Posts Tagged ‘Portishead’

Looking Back at 2011

December 19, 2011

It’s been a good year for listening to music.  I felt like I listened to a lot more new artists (at least to me) this year than I have since I was a teenager.  I also rediscovered a lot of old albums that I hadn’t heard in awhile.

Best (and worst) music platform – Since it came to our shores earlier this year, I’ve been a big fan of Spotify.  One of my recurring posts this year revolved around recounting what I’d been listening to on Spotify.  Easy to use with a huge library, it was a great way to listen to new albums in their entirety as well as catch up on old albums I haven’t heard since I had a cassette player.  So why’s it also get a worst nod.  A few weeks ago, it started crashing my computer any time I tried to run it.  Like total freeze-up crash, have to manually power down and restart the machine crashes.  In trying to find an answer, I’ve uncovered a wealth of problems others have with the app.  I also found that customer support is spotty (sorry).  I finally found a customer support email; I did finally get a response after two weeks, asking me what version of Spotify I was running.  We’ll see if they can come up with a solution.  Wonder if the expansion to the US has overextended the service and its employees?  Only time will tell.  In the meantime, I’m going to be checking out turntable.fm and rdio to see what they have to offer in 2012.

Best Concert – Ben Folds at The Wiltern.  I loved the stage banter, the energy, and the music was phenomenal.  I went in with only a little bit of knowledge about his music, but I left wanting to hear more and learn more about him.  That’s the mark of a good concert.  Honorable mention to Portishead and to John Vanderslice.  I didn’t write about the Vanderslice show, but I’ve seen him three times now and each show has been distinctly different.  And his drummer, Jason, was amazing to watch.  I ended up missing the Bon Iver show, but Sarah told me that it was very good (I believe her).

Favorite Album – Rome by DangerMouse and Daniele Luppi.  I feel like a lot of year-end lists become top heavy with material released toward the end of the year, which I understand since the songs are fresh in reviewer’s mind.  Rome came out in May, which is a long time ago in today’s millisecond attention-span world.  I also am also only basing my choice on albums I actually listened to in their entirety, which I admit isn’t a lot.  But, I come back to this one because, like his collaboration last year as Broken Bells, as an entire album, the songs meld into a cohesive unit and he can just really create a vibe.  Here, he’s wisking you away to the set of spaghetti westerns with a tribute to the soundtrack sound of that era (most notably Ennio Morricone).  Honorable mention to Little Dragon’s Ritual Union, for the same reason basically.  A lovely arrangement of electronic music that makes you stop thinking of individual songs (much better than the sprawling and Pitchfork-loved M83 album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming).

Biggest Surprise – The Whole Love by Wilco.  After Sky Blue Sky, I kind of lost interest in Wilco and didn’t even bother to listen to their next album.  They seemed to have lost a lot of their bite, both lyrically and musically, from previous records.  I had heard nothing of their new album, but decided to give it a listen when NPR was doing a free preview of the album.  To my amazement, I heard the rockin’ Wilco from Summerteeth days.  I’ve seen Wilco twice, now I have a new reason to go see them a third time other than Jeff Tweedy’s amusing stage talk.  Honorable mention to the Beastie Boy’s new album, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2.  Another group that I had just lost some interest in, but this re-ignited interest.

Best Music Book – Read the super comprehensive history of the Velvet Underground put out by Rough Trade.  Not knowing much about the band other than the songs on their greatest hits albums, this was a good and thorough introduction to the band, as well as the solo careers of all its members.  Can be a bit overwhelming, but overall a good read.

I’ll try and come back with a few more year end thoughts before the year actually ends, but if not, have a great new year filled with good tunes and good times.

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Portishead – Shrine Auditorium, Oct. 18

October 21, 2011

Portishead’s first album, Dummy, was a revelation to me.  While they certainly didn’t invent trip-hop, I see it as the masterpiece of the genre (with apologies to Massive Attack’s Protection).  The beats were heavier, there was more guitar, and then there was the icy vocals of Beth Gibbons.  They created a mood, the soundtrack to a modern noir movie in your head.  It was an album that I couldn’t stop playing when I got it.

Fast forward 17 years, and before Tuesday’s Portishead  show, I’m telling my girlfriend that this would probably be the only time I got to see Portishead in my lifetime.  They’ve put out three albums in the past 15 years.  They tour even more infrequently than they put out albums, the last time they did a tour in the US was over a decade ago.  I’m not sure they’ll ever actually release another album (though they’re rumored to being working on one), which means they’ll probably just play big festivals, which I usually don’t attend.

So, combine that rarity and my admiration for their music, and well I was pretty jacked about this show.  And I did not leave disappointed.

We got to the Shrine Auditorium part of the way through opener Thought Forms.  The auditorium is cavernous and from the look of its parquet floor, it must have been a gymnasium in the past.  A second level above the auditorium floor was already rung with people.  We ended up going outside for the rest of the opener’s set, their dirge-like instrumentals didn’t really appeal to us and they seemed to get lost in the enormity of the room.

