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(Above: Muse borrow a bit from Van Halen and then Queen with their performance of “Stockholm Syndrome” during their headlining set on the second day of Kanrocksas.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record 

Note: For my coverage of the Kanrocksas music festival, I decided not to cover any band’s previously reviewed by The Daily Record. Visit the archives to read about theArctic MonkeysBlack KeysFlaming LipsFlogging Molly and Girl Talk. Go here to read a review of Day 1.

Best Coast

The confessional California-based indie rock trio deserved better. Singer Beth Costentino’s intimate songs about frustrated crushes and missed chances wilted under the bright, blazing mid-day sun. Her lo-fi, straight-ahead songs are best suited for small, dark clubs, not 100-degree afternoons.

Costentino and her rhythm section of Bobb Bruno and Ali Koehler made the best of a bad time slot, though. The trio plays with considerably more power than is hinted at on their full-length debut LP and the sound was full despite the lack of bass guitar (Costentino and Bruno both played electric guitar while Koehler held down the beat on his drum kit).

The best moment’s of the 40-minute set were many of the same high points on the record: “Boyfriend,” which came out early, “Bratty B,” “Something In the Way” and the new song “When You Wake Up.” Colorful remnants of Friday’s Flaming Lips set still littered the ground as the band played.

OK GO

OK Go are better known for their videos than their music. Although the indie rock band’s 40-minute set showed they have depth beyond viral treadmill clips, their reputation is also fair.

The four musicians took the stage wearing bright, monotone Crayola suits, invited a fan onstage to play guitar and donned white gloves before performing “What To Do” on hand bells. Lead singer Damian Kulash left the stage to perform a couple songs acoustically, surrounded by the crowd. Upon returning to the stage, Kulash pulled out a digital camera and took a picture of the audience, promising to post it on Facebook so everyone could tag themselves. That, my friends, is marketing 2.0.

Behind the spectacle, the music was catchy and bouncy, filled with touches of New Wave and disco, a la Franz Ferdinand, and elements of the Cars, Cheap Trick and Roxy Music. High points included “White Knuckles,” “Do What You Want “ and “Here It Goes Again,” aka the treadmill song.

A Perfect Circle

The sun was just starting to set as A Perfect Circle took the stage. It was fitting, because this thinking-man’s metal band lives in the shadows and darkness. Each song was an exercise in subtly shifting textures and tempos, making each performance seem longer than it actually was.

One third of the quintet’s dozen songs were covers. “People Are People” opened with a slow, building solo that placed the Depeche Mode hit in a completely new context. Likewise, a minor-key reading of John Lennon’s “Imagine” may have resembled how Mark David Chapman heard the anthem for peace. Songs like “Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums” and “The Outsider” offered one of the weekend’s few opportunities for head banging and get the metal out.

Each of the five band members stood on their own platforms, denying a single visual focus. Much of the pyrotechnics came from guitarist Billy Howerdel and beastly drummer Josh Freese, raised behind him. Singer Maynard James Keenan stood in the back left, out of the spotlight, back to the crowd.  Former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha was elevated in the center.

Take-aways:

The layout provided easy access to several water stations, toilets and dedicated shade areas. The sound at all three stages and the DJ tent was surprisingly clear and aside from the large obligatory sound tents, all of the stages had decent sight lines.

My biggest complaint was the placement of the Ad Astra Stage. While the Stagesaurus Rex and Main Stage faced each other at either end of the main field, travelling to the Ad Astra Stage forced crowds through several gated bottlenecks. This made bouncing between the Ad Astra to the main area take longer than necessary, and forced fans to choose between forgoing the final songs of the current set or missing the opening numbers of the next one.

The Charity Village – a nice forum for local non-profits to introduce themselves to fans – was easily overlooked in the back of one of the vendor tents. It deserved more prominent placement.

All told, the foundation for what I hope will be a longstanding Kansas City summer tradition was in place.

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Open wide for Mouth

Review: Smashing Pumpkins, Cake

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(Above: The reconfigured Smashing Pumpkins incinerate the old country with “As Rome Burns,” a yet-unreleased track.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Billy Corgan has learned to compromise. After frustrating and confounding fans with obscure songs and indulgent jams on the Smashing Pumpkins’ 20th anniversary tour just two years ago, he has struck a balance between the old (and beloved) and the new.

