Sunday, December 21, 2014

This Will Destroy You / Future Death at the Cat's Cradle Back Room - 11/3/2014

This Will Destroy You
with Future Death
Cat's Cradle Back Room

A cold Monday night seems like a great time to enjoy a little post-rock.  I've only ever heard a few songs from This Will Destroy You, but a friend had a couple of guest list spots so why the hell not see some live music?  A four piece from Texas, it would be pretty easy to confuse them with Explosions in the Sky as they sound more or less exactly the same, at least to these untrained ears.  Not that I mind - good music is good music, and it's not like I'm ever going to get to see Explosions in a club the size of the Cat's Cradle Back Room ever again.  They were great live in the sense that the sound was incredible, but their "performance" wasn't anything to write home about.  I'd love to see one of these bands in a seated venue and paired with some sort of elaborate light show or visual display - I think it would go over like a honey pot on a bear's head. 

The band that opened for This Will Destroy You was called Future Death, also from Texas.  They were really two bands musically-speaking - some songs were noisy hardcore, others really off-kilter art pop.  Since the extent of my hardcore knowledge is Minor Threat and Circle Jerks I'm not sure what I would compare that version of the band to, but I'm guessing if you like the female-fronted heavy sounds of Perfect Pussy you'd probably dig it.  As for their other jams, it falls somewhere on the spectrum between Deerhoof and Guardian Alien; let it be said I'm not being racist with the Deerhoof comparison just because both bands have Asian women fronting them, some of Future Death's songs genuinely reminded me of them.  Please file all grievances with management.  

Before leaving I popped my head into the sold out Run the Jewels show happening in the main room and caught a couple of songs - hey, no one was watching the door, and what would it hurt?   The place was packed, it was hot and sweaty, and the music sounded great.  Seemed like El-P had lost his voice but he was still soldiering on, and Killer Mike was proving yet again he is the best that hip hop has to offer these days.  Gotta catch that full show next time. 

Whatever Brains / T0W3RS at Nice Price Books and Records - 9/19/2014

Whatever Brains
with T0W3RS
Nice Price Books and Records

It had been a dog's year since I last saw T0W3RS - they were a full band at that time, playing very enjoyable, catchy indie pop.  These days all that remains from that iteration are the name and frontman Derek Torres.  Now T0W3RS is just a one-man band, with Derek singing (and sometimes playing guitar) along with recordings in a very theatrical fashion as if he was performing a one-man play.  The music has also taken a shift to something between Bowie-esque glam and modern electro-pop, but the tracks are just as catchy as ever - Torres has a real way with hooks.  The packed house seemed way into it, especially this weird hippy guy standing next to me who was possibly putting on an even bigger show than Derek. 

The reason for the season tonight was the release party for the new double EP by Whatever Brains.  Since each EP is one side of a regular 12" record I'm not sure why it isn't just considered a regular LP record, but the Brains have always done their own thing.  In keeping with tradition, each EP is named "Whatever Brains," so this now means they have five albums all named the same thing.  I should also say that they used a photo of mine for the cover of one of the EPs, which makes me happier than about anything that has ever happened in my life.  It's as if seeing this band dozens and dozens of times has finally paid off!  As for the show itself, they played most of their two new EPs, including the epic twenty plus minute long track "///////" which is based on a true story of hermit family living in the middle of nowhere in Siberia.  It was a super awesome fun time as per usual.  I think I'll even go see them play again in the future! 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The War on Drugs / Peter Matthew Bauer at the Haw River Ballroom - 10/17/2014

The War on Drugs
with Peter Matthew Bauer
Haw River Ballroom

I've got to be pretty motivated to drive out to Saxapahaw to see a show, but considering that before this gig was announced I was planning on going to Asheville to see War on Drugs play, this one was an easy decision.  I'm not sure if it's the Haw River Ballroom or the crowd these guys draw, but there were signs everywhere that stated "absolutely no chairs allowed" which was cracking me up.  It was the last night of their massive tour that started at some point before the Hopscotch appearance in early September, and I'm sure everyone was counting down the minutes until they could get home and sleep in their own beds.  But before that, they put on a hell of a performance.  It was similar to the Hopscotch outing, but...looser maybe?  Which would make sense given how many times they've played these songs in the last couple of months.  There was one addition to their set list, a cover of Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue," done on the obvious WoD fashion.  And top it all off, like all Haw shows, it ended at a reasonable middle-aged hour. 

The opener was Peter Matthew Bauer, best known as the frontman of the Walkmen.  Unfortunately he didn't play any of those songs, but his solo songs were still pretty damn rad.  With his very unique voice, everything sorta sounded like Walkmen songs I'd never heard before anyways.  There was a little Replacements and Springsteen vibe in there too, but that probably could have also been said about the Walkmen.  Anyways, I need to buy his solo record.  Maybe if I write it down it will remind me. 

Belle & Sebastian / Luke Temple at the Fillmore Miami Beach - 9/28/2014

Belle & Sebastian
with Luke Temple
The Fillmore Miami Beach

For the second year in a row we traveled to a foreign country to see our beloved Belle & Sebastian - Montreal last year, and Miami Beach this year.  Sure, Miami Beach isn't technically a foreign country but it might as well be - there were certainly more women walking around in thongs than you typically see anywhere else in this country. 

Our tickets were general admission so we got there early and got a good spot up front - I've seen B&S many times but always from far away; this time, only one row of people separated us from Stuart Murdoch and company.  They were performing as a thirteen piece with the regulars joined by a quartet of violin mercenaries from New York (as both the band and the crowd found out when Stuart talked to them during the set).  The band kicked off with the instrumental "Judy Is a Dick Slap," complete with Stuart playing a keytar, and it only got more awesome from there.  Lots of classics throughout the set including "I'm a Cuckoo," "Like Dylan in the Movies," "Dog on Wheels," "The Boy With the Arab Strap," "Legal Man," "Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying," "Judy & the Dream of Horses," and the always perfect " "If You're Feeling Sinister."  According to the band this was their first show ever in Florida, something Stewart joked about on a couple of occasions.  Also, unbeknownst to me and probably a lot of the crowd, he is married to a gal from Florida, and told a funny story about his first trip to the state on vacation when some people pulled up next to him on the highway and offered him some Ritz crackers.  It was more or less a perfect show, and well worth the cost of airfare and hotel and tickets and whatever else we spent.  I mean, the beach was nice too, so that was also a plus. 

A brief note about opener Luke Temple - I dug it, but not sure much of the crowd did.  He has a really heavy Jonathan Richman vibe - classical guitar, sparse drummer, hell he was even wearing a very Jonathan Richman-like shirt.  The vocals sounded more like James Mercer of the Shins though, and the songs had a jazzy-folk-pop thing going on.  the crowd was very loud during his set, and as his music was pretty quiet it was pretty awful.  He tried saying something to the crowd a couple of times, which has never, ever worked in the history of live performances, they just get indignant at being told what to do.  I would check him out again though, hopefully in better environs.    

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers / Steve Winwood at PNC Arena - 9/18/2014

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
with Steve Winwood
PNC Arena

I don't often go to large "arena rock" shows - I think the last one I saw actually held in a basketball stadium like this one was REM (with Lucious Jackson opening!) at the Dean Dome back in 1995 or 1996.  For some reason I felt it incumbent to see Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers while it was still possible though, high priced tickets and nosebleed seats be's not often you get a chance to see someone who has written as many hit songs as he has. 

