The Lonely Minotaur

Music & Concert Reviews

A Film Full of Dreams — November 21, 2018

A Film Full of Dreams

Hot on the heels of 2016’s excellent Supersonic documentary which covered the early years of Britpop legends Oasis, Mat Whitecross delivers A Head Full of Dreams on his former college friends Coldplay. The film is framed around their last album of the same name and how it has become the culmination of everything Coldplay were striving towards since 1999……or at least that is what Chris Martin believes. The film leans heavy on the early years pre 2005’s X&Y with some fantastic and very intimate footage of Chris Martin, Jonny Buckland, Guy Berrymore, Will Champion and the behind the scenes fifth band member Phil Harvey who comes out of the rock doc as the understated hero of the group who keeps it all together. Seeing the band in their late teenage years, in their dorms messing about on guitars and making bold proclamations is worth the price of admission alone. You just really never get to see material this innocent, candid and raw on most bands. When do you get to see rockstar baby faces full of braces, pimples and bad hair? Now it certainly helps that they had a film junkie classmate in Mat Whitecross who always was carrying a camera around campus recording what he sees. It also helps immensely that he went on to become a successful documentarian and Coldplay to global super star success. A perfect marriage for a project like this. 

As a fan of their earlier material, Parachutes to the end of the A Rush of Blood To The Head campaign, I found everything I saw fascinating and nostalgic for the first hour or so. The highlight of this film for me was seeing Chris in studio hitting the opening bars for “The Scientist”. It was obviously one of the earliest moments of him playing that song. Long before it would be adored by millions. A moment like that literally made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Another moving piece of the doc was seeing Chris in 1998 boasting into the camera about where the band is heading and will accomplish in the next 3-4 years and then seeing that juxtaposed with their headlining slot at Glastonbury in 2002. An epic moment. I truly loved the band’s initial image and musical direction of Bends era Radiohead meets Jeff Buckley. It was sad to see them leave that path following the blowback of X&Y despite the sonic pop flourishes of Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends in 2008. The biggest turning point in the band’s career thus far was Phil Harvey leaving the band temporarily during X&Y (he would later return in 2007) and the negative vibes surrounding that album/tour despite robust sales. Chris Martin and company basically decided they wanted to be liked and be liked by a vast majority of potential listeners across the world which translated to more pop infused songs (“Viva La Vida”, “Paradise”, “A Sky Full of Stars”) and mega star collaborations (Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Rihanna). There is no shame in that and whatever fans they lost in that transition they picked up legions more as they elevated themselves to U2 global status. Coldplay is no longer a band, they’ve become a brand. 

The film oddly enough sprints through the albums Viva La Vida, Mylo Xyloto and Ghost Stories during its second hour. The pace was too fast for albums that connected to wide audiences, generated massive hit singles and really could have benefitted from using more time to explore those phases of the band’s career. However, nobody wants a 3 to 4 hour film so tough choices needed to be made. This reminded me how for Oasis’ Supersonic documentary, Mat Whitecross wisely focused only on their debut Definitely Maybe and mega hit follow up (What’s The Story?) Morning Glory and now legendary gigs at Knebworth in August 1996. The framing of that film worked brilliantly for Oasis as it really got to the essence of what that band was all about. It was a roller coaster ride over a three year period. Coldplay on the other hand are a band still in progress which begs the question of why is this film being released now with what seems like a lot of meat still left on the Coldplay bone? I think a documentary of this subject matter would be better served years down the line when Coldplay is no more. The footage will always be there. The stories can only get more rich with the passage of time. Coldplay’s dream is still being lived. 

Bill Ryder-Jones – “Yawn” Review — November 4, 2018

Bill Ryder-Jones – “Yawn” Review

Bill Ryder-Jones is back this month with his fantastic fourth solo album titled Yawn. When we last met Bill he was showcasing his “slacker college rock” infused album West Kirby County Primary. On that effort Bill embraced Pavement, The Strokes and shades of Lou Reed realism. On Yawn Bill takes his love of American guitar music even further by shining the spotlight on some of his slowcore influences such as Low, Bedhead, Duster and The Rivulets. A deep dive into many under the radar bands but bands people should really get to know since their fingerprints are all over this new record. 

The vocals on Yawn are all sung in a hush like manner, the lyrics tend to lean very sad but the guitar parts sure do burst with soaring optimism. Bill has a knack for writing about the experiences of everyday mundane life but he makes it sound ever so beautiful no matter how drenched in sadness some of the song topics might be alluding to. His mother on “Mither”, his father on “John”, his brother on the album cover or past lovers like “Time Will Be The Only Saviour”. The entire kaleidoscope of the human condition can be heard on Yawn. 

When Bill isn’t singing on the album he lets his guitar do the talking in grand fashion. The opening salvo of “There Is Something On Your Mind” and “Time Will Be The Only Saviour” really set the tone for a loud, swirling and feedback soaked sonic adventure. That theme is continued with great success on “Mither”, “And Then There’s You” and the roaring finale “Happy Song”. On Yawn Bill Ryder-Jones manages to become the Ray Davies of the head and heart while also showing the ferocious guitar swell of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse. Buckle up for a slow burning yet highly rewarding ride of life’s constant ups and downs. 

Grade: A

Diving Into My Pearl Jam Bootlegs — October 26, 2018

Diving Into My Pearl Jam Bootlegs

I decided to relive all the Pearl Jam shows I’ve attended over the years via the fantastic bootleg series the band have provided fans since 2000. It took about a week to listen to all the shows in chronological order but I’m glad I did it. Some of the moments on these bootlegs literally transported me back in time. Maybe some of you were at these gigs as well. Looking forward to a new Pearl Jam album and tour in 2019. Enjoy. 

Phoenix, October 21, 2000

My first taste of the Pearl Jam live experience came my freshman year of college at Arizona State on the Binaural tour. It rained all day and night. The first rain I ever encountered while living in Arizona made for a wet and sloppy time on the lawn that evening. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Eddie even remarked during the show they only put this stop on the tour so the band could finally get some sunshine. Highlights of the gig included hearing both “Long Road” and “I Got Shit” in the same setlist (That has got to be a rare combination), a  hilarious Uncle John story, a cover of The La’s “Timeless Melody”, “Betterman” with the “Romanza” guitar intro with Eddie belting the final chorus note for almost 20 full seconds and lastly “Yellow Ledbetter” ending with a medley of Van Halen riffs (“Ain’t Talking About Love” & “Eruption”). Unfortunately this concert is now known as “the show before the show”. Pearl Jam’s 10th anniversary concert was looming the following night in Las Vegas and with that came all the glory, hype and the first ever Pearl Jam performance of “Crown of Thorns”. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the Phoenix show because it was my first, the setlist was energetic and it left me hungry for more. A lot more.

Camden, July 5, 2003

In stark contrast to the rainy Phoenix show back in October 2000, the Camden/Philadelphia gig over 4th of July weekend was a hot and steamy affair. Temperatures were in the high 90s and the humidity was extremely dense. The band took the stage and rifled through “Can’t Keep”, “Brain of J”, “Save You”, “Do The Evolution”, “Spin The Black Circle” and “Green Disease” at a breakneck pace before finally acknowledging the crowd after “Given To Fly”. Mike McCready’s ferocious guitar solo in “Even Flow” seemed to last about 2-3 minutes in length with the crowd loving every second of it. What made this show unique for me was what occurred in the middle when fireworks were being displayed over the Delaware river right above the Tweeter Center amphitheater. The band when realizing this during a 9 minute, politically charged version of “Wishlist”, decided to launch into “Rockin’ In The Free World” mid show for probably the first time in the band’s history. Eddie said it would be the soundtrack to the beautiful sights above but also the “sounds of Afghanistan”. Other highlights in the set included “Breath”, the joyous b-side bounce of “Down”, an epic performance of “Black” and a tender cover of “Hide Your Love Away”. Not a bad way to spend a 4th of July weekend in the city of Brotherly Love.                                    

New York, July 9, 2003

Night 2 at Madison Square Garden had very big shoes to fill after the legendary setlist that was unleashed the night prior. That evening saw Ben Harper joining the band for two songs (“Daughter” and “Indifference”), a cover of John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth”, the 4th ever performance of “Crown of Thorns” by Pearl Jam and the stage shaking noticeably after the run of “Breath”, “Betterman” and “Do The Evolution” to end the first encore. Needless to say, night 2 had its work cut out for it. Pearl Jam kicked off the festivities by playing a rip roaring version of “Crazy Mary” with some incredible organ work by Boom Gaspar. By far my favorite ever version of this song. Please check it out if you’ve never heard it before. From there the boys leaned on some old faithfuls to get the crowd fired up; “Hail, Hail”, “Corduroy”, “Dissident”, a soaring “I Am Mine”, “Given To Fly” and “Even Flow”. Following “Even Flow” Eddie decided to call Johnny Ramone from the stage and play him a Ramones song. Johnny’s phone went to voicemail so Eddie and the Garden sang him “I Believe In Miracles”. Other highlights from the first set were “Untitled”, “Present Tense”, a gorgeous rendition of “Nothingman”, the punky love ballad “State of Love and Trust” and a super charged “Porch”. The first encore break was memorable for Ed reading fan made signs in the crowd that included my personal favorite which read “PLAY ‘LEASH’ YOU PUSSIES!”. Didn’t happen but funny regardless. Eddie also told stories of how people met, fell in love, married and named their children after band members. The final stretch of the show featured a lively crowd singalong to “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”, the understated “Alone of None” and a fist pumping “Alive” to end the first encore. I always believed Pearl Jam could easily end their performances with “Alive” rather than the cliche “Yellow Ledbetter”. Great song but it’s tiring when 90% of their gigs end with it. MSG night 2 will never get the glory and prestige of the first night which got a special DVD release but for me, pound for pound, song for song, night 2 is just as good as anything the band did the night prior. Great show. Fantastic bootleg. 

Newark, June 3, 2006

Another hot stormy evening in New Jersey as Pearl Jam looked to complete the final gig on their current tour leg. Severe thunder and lightning storms were plaguing the area for much of the last two days or so. This would later impact the show for a few minutes when several microphones cut out in the middle of “Animal”. I’m not the worlds biggest fan of their self titled/Avocado album so I wasn’t sure what to expect with the show tonight. All in all it felt like a pretty eclectic setlist overall. Songs like “Rats”, “Garden”, “Hard To Imagine”, “Don’t Gimme No Lip” and “Leaving Here” were dusted off. It seemed like the band was going to empty the tank tonight with a month off before their next gig. It was great hearing Stone take lead vocals for “Don’t Gimme No Lip” and finally hearing “Hard To Imagine “ which was on my bucket list for years. If memory serves correct, Mike had a double neck red guitar like Jimmy Page for “Inside Job”, by far my favorite track off the Avocado LP. So glad they performed it. 

Newark, August 7, 2008 (Eddie solo)

Pearl Jam do not sell bootlegs of solo Eddie gigs so I’ll have to rely on my memory to paint a picture of the evening. First off the NJ Pac Center is absolutely beautiful to look at. Eddie even mentioned during the show that NJ Pac is now his favorite venue to perform at. Despite being solo Eddie did not lay up for one single second. He still performed a robust 29 song set with a strong mix of solo compositions, cover tunes and Pearl Jam throwbacks. The moments I really locked in on during the performance were Daniel Johnston’s “Walking The Cow”, Cat Stevens’ “Don’t Be Shy”, “Man of The Hour”, an unreleased Pearl Jam song “Unthought Unknown”, “Rise”, “Porch”, Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open The Door” and “Hard Sun”. A fan asked Eddie near the conclusion of the gig what the lyrics for “Yellow Ledbetter” are. He then went into a very emotional tale on the origins and subject matter for the song. Some deep stuff on a Persian Gulf War veteran returning home and basically being shunned from the community he grew up in. Echoes of Vietnam could be felt strongly in Eddie’s words. Lessons are still being learned it seems. I took some pretty good videos during the show (including the “Yellow Ledbetter” story) that were quickly taken down from YouTube based on copyright infringement. A shame really. Gigs like this should live on just like standard Pearl Jam bootlegs. That story was tremendous and worth a listen from all Pearl Jam fans. 

