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.

Foals – Metronome Festival, Prague, June 26, 2016

I have just wrapped up one of the best weekends of my life.  Two great musical acts played literally in my back yard and I was able to take my kids, both under the age of 10, to see them for free.  And we freaking pogoed!

In case you missed my previous post, Saturday’s show was hosted by none other than Iggy Pop.  Over the course of a little more than an hour, Iggy rained down catalog favorite after favorite from the Stooges to his latest offering, “Post Pop Depression”.  Interspersed between the songs were more F-bombs than you could shake a stick at. I guess if there is a bright side to that part of the equation, the girls didn’t hear those words coming out of my mouth!  Since Iggy is now 70, I can just tell them that those are words only grandpa’s say.

On Sunday night, the first ever Metronome Festival in Prague upped the ante with night-two headliners, Foals.  I’ve seen Foals play before and I can only describe the environment of seeing them play as “kinetic”.  Sunday’s show was no different but given the location of the show on the edge of Prague’s Stromovka Park, there was a little more elbow room.  That was a good thing because I again had NH1 and 2 in tow.  Mrs. NH and my trusty nephew sidekick also took part.  The 73 lb. NH1 sat on my shoulders for the duration save for about three quick breaks between songs and the encore.  As my shoulders ached toward the tail end of the show, the band brought out its closing songs which were all adrenaline-fueled stomps and helped me to push through the final minutes.  I felt like Sylvester Stallone in “Rocky IV” pulling logs on chains through the snow.  Of course I don’t recall him singing along while doing that.  Wuss.

Again, the highlight of these shows was getting to introduce my girls to such great acts in a live setting – up close and personal.  My first live show was an 80’s version of the largely hollowed out Beach Boys touring circuit.  Even still, I remember it like it was yesterday.  The fact that the girls got to see a legend in yet another career resurgence and one of the top UK bands (who had just played Glastonbury a couple nights before) made the whole thing all the more special.

Even more gratifying was that NH1’s unsolicited post-show commentary was exactly the same thing that I was thinking:

Dad, toward the beginning I was really thinking that Iggy had them beat.  But as the show went on, they really started playing the great songs and now I’m not sure who was better!  That was so awesome.  I can’t wait to see U2!

So we’re clear, U2 doesn’t even have a new album out or tour plans as of this writing but I’ve got to give the kid credit for her foresight.

NH2, on the other hand, just howled, charged me and gave me the rock and roll hand sign before giving me a hug.  She always has been pretty punk rock.

Thanks for the memories, Metronome Festival.  See you next year.

Iggy Pop – Metronome Festival, Prague, June 25, 2016

The Little NH’s, my nephew and I hit Iggy Pop at the Metronome festival in Prague last night.  It was quite possibly one of the highlights of my dadhood to this point.  There’s nothing that compares to seeing your own offspring digging one of your hobbies (obsessions) as much or more than you do.  NH 1 and 2 rocked out on my shoulders and those of my nephew (a great sport, by the way) in about the 5th row for the first half of the show.  After NH1’s 73 pounds finally wore down my lower back, we made it through a hugely polite crowd to the back to partake in some whirling dervish-like festival dancing. They did, anyway.  I just watched and smiled.

For the record, the girls were wearing proper ear protection.  I’m not a total idiot.

This is the first year of this festival and from what we saw, it was meticulously organized and went off with a hitch despite rain and hail during the day.  (Iggy’s set was cut short because of a thunderstorm that rolled in in the final moments cutting his set two songs short.)

Seeing Foals tonight with the girls, nephews, and Mrs. NH as well.  We’re all walking around the house whistling “Mountain at my Gates” this morning.  The anticipation is running high.  It’s going to be hard to top last night.

 

Convoy of Liberty – Prague 2016

As I was trying to educate my youngest on the historical significance of the US military victory in Europe during World War II, she reminded me that she is only 5.  She didn’t actually remind me of her age.  Instead, as the final words of my explanation hovered in the air, she pulled up her collar, sort of a loose fitting turtle neck, and proclaimed, “Daddy, I’m a ninja.”

About an hour later we were down at the Convoy of Liberty in front of the US Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic.  It was one of only a handful of times my girls have heard the US national anthem.  They had no idea that it’s customary to put your hand over your heart.

What a weird life we live here.

Still, as the resident American history professor of the family, I felt like Friday was a good lesson.  I still get chills up my spine with the national anthem.  And my daughter is a freakin’ ninja.

