Concert Review: M. Ward @ the Trocadero 2/20/2009


M. Ward

Last night we saw M. Ward at the Trocadero here in Philadelphia. There are very few shows that I’ve attended where I’ve looked back and said “I was there when”. They seem to all take place at the Troc. Radiohead and Belly in 1993 and Elliott Smith in 1998 are the two that immediately come to mind. Last night reminded of the first time I saw Elliott Smith (iTunes) play. At the time Elliot was coming off of the release of XO which followed up on his commercial breakthrough which was his soundtrack for the movie Goodwill Hunting. That night I almost didn’t go. I was supposed to go with a girl that I was interested in and she bailed on me. I  vacillated  between going by myself and staying at home – I decided to stay at home but  turned on the television only to see Bill Clinton giving a speech.  I turned off the TV and made a mad dash to Center City. It wasn’t quite filled, but it wasn’t empty and all of the fans there walked away amazed. I even met a girl there making the decision to go alone all the more fortuitous. Quite  a special night.

Last night was very similar in feel. I was there with my girl – this time my wife Kristen. After last year’s She & Him (iTunes) project with Zoey Deschanel, M. Ward has released the gorgeous album Hold Time (iTunes). Like Smith, Ward has done a lifetime of attention deserving work before people were paying attention. They’re really paying attention now. I’ve seen some major acts at the Troc – Radiohead, Pavement, The Lemonheads at their height – all shows were well attended, last night’s sold out show was the most crowded I remember attending (a scary proposition for those of you familiar with the Troc. Thank god that Ward isn’t really a pyrotechnics type of act.) It started with just him and his guitar for three songs. The crowed was transfixed, mouths agape, as if trying the breathe in the music. M. Ward’s voice is like Tom Wait’s prior to Wait swallowing razor blades. The right amount of personality without going too far. You’re never hearing the voice over the song. Then Ward’s band came out and ran through a 90 minute set that pulled from all 6 of his solo releases.  

My only disappointment was that opening act Vivian Girls didn’t translate well live. All distortion and all of their songs literally and figuratively ran together. They’re style is similar to a number of bands from the early 90’s that were better.

All in all – I wish all shows I attend would be like this, but then again, when everything is special, nothing is. Friday night was special.

M. Ward – Rollercoaster (iTunes)

Great Concert Week: Spoon & Kathleen Edwards

Last week I got back to going to concerts. Last year I don’t think I saw a single new band (geezer rock doesn’t count).  So in a week where I didn’t get Radiohead tickets – I think the concert gods are smiling on me.
Spoon & The Walkmen – Electric Factory – 4/10/2008
I was surprised by the Walkmen – their albums have been interesting, but I haven’t found them all that compelling. I definitely wasn’t psyched to see them – to the extent that we got to the Electric Factory late – expecting to miss most of the opening act. They’re great live. The lead singer has kind of an odd, nasally voice, but that’s never bothered me – and I really like their arrangements. It was nice to finally see a band as opposed to singer/songwriter rocking the guitar and nothing else, but in addition to the guitar they brought with them a horn section. Good times, good times.

I was fading fast for Spoon, so that kind of affected my opinion of the show. I enjoyed myself – thought it  was a really, really good show, just not great. Brit Daniels does a lot of tooling around and experimentation – and I wasn’t a big lover of the song choices, but like I said it was a really, really good show.

One thing I found interesting is that the show was sponsored by Camel cigarettes and as such was an over 21 show. Free cigarettes for everyone! Fucking marketers ;)

Kathleen Edwards & Dan Wilson
Dan Wilson started strong, closed strong and everything in the middle was excellent. He started with an acoustic version of the Dixie Chicks song “Easy Silence” which it turns out her wrote with the Chicks along with a great portion of their songs (including “Lullaby” (iTunes) which was the song Kristen walked into at our wedding). He closed with a song he wrote with his band Semisonic called “Closing Time”. I had no idea who Dan Wilson was until this point. He introduced the song be telling the audience that it was the most well hidden song about the birth of a child. As Kristen said, “I always thought it was about hooking up.”

I truly think Kathleen Edwards is going to have one of those careers. She sings about bad men, band times, and bad places. She’s only released three albums – and you probably have no idea who she is. She’s often compared to Lucinda Williams, and I hear it – but I think it’s the career that will be similar. 15 years from now, and some 7 albums later, you’ll know here name, she’ll be one of the most respected singer/songwriters of her generation, and I’ll be saying I told you so or I saw her when. A lot of people are getting that message – the TLA was as packed as I’d ever seen it.

I’m glad Edwards showed up with a full band. Too many singer/songwriters show with just their guitar – and I think that’s great, but it’s not what I want all the time. Aside from all the people who showed up who were there just for background music, it was still a great show.