Friday, December 27, 2013

...Like Clockwork LIVE

Thursday, August 15th. Red Rocks Amphitheatre—Morrison, CO.
The sun had sunk, the opening act had come and gone, and the headlining set began with cracking glass. A distorted, sensory ode to the twisted cacophony that lay ahead. 

Since frontman Joshua Homme has spent the year evasively touting the varied luminous and graphic effects of the ...Like Clockwork tour, it’s understandable that a person might come to the show with certain expectations. A series of anticipated assumptions really—some warped QOTSA artwork perhaps, weird lighting, new songs and old ones, tight, creative guitar work—we come, we listen, we’re satiated, everybody goes home happy, right? NOPE. 

This tour is something else. 

It delivers all those things listed above, the grandiose ear drum eviscerating spectacle that any self respecting Queens of the Stone Age fan desires, but there’s an additional component. A darkness. Something different from the shadowy undertones of albums past. Not only were the concert images full of red and black morphing, sinister figures that looked like they might steal your soul at any second, but there was a visceral sensation to the music that raised the hairs on the back of your neck like some kind of creeping poltergeist. 

Each song, and each transition came and went with the sort of intensity that results in breathlessness.  From If I Had a Tail to Little Sister for example, an ominous message came across the LED screen, and was immediately followed by pitch blackness. Little Sister counted in in the darkness and really got going with a series of colored spotlights.  These are not uniquely extraordinary concert tropes (Nine Inch Nails win that one), but coupled with the style and haunting authenticity of Queens of the Stone Age rock ‘n’ roll, it all comes together in a way that is gratifyingly singular. Like the first time you had hotel room sex.

As for the setlist—they cranked out a well rounded mix of songs including: Make It Wit Chu, No One Knows, Go With the Flow, Burn the Witch, Feel Good Hit of the Summer in the encore, and eight of ten tracks from the new album.  It was the sort of show you carry around for days post.  And as good as the music was, it was all amplified by the excruciatingly stunning backdrop of the Red Rocks Amphitheatre.  The band saw it too, and at one point from their low, crowd/red sandstone facing position on stage Josh said, “We wish you could see what we see.” 

Sunday, October 27th. Shoreline Amphitheatre—Bridge School Benefit.
Completely different performance. Entirely similar essence.  So similar in fact that they didn’t quite seem to fit in with the CSNY crew. In a good way. It wasn’t the show’s acoustic mandate, that they nailed, it was the QOTSA character that seeped through their instruments, and for some reason seemed a bit unlikely in the same lineup as fun. and Diana Krall.  Even without the pickup, they remained true to form. 

Both nights their set began after nightfall, and included songs you’ve never imagined acoustically. My God is the Sun and Burn the Witch in particular. They worked, naturally, and the varied style was exciting—an attractive, restrained counterpart to the no-holds-barred nature of the Red Rocks show. 

No matter what chu throw at them, the Queens of the Stone Age will deliver, and then some. 

QOTSA get at it at 4:08.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Optimistic Indeed

The Wayside Shakeup’s sophomore album delivers as promised. Optimistic is a fun, euphonious, and hook-y ten track reflection of its name.

John Mcleod (bass), Rob Volansky (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), Chris D'Antonio (vocals and lead guitar), Eric Raible (vocals and keyboard), and Mike Leger (drums) have created an album that can wiggle in between a variety of genre classifications and styles. Optimistic is the clear product of eclectic influence. “Love is Temporary,” for example, sounds like the blues of someone who has grown up listening to Eric Clapton and Taj Mahal. It’s funky and rounded and rich. “Goin’ to See Her,” begins with echoey harmony that evokes a full and surprisingly familiar resonance—like gospel meets country. The final track, "Tallest Building in Town," is poppy and gentle and it rocks the listener to proverbial sleep. Just as though it were the final ballad on the last night of a twelve month arena tour.

Then there are the lyrics... From "I got one more chance and I just might take it," to "I'm becoming somebody I can't understand," to "If you don't let it go, then you'll always know what you didn't grow up to be." They run the gambit from upbeat, to sorrowful, to suggestive (in terms of offering advice, not teen pop star M.O.)—once again, a testament to the breadth of the group's musical preference and experience.

Optimistic is the second album in three years for The Wayside Shakeup, and hopefully the start of many more. It's refreshing to hear music that is creative, affecting, and unabashedly designed to make a person feel good.

Purchase the entire album at your local internet record store... iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Please, Gramble on.

Kicking this thing off with a local artist (a rising local legend), and her band of bluesy Gramblers just feels right.

Nicki Bluhm sounds like the product of another time. Or at least the product of a long lifetime of listening and absorbing and witnessing. Her voice is a blend of pure soul, blues, folk, and a whole lot of distinct nuance that manifests as stunning, seasoned harmony. 

After releasing a debut solo album in 2008, Bluhm hooked up with childhood friend Deren Ney, and shortly thereafter Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers was born. The band includes: Deren Ney (guitar), Steve Adams (bass), Mike Curry (drums), and often Tim Bluhm of The Mother Hips on keyboard and/or guitar. Their self titled album dropped in August.

From top to bottom the music coasts—each track effortlessly transitions to the next, and variance rules.  The single, “Little Too Late,” is all country laced blues a la “Jolene” meets JJ Cale. Track two, “Hey Stranger,” lets its hair down and turns out that thick, harmonious folk.  From there the album glides cleanly between these three rich, intertwined genres. Track nine, “Check Your Head,” is unhurried and ardent like a ballad should be, but with back up harmony that shoves Bluhm’s sweet, raspy tone to another level. 

The whole thing is just good. It’s the sort of record you’ll play year round until it’s so scuffed up it’s unrecognizable. It should also be mentioned that the Van Sessions (available on YouTube), which catapulted this group into an action packed cross country tour, are not to be missed.  Also, see them live. Their show will restore a piece of earthy, tuneful heart you didn’t know needed restoring.