Incubus Incubus HQ Live Los Angeles, CA July 6, 2011
Incubus’ sixth major label album, If Not Now, When?, is already shaping up to be the band’s most polarizing effort, and it hasn’t even officially been released yet. It is that album the band chose to play front-to-back to close out its weeklong Incubus HQ Live, a special web streaming event that saw the band interacting with both fans and press in a variety of creative ways. The shindig took place in a converted storefront in the middle of Los Angeles, where a makeshift practice space was assembled amid pieces of artwork and a reggae soundtrack. Each day closed with an impromptu performance, whether jam sessions from the band’s deep catalogue or run-throughs of well-loved albums Morning View and Make Yourself.
Which brings us to the present and aforementioned album, If Not Now, When? The group has always prided itself in how each album is its own entity with its own unique sound, and that is certainly true here on its boldest departure yet. Gone are the crunchy guitars and monster choruses that have made Incubus a modern rock staple for the last decade plus. In their place is a mellower and more delicate sound, relying less on guitars and hooks and more on space and tone. Lead singer Brandon Boyd referred to it as a headphone album at one point during the show, and he is right on the money.
It should come as no surprise, then, the album is a grower and needs time to digest. The record leaked three months ago, terrible news for Incubus, but at least it means I’ve had ample time to personally soak it in. I remember mixed reactions upon first listen but have definitely come to appreciate it more and more, and there’s no question it has more spark in a live setting. Mike Einzinger, the band’s not-so-secret weapon, had his guitars somewhat muted on the record. Live, however, they are much more pronounced and he is given more room to operate, which obviously plays to his strengths. The entire band, in fact, has always excelled in a live setting, where its high-grade musicianship and Boyd’s unparalleled voice truly shine, so it only makes sense the album sounds stronger as a result.
If Not Now, When’s liveliest moments, such as the second half of “In the Company of Wolves,” the bass funky “Switch Blade” and lead single “Adolescents,” should fit right at home in a greatest hits set list and are sure to become live favorites. Other tracks I’ve come to love, like “The Original” and “Isadore,” were in fine form as well, and you’d never guess that a handful of songs were making their live debut. Nevertheless, the two lackluster songs on the record, “Friends and Lovers” and “Tomorrow’s Food,” come across better live but still amount to little more than filler, especially when compared to what the quintet is capable of.
Throughout the evening the band was clearly loose and relaxed, constantly joking around while being surrounded by family, friends and even a dog, and being mere feet from the performance was an experience in and of itself. To those who thought If Not Now, When? was a boring record, give it another chance, especially if you have the opportunity to see the songs live. While it might be the band’s weakest record to date, it is far from a bad one and worth seeking out for its own merits.
Panic! At The Disco w/ fun. & Funeral Party The Wiltern Los Angeles, CA June 21, 2011
The last time I saw Panic! At The Disco was nearly six years ago when it was still opening for Fall Out Boy, which fittingly also took place at the Wiltern. A lot has changed since then and, while I’ve heard mixed reactions to its live show since, I would bet the band has never sounded better than in its latest incarnation. Lead singer Brendon Urie, showing no ill effects from his recently busted ankle, was full of energy while turning in a widely encompassing vocal performance. Touring members Ian Crawford and Dallon Weekes have also become nice additions with solid musical chops, and their vocal harmonies with Urie proved a perfect complement.
As for the set list, the band heavily drew upon its freshest release, Vices & Virtues, with 8 of its 10 songs represented over the 90-minute set, although admittedly my favorite track, “Memories,” was absent. That favoritism is fine for me, as I would rank Vices as Panic!’s strongest outing, but I know others would disagree while also being disappointed by the lack of attention shown to Pretty. Odd.
Nevertheless, two of the night’s highlights weren’t from any of its studio albums. “C’mon,” a duet done with Nate Ruess and Andrew Dost of fun., was an infectious detour, and the band’s cover of the classic rock hit, “Carry On Wayward Son,” was right on the money, as evidenced by the clips making the rounds on YouTube. I’m not sure how many “pop-punk” bands could have pulled something like this off, but Panic! did it effortlessly, shredding as if it was a hard rock band and clearly enjoying the deviation. It seems that while the band has toned down its theatricality from years past, it has upped the focus on musicianship, and I think the results speak for themselves.
Serving as main support was fun., which turned in a 40-minute set of extravagant pop. I haven’t seen the group since Aim & Ignite was first released, so it was interesting seeing how it has grown as a band in the years since, lineup shuffles included. Nate still has a boundless stage presence and remains a reliable live singer, with the rest of the musicians now well oiled to accompany him. Two cuts from its upcoming album were also previewed, both of which sounded up to par if not as memorable as Aim & Ignite’s strongest cuts, although to be fair it’s hard to judge on only one listen. The only complaint I would offer is the synths added to two of the older songs, which skewed a little too close for my taste to the crappy dance punk that is all the rage these days.
Lastly, or firstly from a chronological standpoint, I arrived in the middle of opener Funeral Party’s set, a local band from the L.A. area that I wasn’t too familiar with. The band sounded all right, nothing hugely memorable but certainly not anything terrible, either. Think a less catchy version of Tokyo Police Club and you’re on the right track, although it was hard for them not to get overshadowed by the night’s two following acts.
