Laura Marling may have just released an album a couple of weeks ago, but she’s already at work writing more songs. She showcased at least one new untitled song at last night’s show at Weber Hall. (1) And I have to say, I was definitely a fan.
Laura Marling (photo courtesy of Ribbon Music)
— (1) Actually, I had the chance to hear the song twice yesterday due to my participation in Marling’s “Experiments in Awkwardness” series. I’d say more, but I don’t want to ruin it. Not yet, anyway. For now, let’s just say I was so close to Marling that I found myself staring into her eyes and counting the freckles on her face. More to come!
The Olivia Tremor Control + The Music Tapes – Le Poisson Rouge – September 21st
Sure, I spent a decent amount of time listening to Of Montreal and Neutral Milk Hotel, but I never really got around to hearing much from most of the other projects tied to the Elephant 6 Collective… which is one of the reasons why I decided to check out The Olivia Tremor Control and The Music Tapes last night. (Review here on Brooklyn Vegan.)
I was curious. Curious to see a couple of early ’90s indie rock legends and curious about their fans. Going to shows featuring new artists can be fun, but it can also be kind of a drag sometimes, especially when the sets are a mess and the crowd is annoyingly aloof and indifferent. Maybe I was also trying to get in on the nostalgia somehow. Group nostalgia is a weird thing. Even if you weren’t technically involved in the scene in the first place, it’s easy to get swept up in the emotions. So I was in elementary school when The Olivia Tremor Control started playing and touring. What of it?
So I didn’t really have much of an idea of what to expect going into the show, but despite my lack of knowledge about the discographies of the two artists, I immediately felt like a part of the scene, thanks largely to The Music Tapes. Jordan Koster, the main man behind The Music Tapes was a delight. Not only did his music (and the giant 7-foot tall metronome) keep you guessing, Koster himself was full of whimsical mystery.
Julian Koster playing the singing saw at a show on 2/18/09 (photo Bradley's Almanac)
After kicking off the show with a sort of gypsy carnivalesque gig, Koster offered this by way of explanation:
Lovely, lyrical, and magical.
I know there are decent, genuine artists out there who are just beginning their musical careers. I know. But sometimes, it seems like the only bands that get any buzz are the ones that are just saturated with cheap irony and carefully marketed kitschy weirdness. Yes, Julian Koster is quite eccentric and his songs and stage presence are often strange, but there’s something in the music that just feels real, raw, and honest.
Though I enjoyed the frenetic energy of The Olivia Tremor Control, it was The Music Tapes that really intrigued me, so I’ll leave you with a song from them:
Want to hear some stuff from The Olivia Tremor Control? You’re in luck. NPR Music recorded it. Stream it or download it here.
It was a week of emotional highs and lows. Two of my most-anticipated shows of the summer happened: Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver. At a glance, the two artists don’t seem to have a lot in common other than being at the top of the indie game. But the more I thought about them, the more I began to see similarities.
Both The Age of Adz and Bon Iver Bon Iver are clearly more ambitious albums than their predecessors. Each invoke a bigger, more expansive sound, whether through an added network of noise and effects or simply due to the addition of brass and manpower. With his song titles spanning various geographical locations (many tied to a single state: Wisconsin), Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon has even made an album that seems to pick up on the whole 50 states project where Sufjan left off.
And yet, the shows could hardly have been more different in feel. Where Sufjan’s show at Prospect Park last Wednesday was an absurd display of glow-in-the-dark tape, trippy projections, giant inflatable men (the kind you see waving back and forth at used car lots), and costume changes; Bon Iver’s show was full of restraint, by comparison. What they did have in common was an air of desperate yearning to their performance – the kind that makes for a compelling and convincing show.
Take a listen to some clips.
First, Bon Iver from his show at the United Palace Theatre on August 9th. (Full review here on Brooklyn Vegan.)
