Crystal Ballroom; Portland, OR
I had a decision to make. Either see My Morning Jacket, “the world’s greatest live band,” or saddle up and catch Calexico. It really is a quandary when two bands you like play on the same night, but I’d seen Jim James’ heroics this past summer at Bonnaroo while never catching a proper Calexico tour (I saw them tour with Iron and Wine). I decided that spending the evening with Joey Burns and John Convertino was the way to go. Upon arrival at the Crystal Ballroom, I realized that I probably wasn’t the only one who had to make that decision; the venue was woefully empty and I easily made my way up to the front. Though more people arrived as the evening wore on, there would be no heavy crush, no hot breathing down the back of my neck. Space is good; I can deal with space.
Burns and Convertino took the stage alone and Burns said, “You guys look beautiful! Must be all that sunshine you got today.” The duo then launched into the instrumental “Scout” from the band’s debut Spoke, which bolsters their famous Southwestern sound -- like Duane Eddy meets Vicente Fernandez. The five other members of the band then took the stage to play “Roka” from Garden Ruin. It's only human to make comparisons, and something in the back of my mind made me wonder if I had made the correct choice passing on My Morning Jacket. Sure, Calexico’s songs are good, but Burns doesn't have the equal stage presence of James. Besides, whoever did the sound check mixed Volker Zander’s upright bass so high that it drowned out the rest of the band.
Calexico is on tour in support of their newest album, the solid Carried to Dust. While the 22 song set mixed music from all periods, the band was here to show off its newest material. They first played “Bend To the Road,” an understated tune featuring Burns' whispered vocals that sounded devoid of intricacies thanks to the poor bass mix. Luckily, levels can be changed; soon enough the bass had been fixed and I was able to enjoy the concert.
Calexico live and Calexico recorded are two different animals. The group can almost be compared to a jazz band, containing one of the tightest rhythm sections in indie rock. Though sometimes the particulars can be separated better on tape, one can really appreciate all that goes into a Calexico tune while seeing them live. This tautness couldn't have been displayed better than on “El Gatillo,” an instrumental that sounds right from a Sergio Leone movie. According to Burns, this was the first time the track had been performed live and multi-instrumentalist Martin Wenk carried its melody with a haunting whistle. In fact, Wenk went further, showing off his accordion skills with a pair of Feast of Wire tracks: “Black Heart” and “Sunken Waltz.” So appreciative was the audience of Wenk’s performance on “Heart” that Burns said the band would “venture off the setlist” to accommodate another accordion song. Wenk wasn’t the only stand-out musician in the group. Jacob Valenzuela’s trumpet helped define that signature Calexico sound and he even did lead vocals on “Inspiracion.”
Despite music that comes from the American Southwest and Mexico traditions, it's surprising just how international the members of Calexico are. Besides Burns, Convetino, and Valenzuela (all Tucson natives), there are two Germans and a Spaniard in the band. Even though Calexico's music is geographically fixed, influences of fado, jazz, and heavy rock sneak in. One of the most popular tunes of the evening was the cover of Love’s “Alone Again Or,” a gem of sunny 1960s California rock.
But Calexico saved its most cinematic music for the end. They finished the first set with “Crystal Frontier” and returned with “Minas de Cobre,” both great workouts for the Mariachi horns and chugging rhythm section. When they finished the first encore with “Guero Canelo,” inserting lyrics from Manu Chao’s “Desaparecido,” I felt satisfied with my decision to go to the Crystal Ballroom. The band returned once more to play the icy “Red Blooms,” and as the chilly soundscapes drifted over the nearly empty room, something magical occurred. The few who stayed witnessed a band that cared nothing for on-stage theatrics and let the music speak for itself. Sometimes that is all one needs.
03. Bend To The Road
04. Across The Wire
05. Jesus & Tequila
06. The News About William
07. Writer’s Minor Holiday
08. Dub Latina
09. Two Silver Trees
10. El Gatillo
12. Black Heart
14. House Of Valparaiso
15. Man Made Lake
16. Alone Again Or
17. Fractured Air
18. Crystal Frontier
19. Minas de Cobre
20. Victor Jara’s Hands
21. Guero Canelo
22. Red Blooms
Elephant Six Holiday Surprise Tour
Bottom Lounge; Chicago, IL
Before we begin, let it be stated that Jeff Mangum did perform at the Chicago show. But that will be discussed later. Let us discuss the rest of the show first before we get there.
