Monday, October 25, 2010

Concert review: Old Canes / Pete Bush & the Hoi Polloi / (Joy Toujours and the Toys Du Jour)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 / Brillobox

I saw Old Canes at the Brillobox almost one year ago to the day (October 23, 2009). Somehow, that show was way more crowded than this one, and Leigh and I stayed back by the bar for the whole show and, consequently, I don't think I enjoyed them as much as I could have. I liked the album of theirs I had heard beforehand and enjoyed listening to it on my iPod while walking to/from campus. This time, though, the crowd was a bit sparser and we stayed in the second row the whole time and I even liked it more than what I've heard on their albums. So, an interesting switcheroo there. Glad I got to see them again and up close, at that.

I was in a rush to get to the show from campus after an IM soccer game, and apparently it was one of those doors 9:00 / show 9:30 shows that the Brillo randomly has that I wasn't unaware of, so I completely missed the opening band joy toujours and the toys du jour. That name alone had me intrigued and it's a shame I missed them entirely. They did have a couple of CDs on the merch table but no one seemed to be monitoring it for the whole show, so I figured they must have just played and then left. I grabbed a CD on the way out and will listen to it soon. If you're out there joy ... , I may owe you one.

Next up was Pete Bush & the Hoi Polloi. He said it was their first time at the Brillobox, and their MySpace page lists them as from both Pittsburgh and Seattle, so I don't actually know whether to call it a "local opener" or not. They were a bass/guitar/drums trio, but the guitar was a plugged-in acoustic and the bass was a standup double bass and the drums were a standard kit but played in a kinda jazzy/ska way with brushes some of the time. Overall, it was a certainly catchy style and I liked watching how enthusiastic they all were, sincerely bobbing their heads and really getting into it, especially the drummer who seemed to be practically tickling the drumskins with his sticks to get them to make just the right sound in just the right emotional way. The bass was solid too, really heavy sound for an orchestral stringed instrument; I could feel the wall shaking when I leaned on it. The singer had long curly hair that hung in his face a lot of the time and his voice was really well-honed; he sang loud and proud and had great pitch (the bassist sometimes provided some backup vocals, too). He had some funny banter: at the beginning he said they only had "half an hour to blow minds, so no more jibber jabber", and towards the end he asked the sound guy, "How we doin' on time, sound guy?" and he just responded with, " ........ uh, ok". It seemed like a sizable portion of the crowd knew the band and their songs, and some guys were singing along and fist pumping at the right moments. I had a mental moment towards the end of their set where I thought the song sounded familiar but then I just realized it reminded me of the earlier part of the song, and it had somehow already injected itself into my brain during the time when they were playing it, so kudos to them for making their songs that upbeat and catchy. One random observation that I'm not even sure about anymore: I think the singer's voice reminded me a little bit of the singer from Sublime, although that may have been just one particular song. All in all, it was fun to see. Not sure I'll pursue listening to it now, but I definitely enjoyed their set and have no complaints.

Old Canes took the stage a bit after 11:00 and played a solid, long set of songs from their two albums. Like I said, I especially liked being up close and able to see them playing their assortment of instruments. I don't even remember seeing this many people onstage at the last show. There were 5 guys: vocals/guitar, drums, cello/trumpet/harmonica/extra drums, mandolin/xylophone/melodica/tambourine/vocals, and trumpet/keyboard/synth/keyboard/harpsichord/vocals. Yeah, it was awesome to watch all of that instrumentation going on in front of me, and it has since made me go back and relisten to some songs and catch some extra little insturmental flourishes that I hadn't noticed before. The audience was really loving it, with a few people singing along or cheering at the beginning of a song when they recognized it and a group of people right in front of me doing that jump-up-and-down-with-their-arms-around-each-others'-shoulders dance that people love to do at concerts. The band members themselves seemed almost shyly grateful of the appreciation of their music and made sure to thank us at least a few times. With one song left to go, the singer decided it was a perfect time to go off and do a shot at the bar, so the drummer and mandolinist each told a joke to keep us entertained: (1) What's a polar bear's favorite meal? ....... A brrr-grrr! (with hand motions) (2) What did one snowman say to the other? ...... Does it smell like carrots to you? (some audience member actually shouted out the answer to that one and ruined it haha) After that, they decided to play two more songs instead of one, and we all cheered. Overall, it was really fun; just right in terms of crowd size and enthusiasm, the songs they played and the sound system, etc. Everything was great. Definitely try and catch these guys if they pass through your town. I'm looking forward to when the come back again next October 20-something-th :-)

Also, the combined assortment of facial hair in this band was pretty sweet. Singer Chris Crisci has a full beard with big swaths of gray on the sideburns (it looks better than it sounds, really), drummer John Momberg was rocking the shaved head and full, dense beard (see picture above), and one of the other multi-instrumentalists whose name I'm not sure of had a stylish moustache (see other picture above). Good work, gentlemen.

This is a video I took of them playing "Last Collapse" in the middle of their set. Notice they were already thanking everyone for coming out on a Wednesday night ("Yeah, Wednesday!")

and here's a video someone took of them playing "Sweet" at last year's show. The video quality is much better, too (the video feature on my camera does not handle dim lighting very well at all).

joy toujours and the toys du jour

Pete Bush & the Hoi Polloi

Old Canes
Facebook group
Website, with free stream of their first album, Early Morning Hymns
MySpace page for related project The Appleseed Cast

Jam of the day: "I Was Meant For The Stage" (and a film theory)

Artist: The Decemberists
Song: "I Was Meant For The Stage"
Album: Her Majesty
Released: September 9, 2003
Label: Kill Rock Stars

I like being reminded of songs in strange and/or seemingly unrelated contexts. Example: I was doing a Sporcle quiz with some friends the other day wherein one must identify movie titles by short plot synopses. The following was included
English professor John Keating inspires his students to a love of poetry and to seize the day.
and as I typed in the answer it reminded me of something. I said, "Have I ever told you guys my theory about that Decemberists song, 'I Was Meant For The Stage'?" and they said "No", so here I am doing just that. In a nutshell, I think this song is a direct reference to the movie Dead Poets Society and, more specifically, a lyrical retelling of one of the major themes and plot points: character Neil Perry's struggle with his family (mostly his father) completely resisting his newfound but completely overwhelming desire to become an actor and the ultimate realization that, since he cannot truly carpe diem and fulfill his dream, his only choice is to end his life after a breakthrough performance as Puck in the school's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Sorry, spoiler alert! If you haven't seen this film yet, I just ruined it for you, but it's one of my favorites and I really needed to spell that all out to make my theory tenable. Mea culpa.

So anyway, I can't remember when I first made this connection in my mind, but the more I hear the song and see the film, the more compelling I believe it to be. The lyrics are such an overt expression of yearning and fate, but not fate in the sense of just waiting for something to happen to you because it's bound to happen anyway, but fate in the sense of truly believing that there is something out there meant to happen and you want and need to do everything in your power to make sure it happens because if it doesn't then you've failed the universe or it's failed you or something like that and life just wouldn't be worth living anymore. It's about being "meant" for something, specifically created and brought up and cultivated to fulfill this specific role (hah!). And Colin Meloy sings these words so heartfeltly, as if he's telling you face to face that this is what he believes and the passion in his voice keeps increasing as he becomes more and more sure of everything as he's explaining it. The verses repeat and by the time the lyrical section ends and the long instrumental begins, he's already sung a few lines at full volume and you can practically hear him restraining himself, like he really wants to yell these things from a mountaintop but you're just standing at the bus stop and he doesn't want to be seen screaming at the top of his lungs that he really really really wants to be an actor because he'd look like a lunatic, but in some sense he doesn't really care anyway. Just read along with the words below as you listen to the song and tell me you don't feel that passion and tension building and building.

You'll also notice that he mentions his mother and father and how they've reminded him that he'll never earn a living (in the film, his father is obsessed with ensuring he becomes a doctor to bring pride and cash to the family), and he subtly jabs at them when he says something about resuming one's "callow ways", I believe. There are multiple mentions of fate and the heavens and so on, but the ending verse and the ensuing crash-bang instrumental denouement is what really solidified this theory in my mind. He says that he is "fated to reside" on the stage, like leaving it and going back to "real life" isn't even really "living" to him, and he declares it to be his "final bow", referencing that scene where Neil's father confronts him about the play and tells him to quit and Neil says he will but there's a defiant look about his jaw and face that make me think he knew all along that he was just going to do the play anyway and kill himself afterwards if it didn't please his father. (Watch that scene below.) Then right around the 4:30 mark, the last lyrics are sung and the music builds with the trumpets blaring and even the guitars and drums get progressively louder. And it keeps building and building, the crowd is applauding, it was a fantastic performance ... but then reality sinks in around 5:30 and everything devolves, the horns spiral out of control and the piano falls off rhythm and melody and there's total chaos, there are shouting voices, the sudden realization of the tragedy that's occurred, "Nooo, Neil! My son, my son, my son!" It is literally making me shudder right now listening to it and thinking of Neil's mother and father embracing over his dead body, sobbing uncontrollably.

