Saturday, May 8, 2010

Rogue Wave with Avi Buffalo

9:30 Club
Washington, DC
March 5th, 2010

Avi Buffalo
My first impression of tonight’s opening act was…wow, how young are these guys? The four members of Avi Buffalo, Avi Zahner-Isenberg (guitar/vocals), Rebecca Coleman (keyboards/vocals), Arin Fazio (bass) and Sheridan Riley (drums) looked more like they belonged on a school bus than a tour bus. Given the amount of hype and publicity these indie rock neophytes are currently receiving (their debut album will be released on Sub Pop in April), I’m sure that’s a sentiment this Long Beach, California band must be getting used to hearing by now.

Despite the fact that the oldest member of the band is merely 21, Avi Buffalo showed no hesitation as they warmed up the 9:30 Club crowd with a fun set of guitar driven pop songs. My only complaint with the band was Zahner-Isenberg’s vocals, which often seemed way too high pitched for this music. In fact, he managed to completely drown out co-vocalist Coleman at times. Don’t get me wrong, musically I enjoyed the brand of indie-rock that Avi Buffalo created, and I loved the energy they displayed onstage…I saw Riley snap at least one drumstick while pounding away on her kit and Zahner-Isenberg attacked his guitar as if the thing was going to bite him. However, vocals can often make or break a band for a lot of people and that just might be the case for me with Avi Buffalo. I couldn’t quite get past them tonight at the 9:30 Club, but given the amount of talent these youngsters displayed onstage, I’d be willing to give them a second chance.

Rogue Wave
Ahh…Rogue Wave. Due to the quick turnaround of seeing shows on a weekly basis, I’m often checking out bands and artists that I’m unfamiliar with, which is fun, refreshing, enlightening…you name it. But tonight, I was extremely excited because I was getting to see one of my current favorite bands…Oakland, California’s Rogue Wave. I realize that these guys have reached a certain level of popularity (after all, they are playing the 9:30 Club), but for some reason I get the impression that Rogue Wave is still flying under the radar. For example, to my knowledge, tonight’s show did not sell out, whereas indie-rock heavyweights like The Shins, Band of Horses and The National, all of whom I would consider peers of Rogue Wave, continuously sell out wherever they play. So if you’re reading this right now and you’re at all into rock music with amazing pop hooks and beautiful vocals, please do yourself a favor and check out Rogue Wave!

Okay, enough with the sales pitch…on to the show! When the band took the stage, the first thing I noticed was an oversized Litebrite type device projecting what appeared to be old sci-fi visuals…very psychedelic and very cool! I also noticed that drummer Pat Spurgeon’s kit was situated at the front, left of the stage as opposed to the rear of the stage, no doubt due to the fact that the true essence of Rogue Wave is really the duo of Pat and vocalist/guitarist Zach Rogue. The rest of the band’s lineup consists of guitarist Dominic East, bassist Cameron Jasper and new guy Steve Taylor on keyboards, who Zach playfully introduced to the crowd by singing "Steeeeeve…the newest member of the band".

This playful banter and sense of humor is what followed throughout the entire performance by Rogue Wave. Once they were onstage, Zach immediately started tuning his guitar before opening the show with "Stars and Stripes" off the band’s latest album "Permalight". It struck me as a little odd that he would need to tune his instrument prior to playing even one chord, but later after a few more "tuning breaks" had occurred between songs, Zach explained that his guitars "are all old and crappy, so if you hear any funkitude, it’s coming from the guitar, not me". The singer went on to say that he recorded almost the entire new album on the old guitar he was playing, calling the instrument "an old man".

Speaking of the new album, Rogue Wave’s set at the 9:30 Club was front loaded with six straight songs from "Permalight", including the album’s first single "Good Morning (The Future)", which is a perfect example of the dance-y vibe that has garnered the band a bit of criticism from long time fans. Later, when they launched into my personal favorite song from the new album, "We Will Make a Song Destroy", imagine my surprise when Zach dedicated it to me…or at least to my kind. The singer smirked as he explained that the song was about "sticking it to the man", who in this case refers to "faceless internet bloggers"…hahaha.

Rogue Wave eventually branched out and began to draw from their back catalog, with crowd favorites like "Chicago X12", "Lake Michigan" and "Harmonium" from their 2007 breakthrough record "Asleep at Heaven’s Gate" in addition to a few songs from 2005’s "Descended Like Vultures". One highlight came during their encore when they morphed "Cheaper Than Therapy" into a slow version of Cheap Trick’s "Surrender"…you know the one…"mama’s alright, daddy’s alright…they just seem a little weird…surrender". Zach mentioned that the song ("Cheaper Than Therapy", not "Surrender") was "written during a very dark time in my life, which is all the more reason that its fun to play now, during a good time in my life." And that quote really sums up the fun and jovial mood that encompassed the venue tonight…for both the band and the crowd.

Zach was very grateful for his audience, saying "we know Friday night is an important night, so we appreciate you spending it with us" and for the 9:30 Club saying "this is one of the best rooms in the country". Towards the end of the show, Spurgeon finally took a break from his drum set and spoke to the crowd, asking us to check out a certain foundation for organ donation, referring to his own battle with kidney disease (Pat was born with only one kidney and underwent a successful transplant in 2007). Watching Pat play drums is really a miracle, given all that he’s been through.

On that happy note, Zach Rogue signed off for the evening, but not before addressing those aforementioned detractors of the "dance-y" vibe on "Permalight". As if to drive the point home that he stands behind his new album 100%, the vocalist invited people to join him onstage to do what else…dance. As the band closed their set by playing the title track from the new album, which is by the far the most danceable track on there, they packed the stage with members of the audience to help them out. You almost got the sense that this party wasn’t ending…no Rogue Wave was just getting started.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Pink Floyd Experience

The Music Center at Strathmore
North Bethesda, Maryland
February 25th, 2010

If you’ve already read my previous post on Nouvelle Vague, then you know my thoughts and opinions on the various types and styles of cover bands out there. If you haven’t, then I encourage you to do so prior to reading any further. The Pink Floyd Experience falls into a classification of cover bands that I touched on briefly in that write-up, a category I call the "tribute band". These acts focus the entirety of their performance on recreating the music (and sometimes the image) of another artist. Now typically, I am not a fan of these bands because I’d rather be seeing the real thing. However, oftentimes a tribute band is the only option we have for hearing the music of some of our favorite artists re-created in a live setting. Such is the case with the legendary Pink Floyd, who have lost two original members (Syd Barret and Richard Wright) and other than a few reunion type shows, have been, for all intents and purposes, broken up since the mid 1990’s.

The Pink Floyd Experience
When the band took the stage and opened with "Another Brick In the Wall: Part 3", every subtle intricacy and nuance of Pink Floyd’s complex sound was immediately noticeable throughout The Music Center at Strathmore, which is a venue that was designed and built for the sole purpose of showcasing live music…much like a smaller version of Radio City Music Hall. The Pink Floyd Experience was created by lead guitarist/vocalist Tom Quinn, who coincidentlly bears a striking resemblance to real Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmore (at least when he’s onstage). "The Experience" is rounded out by Graham Heath on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Gus Beaudoin on bass and backing vocals, John Cox on keyboards and effects, Jesse Molloy on saxophone, guitar and backing vocals, and John Staten on drums. Each member is a true virtuoso on their instrument (Graham’s being his voice of course) and this became strikingly evident as the evening pressed on.

The Pink Floyd Experience appropriately segued into "Welcome to the Machine", seemingly trying to wake up the surprisingly subdued Strathmore crowd. Perhaps the crowd’s malaise was due to the band’s decision to play a few lesser known numbers like "Let There Be More Light" off of Pink Floyd’s 1968 album "A Saucerful of Secrets" or "One of These Days" off the 1971 album "Meddle, during their first of two, hour-long sets. Or maybe the crowd was simply mesmerized by the signature lights and visual displays accompanying the music. Regardless, the combination of visual and aural perfection was pure space-aged, psychedelic bliss and any true Pink Floyd fan surely thought they’d died and gone to heaven…this reviewer among them.

Each member of The Pink Floyd Experience impressed me so much, that at varying moments throughout the show, I felt like a different one was the centerpiece of the band. During the first set, I found myself thinking that Cox was the man, as he continuously filled the room with the intense samples and sound effects that are such a key component of Pink Floyd’s music. But later, during "Have A Cigar", when Heath (who is massive by the way…I mean this guy looks like he could pick up a car) sang the familiar line "we call it riding the gravy train" where the word "train" is held longer than any human vocal chord should be capable, the vocalist sounded perfect. And when Beaudoin slapped and popped his way through a bass solo, it was as impressive a performance as I’ve seen on that instrument this side of Les Claypool. Molloy, Staten and Quinn were all equally proficient on their respective instruments too, as every member of the band was given an opportunity to showcase their aforementioned virtuosic talents.

There were multiple highlights from this performance, like getting to hear "Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)" and "Comfortably Numb" in a live setting. But perhaps the most amazing thing happened just before The Pink Floyd Experience returned for their well deserved encore. As the sounds of rain and thunder echoed through the room, a man dressed in a suit made of light bulbs (which were in fact lit up) walked onstage, looked around and then opened up an umbrella. Of course, all the "Floydians" out there recognized the man from the cover of the Pink Floyd live album "Delicate Sound of Thunder". What followed was an amazing version of "Wish You Were Here", which included a sing-along with the crowd, who had thankfully woken up during set number two. By the time the band released a massive flying pig into the audience as they closed out their show with "Run Like Hell", there were literally people dancing in the aisles of Strathmore. Ladies and gentlemen, this is my type of cover band.