Show Reviews by Natalie Kardos

All these shows were in San Diego, CA.

Bright Eyes @ Soma, 5-8-07
Damien Rice @ SDSU Open Air Theater, 5/1/07
Mono @ Casbah 4/29/2007
Explosions in the Sky @ Epicenter, 4/27/2007

Show reviews and pics by Natalie Kardos

Bright Eyes @ Soma, 5-8-07

I have to admit, I was a bit dubious about this show at first. A friend had recalled seeing Bright Eyes at Coachella a few years back, and to his ears, the band sounded less than great at that time. Also, it was at Soma – chances were high that it was going to be overrun by tearful, whiny 16-year-old girls accompanied by their vertically challenged, emo-boyfriends who would cringe to hear them yell, “I love you, Conor!” Maybe I’m just getting old.

But I was pleasantly surprised by both the band’s set and the crowd. There was a fair number of older folks who came out for the show, and even the younger crowd was pretty respectful. It was quite a treat to listen to fully orchestrated versions of Bright Eyes’ usually low-fi songs. The visuals were pretty amazing too, from the band dressed all in white under blacklights, to the flower-draped stage, to the projection screen behind the stage displaying real-time images created by a Conor’s friend back at the sound booth. And did I mention there were three percussion setups on the stage, along with a string section, and the occasional trumpeter, flautist, and saxophonist?

Most of the songs Bright Eyes played were off the new album Cassadaga, and of these, I was most impressed with “If the Brakeman Turns My Way,” during which Conor pulled old friend and co-writer Jason out on stage to perform with him. That song, with its Counting Crows style chorus and harmonies, is probably my favorite off the new album. I really like the countrified turn that Bright Eyes’ newer albums are taking. Other highlights of the new album that translated well live were “Soul Singer in a Session Band” and “Four Winds,” even though the string melody in the latter song always makes me think of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

The few older songs that Bright Eyes performed that night included “The Calendar Hung Itself,” regular set closer/rocker “I Believe In Symmetry,” and the two-song encore of “Goldmine Gutted,” and “Road to Joy.” But by far the best of the older bunch was the sped-up version of “First Day of My Life,” off of I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning. The contrast between the slow, stripped-down acoustic original version and the fast, fully orchestrated (including flute and keyboard) live version was stunning. As everyone filed out of the great concrete heart of Soma, I don’t think anyone would have argued with Conor when he said, “One more time for the best band I’ve ever had.”

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Damien Rice @ SDSU Open Air Theater, 5/1/07

It was an uncharacteristically chilly evening, with the hint of rain in the air. Normally this would be less than appropriate for an outdoor concert, but for a night of Damien Rice’s brand of melancholic pop music, it was perfectly fitting. As Shannon and I took our seats and waited for the show to begin, Damien invited everyone that was sitting further up to move on down and fill in the empty seats in front. Maybe this was a sign that the show should have remained at the Spreckles Theater, where it was originally scheduled, but I for one was glad for the change of venue.

The first 5 songs were a mix of new songs from 9 (“9 Crimes,” “Coconut Skins,” “The Animals Were Gone”) and some older songs (“Baby Sister,” “Woman Like a Man”). “Woman Like a Man” was definitely a standout, with lyrics like ” You wanna get boned/You wanna get stoned/You wanna get a room like no-one else” contrasting with a sweet, innocent cello melody. The rest of the songs mixed in some of O’s standouts, including “Cannonball,” “Volcanoes,” and “Older Chests.” In the midst of all this, the band decided to do a random improvised song, asking the audience for 3 chords (Am, G, C) and a subject (Rachel the newscaster). They actually ended up pulling “Rachel the newscaster” up on stage to perform a “news rap.” Naturally, the lyrics she came up with were a little disjointed – hell, if I were unexpectedly pulled up on stage in front of a bunch of people, I don’t even know if I’d be able to remember what my own name was. But it was really interesting to see the whole band come together so quickly on this jam, even while they switched up instruments. And watching Damien come up with lyrics and backing vocals was quite hilarious.

After this improv jam, the band closed with “Delicate,” and “I Remember.” Both songs are extremely emotional, and it was nice to experience them while sitting under a blanket with the cover of night above. However, if one thing was missing from the show, it was Lisa Hannigan on backing and sometimes, as in the case of “I Remember,” lead vocals. I look forward to seeing how her solo career progresses, but it was extremely strange to hear Damien singing the lines that I was so familiar with coming from her. But hey, such is life, right?

After an extremely short encore break, Damien returned to the stage to conclude with “The Blower’s Daughter,” and “Cheers Darlin.” The latter song was actually more of a theatrical performance, because instead of a band, he was singing to a backing track, while smoking a cigarette and drinking wine that was poured by someone dressed as a waiter in a fancy restaurant. Which, if you’re at all familiar with the song, fits unusually well, and it was a good way to end the evening. NK

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Mono @ Casbah 4/29/2007

Prior to seeing Mono live at the Casbah, I was only vaguely familiar with their music. But it seemed that I was in the minority of the crowd that night. It being a Sunday night, I expected the Casbah to be pretty empty – however, I could not have been more wrong. If the show wasn’t actually sold out, it was pretty close to it, and even during the opening act people were jammed up against the stage in anticipation for this Japanese post-rock group’s live show.

Even at the beginning of their set, the members of Mono refrained from addressing the crowd, preferring to let their music do it instead. And did it ever! Taking center stage was their female bassist Tamaki, and she was flanked on either side by a guitarist. While other post-rock bands like Explosions in the Sky focus more on melodically intertwining guitar parts, Mono has distinct rhythm and lead guitar parts. The lead guitarist sat in a chair for most of the set. In most bands, that would have been fairly boring, but this guy was rocking out harder than I’ve ever seen someone do sitting down. He was literally draped over his guitar at various times during the evening.

In contrast, both the bass player and rhythm guitarist were standing. During the intense, math rock-y crescendos of each song, they would both start thrashing around the stage, literally head-banging their way through the music. It was quite an amazing sight to see, (and hear!) and judging from the crowd’s reaction, they were into it as well. In a week of shows that included both math-rock superstars Mute Math and post-rock heroes Explosions in the Sky, Mono, with their marriage of the two forms, was an appropriate ending. NK

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Explosions in the Sky @ Epicenter, 4/27/2007

Explosions in the Sky is a post-rock group from Austin, Texas. Over the years, they’ve put out some great albums, although there is always a significant amount of downtime between them, due to their utterly democratic method of songwriting. They don’t tour very often either, so I jumped at the chance to review their show at the Epicenter.

The venue was sold out that night and had been for a number of weeks. The Epicenter is not that big of a venue, and the promise of a show this good was enough to bring out a crowd of under-agers as well as the older folks. Even though we arrived early, it was not quite early enough to get anywhere near the front of the stage. Fortunately, I managed to track down the manager of the Epicenter to get a wristband so I could watch the show from the comfort of sidestage.

And what a show indeed. Each guitarist (including the bassist) appeared to have about seven pedals each, and they were getting all Sonic Youth-experimental with them. The double guitar melody lines were bobbing and weaving all over each other and managing to sound like bells at times. The sheer emotional catharsis was intense. As far as what songs they played, I believe I heard “Welcome Ghosts,” “It’s Natural to Be Afraid,” “First Breath After Coma” (which was my introduction to this incredible band), and “Your Hand in Mine.” There were others, but the point of an EITS show is not to emphasize individual songs. In fact, there was never a clear break between songs. Even tuning changes were accomplished while music was being created. Absolutely incredible.

The only time the band addressed the audience was to introduce themselves in the beginning, which was quite unnecessary for the crowd. After playing for about an hour and fifteen minutes, the band left the stage amid the most continuous and loudest crowd encore request that I have ever had the pleasure to hear. After a few minutes, during which the clapping and yelling never died down, and in fact grew only more intense, their bassist returned to the stage with an apology and the sad news that there would be no encore. All the band members were completely exhausted, and to appease the crowd (not that they really needed appeasing – not even an encore could have made the night better), he handed out chocolates. Quite the nice end to an incredible evening. I feel extremely lucky to have witnessed it. NK

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