Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Through the Years- My Favorite Grammy Performances

The Grammys this past weekend were one of the most watched ever- no doubt the discussions that were occurring on social media contributed- but if one thing is clear, its that year in and year out, people looooove to talk about the musical performances- and with good reason.  Musical performances seem to be stepped up for the Grammys, each year with there being one or two in particular that people can't stop talking about.  Here are a few of my favorites from years past.

Anyone who didn't know who Mumford & Sons were before last year's Grammys sure as hell did after this night.  Starting with a raucous- as -hell performance of "The Cave" (they really get going right around the :45 mark HERE), and then onto a number with Bob Dylan and the Avett Brothers, it'll make you tired just watching these guys rock it out in one hell of an on-stage party.  Video of it is hard to come by, but here's a 'homemade' video (complete with background coughing) of the full performances:

John Mayer, Norah Jones, and Keith Urban honored Dolly Parton with a trio performance of "Jolene".  Keith and John offer up the steady beat and guitar, and Norah's voice (accompanied by John & Keith's) just plain old sounds cool against Keith & John's guitars.

Cee Lo & Gwyneth
Like a modern day Elton John-Big Bird muppet hybrid, its a fun, playful performance and doesn't try to be anything else (although I never really got the whole "Gwyneth Paltrow is a singer" thing), but regardless....who doesn't love Muppets?

One of my all-time favorite Grammy performances.  Even if you aren't a Pink fan, just watch the whole thing.  This is what a 'performance' is all about.

As I always say, I love an unexpected combo, like this performance of Coldplay with Jay Z from the 2009 Grammys:

For those who forgot, Adele existed before her current album (21) with her album 19, which included the song "Chasing Pavements". Here's her Grammy performance of the song from 2009, with Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland joining in:

The Grammys are really all about entertainment, and I'm not sure what could be more entertaining than this 2008 performance by Kanye West with Daft Punk:

Not to be outdone, Beyonce and Tina Turner stole the show with their duet:

John Mayer, Corinne Bailey Rae, and John Legend performing their songs with help from each other.  Its a really simple performance, but the simplicity of seeing three people just doing their thing (and who are really good at it) is amazing to watch:

U2 and Mary J. Blige perform "One".  We all remember this one.  For a reason.

Madonna performing "Hung Up" at the 2006 Grammys was pure entertainment. As Madonna knows best.

In 2003, James Taylor and Yo Yo Ma collaborated on a sweat and soft performance of "Sweet Baby James":

The 2002 Grammys were the first that aired post- 9/11, and similar to U2 performing at halftime at the Superbowl that same year, U2 sang "Walk On" at the Grammys with poignancy and respect:

In 2002, Alicia Keys graced the Grammy stage for the first time with a rousing rendition of her first hit, "Fallin'":

U2's landmark album All That You Can't Leave Behind was released in 2001, an album that post- 9/11 would evolve to have more meaning than anyone could have initially imagined, as evidenced by the aforementioned seminal Superbowl halftime performance.  This performance was before:

1993 was the year of "Tears in Heaven", which was one of those songs that permeated the airwaves at every turn- and with good reason, given the emotional reason for the song (Eric Clapton wrote it in an effort to deal with his grief over the tragic death of his 4 year old son). He performed the song at the Grammys that year:

Michael Jackson's performance included "The Way You Make Me Feel" and an incredible performance of "Man In The Mirror" (with full chorus and lots of MJ moves):

In the days of jelly bracelets and Madonna-lace-gloves, Cyndi Lauper performed the timeless "Time After Time":

What are some of your favorite Grammy performances?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Airborne Toxic Event Performing at the MFA Boston

I've been seeing lots of cool videos the last few weeks, and today fell onto one that is remarkable for a few reasons. One, it is a live video of Airborne Toxic Event, who I happen to think are fantastic, emotional, and a musical feast for the ears (and in this case, eyes).  Two, the video captures them playing for a very small group of Boston radio station (WFNX) winners in an intimate setting.  Three, they are performing inside an exhibit hall at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  If you've never been to the MFA, its like going to any other large art museum- huge, cavernous, serene, and usually extremely, extremely quiet.  The idea of plopping a raucous band with lots of singers and lots of instruments into an environment that is just the opposite is such a unique idea, and the video captures it.  Its older, from 2011, but good is good.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tuesday Listening - The Fray

I first sat down to listen to the new album by The Fray, Scars and Stories, with a school kid giddiness that doesn't often come around for me with an album release anymore.  A huge fan of their first and sophomore efforts (How To Save A Life from 2005 and The Fray from 2009),  I was quite happy with the first single off Scars and Stories, "Heartbeat" and I assumed that we'd be in store for more on the new album- more of Isaac Slade's beautifully emotive vocals, more piano-driven tracks, more despondency that is the mark of The Fray.

At the same time, I also wondered how a band like The Fray, whose sound is so particular, would manage to evolve.  Perhaps the band was wondering the same thing when they received the recording budget for their new album and opted to use some of it to travel- to tap into that sense of Wanderlust and see different places, meet different people, and translate that info into fresh, new music.  Tracks with titles referencing places, or events in other places pepper the album ("Munich", "Rainy Zurich", "1961").  In the below Vevo interview, Isaac Slade tells the story of going to Rwanda and how this affected his songwriting, particularly on the first track and first single, "Heartbeat":

"Heartbeat" is classic Fray- the tempo, the tone, the building crescendos, the earnestness in the lyrics and the boldness of the vocals.  It whets any Fray fan's appetite and leaves a nice satisfied feeling, licking our chops for more like it on the rest of the album.

