The Music of Halloween

I love the month of October. Utah is beautiful, you can pull out your old sweaters, and of course Halloween. Aside from the jack-o-lanterns, costumes, and candy, the sounds of this season are amazing. Hearing creaking doors, howling wolfs, or whispering winds can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Music is the greatest thing to create a mood, and the music inspired by Halloween does just that.

During the ancient Celtic festival Samhain, people would light fires and wear costumes to scare off ghosts. That night they would play dark folk music. These haunting tunes, known as souling songs, are still played in parts of Europe today. Children go out in groups singing these souling song and begging for treats.

Dark classical music is often associated with Halloween for its mysterious overtures and frightening melodies. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony number 5 in C Minor” are iconic songs recognized by many as the first Halloween songs. Dozens of other composers from Rachmaninoff to Vivaldi have taken a crack at capturing the eeriness, suspense, and gloom of this beloved time.

In recent years, horror films and their accompanying scores have been a new way to showcase scary music. Movies live and die by their soundtrack. Good horror films have soundtracks that put you on the edge of your seat and make the film enticing. Films such as Psycho, The Shining, and Saw have powerful musical themes which add to their popularity and success. Other movies like Jaws and Ghostbusters feature songs that have become so popular they stand alone. The Nightmare Before Christmas and A Clockwork Orange are two of my personal favorite horror film soundtracks.

Halloween has also made its way into the rock and pop world over the last few decades. Bobby “Boris” Picket’s “Monster Mash” was released in 1962 and was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 prior to Halloween of that year. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was listed as the most successful music video by Guinness World Records and is in the Library of Congress. It’s safe to say that people love scary music.

Aside from the two Halloween songs that everyone knows, many other artist have been inspired by the horrors of Halloween. The Cure’s “Lullaby” from the album Disintegration (1980), is a haunting track and the one of the darkest from the gothic-rock band. They sing an ominous tale of the always hungry Spiderman.

David Bowie’s song “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” features screeching guitars and sharp piercing chimes. Bowie sings of running scared from the horrors of monsters. Other songs inspired by this holiday include The Ramones “Pet Sematary”, Morrissey’s “Ouija Board, Ouija Board”, and Alice Cooper’s “Feed My Frankenstein”.

Although Halloween lacks full length albums, like Christmas, there is a wide variety of music that features themes of fear, fright, and horror. For centuries, this music has been revered by several different cultures. Today it is the music of October, the music of Halloween. It shows how music can create powerful emotions and is one of the reasons why this time is beloved by so many.

A Night With The National

Concerts have a way of bringing people together. We all have personal struggles, yet concerts have always been a way for me to forget mine and enjoy a night. Being in an amphitheater, surrounded by 5,000 people; it doesn’t matter if I just failed a test or had a spat with a parent. I’m going to enjoy the show and dance with the person next to me, regardless of if I know you or not.

The National is one of my favorite bands. Their songs speak to me on a personal level. I deeply relate to their lyrics that speak of depression, anxiety, and not fitting in. I recently saw them perform at the Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre in San Diego, making it the third time I’ve seen the indie-rock band from Cincinnati. The venue is in the middle of SDSU’s campus. College students wander around the many restaurants and bars surrounding the school.

Eager anticipation overtakes me as the opening act, Daughter, performs. There is nothing better than seeing your favorite music being performed with people you love. My mom and I are sitting in the third row. She is almost as big of a fan as me. It is fitting to go to the show together as she was the first person to introduce me to The National years ago.

Earlier this year, The National released their 7th studio album Sleep Well Beast.  Their new album is more experimental than their older stuff, but still has a classic National feel. Seeing them perform is a one of a kind experience. Despite their melancholic sound, the 5 band members know how to rock out and put on a hell of a show. Lead singer Matt Berninger ventures into the crowd during “Mr. November”. He often reaches into the crowd and grabs peoples drinks. He chugs half, then showers the concertgoers with the other half.

For certain songs, guitarist Bryce Dessner plays with 2 guitars; 1 around his neck and 1 in his hands. He bangs the hand-held on the ground creating an ominous feedback that echoes throughout the theater. Band member improvise and elongate songs, making 3-minute songs last 7 or 8.

Prior to playing “Fake Empire”, Berninger says that some song’s meanings have slightly changed over the years. “This is one that has,” he says. “Things seem a little less fake now.”

