Friday, August 31, 2007

General Debauchery

Little Slices Of Heaven, Crashing Down

Roland discussed Illuminea's "Homewrecker" a little while ago, and here I am to fill you in on the rest of Out Of Our Mouths.

Illuminea refers to themselves as a "chamber pop" band, which as best as I can figure out, refers to mixing a modern indie pop sound with the general style and ethic of chamber music. In this, Out Of Our Mouths succeeds - the general feeling is very close and intense, the mixing placing vocals very prominently at the front, and the modern band section (obligatory guitars, keyboards, percussion and so on) intermingles with string ("New Walk") and horn ("I Can't Wait") accompaniments.

Part of what also contributes to the chamber pop feeling is an emphasis upon building from simple classical elements - "Sleep It Off" takes a tumble after the verses into soaring vocals above crescendoing piano, coming off as a sort of tribute to the Von Trapp Family. The overall effect is very much "meddling kids invading the airwaves of your local classical/jazz station," and when Illuminea keeps the emphasis on intimate melodies, the album is very pretty, with just enough of a modern cantor to keep those of us who aren't dedicated music majors from falling asleep.

This is apparently their second album, so maybe they're breaking out of a little white box, but Illuminea doesn't seem content to be just pretty. The problem is that they seem to want to do something slightly more powerful than the endemic fragility of the chamber music sound they've started with as their core element, and they've broken out into "quirky" balladry ("Build Your Own") and by leaning somewhat heavily on droning male singers.

This seeming desire to grow is what makes "Sleep It Off" and "Homewrecker" the best songs on the album - they're the best gems amongst a lot of others with one or more interminable sections. "Living In Sin" shows this off best - a guy drones over one instrument or another, then things straighten themselves out and head for the hills (a very pretty-Sigur Rós-ish string and gently-tempered percussion swell), then dissolve into the discordance of a church's bells gone wild over what sounds like ducks quacking.

At its worst, this makes Illuminea sound like a band with a major identity crisis: "Build Your Own" and "I Waited Too Long To Tell You How I Feel"'s odd percussive statements (Woodblocks? Maracas?) and male vocals sound at best like Interpol C-sides, and certainly don't belong with the rest of the music on this album. These two, especially, make Out Of Our Mouths a difficult if not impossible experience as an album: they clear out the nice glow that you're suffused with from the first few songs.

At the end of the day, when Out Of Our Mouths is focused and intent on its mission to bring fun to WYRP 99.1, it is a beautiful album that is relaxing and very nice to listen to. Illuminea has gotten so much right with this - their core sound is so very clearly and pleasantly defined - but they have gotten nearly as much wrong.

My advice to you? Check out their MySpace if "chamber pop" sounds like your thing, and if it is, there's enough of that to outweigh the flaws on this. But if it seems too precious and fragile, pass this up.

MP3: Illuminea - Homewrecker
MySpace: Illuminea
Official Site: Illuminea

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Interlude: Over The Jump

It is so very nice to have my camera back (even if it doesn't quite compare to that guy's). A couple hours after picking it up at Union Square on Friday, I put it to good use, heading down to the penultimate free show at the Seaport. As has been the case all of August, the crowd was dense, which is really great to see. Although there wasn't any rain for a change, it was a bit muggy and there were some bothersome flies hovering about, but things got better more interesting as the night moved onward.

I arrived just as the Last Town Chorus was beginning their set. The Brooklyn collective coalesces around singer and slide guitarist Megan Hickey, whose intense songwriting was made more accessible by friendly banter of a distinctly local flavor. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the fact that the entire band was sitting, the music didn't really make you want to get out there and dance, and live consumption probably isn't the best way to hear it for the first time. Still, the beauty and occasional ferocity of their performance made it enjoyable, and I gotta appreciate Spin's description of Megan as "a corn-fed Cocteau Twin," and the fact that she likes them, too.

Check out the ever timely B(oot)log for a live set and chromewaves for a review of their recent Toronto gig with Camera Obscura. The Last Town Chorus plays at the Bowery Ballroom on Thursday, and they open for the Weakerthans at Webster Hall on October 30th.

MP3: The Last Town Chorus - Modern Love (Live)
MP3: The Last Town Chorus - Change Your Mind
MP3: The Last Town Chorus - Oregon

MySpace: The Last Town Chorus
Official Site: The Last Town Chorus

Camera Obsura

It's thrilling that the once-shy (well, shyer) Camera Obscura has blossomed over the past year or so, becoming an indie pop staple and delighting the ears of an ever increasing fanbase. When I first heard Underachievers Please Try Harder a couple years ago, I thought it was pretty, but that it didn't possess enough oomph to win me over completely. Let's Get Out of This Country sure does, as you've probably heard. Thus, while Traceyanne seemed a bit taken aback by the size of the crowd, the band is totally worthy of the great reception.