On Bowie

I’ll preface this by saying that somehow, I don’t consider myself a huge David Bowie fan even though I still have nearly all of his albums on vinyl and find myself coming back to his catalog regularly.

I don’t consider myself a huge David Bowie fan but I vividly remember practicing my trombone, probably between 5th and 6th grade, with my boombox quietly tuned to KQKY 105.9FM, hoping against hope that “Modern Love” would come on the station and I could hit record.  I can’t remember if it ever did but I got Let’s Dance on cassette from my brother that summer.  “Cat People” weirded me out then and still does today.

I don’t consider myself a huge Bowie fan but when he played in Prague back in 2004, I happily bought a ticket to my first concert in the city that has been my home for the last nearly 12 years.  He got hit in the eye with a projectile lollipop and suffered heart problems during that show and it was cut short.  My seats were in the nosebleed section and I didn’t know several of the songs because, well, I didn’t consider myself a huge Bowie fan at the time.  I didn’t have all of his albums back then.

It’s also strange that I usually end late night music sessions with friends with the 1972 performance of Bowie on the BBC doing “Oh, You Pretty Things.”  It’s Bowie in full Ziggy mode and it defines glam for me.

So, for not being much of a fan, it’s odd that I cranked Station to Station in my headphones at the office on Friday in order to write a report I had procrastinated writing all week.  It was done in record time.

It’s also peculiar that his brand new album, Blackstar, was the soundtrack to my morning commute this morning.  As I look down at my phone, I see that I’ve only made it through to the song “Girl Loves Me.”  I got the news after I got to the office.

Granted, I’m not a huge fan but I’m pretty sure I’ll finish the album on the way home.

Just like a huge fan.

R.I.P., Ziggy.

Kurt Vile at Lucerna Music Bar, Prague 06-17-13

Kurt Vile Lucerna Prague

Kurt Vile Lucerna Prague

I have been to some pretty loud concerts in my day.  I remember Sugar at Deep Ellum Live during my freshman year in college.  Doves at the 9:30 club as a young professional just starting out in Washington, DC also left an indelible mark on my ear drums.  On Monday night, Kurt Vile and the Violators set out to prove that they could one-up even the loudest Bob Mould amp setup.  They made their point.

There’s something about Kurt Vile’s unlikely success that really draws me to his music.  This former Philly forklift driver turned dad of two daughters by day and rockstar by night is a pretty cool story.  The fact that he relays all of that in his lyrics in is laconic, wry drawl accent surrounded by some truly beautiful arrangements makes his work all the more compelling.  The other side of Kurt Vile is the side that is not afraid to rock.  From the first notes of “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day,” it was clear that the rockier, Dinosaur Jr. influenced side of Vile was going to tower over the folkie acoustic strummer on this Monday night.

Having lived through 30 years of concert going, there’s no doubt that this one was the loudest.  And though I felt bad about possibly showing up at my daughters’ weddings in some future year not being able to hear any of the vows being exchanged, on a selfish level, I loved the noise.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Vile’s more mellow outings on Smoke Ring for my Halo and the Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze but I also love the bombast and cathartic feedback on “Freak Train.”  There’s something about watching a dude with Brady Bunch-worthy hair fill a thousand(s) year old Prague cellar with enough feedback to make half of the crowd leave before the encore.  I’m not joking – half of the people there left.  Had I not been there, I’m sure my wife would have been one of them.

My wife and I retreated back from the front of the show and I sheepishly plugged my ears as “Freak Train” exploded to its hairy close.  After a short encore break, Vile and Co. returned to play a beautiful, disjointed rendition of “Baby’s Arms.”  It was as if I had just witnessed a row in the preceding set and “Baby’s Arms” was Vile’s way of offering his apology.  Whatever it was, it was a fitting comedown to the most bombastic event I’ve ever witnessed in Prague.

Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on who you ask.

Note: Click on the photos in this post for moving GIFs!

Kurt Vile at Lucerna Music Bar, Prague 06-17-13

The Glenn Miller Orchestra at Obecní dům, Prague 01-12-13

Glenn Miller Orchestra Prague

Glenn Miller’s iconic “In the Mood” is not normally thought of as a song that would make you get choked up.  However, on Saturday night, it did just that.

After flailing around for a Christmas gift for Little NH, I happened on tickets to see the Glenn Miller Orchestra in Prague.  The show was Little NH’s first concert ever and she reminded me of that fact during the entire week that lead up to the show.  She also recounted in great detail how she had opened my gift on Christmas Eve and was confused.  She reminded me how I started up my turntable and the first notes of the aforementioned song crackled out of the speakers.  She said she was excited when I explained to her that we’d be going to see this show and that this music was popular before rock and roll was even invented.  “Before rock and roll?” she intoned.  “Wow.”

