Tuesday, July 07, 2015

the whole love

On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the 50 states, the U.S. Women's National Team beat China in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, and Wilco played its first ever all-acoustic set at the fourth staging of the Solid Sound Festival. What a weekend it was!

Solid Sound Festival, June 26-28, 2015: Every other year: It's official now. Honestly, I'm glad for the schedule, and I'm sure the good people of North Adams don't mind not dealing with us an annual basis. And it gives me something to look forward to when my local franchise doesn't win the World Series (though the NBA Finals were awfully fun this year). Anyway, you know the drill -- all the Wilco-related projects will come at the end.

Solid Sound 2015

For our gang, Solid Sound always starts on Thursday, not only with arrival and settling in, but a warm, welcoming dinner and a leisurely walkabout on the museum grounds before the crowds appear -- and the stages are set. The proceedings appeared slightly further behind schedule this time, but hey, Friday is kind of a soft launch anyway.

Solid Sound 2015As such, Friday started with a jaunt around the museum, revisiting older installations and checking out newer exhibits. Not gonna lie -- we made a beeline for the Wilco stage setup, and it was fun to see the equipment up close, beating the view of even the most intimate shows. However, we could've used more consistency with the security detail. Early on, we were shooed off the rug, but later in the weekend, we saw various people donning instruments and even sitting on the drum kit. Hey, kudos to those who got through!

Also deserving of praise was Glenn Kotche's subtle bathroom installation. I didn't notice the chimes and gongs on first viewing, but they were impossible to miss once you knew where to look. You gotta love any project that lets you get your hands on the work, though germaphobes might feel differently. Conversely, a wag of the finger to the Wilco timeline project, which didn't open until Saturday. Why the lag?

Speaking of second takes, Francesco Clemente's paintings managed to raise eyebrows among our group, and it took a repeat trip to the loft to settle the debate. I can't even guess as to how we missed it the first time.

Mikael Jorgenson provided our first dose of music for the day with his solo set. Club B-10 indeed felt like a club, with a strict one-in-one-out policy when we arrived. After a short wait, we made our way in; it turned out the room was very small and simply couldn't accommodate a lot of people. Once inside, we watched as Mike spun a soundtrack to accompany a video playing in the foreground (a train journey during our segment), but alas, we didn't stay long, as the room was too hot and stuffy for our liking.

Back on the main stage, Real Estate opened the proceedings on Joe's Field, but IMHO, they weren't a great fit for the large expanse. Despite their lovely guitars, the songs tended to run into each other, and my mind wandered for much of their set. However, their all-instrumental after-hours show in the courtyard against the video display was fantastic. Funny what a change in venue, hour, and context can do for the music! If I weren't so tired, I could've stayed a lot longer.

Saturday is always the big day at the festival, and it required actual choices this year. After sprinting across the field to set down the hallowed tarp, many of us dispersed to our preferred acts. A few of us headed over to the comedy stage at the Hunter Center to take in Superego, which was high on my list of must-sees. Alas, it was the only comedy I caught for the day, but I got my HR Giger-Werner Herzog-Ayn Rand trifecta, so no complaints at all.

From there, I made my way to Bill Frisell and Sam Amidon in Courtyard C. I've wanted to see Sam Amidon for a while now, particularly since his appearance at the Watkins Family Hour last December, but their collaboration was surprising, to say the least. I guess I was expecting a more accessible set, but they were in their own world. At one point, Sam squawked like a bird of prey over the accompaniment of his violin and Bill's guitar. Still, their set was beautiful and haunting, and it didn't hurt that they closed with the Kinks "Tired of Waiting," albeit slowed and stripped down enough that it wasn't immediately recognizable. I'd be lying if I said I fully understood their set, but I appreciated the collaboration.

Back at Joe's Field, the acts had each been moved up an hour, due to reports of the coming storm. However, the order remained the same, so Richard Thompson took his slot to open the day. I first saw Richard Thompson about 20 years ago, opening for Crowded House, but I really have no memory of that performance, and I'm entirely the wrong person to talk to regarding his legacy, influence, and discography. My one takeaway from this gig: He's a tough, old rocker. Unlike, say, Real Estate, this three-man setup (occasionally joined by members of Tweedy) held our attention with a driving, immediate performance, and I imagine a sizable contingent of the audience were more than pleased to catch him and NRBQ, all on the same day. (Believe it or not, I'm a little too young and a little too female to qualify.)