I don't know about you, but I'm emotionally drained just thinking about it. Time to stop typing.

I was meant for the stage, I was meant for the curtain.
I was meant to tread these boards, of this much I am certain.

I was meant for the crowd, I was meant for the shouting.
I was meant to raise these hands with quiet all about me.
Oh, whoa ...

Mother, please, be proud. Father, be forgiving.
Even though you told me, "Son, you'll never make a living."
Oh, whoa ...

And from the floorboards to the flies, here I was fated to reside.
And as I take my final bow, was there ever any doubt?
And as the spotlights fade away, and you're escorted through the foyer,
You will resume your callow ways, but I was meant for the stage.

The heavens at my birth intended me for stardom.
Rays of light shone down on me and all my sins were pardoned.

I was meant for applause, I was meant for derision.
Nothing short of fate itself has affected my decision.
Oh, whoa ...

And from the floorboards to the flies, here I was fated to reside.
And as I take my final bow, was there ever any doubt?
And as the spotlights fade away, and you're escorted through the foyer
You will resume your callow ways, but I was meant for the stage.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Concert review: Fruit Bats, Boca Chica

Saturday, October 2, 2010
Garfield Artworks

Still catching up on reviews; this was a few weeks ago so details are hazy but I remember having a really good time. Boca Chica was good: folksy and upbeat with good guitar-playing and vocals. Fruit Bats were great: exciting and enthusiastic folk-rock, lots of good guitar work and percussion, and the vocals were a perfect match for their instrumental sound (his voice wouldn't necessarily work with anything, I think).

Unfortunately, I pretty much entirely missed the opener Jaybird; Leigh and I were running late for the show for some reason. I had emailed Hallie from Boca Chica earlier that week to buy two+ tickets from her, but we got there towards the end of the first set, and someone was standing at the door offering a last-minute ticket for $10 (they were $15 at the door) so we took it. Turns out, that was Hallie! (Sorry we were late :-\ I guess I owe you.) We walked up towards the stage and took a seat on the floor in the middle of the room and cracked open our East End growlers which were deliciously delectable brews. Jaybird ended up being one guy with an amped guitar plucking raw emotion from the strings and belting out his lyrics over the fucking chatty folks hanging out near the entrance. I wish I had caught more; I liked what I saw.

Boca Chica played a solid set next. Lead singer/guitarist Hallie was quite good, imbuing their songs with heartfelt (sometimes melancholy, based on the lyrics I could make out) emotion while maintaining an upbeat character to it all. The other male guitarist was really amazing, and I was super-impressed with his lap guitar playing. Their bassist was also reeeeeally pregnant; I can't even believe she was onstage playing! They made a joke during their set that the baby would automatically know all the bass parts of the songs by osmosis. I'm looking forward to seeing them again; Boca Chica is one of those local bands that I've somehow missed out on seeing every time they're around, and now that I've had a sampling, I definitely want to experience more.

Fruit Bats played last and really rocked the house, in the sense of ... well, getting the crowd excited with their songs and playing them really well. I had heard a few of their songs before, including a good Neil Young cover, and found one of their albums at the library, and I had heard thru the internet-grapevine that their lead man was now part of The Shins, which is pretty fucking cool, I say. Their songs embody a really catchy and rockin' blend of indie rock, folk, country, and pop. The drummer was good, their lead guitaritst was good, their bassist was good. Shit, they were all really good musicians. They are truly a band, you know what I mean? It's impressive to see a group of people so confident in their sound and songs really hammering that all out onstage, sharing the experience with the viewers. I was drawn in the whole time and really enjoyed their set. I'm not sure how much I'll enjoy listening to their albums outside of that, but if any part of it recreates the live experience in my mind and ears, then I'll definitely like that. And I will certainly see them live again if they pass through town. Check out this live video I took at the show (they introduced it as a new song from an upcoming album):


Boca Chica
Story on NPR! (with free mp3 download)

Fruit Bats

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Concert review: Breathe Owl Breathe, Strand of Oaks, Agaglady

Thursday, September 30, 2010 at Garfield Artworks

Okay, I'm getting a bit behind on some live show reviews, so it's time to catch up. I actually didn't know much about these bands going into the show, but the guys at Draw Us Lines had been repping them pretty hard lately, and the song or two I'd listened to on those posts were all well and good, so I figured I'd check it out. Glad I did.

