Looking back looks oh so good on Bright Eyes at LA’s Greek Theatre

Bright EyesBy Rochelle Shipman //

Bright Eyes with Cate Le Bon //
Greek Theatre – Los Angeles
June 23rd, 2022 //

There’s good news, and there’s bad news. The bad news is that Americans with uteruses lost the right to make a decision about their own bodies last week. The good news is that Conor Oberst is OK. And therefore, somehow, some day, some way … we will be OK, too.

Bright Eyes haven’t exactly had a smooth start to their pandemic-plagued “Down in the Weeds Where the World Once Was Tour”, with Oberst hurting his wrist from a fall during their Detroit gig early on the first leg. Concerned fans came out of the internet woodwork, nearly cataloging his onstage behavior night to night, wondering if his well-documented demons would let him make it through the next show. The tour’s second leg kicked off this month with markedly less hitches, and by the time Oberst and his sidekicks made it to LA (“a second home for many of us” as he noted), they delivered a performance that was nothing short of astounding.

With Bright Eyes fresh off the release of their first three companion EPs in May, it’s clear that looking back looks good on them. The band was tighter than ever, with Nate Walcott perched on his rightful podium of keyboards and strings and Mike Mogis flanking Oberst as his literal righthand man. They opened with “Dance and Sing” before testing the fabric of the crowd’s emotions with a one-two punch featuring “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” followed immediately by “Bowl of Oranges”. (Personally, I am writing this from the grave as a result.)

Bright Eyes weaved in a rightful amount of newer material, finally offering 2020’s Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was the proper live show it deserved. And it genuinely looked like they had a blast. Oberst showed off some new dance moves he must have learned while in lockdown, thrashing about the stage with a single earring and a glittery black guitar. The entire show carried an underlying adrenaline rush, quiet but consistent, threatening to burst through.

However, nothing set the crowd off quite like the older tunes, especially after two and a half years at home isolated from society. We were treated to classics like “Old Soul Song”, “Falling Out of Love at This Volume”, “Poison Oak”, “Another Travelin’ Song” and even “Something Vague” as well as “Neely O’Hara”. As if that wasn’t enough, they hit us with an unbelievable encore led by “First Day of My Life” and “I Believe in Symmetry” before closing a perfect night with “One for You, One for Me”.

Bright Eyes

There is something about seeing a band you never thought you’d get to see again — an anticipation and unspoken electrical tension lingers before the music actually starts. It melts away into an elated disbelief after about 4-5 songs as wide-eyed fans exchange toothy grins with perfect strangers, saying everything without having to say anything at all. Everyone at the Greek Theatre held that night close with the same precious care, still unable to believe to some degree that we were back together again, finally back with Bright Eyes. You could have heard a pin — or in California, a vape pen — drop during “Poison Oak” off 2005’s I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning as screams of “I love you, Conor!” filled the air during breaks in the action. Oberst moved about the stage with a ferociousness that made it difficult to tell just how genuine his own enjoyment was, but he did touch upon the importance of us treating each other with care and kindness while clasping hands with some stunned fans in the front row. At one point, he even made a joke about having a stock of “cry tests” on the group’s tour bus with their COVID-19 tests. If anyone in the band isn’t sad enough he trolled, they’re fired.

As far as Bright Eyes shows go, this was one for the books. It was so solid, in fact, that I found myself getting angry during it. “Who are these people online to question Oberst, to act as though he was ever pretending to be someone he’s not, here in the year 2022?” I pondered. Sure, he slurred a few words throughout the set, but I can’t recall a show in the last 15 years where he didn’t. As a lifelong Bright Eyes fan, yes, there are days and moments I lose worrying about his own wellbeing, but then I stop myself. I remember that’s part of what I signed up for as a fan of Oberst’s work, and that listening closely to any album he’s released reminds me it’s actually par for the course. I often try to consider the fact that quite possibly those faceless fans haven’t been lucky to see him live as many times as I have. Or perhaps they found him a bit more recently via Phoebe Bridgers, unaware just how deep Oberst’s emotional register actually goes. Maybe they just don’t realize that he’s singing pages out of his personal diary.

Here’s the thing about Oberst: the man is depressed. At the age of 42, he has never even pretended that he’s not depressed. He was born that way and has lived that way for decades, documenting it in plain sight. A few years ago, he went through a divorce, suddenly lost a brother and battled some health issues. Then came the pandemic, which halted life in a very specific way for musicians in particular. We were all pretty isolated for about two years, which is the last thing a depressed person needs no matter what they might say. And despite all of that depression, he still drags himself onstage night after night, year after year, to tell us in person that he’s depressed. As someone myself with a crippling case of lifelong depression, I can honestly say I don’t know how he does it.

The fact that Oberst has made it through alive to this point is an achievement in and of itself. Simply the fact that he’s still here at all, after the past few years of hell we have all collectively gone through, is an accomplishment deserving of flowers — bouquets on bouquets that we must hand out while the native of Nebraska is still here to receive them.

It’s safe to say that Oberst is doing phenomenal, all things considered. I have to admit his worldwide web warriors had me a little worried before this show, but he proved them wrong. Bright Eyes will be here to serenade us through much, much worse for years to come. After all, Oberst said it himself by quipping near the end of the night: “We’ll be back, don’t you worry … like a real bad cancer.”

Setlist:
Dance and Sing
Lover I Don’t Have to Love
Bowl of Oranges
Mariana Trench
One and Done (with “Whole Lotta Love” drum outro tease)
Old Soul Song (for the New World Order)
Jejune Stars
No One Would Riot for Less
Falling Out of Love at This Volume
Persona non grata
Something Vague
Stairwell Song
Neely O’Hara
Poison Oak
Another Travelin’ Song
Comet Song

Encore:
First Day of My Life
I Believe in Symmetry
One for You, One for Me

Jack White makes the case with two career-spanning shows at LA’s YouTube Theater why he’s more than rock ‘n’ roll’s last great savior

Jack WhitePhotos courtesy of Jack White // Written by Josh Herwitt //

Jack White //
YouTube Theater – Inglewood, CA
May 31st-June 1st, 2022 //

Well, look who’s back …

When Jack White unloaded the lead single “Taking Me Back” from what would be his fourth album Fear of the Dawn in October, it was a signal to both his fans and the music industry that the 12-time Grammy winner was officially back (pun intended) with new solo material for the first time in three-plus years.

