Saturday, September 29, 2007

kc rules tonight

so, tonight i'm off to see king creosote at queen's hall, which i'm totally psyched for. after his really nice set at connect, i've been eagerly waiting for this show, which should be especially good as it's his first proper scotland gig on this tour. i'm heading back to new york early on monday, and might not get around to doing another post this weekend, so i'll leave you with some old kenny anderson (a.k.a. king creosote) tracks, and one from his new album, bombshell.

when i get back home, expect a flood of concert reviews in addition to this one. at the very least, i'll be hitting up nina nastasia on wednesday at mercury lounge and subtle (who are opening for minus the bear) on friday at warsaw., both of whom i'm incredibly psyched for.

khartoum heroes - "cat-gut," from khartoum heroes
skoubhie dubh orchestra - "long pockets, short arms," from spike's 23 collection
king creosote - "nooks," from bombshell.

a great place to buy all three of these albums is at avalanche records, where king creosote is also playing instore today at 5.30. see you there.

Friday, September 28, 2007

mr. mammoth gets a makeover!

you might've noticed something new about mr. mammoth today. no, he didn't get a haircut or lose any weight, but he did get some way effing cooler - a brand spankin' new look! tearknee, our lovely artistic mastermind, designed and drew the header that you now see on the top of the page. we're really pleased to finally give mr. mammoth a recognizable face and a new colo(u)r scheme, and we hope you like it as much as we do. if you have any suggestions, leave 'em in the comments.

to celebrate, here are some rare-ish tunes.

panda bear - "bonfire of the vanities," take pills single b-side. buy panda bear stuff at paw tracks.
caribou - "stones," from the 2007 tour release. buy caribou stuff directly.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

the go! team w. operator please @ edinburgh university, 9/25/07

i had a rough morning today. i could barely turn my neck, there was a dull ache in my right arm and a shooting pain in my left, and even though my ears are still ringing, i didn't mind in the least, because the go! team put on a great show last night. it was the third time i had seen them in a month (the other two being connect and abc), so there weren't any surprises, just pure, sweaty pleasure. i'm not going to bother with a full review, just a few thoughts i had about the gig, some pictures, and a bit of video.

you might be aware of how strongly mr. mammoth dislikes big venues. well, potterow (one of edinburgh university's student unions) was certainly not big. in fact, it was a pretty sweet space. its short, arched ceiling, nice wide stage, and bar at the back made for a great show, as the crazy-as-shit crowd proved. i had initially been disappointed to find out it was an all-ages show at the door, but the crowd seemed anything but. though it was the first night of the nme freshers tour (hitting up universities all over great britain), there was a strong post-student presence, which made for a less reckless drunk and more informed and energetic crowd. i was right at the front, and got pushed around constantly, but it was more activity than i've seen from a go! team crowd before, and everybody was into it. after the disappointing show at abc, it was great to see the go! team one last time on their home turf in such a good environment.

for their freshers tour, nme handpicked two bands that have received virtually no press attention - the satin peaches and operator please. the two bands are taking turns opening throughout the tour, and the satin peaches kicked the show off last night. the detroit foursome play rabid, screamy rock that, really, just sucked. frontman george morris spent most of the set proving that you don't need to be able to sing to be a singer, especially when your grating yells are backed by an inarticulate sonic mess. the sheer awfulness of their half hour set meant that a good twenty foot buffer was kept between the stage and the closest fan. not a band to watch (yet somehow, they're already signed to a major label...)

so when operator please came on stage, they could've played meandering space jams and i would've been happy - or at least happier than the satin peaches made me. but my interest was actually piqued when operator please came onstage with a keyboardist and violinist, and a drummer who couldn't have been older than sixteen (and that's being generous). and no space jams either - the quintet rocked quick and tight with songs as spastic and ferocious as anything le tigre has ever made, no mean feat for a group with half its members still in high school. though frontwoman amandah wilkinson was obviously unhappy with the sound (frequently motioning for more violin and commenting that her guitar sounded "like a gremlin"), operator please rocked the house and made many heads turn, especially mine.

operator please have commanded much attention in their home country of australia despite their young age, having won themselves a major label (boo) contract less than two years after forming. their history is quite dramatic - operator please came about as a battle of the bands experiment, but found their sound to be so compelling that they stuck it out even after winning the prize (a box of donuts). after releasing their debut ep, cement cement, to native praise, operator please have moved on with a new single "just a song about ping pong," which has completely sold out. after their rotating stint as a go! team opener, operator please is playing at least one show stateside, with land of talk and film school at mercury lounge. don't forget your dancing shoes and/or booty shaking ability.

which brings us, of course, to the go! team itself. since i've said pretty much everything a person can say about the go! team ("supercharged schoolyard funk" is probably my favorite), i don't think i should say any more. they were great, especially in the small space, and i've certainly gotten my fill of their live act, so i'm not upset about skipping their bowery ballroom show later this year. ninja had some great moves, ian parton wore the same shirt we saw him in at abc, it was the same set that we'd heard before with the same videos, and i was totally happy.

here are some mp3s and videos to keep you just as happy as me.

operator please - "just a song about ping pong." you can buy the single online.
the go! team - "milk crisis," from the proof of youth bonus disc. buy the album here.

operator please - "ghost"

the go! team - "the power is on"
(there was a security guard blocking my view of half the stage. sorry.)

Monday, September 24, 2007

september 25 is the best day ever!

...if you're looking to go broke on a bevy, nay, a slew of excellent independent releases set loose today. the obvious choice is the shepherd's dog (no shit), but dig deeper, and september 25 will reward you in ways you could not have dreamt. faced with a list longer than my arm, there are two albums released today you might overlook, but do so at your peril.

two gallants let loose with their third LP, the appropriately titled two gallants (buy), and telephone jim jesus returns with more excellent glitch-hop on anywhere out of the everything (buy). you could also shill out for the excessively-blogged about bang bang boom cake (buy), or tunng's good arrows (buy), but those come without the mammoth stamp of approval. one album that was released last week but disappointingly overlooked was jesca hoop's kismet, which will be reviewed here soon-ish. no matter what, if you're looking to empty your wallet this week, you won't be denied. if you need me, i'll be out shopping.

two gallants - "miss meri"
telephone jim jesus - "a mouth of fingers"
jesca hoop - "seed of wonder"

yeah yeah yeahs - the peel session, 8/22/02

in the course of doing research for another piece, i found a peel session the yeah yeah yeahs had recorded in 2002, one year after the release of their self-titled ep on touch & go, but before fever to tell. the four song session features three songs that would have then been new - "maps," "y control," and "tick," as well as "miles away."

yeah yeah yeahs -

"y control"
"miles away"

yeah yeah yeahs peel session 8/22/02

buy all the yeah yeah yeahs' albums at your finest local independent music retailer.

the shepherd's dog

the iron & wine sound has matured in the five years since our endless numbered days, and, honestly, how could we expect otherwise? forever restless, iron & wine continually reforge themselves in the crucible of sam beam's imagination, and even the two eps they have dangled before us since 2002 - woman king, their first foray with an electric guitar, and in the reins, an impressive, collaborative rethinking of some of iron & wine's oldest tunes - only began to hint at what was to come on the shepherd's dog, their third full-length. on this album, sam beam, the man who traffics under the iron & wine moniker, whose musical growth mimics that of his named medium, has matured beyond all expectations. as with wine, beam's flavors and sub-flavors have developed shades and tones, untasted at first blush. from the rough peasant red of the creek drank the cradle, burning the throat with its coarse beauty, to the marvelously aged shepherd's dog, striking the palate with a multitude of textures, it is clear that beam's time in the cellar has produced a work with unparalleled depth and complexity.

with an artist like iron & wine, whose musical maturation is evident at every stage of his recorded career, a listener's initial tendency is to compare and contrast his releases, an impulse that must be suppressed. each time sam beam consents to putting his songs on wax, iron & wine is reinvented, reshaped to the point of nearly being unrecognizable. wistfulness for the iron & wine of yore - the fireside hymns of the creek drank the cradle, the fastidious empathy of our endless numbered days, or even for the militant order of woman king - such longing does the shepherd's dog, and iron & wine, a great disservice. to plumb this album's depths, listen to it as if in a vacuum, devoid of context, with a blank slate mind, and focus on how iron & wine sound right now.

how iron & wine sound right now is pretty damn good. the shepherd's dog starts on sure footing with the lilting "pagan angel and a borrowed car," heavy on the harmonies, fiddle, mandolin, piano, marimba, and god knows what else, instantly displaying iron & wine's enthusiasm and energy. as ever, each song is immaculately arranged and orchestrated; though beam remains the crux of the band, laying down his deceptively simple sounding melodies and whispering his woes in our ears, he is joined by an exceedingly diverse collection of musicians. what all the instruments are, i can't say - all i know is that his friends (and ex-collaborators) calexico join him at least on "wolves (song of the shepherd's dog)," providing dub-esque inflections to beam's shifty and staccato melody. having long graduated from the stifling limitations of the folk-rock genre, beam flexes his songwriting muscle on the shepherd's dog, packing it with some of the finest songs he has penned thus far, dividing the album between anxious, bluesy jams like "the devil never sleeps," with its gaudy saloon piano, and the sitar-inflected "white tooth man," and delicate loveletters to melancholy: the reverbing lullaby "carousel" and "peace beneath the city," a down-home lament with a slow cello drawl. "boy with a coin," the album's first single, falls somewhere in between: a quick, hypnotic melody, backed by a handclap chorus that changes rhythm with the song's, lulling the listener into musical paralysis. the shepherd's dog closes with a waltz, a serene, humble song of simplicity and casual happiness that belies beam's overarching dissatisfaction and uncertainty. "flightless bird, american mouth" seems to resurrect, even if just for a few minutes, a ghost of americana, barnyard dances and girls with braided hair, ghosts that no longer haunt beam's lyrics.

sam beam has always been a master storyteller, metastasizing everyday incidents into profoundly raw and emotional vignettes of the human experience, capable of making our hearts ache for the tragedies of strangers. the characters of the shepherd's dog are his most human yet - flawed, suffering, and alone. this album speaks of ordinary heartbreak, of everyday tragedies that we have grown cold to - automobile accidents, absent fathers, unhappy marriages. yet through all these challenges, americans have kept their faith. inescapable in contemporary america - our president honors jesus as his greatest inspiration, having disdained our longstanding pledge to divorce church from state, while others, blinded by the limitations of two thousand year old words, blame homosexuals for inciting terrorism - but the faith that has inspired sam beam is of a humbler variety; the faith of mothers, praying for their sons at war, the hopes of boys whose fathers don't come home, the jealousy of brothers. "peace beneath the city," the album's penultimate song, is perhaps its most sorrowful, a song of wanting nothing more than a modicum of certainty about the future (or the present), a cry for assurance in a world where faith is not always enough. to create the desire for such a simple thing, iron & wine flesh out beam's quietly earnest lyrics with a languorous pedal steel, solitary handclaps, and the faint beats of a tabla, as beam mutters "black valley, peace beneath the city / where women tell the weather but the never ever tell you what they pray / they pray, 'give me a yellow brick road and a japanese car and benevolent change.'"

for the album's midpoint, "innocent bones," iron & wine do not abstract faith, but use it as a direct inspiration; here, cain and abel, born of the memory of our lost eden, are beam's protagonists. in "innocent bones," a gently lilting tune carried by sparse piano, a washboard, and beam's guitar, cain buys a knife and abel a bag of weed, and beam lays a bet that "if christ came back, he'd find us in a poker game." and while there are other direct references to christianity in "innocent bones" itself, the album as a whole generally focuses on unspoken faith, and what it has begat - american confusion. one track that highlights our national uncertainty is "the devil never sleeps," one of the most musically compelling songs on the album. upbeat with strong piano jazz and a tantalizing pedal steel in the background, flushed with energy and vigor, "the devil never sleeps" is still suffused with that tangible sense of feeling lost that muddles and confuses our everyday lives. one of its most telling lines succinctly captures our national nervousness: "all of us lost at the crosswalk waiting for the other to go / someone bet a dollar that my daddy wasn't coming home." as iron & wine is wont, the beauty of the shepherd's dog's arrangement beguiles the listener, tricking us into falsely believing that its lyrical message is as soothing as its sounds. "carousel," another standout track, entices and enchants, lulling us into a sweet stupor, even as beam sings "your grieving girls all died in their sleep / so the dogs all went unfed / a great dream of bones all piled on the bed."

after circulating for the internet equivalent of millennia, "boy with a coin" has become the ubiquitous face of the shepherd's dog, with good reason - it's a great song. but it's often difficult to tease out the meanings of songs when they arrive in an inbox devoid of context, which is how it came about that i didn't understand "boy with a coin" until i listened to the entire album. with my 20/20 of hindsight, i see now that the lyrics of "boy with a coin" are the heart of the shepherd's dog, the key that opens the lock of its meaning. the song's setting is in the debris of an automobile accident, "when god left the ground to circle the world," an idea that i believe explains the entire album. given iron & wine's history for favoring animals in his titles ("lion's mane," "the rooster moans," etc.), the shepherd's dog does not, at first glance, carry any larger meanings, any subtext that we need to read into. the portrait of a dog on the album's cover should confirm this assessment, as does "wolves (song of the shepherd's dog)" - the dog is merely an object of a song, the shepherd the same. but, while the shepherd's dog is definitely not a concept album, it does have hidden meanings, buried deep in its lyrical heart. through sophisticated use of metaphor and allegory, sam beam subtly, yet directly, challenges our modernity and our faith. the titular shepherd is no mean peasant, toiling in the hills - for beam has long outgrown any need for idyllic, pastoral metaphors - but none other than christ himself. despite the regular allusions to faith throughout the album, however, it is not about christ - it is about his dog. the dog is the essential instrument of the conventional shepherd, warding away wolves and other predators from the tender flock, too weak to protect itself and too dumb to do much else. but the dog must also direct the sheep, away from treacherous cliffs and unstable footings, guiding the flock to green pastures. the shepherd is the lord of the flock, able to decide its fate, but the dog is its true redeemer. if "god left the ground to circle the world," then maybe we cannot rely on the shepherd any longer. we must look for the dogs in our midst, guiding and protecting us, and put our faith in them, for only they can soothe our fears and show us the right path to follow, away from the precipice on which we are balanced.

iron & wine - "boy with a coin," "innocent bones"

buy the shepherd's dog from sub pop.

listen to the shepherd's dog streaming at iron & wine's myspace.

live iron & wine photos taken by gregory william wasserstrom and stephen dowling.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

my brightest diamond @ nice n' sleazy, 9/18/07

as much as i love bringing you guys the finest concert footage my camera can take, i decided on a different tack for tuesday's my brightest diamond show. i've been feeling a little trapped behind the lens, a little too consumed by getting the best possible pictures and not concentrating enough on the performance. so, since i'd been looking forward to a full set from my brightest diamond since march and i knew exactly how good it was going to be, i decided to leave my camera at home and let nothing get between me and the show. so, even though this review might be lacking a bit visually, i had a great time (and, honestly, the space didn't allow for much in the way of exciting photography anyway).

