Monday, November 18, 2013

Iron & Wine / Holopaw at Great American Music Hall - 4/9/2004

Iron & Wine
with Holopaw
Great American Music Hall

Oh man, what an exciting line-up…two bands I’d be willing to go see about anywhere playing together?  Count me in!  I got there just as Holopaw was taking the stage, and weaseled my way up to the front between all of the scarf kids and old folks.  As expected, they sounded brilliant.  They performed some new songs as well as pretty much their entire self-titled album; I wouldn’t be surprised if they won over some new fans from a crowd that was obviously mostly there for the headliners.  Some may know singer John Orth’s voice from his work on Isaac Brock’s side project Ugly Cassanova, but it is in Holopaw that his vocals really shine.  The new songs, which they played a number of, were just great – I really cannot wait until the album gets released so I can fully immerse myself in the southern gothic sounds they so finely craft.

The headliner of the evening, Iron & Wine, has really seen a giant surge in popularity over the last year.  It wasn’t that long ago that I saw him at Bottom of the Hill, playing solo shows in front of a half-filled house.  I’m really unsure what set off this popularity, but I’m happy for him that it has happened – a talent as enormous as his is not meant to be bottled up in tiny clubs.  This go around he was touring with a full band, but unlike the last “full band” outing he embarked on, this was by no means a rock show.  That stuck pretty true to the originals, and considering there’s quite a bit more percussion on the new album it was really nice to hear the songs performed that way live.  Sam brought along his sister for backing vocal duties, and it should be noted that she did an excellent job – where you’re used to hearing his vocals doubled on the album, she stepped in and provided that effect pretty efficiently.  He played for quite a while, and pretty much covered all of the material on both of his albums, along with a few new tracks and a cover here and there (whose titles escape me at the moment, dammit).  The crowd was very reverent for the duration of the show, barely a peep out of any of the lot of them, which made me happy.  Yet another masterful Iron & Wine outing, further cementing in my mind that along with Damien Jurado, Sam Beam is one of the best singer/songwriters out there today.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Iron & Wine at Bottom of the Hill - 3/24/2003

Iron & Wine
Bottom of the Hill

I saw Sam Beam, front man for Iron & Wine, only a month or two ago opening for the Shins' James Mercer – it was an all acoustic, singer-songwriter type of night, and a damn good one. At the end of his set, Sam said he’d be back with a full band at the end of March, and he wasn’t lying. This time the solo artist split off like a salamander’s tail into five pieces: two drummers – one which also played bass and xylophone, the other also played guitar; a guitar-slide guitar-banjo dude; a female back-up singer; and finally, Sam himself on guitar and vocals. I was a little apprehensive about hearing rocked-out versions of all my favorite Iron & Wine songs, but luckily they didn’t tow that line for the entire show. Some songs were a little rocked out, others just slightly accented by Sam’s fellow musicians, and some were pretty much just like the originals from the record. I especially enjoyed the xylophone playing by the drummer and the occasional plinkity-plinks of the banjo strings, but then again, I’m a sucker for both of these instruments. They pretty much played all of Iron & Wine’s debut album "The Creek Drank the Cradle" in addition to a lot of stuff that I had never heard – all of which I enjoyed. Hopefully Sub Pop or someone else will make all of the unreleased material that he accumulated for his first album available in some form (apparently he had two albums worth of material finished, and the label pared it down to one)... MP3s, another CD, a series of EPs - I don’t really care how they do it, just do it! This was a fantastic show by one of my new favorites, and hopefully he’ll keep coming back and playing for us as long as he continues selling out shows.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Big Boi / Killer Mike at Memorial Auditorium - 9/21/2013

Big Boi
with Killer Mike
Memorial Auditorium
Big Boi was supposed to be one of the headliners at this past Hopscotch Music Festival, but after hurting his leg he had to postpone his show.  It was a real bummer at the time, but in hindsight having another great show to go to a couple of weeks later only increased the entertainment value of Hopscotch.  As an added bonus, they gave away a lot of the tickets for free for this show, to make up for him missing the festival.  I would have gladly paid a king's ransom for the show, assuming a king's ransom is somewhere no more than fifty bucks or so. 

