Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pixies; Jay Reatard @ Hammerstein Ballroom

Pixies; Jay Reatard
@ Hammerstein Ballroom
New York, NY - November 24, 2009

Diagonally across 8th Avenue from Jimmy Buffet's never-ending lucrative nostalgia tour at the Garden, the Pixies carried on their own nostalgia tour, itself something of a cash-in. Albeit this cash-in carries in it the exposing of a new generation to some of the most vibrantly earth-shattering rock music of all time, and specifically this year, it's a celebration of the Doolittle record. Also, while hordes of cabana-bedecked parrot-heads swamped New York's monstrosity of spectacle, a rather tame cross-section of Indie-rock lovers went for a stroll down memory lane at the smaller-than-you-realize Hammerstein. It was a stroll that, emotionally speaking, many of these folks probably didn't actually want to revisit - except of course for hearing the actual music.
I write all this like I know what I am talking about so at the risk of sounding like the man I never want to be - Jim Derogatis - I'll summarize it by saying that my chance to see the Pixies - while not in their glory days that now seem like those of ghosts but rather in the days of Black Francis' jowls - was worth every cent. Joey Santiago still cuts a mean guitar, the aforementioned Charlie can scream with a passion, Kim Deal is KIM MOTHERFUCKING DEAL, and David Lovering is the rock drummer that every rock drummer still wants.

Irony (or something) of the year? Like the much more successful U2, the Pixies video-backdrop features a creepy four-headed boogie-off. Who knew the mischeivous little elves could relate to the biggest band on the planet? That's a title, by the way, that many of the Pixies' fans fully expected this band to have but are actually probably glad they didn't because then they were able to keep the band all to themselves and not share them with...say...parrot-heads.

Jay Reatard came out swinging with his brand new band that his alienation and petulance brought about (I miss my chubby Jewfro bass player). In typical Jay fashion, he succeeded when he switched from the tough-core shtick to outright pure punk and rock n' roll. At some point, it seemed it would be in his interest to finally break out an acoustic guitar...and he did! But he did so only to play more of the mixed bag of stuff, and completely blowing the opportunity to wow a crowd of potential new congregants by finally playing "Don't Let Him Come Back". Oh well - at least no one got punched in the face for once.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

I Seem To Be A Verb @ 92Y Tribeca

I Seem To Be A Verb
@ 92Y Tribeca
New York, NY - November 21, 2009

The skillful musical polyglots of I Seem To Be A Verb constitute a hybrid of crafted song structure and improvisational merit, taking the heart of Jazz and other non-rock sounds and pushing them into the basic rock sphere. This could easily turn into limp jam band territory but they never come close, as they found a way in each song of their short set to deliver everything in a tangible form.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Longwave; The Grates @ Bowery Ballroom

Longwave; The Grates; A Million Years
@ Bowery Ballroom
New York, NY - November 14, 2009

I only knew one song of Longwave's, going into this gig. "No Direction" is a paramount monster of a song, a thrill of ride of solos, power vocals, and rock n roll intensity. It was with great relief that not only did Longwave play this song, they kicked off the show with it. Unfortunately, all the songs that followed lacked the luster of "No Direction" though by no means was it a bad gig. It is a bit of a stunner that the band isn't more of a full-time rocking machine. They are a little too laid back when they should definitely not be.

Even more finally than finally seeing Longwave, I finally saw the Grates, the hardworking band from Brisbane. In one of the most fun sets of the year, the Grates ran the gamut from mid-decade garage revivalism (or simply, garage rock) to later-decade power pop revivalism (or simply, power pop) to decade-less headbanging swaths of originality and homage. Led by an insatiably, earnestly happy singer named Patience Hodgson. They very often looked and sounded like Be Your Own Pet but with humor and enjoyment of what they were doing. One of the most fun sets of the year.

A lot of people turned for opening act and Longwave cohort Keith Madden and his band A Million Years. Madden has a terrible haircut but that's about the only negative. In a perfectly executed set, A Million Years sound not too different from Longwave and in all the right ways. Throw in a little Britpop and you have the makings of a strong act. Good passionate stuff.

