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Archive for January, 2007

DC sells out (lots of shows)

Monday, January 29th, 2007

The Washington, DC live music scene continues to surprise me. Last year, weird-ish shows like Animal Collective and Joanna Newsom sold out easily; Massive Attack sold out two consecutive shows at $40 apiece. This year, the madness has begun early, as The Decemberists instantly sold out a show at a $40 ticket price (nearly double what they asked for when they played here just a few months ago!), and the line to get tickets for a free Sufjan Stevens at the Kennedy Center numbered in the thousands.

I was in that line for free tickets — they were to be given out at 9am last Saturday, and I got there with a few friends at about 7:45am. When I saw the line of tents alongside the building, I knew we were in trouble. By our estimates, there were somewhere in the range of 1200-1500 people in front of us, with at least another 500 behind us by the time we realized it was hopeless and left just before 9am. Wow.

Värttinä @ the Birchmere

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

Saw Värttinä last night as mentioned in the previous entry. They were at The Birchmere, a nifty club in northern Virginia whose shows always seem to start and end on time (generally 7:30 til 9ish). Unfortunately they’re pricy and rarely get acts that interest me, occupying a classic-rock (which includes some proggy-prog stuff like Rick Wakeman and Carl Palmer’s tours last year), country, and singer-songwriter niche that only occasionally turns up something I want to pay big bucks to see. Värttinä seemed like an odd selection, but though the crowd was small, they absolutely ate it up. I was pretty unaffected though — but I’m not sure why as this was by any measure a pretty good performance.

The band consisted of three absurdly energetic female vocalists backed by a six-piece band (guitar, violin, accordion, bouzouki, bass, drums), all of whom seemed like excellent musicians. It was the vocalists who were the most intriguing for me, though, and the bits when they sung without instrumental backing were actually some of my favorite parts — in many ways the three-part harmonies were a lot more interesting than the relatively straightforward instrumental rock-outs. Also, there was a really long drum solo, which is never a good thing. So anyway, while “Charming Hostess with a Scandinavian-folk backing band” is a decent description, it also overstates how challenging the music is. In other words, this was a pretty standard affair for a Northside band: extremely competent, quite enjoyable, but well short of great. Maybe not worth the $26 I forked out, but it’s been nearly a month since my last live show and it definitely helped scratch that itch.

Some good concerts coming up

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

The concert season is slowly starting up here in DC… tomorrow I will probably be seeing Värttinä, another one of those Nordic folk-rock groups on Northside. I didn’t really intend to go see them since the show is $22.50 and I’ve never heard a note of their music, but a recent discussion of the Northside label at ProgressiveEars turned up a description of this group as kind of like the a cappella Charming Hostess with a full backing band. That was enough to sell me.

And last night, Didier Lockwood (of Magma Live fame) played at the French embassy. Sadly, I was out of town, but one of my housemates went and gave me a three-word summary: “it was awesome.” So, here’s to looking forward to a great 2007 in live music.

DVDs: Magma, Los Jaivas, Joanna Newsom

Friday, January 12th, 2007

I’m not generally a huge fan of music DVDs. Over the years I’ve developed a certain way of listening to music that allows me to multitask while still listening fairly actively. This is good and bad, because while it means I can listen to a LOT of music, it also means that the amount of time I spend doing nothing but listening to music has decreased — at some point I would like to go back to doing what I did at one point, dedicating an hour every night to doing nothing but close listening. But back to the DVDs thing: I can’t multitask when watching a music DVD (or any music with a video element). Sadly, this has become a pretty strong disincentive. That said, I’ve watched a few music films lately that completely engrossed me.

A while back I got the new Magma DVD, Epok II, with performances of Wurdah Ïtah, MDK and “De Futura” from Üdü Wüdü. A few nights ago I finally got around to watching part of it — just the Wurdah Ïtah performance. It was excellent — not jaw-dropping, but perhaps the rest of the film will floor me. I really loved the Trilogie DVD from a few years ago (wow, was it really over five years ago when that came out?), so I have high hopes for these new Epok DVDs. Still have not gotten my hands on the first one though, which I need to do as it sounds like folks generally are thinking the first is better than the second.

Yesterday I got the Los Jaivas Alturas de Macchu Picchu DVD, in which they “perform” the entirety of their most famous album at Macchu Picchu itself. The scare quotes are there because this is so obviously faked: the musicians are shown in various settings in Macchu Picchu playing sans any amplification or microphones, so clearly there’s some serious dubbing going on. I have not A/B’ed the DVD with the actual album, but I think (and I could very much be wrong) that it’s not a direct transfer of the album songs onto the DVD. There are some parts which sound slightly different to me, although this is very minor — it is likely a remix rather than a completely different performance.

As befits a DVD produced by the Peruvian government in 1981, the overall look of this DVD is very 80s; a bit fuzzy and definitely a little cheesy by today’s standards, but there are still some breathtaking moments. Also nice are the little bits interspersed between songs where the viewer is given some basic history of Pablo Neruda and Macchu Picchu. All this stuff is in Spanish of course, but reasonably accurate English subtitles are available, and in a nice touch, the song lyrics are also subtitled as they are sung. I didn’t watch too many of the extras last night, but it didn’t look like there are any subtitles for those.

