Saturday, February 20, 2010

Concert review: Bear Hands, Aaron Jentzen, Ready Room

Bear Hands, Aaron Jentzen, Ready Room
Wednesday February 17, Brillobox
with Lisa, Spencer

The Brillobox was uncharacteristically empty on this Wednesday night. Perhaps it was the pub quiz going on downstairs, or perhaps it was the Tortoise show at Mr. Small's going on at the same time. Whatever the reason, a lot of people missed out on a great performance by Bear Hands. I arrived a little late to the show, since I had an IM basketball game until 9:30 and then took the bus. We caught two songs by Ready Room, and it was mostly instrumental guitar rock. The drummer was really loud and fast, and he walked off the stage drenched in sweat afterwards. They sounded fine, but it wasn't the style of music that worked in a big room with only 12 people in it (which was the situation there). Oh well. They seem to have an entire set from the Lava Lounge posted on YouTube: check out this one and the subsequent videos.

Next up was Aaron Jentzen. I had picked up a copy of the City Paper by the bus stop on Craig Street so that I could do the crossword on the bus (which I did) and the cover article was about St. Vincent (who are playing at Diesel on Sunday Februrary 21) by some guy named Aaron Jentzen. The name sounded familiar at the time, and I realized why when we got to the show and I saw a poster. I wasn't sure it was the same guy, but when I was walking past the bar at some point I heard somebody say that the singer is the music editor for the City Paper. So that was neat. The music was fine, lots of vocals (and I had trouble making out lyrics) with some twangy guitar work and muted drums. It wasn't really my cup of tea, but it seemed more appropriate given the size of the crowd. It also prompted a discussion with Spencer about how Pittsburghers seem to like a serving of country with their rock & roll meals. I postulated that it might be a sheer consequence of geography, since I feel this corner of Pennsylvania is situated perfectly between Southern-fried country music and Northeastern classic rock. That was as deep as my theory was. I'd be interested to hear other ideas, as well.
I couldn't find any videos, but he has a few live recordings from Howler's posted on his website here. Also, in case you're interested, here is a listing of his articles from the City Paper.

Finally, Bear Hands took the stage. Their music was quite different from the previous acts, and it also felt like it would work really well in a more crowded club, but it didn't seem like they particularly cared. They went through a series of upbeat, loud and rocking songs and seemed to be really playing their hearts out and having fun the whole time. This also might be because they just embarked on a tour, and this was (I believe) only the second stop. Despite the small crowd, everyone seemed to be enjoying it and bopping around (you know, the usual hipstery dancing-but-not-really kinda thing). I can't really think of much to say about their music except that it was wholly enjoyable and uplifting. If you have an opportunity to see them live, definitely take advantage of it. I feel like they'll be popular in the near future, and for good reason. After the show, I made Spencer buy me their single on white vinyl (since I paid for his ticket) and the singer informed that their debut album is fully recorded and in the mixing process, so I'm looking forward to that. Here are some videos of them playing live, and here's a song from their EP. Also, their website has the single "What A Drag" available for free download: check it out. Also, check out their MySpace page for tour dates.

Concert review: Emily Rodgers, Lohio, Anna Vogelzang, Annie Palmer

Emily Rodgers & Her Band, Lohio, Anna Vogelzang & Annie Palmer
Monday February 15, Howler's
with Spencer

I grabbed a 54C on Craig Street and made it Howler's around 9:40. There are a few reasons that I like seeing shows at Howler's, even though I've only done that twice now. First, one can see the musical act (from behind) from the street; that's pretty neat. Second, the acoustics are always great, even though the room is just a big empty rectangle. Perhaps the plethora of t-shirts hanging on the ceiling dampens the harsh reverb or some shit like that (they're also fun to read when you're bored). Third, the atmosphere is always relaxed and casual; I feel fine getting up and walking to grab a drink at the bar, even if I'm seated in the front row of the audience-associated tables. Also, there's usually plenty of performer banter, and even if it is pandering for donations or CD/clothing/paraphernalia sales, it's at least endearing. The only downside is that the audiences tend to be rather lackluster, both in sheer numbers and in appreciatory applause. Tonight was no exception to that rule of two. At no point were there more than 15 people in the crowd. Granted, the main act was local and the touring openers were (well, at least one of them was, as far as I know) former locals. Still, there was minimal applause after each song, and I wish I could have been more encouraging towards the performers without . . . well, without embarrassing myself, I guess.

I walked into the concert side of Howler's during the middle of Anna Vogelzang's set and sat down at a fully-lit table on the front left side. I caught two songs with her playing guitar and singing, and was impressed with her voice; it was well-tuned, and even when the guitar strumming got frantic and loud and unrestrained, it felt emotionally natural and forcefully admirable. The lyrics were earnest and, at times, humorous juxtapositions of sounds and sayings. I wish I could remember some of them, but I found myself smiling outwardly at many of the little turns of phrase she managed to pack into her lyrical strummings. At one point, she related some current text messages to the audience, including a story about performing song requests on a live internet-broadcasted show via texts: “The future is now!” After a few songs, she switched to the banjo and played more songs in the same vein. I remain impressed by her musicianship and personability. Her set concluded with a mellow, melancholy duet with prior performer (whom I missed) Annie Palmer. At some point, I had gotten a beer from the bar and when I came back, I pulled out my Stewart calculus textbook and planned my recitation for Tuesday morning. Anna must have seen me doing this (I was in the “front row”, after all) since, later on, between sets, she came around to everyone handing out slips of paper with URLs for free album downloads, and made a comment about me doing homework during her set. I tried to say something to the effect of , “Oh, it's not like that . . . I'm teaching, actually” but it came out more like “Ohh . . . uhh . . . yeah. Thanks.” Oh well. She played a Lady Gaga cover song (and joshingly criticized an audience member for his too-quick denial of appreciation for her music) and referenced a YouTube video of her attempting to learn this song on her guitar while she was drunk. She quoted a few of the comments on the video, which were (like any internet thread) quite inane. Check that video out here. Also, the aforementioned paper slips with URLs for downloading her album “Cartography” were for this website. Be sure to check it out.

