Archive for February, 2005

The New York Times on prog

Sunday, February 27th, 2005

There’s a great article in the Sunday New York Times this week about The Mars Volta’s upcoming Frances the Mute, and about prog in general. The author name-drops the usual groups like Dream Theater and Rush, but also mentions Cuneiform Records as well as post-rockers Mogwai and Sigur Rós. The review of Frances the Mute itself is very positive — I’m going to have to check this thing out; I was reasonably impressed by the band’s debut full-length, De-Loused in the Comatorium, though I didn’t think as highly of it as a lot of folks — but the comments on prog in a broader sense are also great. For instance:

Until recently, neither fans nor mockers admitted that progressive rock could also provide some of the same thrills - speed, whipsaw changes, sheer pummeling impact - as punk. That’s why many of prog’s musical twists migrated elsewhere in the 1980’s and 1990’s: the odd meters to hardcore and thrash metal, the dissonance to primitivist art rock, the convoluted song structures to indie rock and its proud subset of math rock.Prog may have been hopelessly uncool, but it was nothing if not alternative. Despite its brainy reputation, at its core it was a rebellion against ordinary pop. By any objective reckoning, it was also deeply demented. Who, after all, would labor over a suite in 13/4 time pondering the meaning of free will when the way to gigs and hits was with catchy love songs?

Nice to see prog not only not get a bad rap, but even actually garner praise, even if indirect, in a (very) mainstream publication.

The Postal Service on a soundtrack

Saturday, February 26th, 2005

It was only a matter of time, and I’m surprised it took this long: The Postal Service have finally made their way onto a soundtrack. I saw an ad for some new hospital drama (what is it with hospital dramas? I’ll never understand what goes on in the boardrooms where corporate stooges decide what to make TV shows about) in which “Such Great Heights” (or at least some oddly sped-up version of it) off of Give Up was used as the background music. Great song, weird context. End result: I felt nauseated.

Wilco @ the 9:30 Club

Friday, February 25th, 2005

So I saw Wilco last night at the 9:30 Club here in DC. I think this might be the first time I’ve seen a Grammy Award-winning band in concert. Ha.

In any case, being a Grammy Award-winning band automatically means that the makeup of your audience is going to change slightly. In this case, it seemed to me that the audience was more annoying than usual for the 9:30 (at least compared to shows I’ve been to) - there were a lot of folks talking loudly during songs and stuff. Or maybe it was just the asshole next to me. Hmm.

Anyway, I was watching Nels Cline a lot. He was outstanding. For a large part of the show - half or more of the main set - he was the lead guitarist, with bandleader Jeff Tweedy playing rhythm. His leads were clean and beautiful for the most part - the man plays with a lot of feeling. I was a little disappointed that some of the wilder freakout sections were led by Tweedy - don’t get me wrong, I love Tweedy’s soloing, and it’s pretty out there on its own; I just wanted to hear what Cline would do given the freedom to completely let loose. It never quite seemed as if he had that freedom, but I guess that shouldn’t be surprising given that, fundamentally, despite all their weirdness, Wilco is a pop-rock band, not a free jazz combo. Cline seemed like he was really into it and having a great time; I was wondering if there would be hints of restlessness as his being a mere sideman in a pop band, but I didn’t see any.

Amusingly, for the first half of the show it almost seemed like Wilco was fucking with their new fans. They were steadfastly refusing to play the big poppy hits like “Heavy metal drummer” (though they did play “Hummingbird” fairly early, and man was it weird to see Cline play a saccharine pop song like that one!), instead focusing on making lots of noise with their guitars and electronics. By the time the encores (two of ‘em) rolled around, though, the band was in crowd-pleasing mode. That said, “Misunderstood,” the only remaining mega-hit from Being There, ends on a distinctly anti-pop note, with Tweedy screaming “Nothing!” over and over and over and over again (as part of the refrain “I’d like to thank you all for nothing at all”). I love this part of the song, if only because it goes on and on and on to the point of discomfort, and it’s fascinating to see how different people react to it. It’s the kind of thing that’s intentionally tailored towards alienating an audience, but the funny thing is that Wilco has become so popular that even that intentional alienation isn’t enough to keep fans from cheering wildly.

The closer of the main set was also the best song the band played - “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” from A Ghost is Born. This is a ten-minute Krautrock freakout which basically gives Tweedy an excuse to flail wildly on his guitar. The studio cut is a bit tame and therefore seems over-long sometimes, but I still enjoy it. Live, it’s a different thing altogether. Tweedy was shredding, and Cline - though disappointingly mostly playing rhythm - also had a few moments of complete, blissful sonic violence. Holy crap, this piece was a fucking beast. The soloing was noisy and amelodic, but so intense and passionate that everyone in the club seemed ecstatic. Great moment.

Those thoughts were pretty scattered, but suffice it to say it was a good show. They played for a long time - two and a half hours or so. I came away very impressed by Nels Cline - I would really like to see him in a jazz context now. I’m not sure I liked the show as much as the one I saw at Yale a couple years ago, but that might have been because I knew more of what to expect this time around. Two years ago, I knew to expect something a little out of the ordinary, but the avant elements of Wilco’s sound took me totally by surprise back then. This time, I might have been anticipating those avant elements (especially given Cline’s presence) a little too much.

Incidentally, the show was streamed on NPR and is still available on their website, if you’re interested.

The Yale Herald hates Wilco

Friday, February 25th, 2005

One last Wilco post. I found this gem in the Yale Herald, Yale’s weekly student newspaper, regarding the selection of the band that was to play at Yale’s Spring Fling in 2004, following Wilco’s performance in 2003:

Following a lengthy selection process, last Friday’s announcement of the band that will be playing at Spring Fling came as a welcome sign that this year’s finale will be far and away the best act that we have had in a long time. After last year’s disappointing display of musical mediocrity by Wilco, Third Eye Blind’s performance is bound to lift our spirits and restore our trust in the Yale College Council’s ability to entertain the student body… Four guys with a reputation of strutting their stuff on stage to cheering crowds will hopefully provide a refreshing contrast to last year’s painful attempts by thousands of students to forget Wilco’s monotonous melodies by imbibing early and often.

Third Eye Blind. Ha!

Upcoming DC-area concerts

Friday, February 25th, 2005

Speaking of live music, after a long winter drought, there are suddenly a lot of DC-area shows I’m interested in going to in the near future:

  • March 1 - Rachel’s at the Black Cat
  • March 20 - Ozric Tentacles at the State Theatre (Falls Church, VA)
  • March 22 - Slint at the 9:30 Club
  • April 20 - The Fucking Champs at the Black Cat
  • May 6 - Autechre at the Black Cat
  • May 6 - The Decemberists at the 9:30 Club

The Autechre/Decemberists conflict is really unfortunate. I would be fascinated to see Autechre live - I imagine it’s just a couple guys sitting in front of their laptops, but the idea piques my interest. However, I’ll definitely be going to see The Decemberists instead, as those guys have become one of my favorite indie-rock bands in recent memory. Too bad.

Nels Cline in Guitar Player

Thursday, February 10th, 2005

Somehow Nels Cline - avant-jazz guitarist and relatively new member of Wilco - has found himself on the cover of an upcoming issue of Guitar Player, and the feature article is an interview with him by none other than Barry Cleveland. The interview’s been posted online, and it’s a good one. There’s a little bit of talk about Cline’s The Giant Pin, with his amusingly misnamed trio The Nels Cline Singers; this is a fantastic album that really straddles the rock/jazz line more effectively than a lot of the stuff I’ve heard lately (and I’ve heard a lot of stuff lately that tries exactly that).

Most interesting in this interview is when Cleveland asks what Cline would like the next Wilco album to sound like:

My take would be based on something Jeff has already suggested—which is a lot of beautifully wrought, interlaced guitar work where we’re highly involved with each other’s parts, and yet there’s still plenty of room for the keyboards. I’m completely into the overtones created by stringed instruments being played together, because, inherently, they’re going to be a little out of tune, and I think that microtonality is part of the glory of a rock band. To plumb that concept further—possibly with some extreme use of effects for balance—would make for an inspiring-sounding record.

That sounds pretty awesome to me. I’m going to see these guys in concert on February 24th here in DC - I’m incredibly excited. I’ll be sure to report.

Help save Tonic

Friday, February 4th, 2005

Two things, one important, one not. First, if you live in or around the NYC area and like avant-garde music of all shades, you’re probably aware of Tonic, somewhere off Delancey St on the Lower East Side if I remember (I haven’t been there in a couple years). It’s a great club, I’ve been there a few times, I think I saw Sigur Rós there the first time, actually. They also hosted the big Zorn/Tzadik 50th birthday celebration. Anyway, they’re in financial trouble that sounds like it has more to do with real estate and associated expenses in NYC than anything else, so they’re asking for help. I implore folks to check out their website and make a contribution if you feel so inclined - especially if you’ve been there before or see shows on their calendar that you’re interested in (Tim Berne’s Acoustic Hard Cell band is playing soon, as is Masada String Trio…).

The other thing is frivolous: to add to my list in the previous post, another upcoming new release I’m watching for is The Decemberists‘ new one, Picaresque, which I believe is due out March 22. These guys are an indie-rock group that excels at a sort of heavily orchestrated, lushly produced, melodic folk sound; but most prominent are the lyrics, which are well-read, almost literary, and which invariably tell great stories. Their latest release is an EP, The Tain, consisting of a single 20-minute epic that completely rocks. In any case, most of the comments I’m reading about Picaresque now indicate that it’s their best album yet, which is saying something since I don’t think they’re released anything that I would rate as less than “very good”.