Donna Summer is totally about to kick Muhammad Ali’s ass.
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Sound City Players (Stevie Nicks and Dave Grohl) - Landslide
I saw the Sound City Players concert at Hammerstein Ballroom last week, and it was a jumbled mess of a show but when it was on, it was really on. Stevie Nicks killed her entire segment, and this performance of Landslide wasn’t even the highlight (that’d be a ridiculously heavy version of Gold Dust Woman to close the show), but it did make me think.
Landslide is a song that Stevie Nicks has performed literally thousands of times, night after night, from 1975 up until the day she dies probably, and she can still perform it with deep emotion. Often I’ll see a band run through their big hits mechanically and in perfunctory fashion (Alanis Morissette is the worst in the world for this), but Stevie’s still got as strong a connection with this song and imbues it with real power. I’ve seen her sing Landslide a few other times, and it was slightly different in its inflections that night, showing it’s still fresh to her and even after all this time, the song is still a living, changing thing. I had thought that super manipulative Budweiser Clydesdale ad would’ve destroyed Landslide for me for a while (whatever, Stevie needs a new beach house and cabana boy, I guess), but this performance was strong enough that it washed all the extra cultural detritus like that, the Dixie Chicks, and millions of eh covers away and made the song resonant again.
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That jam session starting around 42:40 is one of the reasons why I still love Tori Amos this much in 2013. You can see halfway in, she really loses herself in the music and something is channeling through her. Her whole posture/demeanor changes from the rest of the interview, where she’s very demure, and suddenly there’s a rock star banging it out on this little keyboard in a tiny studio. Plus I’m always a sucker for her hair (wig?) flips, and Tori manages to be sultry without it feeling gratuitous.
If you have the time, the whole episode of this show is worth watching, and not just for Tori. All the other artists she and Hauschka meet with are talented and interesting, and there are a few other fascinating moments where the audience can see Tori just playing free-form on piano.
Calvin Harris w/ Florence Welch - Sweet Nothing
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t completely sold on this song when I first heard it. Florence sounded good, but the music was completely generic.The loooooong intro made me think the video wasn’t going to change my mind, but the bit at 1:55 in where it goes face punch-beat drop-cut to Flo spinning is exactly why pop music benefits from videos. Rewinding that bit 5 times made me start to love the beat too, and by the time I got to the stripping freak-out in the last minute, I loved everything about the song/video.
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Tori Amos- Sugar (Milan 2011)
Because I’ve heard the majority of Tori Amos performances since 1996 due to my obsessive bootleg collecting, it takes a lot for her to really truly blow me away. I almost always enjoy her performances, but there has to be something unique or special for it to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This Sugar is one of those special performances. The first thing I noticed is the absolute confidence and power she’s projecting out into the audience. That “yeah, you just try and fuck with me, see what happens” attitude that was so prevalent in every performance from 94-01 and which seemed to completely disappear after 2005 (unless she was playing a character) is back in spades, and its making the performances feel unpredictable again. I’ve heard over 100 performances of Sugar (I told you I was obsessive!) and there are moments here where I don’t know what’s going to happen with her inflections and tempo, and that’s thrilling because every performance becomes about those particular moments and feelings, with no disconnect between the artist and the material.
The next thing to stand out about this performance for me was how tender it was. There’s still the anger and moments of fury that have been a part of Sugar since 1998 (a performance where “you’re just a pussy, my sweet boy” isn’t delivered right is a shitty performance), but “when they find you out…” has an empathy and quiet sadness that gives the song another dimension. Even as she’s ready to take this boy to task and call him on his bullshit, there’s still an understanding of his pain. And of course, if we learned nothing else from the 90’s, we should know that utilizing the quiet/loud (or sad/angry) dynamic makes both parts of a song more powerful.
Finally, how amazing are those ending high notes? It seems like somebody went back in time and gave Tori her 1998 voice again. They’re so clean and expressive, giving a difficult song a perfect finish.
OK, I think I’ve gushed enough for now. But trust me, I could probably go on for a few more paragraphs.
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Tori Amos- Yes, Anastasia (live with the Metropole Orchestra)
I’m going to do a few posts about my trip to Amsterdam, but obviously this review needs to come first. Tori Amos playing with an orchestra wasn’t the only reason I wanted to go to Amsterdam, but it was the impetus for the trip. All told, I spent around $1500 to go to this show. So was it worth it?
