Wednesday, March 30, 2011

wise man

This may be the week I'm making up for past concert omissions, what with finally catching a Destroyer show and trying to compensate for the Liam Finn gigs I should've been attending for the past several years. You can expect more compensatory concert reports in the weeks to come, but for now, check out Liam Finn's return to the Independent.

Liam Finn, the Independent, March 24, 2011: As an entrenched Gen Xer, I have more than a few complaints about Gen Y, but sometimes I'm reminded that those generalizations are off-base, just as they are when any net is cast wide across a heterogeneous culture. For example, my cousin bucks the stereotype, as does Liam Finn (coincidentally, they're born in the same year)--that is, neither acts the lazy, entitled brat I've come to associate with their age range.

Liam Finn, the Independent, 03-24-11

Obviously, I know one of the aforementioned Gen Yers better than the other, but I like what I've seen of Liam, especially his energy, earnestness, and enthusiasm. You won't find him listlessly slouching in corner, pretending not to care about the crowd's reaction or enjoyment. Instead, you'll notice Liam's eager-to-please stage presence, accompanied by his amiable banter with both the audience and his bandmates. Elsewhere, he's a total dynamo, catapulting from guitar to drums to a theremin-seeming thing (what I imagine it to the contraption that grants its owner either a million dollars or free cable for life, even if someone has to die for it). Though his looping expertise and musical dexterity are more modern talents, his songwriting instincts are classic and timeless. It's a fascinating and eminently watchable combination.

Liam Finn, the Independent, 03-24-11

In a departure from their last outing, the lovely E.J. was absent, but Liam dedicated a song to her. Instead, Liam was backed by two new guitarists and another drummer; coincidentally, that last fellow turned out to be his brother Elroy, whom I last saw engaged in three-part beer bottle harmonies. The latest iteration played a mix of older tracks and a bunch of songs off his forthcoming record.

Liam Finn, the Independent, 03-24-11I haven't seen the two-person incarnation enough to compare their performance with that of this new, proper band--you've been warned on any judgments that may follow. Obviously, the sound was fuller with four musicians in play, and Liam made sure everyone had their own solo opportunity, including himself. I especially loved the double-drum barrage from the two younger Finn brothers, and there was one new song with a particularly lovely bridge that reminded me of yet another family member. They also pulled off a Beatles medley of "Mean Mr. Mustard," "Polythene Pam," and "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window." As for the new tunes, I'm horrible at describing unreleased tracks, but rest assured it's not the death metal that Liam indicated onstage.

Liam claimed we were the first encore of the tour, as no one else had cheered convincingly enough for them to return to the stage. More specifically, he called us, with utter affection, "the best fuckers." Liam kicked off the encore by himself before the remaining band members took their places for an all-out chaotic jam, complete with instrument swaps, alternate vocals, and nonsensical chants. For all his precocious talent and exploration, in moments like that, Liam and the gang didn't seem much different from legions of other young artists across the globe, except that we got to witness the fun too.

See also:
» a little energy spent
» above you and beyond me too

Thursday, March 24, 2011

song for america

The rise and fall of my Anglophilia has been documented on this blog, but lately, I've been nursing a significant fascination with another Commonwealth country, thanks to its lovely citizens, dreamboat golden god indie actors, Asian drug gangs, and of course, wealth of talented musicians. I'm talking about Canada, of course, and I can add Destroyer to the list of northern-nurtured luminaries now that I've seen them at the Great American Music Hall.

Destroyer, Great American Music Hall, March 21, 2011: It's taken a while for me to catch Destroyer in concert, and I have no one to blame but myself. Simply, I didn't immediately warm to Dan Bejar's vinegary jolts on the New Pornographers records, but with their last several releases, his contributions rank among the highlights. The fact that Dan decided to become a more regular fixture on their tours didn't hurt either, despite his limited stage presence. The momentum finally brought me to a bona fide Destroyer gig, but still, I have no excuse for waiting all this time.

Destroyer, Great American Music Hall, 03-21-11

I probably know less than I should about many of the performers I see these days, but hey, that's not my job--I'm just trying to hear some good tunes and support deserving bands. Anyway, Destroyer falls into that category. Friends have sent mixes and MP3s over the years, and they're featured on my favorite Internet radio outlets, but I've never investigated further. I like to think of it as listening with an open mind, but you could call it laziness (and I wouldn't object).

Destroyer, Great American Music Hall, 03-21-11As I understand it, Destroyer favored the new record at this show, though you can check the printed setlist for yourself. At one point, Dan introduced one song as being from five years ago, and you could hear the difference between the newer, smoother titles and the more jagged oldie. Someone else will have to come up with the name--I can't help you there.

In many ways, this wasn't your typical rock show. For one thing, the frontman wasn't exactly seeking the spotlight, even as one drunk young woman--situated front and center--shouted requests at him. Julie thinks she asked him to sign her tits; I thought I heard something about "sandwiches" from the same exchange. There's probably a Rorschach test in there somewhere, but phonetically, they're not that far off. Take your pick (and don't judge). For the record, he made few gestures toward her and seemed to almost tune out his peripheral vision, despite the fact that she wasn't three feet away.

