Wednesday, September 19, 2018

[REVIEW] Not Guilty: Taylor Swift Brings Her Reputation Tour To St. Louis


But I got smarter I got harder
in the nick of time

Perhaps writing this is all therapy for me, I really don't know.

Enjoying music in 2018 -- specifically new music -- has become a challenge. Your "best albums" list is going to be different from mine, I get all that: different strokes for different folks, blah blah blah. But I constantly feel marketed to, feel pressured to have the "best new thing" make me feel something, anything.

The truth is that many new, hip artists -- indie or pop -- don't make me feel a damn thing. I was going to name names, but I've never done that, and I'm not going to start now. If you're reading this, you probably know what I mean. Hop on Twitter or Spotify and the force feeding is everywhere, almost to the point now where I'm too mentally exhausted to even press play. That might sound dramatic, but dammit if it isn't true. Get off my lawn.

And I'm done with describing anything as a "guilty pleasure." I decided that after I attended Taylor Swift's "1989" tour in St. Louis three years ago. Going in, she had already won me over with her performance of "All Too Well" at the Grammy's; something about that performance stripped away any preconceived notions I had about Swift. She looked incredibly vulnerable to me on that night, completely uninterested in putting on a show (okay, okay minus all the hair flipping and such). "So causally cruel in the name of being honest."I was sold.

Still, though, I explained to my friends that I was going to her show because her music was one of my guilty pleasures. I had no other way of rationalizing it to myself or anyone else, which is pretty much the most cowardly way of saying that a piece of art moves you. What I should have done is passed on this YouTube link and let the music speak for itself. But I didn't do that, mainly because I was still concerned with wanting to look cool. In my mind there was a reputation that didn't want to be associated with an artist like Swift.

Look, I'm a sucker for sad songs. But I also learned after seeing Swift perform live that I'm also still very much a sucker for pop music, and it doesn't pain me to write that. That isn't to say that I love everything Swift has ever recorded. Come on, now. Neil Young and Bob Dylan are my favorite artists, and I can list a number of songs that I think are terrible. That's just art.

Swift's new album, Reputation, feels like a mixed bag to me. I don't doubt the sincerity of it, or why she might think it's her best album, but my gut feeling is that it's an uneven piece of work, searching for an identity -- an identity that's been stolen from her.

And maybe that's the point of the album.

But seeing Swift perform these songs live tells a different story. I know what I saw, and it was not the look of a damaged performer. She came out fighting and fierce during the opening "...Ready For It?" and "I Did Something Bad," as confident of a performer as I've seen in some time -- much like the Brandi Carlile we saw in St. Louis a couple months ago. Artists so sure of their work that it's impossible to not leave feeling uplifted in some way.

Swift performed much of the material from Reputation with a look in her eye as to say, "you know, I don't give a shit what you think." And if she does indeed care what we think, she's a hell of an actress.

Swift performed her two biggest songs, "Shake It Off" and "Blank Space," on two different side stages, away from her main stage that spanned over 100 feet. If that isn't telling, then I don't know what is. It's clear to me that she's slowly leaving the glitz and glamour of 1989 behind, opting not to perform "Welcome To New York" or "Out Of The Woods," instead finding time for a solo acoustic "Hey Stephen" from her second album, Fearless.

Her delivery of "Dress" from Reputation reminded that she's 28 now, not 16. Look up the lyrics and you'll know what I'm getting at. Later, she sat alone at a piano and sang "New Year's Day," a song that is essentially about waking up from a night of drinking, cleaning up bottles from the night before. The old Taylor? She ain't picking up that phone.

And that's okay. Swift remains a hell of a talent, stolen identity or not. She's moving on, and if you can't find that beautiful, then we can agree to disagree.

Big reputation? That's all in the past, and it means nothing now.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

[PHOTOS] Beck at The Fox Theatre in St. Louis


Beck performed at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis on Sunday. Please enjoy these photos by Jason Gonulsen.

Monday, September 10, 2018

[PHOTOS] Deerhunter at House of Vans in Brooklyn

 Deerhunter recently performed at House of Vans in Brooklyn. Please enjoy these photos by Amanda Koellner.

Monday, September 3, 2018

[REVIEW] Don't Go On Me: Pearl Jam at Wrigley Field in Chicago

Written by Jason Gonulsen

They could have turned in -- turned in for the night, a Monday night -- but they turned out.

I'm not talking about the band.

I'm talking about the 40,000 who waited out a two-hour weather delay in the steamy halls of a baseball stadium that first opened its doors in 1914. Perhaps this was routine for some -- including me -- who had to seek shelter during a similar delay in 2013 at the same venue.

All delays are not the same, though, and the 2018 version had an advantage: Unlike 2013, Pearl Jam hadn't taken the stage, hadn't built any momentum, hadn't given their release. The anticipation of this evening had not yet been met with any sense of reality.

I cannot explain how important this is for a show of this magnitude. In 2013, Pearl Jam opened the show with six slower songs, testing the waters, fans ready for the waves to roll in. But that was not to be -- after a couple hours, anyway. By the time the show resumed, it was midnight, and the gas tank of everyone around me was nearing empty with the nearest exit miles away. No one wants a stadium concert to start, then stop, then start again.

This one was different. As you might know, Pearl Jam has been opening the majority of their shows in the past few years with songs like "Pendulum," "Release," "Long Road," "Low Light," "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town," "Wash" -- all fine songs, but none of which brought thunder like the opening notes of "Given to Fly," an electric strike for the 40,000 who, by the looks of Wrigley Field, told their Uber driver to come back later. This show was on.

"And he still gives his love, he just gives it away," Eddie Vedder sang as the rain poured down. "The love he receives is the love that is saved." A surreal moment for many, I'm sure. You go from asking yourself, "will this show get canceled?" to "is this really happening?" Sounds like hyperbole, I know, but for me, it's going to stick as one of those concert memories that is untradeable, untouchable in my mind. So much that, if lightning had struck Wrigley Field at that very moment, at that was all we got, it would have been enough.

But is it really ever enough?

This was Pearl Jam's fifth show at Wrigley Field since 2013, and they have no problem selling the thing out. And it's not like the hipsters are demanding to see them. Their fans, who still line up days before the show to get the spots in the general admission pit, are more or less the ones who rewound cassettes in their youth, and were awestruck by the compact disc. Their relationship with experiencing music has changed. Neither format can now be played in newer cars.

A Pearl Jam concert is still Christmas morning -- it has not been passed by. A Pearl Jam concert is tradition that won't be run off by technology (or, for that matter, lightning). It's definitely not enough and never will be enough to only stream their tunes on Spotify.

It's almost enough when they open a show at Wrigley Field with "Given To Fly," "Why Go," and "Go."

"Never acted up before," Vedder sang. "Don't go on me now."

Things did not slow down until a cover of The Beatles' "Rain," followed by a cover of Neil Young's "Throw Your Hatred Down," both deeper cuts from legends which set up one of Pearl Jam's own legendary songs, "Even Flow."

And while the masses may come out for songs like "Even Flow," "Alive," "Black," and "Jeremy," it's the performances of "In My Tree," "Immortality," "Come Back," and "Smile" -- the latter played via request from a sign held by the stage -- that keep the die-hards happy.

While this show was "only" two and a half hours (their "normal" shows are well over three hours) because of an extended midnight curfew due to Wrigley being located in a residential area, it's my opinion that no one should have felt short-changed. Length of a show doesn't necessarily fairly represent the quality of show, and when Vedder slammed his guitar to the ground three or four times at the end of the show-closing "Baba O'Riley," somehow, you knew it was time.

Time to go home, but also time to start thinking. Thinking about the next one, whenever that may be.

Pearl Jam. Please, please, please. Don't go on me.

Friday, August 24, 2018

[PHOTOS] Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival at Jones Beach Theater


Joseph Mikos covered the Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival at Jones Beach last weekend. View more of his work here.