Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jam of the day, guitar atmospherics, and an upcoming show you gotta see: Eureka Birds / "Goodbye Space And Time"

I'm gearing myself up for an awesome show this weekend. We at Draw Us Lines are going to "curate" (that sounds hoity-toity) a series of shows at venues around Pittsburgh. This allows us to shine the spotlight on some great bands and people, and bring folks out to see artists they might not otherwise know about or want to see. By rotating around at different venues, we should be able to focus on different genres, too—loud rock, acoustic folk, dancey pop, etc.—and we're looking forward to working with lots of great Pittsburgh (and national) indie bands in the future.

Our first show is happening this Saturday night, February 25th, at the Brillobox in Lawrenceville. Bluebird Midwest, Horse or Cycle, and Eureka Birds are playing, and they are all excellent. You should read my full preview over at Draw Us Lines to get the full scoop on the show, but suffice it to say: you really gotta go.

In preparation, I've been jamming a lot of tunes by these bands, of course. A lot of Eureka Birds songs have been stuck in my head ("That Mountain Is A Volcano", "Oh! My Dear", "Cactus Man", …) but there's one I'm particularly looking forward to seeing live, after finding a YouTube vid of it: "Goodbye Space And Time"

Eureka Birds / "Good Bye Space And Time" / Eureka Birds [2008] / Live @ North Star Bar, Philly

Isn't that killer? The lyrics are kinda mellow and down-trodden, but engaging and you can read some uplifting qualities into it all, if you try. The thing that gets me, though, is the slow-burn, rise and rise and rise and rise aspect of it, culminating in an absolute shred of a guitar solo over the last minute or so. I was trying to explain this appeal to my friend as we watched the video together: yes, the solo is not a crazy riff or melody and might not take too much technical prowess, really, but there's something about how it fits into the song and carries my mind and emotions along that has me hanging on the edge of my seat and leaning in closer and closer until it's over. Part of that has to do with the fact that I can see the video timer and realize, "Wow, there's only 20 seconds left, where the hell could this be going? He's still wailing on that axe like a madman!" Maybe that's it. I'll tell you this, though: I'll be watching googly-eyed from the side of the stage when they rock out like this on Saturday night, and you owe it to yourself to be there with me. Rock on.

Eureka Birds on the web: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Jam of the day, coffee shop albums, and fresh experiences: Neutral Milk Hotel / "Ghost"

I walked into the Tazza d'Oro satellite location in the Gates-Hilman Center today to grab some coffee and cure those post-late lunch fatigue blues. Yeah, man. I ended up sitting in a nice comforable chair, sipping delicious black coffee with a splash of whole milk (most places just have skim or half & half, so that was nice) while reading the 33 1/3 series book on Nick Drake's Pink Moon (written by Amanda Petrusich, one of those Pitchfork writers who I will read whenever I see the byline, no matter the album). More importantly, for this post, I caught the last half of the Neutral Milk Hotel tune "Oh, Comely" on the house speakers while I walked in. At the time, I thought, "Wow, that's an intense song to be wafting over the ears of these dutifully working nerds." (I can say that cuz I'm one of them.)

After I ordered my coffee and sat down and the song rolled around to its perfect finish, I expected some random playlist to kick in and throw something at us, but instead it transitioned exactly into "Ghost", as In The Aeroplane Over The Sea does. I realized they were playing this album straight through. Awesome. I'm all for exposing great music to potentially unknowledgeable ears. Unfortunately, I'm sure a lot of folks were just ignoring it or tuning into their own earbuds, but it's nice to think about someone who has never ever heard this album and will be drawn to it and maybe ask the barista what they're playing and go back to their dorm and look it up and be welcomed into an entirely new world of music. That makes me crack a smile. I love this album so much I almost wish I could forget everything I know about it and experience it completely anew. Since I can't do that, I just hope there are people out there doing exactly that every day.

