Monday, March 26, 2012

Andrew Bird / Eugene Mirman - Live 2012.03.22 The Pageant, St. Louis, Missouri

Artist: Andrew Bird
Venue: The Pageant
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: 22 March 2012
Opening Act: Eugene Mirman

01. Hole in the Ocean Floor
02. Nyatiti
03. Danse Caribe
04. Desperation Breeds...
05. Polynation
06. Give It Away
07. The Naming of Things
08. Lazy Projector
09. Bein' Green [The Muppets cover]
10. Eyeoneye
11. Near Death Experience Experience
12. Effigy
13. Lusitania
14. Orpheo Looks Back
15. Plasticities
16. Tables and Chairs

17. So Much Wine [The Handsome Family cover]
18. I'm Goin' Home [Charley Patton cover]
19. Fake Palindromes

When I first heard that the opener was a stand-up comedian, I was concerned. Knowing that a lot of stand-up doesn't do much for me, or outright offends me, I wasn't feeling too great about the prospect. But I figured it was worth giving a shot, so arrived early enough to catch Eugene Mirman's performance and a comfortable seat. I was surprised; he actually was fairly funny, but I was disappointed to find that much of his humor relied on ableism. He walked the line of overt offensiveness, and it's debatable if he strayed too far on the wrong side, but at least I could appreciate his political humor.

Andrew Bird came onto the stage alone to perform the longest track off his new album, "Hole in the Ocean Floor". His trademark looping was abundantly clear here, as without it the song would have been all but impossible. As it was, he was able to build up a huge network of parts that wove in and out of each other. Since it was just him, it was a rather transparent process: it was quite easy to watch as Bird added and subtracted parts as he went along.

For the rest of the main set, Bird was joined by guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, bassist Mike Lewis, and his usual drummer/multi-instrumentalist partner, Martin Dosh. Bird mostly stuck to his violin, but played guitar parts on many songs as well, and occasionally threw in glockenspiel bits when he felt like it. And of course, nearly everything he did was looped back. The last time I saw him perform, he appeared to also sample the guitarist's parts, but this time he seemed to just operate on his own instruments and voice. However, on some songs, it appeared that Dosh was manipulating some of Bird's parts, so I can only imagine that the wiring involved here is highly complicated. Dosh also performed some keyboard parts and threw down some percussion samples while ostensibly holding the beat with his drumset.

Ylvisaker was usually found to be doing something interesting with a slide or with some array of interesting effects, but he got off to a rough start when some element of his equipment appeared to malfunction. During "Desperation Breeds..." he was unable to perform for most of the song, and a stage hand rushed on stage to try to help. Bird didn't seem to mind too much; at one point he glanced back, noticed that Ylvisaker was out of action, and appeared to play what was presumably the guitarist's part on his glockenspiel. One quickly gets the impression that much of Bird's performance is improvised or at least only loosely scripted. After finishing "Desperation", Bird again looked back to see that Ylvisaker needed more time, and broke into what seemed to be an unplanned rendition of the brief instrumental "Polynation".

The setlist largely consisted of material from Bird's new album, Break It Yourself, which he said he really liked to perform, along with a couple favorite songs from each of his past few albums. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) many of these older selections were captured on the live Fake Conversations EP that he released a couple months ago as a giveaway for concert ticket buyers. As a result, there were few surprises to be found in the setlist, but that's not to say there were none. The biggest was probably the cover of "Bein' Green", which Bird claimed wasn't on the setlist but somehow just made him feel better. Apparently he was feeling "under the weather", which is strangely appropriate: a recent documentary following Bird's previous year-long tour, Fever Year, focused on the fact that Bird was battling some form of a cold for almost the entirety of the tour.

Bird's encore saw him come back to stage with just Ylvisaker and Lewis. The three crowded around a single retro-looking microphone and announced that they were going to play like in the old days. With no amplifiers, just acoustic instruments and voices, the three performed two covers and then retreated back to their normal posts. Dosh returned to his set as well, and the band played a manic, extended version of "Fake Palindromes". I had expected Bird to come out and play some more songs solo (as he had on his last tour) but this did not occur.

My biggest complaint of the night was that the encore seemed a bit dull. The idea of grouping around the single mic was interesting, but the covers weren't so special, and I would have preferred some more jems from Bird's own extensive back-catalog. The opener was okay but I probably would have preferred a hand-picked musical performer more in line with Bird's sound. (But I suppose Mirman was indeed better than the last tour's opening act, the Heartless Bastards.)

