Guilty Pleasures

Jeff's Guilty Pleasures

December 2010

Berkeley, CA


Guilty pleasures are things you like even though you know better, like Cinnabons or Doritos. So, there is an inherent danger identifying musical guilty pleasures. First, it opens one's self to endless mocking. OMG, you like that? Loser! Second, offending someone who thinks their favorite band is not something to be hidden but celebrated! What’s wrong with Justin Bieber? Nevertheless, I’ve never been one to avoid the minefield and so here they are:


1. Styx

There is something so cheesy about Styx that you can't help but love the band. From Domo Ariagato, Mr. Roboto to Lady, Styx had something for everyone to hate. But, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more earnest band. Despite being panned as 'corporate rock,' Styx recorded some great songs and I think they are overdue for a resurgence of respect, a la Rush, Bob Seger or even Britney Spears. Who doesn't love 'Come Sail Away' from its plaintive nostalgic beginning to its extraterrestrial ending? The song is the banal American answer to the artistry of Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' and is more fun besides. Other songs to enjoy guiltily: Fooling Yourself (one of the best Stuart Smalley self-affirmation songs ever), Lorelei, Renegade (for the next crime spree in a Tarantino flick).


2. Fleetwood Mac

OK, you might be thinking that this list is all about the 70s and you'd be mostly right. Although the 70s has gotten more props recently, it is still much maligned by the musical intelligentsia. The Mac has also been frequently mocked as just another phenomenon that white people like, particularly old white people who listen to Pandora radio stations based on Gerry Rafferty and the Little River Band. Of course, the band is one of the most popular white-people bands ever- which leads to the obvious question: If a band is a multi-platinum selling artist that is a cultural touchstone, can it be a guilty pleasure? The Answer: Yes, yes, it can. Ask yourself this: you're out on a date with a woman of style and substance, do you put on Fleetwood Mac? No, no you don’t. Enuf said. Songs to enjoy guiltily: Monday morning, Oh well, Tusk, Gold-dust woman.


3. Grease

OK, not exactly a band, more like a movie but it does continue the 70s theme, though it's really the 70s does the 50s. In any case, I don't think Grease contains a single bad song from ‘Summer Loving’ to ‘We Go Together,’ nearly every song evokes the innocence of high school romance as portrayed by actors in their 30s and 40s. Grease also contain one of the greatest love song of all time, 'Hopelessly Devoted to You.’ Grease was pretty thoroughly panned when it came out, it was a musical in an age of dramas, the over-acting was campy, the story cliché, and the cinematography fairly amateurish. Now, it is overplayed as a rerun on TNT or TBS, one of those, but it is still worth a viewing if you haven’t seen it for a while.


4. Shania Twain

And now we’re well into the guilty pleasure zone. There are not many rockers who would admit to liking a country artist; especially someone's who primary talent is looking hot. Shania’s songs are simplistic, country pop. Of course, ST is old school now, like an older, cooler Taylor Swift. Country music is inherently corny so it's difficult to really single out a guilty pleasure since all country music is a guilty pleasure. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule: Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings. But they are not as cute as the Dixie Chicks or Taylor Swift or Shania Twain. If you want some empty country calories, you could do worse than “Don’t Impress Me Much,” or “Still the One.” OK, OK, you couldn't do much worse, but I like watching Shania sing.


5. Madonna

Maybe another eye-candy entry but I still enjoy “Lucky Star,” “Ray of Light,” and “Borderline.” I think this entry is similar to The Mac above in failing the date test despite the Madonna's super-popularity. Although I don’t search my music library for either Madonna or Fleetwoodie, when the e-shuffle pulls up one of their tracks, I enjoy it. (Brief Aside on the Evils of I-Tunes’ Genius: I don’t want 100 variations of chocolate; I want 100 different flavors of ice cream). It’s hard to explain the 80s to people who didn’t live through it. It can be summed it up by this: video killed the radio star. Madonna was a video star so part of the problem. But she is a fighter and a survivor. Yes, it is probably time for her to step aside, live off the royalties, and make a peaceful transition of power to Lady Gaga, but she’s still a guilty pleasure.