Bonus! Here's a video of NMH (and friends, judging by the multitude onstage) jamming this tune live at the Electric Lounge in Austin, TX on April 4th, 1998. We live in an incredible age. We can watch this video of something that happened 14 years ago, something that will never happen again. Yeah, the playing's a little off and the video is grainy and the audio is kinda warbly. Who the fuck cares? This is great.

Are there any other great, classic albums that somehow just work when played at a coffee shop, straight through? We usually think of coffee shop culture as iTunes playlists, or radio, or whatever randomness the barista(s) feel(s) like playing. This album fits the bill, I think. Any favorites you want to share?

Oh yeah, they played through this album, then on to some Olivia Tremor Control tracks, then started of Montreal's Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? and then I had to leave. Kudos to whoever's Elephant 6 playlist was chosen for that day.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Song Remains the Same-ish: The Black Keys vs. Metric

[This is a "series" that lets me point out when two songs sound really similar or something about one song reminds me strongly of another one, or something like that. Its frequency obviously depends on me finding these similarities, so who knows when it will happen again.]

Artist: The Black Keys / Metric
Song: "Nova Baby" / "Gimme Sympathy"
Album: El Camino / Fantasies
Label: Nonesuch / Last Gang
Released: 12.06.2011 / 04.07.2009

This connection between melodies really jumped out at me on first listen, which made it all the more compelling. Sometimes these relationships worm their way into my ears over time, but this one was immediate. On subsequent listens, I can see how I am mistaken because, of course, these aren't the same song, nor do I think that The Black Keys are scamming Metric riffs for their own benefit. However, I stand by the fact that the choruses have very similar melodies. Metric's line "Gimme sympathy" strongly matches The Black Keys' line "All your enemies" at the beginning of their respective choruses. Then, while Metric's tune goes down/up/down/up in melodic pitch, The Black Keys just go up and up, but somehow match pitch again around the 5th lyrical line. It's interesting to play those two choruses back to back and compare. In any event, enjoy the two songs! Fantasies has seen recurrent plays on my iPod since it's been releases, and El Camino is fun, although not my fave Black Keys record. (The Big Come Up EP, anyone?)

Metric / "Gimme Sympathy" / Fantasies / [Last Gang, 2009] / dir. Frank Borin

The Black Keys / "Nova Baby" / El Camino / [Nonesuch, 2011]

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Concert Review: Allison Weiss + Mitten + Donora @ Thunderbird Café / 01.14.2012

Catching up on weeks-old shows. Mitten put out a catchy and lovely EP last year called See You Bye. I really liked it and was kinda surprised by how much I did, and wrote that in this review here for DUL. I've managed to see Allison Weiss four or five times here in town over the last couple of years, and I saw that they were touring together this winter and stopping here at the Thunderbird, hooray! And they're playing with Donora, even better!

I emailed the ladies of Mitten to set up an interview a couple of days before the show, and had plans to meet up with them and AW for some pizza before the gig, but unfortunately they got delayed on the road. We ended up just meeting at the venue after soundcheck and right before they played. (That's their soundcheck in the photo on the left, with AW internetting and Hugh snapping photos.) I had a quick conversation with Joanna and Maia about their current tour and their plans for future recording. What struck me was how much god damn fun they were having. In the most pleasant way possible, I could hardly get a word in! They cracked jokes left and right, smiled constantly, jabbed at each other and told tour anecdotes, and were genuinely outgoing and bubbly the whole time. The best kind of interview, really, but darn hard to transcribe (especially with the background noise by the pool table there) so I'm working on that and it'll hopefully be done next week.

My friends and I sat at the table at the front of the balcony, which is an optimal viewpoint at the Thunderbird, I gotta say, but it kinda sucks for sound if there are lots of people at the bar up there. If people are respectful and pay attention, it is outstanding for sound, right up in the middle of the sonic spaces, but if everyone is really chatty, like this night … well, it can be really frustrating. I had trouble hearing banter, and some of the quieter moments of Mitten's music—which are some of the best parts of their music, really!—got a little blurred and almost drowned out. Fuckin' ay. Overall, they played great and seemed to have a good time, regardless, and there were a couple of folks up front dancing and singing along, so I'm glad for that. It's just too bad that our location wasn't the best and there was a big group of us so moving up to the front of the stage wasn't gonna work.

