Monday, May 17, 2010

Metric @ Terminal 5

Metric; Bear in Heaven
@ Terminal 5
New York, NY - May 16, 2010

Capping off a weekend of if it ain't broke, don't fix it, Metric affirmed that bands that matter develop a sound, finesse it, work with it, deviate in creative yet familiar ways and just simply give it their all. I passed up seeing the band play this venue last June, thinking they would be back again in the late summer or early fall. But they didn't come back. And so 2009 passed in which I didn't see a live performance by one of my favorite bands, one of the best live acts in the world, and it was in the year in which they put out their first record in four years, the best record of 2009 - Fantasies.
And because Fantasies is essentially an album of 10 singles, Metric's live game is now on another level. They were already an immense experience but there were still whispers of the original soft-spoken electric-pop duo that made its way up in New York before hauling off to Toronto. Now armed with an array of well-worked loud rock n roll numbers, Metric is all MEGA all the time. It really shines on "Gold Guns Girls" in which Mr. Shaw unloads a live solo for the ages. It's hard to make the guitar stand out in bass-and-drum heavy T5 but Jimmy Shaw tamed the beast. It's no surprise that "Stadium Love" is designed to work exactly as its name intends - an anthem to end all anthems. When I first heard this song at the Highline show in 2008, I spent the next 8 months searching every day for some sort of recording of it to get that feeling back. I had to wait till Fantasies. Then live I had to wait till tonight. It was worth the wait.
The music wasn't the only thing amplified. The light show, something of a Metric staple, has gone off the charts. I mean the seizure-inducing-charts. Tone it down, guys. In fact the only thing not amped up to 11 was "Combat Baby", which is now the set-ending acoustic balladeer (and it was fine but the original sound was missed).
Am I really going to get through this without writing about Emily? I could say, "I already did. She IS Metric." But that's inaccurate. While her voice and her stage presence and her lyrics make her the center of gravity, she is - and she knows she is and embraces it - part of a bigger picture. With Jimmy, Josh, and Joules, Emily has more than just a trio of talented guys. She has a BAND. It has been a weekend (and a good few weeks) of reminders of what it means in rock n roll to have a BAND.

Bear in Heaven are your typical Indie band of the moment: they sound both a bit spaced-out and a bit like an 80's soundtrack. They have prominent facial hair action. And they have "Bear" in their name. They were better than I was originally willing to give them credit for. The lead vocalist (he of the 'tache) had a heck of a voice and put it to use.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

The National @ BAM

The National
@Brooklyn Academy of Music Howard Gilman Opera House
Brooklyn, NY - May 15, 2010

Years ago, the biggest band in Indie was the Arcade Fire. Premised on one record. And during their run for that record, they had as an opening act the National. Some five, six years later, the Arcade Fire are something of an occasional project that are thought of with more nostalgia than anything else. And the National have continued to rise and rise, in both popularity, praise, and in their own sense of sound and intensity. Record after record, show after show, the National build and build. Alligator may or may not prove to be the peak of their albums, but they have been riding a wave ever since, and right now, everything they touch turns to gold.

This charity show, filmed by DA Pennebaker, and broadcast live on YouTube (and archived here) was an Event. Capital E. Not because of the acclaimed filmmaker documenting it, not because of the celebrities in the crowd, but because the band made it so. People came to SEE and HEAR this band. And they got what they came for. During the immense "Bloodbuzz, Ohio", Matt Berninger made his way out into the crowd and lifted up by hand the seated members of the audience. Just because the National are a band for people with substance doesn't mean the people with substance can't let loose. It's in that way that a band that is sometimes as right and proper as the National can still lay claim to being a rock n roll band.

And the band radiated for all this. In the shine of all the lights from the broadcasting cameras, the National - joined by Padma, and Sufjan, and the rest of their extra bandmates - coursed through High Violet, a record that even with some soggy mid tracks, has enough of that rising tide of shimmering glow that define the band. The National probably break the record for most songs that give goosebumps.

Not to be outdone by the new record, prior successes found new ways to sparkle. "Apartment Story" has reached a new high, becoming something of an anthemic rock song. "All the Wine" is showcased as the heart-pumper it is, though it is being toyed with and reshaped as in an experiment. "Abel" and "Mr. November" remain the showstoppers, your last glimpses of the time our baritone vocalist screamed till he sounded like he bled. Like the last time the National played BAM, Berninger took it to the crowd over and above and across the seats, but this time all the way to the back and practically out the door. Again, despite their sometimes rigid milieu, the National are a ROCK band and you did come to see a rock show.

Perhaps enthused and embued with the energy of the crowd, and the momentum of all the new record is bringing, the National were as talkative and happy as I've ever seen them. Matt wasn't just doing his hypnotic fits, he was letting us know he was enjoying doing them. Good lord, there was even lengthy joking banter between the band. Everything clicked.

So this band is an event. But they make that connection on an intimate level. And this band is in some snazzy company. But they aren't part of a hard-to-figure-out elite. They're just some guys from Cincinnati who moved to Brooklyn and play in a band and they just so happened to become the best at what they do.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Sonic Parthenon Playlist: Spring 2010 Part 2

Nellie McKay - "If I Ever Had a Dream"
Feisty, combative McKay has gone all-smooth in her loving tribute to Doris Day.

