Essay | Days of Music

Shocking confession: My life isn't all too exciting right now. The best way I can describe it is a series of ellipses punctuated by an exclamation mark, and this pattern repeats until I start moving towards a career. All of that is to say in an unnecessarily abstract way: I do a lot of nothing, and then something, and then nothing.

I will spend three weeks applying for jobs with no bites. Then I will take a trip to Washington. I will spend three weeks staying indoors, forgetting what air smells like. Then I will work on a film set for 10 days. Then I will spend three weeks just to observe my mental and physical atrophy. Then I will attend three bad-ass concerts within 10 days of each other. HERE IS A BLOG ABOUT THAT LAST PART HOW ABOUT THAT SEGUE

October 15, 2010: LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip and Sleigh Bells at the Hollywood Bowl. For fans of dance, dance-punk, electropop, noisepop, dancecore popgaze and other made up genres, this is a perfect storm type of concert. Here you have one of the pillars of the genre, LCD Soundsystem, headling a show supported by one of the mainstays, Hot Chip, and opened by the hottest, rising act in the field: Sleigh Bells. It's a one night only deal, too, since it was their last night playing with Hot Chip, but their first with Sleigh Bells. LA was lucky.

The Hollywood Bowl is a weird venue, since their policy (that night) clearly prohibited outside alcohol and other foreign substances, but people bring them in droves. Many will end up trying to down it before the show outside the gate, while others will be more resourceful with getting it through. Others, such as myself, will be dumb and assume they won't check past the first layer of your bag. If I put a blanket on it, they won't even stick a hand in!


Our seats were in the middle range, stage left. Tickets were hot at the 40 to 60 range including convenience fees, and if you wanted to be up close in the pit? That would run you into three digits. Ray and I got in a song or two into Sleigh Bells, who are fun to watch even from a football field away. They are as you expect: Two young people in jeans and hoodies, dancing and occasionally yelling into the mic while amplifiers three times their size blare out gunshot beats. Their style is characterized by angry, distorted electric guitars, and they have a lot of fun. You could have heard them all the way in San Pedro, I bet.

They got the crowd interested, a few people standing, a few people sitting. It was hard to judge the interest of an opening act in a venue that seats nearly 20,000 people, because even a small reaction is going to get a thousand fans dancing. Sometimes you forget just how many people are in on the show too, and only when the white house lights come on can you get to turn around and take it all in.

Hot Chip came on and they played an all-upbeat set. Although they do slow stuff really well, and their latest album leaned heavily on the more emotive low key mood, they knew they were playing to a dance crowd and didn't relent. It was catchy popular stuff the whole way through, no stopping for banter and barely a pause in the action. It almost blurred together in a medley, and the power play paid off because the entire Bowl was dancing by the end of their set. It definitely morphed into a party by the time they closed up.

LCD Soundsystem/James Murphy is a live legend. He puts on one of those shows that you hear about in the blogs because he just murders any venue he plays in. It's easy to see why: every song he plays, even the ones that aren't necessarily beat-heavy like "Dance Yourself Clean" knocks hard. Hot Chip took it up a few notches, but LCD Soundsystem broke the knob off. Everyone, even in the far off stands, was out of their seat, singing, dancing, drinking, smoking, and making the most of their LCD Soundsystem experience. That's the usefulness of having a defined mythology. The good times are almost guaranteed.

October 19, 2010: Broken Social Scene and The Sea and Cake at The Wiltern. Here's something that has never happened to me: The opening act finished quickly, and the main band came on early. At least, it felt that way. I was pleasantly surprised at how little waiting was required. I found out why by the end of the night: They wanted to give Los Angeles all they had.

Broken Social Scene is also one of those live show legends. They've put on some shows that sent tremors through the community, such as a free Toronto show last year that had Feist, Emily Haines and Amy Milan to make it a rare full-band performance. I wish indie bands had special guests more often; Hip Hop takes full advantage of this, but only BSS seems to take advantage of the same kind of thrill. I think every BSS fan at a concert secretly hopes they're going to be lucky enough to witness one of these shows. They hope for a whole lineup, special guests, the works. LA is a good candidate for one of the super shows - they have affection for the region for supporting their career early out of the gate. The instrumental "Pacific Theme" is even named such because of us.

It was special, to be sure, but not one that will be written down in Broken Social Scene history. But what's wrong with that? We got Owen Pallet/Final Fantasy and a whopping twenty three motherfucking songs. It was a huge, massive, exhausting effort for everyone involved and I don't know how Kevin Drew did it all. But it was an appreciated effort, like a gift he had worked really hard on, for those of us at the concert. You can't help but appreciate the effort they put forth for the fans. They know all we want is to hear their music, so they play as much of it as they humanly could.

And when they played the old, oft-forgotten instrumental, "Guilty Cubicles"? I couldn't be happier.

"Less talk, more rock," said Kevin Drew. And he was right. They didn't even bullshit with a fake encore, they played an album ender and told people they could leave now on a high note, or stick around for 3 more songs. Then they kept playing, and no one left, because why? To go to bed?

October 24, 2010: Sufjan Stevens and DM Stith at The Wiltern. Same venue, except with seats! It was the second night in LA for Stevens who sold out his Saturday show so quickly they had to put on another on. And a good thing, too. My Saturday tickets were awful, in the back of the back. Luckily I managed to sell them and use the money towards much more acceptable mid-range viewing spots. My sister and I were perched on what may have been bar stools lined up on the floor region.

Sufjan Stevens is a performer of the highest caliber. This is a man who cares especially about live performances. He doesn't perform concerts, he designs shows. Last time I saw him in 2006, he had everyone in his giant 20+ person band dressed with wings and beige boyscout uniforms, and had a crew drop dozens of inflatable Superman and Santa Claus dolls. How could he possibly top that, especially on this much darker, less narrative album?

Well, the visual game was stepped up. Most bands have a banner in the back, maybe a film projection if they're into it. Sufjan had a huge projection screen - it went all the way to the ceiling, and for every song outside of the encore, it played some truly beautiful motion art. I knew it was going to be amazing from the first song: A haunting, more apocalyptic version of "Seven Swans," with a mystifying and delicate animation of stars in the sky falling to form specific scenes.

This concert was likely one of the best I had ever been to. It was so good, I wish you were there. I am talking to all of you; It was so good, I wish I brought strangers. I wish I brought friends who had never even heard of Sufjan Stevens. It was such an epic, powerful, mind-blowing show that I think anyone with an open mind for art would have left a fan.

The band consisted of about 12 people, which is still pretty big. It included two drummers with full sets, two trumpet players, two back-up singers/dancers/tambourine players and one guy with a mean beard working the synths and miscellaneous electronica in the back.

Yes, there was, somehow, dancing. Not a lot of it, and not strictly choreographed hip hop style dancing either. But it was there, including a great extended neon-visor-and-arm-band bit from Sufjan & co during the 25-minute-hormonal-opus, "Impossible Soul." You really have to see it to believe it, but it's endearing and fun as hell to watch. If you thought Sufjan Stevens was all about sensitive wimpy folk, he is twisting and stepping to break your preconceptions. But really, why should anyone be surprised? Sufjan has always been at his best when working with pure, Superman-like joy and optimism. What is more joyful than dance?

Sonically, the show was unmatched, especially for this album. It was mostly new material, alternating between the harrowing drama of The Age of Adz and the more intimate All Delighted People EP. It was book-ended by the only instances of old material (outside of the encore), the mainstays "Seven Swans" and "Chicago." It would be explosive in one moment, and then a hippie commune coffee shop performance the next. It is everything you need from live music.