Peter Bjorn and John / Fujiya & Miyagi / Au Revoir Simone
Webster Hall; New York, NY

[05-01-2007]

It’s weird: I had been thinking about Peter Bjorn and John and Fujiya & Miyagi as somehow connected for a while before I heard they were touring together. Though it would be hard to confuse their sounds, both are popular, ubiquitously buzzed-about indie rock bands that released celebrated albums earlier this year. Beyond that, I think it must have been that both band names are comprised of proper names and include the conjunction “and.” Whatever the reason, it just seemed appropriate that they would play on the same bill.

Au Revoir Simone, a local Brooklyn band, kicked off the night. A trio (Peter Bjorn and John later told us that they purposefully chose two other trios for the evening—“a trio of trios!”) of skinny, long-haired girls all playing keyboards and singing in unison, they pretty much screamed “gimmick” from the get-go. It’s not that I didn’t find their spacey, diffuse songs pleasant, but there just wasn’t much to like. All of the ethereality didn’t add up to much substance.

I was looking forward to seeing Fujiya & Miyagi, as I had been playing their Kraut rock-influenced album Transparent Things (Deaf Dumb & Blind) regularly for months. It’s so rare for music to be danceable and have strange, satisfying lyrics that it just never got old. Unfortunately, the band is much stronger on record than it is live. There wasn’t much that singer/guitarist Dave Best could do to punch up his sparse, whispered vocals, and no one in the band made much an effort to interact with the audience. While I continue to enjoy Transparent Things, I don’t think I’d go out of my way to see Fujiya & Miyagi live again.

By the time Peter Bjorn and John took the stage, I had grown a bit weary of the evening’s lackluster performances. Fortunately, the energetic Swedish sweethearts made quick work of redeeming the evening. Their stage set-up seemed to make light of their growing fame (I recently heard “Young Folks” in a Banana Republic outlet in Connecticut where, you might be interested to know, I was not tempted to make any purchases) and critical darling status, with each piece of equipment clearly labeled. There was a “Peter Bjorn and John Drum” and a “Peter Bjorn and John Bass Amp,” while the band performed in front of a curtain with “Peter Bjorn and John Backdrop” emblazoned upon it. Most of the set consisted of catchy, indie pop fare from Writer’s Block (Almost Gold), performed with boyish enthusiasm and ample dancing, both onstage and in the crowd. At one point, John lightheartedly demystified another concert cliché, reading from what may have been the set list and telling us, “The next song will be a soft song, then another soft song, then the hit.” They were true to their word, though a little humble, as the “soft song,” “Amsterdam” was by then almost as popular as “Young Folks,” the “hit.” Peter Bjorn and John see the humor in the indie rock hype machine and aren’t afraid to poke fun at it, laughing with, not at, their ever-growing contingent of fans.

Sasquatch 2007: Day 1
The Gorge; George, WA;

[The Gorge; George, WA]

aahahahahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHa haHAHAHAhahahaHAHAHAHAH AHAHahahahaAHAHHA HAHaaaaa... ungh, efpb, blelrssteprhrlps ahaAHAHAHAHA HAHahahahahahaha, oh god, oh no, oh SHIT, AHAHAHAhaha AHAHAHAhahaHAHAHA HAHAHAHAHahahahahaAHAHAH AHAHAHAhahahaha hahaAHAHHAHAHAHA... [rub tears of laughter from eyes, wipe dripping nose] OHGODOHCHRISTAHAHAHAHAHAhaha hahaHAHAHAH AHAhahahaAHAHAHAHAHAA HAHprfptopsptssrltri slaafppfftffppftpff ptrfrffptprfpftpt... [gross].

Oh man, I'm sorry, but this is SO FUCKING HILARIOUS. I'm reading Sasquatch coverage on the web, and it's SOOOO obvious that none of these ‘concert reviewers’ were actually there. I just read that there was “no hip-hop” at Sasquilla 2-double-O-Silla -- which featured sets by Blackalicious, Beastie Boys, Saturday Knights, Gabriel Teodros, Mixmaster Mike, and Common Market, more hip-hop than 'squatch has ever hosted before -- and my side is cramping so bad I could swear there's a shovel, hoe, or some other sort of farming device poking it. BUT THERE'S MORE, oh shit man, peep this: Patrick Wolf's set was the BEST OF THE WEEKEND, AHAHAHAhahahAHAHAHAHA... but wait, nowaitwaitwait, there's more! I've also just been informed that Beastie Boys' funky, low-key, tossed-off instrumental jam session on Saturday night was FAR SUPERIOR to their real fest-ending Sunday-night set, which contained, well, rapping. What a goddamned riot, what a sham, what a... LAUGH. Man, it's like I was at a different show or something!

But hey, these things happen all the time. Sometimes you become too hip to cover a festival. As you grow progressively above-it-all, your ability to observe goes by the wayside. Then you spend half of your time taking lame, cute-as-a-spaniel, cocker, backstage Pixxx, and before you know it, you're wondering how in the hell you're going to cover this sprawling festival, spread out over three stages.

And you didn't expect the killer gusts of wind, didjya? Man, for a pampered non-West Coast puss-puss that must have put quite the damper on things. In fact, you probably spent most of your time in that Press trailer, didn't you? I stopped by and there were several of you tappity-tapping away on your laptops when real, in-the-flesh bands were playing outside. And you know what? I could tell you'd spent most of your time in the trailer; hell, everyone that attended the festival and read your recap on the following Tuesday morning can tell! Hey, it's not ALL your fault -- besides, didn't you have to stop-gap the article so it could run the following Tuesday? Yeah, see that's your biggest problem. Why rush it? Punching out a vaguely observational paragraph for each band that played might get you to press faster, but where's the LUV? Where are the harrowing personal stories? Where are the personal attacks? Where are the... opinions? Oh, right, you... you didn't... have anyyyyy. Well, I'm gonna do you a big favor and tell it like it izz like Freddy fuckin' Fender, with grainy, absolutely SHEEYAT photos and on-the-spot illustrations to boot!!! Hey, who knows, maybe my recollections will dredge up some brief memory flashes so you can write a good article too... Sound like funnnn?

GOOD, 'cause we're talkin' 'bout Sasquilla; I hopes yooz can diggit. Unless I'm tripping balls this was my fifth-straight year at 'squatch. It would have been my sixth, but I scalped my (free) tickets to the first year for $100 each and went to a Mariners game instead. Trust me, you would have too (Jack Johnson/Ben Harper were probably the best acts there). So I marched into a half-decade of memories this time 'round, and I'm happy to report that it was again a fun-oozin' doozy of a good time. The only real problem in writing articles about this event, year in and year out, is knowing where to start. So I'll just start from the beginning.

First off, I must mention that Sarah Silverman, who was supposed to host this edition of Sasquilla, was missing in action like MIA (who again had visa troubles and couldn't perform), but with no excuse. YOU SUCK, SARAH SILVERMAN (love yer show). Also, I must admit I was a little reticent about bringing my wife, Carolina Purdum, to Sasquatch, pregnant as she is (six months). A friend (you might remember his as Joel the Drunken Gimp from last year's Sasquatch review) even asked me about it a few days prior to the show after he informed me he wouldn't be able to provide drunken antics for this year's article:

All right man, have fun at the show. Is pregnant Carolina going to be able to handle the trip for two days straight?! And camping too? Hmmm...seems doubtful...

HA! My woman shirked all expectations by belly-walking through the entire weekend like a feisty land-crab, at one point even soldiering on while I caught a short, unplanned nap. She even contributed the DRAWRRRINGS you're seeing throughout. Will wonders never cease? This staying power, above ALL else, is why I married this woman... well, that and her cobb salads (though I should mention she sat down during Interpol)...

