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Monotonix – A Music Fest NW Review

September 19, 2009 No comments
Monotonix in Portland (photo: Ken Aaron Neighborhood Notes)

Monotonix in Portland (photo: Ken Aaron Neighborhood Notes)

Often when we listen to music, it’s over little white headphones that connect to our iphones or ipods, literally plugging us into our music. We own music, download it and possess it. For many, music is a very personal experience. Monotonix turns that relationship completely on its head by creating a concert experience where people are compelled to come together to experience the music rather than consume it individually.

Monotonix has very little regard for the conventional structure of a concert. They assemble their instruments on the floor of the venue surrounded by a ring of fans. When the concert starts, it’s an explosion. The entire room moves. It’s not like a mosh pit where people flay and spin bashing into each other; rather, it’s one big circular mass that moves as one.

The Crowd Moves as One (photo: Ken Aaron Neighborhood Notes)

The Crowd Moves as One (photo: Ken Aaron Neighborhood Notes)

The Music Fest NW set was a lot more tame than their previous Portland performances. Monotonix lead vocalist Ami Shalev spent a lot less time showing off his ass or simulating fellatio with audience members and spent a lot more time singing and rocking. This was a nice change for Monotonix, who seem to be continually refining and focusing what they do. Ami also spent a lot more time hoisted above the crowd. I was struck at site of the the constant sea of hands hosting and holding Ami, drums and the occasional crowd surfer. It was profoundly beautiful. The final song of the set was performed with Ami sitting on a stool playing the drums all hosited in the air by the audience.

Monotonix - The Crowd is The Stage (photo: Ken Aaron Neighborhood Notes)

Monotonix - The Crowd is The Stage (photo: Ken Aaron Neighborhood Notes)

There’s something about a Monotonix show that creates an instant community. As two people collided at the periphery of the circle, their glasses went flying, and immediately the crowd around them made room and began looking for the glasses. In an almost perfect moment the two both emerged holding each other’s glasses. It wasn’t a moment you’d expect at an ‘Israeli Punk’ show.

Crowd Surfing at Monotonix (photo: Ken Aaron Neighborhood Notes)

Crowd Surfing at Monotonix (photo: Ken Aaron Neighborhood Notes)

I’ve seen Monotonix now three times, and I can honestly say they’re not a one trick pony. Musically I do think there’s some room for growth. Their song Body Language (off their debut album of the same name) shows off some real potential for what they can do. I didn’t feel that some of their new songs were at the same level although the performance overall has certainly grown. But you don’t go see Monotonix for just music. It’s an absolutely amazing experience and one which anyone who loves rock music should have. Seeing Monotonix at Music Fest NW was a fantastic reminder to me of why I love music and why I go see live music. Music can be so much more than just consumed and it’s great to be reminded of just how alive it really is.

See more photos from Monotonix’s MusicFest NW set here:

A special thanks to Ken Aaron of Neighborhood Notes, whose pictures captured what my words could not.

For more information on Monotonix and Musicfest NW:

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros – Music Fest NW Review

September 18, 2009 2 comments
Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros in Portland

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros in Portland

Infectious and contagious (in a good way), Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros sucks you in with music that builds and crescendos into an ecstatic space so compelling it’ll win over even the most hardened hipster. Playing a late night set at a very packed Holocene, this ten-piece band filled every corner of the club with music, dance and electricity.

A folk-rock infusion, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros could best be described as Arcade Fire if they were all hippies, or a band from the children of the members of the Grateful Dead. Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros are a fairly young band, and the show had a variety of technical issues, but their inexperience was never prevalent. When a mic went out, Alex Ebert (aka Edward Sharpe) led the audience in un-amplified song, proclaiming, “Let’s do one without all this technology”. The result was magical. The Holocene stage was so packed with musicians that they literally spilled out into the audience. Ebert, swigging from a bottle of wine, spent part of the final songs in the crowd, not just performing to them, but being a part of them. This connection between the band and the audience is what really makes Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros something special. They don’t simply get up and play, they connect and they do so with a tremendous amount of heart and passion.

The highlight of the evening was the performance of their single “Home”. Ebert and company lead the audience in a whistle prologue to the song that was hauntingly beautiful. The rest of the band joined in and the song began to build. Bit by bit it transformed from a song into a celebration, one which involved everyone in the room. Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros showed tremendous promise in their Music Fest NW set and I can’t wait to see them perform live again.

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros return to Portland on December 9th at the Doug Fir Lounge. I highly recommend checking them out as they won’t be playing small venues for long and the experience of seeing them in a more intimate venue is really exceptional.

For more information on Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros:

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Miley Cyrus Wonder World Tour Concert Review

September 14, 2009 247 comments
Miley Cyrus Tour Portland Spectacle

Miley Cyrus Tour Portland Spectacle

If there was one thing that was made perfectly clear at the Miley Cyrus Wonder World Contert Tour debut in Portland, it’s that Hannah Montana is no more. Miley has clearly hit a turning point in her life and career where she’s stopped being a child actress performer and is starting to explore her blossoming adulthood. It’s that transition when a teenager slams their door and instead of hearing Avril Lavigne emanating from the room, you hear Led Zeppelin. This period of time is exciting, wonderful, awful, painful and confusing, which in many ways is captured in the immense spectacle that is Miley’s concert tour.

