Sunday, February 26, 2017

Tall Tall Trees Takes His Greasy Dance Party to Rockwood Music Hall

Mike Savino has been growing a beard for five or six years.  By now, the tangled nest of brown curls extends down to the middle of his chest.  It's the first thing most people notice, but if you'd seen him on Saturday night, it would've been his toothy grin as the capacity crowd at Rockwood Music Hall sang back to him: "I was a seagull / You were an eagle."

Just three songs prior, a good portion of this choir had never heard of Tall Tall Trees, the name Savino performs under.  While it's a delight to see a musician enjoying himself so much, one of my favorite things to do at a Tall Tall Trees show is to watch people's awed expressions as they first experience the spectacle of what Savino is able to do with a banjo.  I should mention that Mike doesn't play an ordinary banjo.  His "Banjotron 5000" is a custom-rigged Swiss Army knife of an instrument that he fingerpicks, bows, pounds with a mallet, sings through, etc., effectively transforming Mike into one-man band.  In an upcoming podcast interview that we taped before the show, he explained that many of the instrument's features come as a result of him breaking it and re-breaking it.  Its latest casualty was its trademark ring of flashing lights, inexplicably stuck on red.  "I think it's out of anger," quipped Mike.  "It's gonna stay red for a few years, and then we'll have to get the Banjotron back to blue... hashtag."

Although he normally performs solo (when not improvisationally sparring onstage with Kishi Bashi), Savino was joined by Ashevillean Micah Thomas on drums.  "After four years, I got tired of driving alone," Savino admitted.  He introduced "Say Something Real!" as Micah's favorite, the bombastic march of its refrain allowing for Thomas to pound away joyously.  The duo had been playing together for less than a week, and it was exciting to watch Mike keep Micah on his toes.  During the aforementioned "Seagullxeagle," an interspecies romance that Savino described as "Romeo & Juliet for the David Attenborough set," Thomas stood up at his drum kit, spread his own wingspan, and cawed like a bird.

The singalong helped the crowd to loosen up a little in the sauna-like conditions of the small room.  "Are you guys ready to have a greasy dance party?" Mike polled the sweaty audience before plunging into the bhangra-informed "Waiting on the Day."  Mike's foot missed a pedal during the intro to "Being There," and he decided to restart the number, owning up to it with an "I effed up, bro."  The mistake was quickly forgotten as the duo veered the song into a spacey jam, with Savino utilizing a toy megaphone and a laser gun to interact with the Banjotron's electronics.  The jam segued into final number "Highwire," Savino again enlisting the crowd for accompaniment on a few takes of its falsetto chorus before Mike and Micah brought it all home with a circusy dirge.


TALL TALL TREES - 02.25.17 - ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL (56 minutes)

SET -
Picture Picture / Backroads / Say Something Real! / Seagullxeagle / Waiting on the Day / Being There > Jam > Highwire

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Monthly Mix #24: January 2017

January 2017:
January is a month to further investigate the previous year's releases, while simultaneously looking forward to this year's crop.

 

1. Vitamin String Quartet - "As the World Falls Down"
When I posted this on Spotify last month (Follow theonlydustin to get these mixes the moment I finalize them.), it was a tongue-in-cheek way to address Bowie's deathiversary and the new administration.  Now that we actually seem to be teetering on the brink of WWIII, it doesn't feel quite the same. 

2. Blitzen Trapper - "All Across This Land"
I wasn't the biggest fan of Blitzen Trapper's eighth album when I first heard it, but the title track deserves a spot in their greatest hits.

3. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - "Nuclear Fusion"
Australia's most prolific psych-rock ambassadors are back with another offering of groovy weirdness.

4. Kris Kristofferson - "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)"
While I'll always know Kristofferson as Mace Montana, the ringmaster in Big Top Pee-Wee, I hear he's also a pretty good songwriter.

5. Vindata feat. Anderson Paak - "Own Life"
Vindata provides the chaotic, bombastic production for Paak to do his thing.

6. St. Paul & the Broken Bones - "Flow with It (You Got Me Feeling Like)"
Dig the old-school soul vibe. 

7. Robert Ellis - "California"
This powerful tune nearly made it onto the Top 40 Songs of 2016.

8. Morgan Heritage - "Strictly Roots"
When the weather gets cold, I like to listen to reggae in an attempt to trick myself into thinking it's warmer outside than it is.  Here's a new banger from Denroy Morgan's children, Morgan Heritage.

9. Day Wave - "Stuck"
This was another leftover from last year's list.  Jackson Phillips (Day Wave) will be releasing his debut full-length in May as well, so keep your ears open.

