Archive for the ‘Concerts’ Category
It happens all too infrequently where I’ll revere an album and adore the sounds on it till I tire it out. Then I’ll sometimes look up live versions of certain songs from the album which can sometimes give me a new appreciation of the album tracks or I’ll simply fall in love all over again with the live version. Well both these things happened for two songs from two of my favorite music makers of this year.
First let’s talk about SBTRKT. I recently missed out on an opportunity to see him live here in Chicago because I flew to Philly that weekend to see family. Several of my friends went to see SBTRKT and of those who weren’t kicked out (ha ha!) they said it kicked all kinds of ass. I’m mad jealous. But anyway here’s a live studio recording made for the BBC of SBTRKT’s “Hold On”, a song which is well in contention for bets song of the year.
Next is James Blake. I’ve had the opportunity now to have seen him twice in Chicago. Both times blew my mind to say the least. Here’s a performance of his song “CMYK” from this summer at Pitchfork fest where I saw him the first time. I’m was to the right of the stage if you wanna look for my head It’s incredible how full of a sound he gets with just three guys on stage. The band’s coordination also is incredible as, if you can notice, the guitarist and drummer trade off triggering the song’s characteristic vocal samples.
He walked out onto the stage wearing white feather wings and told us, “My name is Sufjan Stevens and I’m your entertainment for the evening.”
And with that same veil of modesty, he plucked the sad little tune of Seven Swans on his banjo seemingly alone on a vast, dark stage. Only a minute later the backlight flashed red, as the trumpets glared to reveal an eleven-piece band behind him. He threw off his wings and awkwardly pulled on a pair of metallic pants and space suit while simultaneously slinging, now, a guitar over his head. It was so cute- like a costume change a six year old would make trying to imitate his or her favorite pop star. But this was Sufjan and it was so Sufjan.
I say this because, during the concert, we really got to know Sufjan. We listened to him fumble with the three laws of physics and his philosophy on the end of the earth, the beginning of the earth and what he calls the middle of the earth. We laughed nervously when he explained his diabolical relationship with cliffs and abysses like the Grand Canyon. He was so endearing, lonely, funny, but at the same time this man, dressed in metallic flared pants and a neon headband, was also the genius behind the music we were all so moved by.
The theme of the evening was the loneliness of the universe. Sufjan repeatedly used the words, “lonely”, “end”, and “primal”. Primal instincts became important when he described this newest album. He said he stripped his music of form, convention and history (haha). His performance was primal in two very different senses. In one way it was the product of Sufjan’s uninhibited self. It was the removal of any cortical reasoning and instead it was a reliance on older, ancient pleasure centers. It was hedonistic, an overproduction and over sensory stimulation. But it was also primal in another sense. When we weren’t “entertained” with productions such as Age of Adz and Impossible Soul, we were soothed with slower pieces. Sufjan became a soloist, a single lonely man on stage. His music became extremely raw, stripped…
But the majority of the show, when we weren’t watching a man and a banjo, was a Broadway musical: Eleven people on stage, 3 dancers, costumes, props, backdrops. Sufjan made sure you felt the apocalypse nearing when he sang, “Age of Adz” – a song he said, “confuses heartbreak with the end of the earth.” Someone next to me shouted, “They’re the same thing.”
Were we a bunch of overly sentimental alternatives watching an emotional rollercoaster? Sufjan certainly admitted that going through his concert every night was emotionally, physically and spiritually draining. But it made performances such as “I Walked”, and the drippingly gorgeous ,“The Owl and The Tanager” an experience rather than just a passive listening session on the audience’s part.
Sufjan played the 25 minute monster “Impossible Soul” – a song that could only have been written by Sufjan and certainly only have been performed by him. That was the beauty of the whole concert. It was the creative product of Sufjan and in an infinite number of years no one will be able to reproduce all the elements that went into it. Sufjan created a cosmic event that can only occur in some space and some time never to be exactly the same again.
Active Child, a largely new age electronic duo, has been tailing School of Seven Bells around the country. These bands made it all the way from LA to the Otto Bar in Baltimore where I watched them while Brandon shot photos. I was most impressed with the warm-up act, Active Child – Patrick, the lead singer and self-taught harpist, mesmerized the audience with his angelic voice and martyr image. They filled the whole room with purpose.
