Sunday, May 30, 2021

May 30th 1992, Curve at the Opera House


Of all the bands that came out of the nineties, Curve are probably the one that made the biggest impact on me. From the release of the "Blindfold" EP in 1991 they existed fully formed and perfect in every way, a stylish blend of processed sound and electronics that fully complimented haunting and otherworldly vocals. Over the next few years Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia went on to produce a series of amazing albums and EPs that include some of the best songs of that era, forging a unique and distinct sound who's impact and influence is still felt today. Their debut album "Doppleganger" from 1992 stands out as one of their best, and remains a claustrophobic and unsettling masterpiece that simultaneously haunts and seduces the listener, drawing them deep under it's spell and leaving them changed upon it's completion. I'm pretty sure that there's never been another album quite like it, and I have my doubts that there ever will be.

Curve did a North American tour to support the release of the album that included a stop at the Opera House in May 1992, and I was lucky enough to be there. I had a spot on the floor relatively close to the stage when Curve's set began, but there was a wall of dry ice and fog that prevented me from really seeing any of the band. The fog continued to obscure my view for most of the night so all I really saw were lights that would occasionally flash and some movements or shadows when band members came closer to the edge of the stage. But even though I couldn't really see anything it was still an amazing experience, a complete immersion in the music. Halliday's voice rang out through the Opera House offering a focus for the senses that pushed and pulled like waves, alternately soothing, frightening, inviting, and warning the audience. Garcia and the band were especially tight that evening, building an incredible wall of sound, a slick blend of processed feedback and joyful noise, stretching tones and pulses in ways that expanded beyond the studio work that I was already familiar with and adding new and unique elements and colours to the music. 

The set was about an hour long and focused mostly on material from "Doppelganger" along with some tracks from the earlier EPs as well. Die Like a Dog was intense and driving, Halliday's smooth vocals contrasting with jagged feedback and wah wah distortion. Their performance of the title track from the album arrived around the middle of the set, the chorus of "You must hate me for being born, you must hate me for being me..." chilling me straight to the bone, a deliciously anxious and unsettling moment. Zoo was towards the end of the set, lyrics about psychotic dreams, dressing in black, and being frightened by sunlight rising and falling in intensity while a funky beat propelled everything forward, keeping us all from harm. Fait Accompli closed the night, rolling bass and a frenzied whirl of sound, Halliday's voice at the centre of it all. 

That night at the Opera House Curve crafted a complete and total sensory experience that stands as one of the best concerts I've ever been to, a balanced synergy of artistry, creation of space, tension, and engagement. I was lucky enough to see Curve perform a few more times after that, and they always impressed and inspired me with what they were doing, but it was this first show I saw that's really stayed with me all these years, a fully formed and perfect moment from a fully formed and perfect band...

Friday, May 28, 2021

May 28th 1995, PJ Harvey and Tricky at The Phoenix


Some shows stand out in your memory for a variety of reasons, a convergence of moments that work perfectly together and become magical in the retelling, and PJ Harvey and Tricky at the Phoenix is one of those magical shows for me. 

The release of "To Bring You My Love" in 1995 signaled a shift in Harvey's work, moving away from the stripped down Southern Gothic Blues of her earlier albums and stepping into a more polished and confident style embracing a wider and more expansive sound. Where her first two albums were largely based around a standard trio, "To Bring You My Love" found Harvey using the studio to focus on finer details and nuances that made for a more immersive listening experience. It was a significant step forward for her as an artist, an early example of the kind of re-invention that would define all of her albums to come and would establish her reputation as a dynamic and engaging artist, a reputation that stands to this day.

Shortly after the release of the album, Harvey announced a tour that would bring her to the Phoenix along with opening act Tricky. Not only would this be another chance for me to see PJ Harvey touring on the strength of an awesome new album, but it would also be a chance to see Tricky's first gig in Toronto, and that had me pretty interested. I really enjoyed the Goth-y Trip Hop style of Tricky's debut "Maxinquaye", a dark and claustrophobic sound that fully connected with the Darkwave and Post-Punk stuff that I was mostly listening to at the time and I was curious about how it would all come together live. On the album Tricky showed a real gift for mixing together samples and sounds in jarring and abstract ways to create unsettling and uneasy musical spaces, and his alternating whispered and growled vocals sat in rough contrast with partner Martina Mobley Bird's more controlled vocal range to create a truly engaging musical tension. There was no doubt in my mind that the pairing of Tricky's creation of space with PJ Harvey's new approach to her music promised a really exciting concert.

The show was set to start at 630pm, probably because the Phoenix had a live to air broadcast scheduled for later in the evening, so my friend Bevin and I made sure to get there early so we wouldn't miss any of Tricky's set. While we were waiting for everything to start we played a few games of pool in the lounge to the side of the theatre space, and I'm reminded that Bevin and I were constantly playing pool at that point in our lives. I haven't played in years but I miss it sometimes, there's something about the physics and math behind the game that I really enjoy. Anyway, we were playing pool in the side room when Tricky's set started, the haunting opening notes of Overcome drifting in and drawing us out  toward the stage. It was a short set, maybe only half an hour, just a handful of songs from "Maxinquaye" but it was mesmerizing from start to finish. I don't remember it as individual songs, more a steady wash of music and sound that flowed around the audience, with Black Steel performed at the end, a frenzied finish to an awesome set that fully solidified my appreciation and admiration for Tricky in the process.

By contrast PJ Harvey's set was more defined and focused in it's performance, but it was by no means less awesome. Harvey had expanded her band for this tour, adding a keyboard player and an extra guitarist which meant that she didn't have to play any of the guitar lines herself. That freed her to roam around the stage more actively, making for a more dynamic and physical performance that ran parallel to the more fulsome sound of her work at the time. 

Her set was primarily focused on the new album, and she played most of it along with a couple of tracks from "Rid of Me". About midway through the set she did a wicked version of Naked Cousin, all screaming vocals and apocalyptic guitar chords played in raw and bloody contrast to the other more slick songs of the night, and it was particularly amazing. She played Down by the Water shortly after that, droning guitars and ebow'd notes wrapping around her vocals, her arms outstretched while she played castanets. Seeing that song live for the first time was an incredible study in tension and atmosphere, an amazing moment that held the audience spellbound.

After Harvey's set ended and we were ushered out of the venue by security Bevin and I walked back to my place on Gerrard, talking about the show the whole time. There were a lot of big moments, little moments, grand gestures, and subtly graceful movements that stood out amid everything else, magical things that needed to be recognized and spoken to by each of us. Both Harvey and Tricky were on fire that night and the show gave us a lot to talk about, and when we got back to the apartment we went on an on to my girlfriend for at least an hour about what an amazing night it was, not to brag about it or to make her feel badly for missing it, more to try and share what we had seen and experienced, trying to share a little bit of the show's magic with her. I don't know how well we succeeded but it was well worth trying to share with her, some shows are special like that.

For years afterwards there was a picture taken from that night hanging in the hallway of the Phoenix outside of the lounge leading into the main theatre, Harvey crouched and coiled as if she was about to spring into the audience, black hair in mid swing cutting thick lines across the spotlights that shine around her. It's a really stark and powerful image, fully capturing not just that moment, but the spirit of the show as a whole, a reminder of an exceptional concert by a pair of exceptional artists. Every time I'd go to the Phoenix I'd take a moment to look at that picture and remember what a great show it was, and even though it was taken down a few years ago, I still make a point of looking for it in the hallway whenever I'm there in hopes that somebody has decided to put it back up again. It's a pretty amazing picture, and while the show it came from was over twenty five years ago, there's still a lot of magic captured in that image, magic that's still well worth sharing...

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

May 25th 1991, Deee Lite at the Concert Hall


I heart Deee Lite. Their debut album "World Clique" is an essential Pop classic, an excellent collection of sampledelic awesomeness wrapped in rainbows and butterflies, music for clubs and parties and anywhere that feels like a good time. It's a revelation, a larger than life cartoon world filled with bright colours and kaleidescopic swirls, a smorgasbord of carefully curated samples and beats blending Pop, Soul, R'n'B, Dance, Jazz and a million other sounds, all emphasizing the idea of the DJ as a musician in their own right. It was fresh and new and really quite incredible when it came out, and in it's strong embrace of so many different styles and musical eras it succeeded in creating a sound that remains both timeless and relevant even now, thirty years after it's release.

