March 31, 2009
What a cool glimpse into the lives of Saves the Day and Two Tongues. A few observations:
- If that’s part of a “Daybreak” song playing at about 1:20, I’m extremely excited. Sounds funky with a great sense of melody.
- Chris looks a little sad when mentioning that David took a lot of the guitar equipment with him. Come back, Soloway.
- “Coby was right there… suspended from the ceiling. Playing drums. It was really weird.”
- “We drank a lot… of water.”
In other news, there’s a feature on Chris and a book he recently read called “A Path with Heart” by Jack Kornfield on spin.com. It’s also a great glimpse into the more personal side of Saves the Day, and Chris’s optimism makes me hopeful for the future of one of my favorite bands. We may yet see “Daybreak” after all.
In the meantime, check out this live performance of the upcoming album’s title track, back before Soloway left:
March 22, 2009
I have a confession: Third Eye Blind is one of my favorite bands.
Depending on the age and degree of musical snobbery of the people I tell this to, I either get looks of intrigued surprise or disgusted disapproval. But either way, I’m always ready to defend my taste. Even on albums as recent as 2003’s relatively unnoticed “Out of the Vein,” the ostensibly throwaway ’90s pop stars were busy muscling up their arena rock anthems with slick riffs played in non-standard tunings, explosive unconventional rhythms and raw, confessional lyrics occasionally delivered with a hint of hip-hop flavor.
I’m not alone on this one, either. The line for non-badge and wristband holders hoping to get a last minute ticket to last night’s showcase at Stubb’s started forming three hours prior to the show and eventually extended the length of the venue and wrapped around the corner.
The band had been rumored for weeks to be debuting their forthcoming album, “Ursa Major,” at Saturday’s showcase at Stubb’s, and with the exception of “Jumper,” “Never Let You Go” and “Crystal Baller,” that turned out to be true. They didn’t even play their breakthrough hit “Semi-Charmed Life,” which was probably confusing to anyone who hadn’t heard them in years, but refreshing to longtime fans.
Unfortunately, the new material was largely hit or miss. Some songs, like “Bonfire” and “A Sharp Knife,” which have been floating around the web in bootleg format for a couple of years, blazed through delayed lead lines and urgent vocal delivery nearly as well as any Third Eye Blind staple. But others were cringe-worthy. In “1 in 10,” frontman Stephan Jenkins sings about trying to “turn butch chicks,” and “About to Break” builds up to the clichÃ© sentiment, “When I see your face/I wanna be in the human race.”
Perhaps most disappointing of all, the cult favorite “Summertown” was completely made over into a tune that takes the hip-hop thing a little too far, with Jenkins proclaiming something about a “rap superstar” at the end. Whatever happened to the UC Berkley English valedictorian who wasn’t afraid to drop allusions to Greek mythology?
But hey, the album’s not out yet. Let’s hope with a few tweaks Third Eye Blind will have something on par with the rest of their catalogue by the end of the summer.
March 22, 2009
After his six-year sojourn in Brooklyn, it’s good to have Andrew Kenny home.
As the leader of Austin’s indie sensation American Analog Set, Kenny built a devoted underground following with his soft-spoken, rustling anthems.
And as fans learned at Saturday’s Barsuk/Merge Records showcase at the Parish, he’s picking up right where he left off with the aptly named Wooden Birds. Much like the songs of the Analog Set’s “Know By Heart,” the new tunes are delicate and organic, with a keen attention paid to intricate detail. Backed by brushed drums and a second percussionist who mostly shakes maracas and tambourines, the songs drift through smooth clean guitar and Kenny’s near-whispered vocals, creating a dreamlike atmosphere.
The simple yet sharp observational nature of the lyrics matched the powerfully understated music, as entire stories were often brewing beneath single stanzas. In set opener “Sugar,” Kenny noted, “Your little brother is a little shy/He keeps a Bible by his bedside/Under a bottle and some dim lamplight.” And in the more upbeat “Seven Seventeen,” he realized, “She was seven when I was seventeen.”
Kenny’s persona couldn’t fit the songs any better. The lanky, bright-eyed and thin-faced bass player bent his knees and grooved his hips to the beat of the midtempo numbers, and when each one was done, he’d turn to his four-piece band and meekly pay them compliments like, “That was pretty good, guys. Great job.”
To the glee of Analog Set fans, the Wooden Birds included a performance of “Aaron and Maria” in their set, but judging by the strength of the new music, they won’t have to rely on old material for long.
March 22, 2009
“I was walking through the night/Underneath the starry, starry sky,” the frontman of Seattle’s emerging Merge Records artist Telekinesis sang with tightly closed eyes, and I just about rolled mine.
But only a minute later into Saturday night’s Merge/Barsuk Records showcase at the Parish, Michael Lerner laid down his small acoustic guitar, took his place behind the drums and never looked back. He and his band ripped through a half hour set of hook-heavy pop that sounded like the near-perfect soundtrack to a sunny day on the Santa Monica pier, but had just the right hint of gritty distortion and foggy melancholy to place it in the Northwest.
For a drummer who simultaneously sings and plays, Lerner was surprisingly accurate on both accounts. With his eyes closed and his head pointed slightly upward toward the microphone above the snare, he banged out rhythms with wildly flailing arms and sang with practically unwavering pitch.
The showcased songs came from Telekinesis’s upcoming self-titled debut, which was produced by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla, and the similarities between the two artists were apparent. Songs like “Coast of Carolina,” with its jutted blasts of guitar, could almost pass for a Walla solo song or early Death Cab tune if its more famous counterparts were given an adrenaline boost.
Telekinesis might not have the most substantive catalogue just yet, but without so much as an album for sale, their catchy songs and tight live show put them ahead of the game.
Sam Amidon doesn’t write his own songs, but instead rearranges traditional folk numbers. The result is a somber, sobering trip to centuries past, where life’s hardships and heartaches seem slightly removed from today’s.
If that sounds heady and slightly depressing, it is. But at Amidon’s Friday performance at the top floor of the Hilton Garden Inn, the twenty-something musician offset the seriousness of his music perfectly with a bizarre brand of deadpan humor.
Amidon began the set with his somber acoustic version of “Wild Bill Jones,” a usually upbeat bluegrass number about a murder committed in cold blood out of jealousy for another’s love. At the peak of the song, just as Jones is shot down, Amidon sang, “He let out a dreadful moan.”
“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR,” he then screeched with a straight face for a good minute. When he finally dove back into the song, the befuddled audience erupted in laughter and applauded.
The set was full of similar surprises. During a bluesy banjo number, Amidon repeatedly asked, “Whaddya say, banjo?” before his smooth-moving solos. At the end of the song, he walked to the back of the stage and asked, “Whaddya say, pushups?” Then he did twenty or so. Again, the audience ate it up.
Humor aside, the music and the stories behind it were captivating. In “Saro,” an immigrant to the United States pined for the love he left behind, while in “O Death” the speaker pleads with his inevitable end to “Spare me over just another year.”
To wrap things up, Amidon enlisted the audience to help him sing the words to “Relief” by R. Kelly: “Isn’t it a relief/That we are one/The war is over/There’s an angel in the sky/Love is still alive.”
“It’s not true, but I guess it’s a nice thought,” he said.
March 21, 2009
“We love the Paramount,” frontman Emil Svanangen of Sweden’s Loney Dear said near the end of his band’s set at the Polyvinyl Records showcase on Friday night. “We were there a few weeks ago. It was freaking marvelous.”
And indeed, everything about Loney Dear’s opening gig for Andrew Bird at the Paramount last month was freaking marvelous — the venue, the sound, the band.
The band’s South by Southwest performance wasn’t bad, but it was certainly different. Svanangen had a few less members and thus a few less instruments backing him. Paired with the lack of the Paramount’s stunning acoustics, Loney Dear sounded less like a twinkly, floating folk with charming melodic sensibility than stripped-down, hard-driving rock backed by electronic samples.
And unfortunately for audience members near the back of the venue, the door to the bar had to remain open for the majority of the show because of fire hazard restrictions, so the sounds of the pounding blues band inside collided with Loney Dear’s melody-driven music to create an awful mess of sound.
But that was hardly the band’s fault, and near the front of the stage, the samples that backed songs like “Airport Surroundings” and “Everything Turns to You” from the band’s latest album, “Dear John,” raced forward and got the crowd moving, while the backing vocals from the new female keyboardist resonated with a haunting echo.
Other songs, like the ambient “I Was Only Going Out” just sounded out of place at a venue that gave the music such a rough edge.
It was a decent performance by Loney Dear, but it definitely highlighted the difference a venue can make.
March 21, 2009
As people were filing out of the Habana Backyard following a set from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, I heard one couple talking about how glad they were to have stayed for the former Drive-By Truckers guitarist’s set.
All I could think was — You have no idea what you’re about to miss.
Call it folk, country, rock, folk/rock, alt-country or Americana, the young members of Rhode Island’s Deer Tick write and play some of the most soulful, inspired music around, littered with lyrics as sharp as a shot of whiskey and rapid-fire guitar solos strong enough to blow the dust off your boots.
Though the band’s Wednesday night performance at Club Deville exploded immediately, Deer Tick found its footing on Friday night a few songs in with a galloping rendition of “Art Is Real (City of Sin).”
“There gotta be some old recipe/’Cause I gotta get drunk/I gotta forget about some things,” the loopy-eyed frontman Joseph John McCauley crooned in his raspy howl, cigarette stuck between his guitar strings.
