Aimee Mann at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Sunday the weather in San Francisco shifted from San Francisco Autumn back to, well, San Francisco Summer: cool, windy, and clear; sunshine that imparts far less warmth than you might imagine. Richard and I ventured to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival at Golden Gate Park Sunday afternoon. Aimee Mann was playing the Arrow Stage and I’d managed to miss every other opportunity I’ve had to see her play live.

Speedway Meadow was far more crowded than I imagined and I think Richard was amused by my remaining provincialism. Somehow we managed to make our way through the crowd and find a spot stage left. We put our blanket down, enjoyed a sandwich, and tried to avoid being trampled while we waited for Aimee to come on.

Aimee Mann (flickr)

I’ve heard several live recordings of Aimee and she was just as warm and engaging Sunday as she is on those recordings. She opened saying, “Holy shit! There’re way more people here than I expected! This is awesome!” and interspersed generous helpings of “oh, thanks” and “you guys are so great” between songs. It may be an act but it works for me. On some level I’m able to forget the crowds, the pushing, the pot, the sorority girls behind me (“Oh my god guys! She drank my fifth of vodka! MY FIFTH!” “Damn! No!” “Yeah!”) and imagine that Aimee and I are hanging out and she’s just picking and playing a few songs, just for me.

The set was “Magnolia” heavy. I’m not sure if that’s because her more recent work on “@#%&*! Smilers” is even less “bluegrass” or if she’s playing what she thinks people know and want to hear. The set list went something like this:

  • The Moth
  • Nightmare Girl
  • Momentum
  • Build That Wall
  • Par for the Course
  • Amateur
  • This is How It Goes
  • Wise Up
  • Save Me
  • You Could Make a Killing
  • Little Bombs
  • Thirty One Today
  • Freeway

I thought it was interesting that she introduced the last two song as “from my most recent album, Smilers,” as opposed to calling it “Fucking Smilers”. Everyone got a good laugh, too, when she introduced “Save Me” by saying, “this is the song that lost an Oscar; to Phil Collins.”

I had hoped to stick around and see Neko Case and Emmylou Harris, but after walking over to the Star Stage, I decided it wasn’t worth dealing with the crowd. Another time. I’m not sure that I love the free festival musical experience, but I’m glad I finally got to see Aimee live.

date:2009-10-05 21:28:34
category:my life
tags:aimee mann, concert, music, setlist

Pet Shop Boys at The Warfield, San Francisco

Wednesday evening I continued my ten year concert reunion with the Pet Shop Boys. Currently performing on their Pandemonium Tour (supporting Yes), James and I (along with several other friends) caught their second night at The Warfield in downtown San Francisco.

Pet Shop Boys (flickr)

Wednesday’s show exceeded my expectations. They opened with “Heart” and and barely paused for just over 90 minutes, touching on nearly every part of their catalog. Their performance of “Heart”, in particular, was really exciting and energetic. The set included several medleys; I tried to keep a set list as the night went on and ended up with the following (titles in square brackets indicate they just played snippets or a few lines of the song as a transition between numbers).

  • Heart
  • Did You See Me Coming
  • Pandemonium/Can You Forgive Her
  • Love, etc
  • [Integral, Building a Wall]
  • Go West
  • Two Divided by Zero
  • Why Don’t We Live Together? / Always On My Mind
  • New York City Boy
  • [Closer to Heaven]
  • Left to my Own Devices
  • Do I Have To?
  • King’s Cross
  • The way It Used To Be
  • Jealousy
  • Suburbia
  • All Around the World
  • Se A Vida É / Discoteca
  • Viva la Vida (Coldplay cover)
  • It’s a Sin


  • Being Boring
  • West End Girls

I really enjoyed hearing songs that I didn’t at all expect to be played, but which feel like iconic PSB songs to me: “Two Divided by Zero”, “Suburbia”, “King’s Cross”. And of course, “It’s a Sin” and “Being Boring”, which we completely expected and yet still felt relevant and poignant; PSB is without question the band that marks time in my coming out story.

I last saw PSB on their Nightlife tour in 1999. That day, John and I drove three and a half hours from Fort Wayne to the Fox Theater in Detroit, watched the show from the balcony, and drove back the same night, arriving home at nearly four in the morning. My car was hit by a deer on the drive back that morning when we were less than fifteen minutes from home[1]_. In contrast, Wednesday night I carpooled ten minutes with friends from our pre-show pizza and could have walked home in under half an hour.

I somehow see the change in distance as metaphorical for how I’ve moved in my own life, as well. I remember thinking that night that there was no way I could live in Detroit; it seemed overwhelming and foreign. I suppose in the same way if I had been able to look forward ten years, my life today would have been similarly unrecognizable. As I think about it now, I guess I’m lucky; I was happy[2] with where I was then, and I’m happy to be where I am today. There are still things I’d like to do and improve but the present is pretty damn good.

[1]Yes, the deer hit me. I was at a dead stop. No, the insurance agent didn’t really believe me, either.
[2]Sure, I wanted some things to be different, but I was out, I had my own place, and I had my friends.
date:2009-09-25 16:05:12
category:my life
tags:concerts, music, pet shop boys, psb

Tori Amos at The Paramount, Oakland

Monday I saw Tori Amos at The Paramount, Oakland (setlist). This was the third time I saw her in concert. The first two times were both on her Choirgirl Hotel tour, in 1998.

In 1998 I was that guy, one of the dozen or two that spent Halloween afternoon in the drizzle outside Elliot Hall of Music at Purdue for almost six hours, waiting for her bus to arrive so I could participate in the meet and greet. I clutched my Silent All These Years single — a second one, actually, purchased just for the occasion — and listened to the more wizened Tori-philes describe their first, sixth, tenth, twentieth concerts. I was a “virgin” and they delighted in explaining just how amazing my first time would be. Tori arrived, said hello, shock hands with people and gave hugs. She said something like, “my, aren’t you a tall one,” and gamely signed my single.

The show at Elliot was indeed amazing. As was the second show I saw her in, at Dayton, Ohio. Monday she did not disappoint.

At The Paramount she covered the breadth of her catalog, from Precious Things and Tear in Your Hand from Little Earthquakes, to the material from her most recent release, Abnormally Attracted To Sin. She even played Siren, a song she contributed to the soundtrack for Great Expectations (1998). From the first song to the end of the second encore the audience was held rapt, almost worshipful. Seeing Tori perform I was reminded how her music seems to pour out of her. It appears to be an extension of her mood, her presence on stage, drawing the audience in.

It’s hard not to compare Monday with my previous experiences seeing Tori. The show was similar to the previous shows in some ways; she played what I think of as the “live arrangement” of Precious Things, there was a bit of improv and she played a cover song (in this case she covered Baby One More Time by Britney Spears). The biggest difference this time was the audience’s demeanor. The first two times I saw her perform the audience was on their feet from beginning to end, cheering and dancing. Monday night The Paramount was almost church-like. People swayed a bit, mouthed the words and shouted “We love you Tori” at irregular intervals, but for the most part remained seated, listening attentively.

Sitting there in the dark, I also found myself comparing where I’m at in life now and where I was the first time. Ten years have past and have brought a lot of change in my life. Five jobs, two major relationships, a dozen addresses, and a cross-country move. I sat there in the dark of the theater Monday contemplating where I was ten years ago, five years ago. And I found myself grateful that I’ve had this music to accompany me and to grow with me.

date:2009-07-19 20:28:48
category:my life
tags:calidfornia, concert, east bay, music, oakland, paramount, tori amos