Belle and Sebastian / New Pornographers
9:30 Club; Washington, D.C.

[03-05-06 ; 03-06-06]

Stuart Murdoch dances like he's
recently come off a stint of watching hours of The Breakfast Club on
loop. He twirls and kicks as if the ghosts of Molly Ringwald's past characters
have him possessed. His energy goes against my presuppositions about Belle and
Sebastian's live set--that its set possibilities would foster thoughts of
peaceful yawning and the desire for a seat. Two nights of the band's
fast-paced new sound at the 9:30 Club debunked these theories.

Night one, Sunday, March 5: The band eased the crowd into a warm bath with the
first bubbling notes of "Stars of Track and Field." Glowing in the warm shine
of the yellow lights and the welcoming rise of the violin, the audience
settled into their comfort zone and realized their surroundings, upping the
ante from bumbling foot-shuffling to all-out disregard for other people. "This
feels so cozy," Stuart Murdoch said. "It makes me want to get into my
pajamas!"

The roller-coaster of tempos, from "Funny Little Frog" to "A Century of
Fakers" to "I'm a Cuckoo," heightened anticipation and the possibilities. But
the band seemed to have pow-wowed beforehand, dreaming up the set with the
largest amount of prime opportunities to get down. They rocked "Electronic
Renaissance," with a city lights background, "Your Cover's Blown," with Stuart
thrusting his pelvis and hitting the cymbal simultaneously, and "White Collar
Boy," with fatter beats and more authentic-sounding harmonies than the
recording. After "I Don't Love Anyone," one of a few throwbacks to
Tigermilk
, Murdoch warned his snuggly new friends, "I hope you're glad to
know I've come a long way in my emotional development since then, and for that
I have this group of people to thank," pointing to the band of seven others,
including guitarist Stevie Jackson, expert hand-clapper in skinny-pants. The
weep-worthy encore, consisting of "Fox in the Snow" and "Get Me Away From Here
I'm Dying," left the crowd wistful and romantic. The entire set reminded fans
of songs they'd forgotten and put new emphasis on the overlooked, finer points
of their extensive catalogue.

Night two, Monday, March 6: Murdoch and co. obliged silent wishes for
infrequent repeats from the night before, starting with "Expectations,"
tossing in a little "She's Losing It" and breaking hearts with "The Wrong
Girl." They kicked the set into gear with the same electric feel of the night
before, Murdoch's energy replenished, his dance moves intact. "Me and the
Major" and "Judy and the Dream of Horses" capped off the show with an ending
fit for 1996.

Openers the New Pornographers are coming off their own avalanche of praise for
Twin Cinema, only the hottest woman in indie rock Neko Case and the
chain-smoking, self-loathing Dan Bejar were notably absent. A.C. Newman held
it together with his harmonic backup band, and they mixed up their set with
pieces from each of three albums--"The Body Says No," "Breaking the Law,"
"From Blown Speakers," and "Sing Me Spanish Techno." The precursor to Belle
and Sebastian's undying energy, the New Pornographers set the precedent of
fervency and singalongs. The combination unmatched, the choice of songs too
perfect, Belle and Sebastian and the New Pornographers created a sublime night
for awkward, lovesick fans eager to realize their dreams. -Rebecca A.

Photo: Photo M.Trayner

Animal Collective / First Nation
Neumo's; Seattle, WA

[03-02-06]

As I walked into the overcrowded
venue, the first thing I noticed was the band on stage. Three women will
always make a man turn his head, but in this case it was the music that
grabbed my attention--and not in a positive, "What is this?" tone but more in
an annoyed, "What is THIS?" tone. And I wasn't alone. First Nation was in the
midst of their set, and no one, not even the hipster dufusses, were into the
performance. This was a band that had listened to 7" of respectable noise
bands and thought they could replicate those sounds and that energy. Sadly,
they can't and--I have to be straight ahead with all of you--I don't think
they ever will. Maybe there is something salvageable on a plastic disc or
vinyl wax, but in a live setting these ladies couldn't pass the test with an
open and lively crowd. Most of the crowd couldn't muster applause after each
track, and the only round of cheering came when First Nation exclaimed how
cool Animal Collective was for having them open, housing them on Paw Tracks,
and giving them the gift of watching Animal Collective perform each and every
night.

