Friday, September 30, 2005

listening for too long to one song

Back on the horse, as they say. Oh, it feels so good to return to the land of fog, even if our BBQ scene is nonexistent. At least I got one night at home before I went straight back to what I know: the front row.

New Pornographers, Bimbo's, September 27 and 28, 2005: First things first--Neko Case is touring with them again. I know that's what everyone wants to hear. I stand by my conviction that she isn't the band, but now that I've had a chance to compare and contrast, I understand what she brings to the group besides that wonderful voice. She's a good foil to Carl Newman in terms of banter, and that's part of the fun of a New Pornos show. Otherwise, Kathleen remains with the band in a backup role, and we even got Dan Bejar for a few songs.

Immaculate Machine opened, a three-piece out of British Columbia. Among its members is Kathleen, Carl's niece and the newest touring member of the New Pornographers. She filled in this summer when Neko wasn't available. They have other ties to the NPs as well; a couple of NPs produced their album, and I think they mentioned they were in a video for one of the offshoot bands as well. The NP stamp is notable in Immaculate Machine's poppy songs, though they were nowhere near as polished as the supergroup. The second night, they pulled off a decent cover of "Good Vibrations," though a few more harmonies might've helped.

Destroyer was also on the bill, making for a veritable BC love fest of a tour. Again, the incestuous relationship: Kurt and John from the NPs took the drums and bass, respectively, for Destroyer's set. The band had its own cheering section, and Dan seemed somewhat reticent during the set. Dan Bejar's songs and voice are so distinctive; I find it odd how he ever came together with Carl Newman, except in that they both write really smart lyrics. However, Carl's pure pop sensibilities are a far cry from Dan's arch, glam-infused songs. I liked about half the songs, but let's face it, I'm a pop girl at heart.

New Pornographers, Bimbo's, September 27 and 28, 2005I tell this story ad nauseum, but it bears repeating. The last time I saw the New Pornographers, they just about killed me, the show was so much fun, but the indisputable highlight was the point where 10 audience members were invited to join the band on the smallish Bimbo's stage to play air instruments. It was that cool.

Alas, no such antics this time, but maybe you can pull that off only once in a while. Over the two nights, we got most of the songs from Twin Cinema, and it was great to hear Dan Bejar join in for his tunes. He got progressively drunker over the course of both nights, though in a good way. Neko sounded her usual amazing self, and they did more of the songs that highlight her vocals. And then there was Carl, being his self-proclaimed sardonic self. This time, he compared the Shins to Journey, and he may have taken some shots at Nirvana too, but I can't recall now. The second night, he dragged out a laborious comparison between the NPs and the Chumbawumba song, "Tubthumping"--it didn't exactly work out, so I really shouldn't try repeating it. He also denied my request for "July Jones," which he claimed they don't know how to play. However, they attempted some AC/DC, Nirvana, and Steve Perry tunes, though none to completion.

More good news, both nights had sold out a little ways back. It gives me hope that this supergroup will keep it together for a while longer. And maybe next time they're in town, I'll convince myself that $15 is worth it for New Pornographers panties.

See also:
» salvation holdout central

Monday, September 26, 2005

you change all the lead sleeping in my head

Lest you think that three days of the festival weren't enough, we also found time for three separate shows. Check 'em out, dear readers:

Wilco, Cain's Ballroom, September 22, 2005: This show immediately screamed out at me when I saw it listed on WilcoWorld, and fortunately, my buddies agreed. I flew in late Wednesday to meet with Heidi and to hold down the fort while our friends hung out in Columbia, Missouri, and made the long drive through the Ozarks. The next day, we all met up for the first time in a while.

Wilco, Cain's Ballroom, September 22, 2005Cain's is an amazing place. Not only is it not a Clear Channel venue, it claims to be the home of Bob Wills and many other old country legends. The outside has a great neon sign, and the inside looks a little like a log cabin. Around the perimeter of the club hang a bunch of photos of old-time country stars. Kingsbury Manx, the openers, mentioned that they liked Tennessee Ford the most, but I wouldn't be able to pick a favorite.