10. The Flaming Lips - "Nigdy Nie (Never No)" 
Gotta love that fuzzy bass squelch.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Top 40 Songs of 2016

So here we are, one year after David Bowie's passing and ten days away from Donald Trump's inauguration.  It's easy to view 2016 as a total wreck, the country divided, coupled with a seemingly endless flow of influential artists' deaths.  And I'll admit that 2016 was the roughest year of my life personally as well.  But to discount 2016 as simply "The Year the Music Died" belies that fact that a lot of excellent music came out.  I've made it a habit to create a playlist of my top 40 songs each year, and I'm not going to stop just because it feels like the world is falling apart.  Now that we're ten days into 2017, hopefully we can look back on 2016 and say, "Well, at least there were some good tunes."

Now you may be asking, "Speaking of Bowie, why isn't he on this list?"  Well, I have very strict rules for eligibility.  While Blackstar remains an important album and one that I enjoy, its best tracks were all released prior to 2016.  "Killing a Little Time" from the Lazarus recordings almost made it, however.  Anyway, don't let that stop you from opening up Spotify and enjoying 2.5 hours of 2016 jams.

Top 40 Songs of 2016



40. A Giant Dog - "Sleep When Dead"
This snagged the opening spot in the final week of December while I was returning to NY via the Lincoln Tunnel on a Chinatown bus.  The aggression of the music mixed with the determination in the lyrics makes it the perfect soundtrack to kick those New Year's resolutions into gear. 

39. Animal Liberation Orchestra - "Summer Dream (We Got the Time)"
I wasn't aware ALO had released this sunkissed single exclusively through Amazon until I saw them play it live at Brooklyn Bowl in August.  It's not on Spotify, so you can check out an acoustic version performed by Zach and Steve below.

38. Frightened Rabbit - "Get Out"
I think most of us can relate to this shimmery rock number, wherein lead singer Scott Hutchison compares his love interest to an "uncut drug" that he can't quit and doesn't want to.

37. A Tribe Called Quest - "Movin Backwards"
Phife Dawg's death wasn't a complete surprise to anyone familiar with his battle with diabetes, but what was unexpected was the release of a new Tribe album eight months later.  This song addresses police brutality and the confusions and frustrations of being black in a society where racism has returned to the forefront.  It also features Anderson Paak, who we'll hear from later on down the list.

36. Daniel Romano - "Maybe Remember Me"
Romano expands upon his country sound with this poppy folk ditty stuffed with vivid imagery like the orange bird that rests upon his shoulder.  As if that weren't enough of a stylistic jump, the song's conclusion segues into what feels like an early Red Hot Chili Peppers demo.

35. Billie Marten - "Teeth"
Speaking of birds, you'll hear them chirping in the background of this beautiful performance by Billie Marten.  It's so raw, you can hear the clunks of the piano's foot pedals.

34. The Invisible - "Save You"
I hate to resort to a TV on the Radio comparison, but it's the best TVOTR song they never wrote.

33. Tokyo Police Club - "Not My Girl"
After going solo with last year's All Signs Point to Yes (and talking to me about it on The Next Round), Dave Monks returns with another excellent power-pop number from the first of two 2016 EPs by Tokyo Police Club.

32. My Morning Jacket - "Magic Bullet"
MMJ released this funky plea for peace the Sunday after a particularly brutal week of gun violence in July.

31. Busman's Holiday - "What We Need We Know"
The Rogers brothers hired a 21-piece orchestra to flesh out their DIY acoustic sound on their sophomore record, Popular Cycles.  The result is powerful and organic.

30. Leonard Cohen - "You Want It Darker"
Another legend gone.  Crazily enough, I actually didn't start listening to Cohen until the beginning of 2016.  While I prefer his early folk material, the organ and choir make this song absolutely chilling. 

29. Sturgill Simpson - "Brace for Impact (Live a Little)"
A Sailor's Guide to Earth, Simpson's 2016 major label debut, was conceived as an instruction manual for his son.  Here, he encourages his son to "live a little" before his impending death.  The chugging groove prevents it from being too morbid.

28. The Heavy - "Not the One"
There's some nice, funky guitarwork here, reminiscent of John Frusciante.  I guess it's obvious I was extremely let down by The Getaway and had to get my jollies elsewhere.

27. Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals - "Shine"
If I were to call Ben Harper's 13th studio album, and first with the Innocent Criminals since 2007's Lifeline, what it is, I'd call it a disappointment.  "Shine" is a definite keeper though.

26. Matthew Logan Vasquez - "Personal"
Delta Spirit's frontman may have "struck out on his own," but fortunately, he didn't strike out, as evidenced by this energetic rocker.

25. Beyoncé - "All Night"
So much of Lemonade is about vengeance, but it's on "All Night" that Beyoncé forgives her husband for his infidelities, choosing to salvage their marriage instead of ending it.  As a result, it's the most fearless song on the record.  Obviously not on Spotify.


24. Radiohead - "Identikit"
I don't consider "True Love Waits" eligible for 2016 consideration.  While it would easily be included in the top ten if I did, I feel that having a live version officially released as far back as 2001 disqualifies it.  I say this knowing full well that "Identikit" was performed live in 2012, albeit unreleased.  Ed O'Brien's frenetic guitar solo is a welcome return to what was sorely missing from The King of Limbs.

23. White Denim - "Holda You (I'm Psycho)"
The Austin band went through some lineup changes for Stiff, reigniting that freewheeling energy that seemed in shorter supply on Corsicana Lemonade for this balls-out rocker.
 
22. D.D Dumbo - "Walrus"
It took me up until the final week of December to decide between four of the tracks on D.D Dumbo's debut LP, Utopia Defeated, which song should be represented here.  I went with the persistent opener that exemplifies Oliver Hugh Perry's multilayered production.

21. The Stray Birds - "Third Day in a Row"
I saw more sunrises last year than any year in my life.  Honestly, I probably saw the majority of the 366, so this one speaks to me.

20. Caleb Caudle - "Tuscaloosa"
One of my good friends used to work with this guy at a pizzeria in North Carolina, which is funny because you'd never a expect pizza guy to be capable of writing a line as moving as "Well, I'm not lookin' to be fixed / Just understand that parts are broken."

19. Aloha - "Faraway Eyes"
I'd heard of Aloha before 2016, but they didn't really demand my attention until Little Windows Cut Right Through, which would surely be on my albums of the year list if I made one.  It was hard selecting just one track, but the lyric "I know you're scared / I'm scared too" resonated with me, even if it was mainly due to a Rory Scovel joke.

18. Bruno Mars - "24K Magic"
While not as infectious as his Mark Ronson collaboration "Uptown Funk," Mr. Mars has returned with another slice of retro R&B to get your ass (and your ugly-ass friends) on the dance floor.

17. Kevin Morby - "I Have Been to the Mountain"
My favorite guitar solo of the year.

16. Bear Hands - "Marathon Man"
I actually discovered this song on Spotify.  It was the first Bear Hands tune I heard, and it inspired me to promptly order their back catalog on vinyl.  Their latest effort, You'll Pay for This, was a bit underwhelming, so my rabid fandom has tapered off, but I still enjoy it.

15. Dawes - "Roll with the Punches"
Its theme of persistence is characterized by the galvanic organ.

14. Will Joseph Cook - "Girls Like Me"
You can definitely hear the Talking Heads influence, but at only 18, Cook has plenty of time to grow.  If he's writing songs this catchy now, just wait until he gets some patina on him.

13. Catfish & the Bottlemen - "Soundcheck"
You could teach a songwriting class with this one, which merges its big pop chorus with esoteric verses, even going as far as to use the term "fag break."  The details paint a fuller picture, allowing the listener to relate.

12. Pop Etc - "Please, Don't Forget Me"
Chris Chu didn't forget the '80s when he crafted the lively lead-off track to SouvenirHear him discuss how the band whittled down literally hundreds of ideas to the album's ten tunes on The Next Round.

11. Honne feat. Izzy Bizu - "Someone That Loves You"
British songbird Izzy Bizu assists electronic soul duo Honne to create the most danceable number on Warm on a Cold Night.

10. Nico Yaryan - "Witch Love"
Yaryan wrote What a Tease while working at a cannabis farm in Humboldt County and spending time with a romantic interest in AmsterdamThe laid-back influence of the weed can be heard in the music.  It's not groundbreaking by any means, but it's refreshing to hear someone crooning so genuinely.

9. Emily King - "Focus"
In July, Emily King released a deluxe edition of last year's The Switch, adding this among the bonus tracks and proving it worth the upgrade.  She discussed the album's expansion on my podcast.

8. Bon Iver - "33 God"
Electronic artists and lo-fi balladeers have been experimenting with sound quality for years, so it wasn't exactly a new idea when Justin Vernon did it on 22, A Million.  In fact, it's often frustrating to have the songs obscured as such.  Be that as it may, it forced the studious listener to question its purpose.  Could it be part of some puzzle to unlock, or is it all just pretentious hipsterism If it weren't so damn melodic, I'd strongly consider it the latter.

7. Eric Krasno - "Waiting on Your Love"
Soulive's guitarist steps solidly into the spotlight on this bluesy funk cut.

6. Esmé Patterson - "Feel Right"
Esmé's hiccups and howls coalesced into my favorite individual vocal performance of the year.

