Archive for October, 2010

CMJ 2010, day one.


I admit I felt a bit of a head-rush when I walked over the Judson Memorial Church yesterday to pick up my badge. This is where it all begins, I thought to myself.

Judson Memorial Church (Photo Wall Gobetz)

There’s just something about seeing that flash of a badge hanging around someone’s neck (or more inconspicuously –  out of their  bag or pocket) that makes me smile. Here it is folks. A week of music, movies (if you’ve got the time), free beer, strategically mapped out subway trips, over-caffeination, sleep deprivation, and camraderie.

Though I was technically on the clock yesterday, I did manage to at least pick up my badge and see one short set before resuming work.

All day, I carried a handheld audio recorder with me to pick up some of the sounds. It was my intention to splice together a little representation of my day when I got home last night, but that of course didn’t happen. (It was late, I have work, and I had to figure out tonight’s schedule. You know how it is.) Hopefully I’ll have that coming at you soon enough.

To briefly bring you up to speed, here’s who I’ve managed to see so far:
Alcoholic Faith Mission – The Living Room… a Danish outfit with nice instrumentation and earnest vocals
Oh Lands – Music Hall of Williamsburg… another Danish artist – this time much more dramatic and dancey (a fun live act)
Screaming Females – Brooklyn Bowl… not normally my bag, but a good time
DOM – BB… meh
Yo La Tengo – BB… one of those bands you just kind of have to see. There were good moments, but the sound sucked for much of the show.

I attempted to see Dent May to cap off the evening, but upon learning that Glasslands was far behind schedule, I decided to bail.

Until then, get a load of Oh Lands.

A more detailed review should be up on Brooklyn Vegan soon.


eMusic gains Universal, but at a steep price

As an alternative to iTunes, eMusic has long been in the hearts of many music lovers because it boasts a decent catalog of indie music and offers low subscription plans that allow you to download a set number of tracks each month for a price much lower than many major competitors .

But everything is about to change.

Starting in just a few weeks, eMusic, a decent (but surprisingly under the radar) source for mp3s, will be adding more than a quarter of a million tracks to its library. Surely that won’t affect me, you might be thinking to yourself. I mean, it might become more mainstream, but I’ll deal. Sorry. Think again.

With the addition of the Universal catalog, the site will no longer be offering neat little monthly download packages. Instead, everything will jump to a pay per model – like iTunes. Sure, the prices are still lower, but long-time members will lose their handsomely discounted packages.

According to the site,

“Under the new currency pricing system, eMusic members will enjoy savings of 20%-50% compared to iTunes a la carte prices. The majority of albums on eMusic will be priced from $5.19 – $8.99. Single track pricing for members will vary as follows:

○      $0.49 for most tracks currently in our catalog

○      $0.69 – $0.79 for more popular content

○      $0.89 for tracks that generally sell for $1.29 at iTunes
The exact difference this will make remains to be seen as eMusic settles on its price points, but I can’t help but feel like we’re at the end of an era here.


A ghoulish tune, back from the dead

It’s October. You know what that means. Time to bring back Dead Man’s Bones.

Can’t get enough of this song.

Living up to the hype? An evening with Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten + Kyp Malone – Mercury Lounge – October 9th

For once, the Mercury Lounge was nearly full for the opener, but I suppose that’s hardly surprising considering the opener was Kyp Malone (of TV on the Radio).

Kyp Malone (Courtesy of artist)

Kyp began his show not with a song, but with a candid opening speech of sorts that helped establish the warm tone for the evening. He even reached out to the sound guy. “Hi. Who are you?” he asked, peering out over the crowd. “Kevin? I’m sorry we didn’t get to meet each other before and now we’re working together. I don’t get wi-fi at my house.” No doubt he would have taken the time to introduce himself to the whole room if he had had the chance, but knowing that time was in short supply, he began to play. As if to echo his verbal introduction, Malone kicked off his set with a long, wandering instrumental intro on the guitar before he began to sing.

As soon as he stopped playing, the banter picked up again, and this time the focus was on Sharon. “You guys have the new record? [pause] This guy says no. Well you should get it. It’s fucking fantastic.” He leaned away from the mic. “And I mean that,” he said conspiringly to the guy who had spoken out.

“I have a lot of songs I could play,” he continued with the mic, once more. “But a very limited time.” “Play the good ones!” someone in the crowd yelled. “The good ones? Well that’s relative. How about the ones I know the words to?” Malone countered.

He continued to eyeball his watch between each song. “Oh, where does the time go?” he asked with a sigh. If  this review is unusually heavy on the dialogue, it’s because Malone’s set was just as much about the banter as it was about the music. I mean it isn’t exactly a normal occurrence to have a musician tell a story about a ‘zombie Hitler character’ that he encountered in Eastern Europe (don’t worry, all turned out well. Apparently just hearing Sharon sing was enough to sever its head).

After just six songs and more effusive praise for Sharon (“Get ready for beauty”), Malone vacated the stage. Sharon didn’t walk on stage until midnight, but the late set time didn’t deter the fawning crowd. The room was packed. After suffering through a warm opening act, luckily someone thought to turn on the A/C.

“Hello. How is everybody?” Van Etten asked, shyly. “I’m excited to play these songs with my band, but first I’m going to play one by myself.” She picked up her guitar and began her set with “A Crime,” the first song off her latest album. When she had finished, she quickly welcomed three musicians to the stage. “This is my new band.” She stood in silence, tuning her guitar for a few moments, but upon realizing how quiet the room was, she nervously admitted that she sill didn’t quite have a handle on the impromptu stage banter.

Sharon Van Etten at Hopscotch (Photo Ash Crowe)

Despite this warning, she did just fine for herself. If anything, her nervousness only endeared her more to the crowd. “I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for Kyp dragging my ass to New York. Kyp Malone. I love that man.” “I love you, too, Sharon!” came the response, presumably from Kyp. “I love all you guys,” Sharon said, continuing the love fest. “I look down and the people are smiling at me. I want to take a picture.” Needless to say, it was all pretty charming, and she had the entire room on the verge of simultaneously swooning.

After playing a few songs from Epic, she introduced a new one – so new that it was still unnamed. (But she’s open to suggestions for the title.)

Doug Keith and Cat Martino lend a hand at Hopscotch (Photo Helena Price)

Van Etten was clearly enthused to have a band behind her to share the spotlight and to bolster her sound, and her excitement was contagious. Despite the nervous banter, she also seemed to have gained some confidence (maybe Kyp should stand backstage with her at every show, just whispering praises into her ear). Whatever the reason, she was at the top of her game last night, which is definitely a good thing, considering all the recent (and highly effusive) praise she has gotten in the blogosphere and beyond. But as with Kyp Malone’s set, time was again limited. “I think we have time for one more,” she said, breaking the spell. “No! 80!” came the response from one particularly enthusiastic fan. “80? That’s ridiculous!” laughed Van Etten. At the conclusion of her last song (“Holding Out”), she thanked the packed room for making it out so late on a Saturday night, then walked over to the side of the stage.

But the reception was so warm, that she walked back over to the mic. “I was hoping you’d do that!” she said with excitement before quickly changing gears. She concluded her set with a lovely, sad song that she confessed she usually isn’t “drunk enough to play.” As the house lights came back on, she walked back over to her band mates who had been hovering over on the side of the stage, and gave them all a group hug. Though the action was localized, the warm, celebratory sentiment pervaded the crowd.

Belle and Sebastian… Finally!

Belle and Sebastian + Teenage Fanclub – Williamsburg Waterfont – September 30th

The lights all twirled in unison well before the show began, sending waves of delight and anxiety throughout the building crowd. “Is that lightning?” Someone asked nervously. “Oh.. no. Good.”

All day long, there was a flurry of activity on sites like Brooklyn Vegan and, as people speculated about the likelihood of the show going on as planned. Rain is one thing, but lightning? I didn’t want to see a repeat of the Modest Mouse show at the waterfront last July – especially not with Belle and Sebastian. (It’s not as if they’re domestic and tour often, you know? Rescheduling could get messy.)

Teenage Fanclub (Photo Amanda Hatfield)

By the time Teenage Fanclub began to play, there was a gray, foggy haze hanging over Manhattan, but still no rain. “It’s a little windy up here tonight,” joked guitarist/vocalist Norman Blake as the tarps on stage covering Belle and Sebastian’s instruments billowed. The crowd erupted in nervous laughter.

With an extra album and an additional seven years to their name, Teenage Fanclub may have been at it longer than Belle & Sebastian, but they seemed more than happy to be billed as the openers. At one point, Blake jokingly told people to stick around after their set (as if we needed convincing), saying, “There’s another band in just a little while. They’re called Belle and Sebastian…?”).

Throughout their set, Blake offered a number of helpful little explanations and interjections about their music – all in a delightful Scottish accent. “I have a glockenspiel,” he announced excitedly before one song. He held up the instrument, as if a teacher before a class of eager students. Then later, he continued with the lesson, saying, “This song is called “When I Still Have Thee. ‘Thee’ is an old word.”

With their three-part harmonies and pleasant, well-rehearsed music, Teenage Fanclub succeeded in putting on an enjoyable set and priming the audience for the performance yet to come.

As the crew readied the stage for Belle and Sebastian’s set, the excitement in the audience mounted – especially when the two large replicas of the artwork for the new album were unveiled.

Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian (Photo by Amanda Hatfield)

Soon, front man Stuart Murdoch walked on stage and saluted the crowd. Belle and Sebastian kicked off the evening with a new song from their upcoming album, which prominently features Sarah Martin on vocals. Murdoch took advantage of Sarah’s singing and began to dance. “Oh, what a great job,” he said with a sigh after the applause from the first song had died down. They followed the unfamiliar song with a round of classics to the delight of the crowd.

