We entered The Ryman last Wednesday evening to the sounds of "Texico Bitches" from Broken Social Scene's latest, Forgiveness Rock Record. The Spin snagged a brew and filed into the auditorium to find the balcony roughly two-thirds full. By the time we were seated, we'd heard a false start and a couple of spotty turnarounds on "7/4 (Shoreline)," but we'll forgive it, considering it's potentially the strongest tune in those lovable Canadian bastards' catalog.
One of the first things we noticed about BSS was that co-frontman, multi-instrumentalist and founding member Brendan Canning was wearing a shirt with Nashville-frequenting songstress Jessica Lea Mayfield's face printed most gigantically on it. But anyway, their set was one of the best we could have hoped for, with loads of songs from Broken Social Scene and You Forgot It in People. Their playing felt mildly rusty at points, but we could tell that Canning, Kevin Drew and the rest were playing the songs they really wanted to play — effectively saying, "Fuck it. Maybe we haven't played a couple of these in a while, but we like them, and we're going to have fun doing them." After all, BSS did indicate that we might not be seeing them play again for a long time. Their songs are still resounding, drummer Justin Peroff is still a lanky, lightning-limbed beast of a drummer, and vocalist Lisa Lobsinger — though she may not be the Leslie Feist or Emily Haines some fans yearn for — is at least as good as Amy Milan. Even if we never see Broken Social Scene again, even if their renowned sonic wall is being disassembled brick by brick so they can move on to new projects, and even if they're right on the brink of being too old for their haircuts, we were still completely, utterly down.
After a lightning-punctuated smoke break that had The Spin fearing for our lives, we took our seats to find headliners TV on the Radio playing "Halfway Home" and being granted an ecstatic reception by bros and veteran hipsters alike. Onetime drummer Jaleel Bunton spent the entirety of the set (with the exception of one song in the encore) on keys and bass, while a new-to-us dude with exceptional, near-mechanical drum-line chops handled the beats. The swap quite possibly has something to do with the death of bassist Gerard Smith back in April. RIP, Gerard. Total tragedy.
We mostly heard tunes from Nine Types of Light. But yes, loads of Dear Science and even a bit of Return to Cookie Mountain, as well — how pissed would everyone have been if they hadn't played "Wolf Like Me"? The requisite reverence for The Mother Church's stage came courtesy of guitar player Kyp Malone, who said he was "trying not to psych himself out" by overthinking what a great venue he was playing. Bro didn't need to worry, as his falsetto was angelic, and the droney, hypnotic guitar tones he created — alongside fellow guitarist Dave Sitek — did the legendary room justice. A bit boomy and ethereal, sure. But that's basically what TVOTR does.
Between TVOTR's fantastic playing and their sexy-pirate-looking auxiliary man with his open shirt and trombone blasts, we'd say this go-round kicked the pants off the last time we saw them. But to be fair, that was at Bonnaroo, and who wants to see nocturnal, post-punky electro-pop at 3 p.m. on a 100-degree day?
Rac and ruin
For an easily identifiable faction of familiar faces, the palpable air of anticipation surrounding the return of The Raconteurs was handily rivaled by that of seeing local duo JEFF the Brotherhood fill The Ryman with their Music City-bred, stoney, shreddy, pulse-quickening, pulsing kraut punk on Thursday night. Most interesting was how many in attendance were utterly oblivious to what a landmark moment this was for many local rock fans.
Judging by the scattered sing-alongs of friends, fans and family — who, in some way, felt like they were up on The Ryman stage with the band — and the J-Bros' refusal to flinch in the face of the rest of the audience, which guitarist Jake Orrall jumped offstage into mid-show, there's no doubt that they rose to the occasion like the champions they say they are. The set's musical highlight was a moody but supercharged rendition of "Whatever I Want" — the song the band recently cut with Jack White for release as part of Third Man Records' Blue Series.
"I've had dreams about playing here," drummer Jamin Orrall told the crowd mid-show — taking in the moment between all the flailing hair, knee drops, heavy riffs and rock-star runs across the stage with which brother Jake helped secure the band a standing ovation. Brother Jamin would tell us later in the evening he was "ecstatic."
And so were we. So, pleased and proud of our hometown boys made good (again), we took a nicotine-laden breather in the ideally brisk outdoors, returning to our pew in time to hear The Racs launch into an opening "Consoler of the Lonely" to a hero's welcome — and enclaves of un-self-conscious air guitarists. Off the bat, the band — the familiar foursome of White, co-frontman Brendan Benson and respective bassist and drummer "Little" Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler (augmented by the addition of journeyman keyboardist and Dead Weather dude Dean Fertita) — charged out of the gate with all guns blazing. And for the next three songs that followed — "Hands," "The Level" and "Old Enough" — the band dazzled and electrified all with their potent, bombastic assailment of sky-reaching solos, Keith Moon-honoring endless drum flourishes and a double-down of alto-riffic vocals. And there's simply no looking away from Jack White's undeniable onstage charisma.
