Live Jive: Concert Reviews

MISSION OF BURMA

With: Jonathan Kane’s February

At: The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston

Sunday (first show) 9/07

“It’s very weird that the floor’s not sticky – it’s not right,” joked Mission of Burma drummer Peter Prescott as the band returned for an encore during its matinee performance Sunday at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston. And so it *was* weird, at least a little. And not just because of the clean, modernistic lines and sanitary state of the performance space, either.

Punk in the afternoon? Mission of Burma in broad daylight? Before a seated audience politely clasping programs? But there they were, plugged in to their dark dreams and ancient amps and sunshine be damned, doling out dollops of artfully brutal noise against a harbor-view backdrop of Sunday sailboats and toddlers waddling by, their mothers keeping a careful eye.

This is what happens when a band becomes a legend, and then becomes a band again. After a 19-year interval, the Boston punk icons returned in 2002 not as an ossified nostalgia act pillaging its history, but as a  living, breathing, fearsome thing – seething charisma and essential malevolence miraculously intact. On its recent albums, 2004’s “OnoffON” and last year’s “The Obliterati,” Burma sloughed off the cobwebs of myth, reclaimed its old deranged nobility and reignited its sense of purpose.

So now, MOB – Prescott, guitarist Roger Miller, bassist Clint Conley, and behind-the-scenes sound engineer/effects wizard Bob Weston (taking over Martin Swope’s old post) – plays art spaces and ornate theaters instead of just beer-soaked, burned-out basements. The band’s approach, however – a full-on metallic jacket of jagged feedback swirling through scabrously unhinged art-punk – hasn’t changed one iota.

Making  its ICA debut Sunday during the first of its two shows as part of the institute’s contemporary music series, Burma opened with the tumultuous, distortion-corroded  “1001 Pleasant Dreams,” and then pummeled headlong into the confrontational clang of “2wice”, both from “The Obliterati.” the group previewed several new songs as well. A highlight was the serrated, Miller-sung “Forget Yourself,” which was at once menacing, raw, and complex – much like Burma itself.

“Academy Fight Song” opened the encore and sounded as fierce a call-to-arms as ever, Conley’s sneer as sour as vinegar. An exuberantly woolly, sledgehammer-heavy cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic” closed it in a proto-metal blizzard filtered through a punk lens. Mission of Burma, power trio. That sounds about right.

Openers Jonathan Kane’s February, a sextet helmed by drummer and Swans co-founder Kane, featured a four-guitar front line in addition to bass and drums. The outfit’s all-instrumental, kinetic 45-minute set was powered by sinewy precision, sculpted riffs, and the coiled stealth of a cobra: Pell Mell covering Junior Kimbrough, or Booker T. and the MG’s without the organ.

DAN AUERBACH

With: Hacienda, Those Darlins

At: the Paradise Rock Club, 3/09

Nothing Black Keys singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach does is obvious. He’s a 29-year-old  dude from the suburbs of Ohio who, with drummer Patrick Carney, cut his teeth playing ancient hill country blues in the vein of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough (cq) – but reserved the right to cover a Beatles tune or two for kicks.

In town Sunday night as part of a two-week tour for “Keep It Hid,” his new solo album (which actually sounds more like a fleshed-out group effort than anything the Black Keys have recorded), Auerbach took the Paradise stage backed by more musicians than he’s ever had in tow – the excellent four-piece Texas-based outfit, Hacienda, as well as second drummer Patrick Hallahan from the Kentucky psychedelic country explorers My Morning Jacket.

Auerbach’s decision to augment his fantastically tight assemblage with Hallahan on a variety of percussion – congas, shakers, and second drum kit – only added to the sustained sense of hoodoo magic being conjured on stage.

The sold-out crowd certainly got what it came to hear: 90 minutes of blissfully loud, fiercely focused rock and roll with heart, soul, and flush with power. “The Prowl” (a new song, like many of the selections Sunday) was a gritty saunter through darkened streets, replete with spooky organ. That soon gave away to the liberating uplift of “My Last Mistake” – an infectiously high-spirited rocker somewhat at odds with the subject matter: it found the singer asking his lover whether he’s screwed up their relationship for good this time.

Front and center, of course, stood the bearded, blonde-ish Auerbach and his big Gretsch guitar, both of them bobbing and weaving inside the music, dipping down and jumping up with each joyful riff, all of it a heady mix of fierce concentration and loosed glee. Clad in jeans, black leather vest, and workshirt with sleeves rolled up, Auerbach looked like either a lumberjack’s apprentice or a scruffy Outward Bound leader.

In a sense, he was both. His guitar solos were leanly compact, penetrating bursts of roughed-up chords that chopped predictable blues-rock cliches to ribbons. And although easy to overlook or take for granted,  Auerbach’s voice proved an invaluable asset to his arsenal of hooks. It sounded right at home with belted blues shouts, naturally, but also held soulful embraces on the soft, gospel-tinged opener,  “Trouble Weighs A Ton,” and the slow-simmering ballad, “When The Night Comes.”

