Archive for March, 2007

Five shows in one night is four too many

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

Personal record: tomorrow there are not one, not two, but five (5!) shows in the Baltimore/Washington area that I would like to see. In order of how much I want to see them:

I’m only going to make one of these, sadly, as no one has yet invented a way to be in five places at once. I’m pretty excited to see Do Make Say Think and Elliott Brood, but this was not an easy decision!

Progcrit boneheads

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

It doesn’t seem particularly appropriate for me to identify myself anymore as a “prog fan” in the sense of a fan with a single genre focus — that stopped being true four or five years ago. Yet I still perk up whenever I see prog mentioned in non-prog media, and such was the case when, in reading the new issue of Signal to Noise, I ran across a very provocative review by Mark S. Tucker of Ed Macan’s new book, The Endless Enigma: A Musical Biography of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. This is a fun review that includes things like this:

[Macan's] Rocking the Classics offered much-needed relief from silly magazinic “What is prog?” maunderings and it alone may explain why authors like Jerry Lucky and sites like Gnosis have remained completely irrelevant… as a platform from which to consider aesthetic questions, Endless Enigma is hardly being touched by progcrit boneheads… The book is a high-water mark in progrock literature, and I’m afriad we’ll see little of its like in the future.

It’s an article about prog in a non-prog publication, so there has to be some dissing going on. But Tucker isn’t poking a stick at prog fans per se, the way most non-prog media does, so much as he is doing so at prog critics. “Progcrit boneheads” is a pretty great phrase that I wish I could use as a Ground & Sky subtitle; but alas, I think Tucker might actually like this website, or at least applaud our general refusal to treat with the whole “what is prog” nonsense. Other than that one thing, actually, it’s not really clear why he considers prog critics to be “boneheads” and “completely irrelevant,” but tossing around such perjoratives sure does make his article more fun to read.

Of course, the rub is that Tucker is actually a pretty “true” prog fan, whatever that means, having written for such publications as, uh, Exposé and Progression (what makes these magazines more “relevant” than sites like Gnosis is unclear to me). In this article he namedrops Porcupine Tree, Univers Zero, and Henry Cow, and in reviews elsewhere in this issue of Signal to Noise alone he mentions Tasvallan Presidentti and 5uu’s. This makes his critique of prog critics, such as it is, much more interesting than it would be if it had come from a total outsider. In any case, he spends a lot of column-inches lauding Macan’s analytical style mostly through trashing progcrit boneheads (and Chris Cutler and Dave Kerman for their “weirdly perjorative” takes on prog as a genre), and pulls off a near-miracle in getting me actually interested in reading this book. Considering that I hate ELP with a passion and basically regard them as concretizing everything I don’t like about prog, that’s quite an achievement.

The Decemberists @ Strathmore

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Last night The Decemberists played a $40 show at the Strathmore out in suburban Maryland. I have a friend who really wanted to see them, so I tagged along. I wouldn’t have gone otherwise — their show two years ago actually kind of put me off of their music for a while, and as a result I skipped them last year when they did two nights at the 9:30 Club — but I’m glad I let myself be talked into it, even considering the rather surprising price tag.

These guys are consummate entertainers, and they were pretty hilarious throughout the show. The Strathmore is a very grandiose theater-style seated venue, and I was wondering how the band would react to it. Aside from several jokes about the audience being calmly seated during the entire set, they took it all in stride and, if anything, were even weirder and wackier than usual, cracking jokes left and right, doing their whole audience participation thing (standard stuff that hasn’t changed since I saw them two years ago), bumbling around the stage, etc. Two years ago I didn’t buy their schtick for whatever reason, but this time they had me sold, and the crowd was completely enthralled. They just seemed very unforced, and it showed in their music as well.

They focused mostly on last year’s The Crane Wife, but having already toured extensively in support of it, they had a noticeable comfort level with the material and stretched out a bit, adding in small guitar riffs and mini-solos here and there to pretty great effect. Their setlist was also interesting, curiously enough opening with the low-key “Oceanside” from the Five Songs EP, and then including a couple songs from each of their older albums. The band’s epic side was in full effect last night: they played almost all of their “big” songs, including “The Island,” “The Crane Wife,” the “California One” medley, and the inevitable, crowd-pleasing “Mariner’s Revenge Song.” Really, all that was missing was “The Tain” and they would have played every one of their grand-scale epics in one show. Nice.

My complaint is kind of funny coming from someone who curates a prog review site: I thought the keys were way too low. The fat chords in “The Island” didn’t shine through enough, and in several other songs some of the subtle flourishes were lost as well. On the upside, Chris Funk broke out a hurdy-gurdy for all of twenty seconds in “Eli the Barrow Boy,” which was awesome.

Two years ago I came away from a Decemberists show not really wanting to listen to their music again for quite some time. This time around, I had the opposite reaction — I went home and listened to a couple songs from Her Majesty the Decemberists, which is probably my favorite of their works (might just be the primacy effect though, they are all pretty damn good). Kudos to those guys for playing in what must have been a pretty unfamiliar venue type for them, and pulling it off better than I would ever have expected.

