Author Archives: Jason Miller

Needle Drop: Evanescence,
The Bitter Truth

It’s “dark and heavy” said Amy Lee, the creative force behind one of the most successful rock bands of a generation, during an “ask me anything” on Reddit in November of 2019. However Evanescence was about to have their long-awaited comeback plans thrown into chaos. Blindsided by what would turn out to be a seemingly never-ending pandemic that put the entertainment world on hold, it’s finally time for The Bitter Truth to make its debut this Friday (3/26). After one listen, you would think that this record was written and recorded with some knowledge of what was about to happen in the future; a world plunged into uncertainty.

It’s been 18 years since Evanescence took the world by storm with their seven times platinum debut Fallen. Many threw them into the “nu-metal” camp, but the band would quickly outgrow that label and evolve with a more polished industrial gothic sound. Along the way, they’ve delivered a masterclass in staying connected with fans and calling their own shots by not allowing a major record label to dictate their sound or their release schedule.

While this record is not necessarily one that I would have dropped everything to go listen to immediately, lockdown has kept me open to trying new things. So I dropped the needle on this one straight away and listened from start to finish. Right from the beginning, The Bitter Truth brings the listener back to a late ’90s industrial feel where Stabbing Westward, Linkin Park, and Gravity Kills ruled the world of alt-rock. Claiming a return to their roots is a bit cliched for any band at this stage of their career, so I’m not going to go there, but I will say the formula that blasted them into superstardom is alive and well. I think in this case, it’s a band keeping close tabs on their fans and giving them exactly what they want.

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TVD Live Shots: The
Glen Matlock Band at the Electric Ballroom, 9/10

It was the first proper concert in London in more than six months, and likely one of the only live music events held in a proper club across the world. The last time I saw a gig was on March 14th as Wembley Arena. Morrissey had been known to cancel gigs at the last minute, but this one actually went on and was the last night of the tour. London would shut down the following day, and live music would cease to exist for the foreseeable future. The live music scene has been decimated to the point where the government finally stepped in to help. But of course, that’s not enough.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a glimmer of hope with limited socially distanced gigs at outdoor venues and a failed attempt at the Clapham Grand in London. Frank Carter played to a minimal number of the actual capacity. It was a test by the government, and while Carter was great, the prospect of making it worth everyone’s time was not. So I was quite surprised to see the Electric Ballroom announce a special one night only gig with one of my favorite musicians, Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols.

I immediately bought two tickets online and was excited to get back to what I love: live music in an actual club. I’ve seen Matlock several times since moving to the UK four years ago, and he never disappoints. His band is always top-notch, and this evening would be no exception. His usual partner in crime, Bowie sideman Earl Slick, was unfortunately stuck in New York, but post-punk legend Neal X stepped in and performed flawlessly, even taking it up a notch among certain songs. (Neal X played with Matlock during the Rich Kids reunion at the Vive Le Rock Awards last year, and it was spectacular.)

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Save Our Stages: Big Wreck at the Gramercy Theatre in New York City, 3/3/17

Photographed by Jason Miller_-11

During this period of historic uncertainty, the fight for the survival of our independent record stores is directly mirrored by the dark stages of our local independent theatres, clubs, and performance spaces which have been shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been cited as well that 90% of these concert venues may never, ever return.

Enter the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) whose #SaveOurStages campaign has provided a spotlight on this perilous predicament with a unique mission to “preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent live music venues and promoters throughout the United States.” Without help from Congress the predictions are indeed quite dire and TVD encourages you support the S. 3814/H.R. 7481, the RESTART Act, by telling your legislators to save independent music venues via the form that can be filled out and forwarded right here.

This week as we did last week, we’re turning our own spotlight onto previous live concert coverage as a reminder of the need to preserve the vitality of live music venues across the country—and indeed across the globe—and while we’re at it to celebrate the work of the fine photographers and writers at TVD who are all itching to get back into the pit. 

Big Wreck is a very special kind of band. One that has a truly unique sound, an unrivaled live show, and a frontman who does a remarkable job transporting the listener through storytelling and thought-provoking lyrics.

Formed by Ian Thornley in Boston back in 1994, Big Wreck released a stellar piece of work in the form of their debut album In Loving Memory Of. This record spawned a couple of minor radio hits for the band. The folks who got it know that Big Wreck never really got their fair share in the clouded and confused major label clusterfuck of mediocre rock at the time. But more importantly, it was just enough to lay a foundation for the band to build upon for the next decade.

