Categories
Event Reviews

Hole

Hole

with Foxy Shazam

Hard Rock Live, Orlando, Fl • July 3, 2010

If it involves Courtney Love it’s probably going to be a bit of a disaster, but — if you’re lucky — a beautifully memorable one. Her most recent stunt, putting together a band full of players and resurrecting the name “Hole,” is no exception. Even before the tour backing the “band’s” first album in 12 years (Nobody’s Daughter) began, it was making headliners and Courtney was, once more, the butt of many jokes. Every subsequent show has resulted in almost universal plowing by critics and raving from the fans that went in with far fewer expectations.

Courtney Love

Jen Cray
Courtney Love

“Even if it’s awful, it’s still Courtney Love so I don’t even care!” one excited girl said to her friend upon entering Orlando’s Hard Rock Live for an embarrassingly undersold date of the tour.

“I’ve been waiting to see Hole since I was nine years old,” another front row fan told me before following up with the plea, “please don’t say anything bad about Courtney in your review.”

My trip to Hole circa 2010 came with its own baggage: I saw Hole in 1995, hot on the heels of the release of the incomparable Live Through This, back when Eric Erlandson, Patty Schmel, and Melissa Auf de Maur filled out the lineup. This was Courtney in the midst of her madness and her stage presence was incredible — intimidating, strangely sexy, and so very bad-ass, if a little out of her mind. The show I attended became slightly infamous for the resulting prosecution of Love, by the city of Orlando, for physically assaulting a teenager in the crowd. I was standing behind the guy she punched — it was a pretty awesome experience for a 16-year-old fan who had essentially snuck out of her parent’s house to get there!

I came to this show as a fan; I didn’t set out to look for the holes in Hole’s performance… but they presented themselves regardless.

Foxy Shazam

Jen Cray
Foxy Shazam

Strike One came in the form of a half-empty venue attended, in large part, by uninterested folks who were given free tickets in Hard Rock’s attempt to fill the place and up the bar sales. A downer from the get-go, thankfully the opening band turned out to be remarkably mood altering.

Foxy Shazam is bridging the gap between post-emo dance pop and epic classic rock. It sounds hideous, but it’s not. Imagine the over-the-top production of Meatloaf and the larger-than-life theatrics of Queen as performed by a bunch of wired twenty-somethings ripped from the colorful catalogs of Alternative Press magazine — this doesn’t even begin to describe the drop-everything-and-watch show that Foxy Shazam put on, but it’s as close as I can get without posting a video.

Foxy Shazam's Eric Nally

Jen Cray
Foxy Shazam’s Eric Nally

Musically, the Ohio group has a few tricks up their sleeves in the form of keyboardist extraordinaire Sky White (like an acrobatic Elton John who can play his instrument upside down or with his feet, while standing atop it), and horn man Alex Nauth — whose playful persona onstage shadows that of the group’s secret weapon, front man Eric Nally. The thin man with the high octave voice does somersaults, does goofy tricks with his microphone, eats a mouthful of lit cigarettes, tells elaborate stories with a carnival pitch approach, and creates a general feeling of entertainment for the 30-odd minutes that his band graces the stage.

At the heart of all of this child-like fun are songs so layered with levels of pop purity that Nally’s antics, rather than acting as a distraction, reinforce the catchy nature of the tunes — sinking them into your brain. Days later you’ll still be singing the choruses to “Wanna Be Angel,” “Unstoppable,” “Killin’ It,” and “Bomb’s Away” — the latter song being one that Nally himself loves so much that he led the band through it a second time immediately after playing it.

Courtney Love

Jen Cray
Courtney Love

Foxy Shazam did exactly what warm up acts are supposed to do — they warmed us the hell up! Had the show’s headliners taken advantage of this and started their set at the assigned time, the night would have had a different tone. As it was, Hole did not step foot onto the dark stage for another hour and a half after Foxy Shazam exited to a roaring applause. As the minutes creeped on, even the most diehard fans down front started bitching.

And what was the big hold up? Courtney Love admitted, after putting out her cigarette, “sorry I made you wait, but the last time I came to Orlando you all put me on trial for two months.” Harping on this fact and blaming the current audience for something that happened 15 years ago was a recurring, and disappointing, theme of the night.

Love gets a leg up

Jen Cray
Love gets a leg up

There was much rambling, and at times the clean and healthy looking Love appeared bored or annoyed to be there, but there were also a few glorious moments during which the old Courtney Love that fans know and adore — the one who can growl and scream emotion into the most simple lyrics — reared her bleached blonde head.

For starters, she opened up the night with the opening verse of “Pretty on the Inside” — before sliding into a so-so cover of The Rollings Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Hot on the heels of this minor setback, she found her footing with “Miss World” and her most recent sure-to-be-classic “Skinny Little Bitch.” Her vocals were strong, even if she did cheat a lyric here and there by turning her mic and letting the crowd fill in, and presence with the guitar slung low and one high heeled show propped up on a footstool was quintessential Courtney Love.

Hole

Jen Cray
Hole

The setlist was riddled with “old familiars,” as she called them, and even if she didn’t always perform them happily (“All you wanna hear is old familiars, right? Yeah, that kinda sucks, but whatever. I’ll meet you there 70% of the time”). They elicited the largest screams of the night. “Violet,” “Awful,” “Plump,” and “Dolls Parts” — they all got air time and sounded as viciously empowered as ever. Even some of the new songs rocked with the best of them, “Someone Else’s Bed” and “Nobody’s Daughter” may be played at a slower pace than those oldies we’re accustomed to, but they had plenty of bite.

Littered throughout the night were loads of cover songs, including a painfully off Leonard Cohen song, more Rolling Stones, and a nearly unrecognizable rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer.” That latter tune was prefaced with the comment, “the man who wrote this song hates me and will hate that I’ve been playing this song.”