Newark, May 18, 2010

My third straight Newark show. Each one vastly different than the previous one with great surprises along the way. This was my first time in the new Prudential Center and it is a beautiful arena. Pearl Jam would break it in with a rather unique setlist approach. The running order of songs felt like the band were picking the tunes out of a hat. Early appearances of “Alone”, “Immortality” and even “Whipping” popping up in the second encore. That seemed out of place to me but that was the overall theme on the evening. The biggest surprise song for the night was by far “Brother” (with lyrics) getting played. I think it was the 8th time ever and hasn’t been performed since this Newark show. So honored to get this old Ten era throwback. Another shocker was getting the lone Backspacer tour performance of “Footsteps”. Been dying to hear that one live for many many years and it did not disappoint. Other highlights of the gig were Eddie wearing a Walter Payton jersey, getting a Tom Waits cover “Jersey Girl” for just the second time by the band and “All Along The Watchtower” assisted by Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses. It was nice for the show to end with something random and fresh as opposed to the standard “Yellow Ledbetter”. 

New York, May 2, 2016

The energy for a Madison Square Garden show is always next level stuff. I hadn’t caught a Pearl Jam show there since July 9, 2003. The second of two epic stops at the world’s most famous arena. That was almost 13 years ago. Where did all that time go? All those yesterdays. Crazy man. Crazy. The band came out with roaring renditions of “Corduroy”, “Mind Your Manners”, “Once”, “Animal” and “Given To Fly” to open the Garden Party. Next Eddie welcomed two of the newest members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to the stage….Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick to perform their monster 1978 hit “Surrender”. Already this gig had the feeling of a very special night. Next the band launched into the “MAN” trilogy but this time with a little wrinkle to kick things off, “Elderly WoMAN Behind The Counter In A Small Town” into “NothingMAN” followed by “LeatherMAN” and finally “BetterMAN”. An incredible four song run that really brought the Garden to a boiling point. I’m not sure how many times prior the band played these four songs together like this. I’ve seen prior setlist over the years feature the “Nothingman”, “Leatherman” and “Betterman” trilogy but never with “Small Town” mixed in. Either way it was an awesome experience to say the least. Pearl Jam went all meta on us next by busting out “Garden” while in the Garden. I wanted this badly back in 2003. Glad I got it in 2016. Underrated Ten track and my buddy Anthony’s go to strip club jam. It took over 16 years but I finally got to hear “Jeremy” live. Bad ass tune as always and like millions of others when they were 11-12 years old, fell in love with the band via this song. I’ve always been a fan of the slow burner “All or None”. The guitar solo reminds me of mid 70s Pink Floyd. That flowed into my favorite track off Lightning Bolt, that being “Pendulum”. Great atmosphere created not only in the studio but also in a live setting. Really dig the lyrics as well. Another standout moment during the gig was the back to back appearances of “Breath” and “State of Love and Trust” from the movie Singles. Gotta be a rare combo to hear both like that. Stellar stuff. Pearl Jam had one final surprise up their sleeve for the audience. Sting joined the group unannounced for a cover of “Driven To Tears”. Definitely didn’t see that coming. Nobody did. Interesting that no songs from Binaural, Avocado or Backspacer were performed thus the setlist had a greatest hits feel to it. The lesson of the night is to never miss a Garden Party if you have the opportunity. Pearl Jam always slay at these gigs. 

Remembering “Navy Blues” — October 12, 2018

Remembering “Navy Blues”

Truth be told in the fall of 1998 I had no idea who Sloan were. Sloane Peterson a definitive yes. Sloan the band a profound no. That was until my buddy Dave enlightened me about this great Canadian rock outfit called Sloan. Dave, knowing I was a huge Beatles and Oasis junkie, told me that the closest thing he’s heard to a modern day Beatles record was Navy Blues which had just dropped earlier in the spring. So I did what any 17 year old kid living in suburbia would do in 1998. I drove to the mall. Luckily for me the now defunct Wall music store had the album for a crisp $18.99. I bought it without hearing a single note played. These were the days before Napster, Limewire, Kazaa, iTunes, YouTube, Spotify, etc. Only ways to discover a band were radio, television, a concert, maybe a music magazine (usually British) or simply word of mouth. 

