Sunday, October 14, 2007

Mono at the Middle East

It was a chilly, drizzly night as the newspaper's photographer and I drove through the stop and go traffic induced by the Mass Pike tollbooths. We were venturing two hours away on a Thursday night to see Mono, a band from Tokyo, Japan. While I was almost bursting at the seams with excitement, my friend was travel-worn and fatigued. He had never heard of Mono before, and I began to worry that the trip along with the terrible weather conditions simply wasn't worth the effort.

In the back of my mind, I knew the show would be promising. Two years prior, I had experienced the instrumental delight of Mono in a small American Legion in Connecticut. What was produced was an earth shattering orchestra of guitars, and what is astounding about their performances are the dynamics used; it can go from quiet and melodic to ear pounding and powerful at random surprising points in a song.

As the both us trotted down Mass Avenue with our hoods over our heads, there was a moment of confusion as to where the entrance for the Middle East Underground was. After mistakingly walking through the band entrance, I was reprimanded and sent back into the streets. We finally made our way in past an impatient employee, who seemed to be having a tough night.

To calm our jitters from the pre-concert discombobulation, three rounds of Blue Moons and Octoberfests were ordered and sipped on as we scanned the dimly lit area, full of interestingly clad men and women conversing with one another, waiting for the opening act to begin their night of hearing loss.

Vaguely do I remember the opener, honestly because it was not my cup of tea. All I recall is the singer mentioning, “Hey, we're from Kentucky,” and then exploding into another song full of deep growls and screams that set my ears on fire. It dawned on my friend and I that we were in dire need of some earplugs, but we shrugged it off, figuring we'd be fine.

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, the band Panthers clawed their way onto the stage after the opening act, changing the ferocity from the previous band into upbeat fast-paced straight up rock. The energy inflicted upon the crowd during their half hour set was through the roof, and being a little inebriated, I decided to move my limbs and dance a bit.

The pivotal moment came right as Mono prepared to set up their instruments. I looked over at my friend, and silently hoped he would enjoy the show that he wasted precious diesel fuel to come see (or forced to see, I should say.)

Having read a previous interview with the guitarist Takaakira Goto, I knew the band has been somewhat uneasy about American shows where the audience was loud, talkative, and drunk. I worried this would be the case, since most of the concert-goers had a beer in hand.

Once Mono had taken the stage and began playing my worries melted away; everyone else was just as entranced in the music as I was. Guitarists Goto and Yoda and bassist Tamaki were completely focused on each note played, calmly sitting opposite one another. An example of the dynamic change could be found in the song “Halcyon (Beautiful Days)” The beginning is a delicate trickling of notes with a slow drumbeat, transforming into a blissful rough and tumble blast of wavering gritty chords. During these powerful moments, the three calm musicians play as if they are physically being swept off of their feet.Watching them was mesmerizing, but closing my eyes also allowed me to truly capture the spirit embodied in each 8-10 minute composition.

The overall performance was perfect. Mono's quiet, focused disposition allowed them to play with complete accuracy and precision, something you rarely see in live entertainment. The only setback was the ringing in our ears from the high volume that carried on into the next day.

To my surprise, my friend absolutely loved it, and proceeded over to the merchandise booth afterwards to purchase three of Mono's albums from bassist Tamaki. On the way back to Connecticut, we made the rainy drive more enjoyable by popping in You Are There, and proceeded to mellow out after a vivacious night in the big city of Boston.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Beautiful and Talented Regina Spektor

You’re going to see your favorite artist, and to your dismay, it’s canceled due to Mr./Mrs. Popstar coming down with the sickness (disturbed reference aside). While it could be a real or fake reason, (Is too much partying in the tour bus legitimate?) you’re pissed, your money went down the hole and even worse, the chick/dude you were going to take just isn’t interested anymore. If only you went to a real concert with an amazing musician, this wouldn’t have been a problem.

The beautiful, graceful figure that is Regina Spektor stood before an inspired, awed audience last Wednesday night in the Jorgensen Center at the University of Connecticut. It was not until a half hour into the show that she publicized her sickness, she had come down with a cold. Most probably had not noticed; I hadn’t, I was too busy revelling in her powerful and completely onkey vocals, trademark boom boxing and compelling over-articulation of words that Spektor has become well-known for. To top it off, Spektor was stunning in a cute little ensemble; her curly locks draped over her shoulders. If you were writing an ad-lib for Regina Spektor and needed a noun, vixen and fox are just a few that would have fit perfectly. Every girl in the audience would have killed to be her, let alone meet her, and the bro-dude sitting to the right of me showed more attentiveness to Spektor rather than to his own girlfriend.

Rewinding to the beginning, Spektor began the evening with an a cappella ditty titled “Ain’t No Cover,” about a woman who loves her husband, who is “eight miles high” on drugs, but she loves him regardless. Spektor made a beat by patting her hand on the microphone during this performance, and it was simply unique.

Another non-piano song was “Bobbing For Apples,” to which Spektor adorned a shiny metallic blue guitar. Although it was set to only one chord, the simplicity is what makes her shine in everyone’s eyes. When she sang the line “someone next door is fucking to one of my songs,” the audience laughed heartily.

Regina Spektor’s lyrics can be comedic, adorable and can leave you exclaiming, “I never would have thought to put that in a song.” During “Music Box,” I giggled when she sang about floating bottle caps in dishwater and how it was the “greatest voyage in the history of plastic.” One song I was unfamiliar with was “Baby Jesus,” and while playing the grand piano with a fast vigour and a crazy look in her eye, Spektor rapidly fired off verses about a statue of baby Jesus that was in a window of a 99 cent store.

Spektor played most of her latest album, Fidelity, while mixing it up with a couple oldies from Soviet Kitsch. The best performance of the night was “20 Years Of Snow.” It is by far the most captivating, melodic ballad Spektor has written; she breathes life into this piece when performed.

In a brief intermission between songs, Spektor jokingly requested the school’s podium so that she could feel like a speaker at an important school function. After a remarkable encore of 3-4 songs, to Spektor’s delight, a few good men brought out the UConn podium. Puzzled as of what to do next, she asked the audience, “What happens during one of these things?” The audience replied with the famous “UCONN! HUSKIES!” chant. This moment? Priceless. The opening act, one boy that went by the name Only Son, came out and joined Spektor at the podium. As he beat boxed into the microphone, Spektor sang the final song. The best experience of my life came to a marvellous bittersweet ending.

I tried my hardest to leave nothing out about this concert, of course, that would leave nothing to be experienced. “Caution: Spoiler Alert!” should have been in the first sentence, but like a book with a surprising ending, you can’t take someone else’s word for it; dive in and find out yourself by seeing Regina Spektor the first chance you get.

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