left off the tracks.

Archive for the category “Concerts”

Never Too Old To Dance – Winter/Spring 2014 Concert List (aka Dance Card)

headphonessavemylifeWhat? Is a little cold weather slowing your two step? I hope not. Well, if you are in Chicago, you know this City never really stops. We may sleep but we work through the frost and polar winds. Double digit negatives are nothing. In the words of Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard, “I don’t mind the weather, I’ve got scarves and caps and sweaters.”

Now, if you really want to build up that inner heat without the extra layers (or doing some yoga but that’s cool too), I recommend getting the blood pumping by shaking those hips, pumping those fists, and moving those legs on the dance floor.  Or perhaps sharing your body warmth with one, two or twenty strangers in a tightly packed, sweaty music venue near you.  

In case, you need some suggestions on what and/or who to see, here you go. These are shows which I’m excited about. It’s not exhaustive so if i missed something, please, please let me know. I’m not musically omniscient. A bit clairvoyant but certainly fallible. …These are only for Chicago, but if the band is referenced here they are likely on tour so check out their site for a tour date near you.  

…and yes I do sleep.  but not much.  see you at the front of the house!

(legend… bold = definitely attending; italics = very likely attending;  hyperlinks for venues; thoughts for giggles)

February

March

  • Mar. 1st – Into It. Over It. @ Bottom Lounge
    • Emo-Alert!!!
  • Mar. 1st – Broken Bells & Au Revoir Simone @ the Vic
    • I’d go for ARS; BB put me to sleep last time
  • Mar. 7th – Classixx @ Double Door
    • Dance Party!!!
  • Mar. 13th –16th – I’ll be in Austin, Texas for SXSW… you guys will have to find your own shows for that weekend J
  • Mar. 18th – Lorde @ the Aragon
    • she’s lovely, the venue is awful…i’m kind of over going to all ages shows, be prepared to fight the young ones for a good view
  • Mar. 21st – So Many Dynamos @ Township
  • Mar. 23rd – The War on Drugs @ the Metro
  • Mar. 26th – Future Islands @ Lincoln Hall
  • Mar. 27th – James Vincent McMorrow @ Lincoln Hall
    • soulful, swooning, epic, engrossing vocals to soothe your soul
  • Mar. 27th – Real Estate @ the Metro
  • Mar. 28th – Warpaint with Cate Le Bon @ the Metro
  • Mar. 29th – Shearwater @ The Empty Bottle
  • Mar. 31st – Dum Dum Girls @ The Empty Bottle
    • Swoon… if they play “There is A Light…” I can die happy.

April

May

  • May 7th – Woods @ Subterranean
  • May 9th – The Both (Aimee Mann and Ted Leo) @ the Metro
  • May 13th – Neko Case @ the Chicago Theater
    • The lovely mesmerizing voice of Neko, great acoustics and Kelly Hogan?  Does it get any better?
  • May 16th – Mogwai @ the Vic
  • May 17th – Haim @ the Riviera (sold out)
    • These girls rock

July

One day????

  • The Smiths… I wish.

a.a.

2013 Pitchfork Primer – Youth Be Served, But Respect Your Elders

… it’s the freakin’ weekend baby, ‘m ’bout to have me some fun.  -r.kelly

20130710_pitchfork_91Yeah, it’s that time of year again.  Pitchfork’s showcase of young emerging artists blended with a nod to indie stalwarts and heroes of yesteryear.  Maybe more so than any year, the 2013 Pitchfork Festival illustrates the increased diversification and expansion of the indie online-periodical’s musical breadth.  Is this a good thing?  There are those who might claim Pitchfork has reached into realms outside its “proper reach” or beyond  the quirky, fan-boy zealotry for weirdo and curio bands, but I don’t know if I agree.  Music has right to all its children and over time tastes and predilections change.  But enough of that stuff, we can discuss this on the grass at Union Park.  In the meantime, some rather serious business is at hand.  Who should you go see at the Festival?  I’ll admit my unabashed school-boy enthusiasm to see Bjork for the first time after 20 years of hearing her on headphones.  Also, I can;t wait to see Stuart and co., aka Belle & Sebastian (or as my friend PG once dubbed them the Buena Vista Scottish Club) dance mirthfully dancing around on stage with that 60s baroque pop charm of theirs.  Or the grizzled vets like The Breeders (last time I saw them was in 1993!), Yo La Tengo, or Low, all of whom have made music for some time (ok Kim Deal and co. took some time off).  But, those guys you know….

What about the rest of the field?  I’ve got some suggestions (Don’t I always?).  Also for more details go to http://pitchforkmusicfestival.com/

Well, here are the 10 bands that I’m most eager to see:

Read below or listen along here:  Pitchkfork 2013 Primer: A Playlist

*(I recommend playing on shuffle)

Waxahatchee (Sunday 3:45 – Blue) – Katie Crutchfield’s work as Waxahatchee is a rare thing.  At one moment, it delivers a crushing blow to the gut with its lyrical sincerity and then evokes a euphoric impassioned angst the next minute.  In 2013, Katie (an Alabama native) has given us Cerulean Salt, my favorite 2013 record to date, a record that alternates between muzzled pop harmonies and raw-lo-fi punk-y folk/roots rock.  To the former, layer in Katie Crutchfield’s piercing and pleasing vocals and you have the perfect roller coaster ride of emotions to get you rolling around.

Angel Olsen (Friday 5:15 – Blue) – One of the most beautiful and captivating singers and songwriters I’ve heard in a long time.  I caught her sold out set at the Hideout (a small intimate corner of the world) in February and it was spellbinding.  Her sound is rooted in a/n America/na that is magical, otherworldly, and, at times, brutal and sad, yet authentic and redeeming, leaving you wanting more. 

Solange (Saturday 7:25 – Red) – Beyonce’s little sister certainly has the soul and voice to wow like her sister but she tends towards the slower grooves with a decidedly late 80s/early 90s pop R&B vibe.  Grab a girl or a boy and head over for a chill dance party break for the evening. . .

Savages (Saturday 4:15 – Green) –These English proto/post-punk rockers are loud, fast, and aggressive combing a little of the dark, relentless drone of Joy Division with the dance-like sensibility of Gang of Four but fronted by a Patti Smith sounding lead singer.  From all accounts they put on one of the best live shows.  I can’t wait! Note:  Bring earplugs and avoid the front (some slam-dancing likely)

Foxygen (Sunday 1:45 – Red) – The duo known as Foxygen come from another time or perhaps a world where time doesn’t exist because their music is rooted in a surreal past blending psychedelia and blues in such a pleasing way you wonder if you are dreaming.  Having seen them perform at Lincoln Hall earlier this year, I can tell you these gents are talented and brilliant live when they are on.  About half way through their set that night something was off and watching them deal with imperfection was a sight to behold.  For the flower-power kids this is your chance to spin and whirl like dervishes.  Drop in and tune out, man.

Autre Ne Veut  (Sunday 1:55 – Blue) – Another opportunity for grooving to some pleasant pop R&B.  Don’t worry.  You don’t need to get too low, move too fast, or juke for this kind of music.  It’s more of the close your eyes and just let Autre Ne Veut’s Prince-like falsetto serenade you and guide you through the early afternoon.

Julia Holter (Saturday 1:55 – Blue) – What does walking into a dream feel like?  For me the music of LA based experimental pop artist Julia Holter is just that.  Gorgeous gossamer layers of baroque pop juxtaposed with sparse classical-like compositions will get you floating into. . .

Chairlift (Sunday 5:45 – Blue) – Many people complain about 80s synth-based dance music.  I don’t understand what is wrong with them.  Perhaps they just dislike fun.  Chairlift’s sound is ecstatic, energetic, emotional, and ebullient, bursting through 808s or moogs, entreating you to let go and dance with abandon.  How can you resist?

Phosphorescent (Saturday 2:30 – Green) – Nestled somewhere between the languid and expansive rock of Joshua Tree era U2 and the southwestern flair of Calexico, Alabama native (that is two if you are counting at home) Matthew Houck’s music is reverie inducing and the perfect way to let the week and the world melt away.

Andy Stott (Saturday 7:45 – Blue) –Downtempo electronic music is still somewhat under-appreciated in the U.S.  People are never quite sure what to do with or how to move to it; at times it has a film soundtrack quality and at other times it seems almost sleep-inducing.  Watching English DJ Andy Stott spin could help ameliorate this problem.  His work is layered with pregnant beats and an unrelenting bass groove that keeps one constantly at attention.  By evening’s end you’ll likely find your shoulders and hips shaking. (Stream here on YouTube)

…and yes there is so, so much more and very talented artists I’ve missed, but that is what I’d recommend and will be prioritizing.  However if you want to see my full dance card day by day (which always makes me think of Godspell #musicaltheatregeek) see below.  Note: Bold denotes my can’t miss; Italics are also recommended.

Friday

3:20 Frankie Rose (BLUE) (Dream Pop)

4:35 Mac DeMarco (GREEN) (Folk Rock)

5:15 Angel Olsen (BLUE) (Americana Folk)

5:30 Woods (RED) (Neo Folk/Surf Rock)

6:15 Mikal Cronin (BLUE) (Pop/Surf Rock)

8:30 Björk (GREEN) (Sui Generis)

 

Saturday

1:55 Julia Holter (BLUE) (Dream Pop)

2:30 Phosphorescent (GREEN) (Neo Folk)

2:50 Parquet Courts (BLUE) (Punk)

3:20 …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead (RED) (Rock)

4:15 Savages (GREEN) (Post Punk)

6:15 The Breeders play Last Splash (GREEN) (Baroque Pop)

6:45 Low (BLUE) (Baroque Indie Rock)

7:25 Solange (RED) (Pop R&B)

7:45 Andy Stott (BLUE) (Downtempo/Electornic)

8:30 Belle & Sebastian (GREEN) (Baroque Pop)

 

Sunday

1:00 DJ Rashad (BLUE)(Hip Hop)

1:45 Foxygen (RED) (Psychedelic)

1:55 Autre Ne Veut (BLUE) (R&B)

2:50 Blood Orange (BLUE) (R&B)

3:45 Waxahatchee (BLUE) (Folk/Punk/Lo-Fi Rock)

4:15 Yo La Tengo (GREEN) (Baroque Indie)

4:45 Sky Ferreira (BLUE)(Pop)

5:45 Chairlift (BLUE)(Indie/Baroque Pop)

7:25 M.I.A. (RED)(Hip Hop/R&B)

8:30 R. Kelly (GREEN) (Hip Hop/R&B)

 

Bounce, bounce…. 

a.a.

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SHOWS!!! – Tomorrow Never Knows 2013

Although it is winter in the Windy City, the music never stops. Starting tomorrow, the Tomorrow Never Knows (“TNK”) festival will continue its tradition of bringing great bands and artists on the rise (e.g., Father John Misty (!!!), Jessie Ware, Niki & the Dove, the Orwells, Wild Belle) mixed with some old favorites (e.g., The Walkmen, Lucero, Urge Overkill). In addition, this year there will be a live taping of The Low Times Podcast (with Tom Sharpling) featuring Steve Albini (of Big Black and producer of the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, Nirvana’s In Utero, Cloud Nothings’ Attack on Memory, and many more) at the Hideout, which should be a really interesting evening/discussion.

For those who have yet to purchase tickets to the shows, the good news is that there are still plenty of chances to see some great new bands in some fabulous and intimate locations like Lincoln Hall, Schubas, and The Hideout; the Vic and the Metro are also in the mix but they are bigger venues although no less exquisite.

For more information on all the bands, dates, locations and to purchase tickets go to: http://www.tnkfest.com/.

Unfortunately, some shows are already sold out but this shouldn’t deter you as there are always people who will falter at the last-minute so check on Craigslist or if you are willing you can still buy a five-day pass (but it comes at a hefty $100 price tag) here.

For those who are planning to go or on the fence, I’ve put together a playlist sampler of the bands I am eager to see as well as those who are worth checking out, including The Walkmen, Father John Misty, Niki & the Dove, Lucero, The Orwells, Freelance Whales, Hundred Waters and more.

Click on Tomorrow Never Knows 2013 to hear the music.

Note: I haven’t included all 50+ bands & DJs, just a handful.

Also, check out the TNK playlist via their website here.

I’ll see you at the venues!

a.a.

In the Shadow of the Impending (Mayan) Apocalypse (Pt. 2): Shows and Observations

(Or, how I got through my neurosis about the end of the world with the aid of my headphones)

(note: in case you missed the best of 2012 in tracks go here:  Bring on Your Wrecking Ball: a best of 2012 playlist)

Part the 2nd – Shows and Observations

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Wilco @ Hideout Block Party . . . so misunderstood

By year’s end, I will have made it to close to sixty shows in the calendar year, but the following evenings and performances were the most memorable to date.

