Friday, January 29, 2010

Baroness - 'Blue Record' / Kylesa - 'Static Tensions'

This article is 666 words long.

Surely, future generations will speak of Savannah, Ga. in the same breath as Seattle, Wash. or Athens, Ga. Its nascent metal scene has given rise to several bands that transcend scene politics. The biggest so far is probably Mastodon, from nearby Atlanta, who earned hipster approval outside of metal circles. Indeed, Georgia has been turning out metal bands that defy metal expectations at a rapid clip. Take, for example, last year’s releases Static Tensions by Kylesa and Blue Record by Baroness.

Both bands deal in sludgy, heavy, awesome tunes. It’s certainly technical, but not to the point of exclusion. When Pat Mathis joked to Spin’s David Peisner about “…that whole heavy, doomy Southern kind of metal. When you get these old punk guys who listen to the Allman Brothers and start a metal band, that’s kind of what you get,” he was pretty accurate.

Stylistically, Kylesa and Baroness are of a piece. But dig deeper, and there are differences. Baroness is more willing to get expansive, often jamming out songs without sacrificing energy. They have a gritty appeal, but they’re not afraid to explore guitar solos or the occasional haunting, acoustic part. Blue Record, the follow-up to 2007’s even more awesome Red Album and perhaps a nod to the Beatles’ singles collections from the ’70s, even takes breaks from rocking to explore feedback and ethereal, Alice in Chains-style melodies. Mastodon gets a lot of credit for being a metal band non-metalheads can appreciate. The same could be said of Baroness.

The band’s song lengths aren’t distractingly epic – “Swollen Halo” is the only song to exceed five-and-a-half minutes – which should be attractive to, say, punk fans. Sure, the record is heavy, but it’s also easy to follow. After the delayed intro of “Bullhead’s Psalm,” the record shifts into turbo with “The Sweetest Curse,” a track that announces its metal intentions without sacrificing appeal. Over crushing riffs, John Dyer Baizley and Pete Adams bark out impressionistic lyrics and generally kick ass. They’re a little less technical or hardcore than Mastodon, but these guys deserve to be appointed Next Indie-Approved Metal Band. That said, Blue Record finds the band occasionally indulging in sounds that some folks might not be able to follow. Call them Metallica moments; times when the group busts out acoustic interludes and chugging riffage. This is of course balanced out by songs like “O’er Hell and Hide,” in which drummer Allen Blickle pounds out a rolling dance beat for most of the song, adding a bit of boogie to all the noodling. Blue Record is very much a crossover album, hinting at the better aspects of metal’s roots while incorporating other genres to form something earthier and more fun.

By comparison, Kylesa’s Static Tensions sounds downright obliterating. The low end is way more powerful here, recalling sludgy acts like Big Business or The Melvins. Just, ya know, with more solos. Album opener “Scapegoat” weaves a double-tracked drum solo throughout the tune, tempering all the bile with something a little more tribal. “Perception” opens with some backwards dialogue (Subliminal messages! Metal!) before hitting the band’s trademark grinding style before segueing into an ethereal section. Guitarist Laura Pleasants adds some otherworldly vocals to the mix, combining with drummer Eric Hernandez’s beats to create a sort of druidic experience. The album is pretty steadfast in its rocking – 40 minutes of butt-whoopin’ – but Kylesa slips in these little moments that A) let the listener know how accomplished the musicians are and B) differentiate Kylesa just enough from the pack to reveal their songs as revolutionary.

Peisner’s article mentions that the scene is starting to splinter as bands move away, but I can’t blame them for doing so. Baroness and Kylesa both released stellar albums last year, and had I been on top of my shit, both would have wound up on my best of 2009 coverage. As is, though, I’ve found a great entry way into a musical scene that I intend to explore.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Vinyl Vednesday 1/27

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it kinda is. This week’s installment is on my buds in The Wonder Years, who dropped their second full-length, The Upsides, this week on No Sleep Records. I won’t review the album – too conflict of interest-y even though I haven’t seen them since they began a mission to play every town in the world – but I still wanted to commemorate the accomplishment somehow. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: The Wonder Years’ Won’t Be Pathetic Forever (2008) on maroon, orange, and brown.