The whole DVD feels like something a lazy teacher would show his students in order to take a day off from working. I’m not sure it’s worth the $25 or so that it seems to be going for from most places, but I’m glad I got to see it regardless.

Finally, and best of all, I downloaded from Dimeadozen a 90-minute amateur video of Joanna Newsom’s performance in Philadelphia this past November. This was a seated show and the camera must have been tripod-mounted as the view is very stable (though the panning is clearly amateurish). More importantly, the sound quality is fantastic and so is the performance. It’s a real treat to see Newsom sitting behind her harp with a mike pressed close in, and watching her fingers fly while her voice works overtime. I feel that on her albums, The Milk-Eyed Mender especially, some of her beautiful harp playing gets trampled by her rather attention-grabbing vocals. Actually seeing her play the harp remedies that to a certain extent, and she is quite a fabulous harpist. She is also, in this show, charmingly genuine, mouthing “wow” at the adoration of the crowd and giggling through her vocals during the encore when the audience cheers wildly at the beginning of a familiar song. Like Ys, this video brought a smile to my face and I watched the whole thing straight through with no lapse in attention. Many, many thanks to the taper and seeder; this is one of the best things I’ve downloaded from Dime in a long time.

ReR Megacorp in the spotlight at eMusic

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

Nice! On the front page of eMusic, today’s featured “eMusic dozen” (in which eMusic staff pick a theme and choose a dozen albums under that theme that are available for download, complete with descriptions of each) spotlights ReR Megacorp. Amidst the expected stuff like Henry Cow and Faust, there is plenty of stuff that I’m not really familiar with but may now end up checking out.

What’s spinning, January 9 edition

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

Seems like I’m working on a bunch of new music right now; my listening is spread thin and on all this stuff I just have some quick first impressions:

  • Aghora - Formless: I liked their self-titled debut, and this one seems like more of the same, maybe a little more polished. All the songs kind of fly by in a haze, but hopefully they’ll become more distinctive with closer listening.
  • Bassdrumbone - The Line Up: These guys are coming to Baltimore next month, so I downloaded their latest album from eMusic. I think I’m going to really like this one. Avant-jazz that really swings.
  • Blops - Blops (3CD box set): Folksy Chilean group from the early 70s; their folk stuff is solid but it’s the third album that really makes an impression, when they started doing a kind of jazzy psych-rock fusion.
  • Cardboard Amanda - Cardboard Amanda: I’m having a hard time getting around the vocals, which I currently find intensely annoying. Need to work on this one.
  • Elliott Brood - Ambassador: More “death country”; I like pretty much everything I’ve heard from this little subgenre and this is no exception.
  • Loreena McKennitt - An Ancient Muse: It’s been nearly a decade since her last studio album, but believe it or not, this one sounds almost exactly like the last three. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Steve Swell’s Nation of We - Live at the Bowery Poetry Club: I love Swell’s work as a sideman (with Tim Berne’s Caos Totale band, on El-P’s High Water, etc), but have never heard him as a leader. This big-band effort seems like a pretty good start; one of Ayler Records‘ download-only releases.
  • Uzva - Uoma: None of this band’s albums ever really grab me at first listen. I like this one well enough, especially “Arabian Ran-Ta,” but it’s yet to completely suck me in.
  • Jack Wright & Bob Marsh - Birds in the Hand: Got this free-improv album a while ago as a promo, but never actually noticed it til now. I saw Wright live last year in one of the most head-spinningly avant-garde shows I’ve ever seen. This CD is a little more accessible; mostly quiet, contemplative improvs involving sax, cello and voice.
  • Yügen - Labirinto d’Acqua: Twitchy avant-prog that lots of RIO types are really loving. It takes me a while to get my head around this kind of thing. I’m pretty sure that when all is said and done, I’ll like this one, but not love it.

Happy new year (and Gerald Ford Day)!

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

A couple unexpected reviews of proggy albums at indie-rock review sites kick off 2007: Pitchfork reviews Opeth’s Ghost Reveries; and Stylus reviews Älgarnas Trädgård’s Framtiden är ett svävande skepp, foränkrat i forntiden. The latter is particularly unexpected, but apparently that classic of Swedish psych-rock has recently been reissued.

Also, for those who haven’t been paying attention for the past few weeks, Mike McLatchey’s excellent Outer Music Diary has been revived and the posts are coming fast, furious and informative.

My 2006 mixtape

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

Something I did this year that I hope to do at the end of every year was make a mix CD of songs from some of my favorite albums from 2006, and give this mix to a variety of friends. The CD encompasses a range of genres, although I mostly stayed away from the most inaccessible free-improv and metal stuff (I like keeping my friends). Amazingly, at least one person has told me that they like everything on the CD.

This was an amazingly difficult mix to make, as I already have tons of music from 2006 that I really like. Had to make some pretty tough decisions about what to put on this thing, especially as I was trying to touch on a lot of different facets of music that I like. In the end, the CD clocks in at nearly 80 minutes, and I excerpted three songs in order to fit everything on there. I made some fancy liner notes and a nice traycard as well. The traycard image is below, with the final tracklist: