Thursday, May 30, 2013

dälek / Thrones / Isis at Bottom of the Hill - 10/10/2002

with Thrones & Isis
Bottom of the Hill

After the last time I saw dälek, I made a promise to myself to never miss another one of their shows again.  And if that meant going to some crazy metal show that they were playing at, then so be it.  Let me say up front that I’m no metal dude, so take my reviews of these bands pretty lightly, and if there are any great omissions or mistakes about them then it’s due to ignorance, not malice.

When I arrived, Thrones were almost done with their set.  Or I guess I should just say his set, as it was just one guy.  From what I understand, He used to be the bassist for the Melvins, so that is probably a pretty fitting place to start talking about the music he was playing.  Because that’s exactly what it reminded me of - the Melvins, plus lots of effects.  Although I’ve never been a big fan of the Melvins, the music coming off the stage here was intriguing to me.  It somehow manages to be slow, heavy, and somewhat ambient all at the same time.  The crowd certainly seemed into it, and it was packed even for this first band.  He was surrounded by pedals, amps, and various other odds and ends that I couldn’t even begin to describe.  What I do know is that he was playing one of those crazy, jagged looking BC Rich bass guitars that I always wanted as a kid.  I was wishing I had gotten there a little early to hear one or two more songs by him - hopefully next time around.   

dälek started setting up I got a seat on one of the speakers next to the stage.  That meant that not only would I get to hear their music, but feel it right in my ass as well.  Plus I’m lazy, so sitting down is always nice.  Anyways, they started into a much more rocking set than previously at the Hemlock, or maybe it just seemed more rocking because they were so much louder here at Bottom of the Hill.  Either way, they were just as amazing as last time.  They were clearly on top of their game, as a result of being on tour for a while now.  I recently watched the movie "Scratch," and it really hit me just how innovative and different DJ Still is from everyone else.  I’m sure he can’t scratch like Qbert and those guys (although he’s still pretty damn good at it from what I’ve seen at shows), but he has so many different tricks up his sleeve that I’m willing to place a bet that 20 years from now people will be looking back at just how ahead of his time he was.  The final song was just a beautiful wall of noise, with Still and Oktopus doing their thing while dälek rubbed his mic up and down on the monitors to create feedback.  For a crowd made up mostly of metal dudes, they seemed to take to it fairly well. 

I settled towards the back for Isis.  To be honest, their music was not to my liking, but everyone else there seemed to be having a damn good time.  Actually, let me clarify - I quite liked the music, it was just the vocals that I couldn’t hang with. 
But the music was damn good.  I’ve never been a fan of the gravel voice that is used in most metal now days.  One funny thing that I noticed was that Tenacious D were playing on the TV by the bar while Isis were playing, so it created a really funny scene if you were just watching the TV while listening to the band.

But I have one question - does listening to metal make you want to grow a beard, or does growing a beard make you want to listen to metal?  Cause there sure were a lot of beards at the show.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just an observation.  A question for the ages I suppose, just like that whole chicken/egg fiasco...

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

dälek at the Hemlock - 8/24/2002

The Hemlock

I really love early shows, because you get the combination of hearing live music and having the rest of your evening free for other pursuits; and it’s all the much better when that early show is one of the best things you’ve seen in a long time. 

I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from this show.  I was somewhat familiar with the first release by dälek "Negro Necro Nekros," which reminded me of DJ shadow but with added vocals.  I got to the show at six, and it was still light outside, which is always a strange feeling.  When I got there, I noticed that the group that was supposed to be playing with dälek was erased from the chalkboard, which was fine by me - I had another show to go to after this one anyways.  After I paid my five dollars, I walked in and saw my friend Daz - we chatted for a while, and I took note of the scene: the stage was set up with a the prerequisite two turntables and a microphone, plus a laptop and some sort of mixer-synthesizer-knob twiddler thingy.  The crowd was sparse, maybe 15 or 20 people there, not counting the group or the Hemlock staff.  This was likely due to the fact that the show was a rather last minute addition, with advertising sparse at best.

Then the music started.  To say that I was blown away would be the understatement of the year.  Someone told me their new sound was very noisy, very reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine - and they weren’t lying.  It had that type of sound that washes over you, envelops you, and leaves a mean ringing in your ears if you’re not dutifully prepared with some plugs.  With beats from producer Oktopus, DJ bits and pieces from Still, and dälek’s rhyming, you have a cacophonous, harmonious, delirious mess that was truly music to my ears.  And on the topic of the DJ, Still - he is by far the most original DJ I have ever seen, doing things I’ve never witnessed anyone else do.  Not only did he scratch the records in typical fashion that most people have seen many times, he would also scratch the needle back and forth across the grooves of the record, not unlike strumming a guitar.  Undoubtedly, this must ruin the needle and the record, but the sounds that it produced were amazing.  He had his whole setup running through a bunch of pedals as if he were a guitar player - distortion, reverb, who knows what else?  At more than one point during the show, instead of using the needle to play music, he would lift the arm of the record player up to his mouth and blow into it, producing more noise for their layered sound.  It was truly incredible.

Most of the tracks they played were of newer songs, making me immediately go up and buy the CD after the show was over.  Towards the end of the set, this weird, drunken guy in a Russian hockey shirt showed up, and stood right in front of the band while everyone else was sitting around the peripheral, and clapped at really inappropriate times.  But he seemed to be enjoying himself, and it was because of his heckling the band that they played longer and we got an encore.  So thank you, drunken Russian hockey shirt guy.  The encore consisted of the track "Swollen Tongue Bums," my favorite song from their first release.

Needless to say, I’m an instant fan.  Next time they come through town, do whatever is necessary to make sure you’re at the show.  These guys deserve an audience, and your ears deserve the pleasure of hearing them.  Oh yeah, buy the new record too, "From the Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots."  Hip hop has never sounded so different and good to these ears.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dead Meadow / Jennifer Gentle at Bottom of the Hill - 4/13/2005

Dead Meadow
with Jennifer Gentle
Bottom of the Hill

Jennifer Gentle was the main reason I was at this show, and I walked in just after they had started.  Those crazy Italians released a pretty good album on Sub Pop earlier in the year called “Valende,” and I was curious how it would translate live.  I was under the impression that they were a duo, but there were five people on stage so either I was misinformed or they hired extra musicians for the tour, but I don’t guess it matters much in the end.  The band took both their name and their recorded sound primarily from Syd Barrett, but there was a level of whimsy in their live performance that I had never heard or noticed on their album…at times I thought they would be perfect on a bill with Of Montreal and the Starlight Mints.  They had their moments that harkened to the record, but for the most part it was all out of tune tra-la-las and upbeat melodies.  It was actually quite good, despite being different from what I had hoped and expected them to sound like live going in.