It was a relief when First Nation exited stage left and the boys of Animal
Collective started piecing together their rig. For a moment I thought First
Nation may have been some joke or a way to make Animal Collective's
performance seem glorious by default, but I was soon to realize that Animal
Collective needs no propping. From note one, the band immediately commanded
attention. The disgruntled noises from Geologist's set-up came in every
direction, and the show began on a high note. The band slipped from one song
to the next seamlessly and we, the crowd, hardly noticed. Animal Collective
didn't shy away from mixing in songs no one could recognize (and lord do I
hope those songs appear sooner rather than later in a studio form) along with
songs from older releases when Animal Collective wasn't technically Animal
Collective. Again, the crowd didn't give two shits about not recognizing songs
(except for the putzes behind me who exclaimed "Finally! It's about time,"
when AC launched into "Grass," as the set died down); they were more into the
show and the sound itself.

If you've never seen Animal Collective live, it's hard for me to sum up the
onslaught of sight and sound. I'll try to put it this way for those of you who
have experimented with drugs: take some LSD or smoke as much pot as you can
without feeling sick and/or throwing up. Crank up your stereo as loud as you
can stand it--and the more speakers you can place around the room in varying
positions the better. Concentrate on the same spot or item for as long as you
can while taking in the waves of sound that surround you. You'll start to hear
things you've never noticed before, and you'll start to question your sanity.
Are you really hearing voices? Was that a guitar or a synth that made that
noise, or are you starting to crack? Is the face of the Avey Tare starting to
melt? Who said that!? These thoughts rushed in and out of my head all evening,
and I wasn't under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. Then it dawned on
me: I wish I knew stereotypical Grateful Dead/Phish fans so I could bring them
to see Animal Collective--they'd never touch a drug to listen to music again.
Listening to Animal Collective amounts to one giant trip.

The Buttless Chaps / Young & Sexy
The Red Room; Vancouver, BC

[02-23-06]

Like a solar eclipse but far less
random is the elusive double CD release party. Lo, here at the primarily
electronic nightclub The Red Room, Mint Records kindly bankrolled the release
of The Buttless Chaps' seventh album and the sick-of-being-compared-to-Belle &
Sebastian Young & Sexy's hotly anticipated third. I'd never been to this venue
before, and, to be honest, its close proximity to Hastings (crack central here
in Van) and the subsequent shootings outside had me a little nervous, but the
open dance floor area and cabaret-style seating sure puts The Red Room at a
level above Richard's On Richards peeling-paint banisters. Having built up a
substantial cult following over these many years, the combined hometown crowds
of each band obviously necessitated a venue of this size, but the class of
this more-recently-renovated-than-Dick's joint was the cheese in my grilled.
Hey, you can't go wrong with a $5 pint glass of peach margarita.

With the blossoming crowd inside by the time Young & Sexy hit the stage, there
was almost a birthday party atmosphere in the East side cavern (care of the
crazy dancing, post-punk, post-Barenaked Ladies opening locals The Doers),
which took a sudden turn towards a sullen, forgotten birthday once the sombre
interpretation of urban decay that is Y&S kicked in. Amid subtle monitor
problems, they didn't really hit stride till after "The City You Live In Is
Ugly," which was just in time for the harmonizing required by muse chanteuse
Lucy Brain and guitarist Paul Hixon Pittman for "Your Enemy's Asleep," a song
that took on more of a Shins feel live. I know, particularly with their first
album (2002's Stand Up For Your Mother) and its surrounding output,
that their emphasis is/was on alienated, morose seriousness--but I wasn't the
only one who thought Lucy's voice sounded more dynamic once she seemed to
lighten up a bit and let a few smiles across her face, coincidently when a
trumpeter/keyboardist showed up to make the band a sextet. I actually
preferred their earlier releases before this set, which picked a selection of
tracks covering all three records, but the live versions of their more
traditionally indie rock-sounding, newer Panic When You Find It tracks
brought them to life in a truly rewarding fashion right before my ears.

