Cloaca Melodia

My life in concerts, by Mike Sauter.


Son Volt/The Fruit Bats

The Cabaret at Theater Square, Pittsburgh, PA

It was about a year ago that Son Volt had announced the recording of a new album after a six year hiatus. And not only were they heading back into a studio, but they were inviting their fans in with them by providing a webcam link. Anyone would be able to be a fly on the wall of the sessions--at least visually.

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But on the first announced day of recording, the webcam wasn't functional. Website visitors were instead given a "due to circumstances beyond our control" type of message. I assumed a technical glitch, but it turned out to be a Human Resourses problem. In subsequent interviews, bandleader Jay Farrar repeatedly stated as mantra, "It was a hugely devastating situation for me," and press reports said things like "Farrar and the other musicians hit a contractual wall."

Years ago I had interviewed both of the Boquist brothers of Son Volt's original lineup, bassist Jim and multi-instrumentalist Dave, and I was sorry to see them no longer part of the group. After hearing SV's new album Okemah & The Melody of Riot and seeing a set from the band at a music converence in Philadelphia last May, I realized that the new band was quite good. However, the textural depth that the classic lineup had was traded in for a more straightahead rock sound--which is neither good nor bad, but certainly different.

This show was a benefit for the WYEP Community Broadcast Center, our new building, and the band played well to a sold-out crowd. Highlights included "Tear Stained Eye," an amazing "Medication," "Drown" (natch), "Afterglow 61," and a show-closing rendition of Uncle Tupelo's "Chickamauga."

Seattle's Fruit Bats opened the show.

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Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh
with Damien Marley

I didn't plan it this way. But I only see U2 once a decade. First in 1985, in Hartford, CT, on the Unforgettable Fire tour. Then, the indoor "Zoo TV" tour in 1992.

And now again, 13 years later.

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The stage set-up included a circular walkway which extended out into the crowd, allowing for the General Admission ticketholders who got in line early to be within the elliptical walkway. I was standing about 25 feet on the outside of the walkway (nearest to where The Edge's microphone was placed for "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of"), so it was a terrific view when bandmembers strolled out into the crowd.

Above the stage, the video monitors were broken up into four sections. For most of the show, each section featured isolated shots of each bandmember, which was a pretty good idea (although it was perhaps more attention than Larry and Adam were used to, as the Adam-cam caught him picking his nose during the slow fade-in to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For").

Bono's commentary between songs was fascinating and grandiose as usual. After a killer (and unexpected) rendition of "The Electric Co." (complete with Bono's insertion of "Send in the Clowns" and the "see me, feel me" chant from The Who's "We're Not Gonna Take It"), Bono proclaimed "Thank you for coming out to see U2 play. Thank you for giving us a great life--we're living it as large as we can."

Prior to "Miracle Drug," Bono also told a whimsical story about The Edge being from the future (and from the future of a different universe, no less) and descending to earth in a spaceship to meet the other bandmembers. Perhaps that explains his distinctive approach to playing guitar. Bono explained the opening guitar notes to "Miracle Drug" as being the musical notes played by The Edge's spacecraft, Close Encounters-style.

Bono brought two young boys from the inner-ellipse crowd onto the stage during "Sunday Bloody Sunday" to help sing the "no more" part, and it was quite a subtle echo of the War cover art.

There was an unintended irony to using the video monitor to scroll the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the conclusion to "Miss Sarajevo" (which, by the way, featured Bono--desite fighting off a sore throat--taking the Luciano Pavorotti part; it was a stunner, and the one moment of the show when he really cut loose with his voice). Although there was no doubt that U2 are sincere about their support for human rights, but it unintentionally echoed the satire of vapid sloganeering employed to such great effect during the Zoo TV tour.

I'm not a big fan of video monitors of concerts--I'm there to see the band in person, not to watch them on TV--but I does come in handy sometimes to see, say, The Edge's fingerwork on his guitar. During "One" the monitors did feature a pretty nifty visual effect. Segmenting in thirds, the screen showed three identical shots of Bono. The center one slowly became more pixelated, and eventually the image zoomed into the blocky component pixels, revealing them to be individual images of audience members (although whether these were live audience shots, or canned, could not be determined). The process then repeated in reverse--zooming out from the audience images to reveal a pixelated Bono, finally morphing into the normal video shot of Bono singing. The effect was cool on a mere visual lvel, but combined with the lyrics of "One" it was truly inspired.

