I first heard of Thalia Zedek when her three-piece band (guitar / vocals, drums, viola) opened for Dinosaur Jr. at probably the worst rock club I've ever been to in late 2006 [they actually had stripper cages hung over the floor, if you can believe it - who knows, maybe they still do]. I was immediately drawn to her melancholy yet melodic style of songwriting, as well as the way the unusual instrumentation filled out the lengthy instrumental passages -- it's an uncommon alchemy achieved in the combination of raspy vocals, rich guitar chording, eloquent viola and busy drumming. Subsequently, the band added a bassist and a pianist while Ms. Zedek's compositional style continued apace, and as such it became appropriate for the act to be known as Thalia Zedek Band, instead of existing simply under her solo moniker.
2013 is shaping up to be quite a year for Thalia Zedek. She just released a new solo album, Via, on Thrill Jockey (I have to confess I haven't yet heard the album, although I will soon), and May 7th sees Matador's long-awaited reissue of Eleven:Eleven, the excellent debut album by Zedek's influential '90s band, Come. What's more, she just finished a residency at Boston's TT The Bear during March, at which she and her band performed one of each of her solo albums in their entirety per Monday.
This Union Pool show saw the middle date of Thalia Zedek Band's "mini east coast tour," with them set to head on a longer jaunt out west. I arrived at Union Pool early, tired (still tired from the weekend, not to mention the previous night's Sigur Ros show, and way too much driving), cranky, and somewhat hungry; I fixed the latter with a taco and a tostada from Union Pool's taco truck (see below).
I finally walked into the show during opening band Brokeback's set, right smack dab in the middle of a satisfying, 90s-ish two chord jam. (Pretty sure this was an amped-up version of their song "Don't Worry Pigeon.") I really enjoyed what I heard throughout the rest of their all-instrumental set, which ranged from twangy Link Wrayisms, to jaunty Latin-flavored Los Straitjacket-esque numbers, to Crazy Horse-ish heavy fuzziness, all filtered through a healthy dose of Earth's patient persistence. (I've since bought their recent album, entitled Brokeblack and the Black Rock, and it's definitely worth a listen if you're into hazy instrumental rock.)
Thalia and her band took the stage a little after 11:30, treating the crowd to a full set of tunes from her new album, and throwing one one even newer song which hasn't yet been recorded (see the video for "Fell So Hard" below). Unsurprisingly, the new material fits right in with much of Zedek's previous solo work, with mournful, sometimes prickly lyrics backed by a downcast (if still ultimately hopeful) musical bedding. Since the last time I saw the band live (wow, was it really all the way back in 2009?), they've undergone a drummer change, and the new drummer's more minimal style really fits the band's aesthetic, nicely uncluttering the musical landscape somewhat and allowing the instruments (piano and viola, in particular) room to breathe.
As of this writing (nearly two weeks after the show), Thalia Zedek band has wrapped up their West Coast Tour, which went well according to Thalia's frequent Facebook updates. As for Come, their tour dates were revealed a week ago; here they are. I already grabbed my tickets to their Bowery show in late June - see you there!
COME TOUR DATES:
Wednesday, June 19: Bootleg Theater, Los Angeles (foldsilverlake.com) Thursday, June 20: The Independent, San Francisco (theindependentsf.com) Friday, June 21: Mississippi Studios, Portland (mississippistudios.com) Saturday, June 22: The Crocodile, Seattle (thecrocodile.com) Thursday, June 27: The Sinclair, Boston (boweryboston.com) Friday, June 28: The Bowery Ballroom, New York City (boweryballroom.com) Friday, July 12: The Empty Bottle, Chicago (emptybottle.com)
The Darkness - Hot Cakes -- Seems like these guys have a healthier, more careerist attitude since Justin Hawkins stopped snorting everything in sight. Too bad the quality of the music has regressed significantly from their first two excellent albums.
Best song: "Concrete."
Dan Deacon - America -- If Bromst was able to successfully assert Dan Deacon's melodic voice as a force alongside his weirdo-freakout-garage rave reputation, this boring-as-fuck album does quite a bit to damage his momentum in both of those areas.
Well, so much for that "seven shows in seven days thing." I totally forgot that I have a few friends that occasionally (and only occasionally, mind you), don't mind me hanging around. So, instead of Endless Boogie at Glasslands, Tuesday night I went to a buddy's birthday party at Fat Baby. A couple of bands played, but I learned nothing about either other than that I didn't care for their music. So no, that doesn't count as seeing a show.
Wednesday night I headed to Bowery to see America's Favorite Mexican Wrestling Mask-bedecked Instrumentalists, Los Straitjackets. My first encounter with these guys was on Conan O'Brien's show about twelve years ago, when I caught them performing "Fury" (ostensibly an amped up rewrite of surf classic "Wipe Out"), which was awesome. A couple of years later they played "Pacifica," again on Conan, which inspired me to seek out some of their shit; a week or so after that I had special ordered their first two records, which are really enjoyable. Never saw them live until summer '04 when they played a little joint somewhere in Chicago, where I was living at the time. They were touring with blues dude (I think "blues legend" would be stretching it) Eddy Clearwater and as such served as the backing band for several of his numbers, with Straitjackets tunes comprising the other 1/2 of the set (or so). I was surprised what a large number of the small crowd came out dressed in the style of the '50s, the era from which Los Straitjackets draw much of their musical inspiration. Second time seeing them was at Joe's Pub in downtown NYC a couple of Christmases ago, when they did a "Christmas spectacular" type thing accompanied by The World Famous Pontani Sisters, a burlesque trio. But, yeah, these guys don't make many trips out to NYC, so I snapped up a ticket as soon as I noticed their name on Bowery's calendar.
After some insane traffic, I got to the venue at about 8:15 after parking on Delancey and walking up. As I got in, I heard what sounded like a horn ensemble covering Dave Matthews Band's "Warehouse," or at least the "warehouse is bare and empty" end section. This turned out to be opening act The Iguanas, who, as the remainder of their set revealed, specialize in salsa-esque bar numbers highlighted by trumpet and sax solos. A fine choice as opener, and since Los Straitjackets kind of have the "bar band on steroids" thing down pat, why not have a real bar band open up for you. Give the baby boomers (who made up the vast majority of the audience -- for once I was one of the youngest schmucks in the room) something to shake their booty to while sipping cocktails and getting ready for the main event. Makes sense, no?
During setbreak, as I made my way towards the front/center of the stage, again I was impressed by how many audience members came fully decked out in '50s style clothes, while lamenting not having worn my Happy Days-style bowling shirt myself. Before long, three attractive ladies had slipped between me and the stage, with one semi-apologizing that "don't worry, you can see right over me." I knew I recognized them from somewhere -- long story short it wound up being the World Famous Pontani Sisters themselves, who, as I mentioned earlier, I had seen performing with Los Straitjackets about a year and a half ago, about 10 blocks away. Very, very cool, although I predictably mentioned nothing to them letting on that I knew who they were. Yeah, I'm a pussy.
A few semi-essential notes regarding Los Straitjackets for the many who have never heard of (or seen) them before. Each member wears his own individually stylized Mexican wrestling mask, which serves not only to emphasize the bandmembers' anonymity, but to obscure their ages. After all, with the exception of the new drummer, these guys are no spring chickens. Also, one would imagine that it has made the personnel changes (they've changed bassists and drummers) within the band less glaringly obvious in the eyes of the fans. Also, at different points throughout the show, they perform hilariously rudimentary synchronized dance routines during some numbers. You know, a synchronized group head-wag here; all lifting the guitar necks there, or some playing while kneeling. Nothing wrong with being a little goofy.
The band took the stage a little before 9:30 or so, ripping right into one of their signature "Wipe Out" soundalikes. Hot damn, I knew I loved these guys, but I had forgotten how fast and loud they play! They slammed through a few originals before Horatio Sanz-lookalike/Mexican crooner Big Sandy joined them to sing a few Spanglish tunes from their new sorta bilingual Rock en Espanol record. Very, very fun dancin' music, and I had already worked up a pretty serious sweat five songs into the set. Sandy played the chatty, charismatic emcee part to a tee, keeping the audience amused with witty/self-deprecating banter and by flirting with the chicks at the front of the stage.
[Big Sandy (handing mic stand to an audience member): "Here y' go baby, take this." Girl in Audience: "I'd take ANYTHING from you!" Big Sandy: (dramatic pause) "We'll talk."]
The set continued apace, with Big Sandy joining for a few songs before retreating backstage and allowing the band to play some of their fantastic originals, then reappearing. They went through most of their best, including "University Boulevard," "Casbah" and "Pacifica," and most of the Sandy-sung tracks were great as well, especially the covers of the Kinks' "All Day and All of the Night," the McCoys' "Hang on Sloopy" and Little Richard's "Good Golly Miss Molly" (each interpolated with Spanglish lyrics, of course). The crowd dug it all -- I was far from the only sweaty mess rockin' out up front and grinning like a retard. Eventually, a few chicks from the crowd -- including, at one point, two Pontanis -- wound up onstage, froogin' along.
Well, I had a great time, and apparently the band was having the show videotaped, hopefully for future release, which would be great, although I'm none too keen on seeing a video of myself basically sweatin' to the oldies. I already have an idea of what that looks like, and it ain't terribly appealing.