I showed up at the Artworks a little late, having just grabbed some pizza and beer at Graziano's down the street a ways. I walked in to find rows of chairs set up and one guy standing in front of the usual stage area strumming a guitar and singing and fiddling with a little electronics box with a handful of wires. That went on for a while. Agaglady was really not for me; let's say that. I typically think that there's always some element of good in any music, and part of the appeal is trying to identify what that is and how much of it shines through the other shit, but god damn sometimes it's hard to do that. I'll admit that I liked this guy's earnestness and devotion to his "craft" and he seemed pretty adept with whatever that little electronics box was, but other than that I was struggling to enjoy it. It was mostly his voice, I guess; some of the little electronic melodies were decent and nonstandardly catchy, but it didn't come together nicely with the other elements. Oh well, can't win 'em all, you know?

Next up was Strand of Oaks, which is actually just one guy (Tim Showalter) playing guitar and singing, and boy does he do both of those things well. The string-plucking style was pretty new to me: he kinda used all of his fingers to strum an assortment of strings with one chord set and then used the amp to make this into a kind of beautiful sound cloud from which his soulful voice emerges like a ray of sunshine after a thunderstorm. Yeah, something poetic like that. It was seriously mesmerizing to watch. The day after the show, I went ahead and downloaded his album, Pope Killdragon (exclusive to eMusic, actually), and it sounds different. There are some synthesized sounds and vocal effects and the guitar is more "strummy" but it's also great. I just think that the blanket of melancholy and gravitas that his songs exude was more evident in the live setting. I could see his face contort into almost pained expressions when he belted out some lyrics and did that thing where you lean your head back from the mic a little bit because otherwise you'll drown out the guitar melody you were already playing . . . Check out the video below I took at the show of Strand of Oaks playing "Alex Kona" from that album, and then compare it to the album version. It's slightly different, yeah? But they're both good, yeah? Yeah.

Breathe Owl Breathe capped the evening with an awesome set of what eMusic calls "gentle, lovely folk, nursery rhymes for grown-ups". That's not totally accurate, but it's pretty darn close. The first song they played involved a story about a wolf, and they donned a hat with a puppet wolf on top. (Check out some great photos of that and more from the show here.) A later song began with an audience sing-along of nonsense-lyrics/sounds and then became a saga about a dragon (a draga, if you will?). Singer/guitarist Micah made some interesting vocal effects and whistles with two different mics and did lots of funny hand gestures and dancing, Andrea switched between cello and tambourine and banjo and sang a lot, and Trevor did some great expressive drumming that meshed perfectly with this style of song. Not only are these three people just flat-out talented musicians, they put on an engaging live show that's fun, beautiful, and unique. See them if you can.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cover jam of the day: "Tugboat"

Artist: Citay (covering Galaxie 500)
Song: "Tugboat"
Album: Dream Get Together (Today)
Label: Dead Oceans (Aurora Records)
Released: January 26, 2010 (1988)

I was reminded of this song just last night. I had some friends over to play poker and I was scanning the record collection trying to pick something to put on and I thought, "Hey, I haven't listened to this Citay album in a while", so I put it on. The end of side two came around and "Tugboat" started playing and I couldn't help but sing along. It's a classic Galaxie 500 tune and a good choice for a cover song, I say. I can't recall whether they played it live when I saw them, but seeing those seven band members squished onto the "stage" in the corner of a room reminds me how much their lush, fully-instrumented sound adds to the song, which was originally played by a spare guitar-bass-drums trio. It's a good cover in the sense that it's faithful to the original but it adds a certain je ne sais quoi; that is, it doesn't sound like Citay trying to BE Galaxie 500, it sounds like Citay playing a Galaxie 500 song in the way that Citay plays any song. Hopefully that makes sense. Anyway, I also have Today on vinyl and just played the original version. Man, they were so good. I can't find a video of the original album version, so the live video below will have to suffice, but hey, it's pretty cool that there's YouTube footage of them playing live in 1989, you know? (It's taken from the awesome DVD Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste, a collection of early video footage of the band. The DVD is out of print, but the Carnegie Library has a copy.)

