Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Nero Fiddled, Bush Strummed

I think this speaks for itself. Thanks to the awesome Mike Bennett for the title of this post.

Diamanda Galas' Defixiones

I just read an interesting article about Diamanda Galas' new project in this week's Village Voice. While I can't seem to find the article online, here's a link to her site. Some of this is very graphic and hard-to-read for someone like myself who lost many relatives in the Holocaust, but it is important since she fearlessly brings attention to one of the 20th century's most horrifying and least well-known and reported genocides.

Emo Farming

I meant to post a link to this short film a few months ago. It's too hysterical for words. Enjoy!

Finding or Looting?

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina's devastation, I thought that this issue was important enough that I should link to this article from Boing Boing. While it's sad that these horrendous conditions inevitably lead to chaos of all sorts, I think this is clearly a case of the AP's (probably unintentional but still disturbing given that these people are obviously fighting for survival) racial bias at play here. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Woo Hoo, I'm Blur!

Which British Band Are You?

Monday, August 29, 2005

We Jam Econo

Me and Ms. Thang went to see this film, which chronicles the story of the amazing Minutemen, yesterday at Anthology Film Archives, where it's playing until Wednesday. I'd already seen the New York premiere back in May with my friend Jeremy, but since she hadn't seen it before, I agreed to see it again, especially because it's awesome. I'm eagerly awaiting the DVD release, which will have 3 full Minutemen concerts in the bonus section.

To see if it's screening at a theater near you, click here.

np: Echo and the Bunnymen-Siberia

Oslo in the Summertime

Of Montreal @ North Six 8/27/05
The opening band, Mgmt (or The Management; I'm still not sure which one), was weird. It was 2 guys in wife-beaters with sunglasses (sorry guys neither are you are Corey Hart so no "sunglasses at night" for you) and trenchcoats singing (I say that loosely) and occasionally rapping over pre-programmed beats, all with their own stage design, which resembled a tent. Like I said, it was definitely weird and not that enjoyable, to be honest. In their defense, they at least admitted that they're a "karaoke band". I couldn't agree more. What's puzzling is that the audience was going crazy for them, but I just don't get it. Of Montreal leader Kevin Barnes thought they were great, though. Maybe I'm just too old as I felt like I was one of the oldest people there. Maybe it isn't just me. After all, the person who was there with me thought so, too.

Regardless, I thought that Of Montreal were terrific. They focused mainly on their recently released wonderful new album The Sunlandic Twins, but the set left plenty of time for a bunch of oldies as well. I have to confess that since I'm not familiar with their older records, I don't know what they were, but they sounded good as well. What's great about them is that unlike way too many bands that look like they're rather be elsewhere, it's obvious that Of Montreal really enjoy playing and have a lot of fun doing that and don't really care whether that's uncool or not. They all have fake butterflies all over their instruments, for instance, as well as synchronized dance moves during certain songs. Sonically, they're very poppy and psychedelic, but also incorporate a lot of elements of electronic music and synth-pop into their sound as well. For their latest album, Barnes has said that he listed to Brian Eno and Prince and if you can envision a sonic meshing of the two of them, then you'll be somewhat close to the sound that Of Montreal manage to pull off. Oh and it doesn't hurt that Nina, who happens to be Barnes' wife, and who plays keyboards and occasionally bass and guitar, is easy on the eyes as well. She looks like a much-better looking Sandra Bernhardt.

Here's an interesting article about the band and the new album.

Club Owners, Hide Your Mic Stands

Les Savy Fav, Fred Armisen and Thunderbirds Are Now @ Bowery Ballroom 8/26/05
Right after Ted Leo's rousing set at South Street Seaport, me and ALG went to this show after getting something to eat. When we got there, Thunderbirds Are Now went a short while later and they just completely kicked ass. I'd read about them either late last year or earlier this year in the Village Voice and while I think Chuck Eddy (their music editor) sometimes needs his ears checked, sometimes he clearly has a good ear for infectious, noise-tinged post-punk acts and Thunderbirds are clearly no exception to this rule. After hearing a few songs on their site, which you can get here, I was definitely looking forward to seeing them and they delivered with a rousing, 30-minute set so tight, drilling, maniacal and plain old great that it would've been incomprehensible for them to play any longer since there was so much energy given off. Go see them if you have a chance.