Back to the action: After thoroughly lecturing my passengers that the Purdum train -- taking the Road to Purdition -- was leaving promptly at 8 AM, I found myself rolling out of bed at 8:30 and feeling like a jack-cock. But being the shake 'n' bake driver I am, I knew we wouldn't be late and miss {Blitzen Trapper}, I just knew it. I'd missed Sasquatch's noon O'clock bands every year prior, but this installment was going to be different. I stuffed the gas pedal into the ground like the neck of a dude who owes me $10 and looked out for greasy pigs with my third eye. Unfortunately, packing, a stop for some delicious Arizona raspberry ice-t, and a quick pre-show tent set-up prevented us from arriving at noon, so I missed Blitzen Trapper. Oh, and I got pulled over for speeding by a Cock. No, seriously, the cop's name was Mr. Cock. NO, I'm SUPER-CEREAL, why won't you believe me? We seriously, honestly witnessed the true power of... Cock. I mean, only a real Cock would write me a $100 ticket on the way to Sasquatch, right? Man, that Cock had balls. I guess I should just be thankful though; at least I didn't get slapped, gagged, or spit on by Mr. Cock; that would been messy for all concerned.

And anyway, this [balls] story isn't [cock] about policemen [balls] named Cock [er, balls?] or speeding tickets [cock] issued by [balls] phallic Cock namesakes. I have integrity dammit, so PLEASE, allow me to focus [cock]. HEY! Zip it. So anyway, we got their too late to see Blitzen Trapper, which is a shame because a) I love reindeer, b) I love trapper keepers, c) I love noxious rock 'n' roll, and d) I think Donner is overrated. The sinking feeling in my chest when I repeatedly glanced at my ever-ticking watch was similar to how I felt when I missed Rogue Wave last year. It really hurts. I promised myself I wouldn't cry, but sure enough I let the waterworks fly on the way to Press Will Call, wiping my nose on my wife's dress, making ‘pfffft’ sounds and babbling things like “Wammy wanna watsch Tristen Blapper wink-wonk.” But, just as my wife said over and over, my tantrum wasn't helping the situation. It was time to grow up and face the music.

And face the music I did. My tears had been dry for maybe a few seconds when the bloated chants of {The Hold Steady} hit my ears, and I had to ask: Who did they blow to get where they are today? I went into their early afternoon set with an open mind and walked away promising myself to never, ever give them another chance to win me over. As I will periodically throughout my Sasquilla 2007 experience, I now refer you to the notes I scrawled while watching:

Jello Biafra, that dandy from Matchbox 20, that guy that fronted the band from the first Hellcatt: Give 'em the Boot comp – the one that sang about skating, shit what-the-bloody-hell band was that? -- and John Belushi = Craig Finn. Huck he ain't. Bass player's strings popping like G-pa's hip-bone; where did he learn to play?... After 20 minutes onstage Finn is sluggish, winded and mumbling. Not that it's a huge difference... he doesn't sing anyway; he talks, sorta shouts sometimes. People always say, “At least the lyrics are good!”; then again pretty much anyone could sing about drinking and drugging and receive a pass, so I HOPE The Hold Steady have more to rest on than that. I hope I hope I hope... Hoping... still hoping... Bob Hope springing eternal... Hope-ity Hope-Hope... Hopesville. Annnnd it's settled: The Hold Steady officially have nothing more to rest on. How quaint... Shitty band. Longing for Blitzen Trapper being replaced by hatred for The Hold Steady...Wondering if Heidi Vanderslice will quit TMT over this scathing indictment... Wondering how many liters of anger-drool my Springsteen friends would emit if they heard all the 'steen/Hold Steady comparisons. Wishing I could get high for no reason other than to blast Finn's slurring out of my mind. Anger. Wrath. Self-pity. When does Ozomatli start?

And that, my friends, is all I have to say about that. But my Great Pale Hope still burned within me, as I knew the worst was over. Wasn't it? Well, we'd see. For now we had {Ozomatli} to scrub and drip-dry the atrocities of the previous set, and the large ensemble didn't hedge its bets, delivering exactly what I expected: A diverse set of Latin-tinged tunes that non-Grants can dance to, with sprinkles of salsa, waltz, hippy-yam-jam, funk, and even calypso thrown in for good measure, not to mention snippets of instantly familiar songs such as “Love Will Tear Us Apart” squeezed into their at-times too-long jammy jams. The many dancers were egg'd on no-doubt by the consistent and plentiful rhythms offered by the, to have All Music Guide tell it, ‘hip-hop collective.’ But I feel otherwise; more on that later.

As soon as they took the stage, a woman began sauntering around on the grass with her baby in tow, so I took a picture to capture the mood, all-the-while thinking, DAMN, I COULD BE TAKING PICTURES OF THE BLOW'S KHAELA MARICICH HOLDING A PACK OF BUBBLICIOUS!! But hey, sometimes you gotta leave the real coverage to the ‘otha guyz,’ right? Ozomatli cranked through a half-dozen side-steppers and I realized the rapping was becoming awfully cliche'd, a dated facsimile of the truly gritty stuff a full-time rapper would deliver. That's a tough one, though; how many vaguely hip-hop ensembles get their rapping right? Very few. If I had a suggestion, it would be for Ozomatli to ditch the rapping. My notes agreed (imagine that!):

I remember that track Ozomatli did with Cut Chemist and that deeeeeeep-throated dude from Jurassic 5. Yeah, THAT guy, the one that's gonna go solo now that J5 called it a day... man, that was some hot gravy, but that was in 1998. Now the rapping just sounds dated; Chali 2na these dudes ain't. Moving on... Instrument round-up: Two singers/rappers, two trumpets, bass, guit, keys, two percussionists, drummer w/ full set. COOL! It's strange how so many bands resemble large gangs these days... It's like Steve Harvey said on Kings of Comedy: “Thirty-eight motherfuckas on stage and every one of them's gotta mic!” Ozo have enough members to pull off a West Side Story remake... Unlike The Arcade Fire it seems like every member has a reason to be here though; a nice touch... Love the brass. It's refreshing, the environment this band seem to bring with them wherever they go. Plus, they should teach university classes on how to hype up a crowd. None of that ‘throw yo hands in the ahyur’ shit; this is the real deal. Oooh, scored a weeeed cookie! Going to eat it during Björk so tinymixsenses remain strong. REMINDER: don't tell P you did drugs; then again he's probably got spies planted all over this place, so fuck it...

As the 'matli crew finished up their diverse, altogether-impressive set, I got ready to fix my eyes on the First Lady of Alt. Country Song, {Neko Case}. But it turned out Ozomatli weren't done. A member of the collective plunged into the crowd with a drum and incited several-hundreds of people to jump up and down with him, chanting a refrain I couldn't understand from up-top. Honestly, I'd never seen anything like it. Extra points awarded to Ozomatli; quite a group of firebrands, them. Where was I? Oh yeah bitch, Neko, aww muther-fuck it's Neko! No, she ain't model-pretty or Germanic or a former member of VU, but she's got heavier, thicker pipes than a plumbing outlet. After being forced off the stage by dint of hail last year, Case was back and ready to make the best of her slot.

