The Bleeding Edge
Three days of live music bliss in New York
In what will definitely go down as one of the best weeks in my personal music history, I had the luxury of seeing three bands in five days that I consider to be on the bleeding edge of the music industry: Vampire Weekend on Friday, Broken Social Scene on Saturday, and the Deftones last night.
I’d seen Vampire Weekend before—last summer at the All Points West festival—and so already knew these guys are the real deal. Their second album, Contra, wasn’t out then, though, so I was thrilled to see all ten of the new songs brought to life. Nothing was lost in the instrumentation on the lush, richly textured new cuts. The calmer, more-nuanced tracks, like “Taxi Cab” and “I Think UR a Contra,” were a real treat, evoking emotional moments in an otherwise dancy-happy-rocking evening. The set was energy-injected throughout and impossible not to dance to. Well, at least for my friends and me. The majority of the crowd seemed inexplicably stiff. Maybe it was because the venue, Radio City Music Hall, felt too formal or intimidating to people. No one was standing like a statue when they played at All Points West. At any rate, these guys are going to be around for a while. Total pros.
Broken Social Scene, on the other hand, has already been around for a while. About ten years. Which is pretty evident in the way they gel, seemingly effortlessly, on stage. In contrast to the stiffness of the setting at Radio City, the Broken Social crowd was loose and attentive; the show took place outdoors at Central Park’s Summer Stage, with trees interrupting the greater backdrop of Manhattan’s concrete jungle; and the band played the kind of show that made you feel like the concept of a concert was being invented before your eyes. What I mean by that is, they came across like we’d all been cooped up indoors and waiting for the chance to do something this exciting for ages, and that this was all happening for the first time, brass instruments trumpeting the sound of liberation. It was a party, and they played straight through past the park curfew. This is not just a band; it’s more like an army, its soldiers cycling in and out and changing instruments. At times there were 13 people in the mix. A funny moment happened when, in between songs, the frontman turned to one of the trumpet players and introduced himself. Apparently it’s common with this group to see someone playing on the other end of the stage you’ve never met before. Very impressive the way it all came together. A few songs swooned with beauty, while the rest shook with ecstatic revelry. I had the feeling through the whole show that they were playing the perfect set list, and that has to be a good sign.
After two concert-less days, my friend and I drove three and a half hours Upstate to see the Deftones tear things to shreds. The Deftones just played Madison Square Garden with Alice in Chains and Mastodon, but, if you’ve ever seen the Deftones, you know that their blitzkrieg attack should be received only from close range. So when they added a Deftones-only date (no Alice or Mastodon) to their tour, I knew immediately it would be worth the trip. The venue, which was a small club set in a strip mall in Clifton Park, New York, felt like a bizarre place to see a marquee act. But it worked so well. We were so close. When they launched into “Elite,” Chino got up on the barricade and leaned forward onto the crowd, him holding onto us and us holding onto him, as he screamed the words a few feet from our faces, his crazed, vacant eyes staring into ours. He held the microphone out a few times right at the mouths of his congregation. Naturally, everyone in the vicinity was going apeshit. It may have felt like Broken Social Scene was playing to ignite the night, but this took that level of immediacy to a whole new level. This was the last concert on Earth. I’d seen this band twice before, yet the raw and primal gnashing of their sound tore through the center of my ribcage, rattled and bulldozed the throng, as if nothing so powerful could have ever been expected. (Sergio Vega did a great job filling in on bass for Chi, who suffered a serious car crash two years ago and is making a very slow recovery. Sergio gave off sparks, lively with energy, contributing to the you-just-don’t-know-what’s-going-to-happen-next vibration.)
Even the Deftones’ set list is unpredictable. They didn’t touch their new album until about 14 songs in, hammering away at the old stuff that never gets old, and then blasting six of the new ones at us in a row. For a band with six albums out, they do an impressive job of keeping every corner of their catalog alive and well. This is part of what makes the show feel so immediate. I’ve seen bands play songs I love in a way that’s almost too perfect, too calculated, like they could perform those tracks in their sleep. The Deftones can play a song from 1995 like it could wake the dead. Or wake the living. The crowd responded to this ravenously, rapturously. While everyone is pushing and moshing and screaming their heads off, you’ve never seen such smiling faces. Not a stiff bone in the place. I could tell that for everyone around me, that band meant something to them. It meant something for them to be there in the thick of it, covered in other people’s sweat and trying to stay on their feet. Whatever frustration or emptiness they were feeling was given a chance to get torn out, burned up, blazed up in the air like it never was. I spend a lot of time focusing on things that I want to happen tomorrow, next week, a year from now. Being part of that frenzy wasn’t about anything other than the moment as it was happening, a destination arrived. There were times when all I could do was laugh and let go.