After their set, Saturday Night Live cast member and indie-rock comedian (and former Trenchmouth drummer) Fred Armisen came on and gave a bizzaro comic performance which I didn't really know what to make of. It featured a Saddam Hussein impression, amongst other things, as well as a lot of ranting about a broken projector (apparently Armisen usually shows a slide when he goes on). And then Les Savy Fav came on and while they were interesting at first, they utterly disappointed me. To be fair, I've never been a fan of theirs. I'd seen them once before, at the Siren Festival in 2002, and was unimpressed. Furthermore, I'd heard one of their records in a store once and was similarly unimpressed. However, I'd heard much about singer Tim Harrington's crazy stage antics and had heard that they were back in top form, so having not given them much of a chance before, I was willing to listen and see if I'd missed anything. I liked the first couple of songs, but then after that, it became clear that the musicians and even the songs are just a backdrop for Harrington's crazy antics, such as licking a mic stand all the way down to the base, ingesting a noodle and downing water at the same time and then spitting it out and grabbing various garments from the audience and wearing them (such as a scarf that he used for a bandana on one song). He's really a dynamic front man and it's hard to take your eyes off of him, but it only really works if the songs can back up the craziness, like in the cases of Iggy Pop with the amazing Stooges or maybe The Jesus Lizard, but otherwise you're entering a really slippery slope here. With that said, also consider that we were both really tired from having stood for about 4 or 5 hours at that point and from attending 2 shows in one night (and my feet really hurt), so at 1:30 AM or so, we decided to leave. Ordinarily, I would've stayed for the whole set (at least the main part of it), but I was just too exhausted and I thought that after 7 or 8 songs, I'd gotten the idea.

Where Have All the Rudeboys Gone?

Ted Leo @ South Street Seaport 8/26/05
After a so-so opening set by Tigers and Monkeys, Ted and his stripped-down Pharmacists (and now there are two; just a bassist and guitarist) came out and rocked Pier 17 on an absolutely perfect night for an outdoor show, as it was humidity-free and with a nice breeze flowing in from the water. The main set, which was about an hour in length, consisted mainly of selections from last year's good but not great Shake the Sheets along with 2 from 2003's excellent Hearts of Oak (the title track of this post and "The High Party", an incredible song written right after 9/11, which happens to be Ted's birthday). The encore, however, was the big surprise. Instead of the standard 1 or 2 songs and then get off the stage thing, he played what amounted to another mini-set, covering now-classic material like "Biomusicology" and "Parallel or Together" (from 2001's The Tyranny of Distance), several more from Hearts of Oak ("I'm a Ghost" and the title track) as well as a rousing (and unfortunately appropriate given the political climate) cover of the Stiff Little Fingers classic "Suspect Device".

Friday, August 26, 2005

Damaged Goods

You can stream the new Gang of Four album Return the Gift (sans the bonus disc of remixes) if you click here. I'm listening to it now and personally I think it's a bit pointless for them to re-record these classic songs, especially since the reissue of Entertainment!, their classic debut album, just came out in the U.S. Well, I suppose the point is that they don't own copies of their masters, but that's still no excuse. All of these re-recordings are fine, but they hardly improve upon the originals (in fact they're generally weaker). Regardless, it comes out on October 11th, but you can preview it for yourself (thanks Brooklyn Vegan).

Thursday, August 25, 2005

We'll Fly A Big Star

This is a terrific Big Star career overview as well as a terrific, song-by-song review of their new album. It's obvious that the writer, Kent Benjamin, is knowledgeable and passionate about Big Star and Alex Chilton.

With that said, I've heard the new record and it's quite good, though very different from what most fans who haven't followed Chilton's solo career would expect.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


System of a Down @ Continental Airlines Arena East Rutherford, NJ 8/23/05
I hadn't been to an arena show in almost a year (the last one was The Beastie Boys at Madison Square Garden last October; they were awesome in case you're wondering), but I bought a ticket for this one since I'd never seen System of a Down before and I knew that since they don't play smaller venues as a general rule that this would probably be a good opportunity to do that. Anyway, we missed the 1st opener Bad Acid Trip and by the time we got there, The Mars Volta had taken the stage. First off, let me say that the sound mix was atrocious. I mean, the sound at arena shows and bigger clubs like Roseland and Hammerstein is usually bad, but this was the worst I'd ever heard. Or maybe I'd just so use to going to see bands in small clubs that I notice it more as the years go on. Anyhow, partially as a result of the terrible sound mix, The Mars Volta sounded like utter crap. It was like a big blur of noise and not noise that goes somewhere and is interesting, either. It was painful to listen to. They were unequivocally one of the worst bands I've ever seen or at least one of the worst openers. My friend Ian remarked that it was like seeing Phish, except that they're influenced by Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix (and I would add Santana and fusion-era Miles Davis to that list of influences as well) as opposed to The Grateful Dead and actually I kind of agree with him. Many years ago, a friend dragged me to see Phish once (he was really into them at the time) and I was bored out of my mind for most of that show as well. Anyhow, I commend Omar and Cedric for breaking up At the Drive-In at the height of their popularity in order to pursue what they really wanted to do, but they just don't have the chops, songs or stage presence to pull it off and frankly, for me it was painful to listen to and incredibly boring.

