Radiohead v. Red Hot Chili Peppers

Annette and Will and I went and saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers on June 1 and then Annette and I saw Radiohead just this past Monday.  Besides putting me way WAY over my usual “one big arena rock show every two or so years,” I thought I would do a little comparison/contrast.

Who/what kind of music:

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Post punk funk pop music, heavily influenced and identified with Los Angeles, CA.  They’ve been around since 1983 or so, meaning they are my age or older– well, the original members are at least since there has been quite a bit of rotation with a brand new guitar player in his thirties.  They just got into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, too.

Radiohead:  British quasi-pop alternative rock, eclectic and sometimes “difficult listening music” with lots of electronic and experimental music influences.  Cerebral lyrics and complex sounds ranging from really loud to really quiet, often within the same song.  A little younger, but not much– early 40s.

Performance style:

Red Hot Chili Peppers: Shirtless and/or baggy shirts with pants that inexplicably had one  leg cut short with colorful soccer socks.  Much running about, jumping, leaning against each other, dancing around, etc.  Chatty with the crowd and jam playing between songs.

Radiohead: Jeans and shirts– could have been a bunch of GAs. Standing and playing, save for Thom Yorke’s twitchy dancing.  Not a lot of talking and it seemed like they had to completely rearrange the stage and every instrument between every song.

The crowd:

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  White, mostly middle class, and a variety of ages– Annette and I were fairly close to the middle of the age demographic, though there were plenty of college kids and even kids Will’s age.  In my view, a sprinkling of frat boy and/or hard rock kinds of folks.

Radiohead: VERY white, which I found striking from our seats looking at the “festival seating/standing only” floor.  More college-aged– Annette and I were a bit more on the older side, though not by much.  Annette said she hadn’t seen this many “geeky white boys” at a show in a long long time.


One of those not new (but new to me) web sites is, which is “the setlist wiki.”  So, want to know what they played?

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Lots from the new album, but also lots of “greatest hits.”  Looks like they pretty much play the same list pretty much every night.  One encore.

Radiohead: Lots from the new album, lots of older songs and a number of kind of obscure songs, too.  To the extent that they have “hits,” I guess they played them, though I personally was disappointed that they didn’t play more from In Rainbows.  They appear to mix up the song order and choices a lot and even played a brand-new song in the first encore (they always do two) that they premiered the previous night.

Lighting/Special Effects:

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Very elaborate light show with lots of moving parts and a big screen that showed a lot of narrative-like movies/images accompanying specific songs.  Loud, of course.

Radiohead:  Very elaborate light show with lots of moving parts, though a lot more abstract, which makes sense given the more varied setlist.  Loud, of course, with bass that made my fillings rumble.

The venue(s):

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Joe Louis Arena, which is both conveniently and inconveniently located in downtown Detroit.  Home of the Redwings, which is pretty obvious no matter what direction you’re looking in that building.  It’s old with dubious bathrooms and crowded walkways outside the actual arena.  I thought we were going to get crushed by the crowd surge on the way out of the show.  We were stuck in the parking deck for close to an hour.

Radiohead:  The Palace of Auburn Hills, which is both conveniently and inconveniently located far north of Detroit.  It’s about an hour away from us, and the easiest way to get there was to actually drive downtown first and then get on 75 north.  “State of the art” pro basketball facility (the Pistons) with grand walkways and elaborate restaurants and bars outside the actual arena.  Huge parking lot (and not a parking deck), which really worked out well for us:  we saw this show on a Monday before Annette was going to Boston and I had to teach, so getting back home at 1 am was not an option.  We left before the second encore, avoided the crowd, and whisked out of the parking lot and on to the interstate.  We were well on the road before the show was over.

And thus ends big expensive shows for a while.  I would have liked to have gone to Deathcab for Cutie (they are going to be in the area in July), but these concerts and the kitchen budget are probably going to prevent that.