Eugene Mirman: C+
Andrew Bird: B+

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Radiohead / Other Lives - Live 2012.03.09 Scottrade Center, St. Louis, Missouri

I just couldn't say no to this concert. It was worth the expensive ticket, even if seeing a concert in 19,000-seat hockey arena is weird.

Artist: Radiohead
Venue: Scottrade Center
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: 9 March 2012
Opening Act: Other Lives

01. Bloom
02. 15 Step
03. Airbag
04. Little by Little
05. Morning Mr. Magpie
06. Myxomatosis
07. Kid A
08. Videotape
09. The Daily Mail
10. The Amazing Sounds of Orgy
11. Karma Police
12. Identikit
13. Lotus Flower
14. There There
15. Feral
16. Reckoner

First Encore:
17. Separator
18. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
19. Lucky
20. Electrolite [R.E.M. cover tease] Everything in Its Right Place

Second Encore:
21. Give Up the Ghost
22. You and Whose Army?
23. Idioteque

This show rocked. I don't know when the last time was that I saw a concert this good – and I saw some good concerts last year! I think a large part of my satisfaction comes from just how good the openers were. I hadn't heard the name until I heard they'd be opening the show, but it turns out that Other Lives are a top-notch band. Hailing from Oklahoma and performing as a six-piece, they produced a dense, nearly orchestral sound. Despite the difficulty in ascertaining who was producing what sound in the mass of guitars, keyboards, and strings, they reminded me of a less abstract My Bloody Valentine, or a more compact Godspeed You! Black Emperor, or of the more complexly arranged Radiohead songs from OK Computer or In Rainbows. Suffice it to say, I liked them a lot.

Speaking of Radiohead, the first surprise of the show for the unsuspecting observer was the presence of two drumsets – guest drummer Clive Deamer has become a steady live member of the band for this tour. To open their set, Radiohead played three album-openers, each of which benefited greatly from the expanded percussion. While "There There" has always featured additional percussion from guitarists Johnny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien, "Bloom" also featured Johnny on percussion, and Clive's presence on almost every song of the show certainly set the theme of their performance.

The new material from 2011's The King of Limbs benefited greatly from this percussive focus. Since the album already showed an emphasis on reducing sonic complexity in favor of rhythmic precision and ingenuity, it only makes sense that the band would further expand on that front live. Despite my relative lack of enthusiasm for the new album, most of the songs carried a fantastic energy when performed live. "Feral" still remained a formless, weak, meandering half-song, and "Separator" lost some of its subtle wonder, but the others were surprisingly good.

The rest of the setlist was solid. They played their newest single, "The Daily Mail"; an obscure Amnesiac-era b-side, "The Amazing Sounds of Orgy"; and the brand-new, unreleased "Indentikit". Other highlights from their extensive back-catalog were "Reckoner", "Lucky", "You and Whose Army?", and three Kid A songs that all garnered massive crowd approval. Oddly, nothing from before OK Computer was performed; other setlists from this tour usually have one song from The Bends, but at this point in Radiohead's career, they can probably afford to forget about their more mainstream alt-rock days.

The band was in top form, clearly extremely well-rehearsed. The rhythms were unbelievably tight and intricate. Clive added quite a bit in that regard to the classic material – especially to songs like "Reckoner" and the Kid A material. (Perhaps that's why those songs stood out to me so much.) On other songs, Clive's influence seemed minimal, superfluous, or even undetectable. I have no idea what he added to "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" or "There There", for example. "Lucky" and "You and Whose Army?" were the only songs he sat out on, presumably because there was literally almost nothing to add. (Well, there was also "Give Up the Ghost", which was performed by just Thom, Johnny, and a sampled beat, but that's a different story.)

The only weak moments were "Feral", a screwy-sounding guitar part by Johnny on "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi", and some flubbed lyrics on "Karma Police" – which Thom joked about by then changing the chorus: "This is what you get when you forget the words". But every other moment was a perfect performance, and the encores were incredible. It's fascinating to see a crowd respond so well to a song as abstract as "Everything in Its Right Place". The closing song, "Idioteque" went over quite well, and the performance was even more intense than normal, escalating into an extended frenzied jam at its conclusion.

I'm not sure what else to say. It was an incredible performance, possibly even slightly better than the last time I saw them. And Other Lives were probably the best opening act I've seen since Haii Usagi opened for the Faint.

Other Lives: A
Radiohead: A