Last night we saw ZHU perform at the House of Blues in Boston. This was a really fun show. ZHU is an artist that’s a little difficult to pin down genre-wise; dance, R&B, electronic, house, and hip-hop would all be suitable classifiers. I was expecting his concert to be more on the R&B side of that spectrum, but it ended up being more on the dance/electronic side. Nonetheless, the show was captivating.
While the type of music was amorphous, the concert had a consistent theme of a journey through the desert, which I think was really well executed. The theme was introduced by a few very short statements projected onto the wall, and aside from that it was very subtle. The music itself carried the theme from there. The desert aesthetic came through in the instruments and sounds more than the lyrics themselves, which was particularly impressive.
The lights at this show were at a different level than other concerts I’ve seen. It seemed like they were using projectors, but I don’t know how they got the projected images to be so sharp and realistic.
The crowd at this show was very enthusiastic. It was fun to be surrounded by so much energy. I wish every show had this many people focused on the music.
Overall, this was a great time. I’m excited to see and hear what ZHU does next.
On Friday, Death Cab Cutie released their ninth studio album. I wasn’t much of a Death Cab fan when they first hit it big (about 18 years ago), but their mellow sound has somehow made its way into my ears over the past couple years - and it’s clear that I’ve been missing out. I’m happy to have the opportunity to listen to new music from this band.
The consistency of aesthetic and quality from Death Cab is amazing. They have a signature sound, yet they’re still able to keep it fresh. This album is no exception.
I think I’ve already said enough to sufficiently describe this album to any Death Cab fans - but, I’ll end this post with an extra nod to my favorite tracks: I Dreamt We Spoke Again and Autumn Love - both of which have so much of that signature sound that they could have rung them out and made two full albums out of it.
We had another great time at the Newport Folk Festival this year. The weather was warm, and the venue, Fort Adams, was as picturesque as ever.
It’s become a tradition for Jess and me to go to folk fest with my parents. We love having them with us. This year was especially fun because it was my parents’ third year at the festival, which makes them veterans. They were able to weigh in on decisions, and they even had their own gameplan mapped out.
Shortly after entering the venue, we saw a highly entertaining set by Fantastic Negrito on the main stage. This guy is a great performer and he expertly blurred songs together using bizarre stories and banter. His set sometimes had a mystical feel to it, as if he was telling us ghost stories. I’d like to see him do a Halloween set in cramped, dark, smokey concert hall someday.
In the afternoon heat, we saw a new band, Glorietta, play at The Quad stage. The Quad is a relatively intimate stage as far as festivals go, and it has the power to make some artists shine. But it also seems to get the best of many bands, making them seem like amateurs struggling to keep things afloat. Noah Gunderson, one of the several singer-songwriters in Glorietta, did a great job at this stage and expertly mixed his firey, passionate vocals with reserved down-beat instrumentals in the song Golden Lonesome. After that song, Matthew Logan Vasquez picked the crowd back up with some rocking singalongs.
A highlight of the midday was Lucius, a band built around two harmonizing frontwomen. They had such a unique and unusual stage presence, it was fun to watch. They had a trio of dancers who added to the strangeness. Brandi Carlile joined them for a song, but I don’t think she added enough to the performance to make up for disrupting the perfect harmonization the band would have had without her.
The late afternoon set by Sturgill Simpson surprised me. I was expecting a lot of slow southern crooning but instead saw a rock-and-roll jam fest. It was great. Whenever he sang, Sturgill’s voice would boom through the crowd with strength and with such a low frequency you could feel your internal organs vibrate around. In a good way.
Near the end of the day, St. Vincent played on The Quad stage. We only saw three songs before leaving a little disappointed. She was doing stripped-down versions of her songs with only a piano accompanying her vocals - but it didn’t really work. It seemed like the things that make St. Vincent songs good were lost in that stripping-down process. What was left was overwhelmingly avant-garde and slightly boring. She might have recovered in the second half of the set, or she might have fallen victim to the overwhelming intimacy of the Quad stage.
Last, we saw headliner Jason Isbell finish the night on the main stage. He put on a good show, albeit a little depressing at times. We were going to sneak out a few minutes early to beat the notoriously bad traffic, but we were convinced to stay by a nearby stranger hinting at a surprise guest. We were fortunate because soon thereafter, David Crosby joined the stage for two iconic songs.
Overall it was a really great time. It's a shame that the Newpork Folk Festival stops its music as early as it does (7:30 PM)! I would love to hang out at Fort Adams and listen to music after sundown.
Jessica and I spent the last weekend at the Electric Forest music festival in Rothbury, Michigan. To start with the basics, this is a music festival for EDM (electronic dance music), but it also featured some jam-band and other genre performances. While music is a big part of the festival, Electric Forest had far more going on than just music. There is quite literally a forest that attendees can wander through, and that forest is filled with various attractions and spectacles.
