Tag Archives: cool things that only Nikhil gets to go to

Lykke Li – I Never Learn & Live at the Fox Theater (21/9/2014)

24 Sep

I’ve been listening a lot to the new Lykke Li album I Never Learn and also happened to have tickets to her concert last Sunday, so in the standard hyper-efficient Top Five Records manner, here is both the album and concert review.

I Never Learn

It has been a while since I’ve heard an album as dedicated to ballads as this one. I Never Learn is not just a collection of true pop ballads, it is a collection of true pop ballads about a break-up. It is also an excellent one, if a little repetitive.

Firstly, Lykke Li’s voice is consistently amazing. It is rich, human and above all communicative. She ranges from the more hazy “Just Like A Dream” to the frighteningly destructive “Gunshot” with ease. Her ballads are powerful and personal things. The entire album blames herself for the failure of the relationship and mines that vein deeply.

There lies my major complaint with the album though, it falls a little too far into sameness. It’s not precisely one-note, the slow “Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone” is followed immediately by the anthemic “Never Going To Love Again”, but the album does blend together. There are songs that stand out, the aforementioned “Gunshot” and “No Rest For The Wicked” are excellent, but too much of the rest feels undifferentiated.

Nevertheless, this is a beautiful set of ballads and an excellent album. The relationship the album is drawn from may have ended, but with music like this her listeners at least will never let her go.

Live at the Fox Theater (21/9/2014)

Mapei

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The show was opened by Mapei, a Swedish genre-bending pop artist. Her set was inconsistent, but fun despite that. Her sound is rooted in pop but mixes in hip-hop and R&B and even has her occasionally rapping. Her debut album Hey Hey has just released and is definitely worth checking out.

Lykke Li

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Lykke Li herself was a pleasure to see. As with her records, her voice served her beautifully. She did not restrict herself to just her latest album and that added some welcome variance. Her sound has shifted a fair bit over the years and hearing them all made for an interesting concert. Besides, it was fun to hear her hits. Personally, “Little Bit” was the standout moment of the concert for me, but “No Rest for the Wicked” was also really good and her cover of The Boss’ “I’m On Fire” was exceptional.

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Additionally, her stage presence was amazing. She was frankly flirtatious during the entire thing, and she did it wonderfully. It was like watching her at prom, she felt young and happy. Her manner did a huge amount for the show. When the performer is clearly enjoying herself and feels at ease, it’s hard not to follow suit.

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This was a great show and it had everything that I look for, varied and great music with improvisation and done with personality to boot.

@murthynikhil

Slint at The Fillmore – 25/8/2014

31 Aug

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I know Slint for one thing and one thing only, their second album Spiderland. Spiderland defined a genre. All of the Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor you have ever loved have roots in this album. Slint is what music cults are all about and exactly the kind of band that you want to see live.

Their music is deeply absorbing. They have the trick of making musical patterns that pull you inexorably in. You can almost feel the descending notes spiral around you, dragging you where they will. Hearing it live adds a new intensity and a new menace. They are not the most active of performers, but their music is not about the people, it is about the sound.

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This is what concerts like these are about. They are about sinking into the music, having it surround you for the one and a half hours that it goes on and then walking back out into the cold world and trying desperately to recall those moments and express just what it was like to be inside.

@murthynikhil

Outside Lands Day One – 8/8/2014

10 Aug

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Outside Lands is the largest music festival of the year for San Francisco. It’s cousin from the South, Coachella, is larger in every way, but it is still a big thing for those who stay in the City by the Bay. Normally I skip these things, but for this one that wasn’t an option. You’ll find out why below.

Run the Jewels

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My Outside Lands experience started with Run The Jewels, the hip-hop duo consisting of Killer Mike and El-P and they started it well. They came out aggressively and ran an intense set. Run The Jewels was one of the best rap albums of the past year and made for a fun live show. Killer Mike also took some time to respect the bay, remembering Mac Dre and calling Too $hort his father figure. They even brought out SF native and hometown hero DJ Qbert who ran the turntables like a champ. This was quite the opening to a day full of music.

Warpaint

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Next on my list was the excellent indie rock quartet Warpaint. Their sounds have the gossamer delicacy of fine silk and intrigue of a murder mystery. Simple to the point of being almost unadorned, their pop has a natural beauty that is incomparable. Unique and wonderful, their show was a delight.

Chromeo/Grouplove

Sadly, the show then hit its low point with Chromeo. They drew quite the crowd and an enthusiastic one at that. Their show however took all their flaws and magnified them. They lost what little charm their albums hold and came off as purely unintelligent and unlikeable in concert. The high point of their show was choosing to leave it.

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I crossed the field just in time to listen to Grouplove cover Beyoncé’s “Drunk In Love”. They couldn’t do it full justice. Beyoncé’s voice is exquisite. Still, they tried and the result was worth the listen. They followed it up with a couple of mediocre songs and a couple of good songs. I’m not going to buy tickets to a full Grouplove concert anytime soon, but I could have done worse than to watch them for half an hour.

Tegan and Sara

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Next on the list were Tegan and Sara. The indie rock duo was more fun than anyone else in the concert. Their songs were upbeat and bouncy and they kept breaking up their set with some quite amusing banter. I was quite sad that I had to leave them early, but I wanted to make sure I found a good place for the next concert.

Kanye West

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I bought tickets to Outside Lands purely to see Kanye West and he did not disappoint. Intense, challenging and of unparalleled quality, this is exactly what I wanted from a Kanye West concert. I just didn’t know how well he would deliver.

He opened with “Black Skinhead” eliciting the expected crowd excitement, and the following hit “Mercy” kept the hype rolling, but it wasn’t until later that we really began to see what this concert could be. In the middle of “Clique” he broke off the song to speak about the hate he gets and how his listeners are his clique. Chanting the chorus took a new intensity immediately after.

His anger in “New Slaves” was nothing short of palpable. One of his oaths in that song physically rocked me back. The crowd naturally knew most of his songs, so he kept cutting them up into pieces and making the crowd go over certain parts multiple times. You could say he was a leader and we were followers.

Kanye West is not the kind of guy to pander during a concert. He did shout out to SF during “The Good Life” instead of the normal second set of cities with the Bay Area line. We must have gone over “Blood On The Leaves” five times because he wanted mosh pits for when the bass drops in that song. “POWER” was abruptly broken because he felt like switching songs. Kanye does what he wants, and that’s why I go see him.

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The later part of the show featured quite a few of his older hits. He started with “All Falls Down” to bring back the memories and then kept going. “Jesus Walks” still holds up as one of his best songs and works very well in a crowd. Also, “Diamonds of Sierra Leone” was quite the throwback. I remember watching that song on TV back when it first came out. “Touch The Sky” and “Stronger” also came out to represent one end with “Bound 2”, “All of the Lights” and “Run This Town” pushing the other. The man has quite the discography.

As always with Kanye though, a large part of his appeal is being able to relate with his sentiments. Often, it seems like he is the only angry person left in music. This time for me it was “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”. It has been quite a while since I last heard it and it was the right song in the right place. Shouting the chorus with the crowd was nothing short of cathartic and “I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny/And what I do, act more stupidly” hit all the right notes.

During an extended singing part of “Runaway”, Kanye stated that his songs are about promoting self-confidence and that being a fan of Kanye was being a fan of yourself. This is the kind of concert that makes you be both.

@murthynikhil

Snoop Dogg at the Regency, SF (17/4/2014)

5 May

It’s been quite some time since 1992 when a young Snoop Doggy Dogg stepped into the game on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. A lot has happened since then, including the death of 2Pac, some experiments with reggae and a Call of Duty voice pack, but Snoop is still one of the giants of hip-hop and a fine man to see live.

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Snoop is also a man with an unquestioned ability to have fun. This was not so much a concert as party time with Uncle Snoop. In the middle of the concert, he played Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” and just chanted the chorus with the crowd. His charisma is undeniable and his happiness was clearly genuine and very infectious. I don’t think it is possible to go to a Snoop Dogg concert and not have fun.

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This playfulness resulted in a far more eclectic show than I expected. Not only did a Joan Jett song make an appearance, but also Kriss Kross’s “Jump”, and even The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize”. Of course, he followed that with the west coast classic “2 Of Americaz Most Wanted”, sadly without the associated 2Pac hologram.

He dropped classics from all across his career over the show. From “Lodi Dodi” and “Gin & Juice” from his debut album Doggystyle to “P.I.M.P” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot” to as recent a song as “Hit Da Pavement” from 7 Days of Funk. His has been a long and storied career and we were treated to the entirety of it.

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Uncle Snoop took us out for one of the most fun nights that I’ve ever had. No one can make rap look as easy as he does.

@murthynikhil

Haim at The Fillmore, SF (10/4/2014)

15 Apr

It should be quite clear by now that we at Top Five Records really like Haim. Our review had nothing but love, they made Neeharika’s top five albums of 2013 and mine as well. “The Wire” even made Neeharika’s top five songs of the year.

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They are a very easy band to like. They’re fun, they’re immensely talented, they make very good music and after this concert, you can add excellent live to that list.

Shy Girls

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The opening act Shy Girls were mostly good, but a little inconsistent. Their first couple of songs were enjoyable, but the ones that followed were honestly a little boring. All told, they provided an enjoyable backdrop to the crowd’s conversations, but never really managed to shift the focus to the stage. They were a little too self-indulgent to be truly interesting, especially when their performance moved further into the emotional. I do appreciate a band that pulls out a soprano saxophone though, even if it is mostly for pop appeal.

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Haim

It is easy to underestimate just how talented and versatile a band Haim is. Their opening songs turned the vocals down and the guitars up for some hard rock including an extended jam of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well“. They possess a tremendous amount of technical skill and were perfectly at ease shredding to start the show.

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From there though, the concert broke into a more melodic set. Their ballads were excellent live. Both “Honey & I” and “Running If You Call My Name” were outstanding. Additionally, “My Song 5” could have started a mosh pit. There was not a single weak performance in the entire set.

Unsurprisingly, their stage presence was also incredible. Este’s bassfaces were everything they were promised to be, Alana was exactly the cute youngest sister that her twitter account @babyhaim would lead you to believe and Danielle appeared to channel Jimi Hendrix in her guitar solos. This was not only a great concert to see, this was fun as well.

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For their encore, they brought out their parents to perform a song from their Rockinhaim days, a funky number called “Mustang Sally.” They followed that with “The Wire”, the one hit that the main performance missed and ended with everyone on the drums.

This was exactly what a great concert should be. There was no flash, there were no gimmicks, there was just good music and a fun band. This was a joy to watch.

@murthynikhil

De La Soul at Yoshi’s, San Francisco (7/3/2014)

16 Mar

De La Soul is one of those bands that could have defined hip-hop. Their debut album 3 Feet High and Rising, now 25 years old, was widely considered one of the best of its year and achieved commercial success. That album could have brought about the Daisy Age of hip-hop. For better or worse, that didn’t happen. Nevertheless, De La Soul is one of the pillars of old-school hip-hop and their live show more than justifies that respect.

This is the first old-school hip-hop concert that I’ve ever been to and I never realized how much space is in those old songs for audience participation. The choruses all seemed to have been designed for the audience to shout along with. You haven’t heard any of their music properly until you’ve been in a mob all singing it out together.

Their crowd skills were incredible. They talked and joked constantly and the audience response was intense. They brought a forest of hands up from the beginning of the concert and that forest was not felled until the concert finished. It was quite the intense performance and the crowd showed the energy that deserved. Also many points for the constant San Francisco shout-outs.

