• Slowdive at the Crystal Ballroom (Portland, Oregon), November 5, 2014

    6. Nov. 2014, 19:54

    So I saw Slowdive last night, and I was in the front row, and I literally felt like I was experiencing the death of my body at the end. It was transcendental and beautiful and I literally almost cried. I never thought in a million years that I'd have the opportunity to see them perform together live, so it was a dream come true in every sense of the word. *********


  • Swans at the Roseland (Portland, Oregon), September 6, 2014

    7. Sep. 2014, 8:27

    I don't really know what to say except that my ears might be bleeding. And I'm glad.

    I was hesitating about going because the person I was supposed to go with couldn't, so it was my first time going to a concert solo (been ditched halfway through one, but whatever), but I couldn't miss Swans for a second time.

    Grouper opened first and started 30 minutes after the doors opened. There were surprisingly few people there during that time, so I got front row. I've been a fan of hers for a couple of years now and I think her music is truly beautiful and otherworldly. I listen to it before bed sometimes because I find it so soothing. Her set was the first time I've seen someone sit on the floor criss-cross and play guitar onstage. Sitting there with all of her pedals and cassettes and guitar in her lap, she looked like a girl messing around with recording equipment in her bedroom. It was endearing and sonically wonderful.

    Carla Bozulich came on after— never heard of her before, but she was a firecracker. Very impassioned. She sort of mocked some guy in the front next to me after he wouldn't grab her hand during a song, and she was singing "baby in the front row, he's scared of me, I'm 5 foot 3," but after she ended her set she told him she loved shy people and blew him a kiss.

    About two minutes later, I looked up at saw Michael Gira casually walking around the stage, getting everything ready. While Swans' is kind of intimidating on one hand, he has a casual and sort of humble air about him when it comes to the audience— you can tell they're really important to him.

    Not sure what to say from there on out about the show, because I don't really remember. I was in a different zone for the next two hours. I think I made eye contact with Gira twice, which kind of scared me, which is irrational, but whatever. I knew two things going into the show for sure: one, that their set was going to be improvisational (not in an unplanned way— it was VERY calculated— I mean in the sense that you're not necessarily hearing exactly what's on the recorded albums); and two, it was gonna be LOUD.

    It was overwhelming and it was incredible. It went on for two glorious hours, but it felt like one hour. I was totally transfixed. It all blended together, but the repetitive thudding of the bass and drums, the swelling guitars, and Gira's impassioned vocals were everything I expected and was there for. In a word: surreal, but I don't know if that's even appropriate. I remember seeing this elderly man and his wife up in the balcony several times when the lights would shift, and his wife had her ears covered with her hands every time I saw them. That was baffling. The show? It was a revelation.

    swans, michael gira, carla bozulich, grouper
  • Lana Del Rey at the WaMu Theater (Seattle, Washington), May 27, 2014

    29. Mai. 2014, 6:07

    Oh, Lana banana.

    There is a lot I could say about Lana Del Rey's show, but I mostly want to say that it was fucking exhausting. My friends and I got up at 5am and spent thirteen hours waiting outside to make sure that we got the barricade (which we did). The show itself was lovely— Lana was on point and her band was really great. Acoustics at the WaMu theater kind of sucked, but I could deal with that. Sadly, the most memorable part of the show was the crowd, and for all the wrong reasons.

    I am not kidding when I say that I spent the entirety of the show warding off feral teenage girls who were physically assaulting me. I had my 4'11" female friend in front of me and had my arms positioned around her against the barricade rail to prevent her from getting crushed, but a whole group of girls behind me did not seem to understand that. I was kicked, smacked in the face, had my ribcage pinched, hair pulled, had water poured on me, and one sixteen year old girl told me she was going to stab me if I didn't move out of her way. Luckily I'm 6'2" and weigh 200 pounds, so these insane bitches didn't have a fighting chance in hell, but it was extremely irritating and I lit into them multiple times throughout the show— some of them were scared of me after a certain point because I was taking zero shit and not being nice, literally just out of survival and so that my friend wouldn't get crushed or thrown over the barricade.

    As I said, we spent thirteen hours waiting outside on a sidewalk to guarantee that we would get front row— I earned that spot at the barricade, as did my friends, and these entitled brats couldn't deal with that. The show was, in short, absolutely bonkers. There were girls who were passing out and being carried away by security before the opening act even started. It was that bad. I can't even remember his name, but he was a local acoustic singer-songwriter from Seattle, and the crowd was appallingly rude to him. They had to turn the house lights on and give out water and stall the show after the opening act out of safety concerns.

    When Lana came on it surprisingly calmed down a bit, but I was shoved probably over 100 times throughout the night, and saw girl after girl after girl being carried away, stone-cold passed out. People were getting arrested by the
    police in the middle of the show as well. It was bordering on Roman Games-status.