The unspoken agreement of Saturday’s show at Sandstone Amphitheater was one for you, one for me. Fans seemed thrilled to meet Corgan and his reconstituted Pumpkins halfway. Opening with the drum roll into “Cherub Rock,” the quartet alternated between favorites like “Zero” and “Drown” with newer numbers such as “Song for a Sun” and unreleased material like “As Rome Burns.”
“We’ve found the songs you know tend to get the biggest cheers,” Corgan told the audience before launching into “Tonight, Tonight” and he was right. “Today” provided the first big sing-along moment of the night, turned the chorus of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” over to the very vocal throng. Even “Stand Inside Your Love,” an underrated single from the original configuration’s final retail album, drew a big response.

The 80-minute setlist ignored “Gish” but drew from every other album in the band’s catalog and a couple soundtrack contributions. Most of the songs sounded pretty much like they were recorded. The only exceptions were new arrangements of “Adore”-era material. The new version of “Adore” rode Nicole Fiorentino’s bass, and discarded the drum programming for a full band sound. “Eye” was given a trippy intro full of shimmering guitars and big, echoing drums.

Smashpumpkins_fyi_ spf_09252010_135FNewer material dovetailed nicely with the familiar. “Tarantula,” from 2007’s forgotten “Zeitgeist,” emerged seamlessly from “Cherub Rock” just as “Drown” gave way to “As Rome Burns.” “Song for a Son” had a progressive feel and guitar lick similar to “Stairway to Heaven.” It was one of several of the night’s numbers to feature Corgan and Jeff Schroeder harmonizing on twin guitar solos.

Before breaking up at the dawn of the millennium, the Smashing Pumpkins were one of the most successful bands to come from the grunge era. Corgan and founding drummer Jimmy Chamberlain reconvened for “Zeitgeist,” recruiting supporting musicians for the subsequent tour, before Chamberlain left again last year.

Corgan may be the only founding member left in the band, but the new cast proved more than capable. Twenty-year-old Mike Byrne was a monster on the drums, having no trouble replicating the complex rolls and fills that are so much a part of the Pumpkin’s sound. The band was amazingly tight and precise, slithering across the changing dynamics and textures and following Corgan’s every move.

The stage set-up was basic, but impressive. The only effects were banks of lights set up above and behind the band, constantly strobing and changing. Two large metal fans were perched atop metal towers in the back at either side of the stage. The visual arrangement kept anyone from receiving the spotlight. The band was lit as a whole and the emphasis was placed on the music.

The band exited shortly before midnight against a wall of lights pointing into the audience. They were visible only as vague silhouettes, but had long established their identity.

Cake’s one-hour set preceding the Pumpkins couldn’t have been more different. Singer John McCrea chatted with the crowd between nearly every number, espousing his views on religion, American society and the gradual disappearance of three-four time. Along the way, the five-piece college rockers delivered audience favorites “Comfort Eagle” and “Frank Sinatra” and songs from their upcoming new album.

Although most of Cake’s songs ride a slow funk groove and McCrea’s tongue-in-cheek spoken/sung lyrics, two of evening’s best numbers veered from that formula. “Mexico” sounded like a lost Decemberists track, while new song “Bound Away” was a travelogue in the form of an Irish drinking song.

Smashing Pumpkins setlist: Cherub Rock, Tarantula, Adore, Song for a Son, Today, Drown, As Rome Burns, Freak, Tonight Tonight, Stand Inside Your Love, Eye, Bullet With Butterfly Wings, United States (including the Star-Spangled Banner and Moby Dick). Encore: Zero.

Cake setlist: Comfort Eagle, Rock and Roll Lifestyle, Sick of Me, War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover), Frank Sinatra, Wheels, Stickshfits and Safetybelts, Love You Madly, Guitar, Arco Arena, Mexico, Bound Away, Never There, The Distance.

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Out of the Tar Pit Back Onto the Stage

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(Above: Pavement perform “Gold Soundz” live at the Uptown Theater on Sept. 11, 2010.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

About 20 minutes into Pavement’s set, lead singer and guitarist Stephen Malkmus announced to a crowded Uptown Theater that this was the band’s first time playing in Kansas City, if you don’t count Lollapalooza.

The house roared its appreciation for the underground rock band’s belated return, not just because this was only the second K.C. show in the group’s 20-year history, but because they’d been inactive for half of that time.

Saturday’s show would have been memorable even if it wasn’t a fan’s first time seeing the band, or the first time in a long time, as it was for most. The fervent crowd would have devoured anything their heroes delivered, but were treated to many of the band’s best-loved tunes, including three-quarters of the cuts off Pavement’s new greatest-hits compilation.

