Thursday, September 30, 2010

Concert review: Pavement!

Friday, September 24, 2010
Central Park Summer Stage, New York City

Full write up over on Draw Us Lines.

This was just an all-around good concert. Internet commenters will endlessly make comparisons amongst the various reunion shows, particularly the NYC concerts, but who really cares. The bottom line is that five guys got onstage and made some fabulous music and put on an interesting, exciting, and fun show. Some stray observations from the show:

  • Opening band The Beets were pretty fun, even though all of their songs sounded identical. Nothing wrong with having a specific sound, you know? Also, they played a pretty sweet cover version of "Locomotion"! They kept their set short and light, perfect for an opening set for a big show like this. I found it interesting that the drummer stood/jumped the whole time and played with one drumstick and one mallet (he even drummed with a tambourine at some point). Had they not said they were from Queens, I would have guessed California, given their style and sunglasses at 7:05 pm. I've seen some comments on other blogs that were complaining about this band, but I thought they were fine. Also, right before Pavement played I heard someone behind us asking another guy who opened since he got there late and the other guy didn't know either, so I turned around and said "The Beets" and the first guy said, "Oh man, I like The Beets!" So there ya go.
  • Alcohol was stupid-expensive at the show, but weed was omnipresent. I spotted at least six people within our immediate vicinity blatantly smoking a joint. Sweet.
  • We brought food into the venue to make sandwiches (Italian bread loaf, fresh mozzarella, one tomato, and a small container of pesto) but there were some food vendors there. One of them was "Asia Dog", selling hot dogs. "Real hot dogs", remarked Leigh.
  • The music played during the half hour break between sets was an interesting mix. I only recognized one song ("Here Without You" by The Byrds). The last song that was on before Pavement took the stage was a long and droning instrumental piece and it only seemed to remind us of how long we were waiting in anticipation.
  • When Pavement first walked onstage to a lot of cheering, Ibold and Kannberg kinda waved and acknowledged the crowd, whereas Malkmus did a silly little double fist pump thing. I thought it was odd, but later on when I saw him adjusting his shirtsleeves, I realized that maybe the "fist pump" was actually him just making sure his rolled up sleeves would stay where they were. Guess I'll never know.

Jam of the day: "Lucidity"

Artist: Tame Impala
Song: "Lucidity"
Album: InnerSpeaker
Released: May 21, 2010
Label: Modular Records

I've been listening to this album fairly frequently since finally downloading it on eMusic a couple weeks ago. I've put it on to fall asleep to occasionally, and I played it a couple times on the bus on the way to NYC last weekend. It's addictive, with the super-fuzzy guitar riffs and cymbal-heavy percussion and ethereal vocal effects that make the whole thing sound like you're hearing it through a drug-induced haze. Fantastic. I like music that can evoke moods or states of mind that are so close to the real thing you can't even tell the difference.

The video for this song premiered today. It features an initial shot of the band playing the song but then the camera shoots off in a rocket and floats and spins around for the remainder of the song before finally plummeting to earth and being discovered by a nearby bird. Cool idea, great execution.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Some old, some new: Deerhunter

Like me, you might know Deerhunter already as a band that's evolved from playing noisy guitar rock to psychedelic/electronic shoegaze to dreamy pop songs, and not as an Academy Award-winning film (that's spelled with a "The" and a space, anyway). Or maybe you don't know anything about them and love the movie. Or maybe it's something in between. In any event, you should hear their new album, Halcyon Digest, officially released tomorrow (Tuesday, September 28, 2010). If you get to it today, you can still hear it on NPR's First Listen series, otherwise you'll have to find it somewhere else. I got my vinyl copy in the mail last week and have played it a couple times (would have been more but I was away all weekend). It's really . . . I don't know, almost surprising to hear, coming from them, but then again it's a somewhat natural extension of the sound they were cultivating on the Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP that came out last year: quirky pop-sounding songs with shimmering loops of sound that induce a kind of childlike dream state, but then again not really since they're so upbeat. It's a far cry from the waves of crashing guitars on Crypotgrams and Microcastle/Weird Era, but it's hinted at by the creations on Rainwater.... I rather like it. Check out videos for the two lead singles below and consider buying the album. It's worth it.

If you really like it, check out their previous albums, too. I particularly enjoyed Microcastle, and solo albums from lead man Bradford Cox and guitarist Lockett Pundt are pretty solid, as well.

Halcyon Digest official website

Jam of the day: "Stereo"

Artist: Pavement
Song: "Stereo"
Album: Brighten The Corners
Released: February 11, 1997

I was fortunate enough to catch Pavement's final Central Park show on Friday night in NYC. Look for a review of that show on Draw Us Lines sometime this week. In the meantime, enjoy this video for "Stereo" where the band plays the song in a faux-Fall setting in front of a white screen playing footage of milk being poured on Cheerios.

"Pigs they tend to wiggle when they walk . . . "

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Upcoming concerts: a shitload!

