” Rather than the pre-fab Mormon duo, it was more like the return of the barb- and wisecrack-filled glory days of Sonny & Cher, with enough mutual roasting to feed San Francisco’s homeless population for at least a week. The solid set of rock ‘n’ roll was pure dessert.

—Jud Cost

“Son Of A Gun” (download):

Live Review: Franz Ferdinand, Philadelphia, PA, May 6, 2009

franz-ferdinandliveFranz Ferdinand lead crooner and guitarist Alex Kapranos told Rolling Stone last year he wanted to capture “that naive energy you have as a kid when you hear music and you can’t control your body’s reaction to it, you can’t help flinging yourself around the room and bouncing up and down.” The youthful throng that gathered at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, powered by Red Bull and Franz, certainly exhibited that hormonal, jumping-on-the-furniture behavior.

Prior to the show, I contemplated hitting up a Starbucks, but the Scottish art-rock quartet’s performance was way better than downing a quad espresso. Armed with my photo pass, I slipped into the lane that divided the armpit-to-ear crowd and the stage. The only other photographer in the alley was wielding two professional cameras the size of AK-47s. When my screen blinked “Memory Full” after 25 shots, I turned around and saw the dude behind me staring at my handheld $49 Olympus. I shrugged.

Hot Topic drones with braces and Amy Winehouse eyeliner leaned over the barrier, probably inflicting some kidney damage as they tried to get as close as possible to the stage. Yes, I am a yard away from Alex Kapranos and his skinny jeans and you are not. The band’s set was comprehensive and dance-provoking, comprising “Take Me Out” as well as tunes off the more recent Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. Kapranos’ cascading, theatrical vocals punctuated vigorous synthesizers and drum machines as the group shimmied around onstage, at one point causing sensory overload when all four members started wailing on Paul Thomson’s drum set and the strobe lights went berserk. Franz Ferdinand was really big on audience participation. Kapranos directed his microphone to the crowd after just about every “La la la la” and “Ohhhh.” I kind of felt like I’d flown my ’88 DeLorean back in time to a Naughty By Nature concert. At the end of the night, I definitely took away some of that crazy naive energy Kapranos described, and I’m pretty sure that doesn’t come in a Venti.

—Maureen Coulter

“What She Came For” (live) (download):

Live Review: Dengue Fever, San Francisco, CA, May 5, 2009

dengue-fever400Dengue Fever wowed a crowd of 1,400 at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre on Tuesday night with its sublime original soundtrack for Harry O. Hoyt’s 1925 silent-film classic The Lost World. The six-piece, L.A.-based combo, which specializes in the exotic sounds of ’60s psychedelic-era Cambodian pop/rock (as heartwrenchingly chirped in her native Khmer dialect by vocalist Chhom Simol), accompanied the film as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.

It was an offer too good to turn down, said sweat-drenched guitarist Zac Holtzman, giddy with triumph after the live performance. “He and I convinced our bandmates to go for it,” said Holtzman, pointing at Dengue bassist Senon Williams. “The rest of them were saying, ‘Oh, we’ve gotta record our next album.'”

“It took about a month, getting all the cues just right, but once we loosened up a little, it all fell into place,” added Williams of the band’s striking, one-off performance.

Viewed as a forerunner to 1933’s King Kong, The Lost World is based on a story by Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle and features amazing, early clay-animation special effects of dinosaurs encountered in the Amazon jungle. Dengue Fever re-created a ’20s Duke Ellington vibe for the opening scenes, set in London. Once the exploration party—Bessie Love as Paula, Lloyd Hughes as Malone and Wallace Beery as Prof. Challenger—reached the Amazon, the band’s trademark exotica was a perfect fit. Like all successful soundtrack music, Dengue Fever—which also features keyboardist Ethan Holtzman, saxophonist David Ralicke and drummer Paul Smith—always complemented the film, never calling attention to itself. At times, you even forgot it was there.