Occasionally, we can lick our chops.  But occasionally, we are also left wondering what was just put on the plate in front of us.  On certain songs off Scars and Stories, The Fray seem to want to continue their evolution as a band without abandoning what makes them a band, creating a logical next step or layer in their sound.  But the album also misses this evolution on songs throughout, creating a disjointed album that sort of satisfies, and sometimes, sort of doesn't.

Songs like "Run For Your Life", "I Can Barely Say", and "Be Still" are standouts that are fresh yet true to The Fray's formula.  "48 To Go" also walks tightly towards this formula, and is probably the most radio-friendly on the album- don't be surprised if it is the next single.  Lyrically, its based on a road trip to California Slade took with his now-wife when they were first getting to know each other.  Being so enamoured with each other, the story goes, they kept pulling over to 'make out', eventually losing their sense of place and suddenly finding themselves 600 miles off course and not far from Juarez Mexico.  Its a simple song about the excitement at the beginning of a relationship, but The Fray manage to put it into liquid emotion for anyone who remembers or knows what that feels like.

But then, occasionally, the album begins to sound like someone else, particularly teetering on sounding like The Script, as on "The Wind" and especially "Rainy Zurich" which has band member Joe King taking lead vocals.  He sounds amazing, but also sounds eerily like Danny O'Donaghue from The Script.  Then,  "Turn Me On", manages to sound a bit like a Maroon 5 type of groove, with Isaac Slade using that gorgeously emotive voice of his to sing lyrics like "The way you're moving, you turn me on; I want to touch you till we're burning, you turn me on".  It creates an awkward moment on the album, as though there is an attempt to turn the passion Isaac oozes so easily into something that somehow cheapens it- made even more obvious by the transition to the next track, "Run For Your Life", a lovely, serious track with Isaac singing in his trademark fervor.

The band has gone through an evolution - notably that on some tracks the simple, piano-driven tones have given way to a more instrumentally produced sound, something that began on 2009's The Fray.  On some tracks this provides musical support to live up to Isaac Slade's vocals, but some fans may find disappointment in the more produced sound.  They border on overdoing it a bit now and then, yet somehow manage to pull it back before plunging completely to 'the dark side' of production value.  This may not be enough, however, for fans looking for that particular sound The Fray is known for- a bit on the stripped down side, a bit raw, always sincere.

The last track on the album, "Be Still", offers up a final haunting requiem that scales back on the production and instrumentation and allows Isaac's voice to shine, providing a reminder that The Fray are at their best when they aren't trying to be anybody but themselves.

Listen for yourself HERE, and sound off in the comments below.

You can purchase Scars and Stories here:
Scars & Stories (Deluxe Version) - The Fray

Watch The Fray Live at the Celebrity Beach Bowl 2012 in full (via Totally Fuzzy)

Crop Up Videos - John Mayer, Coldplay, Bon Iver, Young the Giant

There have been a lot of great videos cropping up lately- while normally, an 'official music video' won't really do it for me, stumbling upon a great live video is like finding gold while panning in the stream of the internet to me.  Here's a few I've stumbled upon recently- and note, there actually is one actual music video...I couldn't help myself with this one.

John Mayer w/ Tony Bennett (bonus: a live performance from JM)
There are a million things people say about John Mayer- he talks too much, he's self indulgent, he plays sissy music (says the guy whose girlfriend loves John Mayer but then 'agrees' to accompany to a concert) blah, blah, blah.  So for once, I give you the other side of John Mayer.  The side that can play guitar is one side we all know about- but sometimes its easy to forget that the man can sing, too.  Since he's been on hiatus due his vocal chord surgery, I haven't really heard his voice in a long time and had kind of forgotten how his smokey register sounded.   I saw this Duets video (via Idolator) with Tony Bennett recently that provided a nice reminder.   It also prompted me to re-listen for the umpteenth time to my favorite live performance from John Mayer, below.  While we await his next album, SXSW attendees can look forward to his performance there at Stubb's on Saturday March 17th.

One For My Baby - Tony Bennett & John Mayer (from Duets II) from Columbia Records on Vimeo.

Coldplay- Charlie Brown
Coldplay's latest album, Mylo Xyloto, has had some folks scratching their heads and others singing its praises (that's the category I'm in).  Regardless of how you feel about Coldplay's evolution over the years, this video (via Idolator) is really hard not to enjoy, and the song is infectious.

Bon Iver on SNL
The beautiful, serene music of Bon Iver graced the SNL stage this weekend, performing "Holocene" and "Beth/Rest" (via Stereogum).  The performances are full of a quiet simplicity, which is interesting given the number of band members and instruments on stage.  The horns in particular stand out. Give them both a watch:

Young the Giant on Jimmy Kimmel
This video is actually from a Jimmy Kimmel Live performance a couple of weeks ago, but I hate how good things get buried because it's older than 24 hours, and good is good, so here you go:

Monday, February 6, 2012

Life Is Awesome Guest Post- Patrick Dunn

I recently did a review on Life Is Awesome on newcomer Patrick Dunn.  Fans of folk, rock, and anything Americana-ish should head on over and check it out HERE.