Archive for the ‘Indie-Rock’ Category

Two shows to start the year

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

I closed 2009 with a whimper rather than a bang, not going to a single show in the last six weeks of the year. So it was nice to get back into it with a pair of shows here in DC early in 2010. Last Friday, I saw Massachusetts-based post-rockers Caspian at an amazingly packed The Red & the Black; last night, I saw a great metal double-bill of Jucifer and Salome at the Black Cat backstage.

The glib way to describe Caspian is “Explosions in the Sky but heavier and not as good.” They play a melodic, accessible, largely predictable brand of instrumental post-rock that does the soft-loud-soft thing religiously. One of the things that sets them apart is that their loud parts are really loud - and not just really loud, but quite heavy as well, with some good ol’ chunky riffage that appeals to the metal fan in me. Their live show had some pretty great, cathartic moments, but it didn’t take long before it kind of all started sounding the same, which I suppose is the major pitfall for most post-rock bands. Even the really great ones don’t always manage to avoid it (see: Mogwai, etc etc). Still, a fun show, and the last song ended with a huge percussion breakdown that was pretty cool.

One thing of note: Caspian’s drummer used a bare-bones kit of snare drum, bass drum, hi-hat and two cymbals. No toms to be found. To be honest, I missed the toms a bit. The band’s music doesn’t really demand much from their drummer, but a bit more variety in his sound might have helped keep the show from getting samey as quickly as it did.

As for last night, Jucifer and Salome were a real treat. I’ve seen both these bands multiple times at this point and really enjoy both of their live shows. They’re a perfect bill together: Jucifer completely eschews their poppy album material in favor of a pure wall of sound, while Salome plays (to steal words from a coworker and fellow metalhead) “doom with fifteen Os” - monstrously slow, sludgy, riff-centric metal, with a seriously ferocious vocalist. Neither disappointed at this show; although I think I enjoyed Jucifer’s last show in the area (at Baltimore’s Ottobar) a bit more than this one, I couldn’t really pinpoint why. Maybe because at the Ottobar show, I was able to pick out a few familiar riffs here and there and could actually tell what album material they were playing, albeit transformed into near unrecognizability - this time around, it was all completely unrecognizable to me.

Turnout at this show was great too. I’d guess 30-40 for both bands, which is great considering the last two times I saw Jucifer there were probably 20 people combined. The fact that folks came early to see Salome was awesome. People seemed into it, too, although with DC crowds it’s sometimes hard to tell. To be fair, this isn’t exactly mosh-pit music. Although it’d be fun to see a Salome mosh-pit. Slowest wall of death ever!

Anyway, I also just had a nice experience at this show talking with folks, which is something I often don’t get to do at metal shows. Enjoyed shooting the shit about why I don’t like current-day Mastodon, getting all prog-nerdy about the likes of Opeth, Symphony X, “Starless” and more, hearing Salome tour stories, etc etc, with various friends and band members. Definitely a great way to start a year in concerts.

Photos from the Jucifer/Salome show coming to a Washington City Paper Arts Desk post soon.

EXCITING CONCERT NEWS

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I like Joanna Newsom, like, a lot, and I missed her tour way back in 2006 because I didn’t think she could possibly sell out the 700ish-capacity Black Cat mainstage. Well, after years of no news, she’s finally up to something, after that teaser of a “secret show” last year. Playing a mini-tour of seven cities in the U.S. this spring, including a date in DC on March 22 at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. I’m so there. This WILL sell out fast as Newsom’s legend has grown mightily since that last tour, and Sixth & I’s capacity is only a couple hundred more than the Black Cat.

Also, there is yet another Wilco tour, which is hardly news since these guys seem to be practically Jucifer-like in their capacity for living on the road. But, the press release says that the tour will consist of “extended, varied sets exploring material from each of the accomplished Chicago sextet’s seven studio albums.” Since I don’t like the past couple albums very much, this is pretty great news. DC date is at Strathmore on March 30.

Other shows I am really psyched to see this spring: Atomic, Epica, Between the Buried and Me headlining with Cynic supporting. Also very curious to see how the Scion Rock Fest lineup shakes out this year - it’s apparently scheduled for March 13 but I can’t get much in the way of confirmation on that date.

