Thursday, October 19, 2017

every word seemed to date her

Thus begins Hardly Strictly weekend in San Francisco, though I didn't make it to the festival at all. Fortunately, there was tons of music in the Bay, starting with Gillian Welch at her annual show at the Fillmore.

Gillian Welch, the Fillmore, October 6, 2017: I don't know how it happened, but it seemed like nobody got tickets to this show via the regular channels and ended up paying high prices on the secondary market. But thanks to a friend, I made it in at face value for a great start to the night.

Anyway, this show has been an annual tradition for a while, as either Gillian Welch or Dave Rawlings grace the Fillmore with a gig around the time of Hardly Strictly. They don't even need new material because the audience is so dedicated around here, but this date was dedicated to promoting the vinyl release of The Harrow & The Harvest -- which was released six years ago?! Where has the time gone?! Of course we'll take any excuse to see the duo.

I'm a hypocrite who's claimed I'm over musicians playing older albums in order, from track 1 all the way through, but this is now the second show I've seen of the variety. And you know what? I'd do it again if the right bands come through.

Truthfully, because I didn't have tickets in hand initially, I forgot who I was seeing that night -- Gill or Dave? But once the premise was established, I had no problem getting into the flow and appreciating the record (again). Time (The Revelator) is one of my all-time favorite records, and though the release dates don't match up, in my mind it's the companion piece to Wilco's Being There. The two records cemented my love of American folk music, and I haven't looked back. Perhaps because of my undying love for Gillian's earlier record, I can't say I enjoy The Harrow & The Harvest to the same extent, but it's hardly a slouch. The show was a welcome reminder of all the great tunes on the album and a kick in the pants to spin the songs more often.

As noted above, the duo ran down the song order exactly as tracked for the first half of the show, and as with the last time they toured the record, Gill reprised her dance for "Six White Horses." The one big difference I noticed between this performance and earlier shows: Gill was fairly talkative! For example, a fan in the crowd called out for "White Rabbit" during a quiet moment, to which Gill replied, "Would that I have wrote it," and offered us a "double suicide" song instead ("The Way It Will Be," I think). She also explained the genesis of her rhythm work in the song, as well as the rigorous process by which they chose the piece of plywood for her dancing and included an anecdote of her friend calling the routine "Girls Gone Wild in the 1800s."

After a brief intermission, Gill and Dave went into old favorites, including my beloved "Revelator," as well as "Everything Is Free" and the obligatory San Francisco track "Wayside (Back in Time)." They honored Tom Petty with "Elvis Presley Blues" and cited their first time opening for Johnny Cash as the inspiration for "Dry Town." Speaking of Johnny, they went with "Jackson" in the encore. Though I can't point to a specific recording or example, I feel like they've been changing up their treatment of this song over the years. I remember a more traditional take on the song before, whereas now it's more a speedier rave-up, which I love all the same.

They rounded out the set with "I'll Fly Away," which is one of the few religious songs I enjoy singing, and their classic "Go to Sleep Little Baby," accompanied by Willie Watson, which marked the first time I've seen two men on the song, as opposed to the more typical predominantly female renditions I've seen. The tune didn't suffer in the least.

One more note on the show: We sang "Happy Birthday" to Gillian, as we've often done. I love being able to lend our voices to her celebration every year.

See also:
» when we came here today
» that's the way the cornbread crumbles

Saturday, October 14, 2017

he hides his head inside a dream

It doesn't take much to convince me to come down to Largo for a Jon Brion show, and this time, it was a matter of a casual inquiry by a good friend through a good friend. No problem, right? No problem at all.

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, September 29, 2017: The last (and only) time my friend Judy saw Jon Brion at Largo, he did a 30-minute version of Big Star's "Holocaust" (coincidentally -- or not -- in the same month that he turned 50). Miraculously, she survived and wanted to know more, so here we were, now with newbies in tow. Of course, I always feel slightly nervous in trying to guess what kind of show Jon would put on, but as it turned out, I had no reason to worry tonight.

Largo dropped a big hint about the evening's special guest on Twitter, and if you made a reasonably informed guess, you were correct. Kumail Nanjiani opened the show with a comedy set to try out his prospective Saturday Night Live (!!!) monologue. I love Kumail's work, but oddly, I had never seen his standup. No surprise, it was great, and I can't wait to see how it compares to his set on the show.

Jon was up next, and before I forget, I should note the stage setup. For the first time in a while, Jon had drums -- decorated with a Sarah Silverman pillow, no less. He also had a mix of six or so electric and acoustic guitars, the video screens, and the heavy wires from his loopers and mixers. Personally, I was thrilled by the drums and hoped-hoped-hoped he'd use them at some point.

Jon opened up on piano as usual, and once again, I can't tell you whether he played a previously recorded song or a gorgeous improv. I wrote "Billie?" in my notes, but honestly, that means nothing. The second song involved the piano and the EMS Synthi, eventually leading to "Strings That Tie to You."

He next revved up the video mixers, bringing up a clip of Buddy Guy on guitar and black-and-white footage of a guy providing a rudimentary a capella beat. I always say the video doesn't always figure prominently in the final mix of the song, and in this case, the beat was more important to the song of choice, which turned out to be "One (Is the Loneliest Number)." Jon urged us to sing along, and we did the best we could, but honestly, I've heard better from the audience (and myself).

Jon grabbed an electric Gibson, and despite the "gremlins" he noted, he dove into his own "She's at It Again," but he backed off quickly, returning to the piano. At this point, Paul Cartwright joined him on violin, and I'd like to take a quick detour: My best friend has recently rediscovered her love of music, and as a result, we're once again enjoying long, deep-dive conversations about music, down to the liner notes. Months ago, she brought up Paul Cartwright, and not long after, I found out he was playing with Jon! In fact, I heard rave reviews of their work together, so imagine my delight at finally getting to see him for myself. Reminder: The LA music scene is tiny.

I didn't take great notes on Paul's involvement. That is, I may not have correctly noted every song where he played, but I can vouch for at least a couple (and more). I can confidently report that they indeed took on "Here We Go" together. As we all know, on its own, it's gorgeous and exquisite, but tonight, I was interested in finding out what Paul could with it. For his part, Paul went through three different violins -- perhaps due to technical difficulties? I have no idea, but once he found the one he needed, the notes flew.

As far as I can tell, Paul took over the portions Jon would ordinarily fill in with his piano flourishes. This is a simplistic summation of his contributions, but I hope it offers some insight into Jon's collaborative process. I can't tell you how many times I've watched at Largo as Jon (and other artists) hand off or set up a fellow artist for a gorgeous contribution. Best of all, it's not rehearsed or mandated, but it gives each musician free reign in the spotlight, and it's always been a pleasure to listen in. Everything I'd heard about Paul's work was true. He added dramatic depth and strong resonant notes that you won't even hear on the original's string arrangements. I could hardly wait for the next installment.

Alas, my notes don't mention if he played on the next several songs, so I'll assume he didn't. Otherwise, I might've jotted a few observations. In any case, Jon went into request mode, starting with David Bowie and "Changes," for which he requested the audience's help in singing along. I soon realized that I not only didn't know most of the lyrics to the song, I never really liked it to begin with. That is, of all the Bowie classics, it's not one of my favorites, but hell yeah, I'll jump into the chorus at every opportunity.

Next came Steely Dan's "Any Major Dude," perhaps as a small tribute to the late Walter Becker. I know this song only via Wilco's cover, but both renditions have been top-notch. Then Jon dove into "Play the Game" from Queen, thus rounding out the '70s flashback (all on piano amid equipment problems, if you're paying attention).

Still on piano, Jon followed up with a bunch of his own tunes: first "Same Mistakes," then "Stop the World" featuring a touch of vintage synth and a clip of Brad Mehldau, before finishing up with "Knock Yourself Out," which I don't recall hearing on piano before. In fact, it took me longer than usual to figure it out, and yes, that's unusual.

Earlier in the request process, Jon hinted that he was wrapping his brain around a major undertaking for later in the show. (I wish I'd written down his exact words because they were much funnier.) You knew something was up when Jon moved to the drums -- again, the first time I'd seen him play them in a while. I have to be honest and say I figured out what he was doing pretty quickly because I love this song to death ... and I've seen Jon do it a bunch. Fortunately, it's a tune I never tire of.

Jon first started looping the drumbeat, then piano, and finally the problematic guitar for -- ta da -- "Tomorrow Never Knows." One of the pleasures of seeing Jon do this song is watching him build up the drumbeat. As a nonmusician, I'd never thought about how many layers of drums make the song. As you watch Jon loop them, you see for yourself all the phases the song passes through, and in my case, I learn to appreciate it even more.

As mentioned earlier, when Judy last saw Jon, he went all in on a half-hour of Big Star. Maybe it's something about Judy, but "Tomorrow Never Knows" went at least 20 minutes, but hopefully at a better clip than "Holocaust." Also, I know Judy is a big Beatles fan. As a longtime Largo patron, I got to see Jon pour himself into the guitar, as he knelt on the ground to wrench out the notes, sang into the guitar pickups, and even lowered the mic to his level, rather than rise to meet it at the usual height.

With the song in full bloom, he returned to the piano and brought up clips of T. Rex, a young boy drumming, some orchestral woodwinds, and old-timey singing triplets. Again, I'm going to say it wasn't central to the song, but it gave me the opportunity to trot out my theory that the video mashups may be the best representation of Jon's brain at work. Also, they may show up again in the future, but better integrated.

Jon brought up a guest, the musician John Wicks, formerly of the Records. I have to admit I wouldn't have known about John Wicks if it weren't for a friend sending me a link to a YouTube clip of a benefit concert for him, featuring Jon Brion and the Bangles, among others. Jon gave him an acoustic guitar, while he remained on piano, and Mr. Wicks played a couple of his tunes, complete with Storytellers-style introductions. "Starry Eyes" was reportedly one of Jon's favorite songs ever and, coincidentally, a rebuke to his record company -- a topic Jon knows well. The second song seemed to center on dating an underage girl. John Wicks disavowed the lyrics and explained he only wrote the music; Jon Brion meanwhile played the piano strings (a familiar sight to Largo regulars, but I was glad the newbies were able to take it in) and provided backing vocals.

Jon closed the set with help from Paul Cartwright, who was already plucking on the violin even as Jon spoke to us. I didn't recognize the song at first, which was odd because it's one of my favorites, but that probably has more to do with the twist Paul put on it. It was "Ashes to Ashes," which was ethereal and spacey in the hands of the duo. Also, I had no problem singing along to it, albeit more under my breath, as Jon and Paul deserved every ounce of our attention.

In a surprising move to me, Jon invited us to the Little Room for more music, and fortunately, Judy and Jerod jumped at the offer. From what I've heard, they've been extending the evening on a regular basis, so if you're at future shows, plan accordingly. Over in the Little Room, it was exactly like old times, albeit with at least a couple of new faces -- a saxophonist named Jacob had joined them. As a matter of fact, Jon said they had just met.

They opened with what sounded like a standard, and my best guess (which isn't good at all) is Cole Porter or Irving Berlin. Trust me, though, that it was lush and warm and intimate. They soon jumped into request mode and granted many wishes, starting with the crowd-pleasing Ramones and "Waterloo Sunset"; I had no idea how much I missed the latter in my life, especially in this setting, until it started.

Jon was all over the map with requests, next hitting Sinatra, Dylan, and Neil Young. Judy tells me the jazzy number was "Take the A Train," and I trust her with my life, so it stays. To close out, Jon played what should've been the obvious choice of the SNL closing theme, considering Kumail's guest slot so many hours before and the fact that he had a sax man in his midst. Jon even nailed the farewell style and definitely needs to be on the show while we still have terrestrial TV. My notes mention that they snuck in "Creep" before we left the premises, which I wouldn't put past them.

So there you go! I couldn't help but think of those old-school Largo nights, with the comedy opener, the musical guests that we music nerds love, and the second secret-feeling session. You never know what awaits you at a Jon Brion show, but if these extended performances with Paul Cartwright become a regular feature, sign me up for more.