And capitalize she did; her voice took flight from the notoriously sound-spotty Gorge stage, ringing in every nearby eardrum. “We're gonna try to make it through a whole set this time,” she laughed as she launched her spare, unsatisfying band – where are The Sadies when ya need em? -- into a few banjo-led numbers accompanied by banjo, with banjo. Did I mention there was banjo being played? I repeat the word because the ban-to-the-jo was mixed exceedingly high at first, distracting from any momentum Case's voice was building. In the end it was like a paper-mache damn attempting to hold back a tidal wave, but it was nevertheless distracting as hell and probably drove the Case-unaware away from the mainstage. And I self-quote:

Neko's voice is fresh as farm-grade funk, but what's with the cotton-pickin' banjo? That thing sounds like a mini freight-train, small but wicked-annoying/dangerous... I just told some nearby Canadians that I write for Tiny Mix Tapes. One of them lifts her head and says, “Oh yeah? Cool, I love music blogs.” Just shoot me in the teeth right now; I'm done with this world. Ooh, looks like they're finally replacing that goddamn banjo with an electric geetar. Lovely, but where's the bass? Hey, since I'm apparently ‘bloggerati’ do I get free shit?

At this point, my notes were discontinued because Case was holding my psyche captive. A wonderful version of “Favorite” combined her aching croon with a back-up singer for one of the most riveting harmonies I've heard in, shit, an embarrassingly long time. It was shocking the way her voice grabbed attention; as the people around me tried to talk to me about “blogging” I couldn't even pretend to listen, instead uttering, “Man, I just really love Neko Case” every so often to show I at least knew there were other people communicating with me. A sly cover of “Buckets of Rain” from Blood on the Tracks did little to dissuade my enthusiasm, though I found that once the backing vocals dropped out I lost interest somewhat, hoping they'd be back sooner than later.

Case was one of the weekend's bright spots, and it couldn't have come at a better time. I needed all the strength I could muster to withstand the sheer shock of seeing a man I thought I recognized in the crowd. He wore the same brown ‘artiste’ hat, warm-ups, goatee, and friendly fat-guy wobble, and I quickly realized that YES: He was the guy that sang several Lionel Richie songs, karaoke-style, on the Carnival honeymoon cruise I'd been on in April. WHAT THE FUCK! Did I mention that the jag-off had taken up so much stage time that my wife and I couldn't get our karaoke on? His rendition of “All Night Long (All Night),” while admittedly stellar, haunted my entire cruise. And how much cold cash did he bribe the song-chooser guy with? I tried to figure out what to do next: Do I confront him and risk a surefire Curb Your Enthusiasm moment? Do I walk away and remain forever haunted by his karaoke-rockin' half-bends and hand gestures? Do I just punch him as hard as I can and run away, hoping his bulbous stomach doesn't swallow my hand like a bologna sandwich with cheese?

I chose to slink away like the wuss I totally and completely am. Mercifully, by the time Case's set had concluded {The Blow} and {Visqueen} were both finished with their sets on the second stage, alas I wouldn't have to – ahem – I mean, get to watch them. HURRAH!!! At this point we stopped by the Press Tent, in all its glory. FINALLY, I AM AT ONE WITH MY PEOPLE, FREE TO ENJOY COMP'D GRANOLA BARS, SODA, AND THE WELL-COIFFED OPINIONS OF THE FELLOW BLOGGERATI. But then I was forced to abandon the idea of bonding with my fellow wordsmiths when someone at an adjoining table said, “I just read this GREAT article about the state of the industry!”... Are these people serious? The industry? Realizing that conversing with present company would lead to boredom the likes of which I'd never suffered before, I withdrew into myself, focusing on taking additional notes while gazing at the mountaintop windmills on the horizon. This strategy failed miserably, as I found myself scrawling the following incoherent half-poem:

Windmills spinning in the distance / Sebastian Bach monkey-biz beligerance / I saw Disturbed here in '99, Ozzfest / bad memories, curly-Q mullet diaper

WHAT THE FUCK, HAVE I LOST IT? I thought as I looked at the poem I had just written. But I got over it, somehow. From here all we had to do was watch a tiny snatchet of {Mirah}'s set before hoofing it to the Wookie Stage for Grizzly Bear. But this would be no small feat. Those who have become used to lugging their significant others to festival-concerts know the feeling all-too-well: SHE wants to watch Mirah, YOU want to watch Grizzly Bear, and for some ridiculous reason the two of you refuse to be separated. What to do? This is where I am forced to become The Great Convincer, the maker of deals, the threatener of withheld sexual favors. I will do anything to get my way, and get my way I will. So we agreed – after much ado -- to trek over to Mirah's stage and watch a few songs before embarking on a bear-sighting tour. On the way to see her we had the following conversation about attending Ozzfest this year (because it's free):

{Grant:} Hey, wanna go see Ozzfest this year? I mean, normally HELLS NO, but it's free... wanna go see it, for free?

{Caro:} What bands are playing?

{Grant:} Errrr, Ozzy Oz-something, ummm... Lamb Of... Lamb Of God?

{Caro:} Lamb Of God? What kind of band name is that? Our child will have nightmares in the womb. She'll refuse to come out until 2024, she'll end up being a Goth...

(Notice how I encounter her ignorant statement with something even wackier in hopes of offsetting it...)

{Grant:} Oh that's just fucking ridiculous. Besides, I think... I think Mayim Bialik is playing a solo set.

{Caro:} Who?

{Grant:} You know, Mayim Bialik, from Blossom!

{Caro:} That's... weirrrrrd.

Our important ‘talk’ was interrupted by the sublime sounds of Mmmmmmmirahhhhhhhh. After a few admittedly tight Mirah songs, including “The Dogs of B.A.,” we jogged away to experience the thrill of a good mauling, care of {Grizzly Bear}. And the Grizz did not disappoint. Their intertwining melodies cascaded through the air like Fourth-of-July fireworks, exploding into intense florescent colors and dazzling the ear with neon tones. It was strange the way their members snuck up on me. At first I thought their were only two members. Then I realized there was another dude tucked away to the right. Than I spotted yet-another member perpetually crouched below the others. While Grizzly Bear's sound itself was a bit spare considering that there were four people creating it, the exultant beauty that resulted was instantly memorable. And, as Scout Leader Kyle would say, they definitely “turned up the AC”:

Grizzly Bear. Clark Griswold. Grizzly Adams. The Gris Gris. The Montana Grizzlies college footbal team. Connected in some strange way? Naw... Unbelievable second vocalist is turning up the goddamn heat; actually he's sorta the lead vocalist but I hesitate to call him that because he mostly seems to contribute harmony. Either way I love this man, and I wager he is the secret ingredient that raises Grizzly above cub status. I'm noticing a heavy, unmistakable Avey/Panda influence... shit, while we're at it, Geologist and Deaken are probably in there somewhere... choirboy cathedral choruses... Black Heart Procession-like expanses of semi-drone movements... dubby, bubbly, tubby, tout-worthy... I'm loving the click-clacking, guitar-picking and sound swells that gush from their instruments like steaming-hot water from a mountain spring... when that thick-ass kickdrum enters the fray it adds a dark underbelly for those pristine voices... the chants of “chin up / cheer up” from “Lullabye” are causing my smile to add a few dimples to its curvatures...

You could almost say Grizzly Bear ruined my Sasquilla experience, because I knew it would be a daunting task for any band afoot to top them. Little did I know the {Beastie Boys}' instrumental set would carry a hefty portion of magic on its own, less ethereally pleasing than tha Grizz but perhaps more in tune with the fun-loving nature of festival goers. Along with -- I'm sure -- more than a few fellow attendees, I realized how much I love Beastie Boys all over again though hearing songs I forgot existed. All in all, it had been too long. Why hadn't I checked my head or visited Paul's bodega in so long? It's ridiculous how life's distractions can lure attention away from the important things.

Things like taking out “Time for Livin' ” for example. Here I was expecting mostly funky cuts -- of which there were more than a few -- only to hear some of the Beasties' best punk jams afforded new life. Not that the group are technically proficient, per se, but the songs themselves are bouncy enough to guarantee a reaction. I should also mention at this point that a young girl approached my wife and I and asked that my wife draw her some "sheep." Then we asked (FORCED!) the little girl to draw something, which she did (see both below). When we asked for her name she declined to give it to us. DAMN CANADIANS! Anddddd back to the show: A too-squealy version of “Sabotage” didn't come off quite right, but other than that there was little to complain about, as the Beasties' instrumental set was packed with enough ‘oomph’ to compete with most of the bands at the festival. And it wasn't even their Real performance! That would have to wait until Sunday, and it would be worth it, oh god almighty would it be worth it.

The absolute best thing about Beastie Boys' set, however, was that it allowed me to miss {Citizen Cope}, {The Long Winters}, AND {Aqueduct} (man, is there anything Beasties' can't do?), The Arcade Fire being the next band-of-interest on the main stage. Before the Fire got flarin' I witnessed {Manu Chau}'s last song, and boy, it was really something, a barn-burning strain of Latino punk that provided a direct antithesis to Ozomatli's fun-but-could've-been-better set earlier in the day. I'm not certain if the song I witnessed represents the Chau canon aptly, but it was red-hot, to say the least.

And, finally, there were {The Arcade Fire}. This was my second time stoking the Fire at a 'fest, and despite a album's worth of new material to pick from it seemed like the same show. I enjoyed their set, but I have a few problems with AF. First of all, even after extensive touring and performing, they still don't organize themselves very well onstage. As a result they often resemble an indie-approved Slipknot, with at least two members running around trying to look busy, maybe hitting a drum occasionally. It's fucking lame. Win Butler's kid brother William is the worst, spending half of his time throwing a drum up in the air then hitting it, once, over and over. At other times he ran around randomly or defiantly (?) hit a cymbal. It's all showmanship, and as a result The Arcade Fire only harness an iota of the energy they could if they ensured the instrumental trains were running on time.

My other problem with 'da Fire is that most of their songs are completely generic, somewhat moronic, and, worst of all, they don't seem to hold much power in a live setting, save a few gems (c'mon, you know what they are if you perused my review of Neon Bible). The crowd, which cheered adamantly when the whatever-piece unit took the stage, stood in puzzlement as curiously lukewarm renditions of songs like “Black Mirror” entered and exited the fray. What's worse, Win seemed scared, barely addressing the crowd and declining to really put his back into his lovely howls. The only thing worse than Win's hesitancy and William's unnecessary crowd-baiting were the depressing antics -- to put it kindly -- of Regina Chassaigne. Just who the fuck is this wench? Allow my notes to explain:

Regina seems to want attention, even more than thousands of people could possibly give her... She's mugging like a bartender, viciously mouthing the words to the songs even when she isn't assigned a vocal part. When she does add something it's a shrill “aaaaahhhhhhhh” or a squeaky chorus. She wants to be Arcade Fire's frontwoman really, really badly. Is she compensating for Win's reclusive stage behavior? Man, what a trainwreck. Now she's even putting her mouth up to the microphone as if to sing, then pulling away without uttering a peep. She keeps looking into the crowd like she's Maynard James Keenan, her nostrils a flare... I'm trying really hard to be polite but this girl is, to me, an annoying little Canadian piggie. Man, I thought that photo spread in Blender was cheesy but seeing her in action is even worse. Oh SHIT, she just said something in between songs. I think she said “thanks” but she moved away from the mic so fast you couldn't really tell. It was obviously a spur-of-the-moment thing that she thought better of at the last-minute. She should have just kept her mouth shut. In fact, I wish she would just let Win do the singing, she really sucks tailpipe. She's better off sticking to the drums.

Assuming I won't be murdered by a professional Canadian Indie-Rock Hit Squad after that little tirade, I'll close my Arcade Fire evaluation with a simple statement, one I've been making since, oh, 2004: Yes, the Arcade Fire are semi-decent, but, I mean, C'MON, GET THE-FUCK OVER IT!!! Phew, that felt good... With the puzzlement of AF behind me, it was time to let my senses be cooled by the frosty bite of a {Björk} peppermint patty. FUCK YEAH, I'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO SAY THAT, BOOYAH! [clear throat] Anyhoooo, our expectations for the Great Icelandic Wonder were sky-high, despite the fact that I've never really given her much of a chance. Yes, I've heard sections of Vespertine and yes, Volta is amazing, but Björk and I just don't work as a pair; we're better off as casual friends.

Until now, that is; this lady's, in the words of a certain Mr. Show castmember, “got the gooods.” Running onstage in a strange yellow frock-looking get-up with an eight-member ‘chorus’ in tow, a spot-on rendition of Volta's “Earth Intruders” immediately tipped the crowd off: this was to be the highlight of the evening, Grizzly Bear or no. I can't really tell you much about the songs she played, save the obligatory “All is Full of Love,” but that was the beauty of her performance; it didn't matter if you were a fanatic or a detached observer. If you were at Sasquatch 2007, you knew Bjork's mettle to be authentic. Remarkably, her complete and utter lack of stage banter didn't come off as stilted or unnatural. In fact I'm guessing those in attendance felt a closer bond with Björk than they did with any other act of the day save possibly the Beasties. Her personality is displayed so nakedly within the guise of her songs. She's dark, bright, ominous, light-hearted, open, mysterious, simple, and complex all at once, and as she skips around the stage like a prairie-raised farm kid one can't help but wonder what planet she's from.

Maddeningly, the rigors of the day forced me to pass out for at least 20 minutes of her set. I woke up somewhat dazed and very, very disappointed at what I'd done. However, the magic still shone through even as my eyelids were clenched shut, and my ability to take notes, up to this point my greatest asset, went by the wayside. Through her entire performance, I only managed one sentence. Normally this sort of content dearth would freak me out, but it's still all I can really say about Björk's set:

This is one of the best things. Ever.

And there you have it! One day of concert coverage, stretched to the limit by an overzealous music reporter. BEANS! Stay tuned for Sasquatch 2007, Day II: Dust in the Wind, coming up as sooooon as I can get around to writing another novel. You won't want to miss it: impromptu make-out sessions, further Blossom discussions, J-lo name-dropping, more Canadians, 139 Beastie Boys-related performances... how can you go wrong?

(Day 1) (Day 2)

[Illustrations by Carolina Purdum]

No Fun Fest 2007: Day 4
The Hook; Brooklyn, NY

[05-20-2007]

No Fun Fest never lasted four days before because doctors told Carlos Giffoni ears could not take that much stress. Incredibly, audiences were able to survive three days for three years. So, Giffoni, being accredited in Science and all, expanded the festival to four days. Here’s the catch: he took basement bands out of the equation and let merch hounds rule the downstairs. Boo, on that count. Yeah, for day four.

We made damn sure to be in front of The Hook at 6 PM sharp on Day four ‘cause our boys Air Conditioning were slated to jam with American Band. This turned out to be one of the highlights of the weekend, as the conglomeration cranked out about a half hour of brutal sludge. The destruction unit sacrificed Air Conditioning’s usual horrific melodies for a room-engulfing harsh noise sound. Air Conditioning’s Matt Franco’s guitar fed into effects and Robert cackled his bass and screamed. Lee Counts drilled some sheet metal and Facedowninshit psycho Jason Crumer twisted pedals, channeling the god in a black mass celebrating decadence via electronics. The set was raw and damn good.

Deathroes took the stage next, demanding a blackened room for the strobelight in their set. This paid off, as the lights accentuated Gerrit and Sixes’ creepy drones. Sixes, who has long been one of the best at creating an interesting, subtle drone, managed to invigorate throughout with his electronic maelstrom. Gerrit, who I ignorantly never bothered to seek out, mirrored the amazing sounds, playing perfect counterpart. In all, the band achieved what Damion Romero and Hive Mind failed on the first day; generating excitement from a live drone.

Ludo Mich read a poem and created a capella noise with two beautiful women. Hurrah. Stegm, featuring Dominick Fernow (a.k.a. Prurient), blasted ear drums with blasts of electronics that teetered between harsh noise and black metal. Fernow sang with a doom-, then black-metal voice.

Leslie Keffer presented some interesting ideas during her set, such as “Can Rodger Stella stay onstage with two dozen beautiful, dancing women without touching a single breast?” Answer: “Apparently.” Her alleged collaboration with Stella featured a few blips of heathen noise greatness before degenerating into a Madonna-driven dance party. Stella stood onstage with some kind of keyboard, slowly lifting it and lowering it, then climbing off the stage mid-set to take a stroll through the crowd. When Keffer cranked Madonna and invited noise ladies to shimmy onstage, Stella wandered back, obstructing the view of the spectacle and glaring at the audience with his slack-jawed moon-face. Interesting, to say the least.

Burning Star Core and Aaron Dilloway, two of the final acts, boasted impressive sets at No Fun Fest in years past. This year was no different. Aaron Dilloway’s set was more sustained and just as incredible as last year’s ten-minute masterwork. Okay, maybe it was a little less, but Dilloway built a heady toxic stew of a soundtrack to dismembering a corpse. Clicks, clacks, rings, and screams all melded into a spontaneous composition which was sound logically and just plain nasty. Burning Star Core jammed with Zaimph, better known as Marcia Bassett of Double Leopards/UN/GHQ fame. The collaboration laid down a ’70s rock stomp and proceeded to blast the piss out of it, adding drones and, of course, C.S. Yeh’s outerworldly mic-spittin’. Outerspace sonics were a great way to end the evening.

We left before Thurston Moore took the stage. After all, we could see Thurston anytime in Northampton. Right? Saying goodbyes to worldwide friends in the basement, I spotted Rob McCulloch, guitarist for NEGATIVE FUCKING APPROACH. After shaking hands with McCulloch and explaining how much I love his band, I begged my ride to stay at the venue. Just for one song. PLEASE! C’mon, I just want to hear them play “Lost Cause.” It’s only 40-fucking-seconds long. Please. No! NO? No fun, indeed. I don’t wanna go back to work. I want to live in a deviant noise community forever. No fuckin’ fun. Oh well, someone dope me up until next year.

{Day One} + {Day Two} + {Day Three} + Day Four

No Fun Fest 2007: Day 1
The Hook; Brooklyn, NY

[05-17-2007]

It was No Fun Fest weekend, and my friends and I made damn sure we booked out of work an hour early. With ride and shelter situations straightened out, we hit the highway, but I’ll be goddamned if New York City traffic planned our night differently. Missed Orphan Fairytale’s opening ceremonies, which all of us were looking forward to, but at least we made it to the festival, which was chock-full of friends and acquaintances.

Rounding the un-genrified, dockside neighborhood, a faint buzzing wandered within earshot as we jogged to The Hook’s front door. After a frisking and ticket securing, we opened the black curtain to an all-too-familiar scene: darkness punctuated by a red-lit bar and a green-lit stage with roughly 200 music-hungry fans and a handful of stragglers on the dancefloor. Evil Moisture welcomed us to the four-day weekend by slaying the audience with madcap, rage-filled hums and squeals.

After some loud yelps, I wandered outside, escaping the scent of stale beer and body odor to catch up with friends from around the states. Two smokes and a few beers later, Lambsbread’s opening chords summoned the audience back. When we arrived indoors, Rat Bastard announced the band was just plugging in. A few minutes later, those evil mothers cranked out one helluva mind-bender. Kathy sketched a dissonant fuzz landscape, while Zac blurted out some Hendrix-of-noise noodlings and Shane spackled a percussive foundation. A brief foray into Sabbath-style doom gave the head a rest from fast banging -- then BLAM... right back into lightspeed, free-hardcore riffage, ending at just the right point in the meltdown. A goddamn smoker fer sure.

Hive Mind and Damion Romero's set sounded like New Order tunes melted into one super-long drone, but it also was super boring to watch. Time to hit up the merch stands. Unlike the previous three years, organizers dedicated the basement solely to merch, not the manic intensity of small bands. Hospital Productions, AA Records, Los Angeles Free Music Society, Fag Tapes, Hanson, Bennifer, et al -- Thurston Moore running around with an underarm full of vinyl and tapes. Limited-edition cassettes and lathes galore, but since funds were limited, the place seemed more like an art museum piece on underground record packaging or a study in rampant consumerism.

Upstairs, Kim Gordon and Yoshimi began setting up. Grabbing a three $3 Pabst, I weaseled my way into a good spot. I had pumped the first Royal Trux album for the whole week prior and hoped something at the festival could approximate the feeling of that album. Thankfully, Kim and Yoshimi pulled it off with an energetic set. Kim’s noticeably improved guitar technique sounded like Neil Hagerty’s primitive playing on Royal Trux' [#1], but with a penchant for dissonance and an amateurish earnestness on par with early Half Japanese. Yoshimi’s ritualistic banging kept things in motion, while Kim’s breathy poetics drove away some power electronics fans.

Preparation for Hair Police: smoke, piss, drink, patiently wait for the crew to do a soundcheck. Now it is time to watch skulls melt. On this night the band blurred the barrier between the spastic punk squalls of the past with drawn-out, black metal soundscapes, creating a crowd-pleasing glimpse into the band's future trajectory. Crazed no-wave synth blurts and echoing train-track bass smacks plotted a dark underworld accentuated by Mike Connolly’s horrific, high-pitched screams. Two encores and a few minutes worth of psychotic clapping later the best set of the night ends, and I kick scattered Pabst cans out of the way to see if my friends are still alive.

The night ended with a set by the legendary harsh-noise artist Pain Jerk. While the Japanese extremist wailed on some sort of metal-cased keyboard of death, John from Slogun stood on the side of the stage, flipping people off and spitting on the people in the front of the crowd. He made crying gestures and continued to provoke the crowd as Kohei Gomi shredded eardrums, constructing a wall-thick, scraping metal sound. Slogun punched a few people and a mini-melee started, with Gomi intervening. I didn’t understand the violent stage show surrounding Gomi’s performance, but the barrage of sound distracted one from dwelling too long on ersatz.

For the first time in a few months, I walked home with a severe ringing in my ears and a smile on my face. I couldn't wait to see what No Fun Fest curator Carlos Giffoni had planned for the second night.

Day One + {Day Two} + {Day Three} + {Day Four}

No Fun Fest 2007: Day 3
The Hook; Brooklyn, NY

[05-19-2007]

Of all the bands I forgot to mention in my No Fun Fest day two summary, Anti-Freedom rocked the hardest. A one-off band featuring Shane Mackenzie and Zac Davis of Lambsbread and Dennis Tyfus, the band blasted through a set of faux-punk songs with Tyfus seemingly singing the same set of lyrics for every song. Davis melded Black Flag chords and Demo-Moe feedback with Sonny Sharrock-style skronk accentuations while Mackenzie wore any remaining white spots off his skins. Eventually, John Olson joined in the fun, drumming in place of Mackenzie.

I mention this set because a lot of Saturday’s No Fun Fest lineup was, well, no fun.

Although we were in Brooklyn, a ride mishap made us miss Demons’ set (my friends argued they’d already seen Demons twice this year, and though I've seen them before, I wanted to check them out with Twig Harper). We eventually arrived just in time for Sickness, who I’d esteem as one of the best ‘noise’ artists out there. He took the stage and began to play a subdued set plagued with amplifier shortages. Wandering to the back of the audience, I couldn't hear Sickness’ performance, save for a few murmurs. This led me to believe he did not play through the PA. After another false start, he left the stage but not before telling the audience to have fun at their “hug fest.” And so began the bad vibes.

