New music or not, Nine Inch Nails are still commanding sold-out crowds at the Santa Barbara Bowl & beyond in 2022

Nine Inch NailsBy Josh Herwitt //

Nine Inch Nails with Yves Tumor //
Santa Barbara Bowl – Santa Barbara, CA
September 13th, 2022 //

If there was ever a time in his long and illustrious career when Trent Reznor had seemingly little left to prove, it would be now.

After all, the 57-year-old Nine Inch Nails mastermind who formed the project more than three decades ago while working as an assistant engineer and janitor at Right Track Studios in Cleveland has racked up nearly every accolade for his music, from Grammys and Oscars to Emmys and even a CMA Award, with only a Tony standing in his way of EGOT status.

But aside from the latest two installments of the soundtrack-oriented Ghosts at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has already been a few years since NIN released new material after the six-track Bad Witch arrived in 2018 and the now-Hall of Fame band embarked upon its “Cold and Black and Infinite” tour across North America that concluded with Reznor and company playing a whopping six nights at the Hollywood Palladium with anything in the NIN catalog on the table thanks to a more stripped-down stage production of mostly smoke and lights the industrial-rock act is still currently showcasing.

So when NIN announced in February a limited number of dates for 2022, there was a sense among fans — or at least this one right here — that new music would be imminent at some point this year. Reznor, in fact, had actually hinted at the 2021 Academy Awards that there was more to come from NIN, though we have yet to hear any since then.

Nine Inch Nails

That certainly hasn’t mattered when it comes to NIN’s ticket sales, however. Outside of a few festival appearances that includes a headlining performance at Primavera Sound LA this Saturday, just about every show this year has been sold out and things were no different on Tuesday when Reznor’s outfit returned to the Santa Barbara Bowl for the first time since 2009.

The 4,562-seat amphitheater continues to be one of our favorite places in California — if not the entire country — to catch a concert, and despite the coastal city’s music scene being a bit more laidback than LA’s, you wouldn’t have known it by the time NIN stormed onstage shortly after Yves Tumor wrapped up his opening set.

With the outdoor venue’s strict 10 p.m. curfew always at play, there was no time to spare for Reznor, Atticus Ross, Robin Finck, Alessandro Cortini and Ilan Rubin, and the five-piece made the most of its one-hour, 45-minute gig with deep cuts like “Last” and “Heresy” preceding setlist staples that featured “March of the Pigs”, “Piggy” and “Closer” from The Downward Spiral as well as “The Perfect Drug”, the 1997 cut on the “Lost Highway” soundtrack that only made its live debut in 2018 but has already been played 30 more times thanks to Rubin’s thunderous ambidexterity on the drum kit.

Of course, we would be remiss to not also mention the high energy of “Reptile” and a groovy cover of David Bowie’s haunting single “I’m Afraid of Americans” as other highlights before being punched in the mouth by the trifecta of “Gave Up”, “The Hand That Feeds” and “Head Like a Hole” leading into a brief encore break. Yet, it was the penultimate “Even Deeper” off The Fragile that truly put us on cloud nine for the rest of the evening and reminded us that with or without new songs, we’re all lucky to still have NIN filling our earholes after wondering eight years ago if we would ever see them perform live again.

NINE INCH NAILS

Setlist:
Mr. Self Destruct
Wish
Last
March of the Pigs
Piggy
The Lovers
The Frail
The Wretched
Reptile
God Break Down the Door
Copy of A
Closer (with “The Only Time” breakdown)
This Isn’t the Place
Heresy
The Perfect Drug
I’m Afraid of Americans (David Bowie cover)
Gave Up
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like a Hole

Encore:
Even Deeper (preceded by band introductions)
Hurt

YVES TUMOR

Setlist:
Jackie
Gospel for a New Century
Medicine Burn
Operator (with “Be Aggressive” chant)
Cntra
Kerosene!
Romanticist
Dream Palette
Mtora
…And Loyalty Is a Nuisance Child
Secrecy Is Incredibly Important to the Both of Them

Ahead of their Red Rocks shows, My Morning Jacket are firing on all cylinders after rocking the Santa Barbara Bowl & Hollywood Forever