I haven’t seen Big Wreck since 1994 back in my hometown of St. Louis as the band rarely tours the lower States because they remain quite popular in Canada and the New York/ New England area with a rabid fan base. During a business trip to New York City last week I saw that the band was playing a show at the Gramercy. I extended my trip by one day to see this one, and holy hell was it worth it.

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TVD Live Shots: Morrissey at
Wembley Arena, 3/14

“Hello London, thank you for coming… cough, cough,Morrissey joked as he played what is the last show for a while at the legendary Wembley Arena and likely one of the final live music performances in all of London for the time being.

The Coronavirus has quickly stomped out every major tour, and now it’s shut down virtually every single venue across the UK. But what better way to go out on an extended break than to see the master post-modern crooner, Morrissey. While the crowd was a bit lighter than expected as many choose to stay home due to the warnings, Morrissey was stellar—majestic even—and a show for the ages, if you will.

With no opening act, there was time for Morrissey to show videos from artists who have inspired him over the years. There’s a YouTube video that pulls all of these together if you are interested. Apparently, the fans don’t mind as he has a history of unusual opening acts that don’t always go over as well as they should. Either way, Morrissey took to the stage and set off on a journey through his impressive catalog along with a few gems from The Smiths.

Opening the set with the classic Smiths song “London,” played for the first time in over a decade, the crowd immediately started to swoon. Then we got a taste of the new record with the equally impressive “Jim Jim Falls,” which opens up his new album. Hearing Morrissey sing, “If you’re gonna kill yourself. Then to save face. Get on with it. If you’re gonna sing then sing. Don’t think about it. If you’re gonna live then live. Don’t go on about it,” is a return to form for Morrissey. The critics are in agreement as I am Not a Dog on a Chain continues to get solid reviews across the media. 

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TVD Live Shots:
The Hoosiers at the
O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, 3/6

Back in 2007, I was working at Sony Music and living in Austin, Texas. Sony was signing UK bands left and right looking to cash in on the continued Britpop movement riding high in the US.

The problem was that many of the A&R folks at Sony thought that just because a band was huge in the UK, they would undoubtedly share similar success in the US. That was the farthest from the truth. Many of the UK bands didn’t get a proper promotional push in the US from their labels, and I can attest to that when a brilliant little record called The Trick to Life showed up in my promo allotment. I’d never heard of the band before, and I thought the name was terrible, but none of that mattered once I gave this disc a spin.

The debut record from the UK by way of Indiana band The Hoosiers was a stellar piece of work, and it was chock full of big hooks, slick production, and potential hits. The only problem was, what’s the genre? How do you sell this one? Hell, how do you even describe it?  It was somewhere between the genius of ELO and Supertramp, mixed with a bit of Jellyfish and Hot Hot Heat.

This genre-bending mashup would become both a blessing and a curse and ultimately leave the band without a label but with an increasingly dedicated fanbase even after being voted by the NME as the worst band of the year. How in the fuck that happens is beyond me, then again it’s just another example of how clueless critics can shift a band’s perception by making it a cool thing to hate an incredibly talented band.

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TVD Live Shots: Editors at Wembley Arena, 2/28

It was 2005 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. I was living there and working for Sony Music at the time. Each year there is one band that everyone is talking about, and it ends up being the must-see band of that year. In 2004 it was Franz Ferdinand, and rightfully so. In 2005 it was Editors, and the reputation for SXSW hipsters predicting the next big thing was well intact.

I remember the band playing six or seven shows, maybe even more across that week in Texas. From the private parties to the showcases and the label specific events and interviews, these guys were about to be run into the ground while taking advantage of the music industry elite all in the same place at the same time, while also laying the foundation for a strong US launch.

For a UK band, this was becoming increasingly difficult and still is today. Travis, The Hoosiers, Toploader, My Vitriol, Mew—these are some of the incredible bands that were supposed to be breakout artists in the US. Most of them were hyped up and could deliver on the hype, but you had major labels signing up British bands left and right in an attempt to mimic their European success in the US.

What they would learn very quickly—and at a high cost—is that these audiences are vastly different and what one embraces, the others many times ignore. The trick is to stick to your guns and be consistent with making great music through all the ups and downs. And that’s something that Editors have done incredibly well, and some would say they’ve written the playbook for success down this avenue.