But that was one of the only songs the band played from its 2007 release “War Elephant.” The rest were a tantalizing preview of the forthcoming “Born on Flag Day,” due out in June.
Some, like the soft “Blowin’ in the Wind” inspired “How Can a Man” hit hard with simple truths — “It couldn’t be much fun being a millionaire of one/’Cause a million’s just a million of one thing.” Others, like “Dance of Love” and the blues-rock closer ripped through frantic vocal delivery and tight interplay between the guitars and drums.
It was only one of the many SXSW shows Deer Tick had played and was yet to play, but it showed little sign of fatigue.
March 20, 2009
Considering the difficulty Austin’s classical aficionados Balmorhea had during soundcheck last night, it’s pretty clear that SXSW venues aren’t accustomed to the kind of eclectic instrumentation the six-member outfit employs.
But once the sound techs finally weeded out the feedback resonating from the three-piece string section, Balmorhea dove into a set of compositions that were sometimes invigorating and other times despairing, but always masterfully executed.
The young group began the performance with the pounding piano boom of “Settlers,” the waltz-like opener from the recently released “All Is Wild, All Is Silent” that spans three movements over seven minutes — a fresh arrangement technique for the Balmorhea. It’s also the first studio-recorded Balmorhea number to employ full-on drumming and a repeated line of lyrics instead of vocal filler. These new elements came together to tell, mostly through instrumentation, an energetic and hopeful story of heading home.
“Harm and Boon,” from the same release, didn’t have the same uplifting tone. It started out softly, stepping over slow, minimalist minor piano arpeggios, but soon jumped into a blast of drums and the rich, resonant jangle of clean, reverberated staccato guitar chords. And despite the downtrodden emotional tenor of both “Harm and Boon” and the subsequent “Remembrance,” their well-paced dynamics kept them lively and surprising in their own ways.
Balmorhea’s not your typical bar scene band, but their sets are full of a life and energy that many acts would have a hard time matching.
One of the best finger-picking folk guitarists at SXSW came not from the depths of Texas or out of the Midwest, but from overseas.
Sweden’s Kristian Mattson, who plays under the name The Tallest Man on Earth, took the stage on the third floor of Buffalo Billiards before a scattered room filled with chatter and clinking bottles. But when he picked up one of his three open-tuned acoustic guitars and began to swiftly work his fingers over the strings to produce gritty, lightning-slick riffs, heads turned and bodies gravitated toward the stage.
With a 40-minute time slot and a stage meant for a full band at his disposal, Mattson was able to flex his musical muscles. The tiny, thin-framed songwriter belted out song after song with a powerful rough-edged howl and slightly affected inflection that would make most stateside folk singers envious, playing nearly every cut from his critically acclaimed album “Shallow Graves.” As he trotted back and forth across the front of the stage, he stared just above the audience with glassy eyes that sometimes seemed lost in hazy contemplation and other times alive with wild fervor.
As on his albums, one of the centerpieces of the showcase became Mattson’s vivid lyrics, which resonated more and more with each gravelly shout. “As the early sigh of dawn will thunder/I see you stir the fog around,” he sang on the slyly creeping “Where Do My Bluebirds Fly,” while in the upbeat “Pistol Dreams” he urged the audience to “Throw me in the fire now/Come on!”
“I plan to be forgotten when I’m gone,” Mattson sang at the end of the set after putting his guitar in what he called the “goodbye tuning.” Not likely.
March 20, 2009
As driving forces in what used to be Seattle’s ear-piercing, inflammatory pioneer hardcore act The Blood Brothers, guitarist Cody Votolato and vocalist Johnny Whitney are expert crafters of jarring hooks. Alongside former Pretty Girls Make Graves drummer Jay Clark, the two found themselves veering last year toward a danceable, more pop-sensible brand of abrasive punk in Jaguar Love.
As many fans found out last night at the Cedar Door, they’ve taken that sound a step further, as Clark has been replaced by a drum machine. It’s an interesting shift — rather than smashing into each other in frenzied mosh pits, fans now bob, bounce and flat out dance to the throb of electro beats. And though Jaguar Love held onto some of their best songs like “Jaguar Pirates” and “Highways of Gold,” many from last year’s debut full length have been replaced by new numbers, presumably because of the difficulty of translating the rhythms into programmable beats.
But for the most part, the elements that draw fans to Jaguar Love remain the same. Whitney still belts soulful yet slightly disorienting melodies in an impossibly high, seemingly helium-altered register between breakdowns filled with his primal screams. And Votolato’s razor sharp riffs still dance over dissonant scales before diving into power chord blasts.
Unfortunately, something wasn’t quite working with the sound last night at the Cedar Door. Whitney’s vocals kept getting lost in the mix, and eventually the onstage monitors gave out.
But overall, it was a nice preview of the next phase of Jaguar Love, and fans at least now know to come to shows ready to dance.