Not finished with Joanna Newsom yet…

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

The other night I rediscovered an old audience video recording of Joanna Newsom playing live in Philly. I wrote this one up favorably before, but Mike McLatchey does it better at Outer Music Diary. Here’s part of what he said:

…where I was expecting something related to indie rock, I ended up watching a virtuoso harpist and band play a unique blend of folk music, classical sophistication and modern song stylings. Vocally she reminds me quite a bit of a nascent Alanis Morrisette although a Morrisette infected by some old Appalachian folk singer. It’s clear she’s a prodigy and while I was warned about her voice, which must have spawned from the fact she hadn’t started singing until recently, I found her style to be warm and intimate. Her harp playing is another matter, it at least seems masterful, an adjective I’m hesitant to use being that I can count the harpists I know on one hand. But this is skill, just watching her two hands, as independent as a good drummer’s, play counter melodies and rhythms, often changing or doubling tempos within an overall 4 beat itself, was mesmerizing. It’s kind of baffling she has the popularity she does, although her combination of accessible songcraft with virtuoso musicianship is a rare one.

Yes: the joy of this video is getting to see Newsom play harp. Wow. Oh hey, and the torrent is still (barely) alive at Dimeadozen, amazingly enough. Go fetch if you’re a fan, you won’t regret it.

EDIT: Please click through to the comments for a direct download of the video. Thanks to Will Davis!

Joanna Newsom is back!!

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Joanna Newsom news has been scarce ever since her 2007 EP release; she played a couple isolated shows last year but nothing else. She has no real website and no Myspace page. I’ve been stalking her ever since Ys came out, and have been vaguely worried that she got bored with music or something like that. But there’s great news: she debuted about two hours of new music (!) this past weekend, some of which saw her play piano instead of harp.

It’s always an interesting moment when one of your favorite artists takes to the stage to showcase their next evolution of musical progress. However, from the first pluck of her harp through the last note the performance was nothing short of rapturous. The makeup of her new songs combines the strong melodic presence of songs on the Milk-Eyed Mender with her continued instrumentational prowess and maturation beyond Y’s. It was unclear how many of the songs covered in the course of the two and a half hour set would ever be recorded, but there was never a sour note or “should be cut” moment to be heard. If anything a double album here would make perfect sense, and be one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve heard in ages.

Go read the full article. The sentence “after seeing her new material performed live I think it could easily be her strongest, most enjoyable album to date” also appears. So yeah, Ys might be my favorite album of the decade and I’m kind of uncontrollably excited right now.

Hat tip to the ol’ Pitchfork.

Pitchfork & PopMatters on the new Decemberists

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Pitchfork reviews The Hazards of Love and gives it a lowly 5.7. In the summary blurb, the phrases “stoner metal sludge” and “prog-folk” are invoked. On the other hand, while PopMatters’ review starts with the ominous phrase “There have been signs that this was coming” and compares the album to GenesisLamb (usually a kiss of death in a mainstream publication these days), the review ends up being very positive indeed. All this makes me feel cautiously optimistic about how I might like this one. I haven’t bothered listening to the low-bitrate version that leaked a couple weeks ago, so I’m looking forward to hearing the release with fresh ears.

Also reviewed today at Pitchfork: Kylesa’s new one, Static Tensions. Kylesa are a hip sludgy metal group with at times very distinct Pink Floyd influences, two drummers, and a rotating cast of vocalists (though the chief screamer is guitarist Laura Pleasants, who rocks). Pitchfork gave it a good review, and I agree: this is a good ‘un.

Battles… zzzzzz

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

I saw Battles, those math-rock sensations, last night at the 9:30 Club. (Random note: for some reason, saying “math rock” to people not familiar with the genre makes them snicker. Try it, it’s fun.) I didn’t even bother to bring my camera — that’s two shows in a row (saw Robert Plant & Alison Krauss on Friday night, and never got a photo pass confirmed for that one). Left me plenty of headspace to focus on the music. I have Mirrored and, honestly, it doesn’t do much for me, which is disappointing because so many people who like the same kind of stuff I do have been raving about it. But I’ve heard great things about their concerts, and there have been many a band that turned me into a fan through their live performances, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

There was no mistaking what this band is all about, based on their stage setup: the drummer was placed front and center, flanked by three guys playing guitar or bass, each of them doubling on keyboards or electronics. Said drummer was definitely the center physically as well as visually — this guy has the most inefficient drumming style ever, with each stroke preceded by a backswing akin to a golfer’s. It was indicative of his lack of compactness of movement that he had a massive cymbal raised three feet above his head, for no good reason other than it looked cool whenever he had to raise his arm all the way up to strike it. With all that flailing, it was amazing that he could play as fast and as precisely as he did.

And no doubt, these guys are tight, and precise, and mathy. Oddly, they reminded me of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin more than anything else, in that the entire ensemble was basically one giant rhythm section, with the occasional jagged melody almost an afterthought. My complaint with Mirrored is that the melodies that do exist are kind of silly (which I realize is not an accident, and is probably the intent) and nothing to really get excited about, and that the band often get stuck in the same groove for way too long. Live, I hoped that their intensity would mitigate these things, but it didn’t really happen. They only played a 45 minute set, but by then I’d already pretty much had my fill. (If I’d been a real fan I would have been pretty pissed though.)

Guess this is one highly regarded band I’ll just have to let pass me by.

St. Vincent live: absolutely awesome

Friday, February 29th, 2008

On Tuesday, I saw St. Vincent, an indie-pop group headed up by charismatic frontwoman Annie Clark, who has done stints with The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens. Clark is a tremendous lyricist, vocalist and guitarist, and also has a penchant for great arrangements. St. Vincent’s music is a kind of melodic indie-pop that’s beautifully orchestrated and a bit off in left field a bit in terms of arrangements, song structures and so on. Their debut album, Marry Me, was a minor hit last year, so I was expecting a decent crowd. Still, her music is just enough out there that I wasn’t expecting a totally packed house, but that’s what it was. And it didn’t take me long to find out why.

As good as Marry Me is, it’s got nothing on this group’s live show. Live, these songs sound considerably different; most obviously, the band frequently tacked on noodling instrumental intros, but also there was just a lot more guitar in general. Turns out Clark is a hell of a guitarist, and her somewhat unpredictable style was pretty fun to watch and listen to — kind of a scorched-earth electric spazz-out but always with melody just around the corner. In particular, “Your Lips Are Red” featured some blistering instrumental work that just isn’t there on the studio version, and a new arrangement of “Paris Is Burning” was a simmering beast of a pop song that exploded into delicious cacophony more than once.

But the quieter, less abstruse (hi Ben) pieces fared just as well too. Chalk this up to Clark’s natural charisma as a vocalist — songs that I found just kind of middling on record became somehow beautiful live, especially with a crowd as rapt as this one was. Suffice to say, I came away impressed and a bigger fan than I was before.

This being the indie scene, there are a bunch of nice reviews of this show up in various places:
Black Plastic Bag
Counting Stars On the Ceiling
Baltimore Sun
Washington Post
Club D

Amusingly, two of these reviews mention the small army of amateur photographers at work at this show; naturally, I was one of them. (In fact I’m probably the one referenced in the Baltimore Sun review, as my unassuming, trusty little 50/1.8 lens is exactly the kind of thing that would inspire the photographically unaware to say something like “get a better lens.”) I’ve never been at a show with so many other people taking photos; it was a little disconcerting. I’m happy to report that of the ones I’ve seen show up online, my own are my favorite. Which is not really all that important to anyone but me, but at least it makes me feel a little less redundant.

Gross

Friday, January 4th, 2008

From a review of Joanna Newsom’s The Milk-Eyed Mender at rateyourmusic: “This sounds the way it feels when you grate your fingers along with the cheese, leaving clots of blood and sliced nuggets of skin on your creamy white pile of mozzarella… Abrasive.”

Yikes! I don’t agree with it, but that’s a pretty awesome, concise review right there.

The Freewheeling Yo La Tengo

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Got a little lull in concertgoing (there are a couple shows of interest at An Die Musik this weekend, but I’m going to take a break), so it’s time to catch up a bit on the backlog. Last week, Yo La Tengo played at the Birchmere, kind of a weird venue for an indie-rock trio known for making a shitload of delicious guitar feedback noise on top of a steady, almost Krautish pulse. The reason they were playing at this venue — an intimate dinner club whose more usual fare are singer-songwriters, country musicians and aging rockers — was the nature of this tour, dubbed “The Freewheeling Yo La Tengo.” The concept was basically that they would play “semi-acoustically,” kicking off with a couple songs and then opening up the rest of the concert to questions and requests.

