Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Feelies Touch Boston

The Feelies at The Paradise Club, Boston, 5/12/12

A small but enthusiastic crowd took in a characteristically lengthy, slowly-building set from The Feelies in what appears to be shaping up as an annual visit to Beantown. Almost exactly a year from the band’s last area appearance at Cambridge’s Middle East, the Jerseyites this time took the stage at The Paradise.

The two sets featured 34 songs, representing a wide selection from the cult heroes’ back catalog, as well as nine songs from 2011’s Here Before. True to form, they also sprinkled in quite a few choice covers, which included most of the usual selections and one surprise in Dylan’s “Seven Days.”  

The Paradise Rock Club, Boston  5/12/12
First Set
•  Bluer Skies*
•  For Now
•  There She Goes
•  Invitation
•  Nobody Knows
•  Should Be Gone
•  Let’s Go
•  Again Today
•  For Awhile
•  The High Road
•  On the Roof
•  When You Know
Second Set
•  Deep Fascination
•  On and On
•  Higher Ground
•  The Final Word
•  Away
•  Slipping (Into Something)
•  Doin’ It Again
•  Way Down
•  Time Is Right
•  Too Far Gone
•  Raised Eyebrows
•  Crazy Rhythms
•  Seven Days
•  Box Cars (Carnival of Sorts)
•  Paint It Black
•  Take It As It Comes
•  Fa Ce-La
•  Everybody’s Got Something to Hide
•  She Said She Said
•  I Go to Sleep in Your Arms
•  Later On
•  So Far
* Not sure if this was the opening track since I arrived mid song on this one.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

M. Ward Rocks ... Sublimely

M. Ward, House of Blues, Boston, 5/8/12 

I finally got to see Matt Ward perform recently at Boston’s House of Blues. I’ve long anticipated this based on the facts that I’ve long heard from discerning muso friends that he puts on a good show and that I own all seven of his studio releases.

Despite all this, I didn’t really know quite what to expect in terms of which of the Portland, Ore., singer/songwriter’s multiple incarnations would come to the fore in concert this time around: The folky singer/songwriter, the lyrically sharp crooner, the closet rocker, the folk guitarist with the tasteful country jazz flare? I was fairly confident that it would be a lot more formidable than his pop forays as part of She & Him (with Zooey Dashanel) or the rootsy singer/songwriter supergroup Monsters of Folk (with Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James). With regard to the latter, I was one the mark; as to the former, Ward’s performer featured a bit of it all.

The guy is an accomplished pop craftsman, an emotive singer with a truly unique voice (one that takes some getting used to for some), and a masterful guitarist who avoids flamboyance despite his impressive chops. His tuneful constructions featured spritely finger-picking forays and he even played a few instrumental songs, both solo and with his quartet of drums, bass and acoustic/pedal steel. And you don’t cover John Fahey unless you’re serious about your guitar playing – and quite confident in your ability to pull it off. Ward didn’t disappoint at all.

His set list was perfect as far as I’m concerned, if surprisingly weighted toward earlier works, particularly 2006’s Post War release. Bafflingly, he featured only three songs from the just-released A Wasteland Companion. But he played nearly all my faves from his robust catalog.

What did it sound like? Well, for the uninitiated, it’s American country-folk with hints of rock and a notable jazzy undercurrent, most evident in Ward’s crooning and his modal chording. There are shades of Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen and Buddy Holly, mixed with a bit of country twang, folk melody and rockabilly spirit, all filtered through modern production with genuine artistic sensibility. Though slight in stature, make no mistake: M. Ward is musically a man of great substance and taste.

Throughout 80 minute set, his fingers danced across both acoustic and electric guitars, and he even tickled the ivories for one song on the otherwise neglected piano at stage left toward the end of the evening. Besides the Fahey cover, Ward dusted off his transformative slow acoustic rendition of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” featured on 2003’s Transfiguration of Vincent, rollicked through a bouncy version of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” and kicked off the encore with Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” (see video above).

Ward may not yet be a household name – though the Dashanel partnership would be the fast track to that if not for the pseudo-anonymity of the duo's collaborative moniker – but he’s got far reaching appeal that should resonate with the masses, not just critics and connoisseurs.


M. Ward, House of Blues, Boston 5/8/12
Post War
For Beginners
I’m Gonna Give You Everything
Chinese Translation
Fuel for Fire
guitar instrumental
Let’s Dance
Magic Trick
Me and My Shadow
I Get Ideas
Primitive Girl
John Fahey song
Fisher of Men
Rave On
   Roll Over Beethoven
   Big Boat

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hitting “The Wall”

I’ve been listening to the new remastered release of The Wall this week. Pink Floyd’s monumental 1980 CD has been on my mind lately not just because of this new issue, but also because I just bought tickets to take my teenage daughter to see Roger Water’s updated rendition of the spectacular personal dystopia at Fenway Park this summer.

I’ve resisted previous opportunities to see Waters’ brick-by-brick revisitation mainly because the very first concert I ever saw was Pink Floyd’s last U.S. performance of the masterpiece in Long Island in 1980. The real deal: hard to top that! Hence, I’ve been reticent to risk tainting that memory with a lesser construction. But friends with discerning musical tastes who have seen Waters’ performance have assured me that I would not be disappointed. And it was hard to resist the idea of the old ballpark’s famed Green Monster mutating into Waters’ psycho-barricade.

But back to the reissue of the original CD. Yes, the original two record set does sounds a little bit crisper in the is new version, but I bought it for the “work-in-progress” band demos for the album included on the third disc, not for the marginal modernization of the originally released material.

The band sketches of these songs we all know and admire (if not love – that sentiment doesn’t seem quite fitting for most of these twisted tunes, somehow) are interesting in that they are evidence of how much the band and producer Bob Ezrin worked on the material in the studio. That is to say, the raw songs weren’t much akin to the polished gem they became.

Waters’ stuff is all idea and little execution. Gilmour’s parts are predictably much more polished musically, but not fully developed—in fact, the demo version of “Comfortably Numb” is surprisingly weak. Wrights keyboard parts are interesting, when they’re noticeable.

Perhaps unlike many listeners, I usually enjoy demos of well-know masterful works for what they reveal about the raw essence of the songs, the initial inspired impulse that, eventually refined, yields something for the ages. Somehow this batch of demos doesn’t quite leave me with that feeling or appreciation. Again, it does drive home how far the songs came, but mostly it leaves me wondering how the band got from this ... to that!

So, ultimately, I guess these demos are revealing, just not in the ways that I expected or which will lead me to repeated listening.