Concert Review: Portland Welcomes Back Pearl Jam

It’s not very hard to understand Pearl Jam’s passionate fan base.

To say they are different is an understatement. Pearl Jam never really does anything like most other bands. They’ve fought with Ticketmaster and dumped their record label, they tour sporadically, sell tickets all at the same price ($65 in Portland), completely mix up the setlist every night of the tour and play three hours of songs featuring less singles and more deep album cuts.

Pearl Jam last played in Oregon seven years ago and that was a benefit concert at a much smaller venue and without a marathon run of songs. It’s been more than a decade since a tour stopped in the state. It should be no surprise then that on Friday the pioneers of grunge rock returned and gave an adoring, sold out audience at the Moda Center in Portland a rousing 33-song set that had a little bit of everything.

The band opened with “Pendulum” from their latest album Lightning Bolt and Vedder’s deep bass voice cut through the audience like a melodious foghorn. “Low Light” and “Sometimes” followed before the band finally opened up the guitar chords with favorite “Corduroy.” Two new tracks were next with “Lightning Bolt” and the very punk rock “Mind Your Manners” which Pearl Jam played just like it should be – nearly incomprehensible but at the same time completely understandable.

Six songs from the new album made the setlist. Of course the band nailed it with the great “Sirens.” Vedder’s voice was never better and he even outplayed himself from the album version. “Yellow Moon” and “Infallable” also got stage time. Pearl Jam released Lightning Bolt in October. The album is well-crafted and Friday’s show could have benefitted from a few more cuts from Lightning Bolt like “Future Days” and “Getaway” instead of covers.

Regardless, Pearl Jam embraced a broad range of songs from the punk rock “Lukin” to the reflective “The End” and just plain old rock and roll of “Animal.” The band played heavy on “Deep,” soft with “Yellow Moon” emotional on “Wasted Reprise” and just flat out awesome getting serenaded by the audience on “Better Man” and “Alive.”

“Last Exit” and “Rearviewmirror” which closed the first set really suffered from an abundance of bass. Jeff Amant’s bass guitar combined with Matt Cameron’s drumming and Vedder’s already lower-range overpowered any melody to the songs making them difficult to follow and completely swallowing the vocals.

The second set, which more appropriately felt like a second act, really slowed the tempo and cozied up the evening with the band sitting inside a makeshift hut using what looked like a monsterous bird’s nest as a roof. Add a fireplace and some stars and the audience simply needed to stretch out and relax like an evening at the park.

The tedious “All Those Yesterdays” bottomed-out before Pearl Jam came back with the beautifully sung “Just Breathe” with Vedder on the acoustic guitar and then to a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Mother” giving Vedder some alone time with and guitarist Stone Gossard on the acoustic before a great lead-in by guitarist Mike McCready.

Just as the audience seem to tire of the campfire routine, Pearl Jam finally cranked things back up with “State of Love and Trust” first featured on the soundtrack to the 1992 movie “Singles.” “Why Go” with a sweet bass line and the up-tempo “Porch” closed out the second act with a great extended jam to finish the song. The night’s set featured three covers including the evening-closer “Rockin’ in the Free World” when REM guitarist Peter Buck and the band Sleater-Kinney jumped on stage and played along.

Vedder may be the apple to most of the ladies eyes, but he has some serious musicians backing him up in guitarist McCready and bassist Amant. Why McCready is not readily mentioned among the elite of his craft is a disservice to the man’s talent. He cranked out solos all evening and especially shined on “Corduroy,” “Porch,” and “Even Flow” when he played flawlessly with the guitar behind his back. And McCready doesn’t simply play scales up and down the fret board really fast he puts some serious attention to detail in each and every one.

Amant simmers on bass and sometimes plays as though he belongs in a metal band. He ripped on “Porch” and “Spin the Black Circle” and is a perfect counterpart to McCready’s guitar. Watching Amant bounce around the stage in his own slam-pit gave an inclination of where his heart for music lies.

Of course, no Pearl Jam concert is complete without Vedder hyperbolizing on his liberal politics. Off the cuff speaker Vedder is not as he often slurred his words and mumbled and fumbled through impromptu speeches sounding more like Ozzy Osbourne than the great singer he is.

At the beginning of the concert he pointed out a man stage-left in a wheel chair who was a guest of honor, of sorts. Near the end of the concert, Vedder said the man, who had since left the show, moved to Oregon for the Death with Dignity Act. It cast a bit of a pall on the evening as Vedder claimed the man was ready to die in September. That turned into a tirade against Dick Cheney and the lies by the Bush administration about the war in Iraq, where, it was assumed, Vedder’s guest received his paralyzing injuries.