Hole

Jen Cray
Hole

In between songs, Love rattled on about everything from her bad credit score and how stage diving isn’t allowed in Florida because of her (not true), to a shared dialogue with a young kid in the crowd to whom she had once sent one of Kurt Cobain’s guitars (why?). The conversation with the kid resulted in him admitting that he no longer had the guitar, that it was stolen. To this Love replied, characteristically snake tongued, “It was stolen? Oh, so now the Hard Rock probably has it.”

For the most part her diatribes deflated the mood created by the music, but then again her back-up band could also be to blame for this. With the exception of lead guitarist Micko Larkin, who tried a little too hard to be on equal footing as a member of Hole, the band played with the bare minimum of energy. Bassist Shawn Dailey, who was in Rock Kills Kid, even had to be scolded by Love at one point to play his bass part correctly. Courtney Love’s huge presence needs a balance onstage — she needs a band who can fuel her fire and keep her focused, and these guys were not delivering. It’s too bad that she’s burned so many bridges with her old bandmates, ’cause this tour could have been a whole different beast had she the security of knowing her band would keep the music going regardless of her antics.

Hole circa 2010

Jen Cray
Hole circa 2010

Tardiness, scoldings, lingerie and condoms tossed around like confetti, and a lead singer who you don’t know whether to celebrate or condemn — a Hole concert is nothing if not memorable. Courtney Love knows how to create a stir, and her madness, real or exaggerated, is something fans have come to accept — as well as expect.

To see more photos from this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com.

Hole: www.holerock.net • Foxy Shazam: www.foxyshazam.com

Categories
Event Reviews

The Faint

The Faint and Ladytron

with The Crocodiles

New York, NY • April 11, 2009

Considering that they’ve both produced dark, beat-driven, synth-heavy sounds over the course of a decade, it was only a matter time that Liverpool’s Ladytron and Omaha’s The Faint would cross paths to satisfy their respective fanbases.

Ladytron

Alexis Berkowitz
Ladytron

The New York City audience was privy to this serendipitous pair-up on two consecutive sold-out nights at Manhattan’s Webster Hall, with both acts switching up headlining duties Friday and Saturday. While neither The Faint nor Ladytron’s set list differed much from one night to the next, fans nevertheless got to savor lengthy performances from both bands that spanned their extensive discography. Opener The Crocodiles, though, were stuck with the unfortunate timeslot of 7:30, which by New York City standards is akin to catching the early bird dinner. While many — like myself — missed the fuzzy, reverb-drenched tones of the Crocs, who no doubt have a Jesus & Mary Chain record or two in their collection, Webster Hall was well-packed by the time Ladytron promptly hit the stage at 8:30.

Tall light screens filled with shifting, bright pixels served as the backdrop for the British four-piece, who were accompanied by a drummer and a guitarist onstage. Dressed in various variations of black and surrounded by keyboards, Ladytron quickly started things off with “Black Cat,” the leadoff single from their latest record Velocifero. Distorted snares meshed with brooding digital blares and minor-chord melodies as co-vocalist Mira Aroyo delivered the song’s lyrics in her native Bulgarian with her distinctive monotone. Her singing counterpart Helen Marnie , meanwhile, provided a warm, harmonic balance on tracks including Velocifero‘s dance-pop doozy “Runaway” and older cuts like “Seventeen” off Ladytron’s breakthrough record Light and Magic and “International Dateline” off its follow-up Witching Hour.

Ladytron

Alexis Berkowitz
Ladytron

Ladytron’s male leads Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu remained in the back ensconced behind their instruments, choosing to bathe in the screen lights as they provided guitar strums, samples and sequences. Relying strictly on their music and forgoing any stage banter, Ladytron’s icy persona meshed perfectly with their sound, though the propulsive track “Destroy Everything You Touch” got the audience riled up and busting a few moves as the band’s set came to a close.

While the energy level was fairly high for Ladytron, it didn’t quite measure up to that of The Faint, whose five members sauntered onstage to rapturous applause. Though there was barely a place to move once the band emerged, the claustrophobic atmosphere was a non-issue as soon as they launched into “Mirror Error”, one of several choice tunes off their 2008 effort Fasciination.

The Faint

Alexis Berkowitz
The Faint

Singer Todd Fink made for an amiable, energetic frontman throughout and was matched in energy by bandmates including guitarist Dapose, whose death metal roots were exposed through his constant thrashing on the side of the stage. Keyboardist Jacob Thiele was constantly grooving, Afro-sporting bassist Joel Petersen (aka Broken Spindles) provided the low-end and drummer Clark Baechle pounded steady, pulsating rhythms as The Faint seamlessly veered throughout their catalog. The band more than satiated the crowd with “Agenda Suicide” “Your Retro Career Melted” and “The Conductor” from their now-classic 2001 record Danse Macabre while giving Dapose a workout on the riotous rocker “Dropkick the Punks” and the jarring “Birth” off 2004’s Wet from Birth.

The Faint ultimately offered a blissful synopsis of their own career trajectory, which saw them begin as lo-fi indie-rockers in Omaha back in 1998 who ditched the coffeehouse blues for more elaborate, new-wave-informed songwriting. Their three-song encore effectively punctuated their current mindset as the band rattled off Fasciination‘s paranoia-filled “Geeks Were Right”, the shuffling post-punk number “I Disappear” from Wet and Danse Macabre‘s “Glass Danse,” arguably their most well-known tune.

The Faint

Alexis Berkowitz
The Faint

As the co-headlining show ended to a cheering, sweat-filled room, one can deduce that tonight’s event was ultimately one that contrasted. Whereas Ladytron almost seemed standoffish while delighting the crowd with their glacial sounds, The Faint seemingly relished and fed off the interaction as they hammered their way through. Nevertheless, each band succeeded in their own unique way due both to their divergent personalities and convergent musical styles.