My Morning Jacket at Hollywood Forever CemeteryBy Josh Herwitt //

My Morning Jacket //
Santa Barbara Bowl & Hollywood Forever Cemetery – Santa Barbara & Los Angeles
August 16th & 17th, 2022 //

When My Morning Jacket made the “deeply painful” decision to cancel their three-night New Year’s run at the Mission Ballroom in Denver last year with the COVID-19 pandemic still wreaking havoc thanks to the rise of the omicron variant, it was a gut punch for the Louisville rockers and their most diehard fans, many of whom were traveling from out of state to see them.

But more than six weeks later, the five-piece would announce its 2022 tour encompassing 33 dates with most of the venues booked, not surprisingly, being at outdoor amphitheaters and/or open spaces with a lawn. Keeping everyone’s safety in mind has always been the band’s priority first and foremost, and with the spring and summer bringing us the warmest months of the year, there was no way MMJ were going to further risk experiencing any cancellations during what we’ve dubbed as “outdoor concert season.”

And yet even with all the precautions that had been taken by everyone, it still wasn’t enough to prevent more COVID misfortune when frontman Jim James tested positive in June, just a day before the band’s two hometown shows — its first in six years — were scheduled to take place. While the news had MMJ fans once again feeling bummed about the state of live music after the last two-plus years, James (lead vocals, guitar) and his bandmates in Tom Blankenship (bass), Patrick Hallahan (drums, percussion), Bo Koster (keyboards, percussion, backing vocals) and Carl Broemel (guitar, pedal steel guitar, saxophone, backing vocals) have certainly put that behind them now after taking more than a month off from touring during July and part of August.

Believe it or not, MMJ in many ways sound better than they ever have after witnessing two of their three performances in California, starting with a return to the Santa Barbara Bowl last Tuesday only 11 months after their last visit (read our show review here) and continuing the following night in LA among the many celebrities now deceased — even “Toto” from the “Wizard of Oz” — at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

James, for one, has always sounded great at the mic and with a guitar in his hands, but he’s also never looked more at ease onstage despite his recent bout with the virus, shedding the big pair of sunglasses he once donned (as you can see here) for the naked eye — a clear sign that MMJ’s primary songwriter isn’t hiding from us if he ever was trying to previously.

My Morning Jacket at Santa Barbara Bowl

Arriving in Santa Barbara two days after making a stop at Frost Amphitheater on the campus of Stanford University, the clock hit 7:30 p.m. and MMJ went to work, diving straight into their self-titled LP that came out last October with “Never in the Real World”. James and company didn’t wait long at all to turn up the volume, however, with “Lay Low” subsequently sending the crowd into a frenzy early on. The six-minute track off 2005’s seminal Z has always been a personal favorite of mine to hear live and would quickly set the tone for the rest of the evening.

For a band that has always put an emphasis on mixing up its setlists and will rarely perform songs in the same order though, it was a couple of cuts on its debut album The Tennessee Fire that were surprising to hear midway through its standard 2 1/2-hour set. In fact, it was the first time this year — and just the fifth over the last five years — that MMJ have played “I Will Be There When You Die” while the acoustic “If All Else Fails” has been heard on solely a handful of occasions so far in 2022.

While other highlights in Santa Barbara included an extended version of “Steam Engine” with Broemel trading his axe for the sax at one point and just the third time “I Never Could Get Enough” has made it onto a setlist, it was the Hollywood show that grabbed more of the MMJ fanbase’s attention. Of course, the heightened interest around it was somewhat understandable considering that it’s not every day you get to catch a concert inside a cemetery, let alone one where rock icons like Johnny Ramone and Chris Cornell are buried, but the setting was, at most, half the story on The Fairbanks Lawn as day eventually turned to night.

Breathing life into “What a Wonderful Man” and James’ own “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” for only the second time this year and first since the jam-adjacent group’s three-day “One Big Holiday” destination event back in March, we had hoped that MMJ would be setting up for a special finish down the stretch and that’s exactly what they gifted us with a 17-minute “Dondante” that conjured up some major disco vibes. With the Z finale serving as one of several tunes MMJ has been known to stretch out when they perform live, it felt rather fitting to hear what James wrote after the passing of his late bandmate Aaron Todovich while being surrounded by a bunch of tombstones.

Even though MMJ had more music lined up for us before hitting the road for New Mexico, that was all many of us needed to hear to be satisfied. After waiting almost a decade for another “Dondante” in LA since their epic, three-night run at The Wiltern, everything else that ensued — from the one-two punch of “Wasted” and “Dancefloors” to a more abbreviated encore featuring “Wordless Chorus” and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2” that ended things on a spooky note — was gravy. After all, this is an act that has always kept its fans on their toes, and as MMJ gear up this weekend for their most significant shows of the tour with two sold-out nights at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, there’s no telling what’s in store when James steps into what he has coined “the birth canal of the universe.” Call it whatever you want Mr. James because either way, we’ll be there for it when the lights go down and the first note is struck.

SANTA BARBARA BOWL

Setlist:
Never in the Real World
Lay Low
Compound Fracture
Least Expected
Mahgeetah
Feel You
Victory Dance
Gideon
Holdin On to Black Metal
I Will Be There When You Die
If All Else Fails
Tropics (Erase Traces)
Spring (Among the Living)
Steam Engine
I Never Could Get Enough
Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 1
Love Love Love
Complex
One Big Holiday

Encore:
In Color
Circuital
Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2
Wordless Chorus

HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY

Setlist:
Feel You
What a Wonderful Man
Off the Record
I Will Sing You Songs
Victory Dance
Evil Urges
Golden (dedicated to “Toto” from “The Wizard of Oz”)
I’m Amazed
Spring (Among the Living)
Complex
One Big Holiday
State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.) (Jim James song)
Love Love Love
Least Expected
Circuital
Dondante
Wasted
Dancefloors

Encore:
Wordless Chorus
Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2

As his career continues to soar, Grammy winner Thundercat emits hypnotic joy in his hometown for a sold-out crowd at The Broad

ThundercatBy Rochelle Shipman //

Thundercat with Ginger Root //
The Broad – Los Angeles
July 21st, 2022 //

“Is this real?” I remember muttering out loud, squinting at the words “Thundercat plays The Broad.” Not a music venue but instead, a fancy art museum in downtown LA that’s so LA it might as well be located in Los Feliz and it may or may not be pronounced “The Brode.”

Of course it was real. This is LA. So despite my best attempts to spend last Thursday on my couch in solitude, I found myself going to a show on an otherwise-perfect couch night, standing on a grass plot amid a concrete jungle. It wasn’t a big space, with the stage tucked behind a thin line of bicycle racks and high-rise apartments towering over us on both sides of the designated performance area. But as part of its “Summer Happenings” series, the museum remained open to all attendees, offering a brief reprieve from the sold-out crowd and a prime opportunity to check out the exhibits without having to schedule another visit. I wasn’t expecting Thundercat to lead me to my first-ever Basquiats IRL, but what can I say? The man contains multitudes.

Psych-soul-pop trio Ginger Root took the stage before Thundercat, and the Huntington Beach natives had the crowd cheering before they struck their first note. Band leader and singer-songwriter Cameron Lew looked like he was born to be up there, directing touring members Matt Carney (drums) and Dylan Hovis (bass) as well as the audience with minimal effort while crooning into a bright red, upside down telephone. They were a perfect pairing with the main attraction on an ideal summer night, their bubbly tunes impeccably catchy and impossibly funky.

After that, the man himself — the coolest man I’ve ever seen — took the stage. A man who is truly more cat than human. No literally — peep the paw prints on his palms. Born Stephen Lee Bruner in his native LA, he even moves with the energy of a feline: swift and sleek, totally in control and always on his own terms. His fingers flew across the bass strings as quickly and naturally as he cracked the next joke in his songs. A handful of times throughout the night, his concentrated demeanor melted away and he blessed us with his brilliant child-like smile.