Florence and the Machine: Spiritual Sisterhood

Florence and the Machine
The Fox Theater
Oakland, CA
November 5, 2010

Florence and the Machine: Spiritual Sisterhood

It is difficult to review the performance of Florence and the Machine at the Fox Theater without discussing Florence's solemn efforts at female spiritual empowerment. And that poses all kinds of minefields to navigate. It should be noted at the onset that F&TM have released one album so it is not really fair to generalize and categorize but I will anyway.

In the world of women rockers, there are at least four very clear camps: The Rockers, including Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde, Courtney Love, the Minks; there are the Joni's: named after Joni Mitchell (the matron saint), including Rickie Lee Jones, Beth Orton, Jewel, Shawn Colvin; another is the Madonnas, including the material girl, Lady Gaga, Shakira, Britney Spears and then there is the the Spiritual Sisterhood, including Sarah McLachlan, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Stevie Nicks. If I had some good tech support, I would create a Venn diagram. While overlapping some of these other groups, Florence is very much in the Spiritual Sisterhood circle.

Florence took the stage Friday night wearing an all white flowing dress behind a mic-stand covered with vines and flowers, a kind of purified homage to Stevie Nicks' spiritual gypsy of the 1970s and 80s. With her flowing red hair and thin frame, Florence looked like an angelic sprite. At times she looked so ethereal, I almost expected she would melt into the bright white lights and just float away into the stratosphere.

As for the aforementioned minefield: I guess part of the problem for me with the Spiritual Sisterhood is that I feel excluded, much like heavy metal bands tend to exclude women fans (though they may desperately want them). Frankly, I feel a little uncomfortable seeing either. Though I really liked Florence, I felt like a bit of an interloper at times. And though I enjoy the thunder of power chords at an occasional heavy metal concert, I miss the female presence. It's too much of a locker room and smells like one too.

There is no question that Florence is a talent to watch. She can really sing. In fact, she sang so well, I suspected that she might be using backing vocal tracks. Although her recorded songs are creative and varied, they did tend to blend together in the live performance. A couple smaller complaints: the Machine was kept in the dark for much of the show. Even if Florence is The Artist, I prefer performers who give their bandmates more props. Also, Florence's performance was all rather dramatic, it almost bordered on the severe at times. The great enthusiasm of the audience saved the night from becoming too much of everything and made the evening quite fun, but a little bit of humor from Florence from time to time would do her well.

The Highlights: Drumming Song (the opening number), You've Got the Love, Dog Days Are Over.

Other impressions:

Joe: "Estrogen dripping walls of wailing."

Brian: "I was a little disappointed to be truthful. The eerie, undecipherable warblings started to really bug me by the end. For me, she got too into her atmospherics and lost sight of her biggest strength: crisp, commanding voice. That said, I was entertained and enjoyed the energy of the show. Lauri absolutely love it."

Ben: "Vagipalooza. I was impressed by the Fox as a venue. Good sound mixing and great lighting."

First two photos by award-winning photographer Joseph Santel


Mumford & Sons: Drama, Drama, Drama



Mumford & Sons
The Warfield
San Francisco, CA
October 20, 2010

Mumford and Sons: Drama, Drama, Drama




There was much to like about the Mumford & Sons performance at the Warfield last night. The crowd was hugely enthusiastic and the band is comprised of sharp, able musicians that compose interesting, literate songs. Though some (AG) complained that the lights shone too brightly in the eyes of the center balcony fans (maybe they should have distributed sunglasses), I thought the lighting creatively fashioned an intimate environment in the large theater. But, it was all a bit dramatic.

