No need for the (karma) police here: Radiohead comes to Camden

Reviewed by Laura Kate

Radiohead is one of those bands that everybody seems to know of at least one song in their discography, and just based on that one song, they become enthusiastic fans…or loathe their existence.  I happen to fall in the former category.  The first time I heard “Creep” waaay back in the day, I just knew this was a band I would follow for a long time.  You know, you hear those opening notes repeat over and over in a meandering kind of way and when  you are convinced this is what the whole song will be, BAM!–lead singer/guitarist Thom York says “F–K.”  Of course, this makes the song that much cooler in your teenage mind and then BAM! a raucously nasty chord bursts out and the song begins to rock.  And just when you are preparing to risk slipping a disc in your neck (an unfortunate side effect of head banging), then BAM…everything goes quiet again.  Ever since then I, along with many of my generation, was sucked in by the unique sound this British band produced.

“Pablo Honey” album cover

So it was with high anticipation that I made my way across the Benjamin Franklin bridge over to the New Jersey side of the Delaware River to see Radiohead at the Susquehanna Bank Center for the final show of their American tour.  This is not my favorite of venues, but it’s also not the worst I’ve ever been in.  We had lawn tickets, which wasn’t bad because the music was just as good up on the hill where we were standing, perched behind the rail that separates the lawn from the drop into the walkway to concessions and bathrooms.  There were screens that showed the action from the stage and seriously, everyone was very relaxed and completely nice where we were at.  In fact, the couple next to us brought a huge bag of glow in the dark necklaces and bracelets and just gave them out to everyone around and even threw some of them to random strangers coming back with pretzels and popcorn.  How generous!

I think the crowd there was a good reflection of the band’s following: a little strange and definitely uncommon, but overall very nice and generous with their talents.  Radiohead did not play their most widely known singles, such as “Creep” and “Karma Police,” but did a good job of highlighting selections from each of their many albums. At first, I felt a little salty about not hearing the popular favorites, but a short while later I didn’t care because I was being reminded of the prolific catalog of music they have recorded since the 1992 breakout debut of “Creep.”  They had a strong opening with “Bloom” and flowed right into “There There.”  Standout songs for me were “Lucky” and “Nude,” both of which were sung with such raw emotion that I was completely swept up in the musical experience and everything else was tuned out.  The visuals were nice accents that added to but didn’t distract from the music–in fact, they were quite beautiful, even from the lawn.

Thom York (Photo by Elizabeth Robertson)

The fans were in complete harmony with the band, something that rarely ever happens.  In fact, they were so appreciated, that the band came out for two encores for a total of seven songs.  Many bands have tried to emulate Radiohead (usually with dismal results) and when someone tries to describe a song that has a few quirky electronic loops or high male vocals singing with lament, they might throw out the standard, “You know, like Radiohead. But different.”  However, I think Radiohead has proven their worth as a stand-out band with a unique sound and plush lyrics that make fans stand by them through the years.

Final thought: If you get to a chance to see Radiohead, please do.  It is like a musical communion between the band and the crowd.

Set list (Susquehanna Bank Center, June 13, 2012):

  1. Bloom  
  2. There There  
  3. Kid A  
  4. Morning Mr. Magpie  
  5. The Gloaming  
  6. Separator  
  7. Lucky  
  8. Like Spinning Plates  
  9. Identikit  
  10. 15 Step  
  11. Nude  
  12. Lotus Flower  
  13. Paranoid Android  
  14. Feral  
  15. Little by Little  
  16. Idioteque 

    Encore:

  17. Give Up the Ghost  
  18. Staircase  
  19. I Might Be Wrong  
  20. Bodysnatchers  

    Encore 2:

  21. House of Cards  
  22. Reckoner  
  23. Everything In Its Right Place 
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So you’ve never heard of Uilleann piping?: Ivan Goff and Eamon O’Leary bring traditional Irish music to Philly

Reviewed by Laura Kate

First, my apologies for not posting this earlier.  I started on it the day after the concert, but got side tracked by graduate school work.  Now, with that out of the way, on to the good stuff!

Kudos to Dr. Scott B. Spencer, adjunct professor in the Honors department at Villanova University, for giving an outstanding lecture titled, “How the West of Ireland Helped to Save Uilleann Bagpiping” on February 18.  This free lecture was an enlightening portrait of how an instrument and those who knew how to unlock its complex tones almost died out, but then enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the early 20th century.  Men and women alike joined piping clubs to play together and make sure that the art of uilleann piping would continue.

My fascination with bagpipes goes back to second grade.  Ever the Air Force brat, I had just transferred to Walter Hall Elementary School in League City, Texas, right around the time that the school had “World Cultures” week.  My group of classes were dedicated to the UK and Ireland, and as a special treat, we had a highland bagpiper perform for our class.  As soon as I heard the tones competing with each other to escape the big bag and slender pipes, I was hooked.  I looked around, and almost everyone else was making faces akin to what you might look like if you witnessed a group of alley cats being skinned at the same time.  I, on the other hand, was entranced.

Anyway, so I went to the lecture and the accompanying music concert that evening expecting a similar experience.  Oh Laura, you stupid stupid girl!  Uilleann is the Irish word for elbow, thus making uilleann pipes an appropriate name for the instrument I saw.

Ivan Goff on uilleann pipes. Photo courtesy of irishphiladelphia.com

Instead of a giant bag like the highland pipes, these pipes were operated with a bellows that is pressed by the pipers elbow while the fingers operate the chanters to create a full two octaves of melody.  It is typically played while seated.  Meanwhile, the drones can play underneath all of this, thus creating an incredibly complex instrument that takes a good deal of training and talent to successfully operate.

Internationally acclaimed piper Ivan Goff was available during the lecture to clarify points and answer questions.  It was great to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to say.  Later that evening, he performed with Eamon O’Leary on acoustic guitar.  Actually, his guitar looked more like a lute and he said that it wasn’t a traditional acoustic guitar, but I didn’t catch what particular kind of guitar it was.  I suppose it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that the man made magic with that guitar and the two men worked well together to showcase the best of both instruments.  Goff also played a few pieces with tin whistle and O’Leary sang several songs.

Eamon O'Leary. Photo by Steve Farmer.

As a flautist myself, I can honestly say I’ve never seen anyone do what Goff did with a tin whistle.  It was truly amazing.

The evening was filled with traditional Irish music and was enjoyed by all.  The Philadelphia Ceili Group has done a wonderful job of putting together a superb lineup of musicians for the 2012 season and the tickets are incredibly cheap for what you get out of it.

To learn more about the Philadelphia Ceili Group and the wonderful array of lectures and musical performances that are open to the public, please visit http://www.philadelphiaceiligroup.org.

My new muse: Gotye

Reviewed by Laura Kate

Is it possible to fall in love with a man based solely from hearing his music?  I wonder.  If I had been alive in 1810 and lived in Vienna, would I have fallen in love with Beethoven just because I attended a performance of his fifth symphony and loved the musical complexities that permeated the fabric of the concert hall?  If the music adequately reflected the man, then I would have to say an emphatic yes! and this is also the case with Wouter DeBacker, aka Wally, aka Gotye.

A friend of mine asked me late Thur. night if I had plans on Fri. because she came across a set of tickets for the Gotye show the next night.  Gotye? Who is that? was my initial reaction, but I trust her taste in music.  So we made our plans, and I found myself at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia on Mar. 23.  We got there almost two hours early and the line stretched down the block.  This is a good sign, I thought to myself.  When we were finally let in, we scored seats in the front middle orchestra section.  Things were off to a good start…and it only got better.

The opening act was another pleasant surprise.  After a lukewarm start, New Zealander Kimbra warmed up the audience with her velvety voice and rocking band who, if judged by appearance alone, would have been composed of 1980s Adam Sandler, House Party‘s Kid and Play, and two random guys.  Kimbra herself looked like she raided the closet of one of the children from Toddlers and Tiaras, but she exuded such sensuality that it could almost make a person uncomfortable from the paradox of sights and sounds she was giving off.  Very effective.  Anyway, Kimbra remained upbeat and energetic and got the audience to follow her three songs into her set.

Having never heard of Gotye before, I had no idea what to expect.  No preconceived notions, no snotty bullshit reviews from “industry experts,” no history of singles overplayed on radio stations to taint my opinion…just myself and the musical and visual experience.  I choose the word experience because what I witnessed that evening was a culmination of musical genius against a backdrop of corresponding animations that engaged nearly all of my senses and pulled me in.  Within minutes I was oblivious of the sold out crowd around me and completely entranced by the various threads of talent weaving together in front of me to create a beautiful and warm blanket of musical experience in which to wrap myself.

Gotye’s set list included many from his new album, Making Mirrors, as well as some from previous albums.  I wish that I could have sung along like the girl behind me who would occasionally burst out between songs with, “Oh yessss, Gotye, do it to me!”  But alas, part of not knowing what to expect includes not knowing the words.  However, this gave me a chance to really listen to the lyrics instead of letting them bounce off of my consciousness.  Poetry–sensations, expectations, yearnings, happenings, sufferings, excitations–it was all there.  He moved far past the radio-friendly “Somebody I Used to Know” and included lesser known, but probably even more musically endearing songs like “Eyes Wide Open,” the dark and twisted soundscape of “Smoke and Mirrors,” the catchy crowd participation of “Save Me,” and the hauntingly beautiful and simple “Bronte.”

I don’t want to make a mistake in overlooking his band.  Each performer seemed to be a master of his instrument and they all worked together to help create the magic of the evening.  Everything came together to make this the best concert I’ve ever attended.

Rarely has a live performance inspired me, but I can say that this show made me want to uncork the creative fury that has been brewing inside of me for months now.  If you have an opportunity to see Gotye live, please don’t pass it up.  You might just find your own inspiration…and you might just fall in love with the music and the man.

U2’s 360 Tour Rocks Philly

Reviewed by Laura Kate

I can now die a happy woman.  That is to say, I have finally seen U2 in concert.