That same frontman turned to lyrics sheets for a handful of songs, but I'll say it again--no judgement here. Heck, I've seen it before at the same venue. I think Dan uttered a total of two--maybe three--dozen words to the audience over the course of the evening, but it's not like we bought tickets to a talk show.

Destroyer, Great American Music Hall, 03-21-11

The other standout feature was the brass section: a saxophonist/flautist and a trumpet player. We happened to be situated directly in front of the trumpeter and got to see what set him apart from your typical brass player: He ran his contributions through a couple of effects pedals. Even when he wasn't working the horn itself, he produced a series of sounds and sonics that continually drew Dan's attention.

Destroyer, Great American Music Hall, 03-21-11

Of course, the rest of the band were no slouches either, supplying strong harmonies, great guitar riffs, and an especially grooving rhythm section. But after an evening of relatively straightforward rock, they took a sharp left. Dan, along with one guitarist, a keyboard player, and the saxophonist/Mac head, churned out what sounded like a trance track. It wasn't what I expected, but it was a hell of a closer, one I won't likely hear at another show.

See also:
» form a line to the throne

Sunday, March 06, 2011

scraping paper to document

I always feel bad when I miss Noise Pop, partly because it's a local tradition worth supporting and partly because the festival attracts so many amazing bands, often before they catch on with the general public. In the last several years, my attendance has been spotty--often due to my goofy travel schedule--so I was glad to squeeze in one gig this year: Ben Gibbard's solo appearance at the Great American Music Hall.

Ben Gibbard, Great American Music Hall, 02-25-11Ben Gibbard, Great American Music Hall, February 28, 2011: Full disclosure--my tickets probably could've gone to a more deserving fan. I've registered my Death Cab demerits previously, but Ben Gibbard has sealed his spot in my good graces, thanks to one bulletproof association and another surprising collaboration. Besides, I'm partial to the solo frontman routine, and I know a rare outing when I see it.

Even if I wanted to, I can't tell you what songs Ben played; besides, I'm sure they're listed on a forum somewhere. He tried out a handful of songs from the forthcoming Death Cab album, but seeing as I don't know the band's old tunes, I can't tell you much about the new ones either. As an impartial listener, my main takeaway from this show was discovering Ben's gift with melody and his thoughtful, expressive lyrics.

Ben heralded one of the more memorable segments of the evening when he put away the single guitar and sat down at the baby grand piano for several songs. The big hit "Soul Meets Body" was less effective in this setting, but the Buck Owen cover was an inspired choice, even if the fans were requesting more questionable titles. Overall, the rapport between Ben and the crowd was funny, sweet, and easygoing, and it was one of the highlights of the show. Surprisingly, male voices dominated the conversation, including the flat-out declarations of love. Then again, this is San Francisco.

The absolute golden moment of the show--for me, at least--came as a complete surprise. Yes, I saw Bob Mould come in, but I figured he was merely circulating among the festival as a local resident. Wrong! Instead, Ben offered a giddy introduction, brought Bob to the stage, handed over his guitar, and dueted on "If I Can't Change Your Mind."

I've gushed and cooed extensively over Bob Mould in this blog, and I was glad to see Ben's reaction mirror those emotions. I vaguely wondered how many people in the room recognized the musical legend joining Ben, but those apprehensions evaporated as soon as the song started. I suppressed the urge to yell out for "See a Little Light" upon the conclusion of their single song, but Ben's full fanboy grin, unabashed air drumming, and unadulterated admiration said it all.

Zach Rogue opened the show, joined by Jimmy LaValle from the Album Leaf for a few songs. Clearly, I enjoy a well-chosen cover version, but Zach's selection of Buddy Holly's "Everyday" was more illuminating than most. Following that tune, it was impossible not to hear the influence on Zach's singing and songwriting--not a bad beacon at all.

Zach Rogue, Great American Music Hall, 02-25-11

See also:
» i see my light come shining
» we can be us
» between two worlds
» your favorite thing

Thursday, March 03, 2011

maybe i'm amazed

Late last week, there was talk of San Francisco seeing its first snowfall in decades. But rather than stick around for this meteorological miracle, I dragged myself through torrential rains and into economy class to head to Jon Brion's February show at Largo at the Coronet--a perfect distillation of my priorities. In case I needed any justification (and who doesn't?), the snow never materialized within city limits. Let's call it a win-win.

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, February 25, 2011: I've missed more Jon Brion shows than I can ever hope to see in my lifetime, and I happily cede the floor to the show-goers who proceeded me, especially the regulars who took in Jon's weekly gigs--so take my reports with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, tonight's gig may have included the oddest pre-show caveat I've yet heard from Jon, as he explained that he suffered a fracture due to an unfortunate meeting between his foot and a metal table. He also warned us that the painkillers would kick in soon enough and prepped us for a potential foray into "third Velvet Underground album" territory.

