Sunday, August 29, 2010

Concert review: Maps & Atlases, Cults, Laura Stevenson & the Cans

Maps & Atlases, Cults, Laura Stevenson & The Cans
Tuesday August 17, 2010 at Brillobox
with Leigh, Paul

I first (heard of, actually, and) saw Maps & Atlases play live sometime last spring when they came to CMU. Deepak was a big fan and encouraged some of us to go, so I did. I liked their sound and have listened to their two EPs periodically since then. Their songs are centered around a combination of intricate guitar melodies and quick, rhythmic drumming with lots of neat little fills and cymbals and sounds. That description doesn't do it justice, but suffice it to say that I think the complexity of it all somehow appeals to the mathematical side of my brain, which is most of my brain. On top of that, there's Dave Davison's voice which I find good and interesting to listen to, even though it's not "classically good" or what have you. I bet it could turn some people off to the band, but I hope that's not the case. They've been described as "math rock", but that's not completely accurate since their songs have a good pop sensibility, recognizing what's pleasing to the ear and not just playing complex songs for the sake of it.

Leigh and I showed up a few minutes late and found Paul there already. We caught three or so songs by Laura Stevenson & The Cans. There were (I think) six people on stage, giving the "folk collective" kind of vibe, and their Wikipedia page seems to confirm this. The songs were a little different than what I would expect from that appearance, though, adding some rock guitars and driving drums. I can't quite remember now, but I believe they also featured some trumpet and banjo, or some similar instruments. Laura and her bandmates appeared genuinely thankful to be playing there, possibly because this was the last stop on their tour with Cults and Maps & Atlases, and this was (quite noticeably) reflected back by the audience. I remarked to Leigh the next day that I thought this was by far the "nicest" crowd I'd ever seen at the Brillobox, and I stand by that observation; there were plenty of quiet parts during their set and one moment, in particular, stood out to me when the song descended into just Laura's voice and no instrumentation and there were no other sounds in the room, nary a peep of conversation nor a tinkle of a pint glass. For any concert, that's a special moment, and having that happen at the typically-noisy Brillo-attic was extra special. I enjoyed their live set rather much, and I thought about buying the vinyl album but wasn't sure how their sound would translate on album. I've since found their album on their record label's website (mp3s for name-your-price!) and am enjoying it. Recommended for at least one listen, especially "Landslide Song/The Dig" and "Source and the Sound".

Next up was Cults. Paul said he'd heard good things about them somewhere, and retro-research shows that they are amazingly big in the blogosphere, considering they've never properly released anything. They have a forthcoming 7" single (free mp3 download on their Bandcamp page) that features the song "Go Outside" that P4k BNMed a while back and also sounded pretty familiar to me. I learned later that it was on a summer mixtape playlist put out by Stereogum that I'd listened to a few times earlier this summer. They had a sweet poppy sound (particularly evident in the opening of "Go Outside") and some elements of 60s girl group pop (particularly the singer's voice and the plinky keyboard & xylophone on "Most Wanted"). One of the guys on stage did not even play an instrument, I noticed; he was working on some electronic stuff the whole time, possibly fiddling with effects or samples or whatever. Still a mystery to me, oh well. I thought they were fun songs, and I'm enjoying listening to their single right now. My guess is that these are the types of songs I won't listen to that often on my own but when I make a playlist for a party at least one of these will be on there. I continued to notice how appreciative the musicians were of the also-appreciative audience. Somehow, the bands and fans kept feeding off each other this night and thanking each other profusely.

Maps & Atlases took the stage last and played an amazing, long set of songs followed by a short acoustic set from the middle of the room. It was awesome. Everyone in this band is so clearly talented with their instrument, and they manage to put those parts together and craft catchy, inventive songs. I may sound overly praiseful, but I'm partly just realizing how good they are at what they do; their two EPs sounded great and their new album is a perfect continuation of that sound, but seeing them live again reminded of the level of effort and technical proficiency required to put that together. And then watching them play acoustic versions of some of those songs only three feet away from me was even more of a reminder. It wasn't just me either; I heard other concertgoers talking to each other about how good they were, and a couple people even shouted that out loud to the band. Not only was this Brillobox crowd quiet and respectful during the show, they were actively complimenting the bands! I feel like I don't have anything more specific to say, unfortunately. You should just go listen to their albums and watch the videos I've linked to below. The acoustic set afterwards was a great surprise; I think it was one of those "end of the tour" things where they're just happy to be playing their music to an appreciative crowd. All in all, it just wholly confirmed my opinion of them. Final note: Dave Davison's beard and hair are righteous.

Laura Stevenson & the Cans
Tumblr blog and Twitter feed and Facebook page
Profile article in the New York Press, including the delicious description of how Laura started as a keyboardist in the punk band Bomb the Music Industry! then started playing acoustic sets to open and was introduced by the band's bassist who said: "This is like your vegetables. We are your pizza but you need to hear this, it’s going to make you grow.” Haha!

New song live @ Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco, July 17 2010
"Go Outside" live @ Mercury Lounge, NYC
"Oh My God" music video, produced by Adult Swim (!?)

Maps & Atlases
Interview with singer Dave Davison in the City Paper
Daytrotter session
"Witch" live, with close-up video of the drummer
"The Most Trustworthy Tin Cans" live
"Israeli Caves" and "Pigeon" live @ Granada Theater, Dallas, Texas, September 23 2009
Solo acoustic version of "The Ongoing Horrible"; check out the guitar technique here!
Daytrotter session for the lead singer's solo project, Cast Spells

Edit: I also recorded a video of "You & Me & the Mountain", an acoustic Maps & Atlases song, on my phone (whence the poor audio; the video is bad because it was dark). I recorded another song using the voice recorder on my phone, too, but I have no idea how to share that (does anyone know how to play a .amr file not on a Droid?)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Upcoming concert: Elf Power

Heads up, readers! Indie rock/pop stalwarts and Elephant 6 collective band Elf Power will be gracing the tiny stage of the Brillobox in one month, on Friday September 24. Unfortunately, I will be away in NYC that weekend and must miss the show. (Fortunately for me, though, I will be gone to see fucking Pavement in Central fucking Park!) However, you should not miss the show. In addition to their upbeat, catchy songs (see "Never Believe" or "Walking with the Beggar Boys", for instance) with witty/screwball/fantastical lyrics (see "Simon, the Bird with the Candybar Head" or "Secret Ocean", for instance), they will also be showing the Elephant 6 film "Major Organ and the Adding Machine". It's a collaborative, instrumental-only film made by and starring most of the people & bands in the collective and it apparently has some crazy music with peculiar instrumentation. I've only seen the trailer (see the video below), but it also exists on DVD for purchase, if you so desire. Anyway, I fully recommend going to this show and I guarantee it will sell out, so buy tickets now (only $10) if you think you'll want to go.

Edit: Also, local music event organizer Opus One Productions is featuring this show as one of this week's ticket giveaways, so go sign up for their weekly email newsletter and enter the contest!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Concert review: Triggers, Big Hurry, Pet Clinic

Triggers, Big Hurry, Pet Clinic
Friday August 13, 2010 at Howler's
with Bear, Sean, Paul, Lisa

My friends Bear and Sean were in town visiting during this weekend and I was able to treat them to a great local music show :-) I had actually sent Bear a video for Big Hurry's "Silver Screens" a few months ago but never heard whether he liked it or not. When he came into town I mentioned a rock show I wanted to see and when I said the words "Big Hurry" he became very excited. Sean drove into town early on Friday morning after basically driving through the night, so we let him nap in the afternoon and finally got out of my place around 6 pm to head to the Andy Warhol museum.

We caught the G2 bus to downtown and had a lovely stroll through the Cultural District and across the bridge to the museum, marveling at the skyline and PNC Park along the way. I had not been to the Warhol in quite some time and was glad to see lots of new stuff. Specifically, they have a Marcel Duchamp exhibit on now that was pretty neat, pairing some of his artwork in juxtaposition with Andy's for the sake of comparison. I didn't realize they were somewhat contemporary and were acquaintances. Of course, the urinal was the most famous part of the exhibit, but I liked some of the crazy film pieces, too (especially standing in a room with upwards of 12 screens all showing different short films). I think Sean enjoyed seeing the items related to The Velvet Underground, particularly the sheet music for a few songs on display by one of the elevators. Bear particularly liked the silver balloon room and made grand plans for having such a room in his future domiciles/offices. Meanwhile, all three of us enjoyed the fact that they had a happy hour bar on the ground floor where we had a couple beers and a gin & tonic (for me) and a "Warhol cosmopolitan" (for Sean) which was just a cosmo with blue curacao instead of triple sec so it had a vibrant purplish hue. As it turns out, we spent a bit too much time down at the bar chatting and staring at the giant portrait photo of Andy with really spiky hair, and we had to rush through the last couple of floors so we could catch a bus back to Bloomfield.

We left the museum a little after 8 and walked back to the Cultural District to catch the 86 bus down Liberty/Penn. I got a little turned around and wasn't sure which side of the street to stand on to get the bus in the right direction, especially given that the stop suggested by Google maps was on a street under construction, so we asked some nice gentlemen at the stop and they confirmed we were in the right place. After a few minutes, though, they left, but they later got on the same bus that we did a couple stops down the line. That confused me. Anyway, by this point we were starving and running out of time since apparently the show was starting at 9:30 and not 10:00 as I expected, so I suggested grabbing some quick slices of pizza. I had never been to Graziano's on Penn Ave. despite having stared at its glowing storefront from both the downstairs and upstairs windows of the Brillobox, so I took this opportunity to try it out. The pizza itself was quite good for what it was (quick and greasy) and really hit the spot. I just had a couple slices of cheese, but Bear had one of the thick-crust slices and also said it was solid. I'd certainly go back to try it again, especially after seeing their incredible selection of beer (lots of craft six packs to go).

We finally walked a couple blocks down Liberty to Howler's and relaxed outside for a minute after seeing that the music hadn't yet started. We went inside to find Lisa and Paul already there with a table, and handed our $5 apiece to Kelly, Big Hurry's singer, who was working the door. We started out with the cleverly-named Walt Wit beer on draft but moved on to PBR cans after learning that they were on special for the evening, 16 oz. cans for only $2. None of us really wanted to miss any of the show, so every once in a while one of our group would go to the bar in the other room and order a 6-pack and bring it back. By the end of the night, we had an impressive stack of cans on the table and they somehow were all positioned into a big pyramid in front of Sean.

The show itself was pretty crowded, and I like how the stage at Howler's is elevated so we could see just about everything onstage even though we were seated and the area in front of us had people standing. The first band was Pet Clinic, a local quartet with a grungy guitar vibe and a singer with high, nasal vocals that makes it all sound like Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr. and your favorite 60s garage rock band (say, The Seeds) thrown into a blender. Check out their MySpace page and listen to "Mister Yuck", particularly the accelerated drums and crescendo guitar solo starting around the 1:00 mark, and tell me you disagree. They were great live, a perfect beginning to the show with lots of rocking, noisy energy. I think the moment that sold Sean was when the guitarist's strap broke in the middle of a song and he just dropped to his knees and kept playing as if nothing had happened. He finished the set by sitting in one of the tall stool/chair thingies that an audience member gave up for him. A solid set overall; I'd like to see them again sometime. Another thing I noticed was that the guitarist/singer looked really familiar. I was pretty sure he was the drummer for Landline, another local grungy band I've seen play a few times as an opening act, and it turns out I was right, according to the names on their MySpace pages. But after an aha moment just now and some Googling, I've figured out that this guy is also the brother of the bassist in Meeting of Important People (!) and together the two of them make up the band Br'er Fox and I saw them open for Tapes 'n Tapes at the Club Cafe exactly 3 years ago when I first moved to Pittsburgh!!! What a crazy world.

Big Hurry went next and played all their hits, which is to say they played their songs and nailed it. I could listen to "Save Your Breath" all day, and they threw that in towards the end of their set, opting to play most of the "newer" Silver Screens EP songs first, plus some other songs that will likely appear on their forthcoming album. I'm excited for that album to come out, and I'm sure they'll play at least one "release party" show around town, so I'll be sure to keep my eyes and ears open for that. Their set at Howler's was great as usual, high energy and proficient, awesome rhythm section between Dani and Lenny, super-catchy melodic high-end guitar solos from Andy, and forcefully emotive vocals from Kelly. This is the kind of band that is greater than the sum of its parts, which are already great in their own right.

Triggers closed out the night. It's a name I've heard around town before but I didn't know anything about them before this show. I'll let their self-written bio describe their sound for me:

"If ELVIS COSTELLO shagged THE CARS and XTC and made a musical mutant child, that child would be TRIGGERS. If you hate HONEST, RIFF LADEN, HOOK INFUSED songs that hypnotize you with their MELODIES then, by all means, return to the pretentious moaning of some band of sods and do not listen to TRIGGERS."

And that's actually pretty accurate. "Power-pop" is a perfect descriptor for their song style and live show, with lots of high energy playing and bouncing around and singing. The keyboardist sometimes played keyboard with one hand and drum with the other, sometimes using a tambourine, and sometimes drumming with both hands. The drummer was all over the place, too, his flowing hair bouncing up and down in time with the music. It was quite a live spectacle, and I may have enjoyed watching the band members create the music more than I enjoyed the music itself, which is a strange phenomenon, but oh well.

Overall, this was a great collection of local bands and I'm glad I got to share some of the 'Burgh music scene with my out-of-town friends.

Pet Clinic
couldn't find anything ?!

Big Hurry
Interview with Draw Us Lines
Video of drum tracking
"Paper Trails" album version played over live footage

Two songs live at Mojo's (Jamestown, NY) on 10-13-2007
Acoustic version of "Yer Bones"
"Run Fast, Run Far" live at Rex Theatre on 03-14-2008
Fan video for "She had me at takeoff"
Album review in the City Paper

Concert review: Meeting of Important People

Meeting of Important People
Saturday July 24, 2010 at Thunderbird Cafe
with Leigh, Paul

This was truly "an evening with MOIP". The local trio played an expansive set of songs-- both originals and covers--including an acoustic session in the middle and completely reaffirmed everything I enjoy about their music and live show. Their songs cover a fairly wide range of subgenres within the pop/rock realm, and individual songs can showcase several of those at the same time. It was particularly nice to see them strip down their sound for the acoustic songs and not lose any of the essential elements of their songcrafting skills. They even played a few covers of other local bands (Lohio and Boca Chica, from what I remember, maybe others).

This was my first time at the Thunderbird, actually. The front bar area had a bunch of stools, a few small tables, and a billiards table and jukebox off in a separate section. There was a decent tap and bottle selection, too, and not too expensive. I'll be looking out for more shows there in the future. The music stage was up a small set of stairs and set off against a painted brick background. Facing that, up another half stairwell, was a section of chairs and tables but that was already completely full of people by the time we got there. Also, it was absolutely pouring out and Leigh and I had walked there from the bus stop at Penn & Main, so we were completely soaked. I think my shoes and socks were still soggy when we left!

We ended up watching most of the show standing towards the middle/back of the area on the stage level, which was a good vantage point for me, at least. They played all of the songs on the new EP, most from the previous self-titled album, a few standard covers they've played at live shows before, and some new (to me) covers. All in all, it was an incredible display of musicianship and stage presence. I will always see these guys play when I can. I was sad to miss their show at the Andy Warhol museum the following week since I was out of town, but they are playing a show at the Brillobox on September 4th!

And shhhh you can download the new EP on their Bandcamp page. In the meantime, their "record label" Authentik Artists (which actually only controls the digital realm, interestingly, leaving CDs and vinyl to the band) has managed to get the new album featured on Spinner Magazine's New Releases page and on the iTunes main page! Fucking awesome! Hope this gives them some much deserved national exposure.

One last anecdote: they gave out free CD copies of the Quit Music EP at the show and I took one and put it in my shorts pocket on the way home and promptly ran that pair thru the laundry without noticing the CD was in it!? The nice CD sleeve was totally ruined, but the CD itself is still good.

Manny Theiner article in the Post-Gazette about the band
Album review by Speed of Pgh Sound
Interview with lead singer Josh in the City Paper
Review of the Warhol museum show the next week by Draw Us Lines

Friday, August 6, 2010

Concert review: Flaming Lips, Fang Island

The Flaming Lips, Fang Island
Tuesday July 20, 2010 at Trib Total Media Aphitheatre at Sation Square
with Leigh, Paul, Chris L., Lisa, Robert, Jessie, Matt

What can I say about the Flaming Lips that you haven't heard before? They're freaky, they make great music, they put on incredibly elaborate and uplifting live shows, and they genuinely love doing what they do. And they lived up to all such expectations when they came to Pittsburgh for the first time in many years.

I found this link for the setlist from the show, and I found a slew of videos from this very night. I'm listing them below in chronological order, including the interlude where the "Coke Express" (as in coal) train rode by and everyone listened. If you find links to the missing songs, let me know and I will update. Enjoy!

Intro and "Worm Mountain"
outro of "Worm Mountain"
"Silver Trembling Hands"
"She Don't Use Jelly"
the train passes by
"The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song"
"The Sparrow Looks Up at the Machine"
"In the Morning of the Magicians"
"I Can Be a Frog", note the vuvuzela around the 1:20 mark for "bumblebee"
"Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1"
"See the Leaves"
"Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung"
"The WAND"
"Do You Realize??"

Spinner magazine review of the show, noting the train noises

Oh also we only got there in time to catch a song or two from the opener Fang Island. Here's a video of them playing "Daisy" at the show. The guitar solos reminded me of that Home Movies episode with the guitar solo competition, Guitarmageddon.

Concert review: Kurt Vile, Real Estate, Karl Hendricks Trio

Kurt Vile, Real Estate, Karl Hendricks Trio
Tuesday July 13, 2010 at Garfield Artworks
with Leigh, Chris L.

Word to the wise: do not go to Garfield Artworks in July. This show was quite possibly the hottest, humidest, sweat-dripping-down-your-face-and-fully-soaking-your-shirt-all-the-way-thru-and-not-even-being-helped-when-you-go-stand-outside-in-the-rain-between-sets ... -iest of shows I've ever been to. There was a fan onstage and another one near the entrance, plus a couple small ones on the ceiling, but they didn't seem to have any effect.

We showed up in time to catch three songs or so from local long-time indie scene rockers The Karl Hendricks Trio. I've seen a slew of their CDs in the racks at the Carnegie Library and have somehow never taken one out even the name and artwork always stand out to me, as if to say, "Why aren't you listening to me?" For some reason the name seemed familiar, but that may just be from flipping thru the racks so frequently, or maybe it's because they're on the Merge Records roster which is only so big and includes some high-profile names, as well. In any event, they played a series of upbeat rockers with lots of hooky guitar riffs and heavy bass lines and the guys bounced around the tiny stage, truly enjoying their playing. I couldn't make out lyrics that well, but overall they had a solid 90s indie guitar rock/punk sound vibe going on that worked pretty well in the live setting but seems a bit too "samey" (i.e. homogeneous) for me to really listen to outside of that.

Real Estate took the stage next, after pretty much everyone in the room went outside to stand on the sidewalk or walk around in the rain, or just about anything to cool off. I found their music notably more enjoyable than the last time I saw them, even despite the hot venue and the completely crowded room. This may have been the largest crowd I've seen at the Artworks, and it even seemed like a large portion of the concertgoers were purely there for Real Estate given that a bunch of them left after their set. They played a bunch of songs of their self-titled debut LP plus a song or two from one of their member's side project, Ducktails (they may or may not have played a song from another side project, but I can't say for sure). Their sound is actually pretty accurately described by some of their song titles and the fact that they're from suburban New Jersey; in fact, two songs on their album have the word "suburban" in the name. The whole "surfedelia" (if I may coin a phrase) movement is super popular in the indie music world currently, and they fit right in with that. If you like jangly guitar solos and hipstery head-bobbing, this is right up your alley. But seriously, the instrumental parts are really quite good; it's not necessarily something I'll listen to a year from now (except for maybe "Beachcombers") but at the moment it's totally enjoyable. One memorable moment was when the singer/lead guitarist broke a string and had to change it right there. The bassist filled the time by telling a long and convoluted joke that was quite possibly the longest excuse of a set up to make a wholly groan-worthy pun. Needless to say, I thought it was great.

Finally, the man I was there to see, Kurt Vile, took to the stage with a backup guitarist and a drummer, a.k.a. The Violators (get it?). A big part of what I like about his music is the diversity of song style and structure. I just find it amazing that someone can play a sweet, introspective acoustic song like "I Got Religion", as well as a freak-rock wild ride of a song like "Freak Train". Basically, it seems like Kurt is a really interesting dude who writes great songs, and that's that. I liked the way that he shot back at the sound guy when the other guitarist was tuning up: "Hey, give the guy a minute, Maaaaaaaannnnnnyyyy." He also kept his extremely long hair flowing right down over his face for the whole set which only added to his mysterious aura. There was a female on the other side of the room who kept requesting the song "Heart Attack" and he said, "Maybe later" but never played it. Sad face for her. The crowd was a little thinner, but it meant I could stand up near the front of the stage. This gave me a good view of the harpist (!?) they had onstage to play in a couple songs. Overall, it felt like a short set and there was plenty of chatter and whooping from the crowd trying to interact with Kurt himself, which always seems silly and self-indulgent to me and only interrupts the flow of the show, but anyway, that was that. I thought it was a good collection of songs from his catalog. I would have liked to see more, particularly some of the quieter numbers, but he had The Violators in tow so they stuck mostly to the stompin' rockers which are also good. I strongly recommend listening to his albums; they're just perfect arrangements of a bunch of good songs. What else could you ask for?

Karl Hendricks Trio:
no live videos found !?

Real Estate:
"All Out of Tune" live @ Primavera Festival
"Fake Blues" live @ Primavera Festival

Kurt Vile:
Two acoustic songs, part of the Fader "Open Bar" web series
Compare: "Hunchback" acoustic, live on Q TV, versus "Hunchback" plugged in, live @ Mercury Lounge, NYC with The Violators. How can they both be so fucking good?