Calling any of Pavement’s songs “hits” is a bit misleading. Aside from “Cut Your Hair,” which appropriately featured the only rock star moment of the evening when Malkmus soloed behind is back, the band never had any chart success. In fact, it seems they went out of their way to avoid anything conventional. Their songs are anti-anthems, prone to taking left turns or ending just when they start to get settled.

This doesn’t lend itself to the campfire glow of a great sing-along, but the devoted still found a way to chime in. Numbers with a boisterous chorus like “Stereo” provided a natural opportunity to join in – the response to the line “no big hair” in “Cut My Hair” was especially boisterous. Less traditional songs like “Starlings of the Slipstream” and “Loretta’s Scars” still found plenty participating.

Malkmus was angled at stage right, with his fellow guitarist/foil/adversary Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg at the other extreme. Kannberg took the vocals for two numbers, “Date w/ IKEA” and “Kennel District,” which closed the main set. Untethered by a microphone, bass player Mark Ibold – on leave from his current gig with Sonic Youth – roamed the stage, while drummer Steve West and percussionist Bob Nastanovich were positioned slightly off center in the back.

Nastanovich was the band’s secret weapon. Most of the time he was relegated to shaking a tambourine or egg, but would suddenly burst to the front of the stage screaming into the microphone. His pent-up energy was a nice change of pace from Malkmus trademark indifferent, slacker delivery, especially when the two styles were set against each other, as on “Conduit for Sale!”

On the brief instrumental “Heckler Spray,” Nastanovich’ second drum kit added some nice muscle. That set up a run through heavy, riff-based numbers “In the Mouth of Desert” and “Unfair.” Just as they seemed to be building momentum, Malkmus dropped the band to a hush with “Spit on a Stranger,” the prettiest song in their canon and the night’s only offering from their 1999 swan song “Terror Twilight.”

The only visual effects were several strings of large indoor/outdoor lights hung around the stage and into the audience. When lit, the theater felt like an elaborate backyard party. They created an especially jubilant atmosphere during upbeat numbers like “Silence Kit.” At one point between songs, Malkmus tried to toss his guitar up into the lights.

A devout sports fan, Malkmus performed in a Jamal Charles/Chiefs jersey. During the encore, he lamented that Charles now played for the “stupidest coach in the NFL.” Nastanovich echoed this sentiment urging the Chiefs to “fire (head coach Todd) Haley and hire Malkmus.”

The 100-minute set ended with “Range Life,” a playful tune that gently mocks the Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots (which seemed a lot more relevant when it came out in 1994). No one wanted to quit, however, so Malkmus veered into the Beatles “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” Finally the big sing-along moment arrived. It may have taken longer than expected, but it was well worth the wait.

Setlist: Gold Soundz; Rattled by the Rush; Starlings of the Slipstream; Shady Lane; Date W/ IKEA; Frontwards; Heckler Spray > In the Mouth a Desert; Unfair; Spit on a Stranger; Stereo; Loretta’s Scars; Conduit for Sale!; Shoot the Singer; Silence Kit; Trigger Cut; Grounded; Perfume V; Cut Your Hair; Stop Breathin’; Box Elder; Fight This Generation; Debris Slide; Kennel District. Encore: Here; Lions (Linden); We Dance; Range Life (including Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da).

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(Above: A fan video for one of Girl Talk’s sonic creations.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Just because Gregg Gillis doesn’t play a musical instrument, doesn’t mean he can’t make you dance. For 80 minutes on Friday night, Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, had a packed Crossroads getting down in a downpour.

That set time may not look very long, but it was both exhausting and generous. Girl Talk specializes in creating ultimate mash-ups of literally hundreds of songs from nearly every genre and artists ranging from Boston, ODB, Radiohead, Simon and Garfunkel, Ben Folds and UGK. The shorter list would be the one encompassing all the artists Gills didn’t play. Suffice it to say, if it was a pop or club hit in the last 40 years, it was fair game for inclusion.

Girl Talk’s performance is more than matching beats per minute, however. He is the master of extracting the peak moment of a given song, pairing it with the pinnacle from another disparate track and creating a new climax higher than either cut could achieve alone.

The high-energy set was paced to jump from one high point to another, but a couple moments stand out. During Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” he teased out the verses, delaying the explosive chorus. When it finally hit a shockwave went through the crowd, amping the atmosphere even higher. He repeated the same trick drawing out the intro of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today,” before the glorious guitar riff detonated across the venue.

