Concert Review: Janelle Monáe

Performer: Janelle Monáe
Venue: Blue Hills Bank Pavilion
Date: July 21, 2018
Opening Act: St. Beauty

First thing, the unwritten rule that one cannot wear a concert tour t-shirt while at that very concert is now null and void.  Following one of her costume changes while performing at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion in Boston, Janelle Monáe stepped onstage wearing an official Janelle Monáe Dirty Computer 2018 concert tour t-shirt.  One might think of it as product placement, but in the broad themes of acceptance, inclusion, and love expressed at this concert, I think it was another way for Monáe to say be yourself, wear what makes you comfortable, especially is it’s a shirt with a picture of your own face.

Among the crowd of adoring fans there was quite a bit of expression in fashion of clothing that was sparkly, had bold colors, and/or stated brave political messages.  I had the thought before leaving for the concert, “What should I wear to a Janelle Monáe concert?”  Not knowing the answer I settled on something like what I always wear, a short-sleeve, button-down shirt with vertical stripes.  Ironically, some hip young people complimented me on this shirt, saying that they liked the colors.

It was a very accepting audience, and the most diverse crowd I’d ever seen for anything in Boston.  All ages, races, and gender expressions were in attendance. Any fears that I would be too old, white, straight, and cisgender were allayed by the fact there was also an even older white, married couple sitting right in front of us.

Janelle Monáe’s concert was visually striking with Monáe generally performing on stepped pedestal. Her costumes were black and white patterns with flashes of red.  Scenes from the “emotion picture” of Dirty Computer as well as archival footage and more abstract patterns were projected behind the stage.

Monáe was accompanied by a five-piece band which included a stunningly-talented guitarist and drummer and synthesizer players who doubled on the horns, depending on the song.  I cannot find the band members’ names anywhere online, but I suspect they are members of the Wondaland Arts Society and have recordings of their own.  If you know there names let me know in the comments!  Monáe also performed with a quartet of dancers.  I hesitate to call them “back-up dancers” because they’re dancing was integral to the performance, and if anything it looked as if Monáe and the four dancers were a group of friends hanging out and partying.

Highlights of the concert include “Screwed” which became an audience sing-a-long with help from the video projection. Taking a page from Morris Day of The Time, Monáe glanced at her new outfit in a full-length mirror and ascended the podium to a throne to perform “Django Jane.” The ballad “Primetime” concluded with a stunning guitar solo that I felt was the closest I ever will be to seeing Prince perform live in concert.

That solo gave a Monáe and the dancers the time change into the famous “vagina pants” for a performance of “Pynk.”  The enthusiastic crowd even cheered the appearance of Tessa Thompson in the video background. The feeling of inclusion, acceptance, and  love was heightened during the performance of “I Like That” when Monáe took the opportunity to compliment the things she liked about several members of the audience.

Perhaps the stand out performance in a night of excellent music, choreography, and stagecraft came during “Make Me Feel.”  The song began with an extended dance break with backlit Monáe dancing in silhouette. The song ended with Monáe singing “baby, baby, baby” while the horns played “I Got the Feelin'” In one song that’s already the Prince-iest of all of her songs, Janelle Monáe managed to also pay homage to Michael and Janet Jackson, and James Brown, while confidently expressing her own identity.

The party continued with “I Got the Juice” that turned into a dance-off among Monáe  and the dancers.  Then she invited members of the audience to come up a “dance as if there lives depended on it.” For the young folk who made it on the stage it was clear that this was the greatest moment of their lives.  They took turns dancing to wide acclaim, and Monáe assured each of them that “you’ve got the juice.” Monáe closed out the main set with two songs from her Archandroid album, “Cold War,” and a breathtaking performance of “Tightrope.”

For the encore, Monáe returned to the stage to sing a “love letter to America” in “So Afraid” as images of civil rights and Black Lives Matter protests and civil disturbances. This transitioned into “Americans,” a positive affirmation of the American identity of people often denied that.

Due to MBTA construction and a long wait to get in we missed much of the opening set by St. Beauty, a duo from Atlanta who are part of the Wondaland collective, but I like what I heard and will check them out.