after my big hate-on of glasgow's abc, i was thrilled to not be going there for this show, and, luckily, nice n' sleazy turned out to not be that sleazy at all (just a little cramped). the show was in the basement, little more than a bar with a stage at the other end of the room, and the medium-sized crowd was able to just sit at the tables and take in the magic. blessed with clearly the best soundman in all of scotland (first time i haven't needed earplugs at a gig on this continent!), nice n' sleazy might just be the best venue in glasgow.

fresh from a set at the end of the road festival in dorset, shara worden (a.k.a. my brightest diamond) had gotten a new set of bandmates for her european tour, though they are traveling without a consistent support act. therefore, it was up to the promoter to tip an opening act, and they picked glaswegian singer/songwriter ross clark. the gig poster proudly heralded him as "bright eyes trapped in buddy holly's body," not the best way to curry mr. mammoth's favor (he doesn't like bright eyes, no sir). fortunately, we didn't see the poster until after the show, so i was able to digest clark's tunes without prejudice.

a clever performer, clark alternated between furious, violent strumming and delicate picking, retreating from the mic or venturing into the crowd, more engaging than many singer/songwriters dare to be. he does look like buddy holly, with bushy hair and black plastic frames, the ends of strings protruding dangerously from the head of his guitar, but neither he nor bright eyes are clark's closest musical comrade. the name that first came to my mind when clark began to sing was eef barzelay, the thin-voiced apocalyptic frontman of clem snide. while clark's voice is less nasal and deeper, both barzelay (who hails from nashville) and the glaswegian have an audible drawl that makes any hearer listen a little closer, intrigued from the first without being able to recognize why. clark ambled through a selection of songs from his debut ep anthems in clams, enjoying his turn on stage in front of a friendly crowd (as in, a crowd with lots of his friends in it).

clark's greatest asset is not his songwriting - while more accomplished than most garden variety singer/songwriters, he is no virtuoso - but his lyricism, displaying age and wit that belie his fresh-faced appearance. my knowledge of his song titles extend only to the songs streaming on his myspace and "soul girl," a new song he introduced during the set, so i am unable to really cite the highlights of his performance, but one lyric of his closing song was so good that i had to scribble it down: clark sang "1, 2, 3, 4" acapella and we thought it was just a countoff, until he belted "i declare a thumb war!" at the top of his lungs, reducing the room to involuntary laughter. his phrasing, in particular, is unique, premeditated stream-of-consciousness lyrics that rarely revolved around a chorus. while impressive, his verbosity occasionally made songs drag, especially "anthems in clams," which already stretches past the five minute mark. as a backdrop for his musings, however, his music fit very well indeed. too competent to be raw, yet too honest to sound refined, clark rarely let his guitar take center stage, but when it did, he made sure it was with a flourish.

playing to a hometown crowd of friends, ross clark was at ease and gave a solid set as an opener. though sometimes burdened by his unwieldy verses and lack of choruses, plaintive but never plain, it is obvious that ross clark is not an ordinary singer/songwriter.

my brightest diamond's 2006 debut, bring me the workhorse, was one of my favorite albums of the year, the lines between rock, opera, and classical music blurred till invisible, caressed by shara worden's preternatural vocals and dynamic song structuring. another reason i enjoyed it so much was that it left you wanting; the restraint in worden's voice and arrangements made you ache for more, but by not blowing the proverbial load on the album, my brightest diamond was virtually assured of a expectant live audience, waiting for the volume and exhilaration buried inside bring me the workhorse. i had been waiting months to see my brightest diamond headline, and, on tuesday night, they gave me nearly everything i had hoped for (but, sadly, not "freak out").

the crowd at nice n' sleazy was awfully quiet tuesday night, so much so that worden remarked on it herself. yet neither i nor anyone else felt the need to speak, to break the magic - and magic is exactly what my brightest diamond sounds like. the adjectives we've seen to describe worden's music ("mystical," "ethereal," "dark," "tender," and by far the most common, "operatic") all do her credit, but none can do her sound justice. my brightest diamond is all of these things, but its greatest quality is in worden's ability to cast very real spells over her listeners. as we sat in the half-light, watching worden wail - her voice resonating with a power her small frame disguises - the magic of my brightest diamond finally, truly became physical.

search for "my brightest diamond live" on google or the hype machine, and one thing instantly becomes clear - shara worden loves covers. each of her performances seems to contain at least one cover, yet it never seems to be the same one twice. for the show on tuesday, we heard only one - "it's over" by roy orbison. worden gave the song an uncharacteristically long preamable, a meandering story about how distressing it would be to, in preparation for a country dance with a significant other, have purchased a spiffy tie or dress, only to have said significant other dump you prior to the dance, yet, because of the purchase of additionally said fashionable item, you decide to go to the dance alone, only to hear "it's over" played as soon as you walk in the door - the joke is that "it's over" opening lyrics are "your baby doesn't love you," - though by the time my brightest diamond got the punchline, most of the crowd was so confused that we didn't realize we were supposed to laugh (if you thought my condensed version was hard, trying to figure it out on the fly was much more of a challenge). yet aside from small, between-song blips like that, however, mbd's set was flawless, and, gratifyingly, very relaxed.

my brightest diamond obviously felt at ease, and worden accordingly cracked jokes, had a dance-off with her bassist, and remained unfazed even when one of her strings snapped mid-song. the only thing that gave her pause was the glaswegian language barrier, as an over-appreciative crowd member yelled that he liked the drummer's work in rapeman - an ambitious statement, considering rapeman hasn't been around for nearly twenty years. for worden, however, the claim was lost in translation, and so the heckler's yell was the only real hitch in an otherwise flawless show.

my brightest diamond's set opened with a stunning version of "golden star," one of bring me the workhorse's best songs, and its dark beauty set the tone for the whole show. aside from the cover, "riding horses," a song worden originally recorded as awry, and one new song ("inside a boy"), mbd's set came entirely from their full-length, including a spine-tingling version of "we were sparkling," complete with music box. "disappear" was another set highlight, worden's smoldering voice almost melting with suspense and romance. we heard a gorgeous version of "magic rabbit," my favorite mbd song, so haunting that the hair on the back of my neck stood up. like dorothy boyd, my brightest diamond had us from the moment they walked onstage. after their thunderous conclusion of "workhorse," we remained stunned, by what we had just seen, not knowing whether to clap for an encore or to savor the spell that had just been broken.

while worden has made no formal statement about a new my brightest diamond album, it seems clear that there will be one from all the new songs they have played over the past several months. they are midway through a european tour that concludes on october 5, and are starting a north american one in november. i will certainly be seeing them again on nov. 17 in new york - i wouldn't miss it for the world.

listen to a session with shara worden on mpr's the current here.

my brightest diamond - "workhorse." buy bring me the workhorse here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

the go! team & caribou @ abc, 9/14/07

well, this has just been the week for supercharged schoolyard funk and neo-psychedelic melodic effervescence, hasn't it? the week was bookended by two caribou sets, one as a headliner in a small club in glasgow, and the other as an opener in one of the biggest clubs in glasgow, and the release of the go! team's sophomore proof of youth, and a set as a headliner in one of the biggest clubs in glasgow. overkill much? ...perhaps.

abc is not only one of glasgow's biggest clubs, but also one of its most prestigious. it has two spaces, abc 1 and abc 2, where some of the finest names in independent rock have played - i myself have been three times, and saw the decemberists w. two gallants, slint, and the go! team w. caribou. tearknee has has seen the decemberists, guillemots, and art brut. definitely a respectable list. but for all that, abc is a pretty shitty venue. abc 1, that is. abc 2 is great, a tiny little shack of a room with a short ceiling and comfortable stage, a space that doesn't murder your ears or make the band feel like its drowning. tearknee and i agree that the best shows we've seen at abc have been at abc 2. abc 1 is another story entirely.

abc is quite proud of their main space, which holds up to 1250 people and features what they call "the best in house lighting and sound systems of any similarly sized venue in europe." well, if that is the case, then whoever is operating said light and sound is an idiot. besides being crushingly loud, abc 1 has the laziest and least-flattering lighting i have ever seen. you might think i'm being a little obsessive about lighting, but i have a reason: in my non-mammoth life, i'm a theatre tech and lighting designer, so i do know a bit about how lighting works. however, whoever does it for abc clearly doesn't. less than one week before the show, caribou headlined a show at the arches, a small space (the room we were in was max capacity 120), yet the lights were excellent, not only for caribou, but for their opener as well, an extremely unknown local artist. yet abc 1 couldn't be bothered to show even the basest courtesy to caribou, drowning them in hideous pink/blue light for the entirety of their set - all 40 minutes, saturated in repulsive light. i felt sincerely ashamed for caribou, but the indignity of their set didn't end there. you might recall how much i liked caribou's visuals when i saw them on monday, how fluidly they became an essential part of the show. despite the presence of an enormous screen behind the band, there were to be no caribou graphics - that honor was reserved for the go! team, and only the go! team. needless to say, that was extremely disappointing for me, who had seen how impressive caribou was in the right space, and just a tragedy for the rest of the crowd who missed out on their great multimedia display. too bad that wasn't the last of abc's sins.

abc is the type of venue that has club nights after live gigs, and insist that said gigs must be out by 10 pm, so their security literally kicks you out the door when the show is over. so, in their great wisdom, they deemed it a good idea for caribou to go on at 7.45, when doors had been at 7 pm. last time i had been to abc, we had arrived when doors opened, and waited over an hour for the opener, so we thought it was safe to do the same this time. not only did we arrive late to caribou's set, we missed the whole set of the first opener, the suzan. i suppose it was foolish of me to expect doors to be an hour before the show started (disregarding, of course, the fact that such is the practice of hundreds of venues), but i was not alone in my assumption. abc 1 was nearly empty when we arrived, as late as we were, but had at least quintupled in size by the time the go! team went on at 8.50. i assume the idea behind having caribou (a headliner in their own right) open for the go! team was to create excitement and buzz about caribou, who are relatively unknown compared to the go! team. yet by putting them on so early, abc swiftly defeated that goal, simply because so few people had arrived to hear their set. in addition, caribou is not a band i would normally associate with the younger crowd (there's a reason the arches show was 21+, after all), yet the promoter felt that caribou would be an appropriate opener at an underage show. it didn't really work out well.

deprived of their immaculate visuals, cursed with a lazy, colorblind light operator, and pushed on far too early to a meager, young crowd, caribou's performance reflected the clear obliviousness and lack of respect abc offered them. and though their set lacked the vibrancy and enthusiasm that monday's had, the blame for these shortcomings lies entirely at abc's feet. robbing caribou of anything approaching a regular stage presence, abc literally murdered any chance that caribou had at performing well. in a proper space with a proper crowd, caribou is excellent. on friday night, caribou was a victim.

the disgraceful way abc had treated caribou left me with a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach for the rest of the evening. even the strutting confidence and boundless enthusiasm of the go! team couldn't right that wrong. but it did cheer me up a whole lot.

hurtling on to abc 1's ginormous stage (seriously - you could put the whole polyphonic spree on stage and still find space for a good jackie chan fight), the go! team were psyched, pumped, and ready for action - unfortunately, the crowd wasn't. it took at least four songs for the team to get the crowd moving, in spite of ninja's constant entreaties to sing, dance, or visibly enjoy the music. in fact, despite front-loading their set with some of their best/most famous songs, the crowd seemed stiff and generally unresponsive to the go! team's charms at least until the set's midpoint. rattling through material drawn from both thunder, lightning, strike and proof of youth - including a detour to "a version of myself," a b-side from the new album, the go! team overpowered the crowd's initial standoffishness and had me worried about the integrity of abc's flooring by the show's end.

that's not to say that their set was without fault. as they had with caribou, abc 1 proved itself to be without a competent soundman or light operator, botching the team's mix and refusing to give them anything remotely approaching front light. ninja was nearly unintelligible throughout the show, while their piped-in samples often drowned out the live instrumentation - often, the only clear sound was that of ian parton's harmonica, which he played with hugely satisfying enthusiasm (how often do you see someone headbang with a harmonica in their face?). the lack of front light (and tired use of the same yellow light program in the back) meant that the go! team was only marginally illuminated, bathed in light similar to that which had so ruined caribou's set. the blue tinge infected the entire stage, a shade so boring and nauseous that it nearly ruined the show, not to mention the go! team's carefully assembled visual display. backed by a screen taller than my ceiling, the go! team's projections varied from the bizarre to the mundane, sometimes thematic (like monkeys riding bicycles) but generally not, and were always entertaining.

on the whole, the go! team were great, throwing themselves into the performance and firing up a mostly dead crowd to one that screamed itself hoarse and danced till it got stitches. their set was played at breakneck speed, racing from the mostly instrumental "flashlight fight" (sans chuck d) to the set ending "titanic vandalism," though the crowd was most excited for the final encore, "ladyflash." as always, one of the best parts of the show was ninja' inspired dance moves, ranging from the athletic to the laughable, and, while her repertoire seemed inexhaustible, she kept asking the crowd for some new moves for this tour, and they seemed happy to oblige (at least by the end of the set). i'm looking forward to their show at potterow in a week, where they (hopefully) won't be plagued by bad lighting and terrible sound.

caribou - "melody day"

the go! team - "huddle formation"

Thursday, September 13, 2007

they don't mention the black knight though...

do you remember i'm from barcelona? they were this huge, sprawling band actually from sweden that played joyful, twee tunes that made you happy and want to skip around with flowers in your hair...i'm sure you must have heard of them, they were really popular like last month! well, you know how time flies in the blogosphere, here one minute, gone the next. here's the band that i guarantee will replace their swedish charms in your heart: tournaments. yup. they don't even have an album yet. that's how cutting edge mr. mammoth is. we bring you the unsigned shit.

tournaments may only be a five-piece, but they give i'm from barcelona a run for their melodic money nonetheless (anyway, no one can actually hear all of the 29 instruments). fronted by acoustic guitarman gethin pearson, tournaments plays what can only be described as sweet-rock, gentle and repetitive melodies with violin embellishments that lift hearts and make faces smile. "boldest of colours," the best track streaming on their myspace, is delicate and spacious, and seems to find, as with a divining rod, the quickest way to cheerfulness. pearson's voice hovers over the music, propelling it and encouraging it, and "boldest of colours" comes to far too early of a conclusion at just over three minutes. tournaments also have a live video available for viewing, of a song entitled "message deleted." revolving around the oft-repeated chorus "yeah, i really really really really (really) wanna get close to you," the song is nothing but cheerful, with bouncy interplay between the organ and drums, and the violin soaring above it all, and pearson almost screaming - not with joy, not with despair, but just with energy.

tournaments isn't one-sided, though - it's not all major chords and chocolate drops for these five. "lone sailor," another streaming track, is longing, with an expansive violin and a much more stripped down feel (no i'm from barcelona references here). "turn and run," their final demo on myspace, is somewhere in between the others. it doesn't burst with energy and happiness, but isn't mopey or lonesome. it still has perky melodies, but tinged with a little more anxiety. these tracks are just demos, and i'm expectantly waiting for an LP and record deal from these guys. keep an eye out.

tournaments - "message deleted"

worth spendin' money on, volume the fourth!

in spite of the shockingly low rating it received from pitchfork earlier in the week, music is rallying this week around the mother of all pointless showdowns - 50 cent's curtis versus kanye west's graduation (apparently, kenny chesney is also a contender). i'm actually stunned at the extent that this has taken over, even making headlines in the associated press. what about the independent albums that have been released? even the usually reliable largehearted boy only gives a handful of 9/11 releases, completely skipping over figurines, simian mobile disco, and what is undoubtedly this week's best album, proof of youth by the go! team. here are my thoughts on the media's collective ignorance of this album: what. the. fuck. here's what they missed: the jump-kick-to-the-face return of the one of the most original bands around.

