Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Decade in Music, Part 4: Sonic Parthenon (2007-2009)

Well early into 2007, the personal upheavals foreshadowed in 2006 came to ahead. And so it was the ripe kind of time for another musical revolution. Enter the Hold Steady. In what has proven to be the last great band craze for me this decade, Craig Finn and the boys absolutely tore it up. On the strength of two perfect albums – Boys and Girls in America and the prior Separation Sunday – the Hold Steady brought back the bar band classic rock that my Springsteen days were about and delivered on the promise made by preceding-Minneapolis-based rockers the Replacments in the vein of “Bastards of Young”. And in eventually bringing it all together – from 2004’s Almost Killed Me to 2008’s Stay Positive, the Hold Steady time and again became my go-to source for emotional clarity, salvation, and resort. They joined the White Stripes and the Dirtbombs as the bands who made the most impact on me. And either by a lack of a new craze in 2009 or by their own merits, the Hold Steady’s hold on me has been the longest lasting of any band yet. That doesn’t make them The Best. But it certainly gives me pause to think they could be.

The Hold Steady weren’t alone though. Fellow Brooklyn immigrants the National (originally from Cincinnati) continued their ascension in 2007, soon to be armed with Boxer, another record of essential perfection. And in the triumph of the lush, broad music that started to perk up my ears in 2005, Camera Obscura’s Let’s Get Out of This Country found its way (again thanks to those increasingly prevalent music podcasts from public radio, this time in the form of live performance, as opposed to an mp3 of the day). The Glasgow sweethearts proved to be the most touching band around since Blanche. But wait! There’s more! Like Coldplay in 2003, I got into Arcade Fire 3 years late. How “Rebellion (Lies)” didn’t hit me when I first heard it in 2004 (thanks to Christina), I don’t know. But Arcade Fire was always there. And they were back just in time for their follow-up to Funeral, the somewhat lackluster Neon Bible. Oh well. The Stage Names by Okkervil River, namely the single “Our Life is Not Like a Movie but Maybe”, became one of the most oft-played songs on the Ipod. Metric rivaled the Dirtbombs in the intensity of live show performances, allowing for that band to elevate its consistently growing impact. It also appeared, however briefly, that – in terms of happening Midwest metropolitan scenes (a trend that seems to happen every few years), - the Chicago pop scene arrived through the Changes, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, and the 1900’s. But that didn’t hold, and once again, as reliable as Old Faithful, New York was there. Action Painters, Looker, the Orion Experience, Les Sans Culottes, Wormburner, My Teenage Stride, NYC Smoke, and the XYZ Affair were the bands that made New York as exciting as the Strokes, Mooney Suzuki, Walkmen, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs made it right before them, and the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Sonic Youth made it well before those bands came along. And not to be outdone by itself, New York found a way again as the decade came to a close, through twin scenes – a trendy but often substantive hip scene featuring Dirty Projectors, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, Chairlift, and MGMT and a vibrant Indie-folk-pop scene made up by the likes of Shwa Losben, Bryan Dunn, Andy Mac, Christ Cubeta and Alec Gross.

This great shift required a moment to mark it. It came on this little ol’ blog. After doing it for a couple of years as a politically heavy thing that would occasionally look at music as a breather, I turned the blog into a musically minded force called Sonic Parthenon. The revamped blog first operated as a major attempt at being a scenester rag. But eventually became a simple recap of the many live shows I attended (I saw a personal best 75 in 2007) and summaries of whatever was playing on the Ipod. Even in that mode, the shift from what used to be “my thing” – both in music and certainly out of music – was clear.

As 2007 gave way to 2008 and 2009, my taste in music seemed to be the most consistent and most disparate at the same time. I exhausted my interest in the blues by then (a series of new blues podcasts fulfilled my need for a good long while before I finally felt it was enough). I was essentially done with garage rock as a mass sound (I stopped listening to Little Steven, and I only briefly listened to a series of garage rock podcasts). The concept of the album was also essentially finished for me. The rise of the Internet finally killed off the tendency to take in whole records and therefore filler. Individual tracks ruled the roost, acquired either by word of mouth, mp3 podcasts from radio stations like KCRW, KEXP, and the Current in Minneapolis, or hipster blog postings from the Deli, Brooklyn Vegan, and Stereogum. From “Rise Up with Fists!!!” by Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins (it took 2 years for me to finally hear Rabbit Fur Coat and the follow-ups), to “American Names” by Sebastian Grainger & The Mountains, to “Nowheres Nigh” by Parts & Labor to “Ready Steady” by the Sugarettes, to “The Runout” by Maps of Norway to “No Direction” by Longwave to “We’d Be Good Together” by Evan Voytas to “Saints” by Army Navy to “Family Relations” by the Maldives “Collide” by Elks to “The Walls Are Coming Down” by Fanfarlo to ”Kaleidoscope” by Katie Costello, to “Wish You Well” by Katie Herzig, to “Bitter Heart” by Zee Avi, an endless number of tracks, my entire view of music changed maybe for good and all. To this day, I have no idea how many, if any, of these artists had whole albums to back up the singles with.

Not that there weren’t whole albums or other artists to take in. The Hold Steady, the National, and Camera Obscura were joined by Nick Cave, the Airborne Toxic Event, Heavy Trash, Hot Chip, Ra Ra Riot, Murder by Death, Langhorne Slim, Gogol Bordello, Jack Penate, VHS or Beta, Vampire Weekend, Ting Tings, Laura Gibson, Great Northern, Clare & the Reasons, Basia Bulat, the Gaslight Anthem, Feist, Carina Round, the Duke Spirit, Ladyhawke, Modest Mouse, St. Vincent, DeVotchKa, Handsome Furs, Joan as Police Woman, and Band of Horses. There was the return of the White Stripes in June 2007 with Icky Thump. On the day of the album’s release, the band played their greatest gig ever at Irving Plaza. A month later they played a decent set at Madison Square Garden, though they were upstaged by two things: the shock of seeing them headline such a venue, and by their opening act, Nick Cave, who took the form of Grinderman, a project whose self-titled album also somewhat upstaged Icky Thump.

The sensitive side wasn’t to be outdone. Justin Vernon, known as Bon Iver, released For Emma, Forever Ago and became the new force in his field. He joined the ranks of M. Ward and other singer-songwriters like Sam Beam AKA Iron & Wine, and he recalled the brief appearance of Damien Rice in 2004. Indeed, this stream of good folk-pop went back to the early and middle part of the decade. The Garden State soundtrack, the Postal Service, “Orange Sky” by Alexi Murdoch, and joined later by the likes of Bon Iver and Bright Eyes’ “Four Winds” etched themselves in but good. M. Ward even managed to saddle alongside himself when he teamed with Zooey Deschanel for She & Him. If that wasn’t enough, these sonsabitches got me into Nick Drake (but they didn’t get me into Nick Lowe, that one was Costello’s fault. No one gets the blame for Ian Dury ((except maybe John of all people)) and Wreckless Eric since there isn’t any blame to bandy about).

My musical education of the past was shrinking during these last few years of the decade but it wasn’t without major chapters: Tom Waits, Pixies, Otis Redding, and finally, at long last, the great canon of Jazz – Billie, Bessie, Miles, Coltrane, the Bean, Monk, Mingus, Sonny, the Count, the Duke, and Benny Goodman.

In shocking developments, commercial radio and the album each made one last lunge for relevance. For the radio, this occurred at least in New York. 101.9 became WRXP, an all-encompassing rock station that taught me “Alex Chilton” by the Replacements, “True Faith” by New Order (who I first learned of mostly in part to 24 Hour Party People a few years back, and by that avenue, I also learned of Joy Division). “I Got You” by Split Enz, “Never Say Never” by Romeo Void, “In The Meantime” by Spacehog (to be fair, I first liked that song thanks to my then-girlfriend I met from the White Stripes’ board) and the station was responsible for that second Lou Reed revival with the playing of “I Love You Suzanne” and “Dirty Blvd.”. The station even finally got me to warm up to Wings in the form of “Jet”. In the album world, Metric owned the title of Last Great Album of the Decade with 2009’s Fantasies. Camera Obscura did it again with My Maudlin Career, Dinosaur Jr. finally fully entered my consciousness with Farm (despite putting out what could arguably be the decade’s single best straight-up rock single in the form of 2007’s “Been There All The Time”) and bands like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and the XX put out whole LP’s of strong material (the Pains were at the forefront of yet another New York hipster scene, this time in the realm of distorted pop-garage).


With the decade at an end, I take all the music in and sit back in awe. For every band I mentioned in this story, I left out dozens if not hundreds of others. I don’t regret any of it. Not one lick. Not one chord. Not one note. Every life is full of regrets. If the music in one’s life is the music of No Regrets, then one’s life is something akin to whole.

In fact, the best way to conclude this piece is to just list off all the other artists and bands that meant something in the last ten years but couldn’t fit into the narrative of all the above, perhaps because they defy the narrative, but more likely because they just took part in the best damn cumulative decade of music in my life and that is all they needed to do:

The Rolling Stones (they don’t fit because they fit into all of it – in every period of this decade I found a Rolling Stones song or two or three to get into), the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and Revolver, the Who, Death (the band that existed for a few years in the ‘70’s treated as a new band in 2009), Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation”, Ben Harper, Dave Matthews Band, the Yarrows, the Cell’r Dweller’z, Hard Cider, Le Tigre, the BellRays, Moby, Beirut, Art Brut, the Caesars (“Jerk It Out”, remember that?), Wilco, Billy Bragg, the Gossip (for Christ sakes’ the Gossip), the Heartless Bastards, Gorbachov (“Beat Machine”!), the Reigning Sound, Jolie Holland, the International Noise Conspiracy, the Avatars, Bloc Party, Lucero, Ezra Furman, Frightened Rabbit, Sons and Daughters, the Long Blondes, \the Music, the Swell Season, Phoenix, Regina Spektor, the Rapture, the Hong Kong, Sahara Hotnights, Yo La Tengo, Georgie James, Holy Fuck, the Spaceshits, Les Sexareenos, KING KHAN AND THE SHRINES, James Hunter, Nathaniel Mayer, Old Crow Medicine Show, the Virgins, Editors, the Antlers, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Carbon/Silicon, Spoon, Stereophonics, the Romantics covering the Dirtbombs, Cat Power, Sam Roberts, Company of Thieves, the Stills, Head Like a Kite, Miss Alex White, Mr. David Viner, Knight School, the Von Bondies, Sea Wolf, Stars, the Submarines, Maritime, Mates of State, Mixtapes and Cellmates, the Notwist, Patrick Wolf, I Was a King, Ingrid Michaelson, Brazilian Girls, Chris Thomas King, Bat for Lashes, Be Your Own Pet, the Now Time Delegation, Franz Ferdinand, Headlights, Isobell Campbell and Mark Lanegan, Soundtrack of Our Lives, Southern Culture on the Skids, Rodrigo Y Gabriela, the Heavy, Illinois, Stephanie’s Id, Interpol, Oysterhead, the Cops, the Takeover UK, the Features, Bob Marley, Jack Johnson (holy crap I listened to his first two records for months and then just forgot about him), OK Go, CSS, the Woggles, Stellastarr, the Violets, White Rabbits, Outrageous Cherry, the Duchess and the Duke, the Okmoniks, She Wants Revenge, the Duchess and the Duke, Thin Lizzy, Paul Simon, Savoir Adore, Surfer Blood, Jesse Malin, Lissy Trullie, the Love Me Nots, SSM, Sarah Mclachlan’s one record this decade, Hobie, Ravens and Chimes, the Coral, Erica Cashman, Tullycraft, the Ditty Bops (my goodness, the Ditty Bops!), the Black Lips, the Blacks, the Black Hollies, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Forms, the Muldoons, the Ribeye Brothers, Tralala, Triple Hex, M.I.A., the Pipettes, the Dansettes, Amy Winehouse, all that stuff from Outkast, the stuff I got into by Prince,!!!, +/-, Fiery Furnaces, Islands, Jaguar Love, Josh Joplin Group, Passion Pit, Hercules and Love Affair, Ida Maria, Kaiser Chiefs, LCD Soundsystem. Les Savy Fav, Los Campesinos!, the Mars Volta, The Muslims/Soft Pack, Peter Bjorn and John, Suckers, the Teenagers, Yeasayer, Forro in the Dark, Bad Veins, Belle and Sebastien, Bound Stems, Broken West, Buck 65, Cold War Kids, Tokyo Police Club, the Harlem Shakes, Controller Controller, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, Imogen Heap, Fleet Foxes, Gomez, Sam Champion, Drug Rug, the 1990’s, Neon Indian, the Young Werewolves, the Misteriosos, the Blue Van, Daniel Johnston, Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton, O’Death, Hoots & Hellmouth, Amy Rigby, David Ford, BellX1, Vega4, Snow Patrol, the Killers, Bob Log III, the Postelles, Patrick Thomas, CATL, Cause Co-Motion!, I Seem to Be a Verb, Ghetto Ways, the Forty-Fives, the Fleshtones, the Insomniacs, some of that band Radiohead, the Launderettes, the Lost Sounds, Titus Andronicus, the Ponys, Turpentine Brothers, the Tough and Lovely, the Volebeats, the 22-20’s, the Foxboro Hot Tubs, Green Day’s American Idiot record, Kylie Minogue, that cover of “Smooth Criminal” by Alien Ant Farm, Cake, a couple of tracks by that Eminem guy, Battles, Blonde Redhead, Celebration (an unforgettable concert), late appreciation of Pavement, Keren Ann, Land of Talk, Magnetic Fields, Magnolia Electric Company, My Morning Jacket, Pela, the Legends, Phantom Planet, School of Seven Bells, Pas/Cal, Asylum Street Spankers, Daniela Cotton, Dooley Wilson, Fat Vinny and the Wiseguys, Little Red Rooster, Marcia Ball, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Mavis Staples, Boogaloosa Prayer, Henry and June, Roomful of Blues, Shemeika Copeland, Diana Reeves, Sidney Bechet, Monsters of Folk, Old 97’s, Those Darlins, Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down, Laura Veirs, Laura Cantrell, Laura Marling, the Golden Republic, the Most Serene Republic, Republic Tigers, Tiger City, Steve Earle, the War on Drugs, Fruit Bats, Black Mountain, Blitzen Trapper, Tapes n Tapes, Bona Roba, the Dead Weather, De Novo Dahl, the Distillers, the Donnas, Joan Jett, Blondie, Free Energy, Honeyhoney, Johnny Lives, Wolfmother, the Coup, Joan Osbourne, Nicole Willis, Raphael Saadiq (and Tony! Toni! Tone! For that matter), Ray LaMontagne, the Saturday Knights, Vieux Farka Toure, Seun Keuti, Andrew W.K. the Apples in Stereo, Arctic Monkeys, Benji Ferree, the Muldoons, Cut Copy, Daft Punk, Funeral Party, the Go! Team, Lookbook, Junior Boys, Junior Senior, Justice, Late of the Pier, Little T & One Track Mike, Lordi, Louis XIV, Milky, Scissor Sisters, T.H. White, Walter Meego, We Are Scientists, the Zutons, the Dollyrots, Hockey, Amos Lee, Au Revoir Simone, Beck, the Bloodsugars, Brakes Brakes Brakes, Don Cavalli, Architecture in Helsinki, Dressy Bessy, Beaulah, Hatcham Social, Greycoats, Mark Mallman, One for the Team, the Redwood Plan, Tutankamon, the Veils, David Dondero, Devendra Banhart, Joshua James, Loretta Lucas, Kathleen Edwards, Marissa Nadler, the Missed Connections, Missy Higgins (who opened for Blanche one night and was on Conan O’Brien a year later), Turin Brakes, Free Blood, Bobby Bare Jr., Black Joe Lewis, Pork Tornado, Death Cab for Cutie, the Vexers, SJ Tucker, Thomas Function, Nellie McKay, Rachel Yamagata, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Ultra Orange & Emanuelle, the Bird and the Bee, Bishop Allen, Black Kids, the Brunettes, Emiliana Torrini, Generationals, Lykke Li, Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles, Lenka, the Postmarks, Rooney, Yael Naim, Acrylics…


