Category Archives: live

The Besnard Lakes, Modified, 9/20/07

The Besnard Lakes could play Devastation for an hour, and I’d be happy. For a second, it looked like they might on Thursday night. It was only the second song in the set, but with the fog machine blasting and feedback blaring, an already epic song was bubbling over in effects and distortion.

Ah, I suppose it had to end sometime. But Devastation, as I’ve noted before, is a monster, a runaway train, a cannonball, a raging bull, King Kong. You get the picture. The Besnards didn’t play it when they came through Phoenix in March, so it was mandatory they do it this time. I just didn’t expect it so early in the set. The song is so grand, I’d just assume it’s tailor made as a closer; that that task fell to And You Lied to Me, which ended in a cacophony of feedback, capped by Olga Goreas’ solo display of manipulated bass distortion/buzz/fuzz.

Everything about Besnard’s sound swirls and envelops. Three guitars – all sprawling and whammy bar-ed up – have me thinking that earplugs will be a wise investment for my next show. Drummer Kevin Laing actually apologized afterward, saying it was the worst he’s played. With a brick wall behind him and a wall of sound in front him, he said he couldn’t hear a thing. Their timing might have been a little disrupted during Disaster, but nobody would have been the wiser.

We were fortunate enough to be treated to a live rendering of the recently released 12″ single Casino Nanaimo (get it at eMusic), the first time the band has played it live, according to frontman Jace Lasek, who by the way, sorta looks like a cross between John Lennon and the Greatest American Hero. “As Frank Zappa said,” Lasek said, jokingly, “this song is hard to play.”

But if I’ve learned anything from the Besnard Lakes, it’s this: I want a fog machine. When I walk into work, boom!, fog. When I come home, roll the fog. Finish dinner? Fog. When the Besnard Lakes use it (pedal-activated, by the way), it doesn’t seem ironic or kitschy or jokey. It’s just like: We are about to play a huge eight-minute song with effects and distortion and loud guitars and we’re also going to blast fog all over this tiny space … that’s how we roll. I love it.

Anyway, more Canadians await Friday: We are driving to Tucson to see the New Pornographers, who reportedly are touring with Neko Case and Dan Bejar.

  • The Besnard Lakes | Devastation

Pictures from Paid Dues Festival

I spent Friday afternoon/night at Mesa Amphitheatre for the Paid Dues Festival, a gathering of some of the finest names in indie/underground hip-hop.

Despite the heat, the show seemed to be a success. More than 1,500 turned out. For a Friday in immense heat, that ain’t too shabby. As promised, I did live blog it for work if you want a more detailed rundown of the day.

Otherwise, I was impressed with the entire show. Specifically, I got to see some acts I hadn’t before: Brother Ali, Sage Francis, Felt (Murs and Slug) and Living Legends.

A few pics after the jump, and you’ll notice no pics after the sun went down because, well, I’m not a professional photographer: Continue reading

Blitzen Trapper: Wild Mountain Nation

Note: He’s too modest to say it, so please welcome Casey to the fold. Casey is a long-time podcaster, first-time blogger. He’s a co-worker, but I met Casey at a Shins concert, so I knew I could coax him into this tangled mp3 Web. His tastes are matched by his quality writing. So I’m hoping this is just the first of many posts from him.

Wild Mountain Nation by Blitzen Trapper

As venues go, the northeast corner of Stinkweeds poses certain challenges to the modern indie rock band. For starters, the amplification is iffy. The audience, while vaguely appreciative, will spend a significant portion of your set browsing used CDs. And then there’s the space issue: Any band bigger than the White Stripes will find itself spilling into the aisles, competing for attention with displays for new albums by Bright Eyes and Spoon.

Fortunately, Portland sextet Blitzen Trapper made the most of things this weekend during an in-store performance at Stinkweeds. With 25 or so skinny white dudes looking on, the band dived into a series of crowd pleasers off their new record, Wild Mountain Nation. Frontman Eric Earley warmed the crowd up with a VH1 Storytellers take on JJ Cale’s “Cocaine,” after which the band began distributing a handful of maracas into the crowd. (Web 2.0 meets the rhythm section!) I would have grabbed one but found myself too far back in the crowd, so I settled for stomping my foot.

It’s worth mentioning what a weird record this Wild Mountain Nation is – the erratic, rambunctious opener, “Devil’s A Go-Go,” transitions into the polished country-rock of the title track, and then into the Shins-like indie pop of “Futures and Folly.” This continues throughout the record: Lengthy, raucous bursts of noise give way to sparkling AM country radio ballads. It’s easy to name-check the band’s influences – Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Sonic Youth, Pavement – but harder to describe the way those disparate forces come together on Wild Mountain Nation. The record manages to feel familiar and disorienting all at once.

