music friday: pink, julia michaels, billie eilish

Last.fm tracks my Spotify listening, and a couple of days ago, they gave me my April listening report. Some of it was obvious ... I listened to a lot of Pink, who we saw in concert in the middle of the month. My most played track was "Walk Me Home" from her new album, Hurts 2B Human, and a new video of that song, featuring the Sink the Pink collective, has been released:

Under a set of "discovery" tables, I found that my personal new discovery was Julia Michaels, which has another Pink connection, as she was the opening act at the recent concert. Here is the Michaels track I played the most in April, which happens to also be the song she opened with at the concert (and which is coincidentally called "Pink"):

Finally, there is the "Mainstream-o-meter", which compares your top artist of the month against the overall top artist. I got 53%, whatever that means, largely because I played a lot of Billie Eilish. I suppose I should be proud that at 65, I'm still listening to new artists like Michaels and Eilish, but the truth is, I had no idea how popular they already are ... "new to me" doesn't necessarily mean "new to everyone". Here is Eilish with "bad guy" ... I think she looks like a 17-year-old Aubrey Plaza in this video:

Bonus: the tables say Kris Rodgers & The Dirty Gems were my most obscure artist of the month.


pink #6

This was our second time seeing Pink on her Beautiful Trauma tour, with the two shows separated by 11 months. Which is about right ... her shows are locked into the spectacle, so she can't really change things around much from show to show. There were only two changes to the setlist, with songs from her soon-to-be-released new album replacing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and one of her old tunes. One particular highlight this time came from the people who sat directly in front of us: a woman and her daughter, who will be 8 at the end of the week. Mom said they'd been to see Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, and the squirt really enjoyed going to shows. They made quite a team, dancing happily. I told Mom that I first saw Pink "-9 years" before the daughter was born. The kid brought her doll with her, which was darling as could be. She tuckered out at the end, but kudos to both Mom and Kid for their exuberance.

I'm going to quote a bit from my post on last year's show, because it's still relevant, and because it raises something I want to reiterate:

As for the band, it must matter that the same people have been in her band for ... I don't know, at least a decade. They aren't "A Band", they are "The Band" ... they don't go on tour as themselves when Pink isn't around. They are working musicians who play with many other artists. If you think about singers you've watched for a long time, I don't think you'd find many examples where the backup group is mostly unchanged. But these folks have backed Pink on tour long enough that they sound just like a "real" band.

I stand by those words. I did a little research. In almost every case, the band has been touring with her at least since the 2009 Funhouse tour. Just to name the ones I am sure of, there are the vocalists, Jenny Douglas and Stacy Campbell ... Douglas goes back to the I'm Not Dead tour of 2006-7. There's the rhythm section, Mark Schulman on drums and Eva Gardner on bass. Jessy Greene takes care of violin, viola, and vocals. Adriana Balic, who goes way back but missed a tour after she had a kid, on keyboards, guitar, vocals. Justin Derrico, the hot-shit geetar player. I don't mean to leave anyone out, but a couple have been around a bit less than the rest. There are also the dancers, who for the most part are more anonymous to me but many of whom have also been on multiple tours with Pink.

Reading Brian Hiatt's fine new book, Bruce Springsteen: The Stories Behind the Songs, I realized a truth that wasn't really a surprise, that since Tunnel of Love in the late-70s, Bruce has only rarely gone into the studio with the full E Street Band. That's how they made The River, but that's no longer how he makes albums. And, of course, Bruce has done tours without that band. But they are closely associated with each other ... the E Street Band has a recognizable identity, we think of them as being tied to Bruce. Many of them have solo careers, Max Weinberg spent many years as a late-night band leader, Steve Van Zandt was a regular on The Sopranos. But when the whole gang tours, it's Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band.

I'm not sure about other solo artists, but I feel like their tour bands change from year to year. Yet here is Pink, with a group so consistent that they could almost be billed a la the E Streeters. They are musicians for hire, sure ... Eva Gardner has a new album out, a couple of these folks are on shows like The Voice, and in the time-honored tradition of backup singers, Stacy and Jenny are always working with someone. Drummer Schulman even has a side-career as a motivational speaker. But it's been a long time since we've seen much in the way of changes in Pink's band. My wife saw her for the first time in 2009, and to her, the band has always been pretty much the same. The first two shows I saw, going back to 2002, had different musicians, but those were a long time ago.

Truthfully, for all they add to the concerts, Pink's band aren't as essential to the show as the E Street Band is to Bruce shows. But they keep coming back, Pink keeps asking them back, and they all seem to be having great time. It's fun to see, over the years.

I should offer another snippet from last year, since it was true once again last night. "Special mention to the opening act, KidCutUp, a DJ who did about 40 minutes and had the Arena dancing and bopping ... odd, but the DJ was one of the best opening acts I've seen."

Finally, Julia Michaels did a set. She is known for writing songs for top pop stars. Her first single, "Issues", went triple-platinum. She was energetic, although my wife felt her band tended to overwhelm Michaels' offerings.

Here is a photo my wife took of "Revenge", the song that features Eminem both on vocals and, in concert, as a giant balloon. If you follow "Eminem's" line of vision, you'll see Pink floating in the air underneath a bunch of lights, just before she flies over to the balloon and punches it out.

Eminem vs. pink


music friday: women

Earlier this week, NPR posted a list of the 150 greatest albums made by women. It's a discussion starter, and it definitely worked ... people are coming up with "the next 150", "150 albums by men that sucked", and the like.

The list was accompanied by a great essay by Ann Powers, "A New Canon: In Pop Music, Women Belong At The Center Of The Story", which I highly recommend. I was inspired to make a short list of my own. Here are ten songs by women ... according to Last.fm, these are songs I've listened to lately:

Fleetwood Mac, "I Don't Want to Know"

Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi"

Aretha Franklin, "Chain of Fools"

Cowboy Junkies, "Sweet Jane"

Cyndi Lauper, "Time After Time"

The Ronettes, "Be My Baby"

Lucinda Williams, "Are You Alright?"

Sleater-Kinney, "Modern Girl"

Ella Fitzgerald, "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart"

Pink, "Just Give Me a Reason"

[Edited to add Spotify playlist]


music friday: middle class streaming bandwidth

Hat tip for this week’s Music Friday goes to Nick Farruggia, who posted this in the Expert Witness FB group:

You die and go to Heaven. Things are pretty sweet, but the Koch brothers are still in charge. You're granted Middle Class Streaming Bandwidth, which means you can only listen to three artists from each decade, 1950-2010. "When you stop to consider it, that's unbelievably generous. 21 partial discographies!" Who ya got?

It’s something of a desert-island disc thing, only way more complicated. I’m not going to just pick my 21 favorites, because I have to consider that this is all I will listen to for eternity. I’ll want to mix things up a bit. Also, I’ll probably change my mind on a lot of these choices before this even gets posted. Here goes ...

1950s: Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. Sample: “Johnny B. Goode

1960s: The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, The Velvet Underground. Sample: “Dr. Feelgood”

1970s: Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, Patti Smith. Sample: “Because the Night” and “Because the Night

1980s: Prince, Hüsker Dü, Madonna. Sample: “Dirty Mind

1990s: Sleater-Kinney, Nirvana, Tupac. Sample: “One More Hour

2000s: Pink, Eminem, The Gossip. Sample: “Sober”

2010s: Kendrick Lamar, Adele, Chantel McGregor. Sample: “Voodoo Child


the truth about love

Between opening act The Hives and the appearance of Pink, a friend and fellow Bruce fan surprised me … he was sitting a few rows behind us. He was pretty excited, this being his first Pink show. He said he especially liked “Glitter in the Air”, and I told him, “spoiler alert, but she’ll sing that tonight”. He added that “Fuckin’ Perfect” is another of his faves, and I said he was in luck, she’d be playing that one, too. Now, Billy and I have been to a lot of Bruce shows ... he’s probably been to ten times as many as I have, overall. He’s used to concerts that have a predetermined structure that includes lots of places where song selections can be changed. So Billy looked at me and asked how I knew she would be singing those songs. “Because,” I told him, “she plays the same songs every night.”

