Saturday, April 30, 2011

Don’t Check Me Out

Twin Shadow/Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Triple Rock Social Club
April 25, 2011

Packed house at the TR for this show. Or at least packed house for twin shadow (audience thinned out considerably by the time the Pains played.) clearly TS was the draw for this show (or maybe it was because it was a school night (monday) and everyone had to get home before the news was over.) and the audience gave them lots of love “you should be the headliner” yelled some doof next to us (really? you gotta yell dumb stuff like that to justify your existence?)
. Me? i was more into the Pains (even though i haven’t loved Belong and the twin shadow disc was #7 on my 2010 year end list (how’s that for self referential?)) but the thing is, neither band really blew me away.

both acts were more than competent and had the crowds involved but there were just too many little things that kept it from being memorable for me. Take Twin Shadow. i for one, really dug they synth-ey sound of Forget, so the rock out live versions were just a little too guitar centric (and boring guitar) for me. and really, all the tuning and standing around getting shit together on stage between songs definitely created lags (allowing doofs in the crowd to get all up and talky personal). what flies by on 40 minutes of record (and they played all of Forget, unless i’m missing something), really seemed drawn out during a 50 minute show. (not complaining about the 50 minutes, btw) and how about something new. Forget has been out awhile, you’ve got to have something, right?

pains are so young. makes me feel super old (which i am), not that that is any kind of a criticism. just observation. and the fact that a lot of their sound (at least on the first album and singles) was big was i was their age. and now they are all smashing pumpkins by way of silversun pickups (not that there is anything wrong with that either) just more observation. nothing wrong with a little cribbing early on. won’t play forever, but it’s fine enough for now (and they definitely know how to write a pop hook, you could teach a community to catch a boat load of fish with either of their albums) they never really caught fire on stage (for all their obvious enthusiasm). not sure why i wasn’t more taken with them. they worked it, and the viking talk (if not a little pandering to the crowd) was a bit of a pleasant shock (but boo to the vikings) maybe it just wasn’t anything you couldn’t see any other show by any other competent band any other day of the week and certainly, the biggest issue i had with pains were the sound issues. Both the sound levels on his voice (was there no one working the sound board who knew how to turn the volume up on berman’s mike?) and the fact that he isn’t really a very strong vocalist (I’d thought the off tune and slight singing on the first ep was an affectation, but now I see that that was closer to the (live) truth. that didn’t help matters.
(which is funny cos passion pit had their own technical difficulties with the same sound issues but that didn’t really stop the crowd’s delirium at that show and the pains have just as many if not more, crowd pleasing songs. )
dunno what the deal was. maybe it was the monday blahs. it’s a shame cos they both have a peck of great songs and even if they are a little (ha) derivative, they are both interesting artists and i’m curious to see how they grow (or don’t for that matter)

Maybe next time through they both will have grown as performers along with their artistic growth.

A Pretty Good Night

Rural Alberta Advantage
First Avenue
March 25, 2011

ok. liked them well enough, but they seriously have to change it up. by the end of the show i was pretty fed up with the yelpy vocals and the super strumming on the acoustic guitar, making all the songs sound the same (even the ones that shouldn’t have sounded the same). but then they came out for the second encore, climbed the stairs by the bathrooms and proceeded to play an acoustic version of “Good Night” right above us (we lucked out by heading to the doors at the end of the first encore) and i was charmed. nicely done kids. all is forgiven. (yes, I know it was totally a gimmick they do all the time and I’ll just find it annoying if I go again) but seriously....more instrumentation next time.

Gang, Gang, Gang, Gang: Don’t Dance

Gang of Four
First Avenue
February 12, 2011

if i want to see middle aged naked belly i can just look down. don’t need to see it on stage. have to say, i didn’t love this show. it was wildly uneven, without the highest of highs to balance out the lullest of lulls. glad i got to see them, but won’t need to go that way again and i can’t safely say that nothing they performed live made me reconsider their recorded work. (might even have diminished a song or two off the new one, unfortunately)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

2011? This is 2004 calling collect.

more like lollapasnooza

Foo Fighters?

they may as well sign up dave matthews and john mayer

the undercard doesn't really blow me away either.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Memorex? Really?

Radio Dept
7th Street Entry
February 9, 2011

they played to backing tapes. THEY PLAYED TO BACKING TAPES!!! i dunno. i'm still outraged. and more than a little disappointed. eyes to the ground for most of the show, they barely even acknowledged that there was a crowd (although i think i saw a few smiles nearly break out several times for whatever inscrutable nordic maybe what saps this crowd is to cheer us when we are practically milli vanilli) in fact, maybe the whole show was just an art project and they were pre-recorded holograms beamed from sweden via satellite. you'd never be able to tell from the performance. i could have just stayed home and watched a youtube video of a show of them. same net effect. and i wouldn't have been subjected to the utter lack of enthusiasm that the crowd displayed for the opener, The Young Prisms (ok, maybe the audience's complete failure to acknowledge the band by clapping when songs were over was pretty funny and the highlight of the evening)

where was i? oh yeah, indignation at the swedish nation. blerg. and harumpf. at least they had a good set list with pretty much all my favorites. and i do have to say, most radio dept songs are my favorites; "pulling our weight", "David", "Heaven's on Fire", "The New Improved Hypocrisy", "Ewan", "Domestic Scene", "Closing Scene." Just wanted a live rhythm section, nobody pushing the play button and maybe a little spontaneity. maybe i ask too much and should just be happy that they decided to hit our little hamlet. but that would be acceptance. i'd rather have a drummer!

If You Doubt

S. Carey
Varsity Theater
January 14th, 2011

First show of 2011, first show post of 2011 (and it's only april until i get around to it).

what can i say about S. Carey live? Hmmmm....i really do like his album FOR ALL WE GROW, "In the Dirt" and "In the Stream" really stick out for me, but the whole album has a nice feel. Definitely a shadow cast of Bon Iver with the hushed vocals and folky/pop arrangements and ethereal aesthetic, but that's ok. if i had a boat, that sound would be my ocean.
Live, S. Carey and his band have a more distinctly Nick Drake vibe than he does on recording. if nick drake played piano and wasn't afraid to get a little of it out. There was an intensity, a decidedly powerful energy live that is missing for the sleepy wispy studio sound. A very welcome shot when i was worried that this show might be all church like and reverent, like bon iver's show at the turf club (although still not enough volume to keep someone awake) Plus his choice of covers (The Notwist and David Bazan) are maybe a good indication of where he's aiming (and filled out a show that barely lasted an hour....not that i'm complaining.....much).

This is definitely a talented work in progress, learning how to apply his talents to the pop trade. i'm looking forward to the next album and tour to see where he goes next. (i predict heavy metal) As always, the varsity was different, but still lovely. such a great venue.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Many’s The Time I’ve Been Mistaken

I picked up the new paul simon disc tuesday (damn those new release days...i just can’t quit them) i might have been a little hasty in labeling “So Beautiful or So What” one of (if not the) favorites simon discs. But i was really struck by how good is sounded after years of pretty much writing Simon off (i blame edi brickell, because there’s always someone to blame...and at least carrie fisher provided the muse for some of my favorite simon songs)

So of course, a career retrospective listening party was in order to check my simon headspace. pretty much listened to everything in chronological order (exceptions were capeman and the remastered graceland which were stuck in the “S” stacks and it took me several evening to work through the spindles before i found them.) Listened to the remastered versions from 2004 with, of course, bonus tracks, but i didn’t consider the bonus tracks during my evaluations, that was just a fun bonus for me. (although “stranded in a limousine” would have improved “One Trick Pony” but as much as i enjoy “Thelma” i’m glad that didn’t make it onto “Rhythm”. I listened to “Paul Simon” twice, but that didn’t change my perception of the disc, just caught me in a mood and it had been a while since i really paid attention to it
Last qualification: if “Slip Slidin’ Away isn’t my favorite Paul Simon song, then it’s my second favorite (with the live “American Tune” being number one. and if it would have been on Still Crazy (bonus track demo version doesn’t count) that one would have been higher.

oh yeah, i listened to the russian futurists’ “Paul Simon” to set the stage.

So hear you go, this is how they stack up for me from last to first (and i’m still debating the placement of So Beautiful)

10. Surprise
The only thing that is really clear is that SURPRISE is not much of one. The brian eno backing soundscapes are busy and distracting without being remotely interesting. This wouldn’t be a big deal if simon had written a good batch of songs, but his talents fail him here. the melodies are forgettable (wait, that would imply that you had remembered them in the first place), so instead, lets say the melodies are non-existent, and the lyrics, some of the most overtly political in simon’s career, and the most overtly political of his career. where’s the neatly worded allusion, the carefully crafted metaphor? nothing here. move along.

