Ultimate Classic Band


Flaming Lips

Saturday night I checked my email at a Forecastle afterparty and saw that I was invited to see a private Flaming Lips show at the Muhammad Ali Center put on by WFPK. It was billed as being a "career retrospective" set in a "storytellers" fashion. After their decent but unimpressive show that night, this seemed like a wish from my fairy godmother.

The idea of the Flaming Lips performing old songs and telling lengthy stories between them is seriously one of the most appealing musical ideas you could offer me. There are so many great old Lips songs that never make it into their sets because they've got 1hr+ of material that's absolutely classic Greatest Hits material. "Bad Days" is a great song, but they're never going to kick "Do You Realize" off the setlist to play it. Chances like this don't just come around every day.

The event started off with their enduring hit "Race for the Prize." Yeah, it's one you'll hear at every Flaming Lips show, but it's also a great jump-off point for a concert. From there Wayne chatted with us about his love of Muhammad Ali and their excitement to do this storytellers retrospective again. They moved more or less chronologically through their Live Jasmin discography, starting with "Bag Full of Thoughts," the first song off their debut EP. I don't know what the young, inexperienced band would have sounded like playing it live in 1984, but these talented guys made the song come alive in 2013.

From there, we got "Love Yer Brain" off Oh My Gawd!!!, "Unconsciously Screamin'" from In a Priest Driven Ambulance and "You Have to Be Joking (Autopsy of the Devil's Brain)" from Hit to Death in the Future Head - three songs I never thought I'd see live. And while these weren't the songs I would have picked off each album, that kind of made it better. This wasn't a request show; it was a retrospective. The Lips were looking back on their career and sharing songs and stories that stick out to them.

This was an amazing opportunity that I'll probably remember as one of my dearest concert memories. But I'm glad it's rare. If the Lips spent every show doing their greatest hits, it'd be endlessly boring by your third show. If they spend the rest of their career looking back, you'd move on to a different band. But they keep plowing forward with polarizing choices, just like they've done since the early '80s. God love 'em, I hope the Flaming Lips never die.


Grizzly Bear

Before Grizzly Bear's show at the Brown Theater, singer Ed Droste tweeted that Louisville should come out to the show because it was their first time bringing their new light show through the area. What he didn't say was that it was that for those of us who hadn't seen the band since Shield's release, this would be a giant leap forward for the band's live show.

A few songs into the set, Ed reminded everyone that the last time they played Louisville was when they played in a church's rec area in 2008. That's a far stretch from now, both in time and in chaturbate status. Five years later and Grizzly Bear had very nearly filled the spacious Brown Theater. They're still hot off Shields and the crowd was in love from start to finish.

I've always said that if I had to pick any guitarist, singer, bassist and drummer to form a supergroup, I'd pick the four members of Grizzly Bear. These four guys are absolute masters of their role in the band. And if you're ever tempted to think that one of them is stealing the show, I guarantee it's only because you didn't notice that the other three were providing perfect backing to allow one of them to step up with a guitar riff, vocal melody or whatever was needed to shine brightly in that moment.

While I didn't catch his name, I do have to point out that GB added a new member to their live show. The new guy played multiple keyboards in the back and was, along with their lighting director and flawless sound guy, partially responsible for their great new show. With him added in, we got the fullness of the record but with the added sound quality that comes from being in the same room as the musicians. Every time I could feel Chris Taylor thump a particularly great bass line, I wondered if Grizzly Bear could be first band I've seen that actually sound better live.

Not only did they sound great, but their new sex chat show looks amazing. There's been a creativity arms race in the concert lighting field as long as I've been going to shows. Grizzly Bear's new lights set-up is not only one of the best I've seen in years, I'd wager it's one of the most cost-effective. After a song or two, little lanterns began to rise in the background. Part japanese lantern, part jellyfish, the little light sources could raise or lower through the show and wold flicker or dim as their programming willed. The result was a backdrop that was powerful, engaging and intimate.

And while I can't rave enough about the quality of their live show, I also have to say that they did a genius job picking the evening's songs and plotting out the flow of the set list. Most of the night was a mixture of songs from Shields and Veckatimest that were mixed together almost like you'd sequence a beautiful double-album. It was eerie how well songs from one led to songs from the other.

