Live 105 has managed to put together, once again, a fantastic line up for their annual holiday spectacular. So much so, that they had to split it into two days. One day was a bit more “new wave” oriented, and another day was purely guitar driven. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to check out the first night, the “guitar” night. It was, surprisingly, one of the most interesting and diverse arena rock shows I’ve ever been to, filed with a wide array of guitar music, from acoustic folk to earnest, working class punk, all the way to classic blues rock. I don’t know how they are going to one up this one:
Two Door Cinema Club
Usually with this big, multi band arena gigs, I tend to feel pretty bad for the first acts. You only get about 20 minutes, and you play in front of a small group of somewhat disinterested people, usually preserving their energy for a headliner that isn’t going to be taking the stage for 5 hours. That wasn’t the case for Two Door Cinema Club. The entire arena floor as up and dancing for this Irish pop group. I, personally, don’t feel very connected to this band. I don’t need to, though. The sea of smiling, happy faces getting down to them made me feel good. This band made some converts tonight, and I’m happy about that.
The Gaslight Anthem
I felt the exact opposite about The Gaslight Anthem. Where the crowd seemed largely disinterested in them, I really enjoyed them. Lead singer Brian Fallon has one of those fantastic voices that may not be technically “good,” is perfect for what they do. He has that fantastic Bruce Springsteen rasp, built on top of Social Distortion and Hot Water Music inspired punk rock. They were genuinely happy to be playing this show, and when Fallon listed the other acts playing, he seemed absolutely giddy to be sharing a stage with several bands on the bill. It was a solid set, and I’d love to see these guys in a warmer crowd.
Of Monsters and Men
Maybe the reason the crowd was so mellow during The Gaslight Anthem was because they were reserving their energy for Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men. This folk group has been compared to other large folk bands like The Arcade Fire and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, however I couldn’t imagine either band pulling of the kind of set that they did in 30 short minutes. The only band that comes to mind that blends great songs, skilled playing, and pure showmanship the way Of Monsters and Men do is Belle & Sebastian. Despite only being in existence for two years, they played the arena like veterans. The two singers sounded amazing. Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir is one of the most beautiful women on Earth, but her voice manages to surpass those looks. Ragnar Pórhallson does not look like your typical rock star: he’s chubby and bearded, but his tenor voice is exceedingly warm and blends beautifully with Hilmarsdóttir’s soprano. They also “played to the cheap seats,” working every inch of the gigantic stage, and even jumping into the barrier once the photographers were removed. My only complaint about this set was that they weren’t doing a full 90 minutes.
King and Lionheart
The Metric set seemingly almost didn’t happen. Somehow, they bands equipment got misdirected and ended up stuck in Miami. They were already booked to play an acoustic set for contest winners backstage, so the core of Metric, singer / keyboardist Emily Haines and guitarist James Shaw, opted to do a quiet acoustic show in front of 20,000 people. In less capable hands, this could have been an utter failure. Instead, Metric triumphed in the face of adversity! They opened with an intense, nearly claustrophobic version of their 2009 hit “Help, I’m Alive.” Haines was on a baby grand piano while Shaw took “rhythm” duties on his acoustic guitar. They then played a Dylan-esque version of the title track off their latest record, Synthetica. I found that this version of the song was infinitely better than the original, which is still a fantastic piece. Keeping the Dylan vibe, they actually covered Mr Robert Zimmerman, doing a nearly version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” with Haines doing a killer harmonica solo, and Shaw taking a rare lead vocal turn for a single verse.
I could very easily dissect each new version of every song they played. Because each song in this set took on a whole new life. It was one of the most memorable sets I’ve ever experienced, and sets the bar awfully high for future installments of this festival.
Help I’m Alive
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright
Youth Without Youth
I have a difficult relationship with The Shins live. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve seen them 4 times in the last 11 years, and they’ve had a different line up every time. They always sound great, however, James Mercer might be the least enthusiastic performer in rock music. I’ve seen them do the tiny, intimate club. I’ve seen them do midsize theaters. And, now, I’ve seen them do the arena. Oddly enough, this show, the “arena” gig may have been the best set I’ve seen The Shins do. The sound was spot on, the current drummer was great. However, Mercer still needs to learn how to performer. He needs a hit of swagger if he’s going to command a room. Even when they played “New Slang,” aka the song that will change your life, it felt like Mercer was sleepwalking. The crowd only responded out of familiarity, not the blissful release that comes from connecting with a great performer.
To answer your first question: He brought the all female band. Is that all you needed to know? OK. You may go do something else now.
Although this was White’s 5th set in the Bay Area this year (two sets at Outside Lands and two sets at Bridge School), this was the first time he’s headlined a show out here. Happily, he made sure the pull out all the stops for this one. He opened the set with “Freedom at 21,” a track off his excellent solo debut, Blunderbuss. Then without saying a word, the band went into a searing rendition of The White Stripes’ “Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground.” It was strange hearing the song with so many different elements going on: He had fiddle, pedal steel, keyboards, bass, and even back up vocals from the amazing Ruby Amanfu. The song came of so much bigger and darker than the original, which I thought was nearly perfect to begin with. I know that White has said that he is sad that The White Stripes are no more, however, this set proves that he doesn’t necessarily need Meg to play these songs live.
White is truly one of the great performers of our generation. He wrote a perfectly paced setlist, making sure that we were never too far away from a hit. And, even when it wasn’t at hit, he, along with his killer band, played it like it was. Highlights of the set including a version of “Love Interruption,” a duet between White and Amanfu that was so sexy the entire audience needed an immediate cold shower afterwards. They took “Hotel Yorba” and stretched it into a 5 minute long honky tonk rave up. He medley’ed together “Sixteen Saltines” and “John The Revalator” (known as “Cannon” when it appeared on The White Stripes’ debut record): two songs that have absolutely nothing to do with each other, yet made them companions.
This set was filled with great energy and musicianship. His band, The Peacocks, are a formidable unit that prove that you can assemble an all female band that can play the pants off of most male musicians. The encore was practically all classic White Stripes material, and the crowd remained wild. The ending was, of course, “Seven Nation Army.” White didn’t need to touch the mic once- the whole crowd was jumping and singing along. It was a killer close to a long and joyful evening of music.
Freedom at 21
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
Weep Themselves to Sleep
John The Revelator -> Sixteen Saltines ->John The Revelator
Two Against One
Steady, As She Goes
I’m Slowly Turning Into You
The Hardest Button to Button
Blue Blood Blues
Ball and Biscuit (Truncated)
Seven Nation Army