Full Set List

Dirty Computer (the recording of this song from the album, complete with Brian Wilson’s harmonies, played as entrance music)
Crazy, Classic, Life
Take a Byte
Django Jane
Electric Lady
I Like That
Don’t Judge Me
Make Me Feel
I Got the Juice
Cold War


So Afraid


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Concert Review: A Tribe Called Red

Artist: A Tribe Called Red
Opener: YVNG PAVL and DJ Big Bear of CLLCTV BOSTON
Venue: The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA
Date: 18 March 2017

It’s been a long time since I posted a concert review because it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a concert.  But I couldn’t miss A Tribe Called Red, one of my favorite musical acts to emerge in recent years.  The three DJs based in Ottawa, Ontario mix electronic music with First Nations’ chants and drums in a style called Electric Pow Wow.  Their music is danceable but lyrically is politically and socially charged with messages from contemporary native communities.

The opening act featured YVNG PAVL and DJ Big Bear of CLLCTV Boston who spun an eclectic mix of dance tracks that got people moving on the floor.  The two DJs worked together at a small soundboard often crossing one another’s hands in a surprisingly intimate manner.  CLLCTV is definitely something I’ll be checking out in the future.

DJ NDN,  Bear Witness, and 2oolman took the stage around 10 pm with a simple set-up on one long table.  Projected behind them were repeating clips of movies, cartoons, and perhaps performances on tv variety shows depicting clichéd and stereotypical Native American images in a way of reappropriation of the “Hollywood Indian.” Unlike A Tribe Called Red albums where the musical tracks are distinct pieces, in the live performance they ran as one long and highly infectious dance mix.  Periodically a pair of dancers would come on stage, received enthusiastically by the audience, performing a mix of native dances and breakdancing. Their clothing similarly mixed traditional native dress with African-American hip hop styles.


The set seemed to be over soon after it begun, but checking the time I realized that nearly two hours had passed.  I long wished to travel to Ottawa to experience the Electronic Pow Wow, but I’m glad that for one night it came closer to home.  It was definitely a performance worth seeing.

A side note, this is the first time I attended a concert at The Sinclair.  It’s an intimate venue, but while small it didn’t feel crushingly crowded despite a sizeable crowd.  There’s a large standing room only space on the floor in front of the stage with a smaller mezzanine with balconies on the sides.  Looking at the list of upcoming performances it looks like The Sinclair has taken over the dearly departed T.T. the Bear’s role of offering famed but not superstar performers from a diversity of genres a place to play in Cambridge.

Bands Better Live Than Studio

I used to go to a lot more concerts and shows than I do now, and when I did I discovered a lot of artists and bands who won me over with their live performances. In some cases their studio recordings didn’t live up to the concerts, or it took me seeing them live to appreciate songs I’d previously only heard as recordings.  Of course there are a lot of bands that put on electrifying concerts that complement their excellent recordings, and some bands who are terrific in the studio but terrible performers, but for this post I’m going to focus on five  bands and artists I find better on stage than recorded.


Indigo Girls – The Indigo Girls were huge among my friends in college and I didn’t get it until a couple of them dragged me to a concert. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have a humble yet inspiring presence and the concerts are all about creating a community.  The album 1200 Curfews captures some of their best work in the live environment.

Bruce Hornsby – People probably remember Hornsby for “The Way It Is” and other hits, and some may remember him touring as a keyboardist with The Grateful Dead, or the many other artists he has written songs for, produced, and appeared as a collaborationist on their recordings.  But Bruce Hornsby on record tells a very limited story.  I lived in his hometown of Williamsburg, VA for several years which meant I often saw him about town, but I also was lucky enough to see him in concert on multiple occasions (including once accompanied by the Virginia Symphony).  Hornsby shows were an exciting event featuring improvisation, rotating vocalists and instrumentalists, and even requests from the audience (and spectators could even request songs not by Hornsby and he and the band would confer for a moment and then play it!).  Here Come the Noise Makers is a good introduction to the live experience.