Changing costumes with almost every number, Miley seemed to be trying on dozens of different looks, perhaps to see which best reflected herself. Musically this frenetic change of styles was also apparent. The show bounced around from rock to pop to ballad and then into songs which seemed to blend all those styles into one. It’s entertaining to watch but you get the real sense that Miley isn’t quite sure who exactly she’s becoming.

Miley was very clear about who she isn’t. In the hour and a half set, Miley barely touched any of the songs which made her a success, only flirting with the Hannah Montana library with a very sexed-up version of Girls Night Out and a nice rendition of The Climb. She seemed to steer very far away from her signature Hannah Montana theme song, something I think really disappointed the rather young audience.

There’s no denying that the Miley Cyrus concert tour is a grand spectacle. Each song seemed to be accompanied by some sort of massive set piece and with ten dancers and constant and elaborate choreography; the show was a constant feast for the eyes. Miley Cyrus deserves a tremendous amount of credit for this accomplishment. The complexity of the staging and the sheer amount of choreography (not to mention the constant costume changes) would be a huge challenge even for the most seasoned of performers. Miley Cyrus tackles this aspect of her show masterfully and should be commended for it. Unfortunately, musically she didn’t match the grand spectacle. It’s not that Miley is a poor performer – when she hits the mark, she’s got a solid voice, great stage presence and wonderful connection with the audience. I just don’t think the bulk of her material is all that great. There are some real stand-outs among her work including her new hit Party in the USA, The Climb (the theme song from The Hannah Montana Movie) and When I Look at You (which is the theme from her upcoming 2010 film, The Last Song). The rest of the songs she performed never really break out and tended to fall a little on the dull side.

Miley Cyrus put to rest any question that she can rock, with a fantastic cover of Joan Jett And The Blackhearts ‘I Love Rock N’ Roll’ which she sang while riding a motor cycle that was lifted up over the audience and flown through the air. It was frustrating to hear that she does have the talent, even to rock, but not the real material to back that up. Another frustrating moment came during a transition between numbers where Miley and the dancers teased with a short bit of the Thriller dance; I would have loved to see her cover Michael Jackson, but the number was only a quick tease and Miley did not sing.

Throughout the 90 minute show, Miley changed her costumes a dizzying 10 times. Most of the costumes were skin tight and accentuated her breasts. This sexually forward side to Miley might have been a bit of a shock to the parents of the younger kids in the audience who came to see ‘Hannah Montana’. My daughter, who is 10, even commented on how much Miley showed off the fact that she’s got breasts (it was that noticeable). Despite this obvious display of her blossoming sexuality, Miley kept her show fairly tame. Rather than shock or put off her audience in some sort of rebellion, she simply declared her womanhood and burgeoning sexuality.

Miley Cyrus on Tour catches a young artist at a real intersection in her career. There seems to be a dynamic performer emerging from the bubblegum pop child star she once was. Hopefully after this tour she’ll be able to have some real time to work with a producer and song writers who can see her talent and bring out the best of it, because without a solid foundation of music under her, all the spectacle in the world won’t be enough to ignite her career and carry her beyond Hannah Montana.

For More info on Miley Cyrus Wonder World Tour:

Patton Oswalt One of The Funniest Comedians Alive – A Portland Concert Review

Patton Oswalt

Patton Oswalt

It’s hard to remember a time when I laughed harder or for longer. Of the over ninety minutes in Patton Oswalt‘s Portland concert I found myself laughing (nearly to the point of tears) through almost every minute of it. Joke after joke hit its target dead center, and when something wasn’t quite a bullseye, Oswalt tweaked it into something even funnier.

Patton Oswalt doesn’t look or sound like he’d be the next great comedian. He’s short, stocky, and his voice strongly resonates his character from Ratatouille. Don’t let his looks be deceiving – Patton Oswalt stands on the shoulders of comedic greatness. His comedic ability, timing and spontaneity puts him solidly in the company of Robin Williams, George Carlin and Richard Pryor.

After you clear the tears out of your eyes from laughing so hard and look at the wide variety of styles of comedy and types of comedic elements that Patton hits in a single show, it’s absolutely mind blowing. From ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ stories, to witty observations and total off-the-cuff riffs, Oswalt seems to have an amazing tool kit to pull from on stage and he’s completely fearless in doing so.

In his Portland concert, Oswalt covered about 25% of his material from his current concert film My Weakness is Strong. Many comedians who tour for a major concert film release would rely on much more of that content. Oswalt seemed to use it as a wire frame for his show, only falling back to it when he seemed to want to get things flowing forward. Some of the funniest material of the evening came from Oswalt’s completely improvised interaction with a member of the audience. It was equivalent of a high wire act unhooking the safety line and doing somersaults on the tight rope.