Place of Purchase: Pre-ordered all three colors of this limited edition seven-inch through the label. Then they released a fourth, release show only color in an extra-scarce number. What the fudge?

Thoughts: It’s still weird to think about given their origins, but The Wonder Years have done OK for themselves. Two full-lengths, a handful of EPs. I can’t believe they’ve played outside of Pennsylvania, let alone the rest of America or Europe. Of all the bands I know, The Wonder Years are the most likely to play on the moon. Which, like I said, is weird given that they used to be a joke band.

The members did time in more “serious-minded” acts like The Premier, Bellwether, and my band, Emergency & I. They had one song, “Buzz Aldrin: The Poster Boy For Second Place,” that they would play in between other bands’ sets at the Lansdale VFW. It was a ridiculously catchy pop punk tune about astronauts (and, to a lesser extent, cosmonauts). Like the rest of their catalog, it’s pop punk with synth, a la Four Year Strong or Fireworks. Some more songs followed, as well as a split with E&I. When all of our respective bands broke up, TWY went pro, recording a split with Bangarang, scoring a record deal, and then dropping a freaking full-length, Get Stoked On It.

I just realized they’ve almost broken a million plays on They’ve got more listens than Texas is a Reason, Jawbox, and The Hooters! They wrote “And We Danced!”

Anyway, back to the seven-inch. It marks a turning point for the band lyrically. The band stopped writing joke songs, having already covered robots, cowboys, ninjas, pirates, and such, in favor of stories about their own lives. It’s still pretty catchy – every movement on “You’re Not Salinger. Get Over It” kicks ass – and fun. My only complaint: None of the three digital coupons worked and nobody from No Sleep ever responded to my e-mails about it. Jerks.

The Wonder Years are on tour now.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Reveling - '3D Radio'

Let’s talk influences. There’s this guy named Bruce Springsteen. Maybe you know of him. He wrote some catchy tunes about working class misfits in the ’70s. And the ’80s. Then he kind of sucked in the ’90s but then he got good again. Anyway, he influenced a ton of bands, including The Gaslight Anthem. Oddly enough, they’re a punk band, but they blend Bruce’s knack for classic rock and evocative lyrical imagery into their songs. They’re pretty big right now. Not “Bruce big,” but TGA certainly carries some weight in the punk community. You can definitely hear their influence on Brooklyn band The Reveling on their self-released EP, 3D Radio, which is funny. Here’s why:

Reveling drummer Jay Weinberg is the son of Max Weinberg, drummer for The E Street Band, a.k.a the backing group for Springsteen. Everything is connected! The only downside: When your band recalls Bruce freaking Springsteen and The Gaslight Anthem, how the hell do you match the hype?

3D Radio sounds like TGA circa Sink or Swim with a dash of Social Distortion dirt. They don’t top those bands, but they also don’t fail to earn those comparisons either. Listeners get four uncomplicated yet gritty songs in the punk/classic rock hybrid vein. Weinberg sounds good on a kit, but he’s also played “Born to Run” in stadiums, so it’s expected. More weight falls on Sean Morris anyway. Weinberg might be “the name,” but Morris is still the frontman, and these songs live and die on his strengths and faults.

As is, Morris recalls TGA frontman Brian Fallon quite a bit on these rollicking tunes. Time will tell if he finds his own voice or remains a clone, but for now, The Reveling is worth checking out. Again, they draw the connection between Springsteen and Gaslight. How could you not be interested?

New Found Glory - 'New Found Glory [10th Anniversary Edition]'

I’ve always felt weird about re-releases of recent albums, be they remasters, deluxe editions or just plain ol’ alternate covers. Who are they meant for? Fans should already own such albums, and if they’re really hardcore, they probably have whatever bonus tracks are tacked on. Hence my reticence to hop on recent remaster jobs for albums I already own by the Beatles and Jawbox. Ah, but in the case of New Found Glory’s 10th anniversary CD/DVD edition of their self-titled major label debut, perhaps a re-release isn’t such a bad idea.

Let’s go back to the Beatles and Jawbox references. In the case of the Fab Four, a lot of people had problems with the original CD mastering from the ’80s. Personally, I think the new mixes, while better, aren’t good enough for me to replace my entire collection. But I would buy them for other people over the original CD mixes. Same with Jawbox’s For Your Own Special Sweetheart reissue. I’m glad it’s available in a physical format again and I would buy it for anyone in need of a musical education, but I already own the original version. I’m set. And I would do the same for New Found Glory.

See, I’ve been a fan of NFG for about a decade. I dig the pop punk sound, the hardcore rhythms and the bouncy, fun energy. Throw whatever criticism you want at NFG – they’re not tru punx, their lyrics objectify women, vocalist Jordan Pundik can’t sing, whatever – in the end I’m still going to bump tunes like “Goodbye Song” and “Second to Last” while you break down emo gender politics and punk rock social castes. But it’s because of this feeling that I realize I sort of, kind of, maybe didn’t need to buy the deluxe edition of New Found Glory.

The CD portion opens with the album’s original 12 songs, with the original mix Neal Avron provided in 2000, not that a remastering was needed. Avron’s production is certainly an upgrade compared to the band’s debut, Nothing Gold Can Stay, but it’s still raw enough compared to all of the spit-shined pop punk acts that followed in NFG’s wake. This record is still relevant today. Forget Set Your Goals or Four Year Strong; this is all you need in terms of pop punk mixed with breakdowns. Given that it came out 10 years ago, I wouldn’t be surprised if some NFG fans don’t even own it, since the group didn’t really blow up until 2002’s Sticks and Stones. Hell, I’ve met fans in the last year that have never heard of From the Screen to Your Stereo, let alone listened to it.

Those people are the core demographic for this new version. I already own bonus tracks “So Many Ways” (Welcome to the Family compilation) and “Ex-Miss” (Dragging the Lake, although thanks to this and Alkaline Trio’s Remains, I think I might sell it). “The Radio Song” is just a less awesome version of “Come Back Bon Jovi” with different lyrics (also from Welcome to the Family). The liner notes state that “The Minute I Met You” has never been played live, and I can see why. It’s the weakest track of the bunch. The demos for “Better Off Dead” and “All About Her,” as well as the late, great Jerry Finn’s alternate mix for “Hit or Miss,” don’t offer any insight or drastic differences to the respective songs, and are thus unnecessary.

The accompanying DVD is just a port of the band’s 2002 tour doc The Story So Far, and the cynic in me feels like it was attached just because it wasn’t selling well enough on its own. The documentary itself plays out like an infomercial for the band without much focus. The members talk about how they like each other, we get a few clips of live footage and then it’s over. Music videos and an even worse video zine doc pad out the DVD’s running time. Shit sucks. A new retrospective would’ve been appreciated; as is, the somewhat repetitive recollections in the liner notes will have to do.

But for the next generation of mall punks, self-styled “lost romantics” and, uh, young people, this new edition is a worthy purchase. I mean, it’s still New Found Glory. It’s a great album, and it’s backed by some choice rarities (“So Many Ways,” “Ex-Miss”). It’s a little overpriced, but given what a pain in the arse it would probably be to find Welcome to the Family (and, um, the Clockstoppers soundtrack), it’s certainly a convenient way to check out a classic punk record from the Aughties and a few of its B-sides.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

regarding Next Big Thing at the Rusty Nail

My buddies in The Next Big Thing are playing a show tomorrow at the Rusty Nail in Ardmore, Pa. You can stream a radio appearance they made over at MySpace... I'll be honest, it's super long and you can fast-forward, but it's still my boys on the e-radio. Right on. Or, you could always go to the show and hear them play tunes off of my second favorite EP of 2009, Condense the Nonsense.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Marc Spitz - 'Bowie'

Folks, I’ve been on a big Bowie kick for the last month or so. It was revived thanks to Hugo Wilcken’s entry on Low for the 33 1/3 series, which got me listening to the “Berlin Trilogy” … and then Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and Lust for Life albums, which Bowie had a hand in around the same time … and then Aladdin Sane just ’cause I like that album. The next book I picked up, to my delight, was Marc Spitz’s Bowie, a biography/love letter to one David Robert Jones. Turns out he’s been on a Bowie kick too, only his has lasted since 1978 or so, when he heard “Space Oddity” for the first time at age nine. He writes:

I would look up at the sky and wonder what it would be like to be Major Tom, trapped way up there in outer space, floating in a tin can forever. Was it technically living? …Bowie made me consider existentialism before I even knew what it meant to be alive (and before I ever really thought about my death). It was much easier to reckon with the Grease soundtrack and put off the inevitable, but I already knew even then that Bowie’s music had permanently damaged me. [p. 24]

See, Spitz interweaves his own personal interaction with Bowie’s music (loves it, needs it) and the man himself (visits his favorite New York spots, sees him once on the street and then loses his nerve) into the narrative. It doesn’t overwhelm the story of the main subject’s life like, say, Jon Krakauer’s insistence on injecting his camping trips into the more interesting life and death of Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild. If anything, I would have been OK with more Spitz-bits, but then, I generally dig his writing (his work with Spin, and with Brendan Mullen for We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, are both essential music reading). The anecdotes remind us that Spitz is a fan, and that this book is a labor of love, although the writing style alone indicates that.

Spitz covers as much territory as he can without actually having to interview his idol. He gets most of the key players – ex-wife Angie Bowie, guitarist Carlos Alomar, a ton of former managers and more – to cover the story, and utilizes a deep bibliography to fill in the missing storytellers, like the late Mick Ronson and Bowie himself. The result is a bio that hits all the needed plot points – his birth, his troubled family history, “The Laughing Gnome,” “Space Oddity,” glam rock, Brian Eno, conquering the ’80s, fading into obscurity in the ’80s, Tin Machine and more.

Given his self-admitted fandom, Spitz occasionally runs the risk of gushing too much:

Ziggy [Stardust] is the space-race anticlimax, Manson and Altamont and Nixon’s reelection and the breakup of the Beatles made sexy. Rock ‘n’ roll ecdysis is a crucial element of his appeal. Ziggy says to all those in pain, “You have failed as human beings, but it’s all right. We will succeed as slinky, jiving space insects. Let all the children boogie!” [p. 178]

But here’s the thing. Spitz’s loving passages come from a place of deep-seated devotion. He’s not peddling bunk here. And he’s also not afraid to call his idol on his own bunk. Labyrinth gets a knock (Sounds like somebody needs a love injection). Some critically derided albums get elevated (Diamond Dogs, Let’s Dance), while others get dropped (Tonight, Never Let Me Down and even Space Oddity, which I happen to think is an underrated psych/folk/rock album). Sure, Spitz softballs Bowie’s sexual indiscretions and, uh, that time he got super coked out and spent the late ’70s advocating Nazism and fascism, but it’s not like he digs to justify every little thing he did. For comparison’s sake, check out Philip Norman’s John Lennon: The Life, in which the author spends an entire chapter not only validating his subject’s proclivity for masturbation, but elevating it to some sort of artistic expression on par with John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.

Bowie hits a sweet spot of being informative, passionate and as honest as possible. Spitz even talked me into expanding my already pretty big Bowie collection (I’ve got Starting Point, a collection of Bowie’s early, kind of terrible, ’60s novelty singles, through the Labyrinth soundtrack from 1986. Dare I try on Earthling or Heathen?). The ending is somewhat lacking – Bowie is still alive after all – but given that his last studio album, Reality, came out in 2003, Spitz has as good a conclusion as he could hope for currently. Super fans should give it a gander, although it’s easy enough to follow that even novices looking for someone to guide them through Bowie’s dense discography might be interested in it as well. After all, if you like folk, punk, post-punk, R&B, glam rock, funk, industrial, goth, so-bad-it’s-good-rap (a la Labyrinth’s “Chilly Down”) or any of the fashions associated with those genres, Bowie might have a song or two to hook you in as well.

Vinyl Vednesday 1/20

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it kinda is. Since Picasso Blue just discussed the top 30 shows of the decade this week, VV will be looking at three treasured vinyl purchases from those concerts. E-mail with your own big finds!]

Records: Dresden Dolls’ “Good Day” seven-inch reissue (2005) on black, Paint It Black’s New Lexicon (2008) on white, and Secret Machine’s Now Here is Nowhere (2004) on white.

