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  • Thao & Mirah's Fatal Kind of Charm

    Jun 9 2010, 6h39

    Mon 7 Jun – Thao and Mirah with The Most of All
    Thao Nguyen
    Mirah

    I don't write about a lot of shows I go to, not even most of them. There are few that inspire so many comments, thoughts, deconstructions and superlatives. The strange, thrilling, monstrous and glorious crossover tour of Thao and Mirah is certainly in that elite.

    Let's get the venue and opener out of the way first. The Bootleg Theatre is a small, intimate place where every spot is close to the stage. Although the place isn't built for acoustic splendor, what with it being a brick wall and plywood, it won't bother you. Another nice thing is that it makes separation between the performer and the audience nearly impossible. One moment you're standing around, waiting for the show to begin and then hey - those people to your right go on stage because they turn out to be the opening band.

    The Sweet Hurt, other than being cleverly named, is a completely pleasant band. They're a sleepy time folk rock band with smooth vocals and slide guitar. Their set was unfortunately interrupted by that one guy in the back yelling "Swimming Pools!" at the wrong band, all awkward and embarrassing, shaming us all. Thanks for paying attention, guy in the back.

    Ten minutes after the sweet stopped hurting, Thao and Mirah came on and stomped and clapped to Know Better Learn Faster opener, "The Clap." It sounds different, maybe even awkward, without the vast echo, audience participation, or zombie sing-a-long choir as on the studio version, but it set the tone for the night. Powering through the abrupt full body opener of a song, they let you know you were in for a series of fearless performances.

    A great concert is one that is moving to listen to and watch. Watching Thao and Mirah, two of my favorites whom I've never had the pleasure of seeing live, was something to behold. I'll get to the music at first, but what really jumps out at you during this show is their stage presence and performance. Thao and Mirah and the Most of All is full of power, fury, and righteous funk.

    Thao is a bad ass spark plug of a performer, all full-body rocking and hair flying everywhere as she jams on that acoustic electric. It is the kind of fearless submersion into music that infects the audience and you can't help but feel the bass heavy beat and powerful song writing. It was hard to believe that her first album was almost all singer-songwriter style music. Mirah, on the other hand, has an amazing voice that you can only truly appreciate seeing the squinty scowl and self-conducting she does as she puts the entirety of her soul into singing. It wasn't until I followed her energy and compulsive hand movements that I grasped the delicacy and straight up difficulty of her melodies.

    Musically, the contrast between the two makes it a delicious meal for your inner cochlea. Thao rocks out and you feel the machine gun drums in your rib cage. Her performance is, all at once, energetic, playful, emotionally moving, and sick as hell. I don't normally use phrases like "sick as hell," but that's the only way my brain will allow to describe her style of rock out. Mirah brings it back down, and to a dark place, with almost sinister strings bleeding out songs. When Mirah lets loose and belts out a powerful surge of voice, it is an amazing thing. You'll never enjoy the sound of someone yelling so much.

    Did I mention the rest of the band? They are a talented set of multi-instrumentalists. Both of their catalogs feature a bunch of instruments, but some replacements of trumpets with oboes and keyboards and violins revitalize old favorites. But the absolute best moments of the night are the collaborations. When Thao lends a hand on a slightly up tempo and supremely beautiful version of "We're Both So Sorry," or when Mirah sings a verse on "Bag of Hammers," your fanbrain will tingle and the top of your skull will open.

    What makes this show work, and work so damn well, is that if you know both of these artists it will be the closest thing you will ever get to seeing the Justice League in real life. Because this is that crazy and epic of a crossover. It is two talented, shining stars joining forces. It is two different worlds of magical music, distinct, far apart, and complementary. It is Batman and Superman hangin' out on a satellite.

    One too many comic book references, as per usual. The point is, this show is a rarity. It works best if you're a fan of both, but whether you only know one or both, it is hard to deny the sheer talent going on here. It is hard to not enjoy the songwriting craft, the stage presence, the witty banter and the infectious glee and heavy catharsis. Basically?

    This show was so good, you guys.
  • Hot Chip Will Break Your Legs

    Mai 3 2008, 4h06

    Mon 28 Apr – Hot Chip, Free Blood

    I anticipated this concert more than any other simply because it was the longest wait.

