Monday, July 13, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Wilco’s been my number one favorite band for almost two years now, so I’ve done all the standard obsessive-fan stuff. I’ve seen their documentaries, I own hard copies of all their music, I stalk the website, I have multiple live recordings (which I compare and contrast endlessly). My iTunes play count tells me they’re my most-listened artist in my library. I’ve only seen them once before, but seeing as I’ve heard so many bootlegs, I sort of get what it to be expected from a live Wilco show: AWESOMENESS.
I know people like calling Wilco dad-rock (and based one the age and gender of the audience, I’d say that’s a pretty apt title…) but I think that’s misleading in that it makes you think they are boring when they are anything but. Every album they write is completely different from the one before yet they are all distinctly Wilco. Live, they are simply spectacular. Each member is ridiculously talented so when they jam they can take the music so much farther than other, younger bands can. Even though the line-up of Wilco has shifted considerably in their 15 year existence, the current roster is so uniform and tight you’d think they’ve been playing together since they were babies.
Anyway. Back to the start…
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band opened the show. Unlike Alyssa, who made her distaste for Conor Oberst very clear, I have been a fan for a while. I vividly remember my sister getting me a copy of “I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning” for my birthday in 7th grade, and I listened to it over and over and over again. I still like it. He may be a bit overrated in terms of the whole “Bob Dylan of Our Generation” thing, but that doesn’t make me dislike his music. I got the first Conor Oberst solo album last year and loved the more folksy tone and I love how much further he went with the country on the Mystic Valley Band album, “Outer South.” Live, I was quite impressed. The band opened with the one-two punch of “Danny Callahan” and “NYC- Gone, Gone.” Both songs were so much more lively on stage- especially “NYC,” which I didn’t love on the album but I now have a much greater appreciation for. The thing I most loved about the band’s set was that the sounded and looked like they were having a great time. I always imagined that Conor Oberst onstage would be depressing and bleak, but their set felt more like a sunny, awesome hoedown.
So now back to Wilco. As usual, I was blown away. After a tacky (but awesome) Price Is Right theme song intro, the band launched into the goofy (but awesome) “Wilco (the song).” From that point on, the show was all about having fun. The crowd was full of big fans who just wanted to hear their favorite band play some sweet songs, jam out a little bit, and then start all over. The long set contained cuts as old as “Misunderstood” and as new as “Deeper Down,” from their latest release, “Wilco (the album).” I was expecting the set to be mostly full of new tracks but the band did a good job of picking pretty evenly from their albums, save “A.M.,” which I believe was unrepresented.
Wilco has so many mopey, contemplative songs it’s hard to believe they can be so fun and free live, but I don’t think there was a single moment when someone could have looked over and seen me without a smile on my face. The fact that Wolf Trap is a great venue and the weather was perfect only added to the wonderful summer night.
Wilco set list:
- Wilco (the song)
- Shot in the Arm
- At Least That’s What You Said
- Bull Black Nova
- You Are My Face
- I’m Trying to Break Your Heart
- One Wing
- How To Fight Loneliness
- Impossible Germany
- Deeper Down
- Jesus Etc.
- Sonny Feeling
- Handshake Drugs
- Hate It Hear
- I’m the Man Who Loves You
- You Never Know
- Heavy Metal Drummer
- I’m a Wheel
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
When this show ended last night at 11:25, less than an hour after Passion Pit started playing, I felt both awesome and sort of bad.
First the awesome parts…
I missed Cale Parks, but I saw a bunch of people buying his merch, so I’ll assume he was awesome. Go Cale Parks!
Next were the Harlem Shakes, who were fantastic and wonderful and adorable. Their music is so fun and bouncy, it was a great way to not only kick off the show, but to kick off the summer (I’m officially done with junior year! Yeah!). The crowd was sort of chatty during their set, but the band played loud enough that it didn’t matter. Plus, enough people there were clearly fans. This one guy next to me knew every word and danced like a maniac the whole time. Another awesome thing about the band is that they had a guy play the flute. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people dance to a song with flute in it. The Shakes played cuts off of their EP, “Burning Birthdays,” as well as their new album “Technicolor Health.” If you don’t already own “Technicolor Health” you are a huge fool. It a perfect summer album and it’s pretty much all I’ve listened to for the past week and a half.