Nirvana, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, and other middle-aged rock bands

I’ve noticed a bit of a convergence of events lately in the rock-n-roll of my increasingly distant past.  I heard/read a story about 20th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind (not this story, but this one will do) almost on the same day that I heard that R.E.M. had called it quits after 30 or so years.  And even though they’re not quite like the other, I mention the Red Hot Chili Peppers here because our friend Rachel mentioned their new album on the book o’ face.

Actually, I take that back:  for me, Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are kind of in the same camp in that I am/was a fan of both, though I discovered both bands when I was just old enough (and broke enough and preoccupied enough with my MFA program) to not really be following either band with the fanaticism of a slightly younger person.  I stumbled across this thoughtful post on the blog biblioklept about Nirvana and all the various albums/bands that were coming out with stuff at about the same time as Nirvana, including the excellent Blood Sugar Sex Magik, not to mention other middle-aged rock bands like U2.

I think Nirvana was an “important” band (if there is such a thing) and I like what Dave Grohl has done with Foo Fighters.  But so much of Nirvana is wrapped up in the cult of Cobain, and I have a feeling that if he hadn’t killed himself but just faded away like a lot of other rock musicians, we wouldn’t be paying a whole lot of attention.

As for how the Red Hot Chili Peppers fit into all this:  it’s a stretch I admit, but they too were a band I discovered after I was just a little too old to care that much about following them and going to shows and such, but they’ve stuck with me in part because of our family trip to Italy (and points beyond) in 2007.   When Annette and Will and I were in Florence and watching television back at our room, pretty much the only thing in English was an ongoing interview and series of music videos featuring the Red Hot Chili Peppers who had just release a new album and were on tour.  I don’t know, but that made me more of a fan of them now than I was 20 some odd years ago.

Now R.E.M., that’s a different story.  I don’t think it would be possible for me to have been as big of a fan as my friend and colleague Joe Csicsila and I think local blogger/man about town Mark Maynard kind of summed it up for me in a way with this post on his blog.  Sort of; I’m no musician and not really a fanatic about anything, but there was a time where R.E.M. was a big deal for me.  I first heard them on a high school trip– in Georgia, of all places.  I went to see them for the first time when they were on tour supporting Life’s Rich Pageant at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City (a place that was 2500 seats or so), and then again in Davenport for Document, and for that Davenport show, I recall abandoning our crappy seats to stand on folding chairs almost within reach of the stage.

Good times.  But while I kept buying (many, not all) of the albums and I would have gone to see them again if I could have, the joy faded, pretty much around Green. I still have lots and lots of R.E.M. on the iTunes, but listening to it now makes less sense to me now than it does to listen to music I associate with my much older self:  Lyle Lovett, KD Lang, Neko Case (haven’t seen her yet, but I want to), and even some of the much younger acts that have come around lately.  I suppose that makes me typical.  And what does it say that the last live performance I saw was Tony Bennett?

Well, I ain’t ever going to see Nirvana and I seriously doubt R.E.M. will be trotting out a reunion tour anytime soon.  I guess my only hope to revive some earlier life bands will be Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Or, if a bunch of money falls into my lap, maybe U2.

Dear Ticketmaster et al

Dear Ticketmaster, Tony Bennett, and Deathcab for Cutie;

I’m writing about a concert my wife Annette and I attended on August 24 at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, a show that was supposed to have featured the band Deathcab for Cutie as the opening act for Tony Bennett.  Why didn’t DfC appear, and don’t you think you owe me at least an explanation, if not some of my money?

Don’t get me wrong:  Tony Bennett was great, as I’ll get to in a moment, but one of the the delicious appeals of this show was that pairing of an indy band that’s made it big with the man who is perhaps the last of the great “old standards” singers, unless you count Harry Conick Jr. and Michael Buble and so on, and I do not count these people.  Imagine the possibility of Tony coming out to sing duet on “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” or Deathcab backing Tony on “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”  And imagine the crowd!  Finally a show that teens and hipsters might be able to attend with their grandparents!