Place of Purchase: The Dolls seven-inch was actually purchased at a show at the TLA that didn’t make the top 30, but since B-side “Night at the Roses” was such a pivotal part of my #16 concert pick – and since I got to ask pianist/vocalist Amanda Palmer about it after they opened for Nine Inch Nails (#14) – I feel like this seven-inch spreads across every Dolls show I’ve attended. Paint It Black’s New Lexicon was purchased at PiB’s show with Strike Anywhere at the First Unitarian Church (#22). Secret Machine’s full-length debut came from their North Star Bar appearance (#30).

Thoughts: I heard “Night at the Roses” at the first Dresden Dolls show I ever attended. It wasn’t like anything in the Dolls catalog, which turned out to be deeper than their self-titled studio debut let on. They mentioned re-releasing it at the time, and I knew I had to have it, although a live bootleg of the song from a fan site helped ease the wait. I got a chance to meet the band after they opened for Nine Inch Nails and asked Amanda Palmer about it; she said it would be coming out soon. Fast-forward a year or so, and I finally got my chance to own a physical copy of “Night at the Roses.” This was also the time is saw the Dolls twice in one day – once for a Y-Rock Sonic Session taping, and again for a full set later that night.

New Lexicon is the best Paint It Black release (so far). Yeah, I’m big on the two seven-inches they dropped last year, but the synthesis of punk and hip-hop, thanks to PiB’s collaboration with producer Dälek of Oktopus fame (and J. Robbins! I loves that guy!), is something that few folks have been able to achieve (I’m looking at you, Dee Dee Ramone). The band’s live shows live up to the records, too, as evidenced by their set with Strike Anywhere at the First Unitarian Church. PiB absolutely decimated the crowd. What really knocked me out, though, was having to interact with frontman Dr. Dan Yemin at the merch table. See, I’m not good when it comes to talking to my idols. Last time I spoke with someone in Paint It Black, it went so poorly THAT HE QUIT THE BAND. Oh, but how I wanted to own New Lexicon on vinyl (and The Philadelphia Sound compilation, featuring early PiB and Loved Ones frontman Dave Hause’s old band The Curse). So, I went in there, called Dr. Yemin’s band “zesty,” bought my stuff, and got the eff out of there before I acted a fool. Of course, I still ended up looking like a jackass when I ran into him at Repo Records like a week later and got my credit card declined. Even when I win, I still lose.

Oh hey, have you read Dr. Yemin’s blog, Songs to Learn & Sing?

I dig The Secret Machines. They make my kinda psych-rock. Even better, they’re cool dudes. They sold their own merch during their North Star show and, tempering my courage to the point of adamantium, I purchased a vinyl pressing of their first record, talked about how their second, Ten Silver Drops, was totally underrated (It is), and then got them to autograph my vinyl. I even asked new guitarist Phil Karnats to put pen to cover, even though he didn’t enter the band’s recordings until their self-titled third album. The show was pretty good, my friends and I got to talk to the band even more after the show, and the vinyl plays splendidly. I mean, it doesn’t compare to hearing “Nowhere Again” or “First Wave Intact” live, but it’s pretty close. Speaking of which, my favorite part about the album is probably the fact that, at 45 rpm, Reprise Records could only fit “First Wave Intact” on the first side of the vinyl. It just makes the song that much more monolithic.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Playlist: Shitty Weezer

[Playlist is an attempt to distill my favorite artists to 80-minute compilations and, hopefully, provide a gateway into their music.]

Some artists don't lend themselves to the Playlist process. I love Bruce Springsteen, but he has way too many songs for me to properly cover his catalog in 80 minutes. Furthermore, some albums don't work back-to-back. I can't jump from Nebraska to Magic on the spot. The same could be said, to a different extent, for Weezer. They have more than enough good songs to fill 80 minutes. But here's the trouble - most of those songs come from their first two albums, plus B-sides from that era. I'd be stupid to pick anything from Make Believe over Pinkerton. And if the playlist consists entirely of two albums, there's really no point in making it.

But that got me thinking - every Weezer album, no matter how awful, has had at least one good song. So why not pick the best of their lackluster crop and throw 'em together? Instead of a Weezer Playlist, I would draft a Shitty Weezer Playlist (and it's labeled as such on my iPod). No "Blue Album." No Pinkerton. No '90s B-sides or demos from the Alone series.

I came close, but Make Believe, the worst Weezer album, remains unrepresented on this mix. Album ender "Haunt You Every Day" is a decent song, but it's too long for me to justify cutting tracks. I briefly considered "Perfect Situation" as well, but then I remembered FUCK THAT SHIT FOREVER.

So the next time somebody at a party says Weezer's output has sucked post-1996, put on this playlist instead of arguing. Seriously, don't argue. Because it's kinda true; Weezer without Matt Sharp is a suckfest. But by putting on this mix, you can create the illusion of being right, and isn't that what most drunken arguments are about?

Shitty Weezer
1. "Teenage Victory Song," "Island in the Sun" single
2. "I Do," "Hash Pipe" single
3. "Starlight," "Hash Pipe" single
4. "Don't Let Go," "Green Album"
5. "Photograph," "Green Album"
6. "Hash Pipe," "Green Album"
7. "Island in the Sun," "Green Album"
8. "Crab," "Green Album"
9. "Keep Fishin'," Maladroit
10. "Slob," Maladroit
11. "Dope Nose," Maladroit
12. "Troublemaker," "Red Album"
13. "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)," "Red Album"
14. "Pork and Beans," "Red Album"
15. "Everybody Get Dangerous," "Red Album"
16. "The Angel and The One," "Red Album"
17. "Miss Sweeney," "Red Album" deluxe edition
18. "If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To," Raditude
19. "The Girl Got Hot," Raditude
20. "Can't Stop Partying," Raditude
21. "Put Me Back Together," Raditude

Also, fuck "Beverly Hills."

My Decade in Rock 'n' Roll Shows 2000-2009, #15-1

I learned how to get around Philadelphia thanks to going to shows. I needed to get to the Trocadero, so I learned my way to and around Chinatown. TLA - South Street. Johnny Brenda's, The Fire, and The Barbary - Fishtown. If it wasn't for my ill-placed need to have bodies crashing down on me and sweat pouring out and amps causing permanent hearing loss, I'd never have learned my way around the "Big City." Thank goodness for that; I love Philadelphia a lot.

Top 30 Philadelphia Moments of the Rockin' Variety, #15-1

15. The 2002 Vans Warped at The Tweeter Center Aug. 9, 2002

Say what you will about it ruining underground music, but when you’re young, the Warped Tour is an ideal show for checking out music. The low ticket prices mean more money for merch (and fluids. Set aside at least $30 for water, kids). There are like a hundred bands at each stop. And if you’re lucky, Warped’s tastes and your own will overlap perfectly. The 2002 tour brought with it a Drive-Thru Records stage – Allister, Rx Bandits, Starting Line, Homegrown, and New Found Glory all played that year – plus a poop-ton of other bands: NOFX, Less Than Jake, Flogging Molly, Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Sure, I got the shit kicked out of me – I was sunburned an hour in, a kick to the face during the Bosstones’ set nearly knocked me out – but it was fun. I saw some great bands, scored some sweet merch, and my boss at Duke’s Carwash took pity on me the next day and sent me home early. The last Warped I attended was 2003. Since then, I’ve told myself that I would go again if I could find a bill with at least 10 bands that I want to see. It hasn’t happened yet, which is one of the drawbacks to the Warped Tour – it belongs to the very young.

14. Nine Inch Nails and The Dresden Dolls at The Electric Factory May 18, 2005

My buddy Doc camped out at a computer for hours to score his doppelganger George Giles and me pre-sale tickets to Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor was riding some positive buzz from his comeback album With Teeth, and to celebrate, he was touring smaller venues with the mighty Dresden Dolls. Sounded too good to be true, but Doc came through. NIN fans weren’t too into the Dolls, but that’s their problem. The set was pretty good despite early technical difficulties, they played a solid cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” and I got to meet the band after the show. Then NIN came out and slaughtered. I started off stationed in the middle of the Factory’s floor. I made no effort to get up front, but thanks to a huge tsunami of bodies, that’s where I ended up. It’s been said hundreds of times since 2005, but seeing T-Rez all types of Hulked out was scary at first, especially when he charged the crowd. It was like a rhino! A rhino that just so happened to love Joy Division, David Bowie, and Gary Numan! Seriously, though, tunes like “Wish” and “March of the Pigs” are damn near deadly live, although the tender kiss off of “Hurt” will stay with me for a while, especially now that NIN is done as a touring act. Epilogue: After the show, I sped home to catch the midnight premier of Revenge of the Sith.