A recent Bon Iver show (photo Steven Worster)
Ok. I admit I’m still not into the smooth jazz of “Beth/Rest” from the new album, but as a few people have pointed out to me, I do believe that Vernon is, so I’m willing to indulge him a bit. I’m definitely glad I got to see the indoor show though. I know he started off making music in a cabin, but somehow, gilded interiors and red velvet seats just seem fitting.
“The Wolves (Act I and II)”
Overheard on the train after the show:
Guy: I noticed you didn’t cry at all…
Girl: That’s because I have no feelings. Guy: Oh, yeah. I forgot you’re actually a robot.
Girl: I could totally dance you under the table though.
Now… Sufjan. I saw his second show at Prospect Park last week on August 3rd. (Full review here on Brooklyn Vegan.)
For a while, I was a bit annoyed the weather hadn’t co-operated. But by the end of the 2-hour+ set, I no longer cared that I was soaking wet. As a testimony to the crowd’s dedication, all umbrellas were lowered when Sufjan started, but at least where I was standing, no one budged from their rain-soaked spots for the whole show. I fell in love with Sufjan through Seven Swans, but you know what? I didn’t even miss the earlier material. (ok, so hearing “The Transfiguration” or *gasp* “Sister” would have been awesome, but I have to say, I’m down with The Age of Adz. The more I listen to it, the more I want to listen to it.)
Sufjan Stevens at Prospect Park (photo Jon Uleis)
Was the show perfect? Well no. (You try singing through a mass of balloons after you’ve been dancing for two hours non-stop.)
But it was certainly wild and glorious.
Here are some clips from the show. Listen out for the lovely Cat Martino and DM Stith who contribute vox on a number of the songs.
It’s hard to believe that nearly 9 years have passed since The Decemberists released Castaways and Cutouts. The Portland band’s last two albums have taken strange turns and become increasingly theatrical and prone to prog rock, so I was a bit apprehensive to hear the new material, but I couldn’t resist at least checking them out. I was lucky enough to catch them for night two at New York’s Beacon Theatre. (See my full write-up here on Brooklyn Vegan.) What better way to experience their new material than through a live show?
The Decemberists at the Beacon Theatre (photo Mike)
Of course, I was absolutely delighted to hear songs like “California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade” (which they opened the show with), “Red Right Ankle,” “The Chimbley Sweep,” and “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” But perhaps more surprisingly, I even found myself enjoying the handful of songs I had never heard. (They played a whopping 8/10 from their new album.)
With The King is Dead, The Decemberists seem to have exchanged the slowly unfolding and meandering prog rock featured on their recent few albums and turned back to tight songwriting in the more conventional 3-5 minute format. The new material is less frenzied and overblown than say, nearly anything on Hazards of Love. Absent are long-winded instrumental interludes and evidence of roll playing, strange characters, and period pieces. The King is Dead is far more immediate. Much of the material may have been new, but it also felt somehow familiar – like a throwback to some of the band’s earlier work. You can snag the new album on the cheap via Amazon ($7.99).
Here are a couple of new songs from Tuesday night’s show.
“Down by the Water:”
“Rox in the Box:”
Throughout the evening, the band succeeded in engaging the audience with their dramatic antics and candid banter. At one point, Meloy turned the mic on the audience and pitted the orchestra against the balcony for what turned into an impressively compliant and enthusiastic sing-a-long for the ‘la-di-da’s’ of “16 Military Wives:”
I still feel rather ambivalent about smug front man Colin Meloy (you should have heard some of that banter), but you’d be a fool to let your disdain for Meloy prevent you from checking out this band live.
By this point, it’s no secret that Oldham likes to keep things interesting. The prolific singer/songwriter has collaborated with a myriad of talented musicians (Tortoise, Scout Niblett, Matt Sweeney), performed/recorded under a range of monikers, and has even tried his hand at acting (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy).
His musical act evolves so rapidly that the surprise of the evening at Town Hall came not during the main act when he played with the talented backing band The Cairo Gang, but during the mysterious opener’s set. Earlier in an interview when asked about the band he shared a bill with, Oldham responded nonchalantly that The Babblers were simply an “obscure” band from Shreveport. But within seconds of seeing the group (and hearing the two vocalists), it became apparent that they were actually just a wild permutation of the main act, led by Oldham himself.
