We made our way last night to the Tractor Tavern in Ballard to take in the War on Drugs show. The sound was great, the band was great, etc.
Those guys really love what they’re doing, and the swirling, tinkling ambience they coax out of the combination of guitars, a Rhodes, samplers, a backline, and a bass just never sounds wrong.
The openers were Carter Tanton and Purling Hiss. Carter Tanton played tunes that were definitely cut from the same remnants of Technicolor dreamdenim as the headliners, with hints of Baba O’Reilly floating out of the guitar tinkle now and again. My wife described them as sounding a bit like the Cure covering the War on Drugs. Oh, Jesus! I’m feebly gumming rock critic similes! You decide! Purling Hiss was unabashed cock-rocking burnout guitar solo metal and good times.
Coerceyou captures the all the glory the failing 2 megapixel sensor on a shitty cell-phone camera can- Now within actual discernable range!
It is true. On a day within the last range of days I attended the performance of Dan Bejar and his enormous band here in Seattle, in a club, and I was not sitting in an assigned seat. This was one of the very few shows that I’ve seen since getting here that was actually in a club without seats, a show that had an actual crowd standing will-he-nil-he in a room in front of speakers (albeit one that concentrated shoulder to shoulder at lead-like densities waaaay out back on the way to the bathroom, completely confusing those of us up front who were swinging our arms around wildly in an expression of the modern angst of 21st century alienation in the hopes of making even superficial contact with another human being without the aid of ill-fitting prostheses like the email or the iPhone).
Dan Bejar is traveling with a large, talented, and dedicated retinue on this outing in support of his latest record, Kaputt. The saxophonist/floutist alone worked hard enough to earn the ticket price back for the whole band.
One has to wonder, however, under what sort of fear the band works with Dan Bejar to execute live and on a small club stage the very complicated smooth jazz-meets-new-wave vibe of the new LP, as there were few smiles from the rest of the gang.
Perhaps that was just it- they were really trying hard to hit all the marks and put on a fucking amazing show. Mission accomplished, and kudos if that’s all it was. The idea that kept a smile on my face, though, was that Bejar might actually be the eccentric his lyrics portray, that the band may really be working strenuously aviod the oblivion inside the annoyance of Dan Bejar, the artiste. Whatever it was, thanks for coming to town and playing flawlessly through Kaputt, and through a lot of Your Blues, to boot. The show was excellent.
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Openers The War on Drugs brought some much-needed East Coast rock and reverb to the stage, doing that Philly new-psych thing they and all the acts that have split off from them the past few years do so well. Good times all around.
Meany Hall Auditorium, University of Washington, 2/15/11
I had the pleasure of seeing John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats play a solo show at the Meany Hall Auditorium at the University of Washington in Seattle this past Tuesday, and aside from the warm memories of his always entertaining and eloquent between-song banter and the soulful renditions of his wonderfully-written songs, all I have to show for it are these shitty cell phone photos. Again, I forget to bring my real camera to a show. Playing a somewhat emotionally heavier than usual set, he thanked the audience repeatedly for our silently rapt attention to his renditions of songs he played in dedication to a friend of his he had just lost to cancer. The Mountain Goats aren’t theater, they’re poetry—a real attempt by a human being to communicate with others.
His opener was a young woman with whom I am entirely unfamiliar, one Jesy Fortino, AKA Seattle’s Tiny Vipers. She does chilling, quiet, long-form meditations on nothingness all alone up on stage with her acoustic guitar and her looping pedal. She sounds like Nico from the velvet underground singing Bradford Cox-produced variations on Cat Power’s “Crossbones Syle”. Somehow she loops the resonant sound from the notes she plucks from her guitar while managing to not actually record the pluck itself. The result is layered beauty, and the effect is soporific. And man, what a voice.
Crusading music writer sits down comfortably for entire show, eschews the inconvenience of walking nearer the stage to take nicer pictures!
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Wednesday evening found me at Seattle’s Showbox at the Market to see a band I talk entirely too much about, Atlanta’s Deerhunter. Unless you live in a lightless, airless tomb outside of time (I’m talking about YOU, Cthulu), you probably already know that Deerhunter is back after about a year’s hiatus touring in support of their most recent record, that record being the excellent Halcyon Digest.
The band hasn’t lost a step in the year or so they took off from being Deerhunter- they still play their songs way faster live than they do on the albums, and the emotion that they display during their performances surpasses the often sadly philosophical tone they strike on their recordings. Bradford Cox’s sudden eruption into nearly screamed vocals during the much heavier and more punked up version of Don’t Cry was the welcome surprise that makes seeing a good band live worthwhile.
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It’s also a pleasure to see a band that is so talented that they simply can’t lose each other. At times one got the feeling that one or another component of this elite musical unit was pushing to go AWOL, but that kind of thing can’t happened when all the members’ skills are so evenly matched. What results instead is the feeling of an added, embedded tension, a new edge to familiar material.
And now, a word about Deerhunter’s backline: Moses Archuleta is an unflappable human metronome of frightening precision.
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Lockett Pundt’s presence as stage forward vocalist is a welcome addition to the Deerhunter oeuvre, one of the things that made the sound of this new record such a huge evolutionary step for the band. Where Microcastle/Weird Era could be said to have been a polishing, a realization of the sounds hinted at on a Cryptogram tune like Hazel St., Halcyon Digest is a departure into new atmospherics. The band has the advantage of being as tight as it was on Microcastle, but the quiet, musing tone struck by so many of the loop-heavy tracks almost makes it sound like it was recorded by a different band. Lockett has a subdued rock tendency that’s a counterpoint to the Atlas Sound-reminiscent technological flourishes on the new album, and his wistful, detached, confident style of singing seems to be singlehandedly resurrecting the dying American Monomyth. Where Deerhunter subject matter seems to swirl unanchored in memory, he haunts the record like Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, calmly coaxing us out to take up our executive privileges on the perimeter on the Halcyon Digest track Desire Lines, which song was flawlessly performed on Wednesday, by the by. I
I saw Nina Persson and A Camp last night at Le Poisson Rouge. I’ll be writing a real review of the show, but before I do, I’d like to say this: The strength of Nina’s voice has only increased with the passage of years, and she is a genius at mixing a cocktail of wistful songwriting with a splash of joy- though only for color, barkeep.
It was Friday the 13th, and I was ready for my long run of bad luck to be up. We trekked, a group of three, down the street to the place where the rock show was to be held, the while passing under scaffolds and crossed by cats. The crowd was intimate, the beer selection in the main organic (because, as good capitalists just having a good time we have to conflate our purchases with loftier causes, we have to feel that our money is doing the work we’re not doing 9 to 5 50+ hours a week), and the rock was well executed.
Not having been a longtime fan of either Versus or +/- and never having seen either band live, I can only really speak to my impressions formed that night. I love the most recent +/- record, Xs on Your Eyes, and it stands head and shoulders above anything that band (and Versus) have done before. Therefore, I really wish that +/- had been headlining. Aside from the addition of a bassist who wasn’t playing with Versus and the removal of Versus’ indie-rock proto-chanteuse Fontaine Toups, the same people were on stage during the +/- set as during Versus anyway, and the updated, tight, and syncopated new +/- material would have felt a lot more appropriate in the headlining slot. Versus’ new material just lacked the shimmering movement that their older songs have. They were just a little too simple, boring, and straightforward.
So, there you have it. My Friday night in the indie rock time machine at the shiny new Knitting Factory.
It comes as no surprise to this reviewer that I got a ticket to the Atlas Sound show at Music Hall of Williamsburg as soon as tickets went on sale. Nothing would be left to chance for me in the idle man’s game that is CMJ, the only world-famous rock festival that isn’t a festival. If you’re a million shows all over one of the biggest me-first shit show cities on earth and you can’t guarantee admission to someone who has a badge, you’re just a whole bunch of hyped shows and a bunch of dollars richer, CMJ.