Sickness stayed onstage to help his buddy Slogun with the next set. Slogun, known for confrontational, violent performances, sounded absolutely abysmal in the best possible way. Horrific harsh-noise ambience and serial-killer clips slinked out of the sound system as he stood cross-armed, stage left. He spit at a few unlucky concert goers, swore at a few more, then shouted hyper-manipulated battle chants into the microphone. A few guest vocalists joined him onstage, kicking the audience in the face and yelling at the “fucking pussies” in the crowd in a ploy to get someone to fight them. Before leaving the stage, he told the “fucking pathetic” crowd they weren’t even worth his time. The crowd played right into Slogun’s hands, booing him off the stage. From message boards and various interviews with Slogun’s John Balisteri, I gather Slogun’s live shows are supposed to place violence in the face of those who watch it from a distance on the television. I guess I’m just a hippie pussy, then, because I shied away from it.

Or maybe I’m not enough of a hippie because I found most of Religious Knives’ set very ho-hum. Their first tune, a heavy psych ditty complete with a cool bleeding fuzz guitar line, lacked passion. Vocally, Mike Bernstein just doesn’t sound great unless he hums into the mic over a layered drone. On the other hand, their fractured dub song elated me with its jubilant slack beat and seamless melding of dissonant sound elements and dub music.

My hippie ass loved the old hippies of Los Angeles Free Music Society’s set. Ju Suk Reet Meate, Tom Recchion, and Jackie Oblivia created the best sounds of the entire festival. Recchion sketched an ambient desert with his laptop, while Oblivia processed records on an old Califone portable player run through a few pedals. Meanwhile, Ju Suk slowly tortured a keyboard and strange stringed instruments. The records’ disorienting, looped vocal sounds joined the creepy noisescapes, birthing a soundtrack to a bad trip. Moments of harsh dissonance furthered this concept -- pure fucking magic. A drunk kid climbed onstage mid-set, stripping off his shirt and falling down, taking Recchion’s equipment with him. The Smegma one-off jammed for a few more minutes before calling it quits. The crowd cheered loudly and part of the band looked as if it would play an encore. Oblivia waved off the idea, though, as the drunk guy ruined some of the group’s equipment. After the show, Ju Suk said the performance was the closest thing to a LAFMS performance this generation is going to receive.

Keiji Haino kept the magik going with a three-part, hour-long performance. He began the night strumming a small, abnormal acoustic instrument and shouting incoherent melodies, sounding like an aboriginal Jandek with a violent side. Soon, he picked up his axe and amps flowed with majestic walls of chord-reverberation glory. He swaggered about the stage with a Hendrix-at-Woodstock pomp, bleeding his doom metal chords before engaging in a psych-noise spazz-out. Putting down his battered guitar, he grabbed a mic and proceeded to scream unintelligibly into it. Processed through a series of pedals, the vocals became blistering sound missiles protruding from the speaker. My ears rang for three days afterwards, but each time I thought about why they rang, I smiled. Haino’s set proved more interesting and enthralling than any of the festival’s harsh noise acts.

Merzbow’s thundering set ended the night with a high-water mark. The thundering, scraping set composed by a stoic Masami Akita overpowered any idle chatter in the audience. Sitting in front of a laptop with a layout of mixers and electronic devices, Akita composed with command, ensuring fluidity within the cacophony. The grinding, oscillating industrial sounds constantly morphed and demanded attention. Though my body felt some ware, Akita entranced me. The spirited energy would continue into Sunday’s performances, proving a few bad apples can’t ruin a fun festival.

{Day One} + {Day Two} + Day Three + {Day Four}

The Dismemberment Plan
Black Cat; Washington, DC

[04-28-2007]

It seems like every band that has ever broken up and still has at least two living members is reuniting. From Iggy and the Stooges to The Police, the past few years have been rife with half-assed reunions. Most have been uninspiring, some have yielded God-awful new albums, and almost all seem to be supported, if not instigated, by major corporate interests. The tickets are expensive, the bands are phoning it in, and we, as fans, eat it up with a spoon, ignoring our misgivings and clinging to the hope that our loyalty will pay off.

But The Dismemberment Plan are not like any other band, and their “reunion,” if that’s what we must call it, went down much differently, too. D-Plan reunited for no more than two consecutive nights at hometown club the Black Cat. Both shows were benefits for Callum Robbins, the son of producer and erstwhile Jawbox frontman J. Robbins. Callum was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a debilitating neurological condition that kills more babies than any other disease.* Tickets cost only $15, and neither the band nor the label made any money on the show. With no new material introduced onstage, one can be sure there is not an upcoming album waiting in the wings for promotion, either.

Without the taint of any hidden agenda, D-Plan were free to rock, and I was free to guiltlessly enjoy it. As a longtime fan who lived in Baltimore from 2001 until well after the band broke up in 2003, I can’t even remember how many times I’ve seen them live. Basically any time they played in Baltimore or DC, that is, at least every other month, I went. If I had to change plans, that’s what I did. They were simply that good live. This show was no different and was perhaps even better because this time I didn’t take for granted that I’d ever be able to see them again.

After a grateful introduction from J. Robbins, met with both respectful silence and heartfelt applause, The Dismemberment Plan opened with “Do the Standing Still.” I’m pretty sure they were reminding us that, even though a few years had gone by, dancing was still de rigeur. Much like the farewell shows four years ago, the set was packed with hits and crowd-pleasers. D-Plan have always known how to give the people what they want. They performed for two hours; they took requests; they played on, good-naturedly, while fans packed the stage (as has long been the tradition) and crushed them in during “The Ice of Boston.”

"Seeing" The Dismemberment Plan is not really a passive experience at all — it’s completely interactive. Almost every song has a call-and-response element, whether it be singing along to the torch-y “What Do You Want Me to Say” and anxious “Time Bomb” or shouting “Dismemberment Plan gets rich!” at the end of the noisy, high-speed farce that goes by the same name. During “Back and Forth,” Travis Morrison exhorts the crowd, deadpan, to “Throw your hands in the air / And wave them like you just don’t care” — and that’s just what everyone does. All of this happened on Saturday, and neither the band nor the audience skipped a beat, as though no time had passed. This is the kind of show we’re all betting on when a band that we love dearly reunites and we go to see them. As far as I can tell, this is the only reunion show that I’ve ever left totally satisfied, without a hint of ambivalence.

According to Morrison, the band have always known they would reunite from time to time for benefit shows in their hometown. Hopefully this means we’ll be able to see D-Plan again in a few years and help them give back to the community that was so instrumental to their success. Meanwhile, I’m not hoping for a permanent reunion, new songs, or even an East Coast tour. The Dismemberment Plan gave us 10 years of intelligent, experimental songwriting and (have I belabored this point enough yet?) some of the most exciting live shows of all time. They quit while they were ahead, and though it’s impossible not to miss them, we can be proud that they’re keeping both their legacy and their commitment to the DC community intact. And when they ask us, as they always have and always will, “How’s Washington?” we can actually believe that they care about the response.

*It’s no secret that working in independent music is not especially lucrative, and care for children with SMA is prohibitively expensive. To donate to Callum Robbins or Fight SMA, an organization that is searching for a cure for spinal muscular atrophy, please visit J. and wife Janet’s blog.