The assless ones took the stage without a word, launching straight into songs
mostly from their newest Mint album. While previously exploring the uncommon
dichotomy of new wave and country in great depth, the Where Night Holds
Light
-heavy set rested more on indie-tinged alt. country… so don't let the
country tag scare you. Garth "Dr. Pepper" Brooks, these guys ain't. This here
is a rare case of trumpet, accordion, banjo, and keyboards (among other
things) all together at last. This mêlée betrays an open-mindedness that is
crucial to the endurance of worthwhile independent music.

After five studio and two live albums, there's a pretty good chance you know
your shit. And so, the accurate renditions of the new Buttless tracks weren't
surprising. But while they didn't add too much beyond the studio, Dave Gowan's
off-the-cuff musing about "product" (hair gel), the obligatory Chaps cover of
Depeche Mode, and their live energy in front of a friendly crowd
unquestionably made the trip down worthwhile. They closed out the night on a
positive, laid-back note. You can probably tell from the tone of this review
that my mind wasn't exactly blown through the wall, but believe me when I say
it's nights like this that rekindle my faith in indie. Props to Mint Records.
Off the back of these releases and Neko Case's new one, this should be a
well-deserved big year for them.

Akron/Family / Sir Richard Bishop
02-11-06;

[02-11-06]

The
Night of the Living Dopplegangers. I swear up and down I was stuck between
folks who looked like Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Morrison, and Dee Dee Ramone--an
odd trio to envision--but that's what a show billing Sir Richard Bishop and
Akron/Family will bring.

I walked in just as Richard Bishop began his set. If you've never seen Bishop
work his magic, then you'd be in for a real treat. This is another in a long
line of classic Bishop performances. The man is able to make one guitar sound
like an army of them (take that, Broken Social Scene!) with little effort.
Watching his fingers move so nimbly across the frets becomes mesmerizing.
There are times when you forget about the actual music being produced and just
focus on figuring out his tricks. Once you do snap out of the trance and
listen to the sound, you're blown away by how Bishop is able to switch from
the gritty sounds of the OK Corral to a playful cover of "Somewhere Over the
Rainbow," before launching into a 15 minute collision of quiet tones meeting
deafening strums. He had the crowd by the ear, and those who didn't know him
beforehand would never be able to forget him.

As Akron/Family began setting up for their whirlwind performance, I listened
in on the crowd. Many seemed swayed to check out the band from an article
written by The Stranger--one person even quoted it to the best of his memory.
I got a chuckle because they were expecting some Dylanesque performance of
folk rock that they would never get, though Akron/Family would tease them with
"Awake." Many in the crowd were lulled into a false sense of calm and
nostalgia while others waited with baited breath for the real surprises to
begin. And the minute the band exploded into the frenzied beginning of
"Moment," some eyes lit up as most faces tried to stop their jaws from
dropping. No longer was the group behind me talking about Dylan and how
beautiful the first song was. They were now in the midst of a fray, and not
one of them knew what to do.

From then on out, it was a battle of attrition. It was Akron/Family versus
convention, and the four Brooklynites were willing to pull out all the stops
as the crowd quickly melted into their hands. Whatever the band wanted, they
received. The band teased the crowd with haunting melodies and bone-jarring
jams. They kept us on edge throughout the night, and no matter how jovial
their conversations with the crowd were (even promising to bust out some CCR
if we were good), everyone expected them to blow the roof off at any moment.
We were hostages with friendly captors.

When the bird calls, slide whistles and harmonicas were unleashed to herald
"Future Myth," the crowd was ready to spend their last amount of energy as the
song devolved from a ruckus tune into a wall of distortion and tribal drum
beats. As we all prepared for the big sendoff and a chance to catch our
breath, one by one the band began to climb off the stage and congregate in the
middle of crowd. Armed with a banjo, an acoustic guitar, and small percussives,
the band launched into a beautiful sing-along, even getting the crowd to
"drink the kool-aid." Soon the room swelled as everyone loudly sang "Love and
space" on a loop. It's one of those rare moments when a band trusts its crowd
and gives back the best way they know how. After the campfire moment, the boys
gravitated towards another part of the room and tackled Neil Young's
unappreciated "For the Turnstiles." The crowd was once again moved to
participate, this time without the goading from the band. When they finally
returned to the state for one last go, everyone left standing had been
converted. No one left without a smile, and no one would ever forget what they
had just witnessed. Akron/Family transcended the music and actually reached
out to their audience with no hidden agenda or false pretense. In a musical
world brimming with cynicism and criticism, it's nice to have bands like
Akron/Family nurturing a heartfelt family mentality.