Clearly, one purpose of the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour (appropriately named after an Olivia Tremor Control song) is to show off the Elephant 6 film, Major Organ and the Adding Machine. The film was shown first, with a small portion of the crowd taking a vast section of the floorspace seated. I won't go into detail about the short film -- not only to avoid spoiling it for the rest of you, but also because I didn’t have a complete grasp of what was going on in the film -- but it was quite entertaining. It was particularly satisfying to see prodigal son Kevin Barnes getting attacked by a gorilla, which was further emphasized by the “renouncement” from the Holiday Surprise group that denied them any involvement concerning a sponsored after-party, saying they hadn’t “sold out.”
After the film concluded, the show truly began. And let's be clear: the “Holiday Surprise Tour” is not just made up of The Music Tapes' Julian Koster plus a few others and the occasional Mangum appearance. The bulk of the Holiday Surprise featured more well-known members of Elephant 6 coming out in full glory: most of The Olivia Tremor Control (Will Cullum Hart, Pete Erchick, Bill Doss, and John Fernandes), Apples in Stereo’s Robert Schneider, Elf Power’s Andrew Rieger, and Scott Spillane of The Gerbils, among others. Even Static, the ’50s television that served as a vocalist on The Music Tapes' first album, joined in with a Santa hat, as well as the 7-Foot-Tall Metronome.
Multi-instrumentalism was the rule of the night, with every E6er jumping from instrument to instrument, from guitars to two drum sets to two different synths to even a set of brass instruments, complete with Spillane’s tuba. The only exception was Fernandes, who rarely (if ever) strayed from his clarinet. The band’s constant shifting allowed for some interesting banter, which was set to a 45 of birds chirping to a waltz between songs, including a bit on the effects of the year 2001 on people. Another interesting moment was when Bill Doss did a seemingly random military salute.
Of course, one wonders about the purpose of the actual show. There was rarely a focus to it, and the structure was even confirmed by the Holiday Surprise crew to be loose. Koster called the show “sides” at one point, due to another film (a filmstrip slideshow), but there wasn't a distinct difference between the two “sides.” Which is not to say it was a bad thing: Every significant band in the collective had a song in, from Olivia Tremor Control’s “I Have Been Floated” and “The Opera House,” to Elf Power’s “The Arrow Flies Close,” to The Music Tapes “Songs of Oceans Falling.” Side-projects were also represented, with Pipes You See, Pipes You Don’t’s “Karaoke Free.” Even Schneider managed to eke in an Apples in Stereo song or two. In a bit of a surprise, they closed out the main set the same way as the film: Major Organ and the Adding Machine’s beautifully haunting “Life Form (Transmission Received).” The night could have ended here, and it would have been an acceptable show, despite only a Mangum cameo at that point.
Then came the aftershow, or “side 3” as Koster called it. And things got weird.
They realized the extra time they had would allow room for requests, which included the aforementioned “The Opera House,” The Gerbils’ “Glue,” and a few others. A guitar was forced upon Robert Schneider, so he played “Skyway” with a small degree of trouble. The audience, however, was okay with it. Throughout this part of the show, there were several false endings, which sometimes even confused the house engineers. A sense of drag was felt at this point.
Which leads us to Jeff Mangum. No matter how little you cared for the reclusive man of mythos, you could sense from the crowd that some of them only came to see even the slightest bit of him. Not just a reassurance that he was still around and playing, but that he was still Jeff Mangum, as the man they envisioned. And they were very kind and polite about it: While there were a few calls for Mangum to come out, there was not a single Neutral Milk Hotel song request. Even without him, Koster and crew held out to create a great, memorable show. Yet, the crowd would no doubt be disappointed, if not angry about the lack of the romanticized hero.
But he did make his presence felt throughout the night. At first, Mangum only briefly appeared at the end of an Olivia Tremor Control song, belting out the closing lines with the rest of the Holiday Surprise crew (similar to his first recent appearance in “The Arrow Flies Close” in New York). The crowd weren't particularly responsive, but they did start singing with more conviction. The rest of the main set seemed to hint and nag at Mangum’s return to the stage, from a poet commenting on “liking that Jeff Mangum” before reciting a piece on Elephant 6, to a false start by Koster after introducing Static the Television as someone “who hasn’t been in Chicago in 8 million or 9 years.” Even Spillane and Koster’s rendition of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “The Fool” in the middle of the audience seemed to be a call-out. Yet he still did not surface like he did before.
Finally, in the aftershow, after Koster concluded an unnerving rendition of The Music Tapes’ “Manifest Destiny,” he went towards the side of the stage and called out for some people. Several came back, including Mangum, all doing the haunting closer to Circulatory System’s debut, “Forever.” During this rendition, which Koster suggested as a sing-along, Mangum did something incredible: he raised his arm to the crowd, gesturing them to sing louder. While previous shows suggested some acknowledgment of the audience's presence, this is the first time the man -- who many say was a victim of his fans -- interacted with the crowd. This is surely one of the defining moment of this entire tour.
In fact, not only did the crowd respond by signing louder, but they kept singing on as the group finished. Meanwhile, Mangum grabbed a guitar and followed Koster into the middle of the crowd to close the night with the Neutral Milk Hotel B-side “Engine.” He performed “Engine” at another show recently, but it felt like, this time, he was truly addressing the crowd. Something struck deep into many people. The audience was the loudest it had ever been. Here's a video from YouTube:
Afterward, the audience maintained their poise, letting Mangum through to backstage when he finished. He waved to the crowd before leaving. And as Spillane walked back out to thank the crowd, everyone felt at ease; the crowd was clearly full of gratitude.
Blender Theatre at Gramercy; New York, NY
Abandoning the eyeballs-in-tophats costumes for black face masks, flashlight eyes, and bunny ears, The Residents rolled through New York to debut what some are rumoring to be their final tour, though any information regarding this enigmatic group is to be taken with a grain of salt; their even more paradoxical PR company, The Cryptic Corporation, have been spreading disinformation about their sole clients for 40 years now. In fact, to this day, after nearly half a century of making music, The Residents remain anonymous at large, with no one able to say definitively where they even come from (Mars?). It's in this mode of anonymity that the group have fed and nurtured a still-growing mystique, recruited a legion of fans culled from D&D comic book nerds, punk miscreants, and all weirdos inbetwixt.
The quasi-theatrical live performance featured tracks solely from The Residents new disc Bunny Boy, a concept album that chronicles the exploits of a somewhat schizophrenic, definitively frazzled, and possibly homeless man they call the Bunny Boy. The album, live act, and accompanying 13-part webisode series (which plays like a mix between a baffling Lynch mystery and home movies of your drunk uncle) detail the exploits of said protagonist, who, with a Norman Bates-level bunny obsession, nervously tells of the disappearance of his brother Harvey, an e-mail relationship with a wealthy Nigerian prince, and a trip to the Greek island of Patmos where either Harvey or the Bunny Boy (Or both? Or were they the same person? I’m still a little confused) disappeared into the Holy Cave of the Apocalypse. Weird stuff for sure, but this type of reduction ad absurdum is typical Residents fare.
Playing in the shelter of a half geodesic dome, The Residents plodded through nearly all the songs on Bunny Boy. Rarely moving from their spots, the masked musicians consistently gave off an inhuman, robotic vibe. Their synthesizer, guitar, and drum machine attack felt like authentic Residents; it was similar to, though not quite as satisfying as Duck Stab or Eskimo nor as maddening as Third Reich ‘n’ Roll, but for a group that’s been this bizarre for this long, kudos go to them for still being able to keep it weird. An array of lights, smoke machines, videos, and projected patterns made the night a real multimedia event.
I have to admit, with some regret, that the performance's strongest moments were when the Bunny Boy would disappear through a sheeted door in the middle of the stage -- into what he dubbed his “secret room” -- while the group played on their own. Not that I didn’t find his wild antics at least partly entertaining, but often his overly bombastic dementia relegated The Residents to background-band status. Still, his contributions on songs like "Boxes of Armageddon" and "Blood on the Bunny" reached chillingly cathartic heights.
At the end of the second act (spoiler alert: the Bunny Boy’s secret room is revealed), one audience member shouted out “Constantinople!” before the encore, and I couldn’t help but nod my head in agreement. A part of me wished they would just come out and do a few standards in their classic outfits, but it wasn’t to be. I wasn't disappointed by the Bunny Boy song cycle and act, but hopefully the “last tour” rumor, like every other one started about the group, will turn out to be false, and I’ll still get a chance to see those damn eyeballs.
Shudder to Think
Webster Hall; New York, NY
My favorite shows make me feel as though I'm watching someone cheat death, the ones that seem slightly out-of-time and off-balance -- like I’m not supposed to be there, but by some miraculous twist of fate, I've managed to slip beneath the velvet rope. When Shudder to Think were at the height of their fame, I was riding the school bus with a route number pinned to my jacket. Velvet Goldmine hit movie houses during the band's split-second Lazarus, and I was trying to decide if boys were still gross or not. I think back to my other favorite live experiences, and the theme runs deep: I'm damn lucky to have caught this before it was too late. Dinosaur Jr., The Pixies, Sonic Youth... get it?