Now onto System. They came out with the guitarist singing behind a curtain and then tore into "BYOB", their popular single from earlier this year from their stunning new album Mesmerize. Now I'll be frank here. I can't stand most nu-metal or alt-metal or whatever you wanna call what they do, but System has always stood out from the pack for me for a variety of reasons:
1) Their riffs are speed-metal based and their rhythms are funky without trying to be, unlike so many of their contemporaries. Furthermore, they're as intricate as a prog-rock band but they have the fury of the best hardcore punk and occasionally their tempos match it as well.
2) Their lyrics are incredible and they're one of the few bands in their genre dealing with socio-political concerns but not in a heavy-handed manner. They combine overtly political material like "BYOB" and "Prison Song" with goofy, fun songs like "Bounce" and odd personal stories like "Old School Hollywood", which is about a celebrity baseball game in which among other things, Tony Danza is found out to be a line-cutter (they didn't play this song, unfortunately).
3) Their songs are really catchy and well-done and passionate.
4) For all of these reasons, they transcend their genre and are truly an excellent band.

Anyhow, despite the awful sound (whenever they tried to play something softer like one acoustic-based number, it sounded like they were playing with boxing gloves), they played excellently with vocalist Serj Tankian expertly pumping up the crowd and occasionally playing some synth as well. Guitarist Daron Malakian moved around the stage the most, alternating between different sides of the massive stage and moving a lot like Angus Young (though sans schoolboy uniform) and playing like a one-man James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett all rolled into one. Incredible. The material played included many selections from Mesmerize, one from the upcoming Hypnotize (recording during the same time as Mesmerize but released months apart from each other, much like Radiohead's Kid A and Amnesiac) as well as selection from 2001's excellent Toxicity and their self-titled debut album. What was odd about the show was that there was no encore. They just played straight for an hour and 45 minutes or so and just kicked ass. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 19, 2005

R.I.P. Randy "Biscuit" Turner

Although I'm too young to have ever seen The Big Boys play live, I've been a big fan for many years and I was really sad to read the news this morning. To me, The Big Boys were every bit as great as the much more heralded and similarly-minded Minutemen. Virtually all of the records that they put out are classics and can be found on 2 anthologies on the Touch and Go label (they're called The Skinny Elvis and The Fat Elvis). My preference is towards the later, more experimental stuff (they incorporated and successfully combined elements of hardcore punk, funk, post-punk and even hip-hop long before bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers (who played their 1st show ever opening for The Big Boys) turned their variation of it into a multi-platinum selling formula. Here's an article about his death.

Interestingly enough, Turner passed away right after an article in the Austin Chronicle, mainly concentrating on his fascinating art work, was printed. You can read it here.

An Indie-Rock Sandwich

Death Cab for Cutie with The Decemberists and Stars @ Central Park Summerstage 8/18/05

At least that's what Colin Meloy of The Decemberists called this triple bill, which started with Stars, who once again rocked the very packed (I've never seen a line that long to get into Summerstage for a benefit, i.e. non-free, show) Central Park Summerstage in much the same fashion as their previous New York appearance opening for New Pornographers at the Prospect Park Bandshell back in June. Others in blog-land have stated that Stars are awkward live and don't come off that well live as compared to their records, but I have to disagree strongly with that assertion. In fact, I prefer their live show to their recently released Set Yourself on Fire, which is good and great on occasion but it sounds like the band is still trying to find their way in the studio. They may be a bit awkward, but you can tell that they're having oodles of fun playing up there and unlike Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, who stated "there's a lot of joy for us in playing up there" a few weeks ago at Bowery Ballroom (see my review here), they didn't have to announce it to the crowd, either. Male lead singer Torquil bounced around like Michael Stipe's younger and just as emaciated-looking younger brother (to paraphrase Colin Meloy, who borrowed a jacket from Torquil, "this jacket's a bit tight; he really should eat some more carbs or something") and Amy Millan, who handled the female lead vocals as well as lead guitar duties, looked stunning as usual and played and sang really well, too. You can see photos here.

