Monday, November 25, 2013

CHVRCHES @ The Wiltern, Los Angeles. 11-18-13.

Youtube is a strange and wonderful place. Sometime last spring, while scouring the site for kvlt Scandinavian black metal, I stumbled across Chvrches: a Scottish synth pop trio that makes some of the sweetest/catchiest ear candy imaginable. All thanks to that misspelled "v." Like I said, Youtube is a strange and wonderful place.

Flash forward to the present. I've been hooked on Chvrches Recover EP and their recently released debut full length, The Bones of What You Believe like Tyrone Biggums searching for another hit. Something about the band's music conjures images of ethereal landscapes and neon lit pizza parties at Chuck E. Cheese's. Maybe it's the saccharine synthesizers that permeate their recordings? Maybe it's Lauren Mayberry's siren-esque voice, that retains both a childlike innocence and a nurturing Gaelic tone throughout, or maybe it's the misspelled "v" that does it? Either way, this is a far cry from the extreme metal nonsense I usually pollute my ears with and I love it.

Within the past year the band's popularity has grown by leaps and bounds. They went from playing small capacity clubs like The Echo and The Troubadour to selling out an evening at The Wiltern (w/ a capacity of over 1,800 people). Chvrches' single "The Mother We Share" has picked up serious airplay on radio stations and they've even made appearances on both Jimmy Fallon and Kimmel's late night TV shows. All this exposure meant the sold out crowd was beyond hyped for this relatively new band with less than an hour's worth of material in their catalog. Had the band not been awesome, things could have turned ugly.

Thankfully, Chvrches put on one hell of a show. They played their entire new album for the adoring crowd and supplied one of the coolest light shows I've seen since The Main Street Electrical Parade. Lauren's voice and odd, self aware dance moves along with her band mates' impassioned performances (bass, keyboards, backing vocals...and more odd dancing) kept the crowd hypnotized all night. People jumped and danced to upbeat jams like "Gun," "Lies," and "Lungs," then quickly fell under the trance of moody numbers like "Tether" "Night Sky" and "By The Throat." My favorite moment of the night was during "Recover," easily the peppiest pop song since since the Reagan administration, when the programed audio claps gave way to legit enthused hand clapping from the audience...twas awesome.

For an "electronic act" that predominantly relies on pushing buttons than shredding on traditional instruments, Chvrches put on one of the best concerts I've seen in a some time. Hell, even the opening electronic act, Basecamp, was good. Aside from the great tunes and an awe inspiring parade of lights, it should be noted that the show ran quickly and smooth as hell. No audio problems or hiccups and best of all, no waiting for instruments checks/tuning. Check out Chvrches next time they're in your neck of the woods. They got some great songs...and they're punctual. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Black Dahlia Murder & Skeletonwitch @ The Glass House, Pomona. 11-16-13.

A serious case of deja vu and nostalgia floods accompanied The Black Dahlia Murder when they stormed through The Glass House last week. Why you ask? Well you see...

Dahlia and Skeletonwitch both played The Glass House together in 2009 when they opened for Children of Bodom and nearly brought the walls down in the process. Also, I've been following TBDM since the beginning. I bought their debut album Unhallowed (RIP Tower Records) shortly after it's release, and caught them playing with Arch Enemy & Hate Eternal in fall far back that only ONE dude from that original show is still with the band. A decade later and The Black Dahlia Murder were headlining their own sold out gig at The Glass House. I've watched the venues grow in size (the Troubadour, the Roxy, the Key Club, House of Blues, Ozzfest,) and the endless stream of drummers shuffle in (Cory, Zach, Pierre Shannon, now Alan), observing every incarnation of the band, save for their formative years in Michigan. This show in Pomona felt like a strange circle of life moment, but with blast beats and sweaty mosh pits.