Upcoming concerts: Ted Leo, Drink Up Buttercup, Elf Power, Frontier Ruckus, Margot & The Nuclear So and So's, The National, Cymbals Eat Guitars, PAVEMENT

Okay, so I'm leaving town Thursday afternoon via bus, off to the glorious Big Apple to see Pavement play in Central Park on Friday evening. Needless to say, I am incredibly excited about that show, and it will be great to spend a few days in the city and see some folks, too. Only slightly detracting from those facts is that there are tons of shows happening in Pittsburgh this weekend that I'll be missing. Here's a quick rundown.

Thursday, September 23
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists at Diesel. An indie rock legend, for sure. He played at this very venue in June 2009 with Titus Andronicus and locals Landline. It was fantastic. If you're going, get there early. We all know Diesel pretty much sucks.

Drink Up Buttercup at Thunderbird Cafe. I've only heard a few of their songs but they caught my ear with some catchy guitar-driven hooks. Check out last week's feature in the City Paper for more info.

Friday, September 24
Backyard Tire Fire at Schenley Plaza. I really don't know much about these guys, but it could be fun. This is WYEP's monthly Final Friday shindig.
Elf Power at Brillobox. I strongly encourage you to see this one. I wrote about it before; go read that.
Frontier Ruckus and Emily Rodgers at Thunderbird Cafe. I've heard of Frontier Ruckus and heard nothing but good things. I've seen Emily Rodgers a couple times and have seen nothing but good things. This one could be good if you're more into the folksy indie-rock styles.

Saturday, September 25
Margot & the Nuclear So And So's at Brillobox. They've also been here recently. I've heard their album Not Animal and it's pretty solid.
The National at Carnegie Library of Homestead. What can I say? This has been sold out for weeks. They are awesome.

Sunday, September 26
Cymbals Eat Guitars at Brillobox. I saw them earlier this year and it rocked. Openers are locals Satin Gum; they also rock.

The New Classics: Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

There's a new post of mine over at Draw Us Lines on of Montreal's outstanding album Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? It's one of those albums I wholly enjoyed on first listen and have played periodically since then with monotonically increasing enjoyment. I had a lot of fun writing the piece; I listened to the album a few dozen times over the course of the week, dissecting little snippets of music and lyrics, trying to figure out exactly what it was that appeals to me so much. I ended up with a lot of ideas and actually had a tough time trying to mold them into a cohesive essay that wasn't 5 pages long. Here are a few stray observations and thoughts that I could have easily expanded on ad nauseum:

  • Wow are these lyrics great. Every time I thought about a song, I would hear the melody and rhythm in my head, but my main thoughts jumped right to, "What is he saying here? What does it mean?" Kudos to Kevin Barnes for accomplishing that.
  • The major theme I touched on in the article was the concept of change and transition, most notably the transformation into Georgie Fruit in "The Past is a Grotesque Animal" and the exploration of that persona in the latter half of the album. But part of the idea of morphing into another person is the concept of plurality; there's a multitude of personalities underneath everything, and that part of the existential quandary is referenced nearly as often as is the change vs. stasis dilemma. For instance, in "Cato as a Pun":
    "I can't even pretend that you are my friend / What has happened to you and I? / And don't say that I have changed / 'Cause, man, of course I have"
    This is only track 3 on the album, so it's ostensibly about Kevin's relationship with his wife, but that little "man" throws me off, and it makes me think that it's also about him talking to another part of his personality, the slowly-emerging Georgie Fruit, struggling to decide whether he's willing to let it bubble to the surface. Or maybe at this point he's only just realizing he has internal problems (since this song immediately follows the "chemica-a-a-a-a-als" of "Heimdalsgate...") and is battling to suppress a faceless, nameless alter ego-to-be.
    Other references to this might be the multi-multi-multi-layered vocals in "Faberge Falls for Shuggie", like when he says "I don't know" over and over, each one offset by a split second. And later, in "Labyrinthian Pomp", he does the same thing a few times with "I can't" and since they're so quick and layered I sometimes think he alternates between saying "I" and "you", like he's talking to two parts of himself.
    Okay, last example of this. Track 5, "Gronlandic Edit", just two songs before the transformation, we sense some anxiety about it: "So, am I erasing myself? / Hope I'm not erasing myself..."
  • I was totally surprised when I paid super close attention to the end of "Faberge Falls for Shuggie" and heard Kevin declaring the names of the follow-up albums to this one! He says coolly: "Skeletal Lamping, The Controller Sphere, False Priest..." a couple times and, in case you didn't know, Skeletal Lamping and False Priest were the immediate successors to this album, save for a small EP of tracks from this session. It makes me wonder when we should expect The Controller Sphere.....
  • Small lyrical quibble: in "Labyrinthian Pomp" he apparently says "She's so meta, references Stendahl", which sounds neat and all, and makes reference to a 19th century French writer (Kevin's favorite time and place for literature, it seems) and, implicitly, his corresponding syndrome. However, what I've always heard and what makes a bit more sense to me, even if it's less literary or whatever, is: "She's so meta, referenced and all", like she (whoever it is) is meta and multi-layered and referenced. Makes more sense, you know?
  • What in the world is going on with the cover art? It's amazing and full of detail, like all of David Barnes' stuff, but . . . they always leave me baffled and looking for little significances in the fine print, so to speak. Maybe that's the point. I dunno.
  • Polyvinyl released a special 12" vinyl version of "The Past is a Grotesque Animal" earlier this year (on super cool-looking marbly sky blue vinyl, no less!). The A side is the original track, and the B side is an alternate version, as performed by the nonexistent band of robots named The Lost Trees (not to be confused with the extant band of humans named Lost in the Trees). You can still buy the digital version, if you'd like, but the limited pressing of 500 is now out of print (really glad I got one!). The "robot version" was recorded to be used in a short film by Spike Jonze, "I'm Here". It's about a robot, naturally.

Anyway, like I said, with an album like this there are always so many angles to take on it and so many ideas to process. Enjoy the article, and share your own thoughts, please!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jam of the day: "Jardin du Luxembourg"

Artist: The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger
Song: "Jardin du Luxembourg"
Album: Acoustic Sessions
Released: October 26, 2010 (album), July 06, 2010 (single)

I first heard this song a few weeks ago on NPR's All Songs Considered and have played it over and over since then. The band, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, is actually Sean Lennon (yeah, that Lennon) and Charlotte Kemp Muhl (his girlfriend). Their fully acoustic album is due out next month, but they've already released the electric, single version of this fantastic song on their newly-formed Chimera Music label. It's a perfect replication of 60s psychedelic pop with a catchy little bass groove, sing-songy vocals, and fantastical lyrics about running off to live in one of Paris' beautiful parks.

NPR will have the full album streaming a week before its release as part of their First Listen series; I'm definitely looking forward to hearing that. In the meantime, enjoy this catchy number:

You can buy the song digitally here or on 7" vinyl here.

My favorite lyric is definitely:
People say your brain is like cream cheese, it takes the shape of anything you please

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger:
Article on Spinner about the album

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jam of the day: "Welcome to the Childhood Home of Andy Warhol and Dan Marino"

Artist: More Humans (formerly We're Wolves)
Song: "Welcome to the Childhood Home of Andy Warhol and Dan Marino"
Album: Welcome to the Childhood Home of Andy Warhol and Dan Marino
Released: 2005

Welcome to the Childhood Home of Andy Warhol and Dan Marino by More Humans

I stopped by the Brillobox last night to catch some of a shindig put on by The New Yinzer, a Pittsburgh e-magazine. I showed up in time to catch a couple of songs by Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (their MySpace ID is wtfpgh, awesome), a local five-piece garage rock band with rockin' guitar, bass and drums, a female singer with a cool voice, and a violinist/keyboardist. It was pretty cool stuff, and I'd like to see them again sometime around town.

The reason I was there, though, was to catch More Humans, a formerly-local band now based out of D.C. I happened upon their album Welcome to the Childhood Home of Andy Warhol and Dan Marino while at the Carnegie Library and grabbed it from the rack based on the name alone. It turns out that it's based on a sign deep in South Oakland (note the convenient name switcheroo to get that undulating rhythm in the chorus). The album itself is great, too; lots of cool, angular guitar melodies and harmonizing vocals. The drummer is fantastic, too, from what I saw at the show. They played a handful of songs from an upcoming album they're in the process of recording under their new moniker, and two cuts from their previous LP as We're Wolves (an interesting name switch, I wonder what brought that about), including this one. It's got novelty and hooks galore, and showcases the band members' skills rather well, I say. Check out the album at the library or anywhere else you can find it.

More Humans
MySpace, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook
Album review in Splendid eZine

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Vinyl find: The Knickerbockers, "Lies" b/w "The Coming Generation" 45 rpm

A few weeks ago I stopped by Jerry's Records in Squirrel Hill, as I like to do once or twice a month just to see what's new and peruse the endless racks of vinyl albums to see if anything catches my eyes or ears. On this particular Saturday, though, there were some younger folks on the sidewalk outside the entrance selling old DVDs, VHS, cassettes, video games, etc. I learned later that these were Jerry's kids/grandkids helping him to sell off some of the surplus stuff he's got laying around that massive attic-cum-warehouse of his. I also spotted a sign saying that they are giving away boxes of LPs and 45s for no charge, as long as you take the whole box sight unseen (maximum of 3 per person, per visit). That seemed pretty good to me! Granted, I had no idea if I would end up with a box of junk and nowhere to put it, but I had also somewhat recently purchased a standalone sliding-door shelving unit at the Used Furniture Warehouse that is perfect as both a record player table and record shelf, and I was itching to fill it with more vinyl goodies. My friend and I loaded up my girlfriend's trunk with a box of 45s and 2 boxes of LPs and went on our merry way.

