Saturday, May 31, 2008

ascension

After the last month of incredible shows away from home, it feels strangely prosaic to see gigs in my own city again. I recognize all the signs of PCD (post-concert depression), but if any performer can light a fire under me, it's Nels Cline in yet another inimitable combination.

Rova/Nels Cline Celestial Septet, Yoshi's, May 28, 2008: I first heard of Yoshi's while in college at Berkeley. At the time, it was that cool little club over in Rockridge. Since then, it's moved at least once, and now it's anchoring the Fillmore revival. The cousin and I have eyed the spot since it's opened, and there was no doubt who'd be the catalyst that brought me to the space.

The cousin's attendance had other benefits as well. For one thing, she's an actual musician; also, she's logged many nights at jazz clubs. Thus, she was probably more excited than me to see this show, and she filled me in on some of the more technical details of the night, such as what each of the several saxophones onstage could do. (Lesson learned: So that's what Lisa Simpson plays!)

I'm going to try to keep this short before I make a mockery of music blogging in general, but here's a cursory rundown: The familiar trio of Nels Cline, Scott Amendola, and Devin Hoff came together with the Rova Saxophone Quartet to form--drumroll, please--the Celestial Septet.

They started off with a Scott Amendola composition and worked their way through several numbers written by the very musicians onstage. The performance culminated in an as-yet-untitled Nels Cline work, before closing with a John Coltrane piece.

Blogs are all about biases, so it should come as no surprise to learn that my favorite segment was Nels's song. About halfway through this number, things got really interesting, when the group ceded the floor to Scott Amendola and his percussion solo. During this segment, the horn players started dispersing, with one member leaving the stage altogether. This fellow would, in fact, make his way around the room, piping up from time to time, until he rejoined the rest of the saxophonists in front of Scott, the four of them squawking like a gaggle of geese.

The saxophonists, I noticed, took on the role that Nels would normally play in his songs; that is, they offered the discordant and contrary notes that Nels often provides. As a guitarist, Nels's contributions were less prominent, though to his credit, he kept busy directing the others through the course of the song.

After Nels's composition, the Coltrane piece felt almost traditional. Nonetheless, it was a gorgeous reminder of the group's roots and inspiration, especially in contrast to the septet's envelope-stretching excursions.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

carry on, inside of your heart

You don't want to know the cross-country maneuvers considered before this date emerged as the last show of British Sea Power's North American tour. Or maybe I don't want to say. But I'm glad I made it. And because I occasionally feel the need to produce noises that might convince other people (read: myself) that I don't have problems, let's get this out of the way: I didn't go to Boston, Buffalo, or Pittsburgh, OK?! (Oh, but how I wish I had.)

British Sea Power, Maxwell's, 5-19-08British Sea Power, Maxwell's, May 19, 2008: You know that book 1000 Places to See Before You Die? I'd like to write the music world equivalent: say, 100 rock clubs to visit before you become a yuppie and move to the 'burbs (i.e., die). In fact, it'd make a fine companion piece to my proposed coffee-table book on setlists. Anyway, Maxwell's in Hoboken, without a doubt, is on that roster, and it's about time I found out for myself. I'm somewhat surprised that it took a British Sea Power show to get me out here, but better late than never.

I pay plenty of lip service to the Second Night Rule, but a corollary to that is the End of Tour Show--see it if you can! This is a principle I don't get to test out often since (1) that guy in L.A. doesn't tour, and (2) I'm pretty picky about venues, thus precluding many gigs put on by that band out of Chicago. Instead, I usually have to hope a band I like chooses to end its run in San Francisco--not bloody likely, lemme tell you.

But I'm not limited to seeing gigs in my hometown, and that's the whole point of stretching out my "vacation" to take in this show. My already high expectations for this concert were shattered by the time the show ended, in a chaotic mix of roadie standup, nearly 20 minutes and multiple waves of "A-Rock" pandemonium, and more piggyback rides than a four-year-old's birthday party.

British Sea Power, Maxwell's, 5-19-08

First off, I want to say that Maxwell's lives up to its legendary billing. You can have your state-of-the-art, pristine mausoleum of sound--I'll take these dark, tiny caves any day. In fact, British Sea Power's decorative flags looked especially bright against the pitch-black stage. I often wonder how U.K. bands feel about playing such small rooms over here when they could be selling out much larger spaces back home, though I suppose these intimate dates can be a treat--or, at least, an adventure, especially for groups as renowned for their live shows as British Sea Power.

In any case, the band betrayed no trepidation, despite lots of problems with the monitors and mics, kicking out "Atom" as the opener of a fairly run-of-the-mill setlist (on paper anyway). Actually, that's my only and very minor complaint about the show. Sure, we got "Open the Door" again, but they left off the magnificent "True Adventures," especially appropriate for tonight's full moon. And speaking of Open Season, I love that "Oh Larsen B" has found its way back to the nightly rotation. They need to play that one as often as possible.

British Sea Power, Maxwell's, 5-19-08

I've devoted a lot of blog space to "Impossible Germany" and the way it lights up just about every Wilco show I see. "The Great Skua" belongs in that same category. Its beautifully rendered gravitas anchors each gig, a contrast to the tumult to come. If anyone ever doubts the band's musicianship, they need only listen to that song; it's a four-minute miracle.

Don't let this staid account fool you; from the beginning, all signs pointed to an especially loose, goofy show--even by BSP's standards. A notice at the merch booth alerted shoppers to the evening's fire sale, as the band tried to dump as many superfluous items as possible before they flew home. If you weren't aware of this before the show began, Nobby aired a reminder early in the set, when he removed his shoes and offered them for $2 each, with the promise that more items would be available later. (He ended up giving his loafers away gratis.)

Back onstage, the band repeatedly called their tour manager to the mic to tell jokes, and they engaged in tons of banter with the crowd and one another. They granted a request for "Open the Door" to a particularly faithful fan, though at the same time, Yan shot down a bunch of audience-submitted suggestions, claiming his choices would ultimately win out. Yan sort of jinxed himself, though; immediately following this declaration, he stumbled through the first lines of "Canvey Island" as the giggles overtook him. Meanwhile, Nobby acted the diplomat, advising the guy who wanted to hear "The Spirit of St. Louis" to wait about about six more songs.

British Sea Power, Maxwell's, 5-19-08All this exposition is my way of putting off the hugely daunting task of trying to capture the dangling disarray. We got hints of it during "The Spirit of St. Louis," when the gesticulating kid behind me (who also happened to elbow me in the head--though he apologized for it--in his earlier attempts at "dancing") stepped up to the mic Nobby had set out at the front of the stage and tried to interject some non sequiturs during the quiet part of the song, only to be shushed by Nobby himself. The tune itself was especially awesome, though, as Nobby sidled up to Woody, and the two of them attacked the song's opening thunderclap.

As ever, though, anarchy ascended during "A-Rock." Though "Spirit of St. Louis" got the ball rolling, moving Nobby to scale the speaker and play the guitar on his back before taking down the flags, the deluge hit with "A-Rock." Here, Nobby made several forays into and out of the crowd--sometimes on his own two feet, sometimes not; sometimes alone, sometimes with company.

British Sea Power, Maxwell's, 5-19-08

I wish I had eyes in the back of my head because for the next 20 minutes, every corner of the room saw some action. The remaining band members mostly stayed up front, picking up different instruments than they usually play: Yan on keyboard and cornet, Abi and Phil on guitar. Jeffrey Lewis joined them for a stretch before being carted away by--like you need to ask?--Nobby, who, in turn, dragged an audience member or two back to the stage with him. Their sound guy also broke through the crowd to play guitar while wearing a couple of cardboard boxes (think Flight of the Conchords' "Robots" costume).

Hamilton remained on bass for much of this derangement, but he gave it up at some point and, after a long while perched at the stage's edge, tumbled back into the crowd. We supported him as best as we could, but I'm not sure how he did after the first several layers of people. All I know is that I looked back at some point, and he was on his feet, hopping up and down with a very amused concert-goer.