Yet, no mention of the Obama Administration’s heavy use of the controversial drone attacks or the well-known lies about the Affordable Care Act with more and more reports of people, including those with cancer, losing their health plans. If fairness and equality are the tent poles to socialism, sure the band gets points for offering every seat at their show at one price, however, intellectual honesty demands Vedder recognize the misdeeds of those in power he aligns himself with.

Pearl Jam Portland (Moda Center) Setlist:

1. Pendulum
2. Low Light
3. Sometimes
4. Corduroy
5. Lightning Bolt
6. Mind Your Manners
7. Animal
8. Deep
9. Sirens
10. Even Flow
11. You Are
12. Given to Fly
13. Infallible
14. After Hours (The Velvet Underground cover)
15. Spin the Black Circle
16. Rats
17. Lukin
18. Last Exit
19. Rearviewmirror
20. The End
21. Yellow Moon
22. All Those Yesterdays
23. Just Breathe
24. Mother (Pink Floyd cover)
25. State of Love and Trust
26. Why Go
27. Porch
28. Better Man
29. Wasted Reprise
30. Life Wasted
31. Black
32. Alive
33. Rockin’ in the Free World (Neil Young cover)

Written By: AndrewT

Album Review: Rush Clockwork Angels Tour – Live CD

Was there any doubt Rush’s Clockwork Angels tour would make it on disc?

Rush’s acclaimed tour ended this summer but for the nostalgic and those who couldn’t attend one of the shows, Clockwork Angels Tour (released November 19 on CD and DVD/Blu-Ray) is a nice memento to carry around whenever listening to the latest Rush is a must.

It’s not the greatest live album but it certainly beats by far the Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland album which is nearly unbearable. Depending on what rumors to believe (Geddy Lee might have had a cold that night?) Lee’s voice is awful on the CD version but the DVD is great. Not sure how that works but perhaps it’s more a production matter though one wonders if anybody involved with the final mixing listened to the CD.

Clockwork Angels Tour is very raw which is a good thing as Rush used to meddle so much with past live albums the final recording sometimes came across as studio version.  However, it also for the first time shows Lee’s vocal range limits. Simply put, at 59 for the recording, Lee’s vocal range is no longer what it used to be. That’s not to say it’s bad, just a matter of getting used to in some respects, a new voice singing Rush songs.

Oh, there’s definitely vintage Lee here, checkout “Headlong Flight” and during the lower range songs like “Dreamline” and “Red Sector A” you’d never be the wiser if it was 1992 or 2012. “The Wreckers,” from the studio version of Clockwork Angels, is just as searing live as the album tract. But songs “Grand Designs,” “The Body Electric,” and even “Middletown Dreams” take a step back and Lee is clearly singing, physically, a bit different than the past. At times, he almost sounds operatic and other times strings along a lyric as if to compensate for the lack of higher register. But seriously, after a few listens, this version of Lee slowly works its way into the songs.

Outside of getting used to Lee’s lower range, Clockwork Angels Live shows a nearly 40 year old band creating live music better than ever. Guitarist Alex Lifeson’s solo on “The Analog Kid” simply rips and he adds another great one on “Force Ten.” Gone is the eight-minute Neil Peart drum solo, enter three separate drum solos throughout the evening.

If anything, Clockwork Angels Live testifies to a band never resting on their laurels and always trying to change and push the limits of the live experience. Moreover, it also shows the depth of the Rush catalog and the confidence the band has not only in their deeper album-cut songs but for their fans to embrace those songs.

Sorry to say for those unable to catch show, the one thing this album lacks probably more so than any other live Rush album is the in-person experience. This tour which incorporated a string ensemble required the live experience. “Headlong Flight” simply does not deliver the intensity and atmosphere on disc that the three members of Rush accomplished live. Watching Lifeson solo on “The Analog Kid” and “Peke’s Repose” (with all that fog!) is not to be missed. Experiencing the production and stage show incorporated into the 10 new tracts brings even more life to the songs. Compact disc be damned – Lee never sounded better during this tour like in Seattle, Vancouver, BC and Portland. He perhaps had one off night in Los Angeles that got fixed for the second half of the show.

The live album gives a taste of what the string section did for the new songs and perhaps for at-home listening the realization that, yes, this orchestra of sorts, really does work not only on Clockwork Angels but for “Manhattan Project,” “YYZ” and “Dreamline.” Surprisingly, “Losing it” didn’t make the setlist though.