But back to Stinkweeds. The six Blitzen Trappers are refreshingly uncool in person, looking uniformly like extras on some great lost season of That 70s Show. They apologized that they would only be able to play a handful of songs, on account of being down a keyboard or two, and that they wouldn’t be as loud as they were a few weeks back opening for the Hold Steady at the Brickhouse. But by the time Earley launched into the gorgeous Americana of “Country Caravan,” no one much seemed to mind.

Eventually, word came down that the evening’s headliner, David Vandervelde, had broken down in the desert and would not be appearing. This was fantastic news, I thought: Blitzen Trapper could play some more songs! The band looked actually looked a bit worried upon learning of the Vandervelde breakdown – minus those extra keyboards, they said, their repertoire was rather limited. So I politely suggested “Futures and Folly,” and the band quickly agreed and began playing it. It was great.

After 45 minutes or so, the band played its last song. I wondered about the economics of sending six guys from Portland to Phoenix to play nine or 10 songs for 25 people who had paid $5 apiece. But Blitzen Trapper seemed to be enjoying themselves – Pitchfork had just anointed Wild Mountain Nation with its Best New Music crown, and last week Sub Pop announced they had just signed the band.

Look for them soon at a tiny record store near you. (Tour dates from Pitchfork.)

07-19 Hattiesburg, MS – Thirsty Hippo $
07-20 Atlanta, GA – Drunken Unicorn $
07-21 Wilmington, NC – Bella Festa $
07-22 Washington, DC – Rock and Roll Hotel $
07-23 Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brenda’s $
07-24 Allston, MA – Great Scott $
07-25 New York, NY – Mercury Lounge $
07-26 Buffalo, NY – The Icon $
07-27 Ann Arbor, MI – Blind Pig $
07-28 Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
07-29 Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock
07-30 Omaha, NE – The Slowdown !
07-31 Denver, CO – Hi-Dive %
08-01 Salt Lake City, UT – Kilby Court
08-03 Seattle, WA – Crocodile Cafe ^

$ with David Vandervelde
! with Coyote Bones
% with Smoosh, Aqueduct
^ with Jennifer Gentle

Why John Vanderslice is admired above all others

1. Another amazing show on Tuesday at Modified, the second in almost exactly a year.

2. He brought people from crowd on stage to play bass and sing backup vocals. This is such a simple gesture that turns what could be another live show into a pretty sincere and genuine moment.

3. Time Travel is Lonely. Damn.

4. He asked someone in crowd to order pizza – extra large, cheese.

5. He talked about said pizza all night.

6. When pizza arrived, someone blurted out: “Hey. The pizza’s here!” Kinda like in Naked Gun, when that fan spots Frank Drebin and shouts, “Hey! It’s Enrico Palazzo!”

7. Domino’s delivery man, Al, arrived and handed pizza to JV on stage. JV then proceeded to collect more than $100 tip for the guy.

8. He brought the gorgeous St. Vincent back on stage to play bass. Bless him.

9. He encouraged recording, videotaping, YouTubing, etc.

10. He took everyone outside to finish the show by singing (with St. Vincent) Nikki Oh Nikki in the dirt parking lot adjacent to Modified. So cool. (UPDATE: YouTube video has been posted.)

11. He invited everyone back inside for a “dance party” – “We’re going to listen to Nas and Clipse.” Seriously.

12. When I chatted with him afterward, he said, “Thanks for caring.” Whaaaat? No musician says that. Is this guy for real?

13. New album due in July. (Information at Barsuk.)

14. He promised return trip.

15. Papa John’s arrived after show with two more pizzas.

Asleep in the Sea played its final show

Where were you when Asleep in the Sea played its last show? I was there, at the Trunk Space, amid the sweaty, smelly and hopped-up kids of the mostly under-21 set. They laughed, they cried (wait, no they didn’t) and they moshed (seriously, they did).

It was pretty apparent from the get-go that the farewell would be far from serious, a reflection of the lighthearted manner that makes (errr, made) the group so great to begin with. They took requests for pretty much the entire set – save for the opener (Annie) and the closer (Dance On). They also entertained the angsty/hormonal antics of the skinny-jeaned kids souped up on flavored soda: “Fuck you!” and “Don’t break up!” and “Fuck you!” It was touching. Actually, it was somewhat inspiring and heart-warming to see so many people sing along to the songs when this city is often panned for its lack of local support. That said, I could have lived without the moshing/body contorting/”dancing” or whatever you want to call it.

But, hey, I guess it’s nice to see the sense of finality tempered by some levity. Because if it wasn’t the moshing, then there was the final sing-along to Dance On or people crashing the stage for an “encore” after fervent chants of “one more song!” These people are nothing if not dedicated. It’s enough to make you wish for just one more show.

Reunion, anyone?

The Broken West: Live at SXSW (mp3s)

brokenwest.jpg

For those of us who weren’t fortunate enough to go to South By Southwest and shmooze and drink and eat breakfast tacos and drink and eat barbecue and drink more, well, we live vicariously through the hundreds of wrap-ups and roundups of the event.

Luckily, some kind folks even provide audio. Like WOXY, which hosted its “Everybody Needs a Nurse” party, featuring the Broken West, Aqueduct and more.

The Broken West’s I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On (on Merge and available at eMusic) is gaining steam as my Record of the Moment (behind only El-P’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead). So it was great to see WOXY make available an mp3 from the group’s set, especially because I missed the Broken West come through Phoenix last month.

But when people talk about short sets at SXSW, I had no idea. This one doesn’t even reach 18 minutes. Nevertheless, I almost feel like I’m there … you know, except without Lone Star beer.

For convenience, I split the original file into individual files. Download the uncut version here. (On a side note, WOXY has a new blog, The Futurist.)

The Broken West, live at SXSW, 3/16/07:

  • On the Bubble
  • Big City
  • Slow
  • So It Goes
  • Brass Ring

Jonah Matranga, Frank Turner, Joshua English
3/18/07, Modified, Phoenix

Whenever I start feeling resentful that people in this city aren’t coming out to shows or don’t appreciate musicians I think deserve it, I then wonder if I’d ever feel if a show like Sunday’s with Joshua English, Frank Turner and Jonah Matranga would be as intimate and memorable.

The turnout was modest and probably on target for a Sunday night. I’d guess about 30-35 were at Modified, a venue that probably could hold no more than 150 anyway. But instead of enduring awkward, empty spaces in the air, the artists – and the fans – were truly engaging, which is actually more encouraging than a packed show where people care more about chatting/drinking than the reason for which they bought a ticket. (And damn it if we don’t deserve at least a pat on the back for sitting in a venue whose air-conditioning was broken; don’t laugh, it was 87 degrees on Sunday. Yes, I know, it’s only March.)

At any rate, credit goes first to the artists, all of whom were wonderfully thorough and sincere – not just for how they play the music but for the way they set up the songs. There were stories behind them, and they felt compelled to open this window and share. By their nature, shows – especially small, acoustic-type gatherings as this – have the potential to stick with someone far longer than the two or three hourse they spent at the venue. Yet how many times do bands/singers tick off songs one after another with nothing more than a “thanks” in between? We connect to songs because we relate to them, to what a singer is saying or to what we interpret them as saying.

Nothing creates a more personal atmosphere than when an artist discloses his motives or inspiration. Jonah didn’t have to tell us he cried when his daughter got braces, and that this moment meant something more than she could grasp. But someone gets it, probably someone at the show. And they understand why he’d write a song about undying love for someone special.

In that regard, Jonah is unapologetically forthright and a heart-on-the-sleeve kind of guy. Other than John Vanderslice, I can’t think of a more accessible and fan-friendly musician. To wit: After about 30-35 minutes of playing new material, Jonah thanked the crowd for letting him indulge in playing newer songs, as if we’d just done him a huge favor. In return, he took impromptu requests – including anything from Onelinedrawing, New End Original and Far. (Did he really just play Bury White and Man Overboard – ahem, my request – on an acoustic gee-tar? Holy crap.) The man has a voice that could fill a room 10 times the size of Modified and yet his demeanor is humble and unassuming. Witness Jonah sitting on the front of the stage, with no mics, around-the-campfire style, to play his closer, a touching new song called So Long.

Likewise, Joshua English and Frank Turner made plenty of new friends. Turner, from England, can crank his voice to surprising heights, giving his charming songs for the everyman significant heft. What can you say about a guy with a Black Flag tattoo on his wrist and a Metallica sticker on his (acoustic) guitar? His words feel familiar and unpretentious – we all have our problems and Turner happens to write excellent songs about them.

English is a striking figure – tall and tattooed. He plays with a band on his LP Trouble None (out April 17), yet he appeared entirely comfortable as a man alone in a more stripped-down setting. What gets me is his voice. He has a tone and style that is hard to nail down in words: fluid and unique is the best I can do, and that’s not even fair.

As I mentioned previously, English’s knack for the two-and-a-half-minute gem is a rare and precise talent. Closing with a song like Miles, all 1:49 of it, leaves you both sated and wanting more because of lines like this: “See I know the difference between the life you live and a line you lifted from a book you read.

