CONCERT REVIEW: Amanda Palmer & The Danger Ensemble
November 29, 2008
Mr. Small's, Pittsburgh
Amanda Palmer promised an entertaining show, and she certainly delivered. Accompanied by Australian 4-person performance troupe The Danger Ensemble, who provided theatrical interpretations of many songs, Palmer provided a 2-hour set full of memorable moments, ranging from serious to silly.
Palmer played much of her debut album Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, and her voice sounded as strong as I've ever heard it. I've had some bad luck with Dresden Dolls shows in the past - it seemed that Palmer's voice was shot at pretty much every show I attended - but this was clearly not the case tonight. She sounded beautiful on "Ampersand," hitting the tricky falsetto parts with ease.
"Strength Through Music," a heartbreaking ballad inspired by the Columbine shootings, took on a new life as violinist Lyndon Chester read the names of several school violence victims at the beginning of the song. The power of the moment was obvious; you could hear a pin drop as Palmer hit the "tick tick tick tick" parts.
The intense "Runs in the Family" and the poignant "Have to Drive" were among the other highlights from WKAP. A few Dresden Dolls favorites showed up as well, including "Mrs. O," "Coin-Operated Boy" and my personal favorite, "Bad Habit."
Palmer gave her voice a rest on a few numbers, like when she joined the Ensemble for a lip-synched, choreographed version of "Guitar Hero," with Palmer striking rock star poses and pretending to play an electric guitar.
Amanda did quite a bit of chatting with the crowd, and accepted a few requests, giving in to the overwhelming demand for "Oasis." She stopped mid-song during a left-field cover of "Livin' On a Prayer" to point out an often-overlooked inconsistency in the lyrics - in the bridge, Bon Jovi sings, "It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not," but he later adds, "We'll make it, I swear." She theorized that perhaps the second "make it" refers to having sex.
The high point was unquestionably a stunning, set-closing "Half Jack." When performed with the Dresden Dolls, the song typically begins with 4 minutes of drumming insanity; here, with no drums, it was Palmer's keys and the violin of Chester that provided the song's power. It was a welcome reminder that the concert, despite its sideshow element, was still principally about Amanda's captivating music.
See more pictures here.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Photo credits (top-bottom): Gregory Nomoora, Cardboard is Yummy, Martyn Foster
Amanda Palmer - that's Amanda Fucking Palmer to you - is best known as the singer/pianist of the Brechtian punk cabaret duo the Dresden Dolls. She's currently touring in support of her solo debut Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, an album produced by Ben Folds, a huge fan of the Dolls.
Many of the songs on WKAP are poignant ballads that display the vulnerability and anxiety that typify Palmer's best writing ("Just cause they call themselves friends doesn't mean they'll call," she sings in "The Point of it All"), while others reveal a more humorous side. "That's insanely important," Palmer says. "If you can't have a sense of humor about your work, you're screwed."
Palmer will be performing at Mr. Small's in Pittsburgh on Saturday. We called her before a recent concert to ask about working with Ben Folds and Annie Clark, her former job as a living statue, and her fantasy hip hop pseudonym.
Hi Amanda, it's great to talk to you. You're just a couple weeks into your first U.S. solo tour. How has it been going?
It's going tremendously well, really great. Actually, I couldn't ask for things to be going any better. I'm sort of beside myself.
Who are the folks you're touring with, and what is their role in the show?
I've got seven people, a small string section and four actors from Australia who are in a physical theater group called the Danger Ensemble. It's a fully realized theatrical show. There's a lot of stuff going on, there's a lot of surprises, a lot of things happening offstage as well as on. It's kind of hard to describe.
Yeah, I think the Dresden Dolls were described as theatrical but everything was very suggested, and here it's actually manifested.
I'd like to ask you about your solo album. First off I imagine it was a blast working with Ben Folds.
It was really fun. He's a fantastic guy, a total genius, and really easy to work with.
What did you learn from him?
I definitely picked up a lot of Ben Folds wisdom. One thing that's really nice about working with someone who's a touring veteran is you learn a lot of things about how to grapple with the lifestyle, not just how to make a record.
"Oasis" is one of our favorites on the record. It's not everyday that you hear a song about being raped with doo-wop harmonies on it. Where did the idea for that song come from?
(Laughs). That song wrote itself when I was in my mid-20s. I don't even remember writing it. Ben really loved it, and I think that song's a perfect example of where Ben Folds and Amanda Palmer colliding gives you that certain je ne sais quoi. I think that song is just a perfect example of how we really worked well together and complemented each other.
Video: Amanda Palmer - Oasis
Annie Clark of St. Vincent sings on one of the tracks ("What's the Use of Wond'rin?") Was that song specifically chosen for the two of you to sing, or was it already going to be on the record before she came onboard?
No, that was chosen specifically with Annie in mind because of her beautiful, laid-back, lilting soprano.
What was recording with her like?
It was... like butter (laughs). She's a really smart girl, and lots of fun. We only worked together that one day. That was sort of an afternoon project. I had no intention of putting it on the record, but I really liked it, and it slid right in to the order so I decided to put it on.
Well, I brought it in a huge collection of songs I brought to Ben, and he responded to it really positively. That surprised me because I thought the song was really amateur, just in terms of the lyrics - I thought it was a little too teenage angst-y. But Ben twisted my arm and convinced me it was perfect for the record, and I'm glad he convinced me.
You've made a bunch of videos for the new album. How many have you done, and will you be making any more?
I don't know if I'm gonna be making any more. I've made 9 so far for the record. I love making videos. Sometimes I think I write music as an excuse to make videos. And working with Michael Pope is always a real pleasure, he's such an incredible director.
Do you have a favorite of the videos for this record?
Probably "Strength Through Music." I think Pope and I managed to capture something really magic with that video.
Video: Amanda Palmer - Strength Through Music
You used to work as a living statue, which is something I'm really fascinated by. Did anything about that help prepare you for playing music on stage?
Without a doubt. I think that street performance is the best education for a stage performer you can possibly get. It gives you nerves of steel (laughs). When you're street performing, you've got no safety net. You've got an audience of the entire world, and you have to be really focused and really engaged in what you're doing. And you have to let everything fly right off your back.
That's something that you can develop on stage, but the street is sort of like the school of hard knocks in that department. After working in the street, being onstage feels so safe, because people have actually bought a ticket to come see you, whereas in the street you're dealing with complete strangers.
You were part of the True Colors tour last year. What's your reaction to prop 8 passing in California?
I think it's really sad. It's really disappointing. Considering who we voted in as president, it's a bummer to see us taking a step back in that direction.
Let me close with a silly question: If you were a rapper, what would your rap name be?
It's funny, I actually thought of one - Ghetto Bruschetta. Just because it sounds awesome.
Amanda Palmer & the Danger Ensemble perform at Mr. Small's Theatre on Saturday, November 29. Find her online at www.amandapalmer.net or www.myspace.com/whokilledamandapalmer.
Monday, November 24, 2008
MP3: Njosnavelin (from ( ) )
It's pretty much universally accepted now that MGMT suck live. Ok, that's correctable. And forgivable, as long as they keep cranking out masterpieces like Oracular Spectacular, which features a number of brilliant psychedelic synthpop gems. My favorite changes almost every day, but right now it's "Kids," which sounds almost as deliriously Nintendo-ish as "Time to Pretend."
MP3: The Handshake (from Oracular Spectacular)
3 AMANDA PALMER
For the first time since I started doing these bi-annual 'favorite band' posts, the Dresden Dolls are not #1. But they couldn't be, since they broke up, or are on hiatus, depending who you ask. Amanda Palmer is now flying solo, but the Dolls' singer still crafts the same gripping and humorous lyrics. Her new album ranges from the poignant balladry of "Ampersand," to the whimsical doo-wop of "Oasis," to the furious energy of "Runs in the Family."
MP3: Leeds United (from Who Killed Amanda Palmer?)
