ULPSWASAR!!!

Well how’s this for convenience?

From Sept 17-21, I saw the four best concerts of the year so far. Four very different concerts at four very different venues. And they all blew my mind (or at least came damn close) in their own big way. I was going to post this all nearly after the fact, but the busyness, fullness, laziness and a little bit of the greatness of life conspired for it to take rather long.

Following is a lengthy but brief account of U2, Lal, Peoples Republic, Saul Williams, Amina, Sigur Ros, Annie and Royksopp live in Toronto and Hamilton over four sweetly consecutive days.

Saturday, Sept 17: U2 – Air Canada Centre – Toronto.

It’s no secret that Damon likes U2. Hell, he basically didn’t listen to any other band between 1994 and 1998, and then it was about 50% U2 for 2 years and a bit. Now, of course, they don’t get to occupy much of my aural schedule and they probably never will again. Largely because their new material is uninspired. But whatever. The old songs are still as good. They still know how to work a crowd like nothing else. The light show is fookin’ incredible.

I was looking forward to this concert less than I might have been. But when it got down to the wire and Wake Up by Arcade Fire was playing and then the arena was plunged into darkness, I was pretty damn thrilled. I actually trembled with excitement for a bit, which was nifty. The band was pretty tight (they’ve probably been tighter). But ohh the lights, and ohhh the crowd, and the soaring songs. Here’s the thing… at a U2 concert the audience is almost as important as the band. Being in a huge room with 20k overly enthusiastic people, it’s hard not to be quite enthusiastic oneself, and it feels damn good. Everyone singing along, cheering loudly, being moved, being rocked. It’s all one giant churchlike catharsis.. and that’s the power of music as went on to be demonstrated on this and on the next three days.

Highlights of the show: Great setlist and good variety of songs from their older albums (too much from Bomb, but that’s to be expected) we even got a B-Side, and the Ocean and Electric Co. During One they pulled up Daniel Lanois and afterwards Eddie Vedder onto stage for a little singsong of Old Man River. Very cool. The first encore was just about the best thing ever. All of a sudden we hear a familiar beat and melody… … popmuzik!! which eventually turned into Discotheque (first song from Pop on the whole tour i think). we hoped for Mofo, but that was swell enough. The ZooTV style fly display was hella awesome. And Bono bellowing out Pavarroti’s part in Miss Sarajevo was incredible. I especially liked Bono’s intro to Miracle Drug: saying how Edge is from the future on another planet, and when he landed in Dublin his spaceship was playing those 4… no 5 notes. When Edge came out of his spaceship, Larry asked him “what’s the future like?” and Edge just said “better.” Then he dedicated the song to the Sick Children’s Hospital. A powerful little sentiment. A powerfully gigantic show.

Sunday, Sept 18: Lal, Peoples Republic, Saul Williams – Pepperjack Cafe – Hamilton.

This show was a bit of a gamble. Lal sounded pretty neat on record, Saul Williams is pretty cool and has a pretty hot rep but some people weirdly don’t seem to like him, and Peoples Whothehellwhatsit? *shrug*

First of all, props to the venue. Really nice place, nice atmosphere, nice stage, good acoustics. Makes the Underground look like a hole in the ground… wait.. never mind. It was easy to see it was an older clientele: no IDing, quieter, less hollering and lameness, a very mature crowd; probably mostly determined by the slightly steep 25 buck ticketprice (for another show that might be a concern, this one was worth more).

LAL was awesome, because LAL is trip-hop. And it actually worked really well live. The singer had an awesome voice, and kept doing this thing where she’d sing the same line over and over while walking to and away from the mic – sounded really good. The production courtesy of dude in the back with a laptop was mellow, kinda glitchy sonic massaging. Come to think of it, every act was just one emcee and one producer guy with a whole whack of confusing buttons and cranks to pull and twist. I guess that’s hip hop live for you. Haven’t seen to much of it in all honesty.

Peoples Republic was startlingly awesome. Good production (are you afraid of the dark? scrrreeeeeach). The fella spittin’ tha rhymes (and in fact the other dude) used to be in Warsawpack (notice a trend with the names?) nothing wrong with some good old whiteboy socialist rap, right? Most of the lyrics were pretty jaw-droppingly good, which is always surprising when you have no idea who the bloke is. Unfortunately I can’t really find any info about this stuff online as it’s not the easiest thing to google for.. I don’t quite think they have any releases yet. Wish I could quote the lyrics.. but some songs were: monotony rock, terror level red, blackout, we walk among devils. much bang on lyricism.

But how can you even talk about lyricism in comparison to Saul fucking Williams? This dude… this dude. wow. He really is a poet. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone on stage with quite that much conviction and sincerity. Slow songs, thumping songs. Standing still, the crowd enraptured. Dancing around manically, the crowd pumping. During one song, the beats cut out and it was just Saul a capella, and then he lowered the mic and it was just his unamplified voice twisting and bending words like nothing else. He was in fact perhaps at his most powerful a capella, but the raucous grimy beats were a necessary and pretty sweet counterpoint. Saul was pretty much like a preacher a lot of the time, and thankfully his messages were definitley ones I’d agree with. If not, by the end of the show I’d probably be convinced. It was obvious he himself stood behind his words 100%.

This show certainly taught me some things, or rather reinforced them in a boot-to-the-head sort of fashion: people who think hip-hop is not a completely profound method of self-expression, and those that think music shouldn’t be political are completely wrong and should have terrible things done to them if they refuse to change their opinion after being asked nicely.

Monday, Sept 19: Sigur Ros – Massey Hall – Toronto.

I’d heard some very very good things about Sigur Ros live from two of the people who went to the show with me (Ian ‘lowball’ Delong and Michael Mikhai Hightower Dealerdog MacCool Roellinghoff el Conquistador) so I thought I was in for a bit of a treat. Boy was I wrong. This was not a bit of a treat, this was a gigantic mother of a creamsicle filled crazy-pie of a treat. Though I must say that using sweets and candy to describe this show might be completely dumb.

This was my first time at Massey Hall, and seeing music somewhere that was designed to be have it played in is absolutely wonderful. It was a very different crowd, too. We even got shushed as we came up the stairs a couple songs into Amina’s opening set (they played a saw with a mallet and a bow, it was all pretty great, and definitely cool but nothing on Sigur.. even though they ended up being Sigur’s string quartet) and there was actually silence during the songs and then polite and exuberant applause in between.

The band started with a gigantic sheet across the stage and lights shining outward to splash their shadows on it in a large fashion, it was a really neat effect though they got rid of it for the second song. The image of Jonsi’s gigantic shadow holding a violin bow and playing his guitar with it will not soon leave, it was just such a peculiar and unique motion, in other surrounds it might have been truly terrifying. The production of the show was quite excellent, lots of lights in many colours but very appropriate, and a lot of abstract sorts of films projected gigantically behind the band.. birds on a wire, a baby’s face for a whole song etc.

The music itself is obviously the focal point of a show like this, and boy did it deliver. Sigur Ros could easily be lumped with what we in the biz call post-rock. Long, langurously intense songs, built on fluttering of pianos and walls guitar and violin noise, with some plaintively high vocals that are either Icelandic or gibberish, but it doesn’t quite matter. The songs move with grace between hammering intensity and sparse, delicate beauty.

Half of the experience was mental, which is rather unique from the concerts I usually attend. The music sort of provided a nice set of paints to use on the canvas of my mind. It’s a really lame sounding metaphor, but it’s fairly appropriate. I had a bunch of really nifty ideas just from hearing the music, cause this music is probably best described as profoundly inspiring. The only difficulty with the concert was that every three minutes I wanted to rush out of the hall and write a novel or shoot a movie. Powerful, deeply affecting sorts of stuff. And recommended for basically everyone in the entire world.

The concert was perhaps best summed up by Ian’s friend Erin who attended the concert having never heard the music of Sigur Ros before. Mike asked her if she liked the concert and her response was something along the lines of “how could I not? it was like, pure beauty or something.” Yes.

Tuesday, Sept 20: Annie, Royksopp – Opera House – Toronto.

After Sigur Ros, the stakes were pretty damn high. How could sometimes goofy Norwegian electropop compete with those profound Icelandic swells of inspiration? It turns out this show might have taken the cake if Ontarians/Torontonians knew how to be not lame and dance at a blatantly DANCE SHOW (I’m planning much longer diatribe and analysis for the Sil at some point, perhaps in a new column entitled why everyone should be more like me). But it was still pretty awesome.

The Opera House is a pretty sweet venue. It was indeed, at one point, an opera house. There’s fancy windows, an arch over the stage and a big balcony up at the back. There’s haze and red light falling on the surrounds so it looks like a sort of post-something ghost of an opera house. Very funky.

Annie was really more than you should bargain for for an opening act. Unfortunately short set, but she played all the main ones and for some messed up reason the songs were actually better live than on album. She was backed with 2 Finnish gentlemen: a guitarist/percussionist and a nob-twiddler, and they really did a good job of even having some jamming etc. Also, Annie is extremely attractive. And Norwegian. So that was good.

Didn’t really know what to expect from Royksopp, live electronic music is never easy to predict, or pull off. But wow. Royksopp (that being two Norwegian dudes.. I don’t know their names so I’ll call ‘em Royk and Sopp from left to right) came out dressed in fancy red shirts with black ties, and behind them they had a gigantic inflatable cassette tape with their name on it, and in front of that a whole bucketload of electronic shenaniganery… there were mixers, and keyboards, and some drum kits and other more mysterious devices.

The performance itself was pretty flawless, they were awesomely into it, the songs worked surprisingly amazing live, the light show was awesome. It was really cool when they brought real live girl singers on stage to sing, too. Their music is pretty mellow, almost chill-out on album (at least Melody AM), but live it really jumps out and grabs you, and shakes you around a bit. The show was really great at the beginning, but the stoic audience really detracted from it, for the last couple songs of the main set things got better. (I had been going bananas consistently for a while) It is a demonstrable fact that when during poor leno everyone just let go and started jumping and singing along, you could tell that everyone in the building.. the band, the audience, the lighting technician, even the coupld people who still refused to dance.. everyone’s enjoyment of the concert increased dramatically.

I’ve always wanted to see a band like Orbital or Underworld live, and though I wasn’t expecting it beforehand, Royksopp pretty much gave me that oppurtunity. The first encore (as confirmed later by a setlist someone managed to snag) was made of unreleased songs.. basically jams it seemed like, that occasionally incorporated bits of their other songs. Really great idea for an encore, I think (like when the Cons just do covers for their encores) that makes it really seem like a bonus, rather than just a prerehearsed hollow excuse to make the audience wreck their voices. But what’s a better bonus? An actual unplanned encore, which we got due to the mindblowing exuberance exhibited by the crowd. It was great. Kevin and I started doing this unison arm bopping kinda thing during the chorus and Royk acknowledged us with a point of finger and a nod, which was way cool.

Hearing such great music so loud, and as organic as it really can be and just going all out and grooving to it is a wonderful experience, and an appropriate way to end my concert marathon with a bang, just as it started.

There’s some pictures and further discussion here

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