After paying twenty dollars for parking, more than I almost ever pay to actually see a show, we got inside and found that our section had been closed off and they upgraded our seats to better ones downstairs - score!  You can more or less guess the set list, basically a lot of his hits (both from his solo and Heartbreakers records) along a number of with tracks from his new album "Hypnotic Eye."  The crowd sing-along for "Freefallin'" was pretty impressive, almost as impressive as the drunken dancing by the fratboys a couple rows in front of us...they were FEELING IT.  I knew it would be a sound good and be a professional performance, you don't stay on top like Petty has for this long if you're putting out a sub-par product - but I was impressed with just how good it actually was.  Even from the other end of the stadium where we were seated, it was engaging and exciting to watch the band perform; I was also surprised at how funny Petty was, his between song banter was pretty strong.  They played for about two hours, closing with probably their best song "American Girl."  It was money well spent. 

It's definitely worth mentioning the opener, since it was the rock legend Steve Winwood.  Yeah he played his eighties hit "Higher Love" and it sounded fine, but the highlight was the retrospective of songs from some of the different groups he has been a part of over his career  - Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home," an number of Traffic jams, and a couple of Spencer Davis Group songs including the ender of "Gimme Some Lovin'," one of the best parts of the entire night. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hopscotch 2014 - Day Three Evening Performances at City Plaza, the Lincoln Theatre, Slims, & Kings - 9/6/2014

Hopscotch 2014
Day Three - Evening Performances
City Plaza, the Lincoln Theatre, Slims, & Kings

The most important part of tonight's City Plaza show was getting there in time to see Death play "Keep on Knocking."  For some reason I thought they might play it early, and sure enough it was the second song in their set - for once my intuition pays off!  I had a friend wonder out loud if they played that song too early, as it's the best in their catalog and what I'd guess a lot of people were looking forward to the most.  The rest of the set was good though, lots of between song banter about their deceased brother (who was the original guitarist) and scorching instrumentation.  Particularly of note is how the bass is used almost like a lead guitar in the band, out in front of the mix.  If you haven't seen it, I definitely recommend the documentary on them

It had been a while since I last saw Mastodon, back in 2009 at the Cradle.  To be honest I've not been nuts about the band's slow digression into prog metal, but I figured that performed live even that material would probably sound great - this was correct.  Plus those first two records of theirs "Leviathan" and "Remission" are damn near perfect, and the chance to hear any of those songs was worth the attendance.  They did finally trot out some of these older tracks towards the very end of their set when I took off for other shows, but between the band's performance and the people watching I enjoyed myself anyways.  A few notes:
 - There was an epic mosh pit and tons of crowd surfing.  This is not surprising, but I felt like saying it anyways. 
 - Someone should have done a photo study of all the metal t-shirts at the show.  By my rough estimate, surprisingly Red Fang is the most popular. 
 - Nearly a couple of fights broke out near me, but cooler heads prevailed in the end.  Chalk one up for even-keeled drunk rockers. 
 - That clear Flying V that Brent Hinds played for a while?  I was drooling.
 - Is there another metal band where all members sing like with Mastodon?  That's gotta be unique to this band. 

I kept the metal train going by popping into the Lincoln Theatre to see what Demon Eye was all about.  Turns out they were all about some seventies-style Sabbath-y metal, and it sounded fuckin' awesome.  Nothing groundbreaking to be sure, I feel like I've heard any number of bands go down pretty much this same road, but these guys were performing it at a pretty high level.  The room was almost empty when they started their set but halfway through a rather healthy crowd had trickled in and seemed as into it as I was.  They're local so I'll definitely be making it a point to get to one of their gigs again. 

My plans were very loose for the next little while until it was time for the White Octave at Kings.  I passed my friend Maggie who said Wing Dam were putting on a great show at Slims, so I popped in to see what they had cooking.  The place was packed and hot as shit aka a normal Slims show during Hopscotch.  I could barely see the band, but they sounded good - I'd call it scuzz pop just because I like inventing genres, they were sorta distorted, catchy pop music full of energy and clearly sweat as both the guy and gal at the front of the band took off their shirts.  I feel like I see their name listed on show bills fairly often, so it was good to finally put a sound with a name.  Then my friend Enoch passed me on his away out of the club and said there was already a crazy line to get into was time to go get on that, because I would not be denied entrance. 

I got into the club just in time to see the final Y'all song, which was really just an epic distorted rock freak-out jam that may or may not have been indicative of their set at large.  I think I saw them once before, but sometimes this shit bleeds together.  I do know they are from Charlottesville and were formerly part of the now-defunct Invisible Hand.  They play a lot so I'm certain I'll see them again. 

The next band was Krill from Boston.  I had never heard of them but their sound clip on the Hopscotch site was interesting, so I was curious to see what they were all about.  I'm not sure if the crowd was just already pumped for the Octave or they were genuinely up for Krill, but either way it was a lively scene.  The band was a three-piece with a heavy bass presence, and at their best that had a fun indie-pop-punk vibe that I could see myself getting into.  There were a few moments when the bass got too heavy and and I worried the music might go in too much of a "funk" direction, but they managed to keep it pretty well reigned in. 

Finally, the White Octave.  If this wasn't my second most anticipated show after the War on Drugs, it was damn close.  Certainly others felt much stronger about it than me - a guy in front of the stage on the opposite side of the room was openly weeping and shaking and being consoled by his friend after meeting frontman Stephen Pedersen just before the show started.  While part of me wants to make fun of the dude, mostly I'm just pissed because I don't think I've felt as passionately about anything as this guy apparently feels about this band.  Given that they hadn't played live or released any records in 13 or 14 years, I was surprised at how many young people were there and were WAY into it.  How?  Why?  I'll never get these answers, but I was genuinely perplexed.  Some of them were probably in elementary school when their records came out!  Anyways, the band sounded amazing - like they'd never missed a beat, very tight and dynamic and engaging just like I remember from the late nineties.  The crowd, at least at the front of the stage where I stood, were collectively losing their shit - so much singing along and fist pumping and giddy faces out of the whole lot of them.  One can only hope this happens again.  Also: their first record is getting reissued, or rather finally issued on vinyl - exciting times. 

Finally, as an end to my night and Hopscotch as a whole, I popped back into the Lincoln to see the one and only High on Fire.  They were already into their set, lovingly brutalizing ears even from outside on the sidewalk as I walked in.  Listen, I don't want to alarm anyone, but I have some news of note: Matt Pike was playing the show shirtless.  I know right?!?  I was worked and only had a few songs in me, but they sounded great.  Am I the only person in the world that gets a more aggro Motorhead vibe from these guys?  Not on the recordings necessarily, but live...yeah, I'm probably the only one. 

It was a good Hopscotch - money well spent, time well wasted, ears well damaged.  Until next year!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Hopscotch 2014 - Day Two Evening Performances at City Plaza, Vintage 21, Tir Na Nog, the Pour House & the Lincoln Theatre - 9/5/2014

Hopscotch 2014
Day Two - Evening Performances
City Plaza, Vintage 21, Tir Na Nog, the Pour House & the Lincoln Theatre

I had never paid much attention to St. Vincent - heard a couple of songs here and there, saw part of their recent performance on Saturday Night Live, but that was about it.  I had zero expectations for her set at City Plaza, but found myself very pleasantly surprised.  Their live show was a full spectacle: weird choreographed dances combined with a light show and great, catchy music that really reminded me of modern version of Prince (and I recently re-watched "Purple Rain," so I'm an expert in this subject).  Oh, and it was loud.  I mean, LOUD - I wasn't even that close to the stage and it left my ears ringing.  Annie Clark really is the total package - complete shredder on the guitar, great song writer and performer, and being very pleasant to look at doesn't hurt either.  As much as I might personally like Spoon, St. Vincent should have probably been the headliner tonight, because it wouldn't be fair to ask them or most anyone else to follow up this performance. 

Spoon was the headliner though, and it had been a while since I'd seen them.  I've barely listened to their records after 2007's "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," so I was really hoping some of their older songs would make it into the set list.  Mixed in with the newer tracks I didn't know were classics such as "The Underdog," "I Turn My Camera On," "I Summon You," and most excitingly "Small Stakes."  Yeah, I would have loved to hear more of these older songs, but I didn't really expect it.  Then again, I only caught about the first hour of their performance before heading off to other venues, so they might have played a few more vintage hits in the remainder of their set.  Oh yeah, they also had a great light show, maybe not as good as St. Vincent's, but since it was dark by the time Spoon took the stage the lights stood out more.  And we'll not even discuss the fact that most of the band was dressed in all white after Labor Day as if they don't know the rules of fashion.  Tsk tsk. 

My next stop was going to be Obnox at Slims, but with a huge line queued up outside I just walked right past and headed to Vintage 21 (aka that church on the corner of Hargett & Person) to see local lads Enemy Waves.  I caught a good set by them earlier in the year and wanted to see them again; finding out that Thurston Moore would be sitting in for part of their show made it a done deal.  Moore had the title of "improvisor in residence" for this year's festival, and was floating in and out of various gigs, in addition to playing his own solo show (which had been the night before at the same time as War on Drugs, so I obviously missed it).  And while I enjoyed their final song with Moore, a fifteen minute free form rocker, the real meat was the first part of their set - it was heavy jams my friends.  They had a thick kraut rock vibe, like a seventies metal band that had listened to a lot of Can.  When you add in the occasional horns I'm kinda lost for a comparison, all I know is it rules and was one of my favorite shows of the whole festival. 

I decided to stick around in that same venue to see some of the next artist, Tony Conrad.  He's apparently a legend in the noise/avant garde/whatever the fuck you call it community.  I'd never heard of the dude but enough people I know were excited about this performance that I decided to see what the fuss was.  He started his set off holding a small framed canvas that was mic'd; he then painted a circle on the front of it, cut out a hole inside the painted circle with a box cutter, and proceeded to run a violin bow in an out of the hole along the cut edge creating squawky sounds.  I don't know if I'd call it music or even good, but I guess I would call it interesting.  He then banged that framed canvas on the ground to create a rough beat that he looped through a sampler, and played noisy violin on top of that.  To be perfectly honest I don't know what the fuck it was I saw, but it held my attention for about fifteen minutes before it was time to move on.  I just don't think I'm ever going to get that world no matter how many times I try. 

I was on a sampler platter tour en route to the Lincoln, and stopped by Tir Na Nog to see what was happening - and that happening was Dark Rooms.  I had talked with frontman Daniel Hart a few times when he toured with the Rosebuds a few years back, but this was my first time witnessing his own band.  I watched a few songs of their, well, "violin indie pop" I guess.  Is that a genre?  Well, it is now.  The music had drums paired with electronic drums, keys, guitar, Daniel on the violin, and lots of catchy harmonies.  The songs were upbeat and almost dancey, and the place was pretty close to packed with folks that seemed really into it - can't say I blamed them.  After a little while I wanted to see what was happening next door though, and off I went. 

What was happening next door was local rapper Big Pooh, formerly of Little Brother.  When I walked in he was covering Nas' "The World Is Yours," which was totally confusing because I don't think I've ever seen a hip hop artist play a cover.  It sounded good though, and it's a great song, so why not?  After that he played what I assume was his solo material, which I've never listened to but want to now after seeing part of this set.  Dude had great stage presence and seemed very personable.
Finally, it was the last show of the night, Sun Kil Moon at the Lincoln Theatre.  To sum it up succinctly: what a clusterfuck.  I could detail the proceedings myself but this Pitchfork news item pretty well sums it up.  He was a prickly asshole from the start, but this isn't new for him.  Part of the crowd were also being dipshits, but I think this is more a function of the venue - the Lincoln is usually a place for raucous behavior, an open room full of heavy drinkers and a very busy bar.  Truthfully, Sun Kil Moon should have been booked elsewhere; that doesn't mean Mark Kozelek wouldn't have still been cock, but maybe it would have lessened the chances.  Mostly, despite the ill will back and forth between the audience and was just boring.  I like his recordings but live it's about as exciting as a dead fish.  I lasted about five songs and left; if this gig had been in a seated venue, there is a strong chance I would have fallen asleep.  Instead, I got in my car and went Snoopy's and got a hot dog, a much better ending to the night than a delicate flower playing morose music. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hopscotch 2014 - Day Two Day Parties at Kings - 9/5/2014

Hopscotch 2014
Day Two - Day Parties

I pretty much had one thing in mind with today's day parties - I was told a while back that Yo La Tengo would be appearing in some form at the Three Lobed party at Kings, and I was going to be there goddammit! 

To be safe I got there early, which was a smart decision because I got to see a short set from Rose Cross NC (or Jenks Miller & Rose Cross NC - I'm unsure which is the official name).  As you might have already guessed by one of the two potential band names, Jenks Miller of Mount Moriah and Horseback fronts the group; the band was rounded out by the bassist from Mount Moriah (whose name I'm unsure of), drummer Dan Westerlund (who has drummed for tons of people and also plays some mean basketball), and a lady on on the keys (no idea on her name or basketball skills).  Their set was one long song, starting out very slow and sparse and building into a full band rocker with just a smattering of vocals.  I really hope this wasn't just a one-off for Hopscotch and instead becomes a regular thing, because I was way into it. 

Up next was why I left the house - Little Black Egg Big Band aka Yo La Tengo, Steve Gunn & William Tyler performing as an improv drone guitar orchestra.  James McNew was sitting in the middle of the stage with a table full of pedals, Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley were sitting on either side of him with guitars, and finally Gunn and Tyler were standing on the edges of the stage each with, yes, guitars.  It was one long, epic jam; and as I've mentioned before, this kind of experimental music is usually not my bag, but it was interesting enough to hold my attention for the set.  I actually find myself paying more attention to what each of the members is doing than the music itself, to be honest - and the most interesting I saw was William Tyler holding small handheld radios to his guitar to create feedback that he then tweaked through his pedals.  I'd still rather see a regular performance by all of these acts, but the fun part of a festival is getting to experience different weird shit like this. 

Hopscotch 2014 - Day One Evening Performances at City Plaza & the Lincoln Theatre - 9/4/2014

Hopscotch 2014
Day One - Evening Performances
City Plaza & the Lincoln Theatre

This year Hopscotch expanded to having City Plaza shows all three nights instead of just Friday and Saturday, with De La Soul as the inaugural Thursday headliner.  I saw them in a small club in Boone in 1993 (I think) opening for a Tribe Called Quest, and while seeing them on a giant outdoor stage wouldn't have quite the same effect, I still found it an enjoyable performance.  The set seemed to be pretty comprehensively career spanning, with material from their first three albums getting the loudest cheers.  Songs like "Stakes Is High," "A Rollerskating Jam Named 'Saturdays'," and "Me, Myself and I" still sound great to me more than two decades after they were first released.  Things really started to get good when they brought Mike G from the Jungle Brothers out to perform "Buddy"...and then the rain started.  First a few fat drops, then the downpour.  Most of the plaza emptied and De La stopped performing after that song, but a small band of very wet fans stayed camped out in front of the stage and it looked as if they were going to perform an encore for them, but I didn't stick around to find out - I was gonna go get somewhere dry. 

