Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Magic Numbers 11.28.05 Bowery Ballroom

Ooooo. Fun show. More later, as I'm off to the Dandy Warhols tonight! xo

Friday, November 25, 2005

Say Hi To Your Mom and American Analog Set 11.18.05 Southpaw

by Charlotte Deaver

Is late better than never? Do I just skip over last week’s shows? Hell no! But since it has been a whole week, I shall replace immediacy with brevity.

Last Friday night I went to see American Analog Set, a lush, melodic electronica band from Austin, TX, who have recently announced that this will be their last tour.

But opening for them was a band I prefer, Say Hi To Your Mom, who I have been touting for months now. (I’ve probably listened to the song “Laundry,” honestly, about 300 times. I love singing along with lead singer/ producer/songwriter Eric Elbogen, to the girl he’s so psyched to see at the Laundromat, the one with “with chopsticks in her hair:” “Do you come here all the time? Why are yours fluffier than mine?” Apparently he digs her “soap technique.”) The lyrics are smart and the grooves are body-healing -- sustained long enough to catch hold, but not too long to dull.

AAS was the obvious headliner, but they are so mellow and geeky that they’re not exactly a band you want to wait hours for (as we did). Saved by their full, richly-toned layers of sound, however, they didn’t entirely disappoint. They just didn’t rip the stage apart; they’re a band that wants vibe and tech to intersect keenly and smoothly, which I believe they do. And, apparently, they’re a great band to have sex to (so a friend of a friend told me), but no one’s really going to do that on the dance floor of Southpaw. So, barring that, they’make music that's good enough to sway to. Not swoon, but sway. Big difference.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Rickie Lee Jones 11.19.05 Tribeca Arts Center

by Charlotte Deaver

I used to try to sing like Rickie Lee Jones. Ha. Needless to say, never in my wildest dreams could I have sung like her. It used to make me feel bad, though, like I was a terrible singer because I couldn’t hit the high notes or sing and write songs with that much exposed emotion. But that was a long time ago, when, even more so than now, everything referred back to myself.

Last Saturday night, however, it was all about Rickie, who I now know no one can sing like. Her voice, her songs, her expression, her energy, and her particular blues are all her own. And she sends it out into the world like an urgent messenger.

Her performance at the Tribeca Arts Center was mesmerizing, and it was partly because she herself seemed mesmerized, rapt, like Kubla Kahn and his floating hair, or the visionary damsel with a dulcimer who drew him into such state of heavenly dread. Every song seemed to ring out in generous waves of sound and feeling, her voice pouring forth not only in expression, but in giving.

But what could we give back? We were like the chorus in an ancient Greek tragedy, speaking the obvious and dumb from the sidelines. If the goal of tragedy is to evoke empathy from its audience, than I might be able to say that there is something tragic about Rickie Lee Jones’ music (bear with me, if you would). She is an intense performer not simply because she’s confessional, or bruised, or much older than most other pop performers and both more wearied and grateful because of it. She is able to slice through and spill over the way she does because something large and fallen and errant looms about her. We see that, and we empathize. That’s what she gives us -- she offers bits of darkness and beauty, with a worldly angel’s voice, and reminds us of our capacity to feel.

Check out her website on community and politics, too: Furniture For the People

Saturday, November 19, 2005

What happens when you open Pandora's Box? You get your own radio station!

by Charlotte Deaver

I kind of get the metaphor, but I also kinda don't. And frankly, it doesn't matter, because this website, www.pandora.com, is amazing enough to overlook the rhetorical flaw. My nephew made mention of this website on his blog (Quality Peoples) a few days ago; I have been listening as often as I can ever since, and I'm hooked.

Pandora was created by the The Music Genome Project as a way for music-lovers to seek out new music they might like, based on music they already know they like. So all you have to do is register (free), start entering your favorite song titles or artists, and a pseudo "radio station" is created for you, based on your tastes. When you don't like a song, you tell the "box" and it removes it from its files, and when you do like a song a lot, you say so and it includes more music with those characteristics. It's very cool. You can also create a "favorites" page, for referring back to music you liked a lot. I was impressed by how many artists and songs are in the database. Only one artist I added was not available, but the pop-up said something like "We can't find blah-di-blah, but we're always looking for new music, so we'll check it out."

