Mission of Burma / Major Stars
Warsaw; Brooklyn, NY

[07-14-06]

Furious
guitars and rabid percussion punctuating intense, epic vocals, and a crowd
full of die-hard radicals shouting back the lyrics to every song. A
top-secret, sweat-soaked, God-forsaken hole in the wall where the kids get
psyched up for the revolution and then go out and fucking do it. Since
I was 16 years old, this is the mental image I've carried with me of what a
Mission of Burma performance must be like.

As a former New England prep school inmate who spent the majority of senior
year screaming along to "Academy Fight Song" (I still regret not choosing "I'm
not judging you/I'm judging me/My academy" as my senior quote), I've held
Mission of Burma sacred for years. When I heard about the band's 2002 reunion,
I was dubious, but the new material didn't disappoint. With such high
expectations and nothing to mitigate against them, I was completely unprepared
for the total "so what?" that was their concert.

Maybe part of the blame should be laid on the openers, Major Stars, who were
certainly capable of killing the mood. There was already some tension going on
between the band and the audience, who apparently weren't too excited about
mumbled vocals and anonymous hard rock guitar with some screeching and a few
interminable instrumental solos thrown in here and there. There was a
noticeable lack of polite applause between songs. Before the final song of
their set, the lead singer asked whether we were "super-psyched" for Mission
of Burma. Met with the first hearty applause of the night, she quipped, "It's
good that you're super-psyched for something." I'm super-psyched to point out
that the only thing worse than a band that can't keep the audience's attention
is a band that blames the audience for its inability to keep their attention.

Before Mission of Burma took the stage, I made the mistake of assuming that
the rest of the super-psyched audience and I were on the same page, namely,
the page that said, "I am saving all my energy for MOB." When they started to
play, I realized that there was just no energy in the room at all — none from
the audience and none from the band. While the band's instrumentation was
tight and the new songs blended well with the twenty-five-year-old classics,
the show felt like a failure because they couldn't generate any excitement
onstage or in the crowd. The decision to play two sets only highlighted the
problem, as the songs in the first half of the second set blurred together
into a twenty-minute stretch of monotony, and no one in Mission of Burma was
engaging the audience at all. A band with that kind of incendiary passion and
intensity just doesn't work when the passion and intensity are taken out of
the equation. There was no furiousness, no intensity, no epic moments, and no
die-hard radicals. There wasn't even any dancing. People weren't going to
leave this show and set government buildings on fire; they were going to go
home, smoke a joint, sleep for 12 hours, and maybe blog about the experience
in the morning.

The most depressing moment of the night came when Mission of Burma actually
did decide to interact with the audience, prefacing one song with the words,
"Fuck Bush," and following it up with the thought, "You have to write pissed
off songs. That's all you can do, right?" Those statements crystallized what
had been wrong with the performance all along. "Fuck Bush." So what? For an
intensely political band who, 25 years ago, gave us the lyrics, "my father's
dead/But I don't care about it/It happens anyway/On the edge of Burma," the
only real content of that statement was the subtext that Mission of Burma has
lost its relevance.

This all adds up to what I can't get over when punk, underground, and
otherwise independent or politically-minded bands from twenty to thirty years
ago reunite. With few exceptions, the reunion is cynical, commercial, and
supported by companies diametrically opposed to the bands' original aims

Clear Channel
and

Ticketmaster
, anyone?). It seems obvious that every time a band that's all
about revolution and anti-capitalism reunites two and a half decades later to
put on a half-assed show sponsored by exploitative corporations, that band is
co-opting their own subculture and selling out the very kids they once
radicalized. Mission of Burma, savior of my boarding school days, is
unfortunately no exception.

Photo: Mark Belinsky

The Futureheads / The French Kicks
Webster Hall; New York, NY

[06-30-06]

For
those of you who have never witnessed The Futureheads in action, you have my
pity. After a long absence during which they recorded their new album, News
and Tributes
, The Futureheads have come back with a vengeance,
demonstrating why they are one of the best live bands currently in existence.

I was surprised by how much I liked the opening band, The French Kicks.
Admittedly, I expected to hate them, but some of their songs were really
catchy and demonstrated why this band has been a long-time local favorite. On
the other hand, there was a lack of chemistry among the members that was
puzzling. Their fans were enthusiastic regardless of this fact, but as someone
seeing them for the first time, I found the lack of spark to be disappointing.
It was as though they were going through the motions, which made it hard to
appreciate their otherwise accessible material. With that kind of attitude,
will they ever be more than the perennial opening band?

