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Live Review: Of Montreal at the Grand Ballroom, San Francisco

Posted by on Nov 22, 2008 7 Comments

Attention all those who saw Of Montreal last night:

Next time your parents tell you how they saw David Bowie, or your sister tells you about seeing the Flaming Lips, or your friend’s dad keeps talking about Genesis or your dumb uncle won’t stop going on and on about Gwar or Mr. Bungle, you now have your response.

“You know what?” you can say. “Big fuckin’ deal, because I saw Of Montreal.”

There’s no need to explain it. No need to intellectualize it, or try to extrapolate some deep cultural meaning over theatre’s role in art. Of Montreal is just a damn good mind-blowing time, and easily the best entertainment you can get for $22.50. Even if you had to pay $100 on Craigslist for a ticket in these last couple weeks, you still got your money’s worth.

To everyone else: Look up their tour schedule. Drive to the next town. Call all your friends in upcoming cities and tell them to go. At all costs.

If you haven’t already heard, here’s the deal: Of Montreal’s Skeletal Lamping tour consists of a million costume changes, a non-stop reel of theatrical vignettes, a multi-leveled set centered by a moving carousel, a psychedelic lightshow, hundreds of props and dozens of instruments. Somewhere in the middle of all this is the band.

There’s buddhas, pigs, ninjas, a tiger, a roller-derby girl, a bikini beach party, a ’20s saloon scene, a pope, a nun, a gallows hanging, a coffin filled with shaving cream, guerillas wielding machine guns, a ghetto-blaster disco mamma, a two-man horse, devils who hand-paint the audience red, a beast with oversized arms and legs, a large eagle, and crazy machines that blow feathers all over everyone at the end.

It’s not pretentious, or juvenile, or mawkish or overly corny. It’s an utterly jaw-dropping culmination of the most basic human impulse to masquerade. Everyone who’s ever been in a band knows the feeling of seeing a funny shirt in a thrift store and thinking, “Cool! I’ll wear this on stage!” Take that impulse and multiply it by twelve bajillion, and that’s what Of Montreal’s tour is like.

Musically, the band was completely on point last night, and the set represented their two most recent albums, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? and Skeletal Lamping. Kevin Barnes’ singing—with pitch-perfect harmonies by Bryan Poole—was unwavering, even on the more challenging tunes like “Gronlandic Edit” and “Wicked Wisdom,” and a solo upright piano rendering of “Touched Something’s Hollow” gave a poignant break from the nonstop thrust of “An Eluardian Distance” and “Gallery Piece.”

The nearly two-hour performance ended with Of Montreal wailing through a ridiculous no-holds barred, everyone-on-stage cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and the sentiment of “entertain us” was never more apt.

“Thank you, San Francisco!” said a glad, exhausted Kevin Barnes at the end of the show. “Thank you for letting us be ourselves.”

If you did not have a permanent smile on your face, or if you did not dance, or if you did not scream your lungs out, then you might want to check your pulse and make sure you’re actually alive. The shit was nuts, and one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

More photos below. (more…)

Live Review: John Hiatt and the Ageless Beauties at the Mystic Theatre

Posted by on Nov 20, 2008 2 Comments

(Note to the Reader: For this installment of City Sound Inertia, we welcome back guest reviewer Bob Meline! A finish carpenter by trade, longtime music fan, and secretly, a solid bass player, he’s also my dad—and one of the greatest guys I know.)

With props to Philly’s Billy Paul, John Hiatt and Sonoma County have a thing going on. The Mystic Theatre is a regular stop on Hiatt’s tour schedule and it’s definitely a two way street when it comes to this thing. Sonoma County loves him—his shows always sell out early, whether he’s performing solo or with his endless array of kick-ass bands—and Hiatt always returns the favor tenfold with nothing less than stellar shows taken from some 30 years of some of the best songwriting ever offered.

