Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Snow Patrol, 3.28.06, Bowery Ballroom

by Charlotte Deaver

I live for rock and roll experiences like this. No, I live for any experience like this: "If it looks like it works and it feels like it works then it works," sings lead singer/songwriter/cutie Gary Lightbody. And it really does.

Snow Patrol works for me because they do everything I want a band to do. I want to be rocked, first, in that fist-pumping, body-jamming, and yes, head-banging way. That means there almost always must be at least one guitar on top, the thicker and crunchier the better, and a fat, thumping rhythm section on the bottom, to keep the beats steady yet forward-driving.

Playing elemental chord progressions, Snow Patrol transforms rather basic songs into compelling rock and roll by attending to texture as much as structure, an affect that begins with Gary Lightbody's voice. With a Scottish accent and diction, his mid-depth baritone is filtered through a compressor that amplifies the breathiness of his voice, which seems to coax the lyrics into simple melodies.

The effects used for their guitars also work really well to compliment and create an individual sound -- not quite a uniquely "Snow Patrol" guitar sound, but close. I think of a band like U2, who play three or four-chord songs with repetitive lyrics and melodies, and have been doing that for thirty years now. They are successful at it, in part, because The Edge has perfected his sound not only through his playing (bars and bars of eighth or sixteenth notes, usually) but also largely through his effect pedals, which includes some combination of distortion, compression, sustain, delay, and who knows what other synthetic effects.

Snow Patrol's guitars are not nearly as distinctive as U2's, but they are rich, dense, sensual, and chiseled, and reflect their passion for how certain guitar sounds resonate in a rock song. Listen to how the song "Wow" begins, one guitar at a time, with a doubled acoustic guitar strumming one chord over some introductory scratches that announce the presence of much more amplification to come. Another top layer strums the same chord in a higher register for a few bars, until the song breaks open into the first verse with a deeper, chunkier guitar and slightly more syncopated rhythm.

On Tuesday night at the Bowery Ballroom, the band opened with "Wow," and they never let up in intensity and joy, from the second they opened with those chords. Gary and bassist Paul Wilson seemed especially happy to be on stage, sharing infectious smiles, and often looking as if they couldn't quite believe they, and we, were having this much fun. Gary moves well, using his hands and body a little like a less scrawny or affected Mick Jagger. (And he doesn't do Mick's chicken-strut thing, thank god!)

Although I was familiar with all the material already released, the band unveiled most of their new record, due out at the end of April. Some of the new stuff was great, but I can't remember the names of most the songs. If a few of them sounded a bit too pop and generic at their start, they would always settle into a great groove and then take off somewhere exciting and unexpected.

Martha Wainwright made a guest appearance and blew away one of their new songs, " Set the Fire to the Third Bar." I've only recently taken notice of Martha, especially the excellent and wonderfullly apt "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole," a song about her father. Oh is that song cathartic. For any of you who have issues with authority figures, go check it out.

I like the lyrics of Snow Patrol's first single, "Hands Open," which you can link to at Stereogum:

"I wanna hear you laugh like you really mean it.
Collapse into me tired with joy.
Put Sufjan Stevens on,
And we'll play your favorite song."

Read about the upcoming release of "Eyes Open" here. I never got any decent photos because I was too far back and was having too much fun to care, but you can see more pictures of that night and read another's view at Chris's Music Snobbery. As for the pictures I stole, see this site.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Maybe The Welders, 3.26.06, Dillon's

by Charlotte Deaver

Rock and roll! After a quiet, peaceful weekend, I finally made it out of the house to check out a new local band. Playing late on a Sunday night, in a vast back room of a bar across the street from the old Studio 54, Maybe The Welders made their fans feel at home, as if they were entertaining us in the basement rec room of their parents' house.

Together only a few months now, this is a band that aims to please. Playing sturdy and nicely-outfitted rock and roll, the two lead singers and songwriters Greg Campbell and Declan Collins are backed by Dan Mitchell on guitar and Pitti (pronounced "Peachie") on drums.

Their songs range form ironic teasers, like "Married Men," and the manic, punk-infused "Nightlife." Although all suited up, the band knows how to let its hair down. When Greg and Declan scramble out into the audience, roll around on the floor, and howl about subjects like making babies, it's only regrettable that a larger crowd couldn't be there to share the fun.

Greg's voice, guitar, and songwriting style sound a little like a cross between David Byrne of Talking Heads days and Eddie Argos of Art Brut. Declan is slightly more subdued, focusing more on the meat of a song's chords and melody. Pitti, on drums, is both precise and fiery. He ignites the band with solid beats that do their job of gluing (welding?) the rhythm section together.

Go check them out at Trash Bar in Williamsburg on April 13!

My dear old friend from high school (!), Dane LaChiusa . . .

. . . and my dear new friend, the handsome and rockin' Pitti.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Animal Collective, 3.23.06, Webster Hall

by Charlotte Deaver

Attracted. Repulsed. Charmed. Annoyed. Curious. Bored. All night, I couldn't decide. No, I could decide, but only for a moment, and then I'd all of a sudden flip to the opposite view.

When we walked in the first band, (Nix Noltes) was stretched in a long line across the stage, each musician banging his or her head up and down in self-satisfactory showmanship (or some other autoerotic maneuver). They seemed very pleased with themselves, and at times I could see why. But then they said goodnight and I was glad.

Twenty minutes later, however, they were still playing their Bulgarian accordion-and-tuba-enhanced wedding music, and I was confused. I looked around to see if others were with them, if I was just missing something. Were people happy that the band they didn't come to see was doing a four hour encore without being asked and without ever having left the stage? At one point I looked at my friend and asked, "should we be angry?" "No, No," he answered quickly, as if just a little worried I might make a scene.

Finally, it was over, and the next band meandered on stage, one instrument at a time. I don't know Animal Collective well, and I was open to being taken in. The music began seductively: a pulsing synthetic beat, dense chords sustained by abundant reverb and distortion, and layer upon layer of amorphous electronic sounds. It was compelling media, if nothing else.

But it was something else. Not quite rock and roll, it wasn't song-oriented either (unlike the CDs), since each piece, in electronica fashion, blended in with the next, so that it was never obvious when one song ended or another began. This psychedelic swirl, punctuated by delay-laden yelps sometimes masquerading as melodies, worked magically when all four band members chanted, barked, and growled together, as if after a large feeding. When they assumed their ritualistic, forest animal positions, synched up their echoes perfectly, and pounded out a strong, dark beat, attraction was operating. I would vacillate, though, between sensing something almost entrancingly predatory about them, and something utterly benign. When they were off, for instance, they just came across as four tantrummy, suburban boys, and repulsion loomed.

Never settling enough into tribal mode, my (mysterious) friend and I left after half an hour or forty-five minutes, a little, I think, relieved. I had a great if unsteady time, but would have liked it better had I been challenged more, and been conflicted not because of a band's sloppiness and annoying qualities (like the miner's Cyclops headlight worn by one of the Animals, or the excessive hair-waving by the Nix Noltes), but because of strengths that were simply unfamiliar to me. The demands of the (rock) genre can become tiresome, and while both these bands play music that is outside of that genre, and therefore disregard those demands to a degree, they are still hoping for, yet only occasionally achieve, the same effect.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

José González, 3.22.06 Joe's Pub (9:30 show)

by Charlotte Deaver

After walking out on stage as unobtrusively as possible, tuning his guitar for a bit, Jose Gonzalez shuts his eyes as the notes he has adjusted begin to take on a steady beat, then a recognizable melody, "Deadweight On Velveteen" (I think). Already, he seems as mesmerized as we are. Delicate, full, softly-colored sounds waft in and out of his mouth almost indiscernibly, and the richness of his classical guitar ground the deeper tonalities of his music.

Jose Gonzalez exudes both a hushed restraint and extreme expressivity, which partly describes the beauty of a song like "Crosses," or his interpretation of "Heartbeats." Equally important, though, is the confluence of musical styles, including, notably, flamenco, multiple alternate tunings of the guitars, traditional folk finger-picking, and a hyper-sensitivity for melody and popular song structures. All of this, among other influences, is played out with a deliberate emphasis on solitude and inwardness. He's shy, but present. Private, but giving.

We were all, I believe, taken in from the first moment, but by the fourth song, the gorgeous "Sensing Owls," I was a goner: rapt, utterly tuned in, and excited in that inarticulate, slightly gurgly sort of way (think pre-verbal, happy, cooing baby), and my friend was in pretty much the same shape.

I don't think I would want to see Jose Gonzalez perform in a setting that did not allow for the kind of intimacy his music generates. Since his recent record label signing, although I can't say how he will tour in the future, I predict he will be "marketed" heavily. He may be ready for his close up, but we had ours last night. Lucky us.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Wooster Group: Kate Valk in Emperor Jones

by Charlotte Deaver

This is the third time I've seen this performance in ten years, and each is as amazing as the last. I can actually say that The Wooster Group's Emperor Jones is my favorite theatrical experience ever.

To be even more specific, I anticipate, with chills, a dance that occurs twice during the play. Kate Valk, tarred in blackface, dressed in folds of Kabuki-like garments and Lower East Side biker boots, and Smithers (played in the past by Willem DeFoe, currently by others) lock eyes, ready their feet, and sweep side by side indescribably for mere seconds, riveting themselves, or so it seems, as much as the audience in their rhythmic, angular choreography.

The dance is over almost as quickly as it begins, and seems to serve no other purpose than to divert us as slight shifts in the set are performed by a stagehand. If much of the play keeps us equally enchanted and disturbed, the twinkle in Kate Valk's eyes as she readies for the dance offers relief from the burden of the play's emotional and social significance. Physically, too, throughout the play she's weighed down, laden with grease paint, layers of thick fabric, a bellowing voice, and dark, piercing eyes. The moment she dances, though, suddenly, and ephemerally, her body is free, her feet light, her eyes sparkling, her movements joyful.

For an excellent review of the play, see The New York Times.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

spots of time . . .

There are in our existence spots of time,
With which distinct preeminence retain
A renovating virtue . . .

Such moments, worthy of all gratitude,
Are scattered everywhere, taking their date
From our first childhood . . . (William Wordsworth, The Prelude)

I have always had a poor memory for my childhood, remembering only isolated, dreamy (or nightmarish) bits of certain events and people. Unless I am reminded, most details escape me. And I don't think it is because those moments are the "cotton wool" of memory, as Virginia Woolf calls it, the dull and fuzzy stuff that surrounds rare, extraordinary moments. When my family or friends tell me something I've forgotten, sometimes quite surprising bits spill forth: how my dad used to drill us with flash cards before breakfast, or how my mom okayed a beer party in our house when I was only a junior in high school.

On the one hand I embrace this gap of knowledge because it renders childhood a perpetual dream, as I believe we do experience it. On the other hand it's understandably frustrating when important pieces of one's past are simply missing.

Recently I've been reconnecting with friends from high school and earlier who are helping me fill in some of those gaps. I found a few photos that capture significant details: our vast house, my record collection and bedroom, above; 50s Day in 8th grade below (I'm on the far right in red, with Sally Russell, Barbara Marsden, and I think either Kim Jewell or Vinnie Tocco to my right. Bonnie Hawkins is seated, right-of-center, with glasses and red hair parted in the middle. Dave Poole (first kiss!) is top left in blue, and I think Tom Wisely, Dane LaChiusa, and Rich Harrison are above and next to him). And the last picture was taken in November of freshman year, when Bonnie introduced me to my first boyfriend (Brian Pearce) at Chris Lafler's going-away party.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Nada Surf and Rogue Wave, 3.8.06 Webster Hall

by Charlotte Deaver

Webster Hall has good lighting. But other than that, the place is beginning to get to me. We are so spoiled in New York, with places like the Bowery Ballroom, Northsix, and Mercury Lounge, which hold so many fewer indie kids -- oops -- I mean people, that no matter where you are in the club you are guaranteed access to whatever energy and intimacy the band is creating. Not so at Webster, where it's possible to get lost in its maze of stairwells, off-limits VIP balconies, and no-access, under-staffed bars.

Nada Surf played the venue last night for the first time, according to lead singer and songwriter Matthew Caws, who announced that he hadn't actually been in the building for twenty years, when it was still called the Ritz.

Compared to Rogue Wave, the opening act, Nada Surf's songwriting, stage presence, and sheer likability absolutely soar. I like Rogue Wave's recordings, and their songs "Catform" and "Publish My Love" are worthy of repeated listenings, but on stage the four-man band just cried out for some personality, some idiosyncrasy, something to take them out of their mediocre servicability and set them apart from the average white band. (No, not THE Average White Band.) Too bad. I was looking forward to their show.

Nada Surf charged ahead, though, wiping the slate clean with shiny convex mirrors and a single six-string guitar (a crisp Gibson). Often playing only as a trio, the bass player Daniel Lorca and drummer Ira Elliot (who apparently lost his virginity at Webster Hall. Oh my. Perhaps it was also called the Ritz then, too? He'll never tell) supply a big sound, with intricate, subtle, yet ever-slammin' rock and roll tunes. We just love that, don't we?! Sometimes, too, a keyboard player filled in a riff or chord. And once, during the cathartic "Blankest Year," which begins abruptly with the lines, "oh fuck it/ I'm going to have a party," all the members from the two opening acts came on stage to sing harmonies and dance. I took pictures of that, but I had already moved back from the stage becuase Daniel the bass player was smoking so many cigarettes I was actually choking a little (for the record, I wholly endorse indoor smoking). Although my pictures are awful, I thought I'd slap them up here anyway. I like the shapes the bodies take on the colorfully lighted stage. The last photo is of Rogue Wave's (well-lighted) frontman.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Weekend in Southern CA, 3.2.06 - 3.5.06

As we drove down the coast from LA to Laguna Beach we were both shocked and underwhelmed at the same time: oil rigs and off-shore drilling to one side, the sea-side, and row after row of ticky-tacky, identical, dead-looking houses on the other. This is not the California of my imagination, or even of my recent past. Nothing seems to have been built more than five years ago. The pier above looked like it might have been the oldest structure we encountered.

Inland was just as bad. The campus at UC Irvine sprawled across several acres unremarkably. I was inside most of the time, listening and contributing to two days of talks, so granted my experience was limited. Charlotte from Melbourne and two wonderful Berliners, among others, tried to stifle their amazement at California's offerings thus far. I assured them LA would be better. The blue lights of the UC Irvine Arts building caught my eye as I left the campus for the last time.

Tim went to the Salk Institute in La Jolla, designed by Louis Kahn, while I attended the conference. We had been there before years ago, and he loved it so much he wanted to go back, in part just to see if he would appreciate it as much the second time. He did.

Below are lights from one of the smaller refinery cities we passed on our way in and out of LA.