  • Bruce Springsteen @ Wrigley Field
    • A cold September night surrounded by bricks and ivy with the Boss, does it get any better?… well, see below
    • The Boss and Eddie Vedder singing “My Hometown”
    • Tom Morrello’s guitar playing on “The Ghost of Tom Joad”
    • With a curtain of rain descending over and drenching the crowd, Bruce covering CCR’s “Who’ll Stop The Rain” and an all out romp through “Thunder Road”
    • yes there is magic in the night
  • Hideout Block Party
    • Kelly Hogan‘s amazing pipes, Corin Tucker thrashing, Lee Field and Wild Belles grooving, and Wye Oak mesmerizing, topped off by…
    • Wilco closing out the night with the Chicago skyline as backdrop.
    • going home via Chicago
  • Riot Fest (Chicago) @ Humboldt Park
    • Watching Fat Mike and daughter listen as Alkaline Trio went old school on an emotionally hungry Chicago crowd
    • Elvis Costello masterful, NOFX loud and pleasantly obnoxious, Promise Ring bringing back a little Emo, Gogol Bordello world eclectic dance party, Iggy Pop and the Stooges still as fiery and furious as ever.
    • A punk carnival with Ferris wheels, sideshows, and performance art.  I love when it gets weird.
  • Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) @ the Athenaeum – a sparse and haunting set of Neutral Milk Hotel songs
  • Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly Hogan (@the Vic & the Hideout x 3)
    • No words can capture what an absolutely gorgeous voice Kelly Hogan has and I was fortunate to see her showcase it on four different occasions with her back up band and old friends. Lucky Boy!
    • A stunningly gorgeous cover of the Magnetic Fields’ “Papa Was A Rodeo”
    • Playing Cheap Trick in a crowded and steamy summer late night Hideout show (with Yo La Tengo in the audience)
    • Mesmerizing and harmonizing with Robbie Fulks to standards old and new classics
  • Adam Arcuragi (@Empty Bottle) and Sean Rowe (@Space) – two amazing singer-songwriters showcasing amazing musicianship, searing lyrics and heartwarming and blood chilling emotional depth. Can’t miss either of these guys.
  • Patrick Watson @ Lincoln Hall & Of Monsters & Men @ the Double Door – these performers are masterful at working the crowd and illustrating how live music can be a communal and joyous experience
  • Perfume Genius & Lost in the Trees @ Schuba’s – two of the most gorgeously intricate, tense, yet satisfying performances of the year; still get goosebumps of PG’s “Hood” live
  • Shallow Diver @ Phyllis’ Musical Inn – debut performance by my friends; the only show that was actually perfectly loud and filled with unbridled joy
  • Alt-J @ the Empty Bottle – electric, mesmerizing, can’t wait until they come back
  • Sharon Van Etten & Shearwater @ Lincoln Hall – bursts of intricate epic sounds and soft, slow, delicately haunting reveries

Shows I’m really bummed I missed:  Grimes, Father John Misty, Sleigh Bells, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Purity Ring, Chad Valley.

Shows still pending:  Japandroids/DIIV, How to Dress Well, OMAM (again) and Hood Internet

(Okay and now some) Bitter Reflections:

  • We lost some very talented and wonderfully gifted musicians.
    • Rest in Peace and thank you: Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, Etta James, Levon Helm, MCA, Robin Gibb, Earl Scruggs, Davy Jones, and Dave Brubeck.
  • Madonna:  Kabalost?  Or too much MDNA?  the Material Girl hasn’t been on her game for some time but this was perhaps her low point. Nonetheless, she was easily one of the most influential performers of the late 20th century.
  • Fiona Apple: I so wanted to like that ridiculously long titled record, but yet again I find myself unable to indulge in the non-traditional nature of her songs, and I like some really bizarre stuff.
  • Nicki Minaj – from super bass to super boring, call it karma for dissing other artists
  • The xx – perhaps it was inevitable after the brilliance of the first record, but aside from “Angels” I couldn’t even finish listening to Coexist
  • Usher – you remind of an artist I once liked, so over produced it hurts.
  • Ty Segall – he’s like the garage rock Ryan Adams so prolific it hurts, but I still can’t get into his stuff
  • Where BKLYN at? After years of being home and haven for countless indie-darlings, NYC’s “hipsterist” borough seems like it’s off its game. #NotHatin’JustSayin’
  • Minor disappointments: All these records fell below my eager anticipation and/or the critical praise showered upon them (for my taste): Yeasayer’s Fragrant World, Grizzly Bear’s Shrines, Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Magellan, and Animal Collective’s Centipede Hz .

Sweet (or things I discovered, loved, and learned via music in 2012)

  • On the non-music entertainment side of things, Tig Notaro’s live set (click here) about dealing with her cancer diagnosis and the countless tragedies she dealt with in 2012 was the most inspiring, thoughtful, comical, and gorgeous thirty minutes of performance I heard all year. If you or anyone in your family has been affected by the blight and tragedy of cancer, please download and listen.
  • Surprises from old faces: Jack White turns back the clock; Norah Jones getting down and dirty; Patti Smith and Bob Dylan, ever ancient, ever new; Leonard Cohen and Neil Young put out records (not a fan but make many others very happy); Jeff Mangum touring!
  • Indie rock’s global imprint increases: Canadians, Swedes, Icelanders and Australians are taking over the Indie-Realm. See Of Monsters and Men (ICE), Japandroids (CAN), Grimes (CAN), Purity Ring(CAN), First Aid Kit (SWE), Jens Lekman (SWE), Tallest Man on Earth (SWE), Niki & the Dove (SWE), Stars(CAN), Gotye (AUS), Carly Rae Jepsen (CAN)(okay only slightly kidding on this one).
  • Boys and girls still wait patiently for calls from the objects of their affection and pine with youthful optimism.
  • I’ve still never heard a song by Justin Bieber or One Direction.  Helps me keep my sanity.
  • Michael Angelakos’ honesty about dealing with mental illness and the need to share with both family and fans was brave, moving and inspiring. Click to the right and listen to Gossamer
  • Undiscovered home recordings can provide some genius inspiration for new and old. See Donnie & Joe Emerson’s Dreamin’ Wild (great for anyone stuck in that 1979 mind or your Uncle Rico)
  • Chicago’s best kept secret, The Numero Group, is releasing fabulous dusty grooves while very few people are paying attention.
  • Lots of really talented people really love (and demonstrated why) Philip Glass (is a genius).
  • And yet again, Bob Dylan is touring … all is right with the world.

Tomorrow… the albums that won my heart.

for now images from the shows below…

- a.a.

bruce↓Springsteen @ Wrigley↑

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the fabulous Kelly Hogan @ Hideout Block PartyIMG_8614

Wye Oak @ Hideout Block Party

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Alkaline Trio (with Fat Mike and daughter on shoulders wearing headphones stage left) @ Riot FestIMG_20120806_001701

Of Monsters and Men @ Double DoorIMG_20121202_234557

Patrick Watson @ Lincoln HallIMG_8528

Death Cab for Cutie @ the Chicago Theatre

shallow diver

Shallow Diver @ Phyllis’ Musical InnIMG_8662

Cloud Nothings @ WBEZ StudioIMG_8692

Julia Holter @ SchubasIMG_20120723_003256

Kelly Hogan @ the Hideout

hasta mañana

Block & Riot!!! Weekend (Festival Playlists)

…it’s Wednesday and either the week is dragging or the anticipation for the weekend is building.  The latter here.  To help through the Wednesday doldrums and get you excited for the weekend, I’m sharing two playlists of varying styles:  Roots/Folk Rock (for the pensive) and Punk Rock (for the antsy).  I’m both.  Further explanation(s) below.

Hideout Block Party : Saturday, September 15th 

At the intersection of Elston and Wabansia nestled within Chicago’s Industrial Corridor, you will find the Hideout, home to one of Chicago’s most intimate musical performance spaces and a recurring set of killer dance parties.  Spilling out from the confines of the bar, the Hideout Block Party is one of the best weekends of live and family oriented music.  With each passing year, the Block Party draws more impressive acts, but it always makes sure to showcase local musicians.  This year is no exception with the phenomenal Kelly Hogan (who I gush about with regularity) and the up and coming Wild Belle.  Of course, the piece de resistance is none other than Chicago’s finest, although they now belong to the world without any reservations, Wilco. 

Playlist: to get you excited for Saturday’s lineup

Listen to this mix → HideoutBlockParty

Note on playlist:  I recommend setting it to shuffle as the list is ordered according to Saturday’s lineup.

Saturday’s Hideout Lineup (with bands I’m seeing in Bold)

2:00pm Kelly Hogan

3:00pm The Corin Tucker Band

4:00pm Wild Belle

5:00pm Wye Oak

6:00pm Lee Fields & The Expressions

7:30pm Wilco

 

Riot Festival (Chicago):  Sunday, September 16th (at Humboldt Park)

I have already written with some frequency about this event and the numerous bands playing at this festival (and two posts are still forthcoming).  So why am I bothering you again?  Is this some effort at musical bludgeoning?  Hmm… thought hadn’t occurred to me.  Fitting as Gwar will be playing the event.  In any event, I wanted to share a mix/playlist of the bands for Sunday’s performance.  Even if you are not attending the Fest (located in the West Side’s Humboldt Park), you might enjoy this mix containing a collection of my favorite tunes from Elvis Costello, Alkaline Trio, Iggy and the Stooges, Promise Ring, NOFX, Less Than Jake and more.

Playlist: For some energy and aggression (and Punkish pining)

Listen to this → RiotFestPlaylist 

Note on playlist:  I also recommend setting this to shuffle as the list is in alphabetical order.

Sunday’s RiotFest Lineup (with bands I’m seeing in Bold) (Map of Stages here.)

1:00 pm               Reverend Horton Heat (Roots Stage)

1:40 pm              Less Than Jake (Riot Stage)

2:20 pm             The Promise Ring (Roots)

3:00 pm                Built to Spill (Riot)

3:40 pm             NOFX (Roots)

4:40 pm             Jesus & Mary Chain (Riot)

5:25 pm             Elvis Costello & The Imposters (Roots)

6:25 pm             Alkaline Trio (Riot)

7:25 pm               Gogol Bordello (Roots)

8:25 pm             Iggy And The Stooges (Riot)

 Also, both festivals have additional dates for information on:

  • Friday’s Hideout bands and times go here 
  • Friday’s Riot bands and times go here
  • Saturday’s Riot Fest bands and times go here. 

live long and prosper,

a.a.

Listen to Live Music: 2012 Fall Tours!!!

A second but short post to just bring to your attention all the great tours that will be coming through the U.S. in the fall.  Check the “Upcoming Shows” menu at the top of the site for information on who, when and where.

As always links are provided for national tour dates and Chicago venues.  Also here is just a short list to get you excited of some bands on tour:

Are We Too Old For This? Nope. But it sure would be nice if people acted with more courtesy: thoughts on concert-going while watching Of Monsters & Men + the Jezabels*

*No, this is not my attempt at writing a Wordsworthian title.  Ed.’s Note 8.7, on second thought, Fiona Apple would be the more apt analogy.

It’s been some time since I’ve written about a show that I’ve attended. An oversight on my part given that I’ve seen some really fabulous artists perform at some really excellent venues over the past month, including, but not limited to, Wilco & Andrew Bird at the Kane County Cougars’ Baseball Stadium (#Via(SweetHome)Chicago), Explosions in the Sky at the Chicago Theater (#mindblowing), and Kelly Hogan at the Hideout (#singerswoon). All were worthy of a more extended recap but sometimes other things get in the way.

Last night was most definitely worth recounting and recording for both the sweet and the bitter. Before proceeding to the description and thoughts, here’s a short playlist of the two bands I saw last night, in case you haven’t already encountered them before.

The Jezabels and Of Monsters and Men Mini-Playlist

Hayley Mary (of the Jezabels) getting it going

Let’s start with the basics…

Date & Location: Sunday August 5th @ the Double Door, Chicago, IL, 10pm

Bands: The Jezabels and Of Monsters and Men (“OMAM”)

Event: *Free post-Lollapalooza after-show*

Now, if you are reading closely and/or have been to events of this nature, you’ll know that “free” is always nice, but it means lining up early to guarantee entry. I managed to scuttle myself into line around 9pm (quite easy given that the venue is three blocks down the street) at which point there was already a rather lengthy stream of hopeful attendees. (For those following at home and familiar with some piece of Chicago (film) lore, you’ve actually seen the interior of the Double Door if you’ve watched High Fidelity; it’s in the closing sequence: the scene of the “CD Release Party”/Jack Black band, Sonic Death Monkey, cover of “Let’s Get It On”.)

As always, the individuals in line provided a great deal of conversation and entertainment starting with the kid from Memphis asking about the existence of the Chicago “House” scene (largely extinct since the late 90s) and discussing it’s vibrancy in Memphis (road trip anyone?); the band from LA out for Lolla and a Wedding (check them out here; haven’t listened yet but they were very nice and earnest, I appreciate that); the mother and son from Pittsburgh who had also flown out for Lolla, looked exhausted, and left after waiting in line for an hour (quit while you are ahead?!?), and the countless individuals who tried cutting into the line with the “oh really the line goes all the way back there?” [vocal pitch increasing with each new word]. (If you were from another planet and didn’t understand sarcasm, you would attend a concert and believe that most humans, or American kids at the very least, were daft. Little would you know how sneaky they can be!).  Oh and of course who can forget the sexagenarian Tintin-look-a-like minus Snowy, but accoutered with ascot and satchel (!), riding an old-fashioned (1940s era) moto-bike (!!) with side-car (!!!), and offering rides to “your destination for a small donation”? I can’t make this up people; my mind isn’t as fecund as the real world.

According to “word on the street” doors were opening at 10…. and, 10 came and went with little movement. In the meantime, the Blue Line kept dropping hordes of people fresh from Grant Park (home of Lolla) and some finagled their way into the line ahead of us. I guess they sent out advance scouts. Then, suddenly, as though the Red Sea had parted, there was a steady stream of footsteps at which I exclaimed “Exodus!” The people surrounding me didn’t get my reference, in fact their gaze could have been described as befuddled and confused (or perhaps they were high and frightened that I was reading their minds). Fortunately my friend Gaby understood where I was going with my (possibly) ill-suited quip. Do people really not listen to Marley anymore? Or, perhaps, we were displaying our age relative to our fellow concert-goers. (Gaby was also the only other person who knew who Tom Verlaine of Television was. Seriously, kids these days need a primer on 70s music. Parents and siblings your work is cut out for you. I’ll send you a mixtape if necessary.) Despite my resignation that we’d be unable to enter based on capacity, not only did we manage to get in, we walked through the doors just as the Jezabels were about to begin and we ended up about 7 feet from the front, using my patented “Getting-to-the-Front-of-the-Stage-Technique”—all rights reserved. (For the record it doesn’t involve pushing and/or pretending to “find your friends” but recognizing that people tend to congregate and meander in the same spots, leading to openings and inefficiencies of spatial allocation; a sort of a Moneyball approach to concert going.)

Platonic Ideal of a Rock’N’Roll Animal

The Jezabels (of Australia) were awesome. The lead singer channels Pat Benatar at the height of her career with a booming and majestic voice and the aesthetic of Karen O mixed with Souxise (of the Banshees fame). Since the last time I saw them in 2010, their sound has become fuller and more refined. They fulfill a certain tinge of 80s Brit-Aussie Pop nostalgia: the dance-ability of bands like Men At Work, Madness, and Big Audio Dynamite with a decidedly more 80s New York Rock feel. For those who were plugged into their set (a small handful of us), it was the perfect late Sunday night rock-dance party.

Of Monsters and Mirthful Madness

Of Monsters and Men came on and the crush began. Before turning to general reflections about the “crowd”, this Icelandic septet (by my count) are as skilled a live band as they are on album. Although the initial mix sounded muddled (too much bass to my novice ears), by the third song the sound engineer and band were in full swing, bringing their mix of up-beat gypsy folk rock to the music hungry youths (and elders) of the Double Door. From the outset, it was evident that OMAM was thrilled and ecstatic to be playing despite what I can only imagine was a long day, a hefty time difference, and a 12:15 a.m. start. Also, these Icelanders know how to work a crowd, unafraid to instigate extended and extensive use of hand clapping and sing-a-alongs. For the folks who don’t like to be a part of the show, then this isn’t your scene, but for the rest of us it’s like what Belinda Carlisle sang so many years ago. In short, the set was a perfect sweat and dance fest to end the weekend. (Even for those of us who didn’t and don’t do Lollapalooza.)

Not to distract from the brilliance of OMAM, but I found myself for not the first time in the past year lamenting the absence of the old front of house/show dance pits. Why? Weren’t those replete with young male aggression and physical violence? In certain establishments where the crowd and venue weren’t vigilant, things did disintegrate into “pandemonium” and really despicable behavior. But, when I attended shows in the early and late 90s, there was still a code of decorum and ethics about the front of stage area that encouraged and fostered a pleasant and mirthful space for the people who wanted to dance and be part of the show. Now, I understand people enjoy music in different manners, and not everyone feels like dancing. I respect that. However, I don’t quite understand the sentiment. Since a very early age, music has always moved me, and if a beat is “right”, my hips and legs are shaking. But I’m digressing, this is not a discussion about dance habits, sorry, let’s get back to the topic at hand: my longing for the equality of opportunity represented by the dance pits back in the day as well as a general lack of respect for fellow concert-goers.

So, what is missing these days? Well, let me list my grievances ;)

Grievance Zero: Respect The People Around You; Don’t Act Entitled

The unacknowledged code and/or understanding of the dance pit/front of stage back in my day was that (a) if you wanted to dance you just joined in, (b) you held your spot as long as you didn’t leave, (c) you minimized unnecessary “contact” or “objects” in the dance space and (d) you were totally invested in the actual show. What you didn’t do? Slowly slither your way between groups when they were dancing, say “my friend” is at the front when they aren’t, or push through the crowd irrespective of people’s personal space and thinking only of yourself. Concerts are a communal experience with some unspoken rules and codes of respect. Enjoy yourself but always think about the consequences of your actions and others.

A couple of shots of OMAM a show is cool

Grievance the First: Photos/Cameras

I have nothing against people wanting to capture the moment. Clearly this post contains snapshots taken during the show – see to the right. A couple of photos a show are cool and a nice memento. However, there is a difference between one or two snapshots per act and a continuous series of photos and/or video recording. (Who are you, D.A. Pennebaker?)  Constant photo-taking or videotaping interrupt the ability for people around you to enjoy the show by adding a distracting glow and blocking views of the stage.  Also, why isn’t dancing and watching a sufficient way of enjoying the show? I love the ways in which social media and the internet connect and educate people, however, the inability to not constantly share or be “in the moment” (however hippie it might sound) is A HUGE problem affecting many folks these days.  I don’t think this is purely a generational thing, even though the younger set fall prey to it more than the rest, but its not entirely their fault, they’ve learned by (a) example and/or (b) the lack of counterexample. Parents (and their friends) listen to CSN&Y and teach your children well.

Grievance the Second: Large Bags/Purses.

Look, as someone who rides his bike to many shows, I often bring a messenger bag with me to most shows. However, when I am at the venue, I either check the bag and/or find a nice coat hook to hold it for me. I encourage others to do the same because large bags filled with non-cushioned items tend to hurt quite a bit. This show in particular was quite a claustrophobic event to begin with, tight and compact spaces with limited room for movement and only the smallest of dancing. Now, add to this the fact that the three attendees surrounding me had large bags that kept stabbing me repeatedly no matter whatever adjustment I made and it felt like I was Leia, Luke, Chewy and Han in the garbage compactor on the Death Star. There was no escape and this morning some bruises. Decorum you are our only hope.

Grievance the Third: Beer/Drink Runs.

Far be it from me to tell anyone how much and/or when to drink. I am no moralist or regulator. However, if you leave near the end of a show to get drinks, tell the people around you that you are coming back. It is a commonly understood “concert code” that if you leave late in a set, you’ve conceded your spot in the crowd unless you tell your fellow concert-goers and friends that you will be returning. And, it is also acceptable and understood to take a bathroom break, whenever necessary, but again let others know. What you don’t do is return with drinks in hand, splashing, pushing and acting like someone has grievously harmed you. In my experience, most people are pretty considerate when you actually ask them to hold your spot/space.

Grievance the Fourth: Tall Dudes to the Back or Sides, Please.

If you are over 6 feet, it is likely that you will be able to see the show quite well from almost any spot in the venue. However, if you stand near the front, your “shadow” looms large and you will block many a person around you. Perhaps, if you are trying to get close to the front of the stage you should consider the wings. Not an ideal location for sound quality, but you’d be doing the rest of us/the small people a real favor. It isn’t too much to ask really. Most of my concert-going male friends are over 6 feet – I live in the Midwest, they grow them pretty tall here – and we routinely find locations on audience right or left so as to limit the amount of people they block. And, even though I’m a lowly 5’8″, I always look around to make sure I’m not blocking any folks behind me. Be considerate and thoughtful. It goes a long way.

Exit Stage Left (or quickest exit available)

I will stop my rant now and return to the regularly scheduled programming. But, I just ask that you consider some of these little observations, and by all means feel free to share.

Art should not have “rules and regulations” and people should be able to enjoy things as they see fit. I hope I am not being fascistic in my thoughts and observations. I just believe that at times folks forget to consider other people. To maximize, everyone’s enjoyment it helps when people act with a modicum of respect and understanding. Otherwise, we will prove Hobbes right, and the art/concert venue will devolve into “the war of all against all” and we don’t want that do we?

Climbing down from his soapbox,

a.a.

A P’Fork 2012 Primer – Recs & Suggestions

When I posted a couple of weeks back that I was selling my three day pass to this weekend’s Pitchfork Festival, a number of friends reached out to me, concerned about what might be keeping me away. I guess my unbridled enthusiasm for Chicago’s best music festival (sorry Lollapalooza, not only is your lineup weak but the setup and ticket prices make you uninspiring to this one) raised an eyebrow or two. The reason was quite simple: a very good friend was getting married this weekend. Although I love live music, friendship comes before concerts. Always. And, I am very excited and eager to celebrate with my friend and forego three days in Union Park.

That being said, I still have lots of thoughts and opinions about the bands performing this weekend. So, for those descending upon Union Park for the finest weekend of music in the City, here are my “quick” thoughts on which bands to check out. (‘Cause let’s be honest, I’m not always good with being succinct.)

Note: The following is organized according to acts that I’d be most excited to see (and in backwards order). I’ve also included some additional bands to consider adding or subbing in.

Friday July 13th, 2012

  1. Purity Ring (8:30 on Blue Stage) – A downtempo and dance electronica duo who offer the perfect combo of groovy beats and chill wave to ease out the night. (They conflict with the headliner Feist, but see my thoughts below.)
  2. Dirty Projectors (7:20 on the Red Stage) – Either you love their esoteric and experimental melodies and rhythms or you find them pretentious and difficult to listen to. Clearly I’m of the former camp and would love to hear the ladies and gentlemen of DP croon “Stillness is the Move” and “Temecula Sunrise”. [Can't Miss!!!]
  3. Japandroids (6:15 on Blue Stage) – Hands down one of the best live acts I’ve seen in the past decade in terms of precision and power and from just two dudes! [Can't Miss!!!]
  4. Wills Earl Beal (4:15 on Blue Stage) – A unique and spellbinding performer that mixes Memphis Blues, gospel vibrato and American Folk into a strange and brilliant concoction.
  5. Lower Dens (3:30 on Red Stage) – If you enjoy a great 90s sounding guitar rock band with a penchant for long instrumentals, then you should totally check this Baltimore group out. I saw them earlier this year and was captivated.

Additional Great Stuff

  • Olivia Tremor Control (4:35 on the Green Stage)
  • Feist (8:20 on Red Stage) – I adore Feist’s recorded material, but I tend to avoid solo acts at these outdoor venues especially on the large stage because their vocals get lost in the mix and the performance feels underwhelming. See Destroyer’s set last year. Not his fault. The mix was awful.
  • A$AP Rocky (5:30 on Red Stage) – I think he’s got really great beats and rhymes.

 Saturday July 14th, 2012

For the record, there is just too much good stuff on Saturday.

  1. GodSpeed You! Black Emperor (8:30 on the Green Stage) – One of the most amazing, mind-blowing live sets I have ever seen. I am prone to hyperbole, but, in all honesty, it was a show that left a very memorable impression on me. For those unfamiliar with this band, they are a musical collective from Montreal composed of some of the finest musicians in North America. The whole set is instrumental with some recorded “found sound” interspersed throughout. Grab a drink, pick a spot in the grass, sit back and just enjoy a live music experience unlike any other. [Can't Miss!!!]
    1. Grimes (8:40 on the Blue Stage) – Okay, so here’s the thing. I raved about GSYBE above, but if I were going to be there I think I’d run over to see the first ten or 15 minutes of Grimes’ set and the head back to GSYBE. I adore Grimes’ record and fascinated to see her turn it into a live performance. Plus I would probably need to come down a little from my Hot Chip dancing high and she has a far mellower dance groove.
  2. Hot Chip (7:25 on the Red Stage) – This is the perfect lead up to GSYBE! Get ready for an upbeat and dance focused set from this group of indie dance music maestros. They’ve got a DJ mixing it up on the turntables. They’ve got Alexis Taylor in crazy outfits pumping up the crowd. And, they’ve got music to get your hips and feet a stompin’. [Can't Miss!!!]
  3. Sleigh Bells (6:15 on the Green Stage) — This NY city duo put out one of the most riveting and invigorating rock records of 2012 to date. Alexis Kraus’ vocals will both lull you a pleasant state of euphoria and pierce your side. So definitely don’t miss out. And be ready to jump, sway, and get sweaty. [Can't Miss!!!]
  4. Wild Flag (5:15 on the Red Stage) – …and speaking of rocking.  Love these ladies. I’ve seen them three times in the last year and each set is better, tighter and more expansive. It’s very likely they’ll play new material and some fun covers. But it’s most certain they will ROCK your socks off. [Can't Miss!!!]
  5. Youth Lagoon (3:45 on Blue Stage) – Trevor Powers (aka Youth Lagoon) blew me away with the subtle and precious power of his record, The Year in Hibernation. If you are worried about whether it will get lost in the live performance, have no fear, his live set is stellar.
  6. Cloud Nothings (1:45 on the Red Stage) – From lo-fi power pop to pristine produced pop and dirge punk, CN are a young and exciting band that will infuse your post brunch/lunch mellow with a much needed shot of adrenaline. In other words, this is your P’fork caffeine jolt of the day. (And in case you are wondering what to do between CN and YL, walk over to Flatstock Poster Festival and check out some of the great poster and print artists on display. Look in particular for the Bird Machine and Crosshair. Or bid on the Rock for Kids auction items!)

Additional Great Stuff

  • Chromatics (6:45 on the Blue Stage) – Dreamy Fuzz pop and Shoegazer electornica outfit out of the Northwest who evoke shades of My Bloody Valentine and pre-Technique New Order. Given all the heavy hitters surrounding them, it might be hard to squeeze them in, but in case this is more your scene, I’d definitely check them out.
  • Danny Brown (7:40 on the Blue Stage) – Undoubtedly one of the best new rappers on the scene and evoking the word and beat heavy still of the mid 90s. He’s got swagger and a unique vocal talent.
  • Nicholas Jaar (4:45 on the Blue Stage) – If you need an afternoon mellow melt, go check out Nicholas who offers up great downtempo and ambient textured work.

Sunday July 15th, 2012

  1. Vampire Weekend (8:30 on the Green Stage) – Although this is a band that inspires a great deal of ambivalence among the music fans, I absolutely adore what they do and are great live. They will leave you feeling on high note. [Can't Miss!!!]
  2. Beach House (7:25 on the Red Stage) – Amusingly enough, I actually saw BH open for VW a couple of years back. In 2012, they are clearly the band with a great claim to Indie-Rock buzz power. Bloom is one of my favorite records to date and I believe they will be ready to impress. [Can't Miss!!!]
  3. Kendrick Lamar (4:45 on the Blue Stage) – Section 8.0 was one of the best hip-hop/rap records of the past year that went under the radar. Kendrick is part of the growing wave of young artists that are helping to bring Hip-Hop/Rap back to its mid 90s glory days by placing clever rhymes and topical narratives ahead of over produced “guest appearance” laden tracks. He might be an “unknown” to many but he’s about to blow up. [Can't Miss!!!]
  4. Ty Segall (3:20 on the Red Stage) – Loud and aggressive fuzzy, punk infused rock. A perfect compliment for a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon.
  5. Thee Oh Sees (2:50 on the Blue Stage)
  6. Milk Music (1:50 on the Blue Stage)

Additional Great Stuff

  • Oneothrix Point Never (5:45 on the Blue Stage) – If you want a change of pace to something a little more of the hardcore electornica scene, shimmy over and get your groove on with OPN.
  • Real Estate (4:15 on the Green Stage) – I’ll admit I don’t “love” this band even though they make music I should like. I think it’s pleasant and worth checking out, but I’d put them on my backburner.
  • Unknown Mortal Orchestra (1:45 on the Red Stage)

At the end of the day(s), when you have this many talented and exciting musicians gathered in one space over the course of three days, you can’t go wrong. For your reference, here is the full lineup with times and locations.

For those attending, have a great weekend and make sure to keep yourself hydrated!

a.a.

A Six Pack and a Preview of What is Coming in 2012

As we put the first half of 2012 to rest (but not past us just yet), here are things I’m really excited about in the second half of 2012. But before the preview, take a second to watch and listen to this very summer-inspired video by Nashville’s Jeff the Brotherhood. While I can’t condone all the behavior of the Boys and Girls in this ode to the joys of frolicking, I definitely envy their ability to commune so intimately with nature. And, the song is pretty much a perfect fuzzy, lo-fi guitar rock companion to getting away (with mayhem).

Albums

There are lots of great new releases and reissues coming up in the next couple of months. For a full rundown courtesy of Pitchfork, click here. A more concise list of releases (and dates) culled from that list can be found further below but tops on my list are:

  • Cat Power’s Ruins
  • Dirty Projector’s Swing Lo Magellan
  • Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange
  • The Very Best’s MTMTMK
  • Purity Ring’s Shrines 
  • Dead Can Dance’s Anastasis
  • WHY?’s Sod in the Seed EP
  • Four Tet’s Pink
  • Yeasayer’s Fragrant World
  • Animal Collective’s Centipede Hz
  • David Byrne and St. Vincent’s Love This Giant
  • Calexico’s Algiers 
  • The xx‘s Coexist
  • Corin Tucker’s Kill My Blues
  • The Hood Internet’s FEAT

Shows

As many of you know, summer is the time of great festivals but when the summer ends lots of great fall tours also commence. Here are some particular shows/acts, I can’t wait to see!

  • Wilco + Andrew Bird + Minor League Baseball Stadium + Fireworks! (July 8th)
  • Pitchfork 2012 in Union Park  (July 13th-15th) – Although I will be in absentia, I am still eager to hear the review of this great lineup of acts slated to hit Chicago (and our torrid summer heat) next week. In case you don’t know the lineup, here is a quick highlight: God Speed You Black Emperor, Japandroids, Wild Flag, Hot Chip, Sleigh Bells, Beach House, Vampire Weekend, Feist, Kendrick Lamar, Cloud Nothings, Grimes, Dirty Projectors, Purity Ring, Danny Brown, and many more. For a full list click here.
  • Bruce Springsteen at Wrigley Field (September) – Two of the America’s great treasures meet in one (er, two) memorable evenings in Chicago and I managed to score seats in the pit!!!
  • Punk Rock Heroes in Humboldt Park at Riot Festival Chicago (September) – An all-star, all-time line-up of Punk Rock (or proto-punk rockers) will be descending on Chicago in September. I mean if the likes of elder statesmen Iggy and the Stooges, Elvis Costello, and the Jesus and Mary Chain aren’t enough to get you excited, then perhaps you’ll find joy in the addition of Alkaline Trio, Promise Ring, NoFX, Gogol Bordello and GWAR. Personally, I’m gearing up to see ‘em all!
  • SLOAN! (September) For those of you who don’t know some of the greatest pop-rockers to come out of Canada, then perhaps you should catch them on their Twice Removed Tour (celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the album’s release).
  • Best Coast, Tennis, The Very Best, Colleen Green, WHY?, and Julia Holter and many, many more. An up-to-date upcoming concerts and tours to follow. (July – September)

Forthcoming Albums (with dates)

JULY

  • 07-10
    Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan [Domino]
    Twin Shadow: Confess [4AD]
  • 07-11:  Azealia Banks: Fantasea mixtape [self-released]
  • 07-17
    Frank Ocean: Channel Orange [Def Jam]
    JEFF the Brotherhood: Hypnotic Nights [Warner]
    Nas: Life Is Good [Def Jam]
    The Very Best: MTMTMK [Moshi Moshi/Cooperative Music]
  • 07-24
    The Antlers: Undersea EP [Anti-]
    The Books: A Dot in Time [Temporary Residence] (7 LP Box Set)
    Eternal Summers: Correct Behavior [Kanine]
    Passion Pit: Gossamer [Columbia]
    Purity Ring: Shrines [4AD/Last Gang]
  • 07-31
    Blur: Blur 21 [Virgin] [box set]
    Rick Ross: God Forgives, I Don’t [Maybach Music/Def Jam]

AUGUST

  • 08-07: Niki & The Dove: Instinct [Sub Pop] 
  • 08-09: Dead Can Dance: Anastasis [4AD]
  • 08-14: WHY?: Sod in the Seed EP [Anticon/Slang City]
  • 08-20
    Four Tet: Pink [Text]
    Minotaur Shock: Orchard [Melodic]
    Jessie Ware: Devotion [PMR Records]
  • 08-21
    Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti: Mature Themes [4AD]
    Yeasayer: Fragrant World [Secretly Canadian]
  • 08-27: Wild Nothing: Nocturne [Captured Tracks]

SEPTEMBER

  • 09-04
    Animal Collective: Centipede Hz [Domino]
    Cat Power: Sun [Matador]
    The Fresh & Onlys: Long Slow Dance [Mexican Summer]
    Jens Lekman: I Know What Love Isn’t [Secretly Canadian]
    Sondre Lerche: Bootlegs [Mona]
    Stars: The North [ATO]
    T.I.: Trouble Man [Grand Hustle/Atlantic]
    The Vaccines: The Vaccines Come of Age [Columbia]
  • 09-11

    A$AP Rocky: LongLiveA$AP [A$AP Worldwide/Polo Grounds/RCA]
    David Byrne and St. Vincent: Love This Giant [4AD/Todo Mundo]
    Calexico: Algiers [Anti-]
    The Raveonettes: The Observator [Vice]
    Sic Alps: Sic Alps [Drag City]
    Thee Oh Sees: Putrifiers II [In the Red]
    The xx: Coexist [Young Turks]

  • 09-18
    Corin Tucker: Kill My Blues [Kill Rock Stars]
    Dinosaur Jr.: I Bet on Sky [Jagjaguwar]
    Grizzly Bear: TBA [Warp]
    The Hood Internet: FEAT [Decon]
    Kid Koala: 12 Bit Blues [Ninja Tune]
    The Sea and Cake: Runner [Thrill Jockey]
  • 09-25

    Dum Dum Girls: End of Daze EP [Sub Pop]
    Yoko Ono with Thurston Moore & Kim Gordon: YOKOKIMTHURSTON [Chimera Records]

  • 10-02: John Cale: Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood [Double Six]

Future:

  • Band of Horses: TBA [Fat Possum/Columbia]
  • Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste [Universal]
  • Crystal Castles: TBA [Fiction]
  • Flying Lotus: Until the Quiet Comes [Warp]
  • Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d city [Interscope]
  • Madlib and Freddie Gibbs: TBA [Stones Throw]
  • Matt and Kim: Lightning [FADER Label]
  • Public Enemy: The Evil Empire of Everything [TBA]

Hot oL’ Baltimore Part 1: Lower Dens’ Nootropics

Charm City, indeed. Maryland’s most populous (and well recognized) city is making a name for itself in the indie-rock world. No longer just the setting for David Simon’s much beloved The Wire, B’more is rapidly become home to a burgeoning indie-rock scene led by the likes of the Lower Dens, Beach House, and Wye Oak. (Now not all the members of the bands were necessarily born and breed in or around Baltimore, but, then again, how many of the rockers now living in the Borough of Brooklyn can claim it as their ancestral home?) Not only is the City of Firsts filled with great young bands but even their long suffering baseball team is perched atop their division (as of this writing anyways). Perhaps there is something in the water, something that breeds musical ingenuity and creativity? (You know like why they claim a slice of pizza or a bagel from New York is better than anywhere else? I’ll agree to the latter and would kill for an H&H bagel right now. Alas.)

Straight out of Baltimore comes Nootropics, the second full-length album by the Lower Dens. This group caught my ear at the beginning of last year with their phenomenal debut record Twin Hand Movement, which was described to me by a friend as ChillWave – undoubtedly a term coined to allude to the 70s/80s New Wave phenomenon and to perhaps beget the notion of a “movement.” (Without digressing too much, in my opinion, “ChillWave” is basically an updated version of Shoegazer rock that adds the production/synth elements of New Wave and layers in some early English Downtempo and TripHop. Is it a movement? Only time will tell.) The distinguishing characteristic of Twin Hand was the mix of the haunting vocals of Jana Hunter (the band’s lead singer), a sleepy, layered guitar section tinged with a Southwestern flair, and a Lo-Fi drone – or the sound of contemplation. Thus, when I ventured to see them earlier this year at the Subterranean, I was expecting to be soothed into an almost dream-like rapture. Nothing could be further from what I witnessed. Showcasing the new tracks from their forthcoming album, Jana and crew played loud, distortion heavy tracks that went on for what felt like an eternity, which was a pleasant surprise. (I do enjoy it when band turns up the volume.)

Welcome to the world of Nootropics, a break from the more languid Twin Hand Movement towards a fuller, robust and heavy sound with increased synthesized and electronic elements. It’s as though the Lower Dens had a musical muzzle removed from their instruments. The record begins with the dream-like prologue, “Alphabet Song”, and already you hear a more polished and precise sound, where before songs wandered, now they flow towards a definite point. If you listen closely, you might hear a striking resemblance to Portishead’s (comeback) Third and recent Danger Mouse produced records. Things then turn decidedly up-tempo on “Brains” and “Stem”, heavy on, and almost foregrounding, the percussion (an element in sparse quantities on the first record). With Jana’s, at times, Nico-esque vocals, “Brains” has the unique feel of a neo-psychedelic folk song that builds into a strange gothic dance track, and, then, it shifts gears straight into “Stem” with its high electronic piano chords, eerily reminiscent of some bizarre circus tune. (Because I’ve been listening to the digital version there is this unfortunate two to three second lag between tracks suggesting that the two songs are really supposed to blend into each other but there is the digital rub.)

If this is beginning to sound as though the record is a journey into an odd, dark world, then I’m achieving my goal. Although I have yet to read anything to this effect, Nootropics feels like a concept album in sound and theme. After repeated listens, I feel as though I’m passing through layers of human consciousness and experience. Perhaps, this is intentional as the title of the record refers to foods, (herbal) supplements, and drugs that enhance memory and cognitive function, otherwise known as, “smart drugs”. (For the language nerds, “Nootropics” comes from the Greek words nous, or “mind”, and trepein, “to bend or turn”.) The opening feels heady, as in located in the head or mind, and then moves towards the guttural and the base, i.e., the body. At the midpoint, the record appears to take us outside the mind and body, starting with the two part “Lion in Winter“. The first “movement” is dirge-like and evokes a passage towards. The second part shifts tempo and evokes an awakening, along with a very Kraut-rock sounding synth line. (It also reminds me a little of LCD Soundsystem from the last album.) The journey concludes with two slow, pensive (and some might say) sleepy tracks. On the whole, I think this is a fascinating listen. Is it for everybody? Probably not. I worry it might sit on the darker side for most, but if you enjoyed the last Portishead record and the work of bands like God Speed You Black Emperor, I think the Lower Dens newest adventure will resonate with you.

Listen to Nootropics in its entirety here.

In more light-hearted news:

  • “I’m Getting To Old for This” (truncated version):
    • Andrew Bird at the Roosevelt Auditorium, May 12th, 2012 – What can I say, I sat with my friends in a gorgeous old world style proscenium stage theater and marveled (yet again) at the power and beauty of Andrew Bird’s music. Playing mostly tracks off his new album, the band was pitch perfect and precise. Despite being many rows up, it sounded and felt like Andrew was singing to me in the intimate haunts he used to frequent in Chicago. The “worst” part about the show was having to sit through the entire set, especially when so many of the songs on the new album are infused with that giddy and mirthful energy that makes your body want to move and shake. Alas, I’ll have to save all those dance steps for July when he opens for Wilco at a minor league baseball park in Geneva, Illinois. This time there will be not only snacks but fireworks too! (Beats Tippecanoe and Tyler). P.S. He ended with stirring rendition of perhaps my favorite song, “Fake Palindromes.”
    • La Sera at Township, May 15th, 2012 – In Chicago there is this saying, “if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes”, or just deal with it. (Foolishly) Riding my bike up to see La Sara (aka Katy Goodman and crew), I could see thunder and lighting and a steady wind slowing my progress. Chilled by the brisk ride, I welcomed the tiny venue’s warmth only to find myself sweating profusely within in minutes. A boy can’t win. But I wasn’t alone, the Los Angeles based La Sera found the tiny venue to be quite sauna-like, in fact Katy asked the crowd for a towel mid show. (Note to self: bring handkerchief next time. Yes, not only do I own a handkerchief but multiple ones. It reminds me of my grandfather, who used one to dry his brow while he was painting.) Despite the heat, La Sera shone through and Katy even ventured into the crowd to play a solo on bended knees in true rock star style. (For those not familiar with La Sera, their music is more peppy and whimsy than guitar rock so it was definitely unexpected.) The show was an energetic anodyne and Katy definitely had a great time chatting with the crowd. If you get a chance, definitely, check them out. You will be smiling afterwards.
  • Check out this great conversation between St. Vincent (Annie Clark) and tUnE-yArDs (Merrill Garbus) brought to my attention by 70dayweekend.com: click here.
  • Riot Fest! Is a festival that has been going on in Chicago for some years now geared more towards the fans of Punk and Alt-Metal. In the past, they’ve had some great bands in their lineup but 2012 is far and away the best: Elvis Costello, Iggy and the Stooges, Alkaline Trio, Promise Ring, and the Jesus and Mary Chain! Check out the full bill here.  It’s like they raided my adolescent/college-era mixtapes! Plus they are expanding to Philly!

All for now, I’ll be back soon with another band from Baltimore creating some buzz.

a.a.

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