Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Spiral Stairs / Mac McCaughan at the Cat's Cradle Back Room - 6/27/2017

Spiral Stairs
With Mac McCaughan
Cat's Cradle Back Room

Hey, I saw  Mac McCaughan play again!  For those keeping track at home, you're doing better than me - I've lost count at this point the number of times I've seen the Superchunk frontman in his various forms.  He played sitting down with an acoustic guitar, which seems normal but I feel like most of the times I've seen him solo he's played an electric.  There were a couple of new songs, some of his solo songs, and of course a few Superchunk songs - "Driveway to Driveway," "Sick to Move," "Digging for Something," the rarely heard but awesome "Rope Light," and "Nu Bruises," which Mac noted might be the first time he's ever played that one on an acoustic guitar.  Given that I've gone to see this man play dozens upon dozens of times, is it even necessary to point out that it was great?  Well, it was, as always. 

Back in my Bay Area days, I got to see Scott Kannberg's first post-Pavement band Preston School of Industry a few times since he was also living in the area at the time, and it was always delightful - more understated/less bombastic than the work Stephen Malkmus was putting out by himself, but just as catchy.  Soon after he started performing under the name Spiral Stairs (his nickname on the early Pavement records), but his sound remained the same.  And then after the release of "The Real Feel" in 2009...he disappeared.  Yadda yadda yadda, it's a few years and some random festival Pavement reunions later, he puts out a really good new platter called "Doris & the Daggers," goes on tour, and luckily I get to see him play again for the first time in at least a decade.  They kicked off their set with a cover of Roxy Music's "Flesh and Blood," which reminded me to listen to more Roxy Music (I have this same thought every time I hear Roxy Music).  After that, it was lots of tracks from the new record, and towards the end they even tossed in a couple of Preston School of Industry gems.  This was all great, don't get me wrong, but my inner fanboy ecstatic he was ending the show with a few Pavement jams.  Looking at his set lists from other gigs this is pretty common, but you know what's not common?  Pavement drummer Steve West was at the show as a spectator, and actually got behind the kit for a four-song pseudo-Pavement reunion: "Hit the Plane Down," "Date with IKEA," "Kennel District," and the one that unsurprisingly got the biggest sing-a-long, "Two States."  It was a little sloppy, as I don't think Steve had played these songs in ages, but that just added to the charm.  It was a great night all around, and hopefully it's not another decade before Spiral Stairs decide to do this again.  Also, a full reunion Pavement tour would be totally fine with me. 

Iron Maiden / Ghost at PNC Music Pavilion - 6/9/2017

Iron Maiden
With Ghost
PNC Music Pavilion

As you could easily guess from my show history, I don't go in for these types of huge concerts at arenas or amphitheaters or in this case, pavilions.  Sometimes though, you just decide you've never seen Iron Maiden and they aren't getting any younger, so why the hell not? 

The opener was Ghost from Sweden.  The singer dresses like a demented pope and the rest of the band is wearing masks.  I know this more from seeing photos of the band than what I saw on the stage, because we were so damn far could kinda make out the pope hat at best.  They sounded pretty good - much more melodic than I was expecting based on their look (you always expect a demented pope to shade more to the black metal descriptor, right?).  There were a lot of Ghost shirts in the crowd, so clearly this was a pretty popular opener - I give them the thumbs up as well.  Still, it's weird watching a metal band when it's still daylight outside.  Pretty sure they played the Lincoln Theatre not too long ago, I'd be down to see them again in that more intimate setting. 

While there was no shortage of the expected white trash and rednecks at the show, the percentage was much lower than expected.  And speaking of percentages, I figured the crowd would be at least 70% male, but in reality I'd put that number closer to 80-85%.  It was a real schlong city.  The guy behind us spent a long time giving dating tips to a seven year old, threatening to beat someone's ass over the phone, and referring to someone as "a sack of chicken wings sewn into human form."  The guy that was briefly in front of us took his shirt off, threw it into the crowd, and then walked away never to be seen again.  I would bet at least 50% of the crowd was wearing Maiden shirts - I gotta think that band makes more off of merch than they do music and concerts combined. 

Speaking of Maiden, eventually they took the stage just as it was getting dark.  It was everything I hoped it would be - huge "Indiana Jones" set, flash pots going off left and right, crazy lights and smoke, different Eddie banners for every song, and most importantly, the band sounded great.  Probably the most impressive part was how active and agile the band was, especially singer Bruce Dickinson - pacing the stage, jumping off of monitors, up and down from the multiple tiers of set - I bet he covered five miles easy, not bad for a man nearly sixty years old!  Long story short on the set, the highlights were "The Trooper" and "Number of the Beast," but they didn't play "Run to the Hills" much to my chagrin - something I would have known if I had looked at their set lists before the show, as they've been playing the same set for this entire tour.  The lack of that song was my only complaint from an otherwise stellar show.  Next time I'm splurging for better seats though. 