Starlight Mints/Bishop Allen, Rhythm Room, 11/5/06

Thursday’s show was the second time in the past year I’d seen Starlight Mints, and if there’s one thing I learned, it’s this: Starlight Mints make people dance. In weird, inspired ways. In that-person-has-no-rhythm sort of ways. We’re talking Elaine Dance material, with no regard to self-consciousness.

I suppose it stands to reason, all this dancing/contorting, given Starlight Mints’ big, even-tempoed numbers. Even the opener, the instrumental Rhino Stomp, has a name that seems to aptly describe the sound, like a menacing march of drums. The whole procession is complemented by visual mayhem: two standing light sticks on either side of the stage that glow and flash intermittently and a running projection show that mostly streams abstract images of lines and shapes, kind of like the album art on Drowaton. The entire stage set-up looks elaborate: keyboards, laptops, projector, megaphones, etc. In the live setting, you can really see how much the group relies on keyboard- and MIDI-produced sounds for horns and orchestral-type instruments.

It’s indicative of the band’s somewhat oddball leanings. But I appreciate that singer/guitarist Allan Vest keeps the weirdness somewhat reined in, making the music approachable and totally likable. A little too much quirkiness can be exhausting and off-putting. Starlight Mints make it work to their advantage.

[mp3] Starlight Mints | Inside of Me

I have a minor confession to make: I’ve been included on Bishop Allen’s monthly e-mails to bloggers but never had posted on the New York quartet. If you haven’t kept up, Bishop Allen is nearing the end of its EP-a-month project, in which the group is releasing 12 EPs this year and titling them by the month of their releases. My gut reaction was to write it off as a gimmick, albeit a damn creative one. Twelve EPs at $5 per; you do the math. My guess is, though, the publicity is worth far more. (For starters, you might find a post or 20 over at You Ain’t No Picasso.)

For all my cynicism (justified or not), Bishop Allen won me over on Thursday. (And, for the record, I purchased the July EP afterward.) A friend commented afterward that Bishop Allen stole the show. I don’t know if I’d agree totally, but the group certainly held sway, and I caught a few people in the crowd singing along, which suggests the buzz is out there – even in the desert.

Because of a narrow stage front to back, the group lined up nearly in a single-file line left to right. It was a very egalitarian arrangement – drummer in the front! – and added a different visual aesthetic. (The group’s singer, Justin Rice, told me afterward the set-up was out of necessity, but the guys all seemed to like it, which could lead to future experiments with it.) It certainly didn’t hurt. The band’s chemistry was readily apparent – lots of knowing nods and glances to each other as they played, all gestures that seemed to say they were locked in.

More important for me is I finally have some concrete notion of who/what Bishop Allen is. If you read enough blogs and see a band’s name out there so much, you tend to regard it as just some abstract idea or notion. A live show, especially one as good as this, gives me tangible evidence that this band is as talented as everyone said. And damn if closing with Things Are What You Make of Them is about the wisest move the group can make. That song will stick with you; hell, it will stick to you … oh, dear: I’m drinking the Bishop Allen Kool-Aid.

[mp3] Bishop Allen | Click Click Click Click
[mp3] Bishop Allen | Things Are What You Make of Them

The Album Leaf, Rhythm Room, 10/18/06

So, um, when did the Album Leaf become so popular? I’m not trying to say that Jimmy LaValle and Co. don’t deserve it because their show was tremendous, and as someone who had a passing interest in their music, it inspired me to listen a little closer. But I was not expecting a sellout with upward of about 300 people at the Rhythm Room.

No doubt the Album Leaf’s presence on Sub Pop helps. Although maybe nothing benefits an indie artist more these days it seems than having music featured on The O.C., which LaValle’s was from his previous album, In a Safe Place. (In a slight coincidence, the under-21 area, conveniently sectioned off right next to the merch table, was crammed.) As cranky over-21ers, we settled in ever so uncomfortably right next to the bar. From there, it was a bit difficult to see a seated LaValle play his various keyboards and electronic toys, although the atmospheric mood of his music – even live with the band in front of you – asks more of your auditory senses than visual.

Perhaps compensating for that, the band – four guys in all – plays almost in time with a video companion, a different visual theme for each song. A makeshift movie screen behind the band projects images that are artsy and abstract – a woman painting her fingernails, a black and white Western, kaleidoscope-like color effects. Most of it seems in time to the music, which suggests some sort of choreography and careful thought and not just some slapdash set list thrown together in the tour van five minutes before the gig. I imagine it to be – on a much smaller scale, of course – similar to the effect Pink Floyd was after. In a way, because the Album Leaf’s music is mostly instrumental, the images almost give the music a soundtrack, some texture or context for which the fans can write their own words.

