Brandi Carlile with Lucius at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Friday night I went to my second of three concerts at Merriweather Post Pavilion. This time it was Brandi Carlile with Lucius opening. It is no secret around these parts how much I adore Brandi Carlile. I also really like Lucius and would have gone to see them on their own, so it was a bonus that I got to see both of them together. I do wish that Lucius had gotten to play longer though. They only played for about 40 minutes. With only them and Brandi on the bill and the concert starting at 7, I’m not sure why they weren’t given a full hour. I’m sure the people in front of us were really wishing they had a longer set. They were very obviously there for Lucius. Holly and Jess, the lead singers, always dress in matching outfits that are a little bit ostentatious and out there. The three guys in the band always dress in matching outfits as well, but it’s generally this suits or in this case pretty casual black pants and shirts. Anyway, the people in front of us were dressed in matching white jumpsuits with hot pink wigs. They left after Lucius’s set too, so they obviously were really only there to see them. That was an awful lot of money to spend for 40 minutes since we were all the way down in the pit, but I guess to each their own.

I also was kind of annoyed with people during Lucius’s set because everyone around us aside from the people in front of us were obviously there to see Brandi and didn’t seem to care much about Lucius. There were a lot of people talking and just generally ignoring them. Since Lucius sang a lot of their quieter songs it was kind of hard to pay attention to them over the din of the crowd. Also I wanted to throw away the phone of the girl who was sitting next to them that sort of moved into their space after they left. She spent the whole concert taking photos and videos. I don’t begrudge anyone a few photos or even videoing one song, but when you spend the whole show doing that it’s super annoying to everyone around you. I don’t want to have to watch the whole show through your phone or as in this case have your arm right in my line of vision as you hold your phone up over your head. I was hoping she was going to chill out and put her phone away after a couple of songs, but she didn’t. I am not confrontational and generally would sit there and be annoyed in my head the whole time and then blog about it here later. I was even nice and waited for her to finish her video of “The Story” and then asked her politely to put her phone down because she was blocking my view. She never really did, but at least that made her move back over into her seat and she did keep putting her left arm down and only holding the phone up with her right arm so that her arm wasn’t in my face. I guess that’s something, but all it did was shift the annoyance to in front of someone else.

Brandi’s set was amazing as usual. I saw her 5 times in concert last year and for all but one show she pretty much did the same set aside from a song here or there that she traded in and out. In a lot of the publicity surrounding the by the way I forgive you album she talked about how they are such a performance based band and realized that they were stuck in a rut writing songs based on what they knew were going to be energizing to audience especially on the festival circuit and not anything that felt artistically challenging or interesting. They decided to go in a completely different direction with that album, and obviously it has paid great dividends. I adore it, but I did also miss some of those livelier numbers during their sets last year. It seems like maybe they have started to add some of that stuff back in. It felt to me that they made this set list in kind of chunks.

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At the beginning they had a bunch of the energetic crowd pleasers to get people into the show. I felt way disoriented though because they started off the set with “Hold Out Your Hand”, which is the song they used as their encore at all 5 shows I saw last year. It really is such a great encore song that I almost thought it might become one of those songs a band has that they use as their encore forever and always. Apparently not. Instead everything was flipped completely on it’s head with that song being the opener and “Every Time I Hear That Song”, which they had been opening their sets with last year becoming one of the encore songs. They also did a chunk of quieter old favorites like “The Story” and “The Eye”. Then they did a chunk of covers including inviting Lucius back out on stage and singing their song “Dusty Trails” with them. Brandi joined them for that song at the Newport Folk Festival last year, so I guess they decided to do a reprise at this show.

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She also sang a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” and Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water”. Then there was a chunk of songs off the new album. She did two encores ending the first one with “Party of One” and then coming back out to sing a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. It is a wonderful song, but I am pretty much of the mindset at this point that it needs to be put on ice for at least 25 years. The Jeff Buckley cover of that song was inescapable in television and movies for a number of years and it kind of wore me out on it and ruined it for me. I would be perfectly content to never hear that song again for at least another decade. That being said Brandi does a lovely cover it and it was a beautiful moment to look back behind me at all the people holding up the flashlights on their phones and swaying to the song.