The Faint: www.thefaint.com • Ladytron: ladytron.nettwerk.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Peter Murphy

Peter Murphy

Ali Eskandrian

Freebirds Live, Jacksonville FL • July 4th (har har)

First things first. Instead of dwelling on the attendant surreality, I will say that, yes, I saw Peter Murphy on the fourth of July on goddamn Jacksonville Beach, which was a potent cross between Mardi Gras and Apocalypse Now and 1000 assholes that particular evening, and it was wayyyy fucking surreal. But enough about that, we’re here to talk about truth and beauty and love of art, and if the outside world didn’t seem to bother the largish enraptured crowd that night, well, I’ll block it out too.

Peter Murphy

Jessica Whittington
Peter Murphy

Do you want to hear about some more strange bedfellows? Okay, good. Let me tell you about Ali Eskandrian. He’s Peter Murphy’s opening act — from his CD you grok that he’s a rather earnest singer-songwriter from New York and seems to be doing a Bob Dylan circa John Wesley Harding sorta thing (both visually and sonically) with a bit of Eastern fuh-lair and it’s like, “Ahhh Peter did always have an affection for exotic pop flavours,” so maybe you expect to be cloyed and clap politely even.

Ali Eskandrian

Jessica Whittington
Ali Eskandrian

But what the FUCK do you do when out struts this stick-insect sex alien clad in leather, Beatle boots, tiiiiiiiight jeans, and a scarf used more as a noose, with a tangled, electrified afro — he looks like a cross between Alan Vega and Prince — and he starts theatrically stomping the floorboards like a flamenco dancer while this skinny dude behind him with long hair and an unseasonably heavy coat starts wreaking havoc on a cluster of analogue synths? You immediately scream like a girl and fall in love, that’s what you do. If you’re smart that is, if you know what cool is, that is. He seems to neatly divide the audience — the only tidy thing about his performance, mind you. Ali Eskandrian is one of the most sexual performers (alongside the Kills) that I’ve encountered in a long time. He stomps his Beatle boots like Valentino, twists his scarf around and around like it’s either a weapon or all seven of those pesky veils and those hips, my god, those hips — he thrusts them to accentuate lyrics or a soaring wail or a particularly gritty riff. Monocles were falling in gentlemen’s drinks everywhere you looked. His voice was an unearthly wail, an Eastern-influenced cry like an amped-up Lisa Gerrard, a banshee like Diamanda Galas, a snotty prophet of doom like Tom Verlaine. The set itself was a too-short blur of raw alien blues and pounding Suicide death-funk (introducing their last number as “a New York song” as a ratty drum machine clicked away, do they know what they’re doing to me?). Eskandrian picked up a guitar and churned out primitive riffs while his compatriot wreaked havoc on a tiny theremin. Eskandrian bent backwards like Iggy Pop to sing along with his synth player. Later they rewrote Frankie Teardrop as a PTSD vet named Johnny. The set ends with the keyboard player lost behind a wall of noise and Eskandrian on all fours screaming into his guitar amp. Peter’s taught this guy the biz, for sure.

Jessica Whittington

Seeing Peter Murphy stride imperiously onstage, the very definition of fighting fit, slim and trim in a leather jacket, shades and tight blue jeans, you get a jolt, along with a momentary leap of the heart that maybe you’ll look that good at the age of fifty. Similar to seeing a recent Morrissey show when he came out swinging, and you’re like, “Whew, there is some hope.” He strikes up a funeral version of new Bauhaus track “Zikir” which shows his voice in fine, rich form, but that’s only to be a quick prelude before the jacket is doffed, his backing band (including ex-members of the Mission and Human Waste Project, one tight unit, it has to be said) stride onstage and they get down to the business of ripping through the greatest moments of his solo catalogue, with some Bauhaus thrown in for darker thrills.

Jessica Whittington

It’s heartening to see that Murphy, though bereft of the black hair and baroque/glam costumes of the Bauhaus Resurrection tour, still brings the theatrics and stage moves in spades. So, don’t worry everyone, he did the vampire bat, the crucifix, the strut with one arm cocked on hip (à la Jagger/Ziggy), the AIRPLANE SPIN, the cold stare, the imperious point, the wave, the “give me your hands,” the “lost in music” arm undulations, the pogo, and some super melodica action on “She’s In Parties” (one tends to forget the dub influence in Bauhaus, a pity).

For a performer of his age and stature and responsibilities, shall we say, the setlist is quite surprising. The “Retrospective” tag slapped on this tour is in many ways a red herring; as Murphy looks back, he continually gets tripped up on the very recent unfinished business in every note of Bauhaus’ swan song, Go Away White. Thus several songs of those songs get a live airing and his band seems to be in seventh heaven playing them — particularly the guitar player, but then Daniel Ash’s guitar parts always looked so fun to play!

This sense of play extends to the way that he treats his back catalog. He has fun with it, he twists it and reshapes it, treating it as a living, breathing thing instead of a grouping of static “classics.” Fittingly for a retrospective tour, he sneaks bits and pieces of Bauhaus songs and covers of material that he loved as an angry young man into odd junctures of his set. The first couple of verses of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” are changed to a delicate acoustic piece while Bowie’s “Be My Wife” is melded with “Adrenaline.” Not to mention that the final encore is a celebratory and rousing cover of Joy Division’s “Transmission,” complete with Murphy just owning the final lines of “…And we could daaaaaaaaaance!” while busting into the Ian Curtis dance.

Jessica Whittington

And that’s the thing, he makes every show seem like a once-in-a-lifetime, arena event. He’s got some sort of telepathic connection with the crowd, followed by an uncanny flair for the dramatic. Ahhh, and a constant desire to push out of his own comfort zone and play with his persona in ways other performers/frontmen of note wouldn’t dare. Hence, he offers to do a question-and-answer session with the crowd — which yields no questions, but inexplicably gets the crowd riled up. During the midst of his banter, someone (just as inexplicably) yells, “Go Home!,” to which he replies without a moment of hesitation, “Fuck off, you go home. I’m perfectly comfortable right where I am. Fucker.” The crowd roars! They also roar with approval when he does his Englishman abroad bit, acknowledging the bizzaro-ness of playing a concert on the Fourth of July, by formally decreeing that he, on behalf of England, is reclaiming the United States of America, because we’ve made too much of a shambles of everything. Hey, maybe he even slips in a subtle plug for Obama, he does whatever he wants. And that includes hushing the crowd regally when they start chattering during a fragile acoustic intro. He says he’ll wait, and then flashes everyone the Bauhaus stare. They shut the fuck up…

…and are rewarded by Murphy launching into an unbelievably sad and dramatic cover of NIN/Johnny Cash’s “Hurt.” Just, I think, to show that he’s as much of a voice as he is a face. It’s a barnburner, man, to hear his rich and deep baritone cut through those lines. Jee-zuz, and the band’s arrangement is very sensitive and spare to boot. The voice gets stronger and more nuanced as the years pass. Bring on the covers album, that’s how I want Peter Murphy to end up!

Jessica Whittington

He’s like Neil Diamond crossed with David Bowie and Christopher Lee — a shameless entertainer with a heart of darkness. Murphy has the crowd in the palm of his hand from the word go — it’s not even nostalgia, the man’s working his ass off but making it look so effortless — it’s like a frontman masterclass that the likes of Brandon Flowers, Brett Anderson (saw a lot of that), Justin Warfield, and Faris Rotter are still cribbing from. Don’t like his songs? Live, you will love his songs, he tirelessly makes certain of it. You just get so caught up in the wire-tense but joyous moment, and y’know, that’s what pop music is all about.

You dismiss Peter Murphy as a goth oddity at your own peril; the man is a fearsome performer, who can go toe-to-toe with frontmen half his age, and a superlative singer, an interpreter of song, in the best, most empathetic sense of the word. He loves you all. Goodnight.

Peter Murphy: www.petermurphy.info

Categories
Music Reviews

Ill Niño

Ill Niño

Engima

Cement Shoes

Ill Niño’s fourth release, Enigma, plays like a screamo band covering Soulfly. As on previous efforts, vocalist Christian Machado shifts from guttural screams to a P.O.D. melodic singing style. The Latino flavored metal achieves success when Machado rips up his throat, as on the album’s strongest track “Compulsion of Virus and Fever,” but this impassioned delivery often softens too quickly, giving way to Alternative Press-approved, emotionally-driven singing.

“Finger Painting (With the Enemy)” is the most accessible track on the album. While most of the remaining songs have only short moments of excellence, this Nine Inch Nails sounding composition stands apart as being great all the way through.

Closing out this dysfunctional album is a slow salsa called “De Sangre Hermosa.” The song is so nakedly traditional, and without any hints of the band’s otherwise aggressive air, that it could either be considered the worst thing they’ve ever written, or a transitional song that begs for the band to do more songs like it.

Ill Niño: www.illnino.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

Nine Inch Nails Live: Beside You In Time

Nine Inch Nails Live: Beside You In Time

directed by Rob Sheridan

starring Trent Reznor

How many live shows can one man cram onto a DVD? The answer is one and half. All of Trent Reznor’s North American winter tour from 2006 and a handful of songs from the 2006 summer tour are captured on video for your viewing pleasure. This DVD is loaded with special extras, including the music videos for “The Hand that Feeds” and “Only” and some rehearsal footage from 2005. With all the special features, including subtitles, camera angle preferences, and lyric playback (on certain DVDs), this DVD is a must have for any NIN fan. The picture quality is amazing; on the big screen it looks like Trent Reznor is throwing a concert in your living room.

Beside You in Time features many of the old classics from the previous albums: “Hurt”, “Head like a Hole”, “March of the Pigs”, and many more, and oddly enough, less than half of the songs are from With Teeth. From the epileptic seizure-causing strobe lighting in “Closer” to the powerful and horrific images that serve as the backdrop for “Right Where It Belongs”, this concert puts And All That Could’ve Been to shame. Alessandro Cortini does an excellent job on keyboard and synths, and though the band has suffered the loss of drummer Jerome Dillon and guitarist Robin Finck, drummer Alex Carapetis never misses a beat and the new line-up with Aaron North and Jeordie White sounds fresher than ever. What makes this DVD great is the fluidity of the concert; instead of filming many arena and amphitheater shows, Trent chose to film just two arena shows and boy, does it make a difference. The feeling of being immersed in a dark concert arena helps to convey the perception that you’re actually there, and sadly, that feature was missing from And All That Could’ve Been. And in typical Trent fashion, the show ends with everyone smashing all their expensive instruments to bits.

halo22.nin.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson

with Ours

Hard Rock Live, Orlando, Fl • January 19, 2008

A thick layer of white fog lay over Orlando from early morning until just before dark when the skies opened up and pounded the city with rain and pebbles of hail.

Marilyn Manson

Jen Cray
Marilyn Manson

The whole town seemed painted as a horrifically perfect backdrop for the opening night of Marilyn Manson’s U.S. leg of the Rape of the World Tour.

The Hard Rock Live had sold out in advance and Manson fans of all shapes, sizes, and varying degrees of freakish hair and makeup had come out for what was sure to be the highlight of their holiday season.

Though the venue was on family-oriented Universal Studios’ property, I saw no bible thumpers with picket signs, and I must admit that I was a little disappointed. What’s wrong with the world when Marilyn Manson doesn’t incite a protest? Is nothing shocking anymore?!

After essentially booing opening band Ours off the stage, a black curtain with two elongated “M”s fell and the “Man-son” chants commenced. Normal fans get excited about seeing their favorite artist perform live… Marilyn Manson fans get shit-faced (on any variety of poisons) and nearly blow a gasket at the sheer thought of seeing the oddly androgynous frontman and his ever-changing backing band of characters.

Marilyn Manson

Jen Cray
Marilyn Manson

For this tour, the mercury levels reached a new high because on the bass — for the first time since 2002 — was longtime collaborator Twiggy Ramirez. For six years he was AWOL and most recently he was part of Nine Inch Nails. But on this eerie night in Tourist Town, he publicly reunited with the band that put his name on the map.