The tour for World Clique had a pair of nights in Toronto at the Concert Hall, and I went to see the Saturday night show with my friend Leah. I had just moved into a new apartment over the Carleton Cinemas, so Leah met me at College subway and we walked north to the show. I remember along the way we got ticketed for jay walking when we crossed the street at Yonge and Isabella, but that distraction didn't really make a difference in our mood though, we were still pretty pumped for the show. 

When we got to the Concert Hall we found a good spot about halfway back on the floor in front of the stage, and it was also central enough that we could see most of the audience around us. Everybody was really well dressed, serious club wear and fashions all around, a lot of sunglasses in the half light of the venue, more than a few wigs. It was all pretty cool, and I remember thinking that the black jeans and hoodie I was wearing made me a tad underdressed, but I figured that when the lights went off and everybody started dancing it wouldn't really make a difference.

The show began with Deee Lite Theme, the band vamping on the track and building up anticipation until Lady Miss Kier and her dancers strut out onto the stage, catsuited, be-wigged, and Fluevog shoe'd, proud and fierce like the Superstar that she is. From there on the rest of the show was a blur of funkified electric dancing and non-stop groovilicious beatz. In an effort to keep things interesting Deee Lite were playing with a live band for this tour and it was their job to play all the samples from the album in a live format, which made for some pretty incredible sounds. Bootsy Collins played bass for them, deep and groovy, stars and top hats, everything you could ever want from a classic bass Superhero.

Over the next hour or so Deee Lite treated the audience to a choreographed and tight set that had the whole room shaking and grooving, with an instrumental break for a costume change here, a shout out to New York City there, feather boas, high kicks, and dancing, a whole lot of dancing both on stage by the band and on the floor by the audience. Given that they only had one album at the time they played it all pretty much in it's entirety, with Groove is in the Heart in the middle of the set, elongated and given a funky breakdown towards the end. At one point near the end of the show Kier pulled out a Polaroid camera and started taking pictures of the audience, and I remember thinking that was because she wanted to remember the night just as much as we did. In that pre-social media era that was the 90s, a gesture like that seemed really sincere and genuine, and as I write this I hope that she still has those Polaroids and I hope that they still make her smile when she looks at them.

Deee Lite at the Concert Hall was an incredible show, a moment in time that I'll never forget. It was the only time I saw them live, but in some ways that may be for the best as it would be hard to live up to the awesomeness of that show in 1991. I kind of wish that I had some Polaroids from that night though, they'd be a nice memento to go along with all of my memories of the show...

Monday, May 17, 2021

May 17th 2019, Imogen Heap at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

I quite admire and respect Imogen Heap. She's pretty universally recognized as an exceptionally talented musician and an accomplished songwriter, but she's also an excellent storyteller and a visionary technologist who uses her position as a Pop star to share her ideas and interests with others, challenging and inspiring audiences wherever she goes. 

Heap made a stop at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto on May 17th 2019 as part of her Mycelia World Tour, and it was equal parts musical performance, TedXTalk, and an advanced class in musical futurism. Heap played a set of songs that spanned her entire career, perfect Pop songs that resonated and instantly connected with her audience, all shared with stories and reflections that added a greater context and details making them even more enjoyable. As mentioned, Heap is an excellent storyteller, and her ability to spin a tale and engage with her audience is truly impressive, creating a warm and intimate space to share with her fans. To be honest I'd be happy just to hear her talk about stuff and things even if she wasn't playing music...

Throughout the show Heap wore her Mi.Mu Gloves, literally pulling songs out of the air while explaining and demonstrating how they work, and in the back of my mind I couldn't help wondering if maybe she lives ten years ahead of everybody else, traveling back to the past every so often to leave us with songs and gifts and ideas to help us shape the future. Or maybe she's just really ahead of the curve, that may be more likely now that I really consider it, but I still like to think of her as some kind of time traveler with a desire to make the world a better place.

She talked about music and networks and opportunities, and it was all really very engaging, and of course she played a number of songs that were all really great, including a bunch of tracks by Frou Frou which made a lot of sense given that Guy Sigsworth was part of her band. As far as I know, Frou Frou never toured in North America so I never had the chance to see those songs live until then, and I'm happy to say that they were just as blissful and dream-y as I had hoped that they would be. 

Speaking of the band, Zoe Keating played cello on this tour, and of course it's always nice to hear Keating perform, even if my seat was positioned at exactly the worst angle to be able to see what she was doing. It's alright though, I could hear her playing and that was enough to make me happy. 

Speaking of making me happy, Heap and the band played Breathe In, and First Train Home, and Tiny Human, and I spent most of the show smiling from ear to ear. She played a new version of Hide and Seek that she had reworked for the Harry Potter musical, and in a nod to Ariana Grande's cover version she did a nice mash up/remix of Goodnight and Go to close out the night.

All in all it was a great show, a solidly entertaining evening of music and stories. But it was more than just that, because it was also a showcase for new ideas, for new ways of thinking, and for new inspiration. Imogen Heap is a visionary, a futurist, potentially a time traveler, and hearing her speak about the possibilities inherent in music and art I couldn't help but be intrigued and interested by her ideas. She has a vision for a bright future for all of us and I hope that one day we'll all get to live in that bright future with her...

Saturday, May 15, 2021

May 15th 1992, The Cure at Nassau Coliseum

The Cure released "Wish" in 1992, a return to the dark Pop stylings that they had been exploring with 1987's "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me". It was a solid album with a range of moods and sounds running from elation to misery and everything in between, but that seemed to be The Cure's style at the time and I was okay with that. The first single release High remains a personal favorite, and of course From The Edge of the Deep Green Sea stands as one of the band's greatest and most epic tracks. There are a lot of other classics on that album, tracks that would further solidify and establish the band as credible and successful artists, and while it's not my favorite album by them there's no question that it was an important turning point for The Cure, a significant release that set the stage for future success.

I should also add that From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea holds a particular place in my heart as I had just gotten my first guitar shortly before the release of the album and I had set a goal of learning how to play the solo but I just couldn't figure it out by ear. I ended up buying a tab book for the album in hopes that it would map out the solo but no such luck, all it said was "Guitar plays wildly", and so leading up to the show I was no closer to learning how to play the solo than I had been...

Regardless of my failed guitar dreams, I still enjoyed the album and when The Cure announced a North American tour I ended up getting tickets for multiple nights starting with the show at  Nassau Coliseum in New York. The Cure regularly changed up their setlists each date, and I figured that going to a few shows would give me the opportunity to see a few different sets, and what's better than seeing your favorite band play live? Seeing them play live more than once! It was the right decision to make, because the 1992 Wish Tour was a pretty good series of concerts, mostly focused on singles and the more Pop-flavored tracks, but with enough deep dives and gloomy Goth dirges to keep me happy as a fan.

The New York show started with the band coming out to a recording of Tape, with Robert Smith and Simon Gallup taking centre stage and leaning into each other so their foreheads touched as they began to play Open off the new album. They'd repeat the same forehead thing each night I saw them and while my description may not be doing it justice I thought that it was pretty cool, a suggestion of closeness and friendship between them that I really enjoyed seeing. I may be reading too much into it, but it sort of set the mood for the shows as being a shared experience with friends, not just between the two of them but also between the band and the audience.

Open has since become a regular entry in The Cure's sets, often alternating with Plainsong as the first song of the night. And while that frequency and familiarity has made it a fan favorite over the years, as I write this I'm reminded that during this show and the tour that followed, Open and all of the other songs played from "Wish" were just new tracks from the latest album which meant that they weren't necessarily received as well as other more familiar older material. And that's kind of interesting to think about given how in the years to come those same songs would become fan favorites in the band's back catalog, songs that make regular and frequent appearances in their current setlists. Food for thought, and something to support the idea that you often don't recognize history while it's happening...

High followed next, a nod to the new single at the time and something to suggest that the show wasn't going to be all doom 'n' gloom, that The Cure were well aware that at least half of their audience were there to hear some upbeat singles. And that's okay, because over the years The Cure have made some great singles, and many of them were played that night. Lullaby, The Walk, Let's Go to Bed, In Between Days, they were all greeted with huge cheers and applause, and I'd be lying if I said that I didn't love hearing them myself. I mean, who doesn't love a good Cure single?