Sure, 2019 saw White put out The Raconteurs’ third studio effort — though just their first in more than a decade — on his own label Third Man Records and embark on a world tour alongside the band, but with the COVID-19 pandemic beginning only three months later and locking us down for the next couple of years, it’s fair to say the world has changed quite a bit since Boarding House Reach dropped in 2018.

That’s the last time White brought his solo act out to California (read our show review here), and it was around then that he started partnering with Yondr to lock fans’ cell phones during his concerts using the San Francisco-based company’s mobile pouches and having designated areas inside the venue where you can unlock them (think of it like a smoking section at any bar or club).

Of course the whole notion drew the ire of some who claimed White crossed a line and had gone too far to control his fans’ behavior. After all, you can’t please everyone, right? But while a phone-free show is a better experience for us all as I have previously argued, let’s be honest about what really matters at the end of the day: it hasn’t hurt his ticket sales at all. And for those of us who enjoy going to shows and not viewing them through a sea of six-inch screens, it’s a breath of fresh air to not catch even one raised in the crowd.

White has never been one for mobile technology. He still doesn’t own a cell phone — not even what the kids would call a “dumb phone” — and in 2022, that can sometimes make it a little harder if he suddenly needs a lift home from the airport or has to wait longer than expected for his doctor’s appointment.

Jack White

But White has survived without one for this long and so can we every few years he decides to tour. Because whenever he takes the stage, you never know what you’re going to get. Just ask his fellow Detroiters, who got to witness White’s engagement and subsequent wedding onstage to kick off the “Supply Chain Issues Tour” that stretches 62 dates all the way until late August — two of which took place this week at the 6,000-person YouTube Theater, the newest music venue to call Los Angeles home after breaking ground in August.

I must admit that this is not the only time I have pulled double duty when Jack has come to town. Nearly 10 years ago when White launched his first solo tour in support of Blunderbluss, he booked two gigs at LA’s historic Shrine Auditorium. After being completely transfixed by his all-male group the Buzzards the first night but eager to hear more, I returned on a whim the ensuing evening to see him perform with the all-female Peacocks and I’m glad that I did considering I got to hear him bust out Danger Mouse’s “Two Against One” and The Dead Weather’s “Blue Blood Blues” before delivering his best knockout punch in the encore with Stripes hits “My Doorbell” and “Seven Nation Army” as the final blow to the head.

Looking back at those shows in 2012, White’s solo career has taken some twists and turns in that time. He has made three more albums, produced numerous artists and even wrote a song for Beyoncé. But despite upgrading on this tour to more modern rooms — and it’s reflected in the ticket prices — like the state-of-the-art YouTube Theater that’s attached to SoFi Stadium in Inglewood and stripping down to a four-piece that includes Dominic Davis (bass, backing vocals), Daru Jones (drums) and Quincy McCrary (keyboards, samples, synthesizer, organ, backing vocals), the 46-year-old multi-instrumentalist has told us with his words and actions that he not only has the ability but also the purpose to continually surprise those of us willing to buy a ticket and take the ride.

“Every time I go in (to make an album), I’m trying to do something I haven’t done before,” White shared not long ago during an exclusive interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music that sees them visit his first art studio in Detroit when he made a living as a furniture upholsterer. “It’s not like something that other people haven’t ever done before. It’s just something I have never done before. … Whatever it is to get me to a different zone so that I’m not repeating myself.”

In many ways, the same philosophy applies to his live performances. There’s no doubt that White has his crowd-pleasers — particularly from The White Stripes’ catalog — that he still leans on, but you also won’t find him operating with only one setlist as he travels from city to city. Even if his live shows often begin and end in a similar fashion that creates a format for them and a brand for White as a performer, they nevertheless carry a dose of uncertainty and spontaneity.

“That’s what’s kind of cool about playing shows,” he tells Lowe later in their interview as they observe the empty lot that used to be the Gold Dollar where the Stripes performed for the very first time. “You don’t really know what’s going to happen. You shouldn’t know what’s going to happen I should say.”

Jack White

And with four separate projects to pull from now, Jack has no trouble filling out a setlist. He easily could play longer than the hour and 45 minutes that he gifts us, extending well past the two-hour mark, but at what cost? If it means preserving his health and longevity for many more years to come, I’m all for that. White, in fact, will be unleashing his second 2022 record Entering Heaven Alive this July, and given the early, yet strong reviews from critics who have gotten their hands (and ears) on it, future live audiences should eventually expect to hear more than just the three offerings — “A Tip from You to Me”, “Love Is Selfish” and “If I Die Tomorrow” — that we got in LA.

With the way rock ‘n’ roll has been holding on by a thread and White serving as one of the genre’s last great saviors, it’s easy to understand why he should consider playing the long game. Maybe that’s why certain non-Fear of the Dawn tracks — “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, “Love Interruption”, “Ball and Biscuit”, and “Icky Thump” — were even repeated, which was certainly a surprise to us. That said, there was still plenty of diversity between the two shows, with The Raconteurs’ “You Don’t Understand Me” and The Dead Weather’s “Gasoline” bolstering Tuesday’s affair and covers of both The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” as well as Jimi Hendrix’s “Hear My Train a Comin'” standing out on Wednesday. It was even refreshing to hear him unleash Fear deep cut “Eosophobia” and the LP’s latest single “What’s the Trick?” on separate nights, while the genre-less “Hi-De-Ho” featuring Q-Tip — with his lyrics played from tape, something White rarely does when performing live — received two rounds of applause.

