I wrote this review for a friend who couldn't make it to this show. Why am I posting it here now? Because Vienna is awesome and maybe, just maybe, this will lead to someone else discovering how brilliant she is. The Last Snowfall
Glen Phillips/Vienna Teng (with Alex Wong) – 02/27/10
Let me start off by saying that Glen Phillips is extremely comfortable with the stage. He talks to the audience as if they and he were the most intimate of friends; the kind you can tell anything to and not be embarrassed by it the next morning. He has the uncanny ability to make you feel as though you and he go back for ages and have just met up again after losing touch for a bit. I hope that Vienna picks up on this part of his stage style.
Sadly, I'm not familiar enough with Glen's solo work to be able to know all the songs he played. There was Walk on the Ocean and All I Want from the Todd the Wet Sprocket days, and The Last Sunset, Dam Would Break, Drive By, Everything but You, True, Rise Up, and Solar Flare from the later years (not listed in the order played). Glen has an amazing voice. The highlights that stood out:
Glen said that he is left handed but plays guitar in a right handed style. This, according to Glen, produces odd “neurological ticks” from time to time where he can see himself playing as though he were looking at a mirror image of himself. When this happens, he has to concentrate extra hard to make sure his fingers move properly to form the chords he wants. An injury to a nerve a few years ago also makes it more difficult for him to play some of the chords lower down on the frets.
His guitar reacted strangely after going from playing in cold weather to warm (the Cayamo Cruise) to cold again (FL).
We got to hear a song written on the cruise, tentatively titled “Winter Snows,” which Glen hates as being too obvious but everyone else involved likes. To me, it seemed to follow the current job loss trend in America and how many young people today take the thought of full time employment and the 40 hour work week for granted. Like I used to.
Glen talked about being at a meditation retreat where no one was supposed to talk to anyone else, write in any journals, or take in any outside stimuli. The men and the women sat at separate ends of a meditation hall the entire time. When it was over and everyone was finally allowed to talk, the difference between the thought processes of the men versus the women was clear. One woman that had been sitting behind another claimed to have picked up on the fact that the latter was in crisis of some sort. The woman said she had been sending positive energy to the one in turmoil the whole time. Everyone around them chimed in and said that they could feel the connection that had been taking place. When the men were asked what they had been thinking about, the answer was, “Sex.”
During this retreat, Glen came up with the words to an entire song, perfectly realized – which he stated never happened to him. He snuck away and wrote the lyrics down on a napkin with a sharpie. The song (Drive By) told the story of a friend of Glen's when he was younger, “Growing up redneck in NC,” and the day his drunk father took him for a drive intending to shoot the neighbor's annoying dog. (The song was hilarious.) In the chorus, he prayed, “Dear God, if you save this dog, I will never get high, I will never jack off...” The dog was spared – the promise – not kept.
There's a group called ISEC (International Space Elevator Consortium) which gives away, and I quote from their site, “a 19" x 12" Space Elevator Poster and an autographed Glen Phillips "Secrets of the New Explorers" CD with the Rockin' "Space Elevator" track” with their membership. This apparently came about thanks to Glen writing an EP pertaining to the privatization of space travel, which endeared him to NASA (he got to touch the moon “rover,” if I'm remembering the word he used correctly.)
Vienna did play with Glen on The Last Sunset (which she mentioned inspired The Last Snowfall, although she has yet to pay him royalties ), Dam Would Break, and a slowed down cover of I Want A New Drug. They harmonize together beautifully.
When Glen first called Vienna out, he said she had the most beautiful laugh. Vienna then took the story over by saying that her sister is a chemist. One day while on tour with Glen, V watched him draw a six sided shape (hexa-something, it's been too long since chemistry to remember the scientific term,) with a bunch of iron molecules sticking up around it -Fe, -Fe, -Fe.... V kept on staring at it and finally, failing to identify the molecule, said, “I don't get it,” at which point Glen pointed out, “It's a Ferrous Wheel!” Vienna was laid out flat by that for 5 minutes. Glen thought it was awesome to tour with people that were as geeky as he was and understood his humor.
Later in Glen's set, V discussed how she and a bunch of other musicians on the cruise got the idea to do an impromptu rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” with different singers popping up from behind the furniture to sing. Everyone liked the idea, but the problem was, “There's no internet – How are we going to get the words/chords?” V had to admit she knew all the words and chords by heart.
Throughout his set, Glen played with the “Jesus/Creed” light, a bright light coming up from the floor which anyone standing in front of it was silhouetted and transformed into – well, you get the idea. (During V's set, she did the same once in an “I'm the king of the world!” Titanic motion, which kept the Titanic theme continuing.) V said that Glen and Alex had become very close. (Alex threw his arms out in the same “I'm the king of the world!” motion and Glen came up from behind and hugged him, very Kate Winslet like, cracking the audience up.) Glen was also impressed by a little girl in the audience who was awake throughout his set, commenting that he usually fell asleep when taken to a concert at that age and that “Maybe this is all a dream...”