Berninger told a story about a conversation he had with his dad earlier that day. His dad said, “Matt slow down.” “I’m trying to dad, I have to be in San Diego in 2 hours.” His dad then repeated, “Matt slow down.” Berninger tells the audience, “I heard him that time.” I love when musicians are honest with their fans and show that they are people too. Simple stories like these create an intimate connection between the musicians and the crowd.

With close to 20 years’ worth of music, The National has plenty of material to choose from. You’ll never hear them play the same setlist twice. They played “Start a War” for the first time since 2014, numerous songs from Sleep Well Beast, classics such as “Apartment Story” and “Terrible Love”, and some lesser known songs like “Wasp Nest”. They are on stage for a solid 2 hours, playing over 20 songs.

During the show, I remember looking up at the night sky and taking it all in. I had had a bit of a rough week, and it seemed like all the pressures of the world were coming down on me. For a moment, just a moment, I forgot about all of them. Listening to music doesn’t erase my problems. It doesn’t put a roof over my head or buy the groceries. It does, however, make life tolerable. It brings people together and allows them to dance. I’ll always cherish that night in San Diego, with my mom and 5,000 other friends, listening to some of my favorite music in the world.

The Possibilities of Music

Some bands simply love playing music and don’t care about anything else. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is one of those bands. These Aussies are straight-up music-holics. Since their formation in 2010, they have released 11 full-length studio albums that span a variety of genres. Their music is described as psychedelic or progressive rock but is influenced by folk, jazz, and heavy-metal to name a few. Songs incorporate themes and ideas from these extremely different styles pushing the boundaries of music.

I saw them at Metro Music Hall accompanied by Ice Balloons and Tropical Fuck Storm. Ice Balloons did not impress me. They sounded muffled and messy. However, they did leave a lasting impression for one particular reason, their lead singer wore a fly’s head mask. Uniqueness aside, I was not a fan of their music.  Tropical Fuck Storm was less memorable but seemed more put together as a band.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard consists of a herd of members and more instruments than I could count. Their distinct sound is attributed to multiple guitars, synthesizers, harmonicas, a flute, driving bass lines, and two dueling drums. Drummers Eric Moore and Michael Cavanaugh are smack-dab in the middle of the stage battling the entire night. They are the heart and soul of the band whose songs constantly change tempo.

Mixing music genres is not the only way King Gizzard revolutionizes music. For their album, Flying Microtonal Banana, guitarist Stu Mackenzie, Cook Craig, and Joey Walker “modded” guitars adding additional frets.This allowed them to access microtones, semitones, and additional notes impossible on a traditional western guitar. Lead singer Mackenzie had the idea after messing around on a Turkish stringed instrument called a baglama. The result is an easter sounding electric guitar. Creating their own instruments adds to their odd unique sound.

The Melbourne musicians put everything into their performance. They are incredibly energetic and the crowd matches their energy. In all my years going to concerts, I have never seen a wilder crowd. My shoes were completely destroyed in the madness. During the slower parts of songs, concertgoers sway and headbang. When the music gets faster and heavier, mosh pits form in the blink of an eye. The crowd is tightly packed, but the proximity doesn’t stop people from dancing.

King Gizzard’s albums have related songs that blend together and are often broken into multiple parts. Their setlist is programmed in the same manner. They play multiple songs in order or slightly jumbled so that they playing music for 20 or 30 minutes with no breaks. The reoccurrence of melodies and specific lyrics makes you question whether you are still listening to the same song as half an hour ago.

By the time Mackenzie announces their last song, the audience and musicians are beat. They summon enough energy to play a 15-minute version of “Am I In Heaven?”. The crowd cheers for 10 minutes but they don’t get an encore today. After almost 2 hours of constant music, there is nothing left in the tank.

Music truly is limitless. There are innumerable possibilities to be explored and as a society, we have only scratched the surface. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is a band that is pushing the limits of traditional music both in the studio and on the stage.

Metal Alliance Tour at The Complex

It’s Monday night. My roommate is talking about some concert he wants to go to. I’m not one for turning down concerts so of course I’ll go. I’ll soon find myself in semi-unfamiliar territory. Tonight is the Metal Alliance Tour at the complex.

Metal shows are always an experience. There is an incredible amount of passion that the musicians and audience members share. People are quite literally screaming to vocalize their uncontrollable emotion.

The night starts out with a man handing my friends and me free tickets at the door. I didn’t even have to give him my email address. Amazed and bewildered at the ease of it all, I enter the complex eager to see what this show has in store for me. The lineup of the tour includes Invidia, Black Fast, Havok, Crowbar, and Overkill.

I’m a little bit late walking in. Havok is finishing their set. I didn’t come for any particular band, so it’s not a big deal. Being at a concert with relatively unknown bands can be liberating. I’m not expecting to hear any songs and won’t be disappointed when they don’t play them. I have no preconceived idea of their sound. Whatever the band chooses to play and however they sound will be the lasting memory of the night. I can fully soak up my environment. Everything else becomes irrelevant.

I buy some earplugs. Once Crowbar comes on you’ll be wishing you had too. The crowd is relatively scarce. Everyone sneaks outside or upstairs in-between sets for a smoke or a beer. The mostly male crowd is dressed in black, red, and white. My friend is wearing a blue jacket and sticks out like a sore-thumb. Only a handful of people have short hair. The rest have their hair down and are ready for some head-banging.

When Crowbar comes on stage, I’m shocked. The musicians look nothing like how I imagined. The overweight middle-aged men are wearing shorts and t-shirts. The bass player has shoulder-length hair.  The other two front men are bald with massive facial hair. I never get a good look at the drummer. I guess that’s why he’s the drummer.

The sludge metal band from New Orleans relies on slow groovy guitar riffs and aggressive male vocals to sustain their sound. Formed in 1990, Crowbar was a pioneering band of the heavy metal subgenre. The crowd nods and sways with the drum and bass. People throw up rock-on signs and chant “Crowbar”.

The room fills to capacity and overflows into the lobby. Thrash metal band Overkill increases the tempo and the volume. The crowd takes the hint. Some mosh-pits get started but nothing too crazy, it’s still a Monday night in Salt Lake City. The band is quite animated, letting their passion show. They put it all on the line and the audience loves it.

Leaving the show, I couldn’t tell you the name of one song. I might never listen to these bands again, but that is not the point of a concert. I saw musicians get up on stage and do what they love. I saw them create art and music. Personal expression is one of the most important things humans do. I was able to be a part of theirs. It’s moments like these that make life livable.

 

An Epic Night of Rock and Roll

When I was 9 years old, my dad took me to my very first concert. We saw U2 at the then Delta Center. That show introduced me to a world of live music and changed my life forever. I have now been to hundreds of concerts and it is one of my favorite things to do.

I recently saw U2 in Phoenix, Arizona, making it the 5th time I have seen the rock’n’roll giants perform. U2 is currently touring their album The Joshua Tree for its 30-year anniversary. The Joshua Tree is U2’s most popular and critically acclaimed album, featuring iconic songs “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, “Where the Streets Have No Name”, and “With or Without You”.

This album has sentimental meaning for my dad. He first saw them perform on the original Joshua Tree tour. Going to U2 concerts has become a tradition for the two of us and is a special bond that we share.

Beck opened and put on an excellent show. His hour-long set had a solid mix of old and newer songs. The singer-songwriter was very animated and seemed thrilled to be touring with the likes of Bono and The Edge.

U2’s set list was incredible. They play their songs in chronological order, with a few exceptions. They start with 2 songs from War (1983) and 2 songs from The Unforgettable Fire (1984) before they dive into The Joshua Tree (1987). The Irishmen play the entire 11 song album start to finish before leaving the stage. Their 7-song encore is comprised of songs released after ’87, playing only 2 songs released after 2000, and ending with “One”.

U2 spares no expenses when it comes to their stages. The 50-yard-wide stage sits underneath a massive video screen and hundred-foot-tall Joshua tree. The walk-way and secondary stage is also shaped like a Joshua tree. While they play, images of Joshua Tree National Park and the American South West flash across the screen.

The entire show is very political, as the band comments on the current state of the U.S. Bono says that America has been a second home to him and the band. They condone President Trump showing a video clip mocking a character named Trump who wants to build a wall. Bono voices his disapproval of the end of DACA saying, “this country was built by dreamers, for dreamers”. The project images of Syrian refugee camps, women activists, and the words, “the power of the people is so much greater than the people in power”.

Somethings change and some never do. 30 years ago, the world was entirely different and would be almost unrecognizable now. However, people are still listening to the same music and seeing the same bands perform. U2 is no longer the young rebel rockers they were but still know how to put on a hell of a show. In the end it was, in Bono’s words, “a night we’ll never forget. An epic night of rock and roll.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Darkness at the Liquor Store

On September 8th, 2017, The National released their 7th studio album Sleep Well Beast. It introduces a new sonic element different from previous albums. The album artwork is black, grey and blue, and the CD and vinyl are colored blue. These dark, cold colors reflect the mood of the album.

The National uses a variety of electronic drums and synthesizers. Even with more electronics, the passionate piano melodies, gritty guitar solos, and Matt Berninger’s baritone voice provide an unmistakable National sound.

In a recent interview with NME.com, band members Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, and Scott Devendorf discuss the album, drummer Bryan Devendorf couldn’t make it. Bryce Dessner says Sleep Well Beast is experimental and takes their sound in a positive new direction. Berninger explains that the songs on the albums are connected. He says, “the lyrics to a record are just the lyrics to a record. There’s not lyrics to this song or lyrics to that song…they are all in the same stew.”

Despite the interconnectedness of the lyrics, there is a tremendous amount of contrast from song to song. Songs 1,3,5, and 7 are relatively gloomy or sorrowful whereas songs 2,4,6, and 8 are more upbeat and bold. They do a tremendous job providing this contrast all the while keeping to similar themes of fear, anxiety, sorrow, and trying to find love. The last 4 songs add a somber note, rounding out the 12 track, hour long record.

Sleep Well Beast was produced primarily by Aaron Dessner, with help from Bryce Dessner and Matt Berninger. 4 years after releasing Trouble Will Find Me, they had plenty of time to perfect the music. The high production quality allows the complexity and intricacies of the music to flow effortlessly.

They start the album talking about going home to be alone. The opening song, “Nobody Else Will Be There”, is Berninger pleading with a loved one asking, “can’t we just go home?”. In “Day I Die” he says, “I’d rather walk all the way home right now than to spend another second in the place… just come outside and leave with me.”

Berninger’s depression and anxiety are seen through the lyrics. He sings about over-thinking things and how that ruins his head. He says, “I’m no holiday”, “I can’t stand me”, and “nothing I do makes me feel different.”

The lyrics tell the story of a someone fighting for love. In “Born to Beg”, Berninger sings that he’d do anything for his love. He feels sorry for something he has done and is willing to take the blame. This theme continues in “Dark Side of the Gym” as he sings, “I’m gonna keep you in love with me.”

It’s not a National album without the mention of alcohol. Throughout the album, Berninger sings, “meet me in the stairwell… for a glass of gin”, “I get a little punchy with the vodka”, “I mix weed with wine”, “I’ve been hoping to drink”, and “I have helpless friendships and bad taste in liquids”. The lead singer is drunk almost every time they perform and frequently drinks on stage.

The album ends with the lyrics “I’ll still destroy you someday, sleep well beast.” Berninger is caught up in his sorrow but has come to grips with his situation. He has been through it all emotionally and can endure anything life throws at him.

The National started in 1999, releasing their first album in 2001. 16 years later they still have so much to offer the indie-rock scene. Sleep Well Beast is personal and honest. They incorporate new musical ideas and keep aspects of their classic sound. They show that rock isn’t easy nor safe. You’ve got to take chances and be bold. Most importantly, you have to be true to yourself. Sleep Well Beast shows that The National still has a couple punches left before they go down.

A Night In The Red Rocks

People do crazy things to see the bands they love. I have waited in the scorching heat and freezing cold. I have traveled across the country and around the globe. I have gone to incredible lengths just for a couple hours of live music.

I saw The Head and The Heart and Grouplove in August of this year. I highly-anticipated this show since I bought the tickets back in December of 2016. Not only was it 2 bands that I really liked, (and have seen both live before), but it was performed in what is often regarded as the best concert venue in the US: Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. This was the type of concert that I knew was going to be legendary from the moment it was announced.

For those who have never been to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, it’s truly a spectacle. Located 30 minutes outside of Denver, the venue is placed around a breathtaking landscape. Massive red rocks eject out of the green hills creating a visual masterpiece. Smashed in-between a couple of these rocks is a 10,000-person open-air theatre. Because it’s built on a hill, everyone in the venue can easily see the stage. The sound becomes amplified around the rocks creating natural acoustics which make the sounds feels like they’re coming down from heaven.

Artists and fans alike understand the reputation of the venue and act accordingly. The energy of the musicians and the crowd is unparalleled. It is common for bands to say, “It’s great to be back here at ______”. But when they’re at Red Rocks, they actually mean it.

Grouplove played first. I say played first instead of opened because both bands are good enough to headline. The indie rock band from Los Angeles could sell out the venue by themselves. The 2 bands have toured together before and are close friends. Grouplove never fails to entertain. The frontmen of the band and partners, Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi, dance around, feeding off each other’s energy for their hour-long set.

They played 14 songs including the more well-known “Itching on a Photograph,” “Tongue Tied”, and my personal favorites “Hippy Hill” and “Enlighten Me”. Their music is up-tempo, happy, and perfect for dancing along to. After seeing their enjoyment and pure love for what they do, it’s almost impossible not to have a good time.

The Head and The Heart is much more mellow but equally as entertaining. The Seattle Band’s indie folk sound relies heavily on 3 part harmonies from vocalists Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russel, and Charity Rose Theilen. They played a 15-song set list, a 4-song encore, and were on stage for 1 hour 45 minutes.

Both times I have seen them, they have ended with the familiar “Rivers and Roads”. The song off their self-titled debut album is what propelled the group into fame and is still a favorite among many fans. The final lyrics, “rivers and roads, rivers and roads, rivers till I reach you”, are repeated multiple times. Theilen starts as the lone vocalist. She messes around with the melody adding musical expression and variation not heard in the recording. The instruments and other vocalists slowly build as the entire crowd sings along.

These final lyrics provide hope for something not yet achieved. To desire something more is human. We may be searching for different things but we are all searching. For some it is that one person they can’t live without, some might be looking for success in their career, others just want to find live music. Whatever you’re looking for, go down every road and every river, til you find it.

The Freedom of Music

Concerts on the first day of school have a sentimental meaning for me. When I first started school at the U, I moved into the dorms on a Thursday. That night, I journeyed to Pioneer Park with a couple of classmates. Kid Cudi would perform in what was the most attended Twilight Concert to date.

I remember how incredible I felt that day. For the first time in my life, I experienced true freedom. Freedom to stay out as late as I want. Freedom to go to a rap concert singing songs about marijuana. Freedom to be me, whoever that was. I had no idea what lie ahead of me that year, yet I was ready to accept the consequences of my own decisions.

4 years later in 2017, on the first day of school, the day of the solar eclipse, I journeyed downtown again. This time the venue was a little smaller, the artist had a little less hype, but that same feeling persisted. Washed Out was playing with Dega at the Depot.

The Depot is one of my favorite venues is Utah. They sell tickets at the door on Fridays prior to the show, eliminating the always dreaded service fees. Security works quickly and effectively. The venue stays relatively cool and has appropriate seating for those who want to sit. The sound is not overbearing but clear. The doors opened at 7. Dega started playing at 8 and Washed Out at 9:30.

Dega set the stage for an awesome show. Their set up included various synthesizers, a couple of microphones, a guitar, bass, and a computer with drum backing tracks. Both musicians played a variety of the instruments and added vocals. They did what all openers should do, get the crowd excited for the show.

Washed Out, aka Ernest Greene, is on tour following his June release Mister Mellow, a psychedelic chillwave album that explores stonerism and the monotony of life. The entire album has a coordinated visual music video designed to create a psychedelic or trippy experience for the viewer.

Washed Out played several songs off of his latest release as well as some older crowd favorites. The entire show was set with timed light cues and different projections on a screen behind the musicians. Washed Out truly personified his sound. He danced around like a lazy stoner lost in the music. Greene’s enchanting vocals gave the impression of daydreaming. The crowd fell under his spell and swayed along for what could have been 30 minutes or 3 hours.

This concert meant more to me than just the music. It represented a new school year, a new opportunity. I’m not sure who I’ll be at the end of it and I’m not sure exactly how I’ll get there.  Although I am filled with uncertainty, here’s to one more year. Another year of concerts. Another year of school. A couple more late nights in the library and weekends downtown. A few more friends made and hopefully a couple less lost. Whatever happens, music will help me get through.