REVIEW: together PANGEA

together Pangea delivered an exceptionally lively set last Friday at the Blind Pig, one that brought house show energy to a space that I’ve never seen so animated. The space itself was packed with fans ranging from loyal front-row occupants to casual enjoyers at the back– an impressive feat given the downpour happening that night. Cue the show itself, as the openers preceding together PANGEA were Sad Park and Skating Polly. I didn’t catch Sad Park (though I’m sure their work is worth a listen), but I was able to see the last few songs of Skating Polly and thought they were excellent. Accessing Riot Grrrl sounds with creative vocals and a dynamic stage presence, this band is definitely one I’ll be tuning into a lot more from here on out. The crowd clearly has similar sentiments, as it bopped and moved as one to the punk ensemble.

 

In terms of the main act, together PANGEA played a fantastic show. Playing a wide range of their discography, there was a clear control over the energy of the room as their set would effortlessly move between more intense, pit-stirring hits like “Badillac” and more popular rock in their newest songs. They also shifted the tone to a questionable “country” label, playing a personal favorite song of mine, “Love & Alcohol.” The change in tone and tempo was welcomed by the crowd, as the frontman’s voice had a chance to shine in this number.

 

That said, the moments where the set picked up were a blast, too. The pit was exhilarating and countless members of the crowd managed to crowdsurf during the set. It was a bit wild, but in the most perfect way. It was easy to see the band feeding off of the crowd’s energy as they stuck around for an encore, taking their time to really enjoy playing their instruments and show off their musical talents. In moments between songs or during solos, you could tell from the looks exchanged between band members that they still loved performing live, even after touring and making music as long as they have.

 

I highly recommend catching any of these bands on tour, in Ann Arbor or elsewhere, as their shows have the kind of quality that wake you up and remind you why live music is an experience like no other.

REVIEW: Purple Rain

Great as a preserved performance, so-so as a movie.

My overall review is that even though the movie was interesting enough as a record to experience Prince’s performance, it wasn’t watcher-friendly.

The movie follows Prince and his problems when he was a young, aspiring star, presumably telling the story around the time when he first played his hit ‘Purple Rain’ in front of the public.

As mentioned, as a recording of the music performance, it was great. I felt as though I was actually in a concert and the camera used angles that were very efficient in portraying the performance style of Prince. Even though I had never seen videos of Prince performing before, I could get the sense of his style and ‘coolness’. The camera also did not fall into the mistake made at some band performances – focusing on the vocal yet using too many angles and effects. This may captivate the watcher’s attention but would draw the attention away from the personal aura of the performers. However, Purple rain focused on the lights, fog, and motion of Prince; the real elements on stage that draw the watcher’s attention to the actual movement of Prince.

As for the storyline, it wasn’t articulated enough for the watchers to be immersed in the story. I couldn’t help comparing the with Bohemian Rhapsody, a film that took a similar format of songs from an iconic artist and told a story about the artist. The impression I got was that Bohemian Rhapsody laid out the story more carefully. Bohemian Rhapsody made the characters likable. It gave enough information on the context of the character’s emotion so that the watcher could understand and build an emotional attachment with the character. Enough description was given on characters so that felt lively as well. However, In Purple rain, the story seemed to be an assembly of pieces. Strong emotional events were given – relationship with Apollonia, the conflict between Prince’s parents, and discontent from the band members. However, instead of building the foundation of each story and how it developed, the storyline only threw strong events at the audience without providing room for the audience to emotionally understand or resonate with the character. Also, the characters were flat. Think of Apollonia-why did she join Morris and how does her feelings toward Prince develop? What’s Morris’ opinion of Prince and what’s the story behind the conflict between Prince and the Band? What is needed for it to be resolved? All these questions, which are well developed, could have been an interesting human drama, were glazed over and not discussed.

In all, I recommend this movie to people who miss the heat of the concert scene and miss the music from the era before digital beats took over. It was also fun to imagine how Prince’s performance would have affected artists of later generations because a lot of his movements reminded me of scenes I’ve seen on contemporary artists’ performances. However, if you’re looking for an emotionally well-told movie with a sound track-you might want to look for something else.