A few times over the course of the evening, the stage lights fell on what appeared to be rain at the back of the stage, but luckily the mysterious drops were just a false alarm. Somehow the weather held out.

After a few songs, Murdoch addressed the audience and commented on the view of the Manhattan skyline. [listen to clip]

The evening was punctuated by a number of charming moments, which seems only fitting for a band that basically defines the word ‘twee.’ As if proving this point, Murdoch offered another long aside to the crowd. “We committed a faux pas tonight. We all realized… Stevie, show.” Guitarist Stevie Jackson unbuttoned his jacket to reveal a horizontally-striped shirt. Murdoch unzipped his own to reveal the same. He gestured over at Sarah Martin’s shirt – another duplicate, this time in long sleeves. “I mean for God’s sake,” he continued. “We’ve been at this for 15 years. I know it’s my fault for jumping on the bandwagon. For being bandwagon-esque.”

Belle and Sebastian (Photo by Amanda Hatfield)

Belle and Sebastian is one of those bands that sort of sneaks up on you. Before you know it, you own five of their albums, and their music is such that even if you haven’t heard it recently, you are instantly transported back in time at the sound of Stuart Murdoch’s voice or the first notes of a catchy trumpet solo.

The excitement was contagious. Take a listen to the enthusiasm of the crowd (song clip: “Step Into My Office, Baby”):

Much of the set list featured older, more popular songs (five from Dear Catastrophe Waitress and four from If You’re Feeling Sinister), but the band also pulled out a couple of “B sides” and four new songs. As if sensing that the audience might be disappointed at not knowing the words to the new material, Jackson punched up one of the new songs (“I’m Not Living in the Real World”) by leading the audience in a sing-a-long and offering plenty of praise along the way. “That’s incredibly beautiful actually,” he said proudly after a quick practice round.

Though largely unfamiliar, the new material sounded great. “Write About Love,” the title track has everything you know and love about Belle and Sebastian: call and response male/female vocals and buoyant melodies. For some songs, up to six people  contributed on strings. Then, of course, there were delightful appearances by the trumpet, melodica, French horn, flute, recorders, and much more.

Take a listen to “Write About Love”

As if merely being present wasn’t a treat enough for a band who hasn’t toured the States in four years, Murdoch continuously lavished the audience with gifts. Before “Lord Anthony” (which tells the story of a boy who doesn’t fit in and is advised to ‘start kicking a football), he heaved six toy footballs to the children in the crowd because as he said, “It gets sort of boring when you’re a kid.” Each of the gifts was signed by the entire band.

Near the conclusion of their set, Murdoch turned to the audience with a request. “We need people who can clap.” He hand picked seven people to crowd around a microphone on stage and clap along to “There’s Too Much Love” while he himself joyfully danced around the stage. But just when they thought their formal clapping responsibilities had ended, he turned to them, saying, “You ain’t done yet” and encouraged them to dance around to the next song. When they heard what it was (“The Boy with the Arab Strap”), they were all happy to oblige. After this whimsical interlude, Murdoch proceeded to administer medals to all but one enthusiastic participant. “We’ll send yours,” he joked to the disappointed but good humored medal-less volunteer. Then he hugged them each and sent them on their way.

“Well listen folks. It’s nearly time for us to go,” Murdoch said after a few more songs. “It’s been a blast. I’m so glad we got a chance to do it.” They concluded the bulk of their set with two particularly upbeat songs, the last of which ironically featured the line, “Everybody is happy, they are glad that they came.”

Having started their set earlier than scheduled, the band took advantage of the extra time and concluded the show with a 2-song encore before turning the ecstatic (and still dry) crowd loose.

I’m not sure yet if it was the show of the year, but it’s certainly a contender. Far from losing my attention as the set wore on, I found myself more and more enchanted by their selections and fun stage antics. I mean geeze. Just look at the last 7 songs of that set list. Gold.

Teenage Fanclub Set list
Sometimes I Don’t Need to Believe in Anything
Baby Lee
About You
I Need Direction
I Don’t Want Control of You
Don’t Look Back
Your Love is the Place Where I Come From
When I Still Have Thee
Sparky’s Dream
The Concept

Belle and Sebastian Set list (asterisks indicate new songs)
*I Didn’t See It Coming
I’m a Cuckoo
Step Into My Office, Baby
Like Dylan in the Movies
*I’m Not Living in the Real World
Piazza, New York Catcher
*I Want the World to Stop
Lord Anthony
Sukie in the Graveyard
We Rule the School
Another Sunny Day
The Loneliness of a Middle-Distance Runner
*Write About Love
There’s Too Much Love
Boy with the Arab Strap
If You Find Yourself Caught in Love
Judy and the Dream of Horses
Sleep the Clock Around

Me and the Major
Get Me Away from Here, I’m Dying

All photos courtesy of Amanda Hatfield.

"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