There is a certain inelegant quality to the laid-back, warm puddle of acoustic-based songs that constitutes the oeuvre of M&Sons. They are the Emo-band of British folk music. And like other emo-bands, there was a kind of disconnect between the pleasant, melodic acoustic music, the overly enthusiastic audience and the bleak Wuthering Heights lyrics of heartbreak and endless yearning. At the concert, the crowd whooped and hollered with rapturous approval when Marcus Mumford sang, on M&S' biggest hit Little Lion Man, "Weep for yourself/ my man/ you'll never be what is in your heart" and danced wildly while singing along with the chorus, "it was your heart on the line/ I really fucked it up this time/ didn't I, my dear?" To some extent, I can't blame the fans because the song is an upbeat, fun, melodic song; on the other hand, the lyrics do not particularly invite celebration.

This disconnect, between the ecstatic audience and the bleak, despairing lyrics of many M&S songs, was also further compounded by MM riling up the fans to chant and cheer and then telling them to be quiet for this next somber, hushed song- kind of like having a tickle fight with a 5 year-old and then telling them, it's time for bed.

Despite these problems, M&S is a band to watch. They are young and deeply talented. I can only imagine that they will improve over time. They may not have fulfilled their promise, but they are half-way there.

Highlights: Little Lion Man, Roll Away Your Stone.

Broken Bells: Uber-hip


Broken Bells
Fox Theater
Oakland, CA
October 5, 2010

Broken Bells: Uber-hip

I may not be the quintessential fedora-wearing hipster with Buddy Holly glasses and a NYC biker-bag slung over one shoulder, but I can pass. At least, I used to be able to pass. Alright, on a good day, someone who didn't know better might mistake me for hip. OK, OK, I'm not hip, but I know it when I see it, to paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes. And I saw it last night at the uber-hip Broken Bells show.

BB is the latest Danger Mouse project, this time teaming up with Shins front-man James Mercer. For those that can't pass hip, Danger Mouse is one of the hottest producers/artists in the biz. In 2004, DM burst on the scene with The Grey Album which was a mash of Jay-Z's The Black Album and The Beatles' The White Album. When EMI tried to restrict its distribution, The Grey Album became an internet sensation. Since then Danger M, with Gnarls Barkley, has been the epitome of the liberal musical intelligentsia that is destroying America. His BB partner-in-crime, James Mercer, is also a darling of the East Coast cultural elite. Together, fuggetaboutit. Rolling Stone hailed BB as "the year's coolest left field pop disc" and Wired described BB as "crazy good stuff." More recently, Broken B came in at #4 in NPR's best music of 2010-so-far listeners' poll. So, with this much hype and provenance, you'd figure BB has got to suck. You'd figure wrong.

Everything about the BBells show was cool. Cool lighting, cool stage, cool songs, cool performance. Only one small problem: The Fox Theater. I have heard complaints about the sound at the Fox before and I am beginning to reluctantly agree that it's a problem. To be fair, I have seen a dozen shows at the Fox and the sound was great at 50% of them, but what is the problem with the other half? Is there any possible excuse for poor sound at a concert in the 21st century? As I tried different vantage points, the sound varied wildly. When I go see a concert, I expect the sound to be better than, or at least equivalent to, my crappy earbuds. Otherwise, what's the point? At times it was like a hearing test for the color blind. That is simply not acceptable.

So, what is MV&R's final answer? Get the CD, see the band, don't go to the Fox.

Highlights: Vaporize, October, High Road,

Band of Horses: The West

Band of Horses: The West

Greek Theater

Berkeley, CA

September 24, 2010

Autumn arrived this past week and so did the summer in San Francisco. The fog and perpetual gray has given way to blue skies, hot days and warm nights. And on a warm autumn night in the Bay Area, there probably isn’t a better venue for a concert than the Greek Theater in Berkeley. After attending an art auction benefit, I quickly galloped (OK, it’s obligatory to include one, but that’s the last horse reference) across the Bay Bridge to catch Band of Horses last night.