PREVIEW: Purple Rain

This Friday, at 10 pm, the movie ‘Purple Rain’ is played in the Michigan Theater.

Anyone not alien to the pop culture would have encountered at some point in their life the famous cover of the iconic album with Prince dressed in purple riding the motorcycle. Inducted in the Grammy hall of fame and being sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, the album ‘Purple rain’ of Prince is mentioned as one of the most iconic albums in the pop scene of all time. My first encounter with the album was at a modern vinyl shop in Seoul. Purple rain was displayed as the test record to get the taste of music played from vinyl, and I, as a self-defined rock and funk fan went for it. I was a bit surprised-I had thought that Prince was a rock/funk style artist. What I heard was an R&B style, soul vibe. I still remember that experience as an unexpected, surprising one.

The film that will be played this Friday features the album as the soundtrack. It’s a rock musical with Prince acting as himself. It’s about Prince and his band, a taste of their music and life.

U of M Students could get in free if they submit the passport to the arts or use a passcode to get tickets online. More information on where to find and how to use the passport to the arts can be found here: 

http://artsatmichigan.umich.edu/programs/passport/

It’ll be a great way to celebrate the start of spring break.

REVIEW: CALM

5 Seconds of Summer released their new album, CALM, on Friday. 5SOS organized a worldwide listening party for the release, which I thought was really cool. On Instagram, they posted a list of times to start listening to the album based off fans’ location, and then went live on their account to listen along with their fans around the world. I’ve listened to the entire album multiple times since then. At first, I couldn’t decide if I liked CALM or not, but it’s really grown on me since then.

Overall, the album plays around with vocal layering and harmonies, something that 5SOS has not done much of before. According to the Apple Music, the album is an homage to their early twenties. Luke Hemmings, the band’s singer, breaks down each track in the album description on Apple Music. Because of this, I could understand many of the songs a little better, and I felt the emotion and passion behind each song. I’m going to go track by track to review this album, since each song deserves its own moment.

Red Desert: The track begins with a vocal chorus, all layered on top of each other, and the result is a haunting sound. The beat picks up as instruments get introduced, and to me, the sound feels like I’m driving a classic convertible car down a long stretch of highway through the desert. It’s not one of my favorite songs, but I can connect with it. The lyrics are about running away from something and hoping that escaping to the “desert” will heal the wounds. The song is a solid opening to the rest of the album, both thematically and musically.

No Shame: This is probably one of my favorite songs on the album. It speaks to being in the spotlight, and the media culture surrounding a band with the type of mass-following that 5SOS has. For some reason, it reminds me of The Police, but if The Police were a pop group in 2020.

Old Me: A big part of adulthood and growing up is making mistakes and learning from them. This song reflects that, with the mindset that the speaker is grateful for his “old me” for getting him to where he is today. I really relate and connect to it, since I’ve been thinking about my past and the choices the got me to where I am today. It’s easily another favorite of mine from the album.

Easier: This track is bass and percussion heavy, giving the music a playful contrast from the higher vocal range that the song is sung in. The song is about being stuck at a crossroads, and having to make a decision between staying with someone or leaving them. It’s one of the strongest sounds on the album, and the first single released from the album.

Teeth: To be honest, I don’t like this song. I feel like this song would be better suited for a fun rock musical. Or a TV show that’s also a musical. When I listen to it, I imagine it being performed on a stage, with the band in full costume. I wish the album had more acoustic confessional songs, and I think these lyrics would be much better for one of those. The music and the lyrics just don’t work well together. The sound is reminiscent of 80s bands like The Police, which is one of the things about this song that I do like.

Wildflower: If the first ten seconds of this song didn’t exist, I would love it. It’s a fun, upbeat, “hey, I like you” song, except the dramatic vocal layering in the first few seconds just don’t match the vibe of the song. Luke Hemmings described it as “big stadium vocal” that has the ability to be “a big, positive, euphoric anthem and not be lame”. I could honestly see this song fitting perfectly as the opener to a stadium set on their next tour.

Best Years: A confessional about recognizing mistakes and wanting to be better for a loved one. It’s not my favorite, but not one of my least-favorites either.

Not in the Same Way: This song is amazing. The harmonies paired with the beat in the pre-chorus is just an audible treasure. The song itself is about a relationship in which two people are trying to figure out what they are to each other. As a result, the music is fast-paced and chaotic, but it works so well. 5SOS found their stride, and this song proves that. 10/10.

Lover of Mine: Hemmings wrote this song with his girlfriend, so of course it’s a love song. The music makes the song seem darker than it actually is. It reminds me of rain, in a way. The best way I can describe this song is that it encapsulates the feeling of lounging on the couch with a lover on a rainy day.

Thin White Lies: The lyrics grapple with the internal conflict of white lies building up until you don’t recognize yourself anymore: “I don’t think I like me anymore / Will someone tell me who I was before?”. I don’t love the song as a whole, but I love the lyrics.

Lonely Heart: I wanted this love this song. The intro and chorus are hauntingly beautiful: just Hemmings singing with a guitar. The chorus picks up and gives the song more of a pop vibe. I wanted the whole song to stay like the beginning, and was disappointed that it did not. It’s still a pretty good song overall.

High: This is finally the acoustic track I’ve been craving from 5SOS. The lyrics are self-indulgent, but in a way that really works: “I hope you think of me high / I hope you think of me highly / When you’re with someone else”. While it’s not an upbeat album, it’s the perfect end to an album about the toils of being a twenty-something year old. It wrestles with the question, what impression do we leave on others?

5 Seconds of Summer, from their Instagram page (@5sos). From left to right: Michael Clifford, Luke Hemmings, Ashton Irwin, Calum Hood.

REVIEW: Brett Dennen at the Blind Pig

Seeing any show at the Blind Pig, known for bringing relatively famous acts to Ann Arbor, is bound to be an experience.

Even before the opening act took the stage, the place was filled with people ranging from the minors on one side of me to the thirty/forty something couple on the other side. There were no fans running and little ventilation, so people were shedding outer layers like crazy as we waited.

Then Lily & Madeleine took the stage. As the couple next to me put it so well:

“Are they sisters?”

“I don’t know, but they’re cute as pie”

lily-madeleine

A quick Google search for this blog confirmed that they are in fact sisters hailing from Indiana, and they are definitely Midwestern–from “almost went to U of M” to writing a song about the city of Chicago.

The announcer mistakenly announced the venue as the Ark, and Lily & Madeleine’s music would have been a much better fit for that more relaxed atmosphere. I enjoyed listening to their music–I’m downloading a couple albums Flume as I write this–but the acoustic and piano-heavy set was probably not the way to go opening for Brett Dennen at the Blind Pig.

The audience was one of rudest I’ve ever experienced. As you can probably hear in this video, it was hard to hear the music over the sound of everything talking and making noise. Most people weren’t paying attention to Lily & Madeleine, and one woman next to me kept texting in a phone that was on full brightness. It would have been one thing if the music was bad, but Lily & Madeleine proved themselves to be talented artists that didn’t deserve such a treatment.

Luckily the crowd calmed down by the time Brett took the stage.

Somehow Brett Dennen turned 36 the day of the concert, even though he looks like he stopped aging after 25. Brett’s boyish looks and figure make his music all the more endearing. Switching between two acoustic guitars, his crooned slower favorites like “Ain’t No Reason” and “Where We Left Off.” For the faster numbers, he brought out the electric guitar and shredded the heck out of it.

brett-dennen-jams

The crowd sang along to hits like “Wild Child,” “Comeback Kid,” and my personal favorite “Make You Crazy.” Singers like Brett Dennen make it impossible to stand in the crowd and not shake your head or shake your hips along to the music. Performers like Brett know when to point the microphone out to the audience, when to stand at the very front of the stage and jam with his tongue out, and when to take a break and ask the audience for their birthdays.

I freely admit that I am only a casual Brett Dennen fan, but I could easily become of the devoted fans that sang along to every one of his songs at the concert if I let myself. If you get a chance to see Brett in concert, I highly recommend it.

