Saturday, October 30, 2004

Jay-Z, R. Kelly / Madison Square Garden / Oct. 29, 2004

Holy cow. By now, you’ve probably heard all about what went down last night. If not, read this. Or tune into Hot 97 for like 10 minutes, and somebody will clue you in.

We were sitting in the way-way-way back nosebleed section, so we couldn’t hear everything that was going on, due to all the reverberations. Thus, I can’t offer any juicy tidbits that you couldn’t get from the major news media. But I can tell you that nobody seemed upset in the slightest when R. Kelly announced that he wasn’t coming back on, myself included. After Jay-Z’s pedal-to-the-medal sets, R. Kelly’s lugubrious slow jams were just buzzkills. Sure, I would have loved to have sung along to “I Believe I Can Fly,” but if I had to choose between that and Mary J. Blige singing the shit out of “Song Cry” PLUS Usher doing “Confessions (Part II) a cappella—well, it’s no contest. Usher was amazing, oozing pure showmanship and liquid body movements. Allegedly, he was sitting in the audience when all the trouble went down, and proceeded to run backstage, download some backing tracks onto his laptop, burn them to CD and hand them to the sound guy, before rushing on stage. Damn. My opinion of that guy just went through the roof. I actually felt bad for Jigga during Usher’s set, since he didn’t have anything to do. He just stood on the side of the stage and went “Uhh. Yeah.” a few times while his show was being hijacked by the most popular singer in America.

When Foxy Brown came out for her part in “Ain’t No N****,” nobody cared, at least as far as I could tell. Hell, even Freeway got a bigger reception. (That dude is CRAZY, by the way. I didn’t realize how huge and confrontational he is. From the way he was running around and shouting, you would have thought that Bonecrusher was inhabiting his body. But at least Freeway kept his shirt on.)

Before everything fell apart, I thought the coolest part of the show would prove to be when Jay-Z showed a montage of clips of Kurt Cobain smashing guitars during one song. (Anybody know which one it was? I can’t remember.) I was confused at first, but then it all made sense: rage is rage, no matter what color you are.

Also, I really should say something about the crowd. It was probably the most diverse group of people I’ve been a part of since…well, it would truthfully be the subway ride into Manhattan that day, but in a concert context, since I saw Prince at the Garden this summer. All ages, from little kids to middle-aged steppers out on dates, all races, all manners of dress. And when Hova yelled, “IS BROOKLYN IN THE HOUSE?” we all screamed together.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Rachael Yamagata / Bowery Ballroom / Oct. 26, 2004

Take away everything interesting about Fiona Apple except for that smoky voice, and you’ve got Rachael Yamagata. Sure, the girl growls like she’s been a nicotine fiend since birth, but there’s no there there. I admire the fact that she doesn’t like makeup, dresses like she just rolled out of bed and isn’t supermodel-thin, but do we really need another young white girl moaning about bad boys over cookie-cutter adult-alternative arrangements seemingly tailor-made for diehard WXPN listeners? Well, I suppose “we” don’t, but apparently enough yuppies and future yuppies to fill up the Bowery Ballroom do.

The best parts of Tuesday’s sold-out concert had nothing to do with music. In between songs, Rachael rambled on about how smelly her tour bus is and how the boys in her band would go out every night after the show and score groupies, while she would sit around in her pajamas and watch Maid In Manhattan. She also dedicated a song to “all the assholes who fall in love with me and then run off with teenagers—not that I have anything against big-breasted blondes who happen to be sixteen.” But, far and away, the highlight of the evening for me was when, at the beginning of some slow piano lament, this preppy girl standing next to me whispered to her friends, “Ooh, this is the one we’re doing!” and then proceeded to do some sort of interpretive dance routine to the entire song. (Inside joke for Barnard/Columbia people: She must be a member of Orchesis.)

Al Green at Beacon Theatre, Oct. 23, 2004 Posted by Hello

Al Green at Beacon Theatre, Oct. 23, 2004 Posted by Hello

Al Green at Beacon Theatre, Oct. 23, 2004 Posted by Hello

Al Green at Beacon Theatre, Oct. 23, 2004 Posted by Hello

Al Green, Mavis Staples / Beacon Theatre / Oct. 23, 2004

Reviewed by Kathy O'Lay

He had the rocks--diamond-studded cross and Star of David around his neck. He had the dancers--two young guns who came out and boogied along during uptempo songs. He had the ladies reaching to hold his hand and grabbing roses as he tossed them into the audience. Yes, the Reverend Al Green played to an ecstatic house Saturday night at the Beacon. (Ha ha! You thought I was talking about some rapper, weren't you?)

Al has drifted back into secular music again; the ubiquitous "Amazing Grace" was the only gospel tune that evening. Otherwise, he was all good, clean, utterly blessed-out showman, smiling and wiping sweat and swigging from bottles of yellow Gatorade. He'd step a few feet away from the mike, and you could still hear THEE VOICE from the front row to the balcony. The concert was happier than a yellow smiley, more uplifting than any TV sermon, and made you want to move like nothing heard on Clear Channel. Unlike so many soul fans, I don't have a problem with Al's tenure in gospel--whatever makes you happy, dude--but here's hoping he remains among us unwashed heathens for a little while this time.

Opener Mavis Staples covered her solo material and those great Staple Singers hits. She also talked about "our" new CD on Alligator Records and introduced her backing band as "the Staple Swingers." (Sister Yvonne sings backup for Mavis now; Cleotha no longer performs and Pops passed on a few years ago.) Gutsy and unpretentious, Mavis let her voice carry the set--and sometimes that's more than enough.

See above for some photos from the show, taken by Jason Gross.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Blood Brothers, Against Me! / Bowery Ballroom / Oct. 25, 2004

As I exited the subway at the Bowery stop on the JMZ, I saw a kid skateboarding down the platform towards the up escalator. Yessss, I thought, this show is going to be SO AWESOME. Alas, ‘twas not the mosh-fest I expected. Perhaps everybody’s energy had been used up at Sunday night’s show (which was sold out; this one was maybe three-quarters full), but the frenzy level was far from red alert. I arrived halfway through Against Me!’s set, to find the stage crowded with kids shouting along to “Baby, I’m an Anarchist!” In an neat little twist of fate, the members of the band were wearing all black and the kids were wearing bright colors. It was probably the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all week, and it made me wish that I was still a carefree 14-year-old who did that type of thing. But besides the sing-along, a few body-surfers (including one in an Interpol t-shirt!) and an anemic pit, the crowd was about as active as the audience at a Sigur Ros show.

Against Me! were way more straight-forward punk rock than I anticipated. Everything I’ve heard by them has sounded like Billy Bragg leading a sports bar full of people cheering for the Red Sox, or something like that. But in the flesh, they were less Dropkick Murphys and more Anti-Flag.

Between sets, the dulcet sounds of various Phil Collins hits wafted over the PA. Oh, the irony! “In The Air Tonight” succeeded in making Blood Brothers sound even more intense than usual. I love these guys because they are such “girly-men”, as Ah-nold would say. The two singers have very effeminate mannerisms, wear tight clothes and say stuff like “This next song is for my new friend Sasha, because he brought me ice cream!” And, of course, they scream like little girls. Little girls hacking up their lungs in Dadaist bits over ADHD rhythms and melody-free guitar shredding. How the hell did this band ever get a major-label deal?

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Ben Lee, Pony Up! / Sin-é / Oct. 16, 2004

Reviewed by Kathy O’Lay

Montreal’s Pony Up! came to Sin-é and jumped headfirst into the great CMJ band-a-thon with a gleefully unpretentious set filled with sweet-natured power pop. There’s a keyboardist, a guitarist, a bassist, and drummer, and a singer who switches between percussion instruments and concertina. The highlight was a ditty comparing the game o’love to baseball. If they were sad about losing their home team to Washington D.C., it didn’t show. They have a new release coming out in January 2005. I am going to buy it.

Pony Up!’s rhythm section lent a hand to Ben Lee afterwards. Lee ran the risk of turning into this generation’s James Taylor or Donovan—either an angsty bore or a blissed-out flake. Happily, he managed to avoid such an unpleasant fate during his set, which included a couple of really lovely Modest Mouse and Don Henley (!) covers. Cripes, Ben, why did you have to make me like a Nikon Don song? The one sorta low point was a really goofy tribute to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But otherwise, a lot to like here.