    Lana herself was beautiful and her voice was really powerful live. She had backing vocal tracks in a lot of her songs, but she was not lip-synching. She opened the show with "Cola," which was great, and we got to hear a couple of songs from her new album, including "Ultraviolence," which I was really impressed with. At one point she came down to the barricade to meet fans, but stopped just before us and went back onstage to perform a couple of more songs to close out the set. It was disappointing, but she was so close to us that I didn't even care. She is such a mythical artist that it was surreal to see her in the flesh.

    Honestly though, the violent nature of the crowd was disturbing, especially since it was all such young girls— I wasn't aware that Lana had amassed such a huge fanbase of 10th grade idolaters in flower crowns. I expected some, but not in the numbers I witnessed. These girls were so crazy and violent over Lana that I felt like I was at a boy band concert. Every time I pushed back off the barricade to make room for my friend (as we were told to do by the security guards before Lana came onstage), the girls behind me all shrieked and acted as if I were abusing them— on two occasions they tried to ask the security to kick me out, but the security rightfully ignored them. The greatest affirmation was when, after the show ended, the security guy in front of us came up and gave me a thumbs up and told me I handled it as I should have— all of the girls behind me who had unsuccessfully spent three and a half hours attempting to destabilize and maul me to death were appalled by the security guard's comment.

    As horrible as this may sound, I'm glad I ruined those girls' night. They were entitled, spoiled brats, and I hope I taught them the sad life lesson that you won't always get what you want, especially when you try to cheat your way to the front and physically attack the people who waited diligently all day long. If any of you are reading this (which I doubt since you're probably thirteen and don't even know what last.fm is) you know who you are, and I have two words: Fuck off. You didn't deserve to be there in the first place, and I'm glad you barely got to see her.

    The fruits of labor paid off for the stage view that I got, but crucifixion at the hands of vapid spoilt princesses was a minor bump in the road. The show was great; the crowd, however, was not.


  • Body/Head at Con-Way building (Portland, Oregon), September 19, 2013

    20. Sep. 2013, 10:40

    I've been a casual fan of Sonic Youth since my junior year of high school, when I heard Sister (1987). I had become even more interested in Kim Gordon in particular due to the fact that she produced one of my favorite records of all time, Hole's Pretty On The Inside (1991). If you're familiar with Sonic Youth or anything Kim Gordon has been involved with, you'll know how unorthodox she is— in fact, I'd call her more of a performance artist than I would a musician, especially after having seen her live.

    Anyway, I knew that Sonic Youth had broken up a couple of years ago, and I also knew that Gordon had a new band, Body/Head, which consisted of her and guitarist Bill Nace, but it wasn't until I was browsing a record store last week that I realized they had released their debut album, Coming Apart, when I found it in the new release box. I compulsively purchased the record, and was blown away by the intensity of it. That night, I found out that the band was coming to Portland the following week. It almost seemed like fate in a way— I mean, how often do you purchase a record, only to find out hours later that the band is coming straight to your city, playing one of the first shows on their tour a week later?

    I arrived at the show, which was in a freight warehouse, being held as part of a month-long festival put on by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, with a friend. We were among the first inside, and while people went directly to the seats set up, we and many others gathered at the foot of the stage. The band came on around 10:45pm, within ten minutes or so of us entering the building, and the sonic booms came a'rollin'.

    The thing is, I knew that seeing them perform their music live would be a whole different experience from what's on their record, but I think the performance was actually ten times better than their recorded material ever could be. Gordon, along with her other guitarist, Bill Nace, steered through their loose set, free-playing the core tracks from Coming Apart, all the while a slow-motion projection of a man and woman in various states was playing behind them. The only word I can use to describe it is intoxicating. Spellbinding is a close second.

    I read in an interview last week that someone told Gordon that they wanted to have the band play music for them as they fell asleep, which I thought sounded odd in reference to the music on the record (which is incredibly dark), but after seeing them live, it makes sense to me. There was something brighter and less downtrodden about the band's live performance as opposed to what's on the album, which is at times downright frightening. Their live performance wasn't intimidating or particularly dark— just Gordon's sparse signature bellow and the rhythmical drone of electric guitar.

    I was right at the stage, and was within four or five feet of her for the entire performance, which was exhilarating. She at one point quite prettily played a harmonica underneath Bill Nace's screeching guitar, which was one of the most musically interesting moments of the show for me. She also got up on the monitors, flipping her guitar upside down, and at one point unplugged her guitar and played with the static feedback coming from the guitar cable as she wrapped it around her body. Near the end of the show, she knelt down at the foot of the stage, leaned into the audience, and was within five inches of my face, which took the cake. Part of me was a bit frightened in a sense by the intimacy, but I also got the feeling that she was at least comfortable enough with the audience to do such a thing, which was nice to know. That doesn't happen at every show you go to, and the vibe was right. In fact, the crowd there was among the friendliest and most laid back I can recall from any concerts I've been to lately.