Opening the show was Killer Mike.  He played Hopscotch last year and wasn't even scheduled at this year's festival, so a free show out of him was extra super awesome icing on the already tasty cake.  He was one of my highlights that year and this was a very similar performance - just him and his man DJ Trackstar, lots of songs from his album "R.A.P. Music," and a crowd eating it up.  He performed his hit song "Reagan" accapella, and climbed into the crowd continually to spread his gospel.  I use the word gospel intentionally, because seeing Killer Mike feels like attending the service of an excitable preacher.  But if church were more like his shows I might actually go. 

After seeing Big Boi at Moogfest a couple years back on accident because Devo cancelled, I vowed to never miss him live again.  It was the single best hip hop performance I had ever witnessed, with a full band and back-up singers and a dance troupe and he played every Outkast and Big Boi song you'd ever possibly want to hear.  This appearance wasn't quite on that level, but it was really damn close.  He still had a live band but not as many members; he still had dancers, but only a couple; but he still played every Outkast and Big Boi song you'd ever want to hear, including plenty of songs from his most recent (fantastic) record "Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumours."  One addition this time was a giant gold throne in the middle of the stage for him to sit in occasionally because of his hurt leg, but he didn't use it nearly as much as I was expecting.  He also had his kids on stage the entire time, standing on either side of the throne, just bobbing their heads and shuffling their feet in time with the music.  What a trip it must be to be standing on stage with your father as he performs.  Anyways, it was a damn good time and hopefully I don't have to wait a few more years to see him again.  And while we're hoping, let's get Outkast back together for god's sake. 

Pontiak / Golden Void / Nate Hall with the Poison Snake at Blackout Effectors - 9/1/2013

with Golden Void & Nate Hall with the Poison Snake
Blackout Effectors

It's rare but sometimes there is a good show happening when I'm up in the mountains visiting the family.  Blackout Effectors is a guitar pedal manufacturer in Asheville, but sometimes they have shows in their back room.  The admission was cheap and they had free beer!  I don't even drink but I can admire a good value. 

Nate Hall opened the show.  Or more specifically, Nate Hall with the Poison Snake, his new live band (drums and bass) for his solo endeavors from US Christmas.  It appears his next generation of solo material will be more than him and an acoustic guitar, based on this show.  Honestly it just seemed like a slightly stripped down US Christmas, and since Nate writes the songs for both acts I don't know how he now decides what songs belong to which group, maybe there's a spreadsheet or something.  I do know the bassist of this group is Richard Kirby, former pro skateboarder for Santa Cruz, which is pretty cool.  Does this qualify the band as skate rock?  Either way, it sounded good and he's been promising a new solo record for a while so hopefully that gets released soon.  Supposedly all the new songs played on this evening are to be on that record. 

Golden Void were the middle band.  I knew absolutely nothing about them other than they were from the Bay Area, my former stomping grounds.  For lack of better terms, they played "boogie metal," a term I've coined for music that is equal parts stoner rock, seventies metal, and butt rock the likes of BTO or Deep Purple or Steppenwolf.  I guess some of the members are or were in other acts like Earthless, Assembled Head in Sunburst Sound, and Roots of Orchis, or so the internet tells me.  They were pretty damn good, though they played a little long in my opinion.  The lead guitarist absolutely destroyed, solos for days.  If I could play like that I don't think I would ever set the guitar down. 

The final band of the night was Pontiak, and I would finally see them live (and the subsequently see them again at Hopscotch just a few days later).  It somehow seems fitting that my first viewing of this band of brothers and their southern gothic kraut metal would be in a dark room in the back of a store on a rainy night instead of a proper rock club.   I often refer to bands being tight aka playing really well together, very in-sync and at a high skill level, but I'm not sure another band exists that sound as together as these guys.  Is it because they're brothers?  I gotta think that plays a part in it.  I was already a big fan of these guys, but seeing them live bumped my fanhood up ten fold.  They went from "good music" to "never to be missed live again."

