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?)

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