Some might ask, “What’s left for Jack White to do that he hasn’t already done?” That’s a good question, and one worth pondering as we have more time to reflect on the impact of his work and legacy. But as I watched White like the modern-day guitar hero that he is rip into one hair-raising solo after another while he was in LA, I couldn’t help but think of the small empire he has built for the past 25 years not only with his own style and sound but also culturally with Third Man Records leading the DIY movement for music. What makes Jack so special to his fans is that he represents what it truly means to be an artist in every sense of the word no matter what he’s doing. Whether he’s working on a song, couch or business idea, there’s always a greater vision to his madness and an inherent need to continue pushing boundaries.

“If you want to do something new to turn people on and get people’s imaginations going, you have to blend different things together and attempt to break new ground,” the blue-haired singer-songwriter explains at the end of his hour-long conversation with Lowe. “That’s the place that I try to live in.”

For more than a quarter century, White has been living in that space as he has let his own imaginations run wild. And yet, at no point did he expect things would turn out the way they have, rising to a level of international stardom that he never dreamed of when he almost decided to become a priest as a young teenager before changing his mind to attend public school — and the rest is history.

“There’s never been a moment where I’ve been like, ‘Yeah, that’s a good song. People should like that,'” he admits to Lowe. “I have never felt that. It’s always, ‘Well, that felt good to me. We’ll see.'”

That can be hard to believe from someone who’s as accomplished as Jack White, but for those of you who somehow aren’t familiar with the man after all these years … well, where the hell have you been?

MAY 31

Setlist:
Taking Me Back
Fear of the Dawn
The White Raven
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (The White Stripes song)
Hi-De-Ho
You Don’t Understand Me (The Raconteurs song)
Love Is Selfish
Temporary Ground
A Tip from You to Me
Hotel Yorba (The White Stripes song)
Cannon (The White Stripes song)
Eosophobia (followed by a reprise of “Cannon”)
Fell in Love With a Girl (The White Stripes song)
Lazaretto
Over and Over and Over
I’m Shakin’ (Little Willie John cover)
Gasoline (The Dead Weather song)
A Martyr for My Love for You (The White Stripes song)
Love Interruption
Ball and Biscuit (The White Stripes song)

Encore:
Icky Thump (The White Stripes song)
Steady, as She Goes (The Raconteurs song)

JUNE 1

Setlist:
Taking Me Back
Fear of the Dawn
I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges cover)
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (The White Stripes song)
The White Raven
If I Die Tomorrow
Love Is Selfish
I Think I Smell a Rat (The White Stripes song)
Black Math (The White Stripes song)
Freedom at 21
Hi-De-Ho
Apple Blossom (The White Stripes song)
We’re Going to Be Friends (The White Stripes song)
Love Interruption
I Cut Like a Buffalo (The Dead Weather song)
Hear My Train a Comin’ (Jimi Hendrix cover)
Ball and Biscuit (The White Stripes song)

Encore:
Icky Thump (The White Stripes song)
What’s the Trick?
Suzy Lee (The White Stripes song)
Catch Hell Blues (The White Stripes song)
Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes song)

Animal Collective haven’t forgotten how to be delightfully weird, delivering a manic mind melt at LA’s Greek Theatre

Animal CollectiveBy Rochelle Shipman //

Animal Collective with SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE //
Greek Theatre – Los Angeles
May 20th, 2022 //

It’s safe to say that a lot has changed in the world over the last two years, but there’s one thing that has thankfully remained the same about Animal Collective: they’re still weird as shit and delightful as all hell.

Their triumphant display at the Greek Theatre felt like a long-awaited psychedelic hug, a comforting two hours of pure and manic mind melt. Animal Collective’s music can be somewhat divisive, so to be with 5,000 of your newest friends at a concert screaming along to some of your most treasured songs … it never gets old, even if you don’t know exactly what it is that they’re saying all the time. In fact, that only adds to the beauty of it since they formed more than two decades ago.

Friday’s headlining performance in LA all the sweet spots. The last pre-pandemic tour or two had each member of Animal Collective tucked behind rightful, yet artful individual podiums, which decorated the stage and elevated the show in its own right. But after a chaotic couple of years for all of us, it felt really good to have all four of them together on the same stage, instruments spread about, baring it all in front of a live audience with nothing except a few cables and some keyboards separating them. It was a solid reminder that these guys make these stunningly intricate songs with their own human hands after all.

Avey Tare (David Portner), Deakin (Josh Dibb) and Geologist (Brian Weitz) pivoted back and forth from strings to keys and synths, rarely looking up and never missing a beat, while just watching Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) coo and harmonize from behind his drum kit damn near felt like a privilege. And yet, they hardly exchanged so much as a glance at each other, somehow bringing an even more impressive layer to the group’s already-electrifying catalog.

Animal Collective

The setlist was perfect, the visuals were on point as ever and the band was tight on this night. Animal Collective are never loose per se — their music literally doesn’t allow it — but they glided through each song with such a familiar air of ease. In the handful of shows I’ve been lucky enough to catch over the years, they tend to use their live shows to test out brand-new material and dip into older songs — both beloved favorites and those that don’t always get to see the light of day. Given the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years, it’s safe to say that their 11th and newest studio album Time Skiffs didn’t exactly get that same pre-release tour treatment. This show made up for that, not only with the band righteously tearing through the bulk of the nine-track LP that dropped in February, but also with the packs of “Time Spliffs” rolling papers available at the merch table (right next to the safe abortion access information).

In addition to the Skiffs and one or two new songs, Animal Collective offered cuts from Centipede HZ, Strawberry Jam, Merriweather Post Pavilion and two songs off ODDSAC. They didn’t touch Painting With or any of the fantastic singles from the EPs surrounding it, and they didn’t dig into anything pre-Strawberry Jam. As a Strawberry Jam purist, I again felt privileged to be there. Not only did we get to hear “Chores”, but we got a fiery encore of “Unsolved Mysteries” right into a raucous rendition of “For Reverend Green” to close out a four-song encore.