The show went over much of their stable of hits, including Me, Myself and I, Oodles of Os, Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey), A Roller Skating Jam Named “Saturdays” and Oooh. There were a few missteps in their performance, but that was just part of the charm. This was three guys who have been around since the beginning of hip-hop and never forgotten how much fun it is supposed to be. They wanted everyone to enjoy the show and delivered enough that anything else was impossible.

@murthynikhil

Janelle Monáe at the Justin Herman Plaza, San Francisco (7/3/2014)

10 Mar

As I have said multiple times before, I really like Janelle Monáe. She’s smart, imaginative and energetic. Her music is rarely short of excellent. Also, her live performances are incredible. So, when salesforce.com sponsored a free show of hers to celebrate their 15th anniversary and accompanying food drive, I jumped at the chance to see her live again.

This may have been a free show, but it was certainly treated like any other. It opened with an overture leading into her entrance onstage in a straightjacket to follow the Palace of the Dogs narrative that she’s spent the better part of the last decade setting up. From there, she jumped straight into a solo “Givin’ Em What They Want” that never seemed to miss Prince at all. Janelle Monáe was clearly able to supply everything anyone could need all by herself.

The show was a mixture of hits from all over her discography. “Dance Apocalyptic” led into “Sincerely, Jane” flawlessly. “Electric Lady” saw her moonwalk across the entire stage, and was followed with covers of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and “ABC”. “Q.U.E.E.N” saw her do both her own and Erykah Badu’s parts of the song, but sadly “Tightrope” did not include a stab at Big Boi’s rap. As ever, the show closed with a very extended “Come Alive” jam.

Janelle Monáe is one of my favorite people to see live. Her sincerity and enthusiasm are absolutely unparalleled. Her shows are meticulously produced and her stage presence is staggering. There are very few performers with her talent working today. She sets quite the high bar for her competition and shows like this one consistently do the impossible. They push that bar higher.

@murthynikhil

CHVRCHES at Fox Theater (17/11/2013)

18 Nov

You may recall that I was one of the many people who were very excited about the CHVRCHES album that released earlier this year. I was however disappointed by the album, which made the tickets I had bought earlier to see them live seem a bit foolish. Thankfully, their concert was highly enjoyable, proving that decisions made with limited information are the best kind of decisions.

I have a weakness for intelligent pop groups with a female singer and the CHVRCHES seemed right up my alley. Thoroughly anointed and highly hyped, they made a big splash before their album dropped and their singles were nothing short of glorious. It was just that the rest of their album could not match up to those high points. We all make mistakes and the world is littered with concert tickets of regret. Nevertheless, I didn’t dislike the album and I really liked some of the singles, so despite still feeling a little cheated, I made myself a little less unpresentable and stepped out.

The opening act Basecamp was a rather typical opening act. Their music was acceptable, but the crowd seemed more interested in their conversations than in the band. This was reasonable, as despite Basecamp actually sounding good, their set had nothing stand out. This is the kind of band you want playing at a pub when out with friends, something that sounds good when you want to listen to the music, but otherwise stays out of the way.

The CHVRCHES did not start out well. The beginning few songs were okay, but not quite up to the standard of their album. This culminated in a very sub-par version of “Lies“, by far my favorite of their songs. However, once their initial hiccups were out of the way and they fell into the flow of their music, the concert became quite good. I’m more than willing to forgive a few missteps from a jet-lagged and slightly sick band and the way they powered through the rest of their set made doing so trivial. “Science/Visions” was impossibly good and “The Mother We Share” was very strong.

There was also a very hammed-up “Under The Tide”, but these things happen and it was the only time Martin Doherty got the spotlight. There is a reason that Lauren Mayberry is the front of this band and for most of the show she had it. The band took plenty of time during their set to chat with the crowd, which incidentally was the most enthusiastic crowd I have ever seen. The teenagers at the Marina concert may have had more energy, but these fans made up for that in dedication. The talking was fun, if often inaudible, and honestly the band did need something to stretch out their performance a little. They only have so many songs to perform after all.

Maybe it was the concert setting, or maybe it was the intense light show that went on throughout the concert, but I think that it was just that they are a great live band. This was a highly enjoyable night for me and one that I will definitely repeat when they next come to the area.

Janelle Monáe at The Warfield (1/11/2013)

4 Nov

I really like Janelle Monáe. She’s really smart, wildly imaginative and makes music that not only defies classification, but is just simply very good. Getting to see her live is something that I have been looking forward to for quite a while, and she did not disappoint.

The opening act was led by a man named Roman GianArthur, whom I had never heard of before. The loss there was entirely mine. He took a crowd impatient for Ms. Monáe and converted them to his cause in a heartbeat. Admittedly, his sound is not that far from that of the parent act, but that is in no way a slight. I wouldn’t have gone to the concert if I didn’t want to hear some funky R&B. Excellent stagecraft, excellent singing and just an excellent show. I will be sure to see him again when he next tours, by which time I’m sure he’ll be headlining. Until then, I’ll just have to be satisfied with the prospect of his upcoming album and his single I-69.

Janelle Monáe’s show started, as it must, with an overture, which was quite nice. The first couple of songs, Givin’ Them What They Want and Dance Apocalyptic were good, but had me a little worried. Albums as immaculately produced as The Electric Lady don’t always translate well to the roughness of a concert hall’s sound system and the rough edges on the first songs threw me at first. However, the energy of a live performance more than made up for an minor issues and the music smoothed itself out rapidly. Also, her stagecraft is to be highly commended here. Small skits did wonders to set the science fiction theme and the entire stage was active every moment of the performance.

Much though I liked her last album, I was very happy that she didn’t limit herself to just the Electric Lady but also treated us to her past hits including a very good Cold War and an intense solo Tightrope. Her solo work during this concert was highly impressive. She tends to be the star of every song she sings, but I’ll admit to being unsure of how well she could carry off some of her collaborations alone. Not only was Q.U.E.E.N. excellent with just her, but a very tender Primetime was probably the strongest moment of the show, although an extended Mushrooms and Roses as psychedelic as anything San Francisco has ever heard did come close.

The concert ended with a cover of Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy and the aforementioned Primetime followed by a very, very extended Come Alive that had Janelle Monáe motion the entire audience down to the ground, and while we were all crouching and craning to see what was going on, she told us that is what it is like to be short. This was a novel experience for me. As expected from Janelle Monáe, this was an imaginative, fun and high quality concert. I enjoyed every moment of it. She has shown us the future, and my God, it’s full of funk.

My Bloody Valentine at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium (23/8/2013)

25 Aug

My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine was one of the bands to define shoegaze back in the late 1980s and 1991’s Loveless is still probably the greatest example of that alternative rock subgenre ever to be created. They broke up for quite a while, but 2013 marked their first album in 12 years, m b v and a worldwide tour that took them to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.

Their performance was exactly what one would expect from one of the bands that defined shoegaze. It was very loud, rather repetitive and had almost no talking. There was one intelligible piece of crowd interaction in the concert and that was to tell us that the next song was to be the last. When playing to a crowd, you have to deal with both the luxury and tyranny of the crowd’s undivided attention. It is your chance to really engage with your crowd, and during the concert I spent more time thinking about work than the music itself.

These complaints may seem unavoidable when dealing with shoegaze, but even if they artists refuse to interact with the crowd, their music should. It is their job to create a journey for you to travel through over their concert, and it was not only difficult, but also unrewarding to fall into the flow of this performance. There were some great moments over the three and a half hours of the concert and three songs, including my personal favorite Soon, were excellent. Taken as a whole, it was a good concert, but I expected better from alternative rock royalty like My Bloody Valentine.

There are bands who are better in the studio than on the stage and sadly My Bloody Valentine has proven to be one of them. This was a fine concert, just not a great one.

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