This makes it sound like a Pink concert lacks spontaneity, and it is true, the set list has to be set in stone because of all the “production values”. I mean, at one point, she sang a duet with Nate Ruess on “Just Give Me a Reason”, even though Ruess wasn’t there … he was on a big video screen, though, singing his part as he does on the record. Bruce Springsteen might pull a sign out of the audience, treat it as a request, and tell the band they’re going to play some song they haven’t touched in 20 years, but Pink’s shows are choreographed … there’s no room for those kinds of requests.

It’s one of the remarkable things about Pink that whatever she does, she comes across as a real person. She’s a diva, a pop star, she puts on gargantuan concerts … yet when she talks to us between songs, she’s just Alecia Moore. She may not take requests, but she does comment on the signs, even stopping a few times to autograph one or two. She may have set pieces that are necessarily the same, night after night, but her patter is always off the cuff, and if she’s a perfectionist regarding her own safety during her more acrobatic moments, she’s also able to fluff a lyric in a way that makes her audience love her even more.

A couple of early reviews are out. Jim Harrington, in the Mercury News, wrote, “Pink is the new gold standard. … The singer, who now sports short blonde hair and favors outfits that show off her infomercial-worthy ripped stomach muscles, is absolutely magnetic onstage. … after watching the Truth About Love Tour, I can honestly say that few, if any, performers deliver better pop spectacles than Pink.” And here’s Maureen Coulter of Metroactive: “While she’s impressive on the radio or in videos, it’s hard to truly appreciate Pink until you’ve seen her live. The way she effortlessly busts out tear-jerking ballads, glides across the stage as she dances and banters with the crowd while genuinely appearing to have a good time is something you don’t see with just any Clive Davis-anointed singer.”

Before we saw Pink in 2009, I’d never been to a hyped-up, big-production pop star concert. Now I’ve been to two. The first time, I wondered if I was overrating the show because the extravaganza was new to me, but that wasn’t the situation last night, and I still thought it was a wonderful concert. Not everything worked … the show uses a game-show framing device that was pretty annoying (although, just before the show began, it resulted in Robin and I getting our mugs on the video screen when the “host” came over to our seats). Because Pink changes costumes so often, and because so many of the set pieces require special setups, there needs to be something going on when the star leaves the stage for a bit. In ‘09, this was mostly covered by the band vamping at the end of songs, perhaps most notably when guitarist Justin Derrico channeled his inner Jimmy Page on “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”. Pink deserves credit for trying something creative to fill in those gaps … I just don’t think it worked this time around.

For me, the show really hit its groove with “Try”. It began with Pink singing while twirling in the air. Her acrobatics are especially appropriate in songs like this, about rising above and trying again. Eventually she segued into a version of the dance in the “Try” video. She followed that with her only cover of the night, Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”, which smoldered. (http://youtu.be/nzNHsreiyfA) It was subdued … the best effect was the old-school microphone that was only a prop, but gave the performance the feel of, I don’t know, Billie Holiday? Then came the afore-mentioned “duet” with Nate Ruess, and the new song, “All We All We Are” (http://youtu.be/LSmOmFPDgsI).

Still, her reputation as a live performer demanded certain things, and we got one of them with the latest version of “Sober”, another song that works well within the acrobatic context (“I’m safe up high, nothing can touch me”):

She then put the glitz aside for quiet versions of “Family Portrait”, “Who Knew”, and “Fuckin’ Perfect”, the latter of which eventually erupted. At which point, she did an oldies medley. The first time I saw her, in 2002, she did a Janis Joplin medley. The last time I saw her, she covered the Divinyls, Queen, Led Zeppelin, and Gnarls Barkley. This time, she did her own oldies, trotting out the three hit singles from her debut album, Can’t Take Me Home. It’s hard to imagine too many of the fans who put two of those songs in the top five on the R&B charts (one made #1) would have enjoyed the loud hard rock that Pink has favored for many years, but it was nice to see her give a shout out to her past. Then two recent hits, and she was gone.

The first encore, “So What”, featured a very simple acrobatic effect: Pink got into a harness and flew all around the arena like Peter Pan. (http://youtu.be/pBzxLGzcjFs) Our seats were in the lower deck, but in the corner farthest from the stage, yet at one point, she was only a few rows from us. She finished with a reprise of her performance of “Glitter in the Air” from the last tour, and I don’t think anyone was sorry that she used the same lovely, watery moves.

There seemed to be a few more men in the crowd than the last time, but we weren’t very loud … the cheers and screams were high-pitched enough that you knew who Pink’s core audience was. The woman who sat in front us was … well, I’m bad at this, I’ll guess late-60s. It was her first Pink show, and she’d come alone … she tried to get her niece to accompany her, but the youngster was away at college.

I don’t like to brag about the good old days … one of the best things about Bruce Springsteen’s late-career concerts are that they are good enough to match up to the legendary 1978 tour, so there’s no more “I was there” talk. But I have to point out that the first two times I saw Pink (2002 and 2006), it was in smaller venues and there wasn’t a lot of “show”. I’m not saying it was “better” seeing her at the Fillmore, although given her affinity for Janis Joplin, there was some sweetness to the idea, which she acknowledged. I can say that last night, Pink was pretty close to me for 20 seconds or so, but at the Fillmore, she was even closer, for the entire concert. It is too easy to get caught up in the amazing circus-like atmosphere of the last couple of tours, and thus I can say with certainty that I am glad I got to see her when she was just a singer at the Fillmore. But I can’t complain, or slip too far into nostalgia mode, because these big concerts are terrific: thoughtful, overwhelming, touching, thrilling. It says something that the two songs last night that brought tears to my eyes were both songs that Pink performed at least partly while dangling in the air (“Try” and “Sober”). Pink crosses so many barriers in her music (this is the person, after all, who followed her gazillion-selling hit, Missundaztood, by cutting an album with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong), and in her concerts, where she can sing a song with a quiet piano accompaniment, scream in front of her rockin’ band, and then touch the heart while flying. The only question remaining is one Ann Powers asked a couple of years ago: why isn’t she a bigger star? It’s all relative … she is a big star, to be sure. But it’s not clear than anyone outside of her hardcore fans know this, even though there are a lot of those fans. Like me, for instance.


music friday: pink

Next Monday we’ll see Pink (4th time for me, 2nd for Robin). As with her music, Pink’s stage shows have evolved over the years. The first time I saw her was in 2002, at the Warfield, which seats around 2,300. This was the first tour she headlined, in support of Missundaztood. I wrote at the time:

Last night, Pink sang the words you can read down below from "Just Like a Pill," while a gazillion screaming 14-year-old girls sang along at the tops of their lungs … I'm not 14 years old, I'm not a girl ... I'm a Lecturer at a prestigious university, my kids are both enough older than Pink that they weren't interested in attending the concert. But I started singing along, too, and got more than one tear in my eye as we all sang:

I'll think I'll get out of here
Where I can run just as fast as I can
To the middle of nowhere
To the middle of my frustrated fears

Here is “Just Like a Pill” from 2002:

In 2006, Pink opened her “I’m Not Dead” tour at the Fillmore in San Francisco, which holds about half as many people as the Warfield. It was a great chance to see Pink up close and personal:

Pink herself was very winning, showing off her vocal chops, kidding with the audience, promoting gay rights and dissing George Bush, and just having a good time. Her audience was completely in love with her ... there were a lot of young girls there, young women as well, as is appropriate, and it was their show, they knew every song and sang every lyric. They even knew every word to 4 Non Blonde's "What's Up," which Pink claims as her own. No matter how corny the song, or Pink's delivery of the same, it's quite a moment when all those youngsters throw the peace sign in the air and sing "hey hey hey hey, what's going on?" In fact, it's this element of pop community that I like best about Pink concerts.

Here is “What’s Up” from 2006:

While Pink had always said she enjoyed the small venues, the time came when she moved to the arenas. In 2009, her stage show became as massive as the arena itself. The Fillmore was a distant memory, but the result was impressive:

When I saw Pink seven years ago, there were a lot of men my age, taking their daughters to the concert. In 2009, those daughters are grown up, and don’t need Daddy along any more. So there weren’t many Dads. There weren’t a lot of men, period … at least one men’s room was transformed into a women’s room for the night. A rough guess of the makeup of the crowd would be 90% female, with a sizable lesbian contingent. The cheering was very high-pitched, another sign that the gender split was pretty extreme. It was also very loud … almost Beatlemania-esque at times.

Bottom line? I don’t know that I’ve ever had more fun at a concert in my life.