Next up was The Decemberists, whose excellent album Picaresque remains my favorite album of 2005 thus far. Although they only got to play for 50 minutes or so since they were the openers, they still put on a really good show, mainly concentrating on excellent Picaresque material like the opener "The Infanta", "16 Military Wives", "We Both Go Down Together" and my favorite "The Engine Driver" (though unfortunately no "Eli, The Barrow Boy", my other favorite on the album). In addition, they played "Odaline" and "The Legionnaire's Lament" from their 1st album Castaways and Cutouts and "Billy Liar" from their 2nd album Her Majesty. The show culminated with "The Mariner's Revenge Song" complete with audience screaming (as directed by guitarist Chris Funk) to emulate being swallowed by a whale.

After their terrific and too-short set, Death Cab for Cutie came on and much like their previous New York show at Roseland (which I also attended), they rocked Summerstage with a sound big enough so that all 5,000 or so could hear almost every instrumental nuance. Wisely, instead of innundating the crowd with almost every song from their so-so new one Plans (which will be out in a few weeks), the set concentrated on older material like The Photo Album's "Why'd You Wanna Live Here" and the excellent Transatlanticism's "The New Year", "Title and Registration" and "The Sound of Settling" (though unfortunately no "Lightness", "Tiny Vessels" or "We Looked Like Giants") while previewing 3 or 4 new ones (including the excellent single "Soul Meets Body") to give the audience a glimpse of the new album. The set did get a bit boring during the 2nd half and my feet really hurt from standing for 4 hours or so, but it was worth it. After closing the main set with "The Sound of Settling" and picking up the pace in the process, they came out for the encore with members of The Decemberists and proceeded to play a jaw-droppingly awesome version of Fleetwood Mac's soft-rock breakup classic "Go Your Own Way" with Ben and Colin singing together on the same mic. When Ben announced "this is just like 1978" before playing the song, I honestly expected a punk or new wave cover, but in all honesty, late '70s Fleetwood Mac is closer to the sound of the bands on this bill (though none of them particularly sound like Fleetwood Mac) than say, The Sex Pistols or The Ramones or The Clash, but that's ok though since I heart the Mac (and not in some stupid, ironic, detached, doofy hipster-ish kind of way). You can see photos of the collaboration here. After that, they closed with the stunning title track of Transatlanticism and on this beautiful, cloud-less, breezy night with low humidity (sweet relief after this record-breakingly hot summer), it was appropriate to hear the longing lyrics "I need you so much closer" pour into the New York City air over and over again. It was really moving, in fact. The only thing missing was the cigarette lighters from the crowd!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Scenic Gold Streets

Gold Streets @ Scenic 8/17/05
Well since I've already written plenty about the ever-awesome Gold Streets in the past (see the archives), this will be more of a review of the club and what not than a show review as you faithful readers are used to from me. I will say, however, that they debuted a new song featured a Korg synth, which was great to see, and the bells that drummer T played on the last song were heavenly as well and that overall, it was a good, solid set with good sound. It was also part of a shoegaze festival organized by a group called Loveless, though only 1 of the other bands that I watched really had a shoegaze-type sound and in my view, though Gold Streets have a lot of elements of shoegaze, they're really more in the indie-pop category and are thus a hybrid of the two styles. There was also a DJ downstairs (Oliver from the band A Place to Bury Strangers) played similarly-inclined music between sets.

Now, as for Scenic itself, it's on Avenue B in the same spot that Save the Robots used to be many years ago. The upstairs level has a bar and get this, serves food and calls itself "The Burger Joint". They serve these little, White Castle-like (but better cooked and without the onions) burgers for $1.50 and $2.50 for a double cheeseburger. Also, the music they played upstairs absolutely rocked. It was like my own greatest hits with lots of late '70s UK punk, pub rock and new wave classics by the likes of The Jam, The Undertones, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, The Only Ones and others. Later, after the bands went on, they swtiched it to metal, but good metal like Iron Maiden, Ace Frehley's "New York Groove" and Motorhead's "Eat the Rich". Also, it was free to get in, which always helps. I definitely recommend this place as it's one of the better small new clubs that I've been to lately.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Call of the Wreckin' Ball