The Glenn Miller Orchestra occupies a pretty large place in my heart and my family history.  Before I was born, my grandparents Reon and Helen owned the Turnpike Ballroom in Lincoln, Nebraska.  As a kid, I used to love to venture into the musty corners of the attic and pull out the boxes of autographed pictures, business correspondence and mementos of the fabled ballroom.  I first discovered Miller’s music when I played trombone in the 7th grade band.  I remember my teacher telling my row of pubescent trombone players to play the “Bah Bah’s!” with much more feeling.  In fact, I think of that every time I hear the song.  So imagine how excited I was when I found an autographed shot of Glenn Miller among the pictures in my attic.

In the years that followed I asked my grandma about the Turnpike and Glenn Miller’s visits there every chance I got.  The result of those conversations became the basis for my high school “term paper” and my enthusiasm and fascination for the subject matter garnered me my one-and-only A+ of my academic career.  Do what you love, they say.

So the happiness I felt by being able to share a bit of this family history with my oldest daughter was enough to make “In the Mood” a tearjerker.  As we sat in our seats at the show, Little NH bounced in her seat along with the music.  I half expected her to stand up and dance in place.  The music was a mixture of Miller’s hits and other staples from the Big Band era.  At one point in the show, Little NH leaned back and whispered in my ear, “Boy, Daddy.  I hope they are going to play Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anybody Else But Me soon! It’s her “second favorite” song.  This is from a kid that has been listening to Miller for about two weeks.  I guess the affinity runs in the family.  She also knows my second favorite Miller staple is “Little Brown Jug”.

Of course, my favorite is the one that brings back all of these memories.

As we walked home from the show I told Little NH, “You know, for the rest of my life I’ll think of you whenever I hear a Glenn Miller tune.”  “Even when I get old?” she asked?  Blinking hard in the cold winter air I replied, “Especially then, sweetie.  Especially then.”

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.”

Liberation Celebration 2012 – Prague, Czech Republic

When living overseas, there aren’t a ton of places for Americans to celebrate the greatness of our nation.  (Yes, I love my country.  Yes, I know it’s not in fashion.  Deal with it.)  So when the celebrations commemorating the liberation of the Czech Republic from the Nazi occupation came around, I jumped at the chance to partake.  I also took the opportunity to take Little NH1 along for a bit of a history lesson.

Five years may seem like a tender age to be learning about geopolitics of the past and present but I’d rather get my viewpoint in there before she gets a skewed version from some other source.  On our walk to the event, we talked in general terms about WWII and about what brave American soldiers did for the Czech people and much of Europe all of those years ago.  I explained that the Czechs are our allies (like our friends) and described Hitler and the Nazis (a big army led by a very, very bad man).  It seemed to click with her and I’m looking forward to hearing her version in a few days or weeks when I least expect it.  That’s how those things happen.

The celebration itself took place on a warm Friday morning in front of the US Embassy in Prague.  Though the US actually only liberated the country up through Plzen in the west, the celebration starts in Prague and continues around the country for the next week or two.  The street in front of the embassy was lined with restored motorcycles and Jeeps belonging to enthusiasts from around Europe.  A big band was assembled on the street and played patriotic songs and swing tunes of the era.

Little NH1 heard Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” and appeared to be just about as taken by it as her dad.  An impromptu Czech couple danced to the music and the crowd mulled around admiring the vehicles and the glorious weather and celebrating the commemoration of the liberation of the Czech people.

As we walked away from the celebration to return her school, she told me, “Daddy, I’m glad we’re Americans.”

Mission accomplished.

Andalusian Olive Oil in Prague

prague-olive-oil2

Last Saturday morning was sunny and beautiful.  We decided to take advantage of the weather and walk down to the Dejvice farmer’s market and see if the selection of food on offer had improved since Mrs. NH’s visit a year or so ago.  Suffice to say, it has.

There were beautiful spring flowers, an assortment of international meats and cheeses, seafood, and even fresh pasta.  In one booth there was a friendly Czech/Spanish couple selling their olive oil from Andalusia.   Anyone who reads this blog knows that I’m a sucker for anything from Spain.  I tried their olives and both their filtered and unfiltered oils and fell in love.  We bought a bottle and proceeded to buy some fresh bread at the store and dip to our hearts content.  We have about 5 bottles of olive oil from all over Europe in our kitchen and this one certainly stands out as one of the tastiest.  It’s rich and green in flavor with just a hint on spice on the finish.