Within seconds of the house lights flickering on, someone in front of me lamented the absence of “My Girls”. He turned around and said, “I don’t get it. That was such a weak ending. Why wouldn’t they play their biggest hit?” To clarify (and as I confirmed by the look on his friend’s face), “For Reverend Green” was not a weak ending. It was, in fact, exhilarating. And it’s nothing against that dude — it was his first Animal Collective show. He’ll probably enjoy the next one more because he won’t be expecting it, and maybe he’ll even be surprised.

Animal Collective didn’t play “My Girls” partially because that guy expected it. They don’t champion their biggest hit in a way that many bands would. They’re not there to play the hits, and it’s clear at this phase in their career that they don’t have to be. Their live stage time is and always has been cherished among them, reserved for the songs they feel like sharing with fans and nothing else. For us, it’s just a privilege to bear witness after all these years.

Setlist:
Passer-By
Bluish
Gem and I
Wide Eyed
Prester John
Cherokee
In the Flowers
Working
Strung With Everything
We Go Back
Chores
Applesauce

Encore:
Screens
No More Runnin
Unsolved Mysteries
For Reverend Green

Royal Blood make a pit stop at brand-new Ventura Music Hall on their ‘Typhoons’ tour to remind us rock ‘n’ roll is still alive & well

Royal BloodBy Josh Herwitt //

Royal Blood with cleopatrick //
Ventura Music Hall – Ventura, CA
May 4th, 2022 //

If you’re one of those people who thinks rock ‘n’ roll is on its way out, then you probably haven’t heard of Royal Blood before.

The English alt-rock duo comprised of Mike Kerr (lead vocals, bass, keyboards, piano, guitar) and sidekick Ben Thatcher (drums, percussion, piano) has been growing its fan base far outside the UK since forming more than a decade ago, so much so the two Brits have found themselves headlining larger venues “in the states” with each passing tour.

But the smallest room on Royal Blood’s 26-date North American trek that included five shows up and down California is no doubt the brand-new Ventura Music Hall, which hopes to be a legitimate pit stop for bands traveling from the Bay Area to Los Angeles and vice versa.

Opening its doors for the first time less than two months ago, the 635-person club has already hosted several notable acts across a range of genres — from the world sounds of Thievery Corporation to the punk rock of Flogging Molly and Bob Mould to the synthpop of Gary Numan and Hot Chip — while the addition of Royal Blood should only help build its credibility as one of the few spots to catch live music along the Central Coast. At half the size of the Ventura Theater, it offers a more intimate setting despite being mostly standing room with food available via local pop-up Ruff House BBQ and a massive ceiling fan to create a strong ventilation system (because we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic).

Ventura, furthermore, has been primed to have a new space for a while now. Home to outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia as well as a handful of top-notch craft breweries an hour north of LA and 30 minutes south of Santa Barbara, the once-sleepy beach town is often overlooked and could be something more than its past as other entertainment and dining options are introduced and established over time.

Royal Blood

Much of the same can be said for Royal Blood after they last performed stateside in 2018. Since then, they’ve managed to reinvent some of that big, bombastic sound we first heard them unleash on 2014’s self-titled debut LP and 2018’s How Did We Get So Dark? by churning out even catchier melodies and dance-forward backbeats for their third studio effort Typhoons, which dropped more than a year ago to predominantly favorable reviews.

There might be no better track on Typhoons that manifests the sonic evolution of Royal Blood than its disco-flavored lead single “Trouble’s Coming”, and considering that it was the first song written for the album based on what Kerr has said in interviews, I would be surprised if it doesn’t become a staple at the band’s shows in the future.

On this night and this tour, we were treated to a performance from Kerr and Thatcher that spanned all three of their full lengths and more. There was “Typhoons” fittingly to open and “Boilermaker” to follow, the latter of which being the Josh Homme-produced track that you could argue is one of Royal Blood’s most electrifying songs right now (I did after naming it my favorite song of 2021). It has a similar energy to “Lights Out” and that might be why the first single — and one of the real standouts — off HDWGSD? came right after in the setlist.

Multiple deep cuts such as “Hook, Line & Sinker”, “Blood Hands” and “Loose Change” were also played, but hearing Royal Blood’s newest single “Honeybrains” that they uncovered right before hitting the road this spring was particularly praiseworthy for a group that has moved beyond a bass guitar and drums to incorporate more keyboards in their latest studio material. If it wasn’t evident to the crowd quite yet, Kerr made it upon his return to the stage after a short set break, as he took a seat at the piano and belted out the Typhoons finale “All We Have Is Now” to kickstart a furious, three-song encore that ended with Royal Blood cuts “Ten Tonne Skeleton” and “Out of the Black” sending us home after 90 minutes of ear-rattling and headbanging euphoria.

What has always amazed me about Royal Blood is how full their music sounds despite only having two permanent members who would serve as most bands’ rhythm section. And although you would have to think that Kerr and Thatcher will eventually explore adding other instrumentation — if not more full-time staff with Darren James brought on last year to be their touring keyboardist — into the fold, the 11-track Typhoons has provided them with that step forward. Where they go from here remains anyone’s guess as they help carry the torch for rock ‘n’ roll in 2022, but with another album cycle under their belts soon, those prospects feel just as exciting as where they’ve already been.

Setlist:
Typhoons
Boilermaker
Lights Out
Come on Over
Trouble’s Coming
Hook, Line & Sinker
Honeybrains
Little Monster
How Did We Get So Dark?
Blood Hands
Million and One
Limbo
Loose Change
Figure It Out

Encore:
All We Have Is Now
Ten Tonne Skeleton
Out of the Black

The War on Drugs prove in Adam Granduciel’s new hometown why they deserved to win a Grammy more than four years ago

The War on DrugsBy Josh Herwitt //

The War on Drugs //
Shrine Auditorium – Los Angeles
February 26th, 2022 //

What can you say about Adam Granduciel that hasn’t already been said or written?

Let’s just cut to the chase then: the guy keeps getting better and better with age. And though he might give off the impression that he’s a tad bit older than the 43 years he just turned last month thanks to all of those late nights writing songs in his bedroom or at the studio, Granduciel has continued to push the band he formed in Philadelphia more than 17 years ago to new and greater heights.

The War on Drugs’ foray into music’s mainstream has been a slow churn dating all the way back to 2005 before it culminated four years ago when they beat out a number of hard-rock heavyweights in Metallica, Mastodon, Queens of the Stone Age and Nothing More to win the Grammy for “Best Rock Album” at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.

It was a career-defining moment for the group that’s heartland sound has centered around Granduciel’s fascination with Bob Dylan — an enthusiasm for the legendary folk singer-songwriter that he and fellow Philly-bred indie rocker Kurt Vile shared when they first started playing together in each other’s projects — and continued with his love for Bruce Springsteen. (There’s also a hint of Rod Stewart and Tom Petty in Granduciel’s work for good measure.)

Six months prior, I had caught The War on Drugs at Apogee Studio for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions (read our review here), and after hearing them preview a few songs off A Deeper Understanding that evening, it was right then and there that I knew the album was well deserving of some significant hardware.

But following 2014’s seminal Lost in the Dream — the band’s third album which might be arguably better than its award-winning follow-up — with another 10-track masterpiece, Granduciel had done what only a few are capable of these days, particularly in the rock space, by creating an emotional, yet timeless gem for our earholes to bathe in.

With little room to go up from there, Granduciel certainly had a challenge on his hands when it was time to make another LP. It wasn’t just that he had become a father to his son Bruce (yes, he really is named after the Boss) in 2019 and officially moved to LA’s San Fernando Valley shortly thereafter even if those were two major life changes, but the expectations surrounding The War on Drugs’ next studio effort had only grown even more since the last one.

For Granduciel, it didn’t matter. He went back to the grind and delivered once again. What resulted after hours at his Burbank rehearsal space with engineer and producer Shawn Everett was I Don’t Live Here Anymore, which arrived back in October and peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard 200. It’s another record worthy of high praise — in fact, I ranked it my favorite album last year (see our 2021 picks here) — and at the same time more accessible than its predecessors.

What makes The War on Drugs’ albums so great, however, is that you can just let them run. There’s no need to skip a track as one flows right into the next, and I Don’t Live Here Anymore follows suit much in the same way Lost in the Dream and A Deeper Understanding do. And as Granduciel seemingly settled into his new environs with music videos filmed in California for “Living Proof” and the title track featuring Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius, I was eager to hear the new material with an audience on hand.

So when The War on Drugs announced a tour for 2022 last summer and scheduled only one show in 2021 at Desert Daze, I knew their gig in LA at the Shrine Auditorium would feel even that much more special given Granduciel’s story but also because it was the final U.S. date before the band heads to Europe for a month. While that fact wouldn’t completely hold up with The War on Drugs replacing My Morning Jacket at Innings Festival the ensuing day, they made sure to offer quite a proper 2 1/2-hour concert experience for the nearly capacity crowd inside the landmark venue of 6,300.

Granduciel (vocals, guitars, harmonica, keyboards, samplers) and his cohorts — David Hartley (bass, backing vocals), Robbie Bennett (keyboards, piano, guitar), Charlie Hall (drums, organ), Jon Natchez (saxophone, keyboards), Anthony LaMarca (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) and Eliza Hardy Jones (keyboards, backing vocals) — were treating us to “An Evening of LIVE DRUGS” and most were happy to oblige. That meant “Old Skin” leading things off with “Pain” batting second. “An Ocean in Between the Waves” never disappoints, and slotting it third before one of the highlights off I Don’t Live Here Anymore in “I Don’t Wanna Wait” created a huge wave of momentum that The War on Drugs carried through the rest of the set, which boasted “Strangest Thing” and “Red Eyes” back to back, another new standout in “Harmonia’s Dream” that has been extended live and an appearance by Lucius as expected with Wolfe and Laessig leaving their East Coast origins for the City of Angels a few years ago.

When it came time to take things up a notch, Granduciel turned to “Under the Pressure” as still one of the most shining achievements in his ever-expanding repertoire. That’s not to say what came after — the previously unreleased “Ocean of Darkness” that didn’t make it onto I Don’t Live Here Anymore but was debuted during The War on Drugs’ performance on “The Tonight Show” in 2020 — didn’t carry the same weight, because in many ways it did considering the song has only been played live seven times in total so far.

After taking a couple nights off in Portland and San Francisco, “In Reverse” subsequently returned to the setlist and propelled us into a short-lived encore break that only lasted a minute or two. Granduciel, after all, had more to get to before saying goodbye, as he used “Thinking of a Place” to jumpstart a four-song finish that included a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Born in Time” and “Comin’ Through” from The War on Drugs’ 2010 EP Future Weather to mark only the second time fans got to hear it on this tour and since 2019.

Granduciel isn’t one for much stage banter, and after one last thank you, he broke into I Don’t Live Here Anymore finale “Occasional Rain” to take us all home. Even though it has served as The War on Drugs’ closer for several shows on this tour, the title seemed rather appropriate in a city as dry as LA where we haven’t seen a whole lot of precipitation this winter.

People often say the phrase “when it rains, it pours” when they experience a barrage of misfortune all at the same time. In Granduciel’s case notwithstanding, the past eight years have been one big downpour of success for The War on Drugs. Now with the band at an all-time high, it doesn’t appear that the storm they’ve been riding will be letting up anytime soon.