British Sea Power, Maxwell's, 5-19-08A little after that, probably while I was watching Nobby engaged in some other drunken caper, I felt a couple of bodies pushing toward the stage--it was Hamilton again, with Abi slung over his shoulder in the classic "me Tarzan, you Jane" arrangement. But that was only the beginning. Once they got to the stage, she urged him to climb on her back, an offer he didn't refuse, and the two of them twirled dizzily in front of us. The ride wasn't over, though; Hamilton soon jumped over to Phil, who had been thrashing away on a guitar. Hammy clung on for a stretch before standing up on Phil's back to touch the low ceiling. I can't recall how events unfolded after this, but there's no way I'll forget Hamilton planting a piece of duct tape on Paul's forehead as he left the stage.

During this episode, a half dozen audience members had rushed the stage, some to play instruments, others to gawk. But with the barrier grandly and irrevocably broken by the band members themselves, it hardly mattered. It was one big party.

British Sea Power, Maxwell's, 5-19-08Pragmatically, I'd say the Brooklyn show, which mixed an amazing setlist with the band's trademark hijinx, was the best balanced of this run, while the Manhattan gig was their most technically accomplished. Philly, for that matter, was no slouch either. And hey, who can forget those early California dates? But when I think back to this tour, I'll inevitably land on two dates: Visalia and Hoboken. The gigs themselves couldn't have been more different, but in both instances, I saw a band unlike any other on the face of the earth.

Chicken or egg: Does liking certain musicians lead me to see them in concert so often, or does seeing certain musicians so often make them my favorites? It's likely the former, but oddly, the repetition exacerbates those feelings, instead of decreasing them. It helps that those musicians I've latched on to have made live shows an integral part of their schedules, so I don't lack for opportunities to get my gig fix. Unfortunately, I can't claim this privilege with British Sea Power. I'm not about to see them in England (to the best of my knowledge?), and it's hard to say when they'll return to the States. As always, I'm glad I indulged while I could. Come back soon, British Sea Power!

Jeffrey Lewis opened the show tonight, accompanied by a full band. They performed a few songs from the Crass album, as well as Jeffrey's own tunes. As with Abi in Brooklyn, his seemingly simple songs revealed their depths and possibilities when bolstered by other instruments. He sounded great tonight.

Note: The sounds from this night were expertly captured by nyctaper. Download it now!

See also:
» do you like my megalithic rock
» we walked under neon skies
» we're going on a trip out
» your winter overture
» fans of alcohol
» Download the show at nyctaper.com

Sunday, May 18, 2008

going where the sun is always bright

I've loved this extended visit in New York, especially because it's allowed me to savor the city. I can't believe I've stayed away so long! What I've missed: several friends I don't see often enough, some great restaurants, and the delightful campfires led by Martin Rivas and Craig Meyer at Slane Castle.

Martin Rivas and Craig Meyer, Slane Castle, May 13, 2008: I have the good fortune of being (nearly) guaranteed at least one Martin Rivas appearance each year, but you gotta see Martin and Craig on their home turf to discover how they really shine.

I arrived just a little late, so Mart's sweet voice and Craig's easy beat were already flowing. Once I settled in, they moved through a Howard Jones song before deciding on some Madonna tunes. It soon became apparent why: A mixed table of guys and girls welcomed them warmly, with the guys knowing all the words and harmonies--and not afraid to show it. Yes, the Rivas/Meyer magic had worked once again.

Later, their friend Kailin Garrity dropped in for a few songs, including one of her originals, as well as a Bill Withers tune. But when it came time to close the evening, they went with Craig's request for one of Mart's own: the lovely "North." I love New York!

See also:
» springtime comes
» MySpace: Martin Rivas

Friday, May 16, 2008

do you like my megalithic rock

My original enabler and co-conspirator chose to ditch me for Texas barbecue and other heartland delicacies, but I was able to rope in an old friend to help me brave the home of the hipsters for my third British Sea Power show of the trip. Thanks again, Sharon! Sorry I didn't warn you about the short pants beforehand.

British Sea Power, Music Hall of Williamsburg, May 11, 2008: Get off at Grand Central, take the 6 to Union Station, catch the L to Bedford, and walk a few blocks to the Music Hall of Williamsburg. If you have time, browse the racks at Academy Music.

British Sea Power, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 5-11-2008

Those were my instructions to get to this show. Besides being right on the money, they're words I don't hear much in California. Heck, even if I wanted to take BART to shows in Oakland or Berkeley, I rarely get the chance, as bands don't usually play more than one gig in the Bay Area on any given trip. Why do you think I went to Visalia?! Stupid manifest destiny!

British Sea Power, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 5-11-2008Here's a blanket statement if ever there was one: I love introspective singer/songwriters and sad music in general, but the stuff that sends me usually combines the extremes--the loud and the soft, the pastoral and the rocking, the effete and the virile, the brash and the considerate, the ridiculous and the sublime. Tonight in Williamsburg, we had it all. And then some.

But let's back up a little. When I see a touring band more than once, I don't expect them to reinvent the wheel every night, though a few favorites did/do so (Pavement never repeated a setlist, and by now, you've heard plenty about that guy in Los Angeles). Prior to this outing, my single recollection of seeing British Sea Power more than once on the same tour led me to believe they didn't change up their set much. Of course, at the time, they had one album to promote, so their choices were limited. Five years and two albums later, they haven't veered too much from that formula, but they sneak in a classic or two every night.

And boy, what classics we got in Brooklyn. The first Yan prefaced by saying it was a song that felt right for a Sunday night, which paved the way for "Childhood Memories," one of the tunes (along with "The Lonely") I've rediscovered in the last couple of months. I always cite Echo and the Bunnymen as the influence I hear most prominently in British Sea Power's music (especially in the ad-lib section of "Oh Larsen B" live), but the Smiths' sway has recently jumped out at me, especially on this song. Sorry, I hate to namecheck, but in this case, it's not a bad thing to be reminded of one of my favorite bands of all time.

British Sea Power, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 5-11-2008The band saved the other chestnut until nearly the end of the night. They hadn't played this one, apparently, in two years, but regardless of the time frame, I was thrilled to hear "Lately," especially now that I can fully enjoy its sprawling, chaotic glory. I mean, I've always loved it, just because it meant that anarchy beckoned, but my appreciation of it as a song has skyrocketed. "Lately," of course, bled into "A-Rock," which--well, at least they weren't bleeding by the end of this one.

It occurs to me that in my blinding fascination with this band that what I see as humor and eccentricity might come across as preciousness to others. Certainly, they've toned down their sartorial choices, and the pastoral touches aren't a part of their show anymore. But their music, especially the first album, has always undercut any suspicions about tweeness, and all other doubts are vanquished as soon as you them. The awkward games of unilateral hopscotch, the unsuspecting arms and shoulders recruited for interactive tomfoolery, and the general clamoring and clawing are not the signs of a fey, retreating band. Rather, they're the calling cards for a band that doesn't think pratfalls have to take away from a performance.

British Sea Power, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 5-11-2008

Anyway, that's my long-winded and affected way of saying, HOLY SHIT, THEY TORE THE MOTHERFUCKING ROOF OFF THE PLACE. Excuse the shouting, but I can honestly say that was the best British Sea Power gig I've ever seen. On the musical side, we got Phil adding a playful touch of omnichord to "No Lucifer" and Abi sounding beautiful on "Waving Flags." And there's no disregarding the artful swell and wane of all those favorite tracks.

British Sea Power, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 5-11-2008

Topping off the musical goodness, however, was the kind of physical display that makes me swoon and grin at the same time. Look up in the sky--it's Nobby going over your head, perhaps on his own accord, scaling whatever piece of the room that can support him, or with the help of various audience members lifting him through the crowd. On stage, Phil's moved away from his station to thrash and strum, Hamilton's hopping around, and Yan's digging in. Nobby's returned to share a microphone -- and maybe some saliva? -- with Hamilton, but once he moved off, Abi joined in instead (for the singing, that is).