4 OKKERVIL RIVER
Having seen Okkervil River live 3 times this year, I'm in awe of Will Sheff's punk energy onstage. But his eloquent stories are what make this band special - like the vivid pictures he paints in "The President's Dead" and "Lost Coastlines." Tunes like "Plus Ones" show off an impressive level of lyrical creativity - and just for the record, I do want a tune about the 100th luftballoon.
MP3: Lost Coastlines (from The Stand-Ins)
5 THE HOLD STEADY
America's favorite bar band continues to win me over with their clever tales about parties and scenes, which sometimes seem sincere and sometimes seem sarcastic - I often can't tell. Their latest, Stay Positive, offers plenty of great sing-along moments, notably the title track and "Sequestered in Memphis." Craig Finn and his band somehow keep getting cooler as they age.
MP3: Chips Ahoy! (from Boys and Girls in America)
Others earning consideration: Radiohead, World/Inferno Friendship Society, Taylor Swift, Girl Talk, Architecture in Helsinki
MP3: Spiralling (from Perfect Symmetry)
MP3: Private Eye (from From Here to Infirmary)
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I'll be (sort of) live blogging the 2008 American Music Awards tonight, but, quite frankly, this show isn't exciting enough for me to devote my full attention to, so I'll just check in from time to time as I multitask.
The AMAs are Dick Clark's awards show, and the one common thread throughout AMA history is that many of the nominees don't make any sense. Many artists who've stolen the show at the Grammys, like Alanis Morissette, Amy Winehouse, and Lauryn Hill, found themselves with zero AMA nominations during those same years.
Jimmy Kimmel is host.
And we're underway. Christina Aguilera is opening the show. If she's the biggest star they've got tonight, we're in trouble. She sings a medley of her biggest hits of the last 10 years. She mostly jumps around while her background singers take the choruses. Stupid.
This might be the highlight of the night - New Kids on the Block are here. Unfortunately, they're playing "Single," the song with a chorus that rips off N Sync's "Girlfriend." Now they move into "You Got It (The Right Stuff)." I'm back in middle school. That was pretty cool. NKOTB gets a partial standing ovation - Alicia Keys and Queen Latifah don't get off their asses, though.
Scott Weiland appears to introduce Pink. Weiland is having difficulty speaking. He is sober these days, right? Pink's voice sounds as strong as I've ever heard it, as she plays her new song "Sober."
Taylor Swift's lips aren't matching up with the sound. I think it's a production issue; I don't think she would lip synch.
Ooh, teen drama playing out before the cameras! "I might find someone someday who might actually treat me well," Taylor screams. Is this one of the songs she wrote about her Jonas Brother ex-boyfriend?
It's Miley Cyrus's 16th birthday, and she's playing some weird wannabe-badass song. "Fly On the Wall," apparently. It sounds like Pink-lite. I regret to say I'm digging it.
Ok, I've had it. They're giving Mariah Carey some bullshit award that is ostensibly some kind of lifetime achievement award. The thing is, they already did this in the late 90s, when they gave her their special achievement award of merit. The American Music Awards are total whores. They'll make up any award just to get someone big like Mariah to show up.
Rihanna wins pop female artist. This is her second award of the evening. If there's an artist that deserves to sweep the AMAs, it would be Rihanna.
The Fray are performing their new song. Does anyone care? The way this guy mumbles his words is really annoying me.
Kanye West wins his second award of the evening, then says he's giving it to Lil Wayne, who really deserved it. What a generous, selfless guy that Kanye fellow is!
Beyonce is performing. Does she have a new album? If so, I've been blissfully ignorant of it.
It's the Jonas Brothers! Woooooooooo!
So two of the brothers play guitar, and the other just sings. But during the long sections when it's not his turn to sing, he has to awkwardly stand there, or awkwardly dance around and make himself look busy. He's the new Robin Gibb!
The award of merit goes to Annie Lennox. How about that - a true artist being recognized! They even showed a clip of "Who's That Girl" and in the video montage. I'm a little stunned. She plays the exquisite ballad "Why" live. These five minutes made tonight's show all worth it.
