We're approximately 40% of the way through 2015, and nary an album review to be found on this sadly neglected, mildewed, has-been of a blog. At the time of this writing, we're finally in the thick of summer; a summer which will be characterized by oodles upon oodles of adult beverages, live music, travel, and nuptials. Oh, right, and stamps. Don't forget the stamps. I can't stress this enough people, NEVER FORGET THE GODDAMN STAMPS.
As of this moment, I've seen approximately 37 shows during the calendar year 2015, and I've heard about 36 albums / EPs, give or take. Naturally, I haven't spent enough time with all of those albums to have formulated a coherent, snarky opinion on each of them, but what say we talk about the ones that I have, hmmmmmm?
THE BEST (AND WORST) ALBUMS OF 2015, pt. I
Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh-- this solo outing courtesy of one of the dudes from Fuck Buttons (not the guy who did the 8-bit thing earlier in the year) has a sound not dissimilar to his main gig. The maximalism and noisiness remains, but much of the epic melodicism is replaced here seemingly by a pervasive vibe of general uneasiness. I like it. Grade: B
Bop English - Constant Bop -- White Denim's main man James Petralli steps out on his first "solo" release, leaning heavily on many of WD's influences - namely blue-eyed soul, yacht rock, folk, dad rock, and other genres that don't really, y'know, "rock." What results sounds an awful lot like a kinda watered-down, less punchy version of what a normal White Denim record sounds like. Grade: B-
Built to Spill - Untethered Moon-- Initially, it was Doug Martsch's goal to record each successive BtS album with an entirely different lineup. Maybe it took trading his longtime rhythm section (as happened during the Untethered Moon sessions) for a pair of young bucks to rejuvenate the band's sound during the lengthy layoff following 2009's solid-if-at-times-lugubrious There Is No Enemy. Untethered Moon is the peppiest, liveliest, and downright funnest album of Martsch's career. Grade: A-
Crocodiles -Boys -- When I first saw Crocodiles live in a tiny room in 2009, the "band" somehow managed to make two dudes playing along to a backing CD seem bratty, punky, and ballsy. Now, five full-lengths into their career, Crocodiles seem to have settled into a rut of cranking out inessential (if pleasant) power pop recordes every year or so, entirely lacking the vitality of their earliest releases. Grade: C
Dan Deacon - Gliss Riffer --If anything, Dan Deacon is known less for his songwriting and more for whipping crowds of sweaty hipster kids into a frenzy with his irresistable DIY electronic goofiness. Gliss Riffer bears the most legitimately catchy moments of his career, "Build Voice" notwithstanding. Grade: B-
Delicate Steve - Live in Las Vegas -- As I witnessed personally when seeing Delicate Steve open up for Tame Impala last November, this is a band that is best appreciated live. At their best, they manage to approximate the enthusiasm and chops of the mighty Fang Island while reminiscing about a distant time when guitar heroes like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Gary Hoey could get their songs played on pop radio. #rememberthenineties Grade: B+
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress -- Continuing Godspeed's post-hiatus resurgence, here's another undeniably massive slab of fire and brimstone, veering glacially from terrifying to gorgeous. Grade: A-
Inventions - Maze of Woods -- Is what's created by this Explosions in the Sky side project technically, "music?" Don't care, doesn't matter, shaddup. What it is is the single most immersive, relaxing album I've heard since Earth's outstanding The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull. Grade: B+
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Freedom Tower -- These guys' ironic sneer has, at long last, collapsed under its own weight, which leaves JSBX with this, a limp, overly goofy ode to "old" NYC. Haven't really loved anything they've have done in some time now. Grade: C-
King Crimson - Live at the Orpheum -- Crimson is arguably the poster child for sacrificing genuine feeling for technique. Of course, this is absolute hogwash, perpetuated by critics who brand mastery of one's instrument beyond a Shaggs-ian level to be wankery. (In particular, the Wetton and Lake eras of Crim excelled onstage, as revealed in such live documents as the Epitaph and Great Deceiver box sets, as well as the Nightwatch and USA live albums.) However, I found this newest, three-drummer (!!!) iteration of the band to be dull and mechanical when I saw them last year, and Live at the Orpheum does little to sway that opinion. Grade: D
Plenty more albums to go - maybe I'll get to them soon, maybe I won't. TTFN.
Heheheheheheh. Ah, 2014: another year where I tell myself 'this is the year my obsessive show-going addiction ends;' another year where I see more shows than anyone I know who isn't employed at a performance space / venue. WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!
A quick list of locations where I've seen shows this year:
--Brooklyn (double natch)
--on a boat circling Manhattan
--Commerce City, CO
--Miami (in 7 days!)
As of this very moment, I've seen 93 concerts this year, and I've got at least three more coming up - Uncle Ebenezer at Knitting Factory Saturday night, Television (first time seeing them) at Irving Plaza on 12/28, and a little up-and-coming rock band who I think are called Assface in Miami on New Year's. The following is my totally subjective, largely meaningless, and wholly amusing (to me) recap of the best stuff I saw in '14.
Oh, and Happy Holidays to all!
The Ten Best Phish Shows I Saw All Year:
1.) Phish, 10/31/14 MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
2.) Phish, 7/13/14 Randall's Island, NYC
3.) Phish, 7/27/14 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
4.) Phish, 8/29/14 Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
5.) Phish, 11/2/14 MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
6.) Phish, 10/22/14 Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara
7.) Phish, 7/26/14 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
8.) Phish, 10/28/14 Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Fran
9.) Phish, 7/11/14 Randall's Island, NYC
10.) Phish, 8/31/14 Dicks Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
I was pleased to have the opportunity to cross yet another all-time legacy act off the bucket list at this Kraftwerk 3D show, the first of their two NYC appearances. Although the word "unique" is thrown around far too often, I can honestly say I've never seen a show quite like this this one.
Upon entering Harlem's United Palace Theater (my first time at the historic, neo-classically designed theater / church since Arcade Fire in 2007), I was handed a pair of 3D glasses. Which made me think: when was the last time that I even wore 3D glasses? Captain EO at Epcot 28 years ago?? God, who the hell knows. Don't worry, I'm going to spare you an excruciating description of the 3D graphics, because that would be pretty fucking lame ("DUUUUUUUUDE!!! And then during 'Trans-Europe Express,' it looked like the train was flying right past my face! IT WAS AWESOME!!! YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW!!!!") but I should at the very least mention that the 3D aspect of the show was amazing. Perhaps my favorite effect was when one of the antennae on an orbiting space satellite appeared as though it was going to jab me in the face. IT WAS AWESOME!!! YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW!!!
My only regret was attending this show entirely sober. And the setting (seated theater with overly aggressive ushers) was not particularly conducive to, y'know, "moving around" in a manner fitting electronic (notionally) dance music. But the knob-twiddling of the four members of Kraftwerk (main man Ralf Hutter is the only original member left 40-something years into their career) combined with said aformentioned stunning graphics to create an unforgettable concert experience. All this, despite the "band" members standing nearly motionless at their podiums throughout the evening.
Kraftwerk's touring schedule hits Moogfest in Asheville in a couple weeks, before they head to Austria to perform 8 full albums from their catalog. After that they flit about a bit throughout July and August.
After hearing The Men's new Tomorrow's Hits LP, it's not unreasonable to be at least a little bit concerned that the album's decidedly AOR direction would have some sort of effect on the band's live show. On the other hand, The Men have been a live powerhouse up until this point (I've seen them onetwothreefourfivesix seven times since late 2012), so why mess with a good thing, nahmean? Regardless, fear not, The Men still rule.
With the exception of the mini acoustic set at the Sandy Benefit concert and the occasional horn accompaniments at other shows, The Men's live formula has always been large, heaping portions of RAWK, whether they're channeling Neil Young, Dinosaur Jr., Spacemen 3, the Buzzcocks, the Stooges, the Stones, or all of 'em at once. This show featured plenty of that good, good stuff, with the setlist drawing from each of their full-lengths except, oddly, 2012's excellent Open Your Heart. Highlights for me were the Fun House-tastic "Supermoon" (see above for video) and the kraut-punky "If You Leave..." (see below for video).
This was the record release show for the aforementioned Tomorrow's Hits record, which came out just a couple weeks ago. I'd suggest checking that shit out - I'm enjoying it nearly as much as last year's very good New Moon album. At the present time, the Men's European tour continues through the end of the month, before they make their way back to the US in April for another few weeks of club shows. Their next NYC area show is May 10th at The Wick - get tickets for that show here. Listn to the first single from Tomorrow's Hits (and my crappy iPhone video of a live version of the song from last year here.
There are few bands with as distinctively singular a style as Russian Circles. Over the course of their five mostly-excellent albums, the band has created an aesthetic that's entirely their own, carving out a niche that's instantly identifiable amongst the legions of post-rock pretenders. There are many disparate elements that make up Russian Circles' sound; from brooding atmospherics to harsh riffing to looped guitar pyrotechnics to shimmering arpeggios, with each of those utilized liberally at this show.
At a Russian Circles show (this was the eighth time I've seen the band live - read a much lengthier review from when I saw them last April here), the setlist is largely irrelevant, as the band conjures magnificent peaks and valleys regardless of the specific songs they choose to play. The music's intensity is bolstered by the stark, white lighting the band is backlit by, conjuring a sublime, dreamlike (at times nightmarishly so) atmosphere within the room. The sold-out crowd was appropriately rapt.
The set was highlighted by personal favorite "Carpe" (the leadoff track from their first album, Enter), as well as multi-part epic "Mladek," and a couple from their most recent album Memorial (which I very much enjoyed), with the setlist featuring material from each of their albums. This was, I believe, the first time I'd seen them live where they hadn't performed perennial set closer "Death Rides a Horse."
Canadian noisy hardcore trio KEN Mode opened, supplying a surprisingly groove-oriented set of bleak sludge. I had only heard a few studio tracks by the band prior to this show, but I've since checked out (and enjoyed) out their most recent album, Entrenched. Listen here, and check out a video my buddy Michigan shot at the show below.
After hearing multiple reports about last weekend's White Denim show at the Black Cat in DC being borderline disastrous, I was worried that, the band's live prowess may have waned a bit. Furthermore, this was the first "regular" NYC-area show that White Denim has played since last year's release of Corsicana Lemonade (their sold-out outing at Mercury Lounge during CMJ and the invite-only show at Bowery notwithstanding), so I was eager to see how - if at all - their decidedly more "mature" approach on the new album had affected their live show. Fortunately, just a few minutes into the set, it was perfectly obvious that White Denim still has "it," and then some. IMNSMFHO, White Denim is one of the three-or-so best club acts in the world.
This was, to my knowledge, the first time White Denim has played an area show at at a venue the size of Webster Hall. (This was the eighth time I've seen White Denim live, and the first since last summer's Brooklyn Bowl shows.) For years, it seemed at every White Denim show I attended I'd inevitably wind up in conversations with complete strangers lamenting why this great band hadn't yet found the popularity it deserved, and it seems as though the higher profile accorded Corsicana Lemonade has led to the band successfully filling bigger rooms. Selling out Webster Hall is nothing to sneeze at, and these guys deserve a good deal of respect for reaching this level, gradually developing their fanbase over the past near-decade.
The band took the stage at about quarter to 9, and plowed through a 100+ minute set (including encore) of tightly-wound, impeccably executed tunes. The songlist ran the gamut of the many styles White Denim wields in their sonic arsenal, from riffy blues rockers ("At Night in Dreams") to flashfingered instrumental workouts ("At the Farm") to Southern-fried garage stompers ("Shake Shake Shake") to songs in several other genres that I haven't made up yet. The dude next to me said their playing reminded him of the Dead, but to me on this night White Denim sounded more like the Allmans on Adderall.
Although I arrived towards the end of opening band The Districts' set, I enjoyed what I heard and was compelled to purchase their recent 5-song EP at the merch table for $7. Aside from the bandmembers' youth, their most immediately striking characteristic (to me at least) was that they sounded like My Morning Jacket if MMJ was fronted by personal fave Bobby Bare, Jr. In other words, good stuff.
White Denim's headlining tour continues for the next month or so, and they'll hit a few domestic festivals in early summer too before heading over to Europe. Check 'em out before they're filling your local EnormoDome.
When I first became totally obsessed with In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the prospect of ever seeing Neutral Milk Hotel live seemed slim-to-none. The group's singer / songwriter / guitarist Jeff Mangum had originally broken up the band in 1999 following a nervous breakdown, leading him into a self-imposed exile during which In the Aeroplane's legend (and popularity) only grew. In 2011, to much fanfare, Mangum finally emerged to perform an East coast solo tour, which I had the pleasure of catching during his stop at NYC's Town Hall in October. It was a joyous evening, with Mangum frequently urging the eager crowd to join him in singing along, and the people gladly obliged.
Why has the cult of In the Aeroplane flourished so mightily over the years? Well, people love a good backstory, and this one's a humdinger: tortured artist Mangum reads The Diary of Anne Frank in his 20s, becoming obsessed with the story and the sad plight of the book's young protagonist. The intensity of his fixation eventually leads him to be tormented by vivid, recurring dreams in which he is able to travel back in time, saving Frank from her death at a concentration camp. Mangum then creates a song cycle partially inspired by this obsession, but also populated by a circus freak, various unnamed (and unscrupulous) family members, and all manner of brilliantly vivid imagery.
Of course, an intriguing backstory alone doesn't elevate ordinary art to greatness, and the excellence of the music on In the Aeroplane allows the album to stand on its own. Aeroplane somehow manages to inform its childlike sensibilities with incredibly weighty subject matter, all bound together with instantly memorable melodies and charming, rickety instrumentation. In my estimation, it's one of the ten greatest albums by anyone, ever.
This show was the *fifth* and final sold-out show Neutral Milk Hotel would perform in NYC over the course of a week. Yes, I'd been eagerly anticipating the show for months, but I wasn't the only one; the line to get into Webster Hall was the longest I've ever seen at the venue, stretching literally around the block and going all the way past the movie theater entrance on 3rd Ave. While waiting in the queue, I was approached by a girl who "interviewed" me briefly on behalf of the Village Voice about my NMH fandom; I responded with dumb answers and gave her a fake name.
Neutral Milk Hotel's set began around 10:20 PM with Mangum walking alone onstage and starting "King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One," the rest of the band joining him during the song and into "King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three." The playing was absolutely spot-on and faithful to the album versions, with Scott Spillane blowing horns (trumpet, trombone, french horn) and playing occasional guitar, Julian Koster on bass, squeezebox, accordion and singing saw, longtime NMH collaborator Laura Carter (from opening band Elf Power) guesting on trumpet and what may or may not have been a couesnophone, a/k/a a goofus, and other folks guesting on whatever else throughout the show. (Pretty sure Uilleann pipes were played at some point.)
The setlist included nearly everything off of In the Aeroplane (except "Communist Daughter"), as well as several from On Avery Island and Everything Is. Incredibly, the players managed to pull off the idiosyncratic, ramshackle aesthetic of the studio recordings, no easy task; too much polish would've robbed the tunes of their character, although too little proficiency would've distracted from the gorgeous, hypnotic melodies.
To that end, the show's most striking moments occurred when the players were combining to create their unholy racket. The "Ghost" > "Untitled" sequence in particular was simply outstanding, and the title track from In the Aeroplane was wonderful. This, of course, takes absolutely nothing away from the moments during which Mangum was performing unaccompanied. "Two Headed Boy," and the epic "Oh Comely" had the packed room rapt, and if you weren't moved to tears by "Two Headed Boy Pt. Two," then you may actually be a soulless monster.
I had hoped for big things from this show, but I was thoroughly unprepared for how deeply affecting the music would be. Furthermore, it was wonderful to see a NYC crowd as wholly appreciative and respectful of a performance as they were this one. I highly doubt that I'll see a better club show this year, and you bet your britches that I'll be snagging tickets for their show this summer in Prospect Park.
[You may have noticed that there are no photographs or videos accompanying this post, which, for me is pretty rare. Twice, the band requested that people not use cameras, once before the set and once by Mangum himself during the set. It was great to see people obliging by this request - as of the time of this writing there are *no* videos on YouTube from this show.]
Acknowledging the many roadbumps that the band encountered during this show, Dum Dum Girls' head honchette Dee Dee at one point said "this has been a difficult show... I'm going to need a lot of whiskey to get through it." As someone who was unfortunately stone cold sober at this show, I can concur that large amounts of whiskey couldn't've hurt.
This wasn't a great show for many reasons, several of which were out of the band's control. They had near-constant trouble with their sound throughout the night; soundcheck dragged on for-fucking-ever, and the soundman was compelled to rush up to the stage several times during the set to make adjustments, killing the momentum. What's more, Dee Dee appeared to be battling an illness, which clearly affected her usually outstanding singing voice.
But not everything can be rationalized. Why the hell does this band need *three* guitarists onstage? Is this the fucking Allmans? And when a large portion your image involves playing the part of sexy, well-dressed vamps (which they do well, hubba hubba), it detracts from things when said third guitarist is a bored looking stoner dude standing off to the corner wearing jeans and a tee shirt. What's more, they neglected to perform several of their best songs, including "Mine Tonight," "Coming Down," and the brand new "Little Minx."
In retrospect, my ticket to this sold-out record release show should've probably gone to someone who's a bigger Dum Dum Girls fan. (For the record, I'm several full listens in on their newest album, Too True, and I'm pretty lukewarm on it.) Not that the set wasn't without its high points. They opened with the excellent "Bedroom Eyes," and closed the encore with "Lord Knows" (see above for video).
Dum Dum Girls proper tour starts in early March, and hopefully they'll have the kinks worked out by then. The tour includes two more area appearances, one at Bowery Ballroom and one at Music Hall of Williamsburg. See below for their appearance on Letterman, recorded just hours before this show.