The biggest gem on this album is the sound check recording of “Limelight.” Lee sings part of the lyrics to get the band rolling and then saves his voice as they jam through the song. Believe it – “Limelight” could have been an instrumental! In the future, bands like Rush would do their fans well by offering more of these Easter eggs instead of “Tom Sawyer” for the umpteenth time.

Grade: B
Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Nine Inch Nails Rages on in Portland

Nine Inch Nails Sounds so much better live.

Gone is the synthetic drum machine, the repetitive beat, and the sometimes it sounds like it was recorded in a tin can sound. That’s not to say the digital version of Nine Inch Nails is bad it’s just that the intensity, the rage and the hard charging insanity is so much more alive in front of an audience.

Trent Reznor brought his one-man band (he writes, produces and plays all instruments on Nine Inch Nails albums ) along with five touring members to the Moda Center in Portland on Monday in support of his latest album Hesitation Marks. Industrial rock may have peaked in the 90s and all those original fans may have grown up (the upper bowl at the formerly-named Rose Garden was closed) but Reznor certainly isn’t giving up on his passion. He combined a 24-song set, including eight from Hesitation Marks, with an astounding light show, barely pausing to say “Hello” to the crowd in two hours of non-stop thrash and frenzy.

Nine Inch Nails opened with “Copy of a” from their latest album which unlike the rest of the evening actually didn’t measure up to the studio version. However, it immediately set the stage with what can only be described as a light and industrial music show for the rest of the concert.

“1,000,000” was up next delivering full-frontal industrial rock and then Reznor really set the bar high on “Terrible Lie” from their acclaimed first album Pretty Hate Machine. It was a highlight of the evening and the lighting, strobes, and absolute fantastic drumming from Ilan Rubin delivered an extravagant display of what can be accomplished on stage.

To say the lightshow and special effects shaped this show would be an understatement. The evening started with an abundance of fog obscuring almost all visibility of the stage at times. Each band member had their own set of lights as if to embed each one on individual stages. At times, typically during Rubin’s massive bass drum, each “stage” got the lights turned on while the others went dark and this bobbed around and around adding to the already intense strobe effect.

After “March of the Pigs and “Piggy” Nine Inch Nails ripped off five more from Hesitation Marks starting with “All Time Low” an already hypnotic song that got its due in stage accouterments. “Disappointed” was anything but and that’s when the special effects got even more grandiose. A stage-wide screen dropped in front of the band displaying all sorts of graphic imagery that seemed to trap Reznor and his crew inside a television with bad reception. The visuals eventually engulfed the entire stage trapping the band behind a bewildering display of awesome effects.

The light show never let up and neither did Reznor with “Came Back Haunted” and the reflective, almost introspective, “Find My Way” which gave the band a bit of a breather after “Haunted.” “Find My Way” brought a new round of special effects as the stage-encompassing screens gave way to a blue background giving the allusion that the band member’s shadows were playing.

“Various Methods of Escape” closed out the run of new songs and turned off the accelerator as the drum machine took over and the pace slowed up quite a bit. If guitar solos and clever drum fills can define rock music than pulsating rhythms and cyclical background chaos can describe Nine Inch Nails. In fact, only one song “The Wretched” displayed an actual bona fide guitar solo provided by long-time guitarist Robin Finck.

For his part, Reznor ditched the Goth look that so many angry and misunderstood Generation Xers embraced two decades ago. At 48, he’s extremely fit and looks a man 10 years his junior. His voice remains impeccably pure to his albums. Though he’s successfully turned his life around after a bought with substance abuse and depression, he still manages to get his blood pressure up to roar out classic Nine Inch Nail anthems like the profanity-laced “Wish” and fan favorite “Head Like a Hole.”

The band relaxed a bit for the encore bringing out “The Day The World Went Away” and “Even Deeper” both off 1999’s The Fragile, “While I’m Still Here” which copies a bit too much from “Copy of a” and finally the wrenching “Hurt” which Nine Inch Nails took back from Johnny Cash. Well, at least on this night.

Nine Inch Nails Portland (Moda Center) Setlist:

  1. Copy of a
  2. 1,000,000
  3. Terrible Lie
  4. March of the Pigs
  5. Piggy
  6. All Time Low
  7. Disappointed
  8. Came Back Haunted
  9. Find My Way
  10. Various Methods of Escape
  11. The Frail
  12. The Wretched
  13. Survivalism
  14. Running
  15. A Warm Place
  16. Somewhat Damaged
  17. Wish
  18. The Hand That Feeds
  19. Head Like a Hole
  20. The Day the World Went Away
  21. Even Deeper
  22. While I’m Still Here
  23. Hurt

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Switchfoot Brings Hope to Those Who Listen

Switchfoot never really does anything by the book.

In 2007, the San Diego-based rockers cut ties with their major label, built their own studio and began recording on their own. The members claim to be Christian but Switchfoot is not a “Christian” band. Their songs offer substance and complexity your local pop radio would never air.

It should be no surprise then on their current Fading West tour that the band’s opening act is their own documentary movie which they showcased on Saturday of all places at Bauman Auditorium at George Fox University in Newberg, OR – 25 miles from Portland. The documentary aptly titled “Fading West” documents the band’s world tour last year. Though it’s billed as a “surf documentary” and surfing represents a large portion of the film, it comes across more of a docudrama of life on the road.

At times quite emotional, the film gives the initial impression that this could be it for the band as members struggle with leaving their family behind and question their dedication as husbands and fathers. In one of the more poignant, albeit very short scenes, bassist Tim Foreman laments to brother and fellow band member Jon Foreman about being away from his wife when she miscarried. It’s a quick scene but its implication is heavy.

“Fading West” grabs the heart-strings even further as Jon Foreman receives a phone call that his daughter needs surgery. The band is in Australia with dates scheduled in New Zealand and he wrestles with leaving the tour. Ultimately, he leaves the band and flies back to the United States while the rest trudge on cancelling dates, surfing and talking about what the band means to them and what they hope it means for fans.

The film begins with Switchfoot playing the Soundwave Festival in Australia – more of a thrash-metal fest featuring bands like Slipknot, System of a Down and Lamb of God, among many other acts. Tim Foreman rhetorically implies that the band doesn’t know where they fit in – at Soundwave or in the music industry in general it would seem. He may or may not be seriously asking the question or just simply stating it as a matter of fact but the film never answers it.

Ultimately, “Fading West” is an interesting insight into life on the road for a rock band and fans should enjoy some of the behind the scenes looks, and if it’s not already evident that the men who make up Switchfoot are stand-up guys, then “Fading West” makes no mistake. All five members are family-men, who care about the poor, especially children, and they filter their life struggles and issues through their music which surely resonates with anyone who listens to them. Consider this almost poetic quote from Jon: “Faith and doubt are equally logical choices in the face of tragedy” and you’ve got the foundation to much of their music’s message.

The film is about 85 minutes and features songs off the same-named album set to drop January 14.  An EP of the album was released earlier this year featuring three songs. After a 30-minute intermission, Switchfoot took the stage and ripped off 11 songs opening with “The Sound” off 2009’s Hello Hurricane followed by what’s sure to be the first single off Fading West – “Who We Are” – a very “Switchfooty” song that needs some fine-tuning before next year’s likely full tour.

Conversely, “Love Alone is Worth the Fight” fourth on the night, sounded better live than the EP version. Incorporating the audience to “sing” the intro rather than the canned-sounding keyboard effects gave the song some authenticity and really just sounded better.

The fantastic “Stars” was third and the band returned to Hello Hurricane to play the underrated “Your Love is a Song” featuring a blistering solo by guitarist Drew Shirley who should really do more of that especially if he can play like he did on Saturday. For an abbreviate set the band dug deep into their catalog bringing out “Only Hope” from 1999’s “New Way to Be Human” and encoring with a campfire version of “Hello Hurricane” – absolutely stellar – and “Where I Belong” the last track off Vice Verses. “Dark Horses,” an ode to homeless kids in San Diego, is one of Switchfoot’s best songs and should be a staple on future tours.

By the sound of it, Fading West the album sounds edgier than previous efforts, goes even deeper on questions of faith and the meaning of life and perhaps a bit darker as the five members use their talents to wrestle with their own demons and perhaps help others wrestle with theirs. The third song off the Fading West EP “BA55” is bass heavy with solid guitar chords and that, along with the samples from the documentary, shows the band embarking on a new direction.

Once the credits rolled on “Fading West” the movie, Switchfoot no longer felt like a band thinking about retirement rather a band with something to say and as long as they have something to say they’ll use the power of music to say it. During the concert, Jon Foreman recalled the band rehearsing for a major record label and one of the executives walking out before the end of the first song remarking that he did not hear any singles. Foreman said all the band wants is to reach people with songs of hope and help them get through the tough questions in life.

He also answered his brother’s question of where the band fits in.

Switchfoot Setlist (George Fox University):

  1. Sound
  2. Who We Are
  3. Stars
  4. Love Along is Worth the Fight
  5. Your Love is a Song
  6. Dark Horses
  7. BA55
  8. Only Hope
  9. Dare You To Move
  10. Hello Hurricane
  11. Where I Belong

Written By: AndrewT