U2 In Jersey

Our trip to New Jersey was bracketed by two epic musical events: the Hoover Hootenanny our first night, and a U2 concert at MetLife Stadium our final night.

I’d never seen U2 before, but always wanted to. This year, in particular, was special, because the band is touring to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their Joshua Tree album—in my opinion their best album and one of the top three albums ever recorded by any group. The record sounds just as good today as it did in 1987, and oh boy, have I been listening to it a lot the last few weeks.

And the concert didn’t disappoint. I know they’re in the middle of the tour, so I’ll try to avoid spoilers here, although fans will certainly know what to expect. (And if you WANT spoilers, a setlist from the show we saw and much more can be found at this link on U2’s website.)

After an excellent opening set by The Lumineers, U2 opened with a handful of older, pre-Joshua Tree, songs, performed on the small remote stage 50 yards or so in front of the main stage. And then, as the buildup to Where The Streets Have No Name began, they made their way back to the main stage, and proceeded to play The Joshua Tree in its entirety, in order.

Highlights? Just about every damn song was a highlight. Personally, my favorite song on the album is One Tree Hill, but they were all great on stage.

Then, after a short break, the band came out and played a few more songs, mostly rockers, and even one new, unreleased song.

One aspect of the show that was particularly interesting to me was their use of the giant screen behind the main stage. Whereas most acts performing in stadium shows will use a screen like that to show closeups of the band performing for the benefit of those sitting in the faraway seats, this concert instead mostly featured panoramic videos of Americana to accent the songs—much of it, beautiful imagery of the American Southwest. When the band members were shown on the screen, it was often in extreme close-up, usually in black and white. The screen was also used to help get certain messages across: see this link, also from U2’s website (and also a bit of a spoiler). U2 have always been known for making their concerts into multimedia experiences; I thought their use of the big screen really added to the show.

So yes, it was a fantastic concert, one more reason I’m glad we decided to finally make that trip to New Jersey. And now, while you look at some of my iPhone pictures from the nosebleed seats of the concert, I’ll go listen to The Joshua Tree again.

No Lines For The Men’s Restroom

About halfway through Lilith Fair last night, my brother Phil and I were estimating the male-to-female ratio of the crowd. I guessed 20:80; he figured it was 10:90. He may have been closer to the right number than I was.

There are advantages for the males in a ratio like that—people-watching is more fun, for example—and of course the whole restroom issue is a no-brainer. The lines for the women’s restrooms at Riverport are always a problem, but last night it looked like it was even worse than usual (mitigated, at least, by the fact that the concert wasn’t a sellout). Of course, for guys, there was no waiting at all.

The men’s restrooms at Riverport have all the urinals in one long room with a couple of huge fans at one end. The fans are so strong that you line up in front of one urinal, and end up peeing in the one next to it. OK, not really, but you get the picture.

The other room has stalls for sittin’. Last night, while most of the men were in the windblown urinal room, there was a fairly steady stream of women invading the men’s restroom to head for the stalls, rather than waiting in the long lines outside the women’s restroom. I don’t think anyone much cared, and anyway, with a ratio like that, who wants to start a fight?

Lilith Fair

Lilith Fair, the all-women music festival founded in the late 1990s by Sarah McLachlan, returned to St. Louis last night. And just like the first two times it came to town, my brother Phil and I–both big Sarah fans–were in attendance.

In 1997 and 1998 (the festival also toured in 1999, but didn’t come to St. Louis), Lilith Fair brought some great lineups to the main stage here: Tracy Bonham, Paula Cole, Fiona Apple and Mary Chapin Carpenter in 1997; Liz Phair, Des’ree, Bonnie Raitt and Natalie Merchant in 1998, with Sarah McLachlan closing both nights, of course. That ’98 show was amazing; even though I was living for Natalie’s and Sarah’s music in those days, Bonnie Raitt stole the show that night with an absolutely smokin’ set.

After 1999, though, Lilith Fair ceased touring. Too much work to pull it together, and McLachlan was starting to get into other things, like marriage and babies. It seemed the Lilith adventure was over, but we had fun while it lasted.

