Monthly Archives: October 2011

Lianne La Havas

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

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Doug Paisley

Constant Companion

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

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Black Keys

Us music fans are a fickle bunch, aren’t we? We love having gigs and gigs of tunes, but we’re not so fond of paying for them. Even though 10-buck-a-month streaming music services like Spotify are on the rise and are a step in the right direction, nothing fattens up a royalty check like consumers actually buying an album, be that a CD, record or download from an online store like iTunes. Well some bands aren’t taking the fight lying down. As record sales decline, we’re seeing some wildly creative promotions associated with album releases, and I salute the bands behind them. Take Wilco for example, who entered everyone who preordered their new album, The Whole Love, into a weekly giveaway contest, where one of the prizes was a Wilco-themed fixed-gear bicycle (insert your own “I’m a Wheel” joke here). Or take the Flaming Lips, who recently released music on a USB drive that was buried inside a 7-pound gummy skull (honestly, this is among the tamest of Wayne Coyne’s recent experiments with packaging). Or St. Vincent, who turned the release of the first single from her new album, Strange Mercy, into an interactive event, inviting fans to tweet the hashtag “#strangemercy” and posting the song to her website once enough people did. Well I have a new favorite in the world of viral marketing: The Black Keys. The purveyors of one of last year’s best albums in Brothers have just announced their new album, El Camino, and they’ve enlisted  the help of Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show with Bob and David and Breaking Bad fame in promoting it. In the video above, Odenkirk plays a used car salesman who is trying to sell a crappy van identical to the one that, despite its not actually being an El Camino, graces the upcoming album’s cover, but he can’t seem to get a decent take of the commercial he’s shooting. It’s a great clip, especially if you’re familiar with the actor’s body of work, or if you’re super depressed because Breaking Bad just ended and you need something, ANYTHING that’ll chase away the withdrawal symptoms for a spell. Ya know, whichever. Check it out above, listen to “Psychotic Girl” from their previous album below, buy Brothers here and start getting excited for December 6, when El Camino rolls into a record store near you.

The Black Keys — “Psychotic Girl

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Megafaun

Some people were blessed with the gift of foresight — “planners” I hear they’re called. I am not one of those people, which is why it’s a minor miracle that I got to see Megafaun this past Thursday. Early last week, my wife and I were a few days away from hopping on a 737 bound for Portland, OR (By “bound for Portland,” I mean bound for Houston, then Portland. I’m pretty sure Lewis and Clark took the same route.), when I did something so out of character, I’m surprised my wife didn’t accuse me of being involved in a Face/Off-style government plot — I checked to see what concerts would be happening while we were in town. It seems so simple, yet I can assure you, this was an evolutionary leap on par with the use of perspective in Renaissance painting and the special effects from Jurassic Park. The theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey should have been playing in the background as I looked online at venues’ websites and saw that Megafaun would be rocking the Doug Fir Lounge the evening after we flew in to PDX. This was very exciting news. I started learning about the North Carolina-based roots rock band over the past few months from Bon Iver’s glowing tweets about them, and I finally heard their music when it was featured on a recent episode of NPR’s All Songs Considered. I’ve had their self-titled album in heavy rotation ever since, but Thursday night’s performance was even better than I could have hoped. Amidst the backdrop of a super cool basement lounge that felt like a cross between a ski lodge and a woodsy version of Dr. Evil’s hollowed-out volcano lair, Megafaun put on a performance that made me and my wife fans for life. I’m a sucker for well-executed harmonies, and I was in the right place, as all four members of the band contributed to one sweet sounding vocal arrangement after another, culminating in their a cappella performance above of “Second Friend.” I may not have been blessed with the planner gene, but I felt truly blessed to have been at Doug Fir on Thursday night, and I’m definitely going to make a habit of checking for concerts before I head on vacation. Check out “Second Friend” above, hear the album version below, and buy their amazing self-titled album here.