as with their debut thunder, lightning, strike, the go! team's second album is packing heat - proof of youth is filled with roundhouse punches, car chases, and all the pg-13 violence you can fit in your headphones. after their triumphant explosion into the scene in 2004, the go! team went from being a kitchen recording project to an internationally known headlining band. in order for this to happen, creator ian parton had to find some bandmates. well, the sextet spent some time together on the road, had deep & meaningful discussions, and rocked some parties. then they decided it was time for a new album. but this album would be different, sort of. it would still be as spastic as a yuppie after doing blow in a bathroom, it would be still have crazy funk samples from the 1970s, and it would definitely still make even the most frigid hipster aesthete dance uncontrollably. the big difference? this time, the whole band was invited to the studio. what they came up with, basically, is thunder, lightning, strike: part deux, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

the go! team obviously had one hell of an off-season in recording proof of youth. the album literally crackles - with energy as well as with their endearingly lo-fi, over the top production. proof of youth is 36 short minutes of aural ecstasy, from the opening track (and first single), "grip like a vice" to "patricia's moving picture," a sunny, sample-heavy bon voyage. both "grip like a vice" and "doing it right" sound like singles, and, appropriately, they are. but they aren't proof of youth's best tracks, and you have to dig a little into the meat of the album to find those.

it is generally rare that an album's middle tracks are its best; most albums are top-heavy, packing their best songs into the first ten or fifteen minutes, so you don't realize it's not that good until too late. not so with proof of youth. the album takes off with its fourth cut, "titanic vandalism," a cheer-led funky bass adventure, complete with ninja's requisite demanding "are you ready for more?," to which we can only reply "OH GOD YES! MORE MORE MORE!," while dancing spastically, oblivious to the staring passerbys and baffled policemen (it was a mistake to listen to proof of youth walking to the grocery, i admit it.). "keys of the city" is unmistakably the best cut on the album, three minutes of aural crack. it opens with a rather complacent guitar riff, introducing the jump rope chants of the double dutch divas, before launching into a exultant horn breakdown. the high speed chanting plays best as an instrument, a counterpoint to the angular guitar that reminds you of the best routines of bring it on, sans kirsten dunst and eliza dushku, and avec a bad ass marching band. "the wrath of marcie" is another excellent track, featuring new guitarist kaori tsuchida on backup vocals, an essential melodic counterpoint to ninja's verses. filled with the high-energy horns and clatter of drums that we expect, "the wrath of marcie" is fulfilling in the sense that it makes you want to dance as much as the go! team's other songs, doing exactly what it is meant to.

there's been a lot of noise made about the go! team's chosen collaborators for proof of youth, (including marina ribtaski from bonde do role, the rappers' delight club, and the aforementioned double dutch divas) with the consensus that, except for chuck d's raps on "flashlight fight," they don't really matter. well, they need to get themselves some hearing aids (or study the press material a little more closely). my money says that most reviewers couldn't actually distinguish which tracks the non-chuck d guests were on, and therefore declared their contributions null and void. mid-album cut "universal speech" clearly benefits from ribatski's vocal contributions, as well as the happy-go-lucky elementary school raps of the rappers' delight club (i heard that, and i don't even HAVE press materials.). i guess you do have to listen a bit closely to hear the difference between ninja and ribatski or a bunch of 8 year olds spitting verses... even if some of the go! team's collaborators on proof of youth occasionally get lost in the mix, we should still reflect for a moment - they got chuck fucking d to do a guest spot on what is unmistakably an indie rock album. how bout some fucking props for that? and "flashlight fight" is a great track as well - if the go! team may have buried their other collaborators too deep, "flashlight fight" holds back just the right amount, giving chuck d the perfect amount of room to spit over blaring horns, paranoid sirens, and "gonna fly now" progression.

for all of the criticism it has received, proof of youth is essentially a simple album by a simple band. the go! team aren't necessarily interested in artistic progression and maturing their sound - they want to send listeners into a frenzy, and that's exactly what they do. we don't need to critically analyze how little they've changed since 2004. what we need to do is remember why they make the music they do, and why we listen to it - because it's enjoyable. let loose a little. turn off the interpol. put on your dancing shoes and kick it with the go! team. you can always be young enough to dance - all you need to do is prove it.

the go! team - "doing it right," "keys to the city."

buy proof of youth from sub pop or memphis industries.

Monday, September 10, 2007

caribou @ the arches, 9/9/07

i went to the caribou gig monday night with as much of an open mind as i could muster, but the evening seemed destined for disaster from the start. my worries were five-fold, from the mundane (are they going to play any old stuff?) to the practical (will it end in time for us to catch the last bus back to edinburgh?). in addition, try as i might, i hadn't been able to find out who the opener was (or how many there were), and the man who sold me the tickets that morning has cautioned that he had sold only ten others. i had nightmarish visions of caribou storming off the stage in disgust as the twenty person crowd looked on, dismayed. this lack of sales was no doubt compounded by caribou's epic tour odyssey, which brings them back to glasgow next friday to open for the go! team. so, when we arrived to learn that the opener (still unnamed) would be going on at either 8.30 or 9.15 and that the crowd, while more than twenty, wasn't all that much more than twenty, my fears for the worst became my expectations of the same.

fortunately, i was completely wrong. the last time i had been so happy to be wrong was when i thought i was going to fail my p.e. class and not graduate (i passed, and graduated). the opener turned out to be a lovely guy, graeme j. d. ronald, who performs under the name remember remember; the crowd swelled, and while it was by no means a sold out show, we were enthusiastic and appreciative; caribou played a great deal of old stuff; and i started writing this review on the horrible and bumpy bus ride back to edinburgh. so i was 0-for-4 with the worries, and i couldn't be happier about it.

i'd never heard 0f remember remember before last night, but you better believe i'll be paying some close attention from now on. his two-and-a-half song set, lasting close to twenty minutes, was definitely not enough. clearly somewhat frightened and stage-shy, remember remember nonetheless kept his crowd silent and standing stock-still as he showed us how to play beautiful music with children's toys, all by yourself. all you need is a wind-up monkey, a pair of scissors, some off-and-then-on tempo handclaps, and seven or eight looping pedals.

the one man band gimmick is quite popular nowadays, from stoner heartthrob keller williams to hipster (and mr. mammoth) darling owen pallett, not to mention daniel snaith himself. while performing as a one man band isn't always the easiest thing (thus caribou's four man live act), remember remember pulled it off like it was no thing. instead of merely creating a part for each instrument in a band's regular arsenal (guitar, bass, drums, etc.), remember remember proved that we were going to be treated to something special when the first sound he looped was the "plunk" of a coin being dropped into a glass of water. toy instruments are all the rage right about now, and remember remember followed the trend, filling his table with eight or ten little noisemakers and a child's xylophone. the xylophone was often remember remember's main melodic device, and he crafted these melodies by playing several short phrases and layering them on top of each other. his only traditional instrument was a guitar which he played in the same fashion, which was absolutely spellbinding. usually an opening act can't buy the audience's silence, but the arches was respectful and attentive throughout his set, enraptured by his delicate and hypnotic music.

one reason i was so enchanted by remember remember was his imaginative musical use of household hardware. using, in succession, a tape measure, clear tape, and a pair of safety scissors, on top of his abstracted guitar picking and ringing xylophone notes, remember remember's soundsmithing was something to behold. without a label and seemingly based exclusively in glasgow, it looks unlikely that remember remember will be able to break anytime soon, but the charisma of the four tracks available for download on his myspace is so apparent that any forward thinking label should want to snap him up right away. hopefully we'll be hearing much more from remember remember very soon.