Dead Meadow was the main band on this rockin’ good evening, and rockin’ good they certainly were.  Their last album “Shivering King and Others” was a real riff-fest, you could tell they really like Black Sabbath and wanted to prove it to anyone who would listen.  On their newest record, some of the rock remains but most of it has transmogrified into something you might have heard on one of those early Pink Floyd albums like “Ummagumma.”  But shit, this is a live review, why am I talking about their records? After having recently seen both High on Fire and Mastodon it’s tough to refer to Dead Meadow as heavy.  They were definitely pointed in that new Pink Floyd direction I was mentioning before.  The crowd had really packed the front and were getting their “mellow hesh” on, the slow motion head bang that is fully appropriate for a show like this – no shirtlessness required for this kind of rocking out.  Anyways, it was a great pairing, two good bands for one low price and no one punched me in the balls, a real fun night.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Damien Jurado at Bottom of the Hill - 6/10/2003

Damien Jurado
Bottom of the Hill

I had wanted to see Rocky Votolato who was opening on this tour, but due to some confusion in the order of the line-up and me assing around the house and getting to the club too late, I only caught his last two songs.  They were great, but I didn’t really get to hear enough to write an actual review about it. So we’ll stick with the man of the hour, Damien Jurado.  After a foray into playing rock music with his last album "I Break Chairs," Damien is back to his old folky self, just a man, a guitar, and an unbelievably amazing voice.  Without fail, every time I see him live it makes me re-obsess over his music and put quite a bit of effort into listening to him again.  His live performances are mesmerizing and it’s so quiet in the room you can hear the wooden chair he’s sitting on squeak as he plays.  It’s not uncommon for his beautifully sad voice to bring folks to tears, most notably with my friend Daz anytime he plays "Ohio."  To top it all off, he’s damn funny in-between songs, telling lots of stories about the funny things his kid does and interesting vignettes from the road.  It was a fine, fine show by a man with one of the best voices in the business - or any business for that matter.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Crooked Fingers / Azure Ray at Bottom of the Hill - 12/6/2003

Crooked Fingers
with Azure Ray
Bottom of the Hill

I missed David Dondero, again.  One of these days I’m actually going to catch one of his shows.  Instead, I got there right as Azure Ray were beginning their set.  Having only heard a couple of songs online somewhere, I can’t say that I was a fan going in, but I certainly am now after having witnessed a great set by them.  Beautiful harmonies from the two girls, backed by members of Crooked Fingers.  It was a wonderful sight to behold.  Seemed most of the crowd was there to see them, as they have certainly gotten their fair share of hype due to their relations with the Omaha scene that’s so hot right now, but after this show I found that any praise or hype being thrown their way was well deserved.  If any complaint could be levied at all, it would be that they might have played a little too long for an opening act, but that may just be my unfamiliarity with their material talking.

You never know exactly what kind of show you’re going to get with a Crooked Fingers performance – sometimes mellow and subdued, sometimes upbeat and raucous, but always damned entertaining.  This time it involved Eric Bachmann playing lots of piano, more than half the set; also, the Azure Ray girls assisted in a number of areas, from keyboards to bass to piano to trumpet (for all those songs from the newer album that have trumpet, just so you know).  I guess you could call it the Crooked Azure Finger Ray Experience, or The Neutral Milk Pogues if you wanna talk about what it sounded like.  Let it be said here and now that this was definitely one of the best shows of the year for me – Crooked Fingers shows always figure high on my list anyways, and this was one of the better if not the best I’ve seen them.  Great selection of songs, including a few new ones and a cover of “Sunday Morning Coming Down."  What’s more, he does a great job of revisiting some of his older material and switching it up, changing tempo or instrumentation to keep the songs new and fresh.  Probably the most important part of the evening happened during the last song of the regular set – when Bachmann revisited a classic Archers of Loaf song, “Chumming the Oceans.”  I thought I would never get to hear this song again after witnessing the final Archers of Loaf show some years back.  The performance was amazingly moving, and I know I wasn’t the only one there who felt so.  After a quick break Eric came back and played "A Little Bleeding," a song that often fills the closer role and probably my favorite Crooked Fingers track.  The end of the song featured the rest of the band, David Dondero, and some unknowns on the stage for the sing along part, and the audience joined in to help as well.  It had a very homey feeling, one of sitting around the fire singing with your friends, and it was grand…if only more bands could replicate this feeling.  But then again, it wouldn’t be so special if it happened all of the time, would it?

Crooked Fingers at Thee Parkside - 2/26/2003

Crooked Fingers
Thee Parkside

This might go down as my favorite show by Crooked Fingers ever, as well as my favorite show of the year. I know it’s only the end of February, but I dare anyone to ever top.

I got there a few minutes before midnight, after having left the Trans Am show in the middle of their set. Not that they were bad or anything, rather the opposite; but I don’t miss an opportunity to see Eric Bachmann perform for no one or nothing. When I walked into Thee Parkside the temperature had to be damn near 100 degrees – I think I might have sweated off a few pounds just by standing in the back. Guitar Wolf was still playing, and everyone was going nuts including the band. I can’t say that their music excites me very much, but you’ve got to love the enthusiasm that both the band and the crowd put out there. They played about 15 encores I think before it was all said and done. If I got nothing else from this show, at least I can say I’ve seen Guitar Wolf play now.

It wasn’t until about 1:30 that Bachmann finally got on the stage. It was just him playing his acoustic guitar, no band.  He seemed to be in pretty jovial spirits, and the crowd that was there to see him seemed pretty happy that it was finally going to happen, I know I was.  There was a point between Guitar Wolf finishing their set and him playing that I was wondering if it was going to happen at all.

The whole show was great, but it really all comes down to the first song – "The Greatest of All Time."  For some reason, I had convinced myself that I was never going to hear any of Archers of Loaf songs live again unless some other band covered them.  To hear Bachmann actually singing this song again for the first time in years - well, I can’t really put it into words. Let’s just say I had the biggest, dumbest, happiest grin ever on my face.  In addition, he played a few Crooked Fingers’ songs, a cowboy song that involved him doing some yodeling, and Kris Kristofferson’s "Sunday Morning Coming Down" as he played on his Reservoir Songs EP.

I still realize that I may never hear Eric Bachmann perform an Archers of Loaf song again. But this show gave me hope where there was none before, and hope is a good thing.

Crooked Fingers at Café Du Nord - 2/19/03

Crooked Fingers
Café Du Nord

I love Crooked Fingers, and I might even go so far as to say that Eric Bachmann (who basically is Crooked Fingers) is one of my heroes. His previous band, Archers of Loaf, would be placed at the top of any "favorite bands of all time" list I might ever dream up. So going into this show, I knew it was going to be great, no question about it. I’ve never been disappointed by Bachmann, and this was no different.

Much to my surprise, when I got there an old skateboarding friend of mine, Barton, was standing behind the merch counter. After chatting with him for a while, I come to find out that he was actually playing in the band!  I knew that he was acquainted with Bachmann and had roadied for the Archers before, but this was a surprising turn of events.

As for the show itself, it was just as expected – awesome. This was by far the most rocking Crooked Fingers show I’ve seen, and accord to Barton, the band has really been moving in this direction lately.  One of my friends thinks that they’re just going to turn into the Archers eventually - and while part of me might dig that, I doubt they will actually ever move that far back towards the level of rock that the Archers played. It does seem that Bachmann is moving a little away from finger picking, or at least not relying on it as heavily; and the new album doesn’t have anywhere near as many ballads as previous efforts.  Either way, the show was great and I left Café Du Nord with a huge smile on my face. I think I could go see these guys live every day and never get tired of it.

