You big city twerps don’t know how good you’ve got it. You have access to dozens of worthwhile live shows on a weekly basis, and I hate you for it. I live in Fayetteville, AR. I have access to maybe three or four good in-town shows each year. And for everything else, I have to drive. I drive from my podunk settlement to slightly less podunk settlements. This past weekend, I rode four hours on a balsawood wagon and fought off several hordes of Confederate midgets just to make it to Lawrence, KS (and that place ain’t so hip either). And that was just to see Iron & Wine, a decidedly South-friendly act. (You wouldn’t believe what I have to go through to see Autechre.)
Thankfully, the show didn’t disappoint. When Sam Beam first appeared on stage, he had a strange look in his eye and was carrying some kind of small, discreet contraption. It was difficult to make out exactly what the thing was at first. Sam made his way to the mic, waited for the applause to quiet down, and spoke softly, “This has been a long time coming.” The crowd had no reaction, as they, like myself, had no idea what the man was talking about. He then flipped a switch on his contraption, and a thin buzzing noise filled the room. Gasps from the crowd eventually started to surface. It was then clear… Sam’s contraption was an electric razor. God only knew what kind of crime against authenticity was about to be committed. He held the blade up to his mane-encrusted grill as if he were threatening his own life. The crowd broke out into a wild banter. A girl next to me actually fainted. After hesitating for quite a few seconds, Sam let it rip. At that moment, the banter quieted itself on a dime. It was as if everyone in the room had called his bluff. But having observed the thick wads of beautiful facial locks descending to the floor, the joke was clearly on us. Once the deed was done, a jackrabbit scampered out of the fallen beard fragments and off stage, its home having been impolitely bulldozed.
Sam looked around. He appeared 17 years younger, his authenticity significantly dimmed. Just as the audience members started to re-hinge their jaws, he began frantically buzzing away at his scalp. At this point, the crowd was thrust into a state of oblivion, unable to muster up any remaining thread of astonishment, as it was simply all used up. Sam finished trimming down that last pesky cowlick and tiptoed over to what appeared to be a pedal steel. He ripped off his shirt, exposing his completely shaven torso. His chest displayed the word “SOCKET” in expertly placed black electrical tape. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Meanwhile, the pedal steel began to wobble on its legs and eventually transformed into two shiny CDJs and a mixer. For the next four hours, Sam played Detroit techno.
After the exhausting set, he picked up his much-neglected geetar and was joined on stage by six accompanists, two of whom were on percussion. Many of Sam’s tracks were significantly reconfigured due to the presence of “the band.” The highlight for me was the pseudo-funky, almost reggae-infused version of “Cinder and Smoke.” Thankfully, for the sake of the purists, the band left the stage on a few occasions so that Sam could do his thing solo (or almost solo). At one point, the jackrabbit re-emerged to hum along to “Naked As We Came.”
Say whatever you will about them — that they had utterly abysmal fashion sense, that they ripped off black R&B artists, that their disco material doesn’t match their orchestral era, whatever (only the fashion argument has any legitimacy at all as a pop criticism).
But “Nights On Broadway” just might be their finest hour — and as the lead track on Main Course, it’s also their opening salvo in the disco era. And if you don’t think that’s just a little significant, well, you’re lost — period.
Beginning with a groove on which you can feel the pieces coalescing, featuring a big fat synthesizer bassline, piano and drums, and slowly wah-wah-ing guitar, the song starts with a fairly ridiculous opening line — ludicrous in its sense of underlying menace (”Here we are/In a room full of strangers”). “Street Music,” you imagine the Brothers Gibb thinking, as Robin enters quivveringly on the high harmony.
Then the chorus hits and we’re off — a transcendent call-n-response (”Blaming it on!”), “Nights On Broadway” proceeds to play like a Bee Gees highlight reel, including a particularly noteworthy and hysterical example of the “HAAAAAAAAA!!!!” falsetto that the likes of Jimmy Fallon would lampoon (brilliantly, I admit) later on. This is to say nothing of the swelling, aching bridge featuring brilliant ensemble vocals — “Even if it takes a lifetime…Make it like it was before” the trio coos, a nostalgic bid adieu to the band’s Sixties balladeer stylings.
No, Arif Mardin’s production isn’t nearly as smooth as their Saturday Night Fever material. Nor is the song as crafty as any of the tracks on that record. But “Nights On Broadway” has an earnesty and emotional release even the group’s most remarkable ballads never quite achieved. And particuarly given its place in history — my, that’s quite a moment.
For all the talk about the influence media wield on the publicat-large, it wasn’t in evidence last Friday night at Philadelphia’s Trocadero Theater. When DJ Wonder started his set, the club wasn’t even partially full, and folks trickled in from the lobby out of curiousity, seemingly uncertain whether or not Dizzee Rascal had taken the stage. Considering the amount of press grime has gotten in the past several months in online and elsewhere, to say nothing of the accolades dating back to its stateside origins in Boy in Da Corner and The Streets critically acclaimed releases, it’s a wonder that more people aren’t interested in it.
Perhaps it’s because it’s not viewed as hard enough, but Dizzee did get PaulPierce’d shortly after Boy was announced, and for all the talk about R.A., Ill Bill and Gore-tex, I still hear a lot of ruminating on what a tragedy Columbine was, which doesn’t do much to pull me into the harder edged stuff at home - sure we could probably use better gun control and have better (read: some) mental health screening here in the States, but this isn’t what interests me in HipHop. On the other hand, grime’s not reaching a dance audience either, despite its soundsystem bass, IDM basics and increasing tilt toward jungle. When Vice came through with their brief tour in support of Run The Road, it was poorly promoted, was at a terrible location, and they had bad weather - yet both Dizzee and Vice packed the house elsewhere.
Since Philadelphia slept when Dizzee last stopped here, it seemed a promising alternative to the Bonnie Prince as Superwolf played across town. I wasn’t disappointed. Dizzee engaged the audience with his charm and willingness to educate, to say nothing of his charismatic performance. The workmanship that came across in his set showed how difficult it can be even in the information age to communicate a transatlantic trend.
An imagined community is another way of describing a scene, and the ascendant detachment is something that can’t convey the energy and excitement one might find discovering artists on mixtapes and then seeing them perform at university parties - especially the initial enthusiasm when an artist breaks. Maybe Dizzee and Wiley are sacrificial lambs for Lady Sovereign and Kano - I dunno - but it would be a shame if there were tossed into the recycling bin with yesterday’s papers. While the Internet has eliminated the barriers of geography and thus rapidly expanded any local scene into a potential phenomenon anywhere, allowing people to hear music and learn about their scenes automatically, it seems that it’s a phenomenon that’s still jetlagged. Of course, if immigration rules and work visas are tightened in the fascist vice, this may be a moot point; if so, long live the new flesh!
The stage looked right — more instruments than people, including an upright bass — and so did the band (it’s requisite to have at least one guy in a suit and a cowboy hat). Unfortunately the audience didn’t, because there wasn’t much of one there. The venue frequently has country or countryish acts drawing crowds twice as big, but not for bluegrass on a weeknight.
Bluegrass musicians don’t get the credit they deserve. Other than incredible jazz, no other genre makes me as amazed at its performers technical prowess. That’s what I was hoping for last night as I set out to see Chatham Co. Line. The interesting thing is that local band regularly fills the hall with their bluegrass, but they make it a spectacle, wearing overalls and setting it up as a big ol’ jamboree, which is apparently more fun than seeing talented musicians do their thing.
And CCL does it well. They’re not the most amazing artists you’ll see, but they have good songs with tight harmonies, and they have fun on stage. They also covered Otis Redding’s “Come to Me,” which was very enjoyable and utterly unexpected. There was a bit too much scripted banter, but the music itself was fine. Now where are all those fake country lovin’ jam band fans when they should be out for this?
