Sunday, June 10, 2018

maybe it's time to live

I'm trying -- I'm really trying. Thus, I bought my ticket to see the eels at the Fillmore months ago ... and actually went to the show.

eels, the Fillmore, May 31, 2018

The wayback machine says I haven't seen eels since 2011, and it sure feels like it. E hasn't dropped in at Largo since the move to La Cienega, and I've missed at least one of their tours, if not more. It was time to turn that ship around.

On a related note, this drought meant I had no idea what to expect at the show. As I recall, eels have a penchant for the dramatic, and I guess we got a hint of that, with the risers and flood lights occupying the stage. But they left the flight suits, goggles, and whatnot at home, opting for a coordinated but workaday uniform. They emerged to the theme from Rocky, then jumped into a Who cover, followed by a Prince cover. I'll mention for the jillionth time that I've had the pleasure of hearing E perform "Raspberry Beret" several times at Largo, on some occasions with better recall than others. It doesn't get old.

Now that the eels have 20-plus years and more than a dozen albums under their belt, it's hard to know what songs they'd roll out from their catalog. And to be honest, I haven't kept up with the more recent releases, so it was a treat for me to hear so many selections across the discography. My favorite is probably Electro-Shock Blues, so "Climbing to the Moon" and "P.S. I Love You" are more than welcome. But the inclusion of tracks like "A Magic World" come as nice surprises too.

eels, the Fillmore, May 31, 2018

I had forgotten how much eels like to change up their tracks, so even the essentials and old-school hits such as "Novocaine for the Soul" and "I Like Birds." Going back to Largo memories: E always lit up at the prospect of Led Zeppelin covers, so when one particularly heavy intro rolled out, I wondered if we were dipping into some good ol' 1970s AOR. Instead, it was the former MTV hit video in an arrangement I can't recall hearing at previous gigs, though perhaps it was closer to Sabbath than Zeppelin. The overall effect was the same [insert rawk emoji].

One of the bigger surprises of the show was the fact that E has finally leaned hard into his love of Prince. Somewhere in the archives, I have a bootleg of a show at Largo where he sang "If I Was Your Girlfriend," and I've been there personally when he turned down the request, claiming he didn't actually know the words. He didn't do the song this time, but "When You Were Mine" was a fine substitute. Prince's death hit so many of us hard; I don't know if it's a tribute, but it's always a treat. We also heard the band take on "Love and Mercy," another song I'll never turn off.

Here's to 20-plus years of eels, in all of their weirdness and unpredictability. I hope that never changes.

See also:
» before i sputter out
» i'm offering this simple phrase
» i go for it every time

Friday, June 08, 2018

you must be an artist

There's been so much sad news lately, and I have no answer for it. But I knew I had made the right decision to attend Kevin Barnes' solo acoustic show when the first two songs I heard over the PA were by David Bowie and Roxy Music.

Kevin Barnes, Swedish American Hall, May 25, 2018

I have no concept of trends, upticks, downgrades, or anything these days, so I go by instinct on when to jump on tickets and when to let demand play out. My sense was Kevin Barnes doesn't tour by himself a whole lot -- at least not in the Bay Area -- so I might as well catch this show. And as recent experience has reminded me, don't pass up the opportunity to see special artists when you can.

It's been a while since I've seen Of Montreal, but I have fond memories of those shows, filled with spectacle and theatrics. However, the appearance I won't forget for a long time is a visit to the Little Room at Largo and a tearful rendition of "Mother." (Um, I saw Kevin at Largo at the Coronet twice?!) And really, a solo acoustic performance is like catnip to me.

Kevin informed the crowd that he has a new album and played several songs from the record. The audience happily went along for the ride, though once again, I'll profess ignorance of most of Kevin's work. But they sang with him, roared out the choruses, and of course proclaimed their love for him. I wouldn't have expected anything less.

I will always associate Of Montreal with ornate, florid production, so it was fantastic to hear the songs in their stripped-down form. Even in their most fundamental form, Kevin's songs probably wouldn't be classified as folk music; his melodies are still a little too baroque for the genre. This is not a bad thing; in fact, Kevin's trademark musicality remains untouched. In a couple of spots, he provided his own echoing backing vocals and a cappella synth sounds for the full DIY effect.

The other major contrast to his performances with Of Montreal was his appearance. He wore no makeup, showed little product in his hair, and donned jeans and a t-shirt -- albeit a bright print that he claimed was his mother's, along with a sparkly necklace. He fit right in among the clean lines and natural materials at the Swedish Music Hall.

Kevin bantered amiably, but I can't remember any of the exchanges, other than the intro to his closing song. He halfway apologized for one phrase and asked if it was acceptable. The song was, of course, "Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider" (a former favorite at Largo), and the phrase was "faggy girl." I'm sure someone out there will find offense, but I'm not one of them. Anyway, it was fun as hell to hear, especially with the audience chipping in all over.

