Dead Fame


It’s incredibly satisfying when a band you’re seeing for the first time meets the expectations that took root when you listened to their recordings. You know what’s even better? When those expectations are totally obliterated, the band is even better than you could have hoped, and you walk away feeling like this.

I’d been trying to make it to a Dead Fame show for months, and the big moment finally came last night, when supporters of Richmond Playlist packed the Camel for the blog’s super-fun birthday party (yes there was cake, and it was delicious!). DF took the stage as the second of three bands, installing a snazzy light show that included a roving, green laser that, while the band was working out a few technical difficulties, became the subject of a fantastic English-majors-talking-about-science conversation between my wife and me about how the laser seemed to be moving the smoky air it touched, and whether this was actually possible. Our conclusion? We have no idea what we’re talking about.

Dead Fame’s set got underway a few minutes later and, within the first few moments of “Glass Jacket,” I was floored. Blown away. Gobsmacked.

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A Physical Playlist

The best music conversations are the ones that never really end. They live on in the reminders you enter into your phone’s notes application — a band name you don’t want to forget or the title of a documentary that needs to be added to your Netflix queue. They pick back up thanks to the follow-up emails, tweets and texts in which the recommendee shares a reaction with the recommender, or the recommender finally remembers the album name that a few too many beers spirited away. They leave traces, like the stack of records that flew out of the crate because they demanded to be played (you can only talk for so long about how Exile on Main St. was recorded before you’re morally obligated to put it on).

Mrs. You Hear That and I hosted some friends from out of town over the long holiday weekend (the same friends who clued me into Moon Hooch a little while back), and our many music conversations — exchanges about Exile, the George Harrison documentary Living in the Material World, Jack White’s Blunderbuss and the mention of King Sunny Adé in Pitchfork’s vicious Body Faucet review — are still bouncing around the front of my brain, just as surely as the above-pictured records are still leaning against the side of my TV stand.

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M. Ward

A Wasteland Companion

“Unique” is an abused word. It’s not quite in the same red headed stepchild territory that “like” and “literally” occupy (full disclosure — I’m doing some serious glass-house stone throwing right now, being both a card-carrying abuser of “like” and “literally” AND a red head), but “unique” finds itself being used to describe music far too often by my count, and I generally try to steer clear of it. But after seeing M. Ward perform at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. two Sundays ago, I can’t help believing that he stands apart from the rest of the musical landscape in ways that feel totally deserving of the word. Two of these ways were espcially striking…

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If you’ve been reading this here blog for a while, you may have seen me mention my friend, the musical sherpa, Clay. Well last August, Clay gave me one of the best birthday presents I’ve gotten in my entire life: a generous starter collection of 45’s, cradled by a 7-inch Peaches record crate. This is a short video of my reaction upon being given this gift. There was tons of great stuff in there — everything from Queen to Radiohead and back again — and in the nine months since, I’ve had lots of fun exploring and expanding this collection (probably too much fun on the expansion front, but WHATEVER). So for Clay’s birthday, I’ve done the only reasonable thing — I’ve assembled a tactical playlist from my seed set of 7-inch records entitled “H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y” (you’ll see why), accompanied by a quick, solo game of Adjective Battleship for each one. Let’s do dis!

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Pretty & Nice

Imagine for a moment that scientists working 500 feet below the Franco-Swiss border got a little tipsy and loaded up the Large Hadron Collider with concentrated musicianship quarks, particles of perfect pop intuition and a brand new, multicolored pack of highlighters that was taken from the lab’s supply cabinet. Imagine that these punchy scientists then flipped the switch to “ON,” sending the three aforementioned types of matter careening toward one another at an energy of 7 teraelectronvolts. Somewhere inside the accelerator’s 17-mile, ring-shaped tube, there would be a dramatic collision. And, by my calculations, that collision would look and sound exactly like the video posted above.

Shot in one take (!) in a brightly bedecked attic located in the band’s hometown of Boston, MA, this Love Drunk Studio-helmed performance video of “Yonkers” offers a wonderful glimpse of what makes Pretty & Nice so special.

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Carolina Chocolate Drops

There are two types of music nerds. There are the nerds who derive pleasure from holding their knowledge over your head, periodically using that knowledge as a bludgeon against the less-initiated. Think Jack Black’s character in High Fidelity. And then there are the big-tent music nerds. They’re the ones who delight in telling you everything you want to know about a song or artist, sharing their enthusiasm freely and without pretension. Take a wild guess as to which nerd genus I’m more fond of.

I was reminded of this (admittedly oversimplified) dichotomy two Fridays ago, when I saw Carolina Chocolate Drops perform on Brown’s Island in Richmond, VA. There may be no more inviting group of big-tent music aficionados than this Durham-based old-time string band. A decent percentage of the songs they played were covers or traditionals (“Jackson” was a personal favorite), and they took the time to explain the origin of almost every one. Who wrote it. When. What style it represents. I love hearing this stuff. Not only do these pre-song explanations serve as a preemptive Wikipedia lookup, they foster this wonderful atmosphere of inclusion — an even playing field where everyone can participate fully and enthusiastically.

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The Very Best

Feeling understood is great. Songs with lyrics that make it seem like someone out in the world really gets you are worth their weight in gold. So how about music that can make you feel understood even though the lyrics are written in a language you don’t speak? That’s a serious accomplishment, and it’s how the Very Best has made me feel over and over again.

So how do they do it? What’s their secret for breaking down the language barrier? Four words: cultural points of reference.

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Old Crow Medicine Show

Wagon Wheel

I have one more Nashville-related story, and then I swear I’ll stop. (You didn’t think I could squeeze 5 blog posts out of one 4-day trip, didja? Consider yourself lucky that I ran out of disposable daylight hours before I could visit the Ryman Auditorium and Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.) To be honest, though, the events described in the paragraphs below could have taken place anywhere, not just in Music City, and that’s more or less the point I’ll be making.

You often hear people say that there will never be another Beatles, or another Rolling Stones. Of course these claims are correct in the literal sense, but I think they’re also accurate in a more general way; it’s hard to imagine a group having that sort of massive cultural impact now that the musical landscape is so fragmented. I often wonder if any of bands that I adore now will be considered by my hypothetical grandchildren as part of some unified musical canon, or if the diffusion of listeners’ attention across a multitude of sub-genres means that there will be several different canons, each with its own revered membership. It’s a depressing thought in some ways, one that makes this Gen-Y’er feel like his favorite bands aren’t quite as important as they ought to be (or that they might have been 50 or 60 years ago).

But guess what? My glass-half-empty, future-phobic ranting ends there, because I believe, with every fiber in my being, that songs are as important as they ever have been, and that their import isn’t going anywhere. Even if my kids’ kids’ kids’ kids don’t know who the hell Journey was, I bet they’ll still be fist-pumping like idiots to “Don’t Stop Believing” at some dive-y lunar bar in 2162. That’s because truly great, canon-worthy songs transcend genres, nations, races, ages, even the people who wrote and performed them — they become a part of us. And I’m not speaking figuratively; they literally become part of our physiology by reorganizing the neural pathways in our brains to make singing along with the lyrics easier (this would be creepy if it wasn’t so awesome). So why do I bring this up now? Because events that took place in Nashville lead to me believe Old Crow Medicine Show’sWagon Wheel” is one of these transcendent songs.

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Beastie Boys

Hot Sauce Committee Part Two

The day before I left for Nashville, I made sure to chat with my musical sherpa Clay about which tunes-related locales I should seek out while I was in Music City. In addition to Hatch Show Print, the legendary letterpress print shop, and Ernest Tubb’s record store just across Broadway, Clay suggested I check out Grimey’s New & Preloved Music. So on Friday afternoon, while I was still in a daze from seeing Jack White in the Third Man Records parking lot, I made the short drive up 8th Avenue South to Grimey’s, where the mood was quite different from the Blunderbuss-imbued one I’d found at the Third Man store.

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