Saturday, June 28, 2008

They're Still Alive

After seeing The Verve in concert a few months ago, I blogged: "the mark of a truly accomplished band is one whose shows are varied and unpredictable; you don’t know what they're going to play when or how, or even if you’re going to be able to hear all of your favorite songs."

When I wrote this, I was thinking of one band in particular.

Pearl Jam.

As a a longstanding favorite of mine, Pearl Jam is one of the few bands where you never know what you're gonna get in concert—deep album cuts, cult B-sides, hit singles, and rare covers. For the past 18 years, they've been one of the more memorable touring bands. So I've found it funny in recent years to hear people say "Pearl Jam? They're still around?"

Somewhere after the band's heyday in the first half of the 90s, the general populace seemed to forget about the group as they rebelled against their own success and the trappings of stardom—hence, their second album, Vs.

Around this time there seemed to be a series of watershed moments that made it easy for the casual fan to lose interest in the Seattle quintet, from swearing off the making of more music videos, experimenting with different sounds, battling the Ticketmaster monster, or just taking themselves too seriously. For any of these reasons, the masses dismissed Pearl Jam and moved on.

Even the media still refers to Pearl Jam as a grunge band, disregarding the fact that they were grunge for only their landmark debut, Ten. But anyone who's followed the band over the course of their eight studio albums knows that Pearl Jam plays in the spirit of classic rock. They always have.

I say all this because at a sold-out Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, it was clear that Pearl Jam is still a force. It didn't take much to feel the vibrations from the legions of fans shaking MSG's concrete floors, or simply looking at the 20,000 faithful belting out the lyrics to "Alive" and "Elderly Woman", arms raised in a V.

With an eclectic set list that consisted of 30 songs and three rounds of encores, Pearl Jam's road-warrior work ethic was impressive, especially in their middle age as a band. The level of energy they exhibited was not only remarkable, but contagious. So much so that without a venue curfew of 11:30, I got the feeling that they'd keep playing until 2 in the morning, with not a single person heading for the exit.

Are they still around? The truth is, they never left.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

This Is Music

I've never been high before, but last night watching Sigur Rós at the Manhattan Center Grand Ballroom, I sort of wished I was on something.

For the unaware, Sigur Rós is an "Icelandic post-rock band with melodic, classical, and minimalist elements. The band is known for its ethereal sound and lead singer Jónsi Birgisson’s falsetto voice." (Many thanks to Wikipedia.)

My brothers and I managed to bribe our way into the show after scalping what turned out to be fake tickets. We were an hour late, but what we experienced was pretty much worth the steep price of admission.

When we were ushered into the venue, it didn't take long to realize that we were in for something completely different. We walked in mid-song to an audience captivated by a six-piece orchestra on center stage, dressed as angels and blowing their brass.

The group (with a nine-member entourage) played some songs that I knew and others that I didn't. But in the mere hour that I was there, there were enough "holy shit" moments where I knew I was experiencing the most powerful, beautiful music that I'd ever heard.

One of those moments came during the second song we saw, in which the band just completely stopped playing and froze for 30 of the longest pin-drop seconds I've felt in concert. Then the lead singer suddenly resuscitated and the song resumed.

Sigur Rós sound celestial on CD. But in concert, the sweeping, dramatic crescendos that they built bordered on an out-of-body experience. So much so that the riveting catharsis in the last song ("Popplagið") made for the most monumental, explosive grand finale I'd ever heard.

It was a night where music was in its most moving, glorious art form. A night where the music transcended hearing and listening to become pure feeling. The energy on your skin, the vibrations in your heart. The power; the beauty.