Photo: Emily Wilson

Dead Meadow / Film School / The Out Crowd
Doug Fir; Portland, OR

[02-10-06]

Located in sunny southeast
Portland, Oregon, the Doug Fir is a hip little hangout that just might make
you nauseous, depending on what kind of person you are. The Doug Fir screams
pretension with its log cabin walls, neo-lounge lighting scheme and Frank
Lloyd Wright feel; hipsters adorn the place like gargoyles at Notre Dame.
Sarcastic dig aside, the Doug Fir is a fine establishment. One-third
restaurant, one-third bar and one-third venue, there is always a good-sized
crowd. The venue itself is in the basement and is a medium-sized room, making
it a great place to see a show; there are no bad sight lines and the sound is
usually spot on.

Tonight's crowd was rather sparse during the set by Portland-based openers,
The Out Crowd, Matt Hollywood's post-Brian Jonestown Massacre project. Being
the chronically late person that this reviewer is, the majority of The Out
Crowd's set went by without my beaming presence. The last "song," however, was
a 20-odd minute drone of guitar, feedback, keyboards, and one grubby looking
dude in sunglasses sitting in a chair, every so often ripping pages out of a
book into a microphone. As the jam seemed to be winding down, an apparently
annoyed Matt Hollywood set his guitar against his amp and walked off stage.
Guitarist Elliott Barnes stopped Hollywood and appeared to ask him a question;
Hollywood appeared to answer, shaking his head and pointing to a light that
was shining onstage, apparently in his eyes. The jam went on without him for
another five minutes until each member ambled offstage, the grubby-looking guy
with the book languidly bringing up the rear.

The Bay Area band Film School was up next. Despite the pompous name and the
dippy-looking hat that singer/guitarist Krayg Burton insisted on wearing,
(think Duckie from Pretty in Pink) Film School proved themselves to be
an engrossing live band, full of energy and effects-heavy songs lying
somewhere between shoegaze and The Cure. Film School's set began with
guitarist Nyles Lannon, a tall, lanky dude with long blonde hair and
horn-rimmed glasses, playing a few notes and letting the pedals do the rest.
Burton soon joined in, as did keyboardist Jason Ruck, the wall-of-sound
eventually segueing into "On and On," the first proper track on their new,
self-titled album. The upbeat "Pitfall" was next, its bouncy bass line
bounding along until the song makes a switch to an Interpol-style progression
at the halfway mark. Throughout the show, bassist Justin Labo cavorted around
the stage, acting as the very personification of his bouncy, melodic bass
lines while Ruck stood placidly in the shadows, adding his keyboard textures
in virtual anonymity. By the time set closer "11:11" erupted into its huge,
dancey conclusion, the audience was dancing, and one girl had burst forth from
the back of the room to flail about in front of the stage. A more enthusiastic
endorsement could not be had.

One of the best things about seeing independent bands is that they very often
have to set up their own equipment, which, for a band like Dead Meadow, could
have a detrimental effect. Watching drummer Stephen McCarty with his
delinquent beard and Charles Manson hair carry out his huge-ass bass drum with
a Celtic design on it kind of kills the aura of mystery that the band seeks to
evoke on stage. Luckily for Dead Meadow, they had a secret weapon in their hip
pocket: a smoke machine! Nothing creates mood faster than a Chauvet F-650
Hurricane Fogger turned to the "Oregon Coast" setting. On Dead Meadow's last
album, the sublime and psychedelic Feathers, the quartet managed to
combine the heaviness of their past albums with the ambient swirls of shoegaze
and psychedelic, even adding a little acoustic guitar to the mix. In a live
setting, the now three-piece (temporary?) Dead Meadow loses all pretense of
subtlety or texture; loud, heavy and thick are the order of the day.

