New York City

Legendary Venues: Madison Square Garden

Next up in the Legendary Venues Series is another New York staple. This venue has been in existence since the 1800’s. It is also widely known as the world’s most famous arena and it is none other than Madison Square Garden.

The Garden, which sits between 7th and 8th Avenues from 31st to 33rd street in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, is actually the fourth structure to bear the name “Madison Square Garden”. The first two existed from 1879-1890 and 1890-1925, respectively. The third which stood from 1925-1968 is now the location for One Worldwide Plaza, which was built after the third Garden was demolished.

Since the current Madison Square Garden opened in 1968, it has held many epic concerts with the biggest names in music history. Up until recently Elton John held the record for most concerts at the Garden with 62 appearances. It was broken by Billy Joel. Since 2014, Joel, the Grammy winning recording artist, has maintained a residency at MSG and has played 44 consecutive shows since beginning his tenure (He will play his 45th on Saturday). Regardless of who holds the record, when a band or an artist can amass a crowd large enough to play at an arena, it’s always an honor to play at the legendary Madison Square Garden.

Besides being a large scale concert venue, Madison Square Garden has also held a multitude of sporting events since opening its doors. It is the home venue of the New York Rangers of the NHL and the New York Knicks of the NBA. It also hosted some of boxing’s biggest fights before Las Vegas boxing became a thing.

Despite all the notable names and greatest concerts to ever grace the stage at MSG, the one that stands out to me (with liking the bands that I like) was LCD Soundsystem’s “final” concert. I say “final” because the band ended up getting back together last year and just released an album at the beginning of the month, which I wrote about after it came out. In that moment in 2011 though, it was a 4 hour long final goodbye of the band’s entire discography. It was all captured and put into the documentary “Shut Up and Play the Hits”, which came out the following year. I began liking LCD Soundsystem shortly before the documentary was released so I had no idea about the incredible spectacle that happened, until the documentary came out. As a band from NYC, there was no greater venue to host LCD’s last show than the Garden.

This past February I worked my first show at Madison Square Garden. It was The Lumineers’ first night of their two night stand. Obviously at that point, I never worked a show there, but I had also never actually been in the Garden period. I decided to stay to see the rest of the performance that night after I finished my shift: 1. Because I actually like The Lumineers and 2. Because it was at Madison Square Garden. When I finally was able to find a way down to watch the show (long story), I couldn’t help but take in the fact that I was watching a show at the Garden. Besides watching the actual performance, I admired the familiar circular ceiling that on a regular basis houses a large scoreboard at the center for its sporting events. I looked around the venue, at the crowd, and up at the banners earned by the Knicks and the Rangers. The Lumineers concert was sold out that night and although it probably won’t go down as one of the greatest concerts in the arena’s history, it was definitely a highlight for me in my career of both watching and working music events.

It’s definitely worth a trip to New York City to catch an event at Madison Square Garden, but a concert would be the best event in my opinion (wink wink). Although it’s not the only famous venue in the city, it’s one of legendary status and one of the most well-known in the world. Its history and incredible past performances can attest to that.

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Legendary Venues: CBGB

About 2 weeks ago I was hired for a gig at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. My position for the show was since cut, but at the time I was super stoked to work a show there. For those who don’t know, The Stone Pony is a legendary venue known for launching the careers of famed New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. It got me thinking about music venues. There’s plenty of famous venues across the country and I should probably write about them some time. So here we are. I thought at first I’d write one epic blog post about a bunch of them, but then I figured it would get too long. Instead, I’ll be doing a new blog series spotlighting each one. The first on that list is one of the most legendary venues I can think of, CBGB (& OMFUG).

The now defunct CBGB was founded in 1973 by Hilly Kristal. CBGB, which stands for “Country Bluegrass Blues” (& “Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers”), was located at 315 Bowery in the Bowery neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, NYC. CBGB originally was opened to house the genres it was named for but became a haven for late 70’s punk rock bands. It is often referred to as the birth place of punk rock. The venue gave rise to many bands who frequented it’s grounds like The Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, Television, Talking Heads, Misfits, The Dead Boys, and Joan Jett. It’s decor was somewhat legendary too. Graffiti covered the walls of the venue making CBGB look just as edgy and original as the bands who played there.