Arlo Guthrie – Arlo’s has some good tunes on record, but going to a concert is a chance to hear him tell his long, folksy stories.  The first time you hear an Arlo story, you laugh.  The second time, you say to yourself “Wait, I’ve heard this exact same ‘off-the-cuff’ story told the exact same way before.”  The third time (and beyond), you get excited to hear the story as if it was one of your favorite songs.

Black 47 – The very political Irish rock band from the Bronx seemed kind of bland when I first heard them, but then I saw them perform – of all the odd places – at Irish Night at Shea Stadium following a Mets game.  I was won over by their raw energy and rapport with the audience, and saw them several more times.  Black 47 disbanded in 2014 but you can still get a sense of their performance on the excellent Live in New York City album.

Dan Bern – Also known as Bernstein, the folk artist is kind of a Bob Dylan with the weirdness and crudeness cranked up to 11.  His albums never impressed me much but I saw a performance at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA where he got off the stage, sat in the middle of the room and had all the audience circle around, and lead a sing-a-long without the need for amplification.  It remains one of the most powerful concert performances I’ve ever experienced.

So who have you seen live that you would highly recommend?

SingPositive, JP Spring Concert on Sunday, May 19 at 4 pm

Awake My Soul

Join SingPositive, JP! for our Spring Concert!
Sunday, May 19th, 4pm @ St. John’s Episcopal Church (1 Roanoke Ave.)

“Awake, My Soul” – celebrating spring, change, growth, and rebirth
with JP’s biggest intergenerational chorus and band

Songs from Mumford & Sons, Michael Jackson, The Muppets,
James Taylor, “Hair,” Peter, Paul and Mary, and more

Tickets available at the door or by emailing us:
$10/adults, $5/kids ages 2-16.

“Join” our Facebook event and invite your friends!

Beck’s Song Reader Concert

Next week, I will singing in a 50-person kick-ass choir as part of a concert called Beck’s Song Reader Performed Live.  The show is next Thursday, February 28, 2013 at Somerville Theatre in Davis Square (on the Red Line) at 8:00.  Beck released his 2012 album Song Reader entirely as sheet music, and 150 of Boston’s best musicians, dancers, and performance artists will be presenting their interpretations of all 20 songs.  My choir will perform an arrangement of one song a capella and provide accompaniment to four other songs.  Get your tickets now for $25/seat as this show is sure to sell out!



SingPositive, JP Winter Concert on Sunday, December 16 at 4pm

If you’ll allow a moment of self-publicity, my son & I will be singing with the SingPositive, JP family chorus in our Winter Concert on Sunday, December 16 at 4 pm at St. John’s Episcopal Church (1 Roanoke Av) in Jamaica Plain.  If you live in or near Boston, please consider this your invitation to join us of songs of “Hope & Healing” – celebrating optimism and the relationships that pull us through.  Tickets are $10/adults and $5/kids ages 2-16.

If you’d like to learn more about Sing Positive, JP and sing with us in the future, like the SingPositive Facebook page.  There’s also an invitation to the concert on Facebook.



Concert Review: Neko Case

Neko Case at Wilbur Theatre, Boston, MA on 3 Febuary 2011

Opening act: Lost in the Trees

I had a rare boy night out last Thursday and took in a performance of one of my favorite vocalists Neko Case famed for her solo career, work with The New Pornographers, and knowledge of NECCO Wafers.  While I’m feeling that I’m getting too old to to go to concerts I was cheered to see an elderly couple standing front and center by the stage as well as many others who looked my age or older.

The opening act was a large group of North Carolina youngsters who had a Decemberist-ic/art school band vibe with a moody Thom Yorke-type on vocals and guitar, a string trio, and a tuba among other instruments.  I was fond of the spunky and befeathered young woman stage left who played numerous instruments including a french horn, a drum, a xylophone, autoharp, and accordion as well as adding ethereal vocals.  Their processing on to the stage with a large dinosaur puppet and streamers added an extra level of pretension that they really didn’t need.  I wanted to like this band – they are talented musicians and put a lot of spirit in their performance – but I just don’t think they’re my thing.