The Knitters @ Trocadero Philadelphia, PA 8/13/05
Well after the Paul Green Pink Floyd show (see review below), which was an early show that started at about 7:30 and ended at about 9, we headed down to the Trocadero to see The Knitters, who just released their 2nd album and their 1st in 20 years, the excellent and simply titled The Modern Sounds of the Knitters. Now for those of you who don't know, The Knitters are basically X (one of my favorite bands of all time) with Dave Alvin (who was absolutely mesmerizing on lead guitar) taking the place of Billy Zoom on guitar and an additional bass player who plays stand-up bass. The material consists of covers of obscure country, rockabilly and blues songs like Leadbelly's "Rock Island Line" (of which they performed an absolutely furious and unbelievably fast-paced version), similarly spirited originals like the beautiful "Someone Like You" and the stomping "The Call of the Wreckin' Ball" (which they played 2 versions of; the original one on their 1985 debut Poor Little Critter in the Road and the new one, titled "The Call of the New Wreckin' Ball", that's on their new one) and redone X originals like "Burning House of Love" (which they played on Letterman the night before) and "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts". Although it was really late and very hot in there since there was no air-conditioning (it was on the hottest day of the summer; luckily I stood near a fan), it was still great to see John Doe and Exene Cervenka on the same stage. Now all I have to do is see the reunited original lineup of X, though they hardly ever tour over here and I missed them when they came to Philly (the closest they came to NYC) a few years ago.

Welcome to the Machine

Paul Green's School of Rock plays the music of Pink Floyd 8/13/05 @ The World Cafe Philadelphia, PA

Although I don't usually like cover bands or attend shows like these, this is a notable exception. After hearing much about the recent movie about music teacher Paul Green and his students (I still haven't seen the movie in question), we decided to check out one of their performances. Admittedly, it wasn't my idea, but since this was an early show and The Knitters show was a late show (see review elsewhere), I accepted the proposition. To their credit, they did a fantastic job with a difficult catalog and covered just about everything from 1967's excellent Syd Barrett composition "See Emily Plays" to "Hey You" from 1979's double album The Wall, with many interesting midway points such as the opener, parts I-IV of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond", "Pigs on the Wing" (from the often-overlooked Animals) and about half of Dark Side of the Moon, including "Time" and the show closer, "Brain Damage/Eclipse". I have to say that it's a really interesting experience to hear a drummer who didn't look above the age of 11 mimic Nick Mason's drum parts so well or 3 teenage girls singing the female lead vocals in "The Great Gig in the Sky" so perfectly that it almost gave me goosebumps. There must have been about 30 kids or so during the performance with musicians alternating song by song and all were uniformly excellent musically on their instruments, though a few were a bit weak vocally. That's a very minor complaint, though, since overall they played the Pink Floyd catalog with skill, care and feel and that's not an easy accomplishment.

Discover A Lovelier You

The Pernice Brothers @ North Star Bar Philadelphia, PA 8/12/05
The 1st band was some really quiet and really boring folksy/country-ish act, so after a few songs, me and the super cool boo who I spent the weekend with went into the other room to shoot some pool, which was much more fun than watching them or Royal Gun, who I caught a few songs of towards the end of their set. They're accompanying the Pernice Brothers for their entire current tour and their guitarist and keyboardist are filling in for the absent Thom Monahan and Laura Stein (Joe Pernice's wife). Maybe they should just call it Joe Pernice and Whoever's Able to Play with Him instead of The Pernice Brothers, especially since Bob Pernice hasn't been in the band in years anyway, but that would be too long. Anyhow, this was my 3rd time seeing Joe & co and I thought that they were great. It reminded me a lot of the 1st time I saw them, which was at Maxwells a few years ago and less of their Mercury Lounge show that I saw back in January of 2004, which was a bit tentative and awkward (perhaps because they knew it was being recorded; some of the songs they played that night ended up being on the Nobody's Listening/Nobody's Watching CD/DVD). Anyway, they were very loose (not in the sense that they weren't tight as a band, but in the sense that they seemed to be having fun up there and they were comfortable as well) and in top form, though the club was only half full. They played a variety of the songs from their excellent and for some reason very underrated new album Discover A Lovelier You as well as selections from their excellent back catalog. For the encore, they played "Flaming Wreck" (from the the excellent The World Won't End) and then Joe played an acoustic song (I think it's from the Big Tobacco album) and they finished with "One Foot in the Grave" from the almost-as-excellent Yours, Mine and Ours. Also, after their set, I was able to obtain a setlist right in front of me, but admittedly, I did have a bit of help in that department. :-)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Getting the Clap from a Devotchka

Devotchka and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah @ South Street Seaport 8/10/05
Despite my tired state on this muggy Wednesday evening (I got home at 2 AM the night before and didn't get to bed until 3 or so), I ventured out to Pier 17 at South Street Seaport to catch this very interesting double-bill. The fact that it was free didn't hurt, either. First and foremost, I must say that in all my years of going to free summer shows at Pier 17, I've NEVER seen as many people crammed in there as I saw last night for this double bill that was sponsored by East Village Radio. When I got there, current Pitchfork-approved indie buzz-band of the moment Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (say their name correctly without the "And" between "Hands" and "Say" or the hipster police will come to get you) was already playing. I managed to squeeze in sort of towards the middle of the crowd on the left-hand side and catch the last 15-20 minutes of their set. Honestly, I liked what I heard and the songs that they played live were considerably better, at least for the most part, than what's on their hot-selling (well for a band still without any sort of record deal though I'm sure they'll have one very soon or at least before the year is out) self-titled CD, which I've found so-so thus far after several listens. All in all, it was servicable nerd-rock in the vein of '77 Talking Heads or even the early Feelies (though not nearly as good as either), with singer Alec Ounsworth prancing around the stage like a young David Byrne or even a young Jonathan Richman. The major difference between them and the bands I just compared them to is that they use a lot of keyboards and a few other electronics as well, thus updating their indie-rock template for the new millenium. Overall, they're a good live band with a lot of potential, but just not the second coming that others seem to think they are. Also, it was a bit distracting watching them since about half of the people who were there (or at least the ones standing next to me) were talking over their entire set. What's the point of making the effort to come out to a show (even a free one) if you're just gonna talk right through it? I mean, I can understand the occasional comment or between-song chatter, but when a band is playing and people are trying to listen, please shut the fuck up. Maybe some of the kids (it was a really young crowd for the most part) there have a lot more free time than I do and don't value or cherish the thrill of going out to shows and seeing bands, but if they don't, please stay home! I know this plea will fall on deaf ears as there have always been trendy assholes who just come to be seen and ruin it for genuine music lovers, but I just had to vent.

Anyway, back to the music. After their main set ended, I thought that The Clap (look guys, I think you're pretty cool, but you're asking for people, including myself, to call you that by choosing such a long and dorky band name) were gonna come back and do an encore, but unfortunately they didn't. Of course, some people left after The Clap's set, so I was able to move up towards the front and in the middle for Devotchka's set. To my surprise, though, lots of people stayed for Devotchka, which was good. I was expecting a mass exodus after The Clap, but I'm glad that the listeners piled in there for the buzz band stuck around and had an open mind. Honestly I didn't know much about them at all over than that they're from Denver, but I really liked what I'd previously heard, which is their 200o CD Super Melodrama. Their music is almost indescribable. They're a 4-piece consisting of a vocalist/guitarist along with a violinist/accordion player, a tuba/cello player and a drummer who played trumpet on a few songs as well. Instead of the guitarist playing the main melody lines, they're played by the violinist/accordion player as the guitarist strums the rhythm and chruns out chords, enabling him to focus on his singing. Also, at a few points in the set, he "played" something that made a weird, whoosing noise when he conducted it. I've never seen anyone do that. Oh and his vintage mic was cool, too. That instrumentation alone makes them completely unique (at least for a band playing rock and roll or something resembling it), but better yet, they write wonderful, lovelorn songs with wonderful instrumental passages that are equally influenced by Southwestern music as well as traditional Eastern European sounds. Imagine a polka in a Polish beer hall and a Tex-Mex hoedown, but at the same time, and you're sort of close. However, despite the fact that their music is imminently danceable, very few people were dancing in this way too self-conscious (or way too cool for school) city. Not that I'm not innocent in this regard, either, but that has to do with self-consciousness. I love to dance, but I'm just not that good at it and I don't like others looking when I do it unless they're dancing as well. As Craig Finn of The Hold Steady said last week when I saw them at Bowery Ballroom, "What's the deal with Teaching Indie Kinds to Dance? Ever seen an indie kid dance? Indie kids shouldn't dance" (I'm paraphrasing here). I don't necessarily agree, but I do see his point. Anyhow, if you have an opportunity to see this very unique band, definitely do it. Meanwhile, though, you can go to their site and download some mp3s if you go here.

