Pen and Paige celebrates two years of music blogs in 2010, and I thank you for your support, for your diligence, and for your dedication to live music and culture in the west. As always, stay tuned—2011 shows great promise.
Best concerts (in-town): Minus the Bear: When the five-piece from Seattle, Washington played Billings on April 19, it was at the smallest venue of their tour and a rare moment of intimacy with the band. They performed a set of new tunes yet to be heard by many of their fans.
The Dead Weather: Frontwoman Alison Mosshart stole the show from Jack White—not an easy feat. A Joan Jet meets Karen O fembot, Mosshart is a bionic force live. The back-bending superhero of screeching feminine prowess shook off an on-stage tackle by a fanatic fan only to climb atop the venue speakers and sing upside-down.
Russian Circles: When the Chicago three-piece closed with the epic “Geneva,” from the release of the same name, the sound wall was so thick you could almost stand against it.
Biggest disappointment: Cancellation of California post-hardcore band Thrice and Atlanta, Georgia indie rock five-piece Manchester Orchestra’s April performance in Billings. Thrice Lead singer and guitarist Dustin Kensrue made the decision to cancel the tour and be with family after discovering his father had an aggressive brain tumor.
Most overrated: In their April performance at the Shine Auditorium, notoriously snarky and unabashedly crass punk rockers NOFX brought a slew of 90s memorabilia. Yet, the band that was so relevant when punk rock was rising somehow didn’t retain their relevance. Their race jokes seemed childish, their “black house” reference inappropriate, and though their songs are so achingly familiar, the stage banter took away most of the joy of hearing these old favorites. NOFX closed the show by saying, “We’ll see you all when you move to a bigger city,” and as they always do, didn’t return for an encore.
Biggest blindside: When Charlie Daniels blew a cloud of dust from his fiddle into the air and yelled, “That’s how it’s done,” after ripping through “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” I wasn’t thinking what an amazing fiddle player he was, rather what an audacious, dangerous redneck he was. The bearded 71-year-old no doubt plays the meanest fiddle I’ve ever witnessed, but his views on citizens taking justice into their own hands and “pulling the trigger” was more than off-putting. “They call me a redneck,” Daniels said. “I always thought it was a compliment.” Not so, sir. Rather, a provincial, yokel, reactionary, yahoo, hick, and/or hayseed, a sunburned political reactionary responsible for fear mongering that should stick to novelty.
Busiest week: Mid-August is the frontrunner of busiest week for live music. When Brett Michaels can be spotted outside of the Laurel WalMart, Bob Dylan and John Mellencamp just rolled through Billings, the Scorpions can be seen at MontanaFair and Montana Avenue is closed for Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, it’s been a good week of music.
Favorite quote (local): Steve Brown, of returning to Billings in early 2010 after living in California: “It’s smiling faces that you see, and it’s your best friends and even your enemies in the crowd. We all get together for this short amount of time and lay our weapons down and unite and have a good time. I believe there is something inherently powerful in people gathering in unity.”
Favorite quote (out-of-towner): On a road trip across the country during his latest comedy tour, New York comedian Lewis Black said he’d always wanted to drive through this area. “I kind of understand the need for solitude, but there’s a point where you’re insane…The fact that you live here in the winter…maybe you ought to seek psychiatric help.”
Shortest appearance: Kevin Smith clocked just under an hour appearance during his “live Smodcast” in May, but the crowd had few pauses between laughs. His lowest common denominator humor paired with his embrace of new media, excessive Tweeting and gritty (sometimes introspective) podcasts had Smith’s fans lined up outside the Babcock well before the show began. They circled his tour bus following the live “Smodcast” for a chance to ask their favorite director a question, get an autograph, or just be around the man whose livelihood depends not only on the foulness of his mouth, but the directorial vision that landed him as one of the most successful independent directors of all time.
Most inspiring: In stark contrast, Henry Rollins gave audience members their asses back after nearly three hours of talk during his May 19 appearance at the Babcock. A self-described “spasticité” who lives in a “utilitarian hovel” in L.A., Henry Rollins ventured west to discuss politics, travel, humanitarianism, and issues of discrimination (packaged with a bit of self-deprecating humor) to a crowd of nearly 400. With no tools, no gadgets, not even a notebook, the extensive vocabulary Rollins possesses is stunning, his vast knowledge even more imposing. That he’s never been to college seems a mockery to the institution, yet Rollins is highly supportive of the pursuit of higher knowledge. Calling illiteracy our “national shame,” Rollins spoke utopian ideas of ceasing war and spending money on the homefront, investing in young people’s educations. “More is required of you in these times,” Rollins said, prodding the audience to consider, in this new century, their obligation to a personal utopia by eliminating hatred and discrimination, and to say, “Not in my century.”