Cloaca Melodia

My life in concerts, by Mike Sauter.


Tori Amos/Josh Clayton-Felt

Garden State Arts Center/PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

I wrote a contemporaneous review of this concert for Here it is.

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Sometimes seeing a concert is better in the intimate setting of a nightclub or other smaller room. However, sometimes larger venues--while still not ideal--can contribute small touches which can make a show more fascinating to watch.

Seeing Tori Amos perform at the Arts Center held several such unintentional touches--like the fireflies which occasionally buzzed in from the wooded areas which surround the amphitheater, blinking on and off like nature's contribution to Tori's light show.

The show was also full of intentional details which distinguished it from previous New Jersey performances--to date, Tori had only played indoor halls, like the Count Basie Theater (Red Bank) and the State Theater (New Brunswick). The Arts Center, with its soaring ceiling, expansive stage, and combination seating (the actual seats plus the lawn area), was a venue large enough for Tori to take her stage show to the next level. She added a visual dimension to her songs which gave them a theatricality worthy of an artist like Laurie Anderson.

The first enormous difference between Tori's show this time around versus past area stops was the pair of huge video screens high above the stage. Normally, I'm violently opposed to the use of video screens in concerts--in this television age in which we live, most concertgoers' eyes almost inevitably drift towards the familiar flashing images on the screen and barely even watch the performer actually sharing the same room. One might as well be staring at an MTV broadcast at home.

But as Tori began her set, it became obvious that the video setup was a effective trick to allow the audience to regain a tiny bit of the intimacy lost by the larger venue. The simple two-camera setup (one in front of the stage and another off stage left to capture Tori's face as she faces her Bosendorfer piano) was tastefully done, and thus the inherent problem in staging a piano-based concert (if the artist wants to face their audience, the piano must be placed between artist and audience) was avoided.

Another difference this time around was that Tori spoke less between songs. During her first major tour, following her Little Earthquakes album, she delighted fans with brief anecdotes of growing up in a religious household and listening to Led Zeppelin. The last time she played in New Jersey, Tori spoke a little bit less. At this show, she limited herself to terse introductions and fewer amounts of commentary than ever. Perhaps she was weary after so much touring, but she let the music do most of her talking for her.

But the music was excellent. Tori began her set with the same pair of songs with which she commenced her latest album, Boys For Pele, "Beauty Queen" and the terrific "Horses." She relied heavily on material from Boys For Pele (as one would expect), but she suprisingly played many more songs from Little Earthquakes than from her sophomore release Under the Pink.

Following a recording of Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man" on the P.A. system, Tori strolled onto the stage--lit up with twinkly, Christmas tree-type white lights--to the deafening screams of her very dedicated fans, and began singing the a capella opening of "Beauty Queen." She began bouncing and writhing practically off the piano bench (as is her custom frequently, as if being limited to her piano-bound location constantly vexes her) as she segued into "Horses."

After the song the twinkly lights were extinguished, replaced by swirling projected lights. In a nod perhaps to performing in New Jersey (although she has also done the song in shows outside of the state), Tori continued with a slow, passionate cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire," a song which translates startlingly well into Tori's style.

A tremendously theatrical version of "Caught a Lite Sneeze" was next, with a faster tempo than the album version, a beat-heavy backing track playing, and a guitarist contributing some feedback coloration to the song (which gave the rendition somewhat of a Peter Gabriel-esque flavor). When Tori came to the "boys on my left side, boys on my right" section of the song, she dispensed with the piano altogether and accompanied herself by beating time on both the piano frame and her own body.

After such intensity, Tori lightened up the proceedings somewhat by explaining to the crowd that she was wearing a pair of shiny black shoes which she had bought especially for the show (she explained that she had to buy a new pair after walking around New York City in her old shoes), and then she began hopping around the stage like a red-haired frog accepting gifts of flowers from members of the audience.

The next section of the show mixed together several crowd-pleasers like "Cornflake Girl," "Crucify," and a cover of The Cure's "Love Song" (to which she suggestively encouraged those seated on the lawn to "get warm") with a few of her lesser-known songs like "Cloud on My Tongue" and the title cut from the Little Earthquakes record.

Although Tori did perform an incredible version of one of her favorite cover songs (Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You"), she surprisingly chose not to do the first singles from both of her previous albums, namely "Silent All These Years" and "God." Moreover, she omitted a cover song which she has been often playing in recent shows, a strikingly maudlin interpretation of "Over the Rainbow."