Natasha Bedingfield, one of my favorites, is playing a medley of her hits. I'm not sure how she managed to get an invite, but good for her.
Motley Crue are presenting an award to Daughtry, who beat out Coldplay. Daughtry's bizarrely-shaped facial hair offends me.
It's Kanye's turn to perform. He plays "Heartless." The auto-tune is out of control in hip hop right now. They need to start reigning that shit in!
Oh, good God, Sarah McLachlan is playing "Angel." I thought I'd never have to hear that song live again! I love the song, but when she plays it live, it's interminable. Now Pink joins her to liven it up a little.
Artist of the Year goes to Chris Brown. He's dumbfounded. That makes two of us.
Alicia Keys closes the show. She brings out Queen Latifah, who proceeds to bring out Kathleen Battle. I'm sure 95% of the viewing audience is going, "Who?" I only know Kathleen as the woman who sang the opera vocals on Janet Jackson's "This Time."
Mercifully, it's over. Not very exciting, but at least there were no major embarrassments.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
CONCERT REVIEW: Matt and Kim
November 21, 2008
William Pitt Student Union, Pittsburgh
Seeing the last show of a tour is always an awesome thing. The band is inevitably fired up and goes the extra mile to end the tour on a high note. Last night was no exception, as Brooklyn indie pop superduo Matt & Kim played at the University of Pittsburgh on the final concert of their current road trip. (Personal aside: This was also a significant event for me - my 200th concert.)
"Usually when we play in the Pittsburgh area, we play to about 15 people, so this is amazing!" said Matt to a crowd that numbered more than 200, and from that point on the dance party was in full force. Kim was especially vigorous - "She's had 2 Red Bulls!" said Matt - and the duo played "Yea Yeah," "5K," and "Grand," to a mostly college-age crowd that actually knew most of the words.
As they neared the end of their set, Matt began asking Kim for other song suggestions that weren't on the set list, saying, "It's a Friday night, we don't want this party to end!" They played a few extra numbers, closing with "Silver Tiles," before roaming out into the crowd to dance with their fans for several minutes as the house music (Usher's "Love In This Club") came on. A memorable evening, indeed.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
submitted by Deena
Greed, deception, betrayal, tragedy, hope--what could possibly improve these timeless theatrical themes? How about a futuristic setting, industrial opera music, and gore...lots of gore.
Repo! The Genetic Opera, a new rock musical horror movie, recently made its way through Pittsburgh. I was one of the fortunate few who had not pre-ordered tickets and still made it into the sold-out showing last Friday. Director Darren Lynn Bousman (of Saw II-IV fame) and screenwriter/actor Terrance Zdunich (who plays Graverobber in the film) were on hand for Q&A after the show.
A quick summary: Based on the stage production of the same name written by Zdunich and Darren Smith, Repo! takes place in 2056, when an epidemic of organ failures devastates the planet. GeneCo, a monolithic biotech company, offers organ transplants for a hefty price but provide financing to seal the deal. However, miss a payment and you'll be visited by the Repo Man, who may end up being the last person you ever see. Cosmetic surgery is at its peak too, and addicts get hooked on painkilling drugs which they seek out on the streets. Amidst all this, Shilo (Alex Vega)is searching for answers about her own rare disease and her family's mysterious history, which is somehow tied to GeneCo.
Though Bousman and Zdunich touted Repo! as a "low-budget" film (it was shot digitally instead of on film and made with $8,500,000), the production and effects (both the CG and all the bloody horror stuff) looked amazing. The production value of the music was great, too, thanks to X Japan's Yoshiki Hayashi.
While some of the acting was a bit over-the-top (but I'd say that's sort of to be expected in a musical film), the cast is certainly quite worthy vocally: real life opera diva Sarah Brightman plays a major role; Anthony Stewart Head, whose musical credits include a stint as Frank-N-Furturer in the London revival cast of The Rocky Horror Show, plays a convincing role as Shilo's father by day/Repo Man by night; Nivek Ogre, best known for his work with Skinny Puppy, plays an amusing side character. Alexa Vega's (from the Spy Kids movies) voice is a dead ringer for Avril Lavigne (if you like that sort of thing); Paris Hilton holds her own in a role she was born to play; and even Paul Sorvino's vocal talents are quite respectable; in fact, according to his bio on imdb.com, he originally aspired to be an opera singer rather than an actor.