Towards the end of the main set they played From the Edge of The Deep Green Sea, and it was majestic and beautiful that night, just as awesome as I had hoped it would be. That show was the first time that I had seen the song live, and though by then I had already listened to it countless times on album, it was still fresh and new and amazing to hear it played in person. When Robert Smith sang "Put your hands in the sky..." we all did and in that moment all of the audience were part of something wonderful. As it continued, the song washed over the audience like a wave, all of it's parts growing and building as it moved forward to that guitar driven climax, spiraling, ascending, a blissful sound all around us. I've seen this song performed a bunch of times since and it always amazes and inspires me, but this first time? It was the best I've ever seen it played, sublimely beautiful and magical.

The set ended with Cut and End, a pair of tracks that I really enjoy so I was pretty happy to hear them live. Cut was especially ferocious, slightly sped up, a little more manic than on the album, a little more bitter, a little more awesome in all of it's wah wah guitar excellence. As I write this it occurs to me that I don't think I've seen The Cure play Cut any times since that tour, which is too bad because it's a pretty solid track. Who knows? Next year is the thirtieth anniversary of "Wish", maybe they'll do a tour to celebrate and will dust off that one and others to mark the occasion...

The encores included a couple of songs from "Pornography" along with Why Can't I Be You which was admittedly a bit of a jarring mix, but it worked in the context of the kind of roller coaster ride that The Cure's shows tend to be, pushing and pulling the audience through a range of emotions and feelings. The night ended with an extended version of A Forest, stretching out the instrumental bits, building on the guitar solo that comes at the end and throwing in a little bit of She's Lost Control for good measure until the band left the stage to the sound of echoes and feedback and the cheers of the audience. It was a pretty great way to end the night...

After the show was over I got a taxi to take me back to my hotel, but before they did that the driver rode around the venue picking up extra fares, all of us squishing into the back and slowly unloading at various points over the next hour. Is that a thing in other cities? I mean, I've ridden taxis in Toronto all my life, is that something that happens in other places? It was kind of strange and sort of kind of sketchy now that I think about it. I hope that's not a thing...

Regardless of taxi weirdness it was still a great night, a great show by one of my favorite bands, and knowing what to expect I was pretty excited for the next two shows in Philadelphia. The set lists for those nights were very similar to the New York show so I got to relive a lot of the earlier night's highlights, but there were also a few differences with the song order shuffled a bit and different encores. On the second night in Philadelphia they played Wendy Time, an especially rare track to see, so that was especially cool.

There's no doubt in my mind that the Wish Tour was a good era for the The Cure, a period where they were able to evenly balance both Pop and darker sensibilities in a way that was embraced by fans all around the world. Absolutely The Cure had already found a large audience before then, but on that tour in 1992 it all came together in a perfect synergy of appeal and artistry that really defined the band moving forward, changing their media perception from quirky Goth alterna-stars to viable and respected artists who are largely able to transcend genre. It was a solid tour, and I'm glad that I got to see a few different nights and that I had the chance to see that change happen first hand...

Sunday, May 9, 2021

May 9th 2005, Nine Inch Nails with The Dresden Dolls at Kool Haus

In 2005 Nine Inch Nails did a club tour in support of "With Teeth" that brought them to Kool Haus for a pair of shows in May. I went to both of them with my friend Death, knowing that each night would offer a different setlist and a unique show from NIN, and of course the chance to see them in a smaller space was a rare opportunity at that point in their career. It was pretty much the perfect arrangement for a longtime fan.

On certain levels The Dresden Dolls were a bit of an odd choice for opener, in terms of style their stripped down piano and drums theatricality seemed in contrast to the aggressive energy and guitar driven noise that Trent Reznor was known for. But despite the differences in sound there was a certain shared ideal at play that made for an effective pairing, a feeling of outsider identity that lies at the heart of both bands. Each night the Dolls played a short set, only about a half hour long, but they poured their hearts into it and offered brilliantly manic versions of songs from their self-titled debut. And it worked really well with the band doing a solid job of winning over a new audience, their cover of War Pigs and a wicked fast version of Girl Anachronism being particular highlights. They had a big energy on stage and while their set may have been a bit different from the Industrial stomp that most of the crowd was there for, they still managed to engage and impress each night.

As for the headliners Nine Inch Nails were particularly strong on this tour, playing focused and intense sets each night that were a little more loose and relaxed than previous times I'd seen them live. That loose and relaxed approach let the band stretch out and expand on some of the older tracks in new ways that made for an interesting rediscovery, with newer material from "With Teeth" fitting in nicely with the rest of the setlist even though it wasn't nearly as familiar having only come out a few days before. 

The show on May 9th balanced songs from the new album with tracks from "Pretty Hate Machine" and "The Downward Spiral", only diving into "The Fragile" for a couple of tracks. They played a haunting version of Something I Can Never Have early in the set, and you can call me an old softie but I still love that song. They played Burn and Suck as well, both tracks sounding really heavy, really solid. They did an encore that included Hurt and Head Like a Hole, and while the sound of each song is completely different there's still a thematic nature that both share at opposite ends of a spectrum. It should also be noted that Trent Reznor channeled his inner Dave Gahan during Head Like a Hole, doing the same kind of pelvic thrust shuffle that Gahan has been doing for years...

The second show on May 10th changed up the set considerably, with a handful of songs like Terrible Lie, Closer, and Burn carrying over from the night before along with a greater emphasis on material from "The Fragile", which I've always admired as an excellent release. I know, everybody loves "The Downward Spiral", but for me "The Fragile" is Nine Inch Nails' creative peak, a high point in their career that perfectly balances light and dark, creation and destruction, and any number of other opposing forces. Head Like a Hole was played as the last encore again, but somebody must have said something about the whole pelvic thrust thing from the night before because it didn't happen again. That's probably for the best...

I have a tremendous respect for Trent Reznor and what he does in the studio and on stage. He's always been a dynamic and exciting performer who's able to breathe a new life into his songs in a live setting, capturing and expanding on the ideas that he weaves into his studio work and bringing them forward in an honest and sincere way that connects and resonates with his audience. Over the years I've seen him live a number of times and he's always impressed and inspired, and the shows he played at Kool Haus in 2005 stand as two of the best I've seen him do. I'll be sharing my thoughts on a few of the other times I've seen him in the weeks and months to come, and I hope that you'll stick around to read those posts as well...

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

May 5th 2017, Slowdive at the Danforth Music Hall


There are few bands as swoonworthy as Slowdive. At the forefront of the Shoegaze movement, Slowdive made some of the most beautiful music of the nineties, a perfect blend of swirling vocals and shimmering guitars. Over the years they've been the soundtrack to a million dreams, a million lazy days, a million Gregg Araki films, and in my mind they're pretty much perfect.

I'll admit that I was a little late getting to the party when they started out, but my earliest recollection of Slowdive was when they released the Souvlaki album in 1993. There was a haunting beauty to that album, an otherworldly quality that really resonated with me. The combination of beautiful vocals and layered guitars on the album was striking and inspired, and I spent more than a few hours lying on the floor staring at the ceiling, actively listening to that awesome collection of songs. I saw them at Lee's Palace that same year with Catherine Wheel and Slowdive's live set was just as impressive as the album, a spiraling chorus that enthralled and amazed. They were magical that night, sublime, wonderful.

But somewhere between the release of "Souvlaki" and their next album "Pygmalion" in 1995, I lost touch with the band. I'm not really sure what prompted that shift. I don't think it was an active or conscious decision, it may have just been a proximity thing. Around that time I was getting more and more into Ambient stuff, and I guess that new interest moved my attention away from some of the things I had been listening to previously. It happens, right? But there was still a soft spot in my heart for Slowdive, and I would still think fondly of them whenever I was given reason to remember them, mostly in connection with Gregg Araki films (his use of Blue Skied 'n' Clear at the end of "The Doom Generation" is sooooooo moving...). I never stopped liking Slowdive, but I stopped actively liking Slowdive.