The Futureheads, by contrast, were remarkably charming and engaging. They wore
big smiles through their set and seemed genuinely excited about performing
their new material. The songs from News and Tributes fared much better
live than in recording. One such example is "Return of the Berserker." The
band delivered "Berserker" in an impressive display of speed and raw energy.
Its recorded version pales in comparison. On this song, even drummer Dave Hyde
lost his composure as he beat on his kit furiously; this was quite a shocking
display, as he spent most of the night playing calmly and steadily through the
set.

It should be noted that the band seemed much more confident than the first
time I saw them, when they supported Franz Ferdinand almost two years ago.
Even though they've maintained an energetic, almost frantic way of performing,
they've also learned to work the crowd in a very charismatic manner.

There were plenty of exchanges between the crowd and the band. It was hard to
understand the Futureheads' speedy banter because of their Northeastern
English accents, but they were obviously very amused by the constant quips
from the cheery, drunken hecklers. "You've been brilliant," singer/guitarist
Barry Hyde told the audience as the band closed their set.

The same could be said about the band, who pounded through the set with gusto.
The crowd cheered the loudest for old favorites like "Meantime" and the band's
cover of "Hounds of Love." However, there was also a healthy enthusiasm for
newer songs such as "Area" and "Skip to the End." At that point, the new album
had been out for only a couple of weeks, but their fans shouted along to all
the words.

The show wasn't perfect, but it had nothing to do with the Futureheads'
performance. Rather, the sound mix was unfortunate, with muddled vocals that
didn't do justice to the band's four-party harmonies. In addition, much of the
set was accompanied by intensely bright white lights that flashed directly
into the crowd. One can only hope there were no epileptics in the audience!

Set List:

1. Yes/No
2. Area
3. Cope
4. Meantime
5. Burnt
6. Favours for Favours
7. Hounds of Love
8. Back to the Sea
9. Stupid and Shallow
10. Return of the Berserker
11. Fallout
12. A to B
13. Worry About it Later
14. Thursday
15. Skip to the End
16. He Knows
17. Man Ray

Encore:

Decent Days and Nights

Carnival Kids

Desdemona Festival: The Fiery Furnaces
Sawyer Point; Cincinnati, Ohio

[06-25-06]

songs, most
of them abbreviated from their recorded counterparts. The band climaxed after
about 45 minutes when it transformed the new tune "I'm in No Mood" from the
toy-piano opera found on this year's Bitter Tea to an enormous, urgent
maelstrom akin to an Assyrian war march. The band also victoriously navigated
the complex musical turns of last year's polarizing "The Garfield El."

Songs aside, two overwhelming things became apparent during the set. First was
the band's courage and ability to innovate and reinterpret their own music,
trading patented, electro-studio piano magic for guitars and with
rearrangements of Eleanor's Keroacian vocal rhythms. Second was Matthew's
striking guitar work. At times he seemed every bit a young Thurston Moore,
bending his strings into zany effects one minute and playing out roaring blues
progressions the next.

Returning, perhaps, to its roots, the Furnaces, with this set, paid homage to
their garage-rock debut, Gallowsbird Bark. This aspect, when merged
with the uncompromising creativity of their subsequent work, was truly a
spectacle. The results, not always beautiful, were each stirring. The audience
collected at the stage seemed alienated and inspired, all in the same moment.
As some rolled their eyes and left, others raised their arms and joined. While
after the festival's conclusion, I heard comments like, "We Are Scientists
slayed," or "Annie was a babe," it seemed that everyone pondered the Furnaces
silently. And I have an inkling that they wouldn't have wanted it any other
way.

Setlist:

Chris Michaels

Crystal Clear

Straight Street

Police Sweater Blood Vow

My Dog Was Lost But Now He's Found

Quay Cur

The Garfield El

Asthma Attack

Benton Harbor Blues

Evergreen

Teach Me Sweetheart

I'm Waiting to Know You

I'm in No Mood

Black-Hearted Boy

Leaky Tunnel

Tropical Ice-Land

Single Again

Blueberry Boat

Radiohead / The Black Keys
Auditorium Theater; Chicago, IL

[06-20-06]