The show is perhaps notable because Wilco played two new songs: "Walken," which has now been played a number of times, and something called "On and On," according to the set list. The former is a rocking tune featuring Jeff on the big, beautiful hollow-body guitar and Nels on a lap steel. The second one definitely sounds like a work in progress; I'm not sure it has much of a chorus yet, and the verses sound spare as well. Overall, the main set was very focused. Jeff didn't say a word, though Nels was incredibly goofy in the best way possible. For the encore, Jeff talked a lot about how great Cain's is, and he made numerous references to Woody Guthrie, one of Oklahoma's most famous former residents.

The crowd, however, stole the show. From the outset, the room had incredible energy, and not just from the drunk, loud guys in the front. It's been a while since I've seen a Wilco show with that much love in the room, and it truly makes a difference. If I never return to Oklahoma, I have very good memories of the town.

Kingsbury Manx opened; I've seen them before with Clinic and quite liked them, but apparently, my memory is shot because they couldn't have been more different from what I recall. To me, they were merely OK, as much as I wanted to enjoy their set.

Arcade Fire, Stubb's BBQ, September 23, 2005: After John Prine's set, we immediately left for Stubb's BBQ to catch the Arcade Fire show. We quickly discovered that Stubb's is a great venue. It's basically a BBQ restaurant with a backyard that hosts concerts. The floor is gravelly, and the stage is fairly small, framed with a bandshell-like awning. It really feels like you're just hanging out in your friend's back patio. It was already crowded by the time we arrived, so we stayed in the back. We missed the first opener, What Made Milwaukee Famous, but caught the Black Keys' opening set. I can see their appeal, but it's not my cup of tea, and the songs tended to sound the same after their cover of "She Said, She Said."

The Arcade Fire started with "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," referring to Hurricane Rita, which was still a threat at the time. Apparently, like many others, the band had a lot of problems getting into Austin on time, though they had obviously arrived, and it also served as a shout-out to Win and Will Butler's hometown of Houston. That went straight in to "Wake Up," and in a now customary event, I heard the voices around me lifting in unison to that wonderful intro. When I hear that song nowadays, I want to sing it in a Bowie voice. The other surprise of the set was David Bowie's "Five Years"--perhaps they had rehearsed it with him earlier but didn't get to play it. I'm way too suggestible, but "Crown of Love" immediately followed, and for the first time ever, I realized the eerily prominent Bowie imprint on it, especially the huge swooping chorus. I had been so blinded by the Talking Heads similarities that it had never occurred to me that they might've listened to other records.

Fortunately, their stage show is almost as good as their sound, and we got some of the same goofiness from the band members. The horn and string section tried to match the percussive faction in terms of violence, but it's hard to beat the terrible two on stage right. Will tried to climb some of the speakers, though Richard managed to not cut himself or his pants. At the end, Win threw himself into the audience, but I think he emerged at the end.

At this point, it had been less than a week since I saw the Arcade Fire from a seat halfway up the balcony at the Warfield, but standing up, jumping around, and belting out the tunes with two of my good friends made all the difference in the world. Sure, I had to crane my neck around the tall guy in front of me, but seeing the huge grins on my friends' faces and returning them with my own sense of joy and celebration took it to another level.

Wilco, Stubb's BBQ, September 23, 2005: I have a bootleg of a legendary show that Wilco played in Austin at the erstwhile Liberty Lunch on November 7, 1997. Not only did the crew sing a hilarious and very out-of-tune version of "Won't Get Fooled Again," the gig was interrupted by a guy who (apparently) threw a beer at Jeff and was then reprimanded for his actions by being brought on to the stage, forced to sit there under the glares of the band and the audience. Needless to say, I wanted to be there. You can't turn back the clock, and I'm more in love with this Wilco lineup than any that's come before it, but based on that show and the city's reputation, Austin has loomed large in my mind. In fact, I had planned to go in the spring of 2004, but of course, those gigs didn't pan out.

Wilco, Stubb's BBQ, September 24, 2005From the outset, the band and the crowd carried on a mutual love affair. The energy from both sides of the barrier was amazing. The band was in a great mood, and the audience roared its approval. I was a sweaty mess, but it occurred to me that maybe the heat loosened up southern audiences in a way that we supposedly sophisticated coastal people can't understand. I'm totally stereotyping, and I don't even know how many people were from Austin, but I haven't seen a reaction like that in many towns for a while.

