Sunday, September 23, 2012

Constructive Destruction

The video speaks for itself, but I believe this kind of cathartic, retro-artistic expression does wonders for the autistic mind.  Thank you, Artspace, for providing this wonderful opportunity!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Feelies (Cat's Cradle, 9/15/12)

Okay, old band (older than ME even!).  Two sets.  No opener.  Early start.  Billed as "An Evening With..."  All the hallmarks of a snoozer.

Oh, they had the pedigree.  To me, the Feelies were already post-punk when punk had barely left the womb.  Formed in 1976 (though I didn't discover them until a decade or more later), their angular, jangly guitars, mathematical precision, and tense builds and crashes, made them a harbinger of the Pixies, Husker Du, R.E.M, Pavement, Versus... well, let's just say indie-rock in the late '80s and 1990s.  They themselves are often cited as being heavily influenced by the Velvet Underground.  But I think they were early enough, and different enough, to be considered more like younger contemporaries.  I wore out my vinyl of their debut, Crazy Rhythms, and then spent years looking for it on MP3.
Still, despite all this, I didn't anticipate much other than a pleasant, nostalgic, early night.   I had never seen them live, so I went in large part because of that little voice that sometimes whispers "When else will you get the chance?"

The Feelies, however, begged to differ.  They OWNED their pedigree.  They sounded as relevant as any band I've ever seen fill the Cradle.  If they were a local buzz band of kids, I'd have been blown away.
They started slower, gradually building the energy of the eager crowd, which -- while clearly filled with many of their generation -- was  liberally sprinkled with the younger set.  They played some of the more pastoral numbers from their follow-ups to Rhythms, The Good EarthOnly Life, and Time for a Witness; rolling songs like On the Roof, The High Road, For Awhile, and Invitation.  I was waiting for some from my favorites from Rhythms, to no avail (though I missed the first 2 or 3 songs).  I half-hoped the second set would be that album in its entirety.

Nevertheless, I found myself getting more and more into the show with every number.  Live, these "pastoral" numbers (including several from their recent CD, Here Before, which I hadn't yet heard) had a drive I didn't anticipate.  Glenn Mercer's vocals were deep and strong as ever, and his lead guitar a perfect counter to Bill Million's rapid-fire strumming.  And they were TIGHT... like they'd been playing non-stop for the past 20 years.  In fact they have not played as a band for most of the past 20, and apparently now only play a handful of shows a year.

By the time they played Slipping (Into Something), the psych/spazz-out builder from Earth, and Away, a jangly rocker from Life, and I wasn't missing Crazy Rhythms at all.  These WERE crazy rhythms.  Towards the end of the second set, they finally catered to my finicky demands, playing Raised Eyebrows and Crazy Rhythms from the debut. If I remember correctly(?), they also played the dark-cool Moscow Nights.

But they weren't done.  Fans of a band like this demand an encore.  They complied with covers, which they're known for.  It was the Beatles and the Stones, She Said and Paint It Black.  In their own inimitable style.  The crowd chanted and stomped for more.

Encore Two it was, then:  Real Cool Time (the Stooges) and Everybody's Got Something to Hide (Except for me and My Monkey).

What a night.  Two long sets.  Two encores.  The Feelies rocked the house.  Musically satiated, we head for the... Oh, wait.  Encore Three.  Now I was starting to see why the show started early: they needed to fit it all in before last call!  This one consisted of R.E.M.'s  Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars) and their own Fa Ce La.  

Then -- hell yes -- Encore Four.  The Velvet's We're Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together, followed by Brian Eno's Third Uncle.

Musically exhausted... NOW, we head for the door.  Well, the merch table.  Feelies fans have a lot more cash on hand than fans of most young bands these days.  What a show.  Don't think I've ever seen four encores; and each one better than the one before.  More photos below; hopefully capturing the energy of a night that won't soon be forgotten.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hopscotch Saturday Night - T0W3RS, Versus, Wye Oak, No BS! Brass Band (8/8/12)

Saturday night, the last night of Hopscotch, and I'm already worn out from a several hours of day parties.  What would the night bring? 

Best to start with a sure thing:  T0W3RS, at CAM.  The moment I saw them first play, T0W3RS became one of my favorite locals.  Their recent full-length, If All We Have Is Time, is one of the best releases anywhere in the past year.  They took the opportunity of this year's festival to launch a new EP, Wyatt. "Cassingles" of each song from the EP, with B-sides from 5 other local bands, were strategically hidden throughout downtown during the festival (I found two!).  Having created a lot of buzz playing a day party at last year's Hopscotch, they're more than ready for the night.  Just before this early (9:30) show, a few people were millling around.  But once the Carrboro wunderkind of a band took the stage, a large crowd seemed to magnetically gravitate out of nowhere towards the stage.  Baloons were released, and the party started.  If I remember right, they started with Bounty, a bouncy song from the EP that got the crowd jumping -- or at least I'm sure they played it, and a few others from the new EP.  Besides the new music this night, there are revelations each time I see these guys.  This time -- maybe it was the acoustics of the space -- I realized just how strong a voice Jacki Huntington has (when not playing guitar or banging the tom).  And testament to the energy T0W3RS inspire in their audience?  There probably wasn't one second of the set when every baloon touched the ground.  It looked like the wall-installation at CAM, Exploded Hipster, had exploded into the air... perfect for this show.


So what next?  Tired of trudging all over Raleigh all day, I thought (after crossing downtown one more time) I'd stay put for awhile.  I made for Lincoln Theater and their all-Merge line-up, having just missed Superchunk/Merge Records co-founder Mac McCaughan.  Versus was up next.  I hadn't seen Versus in years, and they were playing back-to-back with the always great Wye Oak.  Early on, I wasn't feeling it.  Festival-fatigue, maybe.  But I grabbed a beer, popped the lens cap, and head to the stage.  Perhaps I forgot how their restrained intensity can build, and their quiets can seamlessly turn into very louds.  I should have known better:  this is the band that taught me the value of restraint in hard rock.  Within three songs, fatigue was a distant memory.  I listened to a lot of Versus back in the day, but I was surprised I didn't recognize most of the songs.  They were probably playing a lot of newer material from their first release in a decade, On the Ones and Threes, which has sat criminally neglected in the nether-regions of my iPod.  Based on this blazing show, I've made a promise to myself to correct that horrendous oversight (hitting "play" NOW).


Wye Oak, I've seen a couple of times, but in smaller venues.   In that setting, the duo of Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner's minimal instrumentation flood the space and make for a surprisingly intense and loud experience.  I was curious how they'd fill the closer-to-arena-sized space of the Lincoln.  Really, they had no problem.  Part of it is probably Jenn's voice, which could fill an arena. 

[just a sec... OKAY, I remember this Versus song from the show! (playing on iPod now):  Into Blue... great one!  Now back to your regularly scheduled review...]

Um, where was I?  Wye Oak, right.  Jenn Wasner's voice is a force of nature, and it had no problem filling this space.  She wailed on guitar and roared that beautiful, penetrating, otherworldly voice.  It went straight past the ears to the brain. Spine-tingling.  Andy accompanied her on drums, simultaneous keyboard, and sometime bass.  As always, a dark, insense, and rocking set...  perhaps even better than usual in the big venue, which I wouldn't usually say of any band. 

Wye Oak...

So it's 1:30 or so.  I walk over to Slim's to catch... DAMN!  I just missed Whatever Brains!  STILL have not caught them. I thought that would be a perfect way to close out Hopscotch.  Never fear.  There must be something left, right?  Back to the Pour House, where I started my day at noon, at the Trekky Records day party... maybe they at least still have iced coffee?

Better!  No BS! Brass Band is still playing!  This was on my list, being from NOLA and all.  Now, I can be a little picky about brass bands, having been raised on the Dirty Dozen, and with the Soul Rebels being the house band at my old haunt back home. But these Richmond, VA, natives held their own.  A lotta chops, and a lotta fun.  They did standards, they took no less than full crowd participation, they covered A-Ha...  Yes, A-Ha (you'd be surprised at what a good brass band is capable of).  Though I only caught 3-4 songs, it was a great way to close out a great festival.  Finishing where I started the day, and "coming home", as it were.

No BS! Brass band...

It's Tuesday night and I'm still recovering.  I can't wait for next year. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hopscotch Saturday Day Parties - Hi Ho Silver Oh, Cassis Orange, Judy Barnes, Estrangers, Lonnie Walker, Boykiller (8/8/12)

After a "day off" (only seeing the Love Language Friday afternoon; see Facebook page for photos), I returned to downtown Raleigh Saturday, and the last day of Hopscotch 2012, for a day-long slog of day parties and night shows. 