Alas, that was not to be, and I guess we started to see the signs of what was wrong by lack– a lack of reference anywhere to Deathcab, a lack of merch (and you would think that Tony Bennett would at least be selling some CDs if not t-shirts), and a complete lack of anyone who looks like they had heard of the would-be opener.  Somehow, we were the last people who didn’t get the news that the bill had changed– or maybe it was never actually meant to be that way, and it was some sort of odd snafu in the Ticketmaster systems.

In any event, the show started oddly on time and early with Antonia “so-so singer who happens to be Tony’s daughter” Bennett followed immediately– and I mean “immediately,” as in the same band playing and no break between sets whatsoever– Tony was on the stage, giving his daughter a kiss on the cheek, and getting a standing O just for appearing. Which was great, don’t get me wrong, but again, where were Deathcab for Cutie?

Bennett immediately launched into song after song after song, told a few stories he had obviously told many times before (how Bob Hope was the one who came up with “Tony Bennett,” for example), did a little dancing hear and there, and continually and masterfully worked the crowd over like a warm handful of play-dough.  At one point, Annette said to me “there’s no way he’s 85,” and I looked it up again on my phone on Wikipedia, and damn it anyway, he really is 85.  Eighty-five freakin’ years old and still doing somewhere around 200 shows a year and bringing down the house with a version of “Fly Me to the Moon” he sang in the enormous Fox with no microphone to show off both the acoustics and his voice.

Again, it was a great night all-around.  Annette and I had a lovely dinner at the meat-intense Roast restaurant, had no problems walking around the mostly empty mid-week/early-evening downtown Detroit streets, and hey, how many more chances are we likely to have to see Deathcab for Cutie coming somewhere near a college town like Ann Arbor versus Tony “did I mention he’s 85?” Bennett.  So, okay, I don’t need any money back.

But still, what happened to the opener?  If you could just give us an answer to that, I’d appreciate it.  Thanks,



“Giving up my iPod for a Walkman”

Pretty amusing article: “Giving up my iPod for a Walkman” is about a 13 year-old’s experience with the old skool music player, the Sony Walkman, which came out 30 years ago. My favorite quote:

It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape. That was not the only naive mistake that I made; I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser, but later I discovered that it was in fact used to switch between two different types of cassette.

Another notable feature that the iPod has and the Walkman doesn’t is “shuffle”, where the player selects random tracks to play. Its a function that, on the face of it, the Walkman lacks. But I managed to create an impromptu shuffle feature simply by holding down “rewind” and releasing it randomly – effective, if a little laboured.

What’s funny to me about this, of course, is how quickly these technologies fade from memory. I’m sure my 11 year-old son would have a similar “what’s that?” reaction. The LPs we have in the basement are pretty much a mystery to him.

RIP, Koko Taylor

I learned via my friend Troy’s Twitter feed that Koko Taylor died yesterday. In case you don’t know: Koko Taylor was the “Queen of the Blues,” born in Memphis but really a Chicago singer/performer.

Taylor has kind of a special place in my heart because I saw her in concert in 1988 when I first moved to Richmond, Virginia to start my MFA program. I can’t remember who I was with when I saw that show (I can imagine though), but I remember it was in some sort of gym on the VCU campus and I also remember meeting Paule Marshall at that show. Marshall was teaching in the creative writing program at VCU when I was there, so I ended up having some classes with her.

Anyway, if you get a chance to listen to some Taylor today, do so. Good old-fashioned blues.

This is perhaps the only post I will ever have about “American Idol”

I sort of watch American Idol, sort of don’t care, etc. Last night, we actually ended up over at some friends’ house after dinner watching the big finale, and everyone in the room– even children– remarked at the crappiness of the last song that both finalists had to both sing. Then this morning, I was greeted with this Facebook update from my friend and colleague Bill Hart-Davidson: “RT @spinuzzi: Kara’s song was the Kobyashi Maru of American Idol. (Heh. If that’s a spoiler, welcome to geek club!).”

Indeed. Only neither Adam nor Kris changed the outcome/rules of the song enough to “win” it.

We now return to the usual meaningless posts….

David Byrne in Ann Arbor this evening

Annette and I went to see David Byrne on tour this evening at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater, and a very fine show it was. I’ve been quite a fan of The Talking Heads for some time, and I’ve also enjoyed Byrne’s solo work. What I have liked about his latest CD/Album/Whatever they call these things nowadays, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, is that it is a sort of contemporary return to some of the Brian Eno-influenced Talking Heads songs of old. Really fine stuff, my favorite of the Byrne solo work to date.

Anyway, I’ve been looking forward to this show for a while now, and I must say it delivered. Really sharp, lots of fun, some kind of weird elements that worked, lots of enthusiasm, etc. There will be some kind of review you can read online sometime if you want to– you know how the Google works. But a few personal observations:

  • Byrne et al were a bit late because (rumor has it) they were across the street at Border’s book-shopping. I find this completely believable, but Byrne should have gone to the better and even more local store, Shaman Drum.
  • We were very much in the median age for this show. There were some slightly older folks, and some much younger folks, including a couple of gay men (they were holding hands and such, so I assume…) right in front of us. They were, from my short pov, unfortunately tall.
  • It sure seemed like a lot of people showed up late and/or kept getting up and going to the bathroom or whatever. It was pretty annoying, but, as Annette said, it puts students walking in and out of class for no apparent reason into perspective.

Okay, so for a taste of the event, here are a couple of very short videos:

So, here’s a video of a song I didn’t recognize with the “quasi-interpretive dancers” that appeared in amusing ways throughout the show:

Then there’s this short clip from one of my favorite Talking Heads songs, “Heaven:”

Finally, here’s Byrne is a silly balloon hat that someone gave him during one of the encores:

Good stuff– and now to bed way past my bedtime.

Our field-trip to the Elvisfest

I don’t know why I remember this, but here’s a fun-fact about Elvis impersonators that I was actually able to track down on the web here:

When Elvis Presley died in 1977, there were an estimated 37 Elvis impersonators in the world. By 1993, there were 48,000 Elvis impersonators, an exponential increase. Extrapolating from this, by 2010 there will be 2.5 billion Elvis impersonators.

Well, that statistic hasn’t come to pass, but we did have the chance to experience multiple Elvis-like performers the other night right here in Ypsilanti at the Michigan Elvisfest. It was a fine slice of local culture; here’s a brief video with a few highlights:

A few highlights to add:

  • It was kind of an interesting crowd– sort of a mix of a mix of white trash/red-neck folks, people who like the country and western, hard-core Elvis fans, locals out for a good time (that’d be us), and hipsters there on a goof. Actually it was a pretty fun group all in all.
  • There’s a whole Elvis impersonator culture out there that Annette and I were completely unaware even existed. For example, it isn’t “Elvis Impersonators,” but “Elvis Tribute Artists,” or “ETAs.” The MC (who was also an former ETA) kept bringing up all sorts of events similar to the Michigan Elvisfest all over the midwest and beyond. Who knew?
  • Sadly, we only saw one real Elvis Tribute Artist– or is that Elvi?– performing that evening, as you can see from the video. There was a staging area where there were ETAs standing around waiting to get their pictures taken and selling their ETA CDs and other merchandise.
  • Remembering her college youth, Annette noticed a lot of similarities between this thing and drag shows. For example, the adoring fans gave the various tribute artists flowers, which, I am told, is the practice at drag shows, too. Which makes sense since what is an impersonator excuse me, tribute artist but someone in drag?
  • The video features Annette drinking a beer, which, for those who know her, is about as rare as (interestingly enough) an honest to goodness Elvis sighting.
  • Frog Island was a good place to see a show, but every once in a while, we’d get a whiff of sewage smell. I have no idea where it was from, maybe the river, maybe a water treatment plant near there, I don’t know.

So, that’s another thing to check off my “to do in Southeast Michigan” list.