Shellshag / Screaming Females / Kreamy ‘Lectric Santa / Saything
Spam Warehouse; Oakland, CA


I showed up late to this show, because I was wasting time at home learning what Slash Fiction is. So I missed Cansafis’s solo saxophone set. It’s okay though, I’ll see it next week. In between bands, I stood around and enjoyed the beer-vending machine: PBR, Olympia, or Budweiser for 75 cents? Amazing.

Saything came on, and I realized that, having now seen them three times in the past month, it has become like watching Sanford & Son; my attention is held but not newly warped. It’s good though, like Modest Mouse with better vocals. Bonus -- it was Mr. Brian’s (Saything's drummer) birthday, and the celebratory vibe was heartfelt.

After Saything finished, the place got magically packed, including a whole family (raddest parents ever) with two goth adolescents front and center. Kreamy ‘Lectric Santa came on and blew my mind. The whole purpose for the show was to celebrate the release of their new album, Operation Spacetime Cynderblock: 4 Riddles of the Spheres, and they absolutely ripped through their set. The drumming was positively gymnastic. Robert and Priya’s vocals are so harsh and punk, I can’t help making Subhumans comparisons. Actually, Crass is a pretty good point of reference too, but subtract out a bit of the overt political commentary and keep the anti-authoritarian vibe, then add a hefty dose of Sabbath influence and early '90s Miami noise vibe, and you now have KLS in a nutsack.

Screaming Females and Shellshag underwhelmed me, even if the crowd came out for them. Both bands have pretty well mastered power/pop/crust punk, but compared to KLS I found their delivery sloppy, loose, and poorly mixed. Although, both bands do subscribe to the “save the best for last” setlist writing motif, which is a good way to earn a couple points from this jaded reviewer. There was another show going on next door, but I was too faded and hungry to check it out. A trip to Korean BBQ beat that easily.

of Montreal / Jon Brion
Fox Theater; Oakland, CA


Even though I’ve seen pictures of Kevin Barnes on a white horse and {(NSFW)} Kevin Barnes with no clothes, and even though I thought I was ready to be a witness to the spectacle that is an of Montreal performance, nothing could have prepared me for seeing this band for the first time. And that’s probably a good thing, because by the time the show was over, I was happy to feel like I’d been hit by a train.

That train did not, however, include Jon Brion among its passengers. His opening set was subdued and pleasant, two things that make for a nice first act but are not particularly memorable. He hopped nimbly around the stage from instrument to instrument, playing four or five for each song, and capped off his performance with a replete-with-autotune rendition of Daft Punk’s “Around the World.” He is clearly a gifted musician, but his creations are better-suited to recording. Suffice to say, it’s good he played before of Montreal and not after, because though he held his own in front of a 2,300-person audience, he didn’t captivate.

Adequate representation of the of Montreal portion of the evening requires visuals, and the method by which founder/singer Kevin Barnes entered the stage got things going nicely:

The earlier parts of the show included many vignettes to accompany songs. We got a gas-masked family on Christmas morning; a philanderer caught in the act and dragged away by mysterious creatures; pigs all over the place; and some others I can’t remember because I never quite got the hang of where to look during the show. Should I have focused on the actors who played out these scenes?

Or perhaps guitarist Bryan Poole was more deserving of my attentions with his feathered wings and star-printed guitar?

Either way, I didn’t possess the ability to compartmentalize and pay attention to specific songs. It became clear that live performances are another creative outlet for Barnes, where his excellent music provides a space for physical manifestations of his overactive imagination. The band blazed through a setlist composed mostly of tracks from last year’s Skeletal Lamping and its predecessor, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?. They rarely stopped playing, and when they did, it was mostly to thank the audience for a warm welcome back to the States after the European festival circuit. Sure, their performance reflected their fatigue, but this relatively tame of Montreal show was still mind-warping.