Touring in support of his latest release, Same Old Man, Hiatt’s performance Thursday night was counter indicative that the title might be autobiographical. After a few listens through his new offering, the album’s writing isn’t nearly as strong as some of his recent work and the vocals at times seem to be even more rough around the edges that fans are used to. But Hiatt was in prime form at the Mystic, his voice as clear and strong as ever while changing tempos, reworking lyrics, extending solos and exercising his endless array of facial gymnastics—definitely not acting like the same old man.

He opened the set to a thunderous ovation with a strong, determined, version of “Perfectly Good Guitar.” From the onset, he seemed to be a man happy in his own skin, extremely comfortable on stage and genuinely appreciative, if not somewhat surprised, at the raucous support of the Mystic audience. At the conclusion of the song, he spread his arms in his first of many acknowledgments of his band, the Ageless Beauties: “It’s great to be back in Petaluma at the Mystic Theatre“, he drawled, “where much mysticality always takes place.”

The band then went into a trifecta of tunes from the new album, “Old Days,” “On With You” and “Love You Again,” creating a feel that was much more fresh and lively than the studio versions.

The intro to “Cry Love” was the beginning of an amazing night of guitar work from guitarist Doug Lancio, providing a soaring, ethereal, heavenly feel that complimented the tunes’ references to “the tears of an angel.” Lancio, who has worked with the likes of Nanci Griffith, Patty Griffin, Steve Earle and Todd Snider, is the latest guitarist to work with Hiatt, who seems to have a certain magnet that attracts extremely accomplished but sometimes underrated musicians.

Born in Nashville and introduced by Hiatt as one of the original “thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar pickers from Nashville,” Lancio worked through the evening with an array of electric and acoustic guitars, a dobro and a mandolin, effortlessly providing the perfect feel to Hiatt’s tunes.

The band continued nonstop through a number of Hiatt’s classics, “Walk On,” a hard driving “Master of Disaster,” “Crossing Muddy Waters,” and the always hot and greasy “Drive South,” a terrific character study of two young lovers trying to make it work.

One would not expect a songwriter who recently received the Americana Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting to have the cojones to start a tune with “Well, I’m sitting on the toilet with my sunglasses on / Wondering what you are up to,” but there’s probably no more fitting intro possible to “Ethylene,” a rare gem that Hiatt pulled out of his big ol’ box of songs as a gift to the audience. Hiatt expounded on Ethylene herself after the song, letting everybody know they could find her at a diner in east Tennessee, where they have the best bologna and cheese on white bread sandwiches anywhere—because they slice the bologna fresh right in front of you. And with a can of Diet-Rite cola and a bag of peanuts for dessert (dropped into the can, of course), well, there you are. It was a nice peek into the window of Hiatt’s oft-times offbeat songwriting brain.

The Ageless Beauties expertly transformed the classic “Memphis in the Meantime” from a catchy country rock feel to a full-bore rock and roll number. The two other Beauties, bassist Patrick O’Hearn and drummer Kenny Blevins, provided a solid rhythm section, albeit at times Blevins’ drums seemed to be a bit loud for some of the softer songs. O’Hearn filled the bottom end working from standup, acoustic and electric bass.

Hiatt rounded out the evening touching all the bases—the crowd pleasing “Tennessee Plates” (introduced as “a song about grand theft auto“), “Paper Thin,” “Slow Turning” (with a modified monologue and homage paid to the younger vote: “It’s their time now”), “Feels Like Rain,” and an extended “Ridin’ With the King,” giving Lancio the front and center one more time.

The band encored with—what else?—“Thing Called Love,” wherein Hiatt again gave Bonnie Raitt her due for both her having made the song as popular as it is and, as a very nice side benefit, having helped to put a couple of his kids through college. A keyboardless “Have a Little Faith in Me” closed the show.

Throughout the night, Hiatt was as appreciative of his audience as they were of him. During his encore, he thanked the audience again for coming, noting that it was especially appreciated “during these hard economic times.” And with the trademark ear-to-ear Hiatt grin, he promised that he’d be doing this as long as he was able—even if, he joked to the crowd, it reached the point where he’d have to arrive onstage on a motorized mobility scooter.

It looks like this “thing” may be going on for a long time.

Robert Meline

On the Stereo: Anita O’Day’s Golden Era

Posted by on Nov 20, 2008

Anita O’Day was at the very top of the most thrilling jazz singers to ever walk the face of the earth, and I’m glad to see that she’s finally gotten her due with a documentary, Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer. Though I love her singing, all I really know about Anita O’Day’s personal life is that she once claimed while drunk that her dog was her manager, usually barked condescending orders at whatever band with which she appeared, and had her uvula accidentally cut out of her throat in a tonsillectomy accident when she was a child, resulting in her characteristically husky voice. Oh, and that she was a heroin addict. But everyone knows that.

The definitive live footage of Anita O’Day remains her performances of “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Tea for Two” from the great film Jazz on a Summer’s Day, a beautifully artistic documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. (She admits to being high on heroin during the concert.) But this documentary sounds pretty good, and in anticipation of the film opening at the Rialto in Santa Rosa this Friday, I’ve been throwing her records on the turntable every night this week. Here are her best, and yes, they’re all on Verve.

 

Anita Sings The Most (1957): This is O’Day in great style with a supremely great backing band of Oscar Peterson’s quartet with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis. A wonderful song selection and fantastic performances. The whole album is loose with plenty of interplay, and O’Day is especially inventive on songs like “’S Wonderful”—and rips it up on “Them There Eyes.” A too-slowed-down version of “I’ve Got the World on a String” is the album’s only misstep, especially coming just before the perfect closer, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.”

 

This is Anita (1955): Anita O’Day’s stellar first album for Verve Records—and in fact, the very first album released by Norman Granz’s then then-brand-new Verve Records. Contains O’Day’s incredible version of “Honeysuckle Rose”—it saunters like syrup—and a buoyant take on “You’re the Top” revised with jazz references to Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Art Tatum. A delicate “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is the quintessential wintertime song, with wonderfully drawn-out consonants and vowels. If you don’t have any Anita O’Day records, this is a damn good place to start.

 

Pick Yourself Up With Anita O’Day (1956): Still one of my favorites, after all these years, not the least because it contains her well-known version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” from the film Jazz on a Summer’s Day. Make sure to hit up the lesser-known tunes on this fantastic session: “I Never Had a Chance,” “I Used to be Color Blind,” and the bouncy “Let’s Begin.” Buddy Bregman is the arranger, adding a Latin feel to “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” (and Ellington interpolations here and there), and overall, O’Day rides along smoothly with skill and frivolity. Yes, it looks like she’s shoplifting a toaster on the cover.

 

Anita O’Day Swings Cole Porter With Billy May (1959): As close a pop album as O’Day ever came to, combining the widely recognized songwriter with one of the brawniest arrangers of the day. The results work remarkably well, and May’s creative arrangements keep the jazz spirit alive and well. “Just One Of Those Things” kicks the album off like a horse out of the gate, and it rarely lets up from there as O’Day dominates Porter classics like “”I Get a Kick Out of You,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and the wink-wink “All of You.”

 

Anita O’Day and The Three Sounds (1963): Sounds crazy but after all these years of listening to Anita O’Day, I reach for this album most frequently. In 1962, O’Day was saddled with drug problems and just about through with her Verve contract. She only sings on about half of the songs here, with the Three Sounds providing instrumentals for the rest. There’s something addictive about O’Day’s detachment on this record; it’s the very rare sound of her “phoning it in,” which of course sounds better than most singers when they’re trying. I consider it Anita O’Day’s equivalent of Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night, providing the most beautiful wrinkles in a wasted fabric. I’ve talked to other O’Day fanatics who have the same feeling of affinity for it. Worth seeking out.

 

Anita O’Day at Mister Kelly’s (1958): Recorded in her hometown of Chicago and opening with the rarely-heard verse of “But Not For Me,” this nice nightclub date is notable for containing three tunes by Joe and Eileen Albany: “I Have a Reason For Living,” “My Love For You,” and the poignant “Loneliness is a Well.” O’Day goes out of her way to introduce the composers on each of these songs, causing one to wonder exactly what kind of backroom deal she struck with the Albanys. The person who previously owned this LP wrote an exclamation point on the track listing after “The Song Is You,” but it’s actually kind of a wack closer. Still, a good live record.

 

An Evening With Anita O’Day (1956): Hell yes, a very great nightclub recording from early on in her Verve contract. Stellar guitar work by Tal Farlow and Barney Kessel runs a close second to O’Day’s own impeccable singing on songs like “From This Moment On” and “Let’s Fall In Love.” The recording quality is outstanding, the songs are well-chosen, and O’Day even chimes in with an original—“Anita’s Blues.” It’s amazing how perfect O’Day’s voice could be in concert.

Live Review: Whispertown 2000 at Susie’s House

Posted by on Nov 16, 2008

It was a good sign when Whispertown 2000 soundchecked with “Look at Miss Ohio,” but it just got better from there: tight, country-soul harmonies from the two frontgals; full-on kazoo solos; a drummer that astonishingly played guitar, drums and harmonica simultaneously; a bassist that managed to quote “Dazed and Confused” without malice; and basically a shitkickin’ good time. The two gals kinda reminded me of Those Darlins, and hey, didja hear one of ‘em is a Nagler? And that she was on Punky Brewster? No shit.

Polaroids, stitching, paintings and collage art hung on the walls, all of it excellent; cassettes and horses. Out in the kitchen, vegan cupcakes for sale, and the most gigantic mushroom I’ve ever seen in my life. Slung from a side door, $3 cocktails mixed on the spot. Dancing in the halls. “Bring it on Home to Me” on the stereo. (Thanks for the Darondo tip, Nick.)

All in all, a sweet way for the residents of the house to go out with a bang, seeing as they hafta move at the end of the month. And a fine way for Paul Haile and Lauren Harkins from Not to Reason Why to celebrate their just-announced engagement—the diamond ring was busted out on Saturday at Crane Creek Park! Congratulations, you crazy kids.

Live Review: Marnie Stern’s Kissing Booth

Posted by on Nov 15, 2008 41 Comments

I had heard about Marnie Stern’s Kissing Booth idea a couple hours before tonight’s show with Gang Gang Dance in San Francisco, and sure enough, when we arrived at Bimbo’s, we discovered this sign at the merch stand:

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Apparently, in addition to the speeding tickets, some seatbelt violations were involved as well, which can get pretty expensive (“Michigan, man,” said Stern). Discriminating kissers will note the detailed price breakdown: $3 for a peck on the cheek, $10 for full lips, and $100 for the big-spender French kiss.

So — were there any takers?

At the end of Marnie Stern’s set, a sizable group of people crowded around her side of the stage, declaring their love and asking for hugs. But to my dismay, I went out in the lobby later on and witnessed a similar group of people just, uh, standing around. And though the kissing offer was literally on the table, they were just, uh, awkwardly talking to Marnie Stern. And, um, buying a shirt, I guess. And, do you. . . think I could have another hug?

It was excruciating. Goddamn indie hipsters are a bunch of pansy-ass Holden Caulfields who can’t get over their own imagined degradation of giving a girl $10 for a kiss, I grumbled to myself. Whatever happened to all the fun in the world?!

But after about 10 minutes, a good sign walked into the room. To be precise: a tall mid-20s boy, with a slender face and large eyes. Lanky, plaid shirt. He approached the table and conspicuously pointed to the sign.

“Is the kissing booth open?” he asked.

Finally! Marnie Stern jumped up, pointed her arms in the air and let out a “whoo-hoo!” while doing a small, excited dance. A customer!

The boy pointed to the “lips” option, and handed a $10 bill to Stern, who was more than willing to deliver the goods. Boy, did he get his money’s worth:

Yowza!