No Fun Fest 2007: Day 2
The Hook; Brooklyn, NY

[05-18-2007]

As the cold night’s air wafted its way through Brooklyn, a thick molten steam rose in The Hook. Around 500 music fans caught Incapicatants’ screaming jovial mess and reciprocated the lunacy by leaping about, shaking each other in celebration, banging heads and pumping fists. No Fun Fest day two’s lineup simmered with a screaming, cerebral harsh noise set and their infectious affability spread to the crowd. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Highlighted by mind-bending collaborative performances from Mouthus and Axolotl and Raionbashi and Kutzkelina, Friday’s artists spanned the globe and the experimental music spectrum. As variety is the spice of sound anarchy, virtually no one performer overlapped aesthetically with another. The schedule saw a power electronics performer opening for drone rockers and an analog sound designer following bizarre European sound terrorists.

If there’s one thing I learned in life, it’s you can’t depend on friends. We waited for our ride for around two hours before he called and bailed out. His loss and ours too, as the wait made us miss Charlie Draheim’s set. My friend also missed an amazing night of music and a marked improvement over the festival’s first night. We arrived in time for Princess Dragonmon’s laserbeam punctuations and push-button Atari feedback attack. Not a good start to the night, but the set allotted us time to stock up on beers and puff a few smokes before Grunt.

Grunt took the stage with some kind of metal box, which he shook and hit to create sharp metal sounds. He yelled into the box and delayed his voice while constructing an eerie backdrop with knobs and pedals. Although faulty amplifiers kept shorting out, it added an extra thematic quality to the set. Eventually, something amp-wise burned and forced him to start over. Fantastic for the crowd, as Grunt proved innovative in the tough realm of harsh noise. I think the metal box contained magic.

The most ethereal set of the night belonged to the Mouthus/Axolotl collaboration. The trio created two long-form drones that kept the crowd’s attention with thick layers of morphing sludge. The first drone saw Mouthus guitarist Brian Sullivan playing with pedals, while Axolotl’s Karl Bauer caressed violin strings, processing them through a series of electronics. Mouthus' Nate Nelson accentuated the jam with free-jazz drumming. Though the trio’s sound-making method was in touch with Bauer’s musical approach, the jam sounded more like a loud, hard-nosed Mouthus skronk than Axolotl’s psychedelic, space-alien drone. After the first piece, the band couldn't ignore the loud cheers and kicked out another -- Sullivan picked up a guitar and laid down a warped vortex of fuzz while Bauer fiddled with his table of tricks. As the view of Bauer’s gear was obstructed from most of the crowd, the noises he generated seemed otherworldly. The tune sounded like an Axolotl composition generated using Mouthus’ set-up. Sullivan and Nelson ended the set with a frenzied guitar/drums duel, accentuated by a cacophonous avalanche of sound snowballed by Bauer.

As good as the Mouthus/Axolotl collaboration was, Raionbashi and Kutzkelina nearly schooled them on their home court. The duo inter-cut harsh scraping with atmospheric creepiness and yodeling, constructing a disorienting, masterful set. Raionbashi sported the coolest haircut ever: a normal cut with the front portion of his scalp shaved bald. He lingered in the background with Kutzkelina in the forefront. As Raionbashi spackled layers of industrial hiss, Kutzkelina began taking off clothing. With memories of Macronympha dancing in their heads from last year's fest, males stood on their tippy-toes to catch a glimpse of what they thought would be Kutzkelina’s nude body. Instead, she unearthed a milkmaid dress. The noise stopped and a silence fell over the crowd. “YEEE-DE-HAA-DEEEE-OOOO-HAAA-DEEEE-OOO-HEEE-HEE,” she sang in an old-world yodel. In a few minutes, she became the set's centerpiece, and Raionbashi's freaky fade-in sounds further bewildered the audience. The set ended with the blow of an air horn and a few seconds of silence before the crowd erupted in applause. In an era where droves of dissonant sounds are no longer all that strange, it was nice to discover bizarre factions remain in the noise universe.

Giffoni performed next with analog gear and didn’t disappoint. Though he meditated on a group of boring video game sounds for awhile, his performance contained transcendent passages lacking in his previous festival sets. Sissy Spacek blasted through a set of spazz core on par with Man Is The Bastard. The band destroyed punk-rock concepts for about three minutes before their guitarist smashed his axe to shreds and the singer dove into the crowd, effectively ending their set. The best was yet to come, however, as the legendary Incapacitants stormed the stage around 1 am.

Toshiji Mikawa and Fumio Kosaka smiled devilishly while creating a large spiked ball of fluctuating feedback and horrific noise-treated yelps. Both bounced around the stage, occasionally pausing to immerse in the frenzy they created, rolling their eyes in the back of their heads, shaking. Of all the bands playing the festival, Incapacitants received the best response. The mosh-pit kids swayed with glee, and the rest of the crowd gyrated to the wild non-rhythms. Some dude even pounded his face bloody to match the band’s intensity. He couldn’t.

After the show, I couldn’t hear friends talk. We limped to the subway to patch ourselves up. Our ear fibers better strengthen by Saturday, because Merzbow and Keiji Haino surely won’t be playing acoustic sets. Can’t fuckin’ wait.

{Day One} + Day Two + {Day Three} + {Day Four}

Modest Mouse / Love as Laughter / Grand Archives
The Orpheum Theatre; Minneapolis, MN

[04-20-2007]

After having my Friday night flight from Chicago to Minneapolis delayed due to a mechanical problem and after watching the pilots and mechanics scratch their heads in the cockpit for an hour, I luckily was rushed to a new plane and was able to make it straight from the airport to the Orpheum just in time to miss Love as Laughter's set. I was bummed I didn’t get a taste of Grand Archives (ex-Carissa’s Wierd), but I was just glad to have made it at all. I should have known when my friend bought the tickets and I said “I’m sure my flight won’t be delayed” that I was asking for trouble.

After having seen Modest Mouse twice in the most horrible venues in the country for sound (Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom and Milwaukee’s Eagle's Ballroom -- stay away from those ballrooms people), I was thrilled to finally get a chance to hear them in a theater designed to house music. True, their popularity has surged immensely since those two shows (I about died when I heard a Muzak version -- placid male singer, drastically reduced tempo and all -- of “Float On” in my local CVS Pharmacy the other day), but I’ve really been digging the new album and figured I was prepared to hear mostly post-Good News material. My anticipation only grew when I saw our seats; I don't know how it happened, but apparently two aisle seats in row 'P' (read: not too shabby) were still available the day before the show, something that would never happen in back in Chicago.

Modest Mouse took a stage randomly decorated with fake streetlamps. They were sporting two drummers and Johnny Marr, who added some fun backing vocals and let Isaac take a crack at him midway through the show but was otherwise relatively unnoticeable. The band kicked off with "Paper Thin Walls," one of the more thrilling songs of the night and one of the few pre-Good News tracks we were treated to. Even though I was prepared to hear mostly new stuff, I guess I still hoped for some surprise classics; only "Dramamine" and "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" qualified for that tag, with additional representation from typical live favorite "Doin' the Cockroach." Probably not coincidentally, these were the songs that turned into some crazy 10-minutes-long jams (I didn’t remember Isaac Brock usually going on for five minutes about "quotas" during "Tiny Cities"), while the new stuff was played pretty much straight off the records. Not unexpectedly, the Modest Mouse crowd has changed from what was once a mix of hipsters and hippies to a mix of hipsters, hippies, fratboys and scantily clad young girls. Gross.

Overall, everything sounded good and Isaac was doing some good, crazy rockin' on stage, but I think the size of the venue, though smaller than what they usually play these days, was still too big for me to feel much connection with the band. For once, I couldn't blame the sound for that. "Bukowski" had some fire and "Missed the Boat" was certainly nice, but relatively close as I was, I still felt too far away from the band. Being constrained to a seat probably didn’t help much, either, as it took away from the “rock show” vibe; it's hard to get the audience engaged from afar. As a result, the excitement I've been getting from listening to the new album seemed to be frustratingly missing for me when I heard the same songs live.

I hate to think I'm becoming too snobby about venue size, but I’m sad to say I've been pretty spoiled with life at the Empty Bottles and Triple Rock Social Clubs of the world. I think I just need to accept that the live Modest Mouse experience I wanted happened about five years ago and isn't coming back; I’ll just continue to worship their recorded material in the meantime.

Photo: Aaron Farrington

Of Montreal / Loney, Dear
Irving Plaza; New York, NY

[03-10-2007]

This show went from suck to rock faster than your flashy sports car does zero to 60. Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh — it took a bit longer than that, specifically, the duration between the end of Loney, Dear’s set and the beginning of Of Montreal’s.

Loney, Dear had already been riding the wave of Swedeophilic hype for a few months (though their U.S. release hadn’t even hit stores yet), so I was interested in checking them out. I’d heard a song or two here and there, and nothing really stuck out as fabulous to me. Perhaps the magic is in the live show, I thought. Well, so much for optimism. Their performance began with at least two minutes of humming from vocalist and songwriter Emil Svanängen, who later attempted all sorts of vocal gymnastics beyond his range. The songs themselves were, somehow, simultaneously anthemic and bland. “I Am John” seemed to be the favorite of the crowd (who were, for the most part, really into the set), and it impressed me a bit more than everything else but still seemed simply competent. Mostly, Loney, Dear are representative of indie rock’s laziest and most derivative tendencies, a copy of a copy of a copy.

More exciting than Loney, Dear’s performance was watching Of Montreal’s road crew set up. Though they worked behind a screen, I could see a golden owl statue and cardboard flames peeking out the sides and just knew that something fucking weird and fantastic was in store. And then someone — perhaps from onstage, but I can’t say for sure — started blowing up condoms and passing them around the crowd like beach balls at a frat party. All of this was good preparation for the dramatic, sexually-liberated, and altogether bizarre shit that was about to go down.

Before the band made its first appearance, we caught a glimpse of the vague but spirited morality play that would persist throughout the set as a figure in a Darth Vader costume (not kidding, guys!) slunk about the stage. Later, we would be treated to the appearance of a mustachioed gentleman clothed from head to toe in a skintight, white, spandex suit. To my eyes, it seemed like these two were meant to be playfully emblematic of the struggle between good and evil, here represented as sexual freedom vs…. well, I’ve never sat through an entire Star Wars film, but I have to guess that Darth Vader doesn’t have that much sex. No matter — no deeper meaning could overpower the sheer spectacle of this polysexual pageant. I mean, it’s hard to conjure up your analytical skills when you’re watching a guy in spandex do nasty things with Kevin Barnes and a banana.

And Of Montreal? It almost goes without saying that they're in top form. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? is a big fucking album that demands a big fucking stage show, and Barnes, et al were hell-bent on making it happen. New songs like “Suffer for Fashion” and “Heimsdalegate Like a Promethian Curse” rocked the house like only upbeat tunes about mental anguish can. Favorites like “Disconnect the Dots” from Satanic Panic in the Attic and “The Party’s Crashing Us” from The Sunlandic Twins were revitalized in an all-new, all-glam context. The one dark moment during the show, the band’s performance of “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal,” was a standout for its exorcism-like intensity — which was surprising, as I almost always skip the twelve-minute track when listening to the album.

I had hoped that Barnes would strip down so as not to leave TMT out of the hot, nakey pix party, but this was a 16+ show, and it was not to be. Instead, we were treated to three costume changes, the most ambitious of which involved our hero, on something like stilts, in a twelve-foot-high silver dress. What this all adds up to, among other, more prurient things, is that Kevin Barnes is a performer in the true sense of the word, drawing from and worthy of comparisons to both Prince and David Bowie. Thirty years ago, the guy wouldn’t be able to walk down the street without fans of all gender throwing their undergarments at him. And just as we might hate the idea of our favorite bands becoming popular beyond their wildest dreams… perhaps then we’d at least have the pleasure of seeing Justin Timberlake (I mean it, dude), instead of Loney, Dear, open for Of Montreal.

Photos: Sean Ruch

Menomena / Field Music / Land of Talk
Empty Bottle; Chicago, IL

[03-20-2007]

It’s always reassuring to approach the entrance of a club and see sign stating “Sold Out” posted on the door. More precisely, it’s reassuring if you’ve already procured your tix. While such a sign indicates that you will likely be packed in so closely to your fellow showgoers that you’ll all become far too familiar (or still not familiar enough?) with each other’s concealed anatomies before the night is over, it is more importantly a guarantee that you are in a hot spot of cultural activity for the evening. And when they have $2 Old Styles to boot, how could a poor little indie rocker ask for more?

Such was the case on March 20 when I approached the Empty Bottle for a heady triple bill. First up were Land Of Talk. To be completely honest, I knew little of the band and hadn’t done my homework, but it made no difference. When I entered the stage area midway through their set, the crowd was already quite thick, and a lot of affirmative head
nodding was going on. From the sound of it, I assumed there were four or five band members, but upon inspection, I counted just three. I was wholly impressed with the level of ruckus they were managing to kick up.

Similarly striking was the way singer/guitarist Elizabeth Powell was wailing away with both her instruments. Her guitar work was tenuously controlled chaos, deftly veering between riff-rocking and more intricate lead lines, and her voice was strong but still slightly fragile, eerily similar to Chan Marshall’s but with a hell of a lot more gumption behind it. The set closing “All My Friends” had me awestruck with its overall intensity and stealthy melodicism. A great set closer that left the audience (as represented by me at least) wanting more, the tune is still lodged firmly in my head as of this article.

With enough time to gulp down a few of the aforementioned Old Styles and buoyed by the pleasant surprise of Land Of Talk, when Field Music hit the stage I was primed for optimal enjoyment. After a tepid false start due to some problems with the monitor mix, a rapid succession of the first four tracks from the recently released Tones of Town showed that these fellas absolutely have the chops to pull off their quirky, tense pop in a live setting. Having seen them a year ago during SXSW, I wasn’t surprised, but getting to hear many of the new tracks was a real treat. Making the most of being confined to a 45-minute set, they stuck largely to upbeat numbers, maintaining an admirable consistency in energy throughout. Their nearly seamless set was made all the more stunning by the constant switching of Peter and David Brewis between guitar or bass and drums. Although David implored three-quarters through the performance that for the “real Field Music experience” one would need to purchase the album for sale at the merch table, with all three members singing and playing together as harmoniously as on record, I have to say that I’m not fully in agreement.

Following Field Music, the excitement level was piqued for Menomena, who have been generating significant buzz over Friend and Foe. Again, to be completely honest, I was only recently introduced to their slightly skewed pop experimentations, and the recordings hadn’t grabbed me too much. Well, from the moment that the band really kicked in on the opener, “The Pelican,” I felt any resistance melting away. The nasally/unsteady vocals that had befuddled me a bit on the album became endearing (almost courageous?) in the live context amid all the multi-instrumentalism going on. For a third time in the evening, here was a three-piece band proving that the mythology of the rock power trio is still alive and kicking. The heavy presence of baritone and alto sax in the set was somewhat unexpected (I guess I hadn’t listened closely enough to the album) but completely wonderful for giving the music an almost funky quality. The response of the crowd was enthusiastic and the subtle danceability that Menomena created had more than a few indie stiffs, including myself, unable to hold back from shuffling and bobbing.

At the conclusion of the evening, I felt I was lucky indeed to have witnessed a display of such epic talents in such a microscale setting. Walking out into the cold night air, I couldn’t help but think that, given my experience and the reactions of the audience, that it might not be long before I’ll be having to pay separately to see each of these acts in larger, less intimate and affordable venues. That is if I’m smart enough to have the foresight to buy my ticket in advance.