Cursive at Bottom of the Hill - 1/30/2003

Bottom of the Hill


I can’t believe how crowded this show was.  Last time I saw Cursive here at Bottom of the Hill (the show before the last one...but that last one was canceled due to Tim Kasher’s collapsed lung I think), there were probably only a hundred people here.  This time - sold out way in advance.  Who woulda thunk it?  Regardless, I was glad that I was finally getting to see them live again.  "Domestica" is a truly great record and everyone should at least give it a couple of listens.  My only complaint about the show was that they didn’t play enough songs off of this album - in particular, "Radiator Hums," my favorite.  Still, I liked all of the new songs, especially the ones that relied heavily on the cello; plus they played a couple of the older, pre-"Domestica" songs that were nice to hear.  As an added bonus, they played part of a Miss Elliott song as part of their set, which was equal parts bizarre and awesome.  They put on a really great, rocking show, one of my favorites of the past few months.  

 (Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Conspiracy of Beards / A Hawk and a Hacksaw at the Hemlock - 5/29/2005

Conspiracy of Beards
with A Hawk and a Hacksaw
The Hemlock

I’m not afraid to admit that I mostly went to this show just because the former drummer of Neutral Milk Hotel, Jeremy Barnes, was performing.  His group, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, was a two piece with him playing drums and accordion at the same time while his companion lady was playing the violin.  They sounded like what you might get if the Dirty Three decided to play french circus music and score a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film…very eclectic and fun, especially when watching Barnes multitask on both his instruments, and doing a damn fine job with each of them.  How often do you see a man with a drum stick taped to his leg for the purpose of hitting a cowbell, and a pedal specially set up to bang a gong? 

The headliners of the evening were Conspiracy of Beards.  I've seen this choir a few times and they were great as usual, very enthusiastically singing their Leonard Cohen a capella covers like always.  They performed a really interesting version of “Suzanne” that I probably wouldn’t have even recognized had they not said they were singing it before they started.  Their set was short, sweet, and to the point, and seemingly enjoyed by all.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cookie Mongoloid / Hate Breeders / Mongoloid at Thee Parkside - 2/20/2004

Cookie Mongoloid
with Hate Breeders & Mongoloid
Thee Parkside

Perhaps it’s sad, or just telling of my age, but the idea of seeing Misfits and Devo cover bands gets me more excited than a lot of original bands that are out there.  This evening will surely go down as one I will remember forever, and the only time I’ve left a show picking incredible amounts of cookie crumbs out of my hair.

I walked into the place just a couple of minutes before Mongoloid started.  I’m pretty sure these guys have been around in one form or another for quite some time, and although I love Devo more than some of my family members, I’ve yet to see Mongoloid despite always hearing good things about them (note: the free show Devo played out in front of City Hall a couple of years ago will go down in my top 5 shows of all time, easily).  They lived up to the hype, being a perfectly capable and entertaining cover band – they even had the choreographed moves, helmets and glasses to make the experience complete!  

Hate Breeders played next, and this was what I was the most pumped for.  It was their final show, which is a real shame, because there just aren’t enough Misfits cover bands for my tastes.  The crowd was raucous and singing along to every single lyric…I know I nearly lost my voice from doing so and dancing around like priest hopped up on goofballs.  When they played “Last Caress” I thought I was going to have a full on freak out like I was seeing the real thing.  It’s too bad that they’re not going to play out anymore (one of the members is moving away I think?), because I would probably go see these guys at least once a month if I could just for the catharsis of screaming along with the music and heshing around.

Cookie Mongoloid was the headliner, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into with this one.  I was told “its heavy metal versions of Sesame Street songs”, but they failed to mention the singer dresses like a cross between Cookie Monster and Rob Halford with full body leather and a cookie monster head and hands!  It should be noted that this singer was the same guy who sings for Mongoloid, which just goes to prove that when you find a word you like to use for a band name there’s no harm in using it multiple times.  The band also incorporates a number of scantily clad ladies who are known as “The Cookies”, and they dance and carry on to the music, throw cookies at the crowd, hold signs, and whatever else you might imagine a dancer for such a band to do.  The music was good, but wasn’t even the point – the general mayhem involving cookies being thrown everywhere, the crowd being sufficiently drunk and happy, and a man in a cookie monster costume instructing us in such topics as counting, the directions up and down, and washing ourselves was almost too much for me to handle.  I danced pretty much the entire night (note: when I say danced I really mean spazzed out, as I don’t know how to actually dance).  Let's here it for novelty!

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Colin Meloy at Café du Nord - 1/16/2005

Colin Meloy
Café du Nord

On a lark I got myself a ticket to see Colin Meloy
(of the Decemberists) play a solo gig at Café du Nord.  While I can’t say that I’ve ever seen his band or been a huge fan, for some reason I always get excited at the prospect of these types of shows – solo outings by well-known band leaders, which almost always includes a nice mix of the bands songs and covers.

This show was no disappointment – in fact it was considerably better than I was expecting.  Colin was exceedingly funny and entertaining, he had the crowd feasting on every word.  He would explain some of the songs, banter with audience members about nonsense, and make fun of himself to humorous effect – for a singer whose songs can sometimes come across as a bit depressing, he sure seems to be having a great time singing them.  He played old tracks off past records as well as some new songs off an album to be released in the spring, much to the delight of the crowd.  But the best part of the whole evening was that he covered not one but two Morrissey songs - "Sister, I’m a Poet" and "I've Changed My Plea to Guilty"!  But wait, it gets better - he had recorded and brought with him some limited edition EPs that were entirely Morrissey covers…it was as if the man had crawled into my brain, searching for good ideas.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Clinic / Midnight Movies at Bimbos - 5/21/2004

with Midnight Movies

When I walked in I’m guessing Midnight Movies were halfway through their set; I’d heard mixed things about them, but wanted to get there with at least enough time to form my own opinion on the matter.  The result: they were great.  The best descriptor I can come up with, and one that kept popping into my head over and over while they played, was Blonde Redhead with Nico singing for them.  There was a lot of Sonic Youth-influenced guitar playing, and the singer was also the drummer, always a great feat.  She had a nice, deep voice, the sort of voice I always love on a woman.  The group was rounded out by a third member who played some guitar and a lot of keys/organ.  They’re playing again soon at Café du Nord and I’ll definitely try to see them again, and for a whole set this time.

Clinic lived up exactly to the expectations I had set for them – come on stage dressed in medical outfits, play their short bursts of brilliant songs, and leave, coming nowhere near an hour long set.  As I had seen them before, I knew this would be the case; but I wonder if anyone out there was disappointed by the short set?  Personally, I think their idea of how to approach live music is perfect, leave them wanting more and all that.  They played a bunch of their new material (I eagerly anticipate getting their new album) to start the show off, and then filled most of the second half with older tracks that everyone knew.  The new songs sound like they were taken from the same mold as the old ones, maybe a bit mellower here and there.  It still boggles my mind that they are as popular as they are, I’m assuming it’s because they have the “Radiohead stamp of approval” or something like that.  Because as rad as I think they are, they don’t really have a very accessible sound like you would think might appeal to a lot of people, the passive music audience that listens to whatever their radio tells them.  Either way, great to see Clinic, great to see them getting supported by so many fans, and I can’t wait to hear their great new album.  Great!