There’s a reason why most DJs are hidden in a booth at the back of a club: there’s usually not much visually going on. Gillis, though, took a cue from the Flaming Lips, flanked by a cast of dancing fans onstage and two assistants who were constantly streaming rolls of toilet paper and confetti into the crowd. They got an assist from Mother Nature, who provided an impressive lightning show in the sky above as the rain continued to pour throughout the night.

Although there was a video screen and basic light show, the most animated element of the night by far was Gillis himself. Taking the stage in a hoodie, it wasn’t long until he was shirtless and sweating profusely. His legs were never still, hopping back and forth between laptops on nearly every beat. Combine that with bouts of jumping on (and off) the table, arm waving and exuberant shout-outs and Gillis gave himself a heck of a cardio workout. The result was a performance far more entertaining than the typical person-behing-laptop/turntable.

Most of the set centered on recent hits, but Gillis mixed in two old tracks for the finale. The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” was virtually unaltered, save a hip hop beat underneath. The same trick that worked at the skating rink was just as effective on a larger scale with adults. The evening ended with John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which crawled at a snail’s pace compared to the rest of the night’s fare. Of course by then the message had already been received.

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(Above: “April In Paris” brought spring to many parts of the world whenever it was played. Few did it finer than the Count Basie Orchestra.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Spring arrived on the calendar several weeks ago, but Mother Nature didn’t get the memo until recently. The half dozen songs that follow don’t explicitly mention chirping birds, budding flowers, sun dresses and deck parties, but they certainly conjure the feeling.

“Starting a New Life” – Van Morrison

Van the Man throws off the shackles of winter in the jubilant first verse of this song:

“When I hear that robin sing,
Well I know it’s coming on spring,
Ooo-we, and we’re starting a new life.”

In a little more than two minutes, Morrison and his buoyant country/folk melody captures the romance of the season and the essence of why so many couples get married in the spring.

“Starting a New Life” was one of the first songs Morrison wrote after relocating from Woodstock, N.Y. to just north of San Francisco. Although the move wasn’t his idea, he was clearly relishing his new surroundings.

The last time the Cleveland Indians won the World Series, in 1948, Satchel Paige was in their rotation. He is pictured here during his time with the Kansas City Monarchs.

“Satchel Paige Said” – The Baseball Project

For many fans of the nation’s pastime, spring doesn’t arrive until Opening Day. Wind chill and even snow are mentally eliminated once the boys of summer line up along the base paths.

Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey of the Minus Five and Young Fresh Fellows teamed up in 2008 under the name “The Baseball Project” and cut 13 tributes to their favorite sport.

“Satchel Paige Said” sounds like an outtake from Tom Petty’s “Full Moon Fever.” McCaughey’s lyrics draw on elements of Paige’s biography and his famous advice: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

“Radio Head” – Talking Heads

Generation X is littered with great bands that take themselves too seriously. Perhaps the only common element shared by Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins is that neither band wants to provide its audience with the opportunity to laugh.

But the biggest and most serious of all Gen X bands is Radiohead. Which makes it even more delightful that they titled their first album after a Jerky Boys gag and named themselves after this supremely silly Talking Heads track.

But even if the English quintet had chosen another moniker, “Radio Head” would deserve a footnote in music history. David Byrne’s song about a man who can pick up radio transmissions with his noggin is set to a poppy zydeco rhythm that makes it the perfect song for that first spring car ride with the windows rolled all the way down and the stereo turned all the way up.

“Bowtie” – Outkast

Once the temperature swells, the unshapely layers of winter clothing are shed. And when the flimsy summer apparel is donned, it’s time to strut. Urban radio stations bank on this transition, building their warm-weather playlists around the singles designed maximize swagger.

The funky horns on this cut from Big Boi’s half of “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” will make any stroll seem like a parade. The hip hop equivalent of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man,” this track exudes more than enough confidence to turn a timid Romeo into a pimp daddy for one night.

“April, Come She Will” – Simon and Garfunkel

Ah, the fickle fancy of spring flings. On “April, Come She Will,” Paul Simon uses the changing seasons as a metaphor for a girl’s elusive affection following a brief affair. Thematically, the romantic longing of “April” was echoed on “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her.” Both songs hover around the two minute mark. The economy of Simon’s lyrics and arrangements and the power of Art Garfunkel’s vocals make both songs potent vignettes.

