Sunday, September 27, 2009

September draws to a close

Every year around this time, I think, "Maybe winter won't be that bad. Maybe it will barely snow at all." We know how that's worked out between 2007 and the present. Still, maybe this is the year.

My mom heard from a cousin of my dad's looking for family history info this weekend. She shared a few anecdotes about my great-grandmother. (The mother of these boys, as a matter of fact.) Yia Yia came over from Greece at the age of sixteen as a mail-order bride, which I knew. She had a gift for prophetic dreams, which I didn't know. A gift she passed on to my great-uncle Pete. Yia Yia begged my grandma and grandpa not to name their daughter after her, because she was superstitious. They did anyway. (That daughter was my aunt Ginnie, who died at the age of two from spinal meningitis.) Yia Yia also once had some sort of witch-woman lift a curse she was sure had been placed on her. I need more Yia Yia stories.

The other day I was thinking of how we pronounce the word "color." What is wrong with our language?

I have tickets for twelve concerts in October. This is both exciting and terrifying.

Monday, September 21, 2009


During Saturday night's Andrew Bird show, I realized how many "wait, did he just say that?" moments there are on Noble Beast. Did he just mention a onesie? Did he just say something about kittens with pleurisy? Yes, he did. Plus a new/old song that gave a particular sort of clarity to the consumption of sweetbreads. The taste of neurons firing, indeed.

Andrew was the official headliner of Madison's Forward Music Festival, playing at the Overture Center. My evening began at a different venue, as I chose to forego the opening Pale Young Gentlemen in favor of the seeing Pronto (and Filligar, as it turned out) at the Frequency. In the time between the announcement of the FMF09 lineup and the publication of the schedule, I knew there were two acts I was most interested in seeing. And of course, both wound up scheduled for Saturday night. Luckily, the Overture and Frequency are a few minutes' dash apart, but I was still bummed not to catch all of Pronto's set.

Pronto played very well, and should have had a bigger audience. I loved seeing what the full band added to the live performance of the All is Golden tunes. "Monster" had a different sound, less bouncy. The energetic ending to "Say it All Night" was a pleasant surprise. The band looked comfortable on the small stage, though it was a bit of a contrast to Mikael Jorgensen's usual gig. I hope Madison gets another chance to host Pronto, whether in this configuration or another. A full performance of The Cheetah (complete with video!) would be something to see.

As always, Andrew Bird came through with a solid and slightly otherworldly performance. Between banter about Wisconsin's bike trails and Land Striders from The Dark Crystal, the full-band songs stood out. We heard many songs from Noble Beast, a new song incorporating the sinkings of the Lusitania and Main, and a handful of older favorites. The closing number was definitely a favorite of mine - the Handsome Family's "Don't Be Scared." The first time I heard it (with Sally Timms supplying background vocals) I was so happy I nearly cried. This time my reaction wasn't quite so dramatic, but it was a powerful ending to the show. See you in Milwaukee next month, Andrew.

Monday, September 14, 2009

All that you can't leave behind

Before Saturday night in Chicago, it had been four years since I saw U2. But it had been eight years since I saw U2 from anywhere besides the floor, as close to the stage as possible. This time around, Alison and I opted for seats instead of GA. I looked forward to the show, but wasn't sure if I'd truly be able to get into it. I never see bands in stadiums. I'm never 90 yards away from the performers. My first U2 show in 1997 was at Soldier Field, in seats very similar to those we had Saturday. I had a wonderful time that night, but it was one of my first concerts ever. I'm familiar with U2's ability to charm a huge crowd, but was skeptical of my own susceptibility in this environment. Wasn't I a seasoned concert veteran? Used to the front of intimate venues? Smaller, more down-to-earth bands? My era of rabid U2 fandom years behind me?

Those things are all true. They also don't matter. I had forgotten that a U2 show is a wholly different entity. The last shows I saw were Neil Finn and Jon Brion from the front of a 280-seat theater. Thinking I wouldn't appreciate Saturday night at Soldier Field in comparison, as it turns out, made as much sense as assuming I wouldn't enjoy chocolate ice cream because garlic naan is so great. One has nothing to do with the other.