It’s really hard not to smile yourself when you’re at a Thundercat concert. It’s almost like his long fingers emit this hypnotic joy, electrifying his fans and spreading pure glee. Even when he isn’t grinning, the 37-year-old musician and actor has this air of amazement, as if he can’t believe how talented he is either.

After welcoming us a few songs into his set, he paused and said, “I’m in Star Wars.” Everyone cheered and he beamed, proudly repeating, “I’m in Star Wars. I can’t believe I get to say that. I’m in Star Wars.” The well-deserved applause intensified, and Thundercat smiled while closing his eyes, soaking in the tender moment.

Thundercat

Over the next hour or so, the lawn and the stage were enveloped in a mutual bliss, everyone forgetting they were smack in the middle of DTLA; Thundercat center stage showing us exactly why it’s OK — in fact, better — to just breathe in and go with the flow. The result will inevitably be beautiful, and if you’re lucky (or Thundercat), a straight jam. His bedazzled Gucci hair barrettes sparkled in the spotlight as he shredded, a constant glinting reminder that Thundercat is a star.

For a man who isn’t afraid to say what all of us are thinking (for example, “If you’re not bringing tacos, I suggest you turn and walk away” and “I may be covered in cat hair, but I still smell good”), Bruner was surprisingly demure onstage. He wasn’t exactly quiet, but when he did talk, he was intentional and he didn’t mince words. He spoke about how many friends he has lost lately, noting how the entire crowd has lost so many loved ones over the last two years, before dedicating a song to comedian Jak Knight.

“We just lost Michael Henderson, too. Do you know him?” Silence. “I assumed as much … He played with Miles Davis.”

Not so fast — he backtracked, noting that Michael Henderson also did way more than play with Miles Davis. As if that wasn’t enough. His tone was solid but somber.

“It is what it is,” he stated with a wistful, yet peaceful acceptance while directly referencing his Grammy-winning album It Is What It Is that dropped in 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the commonly used phrase isn’t just the title of Thundercat’s latest masterpiece. It’s also a lesson we could all benefit to keep in mind as we watch society disintegrate and our planet melt through the gaps in between our fingers. There’s only so much chaos and heartache we can stomach before we have to accept it for what it is. Not to roll over by any means but instead find acceptance and balance throughout life. Because why go down in a panic when we could enjoy the ride?

Fleet Foxes show a sold-out crowd at LA’s Greek Theatre why they are one of our most important indie bands over the past 15 years

Fleet FoxesBy Josh Herwitt //

Fleet Foxes with Tim Bernardes //
Greek Theatre – Los Angeles
July 8th, 2022 //

What is it about Fleet Foxes that makes them one of the most important indie bands over the past 15 years? Is it frontman Robin Pecknold’s golden baritenor and clever lyrics or is it the group’s lush vocal harmonies and eclectic instrumentation?

While the talent coming out of Pecknold’s mouth has been evident ever since the indie-folk act from the Seattle area dropped its debut EP in 2006, Fleet Foxes’ sound has continued to evolve and grow in that time past the Grizzly Bear comparisons, with 2020’s Grammy-nominated Shore exhibiting more of that sonic progression despite a three-year hiatus in the mid-2010’s and signing to their third record label in four albums.

None of those subplots seemed to have much effect on the final product, though. The gorgeous 15-track effort, if anything, represents another major step forward for Pecknold, and at the age of only 36, there’s no doubt that in a crowded landscape he has already proven to be one of the best songwriters out there after 2011’s Helplessness Blues and 2017’s Crack-Up cracked (no pun intended) the Top 10 on the U.S. Billboard 200.

