Friday, October 24, 2008

Jonathan Richman at the Local 506 - 10/10/2008

Jonathan Richman
Local 506

I'm still trying to get used to not buying advance tickets for every show I go to. In San Francisco, if the performer had any acclaim at all, it would probably sell out. Outside of some small local bands, I wouldn't even bother going to a show if I didn't already have tickets lined up. But out here in NC, most of the time you can just show up, wait in line, and pay the cover right then and there.

It's generally not an issue, but for this show I found myself a bit worried...someone the stature of Jonathan Richman playing a small place like the 506? Did I need an advance ticket? Is he as popular out here as he is in California? Just to be safe, I got there early and stood around like a jackass staring at an empty stage until he began playing. I'm good at staring blankly out into space waiting for something to happen, I've been doing it my whole life.

There was no opening act, a rarity at most shows but a trend the old crotchety man inside of me wishes was more popular. But there was a drummer - Tommy Larkins, to be exact, probably best known as the drumming accompaniment to Jonathan in that spazz comedy “There's Something About Mary”. It's my understanding that Tommy plays with Jonathan from time to time, but in all of the shows I've seen him play it's just been the man and his guitar. Solo Richman is plenty fine, but the drums do add an extra layer of sound, some additional definition and textures to songs you're used to hearing a certain way. But more importantly, all that drumming gives Jonathana lot of extra time to sit his guitar down, dance, play a little cow bell, and generally enjoy himself in a grand fashion.

If you haven't guessed by now, I enjoyed the hell out of this gig. I've seen a lot of Jonathan over the years, and this might have been my favorite time. He may not have played all of my favorite songs (I was really hoping for “Ice Cream Man” and/or “Down In Bermuda”), there may have been a bunch if old, asshole fans screaming at the man like he was a performing monkey, and it might have been hot as shit because the air conditioning system was turned off since they play at such a low volume, but I had a smile on my face the whole time. The man is a real treasure, a joy to watch perform, and more of the kids playing music today should look towards him for inspiration on how to carry yourself on a stage. 

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Okkervil River / Crooked Fingers / Black Joe Lewis at The Soapbox - 10/3/2008

Okkervil River
with Crooked Fingers and Black Joe Lewis & the Honey Bears
The Soapbox

It being a Friday night and all, it seemed perfectly reasonable to drive over two hours to Wilmington for a rock concert. It helps when you got a good friend to visit and a free place to stay at his house. Brian has been one of my major partners-in-crime for going on 14 years now, nearly half my life, and a visit with him is just as entertaining as the live music itself.

We got over to the club early, and much to our surprise there was a line of folks waiting to get in...this rarely seems to happen anywhere in NC, much less Wilmington. After some dicking around on the pool and foosball tables, we staggered upstairs to see what the opening act, Black Joe Lewis & the Honey Bears, was all about. I generally don't expect much out of unknown openers, having been let down so many, many times in my life, but the rumor of a horn section had me intrigued. Turns out this band of Austin, TX kids were quite good - throwback blues/soul with a lot of pep and a nice three-piece horn section round out the sound. The whole crowd seemed to be digging it, understandably. You never know what might happen, but I could see these guys getting a little popularity if they manage to hook up with the right crowd (touring with someone like the Black Keys, for example).

As much as I love Okkervil River, I must be completely honest and say that Crooked Fingers were the performer of the night I was most excited about. Even though I haven't listened to their records a ton lately, any time you get to see Eric Bachmann perform live, you're going to have a good time.
As per usual with Crooked Fingers, the line-up of the band was different from the last time I saw them (and that time was different from the previous outing, and so on) - this outing found them to be a quartet, with Bachmann's finger-picked guitar backed up by drums, bass and violin.Despite having a new record coming out the following week, they tended to play a wide swath of older material - including two of my favorites, "Crowned in Chrome" and "New Drink for the Old Drunk" (would have been nice to hear "Carrboro Woman" or "Juliette" or really every song off of the first record, but no set list is perfect). Had they left it that, I would have left a very satisfied customer. But no! Thrown into the set, towards the end, no one expecting it...they busted out the Archers of Loaf classic "Web in Front". Had my bowls not been recently empty, there is no doubt I would have literally shat myself...and I wasn't alone - everyone in the immediate vicinity of me started freaking out like pre-teens at a Jonas Brothers concert. I've heard this song played live by Bachmann dozens and dozens of times, but the power it holds over me never wanes.