School of Seven Bells, on the other hand, sounded timid. The lead singer, although enchantingly beautiful, sounded as fragile as she looked.
These are Brandon Medrano’s visual representations of the show. They are more than photos. From them, emotion, meaning, and story emanates. For more of his work go here… http://brandonmedrano.com/
First, find yourself a chill crew of music loving friends – preferably ones with a rooftop porch, grill and plenty of cheeseburgers. It’s okay if they decide to warm up with a little bro music, some OAR, some Dave. Look around, make sure the weather is in the eighties and there is not a cloud in the sky. Also keep an eye on at least two of your friends so that they can safely drive you to the Merriweather Post Pavilion and back.
Before you leave for the concert however, pack extra food, fill your flasks and secure other nourishments. A great trick is to find a relatively close parking lot not associated with the MPP. This way you can avoid exiting traffic and the cops. Arrive at the concert grounds somewhat early so that you have first picks on lawn spots. Make sure you’re not behind one of those giant poles. Take a few moments, or hours, to meditate on the grass.
Finally take in Jim James’s chilling voice – the only distinct feature of My Morning Jacket. Their strength is their ability to hide distinctions by blending. They blend genres of music – rock with indie with folk with country – and then add a touch of psychedelics. They blend the aural experience with the visual experience. This blending is done so masterfully you forget to separate the senses, and genres in your mind. Without separation their performance induces a synesthesia. You perceive the stage lights to be directly linked to the tonal fluctuations in the music. This is what made the concert so incredible, they found a completely novel way to introduce a sensory experience.
Ha, anyway, personal favorites were “Touch Me I’m going to scream”, and “Wordless Chorus.” “Wordless Chorus” introduced me to My Morning Jacket. Some song he sang in a black cape and others in a civil war style jacket. I was only disappointed that they never played “Librarian”!
An Update from PA
You might think that seeing The Morning Benders with Grizzly Bear would be a very repetitive concert. And you would be wrong, as I was. While Chris Taylor (the bassist of Grizzly Bear) produced the Morning Benders’ Big Echo, and while that album definitely gives a Grizzly Bear vibe, the live show reveals all the intricacies that Chris couldn’t possibly have taught them.
The trip to Carlisle was one met with much anticipation, since I was aware (unlike much of the general public) that Grizzly Bear would be playing since March. However, it wasn’t until this past week that I found out that The Morning Benders would be there as well. A pleasant surprise, but nothing to get too excited about, I thought. Yes, I love Big Echo, but it really hadn’t clicked with me, and sounded almost too much like Grizzly Bear at times. For $10, I couldn’t really complain, and it’s always good to see someone live. I was clearly unprepared for the awesomeness. Opening with “Stitches,” The Morning Benders showed me one of my new favorite tracks from the album (my favorite being “Cold War”). The crowd responded really well, as did my friends Alan and Kyle – they had never heard The Morning Benders, and their socks were blown clear off. Chris Chu, the lead singer/guitarist, seemed almost as surprised by our response to his music as I was by the different light his band shed on it.
As the band continued to play song after song off of Big Echo I realized the album for what it was. No longer did it seem like a Grizzly Bear derivative with elements of Beach House, Animal Collective, and the Shins thrown in. No longer did I put off the album as kind of cool, but still not quite what I wanted. As soon as the show was over, I went over to the merch table and purchased a vinyl and a shirt, and I couldn’t be happier. Just to make sure that I wasn’t simply caught up in the moment of the show, I sponged out on my living room carpet and put on the vinyl today. I can say with absolute certainty that my opinion of the album has definitely changed; my hat is off to you, Morning Benders.
Grizzly Bear was absolutely amazing as well. Simply being only ten feet from the likes of Ed Droste, Chris Taylor and Chris Bear, and Dan Rossen… just wow. It was enough for me that they played “Foreground” (my fave!), but on top of that everything was just amazing. My only regret is not brushing up on Horn of Plenty and Yellow House! I recognized songs from the older albums, but felt slightly out of the loop. Still, Grizzly Bear were truly phenomenal. As I was talking after the show with Tim, the bassist from the Morning Benders, he told me that Grizzly Bear follows each performance with a grueling critique of their own work. If that’s not perfection in the making, I don’t know what is.
I swear they didn’t need to play a note, I was already in awe looking down at the set up on stage – the combination of 6-7 guitars, mandolin, and banjo… I have a soft spot for banjo. Then the 6 man band, Railroad Earth began to play. The fiddler dueled with the flutist in between the verses. The upright bassist rocked out in the back until his moment for a solo came. Then guitarist put down his guitar, picked up the mandolin and began to duel with the flutist turned banjoist. If they didn’t sound so together my head would have been spinning. They managed to play as one beautiful melody, beat and energy. The energy seemed to be created through pauses, solos, and anticipation. At one moment, the fiddler had just finished the last few notes of his solo, the entire band seemed to take one breath, the drummer struck up a beat, the lead vocalist struck a chord and they bounced right back into the song. This moment of anticipation built up so much energy the entire audience erupted in cheer. Here is a video below of Railroad Earth playing at the 8×10 on April 22.
I love how they describe themselves, “And like The Band, the members of Railroad Earth aren’t losing sleep about what ‘kind’ of music they play – they just play it.” Composing without discrimination of genres is one of the reasons I love indie music. Railroad Earth is an interesting example because if you had to be discrete you would most definitely label them as bluegrass. However, the great thing about Railroad Earth is that they make bluegrass extremely accessible. They haven’t gone as far as Deer Tick (strictly indie), they didn’t dumb their music down and they didn’t go mainstream, they just gave it emotion.
These guys really had it down in every aspect of their performance except one. Their music, their image, their atmosphere, and their originality were perfection, but I really suggest that they change their scene.
Tech Support Tek Subport played at the ODDSAC screening After-party held at the Senator Theater. They paired fresh beats with vintage eighties songs, they paired dance music with looped flutes and guitars, and they paired a helicopter baseball hat with Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth. That was probably my favorite part of their performance – behind them, a giant screen showed some of the best clips from Planet Earth. But the music was not right for the crowd before them. If you’ve ever seen hipsters dance you know what I mean – they need funky stuff to throw their bodies around to. If the music is too controlled they don’t know what to do with themselves. If you haven’t seen hipsters dance please see my post about Dan Deacon.
Anyway, Tech Support Tek Subport had a really controlled sound, perfect for the kind of dancing I had been doing at Power Plant on Friday night but not perfect for hipsters. In fact, they sounded a lot like the stuff I heard being played all over clubs like Mynt in South Beach, Miami. They have a Dubstep feel so they’re definitely joining the emerging genre of dance music.
I congratulated them after the show and they said they play somewhere in Baltimore every Friday night. They are seriously impossible to find online so check them out below – we need see more of these guys in the future.
Correction (4/20): Tek Subport is spelled as such, not like the geek squad people.
visual album, ODDSAC, is screening tonight at the Senator Theater in Baltimore. ODDSAC is a masterpiece produced by Animal Collective in collaboration with filmmaker Danny Perez. The Director and members of Animal Collective will be at the screening to answer questions and hopefully they’ll stick around for the After-party.
I’m not really a fan of Indie music videos. They tend to ruin songs for me. Watching the video for “In the Flowers” seared images of tiny dancers, dolls and masks into my head that reappear every time I relisten to the song. The symbolism of these freaky plots and visuals bypasses me completely.
Apparently ODDSAC is especially disturbing. Yet, I’d say it gained unprecedented prestige in the ‘normal’ film community. This January it had its World Premier at the Sundance Film Festival. I mean, that’s cool, but at Sundance, they still weren’t quite sure what to make of it.
It’s kind of funny, if you read the Sundance review of the film, the reviewer sounds kind of confused and overwhelmed – he’s not quite sure what he’s supposed to say and basically writes that he’ll leave it to Pitchfork to sort out.
What I do know is that ODDSAC definitely doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen at Sundance, or maybe even in my life, and at its best moments captures some of the aural layers and intensity of the band’s music itself. If you’re going for “visual album,” I’d say that’s pretty good.
George went to the screening in Chicago a few weeks ago. He was disappointed that only Geologist was there to answer questions. According to George, some girl raised her hand to criticize the anti-feminist message of the film. George said the director looked confused and the crowd began to boo her complaint. I guess if there is some sort of anti-feminist undertone, AC was not aware.
