Sunday, March 28, 2010

Concert Review: Anamanaguchi, Sabrepulse

Anamanaguchi, Saberpulse
Tuesday March 28, 2010 at CMU
with Deepak, Will, Lisa

I only caught the last quarter of this show since we had an IM soccer game earlier in the evening. I met Deepak at the show during Saberpulse's set, and Will and Lisa showed up later to see Anamanaguchi. I had heard of Anamanaguchi through Deepak, and had listened to some of their songs at his place and was intrigued by the combination of Nintendo sounds and rock music. The song and a half that I saw from Sabrepulse was definitely more Nintendo than rock, though. The act was actually one British guy controlling an amalgam of electrical equipment and dancing around and fist pumping. He seemed to have a Game Boy in his hands and was pressing buttons, but I really don't know what effect that had on the sound. There was a crowd of people by the front of the stage dancing around, but it was nothing like what he was doing onstage. He bopped back and forth between pieces of equipment and jumped around and shot his fist into the air. Clearly, he was having fun. I didn't dislike the music, but it wasn't exactly my cup of tea, either. Strangely, there was a large screen behind the stage that was displaying a movie; Deepak told me it was “The Room”, a notoriously bad, cult drama film.

Anamanaguchi played next and they were more enjoyable, to me. They are basically a standard rock band that plays 8-bit produced sounds from equipment on the side of the stage that serve as the main melodies, while the guitars/bass/drums fill in the soundscape. Also, they played some psychedelic/digital animated images instead of a crappy B-movie with no sound. Their set was loud and energetic, full of crunchy guitars and fast drumming and high-pitched melody lines. In fact, the drummer played so fast that he ripped off his t-shirt after the first two songs. There were long lulls between songs as they set up the digital stuff, which was too bad, but their banter was pretty funny and they had programmed the computerized voice intro to say silly things. I think I'll listen to their songs again, every once in a while.

Turns out this was the last night of a month-long US tour for these 4 acts that played with hacked Game Boys, known as the “8-Bit Alliance Tour”. After Anamanguchi's set, they all came out onstage and said an awkward goodbye and thankyou to the crowd, wherein Sabrepulse was draped with three guitars and had a drumstick placed in his mouth by the other bands. It was odd but endearing.

on MySpace
Live at Blip Festival

“Helix Nebula”
”Jetpack Blues Sunset Hues”
Live in San Francisco

Concert Review: Magik Markers, Tusk Lord, Mike Tamburo

Magik Markers, Tusk Lord, Mike Tamburo
Monday March 22, 2010 at Garfield Artworks
with Paul, Chris. L

I have yet to see a show at Garfield Artworks that I did not thoroughly enjoy, and I'm impressed by the array of local openers that Manny manages to find. This time, I biked over to Garfield from campus after a 3-on-3 IM basketball game that knocked us out of the bracket in the first round (Deepak: “Shortest season ever!”). Paul and Chris were there already, and a handful of other concertgoers, and there was a large bearded guy onstage tuning a dulcimer on his lap with a gong hanging behind him. It turned out to be Mike Tamburo, the opening act. He eventually played two “songs”, one on the gong and one on the dulcimer, after setting up some incense and candles onstage. The gong song (hah), or “ecstatic” as he called it, was interesting to watch; he alternated between pounding the gong with a mallet and then rubbing a smaller mallet on the surface to modulate the sound, sometimes shaking the strings from which the gong hung to scatter the sound waves across the room. At times it was almost quiet, with just the reverberations hanging in the air, at times it was loud, and at times it was deafeningly loud. Towards the end, a particularly loud hit even knocked the gong off its hangers! Mike just laughed and apologized and reattached it before moving on. He introduced the dulcimer solo by mentioning a band that he plays in with his girlfriend and his friend (who was seated next to me and doing meditation/breathing exercises the whole time) and saying that this song is a version of a traditional Bulgarian anthem that is sung/played in certain seasons to chase away the demons and secure a good harvest. He sat cross-legged on a rug at the front of the stage, set the dulcimer on his lap, and played the strings with two wooden spoon-like implements. The song itself featured a lot of rising arpeggios and scales, the “spoons” bouncing around one section of the strings then descending to the lower strings and exploring them for a while. He managed to play quite fast, and I could see the spoons doing that thing you did with a pencil in middle school when you were bored where it looks like its wobbly even though its not. Yeah, that phenomenon. I'd only ever seen the dulcimer played by strumming, so this was really cool to watch. It was a strange opening act given the music that followed it, but I was entranced the whole time.

