Friday, October 14, 2016

wasn't the question you asked

I've never been obsessed with being young -- not even when I was young -- but I've reached the stage where many of my favorites are hitting milestone ages. It's always a gut check, but if you're lucky, it can be a celebration too. Man, I'm glad that Spiral Stairs, aka Scott Kannberg per Pavement, decided to share his 50th annum with us, the unwashed masses.

SpiralpaloozaSpiral Stairs' 50th Birthday featuring Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, The Chapel, Oct. 1-2, 2016: The Clean were the original headliners for Saturday night, but for a reason I never learned, they couldn't make it. Also, Kelley Stoltz couldn't make it because he was touring with Echo and the Bunnymen, which is amazing news for such a talented guy. Thus, it became two nights of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, along with the accompanying Pavement expectations -- in due time.

For Your Pleasure -- a Roxy Music cover band -- opened on Saturday night, and they were great. They made no attempt to ape Roxy's sartorial style, but the lead singer came close enough to Bryan Ferry's tones, and the rest of the musicians held their own. Their song selection was fantastic, and I loved the hits as well as the deep cuts. ("Mother of Pearl"!) However, I laughed at the guy who complained about the lack of "In Every Dream Home a Heartache."

Honestly, I can't remember the second band from Saturday, and the opener on Sunday was fine, if not spectacular. All you need to know is the various musicians mixed and matched in each other's bands; it was those kind of shows -- basically a big house party with damn good tunes. In fact, as we hung around the back early on Saturday night, we saw various friends approach Scott/Spiral and heard a few mentioning high school.


I've already covered this in the blog, but I'm not a reunion person. Through no fault of the bands, reunion shows now make me sad and feel my age. I loved Pavement like few other bands and jumped on tickets when the first reunion shows went on sale. However, I never made it. I think I was out of town when the dates finally rolled around, but my mind was already made up at that point.

As for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, color me shocked that I haven't seen them since 2008! I know I missed a tour or two because I was too lazy to buy tix to more recent shows, and I think the band took a long hiatus somewhere in there. But I had no idea it's been that long. I've said this before, but Malkmus strikes me as this era's Robyn Hitchcock: the leader of an underappreciated seminal band who goes on to a much weirder later career.

I'd be lying if I said I loved the more recent stuff, and it was hard to dial into the superextended guitar noodling passages that seemed to characterize every song. In fact, I'm not sure they did anything from the first couple of records, which are the ones I listened to the most.


But that's not the point, because this was Spiral/Scott's birthday, and they basically presented him with a musical birthday card. They sprinkled in several songs that influenced his own music career, including tracks from the Clean, the Stranglers, and of course, Echo and the Bunnymen. On the second night, Stephen commented Saturday's proceedings basically amounted to a high-school sausage party -- which we had suspected all along -- but from the outside, it seemed like a very sweet gift to an old friend.

Oh right, the Pavement tracks: Everyone knew they were coming, and several of the more enthusiastic attendees started in with the requests early on. Too bad -- Scott and Stephen had a plan, and they were sticking with it. It took me a few tunes before I realized the criteria: They were doing Scott's tracks, not random Pavement songs. It made sense on every level, so we got most of Scott's titles, along with one from Preston School of Industry and a tune from his new project. "Date with Ikea" made both nights, and one of my absolute favorite Pavement songs, "Kennel District," made the cut. In fact, the song jogged my memory and reminded me that I used to see Scott at a million shows in town. Those were the days.

The two semi-surprises the first night were "Summer Babe" and "Stereo," though in retrospect, I guess the latter gave Scott a great chance to take the role usually claimed by Bob Nastanovich. Neither are Scott compositions per se, but I'll take them both. They were smart enough to mete out the tunes and give us "Two States" the second night, along with fan favorite "Box Elder." By the way, none other than GARY FUCKING JOHNSON joined them for the tune and finished off his portion with the requisite headstand. No, he isn't looking well.


Even I have to admit a reunion show can be a ton of fun, and I couldn't stop singing the songs or thinking about how much I love(d) Pavement. You know how it is -- now that all of my music is on my iPhone, I'm too lazy to swap out songs. It's easy to forget I have the entire Pavement discography at the ready, if only I remember to check some boxes now and again. I'll do that tonight, I swear.

Happy 50th to you, Scott/Spiral. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us.

See also:
» richard avedon would surely approve
» pre-easily fooled
» used to be one of the rotten ones

Sunday, October 09, 2016

to be young is to be sad

Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings are two pillars of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, so it's no surprise when they show up on the schedule and/or announce a show close to the date. Often, it's both, as was the case this year.

Dave Rawlings Machine, the Fillmore, Sept. 30, 2016: In the early days of the Dave Rawlings Machine, a lot of people simply assumed it was a Gillian Welch show under another name. Fortunately, expectations have changed, now that the Rawlings Machine has a discography and everything. The group also seems to have found a steady lineup, which is probably a good development for any band's continued growth. I enjoyed the spare, early shows as much as anyone, but I appreciate the growing differentiation between the projects.

Last time I saw the Rawlings Machine, the new record had recently come out, but with about a year since that show, the band had revised the setlist somewhat. We got a number of album tracks ("The Weekend," "Pilgrim," "Sweet Tooth"), as well as a few spotlights for Gillian ("Wayside/Back in Time," "Miss Ohio") and Willie Watson ("Keep It Clean"). Bassist Paul Kowert (also seen in Punch Brothers) and his deep bass tones even got a turn on the mic for "He Will Set Your Fields on Fire," which I've come to love in all its twangy glory. I should also mention they hit "Queen Jane Approximately" earlier in the show, and I totally clapped my hands and squealed when I recognized the song. However, they threw in a bunch of songs I didn't recognize at all, and I don't know if they were new tunes or traditional titles. With the Rawlings Machine, it can be very hard to tell.