Oh, and then as we left, I saw more people so drunk they were walking leaned back at a 45 degree angle than I've ever seen in my entire life.  Which was especially impressive because all the beer was shit and it cost twelve bucks a can.  Some of those folks must have spent their whole paycheck to get to that state, that's dedication. 

(Photo found online, as far as I know Miley Cyrus was not at this concert.)

Redd Kross / Maple Stave at the Pinhook - 5/1/2017

Redd Kross
With Maple Stave
The Pinhook

Much to my delight, the Pinhook moved the start time of this show back one hour at some point between my leaving the house and it actually starting...I guess the upside is I got to catch up on all of those news articles I had saved on my phone as I stood around waiting for that hour.  The downside is...I had to stand around for that hour.  It's not watching paint dry that is the true measure of time moving slowly, it's waiting for a show to start. 

The lone opener was Maple Stave, a local band that's been around for a while, but that I had somehow never seen before.  This trio was some good, old fashioned late-nineties-style math rock - angular rhythms, no bass, aluminum baritone guitars, some vocals but mostly instrumental, small tinges of Jawbox, larger tinges of Hurl and Dianogah...they sounded like an act My Pal God would have released if Maple Stave had existed in 1997 (the band is old, but not that old).  I would have literally shit my britches to have local talent like this twenty years ago, but these days this type of music just doesn't get my juices flowing like it used to.  By no means am I saying Maple Stave was bad - they were actually impressively strong musicians - it's more that my tastes have shifted, as they often do when you age from 20 to 40.  I wasn't mad about seeing them though, and I'm glad bands like this still exist out in the music world.  

Let's move on to what motivated a lazy asshole like myself to drive over to Durham and walk a few blocks in the rain to get to the Pinhook...Redd Kross.  The most noteworthy difference this time around - the Melvin's Dale Crover was the guest drummer on this tour.  The songs still sounded pretty much the same, but the drums definitely felt heavier, or at least were being hit much harder.  Most of the set was a mix of old and new, including a few songs from the (somewhat) recent and (very) excellent "Researching The Blues" - specifically, they played my favorite song "Downtown," and the gig goes down in the book as a success for that track alone.  Somewhere around the middle of their performance they played their 1984 record "Teen Babes From Monsanto" in full from start to finish, to commemorate their recent re-release of the title.  What can you really say about vets like Redd Kross that haven't been said so many times before?  They deliver an arena-worthy performance no matter the size of the room, and the packed crowd ate it up.  Standing at the front of the stage to take photos, I could see their set list was nearly Guided By Voices in length - I lasted about three quarters of the way through before that extra hour of standing around waiting spoke up and told me enough was enough. 

Dinosaur Jr at the Cat's Cradle - 4/1/2017

Dinosaur Jr
Cat's Cradle

Dinosaur Jr has been doing their thing for over thirty years now, and even doing that thing with the original line-up for the past ten years, so there's not really a lot to report here that hasn't been said so many times before by people much more skilled in the art of word manipulation and adequate grammar.  The guys might be older, but the music is as vibrant to me as ever.  It's interesting to think that this band's most popular records are older than the music I considered "oldies" when I was a kid - despite that, there was definitely a ton of young people in the crowd, which mostly made my heart happy, and also slightly annoyed me because they had the gall to get to the Cradle way before me and then stand in front of me like a bunch of responsible attendees.

I suppose the big difference for me is that unlike the last time I saw Dinosaur Jr, they didn't play "Bug" in it's entirety.  Instead, it was a number of songs from their most recent release "Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not" mixed with classics like "Freak Scene," "Thumb," "Start Choppin," "Feel the Pain," and my person favorite on the night "The Wagon."  It sounded great, especially after I moved back near the soundboard when I finished taking photos.  If you've seen the band before, you can picture in your head what the stage looked like - J Mascis standing nearly still the whole time in front of a wall of Marshall amps, rarely talking, and shredding his guitars; Murph playing the drums like someone took the spirit of Animal from the Muppets and put it into the body of an accountant; and I'm not sure I saw Lou Barlow's face the entire time, just a frenzied nest of hair while he lurched back and forth on his bass. 

It might have all been predictable, this band that has been around so long, doing things I've seen them do a number of times before, but it was still plenty fun and I'll gladly do it again if and when Dinosaur Jr come back to town.