Cafe, Woodstock, Oct. 20
Since this first paragraph determines whether you’ll read
on to those that follow, let me state two things at the outset.
First, this is a glowing review. Second, this should also
serve as a preview, because the same tour continues and returns
to the area next month at Mass MoCA.
Now more than 20 years old, Yo La Tengo have created a catalog
that they add to with undiminished artistic integrity. The
band’s earliest recordings have aged well, sounding as fresh
and resilient as their newly minted brethren. Inspired by
the Dylan album title, the band have set aside their love
of electricity for an acoustic tour, dubbed the Freewheeling
Yo La Tengo. (They also perform a couple Dylan songs in the
soundtrack to the new Todd Haynes film, I’m Not There.)
They didn’t completely eschew pickups and amplification, as
James McNew played electric bass guitar and guitarist Ira
Kaplan found a couple key moments to kick in some distortion.
The two of them did play sitting down though, on either side
of Georgia Hubley and her minimal drum setup (snare, floor
tom and cymbal).
Last Saturday’s show in Woodstock provided an intimate setting
(though don’t be fooled by the venue’s chairs: The seat padding
may look soft, but halfway through the 90-minute set they
were yielding little more comfort than a wooden plank). The
dozen and a half songs drew from their latest album, I
Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, and all
the way back to their first, Ride the Tiger. The low
volume allowed the singing to truly be appreciated; both Kaplan
and Hubley sing in quietly emotive timbres that luxuriate
over the music, much like falling asleep atop a made bed rather
than peeking out from under blankets. A mood of casual camaraderie
was encouraged by Kaplan’s between-song talking and request
for questions (which was obliged by the audience). However,
in song mode, they made it clear how in-sync they are as an
ensemble and how respectful they are of each song’s inner
dynamics and needs. The covers they played revealed their
wide-ranging influences and love of great, but often neglected
songs, as they performed numbers by John Cale, Carole King
(by way of Herman’s Hermits), Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, and
To recap paragraph one: Do not miss Yo La Tengo’s acoustic
show in November.
Egg, Oct. 18
By his own admission, bandleader Steven Wilson originally
formed Porcupine Tree as a Spinal Tap-esque homage to early
’70s progressive rock (hence their rather silly moniker).
Last Thursday’s concert in the Egg’s nearly sold-out Hart
Theatre was many things, but humorous wasn’t one of them.
The show commenced with the British band performing the title
track off their latest full-length, Fear of a Blank Planet.
The band’s major theme is youth alienation, and the video
backdrop fleshed out the lyrics, kids sucked into the vortex
of mass culture, raging at the world but placated by jacking
into their Xboxes. The audience, which seemed to be comprised
of mostly the prog-rock faithful (albeit prog in its Dream
Theater form as opposed to early Genesis), lapped all of this
up as if it came down straight from the mountaintop. Porcupine
Tree are very good at what they do, laying down sleek, portentous
grooves and hypnotic riffs that bring to mind a less heavy-handed
Tool. The band succeed at making one think about the Brave
New World we have made for ourselves, where we have mastered
efficiency and comfort at the expense of real interaction
with one another and our world.
There was a point where the alienation theme became less observational
and more pathological. One started to sense that Wilson was
the survivor of some sort of youthful trauma, and that he
was exorcising these demons through his music. Which is all
well and good—art is often made that way—but two hours of
it started to feel too much like a therapy session. It would
be one thing if the music were rougher, dappled with jagged
edges that give you the option to rock out if the lyrics got
too heavy (something a group like Nirvana were great at).
As it was, Porcupine Tree’s music is too smooth for the weight
of its themes, and while the show overall was very good, in
the words of the poet Toby Keith, a little less talk and a
lot more action would have made it even better.
queens: (l-r) Josh Homme and Michael Shuman of Queens
of the Stone Age.
PHOTO: Chris Shields
Queens of the Stone Age, the Black Angels,
Lights, Oct. 17
should be heavy enough for the boys and sweet enough for the
girls. That way everyone’s happy and it’s more of a party,”
Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Josh Homme once said in
an interview. He’s on to something: The QOTSA show at Northern
Lights last Wednesday night was packed with fans from both
genders, and songs like “Little Sister” and encore “No One
Knows” were hard enough for the metalheads and rockers to
shake their fists to, while being propelled by an insistent
rhythm worthy of dancing.
Homme has also said in interviews that the Queens’ current
live lineup is the best it’s ever been, which is saying a
lot given that Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan have both toured
with the band. From the night’s first song, “Monsters in the
Parasol,” a short but sweet burst of energetic groove, you
could tell that Homme, agitating along with the beat, was
feeling the chemistry of his new band, who have been touring
together since the end of August. (Now the only original member
in the group that is largely his brainchild, Homme has since
added former Danzig drummer Joey Castillo, guitarist Troy
Van Leeuwen, bassist Michael Shuman, and keyboardist Dean
Ferita of the Raconteurs.)
Despite the lineup changes, the sound remained largely the
same: that identifiable blend of crafty hooks and desert-rock
riffs punctuated by handclaps and “heys” as often as actual
lyrics. “I came a long way; I’m gonna do it and fuckin’ do
it,” declared the hard-working Homme during the hourlong set
that covered most of the material from the band’s fifth album,
Era Vulgaris, released in June. Although the band may
never again reach the critical and commercial success of 2002’s
Songs for the Deaf, the latest album is a return to
a darker, harder sound that suits QOTSA well, and the brisk
“Sick Sick Sick” and the gloriously skuzzy “Misfit Love” were
highlights of the set.
The Black Angels, aptly described by Queens guitarist Van
Leeuwen as “Neil Young meets Nick Cave,” opened with a set
as sprawling and dark as that comparison suggests. It would
make better listening alone in a dark room than in a crowded
club. But the crowd, at least by the stage, was surprisingly
attentive during the Austin groups’s druggy neo-psych jams.
Scottish trio Biffy Clyro tried to be all things to all people,
whether mirroring the guitar fuzz and vocal warble of Dinosaur
Jr. or miring in the quick chord changes and yelping vocals
of screamo. But ultimately it just sounded like a hodgepodge
of competing interests.