The Lincoln Theatre was the closest venue and I was planning on checking out Sun Club there anyways, so it was a no brainer to head there.  A very young five-piece from Baltimore, they bounded around on the stage like a Jazzercise class gone awry.  I suppose the closest musical touchstone would be Animal Collective, maybe with a whiff of hippie vibes (or maybe it was just the girl who smelled of patchouli standing near me that made me think that).  In previous years I probably would have made some sort of Elephant 6 comparison, but I don't think kids as young as this band appeared to be have any idea what that even is.  Not my favorite band of the fest but not bad either, and they were fun to watch. 

My carefully crafted plans of roaming the streets and checking out different acts were scrapped because of this incessant rain, but continuing to hang at the Lincoln to see American Aquarium ain't a bad consolation prize.  I've known singer BJ Barham for a little while now so I can't pretend to be unbiased, but their rabid fanbase will back up my assertion that they are a damn fine alt-country band, and on this evening they sounded fantastic.  They threw a Backsliders cover into their set early, and towards the end tackled Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" which sounded great until they got to the end and no one was there to play Clarence Clemmons' sax part.  Might be time for U.S. Fishtank to hire a horn player!

I didn't know dick about White Laces but their write-up on the Hopscotch website sounded interesting and I was waiting on the next band anyways, so why the fuck not right?  The singer looked like David Bazan but the music they played was a blend of dream pop and garage rock that worked pretty nicely together.  The crowd seemed into it - the kid standing next to me looked almost orgasmic while they played.  Kids these day amirite?!?  Also, I don't think a single member of the band was actually wearing white laces, tsk tsk.  The band is from Virginia so I'm assuming they'll come back to town at some point - I'd gladly check them out again. 

Finally it was time for not only the highlight of the night but the highlight of the whole festival for me, the War on Drugs.  To say their most recent record "Lost in the Dream" is my favorite of the year would be an understatement - it's possible I've listened to this one album more this year than everything else combined, and I'm not even close to sick of it.  The band was playing as a six piece, with three different guys manning keyboards (in addition to other duties on the guitar and various horns).  They did get some bonus help on guitar for one track in form of local lad Brad Cook, who at this point either knows or has played with every musician currently alive it seems.  The set consisted of nearly every song on the new record, and a few older tracks like "Baby Missles" weaved in throughout.  Frontman Adam Granduciel and his 17+ guitar pedals were straight shredding from start to finish, but it wasn't just wankery for the sake of it - in the context of War on Drugs' songs, that kind of guitar work benefits the music.  The band played for a long time, until nearly 2:30 - I was always under the impression bands had to stop at 2 AM, but good on the Lincoln for allowing the Drugs to finish their set.  I left the venue dead damn tired, but extremely happy with my first day of Hopscotch. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Hopscotch 2014 - Day One Day Parties at Neptunes, Kings & Slims - 9/4/2014

Hopscotch 2014
Day One - Day Parties
Neptunes, Kings & Slims

Hopscotch has landed on top of us yet again.  Somehow I'm already feeling prematurely tired just thinking about it. 

I actually started my day out at the Potluck party at Slims shooting the shit with a few friends, but before I saw any bands there I took off to Neptunes to see Drag Sounds.  I had been meaning to see these Greensboro kids for a while now, having heard many good things...apparently I was one of only a few people who felt that way because outside of the other bands there were very few folks in the club.  Too bad, because not only did it feel great in that cool basement bar on this hot-as-balls day, the band was fantastic, probably my favorite of everyone I saw during all of today's parties.  They had a really heavy Television vibe to them, insomuch as anyone can be like Television.  They also made me think of early Pavement...a cover of "Two States" would not have felt out of place.  I'll definitely be seeing these guys when they come back around, which seem to be fairly often. 

There were performers happening both at Kings and at Neptunes all day, so after Drag Sounds' set I moseyed upstairs to see what the hell was happening at Kings.  Turns out it was a solo dude called Secret Boyfriend with a table full of electronics, making an unholy racket that I kinda sorta enjoyed even though I couldn't say why.  He threw some vocals over the fracas on occasion but it was mostly just the man and his knobs tweaking out.  At one point he took a mic'd up sheet of metal (might have been a cookie sheet?) and banged it on his head for a while, then chewed on it before finally sticking the mic off of the metal in his mouth and (I guess) chewing on it a little bit.  And for his final song, how does he follow all that fracas up?  He plays a mellow song on the acoustic guitar, of course.  I'm not entirely sure what the hell it was I watched, but I'm mostly glad I saw it. 

Another trip downstairs was met with a Baltimore band called Goblin Mold, and what a cast of characters - all of them looked like they were right out of a John Waters film, so they were doing their city proud.  The drummer played the entire show wearing a backpack - I've seen a LOT of shows over the years, but that was definitely a first.  I suppose you'd say they played quirky indie rock, though that doesn't really tell you anything.  They didn't sound like anyone in particular, but they had bits and pieces that made me think of others...most notably the lead guitar work, which had that strangely tuned, almost underwater sound you heard on a lot of early Polvo songs.  And the vocals reminded me of Cap'n Jazz maybe, whichever Kinsella brother that was.  I was feeling the show.

Back upstairs at Kings was another solo artist called Lee Noble.  At first glance I thought it was just another dude manipulating a table full of electronics, but it turns out he had a Moog and was actually playing it.  It was sort of a John Carpenter-style synth funeral dirge with sparse, deep vocals.  As this isn't really my world I'd be hard pressed to come up with fitting comparison...I'll go with electronic Leonard Cohen or some such shit. See, I told you I didn't have a good comparison. 

After a little down time Heads on Sticks took the stage at Kings.  It had been a dog's year since I'd seen them last, and it was high time I re-acquainted myself.  They have no drummer, but the heavy beats from the drum machine lay the foundation their songs are built on.  Those beats combined with the bass was so heavy it was shaking my innards and making me feel even hungrier than I felt before the music started.  If you've never seen them they give off a heavy No Wave circa 1979 vibe, think James Chance & the Contortions or any number of other acts from that era.  They're very talented & tight and if I were a dancin' man I might have even shaken a shoe during their set.  Attendance had been pretty sparse at most of the shows I'd seen so far today, but a number of folks had shown up for this one and they were witness to an excellent set. 

Before heading home for a short break I made one last stop at Slims to see what was going on there, and caught a bit of See Gulls.  I saw them fairly recently at the Pinhook and was into it, and my second impression did not waver from the first.  They were playing their quirky pop on the "outside stage" of Slims (aka the back patio) and goddamn was it hot under that beating sun.  I was only good for about three or four songs before high-tailing it to the air conditioning of my car and some very late lunch to gird my loins in preparation for the night's festivities. 

