Monday, February 11, 2013

Grammy FUN.

I'll admit, I'm a sucker for sentiment. But when did opening monologues stop being funny? Understandably, LL Cool J had no opportunity for jokes at last year's ceremony, but spare us the sob story of your rise to the top and how we still don't know "the real you." Your "grammy" would be ashamed, and not just because of your insistence upon wearing paddy hats to possibly the biggest gig you've ever booked... twice. What I did find touching was his conclusion of the never-ending whitney-ism with the words  "And as your host, let me tell you all we are so happy to see you here." 

Are you listening, Rihanna? The 55th Annual Grammy Awards started off slow. Ed and Elton were all wrong for each other. Their harmonies were strange, their tones blended awkwardly and, at the risk of the glitter gods striking me for blasphemy, Elton added nothing to the otherwise "A-Team" performance. Also, is LL hard of hearing? It's SHEERAN, not Sharon. Jeez.

Now let's have some FUN. As a long-time fan of the boys (they're not actually a new artist, guys), I am always drawn to the quality and consistency of Nate Ruess' voice. I began to notice early on in the telecast that artists are trending away from the medleys that have dominated music award shows for the past decade and back toward showcasing their singing chops via one solid song. I'd just like to go on the record and say, I'm into it.

My favorites of the night? Miguel and Wiz Khalifa's collabo on "Adorn," although I'm still not sure if that was a performance or award presentation. Mumford and Sons (if you read my latest post, you know where this is going) were, at the risk of sounding ig'nant, amaze-balls. I'm obviously biased, but how could anyone with even a fractional use of their five senses find them to be anything but that? 

A question: If I direct HOV to "get out [his] seat," will he do it? Who said stars can't take direction!? So incredibly badass of Jay-Z, by the way, to hold on to his liquor for as long as he could before his presence in the performance proved absolutely necessary. Maybe it's some kind of badass-by-association, but JT has never looked better. Marriage clearly suits him (get it? "suits" him?). While he employed the high register and hip thrusts we all know and love, the strategic song duo served as a preview of his new album, making apparent his transition from pop to R&B. 

Other faves of mine include the Maroon 5/Alicia Keys live mash-up, the Bob Marley tribute (although Rihanna was obviously there for visual enhancement), the Lumineers and the In Memoriam rendition of "The Weight." It will surprise very few that I actually "yippee-d" aloud the moment i heard the first bar and spotted Zac Brown. That reaction was propelled by the great Mavis Staples and Brittany Howard (a-la Alabama Shakes). What a way to go...

While the tribute came in a close second, my absolute best performance of the night was, hands-down, Jack White. Thanks, Jack, for ditching Meg and going a few shades darker. Too far? My biggest disappointment of the night? Frank Ocean. Bombarded by the "is Frank Ocean overrated?" statuses this morning via social media, I stand by my man. You'd be nervous too making your Grammy debut amongst your idols and peers... and Chris Brown. You'll kill it next time, Forrest. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Lovers of the Light

It's hard to imagine that, only three short years ago, Mumford and Sons was struggling to finance their own recordings, borrowing instruments if they could, trekking around small venues in the UK and US. Fast forward to Wednesday night, where even an inaudible word uttered under Marcus Mumford's breath could silence a crown of 18,000 hipsters. 

Admittedly nervous of the obvious challenges facing a predominantly bluegrass/folk band in such a massive space, it's the understatement of the century to say that I was pleasantly surprised. While the seating capacity is almost identical to New York City's famous MSG, I found the venue exceptionally and simultaneously awe-inspiring and intimate. On second thought, maybe that was just Marcus. Hmm. TBD. 

Similar to my views on the previews before a movie, I hate missing the opening acts. I've stumbled upon some amazing bands that way (I also feel badly for the openers playing to half empty stadiums). Last night's openers, however, felt no shortage of love from Mumford's loyal subjects, although my affection was less abundant. Having seen Ben Howard in the cozy Cake Shop-esque setting of New York's Webster Hall, I was equally concerned that his grandeur would be lost amongst the bright lights of Brooklyn. Au contraire mon ami. My only complaint was that his set was entirely too short, singing a few familiars to start, introducing one new song and finishing with fan-favorite "Only Love." While a cynic may be tempted to attribute Ben's spell upon the crowd to the state-of-the-art acoustics of the Barclays, I assure you The Felice Brothers dispelled that theory with the first strums of their guitars. Oh well. I was grateful for the opportunity to grab a square from L&B's and another Heineken. 

As one may expect, although the "everybody's doing it" mentality all but precludes my agitation for the practice, Mumford and Sons took the stage just after 10pm. Fine by me, as the proceeding 105 minutes were, well, life-changing. The band played "Babel," "I Will Wait" and "Lover of the Light" early on, bringing each of the 18,000 concert-goers to their leather-booted feet. Other notables include the instrumental leading up to "Thistle & Weeds," "Ghosts That We Knew," "Awake My Soul," "Below My Feet," and, of course, "Little Lion Man." When the boys were up, the energy was almost uncontainable. When they were down, you could hear a pin drop. Marcus Mumford exudes rock and roll stature in his every move -- rotating instruments with ease and pulling out his ear pieces in one swift, hasty movement just before reaching a song's poignant moment. Perhaps it is this almost supernatural command over the crowd that has managed to carry the boys from anonymity to the world's biggest selling rock band in record time. 

A final comment on the visuals. Even the most jaded New Yorker from Times Square would have been impressed with the lights strung across the stadium, changing color per song in perfect sync. The vibrant stage complimented the four stark, documentary-style black and white jumbo screens directly above it. The boys' seamless transition into a straight row by the end of almost every song illustrated a chilling "united we stand" motif. After all, the other boys deserve some face time too. 

The icing on the cake were Marcus' praises of New York crowds, admitting that he only has one friend in New York. I find that hard to believe, but on the off-chance that it's true (and that Marcus Mumford is reading), I know where they keep the good pizza. (Wink wink). Mumford and Sons is playing the Barclays again this coming Tuesday ... ya know, if you happen to have a first-born child to spare on a ticket. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

SON of Anarchy

Are you a "Sons of Anarchy" fan? Yeah, me neither. But I am a fan of the show's soundtracking. More accurately stated, I am OBSESSED with Joshua James. Combining elements of Bob, Amos and Ray (and bearing a strange resemblance to Jared Leto), Joshua personifies a manifestation of all my favorite men. His late 2012 release, From the Top of Willamette Mountain, provides an intense aural experience -- and his first single, "Queen of the City," is, well, nothing short of an "aur-gasm." 

Hardly a rookie, Utah's Joshua James has been at it for almost a decade, opening North American tours for notables like John Mayer, Ani DiFranco and Third Eye Blind, among others. While his first single exemplifies an edgier rock sound, the majority of the album builds upon the folky gospel vibe so prominent in his earlier work. Regardless of the genre, the content is always consistent: the stuff of great blues -- drinking, drugs and deities. My favorites on this album are too abundant to name. Do yourself a favor and just buy the entire album; it will be the best $9.99 you spend this year. If you're feeling particularly spendy, add his Build Me This (including "Coal War," below) to your cart. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Won't you be their Neighbour?

While clearly influenced by its home state's summer vibe, The Neighbourhood's EP I'm Sorry is anything but seasonal. The California quintet is brand spankin' new, with the May 2012 release its first (hopefully, of many). 

I know what you're thinking, but The Neighborhood isn't your typical collection of West Coast misfits with "pumped up kicks" trying to surf its way onto your iTunes with tired indie beats. Rather, front man Jesse Rutherford's experience in heavy metal bands and hip hop groups since the age of 13 give The Neighbourhood its obvious edge. Of his influence, Rutherford says "It happens very naturally, when I write while I am rapping over the melody." With this combination of pop, rock, hip hop and music videos that pay homage to film noir, the boys have earned a Neighourhood watch.  

You may recognize the band's first single, "Sweater Weather," although it was undoubtedly underplayed in most summer 2012 rotations. That video, as well as my other favorite "Female Robbery," are below for your viewing pleasure. 

My New York friends: if you like what you hear, the band is playing two shows mid-January. What's even more exciting than that? A ticket to see the band will cost its "hoodlums" less than their cab fares at an astonishing $12 a pop. Click here for more info.