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TVD Live Shots: Dropkick Murphys at the Alexandra Palace, 2/21

After twenty plus years of American Celtic punk rock, the Dropkick Murphys are more prominent than ever. Somehow I’ve managed to miss their live show during these two decades but all of that changed last week in London. The Boston punk icons took to the glorious stage at London’s famed Alexandra Palace (aka Ally Pally) for their annual trip to the UK—and it was epic. This isn’t just a rock ‘n’ roll show, this is more of a movement or even a lifestyle. The UK punks came out in droves, both young and old, to celebrate one of the most impressive catalogs of the genre.

The magnitude of this show cannot be understated. It’s one of the most impressive setups I’ve ever seen. You have two insanely energetic frontmen backed by a band that effortlessly combines bagpipes, banjos, acoustic guitars, huge electric guitar riffs, alongside a double dose of punk angst and storytelling that would make Bruce Springsteen proud. These guys are a band for the people—the working class—and even though they are based in the States, the message resonates globally. Not too many bands can pull this off with the style and grace of the Dropkick Murphys while also maintaining their street punk cred.

The setlist never let up, and even though there were 26 songs, it seemed to fly by rather quickly. 2013’s Signed and Sealed in Blood along with the 2007 classic The Meanest of Times being the most represented with five songs each along with the usual suspects and a few surprises including several covers. The standout was “The Bonny” by Glasgow’s Gerry Cinnamon, which is the b-side to their latest single “Smash Shit Up,” which will be available on colored vinyl in the coming weeks during the tour and through the band’s webstore.

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TVD Live Shots: HMLTD at the Garage, 2/20

When I first moved to the UK several years ago, I had a friend visiting from the States, and we wanted to see some live music. He was staying in SoHo, so the first thing that popped into my head was the legendary 100 Club. Let’s just show up, buy a ticket, and see what happens. After all, this place is always known to have a good lineup. The band that was playing that night was HMLTD (aka Happy Meal Limited). Neither one of us had ever heard of them before, but the room was packed, and I never pass up a chance to go to this place. What happened next changed my entire perception of the London music scene.

It was one of the coolest shows that I’ve ever seen before. It was as if Adam Ant, The Clash, and Bowie had a number of glam, punk, rock ‘n’ roll bastard children who decided to form a band. They had it all—the theatrics, the elaborate stage wear, and the attitude, but most importantly, the songs. The songs were there, and they were over the fucking top, full of glammed up piss and adrenaline, and they were remarkably catchy. As it would turn out, they were far more creative than anyone on the scene, had a massive buzz about them, and could do no wrong at the time. Then they made a deal with the devil, and all hell broke loose.

Having worked in the music industry for more than a decade myself, I’ve seen it a million times. Sign hot new band, promise them the world, tell them that they have full creative direction, then beat them down by trying to fit them into a money-making machine while sacrificing the band’s true potential and magic, if you will. Then finally, when the band is reaching its breaking point fighting for what’s right, the label leaves them high and dry. This type of situation happens more than anyone would like to admit, and it’s the curse of the gamble of signing to a major label. Sometimes it works, but the majority of the time it ends careers.

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TVD Live Shots:
Starset at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 2/13

Starset is one of the more interesting rock bands of the past decade. One that not only has a knack for writing huge, hook-laden rock anthems, but also crafting an incredibly interesting backstory. The story is one that few bands could bring to life without looking silly, but frontman Dustin Bates has the credibility to not only back it up, but move the ideas forward in a unique way. He’s an engineer by trade and is into science, movies, politics, and history. Quite frankly, he knows his shit when it comes to crafting the band’s genre-bending concept albums and and meditations on complex sci-fi themes and theatrics.

I don’t mind rock or metal with a side of sci-fi if it’s done right. I thought Megadeth’s Dystopia was a great effort, and Starset’s message of caution to the world against “the perils of the future at the hands of manipulated technology” takes this idea to another level. The fictional Starset Society was formed as part of a public outreach initiative to alert the masses to the contents of “the Message,” a mysterious signal from space. There’s much more to unpack around the overarching concept of the band, so go to their website and YouTube channel for a better explanation than I could ever provide here.

The fact that these guys bring such a big show to an intimate theater speaks volumes to their commitment. Most bands struggle to have decent lighting and move beyond a meter or two from their designated spot, but not Starset. They bring everything and the kitchen sink, including their signature spacesuits from the tour around their first album which plays nicely into the evolution of not only the band’s look, but the sound too.