There were also some longstanding fan favorites mixed in. "Shift," from 2004's Horn of Plenty, came unexpectedly early in the set and was one of the more emotional moments of the show. Likewise the inclusion of two songs that helped propel the band to stardom, "Knife" and "On a Neck, On a Spit," at the start of their encore were surprises that drew an audible reaction from me. But nothing compared to getting to see them do "All We Ask" as the closer. For it, Dan Rossen played acoustic guitar, Chris Bear drummed with one stick on a hand drum and Ed and Chris Taylor sang in beautiful harmony. At that point it was less like seeing a huge band and more like seeing four brothers at a family talent show.


Owen Pallett

I'm weirdly pleased to begin this review with an apology. Even though I've seen Owen Pallett live since he stopped touring as a solo performer, I still wasn't 100% sold on his move toward a trio performance. His show on Monday was not only an incredible performance, but I'm pretty confident that it was the best show I've ever seen from him.

Even when backed up, Owen still loops his violin parts to create strong backing textures, only this time the songs are already thumping away from the first note. His songs still retain their high-brow approach to pop, but are made much more solid with drums and guitar backing. I hesitate to say it changes the whole feel of his show (since I already said it's been improved by this addition), but I will say that if you're thinking of skipping his current live show because you've already seen him solo, you're completely wrong.

There was one exception to Owen's new trio performance status: a blessedly beautiful new song that he played solo. He introduced the new tune by saying that he was going to play it for only the second time ever and that if he messed up, he'd like us not to boo. Then he realized he's never really been booed before, so he asked us all to really quickly give him some boos so he could experience it. It was unneeded priming, though, because the song was amazing. He didn't give us a name, but I'll just blindly look forward to his next jasminlive.mobi album, EP or whatever. (UPDATE: Owen says its working title is "Songs for Five and Six")

I was expecting a good, solid show from Owen Pallett, but what I got was a level above anything I'd seen him do previously. I felt like a real dummy for thinking he'd plateaued as a performer, but for the time he was on stage in front of me I just felt lucky.


Big Boi

Shortly after Animal Collective cancelled their appearance at Forecastle due to illness, Big Boi took the stage on crutches and put on one of the best shows I've seen all year.

At this point in his career Big Boi is a living legend. Nothing drove that point home quicker than the fact that he could command the stage so easily from a seat in the middle of the stage. Granted, his seat was a huge throne, but he used it to prove his ability to do a great show without full mobility where it easily could have led to a lazy performance from a less talented rapper.

While I think we can all agree that a reformed and touring Outkast would be one of the best things that could happen out of all possible events that could happen, Big Boi is doing a great job entertaining the world until that day comes. With his show you get classic Outkast hits that very nearly span their entire catalog and his recent songs from his two solo albums. It's crazy that he played so early in the day when at any moment he could play "Bombs Over Baghdad" or "Rosa Parks." Has anyone else at Forecastle written a song even half as good as "Bombs Over Baghdad?" Maybe Jim James, but that's just because I love me some My Morning Jacket. But certainly not anyone else. Big Boi's an amazing performer with the songs to back it up.


Man Man

I forgot to post this after I wrote it, so here it is almost three months after the show!

This could be the best Man Man setlist (and set) I've seen in a long time. They played a classic "just recorded an album" set: greatest hits, fan favorites and a handful of new songs. Sometimes that can be a bit of a bore when the band usually just does a greatest hits show (for better or worse, the Flaming Lips), but when the group is like Man Man and usually does a set heavy on their new material, it's good to occasionally get one that picks up a couple amazing tracks ("Ice Dogs!") that are usually left off setlists.

The core group of Man Man have been touring together so long that they've got a practiced quality to their show that lets them experiment a bit more. Every tour it seems that they're trying something to see if it sticks. On this go-around we got much more of Honus stepping away from the keyboards to do some dramatic terrorizing while prowling around the stage. He's a very engaging keyboard player, but it's when he's free to throw on robes and swoosh around the stage that you realize why he's such a great live performer.