The 2012 summer festival season has been a great one. Though at times it may have felt more like a Jack White/The Black Keys festival tour, there were some rather pleasant surprises. The inaugural year for Firefly Festival was quite possibly the best of the summer, and the incredibly well organized (and Metallica curated) Orion Music + More Festival both prove that you don’t need to stick to any of the major mainstays to have a great weekend of music. Closing out the festival season with its second year back from hiatus was late September’s Music Midtown. Though once a popular stop on the festival circuit in the early 2000’s, it took a couple years off and resumed as a one-day test run of sorts last year. It was successful enough not only to warrant another go this year, but to spread it to two days. Booking two major headlining acts like Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters no doubt helped too. Add to that hometown and down south rap legends like T.I. and Ludacris, and it seemed impossible for Music Midtown to be anything other than a rousing success.
With a rather short first day (the first act came on at 4 pm), there wasn’t the lull that sometimes comes with the early acts. Though they do tend to be some of the most underrated ones on the bill, Music Midtown instead decided to jump headfirst into the deep end of the pool on day 1, with T.I., Avett Brothers, and Foo Fighters all crammed into one night.
Though Van Hunt and Joan Jett had each played their respective sets, the crowd didn’t really seem to ignite until T.I. took the stage. A hometown hero at this point in his career, he came out with one of his most popular (and earliest songs) ‘Rubberband Man.’ At this point the crowd had swelled to its largest size of the day, reaching as far back as the hill a mere few feet away from the entrance. Though that may be more of a statement about the size of the park itself, it was clear that T.I. was the first act of the day to have a real pull. He then went into his smash hits, ‘Whatever You Like,’ ‘What You Know,’ and ‘Live Your Life,’ which all got the teeming crowd from as close as the front to as secluded as the VIP area dancing wildly.
Just minutes after T.I.’s set ended, The Avett Brothers kicked into their performance on the second stage. Though they definitely had a dedicated crowd already waiting for them, the short lapse in time between sets didn’t really allow for T.I.’s entire crowd to find their way over too quickly. But those that were there obviously had come solely for The Avett Brothers. With their old-school-bluegrass-meets-modern-rock sound, they bridged a gap between straight country and alternative rock fans. Equal parts Mumford & Sons and The Black Keys; though The Avett Brothers have been around longer than either of those two bands, their sound definitely found a home with such a southern crowd. A rock/bluegrass act following a rapper may not seem like a formula for success, but Atlanta’s well-known diverse musical tastes allowed for both artists to receive a lot of love from the crowd.
Soon enough night had fully come and it was time for Foo Fighters to take the stage. At this point, Piedmont Park had become a seemingly endless sea of people, with the crowd spilling over almost into the second stage. Festivals stalwarts at this point in their careers, Foo Fighters came out of the gate with one of their newest, heaviest, and best songs in ‘White Limo.’ It’s a literal screamer of a track that announces their presence in the very best way possible. Shrieking vocals, ear splitting guitar riffs, and thundering drum beats, it’s possibly the only way to open a Foo Fighters show. With an almost endless amount of hits, you’d be hard pressed to find someone that didn’t know a single song in the set list. Famous for their marathon shows and passion for playing as long as possible, Dave Grohl kept the banter to a minimum. “Do you guys want me to talk or do you wanna hear us play some fucking songs? Because they only let us play two hours, and we came here to play some fucking songs!” The crowd’s roar of approval was met with a string of some of their biggest hits, ‘All My Life,’ ‘Rope,’ ‘The Pretender,’ ‘My Hero,’ and ‘Learn to Fly’ all came out in a row. Most bands would be hard pressed to find that many hits in an entire set, let alone in the first half hour. They also found time to work in some of their new material, though Wasting Light is about a year old at this point, it really speaks to the quality of the album to see the non-singles still in heavy rotation. After ‘Walk,’ Grohl introduced his band, giving each member a moment to show off their skills, which built up into a full on jam session, which quickly turned into a Van Halen cover. After the crowd realized that they were actually playing ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’ Grohl stopped, warning the crowd, “you don’t want us to start playing covers, man, we’ll be here all fucking night!” and then proceeded to give the crowd the rest of the song. Their older material was by no means ignored either, with ‘This Is a Call,’ ‘Hey Johnny Park!’ and the Taylor Hawkins lead vocal track, ‘Cold Day in the Sun.’ After a great cover of Pink Floyd’s In the Flesh, they resumed diving into their big catalogue of hits. ‘Best of You’ and ‘Times Like These’ both preceded a surprise guest appearance by Joan Jett for ‘Bad Reputation.’ Closing the set with their biggest hit, and possibly the greatest closing song in history, ‘Everlong’ had the crowd nearly drowning Grohl out completely. Of course a crowd sing-along to ‘Everlong’ isn’t the first or last time it’ll happen, it’s always a surreal moment to hear over 50,000 people all shouting the lyrics so such a legendary song in unison.