But in 2010, McLachlan revived it. She finally came out with a new CD, after a seven-year hiatus. And rather than just go out for a solo tour–that would be too easy, I guess–she put together another Lilith Fair tour.

(I know I’m understating the work involved here. At some point in the last couple of days, I read that a touring festival like this takes about two years of planning.)

The festival stopped in St. Louis at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater (hereafter known in this blog by its original name, Riverport), just like the previous two visits here. The crowd last night was much, much smaller than before, a sign of the times, I’m afraid.

We arrived in time to see the last half of the set by a Canadian band called Metric. Kind of a hard-edged sound, with a lead singer who looked like she was about 16. Next up were the Court Yard Hounds, which is made up of Martie McGuire and Emily Robinson—two of the three Dixie Chicks—with a backing band. Even though they’re a little more country/bluegrass than my taste, they were excellent—definitely one of the highlights of the evening.

In between songs, Robinson was talking about how cool Lilith Fair is, and remarked, “Where else can you see Mary J. Blige perform right after Emmylou Harris?”

Indeed.

Harris followed the Court Yard Hounds. Phil’s a big fan and has seen her many times, but it was my first. She put on a decent show, but much lower-energy than the previous two acts. Not really my kind of music, though. And neither was Mary J. Blige’s, but in a completely different way. She took the stage with a loud, bombastic opening, and the crowd loved it, with most on their feet through her entire set. Blige surprised me with the U2 song One, followed by an even more surprising cover, Stairway to Heaven. Very interesting.

But the real reason for the night was Sarah McLachlan. She opened with a duet with Emmylou Harris singing Angel. That was followed by Building a Mystery, and an hour-long set drawn almost entirely from her last three albums. Her classic CD Fumbling Towards Ecstasy wasn’t touched until the end of the night. The new material sounds good — she did three songs from the new CD.

It had been a long time since I’d seen her, so I can’t say for sure, but I think her entire band was different. They sounded great, though, able to pull off her sometimes intricate songs with no problem. Sarah herself seemed very happy to be out touring again.

I guess my only complaint about the evening would be the sound setup; the mix for Blige’s set in particular was bass-heavy and bottomed out a lot, and even McLachlan’s mix was a little muddy at times, but then I’m used to absolutely pristine sound from her concerts.

All in all, it was a great night. We saw some great music, heard some people we never would have heard otherwise, and got some ideas for new CDs to buy. And hopefully this was a prelude to another Sarah McLachlan solo tour.

April 28, 1980: The Who At The Checkerdome

Note: This is the third of a three-part “mini-series” of posts. The first two parts are here and here, but if you’d like you can start right in with this one.

The St. Louis Who concert announcement may have been the worst-kept secret in the world. By the time they actually went public, in about February or early March of 1980, rumors had been circulating for days or weeks, so I pretty well knew what to expect, and I was ready to pounce. The details: tickets would be sold by mail order only, with a cashier’s check or money order sent to a post office box, first come, first served, yada yada. At $11 each, they were the most expensive concert tickets I’d ever bought. AND, there was a service charge on EACH ticket of a WHOLE DOLLAR. But it was the WHO; well worth the price. I had a … Keep reading …

David Gray at the Touhill

David Gray was in town last night, for a concert at the Touhill Center at UMSL. We saw him about nine years ago, on the White Ladder Tour, and I don’t think he’d been to St. Louis since then. He was great then, and even better this time.

It was my first time at the Touhill, and I loved the place. I don’t know if it’s the acoustics of the hall, or a great sound team for the band, or Gray’s diction, but the sound was just about perfect — I could understand the words a lot better than I could on his CDs. His voice was right on, the whole night, and the band — drums, bass, guitar and keyboards, backing Gray, who played guitar (mostly acoustic) and some piano — was excellent. Unfortunately, he didn’t introduce the band, but obviously they’ve been together for a while.

He played songs from each of his  CDs, leaning heavily … Keep reading