Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mono at Bottom of the Hill - 10/1/2004

Bottom of the Hill

The Mono show at Café du Nord was probably my very favorite live performance by any band all of 2003.  On their return to the States, would they be able to fulfill my hopes and desires created from such an outstanding first viewing?  Well, they came about as close as any band can come to fulfilling over-hyped expectations, without the element of surprise they had on their side the first time around.  As bombastic as they were last year, they were just as much if not more so this time around – when the entire group was rocking out, the sound was so thick and heavy it was as if you could actually feel the air moving around the room.  The tracks played seemed to be split pretty evenly between between their last two releases, “One Step More and You Die” and “Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined,” respectively.  Although they didn’t play “Com(?)” from “One Step…” and that was a wee bit of a bummer, it was pretty damn great nonetheless; and yet again, Mono will be near the very top of my year end lists of best shows and records on the year. 

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Mono at Café Du Nord - 11/13/2003

Café Du Nord

I only vaguely knew what I was getting myself into this night.  I was told that Mono “Out-Mogwai” Mogwai.  It took me ages to realize that this Mono was not the crappy English electro group by the same name.  Oh boy, was I ever in for a treat.

In the wake of this show, I’ve been telling all sorts of folks that I have a new religion, and it is Mono.  Yes, they are “post-rock”; yes, they do remind me quite a bit of old Mogwai (think "Young Team" / "Ten Rapid" / "Xmas Steps EP" era), but they also have a great My Bloody Valentine-guitar sound from time to time.  For a foursome of Japanese folks who don’t speak much English, they sure are fluent in the international language of knocking-me-on-my-ass-with-great-music.  It was very dynamic – at times it would be so quiet you could barely hear a note, and then they would suddenly launch into a cacophonous attack that even left my plugged ears ringing.  There was one point where the music took off so quickly and loudly that it was like a punch to the chest!  Any music that makes me feel this alive is terrific in my book.  I immediately bought their new record from the merch table, and although it could never capture the force of their live show it will still most likely be in my top ten of the year.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

My Morning Jacket at Slims - 10/10/2003

My Morning Jacket

As a preface to this review, I’ll say what I always tell my friends before seeing My Morning Jacket for the first time – MMJ on their albums and MMJ live are two very different sounding entities. I know some folks who have gone in expecting the quiet beauty of the album and left disappointed when the band rocked out in a very southern rock/Lynyrd Skynyrd style on stage for most of the show. Personally, I love their albums the more - "At Dawn" probably ranks as one of my top five favorite records of the last few years; but I love the live rock side of them well, so it’s really the best of both worlds for me. I showed up just before they were about to start with a crew of MMJ rookies, and they had been dutifully warned as noted above. I’ve seen them a few times, but this was my first time seeing them play songs from the new album "It Still Moves" (which I still haven’t gotten, but is on the very top of my "to get" list) – and I liked everything that I heard. There was also a lot of "At Dawn" tracks, much to the pleasure of the crowd who erupted on nearly everything played from that album. But the highlight of the show, without a doubt, was the first two songs of the encore when Jim James came out and played a couple of the "At Dawn" tracks solo. I was floored by the beauty, and I wasn’t alone – his haunting voice really filled that room, which is a particular compliment considering how cavernous Slims sounds sometimes.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Doves / My Morning Jacket at Slims - 10/6/2002

with My Morning Jacket

When I showed up My Morning Jacket was already playing.  Shit.  From the length of the set they played after my arrival, I can’t imagine they had been playing for very long before I got there.  Have I mentioned how much I love this band?  I was mostly at the show to see them, to be honest, even though I love Doves.  Go buy their most recent full length, "At Dawn," and see what all my fuss is about - it's a game changer for me personally.  And if you can find the version that has the bonus disc of the singer, Jim James, doing acoustic demo versions of the songs from the album, you’re golden.  Jim has one of my favorite voices of the last ten years (if not longer).  The band blends the sounds of the Flaming Lips, Neil Young, Sparklehorse, and a little bit of country twang into a glorious, beautiful hodge-podge.  Tonight they were on top of their game, not that I’ve seen them any other way.  Most of the songs were from the new record mentioned above, with a few other random tracks scattered in here and there.  One of the interesting things about their live show is that you can’t see any of the band member’s faces while they are playing, due to the combination of hair farming and their headbangin’ fashion of playing their instruments.  Even when Jim is singing, he just leaves all his hair in his face so he looks like a wookie or a muppet or some sort of crazy creature.  I was extremely impressed with their show, and wished they had played a little longer, not something I say very often. 

After a lengthy set up time that took more roadies than there were people in the band, Doves finally hit the stage.  They put on the sort of show that was good, but not amazing; this isn't all that surprising, because while I love their records they aren't the most dynamic nor do they seem like they would lend themselves to a lively stage show.  I’m sure some would take that as an insult, but it's not meant that way at all.  Anyways, they had more crap on that stage than I’ve ever seen, including lots of laser lights and a big screen in the back showing videos...a multi-media extravaganza, if you will.  The played a pretty even mix of songs between both their first release "Lost Souls" and their new one "The Last Broadcast."  They played my favorite song from each album - "Catch the Sun" and "There Goes the Fear" - and for that I was quite happy.  The crowd seemed pretty into it - lots of booty shaking for a crowd of what I would assume are generally non-booty shaking type people.  

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Moogfest in Downtown Asheville - 4/25/2014

with Kraftwerk, Egyptian Lover, Giorgio Moroder, Clark and Moderat
Downtown Asheville

After hearing from so many friends on the west coast and in the northeast go on about how good Kraftwerk has been on their current tour, I called up my friend Brian and decided it was time for a road trip to Asheville - Asheville had Moogfest, and Moogfest had Kraftwerk. 

After a leisurely drive up we hit the streets of Asheville about 5 in the afternoon.  They had the street in front of the Moog factory blocked off and in place of traffic was vendors and food trucks and a big ass stage.  Performing on that stage was a guy named Egyptian Lover.  Initially I thought he was just a guy paying homage to the early days of rap, but it turns out he was an actual part of those early days!  His music was highly influenced by Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" - very VERY heavy 808 beats paired with a futuristic/robotic sound.  The lover sorta sing/raps his lyrics and had a hype man there to help plus a dude playing keyboards on a couple of tracks.  In a word, it was fantastic. 

Our next destination was up the hill to Thomas Wolfe, where we would see the early show by Kraftwerk (they had already played once the night before and had another scheduled for later this night).  Honestly I don't think there is any possible way to put into words the joy I felt from this performance.  Yeah, it's four old German dudes in matching outfits playing electro krautrock in front of 3D graphics, but it was oh so much more than that.  They played for two hours spanning their entire catalog, but of course I was most excited for the older material - I've still got a smile plastered on my face from hearing "The Robots" and "Numbers" live.  Truly the only even slightly negative thing I could say is I wish they had played "Pocket Calculator," but given how happy I was walking out of that auditorium, I won't be losing any sleep over it.  I might have balked a little bit when I dropped over a hundred bucks for this single day of Moogfest, but this performance was worth every cent if not more.  You can peep the entire set list here, if you're so inclined.

Our minds blown, we left Thomas Wolfe and walked down the hill to the Broadway Outdoor stage to see what exactly the Giorgio Moroder performance was all about.  Of course I was hoping it was a band performing his scores live, not that I actually expected that to be the case; instead, it was just him on stage DJing disco music.  There was a large crowd and they were eating it up, but I just don't need to hear any more Donna Summer ever again.  We rocked some grub from the food trucks, listened to the party music in the background, and then before we even had to decide whether or not to stick around, his DJ set ended and the outdoor stage shut down for the night and we made our way elsewhere.  In lieu of all that, let's listen to the amazing song he wrote for "Midnight Express," "The Chase."

We walked a few blocks up the hill to the Diana Wortham theater and the Warp Records showcase happening there. There was a DJ/musician/performer named Clark doing his thing.  The sort of instrumental noisy-electronic-techno that he was playing is so foreign to my usual listening habits I don't even know where to start in describing his set.  Honestly, my best feel for this is it sounds and feels exactly like the sort of music I, as a non-raver, would expect to hear at a rave - loud, repetitive, beat-driven music with a little glitchy IDM (id that still a thing?) thrown in.  It was pretty interesting for about twenty minutes, but an hour of it was a bit much for me...I was definitely checking my phone for the time at the end. 

The final band for us on the night was Moderat, a German trio made up of two other known acts Modeselektor and Apparat.  I had watched a couple of youtube clips of the group performing live and they seemed interesting enough to check out.   If nothing else, they stood apart from most of the other options in that they weren't just one person with a laptop, but rather Moderat performed like a more traditional band, something that is important to an old fogey like me.  Hell, they even played a guitar on one of their songs!  This would also notably be the only stringed instrument we had and would see all night, for those keeping count.  Not really knowing much at all about these guys, I quite enjoyed their music - I'm not sure what artists I would compare them to of the electronic ilk, but to my untrained ears they sounded a lot like Radiohead's more recent electronic fare, minus Thom Yorke's vocals of course.  There were some vocals though, although they were pretty few and far between.  We watched at least half of their set before heading out, greeted by a giant line of folks waiting to get in the packed theater.  That was a wrap on Moogfest.

Cheap Time / Last Year's Men / Black Zinfandel at the Pinhook - 2/27/2014

Cheap Time
with Last Year's Men and Black Zinfandel
The Pinhook

Somehow I'd never seen Black Zinfandel, despite their being on bills of shows I've attended (lazy late arrival on my part to blame) and by all accounts playing the sort of music that would be right up my alley - that being something in the neighborhood of what the kids call "art punk," though I'm struggling to come up with any particular comparisons.  I managed to catch their last three or so songs, and I was really into it.  Other people have referred to them as garage rock but I didn't get that vibe honestly.  this may be due to sharing the drummer of Whatever Brains, and I just can't imagine that guy playing garage rock.  Also, the singer/guitarist has a bitching white man afro, which makes my stupid bald head sad and jealous at the same time.  I need another viewing to really pin down what they sound like to me, and I'll definitely be making a point of seeing them again, and soon if possible. 

Last Year's Men had the middle slot, and as is always the case I was almost as excited to see them as anyone they are opening for.   The first thing I noticed was the line-up change - there was a new bassist.  Their old bassist was at the show so I'm assuming it wasn't an acrimonious split, plus his other band Flesh Wounds just got signed to Merge so I'm sure he's keeping himself plenty busy.  The second thing I noticed were all the new songs they played, and they were pretty much universally awesome.  I've never been more convinced they are the perfect blend of Gentleman Jesse and the Replacements than I was after these new tracks.  I really really really need a new record from them, and pronto. 

The headliner tonight was Cheap Time on tour from Nashville.  I don't understand how or why a state like Tennessee produces so many great garage rock bands, but I hope it keeps happening.  After being mostly indifferent to this band for a few years, I've gotten way into their most recent release "Exit Smiles," about as perfect a blend of punk, garage and glam as you're going to get.  I'd seen front man and guitarist Jeffrey Novak a few years back in the Rat Traps, a fun show but man has he upped his guitar playing skills - dude shreds.  The band just powered through a bunch of their songs - no downtime, no banter, just forty-five minutes or so of blistering rock music as god intended it to be played.  Amen.  

Whatever Brains / Motor Skills / Enemy Waves at Slims - 2/7/2014

Whatever Brains
with Motor Skills and Enemy Waves

I've seen a lot of Whatever Brains shows, and I mean A LOT, but this one definitely goes down as the strangest.  They've been adding more and more keyboards to the stage when they perform over the last year or two, but on this night that's all there was.  No drums, no guitar, barely any vocals even...just keyboards, synths, and other electronic noise makers...oh and a tin whistle, cause you gotta have something analog going on.  There were no songs, or at least no known songs, just a long form electronic skronky was sorta Throbbing Gristle-ish.  Oh, and let's not forget the shitload of smoke they had spewing from their smoke machine, they play that damn thing like it's another instrument.  It was a fun, interesting performance, but to be perfectly honest I'd rather see their regular show.  Not that something like this isn't a fun diversion every once in a while. 

Motor Skills had the middle slot.  Or rather, a band called Motor Skills that barely resembled what I was expecting to see had the middle slot.  I guess, I've seen a few different iterations of the group, but the lack of Mike Dillon is a huge change since he was the voice of the band.  In his place was a young girl, but take my designation of "young" with a grain of salt because I'm the worst person with ages ever.  In fact the entire band was different outside of the dude who plays the keyboards whose name I don't know but who has been in the band from the start.  It all sounded different but still ok, not nearly as electronic/dancey and a little more straight-forward indie pop, but I was so thrown off by it basically being a different band I'll need to see them again to get a better feel for Motor Skills 2.0 or 3.0 or whatever.0 version of the band this is. 

The night's opener was a new band called Enemy Waves.  It was either their first show or close to it, but these were no rookies - two dudes from Birds of Avalon and Crowmeat Bob were among the members.  They just played two or three long songs, all instrumental, with the occasional sax added in (think more noise sax than sexy sax).  There was a definitely late-nineties Thrill Jockey vibe going on, maybe a psyche rock version of Trans Am at their most organic.  More viewings will hone this useless comparison, but make no mistake I definitely want to see them again.  A strong first effort.