    While what Kim Gordon has to offer isn't everyone's cup of tea (and Body/Head certainly won't be), what she does is intriguing. It may be "just noise", but it's also beautifully sculpted noise— the band's work is quite clearly less about songwriting than it is about experimenting with the fundamental elements of electric sound, but there experimental noise has enough contingency to form semi-moulded songs. Half of the time I couldn't make out what Gordon was singing during the live performance (which I was able to with the recorded material), but it didn't matter. I was there to be washed in sounds and images, and I got that and a whole lot more. Not that I ever had a lack of respect for Kim Gordon, but I have a newfound kind of respect for her after seeing what she brings to the table in the flesh. Definitely one of the most fascinating (if not most fascinating) experiences I've had at a concert.

    Two totally random side-notes:
    1) A girl in a hotdog body costume was writhing on the stage before the show began, and
    2) I saw one of my English professors there.

    Photos by me:

    , ,
  • Scout Niblett at Mississippi Studios (Portland, Oregon), August 24, 2013

    26. Aug. 2013, 7:39

    Scout Niblett— what a fucking show. After having seen Courtney Love last month in Seattle, going from the rather high-profile rock show that Love puts on, to such an intimate and personal experience that is part of Niblett's repertoire was enthralling to me as an audience member.

    Niblett was preceded by locals Hungry Ghost, who I quite enjoyed, and P.G. Six, from Brooklyn. Hungry Ghost was jammy and folky and rock and roll all in one— great guitars, and the drummer was impressive. P.G. Six was understated and quiet, but put on a handful of heartfelt folk ballads and was instrumentally really great— not a fan of his lyrics, but he can play guitar very well.

    I spotted Niblett smiling at the bar before she came on, getting a drink, flower in her hair. She came up onto the stage after walking through the audience, in a purple dress with red socks and donning an overstuffed backpack— she almost looked like a child about to get on a school bus. I was at the very front of the stage, no more than four feet away from her, and got to watch her in her zone as she tuned her Fender Mustang and set up her pedals. She's much more petite in person that I'd imagined her being, and also extremely youthful for her 38 years.

    Most of her set was comprised of songs from her new album, It's Up to Emma, and she gave soulful and passionate performances of each one. She treated the fans to a couple of older ones, such as the throttling "Nevada", and came back for a one-song encore with "Kiss".

    I was shocked at how much Niblett sounds as she does on her records— not that I expected her to be anything less than her recorded material, but her performances surpass the recorded material in a lot of ways. Her stage presence is quiet (in much contrast to the bursts of grungy noisiness that explode in many of her songs), and a far cry from the verbosity of performers like Courtney Love (who it should be noted is an inspiration to Niblett; she has cited Pretty On The Inside (1991) as one of her favorite albums). Niblett doesn't say much betweens songs, and doesn't look you in the eye either; instead of playing off the audience, the audience almost rather plays off of her.

    Having said that, that was precisely the only problem with the show— the audience. One drunk guy in particular badgered her between songs and leered and at one point collapsed and fell halfway onto the stage, knocking over his beer, to which she responded, in the midst of tuning her guitar, "Are you okay, dude?" I saw her make eye contact with him several times from that point onward, and she seemed visibly uncomfortable because of his presence.

    An ongoing joke that somehow got started was shouting "You're out of control!" to the bands (this included her opening acts as well), which she seemed perplexed by, and the joke got old fast. In my opinion, the audience played off of her TOO much, to the point that it became distracting and annoying. At one point, a girl shouted "I love you Scout, and we even love your weird guitar player!", and people continuously commented on her socks and her shoes and the stickers on her guitar. A few times Niblett murmured "Jesus Christ" and "oh my God" in response to the banter, smiling at it but also being somewhat taken aback. I wasn't the only audience member who was irked by this, as several people shouted about the joke being over and that they were there because of the music. It got to the point where it was uncalled for.

    Obviously this was no fault of hers, as her performance was flawless. Raw and tantalizing, awkward and beautiful, gritty and pristine. Despite the bizarre audience, she smiled several times while riffing on "Nevada" and a few other songs, so you could tell she was enjoying herself. The performances of songs from her new album were, as I mentioned, impassioned, and more down-tempo and serious than the performances of older material. Her new album reeks of being centered on the collapse of a relationship (it's most definitely a "break up album"), and emotion runs through the songs like they're lightning rods.

    This was my first time seeing Niblett live, surprisingly, especially considering she lives in Portland. Multiple audience members made "in" jokes about this, telling her "Welcome to Portland!" and "So, do you like this neighborhood, Scout?" Regardless, after having spent a great deal of time listening to her records over the past two years, it was a delight to finally see her in the flesh, and the quality of her performance was everything I could have hoped for. The venue, Mississippi Studios, is tiny, and that also lends the intimacy that Niblett's stage demeanor brings to the table, but it makes for a very up-close-and-personal sort of show.

