Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bad Brains - GZA - Lionize -- Howard Theatre - Apr 20 2012

Lionize - This is my first show in the reopened Howard Theatre which first greeted patrons in 1910. They did a magnificent job as it looks a bit like a combination of the Strathmore and the Fillmore. It is sold out tonight, but people are slowly wandering in as this Silver Spring quartet gets things underway as the curtain rises. I was not expecting much, but these guys actually did quite well. The rhythm section did what was expected while the guitarist singer sounded a bit like Leslie West in the vocal area, but kept the guitar work more simple and riff oriented. He played a mix of rock, blues, and maybe a touch of R&B. The real gem was the keyboard work which had the Leslie organ sound and a bit of electric piano. He had great skill and had several interpretive moments that provided an eerie backdrop or a punchy counterpoint. A good enough beginning warmly received.

GZA - Next up is the founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, who presents a rap set. There is a DJ who does not do a whole lot other than keep the preset sounds flowing. There is also a guy in the back who does not do much until GZA goes in the crowd and he follows as a bodyguard. The sound is muddled at first and there is a cavernous effect in this big hall that they will need to deal with over time. I don't pick up a lot of the dialogue here, but he maintains a brisk pace with plenty to say. He works the Bad Brains into a rap and some other fresh topics here and there. This was fine, but there was not enough musical variety for me. I agree with GZA's assessment... "this is practice for us".
Bad Brains - I pay to come to bury the Bad Brains, not to praise them. Sadly, no irony here. I could have gone to five shows tonight with three of them comped. But I bought my ticket to see the band that may have played the best show I have ever seen some 30 years ago, not with any expectations of that but a fascination as to whether they had anything left. A few years back, they played a disappointing show at the 9:30 Club where the band was hot, but HR was in la-la land and just smiled during the fast songs without singing (This time he mumbled half of the lyrics). My brother nailed it then by wondering if he was channeling Mr. Rogers with his inane chatter of learning lessons from songs with a beatific smile. I could not tell if there was any inane chatter tonight, as he was utterly incomprehensible all evening and quite dour in spirit. Daryl went to the mic a few times to rally the crowd, but mostly just smiled in the background at the trainwreck that was happening. Gary and Earl just did their jobs. HR, like fellow brainspace cohabitant Roky Erickson, had a guitar on for much of the set. Unlike Roky, he couldn't play anything worthwhile and it was not audible. HR looked like he wanted to keep Gary from playing some of the heavier songs and eventually the axemen left HR and Earl to do some HR tune. HR was aware enough to ask the soundman to turn his guitar on, but thankfully for us they didn't. Gary and Daryl rescued things by coming on early and starting another tune before the whole thing fell apart and they said their good nights. No encores, curtain down. Unlike the last show, even the three instrumental players did not have quite the bite they used to have. They are still solid pros, but they I suspect they know that even if they can fool enough of the crowd, it is hard to be serious and motivated to do much more than the basics. Could be the last? Should be the last, but there is a second show here the next night... at least it's scheduled.

Set List: Attitude - Right Brigade - Sailin' On - The Regulator - Reggae cut - FVK? - I+I Survive - At the Movies - Re-Ignition - Pay to Cum - HR solo bit - I+I Survive? (I can't read my notes, either they played this twice or I have one of the titles garbled--trust me, this really does not matter).

ADDITIONAL NOTE: In the comments section, there is some reference to the previous DC show by the Bad Brains and my review is linked here.

Quote of the Night: From a guy near me... "Greatest band ever, man, greatest band ever!!!!!"


stacechele23 said...

Your review of the BB show last night is right on the money! I,too, paid the $40 and was expecting at least a little effort on HR's part. I knew that I would not be seeing the same band, that they were, when I used to go to shows in the 90's but, DAMN...That being said, it was fun to watch some of the younger generation have a good time and remain clueless to the train wreck going on in front of them as, I sat in my balcony seat, just shaking my head, with a smirk on my face. Side note, I did enjoy Lionize, great energy. An the fact that Deftones and Clutch were played between sets was a plus :)

David Hintz said...

Thanks. If I had written a lot more, I would have touched on the young people getting their chance with this band which I am glad you brought up. I can't fully fault that as even their parents may have been young when I first saw this band and now may be there only chance. When chatting with a friend he thought I may have hoped for some magic. No, it was more a case of just hoping for a few smiles and a reasonable fraction of what they once had. Alas, not to be. I think I would rather donate money directly for their health costs rather than support them like this (I actually have done that for Roky Erickson, and there are some similarities here). Oh well.

Yes, tonight was proof again to get there for the openers. I had not heard of Lionize and hopefully will get to see them put out a full set in a small club some time soon.

Anonymous said...

The good news from the show: the GZA was pretty much money. Who knew so many Bad Brains fans knew the words to so many Wu Tang tracks. I thought he was a terrible choice for an opener when I bought my ticket. Boy was I wrong.

I give the rest of the band a bit more credit than you do. I enjoyed being our own lead singer back by the bar.

All in all it was a good night in a pretty nice new venue. We certainly didn't get our band of old but we still have something to talk about.

David Hintz said...

Good point. It was nice to see GZA go over well and not have hardcore kids screaming at them. I've seen some pretty diverse openers over the years for the Bad Brains and fortunately they all have worked. Kudos to the crowd and a rapper who knows how to work the stage.

I think it is a fair point to just relax and enjoy what you can out of a show like this. I thought Re-Ignition was about the only cut that really stood out. I think some others were ok, but their early songs lose their instrumental power as the sound swirls around in these big arenas. I felt the previous 9:30 Club show was more for me as you describe this one--tight band with a singer that is barely a part of the proceedings.

I was not really bummed by this show as I know enough about HR's situation, but there is something a little difficult to take when soberly watching someone without the capability to execute anywhere near the heights of what they had achieved. I have seen Roky Erickson and Shane MacGowan and there are some others out there as well. I just try to get the positives out of it like the fact that Erickson can perform at all and that MacGowan can still manage to hit his cues. I then hope that after the show, their lives are as comfortable as possible. I can ramble on more, but this is a long complicated issue.

Anonymous said...

I was at the Friday night show and left with a mixture of disappointment, amusement, and the knowledge that this was probably the last Bad Brains concert I would ever pay to see. I was fortunate enough to see them back in 1989 at a tiny venue called The Metro Beat near the strip in VA Beach. HR and the band killed it back then, but sadly, it looks like HR was a stage prop Friday. And it's true, Daryl seemed to know HR was losing the crowd as he kept rallying us throughout the 35 minutes they managed to play. They should have left HR at home and played an entire instrumental set. Maybe HR celebrated 420 too much and was too obliterated to sing?

While the Howard Theatre looked great when we walked in - lots of granite bars, lounge lighting, and cushy sofas - it's a horribly designed venue for music like this. If you don't get there early enough to grab a bar stool then it's impossible to get a decent view. I'm 5'3" and couldn't see over the ridiculous bar tops that served no purpose other than to provide lighting for your drinks. My man and I finally had to stand in one of the numerous stairways in order for me too see. Add the poor visibility to the awful sound mixing and you've got a pretty venue that does nothing to enhance the music experience.

David Hintz said...

The club does need to work on the sound. Thanks to some intriguing booking (Van Der Graaf Generator!, Tangerine Dream!!) I will be monitoring this. I am guessing the Birchmere style acts will sound better here (and have a better vibe). Straight ahead guitar bands tend to suffer in a lot of venues like this. But we shall see. The upstairs looked tiered for better visibility, but that was more sanitized viewing of course. Are there many good viewing clubs for people under 5'6" when the crowd is extensive? I am curious.

Anonymous said...

Back sound? Probably too refined. Nothing like the WUST music hall where they played in '85.

Anonymous said...

I was also at this show on Friday night. I always wanted to see Bad Brains live, but having lived in south Florida most of my life it never happened. I am huge GZA fan and would have paid to see him regardless. He was the only reason I walked out of the Howard Theatre content and feeling like my money for the ticket, parking, beer and gas was worthwhile. There comes a point in everyone's career whether it be sports, music, etc where it is time to sail off into the sunset and call it a day. It is that time for Bad least as a band. I knew how this was going to play out as I watched a lot of recent live show footage on youtube. I still wanted to see this band live. It was quite disappointing to see HR even attempting to perform any Bad Brains songs. I mean, kudos to him for sort of trying, but it is over. Their legacy will forever live on in their catalogue and documentaries to capture the true essence of who Bad Brains was. It might as well been a Bad Brains karaoke night for that show and it was all the fans on almost every tune.

David Hintz said...

Thanks for all the good points everyone has made. Although I could easily say this band was the best band in the world back in the day, they have always had a difficulty with keeping it going in a positive way with musical differeneces, break-ups, the Big Boys incident, and business difficulties. One thing to keep in mind is that Earl historically will not drum for the Bad Brains without his brother on vocals. Daryl and Gary have tried other members or setting up an offshoot 'Soul Brains'. There is a fascinating, complex history with this band and thankfully we will always have the Roir cassette and 'I Against I' to go back to. Future live shows? I think I am finished, but I will keep an eye on what they do.

Anonymous said...

Your review was spot on. It was like the Bad Brains brought a homelesss guy to sing on stage. I think I was at the same show 5 years ago, and at least he sang the songs better and even opened with a sweet stage dive. Even if he sang as well as the 9:30 club show I would have been happy, but last Friday was kind of a trainwreck.

Overall their set kind seemed short too, which bummed me out. I think when HR tried to do a solo song he was botching the bands attempt to do an encore.

I never thought I would say this, and I know it hasn't worked so well in the past, but I almost would like to see them find a new singer. Wouldn't be easy.

Erica said...

I can understand the feeling about "it's not the old Bad Brains" sure. You watch early footage of them and you're like "That was H.R.?" But guys, that was a LONG time ago. He's 50-some odd years old now, and not overly healthy looking. While yes, he could have enunciated a little better-I was up in the photo pit the whole time, so I couldn't tell really as nothing sounds good from there usually-I wasn't super impressed with the sound overall. Plus...did you ever see the Ramones live? Supersonic amounts of loud and the only way I knew one song stopped and the other started was when I heard the countoff of 1, 2, 3, 4...When it's that effing loud, it's very hard to get the mix right. So maybe it was a combo of all of that.

My thinking is that he's over the whole punk thing. Seems his concentration now seems to be more on reggae, which is exactly what I thought when he sat down on the drum riser during "Banned in DC" (I think that was it). And if your heart isn't in it, you're gonna coast some.

David Hintz said...

Completely agree with you on the sound, Erica. And yes I have seen the Ramones (early years) 8-9 times in clubs more similar to the Rock'n'Roll Hotel or the Black Cat and their sound would have struggled here as well.

HR just turned 56, making him 3 1/2 years older than me. Check out Leslie West's voice some time and realize he has had a lower leg amputated and been through tons of problems.

Your description is more correct for the most recent 9:30 Show that I reviewed a few years back and another commmenter mentioned. HR sang the reggae cuts and I Against I cuts quite well and just smiled during the fast numbers. He has pretty much not wanted to do these for oh, about a quarter century now. But he is up there doing it and there was no joy that night from him unlike a few years ago. Does anyone want to hear him sing a reggae set after this? I don't. I will go see my old Jamaican work buddy whose reggae band can't buy a gig around here. He is also in his 50s and simply has it a lot more together.

The Ramones were coasting long before Dee Dee left, but they knew they had to at least bring what they had to the table night after night, year after year. And there were problems with drugs, alcohol, and serious mental health issues in that band as well, but they knew their jobs.

Anonymous said...

I just viewed some videos of Bad Brains from East Coast dates in Boston and NY before the DC gig.

HR was doing a heck of a lot better.

Maybe the moral of the story is not to see him perform on 4/20 ;)

Anonymous said...

I went to the second show at the Howard and my experience was much the same. HR made an appearance last night, however, with Fishbone and sang The Youth Are Getting Restless and he sounded better than I've heard him in probably 10 years. Definitely wouldn't get me to see another Bad Brains show, or change the fact that he is clearly experiencing some issues, but his voice sounded much better.

David Hintz said...

Thanks. That is very interesting. I admit I looked to see if they canceled the second show, but apparently they did not do much better. Glad to hear that for at least one song, HR can still get it together. Fascinating.