REVIEW: Green Day’s American Idiot

Cast of American Idiot

On Sunday afternoon, I walked into the Mendelssohn Theatre ready to be dazzled by the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance’s performance of American Idiot. When I left, I’m not sure if dazzled is the right word for what I felt…it was closer to disappointment. Not quite disappointment, but pretty dang close.

I’ve been anticipating this show since the summer when it was announced, so perhaps my expectations were to blame for this feeling. But it was something more tangible than that. But let’s start with the good first.

From the moment I walked into the theatre, I knew this was yet again the work of masters of their craft. The set design was amazing – two television sets on the side, one burbling with static before the show began, a rickety looking staircase looking like it was lifted straight from a NYC fire escape, leading up to the walkway, with two doors cut into the massively graffitied wall. It was gorgeous, a perfectly fitting for the edgy American Idiot. The only complaint I had was that the action on stage turned insular. After seeing masterpieces such as Stupid Fucking Bird and Cabaret where the whole theatre and stage was used, I was surprised that all the main action happened on stage or on the walkway – the only time the TVs on the sides were used was the very beginning of the show. But overall, the set was amazing and perfectly set the mood for the show, the graffitied American flag large but covered by the drum kit.

The other highlight was definitely the actors. Of course they were amazing – this is an SMTD show we’re talking about. I really felt like I had been transported to early-2000s suburbia/city/America, not to mention the emotional intensity (or lack of, in some character’s cases), was perfect and real. I was also thoroughly impressed with the singing. The danger of doing a musical like American Idiot is how it twists genres. Sure, it’s a musical, but there’s nothing explicitly musical about the songs off of the critically acclaimed album. These are rock songs, and what’s more is that their famous rock songs – it’d be hard to find someone that’s never heard “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” Even though it’s been adapted to the stage brilliantly, with so many lovely harmonies, the songs still have the spine of a rock song – not an easy thing to sing, when you come from a musical theatre background.

The actors went above and beyond all my expectations, especially the lead, James Kilmeade playing Johnny. There were times when I could tell their training kicked in (especially any time St. Jimmy was on stage – fantastic, but not quite hitting the rock spectrum), but overall, I loved the music – it was all perfect.

What surprised me was the fact that I wasn’t a fan of a lot of the choreography. At times it was brilliant – “Give Me Novocaine” in particular, when Johnny and Whatshername do some floor work, so to speak. There was also a lot of creative use of staging along with the choreography – that stairway in particular got a lot of use around the stage. But a lot of it felt very normal and safe to me. Lots of headbanging – at one point I wondered if any of them were suffering the effects of it after four straight shows – lots of stomping, lots of angst.

What bothered me wasn’t the headbanging; I guess in my heart I expected it. But that’s exactly why I cringed a bit – it was exactly what I expected from a performance of American Idiot. In short? It was safe. I’ve seen SMTD shows that branch out, doing new, unexpected things, like their entire production of the quasi-experimental Stupid Fucking Bird. Headbanging around the stage didn’t feel new or creative or unique to me. Sure, it made sense, when you have high energy songs like “American Idiot” opening the musical, or crowd favorite “Holiday.” But with the large cast and the general formula of slow song-fast song-slow song, the headbanging got old really quickly. It also felt really out of place in a musical working against the cookie-cutter version of suburban America, calling for freedom. Where’s the freedom in being perfectly lined up to headbang in sync? I’m not saying choreography should be thrown out the door – the structure was perfect when Tunny went off to war in “Are We The Waiting” (which was another highlight of mine). But overall, the choreography constantly took me out of the action, reminding me that it was a musical and not just the lives of these three characters.

Even so, I still highly recommend seeing it. The music alone is enough, and it is a certain kind of spectacle. However, it definitely doesn’t top some of the other productions I’ve seen the school do. Also, don’t see it if you’re expecting a straight musical with an easily defined plot – there’s very little dialogue, and is written to be intensely symbolic. Think Across the Universe minus Jim Sturgess and with less dialogue.

American Idiot runs for one more weekend, Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, and the last performance is the Sunday matinee at 2pm. You can buy tickets here or in person at the League Ticket Office.