I meant to write the set list down. The room was very dark – I thought I was writing, but when the lights came up, there was nothing there. The ink was too cold to leave the pen. A fellow concert goer complied the following list, which seems right to me:
1. Whatever You Want
4. No Gringo
6. Anna Rose
7. The Last Snowfall
8. Help Is On The Way
9. Stray Italian Greyhound
12. Grandmother Song
14. Soon Love Soon
Whatever You Want was its usual self. I see Office Space in my head every time.
Gravity, with the piano segment played backwards, was extremely awesome and hooked the audience. You could practically see everyone lean forward to figure out what this new sound was they were hearing. V mentioned that she loved this technology and wished she could do the same with time (make it run backwards).
Antebellum was introduced with V reminiscing about how she had come up with two different, very distinct piano parts she loved – but didn't know where to go with them. Enter Alex Wong to the rescue. Vienna then described the trauma of writing with someone else and that she always felt that Alex was “vaguely insulted” whenever she told this story. Alex's perfectly dry reply, “Can we continue this discussion at a later point in time?” again had us all laughing. T and I both found ourselves transfixed by Alex during this song – how on earth he can manage to play two totally separate instruments, at completely different tempos, with each hand and not miss a beat is beyond me. Alex stuns me sometimes.
For No Gringo (which I finally got to see live!!!!) V introduced the song as a “border crossing” story which she had originally planned to sing with the entire chorus in Spanish. She looked up words, went through internet phrase translators, and finally ended up with what she thought was a masterpiece – the Spanish words at the end of each line rhyming. When she took it to Alex, his response was, “after a pregnant pause,” “Wow – that made the hairs on my arms stand up. And not in a good way.” V said she was crushed, but later realized that Alex saved her from sending that version out into the world and having to stand by it forevermore. She let the crowd know that there was a clapping part in No Gringo and she would look meaningfully at us when it was our part. They completely nailed No Gringo, somehow making it even more powerful than the studio version. When it came to the clapping, there was no meaningful look, although some of us in the audience tried anyway. Vienna apologized at the end, saying No Gringo was often played as a trio with a friend on guitar so she could lead the clapping, When it got to that part, she realized, “Wait – I have to play the piano!!!” Oops. It was still perfect.
Homecoming to me seemed especially poignant and heartfelt. V introduced it by saying that one of the peculiar aspects of life on the road for an extended period of time (which Alex was going to do from Feb. to June) was having to turn whatever space you were at into home for the moment. V was definitely more talkative and interacted with the crowd much more during this show than others I have seen – Glen's influence? Whatever the cause, it worked really well. She and Alex were unusually relaxed and energetic. V mentioned that we had wonderful energy to our crowd and that it made them play better. (This comment is definitely out of order. Don't ask me where it goes.)
Vienna then let us know she had received an e-mail from a family who had named their daughter after one of her songs, which she was very honored by. She then played Anna Rose. The little girl, in the audience, was adorable – and it was the same girl Glen had noticed during his set.
The Last Snowfall was, as always, beautiful, with V mentioning again that she was inspired by Glen's The Last Sunset. I am so in love with the looping of her voice on this song.
V announced it was time for an Alex tune. All of a sudden, these huge, 2 1/2 feet in diameter circles all along the walls began flashing with insanely piercing white light. At the same time, a speaker came on with one of those monotone voices, “An emergency has been reported. Please proceed to the nearest exit in an orderly fashion.” Everyone was quite literally stunned for a second – is this a part of the show? No, Vienna and Alex have that same surprised look we all have – before getting up and filing out.
The crowd (minus T and another man who stayed inside where it was warm) ended up outside the marquee, where it was freezing. V and Alex (guitar in hand) didn't miss a beat and immediately sang Help is On the Way acoustically, the crowd gathering around in a semi-circle. Everyone joined in on the oddly-appropriate-for-a-fire-alarm chorus. We then got the o.k. to go back in, V commenting on how we were the most awesome crowd to go from energetic for the show to quietly filing out for the “emergency” to singing along outside. There were a few bars from Jesus Christ, Superstar, from V as well with Glen in the Jesus light again, although I can't remember exactly where.
Stray Italian Greyhound got squeals of delight from a crowd of teenage girls, making me wonder just exactly how they heard of Vienna in the first place...and wishing we could turn more people onto her.
Glen joined in on 1 BR/1BA, with a small snippet of My Heart Will Go On as Glen again struck the “I'm the king of the world” pose – V almost lost the line she was singing to laughter.
At some point, Alex mentioned that he had to get up at 5:00 AM for a 7:00 AM flight for a wedding in LA. He asked the crowd if anyone would take him to the airport so he didn't have to get up as early. There was silence, which he “took as a no.” V also (I don't remember when) remarked she was surprised to see that people on the cruise who got to hear her play free for a week still paid to see her that night.
Harbor was lovely, as always.
V had us all stand for Grandmother's Song, where she invited the crowd to heckle. We tried for a few times, with Alex commenting we were the nicest hecklers he'd ever heard. The standing and clapping for Grandmother's Song gave it extra energy.
Idioteque was fabulous.
After a standing ovation, Glen was back on stage so the three of them could do an acoustic Soon Love Soon, with the audience joining in.
As a side note, we met a gentleman who had sat right next to us at a Vienna show a year or so ago – and was now sitting with his wife directly behind us. Serendipity.