"I don't want to go to your party, I don't want to talk to your friends, I don't want to vote for your president, I just want to be your tugboat captain. . ."

Bonus: British Sea Power covering this song live!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Song Remains the Same-ish: Freelance Whales vs. Mew

[This is a new "series" that lets me point out when two songs sound really similar. Its frequency obviously depends on me finding these similarities, so who knows when it will happen again.]

Artist: Freelance Whales Mew
Song: "Enzymes" "Why Are You Looking Grave?"
Album: (Single) And The Glass Handed Kites
Label: Green Label Sound Sony BMG
Released: October 14, 2010 July 26, 2006 (US)

Freelance Whales just released a single, called "Enzymes", on the Green Label Sound record label, which has some strange relationship with Mountain Dew. I don't really know how it works. Commence debates about "selling out" and corporate control of music now. Okay, done? The song itself is an intriguing slight departure from the sounds heard on their debut album, Weathervanes. I saw them at the very beginning of this year and was pleasantly uplifted by the lush instrumentation and harmonized vocals of their songs, and they pulled it all off really well in person, too. This new song (video below) incorporates some different elements, though. It begins with an in-your-face guitar riff that is fairly atypical of them, then it brings in a rising synthesizer melody, and then the vocals kick in and ... I started getting deja vu. The high-pitched male voice (with female backing), the pounding drums, the wandering guitar lines ... What does this remind me of? I was really racking my brain and I played the first two minutes of this song over and over at least four times trying to figure it out but, alas, I couldn't.

That was yesterday. I got up today and played the song again, and BAM! I got it. Mew, it sounds exactly like fucking Mew! I looked around for the song that most closely resembled it, and I came up with this one (video below). It's a great track from a great album and it fairly well encapsulates the "Mew sound" in a way. The album version of this one features backing vocals by J. Mascis, he of Dinosaur Jr. fame, but I couldn't find a video for that. Go check out the album, though. Recommended.

It's not a perfect match, for sure. The vocals represent the most compelling similarity, to me, but there are other little moments that sound alike. I'm not making any claim or accusation of copying; don't get me wrong. I just think when a song reminds me of another one so much that it bugs me when I can't figure it out, and then I finally do ... well, that seems worth sharing, yeah?

On a crazy concluding note, I had a strange coincidence while writing this up. I spent a couple of minutes trying to come up with a catchy title for this series (hey, cleverness ain't easy) and eventually settled on the Led Zeppelin reference you see above. Then, as I typed this post, I listened to some demo songs posted by one of my favorite bands The Spires (I recently mentioned them on Draw Us Lines, and look for another post on them sometime soon). A minute or so into the song "Esprit De Corps", I caught Jason Bays singing somewhere muffled in the mix: "Well some say, the song remains the same". How fucking eerie is that? And by that, I mean: how much of a fucking low probability event is that?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Video jam: Holy Fuck / "Red Lights"

Artist: Holy Fuck
Song: "Red Lights"
Album: Latin
Label: Young Turks
Released: May 11, 2010 (album); October 13, 2010 (video)

I just found this today on Stereogum. I really hadn't heard much of Holy Fuck's music before deciding to watch this video, and I'll admit that I definitely picked it because ... well, it has cats. I'm a sucker for a cute and feisty feline. Plus, I nabbed Latin for free when it was released on Amie Street (R.I.P. you wonderful website, and curses on you Amazon for gobbling it up like the greedy whore you really are!) and I haven't even given it a proper listen until now. I'm glad I did. It has deliciously groovy bass and catchy synth and thumping drums, and it's got me tapping my toes and bobbing my head as I sit here doing this crossword puzzle on my laptop. Check it out, recommended.

This video has cats, as I mentioned. They are made to appear like they're playing instruments, and one of them is involved in a car chase with a dog and it ends in a fire. That's the gist of it, really. It sounds silly and, frankly, it is, but I'll be damned if it still isn't impressively entertaining. Enjoy!

