Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Hold Steady @ Irving Plaza

The Hold Steady; The Rosewood Thieves
@ Irving Plaza
New York, NY - March 30, 2009

It was fitting that the 1-year anniversary concert of New York's very revivalist rock station, WRXP, would feature the most revivalist band around - the Hold Steady. If there is one thing that this band displays over and over and over again, is what a picture perfect portrait they are of bar band/classic rock/punk. At least in terms of the sounds they are suckers for (those Tad Kubler solos are sicker than ever). On the other hand, I've come to the conclusion that if Craig Finn sang about Ingmar Bergman and sex instead of John Cassavettes and drugs, he'd really just be Woody Allen - and that's not exactly following the rock n' roll playbook. The mere fact that after 7 or 8 Hold Steady experiences I can still find this stuff relevatory, is a testament to this band's depth.
From the set list, the appearance of "Don't Let me Explode" was a nice surprise - one of these embedded Separation Sunday tracks that grow on you and bloom some years after you first heard it. And after a year on the bench, "Killer Parties" was brought onto the field (or the ice if you prefer) to resume its rightful spot as the finale - and the band brought it back in its most intense form yet, the resounding flourish ricocheting off the crowd and around Irving Plaza, a swelling of the joy that Craig also felt the need to remind us of, something he hasn't done in quite awhile.

Rosewood Thieves sound like Bob Dylan 1965-1976. That's it. That's exactly what they sound like. They're good at it. But that's what they sound like. No room for anything to else say about them. That's it. Quite a box if you ask me. But a very good box all the same.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Gaslight Anthem; Heartless Bastards @ Webster Hall

The Gaslight Anthem; Heartless Bastards; Good Old War
@ Webster Hall
New York, NY - March 27, 2009

This is probably the first and last time I ever go to a show with the expressed purpose of seeing a suburban punk band. The Gaslight Anthem are really, in essence, nothing more than that: a typical, mundane, Warped Tour band. But band founder Brian Fallon found a niche - he wraps the sound around a Bruce Springsteen-inspired aesthetic. This shows up in two ways: the penchant for anthem-heavy choruses and the nostalgic lyrics of a simple, blue-collar time somewhere in the swamps of Jersey. This is what happens when one of these mall punk bands comes from the Garden State, instead of the Midwest or California. And more or less, the shtick works - the guy means it, and the songs are by and large irresistible, most noticeably the triumphant title track to The '59 Sound, a cut that encapsulates Fallon's story in a nutshell. The rest of the work is more than a lyrical homage to the Boss, and is at times a littany of the music Fallon likes to champion, even if he doesn't display any kinship to it (Miles Davis?). The funny moments were when the suburbanite crowd threw half-assed middle fingers in the air, make half-assed attempts at crowd surfing, and were pretty silent at Fallon's name dropping of the Cold War Kids (proof right there that this kid has more cred than his fans).

One hopes that in addition to enjoying the fluff of the Gaslight Anthem, some kids in the crowd came away from the Heartless Bastards set as changed people, about to embark on a journey through rock like they never would have expected. With no pretense, no mission other than to play what she knows, Erika Wennerstrom took the stage and displayed, along with her backing band, how she has taken it to the next level. The HB's were a decent if ho-hum outfit a few years ago, but they have come roaring back (is this what a move from Cincinatti to Austin does?). The Mountain is a barnburner, and it seems to have elevated the stature of the previous work. Erika's voice is impeccable and gripping, her revamped band are masterful rock n' roll musicians, and the songs are both epic and pastoral at the same time. This is a band you'd want to travel the roads of America with. But be careful - she seems like a nice gal, but with those arms, Erika could punch your teeth out.

Good Old War are a Philadelphia folk-pop trio who sound like Fleet Foxes - consistent, pleasant - but unlike that other band, there doesn't seem to be one stand-out track to make you take real notice. Still, no harm no foul.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Camera Obscura @ Mercury Lounge

Camera Obscura; Anni Rossi; Shelley Green
@ Mercury Lounge
New York, NY - March 25, 2009

Though now armed with key lime pies from the Bell House and peacock feathers for "the laydehs" in the crowd ("where's another laydeh?" Traceyanne cooed when there appeared to be an excess of dudes up front), Camera Obscura's second NYC night of trying out the new material was pretty much the same as first: solid and swell. They have that rare touch of sounding both vintage and immediate, a quality seemingly possessed by many bands these days but rarely defined with such precision and depth. There is nothing gimmicky or schlocky going on here, a road that the band could so easily take. In fact, it takes a lot to NOT become a gimmick, and every day that Camera Obscura exists as an authentic, pure, artistic endeavor of substance and merit, is a little victory.

So last night, I lamented that Laura Cantrell was, though fine, a little out of her element. The same could and should have been said about Anni Rossi and Shelley Green. But either because I was in a darker mood, or because of the nature of their particular sounds, both openers were fine primers for the main event. Rossi is particularly compelling - she masterfully plays the viola while singing a range of slow to mid-tempo affairs, backed by percussion. Did she really cover Ace of Base? Shelley Green is a young acoustic country folkie, needing only a guitar and her exceptionally well-tuned voice to deliver some haunting little dirges before finishing off with a handy Daniel Johnston cover.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Camera Obscura; Laura Cantrell @ The Bell House

Camera Obscura; Laura Cantrell
@ The Bell House
Brooklyn, NY - March 24, 2009

Traceyanne and the fam finally returned to the Big Apple after 18 long months to show off the new tunes on their sparkling new record, My Maudlin Career (not out yet so stop singing along you thieves!). Retaining the symphonic scope of Let's Get Out of This Country but also returning to the simple, melancholic meditations of the band's earlier work, the new LP is instantly good but not as easily digestible. Live-wise, the new material is easily adaptable to the band's not-so-secret trick: that they are a compelling live, meat-and-potatoes (or is that haggis-and-potatoes har har har shut up) act. Whereas the records are chock full of lush, lavish escapades, the live Camera Obscura is about the instruments, the strumming, the ebb and flow, the inner workings, of what makes a strong pop song. And though the band and the music are by nature tame, gentle, wistful, they are in essence a rock n' roll band.
Camera Obscura live at the Bell House

Laura Cantrell is a lovely lady who plays lovely country music straight out of her Nashville roots. Unfortunately, despite Camera Obscura's own crooning, moseying vibe, Laura felt a little out of place as an opener. Too many songs, too many slow ones. At another time and place, maybe with a seat, this would have been just fine. That doesn't take anything away from her though - she is a talent and then some.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Chris Cubeta; Bryan Dunn; Shwa @ Mercury Lounge

Chris Cubeta & The Liars Club; Bryan Dunn; Shwa Losben; Emily Easterly
@ Mercury Lounge
New York, NY - March 21, 2009

On a night dominated by power pop, Chris Cubeta brought the raw, stripped down version of it when the guitars were flying. The ballads were classically pop troubadour torch numbers crossed with country-fried lament. There was a Ryan Adams-ish mellifluousness to his sound.

When Bryan Dunn's band peaked at 10 people, playing enthusiastic pop music and anthems replete with horns, backing singers, and a dread-locked rapper - and also when his outfit shrunk to a handful of basics to play alt-country - it all felt like college, 1993. And that's far from a bad thing. Lots of talent on the stage, and a whole lot of fun.

Shwa Losben is one of those singer-songwriters that would be a pop radio wunderkind if good pop music was allowed on the radio. He knows exactly how to craft the hooks behind sterling lyrics. Whether it's the intensity of "Never Too Soon To Compromise (Yourself And All Your Values!!)" and "Brooklyn Girls" (the latter of which is just good bar band fun) or the textured grace of "Chop Chop" and "So Cry", there is some serious success afoot here. And, as I learned from NPR's SXSW coverage, you need to have a name you can easily google. Shwa wins.

Emily Easterly looks like Jenny Lewis but more importantly has a thing for outlaw country in between her ballads. Grab a beer, wear some plaid, and have a listen.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

First Video from Metric's Fantasies: "Gimme Sympathy"

Gimme Sympathy

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Monday, March 16, 2009

The Ting Tings @ Terminal 5

The Ting Tings; Hot Tub
@ Terminal 5
New York - March 16, 2009

The 80's made a cultural comeback this decade, and the Ting Tings wear it on their sleeve. When they aren't concocting their own hits, they are directly sampling the famous ones on one of their doo-dads (They played a clip of "Ghostbusters" for Pete Venkman's sake).
Though they are but one guitarist and one drummer, the Ting Tings are unlike the majority of those set-ups. They make much use of advanced production techniques and additional instruments and they devote their amazing energy to reliving the synth-pop dance beats they heard as children. This especially shows up in the New Wave-ish smash "Keep Your Head" and the 80's Britpop-esque ballad "Be the One".
Interestingly, their most sucessful numbers of the night were those that don't rely on the 80's - "We Started Nothing" is a soul funk revival to the fullest, and when I wondered whether they were really generating a full horn sound from their gadgetry, a change of viewing position revealed a full-on real life brass band bringing it on home (though gimmickly assembled as brightly bewigged eye candy). "Shut Up and Let Me Go" is yet another in a long line of hits to be based on the most important funk riff ever devised - the one crafted by Nile Rodgers in "Good Times" for Chic. The Tings other two hits - "Great DJ" and "That's Not My Name" are more original in nature, exposing the Manchester kids' ability to make fleshy, stompy riffs and shake-yer-booty anthems for every googly-eyed schnook this side of the Atlantic.
Katie White is not just another dynamite vexing front woman. She's an emcee. She's a guitarist. She's a percussionist. She's a musician. And her primary goal of delivering fun is delivered with a charm and warmth rarely seen. Jules DeMartino, though he hides behind Kanye shades, comes off as an affable bloke in addition to being a skilled beatmaster. They could both so easily be too cool for school like so many out there but they just can't help themselves.

