Sunday, April 30, 2006

Live: Martin Sexton

Friday night was Martin Sexton. I had almost forgotten how inspiring his shows can be, especially in the close confines of a venue like the Bottleneck. The last two times I had seen Martin were festival sets (at Wakarusa and opening for Robert Randolph/Los Lonely Boys at City Market) and didn't nearly do justice to the experience.

Among the best shows I have seen of late, I was amazed by the feeling of community Martin creates throughout the night. Part of it through awe -- in many ways his performance defies logic, with so many different sounds from just one person on stage -- but part of it through the active role you play as a member of the crowd. I don't know if I've had more fun singing, clapping and echoing. There's something about it that's just sublime. My friends hadn't seen Marty before and they were blown away as well. It is one thing to hear, but another thing to see and feel.

A performance of "Hallelujah" from Martin's Earth Day set outside of Grand Central Station as part of the Green Apple Music Festival:

One of our great local tapers, KCMoJoe, has already uploaded the show to I will be downloading from work first thing tomorrow and will try to post some highlights here after that.

Martin Sextin at the Bottleneck (Lawrence, KS) - April 28, 2006
Setlist: Angeline, Diggin' Me, Freedom Of The Road, Hallelujah, The Beast In Me, Where Did I Go Wrong, Diner, My Faith Is Gone, Free World, Can't Stop Thinking 'Bout You, Glorybound > She Cries and Sings, Gypsy Woman
Encore: Love Keep Us Together, Turn On Your Lovelight > This Little Light of Mine > Turn On Your Lovelight

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Annotated "City Middle"

For whatever reason, the academic side of me had always been fascinated by those Annotated Grateful Dead lyric books. Not only did Garcia, Weir and Hunter write a ton of songs, those songs were also packed with allusion, history, hidden meanings and inside jokes. The depth of meaning each song can hold is staggering, and while much of the information is rather trivial in the big picture, occasionally you learn something that deepens the song's meaning or reveals the lyricist's inspiration.

Recently I started reading Jonathan Ames' novel Wake Up, Sir after reading The National's Matt Berninger recommend it in an interview. The book really is an entertaining read and I see a lot of similarities in Ames' and Berninger's writing styles; among other like qualities, both have keen eyes for absurdity as it relates to their characters.

Part way through the novel I came across a paragraph that informs a line in "City Middle" I had always found interesting:

I have weird memories of you
Parking your car, you said, I'm overwhelmed
You were thinking out loud, you said, I'm overwhelmed
You were parking your car, you said, I'm overwhelmed
You were thinking out loud, you said, I'm overwhelmed
You said, I think I'm like Tennessee Williams
I wait for the click
I wait, but it doesn't kick in
I think I'm like Tennesse Williams
I wait for the click
I wait, but it doesn't kick in

The mood of despair here had always stirred something in me. It's dire and real, however the second half of the line always escaped me. I knew what it meant or what it was supposed to mean, but I couldn't give it any meaning to add to the emotional connection I drew from the first section. Until I came across this paragraph in Wake Up, Sir.

In Ames' story, the main character (reluctantly aware of his alcoholism) sits down to dinner in a small town restaurant and bar. He orders a beer and is powerless to keep from drinking, despite his best intentions, fully knowing that his weakness at this moment will lead him into certain trouble.

Then I took a second long sip, nearly finishing the beer, and feelings of transgression left me. There was no more awareness of possibly doing myself harm, whether I found it thrilling or not. You see, that Tennessee Williams click arrived almost immediately. The click that says: Everything is going to be alright. I guess it's a lie, but it's a very believable lie.

I sometimes find it amazing that one form of art can inspire another in such a meaningful way. That one person can respond to something, turn it around in their creation, and build on that initial emotion. It's enough to make you believe everything really might turn out alright.

The National || City Middle [Black Sessions live, here in full]
The National || High Beams [unreleased*]

"Karen take me to the nearest famous city middle where they hang the lights"
Kansas City's Plaza in the winter

* If anyone can tell me anything about when/where this was recorded I would love it/you.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Wes Anderson

Tip from Buzz Patrol. A new AmEx ad featuring Wes Anderson.

My God it's been so long, never dreamed you'd return... has an extended interview with Eddie Vedder from this issue's Q&A feature. It's nice to hear Eddie speak candidly and at length. It almost feels strange to read, like Eddie Vedder? Relaying information? No way!

How much fun did you have getting onstage with the Kings of Leon?

It's a great record, and the song "Slow Night, So Long" -- I had disappeared onto some little island to write and surf and the only record I had besides the Pearl Jam stuff I was working on was that [Aha Shake Heartbreak]. I played it for some of the locals, who didn't know anything outside of their local traditional music, and they had such strong positive reactions to the record. It was a clean slate to bounce it off of. I was excited, and when they opened up for U2 -- I hadn't met them, but I wanted to tell them that story -- that their record transmits really well to unbiased ears. We started hanging out, and the second night we bashed some tambourines and it felt exciting.

In related news... an avacado? wtf?

Monday, April 17, 2006

New Music Monday

A couple of quick updates from the day...

I've added Fresh Bread to the blog roll. If you're interested in finding some stellar photos from New York shows and some quality reggae every Friday make sure to pay a visit.

Gorillaz at the Apollo brought to you by Fresh Bread (this shot reminds me of the Muppett Show):

I've been listening to two songs all day today. One is a fantastic cover by Ray Lamontagne. The reigning No. 1 single in the UK at the moment, Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" is a perfect fit for Lamontagne's raspy vocal delivery. I'm sure it didn't take long for Ray to realize he could give the song an extra dimension. Both versions are pretty stellar (as are Dangermouse and Cee-Lo's promotional pics aping costumes from well-known films).