The next act was Tusk Lord, but I had to check the poster again to catch their name since I had trouble understanding the singer, due to both the lo-fi acoustics and the speed of their set. They played fast and noisy rock with a sloppy (in a good way) guitar heavy sound. There was a keyboard player but I couldn't quite make out what he was contributing, which is too bad. At the end of their second to last song, there was a very quiet moment where the guitars stopped playing and the keyboardist played a few notes solo, and it sounded like a perfect break in the clouds; they really need to do more of that. After each song, they just jumped right into the next one, and the singer even counted down their last 3 songs. Paul likened each song to the whole set, saying that in each case, just when he was getting into it, it abruptly ended. I liked their live sound; it was perfect for the venue.

The Magik Markers played last and absolutely nailed it. Over the course of a 40 minute set, they paused for only 2 applause breaks; the rest was a meandering showcase of reverb-drenched guitar shredding and rhythmic, no-frills drumming. A lot of it seemed improvised, with the female singer/guitarist (playing left-handed, too!) extracting all sorts of sounds from her guitar using pedals and effects and strumming; it was fascinating to watch her create these sounds and wonder whether she has some internal vision of what she wants to play or if she just plucks away and sees what happens. Meanwhile, the drummer was keeping time during these long solo sections and sometimes playing a keyboard line. I noticed the drummer was wearing an orange t-shirt with images of the Velvet Underground members on it, too. They had a bassist, as well, and he really rounded out their sound. Overall, it was a real “show” in the true sense of the word; a veritable spectacle of straight-up rock music. Be sure to watch the live videos I linked to below. Afterwards, I bought their LP “Boss” on vinyl, as did Chris, and Paul bought a different vinyl album. I've been playing it fairly frequently this past week, and don't see myself stopping anytime soon.

Mike Tamburo:
on MySpace
feature article from the Pittsburgh City Paper
Live in State College, PA

Tusk Lord:
on MySpace
Live in Pittsburgh, February 2010
Live in Ithaca, NY

Magik Markers:
on MySpace
music video for "Taste"
Live at SXSW 2007
12 minute long free jam

EDIT: Just found this link for a free download of the Magik Markers live at Brooklyn's Union Pool on March 19, 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Concert review: Thee Starry Eyes, The Whips

Thee Starry Eyes, The Whips
Friday March 19, 2010 at Belvedere's
with Spencer, Paul, Chris L.

We had planned on seeing Margot & The Nuclear So and So's at the Brillobox but learned around 7 pm that it was sold out. I scanned the City Paper for music listings to find something else interesting happening nearby and found a show at Belvedere's Bar in Lawrenceville. I did some quick Googling to find info about the bands and, actually, had a tough time. The Whips at least had a MySpace page with some songs, several recorded live, from the sound of them. I liked the idea that their CD was named “Cooler than Jim Jarmusch” and wondered about how they came up with something like that. Also, they listed a theremin and electric viola among their instruments, which intrigued me. The rest of the search results were listings for past concerts. For Thee Starry Eyes, all I could find were similar past listings and a Post-Gazette article from December that was a 2009-local-music-year-in-review type thing and only mentioned that they played cover songs from the Nuggets collection at a show at Howler's in July. In fact, the number one hit upon searching “thee starry eyes” was the very City Paper listing that I had just read! (EDIT: this post is now the #3 hit. Weird.) Anyway, they sounded interesting enough to go see, and I had been meaning to check out the bars in Lawrenceville anyway. I called the venue to get more info (time and price) and the guy who answered couldn't even find any posters at the bar with the desired info and gave me the guess of “around 9 pm” and “can't be more than $8”. Good enough for me.

I met Paul and Chris at the bar a little before 9:30. The place was way more spacious than I expected, with a cozy bar area near the entrance (with a couple of comfy recliners in the corner, even) leading to a much larger hardwood-floored room with a stage way off on the other side, a tiny bar to the right and two billiards tables and a ping-pong table and a couple of pinball machines. Wow. They only had a few taps (including the Abita Turbodog, which I ordered) but the bottle selection looked pretty good, too (and cheap, given the quality). There was a board above the bar listing upcoming events, and it said that Wednesdays are “Punk Karaoke Nite” which sounds really . . . interesting. I may have to see that at least once. We watched some college basketball on the big screen there for a few minutes then wandered into the big room and settled down on a comfortable couch in front of a coffee table. (I'm still amazed by the layout and furniture of this place. I need to go there more often.)

Eventually, some people walked onstage and began tuning up. I guessed it was The Whips, seeing the violist, and shortly thereafter they just launched right into a song, and it sounded familiar but I think that's just because I had been listening to their songs on MySpace before leaving my apartment. After that, they tuned for another minute and then walked off without saying anything. Okay. Turns out that was just the sound check. They didn't get back onstage until much later, after Spencer arrived around 10:30. Their music was fine enough, but I came to realize that the familiarity I experienced with the first song might also be due to the fact that all of their songs are pretty much identical: strummy lead guitar, straightforward bass lines, some viola backing, a faint drum beat, and some yelpy and unintelligible (to me) vocals. There was another guitarist onstage, but I really couldn't even tell what he was contributing. The most interesting moments were when the singer played the theremin and either shook his arm or kicked out his leg to match the modulations of the sounds, and the viola solos. They played an instrumental song during the middle, and I think it was their best. The singer's voice was my least favorite part, and I also had trouble hearing the drummer, who didn't seem to be doing anything crazy anyway. They played for half an hour then took a break before playing more, and during the break we moved over to the “pool hall” side to the right of a see-thru divider hanging from the ceiling. I think they sounded noticeably better from over there, actually, since I could see/hear the drummer and the singer's voice was projected away from us. They also played an interesting rock and roll cover version of “Tainted Love”. Overall, I say “meh” but I can see that some people might like it. I'm glad there ended up being no cover charge for the show, too!

Spencer schooled us at pool. We played some 2 on 2 and he clearly dominated, eventually switching to left-handed to make it interesting. It made me realize I should play more often since it's a lot of fun and I was out of practice, too. While we were playing, Thee Starry Eyes took the stage and started to rock out. There was a bassist and guitarist and drummer onstage, with one guitarist hanging out on the floor near the stage and the singer roaming around the whole bar carrying a tambourine. Seriously. While singing he would bounce around near the stage, but during instrumental sections he would dance around the whole place shaking the tambourine and jumping up and down, sometimes handing it off to people in the audience and clapping his hands instead. We started off watching from the pool table area, and I had leaned my cue against the divider and during one of his manic dancing episodes he bounced into the hanging thing and knocked over the cue, for which he apologized between songs, to some laughter. We moved back over to the stage area soon thereafter to watch him go wild, and we each got to jam on the tambourine at some point. They played all cover versions of old 60s garage rock hits, and they had lots of fun doing it, apparently. The roaming guitarist (who I recognized from hanging around the WRCT station way back when) chain smoked most of the time and the singer did his aforementioned bouncing and the drummer played loud and proud with lots of cymbals. They did a version of The Standell's “Dirty Water" but swapped “Pittsburgh” for “Boston” in the lyrics. Hah. And they closed their set around 1:45 am with a rousing rendition of The 13th Floor Elevators' classic single “You're Gonna Miss Me” substituting tambourine for the jug. Between songs the singer asked if anyone had any jokes, and I went up and told my favorite pirate joke, a version of which you can find at the bottom of this page. All told, their set was tons of fun and way more enjoyable, so I didn't mind the late-night finish. I'd be glad to see them again live.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Concert review: Wye Oak, Lower Dens

Wye Oak, Lower Dens (with Jana Hunter)
Saturday March 13, 2010 at Brillobox
with Spencer, Lisa, Brittany