Neko Case took the stage with a kind of just-rolled-out-of bed look and spent much of the show trying to tuck up her long hair.  I wish I had a hair band through on the stage.  She played with a large band of her own although she could have easily stepped out alone and sung a cappella for all I cared.  I’ve noted in an earlier review of the poor quality of the amplification at the Wilbur Theatre and this night it felt like the amplifiers were standing between me and hearing Neko Case’s voice although she was but 20 or so feet away.  Nevertheless, it was an entertaining show featuring many of Case’s best songs and a great rapport with her band and the crowd.

On a previous visit to Boston, Case threatened violence at an audience member who threw a blunt object at the band, but there was no such unpleasantness at this show.   Instead when an audience member shouted “Too much guitar!” (perhaps hoping to hear more of Ms. Case’s voice), Case responded “Don’t let the dudes know that, they won’t want to kiss you.”  Accompanying vocalist Kelly Hogan added both harmonies and witty repartee with some funny stories about performing in a medieval church and imagining the dead buried in the crypt below requesting “more lute!” Another adoring fan proclaimed love for Case and wanted to have her babies.  Neko responded, “If I had a baby, it would come out addicted to meth. And pregnant.”

Case and her band played nearly two-dozen songs including at least a four-song encore.  I know that because I ducked out to get my coat near the end of the third encore and heard another song playing as I walked down Kneeland Street and discovered I was passing the stage door.  I stood and listened for a while and then noticed two vans parked right in front of me with Vermont plates.  So I knew where to stand if I wanted to be a groupie, but instead I walked to the T station to go home to bed.

Here is most of the set list as I wrote it down during the show.  I missed a few songs, so if you were there please help me fill in the blanks:

  1. Things That Scare Me
  2. Maybe Sparrow
  3. Fever
  4. People Got a Lot of Nerve
  5. The Pharaohs
  6. Middle Cyclone
  7. Hold On, Hold On
  8. Margaret Vs. Pauline
  9. Prison Girls
  10. I ‘m An Animal
  11. Dirty Knife
  12. I Wish I Was The Moon
  13. Red Tide
  14. Polar Nettles
  15. The Tigers Have Spoken (?)
  16. Don’t Forget Me
  17. That Teenage Feeling
  18. This Tornado Loves You


  1. Vengeance is Sleeping
  2. Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth
  3. John Saw That Number
  4. (don’t know, but it sounded good from the street)

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Concert Review: Alastair Moock

Today my family & I attended a special performance by singer/songwriter/folk troubadour Alastair Moock at the Children’s Music Center of Jamaica Plain.  Moock, himself a father of four-year-old twins, entertained both his young audience and their parents with selections from his album A Cow Says Moock, some new songs, and some timeless children’s classics.

I have some of Moock’s albums and from his gravelly voice I imagined he would be a grizzly, gruff-looking type, not the clean-cut man we saw before this.  His voice is still pretty incredible though with a lot of expression.  He an easy manner performing for the children and did some clever tricks like singing “The Alphabet Song” backwards.  He was very receptive to his audience whether it be the boy who asked him to play a song on the banjo next or my own son’s insistence that there be a kitty cat on the bus saying “meow, meow, meow!”  Moock’s original songs are folk ditties with clever word play.  Highlights include a song about “Belly Buttons” set to a Latin beat and a song about “Spaghetti in My Shoe” that name checks various forms of pasta and footware and then is repeated as Ramones-style rave-up.

The audience was up and dancing for the most part.  My son chose to quietly contemplate the music but sang along with the familiar standards like “Old McDonald’s Farm,” “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad,” “The Wheels on the Bus,” “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” and “You Are My Sunshine.”  Moock fit a lot of music and a lot fun into a one-hour show.

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Concert Review: The Greater New Bedford Summerfest

July 3, 2010
The Greater New Bedford Summerfest at New Bedford Whaling National Park in New Bedford, MA

Peter Mulvey displaying some guitar mastery on "Black Rabbit."

Summerfest is a great weekend-long event in which the historic district of this storied whaling town is turned into one big folk music and arts festival.  The breadth of folk music spans contemporary folk music and more traditional and international styles.  The festival draws some great headliners and  yet the tickets are only $15/day or $20/weekend.  Despite only my positive feelings for the festival this is only the second time I’ve attended and the last time was ten years ago.  I need to make this a more regular tradition.

