Paul O'Brian writes about Watchmen, trivia, albums, interactive fiction, and more.

Tag: concerts

Fish in Boulder, 6/12/08

My first exposure to Marillion came in 1985, when a local radio station started playing “Kayleigh” semi-regularly. I adored that song, and my friend Kevin was a fan of the band, so I taped the Misplaced Childhood album from him. Well, I liked that album enough that when its sequel Clutching At Straws came out in 1987, I bought it right away. I even had a big poster of the album cover in my room, thanks to my job-at-the-time with a record store. Both those albums stayed on heavy rotation throughout my high school years. The driving, Who-ish music was great, but what I loved the most were the poetic lyrics, passionate intensity, and thrilling voice of the lead singer, a chap who went by the handle “Fish”. (His real name is Derek Dick — I guess I’d pick a pseudonym too.)

Sadly, after Clutching, Fish left the band, and I stopped paying attention. Marillion released more stuff with a new singer, but it didn’t captivate me, and as far as I knew, Fish disappeared completely. If only the Internet had been around in those days, I’d have learned soon enough that he’d done no such thing. Instead, he came out with a solo album a mere 3 years later, but I never saw that album — Fish is Scottish, and I guess as a solo artist he didn’t have a big US distribution deal the way Marillion did. He then went on to release eight more solo albums, the latest of which, 13th Star, came out earlier this year. I never bought any of these, even once I knew they existed, because as imports, they all carried high price tags. Since post-band solo work is often inferior, it felt like too much money to spend for the risk involved. However, when I saw he was touring the US for the first time in 10 years and playing a lot of late Marillion material, I decided I needed to go. Even better, I figured out that I could download 13th Star from iTunes for almost half of what Amazon wants for it. Thanks, Internet!

Northern State in Boulder/Denver, 11/3/07 and 5/3/08

If you don’t know who Northern State is, and you very well might not, here’s the lowdown. Northern State is an indie hip-hop group with an unusual composition. They’re three white college-educated women from Long Island (their name is after the Northern State Parkway, a Long Island highway) who’ve made three ridiculously fun records. Think of the Go-Go’s crossed with the Beastie Boys. Their handles are Hesta Prynn, Sprout, and Spero. They write rhymes like this: “My name is Sprout, née / Now call me Tasia Mae / And don’t miss the buffet at my birthday soiree / I’m a workaday gourmet / I sauté and flambé and purée / from Broadway through Norway and the UK / If you like my wordplay then enjoy my essay / And forget the thruway cos we rep the parkway / And I’ve got cachet and a blue beret / And I’ll wear it while I ballet in your chalet.”

I came across them in 2003, pretty much by accident, and have become a big fan. This is sort of an odd thing. I’m basically a rock and roll guy — rap really never interested me much at all (MC Frontalot’s “It Is Pitch Dark” being an IF-geeky exception.) Somehow, though, Northern State captivated me from the first time I heard them — the fuller story is here. Anyway, living in Colorado as I do, I had to wait until November of 2007 to see them live, when they came to Boulder opening for Tegan and Sara. It was worth the wait, though — I had a marvelous time at the show, and vowed to see them anytime they came here. Just this month, that opportunity came again as they swung through on a headlining tour. That night was even better than the first, so much so that I want to be sure to capture some of those memories in writing. It’s really one of those journal entries that’s more for me than anybody else, but somebody might enjoy it.

Rilo Kiley in Denver, 9/11/07

I became a Rilo Kiley fan when I heard “Portions For Foxes” a couple of times on my Launchcast station. I loved that song in so many ways — it became one of my favorites of the year, and when I bought the album, I was delighted to find that pretty much the entire thing was great. I resolved then that the next time they came to Denver, I’d see them.

Well, on Sept. 11th they arrived, at a little theater called the Ogden. Unfortunately, they were touring in support of their new album, which I think is Just Okay. The musicianship is still good, and Jenny Lewis’s voice still sounds great, but above all it’s lyrics that I care about, and in that department this album is bland as bland can be. In addition, they seem to have shifted away from indie rock and to a more generic AOR sound, with disco accents. Not that there’s anything wrong with that sound, mind, but it’s a little less exciting than what they’d been doing previously. Just about any song on More Adventurous is more interesting than the entirety of Under The Blacklight. Really, any verse of “Portions For Foxes” is more interesting than the whole new album.