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Carissa’s Wierd / Earlimart at Bottom of the Hill - 7/22/2003

Carissa’s Wierd
with Earlimart
Bottom of the Hill

I made sure I got to this show a little early, because I wanted to see if Earlimart sounded as good live as they did on the only song by them I had heard, "
We Drink on the Job."  The answer is yes. They sounded like a rockin’ Grandaddy with elements of Sparklehorse thrown in , two bands that I absolutely love.  I only saw a portion of their set, but I liked everything I heard and made a mental note to not only pick up some of their music soon, but to make sure and get to the venue in time to see their entire performance next time they are in town.

The reason I was here was for Carissa’s Wierd.  Yes, "Wierd" is misspelled intentionally, you'll have to ask the band why.  I am in love with this group; and not only with the immensely attractive singer Jenn Ghetto, but with the band as a whole.  Somehow they play some of the saddest music I have ever heard, and it makes me happier and happier each time I listen to it. The combination of Jenn and Matthew Brooke’s voices is heavenly, and their blend of acoustic and electric guitars make for beautiful accompaniment. On top of that there are four other fantastic folks playing drums, keys, slide guitar, bass, and violin, all blended together into a wonderful, intoxicating mess. Top this all off with the fact that they seem like a super nice bunch of people, as opposed to asshole rock stars like a lot of young up-and-coming bands seem to feel they have to act like. They were continually thanking the crowd and very gracious, despite the overwhelming amount of chatter going on (in fact, it took quite a bit of restraint on both my part and the others with me there to see Carissa’s Wierd not to go on a murdering spree in the back of the room; SF could use a few less hipsters anyways, so no harm no foul right?). 

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Caustic Resin at Bottom of the Hill - 5/19/2003

Caustic Resin
Bottom of the Hill

Caustic Resin are the band behind of one of my favorite live performances of all time a few years back in Chapel Hill, NC.  In the years since I had assumed they had broken up, but a new album renewed my faith that I might get to see them play yet again. Then a couple of weeks ago, I saw an announcement that they would be playing a show opening for The Frogs at Bottom of the Hill. Let it be known that this made me quite a happy man, but with a tinge of reservations that they would not be able to live up to the myth-like proportions that they have become in my memory since that show a few years ago.

Let’s cut right to the chase – they did not disappoint at all.  It may not have been quite as good as when I saw them before (and I wasn’t expecting it to be), but it was still pretty spot on. There weren’t that many people there, but certainly more than the four people that were at that Chapel Hill outing.  If you’ve never heard Caustic Resin, they’re a difficult one to peg: heavy, somewhat psychedelic, a little bit trance-inducing - it’s just the sort of thing you have to experience for yourself. The one thing that they most definitely are is loud; so loud that even with my earplugs shoved as far in as they would go, my ears were still ringing after I left the show (and this wasn’t nearly as loud as when I saw them before). Highlights included Brett changing his A-string in the middle of a song while he continued to play the tune and a drummer that looked absolutely demented while he played. I thought at first he was singing along to the songs, but it appeared he was muttering to himself, with his eyes nearly popping out of his skull. While everyone in the band was quite talented at their instrument of choice, Brett Netson is one of the few people that really make me appreciate guitar solos.  Hopefully I won’t have to wait as long next time until I get to see them again, but I'm not holding my breath.

Calla / Jim Yoshii Pile-Up at Bottom of the Hill - 5/24/2003

with Jim Yoshii Pile-Up
Bottom of the Hill


My first sentiment when walking into Bottom of the Hill was one of surprise – where were all the people? I was under the impression that Calla were another one of those "hot" New York City bands that would have all the hip kids showing up in their costly second hand clothes from Haight Street. But apparently, I have lost my ability to gauge the popularity of a band in this town.

When I got there Jim Yoshii Pile-Up had just started their set, and they sounded good. I saw them not too terribly long ago at the Edinburgh Castle, and while that was a fun time the sound there can sometimes be...assy.  No such problem at Bottom of the Hill, where I can’t ever really recall a poor sounding show. Even if the music the band is playing is crap, at least it sounds like it should coming out of the speakers. Of course, the music coming out of said speakers while JYPU are playing is far from crap and rather quite enjoyable, mesmerizing even. It’s also nice to see the guys in the band facing out to the crowd a little more than they used to. Seems like the first time they were all cramped together in a little group with their backs to the crowd, like something you might see when Neil Young and Crazy Horse get into those extended solos on Jim Jarmusch’s documentary ‘Year of the Horse’. Nice to see your faces, boys.

Speaking of the sound, when Calla played it was resplendent. So crisp and clear – you could hear every pluck of the bass, strum of the guitar, strike of the drum kit - it was hard to believe they could pull off the same atmosphere live that their albums have, but they did. The place may not have been packed, but there was still plenty of people there and they seemed just as enamored with the band as I was. Their record "Televise" has been one of my favorites over the last few months, and now I have a live show to mentally picture each time I listen to the CD (which is pretty often actually).  Any and all hype received by this band is well deserved, and I look forward to seeing them prove it to me again – the sooner the better.

Chris Brokaw / The Red Thread at the Hemlock - 4/9/2003

Chris Brokaw
with The Red Thread
The Hemlock

I got to the club right before the Red Thread started. They had some vocal problems to start the show off - seemingly some faulty cables of some sort - but after they got it all sorted out they were on their way to rocking in that way that they do. They’re one of those groups that are hard to describe – Daz claims they are a blend of Aztec Camera and Calexico; I see them as a jazz/lounge version of The Pinetop Seven. I don’t think either description does them justice, but it’s the best I can really come up with.  I’ve seen them a few times now and I enjoy them a little more every time I see them, and will certainly try and see them again next time they play.

Chris Brokaw was the main act. Apparently he had just flown into town that night, and came straight to the show. That’s a true rock soldier for you right there! Chris has been in a bunch of different bands, but the most important one to me is Codeine – easily one of my favorite bands of all time. Even though his solo work doesn’t sound anything like the Codeine stuff, I was still digging it.  It was just him and an acoustic guitar, usually singing but sometimes just playing instrumental numbers. It was a little different from your normal singer-songwriter stuff, but not so far out of line that average folks would be put off by it. There were parts that almost made me think of the world music-inspired sounds of Idyll Swords or Libraness, and this was probably my favorite music that he played. I didn’t have the cash on me to pick up his CD then, but I plan to in the future. All in all, a good Wednesday evening of music at The ‘Lock.

Check Engine / 31 Knots / Caesura at Bottom of the Hill - 1/8/2003

Check Engine
with 31 Knots & Caesura
Bottom of the Hill

This was my first time seeing local band Caesura.  I got there after they had already started, but still managed to catch a few songs.  I had heard a couple of recorded tracks here and there, and just thought it was ok.  I dug it more live though, sort of had a controlled chaos type of thing going on - lots of noise, elements of jazz and rock music, screamy vocals and the such.  I enjoyed it, but didn’t feel like I got to hear enough to make the most accurate assessment.

31 Knots, from Portland, were next.  I’ve seen them before and they put on a good show, and this time was no different.  Didn’t get my panties into a bunch or anything, but it was more or less proggy, clean sounding math rock.  Reminds me of 90 Day Men minus the organ sometimes, a band that I’m particularly fond of.   My only complaint is that I sometimes space out when the music gets too proggy, as I’ve never been a particularly big fan of that type of music.  But I suppose that’s my problem, not theirs, right?  I don’t know if I would ever go to a show that they are headlining, but I would always get there early if they are opening up for someone I’m interested in.