Sidenotes for concert-only smokers:
1) You’re not fooling us — when you can’t work your lighter and have to practice how to hold your cigarette, it’s a give away.
2) You should be smoking more regularly. As it is, you’re not killing yourself quickly enough.
Last night my girlfriend and I attended the Futureheads’ show right here in Guelph - or at least we tried to. They were playing in the middle of a bill between Louis XIV (ugh) and Hot Hot Heat (no thanks), and although we were working until 9:45, we figured seeing the band wouldn’t be a problem as doors don’t open until 9.
Except when we got there they were almost finished their set - we saw 3 songs (”He Knows”, “Carnival Kids”, “Man Ray”), all great. This is immensely frustrating, yes, but it gets worse:
- My girlfriend had tried to get me to leave work earlier, but I wanted to finish a few things
- The doors actually opened at 8 pm, which was printed right on the tickets I had in my wallet - why I never checked I don’t know
- Our supervisor wasn’t in that night, so if we’d wanted to leave early it wouldn’t have been a problem
- On our way back to the car we walked past the Futureheads’ gear being hauled out of the venue and saw a setlist - “Hounds Of Love” was the song right before “He Knows”, so if we’d left maybe five minutes earlier we’d have seen it, and judging from the number of songs on the setlist if we’d left a mere twenty or so minutes earlier we would have caught their entire set
I have a fairly significant headache this morning from my own stupidity. Between this and flaking out on seeing them in Toronto at the last moment in February, the Futureheads have eluded me twice. They won’t elude me three times.
Whoo-hah. aywkubtToD had a pretty amazing set Tuesday, at Axis in Boston. They were most gracious and talkative, after doing a a soundcheck for less than 50 people. Only the first was repeated during the main set. Kerrr-unch!
Will You Smile For Me Again
Crowning of a Heart
Lost City of Refuge
Up on Cripple Creek (yes, The Band)
Last time ’round, in NY, they did “I’m too Sexy” by Right Said Fred… That was quite good, but their take on The Band was more appropriate. Harder than the original, but quite faithful, and most enjoyable. The full set, later that evening, was:
Will You Smile…
It Was there That I Saw Her
Days of Being Wild
A Perfect Teenhood
Claire de Lune
Another Morning Stoner
Classic Art Showcase
Heart in the Hand of the Matter
Richter Scale Madness
6 for a ticket and Ł3 for students. Absolutely incredible, places the value of entertainiment into question when you can see three great acts and the best gig I’ve ever seen in my life. Hall two (a cross between a womb, that ship off Blake’s 7 and Twin Peaks red room) was sold out for the show with a non-smoking crowd ranging from hipster record shop clerks, men with Gnome beards and Eight year old girls.
Six Organs of Admittance opened with a nervy set of elongated ‘Fahey doing raga’ style desert songs which managed to spiral beyond the song’s melody touching base every once in a while only to spin off again. Managing to squeeze in a Rowland S. Howard cover didn’t do him any harm either.
I wasn’t as initially keen on next act Blues folk duo White Magic as much as I’d instantly loved Six Organs’ Ben Chasny’s playing, but their double gong and wine bottle percussion won me over. Their oddly dark narratives got a little lost with the reverb during the piano part of their set, but they played well despite a few technical issues. Mira Billotte’s vocals brought Beth Orton to mind, that’s if Beth had never met Weatherall or gone all London on us.
Headliner Joanna Newsom’s show was probably the single most amazing thing I have ever seen. Lyrically Bjork is the only sensible comparison and even then they’re a million miles apart musically. But what they have is a heartbreaking attention to detail in their songs which catch you in the throat and leave you welling up in a roomful of people. I was standing next to Ben Chasny for the set and I meant to tell him how I’d enjoyed his performance but we were both utterly rapt. It seemed at times like there must be another hand playing that massive Harp at times, as she managed to not only slide across chords, pick notes and use it percussivley but she sang out in that otherworldly schoolgirl inner-self voice. Astounding really, I can’t even begin to get it across to you and I’m still too blown away to even think about theorising about it.
