Sunday, June 22, 2003

Weekend Concert Round-Up

It was like Reading Festival 1990 revisited with the Buzzcocks, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and David Gedge in Chicago this weekend. It's more of a coincidence since many other acts that played the three-day music festival in England have been in town recently or are on their way soon: The Cramps, Wire, the Fall. All we need now is a Pixies reunion, since I'm certainly not hoping to ever see Ned's Atomic Dustbin again.

Buzzcocks, Metro, June 20

I think one of the Ramones said that they didn't think they were doing anything unusual or revolutionary, they were just playing pop songs really fast. The description is even more apt for the Buzzcocks. Their fat-free set was full of sing-along choruses and giddy, revved-up pop songs. Original members Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle are looking a bit paunchy but are still adorable and had a relentless joie de vie throughout the performance.

Opening act Billy Talent was like a second-rate Fugazi tribute band with a pointlessly angry front man. A heckler called out, "Play a good song." They responded with a cover Fugazi's "Waiting Room," a more explicit nod to their most obvious influence. The heckler should have been more specific and requested that they play a good song well.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Chicago Theatre, June 21

Nick may be around the same age as the Buzzcocks, but he's as wiry as ever. He and the Bad Seeds delivered a set of intense drama. Highlights included "God is in the House," which sounded like the writings of Dr. Suess if he were southern preacher, and the escalated interpretation of "The Mercy Seat," which started slowly and quietly, creeping up to a frenzied crescendo. They closed with "Babe I'm on Fire," a song so long and densely verbose that he required one Paul (Pall?) Bearer to hold cue cards with the lyrics.

Cinerama, Abbey Pub, June 21

Sally Murrell, Cinerama's keyboard player and backing vocalist, no longer tours with the band. For a band founded on a more orchestral sound to differentiate them from David Gedge's old band the Wedding Present, they sound rather like the Wedding Present in concert, including David Gedge and Simon Cleave's blistering, furious twin guitar attack. They were road-testing new material but mainly focused on their (relatively) better known tunes, including "Superman" and "Quick, Before It Melts." Sally's absence and therefore the absence of her backing vocals could explain why they passed on "Wow," a stand-out song from Disco Volante, but they more than made up for it by resurrecting the Wedding Present song "Kennedy."

Early on, David informally polled the audience about whether they preferred the Abbey Pub or the Empty Bottle, where the band has played frequently in the past. He got a mixed response. Perhaps he should have asked further into the set. Unless one is in the rather limited sweet spot at the Abbey Pub, their sound system is muddy, but the Empty Bottle provides not only better viewing lines with a wider stage but livelier sound throughout the club.

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