5. Cris Jacobs - "Jack the Whistle & the Hammer"
If you can listen to this without bobbing your head or tapping your foot, stay the fuck away from me.  If you'd like to hear more about the genesis of the titular characters, check out my podcast interview with Cris.

4. Kishi Bashi - "Honeybody"
K. Ishibashi was having quite the slump when he sat down to write for record #3, feeling like he was going through the motions while simultaneously watching his marriage suffer, so it's amazing that such a joyous nugget came out of it.

3. Hero the Band - "Expectations"
I'm not sure why this is no longer available on Spotify, but it was in constant rotation on my iPod in the early months of the year, providing a 4-minute serotonin boost whenever I needed.

2. Francis & the Lights feat. Bon Iver - "Friends"
For this song, Francis invented a special audio codec, dubbed the Prismizer.  The result is similar to Auto-Tune, yet it retains the brightness of the human voiceIt's especially effective when combined with a call for friendship in these rough, divisive times.

1. Anderson Paak - "Come Down"
We may have lost a lot of legends this past year, but hip-hop/R&B artist Anderson Paak has been staking his claim as a star of the future.  I could've picked several of the songs from Paak's fantastic Malibu album to include in this list, but my limit is one per act.  I decided to go with "Come Down" because it's supremely funky and fun despite the complexity of its syncopation and production.  He's nominated for two Grammys, including Best New Artist, so you'd do well to hop in the Paak seat now.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Phish MSG Night Two Setlist

Review to come.

PHISH - 12.29.16 - MADISON SQUARE GARDEN

SET I (1 hour, 18 minutes) -
Sweet Adeline / Peaches en Regalia > Mike's Song > Secret Smile > Weekapaug Groove / Roses Are Free / Poor Heart / 46 Days / Brian & Robert / Beauty of a Broken Heart / Theme from the Bottom > Split Open & Melt

SET II (1 hour, 14 minutes) -
Down with Disease > What's the Use? > Fuego > Meatstick / Twenty Years Later > Kung > Twenty Years Later > Makisupa Policeman / Harry Hood

ENCORE (8 minutes) -
Julius

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Phish MSG Night One Setlist

Review to come.

PHISH - 12.28.16 - MADISON SQUARE GARDEN

SET I (1 hour, 20 minutes) -
The Star-Spangled Banner / Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan / Lonesome Cowboy Bill > Free / Train Song / Prince Caspian / Roggae / Funky Bitch / Halfway to the Moon / Corinna / Stash / Cavern

SET II (1 hour, 19 minutes) -
Wolfman's Brother / Golden Age > Simple > Chalk Dust Torture / Martian Monster > Tweezer Reprise > Martian Monster / Wingsuit / Possum

ENCORE (7 minutes) -
Good Times Bad Times

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Majorleans Return to Mercury Lounge

Mercury Lounge's most iconic feature had to have been its wall sconces.  The dim incandescent bulbs entrenched in decorative wire cages looked like giant firefly abdomens, just barely illuminating the showroom's brick walls to give it a feel that was somehow simultaneously dingy and classy.  They were even used in the lounge's website design for years until the Bowery Presents overhauled the page to include their other venues.  So imagine my shock last night when I stepped into the room to find them replaced with new fixtures that appear as if someone sliced a scalloped pitcher in half, stuck it over a LED light, and glued it to an elongated octagon made of reflective material streaked with blue wisps.  They look like shit and I don't know what they were thinking.  Almost exactly a year ago, when the original sconces remained, the Majorleans played the Mercury Lounge, unveiling a selection of new tunes that Nicky Francis and Chris Buckle had been workshopping for their next album, Carouser's End.  Last night, the band played all seven songs from the upcoming record.
The set got off to a shaky start, as inconsistent monitor levels had the members struggling to hear each other, with Buckle having difficulty harmonizing during "Mr. Magic."  After some adjustments, the band rallied behind "Give It All to Me," having lived in the Carouser's tunes long enough now that they've become staples.  The older Black Belt numbers benefitted from being reworked as well.  "Imaginary Plane" has always been my least favorite Majorleans song, but for this go-round, they slowed it down, allowing me to hear just how deep the pocket of rhythm section Bongers & Brooks goes.  By the time they'd reached the end of "What I Mean" five songs in, the confidence was visible, Nicky shaking his narrow hips as the crowd clapped for more.  "Once the pendulum starts swinging, it doesn't stop," Francis acknowledged.  "Not in those jeans!" came a teasing rebuttal from a crowdmember.  Trading out his Rickenbacker electric for a Gibson acoustic, Nicky led the band on a duo of Carouser's ditties, "Under the Spell" and "Sunrise Mary," the latter of which was greeted with knowing cheers from the audience.

Almost as big of a surprise as the new lighting on the walls, but entirely more welcome, was the second live performance ever of "Lonesome Seaside Driving School."  Written while driving along the southern coast of France, the introspective and atmospheric ballad stood proudly amid the band's rockers.  Having pulled it off without a hitch, Nicky warned the people, "It's all biscuits in your mouth from here on out, so be ready."  He held onto the Gibson for a terrific "Under Ma Wheels" before returning to the Rick on "Tattoo."  Chris sustained the song's final note to give Francis enough leeway to slap on a capo for their frequent closer and time-tested crowd-pleaser "Never Had Enough."  While it definitely sucks about the sconces, fortunately the Mercury Lounge will always be about the music, first and foremost.


THE MAJORLEANS - 12.07.16 - MERCURY LOUNGE (53 minutes)

SET -
Mr. Magic / Give It All to Me / Imaginary Plane / Set to Receive / What I Mean / Under the Spell / Sunrise Mary / Lonesome Seaside Driving School / Under Ma Wheels / Tattoo > Never Had Enough

Monday, December 5, 2016

Monthly Mix #23: December 2016 (Secular)

December 2016 (Secular):
I'm not solely listening to Christmas carols right now, so neither should you.



1. Bruno Mars - "24K Magic"
While not the instantly likable "Uptown Funk," I think I was hooked after three listens.

2. Sing Street - "Drive It Like You Stole It"
I was charmed by John Carney's coming-of-age film when I saw it over Thanksgiving break.  I'd recommend the movie (currently streaming on Netflix) and this Hall & Oates-inspired ditty. 

3. The Game feat. Too $hort, Problem, AV, & Eric Bellinger - "Or Nah"
Sorry if it's a little crass, but it's got that beat.  Eric Bellinger's hook is smooth AF too.

4. John Legend feat. Brittany Howard - "Darkness & Light"
Legend enlists Alabama Shakes' frontwoman for the sultry title track of his fifth studio album (sixth if you count his collaboration with the Roots).

5. Neil Young - "Here for You"
Back in September, this was the father-daughter dance at my friend's wedding.  I really liked the choice, and Neil's catalog is finally available on Spotify.

6. Johnny Marr - "Easy Money"
Propulsion epitomized.

7. Jim James - "Same Old Lie"
While it may feel like our current political climate is drastically different than what we've come to expect, Jim reminds us that in fact, "it's the same old lie."

8. Syreeta - "I Love Every Little Thing About You"
Syreeta recorded this cover of Stevie Wonder's song in the midst of their divorce, one-upping the original and adding a whole new layer of depth.

9. Jack Garratt feat. Anderson Paak - "Worry"
I'm not a big Jack Garratt fan, but Paak throws down one of his top verses here.

10. Mike Doughty - "I Can't Believe I Found You in That Town"
This was on my Top 40 of 2015 list when it was merely a demo on Mike's Drip.fm feed.  While I still prefer the stripped-down original over the DJ Good Goose production that you'll hear here, the effective lyrics remain unchanged.

Monthly Mix #22 - December 2016 (Holiday)

December 2016 (Holiday):
The holidays are approaching.



1. The Staple Singers - "The Last Month of the Year"
It's the last month of the year.

2. Mariah Carey - "All I Want for Christmas is You"
Like it or not, this is now a bonafide Christmas classic.

3. David Bazan - "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"
Bazan puts his lo-fi spin on Lennon as part of his new Christmas record, Dark Sacred Night.

4. Kacey Musgraves feat. Leon Bridges - "Present Without a Bow"
Cute seasonal number featuring two of music's shiniest new stars.

5. Grace Potter - "Naughty, Naughty Children (Better Start Actin' Nice)"
Potter looks at the bright side of getting coal for Christmas.

6. Andy Williams - "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"
The other day, I put this on and pretended I was living in a musical.  So fun.  I'm not ashamed to admit that, so try it for yourself.

7. Wham! - "Last Christmas"
No comment.

8. Jeremy Messersmith - "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
Starts off like a bedroom demo until the strings sneak in and open the door.  Remember when Jeremy was on the podcast?

9. Stevie Wonder - "Merry Christmas/Happy Kwanzaa"
Taken from an UK promotional single, this interesting little piece mashes up "Jingle Bells" with Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely."

10. David Bowie & Bing Crosby - "Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy"
This has always been my Uncle Mike's favorite holiday song, and it's even more poignant with Bowie's passing this year.