Tuesday, December 20, 2016

name me a song that everybody knows

I'm lagging on this one, so let's get right into it.

Jeff Tweedy, Chateau du Polpettino, Dec. 2, 2016: Let the record show that it took this long to figure out a date that worked for the Tweedys and for our group. Then a last-minute development further changed plans. And yes, it took a few years to get this train rolling again, but as always, a huge salute to Jeff and Susan Tweedy for giving it another go. Fortunately, it worked out for almost everyone, and long story short, we had a wonderful evening.

Long story long, it began in the typical manner with food, drinks, and friends. Our new hosts put together a gorgeous setup, which made it even easier to sit back and enjoy the evening in creature comforts. Even Jeff couldn't resist settling down on an ottoman for a song.

As for the music, Jeff stuck to his own tracks, though many of us tried to sneak in a few covers among our requests. I don't blame him at all -- I mean, the man had only come back from a European tour a few weeks earlier -- but you know we're going to try, given the opportunity. Thanks to Andy for my perennial favorite "Lost Love," to Patti for the sobering "Country Disappeared," and to Susan for "You Are My Face," which I don't think I've ever heard solo acoustic before. How did it take so long for that to happen?



I loved hearing the newer songs acoustic-style, not to mention our friends' contributions. Jeff had more than a few stories and comments throughout the evening, including his thoughts on the incoming administration. Selfishly, I'll treasure his kind words about sharing these shows with us over the years. I know they've rank among my most treasured memories.

Per tradition, we ended on "Candyfloss," complete with the usual jumping around -- until someone realized we were still due Tamala's request for "Dreamer in My Dreams." We stayed on our feet for the epic, and I had a flashback to one of my most intimate public gigs I've been to: Liberty Hall in Marfa. Hey, I'm happy to have been a part of each of them.

Overall, the whole night was extremely well handled. In earlier incarnations, our shows sometimes felt like they might slip beyond our control, despite the hours, weeks, and months of planning that proceeded them. But even the afterparty cleanup felt manageable and orderly, even if we were eating delicious tamales over the sink at 2 am. Speaking of afterparty, there were plenty more tunes after the Tweedys left, thanks to our talented friends. I'll never hear "Hallelujah" the same way again.

You never want to take anything for granted, so I think of each of these shows as standalone events, and I never assume the same circumstances will happen again. If you're lucky, you might remember to take pictures, but you always treasure the friends and the songs and the refreshments. It's the winning formula every time.

The full history
» i wish that i knew what I know now
» people say i'm crazy doing what i'm doing
» the message
» all the ladies and gentlemen
» that year
» springtime comes
» turn our prayers to outrageous dares
» every day is dreamlike
» it's been a while

Friday, October 14, 2016

wasn't the question you asked

I've never been obsessed with being young -- not even when I was young -- but I've reached the stage where many of my favorites are hitting milestone ages. It's always a gut check, but if you're lucky, it can be a celebration too. Man, I'm glad that Spiral Stairs, aka Scott Kannberg per Pavement, decided to share his 50th annum with us, the unwashed masses.

SpiralpaloozaSpiral Stairs' 50th Birthday featuring Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, The Chapel, Oct. 1-2, 2016: The Clean were the original headliners for Saturday night, but for a reason I never learned, they couldn't make it. Also, Kelley Stoltz couldn't make it because he was touring with Echo and the Bunnymen, which is amazing news for such a talented guy. Thus, it became two nights of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, along with the accompanying Pavement expectations -- in due time.

For Your Pleasure -- a Roxy Music cover band -- opened on Saturday night, and they were great. They made no attempt to ape Roxy's sartorial style, but the lead singer came close enough to Bryan Ferry's tones, and the rest of the musicians held their own. Their song selection was fantastic, and I loved the hits as well as the deep cuts. ("Mother of Pearl"!) However, I laughed at the guy who complained about the lack of "In Every Dream Home a Heartache."

Honestly, I can't remember the second band from Saturday, and the opener on Sunday was fine, if not spectacular. All you need to know is the various musicians mixed and matched in each other's bands; it was those kind of shows -- basically a big house party with damn good tunes. In fact, as we hung around the back early on Saturday night, we saw various friends approach Scott/Spiral and heard a few mentioning high school.

Spiralpalooza

I've already covered this in the blog, but I'm not a reunion person. Through no fault of the bands, reunion shows now make me sad and feel my age. I loved Pavement like few other bands and jumped on tickets when the first reunion shows went on sale. However, I never made it. I think I was out of town when the dates finally rolled around, but my mind was already made up at that point.

As for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, color me shocked that I haven't seen them since 2008! I know I missed a tour or two because I was too lazy to buy tix to more recent shows, and I think the band took a long hiatus somewhere in there. But I had no idea it's been that long. I've said this before, but Malkmus strikes me as this era's Robyn Hitchcock: the leader of an underappreciated seminal band who goes on to a much weirder later career.

I'd be lying if I said I loved the more recent stuff, and it was hard to dial into the superextended guitar noodling passages that seemed to characterize every song. In fact, I'm not sure they did anything from the first couple of records, which are the ones I listened to the most.

Spiralpalooza

But that's not the point, because this was Spiral/Scott's birthday, and they basically presented him with a musical birthday card. They sprinkled in several songs that influenced his own music career, including tracks from the Clean, the Stranglers, and of course, Echo and the Bunnymen. On the second night, Stephen commented Saturday's proceedings basically amounted to a high-school sausage party -- which we had suspected all along -- but from the outside, it seemed like a very sweet gift to an old friend.

