Elwood D Pennypacker's Gig Reviews

Archive from the Old Blue Republic and Sonic Parthenon blogs (now The Old Time Modern Mix Tape Hour podcast)

Monday, October 6, 2008

2008, Jul-Sep

Joan as Police Woman; The Perces; Violets
@ Bowery Ballroom
New York, NY - September 25, 2008

Joan Wasser, sporting an 8-piece band and a Foxy Brown/Coffy-esque afro, played her deluxe cavalcade of Indie folk, pop, soul, and R&B, with the gritty wit and talented finesse that she is naturally embued with. Intersplicing her various pieces with affable interaction with the audience, Joan proved to be the sweet natured chanteuse as much as she proved to be the imposing artiste. "To Be Loved", "Eternal Flame", and a sexed-up, smokey cover of Jimi's "Fire", were the big highlights but there wasn't a let-down in the set. Joan's voice is so naturally sexy and authentic, it could carry the show on its own but her well-crafted torch songs and bluesy requiems are more-than-boosted by an outfit of talented musicians. This is one of those total package type deals. Not too shabby.

The Perces are an ode to Edith Piaf and Nancy Sinatra gone down Alabama way. Looking like they had boots made for walking, the sisters and their five-piece band ran the gamut from soul to rockabilly, all in a vein of cabaret and go-go. This type of music is ripe for lighthearted tomfoolery ala the Ditty Bops, but there was a vague sense of gothic darkness underneath the whole affair. The disco song at the end though was kind of out of left field. But that was nothing compared to the fact that their bass player was none other than the Mooney Suzuki's Sammy James Jr! What the heck was he doing there?!

Violets, not to be confused with the Violets of a few years ago, seemed to be playing their first ever show, which gave them an edge of nervousness but also of legitimate excitement. That being said, having yet another 80's-influenced dance-club band isn't exactly invigorating at this time. The lead singer, wearing the kind of jacket that was supposed to be the 2008 look as seen in 1983, was legitimately happy but also kind of dorky and he was more dorky than sexy which is what he was aiming to be. Some of the songs showed a lot of promise so let' s not be completely down on these guys.

Emily Haines & James Shaw
@ Union Pool
Brooklyn, NY – September 7, 2008

Originally billed as a three-set variety around the multiple works of Emily Haines, the lady of the hour decided at the last minute, along with her Metric partner one Mr. James Shaw, to play two practically identical sets showcasing material from the upcoming Metric record before her set with Tall Firs. In an immaculately intimate setting in a tiny little bar under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Emily and James channeled their scrappy NYC days but at the same time stripped away all the electronic razzle dazzle to reveal what really sometimes seems is the best-kept secret in Indie rock: that Emily and the Metric boys are some of the most consistent songwriters out there. Emily wows as a rock star, a punk rock girl, and an electro-pop artiste on a regular basis but this was one of those rare opportunities to see what else she is: a deep, thoughtful, classic singer-songwriter who has an ear for the lyrics as much as she does for the hooks. In a slight bit of irony, these new songs – whose development and much delayed proper release is starting to border on Chinese Democracy timeframes – were played in simple ballad fashion though they promise to be melody-heavy, maybe even loud, rock n’ pop once the unnamed LP finally sees the light of day (the duo was taking title suggestions during both sets…don’t be too surprised if the album is called Graffiti on the Kellogg Diner).

Playing to a polite but enthusiastic audience, Emily and James were keenly witty, whimsical, and fun. Emily complained about her general stage banter being blogged about and leading to questions and controversy so she promised to keep her musings to a minimum, which she failed at. Fortunately for her, she didn’t say anything much more blog-worthy except for maybe the way she goes “rwar!” but you have to see it to appreciate it.

Panic-alert: At the end of the second take, Emily surmised “that’s the new record” but they didn’t play “Stadium Love”. Did they not play it because the song is just so rock-based, so chalked up with anthem-goodness, that it just couldn’t be mined for a slow, soft, keyboard and acoustic guitar work-up? Or has the song been shelved from the LP, thereby constituting the biggest musical tragedy of the decade? How can they leave this song off?! It’s so good!

Yo La Tengo; Titus Andronicus; Ebony Bones
@ McCarren Park Pool
Brooklyn, NY - August 24, 2008

The last ever JELLYNYC free show at the McCarren Park Pool (after 3 summers worth) featured New Jersey's legendary Yo La Tengo who weaved in and out of the short and sweet stuff like their recent classic "Hey Mr. Tough" to long, distorted jams, all the while playing a tribute to the summer time (this is a band that likes to sing about the seasons).
Titus Andronicus continues to play everywhere this summer and in the confines of the wide open pool, they sounded sloppy and amateurish except for their fantastic little ditty about themselves.
I heard Ebony Bones whilst waiting on the long line into the Pool, and they started off impressively with some thunderous drumming and bass-heavy winding works. But it very quickly seem to turn droll and weak. But that may have been because of the acoustics affected by the big walls around the Pool.

Amazing Baby; The Blacks; Suckers
@ Union Pool
Brooklyn, NY - August 16, 2008

Amazing Baby were a neo-hippie mostly psychadelic, slightly old time metal big band. If you like the genre, they got the job done.

So I had the write-up for the Blacks all planned out, see? It was going to begin with "You gotta give credit to this band just for taking the most oft used adjective in band names in this, or maybe any, decade, and turning it into a right proper noun. Take that Angels, Halos, Hollies, Keys, Lips, Mountain, Rebel Motorcycle Club, etc etc etc!" But lead singer and guitar player Louisa Black went ahead and said it all herself at the gig, post-performance, thereby ruining my set-up. Dammit.
Anyway, the Blacks are tremendously good. They have a very distinct source for their matieral: No Wave. Louisa and her two cohorts have a slight whiff of Teenage Jesus & The Jerks and a more contemporary flair for early Yeah Yeah Yeahs but at the same time, they rely on grinding out concise, sharp, pure rock n' roll melodic mayhem. JDK Blacker plays a tambourine like no person ever before in the history of time. And this is a good thing. And he wears a white suit well. Gavin in the back is exactly the kind of drummer people will be talking about. All put together, this is a new, exciting band that also reminds us of all things we've liked about music this decade and a couple decades back. Take that! Period!

Suckers are not as nondescript as their name suggests. Led by a very potent voiced, powerful bluesy singer, the band dabbled in a little bit of everything tonight, from the aforementioned blues to dance-pop to distortion-rock. It worked very well pretty much overall and this is yet another band to keep an eye on.

@ Highline Ballroom
New York, NY - August 8, 2008

Who needs the All Points West Festival? All you need is 1:30 in the morning in the Meat Packing District in a slick, sleek yet (yes) meaty venue to see the slick, sleek yet meaty Toronto-based, New York-nutured, internationally-seeded hybrid that is Metric. Emily and the 3 J's came out rip-roaring with a stunningly powerful rendition of their triumphant "Dead Disco" (complete with sounds of old fighter planes crashing), a song so good that if the band produced nothing else they would still be one of the greatest bands of the decade. From there it was a journey through some of their best work - notably "Hand$hake$", "Poster of a Girl", "Rock Me Now", "Hustle Rose", and "Empty" with a peppering of some new material before a set ending celebration with "Combat Baby" - a performance that maximized both band skill and crowd participation. "Doo doo doos" never sounded so good...until the band returned for their encore and kicked it off with another new song, the fantastic "Stadium Love" which actually runs over "Combat Baby" in the "doos" department, and should be a smash hit when it is finally put on record. "Monster Hospital" served as the final house shaker before Emily and James turned "Live It Out" into a sweet natured show ending ballad.

Like the last time they played, Metric appears to be a showcase for Emily Haines, and not just because she's dressed like an aluminum cave woman. But the beauty of Metric is that it really is a full-blown band with four equal members making it work. It sort of sneaks up on you, what with the enigmatic blondie in a little dress running around up there on stage, but this is a really accomplished, really complete band. In other words, omg it's love. <3

The Airborne Toxic Event; Blacklist
@ Mercury Lounge
New York, NY - July 31, 2008

The night before they shook the world on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, the pride of Silver Lake made their Merc (and New York headlining?) debut with a solid set that showcased a large chunk of songs they did not play at their two Pianos appearances this year. The band has become so sharp and reliable, they didn't even bother playing 2 of their 4 previously released songs ("Does This Mean You're Moving On?" and "Papillon") though they should have, just because. Now with the Conan appearance, the record release next week, the KCRW appearance to come, and their upcoming tour, it will only be a matter of weeks before people recall the time they saw the Airborne Toxic Event at the Mercury Lounge.

And if you want to find connections and meanings in things, here's something to reflect on: When Mikel discussed Silver Lake and got some cheers, he remarked about how he may as well have talked about Brooklyn and that got cheers in obligation. This led to mentions of the National and the Hold Steady, two of the most written about bands on this blog...company the Airborne Toxic Event has been keeping here for so far this entire year. It's all one big happy family these days...

Blacklist sounded like Joy Division, New Order, Depeche Mode, and the Cure. That's about all I can say.

Flogging Molly; O'Death
@ Pier 54
New York, NY - July 31, 2008

It's been a couple years since I've seen Flogging Molly, and I was a bit hesitant. A distinct Irish and Punk band from Los Angeles, Flogging Molly made three excellent albums between 2000 and 2004. Without question, this band - who first came across my radar with a performance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien - were one of the best bands in the world during that time. Dave King wrote and sung with a ferocious spirit and ultimate authenticity, backed by one of the country's most talented bands. But the band went into a quiet phase following 2004's Within A Mile Of Home, perhaps to just finally revel in their hard earned success. They only finally released another complete LP of material this year, called Float. Either I've moved on or they've exhausted themselves because the initial listens of Float came off weak, with the exception of "Requiem for a Dying Song". But how would it be live still? The band always put on a hell of a show but would the new record's diminished strength do the same to the live show?

Feckin' no. Dave is as enigmatic and wonderful as ever and the band is as tight and professional as ever. Though I had to leave about 5 or 6 songs in so I could catch another Los Angeles band on the rise and making an appearance on Conan, it was clear that FM was still a band to rave about. On a beautiful Manhattan night, supported by an excellent sound system, King and company recalled all those great, spine tingling feelings they engineered in the first half of this decade. They still got it.

O'Death is probably the most fitting opener yet attached to Flogging Molly. The band's Appalachian sound, descended from the Scotch-Irish, matches well with the direct Celtic fury of Flogging Molly. Though the band is sloppier, grittier, and grimier than FM - and appropriately so - they not only got the crowd enthused, they gave the overwhelming throngs of drunken macho suburbanites a taste of what's cooking here in the city.

The Ting Tings
@ McCarren Park Pool
Brooklyn, NY - July 27, 2008

So I went a bit late to the MGMT/Black Moth Super Rainbow/Ting Tings free show at the pool today. I arrived to the area with the Ting Tings already blasting from the speakers into the neighborhood. I intended to go in. But the line was just about the longest line for anything I have ever seen. It nearly wrapped around the entire square block of the pool (which if you haven't been there, is a BIG square block). Word came in late on other blogs that people were still waiting in the line to get into the show while MGMT was on. And no one was being let in by that point anyway.
From what I heard of the Ting Tings - which was pretty much the entire set - it actually sounded pretty darn good, considering they are a one hit wonder summer band that is reviled by anyone worth an ounce of Indie cred. In fact, they actually sounded VERY good. All that really matters are three nuggets: "Shut Up and Let Me Go", "Great DJ", and "That's Not My Name" and they all sounded exceptionally excellent. It must have been a lot fun inside the damn place. But the line proved to be too much, and then something came up so all Sonic Parthenon gig reviews for this day had to be shelved.

Should this really count as a gig review? Not really. But then again, if this could count, then why not the Ting Tings today?

And yeah, MGMT is THAT big. It's rather amazing. "Electric Feel" is one of the best songs of the year and the decade and that's all well and good - but THIS big?

She & Him; The Rosebuds
@ Terminal 5
New York, NY - July 26, 2008

It has been a disturbing 24 hours in Gotham. Following the anticipated oddity of the Brian Jonestown show, my long ride home from Terminal 5 accompanied by a very nice new gal pal (who had earlier told me she was "full of brisket", a line I shan't be forgetting for some time) was interrupted by a gang of teens randomly targeting and assaulting an innocent young man on the Q train. Then on the way into the Q train stop to head back to Terminal 5 for tonight's show, I witnessed a man suddenly punch a woman right in the side of her head and take off for the subway. Then on the train, some woman screamed and ran from the end of the car for no explicable reason and then several minutes later, a fight nearly broke out but was thankfully squashed. And so by that point, I considered skipping the gig and finally going to see The Dark Knight for tips on how to be a better vigilante. But then I figured that some of the very same dregs of society would be present at the theater to ruin the show so I chose instead to see another form of Batman and Robin: She & Him.

Interestingly, allusions to Matt Ward and Zooey Deschanel being a corrective to the world's troubles were made the last time I saw them. So once again, M and Z stepped into those shoes and they filled it as impeccably as they can. Zooey's singing has continued to sharpen up and she's now a vocal embrace, a swirl of warmth and passion, simplicity and solidity. She still sounds best as a Jazz chanteuse, but she's channeling more and more of the Greats, most notably Carole King, both in the spirit of that woman's early songwriting chops and later recording success. There was even a new cover of a Joni song thrown in tonight, more proof that Zooey's tastes are expansive and yet consistently classy. And clearly when the Most Beloved New Gal In Indie Rock is channeling a Brooklyn girl and a Toronto girl, she knows what she's doing (I wonder if she's read this book).

Matt, who has never looked more relaxed in his relatively short but wonderfully perfect career, enjoyed playing mostly back-up man to what's pretty much the Zooey show (with the addition of a song led by back-up singer Becky). He did his usual collaborations throughout the set, only taking off on a guitar solo on the penultimate "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?" and again on his own "One Magic Trick". And as if to balance things out, the show ended with a lead by opening act Freakwater that actually brought the country side of things to fruition, something that had been lacking that first go-round in April (Note: I would have seen Freakwater open tonight if the Bowery Presents hadn't erroneously posted their start times an hour late on the web).

Zooey is having an Indie Rock equivalent of the year that Jennifer Lopez had in the mainstream some years ago, what with The Go-Getter, the She & Him record, and the subsequent tour. Her only real problem is that she's disturbingly too skinny. Despite shimmering and shining in her old time sequined dress and flowery headband, this candidate for Most Beautiful Face in the World is showing a bit too many bones on the sides. What she needs is a good couple of nights at a New York Deli, that is if we can avoid getting assaulted on the way. Someone fire up the Bat signal.

The Rosebuds, by the way, were just about equally stupendous. A mix of disco-pop and plain ol' rock n' roll, this Raleigh group recalled recent faves the Submarines and Sons & Daughters, and More Fun-era X. They are a solid good time and they made a new fan out of me and I'll be seeing them again for sure.

Brian Jonestown Massacre
@ Terminal 5
New York, NY - July 25, 2008

By all logic and reason, this band should not exist. The band is essentially the work of one man, Anton Newcombe, with an assortment of friends backing him up. The band plays great and Anton's songs are structured wonderfully. The pop/rock melodies that drive most of the numbers are extremely well done. So why shouldn't this band exist? Those melodies go nowhere. They are often forsaken for boring psychedelic jams. Anton himself seems irrelevant as he sings terribly, stands way off to the side of the stage, and contributes nothing instrumentally of merit on guitar. He is the worst member of his own band.

Then there is this whole other thing. Anton is notoriously crazy. But more than crazy, he's a jerk. An outright jerk. And he can't control his jerkdom. In one of the most bizarre relationships in rock, Anton is frequently heckled and challenged by his own fans and he takes the bait. And it is no joke. And it has been like this for over ten years. Tonight, Anton wanted to dedicate a song to a "friend" of his who died today. He didn't sound very sincere in his sadness and he even bashed the deceased as being "an asshole". So someone heckled him and of course Anton responded. But he kind of deserved it. And to make this all crazier, this nonsense is actually to be expected and enjoyed by Anton's fans and his band. The man is more or less exploited by everyone around him for their own amusement. It's beyond comprehension.

But take heart Anton. You're still better than the Dandy Warhols.

Celebration; Rain Machine
@ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Brooklyn, NY - July 20, 2008

Every piece on Celebration inevitably makes a comparison between front woman Katrina Ford and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O. So too will this piece, except this piece declares that these two women have almost nothing in common except they have each made a serious mark on pop/rock music in this decade. The latter is a whirlwind, an unstoppable force, a very distinct figure in a trio that relies on her voice as much if not more so than the guitar and drums. The former is working with an entire different palate. Katrina's voice - much more gorgeous and controlled, much more naturally attuned to music - is but one of the instruments used in this extremely talented Baltimore-based band. For as much as she stands out with her natural talent, her gravitational presence as a performer, and as a real good looking gal, Katrina is playing only a part in this church called Celebration.
Tonight, the Baltimore trio was joined by two Charm City-friends on percussions, strings, and whatnot and two New York friends on horns and percussions. This made for a full invigorating experience. There are only a handful of bands out there who can rely on percussions to carry them through and Celebration may be at the top of that short list. Let's see, how can this be put without going overboard...this was like attending a tribal virgin sacrifice in which the virgin turns out to not be a virgin at all and is in fact leading the festivities. Yeah, that's subtle enough.

The band's recordings do not do them justice (with all do respect to their producer, Dave Sitek). This is a force that needs to be seen live, to let the experience wash over you and to play with your mind. You could close your eyes and still have a good time, that is if you can keep your eyes off Katrina for a few seconds.

The only thing more of a surprise than Kyp Malone being the opening act (under the banner "Rain Machine") is that the TV on the Radio member cut off his 'fro. It turns out his magical powers did not stem from that head of hair, that in fact, his power and appeal come from his art, his mind, his heart. In stark contrast to the musical orgy that followed, this performance was a lesson in simplicity. Whereas Celebration made use of everything but with practically zero emphasis on guitars, Kyp was on stage with his Epiphone-brand Les Paul and nothing else. He played a series of sterling mood pieces, ranging from the reflective to the socially conscious, giving full weight to his words against a backdrop of a few simple yet haunting chords. He made some use of a loop-pedal thingamajig, especially on his last song, an old TVOTR nugget that was absolutely perfect. His songs all sounded like they would each be the perfect climaxing ballad on an album of thoughtful Americana rock, with only occasional dalliances into that classic TVOTR distortion, but rather than sound redundant, they were each impressive, goosebump-giving meditations on life.

In other words, this was one hell of a show.

Murder Mystery; Action Painters; Lissy Trullie
@ Bowery Ballroom
New York, NY - July 19, 2008

As if in response to the Siren festival earlier in the day, tonight's show at the Bowery Ballroom was uncharacteristically calm, laid back, and relaxed. It made for the city's best medium size venue to shine as a showcase for some up-and-coming acts.

Murder Mystery immediately sounded like the Strokes gone country. But by the end, they didn't really sound like anything in need of such a definition. And they were pleasantly fine throughout.

Despite the overall calm atmosphere, Action Painters blew the roof off the joint. Seemingly piling on all the energy that was squandered by the city in Coney Island, they let it erupt through themselves here on Delancey Street, in a set that wasn't just their best yet, but was one of the best sets of the year period. It's amazing to see a young band not in need of working out any kinks. Everything is place. They are ready for prime time. From the keyboards to the nifty guitars, from the lyrics to the melodies, this is exceptionally good stuff.

Lissy Trullie is a gem of a songwriter and has a real knack for some of the same hooks that Action Painters go for. She also shares their love of good hats. Fedoras and variations thereof were in plenty supply, making for a snappy night in looks, not just sound.

Siren Music Festival 2008: Ra Ra Riot, Jaguar Love, Times New Viking, Annuals, The Dodos
@ Coney Island
Brooklyn, NY - July 19, 2008

The location of SPHQ makes for a quick report from this year's heat-drenched, over-stuffed, poorly laid-out Coney Island affair. Let's do it in order of the bands seen.

It was hard to tell whether the poor Main Stage sound system was at fault for not hearing the Dodos or if it was the Dodos themselves. I couldn't tell when they stopped or started playing a song. Nor did it sound like anything of shape was coming out anyway. Once I saw the Xylophone being played on what seemed like mute, I decided to check out Annuals over at the Stillwell Stage.

Annuals' indie pop sounded pretty decent for the few minutes that I caught. No complaints here except that I wanted to check out Times New Viking AND get a Warriors t-shirt from the surf shop so I had to go.

A t-shirt, a lamb/chicken/rice platter, and a walk later, it was time for Times New Viking. The first batch of songs sounded peppy, highly spirited, and not too dissimilar from Titus Andronicus. And everyone was having a good time including all the big sunglasses wearing hipsters, the shirtless men (of which there were enough to constitute their own demographic), and the annoying beach ball throwers. After a bit however, the band started to sound a bit redundant and sloppy, and the personal space was also becoming a bit eradicated, so it was time for another trip to the Stillwell Stage.

After about a full minute, I had enough of Jaguar Love. I don't quite know what the hell that was but it wasn't the band that made "Bats Over The Pacific Ocean", no sir.

Back at the Main Stage for the last time, it was time to settle in for Ra Ra Riot and Islands.

Ra Ra Riot probably sounds pretty darn good in a nice, small, well-spaced venue with adequate temperature. Their sweet, well-crafted orchestral rock sounds are more down home in spirit than they are proggy, but there is still something vaguely classical about them and it's a good thing. But alas, the poor sound system at the Main Stage struck again and the band became drowned out in a chorus of hipster talk, Cyclone screams, an echo chamber, some kind of a speaker sound delay in the back, and various Astroland cacophonies. Shade had begun to win out the day over the heat but it wasn't enough, and old Pennypacker had to pack it in and forgo a listen to Islands.

The Dirtbombs
@ Fort Greene Park
Brooklyn, NY - 7/12/08

On a beautiful, humid-free Saturday summer late afternoon, the Dirtbombs closed out a day of Afro Punk rock n roll with a very basic but very strong set, the minimal version (meaning no "Leopard Man" intro, just right into "Start The Party"). "Stop" and "I Can't Stop Thinking About It" were brought in from the bench for some mix-up in the set and the show concluded with Ben moving his drum kit down to the grass, and playing it up with Mick. There was also a puppy running around!

The Dirtbombs; The Fleshtones; Titus Andronicus
@ Maxwell's
Hoboken, NJ - July 11, 2008

Back from their fantabulous tour of Europe, the Dirtbombs returned to their NYC-area stomping grounds only to have a Frenchman bum rush the show twice. Other than that, it was an all-Hoboken affair, with lots of sauciness up front and great sound in the back. With the use of "Leopard Man" as their opening number this tour, the Dirtbombs may not have just perfected their own way of opening a show, they may have instituted the best show opener in rock history. The goosebumps that arise when Ben starts the pounding and the crescendo to the opening chord is about as thrilling as this band has ever been. Going through this tour's standard set list, the band settled on sticking around on stage for the encore and unleashing a 35-minute version of "Kung Fu" that included a couple of extra songs thrown in and Ben's best monologue on the mic in his career. He even handled the moshers well.

The Fleshtones - the only Brooklyn band to actually be from Brooklyn - make their Sonic Parthenon debut by doing what they've been doing for the last 25 years - fun, friendly garage rock. The look of the band is, as one friend of mine put it last night, a "bit long in the tooth", but the spirit is there, the songs are fine, and any band that walks off stage and goes right to the bar is alright by me. Also, they are the second opening band I've seen in a month have their own encore. But of course that was going to happen. They're the Fleshtones.

Titus Andronicus is the next big thing in the garage rock/punk world. They play everywhere and their fan base is rabid and growing by the day. Pop music has never sounded so vociferous. The keyboards are other worldly, and the style of the band's sound transcends the hardcore genre they would seem to revel in. This could very easily be very bad but the guys make it work. Also, they come off a bit evil, which kind of helps for some reason.

The Okmoniks; No Bunny; Hollywood
@ Lit Lounge
New York, NY - July 5, 2008

Somewhere in between Be Your Own Pet and their fellow Arizonans the Love Me Nots are the Okmoniks. Led by a feisty, organ-hammering sexpot, the Okmoniks play their brand of 60's inspired garage rock with a slight hint of pop and a whole lot of loud. And to show they get their inspirations from all the right places, they played one song that sounded lovingly lifted from the Ramones' immortal "Oh Oh I Love Her So". The band comes off a lot sweeter than they probably intend but there is nothing wrong with that. Even the most intense forms of rock n' roll need good doses of sunshine.

The performance art that is No Bunny is something to behold. 15 minutes of a man with bunny ears, make-up, a disturbingly proportional amount of facial hair, and a laptop. A yelling affair atop recordings of those same 60's and 60's-inspired tracks. Where No Bunny makes his mark though is with that technological contraption known as a computer. In a scene notorious for its rampaging presence of Luddites, it takes a lot for a dude to use a computer as his band. And it may as well have been a band. In fact, a band would have a lot of fun. But in the meantime, all a man-bunny needs is his laptop. There's an Apple Ad if there ever was one.

Hollywood do not conjure up sunny, bright, slick L.A. They are a hardcore garagepunk bit of mayhem directly descended from the great early 80's Los Angeles punk scene which then took a detour into more hardcore, thundering garage sounds. They are loud, they are grimey, they are intense. They are a total visceral experience. Most important of all, they also make it sound appealing to the uninitiated. Give it a few minutes, and its hard to resist stomping along.

Action Painters; La Strada; Fools for April; Atomic Tom
@ Galapagos Art Space
Brooklyn, NY - July 3, 2008

Deli Magazine's party at Galapagos featured the return (finally) of Action Painters to the Sonic Parthenon review page. After seeing them for a few minutes last August, it has been a series of missed opportunities, one after the other, but at long last, all things are right. And the band did not disappoint. In a just a handful of songs, they proved the right mix of power pop and garage rock. Their songs would be slick and creamy if it wasn't for the fact that they are a straight up rock n' roll band. They are so much fun, it isn't funny. And they are yet another example of the vanguard of New York bands that make this city refuse to go quietly into the rock n' roll night.

La Strada were recently hyped by L Magazine as a band to watch this year, and while their recorded stuff didn't really lead one to feel that way, their live show is another matter. Few bands need 6 or 7 members but La Strada is one of the few projects that can work with that number. A compelling string section back up the acoustic sounds of accordion and percussion, and an able singer to anchors it all. This is pretty serious stuff and it is executed rather sharply.

Fools for April are an acoustic pop band with light, sprinkly stuff. Good for your girlfriend. If she's into that sort of thing.

Atomic Tom should suck. They really should. Contemporary sounding power pop is really just a few shaves away from being Hoobastank or something awful like that (I don't know, is that band even still around? What's popular these days?). But here comes Atomic Tom doing it right. A sensationally powerful lead singer, driving riffs, and some winding, tightly crafted melodies make for full-on excellent affair. There is very little, if anything, retro about them. They are very new sounding. And while that can be a tricky road to navigate, they make the most of it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

2008, Apr-Jun

The Hold Steady; The Loved Ones; J. Roddy Walston & The Business
@ McCarren Park Pool
Brooklyn, NY - June 29, 2008

The first Jelly NYC Pool Party of The Stay Positive Constructive Summer of 2008 was also the Tad Kubler Birthday Bash. The man himself provided some of the most intense solos I've seen him do, on all sorts of guitars, and it really made the concert. Well that, and the fact that the stormy skies let up just in time for the entire set.
THS played pretty much all of the new record and as of right now, half of it seems to be a bit on the sloppy, slow side. But as with all things Hold Steady, it may just take some time to get into. The stuff that does work already - the title track "Stay Positive", "Constructive Summer", "Magazines", "Sequestered in Memphis", "Lord I'm Discouraged" - work swimmingly (bad pool party reference). "Slapped Actress" has adequately replaced "Killer Parties" as the finale. The rest of the set was filled in by great renditions of already great material - "Stuck Between Stations", "Multitude of Casualties", "Chips Ahoy", "Banging Camp" and so on. A really rocking version of "Same Kooks" was a bit of a more-than-pleasant surprise, as was "Arms and Hearts", one of a bit too many ballads played this day but it worked very well.

The Loved Ones were a terrible mall punk band that weren't just Warped Tour bad, they were BEYOND Warped Tour bad. I'd rather see Paramore. I'm not joking. Like Dude, they were like, 30 Seconds to Mars bad. That's BAD.

J. Roddy and the Business made an impressive showing at the Langhorne Slim release party (and it certainly may have impressed Craig Finn of the Hold Steady because he was at that gig, liked them, and now here they are opening for his band). Could their brand of 70's-homage southern arena rock hold up for a second showing? Ehhhh. It worked for the first few songs but how much of this can one take? I figured they'd make for a good opener for the Hold Steady and they did but I wouldn't be in any rush to see them again.

Clare & The Reasons
@ Joe's Pub
New York, NY - June 27, 2008

Deep, textured, extra lush pop music usually doesn't go hand-in-hand with words like "raw" and phrases like "stripped down" yet that is exactly what is going on in the world of Clare Muldaur and her band. This is one of those rare treats when one can hear pop music at its purest form, devoid of technological production in any way (well, except for some electricity used for the guitars, amps, and speakers but that's about it) and really come to appreciate it. This red bedecked ragtag group of mushy misfits conjure up elemental feelings and make you swim in them. Between Clare's giddy little voice (which on occasion approaches Billie Holiday, and no foolin'!) and the band's spit-shine polish, it really becomes one of those cliche cases where one can forget their troubles for a bit. Whether it is cute little musings like "Pluto", slightly more serious works like "Under The Water" and "Alphabet City", or goofball comedy numbers like "Can Your Car Do That? (I Don't Think So)", one understands why the band's record is called The Movie, since it feels like the soundtrack to some ironic, New York romantic comedy gone awry. Hilariously awry.

Oh, by the way, Clare & The Reasons may have saved a certain candidate for President. After a week of some dicey, somewhat shocking calls that alienated the candidate from his supporter here at SP, the band's rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" with all the lyrics shelved in place of simply singing the name "Obama", conjured up all those gooey "it's the personality, not the issues" swooning that got this old schlub excited about the campaign in the first place. Oh so we differ on the death penalty, so what? What's a little major policy conflict when you got New York's best and brightest singing your name to the tune of the most famous movie song of all time? There's even a Kansas connection for pete's sake. Alright, all is forgiven...for now.

Gogol Bordello; State Radio; Murder by Death
@ McCarren Park Pool
Brooklyn, NY - June 20, 2008

Jack T. Conqueror, joining me in attendance at this mammoth gig, said it best (paraphrasing): "this is either a real sign of the internationality and universality of music or this is the Village People", and the truth with Gogol Bordello is that it is both. For every second that the shtick and the monstrosity of the shtick serve as overkill, there is a second of absolute success and brilliance. If they weren't so talented, they couldn't pull it off. Eugene and company certainly set out to give you your money's worth and they succeed at that. The only real problem they have is that a period of exhaustion quickly sets in...as in, YOU, the concert goer (or in this case, ME, the concert goer) gets exhausted. Maybe it's because I'm not one of the hundreds of fans going absolutely ballistic upfront. A good chunk of the success of a Gogol concert is the fandom. It is hypnotic to see the most eclectic crowd in New York also be the most intense crowd in New York. And that by rationale, the immensity of the band, the sound, and the venue all work very well.
That immensity did not work well for the other bands on the bill. State Radio in particular may not work well anywhere for any reason period. A hypermix of stoner metal, white boy reggae (and not that good Clash kind of white boy reggae), and Warped Tour stupidity, these Boston kids just don't cut it.
Murder by Death actually suffered from the surroundings. They played too early to too small a crowd in too big a venue. The hollowness of the environs swallowed their sound and made them seem a little off, even if they really weren't. For whatever reason (maybe these just listed) Adam seemed to focus on more of the downer numbers, the ones that require him to moan just a slight bit. To see Murder by Death in their absolute prime, see them in small, humble places in order to appreciate their humble effort at making compelling outlaw rock. When they want to tear it up, they certainly can, and they certainly should, on a regular basis.

R.E.M.; Modest Mouse; The National
@ Madison Square Garden
New York, NY - June 19, 2008

When I first caught wind of this tour, I instantly assumed that it would be the kind of thing where R.E.M. would pass the torch to the National as the Indie-ethic Pop-Rock Band of the Nation (sorry Mr. Brock for skipping you over). I don't know how the rest of the tour has gone, but based on the sound in the Garden tonight, if you were new to the National, you were probably not very impressed, and you also had no reason to see R.E.M. pass on or cede anything.

Stipe, Buck, Mills, and their two amigos came out wailing and they never let up. Playing only a couple of ballads, and everything being short and sweet, R.E.M. made the case for arena rock to live on just a little bit longer. The hypnotic goings on behind the band - a series of screens that relayed the scene on stage as if it was an already edited and produced performance video - were not only beyond impressive, they were actually distracting. At one point, it was even safe to wonder if the show would have been half as interesting without it. But the ferocity of "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" and "Bad Day" easily silenced that. Other highlights included the Mike Mills-led "Don't Go Back to Rockville", the Johnny Marr-joined "Fall on Me", "Losing My Religion", "Supernatural Superserious", "The One I Love", and "Man on the Moon". Michael Stipe did something I never thought he did...ever: He smiled and laughed a lot. In his dapper striped suit, the ever chatty, chrome domed Stipe had his usual political things to say but had even more to say in the field of being friendly, open, and inviting. Like the band's music.

Isaac and the gang in Modest Mouse sounded exactly as they should have. In fact they sounded even better when I closed my eyes and let their music wash over me. Like their records, either you like it or you don't or you like some of it. I fall into that third category. "Dashboard" was the real highlight, though "Fire It Up" also stood out. Something tells me they are tearing it up right now at the Music Hall of Williamsburg with their sudden late show.

While the Garden was kind to R.E.M. and Modest Mouse, it was surprisingly a bit rough on Brooklyn's best. The hollow cavern of the arena stilted the strings and winds of all types as the National were in deluxe mode, Padma Newsome and the horn section all in cahoots. Of course they didn't sound bad, but if you were new to the band tonight, you wouldn't think they were full of lush, symphonic melodies. In fact, you would have thought they were a loud rock band, as all that came through were the beats and some of the Dessner guitar grind. If there was anything on the up and up, it was Berringer's voice. Already something divine live, Matt's vocals seemed even more powerful and more prominent in the arena.

It's funny. When I first started praising and passing on the gospel of the National, my immediate pitch to the uninitiated was "a little like R.E.M.". Tonight, the two bands couldn't have sounded more different. Don't be fooled though. Whether they were chilling with "Fake Empire" or inspiring warmth with the Barack-dedicated "Mr. November" (I called that one a year ago, though the "Great White Hope" line may not be the best thing to bandy about), the National still laid claim to the mantle that was fashioned by bands like R.E.M. two decades ago - thoughtful, intricate pop-rock that despite whatever torrent of sub-genre labels one may wish to slap down, transcends categories and simply inspires.

The Airborne Toxic Event
@ Pianos
New York, NY - June 12, 2008

This may be the most original band in America. They don't sound or look like anyone else. So far the only thing they repeat is their intense and immense performance on their visits to New York City and Pianos in particular. Whether they are playing straight up rock n' roll like "Does This Mean You're Moving On?" and "Gasoline", pleasant pop like "Happiness Is Overrated" (you can catch their February Pianos performance of this song shot by yours truly here), or monster, thundering bust-your-heart-into-a-million-pieces power ballads like "Sometime Around Midnight" and "Wishing Well", Mikel and company construct deep-seeded, substantive songs.

Free of gimmicks, pressure, cliquishness, and all those other things that usually go with the territory of rock n' roll, the Airborne Toxic Event curl up with a literary bent, and then unfurl a torrent of prose and poetry. On a deeper level than even that, they just know how to tear it up. The twin Fender Jaguar guitar attack by Mikel and Steve make for some potent mixes of boogie and pop. "Shy"Anna is a one woman wrecking crew on keyboards, viola, tambourine, and sudden mosh pits on the floor literally knocking this poor old writer for a loop. Meanwhile, Noah and Daren provide the most pumping, pounding rhythm section to come along in a long while.

Earlier today, I was asked to name my five favorite bands playing in the world of music right now: I easily came up with the Dirtbombs, the National, the Hold Steady, and Camera Obscura. The fifth took me a second, and I realized it was the Airborne Toxic Event. And as if to back me up, tonight's crowd demanded, and received, the first opening band encore that I have ever witnessed.

Once again, Pianos was too small to hold it in. Forget just the loud crowd that was jammed in like sardines. The sound of the band seemed to test the walls. During the crescendo within "Sometime Around Midnight", it felt like the floor was about to tear apart. When
they blow away the Fratellis' fans tomorrow night at Webster Hall, they are going to have figure out a bigger place to play (Mercury Lounge, Mercury Lounge, Mercury Lounge) when they come back, probably next month.

The debut LP is out August 5th on Majordomo. I can't wait.

The Raconteurs; The Black Lips
@ Terminal 5
New York, NY - May 31, 2008

Is it me? Maybe it's me. Sure, the new record is one bit of awful but why should that affect the live show? These are the Raconteurs after all, this is Jack White after all. Whether it did or not, it was bad. Bad bad. All those little things that signify a Jack White show - the between-song pounding, the ins and outs and ins again of songs, etc etc was annoying. They even looked annoying. Obviously, the venue didn't help with its stifled sound and ridiculous set up.

The Black Lips are the most overrated band in America. They cannot play. And not in that punk aesthetic sort of way. They just can't play. Their songs that sound good on record still sound good live but we're talking about a handful of songs like "Bad Kids", "Oh Katrina", and "Make It". Otherwise, they are pretty damn bad.

The BellRays; The Architects; Nathan Halpern
@ The Delancey
New York, NY - May 24, 2008

There is no band in the world quite like the BellRays. Not a one. They could be playing hard charging rock or they could be playing blissful soul ballads, and you know who you are hearing in each method and that is amazing. Of course when they find ways to mix it up within songs, that's also amazing. Lisa Kekaula's voice is beyond reproach, and the boys in the band are top of the line. Two extra shouts of praise for drummer Craig Waters - first for his drum solo of the year and second for wearing a marathon running outfit. Brilliant.
Little bitty Delancey lounge could barely contain the sheer force of the band's sound, but not only did it contain the sound, it sounded great. This is one of the best venues in the city, and it seems to be rarely used.

When the Architects from Kansas City began their set, I thought to myself "Gee, these guys seem to be really inspired by AC/DC". Then lead singer Brandon Phillips (sporting a Wonka Vision shirt of all things) added the end of "Highway to Hell" to one of their songs. Then I saw his AC/DC brand belt. So it all made sense. One would like to think that this is what AC/DC sounded like on the club circuit in the 70's but with a slight touch of modern American punk. It's mostly pretty damn good.

Nathan Halpern began his set with a cover of Buddy Holly's "Everyday" and then launched into a real boogie-woogie Elvis Presley-like romp with his fun band. And it was great. The more contemporary alt-pop ballads and bar band-ish rockers were fine enough but they didn't top the opening.

DeVotchKA; Basia Bulat; Fancy Trash
@ Terminal 5
New York, NY - May 20, 2008

DeVotchKa are the true gypsies of rock n' roll, taking big hunks of everything, notably Mexican and Russian sounds, and putting it together for both thunderous and symphonic purposes. When backed by their string section, they are luscious, atmospheric. But when they are at their basic 4, they are whip-snapping, Moricone-rock connoisseurs. This dynamic can be summed up purely in lead singer/guitarist Nick Urata, who can serenade like a crooner before sending the crowd straight to hell. Mad professor of strings and various keyboards Tom Hagerman and drummer/horn man Shawn King administer their departments with the upmost duty, and Jeanie Schroder is a thumping, solid bass player when she isn't possibly the only woman who can dance around in a dress while playing a sousaphone.
Terminal 5's sound was hard on that big sousaphone but other than that, the now notoriously crampy and difficult hall was generous to the Colorado contingent. Or it could have just been that DeVotchKa conquered the difficulties.

Basia Bulat, by all rights, should be the next mega female Indie rock singer. Her voice may very well be unparalleled in her generation. To call it exquisite is to do it injustice. It is beyond anything as humble as the word "exquisite". Her songs are little blankets of joy and melancholy, and her choice of covers - like Daniel Johnston - are as sweet and adorable as her demeanor. She tamed big, bad Terminal 5 with that sensational voice and her tiny, little catalog of music. She's a big dose of sunshine in a sad world.

Fancy Trash are from Massachusetts and they seem like it. These guys should be working the door to the Newhart mountain hotel. These guys define safe, older, acoustic pop. That's not a swipe, though. They construct and perform pretty substantive songs.

The Long Blondes; Drug Rug; The Subjects
@ Bowery Ballroom
May 16, 2008

The Long Blondes are a pretty snappy, and very solid British rock outfit out of Sheffield. Led by spunky yet vampish singer Kate Jackson, who has legs up to her neck, the band's eclectic nature most readily identifies them with Blondie. Not that every eclectic disco-punk band led by a sassy chick needs to be compared to Blondie, but in this case it's obvious. And it works. How they aren't dominating radio is a mystery.
Three times now this band called Drug Rug has snuck onto a bill I already intended on attending. This time the band was slightly stripped down by a member or two and it had a bit of an affect as they seemed to lose a tad step in the country rock stomp department that they previously did so well. Let's get back to full strength kids.
The Subjects began strong and ended with a sleek flourish of Indie pop but the middle was kind of...lacking. But their affable nature, and devotion to their sound, should spell big things to come.

Jukebox the Ghost; Morning State
@ Mercury Lounge
New York, NY - May 10, 2008

I know the XYZ Affair headlined the show. I know that. But something came up and I had to leave. I'll make it up to those boys, I promise. I know they put on another fine show.
Jukebox the Ghost, for what I saw of them, offered very friendly pop in a very friendly manner and in all senses, they were quite...friendly. A little hokey...but in a good way.
Morning State were by the book pop. Not "by the numbers". By the book. "By the numbers" is bad. "By the book" is good. Get it? They know what they're doing, and they're doing it right.

The Hold Steady; The Virgins; Republic Tigers; Bad Veins
@ Webster Hall
New York, NY - May 2, 2008

This was the second consecutive Hold Steady show that was part of a special corporate event, in this case a Target sponsored showcase as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. THS served as the celebratory nightcap for what seemed to be a battle of the bands. Taking it easy on the new material, and serving up delectable renditions of their usuals as well as songs like "Multitude of Casualties" and "How A Resurrection Really Feels", Craig and the boys were in fine form.

The Virgins are the latest in the long of line blog-buzz-hype bands and guess what? They actually lived up to said hype. If the Strokes and the Cars had a baby, this would be it. They were fun, sprightly, colorful, and full of pep. They also join the Dirtbombs as the second band this year to cover INXS' "Devil Inside".

Remember a few years ago when a lot of bands had the word "republic" in their name? And a handful had "tigers"? Well these guys may be a bit behind in hipster etymology (maybe "Republic Bears" and "Republic Wolves" were already taken) but they've tapped into cacophonous indie pop rather...well? Some of it worked, most of it didn't. They also need to lighten up a bit.

Bad Veins also had a little bit of a Strokes thing going on. If only in that the lead singer of this odd duo used a bullhorn and an old telephone to get that Casablancas singing style down. But these Cinci kids were more like the Republic Tigers than the Virgins, and they were even a little bit more out of it than said Republic Tigers and yet somehow they won $10,000 out of this event.

Langhorne Slim; Hoots & Hellmouth; Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson; J Roddy Waltson & The Business
@ Mercury Lounge
New York, NY - April 30, 2008

Why is Langhorne Slim so damn good? Is it the showmanship and the skill? Is it the class act good nature stage presence? There may not be a nicer fella making music today. His guitars kept going out of tune, he broke a string, other stuff was amiss - at his big record release party, and he took it all in stride, having fun to the very end. It was a special night - after years and years of working hard, Langhorne was headlining a sold out (way in advance) show on a Wednesday night at the Mercury Lounge. And just fresh off the heels of opening for Josh Ritter at the Music Hall, where he himself will be headlining in a month. With his excellent War Eagles in tow, Langhorne Slim is settling in comfortably for a long career of well deserved success.

Hoots & Hellmouth remain an exceptionally fun and well-oiled bluegrass stomp machine out of Philadelphia. They are still one of the best kept secrets in the Northeast but for how much longer?

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson has too long of a name and a terrible, lazy, out of tune singing voice. Except for a few songs that had something to latch on to, most of it was adrift in nothingness. What the heck was this?

J Roddy Waltson & The Business are essentially a 70's arena rock band doing boogie woogie blues. It would be almost uninspired and devoid of creativity if it wasn't for the fact that this was about as energetic and fervent a band as has been seen in awhile. The energy, the raw thunder, was off the scale. And they attracted some interesting people in their audience...in other words, stay tuned because you may be seeing this band in some bigger places real soon.

Jesse Malin; De Novo Dahl; Holly Brook; Pop Girls Etc.; The Orion Experience
@ Bowery Ballroom
New York, NY - April 26, 2008

Jesse Malin started out with an acoustic set through much of which he ranted on and on about the state of the music industry and technology. When he didn't do covers of Jim Croce ("Operator") and the Hold Steady ("You Can Make Him Like You"), he did his own material, stuff full of simple 90's radio pop hooks that are easy to like but also easy to get annoyed with rather quickly. The ranting, however, went on so long that after 45 minutes it didn't seem clear when the whole band would take the stage, so - with time being a major factor - I left.
Jesse wasn't alone on stage though, he had a fox keyboard player with him and that sort of turned out to be the theme of the night. Georg and Yortuk would have had a wild and crazy time.
Nashville's De Novo Dahl are more erratic than eclectic, the latter of which they appeared to try to be. The songs don't all add up and they had more luck with their one dance number than the garage rockers they tried to muster up. The nudie suits were an annoying distraction but the fox in the band was not.
Holly Brook is a one fox band, a torch song singer of sorts who will be helping Jesse out on his European tour. She has a decent voice and the mood was fine...but for some other night. All the Degeneration folks in the crowd were a bit thrown off.
Pop Girls Etc. were the only band sans foxes. Four dudes with hit and miss offerings, the faster stuff worked a whole lot, the ballads blew the big one. They look like they wished they graduated high school circa 1970 but with a bit of 80's Breakfast Club longing one way and Potsie the other. The lead singer (who really did look like Potsie) has awful mic banter. Is the forgetting to finish the thought thing a gimmick?
Unfortunately, I was only able to catch the last two songs of the Orion Experience but they sounded as great as they did at the Luna Lounge awhile back. Their concept of dirty, filthy, raunchy sex songs performed in a spirit of sweet, sugary candy-rock may have a longer shelf life than one may think. It helps that they really know what they are doing up on stage. And of course, they have a fox in their band too (with a dynamite voice). And the leader of the gang, Orion himself, isn't such a bad looking chap either.

She & Him; Ola Podrida
@ Webster Hall
New York, NY - April 22, 2008

Where there is chaos there is opportunity and so despite selling out two shows in seconds at the tiny Hiro Ballroom, the apparent laryngitis plauging the lead singer resulted in a one night stand at Webster instead with extra tickets to sell.
Our Man Ward and His Gal Friday Zooey Deschannel offer us She & Him, a sweet-as-home-baked-chocolate-chip-cookies revue of 60's-flavored Country, Soul, and R&B. Though she could not speak, Zooey sang delicately and nimbly, and her charm was infectious. She was doe-eyed and smiling, and sporting signs to thank the crowd and all that jazz. Matt sang back up on all but his own song, the superb "One Magic Trick" from Post-War, and he was having a good time, relieved it seemed from being the sole center of attention.
The Country side of things proved to be a little dull and fractured, but the Soul and R&B components were ace perfect (the big exception in the country realm is the excellent "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?"). Zooey's voice, despite this night belonging to a dolly dressed up like a pre-fame Loretta Lynn, is more attuned to classic elements of Jazz and Blues, than that style of country. In other words, she's more Memphis than Nashville. The cover of "You Really Got A Hold On Me" brought that Smokey Robinson classic to the very stripped down goose-bump-giving core of that song, a song that best exemplified that mix of Northern orchestral Pop and Southern Soul. "Bring It On Home To Me", their other cover of note for the night, was just a few minutes of bliss in an otherwise crazy world. And to bring it back to that theme of chaos and opportunity, that's really what She & Him are all about - a chance to take a breath in an increasingly maddening and loud society.

Ola Podrida were absolutely boring Country-Folk Pop.

Jay Reatard; CPC Gangbangs; The Diet Pills
@ The Silver Dollar
Toronto, ONT - April 17, 2008

In what should go down as one of the more infamous nights in Toronto rock history, Jay Reatard played for all of about 3 songs before calling it quits. The crowd was absolutely out of control. Unlike the madness the night before at the Horseshoe with the Dirtbombs, it was to be expected for there to be at least a little chaos on the floor for this show. But not only did it cross a line, it crossed the line almost from the start. It was almost as if the crowd didn't want Jay to play. It was almost as if they tried to sabotage the show on purpose. Can people be this dumb? The crowd smashed beer and glass and other objects on the equipment, and when someone unplugged Jay's guitar (what is the point of doing that?! Honestly!), that was it for Jay. But don't take my word for it:

And yet somehow, despite the oversold, overstuffed place, Mr. Pennypacker was able to make his way out of the place, and the only person who also made it outside at that point was...Jay Reatard! No riots ensued, Jay has since tried to make nice with the fans in the city of Toronto, but let it be said that in the department of rock fans, the first SP trip to Toronto was a real disaster.

Oh yeah the opening bands. CPC Gangbangs look like a hodgepodge of disparate garage punk bands come together and that's exactly how they sound. The first handful of songs were riff-heavy, good time fun. But the remainder of the set was populated by the noise and aimlessness that is plaguing the scene today.
The Diet Pills were a-ok. They had a surf edge to them and it made them standout.

The Dirtbombs, Kelley Stoltz
@ The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern
Toronto, ONT - April 16, 2008

The focal point of this show wasn't even the band. It was the crowd. Apparently a bunch of scenesters (I even heard one announce "I hope this band is good") thinking they were being cool, these morons broke the sacred rule of a Dirtbombs show: they moshed. They moshed with unauthorized drafting of innocent folks around them. They stage crashed and dived. They practically ruined the show, except that the Dirtbombs are so good, it's impossible to ruin a Dirtbombs show. Pat Pantano took it upon himself to question the heterosexuality of the troublemakers, knowing that such tactics usually disarm the meatheads who conduct such behavior. And as a band member, and not a priss in the crowd, he has some immunity from a backlash. And it worked. It also helped that the show ended with an AMAZING collaboration with the Kelley Stoltz band:

Speaking of Kelley Stoltz, third time was the charm. The band was tight, rockin', and full of pep and vigor. Everything was solid. They also sounded more pop than country on this night. Good work.

Hot Chip
@ Terminal 5
New York, NY - April 12, 2008

Hot Chip have certainly made an exciting run so far in 2008, in support of their excellent new album, Made In The Dark, the follow-up to the stellar, just about classic The Warning. In their live milieu, these sneaky petes show off a sensational knack for percussive rhythm, the live physics of which not only benefited an otherwise increasingly disastrous set-up at Terminal 5, it overshadowed the band's bread and butter - techno-rock. Hot Chip still excels most, though, when they mix that electronic half-clubber, half-nerd thing with r & b, hip hop, and soul. The drums work best on show starter "Shake A Fist", the guitar works best on the new single "One Pure Thought", the electronics - the synth sounds and back beats - work best on "Over and Over", and Alexis Taylor's vocals work best on pretty much everything, but especially the ballads. For a genre that is really not covered on this blog, these guys have certainly - with their creativity and originality - made one hell of an impression.

The Dirtbombs; Kelley Stoltz
@ Bowery Ballroom
New York, NY - April 11, 2008

At this point, after so many feeble attempts at being something akin to a rock critic, why bother? You all know how I feel about the music itself and about how they play live. All you need to know about tonight is that it was a much cooler, calmer performance than last night's explosion in Philadelphia. It was a straight, maybe even scaled back, performance - probably because the band was exhausted and also because the Bowery Ballroom just isn't conducive to Blackwell's shenanigans.
So let's just personalize it, in the spirit of a true blog, and not some half-assed hipster "mag" deal:

It was a night of accomplishment. After all these years, I was finally able to get a number of friends of mine to see the Dirtbombs live. It had only happened once before a couple years ago with my most notoriously stubborn and curmudgeonly rock classicist friend. The last two nights I was able to bring various sets of friends, from different walks of life, to see this unifying band. And it was a major success. Everyone was converted to a fan. Every single one. The non-rock guys loved the funky beats and the jams. The rock guys - one coming from the perspective of a musician, the other a casual fan whose personal tastes run along the lines of the Cure and the Smiths - each cited the same thing in their praise: professionalism. The casual fan even noted that having never seen either the Dirtbombs or Kelley Stoltz live before - and being a general fan of the Grateful Dead/Band style the latter works with - he was struck by how he was convinced he had just seen the highlight of the night until the Dirtbombs came on and made the whole thing look effortless (that's no slight at Stoltz, there is something admirable in what he's doing up on stage every night).
As a side bonus, 2 of the friends who did not previously know each other shared a fondness for comic books, which led to a nice discussion of the Alan Moore-infused "Leopard Man at C & A" with Mick Collins after the show (that song, by the way, as a live lead-off, is just phenomenal).

A lot of other bands have been filling the "pages" of this blog for a good while now and they are great bands all, but at the end of the night - by the power of their own performance, the warmth of the community they foster, and their ability to make true believers out of anyone - it is always satisfying to come home to the Dirtbombs.

The Dirtbombs; Kelley Stoltz; Mondo Topless
@ Johnny Brenda's
Philadelphia, PA - April 10, 2008

After an intense, pitch perfect, textbook, sensational set by the Dirtbombs, sheer, utter madness ensued. Perhaps enthused by Mick Collins' declaration that this was the best Philly crowd the Dirtbombs have ever had, Ben Blackwell just about went absolutely mental. He climbed up to and then off of the balcony, making like Spiderman across the ceiling track lights, then dropping onto the stage, not breaking or spraining a bone in his body, nearly falling on Sonic Parthenon's own Jack T. Conqueror (who in turn nearly stumbled into Elwood D. Pennypacker who was busy trying to stop Troy Gregory's mic stand from falling onto drinking glasses). Eventually, JTC - the musician at heart that he is - put Troy's mic set up back in place, while Ben resumed the madness on stage leading the gang (minus Mick) in a looooong (and I mean looooooooooong) noise jam that included a couple members of the Stoltz band. Never seen anything like it.

Do you like the Grateful Dead? If so then you'll like San Franciscan-based Kelley Stoltz and his good time hearty country-ish stompy, boogie thing. A lot of it works, some of it gets a bit old.

Mondo Topless were their usual rocking self but the native Philadelphians were subjected to a surprisingly empty hall, populated by a handful of Williamsburg-wannabe hipsters and some normal rock n' roll blokes too self-concious to lead a party.

The Dirtbombs
@ Other Music
New York, NY - April 7, 2008

Ahhhhhhhhhhh all is right with this very wrong world. The Dirtbombs returned to the island of Manhattan for the first time in a very long time, playing on solid ground at the epicenter of the Hipsterverse, the Other Music record shop on East 4th St. Rather than cater to the arms-crossed, chuck-taylor mode of music loving that emanates from the store, the band brought their loud, raw, distorted, yet gripping hooks to bear, tearing up (almost literally) the site. Playing We Have You Surrounded from front to back, the gang have the riffs down on most of it ("I Hear The Sirens" has arguably surged past "Wreck My Flow" as the standout of standouts), they are jamming the hell out of all of it, and they are getting a little rage out too - Ben nearly literally bringing down the house with his upside down drumming and throwing, Pat climbing the walls and tapping on the record shelves. In case you didn't know it before, you know it now: The Dirtbombs are back.

Murder by Death; O'Death; Kiss Kiss
@ Bowery Ballroom
New York, NY - April 4, 2008

Murder by Death are essentially ghosts. They lurk behind the scenes, making their spooky slices of gallantry and reflection in an alluring shroud. They seemed to have come from nowhere despite being one of the hardest working bands of the decade. And all their songs, in all shapes and sizes, combine a dirty, rough western edge with a sense of gravitas. And lead singer Adam Turla's mutton chops included, they cut an imposing presence, particularly Sarah Balliet on strings. Biting yet graceful.
O'Death were on fire this night, no other way to put it. Everything sounded swampy, stompy, and chilling. They had themselves a hootenanny but, much like their touring partners from Bloomington, they know how to stir a dark pot.
Kiss Kiss sounds like Dream Theater meets...well...Murder by Death. But it's not as good as it sounds.

Monday, March 31, 2008

2008, Jan-Mar

The Hard Lessons; The Sterns
@ Union Hall
Brooklyn, NY - March 28, 2007

This just in from the front: the Hard Lessons are still one of the hardest working and energetic bands in all of rock and they show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Miss Ko Ko Louise possesses pristine yet sweltering vocals, the Anvil drops the sticks on the drums like hammers (fittingly enough) and of course Augie leads the proceedings with his chop busting guitar skill. A lot of the songs seem to have a new punchy, pugnacious sneer to them - the band sounds more punk than ever on some songs - but there is still that smiling shine to the whole affair, a warm hearted embrace from the trio onstage to the fans in front of them.
The Sterns tap into the essentials for making good pop-infused rock songs but there is something slightly amiss - either the band gives off a negative vibe or they're just not skilled enough or the equipment was just not in their favor this night. Still, there is something there, it just needs to be finessed a bit.

Sons and Daughters; Bodies of Water; The Brunettes
@ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Brooklyn, NY - March 21, 2008

Glasgow's Sons and Daughters are hard to peg down. They seem to dance around a few genres but never fully take a step into each pool. There is an undercurrent of hard country to all of it (and it certainly bubbles over during a summoning of Johnny Cash) but combined with a wisp of 80's rock and a little disco at some songs, the overall package sounds something like a definitive, solid, incarnation of what modern rock is supposed to sound like (are you listening, Foo Fighters?). Lead singer Adele Bethel's voice shimmer and shines in a live setting, hitting every note and taking some notes to new places in the spirit of gutsy rock n' roll.
Bodies of Water may be from California but they sound like they're from Texas. They may be be four people but they sound like the Magnificent Seven if the Magnificent Seven were a rock band instead of a posse. Seriously - every song sounds like a gang riding into town to save the day. The entire band sings together on every song adding even more of an urgency to the western march rhythms that penetrate every song. And it works. By the end of the set, it was addictive.
The ultra charming Brunettes, from New Zealand, know that there is a fine line between acceptable cute and unacceptable twee. They safely, and securely, stay in the cute end of the pool (second swimming pool analogy this review!). Consisting of six, sometimes seven, members, and playing just about every instrument under the sun (lead charmer Heather plays just about every single little tiny instrument ever made, it seems). Yes they can be symphonic and lush, which is par for the course with cute-pop, but they also mix things up. No two songs sounded remotely alike. The opening song even began with a sort of swampy, eerie, sludge. This is a band that seems on the verge of being utterly predictable but they manage to surprise you at almost every turn.

The Hold Steady
@ Hard Rock Cafe
New York, NY - March 18, 2007

Here's to sudden discoveries of relatively unannounced, semi-secret corporate promotional gigs full of free booze and a free band, namely the Hold Steady.
The new material sounds great, much more textured and solid than in November. The now-classic catalog is fresh and ferocious. The band seemed in good spirits and Craig, just by looking skinnier than ever, is an inspiration. The 21 and over crowd cut down on the up-front crowd antics but that didn't stop a 50-year-old from giving Craig a ball cap and then crowd surfing. Yeah, "elderly hipsters <3 the Hold Steady" indeed.

Bell X1; David Ford
@ Bowery Ballroom
New York, NY - March 15, 2008

On a night in which the Irish band of all Irish bands, the Pogues, played one of their sold out Roseland shows in honor of St. Paddy's, it was a bit o' luck to snag a late released ticket to this long sold out pop show by another Irish contingent. Unlike the traditionalist and feisty Irish bands of yore, Bell X1 is in the league of Snow Patrol and Vega 4, post-U2 and Coldplay (aye, a British act, not Irish) buzz bands tapping into heavily layered doses of deep pop music, the Grey's Anatomy canon of music. In a refreshing way, these bands bring to the table a very eye-awakening look at the new Irish, people almost completely removed from the old stereotypes. Rather than be whiskey-swilling punks waxing nostalgic on days of poverty and battle, these Gaelic crews sing very expansive, ultra-radio friendly bits of commonality, and they are beloved by the new Irish yuppies, benefits of the Celtic Tiger, who are immigrants to these shores highly different than the ones who came here generations ago.
If only any of this helped the music in someway.
Much like the aforementioned Snow Patrol and Vega 4, Bell X1 is riding on the strength of one immaculate song, in their case the one called "Rocky Took A Lover". Everything else is weak, meandering, aimless bits of melancholic drivel. Actually, that's not fair to Snow Patrol who do have a worthy runner-up in their catalog - "Run" is decent, though nowhere near as good as "Chasing Cars". But here, there is nothing else. Each song falls apart. Only "Rocky" has any substance, any merit. A full complete thought. But to give these obviously very nice guys some credit, they are not completely without some classic Eire spirit - the lead singer lamented how they lost their luggage in Toronto, and the bus caught on fire coming out of Philadelphia. Slainte.

David Ford - an Englishman blasphemously allowed to open this affair - was quite good. Though he appears to be associating with the mainstream pop crowd, he proves that kind of material isn't synonymous with 100% crap. Each of his works were compelling, his voice and lyrics working and weaving with his backgrounds. And he showed an exceptional bit of showmanship - taking the increasingly used concept of a one-man band looping each live instrument in order to create a full band sound - and ran away with it. In terms of content, he doesn't sound too different from another popular English popsmith named David - Gray. It may be a weekend for the Irish, but damned if Her Majesty's Empire didn't just weasel its way in. Bloody English.

Looker; The Orion Experience; The Red Romance; Prabir & The Substitutes
@ Luna Lounge
Brooklyn, NY – March 7, 2008

I finally figured out the secret to Looker’s success. Primarily playing in a rock genre that is mostly populated these days by young kids emo-ing and screamo-ing their insincerity, Looker brings pop-punk (and similar genres) back to a more mature, substantive level. Whether singing about personal affairs in songs like “After My Divorce” and the show-stopping “Gregory” (by all rights, it should be a radio smash hit) or broader subjects in songs like “Born in the Desert”, “Radio”, or the super stellar “Gates of the Old City” (number 1 on this week’s Top 20 Countdown on the Pennypacker-pod), this band has a wiser and more authentic perspective than many of their peers. Musically, Boshra and Nicole trade flawless harmonies when they aren’t trading guitar licks while A.J. and Robbie bring up the solid rhythm section. Always a good time with this band.
The Orion Experience is a rocking, explosive bit of sunshine and happiness. Similar in energy to Les Sans Culottes, but far from that band’s 60’s au-go-go style, this band relishes in 70’s and 80’s anthem-style pop songs, backed by smashing power chord riffs and a raw attitude. They make me want to play pac-man and watch Different Strokes. A whole hell of a lot of fun.
The Red Romance are reviewed just at a time when this is a blossoming of bands really focused on 80’s New Wave pop-rock. These guys fall in line but in many of their songs they have a clear love for the Smiths and the Cure, adding a little post-New Wave darkness to the mix. They put together well-crafted hooks and riffs, with a deeper, somewhat darker subtext to the proceedings. Another great new band making the rounds.
I only caught the last couple songs of Prabir & the Substitutes but it was pretty impressive. Loud but catchy, with their brand of Virginia stomp-rock, these guys probably put on a heck of a show, too bad I missed most of it.

The Hives; The Donnas
@ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Brooklyn, NY - March 6, 2008

For pure shits and giggles, I went to see those scrappy Hives make their Brooklyn debut, some five years too late. It's always been a mystery why a band that makes such simple music has only put out 4 records in over a decade's worth of existence. It's not exactly the kind of stuff that needs Axl Rose-like deliberation. And their laconic recording style makes their music all the more of a joke. Plus, with all the rapid changes in Indie music, the idea of a new Hives record and tour has lost its grandeur (if it ever really had it - this kind of music should not be considered momentous). But give credit where credit is due: Having not seen them since July 2004 at Irving Plaza, I wondered if they still put on a spectacular live show and they do. Though it has lost some of its luster. The suit gimmick is old. But Howlin' Pelle Almqvist's energy is not. He's still got the magnetism. And one cannot take away from the Hives the simple fact that they are one of the three or four bands from the early years of this decade that brought rock n roll back from the dead. This was a nice trip down memory lane.

Not so nice a trip were the Donnas. They too had their moment in the early years of the decade, really on the strength of one excellent song, "Take It Off". But they had nothing else to them. Not even looks (the exceptionally gorgeous lead singer, Donna A B C or D whatever, is the only dolly in the bunch and by a mile at that). They tried to make a comeback last year with a decent song, "Don't Wait Up For Me", but it was a needless rip off of a couple of Joan Jett hits and it sunk like a stone. They are tired, they are forced. Even the lead beauty's use of "fuck" for every other word felt insincere. They are not punk. They are not anything. They are not even a good tribute to the hair bands they seem to love almost exclusively now. They almost - ALMOST - made me want to listen to Europe's "The Final Countdown" as some sort of refuge.

Pela; Apollo Sunshine
@ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Brooklyn, NY - February 27, 2008

Brooklyn's Pela came out a whompin' and a whoopin' with their thunderous pop-rock. When they are exquisite, they are the utter definition of it. Led by the whirling vox of Billy McCarthy (who boasts a fine fedora), the band hammers away like a construction crew, not unlike the National (whose drummer was hoppin' around the show) but with a concentrated effort to stomp and jig (and not pause for much else). It should be noted that after about half the set, it did start to wear down but this may have been more from Pennypacker's exhaustion than from the band's music. This was no letdown.
Apollo Sunshine, on the other hand, was bad. After starting off with a pleasant dream-rock song and then a rollicking power-chord ripper, it looked good. But the remainder of the set was drenched in prog-jam affairs that put the thing on autopilot and into snoozeville.

The Airborne Toxic Event; Bombaldi
@ Pianos
New York, NY - February 27, 2008

With their first few chords, the Airborne Toxic Event instantly became the second best band from Los Angeles (hard to top X y'all). Driving power pop, substantive deeper melodies at work in the background, anchored by the deep, flowing voice of Mikel Jollet - this band covers all the bases and then some. This wasn't just a typical show either. This was a PACKED Pianos waiting for these guys, a band arriving only with 3-song EP at the merch table. Furious yet elegant, the total package, the ATE cover all the bases of rock n' roll and lived up to what were obviously high and enthusiastic expectations.
It felt like a CMJ show. An overcrowded Pianos, managers/publicists swarming the band in seconds after the set was over.
It cannot be overstated what an unbelievably good time this was. It's not even March yet, and this may have been the show of the year. And where the heck did they come from? It may be premature, but we may be looking at the next big thing here...
And as previously mentioned, here is a band with a great literary reference, but they've proven that DeLillo's White Noise isn't just an ode to the wonders of fat chicks. That's what the book was about, right?
Caught Bombaldi upstairs while waiting for the doors to open. Seem like nice guys working through the pop-rock thing. More hits than misses. Just don't get the costumes though. But at the rate things are going, these guys will be packin' em somewhere soon.

The National; My Brightest Diamond
@ Brooklyn Academy of Music Howard Gilman Opera House
Brooklyn, NY - February 23, 2008

The National took advantage of the excellent acoustics at the BAM Opera House on this, their second of two nights closing out the Brooklyn Next festival. Backed by strings, reeds, and horns (and on "Ada" by Sufjan Stevens), in front of beautiful backdrops, and in a gorgeous piece of art & architecture that is the opera house, the band made a very strong case for the superlative "best band in the world". Though it is a title not given to any band out of the cause of mental health, these guys really are taking a stab it.
The enthralling, enchanting voice and aura of Matt Beringer, singing his peerless lyrics, provide the depth and direction for the bedrock, original sound of the band. They articulate his words in song just about as good as he can himself. This is one successful arrangement. And when he's off running into the crowd, standing on arm rests to pound out "Mr. November", the band is holding the fort down on stage. When he's, whether he admits it or not, essaying the definitive capture of these times in this country in "Fake Empire", they are finding new ways to build a chamber of ethereal and heart pumping sound. And when they all work together as the unit they are on the now classic "Abel" or the towering, perfect "Apartment Story", it is simply the best. Period. The best.
Only 1 disappointment: No "All The Wine". Scandalous.

My Brightest Diamond, the project of Shara Worden, was a quality choice of an opener for this particular kind of show. A hybrid of classical, opera, cabaret, American Gothic, and punk (yes that reads like a description of an electronic-less Bjork but there is some originality here of the first order), this is an acquired taste even if one is aiming to see even a symphonic chamber rock band like the National. If you have the patience, this will work for you. It also helps to be in the setting that it is in.

Sam Champion; Drug Rug; The XYZ Affair; Salt & Samovar
@ Bowery Ballroom
New York, NY - February 15, 2008

So Sam Champion apparently isn't named after the local-turned-national weatherman. Yeah right. Either way, the band Sam Champion revels in an array of 70's arena, southern, and hard rock with many deviations to 80's pop rock (including a cover of Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby"). It's easy to see why they've been a New York happening band for awhile, but they also really should have taken off by now. What's the hold up? This is prime material for major success.
The other 3 bands of the night have all been reviewed before and while none of them were bad the first time around, they all exponentially improved since those first times.
Drug Rug has mutated some of the country stomp from the CMJ show into power chord rock n' roll. They can really get a fire going, especially lil' Sarah Cronin with her Angus Young-style spasms, using a guitar that's probably twice her body weight and practically her height. The band, which seems leaner from the first review, has really tapped into something solid, whether it be from their own material or in a cover of a friend of theirs, who is in a band called Viva Viva (though I swore Sarah said "Diva Viva" which had me wondering about the rhyming schemes and what they are smoking up there in Boston).
Alex Feder and the lads in the XYZ Affair bookended their set with their twin power pop hits of 2007 but in the middle they played a sly take on Indie pop. They really sound like no one else. The affable, friendly quartet were joined by a small horn section to do a little Earth, Wind, & Fire post-Valentine's groovin'. Watch out for these guys: they had the largest crowd of the night. Side fashion note: guitarist/keyboardist Russ looked like the second coming of Billy Zoom last review in July, now he's sporting a Joe Jackson/Woody Allen combined look. It's good.
Salt & Samovar seemed to offer a lot more than what was kind of a lumbering set at the O'Death show in December. They incorporate a larger sound, variations on rock and country, and maybe even a little surf on one or two songs?
DJ Awesome Goodtimes spun records between sets and now some observations: The Rapture's "Get Myself Into It" is a smash hit and PEOPLE STILL LOVE THE DARKNESS. THE DARKNESS. But the Strokes' "Hard to Explain" killed the crowd. That's right. New Yorkers were still sweet on the Darkness but not the Strokes. `
Whoever booked this show deserves a slap on the back. This is one of those rare gigs where every act on the bill is a known or budding quantity in the New York music circle. And it was the right mix. Kudos.

Shwa Losben; Chris Bergson Band; Franz Leadon
@ Rockwood Music Hall
New York, NY - February 2, 2008

Indie pop sensation Shwa Losben played to a packed house at Rockwood, delivering the hooks and melodies reminiscent of a young Brendan Benson, but without the look of malnourishment, which goes a long way.
Chris Bergson and his band would be a proper fit on the Raven n' the Blues or the Roadhouse podcast, if he hasn't been on either of those shows yet.
Franz Leadon is a satisfying acoustic guitarist and he certainly had his own crowd in the palm of his hands.

My Teenage Stride
@ Don Hill's
New York, NY - February 1, 2008

First a personal note. Never been to Don Hill's before, have no idea what this mondo party is. I walk in. People dancing. 5 seconds later, as if on cue, Camera Obscura's "If Looks Could Kill" comes on and people go nuts. It was like an entrance theme. I love that band.


Remember the 80's? My Teenage Stride certainly does, and - this is critical here - they remember the good parts. It took me a few weeks to figure it out but they recall, mostly, the Jam (without a keyboard). Power Pop - New Wave - Bar Band. A nice little trifecta to craft ditties if ever there was one. The band, particularly their lead singer, seemed to think they were terrible and that they "need improvement". Eh. If that's what he thinks, so be it. John Q. Public certainly liked it, so chew on that buddy. And don't mess with "To Live And Die In The Airport Lounge", already one of the best songs of the year (Number 1 on the Pennypacker Ipod Top 20 Countdown, 2 weeks running).
Add this unit to the cadre of bands like Looker, Action Painters, and Wormburner - New York bands not exactly part of the current hipster set but carving out a solid niche of no frills, all fun substantive rock n' roll.

"you got to be a child to have straaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaange problems". I love it.

Heavy Trash; Puddin' Tang; Feels So Good Let's Do It
@ Glasslands
Brooklyn, NY - 1/11/08

There is no one quite like Jon Spencer. An amalgam of every pure, vibrant form of Americana rock n' roll, Mr. Spencer embodies the spirit of Elvis Presley and the fire of Jerry Lee Lewis in the rhetorical guise of Tom Waits. His hypnotic voice brings Buddy Holly to the cerebral world. Roy Orbison to the dark side. All the more fitting then that his collaboration with Matt VERTA-Ray (apologies for the misspelling in the year-end review that - for reason beyond control - cannot be corrected) found its way to an esoteric art gallery on the industrial wasteland of Kent Street in western Williamsburg. Between Matt's gruff-yet-suave git skills and Jon's all-encompassing gravity, along with more than able bass and drum players, Heavy Trash is the most thrilling revival of American music. Period.
Puddin' Tang's terrible name (though Puddin' remains one of the funniest sounding words in the language) does not get in the way of their garage-stomp rock. Somewhat eclectic and good fun.
The needlessly longed name Feels So Good Let's Do It suffered from persistent tech problems and that DID get in the way.

1900's; Stevie Jackson; Laura Gibson
@ Union Hall
Brooklyn, NY - January 10, 2008

What is it with Union Hall and Chicago bands and gals named Laura?

Chi-town wunderkinds the 1900's shimmy and shake with their effervescent Indie pop-rock, still culling the best bits of the 70's and even making this old curmudgeon finally warm up...ONLY A LITTLE BIT...to Fleetwood Mac. And when they aren't doing that, they're jamming psychedelic rock n' roll and ending the show with a big flourish, the knockout "Two Ways". A fantastic way to kick off the year. And they're all lookers - every one of 'em.

Stevie Jackson of Belle & Sebastien played light-hearted acoustic folk and entertained the crowd with his amicable personality, nice suit, and Scottish accent. Glasgow: clearly the Chicago of Scotland. Or is Chicago the Glasgow of America? Stevie rocked out on a Gibson SG during the 1900's finale and did a little all out power pop of his own when the band joined him for his finale beforehand (Soundbites NYC has a video). He also had Laura Cantrell to sing a couple ballads, including Hank 1's "Lost Highway".

Acoustic singer-songwriters are a dime-a-dozen and it's hard to stand out. But Laura Gibson not only stands out, she radiates. Her substantive, full, textured ballads are matched by her delicate, warm persona. She has a true magnetic presence on the stage, not in spite of, but because of, her charming softness. It was like listening to a cloud.

If Laura Gibson's and Laura Cantrell's appearances at Union Hall tonight weren't enough for you, Cantrell will be back in a short order as will Laura Veirs.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007, Oct-Dec

O'Death; Salts and Samovar; Hoots and Hellmouth; The Goddamn Rattlesnake
@ Mercury Lounge
New York, NY - December 21, 2007

O'Death's punk-metal inspired bluegrass is a stand-out take on the Appalachian and Delta revival sounds that have remained vibrant for most of this decade. Greg Jamie's shrieky metal voice is a bizarre fit with the strumming and the pickin' but it works.
Salts and Samovar recalls the lumbering side of Murder by Death and that ilk, which it means it sometimes works a whole hell of a lot and sometimes it doesn't work at all, and sometimes both in the same song. Their cover of Hank Williams' "Ramblin' Man" is their big highlight.
Hoots and Hellmouth owned the night with their exceptional hybrid of bluegrass melodies and Philly soul vocals. These Philadelphia boys sound like they are taking you to church and even Satan has a good time there.
The Goddamn Rattlesnake kicked off this plaid convention with their more Western-spun, banjo-driven country music that included a Merle Haggard cover.

Franz Nicolay; Erik Petersen; The Cotton Jones Basket Ride
@ Mercury Lounge
December 9, 2007

It was a night of solo acoustic sets by musicians known in bands (the headliner was Danbert Nobacon of Chumbawumba). Franz Nicolay is as verbosely rich as he is visually and musically rich. Displaying a strong octave range, Franz strummed folk-pop whimsy and observation. A little work on the accordion and it was a great set.

Erik Petersen is from a Philly punk band, Mischief Brew and by his style and the fans who showed up, we're talking the Social Distortion vein. Some of the sentiments in his originals were a bit murky but his covers of "Midnight Special" and "Fairytale of New York" were fun.
The Cotton Jones Basket Ride, themselves a spinoff of some project, are a sharp rock n' roll band who sound musically a lot like Holly Golightly - meaning a little go-go 60's blues rock. The ballads stand out more than the snappy ones, which all sort of blend together but no matter - they were very, very good.

@ Terminal 5
New York, NY - November 30 and December 1, 2007

2 and a half hours each night from the Ween team with only 1 song played on both nights, their brand new theme song "Fiesta". Gene had the vocal chops while Dean did the licks like the legend-in-the-making that he is. Dave, looking more like Larry Fine than ever, Glen, and of course Claude, all brought the elements to the mix. Claude stole the second night with a show stopping mega drum solo (and I mean show stopping, the show ended after he was finished), but also on the second night, at the conclusion of an acoustic set, Aaron put down the acoustic, picked up his gorgeous Gibson, and wailed a guitar solo on their greatest ballad, "I Don't Want It", that rivaled any great pop-rock solo, and equaled (if not actually briefly surpassed) Mickey's Fender magnificence.
For all the jamming Ween eventually falls on in their live set, their insistence on eclectic genre switching is what keeps 'em going and the shorter the better. Whether it's the punk rock fun of "Dr. Rock", the power pop of "Transdermal Celebration" and "Even If You Don't" (seven years after the latter's release, it's still looking good for winning the decade's Best Song award), or the pure rock of the exceptional "Gabrielle" (there's nothing like hearing 3,000 people sing along to a demo song), Ween does it all and blah blah you know the rest. But if you had to pick one genre, Ween does country the best. Not because the country songs are better than the pop and rock songs, but because Ween taps into a country vein in a fluid, smooth manner, it's astounding it's the same band. Of course, the country tunes find Ween at some of their most raw and bawdy - "Piss Up A Rope" and "Waving My Dick In The Wind" - but the country-rock of "Johnny On The Spot" shows Ween as the great musicians and songwriters that they are.
And even in the world of jamming, Ween finds a way. The Jazz of "Pandy Fackler" is like nothing else they do, and they do even that superbly. Ween can do no wrong. Except some of the long jams. But Boognish bless 'em, they're Ween.

Night 1 Highlights:
Exactly Where I'm At
She Wanted To Leave
Baby Bitch
Piss Up A Rope

Your Party
Voodoo Lady
Waving My Dick In The Wind
Even if You Don't
Johnny On The Spot
You Fucked Up
The Stallion
The Mollusk
Mister Richard Smoker
Pandy Fackler
Ocean Man
The Blarney Stone

Night 2 Highlights:

Take Me Away

Transdermal Celebration
Bananas and Blow
Spinal Meningitis Got Me Down
Learning to Love
Happy Colored Marbles
With My Own Bare Hands
Buckingham Green
Tried and True
Help Me Scrape The Mucus Off My Brain
I Don't Want It
Mutilated Lips
Roses Are Free
Powder Blue
Dr. Rock
Womand And Man
Stroker Ace

The Hold Steady; Art Brut; 1990s
@ Terminal 5
New York, NY - November 21, 2007

See here's the thing: By all logic, the Hold Steady should NOT be good. A bar band? A constant focus on Craig Finn's life from 15 years ago? The same topics, phrases, and conventional rock styles repeated over and over in each song? This should be considered right awful uninspired garbage with an exceptional and bizarre level of self-obsession. But lo and behold, this is one of the most fun, most wonderful, most joyus experiences in the world today. Whether it be the belt of house shaking rockers from their 3 records, or the shoulder-embracing ballads, this drunken love fest is beyond reproach. There is something disconcerting about the beer swilling (and whiskey swilling and wine swilling) men on stage singing about their days of yore with a hindsight of years gone by...and their youthful reflections below them, gorging on the very excesses Craig sings about. And yet, it is a time so unabashedly glorious, it slays hyperbole with ease. After all, let's not kid ourselves: life is a cycle and there would be no point in the Hold Steady if Craig looked upon his past with total, evangelical, regret. So let the kids do what they must and each will figure out their own road. And as they do, let "Hot Soft Light", "Stuck Between Stations", "The Swish", "Chips Ahoy", "Massive Nights", "You Can Make Him Like You", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend", "South Town Girls", "First Night", "Stay Positive", and "Killer Parties" be their soundtrack for better or worse.

Art Brut has become something of a comedy band. The new projector screen full of funnies insures that ("TWICE" flashing over and over after Eddie Argos' proclamation of how many times he's seen his brand new girlfriend naked was the highlight). But damned if they don't provide bitching solos, stomping hooks, and headbanging fun. Eddie's run through the crowd was marred only by the crowd's shocking lack of enthusiasm (who'd a thunk the Art Brut fans would be much calmer than the Hold Steady fans) but when the man sang "hey ho, let's go!" in ode to New York's greatest, you knew where the band's heart lay, in the right spot. "18,000 Lira", "Pump Up The Volume", "Direct Hit", "Good Weekend", "My Little Brother", and particularly "Modern Art" worked best.

1990s opened the show with that slap dash good time 3 chord dancey rock n' roll that made them the buzz of CMJ. Distant cousins of Franz Ferdinand (the band, not the archduke), this Scotch-led trio proved a time tested hallmark of a great band: making the album filler sound alive...live. Not perfect. Like Art Brut after them, there was some unavoidable "enough already" moments, but, when you take in all 3 bands in one night, it makes you lament, yet again, the state of popular music today. And that makes you feel old, which is exactly what the point of these 3 bands is not. Well maybe that is the point of the Hold Steady. Who knows. Walk around and drink some more and then find out.

Bling Kong; Scotland Yard Gospel Choir
@ Union Hall
New York, NY - November 17, 2007

I'm not exactly sure what Bling Kong is supposed to be but the cute girls singing upfront with the backing band is getting old fast and even with, or maybe especially because of, the garage rock feel of this particular set up, it doesn't really work that well. Also, the whole art house concept thing around it seemed a bit much. And there were balloons. I hate balloons. A lot. In fact, if it wasn't for the balloons, I'd have probably liked it.
A second night of SYGC (instant band initial status is always a good sign, unless you're CFK or whatever) and they kept it up. This is a band to dance to, or take in lyrically, or both. Some of the peppier, even punkier stuff when meshed with horn, give off that old ska-punk vibe, which by all accounts, should not be a good thing but they make it work very well without overly recalling that sound, scene, or the annoying asshole college roomates who wouldn't shut up about that genre of music some five years after it was popular but then 2 weeks later switched to going on about rave music. On the other hand, Fishbone was really good so if there are a few moments of recalling Fishbone, what's to complain about? In other words, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir is very good.
Side-note: Union Hall is pretty much the defacto stop for Chicago bands. The Changes, the 1900's, and now SYGC have all played there. I hope these Chicagoans realize there isn't actually a union using the joint? "Welcome, brothers of Local 643. As you know, our president, Chuckie Fitzhugh, ain't been seen lately. We're all prayin' he'll turn up soon, alive and well."

Electric Six; The Willowz
@ Bowery Ballroom
New York, NY - November 16, 2007

It could not be resisted. With the previous gig being so early, and the Bowery Ballroom so close, how could a seventh Electric Six show be passed up? Sure, Horton Heat was in town, sure VHS or Beta were doing their own dance-rock thing, sure there were a ton of great gigs in the night but there is only one (or six, rather, or actually when you really think about it, nine or ten) Electric Six. It was well worth going. For possibly the first time in seven reviews, not counting any possible drunken blackouts, Valentine and the gang did "Electric Demons in Love". From the first record, the second track, the one that truly establishes the band as Disco Metal and arguably remains their finest song. Forget "Danger! High Voltage!". This is the track that should have been the hit and should have made this band as big in the U.S.A. as it is in Europe, if not bigger. But speaking of bigness, for the first time in about four or five reviews, the show was not sold out and packed to the gills, and the mosh pit (featuring only some of the regulars) was more subdued for larger portions of the show than previously. Could the U.S.A. Six Success have peaked? Or was everyone home because of the news Valentine broke? That Larry King had died? (Dick did seem actually serious about it but of course as we know now, Larry is alive and well. Cleveland, Hello!) Anyway, this is one of the best, if not the best, Electric Six performance ever reviewed and not just for "Demons". Exuberant, extra saucy highlights also include the new "Dance Pattern", the classic "Dance Epidemic", "I Buy The Drugs", "Future is in the Future", "Improper Dancing", and "Rock n Roll Evacuation", which had Valentine's latest political ramblings, that while New York will have to (probably) pick between its current senator and its former mayor for President, that as poor as that choice is, it's all better than Bush. And finally, after years of ranting by D.V., we got one good, fist-shaking wail of "Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuush!" Loved it.
Dude, I don't know what it is about the Willowz man. They look like they should be doing some country bumpkins from hell thing, some Little House on the Prairie meets Black Sabbath type deal, but they really just do garage. Maybe it's the singer's voice? Maybe it's a lack of substantive follow through on the opening licks? I don't know. They aren't that bad, but there is something definitely missing. But kudos to them, they were fun to laugh and dance with in the balcony during the Six set. But word of caution guys: When people in the audience heckle you, do not taunt them and threaten to fight them. It is unbecoming. Especially when you have a charming gal in the band.

Uncle Monk; Scotland Yard Gospel Choir; Used To Be Women; Alec Scott
@ Knitting Factory Old Office
New York, NY - November 16, 2007

So yeah this is the first review of a living, breathing Ramone. The last original Ramone no less. Tommy Erdelyi performed his sincere, fun, and frankly, good, bluegrass duo material. There's not much to wax on about it. It was straight forward mandolin and acoustic bluegrass. By Tommy Ramone. You can't beat that.
Scotland Yard Gospel Choir are a great Chicago bar band that do it in a folky and stompy fashion. Lots of Indie pop sensibilities but with a nod to the more basic elements of good live rock. It's official by the way, Chicago has arrived. The city is now teeming with great bands and its an eclectic brew. The next few years ought to be a lot of fun.
Used to be Women seem to want to be an alt-country, contemporary hard rock mix but they sound more like the latter and it's a little unorganized and not in that good, punk way. It's kind of hollow.
Oh, Alec Scott. Alec, Alec, Alec. You are true to your soul, I'll give you that. It was something to hear this young acoustic soft pop-folk performer talk in length to the audience about his songs, especially when he lectured the crowd about the merits of Michael Moore and how he was inspired to write "The White House Is Corrupt" because of the big man. Now, political debates about Moore aside, the point here is that Mr. Scott talked to the crowd as if the crowd had no idea who Michael Moore is. This was the first clue that young Alec has a lot to learn. Later, he feebly tried to get the crowd to sing along. And then finally, he nervously rambled on about the sound guy, his two bandmates on bass and sax respectively, and himself. And that's just it. He was nervous. I hope. Anyway, this Dave Matthews thing he's going for needs more metaphor and poetry if it's going to work. If you're going for a Woody Guthrie, tell-it-like-it-is approach, just do that. Pick and choose, young friend. Pick and choose.

The Pipettes; Nicole Atkins & The Sea; Monster Bobby
@ Blender Theater at Gramercy
New York, NY - November 12, 2007

This pains me to write. But it is what it is: This was an awful show. The Pipettes, for all their polka dot goodness and British attractiveness, were out of tune, out of sync, and just plain bad. The backing band was soulless, devoid of the heartfelt soul (and the musical talent) mandatory for making 60's girl group rock good. This sounded more like a rejected act from Pop Idol, rather than a true homage to Dusty Springfield, the Ronettes, and such. It appears my recent slight was well founded after all.
Nicole Atkins & The Sea's unexpected second review on the blog in less than a month was unnecessary but it did back up some basic truths: Nicole's voice is exceptional and she is a real charmer. But the songs range from the dull to just OK.
Monster Bobby, according to what is seen on the internet, is the band leader for the Pipettes but I sure didn't notice him on the stage. His own solo opening appeared at first to be a comedy act, and that was fine, but it dragged after a bit, especially when the songs themselves - 1 and 2 minute folk-disco pop ditties - didn't seem to be comedy oriented. Make up your mind, old chap.

I don't know...maybe I shouldn't have seen No Country For Old Men before going to the gig. :(

Josh Ritter; Eric Bachman
@ Webster Hall
New York, NY - November 9, 2007

About a year ago, in the previous incarnation of this blog, it was pretty well established that Josh Ritter's Animal Years was the Album of the Year. That title hasn't held up but no matter - that record showcased what is solid truth: The native of Moscow, Idaho is one of the most accessible but authentic singer-songwriters around. His songs are easy, almost light as the breeze, and in many ways, he's a conventional type. But there is depth, substance, relevance, and skill in all his work. His effervescent nature is the steam engine of this cross-country folk-rock machine. And his band is full of character (the bass player's whiskers included) and all told, it is a whole heck of a lot of fun.

Eric Bachman is a part-folkie, part-grimey bluesman with a wide palate. He recalls a range from Tom Waits to Sam Beam. He just needs to iron out the wrinkles in blazer. That's not metaphor. He really needs an iron. That coat was really wrinkled.

Band of Horses; The Drones; Tyler Ramsey
@ Terminal 5
November 4, 2007

Band of Horses played their biggest show ever and they did it in style. Another band that benefits from brevity, the Northwest-turned-South Carolinian collection of beardos play symphonic pop-rock in short bursts. If they went long, or approached jam band territory, this would be bad. The crowd had a lot of frat boys and wannabe-hippies, presumably all because the band has a song called "Weed Party", and critics zero in on simplistic lyrics, but the music of Band of Horses is targeted, really, at sophisticates and those looking to escape for a little while into some forest of deep, thoughtful sound. The band is more mature than they are given credit for.
The Drones are an aptly named quartet from Melbourne. At first, this isn't a pejorative. The intense-sludge harkens back to some of the better 90's grunge and Radiohead moments. But after about 15, 20 minutes - and this is a trend lately - it was enough. One gets the idea. It went on for another 20 minutes or so but it felt like they were on for over an hour.
Tyler Ramsey is a pleasant bluesy finger-picker from Asheville. His music obviously sounds better in a small club rather than the massive swirls of Terminal 5, but it worked.

Gogol Bordello
@ Terminal 5
New York, NY - November 3, 2007

Much like Flogging Molly's Dave King, Eugene Hutz an immigrant to these shores, and he's retained the musical heritage of his nationality to mesh with hardcore punk. But unlike Flogging Molly, Hutz takes Gogol Bordello further in its aesthetic. He and his band ham it up with displays of fashion and spectacle, to the point where it is border-line gimmick. And frankly, Hutz would just be Borat if he wasn't the real deal. And it is with this authenticity, this legitimacy, that Hutz makes Gogol Bordello such an overpowering, overwhelming force. And this mandate is articulated in what is perhaps the most dominating aspect of the Gogol experience: the fans. There can't be many, if any, other crowds that are this intense on such a wide scale and in such a wide breadth. Hipsters, punks, artists, Russian clubbers, old folks, young folks, teens, druggies, drunkards, fashionistas...everyone was at this thing. And just about everyone was bouncing off the wall. From the front to the back, all points in between, the entire floor - hundreds of people, if not over a thousand - was a pit. And it wasn't so much a mosh pit as it was a pit of dancing and mass movement. Every hand up in the air. Every single one. And everyone jumping. And the most intense crowd surfing possible. It was all very much like the wedding fiesta Hutz yearns for in his critique "American Wedding" (by the way, anyone who sings about marinated herring is automatically one of the greats of the age). Hutz is the messiah of these meshugganah. And it is hypnotic.
But except for exquisite outburts like "Start Wearing Purple" and "Wanderlust King", all this star-bursting energy starts to take a pretty quick toll. The dancing luchadore (who sometimes seems to think he's in Papa Roach rather than Gogol Bordello) and the girls and all the rest can only go so far. The tension between Hutz's authenticity and the gimmicky excesses is strong. It's a memorable, awe-inspiring experience, but it's almost too much. These gypsy punks - sometimes more like gypsy pirates than anything else - lead a very rockin' ship of state. But it could tip over at any minute.

Some more evaluation of Terminal 5: If you don't get there early, the only good views are in the back of the floor, by the back bar. And the sound is awful back there. Utterly awful.

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
@ Hammerstein Ballroom
October 31, 2007

Holy unexpected show reviews, Batman!

It figures. On any given night in any town in North America, Ryan Adams can be known for donning chain mail and doing his best Danzig impression. But at the hyped-up Halloween night concert in New York City, all the holiday hoopla emanated from a lonely little jack-o-lantern atop the piano, and some costumed people in the crowd. For Ryan, it was just another show. At least just another show for this tour - meaning, a 3-hour plus marathon (I left at exactly the 3-hour mark when he started up yet another ballad).
The sheer immensity of the show felt like a ton of weight pressing down after awhile. And the song selections - about 60% balladry - started to bring on a case of the sleepies. But when Ryan and the band sizzled, they sizzled. The Cardinals are so good by this point, they make Ryan songs their own. And when Ryan and the band back-up guitarist Neal Casal on his lead, you'd almost instantly forget who's the main man up there. While the band knows all of Ryan's material, they excel at the last record they cut with him, Easy Tiger. Like at that fantastic, intimate show at the Hiro in June, "The Sun Also Sets" and "Two" sounded exquisite.
So it may not have been bizarre, goofy Ryan at his maximum, and it may have been like trying to run through mud, but there is no doubt that Ryan Adams & The Cardinals are the cream of their crop. And other cliches. Awwww yeah.

Morrissey; Girl in a Coma
@ Hammerstein Ballroom
New York, NY - October 26, 2007

Everyone's second favorite Manc (behind Karl Pilkington of course) was light on the Smiths, heavy on his own material, and as he put it, can take "poetic license" with all of it as he sees fit. And the crowd let him do as he pleased. As a Morrissey concert novice, this writer was a bit worried that the old Mancunian warhorse would be a bit icy and distant but on the contrary, Our Man Morrissey was warm, interactive, and insistently charming. He even had macho frat boys going "Dude, I wish I could hug Morrissey right now, bruh" (true story). The genius of the whole thing was the brevity. Most of the man's songs would suffer if they went on too long, but only 1 seemed to go past 4 minutes. A rock n' roll spirit to English pop never hurts. No "Everyday is like Sunday" but "First of the Gang to Die" sufficed. And he's a decent looking bloke too.
Piss-poor mini-clip of Moz
Girl in a Coma were a replacement for Kristeen Young (who was dismissed from the tour) and with all due respect, Morrissey would have been better off going it alone. The San Antonio trio of girls seem to think they are playing some kind of authentic punk rock - and god bless 'em for their spirit - but they sound like nothing more than the suburban pimple rock that has plagued rock n' roll for a decade now. They need a little bit of soul, or maybe even a dash of Texican spice, to make it work.

The Dirtbombs
@ Maxwell's
Hoboken, NJ - October 20, 2007

An epic 3 night run around the NYC metro area came to an end, along with the five nights of CMJ, at the iconic Maxwell's in Hoboken. Tonight's "Candy Ass" report: the original version returns, rejoining the stable of audio intensity that makes for the most satisfying, hip shaking, head banging time of one's life. What more is there left to say? Truly, what is there left to say?

The Hard Lessons
@ Magnetic Field
Brooklyn, NY - October 20, 2007

You know there was a brief time when this writer got so cynical, he kind of sassed the Hard Lessons for being so positive, so resilient, and so determined. Who the hell were they? Who the hell did they think were? Didn't they know they were supposed to be too-cool-for-school and mildly indifferent to the rock n' roll lifestyle? Jerks. Of course, everyone knows the deal by now: very few other bands have the fun and the joy this band has, and very few have so much productive value to show for it. The new "See and Be Scene" is the latest in a string of individual pop sensations that - and you knew this was coming - in a just world, would be a Top Ten smash across America. And better yet, they saved everyone in the crowd about 192 dollars with their so-good-it's-almost-knee-shaking ode to Neil with "Hey Hey My My".

The Dirtbombs; The Intelligence
@ Southpaw
Brooklyn, NY - October 19, 2007

Tonight's show is noteworthy in that Mick and the gang attracted both a legion (hehe) of new fans and found some old ones not seen in awhile. It was good times all around, up front, in the back, and all over. Tonight's version of "Candy Ass" wasn't as sexed up as the night before, but it was still the Dirtbombs at their best.
A second helping of the Intelligence left a satiated but not entirely satisfactory feeling. There's got to be something untapped that needs to bust out to make this one work 100%.

Sahara Hotnights; 1900s; Drug Rug
@ Bowery Ballroom
New York, NY - October 19, 2007

Sweden's Sahara Hotnights were once a punk band then popped it up in subsequent years and they sounded fine either way. The new songs continue the pop trend and while it is unclear if this band will ever have another hurrah, it's good to have these ladies around.
The 1900s are really inspired by a host of 70's country-rock and pop bands, from America to the Eagles (ugh) to Marshall Tucker Band to John Denver and so on and so forth. It may not be the most exciting brand of rock to draw from, but they pull it off with finesse and legitimacy. And for a pretty serious band, they seem to be having fun. Just don't venture into Fleetwood Mac territory kids (ahem, Rilo Kiley, ahem) and you'll do just fine. For the money, nothing beats "Georgia".
Drug Rug, as the name may suggest, is a hippie-ish jam band. As a general rule nowadays, this is kind of a bad thing. But unlike other jam band acts, Drug Rug doesn't squander good songs on boring long jams. The band takes mediocre to half-decent tunes and turns into them into solid, fun, foot stompin' jams. The jams are actually the best part, maybe because it's based in a general band-wide country freakout rather than a series of show-offy solos. And for the record, the girl in this band, may just be about the most cutest thing on the face of this planet. Seriously. So cute that it needed to be mentioned in serious consideration of this review. Cute shouldn't be this beautiful. It's almost scary.

The Dirtbombs; Jay Reatard; The Intelligence; Miss Alex White and the Red Orchestra; Cheap Time; Turbo Fruits
@ Mercury Lounge
New York, NY - October 18, 2007

Yadda yadda Dirtbombs yadda yadda nothing better live than this yadda yadda new material sounds great yadda yadda particularly "Wreck My Flow" yadda yadda special cover of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" yadda yadda "Candy Ass" was reworked into a gloriously sexed up, funkified version that made the band sound as fresh as ever yadda yadda gabba gabba hey yadda yadda Dirtbombs forever.
Hardcore garage punk is not really this blog's thing, but let's not mince words. Jay Reatard is f-ing great. He's the best at what he does. The raw power and energy behind the thrashy, trashy rock n' roll could give you an apoplectic fit if you weren't careful. And again, the best part: Beneath that gruff exterior lies a sucker for 3-chord rock n' roll melody. This Memphis boy could be just at home in an arena as a small club, but that's something a lot of people probably don't want to hear.
The Intelligence certainly sounded different, at least at first, from every other band of the night. But what started as a potentially provocative experimental hybrid of a few types of rock n' roll sort of devolved into basic, pound-away attempts at punk. They were not bad though.
Miss Alex White has enough charisma, presence, and authenticity to be Chicago's only prized export, but even though she has to share the burden, she's still got it all. In The Red is lucky to have her.
Cheap Time was really hyped for this blog. So it's not their fault that it then became impossible for them to live up to the hype. But with hard work and good direction, they'll get there. But wasn't Jemma Pearl supposed to be in this band?
Turbo Fruits did not sound quite as good as they did at the Bowery this past summer but these kids have such gumption and spirit, they can't be denied. The wellspring of Tennessee rock does have its cup flowing over. Or something like that.

Black Tie Revue
@ Southpaw
Brooklyn, NY - October 17, 2007

With frantic gig hopping last night, and the big all night In The Red showcase tomorrow night,
tonight was the ripe opportunity for a one-and-done affair. Pittsburgh's Black Tie Revue is an excellent live band, delivering crafty power chords and melodies with every tune. They get better each time they play, and they sounded great in the relatively large confines of Southpaw. It can only go forward from here.

@ Pianos
New York, NY - October 16, 2007

By a stroke of luck, I caught the last 2 and a half songs by Looker for the fourth and final gig of the night. The sound at Pianos was much kinder to the band than the set-up at the Lucky Cat's, showcasing the quartet's knack for pop hooks and rock n' roll. The sizable crowd was really into it. A great nightcap to end a packed first night of CMJ 2007.

Wormburner; Vegabond
@ Midway
New York, NY - October 16, 2007

Last time (the first time) I saw Wormburner I was really drunk. Incredibly, and needlessly, drunk. And I liked what I heard. Wormburner had to pass the sobriety test and the band passed it with flying colors. Glorious power rock, at times pop, at times all out rock n roll, Wormburner blends the needless rock labeling system and spits out something incredibly catchy and fun. They are having a great time up there and they bring it out in the audience. Stay tuned, this is going to be one of New York's best.
It's not often, if ever, an overtly hostile review of a band is put on this blog. I try to go out of my way to not overtly criticize a band beyond the flaws that I, as an average listener with no personal musical expertise, may see. But then there are times like Vegabond. I am sorry, guys, I really am. I don't mean to be a total insensitive ass about this but...this was awful. Utterly awful. It's not that Goth-metal can't be my thing at times - anything can be good at some point - but this was just trite, uninspired, shlock rock.

Teenage Prayers; Mixtapes and Cellmates
@ Arlene's Grocery
New York, NY - October 16, 2007

The Teenage Prayers began their set with a bit of bar-band rock and it was looking good but they were foiled by sound problems. Another problem for the New York band, was that some of the better tunes were sidelined by the cluttered, noisy ones. The band sounds better when it is organized. Their 70's pop-rock inspirations work better than their Grateful Dead and Band inspirations.
Mixtapes and Cellmates, a young quartet from Stockholm opened the CMJ festivities at Arlene's with their own sound problems and they thought for sure they had played a trainwreck. But surprise, surprise, they sounded alright and maybe more importantly their overall sonic template is really good. A bit Britpop, this band sounded familiar but was hard to define. If anything, their synth backbeat leads to something on the order of Coldplay meets VHS or Beta. They make good, thinking music, but you can move to it, or just let it wash over you. This is music ripe for a good soundtrack. This may be one of the better discoveries at this year's marathon.

John White
@ Cake Shop
New York, NY - October 16, 2007

Sonic Parthenon's CMJ Music Marathon coverage got underway with a stop-in at the free show going on at the Cake Shop. New Zealander John White offers delicate acoustic folk in the vein of Iron & Wine. Gentle, mellow, but also ethereal and a bit spooky.

The National; St. Vincent
@ Terminal 5
New York, NY - October 11th 2007

This review was going to be prefaced with a lengthy analysis of the last seven years and how the great Indie revival of rock n' roll could be split in two between a more rockin', fast-paced, stripped down first half and a more mature, thematic, thoughtful second half...but why bother? In reality, it was just an excuse to explain how relevant music jumped from the Hives and Vines to the National. No matter. Let's get into this thing.

First, welcome to Terminal 5. This blogger, by happenstance and without much effort, became the first patron to enter the venue on opening night (trying to escape from the pouring rain can lead to good things). I was able to take in the entire place in its near emptiness and appreciated what the Bowery Presents is attempting to do. A comfortable large venue, with cushioned seats to relax in back - on 2 upper levels - with great surround views of the MASSIVE platformed stage. Granted, the stage looks a bit like a High School prom, but no matter. Terminal 5, in just its opening minutes of existence, promised to be a landmark venue for New York.

While this blogger became a most minor footnote in history, St. Vincent became a more significant one when she became the first artist to play the room. Initially, her deep, dark sound resonated well, and that mysterious three-prong tower of light behind her made for an impressive view, but it became apparent that the material felt hollow without a backing band. She is a gifted singer and songwriter (see/hear "Marry Me John"), but a one-person act for such constructed music just won't do.

Then arrived the National. The National are truly a strong intake of musical oxygen, a deep inhalation of several sounds that, when exhaled, produce something unified and special. Americana roots rock, British 80's pop, and assortment of folk sounds seem to make their way - and who knows if the band would even agree to that - into the distinct, original pop of this most sturdy and yet relaxed of bands. The brothers Dessner and Devendorf recall a host of bands that are tiring to name but they do not sound like them at all. It's a paradigm of sorts. And if it isn't, let's call it one anyway. But more important than the meat-and-potatoes of the stew, it is the end product that defines the band: Inspiring, emotional, soaring, at times anthemic, and at times introspective, and always meaningful. Lead singer Matt Berninger shares the gravity with the rest of the band but at the same time, he commands a marked presence. That voice of his, one of the finest voices in music today, is so loud without even approaching upper octaves. When he does sing loud, it is so much more special than when other singers wail frequently, and it has all the more impact. And when he's in moment, in his trance, he brings everyone into it with him.

There are too many highlights to mention from the opening strains of "Start A War" to the thunderous finale of "Mr. November". As the encore got underway, Matt popped some champagne in honor of the new house, and poured a little in honor of it all. Cheers.

The Raveonettes; Nicole Atkins; Gliss
@ Southpaw
Brooklyn, NY - October 10, 2007

Denmark's Raveonettes, relocated to the USA, have returned to the stripped down (B minor?) sound that they introduced themselves to the world with some four or five years ago. A hard working band, they do it lo-fi distortion right but there was still something lamentable about the lack of a second guitarist and the whimsy of Chain Gang of Love and Pretty in Black.
Nicole Atkins is a singer-songwriter type who does some great ballads and some hit or miss peppy ones. The ballads work because she borrows a little bit of soul, a little bit of country, and a little bit of Spector - both of them.
Gliss are a trio from California that merge the neo-Jesus and Mary Chain thing with the cluddered neo-Joy Division thing. It mostly works. They also make a habit of changing positions all show long.

The Hard Lessons; VLA
@ Union Hall
Brooklyn, NY - October 6, 2007

There aren't harder working kids touring the USA today than the 3 from Detroit affectionately known as the Hard Lessons. They just don't stop, they don't compromise, and most importantly, they are having fun making everyone have fun. You can't beat that. You just can't.
VLA are a Los Angeles trio sounding very Cure-inspired, which is a broad definition, but you know it when you hear it. Better suited for a dance-rock night, they still satisfied.

The Ugly Beats; Mondo Topless
@ Magnetic Field
Brooklyn, NY - October 5, 2007

Austin-based Ugly Beats are a satisfactory if not immediately wowing 60's inspired garage band. Very much influenced by Roky Erickson and co., they know what they are doing, have great direction, and should go places. And their lefty guitarist looks just like the Japanese actor in Babel. No foolin'.
Then there's Mondo. The boys from Philly have a very new drummer in tow and they are sounding great. Not a misstep in the proceedings, the Philly 4 proved once again why they are the best Northeast garage rock band going. They just never screw up. Ever. Seriously.