Day 2 started off a bit earlier, but as a whole was much more loaded with quality acts than Day 1. From the moment gates opened there was quality music to be found, as Atlanta natives O’Brother started off on the secondary stage. One of the loudest, heaviest, and head-bangingest (yes, that’s a new adjective) bands out there, O’Brother brings a whole new take on progressive rock. Sometimes ambient and other times a wall of screams, they’re able to use a bevy of sounds to warp and thrash their songs to life. Playing tracks off their stellar debut album, ‘Garden Window,’ they were hands-down the most underrated act on the bill. Tracks like ‘Lo’ and ‘Poison!’ sorted out the metal heads in the audience, as heads were quickly banging and if it weren’t for the early set time, one could easily imagine massive moshpits forming. They closed with the two part ‘Machines,’ which starts off like a punch to the face, then dips into a subtle throbbing before coming back with one of the best breakdowns and riffs in recent memory. If anyone left Music Midtown not a fan of O’Brother, they definitely did something wrong.
Up next on the main stage, was Civil Twilight. Hailing from South Africa, they’ve developed success quite well in the US, due to their unique sound. Sometimes piano rock, other times incredibly atmospheric, it always works. Their latest album Holy Weather saw a development of their sound, further venturing into a light electronic piano-rock territory. These songs sounded great live too, with ‘Fire Escape’ being a definite highlight of the set. Being the first act on the main stage, they roped in quite an audience and no doubt garnered that much stronger of a fan base.
Another big pull for the festival was Ludacris, another Atlanta grown southern rapper who had a myriad of fans awaiting his set. Playing with a live band (a rarity for the rapper), it definitely helped his sound. Rappers that utilize a live backing band sound that much better, as having an actual person play the parts instead of using a backing track is always the way to go. Though he seemed to lack the presence and energy that T.I. brought the day before, he had the crowd just as enthralled. With an eight album catalogue to pull from, Ludacris reached as far back as his very first hit with songs like ‘What’s Your Fantasy’ and ‘Southern Hospitality.’ Not only was the crowd into it, but backstage Civil Twilight’s Steven McKellar and Florence Welch could be seen dancing along too. His established collaborative work came into play too, as his popular songs with other artists made appearances too. And I’d be lying if I said hearing a crowd roar back the lyrics to ‘Move Bitch’ wasn’t one of the most entertaining things I saw all weekend. Ok maybe I did too.
Again with a rapid shift in genres, Neon Trees were up. The pop band has grown exponentially ever since their first album and continued it with the success of their second album, ‘Picture Show.’ Though a physical fireball of energy, the band seems to lack the musical punch on stage that most seem to have when performing live. The songs feel somehow lower, as if someone turned down the dial on the drums and guitar. Lead singer Tyler Glenn’s vocal work always impresses though, as he manages to belt out the lyrics while whirling around the stage like a spinning top gone rogue. Their earlier material is definitely lighter on the pop elements that seemed to have invaded Picture Show, so songs like ‘1984,’ Sins of My Youth,’ and ‘Animal’ came across much better than the newer tracks. Regardless, the crowd seemed to eat it up, yelling before ‘Animal’ even started and singing along to nearly every word to the catchy ‘Everybody Talks.’
Florence + The Machine were up next on the main stage, and though at first dealing with some technical difficulties, Flo’s charm kept the audience on her side and she continued into a very well received set. Her earth-mother vibes come out not only on the songs, but the way she carries herself, floating around the stage like a heavenly Poison Ivy. While it does get to be a bit much, not only her moves but the similarity of her songs, the crowd didn’t seem to care as her fans up front matched her energy with an almost alarming level of passion. Florence is most definitely a talented singer, but if you’re not a fan before seeing her live she isn’t one of those acts to change your mind upon seeing her perform.
Closing out the festival was Pearl Jam. Their reputation for being one of the hardest working and best live acts out there precedes them, and they somehow managed to eclipse it. Lots of bands were popular in the 90’s, but you’d be hard pressed to find one that’s still as respected, loved, and downright rocking as Pearl Jam is. They’re one of those bands that live for their hardcore fans, evidence of this by the unparalleled amount of diversity in their set lists. People see them countless times and very rarely ever see the same show twice. While this is a bonus for hardcore fans, they run the risk of alienating the more casual audience members, especially at a festival. But that wasn’t the case at Music Midtown. They had a perfect mix of hits and b-sides, and speaking from the standpoint of somewhere in between a casual and hardcore fan, it wasn’t remotely boring even for a second. ‘Elderly Woman Behind The Counter in a Small Town,’ ‘Better Man,’ ‘Do the Evolution,’ and ‘Even Flow’ made early appearances in the set and had the swelling crowd in a trance. Being able to hear songs like ‘Alive’ and ‘Black,’ ones that are so famous it gives that immediate giddy sensation of “hey, hey it’s THIS song!” is truly something special. Pearl Jam showed why they’re such a respected live band and why they were chosen as the anchor for Music Midtown. Plus hearing ‘Jeremy’ live is finally something I get to check off my concert bucket list.
All photos courtesy of Matt Arena
Dead Sara has announced a new North American tour with renowned punk rockers The Offspring kicking off August 31st in Detroit, with Neon Trees slated to join the tour beginning September 6th in Boston. To further support the recent release of Dead Sara’s self-titled debut album, the band has also added further U.S. and festival dates through the summer and into the fall including the Sunset Strip Music Festival in Los Angeles, Riot Fest in Chicago and the Epicenter Festival in Irvine. Dead Sara have been attracting major buzz for the ferocious spectacle of their high-octane live performances on The Vans Warped Tour earlier this summer.
“We’re super excited to have Dead Sara out on tour with us,” said Dexter Holland, The Offspring. “Great players, great songs. We’ll be getting there early to see them tear it up.”
DEAD SARA TOUR DATES:
August 11 Birch Run Expo Center Birch Run, MI
(WWBN Dirt Fest featuring: Clutch, Chiodos, In This Moment, Hurt, Royal Bliss and more)
August 18 Sunset Strip Music Festival Los Angeles, CA
(with Marilyn Manson, The Offspring, Steve Aoki, Bad Religion, De La Soul, Black Label Society and more)
August 23 Knitting Factory/KQXR show Boise, ID
August 24 Knitting Factory/KHTQ show Spokane, WA
August 30 On The Waterfront Festival Rockford, IL w/The Offspring
August 31 The Fillmore Detroit, MI w/The Offspring
September 2 Echo Beach (MCA) Toronto, ON w/The Offspring
September 6 House of Blues Boston, MA w/The Offspring, Neon Trees
September 8 Sands Bethlehem Events Ctr. Bethlehem, PA w/The Offspring, Neon Trees
September 9 Stone Pony Summer Stage Asbury Park, NJ w/The Offspring, Neon Trees
September 11 Lupo’s Providence, RI w/The Offspring, Neon Trees
September 14 Congress Theatre/Riot Fest Chicago, IL
September 15 DC101 Kerfuffle Bristow, VA
(with The Offspring, Sublime with Rome, Garbage, Anberlin, and Foxy Shazam)
September 15 The Fillmore/WEND show Charlotte, NC
September 19 Terminal 5 New York, NY w/The Offspring, Neon Trees
September 20 Terminal 5 New York, NY w/The Offspring, Neon Trees
September 22 Verizon Wireless Irvine, CA
(Epicenter Festival featuring: Stone Temple Pilots, Deftones, Bush, Scars on Broadway, Chevelle and more)
September 27 Fillmore Auditorium Denver, CO w/The Offspring, Neon Trees
September 29 Gallivan Center/X96 Show Salt Lake City, UT
October 2 San Jose Event Center San Jose, CA
November 10 London Alexandra Palace London, UK w/Vans Warped Tour
LA’s finest new band, JJAMZ, is kicking off their summer by hitting the road as part of the Nylon Summer Music Tour supporting Neon Trees. The tour begins on July 9 in Philadelphia and will bring them through NYC, Nashville, Austin and back home to LA as they make their way across the country in support of their debut album, Suicide Pact (July 10, Dangerbird). You can also catch them in their month long Monday-night residency at The Satellite through the month of June. Katy Perry already Tweeted that JJAMZ’ first single “Heartbeat” is her “favorite song of the summer”, even before its official radio add date! You can download the track for free from www.JJAMZMusic.com.
JJAMZ (pronounced juh-Jamz) is comprised of Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley, Bright Eyes), James Valentine (Maroon 5), Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet), Michael Runion (solo), and Z Berg (The Like) – in a musical story of best friends. Made up of five of music’s most exciting trailblazers, the members of JJAMZ are important staples in the LA music scene and have put together a collective album which underscores their place as one of today’s vital bands.
Suicide Pact was self-produced by the band with the added talents of Jason Lader (Maroon 5, Rilo Kiley, Julian Casablancas). Only friends as close as JJAMZ could provide such a rewarding synthesis of disparate musical tastes, coupled with perilously revealing lyrics; it’s as if Rumours were recorded by My Bloody Valentine, Fiona Apple sang “Heart of Glass”, or Andrew W.K. wrote Saturday Night Fever. From the Madonna-esque lead single “Heartbeat” to the churning, he-said, she-said “LAX” and the wistfully dark album title track “Suicide Pact” to the crooning, smooth vocal pairings between Berg and Runion on “Cleverly Disguised”, each and every song stands on its own as a heart-wrenching narrative and a master course in lyrical prowess.
Official video for album standout, “Never Enough”
JJAMZ North American Tour Dates
** Supporting Neon Trees with Penguin Prison on the Nylon Summer Music Tour
May 19: Bakersfield, CA – KRAB Fest Radio Show @ Brighthouse Networks Amphitheatre
May 26: Los Angeles, CA – Silverlake Jubilee
June 4: Los Angeles, CA – Satellite Club
June 11: Los Angeles, CA – Satellite Club
June 18: Los Angeles, CA – Satellite Club
June 25: Los Angeles, CA – Satellite Club
July 9: Philadelphia, PA – TLA **
July 10: New York, NY – Webster Hall **
July 11: Washington, DC – 9:30 Club **
July 14: Nashville, TN – Cannery **
July 17: Dallas, TX – House of Blues **
July 18: Austin, TX – La Zona Rosa **
July 21: Billings, MT – Babcock Theatre **
July 23: Calgary, AB, Canada – Republik **
July 24: Edmonton, AB, Canada – Starlite Room **
July 26: Vancouver, BC, Canada – Commodore **
July 28: Philadelphia, PA – WRFF Summer Block Party
July 29: San Francisco, CA – Fillmore **
By Keeyahtay Lewis
I have been looking forward to seeing Neon Trees play for a while and last Tuesday night, I finally got my chance. They came into Starland Ballroom in New Jersey for what was sure to be a fun night. AWOLNATION were supporting them on the tour and I had heard nothing but good things about them. I was excited for the show.
AWOLNATION took the stage bathed in gorgeous lights. I have heard that AWOLNATION songs have been used in commercials and other places, but I had never seen them live. I came into the show with an open mind, and was not disappointed. They opened with People, Not Your Fault, and Guilty Filthy Soul. The first two songs we definitely keyboard driven, but GFS had a great guitar riff. The lighting was absolutely beautiful and the band floated in and out of it.
Aaron Bruno is the singer and creative mind behind AWOLNATION, but he was backed with a great band for this tour. David Amezcua on bass and vocals, Drew Stewart on lead guitar, Kenny Carkeet on guitar and keyboards, and Hayden Scott on drums. It was clear from the singing along and the shirts that said, “Blame it on my A.D.D.” that the crowd was familiar with AWOLNATION. They absolutely kept my attention which isn’t easy to do since I didn’t know their music beforehand.
Kill Your Heroes, Jump On My Shoulders and Soul Wars were up next. All of their songs feature lots of keyboards and synthesizers. Bruno can changes his vocals easily from delicate to a cutting edge in a second. His energy is infectious and he used every single inch of the stage. He actually reminded me at times in movements and looks of Geoff Rickly of Thursday. All I Need was next and it had a lot of piano and 3 part harmonies. After this song there were technical difficulties with the lead guitar. It took a few minutes to sort it out and while this was going on the rest of the band broke out into a really excellent, impromptu cover of Billie Jean. Honestly, it was such a surprise to everyone and it was on point.
Joke, Sail and Burn It Down rounded out the rest of their set. Sail was the obvious hit and the room exploded when they started playing it. Again, I had never heard it before but I felt myself singing along by the second chorus. A great set all around.
Neon Trees were up next and by the time they took the stage everyone was definitely ready to see them in action. Bringing their modern version of almost 80s dance rock, they strutted out taking their places on stage. Singer Tyler Glenn came out last sporting a red leather jacket, aviator shades, and hair that was blue on the sides, and pink on top. I knew it was going to be a good show.
They wasted no time ripping into two tracks from their latest album, Picture Show. Moving in the Dark and Teenage Sounds are two tracks from that album. They followed that up from an older song, Sins of My Youth. While they are playing it is hard to take your eyes off of Glenn, he is a truly remarkable front man who owns every single inch of that stage. There was a little acrylic box on the stage and he spent a lot of time with one leg on that, leaning far out away from the stage, singing his heart out. At other times he had one leg on his keyboard stand, stretching his head back to hit some incredible notes.
Behind him doing a damn fine job were Chris Allen on guitars and vocals, Branden Campbell on bass, and Elaine Bradley on drums and vocals. Every person had their own style out there, Allen wearing a bow tie, Campbell with a jean jacket on, but it is clear that style is an important thing to Neon Trees. But certainly not syle over substance. Every song sounded great live, and they kept the energy going.
Everybody Talks, Mad Love, and Weekend were next. Then the band left and Tyler took center stage, acoustic guitar in hand, for a NJ treat. He did a pretty amazing cover of Springsteen’s I’m On Fire. It was sparse and utterly gorgeous while he was bathed in blue light. After that the band took the stage again and they ran through a few older songs: Your Surrender, Love and Affection, Lessons in Love, and a killer version of In The Next Room. Before the next song Tyler thanked everyone for coming and talked about how many people had heard the next track. Without rock radio and promotion, the next song helped make them who they are. Of course, they were talking about Animal and every person in the building lost their minds when they started playing it.
The band left the stage for a minute then came back out for two more songs. I Am The DJ was up first, and it was my first time hearing it. I was hooked right away. They closed out the set with another hit from their debut album, Habits, that song being 1983.
This wasn’t a sold out show, which is a shame. Both AWOLNATION and Neon Trees did a fine job last Tuesday night. The people who were there though, left in high spirits. I know I would absolutely see both bands play again, and I know they will both continue to grow. It was a great night of music and you should definitely catch them on tour.
All photos courtesy of Keeyahtay Lewis of DeadBoltPhotos.com
By Michel Dussack
In an age where auto tune and programmed beats dominate Top 40 Radio, Neon Trees did the impossible back in 2010 when their hit single ‘Animal’ dominated the charts and helped the band rise to fame. It garnered them support slots with bands such as My Chemical Romance, and even Duran Duran which culminated in a set at the world famous Madison Square Garden. Now, armed with a second album worth of material, they returned to New York for two intimate nights at the Bowery Ballroom, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.
Fans showed up way before doors to get a great spot to see the quartet (with an additional member performing live with them) and the 90 minute set was a perfect blend of material from their new album ‘Picture Show’ and their debut ‘Habits’. Album release shows can be tricky, as the crowd isn’t typically familiar with the new material that at the time of the show hadn’t been released. Much to the bands surprise though, the crowd seemed to know most of the words to the new songs which led front man Tyler Glenn to comment that he knew “most of you guys probably torrented our album, or maybe you guys got it sent early from our label”, but he didn’t seem upset about it – in fact he seemed honored that fans already memorized his words.
The band were, as usual, full of energy, with Tyler running around the stage, throwing himself onto the floor, screaming into the faces of adoring fans, and swinging his microphone in the air, letting the cord wrap around his neck. Elaine Bradley on drums and Branden Campbell on bass are the bands motor, setting the pace for their live show, and guitarist Chris Allen provides the carefully crafted riffs. Standouts from the night included their newest single ‘Everybody Talks’, an acoustic version of ‘Your Surrender’ and the Michael Jackson influenced ‘Weekend’. ‘Teenage Sounds’, however, is the song that stole the show, at least in my opinion.
With lyrics like “I’m sick of people saying rock and roll is dead; learn how to play guitar and save yourself instead”, the song elicited numerous cheers from the crowd. Indeed, this is the song that most encompasses what Neon Trees are all about. Rather than conform to what society says is popular music right now, they play the music they want to play. And yet, they attract the pop radio listeners and the rockers, and everyone in between. The band closed their set with ‘Animal’ which had the entirety of Bowery Ballroom dancing and singing along, before quickly disappearing off the stage.
When they did return, Tyler mentioned how they didn’t really like the whole leaving the stage for an encore process, claiming “why not just stay up here?” He commented how he didn’t care that it was clichéd, but that when they play shows, the main purpose is for everyone in the room to leave that show a little better happier with the person they are inside. The band closed their show with a bonus track from their debut album entitled ‘Farther Down’, and I can assure you that not a single person left that venue unhappy.
All photos courtesy of Michel Dussack