Sunday, April 12, 2009

Morrissey / The Courteeners - Live 2009.04.08 The Pageant, St. Louis, Missouri

When I heard Morrissey was coming to town again, I knew I couldn't say no. This time I actually went with a friend and happened to meet up with a couple more at the show. Coincidentally, the last time I saw Moz perform, I wrote my first review for this blog.

Artist: Morrissey
Venue: The Pageant
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: 8 April 2009
Opening Act: The Courteeners

01. This Charming Man
02. Billy Budd
03. Black Cloud
04. How Soon Is Now?
05. Irish Blood, English Heart
06. When I Last Spoke to Carol
07. How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?
08. I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris
09. Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others
10. Something Is Squeezing My Skull
11. Seasick, Yet Still Docked
12. The Loop
13. The World Is Full of Crashing Bores
14. Death of a Disco Dancer
15. Best Friend on the Payroll
16. I Keep Mine Hidden
17. Sorry Doesn't Help
18. Ask
19. Let Me Kiss You
20. I'm OK by Myself

21. First of the Gang to Die

The night opened up with the Courteeners, a five-piece alternative band from Manchester. They played ten songs in about 35 minutes. They sounded somewhat Britpoppy, but with more of a post-80s feel. These guys were obviously fans of the Smiths, and they said as much on stage. I wasn't blown away, but they were friendly and made decent music. The fit the bill as an opener for Morrissey, and I liked that they seemed like a young band that might otherwise belong in smaller venues.

After they left the stage, just like Morrissey's last tour, music videos and other clips were projected onto a big screen covering the stage. This time the video featured plenty of Shocking Blue songs and a live television performance of the New York Dolls, a documented love of Morrissey's. The stage fell a few minute before 9:00pm to reveal a background filled with a massive, buff sailor. After the intro music ran for a minute or two, the band hit the stage and burst into the classic Smiths single "This Charming Man".

Morrissey split his set fairly evenly between tracks from his new album, Years of Refusal, songs from his solid 2004 comeback album, You Are the Quarry, and old Smiths songs, with a few older songs from his solo career thrown in. The choice of his songs is quite interesting in terms of what was and wasn't represented. Among the Smiths songs he played, three were charting singles, two are slightly obscure but great album tracks, and "I Keep Mine Hidden" is notable as the last recorded Smiths song, found only on the b-side of "Girlfriend in a Coma" (and the extremely belatedly-released "Sweet and Tender Hooligan" single). The solo tracks were rather curiously focused; Morrissey nearly completely overlooked his entire early career (no "Suedehead" or "Everyday Is Like Sunday"!?) in favor of five or six songs each from two of his latest albums. Nothing from his first three albums was included, only one song from the next three was present, and nothing from his relatively recent 2006 album, Ringleader of the Tormentors was to be heard. Did he suddenly turn his back on that album? It may not be as good as the new album or You Are the Quarry, but it certainly wasn't bad.

Regardless, I can't complain with what he did deliver. The band rocked out in top form, except for a few guitar problems (e.g., lead guitarist Jesse Tobias had one of his strings break during "Ask", so he couldn't do the lovely lead parts at the end of the song). Morrissey sung perfectly, but he just didn't seem quite as spirited as he could be. He was in a good mood; he still talked some in his normal coy manner and received plenty of gifts from the audience (including what appeared to be vinyl copies of the first two Smiths albums), but he said at one point, "We had a great time in Kansas City, you may be jealous," and said that even though he liked St. Louis, he liked KC better. He certainly wasn't having as good of a time as last time he was here, although, to be fair, that was his birthday.

Standouts included "How Soon Is Now?", done as a shortened version but with an extended guitar and kettle drum outro, "Death of a Disco Dancer", also featuring a great outro with rhythm guitarist Boz Boorer on clarinet and ending on something of an instrumental freakout, and "First of the Gang to Die", which concluded in a big collective bow by the band. "Seasick, Yet Still Docked" was new to me but sounded fantastic. It was just about the only slower, less rocking song of the night, and it featured acoustic double bass and guitar. The instrumental was particularly beautiful. The only real low point was "I Keep Mine Hidden". It's cool for Morrissey to pull out such an obscurity, but it just isn't a good song, and considering how many amazing Smiths songs there are to choose from, why pick one of the weakest ones?

I was surprised that the encore only consisted of one song – I wondered if Morrissey was snubbing us after a good night in Kansas City, but apparently that's the norm for this tour. Really, the whole band performed quite well, and the songs rocked. It was a lot of fun, but I do wish Moz had put just a bit more energy into it all.

The Courteeners: B-
Morrissey: B+

P.S. This time he only took his shirt off and threw it to the audience once. (Last time it was twice.)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

SLSO Follow-Up

The story of St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's Carnegie Hall performances just keeps getting more interesting. I already reviewed one of their warm-up nights in St. Louis, but I wanted to share how things ended up at the real deal. If you've been reading the SLSO blog, you've probably already caught most of this, but apparently, at the actual Carnegie Hall performance, the flights were delayed and the musicians didn't arrive until under two hours before showtime. For the first night (the night I didn't get to see), the composer of one of the pieces who was also set to perform a solo vocal part failed to arrive at all. David Robertson, the SLSO conductor, had to do the job himself and let someone else handle the conducting. Apparently, it turned out well anyway. The New York Times has a positive review of both nights with more details.

Speaking of the SLSO blog, I never linked back to the other reviews from that night. The first set can be found here, another here, and the last set (including a link back to my own review) here.

I'd like to thank Eddie Silva at the SLSO once more for a great night. I can't reiterate enough how much fun I've had at the SLSO recently. I'm still surprised I never went before six months ago.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Cup Collector / Brad Schumacher - Live 2009.04.02 Sci-Fi Lounge, St. Louis, Missouri

Disclaimer: both of the musicians that I am about to write about are my friends. I still believe that I am capable of evaluating and commenting upon their work in a reasonably fair manner, but be aware, bias may creep in.

Both of these guys rock, by the way.

Artists: Cup Collector / Brad Schumacher
Venue: Sci-Fi Lounge
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: 2 April 2009

The Sci-Fi Lounge is a unique venue. In fact, I don't even think it was a venue a few weeks ago. It's more of a space, a place you can go to to just hang out. It is owned by a man named Coyote, and it is his collection of art, video and arcade games, music, toys, and books that are spread across the place. The cover charge is $2 (at least when there is live music), but that also nets you a free (non-alcoholic) drink or snack. The atmosphere is great, the people are nice, and the whole thing is rather user-friendly. The only downside is that the place has very limited hours – think I heard it's just open Tuesday and Thursday nights from 8pm-midnight. Coyote has a day job, after all.

Anyway, Cup Collector hit the stage precisely at 9:18 and the crowd went WILD. It was madness. Chairs were thrown about the building, drinks were knocked over recklessly, someone charged at the band and stole all the amplifiers, and then the power went out. We all went home and cried. End of review.

Just kidding. Cup Collector turned on his equipment and asked Coyote if he was too loud. He turned down some, turned to the meager audience and gave a big smile. His setup was his electric guitar, a looping pedal, some effects pedals, and two amplifiers. He turned towards his amplifiers and began playing a very droning riff, mostly consisting of different variations and voicings of the same base chord. Through looping some of these, he created a thick layer of a single massive chord. After a few minutes, he began using his guitar to create feedback hums over the looped chords. The total effect was beautiful, almost relaxing. After six minutes, he suddenly stopped the loops and his playing.

After a quick retune and capo overlay, Cup Collector started a second piece, this time based off of a series of fingerpicked riffs (or at least, that's my guess considering that his back was to us). Several of these were looped over each other to create a swarm of picking. The piece began to build up, and then some distorted undertones appeared in the mix. The sound got louder and more intense until he was adding layers of feedback on top of it all. He removed the layers slowly and faded into a return to quiescence. After completing the ten-minute piece, he cleared his equipment from the stage to make some room for Brad.

Brad Schumacher prepared his equipment for a while and apparently somehow destroyed his orange-painted amplifier in the process. Nonetheless, he still had a PA mixer, two orange-painted speakers, a television wired to display audio waves, his laptop, his guitar, and several pedals. He also had some sort of large sheet which some sort of rough outline of his set sketched out upon it. When he was ready, he played some distorted harmonics and thanked everyone present. He then preceded to play something he "dreamed up a few days ago".

Brad opened with his programmed digital synthesizer on his laptop. After letting his guitar feed back, he scraped his strings a few times and went back to playing with his laptop again. The rawness of the noise came down a notch for a minute, but then he started pounding on his guitar to get some sounds out, and then he started using a whammy pedal to really freak out his guitar. This was matched by a rise in the digital synth upwards to very high pitches. The guitar sound turned very strange and mechanical as the whole soundscape turned dirtier and more tense. Eventually the noise level came down and turned into distant-sounded rumbles. Brad switched to a more electronic-sounding guitar effect, but then began using heavier distortion, some sort of gate, and his whammy pedal. The sum sound was a very thick, dark tonal freakout. Brad bent his guitar neck and used harmonics for more weird sounds, and faded out on synth washes and heavy chords. The whole piece lasted about twenty-two minutes.

This line-up of performers made for an interesting combination – they sounded different, yet they fit together well. Cup Collector is more of a drone sort of thing, but his fancy fingerwork means that there is more going on than a single protracted note – he kept my attention well by his fairly constant subtle changes to the soundscape. Brad's piece felt like an honest composition: there were distinct sections with different sounds, and he balanced his work well between his guitar and the digital synth. I have no idea how he created some of the sounds he made, and that fascinates me.

Both loosely fall into the ambient scene, and both were solo musicians focusing on their guitars, pedals, layering, and feedback, instead of vocals, melody, or rock stylings, but their approaches are somewhat different, and I was left in a different mood after each. Even when Cup Collector approached more intense ground, the atmosphere was more relaxing than abusive. Much of Brad's piece was darker, but the whole sum of his performance was more varied than just that; there was a process, a development, some sort of logical progression from start to finish.

It's rather a pity, though, that the audience was mostly just a few friends of each of performer. The musicians of the night fit the environment well, but I can't help but think that there are plenty of people that should have been there and would have loved it if they had been. The Sci-Fi Lounge is a cool venue that deserves some more attention. I hope a few more people start heading there – it may be tucked away a little bit, but it isn't hard to find and it's just off the Loop.

Score: A-