Of course, the band that everybody came to see was Passion Pit. The second the group walked out on stage, everybody in the Cat went nuts. People were pogo-ing and dancing like crazy to every song. If you had never heard them before, it would appear that every song was a single because every time PP launched into a new track the crowd went berserk as if the four minutes of this song would be the best four minutes of their life. Before the show I’d heard that PP was pretty weak live but after this show I COMPLETELY disagree. They sounded great and they brought more energy into the show than a lot of bands I’ve seen.
Now for the bad parts…
I missed Cale Parks, but I saw a bunch of people buying his merch, so I’ll assume he was awesome. Wish I could have heard his set.
The Harlem Shakes were robbed that morning in Richmond (”The most annoying thing that could happen ever,” according to one of the members after the show), so they had to play a few songs acoustic. While they definitely sounded better electric, they never let the acoustic-ness bring the energy level down. This doesn’t really qualify as a “bad part,” it was just sort of a bummer. I still love them.
The most disappointing part of the show, however, came when Passion Pit ended their set at 11:25, less than an hour after they began playing. In fact, I think they played closer to about 40 minutes. So yeah, they packed an insane amount of energy into those 40 minutes, but when you’re the headlining act at a sold out show, don’t you think you should play longer than the opener? And at least have an encore longer than just one song? I enjoyed their set so much, but the fact that it was so short put a bit of a damper on it. I mean seriously, I saw Bruce Springsteen a few weeks ago and he’s more than twice as old as these guys, but he played for THREE HOURS without stopping. Granted, he has a lot more material, but between “Chunk of Change” and “Manners,” these guys easily could have added five or six more songs to the set. At the end of the show I heard a lot of people saying great things about the band, but I also heard a lot of people griping that the played for such a short amount of time (One guy was hanging around the stage so he could ask the band why they never played “Seaweed Song.” He was all fired up. “They never played Seaweed Song, did you notice that?? Why didn’t they play it?! It’s only 11:25, why did they stop?!”)
Thoughts? Should they have played longer? Is such a short set to be expected from a band with only one full-length and one EP?
Overall I really enjoyed the show. Fun and high-energy. I just wish that Passion Pit had kept going a little longer.
Sunday, June 07, 2009
In her teen-pop heyday, I was never a big Mandy Moore fan. To me, she was just a more boring Jessica Simpson. She sang songs really dull love songs and her voice wasn't anything spectacular. However, I did like a lot of the movies she was in (A Walk to Remember, The Princess Diaries, Saved...)
But then something changed. A few years ago, Moore started dating Zach Braff, and then singer-songwriter Greg Laswell. At about this time, she released a covers album called "Coverage." I don't own it, but based on what I've heard, it's not bad. She chose smart songs to sing, from artists such as Elton John, Carole King, Cat Stevens, and Blondie. Obviously, her versions aren't better than the originals, but the album at least showed her good taste, which I am sure is partially due to her relationships with men who have good taste.
Next, Moore recorded an album called "Wild Hope." It was her most original album to date, but still a little bland. It was just very polished contemporary pop with a singer-songwriter edge, especially on songs like "Gardenia." Here, Moore enlisted songwriters like Rachel Yamagata for help. Their influence is very apparent, but nothing on the album reaches the heights that Yamagata's music frequently does.
A few months ago, Moore released a new album, "Amanda Leigh." This album is another step in the right direction. It's jazzy and poppy on songs like "Pocket Philosopher" and "I Could Break Your Heart Any Day of the Week," but quieter tunes such as "Bug" and "Merrimack River" balance the mood. There is a distinct 70's singer-songwriter influence on the album; it's almost as though all Moore listened to while recording it was Carole King's "Tapestry." Some tracks also seem to be directly influenced by her prolific singer-songwriter husband Ryan Adams, but none match his in terms of quality.
"Amanda Leigh" is not a fantastic album by any means, but it is definitely a solid effort. It's nice to see Moore moving in a new direction, and she definitely knows what kind of music she wants to make. I don't know if I'll continue to buy her albums, but I'll definitely give them a listen or two when they come out.
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
I've been working on a new mixtape for a while, the theme for which is movie couples/crushes. It's called Something in the Air, and here it is. Along with a picture of Joel and Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my favorite movie couples of all time. For a free physical copy, complete with cover art, shoot me an email.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
A few weeks ago I met Annie Clark, the waifish, bright-eyed chanteuse behind St. Vincent, outside of a record store in Georgia. She was there with some family, who were laughing and pointing at the record cover for her new album "Actor," which is essentially a huge picture of her face, in the window, and urging her to go in and buy a copy.
The cover of "Actor" can speak to the music as well. Clark is pictured staring into the distance, her eyes wide and her hair curling in every direction. The result makes her look like some sort of otherworldly fairy. This large image of her face is set against an almost garish orange background. Similarly, Clark's music is composed of her ethereal, breezy vocals over top jarring, distorted guitars and drums.
Given her background as a former member of the Polyphonic Spree, and given that I never heard her first album "Marry Me," I expected St. Vincent to be light, poppy ballads, bordering on twee. As I mentioned before, the music is quite the contrary. First of all, it's loud. While Clark's voice might be light, songs like "Actor Out Of Work" and "Save Me From What I Want" are thick with distortion and wrecking beats. After stalking YouTube, I learned that Clark is a master on the axe, and shreds live like a member of an 80's hair metal band.
On the other hand, she does have a more restrained side. "Black Rainbow" is a hushed track that pairs Clark's voice with jabbing guitar and floating keys. Eventually, however, the song climaxes in a goopy, cinematic swamp of organ, strings, and synth.
If "Actor" proves anything, it's that Clark is a master of both the quieter, simpler aspects of songwriting and the convoluted, complicated aspects of orchestral arrangements and production. Even on tracks like the jazzy and buoyant "Laughing With A Mouth Full Of Blood" Clark layers vocal effects, strings, stuttering drums, and a plethora of other instruments without sounding overcrowded or noisy.
I can't wait to get more into St. Vincent's catalog after hearing "Actor." This is a truly dynamic album featuring an extremely talented songwriter and artist.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone talks during a song. It's supposed to seem really serious and meaningful, but to me it's just annoying. In the middle of M83's "Graveyard Girl," one of my favorite songs last summer, a girl starts talking about how the graveyard is her home or something and those few seconds almost made me hate the song. Luckily the rest is so John Hughes-y awesome that I can't throw it away. But seriously, if it weren't for the talking, I would listen to the track much, much more.
However, I recently found one exception to the rule. I picked up Comet Gain's "Broken Record Prayers" two weeks ago, and the opening track, "Jack Nance Hair," is a talker. A girl with a thick accent recites verses about believing in art and music over strummed guitars and a light rhythm. Partway through, a boy comes in singing heartbreaking lines about "escaping movie blues." The juxtaposition of the girl's more aggressive delivery against the lo-fi music and the boy's earnest lyrics blend to create a truly sweet song that I enjoy without being distracted by all the talking. Somehow, Comet Gain stumbled upon the formula for making talking in a song not painful and awful.
I believe this is the only song on the album with talking (I haven't listened to the whole thing thoroughly so I'm not positive though) but the rest is great as well. I'd never really heard Comet Gain before, but they make really sweet lo-fi pop songs. I can tell that I'll get a lot of listens out of "Broken Record Prayers" this summer. My favorite tracks so far, besides "Jack Nance Hair," are "You Can Hide Your Love Forever," "Books of California," and "Asleep on the Snow." Check out Comet Gain if you haven't already! I believe they have been around for a while, in which case they are very underrated.
Listen to Comet Gain HERE.
I have a LOT of playlists on my iTunes. I have a few Smart Playlists, made up of my most recent singles and another of my most recent albums, and then a third which is a combination of the two. Then I also have a few "best of" mixes to showcase the good cuts off of new albums. Plus I have quite a few "car mixes" which are different from regular mixes in that there is no mood or order- just a set of good songs that have been stuck in my head lately. The rest of my playlists are precisely curated mixes that I spend literally hours creating. I usually make one or two a season, and, depending on the quality, I'll listen to it for months afterward. Some are better than others. I still consider last summer's mix, titled "A Waste of Time," the best mixtape I've ever made. The songs on it completely define summer for me, and I think I listened to it every single day. One year later, it still isn't old.
"A Waste of Time" includes songs from Nada Surf, Feist, Coldplay, Iron & Wine, the Whigs, Sun Kil Moon, and ten others. Since I've listened to this mix so many times, it's now difficult to listen to each song individually or in the context of its original album. I just prefer it on the mix. I worked really hard on making smooth transitions between each song, and I'm amazed that I went from Santogold to Elliott Smith in four moves, and they still sounds great and fluid together.
I'm currently working on a new summer mix for 2009, but I don't think it will ever live up to '08's. I'll be sure to post it when it's finished, though.
Here's a tracklist for "A Waste of Time." If you'd like me to mail you a copy, complete with homemade album art, feel free to shoot me an email.