Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Interlude: You Can Play These Songs With Chords

Irving Plaza has become a pretty popular stop of late, actually eclipsing the stalwart Bowery Ballroom, and I have to give Live Nation and pals some credit for booking some interesting acts over the last couple months. I do have to say that the lighting is pretty terrible, though. Anyhow, Stereolab played a bunch of shows here at the beginning of October, and I was fortunate enough to catch their final show on the 4th. Thanks to Catherine at Beggars!


Stereolab's singer Lætitia Sadier also fronts Monade, which admittedly isn't much a divergence from her main band. The songs aren't quite as immediate, but Sadier's francophone vocals are always wonderful. Their third album, Monstre Cosmic, came out in March, and while Stereolab deservedly gets more attention, this band is quite good as well.

MySpace: Monade
Official Site: Monade

Le Loup

A acquaintance that I ran into during last year's CMJ Marathon raved about Le Loup, but I never managed to give them a proper listen until this night, despite acquiring their verbosely titled album, The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium Assembly. I didn't see Nicole Keenan, who may or may not still be in the band, but they played a strange and appealing set amidst the dark stagelights, with frontman Sam Simkoff hopping around like an M.C., before settling down with a banjo.

MP3: Le Loup - We Are Gods! We Are Wolves!
MySpace: Le Loup
Official Site: Le Loup


It's a shame that Stereolab has never attracted more than an underground following. In a fairer parellel universe, their techy, breezy music would top charts. But for now, they remain a medium-sized band that is replete with warped pop gems. What surprised me was the amount of muscle behind the songs, old and new, as the band erupted into gratuitous jam after gratuitous jam. Perhaps if people knew how much this band rocked out, they'd be playing a bigger venue. As good as they are, the band probably has hit a bit of a plateau. Emperor Tomato Ketchup is regarded by some as their best work, and it's the one I'm most familiar with - "Percolator" and "Cybele's Reverie" are great - and their subsequent work hasn't quite hit that peak, but I need to do some digging.

Here's a live set, recorded on March 21st, 2007, at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 club. Enjoy.

1. Come and Play in the Milky Night
2. Eye of the Volcano
3. Vonal Declosion
4. Visionary Roadmaps
5. Need To Be
6. Interlake
7. Pack Yr Romantic Mind
8. Excursion into Oh, A-Oh
9. I Feel The Air (Of Another Planet)
10. Mountain
11. Miss Modular
12. Widow Weirdo
13. U.H.F. - MFP
15. Vodiak
16. Cybele's Reverie
17. ...Sudden Stars
18. Outer Bongolia

MySpace: Stereolab
Official Site: Stereolab

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Ocean Between Us: Trembling Blue Stars Live

Our long CMJ hangover is finally over. Full coverage is coming up, but first, here's a short and sweet acoustic set from Trembling Blue Stars, a band that unfortunately seems to have given up touring. That's a shame, because their most recent album, The Last Holy Writer, is filled with pretty, jangly pop songs. The highlight is "Idyllwild," which ranked pretty high on last year's song list, and that's a great place to start - the song really showcases Beth Arzy's lovely vocals. But it's her counterpart, Robert Wratten, who sings lead on most the songs, and his wistful voice gives the band much of its character. This set is from a while back, recorded around 2001 in something called Sesion Polar. Enjoy!

MP3: Trembling Blue Stars - Idyllwild

1. The Ghost of an Unkissed Kiss
2. Moonlight On Snow
3. Kensington Gardens
4. If I Handle You With Care
5. Missing the Moon

MySpace: Trembling Blue Stars
Official Site: Trembling Blue Stars

Monday, October 20, 2008

Interlude: MBV

During “You Made Me Realise,” the last song of My Bloody Valentine’s second show at New York’s Roseland Ballroom, the venue grew eerily quiet. In actuality, the band was creating punishing waves of feedback, but with earplugs stuffed in firmly, it felt like the eye of a storm. The atmosphere was foreign to a rock concert. Instead of exultation, there was serene anticipation.

Fans of the Irish quartet are used to waiting. My Bloody Valentine’s watershed 1991 release, Loveless, smeared glorious dream pop with a distorted haze of guitars and soporific vocals from singers Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher. The band has not released an album since, but Loveless has become the primogenitor for shoegaze, a term that originates from the abundance of foot-operated effects pedals. (Shields reportedly used 30 pedals on this tour.) They had not played in the United States for 16 years.

The setlist contained songs from Loveless and the band’s 1988 debut, Isn’t Anything, which the band delivered like a hurricane. Shields and Butcher’s breathy vocals were barely audible under the blast of guitars and blistering percussion. The band almost disappeared under the lighting, which flooded the stage. Shields would give a quiet “thank you” to the crowd in the middle of the set, but his presence was ethereal: the songs spoke for themselves.

From the overcharged “Only Shallow” to the acid-tinged cascades of “Soon,” the performance was an affirmation of how well My Bloody Valentine has stood the test of time. Loveless took over two years to craft, bankrupting the band’s label, Creation, in the process. But its influence has only grown in the nearly two decades since its release. Shields has said that the band will attempt to record a third album this fall, but no matter what they produce in the future, their legacy is cemented.

The calm of “You Made Me Realise” was broken by a final squall of feedback, followed by a bassline so massive that a tremor devoured the packed stage floor, leaving feet reverberating. Leaving a residue of feedback, like the afterglow of a dying sun, the band departed, fading away as fleetingly as they arrived.

Here's the band at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles on February 4th, 2002, the last time they were in the States. However, if you're new to MBV, I strongly sugest starting with Loveless, which kicks off like this. Enjoy.

1. Intro
2. When You Sleep
3. Only Shallow
4. I Only Said
5. Slow
6. Nothing Much to Lose
7. You Never Should
8. Blown A Wish
9. Honey Power
10. Soon
11. To Here Knows When
12. Feed Me With Your Kiss
13. You Made Me Realise

MySpace: My Bloody Valentine
Official Site: My Bloody Valentine

Interlude: Hearts on Fire

I cried a little inside when I saw the venue for this show. To think that Stars, the most romantic band I know, would be playing a venue as unemotional as Terminal 5 was a shame. Would the magic that was so vivid in their Music Hall show last year be sustained? Could their narratives translate in such a cavernous setting? Turns out I shouldn't have worried, as it turned into something spectacular.

Bell X11

Bell X1 fit closely with the Snow Patrol archetype, playing appealing, emotionally unabashed songs that have lifted them to the top of the charts in their native Ireland. Conquering the States is the natural next step, but it's uncertain if they'd be able to without a "Chasing Cars" equivalent, although they seem to have gotten on some soundtracks. The crowd seemed pretty appreciative of their show, and credit to the band for shattering some of my skepticism - an endearing effort to "bring the funk," saw frontman Paul Noonan gyrating dramatically, despite the disclaimer that the Irish defer to New Yorkers when it comes to that sort of thing.

MP3: Bell X1 - Heartlands
MP3: Bell X1 - Flame (Chicken Lips Remix)
MySpace: Bell X1
Official Site: Bell X1


I was psyched, and Stars delivered right off the bat. The one-two punch of "The Night Starts Here" and the stunner "Ageless Beauty" outshone even the overcharged lighting rig. These are, after all, some of my favorite songs, but even the slower numbers kept the overflowing crowd enraptured. Again, I have to defer to Torquil Campbell and Amy Milan, the two pillars of what make Stars so great. While people have complained about Torquil's temperment, you can't question the guy's sincerity and passion, and Amy's voice is just sublime. There are questions of whether Stars have hit a plateau - I haven't heard their most recent Sad Robots EP, but In Our Bedroom After the War wasn't nearly as revelatory as their past work. But right now, the band has amassed an astonishing amount of quality songs, and the depth of the setlist was staggering.

I go to a lot of shows, and I have to admit that the huge ones are memorable in ways that smaller dives can't match. And Stars rose to the occasion, filling the (large) space with their instruments, but also their love, tossing roses and sparking more than a few sing-alongs. Torquil reiterated their New York roots, saying they started off just a few blocks away from the venue. Ultimately, it wasn't just about the music, it was about celebrating how music unites us.

Here's the band playing to another big crowd at Lollapalooza in 2006. Enjoy.

1. Set Yourself on Fire
2. Elevator Love Letter
3. Reunion
4. Death To Death
5. Going, Going, Gone
6. What I'm Trying To Say
7. One More Night
8. Your Ex-Lover Is Dead
9. Ageless Beauty
10. Soft Revolution
11. He Lied About Death
12. Calender Girl

MySpace: Stars
Official Site: Stars

Friday, October 17, 2008

Interlude: East Village Radio Festival

My initial reaction to the East Village Radio Festival was a dropped jaw. While the South Street Seaport was a staple over the summer, I had never been to a show as stacked as this. Although yet another downpour shifted the event to Sunday, September 7th (making this post very delayed, but better late than never), the actual event went off without a hitch. I missed the very first couple of performers, but arrived in time for Vivian Girls - note that this was before their self-titled album was properly hyped. Along with Brooklyn's High Places, they made the most of short sets, playing dreamy, pleasant indie pop.

Master of Ceremonies KRS-One noted during the break that EVR was celebrating its fifth year. Initially a pirate FM station, it now streams online, where most independent music thrives. A DJ from the station even joined in with Awesome Color, helping out with blasting, frenetic guitarwork. Events turned pretty silly afterwards, with an appearance from John Oliver from the Daily Show and an absurd romp through cars, girls and drugs with Devin the Dude. The set that I was looking forward the most was next: Warp's Flying Lotus. I was curious to see what sort of reaction he would receive, worrying that the crowd wouldn't "get" his abstract turntablism. But my fears were quelled: the set was weird but the beats were persistent and confident, and Lotus spun with a grin on his face. It was great.

Flying Lotus would stay on the stage, providing more beats as KRS-One began his own set, before departing. Even the MC veteran was impressed, saying he should grab some beats for his next album. KRS then launched into the most politically-charged set I've witnessed. While the perspective was a bit radical and oversimplified things, hip-hop should be about activism, and I commend him for it. The gargantuan sounds of Boris brought the day to a thunderous end, although I headed back a bit early. It was a great way to finish off the season, and I can't wait for next year. One thing that I missed out on was the side stage, on 210 Front Street, and it looks as if the folks at EVR aren't quite done: there's another show there in a week, featuring bands from Seaport Music Radio.

Vivian Girls

MP3: Vivian Girls - Tell the World
MP3: Vivian Girls - Where Do You Run To
MySpace: Vivian Girls
Official Site: Vivian Girls

High Places

MP3: High Places - The Storm
MP3: High Places - Head Spins (Extended Version)
MySpace: High Places

Awesome Color

MySpace: Awesome Color
Official Site: Awesome Color

John Oliver

Official Site: The Daily Show

Devin the Dude

Flying Lotus
MySpace: KRS-One


MP3: Boris - Statement
MySpace: Boris
Official Site: Boris

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