Bon Iver: Music that is the soundtrack of treasured memories

By Stephanie Sharon, Guest Blogger

Ever since For Emma, Forever Ago was released in 2008, Bon Iver has been one of those bands… you know what I’m referring to.  One of those bands that prompts someone to come up to you and ask, “Have you listened to this band!?” and I nod and say, “Of course,” because I know they are trending, but just haven’t had the chance to listen to them yet, and I don’t want to be the un-cool librarian (hold the stereotypical librarian jokes please, I really do have a cool job). So yes, Bon Iver was one of those bands, that is, until their self-titled album was released in June of last year, and thanks to a road trip I was able to finally hear the greatness of this band everyone has been raving about. Letting my road rage subside, and giving in to lead singer and guitarist Justin Vernon’s voice, I was sent into an instant state of contentment.

After I returned from my trip, I remembered how calming and beautiful the music was, and I thought it would be perfect for a playlist I always put together for my Mom’s chemo treatments.

Photo by Stephanie Sharon

The treatments could be up to four hours long, and thanks to the effects of Benadryl she was only half awake and in need of good relaxing music. She had been on chemo for over three years straight and with treatments every three weeks, that equals a lot of iPod playlists. So you can only image how grateful I was to current artists who put out quality music.

After her long fought 22 year battle with breast cancer ended up taking her life in July, I will never forget–among our many wonderful memories–the music we shared and bonded over. I owe such a debt of gratitude to those artists, and one day I would personally like to thank each and every one of them (without being arrested).

On September 16, 2012, Bon Iver returned to Philadelphia to perform at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, and it was definitely a concert I did not wanted to miss. Thanks to one of the best friends a girl could have, I was able to see the show from a box seat.

Photo by Derek Brad

The opening act, Anais Mitchell, started the show on a high note. It is so refreshing hearing an opening act you would actually want to listen to again after the show, and she definitely had my attention with songs like “Wilderland” and “Coming Down.” One of my favorite aspects of her performance was the slow addition of members from the Bon Iver band to help play with her throughout the set. The extra musicians added a unique spin to her classic folk sound.

Photo by Stephanie Sharon

Now to the main event.After three glasses of wine, a quick trip backstage (be jealous), and a nice walk around the venue, I got to see Bon Iver finally take the stage. At first I was surprised with how many musicians were on the stage (nine !), then realized they really need every member, from the trumpet player to the saxophonist, to get their unique sound. I blame my initial musical ignorance of this fact on the wine.

They opened with “Woods,” and I quickly grew emotional with every following song. When the opening notes for “Holecene” were played, I kind of lost it. Tears streaming down my face, I couldn’t help but think about how my mother must have felt when listening to this same song while getting poison pumped through her veins. Did our emotions match? Did she feel the same tranquil humbling wave pass over her that I also feel when I listen to the lyric, “… and at once I knew I was not magnificent?” I’ll never know but I can hope it gave her the same peace it gives me.

After what felt like the shortest 70 minutes in the history of time, Bon Iver left the stage, but shortly returned for their encore of “The Wolves (Act I & II),” where Justin asked the audience to sing along, and closing with “For Emma.”

Photo by Derek Brad

This was by far one of my favorite concerts this year, and after seeing over 30 mostly amazing shows this year, that is quite a feat for this band and their chill music. My only complaint (and it is minimal) is that they didn’t play longer to finish off the few remaining songs on their albums that didn’t make it into the setlist.

Overall, bravo, Bon Iver. One day I hope I get the chance to say thanks.

Photo by Stephanie Sharon

Advertisements

No venom in this venue! Scorpions rock the Mann Center

Reviewed by Laura Kate

 

Tesla; Photo by Derek Brad Photography

When you mention the band Scorpions, certain images immediately come to mind.  Leather.  The color black.  Long poodle-permed hair.  Insanely tight pants.  And that was just the men that attended the band’s “Final Sting Tour” show. All of that and more were on hand during the Scorpions concert on July 11 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.  The Scorpions and opening act Tesla brought the ‘80’s hair metal fans out of the Philadelphia woodworks for a night of flashy, gritty, hard rocking fun.

There seems to be a certain degree of shame that goes with liking ‘80’s hair metal, usually inflicted by closet hair metal fans that haven’t come to terms with their tendencies to appreciate men with long poofy hair and pre-pubescent voices.  Despite this, proud hair band fans braved the weather and the warm venue beer to show their support.  This show had a setup fit for a stadium concert, with more speakers and lights than ever seen before at the venue that is most popularly known as the home of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Scorpions; Photo by Derek Brad Photography

Scorpions; Photo by Derek Brad Photography

Just because Tchaikovsky and Chopin were not on the set list doesn’t mean that the crowd didn’t get to hear the classics.  Tesla stirred the crowd up into a scream-singing rendition of “Signs” and the Scorpions ended their set with the best known songs of their 30-year catalog, including crowd favorites “Zoo,” “Still Loving You,” and “Rock You Like a Hurricane.”

The Scorpions have been quoted several times on this tour as saying this is the last tour they will do in the U.S.  Happy—or what passes for happy in this subculture–Philadelphia fans crowded the front of the Mann Center orchestra seating section to catch a glimpse of their rock gods, and perhaps a bit of their hazy youths.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Wayne’s World, just picture the scene where they go to the Alice Cooper concert.  This show was like that, except slightly less crowded.  It felt a little silly, but was totally fun.  And just like any good mullet, the band was a great blend of business and party.  Next time I’ll be sure to pull up in my own Mirth Mobile to show my support.

Rocking like a hurricane; Photo by Derek Brad Photography

Scorpions Setlist

  1. Sting in the Tail 
  2. Make It Real 
  3. Is There Anybody There? 
  4. The Zoo 
  5. Coast to Coast 
  6. Loving You Sunday Morning 
  7. Rhythm of Love 
  8. Wind of Change 
  9. Holiday 
  10. Raised on Rock 
  11. Tease Me Please Me 
  12. Hit Between the Eyes 
  13. Kottak Attack 
  14. Blackout 
  15. Six String Sting 
  16. Big City Nights 
  17. Still Loving You
  18. No One Like You
  19. Rock You Like a Hurricane

Idina Menzel: Bare feet and big talent

Reviewed by Laura Kate

 

Our favorite!

My mother, much to her credit, raised me with a deep appreciation for classic movies.  We spent many lazy Sunday afternoons watching old cinema classics, including many musicals.  There is something about a good musical that just reels you in.  The campy but heartfelt, over-the-top song and dance numbers that somehow all of the characters know, the usual boy meets girl (or in the case of Rent, girl meets girl) but something gets in the way of their romance plot, and the colorful sets, costumes and characters make an evening with a  musical just fun.  This is the world that Idina Menzel comes from and the world that she brought to the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.

Menzel is widely known and loved for her portrayal of Elphaba in the Broadway musical Wicked as well as her debut role in the insanely popular Rent and her role as Rachel’s mother on the Fox hit series, Glee.  She has legions of devoted fans and she is known for her playful grace when interacting with them.  More on that later.

Idina Menzel as Elphaba in Wicked

The Mann Center is an outdoor venue with a covered pavilion that faces a huge cedar stage and overlooks the city of Philadelphia.  It really is a great place to see a show when the temperature isn’t overbearing.  This grand place was the setting for Menzel’s adaptation of her Barefoot at the Symphony show, which was fittingly called Barefoot at the Mann.  Menzel was in fact barefoot throughout her performance, laughingly telling the audience that she thought about wearing heels and then decided, “F—k it!” which immediately created a camaraderie with the crowd.  Looking absolutely stunning in a Grecian-style white belted dress, Menzel exuded Broadway confidence as she proceeded to own the stage.

Now, as much as my mother prepared me as a child to appreciate musicals and show tunes, this wasn’t a “must see” concert on my list and thus I had somewhat low expectations.  However, from her opening rendition of “Over the Rainbow” through some of her personal favorite songs all the way to the songs that made her famous on Broadway, Menzel hit almost every note flawlessly with the powerhouse voice that propelled her to stardom.  She was backed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the evening’s performance was reminiscent of an old Rosemary Clooney stage show.

The most entertaining part of the show was during her performance of “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent.  During this number, she went out into the crowd and chose two random females to sing the duet with her.  The both girls were talented, but the first girl really knocked it out of the park.  Menzel then invited both up on stage for a grand finish and the crowd was on its feet for several minutes afterward.

The performance was almost impeccable.  The orchestra wasn’t overpowering to the single voice, the lights were warm and inviting and Menzel was personable with the audience, adding anecdotes and reflections about the songs she chose for her show.  There were a couple of missed notes toward the end, but even that is forgivable given the powerhouse performance she gave.  The few minor warbles were completely overlooked by fans, all of whom left with big smiles.  Many didn’t leave right away, and instead waited outside the press gate for an autograph, a hug or even just a glimpse of Menzel.  This may not sound like much, but it took her quite a while to make her way back to the tour bus because she was tied up in a meet and greet immediately after the show.  Fans at the barricade outside the press gate were told that she was very tired and would just be moving to the bus with no autographs or pictures taken, and everyone—to a man—was perfectly fine with that.