I am so glad Wye Oak passed through Pittsburgh. I've been thinking about how good their music would be to see live, and I distinctly remember checking their website for tour dates only a day or two before it was announced that they were coming to the Brillobox. I didn't recognize the name of the opener (Jana Hunter) and it was even changed (to Lower Dens) later on, and I thought it strange that only one opener was listed, so I didn't feel bad running a little late to the show. However, Brittany was already there waiting on Lisa and me since we had the tickets on reserve (oops!), so I'm glad we happened to catch the 54C after waiting at the stop for five minutes and then deciding to just start walking in the right direction anyway. Spencer met us there later on.

I had a strange experience on the walk to the bus stop. While walking past the driveway entrance to the bank on the corner of Morewood and Centre, there was a car turning right into the bank parking lot. I looked quickly to my left and saw that it pulled up beside us and was waiting for us to walk by, but it still seemed awfully close. I looked forward and kept walking, but then I suddenly felt something hit my “back” leg as the car rumbled into the lot. My first thoughts, upon turning abruptly around, were that someone tossed a bottle or something solid out of the window, or else the car kicked up a rock; but I didn't hear any bouncing rock or broken glass, and I didn't see anything on my pants in the area where I felt a dull pain. What happened? I couldn't think of what else it could be. I must have been “hit” by a car. They were in such a rush to pull into the bank (that was closed, at that time of night, even) that they couldn't even wait for a pedestrian to get fully out of the way! To be honest, I'm still not 100% sure this is truly what happened, but I can't think of any alternatives . . .

Anyhow, after getting to the bar, meeting Brittany downstairs, and venturing upstairs, we came upon a mostly empty room with a DJ playing some “dance” music with the lights fairly bright. It was a little awkward for a while, with people standing around. The only people really dancing were at the front-right area of the stage, and they were Andy and Jenn from Wye Oak!

After a while, Lower Dens took the stage. I had no idea what to expect, and I was blown away. As a hardcore Velvet Underground fan, this is probably the closest I've come to experiencing what it must have been like to see them in their early, noisy days. The drumming was throbbing and metronomic, the guitars reverb-laden and forcefully melodic, and the singer had a Mo Tucker-like alluring androgyny and a soft voice that somehow still perfectly cut through the wall of sound. I was enthralled throughout their entire set, lulled into a strangely soothing and meditative state by their droning sound, despite how fucking loud it really was. I spoke with the guitarist after the show, and they have an album coming out sometime in the summer, ideally; their current tour is preparation for the recording process later in the spring. I bought a CD with 4 demo versions of songs they played and it sounds pretty good; I'm quite excited to see what they come up with in the studio, and I really hope it lives up to their live experience. I definitely want to see this band again.

Wye Oak took the stage around 11:30. After listening to their two albums, I was curious about how they achieved such a full sound, with guitar and drums and bass and (sometimes) strings, despite having only two members. Why did I never think to watch live clips on the interwebs? Well, it turns out that the drummer Andy plays drums with his right hand and keyboards with his left, generating all of the other sounds. He even played while blowing into a tube in his mouth for one song, which I assume is some sort of way to affect the sound of the keyboards. (Update: I learned from this NPR story that it's a melodica. And I watched his feet for a little while, and they never even touched the ground! They were constantly raised and poised to pound a cymbal/drum. Check out this video of him playing the drum and bass parts for their song “Warning” and be prepared to be amazed.

Janna's voice is so haunting and poignant, and I don't know anyone else who can rock out a swirling, reverb-drenched guitar solo and then subtly tap a foot pedal and suddenly switch back into the soft and slow melody from before. It's mighty impressive and fascinating to watch. I really like their sound, and am also looking forward to their next album. They had a 5 song EP for sale (info and a free download of one song here) but I had already spent my cash (and some borrowed cash) on the Lower Dens demo CD and an album of Jana Hunter's.

Oh right, so I did some Googling and reading the next day and learned that Lower Dens is a recently-formed band, and the lead singer is Jana Hunter, a singer/songwriter from Baltimore-via-Texas who has a couple of solo albums out, and seems to be mostly known as a friend of/collaborator with Devendra Banhart. I bought one of those solo albums at the show, thinking (I guess, rather naively) that it would be similar to the band's sound. It sounds quite different, in fact, but is equally good in its own way. I also figured out she was in a band in Austin, TX in the late 1990s called Matty & Mossy and they had one album and that link is the ONLY one I could find with any possible way of obtaining it. Is it really that rare? Is my internet-search ability that poor? I've posted some videos below of her performing solo. Do check them out and be amazed by how they are so different from (and yet somehow similar to?) the Lower Dens songs here.

Overall, this was a truly awesome show. The kind of music that these two bands play is fascinating to see and listen to live, and I really hope to see both of them again in the future.

Thanks to Brittany for taking and sending me the pictures of Wye Oak you see here!

Lower Dens – blog
They, unfortunately, don't really have anything else available/findable on the web.

Wye Oak – For Prayer live
Wye Oak – Live on NPR
Wyea Oak – official video for “Please Concrete”
Wye Oak – Daytrotter session

Jana Hunter – “Palms” live
Jana Hunter – live in Houston (2 parts, full concert)
Jana Hunter – Daytrotter session

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Concert review: Jenny Owen Youngs, Bess Rogers, Allison Weiss

Jenny Owen Youngs, Bess Rogers, Allison Weiss (Spring Break Forever tour)
Friday March 12, 2010 at Garfield Artworks
with Leigh, Erin, Spencer, Lisa, Amy

This show was all kinds of fun. Jenny, Bess and Allison are three singing/songwritings ladies who, apparently, like to have fun on stage and play music, and that's that. There was hilarious stage banter, a huge assortment of songs featuring, I believe, all 6 possible combinations of the 3 of them, and a show-ending song about Spring Break. What's not to love?

Allison Weiss played first as the others set up some instruments behind her. The whole show started late since they got stuck in traffic or construction or something on the way. The six of us had walked to the venue and got there a bit after 7:30, but there were only 3 people inside and the sound guy said that they were running 30 minutes late, so we walked down two blocks to see what was around and realized there was nothing to see. We ended up setting down at the bar of the “Envy nightclub” right next door to the venue, but it did not seem like a nightclub at all. There was no dancing. What they did have was really cheap and strong mixed drinks, a couple people eating food in a booth, and two TVs blaring “Supernanny” and “Rush Hour 3”. Very strange, but in an endearingly quirky way. Leigh ordered a gin & tonic, and one of the ladies working there had to walk to the convenience store across the street to get tonic. They didn't have limes, but how often do you get that kind of TLC in your G&T? We all stayed for a drink and then bid Envy adieu. I may have to stop back there the next time I go to a show at the Artworks, just to see if it still exists and remains just as strange.

Anyway, Allison played a bunch of songs and entertained us with her witty and charming banter. She was genuinely excited to be performing and must have shouted “Spring Break!” at least three times, encouraging those of us who were “of age” and not “all ages” to get drunk and dance. None of that happened, unfortunately. Gradually, Bess and Jenny joined in on some songs, adding keyboard and guitar and bass to the songs. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a performance with so little percussion; the only drum-like instrument they used was a tambourine, played by foot-stomping. For one song, Jenny played glockenspiel while seated in the audience. It was cool to turn around in my chair and watch her up close, knocking gently on the metal keys while the girl sitting next to her held out her iPhone for lighting. Check out the links below to see some videos of Allison performing and to get a better idea of just how enjoyable she is to watch; it's infectious. She also has a live album available for free download from her website.

Bess Rogers played some of her songs next, and the other two joined in occasionally. Her songs were a little more mellow than Allison's, and she also played the ukulele. I guess I don't have much to say about her set. It was fun and interesting, but I think I liked the others' songs more.

