The last two times I saw Nickel Creek were at the exact same venue where I was fortunate enough to see them perform earlier this week, on the final evening of their reunion tour. I realized just as I was typing that sentence that I’m incredibly spoiled.
“We keep changing the music, and you guys keep coming.”
Michael Gungor said this during a heartfelt moment of thanking the audience for coming to see him, his wife Lisa Gungor, and their band perform at the El Rey last night. It’s standard operating procedure for bands to thank their audiences for attending shows, but I could tell that seeing us all there at each stop on the tour was especially meaningful, given that a lot of the music on Gungor’s latest album I Am Mountain had arisen from a season of doubt and distress, and the new songs discussed these in sometimes metaphorical ways that weren’t as clear on the outcome or “answers” as a lot of Christian music fans might expect. And that’s to say nothing of their stylistic shift, from kinda rock-oriented indie worship band on Beautiful Things, to full on baroque and even a bit bluegrassy on Ghosts Upon the Earth, to the snapshot of a sort-of-electronic, sort-of-acoustic, sort-of-jammy and sort-of-abstract band in flux captured on I Am Mountain. You just never know what you’re gonna get from a Gungor album, or from one of their concerts, but they remain one of the most talented and prolific bands on the “indie” side of Christian music, and they’re always a treat to see live.
Saw Vienna Teng at The Largo tonight. Geographically, West Hollywood might as well be Timbuktu for folks living on the side of L.A. that we do, and there aren’t many artists for whom I’d brave the weekday rush hour traffic. But Vienna is one of them, especially due to the long gap between tours due to her attending grad school in Michigan.
Sleeping at Last had a slot in the “Make Music Festival” today, which featured about 100 bands all playing different venues in my hometown of Pasadena, California. I had heard of about 1% of those bands, so SAL was the only one we stuck around to see. It was nice to hear them in an outdoor venue, with a full band arrangement including a string trio. That made a lot of the Yearbook songs sound truer to their album versions, plus the one older song played, “Umbrellas”. I’ve heard SAL play that one every time I’ve seen them live since Keep No Score was brand new, and this was definitely the best arrangement of it so far. I wish more new material from Atlas had been played – only “Uneven Odds” made an appearance – but it was a rather short set, only seven songs, so presumably they had to stick with stuff that passersby might have stood a chance of recognizing. Free show in a city park and all that.
I really wasn’t sure last night whether we were going to a Fiction Family show with Sara Watkins opening, or a Sara Watkins show with Fiction Family opening. I get the idea that they’ve been switching up lead roles on this tour, likely to the chagrin of venues who want to be able to tell their patrons exactly when each act will be performing. I got tickets just knowing Fiction Family would be there, and considered Sara Watkins to be a bonus. She ended up performing first, though Sean pulled double duty in both bands, as well as Fiction Family’s bass/keyboard guy, Tyler Chester, and Sara hopped up on stage several times during Fiction Family’s set to contribute fiddle and vocals. All in all, it felt like a family atmosphere, and I’ve rarely seen two siblings with such musical chemistry as the two Watkins – they’re nigh-inseparable. Sean’s fictional bro Jon Foreman seems like the odd man out in that scenario, but the enthusiasm he brings even to small club shows is infectious. He can play a goofy country song to a small crowd with the same level of excitement he brings to Switchfoot playing one of their biggest hits in a large amphitheater. That, and an overall band chemistry that makes the live shows easily supersede the recordings, is what makes both FF and Sara Watkins great acts to see live if you ever get the chance.
Muse’s first of three shows at the Staples Center tonight was amazing. Not that I expected any less – they gave the exact kind of visually dazzling and sonically delightful show that I’ve been told to expect from them. “U2 in the 90s on crack” might help to explain some of the visuals, though minus the shock tactics and soliloquies. I suppose some visuals hinted at political meanings to their songs (which aren’t difficult to unearth in their lyrics anyway), but mostly it was a spectacular laser-light show to suit the mood of each song. This band is one of the best when it comes to knowing how to just shut up and play.
Paper Route was excellent last night. It was their first show in LA in three years or so, and a unique headlining spot during a break in their tour with Switchfoot. Having never seen the band live before, I’d have to say they’re a lot like MuteMath on stage – perhaps not to the extent of breaking down and rebuilding their set mid-song or anything… but their music is heavy on percussion and electronics, their drummer’s a bit of an animal, their frontman’s rather hyperactive, and they had a second drum kit set up on a riser so that various members could climb up there when a song called for additional percussion. At one point, with the bass player banging on electronic drum pads, there were three people playing percussion at once. All in all, a very loud and very fun set.