At the Crystal Ballroom, NOFX Prove Punk Isn’t Dead—Just Older and Fatter

Punk is Drublic is so 1994,” Fat Mike lamented as the 30-something crowd at the sold-out NOFX show at Crystal Ballroom on Nov. 2 chanted for more minute-long classics from the band’s seminal fifth album.

Dressed in a leather kilt with a dyed-red mohawk, Mike pranced around the stage as the band launched into punk anthems spanning its discography, including “Six Years on Dope” and the instant memorable “I Don’t Like Me Anymore.” from latest release, First Ditch Effort. It’s been 20 years since I first saw NOFX play in the intimate setting of Club Babyhead, a tiny hole in the wall in Providence, RI, and I’m happy to report that while the band has gotten older and fatter, they are quite notably not balder, and can still rile up a bunch of punk rockers, now in a much bigger venue.

Though the band took the stage a few minutes late due to the extra innings in game 7, they still managed to pack in 24 songs and delight the aging Portland crowd. NOFX eventually delighted with a few selections from its classic 1994 album—including “Linoleum,” in which the crowd’s singing often overtook the band and the apropos “Perfect Government”—while mocking Donald Trump and drummer Eric Sandin alike in between. “He’s the best drummer in the band, though,” Mike said. 

All photos by Thomas Teal.

Dillinger Escape Plan Says Goodbye With a Intimately Brutal Show at Dante’s

As heady as their music can be, it’s best to not overthink your approach to the prog-metal blitzkrieg of New Jersey’s Dillinger Escape Plan. But I had questions as I shoved my way into a sold-out-as-fuck Dante’s on Oct. 26. Why was the soon-to-be-defunct group chose such a tiny venue for this stop of their farewell tour? And considering the close quarters and the relentless, pulverizing nature of their music, would I leave with a head wound?

As anticipated, the show was a torrent of good-natured violence—both musical and physical—that rarely let up. A dazzling explosion of LED lights backlit the band as they took the stage, and within seconds the crowd was thrashing in time with “Limerent Death” and “Panasonic Youth.” The former, which opens this year’s swan song Dissociation, finds vocalist Greg Puciato doing a serviceable impersonation of the sleazebag yowling Mike Patton offered when he briefly held the frontman job on 2002’s Irony Is A Dead Scene EP. He’s more than capable of holding a tune on record, but the staccato screaming that careens headlong into the oddly sing-song endings of “Farewell, Mona Lisa” and “Hero of the Soviet Union” is the most compelling outcome of Dillinger’s 20-year evolution. No one would consider crowd favorites like these “easy listening,” but the group’s ability to write actual songs you’d sing along to in your car is there if you’re looking for it.

For a band so notoriously abrasive and unapproachable to outsiders, the number of anthemic and uplifting moments that emerged from the carnage was a pleasant surprise. As the bedlam of closer “43% Burnt” wore down and guitarist Ben Weinman crowd surfed his way back onto the stage, the answer to why Dillinger chose to pack-out a bar as small as Dante’s emerged in a tender scene that may have been lost at a larger venue.

“This is the part where we say we’ll see you next time,” Puciato said, “but there won’t be a next time.”

I emerged unscathed. Your window for getting a black eye at a Dillinger Escape Plan show is officially closed.

All photos by Thomas Teal.

Blind Pilot’s Portland Show Was Equal Parts Sweet Sentimentality And Drunk Moms and Frat Guys Screaming Lyrics

In a configuration that was both purposeful and a problem for the Crystal Ballroom’s sound techs at Oct. 20’s sold-out show, Blind Pilot sounds best when everyone’s quiet.

Blind Pilot
(Henry Cromett)

Part of the problem is that the band’s recent album, And Then Like Lions, is centered more on layers of acoustic stringed instruments, while 2011’s We Are the Tide focused on big, bright percussion and strumming. Seeing this change executed live highlighted Blind Pilot’s two best assets: the sweet sentimentality of frontman Israel Nebeker’s songwriting, and the underappreciated finesse of those playing behind him.

Blind Pilot
(Henry Cromett)

In the post-Decemberists deluge of Pacific Northwest indie folk bands, the combination of eagerness and technical skill—shown in the seamless transitions of multi-instrumentalists Kati Claborn and Dave Jorgensen—has set up Blind Pilot with staying power. By the middle of the set, I was struck by how few people were there just to Snapchat the show. Frat dudes and drunk moms alike sang along to every word.

Blind Pilot
(Henry Cromett)

When the band crowded around a single mic to sing “Just One,” people closed their eyes and smiled. “Let all things be as they should,” everyone sang. “Let my heart just drift like wood.” It was sort of disgusting. “I can’t believe we get just one,” the crowd continued. I assumed they were talking about lives, but what do I know? And then, something crazy happened: I started smiling, too.

James Blake Flashes Brilliance Between Audience Yawns at Roseland Theater

Whenever an accomplished studio vocalist steps onstage, the question is often whether or not they can recreate the magic and hit all the notes live. This is mostly a non-issue for James Blake. The British producer has talent oozing from every pore, and whether or not his unearthly crooning can sound as pure through the PA at the Roseland Theater as it does on his small clutch of albums and EPs turned out to be the least of concerns for those in attendance of his sold-out show on Oct. 14.

What was of more dire consequence was the energy level Blake commanded with his electro-tinged torch songs, which have garnered a loyal following from the Venn diagram overlap between the fanbases of the macho, frat-boy infested world of EDM and the more sophisticated sounds of traditional U.K. dub and garage music. Fans of the latter were certainly at the Roseland in noticeable numbers, but the overwhelming presence of the former became obvious two songs into the set during the undulating sort-of climax of “Life Round Here,” the standout cut from 2013’s Overgrown. One could tell the crowd was conditioned for a drop to trigger a collective freak-out, but that kind of festival-tent-leveling catharsis is not Blake’s bag. A modest visual array offered some dynamic push, with its flickering lights and gentle oscillations between cool colors and darkness. But his guitarist and “drummer” added little to the live-ness of it all. 

To his credit, not a laptop was seen nor a vocoder heard throughout the bulk of the performance. Pressing play on an Ableton interface is an easy shortcut for even the most dignified of electronic producers, which makes Blake’s preference of synths, vocals and minimalistic beats as his preferred vessels of expression quite commendable. By the time he reached the set’s middle, mostly populated by cuts from his latest, The Colour In Anything, the perfection of his execution revealed itself to be the performance’s greatest downside.

The crowd was obviously restless by the time “Love Me In Whatever Way” drifted from the speakers, and although choosing his remix of Untold’s “Stop What You’re Doing” injected a bit of that grimy, bass-heavy energy folks were hungry for ever since the lights went down, he prefaced the song with a quick aside, describing Untold as “a traditional dubstep act…not what’s currently out there.” It felt like unnecessary shade being thrown at folks who could hardly give a shit about what’s considered “real” dubstep.

I’m sure myself and the majority of everyone else there who found themselves yawning between brief moments of flawless brilliance are missing the point to some degree. But the ethereal beauty and tidy production that’s endeared Blake’s music to critics and fans alike can only do so much in a packed concert hall that’s known more commonly as a nexus of aggression. It sounds just as beautiful live as it does on record, but next time I may invest the time in arriving early enough to get a seat. 

All photos by Henry Cromett.

At the Schnitz, Brian Wilson Shows He Wasn’t Quite Made for These Times, Either

I know there’s an answer.

Why is Brian Wilson—74 years old, his voice so frail he couldn’t quite push through certain lines without pausing for breath—touring to mark the anniversary of Pet Sounds? Didn’t he hate touring even when he was a younger, healthier man?

Did anyone else at the Schnitz on Oct. 7 notice he was miserable, scowling, so happy to get off the stage that he walked gingerly from behind his prop piano as soon as he’d finished his part of the set’s final song?

Related: “Brian Wilson Is Coming to Play Pet Sounds for the Final Time. Here Are the Six Hottest Remaining Beach Boys Takes.”

Can Brian, after everything his once perfectly tuned ears have been through, tell how hard it is for Al Jardine’s middle-aged son and the rest of his backing band to approximate those delicate harmonies from Pet Sounds? Or was this band intentionally optimized for the surf rock-era songs, without regard for how bad they’d sound on “God Only Knows”?

Did anyone want to hear an extended, jammed-out version of “Wild Honey” except for hammy ’70s session guitarist Blondie Chaplin, who played it? Whatever happened to the dream of continuing the proper Beach Boys reunion with Mike Love? Could we ever bring it back once it has gone?

All photos by Thomas Teal.

Dinosaur Jr Refuses to Act Its Age at Crystal Ballroom

It was easy, at first, to discount the Dinosaur Jr reunion. Though they were one of the first “hell freezes over” type reconciliations to make headlines in 2005, many acts have since followed with one-off gigs or tours or full-on career restarts. But what makes Dinosaur so special is that they’re still unbelievably adept at making the scruffy, powerful music that made them great initially. They’ve even outdone their original incarnation with a trio of LPs that are actually better than the albums they made 30 years ago. Just imagine ever saying that about the Smiths. It’d be sacrilege.

The enthusiasm for the treasured Massachusetts trio was palpable among an especially diverse mix on the all-ages side of the Crystal Ballroom’s bounce-house floorboards Sept. 29, and there seemed to be as many aging rockers sporting earplugs as young punks with plugs in their earlobes.

When Mascis finally emerged and plugged into his wall of Marshall Stacks—painted in his signature purple and gold—the cacophonous wall of sound he released seemed to trigger an equally deafening mass of several hundred enthused screams of adulation.

For a guy who didn’t say anything beyond a mumbled “How ya’ doin’?” all night, everyone in the crowd seemed to both know and unabashedly adore the grizzled wizard that Mascis personifies on stage. Bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph, on the other hand, were relentlessly mobile. Powering through Green Mind’s “The Wagon” and later the Without a Sound single “Feel the Pain,” the two guys who didn’t even play on the recorded versions the first time around ran apeshit laps of craziness around the one guy who did. They kept the momentum going with “I Walk For Miles” and “Knocked Around,” off the recently released Get a Glimpse of What You’re Not, as well as a handful of songs off the two preceding LPs.

When they finally left the stage for a few minutes it was Barlow who returned first, giddily offering his microphone around the crowd up front and asking, “What should we play?” The first request was the band’s scorching Cure cover, “Just Like Heaven,” which they laid into almost immediately and embodied the tender atmosphere of the whole evening. Upon exiting I heard a buttoned-up, middle-aged man exclaim to a friend two things I’m sure no one ever said of the reunited Misfits or Guns and Roses: “I hope I have that energy at 50. They were unstoppable.” 

All photos by Henry Cromett.

Sigur Ros Strips Down—In More Ways Than One—at Keller Auditorium

It’s easy to stereotype Icelandic band Sigur Rós as fey post-rock softies. From singer Jónsi Birgisson’s impossibly high falsetto and preference for singing in a self-created language to the use of “Staralfur” in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, there’s a perception that the band is forever destined to make interstitial music for rainy days and Hobbit coves. But the band also has a heavy, gnarly side, demonstrated Wednesday night at the Keller Auditorium by one awesome and shocking wardrobe choice—near the end of the band’s two-hour, multi-part set, drummer Orri Páll Dýrason took his shirt off.

No, really, I’m not messing with you. For years, black metal bands have referenced Sigur Rós whenever they want to let some sunshine in, but this ultimate rock move was something else, a defining moment that made the crescendo of the last few songs of the night extra potent.

Touring for the first time as a stripped-down trio (keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson left the band in 2013), Sigur Rós played two different sets with a brief intermission in between. The minimal approach worked well. Without distractions from superfluous horn or string sections, the focus was placed on the interplay between Birgisson’s heavenly vocals, an underrated rhythm section, and a very cool and trippy LED light show. Even without backup players, the band touched on older material that hadn’t been played live in years, including “Staralfur.” The shifting stage and long runtime emphasized both halves of the its psyche—gorgeous twinkling lullabies and thundering noise loud enough to ask for earplugs.

Large swaths of the first section sounded almost like Sigur Rós Unplugged, with the band playing ethereal, delicate, keyboard-and-synth-led songs like “Ekki Mukk” and “Vaka” that made me scramble home to listen to fellow Icelandic glockenspiel-enthusiasts Múm for the first time in years. But make no mistake, Sigur Rós are really a post-rock band at heart, and it’s been awhile since I’ve felt a chill creep down my spine like during the crushing apex of “Ny Batteri.” By the end of the 10-plus minute finale “Popplagid,” Birgisson was strutting to both sides of the stage with his mouth agape, screaming at the crowd to get loud. It was another unexpected gesture from a Serious Band, but he makes a good point. Even though Sigur Rós’ music might sound alien, it’s very much a living, breathing thing by humans not afraid to remove an item of clothing in the name of rock ‘n’ roll.

All photos by Colin McLaughlin.

Blink-182 Wrestle With the Ghost of Tom Delonge at Sunlight Supply Amphitheater, With Mixed Results

It’s a funny thing when disapproving critics are browbeaten by the readers they serve into pulling a complete 180 on a band they’d prefer to write off. Though undeniably fun and hopelessly catchy, you’ll find few treatises from the early aughts on how Blink-182’s gloriously boneheaded pop-punk was destined to save the world. A trio of San Diegans who write bouncy anthems about beer, boners and boredom are destined to be taken at face value, and for a long time, that’s exactly how it was. And then, as time went on and a bumper crop of posers like Fall Out Boy and Yellowcard came to prominence in their wake, Blink became “important.” And that’s where things got messy.

To their credit, it was hard to interpret the demeanor of the band as they took the stage at Sunlight Supply Amphitheater on Tuesday night, to an explosion of technicolor graphics and the word “FUCK” written in flames, as pandering to their early detractors and their revisionist history. Or pandering to anyone, for that matter. Blink has always done things on their own terms, and if you don’t like it then you should go back to your bedroom and get woke about the government with Green Day. “Feelin’ This” was as logical a place as any to start, and the choice of following with “What’s My Age Again?” was a smart decision in pogo-pit economy, considering the average age of the audience was a spry 29 or 30.

IMAGE: Pete Cottell.
IMAGE: Pete Cottell.

Alas, it took only five songs for the elephant in the amphitheater to rear its ugly head. Though I vividly recall favoring Alkaline Trio in high school because they were “more serious” and less entrenched in the boy-band schtick that endeared Blink to the giggling cheerleaders I loathed so much, the acquisition of Alkaline frontman Matt Skiba to fill the gaping hole left by deposed cofounder Tom Delonge—who presumably refused to continue with the band because he’s certain his time is best spent uncovering the truth about UFOs—is unsatisfactory. Skiba is a passable singer in his own right, but his Delonge impression was downright horrendous at times. Case in point being “Down,” a somber mid-tempo cut from the middle of the group’s 2003 self-titled record that was almost unrecognizable until the chorus. Between that and a flaccid rendition of “Miss You,” it was almost as if you could feel the goodwill longtime fans had gradually built toward Blink’s most ambitious and divise record evaporate into the night air with every elongated vowel and atonal drift of one consonant sound into another.

The smattering of tracks from their latest effort, California, gave Skiba a sturdier case for his job, but beyond the parts written specifically for him in lead single “Bored to Death” and the dismal uptempo skulking of “Los Angeles,” only casual observers who gave zero shits about who was onstage were able to completely commit to the lukewarm renditions of the many Delonge-led classics. In spite of that, the encore of “Carousel,” “All the Small Things” and “Dammit”  was a swift reminder that music need not be serious to be enjoyable. Sometimes, the boorish escapism of the knuckleheaded punk music of your youth succeeds in overriding desires for intellectual stimulation. 

Garbage Transcends ’90s Nostalgia at Roseland

For a band whose defining moments lay decades behind them, Garbage has largely avoided the nostalgia-circuit pandering of their reunited contemporaries atop the late ’90s charts. While the Roseland Theater may represent a sizeable step down from the arenas filled during the quartet’s Clinton-era peak, Sunday evening’s sold-out throng also felt mercifully light on middle-aged memory-hunters distractedly waiting out the hits. Beyond the inevitable thickets of West Side tech-bros ready to phone-capture every familiar act passing through town, last night’s crowd seemed almost eerily reminiscent of the band themselves at that ’94 moment when Nevermind  producer Butch Vig first brought Scottish goth-pop chanteuse Shirley Manson aboard his new garage-dance project—a sea of balding normcore professionals beside pretty young things of regal diffidence and hair colors not found in nature.

Weirdly, considering the band’s rarefied legacy as the bridge between the last days of grunge and our electronica-dappled future, no one else has ever sounded remotely like Garbage. As a result, though resolutely fixed upon a bygone sonic checkpoint, they somehow don’t seem dated, and however frustrating the artists’ reluctance to move beyond a sonic blueprint essentially perfected upon arrival, cuts from latest release Strange Little Birds fit seamlessly between the greatest hits. Casual fans couldn’t have expected so many past FM staples to ring familiar nor—given the recordings’ densely-layered flourishes of tape-op delirium—how unabashedly rawk they’d seem when performed live. Owing, perhaps, to the famously-fastidious production techniques that effectively forced a lengthy hiatus between each album, Garbage has mastered that hardest trick for veteran groups: maintaining the lockstep cohesion of continuous interplay without ever betraying the time-worn weariness of a millionth run through the songbook.

