Thursday, June 17, 2010

blogging blogging everywhere

The internet is a strange and wondrous place. I envision that the content and structure is asymptotically approaching the vision contained within Jorge Luis Borge's incredible short story "The Library of Babel" and that n is tending ever faster to infinity. Here is an ostensibly random amalgamation of blogs that I have encountered recently and found seemingly-endlessly readable:

  • Pitchfork reviews reviews: This is just what it sounds like, with some added (and remarkably astute, I might add) social/musical commentary. (In case you've never heard of Pitchfork, check it out, but don't read too much into it.)

  • Firmuhment's tumblr: A smattering of literary musings scrawled on tangible objects and scanned onto the web, plus some scanned excerpts from novels. I only just discovered this earlier tonite (via the P4k reviews reviews site, actually) and have already read halfway thru the backlog. I'm particularly fond, thus far, of these one two three entries

  • People I'm Next To: Also just what it sounds like, short descriptions of the wacky cavalcade of commonly crazy characters that one encounters in life.

  • Largehearted Boy: Not entirely new to me, but a great website nonetheless. It compiles (daily, during the week) free mp3 downloads of popular indie bands, links to articles about good music/movies/TV/books and features occasional interviews with and guest writings by great artists and writers. Follow along for just the "daily downloads" feature and you'll be hooked.

  • Hugh Shows Redux: A local music blog I've mentioned before, featuring professional photographs of local Pittburgh area concerts and bands.

  • Graduate Student Blog of the American Mathematical Society: Self-explanatory, too, with interesting discussions on math, teaching, and the academic lifestyle.

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD): Daily blog with fascinating photos from the cosmos, and sometimes time-lapse video of space-time phenomena. Super cool.

Concert review: Pocahaunted, Quilt, Wallcreeper

Pocahaunted, Quilt, Wallcreeper
Tuesday June 8, 2010 at T.T. The Bear's Place (Boston, MA)
with Leigh

I had never been to T.T. The Bear's Place. In fact, despite telling most people I meet that I grew up “near Boston”, I had never been to a concert at a Boston rock club/bar. To be fair, I only tell people “near Boston” because most people from outside of New England don't know where Worcester is (let alone how to pronounce it) and I did go to an O.A.R. Concert in the city back in college. Regardless, I was glad to have an opportunity to see another city's indie rock scene, even if it was just a tiny slice and only for one show. I was also glad to see Pocahaunted in the paint-smeared-and-extravagantly-dressed flesh. I had purchased their LP Make It Real after hearing about them via up-and-coming band Best Coast (whose lead singer/guitarist used to be in Pocahaunted) and then checking out some tracks on (R.I.P.). It's become one of those albums that I put on when I just feel like sitting in my recliner and spacing out for a little while, which is good to do from time to time. There's something equally cliché and effective about lighting some soothing incense and listening to droning guitars and drums and chanting, or as one of their record labels, Not Not Fun, puts it: “a 40-minute-ish collage of basement body music, garage dub damage, outsider funkadelic sprawl, voodoo rhythm workouts, duo femme soul vocal dynamics, dripping gold sweat, and dream fulfillment.” I say one of their record labels, because their discography is massive, with a swath of CDs, cassettes, and LPs to their name under a variety of member lineups. If you're new to them, start with Make It Real and, if you like it, work backwards.

We arrived at TT The Bear's in Central Square around 9:30 after noshing down the street at Cambridge's River Gods restaurant, a great vegetarian/vegan friendly spot with a good beer selection, to boot. The first opener, Wallcreeper was wrapping up their set and we caught the end of one song and then one more. Between sets, I played the game “pick 3 bands that the opener sounds like/reminds me of so I can remember them later” (which I usually play in my head) with Leigh and she said Creed right away, and that pretty much killed the game. They didn't really sound too much like them, but the one singer's voice remind us of Creed's singer and I couldn't get that out of my head. Mostly, they had a gloomy, bass-heavy guitar rock sound with duo male vocalists. Nothing fancy or awe-inspiring but perfect local, show-opening fare.

The next act was Quilt, a local three-piece with a male guitarist, a female drummer, and a female who played a few instruments (guitar, banjo, and possibly keyboards but I can't remember). The guy kept his back to the audience for most of the set and did some slow head- and body-bobbing moves while he played. The drummer, with what seemed like a stripped-down drumkit, played with lots of bass drum and not much fancy fill but that was great and fit in nicely with the simply spacious and ethereal sound of the group at large. She also sang into a headset-style microphone, something I have never seen at a show; most singing drummers just stand their mics to the side and swing a long arm right in front of their face, but I guess this method frees up some elbow space or something. The third member played guitar most of the time and sang along with the drummer, and for the last two songs whipped out a banjo to add some extra twang to their melodies. Overall, it was a great style and I really enjoyed their songs: laidback psychedelic melodies with some twangy acoustic edges; soothing, atmospheric voices; and almost ritualistically rhythmic drum thumps. It's a mesmerizing whirl of basic, lo-fi sound and techniques that somehow sounds way ahead of its time, almost timeless. I bought a 7” from them after the show and am itching to listen to it (my vinyl player is back in Pittsburgh...). They were also selling homemade t-shirts, with quilted patterns sewn on to solid-colored tees. Check out their MySpace page and listen to the songs (I particularly like “Pick 'n Save”). That page also includes a funny list of what the acronym QUILT could possibly stand for; my favorite: Qdoba Understands I Love Tacos.