With his arm outstretched above his head and his eyes cast heavenward, Oldham’s alias had more than a passing resemblance to a cult leader. But instead of matching Reeboks, he and his backing band wore sunglasses and one-piece pajama suits (complete with a zipper, hood, and footsies). The stage itself was decorated accordingly with a mismatched collection of bedroom lamps.
Here’s The Babblers performing in Chattanooga on 11/30/10:
To read the rest of the review and to find out more about the mysterious group – The Babblers, hop over toBrooklyn Vegan.
Here’s a mash-up of some audio from the show:
I don’t think the Town Hall staff knew what they were getting into when they booked Will Oldham, but I’m certainly glad they took a chance and surrendered to the crazy pajama’ed gang and its fearless leader.
Well CMJ is now a month behind us, but I admit my head is still reeling a bit from the whirlwind week of music, booze, schmooze, and serious sleep deprivation. You can read all about my exploits in the archives of Brooklyn Vegan, but if you want just a snapshot of my week, I’ve compiled a helpful word cloud that pulls text from my myriad reviews.
It looks something like this…
(click the image to make it larger)
Oh yeah… and I actually recorded a bit of each show I saw – 44 total. (It should have been 45, but for some reason, I couldn’t locate any footage from the Extra Lens show. Sad. So that’s absent.)
So without further ado, here’s my crazy CMJ mash-up. It’s about 30 seconds from each band. (Don’t worry – I’ve gone back and added helpful tags for each bit, so you know what you’re listening to.) It’s a bit hectic with all the background noise and the varying levels of sound quality, but if anything, the reel is more true-to-life as a result. As with any big music festival, at CMJ, you get it all – good, bad, and everything in between.
That’s Alcoholic Faith Mission, Oh Land, Screaming Females, DOM, Yo La Tengo, Tape Deck Mountain, Cloud Nothing, Blair, Braids, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Wild Nothing, The Drums, Hedgehog, Sleepies, Allo Darlin’, The Blow, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Dent May, The Phantom Band, The Luyas, Lower Dens, S. Carey, Diamond Rings, Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers, Cotton Jones, Sarah Jaffe, Dinowalrus, Dream Diary, La Sera, Pepper Rabbit, The Crayon Fields, The Crocodiles, Dean Wareham plays Galaxie 500,Jaill, Robbers on High Street, Tanlines, Dominant Legs, Braids (take two), Fake Problems, Lord Huron, Lia Ices, Big Troubles, Eternal Summers, Buke & Gass.
During CMJ, I happened upon the Danish-born artist Oh Land. In a sea of indistinguishable bands, Oh Land’s Nanna Øland Fabricius certainly stood out. I was so intrigued by her short set during CMJ that I decided to check her out again. Though I wrote this review with the intent of posting it on Brooklyn Vegan, it has not surfaced yet, so I’ll make a home for it here in the meantime.
Oh Land, The Canon Logic, Arms – Brooklyn Bowl – November 8th
By the time I arrived at Brooklyn Bowl, I had missed Fatty Acid and The Courtesy Tier. With five bands on the bill, I (perhaps unfairly) decided that 3 out of 5 wasn’t too bad.
Based on the enthusiasm and size of the crowd, it may have made more sense to save Oh Land for last, but the recent Brooklyn transplant was third on the bill. Luckily, I made it in time to check out the Danish vixen’s set.
The gorgeous Nanna Øland Fabricius of Oh Land (Photo Joseph D'Arco)
Oh Land’s performance unfolds like a music video. At the beginning of each song, Nanna Øland Fabricius taps out a few notes on the keyboard or on her electronic drum kit just to show us that she can. But then she walks away, and the music magically continues (despite the fact that no pedals seem to factor into the equation). For an artist whose act seems to rely heavily on eye candy like light-up drum sticks, talking balloons, and whimsical outfits, Oh Land’s slower songs drag a bit, but she shines during her dancier numbers. Oh Land’s drummer, Hans Hvidberg-Hansen, may play an integral role in the music, but with Fabricius parading around the stage, his presence hardly registers.