Maybe it's pandering, but I loved hearing the lyrics of "Kingpin" altered to "living in Austin"--that's a no-brainer! To say I favor Nels is a laughable understatement, but he seemed even more intense than usual, nearly falling over his pedals stack during the end of "Shot in the Arm" and pretending to play Mike's keyboards at one point during the show. The encore started off with a "Monday/Outtasite" medley and Jeff mouthing the title to Kristina before the second song kicked in. They cut their set short, probably because of the curfew, and the "Should've Been in Love" we heard during soundcheck never materialized, but for me, the show was so full of energy that I didn't mind at all. Hopefully, it won't be another 10 years before I return to Austin.

See also:
» i hear you sing a golden hymn
» here comes the action/here it comes at last
» it's been a while

here comes the action

Here it comes at last.

Reading in '99 was the last full-blown festival I've done. In the interim, my enthusiasm for UK music has cooled considerably, and my appreciation for American bands has grown accordingly. By coincidence, the American festival scene has blossomed over the years, due in no small part to Coachella's success, I'd say. I've resisted so far, given that most of the bands I want to see head to San Francisco sooner or later, but this year's lineup at the Austin City Limits Festival was too strong. The deal was sealed when the stages were announced, and Doves, Arcade Fire, and Wilco were set to play one after the other.

Paul and I got into Austin on Friday afternoon. The festival was already underway, but we had to kill some time before we picked up Kristina from the airport, so we decided to drive around downtown and get a feel for the legendary clubs. Cruising down 6th Street, we immediately confirmed that, indeed, Austin is a magical place. On the corner of 6th and Congress, we saw Chris Martin of Coldplay ambling down the avenue with an older gentleman (a manager?). Watching him walk away, I realized that Jason Lowenstein, formerly of Sebadoh, was waiting to cross the street at that same corner. And a mere two blocks later, we saw Mike of Wilco strolling by as well. Music Capital of the World? No arguments here.

By the time we fetched Kristina, checked into the hotel, and made our way to the festival grounds, it was fairly late in the day. As we reached Zilker Park, I heard Spoon playing "My Mathematical Mind," the last song of their set. They were ostensibly the one band I wanted to catch that day, but I've been far from deprived of seeing the band live, and it seems that they're coming back to San Francisco in November anyway. But we were in time for Kristina's pick for the day, John Prine. Ordinarily, he's not my kind of singer at all, but that's what festivals are for, right? During the quieter parts of his set, we could hear the Allman Brothers blasting away from way across the huge field, but John soldiered on with his patented blend of heartfelt and densely imagined songs. That was pretty much it for the first day, as we had to catch the Arcade Fire show back in town that night.

I think Keane was on that same night, and we had to hear parts of their set, though it was far away enough that it wasn't traumatic. On our way out to catch the shuttle, we heard Lyle Lovett and his Large Band. They sounded like a great time, and the newspaper reports the next day confirmed that they were a pleasant departure from the rest of the lineup.

The second day had, in my opinion, the weakest lineup, but we had bought the three-day pass, so it was stupid to not show up for at least a short while. It turned out that the one performer I wanted to see, Kathleen Edwards, couldn't make it to the festival. I don't know who her replacement was; regardless, we stuck around for half of Built to Spill's set. Unfortunately, they're one of those bands who were coming up in the scene around the same time I was obsessed with Pavement, so I never got around to really listening to them. What I heard sounded great, and the guitar work was absolutely scorching.

During the day's wanderings, we managed to bump into Scott, who was there with his wife, his parents, and many friends and who looked like he was dressed for a safari. But with the heat and humidity, he had the last laugh.

And then there was Sunday. The heat had certainly pressed down Friday and Saturday, but perhaps the only good thing to come out of Hurricane Rita was that it kept the temperatures slightly below average and had brought about some of the breezes. It all ended Sunday. The weather reports claimed that we would reach nearly record high temperatures, the one day that we anticipated standing in front of the stage for the entire stretch. Oh, the other good thing to come out of Rita paranoia: we had brought umbrellas, though we were now using them for protection from the sun, rather than the rain.

So yes, it was beyond unbearable, and for long stretches of the day, it felt like my body was one huge pore. The early hours were the toughest, when the sun was directly overhead, and we put up with the musical stylings of Eisley, a family affair out of Tyler, Texas. They were supercute and had sweet voices, but after about half an hour, I thought for sure that I was going to fall asleep on my feet. The end of their set was perhaps the highlight of my weekend, as it meant that the next three bands were on their way.

