Bell Orchestre / Snailhouse
Wexner Center for the Arts; Columbus, OH
Orchestre was pre-empted by singer/songwriter Mike Feurstack, who can
regularly be seen as guitarist/vocalist for Wooden Stars but who, on this
night, played a handful of songs under the guise of Snailhouse. The music
wasn’t groundbreaking or revolutionary but was still pretty and distinguished:
all members of Bell Orchestre also joined Feurstack for several songs prior to
their set, and then Feurstack returned the favor by diddling with electronics
during the Bell Orchestre set. Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed
Parry, upon leaving the stage after the group had finished backing Feurstack,
stood about 5 feet to the right of where my girlfriend and I were sitting. He
really doesn’t look a whole lot like Napoleon Dynamite when you’re that close
to him; he also lacked his trademark black glasses, an absence that prevented
anyone from mistaking him for the lanky Mormon. Yet another few feet away,
some guy was wearing the ever-present Vote for Pedro t-shirt, as if to rub
salt in the deepest of wounds. Parry briefly chatted up a friend who had
arrived, and after meeting his sister (and bowing politely), he took his leave
and headed to a quasi-backstage area.
Those mistaking Parry for the heart and soul of Bell Orchestre are sorely
mistaken. He’s obviously an integral part of the greater whole, but this
evening the subtle spotlight shined a little brighter on violinist Sarah
Neufeld, who also plays a big part in making The Arcade Fire so impressive
Pre-recorded oceanic sounds preceded the quintet as they carefully made their
way through the darkened performance space; small lights at each group
member’s wrists led the way. Neufeld was placed firmly in the center of the
stage with Parry to her right and a French horn and a trumpet player to her
left, the drummer behind her, and Feurstack to the drummer’s right, almost
hiding behind Parry. Parry played upright bass for a majority of the
performance, an instrument he not only played to perfection but also slapped
and pummeled during the “rock songs.” A majority of the songs were from the
band’s debut LP, Recording A Tape The Colour Of Light (Rough Trade),
and there were little surprises and variations in the performance of each
song. Neufeld is easily the center of attention for each song, as she plays
beautifully and thrusts her squat, sturdy arms into the air and saws at her
instrument as if she’s been tied to train tracks, a ferocious locomotive
barreling down upon her. The group played cohesively together, and each song
sounded as fresh as its counterpart on the LP. The only newish song played was
one Parry had recently commented on in interviews; during this song, the group
gathered together in the middle of the stage. The song was played without mics,
with Neufeld and the two brass players to Parry’s left. Parry played his
massive bass with the thin bow while the rest of the group kneeled on the
floor, clapping the floor once Parry had finished. Parry explained that the
song had been created at a “great old theater in Sweden when we were in
Europe.” And it did have a slight European vibe that well matched the other
songs performed. At one point, the group spoke at length about their newfound
hatred of all things Cleveland, a hatred discovered at a show a couple of
nights earlier at nearby Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom. They claimed that the
audience “hated them first” and that it was much nicer playing to a “quiet,
attentive crowd” rather than in a smoky dungeon where half the people weren’t
even paying attention.
A highlight of the show came near the end of the performance when the band
played what was announced as an Aphex Twin cover, a song that sounded
incredibly familiar and was played incredibly well. They ended the song with
what sounded like an electronic rubber band — stretched across the entire
stage — that snapped back and forth and continued to snap as the group members
quietly left the stage.
Ladytron / The Presets
The Metro; Chicago, IL
walked into the sold-out Metro just as the opening band was beginning their
set. I wasn’t expecting much from a band I knew absolutely nothing about, but
I was pleasantly surprised by the Presets, an Australian, electro-goth duo
clearly influenced by Joy Division/New Order; it’s the type of stuff the Faint
has been trying to do but has succeeded at only on occasion. The singer’s
Flock of Seagulls haircut, excessively tight jeans and ill-fitted t-shirt made
for quite the spectacle as he thrived around the stage, occasionally pushing
buttons on the electronic equipment that littered the floor. Meanwhile, the
drummer kept the pace alongside a booming bass that ripped through my insides
for 45 minutes straight. Further research revealed that this band has a debut
album coming out this month, which would definitely be worth looking into.
After a short break, Ladytron's four, disgustingly beautiful band members came
on stage joined by an additional drummer and bassist and proceeded to play
almost robotically. This fit their robo-sound very well and was pretty much
exactly how I would have expected them to play, though it did get boring at
times. I wouldn’t be surprised if frontwomen Mira and Helena were actually
fembots (fembots sporting very weird priest/nun-like clothing that only people
in bands can pull off), and watching them perform made me wonder if their home
country of Bulgaria is actually a land of gorgeous, fair-skinned, dark-haired
androids. Thankfully, the band broke the image in time for the encore, when
they began to show a bit of emotion and get the audience involved with some
dancing, handclapping, and an extended electronic jam of "Seventeen," by far
the most exciting moment of the night.
Ladytron's set leaned heavily on songs from their latest album, The
Witching Hour, including highlights "Destroy Everything You Touch,"
"Sugar" and "The International Dateline," while still managing to please the
crowd with older hits like "He Took Her to a Movie," "Playgirl" and the
aforementioned "Seventeen." For the first half of the show, it seemed the
audience wasn’t sure whether or not it was possible to dance to Ladytron’s
methodical electronica, as heads bobbed and feet shuffled nervously.
Eventually, as the beer flowed and the end of the set approached, all
pretenses fell to the wayside as people began pushing up to the front of the
stage to flail wildly in my personal space, completely out of sync with the
music. The Metro’s recent (and otherwise welcome) switch to a smoke-free
environment revealed its sole flaw: no cigarette smell to cover up the sweaty
BO scent. Blech.
This is Your Captain Speaking / This Melodramatic Sauna
Pannonica; Nantes, France
This Melodramatic Sauna is a group
from Nantes fronted by 23-year-old Jonathan Seilman. They released their first
full record, et les fleurs eclosent Ã l'ombre, on Effervescence at the
beginning of February, and the few tracks I had heard prepared me for some
pleasant indie folk, and not much more. In fact, the performance blossomed
from its delicate folk roots into colorful bursts of polyglot pop – whenever a
song was in danger of becoming too pretty for its own good, the dainty
fingerpicking and plucked strings were inundated with strident keyboards and
eccentric percussion. Theremin, the rims of half-filled brandy snifters, and
even a length of twirling plastic pipe complemented the drums and packed the
songs' conventional folk structures with savvy appropriations of pop, funk,
and jazz. Seilman blew injured saxophone melodies that were looped into the
rising cacophony along with his guitar. His voice was breathy and fragile,
bordering on cloying at times, but otherwise serving as a cool balm that kept
the songs from overheating. After playing through most of the cuts from the
new album, Seilman and the string quartet returned for a bashful encore,
offering a reprise of "Stronger Strongest" before breaking down their
equipment and coming into the crowd to talk and have a few drinks.
This Melodramatic Sauna's genial folk calamities segued nicely into the
polished post rock of This is Your Captain Speaking. The Australian trio - a
drummer (David Evans) and two guitarists (Nick Lane, Steve Ward) - relied on
lanky riffs and loads of tidal delay to create thickly layered songs that
surged and spent themselves in 7-minute stretches. Evans pounded his kit with
energy and poise and frequently abandoned the skins to tap out melodies on the
xylophone to his right. "6 PM" started with the friendly mechanical ratchet
and ping of a typewriter before the guitars overlapped, crested, and slid back
toward silence. "Henry and Maximus" was my favorite number: a playful melody
and jazzy cymbals gave way to contrapuntal riffage and a series of hungry
crescendoes. One of the guitarists had an effect on his guitar that made it
sound like a cello, and with all the delay, the tinny clatter of his pick
against the strings anticipated each wash of vibrating bass by several
seconds. The Aussies also gave a brief but lovely encore.
After a long weekend at a festival dedicated to the obscene, provocative,
noisy, and just plain weird, an evening spent with artists focused on
songcraft and musicianship was a soothing pleasure. The lively, if somewhat
tight, performance confirmed my hunch: I'm going to be sure to look for more
from This Melodramatic Sauna and any other Seilman releases. Any fans of
Sufjan / Andrew Bird / Akron/Family should do the same.
This Melodramatic Sauna
Home and Away
Ã” my sun
La Triste Comptine
Fin de Partie
Encore : Stronger Strongest
This Is Your Captain Speaking
A Wave to Bridget Fondly
Henry and Maximus
Encore : [unfinished new song]
The Rolling Stones
Grand Stage Theater; Shanghai, China
Sometimes, they walk backward in
China. They swing their arms the same way as everyone else, and they look
around at the scenery just the same, and they have conversations about
pigeons, and they have conversations about metaphysics, and they put stupid
shirts on their dogs and walk their dogs in those stupid shirts. They do
everything everyone else in the world does; they just do it a little
differently. They have humongous shopping malls, and they have pop music ear-fucking you, and they have food courts and places where you can buy music and
movies; but the shirts there are kinda funny, and there's a vegetarian
restaurant called Happiness Comes From Vegetable Dish, and the DVD shop
already has Season Third [sic] of Arrested Development. Everything we have and
do, just a little different. In the country whose population would go on
exponentially if you counted all the Chinese in a line (babies, stupid), one-by-one, what do they give the world's largest money-making tour? An 8,000-seat
venue. China doesn't give a shit about The Rolling Stones.
The crowd was largely expatriates, with about 90% being white. The
Stones show was apparently a "be there or be rectangular" kind of event for
whitey, as many of the only Chinese present were either the new, upper-class
elite or on the arm of their vis-Ã -vis boyfriend. And I guess I really
shouldn't say "whitey," as there was an international zest to the attendees'
whiteness. Upon first arriving at the stadium, after having spent the day in a
city of over 19 million Chinese; packed subways, difficult-to-maneuver
sidewalks, taxis, bikes, mopeds, countless honked horns, pedestrian,
pedestrian, pedestrian, one starts to think a little bit more about this
The concert itself was rather conflicting. Here are four of the men who have
made some of the greatest rock music in history — "Brown Sugar," "Get Off of My
Cloud," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," Exile on Main Street
— men who typified
good pop music, and now we see their picture and we cringe at their wrinkles,
and we talk about how much fucking money they're making on this tour and
whether one of them will die at this show, and how The Rolling Stones are
exactly what many of us have come to hate about music. Big money, moribund
creativity, mass marketing, and corporate tie-ins. Everything that's wrong
with pop music today just walked onto that stage and is going to play a show
for people who have touted their music like an anthem since the '60s, and to
them it's just another show. The news has made a seemingly big deal about this
being their first performance in China, but it's not important. It's not
historic, and it's not monumental. The government wants the good press just
like the Stones want the good press, and what's good for the goose is good for
the geezer. We've all been duped into a massive, two-hour-long PR session that
has been orchestrated by governments, corporations, and men with secretaries.
Everything I have ever believed music was about is, to its bone, at its core,
opposed to these things. Yet here I am, and there they are, and really, all I
want to do is listen to the Stones. I want to close my eyes and be able to
imagine myself in the '60s with my eyes closed, standing at the back of some
hole in the wall listening to The Rolling Stones, but I am in a seat, and the
music doesn't sound live enough, and a big screen behind the band is always an
undeniable temptress. Don't think, just listen. Walk backward.
Mick was surprisingly nimble. He still managed some of his swagger and
presence from "Gimme Shelter," and he even made it come off as more "classy"
sexy than "creepy-dad-singing-to-his-daughter's-friends-at-the-pool-party"
sexy. What can I say? The man is a professional. When singing "Wild Horses"
with Cui Jian, China's resident rock icon, things were sappy, wind blown
(literally), and just what you'd expect.
Along with Jagger, much of the energy for the show came from that
aforementioned bitch of a big screen and her use of cameras and video. Fades
on the slow parts, cuts on the fast, zoom in, zoom out
— the swoop, can't
forget the swoop —
the staged moves, and, of course, audience shots. If you were
ever tired of the show, you could simply look up and see an amped-up, MTV
version of the performance. The sound was nice and clean; there were two or
three wardrobe changes, and the lighting was excellent. Everything you'd
expect from one of the biggest bands in the world.
They played mostly classics (duh) and were met with mild, grumbling discontent
when announcing they would be playing a new song. The supporting musicians and
vocalists did an excellent job of maintaining the sound of the Stones, even
though they received little regard. Keith played a couple of songs and managed
an audible "It's good to be here...it's good to be anywhere," from that
somnolent voice of his.
I can't say that I wasn't impressed with the show. It was the Stones, for
Jeebus's sake. The music sounded just as good as it does on the albums, Mick
thoroughly awed, and fans could take pictures with their friends in front of a
Rolling Stones tongue-covered wall. Big, bright, loud
— the show was everything
I've ever imagined a Rolling Stones concert could be. But the Stones have
turned into more of an event than a band, and everyone should really just save
their money. Wait until winter, light a heap of leaves on fire, and listen to
"Satisfaction" while smoke coddles your blushing cheeks.
1. Start Me Up
3. Oh No, Not You Again
5. Wild Horses (feat. Cui Jian)
6. Rain Fall Down
8. Gimme Shelter
9. Tumbling Dice
10. Empty Without You
12. Sympathy for the Devil
13. Miss You
14. It's Only Rock ‘n' Roll
15. Paint it Black
16. Jumpin' Jack Flash
17. You Can't Always Get What You Want
Lieu Unique; Nantes, France
A weekend of the bizarre and the brutal. In France!
Whoa. What a crazy weekend. I danced, I grimaced, I laughed, I gaped. I
really, really should have had earplugs. Lieu Unique was one of my favorite
concert venues before, but after the weekend of bizarreness and brutality that
was I.D.E.A.L. Fest, it has entered my Pantheon of the Cool and now rubs
shoulders with breakdancing, suspenders, Louis Armstrong, Bjorn Borg, and my
high school English teacher with the awesome face whiskers. I'll try to
summarize the madness.
Friday, April 7
Pan Sonic + Hildoz Gundnadottir, Harry Merry, Jack the Rapper, Boy from
It all started on Friday night at about 9:15. Two serious-looking dudes with a
table of electronics equipment were stationed at the center of the huge, main
stage. An empty, wooden chair was at their right. Pan Sonic kicked things off
with a rumbling bombardment of drone and industrial beats. An AV display on a
screen behind them rested still and symmetrical as a black and white Barnett
Newman painting--until they started playing. Then the white zip down the
middle writhed and splintered, looking like a model of a tornado, or a
wobbling spinal column, or an epileptic python. Or something. It was hard to
focus on the spasmodic minimalism on the screen when Gudnadottir made her
appearance. The cellist occupied that empty chair in her stocking feet and
added an aspect to the performance that was at once malevolent and maternal.
She swayed and caressed her instrument, but the music coming from it
alternated from artful groaning to violent tablesaw screeches. Their songs
were smothered cataclysms that dwarfed the capacious stage. At times I felt
inclined to dance, but I was afraid of being crushed by the sounds if I made a
move. I tottered out of the room afterward, feeling like I had seen something
mythic and terrible and wondering how I could possibly make it through five
more hours of music.
Harry Merry quickly gave me the answer. This was my second Harry Merry
experience. The first came at Spellcaster's Lodge (aka Quintron's basement) in
New Orleans, and I am happy to report that almost nothing has changed in the
year between those two shows. Harry is still a very tall Dutch man in a sailor
suit who gives the strong impression that he is retarded or insane or both. He
plays impossibly sloppy keyboard and sings karaoke songs about postmen, bus
drivers, the daily paper, and unrequited love. Harry is one of those
performers who gets me all hyperanalytical and dumbfounded at the same time. I
could believe anything about him. Harry Merry has a Ph D in astrophysics? Of
course he does! Harry Merry is a naked roller derby star? Sure. Harry Merry is
just a Dutchman who likes making music and being silly? So hard to believe. He
bawks like a chicken, and he speaks like a six year old with Down syndrome. He
wears a sailor suit with a giant square collar! Who is this man! I don't know,
but somehow his awful, talentless music just makes people happy and becomes
catchy in spite of its clumsiness.
Harry was followed by a petite, Belgian man who goes by the name of Jack the
Rapper. Jack the Rapper likes costumes. He doesn't rap much. He just kind of
wiggles his hips and puts on funny hats. His lyrics include "Are you gay?," "I
like the pope, the pope smokes dope," and "Fuck the system." Sometimes he sits
on the ground and feels up a plastic Kawasaki saxophone made for children.
Sometimes I don't know what to think. He had on a homemade dress with giant
sewn-on lips and eyes. The lips looked kind of pouty because they were on his
little Belgian paunch.
After going from the sublime attack of Pan Sonic to the pathetically earnest
kitsch of Harry and Jack, Boy from Brazil got all nasty and over-the-top
erotic. He strutted on stage in platform shoes, skull and crossbone tights,
teeny tiny bike shorts, a leather jacket, and yes, an eyepatch. Those bike
shorts were stuffed with a banana, which he later threw into the audience.
Songs included "Pocket Rocket," "Rubber and Fur" and the mesmerizing
"America," in which his characteristically trashy lyrics and nasty gymnastics
accompanied projected photographs of handmade American flag crafts and women
in stars-and-stripes swimwear. Boy from Brazil stripped as the show
progressed, eventually wearing pretty much nothing more than leopard-print
bikini briefs and a gorilla mask. When the audience threw cups at him he
urged, "Not cups, bottles." He finished his set by looping the
microphone cord over a pipe and going about a quarter of the way toward
I finished the night by heading back downstairs to the big stage. Afrirampo.
At the scheduled show time, I saw a drum kit and a guitar on stage and nothing
else. A woman in a purple kimono emerged from backstage and proceeded to make
tea. She sat quietly and invited people from the audience to come up and drink
tea with her. They did. This little ceremony lasted for about 15 minutes
before Afrirampo came on. Their outfits: shredded, scarlet robes that looked
like kimonos, but a lot sexier. They shredded. They shrieked. They fell over.
And they did it all again. I thought I had seen a guitar solo before. I
thought wrong. Sentences seem overdone when talking about these two. Words! -
fury; scream; apocalypse; glee; legs! poetry; righteous; bounce; karate;
distortariffalickticalamitonipponastery! Girls got muscles, girls got chops!
Go see Afrirampo.
Saturday, April 8
Chaddom Blechborn Experience, King Prestige, Gonzales, Dick El Demasiado,
Alexander Hacke, zZz, Kunt
Saturday night also began at the big stage, this time with Chaddom Blechborn
Experience, a duo of banjo players who like to ham it up. Their show included
some virtuoso bluegrass fingerpicking, a cardboard boat they rowed across the
stage using a banjo as an oar, and a medley that included "It's a Hard Knock
Life" and that Kermit the Frog song, which they introduced by rolling up the
bottoms of their overalls and saying it was a song about pretty legs. Clever:
Frog song; legs; France. French eat frog legs – I get it! Although the jokes
were a little lame, their fleet fingers were impressive. Imagine Benjamin
Franklin in hexagonal hipster shades furiously wiggling his fingers across a
homemade banjo next to a woman in coveralls with a tomboy haircut and a tooth
blacked out, and you have gone a good way towards having the Chaddom Blechborn
It appeared that Saturday was the night for the kooky to be downstairs and the
serious to be upstairs as I headed back into the small second floor room to
see King Prestige, which is more or less the house band at Lieu Unique. It's a
five member techno group with an equine fixation and a black on black on black
aesthetic. They had a long table set up with five lap tops and a mic. Each of
the computers had a chess piece decal pasted on the back. Of course, plenty of
knights. Their proficient electronica ranged from assiduous minimal stuff to
spacey horse disco including samples of neighing and galloping.
After King Prestige finished up I went back downstairs to see Gonzales, a
former DJ turned pianist. He had the most friendly and well-received stage
banter of the weekend, thanks to the fact that he was one of the few musicians
who could speak both English and French. He played a variety of jazz standards
and original compositions, with a lot of winks and nods and congenial
showmanship. While he slapped at the keys his face looked like he just smelled
rancid cheese, and his sweaty forelock swung around, creating this kind of
tortured artist / cabaret vibe that offset his amiable chatter between songs.
He made jokes about the slippers he was wearing and even got the audience to
hold up an ostinato chant while he and drummer Mocky grooved on top of it. It
was a charming performance and a good chance to take a breath before diving
back into the bizarre and brutal.
Next up was Dick El Demasiado, who played a strange mix of reggaefied, Spanish
hip hop that included a whole lot of theremin and got the little room dancing
and sweaty. Clearly two of the most committed performers of the weekend.
Though I was running out of gas, I appreciated the tightness of their set. And
the stocky middle-aged guy in the skeleton costume had pretty good flow.
At about this point, I was worried I would have to make some snarky comment
about I.D.E.A.L. Fest really being more like P.R.E.T.T.Y. G.O.O.D. Fest
because Alexander Hacke's metal dirges left me feeling a little cold and
tuckered out. zZz saved the day. A drummer and organ / synth player from
Germany, these guys go at their set with everything they've got, barely
pausing between songs. Their stuff is dancy, noisy, and sweaty. The drummer
had my attention most of the show (when my head wasn't banging). His hair was
a curtain of wet strings hanging over his face by about the third song, and he
seemed ready for a breather after he and his partner had capped off each
corrosive blast of dancepunk, but the organ player would have none of it. He
ripped right into the next song after about a three second pause and only left
his table to pick up the monitors and swing them at the audience as if he were
pouring the scratchy distortion from a big bucket. They ended abruptly, the
drummer threw his sticks at the wall, and that was that. An awesome pickmeup.
Saturday night ended with Kunt, two Australian ladies who apparently got high
marks at the Peaches School of Etiquette for Aspiring Provocateurs. Fishnets,
halter tops, armpit hair, and a drum machine are about all they bring on
stage. They set scratchy dance music to playing and wrestle each other, bump
and grind the monitors and generally gross out / seduce the audience. Someone
threw a yogurt on the stage, and one of the girls opened it, took a mouthful
and spat it on the people in the front rows. The concert program had promised
a grand finale to their act. The backing music for the last dance routine was
about the same as all the others – nondescript bootynoise – but the props beat
all. The yogurt-spitting one strapped on an awful, mangled, homemade, metal
dildo and then took a handheld belt sander and started grinding into the spike
protruding from her pelvis, sending sparks flying into the audience. She did
this a lot with a look of sheer masochistic glee contorting her lipsticked
face. Again: hyperanalytical or simply dumbfounded? Reclaiming female agency
through the dislocation of gender roles and an autonomous expression of
aggressive femininity or, "Holy shit!" Somewhere, Carolee Schnemann cheers. "Kunt"
is pronounced exactly the way you would think.
Sunday, April 9
OM, Six Organs of Admittance, Current 93
Sunday night started and ended earlier than the first two but still packed an
impressive amount of the bizarre and brutal into three hours. OM opened with a
handful of slowcore drones that had me questioning if I was listening to the
music they were playing, the left over distortion from five minutes before, or
the ringing in my own ears. I think they swallowed up their forty five minutes
of stage time with only three songs.
After yet another performance that carved out my insides and left me wobbling,
I was looking forward to Ben Chasny's set as a chance enjoy some creative
melody and good guitar playing. I expected to be comforted. Wrong. His first
piece was the most painful, evil thing I had heard all weekend. Don't let the
cute moonface fool you – he has a nasty side, and it hurts. He swung his
electric guitar around as if he were grappling with an evil android and
losing. Piercing feedback, distortion like gravel in a blender, pained
crouching on the ground. Yikes. Later, fingerpicking. The melodies and
viruosity I had been hoping for. But all with the knowledge that he was
capable of doing us significant sonic harm if he so chose. The set lasted a
short 30 minutes.
I knew Chasny was a frequent collaborator and an avid proponent of other
people's stuff, but I was truly surprised when I saw him join Current 93. This
incarnation (and I use the word on purpose) of the band included Chasny on
electric guitar alongside an acoustic guitarist, a cellist, a violinist, and
accordion and piano players. And then, David Tibet, the singer. His heartfelt
delivery of songs like "Whilst the Night," "Judas as Black Moth" and
"Tortoise" compensated for music that seemed alternately out of touch, over
the top, or maybe just right. Tibet's songs have lots of animals in them
(seahorse, raven, tortoise, butterfly, etc), and he likes to prance around and
imitate the movements of his creatures as he unveils their apocalyptic
significance in trippy, spoken word sermons. I could easily see this guy on a
corner in New Orleans handing out pamphlets next to sandwich boards with
misspelled Psalms taped to them. Apparently, we are all headed to a bad place,
and the flowers know about it, and Jesus does too, and so does David Tibet.
Here's to Christian music that ditches three chord Jesus-treacle and
underscores the weirdness and danger of it all.
A month later, my ears continue to ring, I'm dealing with a lot of castration
anxiety, and I can say that I have seen Afrirampo. Thank you, I.D.E.A.L. Fest.
The Winter Music Conference:
03-23-06 ; 03-28-06;
Look at this dude... all work all
the time! What's up man? Sorry I haven't introduced myself, I'm Ben." "I'm
Jamie," I said loudly, realizing the booty bass being spun behind me
necessitated I speak up. "Nice to meet you." I closed my computer and looked
at Ben and his girlfriends from across the coffee table. I was sitting in the
lobby of the Wyndham Beach Resort in Miami Beach, Florida. It was 3:30 PM, day
two of the five-day Winter Music Conference, and Ben and his girlfriend were
sipping off an oversized bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne and rolling on
The Winter Music Conference has gathered the major players of the electronic
music world in Miami to network and party for 21 years now. What first started
in 1985 as a meeting of 90 delegates has grown into a weeklong assemblage of
over 4,500 DJs, panelists, artists, label reps, journalists, club owners, and
some just straight-up dance-ballers. During the day meetings and seminars are
held discussing a wide assortment of pertinent topics relating to the politics
of the industry, while at night (and all through the day as well, actually)
clubs, bars and beaches around the city host a wide assortment of DJs and live
acts. The culmination of the conference is the Ultra festival, the largest
event in Miami that week. This year the concert played host to intriguing
veteran names such as Prodigy, DJ Hell, Richie Hawtin, Josh Wink, and Carl
Cox, as well as rock bands such as Hot Hot Heat and the Killers. A closer look
at the lineup, however, revealed a who's who of cheeseball techno — Paul Van
Dyk, Arman Van Helden, Paul Oakenfold, DJ Dan, and a couple names I've heard
of but really know nothing about (Seb Fontaine? Junior Sanchez?). Oh, and
Perry Farrell. Ha. The point is, the lineup was sort of a "what the
fuck?"-style 1992 rave with a pinch of "hmm, what's cool now? OH! Indie rock!
Who wants to get paid?" amalgam. Needless to say, even with a free ticket, I
didn't make it to that event.
But never fear, the long weekend provided highlights aplenty, many of them to
be found in the up-and-coming (and supposedly dangerous?) Miami Design
District. Thursday night kicked off with a bang at the SoHo Lounge, where New
York's favorite partying pharmaceutical rabbit (Oxycottaintail) and NYC
arbiter of cool (Turntablelab) threw a joint party. In the Orange Room (the
walls are orange, silly!), DJs representing Philly (Ultraviolet, Low Budget of
Hollertronix), NYC (Egg Foo Young) and Baltimore (Aaron Lacrate, Scottie B),
spun a mix of hip-hop and Baltimore breaks to what seemed to be a large number
of New Yorkers and confused drum n' bass kids making their way through a sea
of hands in the air to the Infrastructure Room next door. The crowd upstairs
was more from the northeast as Fixed/Making Time party faves JDH and Dave P.
were spinning an indie/electro set in between live acts.
The first live act of the night I caught was Modular Records' dance punk-y
Australian act The Presets. On paper it looked like something I would be into
— drum machines and synths! Live though, while the energy was certainly there,
it somehow came off as sort of blah and unoriginal. The Presets consisted of
two dudes, one on drums, the other on some synths and a drum machine in
addition to his affected voice. Sound familiar? Even if it doesn't, you get
the idea. It was fine/fun, but really not much more.
up was much-hyped Philly raunch-rap diva Amanda Blank, a close affiliate of
the whole Milkcrate/Hollertronix crew. So close, in fact, that she's all over
the recent B'more Gutter Music mixtape and Spank Rock album. On stage she
actually looked a bit nervous for someone that is rapping about telling guys
to "suck her fucking dick." Her hype lady was sporting a tape measure belt,
and both women were wearing matching leotards and sarcastically talking about
how cool bulimia is. Now, I'm just as into irony and sarcasm as the next bozo
— I read Vice and make jokes about fags around my gay friends — but
something didn't feel right about the vibe they were giving off. It just
seemed a bit disingenuous. The throwback haircut with lines on the side, the
AK-47 gold chain necklaces — I could just see these girls walking around my
high school cafeteria. One day they're ravers, hip-hop kids the next, always
trying to find out where the coolest parties were that weekend just to talk
shit about those parties the next week. Maybe I'm just reading too much into
it. Maybe it just reminded me of all the shitty cred-obsessed, petty aspects
of myself, and I'm taking it out on these hardworking party girls. Either way,
the show was hype. At times Blank's flow gets a bit too sing-songy, a clichéd,
"bad-ass" white girl trying to keep up with the beat. But my god, when she
flips it double-time over those electro breakneck speed Baltimore beats, she
spits on par with anything Lady Sovereign has released since leading the
white-girl rapper train down the tracks. Her flow was made for this Twista-style
quick talk, and if she can somehow refine the rest of her rapping, she could
have an illustrious career on her hands. After she performed Spank Rock played
a surprise one-song set. He had the liveliness of the good-natured, energetic
club dweeb that he is, weaving and bounding about the stage rapping his
new(ish) single "Rick Rubin" articulately and on-point. This guy is primed for
a take over.
After an interesting Saturday afternoon spent on South Beach gawking at the
mix of dazed ravers and pink drink-swilling spring breakers, I headed back to
the Miami Design District for the Revolver party. This party was more of an
offshoot of the M3 Summit, which was also taking place in Miami this weekend.
Oh, did I forget to mention M3? M3's lineup was definitely more up my alley
than the WMC's collection of acts. It's a progressive mix of up-and-coming
acts which looked something like a mini Sonar Festival (Barcelona's prime
progressive musical gathering), without the euro-left field bent: Jamie Lidell,
Lady Sovereign, Vitalic, and DJ Marlboro to name a few. M3 was held on South
Beach at the Surfcomber Hotel, where acts played all day into the night on a
stage on the beach. But, alas, no ticket meant no entry to the actual event.
Fortunately, the Revolver party held at The Pawn Shop featured two M3
performers and DFA label mates, the Juan Maclean and Hot Chip. Also scheduled
to play live that night were Booka Shade, The Presets (again) and Soulwax (the
live performance incarnation of 2 many DJs — also scheduled to spin records
that night). I didn't stay until 6 AM, when the event finally ended, but I
heard that the Soulwax/2 Many DJs combo never surfaced. Luckily, French
crunchy-electro princes Justice and Get Physical label stars M.A.N.D.Y. spun
perfectly danceable disco house until I couldn't open my eyes any longer.
The only live set I ended up actually seeing that night was Booka Shade, who
went on at the reasonable hour of 2:45 AM. Booka Shade are Get Physical's
biggest label stars. Their 2005 hit "Mandarine Girl" combined new disco with a
slight minimal bent that's all the rage in their adopted home of (you guessed
it!) Berlin. Their live show consisted of two dudes banging on some electro
drum pads matched with hammering synths. Meanwhile, the guy who said stuff was
rocking a Bobby Brown cordless mic (!). Honestly, I found the majority of
their set to be quite boring; however, I was extremely tired, standing
in the back, and hadn't heard any recorded material other than "Mandarine
Girl" (which I was convinced they were segueing into every five minutes). The
poor experience was much more a reflection on my physical and emotional state
than the performance by Booka Shade. When they finally played "Mandarine
Girl," I was awoken from my slumber. That tune is a dance floor staple.
Anybody that is a fan of older disco, DFA stuff or the newer minimal sound
coming from Germany should pay attention to Booka Shade and the Get Physical
label. This will be a crew to watch in the coming years.
Friday left me so tired that I had to take it easy Saturday. Sunday I headed
to The Purdy Lounge on South Beach for one last dash of dance. The Rub
(monthly Brooklyn dance party starters) spun an amazing set on four
turntables. These dudes were at the forefront of the mash-up craze a couple
years ago, but smartly they have toned down the novelty mash in recent months.
Playing no song for more than two minutes, DJs Ayers, Eleven and Cosmo Baker
played a vast array of danceable music, but mostly stuck to what they do best
— straight thug heaters. Plus, I got to hear some more Miami booty bass —
finally, some 2 Live Crew to wrap up the experience. -Rezound
BenoÃ®t Delbecq Unit
Pannonica; Nantes, France
bought a season pass at Pannonica in January because I know pretty much
nothing when it comes to jazz. For a hip-hop fan, this is regrettable. For a
New Orleanean, it’s insupportable. The venue is relatively new: it’s odorless,
and the paint still sports a fresh latex sheen. Pannonica hosts an impressive
variety of shows, ranging from indie electronica acts to traditional jazz
musicians. BenoÃ®t Delbecq Unit fall somewhere between these two camps; the
concert flyer described their show as “jazz / sonic exploration.” The group I
saw included Delbecq at piano, a violinist, a saxophonist, a drummer, and an
For music that was decidedly quiet and unhurried throughout, I felt frequently
overwhelmed. Ultimately, I found that the best way to take in the performance
was to focus on the musicians singly or in pairs. Studying the relationships
between them was far easier than trying to force a clumsy cohesiveness upon
the music. Sheet music circulated from time to time, but their “songs” seemed
to be written in oft-erased pencil rather than permanent ink. Hushed
conversations that took place even in the middle of several pieces affirmed
the impression that they were not afraid to retool and improvise while on
They played two sets, each an hour long, with a short intermission in between.
The first half was more cautious, ambient, and quiet. It was rare that the
whole quintet would play at once; instead, two musicians would work at what
was less a duet than a sort of dada dialogue. In the second set, the group
tightened their songs a bit, giving them a deceptive coherence that could be
unravelled in a moment, like a slipknot. The one-on-one dialogue gave way to
full band jams that retained the peckish uncertainty prevailing before the
break. Their constant play with textures and conflicting rhythm was like a tug
on a fishing line, providing a definite, but gentle surprise that unseated any
anodyne routine threatening to settle in. Surprises came also from their
unorthodox playing styles.
The bassist, for example, draped himself over his instrument and proceeded to
knock, tease, pluck, brush, rub, and fondle it. I had never heard a bass
whinny before. His lips moved in ventriloquist mumbles, as if the bass were a
giant puppet with an eccentric voice. He was stationed behind the saxophonist,
who seemed to be breathing through the sax rather than blowing into it. He
manipulated the keys with dexterity and imagination, unafraid to let tones
quail, falter, and disappear instead of inflating them to flamboyant squeals.
I’m used to thinking of a saxophone as a bold, sexy instrument, but he
uncovered a vulnerability that denuded grooves rather than encouraged them.
Delbecq was the first on stage, and he prepared his piano, Cage-style, with
pencils, wood blocks and other small objects. He and the violinist were
usually in conversation with one another, the seventh chords and arpeggios
creating a florid backdrop for her spare pizzicato and intermittent bowing.
I had the best seat in the house: right behind the drummer. Experimentation
has a way of both breaking a thing down to its simplest parts and then showing
off the variety that can result from the interactions of those parts, and this
wiry drummer reminded me that, at its foundation, percussion is simply two
things touching. His tactile approach to the kit brought forth sounds and
rhythms that both grounded and destabilized the songs. He used the rims of his
cymbals and drums as much as their heads, dragging ends of sticks, brushes,
and his fingers across them, playing with contrasts between soft and sharp,
hollow and full, metal and skin. What at first seemed like aleatoric jamming
came into focus as multibar patterns that would approach a tantalizingly
violent climax and then stop with the tacit closure of the hi-hat. I felt like
I was leaning into a seat belt anticipating a crash that never came.
The two hours I spent with Delbecq’s group taxed both my patience and
imagination, but I left feeling oddly satisfied and opened. For me, jazz is
something huge and historical and intimidating, and still relatively unknown;
I’m pleased that Delbecq and his colleagues were there as guides of one of my
first explorations of it.