Jenny Owen Youngs played some of her material last. Her voice is so interesting, particularly the way it looks like she almost has to force some lines into the microphone whereas some others fly out of her mouth fast and loudly. I've listened to the two albums of hers that I have sporadically and always enjoy them, but it's not something I find myself playing over and over in succession like some other albums I like. This set was a good assortment of upbeat songs and more slow, introspective numbers, such as her (likely) most well-known single, “Fuck Was I”. The show ended with all 3 of them onstage playing a rousing singalong “Spring Break” song with some pretty silly lyrics and a vocalized skatted “guitar solo” by Allison and concluding with a kazoo outro, the kazoo being provided by the sound guy during the song. All in all, it really was a fantastically fun show.

Allison Weiss – live at Billboard Magazine
Allison Weiss – Kids (MGMT cover)
Allison Weiss – live at Eddie's Attic in Decatur, GA (the whole concert is on youtube, this is the first video)

Bess Rogers – I Don't Worry
Bess Rogers – What We Want live

Jenny Owen Youngs and Bess Rogers – Voice on Tape
Jenny Owen Youngs – Transmitter Failure live

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Concert review: Donora, Savoir Adore, Ennui, Mon Khmer

Donora, Savoir Adore, Ennui, Mon Khmer
Friday March 5, 2010 at Howler's
with Lisa, Spencer, Paul

This was quite the contrast from typical (of what I've seen) Howler's shows. I'm mainly thinking of the Black Hollies show last summer where there were, oh, 5 of us in the audience, passively sitting as they stuffed our ears to the brim with superloud psychedelic rock. This time, Donora rocked the house with their Yinzer dance-pop while a couple people CROWD SURFED. The concert-half of Howler's was more crowded than I've ever even seen the bar-half. What a difference a headliner makes; it's clear that Donora has a local following of friends/fans, since all of their shows are jam-packed or even sold out, and they seem to do a show in Pittsburgh at least once or twice a month. Leigh said she even heard a couple of their songs recently on a local radio station up in Boston. Neato!

We arrived during the first act's set, and spent the rest of the concert trying to figure out their name. I had trouble hearing the singer's words between songs, and there were only 3 acts on the bill but this guitar/drum duo was the first of four performances, so . . . I did manage to hear him say that they were typically a 5-piece band, but 3 members couldn't make it somehow, so they spent some time between songs figuring out exactly which songs they could play as a duo. I was digging their stripped-down sound, with hooky guitar riffs and shoegazy solos backed by upbeat rock percussion rhythms. Their MySpace page has a handful of songs with their full band and they sound a little different. I think I prefer the smaller band versions, actually; they feel more intimate and heartfelt. Oh yeah I just checked the Howler's website now as I'm writing this (a week later) and finally learned their name :-D

Next up was the perfect example of a band that truly fit their name: Ennui. I don't think any of the four of us particularly enjoyed them. I thought the instrumentals were cool, but the singer ruined everything, moaning/mumbling like a depressed drunk ghost into the microphone and almost drowning out the guitar and keyboard. Perhaps this works better in a smaller setting and I'd like to give them a chance, but they definitely didn't fit into the rest of the concert bill.

Savoir Adore played third. They were more in line with the other acts, playing toe-tapping percussive pop with female vocals and jangly guitar/keyboards. The guitarist was bouncing around and bopping his head more than anybody in the audience, too. Check out the videos below for a good sampling of their sound, particularly the music vid for MERP which is so upbeat and fun that it can't fail to make you smile :-)

Donora closed the show in their usual crowd-pleasing fashion and played most of their “hits”, including their cover version of M.I.A.'s “Paperplanes” (see the link below). As I mentioned above, a couple people even crowdsurfed during their set, prompting the singer to remark with a smirk that she did “not condone this”, but clearly they were loving it. They even played an encore! I'm glad to see them practically sell out so many venues around town, and I hope their success continues and sees them playing around the country.

Mon Khmer – Oslo and Anniversary live at Bowery Electric in NYC

Ennui – music video for Time & Place
Ennui – Heard You Say live in Lancaster, PA
Ennui - live recording from this very show!

Savoir Adore – music video for MERP
Savoir Adore – live at a SXSW 2009 house party

Donora – Paperplanes (M.I.A. Cover) live in their attic?
Donora – Saturday Night live at Mercurcy Lounge in NYC

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Concert review: A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Lohio, Landline

A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Lohio, Landline
Saturday Februrary 27, Brillobox
with Lisa, Chris L.-H.