Jon invoked Quasimodo and the hunchback of Notre Dame in his prologue, but watching him visibly limp and drag his foot across the stage, I flashed to thoughts of Screaming Lord Byron. I don't think I've ever felt so relieved to see Jon stop moving, sit down at the piano, and launch into the set proper. "You Don't Know What Love Is" involved the piano, celeste, and MicroKorg, with an extended piano bridge, while "Someone Else's Problem Now" exhibited subtle differences, such as the use of the EMS Synthi and a more sober arrangement than usual.

In fact, maybe it's my recent lack of shows or maybe it's the medication mentioned above, but many of Jon's standards took on a different timbre tonight, and I'm not talking about an extended solo or a secret cover version stuck into the middle of the arrangement. "She's At It Again," for example, bore a resemblance to Nirvana's "Lithium," and "Why Do You Do This to Yourself" veered away from its normally Spartan sound, instead blossoming with a fuller structure and a doleful inflection, without that hint of bemusement that often accompanies the tune. By the time Jon added the feedback and distortion, it was almost operatic in scope.

When Jon broke out "Happy With You," my immediate thought was whether he should be playing the drums at all, what with the disgusting foot secret injury, but before long it became clear the drugs were kicking in. Not that it was immediately evident--Jon's choice of bluesy notes for his first pass at the guitar loops was unusual but welcome, and he's been known to emote, such as by cradling his arms to his chest as he did tonight. We've seen him dramatically fling his jacket across the stage too. I think the disappearance of his limp was the first indication that the medicine was doing its job.

Also doing their job: the looping mechanism. Though I should be jaded to it by now, I couldn't help but feel a frisson while taking in the tableau of Jon banging away at the piano, with a guitar lying face down on the stage about 15 feet away from him, and yet the guitar riff came in perfectly on time as planned. I chalk it up to magic, and you can't talk me out of it.

I wish I had the vocabulary and knowledge to describe what happened to "That's Just What You Are." Don't worry--it was awesome, but there was a subtle shift tonight that refreshed the entire song. I heard a new rhythm to it, and a bunch of terms I don't actually understand flew through my brain. Was he playing the counterpoint? Minor chords? Was it in a different key? I have no idea, but it sounded great.

After a brief interlude with a Scott Joplin song and "Over Our Heads," Jon switched on the video projectors and presented Andres Segovia and Maria Callas (separately) for what turned out to be a nice match, at least by the time Jon isolated the portions he needed. Sonny Rollins's contribution was less complementary at first, but by the time "Strings That Tie to You" coalesced, all their parts made more sense. Still, my favorite part of the song was the solo piano meditation Jon slipped in toward the end. Again, words fail me, but it was a beautiful touch.

When Jon picked up the acoustic guitar and a harmonica (then tuned), I thought I knew what we were in for, but my hunches were wrong. I suspect the unsolicited audience requests swayed him because he went with "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" for a good stretch before switching seamlessly into "Knock Yourself Out." This combo will always remind me of the Intonation Festival. Though I managed to keep my shit together this time, the medley continues to charm and delight.

Jon finally asked for requests proper, and honestly, I couldn't have asked for a better choice. Then again, I shamelessly love Paul McCartney and the Wings, and I especially swoon when Largo's regulars cover their songs. Ever since I got my supergroup version of "Band on the Run," I've been afraid to push my luck and the artists' patience.

This time, I didn't have to do it, as a mystery woman piped up with a request I'd only dreamed of making. (Note: Lady, if you're reading this, I'd like to buy you a drink or five. Send me a note and we can work out the terms.) My hopes were high, and shortly after Jon started laying down the beat, I knew which road we were about to travel--we were on our way to "Maybe I'm Amazed." Granted, Jon couldn't quite hit all of Paul's high notes, but the best parts were intact. I even turned to Daniella in the middle of the song and declared it was better than Radiohead. Despite the euphoria, I shuddered to see Jon jumping up and down during his guitar solo. He was going to feel that later.

Jon kept up the momentum for the set closer, "I Believe She's Lying." I especially loved the manual Doppler shift he affected by swinging the acoustic guitar to and from the microphone. During the course of the song, he also introduced the vibes, more for the texture than for melody; thrashed away at the drums; and brought in footage of Percy Grainger, a Mexican band, and Maria Callas, though their respective places in the mix varied. The final visual from this song consisted of Jon laying down on the floor and wailing away on guitar. At least he spared his foot from further aggravation.

For the encore, Jon returned to the vibes for "Strawberry Fields," forcing you to wonder how the Beatles overlooked such a distinctive instrument, even as they threw every other available bit of studio trickery into that album.

--You Don't Know What Love Is
--Someone Else's Problem Now
--She's At It Again
--Why Do You Do This to Yourself
--Happy With You
--That's Just What You Are
--Scott Joplin song
--Over Our Heads
--Strings That Tie to You
--Don't Think Twice It's Alright/Knock Yourself Out
--Maybe I'm Amazed
--I Believe She's Lying

--Strawberry Fields

See also:
» the power of suggestion, the element of chance
» the first one said to the second one there