But even though Shore didn’t quite reach the same level of commercial success after being intentionally released on the autumnal equinox, it boasts some of Fleet Foxes’ catchiest melodies. It also established Pecknold (vocals, guitar) as more than just the band’s primary songwriter and truly the project’s creative mastermind after making the record without any of the other full-time members’ involvement. He instead worked with a myriad of collaborators in the studio, from Christopher Bear and Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear to Kevin Morby and horn quartet The Westerlies, overseeing every step of the process right next to recording and mixing engineer Beatriz Artola. So in many ways, Shore is Pecknold’s baby and his baby alone after he was locked down for three months in his New York City apartment at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fleet Foxes

That said, you wouldn’t necessarily just know that by seeing one of Fleet Foxes’ shows on their current 28-date North American tour that included a sold-out stop in LA last Friday at the Greek Theatre, which Pecknold told us was his favorite venue in the country when he walked onstage to introduce opener Tim Bernardes, the Brazilian musician who also contributed vocals to “Going-to-the-Sun Road” on Shore. It was actually a surprising admission to hear from Pecknold, but considering that his parents don’t live far from the historic amphitheater and were in attendance this night, you could have thought Pecknold was just playing to the crowd early on. Or maybe it’s his admiration for The Beach Boys, who are scheduled to play the same stage later this summer, that has helped inform his opinion. Don’t get us wrong … the Greek is undeniably one of the best places in LA to witness live music, and it’s even in our Top 10 U.S. venues. We just can’t necessarily agree with Pecknold on this one as much as we admire and respect him. All differences aside, he did sound as good as he ever has — and maybe even better than on the last Fleet Foxes tour cycle when we caught them co-headline the Hollywood Bowl in 2017 with Beach House and perform at Coachella the following year — with his voice maturing like a fine wine.

For this run, Pecknold has been joined by more than just his usual four sidekicks in Skyler Skjelset (guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), Casey Wescott (keyboards, mandolin, backing vocals), Christian Wargo (bass, guitar, backing vocals) and Morgan Henderson (upright bass, guitar, woodwinds, violin, percussion, saxophone). Christopher Icasiano (drums, percussion) has come onboard this year as a touring member, and with likely a bigger budget than the last time, Pecknold made sure to bring three-fourths of The Westerlies on tour, too. There was even a call for “Post” … you know, as in the 27-year-old Post Malone, who has become friends with Pecknold in recent years and invited him in May to sing “Love/Hate Letter to Alcohol” with a choir during his “Saturday Night Live” performance. It’s too bad he was allegedly sick, according to Pecknold.

Fleet Foxes have been setting the tone for these latest gigs with the first three tracks off Shore before going all the way back to their self-titled debut LP to deliver “Ragged Wood”, “Your Protector” and “He Doesn’t Know Why” respectively. Of the 24 songs that we heard at the Greek, nine were from Shore, with “I’m Not My Season” earning the solo acoustic treatment midway through the set. Pecknold has been known, however, to accept song requests while engaging with fans, and he did his best to oblige us on at least a couple of occasions over the course of two hours while also issuing a few jokes about Gen Z culture. There was the second half of “The Shrine/An Argument” dedicated to Pecknold’s friend Kerwin Frost, who was sitting a few rows in front of us, and the live debut (albeit a partial performance) of “Young Man’s Game” that was prompted by the audience.

It’s not uncommon at any concert for folks to head home when a band walks offstage to take its encore break, but when Pecknold and company returned from theirs after a few minutes, they were greeted by a roaring applause. After all, these were no fair-weather fans, and in a city like LA that has been on the receiving end of such criticism, nothing felt further from the truth as Fleet Foxes sent us home with the Helplessness Blues title track. Maybe it was because Pecknold proclaimed within the first few songs of the evening that this was the best show he had ever played or because it was the first time in nearly 11 years that the band had played the Greek. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that there’s still plenty of love for Fleet Foxes in the City of Angels and far, far beyond.

Setlist:
Wading in Waist‐high Water
Sunblind
Can I Believe You
Ragged Wood
Your Protector (followed by joke with “Montezuma” tease)
He Doesn’t Know Why
Featherweight
Third of May/Ōdaigahara
White Winter Hymnal
Phoenix (Big Red Machine cover)
Mearcstapa
Mykonos
I’m Not My Season (solo acoustic)
Blue Spotted Tail (solo acoustic)
The Kiss (Judee Sill cover)
The Shrine/An Argument (“An Argument” only; dedicated to Kerwin Frost)
Drops in the River
A Long Way Past the Past
Young Man’s Game (Live debut – partial; audience request)
Blue Ridge Mountains
Grown Ocean