It's
hard to believe it's been nearly a decade since the release of OK Computer.
In 1997, Radiohead was just barely warmed-up to the obsessive fandom that has
since plagued them. Ironically, it was OK Computer's
paranoid, albeit disjointed critique of human interaction in a "postmodern"
technological landscape that engendered the very conditions it was lamenting — alienation, disconnection, simulacrum — which
nearly suffocated the band on its OK
Computer
tour. In 2006, it seems as though Radiohead has finally
reconciled its tumultuous relationship with being the center of attention, the
spectacle. This is not to say, however, that the members of Radiohead are
adhering to the absurd standards and expectations of stadium bands. While
enormously popular, Radiohead is no U2. It's nearing the opposite, in fact:
Radiohead is considering signing to an independent label, Thom Yorke's new
album was released on independent label XL, and rather than letting their
popularity dictate the venues, Radiohead booked a modest tour consisting
primarily of theaters.

Despite not romanticizing over Radiohead since Kid A, the prospect of
seeing them live in a theater was enticing. My last Radiohead concert
experience (at the HUGE Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, WI) pretty
much shattered the illusion that "transcendence" could happen in any context
if Radiohead's music was playing. The gigantic TV screens, the Budweiser
advertisements, the overpriced merchandise – it was all too much. This Chicago
show, however, was very refreshing, at least by Radiohead standards. True, it
was sad to see hardcore fans outside the venue giving metaphorical handjobs
for tickets, but it'd be sadder to see Radiohead make concessions for
something that could be whittled down to cultural capital.

When the band finally stepped on stage, the applause and cheers from the crowd
drowned out the elongated intro riff to "Airbag." Nostalgia flowed through my
body, and I was transported back to a fantasy world where Radiohead meant so
much to me, a time when they signified something much larger than life.
Despite this sort of static, unrealistic perception, the illusion was
thankfully punctured every now and again: there were at least two obvious
fuck-ups, and every time the roadies came out to tune instruments, swap
instruments, or even end songs (e.g., turning off the amps after "Everything
in Its Right Place"), I couldn't help but smirk, somewhat endearingly, at the
attempted seamlessness.

I was ecstatic when they played my two favorite Radiohead tunes: "Kid A" and
"The Tourist." And songs I've never really warmed-up to 100%, like "2+2=5" and
"Myxomatosis," were thrilling in a live setting. But most of all, I was
excited to hear the new songs. Surprisingly, the songs were accessible and
many of them danceable. With all the proclamations of reinventing themselves
and Hail to the Thief being their last "rock" album, you'd think the
band would go strictly "Treefingers" on us. But perhaps that'd be too easy for
Radiohead. Even the unreleased "Nude," which was once moody in the vein of
"Exit Music" and later more akin to "The Tourist," was somewhat danceable in
its latest manifestation.

What surprised me the most, though, was Thom Yorke. Not that I ever questioned
him as a performer, but it has been admittedly a long time since I've seen
such a huge rock band perform, and Thom reveled in the spotlight. His solo
performance of "I Want None of This" and his animated gestures during "The
National Anthem" reminded me of just how captivating he can be. Although he
coasts on a different wavelength than some of us, Thom was definitely feeding
off the energy of the crowd, and this sort of relationship is usually either
minimized or transparent when the role of artist and audience is so clearly
divided.

It's surreal watching Radiohead live, nowadays. The disseminated images I've
seen of Radiohead performing far outweigh the number of times I've actually
seen them in "reality," so this disjunction makes for a somewhat bizarre,
insular experience. All attempts at an "objective" account aside, I believe
Radiohead is doing a tremendous job coming to grips with their fame, and
they've handled their popularity with a reticent wink. Although their music is
no longer my cup of tea, per se (three days later, I went to the experimental
music fest End Times that truly blew my mind), Radiohead will still likely be
one of the main loci where my aesthetic biases, political allegiances, and
cultural critiques will be measured and articulated. As such, Radiohead has
once again truly opened my eyes in inspiring ways, and I've started listening
to their music with a new sense of vigor.

Setlist:

1. Airbag
2. 2+2=5
3. Where I End And You Begin
4. 15 Step
5. Kid A
6. Arpeggi
7. Videotape
8. Climbing Up The Walls
9. Street Spirit
10. Nude
11. I Might Be Wrong
12. No Surprises
13. All I Need
14. I Want None Of This
15. The National Anthem
16. Bangers 'n Mash
17. Everything In Its Right Place

Encore 1
18. My Iron Lung
19. The Bends
20. Myxomatosis
21. How To Disappear Completely

Encore 2
22. Down Is The New Up
23. The Tourist

Band of Horses
Bowery Ballroom; New York, NY

[06-16-06]

On the evening of June 16th I
ventured down to the Bowery Ballroom, friend in tow. I warned him before the
show that he would be helping me to review the show. I just didn't tell him
how. My friend's name is Workweek. Let me introduce you.