    As a side note, I bought an awesome t-shirt from her merch table (which was being run by her lead guitarist when I went up to it, and he joked with me about agreeing that the white shirt was better than the blue one, as a couple eyeing the table were asking him odd and frankly stupid questions about the shirts). They also had "It's Up to Emma" and The Calcination of Scout Niblett for sale on CD and vinyl, as well as two singles. I was tempted to get a single, but stuck with the shirt. I already own "Calcination" on CD, and purchased "It's Up to Emma" on iTunes when it came out, as well as on vinyl at a local record shop last week, so I was already set with those.

    Needless to say, Niblett is a gem in the world of indie rock, and is one of the most interesting and unusual artists working in that terrain today as far as I'm concerned— she's someone whose records I will gladly continue to purchase, as well as someone whose future concerts I will undoubtedly be attending.

    Here's the shirt:

  • Courtney Love at the Moore Theatre (Seattle, Washington), July 23, 2013

    25. Jul. 2013, 6:38

    If you couldn't tell from my listening history which includes over 10,000 Hole plays, I'm a really big fan of Courtney Love. Like, a huge fan. I find her lyrics compelling and vivid, she's incredibly smart, and most of all, she's thick-skinned enough to give all of her detractors a "fuck you" and continue to do her thing. She's braved a lot of shit and been through horrible things, and the fact that she's even alive is a monumental accomplishment. She's an underdog, and she's inspiring. I never get tired of her or anything she's done.

    I saw her once at Bumbershoot in 2010 when she was billing herself as "Hole", despite being the only original member, and that was a big deal for me, but the vibe wasn't totally right— I don't like festivals typically, so her show at the Moore Theatre was much more intimate and, more importantly, everyone in the audience was there for the same reason.

    She came out after her opening act, Starred (who I'd describe as Sonic Youth meets Mazzy Star), in full form— not even a few minutes late. She opened with Plump, and tore into a set that mostly consisted of her Hole material from Live Through This and Celebrity Skin, as well as some great ones from the criminally underrated Nobody's Daughter— hell, we even got Pretty On The Inside out of her, which was an added bonus, as well as a cover of Fleetwood Mac's Gold Dust Woman, which she covered with Hole in 1996. Her inclusion of [track artist=Hole]Petals and Jennifer's Body in the set was pleasantly surprising to me— "Petals" was never even performed live, and she hasn't played "Jennifer's Body" for probably fifteen years.

    Her voice ain't what it was twenty years ago after decades of chain smoking and screaming, but she held her weight surprisingly well, and I was astounded at how much better she sounds live; her voice is technically unclean, but I've always liked it because it has a unique quality about it. She sounded better to me this time than she did in 2010. Speaking of which, she also LOOKED better. So much healthier. I was a bit taken aback by how thin she was in 2010, but she's put on some weight and looks better for it. She lit up a cigarette a few times throughout the show and put her leg up on the monitor just like she always has done, and her banter in-between songs was as funny as ever ("How many of you are gay?").

    Really, she puts on a class-act rock show, and that's the bottom line. She ain't Celine Dion, but that's never what she set out to be, and I admire her body of work and look up to her as a person who's survived despite seemingly insurmountable circumstances.

    She talked during the show about how the tour is just a teaser of sorts, and she's not able to play any new material from her upcoming album until it gets released in December. Knowing Courtney, that date will likely be pushed back, but she seemed pretty assured when she said she'd "be back around in December". I had decent seats at the theatre, but next time I'm forking out whatever I need to for front row if it's not general admission.

    We waited around after the show (I attended it with my brother's girlfriend who I converted into a fan), and saw her entire band up-close (Micko Larkin, her guitarist, Scott Lipps, her new drummer, and Shaun Dailey, her bassist). A bunch of fans gathered in a back alley behind the building, and we joined them and caught a glimpse of her for about a whole three seconds as she jumped into a car. A bit disappointing, but I can understand why she wouldn't want to say hello to fans in Seattle since so many people seem to hate her there over the whole Kurt conspiracy bullshit— that's one reason I hope she comes to Portland on her upcoming large tour.

    Bottom line, she killed it. She is the real deal, and this concert reinforced that. I had a wonderful time, and also got a great t-shirt and a limited screenprint of her which I framed today. It's by an artist named Greg Frederick in New York who is on a Facebook fan group that I'm a part of. I had a picture of myself in the t-shirt he designed (he did all of her merchandise at the show) which he asked my permission to put on his website.

    Can't wait till she gets back on the road with new material; she's widely despised by many people, but those of us who do love her, love her dearly.

