STS9: 11/5/2016

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I bought tickets to this concert intending to take my daughter. I had seen STS9 (short for Sound Tribe Sector 9) some years back at MoogFest, and they were pretty cool. They had a great light show, so I figured it would be a fun father/daughter thing to go to see them together.

Alas, my daughter got sick and was not up for going to the show. I called around to see if anyone wanted the extra ticket, and my friend Arwen jumped on the opportunity, saying she was planning to buy a ticket at the box office anyway. This made me happy, because Arwen is a good friend who I enjoy going to concerts with, and she had given me a free ticket to a concert not too long ago, so I felt good about being able to reciprocate the favor.

I met Arwen outside the US Cellular Center, along with two of her friends, Rich and Laurie. Since it was a general admission show, we were able to go in and get seats together. We were right up front and center, so we were pretty psyched about it.

The show started late, after 9:00, and the first thing that struck me was the overwhelmingly loud bass. It felt like I was getting punched in the chest. The rest of the band sounded great, and the light show was phenomenal, but that damn bass! I’m not one who is prone to complain about music being too loud, but this was one of those instances where it was just too much.

During the first set, someone inflated a few balloons and sent them into the air to be tapped around. I like balloons. They add to a festive feeling at a concert, and they don’t hurt if one hits you in the head, unlike a Frisbee. Anyway, one of the balloons reached a person in the row behind me, and he angrily grabbed the balloon and popped it. I then heard him ranting to his friend about how the band has a multi-million-dollar light show and these fucking balloons are ruining it. I was kind of taken aback by this comment,  and when I shared it with Arwen, she astutely said that if the light show is a multi-million-dollar show, then a couple balloons should not affect it.

It was around midnight when the second set started, and by that time, we were all feeling a tired. I for one felt like I had my fill. There is only so much instrumental electronic music that I can handle. So when the group said they were ready to go, I happily accompanied them out early. I couldn’t imagine that there was anything else that I would be missing, just more lights and loud bass.

Glad I went to see them as a headliner, but don’t think I will be seeing them again.

Fantastic Negrito: 10/16/2016

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I discovered Fantastic Negrito while listening to a Studio 360 podcast while driving. I was so blown away by his story and the power of his music, I immediately downloaded his album, The Last Days of Oakland. Every song was amazing and he catapulted to the top of my favorite-new-artist list. So when my friend Bill told me he was coming to Asheville to perform, I immediately went out and purchased tickets.

Fantastic Negrito (real name Xavier Dphrepaulezz) has an amazing story, one worth reading about. My friend Bill interviewed Negrito and published the story in the Mountain XPress (click here to read article). I encourage you to check it out.

Negrito played at the Asheville Music Hall, an intimate venue that allowed me to get close to the stage. I went with my friend Greg, and we met Bill and his wife Audrey there, so it was great hanging out with close friends.

Often times, when you have high expectations about a musical act, they can fail to meet those expectations. But that was not the case with Fantastic Negrito. His band was tight, energetic, and inspiring on so many levels. After the performance, all I wanted to do was create and express myself artistically.

In an effort to support him, I decided to purchase a vinyl copy of his album, even though I had the digital version through Apple Music. Xavier came out afterwards and mingled with the audience, graciously giving autographs and talking with fans. I got him to sign my album and let him know how inspiring he was. If you get an opportunity to see him, I strongly encourage you to do so.

To close, I want to mention that Fantastic Negrito was the overall winner of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. Click here to see that performance, and be inspired!

Brian Wilson: 8/18/2016

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The Beach Boys were responsible for the soundtrack to some of my more memorable summers growing up. We would have pool parties at this girl Wendy’s house and play spin the bottle and truth or dare while the Beach Boys constantly crooned through the stereo. And while I had seen the Beach Boys twice before this show, neither time had Brian Wilson, so this concert was a real treat and more than just a trip down memory lane.

This tour marked the 50th anniversary of the release of the album Pet Sounds, which is an amazing work of art. For the tour, Wilson also recruited two other Beach Boys: Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin. In addition, nine other musicians shared the stage, bringing the total to twelve that I was able to count. One of them, Al Jardine’s son, was an incredible vocalist and soared on all the high harmony parts.

I went with my wife and we had decent seats in the balcony to the left of the stage, so we could see quite well. The sound was balanced and clear, and the band was very tight. They started promptly around 8:00, no opening act, and played a nice set that included standard surf and car songs (California Girls, Surfer Girl, Shut Down, etc.). Then they took a break before coming back to play Pet Sounds in its entirety.

Before playing “God Only Knows” (one of my favorite Beach Boys’ songs), Brian told the audience that it was the best song he’d ever written. Almost brought a tear to my eye, because it was always a moving song, but knowing that the artist must have poured his soul into it makes it all the more special.

After Pet Sounds, the band played a nice long encore of about six songs, including “Good Vibrations,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Fun Fun Fun,” and “Surfin’ USA.” By the time they took their final bow together, I was so moved and musically satisfied, I could not think of a single other song I would have wanted to hear.

I think that the most inspiring part of the concert was the fact that Brian Wilson, despite his personal issues, was able to get on stage and perform, and that his friends who joined him were totally supportive of him. You could sense it. Brian had his moments, where he sat at the piano and looked around, or obsessively checked his watch over and over and over, but no one minded and he was still able to pour out his emotion through the music. It affirmed what I have always known, that music has the power to heal and inspire.

I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it

God only knows what I’d be without you

Death Cab For Cutie: 6/11/2016

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This concert almost didn’t happen. After the NC government passed HB2 which discriminates against transgender persons, the band considered joining the ranks of other artists who are boycotting the state. But instead, they decided to turn the concert into a benefit show, giving the proceeds to two groups: Southerners on New Ground and The Freedom Center for Social Justice. I applaud the band’s decision.

I went to the show with my wife and daughter, which was really nice. Going to a concert with the ones you love is really bonding and makes the concert all the more special.

We arrived a little late and the opening act, Pure Bathing Culture, was already playing. We got to see most of their set, though. They were pretty good. They had the mellow alternative sound going on, sort of like The Cranberries or 10,000 Maniacs. While I’m not rushing out to buy their album, they were enjoyable as an opener.

Before Death Cab came out, Ben Gibbard, the lead singer, came out and talked to the crowd, explaining why they are “not not here.” He said they decided to not follow their contemporaries and instead make it a benefit show. He brought members of the action groups on stage and introduced them, and the groups pledged to work hard to overturn this heinous law.

Shortly afterwards, the lights went down and the music started. Wow! They were awesome! I liked their studio music, but I have to say, Death Cab For Cutie is one of those bands that are better live than on record. The sound was impeccable. Perfectly balanced and just the right volume. They played about two hours and there were no weak spots. It was all great.

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Photo I took from the concert.

I hope other artists follow suit and book benefit shows to help overturn HB2. It’s important to know that North Carolina is home to a lot of progressive and open-minded people. It saddens me that a small group of individuals in positions of political power are able to pass legislation that discriminates against people in this state. Anyway, for those of you interested in getting involved, here are the links to the organizations that Death Cab are supporting.

southernersonnewground.org

www.fcsj.org