Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Shins, McCarren Park Pool, 8.23.06

By Charlotte Deaver

After enduring one of the worst opening acts I've seen in a long time, Dinosoar Jr.'s J Mascis, the ever-geeky and practically middle-aged-by-now Shins pumped out a tight, fiery, crowd-pleasing "Kissing the Lipless." Finally! Musical happiness.

The Shins understand how to keep an audience interested. Their melodies are addictive, their arrangements so solid and clean, and their songs are at times practically Lennon-McCartney perfect. It’s no wonder the Pool was jammed.

But The Shins are, by now, consummate professionals. Their ease on stage seemed partly due to the joy of the music, but also came across as a little studied. And the drummer looked positively bored. This is one of the consequences of live shows that are organized around short, sweet, delightful songs, ones we've listened to over and over again, in our cars, on our mp3 players, in our bedrooms and living rooms, ones we know all the words and melodies to. The band is too aware of the effect their songs can create, and too ready to offer the same dish, because they do it so well live. It's as if they've never strayed from their tidy craft. And why should they? Why delve into dense, confusing underbrush when the clean and well-lighted path is so damn pleasing?

I remember going to see Elvis Costello for the first time, years and years ago. He and his band played every song from recordings we all knew bt heart, but with different arrangements, different tempos, even different melodies at times. He didn't play into ready-made expectations, and however disconcerting and even disappointing it was at first, by the end of the show I was blown away. And I will never forget, or stop talking about, seeing Elvis Costello live.

I might, however, not remember much about the The Shins' live performance. But it won't matter. I have all the CDs. I'll still buy the new one, coming out in January (as they announced, and played cuts from Wednesday night). I'll still sing all their songs, know all the words, the melodies, and the harmonies. And I'll still -- always -- love them in my car.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Mew, Secret Machines, and Bloc Party, 8.29.06, McCarran Park Pool


by Charlotte Deaver

Although I showed up especially for Secret Machines (rather than for the otherwise welcome headliner that most everybody else came for, Bloc Party), a band from Denmark, Mew, impressed me most this past Saturday night at my first trip to McCarran Park Pool.

Apocolyptic, psychedelic, mathematical, surrealistic, these boys can sing to the heavens like angels while hammering out demonic guitar and bass riffs. Sometimes they'll sound like Tool, other times like early Genesis, or any other number of bands, but all in shifting segments of the same song. I love how their music is both tight and intricate, but also expansive, and always manages to sustain rock and roll as its focus, without becoming too cerebral or conceptual.

And the vocals are stunning: lead singer Jonas Bjerre, apparently not yet 20, still sounds like a choirboy, hitting clear, gorgeous high notes well inside a soprano's range, but with a post-puberty adam's apple.

Needless to say, this band is extremely young, and although they have a couple of albums out already, it's hard to tell which direction they're heading. Especially with a name like "Mew!" A reference to Pokemon, perhaps?! To the all-powerful, mysterious, embryonic creature created by a multi-billion dollar global franchise?

For now, they're worth hanging out with, even if it's in their little playground. With their album Mew and the Glass Handed Kites just released, and a tour with Bloc Party, they're sure to make some impressions as they travel on.
Mew's MySpace site. See photos and read another review of the show at The Oh So Quiet Show, who I thank for the photo at the top of the page. See more photos and read a review of Mew's Hiro Ballroom performance last week at Brooklyn Vegan. And read articles about the band here and here.


The Secret Machines started out the set with "Nowhere Again," one of my favorite songs of theirs from Now Here Is Nowhere.

I'm always amazed by trios that get that much meat and power to their sound, as this band does. That's partly due to Brandon Curtis's electronics, who plays bass and other parts and effects (mainly) on a keyboard, and the drummer, who thrashes his gorgeous, pearl-blue drum kit like we're all gonna die before the song is over. Meanwhile, Ben Curtis plays his Les Paul (or the likes) kind of clean, at least in terms of notes, allowing the guitar parts to breath and be heard on their own. Unless, of course, the song calls for psychedelic distortion and string-bending contortion, when he'll go as crazy as the next guy. But mostly the intensity of the guitar is conveyed through contraint and simple, but rhythmical and melodic lines. Even his eighth-note riffs, that in lesser hands come across as ubiquitous and repetitive, will drive a song someplace off-center, but still urgent.

On Saturday night, their set was short (that super-tight time schedule at McCarran Pool doesn't do much for opening acts, I have to say), and they played one song that seemed to go on forever, without building in intensity, as seemed to be the desired effect. It might have, had we been listening to it at home, alone, with headphones and our anti-drug of choice.

In this public, raucous setting, however, which lends itself more to public hysteria than private pain, the band sort of lost us, I think, and should have kept to shorter, better-known songs (like "Better Bring Your Friends," which would have just destroyed this pool party crowd). Or, as I had hoped, at least had time to also play "Now Here Is Nowhere," which at nearly nine minutes on the CD, shifts modalities so brilliantly that it has earned a place in my (as yet unwritten) "Best-Songs-Over- Eight-Minutes" EVER category. I realized they might not have played that song in deference to Mew, who have clearly listened to the Secret Machines a lot. Or, if they haven't, they should!

I look forward to seeing the Secret Machines headline somewhere -- SOON. They're one of my favorite new bands, and I only "discovered" them recently, missing out on their tour for their April, 2006 release of Ten Silver Drops.

Head on over to Fresh Bread for more photos and another review of the Secret Machines and Bloc Party.

Village Indian also has a review and pics.


Bloc Party's music is not about the voice, or "the long song," or even the melody. This is a smart kid's party band, as the waving arms and jumping bodies crowded well into the the deep end of the pool confirmed. I was disappointed by the vocals, which were yelp-y and tuneless, but not by the atmosphere of a "happy-people-party" this band sustained throughout the night. Despite the beer-lines that apparently thwarted some attendees' potential for fun (I didn't notice at the time, not a big beer-drinker, myself), the crowd seemed very happy, and after two intense, edgy, dreamy rock and roll bands, Bloc Party seemed like a perfect summer dessert. Like a lemon tart, or strawberry shortcake, or Key Lime pie or something. No, really, they were great. I only left a little early, and only because I'd been standing since six o'clock, and had lost my spot in the front. And by the time Bloc Party came on, all those people waiting in the beer lines surged forward, with six or seven beers in their hands EACH. I couldn't imagine wading through a pool empty of water yet rapidly filling up with BEER (oh, and people, too), so I hung back and enjoyed the revelry from afar. Not a bad sight, or sound (if you stand near the center) at McCarran Pool, I must say. I'll be back, for sure. At least for The Shins!

Brooklyn Vegan has great photos, like the one above, of the show.