It’s nice to have a good olive oil that we don’t have to ration.  If we run out we can always walk back to get more next weekend!

Sting – February 18, 2012 – Kongresové Centrum – Prague, Czech Republic

The first concert I ever paid my hard earned cash for was Sting.  To say I’ve been a fan of him for a long time is a big understatement.  So, when I give a review that is less than stellar, it means something.

I purposefully avoided his last “Symphonicity” Tour stop in Prague.  I couldn’t bear to hear the man that penned “Born in the 50’s” add an orchestral, candy-coated gloss to his work.  It all just felt so Yanni.  But when I saw he was coming this time for the “Back to Bass” tour, I was encouraged and snapped up a ticket shortly after they went on sale.

Last night’s show was not the same guy I saw playing with Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers as the Police in Munich a few years back.  This was clearly “late period” Sting.  The good news is I like his later albums from “Mercury Falling” to his last non-symphonic album “Sacred Love”.  Interestingly enough, it appeared that the man himself seems to favor that material.  It’s as if those songs were written more in his present state of mind, therefore, he can really get deep into the performances.

Stylistic differences aside, Sting was, as always, a stellar musician surrounded by other stellar musicians and then some musical sideshow that just distracts from the whole performance.  In this case it was a skinny, blonde, shrill singer/violinist that seemed to extend the high notes for Sting, play some OK parts on her fiddle and then annoy the rest of the time.  This isn’t the first occasion of Sting having a clown on stage.  Those who follow him will remember names such as Vinx and Kipper.  You come to expect it, actually.  That’s why it was such a relief when he reformed with the Police – there you knew the only clown would be Steward Copeland and that he was only doing it to annoy Sting.

All gripes aside the show was good.  Not great but good.  It was solid with an interesting mix of deep album cuts (Love is Stronger than Justice, I Hung My Head) thrown in to avoid the hit barrage.  If you’re a fan, go see him.  He’s coming back to Prague this summer.  Just know that when you plunk down your cash, there’s a clown that comes with the package.

Peter Hook and the Light – February 12, 2012 – Lucerna Music Bar – Prague, Czech Republic

I may as well have taken a time machine to 1979 London last night.  On the Lucerna Music Bar stage were 1/4 of Joy Division and his backing band, The Light, playing note-for-note renditions of every Joy Division song worth playing.  To top it off, there was a guy with the biggest mo-hawk I have ever seen right in the middle of my line of sight.  Normally, something in front of me standing over seven feet tall at a concert would be cause for annoyance.  However, this big, stupid, pogoing hairdo just helped to make the whole experience all the more legitimate.

The musicianship didn’t hurt either.  For a little under two hours, Peter Hook and the Light tore through a setlist that included the punkish early Joy Division (Warsaw) material, a top to bottom run through of their landmark album “Unknown Pleasures”, nuggets from their second album “Closer” and all the non-album singles.  It was a feast for fans of this band.  There was also a sense that Hook’s love for this music has endured the 30-some years since the death of Ian Curtis.  As a matter of fact, the sheer vigor with which these Goth classics sprang from the PA made them even more powerful.

Because of the musicianship and intensity of the show, one was able to overlook the abysmal, YouTube quality introductory video that preceded it.  The audio sounded muddled and completely unintelligible on Lucerna’s sound system.  A note to Mr. Hook: people coming to your show don’t need an introduction – we’re already converted.

Awful intro aside, anybody with even a passing interest in Joy Division should go to see this show.  It’s a tribute to a very influential band that has inspired countless present-day imitators and, even though he probably wasn’t alive in 1979, some dude with a really tall mo-hawk.

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.

Prague Towers

One day, earlier this summer, I christened this summer the “Summer of Prague Towers”.  Grandiose name notwithstanding, I meant to rally Mrs. NH, consummate planner of all free time, to set aside the coming sunny summer days as time to explore many of the climbable towers of Prague – as a family.  Unfortunately, life and a really rainy summer have gotten in the way of this grand plan and we scaled the first two of our towers today.

I would recommend both to any tourist coming to Prague for even a day.  The fact that we have lived here for seven years and have just now visited them is fairly laughable.  At any rate here are some shots from the towers: The Town Hall Tower and the Charles Bridge Tower.  Both were reasonably priced (free for the kids) and the Town Hall had an elevator for those not willing or able to walk to the top.

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.