Having played plenty of festivals, Portishead showed no such troubles.  They owned the room.  The setlist veered more to their last album, Third, which makes sense given its by far their newest material.  Those songs have a spacier vibe than the older material and there were a few times I had the thought that I was hearing a cross between hip hop and Pink Floyd (this is a good thing).  But, for me the highlights were in the material from the aforementioned Dummy and their self-titled follow-up.  Sour Times, the song that broke the band into semi-fame in 1994, was given a tempo boost and a more bouncy musical accompaniment (it could have been the Daptones playing with Gibbons) than the melancholy album version.  I think quite a few people didn’t even realize they were playing it until the chorus as it didn’t get the sort of raucous greeting some of their other “oldies” did.  The LA Times reviewer yesterday hinted that they sped through the song because they wanted to get back to their new material rather than play the hit song.  I didn’t see it that way, I just saw a band showing their versatility and putting a new spin on one of their most recognizable tracks.

The highlight of the show though, was a stripped down version of another stand-out from Dummy, Wandering Star.  The trio was joined for most of the night by three additional musicians, but for this track it was just the three of them.  Barrow left his turntables and keyboards and took up a guitar, kneeling before Gibbons.  Gibbons seemed to be singing directly into his guitar, her voice mingling with the sounds emanating from Barrow’s instrument which took up the slack for the vinyl scratching and samples of the original.  The bassline from the original was only a faint heartbeat here.  Gibbons voice was the star, and this song more than any other spotlighted her spectacular voice, clear while at the same time conveying a sweet fragility.

Besides the band, the other star of the show was the tremendous visual package that accompanied the music.  The only other show I can think of that did such a good job with visuals was a Jesus & Mary Chain show back in my early 20s.  It was not so much a light show, like the good one Lykke Li did earlier this summer, though there was a little of that, but mostly a use of a large video screen that was an integral part of the show.

Cameras had been placed at various places on the stage, so that you could get a black and white image from the stage magnified onto the video screen.  The first shot of the concert was the hi-hat cymbal, and throughout the show other images such as Gibbons singing or a bass drum pedal view (which I thought was really cool) were projected, often in connection with other visuals (see the image at the top of the post with Gibbons superimposed with an instrument meter).  At times, the images would pulsate and rotate in concert with the music.  Squiggly lines that danced with the beats appeared at other times.  The most captivating visuals came during The Rip.  Another track from Third driven by a brooding synth groove, the screen showcased hand-illustrated images that continually morphed from one thing into another, often with disturbing results.  It was as if Gerald Scarfe (of The Wall movie fame) had been given a box of crayons.

The concert ended with an encore of Roads and We Carry On, combining another Dummy stand-0ut with my favorite track from their newest disc.  As the house lights went up, a camera from behind the drummer’s view showed the cheering crowd and gave a cool view of what the band was getting to see during their set (last photo).  If this was indeed the only time I ever see Portishead, I’m satisfied that I saw a great performance by them.

Video of Wandering Star:

Concert Binge

July 19, 2011

Sarah and I went on a tear lately buying concert tickets to a bunch of shows we wanted to go to.  It’s been a little while since our last show, which was the Raveonettes at the Trobadour.  That was a super loud show, and quite different than when I saw them three years ago in DC.  I expect a much quieter affair when we go to see Ben Folds next Thursday at the Wiltern.  I’ll admit I’m pretty new to Ben Folds, thanks to Sarah.  I’m looking forward to the show, and to a new venue for me in LA.

We also got tickets to Lykke Li at the Greek over in Griffith Park.  I saw her several years ago at a venue suited for her musical style, the Sixth and I Synagogue in DC.  The Greek is an outdoor amphitheater, I’ve never been so I don’t know exactly how big it is, but I think it will be interesting to see how the experience compares to the previous time I saw her.  I’ve enjoyed the few tracks from her latest album that I’ve heard on XM and her webpage.

In September, we’ll be seeing Bon Iver, who has become very popular in indie circles these days.  After a critically acclaimed debut, his followup just hit shelves (servers is probably more apropos).  Haven’t gotten around to buying it yet, but have liked what I’ve heard.  Being a native of Sarah’s college town of Eau Claire, she’s enthusiastic about him and apparently saw him play in college while he was with one of his earlier bands.  I saw him two years ago at the Black Cat in DC.  It was a great show, and one of the only shows I’ve ever been where the entire audience was completely quiet while he played by himself on an acoustic guitar.  We were surprised we got tickets, because we totally forgot about the ticket sale date.  We checked the next day expecting disappointment, and amazingly found two decent tickets.  Maybe he’s too “small town” for LA?

And then the coup de grace for me came this Friday, when I secured tickets to see Portishead in late October.  They don’t put out albums often, and tour here in the U.S. even less.  They were on a short list of bands I wanted to see very badly but thought I’d never get to see in my lifetime.  So I was psyched when I heard they were touring the U.S., even more so when I saw L.A. on the list, and ecstatic when I got through to buy tickets on the first try last Friday.  Hopefully the show will live up to my expectations, but what I have heard on PYNC a few other recordings, I’m thinking I’ll enjoy it.

Also going to go to at least one day of the Sunset Junction festival in August, which is right in our hood and is going to boast a pretty good lineup of bands.  And at $15, a great value especially since outdoor festivals are usually a lot of fun.  Which reminds me, i forgot the actual last show we saw was the end of the Morning Benders set and Best Coast in Pasadena at the Make Music festival.  They were good sets, though obviously not the most memorable.  Will try and update the blog with reviews of the show, assuming I can remember them all.