however soothed and happy i felt during remember remember's set, it quickly was replaced by anxiety as daniel snaith and the touring members of caribou took the stage. a regular reader of this blog will remember how disappointed i had been by andorra, and as a result, of all the fears i had had for this show, the greatest was that we weren't going to hear any old songs. and, for the first couple songs, that seemed to be the case. the set opened with "sandy" and "after hours," which, despite being some of andorra's best songs, are, in fact, cuts from andorra and not up in flames (caribou's best work). i grew trepidatious. however, in the middle of "sandy," i began to come to a realization, one that i only fully reached during caribou's second song, and it was this: live caribou isn't the same as studio caribou. a dazzling feat of deduction, i know. whereas snaith must work like any one man band in the studio, carefully layering looped sounds on top of each other, the exhilaration of a full band - guitar, bass, drums, not to mention snaith's own kit, keyboard, and array of glitchy toys - transfigures the caribou sound entirely.

whether limited by the equipment available or freed from its restraints, live caribou very nearly sounds organic. the heavy reliance on the quirky electro-squeals of caribou's studio work is replaced with dueling drums (in perfect unison), a heavily distorted mic, and an occasional flourish from one of snaith's gadgets. all of their songs, not just the andorran variety, sounded fresh and reimagined, even if it hadn't been necessary. the unexpected vibrancy of the caribou sound in situ ensured that all their songs sounded new and familiar at the same time. when all was said and done, caribou performed more older songs than new ones, not only putting that fear to rest but playing almost everything i wanted to hear (where was the lord leopard?). and even though i knew the songs they played, from "skunks" to "eli" to the penultimate climax of "twins -> bees," the aural difference between live and studio caribou kept the songs even more exciting than they had been before.

this show had a lot of high points, and they weren't just from the songs. as thrilling as their rendition of "barnowl" that was more of a drum-off was, what made caribou's set so exciting was the actual content and performance. with so many concerts, i find that i get the most enjoyment from hearing my favorite songs played. but the changes in the caribou sound meant that i couldn't hear the distorted harmonies in "crayon," the set-ender, or that "melody day" lost some of its recorded charm, leaving me occasionally stranded in the middle of songs. but this was reconcilable. i found my greatest pleasure in watching snaith's feet pump up and down on the pedals of his drum kit, the tinkle of "crayon"'s xylophone, in the sheer aural assault of the two drums playing at once. i did, of course, enjoy the songs, and was visibly cheered when caribou launched into "every time she turns round it's her birthday" as their encore, but watching the performance was just as exciting as listening to it, something i definitely hadn't been expecting from a psychedelic glitch-pop outfit. even a song like "she's the one," which sounds tired and trite on andorra, sounded good with the addition of a new guitar part.

as much as i dig the sound of caribou in my headphones, a live caribou is just as rewarding, not only aurally, but visually as well. i had known that caribou traveled with their own projector and visuals, but had somehow assumed that they would be similar to the marino videos, quirky visual epithets that use the songs as a departure point, not a plot element. well, we weren't treated to any animation or stop-action filming; what we got instead was a barrage of colors and shapes that flickered, mutated, and changed in time with the music. this might be small potatoes if the songs were performed just as they were recorded, but they weren't. while caribou obviously couldn't indulge in any live improvisation, many songs were longer and more intense than their recorded counterparts, yet the visuals were in time here as well, clearly displaying the fact that caribou had spent some serious hours in the a/v studio.

so, do i prefer live caribou to the recordings i've come to know and love? no. there will always be something unique about specific albums and their personal, emotional meanings that a live performance could never replace. but caribou's show monday evening was still something special. the visuals, the drumming, the excitement of not knowing exactly how songs you love will end up sounding - these elements all contributed to the quality of the show. but the best part of it for me was enjoying it so much that i put down my camera so i could just listen. that doesn't happen very often, especially now that i take this blogging stuff so seriously, and the fact that i turned it off and stowed it in my pocket says something about how good it was.

buy all of your great caribou stuff here. catch them on tour from now until pretty much forever.

caribou - "barnowl"

"melody day"

Sunday, September 9, 2007

straight reppin' agatha christie

wielding a solid gold endorsement from stuart murdoch on a myspace page is a good way to get attention, especially when your music consists of articulate and endearing harmonies sung over crisp and focused guitar lines. nyc quartet murder mystery, however, isn't really interested in duplicating belle & sebastian's neo-folk charms eschewing winsome songs about young men with obscure sexual devices or recent catchers for the new york mets; instead, they write slick guitar pop anchored in a sound developed long before there was "neo-" anything. having already attracted a good deal of attention with their impressively titled debut album, are you ready for the heartache cause here it comes, murder mystery is getting ready to woo the world.

the four-piece is fronted by jeremy coleman (his sister laura hits the sticks), whose axe-wielding skills are apparent from the first riff of album opener "who doesn't want to give me love?" indeed, murder mystery's melodies are their greatest asset, borrowing heavily from television's model of subtle virtuosity and battling guitars in order to craft three-minute pop gems. already accumulating accolades from an array of critics, are you ready clocks in at just a tad over thirty minutes, twelve tracks deep, with flair to spare.

despite its ungainly title, are you ready for the heartache cause here it comes is a tight piece of work. coleman's lyrics tend to err on dime-a-dozen side, but you wouldn't bother writing home about his deadpan delivery anyway. where the band really shines is in their melodies. on "think of me," one of the album's finest tracks, murder mystery adopts a rockabilly feel, aiming for the jugular with a mid-song solo that invites the listener to imagine coleman hotdogging it across the stage to a roar of applause. "love astronaut," another standout cut, unique (on the album) for its use of a synthy new wave loop, is nonetheless firmly in the murder mystery mold with pointed guitars and a necessary measure of cutesy key changes. are you ready for the heartache cause here it comes is surprisingly multi-faceted, showing a great willingness to assimilate the best features of a variety of styles. while primarily grounded in their skillful interweaving of guitar lines, murder mystery is no one-trick pony. blending myriad approaches while maintaining their overarching commitment to pop, are you ready for the heartache cause here it comes is a solid debut album - not genre-busting or revolutionary, but satisfying nonetheless.

murder mystery - "think of me," "love astronaut."

Friday, September 7, 2007

the twilight sad @ cabaret voltaire, 9/4/07

what could it possibly be about glasgow that leads to its musically inclined youth to wave the moody banner of post-rock gloom? who knows, but those glaswegians certainly love their post-rock. two of the greatest post-rock bands around hail from that rainy city on the west coast, and the twilight sad are making their bid to become the third. well-known in the united states, thanks to ever-diligent bloggers, the twilight sad are still mostly unknown at home, despite the critical success of their full length debut, fourteen autumns and fifteen winters. therefore, it was surprising that they sold cabaret voltaire nearly to capacity earlier this week, which prompted lead singer james graham to remark that he was shocked so many people had shown up. unfazed by the crowd, the twilight sad aurally assaulted us for nearly fifty minutes without an encore, and it says something that they didn't need one.

if you've never been to cabaret voltaire (a fair bet), there are a few things you should know about it. first of all, it's a cellar. cramped, squat, and ill-designed to be a rock club, cab vol still enjoys some of the best shows from breakout artists passing through edinburgh. second of all, it's fucking deafening. studio b at least has an excuse for the volume; it's built to hold about four times as many people. cabaret voltaire just wants to make your ears bleed. hoping to leave without tinnitus, tearknee and i stuffed tissue paper in our ears, but we still heard the noise, loud and clear. the main downside of the volume (besides the damage) was that it blurred our senses - we were unable to distinguish instruments from noise.

the twilight sad is currently on tour around britain with frightened rabbit, fellow glaswegians who follow a little more in the steps of that other famous glasgow band, though they make sure to spice up their sound with a bit of that post-rock goodness, as befits any decent fatcat signee. though the volume ruined any possible nuances in the frightened rabbit sound, their straightforward, two-guitar-and-no-bass misery pop was rewarding and honest (and very scottish). the pop cop has an in-depth interview with scott and grant hutchison, the songwriter and drummer respectively, which showcases frightened rabbit's desire to write cheerful pop ditties with abject lyrics. they made some noise down at sxsw earlier this year, and are steadily growing as a band, with news about their fat cat debut and several festival appearances (including connect) fueling the flame. their appearance tuesday night certainly caught my attention. while they could do little to break the semi-circle of space uncertain crowds give to unknown bands, they played with visible energy and enthusiasm.

frightened rabbit's recorded songs rely heavily on sound layering, but they stuck to their guitars (eschewing keyboards, among other studio instruments) for the live act with no audible downside - if anything, their rawer sound was more appealing in such a small space. grant's drumming was distinct without being overpowering, seamlessly alternating between broad, intense swathes of melody and broody, introspective verses as his brother whispered and wailed into the mic. frightened rabbit sounded good, though blistering noise disguises all evils. they did their job well, though any opener in that cramped cellar suffers, and frightened rabbit were no exception. in a slightly larger space, or at least one with a better modulated volume, frightened rabbit could have easily won the room over. as it was, they showed promise and room for growth, and fatcat's re-release of their debut, sings the greys, should whet a number of appetites.

my main reason for checking the twilight sad out was to verify all the hype they've been generating, since the long-circulating mp3 of "that summer, at home i had become the invisible boy" hadn't really piqued my interest. their live show, however, had the most basic element missing from their record - volume. unlike frightened rabbit, the twilight sad was well served by the soundman's propensity for painful loudness, bringing their climaxes to ecstatic heights and dramatically highlighting the serenity of their more progressive moments. the volume did, however, have the side effect of burying graham's verses to the point of being nearly indistinguishable, so that his voice became an instrument and less of a counterpoint. musically, the songs were nearly exactly like their studio takes, with perfectly timed crescendos and orchestrated walls of sound - only once did the drummer have to face off with guitarist andy macfarlane to syncopate their next aural assault. however, there was an energy to their songs that the album lacks, a sort of recklessness that only comes with a live show that proves the twilight sad have more depth than fourteen autumns and fifteen winters displays.

as with all good post-rock bands, the twilight sad deal with polar opposites, and the effect that audible extremes have on the hearer. it says a great deal about the twilight sad that they can keep an audience's attention during the quiet bits, something even mogwai had a problem with at connect. graham's voice was laid bare during these sections, unsheltered by his bandmates' sweeping soundscapes, his thick accent contributing to its appeal. it is rare for accents to come across so strongly when sung, and, though graham's may have the flavor of the deliberate, it is still captivating and alluring. though he may be the speaking face of the twilight sad, it is not his voice that drives their songs - it merely adds to them. andy macfarlane, the twilight sad's guitarist, is clearly the mover and shaker in the band. he, with the rest of the band, remained stoic and unemotional during the gig, but his guitar clearly did his speaking. armed with at least eight different pedals, macfarlane launched ruinous waves of sound at us, sandwhiched between gentle melodies and epic distortion.

in retrospect, it seems odd that "that summer, at home..." was picked as fourteen autumns's first single, since, of all the songs the twilight sad played, it seemed to be one of the most lifeless. "and she would darken the memory," another 7", was much more violent and dramatic - on the whole, a better song. i would've paid a lot more attention to the twilight sad a long time ago if i'd heard that song first, with its anxious entrance and crushing conclusion. but even if i got to the party late, i'm glad i see the twilight sad's potential, even if it is clearest during their live performance. a bit of advice to the aspiring scotsmen - find a less polished producer next time. your sound needs more space to punish our ears, and fourteen autumns is much too restrained to do you justice.

see more twilight sad and frightened rabbit videos at my youtube page.

frightened rabbit - buy the single be less rude when it comes out on sept. 24 from fatcat, where you can stream it right now.

the twilight sad - buy fourteen autumns and fifteen winters from fatcat.

"and she would darken the memory"

"i'm taking the train home" (set closer)

Thursday, September 6, 2007

connect - sunday, 9/2/07

i needed four cups of tea to feel even remotely human sunday morning, as the mud and the stench of inveraray irrevocably became part of me, and i realized the cuffs of my carhartts weighed more than the rest of the fabric put together, just from the mud that was wetly wedged inside. previously, i had made the foolhardy decision to go without rubber boots (or "wellies," as the brits affectionately call them), and my shoes are still caked with mud, sitting in my hallway. fields that had been lush and green on friday were muddy minefields, and, bereft of insulating rubber goodness, i had to carefully pick my way through millions of boot treads en route to every stage. final numbers for connect show that over 16,000 tickets were sold, and at least three-quarters of that were to campers, so the festival was pretty damn packed. and while connect did have some pitfalls and blunders, for a first year festival, it was pleasantly arranged, well-apportioned (especially in the food department), and enjoyed the rare virtue of absolutely stunning surroundings, as befits the estate of the 13th duke of argyll. but we'll leave any talk about connect's grounds to our grounds post later this week. on to music!

the day opened, oddly enough, with patrick wolf, who had just come from electric picnic (along with about half of connect's lineup), playing a very early set at 12.45 (see nialler9 for electric picnic reviews). i've come to realize festivals can be funny things, with bands flying in and out for just a few songs, playing at most arbitrary times for no discernible reason. such must have been the case with patrick wolf, who was popular enough to make thousands rise from their sleeping bags for his half-hour time slot. he told the heaving crowd that he and his band were running on four hour's sleep, and warned us in advance that this show would be less frantic and exuberant than it regularly is. despite this handicap, wolf put on a lovely, sweet show, playing six songs, nearly all off the magic position. clad in a tartan blanket (more for fashion than protection), wolf's showmanship was muted - a concession, no doubt, to his lack of sleep and the earliness of the hour, but his performance was spot-on, and much too short.

we stuck around at the oyster stage for seasick steve, an american bluesman who now calls norway home, and enjoys much popularity on this side of the atlantic. virtually unknown in the united states, seasick attracted an even larger crowd than wolf, who charmed us with his homespun drawl, busted guitars, and mammoth beard. his past is littered with mishaps and adventures kerouac would be jealous of, including several stints as a busker. located in oakland at the beginning of the 1990s, seasick steve opened a recording studio that was visited by modest mouse, twice, to record their first albums. he released his solo debut dog house blues last year here in the uk, but he hasn't found a home in the us yet, sadly. his set was raucous and gritty, with more cursing than i heard from all the other acts put together, and dank, old-timey blues, the like of which we haven't heard since tommy johnson. no surprise to learn, then, that steve was taught guitar by one of johnson's bandmates. rocking out on three- and one-stringed guitars, as well as his "mississippi drum machine," a foot-operated thumping box. he told stories as well as sang songs, an all-around entertainer, who deserves a label in america and some well-earned respect.

we were so taken with seasick steve's set that we stayed until the end, then headed over to see the kissaway trail, the much-hyped danish sensation. with reviewers like nme making references to the flaming lips and arcade fire, we had high expectations. tearknee had seen them before and had liked them, but i found the comparisons, especially to the flaming lips, to be quite overstated. to be sure, songs like their single "smother + evil = hurt" are wide and expansive, but they rather miss out on the lips's joyousness. i don't know if the world needs another arcade fire soundalike, but check them out if that's your thing. it's not mine.

