Concert Reviews

Lady Gaga’s Artpop Ball @ Key Arena, Seattle (August 8, 2014)

Lady Gaga performs onstage during her "artRave: The Artpop Ball" at Consol Energy Center on May 8, 2014 in Pittsburgh City.  (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Lady Gaga performs onstage during her “artRave: The Artpop Ball” at Consol Energy Center on May 8, 2014 in Pittsburgh City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

~ Written by Jessica Price. This review originally appeared in Seattle Gay News (August 15, 2014)

It’s been a tough year and a half for Lady Gaga. Her album Artpop was a disappointment to all but the most diehard fans when it was released in late 2013, followed by weird antics that somehow weren’t as charming as those we’d come to expect from the meat-dress wearing heroine of days gone by (neon vomit performance art at SXSW, anyone?). Then there was the cancellation of Gaga’s May 28 concert at Key Arena due to a severe case of bronchitis just hours before show time.

But fans of Lady Gaga weren’t disappointed by the spectacle that is “ArtRave: The Artpop Ball” when it descended on Key Arena Friday night. The diminutive but larger-than-life singer gave it all she’s got and has clearly bounced back from her first major career misstep, as well as the hip surgery that caused her to cancel all remaining dates of the acclaimed “Born This Way Ball” in early 2013. The “Artpop Ball” attempted to close that gap and reconnect where she left off, while trumpeting new material and Gaga’s current pop-as-performance-art philosophy.

The Key Arena show consisted mostly of material from Artpop’s better moments (“ARTPOP” and “G.U.Y.” kicked things off), with a heavy sprinkling of older Gaga classics. She looked strong and healthy – few can stomp in mile-high stilettos the way that Stefani Germanotta can – and her voice sounded as full as ever. Gaga knows how to make an entrance: the translucent stage and sprawling catwalks filled with smoke and a fleet of backup dancers while Gaga materialized in shimmering gold wings, a blue mirror ball attached to her bodice.

“Donatella” ended the first segment, with the star reappearing for “Venus” in her highest bouffant wig and seashell bikini. Giant inflatable flowers popped up through the catwalks as backup dancers dashed around in pastel sea-monkey-esque costumes and headpieces. Gaga unleashed full voice for “MANiCURE”, proving that though she’s famous for fashion-centric antics, she’s severely underrated as a vocalist. At several points throughout the evening Gaga called out critics that accuse her of lip-synching, joking even as she played piano that it really wasn’t her (“There’s a man playing this backstage for me right now,” she deadpanned).

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

The next mini-set included a Fame Monster suite of songs. “Just Dance”, “Poker Face”, and “Telephone” ushered in another costume change to wild cheering from the audience. Gaga the scruffy club kid singing about unrequited (slightly psychotic) love while dreaming of being famous feels more relatable than Gaga singing about actually being famous. Therefore, this portion of the set was the most fun. An interlude of “Partynauseous” followed; not one of her best, but amidst the thundering bass Gaga exited and reappeared in a bouncy, cartoonish octopus tentacle dress for “Paparazzi” and “Do What U Want”.

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Taking a seat at her crystal-encased piano, Gaga took a moment to point out her father, Joe Germanotta, in the pit and asked the crowd to join her in singing happy birthday to him. She dedicated “Dope” to him and moved on to a heartfelt, slowed-down “Born This Way” from the small catwalk stage. She apologized multiple times for canceling the previous Seattle date, assuring fans that she didn’t want to deliver any less than her best and wanted to make it up to them. After the brief piano segment, she sang a portion of “The Edge of Glory” followed by “Judas”, featuring some of the original choreography from the video. Fans began to throw piles of gifts and letters onstage and Gaga (as she does at every show) took a moment to read a few aloud, inviting several teenagers to join her backstage after the show for sharing their deeply personal letters.

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Lady Gaga  "artRave: The Artpop Ball" Tour - Pittsburgh

“Aura”, “Sexxx Dreams”, and “Alejandro” featured another costume change and a final blowout of “Bad Romance”, “Applause” and “Swine” (complete with sequined pig mask). Though the new material is lackluster, the show delivered; ending on a high with a piano-laced encore of “Gypsy”. If fans were disappointed with the new material, they didn’t show it – even the farthest arena sections were mostly on their feet. Gaga is at her best when her voice and talent cut through the bluster, and there was enough of that to satisfy. Given time to consider her next moves, the industrious 28 year old will undoubtedly overcome any recent career missteps and surprise us all with future albums that stand to be the best of her career.

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Lady Gaga  "artRave: The Artpop Ball" Tour - Pittsburgh

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Beyoncé and Jay Z: On the Run Tour @ Safeco Field, Seattle (July 30, 2014)

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 30: Beyonce and JAY Z perform on the On The Run Tour at Safeco Field on Wednesday, July 30, 2014, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mason Poole/Parkwood Entertainment/PictureGroup).

SEATTLE, WA – JULY 30: Beyonce and JAY Z perform on the On The Run Tour at Safeco Field on Wednesday, July 30, 2014, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mason Poole/Parkwood Entertainment/PictureGroup).