Workweek is an Architect, Graphic Designer and DJ living in Greenpoint,
Brooklyn. Two of his all time favorite musicians are Bjork and Fabolous. He is
25 years old and waiting for his time to shine. That time is now – on Tiny Mix
Tapes.

What follows is a serious of 15 questions I made up for him a couple days
after the show, you know, so he had some time to think about it.

1. Do you like the Flaming Lips?

Is this the new Lindsay Lohan slang? Shit, I need to read Gawker more...


http://tabloidwhore.blogspot.com/2006/06/brandon-davis-wears-pro-firecrotch-t.html


2. Do you like My Morning Jacket?

I've never listened to them. :(


3. How familiar are you with their catalog?

Awfully unfamiliar.


4. How familiar are you with the new Band of Horses album?

My roommate forced it into my iPod, and I have been enjoying it in the
mornings, and early evenings on the subway.


5. Did you enjoy the performance?

OMG Yes!!!!


6. "James," a commenter on Brooklyvegan.com, had this to say about the show:
"don't know about you, but that show at the Bowery was boring. Too much reverb
on the vocals, too jam-bandy, and an "ah shucks, you guys are great, I love
you New York, ah shucks!" was kinda old when it began..."

But then "Nineteen-ninety-never" had this retort: "I disagree. I thought the
show was great. I don't think his happiness to be in NY was contrived at all.
It's a young band playing their first sold-out gig at the Bowery Ballroom, how
can you fault him for being psyched and appreciative? The reverb on vocals is
part of their sound, same as on the record. "Too jam-bandy"?? I don't think
any of the songs lasted more than 5 minutes and there were no segues. Maybe
I'm missing your point."

----------------

Who's side are you on, if any?

I feel The Ninety Never homie. I like that name too, being from the class of
99, and beginning to feel kind of old and all, but yeah. What's James talking
about being all "Jam Bandy," like, do those people still even exist? I totally
liked the live show. It was different sounding than my morning commutes, it
was more dancey, and yeah, I loved the energy and the vibe — fuck hating on
the dude for being stoked to be there — SHAKAH BRO!


7. If you could change one thing about the show what would it be? (you can
pick two or three if you want) It would have been nice to come out of there
with a phone number or two. I can imagine the girls who like BOH would be
totally cool. Especially if they liked that TI album they played during their
setup thing.


8. Do you like jam bands? Why or why not? No, I never really liked them, and
especially now that they're passé. Yeah I went to some Phish shows, but
whatever. I never collected

tapes — HA!


9. Would you rather be associated with Jam bands or Christian rock? AHAHAHAHA,
Some Christian rock is aiight. Like, I feel like Jam Band is a much more
pigeonholed genre than Christian Rock.


10. To your knowledge, what instrument was the lead singer playing? He started
with a LAP GUITAR and then played different guitars.


11. How did the music play out live compared to the record? Too alike? Too
different? It came out totally different than the record, and I really liked
that. The NYU Hip-Set was dancing too! I didn't know you could dance to BOH.
You're not going to catch me doing that, except for when the band came out
rapping to Chamillionaire's "Ridin." I like that music SOOOO LOUWWD.


12. What did you think of the reverb on the vocals? Got Old or Got Tingles? I
don't know what that dude was stressin' about. I'm pretty sure it's supposed
to sound like that. Regardless, it was seriously on point. The sound, the
aesthetic, the shaka-ing. I'm not going to say I got tingles or anything, but
yeah, it was tha' shiiiit.


13. Did this show prove to you that Band of Horses have what it takes to stick
around in the new blogged-out-internet-hate/love-two
seconds-of-fame-before/after-the-backlash music industry and world at large?

I'm still trying to figure this shit out. I feel like these bands are always
forced to come up big on following albums, with flipped-scripts and all that,
in order to survive. So yeah, this show kind of proved they had all this
energy and different style that is kind of absent on the album... maybe they
can use that to blow bloggers' minds on their next recorded go-around.


14. Did you find the show meaningful to you? Umm, like some born-again?


15. Being a party DJ you are probably familiar with the type of reaction music
elicits from the crowd; how do you react differently to this type of music
live as you would to say, the Juan Maclean, Rick Ross or Lightning Bolt?