Twiggy Ramirez

Jen Cray
Twiggy Ramirez

After a drawn-out intro during which the band member’s shadows were seen under blood red lights, the curtain fell and a rather mild opening song choice (“Cruci-Fiction In Space”) could hardly be heard atop of the roaring crowd. Before the audience could even begin to show their affection for Twiggy (of which they had much), they first bathed the ringmaster with an ample amount of adoration (of which they had even more).

Dressed in layer upon layer of black and fondling a butcher knife shaped microphone, the notoriously confrontational frontman spent much of the set out on the catwalk that put him within arm’s reach of his fans. He posed, he cavorted his face into all sorts of strangeness, and — most notably — he smiled from ear to ear.

Marilyn Manson

Jen Cray
Marilyn Manson

Once the band shot into “Disposable Teens,” off 2000’s Holy Wood, the surrealism of standing at the foot of Marilyn Manson began to set in (at least for me). I know that the 21st century Manson is madly in love (with actress Evan Rachel Wood), planning a career in film, and generally seeming to be in a happy place, but it’s the tortured freak of yesteryear that I had come to see, the Antichrist Superstar. Happy was I when the band dug into their old arsenal of hits and pulled out “Irresponsible Hate Anthem” and “Tourniquet”.

They closed out the night, Manson at his pulpit, with two of the songs that started it all back in 1996: “Beautiful People” and “Antichrist Superstar”.

To see more photos of this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com

Marilyn Manson: www.marilynmanson.com

Categories
Music Reviews

KMFDM

KMFDM

Tohuvabohu

Metropolis

Streaking across the sky in a blinding flash, KMFDM capture the spotlight with the release of their latest assault. Tohuvabohu is pure adrenaline at its brutal best. Here Sasha and company display great maturity and production wizardry that is unmatched. The aptly-titled “Super Power” starts things off with massive synthesized bass and attitude to spare. The drum programming and song structure are outstanding. Before long, this gem will engulf you and take control. “Looking For Strange” follows with a soft whisper intro that evolves into an electronic dance menace. Lucia Cifarelli provides her seductive vocals to this commando where listeners are taken hostage. Being held captive was never so satisfying. The rapid fire “Tohuvabohu” continues on this path combining trance and EBM textures alongside piercing vocals. Reminiscent of tracks from their classic 1995 Nihil release, “Tohuvabohu” will have club goers going wild. This one will easily find itself on repeat mode. Out of this world, bleeps come next with “I Am What I Am” strumming into gear. Lucia once again proves herself as the sexiest and most powerful female vocalist in the genre. Her unique style and delivery are breathtaking. A standing ovation is in order here.

Bypassing a speed metal piece that does not inspire much, we come to the driving “Headcase.” A mix of high energy electronics play alongside Lucia’s hypnotic vocals with explosive results. The vocal effects and sound manipulation are among the best on record. Thick bass encompasses the stunning “Not in My Name” where Lucia commands the helm once more. The backing vocals by Sasha & Company blend nicely with Lucia’s sultry delivery. Showing no room for a breather, the industrial laden “Spit of Swallow” is a powerhouse of intensity. Sasha pulls out all the stops here with his programming and lyrical forte. “Fait Accompli” showcases the band’s diverse sound designs with brilliance. There is an expansion into uncharted musical territory here that will leave imitators in the dust. Closing this sonic journey is the eerily beautiful “Burnaye.” Lucia’s penetrating voice seems to glide alongside a colorful wall of sound that finds its way into the subconscious.

In short, Tohuvabohu is nothing short of explosive. If you ask yourself what can KMFDM do for you? The answer is “KMFDM can blow your mind, rock your face off and jump start your heart.”

Metropolis Records: www.metropolis-records.com

Categories
Interviews

Sevendust

Crisis Therapy: 12 Steps to Getting Over a Bad Year

An Interview with Sevendust Drummer Morgan Rose

Here’s a joke I love tell my formerly-married friends when I hear them complain about their asshole ex-spouses:

Q: Why are divorces so expensive?

A: Because they’re worth it!

That’s an awesome joke and everything, but anybody who’s ever gone through a divorce (or been close to someone who’s going through a divorce) can tell you it sucks worse than almost anything on the planet, no matter how bad you want out. So imagine that you’re divorcing your wife and spending every penny you have fighting her for custody of your kid. And you’re grieving over the death of a family member. And dealing with the fact that your gold-record-selling band has escaped from one shitty label deal only to land in the middle of another that’s turned out to be a million times worse. Now, consider that during this decidedly unpleasant period of your life, you have to write and record a new album with your band, or your family doesn’t eat. That’s the kind of year drummer Morgan Rose had in 2006.

Morgan’s band is called Sevendust and, as one of the most popular, successful and influential touring metal bands in the country, they have been together for ten years. His band mates are vocalist Lajon Witherspoon, guitarists Sonny Mayo and John Connolly and bassist Vinnie Hornsby. I got to know Morgan when I interviewed him last year and we totally bonded. Morgan is really an amazing guy and an interviewer’s wet dream, so I feel fortunate that we had the chance to spend some time on the phone last month and he gave me another great interview. In the following article Morgan talks about the resurrection of Sevendust with the release of the group’s latest CD, Alpha, waxes nostalgic on the band’s career accomplishments and shares a cautionary tale for other bands about accepting label offers that seem too good to be true.

When we last spoke, you were going through a divorce, and from what I’ve read this hasn’t been an easy year for you, personally. Would you want to speak about the hard times you’ve dealt with in relation to your playing and the themes of the songs album?

Sure. John sent a handful of songs to me and said, ‘See if anything catches your ear that [encourages] you to start throwing in some lyrics or melodies or both.’ At the time I was in this autopilot-survival mode of trying to convince myself that I was going to be cool, but having a rough time figuring out whether I should be really freaking out or whether it was just life, and I should just deal with it. I was getting influences from both sides; certain people were saying, ‘Hey man, life is life.’ And other people were saying, ‘I’d be jumping out of a fucking window right now if I were you.’

I didn’t think I was in very good shape to be doing anything that was creative at all, but I listened to the stuff John sent. I played it in the car and drove around with it. For a few days I listened to these six or seven songs and was just kind of humming them: not really coming up with anything lyrically, but hunting around the melodies.

One day I just happened to be on the good side of the day, and I decided to get the songs out of the car and try to throw a verse together. I started flying with it, but it was all about losing…my mind and was how I was struggling to keep above water mentally. I think that [this kind of pain] is something that’s universal to the world, because it is life. I have a lot of things that I’m thankful for. I’m definitely way luckier than most people to be able to live the life that I live, and have the woman that I have in my life, a beautiful, healthy daughter and a family that is always there to support me. All the bad shit that happened, some of it was stuff that wasn’t your ordinary bad shit — that’s for sure — but that’s the way life is.

Through writing these songs, I was able to get it off of my chest a little bit. I think that everyone who listens to this CD and reads the lyrics can probably get something out of it, because, as I said, it’s fucking life.

Well your songs are fairly emotionally honest anyway. It’s not like you went from writing songs for Britney Spears to trying to write something heavy.

That’s true. It helped that this is a more aggressive record. It’s a lot easier to put the inner turmoil on paper when it’s something that’s aggressive –at least it is for me. I do like the Nine Inch Nails approach, that’s my favorite. We’re not that kind of band, but I appreciate the ‘vocal emotion’ side of things. That’s something I always thought would be a lot tougher [to achieve] than it is. Lajon is very good at being a chameleon and being able to put his spin on anything. If he writes a song it sounds like one thing, and if somebody else writes it, it still sounds like it’s him.

You, again, have a co-producer’s credit on this CD. In our previous interview you said the following on your view of your role as a producer: “The irony is that the drumming is really the last thing I’m even listening to. I’m more about vocals, melody and placing the heavy vocal aspect of our band where it needs to be…” Do you still feel this way about your role as a producer vs. a drummer?

I was more drum-conscious on this record than the last one (2005’s Next), because on that one there was no rehearsing at all. I mean, we didn’t rehearse one song. We wrote the whole thing on a Roland 1600, using the most old school drum machine that we could find just to throw down some beats. It was like one of those things where we were in a hurry, so I was always in that mindset of, ‘I’ll know the structure of the song and I’ll go in there and just play it.’ We didn’t do the record live, it was kind of a very square album when it comes to how it was produced and recorded. It was very much just the old school way of ‘do the drums and then do the guitars’ and so on and do the vocals last. It was very stale.

On Alpha we decided that we would not do it that way. We had the means to be able to have a little more time [as well] and we rehearsed. John will write a lot of beats on the drum machine that sound nothing like what I play on the song when it’s recorded. But sometimes he’ll get on to something that’s really tough and almost impossible to pull off with the human body. Nine out of ten times, I’ve taken the easy road and said, ‘Yeah that sounds good, but I’ll just go ahead and play this,’ because, well, I can’t fucking play that. (Laughs) On Alpha there were a few things I heard that I realized were very tough parts, but I decided to go ahead and try to learn them to hear what it would sound like if a human were playing it rather than a drum machine. There were a handful of things that I wanted to make sure we had enough time to rehearse so that I’d be able to get some real woodshed time in there. And you know, it wasn’t like we spent a tremendous amount of time on it, but we did get a few weeks of rehearsal in, as opposed to, seriously, a day and a half for the last record.

Recorded in a minute!

Like, no kidding. I recorded Next having never played half the songs at all, ever with the band. We rehearsed for a day and a half just so that I could be kind of semi-knowledgeable of what our arrangements were going to be. We were really winging it on that album and this one we just put more time into. It was a lot more fun.

With you positioned as a sort of drummer icon for this genre of music, and a player who’s got a fairly bullet proof reputation at this point, I guess the obvious question is what’s different about your playing on this record than on previous records, and what did you do to take yourself to the next level?

Well, all of the compliments are out of control. I don’t know how to take that stuff (laughs), but [you have to understand that] I didn’t really care about playing drums for two records [prior to this one]. That’s basically all there is to it. I had way more to say about how rough everything was than to think about playing drums. I was just more interested in the vocal aspect of things, and I think it’s really cool to tap into that side. I think that I was able to release a lot more tension by talking about stuff than just beating my way through it.

But drum wise, I’ve become very comfortable with click tracks. I mean, I can do that without even thinking about it any more. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, because I can play in front of or behind the beat and can use the click as something [that guides me] more going into a part and out of a part and seeing where it’s going to go.

About the only thing that’s really changed with me over the last five years or so is that I probably was a worse drummer [for the past two years]…I probably started getting back to really caring about playing drums again this year. There were two or three years of [me] kind of just not paying attention to it and really getting by with the bare minimum, which might sound really ridiculous and selfish but…I was doing other things. I was paying more attention to what everyone else was doing and trying to make sure that the vocal things I was thinking about were going to cut through than [I was] worrying about the drums. I just took it for granted; I figured I’d just go up there and play a beat and it would fit because that’s kind of how we do it.

I don’t think anybody who heard or saw you play would guess that you didn’t care about what you were doing. It hardly looks like you’re phoning it in.

It’s funny though, because we’ll [record] and then we’ll go out and play live and one fucking week into playing I’m like, ‘Goddammit, I could have just done all that on the record and would have really been looked at as a dude who knows what he’s doing.’ I really was just thinking, ‘let’s get through it, let’s not make everybody look around and say how come the drummer’s taking a few days to get this done.’

Let’s just not suck.

(Adopting gruff voice) ‘Let’s not have to call “The Man” to come in here. We don’t want to have to call Josh Freese to come in and finish this record because Morgan’s taking too long.’

