The Avett Brothers September 16, 2011

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The Avett Brothers. September 16, 2011.

Ntelos Wireless Pavilion. Charlottesville, VA.

The Avett Brothers delivered the knockout punch to a sold out crowd Friday night on the Charlottesville downtown mall.  With barely enough room to clap your hands, fans packed into the Ntelos Wireless Pavilion for a second night of highly anticipated music from the high energy band from North Carolina.  Digging even deeper into their repertoire, the Avett Brothers played everything you could have wanted to hear.  From the knee-slapping melodies of I Killed Sally’s Lover to the crowd engaging I & Love & You sing-along, from the new sounds of Once & Future Carpenter to the always emotional Murder in the City.  The Avetts had the crowd at full attention and never let go, and unlike some artists who just come out and perform their songs, The Avett Brothers are a genuine act, every time.  
The band never stands still, sliding and dancing around the stage.  Whether its coming from the banjo, bass or piano, Joe Kwon’s cello, or their heartfelt vocal harmonies, there was always an undeniable energy throughout the show.  From When I Drink to John Prine’s Way Down, from the encore performance of The Ballad Of Love And Hate (video below) to the ever so relevant Blue Ridge Mountain Blues, I think everyone in attendance certainly got their money’s worth Friday night.  Having said that, I can’t wait to see them again tomorrow night at HFStival!!

  • The Avett Brothers - The Ballad Of Love And Hate

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  • Seth Avett, feeling it.  Photo by BlueSkyCampfires.

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  • A brotherly duet, unplugged.  Photo by BlueSkyCampfires.

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  • Joe Kwon on cello.  Photo by BlueSkyCampfires.

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  • Scott Avett on piano.  Photo by BlueSkyCampfires.

For more Avett Brothers concert photos visit BlueSkyCampfires on Flickr.

HFStival - September 17, 2011

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HFStival. September 17, 2011

Merriweather Post Pavilion. Columbia, Maryland.

With the revival of famed Rock & Roll radio station WHFS, came the return of the HFStival.  20 bands on 2 stages.  Main stage acts included Jimmie’s Chicken Shack, Clutch, Dr. Dog, Flogging Molly, and The Avett Brothers.  There was a ‘Locals Only’ stage behind the lawn area for, you guessed it, local acts.

The festival wasn’t as large, or largely attended as it used to be, lets just say that. The music was great but the atmosphere didn’t match. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to be able to retreat from my blanket to watch bands like Pasadena on the local stage and come back to the lawn without missing a second of the mainstage acts. Once I was able to adjust to the all-to-real feeling of being one of the only people there, I was really digging a lot of what I heard. The overcast skies and scattered raindrops never interrupted what turned into a good flow of music throughout the day and night.

Jimmie’s Chicken Shack cranked out classics like Lazy Boy Dash and Do Right. Jimmie sounded the same as the first time I saw him live over 10 years ago, which was great. This was my first time seeing Clutch, I’m a fan now, ahahaa. Dr. Dog delivered a thick sound that got the crowd going and set the stage for the rest of the night. When Flogging Molly got on stage the sun was down, the lights were on, and people were dancing all around me.

Headlining the night, The Avett Brothers, and for the third consecutive night in a row, one right after the other, I was blown away. The songs are great, the energy is great, I really can’t say enough good things about seeing these guys live. The dynamics they bring to the stage take every song to the next level. They connect with the crowd, you are part of the show, it feels like they are singing just to you, ahahaa. One night they played Shame with the whole band, one night was just the brothers with one guitar, both incredible. I really appreciate their ability to stretch the songs in so many directions. I liked when they played Paranoia in B flat Major and the whole crowd came in on cue for the la-la-la’s at the end. I had to sit down for Murder In The City, ahahaa. When they dropped in Colorshow at the end, which you should know was my first Avett Brothers favorite song, and then closed the night with I and Love and You, I smiled to myself thinking how good a decision it was on my part to see these guys three nights in a row, ahahaa.

HFStival 2011. Music saved the day.

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  • The Avett Brothers. Scott and Seth.

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  • Flogging Molly in full stride. Cheers.

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  • Jimmie’s Chicken Shack doing it right.

For more HFStival concert photos visit BlueSkyCampfires on Flickr.

Radiohead - June 2012

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June 3, 2012. Verizon Center. Washington, DC.

June 13, 2012. Susquehanna Bank Center. Camden, NJ.