Here’s the thing about Electric Forest: I’m not going to be able to write a description that will do this music festival justice. I can say that we went into it with high expectations, and that those expectations were exceeded. Beyond that, my words are going to fall short - so, I decided to post an album of photos and I’ll make the captions as descriptive as I can.
We saw Dave Matthews Band with some friends on Friday night. It was an eventful night - but I’ll start with the music...
Dave Matthews Band is a force of nature. The depth of their catalogue is insane. If you compare the set list we heard to the previous set list of this tour, there is only ONE song in common. The band has played 68 different songs so far this tour, and it’s not even half way over. Judging from prior tours, they will probably end up playing around 100 unique songs. This is far from typical for most bands. Consider the complexity of their songs too - these songs have your normal verses and choruses, but they also have tight jam sessions where the band is clearly improvising despite always being on the same page.
After the music was over, our party left the venue and decided to get some sausage subs in the parking lot. I ran ahead to get the car and wait in traffic. Long story short, I tripped over a traffic cone and dislocated my shoulder. Now, I’ve never claimed to be an American Ninja Warrior...but this was still embarrassing. Jess ended up bringing me to the ER and a group of 3 or 4 doctors pushed and twisted my arm until it finally slid back into place.
I need to thank our friends, Pat, Casey, and Tyler for tolerating my ER trip and staying out until 4:30 am. Jess for playing the role of Ambulance (Prius) driver and general caregiver. Also, our friend Abby for watching Violet much longer than she signed up for. Lastly, I should thank the two strangers, Kiersten and Sam, who lent me a hand after I fell and tried (hilariously) to gently ease my shoulder back into its place (it didn’t work). They probably won’t ever see this, but they were super nice people.
I will end this post with a vintage video of a young Dave Matthews playing a concert at Blockbuster in 1994.
We arrived fairly early on Friday afternoon. It was nice to wander around the venue before the crowds got big. Vendors had yard games and other activities set up, so it was a nice and relaxing atmosphere. We particularly liked the Miller Lite area, where we were able to play Plinko with our empty Miller cans for prizes. We won a hat, a pin, fake tattoos, a coozie, a fanny pack, and a bandana (over the course of the weekend). Jess and I wanted the bandana more than anything - for Violet, of coarse.
The very first band we saw was Big Thief. We saw this band last year at Newport Folk Festival - and they didn’t put on a very good show back then. But they were much better this time. This band has potential, but they might have consistency problems.
A highlight of Saturday was Maggie Rogers, who performed a fun, energetic, and adorably sincere set while donning a blue cape. Maggie Rogers is a new artist and she doesn’t have many songs, so I’m looking forward to her expanding her catalog a bit.
The Killers headlined Sunday night. They sounded great and had really excellent stage presence. I was particularly impressed with their drummer, who brought a lot of intensity to the whole set. It’s really special when the crowd enthusiastically sings along with a band, and that happened a lot with The Killers.
There were a few time slots on Saturday where we didn’t have any concerts that we were excited to see. We spent some of the free time in the IKEA area, which was an odd little environment setup by the Swedish furniture company. It had a lot of hammocks and comfortable benches set up, as well as a dance area where DJs played sets. They served nothing but vegetarian hotdogs - and they gave away free pouches of the pickled vegetables that go into those hotdogs. What a strange place! We liked it!
This is a good time to mention how great it is to go to Boston Calling with friends. Jess and I went with our friends Abby and Amanda. We all did our share of dancing and goofing around. With a good group of friends you can have fun even when you’re not listening to live music. Unfortunately, our friend Jackie couldn’t make it this year, but she was still present in our hearts - and to show that, we brought a printout of her face on a popsicle stick.
We saw the hard rock band The Manchester Orchestra up and close. I don’t know this band very well - but I was happily surprised by their set. Their lead singer is able to blur the line between screaming and singing, so you get melody and intensity - the best of both worlds! I think I saw their guitarist throw his guitar onto the ground after furiously shredding through the last track. Woah!
Later that day, I was excited to see the hip-hop “boy band” BROCKHAMPTON. Despite being a new band (group?), they have a big catalogue of unique, emotional, and textured songs. Their live music seemed slightly off-kilter because they were missing one of their rappers. The next day, it was revealed that he was kicked out of the band due to assault allegations. Unfortunate to lose talent, but the fact that they kicked him out is a testament to the character of this young band.
Jack White headlined Saturday night. His music has a ton of complexity - much of which was unfortunately lost on me. I think I would have gotten more out of his set if I had tuned my ear to his music prior to this concert. Nonetheless, he has a cool and confident stage presence that makes you feel like you’re watching a master at work.
While the weather on Friday and Saturday was nearly perfect, the weather on Sunday was cold, rainy, and miserable. We spent some time hiding from the rain in the big tent set up by the Danish brewery, Mikkeler. Their beers were good, but the location (in the back of the festival) was a little unfortunate. It’s bizarre that Boston Calling chose to have Mikkeler be the only craft beer at the festival - what with there being so many great craft breweries in Massachusetts - but having Mikkeler there is sort of fun and interesting. I think it helps make Boston Calling special.