Oh Land’s electro-pop stylings may not exactly be groundbreaking, but her music and accompanying presentation are definitely worth a listen (and a look). After being pleasantly surprised by Oh Land’s performance during CMJ, her equally short set time on Monday night (just 24 minutes) was a bit of a let down, but she still managed to wow the crowd in the short time she had. (An exchange between two girls nearby: A: “She’s going to be so famous.” B: “I know. She’s so cute.” A: “Should we start hyping her up?”) And so it begins.
In the bubblegum afterglow of Oh Land, I confess my recall of the other two The Canon Logic’s short set is limited aside from their sonorous group vocals. I do, however, remember being charmed by a cute couple near the front of the stage who seemed to know every word of their songs.
Though I was tempted to leave after catching Oh Land’s set, I’m glad I stuck around long enough to see Arms, the final band of the evening. The crowd may have thinned out noticeably by the time Arms took the stage, but Todd Goldstein (you may remember him as the guitarist from Harlem Shakes) and his backing band didn’t let that sour their performance. There were smiles all around.
Check out Oh Land’s attractive video for the single “Sun of a Gun.”
So I saw The National for the third time this year – this time it was at Radio City Music Hall. Quite a change from seeing them at the Bell House in March. Before the show, one of my friends said that the show probably wouldn’t be the same since the lead singer Matt Berninger wouldn’t hop off the stage like he normally does, but it turns out that the size and formality of the venue is no hindrance to Berninger’s performance. As if painstakingly following a script, Berninger did indeed leave the stage on a few songs.
Matt Berninger (Photo Shawn Anderson)
But the real magic happened during “Abel.” At least, it did for me. Berninger jumped off the stage and started pulling that oh-so-long mic chord behind him as he walked up the aisle in the theatre. For a few seconds, I lost sight of him. And then, there he was, right outside my row. And then… what? He started climbing over the seats and ended up stumbling right into Row WW, Seat 409 – my seat. As he stood haphazardly balanced on the seat behind me, he leaned over, grabbed my shoulder to steady himself and put the mic right in my face as he sang. And, though I know nearly all of the lyrics to their songs and the chorus to “Abel” in particular is embarrassingly simple, I admit I froze a little and was too stunned to sing along. After my moment had passed, Berninger continued on his way, climbing over the seat in front of me and then heading back to the stage.
The above was just an excerpt from my review for Brooklyn Vegan. Check it out here.
There were a lot of haters in the comments section for that post. Mostly they were hating on the band or the sound quality at the venue, but one person commented that the review seemed like it was “written by a 10th grader for the high school rag.” Initially, this got me down a little. I need to be edgier with my reviews, I thought. Then it hit me. I felt exactly like a fifteen-year-old girl when Matt singled me out. It was seriously insane. For the 15-20 seconds that he stood their in my seat, I actually don’t remember hearing anything, which I think is why I couldn’t bring myself to sing along. It was as if my brain made a snappy decision. What are the most important senses in this situation? OK. Sight and feeling. And my hearing just temporarily vanished in order to allow me to really take in the scene in front of me and be hyper aware of Matt gripping my bicep. Complete sensory overload.
Hey, guys. So a few days ago, I got an email from popular NY-based music blog Brooklyn Vegan, asking me if I’d like to write for them, and I decided to give it a try. This means that there will probably be fewer live concert reviews here, but the blog will live on! (Of course, Brooklyn Vegan is also just a click away).
If you aren’t National’d out by this point, I encourage you to check out my first post about Saturday night’s show at BAM. Exciting stuff.
I probably won’t link to BV every time I post something there, but I will mention it in my new Twitter feed. Follow me for the latest.
"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."
- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being