First, the day parties.  I started slow, heading to Trekky Records' day party at the Pour House at noon (largely for the promise of free iced coffee from 3 Cups, which really hit the spot).  Wanting to see Cassis Orange, I showed up early enough to see Hi Ho Silver Oh.  This was Casey Trela from that LA band solo; he has local roots so he stopped by for Hopscotch.  His sincere, twangy, almost-falsetto was accompanied by spare electric guitar and a little live looping.  Towards the end, members of Midtown Dickens sat in with him. 

Hi Ho Silver Oh (w/ Midtown Dickens)...
Cassis Orange was next.  This is Autumn Ehinger's project; sometimes as a band, sometimes solo (as on this day).  Her music was sparse but not insubstantial.  Feelings of heartache and longing filled the air of the big room, pretty full for such an early set.  Performing solo, her voice was quieter than usual, with a slight waver that perfectly captured the tone and feeling of the music.  All alone on stage, hidden behind dual keyboards, putting her heart in her sleeve, Autumn's soft, dark, pop is as fearsome a solo set as there was at Hopscotch.  Color me impressed, and pick up her excellent self-titled EP on the Bandcamp site (that is, until she records more; please record more!?). 

Cassis Orange...

Then it was around the block to the Hive for the Phuzz Phest day party. I was hoping to catch Ramps, but Judy Barnes was still playing. I only caught a couple of songs, but their rolling piano and 1920's-inflected pop made for a perfect segue (and, ultimately, a necessary one -- sometimes a festival needs to be approached like a good mix tape) from the subdued, introspective pop of the Trekky party to the noise that was to come.  Singer Jodi Burns' strong (no wonder, she sings opera professionally) and playful vocals and piano were teamed with with electric guitar and drums, for a welcome and different combination. 

Judy Barnes...
Then, well... okay, I just had to get lunch.  I missed Ramps (sorry, too much to see!).  But the New Orleans-style roast beef Po-Boy was worth it.  Thanks, Jenna and Battistella's!
So back to the Hive, for Winston-Salem's Estrangers. Only my second time to see them, but a set I was looking forward to as much as any at the festival.  And the Phuzz kicked in.  Their ebullient, California-inflected pop had this packed little rooftop bar bouncing.  They put on a very, very fun, live show with one foot in the "big sound" sixties and another in the latest indie-guitar-pop.  Estrangers are very tight, yet still sound properly ragged.  The addition of keyboards this time around really filled out their (already pretty full) sound. 



The Phuzz Phest party then kicked into even higher gear with Lonnie Walker.  Frontman Brian Corum was tense and intense as always.  Given the music Lonnie Walker plays, he's really rather restrained.  You just feel like he could explode at any moment, like he's walking a tightrope.  And the band is becoming an oiled machine, better and better every time I see them.  This all comes out in their sound.  A smokin' set.  I will try to post video soon. 

Lonnie Walker... 

The rapid-fire progression of bands at Hopscotch required a lot of in-set tuning.
Then, it was across to the fringes of downtown, and of Hopscotch, to the Minus Sound Research 7 day party at Rebus Works. There was too much to go to in downtown proper, but I really wish I had made this earlier.  I just wanted to at least see Boykiller; another band I had seen once (quite awhile ago) and have been trying to get to again.  Boykiller gets a lot of press for being 3 girls who sing unapologetically about sex (bay-BEE!), wear playful costumes and outfits, and adorn the stage with various props.  That's all great fun, but it wouldn't go far without great songs.  And Boykiller write, and play, great songs.  Theresa Stone's vocals and usually ukelele are backed simply by drums (Ginger Wagg, ex Veelee), and keyboards (Catherine Steele, Animal Alphabet), with the occassional bass.  The noise made is simple, ragged, complex, and and sublime.  And it rocks.  Great backing vocals too. 

This set seemed a little less playful, \more serious, than last time I saw them.  Sure, they still did Salt'n'Pepa, and Get Get ("naked naked naked all the time!").  But it sounds like they've been writing more songs.  And I don't know if it was the intense heat of what it looks like will have been the last "summer day" around here, but I was pleasantly swimming in the humidity and the vibe.  At this set, Boykiller struck me as the most punk rock act I had seen at Hopscotch.  Punk rock as I was weaned on the term:  no expectations, no real influence per se other that what you want to do, simply playing your music for fun, and sharing it in a communal setting with friends (big music fest or no).  There was also much art and other wares available.  The Saturday Market is apparently a regular thing at Rebus Works.  I don't know how I've never caught it before, but I will have to again soon. 


Boykiller is another band that needs to record more, and they say they are, so stay tuned. I will try to post a video from this set later, as well. 

Next up, the Saturday night shows...