The National – August 19, 2011 – Divadlo Archa – Prague, Czech Republic

Wednesday night, Brooklyn’s The National took a brief break from their European festival tour and played the Archa Theater in downtown Prague.  The Archa is a great venue and reminds me of a compact version of DC’s legendary 9:30 Club.  When great bands like The National come to Prague to play, I love the place even more.

The National put on a solid, dynamic, atmospheric show from the word go.  Beginning with the muted “Runaway” they played a sampling from their past four albums plus the new “Exile Vilify.”  The National aren’t a “mosh pit” kind of band so there was a lot of vigorous head nodding and toe-tapping during the set.  That said, songs like “Mr. November” and “Mistaken for Strangers” elicited some serious crowd sing-alongs and a generous serving of fist-pumps from the mellow Czech/expat crowd.

The band obviously enjoyed itself and sprinkled its set with amusing stage banter.  Lead singer, Matt Beringer channeled his inner-1908’s Bono and descended into the crowd on two occasions for a sing-along – side by side with the people who had come to see the band.  The second time it happened, it was during the acoustic guitar adorned (and microphoneless) “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, a song that up to that point, I hadn’t paid much attention to.  The tune definitely benefited from the stripped down and up close and personal treatment.

The band really delivered at this show.  They crafted a perfectly paced setlist with just enough crescendo to keep it interesting all while keeping their dark, moody melodic groove intact.  It was great to see one of America’s best bands conquer one of the capitals of Europe.

Primal Scream – Screamadelica Live – August 7, 2011 Vltavská Cultural Center Prague, Czech Republic

Somewhere, Czechoslovak communists are turning in their graves.

Last night’s show at the Vltavská Cultural Center in Prague had the rock band Primal Scream playing in what appeared to be the basement of a run-down building adorned with old, ugly socialist realism sculptures.  The near atomic combination of the eye-searing, color-saturated, bright visuals and ear bleeding volume of the show must have exorcised the last communist ghost from that old building.

The show was a top to bottom rendition of the landmark 1991 album Screamadelica.  However, the performance was much more than a note for note run through of the LP.  Songs were stretched, deepened and improvised upon until the blistering performance of the album almost lived up to the hype that surrounds it.  Bobby Gillespie and Co. strutted and swaggered through the songs, inspiring the packed crowd to dance, pogo and head nod their way through the set.  The disposition of the crowd was euphoric and ended up being one of the most polite crowds I’ve ever been in  – even while standing about 3 rows from the stage.

Last night was the final night of their European tour.  However, if you happen to be reading this from Japan, do yourself a favor and catch the show.  It’s a powerful performance of a classic album.

Roger Waters: The Wall Live – April 16, 2011 – O2 Arena – Prague, Czech Republic

My history with Pink Floyd’s epic album The Wall goes way back.  When I was young, my older brother had a huge classic movie poster hung on the one wall of his bedroom that was brown shag carpet.  That picture freaked me out and intrigued me at the same time.  I had never heard the music, but the poster conveyed the central battiness of it.

A few years later, while in junior high, I got grounded for a month for a particularly bumbling transgression.  However, like any good teenager, I chose to turn inward during that time and concentrate on my sullen state.  The Wall was the perfect soundtrack and Friday night probationary trips to the movie rental place yielded four back-to-back weekends of rentals of the VHS.

So, to say I know and am a fan of this album is to put it lightly.

Thankfully, Saturday night’s production of this seminal work lived up to my high standards of all things Wall.  Waters’ double themed night of a march to madness and the current onslaught of corporate and ideological dystopia meshed seamlessly as the stage prop wall was constructed across the width of O2 Arena.  The production itself was crisp and gaudy all at the same time. High-definition digital projections on the bricks of the wall were further emphasized by huge marionettes of the various antagonists of the story.  In the midst, Roger Waters stood dwarfed in the middle of the stage by the wall and the story he dreamed up some 30 years ago.  That said, his voice still managed to carry the tunes.

Waters chose to leave the music true to the original.  In fact, even sound effects that appear on the album and movie were interspersed in the production.  (The ambient, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!” during “Nobody Home” gave this Floyd nerd goosebumps.)  And, to his credit, the singer hired to take Gilmour’s parts sounded very much like David Gilmour himself.  So there was no distraction other than the huge production going on right in front of the viewer.

The show was big, heavy-handed, preachy, twisted, ridiculous and an absolute feast for the eyes.  It was perfect.  The technology that Waters has employed in this production is enough to make even the most hardened cynic take notice.

So, while the $100 ticket price and tuneless drunken Russians behind me in Act 1 made me question my reasons for being there, “Run Like Hell” and the whole of Act 2 confirmed that The Wall continues to be unmatched on record and on stage.