Live it did kind of get to me, but their album doesn't. But like Juan Maclean
and Lightning Bolt rattle my bones in their recordings almost as much as they
do live. I've never seen Ricky live, but I hear he's not afraid to spit
Husslin' more than once in a show which I would be sure to pump ma' fist to.
BOH just elicits a pumped 'shaka' from my rating scale, but a burly one, ya
diiig?

So, in the constantly evolving, genre spanning, internet-fueled music
industry, the underground has now successfully created its own specific 15
minutes of fame. Whether these 15 minutes lead to a major label contract or a
video aired on MTV is irrelevant. Besides, Sub Pop is practically a major
label at this point sales-wise, right? These 15 minutes are the (let's not kid
ourselves) 'Pitchfork 15.' The modern day Rolling Stone is now lofting
artists to a level of notoriety during the fledgling years which immediately
exposes them to a wider audience, but could potentially create overexposure
and a subsequent backlash. It's like in the mid-'90s when people got all
pissed that Built to Spill signed to a major label, but now you don't even
have to "sell out" to be hated; you just have to be liked by a larger
population of people (see: The Shins). Who gives a shit about the show; should
I like these guys? How do I stay cool? -Rezound

Buzzcocks / The Adored / The Choke
Irving Plaza; New York, NY

[06-12-06]

Going to see a band that hit its
prime over twenty-five years ago is always a dicey venture. No matter how good
they were once upon a time, you can't help but wonder whether you should just
spend your hard-earned money on a few re-issued LPs instead of shelling out
for tickets to a show that very well might forever ruin your enjoyment of said
band. As I entered Irving Plaza to see the Buzzcocks, I worried that I might
never be able to play Singles Going Steady again.

The first two bands, The Choke and The Adored, highlighted the contrast
between what punk music meant in the late seventies and what it means now.
Though both bands could be described as competent, I'm confident that they
could also have been restyled and repackaged as pop or metal bands, depending
on the preferences of focus groups and record executives. I missed most of The
Choke's set, and aside from the lead singer's throaty, powerful voice, the
band didn't make much of an impression. They seemed like they'd be at home in
a second-stage slot on the Warped Tour.

The Adored were no musical revelation either, but I've got to admit that their
set was fun, complete with harmonizing vocals, jubilant microphone twirling,
and hand claps. These guys were clearly living out their pretty boy punk rock
fantasies, but they were just so goddamn catchy and high energy that they
managed to win over even little, old, cold-hearted me. I don't think I'd
bother to pick up their album, but their set certainly kept my attention and
even made me dance. I was kind of sad for them when some frat party refugee
behind me yelled, "You suck!" as they walked off the stage.

After 20 minutes of listening to the same guy periodically scream, "Let's go
Buzzcocks!" as though we were at a high school football game, the band came
on. Though it was touching to watch how genuinely thrilled Pete Shelley and
Steve Diggle looked to be on stage, performing for a whole new generation of
fans, I just couldn't get into the first few songs. They opened with the title
track from their new album, Flat-Pack Philosophy (Cooking Vinyl), and
played about seven new songs in a row. While this new music is unmistakably
Buzzcocks and therefore not completely devoid of value, it just isn't perfect
the way the old stuff is. I blame the lyrics, which seem pilfered from vintage
Gang of Four: modern relationships are mechanical and consumerism is turning
us soulless – full of references to Marx on worker alienation. Twenty-five
years later, this stuff just feels trite, and besides, the Buzzcocks were
always at their best singing about the little indignities of romance and the
lack thereof. It seemed like even the band themselves were half-assing these
songs.

I was starting to despair when, finally, I heard the opening riffs of "I Don't
Mind." The band immediately seemed to hit its stride, as the old-timers and
teenage skate punks alike went wild, and the first few songs began to feel
like nothing but warm up. These were the Buzzcocks we had all come to see, and
we were overjoyed to find that they could still rock. They treated the
audience to about ten more of their favorite songs, among them "Fiction
Romance," "Ever Fallen in Love?," "Autonomy," and the sublime "What Do I Get?"
All of Irving Plaza sang along to "Why Can't I Touch It?," a phenomenon that
seemed to delight Steve Diggle. Often overshadowed in the band's mythology by
Shelley and Howard Devoto, Diggle was undeniably the star of this show. While
I sometimes felt like Shelley was rushing through his vocals (perhaps his lung
capacity isn't what it used to be), Diggle was just completely in his element,
bopping around the stage, oozing even more energy than those plucky kids in
the opening bands.

Though they'd already played for an hour, the Buzzcocks returned to the stage
after only a short break to play a generous, six-song encore. The highlight of
this last group was what I like to refer to as everyone's freshman year of
college anthem, "Orgasm Addict." Strangely, during this song and no other, the
entire audience began either pogo-ing or moshing. I could only guess that the
sexual intensity of the song was unconsciously encouraging complete strangers
to rub up against one another.

By the time the show was over, the band had played at least three-quarters of
Singles Going Steady and I had forgiven them for making us sit through
the new material first. It's obvious that the Buzzcocks know their best albums
are behind them, and if Flat-Pack Philosophy is nothing more than an
excuse for them to get out and perform their late-'70s classics, that's good
enough for me.

The Walkmen / Mazarin
06-09-06;

[06-09-06]

The Showbox is perhaps the most
spacious venue Seattle has to offer. The layout is perfect for bar patrons and
young music fans alike to enjoy their favorite band without encumbrances or
blockades. Hell, even the bathrooms are nice for an indie venue.

It just so happens that I was able to take in just how spacious and nice The
Showbox is during Mazarin's set. When I walked in, I questioned whether I was
early, as the venue was not even a quarter full. Making my way to the bar to
grab a beer with my friend, I realized we were in the most populace area of
the venue. Further inspection noted that the other bar side was blacked-off. I
thought The Walkmen were far more popular than this, but it dawned on me that
it just so happened to be high school graduation weekend for most of the
Seattle area. I've encountered this phenomenon before, and while it may be a
downer to bands blowing through town, it makes the concert experience that
much more enjoyable for those of us not graduating from anything (unless you
count graduating from one beer to the next).

Philly's very own Mazarin were just taking the stage as we settled into the
bar area for our first drink. These guys have blown through town three times
in the past 7 months. The truly odd occurrence: I've been to every show
they've played but have missed out on them due to tardiness or show-hopping.
This time there was no avoiding Mazarin. Suffice it to say, after watching
them play to 100 people like they were 100,000 people, I'm sad that I've
missed them. Their set was a nice counterbalance to what the evening had in
store. Mazarin's greatest strength is taking catchy indie rock suitable for
the recording studio and making it as raw as possible in the live setting.
There's a crunch and a fervor many indie clichés can never deliver in a live
setting. It's one trick to make an album catchy; it's another to make a
concert even catchier.

A few beers and 20 minutes later, The Walkmen came out to a crowd that had
doubled (though that's not saying much). I fully expected a dud from the band,
considering the low turnout. What I got was one hell of a rock show. Nothing
was held back. Hamilton Leithauser belted out each and every song as if he was
a punch-drunk lounge singer expecting his big break. The new songs were
passionate and intense, something that does not translate throughout A
Hundred Miles Off
. "Good for You's Good for Me" and "Emma, Get Me a Lemon"
transformed live, turning lifeless recordings into monumental anthems of piss
and vinegar. Old favorites such as "Wake Up" and "Little House of Savages" had
a crunchier, angrier tone that made them seem more sincere than ever. The real
surprise of the evening came when the band unveiled a new song and claimed it
was from an upcoming fall album (if it's from Pussycats I do not know)
The track itself had the same, south of the border blasé that makes
"Louisiana" unique.

What did we learn from this? Don't miss Mazarin next time they come through
town, take note that The Walkmen are turning into an indie mariachi band (and
I like it), and consider that not fighting for your plot of floor during a
show makes for a more pleasurable concert.

Band of Horses / Mt. Egypt
Schubas; Chicago, IL

[06-09-06]

Considering the fact that this was
an all-ages show starting at 7:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night, the crowd there to
see Band of Horses for their first of two sold-out shows was a surprisingly
older, more mainstream crowd. I guess the idea of getting home at 10:00 p.m.
to get good night's sleep before getting up early the next morning for work
appealed to more than just me. I must be getting old.

With such an early start time, opener Mt. Egypt, a one-man band from
California that plays melancholy folk in the vein of Will Oldham (with the
beard to match), kicked off to a mostly empty room that gradually filled
throughout the set. Backed by the bassist and drummer for Band of Horses, Mt.
Egypt's music was generally engaging and at times very beautiful. Band of
Horses' frontman Ben Bridwell eventually made his way onto the stage for their
last song, a more rollicking number, to sing back-up vocals. He later
professed his love for Mt. Egypt's music by saying, "Mt. Egypt is amazing. His
music makes me want to cry. So you should all check it out. If you like
crying."