13. The Mountain Goats and Kaki King at The TLA Nov. 7, 2008

12. The Mountain Goats and The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers at a motherfucking cabin in Swarthmore Oct. 22, 2005

While I’d been a Mountain Goats fan since high school, I didn’t see them live until college. Through the magical well of information that is the Internets, I stumbled upon a college tour that John Darnielle and Peter Hughes were conducting, hit up Drew Stephan and his lady friend Liz, and off we went down I-476 to Swarthmore College. After stumbling around the campus for a bit, we found the venue – a log cabin. Openers The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers were already tearing through their set when we arrived. Their sound reminded me then of Modest Mouse and Decemberists. I stand by that notion today, although I’d like to throw John Vanderslice into that mix as well. The Goats came out, and my brain went nuts. What’s crazy too is that Darnielle barely played any songs I knew. The majority of the set consisted of Tallahassee, which I was still a few months away from purchasing. I remember thinking how ballsy it was to walk up to a stomping, shouting, throbbing mass of people and open with something as quiet as “Tallahasse.” I’ve since seen him tame unruly crowds with such numbers as “Shadow Song,” “You or Your Memory,” and “Wild Sage,” but at the time, it seemed insane that he could wield so much power. The Prayers helped him rock out numbers like “This Year” and “See America Right,” but it was a solo song that made the biggest impression: “Going to Georgia.” I didn’t own Zopilote Machine yet either, so I didn’t fully appreciate how rare or amazing the performance was, but the Swarthmore student who requested it for her birthday sure did. Later, I met Hughes, bought a T-shirt, and picked up the Prayers CD. This was the first of many amazing TMG shows in my life.

11. Ben Kweller and Death Cab For Cutie at The Trocadero April 13, 2004

To fully appreciate how long ago this show was, consider this: Ben Kweller headlined over Death Cab for Cutie. No matter; both bands put on a great show. I remember DCFC mostly playing numbers from Transatlanticism, which I still feel is their best album. The title track is epic enough on record at eight minutes; live the band jammed it out even longer. There was a loose charm to the performance – drummer Jason McGerr didn’t seem completely comfortable with the older songs, but that lent the performance a more “real” element. It was an amazing set, and then BK came out and matched it note for note. This was during the height of my Kweller fandom, and I still swear by Sha Sha and On My Way. The set drew evenly from both albums, with a cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” improvised because they were playing somewhere else in Philly. I’ve seen BK a few more times since then, and while all of his shows have been good, the setlist will never again cover my absolute favorites – those first two albums.

10. New Found Glory, H2O, River City High, and Rx Bandits at The Electric Factory Oct. 27, 2001

Oh hey, look, it’s the first concert I ever attended. My dad drove my cousin Mike and I to the Electric Factory. I couldn’t believe I was a real music venue. I couldn’t believe I was in a mosh pit. I couldn’t believe was totally seeing my uber-favorite band of all time (well, at the time), New Found Glory. I was bummed Rx Bandits only got to play for 15 minutes, but at least they played “VCG3” from their then-new album Progress and did some tricks involving fire. FIRE. My memories of River City High are fuzzy. I remember that one of the members wore a cowboy hat. My friend Andrew Chiarello met the band later that night, and I think Cowboy was the one who hit on his girlfriend. So, uh, that’s cool. H2O blew my mind. I didn’t know anything about the band, but I knew I liked them after they hit me with a bevy of melodic hardcore/pop punk songs like “Role Model” and “Guilty By Association.” Aside from “Guilty,” the set consisted of songs from their much maligned major label debut Go – including a cover of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” I’ll be honest; Go is now my least favorite H2O record. But at the time, I thought it was a revelation. Speaking of revelatory tunes, New Found Glory put on a phenomenal set that night. They didn’t have many songs in their catalog yet, so the band played almost everything from what was available: Nothing Gold Can Stay, New Found Glory, and From the Screen to Your Stereo. I screamed the words along and probably looked like a dork the whole time.