Note: This already has 84,000 views after 2 days, and I predict that will exponentially increase as the internet world learns that there are even more cute cats waiting to be watched doing silly things.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Some old, some new: Belle & Sebastian, Beach Fossils, Sufjan Stevens, Syd Barrett

There are a bunch of new releases coming out tomorrow (Tuesday October 12, 2010) and a lot of them I know nothing about. There, I said it. Here's what I can confidently recommend:

Belle and Sebastian are quite good, but you probably knew that already. I think The Life Pursuit and If You're Feeling Sinister are classics and Push Barman To Open Old Wounds is a rambling collection of great tunes, and even their "lackluster" albums have some hidden gems. Their newest, Write About Love seems to be a return to form, of sorts, a good and consistent hybrid of the more hooky pop songs you might find on The Life Pursuit, like "Funny Little Frog" or "Another Sunny Day", with the more directly emotive songs you find scattered across their catalog, like "I Don't Love Anyone" or "Is It Wicked Not To Care?". I plan on downloading it tomorrow on eMusic, but if you order the vinyl version you can enter a contest that may get Stuart Murdoch to spend a day with you and then write a song about you. Seriously! Also check them out here and below playing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with ?uestlove on drums. Pretty cool.

[Update: Stream Write About Love here all week on Spinner's New Releases page!]

Beach Fossils are one of those bands that got some considerable indie blogosphere buzz or whatever way back at the beginning of this year, and I kinda ignored the whole thing, thinking it was just another one of those bands that everyone would like because others liked 'em and ... you know the deal. And in a way, they are that band. But later on I heard some of their songs in full and saw a video or two and ... just really liked it. The angular guitar melodies are so catchy and mathematically engaging, in a way. I ended up buying their record and have played it many times since. Tomorrow, they have a new 7" (or mp3, of course) single, "Face It" b/w "Distance". I've heard "Face It" (download it here) and it does seem like it wouldn't necessarily fit on their album, but it's not a big departure from their sound. You'll probably either love this or be wholly content to hear it once and then never again. Either way is fine with me.

Sufjan Stevens has a new album out, too, called The Age of Adz, but now that I think about it, I'm actually pretty unqualified to pass judgment on it. I liked Illinois and Michigan when I first heard them a few years ago, and Seven Swans was solid, too, but I haven't really gone back to them since, and I haven't even heard BQE or All Delighted People, and I haven't heard anything from Adz. So, there ya go. If you like him, you'll like this one, I presume ... ?

Syd Barrett's solo album The Madcap Laughs. Okay, this one I can comment on. I recently read the 33 1/3 Series book on Piper At The Gates of Dawn, that classic debut album from The Pink Floyd (that's right, they had a leading The back then) and I also saw a DVD recording of The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story. Both were really enlightening about the role that Syd played in Pink Floyd's style and sound, at least in the early days, and I'm sure they barely crack the surface of the true story behind one of rock's most interesting and enigmatic characters. Tomorrow, you can get a newly remastered, reissued CD version of the first solo album he released after parting ways with the boys in Floyd. It goes a long way in showing how important he was to their first couple of albums, in case you were blissfully ignorant of that influence, like I pretty much was until recently. I haven't actually heard any of the bonus tracks, so I can't make any claim as to whether it's worth your while to plunk down some extra dough for the "remastered" and "extra" tracks, so ... I guess this is really just an excuse to talk about Syd Barrett. So what?

Jam of the day: "Marquee Moon"

Artist: Television
Song: "Marquee Moon"
Album: Marquee Moon
Released: February 8, 1977 (reissued 2003)
Label: Elektra (reissued on 4 Men With Beards)

Alright, this is an old song, but I've played it so many times in my life after first hearing it because it's so fucking good. I heard again it this past weekend while hanging out at a friend's place and listening to records, and I essentially got to reremember why it's so great. The whole album is awesome, really, but this has always been the standout track to me. Go ahead, play it while you read along below.

[You gotta know it's special because it bypasses YouTube's standard 9:59 length restriction :-D ]

This is by far the longest song on the album (it developed as an extended jam during their early live shows) but it also has the shortest lyrics, built around a strange night spent wandering around (presumably) NYC and encountering an after-dark thunderstorm, an ostensibly sane man hanging out by the subway/railroad tracks, and a Cadillac at the cemetery. The rest of its length is filled with punchy drum beats and waves of undulating bass lines, all forming a background on which Tom Verlaine paints the most wondrously uplifting, magically never-ending but finite, oh-so-close-to-punk-but-that's-debatable-and-has-been-for-years-and-who-really-cares-because-it's-so-fucking-beautiful guitar solo the world has ever seen. It starts out fairly simple, a playful up-and-down melody that meshes with the rest of the instrumentation so perfectly that you think that's just how it will go, but then it edges ever so slightly upward, pulling you with it. And then it goes a little higher, and a little higher, and .... Whenever I listen to it, I can feel my posture straighten and my neck stretch out and my head rise a little and I'll be darned if I don't think that I'm just about standing up straight and levitating a few inches off the ground but, no, I'm still here in my chair by the time the solo ends and the first verse rolls back around for a reprise.