We ventured out into the cold to see a very fun set by Thundercat, who was very groovy. Then we saw The Decemberists make excellent music look completely effortless. We left that set a little early to see the legendary Mike D (of The Beastie Boys) play a few songs of a DJ set.
Eventually the weather and the fatigue got the best of Jess and I, our mood sharply declined, and we decided to call it quits a little early on Sunday night. It would have been nice to see Eminem, but it wasn’t in the cards for us.
Overall, it was a great time. We heard a ton of music - much more than I could fit into this post. The organizers did a really good job reducing wait times for security, food, and restrooms. Also, they did an excellent job with keeping the music punctual. I’m already looking forward to going again next year.
I’m generally not a big pre-made playlist listener, with one big exception: Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist. Discover Weekly is a custom-made thirty-song playlist that Spotify magically generates for every user on every Monday. It’s astonishing how good the curation is in this playlist; and that opinion is not just my own - it seems like everyone I talk to would agree.
One night while on a long drive, Jess and I started theorizing on how Spotify might generate the Discover Weekly playlists. I wagered that a combination of ‘taste-makers’ work along with an AI to generate the playlists. Jess theorized that it was all AI and that even an army of taste-makers would not be enough to guide the hand of AI when you consider the sheer number of genres, sub-genres, and users.
The information on how Discover Weekly actually works under the hood is limited. But, from what I’ve heard, Jess is closer to the right answer. From what I’ve seen, Spotify gets the secret sauce for Discover Weekly by tapping into user-generated playlists that subscribers have made For their own listening. Using those user-created playlists, Spotify can tap into the human element of music curation and make connections between songs you’ve liked in the past and songs you’ve never heard but may also like.
Despite what I wrote in the opening sentence of this post, I’ve been slowly branching out to listen to premade (i.e., curated) playlists. Unlike Discover Weekly, these playlists are not custom tailored for each user. I’ve been liking ‘Cafe con Leche’, which is a mostly acoustic Spanish-language playlist that I’ve found to be refreshingly soothing for morning shower listening. I also like the ‘Lush Lofi’ station for driving and doing work. This is mostly instrumental lofi hip-hop beats, very aesthetically pleasing and great for focus.
On Sunday night, I went to a Dan Auerbach concert at The House of Blues with Jessica and my parents. Dan Auerbach is a singer and songwriter; he’s best known for being the singer of The Black Keys and The Arcs.
This concert was unique. First of all, Dan Auerbach is a good, but unusual frontman. His stage presence is not boisterous or high-energy; instead he exudes confidence and humility. His band-mates included several old-timers who mirrored his cool and confident on-stage demeanor. They put on a very tight and well-rehearsed performance. It sounded great!
For the set-list, Auerbach stuck to cuts from his solo albums, but supplemented them with tracks from guest singers. His first guest singer was a female crooner whose name eludes me. While her vocals were good, her overall performance was sadly lacking any memorable qualities. It didn’t help that the sound mixing heavily favored the guitars while she was performing.
The second guest singer, Robert Finley, was a fascinating entertainer. Finley is a blind R&B singer from Louisiana. Despite being 64 years old, he’s an up-and-coming star who’s finally finding an audience. He has a booming voice and a soulful, energetic stage presence. Truly a captivating character!
My parents have been #DanFans ever since we all saw The Arcs at Newport two years ago. It was great to see this band, and I’d recommend seeing Auerbach whenever he’s performing...regardless of what band he’s fronting.
While searching online for some discussion related to a recent concert in Cambridge that I missed, I happened upon an article/discussion by Edward Tufte about volume levels and sound quality at live performances. If you don’t know, Tufte is a professor at Princeton, but is mostly known for his books about the visual display of information (i.e., graphs, tables, presentations, etc.). As a side note, I think it’s somewhat ironic that his website is a total mess (at least when rendered on a cell phone).
You can check out the discussion on Tufte’s website here:
The picture above is of Modest Mouse, who played the loudest concert I’ve ever been to (photo credit goes to The Oregonian). I remember their concert was far too loud, and it didn’t sound very good. Overall, I’d say that sound quality detracts from my enjoyment of about 1 in 5 concerts - but those issues aren’t always related to loud volume. For example, Boston Calling last year had issues where vocals couldn’t be heard properly if you were standing near the edges of the crowd. On the bright side, I find that concerts often sound great. Newport Folk Festival almost always has good sound quality, despite being a tricky outdoor venue.
On Wednesday we saw the band Sleigh Bells perform at The Paradise in Boston. It was a fun concert. The band mixes pop vocals with distorted hard rock guitars and drums. They have a really stripped down and intense sound. Even when you listen to their music on low volume, it sounds loud. I think it’s the built-in distortion on the tracks.
This band isn’t for the faint of heart!
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