British Sea Power, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 5-11-2008

Finally at the end of the night, when the devastation had been wrought and Yan tripped over a fallen mic stand to land directly in Hamilton's lap, Nobby twisted it all into a big ol' bow. No, he didn't help his friends up; rather, he grabbed their limbs and attempted to swing them from side to side -- as one does. You couldn't have wished for another outcome.

Both Jeffrey Lewis and the Rosebuds opened for British Sea Power once again, and they were especially awesome tonight. Jeffrey was accompanied by Abi on several songs, and her playing added a wonderfully soulful touch to his simple compositions. He also showed a "documentary" about the history of Rough Trade Records, which struck a sweet chord, especially since I first saw him open up for another labelmate.

The Rosebuds played to an appreciative audience peopled by many fans who came expressly to see them. I've liked the band since I first saw them open for Teenage Fanclub, and I was glad that they joined the bill for this tour. I'm looking forward to their new album, due this summer.

See also:
» fans of alcohol
» we're going on a trip out
» we walked under neon skies

Thursday, May 15, 2008

we walked under neon skies

Before Chicago and Los Angeles dominated my travels, New York City reigned as my go-to rock tourism stop, thanks to the generosity and understanding of friends who live in the area. Lately, though, the visits have been fleeting, so it felt great to settle in for several days and for the second British Sea Power show on my schedule.

British Sea Power, Bowery Ballroom, May 10, 2008: There's a considerable flip side to seeing shows in New York, however. Firstly, when you're used to intimate spaces, the clubs here tend to dwarf comparable venues in other cities, then you have the preponderance of lame scenesters or jaded industry folks. Thankfully, the latter concern has been less prominent these days, probably because I don't see many buzz bands anymore (did I ever?).

British Sea Power, Bowery Ballroom, 5-10-2008

Bowery Ballroom, however, remains the hallowed hall where I lived out several memorable moments, including a cameo appearance in the pages of the late Melody Maker, as well as an impromptu guest slot on the sleigh bells. Sigh. Even without those recollections, I fell in love with the room all over again as soon as we hiked up the stairs from the bar.

If last night's look tipped its hat ever so slightly to early 20th-century Russia (barely--I'm stretching here), tonight's wardrobe choices were directly influenced by the world of sport, Yan professed early on. Both Yan and Hamilton wore headbands, though more in the early-'90s Hillary Clinton vein than, say, Bjorn Borg. Meanwhile, Yan and Phil had kitted up in soccer jerseys (I think?), and the back of Nobby's shirt was marked with a large piece of tape bearing another player's name. Yan actually furnished further details on who was who, but they flew right over my head. Sorry!

British Sea Power, Bowery Ballroom, 5-10-2008

Tonight's setlist change-ups included the return of "Remember Me" (like I'm ever going to complain about that one) and "Leaving Home," the first time I've heard it in my handful of shows on this tour. The latter provided a nice reminder of how Hamilton's songwriting has progressed from mellower numbers to the rockers and anthems on the new album. Then again, I love it all.

British Sea Power, Bowery Ballroom, 5-10-2008When I saw British Sea Power earlier in this tour, we got a couple of relatively well-behaved shows, which proved to me they can still make my head swim with reverb and melody sans the hijinks. The last two months of incessant playbacks on the iPod further drives home that point.

But after the follies in Philly, I have to admit that, though I remained floating, I hovered a little closer to the ground following the Bowery show. As Paul pointed out, they were technically better tonight in New York City--the aforementioned "Remember Me" was blistering, "The Great Skua" held us rapt, and I know I heard voices singing along to "Carrion." But I have to admit that I missed the raw mischief, though I have absolutely no complaints about the rest of the show. It's not often that you get to see a band who can soar both musically and physically. Can you blame me for wanting to get my fix?

Note: You can download an excellent recording of the show from nyctaper.

See also:
» we're going on a trip out
» your winter overture
» fans of alcohol
» Download the show from nyctaper.com

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

we're going on a trip out

When British Sea Power announced the dates for their massive three-month U.S. tour, I joked with some friends that it was a good thing they were starting on the West Coast, as that would give me ample time to cobble together a rock tourism jag, should I be so enraptured after their California gigs. If you were any of these friends, however, you knew that I wasn't kidding. At all.

British Sea Power, Johnny Brendas, 5-9-2008British Sea Power, Johnny Brenda's, May 9, 2008: In the two months since British Sea Power's San Francisco date, a lot has happened. In March, I crossed the legally contestable line between pleasantly charmed to thoroughly besotted, with all the baggage that entails (scouring the Internet, mapping itineraries, learning bird calls). April and May, however, brought a number of major shows that, in addition to reminding me why I do stupid things for music, helped bring me back to earth. Or some semblance thereof. The two-month interim has also helped cool my jets and will hopefully prevent me from typing anything mortifying. Bwahahahahahahaha.

But to prove that some shred of sanity remains, I'm happy to report that I won't be submitting my application to the Third Battalion any time soon, as I highly doubt I'd survive training camp. For one thing, I can't hold my liquor. For another, the sports references would be lost on me. But dammit, I'd love to see some of the band's weirder shows in England! Clearly, British Sea Power is in on the secret of tertiary markets--a subject near and dear to my heart. (Hello, Marfa! And, if all goes according to plan, Alaska this summer.)

British Sea Power, Johnny Brendas, 5-9-2008

So anyway: Philly! When my best friend went to grad school here, I occasionally flew in to visit and to drag her to shows in and around the tri-state area. I always liked that Philly hosted a lot of the same names as New York City, but in much smaller clubs and with a lot less hype. Johnny Brenda's fit this pattern to a T. The tiny stage, the saloon-like feel, the relaxed air--no wonder I didn't break a sweat while my flight was delayed for three hours in Chicago. (It's also a good thing I hadn't planned on attending the World Cafe show.)

Though the logistics didn't worry me much, I gotta admit I nursed a different set of apprehensions going into this show, as I often do prior to any trip, regardless of who's playing. Had I overcommitted? Was I being greedy? Can't I be happy seeing shows back home like everyone else does? Long story short: No, a probable yes, and no.

British Sea Power, Johnny Brendas, 5-9-2008All doubts dissipated even before the opening notes of "Lights Out for Darker Skies," when Noble, Yan, and Hamilton, guitars donned raffishly, convened for an impromptu lineup, flashing wan but warm smiles at each other before shuffling off to their respective quarters. Then again, maybe the stage was so small that they had nowhere else to go. In fact, early on, Nobby remarked that he'd like to see the members of the Polyphonic Spree on that sliver of stage (my tip: pyramid formations). But when those familiar power chords followed, I got a ringing reminder of why Do You Like Rock Music is, by far, my favorite album of the year.

The band offered a couple of variations in their shows since I saw them in California. For one, they played the effortlessly charming "Open the Door," a song that a mere two months ago Paul was swearing he would never hear live. Lucky bastard!

British Sea Power, Johnny Brendas, 5-9-2008

The other variance was the band's rediscovery of its wild side, not that I ever doubted its absence. I'll chalk up the relatively proper San Francisco and Visalia shows to jet lag instead. I've been following their U.S. exploits, so I know they've been indulging their impishness across the land, but it was a wonderful thing to see again. So despite Noble's claims of sleep deprivation, he worked up enough energy to scale the heights, play from the balcony, tote a sizable amp, and sweep Yan up in his arms. Yan returned the favor by hoisting Nobby over his shoulders in a classic wrestling maneuver.

British Sea Power, Johnny Brendas, 5-9-2008There was actually quite a bit of audience participation tonight, most notably when Nobby decided it was time to crowd-surf. We (the royal "we"--I never got a hand on him) punters obliged, supporting him across the floor and boosting him back up to the second-floor railing; he managed to take over from there and plant himself on the balcony. Before this happened, though, Nobby (with a knowing nod) presented his guitar to Paul for safekeeping, and somewhere in the craziness of "A-Rock," I picked up Phil's signal to hand him his cornet.

Oh man, it felt good to be back, and even better: Tonight was only the beginning.

See also:
» your winter overture
» fans of alcohol

Monday, May 12, 2008

throw those curtains wide

If forced to name an early signal of my decline as a concert-goer (aside from shows by that one band or that one guy), I'd single out Elbow's tour of the United States a couple of years ago, when I failed to get tickets before the gig sold out. Oh how I rued that day. Fortunately, the band has returned with a new album and with plenty of tickets to go around.

Elbow, Bimbo's 365 Club, May 8, 2008: I first saw Elbow opening for Doves, and their bond was easily evident, notably in their penchant for crafting sweeping, atmospheric songs with a strong rhythm-based foundation (for British bands, anyway). Elbow, however, could lay claim to one other asset: Guy Garvey, for his lyricism, his vocals, and his outright charm.

I mean, I love Doves, and they remain high on my list of favorite bands (which is saying a lot when I haven't seen them play in three years), but I'm not blind to their weaker points. That is, you get the distinct impression that they're more at home in the studio than playing in front of people. What they may lack in onstage charisma, however, they compensate for in terms of pure musical power.

Elbow, Bimbo's 365 Club, May 8, 2008

I'm not averse to that arrangement, but a little bit of personality has its rewards. Guy Garvey has more than a hint of this allure. Hailing from Manchester -- a city not known for its charm -- he possesses an understated, natural magnetism that never feels forced and that appeals to both men and women. More than one declaration of love this evening came from a dude. Also, Guy's lyrics are often breathtaking in their detail and pathos.

However, Elbow hasn't sustained my interest as well as Doves, and it's not just the lack of tour time either. For whatever reason, the songs haven't hit me in quite the same manner as the earlier albums. Then again, a band's recorded output is only one factor of its appeal, and it may have nothing to do with whether I care to see them live.

In that regard, Elbow still makes for a compelling live band. Tonight, they started off with a trumpet flare, as each of the five band members lifted a cornet to the roof and blew a note to kick off the proceedings with "Starlings," the lead-off track from The Seldom Seen Kid. From there, the set highlighted tracks from the latest album, with a few older tunes, including "Mexican Standoff," "Leaders of the Free World," and "Newborn."

The most beseeching audience requests were for "Powder Blue," coming from at least one person on my side of the room, as well as someone from the opposite half. There were probably more, but their voices were the loudest and the most persistent. To the dude on the other side of the stage, Guy shared his reason for turning down the offer; I'm going to mangle his hilarious retort, so I'll only mention it involved testicles.

Elbow, Bimbo's 365 Club, May 8, 2008

At the very end, Guy urged us to give into cheesiness (note: I love cheese) and sing along to "One Day Like This" from the new album. At least from where I stood, the crowd didn't hesitate to follow his instructions. In fact, the outpouring of voices, requests, and general affection from the audience put me to shame, but it also made me glad to know that they're still winning over American audiences. With any luck, I'll once more buy tickets in time when they next return.

See also:
» here comes the action

Sunday, May 11, 2008

this old nightclub stole my youth

Presenting the denouement of "More Ways to Run Yourself Ragged in SoCal, The Continuing Series"--for now!

Paul F. Tompkins, Largo, May 3, 2008: The list is long and a mountain of evidence has accumulated, but here's another example of how you know you've found your people: Although your weekend plans already include a major gig, you hatch a plot to drive to San Diego for an early concert, then book it back to Los Angeles for a later show. And no one bats an eye. This is where I belong.

I don't really have time for people bemoaning they never made it to Largo, but I'm guilty of a similar offense, having never attended any of Paul F. Tompkins's shows at the club. You know, they used to be on a Monday, then they didn't happen for a while, and I got to see him with other artists, and I live in San Francisco, and I have a job ... blah blah blah. Good thing, then, that we got in under the wire for his last show at Largo on Fairfax.

Actually, "under the wire" might be debatable as he had already revved up the revue for a packed house by the time we arrived, but we slipped in regardless to plant ourselves at his feet. Of all the vantages I've taken in a show at Largo, it was my first time in this particular spot. It wasn't particularly cozy, but aside from one small joke Paul made at our expense, we escaped otherwise unscathed--a triumph at any comedy show!

This is a concert blog, so I'll cover the music portion of the evening. Though Paul was accompanied by a three-piece band, we didn't see much of them at first because Sean and Sara Watkins hit the boards instead. They played a Dylan song, per Flanny's suggestion. Soon after, the whole gang (Jon, Benmont, Fiona, the Watkins, PFT's band) crashed the stage for Paul's rendition of an old tune from Sesame Street, "Inchworm," that apparently went down in flames, because/in spite of the crowd's attempt to sing along.

The collective, in fact, didn't have to do too much, as they settled on a composition that Fiona had written just for Largo. I'm not a fan of Fiona, but the work was, by all measures, a delight, namechecking several staffers, as well as the musicians gathered beside her, though Paul alerted us to the one glaring omission: himself! He recovered long enough to belt out the Old 97s "Niteclub" with Sean and Sara.

He closed the show with a long list of all the great things awaiting us at Largo at the Coronet, including the promise of gelato (!), but mainly the fact that all the artists were incredibly excited about the space and that enthusiasm could only make for better shows. The final song of the night was "Danny Boy," featuring Paul on vocals and Eban Schletter on piano.

Paul had called Jon Brion's gig the night before the "wake" for Largo, which made his show the "baby shower." But the finality of the night (no doubt combined with the exhaustion and hunger hitting us) felt more acute, as I realized this would be the last time I walked through those doors. Though I fall somewhat shy of the dozen-year mark of some Largo regulars, I've enjoyed an incomparable decade of shows at the old club.

See you on LaCienega.

See also:
» all is full of love
» it can't all be wedding cake

Saturday, May 10, 2008

it can't all be wedding cake

Or, "More Ways to Run Yourself Ragged in SoCal, The Continuing Series." Conclusion to follow.

Britt Daniel, Belly Up Tavern, May 3, 2008: This hastily announced gig precipitated a hastily considered decision, but we were unanimous: Hell yeah, we could do it!

Spoon presents a textbook case in how my musical tastes ebb and flow. The albums I love, I really love, while the others drop off my radar pretty quickly. The gems are still lurking ("Vittorio E" on Kill the Moonlight, "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" and "The Underdog" on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga), but my interest doesn't necessarily follow. Though I had a great time at the last Spoon show I attended, I haven't enjoyed the crowds at more recent gigs (I recall a guy at the Fillmore shoving me to the barrier so that he could show the band his Texas tattoo). I figured we wouldn't have the same problem at an early solo gig in northern San Diego, however, and for the most part we were right.

Britt Daniel, Belly Up Tavern, May 3, 2008

Britt hit the stage with a boombox and an acoustic guitar--the latter a departure from other solo shows I've seen. I think the equipment affected his choice of songs, but he still carried off a good selection of tunes. Spoon is so closely associated with that taut, angular sound that it's easy to assume they spring forth, fully realized, from a hollow-body Gibson, but Britt showed that his songs have a folksier foundation, going as far back as "Metal Detektor" to the newer titles, such as "Don't Make Me a Target."

Britt Daniel, Belly Up Tavern, May 3, 2008This show represented the second time this week I've seen a frontman apart from his band (three, actually, if you include an unexpected tête–à–tête at Pinkberry), and the results couldn't have been more different. Though not lacking for enthusiastic fans, Britt had a harder time keeping them in check. Granted, a typical Spoon show isn't a gabfest either, but at Solana Beach, a small, drunk contingent in the middle managed to interject themselves into several songs with loud talking, stupid comments, and off-beat clapping. Any thoughts I had about attending Spoon's Fillmore residency evaporated at that point.

I hate, however, letting a few idiots ruin my evening, and they couldn't take away from those gems that Britt and Spoon are capable of unearthing. For example, we got a Jam cover ("The Modern World") and after much lobbying by the aforementioned dumbasses, "The Fitted Shirt." In addition, Britt tried a couple of new songs that I'm sure will transform again before we hear them on the next Spoon album.

See also:
» come on back 'cos it's all still here
» turn to crystal form
» you're never coming back here again

Thursday, May 08, 2008

all is full of love

How often do you go into anything knowing it's the last of its kind? I attended Beulah's last show, but the way reunion tours pop up these days, I figure a second (or third or fourth or ...) chance will eventually bring the boys to the yard. Besides, I can't think of very many places that have meant as much to me as the musical anomaly in Fairfax Village known as Largo, especially those Friday night gigs with Jon Brion.