And according to the World Entertainment News Network, if Paris Hilton has her way, she's taking Repo! to Broadway because she's convinced the project could be a hit. While she has been offered Broadway roles in the past, nothing took her fancy, but "if they did Repo on stage I'd do it because I really believe in it and I love it, but I wouldn't do anything else."
For more information on Repo!, check out their website:
Monday, November 17, 2008
Quick post today with some new stuff... a track from the upcoming solo record of the New Pornographers' AC Newman; a new Jay-Z song which is supposedly an Obama tribute, though I hear nothing in the lyrics that makes me believe it was written for that purpose; a beautiful Antony & the Johnsons track; and one from a band who were supposed to be the next Radiohead (or was it the next Coldplay?), Travis.
MP3: AC Newman - There are Maybe Ten or Twelve
MP3: Jay-Z - History
MP3: Antony & the Johnsons - Another World
MP3: Travis - J. Smith
Thursday, November 13, 2008
CONCERT REVIEW: The Hold Steady & Drive-By Truckers
November 12, 2008
Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead, Pittsburgh
"Gonna walk around and drink some more," yelped the Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn at Carnegie Music Hall last night, but it simply wasn't true. Not in a venue that doesn't allow alcohol sales.
The Hold Steady may be the ultimate bar band, but playing at a dry venue cramped their style a bit. Ushers repeatedly shooed dancing bodies out of the aisles and back to their seats. There were a few flasks making the rounds in the audience, but you couldn't help but imagine what the show might've been like in a different setting. Nonetheless, the band did its part, offering a 90-minute set that pulled from each of their critically-acclaimed albums, with a heavy emphasis on this summer's Stay Positive (though, regrettably, they neglected to play the lively title track.)
Finn was his usual excitable self, running around the stage shouting lyrics even when he wasn't at the mic, looking just one notch below a crazy person. Our personal favorites "Sequestered in Memphis" and "Massive Nights" sounded great.
Guitarist Tad Kubler and keyboardist Franz Nicolay were in fine form, especially when Kubler picked up a 12-string guitar and Nicolay switched to accordion. I couldn't tell if Nicolay was having fun, though - he smiled exactly once, when Finn sang the lyric "Pensacola parties hard with poppers, pills and pepsi" (Anything you'd like to tell us, Franz?)
Co-headliners the Drive-By Truckers were strong. I have to acknowledge I'm not a big fan of that sort of twangy rock sound, but for the first half of their show, they were captivating. The searing guitar solos brought many fans to their feet. The second half dragged, though. Clearly, their 90-minute set length was a bit much.
The bands joined forces for the encore, but it didn't quite come off as well as planned. "Chill Out Tent" was a good idea, but it was impossible to hear DBT's Shonna Tucker. She just doesn't have a singer's voice. She was moving her lips, but nothing was coming out. Either there was a problem with the mic, or she should never be allowed to sing lead again.
The bands closed with "Killer Parties," one of the Hold Steady's most fun songs. But all in all, this was neither a killer party nor a massive night. More like, a pretty decent evening that could never quite realize its full potential.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Miley Cyrus and David Archuleta! Woohoo!
Along with Darius Rucker and James Taylor, who I'd actually be interested in seeing.
I'm not a big fans of parades to begin with, but the whole concept of live performances in parades is just weird. The singer stands there and pretends to sing his/her song, and the audience pretends to enjoy it. I have yet to see any parade performer actually sing live.
My favorite Macy's performer was the Barenaked Ladies several years back. Singer Steven Page took the piss out of the whole thing by not even trying to keep the microphone near his mouth. I loved it. Unfortunately, due to Page's recent drug arrest, I doubt we'll be seeing BNL anywhere near a parade anytime soon.
