Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Glasvegas Returns to Seattle - Concert Review

Rock band Glasvegas returned to Seattle Monday night for their second show in the city in the past three months. I've been keenly interested in this Glasgow, Scotland-based band for about a year - starting with their first single "Geraldine" and through the release of their first album, Glasvegas last fall. My review of the CD is here.

My above average attraction to this group is a direct result of their ability to write articulate, realistic and heart wrenching lyrics backed with a powerful sound that I feel is quite different, if not unique, in today's rock scene. I mean, who sings songs about social workers, the possibility of getting stabbed, the realization of one's "own cheating heart" being the problem in life, the loss of a father, the murder of a loved one, the beauty and purity of an ice cream van in our all too "F-ed up" world?
(Below: Glasvegas on stage at Nuemo's)

Nobody but Glasvegas. And who in today's scene is hip enough to have lyrics like that paired with music that rocks and much as it wails, rolls as much as it soars, and drives as much as it touches? Nobody but Glasvegas.

You are moved by these songs. At least in my opinion.

Which is why I gathered up some buddies and went to see their performance last January at
Chop Suey in Seattle. My review of that gig is here.

Based on what we heard and saw at that concert, as well as meeting the band afterwards at a bar, I decided I wanted to see them when they around again - which luckily happened to be this past Monday at
Neumo's in Seattle's Capital Hill neighborhood. Along for the ride this time were my buddies Sean and Levi. A set of pictures I took during the show are here.

Opening Act
As we drifted into Neumo's, the sounds of opening band
Von Iva could be heard throbbing through the hallway. I have to say that this band was a pleasant surprise.

A three-woman outfit out of San Francisco, Von Iva features a singer who can really belt out bluesy-style rock - along with a powerful, hard-hitting drummer and a keyboardist who doubles as "guitar" and "bass" (among other instruments) by laying down thick, heavy and aggressive lines of thud/buzz sound. Sounds like a racket, right? Not so. Very cool and good to see a unconventional lineup. Anyway, the band impressed our little crew and I'd recommend checking them out live or on iTunes. (Right: Von Iva opens the show)

Questions Take Shape
After Von Iva wrapped up its set - and after talking to their lead singer for a moment - a few questions about Glasvegas began to form in my mind. Would a group that's been on the road non-stop for months put forth a genuine and compelling effort as they neared the end of their tour? Would singer James Allan's voice sound OK given how many shows he's performed so closely together? Would they perform and encore - something they glaringly omitted at their Chop Suey gig? Would we hear any new material?

The Crowd
At this point I also assessed the crowd. I estimate that on this Monday night, the club clocked in at about 80% full as there appeared to be empty space at the back of the main room while the rest of the floor and balcony were full up. In terms of who attended, it was about 70% guys, about 95% white and varying in age. I was impressed that a few men and women certainly older than my 39 years were plastered right up against the stage. I salute them and hope that I'm as hip in 10 to 15 years. Meanwhile, the youngins were in the house too. As I turned from the bar after buying my crew a round, a kid (to me a 21 year old is a kid) knocked into my arm and spilled a bit of one drink. He looked at me and said, "I'm sorry sir." Well, that made it official. I'm old. But, not too old to have a good time.

The Main Event
Recharged with a fresh beer and back in place near the stage, I watched as the lights dimmed again and a faint set of notes could be heard and then rose into a melodic noise as the band came on stage to cheers.

They quickly launched into their single, Geraldine. After that it was a steady run-through of most of the songs from their debut album, plus a couple off their Christmas-time CD, A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like a Kiss). Beyond Geraldine, the set included fan favorites Flowers & Football Tops, Daddy's Gone, Go Square Go, It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry and others. The PA system sounded right on the money. I've seen shows at Neumo's at which the mix proved horrible - making it hard to hear the singer or overpowering you with one instrument or another. Not so with this gig...and no ringing ears afterwards. I also thought the light show added to the ambiance, although the fake fog might have been a tad overdone.(Above: Glasvegas on stage at Neumo's in Seattle)

Questions Answered
So, how did the band do? Could they answer my questions through their performance?
In my estimation, Allan and Glasvegas performed each of their songs with decent yet not spectacular energy. Allan's voice sounded fine as he modulated between smoothly delivered verses and throat straining choruses. Meanwhile, guitarist Rab Allan put in the effort as he spun around, moved about the stage raising his guitar high and dropping it low all the while. The other two band members delivered solid if not overy flashy performances.

Also, James Allan was a bit more interactive with the crowd than he was at the January show when he mustered maybe one "thank you" at the end. While you'll never mistake him for a stage-front chatterbox, after shedding his leather jacket about a third of the way through Monday's gig he did thank the crowd several times. At the end of the show he made a point to shake hands with each guy within reach of the front of the stage and delivered polite kisses to the hands of the women.(Right: James Allan belts one out at Nuemo's in Seattle)

We did not hear any new material this time. While songs such as Fuck You It's Over (yep, that's the name of the song and it says it all), Ice Cream Van and Please Come Home made the set, those are previously released songs. So, nothing new - despite that I hear the band is working on songs for a follow up album.

The band did come back on for an encore. This was a glaring omission at their January show and it was good that after a few minutes of fans stomping feet and clapping that Glasvegas came back on stage to perform a few more songs - topped by Daddy's Gone. While I know there are other songs they could have performed, I think building in an encore section of their show proved a smart move and left the crowd pleased and wanting more.

Not much from me, although the "arts editor" over at the
Seattle Fine Arts Examiner was not too impressed with either Von Iva or Glasvegas. This just shows you that two people can see the exact same show and come to different conclusions. It happens. Usually the difference lies in what the expectations are. At any rate, I'll stake my observations on having seen Glasvegas twice within three months, meeting each member in person and the ability to compare and contrast their style with the many other good and poor rock performances I've seen in person going back to the mid-1980s.
Anyway, for me, I like a band that interacts a bit more with the audience - it just helps make more of a connection and adds to the experience. Given the subjects Glasvegas sings about, you might think they would say some more about the songs. It also might endear them more to fans over the long haul. As nice and approachable as the members of Glasvegas are in person, their on-stage personas don't seem to lend themselves to much interaction during the gig. This is a band on the way up, so their approach may be on purpose to create some sort of image, or it could just be honest shyness or personality. All this is not too big a deal to me. I've been to a lot of shows and seen all different types of performers. I realize that just because I want the band to talk to the crowd means they will.

The Big Sum Up
This was a good show - up and coming band, small venue, close to stage, quality sound, good support band, $20. What's not to like? Our three-man party had a great time. I'll continue to follow Glasvegas and check out their next offering. But, that might not be for a while as they are the opening band for U2 at a number of shows this summer. At any rate, you can currently get their CDs on iTunes and Amazon if you haven't heard them yet. And finally, if they ever come to Seattle again, I'll be looking for Glasvegas to up their game even more with some new songs, more interaction with he crowd and...who knows what else.

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