When I opened my two boxes later, I found the 45 box to be stacked to the brim with 7" singles, no organization or protection whatsoever. It was just a pile of about 1000 records. Yikes! Over the last couple of weeks I have been sorting through them, cherry-picking the good stuff and sampling the sounds of some of the unknowns to see if it's keepable. I also bought a few cardboard boxes and a lot of record sleeves to keep these in decent condition. I ended up finding plenty of good stuff in the 45 box. The LP box . . . let's say it was hit/miss but mostly miss. For instance, it somehow contained a lot of Christmas albums, including 6 (!) separate copies of this one. It did have a mint condition copy of Bill Cosby's second comedy album, though, which was pretty sweet.

Anyway, over the next . . . indeterminate number of units of time, I'd like to mention a few of the hidden gems I found in this heaping pile of records. I'll probably go back there again and grab more boxes, too, so stay tuned for a bunch more in the future. And check it out yourself, too, if you find yourself in the area.

I'll start with The Knickerbockers, a pop/rock band from New Jersey in the mid-1960s. Their song "Lies" was their only truly popular hit, reaching the Billboard Top 20 in 1966. Like the rest of their songs, it sounds exactly like other popular musical trends at the time, namely the jangly surf rock of the Beach Boys and the young boy/girl-in-love drama of really early Beatles. It was featured in the retrospective psychedelic compilation Nuggets, which first came out in 1972. I happened to have found this compilation at the Carnegie library a while back and remember hearing this song and finding it super catchy, listening to it a few times in a row. Check out the video below to hear for yourself.

The B-side on this 45 is the slower and sweeter "The Coming Generation". Enjoy the songs!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Some old, some new: Dungen

I like Dungen. They've introduced me to what's goin' on at the forefront of neo-psychedelia and freak-folk and traditional-Swedelandia and such, and they've taught me a few choice phrases in Swedish. For instance, dungen=grove, ta det lugnt=take it easy, and skit i allt=fuck all. Yeah, that's right, if you ask me what the cool hang-out is in Stockholm, I can tell you it's at "the grove", but then when you don't know how to get there I can tell you to just "take it easy", and then when you get all indignant and berate me in front of my peers I can say "fuck all" and walk away. Hellz yah, I told you.

So, anyway, Dungen has a new album out today, Tuesday September 14, 2010. I first discovered their fantabulous self-titled EP on eMusic and kept discovering from there: Ta Det Lugnt (bought on eMusic), Tio Bitar (bought on vinyl at Wicked Discs on Craig St. in Pittsburgh), 4 (bought on eMusic). It's all great. Incredible instrumentation, awesome arrangements, everything euphonious and then some. Check out this super interview with lead man Gustav Ejstes to get a better sense of their style and musical influences, including traditional Swedish folk and his father's violin music.

Their new album, Skit I Allt is released via Mexican Summer in the US and Subliminal Sounds elsewhere. You can stream it for a limited time on Spinner's new releases page. I encourage you to check out their back catalog. I'm digging the new one, and the previous stuff is even better.

Dungen: MySpace, website
"Panda" music video
"Panda" live on Conan O'Brien
"Stadsvandringar" music video

Concert review: The Black Angels, Fillmore Jive

My first post for Draw Us Lines! Blake & Jim have asked me to do some live show reviews for their burgeoning blog, and I have happily obliged. Check out my review on their site, and see my additional thoughts below. I'll continue to add here some stray observations and more personal anecdotes that don't quite fit over there, and I'll let you know when something new appears there, too.

The Black Angels, Fillmore Jive
Friday September 10, 2010 at Diesel
with Leigh, Paul

  • DUL review
  • I grabbed the guitarist's set list from the front of the stage after the show. That's what you see in the pic at the bottom of the DUL review.
  • Diesel was even worse than I implied in my review. Granted, they are clean, smoke-free (except for the massively cheesy smoke machine blowing down from above the stage), and well-lit, but it becomes clearer every time that they just don't give a shit about the live music aspect of their business, which makes me wonder why they even bother. The stage is very nice, but it's too tall for the best viewing location, which is the floor in front. The upstairs "VIP lounge" area was roped off for this concert, but I could see employees scrubbing the windows, eating their dinners, and setting up liquor table service while the show was going on. Come on! And towards the end, there were actually club patrons up there already enjoying their Ciroc or Patron or whatever they drink, clearly disinterested in the rock music going on down below. The show ended abruptly in time so they could take down the stage and make sure all the clubbers could get in shortly thereafter. Look, I understand, Diesel: this is where you make your money. Dancing & boozing is your bread & butter. Fine. But just do that if it's really what you want to do. Don't aggravate us genuine concertgoers who love the bands you get and want to see a good show because you happen to not really care about that aspect of your business and just see it as a way to make a few bucks on the side. It's disrespectful to the band and the fans. Don't pretend to be something you're not, you know? You're a club through and through, so stick to that.
  • Fillmore Jive's drummer walked onstage with a cup of hot coffee. First time I'd seen that. Usually it's a bottle of water, a bottle of beer, or a red solo cup.
  • Merch tables: FJ were selling CDs for $3 and autographs for $20, got a kick out of that. The Black Angels were selling vinyl of all 3 albums for $20 each, CDs for $10 and t-shirts for $15. I really liked the shirt with their Nico logo on it, but I had already bought the new album on vinyl and thought I was spending enough at that show already . . . oh well, next time, I guess.
  • The lead guitarist in The Black Angels was playing a cool-looking 6-string Rickenbacker that I had never seen, and it had 2 stickers on it. Looking closely, I saw they were both for The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Interesting.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Concert review: Mariage Blanc, Meeting of Important People, All Tiny Creatures

Mariage Blanc, Meeting of Important People, All Tiny Creatures
Saturday September 4, 2010 at Brillobox
with Leigh, Paul, Lisa

If Meeting of Important People play in town, I am definitely there. It seems like others around Pittsburgh agree with that, since it's always crowded no matter where they play, and this show was no exception. If there are other interesting bands playing, as well, I'll check them out. It seems like others around Pittsburgh don't necessarily agree with that, since the room tends to be far emptier before and after MOIP's set, and this show was no exception. Ahhhh, parallel constructions; they're my least unfavorite literary device, right up there with litotes and semicolons.

I had never heard of All Tiny Creatures and didn't know what to expect. The stage was pretty crowded, with 5 band members and plenty of synths and pedals and equipment, including an Apple laptop. Interestingly, the non-singing bassist was placed front and center while the two guys playing guitar/vocals were on either side, with the drummer and synth/laptop operator towards the back. Their songs were atmospheric and ethereal in effect, mostly, and it seemed like I could easily put them on and lay down on the couch for a strange, trippy nap. Every once in a while, a plunky little keyboard melody or some reverb-laden vocals would puncture their soundscape, but for the most part it was droning guitars and bass and synth with driving drums, building an atmosphere and pulling you into it. This made it hard to tell when their songs officially "ended", save for the bassist looking to the crowd and smiling knowingly, prompting a smattering of applause. Their set ended abruptly on an upnote, a fitting end to some long, swirling jams. I really dug it, and ended up buying their Segni EP on beautiful white 12" vinyl. The blurb on the sleeve mentions that band member Thomas Wincek is also a multi-instrumentralist in Volcano Choir, a side project of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, who also contributes vocals on All Tiny Creatures' upcoming LP. Sweet, looking forward to that.

MOIP played next, interestingly; I expected them to play last since they were listed as a headliner on the bill, but I suppose some people tend to skip out before the end of the show. I definitely noticed that the Brillo's upstairs was totally packed for this part of the show, but rather spacious for the other two bands' sets. I've written about their live shows so many times before that I realized I'd have little to add in this review and instead focused my attention on jotting down the set list. This turned out to be more difficult than I imagined it would be, since they played a couple of new songs (yipee!) that were unnamed. So anyway, here's the list with a descriptor or two for the unnamed ones:
1) Nothing's Goin On
2) Leaving Here (orig. Eddie Holland, also covered by The Who)
3) Brittney Lane Don't Care
4) Innocents Abroad (new, Josh says it's their "Pitchfork song" haha)
5) I Know Every Street In This Town
6) Big Muscles (with backup vocals from Nik Westman who was in the crowd)
7) Single Girl, Married Girl (orig. The Carter Family) [acoustic]
8) Hanky Church [acoustic]
9) Pretzel Rod Blues (Riff Song)
10) Love (I think, at the very least they said that word like 40 times during the song)
11) We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (orig. The Animals)
12) Training Song --> lead into...
13) --> Dead Man
14) One O'Clock
I thought it was funny that Josh kept offering to buy drinks for anyone in the crowd who works for the Carnegie Museums, and that those people in the crowd kept yelling out "Miller!" to the drummer. Also, I think I kept hearing the name Cyndi Lauper in the lyrics of the "Innocents Abroad" song; maybe it's about her? Or maybe I completely misheard...

Mariage Blanc played last, and we stuck around until the end, although many others didn't. Sobeit. I've seen them before and they're all well and good, but it's honestly really tough to follow a MOIP set. Their songs are pretty solid and they sound good on album, but the live show is not overly exciting or engaging. They played a song or two from their previous EP (free download!) and a bunch from their forthcoming album. I'm looking forward to hearing that one, since I think the carefully-crafted arrangements and instrumentation will come across far better on recording than in a live setting, particularly at the perenially-chatty Brillobox.

All Tiny Creatures
MySpace, website, Twitter, Facebook
Live song at the Kitty Kat Club, Minneapolis
Live songs at Hopscotch Music Festival, September 9, 2010
Blurb about "An Iris" on P4k

Meeting of Important People
MySpace, website, Twitter, Facebook
Fascinating interview with lead singer Josh Verbanets from the guys at Draw Us Lines.