I had purchased a ticket for this show a long time in advance since I was already buying tickets for some other Brillobox shows I really wanted to go to. I had at least heard of ASDIG via the whole Pitchfork/eMusic musico-blogosphere, so I watched a few videos on YouTube and listened to Ashes Grammar (their latest album) on Lala to get a good idea of their sound, and it seemed like it would translate well in a live show. The tickets were kind of an impulse buy right at the cashier at the grocery store, but I think it worked out.

I usually take the 54C to get to the Brillobox, but this time Chris was coming along from the other direction, so Lisa and I decided to walk to the 86A stop on Centre Ave. and meet him on the bus. As it turned out, we were both waiting for a (rather late) bus only one block apart. Oh well. We were waiting at the corner of Graham & Centre, right in front of the relatively new restaurant Avenue B, which features large (almost) floor to ceiling windows and outward-facing tables. As such, it felt a little awkward to be standing there for 20+ minutes alternating between staring down the street in the direction of the bus and turning around to catch someone in the middle of a slurp of soup or what have you. After a while I decided, and declared, that I was going to give these people “dinner and a show.” In retrospect, and in the moment, this is absurd, since I had nothing to do with their dinner; I did attempt to provide a show, though. The combination of recent flurries and warm-then-cold temperatures made for some perfect packing snow: just the right amount of moisture to form solid snowballs. I crafted three such spheroids from a pile on the sidewalk and commenced juggling. It was going pretty well for a while, and I did the only “trick” I can really do: switching from juggling 3-balls-in-2-hands to 2-balls-in-1-hand, then doing this with the other hand, and so on. After a minute or so, I caught them in my hands and tried to think of another trick, when I heard a knocking on the Avenue B window. A table of four up front was offering some applause, so I gave a mock bow while Lisa blatantly laughed at me. I started juggling again and tried to toss one around my back, but that failed miserably, so I threw the other two snowballs into the road in mock disgust. At that point, the same guy knocked on the window and offered support in the form of a wave of the hand as if to say, “Ahhhh, who needs it?” To stay entertained, I threw some snowballs at the mural on the side wall of the restaurant, but then the bus came and we took off.

Landline opened the show. This is now the 4th time I've seen them, and I keep liking them more and more. Heavy guitar rock, insane pounding drumming, thumping bass, with a nice variety of punk vocal stylings. I wish I knew where to find more of their music; these two songs on MySpace aren't enough, and I had portions of two of their songs stuck in my head for days, neither of which were available on their page. We overheard at least a couple of groups of people in the crowded room talking about them while they were playing, wondering who they were and such. I think that's a good sign. Their drummer managed to break even more stuff this time, continually knocking over the bass drum microphone, and snapping one of the snare drums off of its stand, trying futilely to fix it mid song, then giving up and banging twice as hard on the one that was still standing. Chris also made a comment about how he seemed to enjoy local opening acts more than some openers that tour with the national act, making a specific comparison to the openers at the Tortoise show the week prior. My point here is: you should see Landline play. Don't listen to Asa.

Lohio played next, and this time it was the full band. I liked them a bit better than the duet version I saw at Howler's, but they still fall under that category of country-twinged indie rock that isn't really my favorite style. For what they do, they do it pretty well. The guitarist who had been playing with all sorts of effects at the Howler's show stayed towards the back of the stage in the corner this time and filled their songs with guitar solos and neat effects. He seems to be the most instrumentally proficient, and the others were more performance-oriented and vocal. I also think the female singer/guitarist looked a bit like Annie Clark (from St. Vincent). Strangely, Lohio also seemed to be the big draw of the evening. The room was jam-packed for this portion of the show, and I noticed later that the crowd had thinned out towards the end of ASDIG's set.

