Radio-sponsored concerts exist for multiple reasons. The first reason is, well, to make money. Since Nielsen-based ratings aren’t the most precise way to go, often times the best way to prove to advertisers your worth is to put on a big show that’s promoted by the station, and use those numbers to bring in big money for the commercials. The other, more dignified reason, is as a thank you for the listeners. It gives them a more hands on experience with the music they’ve grown to love by supporting their local radio station. I’ve been to many of these kinds of shows in my life, and I generally think that they are a pretty good time. Sometimes, though, they can be a bit too erratic to truly enjoy, much like most commercial radio. If there was any problem with this year’s show, it’s that the music was, stylistically, a little too varied for a common night. When the two bands that share the most similar influences are Vampire Weekend and AFI, you know it’s going to be a strange night.
Scene Of Action
Scene Of Action won the Live 105 local band competition. I was unfamiliar with their work before the show, and although I didn’t dislike them, I’m not handing them a recording contract quite yet. The lead singer had solid stage presence, and was very sincere with his gratitude for playing such a large venue. The crowd was meager, to say the least, during their performance, but that had more to do with the long lines to enter the venue mixed with the early start time. (Doors were 6 PM, Scene Of Action played from 6:15-6:30.) Their sound was a groove-heavy hard rock, in the vein of Wolfmother.
Metric played next, at 6:45, and it seemed that the majority of the crowd was still making its way in to the venue. They opened with the slow burning salute to rock ‘n roll iconography, “Gimme Sympathy,” from this year’s excellent Fantasies. Singer Emily Haines was wearing a shimmering silver mini dress with a revolutionary war-styled army jacket, playing an army of keyboards. She was in great voice, and it was a perfect set starter. The rest of the band, though energetic, seemed a bit anonymous throughout the set. It was definitely the Emily show. For the second song of the set, “Gold Guns Girls,” Emily flipped over to guitar, which gave her opportunity to move around, and made it a point to use as much of the giant stage as she could. The whole band played with an insane amount of energy. Without saying a word, they jumped right in to the single “Help Me I’m Alive,” then ran right into Old World Underground’s “Dead Disco.”Then without saying a single word to the crowd, they walked right off.
It was a great performance, but far too short and abrupt. The set was a tease. Every performer is supposed to leave the audience wanting for more, but this was obscene. I can’t wait for them to finally play a headlining show for this record in the Bay Area, because this performance only made me jealous for all of the markets that got a full set. I can only hope that they can spare some time with us before the start of next year’s Lilith Fair tour, for which Metric have been touted as one of the acts.
Vampire Weekend made an especially brave decision by opening their set with two songs from a record that won’t be coming out until next year. The new songs still have the crisp, clean sound that the band seemed to perfect on their 2008 debut album, but lacked the afro-beat feel that made the record sound so unique. Instead, the band sounded much more like early Elvis Costello & The Attractions. The older songs still felt “at home” along side the new songs, but the crowd really wasn’t feeling it. Not much more than one or two head bobs were visible on the dance floor throughout the set. When singer Ezra Koening introduced their hit, “A Punk,” as a great song to dance to, people cheered out of recognition, but not a soul actually started moving. I was beginning to think that this was going to be the most stoic crowd in the history of rock n’ roll. The performance was more than solid, but it just wasn’t entirely what the audience wanted to hear.
30 Seconds To Mars
It’s really hard to have to work two jobs. I know, I’ve done it off and on for years. Jared Leto has been working as an actor for far longer than he has worked as a musician, but he seems to be one of the few to put equal effort into both jobs. This may be because Jared Leto, as lead vocalist for 30 Seconds To Mars, seems to be playing the role of rock musician.
They walked on stage to the sound of “Ride Of The Valkyries.” They played the track to a darkened stage for nearly 5 minutes before the band came out. For a show where nobody gets more than 30 minutes of playing time, this seemed like a bit of unnecessary bombast. Then, they came out to a sea of bright lights and red flags, and proceeded to play the title track off their 2005 record, “A Beautiful Lie.” Throughout the song, Leto asked the crowd how they were doing no less than six times. For the second track, Leto crawled onto the barrier, and sang the entire song while walking along the barrier, making sure to smack hands with as many fans as he could grasp. The crowd went wild for this. Whenever he asked the crowd to do anything, let it be scream or jump, they did it. The best thing about their set was that they got the crowd’s blood finally flowing. Their sound isn’t anything overly unique or memorable. Their blend of early Emo, Nu-Metal, and subtle homage to classic glam metal was reasonable, but didn’t really connect with me. They actually reminded me most of a poppier version of the Deftones.
After about 25 minutes or so of this, Leto announced that there were only 7 minutes left in the set, and claimed that meant that they only had time for one more song. They then played a track called “Kings & Queens,” which separated itself from the rest of the set by borrowing the main riff from The Cult’s “Fire Woman.” It seemed that the sound system itself was unhappy with the song, because halfway through the set, it all blew out.
It took about ten minutes to get everything sorted again, and instead of starting the song back up where it they got cut off, Leto asked the crowd if they could start over. Then everyone in the seats stood up and started cheering, and for the only time throughout the whole set, their was a genuine enthusiasm, and the energy from that one song was hard to shy away from. I guess you don’t know how good you have it until it’s removed from you.
As a Bay Area native, there are a few things I used to take for granted. One of them was always AFI. In high school, it felt as if they played somewhere every night of the week. KZSU, the college station at Stanford University, my favorite radio station as a young one, played I Want A Mohawk (But My Mom Won’t Let Me Get One) and High School Football Hero relentlessly. They were a big part of my life, yet I only ended up seeing them live once during this time, opening for Dance Hall Crashers at the Fillmore. Not one of their legendary warehouse shows, or anytime they played 924 Gilman, but at a relatively large venue opening for a band on a major. Singer Davey Havok wore baggie dickies, a white t-shirt, and suspenders, and moved around like a cross between Mick Jagger and a bag of jumping beans.
As I grew away from the local pop-punk sound, a missed how AFI evolved, at least until I learned of them signing to a major label. The next thing I know, they release a record called Sing The Sorrow, and in all of the promo shots, the whole band is wearing eyeliner, dressed in all black, and all have piercings and haircuts designed to help fit in with the (at the time) current “emo” craze. I listened to the record, and I felt that all of the songs were kind of reminiscent of late period Danzig. At this point, I disregarded them, and had little hope for their set.
A little surprise every now and again never hurt anyone.
The band comes out, still mostly dressed in all black, but clean faced. Havok comes out wesring a gold suit with a black T-shirt, and jumps, literally straight into the first song, a track off their current release Crash Love called “Torch Song.” The song is simple and punchy. The band is incredibly energetic, and keeps the pace up with genuine punk-rock abandon. Their are a few issues with Havok’s microphone occasionally giving out, or sounding a bit tinny, but the small sound problems didn’t interfere with the bands actual performance. They next played a punked-up version of one of the stronger songs from the aforementioned Sing The Sorrow, “Girl’s Not Grey.” They keep up this energy throughout the majority of the set, channeling the pure immediate passion that makes punk rock great.
Some more highlights from the set included another new song, “Too Shy To Scream,” which despite the title, actually was a lot of fun. The song started out with a Bow Wow Wow-esque bit of tribal drumming, and then turned in to a great Social Distortion-inspired piece of psychobilly glory. They even pulled out a classic chestnut from the Berkeley Square days, the Very Proud Of Ya-era b-side, “Love Is A Many Splendid Thing.”
Towards the end of the set, things started to slow down a bit, primarily because of the nature of the show, and they started playing more of their recent singles, which may have disappointed me, but I was the minority. The crowd still ate it up. but you could tell that the band really just wanted to play old-fashioned punk rock. It was pure and great, and sounded particularly awesome after the bombast that was 30 Seconds To Mars. And, it can’t be ignored that Havok referred to seeing Vampire Weekend as “the second coming of Christ.” I honestly think that these two bands should tour together. It may seem like an odd pairing at first, but they both truly are punk rock bands hiding underneath it all.
Girl’s Not Grey
The Leaving Song Pt. 2
Too Shy to Scream
Love is a Many Splendored Thing
Dancing Through Sunday
Love Like Winter
Silver and Cold
One couldn’t deny the fact that the majority of the people in the crowd were here on this rainy December night to see Muse. 90% of the crowd were wearing Muse t-shirts, and eagerly awaited this set. And, well, they waited. 40 minutes to be precise. Before this, no set change was longer than 15, so this really tested our patience. I actually considered leaving.
So, well after their advertised start time, the band came out, and went straight into “Resistance.” Matthew Bellamy played a guitar with a small glowing green light on the body of it, which occasionally moved and changed colors. Dominc Howard played the largest drum kit I’ve seen since Rush last toured America. The video screens, which were present throughout the show, were suddenly showing much a more stylized video of the band, employing faux strobe and coloring effects, whereas all of the other bands were filmed straight. Despite there only being four people on stage, it always sounded like 20 or more. The songs sounded big and triumphant.
That is where the problem lies with Muse. Every song sounds big and triumphant. Not a single note was ever out of place. The drummer kept perfect time. There was nary a flub of lyric, nor a phantom misplayed note. It was disturbingly perfect. Bellamy also made sure to switch guitars after every song, as if each guitar was designed to play that song alone. He had a lot of interesting ways of playing guitar, including the aforementioned “glowing light,” which I learned later was an analog synth, which he played mid guitar solo on “Supermassive Black Hole,” also one of the few songs that didn’t sound like a grand triumphant call to arms.
My problems with their set were primarily because they were such the polar opposite of AFI. They had played with an almost desperate urgency that allowed for mistakes because they were there to say something. Muse, on the other hand, seemed as if everything needed to be perfectly planned out. It’s not to say that they weren’t having fun, but it was a geeky, mathematical kind of fun. It was left vs right brain, and I felt a closer bond to the emotional side of the equation. I honestly don’t think that Muse would enjoy playing punk rock, and even the punkiest song in the set, a song called “Unnatural Selection,” is 6 1/2 minutes long and has 4 different movements, and almost as many key changes. They were playing to show off, and that’s exactly what they did. And the audience ate it up alive. The room was filled with air drummers and air guitarists, wailing throughout their set.
They ended their hour long set with the epic “Knights Of Cydonia.” Everyone in the crowd followed every moment of the song, which was colored by an excellent harmonica solo by bassist Christopher Wolstenholme. This was followed by the sweaty crowd hustling to BART or their cars, and being given many free energy drinks. (Maybe if they did this before the show, the crowd energy wouldn’t have been so lackluster early on.)
I feel that learned a bit about myself, especially that I need to own the new AFI album, that Vampire Weekend and Metric headlining shows will be great, and that I would much rather hear punk rock than prog-rock.
Supermassive Black Hole
United States Of Eurasia
Time Is Running Out
Plug In Baby
Knights of Cydonia