Seeing U2 in concert is something that I have dreamed of for years.  In fact, the very first popular radio music that I can remember hearing as a child (that was current) was when U2 released the Joshua Tree album.  However, it always seemed like they were on tour when I was living in the most remote of places in the arm pits of civilization that even the philanthropic Bono would not waste time venturing to, i.e. Oklahoma.  Either that, or if I did happen to be around a big metropolitan city, I wouldn’t have the money to buy the ticket before the concert would sell out—and it always sold out.

But since moving to the Philadelphia region, I have finally found myself in a place where I have both geographic proximity to some really great venues that some really great bands play at and had the funds to spend on some amazing live performances.  Now, it just so happened that U2 was supposed to play in Philadelphia in 2010, but had to postpone the performance with the rest of their North American tour until 2011 due to Bono’s back surgery.  This worked out great for me because on July 14, 2011, I was living in the area and had a ticket to enter Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field to see U2’s 360otour.

Edge doing what he does best

Eeeeeek!  I was ready for a night to remember and I certainly was not disappointed.

I will not divulge how much I paid for my ticket, but I will say it is the most I have ever paid for a single night of entertainment.  I toyed with the idea of going all out and paying the obscene price for a ticket that would include a limo ride there and cocktails with the band and about 100 of their other adoring fans, but common sense prevailed and I applied what I was willing to spend toward getting the best seat I could afford.  This concert was worth every penny I paid for the ticket, though it could be possible (according to accounts from various friends in different seats) that there wasn’t a bad seat in the house due to the nature of the 360o stage.

Lincoln Financial Field

Between Interpol and U2 set ups

The stage was created to look somewhat like a spaceship, which came in handy in the second half of the show when they played “live” satellite video footage from the space station and a special message from U.S. astronaut Mark E. Kelly. More importantly, though, was the fact that the bridges from the inner stage to the outer circle runways rotated around the circle, enabling the Edge and Bono to get off at any point on the circle in front of any part of the audience.  In essence, there was no backstage blind spot.  But I’ve gotten ahead of myself…

The opening act for this leg of the tour was Interpol, which didn’t seem to concern anyone there except for one woman sitting about eight rows behind me who claimed to be lead singer Paul Banks’ future “Baby Mama.”  No one else seemed to care.  Not to say that they weren’t good, but they were just small compared to what we all knew was coming; they sounded small and they even looked small.  During the stage change between Interpol and U2, David Bowie music reverberated off the stadium walls as people finally came in from the concession stands.

U2 takes the stage

I started noticing quite a bit of activity around the stadium tunnel about 15 feet to my left.  Feeling like I was on to something, I left my seat and waited at the railing with my camera trained on the tunnel.  Eventually, the lights went down, “Space Oddity” started playing and to my heart’s delight the band came out of the tunnel I was stationed at.  Honestly, I could have spit (I didn’t!) and hit each of them.  Realizing that I missed the best opportunity to hit any of the band members with strategically thrown panties, I retreated to my seat and settled in for the best concert I have ever seen.

Bono worked the crowd like a champ.  He took a special moment to comment that many audience members were now two years older than when they originally bought their tickets and he thanked the crowd profusely for hanging in there until the band could come to Philly.  The rotating bridges brought Edge right in front of me for several songs and all of the LED monitors that surrounded the stage delivered an amazingly clear concert experience that was truly larger than life.  Bono even resurrected his “Fly” persona during “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” and swung around the stage.

And the sound…wow.  For playing in an outdoor sports arena, I can say I was absolutely taken aback by the quality of the sound.  I could have been jamming in my car to a cd recorded live and it couldn’t have been any better.  The set list was a nice mix of the old and the new and the energy never ceased—even when Bono would go into a political rant, which was expected.

Bono kept up the energy all night

Speaking of the political tirades that most people criticize U2 for, all I can say is this: I admire people who use their super-celebrity status to call attention to causes that benefit humanity and that is exactly what Bono and U2 do.  The evening of this concert happened to coincide with Nelson Mandela’s birthday, so the band closed by having everyone join in singing “Happy Birthday.”  Hey, I’ve sung that song for pets before, so why not sing it for a freedom fighter?  The band even had representatives from Amnesty International come out for a candlelit rendition of “Moment of Surrender.”  I thought it was beautiful and if for just three minutes out of a three hour show they got 75,000 people to all think about how good they have it in an arena listening to great music rather than being oppressed in some horrendous place, then I’m all for it.

U2’s 360o tour stop in Philadelphia was everything I hoped it would be and more.  The challenge since July 14, 2011 is to stave off disappointment while attending other non-U2 concerts.

An awesome concert experience

Set list:

Even Better Than The Real Thing
I Will Follow
Mysterious Ways
Until the End of the World
Get On Your Boots
Magnificent
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Stay
Beautiful Day – Space Oddity
Elevation
Pride (In the name of love)
Miss Sarajevo
Zooropa
City of Blinding Lights
Vertigo – It’s Only Rock and Roll
I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight (remix) – Discotheque – Life During Wartime -Psycho Killer
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Scarlet
Walk On

ENCORE:

One
Hallelujah – Where the Streets Have No Name
Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender
Happy Birthday