Kyle Kinane at Kings - 8/12/2014

Kyle Kinane

We braved monsoon-like rains to get to Kings in in effort to roust up some laughs from Kyle Kinane.  Despite having wet pants for the entire show, it was a successful endeavor.  He was working out material for a special he would be recording in Georgia in a few days, so I guess this was a sneak preview and/or we were being used as guinea pigs.  As an aside, do they actually test anything on guinea pigs?  You'd think how much they get mentioned in regards to testing that everything runs through them.  Anyways, newsflash: Kyle was friggin' hilarious, and the special is clearly going to be awesome.  I will be more than happy to rehear all of these same jokes again; especially if he uses his long story about getting a blowjob from a mentally slow under-aged girl, that shit killed the entire audience. 

Spider Bags at the Pinhook - 8/8/2014

Spider Bags
The Pinhook

I'll generally try to make it to any Spider Bags show, but this one was special - a release party for their first record on Merge, "Frozen Letter."  Flesh Wounds were doing the exact same thing in Chapel Hill on this same night - why the two bands didn't combine their release shows is beyond me and a bummer, because I would love to have seen both.  Spider Bags singer Dan McGee made note that the only band they could think of to open this show for them was Flesh Wounds, and since they were clearly busy, the Bags decided to just play this one by themselves.  Since it was only them for the entire night, they played two different sets.  The first set was the new record in order and in it's entirety, and it was great introduction to their new material as I hadn't heard "Frozen Letter" previous to the gig.  There was then a 15 to 20 minute break where the crowd and the band both refueled their Beer cells, and then the Bags launched into their "greatest hits" aka every song you would ever want to hear them play from all of their previous recordings.  Including the break I think they played for two and a half hours, and it was a blistering, raucous, incredibly sweaty affair...seriously, I think it might have been 95 degrees inside of the Pinhook.  A sweaty t-shirt is a small price to pay for a show that good though. 

The Rosebuds at Duke Gardens & The Cat's Cradle - 6/25/2014 & 8/2/2014

The Rosebuds
Duke Gardens & The Cat's Cradle
6/25/2014 & 8/2/2014

The chances of getting an unbiased review of the Rosebuds has never been very high around here - I've known Ivan and Kelly for many years.  Now not only have they added two more friends to their touring band, Mark Paulson (also of the Bowerbirds) on bass and Rob Lackey on Drums, but one of my very best friends for a large portion of my life, Brian Weeks on guitar.  We go all the way back to Belk Hall on the UNCW campus in 1994, moved to San Francisco together in 2000, and have been annoying each other regularly for twenty years now. 

Since I'm too lazy to write two reviews I'm lumping both of their shows these past couple of months together.  The first was at the Duke Gardens, and sorta seemed to coincide with the Merge 25 festivities even if the band isn't on the label anymore (I still saw Merge head honcho Mac at the show, so things must still be copacetic between the Rosebuds and their former label).  It's always a little weird seeing a band in the daylight, much less in front of bunch of middle aged (or older) folks spread out on a lawn in camping chairs and sitting on blankets with picnic spreads of food.  The band had a new record coming out in August called "Sand + Silence," and probably half of the set was dedicated to premiering these new songs to their "hometown" crowd (neither Ivan or Kelly are actually locals anymore).  The rest of the set was dedicated to highlights from their long career, from "Back to Boston" to "Woods" to crowd sing-a-long favorite "Nice Fox."  There was also a fun performance of "Get Up Get Out" where Kelly gave shakers and tambourines and such to a group of little kids dancing in front of the stage, and they seemed to have a blast.  Of course the downside is the band still had a few more songs to play and the kids never gave the noise makers back, so the remainder of the set was accompanied by a lot of arrhythmic percussion coming from the crowd.   Maybe best to save the participation songs for the end...

The Duke Gardens show was a one off, but a little over a month later they returned to the Triangle as part of their short East Coast tour, landing at the Cat's Cradle.  It was the same group of musicians and a mostly similar set list, though this gig did focus a little more heavily on the new record.  Also, no children with percussion instruments playing them haphazardly.  The sound was better at this gig, but that is more of a function of it being inside the Cradle rather than outside amongst flowers.  Most importantly, it was a good time like Rosebuds shows always are. 

Swearin' / Potty Mouth at the Pinhook - 6/11/2014

with Potty Mouth
The Pinhook

Swearin' was one of the best surprises of last year's Hopscotch - I saw them randomly at a day party at Slims and was blown away.  I think they rolled back through town another time and I wasn't able to go, so it was nice to finally catch them again and confirm that my first impression was not a fluke.  The verdict?  It was not.  The band was extremely catchy just like last time, comprised of a formula roughly one-third pop, one-third punk, and the final third nineties indie fuzz rock.  In band terms, imagine some sort of combination of Superchunk, the Thermals, and the Breeders (the Breeders comparison brought to me by my friend Brian, something I had never thought of but that made perfect sense as soon as he said it).  It was all quite lovely and enjoyable and I promptly bought both of their records, something I wanted to do at Hopscotch but passed on because I didn't want to carry the records around with me the rest of that day. 

The opening act was an all-female group of of Massachusetts called Potty Mouth.  They too had a nineties vibe, as so many bands today do - in their case, more of a Velocity Girl meets Dinosaur Jr thing.  People seemingly have forgotten all about Velocity Girl, but their first two records "Copacetic" and "Simpatico" are still great even if the production on them is kinda muddy and shitty.  Would love to see those two get remastered and reissued.  Anyways, at one point this hot mess of a drunk girl in the crowd started yelling at the band about how young they were, which led the bassist to go on a bit of a rant about ageism combined with sexism in music; and yeah, they looked really young but why bring it up?  What do you stand to gain?  Just enjoy the music and maybe get less drunk next time, hot mess.  Pretty much every band seems young to me these days, and so long as they are enjoyable I could give a shit. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Thermals / The Ex-Boyfriends at Café du Nord - 1/14/2005

The Thermals
with The Ex-Boyfriends
Café du Nord

It was a goodly night of rock music at Café du Nord.  First on the bill was local rippers the Ex-Boyfriends, whose gruff brand of punk/pop always brings to mind the Archers of Loaf, Jawbreaker, etc.  They are like a throw-back to the glory days of that sort of music, aka the nineties, but without sounding dated at all.  Given that a couple of the members are gay, there was a lot of humorous banter between songs that leaned toward the homosexual side, and had the crowd laughing quite a bit.  A funny, gay rock band that plays music that I like?  Sounds like a recipe for success.  (Full disclosure - I'm friends with one of these guys.  That doesn't make them any less rad.)

The Thermals were the headliners, and had come down from Portland to play for the kids.  And by “the kids,” I seriously mean the kids – this was all ages and apparently they are popular among the younger lot, because the place was sold out and littered with (what I would guess were) highschoolers.  Every time I saw a cute girl I felt like a perv for looking at her, since she was probably under age and I don’t wanna go door-to-door telling my neighbors I’m a pederast like Jesus in “The Big Lebowski.”  Despite all that the Thermals were great as usual.  I’m still the only person I know who really thinks they sound like a punk rock version of the Mountain Goats, but seriously, that’s all I can think of when I hear them.  Lots of songs from both of their albums were played, which I guess is a given considering how short their songs are.  Everyone seemed real into it which was a nice change from the last time I saw them opening for Mates of State.  For a band from so near to our fair city, I sure wish they’d make it down here more often, because it’s always a great time.