The Decade in Music, Part 3: Our Band Became Your Life (2005-2006)

With their show at the Bowery Ballroom in July 2004, the Dirtbombs essentially joined the White Stripes, if not went ahead of them, at the top of the heap for my musical tastes. I had gone into the show being a little underwhelmed with the disparate number of mp3's I had picked up the summer before during a pre-home-Internet downloading rush at my friend Eddie’s house (The Dirtbombs material proved to be early singles, noisy stuff from Horndog Fest, and even some of the stuff from Ultraglide in Black if that can be believed – the best song to come of the session that day was “Bandages” by Hot Hot Heat…). But late in 2003, Little Steven played "Motor City Baby" and that kept me interested straight to the July show. By the end of that set (maybe aided slightly by an excessive amount of Wild Turkey but not aided much to be sure), I was enthralled. I scooped up the LP's proper and so it began. The next craze. This one took a more intimate bent, an intimacy that began with the White Stripes. Thanks to small but faithful followings aided and abetted by Internet communication, a network of friends popped up around the popular White Stripes and the lesser-known Stripes-related bands from Detroit. The two Detroit bands that most got my ear were the Dirtbombs and Blanche (in the case of the Dirtbombs, "Stripes-related" proved to be literal: Jack White' s nephew Ben is a drummer in the band). In a way, these two bands represented the two sides of the White Stripes. The Dirtbombs spoke to the duo's loud side (and a predecessor band belonging to Dirtbombs' leader Mick Collins - the Gories - were an influence on Jack White directly, and another Collins band, Blacktop, certainly should have been). Blanche - the band that opened the Stripes/Loretta Lynn gig that I didn't go to in 2003 - spoke to the Stripes' love of country, folk, and blues (and talk about direct influences on Jack White, Blanche's leader Dan Miller had two predecessor bands that Jack himself participated in - Goober & The Peas and Two-Star Tabernacle). The Dirtbombs had an assortment of records - LP's and singles - that were dominating my listening time, but Blanche's one album, If We Can't Trust The Doctors..., on its own merit, with little else to accompany it, made Blanche a major force in my musical life. How one band got so much concentrated traction out of one record I will never quite understand but I will never forget it. And in a way, I still kind of miss it.

My first CMJ Music Marathon - October of 2004 - may have been the pinnacle of my Detroit fandom. Blanche played a charity event for V2 records at Housing Works Used Books Cafe (opener Brendan Benson couldn't catch a flight out of Detroit) and were part of a major night of bands at the Mercury Lounge. The Paybacks headlined and the Sights were on the bill. The Cincinnatti-based Greenhornes - a band I first caught in Philadelphia as part of Mondo Topless' "freakout" shows and who opened for the Dirtbombs at that Bowery show, were there. Their bass player, Jack Lawrence, had just joined Blanche and would later team up with his fellow Greenhorne Patrick Keeler, no show Brendan Benson, and Jack White to form the Raconteurs. Also on this bill were a little duo from Boston called Mr. Airplane Man and from Sweden, the Shout Out Louds. When I think back to what may have been the "coolest" night for me as a scenester, this was it.
That scensterism took some odd twists and turns. Hanukah 2003, I caught a then-unknown Hasidic Reggae Rapper named Matisyahu play for his friends at Southpaw only because I was invited to this event by a friend who was then wrestling between being a scenester and a Lubavitch Jew (he chose the latter). Yet in all those years I never saw the Mooney Suzuki or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. My favorite band from Detroit to never tour, the Come Ons, remained elusive to me. As did other Detroit bands – the Nice Device, the Singles, the Elevations, Troy Gregory’s many projects, the Prime Ministers, Bantam Rooster, the Fondas, etc etc. But I would eventually get to meet, sometimes know and often love other bands from Detroit or related-scenes such as the Detroit Cobras, the Soledad Brothers, the Hard Lessons, Outrageous Cherry, and the Avatars. I saw the Gore Gore Girls twice (once opening for a little band known as the Cramps). And apparently every show I went to had a guy named Matt in the crowd, a guy who would become one of my best friends long after this scene had expired.
2005 was primarily the year of the Dirtbombs (and MySpace - I stared the MySpace page for the band on my birthday in June ‘05) and there was more from Blanche (still based on that one darn album). That White Stripes message board filled in the gaps as a social mechanism in terms of sharing musical interests, even as the White Stripes started to play second fiddle. And though a lot of bands received a little attention for a brief period of time on that board (from the Dresden Dolls to the Kills to No Bunny), the peak for that social experiment came in those months with the Dirtbombs and Blanche. And though it was done by no means on purpose, this all came to a seemingly deliberate head Thanksgiving weekend in 2005 in Cleveland of all places. Two bands with nothing in common other than a hometown 170 miles away and related personal connections - the Dirtbombs and Blanche played together. It made no sense really, but it was a treat for that little web-based community that came together around those two bands and the bigger band responsible for any of us even knowing the existence of these two acts.

One of the most important outcomes of that time on the White Stripes message board is my friendship with a Torontonian named Christina, whom I may as well have met in college or a nice working class but scene-enabling urban enclave, if college or said urban enclave was an internet messageboard. By combination of quantity and quality- in terms of bands I got into or individual singles I loved - Christina wins. One of those bands was the Decemberists. Another was the King Khan & BBQ Show. Another was M.O.T.O. Another was the pre-annoying Jay Reatard. There was also some fellow named Nick Cave. Individual tracks of immortality include: "True Patriot Love" by the Joel Plaskett Emergency, "Teenagehead" by Bonerack, "Oh My Bride" by the Deadly Snakes, "Maid of Sugar, Maid of Spice" by Mouse & The Traps, "Dead Fish on the Banks" by Goodnight Loving, "Don't Ring Me Up" by Protex, "Girlfren" by the Modern Lovers and "Too Much for Me" by the Yolks. If that wasn’t enough, she enabled my Ryan Adams fandom with b-sides and an extra like “Cannonball” and has shared a love of Neko Case with me.

There was more going on in the middle of the decade. The other bands from the Detroit scene faded from my consciousness as I discovered a more varied and universal concept of "Indie", chiefly in the form of the Decemberists and their record Picaresque. A little more typical and expected of what an Indie band can sound like (orchestral and lyrically dense, as opposed to all that simplified garage rock), the Decemberists were the first "beautiful sounding" band I got into this decade and another foreshadowing of things to come. In what proved to be something of a pre-emptive changing of the guard, one June night in 2005 saw the White Stripes play the second of two nights at Keyspan Park in Coney Island. Night one had featured that pesky Brendan Benson (to the man’s credit, he did put out some of the decade’s best pop songs – namely “Spill It Out” and “Cold Hands, Warm Heart”). And both nights featured the Shins, who at that time I found rather dull. But on night 2, I decided to go late, choosing instead to watch About Schmidt, and relishing the proximity of the gig to my home. By the time I got to the stadium, the opening act was on his last couple of songs. That act was M. Ward. Matt Ward would soon practically own the second half of the decade in the singer-songwriter department with his understated class and affection for old time rock n’ roll. I still have yet to forgive myself for missing the rump of the set.

2006 proved to be a year of transition. There was a tug from that Internet-based community to stay Detroit-focused even though things in general, and my own tastes included, were moving on. Even the Detroiters themselves were moving on. Jack White was in the process of hightailing it to Nashville and did so in part by starting up the Raconteurs, who put out the highly enjoyable Broken Boy Soldiers. And in the process of doing so, the man brought to a climax the period of my intimacy with his music and the music world fixated around him in general. Lines were crossed as musician and fan alike were confused by what the Internet had established as a band-fan relationship. That all sounds vague and sinister so let’s cut to the chase: that message board got too big for its own good and too close to its reason for existence (and the reason for existence got too close to the board). At some point, the personal affairs of the band, the related bands, and the fans concentrated on that site took prescience over the music for almost everyone involved. It got to where it didn’t even matter that there was music involved in the first place. By the end of 2006, there was almost no music left to discuss. And in a bitter twist, related personal matters in my life began to take a dark turn. But there was more going on and there was light at the end of the tunnel: 2006 as I heard it was the year of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and Josh Ritter’s The Animal Years. It was the year of Ryan’s semi-trifecta of Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights, and 29. It was the year I gave Metric a serious first listen after being blown away by “Monster Hospital”. And it was the year I appreciated TV on the Radio following the incredible arrival of “Wolf Like Me”. It was the year I developed affection (maybe an infection) for music podcasts that began to shape my music tastes anew. It was the year I first heard tracks from The National (“All The Wine” from Alligator became a major player). And towards the end of the year, I recall listening to NPR’s Fall preview podcast and hearing for the first time, the song “Stuck Between Stations” by a band called The Hold Steady.


The Decade in Music, Part 2: Everything That’s Old Is New Again (2002-2004)

2002 proved to be an emotional turning point in my personal life. By the end of the summer I was ripe for a musical picking. It seemed to be at the right moment that it all fell into my lap. I had caught wind of a transformation happening in the independent music scene. Mainstream rags like Rolling Stone - which were sitting at the desk at the college gym I worked at - were discussing new bands that were sounding out of the 60's and 70's (and later, the tasteful portions of the 80's). The Strokes and the Hives were at the head of this procession in the first wave. The Vines were too but I disliked them from the get-go and they never did it for me before they flamed out completely. Another of these new bands mentioned, in tandem with something John McCain's daughter said she liked (or something, I barely remember how I actually learned of them) were a "brother and sister" duo out of Detroit called The White Stripes. Not long after, I caught an animated Lego video by the eventual director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for the band's song "Fell In Love With A Girl". It wasn't even two minutes long but it was pretty persuasive. I caught a second video - for "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" and I was underwhelmed. Then one Fall day I was walking back to my apartment in Center City Philadelphia and "Dead Leaves" came on Y100, which I was listening to on my Discman. The song then struck me like a bullet. So began the mass absorption – the purchases of De Stijil and the self-titled first LP. (though White Blood Cells remained the only album I did not properly purchase for a couple of years), the downloads of the hard-to-get singles (at the time of the initial downloadings, I had no idea new bands were even putting out 45's - I assumed they were bootlegs being picked up on the Internet). By April of 2003, it was lights out on just about everything else. The White Stripes were my musical everything. The anticipation for Elephant was obscene. I made buying it at Tower Records the event of the year. I even managed to sucker Ed into joining me for it and the subsequent inaugural playing. That week on Conan O'Brien was out of control. I was so desperate to get to a show at the Hammerstein Ballroom (not caring one bit that country legend and future Jack White collaborator Loretta Lynn was on the bill and completely oblivious to some band called Blanche opening the show), I even joined an Internet message board in hopes of finding some tickets (I didn't get the tickets but I got stuck on that board for five long years). By the time I finally saw the Stripes live in November of 2003, it was beyond normal. Well not quite beyond. I wasn’t exactly walking around in red, black, and white everyday. But I may as well have been.

