To swing or not to swing? After several decades of relative obscurity, the neo-swing revival crested in 1998, effectively dividing the music-listening public into two camps: those who laud swing as a refreshing alternative to, well, alternative, and those who look upon the whole business as a bunch of Cherry Poppin' Squirrel Nut Zippin' Brian Setzer Orchestratin' horseshit.
Monday night, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy elated the former and infuriated the latter, pounding out an hour and a half of jumpin' and jivin' and what have you. Decked out in designer suits and beaming smiles, the eight-man ensemble showed top-shelf musicianship--these boys certainly know their way around a jazz scale. Tunes like "Mr. Pinstripe Suit" and "Mambo Swing" stand up fine on their own, but in this context they served primarily as rough outlines for extended jams and breathless horn solos. The crowd responded with exuberance and enthusiasm, whooping wildly with every blazing trumpet line and screaming approval every time frontman Scotty Morris (think Garth Brooks crossed with Art Alexakis) batted an eyelash.
Much like Phish, however, the extended solo bit got a little old after awhile, but those bored with the action on stage could just as easily gawk at the audience. Crowd members spanning several age demographics demonstrated the art of swing dancing: a complex myriad of twirling, spinning, and dipping, which leaves those of us with no sense of rhythm completely spellbound. At other shows those front and center worry about catching an elbow from a misguided mosher, but here all one really has to fear is the prospect of finding oneself suddenly thrown fifteen feet in the air for no apparent reason.
No sooner had the band left the stage than the electrified crowd called it back, not so much requesting as demanding "Go Daddy-O," the megahit the band debuted during a cameo in the movie Swingers. After some good-natured boasting about the band's upcoming gig at the Super Bowl halftime show (!), Morris and his minions happily obliged, capping off an impressive evening for the fans and the musicians alike.
A gang of St. Louis-area musicians known as the Outsiders opened the show with a breezy mix of swing, white funk, and Dave Matthews-informed instrumental jamming (dig those flute solos). "Lint in My Pockets" closed the set with faux-hip-hop attitude, while the band's three-part harmonies and impressive trumpet duets kept everyone's attention firmly on the musical genre in question. No horseshit as far as the eye could see.
Seven Mary Three
Some things, like wine, merely age well. Others, such as Aerosmith, simply never age.
The band's two-hour concert was a class show with all the rough edges nicely intact. In a whirl of green light and a backdrop of cobras and cats, Aerosmith lit up the stage with stellar versions of "Dream On" and "Jamie's Got a Gun," as well as the spooky Yardbirds-inspired riff of "What Kind of Love Are You on." Songs like "Kiss Your Past Goodbye" were played with an overwhelming Joey Kramer (drums)/Tom Hamilton (bass) thump, and during "Draw the Line," Aerosmith worked the crowd hard; Joe Perry ended up flat on his back (for crowd response, not necessity, as in years past), adding the right degree of rock-star posing. After witnessing Kiss a week or so back, this show displayed everything the biggest, baddest mother of all rock shows got wrong.
More akin to a big (make that real big) summer beach party at Sunnapee, Aerosmith may have lost the spring in its step, but not the mischievous gleam in its eye. James Brown's "Mother Popcorn" led into a slow, grinding, sexy "Walk This Way." It's not the band's fault ballads like "Don't Want to Miss a Thing" and "Cryin'" became pop radio staples. Live, they are well-crafted rock songs.
This was no glitzy MTV affair, but a real sweat-and-brimstone rock show. So what if Tyler dropped his harp during "Pink"; the whole band made up for it during the incendiary encore that saw Tyler acknowledging the "Dude Get Nude" banner in the first balcony. "You first," he insisted, "I been at motherfuckin' Tiffany's all night," before ripping through "Rats in the Cellar" and a "Sweet Emotion" that saw elements of Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" and "Blue Christmas" sneak their way in.
Seven Mary Three held its own, but lacked the sass of the headliners. Crowd response was decent though, leading one to believe that the band's latest, Orange Ave., may actually be selling a few copies. What's up with that?
One Minute Silence
If I may sum up the collective crowd mood in two words: "Fuck Aerosmith."
Sevendust's recent invasion of the Flats might not have attracted as much hype as the Viagra-fueled hitfest taking place up the road, but the three-band showcase at the Odeon was plenty amazin' and crazy, featuring several dudes who looked like ladies.
One Minute Silence assaulted the crowd with normally incapacitating levels of adrenaline. The band hammered through crunching tunes with titles like "I Think, Therefore I'm Damned" and "Pig Until Proven Cop," while its hyperactive bass player leaped around the stage with his hair in enormous pigtails, sparking debate over whether he embodied the white Busta Rhymes or the male Pippy Longstocking. For his part, he delivered a stunning four-word monologue, two of the words being fuckin' and crappy. Some laughed, some moshed, everyone reacted. Nice job.
Next up to bat was Boston's Godsmack, who preferred finesse to bombast. Early on the quartet's mixture of trippy vocal effects and guitar reverb threw the heavy metal-leaning audience for a loop, but by the end of the set the band had clearly hit its stride. A heavy-riffing version of "Bad Religion" lit a fire under the moshers, and a few moments later a mid-song drum breakdown (featuring lead singer Sully Erna and his multi-instrumentalist talents) proved cooler and more innovative than anything the headliner came up with. A spirited version of "Whatever," from the band's self-titled debut album, rounded things off nicely.
Godsmack's percussion experiments might have stolen the show, but the boys in Sevendust clearly weren't sleeping on the job. A fiery "Terminator" kicked off the set, and a nearly packed house tore the roof off to high-energy readings of "Too Close to Hate" and "Will It Bleed." Sevendust hit the high-water mark with a tense "Prayer," which frontman Lajon Witherspoon dedicated to the memory of Snot lead singer Lynn Strait, who died recently in a car accident.
The majority of the show, however, cast Sevendust in a much goofier light--with guitarist Clint Lowery celebrating a birthday, the band engaged in several half-drunken shenanigans, including spontaneous partial covers of "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Home Alabama." A bottle of Jack Daniel's quietly circulated.
Through the alcoholic haze, however, the band finished strong. After failing to lead the crowd in a chant of "Happy Birthday to a Big Piece of Shit," Lowery jumpstarted a feverish "Black," and moments later "Bitch" punctuated the evening with an impressive, focused intensity. Presumably, at that very moment, Steven Tyler was up the street, laying another coat of sap onto "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." Actually, Steve, you missed quite a few.
Less Than Jake
The Agora Ballroom
'Twas a long day for the revelers at the second annual "Miracle on 55th Street," a live music marathon/food drive orchestrated by the good souls at 107.9-FM/WENZ. Beginning at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m., fourteen hours' worth of local bands traversed the Agora Ballroom stage, as thousands of donated canned goods accumulated in the name of the Salvation Army. As early morning gradually gave way to late evening, two national acts punctuated the successful event, though their methods of punctuation differed drastically.
First up, the question mark. New Radicals? What the . . .? Confusion reigned from the get-go, as frontman Gregg Alexander appeared deeply influenced by some sort of powerful narcotic. He mumbled incoherently, danced like an extra in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and broke into a cringe-inducing freestyle rap that made the Barenaked Ladies sound like the Wu-Tang.
Still, the Radicals dished out an impressive blend of Jackson 5 funk and Rolling Stones spunk. Midway through the set the band floored the crowd with the massively popular single "You Get What You Give," and a few songs later they left the stage, apparently triumphant. Not so fast. The band's annoyingly perky backup singer attempted to pump up crowd support for an encore, which unfortunately started a chant of "Less Than Jake." Alexander and his cronies took the stage anyway, launching into an upbeat version of . . . "You Get What You Give." Again. ARRGGGH. Chaos ensued. "Somebody find a power outlet!" shouted one gentleman, shortly before joining a small group of dissidents who raised their middle fingers in salute through the entire song. By the time the Radicals finally evacuated, Alexander had half the crowd eating from his hand and the other half pining to whup his ass.
Less Than Jake suffered from no such divided loyalties. Florida's six-year-old ska-punk phenomenon blasted the crowd with energy and enthusiasm, which the crowd promptly returned with maniac dancing, death-defying crowd surfing, and general high school mayhem. The band's rich sense of humor (witness song titles like "All My Best Friends are Metalheads") came through in its innovative between-song banter--how many bands give their fans a chance to spank the road manager? The new single "History of a Boring Town" scored a big hit with clever hooks and a sing-along chorus, and the band ended the hour-long set with a flurry of tunes from 1996's Losing Streak, "Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts" and "Jen Doesn't Like Me Anymore" among them.
Detractors may poke holes in ska's mass appeal (too much sophomoric humor, too many songs that sound pretty much the same), but the energy Less Than Jake generated in the crowded ballroom had to be seen to be believed--and ultimately respected. The band's blood, sweat, and tears earned the adoration of the crowd, proving once again that you really do get what you give. Just don't give it twice.