Mariage Blanc
MySpace, Twitter, Facebook

Concert review: TV Buddhas, The National Rifle, Thin Sketch, Fillmore Jive

TV Buddhas, The National Rifle, Thin Sketch, Fillmore Jive
Friday September 3, 2010 at 31st Street Pub
with Leigh, Paul

I had never been to the 31st Street Pub, and I would like to return. I don't think the TV Buddhas would agree with me. Well, I suppose they'd agree I was there, but I can't say for sure whether they'll go back there. The bar was mostly empty and, among the small crowd, nobody was all that enthusiastic. The band members themselves seemed rather apathetic and played a pretty short set, unfortunately. From the videos of them I watched on YouTube in the days leading up to the show, I was expecting a raucous romp; what I did see was some noisy garage rock music, but it was missing that extra pizzazz that characterizes a really good show. Maybe it was the beginning of their tour, maybe it was the lackluster crowd, maybe they had shitty pizza for dinner . . . who knows. Ultimately, I liked their sound but was not blown away. Ultimately, though, I believe the 31st Street Pub can be a great place for a show and I think the TV Buddhas can put on a great show and, in my eyes, they both deserve another chance.

I had been out for dinner & drinks with some friends at Hemingway's in Oakland, and we caught the 54C towards the Strip on the late side, just arriving in time to see the last song by Fillmore Jive, the first local opener. I've seen them before and liked their live sound: super noisy guitar and drum duo with lots of effects-laden riffs and pounding drums. It's a real wall of sound for just two people and they can turn any of their songs into an extended jam session. It's a shame we only caught the end of their last jam, but it was quite a marvel to witness. They kicked on a strobe light while the guitarist was alternately wailing on the strings and then heaving his guitar at the amp to feed the reverb, but then the drummer took control and brought the rhythm down to a crawl, and then they started up again! Fillmore Jive went out with a veritable bang, that's for sure. I look forward to catching them again this Friday.

Next up was Thin Sketch, a local trio with a bassist and drummer that looked like they could seamlessly fit in with The Silver Bullet Band or BTO and a singer that would more likely belong with . . . well, not with them. He was a tall, skinny black guy jumping around stage "singing" (read: yelping and/or talking) about leaving the party because the keg is kicked or how the Burger King on the South Side is closed or talking between songs about how he's gonna "hate fuck" those girls in the taxi that told them they would come to the show but never followed through. Frankly, it was all rather weird and I was glad when it was over. The only funny moment came when the singer found a pick on stage that nobody laid claim to, allowing him to declare it "the pick of destiny".

The National Rifle had walked around the bar during the previous set, handing out stickers, pins and keychain bottle openers bearing their band logo to the dozen or so patrons. It was a nice gesture, at least. They took the stage and announced they were from Philly (which elicited boos and then clarifications that "we like you, just not Philly") and that this was the first day of their tour, so enthusiasm abounded. The lead guitar/singer walked off the stage and towards the front of the crowd a couple times, the bassist took off his shirt after the first song due to sweating so much from bouncing his head up and down and jumping around, and it seemed like the drummer was able to hit every single drum and cymbal on his massive kit in one nanosecond. Meanwhile, the female keyboardist hopped back and forth between vocals and double percussion duties. They clearly enjoyed playing their music, but that didn't really make it any more enjoyable for me. I was generally digging the double-drums and some of the reggae-influenced percussive rhythms and fast-paced bass lines, and the harmonica solo in the last song was pretty neat, but other than that I wasn't too impressed. It was generally lots of bass with little emphasis on the keyboard/guitar melodies, and the vocals were really low in the mix and hard to make out. Maybe that was the sound guy's fault, who knows. They could also do without the fist-pumping, sweaty, shirtless bassist; he just seemed out of place. Overall, I say "meh", but I think it was just the wrong crowd for them: a crowded frat party would have been way better.

The TV Buddhas played last, after The National Rifle had been introducing them during their set as "TV Buddha!" I had been watching some YouTube videos of them playing live, and it looked like a lot of fun: frantic drumming and long, meandering guitar solos, jumping around onstage or, in one, wandering around the sidewalk. In my head, I likened them to Israel's version of The White Stripes, but that seems superficial now: the "male guitar/female drummer duo playing noisy garage rock" comparison only goes so far. The Buddhas' guitar lines tend to be fuzzier, in general, and the drumming a little more restrained (the onstage kit was quite basic, just a tom and snare and two small cymbals) but still the essential, driving component of their songs. I also noticed the drummer choking up a bit on her drumsticks, holding them about 1/3 of the way up, perhaps to play a little faster? They also had a third member onstage, which may be a new aspect for them. He also played guitar and seemed to take many of the solos during their songs, but he really tightened them up and condensed their jams into quick songs. Some of the videos I'd seen showed them playing for around 5 minutes, but none of the songs in this set seemed to be longer than 3 or 4. Their lead guy took all the vocals and mostly the rhythm guitar lines, and they didn't prolong any of their songs into extended jam sessions. This was my only complaint really, but it seemed like such a big aspect of their live show; it was really what I was expecting. Instead, they blazed through a 30 minute set with little more than a super-quick "Thanks. This next song is called ..." between songs. I liked their songs, and I would have loved to see more of them, but that was all we got. Good set overall, just not enough for me. I'd like to see them again, but I don't know if I'll ever get that chance!

Here's a video of their last two songs that I recorded on my Droid phone. As usual, audio & video aren't as good as they could be, but take it for what it is, you know? Maybe chuckle at the fact that you can tell when I walk from my seat at the bar to the front of the stage, at least.

Random observations: There was some dude walking around the room holding a Game Boy apparatus and somehow recording video and audio on it!?!? One of the guys in Thin Sketch said something about it but I couldn't quite hear him, so I still have no idea what that was all about. Also, it's strange to see people I "know" from other contexts out of their element; e.g. at this show I spotted both Manny Theiner and that guy who runs the pub quiz I go to every Wednesday @ the Brillobox. Finally, I "spotted" the drummer and singer from TV Buddhas kinda hugging/canoodling before their set. Whatupwiththat?

Fillmore Jive

Thin Sketch

The National Rifle
MySpace, website, Twitter, Facebook
Live song in Allentown
"Baby Stole My Gun" live
Fan video for "It's Just Whiskey Mama

TV Buddhas
MySpace, blog, Twitter, Facebook
Official video for "Fun Girls"
Live song in Tel Aviv
Live song in Torino, Italy
Live song in a record store in Vienna, Austria
Acoustic song live on the street in Vienna

Monday, September 6, 2010

Concert review: The Books, Lohio

The Books, Lohio
Thursday August 26, 2010 at CMU UC Rangos
with Leigh, Paul, Lisa, Deepak

I really can't decide whether to call this a concert or show review. Local opener Lohio put on a solid set of music which certainly falls into the realm of "concert", but The Books blew my mind in a way that makes "show" or "spectacle" seem far more appropriate. The way that audio and visual phenomena intermingle and feed off each other in their performance makes so much sense at the time but seems so unpredictable and surprising in retrospect. Who knew that fast-bowed cello set to scattered videos of 90s golf instruction videos could seem so right?

I had picked up a few tickets ahead of time at the UC Info Desk since I figured this show would be crowded, but I was still amazed at how many people showed up. When I arrived, the line to get in was all the way around into the dining area of the UC upstairs; eventually, every seat in the hall was taken and it was SRO in the back of the room. My friend Deepak worked the door for a while and said they were very close to having to turn people away. (Despite all this, the following Tuesday I asked one of the math classes I teach whether anybody had gone to the show, and nobody even knew what I was talking about!?) It was an interesting environment for Lohio to play in, with a large boxy room and hundreds of people seated in chairs, separated from the large and practically empty stage, plus some "professional lighting" (as the singer pointed out, noting it may have been their first time in such fancy conditions). I wouldn't have guessed that to be the optimal set up for their sound, but it actually worked rather well, in the end. They played a seven or eight song set, the majority of them loud, guitar-laden rockers with a couple of softer, quieter, acoustic-style numbers. I expected a chatty, studenty crowd but they were rather courteous and receptive, applauding heartily and responding to banter. I remembered seeing a different drummer the previous time or two I'd seen them, and I definitely don't recall the drummer doubling as trumpeteer during two songs, as he did here; that was pretty cool. I remain continually awed by the non-singing guitarist's technical skills; he impressed me with his versatility at their acoustic set @ Howler's a while back, and here he showed a slightly more unrestrained stage demeanor, throwing in some leg kicks and head bobbing during the solos. Also, the larger, emptier room lent itself far better to the pretty vocal duets between the lead guitarist and female bassist than previous venues have. Some of the best moments of their set occurred when a guitar/drum rock interlude would melt into a single guitar strum and their two voices singing softly over the fading din. I liked that. Towards the end of their set, the singer took the opportunity of a captive student-laden audience to vouch for some local bands that deserve recognition (including Meeting of Important People, Donora, etc.), encouraging everyone to get out and appreciate the music in their town. I thought this was a nice touch, especially since a big portion of the crowd may have been new to town (it being the start of the semester and all) and even those who have been around could use a reminder every now and then that there's plenty of good music out there if you're willing to look for it. Final anecdote: the singer said they would play "two or three more songs" and then pointed out that he'd always thought it would be funny if a disappreciative concertgoer would reply to such a remark with "one more song!"

The Books took a little time to set up their array of equipment, including a huge video screen behind the stage and three chairs, one for each member, plus their keyboard, cello, table with laptop, and collection of a few guitars. I enjoyed listening to their recent album on NPR when they were streaming it a few weeks ago, and I had no idea how they were going to convert those "songs" into a live performance. To be honest, I wasn't even sure what instruments/equipment they used to make the songs in the studio. As it turns out, they weren't really sure what they were doing either, since this was one of the first few times they had performed these newer songs live. They introduced a third member (whose name I've forgotten, alas) who played either keyboard or guitar or both on every song, in addition to Nick Zammuto on guitar and laptop samples and vocals, and Paul de Jong on cello. Each song they played (a whopping 17, if I remember correctly) featured a corresponding video played on the screen behind them, with a carefully pieced-together montage of sampled/found videos that managed to fit the rhythm and mood of the music perfectly. For instance, the song "I Didn't Know That" was introduced by Nick claiming that they put this song together and then realized it was really about golf, since the movements and fashion of golfers are so strange, apparently. The video featured lots of oldish golf videos (I recognized Peter Jacobsen, at least, who's known for being a humorous, irrevent guy in general) with freeze-frames of people in odd positions, then played on loop at various speeds to match the fast-talking "lyrics" of the song. It was really funny, and I wish I could find that video online. The song they opened with was "Group Autogenics I", which is also the opening track on the most recent album and a perfect intro to any album/show, really. The vocals are sampled from various motivational cassettes/videos, and the corresponding video features some talking-head style footage of Nick's friends lip-synching to the voice while swirling through space. The absolute funniest/weirdest video may be the one for "A Cold Freezin' Night", embedded below:

The sampled vocals are from old Talkboys that were obviously given to some child, for his birthday or whatever, who then went crazy in his bedroom and recorded the whole thing. Well, not exactly, but it gives you an idea of just how weird kids can be when they feel unrestrained by parental supervision. They also played a handful of songs from older albums, including the pretty and uplifting "Take Time", the visually wordy "Smells Like Content", and the introspective and naturalistic "An Owl With Knees". They also do interesting things to create their songs, like on "Free Translator" where they took a "popular folk song" (that they can't name due to copyrights) and fed the lyrics through a free online translator into a series of random languages then back into English. They closed the show with "Classy Penguin", pointing out that it features home video of Paul, and Nick and his brother Mikey. The audience was really into this show the whole way through, and for good reason; it was hilarious, it was impressive, it was inspiring, it was fun. It was everything a concert could be, and more: it was truly a show.

MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.

The Books
Website, MySpace, Wikipedia
Recent feature story on NPR's All Things Considered

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Upcoming concert: The Black Angels, Fillmore Jive

At the Big Hurry show at Howler's a few weeks back I saw a flyer for an upcoming show: The Black Angels & Fillmore Jive @ Diesel Club Lounge on the South Side. This will be a good show; I guarantee it. I've been listening to The Black Angels for a couple years after stumbling across them on eMusic, and I saw local duo Fillmore Jive open for The Black Hollies @ Howler's about a year ago. If you like lots of guitars and pounding drums and noisy, droning psychedelic rock then this will be right up your alley.

The show is hosted by Joker Productions, which seems to have a special contract with Diesel since a lot of their shows are held there. Let me get the bad vibes out of the way first and then describe the bands. Diesel is not a great music venue. It's also used as a dance club/lounge and it seems way better suited for that. There is a small area right in front of the high stage which is fine for watching music shows but it gets crowded there quickly and if you end up towards the back by the bar then you may not be able to see all of the stage. There is also an upper level with another bar (usually it's the only bar when the events are 18+ but this show is 21+ so I imagine both up/downstairs bars are open) and a balcony overlooking the stage, but unless you are right on the edge of the balcony you will find yourself staring at the backs of the heads of other concertgoers. If you enjoy just being in a room where people are playing music then this is perfect for you; if you're like me and want to watch the artists performing, then this is not the best place. Others have complained in the past, and I concur with their gripes and suggestions. In any event, advance tickets are available here for $12. They are $15 at the door, so I encourage you to think about whether you want to go and if so let me know and I'll buy a block of tickets. Doors are @ 6 pm and show starts @ 7 so I think I'll make an evening of it and go to the South Side for an early dinner and then go the venue around 6:00 or 6:15.

Okay, enough logistics. Let's get to the music. Oh boy. First, Fillmore Jive: guy = guitarist & vocals, girl = drums, both from the Pittsburgh area. They have a distinct noisy garage rock vibe, much like the White Stripes or the Black Keys, but their guitar sound and lyrics skew more towards the likes of Pavement (duh, given their name) and The VU circa White Light/White Heat. I have a copy of their Rock Bottom demo CD, handed out by them for free at the show at Howler's way back when, and their mySpace page has a bunch of other songs, including several live recordings (to give you a good idea of what they sound like in person), so it looks like they're working on new stuff. It's pretty straightforward rock and roll fare, but it's fun to see and listen to. Check 'em out.

The Black Angels hail from Austin, TX, which seems to be a hotbed for neopsychedelia. And speaking of The VU, their name derives from a choice cut on The VU & Nico. The guitar/bass/drum/keyboard sound combination is incredible, full of reverb fuzz and droning melodies, crafting a cosmic sinkhole from which Alex Maas' vocals emerge like a supernova. In general, they seem to draw from classic 60s psychedelic guitar rock (The VU, fellow Austinites The 13th Floor Elevators, The Doors, Iron Butterfly, etc.) and occasional eastern raga influences (see "Deer-Ree-Shee" or the opening riff of "Manipulation", for example). They've also been selected by filmmaker Jim Jarmusch to play at this year's All Tomorrow's Parties festival in NY state (just another VU reference!). Check out the videos below of them playing live and tell me you don't want to see this show. I defy you.