Radiohead is good, like really good, like amazing good. The little band from England has been playing for over 20 years and they’re still getting better. It’s just silly. The music is constantly evolving and developing and growing. And when you see them live and they make all those crazy noises come together, like I said, it’s amazing.

Thom Yorke was electric. He appeared more youthful and spirited than ever, dancing and moving around the stage. The energy was high and the crowds were engaged. The setlists covered everything but Pablo Honey. Nothing was off the menu; AirbagMorning Mr. MagpieYou and Whose Army?, and even the b-side Meeting In The Aisle. To open the second encore in DC, Thom came back out with guitarist Johnny Greenwood for a beautiful version of Give Up The Ghost. Yorke used a loop pedal to sing 4-part harmonies with himself while plucking along on acoustic guitar. It was the highlight of the show for me, and when the moment repeated itself in the first encore in Jersey, I was ready.

Every Radiohead fan has their favorite songs, personally, I love them all, ahahaa. Even if they played the same exact set in Jersey I wouldn’t have complained, but they didn’t. This time they threw in Like Spinning PlatesIdioteque, an especially beautiful version of Nude, and House Of Cards during the encore.  The night ended with a taste of True Love Waits into Everything In Its Right Place. I need to catch my breath just talking about it again.

They must have had a dozen cameras on stage strategically located in and around band members and their instruments. All the cameras were feeding monitors hanging above the stage. The square screens would rotate and hang from different heights and positions for different songs, and were of course always synchronized with the lights. It was an impressive production. And as cool as all the video screens and bright lights were, it was all about Radiohead. Put them on stage with no screens and no lights and BlueSkyCampfires will still be waiting in line for a ticket.

  • Radiohead - Give Up The Ghost

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  • Radiohead in Washington, DC. Photo by BlueSkyCampfires.

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  • Thom Yorke on guitar. Photo by BlueSkyCampfires.

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  • The complete Radiohead experience. Photo by BlueSkyCampfires.
Beirut - October 25, 2011

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Beirut. October 25, 2011.

The National. Richmond, VA.

After years of failed efforts I was finally on my way to see Beirut, live at The National in Richmond. Previous shows were sold out, canceled, or my day job got in the way. I’ve been looking forward to this night since the first time I heard the The Gulag Orkestar five years ago. Expectations were high but Zach Condon and band far exceeded my wildest dreams and then some. I’ll be humming horn riffs in the shower for days, ahahaa.

Maybe Beirut is that good, maybe the sound engineer had a career night, or maybe BlueSkyCampfires can just pick a good show, I don’t know, but they sounded fantastic. Drums, ukulele, accordion, bass, lead vocals and back-up vocals, horns, horns, and horns; everything fit together perfectly. The whole band was on point. The setlist reflected the entire discography from The Gulag Orkestar to The Flying Club Cup to Beirut’s newest album, The Rip Tide. They played everything you could possibly want them to play, and better than you ever thought they could play it.

Condon stood in the center with horns to his left, drums to his back, and bass and accordion to his right, but the sound came from everywhere. I still can’t get over how tight they sounded, especially when all three horn players came in together. Condon’s vocals are convincing. He seemed comfortable and energized, engaging in playful between-song banter with the crowd. Whether he was singing, strumming the ukulele, or blowing the trumpet, he owned the stage.

The determining factor though, was the horns, they really did it for me. They sounded incredible. Every note conveyed so much emotion. The mixture of piano or accordion, the energetic slap of the bass, the timely drum beat, the fusion of vocals, trumpets, trombones and tubas, it all comes together to form the unique sound that fans have been falling in love with for years; Beirut.

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  • Zach on vocals.  Photo by BlueSkyCampfires.

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  • Zach on ukulele.  Photo by BlueSkyCampfires.

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  • Paul Collins (bass) & Perrin Cloutier (accordion). Photo by BlueSkyCampfires.

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  • Beirut under the lights. Photo by BlueSkyCampfires.

For more concert photos visit BlueSkyCampfires on Flickr.

The Mynabirds - September 2, 2012

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The Mynabirds. September 2, 2012.

Rock and Roll Hotel. Washington, DC.

So the future is 5 days later. The Mynabirds are headlining the Rock and Roll Hotel in DC. Frontwoman Laura Burhenn, a western Maryland native, is coming home. Only a few years earlier Burhenn relocated to Omaha, Nebraska to start The Mynabirds, and now the band is touring in support of their sophomore album, Generals. 