~ Written by Jessica Price. This review originally appeared in Seattle Gay News (August 1, 2014)

Beyoncé and Jay Z’s On the Run Tour touched down at Seattle’s Safeco Field Wednesday night, marking not only the stadium’s second show ever (Paul McCartney was the first) but quite possibly the most spectacular – and loudest – concert to be hosted there for years to come. A constant swirl of rumors and speculation surround pop music’s most famous power couple: but Mr. and Mrs. Carter are doing just fine, thank you. Individually they are two of the world’s most successful entertainers, boasting decades in the business between them. Sharing a stage on Wednesday night the Carters proved that when it comes to putting on a show, together they are untouchable.

The couple appeared just after 9pm, skipping the opener and cutting right to the chase. “The chase” was a recurring theme throughout the evening, kicking off with “03 Bonnie & Clyde” and a larger than life visual montage of heists, shoot-outs, and other cinematic postcards from the nomadic and preternaturally glamorous life of the country’s most wanted criminals. It was hard to miss the connection to real life (in fact the words “This Is Real Life” flashed on screen pre-show), as it’s common knowledge that the couple is mercilessly hounded by media and critics at every turn. But let’s face it: Bey and Jay wrapped in each others’ arms, with those beautiful doe eyes peering at you from a ski mask? Adorable. The theme works on all counts.

From floor level the excitement generated by both the couples’ entrance and the chest-thumping bass was deafening, as Jay Z strode around the stage in top form, dressed in his best black sunglasses, gold chains, black jacket, and a cool (and presumable expensive) black and white star-spangled tshirt. Beyoncé darted and danced around him in the tour’s emblematic mesh and leather bodysuit and mask. “Show Me What You Got”, “Upgrade U”, and “Crazy In Love” shook the stadium with sheer volume and intensity. The J + B sonic assault was off and running, a tightly constructed string of medley-like, almost whole songs that mixed seamlessly one into another. Those on the floor, for one thing, stayed on their feet for the entire performance.

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 30 (Photo by Mason Poole/Parkwood Entertainment/PictureGroup).

SEATTLE, WA – JULY 30 (Photo by Mason Poole/Parkwood Entertainment/PictureGroup).

“N***as in Paris” and “Tom Ford” allowed one of the evening’s dozen or so costume and makeup changes for Beyoncé, who heroically emerged every couple of Jay Z songs looking fresh and beautiful in a new ensemble along with her impressive gang of backing dancers. Many of Beyoncé’s hits were cleverly reworked for the tour, “Run the World”, “Ring the Alarm”, and “Diva” among them, all keeping the energy as high as Beyoncé’s dancing heels (of which there were many throughout the evening). The mega-talented duo continuously switched off on vocals with never a pause or dull moment. Jay Z also popped in and out for quick changes when B took the mic, reappearing in various combinations of leather vests, jackets, and tasteful t-shirts.

“Big Pimpin” featured cleverly manipulated footage of a jazz age club in which what appeared to be Josephine Baker and other dancehall figures gyrated, momentarily giving the illusion that the on stage Jay Z was simultaneously part of the action yet also a character in the background, smoking his trademark cigars in the black and white party scene. “Ghost/Haunted” and Jay Z’s Frank Ocean & Kanye West collaboration “No Church In the Wild” flashed more phenomenal visuals; clearly the Carters spared no expense in the realm of artistic vision or costume changes.

The halfway mark of the show was, unbelievably, about 22 songs in (the set list included 44 songs in all) with “Drunk In Love”, “Why Don’t You Love Me”, “Holy Grail”, “Beach Is Better” and of course, “99 Problems”. That song cleverly tied in to “If I Were a Boy”, Beyoncé driving the point home in a sexy, tomboyish soft leather romper. “Resentment” was the moment many were waiting for, Beyoncé delivering her infamous and confessional “12 years” lyric change from the catwalk. Perception is subjective, but it seemed in studying Beyoncé’s face (on the giant video screens at least), that she appeared slightly more guarded during the infidelity-themed song. There was a long, long pause…and then it was over. Jay Z rejoined his wife onstage, and she called out something about love and notably, forgiveness. Then the show moved on to “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and still more high points with “Single Ladies”, “Hard Knock Life”, and an amazing “Pretty Hurts” (amusingly the backup dancers illustrated this song by balancing books on their black-bobbed heads).

The non-stop spectacle wrapped up with a cover of “Forever Young”. Jay Z took Beyoncé’s hand and stood beside her as she mixed in “Halo”. Home videos of an intimate Carter family life played during the emotional song: the couples’ daughter Blue Ivy playing with her parents, footage of their wedding ceremony, Beyoncé’s pregnancy, and briefly, the baby in the hospital. Images of their travels and adventures gave a brief but intimate look into the life of a couple deeply in love, regardless of what may or may not have happened since. “Lift Off” was the outro, and then they were gone, leaving a stadium of blown away audience members behind them.

All mega-star egos aside, On the Run delivered a world-class show with energy, polish and true grit that no one besides Madonna has been able to deliver in such massive scope.  Beyoncé and Jay Z have more than earned their place as pop royalty, not to mention very likely setting a record for the number two top grossing tour of all time (second only to U2’s 360 Tour). If you missed it, take heart: On the Run is set to broadcast in its entirety on September 20 on HBO.

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 30: JAY Z performs on the On The Run Tour at Safeco Field on Wednesday, July 30, 2014, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mason Poole/Parkwood Entertainment/PictureGroup).

SEATTLE, WA – JULY 30  (Photo by Mason Poole/Parkwood Entertainment/PictureGroup).

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 30: Beyonce performs on the On The Run Tour at Safeco Field on Wednesday, July 30, 2014, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mason Poole/Parkwood Entertainment/PictureGroup).

SEATTLE, WA – JULY 30 (Photo by Mason Poole/Parkwood Entertainment/PictureGroup)

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 30: Beyonce performs on the On The Run Tour at Safeco Field on Wednesday, July 30, 2014, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mason Poole/Parkwood Entertainment/PictureGroup).

SEATTLE, WA – JULY 30 (Photo by Mason Poole/Parkwood Entertainment/PictureGroup).

Bryan Ferry @ McCaw Hall, Seattle (April 7, 2014)

Bryan Ferry (Photo by Adam Whitehead, courtesy of Press Here)

Bryan Ferry (Photo by Adam Whitehead, courtesy of Press Here)

~ Written by Jessica Price

Of all the days for me not to be aimlessly wandering Pike Place Market buying some fruit for the office pantry…yes, that would be the day Bryan Ferry (of Roxy Music and duh, Bryan Ferry) plus members of his mighty eight-piece band were there,  posing with balloon-animal-schlepping clowns and laughing at the Showgirls sign. Why did I miss this? How could I miss this?

I think if I’d been on my usual break, shoveling locally made Greek yogurt in my mouth, and come across this…

From Bryan Ferry Official on Facebook...I kid you not.

From Bryan Ferry Official on Facebook…I kid you not.

…I would have most certainly choked to death.  Which might’ve got him to notice me at least.  What a dashing jacket, what a soft-looking scarf! Oh Bryan, you are the suavest of the suave, second only perhaps to Bowie even now.

Here's the sign...

Here’s the sign from Bryan Ferry Official’s Facebook page…

And here they are across the street laughing at it, presumably.  The fact that this occurred in front of one of my favorite shops- The Crumpet Shop- is of particular note.

And here they are across the street laughing at it, presumably. The fact that this occurred in front of one of my favorite shops- The Crumpet Shop- is of particular note.

Without further ado, here’s my review of the show (which printed in Seattle Gay News on Friday, April 11…)

**********

Bryan Ferry, icon of the seminal 70s glam rock band Roxy Music and later, the reinvented debonair solo artist that delivered hits “Slave to Love” and “Let’s Stick Together” appeared at a nearly sold out McCaw Hall Monday night. The Can’t Let Go tour was Bryan Ferry’s first North American tour in three years and kicked off just two nights prior in Vancouver. It wasn’t clear in the months leading up to the show whether the songs would be delivered in the style of the jazz age, as he’s done most recently with The Bryan Ferry Orchestra (“Love Is the Drug” was featured on The Great Gatsby Soundtrack), but as it turned out the tour featured true-blue renditions of an incredible selection of both Roxy Music and solo classics, rarities, and fan favorites (with a few regrettable omissions of course, but you can’t have it all).

The McCaw Hall was well suited to Ferry’s sophisticated musicianship and memorable croon, though he first appeared rather modestly at left-center stage behind his keyboard for “Re-Make/Re-Model” from Roxy Music’s 1972 debut. At 68, Ferry’s vocals are as smooth as ever, and what followed felt like an appropriately guided cruise through some of his best. Lanky and trim in an embellished floral smoking jacket, Bryan Ferry still exudes understated cool, where contemporaries like Sting and Rod Stewart seem to have long ago lost what edge they momentarily possessed.

“Kiss and Tell”, “Slave to Love”, and “Ladytron” completed the shimmering opening suite of songs, followed by the angular “Same Old Blues” and “If There Is Something”. Strangely, “More Than This” was beautifully stripped down but fleeting; started for barely a moment before Ferry went right into the equally classic “Avalon”. (Both songs deserved equal attention, especially since other gems like “Mother of Pearl” were sorely missed). The set went a bit downtempo for a stretch, veering into some solos and lengthy interludes that showed off the instrumentation well, but were a little hard for the audience to remain invested in. “Love Is the Drug”, “Virginia Plain”, and “Editions of You” brought things back into focus before the band stretched out once again with a one song encore of “Running Wild.”

Bryan Ferry and his talented eight piece band (including phenomenal drummer Charisse Osei, saxophonist Jorja Chalmers and spirited, shimmying backup singers Bobbie Gordon and Jodie Scantelbury) delivered some magical moments and fulfilled many lifelong dreams by stopping for an intimate evening at McCaw Hall. If the set was a bit indulgent and soft in places, it wasn’t exactly a surprise – Bryan Ferry has been nothing if not a smooth operator since the beginning, and will likely keep it up long after the rest have hung up their microphones and lost their hearing. With new material in the works inspired by last year’s acclaimed release The Jazz Age and remixes and covers of Roxy Music finding new audiences, it’s likely he’ll continue to be the king of suave for many years to come.

Courtesy of Press Here

Bryan Ferry and the fanciest of coats. (Photo courtesy of Press Here)

 

Kings of Leon @ Key Arena, Seattle (March 28, 2014)

Kings of Leon at Key Arena (Photos by Matthew Lamb, courtesy of Livenation)

Kings of Leon at Key Arena (Photos by Matthew Lamb, courtesy of Livenation)

~ Written by Jessica Price. This review originally appeared in Seattle Gay News (April 4, 2014)

Having never seen Kings of Leon live before, my first impression from crossing paths with them at Key Arena on the final leg of the “Mechanical Bull” tour was that their big, mean Southern rock sound had somehow miraculously made the jump from rock clubs and bar rooms to mainstream arena tours and that maybe, just maybe, they’d be happier back in the clubs.

It’s not easy for any band to connect with an audience in a huge, impersonal chasm of a room like Key Arena. Their music was effortlessly, if not perfectly played, so it wasn’t as if those in attendance didn’t get their money’s worth. The clean-cut brothers (and one cousin) from Nashville delivered 26 songs over roughly two hours; a long stretch for any musicians, let alone a group of guys playing nearly every night since the beginning of February and now firmly entrenched in the last gasp of a grueling tour. Coupled with what one would have to assume are weird, fluorescent, arena-appropriate backstages, cramped buses, and that elephant in the room which is the space between band and audience, it’s no wonder Kings of Leon looked a little worn down. In fact, they didn’t really move much.

They did their jobs appreciatively and spot-on, regardless: the uber-polished sound of every song belied a band that’s honed their craft carefully over countless shows around the world. Some have done it practically since birth: at the time of their very first release in 2003, the youngest of the Followill brothers was only 16. Before that, it’s reported that the now full-grown men spent much of their early lives driving through the southern United States with their parents (their father was formerly a United Pentecostal Church preacher).

Kings of Leon at Key Arena (Photos by Matthew Lamb, courtesy of Livenation)

Kings of Leon at Key Arena (Photos by Matthew Lamb, courtesy of Livenation)

Perhaps from this unusually road-tested background, Kings of Leon have honed one critical skill: pacing. Aside from sheer professionalism, the ability to muster energy by increments throughout the night was most impressive. Starting out with “Charmer” and “Rock City” and on to “Temple”, they were restrained and a bit flat, but over the course of the set hit all the high points (“Family Tree”, “Back Down South”, “Wait For Me”). By the time they busted out “Supersoaker”, the time-release energy reserves started to appear and Kings of Leon let go as much as they could, bit by bit, until they drove the whole shebang home with a three-song encore including last hurrah “Sex On Fire”.

An audience may tire of standing for two solid hours, but Kings of Leon made it look like they could do it in their sleep. Which is perhaps exactly what they need before hitting the grueling festival circuit this summer – lots and lots of sleep.

Kings of Leon at Key Arena (Photos by Matthew Lamb, courtesy of Livenation)

Kings of Leon at Key Arena (Photos by Matthew Lamb, courtesy of Livenation)

Battleme @ El Corazon, Seattle (March 27, 2014)

Battleme_600pix

Ah, the exquisite pain of standing in an achingly slow-moving line in the rain, knowing that the band you really came to see is already on stage because you can hear them starting up, less than 50 feet away from you, through the decrepit walls of El Corazon. Battleme opened for The Supersuckers and The Toadies last night in Seattle – kind of an odd bill, but not so much when you consider all three are descendants of a sort of scrappy rock n’ roll outlaw prototype; although radically different in delivery there’s a similar intent (feel good, rock out, the end) and varying degrees of South/Southwestern state connections (Battleme’s Matt Drenik, a Portland-by-way-of-Austin transplant, was showing his colors in a faded Bocephus tshirt).

Battleme’s opening set was just what I’d hoped for: raw and crackling with pent-up energy, lots of spitting and wild-eyed looks flying around, the kind that make you feel like you might be in trouble if you’re not paying attention in the first couple rows and get some eye contact. (A frontman that puts the fear of god in you with some piercing eye contact is never a bad thing…unless you’re standing still). Battleme’s jangly but solid songs are built on that mysterious combination of elements that many aim for but few honestly do well: songs that can make your heart swell or tears spring up because they just sound so crucial somehow. It’s warm weather music, made to crank up in the summertime.

Having said that, Battleme’s second album – Future Runs Magnetic – just came out March 11 on El Camino Records. It’s probably the only record I’ve played and played again obsessively from the get-go since Prince started mysteriously dropping new music with 3rdEyeGirl on his website last year. It’s fucking fantastic, and I can’t put it down.

Looks like I’ll have a chance to make up for my lost 15 minutes of set time when Battleme returns to Seattle June 5 as they’ll be headlining over at Barboza. Get tickets HERE. They’re gonna go fast.

Have I mentioned it’s been a minute since I blew all my fun money a week before payday at the merch booth, stocking up on super-soft tshirts and vinyl?

Mary Lambert @ The Showbox at the Market (February 1, 2014)

Mary Lambert (Photo courtesy of The Karpel Group)

Mary Lambert (Photo courtesy of The Karpel Group)

~ Written by Jessica Price. This review originally appeared in Seattle Gay News (February 7, 2014)

Mary Lambert is already having the kind of year that just twelve months ago she couldn’t have imagined. As the homegrown chanteuse explained to a full house at downtown’s Showbox on Saturday night, just a year ago she was still bartending in Seattle.  Fast forward to 2014: Mary’s unforgettable guest vocal and writing contribution to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” took her all the way to the 56th annual Grammys, where she performed alongside her Seattle hiphop cohorts, not to mention Madonna and 33 couples tying the knot mid-song by officiant Queen Latifah.  It was a fairly unreal experience, as reversals of fortune go.  “You know I’m emotional,” Mary joked, one song into her headlining hometown show. “But I cried…I cried, and Madonna dried my tears with her leather vest, and I am now blessed.”

The runaway success of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis resulted in many unforeseen milestones; not the least of which is the spotlight now shining squarely on Mary. “Same Love” became a part of the national dialogue on marriage equality in 2013, its heartfelt message one dear to Mary’s heart. Many of her songs and poems set to music explore growing up gay (Mary, now 24, grew up in Everett and graduated from Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts) and her attempts to connect with unattainable ideals of what a woman should be, and what a woman’s body should look like. It’s a struggle dissected on Mary’s current EP out on Capitol Records, Welcome to the Age of My Body.

So was her homecoming show – her first ever headlining the Showbox – a crowning achievement to an incredible year of hard work, or just a glimpse into Mary Lambert’s future?  The answer is clearly both.  From the very beginning of “Sarasvati”, Mary showed herself (to newcomers, that is) to be a radiant performer, full of laughter and a megawatt smile even while introducing songs only half-apologetically as “super, super sad”. Maybe so, but Mary manages to rise above her own painful experiences with abuse and personal heartbreak to deliver songs that are more contemplative than anything else.  Self-pity doesn’t enter into the world that Mary observes around her; she finds it much too full of beauty and fragility to dwell on the past. In “Forget Me” and “My Moon’ from her self-released first EP Letters Don’t Talk, Mary’s voice slipped easily from soaring and clear to rich and purring all in the turn of one phrase. The unflinching “Body Love” and the sensational “She Keeps Me Warm” closed out the concise and heartfelt set, with one encore.

Although Mary’s first full length is yet to be released (she told Seattle Gay News recently that it should be “wrapped up by May or June”), it’s apparent she will be a rising star in 2014-2015.  And how has working with a major label panned out so far? Mary joked that Capitol has been amazingly supportive about releasing an EP of songs and poetry about body image from a lesbian titled Welcome to the Age of My Body.  The upcoming full length will be produced by Eric Rosse (Tori Amos, Sara Bareilles). With her heart on her sleeve, that incredible voice, and a sense of humor to keep her going – it surely won’t be long before Mary Lambert will be in the running for a Grammy of her own.

Sleigh Bells @ The Showbox at the Market, Seattle (October 12, 2013)

Sleigh Bells (Photo by Petra Collins)

Sleigh Bells (Photo by Petra Collins)

~ Written by Jessica Price. This review originally appeared in Seattle Gay News (October 18, 2013)

Sleigh Bells’ frontwoman Alexis Krauss is a bit like the bad girl you longed to be friends with in high school but were too afraid to sit with on the bus.  She’s slightly menacing but beautiful: a tiny but dynamic figure in denim cut-offs over prerequisite lacey tights, a cropped black Everlast t-shirt, thick black hair, and mean tattoos. Krauss radiated charisma and cool Saturday night at the Showbox at the Market; stomping all over the stage as if she owned the audience.  Which of course, she did.

Touring on the heels of brand new record Bitter Rivals (their third release), Krauss and Sleigh Bells protégée Derek Miller filled out their live setup with an additional guitarist and drummer plus a baseline of pre-recorded samples. Together they busted out a gorgeous racket, making pairs of hip boyfriends and their young gazelle-like lady friends lose their minds.

Opening with new songs such as “Minnie” and “Tiger Kit”, Krauss worked the room, spinning on her heels while playing to the dance-punk diva worshippers packed into the first few rows.  When “Crown on the Ground” was unleashed in all its glory (the hit from debut album Treats enjoyed a resurgence last summer when it was featured in Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring) the wooden floors of the Showbox started to sway and bounce with en masse dancing – always the mark of a memorable night at The Showbox.

The set was a relentless sonic assault of the best kind, plowing through new single “Bitter Rivals”, as well as “True Shred Guitar”, “You Don’t Get Me Twice”, “Riot Rhythm” and “Infinity Guitars”.  Alexis’ powerful vocals more than held their own among the din; an encore featuring new track “Young Legends” crystallized her softer pop sensibilities as well.

Sleigh Bells have navigated the pivotal third record turning point successfully with Bitter Rivals by sticking with the formula we’ve come to adore – a surprisingly danceable wall of obliterating white noise coupled with airy, candy-coated pop vocals – but delivering something new in the process. Amidst the trademark pseudo-metal guitar riffs that slice through clattering hip hop beats, Sleigh Bells even flirt with a little acoustic guitar and piano as punctuation here and there. Alexis’ vocals now more directly reference her pop R&B influences (fittingly, classic tracks from Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, and Madonna were played pre-show). It could be a case of a band learning to edit the sound they’ve already discovered works quite well, and in the process they’ve shattered all their own rules.

It’s a side of Sleigh Bells we were hoping for, proving they’re much more interesting than the band we thought they were (and that band was already one we loved, turning out two acclaimed albums with Treats and Reign of Terror). Touring for Bitter Rivals, Sleigh Bells prove they’re not simply married in perpetuity to the loud/soft wallop they so expertly deliver. For now clever experimentation will scratch that sonic itch – at least until album number four.

(Photo by Petra Collins)

(Photo by Petra Collins)

(Photo by Petra Collins)

(Photo by Petra Collins)

A Q&A WITH Nika Rosa Danilova of Zola Jesus (September 19, 2013)

Nika of Zola Jesus (Photo by  Angel Ceballos)

Nika of Zola Jesus (Photo by Angel Ceballos)

~ Written by Jessica Price. This interview originally appeared in Seattle Gay News (September 27, 2013)

If there was a recognition award in music for ‘Artist with the Most Intriguing Moniker’, the 24-year not-quite-classifiable diva Zola Jesus would be a contender. Wisconsin-born Nika Rosa Danilova arrived at the name for her electronic/operatic/art pop project arbitrarily, but it perfectly broadcasts all you need to know: Zola Jesus is ethereal, audacious, and completely one of a kind.  From her upbringing in the deep woods of Wisconsin to an unexplained childhood obsession with opera, it was only natural that by her teens Nika would leave the competitive world of opera behind to find her own voice in electronic experimentation, drawing comparisons to a modern-day Kate Bush or the collective female personas of This Mortal Coil. She’s been remixed by none other than filmmaking visionary David Lynch, and in 2012 she performed at New York City’s Guggenheim Museum with composer J.G. Thirlwell and the Mivos Quartet. The show was memorable not only for the avant-garde ensemble Nika wore (a glowing, oversized collar encircled her neck), but for the album it spawned recapturing her soaring vocals and drum machines accompanied by string quartet. Currently on tour for Versions, Nika took time out to talk to Seattle Gay News about Maria Callas, breaking rules, and returning to nature:

Jessica Price: Congratulation on Versions, it’s a beautiful record. The string quartet really adds a new depth to the original renditions.  As I’ve been listening to your albums I’ve been thinking about how artists develop over time. When you look back on the work you’ve done so far, how do you view your evolution?

Nika Roza Danilova: I feel that I’ve evolved in so many ways. I went from making modest little pop songs in my bedroom to travelling the world to recording in an actual studio with actual string players. I have grown in so many ways. Not only have my production and songwriting skills improved, but my own confidence and sense of self is constantly being re-enforced.

Price: Being an artist- especially a female one- can be interesting in terms of people’s perception of your work. What female artists do you most admire, and why?

Danilova: I admire women that are strong and dominant. I like the idea of the diva; a woman who is supremely talented, passionate, and sets high standards of quality for what she does. My hero is Maria Callas, a famously difficult woman but [she] could bring a grown man to tears with her voice. The power of the voice is unprecedented, and those who use it well could move planets with it.

Price: How did your performance at the Guggenheim inspire you to make Versions?  Had it ever occurred to you to try completely new arrangements for your songs?

Danilova: The opportunity came to play in the Guggenheim, and because this show seemed so special, I wanted to honor it as so. The space seemed like it would be quite challenging in terms of sound, so I wanted to try to make it more acoustic in order to work with the room instead of working against it. Re-arranging my songs has always interested me, as well as working with strings. It was one of those moments where I instantly knew exactly what needed to be done.

Price: Do you think that given the competitive nature of performing arts such as opera, modern music has given you greater freedom to throw out any rules or restrictions?

Danilova: Definitely. In the beginning I would work so hard to undo my training. I tried to scream and sing in ways that completely went against technique. But in disregarding the “rules” of physiology, my voice was starting to deteriorate and I wasn’t able to do what I wanted vocally. Now, I am excited by embracing technique in ways that will allow me better control of my instrument. I take bits and pieces of my opera training and apply it in a way that doesn’t feel restraining, but liberating.

Price: You’ve performed extensively around the world; it must be interesting to compare where you live and travel now, versus your upbringing in the woods of Wisconsin. Does this make for a keener appreciation of both the immediacy of cities, plus the peace and quiet of living in nature?

Danilova: It was very easy to take the backcountry for granted when I lived there. However, upon travelling all over, I feel such a strong sense of home when I am in nature. The natural world is undiscerning. It is simple but mysterious. Cities overwhelm me; I feel like we construct these artificial microcosms in order to pretend we’re not animals. We visit the countryside in tourism as spectators, as if we live outside of it. We’re so intelligent that we are trying to outsmart ourselves. It’s funny, but it will not be so funny when we are forced to return!

Zola Jesus "Forest" (Photo by Angel Ceballos)
Zola Jesus “Forest” (Photo by Angel Ceballos)

Price: Has this tour felt very different than your previous tours with an electronic/band setup?

Danilova: It feels very different. I am travelling with a string quartet instead of my band of outsiders who I’ve been with for the past three years. The tour is split up in weekend trips, so there is not a van tour. The shows are very early, which I love! It feels so much healthier, which my vocal health needs for this tour.

Price: You’re already working on new material- can you give any hints?

Danilova: No real hints so far. Currently working it out! I have about 50 songs written but that means nothing. Still a long way to go.

Zola Jesus performs Saturday, September 28 @ The Triple Door as part of the 10th Annual Decibel Festival

Zola Jesus (Photo The Impossible Project

Zola Jesus (Photo The Impossible Project)

Courtney Love @ The Moore Theatre, Seattle (July 23, 2013)

Courtney Love

~ Written by Jessica Price. This review originally appeared in Seattle Gay News (July 26, 2013)

Even in 2013 I won’t part with my copy of Hole’s My Body, the Hand Grenade rarities compilation, nor will I ever forget lying around my girlfriend’s apartment in 1994 when she and her roommate played Live Through This manically all summer like the official soundtrack to pissed off female solidarity that it was. In the fall, Hole played the Houston nightclub where the three of us worked; it was Halloween night, six months after Kurt Cobain committed suicide and four since Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff overdosed. There were concerns whether Courtney, unpredictable and reportedly running around the neighborhood buying hair dye from Eckerd Drugs and careening around town hours before the show, would actually be sober enough to pull off the gig.  But she did.  Late, and with black dye running down her neck, she played the show ferociously, wildly, and wonderfully.  We were all pulling for her, one thousand percent.