Before the show was the meet and greet, which is pretty much what the name implies. Tori comes out and talks to people, takes pictures, signs things, etc. after her soundcheck. The last few M&Gs I’ve gone to, there’s been enough time and few enough people that everyone there got to talk to her. That was not the case this time, since over 200 people were there. Luckily I was in the front and got my Boys For Pele vinyl signed and gave her the “Space Dog” graphic novel I had brought. It was a pretty rushed experience, but still nice. After that, I hung out with some of my friends/acquaintances at the show, and found out one of my friends who has the hook-up had gotten me a front row seat which put me about two seats over from Tori’s spot on stage. (I gave my other seats from earlier to a friend and a girl I met at the M&G) That pushed my excitement and hopes for the show even higher, and those expectations are probably what led me to be a bit disappointed in some aspects of the show.
Let’s cover the bad first. The show started out very shakey, with performances of Star of Wonder and Jackie’s Strength marred by Tori struggling to breathe and using her high “baby voice” which seems to be how she’s coping with losing some of her higher register and what she lapses into when she’s nervous or tired. It just doesn’t work though, since the baby voice can’t express emotion well and is grating. At the 2010 summer shows, that voice was almost completely absent but it returned with a vengeance tonight. Tori was visibly unhappy with how the show was going at that point, but she pulled it together for a nice performance of Snow Cherries From France, and followed it up with several of the songs I and most others really wanted to hear. The mere presence of Snow Cherries in the set reveals the other main problem the show had: The setlist was random and highlighted some of the least impressive songs in her catalog. Does anyone really want to hear Maybe California ever? Or Programmable Soda, which was a fun performance, but come on! You’re going to play that and Girl Disappearing and not do Gold Dust or Pretty Good Year? There were 5 songs I could’ve replaced with at least 30 songs in her catalog and had a better show. There was also an overabundance of material from the Midwinter Graces album, 4 songs plus a “Holly, Ivy, and Rose” improv performance. I think Midwinter Graces is the best album Tori’s released since Scarlet’s Walk, but that’s way too much, especially when only one song from Boys For Pele, one from Choirgirl Hotel, and none from Scarlet’s Walk were performed.
When Tori did play the songs I came to hear though, it was excellent. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that the moment when the strings kicked in during Yes, Anastasia made me happier than I’ve been in months, possibly years. The switch flipped in my brain and the rest of the world went away, leaving just the music. There was a similar moment in Marianne when the orchestra crashed in and it was even better than I thought it would be. Flying Dutchman and Our New Year (which, along with the snippet of Holly, Ivy and Rose, was the Midwinter Graces track I was happy to hear) were similarly excellent. Silent All These Years was performed at the album tempo for the first time since probably 1994, which was a nice surprise although the bridge was marred by some vocal issues. Tori’s piano playing was noticeably more intricate and dynamic than usual, and she showcased it with multiple improvs, some cute and some dark. Playing with the orchestra may have been a challenge for her voice, but she can still more than keep up on the piano.
The encore began with Tori coming out and announcing they were going to re-do the first three songs because the show was going to be aired on the radio and “(she) fucked up”. All three performances were miles better than the first take, which goes to show how much of her weaker initial performance was due to nerves, not a loss of ability. Someone needs to get her back on the good drugs so she can get over her anxiety issues or something. The woman used to film major TV specials high out of her mind (seriously, she has to be on something here) and it was worlds better. Jackie’s Strength in particular sounded great the second time around, but the real surprise of the encore was a completely reworked and amazing performance of Precious Things. It was intense, powerful, and exactly the kind of reinvention I wanted more of!
Ultimately, the show was worth it, even if I was disappointed by some of Tori’s vocals and song choices. There were more than enough incredible moments in the show so that I would have been beating myself up over not going for the rest of my life, and honestly she wouldn’t have been able to play most of what I wanted to hear without doing a 5 hour show. I hope she does more orchestral shows in the near future since I think the shows would only get better as Tori becomes more comfortable with the set-up and can deal with the issues in this performance.
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Dissolved By The Water All These Years- PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Bjork and Massive Attack (Mash-up by Wax Audio)
I know mash-ups haven’t been cool for at least a few years, but come on, that artist line-up should at least have you curious.
Putting the piano intro to Silent All These Years over the bass fuzz of Dissolved Girl and bringing in the sultry vocals of PJ Harvey creates a sinister yet beautiful vibe that gives the first few lines of Silent a threatening Single White Female stalker vibe. “Excuse me, but can I be you for a while? My dog won’t bite if you sit real still…” has never sounded scarier. Bjork’s “Cover Me” works well as a bridge, before returning to the Down By The Water/Silent All These Years combo to conclude the song.