While I really enjoyed the show - Band of Horses sounds to me like a combination of the Eagles and Coldplay - the only criticism that I have is that the songs simply were not that great. The last few shows that I have seen have particularly prompted me to reflect on the craft of song writing. Seems like a basic requirement for musical success, but so many bands today are just in pursuit of a certain ‘sound’ and don’t seem to spend too much energy on melody, a decent hook and thoughtful lyrics. This is the same complaint that I have leveled against Dave Matthews among others. After listening to Band of Horses canter through their set of more than 20 songs, just one, Laredo, was left in my head as I trotted home (really, that’s the last one).

Band of Horses has received quite a lot of critical praise for their sonic Western sound which is quite pleasant, but shows how critics have also forgotten about the need for a good song. BOH sounds like what you would think the West should sound like in 2010 - open, plaintive, dusty, nostalgic, soaring yet mellow (almost restrained) – the sound washes over you. And in case you didn’t get it on Saturday night, there were scenes of the West projected behind the band on the Greek Theater’s white walls and pillars: falling snow, mountain trees, amber waves of grain, and waterfalls (while singing about waterfalls in the song “Older”). And the bassist, Bill, who traded guitars every song, had a feather poking up from the tuning plugs of each guitar. Very Thoreau. But, I would have preferred for the band to mix it up a bit more. Many of the songs were note for note the same as their studio recordings, many quite short and ended just as they started to become interesting. Still, somehow, it all worked despite the lack of memorable hooks and the slightly pedestrian staging.

The band’s leader, Ben Bridwell, is an excellent and expressive singer and has decent stage presence and each member of the band played their part well. I just felt there was a creative spark in the middle missing that could really take BOH over the top. It was a very good, very solid performance from a talented band that is missing one ingredient from becoming really, really, really good.

Dave Matthews Band: Revisited

Dave Matthews Band
Shoreline Amphitheater
Mountain View, CA
August 28, 2010

Dave Matthews Band: Revisited

I have a well-known reputation for bad-mouthing the Dave Matthews Band even though I always had a guilty suspicion that part of it was simply a reflex reaction to all the hype regarding his live performances. Of course, after seeing DMB live, I still feel that part of my resistance to hopping on the DMB bandwagon is justified. He is a crappy songwriter, that's for sure.

A small sample of his lyrics:
“Hike up your skirt a little more/ and show the world to me” Crash

“Candyman teasing the thoughts of a/ Sweet tooth tortured by the weight loss Programs/ cutting the corners” Ants Marching

“Sometimes I walk there/ Well yes God knows sometimes I take a bus there/ shouldn't care” Jimi Thing

“If you a doggie on a chain/ Don't bite the mailman/ What would you say” What Would You Say

“We were walking / Just the other day/ It was so hot outside/ You could fry an egg” Stay (Wasting Time)

And these are some of DMB’s biggest and most popular hits. So, case closed. Well, OK, I have to admit some grudging respect after having been to The Show.

In some respects, any band that has played together for 20 years like DMB should be able to perform and there’s no doubt that the band is a group of highly professional musicians with great understanding- which is necessary given the constant time signature shifts and sharp angular chords and key changes in many of the songs. While many have compared DMB to the Grateful Dead, in terms of their penchant for jamming and letting the song choose its own path, that's only partly true. I think DMB has much more in common with the musical line that led to jazz/rock combos like Weather Report, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock - though DMB is certainly more rock-oriented than those outfits- basically Herbie Hancock with a syncopated funk backbeat and a strumming guitar. Still, when I was listening at the Shoreline show, I was reminded much more of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew than Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Wilson Pickett or other traditional blues artists that the Grateful Dead was more directly influenced by. Nevertheless, DMB are certainly the descendants of a unique American musical tradition that I can't help but admire because it is clear that there is thought and creativity in the music (just not the lyrics).