The Road Leads Where It's Led

Kings of Leon and The Secret Machines @ Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ 8/9/05
Well this was my 4th time at Starland Ballroom since it opened a few years ago (it used to be a nightclub called Hunka Bunka and yes supposedly it was as cheesy as its name, though I only went there once when they briefly did shows there and this was back in 1998 to see The Violent Femmes) and the 3rd time that I've gotten in for free (my friend who I went to the show with got a free ticket offer from their mailing list). When we got there, we'd already missed the opener Helio Sequence. The Secret Machines were up next and at first, this powerful 3-piece with the laserific light show and slow, chugging heaviness was impressive. After a while, however, of similar sounding material, they began to grate a bit until the set closer, the incredible "First Wave Intact", which generated some much needed momentum that they'd been losing. Overall, they were impressive, but they played for about 20 minutes too long (especially for them being the openers) and while they put on an impressive and powerful stage show, their lack of songcraft becomes apparent after listening to them for over an hour. With the exception of the aforementioned "First Wave Intact" and "The Road Leads Where It's Led", they don't really have a lot of very good songs, but they rely on atmosphere and power (and lights) to get their point across. At times, they reminded me of Rush, early U2 and Interpol, but if those bands had a John Bonham sound-a-like on drums who, interestingly enough, set up his kit at the front of the stage and all the way to the left unlike most drummers, who occupy the back part of the stage and are in the middle. Obviously he anchors the band and the other 2 members need to see his motions.

As for Kings of Leon, after hearing a few songs each from both of their albums, I wasn't all that impressed and after seeing them live, I can officially say that though they had an incredible crowd reaction (at this point I must mention that there was this incredibly annoying frat boy directly ahead of where we were standing who kept screaming very loudly and very inappropriately, much to my aggravation; if you're gonna act like a 2-year old, go home asshole!), especially up front where people were going nuts for them, I just don't hear what all the fuss is about. Their 1st 2 songs were good, including their opener, which I recognized from a car commercial, and after that, their guitar player played some good riffs (though the same ones in every song seemingly) and their bass player had some good, '60s style inflections similar to those great mid '60s Who singles on a couple of songs as well (and again, there wasn't much variation going on in his playing on those songs, either) and their drummer was solid in a Dave Grohl (think his playing on Nirvana, especially In Utero, not his subsequent Foo Fighters records or his work with Queens of the Stone Age or Killing Joke or Probot), but the overall combination just didn't gel for me. I would describe them as being very Strokes-like with a slight Southern rock element because of the twangy vocals, though the other influences I mentioned above were prevalent as well. My friend said that they reminded him a bit of Mudhoney, but I have to disagree. Mudhoney, at least at their best (on Superfuzz Bigmuff), were a great blues-punk hybrid more similar to an American Birthday Party (or to what later bands like The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Royal Trux and more recently The White Stripes, The Black Keys, The Kills and others) than to their grunge peers despite their Sub Pop and Seattle pedigree, whereas Kings of Leon are clearly not bluesy at all. Thus, since it was a work night and I had a long trip back, we all left about 7 or 8 songs in. On the way out, they were giving away tickets to the reunited New York Dolls performance (see my review of their April Irving Plaza show in the archives) there on Friday night. Of course for free I would go in a heartbeat even though I wasn't that crazy about the April show (it wasn't all bad, however) and though they gave me 3 tickets, I gave them all to my friend since I'll be seeing The Pernice Brothers that night, which should be a totally different and hopefully better show!

