Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sit Down, Apollo

Captain's blog, supplemental:

So, I have a confession to make. Until last night, I had never been to an actual rock concert. That's right; I, who claims to be so knowledgeable about awesome music, had never actually seen a band perform live. But thanks to the generosity of my brother-in-law Tony (who decided to give me his ticket), I was finally on my way.

Accompanying me for my trip into the unknown was my older sister Liesl, my younger sisters Amelia and Isabel, my brother Drew, and his fiancée Camille. As we walked up the stairs to the entrance of the E-Center, I saw a sign posted warning that the show would be using lasers and other lighting effects. That was all right with me. Our seats weren't too bad. We were in the "luxury suite," which meant that we had padded chairs and that people standing up wouldn't block our view.

We had a pretty good view of the stage; we were further back, but it was nearly a straight view to the stage. At first glance, there wasn't anything extraordinary about the stage. In the back were what I thought were curtains so the audience couldn't see backstage. There was a drum kit and some other typical rock equipment, which actually belonged to Silversun Pickups.

Speaking of which, the opening act was less than spectacular. For the first band I've ever really heard live, the didn't set the bar very high. While I could see a lot of potential in their music (I'm pretty sure the last song they played is in Rock Band), they definitely had some balance issues. The sound was muddy enough that the lead singer was impossible to understand. The most exciting thing they did (and which got the biggest cheer) was when he promised us that Muse was going to blow our minds. He also told us that what I thought were curtains were in fact supposed to be skyscrapers.

At the mention of skycrapers, I had a wild idea. The skycrapers were obviously a reference to the video for Muse's hit single "Uprising." The video for that single features a giant teddy bear knocking down skycrapers. It's awesome. Anyway, I noted that there were three skycrapers (one for each member of Muse), and I hoped their opening number (which had to be "Uprising") would somehow feature a teddy bear knocking down each skycraper to reveal the band. I didn't think it was likely, but it sounded cool.

After Silversun Pickups finished (their singer did some weird things with the distortion pedals before getting off the stage), there was a break. You could just feel the anticpation building as the arena filled up. Oddly enough, no equipment was brought onto the stage, which confirmed my theory that the band would be hiding in the skyscrapers. Still no sign of any giant bears, though.

When the lights finally went down, the energy level in the arena jumped about 300%. Then the individual windows on each skycraper began to light up, and I realized the "skycrapers" were not curtains at all, but LED screens. Once every window was lit, people began to climb to the top of each skycraper. Once they reached the top, they fell down and hit the people below them. Once they all hit the bottom, the darkened center section of each building dropped, revealing Muse right as they kicked into "Uprising."

I know, my description doesn't do the opening justice. If you'd like, you can view a phone-made movie of it here. Needless to say, once the band started, it felt like a bomb had gone off. It was just the start of a ride that would last the next two hours without letting up on the gas.

Besides the awesome lights and lasers promised by the sheet of paper on the outside of the E-Center, there was one other very important thing I noticed immediately about the performance. They (vocalist Matthew Bellamy in particular) sounded exactly the same live as they do on their recordings. They were so good, I thought they had to be lip-synching. They weren't. It was incredible. And even after all the shows they've been doing for the past few months, Bellamy's voice was as strong at the end of the show as he was at the beginning. I didn't know that was possible.

After "Uprising," things relaxed a bit with "Resistance" and "New Born." Bellamy then paid tribute to Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix, and America by playing a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" on his guitar, which launched right into the smash-hit "Supermassive Black Hole." We had laughed about this song on our way into the concert. We figured that it would be accompanied by lots of high-pitched screams and shouts of "Edward!"

However, when it started, I forgot all about Twilight. It was like a second wind for the concert. Pretty soon, my whole family jumped up and started dancing, and the people behind us joined in. "Supermassive" transitioned smoothly (and wisely) into "Hysteria," another huge hit and one of my personal favorites.

The concert slowed again after that, at least until the band played the old standards "Time is Running Out" and "Plug in Baby." After the latter, the band said goodnight, and walked off the stage. Though it was my first concert, I knew there would be an encore, and that it would probably be a well-known song. My hope was that it would be "Knights of Cydonia," my all-time favroite. So I was disappointed when they came back on stage and played the "Exogenesis Symphony, Part I," followed by "Stockholm Syndrome." By this time, I was really worried that "Knights" was going to be skipped. It would have been devastating.

But Muse wasn't finished yet. A harmonica began to play, and I recognized the opening chords of "Knights" being played very, very slowly. After this little intro, the band kicked it into overdrive with the song itself, and I felt one last burst of energy as we all got up and danced again. My knight was finally complete.

So, I don't know if this really counts as a review, or if it's just a glorified journal entry I'm sharing with everyone. My point is that this was an exhilirating experience that I'll probably never forget. More importantly, it's left me with an insatiable desire to hear more Muse. Even as I've been writing this, I've listened to three whole albums.

The sad thing is that I feel the bar has been set way too high for all future concerts that I may attend, and they may all seem like disappointments after this one. I guess we'll find out when Paramore comes to town on May 10. You stay classy, readers!

By the way, if anyone can tell me (without looking anything up) the signifcance of the title, I will give you a prize. As always, post guesses in the comments section.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Musings on Arena Rock

Captain's blog, supplemental:

I've been taking a class this semester called History of Jazz. Most of the time, I really enjoy going to class and learning about different musicians and listening to cool (or hot) music. But there are those times when I get a little bored, and my mind wanders (anybody who's shocked right now must not not actually know me. How did you get here, anyway?).

Anyway, when my mind decides to take a break from Dr. Harker's lectures, it actually just goes to another class taught by Dr. Wikipedia. I have dubbed this class History of Music (with emphasis on the subtleties of grooving bass lines and face-melting guitar solos). What this actually means is that I take advantage of my only class with Internet access and read up on some of my favorite rock bands and musicians.

So, what purpose does this have other than explaining why my History of Jazz grade will be... less than perfect? I'm getting there. Yesterday, I decided to do some reading about the Scorpions. Among the many interesting things I learned (they've had like 50 different bassists and get a new drummer every time the old one breaks down), this stuck out the most: they're still recording! After 45 years of music and over 60 years of life, they came out with a new album last week.

Naturally, I had to download Sting In the Tail. It's pretty awesome; I'm amazed they can still bring it at their age. While listening to songs with great names like "Raised on Rock" and "Spirit of Rock," my mind unfortunately turned to The Who's Super Bowl halftime show (I keep trying to block it from my memory, but it won't go away). I asked myself: if the NFL (or whomever's responsible for the halftime entertainment) insists on getting old dudes to pretend like they're young and hip, why can't they get someone like the Scorpions, who can still rock?

This brought up another important question: Which 5 old-dude bands would I most like to see perform during a Super Bowl halftime? Of course, there have to be some rules when coming up with a list like this. These are mine:

  1. Only rock bands may be included. No other types of music, and no rock solo artists.
  2. The band performing must have achieved popularity before 1987 (if they were popular before I was born, then they're old dudes. No exceptions.).
  3. No time-traveling. We're not dealing with bands in their heyday. We want to hear them perform in their 2010 (or later) bodies.
  4. Unfortunately, no reanimated corpses will be allowed. I'm terrified of zombie outbreaks (this means you, Queen).
So, those are the rules. Without further ado, here (in reverse order of course) is the starting five for "Old-Dude Bands I Want to Perform at the Super Bowl":

Number 5: Styx. They narrowly beat out G'n'R, but they could take this spot if they can get Slash.

Number 4: Van Halen. Since David Lee Roth is back, this one should be a cinch. And can anyone think of a better opening to a halftime show than the opening synthesizer lines from "Jump"?

Number 3: Scorpions. They jump Van Halen if, and only if, they are able to drag an orchestra along and play "Rock You Like a Hurricane 2000." But since it's my fantasy, it'll happen. Plus, they also have new stuff that they could show off.

Number 2: Bon Jovi. Anyone who watched the 2010 Grammy Awards (I didn't, but that's what YouTube's for) knows that Jon Bon and crew can still bring it. A Super Bowl halftime show would be a perfect showcase for them. I think it could be kind of like Paul McCartney's show back in 2005. In fact, I think this one could actually happen someday.

Number 1: Journey. Of course. But even though this choice probably doesn't surprise any readers out there, I don't think any of you quite understand the potential here. Let me paint you a picture....

Sunday, February 5 2011. Super Bowl XLV has just reached halftime with the Donovan McNabb-led Eagles trailing the New England Patriots by 10 (this is my fantasy, remember?). The lights go down in Cowboys Stadium, just before the opening guitar riffs of "Wheel in the Sky" are heard. Journey fans are pleased and amazed to see Steve Smith on the drums, since he hasn't played with Journey since 1998. But he's agreed to do this show.

After "Wheel in the Sky" (featuring a killer Neal Schon guitar solo), Arnel Pineda (Journey's current vocalist) performs a rousing segment of "Open Arms," and the audience begins to forget the atrocities committed by The Who the previous year.

After "Open Arms" finishes, Arnel inexplicably leaves the stage. Ross Valory steps forward, and he and Jonathan Cain begin the familiar opening of Journey's most famous song. But when the iconic lyrics start, the audience notices the change in voice as Steve Perry steps onto the stage. The crowd goes ballistic, obviously. After the closing notes, the now-complete quintet announces that they're together to stay.

That show would end up being one of the greatest moments in rock history. Inspired by Journey's performance, the Eagles take the field with new life and claw their way back into the game, ultimately winning.

Well, there's my list. What a long post this was. I know that I've left off some fantastic old dude bands, so I'll give it up to you guys. Who else should make the list?