That's not to say that they melted faces or anything, but there was generally enough noise - bolstered with the addition of the occasional trumpet, shaker or tambourine - to keep me very happy. Megan and her steel guitar would also join the band during their encore. At the same time, the slower numbers have really grown on me. Underachievers cuts such as "Teenager" and the grin-inducing "Suspended From Class" sound great live, even though they don't have quite the swoon potential of "Lloyd" or the newer album's title track. There aren't too many bands that have quite achieved this great balance between louder and softer songs (all of which are melodic), and pulling it off live is an ever more impressive feat.

And so Camera Obscura wraps up what looks like the touring cycle for this album. They're part of the growing number of bands that I've seen twice, and it's been a pleasure each time. I can't wait to hear what the band does with its next album. I'm in the process of getting some live stuff up here, but until then, check out some studio cuts.

MP3: Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country
MP3: Camera Obscura - If Looks Could Kill

Blog: Camera Obscura

So, a great night...but it wasn't over yet. I've been interning at the MuseBox over the last few weeks, and it seemed quite rude to go home without checking out what looked like an incredible time at the After The Jump kick-off party. In what's becoming a routine, I took the L to Bedford and found, after a little disorientation, the top of the roof.

Butane Variations

Unfortunately, our late arrival meant we missed two bands and DJ David Bruno. Apparently Butane Variations played a three hour set (!), and while they seemed reasonable enough, with the nice addition of violins, the night soon became more of a visual spectacle rather than a musical one. This was the most incredible place for a concert that I've been to (sorry, missed the boat ride on Sunday, how was that?), with the Empire State Building peeking over the bassist and the wide expanse of Brooklyn enveloping us. Man, I love this city.

MP3: Butane Variations - Angels
MP3: Butane Variations - Golden Hawn
Official Site: Butane Variations

Monday, August 27, 2007

Interlude: Bowery Electric

It's getting kind of out of hand, but I can't really complain. Last Thursday marked my return to the Bowery Ballroom (I saw Patrick Wolf just after school ended), and I'm definitely developing a fondness for the venue. It's right around my ideal concert size, striking the balance between intimacy and a decent crowd size. The night was filled an equally enjoyable of old and new, and despite the somewhat sparse attendance, I think everyone that was there had a blast.

Thanks to Kyle of Café Eclectica Music for the pictures.

From the first torso gyrations to the last guitar lick, New Jersey's Thing-One was tons of fun. The band opened with the self explanatory "Move It," which featured a thumping beat and an equally effective title shout. The next song's broke up its catchy chorus - "I'm living the American Dream" - with a stream of consciousness spoken interlude describing the equally red-white-and-blue corporate experience. The band wasn't all dance-punk; they were just as stirring when they slowed things down, as on "The Kid With The Pointy Shoes," which really showed off the singer's croon. This was one of the strongest openers I've seen.

Thing-One plays Galapagos a couple times in the coming months, once on September 13th and again on October 12th as part of the always excellent Crashin' In. Recommended.

MySpace: Thing-One

Natalie Walker

I should really like Natalie Walker more. As I stream her studio tracks (see below links), I find the arrangements more interesting, and her voice a little more distinct, and I'm wondering if perhaps it just didn't translate so well in a live setting. Natalie is clearly a very capable singer, but I found her set to be a little too predictable, just another pretty voice with the standard backing band (whom she remember to introduce, so props for that). The songs bordered on melodramatic, and for some arbitrary reason or another, I just wasn't really digging it. But as I say, the album stuff is more interesting, and I just might have to stop by when she plays at the SoHo Apple Store on September 23rd.

MySpace: Natalie Walker
Official Site: Natalie Walker


Bitter:Sweet is pretty much all of the latter. The band -which included the duo of Shana Halligan and Kiran Shahani, along with a DJ, guitarist, horn player and drummer in this incarnation - serves up a tasty blend of a bunch of things I really like. As I was hoping, the band played a couple new songs, the first a cheery, retro-pop tune and the second a darker electronic track. Apparently they've released The Remix Game since I last saw them, and unlike some of the groups that have done the remix thing, Bitter:Sweet definitely adapts well to mutability. While other production duos regard the live experience as an afterthought, there's something really exhilarating about hearing these songs - even the slower ones - in their live forms. Not only are they well executed with the variety of instruments present, but the band's enthusiasm is unmatched. Oh, and the recorded stuff is pretty good, too:


MP3: Bitter:Sweet - The Mating Game
MP3: Bitter:Sweet - Bittersweet Faith
MP3: Bitter:Sweet - Dirty Laundry
MP3: Bitter:Sweet - Moving Forward (Atjazz Remix)

MySpace: Bitter:Sweet
Official Site: Bitter:Sweet

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tonight, Tonight

Coverage tomorrow. (I got my camera back!) Have a great night, folks!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Interlude: Golly, Eisley!

Something extraordinary occurred on Monday night at Joe's Pub.

While standing outside, waiting in the rain (more or less the theme of this month), I thought of last September, when I was a fresh college student in an strange new environment, standing outside in the brisk fall air outside a new venue, huddled against the concrete, waiting for the doors of my first show in the city to open. I thought of the August of 2005, when Eisley played a free show at the Bowery Ballroom, and despite spending the month in the sterile confines of a Bronx lab, a mere subway ride away, I missing out.

It's been a great year of concert going; had I some digital list, the checks-marks would appear throughout its upper reaches, each transcribing another experience. But despite appearing in my third post here, Eisley remained a regrettable miss, perhaps tempered with the anticipation of the inevitable, as everyone plays New York. I finally got my wish, and the experience was everything I'd hoped it would be.

Eisley is a family band, not merely because its members share the same last name, but in the seamless way they coalesce. Most prominently, Eisley's dual singers Sherri and Stacy harmonize in heartbreaking fashion, often switching lead from verse to verse while maintaining the melody of each of their dream pop gems. On stage, they offer charming, grin-inducing banter, sublimating the downsides of touring into wide-eyed enthusiasm. Disregarding the appeal of the music momentarily, I think it was this attitude that really made the night special. Too often, touring becomes a routine for a band, and continual, ceaseless concert attendance can have the same jading effect on, well, me. I haven't quite hit the point where the concert experience has become a formality, but at the same time, it's been a while since I've had such a refreshing experience.

The band split its set between Room Noises and their new album, Combinations. These new songs deal less in the abstract fantasies of the band's older work (Sherri mentioned being tagged "Unicorn Barbie Rock," but said she appreciated the creativity of the sentiment), and while they may end up appealing more to a more mainstream audience and snarky critics alike, the band retains much of its otherworldliness. "Many Funerals" approaches a dirge-like intensity and is one of the band's heaviest songs. Single "Invasion" features an alien synth, which wasn't quite duplicated in the live, acoustic setting, but the ethereal chorus more than compensated. Speaking of vocals, "I Could Be There For You," features the singing of guitarist Chauntelle and brought some of the loudest cheers of the night.

But as good as the new album is, it was immensely gratifying to hear Room Noises-era tracks. These songs have been swirling around in my head for two years, and they continue to be some of the prettiest, most enjoyable ones in my collection. The mournful "Telescope Eyes" was my introduction to the band, and the self-affirming "Marvelous Things" cemented my appreciation, and hearing both songs live was something else. "Golly Sandra," with its stuttered twang, and the call-and-response swirl of "Memories" were also amazing. Basically, I like 'em all. Somewhat unexpectedly, the band closed with "Sea King," one of the more fanciful earlier cuts, and I was somewhat sad to see Sherri refer to it as "Unicorn Barbie Rock" not merely as a joke, but with a hint of self-deprecation. That's silly, because one of the best things about Eisley is how they remind us of the wonders of childhood.

If you check out one set in the entire blog, make it this one. This band is absolutely worth hearing, and if you enjoy it, support them and go see them. Oh, and the band plays "Invasion" on the Conan O'Brien show on August 30th. Can't wait.

1. Intro
2. Come Clean
3. Many Funerals
4. NYC Banter
5. Memories
6. Go Away
7. Just Like We Do
8. I Could Be There For You
9. Telescope Eyes
10. Golly Sandra
11. Tour Banter
12. Taking Control
13. Irving Plaza Banter
14. Marvelous Things
15. Whistling Banter
16. I Wasn't Prepared
17. Rolling Stone Banter
18. Invasion
19. Combinations
20. If You're Wondering
21. Encore Break
22. Sea King

Entire Set: Sendspace

Buy: Here
MySpace: Eisley
Official Site: Eisley

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Interlude: Rain, Redux


Maybe Al Gore does have a point.

When I exited the the 4 Train on Fulton Street, shortly after making Friday's post, I was bewildered that the weather had changed so dramatically during the ride. Thankful that I had been lent an umbrella, I made my way to the Seaport, dodging puddles. The rain turned out to be a mixed blessing; while I didn't miss anything, openers Takka Takka and the Forms played greatly reduced sets as the rain poured sporadically. From my brief impressions, I liked how Takka Takka was loose instrumentally, turning each song into a sprawling composition that broke out of the traditional song structure, but on the flipside, wasn't terribly taken with the vocals. The Forms were an even shorter acquaintance, but I can say that I enjoyed the sweeping, multi-part choruses, although their last song was a little abrasive.