In the 1980’s it became a mainstay for hardcore bands like Gorilla Biscuits, Agnostic Front, Youth of Today, Sick of It All, Cro-Mags, and Murphy’s Law. By the 90’s, bands like Green Day, Sum-41, and Korn became synonymous with the famed venue.

CBGB operated until the mid 00’s when rent became an issue and forced its closure in October of 2006. Patti Smith played the final show at CBGB on October 15th of that year. Since its closure, the site where CBGB once stood has transformed into a John Varvatos retail store, but remnants of its existence still stand. Outside the store, the pavement is engraved with the marker “CBGB 73” to commemorate the venue’s existence and the year in which it was founded. The store itself pays homage to the venue through its decor as well.

I first learned about CBGB shortly before it closed in 2006. At the time my music of choice was from alternative genres like indie, emo, punk, ska, and hardcore, so the venue had a significance to me. Although I listened to more modern bands from those genres I went through a period where I listened to classic punk bands like The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and The Clash. Besides the music, the culture of punk rock really stood out to me, making the CBGB seem like the coolest venue ever. After learning about The Ramones and more about punk rock history, I added The Ramones classic logo band tee along with a CBGB t-shirt to my collection. I wore both with pride. By the time I realized I wanted to visit the CBGB though, it was about ready to close its doors. After it closed, I remember thinking I should just go see it, even if it was only from the outside, but I didn’t visit NYC much then so it never happened. In fact, even though I visit NYC more now, I always forget that I still need to make a stop at 315 Bowery even if it is just a John Varvatos store.

Though the venue ceases to exist, it’s still a prominent tourist spot in NYC. There was also a music festival honoring the legendary venue from 2012-2014. I actually had CBGB feels while writing this because I just watched my favorite band play a “Blitzkrieg Bop” cover last night knowing I’ll never get to see The Ramones play it in the place that made them famous. Even though the venue isn’t around anymore, its spirit is still alive and well making CBGB & OMFUG one of, if not the most legendary music venues ever.

The Film Playlist: Begin Again

Around the time that I decided to start “The Film Playlist” blog series, I just returned from a last minute trip to my cousin’s house in Maryland. While on the trip, we decided to watch a movie on demand one night. The movie we selected was a decent film that had a plot surrounding music and the music industry. The week after I returned I decided to begin this blog series after seeing Kate Hudson on a talk show and being reminded of her greatest role ever in Almost Famous. This movie also played a role in the decision to start the series too since I had seen it so recently when recalling a number of movies about music. The film was called Begin Again.

Begin Again premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival before being released in theaters in the summer of 2014. The film stars Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, James Corden, and Hailee Steinfeld and was written and directed by John Carney. It tells the story of singer/songwriter, Gretta James (Knightley), who recently broke up with her rising-star boyfriend Dave Kohl (Levine), and struggling A&R rep/producer/record label executive, Dan Mulligan (Ruffalo) when they decide to record and produce an album together on the streets of New York. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for the song “Lost Stars”.

The film begins in the middle of the story when Dan hears Gretta performing at a club one night. Then the movie alternates between showing the back stories of each character and present day at the club. The audience learns about Dan’s industry life, ex-wife and daughter Violet (Steinfeld), and his struggles to not find new talent in years. You also find out about Gretta’s romance with Dave and how that comes tumbling down as Dave makes his way on the path to stardom. I’ll admit I was getting frustrated at one point during the first half of the movie wondering if they’d ever make it out of that club performance scene. Finally the story moves along though. Once Gretta agrees to make an album with Dan, the magic happens. At first they decide to try to produce the album with Dan’s former record label, but they get turned away. As a result, Gretta agrees to self-produce and record the album with Dan in one of the coolest ways. Along with the help of Gretta’s friend Steve (Corden) and the band they recruit, they record the album in various locations throughout New York City using the atmosphere and city sounds as parts of the recordings. During one of the recording scenes, they even get a group of city kids to sing on the track they’re making. The recording scenes are worth all the frustration relating to never making it out of the club in the beginning of the movie for sure.

As is true with most, if not all films, the story lines for the main characters, Gretta and Dan, as well as the overall album recording story line get resolved by the end of the film. However, I feel like each resolution isn’t super predictable. They’re not twisted or stretched by any means, but they’re also not as cliche as you would expect making what I believe to be a more realistic ending.

As far as music goes in the film, the entire soundtrack is original. The songs are very much a soft type of pop/rock. The styles remind me of Ingrid Michaelson’s music and many of Dave’s songs, of course, remind me of Maroon 5. The entirely original soundtrack is impressive though and made the list of several music charts throughout the world including peaks at the number 1 spot on Billboard’s U.S. Top Soundtracks and the Korean International Albums chart.

If this blog series were an actual playlist, I would probably place this movie somewhere in the middle. It’s not that heart pounding, upbeat first song(s) (films) that really gets you into the playlist, nor is it that last song that takes you out on a strong note making you realize what a great mix of songs (films) you just listened to. It fits in the middle. It’s not a terrible film by any means, but I don’t rank it along with the likes of Almost Famous. Like I said, it’s worth it to see all the recording scenes throughout the streets and rooftops of New York City.

Here’s a few songs from the movie that I recommend you listen to first though:

  1. Lost Stars (the Keira Knightley version)
  2. Like A Fool
  3. Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home (Rooftop Mix)

 

Coachella Band Preview: The Chainsmokers

April 15th, Day 1 of Weekend 1 of Coachella 2016, is one month and 4 days from today. It’s the home stretch since the tickets officially went on sale and the lineup was released in January. This week’s preview features two EDM DJ’s who’ve been making their mark in music since their inception in 2012. If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’m not an EDM fan at all. I typically follow the indie music scene. It seems recently though that I’ve been contradicting myself when it comes to EDM. I actually do like the occasional electronic/digital dance song. When I do hear a song I like though, the music has indie roots, which is the case for some music by this week’s preview duo, The Chainsmokers.

The Chainsmokers are made up of DJ’s Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall. The duo started playing club shows together in September 2012 in New York City. Their indie band remixes are what first gained them attention as well as their original songs “Erase” feat. Priyanka Chopra and “The Rookie”. What gained the duo worldwide attention was the release of their single “#Selfie” in late 2013-early 2014. Since then they’ve collaborated with various bands/artists on several original songs and released their first EP, Bouquet, in October 2015. Their debut album is due out some time this year and the first single from the album, “Don’t Let Me Down” feat. Daya, was released in February.

Their music is obviously EDM (electronic dance music), as I stated before, but can also be considered dance, house, club, electro house, or progressive house. As I also said, they do have indie roots as noted from their remixes and I think it shows in several of their original tracks. That’s why I actually like a few of their songs despite not being an overall EDM fan.

I first heard of The Chainsmokers because of “#Selfie”. I hated the song. I still do. I’ve actually never listened to the whole song because I think it’s pretty stupid. In fact, I barely realized “#Selfie” was a Chainsmokers song until I started researching the group for this blog post. I thought I first heard The Chainsmokers in September of 2015, but I guess that’s when I actually got interested in some of their music. Thanks to recommendations from my favorite soccer player’s monthly playlists I heard several of the duo’s remixes and their song “Roses” feat. ROZES. It took me a few times hearing “Roses” to get into the song but eventually I got hooked. Within the past few months, I added a few more of their songs to my Spotify playlists.

This year marks the first time The Chainsmokers will play Coachella. After seeing the crowds that EDM sets draw last year, there’s no doubt that The Chainsmokers set will see a huge crowd at this year’s annual music festival. The only conflict would be is if another big EDM act plays at the same time. They play Sunday along with fellow EDM acts, Major Lazer, KSHMR, Flume, and headliner Calvin Harris. Supposedly their sets are wild, fun, and a giant party-like atmosphere that reflect the personalities of both Taggart and Pall. The set will most likely be filled with energy. To get you prepped, here’s a few of their songs:

  1. Roses (feat. ROZES)
  2. #Selfie
  3. Don’t Let Me Down (feat. Daya)
  4. Kanye (feat. sirenXX)
  5. Until You Were Gone (with Tritonal feat. Emily Warren)
  6. The Rookie
  7. Let You Go (feat. Great Good Fine Ok)
  8. New York City (feat. Victoria Zaro)
  9. Erase (feat. Priyanka Chopra)
  10. Split (Only U) (with Tiësto)

Coachella Band Preview: LCD Soundsystem

Coachella is almost exactly 3 months away. Since the lineup release over a week ago, the days until the annual festival in the desert are decreasing. That only means one thing. It’s time to prep. Start planning your festival attire. Get out the sun tan lotion and listen to some tunes by the bands playing the event this year. As I said last week, even though I won’t be attending Coachella this year (unless there’s some spontaneous miracle), I plan on previewing the bands playing Coachella 2016 in the same way I did last year. The first band on my list is one of the headliners this year, LCD Soundsystem.

Formed in 2001 from New York City, LCD Soundsystem is the brainchild of singer-songwriter, record producer, and DJ, James Murphy. Murphy is also the co-founder of dance music record label DFA Records. Until the 2005 release of their self-titled debut album, LCD Soundsystem only released singles. Their debut album however received much acclaim including a Grammy nomination for Best Electronic/Dance Album. The single “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” received a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording in the same year. LCD Soundsystem released their second album, Sound of Silver, in 2007 and it too received a Grammy nomination for Best Electronic/Dance Album. Their third album, This Is Happening, came out in May 2010. It received top-ten status in the United States and was the group’s first album to do so. It was also listed as the number two album of 2010 by Pitchfork and the number 10 album of 2010 by Rolling Stone. Then in early 2011 the band announced on their website that they planned to call it quits, but not before one last farewell show to be played at Madison Square Garden in April. The final four hour long show took place on April 2, 2011 and was filmed as part of a live concert documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits, which was released the following year. Such was the end of LCD Soundsystem…or so we thought.

In late 2015 rumors began swirling that LCD Soundsystem would be reuniting in 2016 and playing some major music festivals. Then on Christmas Eve, a mere 3 weeks ago, the group released their first single in over 5 years “Christmas Will Break Your Heart”. A little over a week later, on January 4, 2016, it was announced the group would be headlining Coachella. The following day, via the group’s website, James Murphy posted this message to fans confirming the reunion of the much loved electronic/dance/punk group.

I was late to the LCD Soundsystem party, first hearing of the group after their “final” show in late 2011. It wasn’t even until over a year after the “final” show that I downloaded any of their music to my iTunes. The first song I heard by the group was “Dance Yrself Clean” and it’s still one of my favorite LCD Soundsystem songs. I eventually listened to more of their music and purchased their self-titled album on vinyl (it’s great on vinyl by the way). I do have to say though that if it wasn’t for my favorite acting/Hollywood couple and fellow music enthusiasts, Troian Bellisario and Patrick J. Adams, I wouldn’t have known this group at all. Thanks guys for the great recommendations!

As I mentioned, LCD Soundsystem is an electronic/dance/punk/alternative style music group. They were around before a lot of today’s EDM artists. Their style is a little different than the current EDM style though. Their music has more of an alternative/punk element. I feel like recent EDM is more pop. Also unlike current EDM artists, LCD Soundsystem’s music features an assortment of instruments and electronic devices, hence the whole “soundsystem” aspect. The group also features a variety of members who played the live shows as part of the group over the years. The most notable members include, Nancy Whang, Pat Mahoney, and Tyler Pope, but include at least 9 more individuals who have played for the band.  Murphy played the majority of the instruments himself while recording the albums.

If I were attending Coachella this year, the LCD Soundsystem set would be one of my most anticipated sets. They join the 2016 festival as a main headliner with Guns N’ Roses, who are also reuniting for Coachella, and Calvin Harris. Murphy and his pals play Saturday night. The LCD Soundsystem set should draw a huge crowd, especially with the large contingency of dance music fans who attend the festival. Not sure if I’ll be able to stay up to watch them perform, but I definitely have planned to try to find a video of their set afterwards. I’m a little jealous I won’t be at Coachella to see them live. Guess I’ll just have to catch an upcoming show somewhere else since the group is getting back together. To get you ready for Saturday night on the main stage though, play these hits:

  1. Dance Yrself Clean
  2. All My Friends
  3. Daft Punk is Playing at My House
  4. Drunk Girls
  5. Someone Great
  6. New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down
  7. Tribulations
  8. I Can Change
  9. Yeah
  10. North American Scum
  11. Tribulations