The final band was Check Engine, who were the main reason I came.  I love Sweep the Leg Johnny and this is a side project of at least one of the guys (the vocalist/saxophonist), maybe more but I’m not positive.  They were great.  Their sound is similar to Sweep, but mellower.  Maybe a mix between Sweep and garage rock?  I dunno, it doesn’t sound like garage but it does a have a little boogie woogie to it.  Other great aspects of the show included: lots of spitting from every member of the band, lots of comical arguing, one of the guitarists looked like the Danny Noonan character from Caddyshack, and the drummer took off his pants and had the fly to his boxer shorts duct taped shut.  Most importantly, on not one but two occasions hey played parts of Led Zeppelin songs, a classy move in all respects.  Hard not to go home happy after that.   

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Built Like Alaska at Café Du Nord - 1/21/2004

Built Like Alaska
Café Du Nord

It’s about damned time is all I have to say…about damned time I got to see Built Like Alaska again, because it had been much too long since the last time I had watched them play live and heard their sweet melodies.  You should have heard me muttering under my breath and cursing while I waited on the tardy-as-always J Church to come pick me up.  Sure, the responsible show-goer would have left the house early enough that this wouldn’t be a problem, but then that would have made me miss part of “The O.C.” which I refused to let happen.  Luckily, when I walked into the club I saw that BLA was setting up their stuff and I had not missed any part of the gig.  After some salutations and chatter with a few miscellaneous friends, the band got started playing their fine music.  I noticed that they were short one guitarist since the last time I saw them, but the music didn’t really suffer for the loss; it did seem like the cute keyboard player girl (who’s name is Susanne I think but I’m terrible with names and their website isn’t telling me jack squat) was a lot busier than usual though.  They played a few older songs (unfortunately not “Burning Mine” or “Meat on Your Bones”) and some new ones as well that sounded terrific, as expected.  Hopefully they’re working on a new recording, because I’m just itching to have something new to play on my way to and from work, their music just seems to make the day go by a little better. 

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Built Like Alaska / The Red Thread at Thee Parkside - 12/15/2002

Built Like Alaska
with The Red Thread
Thee Parkside

A great night of music at Thee Parkside, amid San Francisco’s version of a hurricane.  The wind was blowing like crazy outside, with occasional bursts of rain and a lot of dreariness.  Luckily, the music was so good that it made you forget about any of that nonsense. 

The Red Thread started things out.  I’ve seen these guys a few times now, and I like them more and more each time I see them.  They seem to write the sort of subtle songs that don’t hit you at first, but after a few listens ingrain themselves into your head.  I’ve always thought this is the mark of a well written song, as it holds my attention for a much longer time than most pop songs.  There are plenty of pop songs tat grab you instantly but fizzle just as quickly as they came.  Anyways, The Red Thread were quite good, they played a lot of songs I recognized from seeing them before as well as from the mp3s on their website.  They also played a cover song that I think was Bad Brains, but I’m not positive.

After the Thread came Built Like Alaska.  Man, they have a lot of equipment, and it takes them a while to set it all up.  But their music is so good that it’s hard to begrudge them for it, cause I know I’ll enjoy the end result.  It boggles my mind that they aren’t more popular, their music is so catchy and accessible, a genius blend of Sparklehorse and Grandaddy with a little Death Cab for Cutie thrown in (mostly in the voice).  They played a lot of songs I knew from their new EP as well as their most recent full length "Hopalong."  I’ve been listening to those releases a ton lately, and still haven’t gotten tired of them.  Everyone and anyone who reads this, you should make every effort to check them out.

Built Like Alaska at the Hemlock - 9/8/2002

Built Like Alaska
The Hemlock


Even though I’m unemployed, I’m not so hard up that I can’t afford a five dollar show.  When I walked into the band area, I saw that there was more gear on the stage than there were people in attendance.  Turns out it was for Built Like Alaska.

After I arrive and make sone small talk for a few minutes, Built Like Alaska took the stage - four dudes and a damn cute girl.  For the record, the guys might have been attractive too, but I’m never sure with guys.  Once they started playing, I was enamored.  This was some of the best local music I have heard in a long time.  Actually, some of the best period, local or not.  I had only heard a couple of mp3s before the show, so I wasn’t fully prepared for what I was going to encounter.  Hailing from the Central Valley, it would be real easy to compare their sound to Grandaddy, and it would fit to some extent.  But I’m more inclined to think that the ELO-type keyboard stylings are just a result of their location and scene, as Built Like Alaska have been together for around five years.  Either way, they are reminiscent of Grandaddy crossed with a little alt-country flavor.  During the live show, the singer’s voice reminded me of Travis from The Dismemberment Plan, but I think that was probably only heard by me and my peculiar ears.  On their recordings I don’t hear it at all, but I do hear elements of Ben Gibbard/Death Cab for Cutie, and as a classic rock reference, Pink Floyd.  They blend their influences beautifully, be it the ones that I hear or whatever else it might be, and have a unique sound that would benefit everyone a listen.  As a bonus, I picked up their limited edition EP at the show for five bucks, which was a steal.  It might be the coolest cd I’ve ever purchased - it looks like a tiny book, with handmade art and personally numbered out of ten.  I got number one!  Sorry for being a fanboy, but this sort of shit always excites me.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Built to Spill at Great American Music Hall - 5/27/2003

Built to Spill
Great American Music Hall

Built to Spill sounded predictably great. They didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, no new songs to speak of, ignored all of the requests coming from the irritating audience (side note: one of the worst audiences I’ve had the displeasure of being a part of in a long, long time, and that’s all I’m going to say on the matter), and it was still a good show. ' The band is not really known for having an engaging stage presence, yet somehow I find myself fixated every time I see them play, and that’s been a lot over the years. They played a lot of their hits like "Big Dipper" and what not, much to the delight of both myself and the other ninnies there. There was plenty of guitar wankery in that non-irritating Doug Martsch way (one of a very short list of people where I can abide this type of playing). And even though the crowd all around me was lame, I’ll be back there again next time they play – only I’ll get there early enough to get a seat upstairs, or bring a cattle prod for the downstairs.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Britt Daniel / Two Gallants at the Swedish American Hall - 11/4/2004

Britt Daniel
with Two Gallants
Swedish American Hall

Wow.  That’s really the only thought that passed across my brain during the duration of the set by Two Gallants.  Yet another in an endless list of local bands that I’ve been meaning to see forever - when I saw they were opening for Britt Daniel I made a point to get there plenty early enough to see their set.  From the outset I knew I was in for a treat, and the acoustics of the Swedish American Hall couldn’t have made for a better setting.  Musically I suppose the follow the tradition of any number of folk storytellers, Dylan probably being the most obvious.  But to me, they reminded me of The Pogues more than anything else, minus the tin whistles and Irish accents of course.  There was something innately “drinking songish” about all of their tracks.  The crowd was rapt for the entire performance – I’m unsure how many of them walked in there as fans of Two Gallants, but I would venture to guess that many, many, many of them left after that splendid show converted to their message.

Britt Daniel had some big shoes to fill following the Gallants, but when you have a catalog of brilliant Spoon songs to pepper your set with, you’re never going to be left wanting.  He split his time between new songs and old - previewing most of the new Spoon record that will be released in early 2005 (I think), as well as playing tons of crowd favorites (but not “Car Radio” as I was hoping so desperately for).  Having seen him play solo a few months back left me with few surprises, but it was still a fantastic performance.  I believe Britt even noted himself at what a successful outing it had been for him, so it wasn’t just the crowd that was having a good time. 

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)   

Britt Daniel at Hotel Utah - 4/19/2004

Britt Daniel
Hotel Utah

Britt Daniel playing a solo show at the ultra-tiny Hotel Utah? Man-oh-man, I was so there.  The last time I was at this place was a number of years back, not long after I arrived on this side of the country, to see Chris Mills perform for about five people and it was fantastic.  I’d always meant to go back, but rarely do they ever feature shows I’m interested in.  Until recently anyways - the Café du Nord crew has started handling the booking and things are looking up for the Utah, way up.

But on to Britt – it was just him and his guitar (electric, not acoustic), with a mic'd boom box to provide the occasional beat.  I was under the impression that the whole point of this solo mini-tour was so that he could try out some of his new songs on the road, but he only played a couple of unfamiliar tracks.  For the most part it was a “Greatest Hits of Spoon” type of night, where the song selection pretty much mimicked nearly all of the songs I would include on a "best of" mix.  I could prattle on and on about the different songs that he played, but all that really matters is that one of them was “Car Radio,” probably my favorite Spoon song of all time.  He played a couple of final songs for the encore, one of which featured a friend and member of Rogue Wave Gram providing backing vocals to “Lines in the Suit”.  The look of happiness on Gram’s face while he was up there pretty much summed up the experience for me as well – the whole show was just bliss.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)   

British Sea Power / KaitO at Bottom of the Hill - 2/27/2004

British Sea Power
with KaitO
Bottom of the Hill

This was the only night of Noise Pop this year where I really wanted to be in two places at once – All Night Radio was also playing just down the street at Thee Parkside, and by all accounts it was a great show.  Instead, I got to Bottom of the Hill early for KaitO on the insistence of a friend who said they were not to be missed.  It’s a good thing I trust her opinion and actually made it there when I did, because KaitO were amazing.  She described KaitO as “great, great post-punk girl-vocal dancy angular stuff and live the lead singer has a great, almost formidable, presence” and I couldn’t have said it better myself.  When I was watching them something in my brain said it sounded like what might happen if you tried to breed the Pixies with Bis (minus Bis’ more annoying moments).  My favorite part was the male guitarist, who "yelped" into the microphone the entire show, his version of back-up singing.  The crowd was fairly tame, but in the right situation I could see any show by these guys and girls turning into a real dance party.

By comparison, British Sea Power was nowhere near as good, but that is more a testament to KaitO than an insult to BSP.  They covered the stage in various sorts of tree limbs and palm fronds, and many of the members were wearing silly costumes or outfit accessories.  I would have to say they sound about as close as you possibly can to Echo & the Bunnymen without actually ripping them off, with a little Clinic thrown in for good measure.  The keyboard player really completed their live show, looking not unlike a cross between Ashton Kutcher with a shaved head and a young Woody Harrelson; additionally, he acted totally demented the whole time bounding about in a WWI helmet with his mouth gaping open like he was having a seizure.  I had a hard time taking my eyes off of him really. Despite only knowing a couple of their songs, I left the show wanting to pick up their album… and also wishing that Clinic would come back to town, because they were so amazing last time.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)   

Brother Danielson / Deerhoof at Bottom of the Hill - 9/18/2004

Brother Danielson
with Deerhoof
Bottom of the Hill

I was damn excited to see Brother Danielson.  A few years ago, I saw the Danielson Famile open for Low without knowing a damn thing about them and left totally floored.  Since then I’ve become a pretty big fan of all of Daniel Smith’s work, both with the Famile and solo (although it should be noted that he writes the songs for all that he participates in, and the Famile help on the solo recordings, so the difference between the two is pretty negligible).  I had heard a few stories about his solo shows, and this lived up to it in both costume and spirit – the man was dressed from head to toe in an enormous tree outfit.  Outfit may not be the proper word, really, as the tree stayed put in one place with his guitar affixed to the front, and he inserted his head and arms through holes for the performance.  He was accompanied by two fellas who played a multitude of instruments, but just drums and bass for the majority of the time.  Not unlike the Danielson Famile, Br. Danielson sounded like a really askew Pixies with a folk edge; the only thing missing were the female backing vocals and nurse uniforms.  The album they were touring for, “Brother: Son,” is easily one of the best things to come out all year and will most certainly make my top ten list when 2004 comes to an end, and they played a lot of it.  There were a number of moments when the band tried to get the crowd to participate in some sing-a-longs and clap-a-longs, but few were having it; apparently the earlier all-ages show had been much more successful in these endeavors (not surprisingly).  Either way, I couldn’t have asked for a better performance, and the show only left me with more love for the new record than I went in with.

The headliners, and what everyone seemed to be there for, were local lads (and lady) Deerhoof.  This group’s upward trajectory over the last couple of years has been great to see, with folks from all sorts of different backgrounds heaping gobs and gobs of praise upon the quartet.  I’ve always thought they were pretty good, but never quite got what all of the over-the-top adulation was all about… obviously, I hadn’t seen them live.  Holy Shit were they impressive - love them or hate them, after seeing them live you’d be pretty wowed with their performance.  They were easily one of the tightest groups I’ve ever seen, the guitarists in perfect sync with one another and the muppet-like drummer going nuts for nearly the duration of the show.  Folks, this is what happens when you try to meld math rock and pop together, and you do it correctly; it was like Dilute and Cibo Matto decided to form a super group.  Even live I found myself turned off from the vocals from time to time, but the music was so good that it didn’t even matter…these San Francisco locals are most assuredly deserving of any and all the hype they get if this is a typical show for them.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Big Business / Saviours at the Hemlock - 4/30/2005

Big Business
with Saviours
The Hemlock

Shit, I love a happy hour show – it allows you to see some music, and then finish out your evening in rampant laziness (as I’m generally prone to) or more rocking at another show later.  Plus there’s something to be said for being in a dark club when it’s still daylight outside…

I knew nothing about Saviours before this show, other than that they were from the East Bay and supposed to be good.  And to be honest, I don’t really know much about them after the show, but my friend was certainly right about them being good.  They were metal, indie metal I guess… I’m not sure who exactly I might compare them to – Kylesa minus the stoner-rock edge?  The Fuckin’ Champs minus the progginess?  Whatever, it rocked, they were solid, and it was a good time, no need to over-think things here.  Apparently they don’t play out to often, but here’s to hoping they change that policy.

Big Business came on next, and it was quite pleasing to see them again after having missed their last show due to getting in from a 20+ hour flight a few hours before they went on.  Yeah yeah yeah, if I was really punk I would have gone anyways despite my delirium.  I'm not really punk.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, Big Business…no matter how many times I see them I never fail to be amazed at how much they rock.  I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to that EP they put out, and I kept saying to myself how I wish they’d put more stuff out – well apparently they did, and I’m just too dumb to realize it.  The moral of this story is I didn’t know most of the material they played but it still sounded great; and if I’d found out they had a new CD before the show I would have hung around afterwards and purchased a copy from the band as opposed to speeding off to eat greasy pizza.  But it was good pizza at least, and I have a CD to add to my wish list. 

Big Business / Party Time / Moggs at the Li Po Lounge - 4/11/2004

Big Business
with Party Time and Moggs
Li Po Lounge

Moggs are playing!  Oh, how I was excited… since they only play about once every 100 years, and they’ve been working on their album for at least 1000 years, anytime you get a chance to partake of their music you have to jump at the chance.  Not only was it a great outing by them, but probably the longest set I’ve ever seen them play – upwards of 25 minutes long!  They continue down the path of their mostly instrumental, skewed version of Unwound, and I’d just like to let it be known that not enough bands sound like Unwound for my tastes.  Word on the street is Moggs have finished recording their album and just need to master it at this point… write your congressman now and tell him to put the pressure on this amazing duo to finally finish this thing up!  I want to be able to hear them more than once a year, dammit!

To be honest, if anything good came after the Moggs it would just be gravy on an already great show.  Luckily, two more good things came up...the first being Party Time.  From somewhere “up there”, a.k.a. the Pacific Northwest, they brought the heavy, the mathy, and the metal with full force.  Imagine if you will, someone putting AC/DC, The Fucking Champs, and Dare Diablo in a blender… mmm, that’s a tasty shake, and thick too.  I wasn’t familiar with them at all going in, but I picked up the CDr they had for sale at the show and it’s a damn fine listen.

The final act of the night was Big Business.  This is the new drums-and-bass duo fronted by Jarred Warren (known for working with Karp, Tight Bros, The Whip, and a million other things).  If you’ve heard Karp or The Whip, then you generally know what Big Business sounds like, since Jarred’s vocals are so distinctive.  The big thing that sets this group apart, obviously, is the lack of guitar, resulting in a very deep and rumbling sound…you know, like an earthquake.  This is compounded by the drummer playing one of those enormous drum kits where the snare drum is the size of some floor toms.  The result?  Put simply, it fucking kicks ass.  I really don’t know what else to say about it…I’ll be surprised if this isn’t one of my favorite shows of the year when it’s all said and done.  They have an EP out on Wantage USA, 4 songs of pure sonic onslaught that nearly brings me to my knees every time I hear it.  You like rock music?  Well, meet Big Business; they make everything else seem like easy listening.

Blonde Redhead at the Fillmore - 6/25/2003

Blonde Redhead
The Fillmore

I've been a fan of Blonde Redhead for a long time, and it was good to finally pair a live show with their recorded output. For the most part, they didn’t stray too far from their albums, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as their albums are awesome. Their Sonic Youth-meets-Fugazi instrumentation, along with Kazu Makino’s emotive, often wailing vocals makes for a heady mix in a live setting. They focused fairly heavily from their more recent (but still more than two years old) album "Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons," but also managed to throw a few older tracks in there. Fortunately, as is usually the case, the sound at the Fillmore was great. It’s very, very rare that I ever have to complain about how things sound when I attend a show there; so kudos to the sound folks for doing a good job. The only negative of the show – despite the nearly sell out crowd, no poster! There’s nothing better than a take home prize to reward you for a hard night of music listening, but no dice. Oh well, maybe next time right?

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)  

Ben Lee at the Fillmore - 7/25/2003

Ben Lee
The Fillmore

I’m a huge fan of the "Grandpaw Would" album by Ben Lee as well as his work with his first band Noise Addict, but it’s been pretty downhill from there. I came to this show in the hopes that I would hear some of these old gems, and that I did. Interspersed between new songs from his forthcoming record and a couple of cover songs (Christina Aguilera’s "Beautiful," which I didn’t even recognize until the chorus, and The Smiths "Shoplifters of the World Unite" as his big finale), I got to hear a small selection of these tracks. Most notably was that he tried to play "Red Slurpee," but since he couldn’t remember the lyrics he invited a fan up from the crowd to help him sing it. She had trouble with the words herself, which I attribute to stage fright, so he just played the first part of the song twice while she sang along. The whole affair was pretty cute, and I’m sure she’ll be telling all her friends about that for a while.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)   

Babyland / Replicator / Full Moon Partisans at 12 Galaxies - 1/22/2005

with Replicator & Full Moon Partisans
12 Galaxies

I finally made it to a show in time to see the Full Moon Partisans, who I’ve wanted to check out forever after hearing the great mp3s on their website.  They lived up to every bit of my expectations…junk rock at its finest mixed with a dash of cabaret or something like that.  Imagine a mix of Skeleton Key, the Talking Heads, the Pixies, and weird Russian folk ballads that don’t make any sense to me but sound great, and that’s the general idea behind their music.  I picked up one of their home-made CDs after the show, and it is plenty awesome as well.  Why isn’t this band more popular?  Why aren’t they on some awesome label?  These are the new mysteries in my life, and this is a new favorite band for sure.  And all of this without any mention of how insanely attractive the accordion/random junk percussion player is, which makes the live show instantly more exciting to watch.  Talented plus hot?  Sign me up for the newsletter; I’d like to know more about your exciting product please!

Replicator held down the middle slot.  Now, I’ve seen Replicator a slew of times, some might even say “tons” or “lots,” but this was possibly the best show or at least one of the best shows I’ve ever seen by them.  One of the biggest reasons?  There were no “technical difficulties” - seems like most of the times I've seen them tape decks and keyboards mysteriously stop working, or multiple strings break, or a bat gets lose in the room, or Bigfoot appears outside and makes it hard to concentrate on the band.  Whatever the cause, there was none of that prattle this time and the show was great…they played a couple of new songs, plenty of tracks from their most recent album, yadda yadda yadda, you see where I’m going here – it was a damn good time.

The big finale on the evening was Babyland.  I’ve seen this duo once before, also with Replicator, so I knew what to expect, but this outing was considerably crazier than before.  I feel pretty certain when I say they may be the only band to employ the “one man runs an angle grinder on a tin drum and shoots sparks into the crowd while the other guy sings into a mic attached to a football helmet that he wears while he bangs on a mish-mash of junk percussion” method of live entertainment.  And as crazy as the band is, their rabid and weird fans are even more out there…never have a seen a more motley crew.  Normally, with the shows I see, you get a lot of the same folks every time you go out; but with Babyland, they draw such a wide assortment of techno geeks, computer hacker nerds, Goths and god knows what else, that watching the crowd is just as entertaining as the band.  I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of their recorded output (although the new record is pretty damn good), but their live show should be checked out by all at least once, just for the experience.  The whole thing made me feel like I had gotten into a time warp and traveled back to 1991 during a Ministry video shoot.

Beachwood Sparks / Dntel at Café Du Nord - 9/5/2002

Beachwood Sparks
with Dntel
Café Du Nord

Sure, Café Du Nord has it’s drawbacks - the repressive heat, the low stage, a certain selection of the clientele...did I mention how hot it gets in that place?  But it’s positives outweigh the negatives - intimate shows, easy for me to get to as the J church stops right next to it, and sometimes you’ll see a drunk sorority type fall down the stairs.  And on this night, they had a line up that included Beachwood Sparks, who I had never seen before and was really looking forward to.