Ray Lamontagne || Crazy (Gnarls Barkley cover)

The other song I've had in heavy rotation today is "Out in the Black" from Imaad Wasif (Lowercase, The New Folk Implosion). I had seen Wasif's name a couple of times last week in conjunction with the release of his self-titled debut on Kill Rock Stars. The song has a classic throw-back sound that seems like a perfect fit for the quickly-warming weather. If the rest of his album sounds similar, I think I'll get a lot of play out of it this summer (we'll see when my eMusic account renews tomorrow).

Regardless, the song is a fitting companion to Lamontagne's version of "Crazy;" I've been looping them both all afternoon and will likely do so for a good portion of the morning.

Imaad Wasif || Out in the Black (from Imaad Wasif; free track on eMusic)

Friday, April 14, 2006

I don't have a hawk in my heart

CMG: A lot of the songs, like “Baby, We’ll Be Fine” or “All the Wine,” seem to have a really ironic tone. You’re saying one thing but meaning another. Is exploring irony and exploring contrast something that you’re really going for?

MB: I don’t think of it like that. “Baby, We’ll Be Fine” is a song about having to go work and trying to tell yourself that you can do this and you can be a mature responsible person, but it’s also… a lot of the songs, they strive for something, but they are also self-mocking in a way, making fun of your own inner dialogue and your own insecurities. I don’t think of it as being irony, I think it’s more of spilling your guts on one thing and laughing at yourself for your own pathetic heart-on-your-sleeve emotional stuff. They’re definitely self-conscious, but the twists and the humor, when it sounds very earnest one second but switches to ludicrous and over the top, I think it’s a natural reaction to the stuff that I’m writing about.

Read the rest of Coke Machine Glow's interview with Matt Berninger here. Take in some more National pictures, en francais, here.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Live: Soledad Brothers

Two weeks ago, I took in the Soledad Brothers' show at the Bottleneck in Lawrence with a couple of friends. I first became familiar with the Soledads when Jack and Meg covered "Going Back to Memphis" on the White Stripes' Live Under Blackpool Lights DVD. From that point, the Soledad Brothers were a band I kind of monitored from afar, awaiting a chance to see what they were all about, away from the significant shadow a White Stripes endorsement can cast.

I had that opportunity on the last day of March (I know, I know it's been awhile since my last blog...) and to be honest, I was a little let down. Shows rarely leave me dissappointed, partly because I love seeing music live and partly due to the fact that I generally have a pretty good idea about what a band is like before I go into the show. With the Soledad Brothers, however, I was left wanting much more -- and very little of that was due to the band's music, but more with their attitude towards the audience.

I'm the first to grant some solid leeway when it comes to artists with attitude. I assume artists are going to be a little off from the norm and I understand that occasionally the same thing that helps write a great song or tell an interesting story also makes them come across as standoffish and I completely accept that equation. And I knew, going in, that the Soledad Brothers were not lacking in the attitude department. But they still owed us a show. In the time since, I've thought on a couple of occasions about the contract between performer and crowd. Specifically, what does a band owe to the people that came to see it play?

Playing to a small crowd -- among which even more left after a solid opening set by the Heartless Bastards -- the Soledad's appeared upset from the moment they hit the stage. Understandably, the Bottleneck, which holds under 400 at capacity, was embarrasingly empty. Everyone was aware of it. All 75 of us.

The band responded by playing what seemed like an abbreviated 45-minute set, of which the last 10 was an experiment in feedback between guitarist/singer Johnny Walker and multi-instrumentalist/4th Brother Dechman. I can understand loosening up, experimenting and trying something new if there's a small crowd. Have fun with the show, play around, make some mistakes... whatever; just don't make me feel like I'm at fault for the fact that more people didn't make your show.

As it were, people were into the show from the start. At the end, people were confused. Ten minutes of feedback; no encore to reward the audience for sticking with them through it all. The band was trying to empty the place.

There is no place for that. We paid our $10 and expected a full show. As for the band, I can understand the dissappointment of taking the stage to an empty room. But I can't forgive a half-assed performance, especially for a band with so much potential.

On second thought, if you are going to fuck the show, give me a spectacle. Let me know you are pissed. Acknowledge the elephant in the room, knock over a few mic stands and call it a night. At least, I'll feel like it was worth my time.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

In office vacation...

Sorry for the lack of updates so far this week. I've been busy at work and my laptop was commandeered for work usage over the weekend, so I haven't had a chance to post outside of work. I have a couple of things I want to put up from the last weekend, which included an epic run of three shows in four days.

To that end, here's my updated shows list for 2006 following the conclusion of a busy March (click link for reviews, comments):

07. Destroyer/White Whale - 4/2, recordBar
06. Soledad Brothers/Heartless Bastards - 3/31, The Bottleneck
05. Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah/The Brunettes - 3/30, The Bottleneck
04. Wilco/Mess Hall - 3/21, Uptown Theater
03. Arctic Monkeys/Spinto Band - 3/18, The Metro (Chicago)
02. Railroad Earth/Hackensaw Boys - 3/8, The Bottleneck
01. Robert Randolph and the Family Band - 2/10, Uptown Theater

On the horizon in April is another set of great shows. I'm not sure how many of them I'll be able to attend, as I'm feeling pretty broke right now but I'll try to make it to a few:

12. Gomez - 5/15, Grand Emporium [tour]
Martin Sexton - 4/28, The Bottleneck [tour]
10. North Mississippi All-Stars - 4/19, The Bottleneck [tour*]
09. Benevento Russo Duo - 4/18, The Bottleneck [tour]
08. Nine Black Alps - 4/12, Grand Emporium [tour]

* Note: this date is not yet listed

Once again, it looks like I could make the Bottleneck my second home...