I was also amused the next day to discover that I had made it into another of Pete Souza’s photos at a Brandi Carlile concert. If you don’t know who Pete Souza is, he was Obama’s official photographer. He is friends with Brandi and is as equally obsessed with her shows as I am. He goes to a lot of their shows and photographs them from backstage. I was in the front row of a show at The Beacon in New York City last year and wound up in one of the photos he posted on Instagram. This time you have to zoom way in on the crowd to pick me out, but if you do you can totally find me. I’m going to see her in Philly with Mavis Staples in September. We don’t have great seats for that one, so I know I won’t wind up any photos there.

 

The Wood Brothers and Lake Street Dive at Wolf Trap

I am getting pretty bad at writing up these concert posts in a timely manner, but I’m still getting them for the zero people who actually care about them. I still like writing them and sometimes going back and reading them, so that’s all that matters.

Saturday night I dragged my husband down to Wolf Trap for the second of three shows I have tickets to there this summer. This time it was Lake Street Dive with The Wood Brothers. I didn’t realize it ahead of time, but they were apparently co-headlining. I caught on when it got to be well over an hour and The Wood Brothers were still playing. Then I noticed in the program that their names were both the same size, and it all made sense.

I do not love The Wood Brothers. I’ve tried on several occasions to get into their music including ahead of this concert and they just don’t do it for me. I think it’s because they have too much of a jam band sensibility about them even if I don’t think they actually qualify as a jam band because they don’t really do these long, never-ending songs like true jam bands. I feel justified in my assessment though because I overheard the people sitting next to us who were super into them talking about some of the other concerts they’re going to this summer and it as jam bands galore. They weren’t bad to sit around outside on a beautiful night and listen to though, and I do think they make complete sense as a band to tour with Lake Street Dive as they do share a decent amount of musical DNA. They both came out and played during each others’ sets and there was a most excellent stand-up bass-off between their stand-up bass players during a cover of “Everyday People” during Lake Street Dive’s set.

This was the second Lake Street Dive concert that I’ve seen this year. They were the first show I saw in 2019 way back on January 3. I was just remarking about how I thought it was pretty good that Florence + the Machine played about 1/3 different songs at the two shows of hers that I saw in the past year. Lake Street Dive blew that out of the water. They played 19 songs at Wolf Trap and 20 songs at Rams Head Live and only 7 of the songs overlapped, and they were pretty much the hits that everyone was going to want to hear them play. I do think I liked the Rams Head show a little bit better mostly because it’s a much smaller and more intimate venue, but this was also an excellent show. I just adore Rachel Price’s voice and will never get tired of listening to her sing. They are just such a fun band to watch perform too.

They didn’t impress my husband nearly as much as Florence + the Machine though. When I asked him if he enjoyed the concert I got a grunting eh. I think that had more to do with the fact that I forced him to sit on the lawn, which he is not a fan of. I also did sort of curse myself in my Florence + the Machine post when I said the lawn at Wolf Trap is so much more civilized than at Merriweather. It wasn’t uncivilized in that no one was super rude or drunk, but we did sit towards the back of the lawn so as all the last minute stragglers were showing up well into the concert they all squeezed themselves in right around us rather than looking for any small open spaces farther down. One girl got too much into his space and he was not thrilled. He needn’t worry for our next show though. I got us pavilion seats even though I like the lawn at Wolf Trap better.

Florence + the Machine at Merriweather Post Pavilion

On Monday night I dragged my husband down to see Florence + the Machine at Merriweather Post Pavilion, the first of three concerts I’ll be seeing there in June. They’ve been upgrading a lot of things there over the past several years and it’s now really starting to show. The first year was mostly backstage stuff so to the audience it didn’t seem like they had done anything. Last year the biggest thing I noticed was some of the new bathrooms. I guess they had a bunch of new food stuff last year and even more this year, but I never get food there so I don’t really know. The major new thing this year, which you could see start to take shape last year when they raised the roof on the pavilion was the addition of the new sky box seats and the new sky lawn. They look really nice, though I will never pay the stupid amount of money they want for the box seats. Interestingly anyone can go up on the sky lawn because technically they are lawn seats. I gather there is actual grass up there. I didn’t go up this time, but next time I think I’ll walk up just to check it out. It’s pretty flat though and since you’re above the stage I don’t think it would be worth sitting/standing up there for the actual show unless you got there early enough to snag a spot right along the balcony.

They have also replaced the seats inside the pavilion. No more janky, rusting metal folding chairs in the far back sections! I never understood why there weren’t real seats in those areas to start, but now everywhere has nice new plastic folding chairs. That’s good because I pretty much go for the pavilion seats at Merriweather now. In my younger years I used to love sitting out on the lawn there. It’s still not awful when you know the show isn’t going to be a sell out, but they sell way too many tickets for the lawn for super popular shows and it’s just miserable especially if you wind up surrounded by a bunch of rude, drunk people. Plus, now that they’ve added this new sky section the pillars holding that up have reduced the amount of lawn space that has a decent view down to the stage without solely relying on the screens. I can afford pavilion seats, so unless I’m going with someone who prefers we do the lawn I’m pretty much paying for a seat these days. It is kind of funny that I still much prefer the lawn seats at Wolf Trap over sitting in their pavilion. I love picnicking on the lawn there and everything just seems so much more civilized.

Anyway, now on to the show. This was the fifth time I’ve seen Florence + the Machine live. I never seem to care for whoever she picks as her opening act. The first time I saw her she was opening for U2, so that doesn’t count. The second and third times I saw her I had never heard of the opening acts, came and saw them, didn’t care for them, never listened to them again, and could not tell you at this point who they were. I saw her at the Anthem back in October and knew I didn’t care that much for Beth Ditto so skipped the opening act. Same for this concert which had Blood Orange as the opening act. My husband wanted to leave a little bit earlier than I suggested so we still got there in time to hear the final two song of Blood Orange’s set, which just confirmed my decision to not to see them.

I’ve basically seen Florence + the Machine tour once for every album. This is the first time I’ve seen them twice on the same tour, so I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of seeing anything new. I know a lot of times bands have a pretty standard set list and stage banter routine that they don’t deviate from much. There was definitely a lot of overlap and intros to songs had the same general gist, but it didn’t feel like a retread at all. I looked up the two set lists to compare. She played 16 songs at the Anthem and 17 at Merriweather with 12 of them overlapping. So about a 1/3 of the songs were new, which is a pretty good percentage. She also played another 1/3 in a different order than she did at the Anthem, so it very much felt like a new set other than the very beginning and end.

She is just such an awesome performer too. She has so much energy and is just running and dancing around the stage all the time. I would be completely out of breath and unable to sing. Not that anyone wants to hear me sing. She of course went out into the crowd all the way up into the lawn. She gets the crowd involved in the show almost better than anyone else I’ve seen. She is also just brings such an energy of peace and love and positivity while also encouraging people to, I want to say fight to lift up the oppressed but fight feels like the wrong word. Anyway, she basically said at this show basically said I know you’ve already spent a lot of money on concert tickets, but if you were thinking about maybe buying a t-shirt or something tonight donate that money to the ACLU instead because I don’t need it. I always leave a Florence show feeling so much more uplifted no matter what is going on in my life or the world. She has taken to ending her shows with “Shake It Off”, which really is the best closing song she could pick and she should never change that. As someone with anxiety who holds onto a lot of stuff I should just let go of I feel like I should listen to that song every day and make it my mantra.

It was another excellent show by Florence + the Machine and is why I will continue to see her every time I get a chance. Even Paul gave it high praise. Whenever we leave shows I drag him to I always ask if he enjoyed it. For the most part unless he really didn’t like it I get a response of it was fine or it was okay. My husband does not express emotion very much. When I asked him how he liked this show he said it was good, which on the Paul scale is pretty much like giving it 5 stars, so she even won over the curmudgeon.

New Music Friday: Essentially by Japanese Breakfast

I don’t have much time this morning nor do I think I have a whole lot to say about this song aside from that I love it. The beat reminds me a lot of David Bowie’s “China Girl” and I feel like some other 80s song I’m not quite putting my finger on (so if you know it let me know) crossed with the vibe of some of the more recent stuff by Stars. Anyway, I’m super digging it right now. Let it groove you into the weekend.

The Avett Brothers at Wolf Trap

My friend Chinwe and I always hit up a concert at Wolf Trap every summer. This year we got it in right at the beginning of the season. The Avett Brothers played three nights in a row doing three different sets. There were a couple of songs they played every night, but the majority of the sets were different. We originally planned to go to the Saturday night show because getting to Wolf Trap on a weeknight during rush hour is a bear. It was nice to finally have a show that we wanted to go to fall on a weekend when the traffic presumably wouldn’t be nearly as bad, although you never can tell with the DC Beltway. Unfortunately we didn’t get our act together soon enough and all the lawn seats were gone for both the Friday and Saturday shows by the time we bought our tickets, so we wound up going Thursday.

Paleface, who was I was not previously familiar with, was the first opening act and played all three nights. His music reminded me of a combination of 60s psychedelic music crossed with surf music. It was interesting to listen to, but it’s not something I’ll probably seek out further.

The second opening act was different for each night. On Thursday, it was Rodney Crowell. I know Rodney Crowell is a country legend, but I really couldn’t have named you a single song of his, and I also didn’t recognize anything he played. I really enjoyed it all though. It was a the perfect music to sit outside and listen to on a beautiful night. I am happy that we wound up going Thursday and seeing him because I think I’m happier with him than I would have been with Thao and the Get Down, Stay Down or The Felice Brothers who were opening the other nights.

Having now looked at the setlist for all the nights, I am bummed we didn’t get to go Saturday and not just because the almost 2 hours it took us to get there would have probably been cut in half. I was very happy that The Avett Brothers played “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise”, “Ain’t No Man”, and “No Hard Feelings” at our show, but they also played all three of those songs on Saturday in addition to “I and Love and You” and “Murder in the City” which I also would have loved to hear. Oh well, I guess you can’t have everything. The show we saw was still excellent. The Avett Brothers are a lot of fun. I also don’t understand how their cello player is not in intense pain after every show given that he just hoists the cello neck up on his shoulder with the cello sticking out in front of him and plays like that. This was the first time I’ve actually seen The Avett Brothers play their own show and not just part of a set at The Newport Folk Festival. I would definitely go see them again. Happily I still have more shows at Wolf Trap to look forward to this summer. I have tickets to at least two more shows and who knows maybe I’ll go to something else if I get ambitious.

BSO Pulse with Rhiannon Giddens

I’m kind of cheating today and combining my New Music Friday post with a write-up of the concert I went to last night. I think it’s fair to say that it’s not that much of a cheat though because her newest album with Francesco Turrisi, there is no Other, came out only a week ago. Add on to that that she also released a collaborative album, Songs of Our Native Daughters with Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell earlier this year and I think it’s fully legit to say she is all over the new music. Though it’s actually a little funny to say that because one of her main goals with her music is to revive the folk music of the past and bring back the history of black string folk music that like much other culture has been co-opted and white-washed. There is a recent New Yorker article about her and black folk music that she said the author researched for 4 years. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’m very much looking forward to digging into it.

As per usual the BSO Pulse concert started off with a set by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. This time it was a pared down 9 person string section only. They played four movements: Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Puccini’s Chrysanthemums, Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst and Bartok’s Divertimento for Strings.

Rhiannon Giddens then had her own set in which she performed with her long-time collaborator Dirk Powell. They switched off between the bango, fiddle, and guitar and played a variety of music off of her albums as well as him singing a couple of his songs. During one of the songs he was singing she got into some knee slapping rhythms and wound up doing some barefoot clogging after which she had a hard time catching her breath after which she said she once spent 6 hours a day tap dancing preparing for a show, obviously not no more. Because I know things I knew she had to be referring to the fact that she was cast to replace Audra McDonald in Shuffle Along when Audra had to leave the show after getting pregnant. Apparently people only wanted to see the show for Audra because the ticket sales tanked and they closed the show before Rhiannon Giddens ever took the stage. It made me a little sad remembering that because I thought her casting was an excellent choice.

Anyway, it was a wonderful night of music. Rhinnon’s songs are very much story songs, and she very much has a way of taking traditional songs and updating them to speak to today. I really adore her. Her set at the Newport Folk Festival a couple years ago was my favorite of that year’s festival, and I’m very excited to see her this summer with Our Native Daughters.

The final part of the evening was the collaboration between Rhiannon Giddens and the BSO. At all the other BSO Pulse concerts I’ve been to there have only been 3 songs where they’ve played together, but last night they did 5 which was a pleasant surprise. They ended the show with a literally breathtaking (you could hear her gasping for breath between long spates of lyrics that I have no idea how she got through) rendition of “Mouth Music” which had everyone in the crowd leaping to their feet and cheering loudly at the end. It was another wonderful collaboration and I very much hope they keep this concert series going again next year.

And now as promised because it is Friday here is the song “I’m On My Way” off of Rhiannon Giddens most recent album.

 

By Request: Top Concerts

One of my friends has been asking me to tell her what my top ten concerts are. I told her that was really hard and told her maybe I could come up with a top three for her. I’ll probably end up somewhere in between. I’ve been thinking about what factors I would consider to put something in my top tier of concerts and I decided I probably couldn’t really rank the concerts I’ve been to. I’ve been to a lot of concerts and I wouldn’t begin to know how to decide which ones I liked more than another that is if I could even realistically remember what they all were off the top of my head. Instead I decided to answer a variation of the question and go ahead and put it in a blog post. Instead of ranking my top concerts I decided to talk about what concerts have been the most memorable for me for some reason or another. I’m not sure that would make them the best concerts I’ve ever seen, but they’re ones that stand out to me in my memory.

Neil Diamond at the Omni in Atlanta (probably)

This Neil Diamond concert had to go on the list because it was my very first concert ever when I was 10 or so. I don’t actually remember that much about it, but I know it was when we were living in Atlanta and that it was in some sort of arena, so I’m assuming it was at the Omni Center, which was where the Atlanta Hawks used to play basketball. I could be entirely wrong about that though. Even though I don’t remember much about that particular concert itself it is of course memorable to me because it was the first in a very long list of concerts I would go to in my life.

Christopher Paul Stelling at the Newport Folk Festival

I could put so many things from the Newport Folk Festival on here, but I’m refraining from making this one big post about Newport. There are a couple of sets that do deserve a mention here though. I didn’t actually know much about Christopher Paul Stelling before I went to see him on the Harbor Stage first thing on a Sunday morning at the Newport Folk Festival. It wound up being one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed. First of all Christopher Paul Stelling is this super intense acoustic guitar player. For much of his set it was just him on the stage with his guitar and he had the audience enraptured. It was kind of a singular experience to watch. Then as if the performance itself wasn’t enough it ended by him proposing to his girlfriend, who is a member of his band, on stage. It was kind of the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen at a concert.

Brandi Carlile at everywhere

There was no doubt that Brandi Carlile was going to wind up on this list. It’s hard to even pick any particular concert of hers to put on this list because they are all so amazing. She’s someone I could just see over and over again and never get tired of watching perform. Every time I see her I can’t wait to see her again. That was true from the very first time I saw her live at the Lyric Opera House to the most recent time at the 2018 Newport Folk Festival and everything in between. I have to give a special shout out to seeing her at The Beacon in New York City this past April partly because it was my first time at The Beacon which is a wonderful venue and second because I had a front row seat, which was amazing.  The concert I’m going to single out though is her set at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival. I’ve gone back and listened to NPR Music’s recording of this set many a time when I need a pick me up. There was such a sense of hope at that time. It was like the high in the world when it seemed like we were standing on the top of the mountain and things really were moving in the right direction in the world before everything fell apart. I listen to this to remind myself that I once felt that hope and that hopefully I will one day again.

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/429333796/434691259

Cowboy Mouth at Ziggy’s in Winston-Salem, NC

Cowboy Mouth is a New Orleans based band that I saw a whole lot of times when I was in college and in my early 20s. I gather they are still together and touring, but I lost track of them a long time ago. They are really outstanding and engaging performers. They were always about creating an atmosphere of positivity and energy. They are also an interesting band because the lead singer is also the drummer. I always enjoyed all their shows, but at one of the ones I saw at a now defunct little concert venue in Winston-Salem, NC called Ziggy’s not only did the lead singer crowd surf but he took his drum set out into the crowd with him and sat there drumming on top of the crowd. That’s some trust right there. It was pretty amazing. I should also shout out seeing them at the House of Blues in Chicago because I have an everlasting reminder of that show with the ringing in my right ear that has never gone fully away since that show 21 years ago. So thanks for the tinnitus I guess. By the way consider this your periodic reminder to always wear hearing protection at concerts. Love your ears. I wish I had started earlier in my life.

Tom Petty at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, MD

Tom Petty is one of my all-time favorite artists. For various reasons the first two times I saw him in concert I wasn’t there for the whole thing. I finally got to see him perform from top to bottom at Royal Farms Arena for his 40th anniversary tour. It was an amazing show and full of so much joy. It was kind of like one giant sing-a-long. It sadly was only a couple of weeks before he passed away, so it was also the last time I will ever get to see him. I’m happy he got to go out on a high note and that I was there to see it.

Holly Williams at the 9:30 Club

Holly Williams comes from a long line of country royalty as the granddaughter of Hank Williams and daughter of Hank Williams, Jr. After a car accident she was unsure if she’d be able to play and tour again so shifted her focus to other things. She now has a couple of stores and does some old house renovations in the Nashville area in addition to raising three young kids so she’s obviously keeping busy with other things, but I really do miss her music. I gather she plays every once and awhile still in Nashville, but unless something changes it’s unlikely I’ll get to see her again. This show was actually her opening for Jason Isbell the first time I ever saw him live. The song she got a lot of attention for on her final album was a song called “Waiting on June” which was about her grandparents on her mother’s side. It’s a beautiful song about their life long love that moved everyone in the audience to tears. I have never been at a show surrounded by people in tears because they were so moved by a song. It was a truly special moment that I won’t forget.

Dawes at The Ryman

I love Dawes and have seen them in concert many times. However, this particular show is on this list more for the venue than the band. I being who I am have a concert venue bucket list. The Ryman was right at the top of it. It was the original home of the Grand Ole Opry and is known as the church of country music. Whatever concert I first saw there was bound to wind up on this list no matter who it was. It is an amazing venue and I would love to see more shows there in the future. For now though the only one I’ve seen is Dawes. Their show there was fantastic. They played for a full three hours, but my husband taking me to this show as a present because he knew how much I wanted to see a show at the Ryman is really why this concert winds up on this list.

This was kind of a fun exercise to write a post off of someone else’s prompt. If anyone else has ideas of something they would like me to write about let me know. I definitely reserve the right to veto anything, but I’m definitely open to writing more posts based on things people ask me.