With the green backlight and sitar drone loop in full effect, Dead Meadow took
to the stage. Guitarist Jason Simon played a couple of notes on his guitar,
and the brief sound coming through the Orange amplifier was enough to cause a
small intestine to unwind. One girl crinkled her brow, perhaps lamenting the
fact that she left her earplugs in her other jeans. Simon looked at bassist
Steven Kile and then at McCarty and nodded. McCarty clicked his sticks four
times and the pummeling began with "The Whirlings." Each note picked by Simon
was like a sledgehammer to the gut. The crowd was covered in a thick, sludgy
tar of huge distortion that, for awhile anyway, even managed to overpower the
drums and the bass. In the most acid casualty sense, it was actually possible
to "see" the riffs cut across the room, their edges pixelating under their
hugeness. Riff after riff came and went and the crowd became more and more
amped, which, at a Dead Meadow show means they're swaying extra hard.

The set was heavy with material from Shivering King and Others as well
as new songs that, according to a source, are so new they don't even have
titles yet. The show peaked with "At Her Open Door" from Feathers, an
amazing song in any capacity. Live, the song is utterly mind-blowing, clearly
the band's bread and butter number. The build-up at the end of the first half
of the song resolved itself with a droning chord punctuated with the
occasional wah-wah solo; the song lost none of its power despite the missing
2nd guitarist. The set ended with "Through the Gates of the Sleepy Silver
Door," a 13-minute opus that plods along until a drum breakdown that would
make John Bonham proud finally beats the song into submission. Throughout the
show, the girl without the ear plugs had tried various times to use her
fingers to block the sound, but by the end of the show had given up entirely.
The sound was just too huge and Dead Meadow too awesome to continue the fight.

Set List:

The Whirlings

Such Hawks Such Hounds

Good Moanin'

What Needs Must Be

Everything's Going On

New One #1

I Love You Too

New One #2

At Her Open Door

New One #3

Babbling Flower

New One #4

Sleepy Silver Door

Jeff Tweedy / Glenn Kotche
The Moore; Seattle, WA

[02-02-06]

Jeff Tweedy's solo tours have
become the stuff of legends. The audience is guaranteed classics from Tweedy's
[almost] 20 years of performing. A little Being There here, a splotch
of Anodyne there, and hopefully a taste of Down by the Old
Mainstream
. On this particular Groundhog's Day, there was no talk of
seeing/not seeing shadows or Bill Murray movie of the same name--just some
fantastic performers leaving it all on stage.

But before the ladies could swoon over Tweedy's mangy appearance, they swooned
over Wilco's equally dreamy drummer Glenn Kotche (pictured). It's a little
intimidating to walk into a theatre and see a drum kit set up. You fear the
worst. No one can sit through an hour's worth of drum fills and solos (unless
they're a dedicated Dream Theater fan). However, Kotche's set was a knock out
that didn't rely on cheap drumming tricks but rather on the various sounds and
samples he could coax out of every piece of percussion he had at hand. Kotche
started out his set with the surprisingly upbeat and multi-layered title track
from his upcoming solo album, Mobile. He followed it up with the
marathon "Solo Interpretation of the Balinese Monkey Chant." Starting off with
chirping crickets, the song builds into a fervor of unique drumming,
percussive tricks and innovative sampling. Kotche uses his kit as a magic hat,
pulling out various toys and devices to create unusual sounds that become part
of a song instead of upstaging it. Watching him drum solo just makes a Wilco
fan appreciate his talent even more. By the time he closed his set with a
musical interpretation of the children's book Where the Wild Things Are
and a couple more cuts from the forthcoming Mobile, I couldn't help but
think his talents may be wasted in Wilco no matter how outlandish the band may
grow.

With a tough act to follow, Jeff Tweedy strolled out on stage and launched
into "Sunken Treasure," silencing the naysayers with a flawless performance of
a Being There favorite. Of course, as soon as he finished the screamers
started flinging requests and adoration at Tweedy. After a few more songs,
Tweedy finally acknowledged the screamers with the best jokes and observations
I've seen him throw out. Tweedy has finally arrived as a performer comfortable
talking in front of a crowd. I can't do the stories justice, but there were
just as many laughs as there were claps and yelps of appreciation. Tweedy
peppered his comedy routine with plenty of fan favorites. "Bob Dylan's 49th
Beard" never sounded more crisp; "Pieholden Suite" was as beautiful as ever;
"A Shot in the Arm" held the same desperation as the full band version. Tweedy
also threw in "The Ruling Class," an upcoming cut off of the latest Loose Fur
album. The track tackles Jesus' return in a humorous light.

The first encore started off with "I Can't Keep from Talking" before Glenn
came back out to accompany Jeff on some of the more rocking numbers. After
various requests throughout the show, Tweedy and Kotche obliged the crowd by
playing "Laminated Cats," along with crowd pleasers "The Late Greats" and
"Heavy Metal Drummer." The duo exited once more before the crowd coaxed Tweedy
back out for the highlights of the show: "Gun" and "Acuff-Rose." It's always a
pleasure to hear Uncle Tupelo songs in a live setting, and even better when
it's just Tweedy and a guitar. The crowd left full and satisfied, full of
stories to tell those who didn't make the show. Just ask any of them about
Tweedy's new gym regime or the self-assuring voices in his head--you'll be in
for a storytelling delight.

Juliette
Cité de Congrès; Nantes, France

[02-01-06]

Accordion! Homo-eroticism! Chanson
Française! We are merely players!

Last Wednesday, I had just finished eating some mushy rice and vegetables and
was casting uninspired glances at the mess I had left on the stovetop when
Edith, landlady extraordinaire, arrived breathless at the door, telling me she
had tickets to a concert that was starting in 20 minutes downtown. I bundled
myself up and clambered into the front seat of her Peugeot, and a scant
quarter hour later I was sinking into a first balcony seat at Cité de Congrès.
I arrived knowing little about the music I was about to hear. Edith had
mentioned something about "chanson française" on the way.

This was a show in an old sense of the word, like a vaudeville variety or a
riverboat nickelodeon. The chanteuse was a giant woman with a curly mane of
black hair, belting out everything from lovelorn breakup tunes to
dispassionate tales of ennui to jazzy Latin rumbas. She held down
center stage with a shoulder-width stance and swaggered around in pirate
boots, leather pants, and a black, ankle-length topcoat, tossing off
one-liners and playing the straight woman in a handful of running gags that
gave her top notch, six-man backing band a chance to cut loose. These guys
showed off killer chops on everything from train whistle and kazoo to upright
bass and piano. Of course, being chanson française, a jaunty accordion
finagled its way into a number of songs where it probably didn't belong. All
the more charming. The lyrics were all French, but many songs had a Latin
intonation, claves and classical guitar busking around Juliette's brazen alto.
The set strutted at a brisk, cocky pace, with non-sequitur skits and a
technical difficulty with the piano, giving the audience a chance to take a
breath and fall in love with the characters on stage. They handled the piano
problem so well that I'm not sure it wasn't a planned part of the act.

In my favorite piece, the lights went down and the band came on stage with big
military marching drums and glow-in-the-dark drumsticks. Juliette rattled off
some lyrical commands and her boys put on the best percussion routine I've
seen since the high school pep rally. A cute, "spooky" number followed, where
two guys dressed as railway porters performed a dance routine I can only call
The Sodomite Choo Choo. In the next song, again with lights dimmed, Juliette
and Co. got their haunted house vibe on, the band scampering about in
newspaper masks and rubber noses. They shot fuchsia glowsticks out of a flute
and danced around a goblin face painted on the back of the bass. For the first
encore, Juliette planted herself on the paino bench at the center of a smoky
cone of spotlight and proceeded to carefully clobber the keys while evoking
memories of her childhood. The second encore was a surprisingly competent
rendition of "Honky Tonk Woman," introduced as a work by the noted English
poet "Michel Jaguerre."

The leading lady of this spectacle pulled off one of the wild manipulations of
time that great performers do: a two and a half hour concert bowled past me in
what felt like twenty minutes, and I've been thinking about it for two weeks
since. This was clever musical theatre that put questions of identity and
character into play without ever failing to elicit chuckles and admiration of
some versatile musicianship. Juliette went at the "performance" with gusto,
then had us believe that we were hearing from the "real" woman as she chatted
and deadpanned in the down time between songs. The least hip and most
enjoyable show I've been to in months.