Jon Brion, Largo, May 2, 2008: Even before doors opened, there was no denying this would be a helluva night. The no-reservations line stretched farther down the block than I've seen since the days of Kanye Fever, and once inside and seated, we could clearly tell that they were planning to pack in the bodies. In addition, our exact change was refused, and our favorite table awaited.

Our imaginations had started to run wild in the days leading up to this show, as we envisioned all kinds of scenarios that could possibly unfold. We wondered which friends and collaborators would show up, Paul floated the idea of the artists inviting audience members up to the stage, and there was some speculation about where the Largo movie would fit into the schedule. These questions were partially answered by the silhouettes cast against the bar, but it was still anyone's guess--standard procedure for just about every Jon Brion show.

First up was Bobb Bruno in bunny drag, but instead of his usual mix of ambient sounds and rocking riffs, he presented a montage of recordings, culled partly from Jon's studio work and partly from Jon's Largo shows. I recall a bit of Kanye's freestyling and snippets from the Punch-Drunk Love soundtrack, along with some unreleased tracks and old favorites. The night had officially begun.

Next up was Dave "Gruber" Allen, who led a haiku slam with the help of Griffy and the musical accompaniment of a bassist they had [paraphrase follows] discovered at Paladino's in Reseda, playing with the band Big Enough Umbrella until he was kicked out for acting too much like Sting. Thus, we welcomed "JB" to the stage, and a few poems in, the brass section, in the form of Flanny, joined them. Along the way, we were regaled with the century-old history of Largo, started by Seamus Finnegan and Jellyroll Brion. And to my companions for the evening, I'd like to ask: Did I ever subject you to the 405 that weekend? That's how you know I love you.

Jon Brion, Largo, May 2, 2008

During our pre-show gawking, we had seen a couple of familiar faces by the bar, had taken stock of a couple of well-placed stools onstage, and had jumped to a conclusion or two. Our hunches were ever so correct, as next on the bill were Flight of the Conchords, whom Evonne and I had first seen at Largo a mere two years ago. Considering that the Conchords (1) had people lining up three-quarters around the block to see them at Amoeba a week ago, (2) could claim a Top 5 debut for their newly released album, and (3) were about to embark on a sold-out nationwide tour, you really had to wonder what they were doing at Largo.

Well, I'll tell you exactly what they were doing: showcasing their patented combination of charm and hilarity. They tried out two new songs, the first of which moved Bret to grab his keytar, leave the stage, and award a couple of guys at the front tables with impromptu lap dances, while he simultaneously rocked out the solo. For the second song, Jemaine manned the omnichord, and Bret took the high notes for another tale of several loves gone wrong (conveniently delivered in the form of rhyming couplets).

The roars of delight climbed ever higher as the man of the hour returned to the stage. If he felt any trepidation, he didn't show it, not that he should've. For a little while, the show proceeded like any other Jon Brion gig. He started out on the electronic toys lining the piano, poured out a heartfelt Hank Snow number, and followed it with a Gershwin tune, the last of them accompanied by Sebastian Steinberg.

I not only landed the first request of the auspicious evening, Evonne and I helped jog Jon's memory by humming the opening bars of the song. And what do you know? When Jon asked for a jazz drummer, our friend Chris took it upon himself to fill out the trio. Jon called it the "Charlie Brown version" of the song; I just know it was jazzy and fun, and it made me giggle.

Jon handled the next batch of tunes by himself. He led off with a short tease from "Eight Miles High" before plucking out "It Looks Like You" instead, packed together three disparate songs to satisfy the other requests, then went with couple of his own tunes. "Ruin My Day" betrayed a Dylanesque tone, while "Over Our Heads" remained as light as gossamer.

The next order of business was to order any [paraphrased] alphabetically monikered members of the audience to the stage; thus emerged E, from the eels, of course. The two of them chatted amiably about their friendship, Largo itself, and their lack of preparation (the topic they discussed while hanging out before the shows: turning Largo into a rock 'n' roll Branson). E was the sole performer that night who didn't talk up the new place; instead, he encouraged us to rub it in that we were at Largo on Fairfax back in the day and to boast that nothing will approach the experience. The only other point I can attempt to reproduce on this blog is E's revelation that the proprietors of a restaurant he and Jon used to frequent was convinced they were a couple. Holiday tidings and vows of love were exchanged too.

With that, they played some actual music, familiar songs from the E/Jon oeuvre. When Sebastian and Benmont Tench hopped on, E moved back to the drums, and they went into "Raspberry Beret," for which E needed no lyrical assistance at all. Jon resumed vocal duties for "Controversy," though following the lyric that asks, "Am I straight or gay," E piped up with an unsolicited aside ("you're gay"). The looming medley was slightly derailed when not a single person in the room stepped up with the lyrics to "Another One Bites the Dust," but an audience member who knew the words to "Rapper's Delight" got us back on track.

She's not exactly any audience member, but Sara Watkins was summoned to the mic by Benmont, and the two of them shared the lead for "I Want You Back." I would've liked to see her stay for the next one, but Jon grabbed the short Beatles medley, at least until Benmont threw in a couple of curveballs. I (and the rest of the room) caught "Tequila," but I couldn't begin to tell you what else he might've snuck past us.

Jon went into an old BeeGees song, which E complained he didn't know, and that in turn brought us to perhaps the most famous Brothers Gibb composition of all time. Ever mindful, Jon conferred with E for the next title, to which E gave the thumbs-up, and off we dove into the Zeppelin catalog. Yet again, Benmont took the reins and steered us through a litany of songs ranging from Gershwin to Springsteen. He settled in long enough to get us all to sing "Hang on Sloopy" with him, but then it was back to "Born to Run" and a piano solo so striking that even the musicians onstage had to stop and listen.

Though we were still winded, things were just warming up. For the next few tunes, we got a couple of Largo's favorite songbirds: first Sara, then Fiona Apple, then Sara and Fiona together. After the Buddy Holly duet, Sebastian and E vacated the stage (we wouldn't see E for the rest of the night), leaving just Jon, Benmont, and Fiona for a handful of standards.

Jon and Benmont got in one more song before the Mesmerizer (a.k.a. Ron Lynch) took over. He hypnotized Jon to do his bidding, brought up Dorris from the audience, and yelled at us a couple of times. It was impossible to not think of George Oscar Bluth during this segment, but he provided a decent break in what would turn out to be a long, momentous night.

It was back to Jon solo for a quick Scott Joplin number, then Paul F. Tompkins slogged through the audience to reach the stage. Paul, it seemed, had come to praise Largo, not to bury it, reminding us of its many demerits: the food (of course); the ridiculous requests from the back of the room, usually issued by a staffer; mistaken identities as proliferated by journalists in their annual story about Largo and Jon; and most of all, the bathroom, or lack thereof. Jon, Paul, and eventually Flanny would spend a good amount of time talking about the toilet situation, the "executive washroom" (i.e., the dumpster behind the club), and who's been pissing in Flanagan's office wastebasket. See you next Tuesday, indeed! When the laughter finally subsided, Jon and PFT did a sweet song together, though I'm not sure how PFT managed to get a breath out while hunched over the music stand.

Jon played his own tune while the Watkinses and Gabe Wicher gathered their instruments, and for the next few songs, he didn't do much else. For the first one, Jon stood to the side of the stage and gulped down his Guinness while the trio delivered the goods. Then for the next two songs, he left the stage entirely to watch the show from the back, the first time he'd done that in 12 years, he claimed. But his presence was hardly missing, as the Watkinses and crew (now also numbering Benmont Tench and Paul Bryan) performed "Trouble" and "Same Mistakes." This may have been the first time I've heard Benmont on "Trouble," and it was as gorgeous as you can imagine.

Earlier in the set, Jon had declared that they would play straight through, without a break, and we of course cheered the prospect. That moment seemed like a million years ago as we realized we were about to reach the final song. To no one's surprise, it turned out to be "Waterloo Sunset," suggested by Flanny but considered by Jon as well. I don't care how many times you've heard Jon do this song; it sounded unlike anything I've ever heard at the club.

Jon left the stage, and "Don't Dream It's Over" streamed out over the PA, but the cheers and standing ovation wouldn't stop. It was now well past 2 a.m., but the rules had been suspended. Jon returned and, through tears, delivered an emotional, earnest, and deeply touching speech. I can't tell you what he said, but the spirit of the message was clear: how special Largo has been all these years, and how grateful he was to be there. Of all the pure moments of pleasure, inspiration, and sentiment I've seen at the club, that has to top the list.

Jon Brion, Largo, May 2, 2008

But wait, it's not over yet! We clapped some more, and Jon brought out Flanny, their faces still damp with tears. Jon pushed him up to the stage, told us that we would be so mad at Flanny for not having done this sooner--and tuned the guitar. In the short, somewhat anti-climatic interim, Flanny also thanked everyone in his somewhat gruff way before treating (in the truest sense of the word) us to an Icelandic lullaby, as he called it: Bjork's "All Is Full of Love." Now my heart is full.

The night was not exactly over; having crashed through last call, the club (I suppose) had nothing to lose at this point. We said hello to friends old, new, and somewhere in between. Sometime before 3 a.m., we finally tore ourselves away.

As a teenager, my rock fandom frequently took the form of games of MASH (you will have two kids with Simon LeBon, live in a hut in Grenada, and ride a Green Machine). My 20s were spent seeking any flimsy foothold in the music industry (maybe we can talk to them if we start a zine!). Well into my 30s, I can laugh at those notions, now that I realize the true impact of music in my life: that is, the profound bonds it's enabled, the amazing memories it's ushered in, and the true happiness it's brought, all of which were abundantly evident this evening.

But just to be on the safe side, I squeeze in the occasional round of MASH too.

Setlist
Bobb Bruno
--Jon's greatest hits montage

Dave "Gruber" Allen
--haiku slam (joined by Mike, Jon, and Flanny)

Flight of the Conchords
--Gonna Get Freaky Tonight
--Ex-Girlfriend Choir

--keyboards
--I Don't Hurt Anymore

with Sebastian Steinberg
--Our Love Is Here to Stay

with Sebastian Steinberg and Chris
--Pomp & Circumstance

--It Looks Like You
--Safety Dance/The End/Knock Yourself Out
--Ruin My Day
--Over Our Heads

with E
--This Guy's in Love with You
--My Beloved Monster

with E, Sebastian, and Benmont
--Raspberry Beret
--Controversy/Another One Bites the Dust/Rapper's Delight [w/ audience member]

with E, Sebastian, Benmont, and Sara Watkins
--I Want You Back

with E, Sebastian, and Benmont
--And Your Bird Can Sing
--Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey/Tequila/more
--New York Mining Disaster 1941
--Staying Alive
--Good Times, Bad Times
--Misty Mountain Hop/Jesse's Girl/Badlands/If I Only Had a Brain/Addams Family theme/Hang on Sloopy/Born to Run

with E, Sebastian, Benmont, and Sara
--Ain't Misbehavin'

with E, Sebastian, Benmont, and Fiona
--River Stay Away from My Door

with E, Sebastian, Benmont, Fiona, and Sara
--Every Day

with Benmont and Fiona
--Cry Me a River
--After You've Gone
--You Belong to Me

with Benmont
--I Don't Really Want to Know

Ron Lynch magic act [with Dorris]

--Maple Leaf Rag

with Paul F. Tompkins
--Will and Grace DVD menu
--La Marseillaise
--As Time Goes By
--I Don't Want to Spoil the Party

--Trial and Error

Sara, Sean, and Gabe Wicher [no Jon]
--Say Darling Say

Benmont, Sara, Sean, Gabe Wicher, and Paul Bryan [no Jon]
--Trouble
--Same Mistakes

--Waterloo Sunset

with Flanny
--All Is Full of Love

See also:
» i won't be denied
» i am in paradise
» it's been said many times, many ways

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

i've written pages upon pages

Ordinarily, I'd blog the pair of Colin Meloy shows I just saw in two separate entries, but I'm in serious catch-up mode. Can't. Stop. Now.

Colin Meloy, Rio Theatre, 4-29-2008Colin Meloy, Rio Theatre, April 29, 2008: I love it when a favorite band or performer hits a tertiary market, but living in San Francisco makes it too easy to sometimes stay put and let the musicians come to me. So I welcomed the opportunity to make a quick day trip to Santa Cruz for Colin Meloy's show.

This venue was new for all three of us, so we had no idea what to expect other than a fairly small place. And we were right--it looked to be an old movie theater, with a quarter of the seats ripped out to make room for a general admission floor. The wide, low stage served as a fitting backdrop to Colin's drama-drenched tales.

It's been about a year since I last saw the Decemberists and two since Colin's most recent solo tour, and quite a bit has happened in that time. The band is now on a major label (OK, that happened more than a year ago) and Colin has become a dad, for example. But in this low-key room, you wouldn't necessarily know that changes had taken hold.

For one, Colin retained the setup from the last tour, with a table full of tchotchkes at his side, though he had added a new homey touch: a simple chair with a rudimentary turntable playing old records piped over the PA. Awwww.

Colin Meloy, Rio Theatre, April 29, 2008

But listen in, and you could easily sense that Colin has grown more confident onstage as he bantered with the audience, accepting a hand-crocheted scarf from one girl, promising another his setlist, and referring to a mulleted boy as a "hesher," as mentioned in "The Apology Song." He offered numerous stories and explanations for his songs, including a pretty funny one for "The Sporting Life" and--well, he just talked. Paul thought he seemed particularly goofy that night, and Colin mentioned something about sleep deprivation. Perhaps young Hank kept him up; whatever happened, it worked in the show's favor.

Colin's audience is, without a doubt, adoring, and in this particular town and this particular venue, they weren't about to get rowdy. On their own, they offered harmonies and handclaps, but he still managed to demonstrate the hold he has on their imaginations when he split the room in two and assigned us our part of the layered harmonies, as well as when he urged us to act out segments of "The Mariner's Revenge Song" (Annie finally understood why I got busted last time!).

Colin Meloy, Rio Theatre, 4-29-2008In fact, I not only heeded Colin's directions at this show, I helped out when he started playing the Smiths' "I Don't Owe You Anything" but hesitated on the first couple of lines. Look, I've said it before: The Smiths were one of the truly pivotal bands of my teenage years, and they helped balance out all the Duran Duran content that otherwise dominated my waking hours. Besides, I love that song, and the 12-inch import single with Sandie Shaw on vocals resides with the rest of my Smiths vinyl.

As for the remainder of the tunes, I loved that he opened with the highly appropriate "California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade" and that he dropped in the rarely played "Tristan and Isolde." He tried out some new songs as well, but I'm not sold on them yet. Still, though, the show was worth the drive over the mountains.

Colin Meloy, the Fillmore, April 29, 2008: And then of course, these same performers reach San Francisco in a club I like, and all is well there too.

This solo tour, the third I've seen, has marked the Decemberists' growth as a band more than any of their previous shows. Sure, I recall that they sold out two nights at the Warfield, but that seemed only natural. But Colin playing solo at the Fillmore (though the show itself wasn't sold out)--that felt big.

Colin Meloy, the Fillmore, 4-30-2008

You wouldn't know it from Colin's demeanor, however. He looked cool as a cucumber taking the stage, and he kept his head, even as tonight's crowd proved a little more vocal than the previous evening's bunch. A group of fans who also attended the Santa Cruz show made themselves known at the front, with a request for "Dracula's Daughter" as well as prematurely providing punchlines to some of Colin's stories. Another guy farther back kept yelling boisterously across the hushed room, leading Colin to comment, "You should be in show business."

Colin Meloy, the Fillmore, 4-30-2008Overall, the San Francisco gig was a slightly more professional affair with fewer digressions than we heard the night before, but Colin and the crowd compensated with a higher energy level. Once again, I'll cite the example of "The Mariner's Revenge Song," if only because it made Colin run from one end of the stage to the other, egging us on in our overreaction.