That’s funny. Morgan Rose: Drummer Comedian!

Yeah right, well that’s the whole charade. That’s how I work with mirrors. If you make them laugh enough times people will go, ‘You know, that guy’s a really good drummer!’

I can still remember seeing Sevendust for the first time at Coney Island High on St. Mark’s Place in New York. That club isn’t even there anymore.

Wow. It was a lot of fun back then. I find myself occasionally getting nostalgic over stuff [I’ve done in] my career [with everything we’ve been through as a band]. I mean, I don’t know if I can go as far as saying ‘resurrected,’ but we did put out a record (Next) about which it was hard for us to find anybody that really wanted to take our phone calls, over the perception of our band being in trouble. That was because of a bad record deal. We still went out and toured and still sold more tickets than we had ever sold in our career, sold more merch than we had ever sold in our career and had a single that was the highest moving single in our career. And yet [we were a band that] nobody wanted to put their hands on because we had a label that had manufactured the smallest amount of records that we’ve ever had done. The perception was that the band sold no records so they didn’t want any part of it. Well, the label didn’t print any records.

That’s so weird.

It’s hard to sell CDs when they aren’t there to sell. And they didn’t put a fucking ad in more than one magazine for [longer than] one month. So, I got myself in this self-abusive mode of ‘I’m going to look back on all of these great things that happened in my career because I’m in the twilight and it’s over and I’m just going to think about how much fun it was back then.’ There was more self-pity going on around here, I swear, my mother would be like, ‘Oh god, will you just fucking buck up already?’ I’ve got my head on my mom’s lap ready to start crying to see if she’ll just rub her little son’s head, and she’s like,’ Look at what you have and quit looking at what you don’t have.’ It took me a while and then I finally got to where I was okay with all of that. But, not to ramble, I did look back at Coney Island High and Irving Plaza and playing in New York, building that thing from [there being] one hundred people at Coney Island High — where probably the label bought all of the tickets — to being able to play Roseland and Hammerstein and having thousands of kids in there that were just rabid, all based on one record. It took us twenty-one months to do it, but it was so much fun to watch it go like that, and so much more gratifying than going to bed one day as nothing and waking up having sold a million records.

Like American Idol.

Exactly.

If you don’t mind me asking, what exactly happened with your former label deal, with Winedark?

It was really bad. I remember shaking my head, thinking ‘this cannot be happening.’ We got out of the TVT deal and inked this deal with Winedark that was so financially ridiculous for us, it was a no-brainer. We had been talking to all the majors, everybody was interested in signing us and the money that came from this little, unknown label was astronomical. It was so astronomical that some people who were close to us were saying, ‘you need to really be careful because this doesn’t look like it could be happening.’ I remember our booking agent saying to me, ‘I don’t want to offend you Morgan, but what makes you so special to be offered this much money?’ That gives you an idea of how much it was: it was astronomical. All we could think about was that we have kids and we’d been taken advantage of financially for a long time, and we needed to go ahead and take the money and bank on the fact that they’d have to do the right thing to make that money back. And…they didn’t.

They gave us a little bit of the money and then all of sudden it was like, ‘We’re not going to give you any more money. Our main investor is gone and we’re looking for others right now.’ So we’re going, ‘Okay, but that’s not what the contract says…’ They just dumped the deal in the toilet. We were at the beginning of the album cycle and it was already gone. We spent months sitting there, and I swear to you I am not lying when I say that I wished we were back with our previous label. That’s how bad it was.

We basically wasted a year of our career. Somebody said to us, ‘Well you got a little bit of money and you got your record back’ and I said, ‘Fuck the money and forget the record that is now damaged goods.’ It was just really tough. I think that probably the hardest thing we were all dealing with, regarding this album, was that we couldn’t believe that somebody would go out there and do something like that to us after the word on the street was, ‘somebody please treat this band right because they’ve been taken advantage of for so long.’

It makes it even sweeter now that you have your own label (7Bros) and a distribution deal with the Asylum arm of WEA. I thought that “Asylum” was a moniker that they retired in the ’70s.

That’s an interesting relationship. We have a melting pot of an arsenal over there. Obviously, the Warner Music Group basically owns everybody. Along with Asylum and Atlantic and Warner Bros…and now I believe Roadrunner is even over there, I think they just inked a deal with them…they pulled our little 7Bros records over and all of a sudden we’re using a whole pile of people. It’s like Warner Music Group is our bodyguard, if that makes any sense. It’s a whole other world. When we get on the phone with these people that have a history of greatness behind them, the discussions are not the ones that we were having with Winedark. These folks are all about, ‘what are we going to do to make this thing catch fire?’ It’s all for one and everybody’s passionate about it. I know that we did the best that we could, without a doubt, and the people who we surrounded ourselves with are doing the best that they can. That’s all you want. You don’t want people who don’t even know anything about your band sitting around collecting checks for doing nothing. When we were negotiating with other labels this was the label that could name our songs right away and they knew what was going on. It’s really cool. We’re really, really happy about all of it.

Have you made any accommodations to cope with your hearing loss?

It’s funny that you even asked that. I’m pretty sure that I’m doing way more damage now than ever before. Our monitor guy came up to me the other day and he says, ‘Can we please at least get you up on the kit to sound check, because I plugged in to listen to your mix and almost vomited over the volume.’ And I was like, ‘Really? It isn’t loud to me at all (laughs).’ He said, ‘I’d really like to try to get it down a little more than that because I’m really worried about your ears and you losing your hearing.’ We did it one day, we turned it down a little bit and I looked at him the whole night going, ‘Nope, I’m not feeling this at all.’ So we went right back to the deaf volume.

I was talking to Seven Antonopoulos (drummer, Opiate for the Masses) and he told me about this Buttkicker thing that you use that mounts on your throne. Doesn’t that help you to feel it if you’re not hearing it?