It turns out there would be an extra unannounced band on the bill.  Normally, this might bother me a bit as I hate changes, but it turned out to be Dntel.  Despite the whole extra band situation making the show run later than I had hoped, I was pretty stoked.  Dntel is really just Jimmy Tamborello, formerly of the amazing Strictly Ballroom, and also known for helping Beachwood Sparks in the studio.  His/their music is mostly electronic, although he did have some of the Beachwood guys helping him on a few songs.  The songs were great but not the most exciting live show to see - it mostly consisted of Jimmy sitting on the floor plugging away at all of his electronic gadgets, and occasionally playing his accordion.  Still, I was glad to see him play. 

Finally the Beachwood Sparks boys came on the stage to play us some songs.  They just recently added a new drummer, another former member of Strictly Ballroom by the name of Jimi Hey.  You know how I knew it was him?  He had one of those gold necklaces on that said his name on it, so I was convinced.  It should also be noted that Chris Gunst, singer and guitarist of the band, was also in Strictly Ballroom.  If you do the math, that means that two of the main members of the band, as well as Jimmy Tamborello who helps out occasionally, are all from that band.  I'm good at math.

Nonetheless, Jimi Hey is a great drummer and addition to the band.  The show was quite good - they were winding up their nationwide tour, so they were pretty tight from having played so many shows.  The song selection spanned all of their releases and included a couple I hadn’t heard before.  They didn’t play that Sade cover, which I’m embarrassed to say is probably my favorite song by them, but I didn’t really expect them to anyways.  Even my girlfriend, who was quite crabby and tired beforehand, really enjoyed the show.  If that’s not a sign of goodness then I don’t know what is.  

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)  

Belle & Sebastian / Vetiver at the Warfield - 4/30/2004

Belle & Sebastian
with Vetiver
The Warfield

I was excited for Vetiver when I found out they had landed the opening gig for heavyweights Belle & Sebastian – great local band done well or something along those lines.  The music of these two bands certainly have a similar feel to them on a base level – very mellow, introspective, that sort of business.  I could really imagine them going over well with the B&S crowd, but they seemed to be having nothing of it – a shame really, cause Vetiver sounded great to me, as always.  They were aided on stage by a fourth member known as “Soft Creamy Brick”, who I’m going to assume was Devendra Banhart (but I can’t be for sure since he was wearing a hooded cape/throw rug thing the entire time he was on stage).  

I’ve seen Belle & Sebastian a few times now, so I pretty much knew what to expect – lots of people in the band, string section, Stuart’s dancing, funny banter between songs; and it delivered on all of those measures.  I don’t have any complaints about the show as a whole, other than that I would have liked to hear more of the older material – typical complaint from a long time fan, I know.  They did play “Keep Me Away from Here, I’m Dying”, my very favorite song of theirs (as the final song of the encore), so I at least had that going for me.  Especially enjoyable was their cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I’ll be your Mirror”, completely off the cuff.  

As a side note, someone in the crowd suggested that the band cover Morrissey - Stuart’s response was “I’d like to cover Morrissey – cover him with a blanket!” which brought plenty of laughter from the crowd.  Now, I might love Morrissey like he was one of my relatives, but that was funny.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.) 

Belle & Sebastian at the Greek Theatre - 8/22/2003

Belle & Sebastian
Greek Theatre

Ah, what a lovely night to be outside at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, listening to the lovely pop sounds of Belle & Sebastian. Other than the outrageous cost of the tickets and the parking, there ain’t a damn bad thing I can say about this show. The total length of their performance was probably around two hours, but I didn’t time it or anything. Lots of classics interspersed with plenty of new songs and comical stories about going to massage parlors and what not. I really like what I heard with the new songs for the most part, very upbeat with multiple-part harmonies; they managed to make a departure from their previous sound and arrangement style somewhat, without compromising what you come to expect when you hear a B&S song. At times there was nearly a dozen people on the stage, as they had brought a string quartet with them and had plenty of other folks noodling on this or that instrument. Not only did the band sound great, but the sound system complimented it – it was that perfect amount of loudness where you don’t need earplugs but you hear everything and it drowns out chatter at the same time. Not that there was a lot of talking mind you; everyone seemed pretty rapt the entire performance, or maybe it was just the section I was in. Just when I think I’m over Belle & Sebastian, they go and put on a show like this and just suck me back in.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Ben Gibbard / Mark Kozalek / Jonathan Richman / Eric Bachmann at Great American Music Hall - 1/28/2005

Ben Gibbard
with Mark Kozelek, Jonathan Richman & Eric Bachmann
Great American Music Hall

This hot ticket was a benefit for tsunami relief…well, not relief for the tsunami itself, they don’t need relief, but for the destruction caused by it.  And I was damn excited for it.

Eric Bachmann opened the show.  It should be noted that a large chunk of the crowd was very young kids, obviously there for Ben Gibbard only, and I have no doubt that probably none of them have ever heard of Eric or Crooked Fingers and some might not have even alive when the Archers of Loaf were rockin’ around the country.  Yeah, I do feel pretty old sometimes at shows, but fuck it – I’m here to see rock not chat with preteens.  Bachmann’s set was short but great…a few new songs, a few older Crooked Finger’s songs, and a Townes van Zandt cover.  The response to him seemed pretty good actually, which made me happy.  I have no idea why Crooked Fingers aren’t more popular, but maybe he won some new fans tonight.

Jonathan Richman was in the second slot – he was a late addition to the line-up after I bought the ticket, and when I found out he was added I was both excited and bummed at the same time…four performers in one night is just too many, but it's Jonathan Richman.  He was great as always, very engaging and funny.  No drummer this go around, just him and his guitar and his dance moves that made me smile.  He managed to play in four languages over the course of his 30 minute set – Spanish, Italian, French, and of course English, which was pretty impressive even if you didn't like him.  Though if you didn't like him you are stupid. 

Mark Kozelek came out as the third performer on the night.  After making awkward comments about the young audience, he launched into an interesting set to say the least.  He kicked it off with three Modest Mouse covers (Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, Never Ending Math Equation, and one title that escapes me), played a few of his own songs, and then ended the set with a couple of duets with a lady who had an amazing voice on what I think were Sun Kil Moon songs (I’m positive one of the tracks was at least).  He should rock the duets like that more often, quite enjoyable.

Ben Gibbard was the big finale on the evening, and what he lacked in talent was more than made up with enthusiasm both from him and his crowd.  From the “solo acoustic show” stand point, he can’t really measure up to the talent of the first three performers who really thrive in that area.  Hearing the Death Cab for Cutie and Postal Service songs in that setting really outlined how much simpler these tunes are compared to those of the first three songwriters; but I don’t mean this as an insult – I really enjoy his work and enjoyed the set, but it is just quite a different ball of wax.  But I was automatically going to give him a good review based on the fact that he kicked off his set with a cover of the Archers of Loaf’s “Web in Front” – and although it sounded a little silly as an acoustic song, it was completely endearing nevertheless.  The kids in front who had waited politely through the first 3 acts were giddy with joy from the set, so it wasn’t just me having a good time.  In fact, it’s probably the best time I’ve ever had celebrating a disaster.