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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Deerhunter, Webster Hall 9.19.13

There are lots of folks who continue to write, blog and otherwise opine that "rock" is dead.  Listen to the pop stations these days and it is easy to get sucked into to that opinion.  Katy Perry's "Roar" plays more like a lamb, than lion.  Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke are remembered more for their "dancing" than the Marvin Gaye cover they "sang" at last months VMA's.

This space continues to seek out and (hooray!) find bands who are more concerned with crafting songs, playing guitars and leaving their rabid fan base wanting more.

Some, like Georgia based, but New York raised, Deerhunter, remain humbled and happy to simply play in front of an audience receptive and beyond willing to hear what they have to offer.  Singer/Guitarist/Frontman Bradford Cox said as much half way through their fast paced and electric show last Thursday night.  "We may be from Georgia, but in many ways we call New York City our home" he stated toward the middle of their hour and half set.  Or something very similar to that.  They recorded all but one of their 6 records here, including newest release Monomania.  The Webster Hall show last week served as one of the final gigs of the tour.  Call it a homecoming of sorts.

Truth be told Cox is a mystery.  What little I read of him prior to the show did not prepare me for his arrival on stage.  Note, this is the second show in the past few months where the leading "man" was dressed as a woman.  Laura Jane Grace played Bowery not that long ago.  It should be noted that Laura is transgender and Cox has described himself as both gay and asexual.  It's all good, which makes the NYC shows/audiences so freaking cool.  To the many kids in attendance his dress and wig were not a big deal.   What is more alarming is Cox's weight, which comes as a result of Marfan syndrome.

His affliction, which is a genetic defect causing long limbs, thin fingers and an overall narrow body type, is what kept him away from the schoolyard as a kid.  His introverted personality led him to a fondness for music and an outlet for all the harms and torments associated with growing up "different."

It is said he related to Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands...  but that could simply be Wikipedia inter-web fiction.

It was four or five songs in, most likely during the eerily wonderful  "Helicopter" from 2010's Halycon Digest, that Cox's health became less a concern.  He was at ease and relaxed.  His voice was crisp and emphatic.  On stage nothing else matters.  He had a packed house in front of him and a smile on his face.

Deerhunter plays rock and roll music.  3 guitars, a bass and drum kit is all you are getting.  Cox has a deft touch with mixing new and old.  "Revival" and their newest single "Back to the Middle" could be mistaken for 1970s roots rock.  "Desire Lines", the only song NOT sung by Cox that evening (handled most capably by Lockett Pundt), is a celebration of psych rock with an emphasis on guitar jamming.  Cox and Pundt traded riffs for 6 or 7 minutes and it could have gone on far longer with no arguments from anyone.  It is, simply put, a terrific rock song.

It was all high energy and plenty of happy vibes.   Do I need to see them again?  Probably not.  But for a moment, it was joy.

Judgemental homophobia... Syrian conflicts... terrorism in Kenyan malls...UN General Assemblies... Government shut downs...  to hell with all that.

This week has been very difficult and writing this review has been a challenge, albeit trivial.  My community is stinging from the loss of a young father (43) to the horror that is cancer.  He leaves a loving wife, 4 children and the many wonders of "what if?"

Plenty of people talk of "living each day like its your last."  How many of us really do it?

Find what you are passionate about and dive in head first.

One of these days and it won't be long...  it may all be over.

Much love C.A.C.  You will be missed.

Deerhunter, Webster Hall, 9.19.13.  Yeah, that is Bradford Cox in a lovely dress and wig.

Video clip of "Desire Lines"

Deerhunter at Webster Hall, Setlist 9.19.13
Neon Junkyard
Don't Cry
Like New
Desire Lines
Hazel St
Rainwater Cassette Exchange
The Missing
Back to the Middle
Twilight at Carbon Lake

Cover Me (Slowly)
He Would Have Laughed

Friday, September 13, 2013

White Denim, Bowery Ballroom 9.10.13

White Denim, jamming, 9.10.13 Bowery Ballroom

News flash:  There are not enough hours in the day.

How can one expect to hear every band, or every song?  Even if that was my full time profession (clearly it is not) it would still be impossible to know EVERYTHING about today's music scene.  Brooklyn VeganPitchfork, and Stereogum all pretend to know, and will do all they can to shame you for you for not knowing.  But they don't have all the information.   At their best they are no more an authority on what you like, than you yourself.

What those outlets have, and others like them, is resources.  They can send tight jean wearing men with larger than life cameras (compensating for something guys??) and note pads to venues in and around the City.   Their employees are also keen on social media.  Their power is spreading the word, no matter what that word is.  This week they dissected Arcade Fire's "Reflektor".   Next week, Queens of the Stone Age, Metallica at The Apollo, or whatever offensive thing Chris Brown is up to (including his music.)  The alt music news cycle is as vicious as your night time cable news.   Gone are the days you can have a meltdown on stage and shake it off.  Do that and Twitter will speculate on the reasons why and take a shot at writing your rock and roll obituary.   "He/She is too depressed."  "They are not getting along."  "Their A&R man said I don't hear a single."

Occasionally the "powers" that be work with you.  It is through one of those sources I ran across an invite to see Austin, TX rockers White Denim play Bowery Ballroom.  A free show sponsored by Rolling Stone magazine and StubHub said the ad.  Never mind I have not read a Rolling Stone music review since 1994  and StubHub amounts to nothing more than a dime store whore for its ludicrously wealthy pimp called ticket brokering.

It's a free show at a terrific venue.  How can you go wrong?  Except of course with the sitter, and work, and school...  bla, bla, bla.  That's another story.  You just make it work damn it!

And White Denim is, if not already validated, a bona fide up and comer in the alt community.  Their 6th LP, the poorly titled Corsicana Lemonade will be released 10.29.13.  The first single, "Pretty Green", has a grit, tenacity and wonderful hook not unlike your favorite Black Keys song.   Blues/Rock/Psychedelia.  It's all here.

They are another band gleefully unconcerned with re-inventing the wheel.

They follow a successful pattern you can find in most Rock and Roll 101 textbooks.   Write some pretty good songs and perform them well live.

James Petralli does the singer/guitarist/front man thing.  He trades licks with Austin Jackson (Austin from Austin- awkward.)  Steven Terebecki (bass)  and Joshua Block (drums) complete the band.  They may look young, but their set Tuesday 9.10.13 displayed a confident and cohesive sound.  They opened with "Green" and absolutely nailed it.  Petralli's voice is strong and Bowery's sound was in top form.  This is a their most "pop" or mainstream sounding song, and it worked so well.  It just might have set the bar too high.  It was great to hear a band's fresh single start a show.  It can backfire if you perform it too well and fail to recapture its energy later in the show.

More often than not the band took a decidedly "jam" turn.  The new record was well represented and it guitar friendly.  The only banter between songs was absent, save for something succinct,  like "This is another new one."

Within more than a handful of songs moments like this erupted.   Lest you forget, this is NOT a pop band.  They want to play those guitars.  They want to rock that bass.  Indeed,  there was some drumming too.

The set was marked with some special moments.  Some of Patralli and Jackson's guitar showdowns appealed to a visceral spot deep in my core.  There were some quieter moments too.  Some of their mid song sojourns simply fell short.   Around an hour or so in it began the whole thing started to dim.

Was it the crowd?  Showcase things like this are always dangerous.  Free is great, don't get me wrong.  But free brings out a weird mix of folks.   Before the show, those closest to stage clearly had no idea who they were seeing, or maybe even where they were.  Much of the audience were employees of the host sponsors.  To further illustrate my earlier thoughts on those who cover the music industry, they are a timid group of people.   Most were there for the event, not the music.  

Amanda Bynes would have been embarrassed at the amount of selfies and group pics taken.

Usually a Tuesday night show, especially at a small club, would bring out a band's hard core fans.  Those folks would in turn, provide an added level of energy to the proceedings.

For too long that energy was lacking at Bowery.

Not the end of the World.  And by no means an indictment on White Denim.

A good night for sure.  Just not a great one.

James Petralli of White Denim

Nice, simple packaging.  

They had more room if they needed it, but White Denim kept it close.

White Denim, (l to right)Austin Jackson, Steven Terebecki, Joshua Block and James Petralli

My 1 minute clip. White Denim jamming.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Best of August, 2013


The summer comes to its unofficial end this weekend.  But that does not mean the music stops.   I have had the pleasure, and sometimes misery, of driving from Toronto, Ontario to Savannah, Georgia over the past few months.    It has been several thousand miles of rest stops, bad food and, thankfully, radio. 

There was some television time too, including last weeks MTV VMA awards.   The real tragedy of that show is not Miley Cyrus or the uncomfortable N’Sync “reunion.”  Gaga, Robin Thicke and Katy Perry did little to distinguish themselves either, save for their ability to elevate their standing as performance artists, rather than “musicians.”

And therein lies the dilemma.  Contemporary “music” continues to distance itself from instruments, live shows and authentic artistry.  If I was not witness to several shows a year and only watched the VMA’s I might believe what many have argued for years:  “Rock is Dead.”

Vampire Weekend was on stage last Sunday, but they were presenters only.  And they are hardly what you would call “rock stars.”  But they do play instruments.  They do write their own material.  They can play live, and employ the use of (gasp) guitars. 

People can talk about Gaga’s g-string, Miley’s tongue, and whatever the hell Kanye does all they want.  That stuff makes for great headlines and titiliating water cooler conversation.   The problem is, like much of our pop culture, it is all a superfluous waste.

We should behaving a discussion on why we care about those things in the first place?  Should we not be more concerned that Pharrell Williams and Daft Punk are more computer programmers and cheap hacks, than songwriters?  Where is Carole King when you need her?  Neil Young?  Can a brother get a guitar solo and meaningful lyric??  

The whole sordid mess played more like a twisted video game than celebration of music:   A Tomb Raider/Grand Theft Auto/Naughty Bear mash up if you will.  Seriously, what is with those plush furry bears Ms Cyrus is fixated with?

There is good news.  Contrary to what MTV and every media outlet around is telling you, there is a cure.  Real music lives.  It’s in bars, and in cars.  It’s in every City in this nation and every country known to man.  It need not use autotune and can provide the cathartic release your teenage girl craves as well as the adrenaline pumping fury you need on your commute home. 

And it is what this space dedicates most of its time with. 

Tune out the white noise.   Turn off the incessant chat about all that is wrong with the music industry today.   Take a look/listen to all that remains unheard and unseen.  You might be surprised what you find.  

The Head and The Heart "Shake"

Pacific Northwest (Seattle to be specific) act The Head and the Heart are releasing their second album October 15th.  Their debut record was full of rich lyrics, warm harmonies and memorable melodies.  Judging by the first single from Let's Be Still, we are in for more of the same.  That is a very good thing.  For those of you who love The Lumineers and all of their folk brethren take a hard listen.  And if you can score tickets do check them live.

Frankie Rose "Know Me"

Brooklyn girl Frankie Rose spent time in the Vivian Girls, and Dum Dum Girls, and was an original member of post-punk act Crystal Stilts.  Her second record is well over a year old, and this track is technically 2012.  Whatever.  It has taken a while for it to A) get air time and then B) capture this space's attention.  She has it now.   And she should have yours too.

Family of the Year "Hero"

This band and song also can call 2012 the year of their arrival.  The cable shows Weeds and Girls picked up their songs and featured them prominently.  They call LA home but have roots in Wales, Massachusetts and Jacksonville, FL.  It is nothing more than a  ballad, refreshing in its simplicity.

J Roddy Walston and the Business "Heavy Bells"

Cleveland rockers, now based in Baltimore, are a more straight forward rock act.  Guitars, bass, pulsating vocals and a blend of piano thrown in will have you thinking about My Morning Jacket or Kings of Leon.  These guys have been around for well over a decade (5 records) and are working on their 6th LP under a new label.  This track will surely appear on it.

Cut Copy "Let Me Show You"

Aussie electronic act had one of my favorite records in recent memory, 2011's Zonoscope.   They have remained quiet since then, but did provide this tease a few weeks back.  Perhaps another record IS coming.  Better yet perhaps this means another tour!

Royal Teeth "Wild"

New Orleans youngsters follow in the footsteps of fellow Bayou band Givers.  They have a man and woman singer.  They have catchy grooves and a feel good attitude.  This song has been making the rounds since early this year and probably should have appeared much sooner.   Their debut album, Glow, was released last month.  A tour will follow including dates in NJ, PA and NY.  Enjoy.

Smallpools "Dreaming"

When this year began these guys were not a band.  In June they had yet to play a live show.  Now, with an EP behind them and some gigs behind them they seem destined for much bigger things.  This song is what has been their calling card and an alt anthem for Summer 2013.  They call New Jersey their home and for that we root for them, hard.

The 1975 "Chocolate"

English pop act The 1975 have just released their debut record, Dirty Hit, today 9.2.13.  Fitting that they drop it on Labor Day since they have worked their asses off in promotion.  It was easy to ignore this song the first hundred or so times.  It shares its sound with John Mayer, The Kooks and various other alt-pop acts of the past 5-10 years.  No, they are not re-inventing the wheel.  But they are adding some air to an often flat tire.

The Olms "Wanna Feel it"

New Jersey born Pete Yorn and JD King are the duo, The Olms.   It is an upgrade for Yorn, who recorded a record with Scarlett Johansson not long ago.   Together the two men have a soft, easy-going West Coast self titled debut record on their hands.  The above song is a stand out.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (featuring Mary Lambert) "Same Love"

All due respect to the overlong and over-produced Justin Timberlake VMA appearance, Macklemore's live version of this "equal rights for all" anthem was the highlight of the show.  It speaks to an old man like me that the milennials accept a white boy rapping about accepting EVERYONE, regardless of sexuality and race.   They won the "Social Message" award for this song.  Funny that MTV failed to show clips of this video and the other nominees and did not even bother to display the names of the artists on screen.  Miley and Kanye got plenty of attention, but strong messages like this do not an awards show make.

Soon these songs will be a thing of the past.  Younger generations are more accepting of homosexuality and all the things that come with it.  Gay marriage has steam rolled its way into the mainstream.  It is a non event and Macklemore, at this point, is preaching to an ever growing choir.

But it is still good to hear him singing it, or talking it, or however you define it.

It is a whole lot better than "Thrift Shop."  That is a fact.

Until next month folks...  Happy Go Back to School month!!  Enjoy Autumn!!  It is easily the best time of the year.

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