Of course, we were late to the show.
(Post-show conversation via Gmail Chat)
Kevin: we missed like 6 songs
in a way i do not feel worthy of writing a STT live review
as a first-timer
also i never know how to explain missing parts of the concert
"sorry, i got lost"?
"... in the limpid pools of paul rudd's eyes in the bathroom"?
I'm not kidding about Paul Rudd (fortunately, we seem to have similar toilet-timing and music taste) or about the six songs. This is Shudder to Think’s first “official” reunion gig -- save for a quick set at the Mercury Lounge in September, along with Cardigan Nina Persson’s A Camp -- and, unfortunately, this is what happens when you put two strong-willed music critics en route to a concert and each one insists I Am Right, We Go THIS Way, You Asshole.
So, not only do we miss the opening song, "Red House" (originally found on 1991's Funeral at the Movies), we also miss "Shake Your Halo Down," "Hit Liquor," "Love Catastrophe," "Lies About the Sky," and "Jade Dust Eyes." We're still running up the venue's entrance stairs during "Man Who Rolls," when I'm struck by the decadent, sparkling sheen that's fallen over the crowd, kind of like showing up after everyone’s already taken the first hit. Despite our tardiness, the venue is pleasantly packed rather than unbearably mobbed, so we're able to secure a decent vantage point (which I later abandon for a spot near Craig Wedren's feet).
Tonight, Wedren bears a few more lines on his face and an elaborate show of sexy/sinister facial hair. Shudder to Think lived (and live) to fuck with you, and Wedren leans back invitingly during the soaring chorus of "No RM. 9, KY," allowing us to settle into the eye of the storm before we’re thrown right back into the fray. Sure, they know how to write a classic melody line, but that doesn't mean you're gonna make them do it. They draw heavily on their first departure from Dischord, Pony Express Record, which is what most probably hoped for as they purchased their tickets. Epic Records wasn't quite sure what to do with it in 1994, and it was largely overlooked. Still, enough record geeks and magazine reviewers embraced its complexity and style-spanning beauty that it became one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the ’90s. Most of us here tonight have cut our teeth on it. I wish for blue eye shadow on the band members during the surly "X-French Tee Shirt," but I suppose that’s asking a little much.
During breaks between songs, it becomes obvious that even Wedren can hardly believe we're here. "Thank you for coming ... no, seriously. Thank you." When the singer of a long-defunct band thanks you for coming, the gratitude has much more weight than your typical touring rock singer. At shows like these, the veteran musicians get to look out on that crowd and realize they still matter, which is certainly notable in an industry that latches onto The Next Big Thing at a sharp clip. No matter how nonchalant reunited bands appear, they exude that emotion so palpably it becomes one with the bass and, thus, your heartbeat. I've never seen a band of this genre (not that I'm volunteering to define it) smile so much.
I breathe a sigh of relief at the unabashedly glam-soaked opening riff of "The Ballad of Maxwell Demon," one of STT's two contributions to the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack. I'd been afraid that this song would be too obvious for the set, but therein lies the beauty of a reunion show. Nothing's too trite, because the gauntlet has been thrown down for the band: make them remember exactly why they love you. It was also at this point when I became truly grateful for my position at Wedren's feet. No, the band members didn't adorn themselves with glitter and spandex, but I take what I can get.
"Day Ditty" from Funeral at the Movies completes an otherworldly set, with Nina Persson of the Cardigans (wife of STT's Nathan Larson) and NYC singer/songwriter Amy Miles on backup vocals, smiling fit to split, 'cause they've been in on it the whole time. Tonight, we've reached a tipping point. If Shudder to Think needed an extra push to decide whether or not they should keep doing this, I think New York City accompanied it with a healthy smack on their collective ass.
Silver Jews / Monotonix
Music Hall of Williamsburg; Brooklyn, NY
David Berman was never really a quiet guy. Through The Silver Jews' 17 years of near-stage-silence, Berman always indulged the swarms of journalists eager for Jews news with lengthy interviews and thoughtful, candid answers. There wasn't much mystery: He traveled, gave readings, but never with a band. Which is why The Silver Jews' first tour in 2006 was such an unexpected treat (especially for someone who'd just discovered the literary ecstasy of Tanglewood Numbers). At London's Scala, the band was admirably shaky; David was charming and coy in his delivery, as he peered into a music stand of lyrics for the occasional assist. In all, the night was perfect.
For this follow-up tour, I inevitably had different expectations. The narrative surrounding it, following a ton of positive press for the Jews' sixth full-length, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, focused on Berman's recovery from depression and drug addiction and the new positive direction of his life and the band. The idea of David and wife Cassie (on bass) touring together -- with drummer, keyboard player, and good-old-boy guitarists William Tyler and Peyton Pinkerton in tow -- resounded with writers (which most Silver Jews fans invariably are, and vice versa) and readers. This lead-in for the band's second tour, while peachy-keen, put a spin on the evening, different than that first glimpse behind the SJ curtain. It was to be something more than a mere exhibition of the Silver Jews catalog done live -- a show in its own right, an event.
In that spirit, Drag City labelmates Monotonix opened with their outsider theatrics, playing, as usual, from the floor of the venue. But the party-rock parody fell flat in the awkward environs of the venue: Careening around a room of music nerds, mooning the crowd, pouring beer on each other and climbing the room's mezzanine threatening to jump made the band look more pathetic than rockin'. Worth a second look under different circumstances, perhaps.
After the floor was cleared and everyone was compensated with drink tickets, Silver Jews took the stage, emerging from a backlit-blue doorway and descending down a small back-alley staircase to their instruments. The familiar intro to "Smith & Jones Forever," a highlight from the band's best, American Water, was met with cheers as Berman grabbed the mic with confidence and maybe even a little swagger.
Berman -- oversized specs, beard as shield, donning a proper suit -- owned the stage while the Lookout Mountain songs glowed with sparkling Nashville sound. The guitarwork on tunes new and old (like classic "Dallas") cut through the club's mix with pristinely gritty solos and ringing lead lines. And the much anticipated duet of "Suffering Jukebox" made palpable Berman's much discussed spiritual and emotional recovery.
Though the novelty of seeing the Silver Jews live is wearing off (I know, fickle), the songs continue to captivate with a mixture of ambivalence and affirmation (even if their mid-tempo loll becomes more noticable in a live setting). The experience made the most sense as the night's closing phrase, "I love you to the max," repeated by crowd and band with earnestness and vigor, contradictions and all, echoed through the night.
Pygmalion Music Festival 2008
September 17-20, 2008;
Music festivals, for what it’s worth, are as much about music as they are about the experience, which largely explains their draw over regular summer touring schedules. It’s also one of the main reasons I found myself at Urbana-Champaign’s Pygmalion Music Festival amidst an awesome lineup of bands composed heavily of artists that I had no clue about. Even the ones I purportedly went there to see, and claim to be a fan of, I know little about: I’ve seen Dan Deacon four times now, but still have only heard one of his records. I’ve seen Headlights four times too, but only own their most recent release. So, to be unleashed on this unfamiliar wilderness of a Big Ten college town amidst a mass of musicians was simply disorienting.
My friend and I were surprised and excited to find official Pygmalion tote bags waiting for us with our wristbands. Free goodies! Festival t-shirts! Complimentary issues of Paste! Free earplugs! Unfortunately, there was no real orientation guide for us, and we got lost looking for the first venue. We finally arrived halfway through Pontiak’s set; we were blown away by the level of musicianship displayed by this trio of brothers (all of whom resemble Will Oldham to some degree). Their riff-heavy indie stoner jams are likely to please fans of Black Sabbath and Animal Collective alike, and their continued alliance with Arbouretum is no surprise.
Pontiak was the first great revelation of the weekend, but unfortunately things went downhill from there. We saw Evangelicals stone-sober in the lobby of the University art museum, which was just plain weird. The normally effusive creators of this year’s sublime The Evening Descends were lacking in both energy and stage presence. They ran through that record like it was a hits compilation, with “Paperback Suicide” and “Midnight Vignette” sounding particularly good but overall flat.
We mistakenly missed the opportunity to see Murder By Death in lieu of the allure of beer at the Canopy Club. We ravenously attacked the $2 High Life specials (thank you, corporate sponsorship!) and then witnessed the rock ‘n’ roll swindle that is Monotonix – a really great guitar player, a shit-ton of stupid antics, and little-to-no substance. I’ve seen them twice now, and I never want or need to see them again. This must have been the evening of Spectacle.
The awful taste in my mouth left by Monotonix gave way to the blissful noise of Dark Meat. Taking the stage with something like 12 members, including 2 drummers, Dark Meat seemed to have the most fun of any band that night. They were also the loudest, just about destroying the already sub-standard sound at the Canopy Club, leaving us to revel in their wall of sound. Even if the intricacies of their sound were indiscernible, they were a blast two witness live.
The evening closed with the aforementioned Dan Deacon Fiasco. With the sound all but gone, Deacon’s music was reduced to static and a modest beat, while a host of hipsters danced to nothing. Inviting the audience onto the stage caused it to collapse. Still, the party persisted in the audience, at least until some fan got kicked in the face by a crowd-surfer and the plug on the night was pulled. It would have been unfortunate under normal conditions, except that I couldn’t help but feel that we had been spared actually having to wait through Deacon’s entire performance. It was pitiful and unfortunate, showing that a Dan Deacon show can’t be a perfect party every night.
With Thursday night marking the low-point of the festival, we turned to a long night of music Friday to set things right. We started off with our friends The Lonelyhearts, a duo who write lengthy narrative songs on the sparse landscape of 12-string guitar and a lone synthesizer. Their new record, Disaster Footage at Night, is one of the year’s unheralded gems, so I was among the privileged few who got to see them at their last live show of 2008. We then caught Owen at the aforementioned art museum, whose one-man confessional act was far more appropriate for the museum, balancing his acrid, stinging lyrics with an ability to make his acoustic guitar fill the room. The lineage from American Football is present and visible, and he was one of the surprise highlights of the festival.
We stuck around for Santa, the band who so graciously hosted us for the weekend, and enjoyed their manic yet pleasing indie pop. Clearly bringing out heads with their considerable undergrad following, the energy in the art museum was palpable. We booked it back to the Canopy after their performance and were delightfully greeted by the next big revelation: Titus Andronicus. Their triple-barreled guitar assault recalled the power-pop of The Thermals born out of the swamps of New Jersey. This band is seriously tremendous live. Black Mountain was next. They sounded great, but they've made little impact on my life, even after seeing their live show -- the perpetual “not my thing” band. We stumbled out into the night with the mash-ups of the Hood Internet playing behind us, more interested in carousing with bands in the downstairs VIP area than joining the crowd they attracted.
This final day of the festival presented the Yo La Tengo quandary; is it essential to go see them just because they are a legendary indie rock band? Turns out it was and it wasn’t. They played in the massive Krannert Center for Performing Arts, worlds away from the beer and atmosphere of the Canopy Club. Twenty-five minutes of their set was all I needed, and I ducked out the back. Seeing indie rock in a concert hall like that is always a little weird. To their credit, they tore it up, but they felt so distant and, to some degree, scripted. There were clearly a ton of people who were very excited about the show, but I took my chances and bailed.
High Places provided an appropriate substitute. The band has been hyped like few others in 2008, but I must admit that the buzz is justified. Their tropical-influenced take on modest pop is infectious, and the drumming is mesmerizing. They were one of the only bands I could describe as danceable, which was a good break from a lot of loud noise.
The Canopy Club provided the grand finale of the weekend with the Polyvinyl Records showcase. The M's were uninspiring and drab, but Headlights and Asobi Seksu were so impressive that the weekend ended on an unexpected high note. The lack of critical attention for Headlights' 2008 album Some Racing, Some Stopping is confounding; meanwhile, their live show keeps getting better every time I see them. It's like witnessing the reunion of old friends, with all kinds of energy and smiles and good vibes. But what really counts is how good they make these songs sound live. The translation of "So Much For the Afternoon" from slow jam to full-on pop stomp is impressive.
Headlights were followed by Asobi Seksu, the final band of the weekend. I thought about skipping them, but I couldn't resist sticking around for one last performance. Luckily, they didn't disappoint. I had always thought of them as primarily steeped in shoegaze, but their indulgences in pure pop tendencies combined with their big sound (the Canopy finally got its sound right) was a delight, a perfect way to end the weekend.
Pygmalion 2008 was long, loud, and flawed. But like any good festival, I found some new bands to fawn over. Some aspects of the festival were unwieldy and inconvenient -- it's really spread out, and the lack of alcohol at some of the venues was unfortunate -- but in offering a small, local, and cutting-edge festival, Pygmalion succeeds on the whole. Although I didn't get to see everyone, and although I didn't like everyone I saw, it was a very successful weekend of live music. When I got home, I was ready to rest, which in this case was a good sign.