Sunday, May 29, 2005

More Adventurous?

Rilo Kiley @ Webster Hall 5/27/05
Well, before I start this review, let me state that I'd happily pay $23 (the cost of a ticket to this show plus Ticketweb fees) just to look at Jenny Lewis for an hour. She's so cute that it's sickening. So what about the music then? Well openers The Brunettes were from New Zealand and certainly sounded like it, with influences from The Velvet Underground, much like their earlier Kiwi brethren ranging from The Clean to The Chills to Galaxie 500 and later Luna's Dean Wareham and others. The trouble is that though they pulled off a nice, druggy pop sound that at times also reminded me of Spiritualized's excellent 1997 album Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space, they didn't have the songwriting prowess to back it up and were a little too cutesy for my taste. They weren't bad by any means, but there was something inexplicable about them which turned me off slightly.

The next opener, Portastatic, was much better, fortunately. Having never heard them before but being familiar with leader Mac's other, more well-known group Superchunk, I expected a lighter-edged, almost bossa-nova and jazz influenced sound from this side project (at least from what I've read about them throughout the years), but boy was I wrong! What I got was a jarring, 30-minute set that aside from one song in which a member played violin and another one on which she played keyboards, the set could've been taken from a Superchunk gig in the early to mid '90s. I don't mean that they played the same songs. They were all Portastatic songs, but rather they were all loud, abrasive, in-your-face guitar anthems not that far off from classic Superchunk fare like "Slack Motherfucker" (also covered by Firehose) and "On the Mouth", though closer to their later albums like 1995's Here's Where the Strings Come In. While not great, it was certainly enjoyable and it's always good to see an indie-rock veteran like Mac and co. showing the very young audience (I felt positively ancient there) how it's done.

Now onto Rilo Kiley. I love their last album More Adventurous and as you loyal readers (yeah all 10 of you if that many) may remember, I voted it one of my favorite albums of last year, which is why I bought the ticket (I missed their show at Bowery Ballroom a few months back and in retrospect, I really wish I would've seen them there instead since I much prefer that venue over the bigger, cavernous, maze-like and worse-sounding Webster Hall). Thus, I really wanted to like this show. I really did. But I didn't. First off, the sound was awful. I've seen a couple of shows at Webster Hall before and the sound was fine, so I don't know what happened here. Jenny Lewis' exquisite voice, the centerpice of More Adventurous, was so low in the mix from where I was standing (towards the front but over on the left-hand side) that you really had to struggle to hear her on many of the louder numbers, including the excellent "Portions for Foxes", the title track of 2002's The Execution of All Things and the heart-wrenching "Does He Love You?". Now this wouldn't be too much of a problem if the band was tight, but they weren't. Guitarist Blake Sennett came up with a few cool parts and solos throughout the night (although I have to say this: please can the mock rock-star moves and poses; that shit is played out) and the rhythm section and other guitarist played capably as well, but for whatever reason, they just didn't gel. I really think that they had to fix a lot of mistakes in the studio when they recorded More Adventurous because I almost couldn't believe that it was the same band playing last night as the one who played so capably on the last album. Then again, the awful mix might have had something to do with it as well or maybe it was the fact that natural star Lewis (or at least she should be) was so shy that she only came out from behind her guitar and keyboard for a few songs and kept eating the mic (or at least it appeared that way). With that said, her magical voice still captivated on numbers like "I Never" and More Adventurous' title track. In general, the best tracks were the quieter numbers where one could hear Lewis' voice the best. She's got a solo album coming out soon and though I was disappointed with this show, I'm really looking forward to it since I think she's really capable of even more great things, especially without the rest of her band distracting her.

Friday, May 27, 2005

I Was Meant for the Stage

The Decemberists @ Warsaw 5/26/05
Well actually I'm pretty stage-shy, but The Decemberists' Colin Meloy certainly isn't. At Warsaw last night, he and the rest of The Decemberists put on a spectacular show focusing mostly on material from this year's excellent Picaresque as well as some of the best numbers from their 1st 2 albums, including "July July", "Leslie Ann Levine", "Billy Liar" and a really long and drawn-out version of "The Chimbley Sweep" which featured a mock guitar duel between Colin and guitarist Chris Funk and a segment whereas violinist and vocalist (at least for this tour, which ended yesterday) Petra Haden went into "Hava Nagila" and Colin simultaneously led the crowd in a clap-along. You could just tell that they were all having such a great time up there and that the newly re-tooled band, now featuring Haden and new drummer John, were in top form. Every single song in the main set was absolutely incredible, culminating with the epic "The Mariner's Revenge Song", during which the crowd was instructed to scream at one point of the song as if they were eaten alive by a whale. Pretty scary stuff for a band often pigeonholed as Smiths-styled bookworms (not that there's anything wrong with that, BTW) because of their 19th century dress and lyrics having to do with chimbley sweeps, pirates, town raids in the 8th century and what not. Hell, they have more songs about people dying than most gangsta rappers do, and "The Mariner's Revenge Song" is exhibit A in this regard.