After the Crooked Fingers performance, I felt myself to be a bit sapped and not nearly as excited for Okkervil River as I would have otherwise been. I left the front of the stage area as the kids started packing in, cause I just didn't have the energy to push around with a bunch of teenagers and their illegally scammed beers sloshing all about.

But that's not to say they didn't put on a damn good show, cause they did. Even though I was standing in the back talking to my friends and dodging drunks, my ears were constantly being tugged to the front of the room every time they played one of my favorite tracks ("The Latest Toughs" being the highlight as always). Lots of songs from the last couple of records, and as always a few older hits ("Westfall", "Okkervil River Song") during the encore. There are few things I enjoy more than singing along with "Okkervil River Song", the track they always end their live shows with.

The whole affair finally wound down at 1:30 in the morning, just enough time to stagger down to the pizza place and load up slices of late night calories. It was a good night, a tasty night, a musically rad night.

Wilco / Bon Iver at Koka Booth - 8/8/2008

With Bon Iver

Koka Booth

In our quest to fully ingratiate ourselves into complete suburban yuppiedom, it was decided a trip to see Wilco at the local outdoor amphitheatre was required. Long gone are the days of getting to see Jeff Tweedy and company in small clubs, or even medium-sized ones, so if I want to enjoy their young, crisp dad-rock sound there was no way around submersing ourselves into a sea of pressed J. Crew khakis, boat shoes, and croakies.

To alleviate some of the fear, we bolstered our numbers with a crew of Wilmingtonians who drove up for the festivities. Although greatly outnumbered, if we "circled the wagons" as it were we would last much longer if the former frat boys decided to turn on us for not wearing the requisite puka shell necklaces. Joking aside, the only real threat posed by this gang of boobs was standing around talking about nonsense and distracting from the concert, but I guess that is true of any live event. After a few songs, you can mostly tune it out and focus on the band (though the low volume of this particular concert made it a hair tougher).

As for the show itself, it was what I expected: mixed bad from all of their albums, but definitely leaning heavily on their last couple of records. The downside was that they only played one song from their best record "Summerteeth" (A Shot in the Arm); luckily, they somewhat made up for this by hitting "Being There" a little more heavily than I would have expected, and a couple of tracks from the "Mermaid Avenue" sessions made it onto the set list as well. As for the new songs, my view on them performed live is about the same as my view on the last couple of albums - pretty good, a little too much wankery, not nearly up to the level of their first three albums. We get it Nels Cline, you're a fantastic guitarist - now let's shave about a half an hour's worth of wonky guitar solos out of the set list and throw a few classic songs in there in their place.

Everything sounded great though - I was very impressed with the sound of the Koka Booth Amphitheatre, though my expectations were set pretty low as most outdoor venues sound like warm ass. The wooded setting was very nice, and I'd go to more shows there if they'd be bothered to book more worthwhile gigs.

Certainly worth noting was local-lads-done-good Bon Iver as the openers - I made a point to get there early enough to see their entire set, and I wasn't disappointed. they hit pretty heavily from their debut album with a few extra tracks thrown in (a cover I didn't recognize and at least one new song). The harmonies were amazing, and definitely the highlight of their set...I'd give anything if more bands could sing that well. Musically, they remind me of a mixture of the Kingsbury Manx, The Radar Bros., and Jose Gonzalez...modern folk with tight harmonies and some sonic experimentation thrown in on occasion. I know they pretty much tour constantly, but a local gig in a decent sized venue is in order, and how.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Les Savy Fav at the Nasher Museum of Art - 7/12/208

Les Savy Fav
Nasher Museum of Art

I've been to a lot of shows, but without question this is the only performance I have ever attended where the lead singer of the band I was there to see tried to display my genitals on giant screen via a webcam camera.

