Sunday, March 29, 2015

deep rivers run quiet

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

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

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

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

Black Rivers, the Chapel, 03-26-15

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

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

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

Black Rivers, the Chapel, 03-26-15

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

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

low key

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 23, 2015

are you scared? are you frightened?

This doesn't happen very often -- a Jeff Tweedy project taking a year to reach the Bay Area, one of his most dedicated fan bases. Granted, Tweedy made its only West Coast appearance last year with the date at Hardly Strictly in October, but that barely scratches the itch for some of us. Nope, we want the full two-hour treatment, complete with encore. Perhaps to make up for the absence, Tweedy gave San Francisco two dates at the Fillmore, and all was right in the world again.

TweedyTweedy, the Fillmore, March 17-18, 2015: Think of your favorite bands or performers. Then think of how many of their side projects you choose to check out. Overall, the ratio is pretty low for me, unless you are related to Wilco and are headed to my town. Even then, the interest can vary widely (see: Autumn Defense). Hell, I skipped some Nels Cline shows in the past few months, but Jeff Tweedy is another matter all together.

I'm going to resist the urge to make comparisons between Wilco and Tweedy. Obviously, the seeds are there, and you can draw a direct line between the songs, but that's kind of boring. In fact, I'll make only one connection between Tweedy and Wilco: Both bands foster an informal, comfortable atmosphere -- more kin than corporation. In fact, when Jeff started in with a few jabs at Liam Cunningham, he had to inform us sensitive Californians that's how they show affection in the Midwest.

I generally avoid potential spoilers for gigs, steering clear of all reports preceding the concert, and Tweedy was no different. However, the blueprint for the band had been set out with the Hardly Strictly slot: mostly songs from the record, with an acoustic segment, and wrapped up in a full-band reprise. In this more formal setting, we got more of both. I was particularly excited to hear tunes from Sukierae, as the Hardly Strictly set didn't allow much time for the newest tracks. As a bonus, over two nights, the band naturally played rarer songs that wouldn't necessarily get a chance in a one-night stand.

Two examples: "Slow Love" (we did well with the backing vocals, and I coincidentally adore the song) and "Pigeons," which hardly ever happens (I'm told). Among the everyday tracks, it's no stretch to call "Diamond Light" the coolest song in the set. It offers a fantastic contrast to all the waltzes (Jeff's note) on the record, and Spencer gets to show off his prodigious drumming skills -- killing all suspicions of nepotism. The rapport with Darin Gray and both Tweedys is also a pleasure to watch and a bonus atop the tune itself.


The kinda hits "Summer Noon" and "Low Key" were fun and delightful, but a couple of other tunes off the record surprised me. Jeff's voice and lyrics jumped out from the simplicity of "Fake Fur Coat," and I loved how the storytelling of "Nobody Dies Anymore" rolled out at its own pace (even when the Fillmore's air conditioning kicked in at full throttle in the middle of the song on the second night).

OK, I'll make one more Wilco comparison: As with Wilco's early tours, Tweedy fills out the single album of material with Jeff's solo set, then caps off the evening with beloved covers. The solo set can be far-ranging, though he has a few favorites ("I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Remember the Mountain Bed," "One Wing," "Hummingbird," "I'm The Man Who Loves You"). "Lost Love" (for which I campaigned so strenuously 10 years ago) put a huge smile on my face the first night, and "Radio King" was a request granted to a woman in the audience. Also, no one I know ever complains when an Uncle Tupelo track makes an appearance.


One advantage to hitting both shows: You get the full range of covers, which meant both Doug Sahm and John Lennon. The latter has been one of my favorites since I was a teenager, and changing "Yoko and me" to "Spencer and me" was a sweet touch. Regarding Doug Sahm, how awesome does it sound with full band backing?! You don't have to answer that.


As you can imagine, the show had its share of diversions. The first night, a young brother-and-sister duo (aged 10 and 8, respectively) made their way to the front and somehow knew all the words to the Neil Young cover. They and their parents became a comedic foil to Jeff for much of the night, in good fun of course.

The second night (which wasn't even St. Patrick's Day) saw a more boisterous crowd, who decided to clap along to "Forget the Flowers," with predictable results. Jeff threatened to switch to one of his rhythm-less dirges to discourage the efforts, but ended up mocking them with his version of their beat-keeping. In all, we ended up with a three-part rendition of the song: (1) bad clapping; (2) spoken word; (3) traditional. As usual, I've killed all the comedy, but believe me, it was a hoot to witness. Also, Jeff had a running commentary on the (small) school of flies swarming to his unwashed mass -- again, funnier in execution than in my description -- which inspired a concert-goer to throw a pack of Handi Wipes onstage.

We got different openers over the two nights at the Fillmore. The first evening, Eleanor Friedberger took the honors, and she was fantastic. It's been a while since I've listened to the Fiery Furnaces, but compared to their sound, she was more straightforward and accessible. She brought up memories of Patti Smith for many of us, partly because of her hair and her voice, but also with the directness and power of her set. She was thrilling and revelatory.

The second night, the Minus 5 took the stage, with yet another lineup: Michael Giblin, Linda Pitmon, and Peter Buck joining Scott McCaughey. They played it fairly straight, though Jeff had to remark on their surprise addition of Neil Young's "Revolution Blues" when Tweedy came to "The Losing End." As far as I'm concerned, Linda Pitmon stole the show. She totally rocked it, most notably when both Scott and Peter's guitars went out at the same time.

Was Tweedy worth the one-year wait? You know it! Lucky for me, I had one show left on this tour. Stay tuned!

See also:
» summer noon
» it's been a while
» low key