Oh right, the Pavement tracks: Everyone knew they were coming, and several of the more enthusiastic attendees started in with the requests early on. Too bad -- Scott and Stephen had a plan, and they were sticking with it. It took me a few tunes before I realized the criteria: They were doing Scott's tracks, not random Pavement songs. It made sense on every level, so we got most of Scott's titles, along with one from Preston School of Industry and a tune from his new project. "Date with Ikea" made both nights, and one of my absolute favorite Pavement songs, "Kennel District," made the cut. In fact, the song jogged my memory and reminded me that I used to see Scott at a million shows in town. Those were the days.

The two semi-surprises the first night were "Summer Babe" and "Stereo," though in retrospect, I guess the latter gave Scott a great chance to take the role usually claimed by Bob Nastanovich. Neither are Scott compositions per se, but I'll take them both. They were smart enough to mete out the tunes and give us "Two States" the second night, along with fan favorite "Box Elder." By the way, none other than GARY FUCKING JOHNSON joined them for the tune and finished off his portion with the requisite headstand. No, he isn't looking well.

Spiralpalooza

Even I have to admit a reunion show can be a ton of fun, and I couldn't stop singing the songs or thinking about how much I love(d) Pavement. You know how it is -- now that all of my music is on my iPhone, I'm too lazy to swap out songs. It's easy to forget I have the entire Pavement discography at the ready, if only I remember to check some boxes now and again. I'll do that tonight, I swear.

Happy 50th to you, Scott/Spiral. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us.

See also:
» richard avedon would surely approve
» pre-easily fooled
» used to be one of the rotten ones

Sunday, October 09, 2016

to be young is to be sad

Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings are two pillars of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, so it's no surprise when they show up on the schedule and/or announce a show close to the date. Often, it's both, as was the case this year.

Dave Rawlings Machine, the Fillmore, Sept. 30, 2016: In the early days of the Dave Rawlings Machine, a lot of people simply assumed it was a Gillian Welch show under another name. Fortunately, expectations have changed, now that the Rawlings Machine has a discography and everything. The group also seems to have found a steady lineup, which is probably a good development for any band's continued growth. I enjoyed the spare, early shows as much as anyone, but I appreciate the growing differentiation between the projects.

Last time I saw the Rawlings Machine, the new record had recently come out, but with about a year since that show, the band had revised the setlist somewhat. We got a number of album tracks ("The Weekend," "Pilgrim," "Sweet Tooth"), as well as a few spotlights for Gillian ("Wayside/Back in Time," "Miss Ohio") and Willie Watson ("Keep It Clean"). Bassist Paul Kowert (also seen in Punch Brothers) and his deep bass tones even got a turn on the mic for "He Will Set Your Fields on Fire," which I've come to love in all its twangy glory. I should also mention they hit "Queen Jane Approximately" earlier in the show, and I totally clapped my hands and squealed when I recognized the song. However, they threw in a bunch of songs I didn't recognize at all, and I don't know if they were new tunes or traditional titles. With the Rawlings Machine, it can be very hard to tell.

Dave Rawlings Machine

As it was Hardly Strictly weekend, there was some question of which guests would drop in. One was fairly obvious from the beginning, and it happens, it was the only guest I wanted to see: Robyn Hitchcock, who had a couple of appearances scheduled at the festival.

It finally hit me this umpteenth time I've seen Robyn appear as a guest: maybe he's the dominant through line of my musical fandom? He ties my early love of British music to my current preference for folksier artists. Little did I know that the Soft Boys influenced such American bands as REM, Uncle Tupelo, and more. By the same token, I had no idea Robyn was steeped in Roxy Music, though that probably should've been a no-brainer for any UK musician of the time. Anyway, that's oversimplifying several decades of music fandom, but I can't resist the urge to trace a pattern.

Dave Rawlings MachineWith Robyn, they did "Goin' to Acapulco" and "The Weight," which were great but strangely anticlimatic compared to other amazing songs I've seen them do together.

The core crew closed out with the perennial "Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby," all five of them gathered around the microphone. The classic formation, at least since they recorded it for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, usually incorporates female voices, but Dave and Gill have been able to adapt it to the singers around them. It's always a vision, as they all come together with nothing but their voices ringing out and their bodies (hands, feet) for percussion.

I hope they continue to grace us with their annual visits.

See also:
» that's all they really want
» pretty please with sugar on top

Monday, September 19, 2016

he slept on a mountain

Wilco, I can't quit you -- as if the last decade-plus of posts hasn't proven so already. When the band added one more show in the Bay Area, a week after the Fillmore residency, plans were set once again.

Wilco, Sound Summit Festival, Sept. 17, 2016: This day bore all the hallmarks of being a terrible decision, not unlike the William and Mary show from years back, when we started out late with very little fanfare, only to catch a fairly cookie-cutter gig. Fortunately, I was wrong, and Oakland International's busy Saturday, my terrible navigation, and Marin's stereotypical crowd couldn't ruin it.

I'm not a huge fan of festival gigs (duh), and we had every reason to believe this would be an obligatory appearance by the band -- that is, the hits versus more obscure tracks, albeit in the current semi-acoustic Schmilco arrangement. Instead, it was an entirely different animal from the Fillmore shows, most tellingly in Nels' electric setup. At the beginning, it sounded like even Nels was reacquainting himself with his pedals and switches, as the notes came off hotter and louder than usual for the first few songs. Overall, it was the right choice for an outdoor gig.

On the whole, we got only a couple of songs that went missing at the Fillmore shows, but the ones that made the cut were welcome, particularly "Handshake Drugs" and "Art of Almost." I've even missed "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," which I thought was a shoo-in for the 9/11 show (because I'm into setlist no-brainers). I'm starting to think Star Wars will become the forgotten record in Wilco's discography, and the Bay Area got only two shows on that tour: one at the Independent, which few could get into; and Outside Lands, which is -- well -- a festival set. Hearing tracks from that record seems almost like a treat these days, especially when it's the "Cold Slope"/"King of You" sequence.

