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

Sunday, March 29, 2015

deep rivers run quiet

Hey, I remember keeping a regular blog! I'd better get in these concert reports now before the baseball season claims me again. This week, Black Rivers visited the Chapel on their short debut tour in the United States.

Black Rivers, the Chapel, 03-26-15Black Rivers, the Chapel, March 26, 2015: I'm so out of the habit of reading music magazines that I have no idea if Doves have broken up, except that I haven't seen any notification from, say, the mailing list. I mean, I know Jimi Goodwin has a solo record, and now the two remaining members (also, brothers/twins) have Black Rivers, but the band could be taking a break, right? Also, does any band break up anymore? What reunion tour isn't around the corner? I'm too lazy to investigate, but I'm not so lazy that I won't at least go to their show and find out for myself.

It's been long enough since the last Doves show I saw that I don't mind repeating that I love them. I've traveled for them, dammit! (Granted, that doesn't necessarily mean a ton with my rock tourism habits.) In 2000, Badly Drawn Boy's The Hour of Bewilderbeast and Doves' Lost Souls were a one-two punch from moody Mancunian tunesmiths, and they ruled my MP3 player for months on end. I still listen to them all the time for emotional sustenance, not to mention they're one of the few bands in my music collection that would qualify as booty music (yes, Mancs and Canucks fill out my booty music bracket).

However, I haven't listened to either Black Rivers or Jimi Goodwin's solo work; given the choice of studio output vs. the live experience, my limited disposable income goes to the gig. Thus, I wasn't sure what to expect from the show, but never fear. Black Rivers' songs reminded me why I love Doves so much. The cinematic arrangements and atmospheric feel were intact, with maybe more of a rocking feel. Then again, that could've been my proximity to the stage and the blaring mix from the guitar monitor.

Black Rivers, the Chapel, 03-26-15

I've always wondered how the division of labor works in Doves -- who is most responsible for which touches, whether anyone leads a specific charge. Of course, each musician has a main instrument: Jimi on bass and most vocals, Jez on lead guitar, and Andy on drums, the latter two occasionally taking a turn on the mic too. Also, it's not like the lyrics are Dylanesque or mine a deep auteur's vein (not an insult). Black Rivers didn't shed much light on the question. Jez took all lead vocals, but the songs were close enough to Doves trademark material that you could probably mistake them for each other in a blind listening test.

Not helping the situation: Black Rivers did a couple of Doves songs, but not the ones with Jez or Andy on lead vocals. For example, "Jetstream" and "Here It Comes" are two of my favorite Jez and Andy vocals, but instead, they did "Rise" and "Black and White Town." "Pounding" was also on the list, but they didn't get to it. Further muddying the picture, Black Rivers used the same keyboardist they had on the last Doves tour. As you can imagine, the Doves tracks got a big reception from the crowd.

I have a confession here: The sound at the front, namely the vocals, was terrible, and I could barely make out a word of the lyrics or the banter, and it had nothing to do with the Manc accents. Like many other British bands on their first tour of the United States, Black Rivers is used to playing much bigger rooms in the United Kingdom, and the sound suffered for it. Hey, it gives you something to look forward to on the next tour -- if they will be back, so will I.

Black Rivers, the Chapel, 03-26-15

By the way, I had no idea how of the size of this tour before I got to the show. It sounds like they did only a few very small shows in California after SXSW, and San Francisco was the last stop on the road. And after the gig, I had an almost Broad City-like (apologetic, drunk pissing dude; drunk, supine, rolling woman) adventure getting home, so hats off to Black Rivers for briefly interrupting my life as a shut-in. You guys are totally worth two bus rides, transfer included!

See also:
» doubles up and comes back Mondays
» here comes the action
» seems that I've been waiting here forever
» talking trash under your breath

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

low key

Comparatively speaking, I didn't see too many Tweedy shows on this tour, but the date at the Cocoanut Grove in Santa Cruz helped assuage any regrets.

TweedyTweedy, Cocoanut Grove, March 19, 2015: You'll have to forgive the nostalgic detour preceding the concert report, but I can't resist. You see, growing up in San Jose, we spent a lot of summers in Santa Cruz, particularly the boardwalk where the Cocoanut Grove is located. I have strong memories of my uncle packing me, my brothers, and the dog into the car (at first, a vintage convertible MG -- clearly before child seat laws! -- later giving way to a burnt orange Volkswagen Scirocco) for the drive over the mountains and out to the beach, where we happily jumped into the ice-cold Pacific waters. Later, as a teenager, my oldest friend moved to the woods outside of Santa Cruz, which brought a whole different set of memories. Santa Cruz, you will always have a place in my heart.

And for those of you who are a certain age: The Lost Boys was filmed here.

I decided on the title of this blog post long before I hit the freeway (I'm a managing editor -- so sue me for managing my own edits), but the concert itself felt like the exact opposite at times. In terms of square footage, the Cocoanut Grove might've been bigger than the Fillmore, but with the bar and another room (overlooking the beach) extending out from the main quarters, the usable space was a fraction of the total expanse. I imagine it would be good for wedding receptions or sales conventions, but not so much for a gig. In other words, it was not exactly an ideal concert venue.

But the stage was low, so if you were close to the front, the show felt strikingly intimate -- and the audience let the band know. From almost the first note, a woman a few rows in immediately, loudly, and repeatedly called out for "Gun," and numerous requests for birthday wishes followed. Jeff obliged them and engaged in a couple of exchanges about cheesemaking (it's Santa Cruz, after all) and other topics before preemptively wishing all of us a happy birthday, ad infinitum. I think the crowd finally got the message after Jeff said something to the effect that they still had a concert to get to.


The most egregious audience interaction came during Jeff's solo set, when apparently a guy to his far left called out his name, got him to look, and took a photo. Long story short: Jeff asked that the guy be removed, and after some confusion over whether security was taking any action all, someone was escorted out. For what it's worth, Jeff gave a long explanation about wanting to give us the best performance possible, and the guy's shenanigans wouldn't allow him to do so. I'm probably biased, but I don't think enough obnoxious people are removed from concerts. Later, Jeff made light of the situation, saying he hoped they got the right guy, but he'd leave it to the Innocence Project to figure out the guilt of the party.

Anyway, the music! First of all, yes, Jeff played "Gun" during his solo portion, and I was totally thinking of "Whole Love" earlier that day -- nice of Jeff to be on the same wavelength, even if he didn't get to "I Got You" until Los Angeles. (Boo!) Back in single-night mode, we got a mashup of the two San Francisco shows, with what I imagine as the favored tracks winning out.

The covers particularly stood out for me in Santa Cruz. I haven't mentioned the Diane Izzo track "Love Like a Wire" before, which is a major oversight. I don't know much about Diane Izzo or her tragic story, but in Tweedy's hands, the song is a gorgeous, soaring pop hit, complete with an irresistible melody and buttery harmonies. I hope a proper version is eventually released.

TweedyThe Minus 5 added an unexpected touch to a handful of tracks. On his own accord, Scott McCaughey took over for the absent Sima Cunningham on "Low Key" and "The Losing End," perhaps surprising the members of Tweedy as much as the audience, judging by the goofy grins they gave each other as he snuck onstage. Then in the encore, Peter Buck threw on the Gibson for a resoundingly jangly "California Stars" -- probably one of the best guest contributions I've heard on the song (trust me, I've heard lots of them).

Speaking of the Minus 5, they worked a little Easter egg into their set: a cover of the Modern Lovers' "Roller Coaster by the Sea," which happens to be set at the exact same site as the show. Other than Scott, the other band members looks fairly astonished by the selection, and I heard Peter Buck say he had forgotten it was on the setlist. Kudos for them for the wink and the nudge!

And thus draws an end to my Tweedy dates, at least until Solid Sound. Given the means, I could probably go for a few more, but should the band never tour again, I can say I got to as many as possible.

See also:
» my mother's sister's husband's brother
» are you scared? are you frightened?
» summer noon