The Saturday Show at Shoreline started a little slow. The first couple numbers were pretty forgettable but as the night wore on, the band warmed up. Strangely, the light-show also got better as the night went on, dark screens came to life and the lighting effects increased on later songs. Another thing that frequently bothered me about DMB recordings is his nasally voice but that quality was almost completely absent from his live voice. So, though I had feared a lackluster, unenjoyable performance, I was impressed and by the time DMB played a fantastic version of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower to end the show, I understood the crowd's enthusiasm even if it is unlikely that I will foray down this path again.

Other highlights of the night included, One Sweet World, Write A Song, a chorus of For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield, and Cornbread.

corrected from earlier version

Outside Lands: Furthur, Cat Power, My Morning Jacket, Levon Helm Band

Outside Lands
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA
August 14, 2010

Outside Lands: Furthur, Cat Power, My Morning Jacket, Levon Helm Band

Outside Lands: Due to a fancy bit of ticket bartering, I was able to finagle a VIP pass for the Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park. And believe me, VIP is the way to go. In addition to separate food and drink concessions, there was a plush lounge area with massage chairs and a view of the main stage. There was also a separate viewing area that allowed me to get quite close to the stage without having to camp out for hours in advance. Oh, and the most luxurious port-a-johns that I’ve ever peed in- they smelled like licorice. Still this could not quite compensate for the general unpleasantness of the summer music festival scene. It’s amazing that these festivals continue to sprout up in and around every major metropolitan area in the US. The promise of these festivals always, always outweighs the reality. There were the drunken louts bouncing off their unfortunate neighbors, grossly overpriced food and drink and at least one crappy band for each that I wanted to see. Certainly hiking back and forth and back and forth from stage to stage was tiring, as was standing for hours and hours. The two main stages were close to a ½ mile apart which meant that I easily hiked 2 miles in addition to standing for 7 hours. But there were some redemptive musical moments:

Furthur: This was not one of the redemptive musical moments. The last time MV&R checked in with the remnants of the Grateful Dead, now calling themselves “Furthur,” I was pleasantly surprised at the quality and energy of the show. Not so much this time around. It could have been the weariness of having trudged around the Outside Lands grounds already for the previous 7 hours or it could have been that, with a large screen, I could easily see that I don’t know these people on stage any longer. There are only two members left of the original Grateful Dead and though their performance was passable, it struck me more as a nostalgia act than ever before. Part of the enduring power of the Grateful Dead, despite their ready association with the 1960s, was their ability to constantly reinvent their music. The Grateful Dead was never the Beach Boys turning out California Girls the exact same over and over. However, this time I felt that the band was missing its soulful leader and while Jerry Garcia’s replacement, John Kadlicek, sounds and plays like Jerry, it’s not the same. The Polo field grounds, where I once saw the actual Grateful Dead perform to 100,000 people, was barely a third full. And that about says it all.

Cat Power: Given the bland and uninspired performance by Furthur, I regretted having left Cat Power midway through her set to hike from one end of Outside Lands to the other. Although Cat Power has developed a reputation for erratic performances, she can really sing. She is Chan Marshall. And it was quite a pleasure to listen to her minimalist, bluesy arrangements that highlighted her breathy but sultry voice. Cat Power has a bedroom voice and is highly regarded for her unique covers of classic rock songs like Space Oddity, Wonderwall and Satisfaction. If you listen to these, you’ll surely recognize her distinctive sound which can be found frequently on TV shows, commercials and feature movies. Though I think much of the crowd was there for The Strokes (who I missed), Cat Power deserves her own audience and I hope that she comes back to the Bay Area at a small venue. Her intimate music needs a more private setting.

