The XX– Forum Karlin, Prague, November 29, 2016

The XX show last night a Prague’s Forum Karlin blew the pants off the one a few years back at the big room at the Lucerna downtown.  The Lucerna show was fine performance and setlist wise but the sound was horrible.  At that show, there were none of the gut-rattling low frequency elements of the band’s work and so the music lost a lot of its punch.

Last night’s show was a different story.  The performances were inspired and Prague’s Forum Karlin proved to be a perfect venue for the band.  The place was literally filled to the rafters and the sound was impeccable.  They covered all stages of their career with a couple of new songs, songs from the first two XX albums and some highlights off of DJ/percussionist Jamie XX’s recent solo album.  In fact, Jamie stole the show toward the end of the set.  His contributions mixed in and even mashed-up with XX classics and really gave a kick to the proceedings.  I’m not usually one for DJ’s but this guy’s got some serious talent.

I’m looking forward to seeing what this young and able band releases on their next album. If last night was any indication, it should be worth the wait.

Kurt Vile and the Violators – July 31, 2012 – Meet Factory – Prague, Czech Republic

Kurt Vile - Prague - Meet Factory

I wanna write my whole life down
Burn it there to the ground
I wanna sing at, top of my lungs
For fun, screamin’ annoyingly
‘Cause that’s just me bein’ me, bein’ free

Kurt Vile – “On Tour”

John Hiatt introduced me to the idea of a musician as “a lifer” when I interviewed him many years ago.  The concept is pretty simple.  It just means that the musician in question is going to keep on writing, recording and touring until he drops.  I would imagine that Kurt Vile imagines himself a lifer as well.  Four albums into his career, it’s hard to see him doing anything else.

Tuesday night’s show was fairly well attended for the day of the week and the relative obscurity of a guy like Vile in the Czech Republic.  The crowd that did show up appeared to be full of pretty serious fans.  That said, never have I seen so many people in their mid-20’s make out one minute and then sing along to the words of the song the next.  That was some serious multi-tasking.  I’ve also never had that many shots spilled on my feet as the same demographic brought round after round up to the front of the stage for their friends.  I don’t begrudge them.  It was just sort of inexplicable.

But it was strangely fitting for a Kurt Vile concert.  His songs careen from romantic finger plucked acoustic ballads to feedback-drenched, drone fests.  Despite my impression from various YouTube clips and laconic singing on his albums that Vile is a classic stoner, he looked unbelievably lucid and technically solid at Tuesday’s show.  Stage banter was largely not-existent and his band struggled to keep up with him as one tune ended and another began.

The set list contained about 50% of the songs from “Smoke Ring for My Halo” and the rest from other releases.  His backing band, The Violators, lent some serious heft to the occasion.  On “Freak Train,” the whole band made some serious, ear-splitting noise.  Alternately, on songs like “Peeping Tomboy,” restraint and the folky side of Vile showed through.  It’s this space between loud and soft that Vile seems to travel with ease.  So much so that if he ever puts out a best of album, I’d recommend calling it “Songs to Make and Rock Out To.”

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.

Wilco – September 28, 2010 – Divadlo Archa – Prague, Czech Republic

Before leaving the house to see Wilco, I played some of their tunes for Little NH while she finished up her M&M’s for dessert.  She’s a fan of “Wilco (the Song)” and was more than a little disappointed that she wasn’t going to get to see them in person.  I explained to her that the show would be too loud and it would go on way past her bed time.  She seemed to understand but took the opportunity to impart the following wisdom on her dad.  “Daddy,” she said, “If you hear something really loud, don’t get scared.  It’s just Rock ‘n Roll.”

How did my kid get to be so cool?  Anyhow, on to the show…

I’ve been a fan of Wilco ever since picking up A.M. at a used CD shop in college.  To me, they started out with the Replacements bar band ethic that I sorely missed after that band imploded.  Tweedy and a rotating band, save for John Stirratt, have gone through many styles since then.  The triptych of Being There, Summerteeth, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot are as good of a run of albums as any band has ever had.   Their two most recent albums are listenable, but not quite as solid as these other efforts, to my ears at least.

But Tuesday night, Wilco put every style they have ever embraced into a seamless, fun, incredibly well-played set that clocked in over two hours.  The songs they played ran the gamut with John Stirratt’s “Just That Simple” plucked from A.M. as well as “Too Far Apart”.  The murder ballad, “Via Chicago” never sounded more disturbingly beautiful than on this night.  In fact, the Summerteeth songs sounded absolutely lush.  Much of this had to do with the quality of musicians on the stage.  Wilco has had the same lineup for two albums now and they have really figured out how to pull off the entire catalogue in a live setting.  Nels Cline added the necessary effects to the mix and wigged out on guitar when called for.  Glenn Kotche pounded the drums with mallets, sticks and brushes and really displayed why he is considered such a great drummer.

Jeff Tweedy glided through the songs effortlessly with his voice sounding younger than when I last saw Wilco six or eight years ago.  His delivery was perfect and his obvious good mood really helped propel the show.  Having seen him in some very bad moods at other shows in the past, it’s obvious that when Jeff’s happy, everybody’s happy.

Seeing these guys on stage, it’s obvious that they love their jobs.  It seems like there were about 50 different instruments on stage throughout the night.  Cool double neck guitars, vintage keyboards and road worn acoustic guitars that look awesome when the stage light hit them just right.  Of course, to hear Little NH explain it, it’s just Rock ‘n Roll.

