NYE @ MSG
Apologies for the lack of content in recent days, but being the holidays and all, one gets lazy. Anyway, this blogger was indeed in attendance at Madison Square Garden this past Friday for the much anticipated S-K/Lips/Wilco gig. Sorry for any sort of overlap between this write up and the excellent one over at OneLouder, but considering I was seated directly next to the latter for a good portion of the evening, a little sameness might be inevitable (and I apologize for its length).
Bands at MSG not named Phish usually tend to start on time, and true to past experiences, Sleater-Kinney hit the stage at 8:02 (following a brief Fred Armisen riff in his Prince get-up). The entire set consisted of songs off of their recently finished, Dave Friddmann produced, album (May release though...WTF?). The only songs I had any familiarity with included "Bomp," (working title) a Black Sabbath-y thing with punk rock breaks that they first played back in April '04 at Irving Plaza, and "Entertain," a Brownstein rant which closed the set (and the past three S-K sets I've witnessed). Careful S-K fans will note that the latter features a new chorus; its old chorus actually surfacing in another new song. Friddmann's doing perhaps?
As for the rest of the new material? Like the MTA says, 'sometimes you've got to move backwards to go forwards,' and in this fashion, Sleater-Kinney have discovered power chords. Power chords and fuzz. The new material features previously uncharted S-K waters, such as fuzzbox guitar solos, walls of noise, and length. If the new material is any indication....the new album could be a long one indeed. Think Band of Gypsies, Comets on Fire, and Matador darlings Dead Meadow. But in spite of all of this, OneLouder is correct in their statement that the band still sounds like nobody but Sleater-Kinney. Though not familiar with the material, I enjoyed every song, and am feverishly anticipating the upcoming release.
Furthermore, according to their official site, they've booked The Mercury Lounge March 2 and 3rd as part of a quickie tour followed by a larger one after the new album's release. This is the smallest venue they've played in years, and I wouldn't be surprised if it sells out in a matter of days. Not onsale yet, but you've been warned.
(As an aside, a chance encounter with the band at the East Village Two Boots on 12/30 has revealed that "Entertain" is the sixth track on the new record, so you're in luck if it's a favorite.)
As for the Flaming Lips, I had never seen them before, but was familiar with their live reputation; lots of shtick, and same-y sets based off of their tendency to use pre-recorded sounds. Their NYE set followed this to a tee. The sides of the stage were adorned with dancers in furry animal costumes, large inflatable suns, and most notably-scantily clad ladies in pasties; the effect being not unlike the portion in the Brazilian Simpsons episode where Marge is a little surprised as to what constitutes children's programming. The Lips also thought it would be cute to have gigantic inflatable balloons in the audience....except that the balloons were huge and somewhat hard, making enjoying the music difficult as most of the set was spent getting hit with gigantic inflatable objects. Wayne Coyne stills uses hand puppets, still uses fake blood, and was constantly spraying the audience with confetti and telling the audience how they were at "the best f'in party in New York!" As for the music? Not much to report as they simply rolled out the same hits that they've supposedly been playing forever, and due to the pre-recorded stuff, they sound like they sound on CD. One nice touch was a "Warpigs" cover where Coyne traded off vocals with Corin Tucker (who had the luxury of singing the "Satan laughing spreads his wings!" line). Anyone who's heard her duet with EV on Temple of the Dog's "Hungerstrike" knows that homegirl doesn't need to be in S-K to belt it out. This set became a little more than a little painful after 30 minutes.
I've only seen Wilco one other time before last Friday; at the first of two Summerstage shows in 2003 with Sonic Youth. It was without a question the best concert I'd seen all year, with Wilco exhibiting a warmth and intimacy virtually unheard of in the realm of live music. It was like a giant BBQ with all of your closest friends.
While I knew better than to expect such a sensation at MSG, I sincerely hope that the band never plays there again. The sound was often too loud, and extremely muddy; it was near impossible to sort out each guitarist's contributions, and bottom end was nearly non-existent. Opening with "Less Than You Think" into a feedback jam into "Spiders" was a masterstroke, but I can't help but think that the rest of the show struggled to keep up, and too often it seemed like the band was going through the motions. "Poor Places" was followed by a fairly conventional balloon drop and plenty of hugs onstage, and this was met with Jeff Tweedy's declaration that his New Year's resolution is to never pick up a guitar. And how to achieve this feat? Covers. For the next 25 minutes, Wilco morphed into a cover band, taking on Judas Priest ("Livin' After Midnight"), The Band ("I Shall Be Released"), a Captain and Tenille song, and "Something in the Air" (whose original author I cannot recall, but I'm familar with the Tom Petty version). Tweedy played no guitar on these songs. The encore was all covers too, leading a visibly intoxicated woman to scream "play some F'in Wilco!!!" long after the lights had come on. Such was a sentiment with which I could not disagree. It would have certainly been nice to hear a few more originals, and closing the show with an obscure (and extremely sappy) cover was probably not a good idea. Still, the band was already fighting an uphill battle with the horrendous sound in the largest local venue they had ever played. And the crappiest Wilco show is still better than the best effort of legions of other bands, but mediocrity seemed to be the order of the evening.
So Sleater-Kinney stole the show. Not a huge surprise.