My Morning Jacket: Probably the best performance of the four acts that I saw. My Morning Jacket is a critic’s favorite but worthy of much of the attention they get, even if, at times, the music seems to tend more toward atmospherics than, say, an actual melody. Perhaps, they listen to Coldplay too much. Still, this was probably the best performance of Outside Lands both as a result of and despite of the antics of frontman, Jim James. During two songs, James sang with a royal blue towel over his head that covered his face and which came off as more bizarre than ‘artistic.’ But he has an amazingly expressive voice and can be mesmerizing to watch sing with his bushy beard and tremulous alto voice. He is definitely a major talent. Although MMJ always seems to be on the verge of a major commercial breakthrough, they assiduously avoid it - opting instead to maintain their indie cred and build an audience one fan at a time. Well, after their performance at Outside Lands, they have at least one more fan. Check out clips and tunes here and here and here. And here for a high quality video of their first song at Outside Lands.

Levon Helm Band: The Levon Helm Band started their performance with “Ophelia” and “The Shape I’m In,” two classic songs from Levon's time with The Band. Levon was joined by a large band with a full horn section. If Britney Spears and American Idol represent everything bad about American music, Levon Helm represents everything that is good about American music. You would be hard-pressed to find a more authentic American voice than Levon Helm. When listening to Levon Helm and/or The Band, I feel like I’m spending a summer weekend in the mountains, drinking beer on the deck with friends that come and go. Much like Bob Dylan, but in a more down-home, country way, The Band’s music and Levon Helm’s performance connect in both a personal and universal way at the same time. Listening to the Levon Helm Band sing “The Weight,” made me feel like we are all in this together and together, we’ll all get by. Check out Jim James from My Morning Jacket singing The Weight with Levon Helm Band. (without the blue towel)

Phish: Groovy


Phish

Greek Theater

Berkeley, CA

August 7, 2010

Phish: Groovy

There’s really no better atmosphere in popular music than in the audience at a Phish concert. There is simply no other place as groovy and jaunty filled with fun-loving, beautiful people. In honor of the show being at the Greek Theater, much of the audience decided to throw a Toga Party. Many fans (or phans) came wrapped in bed sheets wearing a Greek crown of Bay leaves, but you were just as likely to see young phans with painted faces wearing tie-dye and tossing glitter or dancing with an inflatable fish. I also saw a phan in a shark costume. OK, so everyone is white, but you’ll still not find a more accepting, open group anywhere. And when the music started, the entire crowd danced with complete abandon throwing beach balls and balloons. After the sun went down, the audience became even livelier. At times, almost on cue, dozens of handfuls of small six-inch rainbow colored glowsticks were thrown out over the crowd. The vibe is as close as you’ll find to the parking lot of a Grateful Dead show when they were at their peak. Unfortunately, the music is not quite as good.

Trey Anastasio may be one of the most talented guitarists around, but as I complained once before on MV&R, he is not a song-writer and that is painfully obvious at times. Still, with the excellent musicianship and the amazing crowd, it’s impossible not to have fun at a Phish show. Check out some clips here and here (go to 1:15 of this clip to see a glimpse of the glowstick war) and here (for 2001 (Thus Sprach Zarathustra) for the music highlight of the show)

Rush: Cool to be Uncool

Rush: Cool to be Uncool

Marcus Amphitheater, Summerfest

Milwaukee, WI

July 3, 2010

There are few bands that provoke as much of a love-hate response as Rush. It seems you either get it or you don’t. Try asking a fan why they like Rush. It’s inexplicable. Certainly, their critics have been equally as harsh as their fans have been adoring. Rolling Stone once characterized Rush fans as the “Trekkies” of rock. And to the extent that is true, I can’t help but admire fans that don’t care about popular taste or self-righteous critics and that are loyal to their heroes over many decades. And, like Star Trek, there is a kind of uncompromising earnestness in Rush songs that is both naïve and profound at the same time. It is no wonder that their greatest popularity is found largely in Canada and the US Midwest where being free from ambiguity or pretense is highly prized.