Video: Barenaked Ladies - Jingle Bells (2004 Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade)
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Photo courtesy austinist.com
11/22 Girl Talk @ Gravity
It's a good month for shows in the Burgh, capped off by Wilkinsburg mashup hero Girl Talk's show at Gravity (No, I've never been there, either.) Gregg Gillis has been bringing joy and mayhem to crazy kids all over the world, including recent gigs at Lollapalooza and Roskilde. The last time he played in town, he worked some local flavor (a bit of Wiz Khalifa's "Pittsburgh Sound") into his mashups, so we can probably expect that again. And if you still haven't picked up his latest, Feed the Animals, get your ass over to his website and download it, fool.
ALSO WORTH ATTENDING:
11/12 The Hold Steady & Drive-By Truckers @ Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead
The Hold Steady's performance at Lollapalooza was one of the best shows we witnessed in 2007, thanks to the band's incredible dose of energy and enthusiasm, not to mention flat-out great songs. Let's see if they can match it in a small theater setting. I know next to nothing about the Drive-By Truckers' music, but I'm looking forward to the introduction.
11/29 Amanda Palmer @ Mr. Small's
The face of the Dresden Dolls goes out on her own, playing new material from her stellar solo record Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, one of the best releases of 2008 so far. Among the songs you're likely to hear: "Oasis," in which Palmer amusingly sings about getting an abortion, over surfpop harmonies; "Runs in the Family," an intense pop cabaret number; and "I Google You," a funny Neil Gaiman song that has become a Palmer concert favorite.
Others to keep in mind:
11/1 Bob Weir & Ratdog @ Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead
11/1 Amy Ray @ Mr. Small's
11/2 Gov't Mule @ Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead
11/5 Ted Leo & the Pharmacists @ Diesel CANCELLED
11/7 David Byrne @ Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead
11/8 The Academy Is... & We the Kings @ Mr. Small's
11/9 InnerPartySystem & 3OH!3 @ Diesel
11/10 Mest @ Club Zoo
11/11 Bob Schneider @ Diesel
11/14 Oxford Collapse @ Brillobox
11/15 Cruxshadows @ Pegasus
11/19 Rasputina @ Diesel
11/21 Cobra Starship & Forever the Sickest Kids @ Gravity
11/21 Matt & Kim @ WPU Assembly Room/Univ. of Pitt
11/21 The Eagles @ Mellon Arena
11/22 Hawthorne Heights @ Rex Theatre
11/24 Ingrid Michaelson @ Club Cafe
11/25 Plain White Ts @ Diesel
11/26 Electric Six & Local H @ Mr. Small's
11/29 Sebastian Grainger @ Garfield Artworks
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
This morning as I walked into my office, by sheer coincidence the song playing in the lobby was Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours."
Barack Obama never made it to Grant Park in August for Lollapalooza, to my dismay. But he made it there last night, as president-elect. We can hardly contain ourselves.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Whenever I'm in a strange place, my brain automatically starts playing songs with lyrics that mention the location I'm in. While in LA on Santa Monica Blvd, I couldn't get Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do" and Everclear's "Santa Monica" out of my head. In Beverly Hills, it was the Weezer song of the same name.
Last weekend I journeyed to Toronto, and I could not get out of my head the one song I know of that mentions Toronto - "Informer," the 1993 rap hit for white reggae rapper Snow. Perhaps you remember the song - its lightning-fast lyrics were so hard to figure out that MTV actually scrolled them at the bottom of the screen as a public service to its viewers.
People wondered if the white boy was from Jamaica, but as he clarified in the song, "Where me is from it is the one Toronto."
I thought this would be a good time for a Snow flashback. And a flashback to Jim Carrey playing Snow on In Living Color. Also, as people seem to think Snow was a one-hit wonder, I provide the evidence that he wasn't: his follow-up minor hit "Girl I've Been Hurt."
Video: Snow - Informer
Video: Jim Carrey as Snow - In Living Color
Video: Snow - Girl I've Been Hurt