But no matter what songs she chose to include or not, the vast majority of her fans were riveted to the stage for the entire performance. Screams of adulation and shouts of "I love you, Tori" are standard operating procedure for her audience, and Tori takes it all in stride (quite readily returning "I love you, too" after the affectionate shouts, even midsong). She's patient enough with her audience that during the a capella "Me and a Gun" (her harrowing account of a real-life, first person sexual assault which is always a show highlight), when some audience members got understandably upset at the inappropriate whoops and noise of others, Tori broke the tension by interjecting in the middle of the song, "It's okay, guys..."

Though it's sometimes difficult to keep up with Tori Amos' musical shifts (a statement which is probably incomprehensible to her many hardcore devotees)--from the beautifully understated melodies of the Little Earthquakes album to the later heavy-beat songs and the occasionally overmystical and dense lyrics--Tori in concert is an all-too-brief voyage of musical wonder. Even songs which were rather uneventful as recorded on the album find new spark when wrenched out of Tori's live Bosendorfer.

Opening for Tori was former School of Fish frontman Josh Clayton-Felt, performing by himself with only his acoustic and electric guitars as accompaniment. He's a likeable performer and a good songwriter, but he seemed a bit uncomfortable without his usual backing band.

He played no songs from his School of Fish days, but rather concentrated on selections from his recent debut solo album Inarticulate Nature Boy, including the title cut, "Doubt", "Helpless," "Dead American," "Paint the Tree Green," "Soon Enough," and the enjoyable single "Window."

Interestingly, Clayton-Felt's most crowd-pleasing song among the Tori audience (who was obviously unfamiliar with his music) was a song he wrote for the upcoming Tom Hanks film That Thing You Do (in a cruel twist of irony, this song won't apparently be used on the movie's soundtrack since its lyrics about "nothing I'd rather do than give myself to you when the day is done" are a little racy for That Thing You Do's 1964 setting).

Clayton-Felt also brought greetings from his usual touring band drummer, Pete Maloney, who, as he explained, is from New Jersey.

The disarming Clayton-Felt was a pleasant enough act to begin the evening, or as he himself put it: "I'm Josh Clayton-Felt, and I'm warming you up--hopefully."

Tori Amos setlist: "Beauty Queen," "Horses," "I'm on Fire" (Bruce Springsteen), "Caught a Lite Sneeze," "Cornflake Girl," "Butterfly," "Little Earthquakes," "Crucify," "Cloud on My Tongue," "Precious Things," "Love Song" (The Cure), "Space Dog," "Talula," "Me and a Gun," "Mother," "A Case of You" (Joni Mitchell), "In the Springtime of His Voodoo," "Professional Widow," "Hey Jupiter"

External links:

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Jackson Browne/Shawn Colvin

Garden State Arts Center/PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

I wrote about this show for when I was a music and movie writer for them. Here's my review.

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Jackson Brown made a triumphant and nostalgic return to New Jersey with a show at the PNC Bank Arts Center. And Browne's fans were out in force to see the man responsible for beloved '70s hits like "Doctor My Eyes" and "Running On Empty." Despite rain earlier in the day, even the lawn area was thick with concertgoers.

You have to give a guy like Browne a lot of credit. Even though most of the audience was coming for his classics, Browne wasn't about to turn his show into a greatest-hits parade. He put out a new album earlier this year, Looking East, which combines the personal committment and mellow charm of his '70s output with a high-tech, '90s feel (the CD of Looking East is available with flashy enhancements of interactive text, words, and pictures for your computer).

And yet, Browne is no cranky Bob Dylan--he's not stingy with the popular tunes that people came to hear.

The only period of his history that Browne gave short-shrift to was the '80s. Out of the twenty-one song set list, the only song he performed from his four albums of that decade was "Tender Is the Night."

But the songs which he did play sounded good. His band was quite effective, easily flowing between Browne's mellow ballads and the uptempo rockers. Playing with Browne are most of the same musicians who played with him on his Looking East album (as well as the 1993 I'm Alive record): Mark Goldenberg on (mostly lead) guitar, Jeff Young on the Hammond B3 organ, Mauricio Lewak on drums, Kevin McCormick on bass, and Scott Thurston on guitar and keyboards.

Browne kicked off the evening slyly with the title cut from the I'm Alive album, which begins with the line "It's been a long time since I watched these lights alone." He began the show playing his acoustic guitar and then switched as needed by each song between the acoustic, an electric guitar, and his piano.

After "I'm Alive," Browne asked the audience, "What should I call you? Should I call you Holmdel?" before launching into the reggae-flavored "Everywhere I Go." The song featured nicely-rendered three-part harmonies, but one of the problems with the concert was that nearly everything was a little too nicely-rendered. The music was well-played and the lighting smoothly directed your attention from one part of the stage to attention, but it all had an aura of perhaps a little too much rehearsal. If Browne was filming the show for a television broadcast, the timed-down-to-the-minute feel would have been okay, but for the Arts Center show? It had very little spontaneity or edge to it. And that's always an uncomplimentary remark about rock 'n' roll.

After next playing his lone '80s cut for the night ("Tender Is the Night"), Browne went into the first of two blocks of newer material. He did "Some Bridges," "The Barricades of Heaven," and "I'm the Cat" from the current Looking East release (with a quick detour to 1974 for "Fountain of Sorrow" to energize the crowd). He introduced "The Barricades of Heaven" by noting the connection between New Jersey and his own home state: "When I first came to New Jersey, it was something like Southern California. You even surf here, right? This is a song about growing up in southern California," he explained.

Browne then unleashed what the crowd was waiting for--a whole series of songs from his '70s heyday. "Your Bright Baby Blues," "For Everyman," "Something Fine," "Late For the Sky," and "Rosie" brought people progressively further into a state of excitement. He revisited the new album briefly in the middle of these songs with "Alive In the World" and the album's title cut. But Browne finished the set (and brought the audience to their feet) with the one-two-three punch of "Doctor My Eyes" (by far, the show's highlight), "The Pretender," and "Running On Empty."

For an encore, Browne came back with "The Load-Out" from 1977's Running On Empty album, which he personalized for the occasion. On the line "We've got to drive all night and do a show in Chicago," Browne paused at the city name as the audience went ahead and sung "Chicago," but instead he sang "Wilkes-Barre" (the next night of his own tour). Someone from the audience shouted out "Where's Wilkes-Barre?" during the next pause in the lyrics, and Browne--without missing a beat--explained, "It's in Pennsylvania."

Browne brought out opening act Shawn Colvin to join him in singing the rest of the encore selections, "Stay," "Tenderness on the Block," (which Browne hand a hand in writing, but Warren Zevon actually recorded it for his Excitable Boy album, and Colvin later covered it on her second album), and they concluded the night with a rollicking version of "Take It Easy," the Eagles hit which Browne co-wrote with Glenn Frey.

Colvin was, in theory, an effective opening act, both complementing Browne's style and adding her own considerable skills to the evening. But since much of the crowd seemed unfamiliar and uninterested with her, Colvin showed plucky courage for her brief set, just strumming her guitar and singing her songs completely solo.

Colvin began with "Twilight," her cover of The Band which she recorded on her last album Cover Girl. She also played several songs which will be available on her next record (due out in the fall), including "Trouble" and "The Witchita Skyline."

The large size of the Arts Center, combined with the inattentiveness for the audience, made for an inappropriate venue for Colvin. Her music is spare and intimate, and it's rare when a show at a large setting can overcome the obstacles. Colvin tried her best, though, running through favorites of hers like "Poloroids," "Get Out of This House," and her set's finale, "Round of Blues." Her fans will have to wait until after her own album comes out to see her in a better environment.

Jackson Browne setlist: "I'm Alive," "Everywhere I Go," "Tender Is the Night," "Some Bridges," "The Barricades of Heaven," "Fountain of Sorrow," "I'm the Cat," "Your Bright Baby Blues," "For Everyman," "Something Fine," "Late For the Sky," "Rosie," "Alive in the World," "Looking East," "Doctor My Eyes," "The Pretender," "Running On Empty," "The Load Out," "Stay," "Tenderness on the Block," "Take It Easy"

External links:
  • fan review (which also has a slightly different setlist)

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Warped Tour

Mighty Mighty Bosstones/Fishbone/NOFX/Pennywise/Dance Hall Crashers/Goldfinger/fluf/1000 Mona Lisas/Blink 182

Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ

sorry, Mike has not yet written about this show... add your own comments if you were also there!

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