The Newmark theater was filled to capacity for Patton Oswalt and the uproarious standing ovation brought Oswalt back on stage for a series of ‘classic’ material that seemed remarkably fresh. To date, Oswalt has built a very loyal and eager following but has been working just below the radar screen of many comedy fans. I don’t expect Oswalt to continue to be one of the best kept ‘secrets’ in comedy; he is absolutely destined for greatness and I’d be surprised if his next trip to Portland doesn’t have him selling out a venue twice or three times the size of the Newmark.

If you missed out on Patton Oswalt in Portland, be sure to pick up his concert DVD My Weakness is Strong and then make sure you catch him the next time he comes to Portland. It’s one of the funniest nights of comedy you’ll ever experience.

For more info on Patton Oswalt:

American Idol 2009 Summer Tour – Portland Review

American Idols Live in Portland

American Idols Live in Portland

I had pretty realistic expectations going into the 2009 American Idols Live show on its first stop in Portland. Despite all the hype and hoopla, the reality is, these ten finalists are just at the beginnings of their careers. They’ve just crossed the threshold from semi-pro to the big leagues and this concert in Portland was their very first big arena show.

As a show I found it to be pretty choppy and extremely uneven. The staging was set up with a huge barrier between the audience and the performers. A stage which jetted out into the audience or a theater in the round set up, like they had with the Jonas Brothers, would have been a much better option. The evening was broken into two acts. The first one had performances from Michael Sarver, Megan Joy, Scott MacIntyre, Lil Rounds, Anoop Desai and Matt Giraud, followed by a group song featuring these six performers. The second act featured Allison Iraheta, Danny Gokey, Adam Lambert and Kris Allen, and then a finale song with all ten.

The only ‘coloring outside the lines’ came when Adam Lambert invited Allison Iraheta back up to do a duet of “Slowride”. Other than that, the evening was as programed as it could possibly get. Each Idol did grab the mic during their set for some banter but it was only Allison Iraheta who really connected with the audience. Others, like Danny Gokey, came off poorly and preachy. The show wasn’t about the Idols talking, it was about them singing, and for the most part each Idol represented pretty well.

Michael Sarver’s passion seemed to fill the gaps as he sang “I’m in Love with a Girl” by Gavin Degraw and “Closer” by Ne-Yo. He sported a white jacket with an enormous cross on it. His performance was fine and well within the line of an ‘opening act’.

Megan Joy came out with a much sexier look than we’ve seen for her, a bright pink dress and coiffed blond hair. Her rendition of Corrine Baily Rae’s “Put Your Records On” was pretty close to the performance she gave on the show. It didn’t win any new fans over, but it wasn’t bad. Unfortunately her rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry on Their Own” didn’t come off as well and you could see why she’s been branded as one of the more ‘unlikeable’ Idols.

Of all the American Idols, Scott MacIntyre was the most improved from his performances on the show. He emerged from below the stage behind a grand piano. It was clear that behind the piano is Scott’s sweet spot. His rendition of Keane’s “Bend and Break” was sharp and he breathed new life into Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles”. I was disappointed that Scott only played two songs and would have liked to seen more from him.

Lil Rounds proved yet again that she can really sing, but something was missing from her performance. She opened with Mary J Blige’s “Be Without You” (a style she was constantly urged to sing during the show) but the audience didn’t seem to connect with it. Her rendition of Alicia Keys’s “No One” was solid, but sound alike and “Single Ladies” by Beyoncé had some great energy, but it seemed to fall apart at the end. Lil Rounds seemed mighty alone on that big stage and I think the show missed a huge opportunity to support her with some dancers. On “Single Ladies” she talked about working with a choreographer, but it ended up just being her strutting around the stage. If anything they could have brought the backup singers forward, or something so she didn’t seem so lost in the big space.

Anoop Desai was the first of the Idols to really connect with the crowd. A wave of flashbulbs fired off as he emerged from the center of the stage signing Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind”. Anoop was dressed in preppy/nerd chic and sported some thick rimmed glasses mid-way through the set. Anoop followed with “Mad” by Ne-Yo and then his signature “My Prerogative” by Bobby Brown. Musically Anoop isn’t the strongest of the Idols – Lil Rounds vocally eclipsed him – but Anoop has a charisma and style that fills the stage. He never looked alone up there and seems to have some of the raw goods to become a star. His set wasn’t earth shattering but it was extremely entertaining.

Matt Giraud seemed to have something to prove, and he did that with his set. With a big stardom presence he was the first Idol to really get the crowd on their feet with The Black Crows “Hard to Handle”. He then slowed it down a bit with Ray Charles’s “Georgia”, which came off fairly well, although I really didn’t like the arrangement. Surprisingly Giraurd closed with “I Found You” by The Fray, which is odd because during the show the judges specifically indicated that it wasn’t the best song for him, and I have to agree.

The medley that followed was okay. Throughout the season the group numbers were never the real strong points. This time around it felt a little choppy and Idol versus Idol. A highlight of the duet was dueling pianos with Scott MacIntyre and Matt Giraud singing Billy Joel’s “Tell Her About It”. In that match up I enjoyed Scott’s performance more. The weakest pairing of the medley was Megan and Lil who didn’t sound good together at all.

What followed was an excruciatingly long, energy-sucking 20 minute intermission where we sat and listened to ads and music videos of past American Idol winners. The break wouldn’t have been so misplaced if they had some sort of fun or creative intermission video clips playing (like a retrospective on the show). It was an opportunity missed.

The second half started with a bang and Allison Iraheta made up for the energy suck of the intermission. She opened with an extremely energetic rendition of Pink’s “So What”. Allison played a few of the refrains on her guitar, but not well. She is so energetic and fun and I think she would have done better without the guitar. Allison continued with Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby” which was fantastic. As she let loose, she really showed a real comfort on the stage. At one point during “Cry Baby” she did really embody Joplin. It wasn’t a mimic or impression, but something much deeper. Her talk to the audience seemed to really connect and it showed a real presence and charisma. She closed her set with a fantastic performance of Heart’s “Barracuda”. I was disappointed that she only sang three songs. It was at this point I wished the show were the top 5 and not the top 10.

Of all the performances, I was most disappointed by Danny Gokey. I really like Gokey and enjoyed his performances on the show, but what worked on the small screen didn’t quite work as well on the big stage. Danny Gokey opened with Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” without any form of comment or tribute to the artist’s death. He followed on with Santana’s “Maria Maria” which had him dancing around seemingly having fun on stage, but it felt a little stiff and forced and he didn’t quite have the audience along with him. The highlight of his set was “What Hurts the Most” by Rascal Flatts; it was the only point in the set where I felt any genuine passion. Danny Gokey followed the song with an ‘inspirational’, “you can do anything, don’t let adversity get in your way” talk. It just didn’t connect, so when he went into Rascal Flatts “My Wish” I felt like I was at a bad Christian Rock concert.

Gokey was immediately forgotten after Adam Lambert’s explosive opening. The crowd went crazy as he belted out Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. A lot of the things that I felt didn’t work in Lambert’s performances on the small screen were the very things that made seeing him live in an arena so fantastic. His opening number was pure electricity and left absolutely no doubt that he’s a rock star. I was really shocked at just how amazing hearing Adam Lambert sing Zeppelin was. He followed with an extremely strong version of Muse’s “Starlight” and then slowed it down with “Mad World”. Although the live version of “Mad World” wasn’t as magical as on the show, it was still fantastic. He pulled the entire audience in with the song and showed how easily he could warp the tempo and tone on stage. Adam called Allison on stage and the two of them did Foghat’s “Slow Ride”. My son turned to me and said, “Isn’t that a song from Guitar Hero?!” (interesting how times have changed). Adam and Allison’s chemistry were fantastic and the song was spot on. Adam finished his set with a medley of David Bowie songs including “Life on Mars”, “Fame” and “Let’s Dance”. It was fun and playful, but I would have enjoyed more big rock like Queen or Kiss. Still, Lambert showed he’s the real deal and his performance was so strong, I’ll definitely make a point to see him when he returns on his own.

During Adam’s set it became pretty clear how limited the staging of the show was. “Whole Lotta Love” screamed for some sort of pyrotechnics and his melody of Bowie songs could have been a huge production number with dancers and effects. It was a huge opportunity lost and one of the most noticeable failings of the show as a whole.

Kris Allen emerged from the floor in the center of the stage to the screams of the fans. They dropped a curtain behind him and the rest of the band (an odd move) and he held silent with his acoustic guitar in hand, for just a little too long. What followed though was one of the highlights of the entire show. Allen performed Kanye West’s “Heartless” in a way that made it clear that he’s made it his own. The song sounded even better live and is the corner stone of Allen’s success. Kris Allen was pitch perfect with his performance of “No Boundaries”, which isn’t my favorite song, but Allen finds hooks in it to make it into something much more beautiful and strong than the source material. Allen’s emotion and connection to the audience peaked with “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. I think it’s Allen’s humble honesty in his performance that really wins the audience over. If Kris Allen came out with the ego of Matt Giraud I don’t think it would work nearly as well. Kris Allen went for the trifecta on Matchbox 20’s  “Bright Lights” singing, playing guitar and piano, a truly versatile performance. He closed his set with a fantastic performance of “Hey Jude”, with the other 9 Idols joining him for the end of the song.

The finale of the night was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, probably the best group effort I’ve seen. For one reason or another the song just ‘fits’ this group. There have been a lot of reports on how close the top 10 American Idol group is, but musically they really haven’t meshed well as a group, except for this song. It was a fantastic close to the show and a real highlight of the night.

As a complete show the 2009 American Idol’s Live Tour isn’t as strong as some of its parts. There are some serious shortcomings with how the show was staged. It was too formatted, overly programmed and lacking in some of the staging magic that could have transformed it into a much better show. The addition of a few dancers, some pyrotechnics and a little more stage pizazz would have gone a long way. I also think they could have dropped the twenty minute intermission in favor of a few more duets or sets which colored outside the lines. Also noticeably missing were any fun video clips or anything from the judges. It’s a clear opportunity missed not to have anything from any of the judges or even Ryan Seacrest on video saying “This is American Idol”.

Despite the production shortcomings the show was very enjoyable. Between Allison Iraheta’s energetic set, Adam Lambert’s jaw dropping Zeppelin and Kris Allen’s pitch perfect performance, there’s more than enough here to justifying seeing the show.

For more information about American Idol Live see:

Also be sure to read: Miley Cyrus Live in Concert – Tour Review

The Jonas Brothers in Portland – A Review

June 28, 2009 17 comments

I think it’s important to acknowledge that I am not in any way the target audience for the Jonas Brothers. In the sea of pre-teen girls and their mothers standing in line to get into the Rose Garden, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Committed to doing fun things with my daughter (despite my personal tastes in music), I had decided to take her to one of the most buzzed about concerts so far this year. I definitely felt out of place in an event dominated by debates over which Jonas Brother people think is ‘cuter’ (the consensus seems to be Joe).

The Crowd Waiting to See The Jonas BRothers

The Crowd Waiting to See The Jonas Brothers

As we waited for the show to start the stadium erupted in a deafening wave of screams any time anything Jonas Brothers related appeared on the overhead screens during the pre-show promotions. The Jonas Brothers seem to be able to instill that ‘boy crazy pre-teen frenzy’ that only a handful of boy bands can command. The sea of pre-teens waiting for the show carried fan signs, home-designed Jonas Brothers T-shirts, and were adorned by photos of the three Jonas Brothers.

As the lights dimmed the stadium was literally filled with screams (good thing I brought my Ear Love!). First to meet this adoring crowd was the relatively new Honor Society (watch the On Portland Interview with Honor Society), a band who described themselves as a ‘Myspace Band‘ (or a band that built its following initially from myspace). While Honor Society only played a handful of songs, the audience responded exceptionally well to them. The final song from Honor Society, ‘See U in The Dark’, was the clear favorite of their set. The song snapped and popped like a good pop anthem, noticeably elevated from the rest of their set and is sure to become a hit. I was surprised at how short the set was; I would have expected them to do another song or two especially considering how well they were received.

Following Honor Society was a unique all-girl band from South Korea called Wonder Girls. Dressed in 60’s chic (think The Supremes), Wonder Girls is an odd infusion of retro cool and bubble gum pop. I don’t think that the audience for the Jonas Brothers really knew what to make of them. Their first set, a single song, was so short it was hard to get a real sense of them (check out this video of their first set). Wonder Girls performed a second number after Jordin Sparks’s set and an introduction by Paul Jonas (the Jonas Brother’s father) called Nobody. The song itself was pretty catchy but the dance that went along with it could only be described as odd. It’ll be interesting to see if this Asian super group will find traction with American audiences. It could go either way.

Jordin Sparks, who I had seen a few years back, performed a much stronger set than the last time I saw her. Sparks had a much higher level of comfort on stage and seemed to connect well with the audience. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough of spark in her performance and even her signature single “No Air” didn’t have the punch that it should have. The highlight of Sparks’s set was a rendition of Pretty Young Thing (PYT) in tribute to Michael Jackson, which Sparks performed with more energy and spunk than the rest of her set. Sparks seems constantly on the brink of breaking out and I think a lot of the raw goods are there, but she seems to be lacking the right material to bring her to the next level.

Pop Rock

The stadium filled with lights and smoke as the main event launched like a rocket ship. With Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ blasting, Nick, Joe and Kevin Jonas were raised from the depths of the center stage and spun around as if they were pop gods stuck in a doughnut display. The full stage configuration for the Jonas Brothers concert was impressive, presented as a ‘theater in the round’. The stage brought the performers much closer to the audience and gave far more fans a really good seat over traditional staging. The light, smoke and stage show was nothing short of impressive. With layered video screens, hundreds of different light configurations and an ever-revolving center stage, there was always something catching the eye.

Musically I can’t say I was amazingly won over by the Jonas Brothers. They are pure boy band pop through and through. The dynamic of the band is an interesting one. While many of the Jonas Brothers fans swoon over Joe Jonas, it’s actually Nick Jonas who seems to have inherited most of his father’s musical talent. Whether he’s playing guitar, piano or drums Nick seems to be the dominant musical force of the trio. Joe saunters around the stage to the admiring screams of fans, but if you really pay attention you can see it’s really Nick who’s carrying the lead. The third brother (sort of like the fifth Beattle), Kevin seems to be happy in his supporting role, rarely taking center stage. Kevin seems firmly rooted in his backup position. For whatever reason, that dynamic just works and the band comes off as an unashamedly pop boy band that is more ‘cute and swoon worthy’ than sexual (like Justin Timberlake). I also really appreciate that although the band comes from a strong religious background, they don’t bring that to their music.

While I may not have been completely won over by the Jonas Brothers’ music, I was quite impressed by their performance. A highlight for me was Nick Jonas’ rendition of “Black Keys” which was presented with him solo at a white piano in a cloud of smoke. After the song Nick spoke to the audience about his diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes and his commitment to push on in the face of adversity. The talk was an extremely skillful way of addressing a real serious issue (teenage suicide) and I thought that Nick Jonas did a phenomenal job of sending out an important message to his fans.