Merci Edith!

Vive Juliette!

Photo: Lisa Roze

Deerhoof / Leg & Pants Dans Theeatre / Le Ton Mité, L'ocelle Mare / Martha Colburn
Bowery Ballroom; New York, NY

[01-30-06]

There
are some bands that compel me to track down every bit of information about
them, whether it's band members' names, place of origin, favorite animals, or
social security numbers*. Deerhoof is not one of those bands. Before the show,
I didn't know much about the group, except for their music.

That's why it was a surprising to see the members of the band. A tiny, Asian
woman and three anonymous-looking white dudes? It was hard to believe these
people were the force behind Deerhoof.

This was the feeling particularly after the barrage of supporting acts. It was
an odd combination featuring musicians, a dance troupe, and most painfully,
two sets of short films by Martha Colburn. The movies were not particularly
enjoyable; the shock value wore off after watching so many shorts in a row.
Colburn's work was like a film version of Kathy Acker stories. During the
first set of films, the venue was relatively empty and most people watched
silently, not knowing how to react. But by the second set of shorts, the
polite crowd grew restless. "Deerhoof! DDEEEERRHHOOOOFF!!" they clamored for
the headliners.

After the interesting opening acts, it was underwhelming to see the band
finally come on stage. However, they played an excellent set. One would think
that their catalogue is full of simple, childish songs, but the band proved
these songs need precision and power in their delivery. It was exciting to see
how physical their performances were. The drummer—Wikipedia says his name is
Greg Saunier, and y'all know Wikipedia don't lie—was absolutely wild, flailing
his arms in every direction. He wasn't just about banging the drums, either;
he also sang some lovely backup vocals to guitarist Chris Cohen's lead in
"Odyssey," one of the highlights of the night. "Odyssey" countered the more
psychedelic, noise-fueled parts of the show with a more straightforward, calm
song.

Another highlight was "Running Thoughts," which has one of the most beautiful
melodies Deerhoof has ever created. The band members took their musicianship
very seriously, especially guitarist John Dieterich, who had this demonic look
in his eye as he made sure to play his parts with accuracy and energy to
spare. It was as if he was possessed to rock and he'd be damned if anyone got
in his way.

It's curious that, although singer Satomi Matsuzaki was full of poses and cool
moves, nothing she or anyone else in the band did felt pretentious. There
wasn't much band/audience interaction, but it was palpable that there was a
mutual respect between the band and the audience. Throughout the night,
Deerhoof played material mostly culled from The Runners Four, which
came out last year. However, they did encore with a spirited version of "Gore
in Rut," which ended with many a Deerhead screaming along, "BUNNY! BUNNYYY!!"
even though the song was over. The enthusiasm was heartwarming, and so were
the thanks that each member gave to the audience. It was an extremely pleasant
surprise to see a technically-proficient, fun band who prioritized playing a
good show over annoying rock star antics.

*=editor’s note. Sorry, elizabeth u (no, our writer is not a stalkerish
psycho).

Photo: Maak Newton

Coldplay / Fiona Apple
Key Arena; Seattle, WA

[01-25-06]

OHMYGOSHOHMYGOSHOHMYGOSH!!!

That's all I heard as Coldplay took the stage. Girls' screams were enveloping
me, and I knew there was no escape. At first I was reminded of ancient horror
movies and the thoughts that go through the victim's mind before the screams
finally subside into gruesome death, but somehow I escaped the bloodbath. Of
course, another thought came into my mind: This must be what the Merry
Prankster felt during their ill-fated journey to see the Beatles. Somehow the
music isn't as important as making sure your girlish scream is the loudest and
you prove your fandom above all others.

I should state that I had no intentions of ever seeing Coldplay—at least not
in this setting—but considering I have a lady who happens to love Coldplay and
I can easily tolerate them, I bit the bullet and figured that at worst I could
tap my foot along to "Clocks" and chalk up the evening to a learning
experience. Thankfully we got our money's worth when Fiona Apple was announced
as the opener. That's all I needed to change my attitude.

