Williamsburg institution Oneida brought their brand of noisy, psychedelic krautrock across the river to Mercury Lounge this past Saturday night. I liked these guys last time I saw them peform (at Parts and Labor's farewell show in February of last year), and I knew that even if the music turned out to be subpar, it would be worth the price of admission alone to watch their drummer, the supremely talented Kid Millions, wreak havoc on the skins.
I've heard the "prog" label applied to Oneida in the past, and I have to say I don't really hear that, since it doesn't seem like they do much in the way of the complicated, rigid song structures or the odd time signatures that usually characterize that genre. Instead, the set consisted of several driving, seemingly open-ended grooves, reminiscent in some ways of other kraut-inspired acts like Maserati or Turing Machine. Like both of those bands, each of which employed the late, great Jerry Fuchs on the kit, the focal point is the outstanding drumming.
Long day / late show, and I wound up leaving a little early after my back stiffened up, but not before getting a couple decent videos (one above, one below). Checkemoutorsomething.
So I was in a rush to catch as much of Marnie Stern's set as I could, hurrying back to Williamsburg at the midpoint of the evening's earlier King Khan & BBQ show at Santos. I wound up getting inside MHOW about halfway through Marnie's set, enjoying her trademark guitar histrionics and hilarious between-song banter, which humorously detailed life on the road with the two dudes in her band and her tiny dog, and cajoling her drummer (former Parts and Labor skinsman Joe Wong) to strip naked. (He eventually got down to his skivvies.)
Sad to see the room about half full, but I guess Marnie's hyperkinetic guitar playing and high pitched vocals are a "love 'em or hate 'em" type proposition. It happens. I'm generally in the former category, natch, but I should say that I'm not loving her newest album, The Chronicles of Marnia, quite as much as her previous self-titled record (which was awesome), but what the hell do I know.
Marnie and her band (and dog) are on tour throughout the states right now, so peep her tour dates here and check that shit out if you're interested.
When discussing his compositional techniques and tendencies, Dan Friel seemingly hits the nail on the head in this interview:
"I love a lot of extreme, harsh music – that’s what got me into music, playing in noise and grindcore bands in high school – but at the same time, I’ve always loved very simple and purely melodic music. As a child, before I even remember listening to music to any great degree, my favorite music was the soundtrack to The Harder They Come with Jimmy Cliff [with Toots and] The Maytals, and that kind of stuff, and that’s pretty pure, major-key, beautiful pop music. ...I wanted those heavy, otherworldly textures that I got from listening to noise and psych and industrial stuff, and I wanted to learn how to write a simple, good, moving melody."
To those who appreciates Friel's solo work as well as that of his great, now-defunct (as of a year ago) noise-rock band Parts and Labor, that description highlights what Friel continues to do best: writing huge, arena-ready anthems that are swathed in his homemade, noisy, "heavy, otherworldly textures."
The inspiration for Total Folklore came from Friel's walks through NYC, which he describes as "a really weird, psychedelic experience... exciting and bizarre and soothing." This theme definitely translates throughout the record, no more evidently than on the album's first track, "Ulysses," a sprawling, 12+ minute behemoth which somehow manages to encapsulate the beauty, ugliness, weirdness, inspiration and grandeur of a trek through the city.
While "Ulysses" is clearly the album's focal point, the rest of Total Folklore cycles through tuneful, immediate tracks that wouldn't have sounded out of place on his also-great 2008 solo album, Ghost Town. Most notable are the manic, driving "Valedictorian" (and "Valedictorian"'s more slovenly nephew, "Scavengers") and last week's Song of the Week, the playfully pulsating "Thumper."
All in all, I think that the inspiration behind (and the execution of) Total Folklore is summed up best in a David Cross quote:
"In New York, you are constantly faced with this very urgent decision that you have to make, about every twenty minutes...you have to decide, immediately, you have to go 'Ohmigod. Do I look at the most beautiful woman in the world or the craziest guy in the world?'"
However, on Total Folklore, the listener doesn't have to choose, as you can sit back and enjoy Friel's awesome, fist-pump-worthy anthems while the swaths of static and feedback wash over you.
It's a shame that it took me so long, but the first thing I heard by Parts and Labor was their (excellent) final album, 2011's Constant Future. I was fortunate enough to be able to catch the band live four times total, including their final show ever at 285 Kent (at which I shot thesefourcrappyvideos). Also here's a review I wrote of P&L's Cake Shop show from 2011.
Of course, after hearing Constant Future I went back and dug as deeply as the internets would allow into P&L's immensely rewarding catalog, eventually branching out into Dan Friel's solo stuff (his Ghost Town album from 2008 is great, too), so I was glad to hear he'd be putting out a new album in '13. In fact, the first tracks from that new album, Total Folklore, were released on a 12" late last year, in time for one of them to score a Top 5 slot on my Best Songs of 2012 list.
For the uninitiated - Dan Friel's solo stuff fits right in with the Parts and Labor aesthetic of huge, arena-ready hooks played through equipment that's often homemade and noisy. In a recent Village Voice article, Friel described it as follows: [his archaic home recording setup] "...fits the aesthetic really well as far as using technology, getting to know it, and not trading up. The keyboard I've used is the keyboard I got when I was eight—the same one I always use. I like not making it about technology but making it just about what is available."
This show served as an album release show for Total Folklore, with most of the songs in the set being drawn from that. Friel performed several songs from the new album and a couple unreleased songs during the set, most of them solo, but a couple with violin accompaniment (see the "Valedictorian" video below) and some with horns. For the last two songs of the set, he was joined by a chorus of eight or so acoustic guitarists, four horn players, the violin, and a drummer... check 'em out:
With nights one and two now in the rear-view mirror, and with two drastically different shows in the books, which Phish would we get on night three: the playful, exploratory, clever band responsible for night one's incredible "Wolfman's" and joyous "Tweezer," or the band seemingly content to perform solid-yet-commonplace versions of their songs during night two's boisterous "party show" atmosphere? Or both? Either way we stood to win, although there's a difference between getting the Toys R' Us $500 gift card or the Heathcliff temporary tattoo in your Cracker Jacks, if ya catch my drift.
Of course, reducing how much fun one can have at a Phish show simply to how the band plays is foolish: I've seen many friends ruin their show (and, in some instances, mine) by preshow overindulgence over the past couple of years. Personally, I've become markedly better in that department since the all-around shitshow that was Coventry, with really only one notable blemish on my report card during 3.0. Spoiler alert!
In retrospect, I wish I hadn't started drinking so early on 12/30, but allow me to put forth an incredibly lame excuse nonetheless. See, The New York Football Giants still had their playoff hopes hanging by a very thin, fraying thread, and what better way to end the regular season than with a game against the hated Eagles, accompanied by bloodies and beers? We all met at 4th Down on North 4th shortly after noon, and began drinking - and sports-enjoying - in earnest. Things looked great for awhile, as the G-Men thoroughly dismantled their hated rival to the tune of a highly entertaining 42-7 thrashing. (Don't get me wrong, due to their own atrocious performances during the '12 season, Andy Reid and Michael Vick probably had already punched their own tickets out of Philly by this point, but it was nice to give those two scumbags a hearty boot up the ass on their way out the door.) Sadly, the Lions didn't hold up their end of the bargain, and, with the pressure off, we headed over to Spike Hill for more drinks simply because it was empty (except a couple random Hasids, if you can believe it).
After sitting, staring and drinking for about 4 hours, we had worked up a fearsome hunger, so we stumbled over to Fette Sau for some pork-tastic mealin'. With all the (justified) hoopla over Briskettown (combined with the fact that I rarely eat pork or beef anymore), it's easy to relegate Fette Sau to back burner status, but make no mistake, that place is still fuckin' great. And an A+ to the bartender who kindly put up with my friends obnoxiously pestering her with dumb questions / comments about Briskettown, as she chose to drown them out with a steady diet of Ramones.
By this point, we were all pretty sauced, and I was feeling pretty exhausted, worrying that I wouldn't be able to give the usual 115% at the evening's show. Fuckin' fuck, I don't think I've ever felt more elderly. We limped back to my place for a few beers, comfy couches, and some pre-show non-Phish tunez (mostly Cheeseburger, Oxford Collapse, White Denim and Parts and Labor) before getting a car service into the city.
For this show, we knew we had tickets behind the stage, but we were pleasantly shocked to find that when we got to our seats "ROW 10" actually meant "fifth row." (Not that I really care anyway, considering that I spend the vast majority of all Phish shows rockin' out with my eyes clamped shut.) Pleasant surprise number two was that the sound from our spot was crystal clear, and, let's face it, it's always cool to watch Fishman subtly run the entire show from behind his kit.
The first set started with standard-solid versions of "Jim" and "Cities." "Cities," had been one of the few bright spots during last year's New Year's Run at the 12/30/11 show exactly a year ago, and although tonight's version had none of of last year's extra mustard, it was well-played nonetheless. "Divided" was up next, and with "Reba" and "Bathtub" already off the table, there's literally nothing I'd rather hear as a classic "meat of the first set" song more than "Divided."
"Back on the Train" followed, providing the first light improv of the evening. Very nice version clocking in at nearly 10 minutes. "Ride Captain Ride" was up next. Works for me, since I, for one, was happy for a quick pissbreak. And wake me up when "Ocelot" becomes something better than the poor man's "46 Days." Over 11 minutes in length, none of them terribly interesting or inspired. The set rounded out with a peppy "Ya Mar," pissbreak #2 during the somnambulent "Horn," the oddly-placed but always welcome "My Friend," and the obligatory solid-standard first set-closing "Antelope."
So, three shows, three largely "averageish" first sets, with the lone exception being night one's "Wolfman's > LDB > Wolfman's" for the ages. Hopefully they'd pick shit up in the second set (they would), and hopefully I'd get my second wind at some point (I would not). Well, I guess one out of two ain't bad.
A stupendous 19+ minute "Disease" opened the second set - just what the doctor ordered (rimshot). This "Disease" played around with several gorgeous themes, resembling night one's "Tweezer" both in the pure quality of its uplifting improv and in the fact that the jam really picks up over its last few minutes (in this case, led by some funkalicious Page).
"Twenty Years Later"... I mean, at least it wasn't "Joy" or whatever, but it still signaled a mass bathroom exodus and one of the few legitimately troublesome urinal queues of the run. The "Carini" that came next easily made up for it, however, and after many relistens, I've come to the conclusion that it's probably 1.) the best jam of the run, and 2.) the best Carini I've ever seen (with the possible exception of 8/31/12 Dick's - OK, fine, twist the arm; 9/14/00 Darien was a great version too). Man, what a jam - cacophonous, noisy and borderline unpleasant like a good "Carini" should be, veering off into some serious Type II, with the finale sparked by some real assertiveness by Fishman as he dutifully pounded out the "Tusk" drumbeat while the rest of the boys experimented (successfully!) with a couple of different haunting grooves. I've made a fool out of myself more than once trying to explain to non-believers that what sets Phish apart from EVERY other band on the planet is their unmatched skill at "improvisational composition" - by the end of this jam, what the band is actually playing has as much to do with "Carini" as it does a Justin Bieber song. No, wait; that's a terrible comparison.
I have to say I've never been happier to have "Number Line"'s smarmy sentimentality jammed down my throat than at this moment - I needed a reason to sit and hydrate. And I'm just gonna come out and say it - fuck "Julius." It's this type of soulless, smug, quasi blues wankery that gives Phish a bad name amongst people who have decent taste in music. Anyway. Classic second set closer "Slave" came next, affording me the opportunity to bob my head and smile silently to an old favorite while resting my tender vittles. "Hood" in the encore mined similar emotive territory as "Slave", only moreso - always great to hear, and always a great soundtrack to quietly reflect on how many unforgettable and incredibly unique musical experiences this band has led me through since '96. Honestly, I would've cried my damn fool eyes out during this "Hood" if I hadn't been so dehydrated. By this point, even closing the encore with nobody's favorite, "Show of Life," couldn't knock the perma-grin off my ugly mug.
Post-show we again walked a few blocks east before hailing a cab back to Billyburg; again Luckydog was too packed for us to venture inside so we finished the evening at Rosamunde with tasty beer, sausages and fries. Word to the wise - I LOVE LOVE LOVE spicy stuff, but the chicken habanero sausage at Rosamunde is JUST TOO DAMNED SPICY, PEOPLE! I mean, really!
One night to go, beetchez. I'll finish these recaps up next week n' stuff. Tuddd out.
