Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Cure, Austin Music Hall

Despite a couple missed opportunities that are too ridiculous to go into here, I've previously only seen The Cure once. As a way to get fired up for the show, I made up a dream setlist as I drive to Dallas. As the encore began, I was struck with gleeful awe when I realized that they had played every damn song I wanted to hear! This is what I love about The Cure's live shows. They have a extensive career and dedicated fans, so play long shows with songs across their whole discography.

When my friend Dan heard that they were coming to Austin, and to the relatively small Austin Music Hall we were committed to going along with other friends. Tragedy struck when computer problems (?) or something prevented Dan from getting tickets for everyone and the show sold out. After seeing the setlists from this tour, I knew I couldn't miss out and so paid premium for ticket off eBay (grumble, grumble).

As the carload of friends drove to the show, we engaged in the witty banter that's a mainstay of our group (how frickin' self-agrandizing can I be? Ass). We speculated on the intricate goth outfits that were sure to be on display and then we rounded a corner to the sight of miles of black cloth and fishnets. As Chad put it, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Exhibit A."

Austin Music Hall has been extensively refurbished with more seating upstairs, a fancier entryway, better sound, and much improved intimate feel. After some nosing about, we set up downstairs about 30 feet from the stage. After a bland, boring opening act The Cure took the stage and blew us all away. Disintegration and Wish are about tied for my favorite albums and so opening with, well "Open" and then going right into "Fascination St." made me extremely happy. The show continued with plenty of songs from both albums with others sprinkled from across their career. It wasn't until they ripped into it that I remembered how much I love "Push" from Head on the Door (I re-listened to that CD later and rediscovered how great it is). "Catch" resulted in a happy emotional meltdown for Karen which was great fun to witness. During the show Dan and I confirmed out loud what was obvious, it had vaulted into our top ten concerts of all time.

Push from elsewhere on the tour

In Between Days

Sure Robert's put on a lot of weight and looks a bit silly with the make-up and hair at his age. This was balanced out by Porl Thompson ripped physique (how nice to have him back in the fold after years away and just killing on lead guitar) and the fact that Simon has not aged in 25 years. Jason the drummer isn't as good as Boris but I'm not complaining. They were in fine form. One of the coolest thing about the show is that they had no keyboards. All the synth lines were played on guitar by either Porl or Robert. I think The Cure uses keyboards very well, but it was invigorating to hear the songs without them.

From previous shows, we knew there would be at least two encores, but we still clapped and called for more. "M", "Play for Today" (and yes I sang the keyboard chorus melody), and "A Forest" just killed. Away to the wings, more clapping, and then back out for the highly anticipated run of seven songs from their 1st album. Even though I knew it was going to happen, it was still wonderful.

Jumping Someone Else's Train & Grinding Halt

After a 90 minute nap, I drove back to Austin tired but exhilirated for work the next morning. Absolutely worth the lack of sleep and jacked-up ticket price.

One last thing, coming so soon on the heels of the REM show in Berkeley it was inevitable that I'd compare the two. Both started off as "college" bands and broke into the mainstream before settling into the rock canon. Their best work is behind them but they both still write some good songs and play well. My estimation of these shows however is miles apart. REM played a good set to a rather flaccid audience who couldn't care less for older material. The Cure played a fantastic, almost three-hour show for a energetic audience filled with big fans. Blame it on the difference between Berkeley and Austin or the intimacy of the TX show to the outdoor venue in CA, or maybe the band themselves. Whatever reason, it certainly bumped up The Cure in my estimation.

The full setlist:

open, fascination street, alt.end, torture, the end of the world, lovesong, the big hand, pictures of you, lullaby, catch, the perfect boy, from the edge of the deep green sea, the figurehead, a strange day, sleep when i'm dead, push, doing the unstuck, inbetween days, just like heaven, primary, the only one, signal to noise, the hanging garden, one hundred years, end

E1: at night, m, play for today, a forest
E2: three imaginary boys, fire in cairo, boys don't cry, jumping someone else's train, grinding halt, 10:15 saturday night, killing an arab

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


The timing of my trip to SF was dictated by REM's tour stop in Berkeley. They weren't/aren't coming anywhere close to Texas and I always said my first trip after graduating from school would be to visit MidSav and Rob in SF, so the timing worked out well.

I've been an REM fan for a long time, but back in the late '80s I was deemed too young to attend the Dallas stop on their Green tour. After that they didn't tour for years. So I've only seen them three times, Monster tour, Up tour, and at ACL during a tour promoting a Best Of. All good shows, though the ACL one wins out because A) I was so close, B) I was surrounded by great fans, and C) they played plenty of old stuff (setlists from that tour). The one-two punch of "Finest Worksong" and "Begin the Begin" made me wish yet again that concert joy could be bottled to enjoy later. Still, I was bummed when I saw the setlist from Houston. Maps & Legends?!

REM's new album, Accelerate, has been hailed as a return to form which really just means that there are some loud rock songs and it's not so wan like that last couple records. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but I really do like it for the most part. Anyway, I was excited to see them again and especially at the Greek Theatre on the University of California, Berkeley campus. It's a open-air, tiered venue so everyone can hear and see well. I'd bought my ticket early but since I'd let my fan club membership lapse missed the prime seats right up front.

MidSav & Rob dropped me off outside and I hurried in as The National had already started playing. They were good, but really belong inside a dark club. Next up was Modest Mouse, a band with several songs I like and many I find tedious and uninspired. The show was OK. The best part was (finally!) seeing Johnny Marr play guitar. Even when I closed my eyes I could pick out his lines. That Smiths reunion will never happen but if it ever did, I'd get there some way. Marr stills play beautifully and Morrissey can still belt it out.

Then REM hit the stage to huge cheers. The three actual members (Peter, Mike, Michael) were supplemented by usual tour guitarist/keyboardist Scott McCaughey and new-to-the-fold drummer Bill Rieflin. Rieflin's a great drummer and I wondered if anyone else in the audience knew that he used to play drums for a long line of industrial bands like Ministry and KMFDM.

They kicked things off with a new song "Horse To Water" to a muted reception considering. Next song was "Little America" and I was all excited, "Yay old stuff!" and then I looked around and slowly realized that though a big chunk of the crowd was the right age to have been fans of REM when during their mid-80's IRS years, they didn't know this song. Third song was "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" and the crowd roared its approval.

This sad pattern continued through the rest of the set and severely impacted my enjoyment of the show. Song on the radio? Big cheers. Not on the radio? Boredom and tepid response. Me all ranty in my head, "C'mon people, "West of the Fields"? "Wolves, Lower"?! They haven't pulled that out for almost a decade. But oh you'll finally start moving around when "The One I Love" starts up." Grumble, grumble, gnashing of teeth.

Best part of the show (aside from the lovely old chestnuts) was their reworking of "Let Me In" into a gorgeous acoustic-guitars-and-organ version. Even Rieflin came down off the drum riser to play guitar. Here's a recording from a different show:

With this wonderful version arrangement and the subject matter, I got all teary (wouldn't be an REM concert if I didn't at some point). The main set ended with "I'm Gonna DJ" which grates because it indulges Stipe's penchant for twangy hollering. Encore proceeded as per usual (when did encores for headlining acts become customary? The '70s? When did bands start intentionally putting popular songs in the encore rather than deep cuts or unpolished covers? A topic for another post) kicking off with the best song on the new album, "Supernatural Superserious". After another new one they started up "Driver 8" which sparked at least a little recognition in the audience before tearing into "Life And How To Live It"! I danced up a storm and focused on the band and the little group of superfans up front. Show closed as it often does with "Man On The Moon" which I've grown tired of, especially Stipe's silly hollerin' version.

La la la, get back to MidSav & Rob's place, talk about the lame-o audience, still enjoyed the show, go to bed.

Well, a little more to the story. REM sold out the Greek Theatre so fast that after I bought my ticket they added a second night. At the time I had thought about buying for that night (for which I was sure to get a better seat) and just selling my first night ticket, but I didn't. Sigh. After I got home from SF I pulled up the setlist for the 2nd night and was crushed. Leading up to my trip I'd been listening to a lot of REM, particularly my favorite album Lifes Rich Pageant. Four songs on that album I love particularly and are among my favorite in their whole career. The 2nd night in Berkeley they played three of them, "Begin the Begin", "These Days", and "Fall on Me". Oh the disappointment. Full setlists for the whole tour here.

The lesson I learned from this is that I will go see REM whenever feasible for back-to-back shows and I will do my best to be right up front with the superfans who love the old stuff too.

UPDATE: I found a note I'd jotted down during the show. After they played "West of the Fields," Stipe talked about the lyrics and how early REM songs were fairly impressionistic and didn't always make a lot of sense. It's well-known now that he doesn't have a great memory, even for his own lyrics and that's especially true for the early songs. When they started playing them more often live, he went online to find out what the fans thought they were. He was amused to see what many lyric websites had posted for "West of the Fields".

Stipe: Now, I wrote some bad lyrics when I was 21 and did drugs back then. But I never wrote, "The animals are strange, try to put it in."

Mills: What are the words?

Stipe: (mock testily) I don't know what the fuckin' words are. What were you doing in 1981 Mike?

Mills: Oh, this and that.

Stipe: Yeah. I have photographic evidence.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

My trip to San Franciso, and overcast Berkeley

After working 12 hours, with a 2 hour nap under my belt, I left the apartment for my trip to San Francisco. I was glad that I found a bus route that goes to the airport, less enthused when I realized how many stops it made on it's way there. Oh well.

The flight was uneventful with a layover in Arizona only noteworthy for this odd, planes-circling-a-vortex carpet pattern in the terminal. Thankfully, SF/Oakland has a great metro system of trains and buses. I easily navigated from the Oakland airport to the Mission district where I met up with Middle Savagery and Rob. Though quite tired, their sparkling conversation and enthusiasm perked me up and we had a great time eating dosas at Dosa.

Eating round, flat things would turn into an unintentional theme for the weekend. Thursday dosas, Friday pupusas, Saturday pizza. I don't think Sunday's meal, Mission burritos, held true but MidSav argued that they were round and flat before being rolled up so they counted. Though all the meals were yummy, the pizza from The Cheese Board was phenomenal. Also a standout was the Bug Juice Ale at Triple Rock, a brew pub in Berkeley.

Most of my time in SF & Berkeley was spent eating, reading graphic novels late at night, walking, and window shopping. SF is stuffed with little shops selling cute things. I think we went into at least four stores along the line of Giant Robot, which we also visited. The best window display goes to DoublePunch. Despite all the browsing, I didn't buy much. A few things from Little Otsu and a pile of CDs from Amoeba Records Berkeley branch. I went into the main Amoeba records too, but after a few minutes I was just too overwhelmed to focus. I'll go with a specific list next time.

Saturday night I went to see REM, but I'll cover that in the next post.

On Sunday we hit the Castro generally so I could see the gay(er) part of SF, but specifically so we could see the new Indiana Jones movie at the historic Castro theater. See, MidSav is an archeology grad student and so we just had to see the movie. The theater itself was grand and it was great to have the curtain part and the movie start. No ads, no trailers. I went in with low expectations, yet was hooked in the first five minutes by Spielberg's fantastic use of mirrors and shadows. And then the George Lucas crap came in and those low expectations came rushing back. Best action sequence of the film? The motorcycle chase, which un-coincidentally had no (or at least subtle) CGI effects. Anyway, we laughed walking out.

The two best things I saw in the Castro was the sex toy shop, Does Your Mother Know? because I love inappropriate ABBA references, and the guys in pink bunny suits giving out free hugs and roses. On the way to eat, we passed an alley covered in impressive graffiti. Turns out it's the well-known Clarion Alley.

After burritos, we returned to find the vehicle gone. Towed. Suck-o. Well, we weren't parked legally, just had followed others illegal lead. Between the three of us we worked out who to call and where to go to get it back. Sorry about that budget buster friends!

Monday I had some time to kill before my flight out so I rushed to the city and hit the SF Museum of Modern Art. I wrote some notes about the work that impressed me most, but I seemed to have misplaced it. I'm sure I'll come across it and then I'll just edit this entry.

UPDATE: The notes were found, though really it's just a list of works I liked.
Gerhard Richter - Lessende (Reading)
Lichtenstein - Rouen Cathedral Set V
Rothko - No. 14, 1960
Richard Serra - Boomerang

Oh yeah, we also went out to the beach, ate at a diner overlooking the ruins of the Sutro Baths, walked through Chinatown, drove through the Presidio, and got offered "nuggets" while walking through Golden Gate Park. MidSav, according to the DEA, love nuggets are marijuana, so now you know. At this point, I'm kinda tired of writing, so the activities of this paragraph shall not be expanded upon.

More trip photos here.