Pocahaunted was a perfect follower for Quilt: from the quiet, unassuming and simplistically beautiful to the loud, ornate and resplendently gorgeous. Their live show is much more than just music: between sets they spent many minutes draping all manner of cloth and shimmery material from the ceiling and overhead pipes (and electrical cords, I couldn't help noticing—eek!), sometimes by tieing a teddy bear to one end of a sheet and tossing him over a pipe to the other side. The band members themselves (at least the three females, anyway) were wearing shiny sequined shirts, colorful headbands, and smeared facepaint. Throughout the performance, the main female singer was bouncing around the left side of the stage, clapping and shouting and chanting into her microphone, and then telling Boston-related anecdotes to a small section of the audience between songs. Behind her was the male guitarist, who really played some great melodies and guitar lines that form the backbone of their songs, but I couldn't quite see him from our vantage point, and it seemed like he wanted to stay out of the spotlight anyway. The female keyboardist was on the right side, filling the melodic spectrum with vocals and keyboard riffs and sometimes abandoning her post to dance towards the middle of the stage and sing and clap. The female bassist was front and center the whole time, slamming some impressive bass riffs and genuinely making love to her microphone stand, with both body and voice. The male drummer was at the back of the stage keeping the whole operation moving forward, playing with great rhythm and cramming it with plenty of cymbals and other drum effects. The whole effect is quite literally entrancing. Some audience members were hop/dancing around in front of the stage, but I found myself just staring at the band and watching them create this all-encompassing sheet of sound, slipping into their sonic sea.

They ended their set somewhat abruptly, with a lot of guitar reverb, and the by-now-shirtless drummer walked offstage last. About half of the crowd dispersed, but the rest kept some heartfelt applause going for at least a whole minute. I saw the band members in the sidestage room glancing out and looking at each other and then deciding to walk back out for another song. The place had been pretty much empty when we got there at 9:30, and people filtered in one or two at a time the whole night until it was just about full by the end of the show proper, but now only half of that crowd was still there and they decided to go ahead with the encore anyway. Kudos to you, Pocahaunted! I whipped out my phone to take some video, thinking that I only had a little bit of battery left so I might as well put it to use; I ended up getting the whole 8 minute long finale song on video, which you can check out below! It's tough to see anything in the dark room, and the sound quality is pretty shitty, but you can hopefully get a good sense of the veritable wall-of-sound effect they create.

MySpace page
Live in Boston, winter 2009
"Christopher Walken" talks about their bassist

Short review, a photo, and two mp3s
Short bio from the Boston Phoenix
Another blurb from the Phoenix, with an mp3
Article from the Boston Globe about an underground show featuring the band

MySpace page with 2 live tracks and 2 album versions of songs from Make It Real
Live performance @ Synchronicity Place, Los Angeles (watch this one for sure, you can actually see all 5 band members at once with no obstructions; well, you can see their silhouettes)
Live song @ Les Voûtes in Paris on June 26th, 2009 (lots of dancing in this one!)
"Ashes is White" music video
Interview with former members Amanda Brown and Bethany Cosentino

Random fact of the day: the current Pocahaunted bassist is named Diva Dompe and her father is Bauhaus drummer Kevin Haskins!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Concert review: Cymbals Eat Guitars, Mariage Blanc, Big Hurry

Cymbals Eat Guitars, Mariage Blanc, Big Hurry
Monday May 3, 2010 at Brillobox
with Lisa, Deepak, James

Loud Quiet Loud is not just the name of a movie about the Pixies; it's also a perfectly apt description of this show, in more ways than one. The first of the openers, Big Hurry, played a loud and dance-worthy set of tunes with their signature punk/synth/jam rock sound smothered with lead singer Kelly's soothing yet urgent vocals that seem to be beamed in from an overhead satellite. I've seen them a number of times around town, and they seem to keep getting better. The second opener, Mariage Blanc, wasn't exactly quiet, but their indie chamber pop stylings were markedly different from the other two bands. Their stage presence was much more polished and confident than what I remember from the last time I saw them, and they supposedly have a full-length album in the works and almost complete.