9. Bloc Party, The Noisettes, and The Maccabees at The Tower Theatre June 5, 2007

While my girlfriend and I were underwhelmed by Bloc Party’s sophomore album A Weekend in the City, we were still pretty stoked to catch them on tour around the time of our one year anniversary. Michelle picked me up from my internship at Wonka Vision Magazine, we ate at this ridiculously awesome vegan restaurant in Philly called Horizons, and then tried our hardest not to get lost on the way to the Tower Theatre. After two openers (Maccabees were kinda good; Noisettes played way too long), Bloc Party came out and played for like two-and-a-half-hours, including two encores. They whipped out obscure B-sides – so obscure that frontman Kele Okereke forgot the words to “Two More Years.” No matter; the group tore through a number of stellar cuts from Silent Alarm, and Michelle and I got some couple-y during “This Modern Love” (it’s one of our songs, ya see). The City songs got a bigger reaction, oddly enough, but I’ll be honest: Those cuts do sound better live. Oh, did I mention that we were in like the second row? We have yet to match that proximity at Tower shows, as I swear we psychically communicated with Okereke via eye contact. How else would he know that “Two More Years” was another one of our songs? It was a good night for new romantics.

8. The Rentals at The TLA Aug. 25, 2007

7. The Cure at The Wachovia Spectrum May 10, 2008

6. Against Me!, The Epoxies, Smoke or Fire, and The Soviettes at The Trocadero Dec. 1, 2005

I’ve seen Against Me! quite a few times with a wide array of bands (Mastodon, Sage Francis, Blood Brothers). This was the best set. Part of it was because of the bill – all Fat Wreck bands, as this was the Fat Tour, all of which were awesome. I became a Smoke or Fire believer that night. Against Me! was touring behind Searching For a Former Clarity, the album that officially made me pledge my fidelity to them. Don’t get me wrong; Reinventing Axl Rose is tops, but Clarity proved they could keep their momentum going. Side note: Clarity is their Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround. Anyway, AM! played a perfect set. I fought my way to the front, eventually ending up beneath frontman Tom Gabel’s mic stand. Dude fought demons for 90 minutes on cuts like “Problems” – “Sometimes it feels like conversations are a waking dream / From a third party perspective / An audience to the self / You can almost hear the sound traveling / A constant feeling of anticipation / While of the sudden you know what’s gonna happen / These are the paranoias that have built your world / They neither eat nor sleep / They have no name you know / Here in the worst I will become the best of them all.” Sorry for the long quote, but I couldn’t bear to cut it off. Even quiet songs like “Joy,” in which Gabel uses to music to keep himself from collapsing under existential dread (please refer back to the “Problems” quote), floored me. In that moment, I thought Against Me! was my Clash. Of course, The Clash fell apart after their fifth album (Cut the Crap being the sad aftermath), so we’ll see if White Crosses makes that comparison more sadly accurate. Until then, hey, I could go for another AM! show. It’s been a little while.

5. Tom Gabel and Emilyn Brodsky at The Barbary Nov. 19, 2008

4. Bruce Springsteen at The Wachovia Spectrum Nov. 9, 2005

Bruce Springsteen occupies two slots in my top five concerts of the decade, and rightly so. While right now I feel that his Hershey show with the E Street Band was superior (He played freaking “Rosalita”), there’s something to be said for his Devils & Dust tour in 2005. The guy played a two hour acoustic set by himself at the Spectrum, which, in case you forgot, is really fucking big. I can’t think of another artist that could’ve kept such a large gathering of people quiet. Even more impressive – he busted out obscure live favorites like “Thundercrack” and “Santa Ana.” Neither song was ever released on an album, and the latter hadn’t been heard live in 32 years. He played a surprising amount of his lo-fi acoustic masterpiece Nebraska – “State Trooper,” “Reason to Believe,” “Used Cars.” He had a running conversation with his audience, discussing the meaning of songs like “The Rising” and “Matamoros Banks.” He talked about his Catholic upbringing and his Irish-Italian-American heritage. These are all things I can relate to. The Hershey show was more boisterous, obviously, but the Spectrum show felt so much more intimate despite being, you know… at the Spectrum.