Thrashing newcomers Noisem where supposed to open the show but alas, they were involved in some kind of van accident in Northern California and didn't make it. This meant our early arrival was all for naught. Bummer. Fallujah is a band I've seen in passing a few times before, always catching their last song and thinking, "they're ok." What a shame, I finally manage to catch a full set from the band and I'm bored to tears. Don't get me wrong, everyone in the band are excellent musicians and had great energy onstage...but the songs were just a little too generic and sterile for my tastes.

Thankfully, Skeletonwitch were up next to save the day. If there's one thing I've learned in life, it's that Skeletonwitch do not disappoint live. Their high octane blend of thrash and black metal is equal parts pummeling, and down right infectious. The crowd response was so enthusiastic it almost seemed like Skeletonwitch were the night's headliners. The new songs off their just released album, Serpents Unleashed, fit right alongside longtime staples like "Upon Wings of Black" and "Beyond the Permafrost." Much fun was had watching the Skeletonwitch crew and their mops of shaggy hair work their magic over The Glass House.

As soon and Skeletonwitch left the stage and the huge banner with TBDM's logo became visible, it became crystal clear who the headliners were. As impressive as Skeletonwitch were (they stole the show IMO), The Black Dahlia Murder are less a touring band at this point than a heavy metal juggernaut.

It's strange, despite their numerous lineup changes over the years, the key to Dahlia's success is: consistency. They've basically toured nonstop for the past decade (so much so that I've lost count of how many times I've seen them) and have released new albums every two years like clockwork. This has enabled the band to remain fresh in the often fickle metal world, incorporating new and younger fans with every album cycle. Their sound hasn't changed too drastically since 2003, but they've somehow morphed into a seminal group for many a young metal fan, figure heads, like Slayer and Cannibal Corpse before them.

I shit you not, as I surveyed the crowd during TBDM's set, the number of kids singing song lyrics was astronomically high. Of course I've kept up with the band's newer material, 2011's Ritual grew on me overtime....I'm still getting into their new record Everblack, but the "old stuff" (Unhallowed, Miasma and Nocturnal) is what gets my tail wagging. The kids in attendance however, they knew and loved it all. The crowd was almost more interesting to watch than the band. Like I said before, at this stage in the game TBDM is a well oiled machine onstage. You know exactly what you're going to get watching them steamroll through songs at a live show. It's the equivalent of a tank crushing a row of Volkswagens. Did I miss Shannon Lucas behind the drums? Yes. Yes I did, but the new guy Alan held everything down on the kit just fine. The band played a lot of songs from their last three albums (aka the Ryan Knight era), which left no room for classics like "A Vulgar Picture" "Nocturnal" "or "Miasma," hell I'd have been stoked for "Black Valor" but alas, oh wells. New jams like "Goat of Departure" and "Raped In Hatred by Vines of Thorn" brought the excitement levels inside The Glass House to 1000%, so it's all good.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Deftones @ The Greek Theatre. 11-1-13.

Deftones just spent the past few months opening for Avenged Sevenfold on some crappy arena tour across the USA. I say crappy because I wouldn't wish touring with Avenged Sevenfold upon my worst enemy. So the tour ends and Deftones rush back to California and play this awesome one off headlining show at The Greek Theatre. Just the band and five thousand or so friends hanging out together in the Hollywood hillside. Oh...and Glassjaw was opening. Cool right?

Unfortunately, traffic in Southern California is the 5th horseman of the Apocalypse. Journeying through the ungodly confines of the 5 fwy, then traversing through a Mt. Everest of parking lot congestion, we missed Glassjaw and damn near missed the beginning of the headliner's set as well. The only semi-good thing to come out of this traffic/parking nightmare, was seeing Serj and Shavo from System of a Down huddled under a tree outside the venue waiting for the rest of their band mates to show up (this was later confirmed by the power of the internetz). 

Thankfully, we made it to our seats moments before Deftones went into the opening notes of "Feiticeira," off White Pony. After months of playing a brief "best of" type set for non Deftones fans, Chino said it felt great playing whatever they wanted. That meant lots of rare treats like "Elite," "Lhabia," "Teenager," and "Bloody Cape," alongside a healthy dose of new cuts from 2012's Koi No Yokan. "Temptest" and "Romantic Dreams" sounded just as good, if not better (heavier and with crazy urgency) live than on the new record. Even after watching Chino play guitar all night with Palms this summer, it's still so odd watching him with a guitar in Deftones. I guess I'm just used to him jumping and swinging his microphone around.

photo boosted from: L.A. RECORD
Outdoor venues can be tricky, with sound levels fluctuating on the whims of a breezy night, but Deftones sounded great this evening at the Greek. Stephen's guitar was pummeling as ever during "Diamond Eyes," just as Abe's ghost notes and full on snare bashing were on display during "Passenger." We all know Chino is modern rock's crown prince of crooning/screaming, but Sergio Vega's backing vocals have become a crucial component to the Deftones live show. Not only is he a legendary bassist, but the dude can carry a tune. I couldn't believe it but Sergio basically made "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)" his own.

A few bummers about Deftones' otherwise awesome show:
  • Curfew- the venue is nestled between the woodland expanse of Griffith Park, and very expensive residential homes. The wealthy neighbors don't take kindly to late night concerts in their backyard so the Deftones performance at the forest moon of Endor (Chino's words) was cut short by a few songs.
  • Layout-although a great sounding venue, if you aren't within the first few rows of the stage the band feels a bit far away. We were lucky enough to land seats with a birds eye view but still couldn't manage any decent photos or video =/
  • Parking- yeah I'm bitching about parking again. Really it's that fucking horrible trying to park here. We spent about the same amount of time in the car (arriving then trying to exit afterwards) as we did inside the venue watching Deftones play. Sheer insanity.
Small grievances aside, Deftones continued their reign of awesomeness with back to back album & concert victories. So thankful they played this show and didn't force me to buy an Avenged Sevenfold ticket. Thanks guys, I owe you one. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Danny Elfman's Music from the Films of Tim Burton @ The Nokia Theatre, Los Angeles. 10-30-13.

Danny Elfman, the musical genius and magic ginger behind more classic tunes than should be humanly possible took the stage last month for the first time in 18 years. Yes, the man behind Oingo Boingo, The Simpsons theme and one of the most popular film composers of all time came out of self imposed (concert) exile and shared the stage with The Hollywood Symphonic Orchestra and the Page L.A. Choir, performing music from his collaborations with director Tim Burton.

Think about that one folks. Burton and Elfman have been collaborating together for over 25 years. Just about every major film in Burton's career has been brought to life by Elfman's musical prowess. I think it's fair to say that Elfman's music is as important to those films as the actors themselves. When you close your eyes and think of the original Batman, do you not hear Elfman's epic score running pulsating through your head?

Burton's Joker
The orchestra and choir performed amazing renditions of Elfman's music throughout the evening. The crowd went ballistic (well as crazy as one can get in such a soulless venue like Nokia) during the scores from Burton classic's like Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Mars Attacks and Batman & Batman Returns  You could literally feel the floor shake from the rumbling orchestra during the Batman medley, and a pin drop from the eerie silence from Mars Attacks awesome theremin intro. While the music pumped through the air one note at a time via the pros onstage, video clips and original concept art/sketches from each film were projected on giant screens for all to see. Despite the abundance of Johnny Depp and his silly faces, this gave the illusion that we were peeping behind the curtain so to speak, watching these beloved classics of cinema being constructed from the ground up. 

After a brief intermission the orchestra began the night's second act and most anticipated part of the evening. They led with the underwhelming scores from Planet of the Apes, Corpse Bride and Dark Shadows (film's so blah the best music in the world couldn't save them) before playing the cutesy tunes from Frankenweenie , and the holy shit this is amazing combo of Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Scissorhands featured a gnarly violin solo that would have had Beetlejuice honk tonkin' in style, as well as the most powerful moments of the evening. The choir and orchestra working in tandem brought the melancholy and majesty of the film's "Ice Dance" scene to life, coupled with Winona Ryder's gorgeous mug on the was beautiful.