On the other hand...
Hot Tub may have been the worst act I have ever seen. And that's saying a lot. 3 Ugly ass hipster ho's from Oakland (no I am not kidding) masquering as some bad spoof of Salt n Pepa (again, not kidding), rapping poorly over each other and trying to distract the audience from their lack of talent with spitting water everywhere (again, I swear, not kidding). The two real uglies kept going into the crowd while the one ugly pretending to be hot kept flashing her cottage cheese buttocks on the all-ages crowd. And when they weren't rapping to 14 year olds that "I don't take no shit, you bitch" they fall on each other and onto their DJ-partners' equipment, pissing them off and embarrassing themselves. They also did themselves no favors by sampling "The Final Countdown".

I would complain about the all ages show and the annoying teens and their annoying looks except that the adults were no better. RXP needs to fire the dude standing behind me who told his date that the Tings played their holiday show, and he completely mis-identified where that show was held and who else was on the bill. Why is that guy working there? AUGH! (and for the record, asshat, the theater on 23rd and Lex is the Gramercy, not the Bowery Ballroom - WHY ARE YOU WORKING AT A ROCK STATION?!)

Did I mention the Ting Tings were an amazingly good time?

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Video from Looker: "After My Divorce"

Nicely shot, very good New York-feeling video

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Fantasies No More: the New Metric Album is coming.

Go to the MySpace to here the new record, Fantasies, including, oh yes, oh yes, you better believe it, "Stadium Love" (on repeat here already).

Then go to the official site for the package deals when the album officially arrives.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

The Airborne Toxic Event @ Bowery Ballroom

The Airborne Toxic Event; Alberta Cross; Henry Clay People
@ Bowery Ballroom
New York, NY - March 8, 2009

13 months ago the Airborne Toxic Event opened up a Wednesday night at Pianos. The Annex, another Pianos gig, two Carson Daly appearances, a Conan appearance, a Mercury Lounge headlining gig, and a Letterman appearance later...and they sold out a headlining show at the Bowery Ballroom on a Sunday night (and another to come on Wednesday). This amazing stratospheric rise through the hip ranks of contemporary rock shows no signs of stopping and with good reason: the inherent magic in Mikel Jolet's compositions, animated and magnified by his four ubertalented friends, appear to be ready to stand the test of time AKA the fickle world of popular music.
It was a sight to behold as hundreds of people sang along, went nuts, and jumped on stage to dance to music that the vast majority of whom did not even know about a year ago. It was even more of a sight - and a sonic revelation - to watch and hear the Airborne Toxic Event change the tempo and even melodic flows of many of their songs - and succeed at sustaining the dramatic momentum of those Jolet-penned insta-classics. Presumably the band changed them up to adjust to Mikel's recent laryngitis. If it's because they are already tired of their initial catalog of music...that could be a problem. But one step at a time.
The crux of the night, the epicenter of the grandiosity, the great contextual moment: In the opening build-up to "Happiness is Overrated", Mikel sang a couple lines of "Stuck Between Stations". Yep. That Song By You Know Who. And there you go, a little bit of solidarity in this crazy world. And why not? Craig likes to sing of "White Noise", a phrase the Airborne Toxic Event has purposefully acquainted itself with in its own genesis. But this is far from white noise. It is at the least a reminder that there is a bevy of quality rock music out there. It is at the most, one great colossal band of The Now and hopefully the future.

Alberta Cross are a throwback to 70's post-psychedelic jam arena rock. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

Henry Clay People are two nerd brothers with a couple of pals who play tried and true odes to classic rock. Channeling alt country rockers as well as the Ramones, these historically attuned Los Angelinos made for very fun openers. No fuss, no muss, just happy rock n' roll and you couldn't ask for more. Not bad for a NYC debut either.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Sonic Parthenon Playlist: Early March, 2009 Vol. II

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - songs from It's Blitz
"Zero" and "Heads Will Roll" are the two standouts from what I've heard so far from this revolutionary sounding record in the YYY story. Show Your Bones demonstrated that the band wasn't going to stick to an instrumental rubric but they stuck to the same basic rock-based formula that the kids previously displayed in a purer, raw punk form. Now they've broken out of their box. Some will argue that by joining the raging disco-rock sound of the last couple years, the trio are cashing in. But the Yeah Yeah Yeahs do everything they do so well, with so fine on a point on it, they make it all their own.

Late of the Pier - "Space and the Woods"
Speaking of that dance-rock rage, here's a good one. Go out on a Saturday night and dance the recession away!

The Features - "Lions"
The "wooah wooah" sing-a-long of the moment.

M. Ward - songs from Hold Time
I've been a bad M. Ward fan, having not yet devoted time to his latest LP and not catching him when he played the Apollo. Nevertheless, "Never Had Nobody Like You" is a already a classic, and "Jailbird" shows good things. Matt Ward has had one of the most accomplished, and sanely-paced, careers this decade and it looks like he's ending the decade on a very high note.

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
We could do without the 30 minutes of nature sounds at the end, but Neko's first record in a few years is a triumphant return of her flawless voice, her strong songcraft, and the finest gams in music. There, I wrote it. Sue me.

The Missed Connections - Hold Still, You Say
In the vein of the above-mentioned Bon Iver, and recalling the spirit shared by artists such as Tiny Vipers, comes this newly minted (and as yet pretty much unreleased) little bud. It's hard to get for now, but it may very well be the case that in the coming months, it'll be on the minds of anyone worth a damn.

Coldplay, Snow Patrol, the Killers - ???
The way things are going these days, there's time to listen to the pretty capable 101.9. Who would have thought a year ago that this station would not only be kicking and screaming, but displaying a solid devotion to not just the easy elements of rock n roll history but the tough stuff and the real stuff (the classic punk, the alternative sounds of the last 40 years, the forgotten gems). That has nothing to do with this, however. In the realm of the easy, in addition to playing enough Aerosmith and the Who to last a lifetime, the powers that be at WRXP managed to sell me on giving Snow Patrol and the Killers second chances, and Coldplay a fourth. Between "Lovers in Japan", "Crack the Shutters", and "Spaceman", I have enough guilty pleasure to tide me over till the summer.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Sonic Parthenon Playlist: Early March, 2009 Vol. I

Well this was the fear and it came true. Too many outside factors going on, affecting the productivity of the blog. It's a shame because I have been listening to more music now than in the past several months at least. So in order to fill the gaps between the gig reviews, here is this occasional series to keep this blog relevant and up to date:

Camera Obscura - "My Maudlin Career"
The kids are coming back with a new album and two sold out small shows in late March. The title track, made available via the band through their site, is a dashing bit of that classically sad-eyed whimsy that these Scots (+ darling Manchester girl/band news scribe) are known for. It is always so good to feel so cutely blue around Camera Obscura.

Heartless Bastards - "The Mountain"
Another title track, this from Erika Wennerstrom's project, represents a side of the band yours truly did not notice when they came through town a few years ago with the Soledad Brothers. With a startlingly complex voice to go along with her smokin' guitar chops, Wennerstrom may just steal the show from the Gaslight Anthem at Webster on the 27th of this month.

The Takeover UK - "Ah La La"
Watching Lost led to watching promos. The early promos for that bad-looking Castle featured a hard, happenin' rock n roll song. The power of the internet revealed it was this track from a band (not from the UK) that I think may be one of those old fashioned big record label start-up bands.

Bruce Springsteen - "My Lucky Day"
Working on a Dream doesn't sound too hot (Magic sure didn't) but like with the last one, there is one solid, killer cut the whole world should play over and over. Last time, with "Radio Nowhere", it was punchy, almost roadhouse-y Bruce. This time it's more of that sweeter, bar band of friendly pals atmosphere.

Sam Roberts Band - "Them Kids"
I caught this band once a couple years ago and thought nothing of it but this single is a happy kicker, one to smile and dance to in times like these.

Bon Iver - "Blood Bank"
He's back and in good form. Emphasizing more of that soul-vocal underpinnings to his darkly rich folk, Justin Vernon is already not destined to be a one-hit wonder in the Indie world. This chap has staying power.

Handsome Furs - "I'm Confused"
All I know is the promo photos for this act's new record are too hot for their own good but more important than that, I heard this song for the first time a couple days ago and I am already obsessed with it.

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