Setlist
Kumail Nanjiani opener

-- piano
-- Strings That Tie to You
-- One Is the Loneliest Number
-- She's at It Again
-- Here We Go *
-- Changes
-- Play the Game
-- Same Mistakes
-- Stop the World
-- Knock Yourself Out
-- Tomorrow Never Knows
-- Starry Eyes **
-- Teenorama **
-- Ashes to Ashes *

Little Room
-- piano
-- I Wanna Be Sedated
-- Waterloo Sunset
-- Wee Small Hours
-- It Ain't Me Babe
-- Only Love Can Break Your Heart
-- Take the A Train
-- SNL outro
-- Creep

* = with Paul Cartwright
** = with John Wicks

See also:
» i've heard a rumor from ground control

Monday, July 10, 2017

when we came here today

We all felt something true.

Solid Sound Festival, June 23-25, 2017: I've been slow to post concert reports. Quite simply, I've seen many, many shows by the musicians who dominate this blog, and it's hard to come up with new thoughts and phrasings at times. I still like them a ton, but I don't always know what to say about them.

I faced a similar quandary with Wilco's Solid Sound festival. I'm now in the habit of not preparing a ton for trips -- I mean, I check the weather, I pack accordingly, and I know where I'm staying and how I'm getting there. But I no longer plan out activities to the minute, and I try to let the chips fall as they may. Also, Solid Sound made a new rule barring tarps and lawn chairs close to the stage, so we kinda had to get off our butts. For the first time, I felt like the days were wide open.

Solid Sound 2017

The only two non-Wilco events on my radar were the comedy show and the Mark Bittman talk. With the former, John Hodgman once again took over emcee duties, which he handled with aplomb, especially in light of all the cancellations. I hit the first installation, featuring Michelle Buteau and Nick Offerman. I know Michelle mostly through her @midnight appearances, where she's always good. As for Nick Offerman, I doubt he needs an introduction, but I admit I've seen exactly one episode of Parks and Recreation (the one with Jeff Tweedy).

All three were great, and I especially enjoyed John Hodgman's long-form storytelling/standup. Michelle Buteau was more classically standup, and I kind of gasped in recognition when she told of her European in-laws melting in the sun at the beach. Nick Offerman was the surprise and delight. I vaguely know of the Ron Swanson persona, but even I could tell how he plays off and satirizes that reputation. Like John Hodgman, he's not a traditional comic, but he's an expert raconteur. His fans are in for a treat.

Mark Bittman drew a good crowd, though not in the same numbers as the comedy show. I love Mark Bittman's recipes, and a half-dozen of them are in regular rotation in my kitchen. Alas, his talk didn't involve a cooking demonstration, and a lot of the discussion didn't exactly break new ground. However, I loved how he handled a question about food waste, framing it not as a matter of composting and eating our leftovers but instead the huge farming subsidies and resources devoted to soybeans and corn.

But what about the music? First, the non-Wilco acts: Friday featured Dave and Phil Alvin. Music nerds can tell you a lot more about their history than I can, but listening to them, I was immediately transported back to the pre-No Depression sound of early-'80s California indie rock (Evonne confirmed as much for me). I loved seeing Dave's classic split-legged rocker pose, and I was glad to be reminded that he co-wrote "4th of July" during his time with X. Downey, Calif., represent!

Of course I caught the rest of Wilco's openers too. Television was disappointing, and I'm glad I saw the band's first reunion tour all those years ago, but Kurt Vile was fantastic, and I finally understood the chatter about him (though in all honesty, I probably won't ever see him live again on my own accord).

I caught only one pop-up performance: Chikamorachi, aka Darin Gray and Chris Corsano, accompanied by Jeff Tweedy on guitar. It was loud, crowded, and abstract, but I loved it. I'd absolutely check them out again if they came to town.

Solid Sound 2017Among the other scheduled performances, I saw only Kevin Morby, who was breathtaking. Of course, I saw him last fall at the Fillmore, where he sounded great. The last nine months of touring have done him good because the whole band has notably improved further. I was impressed enough that I went out and bought the record when I got home.

OK, now for the Wilco portion of the weekend! I've been one of those jerks turning up my nose at bands performing classic albums in their entirety ... except when I don't. Wilco put on a contest to let the fans decide which record they would play from front to back, and as an obedient follower, I voted early and often for my favorite, Being There. It won, but that rascally Wilco had a surprise for us, as they played both Being There and the runner-up, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. In retrospect, did anyone think Wilco wouldn't do YHF? But we didn't know this until Friday night, when they finished up Being There, and we saw that the band had about an hour left before curfew. I thought maybe they'd do b-sides or covers, maybe favorite tunes, but after the first couple of tracks, we knew what was coming. Congrats to all my YHF-loving friends!

But back to Being There: I've already detailed my love for this record, but it's another matter altogether to hear it in sequence live. About halfway through the first side, I realized how front-loaded the album is and the early thrills coming our way. Of course, I love all the songs on the record, so I'm biased, but it's nice to be reminded of the power of the record.

Solid Sound 2017

Saturday's night set was more in line with what you'll hear if you see Wilco on the road right now, though Jeff admitted they were trying to trick us with the opener "At Least That's What You Said" -- no, the band wasn't doing A Ghost Is Born in its entirety. But they sprinkled in tracks from AM, Summerteeth, both editions of Mermaid Avenue, and I guess the records that didn't quite rank as highly among voters. Let me add the ladies in front of me were happy to see Josh do his thing on "Hoodoo Voodoo."

Sunday is typically the most relaxed day of the festival, and it was no different this year, as we eased to the front for the Tweedy set. Jeff himself told us right away that Tweedy had no new songs, and the band retained the same format as before, with a solo portion of the show, which kind of became a promotional platform for Jeff's new solo album. I loved being reminded of the beauty of "Love Like a Wire," and speaking of Sima, she sounded fantastic on lead vocals for "Friendship."

Solid Sound 2017Sunday's highlight, however, was the debut of Sammy Tweedy on lead vocals with Tweedy! He sang "Military Madness" by Graham Nash, which is entirely appropriate, based on everything I've heard about Sammy. He sounded confident and at ease, and I hope we see him again. Maybe we can get Susan up there next!

One side note for all the gawkers: On all three nights, the pit filled up with spectators from backstage. Typically, this area is vacant after the photographers finish up their shift, but the band's friends and family (including Nick Offerman) decided to catch the gig from the front row on all three nights. It was the first time I've seen this at Solid Sound, and it was awfully sweet.

Before I wrap up this post, I need to highlight the true MVP of this trip: The beautiful house we stayed in, booked by the genius Maudie. For the first time, we couldn't stay in North Adams, but it was worth the trade-off. For a short, 10-minute drive, we had our run of seven bedrooms, three bathrooms, several public spaces, and two luxurious porches. If we can get that house again, it might not matter who's playing at Solid Sound.

See also:
» always hated normal american kids
» Solid Sound 2015: the whole love
» Solid Sound 2013: the boys are back in town
» Solid Sound 2011: you can tell that i'm not lying
» Solid Sound 2010: trees held us in on all four sides

Saturday, July 08, 2017

you can't start a fire

This trip was made possible when, not entirely by surprise, I was let go by my company. To kick off my first ever funemployment tour, I headed straight to Largo at the Coronet for Jon Brion's monthly residency. (p.s. I'll be back behind a desk and earning a paycheck about a week from this writing.)

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, May 27, 2017Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, May 27, 2017: Looking back over my notes from the show, I'm trying to figure out what happened on May 27 because both Jon and Flanny slipped in several political comments during the gig. My best guess: This was when the public first learned that Jared Kushner was under investigation for discussions with Russian agents during the presidential campaign.

It began when Flanny opened the show with his customary introduction, and my notes say "leave screens for Jared." I can't tell you anything else about the screens -- that's all I wrote. But he also brought more than one Guinness for Jon, and that's what really counts.

On cue, Jon picked up the topic of the day, with comments about Kislyak, as well as versions of "Freebird" for Putin and "Hail to the Chief" for you know who.

The set started properly with "God Bless the Child" on piano, which I wouldn't have known if Jon hadn't started singing (because I'm so terrible at identifying the standards). He followed up with an old favorite I've always loved: "Someone Else's Problem," complete with thunderous piano. "Life on Mars" rounded out this opening trio.

Jon has been working with a spare setup for the last few years now, by my reckoning -- thus, no drums and a minimum of guitars. However, the video units have shown up at the last several shows I've attended, and Jon quickly fired them up this evening. The first clip to air was the FDR string band (I don't know how I know this, but that's what my notes say; I assume the clip was accompanied by a label), and somehow Jon turned it into "Strings That Tie to You," escalating and distorting the background noise. I don't always get Jon's video creations, and to be honest, this was such an occasion.

The first requests of the night went to Jon's originals: the forever welcome "Here We Go" and "Same Mistakes." Then he went into "Someone to Watch Over Me," all instrumental and ragtimey and soulful. Fortunately, I usually recognize this with or without words.

Jon switched on the video machines again, and I knew this one as soon as the first clip appeared and could barely sit still during the build. It soon became a matter of waiting for the tune to develop, as Jon brought up a Latin band, Leopold Stokowski, and Maria Callas. Of course, it was "More Than This." I suspect Jon does the tune a lot these days, but I'm not around to see it, so I can't say for sure. If it has become part of the regular rotation, I see why: Jon has perfected this performance. Every part is beautifully integrated, and for the first time, it hit me: Maria Callas is the artistic embodiment of the Amazons on Roxy Music's album covers.

The next video extravaganza involved the 1-2-3-4 drum guy, Andres Segovia, and Leon Theremin. For a while, I didn't know where he was going, but it eventually became the audience-requested "Funkytown," including vocoder treatment. I have to admit -- the Theremin was a nice touch, even if the overall production was a little corny.

Jon finally picked up an acoustic guitar for "Anything Goes" and "Love of My Life So Far," then it was back to the collective for a request. Earlier in the show, Jon had taken his time as we threw title after title at him, but on this outing, he quickly jumped on an idea from the guy sitting next to me. Even better, the guy helped with the lyrics when Jon forgot.

The song was "Dancing in the Dark," and I feel like I need to fill in the background info on why this was such an unusual pick. To start, Jon is often considered a Boston guy because that's where he first became known nationally, but he was actually born in New Jersey. To that end, he's joked in old interviews that he's a Jersey boy at heart, though he hasn't exactly embraced Bruuuuuuuuce as an influence. Also, I think most music fans know Springsteen has mixed feelings about that album. Anyway, Jon threw himself into it, embracing it in all earnestness -- and it was awesome. Unfortunately, my friend sitting next to me didn't act on my suggestion that she jump onstage and do the Courtney Cox dance. Still, the song wouldn't leave my brain for most of the following week. Maybe "Glory Days" next time?

For the encore, Jon went with another favorite to bring us all together in these trying times. Let it be known: "God Only Knows" cures all ills. You never need to doubt it.

Setlist
-- Freebird
-- Hail to the Chief
-- God Bless the Child
-- Someone Else’s Problem Now
-- Life on Mars
-- Strings That Tie to You
-- Here We Go
-- Same Mistakes
-- Someone to Watch Over Me
-- More Than This
-- Funkytown
-- Anything Goes
-- Love of My Life So Far
-- Dancing in the Dark

encore
-- God Only Knows

Monday, June 19, 2017

i'm simple as a matter of fact

This show wasn't supposed to happen, but it did, and for that, I thank everyone who made it possible -- particularly Dr. Judy and the Tweedys, as well as all the old friends who filled out the audience and have brightened the day over the last 10-plus years.

Jeff Tweedy, Chateau du Polpettino, May 13, 2017: A dozen (!!!) years ago, 20 of us gathered for the first Jeff Tweedy basement show following the Second City/Letters to Santa auction. In 2017, 30 faces, some of them newer and some of them not, showed up under similar auspices, and it was like barely a day had passed. In fact, Susan Tweedy called us "OG," a label I proudly embrace.

As I've reported before, Jeff has crafted a template for these shows, so I sent in my requests on time and waited to see which would shake out. (I had a strong inkling of which would make the cut, but I held out hope for both alternatives.) Some of the gang hadn't been to the show for several years, and funny enough, they stuck with their favorites. Heck, there's no right request, especially if you're paying good money for the privilege, but I can't help but giggle at our consistency.

You always expect the gems and classics, and they came through as beautifully as ever, but of course after all this time, I'm going to point out the surprises. Our friends did well with newer tracks, including songs from the Tweedy and Mavis Staples albums, as well a new unreleased track. Even Wilco Schmilco showed up! I'm also going to talk up my selection, "Whole Love," mainly because I love listening to Jeff attempt the falsetto.

But Jeff's covers tend to leave you gasping, and this time out, he chose the Replacements, the Beatles, and Neil Young. Jeff jokingly spoke of his jealousy toward the Replacements for their prescience in writing "Androgynous," and I know it was especially sweet for the Replacements fans in our group. I apologize for going total dad rock, but the Beatles and Neil Young two-fer was a stunner. It sounded like the entire room sang along to "I'm So Tired" (long on Jeff W's wish list), myself included of course, and let me tell you -- whether or not you realize it, the song is cathartic and therapeutic. In a basement full of friends, it's even better.

Jeff then followed it up with "Cinnamon Girl," which I don't even know very well, but I could see, hear, and feel its effect on the room. The joy and cheers were a treat of their own.

Chicago 2017

In the mix, Martin stepped up to lead Jeff through Bill Withers' "Use Me," and we closed with the customary "Candyfloss."

To wrap up the Tweedys' portion of the evening, Jeff autographed the commemorative woodprint poster and we remembered to take group shots, among other fun pictures. That's the minimum for a successful show.

Fortunately, the fun extended several hours beyond as we enjoyed the generous selection of refreshments and snacks, as well as each other's company. Chicago rolled out perfect conditions for the weekend, so we were able to linger on the rooftop under the bright moon; the roaring fire pit didn't hurt either. By the way, shout-out to Tamala for not only the Replacements request but for bringing the Wisconsin delicacy known as torte. Thanks for letting me clean up the pan!

I've run out of words to discuss these shows, except to note I do everything in my power to attend and mark my calendar whenever the date is announced. The music brings us together, but it's worth remembering Jeff's set comprises only a couple of hours out of a long, delightful evening. But they all go hand in hand for what often amounts to one of the best weekends I get to enjoy every year. I'm thankful for each and everyone one of them.

The full history
» name me a song that everybody knows
» 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

Saturday, June 17, 2017

long shot

Use it or lose it -- and I need to maintain my editing skills now more than ever. Though I'm lagging, it's never too late for Aimee Mann at the Fillmore.

Aimee Mann, the Fillmore, May 12, 2017: Aimee Mann's records kind of sneak up on me. Mind you, she's my favorite lyricist, but her arrangements and production haven't soared to the same heights as I enjoyed in the past. But often a few years after their release, her albums are on my mind again, and this tour was no different. I've dived back into Lost in Space and The Forgotten Arm, and they haven't disappointed. Lost in Space, especially, is so beautifully crafted and a pleasure to rediscover. At this rate, it may take me a few more listens to truly appreciate Mental Illness, though that's more a comment on my attention span than on Aimee's skills.

The changes from tour to tour and album to album are subtle, but Aimee has a way of building on each iteration of her career. Mental Illness is notable for Jonathan Coulton's contributions, and if you've paid attention to Aimee's career, you know he was in the cast of her last round of Christmas shows. On this record, he co-wrote a few songs, including one in which he purposely tried to mimic Aimee's tone, starting from the very first line -- which Aimee took as a compliment and an insult. Otherwise, Aimee's band remained the same, though I didn't recognize the drummer.

The show somewhat favored Aimee's new record, but I was more struck by the old singles and album cuts she chose. In fact, she opened with a couple of classics: "4th of July" and "Little Bombs," both of which I happen to love. She sort of sprinkled the newer tracks among the older tunes, and only now has it hit me that it probably had to do with bringing Jonathan Coulton into the show (more on that later).

Aimee Mann, the Fillmore, 5/12/17

Nonetheless, the selections from her back catalog were stellar. I could go on about the older tracks all day, but I'll single out three: "Humpty Dumpty" because as soon as they struck the opening notes, I realized it had been in in my head for the previous week and my subconscious had been yearning for it; "Long Shot" because it's so rare on her setlists; and "Deathly" because it's often overshadowed by more famous tracks from Bachelor No. 2, and it has my absolute favorite backing vocal (read: Jon Brion) on all of her songs. OK, consolation prize goes to "The Moth," another dirge dressed up in pop splendor from Lost in Space.

Jonathan Coulton joined the band for a good section of songs on the new album and to chat with Aimee. It's no surprise that they get along so well as two of the brainier songwriters around. Aimee has come a long way from her self-proclaimed awkward early days; her dry wit is a treat if you can keep up. Aimee had joined Jonathan during his opening set for a few songs and to remind everyone that her label was releasing his new album. Hey, we all gotta pay the bills, but it's gotta be nice if you can do it with friends.

The concert drove me to the perfect outcome: I've been reacquainting myself with Aimee's records -- I mean, more than usual -- and guess what? They're fantastic! Thanks, Aimee, for framing our darker thoughts in the shiniest chords.

See also:
» winter wonderland

Thursday, June 01, 2017

someone's gotta help me dig

This blog bears witness to my adventures in rock tourism, but believe it or not, I have a lot more wisdom and knowledge (hahahahaha) from life on the road that I can't share in written form. However, I now get to impart some of these pearls to my best friend, as she has contracted the same condition. Thus, we both made our way to Humphreys by the Bay in San Diego for Father John Misty, ahead of his Coachella appearances.

Father John Misty, Humphreys by the Bay, April 12, 2017: I might as well play the music snob card and mention the time I saw Fleet Foxes open for Wilco in Boise, Idaho -- a great trip, by the way. As you may recall, Fleet Foxes were the It Band of that moment, but to tell you the truth, they never did it for me. I have my own preferences in Beardy Harmonizers (tm), though I loved witnessing the affectionate bond between the Fleet Foxes and Wilco. Since then, I recall seeing notices for Josh Tillman's solo career, but have mainly stayed away from the hype. As I've mentioned many times before, it's not a criticism on my part. My lizard brain simply can't handle as much music as it used to.

But when he became my best friend's favorite contemporary artist and ignited her own rock tourism bug, you know I had to be there! In fact, I'm sure I would've joined her earlier, but other events come up. Thus, the road led to San Diego.

I've seen Humphreys by the Bay has come up in itineraries for other bands, but every time I've checked, the shows have been seated, which is a no-no for me. Father John Misty was not, which was the first indicator I had to be there. It's a small outdoor courtyard in a resort-style hotel. Imagine a concert venue at the edge of an apartment complex. Got it?

Even better, it turned out the soundboard was stationed on our hotel room patio. Again, imagine your hotel room with a sliding glass door leading out to a wide patio shared by three other rooms. Then picture the soundboard sitting there. Yes, we did watch the soundcheck from the deck. I wonder what it would've been like to watch the entire show from there, but we had other plans.

Father John Misty, Humphreys by the Bay, April 12, 2017

As I indicated above, I haven't seen Father John Misty before, so I didn't know what to expect. I assume the setup (including a 7-piece string section) was a new development, as necessitated by the new record. From what I could tell, the new songs are mellower, but in my humble opinion, the 13-minute acoustic epic was the best tune of the night. I also loved one of the rockers, which I was later informed was his big hit "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings."

As an impartial observer, I'm here for the human drama, and one scenario I've never before witnessed played out: Apparently, some guy in the audience was pissing on people?! FJM interrupted the show to comment on it and to send security at him. I'm happy to report we were on the other side of the audience during this episode.

As for FJM himself, he wasn't particularly chatty, which isn't a concern for me, but longtime fans may have their own opinions. He did tell a funny story about a line he likes to throw out when he goes to other people's shows ("someone's been listening to Radiohead") -- it could be worth stealing.

The biggest revelation to me came toward the end of the set, as he prepped for his solo segment. As the other band members left the stage, I finally recognized some faces: Four of the members were the Section Quartet, whom I've seen at Largo several times. In fact, I saw group leader Eric Gorfain drop by Largo last April for a fantastic podcast taping. I probably shouldn't be surprised by the continued appearance of Largo-associated talent in my life, but it always warms my heart.

One of the other highlights of the night was in fact the opening act, Tim Heidecker. I have to admit I was never a "Tim and Eric" fan, but Tim's musical side was more straightforward than I expected. His songs verged on parody, but you could take them at face value too. Less ambiguous was "I Am a Cuck," for which FJM joined Tim for a rewrite of Simon and Garfunkel's "I Am a Rock." I liked it!

By all indications, I'm committed to attending more FJM shows for moral support. Those reports will come in down the line.

See also:
» i try to stay busy
» i was dreamin' when i wrote this

Monday, March 27, 2017

ain't that enough

Pioneertown was a lovely refresher, but Teenage Fanclub at the Great American Music Hall back in San Francisco turned out to be the main course. What a feast it was.

Teenage Fanclub, Great American Music Hall, March 21, 2017: Before the show, I reviewed the previous Teenage Fanclub posts on this blog and found only two (from 2005 and 2010). Because the Fannies don't tour here often, I figured I might as well recap a few of my preblog memories since I don't know when I'll get to do this next.

Teenage Fanclub

• Teenage Fanclub has toured with a number of bands that kind of leave you gasping if you didn't already know (Nirvana and Uncle Tupelo, to name two). I happened to catch them when they opened for Radiohead on the OK Computer tour, but we locals got an extra treat: a free show at Jupiter in Berkeley sponsored by Mod Lang Records. I actually videotaped the gig on a nice little video camera I had at the time, but don't ask me where the tape is now. Anyway, the most memorable moment of the day came when someone in the audience passed around a bottle of Buckfast. (I think Norman was the only band member who actually drank it.) I then learned a new refrain, though I can't do it justice. The gist of it goes, "Buckfast makes you fuck fast." Since then, I've shared this nugget of wisdom at every possible opportunity.

• As for the Radiohead gig itself, I sat in the balcony at the Warfield and felt myself getting more resentful as the show progressed. The Fannies' set was good, albeit sparsely attended, and I still can't tell you what happened during Radiohead's portion of the show.

• On another occasion, I saw Teenage Fanclub at Slim's. Per usual, I had arrived too early and, this time, ended up hanging out with a dude who was equally twitchy. We probably weren't the only two people there, but that's how it feels in my memory. Anyway, as we waited, he earnestly relayed his concerns for the Fannies and their livelihoods. As I recall, he was less worried for Raymond, whose wife was a lawyer (maybe?), but he had devoted a significant amount of thought to their prospects. Mostly, I recall his consternation and a real hope on his part that they would do OK.

• I think at the same show, a small group of us (random fans) ended up discussing who was the best songwriter out of the group. After much friendly back and forth, we were kind of surprised to land on Gerry as the favorite. I still believe this to that day.

I had a wonderful time at Pioneertown, but this was more in line with how I do a Teenage Fanclub show. There was no rush, but tonight was not a night to hang to the side. Instead, I took my place alongside Lila and Noreen at the front. The crowd for this sold-out show filled out nicely, and only once did it feel anything like a crush, but that was entirely due to a drunk dude who threw himself at the front of the stage. We were OK, but Noreen got the worst of it.

Teenage Fanclub

I've never followed the Fannies' setlists, and in fact, Pioneertown was the first time I've traveled to see them. For some reason, I assumed they stuck to one order, so I was thrilled to hear different songs at this show. I mean, the good stuff was still there, but for one, they finally brought in Man-Made. The most memorable changes were in the encore, where they did the fast version of "Starsign" (as opposed to the slow version at Pioneertown) and brought in "Everything Flows," which got us all jumping up and down.

However, the biggest difference for me at this show wasn't the song selection, but rather the general spirit of being back at the front. We sang along, we cheered like maniacs, and we egged on the band at every turn. Norman has always been the charming and cool one, and he made us smile with a few awkward moments, such as when his guitar didn't work right away. In fact, I loved being so close to the stage to hear each guitar lead. I'm going to sound like a complete idiot, but I haven't appreciated Raymond's guitar skills enough. Also, Norman's big chords on "About You" are gorgeous.

Teenage FanclubThere are no bad songs in a Teenage Fanclub set, but tonight's encore was extra special. As mentioned earlier, we got "Starsign" and "Everything Flows," as well as a Grant McLennan cover, "Easy Come Easy Go." They had done this at Pioneertown, but I hadn't heard it well. In San Francisco, it came through in all its glory, and holy cow, the guitar intro sounds so much like Wilco's "Always in Love"! I've since gone back and listened to the original, which is more distinct, but in the Fannies' hands, it offered a familiar ring -- I mean that in the best way possible.

This account does no justice to the ridiculous elation I've enjoyed since leaving the show. Teenage Fanclub is always in rotation to some degree, but I've been listening to them nonstop since the gig. I'm going to ride this wave for as long as I can, but I hope I get to live it again whenever the band returns to the West Coast.

I should probably also mention Ben Gibbard was hanging out to the side during the show, but alas, he didn't join the band.

Britta Phillips opened for all the shows on the tour, and it was the first time I've seen her live. She was kind of the reason Evonne wanted to see the Pioneertown show, but no matter. She was fantastic, and I now totally understand how she and Dean Wareham have earned a devoted following. For whatever reason, I never got into Galaxie 500 or Luna, but on the other hand, I recall very clearly driving down Beverly Boulevard on the way to Largo and seeing Dean and Britta get out of a car (hahaha). They make great music together, and it doesn't hurt that they're both still insanely cool.

Britta Phillips

p.s. I hope that guy from Slim's is smiling somewhere and maybe even singing along.

See also:
» start again
» we get older every year
» if these things make your day

Sunday, March 26, 2017

start again

All hail the evergreen Teenage Fanclub, forever and always the greatest Scots in songdom. The band's return to the West Coast also offered the perfect opportunity to hit a rock 'n' roll destination I've been dreaming of: Pappy + Harriet's out in Pioneertown. I'm beyond glad I made the trip.

Pappy + HarrietsTeenage Fanclub, Pappy + Harriet's, March 18, 2017: I've said it a million times on this blog, but I'll say it again: I love LA! I was already excited about this trip, but it turned out to be a perfect weekend with all the flavors that comprise the ideal Southern California experience. For me, it covered comedy, food, nature, and friendship -- and a celeb sighting, to boot.

It was also a decidedly nontwitchy weekend. That is, we rolled out of Los Feliz at a reasonable time, drove out to the desert, stopped for beverages and a breather, and wandered around a perfectly temperate Joshua Tree all before pulling up to Pappy + Harriet's. I love Teenage Fanclub, but I knew very well this was not a venue I'd need to sweat over. In fact, we ended up eating dinner there, and our table was exactly the vantage point I wanted for the evening.

Let's back up, though. As a rock tourist, I have to talk about the venue. Pioneertown itself is about three hours east of Los Angeles, depending on traffic, so I guess it counts as a tertiary market. But if you read the New York Times story, you probably know Pioneertown is no longer a secret. Still, it's almost everything I imagined. Basically, you drive out on 29 Palms Highway, take a left on Pioneertown Road, drive a few miles down a two-lane road, and there you are. The obvious parallel from my travels is Marfa, though not as remote, but it also brought to mind the Cellar Door in Visalia, where I saw British Sea Power.

Inside, Pappy + Harriet's is basically a rustic bar. The stage inside is tiny and a few inches off the ground, though there's an outside stage for bigger acts. After last year's headlines, it's hard not imagining Paul McCartney on the stage. I sort of wondered how it compared to, say, the Beatles' Hamburg days. But I digress!

As I mentioned, I felt no need to get to the front, so I hung out to the side. The room was small enough that it didn't particularly matter. As a bonus, the staff ended up pushing our dinner table to the wall to create a walkway out to the back patio bar (for smokers, I guess). The surprise and delight is that they actually enforced the rule, thanks to a huge staffer that we decided to call Hagrid. He was incredibly vigilant for the first half of the set, shooing the interlopers back to their previous spots, until he decided to partake of the nicotine as well. By then, our dear Evonne had taken it upon herself to keep the sight line clear, and trust me, she's quite effective.

The only downside to our spot was the sound, as I couldn't understand much of what the band said. On the bright side, the songs needed no translation, and I was jumping and hollering for all my favorite tracks. We made the acquaintance of the couple seated next to us, and I ended up talking to the guy for a long time. He had loved the Fannies forever, but had never seen them live. I'm happy to report that he too agrees Gerry Love is the man, and I reminded him of our consensus with every Gerry tune. In fact, they opened the set with "Start Again," and my biggest whoop might've gone out for "Don't Look Back." However, there was plenty of love for such Raymond and Norman tracks as "Your Love Is the Place Where I Come From" and "Mellow Doubt," to name two.

Another benefit from watching the show from our spot: We had a nice view of about half the room -- or more accurately, the joy therein. No surprise, there were plenty of singalongs, and Evonne and I appreciated the guy on the other side of the stage playing air guitar and air drums to a number of songs. Britta Phillips and her band flitted in and out, enjoying the gig as well. In fact, Britta took a quick run around the perimeter of the crowd, videotaping the proceedings on her phone.

Funny enough, I left the gig with a greater appreciation for the venue than for the concert. Don't get me wrong -- the Fannies were exhilarating, but due to our spot and maybe the sound, the music wasn't the top draw for me that night. Instead, I was thrilled to finally see Pappy + Harriet's for myself, and I loved sharing the experience with Evonne, as well as our new friends. We listened to Grand Prix on the relatively speedy trip home, but the true impact had yet to set in. I guess in a way, it was merely an appetizer for the San Francisco show.

Still, one takeaway was clear: If any of your favorite bands ever play at Pappy + Harriet's, do everything in your power to get there. You won't regret it.

See also:
» let your helmet warm your skull
» fans of alcohol

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

purple rain

I have no idea why it took me so long to blog this, but here you go, in case you were wondering how Jon Brion's last show of the year at Largo went.

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, December 23, 2016: I managed to hit only two Jon Brion shows this year, so obviously I've missed a lot of developments at the club, but there was no way I could've predicted that two other women in the front row would also be taking notes. Is this where I mention I've been doing this for more than 10 years?? Deep breath, serenity now, namaste. Anyway, welcome to the crew, ladies!

By now in California, we're almost used to the return of rain after so many years of drought, but I have to admit this night in LA was as rainy as I've ever seen. And thanks to the city's inadequate drainage system, whole intersections (I'm looking at you, Melrose and La Cienega) resembled shallow lakes. It was a sight to behold. Largo wasn't exempt, as small puddles gathered in the entryway. Thankfully, the inner sanctum was nice and dry.

In a nod to the Largo legacy, Bobb Bruno opened the show in his customary bunny suit. His set was lovely, morphing from dreamy and melodic to hip-hop beats and ending with Mariah Carey. It's always great to see him at Largo.

Once upon a time, everyone at Largo knew Bobb on sight, but when Flanny took the stage, he helpfully supplied an intro and mentioned Bobb's gig with Best Coast. Flanny also mentioned Largo's upcoming 20th anniversary, which conveniently gives me a chance to link to my first Jon Brion show. (Yes, I've been doing this for a while.) I recall that Flanny promised good things to come in 2017 (at Largo, anyway), but you can say that about the club at any time.

Finally, it was Jon's turn, and per usual, he went to the piano, where he eventually drew out "Punch-Drunk Melody" and "Someone Else's Problem Now," at which point I knew it was going to be a good night. I don't go to Largo as often as I used to, so it's an extra treat to hear the older songs. He ended the opening run at the piano with "Over Our Heads," adorned with Moog and vocoder.

He next picked up an acoustic guitar, kicking off with a decidedly satirical "Hail to the Chief," along with a quick mention of the "incoming totalitarianism." In fact, Jon would sprinkle several comments about the new president through the performance, alternating between gallows humor and encouraging us to stay strong. At this juncture, it led to the more traditional fare of "It Looks Like You" and "Why Do You Do This to Yourself."

Jon returned to the piano, and later in the night, he would explain his guitars were reacting badly to the weather. But at that moment, all we heard was "Happy With You," as Jon's feet kept time.

As I said above, I haven't been to many Largo shows recently, but on the whole, Jon now seems to favor a sparse setup, and tonight was hardly the overload we've seen in the past. However, the video mixers were back, apparently for the first time in a while, and Jon made sure to put them to use. He called up clips of Andres Segovia, Maria Callas, and Leopold Stokowski, and eventually, they chipped in for "Strings That Tie to You." I'm going to be honest -- I'm not entirely sure what they brought to the song. Then again, Jon admitted he was a little rusty on the video mixers, though he showed a defter hand as the night wore on.

Jon finally opened the floor to requests, and as you can imagine, the floodgates opened. He started with Bowie, but the Prince requests also gained steam, to the point where Jon took an unofficial poll to gauge interest. It sounded like a draw to me, but Jon proceeded regardless, starting with a video of a drummer counting off, then joined by another clip of guitar lessons and an orchestra. The payoff was "Moonage Daydream" and, after more video magic from Jon, "Purple Rain." I heard Jon cover this song a while ago, and I recall the absolute thrill of recognizing the tune. But it's a good thing I keep notes -- according to my post, it was a wordless Les Paul-style cover, not a rousing singalong as I wanted to believe.

Tonight, we belted it out, though not quite as smoothly as some of us probably hoped. As a group, we pretty much forgot everything but the first verse and the chorus. However, in Los Angeles, the audience is bound to include people who not only know all the words but can sing the harmonies too. One of the night's heroes happened to be sitting in the row right behind me, and because of his proximity to the stage, his words actually reached Jon to guide him. You're the real MVP, buddy!

The next tune was a request for "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime," featuring footage of Eric Clapton. This was another classic I was so happy to hear and was glad to be reminded of its brilliance in Jon's hands. Jon then hit on "Same Mistakes," before entertaining a request for "Ignition Remix." I thought I heard Jon mention Paul McCartney, but a Google search turns up R. Kelly, and my notes offer no further illumination. If you have more information, I'd love to hear it. The counting drummer made another appearance for "Misty Mountain Hop."

Jon moved over to the electric guitar for, at first, "Waterloo Sunset," which continues to wow. I don't know how many times I've heard Jon cover this song, but it still sounds so damn good. Jon followed up with "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," a no-brainer for the evening. Jon sort of vocalized the Bacharachian horns, and the audience clapped along to keep the beat. Thus, the main part of the night drew to an end.

I'd like to mention that our semi-typical Largo gang (Evonne, Paul, and me) welcomed a couple of new faces for the show: my best friend Doreen and her six-year-old daughter Penelope. With this in mind, when I finally managed to get in a request at the start of the encore, I made sure it was a good one, a song that was not only treasured by Doreen, Evonne, and me, but that (duh) Jon could and probably would do. Mind you, I'd been throwing out requests all night, but this one happened to stick. Jon prefaced the song with the comment that he'd been doing it a lot lately, but I was glad he went in anyway. The song was, of course, "More Than This," featuring clips of a Latin band, Percy Grainger, and Jacques Brel. If I've mentioned listening to Roxy Music as a teenager, let me say now that Doreen was playing and listening to them with me.

Jon closed the night with his own "Please Stay Away From Me."

In case you were wondering, there were no guests tonight and barely a mention of the yuletide, not even a bar or two of "Jingle Bells," as Jon has snuck in before. Even for Jon Brion, this was the least Christmas-y show I may have ever attended at Largo. However, we got a great night, with Jon in good spirits, and we were up for several hours afterward, discussing the gig. No wonder it's my favorite way to ring in the holidays.

Setlist
-- Bobb Bruno opener
-- piano
-- Punch-Drunk Melody
-- Someone Else’s Problem Now
-- Over Our Heads
-- Hail to the Chief
-- Looks Like You
-- Why Do You Do This to Yourself
-- Happy With You
-- Strings That Tie to You
-- Fantastic Voyage
-- Moonage Daydream
-- Purple Rain
-- Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometimes
-- Same Mistakes
-- Misty Mountain Hop
-- Waterloo Sunset
-- Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

encore
-- More Than This
-- Please Stay Away From Me

Ghosts of Christmas past:
» i'll be a rock 'n' rolling bitch for you
» let your heart be light
» i'm offering this simple phrase
» it's been said many times, many ways
» with soul power
» it's the end of the things you know
» you could say one recovers
» a really good time
» the things you do to keep yourself intact
» i've heard a rumor from ground control
» strangest times