I chased him down afterwards. “I had to,” he told me. “She’s beautiful, you know? It was awesome.” He was beaming from ear to ear.

Please, indie rock nation: more kissing booths!

Photos: The New Trust, Ole Hole, Anchor Down at the Casbar

Posted by on Nov 14, 2008 One Comment

The New Trust.

Ole Hole.

Anchor Down.

———

The place is looking good, folks.

Mad props to Ephriam Nagler, for making it sound way better than ever, and to Jayshree, for holdin’ it down.

In News

Schwarzenbach, Cometbus, and the Thorns of Life

Posted by on Nov 14, 2008 15 Comments

Well, shit, here we go: Blake Schwarzenbach has started a band with Aaron Elliott and Daniela Sea called the Thorns of Life. No joke. There’s photos posted here from the band’s grand debut at the Jerk House in Brooklyn this past weekend.

What does the band sound like? According to a recent punknews.org post, Blake is said to have written via Facebook that “I can say only that it’s loud and tender and we’re called the Thorns Of Life. whether it’s more Jetsesque or Breaker-like I honestly don’t know; It sounds like a storehouse of fond hatred from the last few years and in the now.”

It’s tempting to pessimistically predict that they’ll play three more house shows, record a 7″ and then break up; however, in a message to fans recently, Blake said he looked forward to coming “to a town near you.”

Needless to say, this is exciting news.

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UPDATE, 11/15: Thorns of Life played again last night at another house show in Brooklyn. There’s three videos below. More on the band by clicking here.

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UPDATE, 1/31: My interview with Blake regarding the band is here.

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In News

Free Tickets: No Age in San Francisco

Posted by on Nov 13, 2008

This just in: No Age is playing a launch party for Shockhound on Thursday, Dec. 4 at the Rickshaw Stop, and tickets for the show are FREE.

All you have to do is click here, fill out a simple form with your name and email, and you’re on the list +1.

Are you down? I’m down. Everybody’s Down.

I’ll keep this post up for as long as tickets seem available.

There Are Girls Camping Out For The Hanson Show

Posted by on Nov 12, 2008 6 Comments

Mary Wieczorek has been sitting on this bench, outside the Phoenix Theater, since Monday afternoon. Wrapped in a sweatshirt and red coat to keep away the evening chill, she’s first in line to see Hanson, who are playing here Wednesday night. All told, from the time she arrived here yesterday at 2pm, with a sleeping bag, to the time Hanson plays their first note on stage, she will have waited 56 hours in front of the Phoenix Theater.

Sound strange? She’s not alone. There’s people here lined up from Los Angeles, from Gilroy, from the other side of the country, all camping out on the sidewalk for the Hanson show tomorrow night.

Mary is from Vallejo. She doesn’t go to school. Instead, she drives around the country seeing Hanson; this will be her 51st time seeing the band. Explaining why she would wait for so long in front of a venue for a show that is definitely not sold out, she offers two simple words: “Front row.”

Mary first heard Hanson during the “Mmm-bop” era. On August 16, 1998, at 1:54 in the morning, she met Taylor Hanson outside of a hotel in New York City after she and her mom followed the Hanson tour bus for three hours. He was wearing a tight blue shirt, dark blue tight cords, silver boots, and had a red rubber band in his hair. Ten years later, he’s still her favorite Hanson.

Sitting on the same bench, wrapped in a coat, is Mary’s mom. She stirs some takeout soup in a Styrofoam container, keeping warm. “It’s fun,” she says.

How does Mary think this Hanson show in Petaluma is going to be any different than the 50 or so shows she’s already seen? “There’s not a big crowd the night before,” she says, looking down the length of the sidewalk. “And there usually is. So yeah, I’m, like, wondering what’s going on.”

Getting ready to sleep on the next bench down is Nicole, from Philadelphia, who has been following the band for the last two and a half months. By the time Hanson takes the stage in Petaluma, she will have waited 30 hours outside the theater. Nicole, who does not want to give her last name, estimates that she’s seen Hanson 300 times.