Sloan come out of the gate swinging on Navy Blues. Songs like “She Says What She Means”, “C’Mon C’Mon (We’re Gonna Get It Started)” and “Iggy & Angus” are pure late 70s arena rock on steroids. Nothing but power chords and monster riffs. Navy Blues has more in common with a Kiss album than say Rubber Soul. That is not to say the album doesn’t contain Beatlesque moments because it definitely channels some serious mop top vibes on “Sinking Ships”, “Seems So Heavy” (an incredible Lennon Revolver era vocal take), “Suppose They Close The Door” and “I Wanna Thank You”. For me the show stealers on this record are the pre-game hockey anthem “Money City Maniacs” and the bouncing “Stand By Me, Yeah”. Two timeless tracks I’ll ride and die with on my iPhone forever. 

What strikes me the hardest when listening to Navy Blues is the production. The album sounds so organic and real. As if all band members are recording this album in the same small room, at the same time, to tape. This is clearly an analog production. Great separation between instruments, hard hitting vocals and the drumming is absolutely on point from start to finish. Whoever mixed this LP hit a home run that hasn’t landed yet. Great ears to say the least. I’d be curious to hear other bands/albums who have had this kind of mixing treatment.

It’s been twenty years and I’m glad my buddy Dave pushed not only Navy Blues on me but Sloan as an underrated band from the north. I think Dave used The Beatles line just to draw me into buying the album in the first place. Clever bastard. Discovering their discography and seeing them evolve over time has been a real pleasure. I was excited to learn that Sloan have hinted at a Navy Blues tour to commemorate this album in 2019. Hopefully a vinyl re-release is also in the works because I’m dying to add this piece to my collection. If you made it this far into my trip down memory lane you either love this album too or should rush out to listen to it. You’ll be rewarded. Trust me. 

Spiritualized – “And Nothing Hurt” Review — September 10, 2018

Spiritualized – “And Nothing Hurt” Review

Jason Pierce’s eighth album under the moniker Spiritualized is a super charged tour de force performance for the 52-year old singer-songwriter. Pierce composed most of the album on his laptop using Pro Tools, scrapping it once and starting over when not satisfied with the original results. Most of the album was visualized in Jason’s head as broadcasting messages from space back to Earth concerning matters of the heart. The idea of love is a big part of this record, love from the past, the present and the future to come.

Naturally the album contains many Spiritualized hallmarks: space jazz, garage rock, psychedelia, R&B, gospel and lush strings. Opening track “A Perfect Miracle” sounds like a spiritual successor to the young man who wrote “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” 20 years earlier. This time however, closure is found and peace of mind finally achieved. Life moves on constantly and sometimes love does too. Pierce is no longer chasing the perfect idea of love. These days he is just happy to find a girl who wants to dance to Big Star on the radio as illustrated in the lullaby shuffle of “Let’s Dance” or drive endlessly down the road hand in hand like on “Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go”. Elsewhere Pierce pledges on “I’m Your Man” that he is not going to be anybody’s ideal Prince Charming, someone free of vices or sin, but he will love you faithfully and that is all he is looking for in return.

Pierce has floated the idea recently that this will be his final album under the Spiritualized umbrella. With output this strong and inspiring, one can only hope he deeply reconsiders this notion of stopping. There is still a lot of meat on the Spiritualized bone to devour in years to come. This is a musical project in peak form after almost 30 years of activity. The only thing that will “hurt” is if the music stops.

Grade: A-

Thom Yorke Announces “Suspiria” Soundtrack Album…. — September 4, 2018

Thom Yorke Announces “Suspiria” Soundtrack Album….

What has only been teased and hinted at over the last year has finally been confirmed today. Thom Yorke is indeed back with a brand new soundtrack album for the upcoming horror film Suspiria which is out stateside October 26. The album will feature 25 tracks ranging in scope from proper song structures, instrumental compositions and brief interludes that are heavily influenced by Berlin in the late 70s. Also of note is that this is one of the few Yorke projects in recent memory not to feature longtime producer and collaborator Nigel Godrich at the helm. This time Yorke is co-producing the record with Sam Petts-Davies.

To kick things off, a supportive single was released across various musical outlets titled “Suspirium”. It is a simple yet melodic piano ballad with a haunting Yorke vocal delivery. Hopefully a song like this will be performed on Yorke’s upcoming North American tour in November. One can only pray it will be along with other key tracks from the film. Yorke described the making of this soundtrack as “a form of making spells” and seeing what transpires in his home studio. As of now we have heard only “Suspirium” along with short instrumental pieces heard in the film’s two trailers that remind me of the work Philip Glass did for the Vietnam War classic Hamburger Hill.

 

Tracklist

  1. A Storm That Took Everything
  2. The Hooks
  3. Suspirium
  4. Belongings Thrown In A River
  5. Has Ended
  6. Klemperer Walks
  7. Open Again
  8. Sabbath Incantation
  9. The Inevitable Pull
  10. Olga’s Destruction (Volk tape)
  11. The Conjuring of Anke
  12. A Light Green
  13. Unmade
  14. The Jumps
  1. Volk
  2. The Universe is Indifferent
  3. The Balance of Things
  4. A Soft Hand Across Your Face
  5. Suspirium Finale
  6. A Choir of One
  7. Synthesizer Speaks
  8. The Room of Compartments
  9. An Audition
  10. Voiceless Terror
  11. The Epilogue

 

You can pre-order the album here:

https://store-us.wasteheadquarters.com/products/suspiria-music-for-the-luca-guadagnino-film

 

Bill Ryder-Jones returns with new single “Mither” — August 22, 2018

Bill Ryder-Jones returns with new single “Mither”

It has been almost three years since the release of West Kirby County Primary, an album rooted deeply in Slanted & Enchanted era Pavement, early Strokes and the gentle side of Lou Reed’s solo years. That record was an absolute pleasure to discover and devour track by track. New single “Mither” shares similar hallmarks to West Kirby, guitars turned all the way up to eleven, feedback buzzing and cellos swirling. I would not be shocked to learn that it was born out of those same sessions. Bill has completely nailed that mid 90s American alternative rock vibe. Few, if any, can do it better. The highlight of the song is the grandiose 3 minutes long guitar fadeout that sounds like Sonic Youth covering My Bloody Valentine. Bill’s brand new album Yawn is out November 2nd and features 10 songs.

You can pre-order it here: https://billryderjones.dominomart.com

 

The Coral – “Move Through The Dawn” Review — August 11, 2018

The Coral – “Move Through The Dawn” Review

It seems like it was only just yesterday that a bunch of musically hungry teenagers from Liverpool (technically Hoylake) dropped their much hyped debut album in the summer of 2002. That self titled album was chock-full of sea shanty madness, neo-psychedelia and shades of early Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. Since then the band have explored a kaleidoscope of sounds ranging from psychedelic folk, jangle guitar pop, cinematic soundscapes and dirty stoner rock. That is probably why their ninth album, Move Through The Dawn, feels like a greatest hits compilation of all the sonic textures that made The Coral so fascinating to listen to over the last 16 years.

The album opens with two tracks that have a heavy dose of Electric Light Orchestra sprinkled on top of them, “Eyes Like Pearls” and “Reaching Out For A Friend”. It seems The Coral have finally left the 60s and gone straight to mid 70s prog rock. Lead single “Sweet Release” is the catchiest song on the album and could have easily found a home on their previous album Distance Inbetween with its dirty guitar grooves. One might even say it is the “dance” track on the album. The quieter nature found on the album Butterfly House looms large on tracks “She’s A Runaway” and “After The Fair”. Elsewhere “Eyes of The Moon” harks back to the gentle folk stompers found on Magic And Medicine and “Outside My Window” channels the darker spirit of The Invisible Invasion. Penultimate track “Stormbreaker” sounds like the unofficial theme song for Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones) as she brings her wrath to the shores of Westeros.

Two of the best offerings from Move Through The Dawn can be found on the Todd Rundgren meets Big Star rocker “Love or Solution” and the bittersweet yet lush “Undercover of the Night”. Both tracks sound like they could be transported from another era in time, straight from a AM rock radio station. The Coral can capture your ear by many different paths. They can freak out like on their self titled debut, they can put a joyous bounce into your step or soundtrack the perfect sunny afternoon in the countryside. This new album has the feel of coastal driving in the summer with the top down, volume up and endless road to discover. Just keep in mind, this record is only 35 minutes long so consider looping it for your journey.

Grade: B+

Madison Square Garden and the Infinite setlist…. — August 7, 2018

Madison Square Garden and the Infinite setlist….

The Smashing Pumpkins reunion tour finally rolled into New York last night. It wasn’t a complete original lineup reunion because bass player D’arcy Wretzky still has extreme beef with Billy Corgan that doesn’t look to ever be resolved. Be that as it may, getting guitarist James Iha, drummer Jimmy Chamberlain and Billy Corgan on stage this summer for the first time since 2000 is a milestone event for the band and all their fans from their 90s heyday.

This was my first proper time seeing the Pumpkins. I had previous seen the short lived Zwan fronted by Corgan at the Y100 Christmas music festival back in 2002. That band was good, not great and left you wanting more. A lot more. Over the years I also turned down many opportunities to see the Pumpkins when it was full of replacement players, sometimes Jimmy on drums but always Billy at the front. Those lineups and incarnations of the band had no magic or spark. Just a revolving door of sidemen. It was Smashing Pumpkins in name only. It felt like a cash grab with an established rock brand to hide behind. I wanted to see the real thing. I wanted my 90s Pumpkins back for one more night of glory.

Well I’m happy to report that Thursday night I got exactly that, vintage, raw and loud Smashing Pumpkins. The setlist ran 3 hours plus, featured classics from their first 5 albums (plus new single “Solora”). There really weren’t too many opportunities to catch your breath, grab another beer or make a bathroom break. The hits just kept on coming. One after another like a never ending invasion of mid 90s alt rock radio staples: “Disarm”, “Today”, “Cherub Rock”, “Zero”, “Tonight Tonight”, “1979” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”. It was like Guitar Hero on steroids. Monster guitar solos, big drums and Corgan sounding exactly like he did 25 years ago. I was highly impressed with how unchanged his voice sounds after all these years.

The Pumpkins also played a diverse array of cover songs “Space Oddity”, “Landslide”, “Stairway To Heaven” and “Baby Mine”. The best cover being David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” with a full on glam rock interpretation. A clear highlight of the show and it suited Billy’s voice quite well. It was interesting to hear “Stairway To Heaven” live since not many of us caught Led Zeppelin live but the song felt very rushed and carefree. I’d have preferred more original Pumpkins material. Songs like “I Am One”, “Ugly” or even “Perfect”. With an enormous back catalogue why play any covers at all?

Besides the big hit singles that were played, it was a pleasure to have the chance to hear some deeper cuts I never imagined I would hear live (“Eye”, “For Martha”, “The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning”, “Soma”). Glad James Iha got a chance to shine by singing leads vocals on “Blew Away”.

There were definitely some odd ball moments throughout the night. I’m pretty sure Corgan started the night in a dress or maybe it was a kilt. Either way it looked strange and unflattering. The giant video monitor behind the stage showed mostly images and videos of Billy (a solid 95%) with some random shots of James and Jimmy. No traces of D’arcy. The video interludes were also puzzling. Mark McGraph of Sugar Ray fame involved in two of them. I would love to know the connection between the Pumpkins and Mark McGraph. Two polar opposite bands from the 90s for sure. Maybe he’s just a really really big fan like the rest of us? Who knows.

At one point during the show a religious shrine of some sort was paraded around the seating area on the floor. No idea what that was supposed to signify. It was never explained or acknowledged by the band. Speaking of that, the Pumpkins had very few words for the crowd all evening long. I expected more banter, especially from Billy. That guy loves to talk and he had 18,000 open ears.

The band didn’t really stick the ending like I wish they would have. The encore was a whimper. The new single “Solara” is just a standard loud rocker. It feels more like a Smashing Pumpkins song from 2007-2013 than the 90s version of the group. Also ending the overall show with “Baby Mine” from the film Dumbo was a peculiar choice. So many fans flooded for the exits. They really should have concluded the night with one of their biggest hits, a song like “Today”, “Tonight Tonight” or “1979”. Send the people home in their happiest state.

8/1/2018 – MSG

Disarm

Rocket

Siva

Rhinoceros

Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)

Drown

Zero

The Everlasting Gaze

Stand Inside Your Love

Thirty-Three

Eye

Soma

Blew Away

For Martha

To Sheila

Mayonaise

Porcelina of the Vast Oceans

Landslide (Fleetwood Mac cover)

Tonight, Tonight

Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin cover)

Cherub Rock

1979

Ava Adore

Try, Try, Try

The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning

Hummer

Today

Bullet With Butterfly Wings

Muzzle

Encore:

Solara

Baby Mine (Betty Noyes cover)

Radiohead Are Happy To Serve You…. —

Radiohead Are Happy To Serve You….

Saturday, July 14th, marked the forth and final sold out show for Radiohead at Madison Square Garden this week. Each evening a little more unique than the previous. One never knows what oldie or rarity the band might unearth on any given night. Already in Chicago during the tour’s first stop, “Blow Out”, was performed for the first time since 2008. A real treat for those in the audience as Pablo Honey era songs outside “Creep” are rarely attempted. Could we be so lucky at MSG night 4?

The band came out of the gate like a slow lumbering beast, the gentle piano and keyboards of “Daydreaming” swirling and swelling to a crescendo of Thom Yorke pledging he is “Just happy to serve………you.”. Radiohead quickly flipped the script after the Neil Young tinged “Desert Island Disk” by transforming the entire arena into a giant pulsating rave party with “Ful Stop”. That is one of the many aspects I love about this band. The diversity in style and scope between one song to the next. They keep you on your toes at all times. A sensory overload for sure.

Highlights from the main set included a slower version of “Kid A” with drummer Phil Selway supplying a military like backbeat, the punky “2+2 = 5” with Thom spitting out pure venom, “Videotape” with a new backing keyboard by Jonny Greenwood, the rejected James Bond theme “Spectre”, the Romeo & Juliet inspired “Exit Music (For A Film)” featuring fantastic guitar noodling by Jonny and finally the Can infused “There There”. Each time I hear it live I become more and more convinced that this tune is one of their greatest masterpieces. The guitar solo finale by Jonny was absolutely savage. He was playing like a man with his hair on fire. One of my favorite moments of any Radiohead show I’ve ever attended. A song like this is very very hard to top, so naturally Radiohead one upped it by playing “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” which is an all-timer in its own right.

For me the encores at a Radiohead show are like unwrapping presents on Christmas Morning. What will the band give us tonight? What jaw dropping relic from the past or unreleased ditty could the band pull from their deep catalogue? At first it seemed the band were going to play it straight and simple with some old faithfuls like the always incredible “Idioteque”, the Ice Storm themed “House of Cards”, the sad guitar finger plucking of “Present Tense” and the rip roaring “Bodysnatchers”. However, the real gift in the first encore was the addition of “The Tourist”. It has only been played sparingly since the year 2000 but it seems the band have fallen back in love with the song as it has popped up several times since 2017.

Encore 2 began with just Thom acoustically and Jonny on his laptop working on vocal loops as the duo launched into the somber “Give Up The Ghost”. I was surprised the band next performed “Optimistic”. One of the finer moments from Kid A but to me it deserves placement earlier in the main setlist. Doesn’t really have the feel of encore type song. I’d have looked towards “My Iron Lung”, “Let Down” or “Reckoner” but that’s just me. With one song left to play on the night, you knew it was either going to be “Karma Police” or “Creep”. Maybe even both like the last time I caught Radiohead at the Garden in 2016. The band elected for “Karma Police” and it quickly became the biggest singalong moment of the evening. I love that when the song finishes Thom keeps strumming and lets the arena sing the chorus as the band slowly slips off stage one by one.

There have been a lot of whispers over the last few weeks that director Paul Thomas Anderson and Radiohead are secretly working on a tour documentary of this North American summer tour. I really hope that comes to fruition. It would be nice to see a spiritual successor to their previous documentary Meeting People Is Easy (1998). That film showed the pain and agony of becoming one of the worlds biggest rock bands. It would now be nice to cap it off with a celebration of all that Radiohead have accomplished over the last 25 years. It has truly been an extraordinary run, a run which hopefully has many more chapters yet to be written.

7/14/2018 – Night 4 

Daydreaming

Desert Island Disk

Ful Stop

2+2=5

Kid A

All I Need

Videotape

No Surprises

Bloom

Everything In Its Right Place

Lotus Flower

The Numbers

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi

Spectre

Exit Music (For A Film)

There There

Street Spirit

Encore:

Idioteque

House of Cards

The Present Tense

Bodysnatchers

The Tourist

Encore 2:

Give Up The Ghost

Optimistic

Karma Police