Then, it finally happened. They went into the Nightmare portion of the evening and everyone geeked the fuck out. The man himself, Danny Elfman finally took the stage and began singing Jack Skellington's parts from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Yes, the Pumpkin King performed live before my very eyes and it was the raddest thing I've ever seen. Elfman is such a passionate performer, he was physically reenacting Jack's movements as he sang to the point where he literally was Jack Skellington onstage. I'm curious if he's been singing "What's This?" in the shower for the past twenty years because the man did not miss a beat. Actress Catherine O' Hara, the original voice of Sally (also, Delia from Beetljuice and Kevin McCallister's mom in Home Alone) made a surprise appearance and sang "Sally's Song," for which she received a standing ovation from the sold out crowd. Elfman finished his run of songs from Nightmare and took a bow onstage before returning for a surprise rendition of Oogie Boogie's Song, which was extra amazing because even though he wrote the tune, Elfman didn't provide the singing voice for Oogie Boogie in the film, so no one had ever heard him perform it before.

To say that the final performance of Alice In Wonderland's score was anticlimactic would be an understatement. I spent most all of the final set thinking about the spectacular Nightmare and Scissorhands renditions from earlier. Would I have liked Elfman to speak more and interact with the orchestra like Clint Mansell did earlier this year? Yeah of course, but am I beyond stoked that Elfman decided to perform onstage with such world class musicians behind him? Yeah dude..yeah. All in all, this was an amazing night that I still can't believe took place. Danny Elfman, you rule the universe my friend.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Movie Review: Thor- The Dark World

Christmas came early folks. Thor: The Dark World is everything my inner seven year old wanted to see and more. If you didn't already know, Thor Odinson has been my favorite comic book character for the last two decades. Watching the first Thor movie on the big screen was surreal. Sure, he spent half the film trapped in mortal form on Earth, but the Asgard scenes and the finale on the rainbow bridge were exquisite. Also, the fight between Thor and Hulk in Avengers remains the greatest thing I've ever experienced in life. srs bro.

So Thor 2 has more of Thor being Thor. He's learned from his experiences in Marvel's phase one films and is no longer seeking his father's approval and trying to earn his stripes. No, from the first moments of The Dark World he's established as Asgard's #1 ass kicker extraordinaire. He controls the elements, flys with mjolnir at breakneck speeds, dukes it out with super strong baddies, woos the ladies and lays the smack down across the nine realms. It's glorious.

Speaking of glorious. Loki is back. Yes, the coolest villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Thor's pesky brother (albeit, adopted) returns and once again, almost steals the entire film with his nefarious grin and treacherous schemes. He's like Hannibal Lecter and Health Ledger's Joker combined, but with better hair. Lady Sif has a slightly larger role than in the first film which is good because Jamie Alexander is gorgeous and I'd love to see them explore the love triangle between her, Jane and ol' Goldilocks himself, but alas, she had to go and damn near break her break back while filming the movie. I'm sure that nasty accident put a damper on her screen time. The Dark Elves are worthy successors in terms of villains but are still a bit underwhelming.They're as menacing as the Frost Giants from the first film, but seem more like disposable enemies ala the Putty Patrol from Power Rangers.

I guess my only gripe with Thor 2 is that it's not all that original. Some of the Dark Elf tech looks straight out of Prometheus, even their leader Malekith looks like an Engineer with a ponytail. Also, many of the films gags (and there are tons of them) although hilarious, feel a bit recycled. I'm guessing the Marvel/Disney overlords decided to play it safe with this one and expand upon the safest elements of Thor's mythos. There's more special effects, more interplay between the realms, more action, more comedy, more (February 2012 Female Obsession honoree) Natalie Portman & Kat Dennings, more more more of everything.