9. Songs from the Capeman
There are some nice melodies here, and a couple of songs (“Killer Wants to Go College”, “Trailways Bus”) hint at a narrative that could have been a lot more interesting (and coherent) if Simon would have ditched the musical and just told the story through a song cycle. And i don’t mind the occasionally awkward musical excursions (i know Simon gets a lot of flak for cultural appropriation, but it always seems like more homage and popularization than plagiarism and his enthusiasm exceeds his opportunism) But mostly, I end up skipping a lot of songs because it seems like they forget to be songs are instead exposition and asides needed to propel the musical. i’d love it if he revisited this recording sometime and gave us a director’s cut as it were.

8. Still Crazy After All These Years
Hate the title song, hate “have a good time”, hate the pseudo jazz production that smears up everything with a bland crisco sound, and as much as i love “my little town” it doesn’t belong here (if only the album had its questing, lost, slightly acrid tone). and everything feels kinds condescending and smarmy to me (“i’m paul simon and you’re not). even the big hit “50 ways to leave your lover” can only come across as bitter (even thought the melody and drums are insanely ear worm-ish) i know it was big back in the day, and “i do it for your love” is a kinda charming song, but i just can’t like this album.

7. One Trick Pony
“That’s Why God Made the Movie” and “How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns” are soooooo great. And “Late in the Evening” was pretty inescapable (i pretty much heard that song every day on the bus ride to school for all of it’s chart run) even if i have a like/hate relationship with it (like the hate the lyrics) I’m even kinda fond of “One trick Pony” and “Nobody”(although i do agree they are sorta dull songs), but the rest of it is utterly without merit. bland melodies, trite lyrics and that pseudo jazz/electric vibraphone keyboard-ey thing production. It was really hard not to skip the second half of this. (even the bonus track from the movie, “Soft Parachutes” which, in the context of the movie, is supposed to be a one hit wonder, is terrible.)

6. You’re the One
When i started this listen, i was pretty sure that You’re the One was going to be in last place. I listened to it a couple times when it came out, but it didn’t make much of an impression, and it just sorta got lost and unheard. i even had an actual copy of the remastered version of it that i never bothered to listen to (maybe it was a gift) much less bother to sell. and then i gave it a listen and now i’m feeling like my disregard was unwarranted. the production is (welcomingly) toned down for the levels of Graceland and Rhythm, mostly staying in the background instead of overwhelming the songs, which suits these simpler songs. there are some nice lyrics here, personal almost on a Hearts and Bones level about coming to terms with yourself and your history. And the melodies are remarkably catchy throughout the disc. there are even hints of humor (“Old” and “Pigs, Sheep and Wolves”) in place of the usual world weariness Simon espouses. Even songs that could come off as bitter (“Look at That” and “Darling Lorraine”) seem more accepting of situations and circumstance. Maybe that marriage thing is working out. And i really love “Senorita with a Necklace of Tears”

5. Paul Simon
funny how i ignore “Mother and Child Reunion” as one of his great songs and then i hear it and i’m just amazed. Maybe it’s because it really doesn’t sound like paul simon. it’s more like a cover of some lost mournful religious classic. it sounds like something from a different time, a different world, a different musical lineage than the one i associate with mr. simon. i always mistakenly drop it off the canon. The whole album still strikes me this way. Like he was purposefully writing away from the S&G style, less grand statements, more intimate themes and trying to avoid standard musical tropes at all stops. Course, i wouldn’t say his world beat explorations start here (seems like he was doing that on Bridge already) but he does sound freer and looser here, more willing to push himself and unwilling to let anything define him. quite striking to have so much success in one phase and be so able (needful) to change it all up and come out even better.

4. Hearts and Bones
another bit of a surprise. i always thought this was my favorite Simon album. and it is really really great. wonderful imagery in the lyrics, definitely his most personal lyrics with some of my favorite melodies of all. ok, i can quibble with the “Sangre de Christos, the Blood of Christ mountains of new mexico” bit (jeez, paul, you didn’t have to spell it out, we understood without the translation). “song about the moon”, “train in the distance” “late great johnny ace”, Rene and georgette....” and of course, the title track (except for the minor lyrics misstep mentioned above) are all some of my favorite songs.
i think what strikes me upon a careful examination though is how jarring the transitions from the gentle guitar based ballads to the more upbeat/uptempo/world beat ish songs are. I won’t deny the catchiness (and my fondness) for “Allergies” and “think too much (a and to a lesser degree b) and “when numbers get serious” and they definitely fit lyrically/thematically, but the flow isn’t there. it’s almost like two separate albums in one. not sure if that’s on purpose (it is a break up and post mortem album after all) but if so, i’m not sure what the two sides are (her and his or him with her/him without her?) dunno, but that schizophrenia is holding it back for me. (and the less said about “cars are cars” the better....he should have borrowed “in cars” from art’s scissors cuts album)