Setlist:
Old Skin
Pain
An Ocean in Between the Waves
I Don’t Wanna Wait
Victim
Strangest Thing
Red Eyes
Living Proof
Harmonia’s Dream
Your Love Is Calling My Name
Come to the City
Rings Around My Father’s Eyes
I Don’t Live Here Anymore (with Lucius)
Under the Pressure
Ocean of Darkness
In Reverse

Encore:
Thinking of a Place
Born in Time (Bob Dylan cover)
Comin’ Through
Occasional Rain

Tool are finally back on the road to finish their ‘Fear Inoculum’ tour & it couldn’t come at a more fitting time

ToolBy Josh Herwitt //

Tool with Blonde Redhead //
Viejas Arena – San Diego
January 19th, 2022 //

Did Maynard James Keenan really foresee what most of us didn’t?

When Tool unleashed their long-awaited fifth studio album Fear Inoculum in 2019 less than six months before COVID-19 started to ravage the world, it was quixotic to assume then how much the frontman’s lyrics would resonate with the times we’re living in right now. But that’s exactly the case after everything we have been through for close to two years.

Keenan doesn’t see his recent work whether it be with Tool, A Perfect Circle or Puscifer as prophetic, however, despite surviving two nasty bouts with the virus himself. As he explained during an interview with Zane Lowe at the beginning of the outbreak, “it’s just understanding patterns, and understanding human nature and where we’re going.”

While he might not have a sixth sense like some fans have speculated, Keenan is certainly a lot more perceptive than your average person when it comes to the ever-changing ways of the world. At the not-so-young-anymore age of 57, he continues to find inspiration in the “human experience” more than from any particular event or person, and yet I wouldn’t blame him if he ever dropped an “I told you so” simply based on our current state of affairs.

And when Tool revealed last year after being forced to cancel their remaining 2020 tour dates that they would be hitting the road again in 2022 to “finish what we started” as Keenan succinctly put it, there was no way I was going to miss seeing my favorite band for the past 25 years even with the highly infectious omicron variant sweeping across Planet Earth.

So after catching Keenan (vocals), Adam Jones (guitar), Danny Carey (drums, percussion) and Justin Chancellor (bass) pack a sold-out Honda Center in Anaheim with over 18,000 fans the prior evening, I made the 133-mile trek south to Viejas Arena located on the campus of San Diego State University for what would be my 15th Tool show. What was different this time around though was a chance for me to photograph the band, something I had never done but always wanted to check off my bucket list.

Tool

Triple-vaxxed and triple-masked, I entered the 12,200-person indoor venue with my camera equipment knowing full well the risk that I was assuming but also what a unique opportunity this was for me. Every performance by Tool these days feels a little extra special given our present circumstances, but if there was ever a time for firsts, photographing the band’s “Fear Inoculum” tour during a global pandemic felt rather apropos to me. With 90’s alt-rockers Blonde Redhead tapped as support for this leg of Tool’s 55-stop tour across the U.S. and Europe, the New York City trio’s dreamy, shoegaze-tinged set offered an interesting dichotomy ahead of what would follow.

There’s almost a meditative and spiritual-like quality to Tool’s music since 2001’s seminal Lateralus, and although heavy at points, it has only become more palpable with each new LP in spite of how much time has passed. Of course no one would argue in today’s industry that 13 years isn’t a lengthy gap between albums no matter who the artist or group is, but Tool still stand among rare company after forming more than three decades ago in Los Angeles. The prog-metal titans, in fact, have been playing snippets from Fear Inoculum for live audiences dating back to 2012 — it just wasn’t until the record was released that they began opening with the title track, which hears Keenan belt out lines like “Immunity, long overdue / Contagion, I exhale you” and “What you say inoculated / Bless this immunity” to help raise the hairs on the back of your neck if you weren’t already worried about contracting a deadly respiratory disease at a concert in the dead of winter.

The quartet’s song selection for this latest tour has featured a core of 10 highlighted by Ænima deep cuts “Pushit” and “Hooker With a Penis” as well as the epic “Descending” off Fear Inoculum with four older gems — “Opiate”, “Sober”, “The Patient” and “Right in Two” — rotated in and out. On this night, Keenan teased the capacity crowd early on with a comparison to Bakersfield but was kind enough to reward us with “Sober” from Undertow and “Right in Two” on 10,000 Days after hearing “Opiate” and “The Patient” a day earlier. Even if Tool’s sonic rollercoasters often comprised of odd time signatures and abrupt tempo changes while regularly eclipsing the 10-minute mark don’t impress you with all of those twists and turns, at least their stage setup and production should with Jones’ art direction and plenty of modern advances in visual technology you can expect from a band of this stature to employ.

Tool’s material has always showcased top-notch musicianship going back to the Opiate and Undertow days that included former bassist Paul D’Amour, but with Chancellor now leading in spots as essentially a second guitarist to Jones thanks in part to his inventive bass effects and tones, you won’t find a whole lot of drummers who are quite as creative, technically skilled and powerful as Carey. Case in point: his psychedelic drum solo entitled “Chocolate Chip Trip” that he recorded for Fear Inoculum and sees him manipulate a massive modular synthesizer to build its 7/8 groove has become a staple at Tool’s shows in the last five years.

The four-time Grammy winners, meanwhile, have been known to evolve from one tour to the next. This one has been no different, with “Culling Voices” recently solidifying a spot in their setlist for the first time as the four of them started the song by sitting at the front of the stage in a half circle with Carey playing rhythm guitar on Jones’ custom Gibson 1979 Les Paul before returning to his drums and Keenan to his two platforms midway through to complete the 10-minute tune that ends in a flurry of angst. If somehow that wasn’t enough, Carey’s use of his Buchla Marimba Lumina, a marimba-styled MIDI controller, down the final stretch of “Invincible” definitely leaves a lasting impression before you head home wondering if or when you’ll ever get to witness that kind of virtuosity again.

After all, taking the safe or easy route has never been an option for Tool, and regardless of what Keenan might portend down the road, it’s why we keep coming back for more.

TOOL

Setlist:
Fear Inoculum
Sober
The Pot
Pushit
Pneuma
The Grudge
Right in Two
Descending
Hooker With a Penis

Encore:
Chocolate Chip Trip
Culling Voices
Invincible

BLONDE REDHEAD

Setlist:
Falling Man
Bipolar
Spring and by Summer Fall
Elephant Woman
Doll Is Mine
Dr. Strangeluv
(Unknown)
(Unknown)
23

Caribou kick off their North American tour at LA’s Greek Theatre & make the case why they’re among today’s best live-electronic acts

CaribouBy Josh Herwitt //

Caribou with Jessy Lanza //
Greek Theatre – Los Angeles
November 15th, 2021 //

Whether he’s creating new material in the studio or hitting the decks to share the music that has inspired him with others, Dan Snaith has been honing his craft for more than two decades now.

The Canadian musician who performs under several stage names got his start recording as Manitoba, but in 2005, NYC punk rock singer Richard “Handsome Dick” Manitoba of The Dictators came calling and threatened Snaith with legal action, prompting him to make a change. Shortly thereafter, Snaith’s new recording alias Caribou was born.

But maybe Manitoba barking up Snaith’s tree over a silly name more than 15 years ago was actually a small blessing in disguise. After all, it’s only subsequently led Snaith to make several excellent Caribou records, most notably 2014’s seminal Our Love but also last year’s Suddenly that dropped just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm. And of course there’s Snaith’s DJ side project Daphni that allows him to focus on more club-oriented sounds as Caribou’s live-electronic aesthetic has simultaneously grown in its appeal to larger audiences.

So after having his return to Coachella in 2020 postponed due to coronavirus cases skyrocketing at the time, that could be why Snaith decided to kick off Caribou’s tour across North America in LA to mark the Greek Theatre’s final gig of the year. While it would have been a lot to expect a full house on a Monday night in mid-November, the outdoor amphitheater with a 5,900 capacity still managed to welcome a few thousand folks inside its gates as Snaith’s fellow Canadian Jessy Lanza, who collaborated with him on the Grammy-nominated Our Love, warmed up a modest crowd as part singer, part electronic producer.

Caribou

Snaith, like Lanza, has taken a somewhat similar approach with Caribou, though even one step further live as a four-piece band that sees him not only incorporating various samples into the performance but also his vocals. Suddenly is actually the first Caribou album that features Snaith singing on every track, and you could sense it was a point of emphasis at the Greek over the course of 14 songs that spanned the project’s last three studio efforts and included new single “You Can Do It” from this past August.

That said, it isn’t often that you come across an electronic act as eclectic as Caribou. Snaith, in fact, has a knack for making dance-ready tracks that blend everything from 70’s funk and soul to 90’s hip-hop and R&B, with some of the highlights on Suddenly — whether it be the glitchy “New Jade” or soulful “Home” — serving as prime examples. But the real standout on the 12-track LP has to be the infectious “Never Come Back”, which has amassed nearly 28 million streams on Spotify and closed Caribou’s set with a version that employed elements of Four Tet’s extended remix.

And while it was a little bit surprising that Lanza did not join Snaith and company onstage at point in the evening, a Caribou concert wouldn’t be complete without hearing “Can’t Do Without You” before heading for the exits. The Our Love opener is no doubt a favorite for many Caribou fans, and at a time when the live music industry is still recovering after being shut down for 18 months or so, it was a simple reminder to soak up every second of the show we had left.

With plenty of uncertainty still surrounding the pandemic, there’s no telling what the future will hold for live music. If all goes as scheduled though, Snaith and his sidekicks will be back in California next year for a date at the Fox Theater Oakland on February 16th, and we can tell our Bay Area friends right now that’s one you won’t want to miss in 2022.

Setlist:
New Jade
Odessa
Our Love
Silver
Lime
Bowls
Like I Loved You
You and I
Ravi
Sun
Home
You Can Do It
Never Come Back (with elements of the Four Tet remix)

Encore:
Can’t Do Without You

My Morning Jacket spotlight the long-awaited return of live music to SoCal with a powerful performance at the Santa Barbara Bowl

My Morning Jacket (Jim James) at Santa Barbara BowlBy Josh Herwitt //

My Morning Jacket with Durand Jones & The Indications //
Santa Barbara Bowl – Santa Barbara, CA
September 23rd, 2021 //

The past 18 months have been hard to say the least. No matter how you’re feeling at this moment in time, the COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably created additional issues and stressors for many folks while also taking away some of the things we enjoy most about life.

And for those of us who love live music, its absence has been quite a blow to the psyche.

If anything, being locked down at home for more than a year has only made us long for the thrill of watching an artist or band command an audience’s attention and completely mesmerize its fans.

Yet with so much uncertainty still in the world, it’s almost surreal to think that concerts have finally made their return. Yes, you’ll need to offer proof of your COVID-19 vaccination status or a negative test within 48-72 hours, but it sure beats tuning into another livestream from your couch.

So when My Morning Jacket announced a 23-date jaunt across the U.S. for the second half of 2021 that included a stop at the always-exquisite Santa Barbara Bowl where we caught them nearly six years ago (read our review here), I knew that was one show I couldn’t miss and boy, am I glad that I didn’t.

My Morning Jacket - Santa Barbara Bowl

The Louisville-bred rockers are back on the road touring in support of their forthcoming self-titled LP — and ninth studio album — this October after releasing The Waterfall II in 2020, and they wasted no time reminding us of that fact by beginning with its first single “Regularly Scheduled Programming” to follow what was an upbeat and soulful opening set from Durand Jones & The Indications.

But this headlining performance on the second day of the fall season was as much about the quintet’s new material, including the slow burn of “In Color” for our very first listen of the My Morning Jacket cut, as it was a golden — pun intended since the It Still Moves track by the same name made it onto the setlist this night — opportunity for Jim James (lead vocals, guitar), Tom Blankenship (bass), Patrick Hallahan (drums, percussion), Bo Koster (keyboards, percussion, backing vocals) and Carl Broemel (guitar, pedal steel guitar, saxophone, backing vocals) to put their expansive catalog on display.

MMJ, after all, gifted us not only both parts of “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream” but also hair-raising renditions of “Lay Low”, “One Big Holiday”, “It Beats 4 U”, Spring (Among the Living) and “Anytime” while James belted out the lyrics to songs like “Wordless Chorus” (with the disco ball in full effect), “Circuital” and “Feel You” that reaffirmed why he has had one of the best voices in rock, if not all of music, for more than two decades now.

When it came time for the encore though, James and company once again delivered the goods to a crowded amphitheater that was already brimming with excitement. Starting with fan favorite “Victory Dance” before transitioning into “Off the Record” from their seminal record Z, they offered “Where to Begin” on the “Elizabethtown” soundtrack for the first time since 2015. Nonetheless, that brief respite was quickly countered with a final rush of blood to the head that featured “Wasted”, “Run Thru” and “Dancefloors” as the clock struck 10 p.m. to mark the Bowl’s early curfew time.

Cruising back down U.S. 101 to Los Angeles later that evening, I reflected on the last year without live music and how rough it has been to not see some of my favorite acts in the flesh. But after witnessing more than two hours of pure sonic bliss at one of the best venues along the West Coast, I am beyond grateful that there’s MMJ to welcome us all home again.

Setlist:
Regularly Scheduled Programming
Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 1
Wordless Chorus
Circuital
Lay Low
I’m Amazed (Jim and Carl solo, then full band)
Evil Urges
Golden
Feel You
Climbing the Ladder
One Big Holiday
In Color
It Beats 4 U
Love Love Love
Spring (Among the Living) (>)
Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2
Anytime

Encore:
Victory Dance
Off the Record
Where to Begin (last played 11/25/2015)
Wasted (>)
Run Thru (End>)
Dancefloors

The prolific, often unpredictable King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard turn heavy at LA’s Greek Theatre

King Gizzard & The Lizard WizardBy Josh Herwitt //

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard with Stonefield, ORB //
Greek Theatre – Los Angeles
August 13th, 2019 //

Are King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard the most prolific and unpredictable band in all of rock?

If they aren’t, they’re certainly making a convincing case for that crown right now.

The Australian septet that’s made up of Stu Mackenzie (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, flute), Ambrose Kenny-Smith (vocals, harmonica, keyboards), Cook Craig (guitar, bass, vocals), Joey Walker (guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals), Lucas Skinner (bass, keyboards), Michael Cavanagh (drums, percussion) and Eric Moore (drums, percussion, management) have put out 15 studio albums, including five in 2017, and two EPs since forming almost a decade ago while shifting styles and genres with each one. It’s in part why they have harvested one of the strongest and fastest-growing cult followings out there today as more new fans jump on the bandwagon (no pun intended) like yours truly.

In fact, just last year, a sold-out crowd packed the 5,000-person Hollywood Palladium to see the Gizz on a Thursday night, affirming that these guys’ popularity is no joke even if you feel compelled to laugh at their name (a colleague, who was unfamiliar, did when I brought them up recently during one of our conversations about music).

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

Fast forward more than a year later to now, and King Gizzard’s popularity has only continued to rise, with their latest date in LA at the historic, 5,870-seat Greek Theatre serving as another example of how far they’ve come since their early days in Melbourne. Also on the bill for this North American tour opener were their fellow countrymen and women in ORB and Stonefield respectively, and with both supporting acts leaning in the direction of psychedelic rock upon first listen, the table was set quite nicely for Mackenzie and company to showcase their most recent sonic foray into the world of none other than thrash metal.

Yep, that’s right. You know, like, Metallica pre-1990?

Of course, with the arrival of Infest the Rats’ Nest just a couple of days away, I was prepared to have my ears pummeled while hearing a good portion of the nine-track LP that sees the group diving even deeper into heavy metal than it ever has before. This is what KG&TLW do, though. There simply are no boundaries or formulas when it comes to their songwriting. Sure, most of their albums fall under the general “psych rock” label, but 2015’s Quarters!, for instance, was inspired by jazz fusion and prog rock, and their third LP from 2017, Sketches of Brunswick East (with Mild High Club), was also rooted predominantly in jazz. So far this year, they’ve already taken their shot at the blues with the release of Fishing for Fishies and now they’ve unleashed their new doom-filled effort. Because after jazz and the blues, what could be a more respected musical genre than heavy metal?

All jokes aside, as these Aussie weirdos continue to explore other creative avenues, catching a King Gizzard show remains a fairly unique experience in its own right. You can usually expect at least one mosh pit, if not more, to form, but with the Greek only having a small floor area at the front of the stage, the lively audience that showed up on a Tuesday night could only get so rowdy with most of it resigned to the venue’s seated sections. That, however, didn’t stop these mates from delivering the goods. Over the course of a 90-minute set, they touched upon seven of their 15 albums, including opening and closing with three straight tracks off Infest the Rats’ Nest. There was “People-Vultures” from 2016’s Nonagon Infinity, plus a version of “Wah Wah” that featured a snippet of “The River” at the performance’s midway point. I’m actually a little surprised that they didn’t throw us a couple of curveballs before saying goodbye to be honest, because for as prolific and unpredictable as they’ve become lately, King Gizzard might be one of the most versatile rock bands on Planet Earth, too.

Setlist:
Self-Immolate
Mars for the Rich
Venusian 2
Inner Cell
Loyalty
Horology
People-Vultures (tour debut)
Alter Me III
Altered Beast IV
The River
Wah Wah (with “The River” snippet)
Road Train
This Thing
Beginner’s Luck
The Bird Song
Acarine
Murder of the Universe
Boogieman Sam
Cyboogie
Planet B
Perihelion
Hell

*Editor’s Note: “Venusian 1” and “Organ Farmer” were originally listed on the setlist after “Hell” but were not played.