Show Reviews

Two nights of intimacy and storytelling with the man who plays a hundred instruments

Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields

Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields

The Magnetic Fields are an extremely strange phenomenon: a group that is wildly talented, successful, and fiercely loved by their fans, despite staying relatively far from the radio-friendly limelight. The songwriting of creative leader Stephin Merritt evokes memories of both Sondheim-esque theatrical compositions and shimmering 80s pop ballads; his lyrics range from whimsically poetic to wickedly tongue-in-cheek; and most of their records are complete conceptual pieces, collected in the space of an entire singular work. Despite his dozens of works ranging on anything from 69 songs about love to country-style tunes about the open road, Merritt has seldom penned works that speak specifically about his own life, which is where his new record 50 Song Memoir comes in. Comprised of one song for each of the years in his own life, starting in 1965 and ending in 2015 (when the recording for the album began), the work takes up five discs and two and a half hours of playing time — making it the perfect piece to play across the span of two nights.

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deadmau5 atop his cube

deadmau5 atop his cube

In a now-relatively-infamous Tumblr post, Canadian electronic wunderkind deadmau5 (aka Joel Zimmerman) called out the DJ world for the lack of ingenuity and overall simplicity of their live shows. Ever since, he’s worked to keep pushing the envelope of his own performances, adding layer after layer of lights and screens that are all triggered by his own available controls, and his popularity continues to ride high even as the EDM scene itself shifts and changes. As a pretty popular act, it’s rare to see the synth mastermind outside of massive festivals or arena tours, so his Lots Of Shows In A Row tour was a treat to see — particularly at Oakland’s Fox Theater, a venue which has lately proven rather popular with the electronic music scene.

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LA’s world-famous orchestra adds an entire extra universe of sound to the Icelandic trio’s performances

Sigur Rós with the LA Philharmonic. All photos by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

Sigur Rós with the LA Philharmonic. All photos by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

If the experience of Sigur Rós live can be described as wondrous, then beholding them with an orchestra is a truly transcendent experience. Prior to this tour as a three-piece, I’ve always seen them with some form of miniature assemblage accompanying them, whether it’s the obscure-instrument-wielding Amiina or the Icelandic indie-folk group Parachutes, but never with a full symphony orchestra supporting them. Originally advertised as “career-spanning sets including fan-favorites (with orchestral accompaniment) and – “if things go to plan” – new, unreleased music (without orchestra)”, each night was a set similar to the current touring setlist, with the first half of the night seeing the band accompanied by the orchestra and the second with them playing solo. Despite the fact that each show had the same set of songs, each night was a different experience as the band and engineers discovered how to make the sound best fill the room, and the results were utterly spectacular.

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A lovely night with Williams’s score, Ford’s performance, iconic scenes… there are no bad dates here!

Face melting, Nazi punching fun!

Raiders of the Lost Ark is the quintessential action-adventure film. One could confidently claim that it is the greatest action-adventure film of all time! There is nothing about Steven Spielberg’s 1981 classic that isn’t famous — the giant boulder, the snakes, the hat & whip, every single line of dialogue, Marion’s alcohol tolerance, the airfield fist fight, the melting faces, poisoned dates, and so on. Yet, one component of the film is arguably more iconic than all the rest: John Williams’s score. The awe-inspiring, galloping main theme that nearly all humans can identify is a benchmark against which all other adventure film music is compared, and it is the basis for which this amazing night at the San Francisco Symphony exists!

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Two evenings of spellbinding wonder and incredible sound

Sigur Rós at the Fox Theater, Oakland

Sigur Rós at the Fox Theater, Oakland

This is the first of two posts chronicling my journey to see Sigur Rós for five performances in April 2017: two in Northern California, and three in Los Angeles with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra. Be sure to catch them on tour and tune in to Pitchfork on Friday, April 14th for a stream of their second LA Phil performance!

Fifteen years ago, I remember wandering down a dimly-lit suburban lane on a chilly November evening, the street silent as a tomb. I had a copy of ( ), the third record by renowned Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós, put that album in a Discman, and the quiet world around me instantly seemed to shift into some strange new world. I’ve always found that record to be an utterly sublime and immensely powerful expression of music, and was supremely pleased that some of my favorite songs from that album were in the set the first time I saw Sigur Rós play live. The band and their production crew are absolute masterminds at blending sound, light and visuals into an otherworldly experience; that show, in 2006 at the Marin Center in San Rafael, is still probably my favorite concert that I have ever experienced. This past weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing Sigur Rós two times, playing two sets each (!), making these my sixth and seventh time experiencing their live performances — and they are just as astonishing as they have always been.

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At The Drive-In’s surprise appearance at Mohawk was just one of the moments that made SXSW 2017 memorable.

Cedric Bixler-Zavala of At The Drive-In. All photos by Dakin Hardwick.

Every year in mid-March, music nerds from around the globe gather in downtown Austin to test their ability to handle long lines, blisters, alcohol poisoning, and dead cell phone batteries. Why? To get that first scoop on the “it” band of the year? To luck into a once-in-a-lifetime music experience with their all time favorite band? Masochism? Shit, I don’t know. Every year I say it’ll be my last, but I keep coming back. Maybe it’s the barbecue for me. Maybe it’s Austin: the worst kept secret in Texas. Without the quirks and charm of Austin, this music festival would just be ordinary — and like every other year, SXSW 2017 was definitely not ordinary.

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Festival: DRILL LA – Day 03 @ The Echo and Echoplex (Los Angeles)

April 5, 2017

The music explosion concludes! Anticipation is a tricky thing. Much like hype, it can make or break whatever it surrounds. I don’t think I can even count the number of times my anticipation of something has utterly ruined it. I had built it up so much in my head that when it finally came down […]

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Festival: DRILL LA – Day 02 @ The Echo and Echoplex (Los Angeles)

April 4, 2017

The musical explosion continues! If the opening night of DRILL was a taste of things to come, Day 2 was a build up to the inevitable explosion that appears to be in store for Saturday’s closing night. With use of the entire building, fans and festival goers had a plethora of choices on either stage. […]

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Show Review: Old 97’s at the Fillmore, 3/24/2017

April 4, 2017

The Old 97’s are an alternative country band hailing from Austin; they have been playing twangy rock and roll for the past 24 years. Their songs are three minutes of catchy hooks, marrying country twang with a dash of punk. Their wry cynicism doesn’t mope or lecture – it bursts with joyful irreverence in songs […]

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Festival: DRILL LA – Day 01 @ The Echo (Los Angeles)

April 3, 2017

Three days of music explodes in Echo Park! Wire’s DRILL Los Angeles Festival kicked off with a three band night at The Echo (the smaller of the two venues living in the same building) with performances by Alina Bea, Immersion, and Bob Mould. As I’ve said before, I’m somewhat of a fan of The Echo (and […]

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