Everything else dwarfed in comparison to the White Stripes - a phenomenon which I rationalized this way: "Before the Stripes, I arguably liked Bob Dylan and AC/DC the most. Well what are the White Stripes but the perfect combination of Bob Dylan and AC/DC?" And that was to say nothing of Jack and Meg directly covering Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, and Dolly Parton. But even with those facts, I had begun the biggest absorption of music in my life. In addition to the Stripes, Strokes, and Hives, I got into retro-sounding bands such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Mooney Suzuki, the Raveonettes, the Sounds, and the Black Keys (and the Kings of Leon too, back when they were a garage band). With a couple of exceptions like the Keys from Akron and the Libertines from London (who I never really dug save for "Vertigo"), I basically declared this Garage Scene to exist out of a trio of places: New York, Detroit, and Scandanavia. And so also began my musical pontificating, in which I thought I would give back to my friends what they had given to me. But they were having almost none of it. I was going to be all on my own for a while in this regard. Perhaps I deserved it. I predicted that Electric Six - a Jack White-associated band from Detroit that scored a number 1 in England with the man's collaboration ("Danger! High Voltage!") were going to represent a new sound in music - DISCO-METAL. I was wrong about that (though damned if Dick Valentine and his various line-ups of five other guys didn't stick around in their own way).

I wasn't limiting myself to just these new bands however. As 2002 gave way to 2003, Norah Jones had come onto the scene. Norah had Indie-flare but mainstream presence. Her triumph at the Grammys were the first bit of credibility that awards show had maybe...ever? Come Away With Me, rightly the last proper selling album in traditional music buying history, is forever a classic. And right through her recent release, The Fall, Norah has released a significant number of excellent songs that deserve nothing but praise. She was and is sort of an amalgam of everything right with music - blues, folk, and country - in all their purest forms. And she was and is sincere. And humble. Her popularity was inexplicable considering the trends of the decade (which began with boy bands/slutty pop songstresses and ended with an endless number of shallow melisma-heavy singers backed by often weak-voiced rappers). But that inexplicable success was also a welcome respite. And she branched out with side projects like the Little Willies an El Madmo. And I already told you about what happened at that concert in June ’03.

Ryan Adams made an attempt to break through to the mainstream after 90’s Indie cred stamping with Whiskeytown (incidentally, at the time I got into his solo work, I also briefly got into the solo work of his former Whiskeytown cohort Caitln Cary). While Ryan’s mainstream success may have peaked low with his “New York, New York” adopted as a 9/11 recovery song, his success in my musical listening began a steady climb in those discoveries of Heartbreaker and Gold. By the end of 2003, I had his solo work up to date (a process not made easy by his endless output, yet I’ve managed to hold up through the decade). Very quietly, and very stealthily, Ryan Adams became my favorite singer who I never went on about to anyone. I just listened. Straight through to the Cardinals and apparently whatever comes next. All very funny considering what an egomaniac the man is (and Ryan is one too).

Heartbreaker featured a collaboration with Gillian Welch. Gillian Welch was featured on the soundtrack to Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, and with that she endeared herself forever. Her own proper records all proved to be solid affairs, culminating in the supremely excellent Soul Journey, which her tour in support of led to that very same June 2003 concert with Norah Jones. She then stopped making records. The decade has come to an end some seven years after her last LP. Every year that goes by without another Gillian Welch record is a crime.

Coldplay came into the picture late for me. Some 3 years after it was a hit, “Yellow” was all over my mp3 playlists. When A Rush of Blood to the Head came out soon after, I was a full-fledged fan though my interest would ebb and flow with each subsequent record.

I had not lost my knack for picking up older music either. By the time I was headed back to New York in the summer of 2003, I had become a nut for the Ramones, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello (who did it anew at least three times this decade and delivered live and on TV), and Johnny Cash (who said goodbye with the song you’ll play to your children for the rest of your lives – his cover of “Hurt”). Thanks in part to the retro-sounding bands, and Little Steven's Underground Garage, but mostly to my devotion to finally making good on hearing all these sounds (with the ease of the Internet), I just picked up band after band and artist after artist. The Pogues, the Smiths, the New York Dolls, Social Distortion, the Jam, Reverend Horton Heat, John Hiatt, Warren Zevon, Van Morrison, Sleater-Kinney (who went out in fashion with The Woods and the amazing “Modern Girl”), Run DMC, even finally the Sex Pistols (after years of scorn). Take this expression: "Separate the Men from the Boys." The majority of this music is still much of the music I listen to today, as opposed to much of the classic rock I listened to at the beginning of the decade. Once finally back in New York, I took the time to properly get into native son Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground (though I only went through ANOTHER Lou phase in the last couple years), as well as David Bowie, Neil Young, Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols (those two bands didn’t really take) and an assortment of one hit wonders from Punk and New Wave (a friendship with a hardcore girl from Cleveland living in New York led to listening to some of the single greatest songs ever made, namely "Situations" by the classic Slaughter & The Dogs and the later "Better Him Than Me" by the no-hit wonder Gang of Four).

In a juxtaposition of every direction I was going, the last older band I actively got into was the Los Angeles punk/new wave/plain ol rock n roll band X. A Spring 2003 write-up of an X anthology in Rolling Stone got me interested (I can't believe how often that magazine how sprouted up in this rememberance of things from THIS decade, it just doesn't seem right). A pick-up of the records and a live show in June of that record culminated in a mass insanity that went alongside the one going for the White Stripes and their colleagues. With the Ramones gone (at that point, Joey and Dee Dee had passed with Johnny to follow in the following year or so), and Talking Heads not getting back together anytime soon, it fell to X to carry the fire. And they did. And they still do including in the form of the Knitters, their country alter-egos and as solo artists (Exene with Original Sinners and John Doe as a solo country artist, whose 2004 with Grant Lee Phillips exposed me to that man’s body of work, including the then-recent Virginia Creeper LP). (Funny sidenote: that June 2003 show in Philadelphia featured a non-scene band from Detroit called the Fags and a local band called Stiffed whose lead singer was Santi White - as in Santigold. How about that?) And if that wasn’t enough, the X/Knitters program resulted in an education in the Blasters. So there.

By the end of 2003, the retro revival was in full gear. Little Steven's radio show ushered in a period of garage rock madness (see “Rock n Roll Babe” by the Cocktail Slippers, “Wolf n the Lamb” by Hawaii Mud Bombers, “Walking With a Ghost” by Tegan and Sara, “Rockin’ America” the Catholic Girls, “I Am Your Radio” by the Boss Martians, “Hero of 1983” by Peachfuzz, and “The Kids Just Want to Dance” by Manda & the Marbles,). Garage rock, and particularly the Detroit scene at that time, became my chief wellspring of music. AC/DC-copy cats Jet are now something of a sham. The Star Spangles had an impressive debut LP (if I was ever one to be in such standing as to call things "impressive") but quickly fizzled (I remember their career was supposed to be built on bashing the Strokes in Rolling Stone – there’s that mag again!). And though we all knew they were going to be good for one novelty record, the hair-metal throwbacks known as the Darkness left such a mark with Permission to Land, that I include it on my best-of-decade lists. Chew on that for a bit.

I developed a taste for the rock club scene before leaving college. Electric Six came to Philadelphia and played the Balcony, which was actually the attic to the Trocadero. That same venue was used twice for "Philly Freakout" shows curated by local garage purists Mondo Topless, a band introduced to me by a friend, Mike, who I knew through Ed. Though Ed had been the chief character for vintage rock with distinct looks and style, this had all proven to be too much (or maybe not enough) for him, which I found kind of funny. Also funny – Mike was a vintage rock enthusiast who was the first person I knew to possess an Ipod but I don’t think owned any vinyl. Mondo Topless incidentally became one of my favorite bands, a local twist on this major musical shift change.

Technologically speaking, I had become familiar with the Ipod but was still a year away from buying one. I was reliant on downloading and burning mp3’s onto CD’s (and those CD’s led to mixtapes for my back-up tape player, mixtapes for blues, the Detroit scene, and yes, Irish-based rock). I spent a good deal of 2002-2004 using downloading to catch-up on just about every neglected genre. From “Rocket 88” by Jackie Breston and the Del-Cats to the entire discography of the Flaming Lips (who I saw in April of 2003, kicking off a period of major love for that band), from Captain Beefheart’s “Diddy Wah Diddy” to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, from the Circle Jerks to Michelle Shocked, from Iris DeMint’s “Our Town” to Slayer’s Seasons of the Abyss, from Pachelbel’s Canon in D to Dwight Yoakam’s “Fast as You”, from the Jesus and Mary Chain to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, from “867-5309” by Tommy Tutone and “Freeway of Love” by Aretha Franklin to Perry Como and Etta James, from Hank Williams the First to Hank Williams III, downloading was the best drug anyone could have ever taken (and a true vice, if you think it so).

Additionally, hits seemed to be coming from every which way, also facilitated by easy downloading. The Roots put out “The Seed 2.0” and as mentioned briefly before, Cheap Trick, of all bands, put out “Scent of a Woman”. The last of the popular rock bands got their say this way: Stone Temple Pilots’ last gasp – “Days of the Week”, Jane’s Addiction’s curtain call – “Just Because”, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “By The Way”, the entire first Audioslave record which included “I am the Highway” (a song that deserves to be on anyone’s playlist of the decade). This trend continued towards the end of the decade – Morrissey’s “First of the Gang to Die”, REM’s “Supernatural Super Serious”, all of U2’s No Line on the Horizon, and Pearl Jam’s “The Fixer”.

By the end of 2004, I had my Ipod – which should have been called the Digital Transference AudioSonic Device. And nothing has been the same since. All that grand larceny from the tubes of the Internet came to rest in the physical body of an Ipod. The discman was dead. The tape player was dead. The radio was on its fairly last legs. A revolution indeed.

2003 and 2004 saw the beginning of my New York scene hopping. As evidenced by the trend happening towards the end of my time in Philadelphia, my concerts were getting smaller. Not many more arenas featuring U2 or AC/DC. It was the Sounds at Luxx (now the Trash Bar). It was Holly Golightly and Ko & The Knockouts at Southpaw. It was the Star Spangles, Hank III, Scott Biram, and Eagles of Death Metal (when they were good) at CBGB's. It was Sleater-Kinney and the Thermals at Irving Plaza. It was the Bamboo Kids everywhere. It was Sit n Spin, the’s, And it was the Dirtbombs at the Bowery Ballroom.


The Decade in Music, Part 1: Let There Be Rock (2000-2001)

It's been a decade in which I have gone back and forth over what to write and how to write it. Reflective of my personality at a given time, I wrote about music (or politics, or society, or anything for that matter) with an air of definitive, universal authority or with an exclusively personal perspective. It would be complete with absolutist hyperbole of the highest order or a mere observational series of notes. As the decade has come to a close, I still don't know what skin I am most comfortable writing in - I am torn with doubt over even writing any of this in first person voice. It appears however that a personal perspective is winning the day, though let it be said that my opinion-as-god voice may come roaring back at any given time (including in this very piece) so Pitchfork better watch its back if it knows what is good for it.

Part 1: Let There Be Rock, 2000-2001

When the 21st Century dawned, I was in the middle of my freshman year of college and the middle of my Classic Rock Period, a labeling indicative of the radio-reliant source of the music I was listening to. Q104 in New York and 102.9 and 93.3 in Philadelphia were my main source for an education in late 60's, 70's, and early 80's rock music. My high school friends had been the enablers for my Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin addictions - perhaps all inevitable and all necessary for any listener worth their salt - but the radio had me buying the definitive records of Boston, the Steve Miller Band, Santana, Tom Petty, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton and the like as well. There were also some foreshadowings of things to come, namely in the form of Warren Zevon, who I then only thought of as "The 'Werewolves of London' Guy who helped out on Letterman".

Then a couple of things happened. First, my freshman year of college happened to be the year Napster came into the public conciousness. So began the great revolution in the acquiring of music, a development that magnified my ability to absorb new (and old) music by exponential proportions. Second, my freshman year of college was the year I met John, Jack, and Ed, three fellas who had very similar and yet very different tastes in music and each went down different paths, all contributing to my own musical mess. John, the Classic Rock Classicist, taught me Jethro Tull and Blue Oyster Cult and the album tracks on the Jimi Hendrix records that you never hear on the radio. And more so than my Phish-following roommate at the time, John made me appreciate that band's immense studio ability. Besides Phish, the only band post-70’s that John eventually championed was Ween. On their own merits, Ween became a real force – both as back catalog catch-up and a new-sounds band. White Pepper came out in 2000, and while every critic still drools over Radiohead’s Kid A, I’m with Ween, who backed it up later with Quebec and La Cucaracha. Jack, meanwhile, taught me all the various sounds he was trying - from Miles Davis to Dreamtheatre to Pantera to Frank Zappa to the Ramones and the Clash. At the same time, he and I fell back on our old reliables from childhood - Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen - though the decade proved to be more kind to the Boss than the Piano Man as Springsteen's back catalog (and chunks of his material this decade) got me hooked over and over again, culminating in finally seeing the man live towards the end of 2009 (something Jack also experienced). And then there was Ed, who was perhaps the least likely Motley Crue fanatic in the world. What that led to was a musical journey that seemed at first to dwell on some of the cheesiest but most fun periods in rock but soon gave way to some of the most intense and exciting periods in music period. We went from Def Leppard and Poison (and Ratt and Whitesnake...shudders) to Sweet, Living Colour, Faith No More, the Stooges, and the MC5. And by the time it had all peaked, it turned out that Motley Crue wasn't a joke - Too Fast For Love certainly proved that. And don't get me started on my love for Billy Idol. But I can probably do without hearing "Pour Some Sugar On Me" ever again. Not because it was playing during my first rejection by a girl so much as because Ed played it 15 times in a row.