Dave Rawlings Machine

As it was Hardly Strictly weekend, there was some question of which guests would drop in. One was fairly obvious from the beginning, and it happens, it was the only guest I wanted to see: Robyn Hitchcock, who had a couple of appearances scheduled at the festival.

It finally hit me this umpteenth time I've seen Robyn appear as a guest: maybe he's the dominant through line of my musical fandom? He ties my early love of British music to my current preference for folksier artists. Little did I know that the Soft Boys influenced such American bands as REM, Uncle Tupelo, and more. By the same token, I had no idea Robyn was steeped in Roxy Music, though that probably should've been a no-brainer for any UK musician of the time. Anyway, that's oversimplifying several decades of music fandom, but I can't resist the urge to trace a pattern.

Dave Rawlings MachineWith Robyn, they did "Goin' to Acapulco" and "The Weight," which were great but strangely anticlimatic compared to other amazing songs I've seen them do together.

The core crew closed out with the perennial "Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby," all five of them gathered around the microphone. The classic formation, at least since they recorded it for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, usually incorporates female voices, but Dave and Gill have been able to adapt it to the singers around them. It's always a vision, as they all come together with nothing but their voices ringing out and their bodies (hands, feet) for percussion.

I hope they continue to grace us with their annual visits.

See also:
» that's all they really want
» pretty please with sugar on top

Monday, September 19, 2016

he slept on a mountain

Wilco, I can't quit you -- as if the last decade-plus of posts hasn't proven so already. When the band added one more show in the Bay Area, a week after the Fillmore residency, plans were set once again.

Wilco, Sound Summit Festival, Sept. 17, 2016: This day bore all the hallmarks of being a terrible decision, not unlike the William and Mary show from years back, when we started out late with very little fanfare, only to catch a fairly cookie-cutter gig. Fortunately, I was wrong, and Oakland International's busy Saturday, my terrible navigation, and Marin's stereotypical crowd couldn't ruin it.

I'm not a huge fan of festival gigs (duh), and we had every reason to believe this would be an obligatory appearance by the band -- that is, the hits versus more obscure tracks, albeit in the current semi-acoustic Schmilco arrangement. Instead, it was an entirely different animal from the Fillmore shows, most tellingly in Nels' electric setup. At the beginning, it sounded like even Nels was reacquainting himself with his pedals and switches, as the notes came off hotter and louder than usual for the first few songs. Overall, it was the right choice for an outdoor gig.

On the whole, we got only a couple of songs that went missing at the Fillmore shows, but the ones that made the cut were welcome, particularly "Handshake Drugs" and "Art of Almost." I've even missed "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," which I thought was a shoo-in for the 9/11 show (because I'm into setlist no-brainers). I'm starting to think Star Wars will become the forgotten record in Wilco's discography, and the Bay Area got only two shows on that tour: one at the Independent, which few could get into; and Outside Lands, which is -- well -- a festival set. Hearing tracks from that record seems almost like a treat these days, especially when it's the "Cold Slope"/"King of You" sequence.

Wilco, the Fillmore, Sept. 6-7, 9-11, 2016

In one welcome sign of the return of the electric set, Wilco lined up for the four-guitar attack often -- a sight I've missed. Also, Jeff actually had room to walk over to Pat for their collaborative passage on "Impossible Germany," in case you were worried about them ditching that move.

Throughout the show, Jeff was in a great mood. He laughed at his own mistakes, such as forgetting a line here and there, and mocked the toll the altitude supposedly took on his body. Honestly, everything about the show was loose and open, and Jeff seemed to feed off Marin's trademark casual vibe.

Wilco's set was immediately preceded by Los Lobos, which brought up Nels for a guest spot, while a few other band members watched from the side stage. Wilco too turned to guest players: Greg Leisz (who had sat in with Los Lobos), Bill Frissell, and local mainstay Bob Weir. They hit Woody Guthrie for the first couple of numbers, with Nels quickly teaching the chords to Bill before the start of the song. I couldn't see Greg Leisz from where I stood, but I could hear his slide as clear as a whistle. I urge you to check your record collection and take inventory of how many albums he's on. I promise you'll find lots to love.

Last week, "California Stars" with Julian Lage was so damn good, but this night's version was no slouch either. Bill Frisell put in a great showing, what I could hear of Greg Leisz was lovely, and even Bob Weir got in his licks. But just as I thought I knew what was coming, they changed it up and closed it out with "Tomorrow Never Knows" -- aka the best opening drumbeat of all time.

Some time ago, I watched Jon Brion offhandedly advise one of his collaborators at Largo to play an E -- then they launched into this same song. Thus, I'm quite familiar with the improv possibilities of the tune, and anyone who's been to a Largo show with me knows how much I love it.

Onstage, the eight musicians had a ball with the song. Glenn was the star, no doubt, but all the guitarists dug in for their segments, and Nels in particular went nuts with his switches and pedals. Bob Weir not only took one of the guitar leads, he sang too. I'm team #neverdead, but I've grown to expect Bob showing up at local events. I've even seen him sing the national anthem at a Giants game or two. You could almost imagine him riding his bike over to the fest, guitar and guitar case strapped on his back, but it seemed only natural that he'd step in tonight.

That'll probably be my last Wilco show of the year, and it was a great one to go out on. But until the next time, let me put in this request: more Beatles songs always!

See also:
» always hated normal american kids
» i'd be lying if i said it wasn't easy
» everyone wastes my time