Last fall, then-Friday Night Lights star Scott Porter did an absolutely terrific job guest-blogging for us from the Austin City Limits music festival. Now that he’s graduated to the big screen — starring in Bandslam, which opens Friday the 14th at a cinema near you — we invited him back for another turn at the keyboard.
“What up, Music Mix!?! I’m back for another go around on this blog thing, and I’m hoping you’ll enjoy it.
What brings me back this time is my new movie, Bandslam. It’s about a battle of the bands in the great state of New Jersey. It has awesome music, broken promises, heartbreak, and the happiness that can only come from finding your place in this crazy world. In other words, it’s awesome.
It takes place at Van Buren High in Lido, New Jersey. A school where music is as big as football is in Texas. Every year, MTV sponsors a battle of the bands, and each high school in the tri-state area sends a representative of their own. I play Ben Wheatley, the lead singer of the band that has represented Van Buren in Bandslam for the last two years — only to come in second twice. He’s back one more time to win the whole thing, but has to go head to head against the band that the movie is centered around to do it.
The best thing about this movie was the live performances of all the actors and bands involved. Everyone had to play. Everyone had to sing. No exceptions. I learned how to play guitar for this film and actually got to perform again after a three-year hiatus from the stage. It was exhilarating and made all the difference in the world in the final cut of the movie: you can feel the battle and the concert vibe all the way through.
EW.com came around and asked me if I’d like to try something new here and throw together a “setlist,” if you would. I asked if I could toss together a list of the 10 best live performances I’ve personally ever seen. A perfect Bandslam night. There are some links to videos, some links to mp3s of the lesser known songs. I was lucky enough to find some videos from the actual shows I was at. For those that don’t have clips… well, my words will just have to do.
The songs that made the list were the most memorable, incredible, mind-blowing and/or passionate performances I have witnessed in person. Keep that in mind when you read. I know that everyone has a list like this and mine might not be chock full of the Beatles or the Stones, but it’s honest.”
After the jump, in no particular order, Scott Porter’s Perfect Bandslam roster.
1. Sting, Brand New Day tour — “Message in a Bottle”
After his first encore, Sting sauntered onto the stage with nothing but his black t-shirt. No guitar. No band. Nothing but him and a spotlight. He had already performed all of the great songs off of my favorite Sting solo effort (Brand New Day) and I was wondering what else he would pull out of his catalogue. He simply began singing the chorus of “Message in a Bottle,” and the crowd started to echo him. Once he had the 60,000-person audience whispering the melody of the chorus, he sang the entire song, with an adjusted melody, over the top of us, all the way through. Magical. I always thought I’d want to see the old Police numbers done with the original gang intact, but that one stood on its own. There are a lot of YouTube videos of Sting doing this song — but none the way he performed it that night.
2. Jonny Lang, opening for Gavin DeGraw, Orlando, FL — “Livin’ for the City”
I have never seen Stevie Wonder live. I know how amazing he is, but I have never had the pleasure of experiencing him outside of compact discs and mp3s. I’ve seen many cover Stevie though — even tried myself — but no one has done it better than Jonny Lang. The voice of a 50 year old man in the body of a 21 year old kid, and guitar talent that is rare in this world. When he opens for someone, I buy tickets. Not kidding. The last song in his set at the House of Blues in Orlando started with some familiar strains on the keys. The crowd perked up, recognizing what the kid was about to do, and visibly wondered if the kid could pull it off. He did it vocally, instrumentally, and respectfully. His solo in the middle of the song was a three-minute masterpiece, and his vocals carried the weight of the lyrics with ease. Good on ya Jonny!!!
3. Marc Broussard, The Bowery, NYC — “Gavin’s Song”
I’m a sap. I cry sometimes at movies, and concerts, and while I watch TV, but nothing gets me like an artist baring themselves live on stage. Marc Broussard is one of my favorite singer/songwriters, and he is one hell of a performer. I have seen him many, many times, and each time he gets better. He records himself live during the show and sells the CDs immediately afterwards so you can take home a slice of the night. How cool is that??? Out of all the times I’ve seen him, though, I’ve only seen him perform this song once: Near the end of a show at the Bowery in NYC, a fan requested “Gavin’s Song” (the bonus track on Carencro). It’s a beautifully haunting number about his son. He thought about it, kicked his shoes off into the crowd, and sang it. The audience sang along with him and cried as he did. So did I. It’s a connection I will never forget.
4. Lupe Fiasco, Glow in the Dark Tour, Austin, TX — “Streets on Fire”/”Hip Hop Saved My Life”
Event Tour. That’s what the Glow in the Dark tour set out to be. And it did NOT disappoint. Bright lights, effects, hit after hit, a spaceship, a six foot tall Amazon with neon platforms… it had it all. But the surprise of the night was that the guy who stole the show didn’t use any of those things. He used a small band, two guest singers, a skateboard, and his wicked tongue. Lupe Fiasco murdered his entire set. He placed the bar so high up that no other act on the tour surpassed it. Didn’t miss a word in a single one of his rich, lyric-laden, intelligent, tongue-twisting songs. Lupe was on fire, and sure as hell was glowin’.
5. Billy Joel, Orlando, FL — “Allentown”
I was 12 years old. This was my second major concert event ever (the first was MC Hammer’s “Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” Tour… it doesn’t make the list). I was more familiar with Billy Joel’s catalogue than you would think, and was pretty stoked that my parents were taking me with them. All the expected goodies were there including a huge “River of Dreams” mash-up with guest percussionists and a solo performance of “Piano Man” on a lift. That being said, the thing I could not stop talking about happened in his performance of “Allentown.” My dad is a drummer (mom is a singer, they met in a rock band), and I love watching him watch the percussion section. He lost his mind when a huge steel panel came down behind the percussionist and she started beating on it with a hammer to emulate the factory sounds. It made an impact, for sure. Couldn’t find a link with a huge steel slate — it was in the ’90s, before YouTube.
6. Musiq Soulchild, House of Blues, Orlando, FL — Encore/James Brown Medley
Musiq, Musiq, Musiq. Seen him twice and he can be a bit A.D.D. with his sets — start a song, not end it, move into the next, perform what can sometimes seem like a nine-song medley — but that is why we love him. This particular memory stems from the most impressive medley I have ever seen out of him: He wrapped his show, waltzed back up onto stage and said, “Now it’s time for the real music fans to get what they deserve. If you don’t love music, then leave now, ’cause we gonna play until they kick us out.” No one left. Musiq and his band launched into a medley of covers (James Brown, Al Green), originals (“Religious”), and a jam fest that ended with Musiq and his entire band (including drummer) laying on the floor playing. It was amazing… until House of Blues turned the lights on and the sound off and kicked us out.
7. Swell Season, Austin City Limits — “When Your Mind’s Made Up”/”Madame George”
If you read the name of this band and went, “Who?” gently close your laptop, grab your keys, and run out and get a copy of the movie Once. Now! Out of my three years attending ACL, no one has turned in a more passionate or moving performance then Swell Season. I was blessed to be standing stageside, mere feet from these incredibly talented musicians. No video could ever do justice to Glen Hansaard’s voice live. It carries a hurt and a raw emotion that rivals the best this world has to offer. The crescendo as he approached the bridge of “When Your Mind’s Made Up” was goosebump inducing. Just when I thought the set had reached its peak, he stood at center stage alone and belted out a cover of “Madame George” that left the drunken music festival crowd speechless for once.
8. Prince/Mosaic — “Play That Funky Music”/”Thank You”/”Purple Rain”
New Year’s Eve. Prince’s private show. What a ticket. A pinch-yourself-to-make-sure-you-are-there-watching-it moment. It was my first and only time to see Prince. A special occasion made more so by the fact that he had personally asked my old a cappella group, Mosaic, to perform with him. About halfway through his incredible show, complete with twins and all the hits, he pulls my old gang up on stage and excuses his band. My old crew lays down a track for “Thank You” using just their voices, and Prince starts singing over the top of it, which then evolves into “Play that Funky Music” and ultimately ends with Prince calling his band back up and having them play along. He kept them up for the remainder of the evening and wove them into his show like they were a whole new instrument in Prince’s Playhouse. He capped the night with “Purple Rain.” Happy New Year indeed. Couldn’t find a live clip of him on YouTube, but here’s Mosaic:
9. Modest Mouse in Berlin, Summer of ‘06
Okay, I admit it, Matthew Fox turned me onto Modest Mouse. I had never owned an entire album of theirs before attending this show in a rundown farmhouse/concert venue in West Berlin (I like to call it The Barn) and only was really familiar with “Float On.” Matt was so amped about it that it made me want to go and check them out. I am glad I did. This barn had no air conditioning, smelled horrible, had a bar that served one drink only, and was packed to the gills with people. It also happened to be the most fun I’ve ever had at a live show. Modest Mouse made me forget the uncomfortable environment and just played. It was like seeing your best friends perform for the first time at a house party and just setting the place on fire. I laughed and danced and got in the sweaty mosh pit and rung my shirt out afterwards. Somehow I ended up backstage with the most down to earth musicians I’ve ever met… and then somehow I walked out of a bar with them at 9:30 a.m. with the sun greeting us.
10. Kid Beyond, South By Southwest — “Mothership”/”Wandering Star”
One man. One microphone. One vocal looping instrument. One stage at South By Southwest. A ton of sounds and songs that will blow your mind. He starts out with the most basic of vocal drum sounds, a kick or a snare, and then evolves it into a full blown orchestra. Strings, guitars, spaceships, you name it, he does it, and does it better than anyone else. When he dropped his cover of Portisheads “Wandering Star” on this poor, unsuspecting crowd, heads exploded. I’ve said I’m a “former semi-professional beatboxer” enough times to have everyone sick of hearing it. This guy, Kid Beyond, used to be in a group called the House Jacks that I listened to on CDs but never saw live. He taught me a lot of what I know, and he has no idea he did it. Thank you, Kid Beyond.
Thanks for reading! Anyone who actually made it this far, I applaud you, and as a special reward am hitting you with a bonus track!
11. *NSYNC, American Airlines Arena in South Florida — “Sailing”
I know. I know you are sitting on the other side of the screen judging me right now. Harshly. But before you take it too far, music snobs, answer me this: How many times at a live show have you watched the band fly? That’s what I thought. No one in the arena saw it coming. They started their cover of Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” (which I actually do enjoy) in their all-whites, sitting on stools. By the end of the first verse JC was standing. I expected the rest of the band to follow suit when all of a sudden JC took to the air, 12 feet in the air. The band did follow suit, and all of them took flight. By the end of the second verse they were flying over the crowd on the floor of the arena, almost within reach of the ravenous fans below. I was worried for their safety, but impressed by their moxie. It won them a much deserved spot on this list.
So, there you go. My perfect Bandslam: 11 of the best live performances I have ever seen. Hopefully this list got you amped to go out and see some music. If it did, then I hope you’ll buy some tickets to a concert or two, and a bunch of tickets to Bandslam!! See you in the theater on Friday, and thanks for reading.
Photo Credit: Van Redin