Meanwhile, Band of Horses is a brand-new band playing their first tour ever.
While it's true that Bridwell has been in the scene a long time (previously
with Carissa's Weird), it's still a new sound with a new group of players. As
a result, the band definitely played like it was their first time on a stage,
and it was clear they had many kinks to work out in terms of their live show.
The band spent countless minutes in between songs tuning and changing
instruments, from lap steel to guitar to bass to a different guitar.
Unfortunately, all that tuning didn't always pay off, like when Bridwell felt
forced to put his bass down altogether during "Our Swords." Their playing at
times seemed rough, and the band blew all the obvious encore material during
the set, leaving the audience with a slow solo ballad so brand new that
Bridwell needed to bring out a sheet of lyrics to help him through the finale.

That being said, I still really enjoyed the show, even though everything I've
described so far might normally have me heading for the door. This was
primarily due to one reason: the fantastic stage presence of Ben Bridwell. His
personality and energy were so engaging it was impossible not to like him and
everything he did, especially when he threw his fists up in the air after each
song, seemingly victorious that they'd made it through. He could spend too
much time tuning the guitar, but the effortless jokes he told while we waited
made it bearable. When he gave up on the bass during "Our Swords," I laughed
with him rather than sigh in frustration. Instead of seeing a band that had
trouble getting it together, I saw a band just getting started. And regardless
of the roughness of the show, everything still sounded good. Bridwell's voice
rang out clear and crisp across the small venue, stronger than the album might
imply; opening song "Monsters" especially showcased his voice as he sat behind
his lap steel, spastically tapping his foot while the band waited to join in.
About halfway through the set, the band asked each other, "Should we do the
cover? How about we do the cover? Let's do the cover!" and then broke into a
slowed down version of Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True," which
was hilarious and awesome at the same time. The majority of Everything All
the Time
made its way onto the set list, including "The Great Salt Lake,"
"Wicked Gil," and set-closer "The Funeral," with Bridwell's enthusiasm shining
through them all the way. And even though the new songs seemed unfinished or
ill-placed, they still provided a glimpse into future material that most
likely won't disappoint.

Great, memorable shows need three things: good source material, good execution
of that source material live, and a good stage presence by the band. Band of
Horses put on a good show because they got two out of three; with so much time
ahead to refine their ability to bring those great songs to the stage, there's
potential for a great show yet.

Set list:

Monsters

The First Song

Pt. One

No One

Great Salt Lake

Wicked Gil

You Make My Dreams Come True (Hall and Oates cover)

Our Swords

Funeral

-

Boat

LRC

Hopewell / Saints & Lovers
Pianos; New York, NY

[05-28-06]

Believe the hype. I don't find
myself uttering those words too often, but when it comes to Hopewell, I speak
without reservation. Cheryl Waters, whose KEXP radio show is beloved to all of
us 9-to-5ers who spend our days in front of the computer with headphones on,
named their last album, Hopewell and the Birds of Appetite (Tee Pee),
her favorite of 2005. Listening to that record, you see what she's talking
about – songs that are catchy and powerful, with sprawling, orchestral
instrumentals and a subtle bird theme that's more Hitchcock than Audubon
Society. The live show highlights and improves upon all of these elements
through the band's immediately contagious energy.

In their second Pianos show in as many weeks, Hopewell was fresh from the
studio, testing out new material for an audience of friends and hometown fans.
Many of the songs they performed were still untitled – frontman Jason Russo, a
witty and genial host, even asked the audience to suggest titles for one –
and, according to the band, unfinished. While there may be some tweaking left
to do, I could see where they were going. The formula hasn't changed, but the
songwriting has become tighter and perhaps even more experimental. While
Birds of Appetite
was full of swirling instrumentals and wispy vocals,
reminiscent of Russo's last band, the wonderful Mercury Rev, the new stuff
seemed to herald Hopewell coming into its own. There is something intense and
ecstatic about this band, that rare element that could make them wildly
popular while still pleasing their loyal fanbase – and they are really
starting to own it. One new piece, a vocals-heavy, space-rock love song that
the band had never played for an audience before, made me especially excited
for the new album. When, towards the end of the set, the band dove headfirst
into their anthemic single, "Calcutta," the audience just exploded. In
retrospect, I feel kind of bad for having so much fun with a song about living
in extreme poverty.

