POP QUIZ! Where were you the last time you sang out loud? Doesn’t matter what song, doesn’t matter what volume… 3… 2… 1… PENCILS DOWN! I willing to guess a sizable percentage of you gave one of two answers — shower or car. There’s something about these two personal spaces that makes breaking out into song so tempting. And while the shower offers an excellent private sound stage with fantastic acoustics for belting out, you know, whatever, the car takes it to a whole ‘nuther level. You still have privacy, but you also have car stereo accompaniment, a volume knob for crankin’ when the spirit moves you, and a steering wheel for tapping or drumming or you know, whatever. In that sense, the car itself is like an instrument, and I have never in my entire life seen anyone “play the car” better than Leslie Feist did in her recent Black Cab Session. For some time, I’ve enjoyed how these automotive musical vignettes force artists into stripped-down versions of songs, giving a fresh perspective on the track’s basic structure and composition. Feist turns the tables on this idea, using voice, guitar, feet, the floor and even the ceiling to stage a truly fierce performance of “Undiscovered First” from her new album Metals. And as incredible as it is to watch her stomp her feet and slam the ceiling alongside her band mates, it’s just as gripping when you absorb the whole sonic landscape with your eyes closed. My immediate reaction after listening this way was that there has to be some sort of Grammy category that this session could dominate, like “Best Recording Made in a Moving Vehicle” or maybe “Best Use of Spontaneous Percussion.” While I’m busy petitioning the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, I recommend you watch the session once, listen once, and soak in the fierceness. Oh, and if you’re so inclined, listen to the album version of “Undiscovered First” below and buy Metals from iTunes here.
Feist — “Undiscovered First“
If you’ve been to a fair number of concerts, you may know this feeling: You’re at a show, you’re having fun, the band is playing great, but you can’t escape the notion that you’re seeing the same performance that the Navy kids in Norfolk saw two nights earlier, which was the same show that plaid-clad Portlanders saw two weeks before that, the guests of Hotel Boulderado two months before that, and so on. Often there’s nothing deficient about these shows, but there’s still an unmistakable and indelible portability to them. If you know this feeling, then I bet you know its polar opposite: The notion that you’re seeing something that cannot be replicated, something that will inspire jealousy in the people who couldn’t make it out that night. Friday at the Camel was one of those nights for me. In fact, the Camel seems to be a magnet for these one-of-a-kind shows. One of the most memorable concerts I’ve ever seen happened there this past April, when Justin Townes Earle put on an emotionally-charged post-rehab performance that was equal parts frightening and brilliant. Though it wasn’t frightening (thankfully), Friday’s Rosebuds show was definitely brilliant, full of moments that stand out in their uniqueness, and I won’t soon forget it. Moments like…
…Landis Wine and Jay Ward of White Laces performing “Calcutta.” Wine and Ward kicked off the show with a special acoustic opening set, and I felt very lucky to be there to see it — not just because it’s fun to see talented musicians showcase their flexibility (Wine embraced the “VH1 Storytellers”-esque vibe, relaying stories about the songs they strummed, and Ward seemed perfectly at ease with a guitar in his normally bass-laden hands, even busting out a mandolin for one song) — but also because we were treated to a harmony-splashed rendition of “Calcutta,” a track they covered for Love Me When I’m Gone: A Tribute to Ross Harman. It was a touching performance of a painfully beautiful song written by their late friend. You can listen to Harmon’s version here, and you can click here to contribute to a Kickstarter fund that’s raising money to have Harman’s music pressed to vinyl.
…Treesa Gold playing 1,243 notes in the span of 4 seconds (all numbers approximate). I liked Goldrush when I saw them at September’s RVA Music Fest, but I was standing too far away to fully appreciate some of the qualities I saw up close on Friday, like Matt Gold’s booming and brilliantly bowed double bass, Prabir Mehta’s swift guitar playing and pure frontman personality and Treesa Gold’s blindingly fast violin. I mean good lord, there were a lot of notes coming out of that violin. I’m pretty sure I looked like this for a while. The group offers songs that balance that type of complexity with fun and catchy melodies, many of which I could recognize right away from having heard them in September. I highly recommend a trip down YouTube lane to see and hear what I mean.
…someone in the crowd buying the Rosebuds shots. I didn’t know this until singer Ivan Howard mentioned it during their set, but Friday was the very last stop on the Rosebuds’ lengthy American tour. With a rear view mirror full of dates all over the country, some opening for Bon Iver, the Rosebuds seemed to be having a great time, and they sounded outstanding while they were doing it. The band paints such amazing pictures with their recorded music, and I’ve really enjoyed exploring their most recent record, Loud Planes Fly Low, so it was a thrill to see those pictures come to life in such vivid color and texture. There were so many moments to love — a captivating performance of “Cover Ears,” a Camel-wide singalong during “Nice Fox,” and, in what may have been my favorite episode of the evening, a good samaritan buying the band shots (I don’t know for sure what this person bought, but I heard someone say “Goldschläger,” which has to be the most hilarious shot to buy for a band), which they graciously knocked back and chased with a minute-long, improvised, bass-fueled jam. In those moments, the concert wasn’t just a concert — it also felt like the wrap party for a successful theater production, and I’m so glad to have made the trip to the Camel to help them celebrate. Check out the album version of “Cover Ears” below and click here to grab Loud Planes Fly Low on iTunes. Or, if you’re feeling frisky, head to your local record store, where you can buy the album from an actual, living, breathing human being who will be on your side of the Great Human-Robot War of 2034.
The Rosebuds — “Cover Ears“
In the good old days, before it was taken over by Groupon and Living Social, people used to use email for all sorts of things… checking in with friends (“Hey asshole, you still owe $50 for fantasy football.”), coordinating bachelorette parties (“I don’t want to do anything too crazy you guys, maybe just some wine tasting or a spa day and then I guess we can go out for a little later that night but NOTHING TOO CRAZY YOU GUYS FOR REAL”), even staying in touch with family (“Mom I need $50 for fantasy football can you send a check thanks love you bye”). Email also used to be one of my favorite ways to follow bands. I’ve always enjoyed Guster’s updates and studio journals, penned by drummer-who-could-very-well-be-a-writer Brian Rosenworcel (not to be confused with singer-who-wrote-a-really-cool-children’s-novel Colin Meloy of the Decemberists), but I haven’t kept up with email lists as much lately — especially since so many seem like they’re coming directly from record companies, sporting rich HTML and graphics, and don’t come close to fostering a one-on-one connection with the artist. I’m happy to say that Lianne La Havas has snapped me out of my complacency. The first few messages to her list have been refreshing in their lighthearted humor and sense of intimacy. In addition to updates about shows and releases, she imparts weekly advice, like “Eat more soup. You stay fuller for longer,” and “Remember never to swallow the snot” — both excellent tips. In her most recent email, she included a link to her hypnotic Take-Away Show, which everyone should stop what they’re doing and watch immediately, and she also reminded us that she’d be appearing on Later… with Jools Holland. Her companions on Later…’s circular sound stage last night included Bon Iver and Feist, altogether a perfect storm of “Shit… does Verizon get BBC2?” The answer is no. Or I couldn’t find it. In any case, I waited patiently for video of the proceedings to show up online, and La Havas gave a performance of her song “Age” that was well worth the wait. Standing at the convergence of two spotlights, alone on the massive Later… stage, she brought to life the song’s sophisticated marriage of vulnerability and assertiveness, finger picking an electric guitar and singing in a voice that was sultry one moment and forceful the next. All throughout, her smile and apparent warmth echoed the personality I found in her electronic correspondence, filling the studio and leaving me all the more excited to receive her next update. Check out her Later… performance of “Age” above and the version from her Live in L.A. EP below, which you can snag for the meager price of an email address (rest assured, this is one email list you won’t bemoan joining).
Lianne La Havas — “Age“
I’ve been good about merch lately. No shirts, no commemorative tote bags (What? It’s a joke. I’ve never gotten one of tho… OK FINE, but just that once), just a few records here and there. My most recent merch purchase, or merchase if you’re into that kinda thing, happened more “there” than “here,” in that it was made when I was in Portland, OR at the Doug Fir Lounge on October 6, just as Megafaun was getting ready to take the stage. Doug Paisley had just performed an arresting opening set, one that rendered an entire basement lounge of drinking twenty-somethings silent and holding their breath. With a left-handed guitar, his voice barely above a whisper, and the audience hanging on his every word, Paisley delicately navigated through a series of soulful and tender country songs about heartache, redemption, and love. At one point I closed my eyes and it seemed like Paisley’s words, delivered almost apologetically, were more like thoughts that had accidentally escaped from someone’s head (Maybe Sam Elliot’s. Paisley’s got some seriously gruff gravitas chops, or graffichops, if you’re into that kinda thing). It was stunning. Check out “City Lights” to see what I mean.
Doug Paisley — “City Lights“
The trance was broken only by eager applause between songs and a single admonishing “SHHHHHHHH” during one of his later tunes, when a few people standing near the back were talking too loud and someone in the crowd stepped up to set them straight (To the guy/gal who did the shushing, you’re my hero). As soon as his set was finished, I picked up a vinyl copy of his newest album, Constant Companion, the symbolism of which name being impossible to overlook [just made the connection almost two weeks later], as I had to carry the record by hand back to the hotel, then to the Portland airport, then all the way back to Richmond, VA. In case you were wondering, records don’t count against your two carry-on quota and fit nicely next to the puke bag in that sub-tray-table magazine pouch. Thankfully, my copy of Constant Companion passed the travel test with flying colors and found its way to my record player, where it’ll be spending a great deal of time. As I listen in my living room, I can hear the same intensity that froze the air of the Doug Fir Lounge on October 6, plus we’re treated to some goosebumps-inducing guest spots by fellow Canadians Leslie Feist and legendary organist for The Band, Garth Hudson. Speaking of guest spots, Megafaun summoned Paisley to the stage at the end of their set for a full-band version of his song “What I Saw.” Check out that performance and the album version below, “City” Lights” above, and grab Constant Companion here.
Doug Paisley (with Megafaun) — “What I Saw“
Doug Paisley — “What I Saw“