So their set was focused heavily on new songs, which made the show a little more blah than I wanted it to be. On the other hand, I enjoyed the old stuff quite a lot, and I thought the band in general sounded great and had a good stage presence. There’s a strong meme going around the rock critic world that Rilo Kiley is the new Fleetwood Mac (my taste seems to be consistent, if nothing else), and while I think the comparison is pretty overblown, I could see some similarities at the show. Blake Sennett is like a cross between Lindsey Buckingham and a movie college professor, essaying wild guitar solos into the crowd while dressed in tweeds and bow tie. And Jenny Lewis may not have much on Stevie Nicks lyrically, but she’s got a great voice and she does play an instrument.

The most exciting part of the show for me, though, was the first opening band, a San Diego group called Grand Ole Party (a terrible name, but whatever.) They set up with a guitarist and bass player on either side of a short drum kit. The woman who sat in the center playing the drums was also the lead singer (using a head mic a la Britney Spears), and wow, what a singer. Her name is Kristin Gundred, and she was like one part Moe Tucker, three parts Grace Slick. Her voice is just astonishing, and throughout their set I kept finding that my mouth was literally hanging open. I even bought their CD at the merch booth after the set, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever done before for an opening band. Gundred herself was selling them, and I asked her if she hears the Grace Slick comparison a lot. She said, “well, I was obsessed with Grace when I was 13-14 years old, so it’s not a big surprise.” Keep an eye on this woman — she’s incredibly talented, and if there’s any justice in the world, she’s going to be a big success. (Assuming she doesn’t somehow self-destruct, that is.)

The Police in Denver, 6/9/07

I’m not what you’d call a hardcore Police fan, but I have all their albums and enjoy them quite a bit. I followed Sting’s solo career for a while too, but hopped off the train around the Brand New Day album, as the music had finally passed my boredom threshold. When I heard that the band was getting back together, I was excited. Could it be that the long-gone rock & roll Sting was returning at last? I was just a shade too young to see them back in their 80s heyday, so this could be my chance to see one of the few bands I really like and haven’t yet seen in concert. I hoped the tour would come to Denver. And it did! With the top tickets going for TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS. Two hundred and twenty-five freaking dollars. Probably more like $245 after Ticketmaster finishes extracting its pound of flesh. I got depressed when I heard this. Sure, I’d love to see The Police, but I am not in a place in my life where I have $250 to drop for them. I decided that I couldn’t see them after all, but I did not feel at peace with the decision. As the show date got closer, I got more and more bummed, feeling like I was going to miss the opportunity to do something I really wanted to do through circumstances I couldn’t control.

Then, somehow, something broke the spell. I think it was partly having a fantastic time seeing Stevie Nicks at Red Rocks on May 28th, partly balancing my checkbook, partly taking some steps to lift myself from the minor funk I’d been in. Anyway, I decided I was being ridiculous. No, I’m not going to spend $250 to see The Police, but I could still go! I’d gotten so used to sitting in good seats that I’d somehow forgotten it was possible to enjoy a concert from anywhere else. So I determined that I could buy one of the $90 or $50 tickets and be perfectly happy. First, though, I thought I’d check out eBay and see if I could get a good deal there. Happily, the band chose to play 2 shows here, which attenuated the demand enough to make it a buyer’s market for secondhand tickets. I ended up paying $75.60 for one of the $250 seats! And that’s including shipping! Huzzah!

So I went, and had a great time. There was reason to be a bit wary. Not only had Sting veered well into dullness (for me), but the last thing The Police recorded was the wretched “Don’t Stand So Close To Me ’86”, which took a good song and vampirically sucked all the life out of it. The possibility existed that the entire show would be slow, jazz-inflected reinterpretations of Police hits. Happily, this was not the case. It was a rock & roll band on the stage last night, and I’m so glad I got out of my own way so I could see them.

Seger taxonomy

I went to see Bob Seger in concert last week. This came as something of a surprise to a few of my friends, who don’t share my appreciation for Bob. Apparently, Seger has become uncool. I’ve been listening to his music and enjoying it for over 20 years, and it never occurred to me to question why, but after that conversation, I started thinking about it. Of course, there are lots of reasons why somebody likes a particular flavor of music, and many of them are hard to define, but for me, a big factor is always the songwriting. So I want to go to bat for Bob Seger as a songwriter.

Stevie Nicks Live At Red Rocks

When I was 16, I saw Stevie Nicks perform live at a place called Red Rocks, a gorgeous venue carved out of a natural amphitheater in the Colorado mountains. It wasn’t my first concert. It wasn’t even my first Red Rocks concert, though I think it was the first concert where I was at all close to the stage (I was probably in the 5th row or so.) It was, however, the first show that affected me deeply. In fact, I’d even say it changed my life.

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