For the encore, Colin played a song solo that I didn't recognize and then the entire band came out and they did the entirety of "The Tain", the 15 minute, 4 part, almost Who-esque ep that they put out last year which is all about the raid on a town in the 8th century in what is now Ireland. Honestly, by this point, I was kind of tired and although it was thrilling to hear them attempt to pull this off live, I much preferred the incredible main set.

Regardless, it was still a great show and I highly recommend seeing them. I'm seeing them again here in August when they open for Death Cab for Cutie at Central Park Summerstage. Hopefully then they'll play "Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect" and "Eli, the Barrow Boy", which they didn't do last night, but I can't complain too much since all of my other favorites of theirs ("The Engine Driver", "We Both Go Down Together", "Billy Liar", "Leslie Ann Levine") were played last night.

As a side note, it was my first time at Warsaw in about a year and a half. I've been there a bunch of times now over the years and every time I've been there, I've had a great time. They don't book shows too often (most of the time, it's known as the Polish National Home and functions as a social center for the neighborhood's vibrant and numerous Polish community), but when they do, they're usually quality ones and best of all, they have INCREDIBLE Polish food (great potato pierogies and kielbasa and the best cheese blintzes I've ever had complete with cherries on the side) for very fair prices (all entries are $5) and Polish beer on tap (Zwiec is one and I forgot what the other one is), which was quite nice as well. All of this, combined with the punk/hardcore feel of the venue (a friend of mine once said that, when I took him there, that it reminded him of a place where The Sex Pistols would've played and I agree; it also reminds me of many a VFW Hall or other such center rented out to do hardcore shows that I attended in the early to mid '90s) make it one of my favorite places to see a show in the entire area. If you get a chance, go!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Show reviews (many that I should've written long ago)

Yes I know that I haven't updated this thing in a while and I'm really sorry about that (yes, I know my 5 or so loyal readers were just clamoring for new material on this site with bated breath, but anyway...). So let's get down to business, from most recent first:

Gold Streets @ The Pussycat Lounge 5/13/05
At their 1st show after the recording of their 1st ep, which will be out in 2 weeks or so and just in time for their 1st tour, Gold Streets once again packed this venue (honestly, I felt really bad for the next band, a Yeah Yeah Yeahs-wannabe group who barely had 2 people watching them!) and played a stellar set. Despite a few sound difficulties early on, they really rocked the hizz-ouse and are evolving into a great outfit reminiscent of an early '90s shoegazer band who just happened to re-emerge now to kick out the jams and show the young'uns how it's done. I mean, honestly, you could put their songs onto a mix CD with Slowdive, Lush, Ride, Chapterhouse and others of that ilk and they would fit in perfectly! Well I think that this will be their last show at this venue because of sound issues and what not (it's also a weird place since there's a strip club below and it's the kind of place where they only have Coors on tap; yuck; the lounge on top of the club area is quite nice, though), but if that's the case, at least it was a good one and on the positive side, that means that I won't have any reason to go this venue any more as I much prefer the other places I've seen them at (The Delancey, the now sadly defunct Luna Lounge, Pianos, Siberia and others). Also, since it's in the Financial District, it's a real schlep to get there, though I wouldn't mind as much if I liked the place more.

"The New York Dolls" @ Irving Plaza 4/28/05

One of the highlights of last year's Little Steven's Underground Garage Festival was a short, 30-minute set by The Dolls with the same lineup that they had on this occasion. So you may be wondering why I put The New York Dolls in quotation marks. Well, the lineup for this show consisted of David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain and 3 others (though all good players; bass player Sami Yaffa, formerly of Hanoi Rocks and later Jet Boy in particular) that had nothing to do with The Dolls when they existed the first time around in the '70s, so in actuality, it should've been called "David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain with special guests play the music of the New York Dolls" and that would've been much more accurate. The set started off very tentatively, as if they weren't sure if they should be doing this, and they inexplicably played a version of the ubiquitous Janis Joplin hit "Piece of My Heart" for no good reason. Yeessh! Luckily, though, the set really picked up from that point. It took Johansen & co a good 30-45 minutes to really get going and to find that old sloppy magic (part of the problem I had with the early part of the set was that though the songs were played well, they were played a bit too well and the feel just wasn't quite there), but once they did (on the great 1st album track "Trash"), the intensity level REALLY picked up and from then on, songs like "Personality Crisis", "Jet Boy" and the rousing closer "Human Being" really made it feel like you were at Max's Kansas City in 1973 if you closed your eyes. So overall, for almost $50 with Ticketmaster fees, I think they overcharged and I don't think I'd see this lineup again, but I'm glad I saw them play a full set at least once, as it's the closest thing to seeing the Dolls that one can get in this day and age.

The Trashcan Sinatras 4/22/05 Southpaw, 4/23/05 in-store at Sound Fix, 4/24/05 at Maxwells
Although I went to visit my parents on the 23rd for the 1st night of Passover, I managed to catch 2 of the 3 area Trashcan Sinatras show as well as the in-store on Saturday afternoon (right before I had to leave to go visit my parents). The Southpaw show was excellent as me and my friend Sue were situated right up front. It was great to see them with a full-band again after last December's acoustic tour (which was incredible, so don't get me wrong). They seemed much more comfortable and in control than they did back in September at Bowery Ballroom and watching lead singer Frank Reader jump around and "rock out" (for lack of a better way of stating his stage moves) was awesome. A healthy mixture of songs from all 4 of their albums was played, with the focus of course being on their most recent (and best) album Weightlifting, but stalwarts from A Happy Pocket (such as my personal favorite "The Genius I Was"), I've Seen Everything (a rare rendition of the uncharacteristically heavy but great "One at a Time" being one of the highlights of the set and a great set closer to boot) and their 1st album Cake (a great rendition of "Obscurity Knocks") were almost trotted out, as was the entirely unexpected B-side gem "Stainless Stephen". As an additional note, I was able to procure a poster for the Southpaw show and the next day, at the in-store at Sound Fix (a great record store in Williamsburg with welcome and uncharacteristically friendly employees more than eager to talk about music and ask questions and answer your questions and make recommendations and what not), I got 3 of the band members to sign it, which was cool. Anyway, during the in-store, it was the acoustic lineup which is basically all of the band members except for bassist Davy Hughes, who was nevertheless on-hand watching the set. The set was about 30 minutes and focused mostly on songs from Weightlifting, but it was nice to get a rendition of "How Can I Apply?" as well as "Only Tongue Can Tell" (if memory serves).

The next day, I arrived early for the Maxwells show to interview Frank for The Big Takeover, the great magazine that I write for. I was a bit nervous since I hadn't interviewed anyone in a really long time (like more than a decade or so and that was for an old fanzine that I used to do when I was in high school and in college) and because I'd only written show reviews and transcribed interviews for the magazine before and hadn't as of yet interviewed anyone. Luckily, Frank was nice, talkative, intelligent and generally a great interview. The format of the interview was unique as well. We walked around Hoboken, where I lived for 4 years until last July, and I showed him the site of Frank Sinatra's birth place as well as my old apartment building and the beautiful and recently renovated Hoboken waterfront (where you can see breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline; boy I really hope that they don't build that proposed hotel there since that would obscure part of that view) as we walked all over the town, with my (well actually Jack's) tape recorder in hand recording our conversation. To be honest, I haven't had a chance to transcribe the interview yet since the issue it'll be in won't be out until December or so, but I'm quite confident that I got a great interview out of Frank.

Anyway, onto the show. It was a similar set to the one on Friday night, though there were a few songs not played on Friday (and vice versa) such as "Only Tongue Can Tell". One of the highlights was Frank's awesome melodica playing on the Weightlifting's "Trouble Sleeping" (actually not one of my favorites on the record but boy was it improved live!) . Oh and thanks to Frank for getting me on the guest list (and for doing the interview) and as always, thanks to Mark for driving me and Herb back to the PATH station. I think you should start charging us cab fare or something since you're our personal after-show valet back to the PATH from Maxwells as of late. :-)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Funniest Thing You'll Hear All Year

This is where you can download and buy NWA's classic Straight Outta Compton album edited down to just the explicit content. Pure genius and hilarious as hell. Thanks Thierry!