Concert Review: Bastille Gives Lots of Bad Blood to Portland

Bastille Stage

English synthers Bastille played a 19-song set on Thursday in Portland bringing a heavy dose of the 1980s to an overjoyed crowd full of young teens along with a parent or two, older teens and a smattering of Reagan-era veterans.

With echoes of Depeche Mode, Bastille used heavy synthesizers, little guitar and lots of bass squeezing every drop out of their hit album Bad Blood. Released last year, the multiplatinum record is the band’s only full length release which the band has toured since it dropped. The last time Bastille played in Portland? The couple-hundred people sized Doug Fir Lounge.

Dan Smith

Bastille singer Dan Smith

On Thursday, the crowd surged to the several-thousand sized Theater of the Clouds, an amphitheater styled set-up inside the arena-setting of the Moda Center. Bastille indeed proved ready for the bigger houses with comfortable presence and fantastic sound accompanied by a well-produced light and stage show.

The quartet walked on stage as the large triangle-shaped video screen broadcast something akin to a production from 30 years ago announcing the “feature presentation.” They opened their set with “Things We Lost in the Fire” followed by “Weight of Living, Pt. II” then “Laura Palmer” and the synth heavy “Laughter Lines” featuring that great haunting keyboard opening and wonderful melody throughout. The title track to their debut album, one of several singles still making the rounds on local radio, brought a thumping bass guitar rhythm by Will Farquarson.

To say bass dominated the evening would be an understatement. Along with Dan Smith’s deep vocals, the bass guitar, the heavy use of bass drums and the synthesizers, bass kicked treble to the curb for much of the evening and the band does it well. In fact, Farquarson didn’t bring out an electric guitar until “Blame” a drum punchy tune and dead-ringer for a Black Keys song appearing on the band’s next album.

Smith said the band’s forthcoming record should be different than Bad Blood as he expects to showcase guitars more. Considering another new song played, a very edgy “The Driver,” one of the best of the evening, brought the electric guitar center stage it sounds as if he’s going to make good on that promise. Fans longing for a new album can expect a mini EP to drop in December though now word on whether that’s the new album or just a snack

Kyle Simmons

Bastille keyboardist Kyle Simmons

“Overjoyed” brought all four band members to the front with Smith playing a moody piano, drummer Chris Wood using a single electronic drum machine, and keyboardist Kyle Simmons and Farquarson playing together on the synths. “Poet” which starts like the theme song to a bad Matthew Perry sitcom followed, and gets better than the silly beginning, and the Disney-esque “These Streets” continued the pop fun.

The sample-heavy “The Silence” pushed the tempo up before “Oblivion” a song which Smith said is probably the band’s most depressing. Granted they have one album to work with and a limited number of songs, it makes sense that a few covers made the set list. Their remake of TLC’s “No Scrubs” which apparently can be found on a bootleg (if you can find it) made prior to Bad Blood’s release just didn’t work. It’s not the same genre or even close to the style of music Bastille plays.

Thankfully, they returned with the drum-heavy “Icarus” choreographed well with background lights. “The Draw” Bastille’s four minute dabble into grunge rock darkened the mood and bested the album version bringing a stinging guitar chord and sounded more like something off the promised new album . The catchy “Flaws” brought Smith into the crowd singing his way through the masses standing on the floor section before jumping back on stage and closing out the set. The encore included “Get Home” featuring Smith’s polished tenor, their take on Corona’s “The Rhythm of the Night” titled “Of the Night” and of course their signature, “Pompeii” which they killed and brought opening act Ella Eyre to join helping primarily to beat on all the drums showcased on stage.

Will Farquarson

Bastille bass guitarist Will Farquarson

You don’t get soaring guitar solos with Bastille or insane drum fills. A traditional rock band they are not as their music harkens back three decades ago ushering in perhaps a second new wave of music. There’s a lot of sampling to Bastille’s live show and the keyboards along with Smith’s low vocal register rule the night. It’s Smith’s band but Simmons adds a complexity and architect to the music with his keyboard depth. He’s amazing to watch – sometimes plays two different keyboards at the same time and occasionally pounding a bass drum to his left as his right hand fingers the ivories.

However, Smith’s vocals help differentiate Bastille from so many of the rush-to-stardom pop bands playing on radio today. He sounds classically trained, and the British accent along with his lower octave gives a smooth, pure sound. He’s graceful at times and his tenor really shines on “Oblivion” and “Overjoyed.” He’s self-deprecating, perhaps a bit insecure, as he commented several times prior to starting a song “I hope you like it” and made fun of his dance moves which he described as horrific. Not horrific, but using the same move for nearly every song gets repetitive and not just for him.

The heavy use of bass and keyboards works well but to prevent from simply repeating Bad Blood on their sophomore album, Bastille needs to take a different direction. If the new songs showcased deliver as promised then it shouldn’t be a stretch to see Bastille book the entire arena next tour around.

Bastille Portland (Moda Center) Setlist:

  1. Things We Lost in the Fire
  2. Weight of Living, Pt. II
  3. Laura Palmer
  4. Laughter Lines
  5. Bad Blood
  6. Blame
  7. Overjoyed
  8. Poet
  9. These Streets
  10. The Driver
  11. The Silence
  12. Oblivion
  13. No Scrubs
  14. Icarus
  15. The Draw
  16. Flaws
  17. Get Home
  18. Of the Night
  19. Pompeii

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: The Black Keys Give Portland a Big Treat on Halloween

Black Keys Feature

The likelihood of two teenagers on opposite ends of the high school social spectrum collaborating and creating a successful band is about as probable as the Black Keys gaining mainstream status. But indeed both happened.

The Akron, Ohio based duo consisting of vocalist and guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, along with two touring musicians helping out on bass and keyboards and an occasional second guitarist, played to a decent crowd at the Moda Center in Portland for their Turn Blue tour on Friday with many fans dressed in Halloween garb for the occasion. It wasn’t a sold out show as probably 70 percent of the available seats in the upper bowl were curtained off and none of the sections in the lower section were completely full but the general admission floor was packed.

The duo opened the show with “Dead and Gone” and Auerbach and Carney seemed out of sync at times though it didn’t affect the rhythm of the performance much, however, “Next Girl” was not the band’s finest moment. The keyboards overpowered everything and with the guitars and drums competing against each other it was a mess.The Black Keys

The familiar opening guitar line to “Run Right Back” helped get the show upright and Auerbach delivered the first of many solid guitar solos and then the fun was about to begin. At this point in the show the background to the band was a projected image of a theater curtain which abruptly dropped giving way to an immense stage setup that included 17 smaller video screens and dozens of stage lights. Perhaps a fitting nod to the band stepping up from smaller venues to their first arena tour – just four years ago the Black Keys played sold out shows at the much smaller Crystal Ballroom.

The new stage setting injected a whole lot of life into the show and coinciding with a powerful “Same Old Thing” the boys set off on a marathon pace of songs. “Gold on the Ceiling,” one of several fan favorites, followed bringing many to their feet, though again, but for the last time, the band seemed out of sync as Carney came across a bit too quick on the drums. The funky “Strange Times” was next and then “Nova Baby” one of many played off their smash 2011 album El Camino. The band opened the vault playing “Leavin’ Trunk” off their 2001 debut album The Big Come Up, which simply shamed the album version.

The boozy, drunk-man-at-a-smoky-bar pondering life “Too Afraid to Love You” also bested the album version working really well live and then the slow, drippy songs took a break as the band rolled into the drum-heavy “Howlin’ For You,” completely owned the Edwyn Collins’ song “A Girl Like You,” and pulled out some straight-up hard rock with the great “Money Maker.”

What separates the Black Keys from so many new bands in the last 10 or 15 years and which, in many respects, makes them quite the anomaly, is not just their garage rock-fused blues sound with an added dimension of indie/alternative rock and maybe just a spritzer of industrial but what goes into the songs’ composition. There’s a reason why so many songs on the setlist do not get on the radio.

Auerbach and Carney Auerbach and Carney incorporate varying tempos and changing time signatures that require multiple listens to absorb the song. Just when you think a song is going in one direction, it takes another. Commenting on their latest release Turn Blue Auerbach said the Black Keys strive to make every album different, which if you’ve sat down and listened, so far the two have made good. It’s hard to find similar sounding songs like what is so prominent on the airwaves today.

Both Auerbach and Carney are fine musicians. Carney doesn’t bring a whole lot of flair, his drum set, centered up front along with Auerbach, isn’t flashy, but he hits, and he hits hard. The Black Keys is a drum and guitar centered band, first and foremost. Often, sometimes to the detriment of the performance, the guitars and drums drowned out Auerbach’s vocals and everything else. The band would serve the audience well if percussion and guitar were softened a bit allowing the vocals to bust through.

Auerbach is on his way to becoming one of today’s great rock guitarists and his soloing is some of the best work out there. His voice did seem strained at times even from the start of the show but nothing a day or two off wouldn’t fix. The show in Portland was the sixth performance in eight days for the band and it showed.

Though Turn Blue represents their first arena tour, the new album didn’t get touched until more than halfway through the evening with what’s sure to be a very popular dedication song to former lovers in “Gotta Get Away.” Perhaps an appropriate follow, the ripped from the 1970s “She’s Long Gone” highlighted Auerbach’s guitar skills as he simply shredded a solo before the band returned to the new album playing the catchy single “Fever.” The clever “Tighten Up” allowed Carney to shine with his adept cadence and yes a little bit of punk came with “Your Touch” and finally the very popular “Lonely Boy” closed out the set.

The encore included “Weight of Love” and the title track to Turn Blue though both felt like after-thoughts compared to how heavy the band relied on Brothers with five songs and El Camino, seven songs. Auerbach gave another blistering solo for “Weight” but the songs’ spots in the setlist was questionable considering the slow tempo and similar sounding beat.

The closer of course was the hit “Little Black Submarines” which brought the acoustic guitar out for the first time and Auerbach teased a bit starting with a short solo before finally breaking into the lyrics. The band extended the acoustic seession much further into the song then the album cut which helped build up the anticipation to that awesome electric guitar intro. The arena went dark, you knew it was coming as Auerbach quickly changed guitars, and the full band opened it up.

The Black Keys Setlist at Moda Center in Portland, OR

  1. Dead and Gone
  2. Next Girl
  3. Run Right Back
  4. Same Old Thing
  5. Gold on the Ceiling
  6. Strange Times
  7. Nova Baby
  8. Leavin’ Trunk
  9. Too Afraid to Love You
  10. Howlin’ For You
  11. A Girl Like You (Cover)
  12. Money Maker
  13. Gotta Get Away
  14. She’s Long Gone
  15. Fever
  16. Tighten Up
  17. Your Touch
  18. Lonely Boy
  19. Weight of Love
  20. Turn Blue
  21. Little Black Submarines

Written By: AndrewT