The Mynabirds are easy to like, especially after you see them. Burhenn and backup vocalist, Rebecca Marie Miller, stand out in front on small wooden platforms stomping and clapping and singing like it’s nobody’s business. The protest songs turned love songs turned dance songs will have you humming along before you even know the words. “I try to ride the line between, this is politics, but at the same time, this is about me and you, this is a love song, or this is about our relationship as human beings”, says Burhenn, “I want to feel connected to everybody around me, and I want to feel like we can actually, there’s hope for us to do something better than what we have, and to achieve something, and to have something better than what we already have.”

The set opened with Karma Debt and Wolf Mother, then followed with Let The Record Go and Buffalo Flower. The tempo was high, the energy was high, The Mynabirds were soaring. Laura’s performance of Fallen Doves, for only the second time ever, was chilling. A climactic three song stretch closed out the set; Generals, Disarm, and Body Of Work. Disarm has been stuck in my head since the Okkervil River show. I keep singing, ‘my love…’, then bobbing my head when I don’t know the words. Then they go into this harmonious 'oooh, oooh’ part, it’s pretty catchy. It’ll be in your head too, watch. In the encore they pulled out What We Gained In The Fire, the title track of sorts from their first album, featuring Miller on trumpet. Burhenn thanked the crowd, encouraged everyone to vote, and then it was over.

I’m still humming Disarm, ahahaa.

Once you fall in love with the melodies and the hooks, we’ll really knock your socks off by introducing you to the mastermind behind them, Laura Burhenn. The Mynabirds singer sat down with BlueSkyCampfires for a conversation about music, love, and the world we all live in. Don’t miss Laura’s interview and more Mynabirds concert footage coming soon on BlueSkyCampfires’ new series, The Campfire Sessions.

  • The Mynabirds - Fallen Doves

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  • The Mynabirds. Photo by BlueSkyCampfires.
What we talk about peace and love, but it’s all mouth. But actually it’s very hard to do it. I find it’s so much easier through musical notes, musically to reach the heart, and I feel the communication. I wish it was possible to relate the same thing without music, but I find it very hard. I’m seeing people trying their best by giving lectures and so many talks and things, but its not really achieving much. So you and I have more advantage.
—  Ravi Shankar’s reply to George Harrison asking, “What do you think we should be doing to make our lives better?”
How To Train Your Dragon - July 22, 2012

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How To Train Your Dragon.  July 22, 2012.

Verizon Center.  Washington, DC.

Any one else might have felt out place. When the first dragon flew out the kid next to me started flapping his arms, slapping me with every flap of his official How To Train A Dragon dragon wings. I should have bought stock in this show, every kid was holding toy dragons, wearing dragon wings and dragon hats, or plastic viking armor with blinking swords. We’ll just say merchandise sales seemed to be going well. If you haven’t already seen the Dream Works animated film, How To Train Your Dragon, see it. If you have a chance to go see the How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular, see it.

I don’t want to give the whole story away, but it would be difficult not to mention something about the Vikings and the dragons, Hiccup and Toothless. Fun for the whole family, that’s what I say. No matter how much more mature we’re supposed to get with age, I’m still as easily amused and entertained as ever. When I was a kid there would have been a few actors running around in dragon costumes flailing their arms and pretending to breathe fire. Now the dragons are 100 feet long and are flying through the air. It was awesome.

The production was like nothing I’ve seen before. The entire floor of the Verizon Center was the stage, and with the use of a huge wall, lights, projectors, harnesses and suspension cables, the stage doubled in size. The music, lighting, special effects, the acrobatics and stunts, the actors and dragons, everything was right on. I watched with childlike wonder, ooohing and ahhhing, and even cheering out loud when the moment called for it. More than anything though, I remember walking away thinking how cool it would be to have a pet dragon, ahahaa. 

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  • Moonlighting with Toothless. Photo by BlueSkyCampfires.

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  • Be the dragon. Photo by BlueSkyCampfires.
Jeff Mangum - January 30, 2012

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Jeff Mangum. January 30, 2012.

Memorial Hall. Chapel Hill, NC.

BlueSkyCampfires was back on the road Monday night for our third and final installment of Jeff Mangum’s magical twenty-twelve tour. For years it was unthinkable, unfathomable, a hope, a prayer, a dream. Well let me tell you it’s happening. I was there, I heard it, I saw it. Jeff Mangum bears his soul performing all the greatest songs from the Neutral Milk Hotel catalog, solo, on acoustic. He gets better with every song and every show, in different venues in front of different faces, honing a performance for the ages.