Ted Leo/Pharmacists / The Duke Spirit / Les Aus
40 Watt; Athens, GA
The thing you should know about
Athens concert venues is that shows start at 10:30 pm--as in, the
opening band finally shuffles up on stage nursing PBRs when an hour away in
Atlanta a second group is setting up their gear. Townies and underage co-eds
with fake IDs are already on their third or fourth beer (even more if it's the
weekend or Thursday) and talkatively make their way into the now smokeless
clubs. I've arrived at a place like the Caledonia by 1am and not missed the
headliner. In fact, the last band's still finishing their set.
Perhaps it's indicative of the laid-back Southern mentality (face it, Atlanta
runs on corporate Eastern seaboard time) or maybe it's just that Athens runs
on "rock time." Either way, the occasional exception out of the late-night
norm has caused me to miss nearly entire sets by legends like Daniel Lanois.
Gauging the out-of-the-ordinary early set is difficult. You have to ask the
following questions: Is the performer older in his years? Will the people be
more the party-all-night, Guided By Voices crowd or the be-in-bed-by-midnight,
Death Cab For Cutie crowd? Is the performer worth staying up until last call?
Are you looking for an excuse to get toasted until last call, you lazy drunk?
I can now add a new factor: the performer's health. Ted Leo's been in and out
hospitals and therapy for vocal chord inflammation over the past few years. He
tours harder than most bands, talks with countless radio stations and fans not
heavy-handedly like a merchandiser but more like a rock prophet. I converted
with many in 2003 with the advent of Hearts of Oak, a record that
re-revitalized my hope for punk rock and music in general. The hooks were real
and vigorous, but it was Leo's vocal enthusiasm that solidified him as a
legend in the making. Imagine my concern when the veteran opened the show
saying that night was the first in a week they'd been able to play.
Because we arrived at 10:45 pm, my lady and I missed Les Aus, a group whose
description in the local weekly ("Catalan-sung psychedelia") sounded extremely
promising (on later exploration, I found out they did, indeed, rule). We did,
however, catch the tail end of The Duke Spirit, one of those "Breaking Out"
bands or something NME probably shit their trousers over, that sounded like PJ
Harvey fronting Spiritualized or maybe an extroverted Nico singing for a
friendlier Velvet Underground. I didn't really buy it. The lead vocalist,
Liela Moss, certainly acted like an energetic stage performer, beating the
tambourine within an inch of its life and dropping to the floor like the
famous live Doors footage you also see of Jim Morrison on VH1's 100 Most
Shocking Moments in Rock montage. I can dig a musician as performer in the
latter role's "performative" sense, the qualities of the whole stage show, but
only when the performance is genuine and not presented as an object to gawk
Despite Ted Leo's opening explanation, the audience and the band grabbed onto
each other immediately. After a week's rest and visibly a little discomfort,
Ted Leo wanted nothing more than to get back to what he does best: creating a
real relationship with the audience. At one point in the show when his voice
was giving out, Ted Leo told the audience to get off their lazy asses and sing
along, or more helpfully, get on stage and grab a microphone. No one,
unfortunately, took him up on the latter offer, but we did all shout the
chorus to a song off Shake the Sheets, to which Leo was appreciative.
After a one-two punch of Hearts of Oak material, the band introduced
"Army Bound," which still sounded like it was in its formative stages, but the
extended guitar solo was a nice surprise I hope comes through the recording.
Unfortunately, the whole time I couldn't help but think the man was a leader
with half an attentive audience. He's one of the few in rock ‘n roll that has
something honest and real to say both in lyric and in conversation. Watching
him was like seeing a solo Billy Bragg on national television a month ago: a
solid, heartfelt performance, yet almost wasted on a crowd only intent on
being entertained. Sure, entertainment is a large part of why people attend
concerts, but musicians like Billy Bragg and Ted Leo offer the possibility or
the challenge of change. This brings in the question of audience
responsibility: does it exist? Should the crowd invest in the performance as
much as the performer? More? Experience on the latter question suggests yes,
but there are still those who expect product shouting, "Here we are now,
entertain us!" (never thought I'd quote Kurt Cobain). Nevertheless, Ted Leo
will tirelessly continue to give his 110%, and I hope that, for rock ‘n roll's
sake, there are people out there giving back more.
Bring 'Em Home Now! Benefit Concert: Devendra Banhart / Conor Oberst / Michael Stipe / Moby / Peaches / Fischerspooner
Hammerstein Ballroom; New York, NY
walked to the end of the line waiting to enter the Bring 'Em Home Now
concert, I observed the devolution of the liberal American protester. It
started with the old lefties who arrived early, simply out of habit, then
regressed to the young idealists with anti- this or that petitions in hand,
before ending in the primordial ooze of hipsters—their ambivalence gently
lapping at the shores of dissent.
Meanwhile, an attack was being waged. Pamphleteers trolled the line for
sympathetic eyes, offering communist newspapers for a dollar an issue, mailing
lists for everything but paper conservation, and various Bush puns on pins. It
was enough stimuli to make Times Square jealous.
Once inside, and having missed Margaret Cho's crowd warm-up—a feat no more
impressive than Yao Ming slam dunking on a Fisher-Price hoop—I found myself
watching a cross between Cirque du Soliel and Depeche Mode. The band was
Fischerspooner and their singer yelled, "This war is ridiculous!" I kept my
sentiments to myself. Sometimes a glass house needs to be broken.
Afterwards, Moby came on stage and prefaced his performance with the
reassuring disclaimer, "Not to sound like a crazy old hippie…" Then, with
vocal help from the Cultural Director of MoveOn.org, he strummed the
Forrest Gump classic, "For What It's Worth."
This was the first sign that even the artists were facing an identity crisis.
While Moby recognized the stigma of the '60s protest hippie, others like
Devendra Banhart, fully embraced it. His freak-folk entourage and wispy "it's
simple, we don't want to kill" lyrics surely triggered a few LSD flashbacks.
On the other end, however, was Peaches. By no means a throwback, her brand of
barf-out-loud gender play is entirely of this generation: confused but certain
that shock value has meaning.
