My first review of a 2014 "show" isn't of a proper "show" at all, but rather a webcast thingy that Hutch from the Thermals played last night using StageIt. If you've never heard of StageIt, here's the description from the site: "Stageit is an online venue where artists perform live, interactive, monetized shows for their fans directly from a laptop, offering fans unique experiences that are never archived." The performances are done on a "pay what you can" basis, with the suggested price for this one being $5 in credits, purchased through the site itself. You can also buy extra credits and "tip" the artist during the course of the performance, should you so desire. Pretty cool, except for the "never archived" part - I took care of that, at least a little (see above and below videos).
The StageIt platform allows for people to make requests and interact with the artist, and early on when Hutch asked viewers to shoot him some requests, he coincidentally went right into "Faces Stay With Me" just as I had typed in that as a request. Hutch's set consisted of an hour's worth of Thermals songs, performed solo and acoustic. The music of the Thermals translates well in this setting, since their output, by and large, is super-hooky, anthemic, melodic punk / power poppy stuff. Face it - these songs would sound great if you played them on a frickin' xylophone.
Hutch must've done twenty songs or more; here's a woefully incomplete list of some of them: "Born to Kill" (set opener), "Faces Stay With Me," "St. Rosa and the Swallows," "No Culture Icons," "The Sword By My Side," "Returning to the Fold," "How We Know," "Now We Can See," "Everything Thermals," "Here's Your Future," "I Go Alone," "Pillar of Salt" (set closer). He did a bunch of older material towards the beginning of the set as well.
So, yeah, all in all a pretty good deal. Now if only someone could convince Robert Pollard to do one of these....
Whew. Whatta year, amirite?! Yes, new music may have been a bit lacking, but fortunately the one constant that remains is that there's a shit-ton of great live music coming through NYC year-round. When I moved to Williamsburg in '08, I did so almost entirely because of the proximity to so many music venues; nearly 6 years later, that remains my biggest motivation for sticking around.
In fact, my show-going affliction reached new heights this year - I did a rough count last week, and if I wind up going to the New Mastersounds afterparty following the Phish show on December 29th, I will have seen a robust *98* distinct concerts in 2013. According to Jalepzerz' / MeatBox archives, that's a personal record (although I've eclipsed 90 shows in several other years), and as proof, I uploaded literally hundreds of videos to my YouTube channel, effectively documenting my own crime spree.
So, here I sit on Christmas Eve, workin' on my final post of the year for this blog; a post that focuses solely on the highlights of my showgoing for the year. In 4 evenings, Phish NYE Run starts, and if some notable, epic shit goes down, several of these lists could be (at the very least) a bit out of whack and (at most) completely irrelevant. I welcome that. :->
See you in the new year, everyone!
Best Live Show of the Year - Phish at Hampton Coliseum, 10/20/13
Top 10 Phish shows I personally attended this year:
10.) 10/25/13 DCU 9.) 11/1/13 AC 8.) 8/4/13 BGCA 7.) 11/2/13 AC 6.) 7/6/13 SPAC (fuck off, I loved this damn show) 5.) 10/19/13 Hampton 4.) 7/14/13 Merriweather 3.) 10/27/13 Hartford 2.) 10/26/13 DCU 1.) 10/20/13 Hampton
The best three non-Phish arena shows I saw in 2013:
16.) Split Open and Melt at SPAC, July 6 15.) Rock and Roll at BGCA, August 3 14.) Crosseyed and Painless at Holmdel, July 10 13.) Twist > Under Pressure at AC, November 1 12.) Theme from the Bottom > Shaft theme at AC, November 2 11.) Drowned at Worcester, October 26 10.) Harry Hood at Merriweather 9.) Runaway Jim at BGCA, August 4 8.) Stash at Merriweather, July 14 7.) Carini at SPAC, July 6 6.) Carini at AC, October 31 5.) Golden Age at Hartford, October 27 4.) Piper > Taking Care of Business at Hampton, October 20 (yup, this is cheating) 3.) Light at Merriweather, July 14 2.) Seven Below at BGCA, August 2 (in spite of the butchered composed section) 1.) Carini at Hampton, October 18
Yeah, this one's not even close. After being fortunate enough to attend 12 shows during Summer Tour, then 9 of 12 shows on Phish's Fall Tour (and couch touring the other three), I have to say that these sonsabitches haven't performed / improvised at this level since the legendary Fall Tour '97 / NYE Run '97 / Island Tour '98 era. With '13 NYE Run just 5 days away, we can only hope that they deliver something close to what went down from late October thru early November. STOKED BRAH.
In Russian Circles' sonic arsenal, the atmospherics are the glue that binds their whole bag of tricks together. Curtis, formerly of Secret Machines (and a touring member of Interpol), has helmed the last three (excellent) Russian Circles albums, helping to shape the band's evocative, dramatic music into something that's entirely lyrical despite being totally wordless.
This one's kinda a dark horse. It's loud and fast, which will help you keep the RPMS up. But the fact that it's scary as fuck will want to make you outrun it like it's a relentless methed-up boogeyman who's looking to get some tail. (Yours.)
1.) SONG OF THE YEAR: Palma Violets - "Last of the Summer Wine"
Just like countless other great rock n' roll songs, this one's greater than the sum of its parts. Yeah, the intro's too long on this song. And so's the outro. The lyrics are moronic. (The "official" video is absolute garbage - see above.) And the chord progression isn't exactly original but... there's just somethin' about the classic guitar tone and the finesse they play the lick with and the sweet, sweet melody that slays me every time.
"How bad did this year suck?" you ask. Well, it sucked so bad that I had to change the rules to where live albums are disqualified just to keep an archival live release from being my Album of the Year. Why did I feel the need to even bother tweaking the formula? I DON'T FUCKING KNOW!!!!! So, I guess, congrats to Phish for having the year's best release overall. Huzzah!
Anyway, let's have at it, shall we........
1.) ALBUM OF THE YEAR - Deafheaven - Sunbather
A gorgeous, terrifying, exhausting album - casual listening this is not. While retaining the unrelenting brutality of black metal as the musical underpinning, Sunbather adds gorgeous, melodic guitar lines reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky, ratcheting up the drama with a keen Mogwai-esque understanding of how to manipulate quiet / loud dynamics.
2.)Ceramic Dog - Your Turn
This is a helluva album, and it's also a helluva unexpected album. It's incredibly rare that a musician who has attained Marc Ribot's level of success and renown in the jazz world chooses to express himself artistically in a manner that's as angry, ornery, and loud as Your Turn, but it's not simply experimenting with a mode of expression that's a triumph here; it's that the album is a smashing success. Your Turn takes its detours down several stylistc alleys (heavy blues / hard rock, grunge, distorted fusion jams reminiscent of late-period Hendrix, and even a cacophonous, distortion-heavy update of a classic jazz tune) while streamlining the more freeform, scattershot approach taken on the trio's more noodly previous album, Party Intellectuals.
Ribot's tone on Your Turn is furious, his desire to rock is unwaveringly unapologetic, and the music's heavy grooves are arresting. So, listen to this if you like great music, otherwise feel free to go fuck yourself.
3.) Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels
If you're skeptical of yet another posthumous Hendrix release, you should be; the list of "archival" stuff that's been pinched off in the 43 years since Hendrix' death is littered with shoddy quality bootleg material and inessential, often redundant crap, the sheer quantity of which greatly outpaces the (occasionally transcendent) worthwhile stuff by a large margin. Sure, I'm definitely a sucker for unreleased / archival stuff, but this release works surprisingly well on its own as a cohesive album. Comprised mostly of material Hendrix was working on as a follow up to Electric Ladyland, People, Hell and Angels allows the listener a rare glimpse at what might have been had Hendrix' appetite for heroin and pills been less fiendish.
4.) Palma Violets - 180
Earlier this year, Palma Violets were apparently the subject of the creepy-ass UK music press' embarrassing crush; of course, if you're actually regularly reading the NME you've likely already lost the battle. Regardless, this album is a real success, incorporating classic chord progressions, strong melodies, and a warm, inviting garagey sound into their sonic stew. Where many indie acts seem to be self-consciously stuck playing small ball, 180 is unafraid to swing for the fences, evoking the work of several of music's heavy hitters (J&MC, Stone Roses, Velvets, even Springsteen) without being dominated by their influences.
5.)The Men - New Moon
The Men are a band that's seemingly always in the middle of significant stylistic flux, and growing pains are to be expected as a side effect of significant experimentation. New Moon sees them attempting to situate their music on an AM AOR station circa 1976. But for all the genre hopping that they've done over the course of their relatively brief career, to their credit these guys seem like real students (and practitioners) of "what makes rock music great," instead of simply hipster dilettantes.
I saw The Thermals perform less than three months ago, when they stopped by at Maxwell's on their pre-SXSW tour. On that night, the setlist was divided pretty much evenly between their decade-old debut album, More Parts Per Million, and their (then) as-yet unreleased new LP, Desperate Ground. Although the Thermals never really stopped rocking over their previous couple of albums, focusing on the punkier early stuff and the new material (which was described by the band at the time as a purposeful return to their skuzzier, more lo-fi beginnings) seemed to be a conscious effort to scale back the more despondent, emo-ish leanings of '09's Now We Can See and '10's Personal Life.
The Thermals appeared on my home turf at Bowery Ballroom on the two nights prior (5/28 and 5/29), but I skipped those in favor of this show, knowing I was going to be in DC anyway for "work" and to see a few friends during this weekend. Started with some beverages at my pal Bricer's place before meeting up with another buddy, Salsa, at vaguely British-themed pub The Codmother. Several further potent potables and a brisk evening stroll later, we found ourselves at the nearby Black Cat, a venue I'd never been to before.
First impressions of The Black Cat were pretty damn great; the layout actually reminds me a bit of a balcony-less Bowery, in that the crowd enters the room towards the right (if you're facing the stage) in the way back, which means that sneaking up close to the stage on the left is easy. We did so immediately, although we probably wound up too close to the speakers, for which my cheap earplugs were no match (left ear still ringing 4 days later). I liked that the bars flanked the floor, which allowed for many PBR tall boy purchases throughout the evening, and the sound wound up being great, as well. Really, really, really like this room.
We skipped the opening acts, and less than 10 minutes after entering the building, The Thermals began their set with Desperate Ground's "Where I Stand". I had marveled at the band's spirited display at the Maxwell's show, and it amazes me that they seem to manage to put out maximum effort like this night after night. Of course, this sort of sweaty, dynamic presentation fits perfectly for a band whose catalog regularly draws upon themes of perseverence and struggle.
I bitch a lot about Brooklyn crowds sucking, and, for the most part, the crowd at this show was no different. (For the record, the single lamest crowd I've ever seen was Van Halen at DC's Verizon Center last March, and friends who live in the area have often lamented DC's apathetic crowds.) Several kids up front seemed to be rocking the fuck out, and there was some stage diving, but overall those standing motionless greatly outnumbered the people who seemed to be enjoying themselves, which is a fuckin' shame any way ya slice it. Fortunately, this didn't affect the band's performance one iota, as Hutch rabidly sweated through his shirt, Kathy pogoed joyously, and Westin stage dove with abandon - hell yeah.
Just as at the Maxwell's show, the setlist delved heavily into More Parts Per Million and Desperate Ground, but at this show equal time was given to their 2006 masterpiece, The Body, the Blood, the Machine, songs from which made up several of the evening's finest performances. Other highlights for me were the show's lone representative from Fuckin' A, "How We Know," and MPPM's "No Culture Icons," which served as the evening's encore (see above and below for video of both).
Going to shows like this is an invigorating experience for me, which is why I try to get out as much as I can. Of course, there are few bands that are as enjoyable live as The Thermals. If you live in the southwest or Cali, do yourself a favor and check them out over these next few days while they're still on tour, and when you do, don't be afraid to move around a l'il.
Desperate Ground does *EXACTLY* what The Thermals do well - catchy, fist-pumpin', poppy punk tunes, and it's jampacked with some of the finest vocal melodies Hutch has ever come up with. The critical backlash against this album is unfortunate, but not necessarily unexpected; if you're the type of shithead who's pretending garbage like The Knife, Grimes, or Autre Ne Veut is all that, then you shouldn't be expected to enjoy good things in the first place. And getting all cunty because the Thermals have *gasp!* put out an album that successfully follows the Thermals' formula is just plain confusing. Expecting anything other than rockin', tuneful jams from The Thermals at this point is like moving to Harlem and complaining that "this neighborhood would sure be great without all the black people."
In that same interview, she reveals that her songwriting process is painstakingly based around accumulating fragmented pieces and cobbling them together later into coherent songs. Again, on Marnia this is painfully obvious, in that unlike her eponymous album, there's really only one truly "great" song (the anthemic "Year of the Glad"), but several great "fragments" (the choruses to "Immortals" and "Nothing Is Easy", notably). It's still highly listenable, but a bit of a regression nonetheless.
Thalia Zedek Band - Via
Thalia Zedek Band has a style that's all their own. Theirs is a catalog full of despondent, melancholy songs characterized by rich, patient chording, with tasteful virtuosity from the viola and the piano keeping things from getting too 'Lilith Fair' on ya. Unfortunately, after solid album opener "Walk Away," the next few songs on this album have a kind of "been there, done that," rehashed feel. Things pick up over the album's second half, where the strident rhythms of "Straight and Strong" and the relatively hopeful "Want You to Know" stand out.
With 2013 1/3 over, it's list time. The title of this post is a tad misleading; if this list comprised all of my favorite songs from this year, it would have more GbV / Thermals / Hendrix / The Men / etc. songs. Instead it's more like "one good song from each of the albums / EPs I've enjoyed most this year, plus the Roomrunner single." So, presented in no particular order, here's that.
Yes, the Thermals played in my neighborhood at 285 Kent Thursday, but I had tix to the sold-out The Men show at Bowery that night. But with multiple area shows, there was no fuckin' way I was going to miss The Thermals on their brief pre-SXSW visit to the Northeast. Y'kiddin' me?
Actually getting to Maxwell's is always easier than I remember. So why have I, a dedicated live music fan, seen so few shows at Maxwell's? Well, first off, most bands that play here wind up doing at least one night across the river at one of the Bowery-owned venues, most of which are super close to me. Second off, I'm not always in the mood for Hoboken's bullshit. It always seems to me like Hoboken is mostly populated by a bunch of obnoxious lower-tier frat / sorority refugees, and enough unpleasant Type-A douchebags to make me remember why I ran away screaming from suburban Long Island. Plus, it always seems that regardless of the season, people are ALWAYS wearing Mardi Gras beads in Hoboken, which, face it, is fuckin' lame.
That being said, Maxwell's is a pretty sweet place to see a show - for a tiny room it's loud as hell and bands really seem to be invigorated by the intimacy of the setting. And in my few times at Maxwell's, the crowds seem to be sufficiently "into it," drinking heavily and unafraid to rock the eff out unlike the crowds at most of the Brooklyn shows I attend.
After walking around Hoboken aimlessly for a good hour-plus, I finally went into Maxwell's for good about halfway through the band TEEN's opening set. Unfortunately, I walked in right as the band was having serious tuning issues. This totally killed any momentum their set could've head for me, but honestly this type of stuff just isn't my favorite either way; there's been enough of this underpracticed, dreamyish indie pop in Williamsburg for the last several years to choke a decent-sized sinkhole (I wish!). Props to the singer, though; she had a pretty solid mastery of her upper register singing.
As the Thermals started setting up their gear, I had to wonder what would be in store for this evening: a show leaning heavily on old stuff, or one designed to feature their upcoming album, Desperate Ground (due April 16th). Actually, it turned out to be both, and in heaping portions, with tons of stuff from their 10-year-old debut, More Parts Per Million and a shitload of new songs.
The set itself served as an in-your-face primer on How to Rock the Fuck Out, as taught by Kathy, Westin and Hutch. Kathy pogoed all night long, Westin stage dove so many times I lost count, and Hutch worked up a furious sweat, diving blindly backwards into the eager crowd several times WHILE STILL PLAYING HIS GUITAR. [See directly below.]
This is a band that's truly not afraid to challenge itself, and one need look no further than the new album's uptempo vibe for proof. This translated itself into a setlist that included nary a single song off of the Thermals' more "mature" (read: slower paced) previous two albums, Now We Can See and Personal Life. I can't imagine it's terribly "easy" to play 75 minutes of breakneck "happy punk" every night, but clearly there was a conscious decision by the band to go back to their Ramones / Misfits-inspired roots and bring the fire. I, for one, felt Personal Life seemed a bit too calculated and "careerist" of a move, so I salute the brave new (old) direction of the new songs.
Towards the end of the set, Hutch mentioned that they'll be coming back through the NYC area for some shows "at the end of May." Great news. See ya then, guys!