Wilco, the Fillmore, Sept. 6-7, 9-11, 2016

In one welcome sign of the return of the electric set, Wilco lined up for the four-guitar attack often -- a sight I've missed. Also, Jeff actually had room to walk over to Pat for their collaborative passage on "Impossible Germany," in case you were worried about them ditching that move.

Throughout the show, Jeff was in a great mood. He laughed at his own mistakes, such as forgetting a line here and there, and mocked the toll the altitude supposedly took on his body. Honestly, everything about the show was loose and open, and Jeff seemed to feed off Marin's trademark casual vibe.

Wilco's set was immediately preceded by Los Lobos, which brought up Nels for a guest spot, while a few other band members watched from the side stage. Wilco too turned to guest players: Greg Leisz (who had sat in with Los Lobos), Bill Frissell, and local mainstay Bob Weir. They hit Woody Guthrie for the first couple of numbers, with Nels quickly teaching the chords to Bill before the start of the song. I couldn't see Greg Leisz from where I stood, but I could hear his slide as clear as a whistle. I urge you to check your record collection and take inventory of how many albums he's on. I promise you'll find lots to love.

Last week, "California Stars" with Julian Lage was so damn good, but this night's version was no slouch either. Bill Frisell put in a great showing, what I could hear of Greg Leisz was lovely, and even Bob Weir got in his licks. But just as I thought I knew what was coming, they changed it up and closed it out with "Tomorrow Never Knows" -- aka the best opening drumbeat of all time.

Some time ago, I watched Jon Brion offhandedly advise one of his collaborators at Largo to play an E -- then they launched into this same song. Thus, I'm quite familiar with the improv possibilities of the tune, and anyone who's been to a Largo show with me knows how much I love it.

Onstage, the eight musicians had a ball with the song. Glenn was the star, no doubt, but all the guitarists dug in for their segments, and Nels in particular went nuts with his switches and pedals. Bob Weir not only took one of the guitar leads, he sang too. I'm team #neverdead, but I've grown to expect Bob showing up at local events. I've even seen him sing the national anthem at a Giants game or two. You could almost imagine him riding his bike over to the fest, guitar and guitar case strapped on his back, but it seemed only natural that he'd step in tonight.

That'll probably be my last Wilco show of the year, and it was a great one to go out on. But until the next time, let me put in this request: more Beatles songs always!

See also:
» always hated normal american kids
» i'd be lying if i said it wasn't easy
» everyone wastes my time

Friday, September 16, 2016

always hated normal american kids

The dream is real! Wilco finally brought its five-night residency to San Francisco at, even better, the Fillmore. To be sure, Wilco has a long history of multinight stands at the Fillmore and the Bay Area in general, and this wasn't exactly the Incredible Shrinking Tour of Chicago, but I'll take the simpler arrangement anytime. More important, I lived to tell, so let's go with it.

Wilco, the Fillmore, Sept. 6-7, 9-11, 2016: I've mentioned this factoid approximately a million times on this blog, but in this case, it's worth repeating. My first live Wilco experience was a three-night stand at the Fillmore back in 2000, in support of Mermaid Avenue Vol. II. I had fallen in love with the band's music, particularly Being There, and decided to go to all three shows. Keep in mind: None of my friends at the time liked or even knew about the band, and I'd never them live, not to mention I was still deeply into British music. But anyone who knows me knows I tend to go for all or nothing. I was all in, and clearly, it was one of the best music-related decisions in my life -- because here we are.

At the time we bought tickets, I don't think anyone of us knew the shows would be in support of a new record. And I honestly don't care anymore. If Wilco is playing a reasonably sized venue in town, I'm there. I have faith that they'll figure out a setlist with at least a few beloved deep tracks or offer new arrangements that will awaken my ears.

Wilco, the Fillmore, Sept. 6-7, 9-11, 2016

Even after the news that we'd hear a lot of Schmilco at the shows, my expectations didn't change a lot. Of course I looked forward to the new material, but we Wilco fans aren't married to the album-tour-album-tour cycle. Besides, Wilco has enough songs that they're sure to surface a bunch of underappreciated tracks at any show.

Anyway, this happens to be my favorite way of hearing new music: the live experience. As of this writing, I bought Schmilco today (Sept. 15), but I still don't know all the titles. Of course, I recognize a bunch of songs they played at the shows, and I'm amazed at the transformation to the live form. As with Star Wars, I'm glad I got to hear the music crafted from the ground up in front of me before I had a chance to get comfortable with their studio renditions.

I was lucky enough to go to the original five-night residency (which almost killed me), and I've come to understand it was a true one-off. I wouldn't put it past Wilco to air out the entire discography at some other point, and Jeff has been known to change it up at his solo shows. But this run was marked by a core of songs each night. Schmilco set the foundation, and I came to understand the other evergreen tracks highlighted certain skills among the band.

I'll cite three classics because they are especially significant to me. First off: "Impossible Germany." This has been a staple of Wilco's set for many years now, and there's no arguing its beauty and transcendence, but in a smaller venue, it finally hit me. Jeff often likens concerts and churches in their ability to unite people, and you certainly hear it when the crowd sings along. But I'd argue that "Impossible Germany" has become the centerpiece of Wilco's live show. You can hear the excitement and anticipation build with Nels' solo, then giving way to the roars as he returns to the song's framework. I told a friend/newbie it was Wilco's masterpiece, which I didn't really understand until this run of shows.

Wilco, the Fillmore, Sept. 6-7, 9-11, 2016

The other song is "Spiders," which is sort of a companion piece to "Impossible Germany." Wilco actually mixed up this tune more than usual, playing it at increased speed. In earlier incarnations, the guitar solos were the catharsis -- they still are -- but there was no mistaking the new emphasis on Glenn. Much as Nels guides an integral part of "Impossible Germany," Glenn did the same with "Spiders," as all eyes went to him during an extended solo until he damn well wanted to end it. The two showcases couldn't be more welcome.

Finally: "Misunderstood." Back to old hoary tales -- this song scared the shit out of me at the aforementioned 2000 shows. But it and the band have changed over the years, to the point where it's currently acoustic and hushed, most notably in the trademark "nothing" parade. There's probably a more encompassing analogy between the band's and the song's development, but I'm not the one to say. Instead, listen and enjoy.

The songs between the mainstays sometimes followed a theme or at least a spotlight album. It's a no-brainer my favorite was Friday night and the Being There encore. It would be too much of a pain to name all the favorite deep tracks, so I'll simply say I loved every opportunity for us to sing along in unison. Also, I will fight people over the excellence of Sky Blue Sky.

One special notice goes to Julian Lage, who joined the band for a handful of songs on the last night. I've heard many, many guests on "California Stars," and even the big names kind of punch the clock on the song. I mean, it's always fun and sweet, but holy cow, Julian took it to another level. It's no exaggeration to say it's the best guest appearance I've ever heard for the song. I hope everyone in the room recognized the brilliance.

Jeff didn't disappoint with his banter either. Wednesday was the best night in that regard, though I won't embarrass the subject further (if he's reading), except to say it was hilarious. I'll replay that beat after "We Aren't the World (Safety Girl)" in my head forever. Also, I'll never say no to Jeff telling the Fillmore audience that we are the best in the world. We know ... and we love it.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the added joy of all the wonderful friends who came to town for the shows. Hope you enjoyed San Francisco summer and public transport! Please come back any time. Also, thanks for putting up with me reminding everyone endlessly that I had a 10K on Sunday morning. As of this writing, I'm still recovering, but it was entirely worth it.

See also:
» i'd be lying if i said it wasn't easy
» i've run out of metaphors

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

to be out of place

This one is especially late, but (1) I was still on vacation, and (2) I had to get over my jetlag. But here's my report on Wilco in Zagreb, Croatia, for the the Inmusic Festival.

Wilco, Inmusic Festival, June 22, 2016: Yes, I've traveled across international borders to see Wilco before, but I promise this show was a total coincidence. We had already planned a vacation in Croatia -- then Wilco announced a date at Zagreb's Inmusic Festival after the calendar was set and vacation time was requested. Truth be told, we rescheduled our itinerary a smidge to return to Zagreb after a diversion, but overall, it was no bother.

Not long ago, one of the appeals of seeing Wilco in Europe was the relative size of the venues. Simply put, Wilco is not as big in Europe, and you could still enjoy club gigs. I hear those days are gone, but when it comes to festivals, the smaller scale remains. At Inmusic, Wilco played a dream slot for us: on the last day of the festival, second to last on the bill, with a 6:30 start time. (Never mind that they were left off all the posters and signage we saw around town!) We took our time getting to the gig, due in part to our disregard for a sign helpfully directing us to the entrace, endured only one other band, and best of all, planned to get dinner after the show. The crowd was sparse when we arrived, and we had no problem taking our usual spots.

Wilco, Inmusic Festival, June 22, 2016

I last saw Wilco last summer, shortly after the release of Star Wars, so I got the album-heavy shows. Even the band's Outside Lands appearance stuck to the script at the time. Coming into Inmusic, I wasn't sure what to expect of the setlist.

As it turned out, a decent amount of Star Wars remains, which you might expect, as it's the most recent album, but overall, the band stuck to a more typical festival set. Keep in mind, this was a 75-minute slot, not a headlining show, so it was going to be shorter anyway. We generally got the rockier Star Wars tracks, accompanied by many band favorites and a couple of deep album tracks ("Art of Almost," "Late Greats"). In fact, "Art of Almost" was sort of the surprise, as Nels was caught in technical issues for a good chunk of the song. The band played on patiently, waiting for the fix. They eventually solved the problem, and Nels came roaring back in. Jeff later called it the "extended version" of the tune.

Highlights of the set for me include the divine "Cold Slope"/"King of You" double shot and the eternally artful "Impossible Germany." A comedic moment took place during "Via Chicago," which moved the young security guards at the front of the stage to crane their necks to investigate the din onstage, notably during Glenn's big drum breaks. I guess they didn't get the memo that these American gentlemen might be more than unassuming folkies.

By the way, the crowd was pretty good at the front, and they filled out the field by the time Wilco took the stage. For the most part, they really liked clapping to the beat, with mixed results. I don't know how many native English speakers were in attendance, but at least a few other Americans were present, and we heard plenty of voices singing along. Let's put it this way: They outdrew the previous band by a wide margin.

We didn't stick around for the rest of the bands, though it might've been nice to see PJ Harvey if her onstage time wasn't in the middle of the night. Still, the ticket was a bargain compared to U.S. prices and a fantastic start to our Croatia sojourn. We also had a chance run-in with one of the staffers in Zagreb's city center, so yes, it was a good day.

Wilco in Europe? I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

See also:
» a party there that we ought to go to
» every song's a comeback
» the gray fountain spray of the great milky way
» i'd be lying if i said it wasn't easy
» everyone wastes my time

Monday, June 06, 2016

over the edge i can't stop myself

Ace of Spades was on the rock tourist list for Frightened Rabbit's last tour, three years ago. I even bought a ticket, but alas, it didn't work out. However, now with a new record from the band and a new recruit among friends, I had to go northward.

Frightened Rabbit, the Regency Ballroom, May 26, 2016: Rock tourism is no bother for me, but the drive up to Sacramento was one of the more exhausting journeys I've taken in a while. Granted, it was a holiday weekend, and I'm not generally used to traffic, and I saw four accidents along the way, but the four-hour drive (double the usual time in average conditions) was brutal. Luckily, I had left work early and was in no rush, but at least the first half of the trip put my, at worst, cross-town ventures in perspective.

Anyway, I had no doubt the drive would be worth it. Ace of Spades was a smaller, clubbier venue than the Regency in San Francisco; it reminded me of Slim's back in the city and probably a million other places around the country. Due to the limited real estate, the band stripped back their stage setup -- the backdrop (based on the album cover) was gone, and maybe some lights were left out. Overall, this is exactly my kind of venue, and sometimes you have to get behind the wheel to find the ones that remain.

Not surprising, the band stuck to mostly the same setlist, save for one track: the perennial favorite "Poke," which popped up again in Scott's solo portion, thanks to a fan request. Less successful was the fan somewhere in the crowd who yelled out repeatedly for "Swim." I assume he meant "Swim Until You Can't See Land," but Scott was not having it. He mentioned the fact that the band had already prepared a setlist, but besides, he confessed he couldn't remember it anyway. This didn't stop the guy, and the back and forth continued through the set.

At this point, I gotta figure it's part of the artist's MO -- maybe it's nice to have a foil and focal point for your banter. To my ears, Scott never crossed the line into outright annoyance, though he called the guy a cunt. Then again, if you know anything about Scottish insults, you know it's practically the first word young Scots learn. Perhaps to be on the safe side, Scott offered a quick lesson to the crowd on the Scottish lexicon.

The conversation between Scott and the concertgoer actually brought to mind one of my old rules of rock tourism: Go to the last show of the tour when you can. The band can often be looser, goosier, and generally more playful. Chalk it up to relief, weariness, burnout -- whatever. Quite often, it adds up to a memorable night.

I haven't seen a show in Sacramento for a while now, but it easily qualifies as a tertiary market, and you know how much I dig tertiary markets. The crowd was a little less familiar with the old tracks, and they couldn't sing as well as we did in San Francisco. But I love that Ace of Spades and Frightened Rabbit have taken a chance on each other. I hope they keep it going.

See also:
» there is light but there's a tunnel to crawl through
» found a vein and a pulse
» some people gonna get ideas

Sunday, June 05, 2016

found a vein and a pulse

Frightened Rabbit is the last band (though hopefully not the last band) I fell in love with, and shocker -- I'm crazy about the new record. I could barely wait for Frightened Rabbit's return to San Francisco at the Regency Ballroom.

Frightened Rabbit, the Regency Ballroom, May 26, 2016: You gotta love a band that tours its heart out and brings the music to the people. After almost six weeks on the road to promote Painting of a Panic Attack, Frightened Rabbit closed out this leg on the West Coast, and early on, Scott referenced being tired. I'm not entirely sure I would've noticed it if he hadn't brought it up. As far as I could tell, the most revealing road tell was the size of their beards, because the weariness didn't show up in the music.

The band opened with the single (I guess -- I have no idea what qualifies as charts and airwaves and all the lingering details of terrestrial radio) "Get Out" and mixed it up with an evenhanded selection of songs from all but the first record. To tell you the truth, I was kind of surprised the tour was so light on new songs. In addition to "Get Out," the band played "Woke Up," "Break," "Lump Street," and "Die Like a Rich Boy" (the last one in Scott's customary acoustic segment). Personally, I would've loved to hear "An Otherwise Disappointing Life" or "Blood Under the Bridge," to name two, but maybe they'll get to those in subsequent visits.

However, that meant a lot of old favorites got their turn. "Modern Leper," "Fast Blood," "Heads Roll Off," and "State Hospital" were all there, and in fact, a few songs sounded slightly reworked. Most notable to me was "Old Old Fashioned," which sounded a little more like the version we heard on the Owl John tour. At the same time, I was curious to see which songs made the cut, and I'm pleased "Oil Slick" is still one of the favored tracks.

San Francisco has always offered a strong base of support for Frightened Rabbit. The band has put in a ton of work into shows in the city, but I feel their efforts have been rewarded with well-attended and enthusiastic shows. Tonight, I think we gave it back with a wonderful sing-along to "Keep Yourself Warm." Our voices serenaded the band and punched the money lines ("you won't find love in/won't find love in a hole/it takes more than fucking someone/to keep yourself warm"). Was it good for them? Because it was great for us.

Frightened Rabbit, the Regency Ballroom, May 26, 2016

As mentioned above, Scott has retained his solo segment, but it was now only two songs before the band returned for "The Woodpile." Good news for both show veterans and newbies alike: The band has kept its traditional closer of "The Loneliness and the Scream," which when it comes down to it is the only true wish list item I needed. How is that not a football anthem in Scotland? Or is it? Anyway, it needs to happen. Get on it, Tartan Army.

Meanwhile, we have your back in San Francisco, Frightened Rabbit.

See also:
» let's get old fashioned
» her heart beats like a breezeblock

Sunday, May 22, 2016

when u love somebody

Reunions, remakes, reboots -- they're a simple fact of life these days. I'm not crazy about them, but I'm glad I have a choice. Reunions, in particular, make me feel my age, but some are not subject to debate. Thus, there was no hesitation to get to the Fruit Bats, now reassembled.

Fruit Bats, the Independent, May 19, 2016: This is how much I love the Fruit Bats: I went to Eric Johnson's solo show, though I had no idea what to expect. The Fruit Bats are responsible for one of my favorite records of all time, Mouthfuls, and it arrived during a particularly music-heavy era for me. A friend recently posted a reminder of us all on AIM, listening to Mouthfuls and chatting away when we weren't flying and driving to see shows with each other. Oh, the Aughts! It was a good run.

As far as reunions go, Fruit Bats didn't exactly light up the headlines like LCD Soundsystem, but I'm glad they're back (with a decidedly less dodgy reasoning). It appears the Ruminant Band is supporting him again, so they obviously have the chemistry and teamwork under their belts. The shared experience was apparent from the sweet harmonies they added to Eric's already charming melodies.

As mentioned above, Mouthfuls is my favorite, and this show confirmed a suspicion: I like the Fruit Bats a lot better live than I do on record. Obviously, this comes down to personal preference, but their records don't hold my attention, whereas their live representation is all I want in a band, delivering great tunes, voices, musicianship, and energy. They didn't disappoint at all in that regard.

To my ears, Fruit Bats have always been folk music at its core, with a bit of production thrown in. Maybe it's my bias, but now that they're based on the West Coast, I hear so much more of the Laurel Canyon vibe. That's not bad news at all, and in fact, it's still as sweet as ever. When you have Eric's voice, you don't need to do a whole lot to pretty it up.

Fruit Bats, the Independent, May 19, 2016

However, I noticed one big change. Perhaps due to last year's tour with My Morning Jacket, the audience is livelier and more invested than I recall from the last outing. They knew a ton of the songs, and they let the band know it. That has to be a huge lift for the musicians. I hope it carries over for the rest of the tour and beyond.

Alas, the only downside to this revival is the fact that Mouthfuls tends to get left off the setlist. Granted, I know it's been [checks Google] 13 years since its release, but I can name several fantastic tracks from the record, and only one was played. That track was "When U Love Somebody," of course, as the finale. The records that came after Mouthfuls, including the new one, were well represented, but as an old-timer, I would love to hear "Rainbow Sign" (and others).

Before I sign off, I'll repeat again the story of seeing Fruit Bats at Bottom of the Hill approximately 100 [checks Google] 13 years ago, when they played to a small crowd composed of many friends and probably a handful of fans. I'm going to dream of that version of "Purple Rain" for a long time. If Eric ever wants to record it, I'll be the first to download it.

Fruit Bats, Bottom of the Hill, 11-11-03

See also:
» the cub who washed out in the flood
» she couldn't dance but she wanted to
» waiting for the rainbow sign

Thursday, May 05, 2016

i was dreamin' when i wrote this

This will be the only Jon Brion show I get to for the first half of the year, and right now, it's hard to say when I'll be back. But I'm glad to say I chose a good one, even if entirely by coincidence!

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, April 29, 2016: If I suffer FOMO over anything, it's Largo shows, and the sparse reports indicated I missed lovely moments this year, notably after the death of David Bowie. Alas, I can't make them all, so I treasure the ones I can attend, no matter what the evening holds.

Like I said, I don't know what happens at Largo from month to month anymore, so maybe this is a common occurrence. But the opening of the show hearkened to the past and could've been a whole night's entertainment in itself, as Griffee introduced Tom Brousseau. As he explained, growing up in North Dakota, they filled their days with music, and if you've ever heard him, you can only say it was time well spent. Tom's voice is so pure -- I kind of imagine he could be transported to any era in history, and his vocals could take on nearly any native tune presented to him. What a kickoff!

Next, Flanny and Jon emerged, and the former took time out to draw our attention to the chair onstage. It was a simple metal chair, backed in light blue leather (pleather?) and adorned with the NBC logo. He asked us if we understood its significance and even struck an iconic pose to jog our memories, but no one in the relatively light crowd seemed to have an answer. Flanny filled us in: They were from the Elvis comeback special, which aired on NBC in 1968. Apparently Jon's friend worked in the studio where they had been housed and was ready to throw them out. Instead Jon (and Flanny?) claimed them. With that, Jon planted his "pink cheeks" (Flanny's phrase) and officially took the stage.



Speaking of the stage, it was as minimal as I'd ever seen it: only three acoustic guitars and two microphones, in addition to the mic placed next to the piano. That was it. Later, we heard that Jon had tried to set up his usual gear, but for whatever reason, it didn't work out.

Before he played a note (OK, maybe he tried to tune a key or two), Jon told a story about the legendary Glyn Johns (father of Ethan and producer of ton of records you love) Dumpster diving at a studio and retrieving master tapes of a few albums he had worked on. The moral of the story: If you are in the vicinity of a renowned studio, check the trash cans.

The music began on the piano, as Jon teased out his usual exercise tracks. I think I heard the Pink Panther theme, but I know for sure he landed on "Punch-Drunk Melody." He followed up with a handful of TV theme songs, smiling all along.

You could probably pin the official start of the show as "Ruin My Day," followed by "Someone to Watch Over Me," which began almost in the abstract but eventually made its way to an uptempo bridge. I don't know how often Jon plays the song these days, but it's a beauty, especially when he's in one of his better moods.

Jon hit the guitars for "It Looks Like You" -- can you believe it's been a jillion years since he wrote this song with Evan Dando? Anyway, he threw in a few ad-lib lines ("It walks like you/It talks like you") toward the end, and I couldn't stop smiling myself.

As Jon himself noted, the spirit of Elvis reached out to him from the chair, and he hit a couple of the man's songs, complete with the era-appropriate level of reverb. Jon stayed on the guitar for "Love of My Life So Far." I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I kinda prefer the acoustic treatment for some of Jon's songs; they tend to be more concise when he doesn't have a pile of pedals to mess with.

It was back to the piano for "Happy With You" and that newish song about getting married and having children. I still don't like the latter, but at least it was better paced this time. Jon went into another piano medley before settling into a couple more of his originals. Some of these selections had come from audience requests, and for his last song of this portion, he halfway entertained us and himself with a Fats Waller song that I couldn't name for the life of me.

Jon returned to the guitars and tuned for a bit before he started playing a beautiful song, with gorgeous touches. It was breezy and folksy, and I was already in love with it. In fact, it sounded reminiscent of Wilco, though I couldn't put my finger on it until long after the show.

