Franco Battiato at Le Poisson Rouge

Filed under: Live Music — doktorjohn October 22, 2009 @ 10:46 pm

Franco Battiato/ Le Poisson Rouge/ Oct. 19, 2009

New York
By Doktor John

Franco Battiato, one of the greatest figures in modern music, is little known in the U.S, which is nothing short of an outrage. Perhaps it is partly his own fault because Battiato, —who is in many ways the Italian equivalent to Peter Gabriel—rarely spends time touring. This performance in New York was one of only two stops in the U.S., the other a performance in L.A. the preceding night, and this visit was only his second to this country.

Entering the scene initially as a synth-pop genius of innovative prog-rock in the early 80s, he has since delved deeply into experimental and world music, integrating rock with Turkish, French, Persian, German and Brit-pop styles. Fiercely original, yet fearlessly quoting Hendrix, the Beatles and Mozart into his melodies and complex rhythms, Battiato directly addresses the most profound issues of existentialism, modern physics, oriental philosophy, cosmology and sex. His take on politics is serious without being radical, insightful and humane rather than revolutionary.

This night he performed backed by a string quartet, guitarist, pianoforte and synthesizer for a small crowd of fervent, mainly Italian, mainly middle-aged fans whose emotional response was so intense that it threatened to overpower the show.

Drawing from his vast repertoire (I own more than twenty of his albums) he supercharged the audience into a frenzy of cheering, weeping, and singing along with a combination of his new songs and a generous serving of his beloved favorites. Styles spanned the gamut from delicate, meditative pieces like Oceano di Silenzio (Ocean of Silence) and Gli Uccelli (The Birds) to melancholy songs of love such as La Stagione DelAmore (The Season of Love) to spirited, Near-East-flavored rockers like Voglio Vederti Danzare (I Want To See You Dance) and Centro Di Gravita (Center of Gravity).

Halfway through the set he got to the much-adored favorite, No Time, No Space, which is half in English. The audience began singing along and they continued to do so for the rest of the concert. It was interesting to note that the crowd, even those who appeared to be anything but Italian, knew the words and timing perfectly. His one explicitly political entry was a relatively new song in English, Keep Your Hands Off Tibet.

He and the band returned for two sets of encores, which built a crescendo from mild, meditative Prospettiva Nevski to conclude on the frenetic sing-along, Cuccurucuru, a crazed take-off on the classical La Paloma. To have kept a crowd of several hundred middle-aged, middle-class standing and singing until 11:30 p.m. on a weekday night attests to the devotion of this unique artist’s following.

Social Distortion at Starland

Filed under: Live Music — doktorjohn October 12, 2009 @ 10:49 pm

Social Distortion/ Starland Ballroom/ Oct. 7, 2009
By Doktor John
Sayreville, NJ

Wheelchair Crowd-surfer

LA punk rockers, Social Distortion, now entering their fourth decade, put on a magnificent performance in two sets at the Starland Ballroom— the New Jersey stop on a thus-far, month-long tour. When I had spoken to their frontman, Mike Ness a few months ago, he had promised that Social D was intent upon putting out a new full-length disc— by my count it will be number seven or eight—not counting EPs, compilations and live albums. This tour seems to be preparation for exactly that purpose.

Never a band to neglect their enthusiastic fans’ desire for a heavy dose of their classic hits, they started off with perhaps an hour of their best loved songs and did not get into the new material until later in the show. Early works like the title track from their 1983 debut, “Mommy’s Little Monster” were heavily featured in the first set.

The crowd had stood respectfully and appreciatively during the two kick-ass opening bands, but were apparently saving their mosh-pit energies for the headliners, because mayhem broke out soon after they came on stage and only grew more passionate during “Ring of Fire,” “Ball and Chain” and “Sick Boys.”
The honky-tonk piano added a nuanced effect to new entries “You Can’t Take It With You,” and “Still Alive,” both of which fall into the philosophy that Social D’s “punktry-and-western” style seems to express so well. Mike Ness provided plenty of verbal introduction to the songs, and made commentary on everything from his love of New Jersey to his views on the transience of life.

He also did some spoken word narrative during the music, an artistic device that has a powerful effect when it comes to connecting with an audience of loving fans, as did the most endearing number, “Story of My Life.” A little 8-year-old kid was invited onstage for some warm-hearted Mike Ness banter, but when the music started up again, the pit boiled over into a steady stream of male and female crowd surfers, including more than wheel-chair-bound fan, passed overhead to the delight of onlookers.

At times the crowd parted for a hectic circle of old-school, violent but friendly moshing. The security staff was exceptionally cooperative and understanding as they caught falling crowd surfers and returned them gently to their feet. The passion that this band evokes didn’t die down during either set and foretells an enormous success for their future album, whenever that promise is fulfilled, presumably in 2010.