Solid Sound 2015

In an abrupt change of pace, Mac DeMarco followed Richard Thompson. I didn't know a ton about Mac and his band before the gig, except that they were young, catchy, and prone to crowd surfing, but like many other attendees, I loved their set. Maybe in another album or two, they'll learn how to write a bridge, but the tunes were instantly enjoyable, and the band antics were mostly harmless. They lit up a gray Saturday and offered a silly, shambling, and altogether delightful appetizer for Wilco's show. Due to the rain, we couldn't stick around for Cibo Matto's set with Harmonium Mountain later in the night -- in fact, missing Cibo Matto was one of my main regrets from the weekend, but thus is the way of festivals.

Solid Sound 2015Sunday is the relatively calm day, and Joe's Field was fairly empty in the opening hours, as the early birds flocked to the Wilco signing session (not to mention the fans who had to get back to their normal lives and couldn't linger for a third day). A few of us went to the Glenn Kotche and Jeffrey Zeigler session, though I didn't make it to the fan collaboration section. But in the segment I saw, Glenn's trademark playfulness and experimentation shone through, as he mixed everyday incidental sounds with his own cadences and innovations. It's a privilege to hear the world through his ears for a few minutes at a time.

The final trip to Joe's Field started with the Felice Brothers, who are regulars at Hardly Strictly, so I kinda feel like I've seen them a million times before. Up close, they reminded me a little of the Pogues and once again kept our toes tapping ahead of Tweedy. The gathered Felice Brothers fans seemed pleased by their set. Who am I to argue?

But what about Wilco, you ask? I'm getting there! The fest was broken up into three distinct headliner sets: Wilco acoustic on Friday, Wilco traditional on Saturday, and Tweedy and friends on Sunday. I hardly sweated the details; three nights of Wilco and/or Tweedy was all I needed to hear.

Get this: The blog tells me I haven't seen Wilco since Solid Sound in 2013, as if I weren't pumped enough over the occasion of the band's first ever all-acoustic show. It's kind of hard to believe so much time has passed on both counts -- not only since my last Wilco show, but that it took them so long to go the all-unplugged route. I know my reason; what's the band's excuse?

Anyway, Wilco has long opened up its setlist, so if you've seen the band enough or at least follow concert reports, rarities may not be rarities these days. I can only report on what jumped out at me, and right up there is "Bull Black Nova." As it turns out, I've heard it solo acoustic before, but it was still a huge treat to get the rest of the band on this killer track.

I suppose it's never surprising that any Jeff Tweedy-penned can be stripped to its acoustic roots, but certain songs are less expected than others. Take "Hoodoo Voodoo," which has become an all-out jamboree, but the band honored it nonetheless without sacrificing all the players' contributions.

At this point in my fandom, I live for old favorites, and the bluegrass version of "I Got You" is the fastest way to perk up my years. Add in the Sesame Street version of "Outta Mind" and the Daniel Johnston cover "True Love Will Find You in the End," and I'll leave an exceedingly happy camper.

Saturday was perhaps the most straightforward set, as the band delivered its usual electric output. The rain remained a light drizzle for most of the show, and only a few songs had to be sacrificed from the encore. The X factor for me could be summed up in three songs: "Secret of the Sea," which I hadn't heard in a long time; "Let's Not Get Carried Away," which may be too good to ever see an official release; and "Panthers" for sheer obscurity. Make that four -- "Either Way" popped up, and though it's not exactly an obscure tune, at least they finally played it at a show I attended. How do you like them deep cuts? By the way, the downpour delivered later in the night, but by then, we were full of pizza and other carbs.

Solid Sound 2015

Tweedy capped off the festival on Sunday with their typical set I've finally been able to see a number of times now. Their show didn't lose much on the larger stage, and the already stand-out tracks ("Diamond Light," "Love Like a Wire") shone even brighter. Then again, I first saw them at Hardly Strictly, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised they could play to the bleachers.

Halfway through the proceedings, Jeff broke off into his solo acoustic segment, and the celebration really began. One by one, various friends and guests made their way to the stage for specially selected songs. The highlights are too numerous to name, but I'll cite a few anyway. I gotta start with "Into the Groove," which is a seminal track from my youth. I joked that Cibo Matto should plug in their groovy electronics for "Spiders," but they hit upon a much better choice on their own, even if Jeff pretended to have never heard of Madonna (even as he proceeded to John Prine with the Felice Brothers).

So many songs from this segment were simply beautiful, including "Harvest Moon" with Luluc; "Chinese Apple" with Glenn Kotche and Ryley Walker; and "Be Not So Fearful" with Wilco's own John and Pat. But if you're going to finish out a three-day festival, you gotta go with the singalongs. The one-two punch of "Give Back the Key to My Heart" and "California Stars" is hard to beat in this regard, with their numerous opportunities for solos, vamping, and all-out harmonies among a couple dozen(ish) musicians, not to mention the help of several thousand fans.

Solid Sound 2015

This weekend will be remembered for larger events, but I can't think of any place I'd rather be to celebrate history being made. See you in 2017!

See also:
» Solid Sound 2013: the boys are back in town
» Solid Sound 2011: you can tell that i'm not lying
» Solid Sound 2010: trees held us in on all four sides

Monday, June 08, 2015

the subject now in question

How long has it been since I've been a regular at Jon Brion's show? Long enough that the young man sitting next to me asked me to stop clicking my retractable pen while I was taking notes because it was too loud. Bwahahahaha! Oh honey -- I was doing this back when you were dancing to your babysitter's Blink 182 CDs. I hope I didn't ruin his show (probably his third, tops). Anyway, this weekend offered me the chance at a double dip (Hello Kitty!) and of course filled out the schedule with a visit to Largo.

Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, May 29, 2015: I do not suffer from FOMO. Instead, I may labor under FOGO (fear of going out -- tip of the hat to Susan for the phrase), but dammit if the recent promises of Jon Brion with a band didn't pique my interest. Alas, I couldn't make my way to those shows, and only a month later, Jon was back to his spartan setup. Other than a small rack of electric guitars (that went unused) on one side, every instrument was acoustic and unplugged, and the drum set was absent altogether. If a band were scheduled to assemble, they probably wouldn't be loud. (In fact, early on, we were promised guests, but we'll get there in time.)

As for the man himself, Jon emerged looking somewhat professorial in glasses and with notable cheer in his voice. He also carried a small folder with loose-leaf pages and informed us that he had new songs, though he didn't yet know the order of the verses. To start off, however, he went on an instrumental tear covering several songs. As I've said repeatedly, I'm not great at picking out older songs when no words are sung, so take my guesses with a grain of salt. That said, I think I heard Vince Guaraldi and Cole Porter ("Everytime We Say Goodbye"), though the latter might've been Chet Baker -- or Elvis Costello ("Almost Blue")? I want to say Randy Newman ("Dayton, Ohio - 1903") made it in too. However, I can report an I Heart Huckabees tune capped off the movement.

From there, Jon stayed on piano but turned to the lyric sheets for the first new song, which even on my first listen struck me as a Jon Brion classic in the making. We're talking four or five verses, with a couple of bridges and a nice clip to the tune. The phrase "my love" came up repeatedly -- which probably doesn't sound revolutionary, but it totally fit in the context of the tune. I would love to hear it again, no doubt in some form I couldn't predict.

Another new song followed, and at first, the pace reminded me a little of "Knock Yourself Out." The lyrics, however, were nothing to write home about it. Let's say this song holds promise but could use more attention.

The next song was not new, but it was a relatively rarity. I'm pretty sure it was "Row" from Eternal Sunshine, only with lyrics and extra poignancy. Jon ended this piano-based segment with "Happy With You," complete with all the spontaneous bits Jon is known for.

The acoustic guitar then came out, along with a call for requests. "Meaningless" landed first, followed by "Citgo Sign," a request from the patron sitting front and center, who I assumed has taken over the role of #1 fan. Jon said it might be the first time he's played it at the Coronet, which probably checks out. Jon capped off this segment with "I Believe She's Lying," and I should mention all of them got the extended treatment. For "I Believe She's Lying," Jon even changed up the vocals here and there.

