Saturday, May 2, 2009

Show Review: Elvis Perkins in Dearland @ der Raskeller

In the minimalist folk tradition, Elvis Perkins stepped on stage Friday a lone troubadour. He immediately launched into "While You Were Sleeping," lyrically one of his best songs. The song speaks for itself and its metaphors are best left to personal interpretation, but is generally a quietly haunting tale of what happens when we aren't paying attention to the important things in life. It also begins as one of his quieter songs, and was consequently drowned out by the young crowd swooping in from the wings and finding their places in front of the stage.

As the song progressed, his backing band appeared and helped fill out the song until fading out into quietly sung "Oh oh's." I really, really wished he didn't open with this song, as it was the only song I wanted to hear, and its meaning has changed for me depending on my mood, so I was interested in seeing how it resonated live. But once everything settled, the highlights were not the ones I expected.

For one, I liked the band more than I thought I would. An upright bass is always a welcome addition to the usually high sounds of too many guitars. Also, while Elvis stayed stationary, the band bopped, swayed and strolled- whatever the particular song called for- and claimed their place in the songs. Especially off Ash Wednesday, Perkins' first album, where the band did not figure in prominently, they tried to find their place. It worked better in some places (the appropriate "May Day"), than others ("Emile's Vietnam in the Sky," best left simple). Other highlights included the range of music they presented. They switched from a bluesy bookish feel to a Chuck Berry sensation within the same song, the unrecorded, "Stop, Drop, and Rock and Roll." The more traditional three guitar lineup on "Lonleyville" also formed a nice contrast, as did their rendition of an old untitled folk song.

However, the low lights felt like the aural equivalent of painting over a already completed piece of art to save money on a new canvas. The tacked-on feeling could have been due to the sound also. The trombone didn't need to be mic'ed in such a small surrounding with low ceilings. But again, Perkins' voice, which was surprising in its range, tied everything together as he stayed focused behind his glasses. In the rotunda the band played under, they perhaps couldn't hear the chatter of the crowd, only a small percentage of whom seemed like they were there for the show. Perkins' commented that they couldn't hear each other speak under it, which seemed a slight jab at the crowd.

Before the show I asked my boyfriend if he though bands enjoyed playing free gigs like this. It is some new exposure to that ubiquitous "younger audience" that everyone is trying to market to and instill a brand loyalty in for life. He replied that bands were probably used to being the opening act on a bill and not the main reason the fans were there. I felt a little differently, that once you get past that, it would be nice to feed off the audience; after all, if you believe in your music, it has to be a little vindicating to see other people who do too. You don't make the music for other people at first, but to connect over it in a live setting is a great reason to go to shows.

It's the artists statement attached to a painting, or the deleted scenes and extended features on a DVD. To see what didn't make the cut or a glimpse of some intention enhances the artwork. But I'm getting off track, because this ideal relationship between artist and audience holds no relevance in a student union, on a campus known for being a party school, in the state that consumes the most beer per capita.

This new, still bespectacled Perkins, looks like he stepped from the 60s into the 70s, which seems like a dangerous move musically, but he is pushing forward, bringing his material to new fans, and singing his songs for all who want to hear.

Set list

While You Were Sleeping
Chains, Chains, Chains
Send My Fond Regards to Lonelyville
I Heard Your Voice in Dresden
Emile's Vietnam in the Sky
Untitled old folk song by anonymous
May Day
Stop, Drop, Rock and Roll
I'll Be Arriving
Stay Zombie

Doomsday (see below)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

If I was in Chicago tonight, this is where I'd be going

photo via Subinev

Indianapolis natives Margot and the Nuclear So and So's are giving back to their new home city by playing some old and and new songs FOR FREE tonight. Hopefully this stripped down version just includes Richard, the violinist, the percussionist, and the pianist. I imagine it might end up sounding like a Daytrotter session, which is never a bad thing. I've heard Neva Dinova is pretty good too, but haven't listened yet.

From Margot's myspace:
Tonight, Wednesday March 25th, Richard and some fellow margot's will be getting together at the inconvenience art space/venue to play some old songs, as well as some songs from the new record. They will be joined on this special day by their friends, "the whispertown 2000" and Jake Bellows (of Neva Dinova). You may remember that Margot toured with Whispertown long ago during the elected tour. Wanna re-live those memories? Of course you do. And we want to see you there. It's a small intimate space and it should make for a very special, one of a kind evening. The show is free (although a donation to help the touring band is appreciated), and it is open to all ages.

3036 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL
Doors at 6 Pm
Music at 7 pm!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bonnie "Prince" Billy @ Turner Hall 3/18/09

photostream via: madison music review

Walking on stage with an uncharacteristic gong in hand, Bonnie "Prince" Billy filled the crowded first floor of Turner Hall with a quizzical anticipation. He didn't get to the gong until much later, but no question of Billy's ability was left in the audience's mind by that time anyway.

For the two-hour-plus performance
, Billy played as tightly as his pants seemed to fit, and he awkwardly tugged at them throughout. The tautness gave the impression of a band that had been performing this material for years, but Billy's latest album, Beware!, dropped only the day before and by Wednesday, Billy and crew were on tour for less than a week.

Appeasing his older fans, of whom seemed to comprise most of the audience, Billy played "A Minor Place" early on, and closed out his four-song encore with "I See A Darkness," also the title from his most critically acclaimed album. His voice switched from yearning to mournful to loving quite well.

In Turner Hall, where the sound is prone to a distancing vastness - like talking on speakerphone in a bathroom,
Billy's sound reverberated warmly off the charred walls. This was also perhaps due to the balance of his talented backing band.

Violinist and vocalist Cheyenne Mize seemed to grasp the essence of every arrangement, highlighting the crescendos with her quickened violin playing, and providing a strong, yet soft, voice that set the live show apart from recordings.

If Mize was the most standout backing band member, then drummer Jim White was happily doing his job right. He specializes in drumming for singer/songwriters such as Cat Power, PJ Harvey, and Smog (Bill Callahan) and seems to subscribe to the notion that drummers should be seen not heard. He highlighted the music without overpowering it, and was an enthusiastically- dressed drummer with similar drumming flourishes- often raising his rakes high above his head
. Josh Abrams on the double bass was also a welcome addition, as double bass players often are.

However, with all of the positive things I mentioned above, I didn't enjoy the show. Unlike most critics, I don't try to point out the negative for a futile stab at objectivity, or to be snarky, or even to make my own taste appear superior. If I see something negative, I point it out; if something is positive, I acknowledge it. This being said, I usually trust my instincts with knowing whether or not I like something. Ordinarily I don't think this is a good method to arrive at a higher taste, but I try to surround myself with artistically relevant songs/books/insert whatever media here so I can try to trust my judgment.

So what follows must be a matter of taste- not artistic ability. Three friends and
I attended the show: two were fans and very familiar with Billy's material, and another friend and me were only casual listeners. While I mentioned Billy and company played competently and made it look effortless, they also didn't move and weren't very moving to me from where i was standing, about halfway back in the room. I would have been a lot more comfortable seated at the Pabst Theater.

While no complaints lay with the musicianship, sound, or song selection, the show part seemed to be lacking.
I'm completely willing to say that maybe if I was more familiar with his material, maybe I would have enjoyed the show more for the music. My familiarity with Billy as a solo artist led me to believe that I would see him play a few acoustic songs, and draw the audience into the sparse melodies that make his recordings enjoyable. But he clung to the same guitar the whole time, and all of the musicians box stepped around their respective parts of the stage as if restrained to an invisible 3x3 foot square.

Billy didn't acknowledge the audience until at least four songs in, and when he did, he insulted one of his fans in the front, asking her if she attended college. Hesitant applause from the audience suggested either an unfamiliarity with the music, rapt attention to every note, or a defense mechanism.

For a different perspective, go here to read a review where the former editor of the now defunct Vital Source magazine puts the show in her top five Milwaukee shows of all time.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tell a Story, Illustrated

I worked in retail in an accessories department for about five years, and had to create different displays during this time. Whether I was working on a wall of socks or styling mannequins, my department manager only gave me this advice: "Cara, make sure you are telling a story."

When arranging the socks, oftentimes my story said, "I don't give a fuck," but with other projects I really realized how a sense of mood, place, and time could all be conveyed.

Usually I think of clothing as self-expression, or as making a statement. But thinking of it in this way is limiting, since it confines the wearer to only one part of the story. It is easy to convey -with fashion- a mood: "I'm pissed" or "I'm happy and feeling colorful;" a place, "I can wear sweatpants with Uggs because i live in Wisconsin;" or a time, "These shoulder pads are trendy, and it's not the 80s" (see recent Balenciaga collections and NY Times' style section).

But it is much more difficult to give these statements a context. Why is a girl wearing fashionable guys' jeans? I don't think she stole this look from a magazine. Did she steal them last night from a boyfriend or has she held on to them for years because she can't let go?

This next girl, photographed in Koln, Germany, may be one of the reasons they make girls' bikes and guys' bikes- so girls in pretty dresses don't have to swing their legs over. Germany never looked so soft. Her dress may not be practical, but her shoes are, which may suggest the bike is actually a convergence of fashion and function and not just an accessory. I think she had to get somewhere on her bike this day, and she didn't want her mode of transportation to limit her reflective outfit on what looks to be a beautiful day.
via: the sartorialist

A study in hue and saturation. Her color palette is washed out, and anything but celebratory, but her fascinator (designed by Kenley Collins of Project Runway villainy) elevates her outfit out of the winter blahs. After reading she wore this out for her birthday, I thought, "of course!" The shades of color and even her pose suggest shyness, but the addition of one accessory made her stand out when she wanted to feel special.

photo via: the cats pajamas for wardrobe_remix on flickr

From Florence, Italy. Definitely not America. I hated khakis before this look, but this guy is actually cool wearing them. Preppy but neither conservative or classic (save the jacket.) Love the gloves instead of a handkerchief. The colors of his features (eyes, hair) repeat in his clothes, which result in a great, original look that he owns.

Paris, though she looks like she could be anywhere in the world, she is firmly planted in the now. I think I know what this girl was going for. An effortless ponytail and saggy sweatshirt give off a laissez-faire attitude, but everything about this look was deliberate. She wanted to balance the shortness of the skirt with the bagginess of her sweatshirt, but not completely focus all the color on her very exposed legs. Cute and not in the least slutty, it shows off a great feature- her legs, but also her fashion sense.
photo via: facehunter

Monday, February 9, 2009

Indie-rock Word of the Week: Neoteric

picture via SY's myspace
Part of speech: noun or adjective, as used here

What it means:
of recent origin; modern (per

How Moshe Levy,who writes most of Sonic Youth's news, uses Gerard Cosley's quote in a blog:
"Of The Eternal, Matador’s Gerard Cosloy says, 'We’ve not had a record in our recent history that’s been the subject of nearly as much speculation and anticipation. Suffice to say we’re pretty amazed at the way the band delivered something this neoteric while still sounding like, well, themselves. Less of a reinvention and perhaps more to do with a particularly awesome dozen songs.'"
Why I like it:
  • It first reminded me of esoteric, and I immediately thought that being newly esoteric is a great descriptor for SY, because they sprung out of (and have been accused of purposefully mirroring) what is going on in the elite art world of New York City
  • Whatever words coming from Cosloy aren't just coming from him as a label rep. As a fan, he arranged Sonic Youth's first-ever Boston show in 1982, when indie-rock was first starting, and he signed them to their first record contract at age 19.
I also love how the late John Fahey's art draws the eye inward and keeps it there, until you catch yourself staring at one the most stark places of the canvas. The Eternal is out June 9 on double vinyl, and in CD and digital formats.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Remember When...? The Midwest Edition