Here is “Glitter in the Air”:

 

Now the new tour is upon us. Her most recent album, The Truth About Love, is arguably her best, and based on the evidence from the opening night, she’s got more acrobatics up her sleeve. Which will leave me with mouth wide open, I’m sure. Still, it’s nice to remember that Pink and her band can rock. This is “Slut Like You” (and it’s always nice to hear a pop star proudly call herself a feminist):


blow me

Pink has a new single out, and she made a brief stop on The Today Show to promote it. She was asked how having a baby had changed her life, and she said it certainly had, but that it hadn’t changed her music. Well, she did admit that she was more aware of the cursing now.

Just in case you’re worried that this will slow Pink down, keep in mind that her new single is called “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)”. The chorus features the word “shit” four times, and occurs three times during the song. Not to mention how often the phrase “blow me” appears.


mercury news chimes in

First review is in, from Jim Harrington at the Mercury-News:

Pink, you can color me surprised.

Who knew that the pop-rocker could deliver a concert as thoroughly entertaining as the one she put on Thursday night at the HP Pavilion in San Jose? …

Over the course of 100 minutes and 20-plus songs, the 30-year-old vocalist succeeded in putting on a true pop spectacle that was as good as any local crowds have seen this year….

Producing a major pop spectacle that adds to, but never overshadows, the music is a mighty rare feat. And that’s exactly what Pink accomplished. I had no idea she could pull it off, but I’ll expecting more of the same the next time Pink comes to town.


pink in san jose

Better get a few words down before I go to bed.

This was one of the best shows I have ever attended, and I’ve been going to shows for more than 40 years (and had seen Pink twice before, as well). There are reasons why I might overrate it … basically, I’ve never been to a show like this, so I was perhaps more impressed by the spectacle than I would have been if I was used to this type of concert. Think pop star with hard-rock roots, then toss in Cirque du Soleil, and you’ve got something of the idea.

Even though the show was as expected if you’d read about earlier stops on the tour, seeing it live was a lot better than watching on YouTube. The spectacle had a point … it wasn’t like a Bruce Springsteen concert where a calliope pops up to start the show and then disappears for the rest of the night. This tour supports the Funhouse album, so the concert included clowns and scary inflatable demons and trapeze work and aerial ballets. Meanwhile, Pink just rocked the house … she’s always been a confident performer, but the bigger stage really gave her room to strut. Yes, seeing her at the Fillmore was more intimate and in some ways better. But she pulled off the extravaganza like she was born to do it.

She played a lot of Funhouse, and a handful of her earlier hits. The crowd loved them all. She did her acoustic segment … she sang while spinning in the air (a separated shoulder prevented her from doing the kind of trapeze work we saw at the VMAs, but otherwise she was fine) … she changed costumes … she farted around … she screwed up a song, allowing her to remind us she wasn’t lipsyncing … she was good with the rockers, good with the ballads, good with the pop stuff.

And the covers! “I Touch Myself” worked well visually … she lay on a tricked out couch with holes underneath, a guy hid under the couch, and four hands roved over her body as she sang. The arrangement wasn’t much, though. She fared much better with Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” fighting Robert Plant to a draw. Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” was an appropriate end to the main set. And most amazing of all was “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I wouldn’t have thought it possible to bring this off, but they did, and very well. They did all the parts … this matters, since apparently even Queen wasn’t able to do all the parts in a live setting. The crowd went bonkers … they knew all the words and sang along throughout.

And it’s clear that Pink is nothing if not brazen. Not many singers would pit themselves against the memories of Robert Plant AND Freddie Mercury, but Pink killed, just as she did in past tours in covering Janis Joplin.

And then there was the audience. When I saw Pink seven years ago, there were a lot of men my age, taking their daughters to the concert. In 2009, those daughters are grown up, and don’t need Daddy along any more. So there weren’t many Dads. There weren’t a lot of men, period … at least one men’s room was transformed into a women’s room for the night. A rough guess of the makeup of the crowd would be 90% female, with a sizable lesbian contingent. The cheering was very high-pitched, another sign that the gender split was pretty extreme. It was also very loud … almost Beatlemania-esque at times.

Bottom line? I don’t know that I’ve ever had more fun at a concert in my life.