It can get dreadfully hot here in the summer, so the prospect of an outdoor show can be an iffy affair...luckily, it was a decently cool evening, and the sweating only started as I took to dancing my ass off once Les Savy Fav started their show. This was only helped as the band started close to an hour late, marred with some manner of technical glitchery involving their giant display screens.

With the Fav, you never know exactly what is going to happen from one show to the next, and for this event it revolved around giant screens where webcam-type cameras would be displaying images. One of these cameras was taped to lead singer Tim Harrington's head, and the other to some random kid's shoulder who roamed the audience. Or at least, this is where the cameras started – it didn't take long for Tim to remove them and go nuts...some of these activities included:
  • tying a camera to a rope and swinging it above his head;
  • throwing a camera into the crowd;
  • shoving a camera down his pants;
  • using the camera to get a close up of his bellybutton for an extended period of time;
  • and, of course, trying to put it up the bottom of my shorts.
Goofiness aside, the band put on an amazing show as they always do, drawing heavily from their more recent release “Let's Stay Friends”. But it was a long set, and they played lots of older favorites like “Reprobate's Resume”, “Who Rocks the Party”, “Dishonest Don” “Blackouts” or “Adopduction” sadly, but enough goodness to quell my disappointment. They did close out their pre-encore set with a cover of the Superchunk classic “Precision Auto”, much to the delight of the whooping and hollering and singing-along crowd.

And even with all that rock, the shindig ended right around 10 PM so old fogies like myself could get home at a decent hour. Top-notch rock entertainment and an early bedtime, if that ain't a successful night out I don't know what is.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

King Khan & the Shrines at the Local 506 - 6/30/2008

King Khan & the Shrines
Local 506


I've been to a lot of shows, and I'm racking my brain but I think this might have been the first one that involved a cheerleader/dancer as one of the members.

It was a packed show, and I'm not referring to the crowd (though that was healthy in size) - counting King Khan and the pom-pom pal, there were ten band members piled onto the small Local 506 stage. Depending on where you were standing, there were some members you couldn't even see...for me, it was one of the horn blowers and the percussion dude in the back...really, god knows who else they had stuffed on that box.

I placed myself up at the very front so as to take my shitty photos, and soon thereafter most of the crowd crammed in around me. You'd think there was a contest being held on how uncomfortably close you can stand next to the people around you even though there was plenty of room to spread out; this game is sometimes called "drunk asshole", and there were a lot of contestants this night. Certainly more than I would have expected given the size of the crowd, proportionally speaking; and as per usual, it only takes a couple of these douchemongers to ruin the experience for everyone.

But enough bellyaching - I wasn't going to let a few bad apples ruin my good time, and luckily King Khan and his top notch Shrines but on suck a goddamn blistering performance that the asshole distractions were few and far between. This was a serious dance fest, the most danciest good time I've been to in ages. Nearly the entire crowd was moving and shaking and the King seemed to be feeding off of it. They played pretty much their entire newish "Greatest Hits" record, and probably a few others to boot...I was too busy shaking my tail feathers to care really.

Let's touch briefly on the Shrines - they were a regular United Colors of Benetton out there, hailing from France and Germany and possibly the US...and maybe Canada! Yes, that Canada! They were straight killing it from start to finish, so tight that you'd think you had been transported back 40 years to some manner of "Sock hop" or whatever it was the kids were into in those days.

It was a glorious time, so goddamn killer that all the coked-up asshole underage frat boy crowd dicks in the world couldn't have wiped the smile off my face after the show ended.

I actually took photos with my real camera...other than the pic up top, see the rest of the results over on the website.

Swervedriver / The Nein at the Cat's Cradle - 6/6/2008

with The Nein

Cat's Cradle
I've thought about this little write-up for a while, not really knowing what to say. Since I've moved back to North Carolina, I've made it out to exactly two shows, and both of them have been “reunion” affairs. I don't know if this says more about me getting old or that more bands are reuniting these days...probably both. It was also a reunion of sorts with some good friends, Brian and Ivan, friends who were influential into turning me onto this band some twelve years ago or so. Now we were three old men going to see the live performance of a band that broke up ten years ago.

