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.

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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!)

Prince / 3rdEyeGirl @ The Showbox at the Market, Seattle (April 18, 2013 – 11:30pm set)

VANCOUVER, BC - APRIL 15:  (Exclusive Coverage) Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL perform at Vogue Theatre on April 15, 2013 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

VANCOUVER, BC – APRIL 15: (Exclusive Coverage) Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL perform at Vogue Theatre on April 15, 2013 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

~ Written by Jessica Price. This review originally appeared in Seattle Gay News (April 19, 2013)

When Prince drops new material on his website and announces that in less than a month he’ll embark on a nine city tour of intimate venues, you better pay attention, and you better do it fast.  Even with tickets priced at $250 for each of the four Seattle shows (two per night), three were sold out before many fans could roll some change and march on down to the box office. (Predictably, the fourth show sold out at the door).

An intimate, unforgettable evening was exactly what Prince delivered.  The chemistry with his brand new all-female band 3rdEyeGirl is incendiary, reminiscent of the perfect symmetry once found with those other girls (Wendy & Lisa from The Revolution, circa 1983-1986). Seeing Prince’s colossal genius stripped down to a basic setup of two guitars, bass, drums, and occasional keys (by Prince, of course) was a rare treat. The late show Thursday night felt like an invitation to an afterparty where new material, rarities, and some seriously heavy jamming were exactly what Prince felt like serving up.

And so he did.  Everybody knows that hits fly effortlessly from his fingers (seven Grammy Awards don’t come for free), but underneath the hugely successful commercial hits, Prince should be widely recognized for the fiercely independent artist and bona fide guitar prodigy that he is.  At times, the set veered into such heavy, crunchy territory that the sound was deafening in the best possible way- Jimi Hendrix being the only possible reference in terms of sheer innovation and ease.  (At 54, Prince looked fighting fit and not unlike Hendrix, sporting a short Afro and a black ruffled shirt).  Opening with a reworked, throbbing “Let’s Go Crazy”, the set plowed through a hefty back catalog from which Prince undoubtedly spent time culling the very best rarities, album tracks, and new material to show off with the girls.

“Endorphinmachine”, “She’s Always In My Hair”, and “I Like It There” preceded even earlier tracks “When We’re Dancing Close and Slow”, “Bambi” and “Let’s Work” from Controversy.  The Sign O’ The Times album was also prevalent with “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” and “U Got the Look”.

Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL Tour Opener - Vancouver(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

“Ready for some lip-synching?  Everybody’s doing it,” Prince teased, as slick new track “Screwdriver” began and the lyric video flashed in bright retro colors on the screen behind him. (Did he really lip-synch? Not a chance.) The 3rdEyeGirl material, including “Plectrum Electrum” and “FixUrLifeUp”, is energized and solid.  Prince is clearly in the midst of an inspired streak, getting busy in more ways than one, thematically speaking. Making love, falling in love, ladies acting up, a healthy pinch of spirituality- all the themes we’ve come to expect from Prince are present in the new songs. The new material also reveals a dose of wry humor and lyrical barbs, something else Prince is known for.  He speaks his mind, though at times it may be in the form of a riddle.

The late show Thursday night was rewarded with more off-the cuff surprises than the earlier set. “I said I wasn’t going to do this…but it’s the late show,” Prince relented at encore time, firing off a hit sampler to level all in its path and making the audience lose their minds with “When Doves Cry”, “Hot Thing”, “Nasty Girl”, “Alphabet Street”, “A Love Bizarre”, Darling Nikki”, “Pop Life”, “I Would Die 4 U”, and “Housequake”.

The club dates were in many ways the flipside to Prince’s last Seattle-area appearance at the Tacoma Dome in December 2011. Where the Dome show was a satisfying but lightning-quick trip through the hits; the Showbox was more of a slow-burning workout. Classics were reinvented and the set plunged deep into Prince’s favorite tracks. Which is really what any fan would want: Prince unleashing his genius exactly how he wants to for a few hours of transcendental music.

“We’ve got a lot of hits, we could be here all night,” Prince said.  One could only hope.

Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL Tour Opener - Vancouver(Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds @ The Paramount Theatre, Seattle (April 7, 2013)

Push-The-Sky-Away-PACKSHOT3-768x768

~ Written by Jessica Price. This review originally appeared in Seattle Gay News (April 12, 2013)

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds don’t look the part of international chart-toppers with six #1 positions worldwide  and an independent album at #29 on The Billboard 200 (Push The Sky Away is their highest ever placing in the U.S.)  If you were to cross paths one wouldn’t be faulted for passing on the other side of the street, instinctively suspicious of the strange, neatly suited rogue with jet black hair or the wild, Rasputin-like figure of multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis at his side.  The Bad Seeds have always looked more like apocalyptic preachers than traditional hit makers.  The band, led by singer/composer Nick Cave, opted out of popular music’s path of least resistance a long time ago; in fact it’s been that way since their unruly beginning in 1984. Appearing at the completely sold out Paramount Theatre, the most marked change since those days is the band’s social media accessibility and the median age of the fans.

Nick Cave in his mid-50s is a more refined figure than he was in younger days, but ‘refined’ is relative when you’re speaking of a man whose string of 15 exceptional albums draw from a deep well of diabolical characters and tales of vengeance, temptation, and wrath.  Which isn’t to say he’s one dimensional or lacking in humor: Hannah Montana and Avril Lavigne appear in Nick’s work in ways both menacing and farcical, as if he’s a perversely fascinated wolf spying on pop culture innocents and poised to take a bite.  There’s also Nick Cave the romantic, whose deep baritone delivered sincere wonder at the mysteries of love Sunday evening (he’s been married to former British model Susie Bick since 1999).

Part of Nick’s uniquely enduring appeal is his ability to build momentum through a rare combination of storytelling and mania, jumping and shaking through a nearly two hour set filled with all manner of dark impulses.  Opening with “We No Who U R”, Nick led the current Bad Seeds (six musicians and two backup singers) through songs spanning his entire career with no gimmicks or frills, but plenty of feeling.  “From Her To Eternity” – from the Bad Seeds’ 1984 debut- remains a masterpiece nearly 30 years on.  Other unexpected surprises were “Jack The Ripper”, “Deanna”, “The Weeping Song” and epic death row tale “The Mercy Seat”.   Push the Sky Away figured largely into the set; understated songs such as “Jubilee Street” swelling to a stunning crescendo with dual drummers and textured arrangements.  The album’s sparse moments were elevated to the most ferocious, the two smartly-dressed backup girls barely able to flail their arms in time with the music.  “Red Right Hand” was given extra muscle with layers of percussion.  “Wide Lovely Eyes” and a trio of songs accompanied by piano brought the mood into quieter territory (albeit only momentarily) with “Love Letter”, “And No More Shall We Part”, and “People Ain’t No Good”.  A sinister, somewhat campy rendering of “Stagger Lee” ended the main set, with the band momentarily returning for 1985’s “Tupelo” and the haunting atmospherics of title track “Push The Sky Away”.

With a highly acclaimed hit album on his own new imprint, Bad Seed Ltd., Nick Cave seems poised to embrace a fiercely independent future.  Push The Sky Away is an artist hitting yet another creative peak in a rich career that grows more compelling with time.  To borrow from Nick Cave’s letter to MTV in 1996 (asking to be withdrawn from nomination for “Best Male Artist”): “I have always been of the opinion that my music is unique and individual and exists beyond the realms inhabited by those who would reduce things to mere measuring. I am in competition with no one.”

Lady Gaga @ Tacoma Dome, Tacoma (January 14, 2013)

The set of Lady Gaga's Born This Way tour (Photo PictureGroup)

The set of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way tour (Photo PictureGroup)

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

When religious picketers perch outside the gates of any concert, it’s a sure sign of a spectacularly good time.  Lady Gaga kicked off the first US date of her Born This Way Ball at the Tacoma Dome with much fanfare, including the official launch of the Born Brave bus.  The interactive outreach vehicle is bedecked with fan-generated artwork and aimed at connecting youth with local resources for issues ranging from mental health to bullying.  (Gaga herself surprised fans by appearing for a personal viewing of the bus, leading an informal champagne toast several hours before the show).