The new Atlas Sound record came out this past Tuesday, October 20. Entitled Logos, it hews more closely to the focused dreaming of the world-changing last Deerhunter record, Microcastle/Weird Era Continued, than the preceding Atlas Sound release from 2008, Let the Blind Lead those Who can See but cannot Feel.
The first opener, Atlanta’s Selmanaires, was the the second band I have seen in a week who would go on to support the headlining act as the backing group. They opened the set with some dopey and lurching psychedelic rehash replete with go-nowhere tooting organ noises and vaguely middle eastern tuning. After a song or two of that I went back to the bar to read.
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I parked my ticket stub in my book when Broadcast took the stage. I remembered liking the tracks that KEXP had played from 2005’s Tender Buttons when that record was new. They were stripped and simple, noisy but not unintelligible gems of foreboding electro pop. The songs from that record even now remind me of the eerily clean and unencumbered fuzzy and ostensibly innocuous paeans to death and sex that Trevor Kampmann was putting out as hollAnd a few years earlier— most notably “Oh, Death” and the rest of the songs from 2001’s Drums. Two tracks are below, one from Broadcast’s Tender Buttons and one from hollAnd’s Drums, so that the clever reader may draw the comparison.
Aside from becoming more incrompehensible due to the wetness of the echo effect on Trish Keenan’s vox, Broadcast has in the long interim since that record developed into a noisier, more visually oriented duo, focused mainly on making an hour or so of noise with the occasional dramatic appearance of quantized synthetic beats accompanied by Keenan’s wailing.
To clarify, it was mainly wailing, but the complementary moan was now and again employed. She dressed in a bit of a ghostly tunic, too, though they played in the dark, their own presence second fiddle to their Spirograph inspired video accompaniment. When you hear the direction their sound has taken in its recorded form, it is readily apparent why the two acts were playing together- they both enjoy sitting on the saturated side of fuzzy atmospherics. Live, it didn’t quite carry, though I enjoyed the set and I am glad I got to see them.
I can say so many nice things about Atlas Sound. I have already said so many nice things about its parent project Deerhunter to have surpassed redundancy so often it’s like I’m a track star running laps. What can I say? It’s the act that restored my faith in modern music from the maximum depth of jadedness.
During his set, the self-effacing Bradford Cox bantered relaxedly about how ill-at-ease he was on stage that night, engaging the audience in conversation between reworked live versions of his loop-dependent, production-heavy new album and running between his position at the microphone with his mouth harp hanging over his shoulders and his guitar in his arms to the back of the stage to beat on the skins. He hit nearly every track on the new record, ending alone on stage with the house lights up playing an electric guitar and loops version of the title track, Logos. Sadly, Laetitia Sadier was not in attendance to lend her ethereal vox to “Quick Canal”. That one was a glaring omission from the tracklist.
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Cox’s presence on the stage is confounding. He jokes that he likes to go see Tyler Perry movies with his mom, that they unironically laugh about it together, and in a deadpan throwaway comment shrugs off the disappointment the audience must feel now that they know he has nothing dark or disturbing to offer. One can tell he takes genuine joy in doing what he does so well, and as a presence, not just as the idea of a creative mind behind great music, you believe what he says. His music, be it with Deerhunter or under the auspices of Atlas Sound, is so ghostly and often so dark lyrically, though, as to belie all that. “Kid Klimax,” for example, recounts how the workaday life will, after it has robbed you of your zest for taking breath, numb even your ability to be moved by the fact. He sings (as nearly as I can make it out) “You will grow to be untouched/unphased…oh my god, oh my god.”
In a world that has turned against you, you do not have the choice to live in another one. What Cox’s music so often says in its sometimes unaffected and sometimes sad expression, is that the artist must choose to live in this world that has turned against us, be that life beset by trouble or drowned in rapture. Life may appear to be a conspiracy, but one can learn to hear its chinese whispers as a joke.