Jon returned to the piano and his "hymnal" for the next song. If you read this blog enough, you know I don't love everything Jon has ever done, and this falls squarely into that pile. The lyrics were heavy-handed, and the melody itself didn't stand out. Unlike previous clunkers, this didn't morph into a 10-plus minute dirge (whew). OK, enough said!

At this point, Sebastian Steinberg came out, with his stand-up bass and an impressive beard. I likened him to Zeus, albeit with his long ponytail intact. Jon opened up the floor to requests, and after some back and forth, the Buzzcocks finally landed in a jazzy two-man piano-and-bass take. As if I needed a reminder of Jon's encyclopedic knowledge of music, but it's always nice to hear confirmation.

For the next request, Jon married a style of music with a song, which is how we got "Space Oddity" a la stride piano. Did you watch the last season of Mad Men? I've had at least one screaming moment during each episode, when an unexpected twist plays out. One of the moments -- MINOR SPOILER ALERT -- had to do with "Space Oddity." I will never not love this song in any form, and this one was a delight. Jon himself wore a big smile on his face for much of the tune, and Sebastian's slap bass added unexpected notes. Of course, it morphed into another style all together, but I'm not the person who could characterize it for you.



"Over the Rainbow," a request personally solicited by Jon from the person sitting in what was once my seat (AA24, in case you're wondering), was soon granted, and it was slow, pretty, and spare. Sebastian came close to a bass solo around the bridge -- so it was deliciously ironic when he declared he hated the song at its conclusion. For the record, Jon stated he did not.

Jon next picked up the acoustic guitar for an instrumental track, the kind that tend to stump me. In my notes, I have "I'm in the Mood for Love," but I could be way off, which is typical for standards. During the course of this song, Sebastian's face was like that of a silent movie actor, nodding and shaking along. By the end, both Jon and Sebastian were actively hamming it up for one another.

The requests continued, and Radiohead made it to the forefront. Jon returned to the piano, but hardly went traditional. The notes sounded like they were coming from a harpsichord or a toy piano, but eventually came back around to the "real" sound. This was a ton of fun, as well.

Jon followed up "Trouble," featuring a jazzy bridge, then a request for a song he gleefully reported he didn't like: "Rocky Raccoon." Susan next to me thought she heard Vince Guaraldi here. All I know is that it took a detour through, like, the Preservation Jazz Hall (note: I know nothing about the Preservation Jazz Hall), and it was decidedly loose, though not in a White Album sort of way. Make of that what you will!

Jon inquired into Sean Watkins' presence, and after a brief dash to the stage, he joined them for a couple of tracks: "I Go to Pieces" and "Tribulations," the latter a terrifying (in Sean's words) gospel song he recently learned. Brownie points go to Sean for the Back to the Future reference when he explained what it was like to try to teach a song to the bona fide geniuses beside him.

Jon Brion playing stand-up bass at Largo at the CoronetSebastian stepped up for his vocal contribution, George Jones' "She Thinks I Still Care." This song may be one of the highlights of the evening, as we watched Jon and Sebastian switch instruments. I don't think I've ever seen Jon play stand-up bass! What a sight!

Jon returned to the piano and took over for the next song. I don't know if it was a request or his own selection, but he rolled out the always welcome "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding." Jon went with a pretty classic power pop take on this song, which is fairly different from the slower version Nick Lowe plays these days. Trust me, there were no complaints.

Sean exited the stage, and we were left once again with Jon and Sebastian, this time for Jon's own "Please Stay Away From Me." This has become a semi-staple of Jon's set, and I hear hints of this and that with every listening, but for some reason, the Randy Newman-esque tone hit me between the eyes this time (perhaps because the earlier brick of a tune was probably trying too hard to take the same approach).

With that, Jon and Sebastian's show came to an end, but a couple dozen of us headed to the Little Room for extra songs from Sean. I didn't take notes here, but I can report he did my request for "Moonshiner," though only after he realized I wasn't asking for moonshine. I've heard him do this before, as Sean himself acknowledged, but I know it's far from a regular on the setlist. Nonetheless, he gamely attempted it, with a little help from Jackson (I think), undoubtedly Googling lyrics in the back.