Impressive Jonas Brothers Staging

Impressive Jonas Brothers Staging

The set as a whole had its ups and downs as does their music. High points seemed to pivot around their break-out hits like “S.O.S” or “Burnin’ Up” and fall flat around some of their weaker songs. A complete misstep was the performance of “Sweet Caroline”, the notable Neil Diamond song. The band said they were doing the song for all the parents to get up and dance, but I think they’ve misjudged the age of their audience’s parents. They would have done much better with a stand out Michael Jackson song than Manilow, and I was actually surprised that their set was absent of a song to pay tribute to Michael Jackson.

At a high or low the stage spectacular always seemed to keep the show flowing. A late set return of Jordin Sparks was an unexpected treat. Surrounded by the full lights and video spectacular, Sparks belted out the title track to her new album “Battlefield”. The performances was legions beyond her opening set and showed the potential for Sparks when she has the right material. Also a particularly notable water effect was something I’d never seen at a concert before and was especially impressive.

I can’t say that I was won over at the end and became a fan of the Jonas Brothers. I am clearly not their target audience, but having said that I did enjoy their show. The Jonas Brothers have put together a pure spectacle of light and sound that is entertaining to watch. For me, though, the real enjoyment was watching my daughter as she jumped, sang and swooned. Equipped with the right ear plugs, the screams of the fans were manageable and the stage show was entertaining enough to make the evening more than worth it.

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Santogold Delivers The Gold

October 6, 2008 No comments
Santogold Brings The Audience on Stage

Santogold Brings The Audience on Stage

The show Sunday night at the Crystal Ballroom was billed as “Goldrush” and featured four ‘Myspace buzz bands’ including: Low v. Diamond, Alice Smith, Mates of State and headliner Santogold.

In an evening with four bands my expectations for the first band were pretty low, but Low v. Diamond delivered and impressed me with a strong set that felt more like a headlining set than an early opener. With good chemistry, a full textured rock sound and a talented lead singer Low v. Diamond showed showed real potential. Their sound is rocky ballad that can be filed comfortably between The Killers and Snow Patrol.

Low v. Diamond was followed up by the very stripped down Alice Smith. Accompanied onstage with only a single electric guitarist Alice Smith showed quite solidly that she has the presence to fill the stage. Her set captivated the audience who seemed to hang on every note. Smith’s vocals often have the affectation and texturing that’s reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, but she’s really at best when she lets go of the vocal styling and is just herself. Alice Smith shines when she seems to loose herself in the emotion of her songs and I’d love to see here again when she’s backed by a full band.

Alice Smith was followed by Mates of State, a keyboard and drum duet which moved swiftly through an upbeat and poppy set. I really wanted to like Mates of State, they are an extremely affable band with very listenable harmonies, but I felt like I had to really work to like them. Many of their songs are so packed that there’s very little room to really connect with them. Some of the songs take left turns which clearly left the audience behind. Mates of State did their job as an opening band, but the need some fine tuning to really grow.

After Mates of State there was an extremely long break as the stage was stripped almost completely bare. The crowd was clearly impatient waiting so long for Santogold, but all frustrations were quickly erased as she took the stage. Although it was a relatively short set Santogold was on the top of her game for every moment of it. Without a single drop in energy Sontogold’s set was celebration from the first note to the last.

Backed only by a DJ and two backup singers Santogold filled the stage with a contageous energy which flowed into the crowd. I saw more people dancing at the Santogold that almost any other show I’ve seen at the Crystal. The set which lasted just over an hour featured most of the songs off Santogold’s debut album. In many of the recent concerts I’ve attended you can tell which song gets the most radio play because it’s usually the point when the crowd comes alive. At the Santogold show the crowd responded to each song like it was a ‘hit’ song.

Santogold performed one cover, The Clash’s Guns of Brixton, transforming it into a rich and contemporary song. Even though the show’s music came from a turntable the show never felt pre-programmed or stiff. At one point Santogold messed up the lyrics to a song, laughing she ran out into the crowd pulling fans up on to stage for another go. The result felt like a dance party.

Santogold is the real deal, she’s an immensely talented performer who is even better live than in her recordings. The concert at the Crystal Ballroom was her first performance in Portland, but it certainly won’t be her last. Santogold is clearly a star on the rise and she’s got the potencial to be an extremely hot ticket the next time she’s in town.

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Why Monotonix Is So Important To Music

October 3, 2008 No comments
Monotonix at The Wonder Ballroom

Monotonix at The Wonder Ballroom

Back in early September I had the fortune of attending Monotonix’s show at MusicFestNW. Their short and explosive set was one of the most impactual concerts I’ve attended for a very long time. When I heard that Monotonix was returning to Portland to open for The Silver Jews I knew I had to see them again. I had to know if the show at Satyricon was some sort of anomaly. Was it just something that happened in that time and place?

It was clear from the get go that the show at the Wonder Ballroom was going to be different than Satyricon. The slightly sparse crowd was filled with thritysomething couples, out on a Tuesday night date, all of which seemed more interested in a mellow beer and music. Most of them congregated on the ‘other’ side of the OLCC beer barrier (a ridiculous regulation for all ages shows that bifurcates an audience in the worst way). The Silver Jews are a toe tapping, sway back and forth, geee aren’t they cool kind of band; so the idea of a wildly flailing and explosive Israeli punk band opening for them is an extremely unlikely paring.

As with the Satyricon show Monotonix set up their drum set out on the floor. The band entered to a few hoots and hollers. One of the guys next to me exclaimed, “This is going to blow your mind”. I wondered if that would be true. Could they blow my mind again? Would Monotonix able to catch lightening in a bottle and unleash it again and again? With their explosive start I knew from the beginning that the answer was a resounding YES.

Playing a much longer set than at Satyricon, Monotonix unleashed their music on to the fairly unsuspecting Silver Jews crowd. At one point guitarist Yonatan Gat lept across the OLCC barrier, followed by vocalist Ami Shalev who was shoved back by Wonder Ballroom security. It was the first scuffle between a band’s lead singer and security I’ve seen in years. Undaunted Ami plowed ahead taking out the barriers and one of the security guards. If punk is a state of mind vs. a musical genre, I’d submit that this scuffle was punk.

Crossing that line seemed to really engage the otherwise mellow crowd who encouraged the band. Both Avi and Yonata took to the air, floating above the crowd… It wasn’t the whole room bouncing at once experience of their Satyricon show, but a similar energy was there. Avi fond his way up onto the stage where he thrust a water battle into his pants and then pretended to ejaculate with it on one fan. He then stripped down stuffing his shirt into his shorts and proceeded to sing an Israeli folk song. Leaping off the stage the band ripped through another song, this time with their signature trash can dump over drummer Ran Shimoni.

The band then lifted the drum set and moved it to the back of the venue. Monotonix isn’t just a band that plays on the floor, the entire venue is their stage – no matter where you are, you are part of the show. Soon after Ran picked up his snare drum and ran it up to the balcony where he continued to play. Avi follows, running up onto the balcony and and then over the railing. As he balances precariously on the balcony ledge Avi yells that he’s going to jump on the count of four….and then he does. The audience catches him and he continues to belt out their final song.

There is a distinct feeling after a Monotonix show that something has happened. Monotonix brings the music off the stage and into the audience in a way that make the audience a part of the music. In may ways this is what’s been really missing with music lately. Music has become a very personal and individualized experience: people download music on to their computer, move it on to their iPod and then listen to it on their headphones. Often the only real sharing people do of their musical experience is when they snag music from Bittorrent. The reason to go see live music isn’t so YOU get to see the band in person, it’s much bigger than that. Concerts are a communal experience where the audience is just as important as the band on stage.

Most people seem to have lost sense of this communal experience. At many of the concerts I’ve been at lately I see people checking their phones, texting each other, shoe gazing, generally consuming the music without any consideration to the people around them. At a recent concert I even witnessed an event where someone almost got into a fist fight over someone singing along with the music.

There’s no question that the music industry is broken. It’s easy for people to blame record companies for the poor state of music, but I think audiences are as much to blame. Monotonix is a reminder of a time in music where music was experienced not just consumed. When the band plays from within the audience they change the dynamics, they break the personal bubbles surrounding so many of us and force you to stop watching and start participating. So many of people dance around and sing to the music when we think no one else is looking, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Concerts aren’t just spectacle, they are the shared experience of music in a deep fundamental way. When we all dance together and sing together to the same music, it connects us in a way much more powerful than adding someone as your friend on facebook or shooting them an IM. We all become a part of something bigger than ourselves and help create an experience which can only happen in that space and time.

This is why Monotonix is so important to music right now. In my mind they may be one of the MOST important things going on in music. Sure, anyone can set up their instruments on the floor and play (and maybe more bands should), but so few bands are so committed to destroying that barrier between band and audience, so committed to changing the musical experience that I think they’re worthy of being held out as an example of what should be.

Be sure to listen to my: Interview With Monotonix

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Not So Shiny Toy Guns – A Concert Review

September 26, 2008 2 comments
Shiny Toy Guns Hiding Behind Smoke and Lights

Shiny Toy Guns Hiding Behind Smoke and Lights

I’m sorry to report the shine has come off the penny. Shiny Toy Guns has effectively gutted itself, replacing lead singer Carah Faye Charnow with Sisely Treasure and moving the female lead vocalist spot to something just above a back-up singer. Chad Petree made it extremely clear in front of the sold out Berbatti’s Pan crowd that he is The One and that the Shiny Toy Guns stage doesn’t have room for another strong and dynamic vocalist. Petree is extremely talented, but what made the band so appealing was the vocal interplay between Petree and Charnow. Without Chanrow Petree is left short, a fact that was clearly reflected in the band’s extremely brief and underwhelming show.

The crowd seemed very eager to welcome Treasure with open arms, cheering loudly as she took the stage. Their eagerness was not matched by the band who stashed her towards the back of the stage, under mountains of smoke, and relegated her to the occasional backup vocal. It wasn’t until she finally stepped forward to sing lead vocals on one of the bands notable songs, ‘Le Disco’ that it became clear that gamble to reorganize the band was a bust. As a lead vocalist, Treasure struggled through many of the Shiny Toy Guns’ song, never quite connecting with them. Her performance brought very little of herself and seemed more like a mimicry of the recorded music than anything else.

I don’t think there would have been as big of a problem if the band really brought her in and shared their new direction, but they don’t seem to really have one. The one and only song which they performed from their new album Season of Poison was Ricochet, a Marilyn Mansonesque driving rock song which was ok at best. Treasure did seem more in her element belting out rougher, Pat Benetar like, vocals to a driving beat. But that was it. The only real peek into what the band might someday be.

Unfortunately, most of the 50 minute set was a peek at what the band isn’t – they aren’t the band they used to be. The Shiny Toy Guns left the crowd stunned as the exited the stage after just 38 minutes. Playing only a couple of songs in their encore, the band was off the stage before 11, less than an hour after initially taking the stage (and they were the headliner).

It’s no fun to be a fan of a band and see them take a turn for the worse, especially a band that shows tremendous potential.

The show at Berbatti’s Pan reminded me of a quote from Annie Hall: There’s an old joke – two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”

Here are pictures from the Shiny Toy Guns Concert:

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Monotonix at MusicFest NW

September 8, 2008 No comments
Monotonix at MusicFest NW

Monotonix at MusicFest NW

It’s taken me a few days to process what happened at Satyricon on Friday night as part of MusicFest NW. It was one of those situations that was so outrageously amazing that after it’s over you begin to doubt if it actually happened.

Growing up in Northern California I was blessed by a phenomenal music scene. Concert promoter Bill Graham helped make San Francisco mecca for rock shows. With my varied interests in music I’ve seen a lot of very different shows in a wide variety of venues. Few shows have left me as mouth-open-awe-struck as the Monotonix show at Satyricon.

I had heard tales from friends who had seen Monotonix live: drummers body surfing, instruments set ablaze and all around insanity. It was my friend Ian Jane who most emphatically insisted I see them perform… I don’t know how I’ll ever thank him.

Many bands are known for their onstage antics. It’s the very showmanship which earns bands a following when they play live. You go to a U2 concert, not because the music is great (although it is), but for the amazing show that they put on. Some bands are all about show. Kiss rocks, but would you really go see them if they played without the grease paint and pyrotechnics? Would Hannah Montana be the same without the four story video screens? What Monotonix did in their Friday night show went far beyond antics or showmanship, it was a complete musical revolution.

From the first note of the show Monotonix declared their musical independence. Rather than setting up their instruments on stage they put them right in the middle of the show floor. Everyone encircled them as they assembled their drum kit and plugged in to their amps. Then it happened, like an explosion Monotonix filled every corner of the room with their music, the entire (and I do mean entire) club erupted in dance.

I’ve been in my fair share of mosh pits in my time (the most memorable was Pantera when they played in Watts/Los Angeles), but I’ve never been in a pit that included every single person in a club. Also the ‘pit’ at the Monotonix show was unlike any pit I’ve been in before. Rather than people pushing and shoving eachother, elbowing and flailing, the entire room bounced and danced together.

As Monotonix played you could see the sheer glee on the faces of everyone in the club. Monotonix somehow was re-capturing something that we all thought was lost – a real, honest to goodness punk rock show. True punk has become extremely rare, there are many bands out there trying to be punk rockers, emulating the bands which came before them, but so few simply ARE Punk. Monotonix is punk.

It’s impossible to capture what happened that night…This is the best I can do:

Flying through the air lead singer Ami Shalev crowd surfs as he sings, pausing only to climb up to a high ledge on the ceiling of the club. A trash can is bounced around, water is flying through the air. The high hat is kicked over and promptly reset. The guitarist leaps up onto the stage and then jumps back off. Nothing in the room is still. After a few songs the band picks up their instruments and moves them further to the back of the club and the circle of people follow.

“Sit Down”, “Everybody Sit Down!” yells Ami, and miraculously everyone listens. I am drenched in sweat, I am thirty seven years old and haven’t been in a pit in years. I am half leaning and half supporting the people around me as we sit on the floor of Satyricon. Ami thanks everyone for being at the show and then instructs everyone to wait till he counts to four till they jump up and dance. “One… Two… Seven…. Nine…. Five…. What comes after Three?!?!”, everyone yells “FOUR” He says, Wait for it!”… and then “FOUR”. Again Monotonix is an explosion of sound.

A few songs later they’re heading towards the door. Stretched way past the end of their amp cables, so they unplug, carry their instruments outside where Ami climbs a tree, moons everyone and makes a speech. The drum is lifted with the drummer on top and he bangs on it. The concert ends in a street side celebration of music.

Everyone stood, mouth agape looking at eachother… “Did this just really happen?” “Oh my fucking God!”

The Monotonix show was one that people will talk about for years, it’s the kind of show that you thank your lucky stars you were at or curse the sky that you missed. Monotonix returns to Portland at the end of the month with The Silver Jews at the Wonder Ballroom. They are not to be missed

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