This summer, Rush is on their “Time Machine” tour where after an opening set, they return to play their classic album “Moving Pictures” in its entirety. Many fans, as well as some band members, consider this 1980 album to be the ultimate expression of the Rush sound. Of their 18 studio albums, Moving Pictures had the most commercial success with the AOR hits, “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight.” It also contains “Camera Eye,” which was the highlight of their concert in Milwaukee.

The band began their Summerfest show with “Spirit of the Radio,” one of the best songs ever about the music/radio business and the struggle bands often face not to sell-out. Most of the songs in the first set were from the second half of Rush’s career that I had long ago dismissed, along with many of Rush’s early fans, but there were a couple songs that I really enjoyed and will have to revisit. This set also included the classic "Freewill."

The second set began with “Tom Sawyer” and a wonderful “Red Barchetta.” During “YYZ,” the lakefront fireworks display began and was partially visible stage-right for the next hour which added to the excitement of the show and the 4th of July holiday atmosphere. After “Limelight,” came the 10-minute opus, “Camera Eye.” Camera Eye” is a wonderful song that is one of my favorites but don’t ask me to explain why. The way the song patiently unfolds in multiple parts while staying unified thematically is masterful. It’s also nice that the song is about two of my favorite cities, New York and London. After “Moving Pictures,” the band also played crowd favorites, “Closer to the Heart” and “2112.”

Returning to Wisconsin to see Rush at Summerfest reminded me of simpler, less complicated times when music was the most important and exciting thing in my life. Those memories of my adolescence, backyard BBQs with brats and childhood crushes, are becoming more indistinct as I get older but it was wonderful to watch Rush near Lake Michigan on a warm summer night in July almost as if I had never left.

Massive Attack: Stickerpogy

Massive Attack
The Warfield
San Francisco
May 25, 2010

Massive Attack: Stickerpogy

Massive Attack may no longer be on the cutting edge of the eletronica/ trip hop music scene but they still know how to rock the house. It may seem a curious contradiction to claim that a trip-hop outfit “rocked” the house, especially when their most easily recognized song, “Teardrop,” (also the eerie theme song to the TV medical show “House”) sounds like an LSD-laced tantric-sex soundtrack. But, on Tuesday night at the Warfield in San Francisco, the MA weaved vaguely melodic snippets of music into wall-of-sound crescendos - kind of like an electronic version of a psychedelic jamband -that not only exposed much electronic music for what it really is (pointless computer noodling and looping) but was also great fun. In other words, Massive Attack knows how to do electronic music right.

However, there is a certain kind of pedantic quality to Massive Attack that was unfortunately revealed in the show staging. For much of the show, they forced the audience to wear their reading glasses, as nearly every song was accompanied by a Harper’s Index of Chomsky-esque bumper-stickerology sloganeering condemning the modern world (read: US imperialism) on the stage-long rows of LED lights behind the band. This came off as a bit self-righteous and left me rolling my eyes at times. Although the reception was good in San Francisco, one of the most liberal cities in the US, I can’t imagine that this show would be as well received in Arizona. (Good thing then that MA recently announced that they will boycott AZ) At times, the LED light production and the constant message flashes were used to good effect while other times it was overbearing and distracting.

The band had quite a lot of poise and stage presence and performed well and, on its own, the staging with the LED lights was also really well-done and effective. So, I am not certain why, even though the show was thoroughly enjoyable, part of me was a little disappointed that I had to read didactic messages for much of the night. I certainly didn’t leave feeling like I had wasted my time and money, but I also left feeling like the show could have been absolutely spectacular but was only great. Almost as if there were great, fresh ingredients and a brilliant recipe and instead of being blown away, I had a really nice meal. Maybe, that’s expecting too much.

The band was accompanied on stage by Martina Topley-Bird and reggae great, Jamaican Hoarce Mann. Both kept the show grounded as much as possible and it wouldn’t have been as good a night without them. Of course, seeing an electronica band in the electronic age, the YouTube already has plenty of clips of varying quality from the show. Check them out: here and here and here and here.