Yet despite the good works of Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta (who jointly run the Born This Way Foundation), the handful of protestors loudly voiced homophobic comments and opposition, however futile. “What you are about to do is called ‘idol worship’…” shouted one young zealot, a warning gleefully met with laughter and a sea of emphatic ‘amens’ from fans.  Dressed to the nines- everyone from seven year olds with good-natured parents, shivering teenagers emulating Gaga’s most risqué outfits, gay couple of all ages, and curious bystanders- were ready to have the time of their lives inside the Dome.  And so they did, come hellfire or not.

The Born This Way Ball, a more tightly executed and presumably bigger budget affair than 2009-2011’s  The Monster Ball, was a nonstop feast for the eyes, delivering all the outrageous sets and Thierry Mugler-like eeriness one could hope for in two and half hours.  Over a dozen fantastical costume changes- the kind of showstoppers we’ve come to expect from Gaga- caused jaws to drop repeatedly and confirmed that Gaga, who turns 27 in March, is in great shape and refreshed after a month off for the holidays (the tour began last April in Korea, continuing through March in the US).  Beginning with Gaga’s emergence in futuristic battle gear astride a black unicorn that walked the stage’s fortress and around the catwalks, one outlandish ensemble materialized after another. Horned masks with three faces, alien-like headpieces, a more “practical” version of the meat dress (not to mention a meat sofa and human-size meat grinders), and a hot pink origami dress reminiscent of  John Galliano’s 2007 Dior collection all made appearances, as did all manner of silicon, latex, and leather.  Album cover imagery came to life as Gaga transformed into a motorcycle creature during “Heavy Metal Lover” and cruised along the stage’s catwalks.

(Photo PictureGroup)

Lady Gaga during “Heavy Metal Lover” (Photo PictureGroup)

Performing the entire Born This Way album, the theme predictably hinged on acceptance and bravery but loosely tied into an otherworldly premise- something to do with alien births and G.O.A.T. (government owned alien territory, Gaga explained). Gaga gave birth to herself twice during the evening: once clawing her way out of an obscenely spread inflatable pair of high-heeled legs and a second time emerging from a translucent egg.  A hologram-like disembodied face floated around dispensing bits of narration from within a neon diamond.  Amidst this nonstop action, Gaga managed to weave in past hits “Bad Romance”, “Telephone”, “Love Game”,  “Just Dance”, “Poker Face”, “Alejandro”, “Paparazzi” and still find time for a mid-show personal phone call to a stunned audience member complete with a reprise of “Born This Way”.  She wasn’t kidding when she said “Look at your cell phones; I’m calling one of you.”

Despite her bombastic image and constant antics, at this point one would have to be completely in denial to discredit Gaga’s penchant for hit songs coupled with natural vocal strength.  Anyone that’s seen her incessant tour itinerary must recognize how hard she works, and part of the reason we’re fascinated with Gaga in the first place is her calculated insanity. The Born This Way Ball crystallizes the crazy message she’s been trying to worm into our consciousness the last five years.   It remains to be seen if literally catering to kids in songs like “Hair”, “Bad Kids”, and her stage banter will evolve with next release ARTPOP and resonate with older fans- or let’s face it, ones closer to her own age.  (It’s hard to convincingly sing about high school at 27, unless perhaps you’re watching Grease).  A tongue-in-cheek comment by Gaga herself at one point about the show “not being for children” raised the question of whom exactly her audience is these days.  It seems to be a pretty varied bunch of monsters, most of them young, but many old enough to know a ridiculously good time when they see one and “Just Dance”.

LONDON - 08 SEPTEMBER 2012: Lady Gaga performs at her first London concert on her Born This Way" at the Twickenham Stadium London 8th September 2012 (Photo PictureGroup)

LONDON – 08 SEPTEMBER 2012: Lady Gaga performs at her first London concert on her Born This Way tour at the Twickenham Stadium London 8th September 2012 (Photo PictureGroup)