Mumford & Sons - "Little Lion Man"
This deceptive pop song by these folky Brits grew on me something fierce and proves that the banjo really works as a background rock instrument.

Tallest Man on Earth - "King of Spain"
Between the big rock bands, the punk rock, and the dance grooves all over the scenes, it's good to take a step back and just take in a singer and their guitar. Like this one for instance.

The Temper Trap - "Sweet Disposition"
I can't commit to this being a rock band in the way that a lot of people think of them. But they are substance over style. Would I be slapped for saying I hear those late 70's/early 80's crooners like Hall & Oates, not just the English pop of the time? The point is, this song was used to excess in (500) Days of Summer, the movie that helped me break up with Zooey Deschannel (hey what about that second She & Him record? I'm busy).

Two Door Cinema Club - "Eat That Up, It's Good For You"
This was an honorable mention on the last playlist. I had no inkling it would grow on me and then accelerate into a dominant Ipod favorite. It's in the vain of the cutesy-poo Indie pop I have been loving for a couple of years. They make me continue to use the present tense. In the present participle form anyway.

Title Tracks - "Every Little Bit Hurts"
Following the sudden break-up of Georgie James, John Davis continues his highly melodic power pop ways with Title Tracks and he sports this nifty single that was a highlight of the spring. Unlikely Dischord Records label star?

Honorable Mentions
The Besnard Lakes - "Albatross"
Broken Bells - "The Mall & Misery"
Class Actress - "Let Me Take You Out"
Sierra-Leone Refugee All-Stars - "Living Stone"
Angus & Julia Stone - "Santa Monica Dream"
Tracey Thorn - "Why Does The Wind"

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The Sonic Parthenon Playlist: Spring 2010 Part 1

In continued proof that the album is dead, this period's playlist is almost exclusively singles. The two exceptions are almost unfair givens, especially considering I only listened to one of them in full for the first time today. That being said, the next playlist may very well be almost entirely made of albums as the Summer of 2010 promises to be a ridiculously productive LP season.

Against Me - "I Was A Teenage Anarchist"
I once dismissed band as a pop-punk throwaway with a take-it-or-leave-it social consciousness, but they got me. An anthem for every bitter, disappointed, idealistic, ideological lefty who remembers their youth of rage when they caught they could make a difference. Sigh. Old times.

Apples in Stereo - "Dance Floor"
Club-infused rock has become the almost dominant form of Indie rock, at least in terms of the screaming multitudes of bands (while more varied and more conventional Indie rock acts - the Spoons, the Animal Collectives, the Grizzzzzzzzzzzzly Bears - zzzz's for sleep) are considered the elite. The very cheery, sunny Apples in Stereo take a stab at the dance floor with "Dance Floor" and completely obliterate everyone else away. The record is probably good. I should listen to it. Soundtrack of the summer.

Birthday Suits - "Table Talk"
A loud, boisterous bit of speak-sing rock. Cute band name.

Julian Casablancas - "Out of the Blue"
Phrazes for the Young kind of loses its way but at least I gave it a try. This single from the Strokes singer's solo record is not only the best of the bunch, it is a killer. The opening verse is some of the most amazing lyrics I've heard in a long, long time:

Somewhere along the way
My hopefulness turned to sadness
Somewhere along the way
My sadness turned to bitterness
Somewhere along the way
My bitterness turned to anger
Somewhere along the way
My anger turned to vengeance
And the ones that I make pay
But never the ones who deserve it
And the ones who deserve it
They'll never understand it.
Yes, I know I'm going to hell in a purple basket
At least I'll be in another world
But you'll be pissing on my casket

Goldfrapp - "Rocket"
So this Lady Gaga. Everyone seems to be making a big deal of this Lady Gaga. Thing is, someone out there kind of has all that same magnetism, and that penchant for catchy, Euro club hooks & melodies, without making a fool of herself. Her name is Alison Goldfrapp. And yes that is her real name. I guess.

John Hiatt - "The Open Road"
Johh Hiatt is more of a respected songwriter than anything else which is a damn shame because he has some of the most thoroughly lasting recording work of any of his peers. From "Sure As I'm Sitting Here" to Slow Turning and Bring The Family to "Perfectly Good Guitar" and "Everybody Went Low", he has never stopped making great music. He didn't break with "My Baby Blue" a few years ago and he's done it again "The Open Road". He has always been one of my favorite artists if only because he makes a hit, it's a grand slam.

The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever
You know I like it. But seriously - "The Weekenders" - should be a big hit putting the boys in stadiums. And maybe it just will. Or not. Either way, it's not Separation Sunday or Boys & Girls in America but it is good. Very very good. It is equal parts blatant pop-rock and total classic rock throwback. But there is still the deference to the bar band and hardcore punk that are the combined roots of Craig Finn's lyrics and musical preferences. It's not the Kirby Puckett-style home run of their two big documents, but it's a triple if not an in-the-park play-at-the-plate, like Stay Positive (like the end of the Twins-Braves World Series). Think I'm done with the baseball analogies?

Jaguar Love - "I Started A Fire"
I will never forget how I saw all of 15 seconds of this band at Siren Festival to walk away. It was that bad that fast. Yet, back then they also had "Highways of Gold" which was a catchy rocker once you got passed the grating high pitched vocals of Johnny Whitney (formerly of the terrible Blood Brothers). Now in "I Started a Fire", Whitney has tempered the vocals some and it makes for another hit song. I am almost sorry I hated those 15 seconds. Almost.

Damien Jurado - "Arkansas"
It took a couple of weeks after listening to this song to realize I've seen this guy. He opened for Okkervil River on The Stage Names tour. He was so serene and Indie (big I) as to fade away but that laid back style has found its footing. This almost doo-wop-ish memory is serene in the right way.

Lonelady - "Intuition"
I know nothing much except that I like this song. That goes for knowledge of the artist and life in general. The Internet gives me knowledge. Of the artist. Not necessarily life in general. Are we understood?

The National - High Violet
Upon initial listen of the whole LP, it seems "Blood Buzz Ohio" may be the true highlight. But by no means have the National struck out. "Terrible Love" - which comes off gleaming in that Pitchfork film - is exactly the National as we know them, before a few tracks establish a bit of a more inward, less dramatic affair (not so much a return to the first couple records as a new way of looking at old things). "Afraid of Everyone" represents the real new approach to this record: Matt Berninger has forsaken those Alligator screams seemingly for good. After the bass-voiced Boxer, Matt seems to have discovered a steady higher pitch for large swaths of song. It's good. But the bass in that lurking, menacingly disarming voice is the gravity of the band. To say nothing of the continued swells of symphonic fury the Dessners and Devendorffs do so well. The National's most "Chamber Pop" sounding record yet, (a label I never quite liked but maybe finally understand), High Violet ends with an incredible back-half. It looked the National were going down early in the 5th but leave it to the regional relatives of the Big Red Machine to come from behind and win in the bottom of the 9th. I told you I wasn't done with baseball analogies.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Free Summer Fun continues...

See the updated entry (and the calendar blog of course) -

Added today: Siren Festival's preliminary line-up (the Pains, Surfer Blood), Lincoln Center Plaza with the Gories, Mitch Ryder, Death, and ? & the Mysterians.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Celebrate Summer

Wed Jun 9
Norah Jones @ Prospect Park (FREE)

Sat Jun 12
Allan Toussaint @ Prospect Park (FREE)

Sat Jun 26
Apples in Stereo @ South Street Seaport (FREE)

Sun Jun 27
Gil Scott-Heron @ SummerStage (FREE)

Wed Jun 30
Beth Orton @ Rockefeller Park (FREE)

Thu Jul 1
Oblivians; Andre Either @ Knitting Factory (FREE RSVP)

Sat Jul 3
Portugal The Man @ Governors Island (FREE)

Sun July 4
She & Him @ The Beach at Governor's Island (FREE)
Old 97's @ South Street Seaport (FREE)

Thu Jul 8
Phosphorescent; Dawes @ Pier 54 (FREE)

Fri Jul 9
Bear in Heaven @ South Street Seaport (FREE)

Sat Jul 10
Lucero @ Governor's Island (FREE)

Sun Jul 11
The Roots; Talib Kweli @ Prospect Park (FREE)

Fri Jul 16
Thee Oh Sees; Golden Triangle @ South Street Seaport (FREE)

Sat Jul 17
Siren Festival: Matt & Kim, Ted Leo, Surfer Blood, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Harlem, The Night Marchers, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Earl Greyhound, Screaming Females @ Coney Island (FREE)
Raphael Saadiq @ SummerStage (FREE)
Dr. Dog @ Governor's Island (FREE)

Tue Jul 20
Rufus Wainwright @ Prospect Park (FREE)

Thu Jul 22
The Antlers; Dinosaur Feathers @ Pier 54 (FREE)

Fri Jul 23
Free Energy @ South Street Seaport (FREE)

Fri Jul 30
The Swell Season; Low Anthem @ Prospect Park (FREE)

Sat Jul 31
The Gories @ Lincoln Center Plaza (AFTERNOON SHOW) (FREE)
Mitch Ryder, ? & The Mysterians, Death @ Lincoln Center Plaza (EVENING SHOW) (FREE)
Sonic Youth @ Prospect Park (FREE)

Sun Aug 1
St. Vincent; Tune-Yards; Basia Bulat @ SummerStage (FREE)

Thu Aug 5
Metric; Holly Miranda; Joan as Police Woman @ Prospect Park (FREE)

Sat Aug 7
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings; Budos Band @ Prospect Park (FREE)

Sun Aug 8
The xx; Jack Penate; Chairlift @ SummerStage (FREE)

Thu Aug 12
White Rabbits @ East River Park (FREE)

Sat Aug 14
Neon Indian @ The Beach at Governor's Island (FREE)

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