MySpace: Takka Takka
MySpace: The Forms

The National - South Street Seaport, Aug 17th, 2007

The night belonged to the National. Thankfully, the rain abated, and the Brooklyn-via-Cincinnati band played a extensive fifteen song set, complete with encore. I was really taken with the richness of the set, as the band incorporated a violin, piano and a couple horns, albeit for only two songs. Singer Matt Berninger was a dramatic if not altogether dynamic frontman, his weighty baritone compensating for his lack of instrument. Alligator highlight "Abel" ("this is not a sad song") featured his roar, which was as ferocious as it was distorted. The nocturnal gloom of Boxer translated well in the dusk, with almost every song erupted into a full band onslaught that would've filled the gaudiest arena. But as packed as the Seaport is, the sense of intimacy remained, compounded by Berninger's evocative narrative. The band's material is kind of a downer, but it's delivered in such a way that I find exceptionally poignant.

Check out a bulky but worthwhile recording of the show at nyctaper. The National plays Terminal 5 on October 11, with St. Vincent opening. I'm leaning towards yes.

Here's the band's set at KEXP from April 5th, 2005, just prior to the release of Alligator. Enjoy!

1. Secret Meeting
2. Daughters of the SoHo Riots
3. Interview
4. Baby, We'll Be Fine
5. Abel
6. Interview

Buy: Here
Official Site: The National

Afterwards, in what's become almost second nature, I made my way to Greenpoint for an abbreviated by always fun stop at Crashin'In. I only caught the first band, but the DJing was pretty much hit after esoteric hit. Here are some of the the highlights.

MP3: LCD Soundsystem - North American Scum (Dunproofin's Not From England Either Mix)
MP3: The Jesus and Mary Chain - Just Like Honey
MP3: The Smiths - There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
MP3: Feist - My Moom My Man (Boyz Noise Remix)

Daniel Machado - Crashin'In, Aug 18th, 2007
Thanks to Maria for the picture.

Although the backing Guitar Show band wouldn't have looked out of place in, say, a Scandinavian Black Metal concert, Daniel Machado delivered a pretty melodic set. Although the guitars crunched frequently, Daniel had a surprisingly hook-conscious delivery. When he dispensed with most of the noise for his final acoustic song, I couldn't help but appreciate the sincerity. While not terribly distinctive, respect!

MySpace: Daniel Machado
Official Site: Daniel Machado

Monday, August 20, 2007

Everything's Eventual

Before the inevitable Friday show review (in short, wet but excellent), I'd like to present a few short snippets of what's going to be a pretty excellent week of more concert-going, as well as some general musical happenings. Enjoy!

Eisley just released a delightful album called Combinations, and at long last, they'll be playing in the area at my favorite small venue, Joe's Pub, on Monday night. I believe the 7:00 show is sold out, but I'll be at the 11:30 one. I've quite literally been waiting to see them for the last two years, and the fact that it's an acoustic show makes it all the more special. However, not all is rosy. In a cruel twist of scheduling, the band's playing at Irving Plaza on October 18th, which is the same night as Stars' Town Hall show. I'm leaning towards the latter, but I'm toying with the idea of trying to get to both, as Eisley will be opening for Mute Math. Until then, there's a bonanza of rare tracks over at Trolleywood, and here's a Neutral Milk Hotel cover that filters the original's quirkiness into something quite stunning. Expect way more on this band as the year goes on.

MP3: Eisley - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (Live)
MP3: Eisley - Telescope Eyes
MySpace: Eisley
Official Site: Eisley

A little over a week ago, I received an intriguing email detailing the release of Illuminea's new album Out of Our Mouths, which comes out this Tuesday. The self-described chamber pop band has a lot of appealing elements: multiple vocalists, a variety of instrumentation, and a strong sense of melody. What's especially interesting to me - and another example of how inter-connected this whole music thing is - is that one of the singers, Jen Appel, is also the publicist for Maria Taylor and Bloc Party, and I've contacted her in the past. Maria Taylor isn't a bad comparison point for "Homewrecker," a dreamy slice of indie pop with an electronic sheen.

MP3: Illuminea - Homewrecker
MySpace: Illuminea

Thursday sees the return of Bitter:Sweet to NYC at the Bowery Ballroom. There's a bit of an emotional connection here, as they're the first band I interviewed, but their live show is definitely worth catching. Although nominally a duo, the band brings a DJ, guitarists, a keyboardist and a harpist on stage, transmuting their chilled out electronic sound into something quite punchy. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how the group's progressed in the months since I last saw them.

MP3: Bitter:Sweet - The Mating Game
MP3: Bitter:Sweet - Joe's Pub Interview
MySpace: Bitter:Sweet
Official Site: Bitter:Sweet

Friday's penultimate Seaport show features the always appealing Camera Obscura. Their Warsaw show seems like an eternity ago, but whenever a track from Let's Get Out Of This Country comes on shuffle, my day's generally brightened. The Last Town Chorus opens, and from the Seaport's description, I can't wait to hear what they bring to the stage. And if all works out, I'll have my camera back by the time the show starts.

MP3: Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country
MP3: Camera Obscura - If Looks Could Kill
Blog: Camera Obscura

Some other bits...

There's a really evocative, if somewhat misleadingly titled feature over at Pitchfork. Great writing, and check out some mixes at author Philip Sherburne's blog.

There's live Tegan and Sara at Spinner. The Con is burning up Metacritic, and T&S play Webster Hall on November 19th...and it's sold out already!

Congrats to Carl Newman and Christy Simpson! The New Pornographers play Webster Hall on the 24th and 25th of November, with the wonderful Emma Pollock opening.

MP3: The New Pornographers - Myriad Harbour
MP3: Emma Pollock - Limbs

Have a great week!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Interlude: A Weekend Month In The City

I’m beginning to get the impression that, as a New Yorker, I’m really spoiled when it comes to opportunities to hear music. The multi-million dollar reno-venue Terminal 5, whose October opening was announced over at brooklynvegan the other day, marks the latest in a slew of new venues this year, which includes the Highline Ballroom and the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Unfortunately, the recent passings of Sin-e,Tonic, and, of course, CBGB suggest that maintaining a venue is far from easy, but in an industry where the ship is apparently sinking, the aggressive expansion of live music is still promising.

The first band that’s playing Terminal 5 is the National, whose most recent offering Boxer is a massively hyped album, and as far as I’m concerned, well deserving of each snippet of praise. But for New Yorkers not content with this October 11th show – not to mention the band’s five-night stay at the Bowery Ballroom in May – the National is playing a free show at the South Street Seaport tonight, a part of the River to River festival that’s been happening all summer long.

Unfortunately, my largely forgettable stay upstate prevented me from catching most of the June and July events, aside from Animal Collective, but it seems that August will compensate. Last weekend was a fantastic start; although not quite as excessive as the weekend before. Unfortunately I’m still camera-less, and these photos are taken with gratitude from various Flickrites. Thanks!


I arrived unfashionably early to the Seaport on a drizzly Friday evening, although I must say both the unsummery weather and the relatively sparse crowd was a nice change of pace. DJ … of the Fun parties at Studio B spun for a good half-hour before the first set, and his material included these contemporary classics, in some form or another.

MP3: Daft Punk – Da Funk
MP3: Hot Chip - Over And Over (Party Ben's Smell Of Repetition Remix)
MP3: LCD Soundsystem – Get Innocuous! (Geek Chic's Harm-Free Retouch)

Metronomy – South Street Seaport, 7:00 – 8:00
Featuring my head on the left (via)

In retrospect, Metronomy was a very appropriate opener for Au Revoir Simone. The UK trio (“right at home” in the damp weather) played a similarly synth-based set, as well as relying on guitar and bass. The three band members wore black shirts with large round lights attached, although one of them broke (“not to worry, they're only a pound”). The band gave a strikingly abstract performance for the majority of the set, hooting like apes on "Are Mums Mates" and striking matching poses at times. However, “Heartbreaker” featured frontman Joseph Mount's world-weary delivery, and despite the unoriginality of the subject matter, it provided a nice, straightforward pop song. Metronomy was solid, and I look forward to investigating their studio material.

MySpace: Metronomy


Au Revoir Simone – South Street Seaport, 8:00- 9:00

There’s an undeniable charm surrounding Au Revoir Simone, and from the first chords of sleepy opener “The Lucky One” to outro "The Way To There" a sort of aural sunlight permeated the Seaport. The trio’s array of synths and drum machines created gentle, borderline danceable washes, with many of the songs featuring at least some foundation of breakbeat. Unfortunately, the band played for less than an hour, and despite their penchant for crafting achingly pretty melodies, I would have been happy to trade some of the slower inclusions, particularly in the middle of the set, for more lively numbers. “Night Majestic” and “Stars,” which I'd consider as some of their strongest songs, were strangely omitted. I was a little more fond of their slightly more intimate set at Other Music last year, but personal preference aside, this is really a gem of a group. Au Revoir Simone plays at the Mercury Lounge on September 8th.

MP3: Au Revoir Simone - Through The Backyards
MP3: Au Revoir Simone - Fallen Snow
Official Site: Au Revoir Simone


After taking Saturday to recuperate, Sunday marked my long awaited return to Brooklyn. Bedford Avenue is looking more and more like home with every trip on the L Train I take, but it was my first time at McCarren Pool. I wasn't really prepared for the massive place (with a booming sound system to match), and there was a traumatic flashback to other free shows when I saw how long the line was to get in. But apparently our efforts to RSVP were unnecessary, because it moved quickly and getting in wasn't a problem. We did miss Birds of Avalon, but I'd say we got our money's worth nonetheless.

The Thermals – McCarren Pool, 4:00 - 5:00

The Thermals played a set that was pretty indistinguishable from their Kimmel one, but I'm not sure if the implications are entirely positive or negative. This band is loud, rocks hard and has a political message that's intellectual and personal, but there's an unfortunate amount of homogeneity to their shows. I think of their performance as a plateau: although the energy level is high throughout the set, the lack of peaks and valleys flattens the experience and prevents any really defining moments. I suppose the moments that stood out were the two songs when the guitar wasn't monopolizing my ears, an early track and a late song that I'm pretty sure was a cover. Now, I really do respect this band, and my head was bobbing for the majority of their time onstage, but I think seeing them twice is plenty, at least until the next album.

MP3: The Thermals - Live Set on KEXP
Official Site: The Thermals

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - McCarren Pool, 5:30 - 7:00

Ted Leo is simply one of the greatest frontmen in indie rock. While also political in nature, his canny sense of storytelling and tight lyricism often obscures the message, but at the same time greatly enhances your appreciation of the song. His band was loud, but his wiry voice cut through the mix and his inter-song banter was great. As usual, I've listened to a disproportional amount of one album, in this case Shake The Sheets, and those songs were subsequently some of my favorites. "Me and Mia" was an anthemic early highlight, and "Little Dawn," as I'm sure you've heard, featured a snippet of the ubiquitous Daft Punk's "One More Time" during the outro. I'm ashamed to say that I haven't heard Living With The Living in its entirety yet, and while "Sons of Cain" was a nice opener, I find "Bomb.Repeat.Bomb." a little too noisy and simplistic. Anyways, I'll try to get to it eventually. Major kudos to bassist Dave Lerner, who played his final show with the band, and Ted returns to NYC via Webster Hall on December 5th.

MP3: Ted Leo - Me and Mia (Live on Domestic Disturbance)
MP3: Ted Leo - Criminal Piece (Live on Domestic Disturbance)
Official Site: Ted Leo

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to head down to the Seaport...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Virgin Festival: Day 2

Regina Spektor dominated the North Stage.

Sunday contained a healthy mix of crazy DJs, unsurprisingly irresistible indie rockers, and two women that are utterly devastating in their own unique way. Although there weren't any gigantic new discoveries, the day served as a bit of an affirmation that deserving artists are getting opportunities, and the masses are listening and appreciating. Onward!

Dan Deacon - Dance Tent, 12:00 - 12:30

Considering I knew of Dan Deacon merely as Girl Talk's tourmate prior to the festival, his rise to prominence in my musical consciousness in the last week has been nothing short of astronomical. We were running a little late, and as we approached the Dance Tent, a curious cry of “Horsey, Horsey” rang out in the muggy air. Fittingly, Dan's set was not so much a visual spectacle as a sonic one; while DJ equipment was on the stage, Dan was buried inside the crowd. You could correlate this egalitarian approach to his success, or you could simply point out the way he channels pure absurdity into sonic infectiousness.

After a few crowd-elevating songs, Dan convinced us to form a huge dance circle and gave the following stipulations: 1. Be sassy as f*ck. 2. The dancer going out picks the next dancer in. 3. No cowards. The resulting sequence definitely favored enthusiasm over technique, although there were a impressive displays of handstanding and full body flailing alike. After a break for a few more “Horsey, Horsey”s, and Dan’s set came to a frenetic, albeit keyboardless conclusion. While the energy of his performance was impressive, I wasn’t terribly taken with the live material, but I’ve enjoyed what I've heard of his album, the appropriately quirky Spiderman of the Rings. The epic, twelve minute “Wham City” shares a moniker with Dan’s Baltimore-based collective, and it's a concentrated dose of his fluorescent, sugar-fueled electronic cartoon.

MP3: Dan Deacon - Wham City
Official Site: Dan Deacon

Girl Talk - Dance Tent, 12:30 - 1:10

By comparison, the set from Gregg Gillis aka Girl Talk was only moderately insane. The mashup maestro came onstage in suit and tie, but by the end of the set the suit was askance and his tie had been converted into a headband. Aside from the hip-hop, which I merely tolerated, it was nice to hear the ubiquitous Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” the sedate "1-2-3-4" from Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Holland, 1945” and, to everyone’s delight, the whistling from “Young Folks.” The crowd was really into it from the start, and the mob of dancers onstage seemed almost superfluous. Although I’m more inclined towards the cerebral Booka Shade when it comes to this sort of stuff, it’s impressive that Girl Talk was able to keep the crowd moving through a set of other people’s music. Girl Talk and Dan Deacon play Webster Hall on September 15th.

MP3: Daft Punk - Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger (Neptunes Remix)
MP3: Neutral Milk Hotel - Holland, 1945

Regina Spektor - North Stage, 1:10 - 2:00

We hurried over to the North Stage for the first time all festival, arriving just as Regina Spektor lead off a capella to a hushed audience. She then took a seat by her piano and, with a charming "Spasiba," began the bulk of her material, switching over to guitar for only a couple songs. This stripped down setup turned away at least one fellow festival-goer on my right, but those that stayed were treated to something quite extraordinary. It’d be a feat for any individual to play in front the crowd of thousands, but it’s especially impressive that Regina, with all her quirks and eccentricities (perhaps epitomized by the rubber snake dangling from her piano), delivered such a powerful performance. Not only did his convey the quality of her material and her skill as a musician, but she revealed the facets of her personality through each song. From the religious allusions of "Baby Jesus" and "Samson" to the more light-hearted and New York-centric fare of "Summer in the City" and "That Time," Regina was poignant, clever and moving.

Regina also did a great cover of the John Lennon song "Real Love" a recording of which is featured on the Instant Karma charity compilation for Darfur. She ended strongly, with “Us” and “Fidelity," two of the most gorgeous songs of the festival. Regina Spektor plays at the Hammerstein Ballroom on October 16th, and while the venue size is intimidating, I’m sure it will be a stellar show.

MP3: Regina Spektor - On The Radio
MP3: Regina Spektor - Samson
Official Site: Regina Spektor

Spoon - North Stage, 2:25 - 3:15

You generally know what you’re getting with Spoon, but that’s hardly a barrier to enjoying them. Britt Daniel was at his understated finest, finding that perfect balance between grit and melody, as the rest of the band brought it up a notch in volume, which was very gratifying. Although I like the new songs, it was older material that really reminded me of how darn good Spoon is, and that I should listen to Gimme Fiction more. “I Turn My Camera On” was a stomper, and despite the dust obscuring the band from time to time, I did just that. “I Summon You," with its abstract allusions, was both a resigned glance at our tumultuous present (“Strapped-up soldiers/They'll lock you in a cage”), but at the same time a cathartic love song. It’s a shame the group omitted “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine," but such is the nature of festivals.

Spoon also dived into its back catalogue by inviting a former member (and Baltimore native) onstage. I'm not really sure what the story is here, although AMG describes the early Spoon as one with more fluid membership. In any case, I wasn't really familiar with this earlier material, and while that lessened my appreciation, it was nice to hear voices in addition to Britt's, distinct as he is. All in all, a really enjoyable and stimulating set from one of the best rock bands out there right now. Spoon plays a much-deserved gig at Roseland on October 20th.

You can find oodles of live Spoon at etree, and here are two demos, which were released on a bonus disc bundled with Gimme Fiction.

MP3: Spoon - I Summon You (Demo Version)
MP3: Spoon - Sister Jack (Piano Demo)
Official Site: Spoon

As we collapsed on the dessicated grass following Spoon's set, and as I devoured a Chicken Souvlaki (insert Slowdive reference here), the unfortunate tones of the next band on the North Stage wafted through the air. Perhaps it was for the best, as this disturbance encouraged us back into the Dance Tent…

James Zabiela - Dance Tent, 3:10 - 4:25

By the end of the weekend, I kind of wished that I always had DJ tent in my vicinity during my daily life. As bizarre as it sounds, there's something really invigorating about surrounding yourself with complete strangers and simultaneously cauterizing your eardrums and moving the rest of your body as much as the confined space permits. Discomforts aside, James Zabiela delivered an energetic, effective set. There's a fatalistic sort of anticipation when you know the next uptempo surge of drums and bass is coming, and these peaks really dispel any notion that a DJ set is mere repetition. James also sampled "Harder, Faster, Better, Stronger," but kept things interesting with his superior turntable skills. At one point, he said "thank you" and sliced up the vocals until they became a part of the groove. From the huge grin James had throughout the set, it was clear that we weren't the only ones that enjoyed ourselves.

MP3: Röyksopp - Remind Me (James Zabiela Eighties Ingeborg Mix)
Official Site: James Zabiela

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - North Stage, 5:15 - 6:15

As the day waned, the excitement built. While I can't profess an excessive fondness for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I can't help but admire the energy of their live show. Karen O is a maniac. She dashed around the expansive North Stage, spouted beer and water alike in between songs, and at the appropriate climaxes, threw her microphone with an audible thump. Antics aside, she still managed to harness her vintage snarl for the aggressive tracks (which were many), but I felt the show lacked a little on the melodic side. Again, this is more of a personal preference, and the band is probably better off in its raucous form, especially with Brian Chase's explosive drumming and Nick Zinner's guitar squalls. Things ended really strongly, as "Gold Lion," "Y Control," and of course, "Maps" make their appearance. The latter became an "indulgence," as Karen O put it, as she sang an extended chorus and dedicated the "Yeah Yeah Yeahs love song" to a number of people, including Regina Spektor.

There's a bit of video of the last three sets, beginning with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, over on YouTube.

Interpol - North Stage, 6:45 - 8:00

As the impeccably tailored Interpol finally took the stage, the rains came, as if the group had somehow transported their downtown gloom with them. Aside from washing away a fraction of the day's sweat, I remember thinking of it (melodramatically, but perhaps accurately) as a sort of spiritual cleansing, a kind of rite of passage that accompanies one's first festival. Unfortunately, my camera died halfway through the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' set, but in many ways, I don't need photos to reminisce. Interpol was everything I expected and imagined it would be, and it was hands-down my favorite set of the festival, and one of the best I've ever attended.

The band began predictably with "Pioneer To The Falls," and while that track doesn't do that much for me, the solemn reverb of Daniel Kessler's guitarwork and Paul Banks' perfect baritone was something to behold. "Slow Hands" followed, bringing to the fore Sam Fogarino's relentless drumming and Banks' indirect (some might say obtuse, but I really like it) lyricism. As was the trend of the festival, I gravitated towards older material, and while I see a bunch of growers on Our Love To Admire, there will never be replacements for Antics and Turn On The Bright Lights - although "The Heinrich Maneuver's" jerky staccato comes pretty close. "PDA" was a mesmerizing finale, with its hypnotic bassline and, to my surprise, Kessler's vocalizing on the outro. A-ma-zing.

So what's the big deal about seeing Interpol live? I mean, there wasn't much crowd interaction, no more than a couple of thank-yous strewn amongst the songs, a pretty paltry amount compared to the charisma of, say, a Dan Deacon. A popular source of praise, that they sound exactly as they do on the album, could easily make one wonder why you wouldn't save the roadtrip and the sunburn and just fire up the iPod.

I'm not completely sure why the appeal is there, only that it exists, and that it drives a lot of what I do here. Some of it is undoubtedly selfish - "So what'd you do this summer?" "I saw Interpol in Baltimore; it was incredible" - but only because of what I perceive as a real valuation of memories. When I look back on my first live music experience, I'm a little embarrassed by the cringe-inducing photography, the shoddy word count and absence of audio content, but shortcomings aside, the integrity of the experience is still preserved. And in the future, I'm sure I'll take better photos (if my camera gets fixed...), write better, and listen to all sorts of exciting music I haven't discovered yet, and maybe view these posts with the same critically-tinged regret that now surround last year. But that's okay, because it doesn't change the fact that, hey, I saw Interpol in Baltimore! What I'm (convolutely) saying is that, despite the advantages of vicarious entertainment, nothing really compares to being there. This isn't just a music blog; it's a collection of experiences.

Check out Interpol's eerily similar Lollapalooza setlist over at Deaf Indie Elephants (via Largehearted Boy). Regina Spektor's, too. Oh, and Cat Power is opening their MSG show on September 14th.

MP3: Interpol - Obstacle 1 (Arthur Bakers Return To New York Mix)
MP3: Interpol - Slow Hands (Britt Daniel Remix)
Official Site: Interpol

The festival wasn't over yet, but we were pretty much done. We did make our way to the Dance Tent one last time, dodging rain droplets, but Deep Dish didn't sound like they were going to play anything recognizable. So we left a bit early, and I got home at the somewhat reasonable time of 1:30. Virgin Festival happens all over again (give or take a few bands) in Toronto on September 8th and 9th.

Thanks for reading, and keep your ears and eyes open.
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