This trend kinda continued into Allison Weiss' set. She blasted through a bunch of new songs, and the usual old faves—"I Was An Island", "Fingers Crossed", "You + Me + Alcohol"—and her downtempo cover of Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend", which is gorgeous. Having just seen her play in December at Point Park, there wasn't much new to talk about. She played well, was her usually friendly self on stage, and the crowd down at the stage level was really into it. Mitten came back onstage to play a song or two at the end, too; that was fun.

Donora came in and rocked the house, as usually. It became clear as the night went on that most people were there to see Donora and were kinda waiting through the first two sets to see them. That irked me a little. As much as I love local bands and am glad to see when they become increasingly popular, I don't like seeing this dynamic at shows where it's like you can completely forget about the fact that people are standing on stage playing songs for your entertainment and you're just talking to your friends like they don't exist. It's fine to not like bands and not want to pay attention, but just do it somewhere else. Go downstairs to the bar. Go outside. Play a game of tic tac toe. Whatever it is. It's just really annoying to everyone else trying to watch and listen when they have to fight through your idle chit-chat.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 11, 10, 9, 8 days!

We're fast approaching the last week of Kiva Han! :-(

I've been stopping by mostly early evenings lately, grabbing a cappuccino and maybe a pastry and sitting and reading library books for an hour or two, enjoying the house music they decide to play here (a few days ago it was Blink 182 followed immediately by Daydream Nation, that was interesting) and people watching.

A few days ago, I walked in and found a friend of mine already sitting at a table with a half-eaten bowl of mac & cheese. It turns out she had never (!?) had mac & cheese before in her life, and got it here on my recommendation, only to discover she does not, in fact, like mac & cheese. For shame! Oh well, her loss.

I also finally crossed off another item from my KH bucket list this morning. I showed up right around 8:05 and was the 2nd customer of the day. I would have like to have been here right when the doors were unlocked and been the first coffee consumer of the day, but I'll take what I can get. I already had to do this on a weekend day so that it was 8:00 instead of 6:30 am, so, whatever. I've been parked here for several hours now, running on multiple cappuccinos and a yummy pumpkin muffin, banging out random writing projects, and people-watching, as usual. It's a different crowd in the morning. Folks pop in and out for a cup for the road. A family with two teenage children and a baby in one of those hand-held baskets (with scant protection from this extremely wintry cold, I might add!) came in and all got drinks to go. Other couples have come in to sit for a bit and then take off. For a while, there were no more then four or five people in the whole place, but now, close to noon, everything feels pretty bustly, a constant flow of people in and out, most tables occupied in some fashion. It's interesting to watch the dynamic play out over the course of the day. I wonder if the employees get caught up in it, feeling bored when the business is slow and getting excited when there's a crowd. Or maybe it's the other way around, and the line of customers just makes them tired. Who knows. I just know that I would wayyyyy over-caffeinate myself if I ever worked at a coffee place. I'd just be sipping espresso constantly.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 13, 12 days

I've been stopping by for Hangover Cures the last couple of days. They just hit the fucking spot like no other food item can. They're kinda preventing me from branching out on the menu, but who cares. I did notice one thing today that, surprisingly, never jumped out to my eyes before. The menu says that the Hangover Cure is an "egg, hash browns, slas & chesse" burrito. That's right, CHESSE. I usually notice typos. Obsessively. But this one has escaped me until now. Maybe I noticed once and forgot. Maybe they just changed the sign to mess with me. Maybe "chesse" is some new type of cheese. Who knows?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 15, 14 days

Over the past few weeks, I've overheard several conversations about what's happening to Kiva Han's location and what their plans are. None of this comes from direct questioning of a primary source, so don't get all up in arms at me if some of this turns out to be false, but I've heard the same details often enough that I "know" it isn't hearsay or rumormongering.

Kiva Han will be replaced by a Bagel Factory location. The interior will be gutted and made to look more like a diner. The owner will be starting a food truck specializing in soup and will call it "Get Ladled".

That is all for today. That, and their mac & cheese is fucking delicious and you owe it to yourself to eat it before they close and I will not be your friend unless you do this (or you're lactose-intolerant or something).

Friday, February 3, 2012

Concert Review: The Lemonheads + Meredith Sheldon @ Stage AE / 01.20.2012

Not being a hardcore Lemonheads fan and seemingly not having been exactly the right age in the early 90s, I have some mixed feelings about this show. Did I have a good time there? Yeah, pretty much; for hanging out by myself at the Stage AE club stage on a Monday night in January, it was swell. Was I wowed by the music or the performance? Not really, but I didn't quite expect it to be, so it's fine. If I'd had some expectations or heavy knowledge of Evan Dando and his personality and the band's songs, I might have had some more nuanced thoughts about the show, but overall, I'm feeling like the big proclamation is: "It was a concert. It was ok."

I caught a bus downtown then walked across the river in a slight drizzle, and missed the first opening act, who was apparently just the Lemonheads' bassist. The second opener, Meredith Sheldon, was actually really good, and I'm glad I made it there just before her set started. Her look was kind of that "focused slacker" style—kinda baggy gray t-shirt, hair a little stringy and framing her face, tight jeans, huge heels, eyes closed or staring at the floor the whole time—and it suited her songs well. Her voice was gorgeous, her guitar playing was solid and expressive, and alternately with/without a backing band of bass and drums, she could move around from slow and somber songs to more upbeat rockers. Her last song was a stellar cover of a Big Star song. I was impressed and was glad I was up close to hear them well, because it didn't seem like anyone except for the first few rows of standing people were even paying attention. It's a shame about Meredith.

There was a long wait between sets, despite no instrument setup of any kind. Evan Dando came out around 9:50 and played a few songs solo. Midway through the first one, he stopped to ask to lower the guitar in his monitor. The crowd was "woo"-ing passionately, like fanboys, and Evan kept his head down. Feeling shy? Not noticing? Who knows? After three or four acoustic numbers, he plugged in and the bassist and drummer came out to play. There was this older married couple standing next to me and they were just shredding guitars in the air and totally loving it. That was kinda cool. Everyone in the front row was singing along. That is not as cool. They started in on playing It's A Shame About Ray in order, and the crowd really loved that. I caught Evan staring up at the ceiling during the title track, like he has to gaze upward to hit the highest notes ("it's a SHAME about Ray…"), and then when he looked back down he had a little grin on his face, like it's his little secret trick no one knows about or sees. My phone notes remind me that his "blonde hair hangs straight, eyes downcast, looks coyly happy".

Every once in a while, he slipped up some lyrics or missed a vocal cue, and I caught him checking for the bassist to cue him in sometimes. I found that kind of endearing, actually, like it's amateurish but he knows it and doesn't care about doing what he has to do to keep the set moving. He never looked angry or disappoined in himself, and even chuckled a little bit. Finally, he started some banter like 40 minutes into their set. It was at this point that I was actually enjoying myself, taking in these unfamiliar tunes and enjoying the show, in the sense of the performance. However, reading this review in the Post-Gazette makes me think that being a nonfan colored my experience differently. Scott Mervis laments about Dando's initial performance and relates it to his troubled history with drugs (meanwhile completely mislabeling the opener; The Shining Twins did not play this show, and he didn't realize that even though he was apparently there for her set?). He noted this turning point where Dando started talking with the crowd, even though it was kinda mumbly. I wouldn't call it a "transformation" in his performance, but it was a noticeable moment.

The band left the stage and Dando played solo for a little while, starting and stopping a song he forgot he had already played, asking the audience outright for suggestions of "rare songs" of theirs to play (like he couldn't remember them or something), talking awkwardly about pills, and eventually stopping and walking off to genuine but half-hearted applause. The audience pretty much assumed an encore, it felt like, and they did get one. The band came back out to play and I just took off. I had been feeling bored for a while. It was just too long of a night for a band I don't know. At least in the beginning I was enjoying their songs for the performance aspect, the interesting character study of Mr. Dando—in that sense, I enjoyed the show—but eventually, it was just all too much of the same sounds—in that sense, it was a lackluster concert. Perhaps, if I was a true fan, like Mr. Mervis, my feelings would have been a mirror image of that, but as it was, I was happy to be walking out at 11:15 and strolling along the river by PNC Park, soaking in the brisk night air, leaving the amps behind and letting my ears enjoy the sounds of flowing water and distant cars, and heading in the direction of home.

The Lemonheads on the web: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Meredith Sheldon on the web: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp

Concert Review: Jeffrey Foucault + Big Snow Big Thaw @ Club Cafe / 01.13.2012

Just catching up on some shows I've seen this year. I used to do these things for every concert I went to, and it served as a nice list of shows/bands I saw, at the very least, in addition to a record of my thoughts about them. I'm gonna try to keep up with that this year without falling behind too much (and some better reviews appear on Draw Us Lines when I have more thoughts to share and care more about my writing style).

I try to catch Big Snow Big Thaw at every chance, not just because they're my friends, but because they're great. I remembering being initially surprised at how much I dug these kinds of folksy/bluegrassy sounds, but then I realized that's just me being picky and closed-minded about musical tastes. Call it what you want—newgrass, folk rock, midwest rock 'n roll, somethin' else made up—it doesn't matter. It rocks. And every time they play, they've got new songs to share. They've been hard at work at J Bird Studios and their first album should be out real soon. (In the meantime, do yourself a favor and check out their Winter/Spring EP combo on Bandcamp.) That very same J, he of J Bird, played bass on a bunch of their songs, too, since he has been adding some bass parts during the recording. It rounded out the sound a little bit, and was a nice addition. Here's hoping they explore that route in the future. I caught their set at the Carnegie Library's Sunday afternoon acoustic series (photo above) a few days before this show, too, and that was great to see lots of strangers walking through and sit down and enjoy their tunes.

Jeffrey Foucault was an oustanding performer! Jim and David kinda warned me and the rest of the audience, saying that his soundcheck performance was amazing (he just walked up, no prep, and that voice belted out like he was born singing) and he strikes quite a presence with that magnificently thick beard. He was swigging something from a steel cup, and had been on the road all day, this being the first stop on his tour a long way from his previous night's activity of watching The Muppets with his daughter (why I remember that anecdote, I couldn't tell ya). I hadn't heard any of his songs before and yet I found myself mesmerized. The crowd skewed a little older, I think, and there were some seriously chatty drunkies in the back by the bar, but other than that, everyone was pretty much rapt as JF strummed and sang in front of those Club Café starlights. He did a great Neil Young cover (forget which song) but this number really stood out and was stuck in my head:

Apparently, you can join this Facebook group if you think Jeffrey Foucault isn't famous enough.

Jeffrey Foucault on the web: Website

Big Snow Big Thaw on the web: Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp

Kiva Han Countdown: 16 days (yesterday's post)

Something unfortunate dawned on me yesterday while I was sitting at KH and gulping down a cappuccino. I realized I'm not actually going to be in town for the last few days of KH's existence! This brings my "go there every day for a month" crashing down, of course. You see, I'm going to Chicago to visit a friend that weekend, and it will be hard to eat a hangover cure from Illinois. I will most likely be back on that Sunday, the last day of KH, so … there's that, but still. I completely didn't realize this when I set out on this adventure. Who cares, right? It's been fun, and it will continue to be fun. I'll just do something crazy on that last day to make up for the prior two or three days I'll miss.

Something weird also happened to me yesterday there. I walked upstairs to pee, bouncing off the walls from my triple shot beverage, and not more than 5 seconds after getting into the bathroom, someone was knocking on the door. Now, this person must have seen me close the door and known I had just got there, but they continued to knock, ever more insistently and frustratingly, eventually making audible (through the door, mind you) deep sighs, "Sheeesh", as if I was somehow taking forever, all despite my calls of, "Just a minute!" and "Hold on!". Who does this? I wasn't being slow, and I even rushed through the hand-drying process just to get the hell out of there, but this person still gave me a head-shake and glare when I walked out, as if to say "Jeez buddy, thanks for ruining my day with your slow-ass peepee time." I thought of many rude things to say on my way by and back downstairs, but opted for the silent route at the time. Why bother?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 21, 20, 19, 18, 17 days (catching up)

I've let my writing routine slack lately. Bah. But here's the scoop. There's barely more than two weeks left in KH's existence. Here's what I've been up to the last few days.

On Sunday, I came in after improv practice on campus for a late lunch/early dinner. I stopped at the public library on my way over, and then bumped into my friend on the way in here. It was so crowded there weren't even any tables to sit at! I totally forgot it was Sunday and missed brunch earlier that day, despite my vow last week to go to brunch more often, and it was absolutely packed around 5:30ish. I ended up sitting in one of the comfy, red-cushioned chairs upstairs by the fan. It was the only truly open seat around. My friend got a coffee to go. I sat there and had a cappuccino and muffin, and was forced to overhear a conversation between two older gentlemen who I presume were professors or teachers of some kind. One of them was lamenting to the other about an algebra student of his who "just couldn't get it". Adding 5x to 2 doesn't give you "7 something", as he pointed out. He said it was like "water pouring through a bucket with a hole in it". Ugh. I can't stand hearing stories like this. If someone "doesn't get it", that just means they're not seeing it the way you are explaining it, and you need another approach. Demonstrate it visually. I've got 5 baskets of apples, and 2 leftover. How many total apples? Well, it depends on how many are in each basket. There is always a way to teach someone, if you're patient and inventive enough. To give up and say that you're just pouring water through a hole … that's a shitty attitude, man.

I was frantically working on slides for an upcoming presentation on Monday, so I came by for dinner and sat there for a couple hours working, head down in my laptop. I suppose I'm usually like that here, but this time I was actually focused on something so intently that I hardly looked up from it. It's nice to know that one can do that here. It's easy to get distracted—people watching, the music playing, etc.—but if you have to, you can tune everything out and work.

I was here a long time on Tuesday, still working on that presentation. I got here in the late afternoon, ate some food, and worked worked worked. Some friends showed up later, and then I went off to campus for an IM squash match. I got my ass handed to me (I'm blaming it on my timing and strategy, which are still tuned to racquetball and haven't adjusted) and came back to find my friends still here. I got an iced coffee and stuck around right until closing time.

Yesterday, I was only inside KH briefly on my way to campus. I stayed at home all day alternately working/sleeping, and got an iced coffee on my way to give that presentation I'd been working on. It has been unseasonably warm the last few days, amiright? Spring seems to be coming a little early, which I'm generally fine with, but it doesn't seem like we got a true winter this year. It was never quite in full effect, occasionally throwing a t-shirt day in amongst some snow.

After that presentation yesterday, I went down to the Pitt campus and did a segment on WPTS radio for Draw Us Lines. It was pretty fun, although it'll take some getting used to the on-air logistics, remembering things you can't say (apparently "free" is the "other F word"), and getting comfortable hearing my own voice in headphones. On the way back from there, I was walking on Forbes and had to pass right by/through a march by "Occupy Oakland". They were walking right by KH corner as I was, and when the walk signal at the intersection came on, I diagonalized and was nearly run over by them. Not really, but I wasn't about to stand there and let 100 people walk by and miss my chance to cross the street, ya know? I honestly couldn't tell what they were chanting, or what their message was, but they seemed to be having a lot of fun. Rather than being angry at the source of their protest, they were just kinda smiling and enjoying being out in the middle of the road, yelling and walking. Kinda odd, right? And yeah, they just kept marching down the road, into traffic on Forbes, as I ducked into PHI bar and a couple of cops looked on from both sides of the street. Weird.