The Barefoot at the Mann show was like a little bit of old Broadway was back, for just a single evening in Philadelphia.

Set list (Mann Center for the Performing Arts, June 30, 2012)

  1. Somewhere Over The Rainbow 
  1. The Wizard and I 
  1. Love For Sale / Roxanne 
  1. Both Sides Now 
  1. Don’t Rain on My Parade 
  1. God Save My Soul 
  1. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For / In Your Eyes 
  1. Take Me or Leave Me 
  1. No Day But Today 
  1. For Good 
  1. Defying Gravity  

 

Encore:

  1. Somewhere 
  1. You Learn To Live Without 

The mood control devices of Norah Jones

Reviewed by Laura Kate

I feel that sometimes we listen to a particular song, band or genre of music because we are in the mood—or want to set the mood—for it.  You know the old stereotypes–some smooth Al Green, ethereal Mazzy Star, or (if you are my like my mother), crooning Barry Manilow for when you are planning a romantic night; some Rage Against the Machine or N.W.A. for when you are feeling feisty; or some Chipmunks Christmas album or the Dreidel song for the holidays.

But then there are times when you randomly select something to listen to—maybe your iPod is on shuffle or you just reach for the nearest cd—that puts you in a particular mood.  This happened to me when I went to the Norah Jones concert on June 28 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty familiar with Jones’ music and I felt I knew what to expect, but when I came across the tickets for this show, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into…which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Jones rose to stardom after her 2002 debut album, Come Away with Me earned five Grammy awards.   She just released her fifth studio album, Little Broken Hearts, in April and it has been quite successful so far.  Her style is smooth and mellow, combining elements of pop, jazz, soul and blues to create a sound all her own.  She is not shy about telling people that her musical idol was Billie Holliday, and you can hear Holliday’s subtle influence while listening to Jones’ original songs.  I’m simply in love with her music.

The opening act was Sasha Dobson, and it is no wonder that she perfectly set the tone for the evening.  She performed several solo jazzy acoustic songs before taking her place in Jones’ band.  Dobson’s performance as the opening act sounded easy and eloquent and made me want to listen to more that this musician has to offer.

Little Broken Hearts album cover

Jones started her performance with several tracks from Little Broken Hearts, opening with “Take It Back,” which has a really cool fuzz bass undertone.  The set design was beautiful, with blue, purple and pink hues highlighting large origami peace cranes that were suspended from the ceiling. Other songs in the first half included “Say Goodbye” and “Chasing Pirates.”

I enjoyed the first part thoroughly, but then she deftly changed the pace by sliding into “Travelin’ On” and “She’s 22.”  These songs are so full of longing and sadness, and (for me, at least) it induces a kind of empathy for Jones and the place she must have been in when she wrote it.  My mood shifted from relaxed and content to sad and moody just from listening to a piece of music I related to.  She then took me to a sense of determination with “Little Broken Hearts,” which is driving and edgy with lyrics that cut; Jones performed it with confident abandon.

The second half of the concert included covers of Elvis Presley, Danger Mouse, and Hank Williams, which made for very interesting interpretations of familiar songs. Jones gave each of these songs her own touch, which made them fit perfectly with her own compositions.  The standout sons from the second half would be “What am I to You?”  I looked around and noticed a young couple standing at the top of the steps under the pavilion who were dancing in the darkness.  He had his arm around her waist, drawing her close to him, and she was looking into his eyes and it was just a perfectly sweet scene to a beautiful love song.  This once again proves my point. I doubt that they came to the concert planning to dance, but this gorgeous music put them in the mood to share a tender moment with each other.  My mood shifted once again as well and I left the concert with a fuzzy warm feeling from having seen a wonderful show, but the feeling was just barely tinged with sadness from my own reflections on Jones’ very personal lyrics.

Ok, so if you read my introduction on the Music page, you know that I will go to any lengths to weave in a Beatles reference.  I don’t have to go too far on this one.  You score extra points if you know who Norah Jones’ father is.

Nora Jones’ daddy

Set list (Norah Jones, June 28, Mann Center for the Performing Arts)

  1. Take It Back 
  2. Say Goodbye 
  3. After the Fall 
  4. Travelin’ On 
  5. Chasing Pirates 
  6. She’s 22 
  7. All a Dream 
  8. It’s Gonna Be 
  9. Little Broken Hearts 
  10. Love Me 
  11. Black 
  12. Stuck 
  13. Miriam 
  14. What Am I To You? 
  15. Don’t Know Why 
  16. Cold Cold Heart
  17. Lonestar

Encore 

  1. Creepin’ In 
  2. Sunrise