Sunday, November 28, 2004

Dead Milkmen / Trocadero, Philadelphia, PA / Nov. 22, 2004

The Dead Milkmen were the first “cool” band I ever liked. They weren’t on the radio or MTV (at least not in 1994, when I first heard them), they sang about stupid shit that a teenager could appreciate, and best of all, they were from Philadelphia. Before I moved out of Philly for college, I thought that the Dead Milkmen were strictly a local phenomenon. Who else would appreciate dinky little pop/punk songs about meeting the love of your life at Zipperhead or a Bensalem girl getting knifed by her prom date or driving down the shore to see a bad Doors cover band? A lot of people, apparently. (This scenario also applies to G. Love, but oh god let us pray that I never end up at a G. Love concert ever again.)

I also thought that I would be the youngest person at this one-off reunion show, which was a benefit for various charities associated with Milkmen bassist Dave Blood, who committed suicide in March. When they broke up in 1995, I was fourteen, and I figured that I was probably the tail end of their fanbase. But then I remembered reading an article in Spin about geek rock that name-checked the Milkmen as founding fathers of the genre. From the looks of the crowd, which was a mixture of old skool Philly scenesters and young folk with mohawks, it seems that they continue to attract punky nerds who like their rock and roll silly and effervescent.

This was my first time seeing the Milkmen live, and though I realize that the circumstances surrounding the reunion were quite tragic, I must say thank you to the band for giving me this opportunity. I waited ten years for this show, and it definitely did not disappoint.

Rodney Anonymous looks like a macho hardcore dude—I never knew! I mean, I KNOW he’s not a macho hardcore dude, but he sure looked like one up there, with his bald head, Front Line Assembly shirt, menacing demeanor and stalking back and forth across the stage. Of course, he was shouting about lizards and coloring books and banana peels, not smashing the state or whatever macho hardcore dudes shout about.

They played for an hour and a half straight, with very little space between songs. The fill-in bassist, some dude from Joe Genaro’s other band the Low Budgets, did a good job of staying out of the way. There was a mosh pit, and a guy who looked like he was at least in his mid-‘30s stage dove during “Bitchin’ Camaro.” Rodney used the introduction to that song to talk about Dave Blood, and gave a heartfelt memorial that was as funny as it was sad. But what are the Dead Milkmen without humor, right?

At the end of the night, members of all the opening bands came out for a cacophonous version of “Big Time Operator.” My friend Sara said, “It’s like the Philly Rock and Roll Hall of Fame up there!” It made me so happy and proud to see that. Philadelphians are rarely supportive of one another, particularly in the rock scene. That’s definitely part of the reason why cool, successful Philly bands are so few and far between. And another reason why the Dead Milkmen were so special.

Once again, if you want to read my Inquirer-fied version of what happened, click here. Or read Sara’s account here.

Marilyn Manson, Slunt / Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA / Nov. 21, 2004

There are two women and a man standing behind me, talking. They are white (like everyone else in the crowd), they are probably in their early ‘30s, and they work for a drug company. The man is wearing a Marilyn Manson t-shirt, the women are in dresses. They have thick Philly / South Jersey accents, and they complain that all the beer they are drinking will give them a hangover that will be difficult to deal with tomorrow morning at work. All of them have seen Marilyn Manson perform multiple times. They all agree that the last tour, when he played the Tower Theatre and got a blowjob on stage from a female backup dancer, was the best show ever.

They like Slunt because the girls are hot and they play a Nirvana cover.

While waiting for Manson to take the stage, they talk about who in their office is gay and who isn’t. One woman recounts going on a date with one guy who ended the evening with just a kiss on the cheek. He must be gay. Plus, I can tell from his mannerisms. Yeah, the guy says. I try to stay away from him. Eww—look at those girls right there (points to two large Latino women wearing matching bandanas on their heads, locked in an embrace). I hate it when lesbians aren’t hot. I wouldn’t fuck one of those girls if I got drunk and passed out with a hard-on. Did I ever tell you about my friend Jimmy? He’s in jail right now. But this one time, we were at this party and he fell asleep with his dick hard. He woke up because this really fat girl was riding him. It was so gross. I can’t look at those girls. It makes me uncomfortable.

Then Marilyn Manson comes on and they sing along to every word.

If you want my standard journalistic version of what happened on stage, click here (registration required).

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Ariel Pink, Sympathizers / Tritone, Philadelphia, PA / Nov. 19, 2004

Fuck you, Ariel Pink. Fuck you for making crappy fake “outsider” music. Fuck you for ripping off Gary Wilson and doing it badly. Fuck you for running offstage and out of the club in the middle of your set. Fuck you for coming back and playing ten minutes of lame improv noise. Fuck you for having no respect for your audience. Fuck anybody who puts up with this “tortured genius” bullshit.

Thank you, Sympathizers, for being good sports and playing after that trainwreck. Thank you for making fun of him. Thank you for playing clanging synth-punk a la Metal Urbain and Suicide. Thank you for writing the lyric “I wanna fuck you in your tax shelter.” Thank you for dressing like members of the original no wave scene. Thank you for being a Philadelphia band that makes cool music. May you never experience the city’s self-hating curse of failure.

The Blow, YACHT, Dear Nora / The West End basement / Nov. 18, 2004

I have many memories of the West End basement, very few of which are fond. This is the place where I got my nose broken at an Anti-Heroes show when I was a freshperson in college. This is also the place where I suffered through too many performances by ex-boyfriends’ lame-ass bands.

But this wonderful show, organized by the wonderful people at wonderful WBAR, Barnard College Radio, helped me erase some of those bad memories and replace them with good ones. I was a DJ and staff member at WBAR for all four years I was at Columbia, and I helped put on many a performance. So it’s always a treat to go to one of their events now and just enjoy it, rather than worrying about if the bands have signed their contracts, or who’s cleaning up, or if people are sneaking in without paying. Also, it makes me happy when WBAR shows attract a crowd, as this one did. It makes up for all those times ten people showed up to see Boyracer or Palomar or whoever.

Due to The O.C. (hey, some things just take priority over others), I missed openers Cynthia Lee and Knife Skills. When I arrived, Katy Davidson (a.k.a. Dear Nora) was doing her thing. Her music was flat and bland as usual, but she seemed like a silly, charming person who is probably fun to hang out with. She gave several shout-outs to Portland, and as I looked around, I realized that this was a pretty PDX-esque crowd. You know, lots of butchy girls and feminine guys all wearing multi-colored, mismatched secondhand clothes and carrying, like, Nalgene bottles and messenger bags. Why didn’t I move there again?

After Dear Nora, things picked up. YACHT (aka mister Jona Bechtolt), one such PDX-looking fellow brandishing a rainbow-striped bandana, danced spastically to deconstructed whiplash electro crunk dancehall booty bass tracks that reminded me of DJ\Rupture or Kid606 or one of those Tigerbeat6 people. When he started rapping, it was a flashback to classic Cex.

YACHT’s solo set was quite short, but he joined The Blow (aka miss Khaela Maricich) as her backup band. The beat to her irresistible “hit” “Hey Boy” (download from Fluxblog here) bounced off the walls as she set up, and by the time she actually started singing, a dance party was already in full effect. It continued for the remainder of her performance, which consisted of Khaela sweetly bleating and dancing like nobody was watching, while Jona spazzed out behind her. There were Christmas lights, a fake knife and a Star Wars t-shirt involved. She said that they were trying to write songs in different genres, so we got to hear a goth song, an electroclash song, and an r&b song they’re waiting to find the right diva for.

People always hate on the K records crew for being so happy and childish and “punk means cuddle”. Sure, it can get annoying after awhile, but I’ll take “punk means cuddle” over “punk means smashing some poor little girl’s nose in” any day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

U2/Saturday Night Live/ Nov. 20, 2004

I like stage shows. Dancing. Costumes. Wardrobe malfunctions. Moving, mechanical parts. If Madonna's gotta lip-synch to pull it off, so be it. This is spectacle and a good spectacle is a mighty thing to behold.
I also love performance. I tend to think of this as a more stripped down thing. The moving mechanical parts are humans. Humans attached to instruments. A rock band in its most basic form would fit here. Rappers in a cipher, too.
Can a spectacle feature performance? Yes. Can a performance veer into spectacle? Yes. But the main thing is, they both can stand on their own.
I don't want to get into one of these debates. They both have their merits. Hallelujah!
That said, one of the most inspiring bits of performance I've witnessed recently is U2 on SNL this past week.
Usually a performer offers up 2 songs at most to the late night tv crowd; on this particular Saturday night, u2 took the stage for a third time during that goodbye period when the cast is all on the stage.
The Edge kicked into the jagged chords of "I Will Follow," the band's king clarion call from its clarion clogged song file. Bono dropped into all the requisite rock star poses (the toe-to-ground, the cross, the it's-cold-outside). The Edge slid up and started singing the chorus into Bono's mic. Bono slung an arm around his shoulder and said something like, "I'd follow you anywhere." Feels cheesy to write it, but it felt sweet and real when it happened.
Then Bono walked off the stage and started heading toward the audience. Clearly this wasn't planned. The camera people seemed confused. This wasn't part of the master plan. The Edge followed Bono out into the audience. A kerfuffle unfolded on live television. A joyous kerfuffle. How rare.
Bono started grabbing the camera and pulled it along in Zoo TV fashion. He straddled some woman in the front row and she looked like she might explode with happiness. He then headed toward the main stage where the cast members were jumping up and down. He pulled Amy Poehler to his chest and she looked like she was crying.
The song ended and the audience crackled and convulsed. Just as the show was about to go off the air, I could hear Bono say, "One more! One more!" The crowd officially went kablooey. Cut to commercial. Only in my imagination could I guess what the rest of that set was like.
I was sweating when it was over.
Now, your turn. See it here.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Arcade Fire, Hidden Cameras / Bowery Ballroom / Nov. 11, 2004

The Arcade Fire are the greatest band of all time. My heart stops when I hear their music. Seriously, I have to be rushed to the emergency room every time I play their CD, because my aorta collapses in on itself from the sheer beauty of “Wake Up.” But I can’t stop listening to them, even though my doctor and my parents and my friends keep begging me. I’d rather die than live without the Arcade Fire.

Ok, that’s a load of bull crap. But come on, from the way people have been shitting themselves over this group lately, am I really that far off? I have honestly never seen the Bowery more crowded than it was last night, nor have I ever seen that many music writers at a show together. I have also never seen a crowd act less excited to watch a performance by a band they supposedly love. The main guy (wearing a suit with the image of a skeleton silkscreened on his back) kept commenting on how quiet everybody was in between songs, and thanked us for being polite at the end. Sure, this is NYC, and everybody’s too cool for school, but holy crap, does the Arcade Fire not have any real fans or something? Songs like “Wake Up” and “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” deserve jumping, dancing, shouting, stripping, making out, not toe-tapping and head-nodding. Then again, I spent the entirety of their set shoved in a corner in between a stairway, a trash can and some Hidden Cameras, so I must admit my viewpoint was a bit obscured. Maybe people were going mad crazy in the balcony. I hear David Bowie was there, but I only spotted David Byrne. (I watched for his reaction when Arcade Fire covered “This Must Be The Place.” There was none.)

All kidding aside, I really do like the Arcade Fire. They remind me of Rainer Maria, in that they are totally emo but nobody wants to admit it, and they are anchored by a strong woman. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I find out that the Token Pretty Girl in a band isn’t just a token singer or keyboardist. This woman played everything—drums, accordion, xylophone, banging on stuff—all while wearing red elbow-length gloves and this weird seatbelt-like strap thing around her chest. Pretty much everybody in the band switched instruments a lot, and there was a playful let’s-put-on-a-show vibe to the whole affair. They performed with the energy of a knuckleheaded pop-punk band, which only made their music more heartwrenching.

When this show was first announced a month or so ago, I was excited because I thought the Hidden Cameras were headlining. After their short, disappointing CMJ set (see Oct. 15th entry), I wanted more sweet, sweet gay folk church music! And maybe the Hidden Cameras were originally supposed to headline, before the Arcade Fire blew up, I don’t know. Fortunately, their set lasted for about an hour, and included more from their first album, which is what I wanted to hear. They also brought out their trademark dancers in ski masks, who stripped down to their underwear and gyrated through the end of the set. During “Golden Streams,” they tossed yellow crepe paper from the balcony (huh huh, get it?) Alas, the crowd was not into it at all. They came to that show for one purpose: being able to impress their friends by saying they saw the Arcade Fire. And no silly opening act was going to get in their way.

Doobie Brothers et al/Hammerstein Ballroom/Nov. 10, 2004

Reviewed by Mac Montandon

Not since the Big Chill soundtrack hit record racks in 1983 has so much baby-boomer rock been seen in one place.

The New York City-based nonprofit Boomer Coalition wheeled out some of pop music's creakiest heavy hitters on Wednesday night at the Hammerstein Ballroom to raise awareness and funds for their fight against cardiovascular disease, or CVD. At times the R&B and blues-leaning lineup---anchored by the Doobie Brothers,Los Lobos, the Taj Mahal Trio, and Patti LaBelle---slung enough overcooked noodle to satisfy an Olive Garden franchisee. But the forgiving and nearly filled house happily stuck with the if-it-feels-good-do-it vibe of the night.

From very early on it was clear the late-arriving crowd came out more for the music than the message. Before the show, lobby lingerers buzzed, as two computers set up for new member registration sat lonely and unused. The multi-culti crowd, thick with older guys stroking graying goatees and younger, GAP-clad latte-lovers, seemed primed for pleasure. LaBelle kicked things off with a short and bizarre set. Before begging off, saying she was "sick as a frog," the 60-year-old soulstress dolloped a taste of her soaring, molasses sweet jazz riffs on an adoring audience. Her frothy act dissolved soon after she invited five men from the crowd to dance with her onstage and sing along to "Voulez Vous Couchez Avec Moi, Ce Soir?" A rail-thin exhibitionist named Earl briefly stole the show with emphatic, comically twitchy dance moves.

Taj Mahal was up next and his heavy, straight ahead blues rescued the night from its initial Gong Show flavor. Los Lobos provided the evening's biggest burst of raw power, cranking out Latino-tinted garage rock. The seven-piece outfit enhanced their crackly, distorted sound with a three-guitar front. Taj Mahal joined them for a rumbling version of the blues standard, "Sweet Home Chicago," that had the crowd shaking in their 501s. Perhaps the shows most apropos moment came during Taj Mahal's set, when a waft of marijuana smoke blanketed the balcony. If nothing else, this proved that the Boomer Coalition was on to something when they ran ads in the New Yorker magazine that read: "If you smoked pot at Monterey in '67, you might have CVD."

That and a ticket to a mid-week dinosaur rock show.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Jimmy Eat World / Webster Hall / Nov. 8, 2004

Unlike Caryn, I don’t have any particularly strong feelings for Jimmy Eat World. My favorite song by them is probably their Guided By Voices cover, which you can find on that Move On benefit CD. But I thought the singles from their last album were fun, and I went to the concert hoping to be won over.

I wasn’t.

As Caryn says, Jimmy (I refuse to call them JEW, that’s just weird) are “play-by-the-book.” That can be fine, if you’re, say, The Hives. But if you’re just halfheartedly going through the motions, you’re wasting my time. Especially if every song on your new record is leaden post-grunge.

When we were waiting to get into Webster Hall, we heard the bouncers talking about “crying girl.” Apparently, she had started sobbing when she discovered that she couldn’t get into the sold-out show. I wish I had been able to give her my guest list spot, because I understand how much this music can mean to somebody. It just doesn’t mean anything to me.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Jimmy Eat World/Webster Hall/Nov. 8, 2004

I thought I’d be over it by now, but I’m still smarting from the election. Even though I’ve made public promises to be optimistic (and I do have my moments), I’m still sore and sad and mad and snippy. Thank god for the music.

In moments like these, I like nothing more than a lil’ jangle pop to put a snap to my step. For those born after, say, 1980, jangle pop (or jangulius populis) is the early bud of what later blossomed into radio-friendly alternative rock. Sprung from The Byrd’s jingle jangle morning (Mary Lou Lord later wrote an ode to that phrase), with just a few harmonies and some rattle and hum, jangle pop at its best is wildly optimistic yet defiantly angry. Starkly stubborn yet unapologetically vulnerable. Radically land-grabbing yet torn from the universal songbook. Lots of yets. Think REM’s “Radio Free Europe” with its insistent drumming urging on Stipe’s whine or Crowded House’s love poem “Something So Strong.”

One of today’s torchbearers of the jangle pop aesthetic is Arizona’s finest, Jimmy Eat World. Awful name, yes. But pretty, pretty songs. I needed to get a leg up from these sad times by seeing them live. Amy and I headed off to Webster Hall.

It was packed and Amy and I (being serious shortees) nudged ourselves in downstairs to the side. A pack of girls crammed up right on our asses and started giggling and doing a lot of up talk. “So, like, after class I went to the library? And it, was, like, empty?” I hate when girls do uptalk or speak Valley Girlese. It’s my own personal prejudice. There’s no way that you can sound smart while engaging in these activities. Even Kathleen Hanna. And I don’t buy that reclaiming the whatthefuck bullshit.

So, anyway, these girls are behind us and I think, “Great, they’re going to have inane conversations behind us the whole show.” But from the moment the band started with “Bleed American” through even much older material, these girls sang along, every word. Every word. And not in that self-conscious Dashboard Confessional audience way, but in a full-throttle spirit release way. And I loved them then, I really did.

Jimmy Eat World seem to be a play-by-the-book live band. Jim Adkins, the main singer and guitar player, is the energy force of it all (and his floppy, sweaty bangs just may be the fifth member of the group) as he jumps up and down and hunches his shoulders just so.

In a weird way, I got what I wanted from the show, but it wasn’t handed to me by JEW, necessarily. Yes, the meta moment when the band played “Praise Chorus,” (their homage to music that’s inspired them and includes snippets of other songs) while the audience sang back its own form of appreciation, that was part of it. But it was the little praise chorus behind me that lifted my spirits. Their energy and commitment was irrefutable. And that’s the least I can bring to the party.

The Weakerthans, Piebald, Fembots / Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis, MN / Nov. 4, 2004

Reviewed by MITM Minneapolis Bureau Chief Pat Feghali

Triple Rock Social Club is located at the end of a stretch of bars and Somali restaurants which stand between it and the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus. On its other side is a highway ramp. Yet, despite the potential strangeness of its location, the building is a perfect addition to the neighborhood, supplying both a venue that is often all-ages, as well as a bar/restaurant in a connecting room.

The Fembots opened the show this past Thursday. Contrary to what I assumed based on their name, they were not a girl punk band. Instead, they were three men and a woman playing mellow, heavily country-inspired rock. And they were quite good.

Piebald was up next. Despite their obvious enthusiasm, their set was a pleasing but ultimately forgettable exercise in pop-punk. (Note to Piebald: opening with your best and most interesting song of the night, “Long Nights,” may get people to pay attention, but it sure as hell won’t keep them excited when your other songs are just not as good.) The highlight of that set, for me, was, hands down, the fact that the kid next to me was actually nine years old, four feet tall, adorable, and wearing almost the same outfit that I was: sneakers, jeans, and a black hooded sweatshirt. That kid was awesome.

Never fear, though, the Weakerthans came and saved the show. They played through most of their latest album, Reconstruction Site, and quite a few tracks from Left and Leaving to boot. The keyboard player and guitarist from the Fembots jointed them on several songs, but they always sounded just like themselves. Their combination of punk, pop (but not pop-punk), country and lyrical reference to everything under the sun (and ice) is purely theirs. There is no band out that that can quite blend loneliness, heartache, anger, literary references and sheer love of the arctic as well as these boys. Maybe it’s because they’re Canadian. I don’t know. What I do know is that they make some fabulous records, and they play shows like they love being there.

That nine-year-old may never know just how lucky he is to be growing up on bands like the Weakerthans. But I suspect he appreciates it.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Dresden Dolls / Bowery Ballroom / Oct. 29, 2004

Reviewed by Liz Gorinsky

If I'd actually written this review of the Dresden Dolls show the day after it happened, I would have been mightily tempted to precede it with a spoiler warning, because, holy cow, was this show full of surprises.

Due to the fairly interminable parade of opening acts before the Dolls took the stage-- my friends report that I should be sorry to have missed The Ditty Bops, a precious duo that speaks olde-time jazz like they just stepped out of the ‘20s; but I could easily have done without Count Zero (lameoid thrashy pop... the book is way better), the poorly-scripted S&M act, or the overlong intros from our corseted male MC-- I spent a lot of time observing the crowd, which was sparked by the natural eccentricity of the band's fan base and fueled by the show's proximity to Halloween. It had drag queens enacting improv theatre on the waiting crowd; scantily-clad girls and skinny, pretty boys dressed as vintage cigarette-sellers; people in Halloween costumes; and hardened fans sporting specific references to Weimar cabaret fashion or dolled up as... dolls (since I was wearing my own pair of black-and-white-striped thigh-highs, I'd be hard-pressed to pass judgment on any of them). If they were shooting for a carnivale atmosphere, they certainly got one.

None of it, though, was half so much fun as what happened once the Dolls took the stage. As the two-person band slunk on stage covered in a black sheet, the MC explained that Amanda's Halloween dream was to appear before us as the banshee of Celtic legend, setting us up to expect some sort of horror show. But when the lights came up and the sheet was abandoned, Brian and Amanda emerged dressed like Sonny and Cher (!) and proceeded to put all their muster and vibrato into a slightly-updated cover of "I Got You, Babe." As soon as they finished, burlesque music was piped in over the loudspeaker. A cigarette boy and girl wearing very little but body paint came on stage bearing decorated costume boxes and stood by as the Dolls stripped down to nothing but their skivvies, with black electrical tape Xed over their nipples (this is probably the point at which they instantly took the title of Band I Most Want to Have a Threesome With, a category I didn't even know existed until Friday night). Instead of donning their standard garb, though, they put on blonde wigs and matching pink skirts, bras, and berets, and launched into a cover of "Hit Me Baby One More Time," with Brian doing the "Still believe!" refrains in falsetto. Just when I thought they had run out of pop culture references, the PA kicked in with "Like a Prayer," and the two blondes made out for awhile. Then they put on their normal outfits and applied doll makeup, Brian using some lucky bystander's camcorder as a mirror.

This signaled the start of the somewhat more serious business of performing their own songs. They started with a few of the short, catchy songs they've MP3ed on their website, got the audience eating out of their hands, then switched to a run of what I'm tempted to call their "power ballads", if only because of the intense instrumental breaks and Amanda's strident vocals. From the get-go, they demonstrated obvious expertise as performers and theatricality to spare (nifty stage tricks included Amanda's duet with herself on the closing bars of "Half Jack" and Brian's elaborately-choreographed performance as the title character in "Coin-Operated Boy").

There clearly wasn't much risk of anyone getting bored, but that didn't stop the band from working to earn their keep. Like every cultural event I've attended for the past few weeks, the band urged everyone in the audience to get out the vote... except that they did it via a cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." Then, another song of their own, and then... hey, look! Special guests! Big dork that I am, as soon as the first guest walked on stage I thought, "Woah! That's the guy that played accordion for Emilyn Brodsky when she opened up for the MagneticFields!" I found out about a second later that he and his partner-in-crime, dapper Jack Terricloth were actually from The World/Inferno Friendship Society, there to join the Dresden Dolls in a stirring cover of a song from Brecht and Weill's Threepenny Opera. No hiding from their influences on this stage, no sirree.

That was the band's last trick for the evening. Nothing particularly abnormal happened as they left the stage and then encored with a few slow, powerful songs. Then again, I'm not sure "normal" really applies to the Dresden Dolls. There are critics who dismiss image-conscious bands like this as fluff, but if you can pull off both the highly-stylized imagery and the musical prowess to back it up, why not work it? If it's gestalt the Dolls are going for, they've hit it spot-on.

Will the congregation please rise and join me in a moment of silence, followed by the singing of the traditional hymn “Purple Rain”

By MITM Minneapolis Bureau Chief Pat Feghali

R.I.P. First Avenue, 1970-2004: concert venue, second home, teacher, friend, surrogate parent, lover.

First Ave, I barely knew you. I only had the pleasure of gracing your halls twice, and now you are apparently gone forever. You fostered generations of Twin City youth, you have seen shows that have changed the world, you withstood the pressure of a world full of Clear Channel venues for so long...

You will be missed.