Aside from the song being excellent, the video is almost perfectly put together. The transitions are well-done, non-awkward, and always appropriate. Showing PJ Harvey at her most seductive pushes the intensity level up and the shots of Tori from various videos are nicely chosen, as are the little flashes of Bjork throughout.
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Fleetwood Mac- Sisters of the Moon (live from the Mirage tour)
This video/performance is simply perfect. There are enough tiny transcendent parts like Mick Fleetwood having a roadie pour beer into his mouth or Lindsey Buckingham’s open shirt and hat combo to make the video excellent before you even get to the amazing power of Stevie Nicks, possibly at her peak as a live performer here. Her wailing “you say no baby!” followed by what sounds like her speaking in tongues packs more punch into 30 seconds than most performers ever achieve, and she just twirls away like it’s nothing. As always, the other members of Fleetwood Mac get a bit outshined by Stevie, but the band jam at the end is nothing short of epic, with Lindsey especially powering through some insane playing. It’s been said many times, but the reason Fleetwood Mac worked is the competition between the performers to constantly out-do each other, which pushed all of them further and further in live performance.
And how can you not love Stevie’s crazy faces from 4:56-5:18, or her saying “You have no idea how many stuffed animals live at my house” as she leaves the stage?
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Whitney Houston- I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Acapella)
Tumblr, I want at least 10 remixes of this, the most perfect of pop songs, on my Dashboard by next Thursday. Don’t let me down.
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Kate Bush- The Big Sky
It’s a testament to just how good Kate Bush is that she can make such ridiculous and cheesy music videos and still be taken seriously as an artist. I’ve been listening to a lot of Kate Bush in the last week since I got both The Sensual World and Hounds of Love on vinyl (The new Audio Fidelity marble vinyl remaster is well worth the money, the sound quality is amazing), and The Big Sky has stood out as a song that resonates much more than it used to.
Lyrically, it’s a bit simple, one of the multitude of songs about being a misunderstood dreamer focused on the skies, but its religious allusions and “tell ‘em, sisters” female call to arms add a bit more heft than similar songs might have. The song’s extraordinary quality stems largely from its intense percussion and masterful use of layered vocals to drive the song forward. The vocal layers allow Bush to wander and focus on emotion in her vamping in the last third of the track, and that allows her to fully express the joy inherent in the song, the joy of someone who knows they’re about to take flight.
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Tori Amos- Yes, Anastasia
I didn’t think I could get much more excited for the Tori Amos concert w/ an orchestra on October 8th, but 3 awesome things happened that have me filled with childlike glee: I got a free 2nd row ticket from someone who can’t make the show, the Metropole Orchestra confirmed that Yes, Anastasia, possibly Tori’s best song, and Flying Dutchman will definitely be performed AND that there will be the debut of NEW material written specifically for the orchestra.
If I had a shakingandcrying GIF, this is where I’d use it.
This is indeed my favourite picture of Tori - most people seem disgusted but I like the fact it seems so natural, so maternal and earthy and I think piglets look adorable. Probably wouldn’t one suckling from me though… anyhoo, here’s Tori Amos breastfeeding a pig.
Obviously the picture was done at least in part for its shock value, and it works really well on that level, but I do like Tori’s explanation of it, that it was her “Madonna and child” bringing the (literally) non-kosher back into the fold. It’s a nice counterpart to her musical attacks on organized religion from the Boys For Pele album like Muhammad My Friend and Father Lucifer.
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Loretta Lynn- The Pill
Can we talk about how awesome Loretta Lynn is for a second? I saw her in Nashville this summer, and at age 76, she still puts on a great show. Unfortunately, she didn’t play this song, which is a favorite of mine and one of her biggest hits despite being extremely controversial and banned on many radio stations. For this song and many others such as “Rated X” she should get a lot of credit since she’s one of the only women in popular culture, let alone country music, to express a defiantly feminist outlook, endorsing birth control as a way for women to free themselves at a time when that just wasn’t talked about. Not only does the song have a great message, it’s catchy as hell and features some wonderfully sassy lines delivered with a triumphant and slightly mocking tone in one of Loretta’s most enjoyable vocal performances.
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Etta James- Something’s Got A Hold On Me
One of the comments on The Awl’s “Who Is The Greatest Diva of the Last 25 Years?” article (which is amazing, go read it) linked to this video as a definitive performance with “stank” and I have to agree. Etta demolishes this song and lays down some heavy heavy staaaaaaaank. And that’s before the band even comes in. Damn, girl.
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