Anyway, take a look at the trailer below and you can be the judge.
The only thing
Thom Yorke has ever wanted to do was make dance music.
If you’ve listened to The Eraser though, you’d hardly ever guess this was the case but if you look closely, Thom has left us some subtle clues. Most obviously, a lot of his stage presence is centered around his awkward squirmish dancing (perhaps his inability to dance normally stems from his inability to make traditional dance music/or vice versa). However on Sunday when I saw Atoms For Peace, Thom’s solo band, play at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, I thought to myself, “by George, he’s done it!” What I meant is that Thom finally was playing really groovy dance tunes he had been going for since his college days as a DJ. The live band he assembled perfectly transformed The Eraser into an album of dance music. The entire floor was dancing more erratically and consistently than I’ve ever seen at a Radiohead concert. Even Thom’s onstage dancing was a bit more like normal. It was a powerful performance.
Flea, Thom’s bassist, was an even more incredible dancer than Thom and commanded the focus on stage almost as much as Thom did. I think at one point they were trying to out-dance each other. Flea not only made the concert more visually appealing (a beautiful light show really fit the mood of the performance) but I think he is the reason that the songs turned out so well. His bass playing was infectiously sick and without him I doubt the concert would have been half as good. The bass line on “Black Swan” was especially milky and made me wanna go “Oh YEAH!!!!!”
The main part of the concert was them playing straight through The Eraser and without a doubt, every song sounded far better live than recorded with the exception of “Analyze”, which just sounded muddy and confusing live.
The band played a seven song encore with the first half of it being Thom solo. Highlights from the second act were Thom playing “Like Spinning Plates” (a sublime performance) and “Airbag” which surprisingly sounded like a Neil Young tune and had people waving their lighters at the end.
It was a fast paced, visually pleasing, and very, very danceable concert. The crowd was fun and I’d give a lot to be able to go back to it. Wow.
Lastly, I want to say something about Thom Yorke’s opening act, Flying Lotus. This guy is like the next DJ Shadow. His beats is ILL and he’s not bringing it next level, he’s making a whole new level for himself. He’s already got the production credits, the incredible mastery of splicing, looping, and layering, and most importantly, he’s got Thom Yorke behind him. I can’t believe that after that entire concert, the only piece of audio I can offer you guys is a leak from FlyLo’s next album. I mean it’s the best new song I’ve heard all year but I stood there at the concert thinking I was recording the entire concert binaurally (which would have been a trip to listen to) but alas the recording sounds like robotic vomit as a result of super hard clipping. But don’t be sad, cuz this track kicks serious ass; it’s sure to make your head spin.
I found these videos of “Black Swan” and “Harrowdown Hill” from the concert I saw. Good example of Flea’s awesome playing and personality on stage. The quality of the audio is not such that you can really tell how incredible the bass playing was but at least it’s better than what I came out with.
The bald, mousy looking guy with a flannel scarf around his neck engaging in serious public displays of affection only exacerbated my disgust with The Dig. And it didn’t help that a fat, over thirty, looking woman next to me was jumping up and down in excitement to the beat. The even less redeeming quality was that the cheap, cheesy sounding band was scheduled immediately after The Antlers.
I was at the 930 Club to hear The Antlers and was only disappointed that they did not play more! There were those moments when you could look up at the ceiling and almost imagine falling into the web of music they were spinning. Three guys – yes, three guys created an orchestration known as Hospice. The lead singer, and mastermind behind the music, could have made us believe that 2+2=5, his voice was so full of convincing emotion. And although his cries soared above us, he was supported by every radiohead-esque sound you can imagine – creating a sort of longing that should accompany a tragic album. The man behind these sounds was a Jonny Greenwood gone grunge. His long emo hair covered his face as he pounded on the keyboard, turned knobs, stepped on pedals, and provided gorgeous vocal harmony. I kid you not, this guy was magic.
I am now obsessed with The Antlers. I mean, I was already way back when, when I gave them the number three spot on my Top 10 list. But now I’m just in awe, and totally crushing on Peter. They began their set list with my favorite song, ‘Kettering’, almost as if they knew I was out there.
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