Summing up “Rocktober”

November 2, 2010

After a too long dry spell of visiting bands in South Florida, October was packed with out-of-town acts I wanted to see live. I even missed some, like Matt and Kim, Massive Attack and Thievery Corporation due to the overlap of shows. I even couldn’t drag myself out to see Caribou because I was too dang tired from the week before! It was a first for South Florida, as far as I was concerned. Hopefully we’ll have more of these kind of months.

I did a lot of comparing of the shows in my resulting live reviews, so let me sum up some of the standards, here.

Best performance

Hands down went to LCD Soundsystem. I have never seen such a large band of musicians gel so strong on stage, while keeping a groove with such consistency. One song after another infected the system. It was a transcendental experience of music. I was buzzing for days afterward on the natural high of their sounds, and I am dying to see them again. I had high expectations based on their albums and they surpassed them. Heck, they are among the best live bands I have seen in my life.

Best show

Anther band with high expectations going in: the Flaming Lips. I had only seen them live once before, a few years ago, but these guys were able to put on a show that demanded a follow-up. That called for a trip to Orlando, as previous plans would mean we would miss their geographically closer weekend show in Boca Raton. It was well worth the drive and hotel stay.

With their confetti canons and costumed friends dancing at the side of the stage, and lots of other surprises, the show was an unrelenting experience. Beyond that, singer Wayne Coyne showed a masterful connection with the audience. He was on stage even during the opening act, Le Butcherettes, just on the sidelines, cheering them on and waving at the audience. Throughout, he was in constant dialogue with the fans, be it an opening speech about the hazards of their bright lights or in the deeper moments of the music. There was no band with that much flash and that much connection this month or that I have probably ever experienced.

Most surprising opening act

I had never heard Beach House until they opened for Vampire Weekend. Of all the opening acts I caught this month, Beach House proved the most absorbing. Their glowing pyramids on stage proved them the showiest of the bunch. Even with the terrible sound that made Victoria Legrand’s lyrics mostly unintelligible, their dreamy sounds shown through. It was the only opening band who compelled me to buy a record after the show.

Biggest let down

Vampire Weekend directly followed Beach House but left me cold. I had been regretting missing their stop at the Fillmore during their support of their last album, but now I am over it. They went through the motions of connecting with the audience, but it was all a bunch of clichéd arena antics.

They certainly did their music justice, but the energy seemed canned. Out of all the shows, this is the one that most felt like a cabaret show.

Best effort transcending Fillmore’s stage

Most of these shows took place at Miami Beach’s Fillmore. None projected themselves beyond the stage better than Phoenix. They used screens and a light show meant for the theater and not just on stage, and singer Thomas Mars threw himself into the crowd more than once. He was the only singer I saw at the Fillmore this month do that, so props for him on that effort.

It was also the friendliest crowd (sure, Lips fans are friendly, but they are mostly high). They may have stormed the stage, but only after Mars started yanking people up and inviting them to do so. Otherwise, there was no moshing or even pushing throughout the set, and I was right up front. I was even able to have some nice conversations with the strangers around me about music. A roadie handed two of the teenage girls I was talking with after-show passes because, he said, they smiled at him.

Most challenging

Yes, the band with poppy hits like “Kids” and “Electric Feel” proved the most challenging. As a music fan born of an appreciation for Bowie and art rock, MGMT exceeded my expectations live at the Miami Beach Fillmore, as I heard stories of drug-fueled, slack performances in the past. For all I know those were false because these guys certainly did justice to their music, which is probably the most complex and challenging music of all of the bands I saw over the course of October.

I also read grumblings about the set list in a major magazine review, and the fact that the band did their hits early and lost steam from then on (I forgot which magazine this was, but I’ll save them the embarrassment). To me, one of the most inspired actions by the band was to diverge from their own set list, as described thanks to a photographer’s report here. The highlight was their 10-minute version of “The Handshake” mixed with Magazine’s coda for “Burst” followed by their 12-minute early-period Pink Floyd/Beach Boys prog-rock epic “Siberian Breaks.” I caught both on video (though “Siberian Breaks” was cut halfway through due to space limits on my SD chip):

During these two moments, I never saw so many walkouts of people who were clearly there to hear the hits and leave. Sure, they got to hear the seventies-inspired disco cut “Electric Feel,” but they would miss “Kids,” which capped this near half-hour prog-rock rock odyssey. I hope MGMT keep searching the prog in their blood.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
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