There aren’t too many bands out there that can pull this off. Ideally, it requires a large and diverse repertoire of songs, the ability to play them acoustically, the ability to play any one of them on cue, a devoted and knowledgeable fan base, and the charisma to be able to sit on stage and answer questions without boring your audience stiff. I’m having a hard time thinking of any other bands that could actually do this, but Yo La Tengo managed to do it and be entertaining throughout. It helps that they’re one of the most endearing bands around, consisting of a married couple (he on guitars, she on drums) and a third-wheel bassist, all of whom have been playing music together for multiple decades (okay, the bassist is the relative “new guy,” having only been in the band for 15 years or so). The vibe these guys give off is one of relaxed confidence, like they’ve been together for so long they can handle pretty much anything the audience throws at them. In particular, guitarist Ira Kaplan was comfortably engaging and funny onstage, appropriate as it’s his guitar pyrotechnics that — for this listener at least — really propel the band to their most exhilirating musical heights.

I waited too long to pen this writeup, as I no longer remember much about the questions that were asked, but the band encouraged people to ask about anything, not just music. Nevertheless, for the most part the questions (mercifully in my opinion) stuck to Yo La Tengo’s music; the most off-topic it got was, “what’s your favorite Simpsons episode and why?” — and even that one became YLT-related since the answer was “well, the one that we did the music for, obviously.”

Musically, Yo La Tengo has a long and impressively diverse discography. I had expected them to stick mostly to the quieter stuff, or at least the poppier stuff. For the first half of the show or so, this was the case; they played a lot of their contemplative, slow-paced material, of which I generally find about half to be beautiful and half forgettable. But they did end up playing some louder stuff. It turned out that by “semi-acoustic,” what they really meant was “electric, but without distortion.” To my surprise and delight, they even played “The Story of Yo La Tango,” which is a 12-minute epic of guitar feedback and distortion over an insistent motorik beat. Kaplan did crank up a tiny bit of distortion on this one, but far less than usual, and the effect was fascinating, more spacious if not quite as compelling as the original.

For the first bit of the show I was kind of wishing the band would stop talking so much and just play more music. But it didn’t take long for me to warm up to them, and it ended up being a really neat experience punctuated by some great music. They didn’t blow my mind like they did last year (when Kaplan beat up on his guitar the way Cecil Taylor beats the shit out of pianos), but it was a pleasant evening and a rare look into the workings of one of the most long-lived bands in the turbulent world of indie-rock.

The new Radiohead

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

A couple days ago I finally downloaded the new Radiohead album, In Rainbows. I still haven’t quite figured out what I think about their distribution method (if you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, they are offering the album as a download and allowing fans to pay whatever they want for it; a CD release isn’t coming until next year). I decided to pay… nothing. I feel okay about that for a couple reasons: point one, these are 160kbps MP3s we’re talking about here, not lossless files or even VBR MP3s; and that ties into point two, that if I like this I’ll probably go ahead and pay for the CD when it comes out. Also, these guys make a shitload of money anyway and since I have the option, I’d rather invest my music budget into bands that lose money with every record and play in shitty holes in the wall for 5 fans at a time.

Kick over any given virtual rock on the Internet and you’ll find a debate about this innovation in music distribution, so I won’t get into that here. Regarding the music itself, well, it’s okay. I probably like it more than anything they’ve done since Kid A, so that’s great, but I’m not exactly blown away. As a tangent, I find it really amusing the way that Pitchfork likes to verbally fellate this band to a ridiculous extent, giving the album a 9.3 (I honestly thought they were going to give it a 10.0 even before they ever heard it) and running like five or six news articles and full-length features about the album, in addition to the review. Sometimes that website is just absurd. In any case, In Rainbows is definitely a solid effort, if a surprisingly chilled-out one, and I’m looking forward to listening to it some more. I don’t think it’ll ever rate the equivalent of a 9.3 on my scale, though. That’s what, a Gnosis 14? No, I expect this one’s more like a strong 10.

Maybe the most fun thing about this sucker is that there’s no cover art provided, so fans have taken it upon themselves to make their own. Here’s a place with a ton of covers, some of which are really, really great. But my choice for easily the best of the bunch is this one: