Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Decemberists/Webster Hall/Sept. 27, 2004

The Decemberists/Webster Hall/27 September 2004

Reviewed by Tim Carpenter

Yes, yes, Colin Meloy's character-driven songs are brainy, English-lit-major-type stuff. And his voice is truly a take-it-or-leave-it instrument. But the tunes are just so damn good. Hooks out the wazoo. And that's why the 35-and-under crowd at Webster Hall had no problem bobbing along to nearly every offering, and even singing along with references to Marcel Duchamp and Celtic poems circa 700 AD.

The set balanced the two Decemberist LPs nearly evenly and showcased two new songs. The more memorable was "The Sporting Life," which tells a tale of youthful humiliation on the athletic field to a drum/bass line stolen from Iggy's "Lust for Life." Highlights from the catalog were a dramatic "Odalisque;" lovely, plaintive takes on "Grace Cathedral Hill" and "Clementine;" high-energy hoe-downs on "Billy Liar" and "The Chimbley Sweep;" and the set-closing "I Was Meant for the Stage," a song which achieved a certain notoriety when it made its way into Kiki & Herb's final show at Carnegie Hall last week. The biggest crowd pleaser: a solo acoustic guitar reading of the outstanding "Red Right Ankle."

The band sounded more muscular than they did a couple of months ago at the Bowery Ballroom, although the mix was also a bit more muddy. No major complaints, though, and it's hard to hold every venue to the Bowery's standard for sound. Bottom line: If you dig the D-bists (and there are surely smart music fans that don't), the show was immensely
satisfying and a clear signal of a band that's capable of even bigger and better things.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Bright Eyes, Kevin Devine/Northsix/Sept. 23, 2004

Bright Eyes / Kevin Devine

Northsix

Sept. 23, 2004

The National Lawyers Guild is a kick-ass organization. Remember those people in the green hats during the RNC protests, who were monitoring how cops treated everybody? Yeah, that was them. Now they’re working on legal defense for arrested protesters. You should support this group.

But don’t take my word for it. Take Conor Oberst’s. He’s way hotter and famouser than I am, and he played a benefit show for the NLG last night, which I was lucky enough to score tickets to before it sold out. (Many desperate, sad-eyed kids were not so lucky, and thus stood begging outside the venue.) I attended the show with my friend [NAME WITHHELD FOR LEGAL REASONS], who was arrested during the August 29th United For Peace & Justice rally, and I wore an anti-Bush t-shirt. “Hey! I like Bush!” some doofus yelled at me, pointing at my chest. “Then why are you here?” I replied, gesturing towards the poster of Bush with the word LIAR emblazoned across the top that was taped to the curtain behind the stage.

We arrived just as Kevin Devine’s set began. I remembered seeing his shitty hardcore band Miracle of ’86 open for Conor’s side project Desaparecidos at this very same venue years ago, and was therefore ready to bolt in anticipation of his suckiness. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover not only that Devine isn’t a bad solo acoustic singer/songwriter, but that Miracle of ’86 are breaking up soon. He pretty much sounded just like Conor, with the whole sob-stuck-in-throat vocal thing going on and the alternately gentle and intense strumming technique. He played a bunch of protest songs, including one about “making out with your girlfriend but then not being able to because you can’t stop thinking about how the world’s going to end” or something, as well as a cover of “I Figured You Out,” a song Elliott Smith wrote for Mary Lou Lord to sing.

Conor introduced a representative of the NLG, who made a brief speech thanking us all for coming (which was kind of unnecessary, given that everyone there, including myself, would travel to the ends of the earth, or even Jersey City, to see Conor play.) Then Conor brought out the strangest collection of people since the first incarnation of the Foo Fighters: Craig Wedren from Shudder to Think on guitar and backing vocals, Brad Vander Ark from the Verve Pipe (looking exactly like Billy Idol) on bass, Jim White of Dirty Three on drums, and some old, hairy, bespectacled dude on keyboards. WHAT THE FUCK? Something tells me this was a one-off lineup. But they actually sounded great, ripping through favorites like “Trees Get Wheeled Away,” “An Attempt to Tip the Scales,” “Something Vague” (with Wedren duetting with Conor), “The Big Picture” and “Let’s Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved).” During “An Attempt…” the crowd started singing and clapping along, but Conor abruptly stopped the song and told everyone to quit it, saying that it made him feel like Dashboard Confessional. Ooh, diss! I smell beef! Chris Carrabba, the ball’s in your court.

They also played quite a few new songs, all of which seemed to deal with politics or living in New York City or both. And, as I often do when at a Bright Eyes show where Conor plays new material, I found myself thinking, “This is the best stuff he’s ever written.” It’s totally true—the double album due in January is going to break hearts and heads and ear canals, if these songs are any indication. There was one childlike recitation about living in a blue house with a blue car and a blue dog and eating blue food, etc., etc… in a blue state (get it?) There was another one with a shufflin’ Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two rhythm about last winter’s big march against the Iraq war, as well as a Krautrock-y reworking of “Ode to Joy” called “Road to Joy” about…well, you know.

Conor took a break and let Craig Wedren perform two songs solo. I thought “Gee, if I’d wanted this, I would have paid to see his crappy new electro band Baby play,” but, like with Kevin Devine, I was pleasantly surprised. Wedren played “Day Ditty” and “Red House,” two amazing old Shudder to Think songs that just floored everybody, including Conor, who sat on stage grinning and singing along.

As Craig Wedren said, “The upside of living in a godawful political climate is shows like this.”

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Whoops

Those last two entries were posted by me, not Caryn.

I'm still trying to figure this whole blogging thing out.

Tyondai Braxton, Friends Forever/Asterisk Art Space/Sept.21,2004

Tyondai Braxton / Friends Forever

Asterisk Art Space / Corner of Johnson and White Streets
Sept. 21, 2004

Even though I arrived a good two hours after the posted start time for this benefit for the wonderful East River Music Project, the first act had just started when I got there. Upon seeing how everybody was cramped into a tiny, hot room, I decided to skip Hale Zukas and Dan Friel in favor of getting some food at Loco Burrito. I returned to Asterisk in time for Tyondai Braxton’s set. He sat cross-legged on the stage, surrounded by a bunch of pedals and various other pieces of equipment, holding a guitar and a microphone. For the next half-hour or so, Braxton proceeded to play or sing or beat-box a few seconds of sound, which he recorded and then looped over and over again. Then he’d play something else, record it, and layer it over what he had just looped. And on and on... It was cool at first, but after awhile I became preoccupied with reading what the girl sitting in front of me was text-messaging on her cellphone.

Then … Friends Forever!!!

For those of you who don’t know, Friends Forever are a trio of crazy Colorado freakazoids who don’t play on stage, instead parking their van and performing in front of it (except for the drummer, who stays inside the vehicle). They are also quite fond of explosives. Their performance on the corner of Johnson and White streets (a block away from Asterisk) featured a dizzying array of sparklers, roman candles, fireworks and assorted other smoky, smelly toys. At one point, flames started shooting out of one of the van’s windows, and we all shouted “THE VAN’S ON FIRE!!!” until some people bearing jugs of water appeared. As if all that wasn’t enough, a bunch of inflated objects suddenly appeared out of nowhere, including a swimming pool raft, a large blue ball made out of a tarp, and an enormous ghost with a pentagram, a Jewish star, an upside-down cross and “NFL” drawn on it.

Everybody went nuts. People sitting on top of the van started bouncing so hard I thought the van was going to fall over. One of the Japanther dudes stood in front of me frantically air-drumming the entire time. Everything smelled like burned hair. Cars driving by slowed down to gawk. And, most amazing of all, the cops didn’t come!

Oh, the music? Buzzing, noisy, made me jump up and down. That’s really all I can remember.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Razorlight/Sin-é/Sept. 21, 2004

Razorlight
Sin-é
Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2004

Imagine seeing Maroon 5 play in a club the size of your apartment. That’s the only way I can think of describing to America what the Razorlight show was like last night. In the U.K., this quartet of greasy boys are bigger than fish-n-chips, with a million-selling debut album, massive radio and TV exposure and reams of positive press. OK, so maybe the Maroon 5 analogy doesn’t completely fit, but in Britain, frontman Johnny Borrell’s mug is as ubiquitous as that damn “This Love” song. Their record isn’t due out in the states until late October; hence, any time I mentioned the band to one of my friends, the response went something like, “Rays of Light?” or “Oh great, another British group that named itself by smooshing two words together like Coldplay or Radiohead.” But that will probably change once the Universal Records press machine gets cranking over here.

Razorlight were a lot better live than on their record, which sounds like the Libertines and/or the Strokes imitating Television. (Uh oh, I’m gonna get in trouble. Their publicist told me that they hate getting compared to the Libertines. Sorry, guys—it’s true!) Part of their charm lies in the fact that their drummer looks like John Kerry and their bassist looks like Kurt Cobain, so the thought of those two jamming together is pretty fucking hilarious. Also, both the drummer and Johnny Borrell have that ‘60s Rod Stewart haircut that mysteriously is always in fashion. John Kerry with Rod The Mod’s hair? Oops, I think I just peed my pants laughing. Can somebody photoshop that image for me, please?

But seriously, these kids are still hungry enough to put every ounce of energy into their set, and they turned mediocre songs into barnstormers through sheer force of will. Johnny Borrell may seem to go to the same dentist as Shane MacGowan, but when he took his shirt off near the end of the set, he was not at all bad to look at. Dude must do something about the musical-theater hand gestures he kept using while singing, but, hey, he’s young. Also—was it really necessary for him to change guitars three times a song? It’s not like he’s in Sonic Youth or something. I started to feel sorry for the poor roadie.

I skipped out on any post-show industry schmoozing so I could mosey on over to East Williamsburg for…