Concurrent with these streams of music, I expanded my interest in the blues. CD compilations and the mp3 explosion ushered in a period of heavy listening to Delta folk blues, Chicago electric blues, and later blues-soul renderings. Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, BB King, and Stevie Ray Vaughn were my early interests. They were later joined by Blind Willie Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

So it made sense when my love for classic rock and blues - and a slight burgeoning interest in harder forms of rock - came together in the form of AC/DC. By no means deep or even thoughtful but also by no means hackneyed or insincere - AC/DC may be the silliest band to ever earn so much deserved respect. It is easy when trying to adopt the aura of a young learned intellectual to try and find resonance in anything but that all went out the window for me when I got into AC/DC. By the very nature of their well-tuned repetitiveness, I got into all the Bon Scott albums with equal aplomb and would have felt the same about the Brian Johnson records if they hadn't been poorly produced starting in the mid-80's. Memories I will carry forever include: going apeshit to Back in Black the first time in Ed's dorm room, thinking listening to AC/DC Live would help me go to sleep one summer night, and having my jokey "request" for Norah Jones to play an AC/DC song at a concert on my birthday in June 2003 ridiculously answered when she played "Ride On". Oh yeah and seeing the actual band live in 2001 when they went on tour in support of Stiff Upper Lip, that sort of mattered too.

Contemporary music was not very hot for me during this period. The aforementioned Kenny Wayne Shepherd was as close to a new sounding artist as I was regularly listening to in 2000 and 2001. Seeing him live in 2001 led to listening regularly to his opening act from that show, Mark Selby. Buckcherry's "Lit Up" was one of the few current rock songs I played regularly and that was well before they opened for AC/DC at the show I went to. I probably would never willingly listen to that song or that band ever again mind you. There were occasional songs by Rage Against the Machine ("Sleep Now in the Fire") and some dopey one-offs like that Vertical Horizon song that I listened to. But nothing new stuck. Kid Rock didn't count. Kid Rock never counts (except when I listened to "Only God Knows Why"). Then one random night in the sophomore year dorm room, John and I caught an appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien by Flogging Molly. Flogging Molly - despite being lobbed in with emo-ish Warped tour bands and bad suburban-based neo-punk - were the first salvo in a musical counter-revolution. New, well-crafted, earnest bands that harked back to just about anything and everything. Flogging Molly cornered the market on Celtic sounds. I would say their biggest legacy was my eventual discovery of the Pogues but that would do this band a disservice. Swagger, Drunken Lullabies, and Within a Mile From Home are three achievements the vast majority of non-Celtic sounding bands could never equal. And with the grand exception of "Shipping Up To Boston", Dropkick Murphys could never hold a candle to Dave King and company. In a sort of funny tie-in, Dave King earned his chops not in a Chieftains-type outfit but in Fastway, an 80's hair-metal band that had the very decent single "Say You Will".

By the end of 2001, classic rock and its related arena-size ilk were still my dominant cup of tea, concurrent with old blues though there may have already been signs of things afoot (by the end of the year I was aware of a bloke named Ryan Adams). After September 11th, I took refuge in a live Aerosmith concert - a band who had stopped exciting me but whose pervasive sound proved inescapable when you were trying to learn your way musically (I remember they were upstaged live and on record in 2003 by Cheap Trick whose “Scent of a Woman” remains one of my favorites of this decade). I saw U2 in November 2001 - an emotional experience that ran the gamut from utter excitement (Bono singled me out and penalty-kicked a cup at me) to heartfelt sadness. U2 is a band that I can almost get caught up in the backlash against, but for nearly a decade running now I can stop and pause for "Where the Streest Have No Name" and "All I Want Is You". Select songs from All That You Can't Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb did them favors. And by sheer force of "Ultra Violet (Light My Way)", I finally just decided to give Achtung Baby a complete listen. Between their ability to emotionally be there for the USA at its lowest (9/11) and at its highest (Obama), and my friend Robyn's complete and utterly tasteful obsession, there will always be a spot at my table for U2.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bryan Dunn @ Rockwood Music Hall

Bryan Dunn
@ Rockwood Music Hall
New York, NY - December 30, 2009

After ten years and just about 500 shows, I was feeling in an obviously reflective and philosophical mood. The many sounds and scenes of various size and scope all felt very alive together in the waning days of this decade and what better place to think about it than at a place like the Rockwood Music Hall and with an artist like Bryan Dunn. Bryan's intimate song-writing has reminded me of classics like Springsteen and contemporaries like Ryan Adams. His love of country makes me think of Old Crow Medicine Show and Langhorne Slim. And his addiction to Prince's "Kiss" (and if you catch him on a quiet night, Cameo's "Word Up") reminded me of the soul and funk I picked up over the last ten years. It would be utterly ridiculous to put the weight of a decade's worth of music and music learning on one artist. It would be highly more fitting to simply take it in and say "This is what it has been all about".

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Friday, December 25, 2009

The Sonic Parthenon Decade in Music: The Festivus Special

Before the attempt to write something (or some things) on the Decade in Music, here is a special preview, first the song from this decade that is indeed the Best Christmas Song of the Decade:

The Raveonettes - "The Christmas Song"

And then two from prior decades that I picked up this block of ten years -

From the recent past, Goober & The Peas' "Tell The Lord What Santa's Done"

and, as used at the end of a Simpsons' Christmas episode, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys doing "Santa's On His Way"

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sonic Parthenon's The Year In Music 2009: Part 2 - The Concerts

The record for most gigs in a year (75 in 2007) is safe and looking safe for now but 2009 was not a slouch 365 rotations. There have been a host of memorable shows. Should any unexpected shows arise between now and 11:59:59 on 12/31, I'll retroactively tack it on here.

John Doe and Exene at MHOW

DeVotchKa; Clare & The Reasons @ Webster Hall

Illinois @ Fontana's

Pains of Being Pure at Heart; Cause Co-Motion! @ Mercury Lounge

The Duke Spirit @ MHOW

The Airborne Toxic Event @ Bowery Ballroom

The Ting Tings @ Terminal 5

Chris Cubeta; Bryan Dunn; Shwa Losben @ Mercury Lounge

Camera Obscura @ the Bell House and the Mercury Lounge

The Gaslight Anthem; Heartless Bastards @ Webster Hall

The Hold Steady @ Irving Plaza

Bishop Allen @ MHOW

Neko Case; Joan as Police Woman @ Nokia Theater

In Toronto: BBQ and the Box Elders @ Rancho Relaxo and Quintron & Miss Pussycat and CATL @ The Horseshoe Tavern


Action Painters; The Brunettes @ Mercury Lounge

The Hold Steady @ MHOW

Lucero; Howard Tate @ The Big Apple BBQ

Conor Oberst @ Battery Park (Yes I know I missed Jenny Lewis, stop reminding me!)