Although it was written three years before the film, “April, Come She Will” is used to great effect in “The Graduate” as Benjamin Braddock chases the heart of Elaine Robinson.

If you haven't seen the original 1969 film of "The Producers," you are missing out.

“Springtime for Hitler” from “The Producers”

You don’t have to be an English major to see the metaphor in the title song from Bialystock and Bloom’s failed musical. As chorus girls parade around in beer stein bustiers, and pretzel tassels, the faux fuhrer solemnly intones: “Springtime for Hitler and Germany/Autumn for Poland and France.” Any remaining sensibilities are purged when storm troopers in a Busby Berkeley-style dance form a swirling swastika.

The coup de tat that saves the song from being an anti-Semitic nightmare comes from the fact that Mel Brooks, a Jew who fought the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge, gleefully wrote all the lyrics to this brilliant satire. (That’s his overdubbed voice delivering the line “don’t be stupid, be a smarty/come and join the Nazi party.”)

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Above: The two original members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and five other guys play “Sweet Home Alabama.”

By Joel Francis

When the Temptations and Four Tops took the stage Saturday night with only one original member in each ensemble, it raised questions of truth in advertising. Can a band be billed by its legendary name if only one of its musicians is an original legend?

Few bands are as fortunate as Los Lobos and U2 to have retained the same personnel since their debut. Some bands, like Wilco, have a different lineup on nearly every album.  But the reunion craze has accelerated hiring ringers to fill in for dead or uncooperative musicians.

When Journey played the Midland a few weeks ago, longtime singer Steve Perry had been replaced with Filipino Arnel Pineda, who was 8 years old when the band’s first album came out. No one complained, but Pineda’s job is essentially to sound like Perry while founding guitarist Neal Schon and the rest of the band deliver their signature sound.

Similarly, Yes were primed for a 40th anniversary tour when lead singer Jon Anderson fell ill. Rather than cancel the tour, the remaining members, who include Oliver Wakeman, son of original keyboardist Rick Wakeman, recruited a new singer off YouTube.

The majority of fans will tolerate a minor substitution. There were no grumbles when bass player Eric Avery sat out Jane’s Addiction’s second go-round. Most fans will recognize that age and time will prevent everyone from taking part. But when the skeleton of the original crew drag new faces out under the old name, it starts to take advantage of the people who kept the hunger for a reunion alive.

There’s also a slight double-standard in play. Few Beatles fans would be satisfied with a Beatles “reunion” featuring Paul, Ringo, Julian Lennon and Dhani Harrison, but The Who have completed not one but two successful (read: lucrative) tours minus the late John Entwistle and Keith Moon. Of course a true Fab Four reunion never happened, while The Who have launched a handful of “farewell” tours, but the rhythm section of Moon and Entwistle defined The Who’s sound just as much as John and George did for the Beatles.

Swapping drummers and bass players is one thing, but the road to finding a new frontman is fraught with peril. INXS failed miserably in their reality TV quest to carry on after the premature death of Michael Hutchinson. However, 14 years after Freddy Mercury died, Queen – minus drummer John Taylor – reconvened with former Free and Bad Company vocalist Paul Rogers. Many of the band’s East Coast concert date sold out quickly.

When Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger hired Cult singer Ian Astbury to hit the road as The Doors they were faced with a lawsuit from drummer John Densmore and forced to tour as Riders on the Storm. The moniker didn’t alter any setlists, but it at least let the fans know they weren’t getting the same guys that worked together in the ‘60s.

Then there are the jazz orchestras that continue to tour despite the death of their bandleader. The Count Basie and Glenn Miller orchestras draw decent crowds when they visit the area, despite Miller’s disappearance during World War II and Bill Basie’s death a mere 25 years ago. The Gem Theater will host a Jazz Messengers reunion concert on October even though bandleader Art Blakey died in 1990.

The reason why a musician will resurrect his old band with ringers is obvious: Billy Corgan will sell a lot more tickets and albums as the Smashing Pumpkins than he would alone. And while there’s no clear-cut solution, I think this is a rare example of capitalism and artistry joining forces to provide the ultimate answer.

If a band’s catalog is strong enough, fans won’t mind shelling out $30 to $50 as they did Saturday night at Starlight to hear someone else sing “My Girl” and “Baby I Need Your Loving.” On the other hand, if bands plug on minus crucial components, they might be confined to the state fair/town festival circuit Three Dog Night and the Guess Who have been riding for years.

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