Jozef van Wissem
Morden Tower; Newcastle, UK

[05-12-2010]

Last time things got cosmic at Newcastle’s Morden Tower, it was with Californians James Ferraro and Spencer Clark, whose strip-mall explorations were of a different mind than tonight’s more string-based (or, to be precise, “minimalist”) show. Mythos comes pretty easy for this place; it’s a small circular room in a stone tower set into a roman brick wall (that actually now backs onto Chinatown, whose restaurants spray a pretty steady steam of grease onto the cobbled stones). Not sure if the rats (outside) aided an “authentic baroque/medieval” experience, which Van Wissem’s lute seems to emulate in a modern setting (or throws back to in order to find new poignancy).

Sometimes found wearing medieval robes, this Brooklyn by way of Netherlands soloist was tonight in jeans and a flannel shirt, which served even more the dichotomy of new and old means: distant car alarms slipping in between the lengthy rests that marked the beginnings of a certainly stripped-back set, a slow couple of notes then a pause (repeated over 4-5 minutes) that would’ve perhaps seemed particularly drawn out to fans of local support Richard Dawson, whose more song-based finger picks (and vocals) came off actually tearjerkingly humble, like some Northeast English Basho or Rose.

Van Wissem’s set, though, eased the semi-circular room into a distinct and subtle lull, zoning out with swiped classical tidbits, deconstructing an obscure set of musical histories into songs of varied rhythm, usually preferring the more plodding sorts that sometimes confounded but summoned weirdly lunar and timeless slips of consciousness. Whatever varied songform he decided, the results were quietly subversive.

Broken Social Scene / Julie Doiron
The Fillmore; San Francisco, CA

[05-01-2010]

The Fillmore has a bit of a resemblance to another venue, the defunct Avalon Ballroom in Boston, right across the street from Fenway Park. The comparison here is relevant to tonight’s Broken Social Scene show: The first time this writer saw them, it was on a whim 5 years ago at the latter venue, in support of the self-titled album. Back then, Feist opened for them, long before The Reminder, and a man with a perpetual black turtleneck sent her down a separate transcendent path. The show was the stuff of legends. Admittedly, such a show is unlikely to happen again outside of the Greater Toronto area, so expectations have to be blunted, even for a new album and a tour.

Canadian Julie Doiron opened, and though she has an uncanny vocal and physical resemblance to the opener of a half-decade prior, that’s where the comparisons end. On stage, it feels more like The White Stripes in their early years in Detroit, only with the roles switched (though that might be a bit harsh for drummer William, who is actually good at both drums and guitar). Julie herself acted incredibly hokey and chummy at times. Worse though were the couple of songs where dissonance was employed, as well as one song where her singing rhythm sounded incredibly awkward. For a folk artist who has collaborated with the likes of Mt. Eerie and Okkervil River, she was exceptionally mediocre.

There is a lot of virtual-water-cooler (where the water is cleanest) talk about Broken Social Scene’s Forgiveness Rock Record around here, to the effect that this album lacks something pivotal. This writer suspects a single culprit, but will not elaborate for the sake of wanting to live in said culprit’s home city again one day. That said, whatever qualms fans may have for Forgiveness Rock Record can be put to rest: Live, these new songs really do sound like Broken Social Scene songs. Opener (and opening track) “World Sick” sounded much more natural and wet than the recording, as did fiery number “Texaco Bitches” and lead single “Forced to Love.” Lisa Lobsinger, recruited during the self-titled’s recording partly as a means to replace the eventually departed Millan-Feist-Haines trifecta, finally came into her own, captivating the crowd with “Sentimental X’s.”

“Lobbie” also performed exceptionally well with “All is All” and the legendary “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old.” For all the 2-hour set could cover though, the band only glanced briefly at the “BSS Presents” series, playing only “F-cked Up Kid” and “Been at It a Long Time,” the latter of which went into a jammy headspace. The band obviously enjoyed themselves and went at the set with the ferocity they always have. Even co-frontman Brendan Canning, sick with flu, pushed like he could run the Boston Marathon. That the band played 2 hours straight, with only a brief 3-minute break, is a testament to that. While it may be another couple years before we witness epic glory again outside Toronto, Broken Social Scene remain the incredible living force they were years ago on stage.

[Photo: Ze Pequeno]

High Places / Mi Ami
Rickshaw Stop; San Francisco, CA

[03-24-2010]

This show was so easy to space out at, in a good way. Two bands that play noisy music doing it pretty well makes for a satisfying night.

I saw Mi Ami open for HEALTH a while ago, and they’ve definitely honed their live act. By “honed” I don’t mean “polished” as much as “there is a much more noticeable dissonance between their instrumentation and their vocals.” Their music by itself is hypnotic, complicated and nicely jam-heavy. With Daniel Martin-McCormick’s vocals, though, it got sort of crazy. He just doesn’t look like he can make the kind of noises he squeals into a microphone jammed halfway into his mouth. But it’s not insincere, and it works. Mi Ami are not for the faint of heart.

High Places are, though, definitely. They’re warm and fuzzy and full of droning noise sure to envelop anyone in spacey bliss. Unfortunately many of their strongest moments – intricate instrumentation and sampling or complex vocals – get lost in the dense, overpowering guitar washout present in their live set. A rare moment of clarity came on “On a Hill in a Bed on a Road in a House,” from their latest record High Places vs. Mankind, as both their vocalists joined to sing a repeating string of words that guided the whole song beautifully. I think they sound better in the studio, where they can take the time to layer components of their music to the best effect.

The Clean
The Bell House; Brooklyn, NY

[05-07-2010]

Thirty-two years since they formed in Dunedin, New Zealand, The Clean still seem like just another band — and that’s meant in the most complimentary of ways. Following sets from Brooklyn’s Coasting and fellow Kiwi group Dimmer, the band nonchalantly took the stage at the Bell House, picked up their instruments and leaned into a set of tunes spanning their three decades of existence.

That the group can do this is a testament to their timelessness. When the Pixies reunited in 2004, they dusted off a repertoire of late eighties/early nineties material. When Pavement reconvened this year, they summoned up a discography that, as amazing as it is, will always bear a “Made in the Nineties” stamp. The Clean … well, they’re not beholden to any of the decades in which they’ve dipped their feet, and 2010 is no exception. The band’s set moved seamlessly from tunes like 1982’s “Beatnik” to “In The Dream Life U Need A Rubber Soul,” from last year’s Mister Pop.

All three members of Yo La Tengo were in the Bell House audience, a fact that inspires a comparison between the two stalwart trios. If there’s any American band that most resembles The Clean in sonic approach and career arc, it’s Yo La Tengo. But while the latter has built that arc with an LP every few years and fairly regular touring, The Clean’s equation is a little sparser, calling for a couple of albums per decade and a smattering of live dates whenever they find the time.

The band didn’t play their most well-known “hit,” their debut single “Tally Ho,” but it didn’t matter. In an era that runs artists through the hype cycle at a breakneck pace and systematically cashes in on our fond memories of tunes from another time, it’s refreshing to see The Clean still jangling along, impervious to it all.

Ariel Pink
Mercury Lounge; New York, NY

[05-04-2010]

Ariel Pink’s show at Mercury Lounge this past Tuesday was many things. It was largely a press preview — a one-off date for the music media to catch Pink’s Haunted Graffiti before the band embarks on European and US tours this summer. It was an unveiling of tunes from Pink’s forthcoming album, Before Today, his most polished release to date and his first for British label 4AD. It paired Pink with his musical mentor, the prolific, long-time home recording artist R. Stevie Moore. It also turned into a gathering of numerous musicians who have drawn from the reverb-hazed, tape-hissing sonic well that Pink has been tapping since the early 2000s (members of Real Estate, Vivian Girls, Telepathe and Neon Indian were all in attendance).

Under these conditions, the gig felt like a test for Pink. Would he and his latest Haunted Graffiti lineup — which features LA scene vets Aaron Sperske (Lilys, Beachwood Sparks) and Chris Cohen (Cryptacize, Deerhoof) — take their live show into the dressed-up, slicked-down realm of Before Today? Would they win the approval of the bloggers and critics? What might R. Stevie say of Pink’s new approach, which abandons his lo-fi past for time in a proper LA studio? What would his peers think?

All of these questions hung in the thick, muggy air of Mercury Lounge, but when Pink finally took the stage, all he had to stay was, “It’s hot in here.” That dismissive, visceral focus carried through the entire night, with Pink pouring out sweat as profusely as his band poured out solid renditions of songs both old and new. The set began with two tunes from 2004’s The Doldrums, “Strange Fires” and “Don’t Think Twice (Love),” then “Flying Circles,” from 2006’s House Arrest, before turning to new material. “Bright Lit Blues Skies” and “Butt-House Blondes,” both Before Today tracks, and “For Kate I Wait,” another Doldrums tune, stood out as highlights, but the whole show was infused with a vitality and propulsion that has been absent from Pink’s work… er, before today.

When introducing “Round and Round,” Before Today’s much-touted lead single, Pink remarked that the band didn’t have the San Jose Choir on hand to accompany them and subsequently cut short the tune’s final triumphant chorus, in which he sings, “We’ll dazzle them all.” It seemed to be an acknowledgement that, though he’s no longer hunched over a 4-track mumbling out his songs, Pink still has room for growth before he can truly dazzle everyone.

The Almighty Defenders
Great American Music Hall; San Francisco, CA

[04-20-2010]

The Almighty Defenders put on, hands-down, the craziest show I have ever been to. I apologize in advance for not being able to find pictures from this night, because it was obscene and messy and totally great. I don’t know where to start, so I guess the church robe-clad band is a good place. They strode out onstage, solemn, as King Khan demanded that we the audience give ourselves to Jesus, praise the Lord, and testify as sinners. Much (I suspect “ironic”) hand-quivering in the audience ensued as the band tore through the first few songs on their self-titled album. It felt like church intended for atheists, serious but totally sacrilegious.

This whole show, band and audience, was thoroughly alcohol-soaked and wonderfully sloppy to match. The band passed around a fifth of Jameson throughout the set. They played their guitars in weird ways and mimed various sex acts with each other. Mark Sultan (BBQ) dedicated a cover of Elvis’s “He Touched Me” to the Pope. And about 30 minutes in, dear readers, the night became downright bizarre. My friend and I had to keep grabbing each other and making “IS THIS SHIT REALLY HAPPENING” faces:

• The Black Lips’ Jared Swilley read out of a Bible with the fervor of a Pentecostal preacher, then collapsed on the floor while still testifying and writhing around
• Mark Sultan found someone’s credit card on the stage and broke it in half in his mouth
• King Khan stripped off everything but his shoes and ate it stagediving, after which he passed out on the dancefloor for about a minute and a half (concussion suspected). When he got back onstage someone in the front row touched his dick and got a kick square in the jaw in return.
• Cole Alexander, also of the Black Lips, pulled down his pants, played his guitar with his dick, and then peed on King Khan, who subsequently took a pull on the bottle of Jameson the band had been passing around and then spat the pee/whiskey combo out onto the audience.

And for the finale, a bleeding-from-the-mouth King Khan stuck his microphone up his butt. I feel really bad for whoever had to clean up after this show, and it turns out the venue wasn’t too pleased about it. From GAMH’s Facebook page:

Last night (April 20) an incident occurred at the end of the set involving inappropriate and uncondoned behavior by two of the artists performing. To those in the audience, please accept our apologies. We will continue to strive to provide an environment and music that is appropriate for all ages.

I don’t blame them for having to cover their asses, but I’m thoroughly grateful this show happened, and that I was at it, and that I walked away covered in beer and spit and feeling the Holy Spirit raging in my blood. Amen.

  

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