Of course, how would Apple's intimacy translate with an arena audience? Very
well in all fairness, so much so that she even had to acknowledge as much.
Apple started off her opening slot with a couple of tracks from her latest, Extraordinary
Machine
, before erupting into old classics such as "Shadowboxer,"
"Criminal," and "Paper Bag." What amazed me is how animated and happy she was
during the whole set, either energized by the beaming crowd or the warming
introduction given to her by Chris Martin. Apple's greatest strength was
making up for her raspy and overworked vocals by putting in an emotional and
soulful performance. After sprinkling a few more tracks from her latest album,
she closed the set with a frantic and bouncy version of "Fast as You Can." She
had won me over all over again.

I wish I could say the same for Coldplay, but it's not for a lack of trying.
Say what you will about the value of X & Y, but tracks such as "Square
One" and "Talk" thrive in the live setting much more than the album could
capture. However, the light show was too much to bear. For fear of seizures
and burnt retinas, most people turned away from the hectic and oft-changing
lights. They blinded the crowd from actually seeing the show. Even when Coldplay turned down the lights to perform a set of "Til Kingdom Comes,"
"Trouble," and a butchered version of "Ring of Fire," it was too late. Most of
the crowd was ready to be done with the whole production. Coldplay's folly
lies in their acceptance of U2's crown, and the spectacle has certainly
overshadowed the music, no matter how many acoustic breaks they throw into the
show.

Hem / Ben Weaver
Workplay; Birmingham, AL

[01-17-06]

Hem makes it through Birmingham
about once a year, drawing slightly more of a crowd each year and charging
slightly more for tickets each year. Although I feel sympathy for the folks
who skip the annual Workplay Hem-fest, I can't help but feel like part of a
small, elite group of fans clued in to the fact that Hem is one of the best
folk/Americana bands making music right now.

For this tour, fans got to see a stripped down version of Hem featuring
songwriter Dan Messé on piano and accordian; Steve Curtis on guitar, mandolin,
and backing vocals; Gary Maurer on guitar and mandolin; and the lovely Sally
Ellyson on lead vocals. The harmony of these instruments blends so perfectly
live that listeners become malleable clay responding with shivers and warm
approval to each crescendo and fall of the songs. It's a reaction fans can
count on, and that's probably why Hem gets a healthier crowd every time they
visit the city.

Claiming Workplay as one of their favorite places to play, Ellyson confided
that they had chosen Birmingham as the place to debut four new songs off of
their upcoming release, tentatively titled Funnel Cloud. Despite the
band's confession that the songs had never before been played live, each new
song sounded as effortless as their live staples such as "When I was
Drinking," "Sailor," and cover songs "Jackson" and "The Tennessee Waltz." Gary
Maurer's mandolin solos were a complex yet flawless intermission to Ellyson
and Curtis's unique vocal harmonies. A friend commented on Messé's preference
for playing below "middle C" on the Yamaha baby grand piano, and once my
attention was called to it I began to notice the full-bodied warmth these
octaves gave to Hem's overall sound.

Dressed plainly in girl-next-door sexy jeans and a ruffled, low-cut, pink
blouse, the auburn-haired Ellyson wriggled and stamped lightly with one boot
as she gently embraced the microphone with both hands. As the frontwoman she
reinforces the laid-back, unassuming nature of a band gaining success the
old-fashioned way: through talented musicianship and clearly superior
songwriting skills.

It almost seems in poor taste to mention opening artist Ben Weaver, who might
very well have joined the tour by a serendipitous (for him) accident.
Strumming alternately on guitar and banjo and accompanied by a bassist,
Weaver's act was reliant on his vocals and lyrics. Unfortunately for him,
neither his hoarse vocals nor his terrible lyrics ("your piano fingers
dog-eared my heart," "the tattoo beneath your left breast," "there's rain in
your heart; I can smell it") were enough to make his songs interesting. His
songs, most of which had very similar melodies, contained no choruses or
hooks; I just hope members of the audience didn't leave early, thinking the
headliner might not be much better. Realistically, there is no
comparison.

Photo: Joe Dilworth

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