Thursday, July 17, 2014

Vetiver / The Papercuts / Peggy Honeywell at Café Du Nord - 2/18/2003

with The Papercuts and Peggy Honeywell
Café Du Nord

A damn fine night of local music at Café Du Nord.  Peggy Honeywell started it off with her unique brand of balladeering.  She has a fine voice, reminding me of both Chan Marshall and Gillian Welch without really sounding like either.  She has an interesting sound, in that her voice says country while her guitar playing says blues.  Either way, I enjoyed it.  I just wish she had played her song "Puppy Love" off of her album on Galaxia, it's a great track.  Her set was short and to the point, just how I usually like my live music.

The Papercuts were next.  This was my second time seeing them in during the month of February.  After some talking with Daz, we both thought the best band comparisons we could come up for them would be a combination of The Violent Femmes, For Stars, and The Shins.  There are also obvious comparisons to the local group The Ceramic Isles, but since these two bands share members it might be redundant to even go into that one.  I thought they sounded swell; I’m enjoying them more and more each time I see them.  For their next to the last song, the singer put down his guitar and played the house piano at the back of the stage, which was a nice change.  The piano could have been a little louder to match the volume on the keyboards, but it was still nice nonetheless.

The final group was Vetiver.  It just came to my attention that the singer/guitarist of Vetiver is from one of my favorite North Carolina bands of all time, The Raymond Brake.  I already liked Vetiver, but this just immensely increased how cool I think they are.  If you ever have the opportunity to pick any of Raymond Brake’s music, do it - you won’t be disappointed.  That said, on the Vetiver tip, they were great as expected - lots of new stuff that I hadn’t heard before (granted, I’ve only seen them once before, but most of the songs from this night was not on their demo that Daz lent me either).  Seemed like the strings were playing a more up-front role this time - last time they kinda came across as secondary to the singing and guitar.  I’m really looking forward to these cats putting out a proper album, and how.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Thee More Shallows / Vetiver at the Hemlock - 11/8/2002

Thee More Shallows
with Vetiver
The Hemlock

Man, I really love being surprised at shows.  It doesn’t happen all that often anymore, considering the amount of music I’ve listened to up to this point in my life.  As you get older, you start hearing a lot of bands doing a lot of the same things.  Maybe that’s why the more original stuff hits me as hard as it does, because it stands so out so well from the rest of the rabble.

Vetiver - they blew me away.  I had never heard anything by them, heard anything about other words, I didn’t know shit about shit.  I would probably throw them under the classification of Americana, but that’s only because I can’t really pigeon-hole their sound.  The band has three members - violin dude, cello girl, and guitar playing singer, who was also a guy.  The music made me think of some weird mix of Nico and Rufus Wainright, only the voice was a little less mannish than Nico, and not quite as flamboyant and over the top as Rufus.  And if you think that’s the dumbest band description you’ve ever heard, I promise I can always go dumber.  Anyways, a lot of the guitar playing was finger picked rather than strummed - anytime I hear finger picking, I always think of Crooked Fingers, but playing style is really the extent of that comparison.  I was mesmerized for their entire performance, and the only thing that bummed me out was that they didn’t have anything to buy and listen to.  Hopefully they are recording now or will be soon, because I’m dying to be able to listen to this group at times other than their live shows.

Let me say from the get-go that Thee More Shallows were damn good too, but I was still reeling from Vetiver and couldn’t quite get into it as much.  It was pretty crowded earlier, but now it was a packed house for these guys.  I’ve listened to their album some and I dig it.  Makes me think of Grandaddy a little bit, but doesn’t sound like them - not keyboard-y enough.  Live, they reminded me of a less country version of Lambchop, and maybe a little spookier too.  The vocals were mostly spoken rather than sung, and the singer had a box with a pig on it - not a real pig, but some sort of decal if I remember correctly - and this box seemed to make lots of noises or have pedals in it or something, cause he was always messing with it.  It should be noted that the singer reminded me of the character "Bug" from the movie "Uncle Buck," not that there is anything wrong with that;  and noted even further, that is a highly underrated John Hughes film, John Candy is awesome and dearly missed, and that Mcauly Caulkin kid is good in the movie but looks like a crack addict nowadays.  Why do I mention all this?  No reason, but I just watched this movie recently, and remembered how much I like it.  You should really celebrate John Candy’s entire catalog of films, not many misses in there as far as I’m concerned. 

OK, so the bottom line is -
1.  Vetiver - amazing.  Do what you can to see them.
2.  Thee More Shallows - really great too.  A fine night of music.
3.  Watch more John Candy movies.

US Maple / Heavenly States / Black Ghost at Bottom of the Hill - 5/25/2004

US Maple
with Heavenly States and Black Ghost
Bottom of the Hill

Ah, a night of quality rock action at the Bottom of the Hill.  It had been quite some time since I last saw US Maple in all of their glorious weirdness, many moons ago at Kimos.  Tonight, I would remedy that situation.