I hadn't read much about the setlists for the European leg of the U2 360 tour, or about the stage setup. In person, the sheer size, scale, and spectacle were amazing. The screens were unlike anything I'd ever seen, and the tour makes stunning use of lights and visual effects. It all enhanced the show rather than distracting the audience, which can be a difficult line to tread. Of course, simply being present in a stadium with tens of thousands of fans is amazing in itself. Bono doesn't really play to the front of the crowd - I know this from being there myself. Bono plays to the camera; to the back corners of the 400 section. Bono plays to the stadium.

Saturday's setlist was heavy on the new album, as it should be. There were definitely songs I'd have rather heard, but this isn't a Greatest Hits tour. I could have done without the most unfortunate lyrics of my least favorite song scrolling along the screen for a singalong, but you can't win them all. "Breathe" as an opener was great, and Larry coming out by himself to start was a nice touch. The acoustic "Stuck in a Moment" was excellent with just Bono and Edge on stage, somehow working perfectly in a huge space that no longer seemed quite so big. I was in turn confused, surprised, amused and delighted when Bono wove some lines from Wilco's "Far Far Away" into the intro to "Beautiful Day." Also surprising was "The Unforgettable Fire." I'd never seen it played, and judging from the people around me, neither had many younger members of the crowd. Nor had they ever heard the song before, at all. Of course, Bono did choose to skip over a decent portion of the lyrics. I'll chalk that up to "new arrangement," but the song was still a welcome inclusion.

My highlight of the show came in the encore. Bono took the stage in a suit dotted with red lights, shining out into the stadium. A swinging microphone, also covered in lights, lowered to meet him. "Sometimes I feel like I don't know, sometimes I feel like checking out..." After all this time, "Ultra Violet." One of my favorite songs on Achtung Baby, which means one of my favorite songs in the world. I can't say it was a song I'd been hoping to hear, because the idea never occurred to me. But if I'd thought of it, I would have been hoping. It was perfect.

The show made me realize that my experience of a U2 concert isn't really about U2. It's mostly about me. Maybe that's true of anybody's experience of anything, if you want to get philosophical. I have so many memories wrapped up in these songs, this scene, this band. They're all the more powerful for the long gaps between tours, and the fact that I rarely listen to the albums these days. For two hours, the stadium is a time machine. Bono sings "Stand By Me" at Soldier Field in 2009 and I'm at Soldier Field in 1997, Lindsey and Michelle by my side, as he sings the same lines. "The Unforgettable Fire" begins and I'm on a road trip with my parents, headphones on in the back seat, listening to that album over and over/watching the video with Gina, in college, laughing as the wheels fly and colors spin. The verses of "One" take me to Germany, visiting Michelle, gazing at the remains of the Berlin Wall. The band plays "Ultra Violet" and I'm in high school again, brimming with teenage resentment and perfect-student stress, screaming "I wanna get it wrong" at the top of my lungs in my car/in my bedroom/in a stadium with 60,000 people.

Looking back on U2's Vertigo tour, I was too recently removed from my U2 super-fandom to have much perspective. I think it was too soon after the preceding Elevation tour - which completely changed the way I thought about live music - to fully separate the two. I enjoyed the shows, but things were different than they had been. I felt the high school freshman's smugness about how I'd moved on. This time, it's been long enough. Seeing U2 again felt like going home. Like visiting the place where I grew up after having been away for a long time. Maybe I don't want to live there anymore, but everything is right where I left it. I can go back. I can stay awhile.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Set List

Recently I decided to dig out and upload all of the concert setlists I've amassed over the years. Because my old home PC is a fart, I wasn't able to scan them there. I instead scanned them on a big copier and converted them from PDF to JPG files. They lost a bit in the translation, but they're still legible. Frankly, that's as good as it's going to get, at least for now.

For all the concerts I've attended in my life, it turns out I don't have too many setlists. I have a goodly amount, twenty-four or so, but considering I'll be hitting fifteen shows in the next two months alone (ahh!) it's not a high percentage. They're also somewhat random - there isn't any special significance attached to most of the setlists I have. In one case, I didn't even attend the show. I mostly poach opportunistically: if a setlist is in front of me, and nobody else is clamoring for it, I take it. The only one I recall specifically asking for was a Wilco show in Des Moines in 2003. (Such a fun show.)

You can check out my setlist gallery here.