(write-up to be completed later)

"City of Blinding Lights," "Vertigo," "Elevation," "I Will Follow," "The Electric Co.," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "Beautiful Day," "Miracle Drug," "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," "Love and Peace or Else," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "Bullet the Blue Sky," "Miss Sarajevo," "Pride (In the Name of Love)," "Where the Streets Have No Name," "One," "Old Man River" [encore break] "The First Time," "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of," "Party Girl," "With Or Without You" [2nd encore break] "All Beacuse of You," "Yahweh," "40"

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James McMurtry

Club Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

sorry, I haven't yet written about this show... add your own comments if you were also there!

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matt pond PA

Club Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

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Mike Doughty/Orenda Fink

Mr. Smalls, Millvale, PA

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Richard Thompson/Eliza Gilkyson

Dowe's on 9th, Pittsburgh, PA

Richard Thompson played a number of new (or, at least, previously unreleased), rather droll songs, including "The Hots for the Smarts" (a title which has internal rhyme if you're British):

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"I need a girl with a feel for Faraday's wheel
A girl who'll drool for Fleming's Left Hand Rule
Now you may like pin-ups of girls who do chin-ups
Like Xena the Warrior Princess but I'll take to dinner
My Nobel Prize winner with plutonium stains down her dress"
Another one along these lines is "Alexander Graham Bell":
"Television was a thing
That he had all prepared
But he left that to his pupil
John Logie Baird
Of course there was the telephone
He’d be famous for that alone
But there’s 50 other things as well
From Alexander Graham Bell"
You've gotta love a song that disses Edison and Tesla:
"Edison, he was a thief
And Tesla nuts beyond belief"

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Jonathan Richman/Vic Chesnutt

Mr. Smalls, Millvale, PA

It was the 4th or 5th time I've seen Jonathan, but it was the first time since 1986 that he wasn't performing solo. Drummer Tommy Larkins ably assisted Jonathan, and it was a nice addition to the show. Jonathan likes to dance around during his set, but when he's the only musician, such hijinx kind of brings the music to a screeching halt. A drummer at least keeps the beat going throughout, allowing Jonathan to dance or play sleigh bells or cowbell without losing any forward momentum for the show.

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Highlights include "Vincent Van Gogh," "Egyptian Reggae," "Let Her Go Into the Darkness," "Springtime in New York," "He Gave Us the Wine to Taste."

The very incompatible Vic Chesnutt opened the show. Vic's music is so dark and moody, and Jonathan is so childlike and happy, that the pairing couldn't help but be a train wreck. I was late in arriving, so I missed the beginning of Vic's set. Immediately when I arrived, I could feel the tension between Vic and the audience, who were overwhelmingly there to see Jonathan. So Vic started singing some lyrics (apparently) made up on the spot which crystallized the standoffish situation:
"I am such a 'ny-hilist'
And Jonathan's such a smile-ist
And it would be the vilest
If I brought you fuckers down
If I brought you fuckers down"
I must admit that I enjoyed Vic's performance more as performance art than a display of musical prowess.

He was not having a good show--with technical and tuning problems, and a seeming indecisiveness about what songs to play.

Jonathan's crowd, meanwhile, was very polite. There was no heckling or even obvious ignoring--applause was readily given after each song, if only occasionally rising above perfunctory.

But the tension was clear. The sparse audience remained deep into the rear of the former church which served as venue until Jonathan emerged onto the which time EVERYONE (myself included) surged forward and spent the remainder of the evening within 20 feet of the stage.

Vic's pointed determination to NOT diffuse the tension--and even, in the case of his improvised ditty I noted, increasing the standoff--was perversely enjoyable as an observer even while being uncomfortable as a participant.

Vic's set-closer, "Actual Quote From An Actual Fan," was a terrific song, though.

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Bonnie Raitt/Maia Sharp

Benedum Center, Pittsburgh, PA

sorry, I haven't yet written about this show... add your own comments if you were also there!

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