Sunday, February 27, 2005

Pixeltan / Rothko / Feb. 25, 2005

Right before I headed downtown on Friday, I finished writing a piece about Shonen Knife for Willamette Week. So I was thinking a lot about American indie rock’s fascination with Asian femininity. That, coupled with Ann’s reading, put me in ultra girl police mode.

Pixeltan’s singer, an attractive woman of Asian descent, took the stage in a tight, spandex-y, jungle-animal-print top, with a chain around her neck. Not a bling chain, but a big, heavy chain, like what you’d use to tie a pitbull to a fence. Her vocalizations consisted of mostly grunts, howls and moans rather than words. So I’m thinking: what’s going on here? Is she making a statement about how Asian women are treated like caged animals? Or is she doing it because it looks and sounds cool, and this is what the audience wants? I don’t know. But it all made me a bit uncomfortable.

The two other dudes in the band—Hisham Bharoocha, formerly of Black Dice, on drums, and a bassist in rhinestone-embroidered nudie suit pants—played Liquid Liquid grooves that all sounded the same and melted together into one big blahhhh. I really like Pixeltan’s two songs on the DFA comp, but they just couldn’t sustain my interest for a full set.

Kid606 was spinning acid house next, but we left. My bag was too full of free magazines and DFA/Capitol schwag for dancing to be any fun anyway.

Ann Powers with Katherine Lanpher / Lolita / Feb. 25, 2005

I want to be Ann Powers when I grow up. She’s Superwoman! Highly respected pop critic, museum curator, mom, best-selling author… and she still takes the time to mentor all us little rock writer girls. We showed up in force for her reading at the Cupcake Series at Lolita, a bar on the Lower East Side, and we learned all about what it was like to write a book with Tori Amos. For example, Tori didn’t want to include the chapter about her public image. And she’s proud to call herself a feminist (which, as Ann pointed out, is quite rare for female musicians to do these days).

Ann also read a short, sweet piece about singing “Edelweiss” to her daughter, as well as a passage from her 2000 memoir/cultural history Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America, in which she talked about how progressives have to protect their values from the brewing right-wing conservative storm. Journalist Katherine Lanpher, who I’m familiar with as the co-host of Al Franken’s show on Air America, asked Ann questions about making the switch from writer to curator, being a mom, and how she goes about successfully explaining pop music’s eccentricities to people who aren’t music geeks. She also made some remark implying that all male rock critics are cool hipsters, to which Ann replied, “Have you ever actually met any of them?” (Aww, snap!)

My only complaint: not a cupcake in sight! How dare they call themselves the Cupcake Series and lead me on like that?!

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The 22-20s/Southpaw/Feb 22, 2005

by Abi Cameron

The 22-20s look like the cast of Reservoir Dogs with better haircuts. They play a thudding, full-body impact, non-stop wall of gritty, supped-up neo-blues for 40 minutes – one song screeching into the next, transforming the 9 p.m. beer-nuzzling crowd into the 9:05 p.m. party. It’s dirty. It’s loud. The sound guy ran around his booth attempting to sooth the whining sound-system. The bass throbs down the stage, across the floor and up my legs when singer/guitarist/songwriter Martin Trimble’s first lines slam through the air and hit me. I want to dance. I want to make out with…somebody.

Bassist Glen Bartrup, tall and emaciated, is the focus of every press camera (and my point-n'-shoot) in the place. He struts around the stage like a young Mick Jagger, wrapping Trimble in his trailing cable and seemingly taunting him into an onstage battle of Who’s-The-Bigger-Rockstar. But this is not a choreographed rock show. There are no looping-“rockstar” moves. None of the usual “I’m-so-out-of-control” jumps and slides and jives. They create a show one beat at a time. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve felt like I was seeing four guys playing their hearts out. This cranking energy is not lost on the crowd. Trimble sneers back. Bartrup gyrates into his bass and writhes in fits of ecstasy.

Tumbling bass and drum syncopations, like sneakers in a dryer, make me feel like a Mexican jumping bean. I just don’t know which way to jump first. Instead, I’m carried away on the rolling, gospel-kissed organs that they slather on top of it all. All the while, Trimble slurs and growls and prances his way through one incendiary song after another. With the best use of syncopated rhythms since 'Cry Me A River', the 22-20s are a hybrid of Interpol and Slim Harpo.

Formed three years ago and named after the Delta bluesman, Skip James'
piano-led '22-20 Blues,' the Lincolnshire 22-20's are not what is rolling off the current garage-rock conveyer belt. They play fast bluesy rock. This isn't your White Stripes novelty-brand blues; this is the real thing - they've got heavy, dirty bass guitar, and enviable guitar maneuvers. The bulk of their set is composed of catchy, filthy songs that embed themselves in your cranium on impact. They actually have something to hang their hat on – white man's blues. It's the same blues that Eric Clapton brought to British music in the late 60s, Bowie twisted into one-blue-eyed soul in the 80s and the Black Keys have brought into the 21st century.

They have the obligatory garage-rock Ode to a Fucked-up Relationship ("Messed Up") and the standard Ye Olde Apology Song ("22 Days") but they douse these less than original themes in seeping rhythms and noise so full and distinct that I don’t care. You just want to see what happens next.

The licks, hooks and chops are all there and you get the sense that they are playing from a need to get something off their chests and it works. If you’re shooting for the blues as white boy brits, you’ve got to really mean it and persuade an audience you really mean it. The 22-20’s are very convincing. They play straight-forward blues-rock that you could probably hear coming out of any dive bar in Mississippi, but the 22-20s take what could be a languid, bluesy jam and pound you over the head with it. Again. And again. And I still wanted more.

Perhaps the 22-20's best song is "Devil In Me." An exhausting bass line, rock-hard drums and lyrics lifted from Robert Johnson's diaries propel this sweat-inducer from its actual four-plus minutes into what seems like a minute forty-five. This is the one to put on a tape for an ex-boyfriend to convince him that you've turned evil and hard post break-up.

The show ends when they just simply stop. The stage is empty in minutes. There has been no banter between the band and the audience during the show. Nothing is said when they leave the stage. This is not a band for small talk. And I could care less.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Surprise

Hey, look who's filling in on Fluxblog today!

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Keren Ann / Tonic / Feb. 17, 2005

“I kind of want to go kill puppies right now,” Daphne says.

“Next she’s going to do a Junior Senior cover!” Nick says.

“This music sounded a lot better when it was playing in the background while I was doing my taxes,” I say.

Alan Astor / Sin-e / Feb. 17, 2005

Sometimes when I’m watching somebody perform, I think “Wow, I am so glad that this person found music, because he/she would probably be eating barbecued babies if he/she hadn’t.”

Alan Astor is one of those people. Big orange hair, scruffy stubble. Low-slung baggy jeans with boxers hanging out, an open dashiki/robe-thing exposing a hairy chest, a tangle of necklaces, one of which looked like a Jewish star. I’m pretty sure he didn’t have any shoes on. He sang along with pre-recorded backing tracks (cornball glitchy ‘80s synth-pop wackiness) and occasionally played the saxophone. His voice and stage presence are very “I’m auditioning for A Chorus Line.” Lots of Christ poses and sweeping hand gestures. So bad it’s good.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Westminster Dog Show / Madison Square Garden / Feb. 15, 2005

Top Five Reasons Why The Westminster Dog Show Is Better Than Most Rock Concerts

1. Dogs don’t jam or play boring new songs.

2. Dogs are cuter than most members of rock bands.

3. No aching feet or ringing in the ears.

4. Seventeen corgis running in a circle brings more joy than an encore.

5. When you go backstage, you get to pet the performers without being called a slut.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Strangeways Glee Club/Floyd, NY Bar in Brooklyn/ Feb.13, 2005

Is it fair? Shall the critique be unleashed? These people were volunteers after all. Aid workers gathered to lead the lovelorn in the singing of songs by the Smiths.

The answer is right there. Fairness? It is but a fantasy in the world governed by Messrs Morrissey and Marr. Nature’s a language, can’t you read?

So the Strangeways Glee Club was but a group of amateurs. They had to pluck the lyrics off of sheets of papers. The dude on the acoustic guitar couldn’t get it right. One of the singers looked like a zippy fourth grade teacher.

But you want an academic discussion about The Authentic, huh, bigmouth? It’s in the pub. It’s two friends sharing stories about The Smiths while singing songs by The Smiths as led by a community group manhandling songs by The Smiths. All on the eve of Valentine’s Day.

Yes, it was a crime that “How Soon is Now” was not part of the evening’s program, but do you blame them? Do you know anyone who can play that song? And is it their fault that at least one person in the room was crushed that “Ask” remained unfurled? How could they know that the bucktoothed girl from Luxemburg is a specter that haunts my, er, her everyday existence? These petty grievances seemed not to bother the chortling choir members dressed in black.

And thank goodness for that. Self-absorption was the drink of the day and everyone there was soused on the stuff. Together.

The Fed Bash / Lerner Hall, Columbia University / Feb. 12, 2005

It’s 11:30 on a Saturday night, and I’m standing on a dance floor in the basement of the student center at Columbia. Girls in fishnets, mini-skirts and pointy bras dance with boys in leather pants and wife beaters. Scotty the Blue Bunny is trotting around terrorizing homophobes, the S&M club is tying people up, bottles of Rolling Rock cost two dollars and the cookies shaped like penises and vaginas are free, as are the condoms and lube. Lights are flashing, balloons are popping. The members of the band on stage are all wearing fez. The guy who sings backup and plays the melodica, maracas, kazoo and harmonica, is sporting biker shorts with what looks like several cucumbers stuffed in the crotch. My friend Matt, who is the guitarist, has fashioned a shirt out of an orange plastic Halloween Adventure shopping bag. Their songs have titles like “Anal Baby” and “Poopy In Your Pussy” and lyrics like “Morroco! Morrocco! Morrocco!” and “Sweet fruity Pez! Sweet fruity Pez! Sweet fruity Pez!”

I am having no fun at all.

When I was in college, I was an editor at The Fed, Columbia’s humor paper. We tried to be like The Onion or something, but failed miserably, mostly because our issues were too long and published too frequently, so we had to stuff them with crap. (I still consider this one of the best things I’ve ever written, though.) Also, most of the staff members were drunks. My friends, yes, but drunks nonetheless.

Once a year—sometimes twice a year—we threw this big party, the Fed Bash, to raise funds and generate publicity. The Fed Bash was always the highlight of my semester, not just because of all the work we put into it, but because it was one of the few times that I could feel comfortable getting silly and wild. Like, I used to wear a dog collar and pleather thigh-high boots to this thing. But there I was on Saturday feeling all out of place in my corduroys and hoodie, impatiently waiting for the band to get offstage so I could go home and get some work done. I looked around at all these people I used to be so close with and I just felt lost.

The DJ dropped Annie’s “Heartbeat,” and I started hopping up and down and singing along, but nobody else seemed to care. Then I remembered: these are normal people, not crazy music freaks like me. They don’t care about Pazz and Jop statistics and Pitchfork ratings and M.I.A. mash-ups. They don’t want to talk about whether the original version of “Heartbeat” is better than the Maurice Fulton remix. And neither did I when I was in college. Ok, that’s not completely true. I’ve been a crazy music freak since I was twelve. But at least when I was in college, my mind wasn’t completely consumed by music like it is now. I thought about literature and America and hegemony and structuralism and putting out a newspaper and maintaining a radio station. And boys. Which isn’t to say I don’t think about boys now, because I do. All the time!

Argh. I don’t know what I’m saying anymore. I do know that I’m realizing that part of my life is over. And that this is the sort of blog post I thought I’d never write. So I apologize.

Monday, February 07, 2005

M.I.A. / Knitting Factory / Feb. 5, 2005

No doubt about it: she was lip-synching. I was standing way up front, pushed against the side wall, so just about the only thing I could see was her mouth. Do I care? Not at all. (Do I care that Ashlee Simpson lip-syncs? Nope.) When a lady is rocking a blue-and-gold loose-fitting shirt/pants combo that my grandmother would wear, and she is rhyming about text-messaging and imperialism, I am happy no matter what. Even if I am surrounded by people with all sorts of cameras blocking my view, and I have stood around waiting for an hour and a half in sardine-like conditions, and my digestive system is in a state of rebellion, and I am falling-over tired from staying up all night writing about Keane. When M.I.A. says put your hands up, you put your hands up.

It took her a little while to warm up, but once she got into it (around the time of the costume change into a neon yellow and pink combo that would have looked good on a Jem doll), she was sweating charisma. It would be hard to fuck up over those ridonculous beats, but still, she looked so happy up there, it was contagious. The crowd seemed genuinely into it, too. Not all “I’m here because I’m supposed to be here.” Except for this little kid in the balcony, who looked like he was about 8 years old and wanted to go to sleep.

On the subway ride home, this guy Tony told me that he had been standing next to an overweight middle-aged couple near the front of the stage, and the woman gave the man a blow job in the middle of the concert. I think that is a bigger and better endorsement of M.I.A. than anything anybody could ever write about her.

Speaking of which: here is a list of all the critics/bloggers I spotted/hung out with at the show (because I know you people care): Matthew Perpetua, Sasha Frere-Jones, Julianne Shepherd, Jon Caramanica, Elliot Aronow, Tricia Romano, Nick Sylvester, Maura Johnston, Sia Michel, J. Edward Keyes, Simon Reynolds, Jessica Hopper, John Seroff, Jesse Fox Mayshark, Shirley Beans, Kelefa Sanneh, Mike Barthel. And Caryn Brooks and Daphne Carr, duh. I also saw Fancy from Fannypack, who says some very nice things about my boobs in the next issue of Mean magazine.

P.S. Caryn and I were supposed to do an IM review of this, but she fell asleep while I was herding people out of my apartment after my Super Bowl party.

P.P.S. Fuck the Patriots.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Keane, The Zutons / Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA / Jan. 4, 2005

Remember yesterday, when I said that Philadelphia luuuvs adult-contemporary? I wasn’t joking. I mean, who are these clowns? Did they have a huge hit or TV commercial that I missed?* Were they the musical guest on a secret O.C. episode I didn’t know about? Why is this enormous venue packed full of people who know all the words to their songs? Oh, wait a second… WXPN plays them a lot, apparently. Now it all makes sense.

You know what else Philadelphia loves? FOOTBALL. If you combine the two (adult-contemporary and football, that is), people go apeshit. Oh my god, when Keane dedicated some b-side to the Eagles (the guy said “ee-gles” instead of “iggles”—obviously not a native!), I thought the roof was gonna cave in.

Openers the Zutons dedicated a song to the Eagles too, but no apeshitting ensued. This is because the Zutons aren’t adult-contemporary. They are more zany-bar-band-with-Lora-Logic-on-sax. Although they’re not nearly as zany as they, or the British press, would like you to think. I expected costumes and onstage brawls and objects being thrown into the audience, but all I got was some fevered hopping up and down. The saxophonist is adorable, though. She wasn’t wearing any shoes.

*My mom (who is now the proud owner of the Keane CD Interscope sent me) tells me that they are, indeed, in a commercial.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Kaki King, Sonya Kitchell / Tin Angel, Philadelphia, PA / Feb. 3, 2005

Little-known fact: Philadelphia LOVES adult-contemporary music. Seriously. Every white person in this city owns Come Away With Me. Every black person owns Who Is Jill Scott?: Words and Sounds, Vol. 1. (A lot of people even own both!) Philly loves adult-contemporary so much, it recently erected a shiny new temple to it. Of course, the old temples are still in business, too. Like the Tin Angel, where over a hundred people trekked to on a cold Thursday night in February to see two not-famous-at-all women play acoustic guitar. Would that happen in New York? Hell no. Because NYC does not love adult-contemporary like Philly does.

The opener, Sonya Kitchell, is 15 years old like Mischa Barton is 18 years old, at least when she’s singing. She sounds like what the Maggie May in Lester Bangs’ short story based on the song would sound like if she sang adult-contemporary music. Like she hasn’t seen sunlight in the past thirty years because she hasn’t left her barstool. But when Sonya’s not singing, she is all giggly and awkward and apologetic. As she should be, because she’s 15 and that is what real live 15 year olds act like. Also, I could see her potbelly peeking out from under her J. Crew cardigan, and that made me happy because I, too, have a potbelly.

Kaki King—holy shit. She is the Conor Oberst of acoustic finger-picking. The John Fahey of hot girls. The, uh, Ywngie Malmsteen of adult-contemporary. Girlfriend rips on her axe like it stole her man, but then she starts giving it a massage. Her fingers are tiny little robot warriors mowing down every guy who ever gave a girl a dirty look when she walked into a guitar store. And when she finishes a song, she rolls her eyes and tosses her hair like “whatever, that was easy.” She knows that every person in the audience wants to have her babies, so she gets onstage in a frumpy sweater and big purple furry scarf/collar thing. But after three songs, she takes the sweater off, and she’s wearing a see-through tank top and black bra! The Tin Angel is flooded with drool.

Worship this woman, motherfuckers.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Arcade Fire / Webster Hall / February 1, 2005

Reviewed by Jason Gross

Thrilling as it is to see the next hot act strut its stuff on stage, it's not fun when they're not ready for the spotlight. Montreal's Arcade Fire has gotten mountains of critical praise heaped on them (and made their hometown a musical hotspot) and to their credit, it's warranted. One big stumbling block is Win Butler's singing, in the tradition of strained high Canadian vocals: more Geddy Lee than Neil Young or Joni Mitchell. Once you get past that, there's beautiful songwriting, soaring melodies and all those other great things that pop music is supposed to supply.

Some shuffling went on as to where they were going to play. First the Bowery Ballroom and now the bigger space of Webster Hall- it's owned by the same company so they naturally figured that once the band blew up, it would be better to move them to a bigger space and sell more tickets. Needless to say, the Webster show would have sold out in five minutes even if they weren't honoring the Bowery tickets. No surprise that many frigid college teens lined up outside begging for an extra ticket.

Granted that with most clubs, you have to give their start-times for bands a grain of salt but sometimes this gets ridiculous. Man Man went on a 1/2 hour later (acceptable) doing a mixture of the Residents, Uz Jsme Doma, Zappa and hillbilly blues- hey, it was definitely DIFFERENT and engaging as such. But then there was an hour gap to set up for the Fire. Then, they decided to put on a friend of theirs to sing us a few tunes for another 1/2 hour. I have nothing against fiddle players using pedal loops but if you're going to make a crowd stand around for hours, you should have the decency to show up and play. By this time, my girlfriend and I felt obliged to heckle (something I almost never do) and we weren't the only ones.

After a mercifully brief gap between the fiddler and band (including a clapping chant from the crowd to get the show started), AF finally graced us with their presence. It turns out that they were on the Conan O'Brien show earlier and that's why they were late. Just so you know, that show tapes in the same borough of Manhattan where Webster Hall resides and there's about a 1/2 hour cab ride between the two places. Also, just to note, late night TV programs actually tape in the late afternoon. Unless the band when to JFK airport for dinner and a nap, this still doesn't add up. My theory: they went out for some beers after the taping.

OK, to still give them the benefit of the doubt, this did start out well with them trouncing all over "Neighborhood #2." But it was pretty much downhill from there- the band looked and sounded tired. Ditto the audience. Once the witching hour hit, people started streaming out (this was a weeknight). Let's just say the people splitting didn't have smiles on their faces or songs in their heart. My girlfriend had to similarly leave, not exactly thrilled with the show. I ran into Jay Ruttenberg from Time Out and sure enough, his girlfriend had to leave also because of the late hour. Also, he said he was pretty under whelmed by the show. Butler noted to the crowd numerous times that they were a little too quiet, first jokingly and then a little more testy- when a singer can see how listless the audience is, that's not a good sign. Things did pick up near the end when they finished off with a medley of "Neighborhood #3" and "Rebellion"- it was so good that you wish the rest of the show was like that. By then, I was too worn out to see/hear what the encore was going to be like but I'd wager that they throw out their latest album opener "Neighborhood #1."

As they say, don't hate the player, hate the game. I heard a broadcast of a show that they did last October at the Museum of TV and Radio and they sounded great. I would say snatch up their album from last year if you haven't already (one of the best releases of 2004) and go to see them if they're not taping a program before the concert. After-show backstage banter: "Hey guys... uh... crappy show but wow, we were on national TV!"

The Arcade Fire/Webster Hall/Feb 1, 2005

Dear Diary,

Ohmigod, last night I got to see the Arcade Fire. They…are…so…CUTE. Every single one of the hundred band members, completely fuckable. Even that singer guy Win who sorta summons the je ne sais quoi of Rocky Horror Show’s Riff Raff. Win, if this diary ever becomes public, please know that this is totally a compliment.

But I have to confess. Can I confess to you, sweet receptacle of my innermost thoughts? I hate them. To death.

See, during the whole show, they all kept switching instruments with the laissez faire of a pre-schooler running from game to game in the basement rec room. The hopped from keyboards to drums to accordion to bass to tambourine. They made it seem easy. Diary, I have tried to play one instrument in my life and have failed miserably. How do the kids in the Arcade Fire think it makes those of us not blessed with the nexus of creative and math smarts feel? The answer is dumb and bitter.

But then again, it’s hard to stay mad. You see, they all line up and shout the ebullient choruses at you, almost like a dare. Come on, join us. We are singing at YOU. Double triple dare you!

And then different players act out these dorky tableaux during songs: the two violin players start pretending that they’re having a vicious lover’s quarrel, a man in a motorcycle helmet starts pummeling the dude with the accordion, two of ‘em start waltzing. This is strictly study hall goofs and they’re unabashed about it. Know why? These guys are having fun. You just can’t hate them.

Diary, know what else I feel really dumb about? I think I was standing behind David Bowie the whole time and didn’t even know it.

See, I got a VIP pass because I’m writing about the show for another outlet besides you. Don’t be mad, ok? Why they gave me a VIP, I’ll never know. I had fully planned to be with the hoi polloi. I had dressed accordingly: tons of light layers to shed as I got hotter and hotter packed in with the masses. I got there early.

So it was a surprise, this VIP thing. When I entered the VIP balcony, I noticed that all the good places were these tables against the railings that had reserved signs on them. Since I was so early, no one was sitting at them and I picked the best one and sat down, thinking the person would ask me to move when they got there.

Well, just before the AF hit the stage they got there.

A huge burly man swooped in and shouted, “This table is reserved for INSERT LADY’s NAME HERE, move away from the area.” He was really mean. I was thinking, “Who the hell is this lady?” I had never heard of her. She was over forty and a little jangley.

I wasn’t going to let them get the best of me, no way. So, I had to give up my seat. No biggie. Didn’t mean I was going to abandon my post. So I stood behind her date, a dorky guy with a British accent. Diary, please believe that this man had no Bowie aura whatsoever. He seemed like this lady’s date and was dragged to the show. Granted, I mostly saw the back of his head. But still.

I got into the show, but this huge bodyguard stood right behind me the entire time, practically pressing into my back. Who the hell was this lady who needed a body guard all night? They quickly went backstage before the show to meet the band. When they wanted to leave, the lady nodded to the burly guard who practically lifted me up and moved me out of the way.

When I left the show I called Agent Amy Phillips to do some internet recon and look up the lady's name. Amy came up with this. Duh. I am dumb. Still, I gotta say, in person Bowie comes off as a dad. A dad who was into the show. As was I.

All said, a good night Diary. A good night.