That was nearly twenty years ago. The believers have grown up as Courtney has (technically speaking), but the black sheep of rock goddesses has tested our devotion along the way.  “How many of you are gay?”  was Courtney Love’s first complete sentence to Seattle’s Moore Theatre Tuesday night.   As hands shot up around the room it became apparent that Ms. Love knows which side her bread is buttered on. “Thank fucking God,” she said, leading off with “Plump”.

Ticketing sites touted the event as “Courtney Love performing songs from Live Through This, Celebrity Skin, and Nobody’s Daughter including ‘Violet’, ‘Miss World’, ‘Celebrity Skin’, ‘Malibu’, ’Skinny Little Bitch’, and more.” A relatively well-behaved Love, now 49, delivered the hits as advertised; give or take a few odds and ends like “Gold Dust Woman” and “Pretty On the Inside”. Displeased with the turnout, Courtney repeatedly commented on the size of the Moore, its “skid row Seattle” location, the number of attendees (for the record, the theatre appeared full from floor level, though perhaps that was boosted by last minute Groupon-style deals, of which there were reportedly many). Given the circumstances – no new album since 2010’s lukewarm Nobody’s Daughter – perhaps the world-weary Courtney should’ve lightened up and lowered her expectations just a little.  “It’s okay, we’ll be back in December and we’ll have a new record then,” she said (it’s rumored Love is working on another solo album titled Died Blonde).

The punk diva wasn’t without wit (“Aw…panties..” she said, when some were launched at her) or princess-like demands (“Can I have my guitar??” she whined, as a well-trained boy picked up the instrument two feet behind her and gently placed it over the star’s non-yielding shoulders).  She looked healthy and put together, if not a little lippy, channeling her idol Stevie Nicks in a black vest and flowing gauzy sleeves. Her voice sounded roughly the same as it did in the 90s, perhaps just a little huskier between trademark howls.  There might have been some out of breath pacing in a short and sweet “Miss World” just before the encore- or maybe she just wanted to smoke another cigarette.  “It does take its toll,” she said.  After a sort of crowd fluffer chastised the audience to call her name, Courtney reappeared, barefoot and smoking in a shapeless nightgown for the acoustic encore.

Most interesting throughout the proceedings was trying to pinpoint Courtney’s appeal in 2013. She’s certainly had her moments of brilliance (Live Through This, a Golden Globe-nominated lead role in The People vs. Larry Flynt), but in recent years her music has been spotty at best, while her tabloid antics hit an all-time high.  Tuesday’s show wasn’t a spectacle; neither was it inspiring. Though the set worked, the barely controlled chaos that catapulted Hole into the big time was gone.  It could simply be that the sparks of brilliance and menacing tension Hole once threw off can’t be re-created. That you had to be there. And in time all the bad behavior, drug-addled antics, and displays of boobage have overshadowed what we wanted her to be and what she used to be.  A true badass is what we hoped for… but things haven’t turned out that way.

The truth about Courtney Love seems to pop up in her lyrics, which at times border on confessional: “I fake it so real, I am beyond fake” (“Doll Parts”), “I’ve been tortured and scorned since the day that I was born, but I don’t know who I am…I’m so sorry I’m so weak, and I’ve turned into a freak” (“Letter to God”).

Sasquatch! Music Festival @ The Gorge Amphitheatre, George, Washington (May 24-25, 2013)

The Gorge Amphitheatre - during Built To Spill's set

The Gorge Amphitheatre – during Built To Spill’s set (Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)

~ Written by Jessica Price. This review originally appeared in Seattle Gay News (May 31, 2013)

The annual Sasquatch! Music Festival held each Memorial Day weekend at The Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington shares more than just a silly moniker with its fabled namesake from the Pacific Northwest.  The festival is sprawling, more than a little hairy, and in its finest moments – when music and topography meet in perfect synchronicity – it’s the stuff of legend.  A four day music bonanza topped with camping out in the middle of nowhere is not for the faint of heart, owing primarily to the hedonistic tendencies loosed at any outdoor music festival.  But the amphitheater’s location, perched atop majestic basalt cliffs overlooking the Columbia River, is undeniably one of the best concert settings in the nation.  Founded in 2002 by promoter Adam Zacks, the festival is a nine time winner of Pollstar’s award for “Best Outdoor Music Venue”.  Sasquatch, much like annual festivals Coachella and Bonnaroo , successfully appeals to a wide audience through a cultivated mix of genres (an indie rock act might be followed by hip hop, electronica, or folk).  Sasquatch! 2013 has reportedly been the most successful weekend in the festival’s history:  the 25,000 capacity event completely sold out in November, well before the lineup was announced.