Colin switched up the setlist somewhat, so we got to hear "Grace Cathedral Hill" (a song I'll never tire of), and I think this was the night we got an explanation of how "The Perfect Crime No. 2" morphed from his relatively straightforward take to the Steely Dan-inspired studio recording we've come to know. And I'd be remiss if I didn't play the Music Nerd card and mention that he dropped a couple of lines of "Rusholme Ruffians" (among my brother's favorite Smiths songs, and depending on the day, perhaps my favorite Smiths album) into a bridge somewhere.

We also heard a different set of new songs. One of them, Colin explained, involved a virtuous couple and a villain, and I gotta say that the villain had all the good parts. But anyone who's ever studied Paradise Lost knows that already.

Colin Meloy, the Fillmore, 4-30-2008

At both shows, Laura Gibson joined Colin to sing Sam Cooke's "Cupid." At times, her voice reminded me of Natalie Merchant's higher register, and Laura has sweet, quiet songs, as well as a somewhat nervous, sympathetic onstage presence. The fans treated her with respect so that her songs could be heard.

See also:
» hear all the bombs, they fade away
» calling all bed wetters and ambulance chasers

Monday, May 05, 2008

richard avedon would surely approve

Though the Verve were the big Coachella coup of the season, they weren't the only ones crowding my concert docket. The festival also ushered Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks back into town, and that's a ticket I can't refuse.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, the Fillmore, April 27, 2008: In case you haven't kept count, this marks the fourth time Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks have dropped in on San Francisco in the last year and a half. I've caught three of those shows (I was in New Orleans when they played Amoeba Records), and tonight, Brianne was joining me for her first real Malkmus show. It was also the first time I've seen the band since Real Emotional Trash was officially released.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, the Fillmore, 4-27-08If I like a band enough, I don't care whether they're promoting new material, trying out songs in progress, or just having fun on the stage. Generally, the second and third categories are my favorites, but it depends greatly on the band in question. The last couple of times I've seen the Jicks, they've put on strong shows--that is, they were engaged and exploratory, and I'm constantly surprised by how little (if at all) Stephen trades on his status as the former Pavement frontman.

From the beginning of the set, all signs pointed to a great gig. Steve came out chatty, loose, and grinning (and hot), and he stayed in that zone throughout the gig, discussing (as always) local sports teams, among other topics. As is also his wont, he seemed to detour from the setlist several times, occasionally alerting his band members when he wanted to stick to the original plan. Not that his records were always so accurate--early on in the set, he announced they would do "Elmo Delmo" next, but Joanna Bolme reminded him that was their opener.

Speaking of Joanna, she and Janet Weiss get a good amount of attention in the band, and it's no secret why. When introducing the band, Steve in all sincerity called Joanna "a very dear friend," and she's not shy about calling him out when he's being particularly silly. But she also handles his musical divergences with aplomb, even when the songs traipse off into Jam Land, and her playing shone on "Baltimore."

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, the Fillmore, 4-27-08

Janet is a force unto herself, inspiring cries of "We love you, Janet!" from the audience. One of her major moments in the spotlight was probably in "Real Emotional Trash," as her rhythm drove the bridge. In fact, the whole song sounded like the most complete band effort I've yet heard from the Jicks. It's no wonder why it's the album's centerpiece.

Mike Clark was not to be ignored, either, and I'm not referring to his garish gold jacket (an homage to the 49ers, according to Steve). On "Gardenia," he threw off his guitar to do a running-in-place dance while also playing the keyboards. Unfortunately, this thoroughly messed up his axe, but they were able to get a replacement in a few songs later.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, the Fillmore, 4-27-08

When we were in L.A. the following weekend, we listened to the Jukebox Jury on Indie 103, and I believe it was the critic Ann Powers who noted that Malkmus may be the only person trying to meld punk and prog. I wouldn't disagree with her; in fact, during the course of this show, I kept thinking that Malkmus had not necessarily thrown over his earlier band's influences, but had at least come back to the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival for inspiration. He may also be the only one who can get away with it.

In addition to the songs from Real Emotional Trash, they pick and chose through their back catalog for "Vanessa from Queens," a great, heavier version of "It Kills," and a crowd request for "The Hook," from which Steve sort of distanced himself after they played the song. They closed with a tune by Mungo Jerry, "Alright Alright Alright," with instructions for us to YouTube it after we got home.

The Joggers also from Portland opened. I saw them a few years ago touring with M. Ward; from what I could recall, their sound has filled out somewhat to include harmonies, for example. Maybe their claim to being voted "Tacoma's third-best Three Dog Night cover band" was true after all.

See also:
» too awake to be famous
» done well is so much fucking better
» green typewriters

Sunday, May 04, 2008

where they feel safe and sound

Though we knew this was no longer, in fact, Largo's Last Stand, we could hear the rumblings of the club's coda approaching. However, I'd say that those of us who've loved Largo for all these years required no attitude adjustment going into these shows; we've always known that every moment at this club, especially the Friday nights with Jon Brion, should be savored.

Jon Brion, Largo, April 26, 2008: Jon started off per normal, slamming down on the keys-based implements before punching out a moody piano piece that eventually led to "Trouble" (the song, of course, not the situation). His second song, though, offered the first glimpse of the closure we were all seeking; leave it to Ray Davies to have penned the words so fitting for the situation.

From there, he mixed up his own songs with covers before asking for requests. "Casanova" jumped off my tongue before I realized, and Jon hit a couple of lines before abandoning it for an "extremely edited" track off the same album (Roxy Music's Country Life, in case you're wondering). Taking us from Bryan to Brian, Brion rounded out the rock block with some Eno, thus heading off the inevitable showdown between Roxy Music purists.

For "I Believe She's Lying," he pulled off one of those WTF Jon Brion feats, playing guitar and piano at the same time. And for Nilsson's "One," he asked us to supply the vocals, which we did grandly, though maybe our harmonies fell somewhat short of the dreamy mix that characterizes the original composition.

For me, the next major moment in the set came when, after another sequence of his own songs and a cover or two, Jon built up "Happy with You." We noted the Les Paul-style fingerpicking on the bridge, as well as the bird he flipped at the guitar pickups, but there was also Jon's comment on taking his time with the song, as it would probably be the last night he did it at this particular Largo. I can't wait to see the new place, but it's still a bit jarring to hear about The End from the performers themselves.

Jon closed with "Waterloo Sunset," a song he's done often, but it took on a different light in the shadow of Largo's impending move. It remained, however, as gorgeous as always.

The second set began with Cole Porter in what may have been another parting shot to the old space before Benmont Tench and Fiona Apple were called to the stage. They weaved through a set of familiar standards; of those titles, Flanny's request for "Blue Skies" was probably the highlight, as it inspired a magical run by Benmont. Jon himself yelled, "More!" at Largo's favorite piano player.

Sebastian Steinberg joined them for a Bill Withers song, which turned out to be an absolutely essential segment of the set if only for the exchange between Jon and the audience that led to a fan's response to the question of whether Bill is still alive: "He's still With-Ers." Har har har.

Back on the musical side, however, Fiona and Ben ended up taking the first and second verses, respectively, of the song. Benmont came to the rescue once again a couple of songs later, though this time with an effervescent piano solo, on "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me."

Sara and Sean Watkins had now arrived, and there was more pow to be wowed as they mentally rifled through their repertoire. They landed on a gem: Gillian Welch's "I Want to Sing That Rock 'n' Roll," featuring the two ladies. I'm not always a fan of female singers, but there was no denying that Fiona and Sara are a formidable team when sharing a microphone.

Fiona disappeared for the next several songs, which comprised tracks from the Watkinses' usual grab bag and some surprises too. Jon, in fact, had to ask them the title of one tune, though he had just played along to it. Fiona, however, returned to lend her voice to the last couple of numbers, bringing us one step closer to the Last Friday (For Real This Time!) at Largo.