3. Graceland
probably don’t need to say much about this. it was huge (funny that anyone thought it was a risk for him) it still sounds great and i don’t care about the all cultural exploitation commentary regarding it (although the professional exploitation aspect is kinda interesting). and, “boy in the bubble” has my favorite paul simon lyrics (“Staccato signals of constant information, A loose affiliation of millionaires, And billionaires and baby”) and the cadence of his singing/speaking gets me every time. I even like “You Can Call Me Al”) and the more i think about it, the more i think “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” is about Carrie.

2. Rhythm of the Saints
Why deny the obvious, child. why deny the obvious? Everything thinks this is Graceland part light. i think it’s better. the music is more seamless (Graceland was kind of a disconnected gumbo of styles based mostly on a philosophy of “This is the World (calling)”. The lyrics are more universal (Graceland, although not necessarily about paul, definitely centered around a man’s mid life crisis) with themes of faith and hope and searching that were poetic and evoked that long lost missing eden for which everyone seems. the music carries the listener further into Simon’s themes, with complex drum rhythms that can’t help but make one think of a dense primitive rainforest (eden?). Cool jungles, rivers, truth, the innocence of babies, this is all about getting back to the garden, purifying, and rebirth. love it.

1. There Goes Rhymin’ Simon
Ok. i’d have never thought this would be my favorite. RotS or Hearts and Bones for sure. i’d heard it many times and hearted it since high school, but it never stood out as the one. Of course, this one has a lot of great songs (“American Tune”, “Kodachrome”, “Take Me to Mardi Gras”, “Loves Me Like a Rock” with some of Paul’s most consistent songwriting (lyrically and musically) and it’s firmly within the top five, but what changed?
Certainly, So Beautiful or So What had an impact on my listening. As he approaching 70, he’s more at ease with his life, with himself, with his legacy and there’s a calmness in his lyrics and themes, that i hadn’t noticed before (other than in “You’re the One” in 2000, although that’s a long time to go between contentment). Until i went back and realized that he had this calm way back in 1973. While i was listening, i was struck by a couple things.

First off, the lyrics are personal (not as personal as hearts and bones of course, but plenty personal), he’s not writing about some theoretical husband and father here, he’s writing about himself and his family and the world directly around him. it also just happens that he’s so good that he can write about those things and they seem universal to the listener. it’s also interesting to hear them as diary entries or historical entries in the life of paul simon from 35 years ago. i’m charmed by the part where he’s singing about if the famous singer can’t sing his son to sleep; what would the people think, self deprecating (although i typed that as elf deprecating the first time and almost left the typo cos it applies) and also a little break down of the fourth wall between image and reality.

the other thing that strikes me about these songs is how contented he seems. Angst need not apply here; life is good and he appears to be delirious happy. the songs are genuine, peaceful and sincere, things i don’t typically equate with Simon (he of the more restless, ironic, neurotic and dubious about everything type). His contentment is contagious, and i can’t help buy smile when i listen to these songs, “Something so Right” indeed.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Year That Was Was

November Picks
Kanye West-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The Russian Futurists-the weight's on the wheels

October Picks
Sufjan Stevens-The Age of Adz
Antony & The Johnsons-Swanlights

September Picks
Deerhunter-Halcyon Digest
the Walkmen-Lisbon

August Picks
Film School-Fission
The Drums-s/t

July Picks
The Books-The Way Out

June Picks
Tokyo Police Club-Champ
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti-Before Today
Sleigh Bells-Treat

May Picks
Janelle Monae-The ArchAndroid
The Black Keys-Brothers
Broken Social Scene-Forgiveness Rock Record
National-High Violet

April Picks

March Picks
Broken Bells
Frightened Rabbit-The Winter of Mixed Drinks

February Picks
Joanna Newsom-Have One on Me
Phantogram-Eyelid Movies
Shearwater-The Golden Archipelago

January Picks
Beck (featuring Charlotte Gainsbourg) IRM
Beach House-Teen Dream