Yeah, it gives you a lot more feel on the low end of things, when you’re using in-ear monitors. I’ve got a great monitor engineer and he can find a way to get it very close to the feel of the actual room. It makes you play a lot tighter and you can hear everybody, and if you’ve got a good guy running [the board] the mix is always killer. You can pretty much have the same mix every day and when you’re playing different sized venues every day like we do, [getting a consistent mix] can be pain in the ass. That’s the good side of the in-ears, but on the downside the minute that you put those things in your ears you lose the live feel of the room. My sound guy does all kinds of tricks: he’s got room mics out there to try to get the crowd into it so I can get a little more feel out it. But ultimately I just gas them: I just get them loud and do the best that I can.

Have you added any new gear to your set up?

I was playing 20-inch kick drums for a long time — ever since we did the acoustic tour. I even recorded with a 20-inch on this record — but I decided to go back to a 22-inch kick. I really have no idea why. I just decided that I’d been playing 20s for a while now so I should go back up to a 22. It took me a little while to get used to that. It was really amazing how that little bit of difference was going to affect the feel of my kick pedals. It’s a lot more work to control the feel with just that little bit of an increase on the size. Watch, I’ll be going back to an 18-inch within the next six months (laughs).

What’s going on with your clothing line, Alien Freak Wear?

It’s happening! It’s one of those things that started as a joke, but somehow the clothing line got started up and things started doing well. There are hundreds of kids out there who have that guy [a little alien Morgan designed] tattooed on them, and that’s like my little gang of folks. I threw [that design] on some shirts and then when I went through the divorce [the business] just went away. Then it was brought to my attention that I should screw around with it again, that it might be something worth doing. I said, ‘It’s not my deal, I didn’t run it to begin with. I just came up with the logo.’ But it’s probably just going to continue to move. It’s got a website up at Alien Freak Wear Dot Com and the site itself is pretty cool. Now we have baby clothes coming out pretty soon. So things are moving along and I think we might see about getting it into some of the major chains. I don’t know if my people would be too appreciative if we started selling it in Hot Topic, but I think I would dig it (laughs). Some of the profits go to charity and we try to give something back. It’s just cool to see the little guy around. I mean, I get a kick out of it. I saw a guy at a show wearing one of the shirts with two of his daughter wearing the little girl shirts. That was pretty sweet. I love the kids.

Alien Feak Wear: www.alienfreakwear.com

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Music Reviews

Black Light Burns

Black Light Burns

Cruel Melody

I am: Wolfpack

What has happened to the world of music when a ex-member of Limp Bizkit has found his way into my stereo? I’d almost rather not even tell you that Black Light Burns is the brainchild of Wes Borland, maybe then you’d give it a more fair listen. Instead, I’ll just throw it out there, let it sink in and hope that you (like me) can forget that little fact and press play on Cruel Melody.

BLB began as a introspective solo project — Borland in his bedroom, basically — but evolved into a full-fledged industrial-tinged electronic band (with drummer extraordinaire Josh Freese on board, along with Nine Inch Nails bassist and album producer, Danny Lohner) thanks to the subtle urging of Trent Reznor whose input on early demo recordings was to the effect of crank it up.

Reznor’s influence, or perhaps the presence and production tinkering of Danny Lohner, is all over this stunning debut. BLB sounds a lot like Nine Inch Nails. Think of them as NIN-lite. Whispered vocals that break out into painful, searing choruses on tracks like “Mesopotamia” make the comparison inevitable, but lucky for Borland he doesn’t sink into the dirge too deeply. “I Am Where It Takes Me” is a haunting, beat driven duet with Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano. Not only is the ballad a gorgeous standout on an otherwise uptempo, testosterone driven release, but the inclusion of the amazing Napolitano is enough to make me take notice!

Closing the album is an 8 minute instrumental outro that neatly closes the book on a debut that should forever forgive Borland for his nu-metal sins.

Black Light Burns: www.blacklightburns.com

Categories
Music Reviews

VNV Nation

VNV Nation

Judgement

Metropolis Records

Descending from the heavens like a whirlwind, VNV Nation’s new album Judgement captures the imagination. Ronan Harris, the duo’s creative engine, shows remarkable focus and maturity on everything from songwriting to sound design. We saw a glimpse of this direction on their previous release Matter & Form and here it has materialized in full view. “Prelude” is an atmospheric opener full of emotion and beauty, clearing the path for what follows. “The Farthest Star” comes next pushing Ronan’s keyboard programming to new heights. Also the album’s first single, this one is certain to draw crowds to the dance floor. Emotionally charged lyrics accompany you on an aural journey that truly satisfies. The aggressive tone on “Testament” is loaded with high energy beats and brooding bass. EBM fans will cling to this track upon first listen. Superb attention to melodic structure is evident throughout, along with mind-bending rhythms. A darker side is explored on “Descent,” where metal percussion meets with a spoken-word backdrop.

Taking his vision even further, “Momentum” heats up the album’s core with a stunning display of sonic wizardry. After an extensive intro, Ronan’s vocals take center stage where we are transported to another dimension. Once his verbal message is delivered, the ensuing musical symphony carries you through its entirety. “Nemesis” shows us why VNV Nation are true masters of their craft. Few others even come close to the level of sophistication and emotion found here. During the chorus, Ronan states “Judgment days not coming soon enough” and I tend to agree. There are some great guitar samples intertwined with a barrage of synthesizers that engulf you. With “Secluded Spaces,” VNV chart a course for your soul. Subtle textures and soothing vocals provide a relaxing environment. “Illusion” continues on the softer side and tugs at the heart strings.

Inspiring and uplifting, “Carry You” encompasses the elements found on the previous eight tracks while driving us towards the finale. The instrumental and beat-less “As It Fades” closes the album sending chills down my spine. Don’t let the best electro release of 2007 pass you by. Judgement will change the way many think of sythesizer-based music. VNV Nation will be hailed for this masterpiece of modern electronic music.

Metropolis Records: www.metropolis-records.com