ASDIG took the stage last and a little late for a Brillobox show, even for a Saturday. Their sound was reverb-heavy and thick for the whole set, a veritable wall of melodic noise. Strangely, the drummer wore headphones the whole time, maybe to tune out some of the reverb? It's funny to think that he was listening to Shostakovich while playing, or something like that. Maybe Raffi? Haha. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed their set and found myself bopping around to the beat (although certainly not as much as the two dudes towards the front of the stage who danced nonstop for 45 minutes), but I'm not sure about listening to their music outside of a live setting. It probably works best as something to play in the background during a party or when I'm sitting around reading/working. The female voices were somehow perfect complements for the guitar-laden sound.

All in all, a solid concert: good openers, good headliner, good mix of genres. Before I go, I want to recommend a new (to me) beer that I've enjoyed at the last few Brillobox shows I've been to. They have a good selection of craft beers in cans for $4 at the upstairs (concert) bar, including a bunch from upstate NY's Butternuts Beer & Ale, and Oskar Blues' Old Chub Scottish Ale, one of my all time faves. Recently, they've featured a new one: the Chupacabra IPA from some Mexican brewery. I tried it on a whim, and it was quite tasty; not as hoppy as other IPAs I like, but it had a uniquely flavorful malt character. I just did some Googling and can't seem to find it though. I'm not sure this is the same brewery, since I specifically remember it labeled as an IPA (not a Pale Ale) and it did come in a can, not a bottle. I'll have to read the can more closely next time I'm there to get the brewery name . . . In the meantime, if you see it somewhere, try it!

update: ASDIG - link to mp3 downloads of a live show in Brooklyn on March 29 2010
ASDIG - Live @ Union Hall
ASDIG - Live in Philly
Lohio - Live on the radio

Friday, March 5, 2010

the business of downloading music

I found this article today via the A.V. club. It discusses the interplay between Apple and Amazon over the latter's "Daily Deal", a feature that lets customers buy certain classic or new-release albums for (relatively) dirt cheap prices, sometimes a day before the street release date. Naturally, Apple doesn't like it, but what's unnatural (to me) is that some major record labels feel like they should stop participating in these kinds of promotions out of, presumably, fear of missing out on business on the iTunes store, or something like that. It seems as though the sheer potential sales volume on the iTunes store is enough to keep people from pissing off Apple, which is unfortunate. How can new music download models, like the Daily Deals, be phased in to the system with this kind of looming fear?

I also saw this article on NPR yesterday about a new music streaming service, Spotify, that has been popular in Europe. The article casually mentioned Apple's acquisition of Lala, a website that I have been using fairly frequently, but a deal that I didn't know about, even though it apparently happened at the end of last year. The music uploader on Lala is fine, but not great (it's rather slow and misidentifies/doesn't recognize the occasional song), but the feature I like is being able to stream every song once for free. It lets me preview an album before I buy it and lets me check out an artist's catalog before buying a ticket to see a show. I hope this feature doesn't get lost in the transition. Check out this article on PC World for some hypotheses about the merger's consequences.

Anyway, I'd also like to use this post to point out some of the download websites I use. I've bought albums on iTunes before, but now I don't even have iTunes on my Linux system. I have never used Amazon, actually, but I think I will start checking out these Daily Deals just to see what's offered. A couple years ago I discovered eMusic and have been very happy with it. It's more suited for purchasing full albums than singles, which I like, and the catalog of small label releases is garagantuan. At first, I used it to fill in my collection of bands I knew and loved, but gradually I started using it to seek out new artists. The editors do well with recommendations, and the other users on the site seem to have good tastes, and perusing the "top-downloaded" charts is actually quite helpful.

A different kind of download site is Amie Street, which I learned about via the eMusic forums, actually. The idea is that albums (and individual tracks) are released with a price of $0.00, and the price increases with the number of downloads. This has let me get a lot of new, popular albums for free or almost free. Another neat feature is that you can "Rec" (as in recommend) any track; if you "rec" a track that costs $0.25 and it later jumps to $0.75$, you can cash in on that differential. If you rec a song when it's free, when you cash in later you get the full change; if the song was strictly positive in price, you get half the difference. You can choose to cash in at any future time. Since lots of new albums are released on Tuesdays, this has meant a lot of late Monday nights for me, refreshing the "New Releases" page around midnight and nabbing the new releases and trying to rec lots of tracks before the price goes up. It sounds crazy, but it's fun.