First up in this trifecta of performers was Black Ghost.  Although I know both of the kids that make up this band, I’m not in the business of heaping praise onto anything I don’t feel worthy…if the music didn’t catch my ear or inspire me in any way I could have easily just left them out of the review.  Instead, they brought the rock in a much larger way then you might ever expect of a duo – I don’t know if it was because of the band or the soundperson or a little of both, but the size of the sound I was hearing did not match the two small people that populated the stage.  Very mathy, heavy, and mostly instrumental (and when there were vocals they were pretty much screamed), this group has improved by leaps and bounds over the last time I saw them, probably six months ago or so.  If they keep on this track, can domination of the “noise rock” community be far behind?

I wasn’t sure how or why the Heavenly States got on this bill – they didn’t really fit in with the noisy, chaotic sounds that the other two bands made, but rather had a classic pop-punk type of thing going ala Superchunk or the more upbeat Wrens stuff; which I liked pretty well actually, it just seemed to stand out amongst the rest of the line-up is all.  I’d heard a few songs off of the band’s website some time back, and most were just okay; the glaring exception being the song “My Friends,” which is one of the best things I heard all of last year.  There was a great energy to their live performance, and it seemed like most of the folks there were into what they were doing onstage.

Finally, after a bit of a delay, US Maple took the stage.  Slowly.  It started out with just the guitarist out there playing by himself, and slowly the rest of the members joined him.  I’ve head a lot of different descriptions of the music these guys produce, and the truth is there is no single way to describe it; to me, they sound like the musical embodiment of what going crazy would be like.  I don’t really know how to explain it; it’s just one of those things you have to see.  Therefore it is fitting that the singer, Al Johnson, looks like a man who is verifiably insane.  And I don’t mean in that “oh look at the hyper singer jumping around, he’s so crazy” way; rather, he has that look in his eyes that screams dementia.  He stalked around on the stage like a caged tiger, ready to strike but never quite going for it; and those actions are fairly analogous to the band’s music – lots of build up and tension, without any resolve.  It’s all pretty fantastic really, and some of the most original stuff I’ve ever heard.  While these guys certainly aren’t for everyone, and even though I’m not even sure I “get” it, I really like US Maple and hope they come back around again sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Trans Am / Minus the Bear / Tussle / Replicator at Great American Music Hall - 2/26/2003

Trans Am
with Minus the Bear, Tussle and Replicator
Great American Music Hall

Four bands. That’s about two too many bands on a bill as far as I’m concerned. Even though all of the bands are great, that’s just a lot of standing around in the same spot. And even if you’re one of those crazy dancer kids, it’s still going to wear you out.

I got there before the whole thing started so that I could throw some support the way of Replicator, some local lads who make some bruising music. This was probably the best I’ve seen them play, which is a good thing given the stature of getting to play at the Great American Music Hall with Trans Am. Chris was a machine on the drums, pounding them relentlessly and losing a number of drumsticks in the process. They came across sounding like the bastard stepchild of Gang of Four, Wire, and Big Black, and had a handful of kids in the front flailing around like their ass was on fire. By the end of their set, the place was getting pretty full and people seemed to be digging it.

Tussle was second. This was the only band on the bill that I hadn’t seen before. They were comprised of four dudes – bass, keyboards and electronics, drums, and one guy playing this weird hybrid drum set that was part bottles and jugs and tin tubs and part regular drum kit. They sounded like a dub version of Tortoise to me; some parts were interesting and others were boring, but I liked them more than not.  They sound like a bandyou might see in one of the Hacienda scenes from "24 Hour Party People," playing to a bunch of scenester/hipster/raver types. And if you ever needed proof that indie don’t dance, this was it – some of the danciest music I’ve ever heard live, and only a couple of people in the crowd were bobbing along to the music.

The third band was Minus the Bear. Although I like these guys, I didn’t enjoy this show as much as last time I saw them. They seemed out of place in this line up, but I get the feeling that might happen to them a lot - they seem to straddle a lot of different musical styles, music that might not be normally mixed together. If I had to put them in a specific genre, it would be tough – they play an eclectic sort of math-emo-pop. Lots of keyboards, one guitarist who almost never strums his guitar but rather does all kinds of "hammer-ons" on the neck, in a very Van Halen "Eruption" sort of way; the bands they make me think of the most are Jawbox when they are rocking straight forward, and Dismemberment Plan when they’re feeling a little quirky. I enjoyed their show a few months back at Bottom of the Hill quite a bit; I think a big part of enjoying their music is just being in the right mood for it, and unfortunately, the bands that I heard before them kinda threw me off of that track.

Trans Am was the big finale. I saw these guys roughly a zillion times back when I lived in North Carolina, where they played all of the time. I haven’t seen them in a while - the last time was at Bottom of the Hill a couple of years ago with Neil Hamburger and Laddio Bolacko, a really great show. I’ve not been crazy about their output over the last few years, but their first three releases are the proverbial "shit." That said, they’re always great live no matter what songs they’re playing. Their drummer (aside from looking almost identical to one of my good friends) is easily one of the best I have ever seen, and I think this to myself each and every time I see Trans Am perform.  On to the music though – I only got to see about six songs before I had to take off to go to another show across town, but it sounded great.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

New Boss at Nice Price Books and Records - 5/31/2014

New Boss
Nice Price Books and Records

En route to go play old man basketball with some friends, I stopped off at Nice Price to take in some day rock and try not to buy anything for once.  I can't overstate how much I like a daytime or even happy hour rock show, it is one of the great joys in life.  I knew very little about who was playing and only had a few minutes to stop in, but it was free and who cares, day rock!  I managed to see a short set by a band called New Boss, which is apparently an offshoot of the Charlottesville band Invisible Hand.  It was unclear if this is just a side project or if Invisible Hand is no more...hopefully side piece status, because I dug the Hand.  The basics are: five piece band, female singer, excellent guitar playing.  The guitar work especially reminded me of Pavement, and the overall vibe of the band was Teenbeat Records circa 1995.  But more than anything, and this didn't hit me until their last song, they reminded me of Television Personalities.  Or rather Television Personalities with bitchin' guitar.  I'll gladly see these guys again, even at night!

Marc Maron / Ryan Singer at Goodnights - 4/19/2014

Marc Maron
with Ryan Singer

I know Marc Maron is performing bits when he is onstage, he's been doing this comedy thing for a few decades now after all.  But he's just so damn comfortable up there that it feels more like a conversation (and sometimes a rant) than it feels like a comic performing a routine.  There were a few noteworthy bits about driving a car in LA turning into a "hate pod" and how farting never stops being funny, but the best parts were his ruminating on Jesus / religion / Good Friday (it was particularly topical given the date of the show) and taking questions from the audience.  One audience member asked him about crossfit which set him off on a particularly funny rant if I remember correctly.  The man is easily one of the best working comedians out there today, and I'll never not ever not miss him tell the jokes and the whatnot. 

His opener, Ryan Singer, was the exact opposite - his act was so perfect and well-rehearsed it felt more like a one act play than it did comedy, not that I didn't laugh a lot.  He also opened the last time Marc came to town, so one would assume they are friends and this is the usual Maron live show experience.  I enjoyed Singer so much I'd gladly go see him on his on if he ever came back solo, the guy has a bright future.
(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Protomartyr / Whatever Brains / Spray Paint at Slims - 4/17/2014

with Whatever Brains and Spray Paint

I missed Protomartyr at Hopscotch last year or the year before or whenever it was, but I remember people that I trust giving them a big thumbs up and that was enough to get me out of the house and into Slims.  The place was packed, probably sold out but I didn't poll the doorman or anything.  As I hadn't even listened to more than a song or two of their music, I was forming most of my opinion on the band from this show.  You would definitely never know what you were getting into from just looking at this pack from Detroit - singer Joe Casey looked like the doppelganger for Craig Finn of the Hold Steady, the guitarist looked like a refugee from a frat jam band, and i don't recall the bassist or drummer (insert rhythm section jokes here), but everyone looked like they were coming from something different.  More importantly though, the music - rad.  Super rad.  The overwhelming vibe was a protopunk/postpunk sound along the lines of the Fall or Pere Ubu depending on the song, with moments of noise sludge like US Maple and pop punk like Jawbreaker making occasional appearances.  Did I mention how rad they were?  So rad.  Radical.  Radiating radicality. I can't recommend this band enough.

Saw Whatever Brains again, they had the middle slot.  Shocking, I know.  They were rad as per usual, equal parts weird and rock, but the only thing particularly noteworthy here is it was their first gig with their new bassist, or at least the first I had seen and the first for Slims.  Maybe because he is still being indoctrinated into the cult of WB, it was their most "traditional" set I've seen in quite some long jams, no keyboard skronk offs, no weird covers.  But again, rad nonetheless. 

The opener was a band called Spray Paint from Austin.  I had briefly listened to a couple of songs online and while it didn't wow me, it was interesting enough to see what they were all about live.  It turns out they are one of those three piece bands that features two guitarists and no bassist as seems to be popular these days.  All three band members sang, and often it was two or even all three of them singing at once.  And while I never really got this vibe from my brief foray into their recordings, I got a strong A-Frames vibe this night at Slims.  Anything that even slightly reminds me of A-Frames is a very, very good thing. 

As a side note, someone obviously needs to set up a show where Charlotte's Paint Fumes follow Spray Paint.