Set List: Panic! At The Disco
Ready To Go (Get Me Out Of My Mind)
But It’s Better If You Do
The Ballad Of Mona Lisa
Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off
C’mon (Feat. fun.)
The Only Difference Between Martyrdom And Suicide Is Press Coverage
Let’s Kill Tonight
Nine In The Afternoon
The Green Gentlemen (Things Have Changed)
I Write Sins Not Tragedies
Carry On Wayward Son (Kansas cover)
Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met…)
Set List: fun.
We Are Young (New Song)
Walking The Dog
All The Pretty Girls
All Alone (New Song)
At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)
Take Your Time (Coming Home)
w/ Little Joy El Rey Theatre
Los Angeles, CA
July 28, 2009
Regina Spektor is not your average singer, as anyone who has seen her live performance can attest to. Armed simply with an arresting voice and piano, she has a way with words that is both serious at heart and whimsically amusing.
She began the show at El Rey with several cuts from her latest offering, Far, which would become a staple of the evening as all but one of its songs were represented. Ranging from the powerful first single, “Laughing With,” to the darker “Machine” and the playful “Dance Anthem of the 80s,” Spektor’s maturation as a songwriter was on display, backed by string players and a drummer.
Her idiosyncrasies still shone, though, especially when she grabbed an electric guitar on “Bobbin’ for Apples” and “That Time.” But it was some of her well-known older tunes that received the biggest response from the audience, including the somber piano ballad “Samson,” which turned “Us” and “Fidelity” into sing-alongs.
Throughout the evening, she expressed thanks for the turnout and seemed a little sheepish by the crowd’s continual yelling. She closed the 90-minute set with what she dubbed as her version of a country song, “Love, You’re a Whore,” which fittingly ended things on an upbeat and wholly unique note.
On The Radio
Time Is All Around
One More Time With Feeling
Dance Anthem Of The 80’s
Bobbin’ For Apples
Poor Little Rich Boy
Genius Next Door
Man Of A Thousand Faces
Love, You’re A Whore
Recorded last December at the Nokia Theatre, Where the Light Is confirms John Mayer's status as a top-class performer and one of the great guitarists of our time. Spanning two discs, the 22-song effort begins with a stripped-down acoustic session before segueing into sets from the bluesy John Mayer Trio and Mayer's own seven-piece touring band. While the obvious hits are included ("Daughters," "Waiting on the World to Change"), the excellent musicianship stands out as most impressive.
In keeping in line with Mayer's recent blues-driven work, several of the songs are extended into epic jam sessions amid free-styling guitar solos. Backed by a few inspired covers (Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'," Ray Charles' "I Don't Need No Doctor") and his smooth voice, which continues to improve with age, the record is a testament to Mayer's musical ability and makes for a nice holdover until his next studio album drops.
“Shoot ‘Em Up” is essentially a movie about guns and killing people with them in interesting ways, and it deserves credit for never pretending to be anything more than that. Basically everything you need to know happens within the opening five minutes, as the premise is about as simple and clear-cut as it can get.
Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) happens to oversee a pregnant lady attacked by a group of assassins and comes to her rescue, going so far as to deliver the baby amid a torrent of gunfire. Smith, who later gets some help from a local prostitute (Monica Bellucci), then takes it upon himself to keep the baby safe from Hertz (Paul Giamatti) and his platoon of goons, as the conspiracy involving the baby slowly begins to unravel.
How much one will like the movie hinges on whether or not they will be able to accept its hyperrealist setting. With several references to Looney Tunes, it oftentimes plays as a kind of action movie cartoon, complete with exaggerated acting and outrageous shootouts. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, it wisely keeps its sense of humor intact, unafraid to wear its ridiculousness on its sleeve.
Delivering on the promise of its title, the film is a wild rollercoaster with rarely a dull moment. Boasting several extensive gun battles that would make John Woo proud, the fight scenes are clearly the film’s apex. At times, it is quite impressive to see what director Michael Davis is able to come up with, utilizing a vast array of guns, car chases, and more uses for a carrot than thought possible. The only time it is overly cheesy to the point of distraction is during the skydiving sequence which, while still fun, is poorly constructed and too obviously fake.
The actors aren’t given a lot of material to work with yet make the most of what little they do have. Owen is once again in his wisecracking, tough guy mode and fits the part perfectly. Excelling in the action scenes and delivering snappy one-liners, he offers a hint at what his James Bond interpretation would have looked like.
As the villain, Giamatti holds nothing back in his over-the-top performance. The role seems to be a bit beneath what the talented actor has done recently (“Sideways,” “Cinderella Man”), but he seems to be enjoying himself here, so it rubs off on the audience. On the other hand, Bellucci is reduced to little more than a pretty faced babysitter for when Smith goes off to fight, and is given too limited a screen time to build anything worthwhile into her character.
Outside of the shootouts, the movie doesn’t have much going for it. The character development and exposition is kept to a minimum to emphasize what it’s clearly all about—the action. While this keeps it from getting needlessly sidetracked, it also means its depth perception is extremely constrained. Its sense of logic follows the same pattern, including the big reveal at the end.
The film’s main strength lies in its well staged and executed action scenes, along with another entertaining performance by Clive Owen, and anyone expecting something more than a no-holds-barred gunfight flick should probably look elsewhere. However, for those who are able to look past its one dimensionality, it will prove to be a wacky and fun-filled ride, albeit one which is easily forgotten.