For a pair of studio boffins aged 57 and 65, the more overt rock’n’roll theatrics of guitarist Steve Marker and utility instrumentalist Duke Erikson read as reflexive and instinctual as their thunderous riffs are polished (61-year-old Vig, sidelined earlier this tour with bout of acute sinusitis, keeps a steady presence behind the drums). Manson, at 50, was nothing less than a revelation. Powers undimmed, the Edinburgh expat can still shatter the rafters with a weaponized brittleness or glide breathless along a tempered fragility, and slightly rougher vocal textures only accentuate the hint of a growl long lurking behind serrated anthems of keening regret. While every city likes to imagine its venues hold some special resonance for touring icons, her exhaustive, spellbinding, continuously electric performance felt far more than routine. And, midway through the approximately 90-minute set, she confirmed as much.

“It’s not often you get to share a room with someone that’s helped save your life,” Manson intoned. A long pause followed as, suspense building, onlookers glanced helplessly about. Thomas Lauderdale? Vera Katz? Damian Lillard? You? Me? Twas, actually, Wild author Cheryl Strayed. Manson credited the local author’s Tiny Beautiful Things—a collection of essays soon to be adapted by HBO for a PDX-based series—as an invaluable touchstone during a difficult period following the death of her mother.

Strayed and Manson, at Strayed's birthday dinner Saturday, September 17
Strayed and Manson, at Strayed’s birthday dinner Saturday, September 17 in Portland.

It was an oddly affecting moment. Platinum acts dependent upon hook-laden, profoundly-manipulated, fun-sized soundscapes aren’t ordinarily founts of emotional intimacy. More to the point, for all her lyrical self-laceration, the Garbage frontwoman always projected a cheeky distance commensurate with her bandmates’ artisanal gloss, but more than just Manson’s timbre has deepened.

Related: “How Cheryl Strayed’s Book of Advice Columns Made the Jump To Off-Broadway—and Even HBO.”

Although initial complaints about Garbage as calculated pop construct soon dissipated—Manson too plainly bled through each album—the evident creative disconnect separating the band’s unchallenged head and undeniable heart still never quite fit how we like to think about rock groups. Hard to romanticize a singular romantic vision when the singer-songwriter’s left to tend her neuroses half a world away from the Wisconsite producers’ endless tinkering. No longer, though. However artificial their origins, whatever their current process may entail, the music of Garbage now seems indistinguishable from the spirit of Shirley Manson.

At every moment, she commanded the stage—stalking petulantly away from the mic, gushing liquid before applause, plopping down for a bout of “just-we-girls” candor, physically wringing every ounce of rage and despair from songs of seduction. By the show’s triumphant close, she was effortlessly directing crowd traffic toward choral response as huge swaths of the roiling faithful shouted along the refrain to their signature hit in cascading tandem. Inspirational memoirists aside, Portland may hold little claim for Garbage. But can you blame local audiences for investing “Only Happy When It Rains” with an intensely personal significance?

All photos by Colin McLaughlin.

At Sunlight Supply Amphitheater, Prophets of Rage Prove History Isn’t Repeating Itself—It’s Still Ongoing.

At first glance, the Prophets of Rage show at Sunlight Supply Amphitheater on Sept. 11 looked weirdly like a Donald Trump rally, given the wide array of middle-aged dudes sporting red baseball caps reading, “Make America Rage Again.” But of course, given that the band is a glorified tribute act—featuring members of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy’s Chuck D, and B-Real from Cypress Hill essentially covering themselves—this was a concert recalling the past as much as it ironically referenced the present.  Opening with a bold reworking of Public Enemy’s  “Prophets of Rage,” the show took the audience back to the 1980s and ’90s and acted as a reminder of how little things have changed politically in America. While the set list was dominated by Rage Against the Machine material, Chuck D stole the show, taking the audience thoroughly into his hands on bombastic versions of “Shut ’Em Down” and “Miuzi Weighs a Ton.” His presence was so commanding, you hardly even missed Zack de la Rocha on the RATM songs. Between songs, guitarist Tom Morello advocated for social justice. It was a great place for being pissed off, feeling justified in your anger, and also getting tipsy with nostalgia. But ending with a dramatic rendition of “Killing in the Name,” the band reminded that history hasn’t repeated itself—it’s still ongoing.

All photos by Thomas Teal.