This performance convinced me, once and for all, that Hopewell exists purely
to save audiences from having a bad night. It was something of a miracle that
I came out of this show happy, as it was prefaced by a boring, '90s
rock-flavored set by Saints & Lovers and twenty minutes of commercial hip hop
provided by some sadist on the Pianos staff (quoth my similarly frustrated
friend, "If I hear the words 'pussy' or 'bush' one more time..."). And the
first time I saw Hopewell, they were opening for
self-destructive/brilliant/fill-in-the-tragic-genius-blank labelmates The
Brian Jonestown Massacre. After some frat boy threw a cup of ice on stage and
Anton Newcombe pitched a hissyfit that essentially ended the show, Hopewell's
performance justified paying the price of admission.

So imagine my surprise when, at the end of the set, Russo plunked himself down
on a barstool that had been dragged to the middle of the dance floor and said,
"That was awful." Well, if this is high school and he's that skinny, popular
girl who always talks about how fat she is, I'm going to be the brownnosing
sidekick who assures her that she's beautiful. Do you hear me, Hopewell? It
was great, okay? So don't go throwing up your lunch or anything, because you
look really hot in that "next big thing" dress.

Deadboy & The Elephantmen / Wolfmother
Richard's On Richards; Vancouver, BC

[05-27-06]

Hype is a funny thing. It's the
reason I'm here tonight. The first time I took notice of Wolfmother, it was
because of a full page ad on the back of Exclaim! It's pretty hard to
ignore an Amazon serpent woman commanding you to own their debut LP on vinyl.
Some time later, about a month before this gig, I became aware that not only
was Wolfmother coming to town, but, which is more, they were already sold out.
Dick's On Dicks never sells out. I guess the Australian stoners put that WWF
funding to effective use.

But before I get ahead of myself too much, the opening act was pretty much as
equally notable. Typically a duo of former Acid Bath taker Dax Riggs and New
Orleans drummer Tessie Brunet, a touring bassist wearing a "He Love The Cock
->" shirt was added to the line-up to align themselves with the power trio
they're opening for. This effectively rounded out their younger White Stripes
indie sound, markedly improving over the more minimal live bootlegs I'd
previously been exposed to. Their tight, high energy set certainly raised the
bar for the evening in the expectations of those who made it on time (what is
it with people missing the opening act?). They had issued their Fat Possum
debut a few months ago, though, so they'll probably have a few more warm-up
gigs to go before they're top billing. Just judging from the fervour they left
the crowd in, though, I'm sure they'll get there in a timely fashion.

After several random drunkards finished choruses of "Let's Go Oilers" and
Wolfmother chants trailed by barstar woops, the thoroughly trendy, borderline
rowdy capacity (!) crowd met the Aussy burn-outs with a noise only matched by
the cheers following Edmonton's semi-final series clinching win over the
not-so-mighty Mighty Ducks, being shown on one of the TVs behind a bar (it's
Canada, folks). The "this is the last time you'll see this band in a place
like this" intro from some too-hot-for-radio Fox FM girl probably helped, true
as it is. Wolfmother's sound and stage presence can't be contained in such an
intimate setting. It's gotta be hard trying to rock out on a 15 foot stage
with the drummer practically hanging from the rafters. They did it, though,
scissor kicks and all. Dicks has never been more alive.

I wasn't even born when Black Sabbath stopped being rad, but this has to be
what it felt like when they were. Fuzz-drenched guitars, keyboard distortion,
tribal drumming, mythological imagery, grandiose solos, chantable choruses,
and relatable lyrics: this is the spectacle rock lost when it drowned in coke
in the late seventies and its cock shrivelled. Wolfmother has finally brought
back rock with cantaloupe balls. There were synchronized cheers and clapping,
moshing (especially during "Apple Tree"), and even a little crowd surfing.
Just how mean these guys sound doesn't come across on any recording. If Chris
Ross' raunchy keyboard doesn't get you moving, nothing will. Stadium rock in a
500 max capacity building... socks were melting. Indeed, the differences
between The Darkness and Wolfmother may largely be influences, but the sheer
idiocy of Justin Hawkins' persona/lyricism is offset by WM's commitment to
simple but effective classic rock. While the kitschy Darkness performs
shenanigans, Wolfmother just rocks. This means razor bladed amps, putting
women on pedestals, and blowing the fuck out of people's minds. How many
people are in The Strokes? Five? Seventeen? And they can barely muster the
strength to do an encore. Come and discover what you've been missing for the
last 30 years. Remember rock.

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