I attended the festival with my mother, wife and toddler son and we all had a great time.  We attended the following three performances:

  • Peter Mulvey at the Custom House Stage – the singer/songwriter is one of our all-time favorites and his set included fine guitar work, inspired lyrics, and even impressive readings of letters he wrote for his nieces and nephews.
  • The Irish Session at the Busker Stage – a big change from the large Custom House tent, this “stage” was just a small tent set-up on a street corner for local musicians.  Peter got up to dance around a street sign and  a little girl his age joined him.  This was the highlight of the festival for me.
  • Rosin Up Your Bow: great fiddlers (Jeremy Kittel, Guy Fletcher, Doug Lamey, Jake Armerding, & Ruairidh MacMillan) at the Centre Street Stage –  This stage was set on a charming hillside and cobblestone street surrounded by historic buildings.  What a place to listen to traditional fiddle tunes and watch Peter run about.
Peter improvises to the jigs and reels of the Irish Session.

In addition to the music we enjoyed a pizza supper at Pizans New York Style Pizza and Peter climbed on whaling tools in a small park.  It’s a great event where we could all enjoy the music and feel safe with Peter running about in the streets.  As noted above I need to attend this festival again and also need to visit and explore historic New Bedford even when there’s not a festival going on.

New England maritime charm on Centre St.

Concert Review: They Might Be Giants

May 23, 2010 at 12 noon
They Might Be Giants at The Regent Theatre in Arlington, MA

One of the many great images from Chris Devers' photostream on Flickr.

This is a long overview review for a fun and special concert which doubled as a benefit for Boston By Foot.  Family connections were involved as Giant John Flansbergh is son of Boston By Foot founder and president Polly Flansburgh.  Family connections were involved for me as well as I brought my son to this Family Concert for his first rock and roll show.  I actually saw TMBG as my second rock concert ever way back in 1991.  I was 18, so Peter is way ahead of me going to concerts at 2 and 1/2.  I thought Peter might be at the young end of the attendees even at a family concert, but in reality 6 years seemed to be the upper limit of the children’s age range and there were many toddlers and even infants.

Musically, a TMBG family concert is not all too different from the shows that they play for adults.  I like that they didn’t tone down the concert experience which included guitar and drum solos, screeching feedback, flashing lights and effects.  Some elements were specially targeted at the kids like confetti cannons that almost stole the show and a couple of songs performed by the two Johns as sock puppets called The Avatars of They.

The playlist came mostly from the bands excellent children’s albums No!, Here Comes the ABC’s, Here Comes the 123’s, and Here Comes Science.  Favorites included “Seven Days of the Week (I Never Go To Work),” “High Five,” and “I’m a Paleontologist.” They also played some songs off their “grown-up” recordings such as “Particle Man” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” which blended seamlessly into the set. It’s interesting that the song “Older” can sound like a grim reminder of mortality for adults or a song about growing up for the kids.  It was a fun show and everybody got and boogied along with the music, or if they weren’t able to stand yet had a parent pick them up to dance.

Set List (via This Might Be a Wiki)

* Hot Dog! intro (On PA)
* Fibber Island
* Meet The Elements
* Bed Bed Bed
* I Never Go To Work
* Clap Your Hands
* Kids Go!
* One Dozen Monkeys
* Eight Hundred And Thirteen Mile Car Trip
* High Five!
* Why Does The Sun Shine? (Katharine Hepburn/Jazz Hands version)
* Pirate Girls Nine
* The Famous Polka
* Boston by foot rap
* Roy G. Biv (false start)
* Roy G. Biv
* Free Ride
* What Is A Shooting Star? (performed by The Avatars Of They)
* In The Middle, In The Middle, In The Middle (performed by The Avatars Of They)
* Free Ride
* I Am A Paleontologist
* Older
* Particle Man
* Graveyard
* Doctor Worm
* Istanbul (Not Constantinople)


* Alphabet Of Nations