Set 1
--synth/MicroKorg/piano
--Trouble
--This Is Where I Belong
--It Looks Like You
--Round Midnight
--Walking Through Walls
--Please Stay Away from Me
--Casanova
--A Really Good Time
--Some of Them Are Old
--I Believe She's Lying
--Stop the World
--One
--I Fall in Love Too Easily
--Same Mistakes
--Knock Yourself Out
--Eternal Sunshine theme
--piano
--Happy with You
--Waterloo Sunset

Set 2
--Every Time We Say Goodbye
--You Belong to Me [Fiona] *
--I'm Beginning to See the Light [Fiona] *
--Don't Get Around Much Anymore [Fiona] *
--Blue Skies [Fiona] *
--Ain't No Sunshine [Fiona and Benmont] **
--Crazy [Fiona] **
--Everyday [Fiona] **
--Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me [Fiona] **
--I Want to Sing That Rock 'n' Roll [Fiona and Sara] ***
--I Want You Back [Sara] ****
--I Go to Sleep [Sara] ****
--Too Much Beer and Wine (?) [Sean] ****
--Rock Hard to Break (?) [Sara] ****
--My Baby Left Me ****
--Jeepster ****
--Walking After Midnight [Fiona and Sara] ***
--Tonight You Belong to Me [Fiona and Sara] ***

brackets indicate singer
* = with Fiona Apple and Benmont Tench
** = with Fiona Apple, Benmont Tench, and Sebastian Steinberg
*** = with Fiona Apple, Benmont Tench, Sebastian Steinberg, and Sara and Sean Watkins
**** = with Benmont Tench, Sebastian Steinberg, and Sara and Sean Watkins


See also:
» Night One: i go for it every time

Friday, May 02, 2008

i go for it every time

Let the record show that between these dates and my last visit to Largo, Jon Brion played four--four!--shows that I didn't attend. And yes, there will be write-up of the Real Final Jon Brion Show at Largo on Fairfax, but it's going to have to take a number and get in line, just like all the other gigs I attend.

Jon Brion, Largo, April 25, 2008: For the last few months and for various reasons, I've somewhat struggled to fill my Largo reservations. The details usually work themselves out in one way or another, but there has been some finagling along the way. Not so this month, when a familiar cast of characters made the trek to Los Angeles for what we assumed were Jon's last shows before the move to the Coronet. Actually, I suspected that May 2 date would eventually loosen up, but we were kept guessing until shortly before Friday's show.

Flanny's announcement to the rest of the audience cut through the tension somewhat, but the air of finality managed to work its way into several numbers, though not immediately so. Per usual, Jon alternated a couple of instrumental piano pieces with more familiar compositions, in this case "Someone Else's Problem Now" and "Here We Go."

The "public soundcheck" concluded, he moved to the guitar for "Love of My Life" with a noisy ending and declared he was "ready to play." Rounding out the onstage loop, he went to the drums to build "Girl I Knew," but a broken string somewhat held back the song. Jon's emphasis on his own material carried through the next half-dozen songs, including an instrumental ragtime version of "That's Just What You Are." Somewhere in this sequence, he opined, "I hate guitars," but it was only a matter of time before he returned to them.

Jon had already started calling for requests, and from them he chose his first cover of the night. He asked for duct tape, with which he pinned down some hammers inside the piano, and beat out a rhythm from the same surface. I thought we might hear one of his old songs, but it turned out to be "Just What I Needed" à la "Same Thing." The Queen cover was beautifully straightforward, a contrast to the version he recorded for the tribute album a few years back, but the Replacements song might've been the biggest and most charming surprise.

I believe it was someone from the table next to ours who requested "the first song you did at Largo." Someone who was actually at that first show will have to verify if Jon made good on the suggestion, but his choice of "I'll Take You Anyday" seems like a reasonable response. Following that, Jon voiced a need to rock, but I'm not sure his languid, moody Ellington build qualified. More memorable (at least for me) was the way he seized on the "Personal Jesus" request and twisted it into "People Are People" in the style of Les Paul. That's not something I would've guessed I'd ever hear when listening to the band in 7th grade!

The second set started off with more technical problems, but Jon used it anyway to create the foundational drone upon which he eventually built "Tomorrow Never Knows." From there, he went the more direct route for requests with a straightforward command, "Call it." Heidi got the first one off the bat (T. Rex), and I think I got the second one ("Love Is the Drug"), for which he invited Sebastian Steinberg onstage. Unfortunately, two things interfered with the performance: the D key on the piano gave out, and Jon couldn't quite remember it, though we got the whisper of a couple of verses. What the hell, I won't say no.

Largo's own Griffy stepped onstage to do his best MacGyver impression; with nothing but a cocktail straw and his Spidey sense, he jimmied the errant key in place and was asked to supply the musical accompaniment to "Cinnamon Girl." Fortunately, a replacement in the form of Benmont Tench (who must've zipped over from the Mudcrutch show at the Troubador) relieved him of his duties.

Benmont made his presence known in the next several songs as well. For "Time of the Season," he supplied the backing vocals (as did we, it should be noted), along with the syncopated handclaps. Meanwhile, his piano skills were as prominent as ever, as he worked his way from deliberately ham-fisted maneuvers to twinkly, dainty notes.

Jon asked us to drum on our tabletops for the next song, which turned out to be "For Your Love." I don't know if we held up our end of the deal, but Jon and Benmont certainly did.

From there, it was the chamber pop stylings of Sex Pistols, in what I usually characterize as a "Penny Lane" pace. Benmont furnished a clue to part of the inspiration when he dropped "Candy Man" on the celeste into the mix.

With David Garza jumping into the action, they first went into the audience request for "Raspberry Beret," featuring Jon and David on alternating vocals. The third verse once again flummoxed the crew, but tonight, Heidi and I (mostly Heidi) helped fill in the blanks until they regained their footing in time for the lyrical payoff.

David explained that the next song was something he always wanted to dedicate to Jon, and this was finally his opportunity to do so, and they tore into "Johnny B. Goode," followed by the apropos "Save the Last Dance for Me." After Jon's turn at the mic for "To Know Him Is to Love Him," David took the reins for a song he did last month, though in a slightly different style. Benmont mostly sat out the Stray Cats song, perhaps due to that faulty piano key, but he returned to the action by directly playing the piano hammers instead.

Jon often demurs on the requests for "Let's Get It On," but the quartet gave it a try tonight. While David retreated to the drums, Jon at first picked up vocal duties, but he somehow transferred them mid-song to Sebastian instead. Sebastian, for his part, had the kind of deep voice suited to after-hours entertainment, but he forgot most of the lyrics and started ad-libbing them instead (to hilarious effect). Jon, meanwhile, supplied harmonies -- when Benmont's solo wasn't transporting him. They then closed the night with two instrumental tracks of the slinky, seductive variety.

Stay tuned for part two.

Set 1
--piano
--Someone Else's Problem Now
--piano
--Here We Go
--Love of My Life So Far
--Girl I Knew
--Over Our Heads
--Knock Yourself Out
--Hook Line and Sinker
--That's Just What You Are
--Croatia
--Why Do You Do This to Yourself
--Just What I Needed
--Making Plans for Nigel
--Play the Game/Life on Mars
--Unsatisfied
--I'll Take You Anyday
--I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good)
--People Are People [Les Paul style]

Set 2
--Tomorrow Never Knows
--Life's a Gas
--Love Is the Drug *
--Cinnamon Girl **
--Time of the Season ***
--For Your Love ***
--Anarchy in the UK ***
--Raspberry Beret [Jon and David] ****
--Johnny B. Goode/Save the Last Dance for Me [David] ****
--To Know Him Is to Love Him ****
--Stray Cat Strut [David] ****
--Let's Get It On [Jon & Sebastian] ****
--Sleepwalk ****
--Albatross ****

brackets indicate singer
* = with Sebastian Steinberg
** = with Sebastian Steinberg, Griffy, and Benmont Tench
*** = with Sebastian Steinberg and Benmont Tench
**** = with Sebastian Steinberg, Benmont Tench, and David Garza


See also:
» the world will revolve
» it's been said many times, many ways
» the end is near
» Night Two: where they feel safe and sound