This year’s festival boasted five stages and a heavy duty cast of performers including Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Vampire Weekend, The xx, Sigur Rós, Mumford & Sons, Imagine Dragons, The Lumineers, Elvis Costello & The Imposters, and The Postal Service.  When gates opened on the sunny afternoon of opening day, a steady stream of young people spilled over the bright green lawns and into the festival grounds to the strains of Sea Wolf on the Bigfoot stage and local hero/veteran producer Erik Blood on the Yeti stage just over the hill. “Do you like to watch Gay porn?” Erik teased the gathering crowd. “I know I do,” he said, prefacing “Phenomenal Pornography”, a brilliant ode to porn’s golden age of directors.

Erik Blood (Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)

Erik Blood (Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)

As the sun broke through a few late afternoon clouds, Built to Spill kicked off a satisfying mainstage set laced with classics “Goin’ Against Your Mind”, “You Were Right” and a few tracks from 1994’s breakthrough album There’s Nothing Wrong With Love.  Arctic Monkeys performed as darkness fell, the Sheffield quartet bringing swagger to the nighttime performances. Vocalist Alex Turner’s pompadour, slight sneer, and crisp suit felt a little buttoned-up for an outdoor festival crowd, but then Arctic Monkeys always seem to put style a few notches ahead of substance.

Arctic Monkeys (Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)

Arctic Monkeys (Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)

Luckily, a quick set change washed away all traces of alt-rock disdain with mysteriously whimsical props and Vegas-style lighting.  As a huge full moon loomed over the Gorge like a giant spotlight, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis triumphantly took the stage. Macklemore’s set was the defining moment of this year’s Sasquatch festival.  It was also a sweet homecoming for an independent artist whose runaway hit “Thrift Shop” recently catapulted the 29 year old Ben Haggerty and partner-in-crime  Ryan Lewis into an overnight success story and headlong into a  whirlwind global tour for The Heist. Throughout the day as conversations across the grounds inevitably turned to “so who are you excited to see?” the #1 answer was Macklemore.

(Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)

(Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)

So was he worth it?  The answer would be a resounding “hell yes.”   It’s no exaggeration to say that nearly all 25,000 people in attendance, regardless of musical proclivities, were rapt with attention when Macklemore and his entourage took the stage amidst a set strewn with faux evergreens and cacti.  Positivity, fun, and an infectious bounce were the name of the game.  Kicking off with The Heist opener “Ten Thousand Hours”, the mood was instantly elevated to wall to wall dance party status.  The public outpouring of civic pride for the Seattle artist turned international star was palpable.  “You have no idea how amazing it feels to be back home in the Pacific Northwest,” Macklemore confessed.   “I’ve been working my entire life to step up here onstage at the Gorge.”

Our local hero (Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)

Our local hero (Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)

Galloping through a high-energy set including all his best, Macklemore proved that home is indeed where the heart is.  Vocalists from The Heist such as Wanz on “Thrift Shop” and the gorgeous, leggy Hollis on “White Walls” appeared overjoyed to be performing for the 25,000 in attendance.  As slick visuals laced with snippets of inspirational lyrics flashed across the backdrop, the rapper showed his playful side, showing off some fancy footwork down the catwalk, sporting multiple fake fur coats, and tossing a blow-up boat into the audience carrying his emcee.  One of Macklemore’s charms is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, yet there are several weighty issues he publicly champions.  Mary Lambert and Macklemore’s “Same Love” was prefaced by  a heartfelt reminder that our country is currently embroiled in “the biggest civil rights movement of our lifetime” and that he’s  “proud to say that Washington state is leading that fight”.  He also addressed addiction with humility and a touch of humor.  Closing out the night with confetti canons and an encore of “And We Danced” and “Irish Celebration”, Macklemore set the high bar for Sasquatch performances for years to come.

(Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)

(Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)

Macklemore set the high bar for Sasquatch performances for years to come. (Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)

Macklemore set the high bar for Sasquatch performances for years to come. (Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)

After the incredible peak of Friday night, the sunny Saturday afternoon shows felt like a pleasant way to re-energize and regroup for the rest of the weekend.  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club debuted brand new material from Specter At the Feast along with crowd pleasers “Ain’t No Easy Way” and “Red Eyes and Tears”.  Chicago’s Andrew Bird and later, Bloc Party followed on the mainstage.  Comedian Nick Offerman (Parks & Recreation) offered up hilarious tips for successful living on the El Chupacabra stage.  The buzzworthy Divine Fits (Dan Boeckner of the excellent but sadly defunct Handsome Furs, Spoon’s Britt Daniel, New Bomb Turks’ Sam Brown) played an impressive set a few hours after delivering a brief acoustic teaser on the “secret” End stage.  The xx delivered a soothing balm of hushed, sexy tracks like “Crystalized” on the mainstage as the sun went down, followed by Icelandic atmospheric geniuses Sigur Rós. Led by Jonsi on vocals and guitar, layers and layers of instrumentation built to a crescendo perfectly suited to the breathtaking location. During “Svefn-g-englar,” glowing light bulbs and dreamy visuals created another haunting moment under the full moon. And this was just the finale of day two’s mainstage events.   If complete immersion in four days of music and camping in the Columbia River Gorge sounds like your idea of a hedonistic springtime dream, watch for next year’s on sale announcement.  It’s guaranteed that Sasquatch will once again sell out.

Divine Fits (Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)

Divine Fits (Photo courtesy of Sasquatch!)