Saturday, October 23, 2004


Okay, so I'm watching Saturday Night Live. Ashlee Simpson does her first song, that Pieces of Me treacle. I could swear that she's lip-synching. I'm staring hard. She's cupping her hands around the mic so you can't see her mouth. Still, something seems off. But I had always heard that SNL had a no lip-synching rule with musical performers, so I just assumed that I was being obsessive.

Then she comes out for her second song. Just as the band is about to start, a vocal track starts floating out from somewhere. It's the vocals for Pieces of Me. The band, unsure of what to do, starts playing the music for Pieces of Me. Ashlee starts skipping around the stage nervously. It then seems as though she's going to start "singing" that song again. Then, another different vocal track starts pumping out. Ashlee walks off the stage, leaving the band to continue to play the music for Pieces of Me. The show quickly cuts to commercial. When the show ccomes back, no Ashlee, no band.

At the end of the show, at the goodbye part, she BLAMED THE PROBLEM ON THE BAND PLAYING THE WRONG SONG!!!!

I'm not necessarily against lip-synching (or enhancing) as a part of big stage shows with lots of dancing (see Madonna and Britney) but this is SNL and it's a show that positions itself as a home for good LIVE music. And she wasn't dancing. Really.

But I guess it was exciting to see a major fuck up on live tv. Her Daddy couldn't control this script.

Old 97's / First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN / Oct. 22, 2004

By MITM Minneapolis bureau chief Pat Feghali

I love the Old 97’s. I won’t lie to you. I am a biased reviewer.

There are bands with great songs. There are bands with great drummers, with great guitar players, with great bass players. There are bands with great singers. There are bands that put on shows that exude so much energy you wonder if they go home and pass out afterwards. And then, atop the shining pinnacle of rock and roll glory, sits this little band from Texas that could.

The band launched through its nearly two-hour-long set, playing songs from their new albums, their old albums, and even throwing in some covers, one of which included bassist Murry Hammond busting out his yodeling skills. In the best possible way. They played two encores. They thanked everyone at the show, Prince, and the bartender in the back who was dancing along with the crowd. Both singer Rhett Miller and lead guitarist Ken Bethea had sweat literally dripping down their guitars, and the crowd, beers in hand and heartbreaks healthily in tow, sang along as if you could hear them over the amazingness that was taking place on stage.

It wouldn’t do justice to the performance to include a setlist, nor would it do to attempt to describe the feeling that came from watching the kings of alt-country, including one of my favorite drummers, lead guitarists, and bass players, and two of my favorite singers (impressive for a four piece band), do something that they so obviously enjoy and do so well. This band was born to play live shows. And I was born to go see them.

Suffice it to say that a good time was had by all, and if there were any people who left the show as anything other than fans they were obviously deaf, blind and, quite obviously, dumb as a rock.

The Marks / Siberia / October 21, 2004

Reviewed by Sara Marcus

I sit next to the Marks‚ bassist, Mary, in an aesthetics theory class every Thursday morning. Mary doesn't care much for theory, and she spends the two hours scribbling furious notes to herself and me about the fates she wants to inflict on the visual artists in the class. Sometimes she can't take it any more and a short populist diatribe erupts. Yesterday morning, during a conversation about Brecht and alienation effects and the potential uses of holding an audience at a distance, she exploded: "Excuse me, isn't the point to communicate?! Ten hours later, Mary got onstage with the other two Marks and the band's first-ever show began.

About half of the Marks‚ songs are examples of that form of populism known as three-chord punk rock. The remaining songs are excellent, and I am going to focus on those because once the six-month-old band writes more of them, I have reason to believe that they will not be playing the CBGB's tunes any more unless they need to warm up their hands in a freezing club.

Apparently the guitar and vocals person, Phil, believes along with Mary that the point is to communicate. Instead of singing, he speak-shouts very quickly and clearly into the microphone. He likes to make sure his vocals are turned way up and he likes to tell you what the songs are about before they begin. "This is a song about sit-coms." (He had to repeat the word "sit-coms" because he had slurred it the first time and somebody in the audience had yelled, "What?") "This is a song about getting married in Wal-Mart."

The rhythms are quirky, the sound punk-whimsical. A Dead Milkmen parallel is immediately apparent, but speaks more to a sense of playfulness than an actual quality of the songwriting itself. The Minutemen comparison emerges more gradually from the experience, because the sound is nowhere near that frantic, but when I told Mary after the show that I was hearing a slightly laid-back version of the Minutemen, she grinned and said, "That's exactly what we're going for."

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Happy Ending Reading Series/Happy Ending Bar/Oct. 20, 2004

WHAT? She's reviewing a reading series? Don't those literary fucks get enough chatter on their own overblown blogs?

Simmer down.

The Happy Ending Reading series, put on by the saucy Amanda Stern, is different than all that scratchy throat Barnes and Noble bullshit. Stern curates the evening so that there's reading and music and hopefully mayhem.

This night's gathering was lacking in mayhem, but made up for it in other ways.
First off, one of the readers was Matthew Sharpe. He used to be my fiction teacher and now I kind of stalk him. I really think you should go out and get his recent novel The Sleeping Father. It's about this overly precocious, overly obnoxious kid named Chris Schwartz. If you are reading this blog, you are or were Chris Schwartz. Click here for the section Sharpe read last night from the novel (you have to sign in to Amazon to access it), the part where Chris is supposed to be giving a class report on Paul Robeson and by accident slips a Nirvana disc into the player instead of the Robeson Smithsonian anthology.

Also please note that Sharpe has an interesting publishing industry story that mirrors the music industry stories we hear so much about, except in this one, Sharpe clobbers the Man. (You could probably substitute "Wilco" for "Sharpe" and "Nonesuch" for "Soft Skull" in the following story.) When Sharpe handed in the manuscript of The Sleeping Father to the Big Publisher that had put out his previous stuff, the Big Publisher rejected it, saying it wouldn't sell. Sharpe then went to indie Soft Skull press and sold it to them. And guess what? It's sold like black tar H in the East Village. Gazillions. Well, maybe not THAT much, but lots. It was picked by the Today show for its book club and everything. So ha ha ha on them.

The musical guest for this evening of cross-genre entertainment was a singer-songwriter from Ireland named Mark Geary. Mark is short and tweedy and absolutely adorable. The thing about these s-s types is that they can win you over simply with their personalities (see Tegan and Sara). But is that enough? Even though I was there with Mark, there the whole way with his stories and his plucky little songs and his Irish accent, the reality is that there's not enough to set him apart from other talented s-sers.

He has a nice voice, his songs were catchy enough to inspire a sing-a-long and you'd definitely want him to bring his guitar to your backyard BBQ. I was touched, but I wasn't marked. The guy and his guitar? That guy has to haunt you. Or at least me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Buck 65 / Joe's Pub / Oct. 19, 2004

Buck 65 is my favorite rapper right now. But as he is quick to point out, he doesn’t consider himself a rapper anymore—the rap game hasn’t been too kind to him, and besides, what is this rap shit, really? Folk music. That’s right. Good old fashioned back-porch storytelling. Rich Terfry is a folk singer, bringing his tales of the great Canadian outback to open ears across the land. He’s also totally emo—emo like an old blues singer moaning ‘bout how his baby left him.

Buck didn’t bust out any Woody Guthrie covers this time, but a nagging cold made him sound even more like a crotchety old grandfather than usual. Accompanied only by a MiniDisc full of backing tracks and a pair of turntables, he rambled through most of the “hits” collected on his forthcoming American major label debut This Right Here Is Buck 65. I wanted to jump up and down during “Bandits” and “463,” the rhythms were so propulsive, but Joe’s Pub is such a fancy joint, I didn’t feel comfortable. However, I did bang my head during the song that samples Bad Brains’ “Re-Ignition.”

Apparently, Buck usually performs with a band, and he did look a bit awkward up there all alone. But that only made me like him more. He apologized for being run-down, explaining that he had spent the past week flying back and forth across the country playing shows, while managing to find the time in between to buy an engagement ring and propose marriage to his girlfriend (she said yes—lucky lady!) He also revealed the origins of his stage name, saying that a friend used to compare him to a Buick 65 (smooth, reliable), but when he played his first show, the promoter misspelled “Buick” as “Buck.”

On Monday the 25th from 3 to 5 p.m., Buck will be doing an in-store at Fat Beats. Perhaps I’ll go to that, too.

Also, everybody should check out the video for “463” that's on the Buck 65 site. It’s the greatest baseball-themed music video since… “Glory Days”? That Richard Marx video with Randy Johnson? Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz’ “Put Yo Hood Up”? Oh no wait, that’s kickball.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Tegan and Sara/Apple Store/Oct. 16, 2004

You know you've seen Tegan and Sara more than your fair share when you can start telling them apart. Tegan's face is just a tad more crisp and angular. Sara's got just a smidgen more softness. I don't know if I can tell their voices apart, though. They trade off singing lead and harmonies. Sometimes their whine sounds like Tom Petty's, all, awawawawawaw, she's an American geh-rrrlll. Othertimes it's just like throwing darts at cotton balls, Stevie Nicks-style.

While I have deep respect for all sorts of complicated machinery oriented musicians, I hold a special place in my heart for the rough and tumble types who could just easily play their show on a street corner. Tegan and Sara are like that. Even though Tegan joked, "We play a lot of boardrooms," and they probably do (they were playing some weird closed-to-the-public CMJ thing that night), they have been those kids on the corner spitting shit in their sisterhood cypher. And they could do it again in a second.

Speaking of sisterhood and cypherhood, T&S could seriously have a second career as comedians. They have some of the consistently best stage banter of any performers I know, and I don't mean that hyperbolically. They have this twin power activate comic timing and they just riff off of each other. I've seen them many times and I've never heard the same story or joke twice. I truly think they are winging it. They could own the Borscht Belt. Or at least the Hummus Belt. Jabs during the Apple showcase included bits on how Sara is passive aggressive when she doesn't like something, and wouldn't come right out and tell Tegan that she didn't like her "early 90s jeans." It really doesn't sound that funny when I write it. But it was, trust me.

They added a new member to their cozy crew. A guy named Ted. Don't really understand his purpose as of yet. All three were playing guitar. He picked up an egg and shook it around a few times. In their real show maybe he does more?

I haven't picked up T&S's latest record "So Jealous" yet, but they played a bunch of new songs from it. My favorite is the one called "Walking with the Ghost," which has this nice jagged guitar line and is very 80s, very Tubes.

Their site has lots of great Mp3 downloads. Go forth and prosper. And Tegan and Sara? Cuter than...let's make that 20 pounds of fuck kitten in a ten-pound bag. Just might entice Amy Phillips to hitch up with the Michigan's Womyn's Festival this summer. Or not.

Shifting Ears Conference/Columbia University/Oct. 16

The fellowship program I have an association with hosted this weekend symposium about (in all caps now) THE PRESENT STATE AND FUTURE OF CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITICISM.

Now, I don't deign to consider myself a classical music critic, but I've been the editor of a classical music critic and I do like classical music and I get so frustrated with the way this field holds itself back, I thought I'd check it out for bit.

I was most interested in John Rockwell's portion the proceedings. Rockwell is a New York Times critic who was brought to the paper in the late 1960s to cover classical and then found himself writing about that new fangled thing called rock-n-roll. And he didn't even have to create a fantastical spear-throwing last name to do it. My name's John and I rock well. He's one of those really, really smart guys who has a really, really large head. I don't mean ego. I mean, the circumference of his head seems on par with Mars. I think there is probably a correlation between head size and intelligence (not to get all eugenics on you) because two of the smartest people I worked with at ye olde alternative weekly had heads so big they couldn't find glasses to fit around their noggins. Now, I personally have a small head. And a big butt. I won't go into what that might mean...

So, anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. John Rockwell. Rockwell talked about how classical music coverage need not be so sniffy and serious. His main argument, which I have a real passion for, is that there really shouldn't be a separation between pop music coverage and classical music coverage. Yet, like Romeo and Juliet or J.Lo and Ben, there are forces at work---strong forces---that work real hard to keep them separated. Both the music and media institutions are real set on keeping them apart. Fear. Prejudice. Ignorance. These are the ingredients.

One thing I like about Rockwell is that he's this established know-everything-guy, yet when people in the audience kept talking about how you have to know everything about the history, the canon etc...he'd say, well it helps, but that a good music critic does not make. He argues that one of the main reason classical music coverage hasn't grown is because "a critic confronted with radical music has a problem of feeling insecure in his or her knowledge...lighten up a little bit." The one upmanship of criticism, where someone would never deign to acknowledge not being an expert and just offer a reasoned opinion, shackles music criticism, according to Rockwell.

Even as editor of the NYT culture section, Rockwell wasn't able to merge the forms as he would have liked. He makes a great point: there's no classic movie critic/pop movie critic; there's no old art critic/new art critic. There's just critics covering the field. What do you guys think of that?

Anyway, it was just announced that Rockwell is switching over to becoming the Times' dance critic after decades on the music beat. He made some analysis I also agreed with: the most interesting, innovative, original music he sees on the big stage these days is at dance performances because the dancers are so attuned to that stuff and aren't caught up in the whole hi vs low arguments that abound within music itself. They know what they like and they go for it. And shouldn't we all.

The Advantage / Trash / Oct. 16, 2004

Listening to live band interpretations of classic video game music is pretty damn sweet, even if you’re like me and you spent your childhood reading books rather than playing Nintendo. The Advantage, which features Spencer, the guitarist from Hella, on drums, are basically an ace instrumental math-rock band with a supreme command of melody. It just so happens that all their music was written by obscure Japanese people in the ‘80s.

Unfortunately, watching The Advantage play is more boring than watching your friends play videogames. At least the games have cool visuals. The Advantage was just a bunch of dudes concentrating really, really hard on their instruments. So I left in the middle of their set, concentrating really, really hard on getting home and having yet another year of CMJ over and done with.

Regina Spektor / Tonic / Oct. 16, 2004

As you can probably tell, I spent the last day of CMJ cramming as much in as possible. This had nothing to do with wanting to make up for previous laziness and everything to do with the fact that these were all artists I really, really wanted to see. Like Regina Spektor, a local treasure I discovered a couple of years ago when she opened for Kimya Dawson at the Knitting Factory’s Old Office. All messy orange hair, big red lips and space cadet attitude, she’s out to lunch at the same place Tori Amos eats at, or rather, used to eat at before she discovered the Adult Alternative restaurant down the block. The first time I saw Spektor, it was just her, a small keyboard and a drumstick to keep time with, but now she’s got a bass player and a cellist, and she played Tonic’s grand piano, which she decorated with two small pumpkins (one had “John Kerry The Pumpkin” written in black magic marker on it).

Regina Spektor is one of the most endearing performers I have ever seen in my life. All she has to do is smile and I melt. She smiled a lot on Saturday night, and giggled, and sang incredibly sweet and witty songs about love and stuff. I only knew a couple of them, and my friend Liz told me that pretty much all of them haven’t been recorded yet. Her album, Soviet Kitsch, is slated to be released by Sire in February 2005, but she’s definitely got a complete record’s worth of new material already. I hope major label life treats her well, and she becomes as big as Tori. Somebody this special deserves not to be swallowed up by the machine.

A boy standing in front of me was carrying a sign that said something like “I’m as crazy as you are, Regina!” I wish I had made it.

Heather Duby, United State of Electronica / Gigantic Brand Store / Oct. 16, 2004

The whole Gigantic enterprise is a really good idea. It’s a record label, clothing line, art gallery, film production company, and maybe some other things, all rolled up into one. Sort of like Roc-a-Fella. Or Vice. Or something. To celebrate the opening of their store, they threw a free, open-to-the-public party complete with complimentary drinks, music and useless goodie bags (anybody want a Fuse TV t-shirt or armband?) The store is one of those obnoxious little white boxes in Tribeca, but the video screens broadcasting emo videos (courtesy of Fuse) made it more tolerable.

Heather Duby sounds like Seattle—or at least mass media stereotypes of the city: Rainy. Gray. Glum. Arty. In need of coffee. Her songs were so sullen that it was surprising to hear her perk up in between and make comments about this being the first time she’s played in New York City and enjoyed it. Wow, really?

United State of Electronica, on the other hand, do not sound like stereotypical Seattle, though they proudly hail from the “Emerald City” (which they fete in a song of the same name). They sound like Disneyland. Or Junior Senior meets Daft Punk, if you’re into comparing music to other music and not to places. Sugar-high melodies bounce bounce bouncing on fun fun fun disco rhythms and pop-punk riffs. Lyrics about partying and dancing and going to the beach and more partying and dancing. Relentless happiness all around. These guys n gals could send the Polyphonic Spree into group therapy. Somehow, all seven of them managed to fit on the tiny stage without bumping into each other, no small feat considering how much everybody was moving. Both Michaelangelo and Matthew assured me that U.S.E. was the most enthusiastic band they’d ever seen, and I found that to be true for the most part, though Brian Wilson’s backing orchestra [see Friday’s post] might give them a run for their money. But the poor bass player looked miserable. Maybe he should join Heather Duby’s band.

Tegan and Sara / Apple Store / Oct. 16, 2004

I have never seen a band play in a computer store before, but I gotta admit, it was a hell of a lot nicer watching Canadian sister act Tegan and Sara do their acoustic-guitar thing on stools set up in the back of a room selling iPods than it would have been at some sweaty bar. And if musical consumption habits continue the way they seem to be going, this kind of instore might not seem so weird in a few years.

Since Caryn took notes, I’m going to leave the details of this performance to her, but I’d just like to add that Tegan and Sara are cute little cupcakes whom I’d like to take home and put in my closet. In a completely non-sexual way! Also, their voices (which blend together so beautifully) have that whole shrill Canadian accent thing going on, which makes them sound like Avril and Alanis. In a good way!

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Death Cab For Cutie, Travis Morrison / First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN / Oct. 16, 2004

By MITM Minneapolis Bureau Chief Pat Feghali

In a perfect world, all rock shows would be all ages. In a perfect world, everyone would come in time for the opening band. In a perfect world, the guy at the soundboard would be able to make both the soft and the hard parts of the songs sound equally clear and amazing.

Too bad this isn’t a perfect world.

The Death Cab for Cutie/Travis Morrison show tonight at First Avenue was, to its credit, definitely an all ages show. Unfortunately, this meant that most of the over-21 crowd spent Morrison’s highly entertaining set, which seemed as much as an audition for a boy band as an opener to an rock show, in the back room of the balcony where they could drink. Now, there is nothing wrong with drinking at a show. There is something wrong with spending half or more of it in a glassed-off room where you can barely see or hear the band on stage for the express reason of getting hammered and avoiding the people who actually came to see the bands.

Morrison’s brand of hip-gyrating synth-pop seemed to go over fairly well with the under-21 crowd who were forbidden from retreating to the fortress of solitude up the back stairs, but it was obvious who the kids came to see. I tried hard to tell who came because they actually like the band and who came because Seth Cohen, fictional indie rock boy of the smash television hit The O.C., likes the band. With high school kids, though, sometimes it’s not really much of a distinction.

When they were good, Death Cab for Cutie were amazing. And when they weren’t so good, sometimes I wondered what I was doing at a somewhat boring Emo show. It wasn’t entirely the band’s fault, as it seemed like whoever was running the sound didn’t quite know how to make the loud parts sound like they consisted of more than noise and banging while Ben Gibbard’s vocals, one of the band’s best features, were all but lost in the mix. At those very unfortunate moments the band seemed more like the far less talented, less interesting groups who have since taken over MTV2’s rock programs and less like the seasoned veterans they really are.

After a muddy second half of the set (highlighted by a totally unanticipated and very enjoyable cover of Freedy Johnston’s “Bad Reputation,” which the band claimed was their first attempt at playing it live), Death Cab emerged victorious in their four-song encore, starting to shine brightly on the simple and repetitive yet somehow very endearing “I loved you Guinevere/ I loved you Guinevere/ I loved you” chorus of “We Laugh Indoors,” building up through the soft and beautiful “Tiny Vessels,” and finally emerging at the end of “Transatlanticism” with something approaching spiritual transcendence. The kids in the crowd, despite some obvious signs of immaturity, which included following Gibbard’s comment that he didn’t like the New York Yankees (who recently put the hometown crowd’s Twins out of the playoffs) with “Fuck the Yankees up the ass!” and a short-lived round of the “penis” game, seemed to be having a good time, though their enthusiasm definitely left something to be desired.

In a perfect world, this show would have lived up to its potential and blown us all away.

The Faint / Webster Hall / Oct. 15, 2004

Now here’s an example of dead fish electro that comes alive and starts flapping around uncontrollably when it hits the stage. The Faint’s sleek, dark club-goth-pop gives off no heat whatsoever on record, but inspires me to dance like a robot while pondering a joyless post-human future—in a good way. Their new album, Wet from Birth, also contains some of the best synthesized strings ever to be programmed by someone other than Dr. Dre. But as I learned from interviewing the band for Mean magazine (plug, plug), the guys in the band are just a bunch of goofballs who do stuff like ride around Omaha in fake ten-speed bike gangs, scam major labels they have no intention of signing to for free meals and CDs, and moon arenas full of No Doubt fans. They are not fashionistas or arteeests. They make music because they have nothing better to do, and it’s fun.

All that came across completely in their performance at a packed-to-the-gills Webster Hall Friday night. I scored a choice balcony spot overlooking the hordes of adorable little indie/goth kids, ideal for robot dancing while watching the mosh pit activities below. (Yes, there was a mosh pit at a Faint show. Yes, I’m as surprised as you are.) Starting with the how-babies-are-made narrative “Birth” (“In the beginning there was semen”—greatest opening line of the year?), the band plunged into a tight, taut set that drew mostly from Wet From Birth with a few choice older songs like “Agenda Suicide,” “Your Retro Career Melted” and “Worked Up So Sexual,” as well as a cover of the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”. That last one is hard to pull off, and I’ve seen quite a few groups fail, but the Faint pumped it up with enough jittery juice to make it work. However, I would have much rather heard their version of Sonic Youth’s “Mote,” but I’m weird like that.

The boys’ nerdy dance moves were quite endearing, particularly those of guitarist Dapose (who used to be a long-haired heavy metal dude), who boogied more than he played. And mad props must be given to whoever made the videos accompanying each song. Sumptuous visual feasts timed perfectly to fit every rhythmic contour, they were distracting enough that I often forgot I was at a rock concert and not a movie. Time for a DVD, guys!

Brian Eno (interview/lecture) / New York University / Oct. 7, 2004

Random notes by Jason Gross and Kathy O'Lay

Eno looks an awful lot like a college professor. This happens to a lot of prog-rockers as they get older, it seems. Not that they're necessarily any wiser, but they look it sometimes. Wonder why white guys get this kind of treatment-- isn't someone like Jay-Z just as much of a renaissance man?

He showed examples of his multi-media work, including drawing diagrams on plastic sheets in a viewer of how he set up lighting for some gallery exhibits. I felt a little bad for him then-- he obviously didn't relish going into this kind of detail and kept apologizing for boring everyone. He was much more fun talking about how he got into music despite not knowing how to play-- hearing doo-wop as alien music, starting with performance art at school. As it was, the visual arts aspect was interesting, but not as interesting as the music-- he hadn't returned to it since school, finding music a much better outlet for himself.

Going along with a promise he made to the NYU people to steer clear of politics, he referred to Iraq as Cupcake. Perhaps North Korea is Cheesecake? Iran is Pineapple Upside Down Cake? His speculation on the election: vote for Bush because his whole empire is about to crumble and he should be around to take the blame for it. "I can toy with this because I don't live here," he explained.

Eno! Has! A! Sense! Of! Humor! He urinated in the same place Marcel Duchamp had, huh? Interesting...

He gave props to Holger Czukay of Can for use of tapes. After seeing him use the radio as an instrument, he got the idea to do the same on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Jon Hassell's concept of 4th World music also had a lot of bearing on that-- creating new, alien cultures somewhat based on our own.

"I think of myself as a sonic painter- I think in terms of color or space"

"Even the crappiest ideas can be made to work with enough stamina." His examples were "Milkshake" and Donna Summer's "State of Independence"

"The great thing about America is that everything is do-able. The sad thing is that some things are un-do-able."

When he came to NY in 1978, he was amazed by the radio there. "Mad people who managed to gain control and broadcasted their insanity every day." He compared that to the polite, screened presenters he'd hear on the BBC up to then. He made endless tapes of the NY broadcasts, filing up all his shelves until he realized that he didn't need to 'cause it was happening every day there anyway.

He came to NY originally just for a visit and just liked it there so decided to stay a few years. When he was overseas and heard his place got broken into, he decided that was a sign and moved on. Which is all good and well if you have to dough to do that of course...

No Q&A session, alas. That would've been fun.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Mu, Dead Combo, Colder, Circlesquare / Canal Room / Oct. 14, 2004

Output Recordings is one of those labels I’ve always meant to learn more about, but never got around to it. So I figured that CMJ is as good a time as any to do this sort of thing, and headed over to the ultra chi chi Canal Room for their showcase. The college radio nerds in jeans and t-shirts clashed nicely with the sleek décor and waitresses in pleated mini-skirts, and I was glad I wasn’t there on a regular night. Circlesquare were performing as I arrived, and though I’d never heard of them before, I immediately pinned them as what I like to call “dead fish electro”, meaning completely emotionless. Which can be totally fine on record, but live it tends to fall flat. This was two dudes in white suit jackets chanting slogans over minimal New Order tracks. For a really long time. It reminded me of Black Box Recorder’s performance at last year’s CMJ. If you expend all your energy trying to convince people that you don’t care, well, eventually they stop caring about you, too.

Colder suffered from this same dead fish disease. I like the record, but would it kill you to move around a little bit while you talk/sing? This dude, French producer Marc Nguyen Tan--joined on stage by a full band—has one of the most accurate names in music right now. Cool, cold, colder. Brrr, your attitude is giving me the sniffles. Nguyen was clearly nervous (from where I was standing I could see his hands shaking), which only made it worse. How can you pretend to be better than me when you’re obviously afraid of me?

Dead Combo wants to be Suicide soooo bad it hurts. That’s pretty much all you need to know. Although their cover of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” is way better than that horrible M. Ward version, but that isn’t saying much.

Thankfully, the night was redeemed by the fabulous Mu. Baltimore house producer Maurice Fulton and his Japanese wife Mutsumi Kanamori make frightening, fucked up electro that is anything but cold. Dressed in a white shirt with tassles on the boobs, a catholic schoolgirl kilt and fishnet stockings, Kanamori made Karen O look like the chick from Mazzy Star. She flung herself across the stage like an acrobat, shimmying, kicking, cartwheeling and pulling her hair, all the while shrieking like a cat in heat. Fulton’s thundering beats sounded like war drums coming out of that soundsystem. And I guess the performance was kind of a war. A war against dead fish.

The Decemberists, The Hidden Cameras / Bowery Ballroom / Oct. 13, 2004

Ahh, CMJ. The madness. The networking. The schwag. The free drinks. The giddy college kids. The creepy A & R men. Did I forget something? Oh yeah… the music.

After last year’s stress-fest, I’ve decided to take it easy this time, going to one showcase a night—two if I’m feeling particularly energetic—and not running all over town like a madwoman. So I planted my ass at the Bowery Ballroom nice and early and didn’t leave until the show was over. Miho Hatori was doing some boring thing when we arrived, and I was never much of a Cibo Matto fan, so we waited in the basement until The Hidden Cameras played. I was super-excited, since I hadn’t seen them play since before their first Rough Trade record came out, when they performed at my friend Nick’s Maison du Chic party at Fez and blew me away with their sweet twee-pop songs about anal fucking, not to mention their scantily-clad dancers. The Smell of Our Own was one of my favorite records of last year, so I couldn’t wait to hear those songs fleshed out.

Alas, The Hidden Cameras played only one track from Smell, and although it was the glorious single “Ban Marriage,” a hurried tempo and smirking delivery made it sound awkward. They stuck mostly to tracks from their new album Mississauga, Goddam, (which is wonderful in exactly the same ways Smell was, but without the shock of the new) and also played a few new songs that sounded, unsurprisingly, just like the old ones. The band was also much smaller than at the Fez show (no more dancers), but still contained a cellist, two percussionists, two keyboardists and a couple of multi-instrumentalists. Everybody jumped up and down a lot and seemed happy to be there, which was a nice change from certain other bands I’ve seen lately. Several members wore Yankees and Mets paraphernalia, and the cellist’s t-shirt read “Think Gay!” Man, I love Canadians.

The French Icks were up next, so we escaped to the basement again. Can somebody explain to me why everybody loves that band so much? (And while you’re at it, explain the attraction to The Walkmen, too.)

Comedian Tom Heinl introduced The Decemberists by reading from what he claimed to be Colin Meloy’s fifth-grade diary, which went something like “I sat in the foyer (“foy-ay”) in my pantaloons and read a book about fifteenth-century sailors.” The Bowery Ballroom must have been counting on way more CMJ traffic than actually materialized, because there’s no way that place was sold out when The Decemberists took the stage. Thus, all the more room to revel in their supreme nerdiness, rivaled perhaps only by They Might Be Giants. The Decemberists are pretty much McSweeney’s as a rock band, and though I despise McSweeney’s and everything it stands for, The Decemberists are so darn charming, it’s impossible to resist them. Especially when you learn that Colin Meloy looks like Ben Gibbard’s twin brother. They sure do breed adorable teddy bear indie boys up there in the Pacific Northwest. Mmmm, yummy… They also breed striking brunette drummers, as their percussionist looked just like Janet Weiss.

The Decemberists were way more playful than I expected, cracking jokes and playing pranks involving a fake beard. The concert ended with an epic accordion / guitar duel during “The Chimbley Sweep”. It reminded me of that Saturday Night Live when Jack Black hosted, and in one sketch, him and Will Ferrell had a “bass-off”.

I thought my evening would be over then, but I ended up at Luna Lounge watching the last few songs of Poingly’s set. Does anybody remember that movie Joe’s Apartment? You know that scene where Joe plays drums for that performance artist who uses Joe’s incompetence to make a point about the uselessness of art? Yeah, it was kind of like that.

Brian Wilson / Carnegie Hall / Oct. 12, 2004

I have never been an enormous Brian Wilson fan. Sure, I think he’s one of the greatest songwriters of all time, but I just never felt any sort of emotional attachment. Before I purchased tickets for this concert, I had never spent any money on him. All of my Beach Boys records were once my stepdad’s, and I downloaded the new Smile from Soulseek. So I pretty much knew in advance that the concert wasn’t going to be a life-changing revelation, especially since our seats were way the fuck up in the second-to-last balcony. After the Vote for Change show, I was subconsciously expecting there to be big screens broadcasting the onstage action for us nosebleeders. But duh, this is Carnegie Hall, so no luck. Wilson and his eighteen-piece backing orchestra, all dressed in bright, happy colors, were bite-sized from where I sat, and I wish I had brought binoculars to see the expressions on Wilson’s face as he sang. Instead I had to make do with some wacko hand gestures and between-song comments like “We’re going to do another pretty song now,” “I’d like to dedicate this song to my daughter Wendy. It’s called ‘Wendy’!” and “This next one is Paul McCartney’s favorite song of all time” (that last one was before “God Only Knows”).

The show opened with Wilson surrounded by about ten of his musicians standing in a semi-circle like a university a cappella group. They played semi-acoustic versions of a bunch of hits and rarities, including “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” which, apparently, Wilson insists on performing at every concert he does. It became obvious fairly quickly that Wilson was going to play a very small part in the spectacle. His voice was (purposefully, I suppose) drowned out by the others’ during most of the concert, and when he did sing loudly, it was often accompanied by several backing supporters. As anyone who’s heard the new Smile knows, his voice is surprisingly strong, aged with a fine grit that makes him sound stately. Sure, it was a bit shaky in concert, but that added to the whole “fragile genius” mystique.

Wilson sat behind a keyboard during the Smile set, although he barely played it. The orchestra did a superb job recreating the album’s baroque grandeur, although while listening I realized that my tolerance for baroque grandeur is relatively low. The hokey touches—whistles, odd percussion, fire hats for “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow”—made me feel embarrassed for the performers, like I was watching a high school production of Chicago or something. But everybody else, including the white-haired man in a business suit sitting next to me, seemed to be enjoying it, so maybe I just need to stop being such a snob.

The lengthy encore, which stretched the concert to a Springsteen-esque two-and-a-half hours was easily the best part of the evening. It covered most of the Beach Boys’ peerless early hits, including “Barbara Ann”, “Surfin’ U.S.A.”, “Fun Fun Fun” and “Help Me, Rhonda”. Wilson stood up for the first time during the entire show and “played” the bass on a few songs, which was a joy to watch. It was also a joy to watch the mostly middle-aged crowd having a blast, because we young folk frequently forget that our parents don’t stop having fun once we’re born.

And now, Jason Gross’s take on the evening:

I liked the campfire sing-a-long at the beginning and the greatest hits review at the end. Enough though I ADMIRED Smile, I still wasn't sold on it even though I could appreciate it a little more seeing it live. Other than "Heroes and Villains" and "Good Vibrations" (which they wisely broke off as singles long ago), the songwriting was a little too baroque, full of little nods to those two songs and "Americana" songs (which works better in something like X's "True Love Pt. 2"). Guess it's a parlor game to figure out what would have happen if it came out back in the day but I have the feeling that Beatles still would have "won." Notice that the crowd last night got really into it when he started "Vibrations" and then did the oldies? My suspicion is that as much as they were there to honor him for finally closing a chapter on history ("atta boy!"), they were REALLY there for "Fun Fun Fun" and "Surfin' Safari" (didn't you love how the Swedish string section got down and did the Swim and the Monkey?). Still, I was glad I was there to see it all 'cause it still is history. Also, it's nice that Wilson finally found a sympathetic group of obsessive nuts to finish this thing but how much more legit is it to recreate it with a band half his age just as Mike Love tours with a bunch of kids and calls it "The Beach Boys and Friends"?

Lenka Dusilova, Alvik / Knitting Factory Tap Bar / Oct. 12, 2004

Reviewed by Daphne Carr

Lenka Dusilova looks like a Czech Karen O, sings like a Euro-folk Cat Power (but with range and follow thru) and writes songs that range from weird faceless Sheryl Crow outtakes to riveting Mazzy Star style space ballads. Having just come off of playing with her full band, Secretion (yes, former Soviet Bloc bands still do have to raise the bar on their English naming principles), she and Martin Ledvina played an acoustic set that seemed a direct departure from the processed Universal Music Group sound she’s cultivated on her last few albums. Her set started with a swelling power chord drone over which she sung nonsense words, “blah blah blah,” then launching into a few tracks in English to which the audience, mostly Czech ex-pats, shouted “hezky C(h)esky,” “nice Czech”, or rather, “please sing in Czech”. She responded with a half dozen ballads made dreamy by her hand-strummed guitar and Ladvina’s sort of trad but tasteful runs of counterpoint – all warm and fuzzy acoustic, something I might really have hated if not for the power of Dusilova’s husky-gone-divine voice, indeed, twisting the ‘minor language’ that I’m so desperately trying to learn into a taffy over only two unprocessed guitars. Brilliant.

Alvik’s website might make you more frightened than even my description of them – flutist, five string bass/sample man, click-track drummer and totally charismatic female Czech/American lead singer. Guessed it? A trip-hop live band on a mission to funktify yr dread Czech day. I was, like, into it a little bit because Anya really goes for it, leads the band and pulls so much out of what ended up being a pretty limited vocal range, but then I realized that they sounded like LambCotton Wool! – and I got freaked out about how missteps of popular culture sometimes swirl into dark eddies where they breed disease unchecked. Jungle revival! No wave endgames! Legions of fake funk – wake up and see the new zeitgeist. Progress is real! Anyway, they were still doing that ‘wibby wobble funk head dribble and flailing hand gestures mean for real’ thing when we left. I’d like to think that there is always a room somewhere that needs to chill out, and Alvik is artist in residence.

Friday, October 08, 2004

The King Cobra, Lesbians on Ecstasy, Triple M Threat / Northsix / Oct. 7, 2004

Why is Northsix infested with mosquitos? It’s fucking October—aren’t they all supposed to have died already? Maybe hot, sweaty bodies, alcohol, and rock n roll breeds ‘em. Or maybe they’re just big fans of noisy girls. ‘Cause the skeeters were out in force last night for this benefit concert for RightRides, an organization that helps people get home safe. I somehow managed not to get bitten, though Caryn was not so lucky.

We missed the first group, Shellshocked, but made it in time for Triple M Threat, which is Michelle (formerly?) of V for Vendetta’s new band. They sounded a whole lot like V4V to me, with the whole vox/guitar and drums duo setup, and the way-technical math rockin’ riffage. Nothing wrong with that, I dig V4V mightily.

Lesbians on Ecstasy were who I came to see, and honestly, would you need any motivation beyond the name to want to hear them? Well, how about this: they are a Canadian electro band “inspired” by womyn’s music. Meaning, pretty much all they do is play covers of k.d. lang, Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge and Tracy Chapman songs. Or stuff that sounds like covers of those people. I know, I know, why didn’t anybody think of this before?! Their record, which I highly recommend, is coming out soon on Alien8 Recordings (yes, Pitchfork readers, home of The Unicorns) Their performance was less over-the-top than I expected (that seems to be a theme this week…see Killers review below), but at least they wore matching Adidas jackets and blue jeans. Fun, trashy, danceable grooves. Alas, no “Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution” or “Constant Craving”, my two favorites from the record.

Look! This just in! Melissa Etheridge has cancer! Oh no!

As the King Cobra took the stage, I realized that I had wrongfully been referring to them as “Tara Jane O’Neil’s metal band” since it appears that she is no longer in the group. Which is totally fine—drummer/vocalist/legendary former member of The Need Rachel Carns and guitarist Betsy Kwo brought the noise, and even a Rush cover. In a perfect world, they would be as big as Lightning Bolt. But, as we all know quite well, this world is far from perfect.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Wilco & the Fiery Furnaces/Radio City Music Hall/Oct. 6, 2004

Wilco & the Fiery Furnaces/Radio City Music Hall/6 October

Reviewed by Tim Carpenter

A few years back, a reviewer said of David Letterman that he seemed to be increasingly interested in creating a show that was for long-time David Letterman fans - and that the change was both for better and for worse.

I sensed the same thing happening with Wilco at Radio City: this was a show for hardcore fans.

I found it immensely entertaining and even enlightening, but I do wonder how it went over for the more casual listener who maybe has one or two of the band's records. In all of its various live incarnations (and there have been many), the band has always deftly updated and/or restructured songs from previous albums to fit their current stylistic mood.

On stage, the twang from the alt-country of the Uncle Tupelo discs and Wilco's "A.M." morphed easilyinto the Stonesy crunch of "Being There" and then into the Beatle/Beach Boy sunny-sad pop of "Summerteeth." But the last two records ("YankeeHotel Foxtrot" and "A Ghost is Born") have paradoxically both expanded the band's sonic vision and limited its live options somewhat.

The cacophony that the new six-man band creates for songs from the most recent work can't be so easily applied to earlier material; indeed, only songs from the three most recent records were played prior to the last encore.

The new textures - dense layers of keyboards and extra guitars, as well as noises from a PowerBook - are integral to the entirety of "Ghost" and much of "YHF," and the live presentations of those songs remained largely true to the records. But their retroactive application to other tunes is challenging, in both a good a bad sense. Good (great, actually) for people who have a strong familiarity with Wilco; bad, perhaps, for someone just wanting to check out and learn more about the band. When I say "strong familiarity," I mean knowing not only the records, but having seen at least a few live performances of various iterations of the band.

Wilco are now at a point where their musical and technological abilities enable - maybe even require - an internal dialogue that, naturally, expresses itself in the songs through the new layering and texturing. Now, on the one hand, that can mean a revelatory version of "Via Chicago," in which the swells of noise deepen the terror of the song in a wholly unexpected and disconcerting way. On the other hand, it can mean that most every song ends in a wash of feedback that, while not genericizing the tune, can make them seem less distinctive. At least that's what I thought when I tried to listen with a novice's ears (and I'd love feedback on this from anyone else who attended the show).

Beyond all that theoretical, career-arc stuff, though, Wilco kicked ass. Jeff Tweedy's voice is gaining in resonance and richness. He's also been working hard on his guitar playing, and it shows. Glenn Kotche's drumming continues to astound; it's the vital ingredient that not only sounds great on its own, but also provides structure for the rest of the band to switch effortlessly between virtual silence and a riveting wall of noise. They're clearly a superbly-rehearsed group, and that preparation opens up interesting possibilities for freedom and improvisation.

The sound was clear and crisp in Radio City, a venue which I'm ashamed to say I'd never been to before. The place is so spacious and the lines so long and graceful, it almost feels like an outdoor venue.

I knew nothing about the Fiery Furnaces going in, but I saw their entire set - a half-hour suite of numerous songs at various tempos with nary a break. For now, I'm reserving judgment. I wasn't blown away, but I certainly wasn't bored. And they showed great energy at a time when only about 10 percent of the crowd was seated.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Music In My Head / My Head / Now

A Haiku by Ethan Heitner:

Music in my head
Man, it is friggin' awesome
Who needs a live show?

The Killers, Ambulance Ltd., Surferosa / Irving Plaza / Oct. 4, 2004

Biggest surprise of the evening: Surferosa don’t sound like the Pixies at all! Nope, they’re actually Norwegian bubble-goths fronted by Gwen Stefani channeling Karen O. Or, the Sounds if they liked industrial more than new wave. The white-blonde, mulleted singer wore a half-black, half-white skin-tight bodysuit decorated with Velvet Underground bananas. She danced like an aerobics instructor and got pissed off when the crowd wouldn’t follow the moves she was trying to teach us. The keyboardist had an identical blonde mullet and the bassist looked like a Neanderthal Ramone. At one point, the singer strapped on a synth-guitar (synthitar? Keytar?), and suddenly all was right with the universe. But she only played a few notes, and it was off by the next song. Damn.

Ambulance Ltd. = snooze city. If you’re going to write boring songs, at least have an engaging live act, please.

The Killers don’t write boring songs. Their record has been such a guilty pleasure for me this year, and I don’t even know why. I mean I know why it’s a pleasure—they’re the new Duran Duran!—but I don’t know why I feel guilty about it. Maybe because they’re on a major label and seem completely pre-fabricated, but so what? Usher and Justin Timberlake are on major labels and are completely pre-fabricated, but I don’t feel guilty about listening to them. Anyway, I get such a thrill out of that song “Mr. Brightside”. The chorus makes me want to run to the edge of the nearest windswept seaside cliff, tear my shirt off and pound my chest while singing it. Maybe the guilty feeling contributes to the thrill.

Listening to Hot Fuss, you’d get the idea that this band was completely over-the-top live, like really flamboyant and wild. And that would be awesome, right? But no. The Killers, unfortunately, play it cool. They dress like Interpol meets the Strokes and barely move around at all on stage. Dudes! Live it up! You have a gospel choir on your record! You opened for frickin’ Morrissey! Where’s the glitter, the costume changes, the overdramatic gesticulating? Memo to the Killers: go buy some skintight bodysuits and synth-guitars NOW.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Franz Ferdinand / Roseland / Oct. 3, 2004

What can I really say about the Franz that hasn’t been said before? Um, not much. They have a big banner with their name on it now, which they didn’t have when I saw them at SXSW. They look a little beefier, too, like Belle and Sebastian couldn’t beat them up anymore. Nerdy ten year old kids in Hard Rock Café t-shirts know all the words to their songs. Alex didn’t use his asthma inhaler, at least not that I saw. (I asked him about that once. He says his asthma only acts up when he’s performing or when he’s having sex.) Roseland still sucks like a Hoover, all terrible sightlines and Clear Channel evilness. The best part of the show? Running into Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone scribe and VH1 talking head, and asking him what the hell “fifteen pounds of fuck puppy in a ten-pound bag” means. His reply? “It just means that they’re really cute boys.” He then said that he’d picked Nick, the guitarist/keyboardist/backing vocalist to be his boyfriend. I said I’d rather take bass player Bob, with the precious baby fat face. Oh yeah, Alex’s shirt came quite unbuttoned by the end of the show. Some might find that attractive, but it reminded me of middle school swimming class.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, John Fogerty, R.E.M., Bright Eyes / Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, PA / Oct. 1, 2004

In this very special episode of More In The Monitor, we take a road trip to Amy's native land, Philadelphia, for the Vote For Change Tour...

Will tonight be remembered as the night that Conor Oberst made the leap from well-kept secret to big-time rock star, or the night that he jumped the shark? Because once you’ve stood on stage with Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty and Michael Stipe, shaking the maracas to “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” in front of thousands of middle-aged NPR listeners, you really can’t go home again. I’d love to report that Conor held his own among those legends, but that wasn’t the case. If he wants to play with the big boys, he needs to learn that acting angry and misunderstood can only go so far. Appealing to women’s mothering instincts doesn’t work on actual mothers (i.e. the thousands of middle-aged women in the crowd). Also, he totally froze when Stipe handed the mic off to him for a verse. It was quite sad. Fogerty had to jump in and cover for him, while he hugged Stipe for dear life. Then Springsteen patted him on the back, as if to say, “Hey, kid, I know what it’s like to be playing to small crowds full of men who want to be you and women who want to do you, only to be suddenly thrust in front of the whole world. Think this is bad? Wait until they slap your mug on the cover of Newsweek.” Of course, it was only the first night of the tour. Conor’s nerves will probably quiet down as time goes on. Tonight he was hopping all over the place, running back and forth across the stage, shouting the lyrics. Hugging everybody—Stipe, Springsteen (who gave him a big, sloppy man-kiss), Clarence Clemens. I kind of felt embarrassed for him. But he was probably as ecstatic as he was nervous; I mean, if it wasn’t for Nebraska, lo-fi indie rock would probably never have existed.

Conor fared a lot better during Bright Eyes’ opening set. The usual suspects were back, rather than the strange, ad-hoc lineup that played at Northsix last week. Once again, the new stuff sounded great, especially “Road To Joy”—that song was made to be played in arenas. Since I’m so used to people screaming “CONOR I WANT TO HAVE YOUR BABY!” or “WHERE’S WINONA?” during Bright Eyes shows, and this one was quite silent, as most people were still finding their seats as they played, I decided to burst out a few “CONOR I LOVE YOU—WOOOOOO!!!”s for tradition’s sake. The only person who shared my enthusiasm was probably the adorable teenage girl with braces and an I HEART EMO t-shirt sitting a few rows behind me with her dad.

R.E.M. were underwhelming. I’ve never been that huge a fan, but I saw them play last fall at Madison Square Garden and was impressed. The songs from their forthcoming album were weak, and though Stipe’s triple-jointed shimmying in a bright white suit was transfixing, the rest of the band sounded…eh. I mean, of course “Losing My Religion” was amazing, but the rarities they busted out, like “World Leader Pretend” and “Walk Unafraid” just didn’t take off. Peter Buck seems to have gotten a metrosexual makeover, so now he looks like Lee Ranaldo at a gay bar. The core three were augmented by a guy who looked like he’d just been kicked out of Interpol on keyboards, and Sammy Hagar on bass. (Oh, this just in—my friend Mike, friendly neighborhood R.E.M. expert, explains that they were Ken Stringfellow and Scott McCaughey. My bad.)

But then...“Man on the Moon” featuring Bruce Springsteen on guitar and vocals. Holy crap. I never realized that I had been waiting my whole life to hear Springsteen sing that “Andy are you goofin’ on Elvis—hey baby” part, but indeed I had. Oooh, shivers. Then it occurred to me that R.E.M. probably spent much of the ‘80s trudging around the country in a crappy touring van, complaining about that annoying Bruce Springsteen guy who came on the radio every five minutes.

Then the E Streeters took the stage. In complete darkness save for a single spotlight, Springsteen proceeded to RIP THE SHIT out of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on an acoustic twelve-string guitar. I’m talking Hendrixian awesomeness here. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the band launched into “Born in the U.S.A.” I hope Reagan was listening from beyond the grave, because there was no mistaking the message this time: War is bad. It fucks people up. Then they played “Badlands”, “No Surrender” (John Kerry’s campaign song, I think), “Lonesome Day” (I’m always surprised at how well The Rising’s songs hold up in concert), “Lost in the Flood,” “Johnny 99” (Why, Bruce, why would you ever turn one of the most devastating songs of all time into a good-time folksy hoedown??? WHY??) and “Youngstown.” (I think he played that last one specifically for Youngstown, Ohio native Daphne Carr—read her account of the concert here.)

Now it was Fogerty time. I was totally cool with that. I love Creedence; I think they don’t get enough respect. So I was psyched—would he start with “Fortunate Son,” probably the most poignant song for this election? Or maybe “Bad Moon Rising”—that’s how we’re all feeling right about now? Perhaps he’d just launch into “Down on the Corner” or “Proud Mary” to get everybody revved up.

But no. Oh no. John Fogerty had other ideas.

HE PLAYED FUCKING “CENTERFIELD”. As if Fogerty’s choice of the cheesiest novelty song of his career wasn’t bad enough, he played the whole thing USING A GUITAR SHAPED LIKE A BASEBALL BAT. I wanted to go puke, but I knew the line for the bathroom would be too long. How the hell did Fogerty get Bruce Springsteen to go along with this? Was that the one condition of his being on the tour—that he gets to play “Centerfield” every night? God I hope not. Fogerty also looks incredibly young, at least in his ‘40s. Botox, anyone? He also hopped up and down more than Conor Oberst. This is the same man that wrote “Fortunate Son”? Good lord. It reminded me of that Atom & His Package song, “Sting Cannot Possibly Be The Same Guy That Was In The Police”. Next he played some acoustic song I didn’t recognize, then finally “Fortunate Son.” Which, I might add, not many people in the place knew the words to. Oh how I fear for this country. Also, I’ve seen both Sleater-Kinney and Les Savy Fav play better versions of that song.

Now before I get into the rest of the set, let me just make one thing clear. You may think that I’m some hipster who does nothing but listen to hot new bands all the time. And that is partially correct, since it is my job to be constantly writing about new music. But I also woke up one morning last fall overcome by the feeling that all I wanted to listen to was Bruce Springsteen for the rest of my life. That phase lasted a couple of months, during which I bought all his albums (except Human Touch…ugh), both box sets, a DVD, a book, a poster and tickets to two of his concerts at Shea Stadium (I had already seen him play in Philly that summer.) All of my friends made fun of me, but I didn’t care. I was in love.

During that obsessive period, there were two songs I was dying to hear Springsteen play live: “Atlantic City” and “The Promised Land”. Yeah, both might appeal to the American Studies major in me, I know. But he didn’t play either at any of the three shows I saw last year, so when that mighty “Promised Land” harmonica melody came blasting out of Bruce’s mouth, I went apeshit. Like, jumping up and down, screaming, arms-waving-around-so-hard-I-hit-the-lady-behind-me apeshit. But then, goddamn Fogerty sang the second verse. Ugggh. What a downer. So unnecessary. My spirits were somewhat lifted when Michael Stipe came out to sing “Because the Night” and he totally nailed it. Too bad Patti Smith couldn’t be there because she was off stumping for Nader or something. Then they played “Mary’s Place” with the standard mid-song speech, this time about converting Republicans. “Born to Run” featured Peter Buck and Mike Mills, then everybody came out for “Proud Mary”, which paled in comparison to the time I heard Tina Turner sing it at Radio City Music Hall years ago. The aforementioned “Peace Love and Understanding” encore followed, then a version of Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power”. That was surprising—I think maybe 10% of the audience knew the song. Still, they caught on to the chorus by the end, and hearing thousands of middle-aged white Philadelphians shout “PEOPLE HAVE THE POWER!!” was quite endearing. It almost—almost—made me think that we have a chance of winning this fucking election.

Friday, October 01, 2004

A.R.E. Weapons, Bloc Party, Automato / Knitting Factory / Sept. 30, 2004

The Knitting Factory main space experience has become much more enjoyable since they installed the video screen that comes down in front of the stage between sets. However, no amount of cheeky music videos by mixed-gender Williamsburg electro-punk bands could make up for the fact that when that screen lifted at 10:00pm last night, the group on stage was Automato, not Bloc Party. Not only had I busted ass to make it on time for Bloc Party’s debut American performance, but I had MISSED THE ENTIRE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE in the process. (Yeah, I tried to tape it, but it’s my roommate’s TV, and she hadn’t plugged in the VCR, and blah blah whatever, you don’t care.) My rage at discovering that I could have left my apartment an hour later can only be compared to the massive lameness of Automato, a young live hip-hop group that seems influenced by The Roots only inasmuch as they aspire to one day play Bonnaroo. Music that can only be appreciated by stoned people. No stage presence, weak beats, cheesiest Rhodes lines ever. Dressed like Old Navy salesclerks. Yet somehow, they seem to have seduced respected (well, by me) tastemakers like the DFA (who produced them) and Dim Mak (who released their EP). Automato, it’s guys like you that make people want to ban white folks from hip-hop forever. Can some of the haterade poured on Northern State please be redirected towards these dudes, pronto?

The hipsterati were out in force for Bloc Party; I spotted various Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kills and Chromeos. This band is poised to become the next Franz Ferdinand, though from speaking with the frontman, I doubt they’re hungry for that kind of commercial success right now. Which is totally commendable and how every band should be, in my humble opinion. So far, they’ve only released a few singles in the UK and one EP in the U.S. (on Dim Mak), but like a certain other group who built their reputation on a fantastic handful of songs, BP seem to have the songwriting chops down pat. Live, however…well, let’s just say there’s no Karen O in the bunch, though the drummer, who vaguely resembles my friend Tim, and who wore a neckerchief, nerdy glasses and no shirt, came close. Kele, in an inside-out D.A.R.E. t-shirt, couldn’t stop smiling, and everything that came from his throat was sublime, but he just isn’t that charismatic of a presence. They rushed through their set, which included a bunch of promising new songs (including one that the drummer introduced as a “Bloc Ballad,” and encouraged everybody to “touch each other”). Their best tune, “Banquet,” was way too fast and sloppy, and the awesome baritone ahh-umm backing vocals were limited to a single outburst from the drummer. But hey, they haven’t been together very long, so I should cut them some slack. Oh, if you’re interested, Bloc Party’s playing a free show at the Tribeca Grand on Saturday. Info here.

Most of the crowd cleared out after Bloc Party, leaving a small bunch of rowdy diehards for A.R.E. Weapons. My, how times change. If this had been two years ago, the line would have been around the block for these smartasses, who are associated with the electroclash scene, but aren’t really electroclash so much as a bubblegum-metal band that happens to use a drum machine. They’re pretty much the missing evolutionary link between Suicide and Andrew W.K. A bunch of (ironically?) long-haired, (ironically?) tattooed dudes who (ironically?) headbang while (ironically?) spilling beer everywhere, A.R.E. actually write some pretty great hooks, and their album is a total guilty pleasure. What is not a guilty pleasure—and is not noticeable on the album at all-- is the whole Vice aesthetic they cultivate, of being all anti-politically correct and pro-fun at any cost. The singer made some “America, love it or leave it” speech, and I definitely heard a few “niggas” thrown around by these whiter than white guys. Not cool. Not cool at all. But, once again, it comes down to a question of irony—do they really mean all this stuff? Or is the whole redneck thing a joke? If so, then the posse that cheered them on, both on and off the stage (shades of hip-hop entourages), must be in on it, too. Right? And Chloe Sevigny, whose brother is in the band, and who dates (used to date?) the singer, is she in on it? (No, I didn’t see her at the show, though I looked hard. No Vincent Gallo either, haha.) I’m not saying that it’s OK if it’s a joke, because it definitely isn’t. But I’m still curious.

Something happened during the A.R.E. Weapons set that I’ve never seen happen before: Several members of their entourage were smoking, and the soundman yelled over the P.A. for them to stop. They did for a little bit, but then started up again. The soundman left his post in the balcony, walked down onto the floor, and physically removed the cigarettes from the guys’ hands. That seemed to work.