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TVD Live Shots: Backyard Babies and
The Wildhearts at the
O2 Forum, 2/1

The Backyard Babies and The Wildhearts on the same stage both with headlining sets. Who would have thought it would have come to this? I mean that in the best possible way—two legendary bands from Europe who are the last great warriors of unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll, carrying the torch and pushing their beloved genre forward.

Let’s start with the Backyard Babies. Frontman Nicke Borg and guitar sensation Dergen lead the charge by taking the crowd back to the glory days when sleaze rock ruled the world. These guys make rock ‘n’ roll look easy, and the fact that they sound this good live is a testament to the legacy that they share both collectively and individually. From past projects, side projects, previous bands, it’s all led up to this moment and, most importantly, their brilliant eighth studio record, 2019’s Sliver and Gold.

The setlist came in fast and furious. “Shovin’ Rocks,” “44 Undead” are the new classics, “Th1rte3n” or “Nothing,” and “Minus Celsius” are the timeless songs and fan favorites. The best thing about their set, though, is that it all flows together perfectly. Add to that the antics and aerobatics of these road warriors, and you have the perfect co-headliner with the rock ‘n’ roll juggernaut that is The Wildhearts.

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TVD Live Shots:
Monster Magnet at
the O2 Forum, 1/24

The first time I saw Monster Magnet was in 1999 in my home town of St. Louis, Missouri. The band was touring in support of their breakout masterpiece Powertrip and Kid Rock was opening the show. I remember thinking that Kid Rock was going to be the next big thing. He was touring in support of this debut for Atlantic Records, and he was brilliant (something I would never end up saying again). I would have never guessed that the opener would surpass the headliner in popularity in this situation as Monster Magnet were at their peak, both commercially and creatively.

The band had finally crafted the perfect, universally appealing single with “Space Lord,” and it dominated rock radio and MTV. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing this song. And it was quite a departure from the band’s earlier work, such as the record that introduced me to the group, 1993’s Superjudge. It was about damn time the world took notice of Monster Magnet, and that success was enough to keep the band rolling for another two decades.

Fast forward thirty years and Monster Magnet is on tour celebrating the legacy of Powertrip with a dedicated tour across the UK. It’s hard to believe that main man Dave Wyndorf is 63 years old. He looks great and can still rock with the best of them.

Unlike most bands who play their celebrated album in its entirety, Monster Magnet is taking a slightly different approach. I was told by a friend of the band that playing the songs as they appear in order on the original record doesn’t work for a live show. So ten of the thirteen songs from Powertrip mark a celebration of the album instead of playing it from start to finish—and it worked beautifully. An extended version of “Space Lord” closed out the set in epic fashion, and the crowd responded accordingly.

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TVD Live Shots: Dimmu Borgir and Amorphis at the O2 Forum, 1/22

Two metal giants on one stage at the legendary O2 Forum in London; Dimmu Borgir and Amorphis are both celebrating 20 plus years of incredible dark metal. They are both still touring with strong support from an incredibly loyal fanbase which happens to overlap perfectly.

2018 saw both metal giants releasing arguably their strongest albums ever, leading to a resurgence of a very crowded metal subgenre that continues to push what was formerly known as death metal into new territory. While the heaviness and satanic overtones still exist, you would never guess that you were watching two bands who basically invented the genre across their respective regions of Norway and Finland. The evolution and addition of symphonic overtones begs the question—is this really just an extreme version of progressive metal?

Either way, the fans are still coming in droves to see these two metal legends. Both bands did headline sets with Amorphis’ set being just a tad bit more accessible for my metal leanings. Their Queen of Time record, which was released in 2018, has been hailed as a modern prog-metal masterpiece. When they mix in the older material, for example, a song like “Sign From the North Side” (classic textbook thrash/ death metal from their early days) and then go straight into a song like “House of Sleep” (mid 2000s), it shows how these guys have matured and learned how to write a magnum metal opus. Queen of Time takes it up a notch by finding a balance of old and new while pushing the production level to something rarely heard in the world of metal. It’s awe-inspiring on the record, but even more of a spectacle to see them pull it off live.

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TVD Live Shots:
The Libertines at the
O2 Brixton Academy, 12/18

My last show for 2019 was one that I’ve waited more than three years to cover. Arguably one of the greatest live bands ever to rise from the UK, The Libertines returned to the legendary Brixton Academy for two sold-out nights of rock ‘n’ roll bliss.

The songwriting partnership of Barât and Doherty is something extraordinary and translates from studio to live show in epic fashion, although sometimes the antics of Doherty overshadow the music. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for rock ‘n’ roll, in fact many times it adds to a mystique and a legacy. I’m not celebrating or encouraging addiction here however, but Doherty’s very public struggles and honest, sometimes outrageous comments, display a vulnerability rarely seen in the music industry today.

Addiction also makes it personal for the fans. We rally around Doherty because we want him to succeed and come out on top as we all love the underdog story. I’m sure there are signs of recovery here and there, but goddamn does the media love it when they catch him doing something silly like eating a breakfast that could feed a small village or riding a Boris bike pulled by his beloved huskies at 4 in the morning. It also begs the question, how far can this relationship be pushed before breaking once again? Have they learned their lessons? For now, it seems that both Barât and Doherty have matured a bit and rediscovered the love they have for one another—and it shows big time.

It’s also hard to believe that a band that makes this much noise on stage—as well as with the critics among the music press—have only released three studio albums. Yet, ninety plus minutes of post-punk, garage rock revivalism (or whatever you want to call it) came across like a masterclass in all things rock ‘n’ roll.

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TVD Live Shots: Sinead O’Connor at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 12/16

No one can argue that Sinead O’Connor is a once in a lifetime talent. When she’s at her best, she has one of the most remarkable voices on the planet and a knack for writing brilliant songs. I received an email from the O2 Academy that O’Connor was playing a one-off gig at the legendary Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, and I immediately jumped on this. A chance to see a living legend play an intimate venue? Count me in. The show quickly sold out, and the wait was on. Being her first UK show in more than four years, what could we expect? After years of O’Connor sharing her personal challenges in the public forum, one wonders if this was indeed a true comeback.

I’m happy to report that this gig greatly surpassed every expectation with a genius musician finding her groove again and truly rediscovering her love for performing. Any question of her emotional state or ability to mesmerize an audience and share the absolute perfection in her voice was immediately quashed within the first song, a stellar cover of John Grant’s “Queen of Denmark.” From then on it was a celebration and a reawakening of sorts as O’Connor proved that she not only still has plenty to say, but that her music is timeless and ready to be introduced to the next generation.

O’Connor now goes by the name Shuhada Sadaqat (Shuhada is an Arabic girl’s name; sadaqat refers to a voluntary sign of faith), but she still performs under Sinead O’Connor. She’s got a new lease on life and career with new management, a memoir in the works, and rumblings of two new albums. The 53-year-old O’Connor dresses in a traditional hijab and takes the stage barefoot, and she still looks as beautiful as ever. There was even a quick moment where she smiled, posed, and gave a wave to the row of photographers in the front—and the moment that I knew this was going to be a show of epic proportions during her only UK date of 2019.

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TVD Live Shots:
Temples at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush
Empire, 12/8

I’ve always been intrigued by British rock band Temples. They have that perfect mix of nostalgia, mystique, and psychedelia, not only with their late ’60s inspired look but most importantly, with their music. They’ve been on my radar for years, but we’ve never been in the same city at the same time, that is until last Sunday at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Having spent quite a bit of time with their latest album Hot Motion, I was thrilled to finally see the live show up close and personal in one of London’s best venues.

After photographing the standard first three songs in some very challenging light, I grabbed a beer and went up to the balcony to watch the show. I quickly found myself thinking, “holy shit, these guys are good.” Each song was getting better than the first. The only other time I’ve seen this was watching Father John Misty for the first time years ago in San Francisco. The setlist was perfect and flowed beautifully to the end—not a dud in sight.

The same thing happened with Temples. New songs such as “Hot Motion” set up the more familiar classics such as “Shelter Song.” It just worked, and the crowd responded accordingly. At one point, there was even a bit of a mosh pit, which makes zero sense to me. Then again, I saw a vicious mosh pit at the My Vitriol show a few weeks back.

In the mess that is the music industry today, talent no longer seems to be the leading indicator of future success. It’s much more about luck, consistency, and building a strong relationship with your fans and advocates. So the question becomes, what the hell do you do with a band like Temples? It’s not like they are going to have a breakthrough “hit” anytime soon, nor should that be the focus, but I think it would be interesting to pair them in 2020 on some interesting tours.

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