Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Start of Something

Voxtrot @ Magnetic Field 12/15/05
This show was added a day before to make up for Voxtrot cancelling the second half of their current tour due to van problems. I first heard them over the summer and I downloaded a few of their songs, which I liked, especially the insanely catchy and very Smiths-like “The Start of Something.” But though they’ve played New York several times since I heard about them, I somehow missed them, and so when I heard about this show, I made sure to check it out. And boy am I glad that I did!

My initial thinking going into the show was that they’re a young band with a lot of potential and talent, but they’re not quite there yet; my impression definitely changed after seeing the show. Playing in a tiny room (imagine a venue half the size of Maxwell’s or Mercury Lounge), Voxtrot put forth enough energy to fill a room many times the size of Magnetic Field and showed that their chops, songwriting talent, and the magnetism of singer/guitarist Ramesh are for real.

Voxtrot’s sound recalls that of The Smiths and Belle and Sebastian, their most obvious influences along with New Order (whose “Love Vigilantes” they covered on this evening). The band’s make-up consists of two guitarists, a multi-instrumentalist who mainly plays keyboards, and a crackerjack rhythm section. While on paper, this combination of influences and musicians may sound potentially derivative or even generic, Voxtrot manages to make this combination into a sound that’s most definitely their own. Even better, they communicated passion and fun (not a standoff-ish cool like oh so many other buzz bands) with every note, which endeared them to the enthusiastic audience.

They played several songs that I recognized, including “The Start of Something,” “Wrecking Force,” and a version of Talking Heads' “Heaven” (originally on the terrific LP Fear of Music), as well as the aforementioned New Order cover. Yet it was even more of a pleasure to hear them play unfamiliar songs, songs which I’ve come to enjoy after picking up Voxtrot’s excellent Raised by Wolves EP. The biggest treat was unexpected: Andrea Vaughn, formerly of the similar-minded Long Island band My Favorite (who I always liked), came on-stage to duet with Ramesh on a great version of the EP title track.

If you have a chance to see them play, I highly recommend it. With good looks to match their terrific playing and memorable songs, I predict big things for them and hope that they come back soon.

What' Obscure 90s Alternative Rock Cult Figure Are You?

You are Primal Scream - poppin' Es, shagging the
finest birds and raising hell!

What Obscure 90s Alternative Rock Cult Figure Are You?
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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Beyond and Back

X with Julianna Hatfield @ The Theater of the Living Arts, Philadelphia, PA 12/8/05
Opener Julianna Hatfield played a solid if not particularly spirited or memorable opening set. It was nice for me to see her perform live for the first time since 1994 (when I saw her play at my college). However, my favorite part of her set, by far, was when John Doe (of headliners X) came out and harmonized with her on The Everly Brothers classic “When Will I Be Loved”, an unexpected and welcome treat.

Headliners X came on and just dominated. I’d never seen them with the original lineup before, so this was a real treat for me since I’ve been a big fan for years and I consider them to be one of my favorite bands ever. Opening with “Beyond and Back” from 1981’s excellent Wild Gift (one of my favorite albums of all time), they stormed through an hour-long set of classic after classic from their 1st 4 (great) LPs including the more well-known cuts like “Los Angeles”, “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene” (both from 1980’s debut Los Angeles) alongside Wild Gift’s “In This House That I Call Home”, “We’re Desperate” and “I’m Coming Over” (though sadly “It’s Who You Know” and “Some Other Time” weren’t played on this evening). Songs played from 1982’s critically-favored Under the Big Black Sun included “Because I Do”, “Motel Room in My Bed” and “The Hungry Wolf”, which was one of several songs played in the short encore. 1983’s equally excellent but underrated More Fun in the New World was represented by “Poor Girl” (perhaps my favorite song in the X canon aside from “Some Other Time”) and “The New World”, though “Drunk in My Past” and “I See Red” would’ve been great additions as well.

Still, the complaints I had were very minor considering how tight the band were. The audience (aside from some very drunk fellow that security escorted out in the middle of the set) ate it all up, singing along with all the songs as if they were at a Southern Baptist church. The “let’s have fun and enjoy this” attitude is so refreshing in light of the joyless vibe that many indie-rock shows give off. All in all, this was the best concert that I’ve seen all year!

Monday, December 12, 2005

For Whom Hell's Bells Tolls

This is an excellent article (from Pitchfork; for all my issues with them sometimes they really come through with some great articles like this one or the one last month about the roots of twee indie-pop) about a documentary that outraged me when I was 15 (it always seemed to be on same random cable channel late at night back then in Louisiana) as I'd just started to seriously get into rock and roll during that time. I'm sure I would find it really funny if I'd watch it now, though. It's quite disturbing that people still buy it and eat this stuff up, though.

We Like Birdland

Patti Smith @ BAM 12/1/05
Playing all of her legendary first album Horses to celebrate its 30th anniversary and recent reissue as a double CD set (the 2nd disc includes a similar concert given earlier this year in London), Patti Smith wowed the audience with a performance full of so much unbridled energy, passion and vigor that it shamed many performers more than half of her age.
With the starting time at a very early 7:45, the first set consisted of Horses from start to finish. Patti was backed by 2 former members of her ‘70s band (guitarist Lenny Kaye and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty) along with long-time band member Tony Shanahan on bass and keyboards and 2 special guests, Flea and Tom Verlaine. Kaye, Daugherty and Verlaine all played on the original album whereas Flea (who handled most of the evening’s bass duties) did not, but those worried if he would fit in were left assured by his nimble and understated, yet energetic playing, complete with lots of head-bobbing and running around the stage. In sharp contrast, Verlaine sat on a stool and looked down at his guitar the entire time.

From the opening “Gloria” to the “Land” trilogy (including the chilling “Horses” and “Land of a Thousand Dances”) to the beautiful closer “Elegie” with stops in between including the cod-reggae “Redondo Beach” and the passionate and fiery “Free Money”, Patti was in full command and delivered a top-notch performance. To make it even better, the sound was also top-notch at this lovely concert hall.

For the second set, they came out and played songs from Patti’s other albums along with a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced”. The set culminated in a rousing version of “Rock and Roll Nigger”, complete with Patti’s son Jackson shredding along with Kaye and Verlaine on guitar. If it would’ve ended there, I would’ve been more than happy, but with the audience begging for more, Patti came back out and played an unscheduled 2nd encore and the show culminated with the ubiquitous “People Have the Power”.

Regardless, of all the times I’ve seen her, this was by far the best and was simply an incredible night of rock and roll.

Sorry for the very late post. This review was first published on the Big Takeover website. You can see it here.

PREVIOUSLY: My review of Patti Smith at Central Park Summerstage back in August

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Descended Like Vultures

Rogue Wave and Mazarin @ Bowery Ballroom 12/2/05
Having never heard openers Mazarin, I didn’t know quite what to expect, though I’d heard good things about them and that their sound was of a neo-shoegazer persuasion. Although this was partially true, it was only half the story. At first, I wasn’t too keen on them as I noticed that their singer’s voice was buried in the mix and that he really didn’t have too much stage presence, but after a while I began to notice that the music was so heavy and powerful (though still dreamy and psychedelic) that it didn’t make much of a difference as the singer’s voice was just another instrument in their wall of sound. Thus, if I were to make comparisons to early ‘90s stalwarts, I’d have to say that they reminded me more of say, Catherine Wheel or Swervedriver though they really sounded like neither. Regardless, they represent the more rockin’, visceral side of that movement and time period, though they’re original enough to stand on their own merit.

Rogue Wave’s Descended Like Vultures is currently one of my favorite albums and one of 2005’s finest offerings and since I’d never seen Zach Rogue and company before, I was really looking forward to their set. I’d like to say that they didn’t disappoint and while I enjoyed the set thoroughly, I did think that a few things could have been better. The one song that Rogue did entirely on his own, which was the first song in the encore, was noticeably better than many of the songs in the main set where he was backed by a full band. Rogue is a great songwriter and a fine vocalist to boot, but the arrangements that he chose to employ to make the songs work in a live setting didn’t always play to their melodic strengths, though they seemed to get it together more towards the end. In particular, a jaw-dropping version of Descended Like Vultures’ stunning “Love's Lost Guarantee” with the band was the highlight of the evening, but the other high points not mentioned were the quieter numbers like “California” (also from Descended Like Vultures). Thus, while I’d go see Rogue Wave again and I look forward to their next record, what I’d really like to see is a Zach Rogue solo performance.

You can also read this review here, where it was first published.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Don't Change for You

INXS @ Tower Records on the Upper West Side 11/29/05
I have a confession to make. As some of you know, I watched the reality show Rock Star: INXS religiously from its 4th or 5th episode back in July up until its conclusion in September, culminating with them naming JD Fortune as their new lead singer. You see, I've liked them since I was 13 with their 1987 album Kick being one of the first albums I ever bought and I couldn't help but to be curious about their first album in 8 years and their 1st without original singer Michael Hutchence, who of course tragically died in 1997.

In all honesty, though, I had no plans on buying their new album Switch right away (though the new single "Pretty Vegas" is quite good), but when I heard that they were doing an in-store, I rushed out to get a wristband and for the cost of buying the new album, I was guaranteed admission to an in-store performance with a signing afterwards. The set was short, as they only played 4 songs (a 5th song, either "Devil Inside" or "Never Tear Us Apart", was on the setlist, but not played) and encompassed "Mystify" and "Need You Tonight" from Kick as well as "Don't Change" (their first single to chart in the US Top #100 back in 1982) and the aforementioned "Pretty Vegas". After waiting outside in line again for the signing, I got my booklet signed (to be scanned soon hopefully) and got to briefly talk to and shake hands with all of the members, including JD. It felt a little surreal since I'd watched JD compete with other singers on TV and now here I was shaking his hand, though I certainly wasn't starstruck. It's like you think that these people exist on some other plane and in some other reality other than your own, but in reality they're just the same when it comes right down to it. I also got to tell bassist Gary Beers that we missed him since they were only playing as a 4-piece (it was an acoustic set, though for an "acoustic set" it was pretty rockin'), which was pretty funny.

All in all, it was a fun night (and that includes the excellent dim sum that we had afterwards at Shun Lee; pricy but great) and it was worth the $11.99 (the price I paid for the new album) since I just viewed it as the ticket price (the album's actually pretty good, too).