Friday, September 26, 2008

Virgin Festival 2008, Day 2

This was originally posted last week, but for reasons unknown I got a notice from Google, saying it violated copyright and they pulled it. I have no idea why - these words and photos are all mine. If anyone has complaints, let me know...

I'm still hanging on to summer. The new season has been caused a swift change of packed days and sleepless nights, a pretty lame digression from lots of hanging out - not to mention live music. I'm feeling pretty nostalgic, so it's nice to be able to relive the good times. Timely this isn't, but sometimes it takes a while to move on.


Chromeo has always tried to be suave, and they often succeed. But the odds were against them: the noon sun flooding the Dance Tent and the crowd presumably wanted to move, rather than appreciate any lyrical cleverness. The duo of Dave 1 and P-Thugg played gamely, and their crossover appeal is undeniable. But they were in a bit of a tight spot: not relentless enough for raving, but not authentically rockist enough to be promoted to a full stage. Their stop-and-go set had moments, particularly the covers - Journey's "Any Way You Want It " and the Outfield's "Your Love " are fantastic jams. But there were a lot of rough edges compared to the swaggering studio cuts. This is a fun band, but probably more effective when blasting from boomboxes at home.

MP3: Chromeo - Fancy Footwork
MySpace: Chromeo
Official Site: Chromeo

Andrew Bird

The violin has gained such a ubiquity in indie pop that it's virtually mandatory, in order to gain the glowing tag of "orchestral." But that's okay; it's a distinct, swoon-inducing instrument, and Andrew Bird knows how to play one. His songs meander, casting a laid-back but intricate vibe. His songs are earthy but not parochial, sophisticated but unpretentious. It's no wonder that he's a critical darling , and his next album, due in January, should garner a similar amount of praise.

MP3: Andrew Bird - A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left
MySpace: Andrew Bird
Official Site: Andrew Bird

She & Him

As I suspected, it was more her than him. Zooey Deschanel, indie film starlet and all-around swooner took center stage, while her collaborator M. Ward had a fleeting presence. Indie folk fans will surely protest the veteran Ward's secondary status, but if the duo was going for pure appeal, Deschanel was the clear choice. For one, she's got a great voice and charming stage presence. Say what you will of actresses becoming musicians, but in this case, I think the switch is justified.

MP3: She & Him - Why Don't You Let Me Stay Here
MySpace: She & Him
Official Site: She & Him

Lil Wayne

After waiting for the longest time between sets, Wayne's posse finally came on stage. They paraded around, and at long last, Weezy himself appeared. As you might imagine, rap is not my forte, but I had given Tha Carter III a few tentative spins, and the album has definite upsides. "Mrs. Officer" is hilarious and strangely touching ("I'll do the time but her love is timeless"). And the police siren imitation isn't just fun; it's a great hook. I can't say I'm that big on his other stuff, and I squeezed my way to the dance tent before the end, but it wasn't bad.

MP3: Lil Wayne - Mrs. Officer
MySpace: Lil Wayne
Official Site: Lil Wayne

Richie Hawtin

Richie Hawtin is the man. Not only does he run the trendsetting label, M_nus , but the British-Canadian DJ has recorded an astounding back catalogue, including masterpieces under the name Plastikman. I was really curious to see how it would translate live. The answer was quite well: his set was relentless, austere and impressive. While the definition of an acquired taste, minimal techno has become surprisingly fashionable of late, and it was a treat to see one of the great figures of the genre perform. Did anyone catch him at Minitek ?

MP3: Plastikman - Plastique
MySpace: Richie Hawtin
Official Site: Richie Hawtin


Don't call it a comeback. Moby's pretty much hung up his superstar hat (or astronaut helmet) in the last couple years, and his set was pretty much business as usual. He DJs a bunch of smaller parties here in the city, and blended a dependably dancey mix. I wasn't there for the whole thing, but what I heard was pretty good. I find it kind of amusing that the disclaimer (DJ Set) was next to Moby's name on the schedule, but it was accurate - he was playing other people's music. Kind of a downer for those hoping for cuts from the megahit Play , and I'm curious as to whether he spun anything off of his last album. Incidentally, he hasn't completely shed his legendary status - a number of times he stood on his deck, arms outstretched. I guess he's earned that much.

MP3: Moby - We Are All Made of Stars
MySpace: Moby
Official Site: Moby

Bob Dylan

How does one critique a legend? When it's someone of such stature, but in such a sad present state, it's a hard thing to do. Admittedly, I was never a huge Dylan fan - I respect the lyrics, but that voice is just a big obstacle to overcome. Unfortunately, the man's in no position to really impress. He sat and played piano, and it seemed as if most of the crowd wasn't even paying attention. Sorry to admit it, but to the consternation of some, I went back to Moby after a few songs. If you were there, you would probably have done the same.

Armin van Buuren

Trance. It has some pretty negative connotations: commercial, over-the-top, sissy lyrics. After experiencing Armin's set, I'd have to say, guilty as charged! But what the haters overlook is the sheer force of the genre - especially in a live setting. Sometimes the solution is to just wave your hands in the air and hop. And yes, the vocal samples are embarrassing, with their romantic exultation and melodrama, but talk about mass appeal. By no means was this a terribly interesting or thought-provoking set, but did it justify the headliner slot? Absolutely. Armin's understandably one of the world's biggest DJs, and while he doesn't do anything particularly innovative, it's undeniably effective.

MP3: Above & Beyond - Can't Sleep
MySpace: Armin Van Buuren
Official Site: Armin Van Buuren

So what does it all mean? Well, last year had the benefit of quasi-headliner Interpol, who I had been dying to see, whereas this one just sort of ended. I would have to say that this year, the festival lineup wasn't quite as jaw-dropping. But it was still a big highlight of a packed summer, between the environment, getting to see some frickin' electronic music without getting carded, and yes, getting out of NYC for a little bit. Despite the inevitable fatigue that sets in, both in the two days here and pretty much for the last two years, live music is still one of the best parts of my life, and I don't see that changing any time soon. I will, however, work on getting these posts up quicker.

Playlist: September

I'm going to take a step back from recounting shows (long) past and write a little about what I've actually been listening to lately. You'll notice that there's a lot of electronica here, and I suppose that my tastes have evolved to embrace beeps over guitars. I get enough of those by going to shows, right?

I've only begun to scratch the catalogue of London's Swayzak. They're on the terrific label !K7, and their last album, Some Other Country, came out in 2007. It's pretty minimal, but a few guest vocalists make it more than a little pop crossover. The highlight of this album for me is "Smile and Receive," which features fellow DJ Cassy's singing. It's been on repeat the last couple days.

MP3: Swayzak - Smile and Receive (ft. Cassy)
MySpace: Swayzak
Official Site: Swayzak

Simian Mobile Disco mixed the lastest FabricLive 41, and it's a fun time. I think what makes the duo so appealing is their versatility, and the mix is a fast-paced romp through all sorts of electro. Conveniently, they included "Miura" by Metro Area, another group I've been getting into big time. Funky and just a little weird - I dig.

MP3: Metro Area - Miura
MP3: Simian Mobile Disco - Sleep Deprivation (Simon Baker Remix)
MySpace: Simian Mobile Disco
Official Site: Simian Mobile Disco

Speaking of Metro Area, Morgan Geist just put out another solo record. Well, "solo" isn't entirely accurate - Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys sings on many of the album's ethereal disco tracks, and there are moments that sound just like his usual group. This isn't the first time Geist has collaboratated - check out the fantastic "Ghost Trains" off of King of Convenience Erlend Øye's solo album from last year, Unrest. Gorgeous!

MP3: Morgan Geist - Detroit (ft. Jeremy Greenspan)
MP3: Erlend Øye - Ghost Trains (ft. Morgan Geist)
MySpace: Morgan Geist
Official Site: Environ

It was a massive oversight not including Pantha du Prince on my best-of list for last year. This Bliss is just that: euphoric, cinematic electronic music that envelops the listener. IDM is a silly term, but I think it's applicable here. This music isn't obviously danceable, but it's definitely dynamic. Also check out his labelmate on Dial, Efdemin.

MP3: Pantha du Prince - Saturn Strobe
MySpace: Pantha du Prince
Official Site: Pantha du Prince

Don't know too much about this guy. Apparently he released an album called Planets, with tracks named after planets, naturally. "Talisman" is side one of a single he put out this year. It's simple, resounding banger, with incessant synth slashes and a booming bassline. Good times.

MP3: Sébastien Léger - Talisman
MySpace: Sébastien Léger
Official Site: Sébastien Léger

Last but not least, I can't find the mp3 anywhere, but do yourself a favor and stream the Juan Maclean's "The Simple Life," remixed by Marcus Worgull.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Virgin Festival 2008, Day 1

The festival is still a pretty irresistible concept. Granted, it's less spectacular after a summer of endless shows, but so many artists performing in such rapid succession remains pretty excellent. Another year of concert-going has made me realize that I'm not as eager to cram myself into a large crowd, so it wasn't quite as "intimate" an experience as last year. But I still amazed at how many people can have such a good time in an area that's big, but manageable. A gigantic thanks to Maria for making the weekend possible.

Cat Power

The fest began without fanfare, as Chan Marshall and her backing band assembled and started with one of many slow burners. Her smokey vocals are remarkable, but would have been more appropriate at dusk, rather than noon. That's not to say the music was entirely mellow, as a few surprisingly heavy songs broke open the atmosphere. Chan's music is a bit too mournful for me to adore it, but it's performed with a precision that makes it easy to respect.

MP3: Cat Power - Metal Heart
Set: Cat Power and the Memphis Rhythm Band - Live at Berkeley Performance Center (06.07.07)
MySpace: Cat Power
Official Site: Cat Power

JDH + Dave P

New York's own JDH and Dave P run the weekly event Fixed, and they brought the party, fully intact, to Pimlico's Dance Tent. Although they were slated to go on earlier, as usual the set started a little late, but picked up immediately with a remix of the awesome "Hearts on Fire" by Cut Copy. The Faint's "The Geeks Were Right," off their new one Fasciinatiion came later - not quite as effective, but indicative of the duo's easy use into electropop - there were some more vocals from songs that I couldn't recognize. It's a shame that Fixed is 21+ most of the time, as they do a heck of a job.

MP3: Cut Copy - Hearts on Fire (Knightlife Remix)
MP3: The Faint - The Geeks Were Right (Shadow Dancer Vocal Mix)
MySpace: Fixed

Erol Alkan

Erol has a bit of a reputation, what with all those t-shirts floating around, but didn't quite match it. The London DJ was decent but not remarkable, blending an expected mix of ear-shattering bass and cute-and-paste vocal samples. It was a far cry from the sample-happy set I posted a while back, with the only recognizable bit being the ubiquitous MGMT's "Kids." Unfortunately, in the context of two days in the Dance Tent, this was one of the less memorable sets.

MP3: MGMT - Kids (Soulwax Nite Version)
MySpace: Erol Alkan
Official Site: Erol Alkan

The Swell Season
As you might have figured, I'm not particularly into movies. Thus, I hadn't heard of Once until being tipped off by Joe - it's an Oscar-winning flick about an Irish singer played by Glen Hansard, along with pianist Marketa Irglova. I suppose a possible implications of having an Academy Award winner means you've got mass appeal, and indeed, there was plenty of crowd enthusiasm here. There's obvious appeal in the way Hansard furiously strums his guitar, and his impassioned high falsetto undoubtedly pulls many a heartstring. But I wasn't digging it. I felt the performance was too over the top, and a bit tiresome in its unending romanticism.

MySpace: The Swell Season
Official Site: The Swell Season

Bloc Party

To this day, Bloc Party occupies my most-listened slot on Silent Alarm remains a fantastic album, and while A Weekend in the City had its upsides, I can't say I like the direction this band is going in. I find the new single "Mercury" to be dreadful, with its grating repetition and jerky instruments. I've given new album Intimacy a spin, and there just wasn't anything that stood out. Nonetheless, their live set definitely has many highlights, and while there weren't any surprises, the band was still tight and dynamic, evident from far away. Bloc Party is playing a free show at Roseland Ballroom next Thursday, and if the line isn't ginormous (which it probably will be), I'm going to attempt to make it over there. Call it the nostalgia factor.

MySpace: Bloc Party
Official Site: Bloc Party

A glance at the schedule presented a dilemma, as Soulwax was scheduled in the same slot as Bloc Party, but the white tuxedo-clad group was late, so all was well. I got a preview of the good times from a screening of their new documentary, Part of the Weekend Never Dies, before Cat Power's set. It didn't disappoint. Although the group is technically producers, they brought a full band, including live drums and guitars. The set highlighted both their remix work - the deep-throated "Get Innocuous" and a mutated "Robot Rock" - as well as their originals, including the awesome "E Talking." Despite that I've been more interested in more minimal and melodic stuff of late, sometimes exhilarating, overpowering beats are what you need. Definitely the highlight of Day 1.

And then, I took a nap.

I feel extremely fortunate for being introduced to live music by Wilco two summers ago. The atmosphere wasn't too different - a big smooshed crowd and a bunch of songs I didn't recognize. I knew that some of them were off of Sky Blue Sky, and despite general impressions that it was their "alt country" album, there was definitely some guitar soloing. While they didn't play my two favorites - "Heavy Metal Drummer" and "Jesus, etc," the epic, distorted "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" and confessional "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" were great. This band is really tight!

MP3: Wilco - What Light
MySpace: Wilco
Official Site: Wilco

Whoa. When I think of Underworld, I think enigmatic, dignified and a little creepy. Karl Hyde managed most of those adjectives, but did so while flailing about. Instead of a shadowed stage and calm, repeated beats and vocals, the set was awash in a rainbow of colors and the singing was manic. So that was jarring, but in retrospect, a lot more engaging than watching some guys with laptops (although they were there, too). Underworld have a knack for stretching out a simple idea to epic proportions, and seem a bit more ambitious than your average knob twiddler. It makes sense that they've created soundtracks, and it wasn't just their longevity, but their whole aesthetic that made them fitting headliners. And so, we survived day one.

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