Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cover jam of the day: "I'm Set Free"

Artists: Woodpigeon & Weathered Hand, and Yo La Tengo (covering the Velvet Underground)
Song: "I'm Set Free"

A big part of the reason I love the VU is that they can play a song like "Sister Ray", a 17-minute hard-rockin' jam of a tune about a busted drug-addled orgy in a NYC hotel room, but they can also play a gorgeous, flowery tune like "Sunday Morning". It's almost not fair that they had the talent and wherewithal to flip-flop like that from song to song on their recorded output, but sobeit. The reason I bring this up is that it is Sunday morn-.... well, it's Sunday afternoon, but I started thinking about this while it was still technically morning, and I was out late last night to see Deerhoof and then hang out drinking with some friends, so cut me some slack. But I was just sitting here sipping coffee and scanning Google reader and Facebook and I saw that Daytrotter had posted the VU song "Sunday Morning" on their Facebook page, appropriately enough, and then I starting thinking about similar sweet-sounding songs of theirs and then I remembered I found this Woodpigeon cover on their blog a few weeks ago and have been meaning to share it, and then I found this YLT version when I typed "I'm Set Free" in Banshee since I forgot they even recorded this one! Yikes, that's a lot of thinking, but the conclusion is that you get to hear/see three different versions of this song.

The original has some nice, soft, melodious guitar strumming from Lou and Sterling, plus Lou's lead vocals and some backing "oohs" and "aahs" leading into the choruses (from Doug Yule, I'm guessing), and all the while Mo's metronomic drumming alternates from fast/loud to slow/quiet in just the right way to match the mood of the song. It's perfect and uniquely VU-ish.

The Woodpigeon & Weathered Hand version is even softer and quieter, played on acoustic guitar(s) and viola (I think), sans drums, but adding a little bit of electrified guitar during the solo. I've really enjoyed all of the Woodpigeon albums I've heard so far; they play wonderful folk-tinged pop songs and the singer's voice is lovely. I don't know anything about Weathered Hand, but I will be sure to investigate in the near future. Looks like they've combined forces here to create a wonderful cover version, brimming with wistful, ethereal vocals and folksy strumming and beautiful strings. It's also perfect for Sunday morning/afternoon listening. Check out a live version of them playing this song here.

The Yo La Tengo version is a bit more in line with the original version than the previous one, but just hearing Ira Kaplan sing these lyrics is pretty cool, in my book. I notice that they almost entirely scrapped the drums on this one; I can only hear some soft tapping every once in a while in the beginning and they build a little bit as the song progresses, but not by much. I like their take on the guitar part and solo, too, and Georgia's backing vocals wafting in from the background is lovely. Genius + Love = YLT, indeed, and here's your evidence.

Be sure to check out Woodpigeon and buy some albums, I highly recommend them (especially Die Stadt Muzikanten). And while you're at it, check out some other random cover versions of this song I happened to stumble on while writing this up: Beck & Thom Yorke [live], Terry Bickers & Bradleigh Smith, Arthur & Yu, Evan Dando (from the Lemonheads) [live]. I actually really like that last one by Evan Dando, especially how he starts to sing the guitar solo (haha) and then plays it.. I should have wrote about that, but I just found out. Anyway, there are tons more out there. Comment and share some good ones!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Video jams: Local concert footage (Big Snow Big Thaw, Pet Clinic, Nik & the Central Plains, Horse or Cycle, MOIP, etc.)

Just wanted to alert yinz to my YouTube page where I've been posting footage from local concerts here in Pittsburgh (plus some random mp3s that I thought needed to exist on YouTube). Some of the earlier ones were taken on my Android phone and have terrible audio quality; sorry about that. But recently, for Xmas, I acquired a Flip video camera, which takes lovely HD video footage. I don't know the technical audio specs, but it sounds pretty good, particularly acoustic/quiet stuff; loud rockin' sounds test the limits a little bit, depending on how close I was standing to the amp. Bottom line, though: I now have a small, portable, convenient way to take up to 1 hour of HD video/audio at concerts! It's now a goal of mine to record a full set of all of the local bands that I feel others out there should be able to experience in a live setting. (Of course, this relies on me getting a good view and the set being <= 60 minutes, so I'll do what I can.) Watching these is certainly not the same as getting out and seeing them, but it's a pretty good approximation, especially if you don't live around here or what have you. I've embedded below some of the most recent ones, and I'll let you explore my YouTube channel for some others. Enjoy!

Big Snow Big Thaw
at Club Cafe, Thursday February 03, 2011

Part 2 is here.

Pet Clinic
at Thunderbird Cafe, Saturday January 29, 2011

Part 2 is here. Be sure to watch the closing number of Part 2. It's an epic 7 minute song and well worth watching.

Nik & the Central Plains
at Howlers, Friday January 14, 2011

Part 2 is here and Part 3 is here.

Horse or Cycle
at Howlers, Friday January 14, 2011

(They were opening for Nik & the Central Plains so I just taped this one song, this time.)

Meeting of Important People
at Carnegie Lecture Hall in Oakland, Saturday January 15, 2011

(They were opening for Dean & Britta playing Galaxie 500, so I just taped a handful of songs: "I Know Every Street", "Single Girl, Married Girl", "Boys [Beatles cover]", "Our Love", "Broken-Down Storefront". Be sure to check out some of the Galaxie 500 tunes, too: "When Will You Come Home", "Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste", etc.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Jam of the day: "Dances Fantastic"

Artist: Neva Dinova
Album: Neva Dinova
Song: "Dances Fantastic"
Released: September 17, 2002
Label: crank!

I feel like Neva Dinova has always been the lesser-known and underappreciated little brother of Saddle Creek labelmate Bright Eyes. Yes, they haven't been around for as long and they don't have as big of a profile, but they've put out 3 solid records in the last 8 years, plus a split EP with Bright Eyes where they, quite frankly, outshone Conor Oberst with their songwriting and contributions. But that's just my opinion, I guess: I do want them to get more attention and recognition for their musical output, but it's pointless to complain without pointing to evidence. So here it is. This song, "Dances Fantastic", is from their epnoymous debut, released back in 2k2. The whole album is a pretty intriguing and complex mix of scuzzy guitar rock and mellow guitar rock and ... well, it has a lot of different guitar and vocal stylings, I'll say that. I'm failing on the description front, here, so I'll just skip ahead to the song I want to feature:

This song is fucking epic, and you know it: a slow, echoey guitar/bass intro melding into plaintive lyrics and slow drums, building into a hypnotically rhythmic and melodic pattern, and finally exploding into a volcanic torrent of guitar, ultimately winding down into a devolving drum fill/guitar line and a defeated voice. It's amazing how much emotional power is packed into this roller-coaster-ride of a song. I have a friend who listened to no other song from this band except for this one, and used to play this one religiously, at that. As for me, I like a lot of Neva Dinova's songs, and all of their albums, as a whole, but this song is always a go-to. Enjoy!

And if you're looking for points of comparison as to why they deserve recognition as a band, just check out some other (different-sounding) songs, like "Ahh" and "Clouds" and "Did You Disappoint Your God?" and "Yellow Datsun" and "Supercomputer" and "Get Back" and ...

Neva Dinova on the web: