Visqueen at Valentine’s.
brought rain, sorry,” said frontwoman Rachel Flotard at the
beginning of Visqueen’s Tuesday show at Valentine’s, on a
night when the rock fans with extra scratch were at Neil Young’s
pricey acoustic show. With a light crowd and an early start
time, the Valentine’s show was a fairly low-key event for
a high-wattage Seattle rock band on their first tour in five
years to the East Coast. But if the evening was anything less
than expected, Flotard—as cheery and charming as they come—didn’t
show it, and she and her band put on one of the most engaging
and enjoyable performances at Valentine’s in recent times.
Flotard, a New Jersey native who’s toured and recorded with
Neko Case, shares the alt-country singer’s vocal and songwriting
prowess, flaming red hair, and salty down-to-earth humor.
But her band is pure power-pop, sharing the exuberant hooks
and sing-along harmonies of Case’s New Pornographers and fellow
Seattle bands the Muffs and the Fastbacks. After a number
of lineup changes since forming in 2001 (including the departure
of the Fastbacks’ Kim Warnick, their first bassist), Visqueen
currently are touring as a trio with bassist Cristina Bautista
and former Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin (whose drum
set sported a cheetah with an eye patch, the iconic image
from the band’s T-shirts and most recent album).
Martin and Bautista added the right amount of oomph to anchor
Visqueen’s high-energy hooks and Flotard’s powerhouse personality,
and the trio launched their set with “Hand Me Down” and “Summer
Snow,” two instantly memorable tracks from their latest album
Message to Garcia (on Flotard’s own independent record
label, Local 638 Records). One of the best—if largely unheard—albums
from last year, Message to Garcia was inspired by the
singer-songwriter’s experience caring for her terminally ill
father, a former New York City steamfitter. The album’s hook-laden
songs are still more joyous than sad, and after the first
song, Flotard cranked her guitar way up and traded her spot
on the stage for a place on the floor—two moves that magnified
Visqueen’s punchy sound and Flotard’s approachable appeal.
contacts just went to the back of my head. So we’re going
to Helen Keller these last two songs. She was a tough broad
too,” a sight-impaired Flotard joked at the end of Visqueen’s
too-short set, which hit highlights from Message to Garcia
and two earlier albums. It was over too fast, but hopefully
Visqueen will come back to Albany sometime soon.
Through the Past
Neil Young, Bert Jansch
Theatre, May 18
For local Neil Young devotees, last Tuesday’s night concert
was significant in two major ways. For starters, it was the
rock legend’s first visit to the area in nearly seven years,
when Young and Crazy Horse played a July 4th show at SPAC
that was as memorable for its interminable first act (centered
around the middling Greendale album) as it was for
its scorching (and crowd-appeasing) second set. Secondly,
this week’s show served as the kickoff for Young’s Twisted
Road tour—and by the sound of things Young has hit another
career peak, showcasing a batch of new tunes that hold up
admirably against the beloved warhorses.
Being a tour opener, there had to be some bumps in the road.
These started right out of the gate, with Young having two
false starts because of pesky acoustic-guitar feedback issues,
before finally settling into “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue).”
Next were two more early gems, “Tell Me Why” and “Helpless.”
Removed so far in time from when they were first written,
lines like “Still, the searcher/Must ride the dark horse/Racing
alone in his fright” seem like hard won bits of poetic wisdom
now, while “Helpless” has moved beyond poignancy to become
a part of our shared history, especially with a theater full
of strangers singing along.
Young switched to a baritone guitar for a stretch of new tunes
that, although dealing with familiar themes like war, loss,
love, and the fragility of nature, had a vitality and freshness
that has been absent in Young’s material for the past several
years. He then strapped on his iconic black Gibson Les Paul
for a bracing pass through “Down by the River,” followed by
“Hitchhiker,” a hard-rock extravaganza that detailed Young’s
past experiments with hash, amphetamines and a slew of other
drugs. A crunchy version of “Ohio” preceded a stellar spell
of Young at the keys, the culmination of which was Young looking
all wizardly at a pump organ while singing a transporting
version of “After the Gold Rush,” updated to include “Look
at Mother Nature on the run/In the 21st century.” After a
similarly angelic take of “I Believe in You,” Young returned
to the electric guitar for another new one, an environmental
storm warning that had Young singing of a rumbling in the
ground, mimicking the effect sonically with his heavily phased
guitar literally shaking parts of our old beloved Palace.