I likely won't get back to Largo for a Jon Brion show until the fall, but I'm already looking forward to the next go-around.

Setlist
-- piano (like, five songs)
-- new song #1
-- new song #2
-- Row
-- Happy With You
-- Meaningless
-- Citgo Sign
-- I Believe She's Lying
-- new song #3

with Sebastian Steinberg
-- Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't)
-- Space Oddity
-- Over the Rainbow
-- I'm in the Mood for Love
-- Creep
-- Trouble
-- Rocky Raccoon

with Sebastian Steinberg & Sean Watkins
-- I Go to Pieces
-- Tribulations
-- Peace, Love, and Understanding

with Sebastian Steinberg
-- Please Stay Away From Me

See also:
» strangest times
» Gillian, David, Sean, Sara, Jon, Greg

Sunday, April 12, 2015

tripping the dark fantastic

I've caught myself saying this a lot lately: I don't need to see that band again. It's not as if I don't like the band, but when your concert attendance starts hitting the double digits, especially in the bigger venues, my interest drops off a cliff (with very few exceptions). But when a friend is in town and wants to hit the Fillmore, why the hell not? Thus, hello Punch Brothers!

Punch Brothers, the Fillmore, April 4, 2015: A pleasant surprise awaited me when I bought tix from the Fillmore box office for the show: download codes for each concert-goer. I figured the Punch Brothers were offering, at best, a three-song sampler, but I was dead wrong. The download covered the entire new album, The Phosphorescent Blues. As I've said a million times, I nearly always favor live music over studio recordings, and the download fit perfectly into my plans. I realize not all bands have the luxury of giving away their music, but I have so much respect for the Punch Brothers for reaching out to the fans who come out to see them on the road.

Perhaps the Punch Brothers can pull off these acts because they know they'll be rewarded by passionate audiences at every stop, if San Francisco is anything to go by. Granted, they were booked for two nights at the Fillmore, which is already a good sign. But you still have to pack the bodies in and fire them up -- check and check on both counts in San Francisco, as the fans responded with cheers, singalongs, and declarations of love.

Punch Brothers, the Fillmore, 04-04-15

By no means am I particularly knowledgeable about the Punch Brothers, but I've enjoyed the privilege of seeing them or at least Chris Thile fairly often at Largo. I also don't mind admitting their more not-bluegrass touches hooked me, though I can't imagine how you couldn't love their banjo solos.

If you've listened to the new record, you know it starts off on a decidedly poppier, more accessible tone, but if you stick around, you'll hear the usual mandolin and harmonies kick in later. That wasn't the only change: The live setup now included a set of drums, and at one point, Chris brought a bouzouki. Never fear -- still no electric guitar in sight. As it turned out, Gabe Wicher took the drums for a handful of songs while simultaneously playing fiddle, but his percussion duties were mostly limited to kick drum.

I have no idea what longtime fans may think of this development, but it all sounded great to me. Of course, the Punch Brothers touched on their roots -- say, with the Jimmie Rodgers cover "Brakeman's Blues." At other times, I kept thinking they should've written for the Taylor Swift of, like, two albums ago. But mostly, I marveled that they could turn one of the most old-fashioned of American musical forms into prog rock -- it's no small feat to mount a mountain of suspense out of such timeless instruments.

The topper to the show might've been the a cappella turn at "The Auld Triangle," from tons of sources, but in this context, perhaps most famously from Inside Llewyn Davis. (I really only know it from listening to Jeff Tweedy covers, don't yell at me for not citing Dylan or any of the Irish troubadours who originated it.) The six of them gathered around the appropriately old-fashioned microphone and delivered perfect harmonies to complement the eternal track; we in the audience helped in the chorus as well. As a fairly impartial by-stander, I loved it, and I wish every concert could have such a moment.

Punch Brothers, the Fillmore, 04-04-15

Gabriel Kahane opened the show, and I'd seen him a few years before playing with Chris Thile at Largo. The audience was incredibly respectful to him and let him sing -- and he deserved to be heard! He even made me curious about some of the Los Angeles landmarks that inspired him, so that could be a mission on my next visit down south.

See also:
» broadminded
» let's not fool ourselves
» one day like this a year