Concert mini-reviews: Rodolphe Lauretta trio, Sigur Rós, Pascal Fricke

While the Ceramic Dog concerts were the major musical focus of my week in Europe, I did see several other live music performances while I was there.

On our last night in Paris, my traveling companion found a very cool little jazz club near the Bastille called Les Disquaires. We didn’t know much about the performers, but it was a free show and we figured we couldn’t go too far wrong. We ended up being very pleasantly surprised! The band in question was the Rodolphe Lauretta trio (Lauretta on alto sax; Damien Varaillon on bass; Ariel Tessier on drums) with guest musician Renaud Gensane on trumpet. I had a really nice evening drinking wine and listening to this quality jazz band. My friend Moritz Bichler had his camera with him, to give you an idea of the intimate atmosphere of the club:


The following day, we took a train up to Amsterdam, and within a couple of hours of arrival I was in my friend Rune’s car heading towards the Heineken Music Hall on the outskirts of the city to see Sigur Rós. I liked the venue more than I was expecting – since corporate sponsorship isn’t usually a good sign, and some of my Dutch friends aren’t fans of the place. But it was built specifically for music, and has good sight-lines and acoustics, which is more than a lot of venues offer.

I’d heard their music, but I hadn’t seen Sigur Rós before, and I was very impressed with their show. I think it’s safe to say that there are not any other bands out there putting on performances like theirs – the music, the lights, the video, the whole experience. I can certainly understand that (more…)

Concert Review: Ceramic Dog (Fontenay-sous-Bois, 2/19/2013)

This is my first jet-lagged blog post, but it probably won’t be my last 😉 Just got back from a week in Europe where I saw a handful of excellent concerts. The first concert of the trip was Ceramic Dog, a strong contender for my favorite live band. Ceramic Dog is Marc Ribot (electric guitar, backing vocals), Ches Smith (drums, percussion), and Shahzad Ismaily (bass, Moog, percussion, backing vocals, guitar, etc.).

In theory, Marc Ribot is my favorite musician on the planet, but the rest of this band is so much fun, and so fascinating, that I often find myself watching them instead. And when I happen to be standing directly in front of Mr. Ismaily, I have a hard time paying attention to anyone else. This was my view on Tuesday night:

Shahzad Ismaily

…so I mostly watched him. Which is just fine, because he is astounding. He plays a ton of instruments, he composes, he produces, and he’s involved with a lot of great bands and musicians (Secret Chiefs 3, Jolie Holland, Carla Kihlstedt, etc.).

The concert started with some somewhat spacey instrumental music which got a lot heavier when Ismaily’s bass kicked in (that bass amp was LOUD! plus I was standing right in front of it). They had a great groove going for a few minutes and then deconstructed the piece back into the spacey instrumental stuff; this segued smoothly into a second instrumental piece, which involved a lot of sudden crescendos and decrescendos before settling into something pretty heavy again and then eventually devolving into some serious noise, courtesy of Ismaily’s Moog. (“Noise” as in “noise music”… it’s a good thing!)

After a brief break to let the audience offer some appreciation, they headed in a slightly more retro direction and did a cover of (more…)

Concert Review: The Bad Plus playing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (2/15/2013)

I went to see another new-to-me band at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art this week – The Bad Plus, a jazz trio made up of Reid Anderson (bass), Ethan Iverson (piano), and Dave King (drums). The group is known for doing oddball covers of iconic music (click here to hear their cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” for example) and I was intrigued to see that they had decided to take on Stravinsky’s (in)famous “Rite of Spring.”

They began the show with a very dramatic opening – musically, I could hear a thudding heartbeat, and then a spare, spacious solo piano playing a repeating theme, growing more and more complex over the course of several minutes. Visually, we saw a darkened stage, the musicians only seen as silhouettes, dark curtains covering all the windows. There was a translucent curtain between the audience and the band, on which they screened abstract videos. (Due to the translucent nature of the curtain, you could also see the video projected on the back wall behind the band.)


Around the five-minute mark, the band exploded into full power, the drums crashing in, and they also raised the curtain and started turning some lights on. The overall effect was (more…)

Concert review: The Residents (2/12/2013)

This week I went to see The Residents at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art. The ICA is an absolutely beautiful place to see a concert, with perfect sightlines and great sound, which makes up for it being so inconvenient to get to from where I live. They put on quite a few interesting “new music” concerts there, and I’ve seen some truly remarkable performances thanks to them. It is, however, a slightly strange place for a band like the Residents to play. Not really the sort of band you expect to find in a museum.

Me reviewing the Residents is a little bit like NPR’s “You’ve Never Heard?” series, where they make an intern listen to something that was supposed to be really important when their parents were kids. The Residents were recording and performing for years before I was even born! I decided to go see them based on reputation alone (as a live music buff, I generally will go see a band live rather than buying a couple of CDs or spending an hour on Youtube checking them out). So I didn’t know what to expect aside from some vague impressions I’d gotten over the years.

I certainly wasn’t expecting a Christmas theme – but this is what we got! The set for the show was a giant inflatable Christmas decoration of the type that crazy people put on their lawns around the holidays. And here I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with any more giant Santas until September or October… oh well. When the band came out, I was impressed by the weird and extremely cool masks that Bob and Chuck were wearing, and a bit put off by (more…)

Concert mini-reviews: Red Baraat, Evolfo Doofeht, Idan Raichel Project, Klezwoods

Catching up on a few shows I’ve seen in the last few weeks… in no particular order.

Red Baraat: I’m not always very good at deciding what genre any given band is, but they describe themselves as “Bhangra Funk Dhol’n’Brass.” (I’m not sure that really helps!) The eight-piece band consists entirely of percussion and brass. This was a classic case of a good band that isn’t really up my alley; they had the crowd excited and dancing for most of the set, but for my taste I would have jettisoned the dance/hip-hop influence. My ears would have liked more of the brass band sound. That said, it was still a fun and danceable show. You can check out their NPR Tiny Desk concert here:

Local band Evolfo Doofeht opened for them, and I was having a hard time making up my mind about their set. They described themselves as “gypsy funk” – I probably would have liked them more if the gypsy part was more prominent. To me it sounded like pretty straight up funk/R&B type music. In parts it was too smooth and clean for me, but in parts I thought they really had some promise. They are a pretty young band, so they might be one to keep an eye on if they develop in the right directions. I’d suggest spending more effort on their solos than their costumes, for a start – no one is going to be impressed with the trombonist’s furry purple suit if he can’t musically knock it out of the park. (Well… maybe a LITTLE impressed. It was awfully purple.)

The Red Baraat/Evolfo Doofeth concert was also my first time at the Sinclair, a new Harvard Square venue. I had heard a lot of “it’s like the House of Blues, but small” and I can definitely see that, although I think the smallness has solved a lot of the problems plaguing the House of Blues. I actually really liked it as a mid-size venue – definitely nicer than the Middle East Downstairs (and far better sound), and a little more sophisticated than Brighton Music Hall (and a lot more convenient to me). I need more visits to make up my mind, but (more…)