The Thermals / Rogue Wave at Bottom of the Hill - 10/9/2003

The Thermals
with Rogue Wave
Bottom of the Hill

What more can I possibly say about Rogue Wave?  Their album "Out of the Shadow" has gone from being one of the best "local albums" to one of the best albums of the year, period.  Every time I see them they sound better and better, really coming together as a cohesive unit.  All of their new songs are amazing and I’m insanely eager for them to record again so I can get my hands on it and listen all the time, not just at shows.  Top that off with the fact that they are all as nice as can be, and you’ve got a winning combination.  Every time I see them, the crowds are larger and larger - tonight they were the opening band and the place was already packed.  Go see these guys (and gal) now while they’re still playing a lot locally, because as soon as they get huge and the local hipster magazines tell you to buy their album, you’ll be pissed you didn’t get on this train earlier.

I was really excited to see the Thermals, as I’d missed the opportunity to see these Pacific Northwesterners their previous couple of trips through town.  I knew if they lived up to their debut album "More Parts Per Million," I was in for a treat.  Well, they did.  Playing a large chunk of that album as well as some new tracks, they were full of vim and vigor and got the crowd bouncing (and by crowd, I mean my friends and I who were actually there for the Thermals and not headliners Mates of State who I've never gotten excited about). Hopefully some of them enjoyed it but I saw a lot of sour-pussed sweater wearers in the crowd.  Regardless, The Thermals brand of non-pretentious punk laced with Guided by Voices-style melodies made me as happy as pig in shit, and inspired a spending spree back at their merchandise table.  I’ll be looking forward to their next jaunt through town, most definitely.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Girls at Thee Parkside - 8/26/2004

The Girls
Thee Parkside

I had planned my evening around finally seeing the Girls – for once, I wasn’t either previously engaged or out of town when they would be playing in our fair city.  I went to the show thinking they would be playing second, the middle position if you will.  This was further communicated to me by the fact that the line-up listed at the front door listed the Girls in the middle slot (technically “The Swinging Gaylords - formerly The Girls” is what was listed).  Imagine my surprise, if you will, when they ended up being the last band.  Now I don’t ask for a lot of things, I’m pretty easy to please, but this sort of thing drives me insane.  This was only compounded by the fact that the band now playing in the middle slot, formerly the headliners, was incredibly terrible.  Even wasting some time playing ping-pong couldn’t save this catastrophe.

But enough dwelling on the negative, let’s look towards the light – and that is the Girls.  I’d fallen in love with their Cars-tinged punk when I got their self-titled CD a while back, and the live show lived up to my expectations.  By the time they came on the stage, well into the next day, most of the crowd had thinned out, but it was obvious that everyone who stuck around was definitely there to see these guys play.  There were a few songs I didn’t recognize, but most of it held pretty close to their record.  The set was short but lively, and all things considered (some genius decided to explode a stink bomb just outside the club), the band seemed to be enjoying themselves.  I wanted to help them out by buying something after they played, but I already had their only musical release and I couldn’t see myself sporting one of their t-shirts that featured a pair of pixilated breasts on the front, so I had to pass.  But any fan of synth-driven and extremely-poppy punk should do themselves a favor and check this Seattle quintet out. 

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

The Clorox Girls / The Bananas at Thee Parkside - 3/13/2004

The Clorox Girls
with The Bananas
Thee Parkside

I actually had a ticket to go check out the mellow country sounds of the Court & Spark down the street at Bottom of the Hill, but somehow it just didn’t feel right this night – something in me wanted a rock show, and by god I was going to have it.  I sold my ticket and then made my way a few blocks down the street to Thee Parkside, where it’s widely known that if you want a rock show there’s a good chance they’ll usually oblige.  This night's bill featured a million bands like most nights at Thee Parkside, but the ones I actually caught were the Bananas and the Clorox Girls.

Right after I stepped in the door the Bananas started playing… this band came recommended from someone whose opinion in music I value, and they were right – they were a lot of fun.  The singer was full of funny quips, the music was sloppy and poppy and a little bit punk, and the drummer was sitting on a crate that he broke by the end of their set.  I had no idea if they had anything for sale
because I would have surely bought it - they certainly didn’t say anything about it if they did.  Then again, bands like this work best in a live setting anyways.  The ample crowd seemed to know all of the words to their songs, there was lots of "happy" moshing (essentially drunken bouncing off of one another with a lot of laughing), and I doubt a soul in the place was having a bad time.

Somewhere between the first and second bands some random kid pinched my ass and then tried to blame it on his girl; I have no idea why (well, alcohol obviously), but that coupled with his incessant quoting of “The Chapelle Show” just made the night all that more silly and fun.

After waiting forever, the Clorox Girls finally took the stage.  For the record, none of them are girls, in case you were wondering.  The band was pretty straight-forward three-chord punk like you've heard a thousand times.  Like the Bananas, the band was very sloppy but not nearly as poppy.  Word on the street is their album is decent, I’ll have to keep my eyes open for it in the future.  Things did end on a high note - apparently the club blew a fuse, which led to all of the band's instruments crapping out on them all at the same time.  The Clorox Girls' reaction to this was to have a big pile-on with each other on stage, resulting in plenty of bewilderment and smiles from band and crowd alike.  The only instrument still audible at the end were the drums, and that was only until they were tackled.

I really wanted to stick around for The Fleshies, but I could hear my bed calling from the club; and at the rate the bands were breaking down/setting up, I would be there for quite a while before I ever saw them actually take the stage.  So home I went, happy with my choice of seeing a rock show this night – it really scratched that itch.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Noun / Modern Hut / Lonnie Walker at Nice Price Books and Records - 7/9/2014

with Modern Hut and Lonnie Walker
Nice Price Books and Records

I finally made it to Nice Price for one of their rock shows.  Yeah, I popped and caught a band at a matinee gig while I was out and about a month or two ago, but after telling myself I would show up for multiple gigs, I finally followed through.   

Lonnie Walker was the first act of the night...or at least part of Lonnie Walker - singer Brian, Nathan of DiggUp Tapes on bass, and a drum machine.  I guess the rest of the band wasn't available and Brian wanted to do something other than a solo show, but who knows.  The set list was a lot of the usual subjects, "Compass Comforts" and "Summertime" and their cover of Art Lord & the Self Portraits "Bouncing Away" which I honestly always thought was a Lonnie Walker song.  There was also a new song (or at least new to me) at the end of the set that sounded a shitload like Modest Mouse's "Dramamine," only further cementing in my head the comparison between the two acts.  The band members might change but a Lonnie Walker show hasn't much changed in five years, and I'm not complaining because I always enjoy seeing them. 

Modern Hut had the middle slot.  The band was a two piece, a dude who handled most of the vocals and Marissa from Screaming Females on backing vocals - both were also playing electric guitars.  I knew Marissa was going to be in the final band Noun (this was a major part of the motivation to get off the couch and to this show), but had no idea she was involved with this act.  The music was earnest and the vocals spoken almost as much as they were sung - the closest quick comparison I could come up with is the Silver Jews or more broadly, music you would have expected to be released on Shrimper in the mid-nineties.  I wasn't nuts for the music to be perfectly honest, but it was decent and it seemed like a lot of the kids in the crowd were digging it.  Oh yeah, the crowd was super young...that's almost not worth my mentioning anymore, because I'm clearly the outlier in these scenes. 

As mentioned earlier, Noun aka Marissa from Screaming Females finished the evening.  It was just her, her guitar and her wicked vibrato voice.  The crowd piled in close around her and made it tough for me to take photos (which was already tough due to the extreme lack of light), but somehow I survived the whole ordeal.  I'd never heard any of this solo material, and honestly to me it just sounded like Screaming Females songs minus the rest of the band.  The songs were maybe a little less rocking and her guitar playing a little less shredding, but Marissa's voice is so unique it would be difficult not to compare this solo act to her main gig.  She was great though - if you've seen Screaming Females you know she puts on a great live act, and even a slightly mellower version of her is still a win. 