    See, this was originally supposed to be "Mon 04 Feb - Hot Chip, El Rey Theatre." But then one of their guys got sick and it was cancelled the night before. Promises of rescheduling were heard through the grapevine, but as someone who bought their ticket on eBay (and it was not cheap), I wasn't sure how I would fare. Plus, Coachella was coming up, which featured the Chip on Saturday, and the Indio festival has a notorious embargo policy.

    Silence for weeks. My ticket moped around on my desk, emotionally unfulfilled, not sure what to do with it's papery existence. Finally, a reply from Golden Voice, with the simple words: "4/28 at the mayan."

    So after all of that waiting and uncertainty, was it worth it at long last? The best I can say is, "I guess." It was not a bad show by any means. It was fun, it sounded great, and I would go again A++. But something inside me had been hoping for an extraordinary show - I think I had convinced myself that all of us delayers were owed something extraordinary. Something more than just a regular show.

    Of course, in retrospect, that is kind of a selfish sense of entitlement to have. But I can't help but feel that something as small as a double encore would have sufficed.

    But they played a great "Boy From School" and a rousing "Crap Craft Dinner"! Even mixing some tunes during their last song. Performance wise, they sound good. Not CD exact, but I like it better when bands are a little rough around the edges anyway. Honestly, the sound levels made it hard to discern how spot-on they were. The backing music would drown out the vocals sometimes, but as a big Hot Chip fan, I think my brain just filled in the blanks. It was a fun night, although it would have been better with a stronger crowd.

    If you were there and you're reading this, don't worry, I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about everyone else. It was a surprisingly uptight audience for a hot chip show. I'd expect everyone dancing and singing and compacted like sardines to the edge of the stage, but nope, a lot of simple nodding and arms crossing and forearm protecting. That's cool and all, but you know, there's a whole balcony for just observing.

    It wouldn't have bothered me if some people weren't actually weirded out by the idea that some people like to, you know, move at concerts. One guy actually stopped my friend and told him to calm down - and he wasn't even going crazy. He wasn't even touching him. He was just in front of him and I guess all the movement blocked the guys' view. It's a concert, guy. Even when folks right next to me have tried to start mosh pits, I just move away and understand that they're just trying to get into the fucking rock and roll.

    But enough about that! As far as I can tell, it was a good show. I would have liked a double encore. I would have liked a little inter-song banter. I would have liked a couple more slow tracks. But what I did get was satisfying, a hefty meal for the music hungry.

    One thing I haven't mentioned yet was the opening act, Free Blood. I didn't know of them, but they're an alright duo. Very emotionally heavy stuff, sometimes a little too experimental for my tastes, but they know how to put on a show. They know how to engage the audience. I would have liked it if they had more live instrumentation, cause a drum machine doesn't carry that same punch as live amplified drums for me, but I dug it anyway.

    A recommended show for those that like shows.
  • How M. Ward Blew My Mind

    Nov 18 2007, 18h03

    Sat 17 Nov – M. Ward, Foreign Born

    Part of it was the hall. It was by no means Walt Disney caliber, but the fact that it was still an auditorium style room designed with acoustics in mind made it sound better than if it were just some bar.

    Part of it was that he was playing solo. Oddly enough, it might not have been such an awesome show if he was backed by a full band. His brand of beautiful blues just fits so well with a minimalist sound. It was just M. Ward, his guitar, his piano, and us. Oh, and some amazing girl named Zoe with a powerful voice that makes you smile.

    The rest of it was because M. Ward is just so damn good. I could tell from his albums that he was a talented guitarist, but to see it in person is glorious. He's the kind of guitarist that makes use of all of his tools. He plays percussion by slapping it, he picks with all of his fingers, he mutes strings for different sounds, he does things that I am not even knowledgeable enough to name or describe. His songs are affecting and personal, often expressing these basic, universal ideas, pulled out of our collective life experience.

    There was a double encore! I've never been to a show with a double encore, but it felt good. M. Ward came out a second time, this time taking requests, and finished off with "O'Brien":

    And he said I got a brand new song to show ya /
    Though it probably ain't gonna blow your mind /
    And the thing about O'Brien was /
    He could always make a string buzz like it was still 1989 /
    And I remember my first car and that old girlfriend of mine /
    And that's the story of how O'Brien blew my mind


    As for Foreign Born, they're also great. I knew nothing of them, but am interested in hearing more. They had a great sound, very clean, great melodies and seemed like a talented group o' folks.

    But man! M. Ward! That's the kind of concert that makes you a bigger fan when you leave. The best sounding concert I've been to since Sufjan Stevens. I went home and fell asleep in my clothes.