    Complete set list:

    1) Plump
    2) Skinny Little Bitch
    3) Gold Dust Woman
    4) Malibu
    5) Violet
    6) For Once In Your Life
    7) Awful
    8) Pacific Coast Highway
    9) Asking For It
    10) Jennifer's Body
    11) Pretty On The Inside
    12) Honey
    13) Reasons To Be Beautiful
    14) Celebrity Skin
    15) Miss World
    16) Petals
    17) Dying
    18) Northern Star
    19) Doll Parts
  • Morrissey at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (Portland, Oregon), March 8, 2013

    13. Mär. 2013, 5:20

    Morrissey at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (8 Mar 2013)

    I've had a terrible crush on Morrissey for several years now (not just him, but his music, and his hair), and I was super bummed when he postponed his fall US tour. Fortunately, I was able to make it to the re-scheduled show, and it was fucking great.

    The opening act, Kristeen Young was interesting but just not my thing (she reminded me of a weird cross between Diamanda Galás and Björk, which is strange because I like both of them). After she finished her set, there were multiple clips projected of old live performances from Joan Baez, New York Dolls, and the music video for Nico's debut single, "I'm Not Saying" (1965), all of whom are inspirations for Morrissey.

    Anyway, on to him— he played a great mix of songs spanning his whole career, including some classic Smiths tunes ("Still Ill", "Meat Is Murder", "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want"), and a great combo of his solo stuff ("Everyday Is Like Sunday", "Irish Blood, English Heart", "Let Me Kiss You", "You Have Killed Me", "You're the One for Me, Fatty", "Ouija Board, Ouija Board").

    His stage presence was great and his vocals were in top form, and his backing band were incredibly talented musicians. He took his shirt off, which I was wondering as to whether or not that would happen (in the same space as Morrissey without a shirt on? Yes, I have been!). We also got a disturbing montage of clips from inside slaughterhouses during "Meat Is Murder" to accompany the song, most of which I've seen before (I also wasn't subjected to Moz's guilt trip because I've been a vegetarian for 9 years and was a vegan for 2). It was an especially intense performance of that song since he's so passionate about the subject matter, and the music was harsh and we got some great thundering gong drums at the end.

    He later encouraged the audience to come up to the stage to smell his "great cologne" he had on, but the security sent everyone back to their seats after about 10 minutes. A bit later he passed the mic into the front row and one of the people asked why the security was so uptight, to which the crowd naturally cheered. The others who had the mic were obviously starstruck and said little aside from the typical "we love you!", which he poked fun at: "You sure you don't wanna think this one through?" he asked before passing the microphone to the next person.

    It was really a great experience, but was tonally a lot different from other shows I've been to. I left the concert feeling mildly depressed, but that's just what his music does to me. He writes sad songs for sad people, and he's done a damn good job at it. It really was a flawless performance.

    I can also now proudly scratch him off my list of "legends I must see live before I die" (the first was Courtney Love/Hole). In fact, aside from him and C. Love, I can't think of any other musicians who I've had a huge urge to see live (not that I wouldn't WANT to see as much live music as possible, just that him and her were at the top of my list).

    I read that he canceled his San Francisco show the night following his Portland concert, so I'm assuming his health condition that secondarily post-poned several shows on his re-scheduled tour must have interfered again. I would have had no idea he had anything wrong because he was in top form. Hoping he makes his way back again, I will gladly go see him again. He bade us farewell by reminding us to be grateful to be alive (something he repeated throughout his set in-between songs). Well, yes, Morrissey, it is great to be alive, and I hope you're grateful as well.

  • What's the Deal With Lana Del Rey?

    29. Aug. 2012, 5:53

    Last fall, a pouty-lipped songstress took internet music culture by storm when she unleashed her moody track "Video Games"— a plodding ballad accompanied by a music video consisting of vintage film stock and 8mm footage assembled by the artist herself. I was first introduced to her through this music video, which my brother had sent to me, and I initially dismissed it. Pretty, but boring, I thought. That was in October.

    Fast-forward to January— I had just gotten out of the hospital from a cancer surgery and was weak and moody. I wasn't working, so I spent quite a bit of time on the computer, and somehow crossed paths with this Lana Del Rey character once again, only this time it was her single, the title track "Born to Die". Something about her unusual vocals and the almost trip-hop nature of the music caught me by surprise. While sampling other tracks from her upcoming album, I found myself impressed and enthusiastic in my post-op languor.

    The week she released the album, I went to the store I paid up $9.99 for the debut, and I found myself in sonic heaven, although she took time to grow on me. I can't quite pin exactly what it is about this woman that is as captivating as it is, but I was totally taken by her songs. This is coming from someone who considers Courtney Love one of the greatest songwriters of her generation, and who can happily listen to The Germs on repeat— in short, straight-laced pop music has never been my thing. So why did I find myself enjoying this Del Rey character so much?