300 times.

Explaining what she would be doing back home in Philadelphia were she not following Hanson around on tour, she, too, offers two simple words: “Being sad!”

Like Mary, Nicole has met the band numerous times; they often recognize both girls. She says that she likes all of the band members equally, but that her favorites sometimes change: “It depends on the day,” she says, “and their attitudes.”

Nicole admits that most Hanson shows are the same—“they throw in a curveball every now and then,” she says, “but for the most part, it’s pretty standard.”

So. . . why is she camping out overnight for the show?

“They’re the greatest band ever!” she gushes. “They make me happy.”

Live Review: Crooked Fingers at the Great American Music Hall

Posted by on Nov 12, 2008

Hey John,

It’s too bad that you didn’t come down to the Crooked Fingers show. I didn’t like their new album at first, either, but it started sinking in these last few days. The big question is: why did we convince ourselves that they’d only play a bunch of new songs? The show was amazing, and they played stuff from every album.

Eric Bachmann came out, strapped on his nylon-string and played “You Must Build a Fire,” from Dignity and Shame—a beautiful start. The band picked up their instruments for a completely reworked rock version of “Bad Man Coming,” from Red Devil Dawn, then “Crowned in Chrome” from the first record, then fucking “Islero,” and then “Man of War” from To the Races!

I’ve got this thing sometimes where if I know that a friend of mine would have really, really loved a show, I try to downplay how wonderful it was, you know, “Aw, you didn’t miss much.” But I can’t lie, man. Crooked Fingers last night was something very moving and special.

I know that you’re a big Red Devil Dawn fan—me too—and part of what’s great about that album is that it’s so serious; it’s a real deep meditation on love and redemption. That’s the way it hits me, at least, and it coulda just been the time frame that it came out and what was going on in my life and all—Perfecting Loneliness and Tallahassee were both around the same time—but anyway, Crooked Fingers weren’t all super-serious onstage, and it was cool.

Eric Bachmann announced that he’d hit a deer in the van last night, and everyone at the Great American Music Hall sighed this big “awwwwww” of sorrow, which made him laugh. “Yeah,” he said, “this is San Francisco. I’m from North Carolina. We’re like, jaded.” (Or maybe he said, “Didja eat it?’” It was hard to tell.)

They had this really cool girl, Miranda Brown, in high-rise jeans and brown leather boots playing bass and singing; there was this other girl Elin Palmer who I think’s been in the band a long time playing violin and singing, too, and occasionally, for songs like “Sleep All Summer” (which was fucking AMAZING) they’d stand like angels with their hands behind their backs, cooing wordless backup vocals while Bachmann was all, “Why won’t you fall back in love with me?”

The high-rise jeans girl sang this funny tune between songs about cocks and balls being strung across the ocean, which I guess was her response to the front wheels falling off of their tour van or something, it was pretty funny.

All in all, they only played five songs from their new album, which come on, it’s not that bad. Please listen to it some more. Oh, and the Great American was only half-full, which was sad, in a way. At one point, I stood at the back, during “New Drink for the Old Drunk,” looking at the sparse crowd, thinking, “Can this be for real? Like, am I wrong, or is this one of the world’s greatest songwriters and performers here right now and, like, only 150 or so people are here?”

It coulda been that it was a Tuesday night, maybe, or I wonder if it has anything to do with Crooked Fingers currently not having a label that could give them some good tour support. It’s interesting and all that they did their own record, but c’mon. Merge! Why would you leave that?!

Oh, shit, I almost forgot, they did three Archers of Loaf songs. “White Trash Heroes,” which was really great, and “Harnessed in Slums,” fuckin’ a, and believe it or not, “Web in Front.” Dude! They closed the night with “Little Bird,” and it was so sweet and awesome.

I hate to rub it in, but you really missed out. Maybe you could drive to Los Angeles to see ‘em tonight, it’d totally be worth the eight-hour drive.

Anyway, see you around. Interpol still blows.

Love,
Gabe



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