Museum Mouth / Ghostt Bllonde at Kings - 6/6/2014

Museum Mouth
with Ghostt Bllonde

As frequently seems to be the case, the older I get the less likely I am to go out and see the new young bands that are always popping up.  No matter what my age is, there is always a pack of dudes in their early twenties ready to take on the world with their rock and/or roll. 

The first band I saw tonight was Ghostt Bllonde - yes, the misspellings in their name are apparently intentional.  I often comment how young the crowd is, but this time I suspect many got into Kings via fake IDs.  I had 15 years on almost every person there who wasn't actually working in the club...including the band.  They were a lively bunch though, crowd and band alike, very upbeat and dancey and having themselves a fine Friday night party.  The music was sort of a combination of jangly pop ala Lonnie Walker mixed with a little dance pop upbeat catchiness.  It was sometimes a little sloppy, but everyone seemed to be having fun so who cares right?  I would see them again, and look forward to seeing what these young lads grow into. 

Despite being from Wilmington, this was apparently the album release party for the new Museum Mouth record "Alex I Am Nothing."  Maybe they also had a release party in their hometown and just wanted to have more parties, who knows.  Either way I'd been hearing about these kids for a little while and then heard one of their tracks on the local NCSU college radio station WKNC and felt it imperative I see what they were all about live.  They are a three-piece with the unusual characteristic of a singing drummer - like our very own local Phil Collins or something!  I'd put their sound firmly in the pop-punk camp, but we're talking more Jawbreaker and Husker Du and Archers of Loaf than Blink 182.  On some of the mellower numbers there was also a bit of Connor Oberst maybe.  It was a fairly quick set, and I dug it enough to buy the record at the end of the night. 

Foals / J. Roddy Walston & the Business at the Red Hat Amphitheater - 5/2/2014

with J. Roddy Walston & the Business
Red Hat Amphitheater

Some local radio station was putting on a free show, I didn't have shit else going on, so why not hit the town?  I'd never been to Red Hat or seen any of the bands, so it seemed like an entertaining enough way to spend the evening. 

As always, free shows bring out weird crowds - lots of very young kids, random old people, stoners, wookies, folks that are likely homeless, and rejects from the filming of "Spring Breakers."  The line was all the way around the block so my idea of catching most of J. Roddy Walston & the Business was out the window - I did get to hear most of the set though, and we finally got inside in time to take in the last three or so songs.  I've had friends for ages saying they are must-see live, and even though this was probably the wrong venue I could see what they were getting at.  The band, especially J. Roddy, were very exciteable and enthusiastic on stage, playing their piano-led southern bar rock with a great deal of zest and - dare I say it - pizazz.  They were somewhere in the spectrum between the Hold Steady and Kings of Leon, with a little Ben Folds mixed in.  The crowd seemed into it, much more so than I expected.

The middle band - Foals - was the main draw for the evening (we didn't even stick around for headliners Cage the Elephant).  Where the band is from in England they apparently sell out eleven thousand seat venues in a matter of minutes, but in Raleigh they're the middle act of a free gig.  Amazing the difference an ocean can make sometimes.  The band has put out four full lengths, the first two were even on Sub Pop, but somehow I missed all of this.  Anyways, yadda yadda yadda, the band basically plays a modern, updated version of that Brit pop sound we've all known and loved for ages now.  It's a tough sound to precisely describe, but we all know it when we hear it.  They put on a good stage show, had a lot of fancy lights happening, and the crowd ate it up.  I'm not sure they were a band I'd seek out for a regular paying gig, but for a free show?  They were well worth it. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Merge 25 - Night Four at the Cat's Cradle - 7/26/2014

Merge 25
Neutral Milk Hotel, Caribou, Teenage Fanclub, Bob Mould, and Mikal Cronin
Cat's Cradle

I tried to prepare myself for a long day of standing in the hot Cat's Cradle parking lot by purchasing a chocolate milkshake, and this led to me arriving at the venue late and only seeing part of Mikal Cronin and his super-catchy fuzz pop.  This might lead the regular person to exclaim "damn you milkshake!" for making them late, but it wouldn't be sincere on my part because the milkshake is the true love of my life.  Anyways, I believe all of the songs I did get to hear were from his excellent Merge record "MCII," and since I didn't miss hearing one of the best pop songs of the last few years, "Shout It Out," I can't get too mad about missing part of his set. 

I know this will possibly result in my "music fan" card being revoked, but I've never listened to much Bob Mould or Husker Du.  And the thing is, every time I hear a song by either act I usually enjoy it...just never translated to any prolonged listening to his/their music.  Mould's backing band is the current rhythm section of Superchunk, Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster, their second and third times playing the festival respectively.  Narducy managed not to make himself bleed this time, but Wurster did still sweat a shirt shiny.  I didn't know most of what they played but I liked it - the only song I did recognize was "I Don't Know You Anymore," and I'm told he played a couple of Husker Du tracks.  Also, host Margaret Cho (oh yeah I forgot to mention she was the MC of the day's festivities) came onstage and sang a couple of songs with the band - apparently she's a huge fan.  She didn't have a bad voice for a comedian, but maybe not a great voice for a musician, ha.

Finally, what anyone with good taste had been waiting for, one of the greatest pop bands of all time, Teenage Fanclub.  I was as giddy as one of those crazed One Direction preteen fans, minus the high-pitched shrieking.  I don't think I've ever seen as many musicians watching another band as I did during this set - a large selection of most of the acts on the day's bill were posted at the side of the stage taking it all in.  The band might be a little older but they haven't lost a step musically - everything sounded gorgeous.  The set list, while short, sampled their entire catalog...sure, there was a ton of things I would have loved to hear like "Star Sign" and "Radio," but getting three songs from their perfect record "Songs from Northern Britain" takes the pain away.  And then there was the end of the set, when they amped up the awesome exponentially - first with "The Concept," then "Sparky's Dream," and finally "Everything Flows."  It might sound like an exaggeration but this set alone was worth the price of the entire four day pass; this kind of happy doesn't come along that often. 

After Fanclub I knew I was kinda going to be ruined for any other live music, but there were still two bands to go.  I went inside the Cradle to have a drink, cool off out of the sun, and try to get my brain screwed back on straight.  When I wandered back outside, Caribou was partially through their set.  I had always thought that this band was just one guy manipulating shit on his computer, and maybe that is the case on the recordings - but live it was an actual four piece band with an exceptionally bad ass drummer.  There's nothing I can tell you about this band or show that you can't read elsewhere with more details, but I will say if you are like me and wrote these guys off as boring knob twiddlers, that definitely isn't the case. 

Neutral Milk Hotel were the closer for the night, and for the festival.  After plenty of admonishment not to take any photos or videos or recordings or to look Jeff Mangum in the eye (that last part may or may not be true), Mangum took the stage by himself to perform "I Will Bury You in Time," and was shortly joined by the rest of the band (which could be anywhere from five to seven members depending on the song they were playing at the time).  There was a couple of horn players (hornsmen?  horners?), each of them with a ton of different instruments from trombones to french horns to trumpets to...I think a euphonium?  Also, at least one of those hornsmen was the human embodiment of Papa Smurf, in case you were wondering.  There is really no reason to go into what songs the band played, because it was obviously their two albums they released over 15 years ago.  As much as I love their recorded material, the live show was a bit ramshackle.  Maybe it was the mix, maybe it was the musicians, maybe it was the poor acoustics of an outside show, but whatever it was, the gig wasn't as good as I had hoped.  Not bad by any means, just...okay I guess.  In fact the best material of the night were the handful of tracks that Mangum played by himself, his voice clear and unmuddled by the cacophony of sounds coming from the stage.  That was how Neutral Milk Hotel ended the show, the same as how they started - just the iconic singer and his guitar, closing out a great four days of music.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Merge 25 - Night Three at the Cat's Cradle - 7/25/2014

Merge 25
Destroyer, Wye Oak, The Mountain Goats, and David Kilgour and the Heavy 8s
Cat's Cradle

After stuffing myself silly at Carrburritos, I got into the Cradle right at the end of Imperial Teen's set and caught their final two songs.  I've never been all that excited by these guys, but maybe I was in a good mood or the songs hit me just right but I liked what I heard - tons of energy and the crowd seemed way into it, but as per usual I don't have anything else to say about Imperial Teen. 

I got there a little early specifically because I didn't want to miss any of David Kilgour & the Heavy 8s.  To be completely honest I've not listened to his solo work all that much, but I love his band the Clean so much I felt it imperative I see him perform live as much as possible, regardless of what songs he might be playing.  Even though I didn't know any of the setlist, I thoroughly enjoyed the band's set - most notably Kilgour's excellent guitar playing, which held me transfixed for much of the set.  His New Zealand accent was so thick he jokingly put on a fake British accent to be understood, but you need no translator to understand good music.

I've never seen a Mountain Goats show that featured so little banter from frontman John Darnielle - I guess they took their short time slot to heart and decided to power through as many songs as possible.  They played a lot of crowd favorites like "San Bernardino," "Amy," "This Year," and what is probably the band's greatest song, one that had the entire crowd singing along, "No Children."  There was also a cover of the American Music Club song "Who You Are," a track I had never before heard, but Darnielle and company really made it their own.  Knowing how rabid Mountain Goats fans are, I'm betting there were folks who attended this show or even this festival specifically for them - I hope they at least enjoyed the quality of their offerings since there was a lack of quantity, because the quality was high. 

Wye Oak held down the penultimate leg of the evening.  I've said it elsewhere but they're really two different bands these days, the former guitar-based Wye Oak versus the current bass heavy electro-pop Wye Oak.  I really like both versions, though I might give a slight edge to the older, more rockin' version of the band because that is the one responsible for their best song "Holy Holy," which they thankfully played in their set this night.  Outside of that track and a couple of other older ones, Jenn Wasner left her guitar in it's stand and focused on songs from their new record "Shriek."  It's a little bit of a shame because she is such an excellent guitarist; but it's no surprise that on the new songs, she dominates the bass just as well.  Oh, and that amazing voice, plus she's incredibly attractive.  Honestly it wouldn't take much cajoling for me to quit my job and travel the world stalking her professionally (at a respectable distance, of course - I'm no creep; well, only a slight creep).  It's an odd feeling, loving a band's new direction while simultaneously missing their old sound...usually I hate when a group changes as drastically as Wye Oak have, but in this rare case it works. 

Destroyer closed the night, and it was incredible.  The last time they rolled through town in support of "Kaputt," it was like the whole band, especially frontman Dan Bejar, had downed a fistful of 'ludes before taking the stage.  By comparison this outing was downright ebullient!  Early in the set Bejar exclaimed "Gotta find my's gonna be worth it," and I knew based on his mood it was going to be a good night.  Including Bejar the band was running at eight members, including two full-time horn blowers and an organist.  Outside of a couple of new songs (which sounded great), most of the setlist was made from the albums "Rubies and "Kaputt" - and the best songs off of those albums to boot.  The list included "Savage Night of the Opera," "Chinatown," "European Oils," and the closer for the night, the epic "Rubies."  There was still a little time until 2 AM and I was hoping the band would keep going until closing, but like some crusty old Englishman once told me we can't always get what we want.  I'm pretty sure this gig is going to lead me down a manic Destroyer listening party for the next few weeks.  I don't see that as a problem.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Merge 25 - Night Two at the Cat's Cradle - 7/24/2014

Merge 25
Superchunk, Reigning Sound, The Rock*A*Teens, and The Clientele
Cat's Cradle

Night two of Merge 25 was upon us, and after last night's cushy seated gig it was time for a long evening of standing on the cement Cat's Cradle floors.  Let's do this. 

I got in the club just before the Clientele got started, and in my usual way wormed my way near the front amid a sea of photographers and three videographers with serious professional rigs.  Why all three of them were basically filming from the same angle is beyond me, but they're the pros and I'm sure they know what they're doing.  I wouldn't call myself a superfan, but this was one of the bands I was most excited about.  Why?  I couldn't say exactly, but probably some combination of their somber jazz pop sounding really good to my ears these days, combined with the fact that I've only seen the band a couple of times so there was a certain novelty to their performance as opposed to someone like Superchunk who I've seen tons.  Is it weird that I think of them as a British Sea & Cake?  It's not an exact match, but they're mining the same vein.  The band is both fantastically smooth and smoothly fantastic, and the only thing that would have made it better is if they had played "Rain."  I picked up the recent reissue of their classic "Suburban Light" when I left the club later that night. 

Next up was the Rock*A*Teens.  I'm 98% certain I saw these cats a few times back in the late nineties, be it opening for someone like Superchunk or at the old Kings or something along those lines.  They never really moved the needle for me back then, and I was interested to see how I would react to them this go around.  The verdict: while still not my favorite band in the world, I was definitely feeling it more than in the past.  They have a ramshackle, jangly garage pop vibe to them, a little sloppy but I'm not sure that is particularly important to a band like this.  There were a number of sound issues, most seemingly from the house and not the band, but the Rock*A*Teens plowed through without a care in the world.  I might need to go back and revisit their old records now. 

Speaking of sound problems, Reigning Sound also seemed to have no shortage of them.  Greg broke a guitar string early in the set and after changing it he just never seemed to get the guitar tuned back to his liking.  My musically stupid ears couldn't hear anything wrong, but then again I thought the music sounded fine when he was just playing five strings before he changed the broken one.  The band just released a new record called "Shattered" and played a number of tracks off of it, as well as some classics like "Stop and Think It Over," "Debris," "I'll Cry," and probably the best song they've ever written "Drowning."  Despite the difficulties I very much enjoyed the show, as I do with any Reigning Sound show.  So stoked they're on Merge now.  

Superchunk closed out the night.  I had sorta hoped and/or expected them to play a "special" set in honor of the anniversary - a complete classic album or all requests or obscure b-sides or something unusual, but it was just a regular Chunk show.  It might sound like I was disappointed, and maybe I was a tad, but you can't be that bummed out when one of your all-time favorite bands is banging out classics like "Skip Steps 1 & 3" and "What Do I" and "Brand New Love" and "Hyper Enough," paired with great new jams such as "Low F" and "Digging for Something" and "FOH." At one point new bassist Jason Narducy got so spazzy he fell backwards into the drum kit and ended up with a trickle of blood running from his head down his face and it wasn't until a couple of songs later when Jon Wurster told him that he had any idea.  That's rock and/or roll right there!  So it was a fun show, regardless of "specialness," and a nice cap on the second night.