Superchunk / Parting Gifts at The Cat's Cradle - 8/24/2013

with Parting Gifts
The Cat's Cradle

I saw that the Parting Gifts were opening for this Superchunk show, and decided I didn't need to get to the Cradle in time to see their set.  But then I walked in and saw who was on stage, and my stupid brain all of the sudden remembered who the Parting Gifts are - one of Greg Cartwright's side projects!  Man I felt stupid for forgetting this, and bummed I'd already missed at least half of their set.  I've seen Greg solo, with the Reigning Sound and (as of Hopscotch 2013) with the Oblivians, but this was my first time in this configuration, paired up with the Ette's Coco Hames.  It still mostly sounds like a Greg Cartwright project, his voice and guitar work being so distinctive, but occasionally Hames would take the lead on vocals.  She's both nice to listen to and nice to look at, so it was a nice addition.  They played mostly songs off of their one full-length record, but also threw in a cover of the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby."  If you're a fan of Cartwright's other projects you'd be a fool not to check the Parting gifts out, and hopefully if you go see them live you make it to the gig on time. 

I've seen Superchunk dozens of times over the last twenty years (probably somewhere between the two dozen and three dozen mark if I were to wager a guess), but this was my first time not seeing them with Laura Ballance.  I've had a crush on her for over half my life, and not seeing her on stage with the band pogoing up and down while playing bass leaves a hole in my heart.  Filling in for her was Jason Narducy, who amongst other acts is currently working with Bob Mould (as is Chunk drummer Jon Wurster).  He did a fine job, clearly a professional, but I was really missing Laura - I was standing right in front of where she should be!  The band still sounded fantastic, despite this change.  I'm not going to go into great detail on what they played as the set list is surely online somewhere, but they played for nearly two hours with two encores, and played a lot of their great new album "I Hate Music."  Some other highlights included "Punch Me Harder," "Water Wings," "Detroit Has a Skyline,"Precision Auto," "On the Mouth"...basically, everything they play I love.  Most importantly they played their cover of the Magnetic Fields' "100,000 Fireflies," a song they don't play live all that often but at this point I consider it more theirs than Magnetic Fields.

One odd thing that did stand out that I personally had never seen before - the band came back out and played their second encore after the house music had already come back on.  Usually that music (plus the lights coming on) is the universal sign that it's time to leave, so I'm not sure if the sound man messed up turning it back on too early or if the band surprised him by coming back out.  Either way, it was a truly surprising encore, and if my brain serves they played the classic "Throwing Things."  And now when bands finish their sets and the house music comes on, I'll be second guessing whether or not it is time to leave...

Birds of Avalon / Tonk / The Lollipops at Kings - 8/23/2013

Birds of Avalon
with Tonk and The Lollipops

It was Kings 3rd anniversary this weekend - I was there for the opening weekend (Bandway!!!) and have probably been to this club more times in the last three years than everywhere else in the triangle added together.  I'm a big fan of the venue, the owners, and most of the bands they have play on their stage, and that was no less true for this anniversary gig. 

When I got in the club Tonk was already into their set.  Not sure how much I missed, but everything I did get to hear was damn good.  When I first saw this band most of their set was covers, but now they're playing mostly originals (I actually didn't recognize any covers, but that doesn't mean there wasn't any).  Apparently they even have a record coming out soon that I look forward to hearing.  No matter who is writing the songs though, they all fit that Tonk seventies-style country mold.  We're talking "tear in your beer" country, and they're damn good at it.   

To be perfectly honest I wasn't really feeling the Lollipops the first time I saw them, but this second viewing has me rethinking that opinion.  They've definitely got some catchy pop songs, and I've always been a sucker for bands that set up their own dramatic lighting.  They have a sorta ramshackle Guided by Voices sound crossed with more upbeat radio-friendly fare like MGMT.  The bass was way too loud though, and this from someone who usually complains there isn't enough bass.  I'm not sure if this was intentional or just the night's mix, but it was slightly annoying.  I'd definitely be up for seeing them again though, not something I said after the first show I saw by them.  I should probably listen to their record on bandcamp too, the thing is free after all. 

I don't even know what to say about Birds of Avalon at this point.  They were always good but now they are SO GODDAMN GOOD.  I swear they're five times better every time I see them.  It's a psych-kraut wonderland, with stellar guitar shreddery and a pretty much perfect rhythm section.  As an added bonus Missy Thangs, best known for her work with Love Language but who also seems to be a member of at least eighteen other bands, was adding some keyboard to the action.  I'm not sure if her addition is just a temporary thing or in the band's long-term plans, but it worked pretty well.  These kids make some swell records and I'm really looking forward to what they put out next, but seeing them live is where it's really at.  More Bird of Avalon shows!  I demand it!