Monday, September 19, 2005

i hear you sing a golden hymn

Banyan, 12 Galaxies, September 17, 2005: I went into this with no idea what to expect. Sure, it’s a supergroup, and they had played the Monterey Jazz Fest the night before, but c’mon, I wanted to check out Nels Cline. Man, is he one hard-working fellow. Even without the Wilcos, I think he’s been through the Bay Area at least three other times this year. To think how often he’d be here if it weren’t for those commitments!

Banyan comprises the drummer from Jane’s Addiction (Stephen Perkins), Mike Watt, Nels, three horn players whose names I don’t recall, and at 12 Galaxies, another guitarist. Stephen Perkins is very much the linchpin. His drum set was front and center, and he was flanked on his right by the horn section. Standing behind them (and hidden from my view for much of the show) was Mike Watt on bass. On Perkins’s left were Nels and the other guitarist. The horns were very prominent, but more germane to my interests, Nels was definitely a background player. I barely heard him at all for the first song, and he often deferred to the other older gentleman guitarist for various passages. But he put in his trademark frenzied guitar attacks on a few songs, as well as the more melodic stuff.

I know very little about jazz, so my opinion on the music should be taken with a truckful of Morton’s, but from what I could tell, a lot of the songs sounded much more aggressive and rock-based than what I associate with the jazz genre. They covered a range of styles, from mellow, swaying grooves to aggro tunes that made you want to bounce up and down. It was kinda cool, but I have to admit it’s not my style at all. The band played a second set, but I didn’t stick around for it. If you dig Nels, it’s always worth it to get a glimpse into his varied interests, but at the same time, it wasn’t a hugely illuminating idea of what turns him on (musically), considering how small a role he seemed to have with the group.

Side note: The crowd watching was hilarious. First of all, there was the most conspicuous taper EVER next to me, who held up a big backpack in the direction of the stage for a good 20 minutes. Then there were many, many people who looked like, as far as they were concerned, they considered every day to be Burning Man. And then you had the chronically unfunky. Ahhh, but who am I to judge?? Heh.

Arcade Fire, the Warfield, September 18, 2005: Continuing their trail of world domination, the Arcade Fire sold out the 2,000-seat-plus Warfield in no time flat. I was at the Fillmore an hour before the box office opened, and I was still the 12th person in line, so by the time I got up to the window, all I could secure were seats smack dab in the middle of the balcony. They weren’t bad, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been up so high at the Warfield, and it’s certainly a far cry from the stage’s edge at the Great American Music Hall.

The Bell Orchestre opened, and I have to say that I found them very boring. I’m not a huge fan of instrumental music, but I’ve loved Sigur Ros, Mogwai, and Godspeed You Black Emperor (among others) in the past. Bell Orchestre had none of that tension. Though pretty in parts, their tunes did nothing for me, and I fantasized about playing Tetris on my cell phone.

Next up was Wolf Parade. I like their CD, but it was only after seeing them live that I realized they have two lead singers. The Modest Mouse influence was very prominent on a couple of songs. Even from the seats up high, their passion and energy were evident, and I bet seeing them at a club would be a lot of fun.

Finally, the Arcade Fire! I guess there are two big questions. First, can they pull off on a bigger stage what was so readily apparent in a more intimate setting? The answer is yes–their music is meant to soar to the rafters, and even the onstage antics kept us interested. Will and Richard were still at each other, and Regine even took the drums for two songs. And even from way over yonder, the sight of 7 people lined up at the front of the stage singing and playing in unison put a huge smile on my face (I’m such a sucker for that!). Just as amazing, the people around me loved it. Say what you will about bigger shows, but at their best, that feeling of community is palpable. It’s hard to argue with thousands of people singing along at the top of their lungs to so-called album tracks.

The other question: So what’s next? It was hard to tell. They did no new songs, though they cycled in a few “golden oldies,” as Win put it. I think people are dying to see if they can keep up the momentum and are more than ready to pounce with accusations of second-album syndrome, whenever that drops, as it were. But I could care less. If their next album turns out to be just as good, congrats to them. And if it sucks, well, that’s too bad. More importantly to me at least, they’ve been the soundtrack for a small epoch, which is more than most of us can say.

I should note that Win seemed rather punchy this time out. He was semi-apologetic for parts of the night, calling the band “whores” for playing some KROQ thing, and he alluded to the grueling schedule of life on the road as well as the unappreciative audiences in many parts of the world. They also had some technical problems, which drew a small tantrum from him, followed by a “fuck all, y’all, we’re gonna play anyway.” He jumped into the audience a few times, and at the very end, we couldn’t tell if he had made it to safe harbor. Still, they seemed far from rock star moves and, rather, heartfelt but clumsy expressions of frustration mixed with general silliness.

They’re back in the Bay Area for the Download Festival next month, but there’s no way in hell I’m going to that one, though my beloved Doves and British Sea Power are on the bill. Perhaps this will be my last Arcade Fire show, but that’s not to say I’ve closed the book on this one.