Just got back from the show, got comfy, and poured myself a TALLLLL Vodky / soda / splash'a cran. As such, I feel that bullet points are in order.
Hate to admit that just a short four weeks ago I still hadn't heard note one by Parts and Labor. Although, yes, I'm a bit late to the party on these guys, I'm already a full-fledged convert; at this point, their Constant Future is the best thing I've heard all year. Naturally, the next step was to see them live.
Got to Cake Shop way too early. Calendar said doors at 8, but I was prepared for the worst, which came to fruition when I was informed that the show wasn't going to get started until about quarter after 9. Well, I'll be goshdarned.
Went a few doors down from Cake Shop to Iggy's, a bar I really disenjoy. Last time I was there I got the distinct impression that I was the only person in the bar not on intense amphetamines, although an improbably awesome PBR special kept me glued to my barstool. This time, I walked in and they're playing Sublime (?!???!) and I wind up getting harassed by some drunk, coked-up 60 something dude about the goings-on in the NBA. For someone who was so eager to discuss the NBA, it was painfully obvious that he, in fact, didn't know shit about the NBA. I politely nodded as he spouted such gems as "man, I hope the Knicks play the Sixers in the first round!" Brutal, breh. Trying to break up the conversation, I ordered a second pint, but the bartender was so yipped up he forgot, leaving to my own devices for about 10 minutes. Ultimately, I went unserved.
Drank a bunch of pints at that crap bar Nice Guy Eddie's on Houston. Very uneventful except for an insanely hot bartender.
Finally stumbled into Cake Shop at about a quarter to ten. Was informed that I had missed the opening band, Hunters, which was just fine by me; four bands can be a tall order especially if three of them could potentially suck ass.
First band I saw was Zulu, and they were horrible. Just tuneless infantile thrashing about, which can be ok if your shouty guy sounds kind of intimidating. This guy, not so much; he sounded like he was scolding his loftmate for carelessly placing a chai latte on his back-up iPad. Whiny, monotonous and lame.
Had a few cans of Rock.
Escaped outside briefly for air only to be aggressively panhandled by a dude about my size (read: kinda terrifying) for a couple of bucks.
Next band, from the "dark hole of Cleveland" (their words, not mine, although I concur), was Puffy Areolas. They had kind of a proto-punk backbone filtered thru a more modern noisy presentation, which I obviously dug. The guitarist / singer guy spent most of his time rocking the f out in the first few rows of the audience (right where I was standing), which was great. Was disappointed to see they apparently didn't have any CDs for sale.
The crowd seemed at least a little into this deal, which was nice because these guys were playing their fucking tits off.
Drank some more Rocks at setbreak. Tried to weasel my way into a cheap shot-and-a-beer special, but the bartender wasn't having it. I'm sorry, but if the best you can do for a well shot and a can of beer is $10, you can go fly a kite, mister.
Parts and Labor was up next and they did NOT disappoint. Just great, noisy, at times anthemic and inspirational (um, "Hurricane," anyone?) lo-fi rock delivered by a bunch of dudes that seemed fucking ecstatic to be there. Man is this a good band!
The keyboard dude announced that this was their first show with their new (touring?) guitarist, who apparently 1.) has a pilots license and 2.) once skydived (skydove?) out of the plane used in Point Break. AWESOME!!! Oddly enough, the guitarist was mostly inaudible to me for the majority of the set, despite the fact that I was standing no more than eight or nine inches away from him the whole set.
In my brief review of their new album, I somehow foolishly neglected to mention that the drumming on Constant Future is just INSANE. I haven't been so unexpectedly blown away by a drummer at a live show since a Fucking Champs show a few yeas back. By my count I've seen about 25 shows so far this year (about 50-60 bands at least) and the only drummers I've seen who can even so much as hold this guy's jock are Kenny from Goes Cube and Harvey Milk's Kyle Spence. [OK, fine, and Austerity Program's drum machine.]
Setlist consisted of selections spanning Constant Future, Receivers, Mapmaker and Stay Afraid. Plenty of new songs but regrettably no "Fake Names" or "Constant Future" or "Bright White."
Hmmmm. Not sure how I can more avidly recommend these guys. Running out of nice things that I can say before this review turns into "cartoonish beejer" territory. Buy their records, see them live, and when you do, dance around like you're undergoing invisible electro shock treatment. I did!