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Craig Finn & Tad Kubler @ Le Poisson Rouge

Craig Finn & Tad Kubler
@ Le Poisson Rouge
New York, NY - November 14, 2009

Craig and Tad of the Hold Steady took part in Radio Happy Hour, a monthly event at Le Poisson Rouge that seems to fancy itself a Kevin Smith-version of A Prairie Home Companion. When not taking part in the old timey radio simile, they performed acoustic versions of "Cheyenne Sunrise" and "Multitude of Casualties" and had a chat with the show host and Chuck Klosterman, whose Fargo Rock City was recently adapted for a screenplay co-written by Craig. You may be thinking nothing has been reviewed here but I once reviewed Craig playing two songs at a Barnes and Nobles. So there.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Sonic Parthenon Playlist: Autumn 2009, Vol. II

Magnolia Electric Co. - "Little Sad Eyes"
The deftly sedate Indie band conjures up a little Jazz in their melancholic love story.

The Maldives - "Blood Relations"
An epic song from the love children of Neil Young and Levon Helm. Every modern country act should sit down and listen to this and find out everything they are doing wrong. Then go to Rodney Crowell for some help. Then bring these guys on a tour and rock the worlds of every Nashville-loving cowpoke yon South and West. No man worth his salt would turn his nose up at this song.

Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles - "Special Party Time for Everybody"
The cutesy title is misleading - this is a dense, well-played country-pop song.

Monsters of Folk - "Say Please"
This year's supergroup of supergroups, it is just more evidence of the primacy of M. Ward, the improvement of Conor Oberst, the occasional flash of brilliance from Jim James (excuse me, Yim Yames) and the whatever from that Mike Mogis guy.

Lookbook - "The Only Ones" and Neon Indian - "Terminally Chill"
A pair of ultra-dance songs: Lookbook are pure 80's revival and have fun doing it. Neon Indian is a totally typical trendy hipster act but if I had heard this song earlier in the year, I'd have had a summer dance hit. This year's Justice/Junior Senior.

Pearl Jam - "The Fixer"
Pearl Jam's gone happy! Pearl Jam's gone happy! The band was always melodic but they never got over their grunge-era grumpiness. Then Eddie and the boys shed their recording contract and suddenly pop isn't such a bad thing in rock. "The Fixer" is a shockingly fun Pearl Jam song. Repeat: This PEARL JAM SONG IS FUN. The only thing more shocking than this song's existence is the news that the band closed out the Philadelphia Spectrum on Halloween by donning up as Devo and doing "Whip It". Yes I am still talking about Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam. To quote my co-worker on all things..."What the hell is going on?!"

The Raveonettes
After a good set at the Siren Festival, the Raveonettes backed it up with two great songs from their new, back-to-pop, record called In and Out of Control: "Suicide" and "Last Dance"

Rodrigo Y Gabriela - "Hanuhuman"
The best damn Dublin-based Mexican mixed sex former metal acoustic duo in the world have asserted themselves as an act that won't change its sound. They don't have to.

Sea Wolf - "Wicked Blood"
Plain, straight-up, clearly identified Indie rock can be dull but every now and then a band that is grouped in this category breaks the mold. Sea Wolf does that with this striking song that has not left my playlist despite the fact that I never give the band much else thought.

The xx
The badly named xx are a very buzzed, very fast rising pop band ala the Airborne Toxic Event but with backing-tracks everywhere and almost no rocking intensity on their debut LP. This is not a negative however as they are so clearly inspired by the Velvelt Underground and the Jesus and Mary Chain in all the right ways. So now you're thinking distortion. Nope, no distortion. But the pop sensibilities. Mixed with a sense of sleek. Great walking-around-the-city-at-night music - maybe the best since the National's Boxer. And one of the rare completely good full-length albums of 2009.