Just as quickly as the band captivated with their sonic overload, that business became a bit exhausting — at least for us. But the faithful seemingly couldn't get enough, hanging on every note. The Raconteurs are not a spacious band — which actually makes for a pretty interesting contrast when put side by side with JEFF, whose greatest skill is their ability to subtly and effectively use sparseness and primal simplicity to their advantage. The Raconteurs, prodigious players that they are, are a great band. But at certain points in the show, they seemed so intent on proving it that they overwhelmed their own chemistry and their own songs. Forgivable, considering they're understandably rusty, and, by the looks of how White and Benson were nestling up against each other all night, pretty excited to be back onstage together.
And the show wasn't without a shaky moment or two — felt especially on the White-led, loopy piano ballad "You Don't Understand Me." It was hard to tell if it was White's dirty attack on the keyboard, some uncertainty of the form, or Keeler filling a slight beat over the bar-line — either way, the song was a mess. But such is the excitement of seeing a band get back on the horse. And, honestly, the zealous crowd was too enraptured by the band's (especially White's) je ne sais quoi to notice.
By the time their 2006 hit "Steady as She Goes" rolled around in the encore, the band had more than gotten their groove back, bringing the party with one of the sickest bass hooks of the Aughts. Groovy. Heavy days. Fun times.
Everything about Saturday night's Taylor Swift show at Bridgestone Arena was massive, beginning with the semis parked out in front bearing Swift's breezy visage and serving as humongous advertisements for the tour's sponsor, a cosmetics company. And to give you an idea of how elaborate the production was: During one song break, as backup singers and dancers rushed offstage, a crew came out and gave the set a quick once-over with leaf-blowers, probably to clear away some of the fake snow that had fallen during "Back to December." So basically, the stage was so huge it had its own groundskeeping crew.
Across two expertly performed hours of her meticulously staged mega-gig, Swift popped up from and dropped down into the stage via a series of trapdoor platforms, one of which was big enough to accommodate her seated at a white grand piano. At one point she walked clear across the floor of the arena, hugging and high-fiving on her way to a giant tree, where she sat on a slowly rotating platform and strummed a ukulele for the solo acoustic portion of the set. And in spite of the gargantuan scale — when she put her hands up and made a heart shape, roughly 30,000 hands shot up and made heart shapes back — she still looked out over the shrieking masses and introduced herself by saying simply, "Hi, I'm Taylor."
There was pyro! (A big blast during "Dear John," a song that prompted a young lady near us to exclaim, "John Mayer!" several times, without further elaboration.) A semicircular arched bridge — big enough for a dozen people, at least — got raised and lowered, raised and lowered. For the wedding-crasher mise-en-scene of "Speak Now," several rows of church pews found their way onstage, and if we had to guess, we'd say the fake wedding that took place for the duration of this song probably cost more than a lot of real weddings. At one point, Swift thwacked one of three enormous Liberty-style bells, all of which were subsequently lifted into the air — and as they rose, out tumbled three aerialists, executing all sorts of spins and flips that looked not particularly easy to do while holding onto a rope 20 feet off the ground (and having just gotten your bell rung, so to speak). This effectively turned "Haunted" into a Swift du Soleil.
Here's something we've never thought: "Fearless" would be a better song if it was turned into a medley involving a Train song and a Jason Mraz song. We've still never thought that. But even that couldn't kill the mood. Swift didn't sing "Tim McGraw," but sang with Tim McGraw — they dueted on McGraw's "Just to See You Smile" as the finale of the main set. (We wondered how many times two singers who each have their own signature fragrance are onstage at the same time, and if that ever creates conflict. Like, one person's sandalwood notes start to overpower the other person's leathery waft. Anyway.) Swift didn't sing Big Star but did sing "Big Star" by and with Kenny Chesney, who looked like he had just come from watching golf and eating onion rings at Applebee's or something, in a slouchy baseball hat and some khakis. Dude was made for the stage.
And so was Swift, who sang, danced, whipped her hair back and forth, and delivered hit after hit — she's so prolific she didn't even play the song that made her a star in the first place. The encore, demanded by a Category 5 scream-storm, was short and sweet, consisting of "Fifteen" and a triumphant rendition of "Love Story" for which she floated all the way around the upper level of Bridgestone — all the way around it — on a flying balcony. In a way it was a metaphor for Swift herself — spotlights blazing, up where everyone could see her, and no one could touch her.
Strap in and get comfortable —The Spin is heading to SoundLand. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Thank you for your honesty, Steve. Your comment really puts things in fucking perspective.
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