Next up was a stripped-down version of Lohio, and by that I mean two guitarists, one of whom sang. They sounded pretty interesting, and the non-singing guitarist played bottleneck/slide guitar style for a portion of the set and it sounded great. They included a few cover songs, playing Iron & Wine and Townes Van Zandt. It was pretty interesting, and it seemed like they were really just trying stuff out to see how it sounded in the club setting.

The final set was from Emily Rodgers & Her Band, as they were billed. This was essentially Emily on guitar and vocals, the talented guitarist from the stripped-down Lohio, a female bassist, and a drummer. Everyone seemed particularly proficient at their individual instruments, especially Emily and her voice; most of the appeal of her album “Bright Day”, which I downloaded on eMusic a couple months ago (and came out in October 2009), at least for me, is the haunting and ethereal yet forcefully present nature of her voice. She manages to make herself heard over the rocking guitars and bass lines without seeming strained or stretched. Spencer made a comment after the show while we were hanging out at the bar which was something to the effect of, “They sounded ok, but I didn't really like them overall because the guitarist could run circles around the others.” This seems like an unfair assessment (“X was not good because some element x of X was too good”) but it sort of makes sense. I don't particularly agree with it, and I did enjoy their set, even though it did seem like they were just running through the album I've already heard and the live versions were not overtly different, but I can see where he's coming from. I'll certainly check out any new material she puts out. Here's a video for the single “Hurricane” from her album.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Concert review: Meeting of Important People, Chet Vincent, Landline @ Brillobox

Meeting of Important People, Chet Vincent and the Big Bend, Landline
Friday January 29, Brillobox
with Asa, Charlotte, Lisa

This show seemed to reinforce everything that I like and dislike about seeing shows at the Brillobox. I bought tickets for this show online a couple weeks in advance thinking it would likely sell out, and also having been turned away at the door at 2 shows in December (Donora and Do Make Say Think (although missing the DMST show led Spencer and me to discover the fun of the Brillobox Wendesday night pub quiz)). On the afternoon of the show, I convinced Asa and Charlotte to come along, as well, and Charlotte attempted to buy tix online but was turned away. She called the venue and whoever answered said that there were plenty of tickets left and as long as they showed up when the doors opened (9:30), they should be fine. And that is precisely what happened. But the place never seemed that full and I saw people being turned away at 10:30 or so. So I'm glad it worked out for us, but too bad for the others.

Anyway, Landline came on first just after 10:00, and they played a solid set of guitar-laden tunes that showed some pretty good variety within that genre, even. There were some melodic Pixies-esque numbers and some more yelpy, punky songs, and overall it was a solid amalgam. The drummer was hammering the skins like he was trying to break them, in rhythm. And he did! He knocked the bass drum mike over multiple times, requiring a guy from the front row, and the sound technician, to fix it (on separate occasions), and at some point he “drummed off” the cap on one of his cymbals. The bass player had crazy skinny arms. But that's irrelevant. The music rocked, even when we were all standing way too close to (i.e. right in front of) the speaker.

Next up was Chet Vincent. We moved away from the speaker during the break and I got an Old Chub at the bar. And then the band started to play. And then we went downstairs. I don't mean to rag on this band because they did have a solid, cohesive sound and if you like a sort of country twinge to your rock music, they might be right up your alley. However, the four of us decided to hang out downstairs for a while, especially since Asa & Charlotte had never been to the Brillobox before. I also told them beforehand that they needed to touch the walls upstairs, referring (in my mind) to the velvety black/white pattern on certain sections of the walls. Charlotte interpreted this differently and looked to me at some point early on in the evening while rubbing the plain, black-painted wall with a mixture of confusion and disappointment. I redirected her to the appropriate section of wall after that.

Anyway, we trekked back upstairs later on to catch MOIP finishing their setup. They launched into an energetic set of some of the songs from their self-titled album, threw in another rendition of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” by the Animals (like the last time I saw them), and played a couple new songs that are supposedly on a forthcoming EP (in the recording process, so says their Myspace page). It was another solid and upbeat set, and the crowd really got into it. They played right over the chatter at the bar and I think I even saw some dancing hipsters!

All in all, a fun night. I enjoyed Landline a lot, personally, and I would gladly watch MOIP play their songs every week, given the chance.

I couldn't any videos of Landline, but they have a few songs up on their Myspace page
MOIP - I Know Every Street in This Town
Chet Vincent and the Big Bend - Blues Song