My wife, who never lets me slip, brought to my attention that I wasn’t exactly fond of Ratatat’s live show about a month earlier, noting in part my lukewarm tastes toward instrumental bands heavy, so what’s the difference here? Good question. The Album Leaf offers music a little more rich and dense; the live show was, for me anyway, thought-provoking. Ratatat, if we’re comparing (perhaps unfairly), came off a little self-absorbed; I don’t really get anything out of it other than what’s on the surface, which is electronic dance music. I’m not putting LaValle on a pedestal here, but I feel like I could explore his instrumental work more – the shape of it, the composition, the instruments – than with Ratatat.

Speaking of instrumental groups, one of the openers was the Lymbyc System, a duo which, unbeknownst to me, is from right here in Phoenix. The group is signed to Mush Records, a label that boasts a roster of pretty great experimental-type hip-hop acts as well (Busdriver, Daedelus, etc.). Apparently, I need to pay more attention because the Lymbyc System is opening for the Album Leaf this entire tour, which makes sense given the Lymbyc System’s big, synth-driven soundscapes.

(Final note: We showed up late, so we caught only two songs by locals Colorstore, about which I’ve heard nothing but good things. I bought a CD and plan to discuss them soon.)

The Album Leaf | Always For You
The Lymbyc System | Carved By Glaciers
Colorstore | Poor Bird

Cold War Kids, the Clubhouse, 10/12/06

Probably the first thing to note – or, rather, get out of the way – about Thursday’s Cold War Kids show at the Clubhouse is the subpar turnout. This seems more an indictment of the sometimes-apathetic scene here than Cold War Kids, who, after all, originally were scheduled to open for the Futureheads but had the foresight to keep the dates and headline themselves after Futureheads canceled. Had the show been booked with Cold War Kids as headliner from the get-go, it’s likely a smaller, more fitting venue would have been picked. But inside the Clubhouse, a fairly open, midsize venue, the 40 or so people who showed up made it feel rather empty.

I realize a few factors were at play here. The Futureheads’ cancellation didn’t help and Thrice was playing across town at Marquee Theater, possibly siphoning off some potential Clubhouse-goers. But I saw at least a couple people walk up to buy tickets who left once they found out the Futureheads canceled. That, to me, is the frustrating part. Hey, you’re already out; pay the $10 and take in a show, which turned out to be really damn good. Naturally, Cold War Kids packed their hometown Los Angeles show the previous night, so I wonder what their expectations/feelings were about coming to Arizona. But then, we saw Band of Horses at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix about six months apart and the second show was sold out, about 300 people compared to roughly 75 the first time. That’s a telling sign of the scene here – frustratingly fair-weather. I imagine as Cold War Kids continue to pick up steam, their next stop here will be significantly more crowded.

And their inevitable popularity won’t surprise me at all either, but I will reserve the right to bitch at the next show when we’re all shoulder to shoulder and I can’t buy a beer because it’s too crowded: “Where the hell were you people last time?” Just in the four months since we first saw them in Tucson, Cold War Kids appeared more grounded and confident in their live set, though, fortunately, that doesn’t mean any less energetic. Guitarist Jonnie Russell is a kinetic performer, stomping around and twisting his torso, a welcome bit of showmanship when singer Nathan Willett is tied to his piano bench.

That loose energy serves their songs well. They opened with We Used to Vacation, which sounded oddly cohesive for how many moving parts (piano, rattle, free-standing cymbal being bashed with said rattle) are taking place at once. The group is averse to boring three-chord pitfalls, each instrument taking off on different paths before meeting at the common goal. Singer Nathan Willett inevitably steers the whole thing straight. His voice can soar or dive in or out, up and down. It’s probably more impressive and powerful live than on record, which, I would guess, is not an easy feat.

As for favorites, well, Hospital Beds can do no wrong, and hearing that jogging guitar line on Rubidoux and that sturdy bassline on Hang Me Up to Dry (the closer) pretty much sealed my enjoyment for the evening.

Fellow Los Angelians (Los Angelites?, Los Angelists?) band from Los Angeles Foreign Born opened. I liked them quite a bit, though I hate hearing a band for the first time live because it never really sticks. I’m putting them on my radar for CD shopping. Anyway, they have a blog, too.

Cold War Kids
MySpace | official site
mp3 | Tell Me in the Morning

Foreign Born
MySpace | official site blog
mp3 | The Entryway