    Well, perhaps because, while she is very much "pop", she's anything but straight-laced. Invoking the likes of Chris Isaak, Del Rey definitely has her own brand, and that brand is selling— although that very brand itself has simultaneously ignited skepticism from audiences and critics. As bits of Del Rey's past leaked into the media, it became known that she had previously recorded and briefly released a self-titled album in 2010 under her real name, Elizabeth Grant, and had it pulled before embarking on her Lana Del Rey musical path.

    This truth, which she admits, led to a backlash from critics accusing her of being a musical marketing gimmick, having re-invented and sold herself for a shot at fame. Others dug deeper and purported that her millionaire father had helped buy her way into the industry, although it's been documented that she apparently lived in a trailer park when she recorded her first album. People also alleged plastic surgery, which appears a possibility though she vehemently denies it.

    These bizarre details of her life are conflicting, though I'd assume there's a certain amount of truth to all of them. She probably does have a rich dad; I mean, after all, she did attend a private boarding school and grew up in upstate New York, which is a far cry from Section 8 housing. I'd also say that it's probably true that she lived in a trailer park at one point, perhaps as a result of "poor little rich girl" syndrome. And although her transformation from a cutesy blonde indie writer to a glamorous and sultry pin-up songstress is very likely part-industrial, I have listened to her original album and I have to say that I think the girl had it all along.

    Although I admit her Saturday Night Live performance was shoddy (a performance often cited by her detractors), I chalk that up to her blowing up in the media without significant preparation for what was coming, and while people continue to spat over her origins and authenticity, I've kind of sat on the sidelines and just enjoyed the music.

    Sonically, the music is cinematic and elaborate, stirring up elements of hip hop and chamber pop with heavy doses of both the melancholy and the sugary. One minute she's bemoaning the loss of a lover ("Blue Jeans"), and the next she's obnoxiously reveling in her disturbing, pseudo-Freudian daddy issues ("Off to the Races"), and you can't help but want to listen to it in all its ostentatious glory. She even goes as far as channeling Fiona Apple in "Million Dollar Man", with vocals that leave me slack-jawed.

    Aside from the solid melodies and atmospheric nature of the music, I think a big part of Del Rey's appeal is in her lyrics, which are saturated with American materialism and pop culture innuendo. Del Rey's words read like diary entries of a miserable socialite; a bi-coastal L.A./Manhattan baby who divvies up her time between partying in New York and lounging around the Chateau Marmont lamenting her life; kind of a like a hybrid of Marilyn Monroe and Paris Hilton if she had half a brain, and that dichotomy is what I think makes Del Rey as enchanting as she is.

    She blurs the lines between the classic and the current, and uses catchy beats and kitschy lyrics to sing her dreamscapes across to us. While some may deride the shallowness that comes with that, I have to wonder if Del Rey's ghetto/classique image and lounge siren shtick aren't entirely self-aware and completely intentional. If they are, and she's utilizing that image as a means of cultural commentary, I'd argue that she's near genius. But is that really the case? Or is she simply a girl with a pretty voice that's been sold to us in the present trend of "vintage"?

    When it comes down to it, I'm not sure I really care either way. If I had the opportunity to have a few off-the-record words with her myself, that would probably be the first thing I'd ask her about, though— whether or not this trifling 1940s starlet persona is borderline satire, or if she's 100% serious. The truth is, though, that we'll probably never really know, and that makes her all the more intriguing.
  • Rate the Albums: Hole

    19. Aug. 2012, 8:37

    1) Live Through This (1994)

    Most Hole fans will agree that this is the band's quintessential album; their "magnum opus", if you will, and they're probably right. In terms of chronology, the record works as a bridge between the band's noise rock beginnings and their more polished pop years, and serves up some of the greatest rock tracks of the decade. Courtney Love's lyrics are clever and intelligent, and her rhythm guitar serves as a solid backdrop for Eric Erlandson's skillful guitar work.

    It's a strange album in the sense that it's mournfully quiet and slow at times (tracks like "Doll Parts" and "Softer, Softest" being prime examples), and before you know it you're getting gleefully punched in the face by songs like "Gutless", or "She Walks Over Me"— both of which contain punk riffs that would have given The Germs a run for their money.

    While the formula to these songs is fairly straightforward, it's a formula that works, and the creative touches are magnificent. Love's vocals, though technically sub-par, are soulful and sincere, and the songs give her plenty of opportunity to scream her lungs blue like she's built to, as well as time to showcase her softer edges. She's very self-aware here, and in a good way.

    Although hampered by Kurt Cobain's synchronous suicide (and even further so by the rumors that he'd written the whole thing and that she killed him), it's the album that established Courtney Love as a punk rock princess, and provided an emotional outlet for legions of frustrated young women. Even the hardcore Nirvanaphiles will admit that "Violet" is an incredible song... whether or not they're willing to give Love credit for penning it is another story.