Megafaun — “Second Friend

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ROSTAM

Wood

Every once in a while, you come across an artist who can do no wrong in your eyes. Song after song, album after album, it seems like everything they touch turns to gold, and your brain reflexively clicks on every link within a 70-pixel radius of their name. Not to get all double rainbow guy on you, but I really believe it’s a meaningful connection — finding someone who shares your tastes and is capable of creating music that satisfies them time after time, especially across multiple bands or projects, is extremely rare. Call it having a musical kindred spirit. Such is the case with Rostam Batmanglij. Whether with Vampire Weekend, Discovery, Kid Cudi or Das Racist, I have yet to find a song he’s been involved in that I didn’t like, which is why I was thrilled when I saw he released a song under his own name, stylized as ROSTAM, and even more thrilled once I listened to it. “Wood” is a fascinating composition, and it’s an excellent exemplar of one of Batmanglij’s most laudable traits — one that has served Vampire Weekend and all his other projects very well — like the speedy neutrino, he can travel faster than the speed of light. I’m convinced of it. How else can he be in India playing traditional drums and sitar, in Europe playing classical strings from the 18th century, and at the same time be singing contemporary pop vocals? You can’t explain that! He lives in the space between genres more comfortably than any other artist I know, which has made him a tremendously interesting musical kindred spirit over the past few years. Check out “Wood” below, and if you like it, I beg you to grab Discovery’s album. You’ll go bonkers over it, I promise.

ROSTAM — “Wood

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Wilco

(Editor’s note: Wow, What the Hell Just Happened Week certainly dragged on, didn’t it? The idea was to recap all the amazing music I saw between 9/21 and 9/25, openers and headliners alike, and though travels prevented me from finishing this last chapter in a timely fashion, they also gave me plenty of time to mull it over. Without further ado, here’s the final installment (complete with eyeball-friendly left justification and paragraphs!).

What the Hell Just Happened?!? Week: Day 5 — Wilco

It’s hard to write about your favorite band in the whole wide world, and I can say with conviction that Wilco has earned that distinction for me.

Despite that conviction about my favorite band, I can’t tell you what my favorite song in the world is. The same is true with albums. I think it’s because the answer changes so often. But shouldn’t it be the other way around? Songs don’t change. They can be remixed, covered, sampled and chopped up to fit into a 15-second commercial, but the original text stays the same (Can Let It Be Naked be the one exception? Can we all pretend that’s the real one?).

Bands, on the other hand, evolve. Bands venture in new musical directions, add members, find religion, go to rehab, change labels, become political, release concept albums, go back into rehab… they’re as dynamic as the people that comprise them. Such is certainly the case with Wilco, a group that’s undergone a lineup change after almost every record, the exceptions being their latest two efforts. So why is it so easy for me to say that Wilco is my favorite band? Why hasn’t that changed? Their show at Merriweather Post Pavilion on September 25 gave me the perfect opportunity to figure that out, but not for the reason I expected.

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Foster the People

What the Hell Just Happened?!? Week: Day 4 — Foster the People

Being a floor tom ain’t easy. You labor in the corner of the drum set, the last stop on solos and fills (if the guy with the sticks even gets to you). You watch as song after song is written about your bigger, bassier brother, the kick drum. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Well the times they are a-changin’, thanks to a phenomenon that was on display at September 23rd’s Foster the People show at the National in Richmond, VA. I’m talking about the lead singer floor tom solo. Please tell me you’ve seen this… there’s an extra stand-alone floor tom set up within reach of the frontman, and as the song reaches a crescendo, he or she grabs a set of drum sticks and starts pounding away. Mark Foster of Foster the People did just that at the National during “Helena Beat” (start at the 3-minute mark), and the gents of Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr did the same just two days before at the Southern in Charlottesville. It never fails to get people going, and it’s symbolic of a larger theme that united both shows — how to put on a satisfying live show when your studio music relies heavily on sampling. The lead singer tom solo is fascinating to me, in part because it strikes me as a form of vicarious audience participation. Few people at any given concert can play a full set of drums, but just about everyone, if given the opportunity and some sticks, could wail away on a floor tom. I think that’s where the excitement comes from — people can picture themselves on stage, taking all their energy and aggression out that drum, just as Mark Foster was. Maybe I’m wrong, but either way, it works… and so did Foster the People. They put on one of the highest-energy shows I’ve seen, running around the stage, earning every single clap, whistle and shriek (yes, shriekers were out in full force). I walked away from the National with a great deal of respect for a band that had a meteoric rise to fame, but can back up their notoriety with a hard-working, substantive live show. To see what I mean, check out the video I found of the night’s very last song “Pumped Up Kicks” above (studio version below). Be sure to stick around for the floor tom action at the 4:15 minute mark! If you dig it, buy their album here.

Foster the People — “Pumped Up Kicks

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