Three months of undocumented concert mania

I guess the comment in my last post about having an unsustainable lifestyle was pretty spot on. I’ve seen 57 concerts since the last one I reviewed. Between general lack of time, lack of sleep, and all-too-frequent illness I just can’t keep up with it. Plus I’ve been having bad writer’s block lately (I’ve been trying to write one concert review for over a week now and finally gave up to write this instead.) But I hate-hate-hate to just give up on these years of work, so I’m trying to come up with ideas for a slightly less intense blog that I could actually do without having to be institutionalized. Maybe a weekly or biweekly post with briefer reviews and highlights instead of the really in-depth stuff I’ve been doing. I don’t know. Ideas are welcome!

Anyway, I can at least give you some of the highlights of my winter concert schedule.

Dave Douglas & Uri Caine at Subculture: Whenever I go to this venue I wish they had more music I liked, because it’s a great space and in a great location. I’ve only been there a few times, but I really like it. And this particular concert was so nice – I don’t listen to a ton of music that I consider relaxing, but this was a rare gig that I found both engaging and de-stressing. Couldn’t have come at a better time as it was in the midst of a hectic holiday season and on my monthly work deadline. I bought their new album, “Present Joys,” after the show, and I listened to it quite a bit over the holiday season.

Winter Jazzfest: I only managed to see eight bands this year at WJF (compared to last year’s 12) but I had a really good time seeing shows with a group of friends (I won a couple of extra passes at the last minute so I got to bring extra concert buddies!). Highlights included a sort of reprise in miniature of the John Lurie tribute show that I saw at Town Hall last year, this time with Marc Ribot stepping in as a guest for a couple of pieces; Henry, Hampton & Low; Wooley & Vandermark; and the Young Philadelphians, who played a mostly-disco set which was difficult to take seriously, but a lot of fun if you pretended you weren’t at a jazz festival.

Jazz & Colors Festival: Hosted in the Metropolitan Museum, this was a great chance to get a quick taste of some bands I’d been wanting to hear. There were something like a dozen bands playing simultaneously, so you had to skip around from room to room to see them. My favorite was Jenny Scheinman’s ensemble (we ended up seeing about 2/3 of her set and spending the other 1/3 checking out other bands) but I also really enjoyed Amir ElSaffar’s group as well as Cellar and Point.

Jason Isbell at the Beacon: This show went on sale when I was still in Boston, and it was on sale so far in advance I wasn’t even paying attention to NYC shows. So I didn’t have tickets (so sad!). But… I never give up on concerts entirely, so I patiently checked Ticketmaster a few times a day for a few weeks until, hey look! Front row center, on sale the day before the show. (So happy!) I am so grateful for this bit of luck, because it was one of the best rock shows I’ve seen in ages. Isbell’s a great songwriter and a fantastic singer, and it was easily the best show I’ve seen him do. The quality on this isn’t super (someone else’s video from a few rows back in the orchestra) but the strength of the performance comes through, especially the powerful vocals:

The energy in the room during that song was almost tactile, growing steadily throughout the song and earthing itself in occasional audience outbursts, until it erupted into a several-minute-long standing ovation at the end of the song (in the middle of the set – not trying for an encore, just showing appreciation). I walked out of that show feeling better than I had in probably two months. (more…)

Concert Review: Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Joe Fletcher (7/29/2013)

Monday night found me in line outside the Sinclair, a relatively new music venue here in Cambridge, along with about 100 other Jason Isbell fans hoping to get in early for a good spot. (The other however-many-hundreds of fans showed up after door time and didn’t wait in line. Amateurs!) If you’re going to a sold-out show at the Sinclair, I do recommend getting there on the early side – it’s a three-level space, and the best views are in the balcony and the front of the main floor. You don’t want to get stuck on the lower level.

I’d seen Jason Isbell once before in 2010, and while it was a good show, it was a little unsatisfying because the venue had such poor sound that I could hardly understand a word he said or sung all night. The concert at the Sinclair had excellent sound – even when I was literally leaning on one of the enormous subwoofers, the vocals and instruments were nice and clear and not muddied or obscured by bass/midbass. I really appreciate that we have a mid-size rock venue with great sound in Cambridge now!

This week’s Isbell concert was, I thought, a big improvement on the 2010 performance. I think the difference was mainly because his new songs are so good. I didn’t actually have any of his albums before this week (I buy a lot more concert tickets than CDs!) so I didn’t go in knowing any of the songs. Several friends had told me that the new album was really good, but I hadn’t gotten around to buying it yet. During the show I started jotting down notes about which songs were real standouts to me (Cover Me Up, Traveling Alone, Elephant, Different Days, Super 8, Live Oak), and it turned out that every single one of them was from his brand new album, “Southeastern.” Well, there’s no arguing with that. I had to buy the album from the merch table at the end of the show. I’m listening to it right now and it’s definitely worth a purchase.

Aside from the new tunes, he did some older ones and some Drive-by Truckers songs; they closed out the show with a four-song encore culminating in a Rolling Stones cover, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” He’ll be on tour from now until the end of October, so there’s a good chance he’ll be doing a show near you if you live in the U.S. You can see his list of tour dates here.

Here’s a live acoustic version of “Elephant”, one of my favorite songs from the concert. (Warning: Contains NSFW language and will break your heart.)

In addition to the two-hour Isbell set, we got two openers; Amanda Shires and Joe Fletcher. I have to admit up front that I have a hard time with (more…)