After the first encore's exhaustive jamming of Hissing Fauna’s 12-minute centerpiece, “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal,” I didn’t expect the excellent second encore that followed: a cover of David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream." When a band with a fully realized aesthetic pays tribute to an artist who clearly informs the group’s output, it’s a nice wink to the audience and to the musical world outside the group. And for a band whose sole recording member created much of his last album as his African American transsexual ex-con alter-ego Georgie Fruit, who is there to thank for influence but Ziggy Stardust? I missed seeing the original “Moonage Daydream” by over a decade, but thanks to of Montreal’s cover, I got a little taste of spectacular glam rock at its finest. The band did Bowie justice, and if he’d seen the show that preceded the homage, I think he would have approved.


Butt Bank intro

Nonpareil of Favor

Bunny Ain’t No Kind Of Rider

Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games

Id Engager

And I’ve Seen A Bloody Shadow

The Party’s Crashing Us

Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse

October Is Eternal

A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger

Beware Our Nubile Miscreants

Daniel (Bat For Lashes cover)

Metal Finds Troll (new song)

For Our Elegant Caste

Touched Something’s Hollow

An Eluardian Instance

Rapture Rapes the Muses

She’s A Rejecter

The Past Is A Grotesque Animal [encore]

Moonage Daydream (David Bowie cover) [second encore]

[Photos: Elzee]

Magnolia Electric Co.
40 Watt Club; Athens, GA

[July 22, 2009]

“If you want me to stop touring, keep yelling my name,” proclaimed a maybe-half-joking Jason Molina upon hearing the cry of an overzealous fan at a rather sparsely populated show Wednesday night. You see, in the ever-shifting stratosphere of the former Songs: Ohia mastermind, the new deal is that the band is the deal, and that’s that. It makes sense – this is, after all, the most time Molina has spent with any one group of musicians in his career, and it shows. The band is tighter and more musically limber than ever; the newer songs sound cohesive and lean, the older ones somehow fresh and revitalized.

Speaking of older songs, there weren’t many to be found in this setlist – the latter-era Songs: Ohia jam “John Henry Split My Heart,” with its imposing Crazy Horse-ish instrumentation, was as far back as it reached. Instead, it culled the majority of songs from the recently released Josephine, as well as 2007’s stunning Sojourner box set. A rousing, energized version of What Comes After The Blues standout “The Dark Don’t Hide It” proved a highlight of the evening, and as the fervent group of fans crowded around the stage and sang along word-for-word, a taken-aback Molina smiled and shook his head in shy bewilderment.

Molina’s very deliberate transition from goth-folk troubadour to rock 'n' roll frontman has not only been tricky for music critics who can’t seem to write about Magnolia Electric Co. without dragging up the past (case in point: me), but has also prompted a sort of withdrawal in the guy’s music. While the sizzling classic-rock bombast of the band is in and of itself outstanding, what made Songs: Ohia records like Didn’t It Rain so goddamn special was the naked immediacy. As Molina journeys farther into the mythos of the band, the man himself retreats into the background – exactly, it would seem, how he wants it.

Micachu and the Shapes / tUnE-yArDs / Tempo No Tempo
Rickshaw Stop; San Francisco, CA


It’s been a while since I felt ringing in my ears. Noise was needed, given how much lately I’d been forced to listen to other people’s music, and a show was to be had. While the Rickshaw had held the massively hyped Pains Of Being Pure At Heart only the night before, I sought interest in another breakout band this year, Micachu and The Shapes, tonight. Micah “Micachu” Levi’s bombastic noise project has subtle elements of elegance in its debut recording, Jewellery, which had me wondering if it translates well in a live setting.

The night opened with local Oaklanders Tempo No Tempo. They seemed to rely on the latter half of their name at times, feeling sloppy. While frontman Tyler McCauley instilled a significant intensity in his vocal disposition and guitar playing, his bandmates could not match that intensity, and it felt like he was burdened with picking up their slack. Preparation (or lack thereof) may have been at the heart of this problem: On more than one occasion drummer Alex Kaiser have to tune his snare drum, often mid-song, and at one point the band screwed up their set list and made the audience aware. They managed to hit stride in the second half of their set, beginning with a new untitled track and moving onward to the enjoyable “Medicines.” Still, they could not make up the lost interest. There is decent potential to be found in their music, but they need to spend more time practicing to truly express it.

Within the first minute of supporting act tUnE-yArDs’ first piece, it felt like the opening act was just a rehearsal and the show had finally begun. In fact, given the crowd’s incredible reaction, one could argue Merill Garbus' solo act had stolen the entire show. And she nearly did; her incredible vocal range and dynamic approach to percussion (at one point just creating a proper rhythm out of layers of banging drum rims and the stage floor) made her music an explosive sledgehammer. What's more, her ukelele thrashing was made all the more impressive by the fact that she was playing with a completely broken nail on one finger. But it was her projection that truly raised the crowd: When she was not deploying vocal layer upon drum layer, she was singing with a passion you rarely see outside church gatherings, to the point where she sometimes started out screaming as though she were speaking in tongues. Best of all, you could follow it, drag yourself along with it, and it felt complete. It’s a rare pleasure seeing a performance that holds on to your head and heart for so long, even rarer when a crowd voices displeasure that a supporting set had to end so soon.

From the beginning of their set, Micachu and The Shapes couldn’t decide between a more refined or bombastic approach, so they took both. Never before had I seen such technical accuracy with noise-rock. I was listening to My Bloody Valentine or Lightning Bolt being played by Julliard graduates: Loud, but not painfully so; layered, but easy to discern; brutal, but in a precise manner. Even the cowbell and cymbal-heavy opening to “Eat Your Heart” felt classically inclined, and probably could fit in a piece played by the Boston Pops. They stretched their songs with new solos and bridges, which went from the bizarre (the cymbal solo in “Curly Teeth”) to the stunning (Micachu’s Shields-esque shredding in “Golden Phone”), but all fit. Micachu’s boyish charms worked in her favor, so it never seemed out of place when she snarled or emitted a deep articulate growl in accordance with whatever piece they were playing. Most importantly, though, the band was very progressive: During their short 50-minute set they debuted a few new songs, including the slow-but-appealing “Debris.” While it would be harsh to define noise by a standard such as this, Micachu and The Shapes have definitely exceeded the usual standards and are likely to last as a unique and tight group.

Photo: [Micachu and The Shapes]

Five Star Bar; Los Angeles, CA


It's always fun to watch a group's hometown tour-kickoff show. They’re much more of an event, with family and friends showing up to create an atmosphere that makes you feel like the entire venue is the backstage area (kind of like the club in A Night at the Roxbury). You’re pretty much guaranteed bonus banter and hijinks. On nights like these, record label owners man the merch table instead of mildly bored-looking girlfriends. This show was kind of both and neither. While NoBunny hails from the Bay Area, Burger Records (home of NoBunny’s as-of-now cassette-only Raw Romance and all the opening bands) is based in L.A. All the acts are hovering around SoCal for shows before dispersing to sew their wild oats on their various proper tours.

Of course, the first night also entails a potentially major caveat: un-preparedness. As I watched the opening acts work out their kinks with mixed results, I decided that an air of instability would probably benefit NoBunny more than anything else. We’re talking about a band, after all, whose frontman normally performs in his underwear and a bunny mask and who produce skuzzy power-pop with lyrical gems like “This little piggy wants to get an erection.” Instead of rolling with the relative sloppiness of the night and incorporating it into their persona the way Matt Schmalfeld from Audacity did in the prior set, NoBunny threw me for a bit of a loop when he not only acknowledged it but apologized and promised better results on Saturday. I’m all for consideration towards fans, but the two moments where I saw the cracks in their “don’t know, don’t care” façade were, in in this case, mildly momentum-sucking downers.

Otherwise, NoBunny comported themselves like the lovable rogue presented in “It’s True,” who has to convince us that despite all the bad things we’ve heard about them being true, they’d be good to us. I don’t know if it’s the mystique of the “secret identity,” natural charisma or just the simple sing- along power of the tunes, but NoBunny certainly elicits crowd response. If you go see them live, it’s definitely worth jockeying for a position in the first few rows, as most of the action will be going on out of your line of site. When he’s not rolling around or gyrating on his knees, he will be getting mobbed by people.

Just make sure you’re ready to see a grown man in a thong with a bunny tail.

Photo: [NoBunny MySpace]

Ottawa Bluesfest: Days 10-12
July 17-19, 2009;

[July 17-19, 2009]


- {Day 10}

{Silver Creek} had quite a following of local new country fans on the main stage, but the night actually started when {John McCrea} of CAKE walked out on the second stage in a red hat, white-rimmed sunglasses and white gloves. After ripping right into some of their early material to placate the fans, McCrea took off the gloves, both literally and figuratively. The new material isn't earth-shattering, but it is a different direction for CAKE, who sound thrilled to finally be on their own label. Overall, the set was what can be expected of a band who made its living off the radio; they sound exactly the same live as they do on their records.

{Paolo Nutini} (pictured) has a following that would make the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync jealous, as the women at his concert were actually old enough to fornicate with. Regardless of age, the collective noise made by thousands of women/girls screaming at the same time sounds entirely different from of a sexually mixed crowd. There is ample reason for the adoration, as this guy looks like he fell out of an Abercrombie ad and actually still uses innuendo. People like to use their imaginations, so today's straightforward approach to sex in pop music gets old quickly. Using a word as innocuous as "wiggle," Nutini was elicited noises of pure joy from the early twenty-something crowd of gorgeous women. Kudos my man.


- {Day 11}

The {Deep Dark Woods} opened day 11 to a very small crowd that looked concerned about the weather. Tellingly, it began to to fall nearly 10 minutes into the Saskatoon boys' set, which was strangely fitting for their sombre style of folk rock. Their 2009 album is among the brightest of the year in this writer's opinion, which made it all the more upsetting to hear a lack of strong harmonies, a prominent reason the album is so enjoyable. The sound engineers might be to blame, as two other band members did have microphones but were almost impossible to hear alongside lead singer Ryan Boldt.

After intermittently catching hand-raising songs throughout the day by the likes of Voices of Praise, NewWorldSon, Reggie Young & Gospel Park, and Israel & New Breed, and popping in and out of other fields to witness some old school blues by Louisiana Red and masterful string playing by David Lindley, we came across one of the most bizarre and innovative sights of the festival so far. Berkeley, CA's Mike Silverman, or {That 1 Guy} (pictured) as he is known, put on an incredible street performance, as he mimicked every known instrument to man on his magic stick. Playing his hand-crafted amalgamation of pipes, strings, drums, and effects, and winning smiles with a Zappa-meets-Primus vibe singing songs about bananas and butts, That 1 Guy had the crowd mesmerized by his playing and in near-hysterics with his words. It was then time to turn the volume up to something way past 10.

There was an interview in Ottawa's entertainment rag with {Black Mountain}'s Stephen McBean this past week to coincide with his band's appearance at Bluesfest. He delved into talk about their "retro" tag being not at all constricting and how they could conceivably make a wyrd folk or metal album without anyone blinking a suspicious eye. This genre-hopping idea makes even more sense if you have seen the band live. For all their Black Sabbath bombast and Deep Purple organ workouts, their songs are conducive to epic-ness, be they pastoral or thrash-tastic (I, for one, would love to see the band pull a Wicker Man soundtrack thing heavily influenced by keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt's Sinoia Caves work). Of course it is the vintage riffs and spacey drones that the people were here to see during their Saturday night set, and Black Mountain did not disappoint. Starting with "Stormy High" and ending, appropriately enough, with "Druganaut" (dedicated to that day's main stage headliners Lynyrd Skynyrd), McBean and co. showed everyone that "retro" shouldn't be confused with predictable and that labelling should be done to cans, not bands.

{Drive-By Truckers'} maiden voyage to the national's capital provided the answer to why the band is so ridiculously revered by its followers. It is equally astounding and embarrassing that I haven't sought out more than a cursory listen to Drive-By Truckers' albums since their inception more than 10 years ago. For crissakes, there is no good reason for me to know more Metric songs than those by Athens-via-Muscle Shoals' favorite sons (and daughter)! Regardless, their show gave newbies a wonderful introduction that was not altogether unexpected but great nonetheless. I was pleased to find the set selections doled out among members rather than simply coming from under Patterson Hood's aegis. In fact, Mike Cooley's and Shonna Tucker's Replacements-esque and sweet, soulful turns, respectively, were my favorite moments of their warm, embraceable show. Not quite a slap in the face for my past listening crimes, but the Drive-By Truckers set was a much-needed eye-opener and an interesting diversion from the same-time, main-stage set by DBTs' southern brethren, Lynyrd Skynyrd.


- {Day 12}

It took 12 days, but the final day of Bluesfest brought what many like-minded, TMT-reading folk thought was the lineup of the festival, starting with alt-country Rhode Island act {Deer Tick}. Having previously seen John McCauley III in solo guise, it was exciting to see the this band in "band" form, especially considering the current hot-to-trot status afforded to them courtesy of their gruff-voiced, attention-grabbing Born on Flag Day album. They backed up boastful talk with a strong set of folky weepers, amped-up rockers, country pop songs, and honky tonk shufflers, including a great version of "Friday the 13th" (McCauley dueting with the song's co-author Liz Isenberg), a half-cover of Tom Petty's "Breakdown" near the end of their set, and a bunch of Born on Flag Day songs ("Song About a Man," "Easy," "Houston, TX," etc.) scattered throughout.

{Handsome Furs} (pictured) tore the Bluesfest a new one by pumping out guitar-and-synth jamz with a healthy disregard for safety and a joie de vivre absent from many of their contemporaries. Looking like vintage Debbie Harry with a coke habit and a clash-heavy dress sense of adventure, Alexei Perry was a star in every sense of the word. Looking like he was just granted release from the halfway house down my street and sounding not unlike a hoarser Kurt Cobain, Dan Boeckner thrashed around the stage like a spooked king rat. Together Perry and Boeckner contorted themselves into inhuman shapes and lunged violently towards each other in a mad musical suicide pact as they played a wild set highlighted by wildly good songs off of their two albums, Plague Park and Face Control. This would have been considered a special show on its own, but as a warmup for the last main stage headliners Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it was damned near perfect.

The White Stripes came to Ottawa two years ago and decimated anyone's opinion about them being a "meh" band. Well, Meg is still an awful drummer, but Jack proved himself a bona fide rock star, so the turnout on the final day of the festival for his new band {The Dead Weather} was ample. Alison Mosshart of The Kills was the first to stride on stage, and after taking the final drag on her smoke, she pinched and flicked the butt as if to say "Let's fuckin' do this." That simple move was a perfect distraction so Mr. White could sit at the kit with little fanfare. As the opening notes of "Treat me Like Your Mother" ripped through the previously serene setting, the crowd response was extremely enthusiastic. The band only released their debut album two weeks ago, so they had a limited song library to pull from, which worked in their favor as they kept the set short, tight, and to-the-point.

The final act to arrive at Bluesfest, {Yeah Yeah Yeahs}, had to have been the strangest this buttoned-down government town has seen in a while on a big stage. Karen O careened into view wearing bright colors, a tutu/skirt, and a mask that had a spiral of LED rope lights that circled her face. Springing right into material off their latest album, the rest of the Yeahs looked unenthusiastic about playing a festival on a Sunday night at 9:30. It was as if the band were told everyone was going back to work tomorrow morning, and Karen made several sarcastic remarks about how much of a party it was. Besides an impressive light show and releasing the biggest inflatable eyeball ever onto the crowd, the band was fairly unremarkable when stacked up to the rest of the great material that graced Lebreton Flats this year. The band relied on quite a bit of their quieter material, which wasn't fitting for their getups or their latest recorded output.

Our biggest regret of this year's festival was not having the Turkey Drumstick. The food overall at the festival was excellent, with nothing over $9 and a wide variety of countries represented, including Thailand, India, Greece, and Lebanon. The Turkey Drumstick was something else entirely, with guys walking around with this hunk of meat on a bone that was bigger than their head. They may as well have been Pterodactyl Drumsticks, and at $6.50 including beans and coleslaw, we were fools to pass it up. And a quick note to the organizers: hearing the brain dead radio jockeys say the word "cupsuckers" like it's an increasingly hilarious joke is not only juvenile, it's also irritating. Overall though, this is a festival worth making the trip to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada for. Even if you're not a fan of the "blues."

[Photos: munroe]