The Cult – August 10, 2010 – Divadlo Archa – Prague, Czech Republic

I’ve seen The Cult live about five times in the last fifteen years and this was the best they’ve ever sounded.  The Astbury-Duffy team has looked a bit more fighting fit in previous outings but heck, they must be pushing 50 these days.  And let’s face it, none of us look like we did 15 years ago.  But enough of the image, The Cult was clearly in Prague to ROCK.

And rock they did.  For a lightning paced 90 minutes, the band tore through a set that included highlights from the majority of their albums (with special emphasis on Love and Electric) and even one new song.  It sounds trite, but they played this show like it could be their last.  Heck, maybe that’s because they thought it was.  Ever the showman, Ian Astbury riffed between songs about Western Europe liking cocaine and Eastern Europe liking poetry (punctuating the sentence with a sniff).   Shortly after that, he spoke of being in Czechoslovakia.  So, yeah, maybe he expected the StB to come kicking down the doors and have him thrown in the slammer for excessive fist-pumping rock shamanism or something.

Either way, the show was incredible.  The band was tight and for this body pushing 40, the length of the set was just about right.  My t-shirt was sweat-soaked by the end of the set, my throat is pretty raw this morning and my shoulder is sore from an hour-and-a-half of throwing my fist in the air with rock and roll horns raised.  I’d say everyone there was pretty blown away, too.  The roars from the crowd fed the band.  At one point after a particularly raucous reaction from the crowd, Astbury proclaimed, “I think we like it here.”

Welcome to Czechoslovakia, Mr. Astbury.

Lightning Review: Kings of Leon – Live at the O2 London, England

I bought the wrong thing for everyone this Christmas.  They’re all going to be opening up presents and wishing they had this DVD instead.  This band is really blowing my mind.  And, on this DVD,  they blow the minds of everyone at the O2.

It’s astounding – the hits, slow burners, all well filmed.  The 5.1 mix is enveloping and not distracting.  The whole thing reminds me of when I saw them in Houston a few years ago.  Isn’t that the best compliment of all, reminding you of when you were there?

This is the greatest band in America.  Buy the DVD and tell me I’m wrong.

Sorry you didn’t get it for Christmas.

U2 360° Tour in Berlin 07-18-09

This is my fifth time seeing U2 on four consecutive tours.   Of all of the U2 shows I’ve seen, this one was the best since the Popmart Tour for a hard-core fan even though songs from the Pop album were non-existent in the set list.   Nevertheless, the mix of songs succeeded in showcasing the new album, a healthy portion of hits, and some deep cuts of albums such as The Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby.   Refreshingly, the politics, while not dialed back entirely, didn’t overshadow the music.  Yes, Bono preached but he sang a lot more.

This brings me to Bono’s voice – he’s reclaimed it.   Throughout his career, it has gone through changes in pitch and he’s learned to use it in different ways. It is clear that on this tour, his intention is to sing with full voice and hit all of the notes.  The sound crew seems to know this as well.  With the vocals raised to the front of the sound mix, Bono knows what he has and he ain’t afraid to use it.  The result for the fans was a real treat. Even as I sang at the top of my lungs, Bono’s voice was clearly audible.

The band itself played with a real fervor as well.   They were loose and were obviously enjoying themselves on stage as they back slapped, grinned and laughed their way through the 2 and 1/2 hour set.  There has been some speculation that this may be U2’s last tour.  The way they seemed to make every second count in Berlin might actually lend credence to that theory.  This was a U2 show after all.  First there was the sheer magnitude of the stage setup, then the set list tailored for a true fan and finally the tongue in cheek camp sections that segued to intense political hymns.  Saturday night, they made it all look pretty easy.  They clearly find comfort in the contradictions of the jarring effect of dance remixes and calls to “Radio Tehran” that appear just seconds apart.

Two highlights were what set this show apart from the Vertigo Tour stop in Berlin four years ago. First of all, the incredible Redanka dance remix of “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” was mixed with live vocals and live instrumentation and was a throwback to the ironic and unfairly maligned Popmart tour. It was unexpected, powerful and downright fun. The second jaw dropping performance was during the Achtung Baby gem, “Ultra Violet (Baby, Light My Way).”  During this song, Bono donned a black suit striped with red laser lights that cut through the fog like something out of Tron.  The effect was Bono at his theatrical best as he clung to a microphone suspended from the top of the stage setup. The costume and his performance matched the emotional depth of the song and will certainly help to usher the track into the canon of all time U2 live classics.

Finally, there were the hits.   Most were played with fervor and “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” made a forceful comeback as Persian script filled the massive 360 degree screen and a green glow was cast over the entire set.  Bono’s calls to “Radio Tehran” gave the song a new foil and the result breathed new life into an old classic.  Others like “Beautiful Day” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” coasted effortlessly along on fan appreciation and Bono’s velvety, spot on vocals.

Some people claim that U2’s best days are behind them.  That may be true in some ways but the 360 Tour certainly makes the case in their defense.  At 49, Bono can sing better than most men 1/2 his age and though there was lackluster initial reception to their newest release, it was the “No Line on the Horizon” tracks that really carried the show and displayed the talents and uniqueness of the band.  With this tour, the band has struck a balance between flexing its creative muscle on the new songs, putting on an incredible live spectacle, and placating fans with “the hits.”  If this ends up being their last tour, it will be a tour of a band that decided to go out on top, guns blazing.