    2) Pretty On The Inside (1991)

    With as polarizing a woman as Courtney Love is, it's not surprising that her band's debut is probably just as polarizing for audiences. Very few people can find a middle ground on this one, and I can't blame them. On an instrumental level, the record is calculated but unpolished, with sludgy, raucous guitars and schizophrenic alterations in speed and volume. Just when you think you have a second to catch your breath, the band kicks you in the ass.

    Speaking of catching your breath— I have to marvel at Love's primal howling here. Her gravelly vocals are at times completely astounding— her screaming on the album is as powerful as just about any female rock vocalist I can think of, rivaled only by her friend/former bandmate Kat Bjelland of Babes In Toyland. In any case, Love's got lungs that you wouldn't believe for a chain smoking 27 year old.

    If her searing screams aren't enough, her lyrics on the album are utterly fascinating and disturbing. Her unique way with words is well-exercised here, and her life trauma well-expressed. Some of these songs are almost hallucinogenic and actually somewhat frightening to listen to ("Mrs. Jones"), but all of them are really just an absolute sonic rush of frustration and despair.

    After 32 minutes of scathing lyrics and a symphony of screaming guitars, the album comes crashing down with the title track "Pretty On The Inside", followed by the coda "Clouds", a gory reworking of Joni Mitchell's classic folk tune. Quite spectacular, really. If you like your rock raw, then this album will treat you well. Cathartic is possibly the best word for it, but it's definitely not easy listening. Like I said, it's love it or hate it. I adore it.

    3) Celebrity Skin

    If you could imagine a rock 'n roll polar opposite to Pretty on the Inside, this album would probably be it. Well, maybe not totally. It has its rocker moments, but overall the band re-dressed themselves here, trading in the punk influences of their previous records for a more sparkly and pop-inflated sound. While perhaps not as interesting as the group's previous work, it is their most musically advanced. The instrumentation here is not just calculated this time— it's calculated and well groomed.

    In an effort to pull the band in a more commercial circuit, Love and crew took their instrumental talents and dressed them with her talented penwomanship, eternally marred by misery but also freshly adorned with a glitter dusting that she accumulated in her budding movie career at the time.

    There's a dreamy California sound that permeates the album which was very clearly strived for, and at times the vocal harmonies are reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac. Though not what you'd necessarily expect from a woman who has screamed her way through her music career, there is a beauty in this record that is unmatched by the rest of the band's output. As I mentioned, the album does have its "rock" moments (the title track "Celebrity Skin" and "Reasons To Be Beautiful" are about as heavy as it gets), but it is largely composed of clean, tight melodies with very little dirt around the edges.

    Lyrically, Love is interesting and poetic as always, and Erlandson's guitar work here is especially admirable— sprightly tunes like "Heaven Tonight", as well as the melancholic acoustic work on "Northern Star" are both impressive and beautiful. It should also be noted that Billy Corgan helped write several songs on the album as well, which Love and the band openly stated and meticulously credited him for in the liner notes. It wasn't Kurt Cobain's ghost, promise.

    4) Nobody's Daughter (2010)

    I feel weird putting this one behind the rest of the albums in light of the fact that Courtney Love adamantly believes this is "the best record she's ever made", but I can't help my feelings now, can I? No doubt she worked painfully hard on these songs— it was written largely while she was in and out of rehab and dealing with lots of personal issues— but the outcome ultimately was less impactful on me than the group's other albums.

    It should be noted that the only remaining original member of the band on this record is Love herself, so there's a different chemistry at work behind the songs. Her guitarist, a young British musician named Micko Larkin, is a very skilled player, though I'm not sure Love even plays any instruments on the album. The songs here are something of a mashup of all of Love's past influences, so it's got a very unique feel to it. There's a blend of guttural rock tracks like the snarky "Skinny Little Bitch", as well as more mellow songs, like the acoustic dirge "Honey" or the nostalgic "Pacific Coast Highway". They're all very sonically tight songs and a different breed of rock from what you'd find on the band's pre-millenium recordings.

    Lyrically, Love is less cryptic than before, which, depending on who you ask, is either an accomplishment or a disappointment. I don't know how I quite feel about it. Corgan helped write the music on a few songs on this as well, while producer Linda Perry wholly penned the track "Letter To God", which I personally find the weakest track on the record. Love's vocals here are rich and tinged by years of chain smoking, giving her an almost Bob Dylan-like sound (the album's acoustic closing track, "Never Go Hungry", sounds like something straight off of a Dylan record actually, and is possibly my favorite track on the album), which has hindered her screaming abilities a bit but given her a different style to work with.

    All in all, I can't say this is a bad record— it's actually a very good record— but for those who came to know and love Hole from their earlier work, it's a difficult pill to swallow for some fans. Regardless, the songs are accomplished (though not wholly attuned to my tastes) and I applaud Love for following her heart and getting back to what she does best.