Monday, August 08, 2005

I'm Glad to See That You're Still in the Bars

THE HOLD STEADY @ Bowery Ballroom 8/5/05
After a Chinese meal at the nearby New York Noodle House, it was time to head up to Bowery Ballroom to catch a set by one of the fastest rising indie-rock bands in the area. After getting on the cover of The Village Voice and since the release of their terrific sophomore album Separation Sunday, they've been all the rage with critics and fans alike, thus far culminating in a 2-night headlining stand at Bowery Ballroom, the biggest local venue they've played in at this point. They have a sound that's tough to pin down, but essentially it's '70s hard riff rock or maybe even pub rock along the lines of when The Rumour backed Graham Parker or when The E Street Band and Bruce Springsteen were still playing the circuit in Asbury Park before Born to Run landed them on the cover of Newsweek. The main difference between them and many other competent bar bands is singer Craig Finn's vocals, which resemble a revival tent preacher during a particularly righteous sermon rather than anything resembling a conventional rock and roll singer. Another good point of reference is Husker Du-era Bob Mould or maybe even the talk-singing style of Jeff Pezzati (formerly of Naked Raygun and currently in The Bomb). Some have even suggested the ranting style of The Fall's Mark E. Smith but I don't know if I necessarily agree with that comparison. The lyrics concern the shady side of life and in particular, Separation Sunday is a song cycle about a Catholic girl gone bad named Hallelujah (or Holly for short).

With all these elements added up, the performance was galvanizing and lasted for about an hour and a half with a 3-song encore and it encompassed all of Separation Sunday as well as songs from their 1st album Almost Killed Me. Finn repeatedly enticed the crowd with lines like the one in the title of this post and seemed to be having a great time on stage, which is always nice to see in the midst of so much apathy and navel-gazing and what not from way too many bands. He repeatedly invited fans to an after-party at Hi-Fi (formerly Brownies) as well, though after their set ended at 1:15 AM, I was more than happy to go home at that point. If I have one very minor complaint, it's that their set started out slowly and took time to pick up a little steam, but I think part of that was nervous jitters. I think Finn & co were obviously a bit overwhelmed at all the attention they've been getting and how popular they've become recently, which is understandable for a band who could barely fill smaller places 6 months ago.

Black Mountain was supposed to open, but they didn't show. Instead we got Sam Champion (we listened to them from downstairs; they were ok at best) and another supposedly metal band who we got there too late to check out.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Free Patti Smith

PATTI SMITH @ Central Park Summerstage 8/4/05

No don't worry! Patti isn't in jail or anything like that, but she did play an awesome free show last night at Central Park Summerstage. Although it was a muggy evening on one of the hottest days of this already oppressively hot summer, I braved it for a chance to see Patti for free, mere minutes from where I work. Her opener, Janet something or other, was like a PBS version of Patti. At least that's what someone I overheard said and I couldn't agree more. She had Patti's vocal qualities and nuances, but with none of the attitude or the bite. I'll cut her some slack since, according to the program guide, she was Patti's mentor back when she was still a college student at Glassboro State College in the mid '60s and she's a lifelong friend of Patti's as well, but I didn't enjoy her set at all.

And then Patti came on about 30 minutes later with a stripped-down, 4-piece band backing her that includes 2 former Patti Smith Group members (the unstoppable guitarist Lenny Kaye and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty) and her son Jackson on 2nd guitar and occasionally bass (Tony Shanahan was the main bass player but he also played keyboards as well and when he did, Jackson switched over to bass).

The set was short, lasting only about an hour and fifteen minutes, and concentrated on covers such as "Like A Rolling Stone", "Not Fade Away" (done as a tribute to Jerry Garcia; the anniversary of both his birth and his death is right around this time of year) and another song that was done as a tribute to Garcia. I presume that it's a Grateful Dead cover that I just didn't know. From her post '70s albums, she played "People Have the Power" (a song I can't stand but one that always sounds good live), "Summer Cannibals" (it was fitting that she would play this at Summerstage because the 1st time I saw her was at Summerstage back in '96 and I remember her playing it then as it was on her then recently released album Gone Again) and "My Blakean Years" from her most recent album Trampin'. Of course, she did pull out a few chestnuts from her '70s heyday such as the brilliant "Ain't It Strange", the beautiful "Because the Night" and "Dancing Barefoot" and to finish off the show, she encored with "Gloria", a song that never fails to captivate in part because it has what it quite possibly the greatest opening line of a song (and for that matter, an album) I've ever heard, which is the great line "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine".

Unlike other shows I've seen of hers over the years, she didn't dive deep until her back catalog and thus favorites like "Pissing in a River" (my favorite song of hers), "We Three", "Redondo Beach" and others were missing, but it didn't matter too much because she was so full of life, energy and youthfulness (especially for someone who's 58 years old) and the band was cracker jack tight as well. Furthermore, she was her usual motherly self, urging the crowd to drink lots of water towards the end of the set. Overall, I'd say it was worth the amount of sweat that was all over my shirt after the show. It's good to see a punk icon and a hero of mine still giving it her all.