It was not Wilco at all -- in fact, it was the highlight of the evening: a completely reworked version of Prince's "1999," in a totally different cadence, tone, probably notes. Back in the day, Jon urged us to listen to the artist's original works and not his covers when a beloved musician passed. I think he's revised that policy over the years, probably to the joy of most of us in the audience. In fact, I felt a flood of emotion as soon as I recognized the song, and it was great to hear, honoring the man while not slavishly aping him. (By the way, the song it brought to mind: Wilco's "What Light.")

Despite the nod to Prince's untimely passing, Jon was in a great mood all night. Thus, he hopped over to the piano again for "Play the Game" and responded to someone's request for an old, old song -- like, from a century ago. Voila, we heard a few classics before Jon got to Randy Newman's nod to the past.

Jon once more asked for requests, but didn't do much with our suggestions. Then a British voice rang out. I didn't recognize him at first, but others did, including Jon himself. It was Robyn Hitchcock, who had been taking in the show from the seats. Of course Jon brought him up for a bunch of tunes, including Robyn's request for "Purple Haze."

If you've ever seen the two of them together, you know their banter darts back and forth. Robyn urged Jon to play it any way he liked, which turned out to be in the style of Thelonius Monk. I honestly can't read my notes for the song, so use your imagination. However, I can dutifully report Robyn played a few more of his songs, by special request from Jon. Bravo on the suggestion of "Queen Elvis" -- which I too have asked of other Largo guests. Great minds!

Of course, Jon accompanied Robyn on piano and backing vocals as needed. For the final song, Jon asked Robyn to do a new track, anything he's been working on. Robyn replied that Jon's superpower is his ability to know the chords before anyone else, and duh, he was right. As Robyn played this heretofore unknown song, Jon felt out the notes and eventually dug into the meat of the melody. Because he can.

For the final song, we went with Jon's safety track, guaranteed to bring the room together: "God Only Knows." It works every time.

The noncapacity crowd managed to convince Jon to come back for an encore, though I have to admit it was one of the weaker calls I've heard at Largo. Jon and Robyn treated us to "More Than This," but the true treasure was a story related to the song: something about Jon and Flanny traveling in France, then meeting Robyn in at a seaside spot in Northern Italy, where Robyn played the entirety of Avalon to what Jon characterized as "the gulls." To top it off, they had a great lunch together.

For the final track in the big room, Jon said, "Fuck it," and rolled out "Happiness" in one of the more upbeat versions I've heard. It's hard to hear this song and not think of the loss associated with it, and I imagine recent events (along with the night's requests) led him to the selection. Even remembering it now, I have the tune in my head again, and it probably won't leave for several days.

Wait, there's more! A couple of dozen people stuck around in the Little Room, for a live taping of the Live From High Fidelity podcast. You can listen for yourself (and maybe hear me!) when the podcast is released, but I'll fill in a couple of details we saw with our own eyes. Per show protocol, Jon chose his vinyl track, but while the song played, he mimed along and pointed out the very elements he had singled out in his explanation of the tune. And in the course of Tom DeSilva's and Eric Gorfain's selections, Jon visibly drank them in. If you listen to the podcast, you may even get your own mini education on studio life and session players. It was true music nerd world, and I loved it.

One more aside: You may or may not have heard that Jon and Eric are responsible for strings on the Beyonce's new record. I don't plan to purchase it, so maybe someone else can supply the liner notes. I actually meant to ask about it, but I didn't have to. As Jon steered Eric to singling out a track, emphasizing the use and application of strings in a pop context, none other than Flanny himself could be heard yelling "Beyonce!" from the back of the room. I take that as confirmation.

Sometime not long before 2 am, we left the bar, not unlike the old days on Fairfax.

Setlist
Tom Brousseau opener
-- My Texas Girl
-- A Wildcat Woman and a Tomcat Man
-- Rope Stretchin' Blues Part 1
-- I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire
-- Light of the World

-- piano (Pink Panther theme/Punch-Drunk Love)
-- Mr. Rogers Neighborhood/Adams Family theme/Peanuts theme/Christmastime Is Here
-- Ruin My Day
-- Someone to Watch Over Me
-- Looks Like You
-- I Want You, I Love You, I Need You
-- My Baby Left Me
-- Happy With You
-- newish song
-- piano (Incense and Peppermint/Peter Gunn/Rhapsody in Blue)
-- Strangest Times
-- Knock Yourself Out
-- Fats Waller song
-- 1999
-- Play the Game
-- A Bicycle Built for Two/Scott Joplin song
-- Dayton, Ohio 1903
-- Purple Haze *
-- Raymond Chandler Evening *
-- Queen Elvis *
-- My Eyes Have Seen the Trolley Bus *
-- God Only Knows

encore
-- More Than This *
-- Happiness

Little Room
-- Somewhere Over the Rainbow
-- Ain't Misbehavin'

* = with Robyn Hitchcock

See also:
» blue christmas
» i'm happy, hope you're happy too
» lost inside adorable illusion
» simple twist of fate

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

rejoice to the skies

Spring is here, and with it comes an uptick in touring. Personally, I'm not taking full advantage of the concert schedule, but the Big Star's Third reprise was notable enough to warrant a night out.

Big Star's Third, the Fillmore, April 24, 2016Big Star's Third, the Fillmore, April 24, 2016: Fun fact: After you hear "Thirteen," it's impossible to not sing it to yourself for the next few days. It's science!

Truth be told, I might not have ventured out if Paul hadn't come to town for the show, but it doesn't take a lot to convince me to hear pretty voices and awesome musicians play songs by Big Star. The early question was why the band had come back together. They had put together a couple of shows last fall, and it's not like the setlist was going to change much, nor had many new faces joined the roster. The answer became clearer when the L.A. date was announced. This would be the dress rehearsal, albeit without a couple of big names.

About those names: Many of the usual suspects returned, including Chris Stamey and Jody Stephens (of course). Much of the same crew returned from last fall's appearance, Mike Mills, Pat Sansone, Chuck Prophet, and the Kronos Quartet among them. A new face (or at least one I don't remember) was Mitch Easter. REM fans can probably wax much poetic about him than I can, but it's no exaggeration to say his hair alone enjoyed '80s indie rock icon status. Though he looks nothing like that these days, he can still play the guitar -- and he was the only person onstage to sport anything close to formal wear.

I caught only the set at Hardly Strictly last year, so I don't know what the normal show is like, but more experienced ears tell me the ensemble reversed the usual order of events. Instead of going into the advertised record, they began with the one-off tunes -- not that I can tell you the setlist for either night. But let's say Pat Sansone helped kick off the proceedings, and what do you know? He made his way to a solo song for the encore too.

In between, we got all the expected tracks and some new tunes sung by new voices. Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo was one of the new additions, and they eventually convinced Georgia Hubley to join them. I don't even remember what they sang, except Ira picked up the hair dryer for one song. Speaking of sound effects, Mike Mills took care of the basketball again.

Big Star's Third, the Fillmore, April 24, 2016

Now that we weren't in the middle of a field, the finer details came through. Jody, a true gentleman, exuded Southern charm, and Mitch Easter was second only to Chris Stamey as an all-purpose player. Th Kronos Quartet might've benefited the most from this proper setting -- that is, their contributions rung out, which I kind of missed at the Arrow Stage. Strangely, Chuck Prophet wasn't much of a presence until the very end, when he finally stepped up the main mic. Oh, and we did quite well on not biting on the fake ending of "Holocaust." (Full disclosure: We were warned.)

But the constants stayed strong, notably "Thirteen" and "Thank You Friends," but it would take a ton of questionable decisions and a deficit of talent to detract from those songs. The encores felt somewhat ramshackle, and in fact, the whole show was endearingly ragged. We imagine they'll edit out the pauses for the final release. Maybe someday they'll realize they already have the perfect closer in "Thank You Friends" and mix up the rest of the song order to lead down that path. Regardless of the final setlist, the songs remain among the all-time classics, and that alone is good reason to listen to these players. I wanna thank you again!

See also:
» i'm so grateful

Saturday, April 02, 2016

they want your heart and soul

The break between gigs wasn't supposed to be this long -- though in fact I saw a show earlier this week, but I'm not going to blog about it because it's outside of my abilities and a slight misreading of the bill skewed my expectations. In my defense, San Francisco has been awash in an unusually high number of great touring comedians lately -- but I don't blog about comedy either, so let's get to Gaz Coombes, ex-Supergrass, at Slim's instead.

Gaz Coombes, Slim's, April 1, 2016: Earlier this week, I racked my brain to recall if I ever saw Supergrass in concert, and slowly it came back to me -- specifically, an Amanda Decadenet sighting. Fortunately, I committed it to type earlier, so yay confirmation!

This actually points out a couple of current problems. First of all, my memory is going. Second, I saw a lot of shows before I started blogging, particularly during the Britpop years, and details will be lost in the jumble. Hopefully I can do some justice to them, 20-odd years on.

(Speaking of 20 years, has anyone noticed "Alright" popping up in two different commercials? I can't even remember the products now, but of course I perked up both times it came on. Yes, I still watch real-time TV with commercials, and I can still be surprised by music licensing.)

I feel like I have so many recollections to unpack every time a Britpop name rolls into town. It was so much fun, and there were so many good stories, but that was then. But to begin, I have to admit I wasn't a Supergrass, er, superfan. Also, I'm not really an early adopter, so that fledgling punk energy isn't always up my alley. Instead, I tend to prefer the mellower, more pensive phase as they adjust to success and reevaluate their motivation -- then in the case of British bands, interest drops off and they stop touring in the United States. Bwahahahahaha! In other words, I love the second Supergrass album.



Back to Gaz: The setup was solo and mostly acoustic, with a couple of songs on keyboard and a little help from a sampler. Early on, I thought Slim's terrible reputation for sound would overshadow Gaz's music, but kudos to the person at the console who adjusted and dialed up the perfect amount of reverb to complement Gaz's full, warm voice.

I didn't take my usual spot upfront, so I can't report how Gaz looks these days, except to say his trademark sideburns and wild eyes are intact. The crowd itself was respectable, especially for a Friday night when the Bay Area could also take in the Warriors (who lost at home!) and a preseason matchup between the Giants and the A's.

My most memorable Gaz Coombes takeaway from the last few years has been his interest in Midlake, who've shown up in this blog a number of times. Their performance of "Young Bride" is worth a click.



Otherwise, I haven't kept up with Gaz's career and hadn't listened to Matador going in, but a few songs stood out. Gaz offered a full intro to "Detroit" and his come-to-Jesus moment in the city. I appreciated the extra attention; it's a stand-out song. The one I loved was the last song before the encore, and after a rudimentary round of Googling, I learned it was the title track for good reason. I'm not sure I'm going to buy the whole record, but the singles are worth the download.

Of course, everyone wanted to hear Supergrass, and Gaz hit a few of them. Musicians have all kinds of reasons for which older tracks they revisit, but in a short show, the options are even more limited. Gaz went with "Moving," and at the very end, he rolled out "Caught By the Fuzz." Alas, no "Late in the Day" for me or "Alright" for the dude bellowing in the back, but they would've been more surprising than not.

Before he left the stage, Gaz thanked the city and said he'd be back soon. I honestly don't see the latter happening, but I wouldn't mind his return. He also shared a tidbit I don't recall from the miles of interviews I read back in the day. He said he spent a part of his childhood in Mountain View. I wonder if he's as amazed as us longtime locals by its transformation into Tech Town.

See also:
» pre-easily fooled
» why are your shoulders like that of a tired old woman