I went on a concert marathon for two weeks to say the least. Six shows in twelve days, which means I averaged about one show every other other day. To many, this sounds absolutely absurd and overboard, but if they could only understand how getting your fix from seeing your favorite band or musician perform truly is infectious and addictive. The more I reflect back on the two weeks of tirelessly attending each concert, the more it becomes crystal clear that music has all the addictive properties of a drug…the roller coaster highs, the inspirations, visions, and realizations that transpire, and oftentimes, the eventual comedowns that follow.
These two weeks were a crescendo realization of my music taste in this particular phase of my life. Heavily influenced by older siblings who both grew up fans of Madonna, INXS, and Duran Duran in the 80s, I have generally always had a strong inclination for retro inspired music. However, I recently find myself gravitating to nearly every electro-pop band out there right now. Penguin Prison, AlunaGeorge, St. Lucia are all indicative of the music genres and styles that emerged in the 80s. They mimic hints of new wave, the earliest form of electronica, and possess the dazzle of cheery dance-pop with the dreamy, shimmering synths. While Penguin Prison and St. Lucia more aptly embody the traditional post-disco sound, AlunaGeorge uniquely combines this pop with R&B, hip hop, and house throwbacks as well, creating a fitting blend of the upbeat yet down tempo expressive of the 80s and 90s.
My severe nostalgia and fascination for past decades also help explain my blasts back to the reminiscent sounds and bands of the 80s and 90s. Like every 90s child, I journeyed through the boy band phase with ‘NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. Sadly, Papa Bear wouldn’t let me attend any of their concerts growing up, so when BSB announced their world tour (yes, world), it was my second chance in fulfilling a tucked away, childhood dream.
I’ve previously mentioned the allure of trap after Outside Lands 2013, and It still holds true that I simply cannot think of a more adrenaline-inducing music genre to date. It so aptly combines the intensities of both hip hop and electronic music, and something about the obnoxiously intense bass+drums+hi-hats+synths combo makes it so enveloping and captivating. For all the music lovers who focus on the beats more than the lyrics, this is definitely the genre that puts a tremendous emphasis on the beats, allowing you to lose yourself in the music while making it almost impossible not to move your body and drop it low.
Here are my two cents on the varied range of shows I attended in those two weeks.
Penguin Prison at Neck of the Woods (San Francisco, CA) on Sept 6, 2013 – 6.9/10
The only way I can describe Penguin Prison is that whenever I listen to him, I feel like I’ve stepped into a time machine, been dropped off in the 80s, and taken a little flavor of 2013 back in time with me. Even though my friend was so kind enough to remind me (on multiple occasions) that he was playing a DJ set vs. a live set, I still relished the fact that it sang a different, vintage tune from the present times. For that hour, I felt like I plopped right smack in the middle of an 80s skate night.
Backstreet Boys at Sleep Train Pavilion (Concord, CA) on Sept 8, 2013 – 4.7/10
Every girl in her 20s was screaming her heart out like it was 1999, some going so far as to crying “I’VE LOVED YOU SINCE I WAS A CHILD!!!” during “As Long As You Love Me.” iPhone screens lit up the pavilion as if all the #backstreetboys hashtagging on Instagram would make them relevant again. Sure, my friends and I also indulged in this nostalgic trip down memory lane, but I would have been perfectly content if they had played less of their new material, stuck to the classics like, “I Want It That Way,” and cut out all the talking in between. But hey, that’s just me. Maybe I’m the one who lacks a tasteful ear and eye in spotting the ultimate comeback of the boy band ages?
AlunaGeorge at The Independent (San Francisco, CA) on Sept 11, 2013 – 8.8/10
After months of anticipation and hype from when I first sampled a few tracks and fell in love with their unique sound, I felt AlunaGeorge’s release of Body Music was fairly disappointing. Don’t get me wrong. It has its exceptions like the often remixed “You Know You Like It,” a collaboration with another one of my fave electro-pop duo, Disclosure, on “White Noise” and of course, a remake of Montell Jordan’s classic “This is How We Do It.” And luckily, I do think they made up for this disparity by putting on an incredible live performance. Hearing the tracks live helped me grow a greater appreciation for Aluna’s and George’s individual musical talents that may have not have been fairly captured in the album alone. The cross over of the past to present sounds was also made more apparent. Aluna had amazing stage presence, and even more impressive was that I could have almost mistaken her for lip syncing with how closely her rather exclusive vocals resembled the album recording. Unfortunately, with only 14 songs to showcase, it felt like the show ended too soon. I had hopes that they’d return onstage and play the encore card, but once they walked off, that was it. Even so, the performance made for a very satisfied concert goer that night.
St. Lucia at Rickshaw Stop (San Francisco, CA) on Sept 12, 2013 – 7.9/10
There was a period over the summer when I had their 6 song EP on repeat to get me through a rough patch. The duality of Jean-Philip’s (lead singer) and Patricia’s vocals combined with the synths have such an uplifting, dream-like, peaceful quality. The album cover art accurately depicts just how it transformed my world to one where I was sitting on the lone island of St. Lucia surrounded by nothing but the clear blue ocean and serenity of the waves crashing before me. Moreover, Jean-Philip’s upbringing in Johannesberg, South Africa plays a huge part in the richness of their sound that cascades over each of their tracks. In a live setting, hearing and seeing St. Lucia play my favorites from that #onrepeat period, “All Eyes On You,” “We Got It Wrong,” and “Closer Than This,” brought the same joy and nostalgia of any of my fondest memories. The hipster venue, fully-equipped with foozball and a skee ball machine upstairs, was also the perfect atmosphere for showcasing their talent before they go on tour and open for the big boys, Two Door Cinema Club, at larger venues. The only critique I could pick out was the lack of clarity or precision in their performance. It seemed like Jean-Philip was so enthused that he was oftentimes belting out and overshadowing Patricia’s vocals, which are so key in the overall powdery blend of their sound. Nonetheless, thank you again, Craigslist, for the experience and the memories. They were a real treat to hear live.
Major Lazer at Petco Park Lot (San Diego, CA) on Sept 15, 2013 – 9.5/10
I know I’m already going to see them at Treasure Island next month, but when my friend’s boyfriend clarified her casual mention of an “electric laser show” going on in San Diego and that it was actually a Mad Decent Block Party which called for the label’s best trap and dancehall lineup with Major Lazer, Dillon Francis, Skrillex, Zeds Dead and the like, I literally freaked out. And thank goodness for my friend’s boyfriend, or I may have never let her hear the end of it. We really only made it in time for Major Lazer, but lemmetellya, it was all the hype I’ve heard about their performance and more. To avoid redundancy, it encompassed everything I love about trap that even after sleeping at 1 am, catching a 6:30 am flight back to SF, driving straight to work from the airport and putting in a full day, I would do it all over again. Yeah. They were that good.
Blink-182 at BoxWorks After Party (San Francisco, CA) on Sept 17, 2013 – 5.2/10
Last but not least, it was great to catch Blink-182 after my moments of head banging to “I Miss You” and “All the Small Things” growing up and the telltale wannabe punk phase with the checkered vans and ties on occasion. However, like BSB, what may have been my thing in the 90s or 2000s has remained in the past for a reason. And, although I applaud the band’s energy to rage after all these years, I’m simply just not cut out for head banging anymore.