"Remember when...? is the lowest form of conversation" - Tony Soprano
Sorry, Tony, this isn't Jersey.

image via Von Munz's site

Remember Milwaukee's The Mistreaters? How about Detroit's the White Stripes? Atomic Records has a very cool Von Munz screen print
on a thrifted LP for sale, which is notable for being the first screen print of a White Stripes gig poster. Limited edition and numbered, $50.

image via wikipedia

Remember Dayton, Ohio, group Guided by Voices' Propeller? I have an LP copy of the 2005 release with the cover pictured above, and recently noticed that it was hand numbered 14/500, so I thought something about it might be special.
After a cursory search, it isn't worth any more than I paid for it, but I wasn't expecting much. I knew the original pressing was limited to 500 copies, each with a various handmade cover, and still sells for a lot of money, I just didn't know how much.
My search revealed one of the 1992 Propeller LPs, currently listed on eBay for $1,325 with 19 bids on it. Finding this reminded me of going over to friends' houses when I was little and seeing their Barbies still in the boxes, high up out of reach, along with the hopes of them being worth something someday. It made me sad, even then, when something that was made to be enjoyed sat so far out of reach of our young, grubby hands. It makes me sad now that some big-shot collector, and probably not one of GbV's biggest fans will have this item just to have it, not enjoy it.

image via Google images

Remember when Buddy Holly died in a plane crash 50 years ago today in Iowa? You probably don't, but you do know of the legacy he left on music. The Beatles wouldn't be called the Beatles if Holly's backing band wasn't The Crickets, and the Rolling Stones may not have transcended obscurity if they didn't cover his "Not Fade Away." Can you imagine Elvis Costello without nerd glasses or Weezer without the Happy Days video? Holly is also notable for writing his own songs, a cue a then-unknown Bob Dylan picked up on after filling in on tour, directly after Holly's death.

image via myspace

Remember garage rock? Detroit's The Von Bondies put a glossy sheen on it and try to keep it alive on their latest, Love, Hate and Then There's You, out today. Video for "Pale Bride," a slacker love tune, with the same sing-along vocals of "C'Mon, C'Mon:"

Monday, February 2, 2009

2009 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival Confirmed Artists

Initial lineup via TV on the Radio's MySpace page
June 11-14 in Manchester, TN

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Phish (2 Shows), Beastie Boys, Nine Inch Nails, David Byrne, Wilco, Al Green, Snoop Dogg, Elvis Costello Solo, Erykah Badu, Paul Oakenfold, Ben Harper and Relentless7, The Mars Volta, TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
Andrew Bird, MGMT, The Decemberists, Girl Talk, Bon Iver, Béla Fleck & Toumani Diabate, Galactic, of Montreal, Coheed and Cambria, Animal Collective, Gomez, Neko Case, Femi Kuti and the Positive Force, Jenny Lewis, Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3, Kaki King, Grizzly Bear, Okkervil River, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Tift Merritt, Alejandro Escovedo, Elvis Perkins In Dearland, Yeasayer, Chairlift, Portugal. The Man.

Gov’t Mule, Merle Haggard, moe., The Del McCoury Band, Allen Toussaint, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Booker T & the DBTs, David Grisman Quintet, Lucinda Williams, Down, Santogold, Robert Earl Keen, Citizen Cope, The Ting Tings, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, King Sunny Adé, St.
Vincent, Zac Brown Band, Raphael Saadiq, Crystal Castles, Brett Dennen, Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Revue, Toubab Krewe, People Under the Stairs, Vieux Farka Touré, Cherryholmes, , Todd Snider,The SteelDrivers, Midnite, The Knux, The Low Anthem, Delta Spirit, A.A. Bondy, The Lovell Sisters, Alberta Cross

Bold= Big or bad ass acts

Coachella fans are still hoping for an appearance from Animal Collective, but they haven't announced they are playing there yet. Still no sign of a Pavement reunion on either fronts.