    5) My Body, the Hand Grenade (1997)

    The fact here is that this is a compilation album, and in the case of this band, the consequence of that is the whole does not equal the sum of its parts. This record consists of all of the band's earliest singles and b-sides, and charts their progression from basement studio noisemakers to accomplished songwriters. The truth is that, while they may have been basement noisemakers once-upon-a-time, both Love and Erlandson showed a unique approach and potential to songwriting.

    Fleshing out the b-sides and singles are live tracks from MTV Unplugged and a couple of other oddities, including the band's first recorded song ever, the sludgy "Turpentine", as well as the ever-discussed "Old Age", which was recorded once as a b-side to "Beautiful Son" in '93 and later re-worked during the Live Through This sessions. The track has infamy for its melody and chorus having been written by Cobain, who passed it onto Love, who then rewrote all of the lyrics and gave it her own brand of abstract gloom.

    When it comes down to it, I love every song on this album, but as a compilation, it's... odd. The plus side of it is that it contains the majority of the band's original singles and b-sides (some of which were vinyl-only releases), and puts them all in one place. It's an interesting listen in terms of tracking the band's evolution, but is one of those things that's kind of a "fans only" sort of deal.

    6) Ask For It (1995)

    Again, this is a kind of "fans only" release. Put out in 1995, the year after Live Through This, it was the group's first EP and features recordings from BBC John Peel Sessions, done in 1991. The nice thing about this is that it serves as documentation of such tracks as "Violet" and "Doll Parts" existing before the Love-Cobain affair, which squashes in most logical people's minds the idea that Cobain wrote some of Hole's most popular songs.

    Other goodies include a cover of "Over the Edge", originally by the Portland punk band The Wipers, which is kind of like Love's salute to her musical roots as a teenager floating around Portland, Oregon in the 1980s. Aside from the kind of secret handshake going on there, it's actually just a damn good cover.

    The EP also features a devastating cover of "Pale Blue Eyes" recorded at the Whisky A Go Go in 1992, purportedly at a concert where Kurt Cobain was in attendance. The EP ends itself with two fragmented covers joined together: "Hot Chocolate Boy" by Beat Happening and "Forming" by The Germs. Keeping in mind Love's outspoken distaste for Olympia, Washington and all of its exclusive indie music congregations (ala Beat Happening), as well as her adoration for The Germs, I can only think that this barely-2-minute cover was done as love/hate juxtaposition. Regardless, it's clever. Though this EP comes in last place on my Hole reviews, that's not because it's bad— it's merely because it has the least to offer.
  • St. Vincent at Crystal Ballroom (Portland, Oregon), October 14, 2011

    15. Okt. 2011, 19:06

    Fri 14 Oct – St. Vincent, Cate le Bon

    I think I'd be understating Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) if I said that she killed it last night, because it was beyond that. Welsh singer/songwriter Cate le Bon opened for Clark, playing some almost Celtic-sounding songs and belting them out with a voice that I'd describe as a contralto Nico. It was soft and pretty but also really powerful and she seemed a bit shy, but I give her props because she held her own and her work was interesting.

    As for the main attraction, well— this was my first time seeing Annie Clark live; I've been a fan of hers since Actor, and also really enjoyed her mellow debut, Marry Me, but her most recent album, Strange Mercy, is perhaps her strongest work. I've watched her play live online in videos and all, but seeing it in person was an entirely different experience. She is a truly incredible guitarist. Truly incredible. She can shred like crazy and she has the voice of angel that can quickly turn devilish at the turn of a chord. Notable songs: she covered The Pop Group's "She's Beyond Good And Evil", and it was probably her heaviest song of the night; she absolutely tore it up and I loved every second of it. Her renditions of "Cheerleader" and "Your Lips Are Red" were among the best, though I can't really say anything bad about anything she did up there. There was one technical mishap when she started to play the title track of the new album, "Strange Mercy", in which something went out of key and the programmer had a bit of feedback going on/her vocals turned down, which caused her to lead the band to a halt and restart the song. "Sorry, that's not in the right key," she said sweetly. And after resuming the song, she threw up her middle finger in the air while singing as a bit of feedback briefly emanated from the speakers.

    That's the magnificence of her though— her angelic voice and soft chamber music that completely flips itself over and goes math rock on you. She comes off as sweet and almost childlike, but after listening for a moment you realize that there's something very dark about her understanding of the world, kind of like that of a precocious, cynical child. There's a dichotomy to her work there, and the balance between the calm and serene, and the violent and frenzied is always present. The audience loved her, and she came back for an encore and also remarked Portland on our coffee. "You guys don't understand," she said. "We've been in the middle of America for the past few weeks." Oh, we understand Annie, we do.

    Do not hesitate to see this woman live. She is unbelievable, and one of the few true talents we have out there right now.