Then in 2014 they reformed to do some gigs and my appreciation for them was reborn. They went on the road with a reunion tour that came through Toronto and it was a beautiful reminder for me, almost as if none of the intervening years had happened. They played Alison and Dagger and When the Sun Hits, and of course they played Souvlaki Space Station, and it was all magical and beautiful and it was almost like seeing them back in the 90s again, but this time around I had all of the context of their influence and all those extra years of loving music, not just Slowdive's music but all the music that I listened to in the years in between, and I think in some ways I was in a better place to really understand the full impact of what they were doing as a result. It was a perfect juxtaposition of feelings, and it was enough to reassert my standing as a Slowdive fan so that when they announced a tour in support of their self titled fourth album in 2017, their first new music in twenty years, I was totally ready and excited to be there.

The show was scheduled for May 5th 2017 at the Danforth Music Hall and that was definitely the right choice in terms of venue. The Music Hall is a big beautiful box-y building with huge high ceilings, and the sound kind of travels around and through you during shows. The venue's natural reverb worked perfectly, giving room for the guitars to chime and echo and sound amazing, along with making the vocals ring crisp and clean and perfect. It's important to have a good venue when the sound of a band is so much a definition of what they do, and the Music Hall was pretty much perfect.

Slowdive's set opened with Slomo off the new album, and it was an inspired choice in it's beautiful simplicity. A few strummed chords, a steady drum beat and some delayed notes on the guitar all combined perfectly, ringing around the room and setting the tone for the rest of the evening. And while it may not have been as familiar of a track as other older material, it worked really well as an opening song, entrenching the band in the present while still acknowledging their past.

In keeping with that idea, one of the biggest cheers of the evening came for the album's second single Sugar for the Pill. One audience member even went so far as to call it out as "your best song ever", and with the perspective of a few more years I would agree that it stands with the best of the band's work. Sugar for the Pill was performed beautifully, fully capturing the sound of Slowdive 2017 while still remaining true to the spirit of Slowdive 1993. Great stuff.

But as much as they may have been promoting their new album, it was clear that they were just as excited about celebrating their past work too. Souvlaki Space Station was big and expansive that night, with guitar work that spiraled around the audience, wrapping us up in tendrils of musical awesomeness. Alison was beautiful and wonderful, a performance that tugged at my heartstrings while I did that head to the side nodding dance that I've done so many times before, thinking about how their messed up world still thrilled me. Blue Skied an' Clear made me swoon, and I couldn't help thinking of Amy Blue driving into the distance, forever changed.

It was an emotional experience for me, a glorious concert and a glorious evening, and I was really happy to have had the opportunity to surround myself with their songs again. Most of all it was a night that made me remember that the world really is a better place for having Slowdive in it, and all of the beautiful music that they make. I very much look forward to the day when they're able to hit the road again, and I have another chance to see them, to be part of that blissful noise one more time...

Saturday, May 1, 2021

May 1st 2018, Peter Hook and the Light at the Danforth Music Hall


There's no question in my mind that Peter Hook loves what he does. Since 2010 he and his band The Light have maintained a steady stream of live gigs all around the world playing songs from Hook's back catalog as part of Joy Division and New Order, and the excitement and enthusiasm with which the band plays all of these songs is pretty awesome to see. Starting with "Unknown Pleasures", Peter Hook and the Light have steadily worked through all of the Joy Division and New Order catalog up to 1993's release "Republic", playing epic three hour sets that are a true celebration of both bands.They're pretty incredible shows and I've thoroughly enjoyed every time I've seen them.

In 2018 Peter Hook and the Light were touring around the "Substance" albums, with Hook and the band playing both the Joy Division and New Order greatest hits compilations in their entirety which promised to be a great evening of music. The original "Substance" album from New Order was a monumental collection of tracks, pretty much the essence of the Eighties sound distilled into one album. It features singles like Blue Monday and Bizarre Love Triangle that revolutionized the dance floor and changed the way that people experienced electronic music, alongside other tracks like True Faith and The Perfect Kiss that defined the band's sound and solidified New Order's place in popular culture. And not just content to be a career defining collection of tracks, it also features all of these songs in extended form, 12" versions that spoke to the band's deep connection with club culture. I mean, seriously, there is an argument to be made that "Substance" is the greatest compilation ever released.

Not to be outdone, the Joy Division "Substance" collection is equally impressive in it's own way, bringing together a series of songs that show a rich and steady growth and discovery within the band which would eventually lead them to their later work as New Order. And while these songs may not necessarily have the popular associations that New Order's work do, Joy Divisions' music still remains just as significant to their legion of fans on a more personal and intimate level.

In an interesting choice that defied chronology, the night began with a New Order set that saw Hook and the band launching into a steady stream of singles and fan favorites that had the audience dancing and moving and singing along right from the start. There's an indescribable bliss in hearing these songs played live, a particularly heady blend of nostalgia and happiness and appreciation and energy that all comes together perfectly in my mind, a feeling so strong that even now writing this a few years later I can't help but smile while I'm remembering it. Thinking about Confusion and Thieves Like Us, or Temptation and Ceremony, or any other moment from the show I'm filled with a tremendous happiness. 

After a short break they came back and started the Joy Division set, and while it has a different sound and feel, it's still just as amazing, just as perfect as the earlier New Order material. Joy Division followed a much more traditional vocals, guitar, bass, and drums kind of sound, it's a bit more raw, a bit more primal, and that sound works especially well in a live setting, but there's also a feeling that the Joy Division material has a greater immediacy in the current musical landscape given how influential that sound has been on the Post-Punk genre, how much it's left a mark on so much of today's music. As much as I love New Order's work, it's very much temporally locked in my mind as the sound of an era (even though it was completely distinct within that era). In contrast, the Joy Division material sounds almost timeless, and many of the songs sound as though they could have been written last month, last week, or even this morning. A track like Transmission is still just as resonant and just as vital now as it was upon release in 1979, and in that way it makes perfect sense that the band would play the Joy Division material later in the set, because it sounds so much more current and contemporary.

And of course forgetting sound or influence or anything else, there's no denying that it's just amazing to be able to hear Joy Division songs being performed live. Not many people had the opportunity to see them in concert, their career was pretty brief, and New Order went a looooooong time before they were willing to play any of the Joy Division material at shows, so the chance to see Peter Hook playing Dead Souls or Atmosphere or anything else from the band still feels like an exciting opportunity.

Over the course of both sets Hook and the band built on the songs, expanding them and finding new grooves and new elements that not only added to the music but also offered chances for the band to shine and highlight their own skills and talents. It was a pretty incredible evening, equal parts celebration of the songs and a rediscovery and exploration of music that I've loved for decades. The Perfect Kiss sounded amazing with extended solos for the band to play, Blue Monday felt even more monumental than I know it to be, and Transmission was a rolling wall of sound ready to crush anything in its path. And while some people would argue against changing the songs live I would counter that argument saying that change breathes a new life into the work, giving the audience something new to enjoy. Add the solos, extend the breaks, add another verse if you think it fits, that's the kind of recreation and revision that makes live music so special.

I'll admit that as I write this entry I'm finding it hard to think of the words to fully capture how I feel about this show and about this music. All I can really think to say is that to be in a room with others hearing these songs, surrounded by people who feel the same way I do, that's something magical, almost sacred. So much of my life is tied up with the music of New Order and Joy Division, and to hear it live is a celebration of so many things, not just the music but of everything they've become associated with for me. 

And I think in many ways that Peter Hook recognizes that about his audience, I think he's fully aware of the fact that these are more than just songs for people, and in realizing that he approaches performing them with the respect and appreciation that the songs deserve and he plays them knowing that they're an important part of people's lives. And that should be easy for him to do because it's perfectly clear that every one of these songs is an important part of his life as well. I mean, he literally lived all of them, right? 

Of course he gets it.

Over the course of the pandemic Peter Hook and the Light have had to cancel shows and reschedule gigs just like every other artist has, but during this hiatus Hook and the band have done a great job of maintaining contact with their fans, playing a handful of socially distanced online sets and holding weekly AMA sessions on Instagram. It's not the same as playing a gig, but it's something, it keeps people connected with the songs and the music in a way that reminds us that they exist and they continue to be an important part of our lives. And along with that is the knowledge that we'll get back to a space where we can hear those songs in a live setting again and celebrate that music together. Peter Hook has made it clear that he can't wait to get out and play live again and I'm sure that there is a legion of fans, myself included, who are ready to go to a show just as soon as he's out there...