Those Darlins, (cq) an all-female Tennessee trio whose amiably goofy songs sounded almost as good as they looked in mini-skirts, high-heeled boots, and even higher hair, opened with a 30-minute set of tunes about getting drunk and eating chickens, among other worthwhile topics. If the Dixie Chicks ever covered the Southern Culture On The Skids’ catalog, this is what it might sound like. Hirsute rockers Hacienda (who would later take the stage as Auerbach’s backing band) followed with an enjoyable, if not ground-breaking, 30-minute set of ‘70s-style rock whose organ-laced jams were as shaggy as they were.

PAUL WELLER

At: the Orpheum Theatre, Saturday night (2/22/03).

In some ways, Paul Weller is finally making the music he always aspired to. He was still a teenager growing up in England when he formed his first band, the Jam, a group of  R&B-obsessed Mod revivalists who played fast, tight tunes, sang about class warfare and camaraderie, and were inevitably lumped into the fledgling punk movement of the 1970’s. In fact, the Jam’s sound had more in common with British ancestors such as the early Who and Small Faces (both of whom also worshiped Tamla soul and James Brown) than punk contemporaries like the Sex Pistols or the Buzzcocks. With his subsequent ‘80’s group, the Style Council, Weller’s affection for artists such as Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye only became more pronounced.

So it made perfect sense when on Saturday, before a rapturous Orpheum Theatre audience, Weller put down his electric guitar, took a seat behind a set of  keyboards, and glided gracefully into Gaye’s proto-peace anthem, “What’s Goin’ On”, offering a faithful reading imbued with the profound, reflective soul of the original. Given the current events unfolding on the world stage, the song’s lyric, “war is not the answer, only love can conquer hate”, sounded utterly contemporary – even necessary – and Weller knew it, lavishing the words with a husky, honeyed reverence.

The selection made sense on another level too, in that the lush, questing mood of Gaye’s 1971 album of the same name has essentially served as a blueprint for much of Weller’s solo work of the past decade. As if to illustrate the point, the songwriter remained at the keyboards for his own meditative “Broken Stones”, extending the exquisite moment of self-reflection and elegant longing. Highlights such as these were gratifying and plentiful during a two-hour, career-spanning concert that proved  to be the final date of a U.S. tour that began earlier this month to promote the release of Weller’s new solo album, “Illumination” (released on the small North Carolina independent label Yep Roc). The last tour stop was to have been Philadelphia Sunday night, but that show was canceled due, inexplicably, to poor advance ticket sales.

If  Weller was demoralized by the news, he certainly showed no outward sign of bitter disappointment, delivering an often transportive set that was by turns feverishly jubilant,  thoughtful and open-hearted, and fiercely focused. Backed by a stellar four-piece band that included Ocean Colour Scene guitarist Steve Cradock and Weller’s longtime drummer Steve White, Weller delved deeply into his new material, but also paused to look lovingly back at both of his old bands. A small clutch of Jam classics – the Brit-pop buzz of  “In The Crowd”; the brisk, semi-plugged “That’s Entertainment”; the Motown-esque “Town Called Malice” – were strung like rare pearls throughout the set.

But as the loose-limbed Weller, now in his mid-40’s, demonstrated time and again with a  reverb-drenched shudder of a power chord here (“Leafy Mysteries”) or a snarling guitar exposition there (“Peacock Suit”), whole slabs of his solo material stand up to anything he wrote with the Jam, even if he might be occasionally prone to the well-intentioned-but-bathetic love ballad that misses the mark (“Who Brings Joy”). There was the epic, swirling psychedelia of  “Into Tomorrow”, hung on a stinging guitar hook that could have come straight from Beatles’ “Revolver” album. And it was impossible to deny the strafing guitar riff and hip-deep Bo Diddley beat that pushed  the second encore’s closer, “Woodcutter’s Son”, to a crunching jam that proved more than the sum of its parts. Weller’s voice, always muscular, has grown deeper and more ruminative with age, but it’s precisely because he’s worn the years that  “Wild Wood” –  an acoustic ode to the struggle to find oneself amid vanishing days – felt as stirring as it was stunning.

ROLLING STONES

Foxboro Stadium, Foxborough, MA., Oct. 20, 1997

FOXBOROUGH — There was a time when the Rolling Stones were dangerous — or at least a time when their audience cast an aura of danger around them. And even when singer Mick Jagger insisted over the years that the Stones were merely a rock & roll group — entertainers, really — no one believed him. How could they, after hearing apocalyptic masterpieces like “Gimme Shelter” and “Sympathy for the Devil” for the first time?

Thirty-four years after the band recorded its first single,  Jagger has finally been proven right. The Stones are no longer dangerous. Now, in their mid-50’s, they have become (in fact, became long ago) consummate entertainers rather than provocative artists, and a band that at this point simultaneously embodies rock’s own best and worst impulses. But as they proved during a sold-out, two-hour and 15-minute performance at Foxboro Stadium on Monday night (the first of two shows at the venue) the Stones remain something else, too: a very fine rock & roll band of stylish panache and genuine chemistry, still capable of summoning moments of musical transcendence that offer something more than easy nostalgia.

When guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood buzzsawed into “Satisfaction,” the night’s opening number, for instance, and suddenly Jagger was appeared in blood-red jacket and flowing white scarf, gyrating in a tight ball of kinetic moves and gestures, it was difficult to dismiss him or them as mere memory.

By the same token, however, it was a mistake for the band to follow the haunted nightmare of “Sister Morphine” — an inspired and rarely performed song from 1971’s classic “Sticky Fingers” album — with the flaccid mid-tempo gait of  “Anybody Seen My Baby?,” the first single off its new “Bridges To Babylon” album. That juxtaposition only served to offer a painful reminder of how far the Stones have fallen creatively.

Though they fared better with another new song, “Out of Control,” which featured a smoky, muted-trumpet solo and the thorny tangle of Jagger’s harmonica and Keith Richards’ barbed-wire guitar, the band was clearly most at home with blueprint warhorses like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Gimme Shelter,” and the fireworks-capped closer, “Brown Sugar.” And when the Stones play songs like those, nobody can touch them.

In keeping with the inevitably outsized visual theme of “Bridges,” the staging was an extravagant spectacle of towering golden goddesses flanking a stage that seemed to constantly erupt with smoking flashpots. What was striking about the abundance of technology (which included a state-of-the-art, crystal-clear giant video screen), however, was how it served an ultimately primitive end — namely, blues-based music built on the bedrock of Richards’ Chuck Berry-style riffs.

Midway through their set, for example, a hydraulic “bridge” rose from the floor, leading to the same kind of tiny stage the Stones used to play back in 1965.  Leaving their four-piece horn section and three background singers behind with only longtime keyboardist Chuck Leavell in tow, the Stones visited the bare-bones platform to perform Berry’s “Little Queenie,” “Crazy Mama” (an obscure rocker from the “Black and Blue” album) and “The Last Time.” Though it was a nice idea, the sound was as unfortunately murky as one of those old 1965 concerts.

These days, there aren’t many vestiges of 1965 left. Or 1975, for that matter. But the Stones occupy a unique place in our consciousness. Listening to their recent albums, one can’t help but wonder if perhaps they should have retired long ago. But somehow, seeing them and hearing them perform live, still managing to kick up that dusty glitter now and then, one can’t help but be glad they haven’t.

Returning with a bang, the Stones rock, and roll back the years

By Jonathan Perry, Globe Correspondent  |  September 21, 2006

FOXBOROUGH — When Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards  told a Boston audience  in January that Boston “was becoming a habit,” he wasn’t kidding. Maybe it’s because Richards calls Connecticut home when he’s not falling out of coconut trees in Fiji, but the Stones have certainly had a penchant for kicking off tours in this neck of the woods in recent years.

Even with a few stumbles along the way, some silly (that coconut incident), some serious (drummer Charlie Watts  battling throat cancer; guitarist Ron Wood  entering rehab), and some certainly to be expected (singer Mick Jagger  being afflicted with laryngitis, likely due to a touring schedule that seems to get longer, rather than shorter, each year), the Stones have hit the Greater Boston market five times in roughly a year.

Somehow, though, they keep managing to surprise us — not  just with their improbable endurance and Jagger’s staggering  ability to defy the aging process, but by the band’s stubborn determination to meet its own outsize  expectations. Last night, launching the fall  North American  leg of the band’s “A Bigger Bang” tour, the Stones opened  the two-plus hour show with the Eastern-tinged “Paint It, Black”  for the first time in its 44-year history.

The band received an affectionate welcome from the 44,000-strong crowd (Richards and Wood especially) and was in feisty, crash-bam-boom form, blaring gleefully and biting down hard on a chewy “Live With Me”  and “Monkey Man,”  and an arch, but guitar-bleary “Sway.”  The latter was stripped of the original’s despondent poignancy perhaps, but it nevertheless boded well for a show that yielded the old Glimmer Twin  gold of a classic Stones spectacle. And not just the crowd-pleasing entertainment juggernaut the band’s long since become, but what they once, were too.

Now more than ever perhaps, the epic hoodoo  nightmare “Midnight Rambler”  has become the Stones’s showpiece and a window into the pre- stadium days, when they seemed a five-headed hydra of blues,  lust ,  and theater: There was Mick as tomcat, the years dripping off him with every shake and snake of his hips, blowing dirty harmonica as Keith’s and Ronnie’s guitars circled him, wailing and rumbling with timeless dread and malevolence. Richards beamed and delivered a sweet-tempered “You Got The Silver”  before springing forward a decade with the raunchy “Little T & A.”  “Sweet Virginia,”  with Jagger on acoustic and harp and the band working out its lifelong country-blues jones, was a treat. It was moments like these that reminded you that no matter how much they change, or earn, or stumble, some things never change with the Stones, thank goodness.

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