The best music isn't just music, it's sound and an effect, and this is one of the more compelling instances of that I've ever experienced. When a friend of mine first shared this glorious album with me in college I listened to it on repeat for a few weeks. It was eye-opening. I'd played it fairly often over the years, too, and was delighted to stumble on a sweet used vinyl copy at Wicked Discs earlier this year. It's made a great addition to the record collection, although there's a minor skip in the first few minutes of this song after the first verse, and another one in the middle of the lengthy guitar solo I described. Boo. But I don't really care, it's just part of the experience now. (Also, apparently the original vinyl faded the song out at 9:58 due to length restrictions, but reissues, like mine, keep the full 10:40 length.) If you're ever at the Brillobox on a Wednesday night before Pub Quiz and hear this one on the jukebox downstairs, it was probably me. It's a hell of a bar tune, and it's just about the best bang for your buck you could find :-)

I'll leave you with this quote from Wikipedia that is simply stunning to me:

"The song "Marquee Moon" was done in one take; drummer Billy Ficca thought that they were rehearsing."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Jam of the day: "Rag to a Bull"

Artist: Mariage Blanc
Song: "Rag to a Bull"
Album: Mariage Blanc
Released: November 16, 2010 (nationally), October 8, 2010 (Pittsburgh)

Come on out to the Brillobox tomorrow (Friday) night to catch Mariage Blanc playing some tunes from their new, self-titled LP. There's a cover story in this week's City Paper that details the technical struggles the band overcame to even release this album, in addition to the differences between this and their previous release, the Broken Record EP, in terms of instrumentation, collaboration, recording style, etc. It's a good read; check it out and kudos to Andy Mulkerin for his writing. Local musician extraordinaire David Bernabo also posted a slick-as-all-hell review of the album on his blog; check that out here.

So what's my take? This album is well thought out, perfectly planned, and rewarding upon multiple listens. There's something about the way that the guitar layers play off each other without devolving into chaos nor predictability, and the way that the subtle drum beats drive the novel lyrical constructions that just makes the whole thing incredibly listenable. I was lucky enough to snag an advanced copy of the files for this one (thanks Josh!) and have listened to it every other day for the last couple of weeks striving to find something meaningful to say about this record; it's not broken, for sure, yet it's not earth-shattering. I don't know what else to say except that it's really, really good. It has literally left my speechless in the sense that I can't describe it to you in any meaningful way; I'd much prefer to share a set of headphones with you, spin this record, and stare at each other the whole way through as we nod our heads and say, "Yeah, I dig this." Apologies for being entirely inarticulate about it, but you should really blame Mariage Blanc for that. And you should do that in person, tomorrow night. See you there.

This particular track exhibits the kind of lyrical talent I was referring to above, as well as the switcheroo from softish, keyboard-led chamber pop to some solid guitar- and bass-driven melodies. It's delectable either way.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Vinyl find: Boston Pops Orchestra, conducted by Arthur Fiedler, "Saturday Night Fiedler"

(Check out the first post in this series for the back story.)

Let me summarize my thoughts about this album at the outset: in a way, I am really glad that this album exists, but in no way does that make me want to listen to it more. Between the photos on the album covers and the blurb on the back and the music itself, I can't help but laugh when trying to imagine all of the effort and time devoted to this project. Try it with me. Imagine you're Arthur Fiedler, renowned long-time conductor of The Boston Pops, one of America's most famed orchestras, and it's 1978. John Travolta had recently swept the nation with his sextastic moves and all the hip youngsters were donning their dancin' shoes and bell bottoms instead of going out to the latest performance of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. What do you do? You arrange and score an orchestral performance of two songs by the Bee Gees and one song by The Trammps and one song by a-ha (three of which appear in the film Saturday Night Fever), as well as some old classical standards ("Night On Bald Mountain" and the aforementioned Toccata and Fugue) that have been run through a disco-ifying filter, then force the members of the Boston Pops to learn these songs, then record one such performance live at Boston's Symphony Hall and release it as an album. Of course! That's what you would do, isn't it?