tilly & the wall were up next, and we stuck around mostly because tearknee was so taken with the idea of tap dancing percussion. their kitsch value had worn off for me about a minute and a half into bottoms of barrels, their sophomore effort released last year on moshi moshi, but there was nothing more exciting going on, so i tried to be as open-minded about their brand of folk pop as possible. when it was all said and sung, i was actually more impressed than tearknee - i thought their live show had much more relevance than their over-cutesy recordings - she, a former tap dancer herself, was woefully dismayed by tilly & the wall's dancer, who seemed to be merely a beginner (her tapping can be called basic at best). and while i enjoyed their frenetic indie folk, their enthusiasm and joy (and the fact that they are from the midwest), reminded me a little too much of overzealous young christians, proselytizing through music. on the other hand, their propensity to scream "fuck" at random intervals hints at a darker side to tilly & the wall. regardless, their performance was well-rehearsed, energetic, and, on the whole, fun. i don't like their music enough to want to see them again, but they were good entertainment in the middle of the afternoon.

after tilly, we hustled back to the oyster stage for the anti-folk princess, regina spektor. i had never heard her music before, and i will be the first to admit i don't actually know what anti-folk means, but wikipedia supplies this somewhat bulky definition: "in anti-folk, self-mockery and self-aggrandizement have somehow fused," which doesn't actually explain all that much. there wasn't much "self" in spektor's songs, but plenty of mockery. her song structures bend to her whim more than any conventional approach, an endearing and attractive (as well as unique) sound in contemporary songwriting. the crowd went wild as she strolled out on stage in her flower-print wellies and green dress, and barely stopped yelling their enthusiasm even in the middle of songs. performing songs from both soviet kitsch and begin to hope, spektor charmed the crowd on her grand piano and guitar, and her set ended far too soon. a lovely performer and innovative songwriter, she was one of my favo(u)rite discoveries at connect, to whom i will pay much more attention to in the future.

festivals have a way of really taking it out of you, whether from the incessant standing, indeterminable weather, or simple music overload. tearknee and i suffered serious fatigue after regina spektor, so we took a pass on m.i.a. (whom neither of us really care for anyway) to grab some food from the lovely circuses and bread tent, which featured only argyll produce. our next stop, then, was back to the guitars and other machines stage for the polyphonic spree, for whom i had deservedly high expectations after their epic performance at warsaw earlier this summer.

of all of the bands around these days, so many of which are truly amazing, the polyphonic spree are really in a class by themselves. even as absurdly large groups are becoming the fashion du jour, the 'spree remain unique both in their size and approach - two dozen members, including a choir, two keyboardists, and two drummers, playing music so exuberant in its recital that you can't help but leave their show feeling emotionally rejuvenated. even after three long days of standing and listening to music, the polyphonic spree filled me with a new energy and joyfulness. their performance was much as it had been at warsaw, though greatly condensed, yet it still came as a surprise when they launched into "the championship," their outro anthem, with ten minutes left in their time slot. my initial fear, that they would be as fickle as the hold steady were the day before, was ameliorated when they burst back on to the stage, clad in their white robes, to launch into the closest they could get to an encore, nirvana's "lithium" and "light and day." tearknee and i left their show filled with an indescribable happiness and optimism, the likes of which i have rarely before experienced. a polyphonic spree gig is good enough to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, yet the fact that they tour frequently should be cause for much rejoicing. imbuing their performances with an unparalleled level of sheer wonder and plain ecstasy, the polyphonic spree are simply one of the best live acts around today.

we walked away from the guitars and other machines stage for the last time in a fog of joy, on our way to the oyster stage for the rest of björk's set. this in itself was another blunder by connect: björk was sunday's erstwhile headliner, yet unlike fellow headliners beastie boys and primal scream, her set would not be ending the night (and, therefore, the festival); instead, her set started at 8 pm, forcing festival-goers to choose between her and the polyphonic spree. for some, this would seem to be no decision at all, and for us it wasn't - we saw the 'spree. we rushed over to catch the last half-hour of her set, and fought our way through the crowd as she sang "army of me." backed by a dj, a percussionist, a pianist, a harpsichordist, and a ten person brass band/choir, björk was in full control of the stage, even as she ran across it, her white dress and pink shawl flowing behind her, wailing into the microphone as the bass resonated over every other sound. i'm not a big björk person, so i didn't know most of the songs, but her stage presence alone is mesmerizing. like beastie boys, she really is a professional, with well-articulated designs, entrancing costumes, and an obvious love for performing, and her show, though obviously not unique, came off without any feeling of tiredness or repetition; it seemed as fresh for her and her band as it was for us, and even if the music wasn't always to my taste, she was really a joy to watch.

the act that closed connect for us was the one that i had been most looking forward to, the man that changed my mind about dance music, inspired me to write a (mostly) regular feature on excellent albums, the band that immediately stood out as my first choice in the entire connect lineup: lcd soundsystem. although i have been enjoying sound of silver for months, i had not yet had an opportunity to see the man in action, and had no idea what to expect. a drum kit and a turntable at most, i thought, and so was almost floored when an entire band appeared onstage, complete with guitar, bass, upright piano, a table of electronic gadgets, a kit, along with some extra drums, and, of course, james murphy. as scruffy as ever (i wonder how irregularly he shaves, so he can always have that two-day growth...), i was surprised to see him, sans instrument - apparently, when lcd performs live, he only rocks the mic.

lcd opened with "us v them," one of my favorite bangers from sound of silver, but it was lacking something. "daft punk is playing at my house," the next song, also lacked it. tearknee and i, after much post-show consultation, worked out what it was: enthusiasm. even as the (extremely) large crowd went wild, murphy and co. seemed lackluster at the beginning of their set, due to exhaustion, boredom, or disinterest, i don't know. but it poisoned their set from the start, a hurdle almost too large to overcome - even "north american scum," the song i identify with so much i made a shirt for it, was lifeless in their hands. which is not to say the songs were poorly executed or full of mistakes - it was the banal perfection of every note that alienated it, and turned it from a performance into a recital. though still somewhat mechanical, "all my friends" and "tribulations," their next two songs, showed promise, and lcd soundsystem transformed, in front of our eyes, from mere musicians to true performers, so that, once they moved into "yeah," they were just as excited about the show as we were.

"yeah" is where lcd soundsystem's set really came alive: fantastic during the song, which stretched on into epic dimensions, but truly disappointing as it was the end of their set. i was able to take a photo of their setlist after it was over, and was really upset that they'd skipped so many songs i wanted to hear, for no reason i can guess at. in my mind, there was never any doubt about what the encore would be, and i was gratified to hear "new york i love you" echoing off the castle behind us, but it was as if james murphy had reverted to his previous, unfeeling self - his crooning, so heartbreakingly true in the studio, sounded limp out here in scotland. there's no doubt in my mind that i would see lcd soundsystem again in a heartbeat, but it would be to disprove this performance, to quell the voice in my head that worries they aren't really that good. i hope this set was a fluke, because i want lcd soundsystem to be good, really i do.

and that was it. the end of connect, three days of mud, a bit of rain, good food, good music, and sleeping on hard ground. as hot chip played until midnight (another odd scheduling mix-up there, putting lcd soundsystem and hot chip on at the same time), tearknee and i headed back to our tent, ready for bed and excited about showering the next day. for its first year, connect went off with few hitches and virtually no hang-ups, and while there were some odd (foolish?) scheduling decisions made, i suppose that's all part and parcel of a festival, having to race off in the middle of one set to catch another. for what it's worth, i had a great time, and would happily go next year as well. enjoy the videos below.

patrick wolf - "the magic position"

seasick steve - "my donny"

the kissaway trail - "smother + evil = hurt"

tilly and the wall - "rainbows in the dark"

regina spektor - "poor little rich boy"

björk - "declare independence"

lcd soundsystem - "all my friends"