Plus the Necks and Spiritualized are playing soon. Oh, and London Sinfonetta playing Cage and Warp songs alongside Plaid. Its no longer grim up North.
So, Eros opened here in Chicago last weekend. Who would’ve guessed that a film featuring individual works by Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni would yield such mixed results? I suppose I was expecting a certain amount of disappointment, but not on this scale. Within its 108 minutes it somehow manages to demonstrate one of the greatest examples of film making this year as well as one of the absolute worst.
The best comes in the form of Wong Kar-Wai’s “The Hand” which I almost wish was being shown on its own. Perhaps a typical entry for the director, whose films largely deal with a type of missed connection, be it romantic or other. But he directs this no less passionately than any of his other work, and manages to create a vivid masterpiece that actually lives up to the collective title of the film.
On the other hand,”The Dangerous Thread of Things” is not only the worst of the three, but possibly the worst film of the year. That it is directed by Antonioni, one of the masters of Italian cinema, is perhaps the most appalling aspect. This isn’t just the result of the master being on autopilot. No, not with a film this bad. The only explanation I can offer is that he simply wasn’t present at all throughout the entire process. This is the worst kind of softcore porn; the kind you might catch after hours on Cinemax. Working with no apparent purpose, Antonioni directs something that looks like a commercial, plays like hollow porn and ends with a truly embarrassing scene involving a woman dancing nude on a beach.
As for Soderbergh’s: his would’ve been more at home as a particularly high-brow SNL skit and comes off not so much as insulting as totally unremarkable.
Ah, the joys of spring: drinking outdoors, taking off that goofy winter jacket, and sweaty rock shows. The NCAA tourney was not enough so I’ll have to have some April Madness as well. This month’s theme: Bands that make great records but are even better live. Starring:
Grizzly Bear, April 9 at Tonic w/ Stars Like Fleas and Paul Duncan (in case you haven’t heard: the Tonic has been having some rent problems lately so you should come out to help save the best music venue in NYC). Grizzly Bear’s debut has been a local sensation but their live show is a totally different experience. Plus they’ve added another guitarist since their shows in New York last fall. This is the last show of the tour so they’re tighter than ever: 4 part harmonies, free form noise production, and the most charismatic front man in the land, Ed Droste.
Oneida, April 16 at Knitting Factory w/ Magnolia Electric Co. Oneida never fails to blow me away every time I see them. Twice I have forced someone to accompany me at an Oneida show and both times I was vigorously thanked for the evening of fuzzed-out bliss. Plus they have a gong!!!
Supersystem, April 20 at Mercury Lounge. DC bands just know how to put on good shows (I know, I know. Technically Supersystem is a DC/NYC hybrid nowadays). I saw them last year with no expectations at all and was rewarded with one of the best shows I saw all year.
If you see me at the shows, buy me a drink. This Stylus gig isn’t exactly paying the bills.
Actually, I want people more knowledgeable than me to talk about American Idol.
Other than reviews of past participants’ albums, I see almost no discussion in the press of the events on the show. I know it’s because we’re all supposed to be snarky and to hip for that, but there are some really interesting things going on.
Mainly, people talk about voices. How many times do you read a review where the writer about a singer’s voice in terms any more concrete than “raspy” or “whiny”? Not many. After reading John Darnielle talk about Mia Doi Todd, I realized how little ability I have to do that effectively.
Not that the American Idol judges are so great at it. Randy’s more entertaining as a goofball than as anything, and this season Paula has turned into an utter parody of herself, loving everyone and every performance. Simon, on the other hand, is usually spot-on. He’s got better ears than either of the other two, and he proves it again and again.
It’s not profound discussion — but the show’s developments could lead any of us with a musical bent to further discussions about voice (control, delivery, tone, etc.). But more than that, the discussions would be using examples that millions of people have heard, and would be more applicable than having the same recurring conversation about whether or not Joanna Newsom sounds like a child.
OK, OK, tired of the pastiche or not, hear the bonus tracks on the deluxe version of Guero; they’re banging in a much more interesting way than the singles from the album. “Send a Message to Her” inverts the “Devil’s Haircut” riff, but the NaNaNa Handclap effect arrives as diversion, then the whole thing implodes into a monstrously gnarly pipe-dream, (faux?) Casio-toned in the exit cadence. “Chain Reaction” is built around a sample from Black Sabbath’s debut, but it’s so filtered that logic, rather than sonics, points to the bassline. It, like the first, sounds like a reworked Odelay outtake, but so well done that it earns its keep. “Clap Hands” is more Midnite Vultures nightmare at the oasis stuff; the tranced cowbell and cheez-whiz scratching go so far over the edge, they’re canned fresh. (may require headphones for optimal effect)
Good to see that Yo La Tengo helped tip Tonic’s fundraiser over their stated goal. And what a blissful set the second one was. I’ve been treated to the band accompanied by many instruments, but the cello was a new one for me. During the first portion, it took many of the guitar lines, freeing Ira up for some electric piano. “Big Day Coming” was a gorgeous intro, with “Did I Tell You?” and “The Summer” being other ephemeral highlights. “Center of Gravity” and a couple instrumentals got more sprightly treatment before the band built into rock mode with “We’re an American Band” and “Little Honda/Mushroom Cloud of Hiss”. The closers were “Somebody’s Baby” and an infrequently performed “Griselda”. I’ll have to admit, though, that two of the highlights were covers I can’t quite place. A quotation from each, perhaps it will come to one of you: “It was late last night, I was feeling something wasn’t right, there was not another soul in sight…And you gazed up at me, and the answer was plain to see, and I saw the light in your eyes…” That one’s driving me crazy, as is this “I was lost all alone, like a statue made of stone, and now I’m coming home…” I know these aren’t that obscure, which makes it worse. Help!
Working as a video store clerk has its perquisites, one of which is being able to rent anything from the vast library the store offers. When one considers what’s available between six locations, it’s a dizzying array of choices, usually curtailed only by expediency and convenience. That said, when any employee falls behind and fails to maintain his or her section of the store at a satisfactory level, your rental account is temporarily suspended. This is a cautionary tale.
Shortly after ferreting The Five Obstructions out of the store, I succumbed to a certain amount of guilt, the pang of middle-class fairness, even though I was hell-bent on watching the Volker Schlondorff collaborations with his former wife Margrethe Von Trotta. No sooner did I get The Lost Honor of Katherine Blum home did I find myself distracted by this teensy abrogation of store policy - something many employees have done over the years: no big deal. Nevertheless, despite being fascinated by the film’s premise, I returned it before I’d been hooked, right around the time Blum chooses to be jailed than make small talk with her captors. So today, when my account reopened I immediately rented Lost Honor again, along with Coup De Grace, both Criterion Collection releases.
See, that the other thing: if you’re like me and are a culture fetishist, and are someone who can’t bring themselves to download films for personal use because you crave the amazing packaging and included essays, work at a video store (or a record store, you get the idea) can be an ordeal. When all is said and done a service industry wage doesn’t go very far, and with all the special edition repackaging that’s been re-released in the past year, it’s led to some difficult decisions - as much as I love Dr. Strangelove, how can I do without L’Eclisse? These new film noirs distributed by Fox are great, but why aren’t they neatly coordinated in a box set? It might spare me a buck or two! Renting them isn’t enough; I want to have them right alongside my favorite books and music, be able to grab them down and watch them any time, not just when the store and my account are open!
My March was maddening because my steady diet of films had been cut off. Watch out for more frequent postings, including another (belated) edition of Being There dealing with Antonioni’s quadrilogy (upped the ante!) dealing with ennui and bourgeois morality - La Notte, L’Avventura, L’Eclisse, and The Red Desert.