—Jud Cost

“Sober Driver” from 2008’s Venus On Earth (download):

Live Review: Spoon, White Rabbits, Lancaster, PA, April 26, 2009

spoonlive550bMaybe it was the pastoral setting and the subtle effects of methane on the brain, or perhaps it was resentment stirred by the anal security guards and the “No Moshing or Crowd Surfing” sign posted in the entrance, but the crew that gathered to watch Spoon and White Rabbit perform at the Chameleon Club in Lancaster was as kooky as a reality-show judges’ panel. All five hipsters from Lancaster were there, mingling with frat kids from nearby Franklin & Marshall College and quite a few older—I mean some of them were pushing 60—fans.

Opening band White Rabbits are similar to Spoon but with double percussion and better bone structure. The Brooklyn-based sextet (whose upcoming album, It’s Frightening, was produced by Spoon frontman Britt Daniel) flaunted their versatility by trading off instruments mid-song, and their calculus-exam faces matched their keyboard-pounding, drum-smacking intensity.

The pungent head-shop odor I smelled when I first walked in quickly gave way to a mixture of sweat and beer once Spoon took the stage. Right in front of Daniel was a huddle of Lilliputians that I gravitated toward for safety and comfort. (I’m 4’1”.) Anyone over 5’6″ who attempted to block our view was harshly expelled by a spiky-haired hispanic chick who seemed to be the head facilitator of the midget brigade. During “Rhthm & Soul,” a pair of Paul Bunyans muscled to the front, their belt loops roughly level with my line of vision.

Spiky-haired chick: “Where do you think you’re going, Kobe Bryant? Get out of here! You’re like 6’10″—you can see from the bar!”

A veteran rock group like Spoon has a predictably well-honed act and a loyal following who’ll always emerge from a show saying, “Dude, that was freakin’ awesome!” While certainly entertaining, during both the Chameleon Club concert and their 2008 show in Philadelphia, the band doesn’t perform its best songs live. You can’t even attribute this phenomenon to obligatory “new stuff” bands play to promote a recent album, because Ga Ga (etc.) came out two years ago. Spoon sent up the crowd-pleasing “The Underdog,” which I think I heard in every movie trailer I saw last year. But where is “Chicago At Night” or “Telamon Bridge”? The set list played it safe tonight.

—Maureen Coulter

Spoon’s “30 Gallon Tank (Live)” (download):

White Rabbits’ “The Plot” (download):

Live Review: The Faint, Ladytron, Philadelphia, PA, April 13, 2009

ladytron360bBefore Ladytron (pictured) came onstage at the Trocadero in Philadelphia on Monday night, I mauled a random kid for a handful of glowsticks, claiming they carry special powers that give me confidence in my dancing ability. A few minutes later, I spotted Jared. Jared had bracelets up to his elbows, a tight, sleeveless turquoise shirt, eyeliner and lip liner and stars tattooed on his face. I immediately ran up to him and handed him my glowsticks.

“Hey, you look like you could use these,” I insisted.

My motive was somewhat selfish, because I was hoping he’d bust out in some crazy figure-eight light show when Ladytron started playing. No such luck. However, the rest of the crowd was eager to get their dance on the minute they stepped in the door. They probably didn’t even need the Faint or Ladytron, judging from the pockets of sweaty bodies bumbling around between sets.

Ladytron, an electro-rock quartet from Europe, upped the ante. Possessing the same intense, androgynous sex appeal as Karen O and Annie Lennox, frontwomen Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo juxtaposed their fluttering vocals with thumping dance beats as they keyed away on antediluvian synths. While the Faint took what seemed like an inordinate amount of time setting up, the energy buildup among the masses was almost tangible. I chewed impatiently on my glowstick. When Todd Fink and the gang finally appeared, it was sweet sensory overload. Video clips of crowds and faces that flashed in the background, billowing smoke, flickering strobe lights and the gangly dancing of the keyboardist made me grateful that I wasn’t: a) on ecstasy, or b) suffering from a latent neurological disorder. Their heavy drum and bass collided with blippy keyboard melodies that inspired my body to flail in an uncoordinated fashion, unable to decide whether to mosh or rave. The Faint played about half the songs from underachieving 2008 album Fasciination but made up for it in the encore with three classics, including “I Disappear.” Plus, you know, I got glowsticks.

—Maureen Coulter

Ladytron’s “Black Cat” (download):

The Faint’s “The Geeks Were Right (Does It Offend You, Yeah? Remix)” (download):