Admittedly, this album is hilarious, but I really don't know how much of that was intentional, if any. Certainly, Fiedler's poses in the cover photos suggest that he's got a flamboyant sense of humor, even with his stereotypically stuffy position and age, so I'll give him credit for that. The description on the back cover, though, leads me to believe that either he or people around him or both somehow thought this would be successful. He writes:

"One thing I have always believed in is music as a universal language, and my years with the Boston Pops reflect the range and scope of this interest as we work through a vast repertoire from Country to Classics. Young people are always a key to the success of the Pops season, and keeping up with the forward motion of their tastes and preferences is both a challenge and a great privilege for me to pursue. From the moment I conducted the "Saturday Night Fiedler" suite on Television this May, I knew that youngsters had done it again: disco - a marvelous, insistently rhythmic dance form to which all manner of music can be adapted from Bach to the Bee-Gees. And this span of musical poles truly accents the universality of music."

Okay, Arty, you've got a way with words, sure, but riddle me this: did you really write the closing sentence, "I wish you the joy of listening and dancing to the first disco record with the Boston Pops", and truly MEAN IT? Did you imagine people were at home spinning this on their turntables and dancing around the living room. pausing only to comb their Afros and flip the record to hear that sweet Johann Sebastian Bach cover song they'd heard all about down at the discotheque?! Did you really mean that this was the Pops' "first disco record", implying that somehow there might be MORE of these?! If so, you are truly a manlier man than me, because only a veritable lunatic or someone with great big, ballsy, embarrassment-be-damned testicles could truly put forth such a crazy statement. Also, you played this on television? And who capitalizes Television, even in 1979?

I listened to this album once through in the name of science (well, this blog, really) and judging by the absolutely mint condition of the disc, I can't imagine that the previous owner played it any more than once, either. This one will forever live in my collection, if only to be brought out just to prove to a visitor that it really does exist and maybe to subject them to the groan-inducing strains of Mussgorsky à la disco and the Bee Gees à la symphonia. In that way, Monsieur Fiedler, you have succeeded. Regrettably, you passed away a mere month after this album's release and yet, I'm sure this helps you to believe that you were truly a trendsetter with a finger on the pulse of the American youth musical culture. May you forever continue to believe that you nailed it, that disco was the next big thing, and that today we are still pointing one finger heavenward, tilting one bell-bottom-clad knee towards the other as our gold chains and chest hair fall outwards from our wide-open leisure suit shirts, that we're all dancing along to "Night on Disco Mountain", and that all is right with the world.

In case you're curious, you can find here an mp3 of the first 6 minutes of the "Saturday Night Mever Medley" and you can find here an mp3 of the subsection thereof entitled "Night on Disco Mountain". Enjoy, I guess?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Jams of the day: "Don't Let Go" (and a cover song or two)

Artist: Lelia Broussard
Song: "Don't Let Go"
Album: Waiting on the 9
Released: November 18, 2008
Label: Lilyah Music / TuneCore

I saw Allison Weiss, Bess Rogers, and Lelia Broussard @ Garfield Artworks a few nights ago and it was fantastically fun. All three of them have such beautiful voices and are great songwriters. Plus, their live show is so entertaining; they're truly pleased to be onstage playing their songs for an interested audience, and they're so bubbly and personable between their beautiful, emotional songs that you can't help but laugh along with them at their antics. And come on, they knighted someone with a plastic sword and crown!

I was particularly impressed by Lelia's amazingly powerful voice. She completely filled the huge, boxy room inside Garfield Artworks when she belted out some lines, but she could bring it back down to a whisper and make you lean forward in your chair, too. It was mesmerizing. Check out the video below to see what I mean:

Here's the recorded version of that song. I like the acoustic version better; it really lets the voice lead, as it should. Lelia also started to play a cover of Beyonce's "Single Ladies" before she was cut off by Manny enforcing the "strict original music performances only" policy at Garfield Artworks, since he opts not to pay the yearly ASCAP fee. Whatever. However, Bess managed to slip in a country/bluegrass-style cover of Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me" earlier in the evening. That was pretty entertaining.

Lelia Broussard:

Waiting on the 9 on eMusic, Amazon, iTunes

Her new album, Masquerade, will be released on November 2. Pre-order here.