You'd never have known it was ten years ago Swervedriver released their last record, based on the show I saw this fine evening. Maybe they never lost it, or maybe they just re-found it since the tour had started out west before it made it's way here; whatever the reason, they were as goddamn tight and powerful as the bulging ass muscle on a female bodybuilder. The crowd wasn't huge – the Cradle was about half-full – but those that were there were ecstatic at what they were witnessing. As far as the songs played, like always I'm terrible with track names but they hit across all their full-length releases fairly evenly; it should come as no surprise that the crowd was most animated anytime a song from “Mezcal Head” came up, and much to my personal delight a lot of my favorites from “99
th Dream” got the live treatment as well.

It was a fantastic show by one of my all-time favorite bands, and the smiles on both Brian and Ivan's faces when the gig let out told me I wasn't alone in these feelings. One can only hope the band decides to build on this tour, maybe write some new songs, put out a new record, go on another tour...hey, an old nostalgic man can dream.

Also worth noting were openers The Nein – they seemed awful familiar to me, reminding me a lot of another local group, The White Octave, that I was a big fan of before I moved away years ago. Turns out the two bands have a number of members in common, and by “a number” I mean somewhere between one (the minimum) and three (the maximum) and I'm too lazy to research the exact number. Either way, they have a similar sound to their parent band, a blend of Cursive and Fugazi and NC-style indie rock, a nice mixture as far as I'm concerned and certainly worth checking out if you've never seen them before.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Polvo at the Cat's Cradle - 5/10/2008

With Des_Ark & Noncanon
The Cat's Cradle


I'm a huge Polvo fan. HUGE. One of my favorite bands of all time...and when I found out they were reuniting, I nearly soiled myself. At first the only show mentioned was a reunion gig at the Explosions in the Sky curated ATP festival in England. And even though I'm broke as a joke and unemployed on top of it, I contemplated going into debt to fly over and see this show. It may have also led to divorce, but so be it.

But then they announced a few shows here in the states, including one in their hometown of Chapel Hill. I was moving back to the area and boy howdy was I excited. Of course the show sold out of tickets quickly - they are local heroes after all - and this just happened to coincide with my cross country drive, when my mind was more focused on national parks than live music. I was feeling pretty fucked about my lack of ticket, but luckily my old friend Craigslist came to the rescue and I managed to procure entrance for only 250% of the face value (that being 10 bucks). This show was easily worth 25 bucks though...shit, it was worth 200 bucks, which is how much the guy next to me at the show paid. Judging from his reaction to their set, he wasn't pining for that money back.

Without going into all the details, let's just say: the show fuckin' ruled. Other than not getting to hear every song I wanted to, the gig fully met all my expectations and then some. So much so that even though I was really far from the band I took a couple of photos anyways, just to commemorate the event.
The band was much tighter than I would have expected after coming off of a ten year hiatus. And much heavier than they once were. This may be a matter of maturation, of years passed, or because they added the drummer from Cherry Valence, Brian Quast, to the line-up. It kinda felt like all the classic Polvo tracks were being run through a Thin Lizzy filter, not that I was complaining. I've never been much to remember song names or track lists, but they did a good job of hitting a lot of the highlights on nearly all of their albums and EPs...some stand outs included "Fast Canoe", "Feather of Forgiveness", "My Kimono", "Bombs That Fall from Your Eyes" and most importantly, my favorite Polvo song of all time,"Tragic Carpet Ride".

As my first show back here in "god's country", I couldn't have been more pleased with the results. Word is Polvo have even been writing some new material, so who knows where this reformation goes...keep your fingers crossed for some new releases by the one of the best and most underrated bands of the last 25 years.

On a side note: both of the opening acts were pretty good. Noncanon had a very poppy indie rock sound brewing, a sound that is easily identifiable as the "Chapel Hill sound" that we all know and love. A couple of superb tracks in their set and the rest was decent...I'll definitely keep my eyes and ears open to catch them again. Des_Ark had their moments as well, but thinking back on it right now it's the drumming that really stands out, but I feel like the singer said it was their last show together? I may have misunderstood that, but either way, that drummer straight killed it live.