He opened with Two-Headed Boy, Part 2, Holland, 1945, and Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone. He played Engine, Little Birds, and all 3 parts of The King of Carrot Flowers straight through. Then came Ghost (audio below), Naomi which went straight into April 8, Oh Comely, and then Two-Headed Boy straight into The Fool. In the encore he played Song Against Sex (audio below) and In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Unbelievable. Mangum was in full stride from beginning to end.

One of the highlights of each show have been the unique arrangements created by friends and former bandmates joining Mangum on stage for select songs. Tonight’s show brought back Neutral Milk Hotel’s Scott Spillane and fellow musicians Andrew Rieger and Laura Carter. Outside of another rousing rendition of The Fool, which featured two more mystery guests and a second trumpet for good measure, the group’s most chilling contribution came from their droning horns on April 8. The song climaxes with the horns blazing and Jeff strumming away on guitar and emptying his lungs on some of the most haunting notes he hit all night.

Before Jeff’s set they brought out his guitars, one by one, and circled them around his chair. The buzz in the crowd grew steadily between the the third and fourth guitars and erupted when Mangum followed close behind the fourth ready to play. This is the epitome of BlueSkyCampfires. The intimate, unplugged performance. The artist and the song, stripped down and exposed, direct and real.

At Jeff’s request there was no photography or video recording, so the only couple shots I have of the stage are after Jeff walked off or outside the venue. I’m satisfied with the image of the guitars around his chair, my memory and imagination can fill in the rest, not to mention the audio recording of the entire show. Mangum had commented on previous nights that he didn’t mind audio recording, so this time around we decided to give it a try. We’ve posted a few of our favorites for your listening pleasure. Thank you Jeff.

  • Jeff Mangum - Song Against Sex.

  • Jeff Mangum - Ghost.

For more audio from this show visit BlueSkyCampfires on YouTube.

Jeff Mangum - October 3, 2011

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Jeff Mangum. October 3, 2011.

Paramount Theater. Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Without offering explanation of where he’s been, I’ll only say that Jeff Mangum is back! After an extended hiatus dating back to the late 90’s, the Neutral Milk Hotel frontman has played only a handful of shows in recent years. The Sunday night show at the famed Asbury Park’s Paramount Theater was surrounded by a lot of excitement and anticipation. Fans poured into the Jersey Shore venue from all over the country. The appreciative and mostly respectful crowd greeted Jeff warmly as he came on stage and planted himself inside a circle of 4 acoustic guitars. We all dreamed about it and now it was happening, a night with Jeff Mangum and four acoustic guitars, a rock & roll fairy tale.

I’m a huge Neutral Milk Hotel fan. They’ve never had a bad song, Mangum could play anything and I’d walk away happy. But that’s not what happened. Instead, as if reading my mind, Mangum performed every song I could think of. He played the classic In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone, and Oh Comely. He even played April 8th with the accompaniment of A Hawk And A Hacksaw, who opened for Mangum earlier that evening.

And it just kept getting better. Mangum seemed comfortable and at ease, ready to play his music, and he sounded great. He was conversational between songs, from offering his opinion of Wall Street to answering questions from the crowd, he was smiling throughout. In one stretch he played through all three parts of The King Of Carrot Flowers, Little Birds for only the 2nd time ever, Ghost, and Engine to close out the set. It was truly something special.

The crowd stood clapping and cheering until he came back out for a small encore. He sat back down and dove right into Two-Headed Boy, which was amazing, and on the final sustaining chord he kept his hand raised high in the air. A few breathes later a bass drum opened up from off stage, and as the accordian and horns came in you could see the members of A Hawk And A Hacksaw walking onto the stage for the final song of the night, the all-instrumental The Fool. It was perfect. That song puts me in a beautiful place, and to finish the night on such uplifting notes was just so much more than I could have hoped for. I stood staring at the stage for a few minutes as the crowd pushed through the exits. It was like waking up from a dream, I can’t believe that just happened. Like I said, Jeff Mangum is back.

The next night Mangum took to the streets of New York for a surprise performance at the Occupy Wall Street protest in lower Manhattan. The increasingly more frequent thought that I will get to see Jeff play again is making me smile even now as I write this. I recommend starting at the 1:05 mark and then sitting back for the show.

  • Jeff Mangum playing and spinning, encouraging everyone to sing along.