I don't need to say it, but Kevin Barnes is absolutely legit, eyeliner or no.

See also:
» the only dancer i believe in
» everybody's gotta learn sometimes
» really quite out of sight

Friday, April 13, 2018

may you find out who you are

Those of us who see shows in San Francisco often get to witness a milestone on a regular basis: a band's first Fillmore headlining slot. It happened again, as Kevin Morby and band took the stage. They lived up to the billing and the occasion.

Kevin Morby, the Fillmore, April 5, 2018

I don't write about opening bands much anymore, partly because I'm lazy and partly because they haven't been inspiring to me. But one of the better openers I've seen in a while is Kevin Morby, first at Wilco's five-night Fillmore stand, then at Solid Sound. He was definitely the best of the rotating list of opening bands we saw that week, and even then, a friend from Los Angeles with a singer/songwriter husband said he was getting a ton of buzz in SoCal. But Solid Sound, er, solidified his standing. In short, he and his band sounded fantastic, and I knew I had to check them out when they came back around. Alas, I missed that opportunity, as his show at the Great American Music Hall sold out before I could get a ticket. Thankfully, you can often count on repeat visits to San Francisco.

Kevin MorbyLast time they came to the Fillmore, Kevin and gang squeezed in to the relatively small patch of stage available to them between Wilco's instruments, monitors, pedals, cables, and whatnot. Now they spread out across as much of the stage as they wanted, which is always a sight to behold. I don't actually remember how many people were in the band on that visit, but Kevin introduced one member (a man on violin) as new -- so that's one upgrade. Another upgrade: Kevin's fantastic custom suit. I seriously can't get enough of it.

I'm going to come clean: I don't know much of Kevin's work before the current album, though I've listened enough to recognize his song on the Volvo commercial. But combine that with the handful of live shows I've heard via podcast, I knew I had to go the show.

As you might expect, Kevin favored songs from the new record, and if you allow me to indulge for a moment in playing Spot the Influences, I'd like to mention that "Crybaby" reminds me so much of the Pixies, especially when guitarist Meg Duffy's vocals come in. I mean that in the best way! Honestly, all the songs off City Music were awesome, and we danced all over the place to them.

Regarding the aforementioned Volvo ad, it features the song "Harlem River," and of course he did it, though the crowd didn't treat it as anything special or unusual. But it got me to thinking again about what constitutes pop music and indie music. In my world, tracks such as "City Music" and "Crybaby" would be huge hits, and maybe headlining a show at the Fillmore is a pretty good mark of success. As a fan, I can't complain about getting to see the band at this point in their development, and truth be told, I don't enjoy bigger venues. Still, a part of me wants more people to know how great they are. Sigh -- it's the eternal struggle.

Though I wasn't familiar with Kevin's back catalog, I had no problem getting into the older songs he played. The two that stood out most to me were "Parade" and "Beautiful Strangers" (the latter performed as a solo acoustic track at the end of the main set). Both have a generally hopeful air and lush, developing storylines that you don't really want to end. The audience even joined in with impromptu clapping on "Beautiful Strangers" to support Kevin. (My immediate thought: Jeff Tweedy would tell them to stop.) I was smitten.

Katie Crutchfield from Waxahatchee joined the band for a couple of songs at the end of the main set. The first was "Downtown's Lights," and together, the two added extra twang to the track, sounding not unlike a modern version of Johnny Cash and June Carter. The other tune was a cover of Jason Molina's "The Dark Don't Hide It," which I understand they've been performing regularly and have released as a single for charity.

Kevin Morby

During the show, Kevin mentioned their earlier opening slots at the Fillmore, first with Real Estate and more recently with Wilco. Those of us who were there let him know when he asked if anyone had gone to the shows. Then he added that the Fillmore gig was the most tickets they've sold to a show in North America. It comes as no surprise to me that Kevin could be bigger in Europe than in the United States, as evidenced by the fellows next to me who reported that they had first seen him in Paris (France, not Texas). Though the venue wasn't completely sold out, the crowd was enthusiastic and just shy of a crush. It was the best of all worlds, and more important, we let the band understand exactly how much we loved having them in town. We even got a hallowed custom Fillmore poster at the end of the night.

Meg Duffy and her two-person band Hand Habits opened, and she was just as good on her own as she is with Kevin's group. Her guitar skills color the songs so vividly, and in some cases, she takes them past the "folk" label that many people seem to want to lazily apply to Kevin. She closed her set with "The Only Living Boy in New York." To sum up: It was a perfect night, and I can't wait to do it again.

See also:
» always hated normal american kids
» so flattered by fate