Cymbals Eat Guitars played last and they themselves rode the loud-quiet-loud wave like pros. Most of the songs were from their debut album, Why There Are Mountains, except for a couple of songs that the singer noted were new (but unnamed, as far as I know). One of the more striking elements of their album is the ability to switch from interludes of soft strumming and hushed vocals to frantic string-shredding and yelling, but equally compelling is how those big bangs of sound don't feel forced or loud-for-loudness'-sake but rather exuberant and perfectly-placed. The live show was no different. The crowd fell quiet (for a Brillobox crowd, at least) at the right moments and alternately rocked out when the loud parts stormed in, which was quite often. The band even offered free earplugs at the beginning of their set, and I should have taken their offer. Oh well. I also found a link on the band's
website to this blog post referring to lead singer Joseph D'Agostino as the “sweatiest front man” around. I concur.

Review by PGH Music Report featuring videos from the show
Review by SITKOT, with a shoutout to Big Hurry's awesomeness
"Wind Phoenix" live on KEXP
"And The Hazy Sea" live at Brooklyn's Northside Festival (amazing guitar solo)
"Cold Spring" live at Pitchfork Festival 2009

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Concert review: The Black Keys

The Black Keys
Friday April 16, 2010 at CMU Wiegand Gym (Spring Carnival concert)
with Deepak, Lisa, Asa, Charlotte, Chris L.

I don't think the term “American rock 'n roll” really has a definitive meaning but, in some ways, the sound of The Black Keys filters into my ears when I say that phrase out loud. So do many other sounds and images, but they're definitely in the mix. They're not everyone's favorite band or style, but I've always had an affinity for the kind of bluesy garage rock that they seem to endlessly crank out; it's perfect to listen to on a road trip, when I'm doing the dishes, when I'm grading quizzes, when I'm jogging, etc. I even rather enjoyed their hip-hop collaboration album, Blakroc. The two-man sound is not as full as most other rock outfits, but they can jam plenty of catchy hooks and riffs and thumping beats into their songs, so who even cares. Their latest album Brothers even sounds a bit richer than their past efforts, with a few more genre-bending songs and studio effects.

This show was fun, loud and boisterous, which was just what I expected. The guitar/drum duo translates well in the live setting, and the acoustics of the gym were actually not that bad. The room was mostly packed, or at least felt that way since we kept edging closer to the stage, and the crowd seemed to be really enjoying the show. The singer had some fun dancing-with-his-guitar moves as he belted his signature crooning howl into the microphone, and the drummer was all business pounding the rhythm behind the guitar licks. All in all, a fun and upbeat show. Glad I got a chance to see them in person.

Show photos from Hugh's blog (the photo above is his, as well)
Show setlist
Show review from the CMU student paper

"Your Touch" and "No Trust", live recordings from this show!

"Have Love Will Travel" live in a tiny club

Concert review: Wilco

Sunday April 11 2010 at Carnegie Music Hall (Pittsburgh Public Library, Main Branch)
with Robert, Jessie, Lisa

Wow. Wow. Wow. Robert & Jessie had tried to explain how great Wilco are live, but it really didn't do them justice. This is probably the first real “rock concert experience” of my life; indie bands and small venues are not the same as a top-performing and popular band such as this one selling out a large-ish concert hall and playing a 3 hour set from across their catalog. I was quite fortunate to stumble into these tickets; the show originally sold out within 10 minutes of going on sale online (!) and then a few weeks later a second block of tickets was released and R & J managed to get 4 at that time. Originally, a mutual friend Anne had 2 of those tickets but she backed out a week before, giving Lisa and me the chance to go (and since no one else was too interested in dropping $40 for tickets, but that's their loss!). It turns out that Anne had skipped the show for our grad student indoor hockey playoff game and I was skipping the game for the show, heh. Thankfully, we won, and the next week I rejoined the team at the final game, which we also won. Yahoo!

Some other local music blogs have made various postings with Wilco's set list and photos and general reviews, and the national mag Spinner did a nice review, as well. I won't reiterate their comments. Mostly, this was just a wholly impressive performance by a band that's clearly riding a peak. Their timing in everything was great, even with the constant changing of guitars between songs (except for one miscue by the drummer which Jeff Tweedy laughed off with a mockingly snide comment), and each member of the band played their role to perfection. Jeff was charismatic but not too engaging, clearly fitting into his own comfort level despite the occasional aggressive yell from a crowd member trying to speak directly to him. And Nels Cline is a guitar god. I had no idea but now I am totally a fan and am looking into some of his solo albums. Nothing else I can say about that. Our seats were on the far right side of the auditorium which meant I could only see the front of the drumkit and could not see at all the drummer or the back-stage-right keyboardist. That was disappointing, but I'm really just glad I got the chance to see them at all on such short notice and didn't even mind the restricted vantage point. It meant I had a straight-on view of Nels and all his leg-kicking, tall and blonde head-banging, axe-thrashing glory. Rock on!

I feel like I should have more to say about such an impressive show, but it really wouldn't do the performance any justice to try. It's definitely worth seeing them live once if you enjoy their music at all. I don't think I'll be rushing out to spend that much on another ticket (and I can't imagine that they'll be swinging thru Pittsburgh in the next year or two anyway), but maybe in the future . . . In the meantime, if you get a chance, do it!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Concert review: The Cynics, Meeting of Important People, Aviation Blondes

I've fallen way behind on show reviews. End of the semester and all that stuff. I'm trying to catch up.

The Cynics, Meeting of Important People, Aviation Blondes
Saturday April 10 2010 at Rex Theatre
with Lisa

This day started as a celebration of the new 75 bus route in the Burgh, which connects Shadyside to the South Side via Ellsworth Ave. It was the first day the route was running, so Rebecca and Lisa and I decided to meet on the bus and enjoy a sunny day on the South Side. When we arrived at the South Side Works, there were tons of people outside, milling about amongst a street full of tents and live music. It turned out to be a Chili Cookoff for local restaurants. We ended up spending a few hours around South Side works, stopping at a coffee shop, an artisanal craft fair, EMS, and Hofbrauhaus, and catching some fun live music from Jimbo & the Soupbones. Later on, we headed farther down Carson Street and stopped in Dave's Music Mine (for records), the Culture Shop (for incense), and the Beehive Coffeehouse (for vegetarian dinner and a drink; apparently after 10 is 21+? wahoo!). All in all, it was an awesome day; it reminded me of how much fun the South Side is, how great nice weather is to enjoy outside with friends, and how easy it is to spend money at the right stores (even for a vehement “non-shopper”).

I'd never been to a concert at the Rex before, only a standup show by Mike Birbiglia in the fall of 2008. I remember it being a large room, with a tiny upstairs viewing balcony, and it made the concert feel pretty empty, even though the front bar area was packed to the brim before the show. It was also an odd crowd for the usual indie rock shows I've been to: mostly older adults, 30s and 40s and above; I didn't see many others around our age. I did bump into a fellow CMU grad student I knew who explained how The Cynics have a huge following all over Europe, selling out big venues in Spain but, for some reason, never getting similar recognition here in the U.S. or even in Pittsburgh. All this meant for me was that I could hang out near the front of the stage comfortably with no one around and get a good view of the bands, and even attempted to take some live action photos/vids (embedded in this post).

Aviation Blondes played first, a local sextet with two female singers (one also played keyboards), two guitarists, a bass player and a drummer. They played generally upbeat and poppy rock songs, lots of melodic lines and synth, nothing too fancy or boundary-pushing but fun nonetheless. One of the female singers had some singing/dancing moves that I can really only describe as “slippery”.

I feel like it appealed far more to the older folks in the crowd. I liked one or two songs well enough, but a 7 or 8 song set from the first opener of 3 bands was way too long, thankyouverymuch.

Meeting of Important People played next, the band we were there to see. They are always so full of energy and excited to play their songs that I don't understand how anyone couldn't love it. They make a good amount of sound for a three-piece, and they can switch so quickly from mellow strumming and soft vocals to fast-riffing, leg-kicking rock 'n roll that it'll make your head spin and bop to the beat.

I've made reference before to their great songs and live show, so I won't say much here except that I will go to see them every chance I have. Also, Lisa and I chatted with the singer Josh after the show and he sympathized with our math nerdiness, saying that he does mathy business work for the Carnegie Museums, among other places.

The Cynics played last with what seemed to be a stripped-down version of their sound, but highly energetic nonetheless. The singer bounced between sitting in a metal chair at the front of the stage and dancing around while banging a tambourine. It was a solid modern version of a 60s garage rock sound, with rocking melodies, beat-driving but not overpowering drums, and enthusiastic singing/occasional yelping. It was a fun set, and I've listened to one of their albums that I got from the library a few times since the show, but unfortunately I was feeling tired and ducked out of the show early to grab a bus back home.

Overall, a fun show. I wish I'd had time to catch more of The Cynics.

Aviation Blondes
Fan video with live footage from this show
“Vehicle” (Ides of March cover) live at sound check at Rex, November 2009
Meaning and etymology of the term “aviation blonde”
Album reviews in the City Paper, Tribune, and Post-Gazette.

Some past show reviews of mine.

The Cynics
"I Got You Babe" (Sonny Bono cover)
Live performance at the 1990 Pittsburgh Music Awards!
"Lying All the Time" (The Outsiders cover)
"Blue Train Station"

Get Hip Recordings Company, founded by 2 members of The Cynics.