“KEXP Presents: Raw Power – A Tribute to Iggy & The Stooges” (2016)

I go to a lot of meetings.  A LOT of meetings.  It seems like my work calendar these days is nothing but meetings.  At these meetings lots of ideas are brought to the table, most practical, some interesting, and a select few are innovative.  But I’ve never been to a meeting where someone has said something like, “You know what we should do?  We should put together an all-star band made up of Seattle musicians and have them do a free show where they play nothing but Stooges covers.  Oh, and they should do it on the roof of Pike Place Market, and it should be a free concert.  And then we can release it on vinyl.”  That sounds like a pretty cool meeting.

It all came together on a beautiful night in late August 2015, thanks to our friends at KEXP radio, the same station that helped bring us killer live vinyl releases of The Sonics Live at Easy Street and On Top! (KEXP Presents Mudhoney Live On Top Of The Space Needle).  And the band they put together for this little hootenanny?  Oh my, what a band it was:

  • Mark Arm (Mudhoney, Green River)
  • Mike McCready (Pearl Jam, Mad Season)
  • Duff McKagan (The Fartz, Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver)
  • Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Mad Season, Skin Yard)

All of these guys grew up in the greater Seattle area, so it truly is a pretty impressive crew of locals.

In case you were wondering how awesome this was, you can watch and listen to the entire show online:

So what about the record?  Well, it sounds pretty damn good, I must say.  I found the set list a bit interesting, most notably due to the songs that weren’t played.  A lot of The Stooges’ classics were left out – no “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” or “No Fun,” or “Fun House,” or “Raw Power.”  However… in some ways that makes it a bit better.  It makes the guys feel like something more than just a cover band hammering out the hits, almost like a cool band you’ve never heard before, especially if you’re like me and don’t have a deep knowledge of The Stooges’ catalog.

kexprawpower

The B side is absolutely fantastic.  The extended jam of “Down on the Street” has some fantastic guitar work on it, plus Mark Arm breaking out at one point to tell the fans how this show came about.  The side also gives us our biggest classic Stooges number, “Search and Destroy,” one of my personal favorites.

Overall the sound quality on KEXP Presents: Raw Power – A Tribute to Iggy & The Stooges is excellent, even more so when you consider it was performed outdoors on the roof of a building.  It’s limited to 2,500 units, but you can find plenty of sealed copies on Discogs for less than twenty bucks, which is a pretty good deal if you ask me.  So if you’re a fan of The Stooges, or just that early proto-punk rock in general, go get yourself a copy, and you too can be a street walkin’ cheetah with a heart full of napalm…

Iceland Airwaves 2013 – Day 4

Is it just me, or has Airwaves been insanely busy this year?  I suppose that should be expected with 220 or so bands playing somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 shows over the course of five days, but it still feels like we’ve been on the go non-stop since we got here, which is funny since we’ve done this before so it’s not like we have a lot of touristy stuff we felt the need to squeeze in.  Don’t get me wrong, though, because this is by far the best weather we’ve ever had on any of our seven trips to Iceland (sunny and in the high 30s, with almost no wind at all), so walking around town has been spectacular, and the quality of the bands from top to bottom has been fantastic.  I just think I’m going to need a vacation to recover from my vacation.

On Day 4 we finally made our first trek of the trip down to KEX Hostel, where KEXP radio has been doing live broadcasts and filming shows more or less throughout the festival.  It’s an intimate setting, and if you get there early like we did for one of our favorite Icelandic bands, Bloodgroup, you can get yourself a spot right in the front and literally be face-to-face with the band.  Their set was impressive both for its sound quality and the band’s incredible energy – I was worried someone was going to take a spill with all the bouncing around they did in that small space with its tangle of cords all over the floor.  This was the fifth time we’d seen them live (including their one visit to Seattle a few years back when they played at the High Dive), and the first time they had a live drummer with them.  I have to say, he was great and I liked his sound a lot more than the typical drum machine.  Their set was tight, mostly material from Tracing Echoes but also with one classic thrown in, one of our favorites “These Arms.”

They were followed by múm, a difficult to categorize band – sort of chamber folk pop.  múm packed the house and we opted for a spot in the back where we could hear but not see the band, but at the same time not be more or less trapped at the front by a wall of people.  I didn’t know if I was going to like them, but I shouldn’t have been worried.  Their set seemed to fly by and I’m glad we got a chance to experience one of Iceland’s treasured musical groups.

We opened the on-venue portion of the night at the small rock club Gamli Gaukurinn, a place where we’ve seen lots of great shows in the past.  Gamli underwent a facelift since our last visit, so our favorite corner table was gone.  The sound system may have been upgraded as well because it was clean and insanely loud.  Almost too loud at times (does that mean I’m officially old?  Maybe.  But louder isn’t always better.).  Skepna opened with an in-you-face hard rock/heavy metal assault.  They were followed by Fears, a band that really impressed us with their post-punkish, black leather jacket rock sound.  We tried to catch up with them after their set to pick up a CD but with no luck, so we may need to check iTunes.  Definitely good enough to warrant future listens.  Sign was next, and there was some serious head-banging going on in the front row during their metal set.  The singer/guitarist took a potentially dangerous spill while balancing on a monitor and the riot barrier, but recovered nicely and continued playing even as he was in a pile on the floor.  That, my friends, is rock ‘n’ roll.

That brought us to one of our favorite Icelandic bands, Legend.  This was the second time we’d seen them on the trip (amazingly the first time all trip we’d seen the same band twice), and frankly they went off.  Travis from the Guerilla Candy blog made it just in time to see them and came away impressed as well.  These guys are intense.  INTENSE.  The sound was great and we all agreed that the singer seemed to mix up his cadences a bit more this time, give the songs a more “live” feel.  I’m not sure how he was able to stay upright though given all the flash bulbs going off right in his face.  As in maybe six inches from his eyes.  C’mon photogs, you know better than that.  I get that the dude has a compelling look, but help a brother out.  Regardless, great set.  Looking forward to the new 7″ they have coming out before the end of the year.

From there it was off to Harpa with the the plan of seeing FM Belfast.  Before them was the American folk act Midlake who are obviously great musicians, but just not my cup of Brennivín.  British techno DJ Jon Hopikns was up next with an hour long set that while good frankly had so much bass and so much high pitched squealing that it literally became uncomfortable on our ears.  So much so that we literally bailed out before FM Belfast, feeling totally spent.  Fortunately a slice of hot pizza at 1:30 AM did a lot to restore our confidence in humanity even if it didn’t help our ringing ears.

Hard to believe there’s only one more day left…

Ólafur Arnalds (with Arnór Dan Arnársson) – Live in Seattle @ Benaroya Hall 9/27/13

We spotted Ólafur Arnalds on the lineup for Seattle’s annual Decibel Festival, but because my wife was traveling for business that week and not returning home until the afternoon of the show we figured we probably wouldn’t make the show.  But when we found out a week ago that our friend Arnór Dan Arnársson of Agent Fresco fame was coming to town to perform some vocals for Arnalds, reprising his role on For Now I Am Winter, that changed everything.  Tickets were purchased, plans were made.

Arnalds has done a number of performances for Seattle’s KEXP radio over the years, and the morning of the show he, Arnór, and their string performers did a roughly 20 minute live set over at the studio.  I reached out to a friend and he was kind enough to invite me down to watch, which was fantastic.  Not only did I have a chance to see Arnór for a couple of minutes, but I also got to briefly meet Arnalds who was great.  They played four songs – two instrumental (one from For Now I Am Winter, the other from Living Room Songs) followed by two off the new album that featured Arnór singing, “For Now I Am Winter” and the absolutely brilliant “Old Skin”.  The guys sounded great, and despite bets being made in the studio as to whether or not Arnór would be able to hit the high notes during the performance that he kept missing during practice (I believe the wager eventually involved Arnalds putting up an airport lounge pass, his health insurance card, and $10 Canadian…), he nailed both songs and sounded amazing as always.

The show itself was held in the perfect venue for Arnalds – the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital  Hall at Benaroya Hall, a 536-person room designed specifically for great acoustics.  German composer Nils Frahm opened the show with his ambient electronic and piano arrangements and was joined on stage by Arnalds for one number.  This was my first experience with Frahm and I found that there were parts of his performance that I liked a lot, particularly those that were less electronic based and had more emphasis on his piano skills.  His pieces are long, making them somewhat challenging, but I felt he got stronger as the set progressed (that may say more about me becoming more attuned to what he was doing than anything else) and he ended on a high note with the long piano part to close his final song, which was the pinnacle of his night.

Arnalds was joined on stage by a violinist and a cellist, just like he was when we saw him at Airwaves last year, but this was a much more enjoyable and intimate venue when compared to the raised stage and crowd sitting on the floor that made him seem a million miles away during that show in Reykjavik.  One of Arnalds strengths as a performer (as opposed to simply being a fantastic musician) is that he engages the crowd, not only being funny and telling us a bit about his songs (one of which was composed following a drinking bout during an overnight van ride while traveling to a gig in Poland, for example… “Sad songs don’t have to always be a out heartache… there are other kinds of sadness too!”), but also about how he was using technology during the show, capturing samples on his iPad and then layering them into the song as it continues.  Another of his strengths is that he loves to showcase the talent around him as was evidenced by the strong violin parts written into some of his pieces, one of which involved an extended solo that he simply sat and watched, obviously relishing it.

Arnársson joined Arnalds on stage for two songs it the second half of the set, the same two he performed at KEXP earlier in the day.  It was apparent that at least some members of the crowd knew Arnársson from his work with Agent Fresco, especially given that someone shouted the band name from the back of the hall when he was introduced (it was’t me, Arnór!).  He was emotional and brilliant, with Arnalds understanding exactly how to get the most out of his singer’s voice and showcasing it much as he did the strings.  And yes, he hit the high notes.  Frahm joined the entire ensemble on stage for one of these songs as well.

Overall it was a very enjoyable night of music.  With so much talent in the room you knew you were going to be impressed throughout, and blown away at times, and Arnalds and friends came through.  And given that Arnalds is only 26 years old, I suspect we can expect decades more of great music from him, and I for one will be watching… and listening.