Honorable mentions:
The Avett Brothers - "I and Love and You"
Forro in the Dark - "Perro Loco"
The Fucking Eagles - "Gentlemen's Blues"
Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks: "The Blues My Naughty Baby Gave to Me"
Islands - "Shining"
Soulsavers - "Pharoh's Chariot"
Yo La Tengo - "Periodically Double or Triple"

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The Sonic Parthenon Playlist: Autumn 2009, Vol. I

Getting on to the end of the year and the decade, it's almost time to do some recapping and some BIG recapping at that. In the meantime, here is what's been on the Ipod and the stereo these last couple of months. Indicative of the year and the trends in general, it is almost entirely based on singles, most of which I discovered throught the Internet:

The Blakes - "So Easy"; Surfer Blood - "Swim to Reach the End"; Tutankamon - "Are You Sure?"
A trio of anthems to sing along to. The first of these is by a band that broke up during CMJ. The second is by a band that played a lot during CMJ (see my review); and the third is from a Swedish supergroup.

Blitzen Trapper - "Black River Killer"
I'm only hearing this one lately but Blitzen Trapper is a band that I never go crazy about except that I should!

Company of Thieves - "Oscar Wilde"
The Chicago Indie pop scene has faded from the New York concert calendar, but the airwaves have been filled with the sounds of Company of Thieves to 101.9. One of the best songs of the year.

Fruit Bats - "Ruminant Band"
It's a country jamboree. Like Blitzen Trapper!

Head Like A Kite - "Thrones of Glory"
Equal parts Indie-pop and anthem-rock, a perfect song to reflect the sounds of the year. All it's missing is a 80's-flavored backing-track.

The Heavy
The House That Dirt Built, the Heavy's new LP, has their most memorable songs to date, especially considering one of them samples Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You". But that does lead to the question: "Why does a retro soul band feel the need to sample anything?"

Hockey - "Too Fake"
More of that almost too-perfect dance-rock that all the kids love these days. Positives or negatives aside, this song is a keeper. Was number one on the weekly Top 25 countdown on the Ipod for 2 or 3 weeks.

Joshua James - "In The Middle"
Good, substantive folk-pop. Grab a girl. Well don't grab. But get one. And get serious.

Lucero - "The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo"
I wasn't exactly wowed by the highly buzzed and particular scene-focused Lucero at the Big Apple BBQ in June but I definitely didn't dislike it either. They have more than made up for whatever lacking I found with this fun throwback that recalls the Social Distortion and the Blasters songs that so inspire Ben Nichols.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Athlete; The Postelles @ Bowery Ballroom

Athlete; The Postelles
@ Bowery Ballroom
New York, NY - November 3, 2009

A lot of bands that sound like Athlete - the Travis', the Snow Patrols, the BellX1's, - have one or two (three if they're lucky) killer songs and a whole lot of mediocrity. Athlete on the other hand have a steady stream of consistently solid tuneage. In the spirit of the season (fitting for a band from across the pond really): they bang out a homer or two like the all-stars mentioned but then they back it up with a barrage of doubles and singles. No strikeouts. The reggae twist to some of the songs gives them something to stand out with. Affable blokes too, that helps.

The Postelles are a hard working local band that sound like the Strokes. That's it. They sound like the Strokes. They don't sound like the legendary original bands that inspired the Strokes. They don't sound like the other bands since the Strokes who sound like the Strokes. They sound like the Strokes. Well...there is more of a concentration on 50's and 60's sh-bop rock but still, for the love of pete - they sound like the Strokes. They are clearly a band of professional music students intending to make records made up entirely of hit singles and this will work just fine. Yes, yes it will.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

The King Khan & BBQ Show @ Bowery Ballroom

The King Khan & BBQ Show
@ Bowery Ballroom
New York, NY - October 30, 2009

Since I last saw this act, Khan took off to the heavens as a hipster darling with his same-intention, differently-packaged Shrines and BBQ hitchhiked-along as something of an after-thought (except up in central-eastern Canada in the garage scene there). The end result was the duo that once played New York-area places that couldn't hold more than a few dozen people now headline the Bowery Ballroom. They even have their own little background design these days, showing off how far they've come. But have no fear, it's the same old King Khan & BBQ Show. Khan has the guitar chops and Mark has The Voice. Not the voice. But The Voice. It's a voice so powerful he can do whatever he wants with it. Choosing to stick to his guns isn't a bad one. The material off of the first record is still the only really good stuff this duo has ever produced (and about half of that record were already solo-Sultan recordings previously) but with 3 albums and a moment in the sun under their belts, the King Khan & BBQ Show may - may - be here to stay and that's a good thing.

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