New Tim Berne album is not a Tim Berne album

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

Over at the Screwgun Records website, Tim Berne has been talking about a collaborative release with David Torn for a while now, but this is a surprise: the resulting album, Prezens, will be released on April 17 under Torn’s name and on ECM, despite the fact that Berne’s entire Hard Cell ensemble plays on the record (Berne, Craig Taborn and Tom Rainey)! I was definitely expecting it to be a Berne album on Screwgun — I wonder if this is going to be closer to Cloud About Mercury than, say, Feign.

There’s a very extensive press release/preview writeup at the group’s Myspace page. Sounds like there may also be a separate live album released by this lineup, which might sound considerably different. Well, I’m interested in both, given that anytime Berne, Taborn and Rainey are on the same record, I pretty much consider it required listening. I’ve already got the studio album on preorder at Amazon.

Twin Earth makes the case for paying attention to the local DC music scene

Monday, March 19th, 2007

The live recording of the moment is a particularly interesting one for me, a wonderful recording of a DC-area band called Twin Earth playing at The Red and the Black. These guys play a kind of sludgy, heavy instrumental psych-rock that sounds like it draws influences from the likes of Acid Mothers Temple, Sonic Youth, chunks of Black Sabbath, and so on. This is a pretty good recording, and the material is fairly interesting if a little too straightforward at times. Twin Earth have no releases as yet, but there’s a few cuts from the aforementioned live recording up at their MySpace page. The dude who recorded the show and put it up on Dimeadozen also recorded the Sleepytime Gorilla Museum show last Friday — a great recording of a great show. In any case, if he is to be believed (he includes with all his torrents very, very extensive show notes and entertaining ramblings), there are a bunch of underground DC bands in this sort of jammy, heavy neo-psych style that sound very interesting — the best-known of these probably being Dead Meadow, whose discography I’m beginning to explore. Maybe I’ll have to stop ignoring the local music scene as I’ve been doing for so long.

John Kelman (AllAboutJazz) on Soft Machine

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Good reading: John Kelman’s reviews of all the Soft Machine remasters at AllAboutJazz. Believe it or not, when I recently bought the new remasters of Fourth through Seven, it was the first time I’d heard any of these albums. The first three I’d heard, as well as a couple of the archives, but nothing after Third. So far, I’ve only managed to give Fourth the attention it deserves, and I dig it, but a single cursory listen to Fifth makes me think I’ll like it more. Funny how that Fender Rhodes really makes the sound much more immediately accessible for me. Anyway, I’m looking forward to familiarizing myself closely with all of these albums. I think my experience with listening to jazz over the past several years has probably made them much more palatable to me than they would have been before.

Explosions in the Sky: Post-rock for the masses

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

Post-rock for the masses came to DC last night, as Explosions in the Sky played to a sold-out house at the large 9:30 Club. I am still having a hard time comprehending how these guys have been selling out nearly all their shows, or how their latest album actually, according to their label’s latest newsletter, “debuted on the Billboard Top 100 Pop Charts at a crisp #76 (right between P. Diddy and Jill Scott)!” So bizarre. The crowd at the show was mostly indie-rockers, with a lot of college students mixed in, and it occurred to me that while Explosions‘ upbeat, major-key post-rock is very accessible for folks in general, it’s also perfect hipster date music. Sure enough, there were a bunch of couples at the show.

My friend and I skipped Eluvium, having seen him at the Warehouse Nextdoor a couple years ago in what was one of my worst concert experiences ever — he actually turned me off from staying to see the band I’d come for, Mono. Unfortunately, we arrived in time for the second opening band, The Paper Chase, who had the distinction of being perhaps the worst opening band I’ve seen since Melomane opened for Wilco last year. Aside from a few off-the-wall guitar solos, this was mostly moronic indie-cock-rock, and the only reason these guys were on the bill is because they’re from Texas, as is Explosions. Not a particularly brilliant pairing otherwise.

All was forgiven when Explosions in the Sky started their set at 8:45, the earliest I’ve ever seen a show at one of these indie clubs in DC (and after very little changeover time after The Paper Chase went offstage). It was a beautiful thing. So, at times, was the music: they played their material very close to the vest, without much variation from the studio albums at all, but they were still pretty powerful. The sound in the louder parts wasn’t great, as the interlocking guitars got pretty hard to hear, but overall it was a decent show, though as with many post-rock shows, it had its share of less exciting moments. The setlist was the exact same as the one they played a few days before in Asheville — I have a fantastic recording of that show — so sadly the element of surprise was lost for me. Oddly, they only played about half of the new album, and didn’t play what I feel is easily the centerpiece song from it, the opening “Birth and Death of the Day.” They played a lot of stuff from the popular The earth is not a cold dead place, and even a couple from Those who tell the truth…, which were noticeably more “rocking” than the more recent material.

Not surprisingly at a sold-out show, a big part of the concert experience was the crowd. The club was pretty packed, and most of the crowd didn’t seem to know when the songs ended — the band mostly transitioned seamlessly between songs — and so people were basically applauding every time the group went from loud to soft. That was kind of annoying. More annoying were the testosterone-laden, probably intoxicated, assholes who kept yelling “YEAH!!!” halfway through every soft section. Did they know anything about the show they had come to? I wonder. Anyway, none of this surprised me, nor did it actually annoy me as much as I expected it to, but it was certainly interesting to see how “post-rock for the masses” played out in a live setting to a packed house. The crowd was very enthusiastic in general though, which was nice to see, calling boisterously for an encore that never came (also not surprising, since they didn’t play one at the Asheville show; maybe they just don’t ever do encores on principle for some reason?).

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum @ the Black Cat

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Despite awful weather — a 40-degree drop from Thursday to Friday and a dramatic shift from cloudless sun to icy sleet — Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Secret Chiefs 3 made it to Washington, DC last night to play at the Black Cat. Secret Chiefs actually didn’t get in until very late, so SGM played first, starting at around 10:15 (doors were supposed to open at 9, but I guess they were doing their soundcheck because the club made people stand out in the cold until almost 9:45). They played almost exclusively new material, with only “Phthisis” somewhere in the middle and then closing with a crowd-pleasing “Sleep is Wrong.” They opened with a song I recognized from when they played here two years ago that reminds me of Idiot Flesh — maybe this one is called “Companions”? But then they played something that absolutely blew everyone away, a chunky odd-time instrumental with Kihlstedt flailing away on violin against a dual-guitar attack, that really sounded like SGM’s version of “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2.” Seriously, this was a blistering piece that will likely be on the next album, out in late May.

The rest of the set was good but not transcendent. Nils was in full performance mode throughout, but also made time to banter a bit with the crowd. I dug most of the new songs, but am looking forward to hearing the studio versions; the sound in the club was surprisingly good (much better than the last time they were here), but most of the nuance got washed out by the odd-time heavy-metal riffing that seemed to dominate everything. The crowd absolutely ate it up though; there was a great turnout despite the weather, and band seemed to feel so good about their set and the audience that they did a clearly unplanned encore of “1997,” which I always thought was a vastly overrated song but which of course drove the crowd to a frenzy.

It’s nice to see that this band has evidently developed quite a devoted following. I think they’re one of the most innovative current bands out there, and the fact that they’ve made such a name for themselves pretty much by touring incessantly is great. Sadly, since they didn’t finish until 11:45, I didn’t stick around for Secret Chiefs 3, which apparently is my loss. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to catch them again in the near future, but as it was, I was happy enough just seeing SGM again.

My music - all of it

Friday, March 16th, 2007

Last night I was putzing around with Google Docs & Spreadsheets for the first time. I’m not a huge fan of this whole server-side applications thing, even if it is the wave of the future, but I figured I should at least keep up with the Joneses. Anyway, I wanted to see how Google Spreadsheets would handle a big Excel file, so I now have my full list of CDs up. It’s a little slow (okay, very slow, in editing if not necessarily in viewing) and some weird things happened to my formatting, but the application seems reasonably powerful. Plus, now you can see what kinds of embarrassing things reside in my CD collection. Flame away!

Fun Within Temptation DVD on Dimeadozen

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

A while back I mentioned I might try to do a “live recording of the week” sort of thing here, because I keep accumulating live shows from Dimeadozen but never get around to actually listening to half of them. There’s been a particularly fruitful run of stuff on Dime lately, including some cool Fred Frith/Bob Ostertag duos and a ridiculous flood of Magma torrents with several DVDs of classic-period material (a totally awesome 1977 concert featuring “De Futura” and “MDK” is tops on my list right now).

But what I want to highlight is something I got a little while back, and something considerably newer and cheesier. Within Temptation’s new album came out in Europe this weekend (and yes, I am fan enough to order the import version because the US release doesn’t happen until July; and yes, I feel slightly silly for admitting this), and I was watching a couple short DVDs I have of their live shows. There’s a neat one broadcast on Rockpalast from January 10, 2004, a little show at the Dutch Eurosonic Festival. The stage is absurdly Gothic, the kind of thing that’s probably all over Europe but that you’d never find anywhere in the USA. The performance is fun; Sharon den Adel does her goofy undulating/dancing, wears a really low-cut flowing dress (I don’t understand how she manages to move in it without some dramatic, er, wardrobe malfunctions), and sings beautifully — you know, pretty standard for these guys. She also goes up to an audience balcony to sing part of “Mother Earth,” giving us some pretty hilarious footage of a couple fans clapping sort of to the beat, really awkwardly, and just generally “doing the standing still” as Travis Morrison would say. But the really neat bit is a cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” which somehow absolutely rocks. Pretty cool, I wonder if this is on any of their official live releases? I don’t have any of those… yet.