Doves, Austin City Limits Festival, September 25, 2005: I missed the Doves back in June because of *ahem* other commitments, and they're playing the Download Festival in Mountain View next month at the freaking Shoreline, my least favorite place in the Bay Area. Sure, a festival is far from a cool club experience, but at least I'd be able to see the band from a decent distance, rather than from some lame seat at the sterile local shed. Doves are easily one of my top five or so at the moment, and Some Cities is among my favorite releases of the year. The last time I saw them, I missed the train coming back from Cambridge--that's how much I dig 'em!

Doves, Austin City Limits Festival, September 25, 2005I admit that Doves are perhaps more of a studio band than a live band. Their music is layered and always surprising, with sonic touches that you don't hear until you're wearing your headphones at a certain hour of the day or the night. While their live experience doesn't always deliver, they sounded great in Austin. At the risk of completely contradicting myself, they know how to fill a room with music, if not stage banter. You could hear the distinctive U2-like guitar touches in parts, but they also evoked Motown and New Order, yet all the while maintaining their own sound. Jimi Goodwin referred to the deadening heat, apologizing for their lack of choreography, but to make up for it, he did one little snake/caterpillar move that will strike a chord with anyone who's watched Electric Boogaloo.

They did an abridged version of their standard setlist, mostly stuff from the second and third albums, with "Here It Comes," featuring Andy Williams on lead vocals, and (of course) "Cedar Room" from my favorite Lost Souls. They had no technical difficulties either, from what I could tell, which is something you can never predict with them. Best of all, the sun dipped behind the stage around the end of their set, so the worst weather-related misery was over.

I saw a lot of enthusiastic listeners around me, though I was probably the designated dorky fan in the front who knew all the lyrics. I doubt that Doves will ever become a huge band in the States, but at least they stand a good chance of sustaining the numbers and continuing to come back to our shores. They had a signing session at the Waterloo tent immediately after their set, but I was already scheduled to dig my heels in for the current indie darlings.

Arcade Fire, Austin City Limits Festival, September 25, 2005Arcade Fire, Austin City Limits Festival, September 25, 2005: How much more can you say about the Arcade Fire that hasn't already been printed, analyzed, rebuked, and reprinted some more? Hell, I feel like an idiot writing anything now, but that's hardly stopped me before.

Let's see, the crowd noticeably thickened after Doves, but the fairly well-behaved audience didn't push or jostle too much (at least not where we stood). Arcade Fire's set drew the most photographers of the day at our stage; the media pit between the stage and the audience must've held dozens of 'em. Oh, and the Martin-Paltrow clan (Chris Martin, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Apple Martin, with huge headphones on her adorable head) watched from the side of the stage. From all reports, Arcade Fire made quite an impression on Chris, and he couldn't stop raving about them during Coldplay's headlining set on the other side of the park.

On to the music: the band played up every aspect that the public has grown to love. Opening with "Wake Up," they stuck with the more spirited songs from their oeuvre, so no, say, "Crown of Love," but they belted out "Five Years." As for antics, Win abused his mic stand, this time nearly assaulting the poor camera guy with it and breaking at least two stands during the course of the show. Will and Richard were up to their goofiness, and the kids around us loved every second of it, becoming instant fans. The band also threw out bottles of water to the heated audience, though they commanded the recipients to drink them immediately, lest they show up on eBay.

I'm an admitted venue snob, but oddly enough, this was my favorite of the recent Arcade Fire shows I saw. They don't exactly compare to the shows from last winter, but I don't recall so many people singing along earlier this year, and it's hard to deny the passion spewing out of the audience. Festivals aren't my favorites, but every now and then, they deliver.

Wilco, Austin City Limits Festival, September 25, 2005Wilco, Austin City Limits Festival, September 25, 2005: Am I an idiot for bothering to see my favorite band with tens of thousands of people, in a ridiculously hot, dusty field three states over immediately following a couple of incredible smaller performances? Well, yeah, but so what? At least I'll keep this report short.

The set was very standard, but they favored the more upbeat songs, on the whole. They even did the new one, "Walken." Jeff was in a fantastic mood, chatting with the crowd and getting us to clap and sing along. The voices around me were loud and clear, and I hope they loved the set. Jeff messed up a verse of "Always in Love" and sheepishly grinned at us in acknowledgement of his boo-boo. Nels was less goofy than he had been at the previous two shows, but his intensity never wavered. I actually got to see more of Glenn this time, for the first time in a while, and make no mistake, he is as fascinating a drummer as ever. At the very end, Nels even spoke into the microphone, pointing at the AMD stage and uttering exactly one word: "Tortoise." I would've loved to heed his recommendation, but my tired, dirty, and hungry body implored me to hop on the shuttle instead. Thank you, ACL, even if we never meet again.

Gawker alert: We saw Luke Wilson and members of Doves crew watching the band from the side of the stage--take that, Gwyneth!

See also:
» you change all the lead sleeping in my head
» i won't be denied

Monday, September 19, 2005

i hear you sing a golden hymn

Banyan, 12 Galaxies, September 17, 2005: I went into this with no idea what to expect. Sure, it's a supergroup, and they had played the Monterey Jazz Fest the night before, but c'mon, I wanted to check out Nels Cline. Man, is he one hard-working fellow. Even without the Wilcos, I think he's been through the Bay Area at least three other times this year. To think how often he'd be here if it weren't for those commitments!

Banyan comprises the drummer from Jane's Addiction (Stephen Perkins), Mike Watt, Nels, three horn players whose names I don't recall, and at 12 Galaxies, another guitarist. Stephen Perkins is very much the linchpin. His drum set was front and center, and he was flanked on his right by the horn section. Standing behind them (and hidden from my view for much of the show) was Mike Watt on bass. On Perkins's left were Nels and the other guitarist. The horns were very prominent, but more germane to my interests, Nels was definitely a background player. I barely heard him at all for the first song, and he often deferred to the other older gentleman guitarist for various passages. But he put in his trademark frenzied guitar attacks on a few songs, as well as the more melodic stuff.

I know very little about jazz, so my opinion on the music should be taken with a truckful of Morton's, but from what I could tell, a lot of the songs sounded much more aggressive and rock-based than what I associate with the jazz genre. They covered a range of styles, from mellow, swaying grooves to aggro tunes that made you want to bounce up and down. It was kinda cool, but I have to admit it's not my style at all. The band played a second set, but I didn't stick around for it. If you dig Nels, it's always worth it to get a glimpse into his varied interests, but at the same time, it wasn't a hugely illuminating idea of what turns him on (musically), considering how small a role he seemed to have with the group.

Side note: The crowd watching was hilarious. First of all, there was the most conspicuous taper EVER next to me, who held up a big backpack in the direction of the stage for a good 20 minutes. Then there were many, many people who looked like, as far as they were concerned, they considered every day to be Burning Man. And then you had the chronically unfunky. Ahhh, but who am I to judge?? Heh.

Arcade Fire, the Warfield, September 18, 2005: Continuing their trail of world domination, the Arcade Fire sold out the 2,000-seat-plus Warfield in no time flat. I was at the Fillmore an hour before the box office opened, and I was still the 12th person in line, so by the time I got up to the window, all I could secure were seats smack dab in the middle of the balcony. They weren't bad, but it's been a long time since I've been up so high at the Warfield, and it's certainly a far cry from the stage's edge at the Great American Music Hall.

The Bell Orchestre opened, and I have to say that I found them very boring. I'm not a huge fan of instrumental music, but I've loved Sigur Ros, Mogwai, and Godspeed You Black Emperor (among others) in the past. Bell Orchestre had none of that tension. Though pretty in parts, their tunes did nothing for me, and I fantasized about playing Tetris on my cell phone.

Next up was Wolf Parade. I like their CD, but it was only after seeing them live that I realized they have two lead singers. The Modest Mouse influence was very prominent on a couple of songs. Even from the seats up high, their passion and energy were evident, and I bet seeing them at a club would be a lot of fun.

Finally, the Arcade Fire! I guess there are two big questions. First, can they pull off on a bigger stage what was so readily apparent in a more intimate setting? The answer is yes--their music is meant to soar to the rafters, and even the onstage antics kept us interested. Will and Richard were still at each other, and Regine even took the drums for two songs. And even from way over yonder, the sight of 7 people lined up at the front of the stage singing and playing in unison put a huge smile on my face (I'm such a sucker for that!). Just as amazing, the people around me loved it. Say what you will about bigger shows, but at their best, that feeling of community is palpable. It's hard to argue with thousands of people singing along at the top of their lungs to so-called album tracks.

The other question: So what's next? It was hard to tell. They did no new songs, though they cycled in a few "golden oldies," as Win put it. I think people are dying to see if they can keep up the momentum and are more than ready to pounce with accusations of second-album syndrome, whenever that drops, as it were. But I could care less. If their next album turns out to be just as good, congrats to them. And if it sucks, well, that's too bad. More importantly to me at least, they've been the soundtrack for a small epoch, which is more than most of us can say.

I should note that Win seemed rather punchy this time out. He was semi-apologetic for parts of the night, calling the band "whores" for playing some KROQ thing, and he alluded to the grueling schedule of life on the road as well as the unappreciative audiences in many parts of the world. They also had some technical problems, which drew a small tantrum from him, followed by a "fuck all, y'all, we're gonna play anyway." He jumped into the audience a few times, and at the very end, we couldn't tell if he had made it to safe harbor. Still, they seemed far from rock star moves and, rather, heartfelt but clumsy expressions of frustration mixed with general silliness.

They're back in the Bay Area for the Download Festival next month, but there's no way in hell I'm going to that one, though my beloved Doves and British Sea Power are on the bill. Perhaps this will be my last Arcade Fire show, but that's not to say I've closed the book on this one.

See also:
» it's been a while
» i like jon brion. a lot. (part 1)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

a writer, a writer of fictions

Tonight's exciting agenda: groceries, laundry, and sitting at home. Yipppppppeeeeeee!

The Decemberists, the Fillmore, September 11 and 12, 2005: The Decemberists once again kicked off their tour in San Francisco, what they call their second home, and were welcomed with two sold-out nights at the Fillmore. You can argue until the cows come home about what comprises the real Fillmore, considering it's been closed, torn down, burned, rebuilt, and exploited who knows how many times at this point. But it still has some cachet, and it must be satisfying for any performer to get up on that stage and be greeted by an adoring audience.

I've said it before: I'm not a huge Decemberists fan. I can't remember many of their song titles, much less their lyrics, but fortunately, they're incredibly fun live and much less precious than their records would have you believe. The costumes they wear in promo shots and album art seem silly even to me, but onstage, they add to the charm and the convivial atmosphere. I think we've all seen the somber, serious songwriters onstage who strive to keep it real, so to speak. There is no such agenda with the Decemberists; reality is vastly overrated.

The Decemberists, September 11 and 12, 2005The stage was decorated with small fake birds. They nestled atop the mic stands and instruments, and in the back of the stage, a huge drawing of what looked like a mob of birds rushing determinedly toward some unknown destination framed John Moen's drum set. The amps were adorned with drapes bearing crudely sewn-on bird pictures, drawn by the band's favorite sketch artist, Carson Ellis. This was in reference to the name of the tour: the Flight of the Mistle Thrushes.

The sets over the two nights were surprisingly light on Picaresque material and dipped into the first EP more than I would've expected. If you've seen them more than once, you know they have a few fun passages, such as the Deliverance-style guitar duel between Colin Meloy and Chris Funk during "Chimbley Sweep." They did that both nights. The first night, that song devolved into a jam, with the band switching instruments and dragging a couple of audience members onstage to man instruments they obviously had no idea how to play. The second night, the "duel" segued into a lightsaber fight between Jenny Conlee and John Moen--Jenny kicked his ass.

As usual, the second night was the looser show. It started off with "The Tain," a hell of an opener and not one I could've anticipated. There were lots of Star Wars references, inspired by the band's trip to Skywalker Ranch earlier that day. And finally, they capped off the night with "The Mariner's Song," which saw Chris Funk wielding a huge fascimilie of a whale's jaws in an attempt to wheedle more blood-curdling screams from the audience. He didn't really need to; everyone seemed more than willing to make themselves heard. In between, they managed to squeeze in some of my favorites, including the sublime "Grace Cathedral Hill." Oh, and they tackled ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" the second night too.

We had two opening acts both nights: Sons and Daughters, and Petra Haden and the Sellouts. The former are from Glasgow, Scotland, with a huge range of sounds, everything from rockabilly to postpunk. The singer reminded me of Siouxsie Sioux so much in parts, and her voice took on a Lene Lovich/Nina Hagen air too. Petra Haden and friends performed The Who Sell Out a capella. I have to say it was a bit rough the first night, but they seemed more confident the second.

Next up for me: Banyan, Arcade Fire, then Austin City Limits.

See also:
» down the hyde street pier
» it's been a while

Sunday, September 11, 2005

green typewriters

Lest you think I don't see any live music aside from Wilco and Jon Brion, for the last few months, you'd be pretty much right on the money. But in fact, I love seeing as many shows as I can--energy, time, and money permitting. Paul has been in town this week, so we embarked on an ambitious show-a-night campaign. The report from the trenches follows:

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Bimbo's, September 7, 2005: I've seen Ted Leo before and was impressed by his energy and passion. I admire his dedication to ideals and am glad to see that his (pogoing) fan base continues to grow. At Bimbo's, all elements were in place. He turned it on and engaged the audience easily, and I could see many faces around me who knew the words to every song. Even better, he did "Six Months in a Leaky Boat," and I got to hear his novel arrangement for the instrumental break in the middle and the end of the song. OK, it's not exactly Sam, Heidi, and me with acoustic accompaniment in a basement, but that's really for the better.

Olivia Tremor Control, Great American Music Hall, September 8, 2005: This whole week is turning into a jaunt down memory lane, and I've logged yet another reunion show this year. The last time I saw Olivia Tremor Control, it was the last millennium (errrr, late 1990s, at least) at a community center in the bedroom community of Palo Alto. Do you recall your elementary and middle school days when you were required to sit in a big auditorium and watch educational movies about the dangers of drugs or other scary elements in the world? In my admittedly vague memories of the night, that's exactly how I recall the show.

Well, sign my Alzheimer's papers because this show couldn't have more different than those fuzzy recollections. I'll commend myself for correctly placing the role of a saw as a musical instrument; it was front and center and part of the instrumentation from the very first song. But from that point on, I'm the least reliable narrator you can find. For one thing, there were nowhere as many people onstage as my tall tales would have you believe. Though I like to claim there were at least 12 people in OTC at the time, there were only (only?) 7 people in the group this time. And whereas I also like to say that the band was freaking weird, this time out, the music sounded very straightforward and wonderful. Sure, they're still raggedy and loose, but the energy was inspirational, and I had a smile on my face from the opening notes. I would never call them tight--and maybe that would be an insult to them--but the harmonies were effortless, and even the long instrumental stretches made sense when they morphed into rockin' tunes. This show was just what I needed, reminding me of how little surprises can await you at every show.

Michael Penn, Cafe du Nord, September 9, 2005: Full disclosure: we went to this show because the Son Volt gig was sold out, but we had been leaning in this direction anyway.

It's been a while since I've seen Michael Penn live. Again, it might've been the last millennium when I saw him on the Acoustic Vaudeville tour with Aimee Mann and Patton Oswalt. But I've always meant to check him out again; it was just a matter of finding a night without conflicting arrangements, and such an occasion finally coalesced. Michael seemed to have improved with the banter, though he claimed to be as bad as ever. I know it's not a requirement, but when you're a singer/songwriter with somber, sensitive tunes, it helps to add a little levity to your performance. It also helped this time that his band included Buddy Judge (formerly of the Grays, among others), who had no problem engaging the crowd. Michael did mostly stuff from the new album, of which I really enjoyed "Walter Reed," and he even dipped back to March days with "Brave New World," but no big hit (if you know what I mean). Parts of the show were a little too low key for my taste, but overall, it was a night well spent. I don't mind skipping Son Volt in the least.

M. Ward, Bimbo's, September 10, 2005: This was another show I went to 'cos Paul wanted to see him. I'm not a huge fan, but M. Ward put in an impressive showing. His guitar playing is, of course, above reproach, but he did a number of songs on the piano, for which I have a soft spot. Also, I didn't realize he did the looping thing that also drives me *ahem* loopy. For me, standout tracks were "Outta My Head" and "Undertaker." In what I hear is a departure for him, he was accompanied on guitar by a friend named Zach Rogers (?) for five or six songs; he added subtle and tasteful guitar, though he stayed in the background on the whole.

The openers were a band called the Joggers, also from Portland. They weren't too distinctive from other indie bands. At parts, their sound betrayed a hint of Modest Mouse, but they were fun and goofy onstage. The drummer wore a tie-dye shirt and a headband, perhaps as an homage to San Francisco. You really wouldn't expect to see them opening for someone like M. Ward, but there seemed to be a mutual admiration society between them.

The Decemberists, the Fillmore, September 11 and 12, 2005: Separate blog entry to follow. :D

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

get a load of the lengths I go to

I got my hit counter thing working again, so now I can keep track of both of you. Heh. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I is smrt.

Let's get this out of the way: I'm going to blog about Jon Brion. So those of you who are sick of it can click to your tried-and-true time-wasters now. Thanks for checking in, though.

I take away something new from each Jon Brion show I see. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the reason I see so many shows by certain musicians is due to the fact that I can take away something new from every gig--but enough rationalization.

For the past week, I've been thinking of Jon's second set at the most recent Largo show I attended. Oh sure, it was certainly the night of 1,000 singer/songwriters and, for that reason, bound to not be forgotten soon, but beyond that, it was illuminating to see Jon take a backseat to other musicians. If you read reviews of his work, you may have noticed that many critics claim that he has a way of forcing his sound on other musicians, especially in his production work. But at Largo last week, he was very much in the background, deferring to his guests repeatedly, albeit he also claimed about a dozen times that he had checked his brains at the door. With Fiona Apple, it was all about her voice, while he played acoustic guitar and contributed only a tiny bit of backing vocals. He always seems to have good banter with Robyn Hitchcock and Grant Lee Phillips, but they were very much in charge of their portions of the show. When Grant tried to get Jon to jump in with a suggestion, Jon turned the floor right back to Grant. And Sarah and Sean Watkins were busy negotiating between themselves for Jon to grab the reins.

I guess one of the reasons this has been swirling in my brain has to do with the Kanye West record and my listening for all the hints of Brioniana. I have to confess: I'm not a huge soundtrack person, though I grasp at them for my JB fix. But I like pop music, with its vocals, hooks, choruses, and medleys, and in that respect, Late Registration is almost as exciting as a new Jon Brion record for me. Kanye and friends provide the frame on which Jon hangs his musicality, and together, they deepen my appreciation of the songs. I'm no hip-hop expert (my youth was spent listening to decidedly unfunky pale British guys), nor will I pretend to be, but Kanye and Jon's talents complement each other in a way I couldn't have guessed before I heard this album. I can't get enough of the track "Gone," and I'm not even ashamed to admit that I adore the song with the guy from Maroon 5.

Robyn SingsBack to the original point of this post: Here's a version of "Visions of Johanna" with Robyn Hitchcock, from the album Robyn Sings. I believe Jon is on electric guitar, and you can hear a tiny bit of his vocals at one point. Grant Lee Phillips also pitches in on bass guitar. I absolutely love Robyn's interpretation, and maybe it'll give you an indication of what I had the great fortune to witness a week ago.

Listen: "Visions of Johanna" (MP3)

Update: Pitchfork did a nice write-up of Jon's work, but I still prefer my Book of Brion mix (volume 2 in the works). :P
1. Coming in to Land--Badly Drawn Boy
2. Millbrook--Rufus Wainwright
3. Waltz #1--Elliott Smith
4. Like a Diamond--Tom Petty
5. Dark Princess--Robyn Hitchcock
6. Same Thing--the Grays
7. This Is What I Do--Rhett Miller
8. Stop My Head--Evan Dando
9. Backfire--Aimee Mann
10. Chicago--Sean Watkins
11. River, Sea, Ocean--Badly Drawn Boy
12. I Feel Beautiful--Robyn Hitchcock
13. My Beloved Monster--eels
14. Terrible Vision--Rhett Miller
15. Save Me--Aimee Mann
16. Everybody Needs a Little Sanctuary--Grant Lee Phillips
17. Happiness/The Gondola Man--Elliott Smith
18. Voices--Jon Brion

See also:
» unplug the jukebox and do us all a favour
» top 5 Largo memories
» let your heart be light