If any artist brought a sense of hope and individualism to our time of war, it
was Conor Oberst. Old Bright Eyes himself crooned the crowd to its feet,
singing "I guess God just calls a spade a spade, when the president talks to
Incendiary and poignant, he sang, "In truth, the forest hears each sound, each
blade of grass as it lies down. The world requires no audience." Those just
hearing him for the first time smiled, like they'd just felt what they should
have felt all along. One even turned to me and said, "He's like Dylan."
Another throwback? No. Not this time. Oberst may draw comparisons, but it's
not in image. It's in words. Just as Dylan reminded folks of the way Woody
Guthrie made them think about themselves, Oberst has the ability to do the
same for a new generation. When it comes to politics in music, that's all you
can ask for.
Americans, for all our flag-waving, are a hard bunch to inspire towards
action. Those of us who know change is needed seem to think the struggle ends
at pointing it out. Michael Stipe fell victim to this during his set, saying
Noam Chomsky once lamented that in all his travels and lectures, Americans are
the only ones who ask "What can I do?" In nearly every other country Chomsky's
visited, people tell him what they're doing.
It was a point without a point, perpetuating the very complacency it derides.
But that was the underlying theme of the Bring 'Em Home Now concert: the
co-opting of various protest images in the absence of real protest substance.
Here's an idea: take that Hammerstein Ballroom full of people and tell them
something they can do. Tell them to cancel their newspaper subscriptions if
they want the print media to report the truth. Tell them to suspend their
cable payments until providers take Fox News off the air. Tell them not to pay
their taxes if they want the war to end in Iraq, maybe even send it to war
Imagine what would happen if those 6 in 10 people who supposedly oppose this
war just withheld their money from the government. That's what Cindy Sheehan
did. Too bad all the people who came out to see her at last week's concert
weren't motivated to do the same.
I'm one to talk. You won't see me doing any of these things either. So long as
my life seems unchanged by war and I am able to afford tickets that cost $30,
you won't even see me raise a stink.
What we need is someone to help us see beyond ourselves. Guthrie and Dylan did
that. And so did Oberst, for just a flicker of his three-song performance. If
we can inspire our musicians and artists to inspire us back, then maybe we
have a chance. People like me (and I'm sure that includes you—we online music
'zine readers aren't too different) need to know there's more than just safety
in numbers. There's power to force change.
The next time a protest concert rolls into your town (should you be so lucky),
forget about your inflammatory pins and t-shirts. Leave your
bureaucratic-bound petitions at home. They're just substitutions for the real
thing. Help raise the level of thought and action to something more than just
a vague bygone idea of the American protester.
SXSW: Day Four
Reaching the final full day of festival activity, I was beaten-down but still
ready to be impressed. Strangely enough, it was raining in Austin (a rare
event these days). This blocked my first attempt to see Dr. Dog in the parking
lot of a pizza joint (Home Slice). I had seen the band at SXSW 2005 and found
them to be one of the highlights of the festival. Their glammy take on prog
and power pop is ambitious and packed with energy. Alas, I would have one more
chance to them later in the day.
In the meantime, I hightailed it over to Longbranch Inn on East 11th. It's a
great little neighborhood bar, yet, during SXSW, like most other watering
holes, it becomes a music venue. United State of Electronica were set to play
at 1:45 pm, but due to some shifting, had started early at 12:45. I came in
during their second song, and the crowd was already heaving with a boisterous
neo-disco pulse. That this can happen at 1 in the afternoon is a testament to
the character of USE's performance. Daft Punk-style guitars blazed over
rock-solid bass and drums pounding out a tight 4/4 groove. The vocal melodies
tended to be shortened to the simplest (and catchiest) of phrases so that one
or more of the six vocalists could easily rouse the audience into unison
chanting. One can tell that they've worked hard to hone their onstage skills
and that the work has unquestionably paid off.
It's sad that there are not many bands with the same commitment to the live
experience that USE has. Their ability to whip an audience into a frenzy is
almost unparalleled, at least for a band working with their means. It makes me
hope that they find the right backing so that they can some day develop their
stage show unfettered by limitations. Truly one of the most awe-inspiring
events of my time at SXSW.
My second attempt at making it to see Dr. Dog was thwarted, this time by an
obscene queue. In contrast with 2005 where I was never turned away from day
showcases by prohibitively long wait times, this marked the third time that a
line had kept me from seeing a band in 2006. A little rundown by the activity
level of the past few days, this disappointment sapped my energy, and I took
some time to regroup. Feeling that I should eat something before attempting
any night events, I went with a small crew of fellow festivalgoers to a
reputed southern cooking establishment. This was my big mistake.
Two smothered pork chops and a bevy of sides later, I waddled my way down 6th
Street towards Exodus, where the new Manchester-based XFM were hosting an
evening of entertainment. With this being the case, I wasn't all that
surprised to see Tony Wilson there introducing the acts; although, I must
admit that I was a bit starstruck. After all, here's the man who brought the
world Joy Division, A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column, Happy Mondays, and at the
very least, one of my favorite films (24 Hour Party People) is based
around him as the main
Regardless, the first act upon arrival was Liam Frost, a focused
singer/songwriter with a warm, distinctive voice. His music was wonderful, but
as he rocked with acoustic fury, the warning signs of food coma were coming
on. My eyelids began to close uncontrollably while I was still standing. I
decided that I needed to find a bed as soon as possible, and with as much
energy as I could muster, I charged through the doors of the club. I barely
made it back to the car without collapsing on the sidewalk, but once there, my
saintly wife drove me safely to our abode. I was asleep in no time.
Upon reflection, this rather unceremonious end to SXSW 2006 holds some
important lessons for me. One, I need to remember that when running a marathon
(literal or metaphorical), pacing is the real challenge. Two, just because a
band is incredible and the beer is free doesn't mean that I should lose count
of my afternoon beverages. Three, that hole in the bathroom wall is not safe
to fiddle with. And four, I am a cranky old man. I hope to apply this newly
acquired self-knowledge to any future festivals that I'm lucky enough to
stumble into, but if I can impart any one festival lesson to you dear reader,
it would be this: if you see a man slumped against a club's wall drooling
gravy, please give me a friendly shake and ask the bartender to call me a cab.