Encore:
For a Week or Two
Going-to-the-Sun Road (with Tim Bernardes)
Helplessness Blues

With ‘Drillmatic’ delayed, The Game turns his album release show at The Novo into a hometown party alongside Kanye West & Lil Wayne

The GameBy Joseph Gray //

The Game //
The Novo – Los Angeles
July 8th, 2022 //

The Game always has a lot to say. Since the Compton native was introduced to the masses as Dr. Dre’s protégé ahead of The Documentary, his breakout debut album in 2005 that guided the West Coast back to mainstream hip-hop relevancy, the boisterous confidence which helped turn him into a star has never seemed to waver. And along those lines, he emphatically made his appearance in downtown LA under one condition: he would not be the only one in the building going home with a strained voice at the end of the night.

An eager crowd, which was sprinkled with fans hoisting their favorite pictures and vinyl copies, to fulfill the request piled into The Novo last Friday for what was billed as The Game’s album release show on the day his 10th studio effort Drillmatic was scheduled to be released. The 42-year-old emcee recently promised that the Hit-Boy-produced LP, which has yet to be unveiled due to sample clearance issues, will be the best of 2022 and his finest work ever while staking claim as the “best rapper alive” in a now-deleted Instagram post. Though certainly a lofty pledge, the brazen veteran would have it no other way.

The Game also previously wrote that controversy — the latest being his acknowledged hurt over not getting to perform during the Super Bowl LVI halftime show orchestrated by Dre, his relentless remarks about being far superior to Eminem and his surprising testimony earlier this year that Kanye West did more for him in two weeks than Dre did for him during his entire career — “has always stepped on my greatness.” Despite that, he says things will all change after we hear his first album in three years.

The Game - Lil Wayne


Lil Wayne

It’s typically wise not to count The Game out because no matter the controversies, he has been more than consistent when it’s time to demonstrate his talent. That history mixed with his self-assuredness helped set the stage in his hometown as he arrived in a plush silk shirt and polished shoes to the live instrumentation of “Violence”. The presumed track off of Drillmatic sees The Game at his best, mixing name-drops ranging from Beyoncé to the late John Madden and defiant wordplay over a climatic score with a chorus that tips it hat to Young Jeezy.

Soon after working his way through his first single “Westside Story”, he confirmed the reasoning behind the delay on Drillmatic. The crowd’s disappointment, however, was short-lived as he soon after jumped into “Eazy” — his most recent collaboration with West, who surprisingly joined The Game onstage in a ski mask without performing or saying much at all. Yet, the rare dead air from West was more than fine for the raucous audience on hand.

“He ain’t come to perform no songs,” a humbled Game said of West before a series of unexpected visits turned the whole performance into one big party. “He was clear about that. He came for his brother. He told me how he was coming, he told me was going to be three minutes late. He said he might show up in the middle of the verse ’cause he got shit to do. I said, ‘… you can come at the end of the show just to give me a hug … I love you.'”

The Game - Blueface


The Game & Blueface

Before The Game delivered Documentary classics “Higher”, “How We Do” and “Hate or Love It”, the contrasting modest side of an artist who has always considered himself a hip-hop historian took over. Almost like a kid watching his favorite superheroes, he took a step back from the mic and enjoyed the show at one point. As he offered some deliberate introspection via “My Life” on 2008’s LAX, Lil Wayne emerged to perform the song’s chorus and his own hit “A Milli” for another crowd-rocking moment. But surprise appearances by West and Wayne were just two of many over the course of the evening as we got subsequent jolts of Southern California energy from Kurupt, DJ Quik, Suga Free, Blueface, RJMrLA and O.T. Genasis.

“I couldn’t tell you what the game would be without The Game in this,” rapped Symba, the rising Bay Area lyricist whom The Game co-signed as his next rising star, to put a bow on a special night with a lighthearted, back-and-forth freestyle session between the duo. “I don’t think you get enough credit.”

No album yet? Well, no problem. But if it’s anything like The Game’s album release show at The Novo, my money is on the critics being pleasantly surprised when it’s finally here.

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” across the U.S., 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 shortly thereafter, 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