It's very easy to use. In just a few minutes you can have your own radio station, tailored specifically to your likes. You'll hear the stuff you entered, along with a lot of music you probably don't know and are apt to like. Or you might hear music by artists you've heard of, but didn't know you liked.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Art Brut 11.11.05 Northsix, with Test Icicles. And a birthday celebration between sets!

Photo by Danakavm

by Charlotte Deaver

In Brit-speak, this was a fookin' great show. What we used to call "a riot." Art Brut was the headliner, and definitely the better band. But what Test Icicles lacked in subtlety of sound, they made up for with (lovable) adolescent insanity.

Punk rock is not what it used to be. I still love its contemporary descendents, though, like Art Brut. This band gets that we can never go back again, but that's not going to keep them from putting on a good show of it. Although Art Brut gets some flak for being too clever and arty, too cheeky and ironic, too "meta," in their live performance they were not seeking smirky distance from anything; immediacy was their aim.

Yes, their songs are limited, musically, with threadbare arrangements of well-worn chord progressions. But what makes this an original band is its lyricism, in the sense that lead singer and songwriter Eddie Argos seems to have discovered the right voice for himself. When he announced, for instance, that the next song was about being afraid of sex, you knew he meant it. He's a funny looking guy with a flopping belly and a bad haircut, not the kind of person who seems over-confident in his own skin. But the art-punk persona is not one of erotic failure, so it might be easy to think that he's being, well, cocky.

In "Formed a Band," it is true that Eddie Argos comes across as both sarcastic and sincere when he sing-speaks his wish to write a song "that makes Israel and Palestine get along," one that's "going to make sure that everybody knows that everything is going to be okay." Of course this is disingenuous, but I also can't help but fall for the sentiment. Who wouldn't want to be able to write a song as powerful as that? But, duh, who ever could?

"Formed a Band" is playing to your right. It's a perfect example of Art Brut's mix of rock, punk, play, talk, and song. Please listen, and as ever, please support the band by buying their music!

I was able to scrunch right up front and lean on the stage for both bands. Considering how crowded it was it's a mystery to me that I was able to do that so easily, especially when I left for an hour and a half in between the two sets while another band played.

For Test Icicles, the proximity to the stage enhanced the experience by strides. When a fourteen year old boy came out to test some equipment, my jaw dropped. "Are you sixteen yet?" I asked. He looked a bit offended, and responded proudly that he had just turned twenty. I laughed and said, in my best British accent, "I'm old enough to be your mum!"

Oops. He turned out to be one of the lead singers of Test Icicles. Never piss off a wanna-be-punk band. I got swiped in the head and had water splattered all over me, not necessarily due to special attention, but possibly (and you know I loved every minute of it).

This band consists of three bursting, spurting, maniacal, messy, tantrummy boys, who scream as loudly as they can and raunch out on two guitars, a keyboard, and an iPod. They really, really WANT to be angry, but don't seem to have much to be angry about. They would rant a bit about how one or the other was an asshole (how cute!), jump into the crowd occasionally, and roar into the mic ferociously, but apart from the inadvertent(?) slap on the head, they lacked the aggression they seemed to imagine they were displaying. They were just boys playing with toys. Wait. They were BRITISH boys, cute British boys, playing with toys. And how much fun is that?!!!

I met a very nice young woman who was taking pictures of the lead singer of Test Icicles for a friend. I've included some of her pictures. (Thanks, Danakavm!)

Above two photos by Danakavm

And below is a picture of the very happy birthday girl and her friends, with whom I celebrated between sets.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Spoon 11.06.05. Warsaw

by Charlotte Deaver

I did take pictures of this show, but I'm not going to post them. It's the New Warsaw Bakery that takes the cake, so to speak.

Spoon was disappointing, so I hesitated to even write about them. Let's just say the band was solid. Had this been a rehearsal for a recording session, we'd all be impressed by how well-prepared they were.

But hey! What about us! Hello, boys. There are people out here!

I actually think they forgot that they were performing in front of real human beings. And it's not that they were nervous or unsteady; this band was on the ball. They knew their material, their licks, their moves -- no, they had no moves -- their transitions between songs, like nobody's business.

The club might have had something to do with it. Warsaw is a Polish theater/dance hall sort of place, the kind of space at which a high school prom might otherwise be held. To me it felt like being crammed into the bottom of a very tall cake box with a thousand other people. We could stare up into all that open space above us, while hardly being able to see the stage.

Warsaw is not an intimate space, nor is it an arena. Perhaps it could have been transformed into either, had the band made any attempt to connect with its audience. I think they spoke to us twice -- some banalities about being in Greenpoint and selling out the club. Otherwise, they shifted from song to song with impressive accuracy, but little charm.

My friends (below), however, are very charming, so the evening was by no means a loss. And the little spark of magic that we didn't find inside, instead we found outside, by the New Warsaw Bakery, as the morning bread was baking.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

St. Christopher and the Sleeping Doormen 11.04.05. Don Hill's

by Charlotte Deaver

I love this band. Led by Chris Gordon (the tall guy with the nice legs!) they play tight, funky, slightly wacky songs, and they're funny as shit.

It doesn't hurt, either, that Chris Gordon is a poet. He sees the world in altered frequencies, coordinating them with our planet just enough for us to get it. Sometimes he transmits his universe to us with a sweet bounce, sometimes in speedy jolts, but the music and words are always driving and playful.

In one of his songs, "Babies," he captures that infant essence. I can't remember any of the words, but the song kind of rocks on your knee like a little baby, adorable yet unruly and spastic. On the other hand, "Everybody Hop on the Cock!" is practically a protest song, a call to arms against increasing censorship and fascism. That's my interpretation, of course, but I like to think that the band is presenting an implicit politics of disobedience. It's not punk music, but a punk ethic. It's not hip hop, but it is about telling, and about keepin' it real.

Best of all, though, it's fun. This band makes it clear that it's good to be alive. And at my age, any band that can make it worth being up at 2:30 in the morning has to be doing a lot of things right!

It was also an added pleasure to see the folks at Don Hill's again, where I used to play (long ago). I will definitely be back to say hello and hear more music.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Elbow: leaders of the free world! 11.03.05. Hiro Ballroom

by Charlotte Deaver

Even though I didn't know their music well, I was really excited about seeing Elbow live. First of all, they don't play in the U.S. that often -- they're Brits, from Manchester. I see a lot of bands that are so damn young, and have the indie-kid cool thing that is all well and good, but can get clique-ish and tiresome. And this band just seemed smart. Not intellectual or overconceived, but thoughtful, soulful.

In some ways Elbow compares to many other old school-style British invasion bands, with moody layers of sound and classic keyboard and guitar arrangements -- nothing too out of bounds or experimental. The lead singer's voice is even slightly familiar (he sounds, among others, like Paul Carrack of Squeeze and Mike + the Mechanics).

But this is not an ordinary British band. If they do comply with some classic British rock standards, they also exceed them. They may draw us in with those familiar sounds, but they will then take us elsewhere, veer us off track, as each song seeks yet another tone, atmosphere, or mood. Guy Garvey, the lead songwriter and singer, writes melodies for and with his main instrument, his voice. And what a voice! It's full, sexy, textured, emotional, and spot on key.

I was flying solo that night, and felt a tinge of social awkwardness as I waited for the band to come on stage. I had arrived early, so I just parked myself right in front of the stage and waited it out. Of course, I ended up chatting with many of the other first-row fans, who were much more familiar with Elbow's music than I was. The only song I knew when I bought my ticket last month was "Buttons and Zips," although I had recently listened to several more, including "Scattered Black and Whites," the song that had me crying during all those hormonal days last week.

They began the set with "Station Approach," a song that drives an insistent, pulsing beat for several verses and then cracks open in the middle. They had us hooked from the first note and never let go. Needless to say, we were quite the adoring audience.

Guy came out on stage walking with a cane, and sat on a stool for most of the show, which I thought was interesting. He later made reference to a mysterious injury, inquiring why no one had asked him about his foot. He chattered a lot with the audience, actually, asking many questions and making everyone laugh. During a technical difficulty, he started a little question and answer that earned him a few dances and a date. Even made him blush.

Throughout the set, several of us begged for "Scattered Black and Whites," which I knew was not on the set list. When we finally got the song, I felt like one of those girls in a Beatles movie who faints with joy and over-excitement. Don't worry -- I restrained myself. Next time they play here, though, I make no promises.