Photos by Sung
Along U2’s The Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour, with twenty-one North American dates, including a headlining of Bonnaroo, it figures that the Rose Bowl shows in particular would promise to be special. Besides newer tackily branded barns like Levi’s or AT&T or Papa John’s (ugh…) Stadiums simply lacking the soul of the near-100-year-old local venue, the Rose Bowl is essentially the home venue to the iconic imagery of the album. The desert soul that permeates the album native to the area; the actual Joshua Tree park and Zabriskie Point of the cover shot are about a two hour drive east (some enterprising fan has mapped the spots, including the actual tree from the album art location here). You might say these two shows are a sort of homecoming for the album.
Only if you’re U2 in 2017 can an over two-hour show how featuring a 200-foot 8K resolution display seem to be a somewhat scaled down production. But following the likes of past massive tour productions such as Zoo TV or the 360° tour, with it’s in-the-round stage, or the arena-length stage and screen of the Songs of Innocence tour, the current set up is about as simple a set up as U2 can deliver–the aforementioned screen, complete with that Joshua tree yucca silhouette peaking out of the top frame, anchoring the end-zone stage and their usual smaller secondary stage out in the people.
Ending their pre-show tape (a fun blend–the expected Bowie and Clash, some less expected more recent indie cuts–“Summertime Sadness,” “Nikes,” “Kids”) with a cranked-up airing of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” in tribute to the recent passing of Chris Cornell, set off cellphone torches and reflective moods in the crowd. Cornell also later received a dedication to “Running to Stand Still,” a slight catch in Bono’s voice as he referred to him as a lion.
The band, four international icons, long since the most familiar quartet in rock since Led Zeppelin–though Bono insists on introducing Larry Mullen, Jr., Adam Clayton and The Edge every night–are rounding into live performance shape here on the fourth show of the tour, warming up into fighting live show shape after a few years off the tour circuit. Tonight we get a thoroughly satisfying stadium rock show that still leaves one selfishly wanting more.
Low Roar, a dreamy folk/ambient project by Ryan Karazija, Bay Area musician by way of Reykjavík (formerly of Audrye Sessions) presented its new album Once in a long, long while…, at the Roxy. Accompanied by two gents alternating on bass/guitar and keys/samples, the band opened for San Fermin, playing in a small space downstage, a sort of echo of the awkward fit of the thoughtful band to the Sunset Strip, next door to hedonistic dens like the Rainbow and 1OAK. (If their name alone didn’t complete suggest their low key nature, their name was absent from the Roxy marquee; not sure if that was an oversight or by request.) But their fans (and perhaps some new ones*) are representing tonight among the San Fermin faithful.
More of a joyous celebration of their two groovy, dizzying sample-collage albums, than a straight forward live recreation of them, Melbourne’s Avalanches performed to a sold-out Fonda Theater, their long awaited LA debut, between their weekend appearances at the Coachella Festival (Friday 6:35pm, Mojave tent).
Officially, the band are the duo of Robbie Chatter and Tony Di Blasi, present here at either end of the stage tonight, the former on guitar, and occasional MPC mashing and second drum kit; the latter triggering the backing tracks, working synths and sporadic bursts of Theremin. They expand to a 5-piece live band adding touring vocalists: Baltimore rapper Spank Rock, an overqualified ringer in this role (though clearly loving the gig) and Eliza Wolfgramm, an Australian vocalist, not well known in the States, with has real spark and more or less the star of the show, sometimes playfully wielding an Avalanches branded baseball bat as a prop. Both are in constant motion, singing (and singing over) those beloved sampled hooks, providing the stage charisma. Paris Jeffree, a veteran session hard hitter fuels things on the drum kit; and Jonti, an AUS producer/songwriter on Stones Throw, lends a hand on an occasionally inaudible guitar (the overall mix in the room seemed a bit off from my spot – vocals, guitars and samples too low, bass and drums too loud).
The highlight of the LA Phil’s ongoing Reykjavík Festival, Sigur Rós stunned in a transcendent performance in the first of a three-night run at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The Icelandic band, often branded as “post-rock” (if anything demonstrates the deficiencies of that catch-all term, it was this particular night) overwhelmed with two dynamic hour-long sets. First, backed by the orchestra–conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, co-curator the festival, in a return home as the LA Phil’s conductor laureate–and then as their current stripped-down three-piece configuration.
The night is billed as “Sigur Rós & LA Phil,” not “Sigur Rós with the LA Phil,” a hint at a long evening coming in around three and a half hours with intermissions, Sigur Rós not appearing until about 75 minutes into the program. Starting with a sort of a cappella amuse-bouche from the Schola Cantorum Reykjavík choir in a set of five short pieces quickly demonstrating a range of traditional Icelandic music. It was met with a mostly appreciative, if slightly fidgeting response from. Things picked up with the orchestra and the familiar sight of Salonen back in Los Angeles in black.
Their opener this night (they will perform different pieces each night with Sigur Rós) was “BD” by Hlynur Aðils Vilmarsson, a searching avant garde number that runs from atonal discord to melodic whimsy, building to a tribal gallop of short notes, which at times felt like something that might soundtrack an episode of Lost. Next, they tackled the three-part “Emergence,” by Daníel Bjarnson, a young Icelandic composer/conductor who’s crossed over to pop to work with the likes of Ólöf Arnalds and Efterklang, as well as Sigur Rós. A U.S. performance debut, it’s a slow tense drone largely for strings with a short chaotic middle section. The final section of overlapping descending lines was particularly gorgeous. Finally, after an intermission, the three members of Sigur Rós joined the LA Phil on stage.
There’s a rare sense of event at the Echoplex for Sleaford Mods’ sold out L.A. debut Sunday night, the room is humming with a mix of true heads, buzz chasers, older punks wrinkling and greying tastefully (some not so much), the usual anglophile cosplayers, using 1980’s NMEs as their 2017 Vogue. I’m not sure if it’s the intended response, but about maybe three or four bars into the Nottingham duo’s impressive showing, I notice I have a big grin verging on disbelieving laughter. There’s just something about the situation that tickles one in the best way – firstly, the minor miracle that they even exist at all, that they’ve finally made it to Los Angeles debut, that they appear in person to be exactly the characters we’ve seen in media for a while now, and, above all, that they deliver on the live performance in spades.