Some thoughts on the 6/22 Cincinnati show

Review by Brian Smih (Switch to

My entourage (three friends in tow) and I arrived at the venue in the middle of "Black and White", thanks to rather ambiguous directions secured from the Internet. The show was set to start at 8-- we weren't that worried only being 15 minutes late, but apparently this was the first rock concert ever to commence at its scheduled time. I'd like to think that "Black and White" was the opener... but I have the sinking feeling that "Surf Talks" and "Fix Your Gaze" preceded it-- two songs which I would dearly have loved to hear live. Crap.

Anyway, what I DID see of the first set was truly spectacular. Todd's vocals were in great shape... I don't think he hit a bum note the whole evening. Wow. On several songs he was really getting in touch with his "inner Beavis" and letting loose with some truly vicious primal screaming. Todd's guitar work was just as notable and just as consistently impressive. He shined especially on "Unloved Children", which, in its all-guitar arrangement, assumed appealingly New Wave-ish overtones. It would have been nice to hear a ballad or two amidst the continuous and unrelenting sheet of noise that characterized the first set, but it was great to hear Todd kick out the jams with a full band. Simply put, I'd never heard Todd kick this much ass before. These performances put their studio counterparts to SHAME.

One of my friends compared Prairie's drumwork to John Bonham, which made a lot of sense considering the enthusiasm and brutality with which he was pounding on the skins. The same friend commented that he wished Kasim had sung more-- which was nice-- and it WAS great to hear Kasim step out on "Trapped", one of the highlights of the night for me.

The second "Twisted" set was... pleasant. I have an affinity for the form, but the arrangements tended to make songs which are incredibly diverse and harmonically exciting a great deal more generic-sounding than they actually are. And as for the "Born to Synthesize" marathon... Well, do you remember the Zeppelin film "The Song Remains the Same"... and how it's moving along quite enjoyably, UNTIL everything comes to a screeching halt during the 30 minute version of "Dazed and Confused"? OK. Just seeing if you remembered... No comment... Actually, there were some genuinely funny and spontaneous moments (and some impressive fretwork by Jesse Gress), but not nearly enough to justify the unwieldy length of the damn thing. THAT said, Todd's vocals during the second set were exquisite, preferable even to those on "With a Twist", where his delivery seems a bit strained. And even though the lack of an encore was a bummer, "A Dream Goes On Forever" was a perfect and poignant way to wrap things up.

The only real drawback to the show, apart from the overlong "Born to Synthesize/ Jazz Odyssey" fiasco, was the lack of pacing and the bizzare contrast between the blistering hard-rock manifesto of the first set and the consistently subdued bossa nova-izing of set two. "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" and "Espresso" injected some much needed energy into the homogenous proceedings of the second half, but not quite enough. Mixing the two styles up a little more evenly would have made a lot of sense, I think.

The verdicts from my friends (none of whom were serious Todd fans): one gave a qualified thumbs up-- she enjoyed it overall, but felt the bossa nova set was underwhelming (said the songs tended to sound alike, which I completely understand); another enjoyed the first set thoroughly, but said Todd "lost him" during "Born to Synthesize" (again, very understandable); my other friend found the bossa nova set "tolerable", but was thoroughly disenchanted with the first hour. He claimed that Todd was "technically adept, but tragically uninspired". To clarify the point, he contrasted Todd with Bob Dylan, who my friend said was not remarkably competent, but very inspired. I reasoned that his disdain for the songs probably arose from his lack of familiarity with them and that, furthermore, Bob Dylan was neither competent NOR terribly inspired (musically, anyway).

As for me, in spite of my inveterate nitpicking, I think Todd is really hitting his stride at this point in the tour and the first half of the show qualifies as one of the most professional, electrifying, AND inspired live performances I've ever seen. It was really something special.



P.S. Incidentally, I wore the "TRTV" shirt to work today--a woman in my department dubbed Todd a "spooky-looking character" and asked if he played "punk rock".

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6/22/1999 - Electra - Cincinnati, OH

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