After a shout for “Old Man” from someone in the audience (to
which Young quipped, “64, and there’s so much more!”), Young
rounded out the night with truncated but powerful versions
of “Cortez the Killer” and “Cinnamon Girl.” An encore featured
one more new song before the night was bookended with “Hey
Hey, My My (Into the Black),” the words of which reminded
me that, while it may not be true that rock & roll will
never die, Young has always done his part to make sure it
doesn’t happen on his watch.
Acoustic guitar innovator Bert Jansch opened the evening with
a set that included stellar versions of the traditional song
“Katie Cruel” and the iconic “Blackwaterside” (an “interpretation”
of which was made famous by Jimmy Page on the first Led Zeppelin
album). It was at Jansch’s fingertips (and guitar tunings)
that Page, Young and Nick Drake (among many others) learned
to meld Celtic and Indian tonalities with American blues.
But Jansch’s music is a contemplative sort that was unfortunately
lost on some in attendance who were too deep in their cups
to give the proper respect due to such a talent.
Is Not a Punk Band
Public Image Ltd.
Street Nightclub, Northampton, Mass., May 16
Name is John. This is PIL,” punk-rock legend John Lydon explained
on Sunday night, sounding like a professor beginning his lecture.
“Get your musical ears on. You will need them.”
It had begun. Lydon’s long-running post-Sex-Pistols experimental
gig, Public Image Ltd., were really playing live in front
of an audience, combining dance, punk, prog, and Krautrock
into a nasty sound like a knife cutting through steel and
digging into flesh. It felt sort of weird. The Sex Pistols
reunion was a no-brainer for Lydon and his bank account, but
a PIL reunion seemed impossible at best. Yet here we were.
Lydon had a few questions for the crowd. “Where am I?” The
crowd shouted back: “Northampton.” He continued: “Where are
the lesbians?” A shriek went up in the air. “This song is
for you!” he said as the band launched into “This is Not a
Love Song.” Scott Firth’s bass line pulsed huge through the
room, and the electronic contraption guitarist-multi-instrumentalist
Lu Edmonds played sent sonic shrapnel spraying across the
Johnny Rotten was all snarl and sassafras as he shimmied around
the stage like a broken robot, wearing a light- colored suit
with no undershirt, sporting a bit of a middle-aged bloat.
He had the attitude down: a load of sneering superiority,
a sense of entitlement; he clapped for himself before the
crowd could to remind them they should be clapping for him.
If the audience weren’t responding with his desired level
of enthusiasm, he would snidely instruct them how: “All happy
faces and clappy clappy now.”
It was not surprising to see Lydon’s cantankerous, sarcastic
misanthropy on stage. What was surprising—and pleasantly so—was
that his vocals were absolutely thunderous. He hit the highs
and the lows in a triumphant manner, demonstrating why he
was the sneering voice of the punk revolution. “Albatross,”
off of Metal Box, was a particularly nasty treat.
Edmonds delivered shrill riffs, sometimes on a Fender Telecaster,
other times an electronic baglama or oud. Drummer Bruce Smith
pounded away at repetitive dance beats as well as drum machine
samples. Combined with Lydon’s distorted howl and Firth’s
robotic bass lines, it was a reminder of how the band helped
to birth the industrial genre. “Tie Me to the Length of That,”
“Poptones” and “Death Disco” felt fresh, relevant and biting.
But there were unfortunate moments as well. “Warrior” felt
terribly dated, with Huey Lewis vibes spilling all over the
place and Rotten announcing, “I’m a warrior!” And “Religion,”
Lydon’s token anti-organized-religion rant, sounded so hokey
that it was a living, breathing rock cliché. (He made up for
it with a token Lydon tirade. “Is the pope a Nazi?” he demanded.
“Answer: Yes, the pope was a Nazi!”)
The encore delivered the goods in spades. “Public Image” felt
so timeless thanks to Lydon’s delivery that pudgy Lydon faded
from the stage, and there stood the original motherfucking,
sneering punk god himself. It continued through “Rise” and
ended with a pulsating head trip on “Open Up.”
Lydon had one more set of instructions for the crowd before
leaving the stage. “Connecticut, don’t you dare vote for Sarah
Palin!” he demanded, imploring audience members to buy her
book and make her rich. “But don’t make her a real politician.”