Heavy Trash @ Mercury Lounge (Yes I know I missed Those Darlins, stop reminding me!)

Pains of Being Pure at Heart @ South Street Seaport

Mission of Burma did a pool party

Siren Festival 2009: Raveonettes, Grand Duchy, Frightened Rabbit

Shwa @ Merc

M. Ward; Mike Watt and Nels Cline @ SummerStage - Matt put out Hold Time this year which was nice but sort of got lost in the shuffle in the records department.

Blondie; Pat Benatar @ Coney Island

Dinosaur Jr.; The Walkmen @ SummerStage

Alec Gross and Andy Mac @ The Living Room

In-between those two intimate shows, I caught the very not intimate U2 and Bruce Springsteen at Giants Stadium.

CMJ Marathon 2009: Clare & The Reasons @ Merc, I Was A King, Evan Voytas, and Free Energy @ Santos, Surfer Blood and Savoir Adore @ Brooklyn Bowl - Savoir Adore was only one of a couple bands I had never heard of before going into a gig in 2009 that I came out wanting a whole lot more.

KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN and BBQ (together) @ Bowery Ballroom

Athlete; The Postelles @ Bowery Ballroom - The Postelles were one of the few other heretofore unknown bands besides Savoir Adore that really caught my ear purely by live performance.

Longwave; The Grates @ Bowery Ballroom

I Seem to Be a Verb @ 92Y Tribeca

Pixies; Jay Reatard @ Hammerstein

Tim Blane; Patrick Thomas @ Rockwood

Fanfarlo; Freelance Whales @ Webster Hall

What kind of year was 2009? The band with arguably my favorite album of the year and who in the past has been one of my absolute favorite live acts - I didn't get to see them once in 2009. I am talking about Metric. They played once in the city - Terminal 5 in June, right after Fantasies came out. I chose not to go, figuring I would see them elsewhere before the year was over in a more hospitable environ than Terminal 5. Alas, no. Yep, it was that kind of year.

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Sonic Parthenon's The Year In Music 2009: Part 1 - The Playlists

We're doing it a little differently than the last couple of years due to time constraints as well as to prepare for the decade retrospective. That's when the feeble effort to make the words come out will happen. In the meantime, here's a two-parter for 2009. First, links to the Playlists - a little handy-dandy summary of the songs that were taking up the most time on the Ipod and the stereo:

Jan-Mar Part 1

Jan-Mar Part 2
(Additionally - this and this and this and this and this and this)




Summer Part 1

Summer Part 2

The Fall Part 1

The Fall Part 2


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Fanfarlo; Freelance Whales @ Webster Hall

Fanfarlo; Freelance Whales
@ Webster Hall
New York, NY - December 18, 2009

Fanfarlo is yet another of those ultra-fast rising bands that in a year's time rocket from playing little holes in the wall to packin' 'em in at a place like Webster Hall. The vast majority of those bands then seem to peak at the Webster Hall level. I have no reason to suspect anything else will happen to Fanfarlo but I'm rooting for them anyway. Led by Simon Balthazar - a Swede who looks like a cross between Tom Waits and Dan J. Miller of the old Blanche band and recently reunited GOOBER & THE PEAS - Fanfarlo are in the orchestral pop mode of things. They swoon like Camera Obscura but can thunder about like the Arcade Fire. They have an amalgamated retro look - from plaid and facial hair to a pixie waif to a prep nerd to Simon's bowtie and starched shirt. They were perfectly complimented by the similar sounding and equally inviting Freelance Whales.

If I could try and find a way to find a greater meaning in any of this, here it is: I started the gig year 2009 at Webster Hall seeing a band featuring an acrobatic act (DeVotchKa) and I presumably end the 2009 gig year with a band featuring an acrobatic act - apparently, Fanfarlo got their buzz from a video for their best song, "The Walls Are Coming Down". The video featured an escape artist - wrestling out of a straight jacket while dangling above. But I have never been bothered to see it since I am too inundated with information. So it was lost on me when they had a live escape artist do this thing while they opened the show with that amazing song. Everyone else in the crowd was loving it while I worried about the guy falling to his death and moaning in my head about such useless distractions. Of course everyone else in the crowd was also talking to each other rather than taking the show in. Yet they found time to crowd the space, and take millions of instant cell phone photos. And this is partly why there has been a relative decrease in show reviews on this blog. The fun has kind of gone out of it. And I am exhausted.

But have no fear - the spirit will never die. Not as long as there are bands like Fanfarlo around. On to another ten years of rock n' roll and whatever unknown chaos, drama, theatrics, hijinks, and maybe even fun there is yet to be had.

Oh here's that video:

Maybe I will finally watch it.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Sonic Parthenon Playlist: Rest of the Year 2009

The Antlers
I liked this band's music every time I heard it and then immediately did nothing about it. That's all changing right now. Let this band be the one to help usher in the new decade.

Cold Cave
The gears have finally turned to me now discounting the buzz on the hipster blogs rather than looking to them for more new sounds. So I snubbed this band. Then I finally gave them a shot just last week. Hey, this is good. And it's not like it's their fault there are too many beards and fake eyeglasses around.

Norah Jones - The Fall
The decade-review will attempt to do her more justice but every snob - Indie hipster or rock blues country folk purist alike - can suck a lemon. Before this slightly sonically different album, Norah put out three nearly-pitch perfect LP's. Her choice of singles have always been solid and "Chasing Pirates" passes the muster with flying colors.

And in the bringing it back department
Pavement - "Cut Your Hair"
It took the entire decade but there turned out to be a single Pavement song in the canon that I like. Just in time for the reunion.

Pretenders - "Mystery Achievement"

In order to impress a girl (or two), I went to Lilith Fair in 1999 which may not be what immediately comes to mind when someone thinks of what my first ever concert could be. Nevertheless it was. I was glad to go for Sarah Mclachlan whose overall body of work remains some of my favorite singer-songwriter material. I was also glad to see Sheryl Crow when she could still rock. And it was also a show for The Pretenders whom I discounted as another classic rock band. Oh no - Ms. Hynde and the boys put on a real humdinger. And all these years later, I discover their best song.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Tim Blaine; Patrick Thomas @ Rockwood Music Hall

Tim Blaine; Patrick Thomas
@ Rockwood Music Hall
New York, NY - October 4, 2009

Tim Blaine's brashness comes in his devotion to a pop-Jazz sound that could so easily be processed candy but instead comes out as pitch perfect musical craftsmanship. His backing band is an evident treasure trove of talent and it makes for a refreshing change of pace from all the static that is increasingly blasting from across the river in northern Brooklyn.

On a similar note, Patrick Thomas is keeping the light going in the singer-songwriter genre, infusing his songs with countrified and reggage-ish workings. He also has a fine stage presence which places the music on a bigger pedestal than it may otherwise be.

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