Deep down, I was hoping Thor: The Dark World didn't suck, because the last thing I wanted to do was sacrifice my cinephile street cred for my knee jerk comic book fanboy love at first sight reaction to Thor wrecking shit with his hammer. I mean, I saw how pathetic those Man of Steel defenders looked trying to vouch for such a horrible film. I didn't want to be that guy. Thankfully, Thor 2 is a wickedly fun movie. No it's not perfect and suffers from pacing issues as well as something I like to call, CGI overload, but overall it's a good action/adventure/comic book movie. It's the type of summer blockbuster we should have got earlier in the year. I mean, how serious can a film about a caped god who swings a magic hammer really be? Thor: The Dark World knows exactly what it is and continues the awesome intergalactic soap opera that is the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe....duh) in fine fashion. For Asgard!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Movie Review: Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass are a match made in heaven. The most beloved actor/human on the planet commands the audience's attention with another career defining performance (adding to the pile), while the journalist turned adrenaline junkie director sneaks up and hijacks the viewers emotions for the film's entire run time. A dazzling mix of sentiment and suspense that's equal parts entertaining, and exhausting.

Hanks stars as Captain Phillips, the head hancho of a U.S. cargo ship that gets hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The story is based on the true life events of the real Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009, so no spoilers here...just old memories I guess. These ripped from the headlines/biopic films usually go two ways, either they stick to the source material and try to be extra dry and authentic, or head the opposite route and ham everything up with cringe worthy melodrama and get all Lifetime movie of the week on us. Thankfully, Captain Phillips does neither. Like I said before, it strikes a near perfect balance between realism and entertainment.

It seems like director Paul Greengrass does everything in his power to make the viewers knuckles turn white. The first act of the movie rolls through like a conveyer belt, jumping from one quick exposition scene to the next until, holy shit: "We're being invaded!" and then things really go into pants shitting high gear. The second act meanders a bit, what do you expect when you're stuck in a claustrophobic lifeboat on the high seas, but the top notch performances from Hanks and the first time actors cast as the Somali pirates keeps the film intact. Then there's third act, where the U.S. Navy finally gets involved and Hank's performance goes from great (as usual) to "he might just need a third Oscar" level.

I tried putting my own Millennial bias aside while watching Captain Philips but at this point it's almost impossible so I'll just come out and say it: Tom Hanks can do no wrong. For people of my generation, who grew up watching him dance in Big, curse in A League of Their Own and run like the wind in Forrest Gump, he's more than just an actor. He's been an AIDS victim (Philadelphia), an astronaut (Apollo 13), a war hero (Saving Private Ryan) and a Castaway (duh). He's the star of the Playtone galaxy (That Thing You Do) and Andy's favorite companion (Toy Story), the lovable everyman who just so happens to be the highest grossing movie star of all time. I think it's safe to say I've learned more life lessons from Tom Hank's movies than I have from real life "role models." Sometimes, I even read/ hear certain things in his voice. Watching Tom Hanks suffer through the final act of Captain Phillips felt like someone was strangling the embodiment of my childhood before my eyes. It was like the furnace scene in Toy Story 3 all over again. It should go without saying that Hanks is a phenomenal actor and even if his performance in Captain Phillips was lackluster (which it certainly is not), even if the man who won back to back Oscars in 93' & 94' decided to phone it in this time, I would have still been on the verge of tears.

In short, Captain Phillips aka The Tom Hanks show, is one hell of a ride. With Hanks and Greengrass in cahoots, the emotion and suspense levels are off the charts.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Stan Lee's Comikaze 2013

Even though I was stuck working on Halloween, the stars aligned for me in other ways last week, attending two awesome concerts, seeing what may well be the best film of the year, and attending the final day of Comikaze 2013 at the LA Convention Center. For those of you who don't know, Comikaze is the brain child of Stan "The Man" Lee, (cultural icon, national treasure and, ya know.. creator of just about every important Marvel Comics character ever) a geek culture convention that aims at capturing the pulse of the comic book/video game/sci-fi realms, unlike San Diego Comic Con which has become overrun by Twilight fans and corporate Hollywood types. *shakes fist*

Here's a visual rundown of Comikaze 2013: Day 3.
WARNING: Lots of awesome cosplay ahead: