Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jesse Harris Record Release Party

Last night at the East Village's number one Brazilian record store, Tropicalia in Furs, Jesse Harris treated 25-30 fans to a very intimate performance of selections from his new album, Sub Rosa.  Harris, probably best known for his Grammy-winning songwriting on Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why," has been releasing solo albums since 1995.  His latest is a largely acoustic affair with European flourishes, reminiscent of Josh Rouse's most recent work.  It's a nice Sunday afternoon record, or innocuous enough to be a dinner soundtrack, though I anticipate the album revealing more depth with repeat spins.  The album was co-produced by drummer Bill Dobrow, who I've seen perform with Peter Salett.  Miss Jones finds her way onto three of the 14 tracks.

Crowded into the tiny storefront, it was very hot, and visibility was limited, with Dobrow and supporting band members taking places on the floor.  The unplugged performance sounded great in the small room, the notes bouncing off walls covered in photographs of people with their record collections.  But what struck me most was how completely humble Jesse was, personally walking around a tray of cookies before the show.  "Tant Pis" was introduced, "This song is in French, so if you speak French, I'm sorry," furthering Harris' humility.

Jesse plays an amplified set tonight at Rockwood Music Hall.

JESSE HARRIS – 07.29.12 – TROPICALIA IN FURS (24 minutes)

Waltz of the Rain / I Won’t Wait / It’s Been Goin’ Round / Sad Blues / Tant Pis / Rocking Chairs / I Know It Won’t Be Long

Monday, July 30, 2012

Catalpa Festival: Day 2 Review

I was in no rush to get to Randall's Island today, only really caring to see Matisyahu and Snoop on today's schedule.  I arrived at 3:45 when the Dirty Heads were taking the Jeep Stage, and City & Colour were playing to one row of people on the main stage.  The Dirty Heads did their best Sublime impression, but I'm pretty tired of bands emulating Sublime (including Sublime with Rome).

I headed over to the reggae stage, and discovered a somewhat unlikely amalgam of people and instruments onstage.  United by what I suppose is a love of marijuana, the 16 members of the Cannabis Cup Band made some irie music, complete with female vocal harmonies, live horns, and even a violin!  It was disheartening to see the huge crowd across the way for the fake-ass reggae of the Dirty Heads.  MC Rocker T joined CCB for a preview of their later set: a cover of "Bend Down Low."

It started drizzling and I made the walk over to the main stage for Cold War Kids.  I basically just like "Hang Me Up to Dry," so I figured I'd stay until they played it (likely last) and then go over to Matisyahu.  As I took my place in the mud from the previous day, a stench invaded my nostrils that I couldn't place.  Was it the mud?  The people around me?  Some skunk weed?  I decided it was the mud and was inescapable.  To my surprise, Cold War Kids played "Hang Me Up to Dry" about halfway through their set.  I couldn't really get into many of the other songs, but I noticed that the bass player kept kicking the singer on purpose.  Tension in the band or some strange bit of stageplay?  He didn't kick the Johnny Knoxville-looking guitarist at all.  Weird.
The sun burst through the clouds in tandem with Matisyahu's intro music, which sounded like the theme to a demented sports movie.  Originally possessing a long beard and Payot, it was somewhat of a novelty to witness a Hasidic Jew performing reggae music.  Having shaved off his facial hair in December, the new Matisyahu, looking more like a toned-down Ali G in his jean jacket, shades, and cap, walked onstage and sat down on a speaker cabinet while his band played.  No one really cheered because it seemed no one knew it was him.  The anticlimactic opening was only furthered when he began performing his latest material, which came across as poppy hip-hop.  It was the old Matisyahu we wanted, and we didn't get it until after some stellar beatboxing, when he settled into "Jerusalem," teasing Matthew Wilder's "Break My Stride" in the middle.

A beach ball was thrown onstage and he promptly confiscated it, handing it off to a roadie.  "I find these beach balls to be mad fucking distracting, you know?  I always hated getting hit on the back of the head with a beach ball when I was trying to watch a concert.  We're not at a fucking beach."  A little foul-mouthed, but accurate.  In response to requests: "We're gonna play 'One Day' and 'King Without a Crown.' Like we wouldn't play them.  Those are the only two songs everybody knows.  Patience, children."  Now wearing only a wifebeater, Matisyahu resembled a tall Jimmy Fallon.  He delivered on his promise, standing on top of the crowd in "King," and plucking people from the front one by one to join him onstage for "One Day."

I had no desire to see Matt & Kim, so we returned to the dependable reggae stage for one of the biggest surprises of the night.  Leon & the Peoples were playing their "reggae-soul" music, which is essentially lovers rock.  I overheard a man in the crowd say something about Leon being a model and then it hit me where I'd seen him before.  Leon was the lead actor in Cool Runnings.  That was almost 20 years ago and he looks almost exactly the same, so we IMDb-ed.  He's fucking 50 years old!  Crazy.  He was also Black Jesus in Madonna's "Like a Prayer" video.  We took in the positive vibes of the group as they put their spin on "African" and "Lovely Day."  They have an electronic saxophone player, and now I totally want an EWI.

The moment I was dreading, choosing between the noise of Araab Musik and the mashups of Girl Talk, had finally come.  I chose dinner.  The grilled Vermont cheddar/bacon marmalade/avocado sandwich from Little Muenster was good, but some fresh cracked pepper would've taken it to a whole new level.  Crumbs was desperately trying to unload their cupcakes, so we took advantage of their 2 for $3 deal and ate them as the Cannabis Cup Band with Rocker T closed out the reggae stage with "Get Up, Stand Up."

We attempted to ride the Jeep Power Amp thing, but registration was closed.  With nothing else to do, we decided on A$AP Rocky, the Harlem rapper du jour.  But which one was he?  Two songs in, there were twenty hypemen on the stage, but none of them appeared to be the leader.  They just chanted "A-SAP! A-SAP! A-MOTHERFUCKIN'-SAP!" and yelled "Pussy!" as air horns and gun sound effects went off.  On the third song, a white-jumpsuited member took the forefront, but the same "A-SAP! A-SAP!" shit continued.  A post-song real-talk: "I'll tell you how life go.  I could be anywhere in the world right now, but I'm right here." "That's real nigga shit right there!" exclaimed one of his cronies.  Fool, you could've walked here.  As we walked away, I heard, "We were wearing skinny jeans back in 2004 and everyone thought we were fuckin' gay, and we had to fight every day, and now you embrace our skinny jeans."  New rule: Don't listen to anyone with a dollar-sign in their name.  Here's lookin' at you, Ke$ha.

With the stage decorated like the album's cover, it was finally time to hear Doggystyle performed in its entirety.  A projection screen shifted from the brick backdrop to Snoop Dogg smoking weed in a bathtub, setting up the interludes as scenes from a blaxploitation film.  It was a clever way to accomplish this, but technical errors resulting in the reveal of the DVD's menu sort of killed the flow.  One filmed bit even negatively affected the show:  After claiming that he should "never trust a bitch," Snoop wakes up to a woman pointing a pistol with a silencer at his face.  He quickly grabs his gat and shoots her in the head, digital blood spraying out.  Cut to an overhead shot of the woman's corpse on the bed with Snoop at its edge with his face in his palms.  The music to "Murder Was the Case" chimed in at this laughable moment, undercutting the seriousness of the song.  Compare this with the ominous production from the 1994 VMAs:

A DJ played a recording of a live band performing the songs, which begs to ask why a live band wasn't used.  The sound was what you'd expect from being inside a trunk-rattling system.  If it sounds like I was disappointed, it's mainly because they omitted "Lodi Dodi."  Maybe it was lost in the mix, as the album wasn't performed in order, but it made no sense as to why Snoop left it out, but he included a medley of his verses from Dre's "The Next Episode," "Deep Cover," and "Nuthin' But a G Thang."  I am dumbfounded that I was the only one who seemed to notice.

It was great to see Snoop back with all his original gangstas: the afro-puffed Lady of Rage, the lispy RBX, and Tha Dogg Pound's Daz and Kurupt.  Although Nate Dogg was sadly missed on "Ain't No Fun," we did get the mascot-headed Nasty Dogg, who occasionally waved his 4' dick from side to side.  But the thing that shocked me most was the realization that the album is almost 20 years old.  While Dre's G-Funk production is no longer used in hip-hop, the songs remain incredibly fresh onstage.  When I recognized that we will tell our children about this album the way older people tell us about Led Zeppelin, my mind was blown.  I also don't know the right age to expose a child to such graphic subject matter, but for me, it was 9.

"Drop It Like It's Hot" and a singalong "Young, Wild, & Free" made up the encore.  Snoop gave praise to Haile Selassie I at the end of the show, which makes me wonder just how seriously he's taking this Snoop Lion thing.

If they decide to do another Catalpa next year, here are my suggestions:
1. Better bands.
2. More trashcans.
3. Water in the hand-washing stations.
4. Move the soundboard further from the stage.
5. Print the reggae schedule.
6. Change the name.  No one knows how to say it or what it's supposed to mean.

SNOOP DOGG – 07.29.12 – RANDALL’S ISLAND, CATALPA FESTIVAL (1 hour, 15 minutes)

Bathtub / G Funk Intro / Gin & Juice / W Balls / Tha Shiznit / Domino Intro / The Next Episode / Deep Cover / Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang / Serial Killa / Never Trust a Bitch Interlude / Murder Was the Case (Death After Visualizing Eternity) / For All My Niggaz & Bitches / Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None) / U Betta Recognize / Gz Up, Hoes Down / Pump Pump / U Betta Ask Somebody / Gz & Hustlas / Chronic Relief Intro / Doggy Dogg World / Stranded on Death Row / Who Am I (What’s My Name)?

Pharrell Minnie the Moocher Intro / Drop It Like It’s Hot / Young, Wild, & Free

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Catalpa Festival: Day 1 Review

I bought the early bird weekend pass to Catalpa Festival the day it went on sale because the announced lineup was the Black Keys, Snoop Dogg, TV on the Radio, and Umphrey's McGee.  More acts were to be added, so they had to be quality bands, right?  Wrong.  Imagine my disappointment when the schedule was finalized and these are still pretty much the only performers I wanted to see (and that 3 of them are on the same day, 2 of them at the same time).

I sucked it up and went to Catalpa today on Randall's Island.   It was five years ago to the day that I saw Rage Against the Machine headline Rock the Bells on the same field.  That day was insanely hot and sunny, while overcast skies and light rain greeted me today as I exited the 103rd St 6 station.  I met my friend, Maritza (who took all the photos) and we trekked across the footbridge to the island.

The first band I wanted to see were the Demos.  The Rochester group caught my ear with their poppy "Nervous" when I was YouTubing the openers to decide what time to arrive.  They introduced "Nervous" as "a song about fuckin'," and while it reminded me a little of the Postelles, the rest of their tunes reeked too much of the Strokes.  I guess we know what band they are the demos of.

I bought a chicken and waffles-flavored ice cream sandwich from Coolhaus, but it didn't taste like chicken or waffles, so I won't be visiting their truck any more.  Thankfully it was served in an edible wrapper because trashcans were few and far between.

The hidden gem of Catalpa is the High Times Reggae Stage, where I'll likely be spending most of my day tomorrow.  The reggae bands aren't even listed on the schedule (Bullshit in my opinion, especially considering the schedule for something called Arcadia is listed, but it's not on the map.), so I figured they would be a bunch of dancehall acts with synthesized beats, and God forbid, maybe even some reggaeton.  I was dead wrong.  There was a good band with live horns finishing up as we arrived around 3, and we also caught the last two numbers from the singalong-worthy Marcia Davis & Outro.

What about the rain?  It was torrential for about twenty minutes or so.  Thankfully, we had just picked up our headphones for the Silent Disco and took refuge dancing in the tent with a DJ who deftly mixed the Beastie Boys' "Intergalactic" with "Need You Tonight" by INXS.

Canada's the Sheepdogs were next on the docket.  They opened their set with "Who," which I had YouTubed yesterday, only to learn that the song is a little too similar to another Canuck's, "Down at the Khyber" by Joel Plaskett.  Judge for yourself below.
Cribbing their look and sound from the Allman Brothers, it seems the Sheepdogs don't mind a little thievery in their music, introducing another ditty as "an old song adapted from an Aretha Franklin song."  They weren't bad.  In fact, if I lived in Saskatoon, I'd be pretty proud to have them as my local bar band.  But they shouldn't be on the cover of Rolling Stone.

We got cheeseburgers and sat on the hill while Hercules & Love Affair played.  "You guys wanna hear disco or house?" shouted DJ Whitney Fierce.  Neither!  Get off the fucking stage if you're not gonna play any instruments.

Umphrey's McGee played two sets.  They took the stage about 15 minutes late, which was annoying because I wanted to see all of TV on the Radio, which meant less Umphrey's.  That turned out to be just right.  I've read interviews where they have said they hate being called a jam band and insist on being classified as progressive rock.  Which would be fine if they progressed a little faster.  It took them about 8 measures too long to start exploring once they locked into a groove.  It wasn't bad (like the Disco Biscuits), but I wasn't completely caught up in it, moreso in the crazy dancing of the guy in the Character Zero t-shirt, who would every so often touch the ground just to make sure he was still on Earth.  The second set seemed more fluid when I caught a whiff of it later, including a raging "Miami Virtue" from their most recent album.

TV on the Radio made me angry... that I hadn't seen them live before.  Coming out with the spacey "Young Liars," complete with wind chimes hanging from David Sitek's headstock and trombone blasts by Dave Smith (He played with Diamond Rugs at Central Park.), they commanded the main stage with an intensity not yet seen during the day.  "Dancing Choose" may have been performed a little too aggressively, Tunde Adebimpe's vocals barely discernible in his punk rock fury, as he waved his giant hands around. Tunde dedicated "Second Song" to Adam Yauch, professing, "I would not be in New York City without the works of that man." "Will Do" proved itself as an instant classic, and "Repetition" flowed nicely into "Wolf Like Me," the crowd-pleasing last song.
It seems you can't have a festival in 2012 without the Black Keys.  I'd been waiting to see them for awhile, so Catalpa seemed the perfect opportunity.  Turns out that if you've seen them at one festival this summer, you've seen them at every one.  They played the exact setlist they did at Firefly last week, except they didn't allow for an encore break.  And it's weird when a band doesn't do an encore when they headline a festival.  Especially when they have ten minutes left before curfew.

Was the crowd to blame?  I think the initial dip in excitement came during "Gold on the Ceiling."  The best song on their latest release, it should be a surefire live hit.  But Patrick Carney just couldn't keep the tempo for some reason.  The song faltered, and the audience had a hard time clapping along.  Carney regained his timekeeping for a string of older songs done as the original duo, but the young crowd didn't know the tunes.  When Dan Auerbach announced they had a couple more songs left, "so let's make 'em good ones," it was a plea for dancing, clapping, anything.  Appreciatively, the energy level did rise with his request.  "Lonely Boy" jump-started the crowd into dance mode, and Auerbach's timid falsetto in "Everlasting Light" shined.  A huge backdrop of "The Black Keys" written in lights rose behind them for "I Got Mine," and then it was over.

As we sloshed through the muddy field and onto the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, I had flashbacks to Rock the Bells.  Although not perfect, it was a show I will never forget.  While I would've loved to see Rage when they were originally together, another Beastie Boy, Mike D., ruined that for me by breaking his collarbone.  Catalpa Day 1 will likely not  go down in anyone's history.  Well, maybe Hercules & Love Affair's.  Here's to hoping that tomorrow's live performance of one of my favorite albums will make up for today's downfalls.


Young Liars / Dancing Choose / Golden Age / Staring at the Sun / Second Song / Will Do / Repetition > Wolf Like Me

THE BLACK KEYS – 07.28.12 – RANDALL’S ISLAND, CATALPA FESTIVAL (1 hour, 18 minutes)

Howlin’ for You / Next Girl / Run Right Back / Same Old Thing / Dead & Gone / Gold on the Ceiling / Thickfreakness / Girl is on My Mind / I’ll Be Your Man / Your Touch / Little Black Submarines / Money Maker / Strange Times / Nova Baby / Ten Cent Pistol / Tighten Up / Lonely Boy / Everlasting Light / I Got Mine

Friday, July 27, 2012

Kishi Bashi Covers Beirut at Sold-Out Double-Header

"I'll be playing at Joe's Pub on July 26th, and I'll have a band.  Now I have to find a band 'cause I said it."  So foretold Kishi Bashi at Le Poisson Rouge in mid-May.  Tonight he commenced his summer tour with a sold-out double-header at Joe's Pub.  While his band only consisted of Mike Savino of Tall Tall Trees, K dazzled the crowd with his virtuosic violin skills and technological ingenuity.

Using delay pedals to loop material and concoct songs piecemeal onstage is not a new concept.  Keller Williams has been doing it for almost two decades.  Reggie Watts has made a comedy career from his improvisational looping.  What seems to make Kishi Bashi special is his instrument of choice: the violin.  Plucking on the strings with his fingers or playing it traditionally with a bow, K takes the instrument normally reserved for classical music and propels it into the future by processing the sound through various effects pedals: ramping the speed, shifting the pitch, making noise.  On top of that, he layers a series of percussive vocals.  And on top of that, sung in an octave-pogoing range, his optimistic and introspective lyrics.  If you're having trouble imagining this, or if you're not and it sounds awesome, check out his NPR Tiny Desk Concert below:

While I prefer my Kishi Bashi solo (or if we're being totally honest, fronting Jupiter One), the addition of Savino on banjo and backup vocals was at least interesting.  Also playing through a pedal board, his banjo went from serving as a bass drum when hit with a mallet to a white-noise generator when caressed with utensils.  A cacophony decayed into crickets and then crescendoed into something similar to THX's Deep Note.  The banjo complemented the violin best on "Bright Whites," the song taking on a bluegrass feel and the violin taking on its fiddle label.

The songs performed by Kishi Bashi alone, however, received the most applause.  After an exciting "It All Began with a Burst," K played the slower "I Am the Antichrist to You," introducing it as a love song with a status of "It's complicated."  Then he asked, "Who wants to be a guinea pig tonight?" before going into a cover of Beirut's "A Sunday Smile," which he prefaced by saying that he wasn't the greatest at it.  He flubbed a part halfway through, and exclaimed, "Shit!" before hopping back in over the sounds of mild laughter.

Which brings me to yet another layer of Kishi Bashi's performance: his humor.  The contrast of his complex music with his silly stage banter helps to humanize him from musical marvel into a funny friend.

On the temperature of the room: "Is it really hot in here, or is it just really hot in here?"
On a sound issue with Savino that caused a small hold-up: "We're losing sales, man."
On instructing the crowd to sing the Japanese part of a song: "It's so easy; it's just another language."

For the encore, Kishi Bashi unveiled a very different version of Jupiter One song "Turn Up the Radio," barely using his pedals at all, trading out the original synth-y song for a somber dirge.  After enlisting the audience to sing on what was supposed to be the last song, "Manchester," K couldn't help but be overtaken by the room's energy and segue into "Chester's Burst Over the Hamptons," the only track he had yet to play from his album.

As I was leaving the venue, I overheard a woman say, "He's like a drug."  While that might be an overstatement, I am going to see Kishi Bashi for my third time this year on September 20th.  Maybe I just have trouble admitting that I have an addiction.


Highwire / Alaska / Wake the Moon / Nothingless / Waiting on the Day

KISHI BASHI – 07.26.12 – JOE’S PUB (LATE SHOW) (1 hour, 16 minutes)

Intro > Pathos, Pathos / Atticus, In the Desert / Wonder Woman, Wonder Me / Beat the Bright Out of Me > Conversations at the End of the World / Evalyn, Summer Has Arrived / It All Began with a Burst / I Am the Antichrist to You / A Sunday Smile / Bright Whites

Turn Up the Radio / Manchester > Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptons

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

ALO Get Their Rocks Off

As the boat left the dock, Sly & the Family Stone's "Hot Fun in the Summertime" played over the PA.  Not missing a beat, Zach Gill began plunking out the song's piano notes and Steve Adams quickly dropped in Larry Graham's bassline.  Dan and Dave joined the mix, with Zach crooning "I cloud nine when I want to."  Then, just as quickly as the song had started, Lebo's guitar sliced in with the opening riff of "Possibly Drown," forecasting both a night of classic ALO tunes and the possibility that we might actually drown, venturing out in a thunderstorm.
ALO played their first Rocks Off boat cruise yesterday aboard the 300-passenger Jewel.  The crowd was made up entirely of ALO fans (save one drunk guy in a suit), which gave it a real family atmosphere (Well, I guess there's always that one too-drunk uncle.).  "It almost feels like a wedding or a French discothรจque in here," remarked Zach, the band crammed into the bow of the cabin at the same level as the dancefloor.  While that made it difficult to see, the sound was shockingly well-mixed on our floating concert hall, even with socks placed over Steve and Zach's mics to prevent them from being shocked.  (There was a taper set up in the front, but I saw a bunch of people grazing his mic with their pointer fingers, so we'll have to cross those fingers that this turns out to be listenable on LMA.)

"All Alone" with a "Pink Panther Theme" tease followed, keeping up the playful vibe of the first set.  A pair of songs from their latest album Sounds Like This, "Falling Dominoes" and "Blew Out the Walls" came next, though you'd never know they were new tunes judging from the affirming cheers at the flange-y intro to "Blew."  The fun continued as the band segued into Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing."  As the boat petered down the East River and underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, the dancefloor began bobbing in the choppy water.  Three-time veterans of Jam Cruise, the boys were unfazed by the turbulence, and took things a little slower with the melodica-heavy "Shine."  The mellow mood didn't last long though, as they slipped into "I Love Music," which would be the only Man of the World entry of the night.  Frequent set-closer "Barbeque" including a reprise of "I Love Music" finished it out, lightning illuminating the water, and sheets of rain streaking the windows.
After about twenty minutes, ALO returned to the bow to sing "Happy Birthday" to someone in the front.  I took a position on the port side so I could watch Lebo for the second set.  An inspired take on "Pobrecito" laid out the map for the rest of the "deep cuts"-filled night.  I'll have to wait for the recording for verification, but I believe Dan even layered "In the Hall of the Mountain King" into his scorching solo.  They jammed into "IV Song" with Steve choosing a pipe melodica this go-round.  "You guys are yelling out some really old ones," noted Dan.  "Should we do 'Sexo y Drogas?'"  And they did.  For the first time in over a year.  It was like watching 2004-era ALO all over again.  Before launching into the singalong "Walls of Jericho," I heard Lebo tuning a little ghost of "They Love Each Other."  My ears didn't deceive me, the Garcia ditty exhuming itself from the remains of "Walls."  As the band grooved, I looked out the windows, attempting to retrieve my bearings.  Spotting the glowing red Pepsi-Cola sign of Long Island City in front of us, I came to the sad realization that the cruise was almost over.  "We have time for one more, and it has to be the fastest version ever," explained Zach before they powered through a bouncy "Girl, I Wanna Lay You Down" with a few lines of "I Melt with You" thrown in for good measure.
"This was fun.  We're gonna make this Rocks Off Cruise an annual thing.  Mark my words: ALO's coming to the East Coast," proclaimed Gill.  Cheers from the crowd.  And more cheers as they bravely defied curfew (What is curfew on a boat anyway?) for another oldie, "Time is of the Essence."  If that weren't enough, a cover of "Reelin' in the Years" found its way into the middle.  Even though the shouted requests for new monster jam "Cowboys & Chorus Girls" remained unanswered, everyone left happy knowing this wouldn't be the last time ALO "hit the water and not the ground."


SET ONE  (1 hour, 6 minutes) –
Hot Fun in the Summertime (tease) > Possibly Drown / All Alone > The Pink Panther Theme (tease) > All Alone / Falling Dominoes / Blew Out the Walls > Money for Nothing / Combat Zone / Shine > I Love Music / Barbeque > I Love Music > Barbeque

SET TWO  (1 hour, 23 minutes) –
Happy Birthday to You / Pobrecito > Wasting Time (Isla Vista Song) > Plastic Bubble / Speed of Dreams / Sexo y Drogas / Dead Still Dance / Walls of Jericho > They Love Each Other / Girl, I Wanna Lay You Down > I Melt with You (tease) > Girl, I Wanna Lay You Down / Time is of the Essence > Reelin’ in the Years > Time is of the Essence

Friday, July 20, 2012

Jon Hamm Dresses as a Big Apple, OK Go Return

Eugene Mirman brought together another crew of "Pretty Good Friends" to open for OK Go tonight at Williamsburg Park.  Last year's downpour (so wet I had to throw my shoes away) possibly deterred many concertgoers, but those who braved this evening's perfectly comfortable weather got quite the show.

The show started about an hour earlier than the Internet had informed, but I was able to see the whole thing.  Eugene likened the redesigned park to something out of season 2 of The Wire, where you might find a dead hooker.  As ridiculous as the Waterfront was set up last year (the stage faced the East River so the band got the view), they have now taken all views away, situating the stage in front of high walls blocking the water.  After doing some bits about a trip to England and a stint on a Christian dating site, Eugene turned the mic over to Bunk's Kurt Braunohler.  Kurt did some solo jokes and then performed a ventriloquist act with Kristen Schaal as his dummy.  Unannounced guest Mike Birbiglia dropped in and told the tale of the time he was arrested.  Kristen Schaal returned with her interpretation of The Little Match Girl, and before she could leave the stage, Mirman notified the crowd that Schaal is moving to LA.  He presented her with a cake of the Statue of Liberty with Kristen's face, and then to the surprise of everyone, Jon Hamm walked out in a large apple costume.  Standing in as the Big Apple, Hamm held out a pledge that the audience recited to wish Schaal luck and help her to avoid the proverbial casting couch.

While this was all very funny to us on the ground, the sounds of laughter had a hard time reaching the stage in the outdoor space.  This was especially apparent during Bobcat Goldthwait's set, where he felt like he was bombing and referred to the crowd as a "flash mob of apathy."  After coining his new catchphrase "I pooped a little," he finished with a harrowing airplane story full of hilarious tangents.  The headlining comic was The Daily Show's John Oliver, who made some very astute comments about recording concerts with cell phones ("I would be enjoying this, but I'd rather enjoy it later and smaller."), and closed out his set with Obama's halftime locker room speech for the U.S. to thunderous applause.

With the chairs out of the way, it was time for OK Go.  I'd only seen them live once at the Soho Apple Store back in 2007, so I was wondering: How does a band that has become so known for their music videos translate that visual experience to the stage?  Simple answer: CONFETTI.  In addition to the floating paper pieces (which will never compare to the blizzard at Fun), a projection screen behind them revealed live footage from cameras mounted around the stage (including Damian Kulash's microphone), animated spinning treadmills, and olives and toilet paper exploding in front of grotesquely patterned wallpaper, with which the band has an obvious fascination.  But what about the music?  Clean guitars, remarkable backup vocals from Tim Nordwind and Andy Ross, and even "Return" played completely with hand bells, so as not to disturb the neighbors.  "Those people are trying to sleep, and those people are counting their money," said Damian, gesturing to the new condos on the waterfront.

"We haven't played a show in like three months, but the reason we haven't is because we're recording a new record," Kulash divulged.  Good news for fans.  Better news for New Yorkers came when he confessed that he just moved to NYC.  "Are you nice?" he asked.  Mostly yeses from the congregation.  "The best part is you're honest. All the guys say no because they're New Yorkers, so they're assholes.  Can I be an asshole with you?"  More yeses.  He jumped off the stage, picked a spot in the crowd right near me, and played "Last Leaf" amongst his new neighbors.  He turned 180° halfway through the song, so the right and left could receive the same treatment.  It appears he's got a lot to learn about being an asshole.

OK GO – 07.19.12 – WILLIAMSBURG PARK (1 hour, 1 minute)

Do What You Want / White Knuckles / Needing/Getting / Invincible / Return / Last Leaf / A Good Idea at the Time / Here It Goes Again / I Want You So Bad I Can’t Breathe / A Million Ways / Get Over It

Skyscrapers / This Too Shall Pass

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On Kweller and Blitzen

Those who attended Saturday's Roots & Rock Sessions Live at the Oval in Stuyvesant Town were given two t-shirts, a reusable water bottle, a beach ball, and two substantial sets by Ben Kweller and Blitzen Trapper... all for free!  And if you got there a little earlier, like me, you got something even more special.

My friend and I arrived in Stuy Town a little before 2pm, feeling a bit like spies because technically these shows are only open to Stuy Town residents and their guests.  Using the soundchecking of Ben Kweller as our compass, we found the Oval, a small lawn dotted with sunbathers in the center of the housing community.  After setting the levels and tuning up, Ben left the stage and took a seat at fold-out merch table.  I went over, said hello, and picked up a copy of Go Fly a Kite, his record from this year.  One of my favorite BK songs is "I Gotta Move" from his self-titled 2006 release, and I took a shot at requesting it.  Singing the opening line to refresh himself, Ben responded, "Ooh, we haven't practiced that one or played it in a long time, but we'll see what we can do."  "It's no big deal if you can't; have a good show."  "It's gonna be a quiet set because the neighbors start to complain."  "Great place to have a show then, in the middle of all these apartments," I joked.

And it turned out to be a great place for a show.  Starting out with "The Rules" from the first album of his I heard, 2004's On My Way, he followed it with a pair of tunes from Go Fly a Kite, "Mean to Me," and "Free."  "We're gonna do a song we haven't done in awhile now, and this goes out to Dustin," said Ben, leading to band into "I Gotta Move."  The first line was flubbed, but to no detriment, as Kweller played through and found the words immediately.  Yelling out the lyrics with passion, Ben and band seemed to surprise even themselves, and capped it all off with a searing guitar solo.  Check out a video of the performance below:

"We've got the loud ones out of the way now, so hopefully the neighbors won't yell.  This is an acoustic guitar," informed Kweller, brandishing his Dreadnought.  "Here's another song about getting a move on," he said as he launched into the jaunty "Out the Door."  Highlights included the biographical/geographical "Full Circle," the honky-tonk "Sawdust Man," and Ben Foldsy "Falling."  Kweller's straightforward banter and emotional-over-tonal singing makes you feel like he's one of your really talented friends who's gotten a break but deserves a bigger one.  As a result, everything feels intimate, and it is obvious that he really loves playing music.  The introduction to rarity "Red Eye" says it all: "We're gonna play a blues song because we figure when you're outside in the summer playing to a lawn, you might as well jam some blues."

I hadn't seen Blitzen Trapper since 2008 prior to the release of Furr, so the band I saw then has morphed considerably, two to three members fewer and a deliberate genre change.  Gone are the days of the Pavement-inspired "Miss Spiritual Tramp" and all-out weird "Woof & Warp of the Quiet Giant's Hem."  Hello, CSNY harmonies and harmonica on every song.  That's not to say that I don't like Blitzen Trapper anymore or that they didn't put on a good show; I just miss some of that frenetic energy they used to have when they possibly weren't as trained on their instruments and had to make up for it in strange noises.  Beginning with "Astronaut," they turned a few heads by pulling out a cover of "Hey Joe" from their 2012 Record Store Day release. (If you've followed the band as long as I have, you know that they recorded this back in '08, so it fit into the set pretty seamlessly.)  "Saturday Nite" and new songs "American Goldwing" and "Fletcher" were all standouts, but the big finale and cake-taker was a medley of "Gold for Bread," "Jericho," and "Big Black Bird," the last of which featured a tight a cappella breakdown.  While I don't see Blitzen Trapper going back to their noisy beginnings after the success they've had with this style, it would've been nice to hear something like "Big Adventure," at least to piss off the neighbors.

BEN KWELLER – 07.14.12 – STUYVESANT TOWN OVAL (1 hour, 2 minutes)

The Rules / Mean to Me / Free / I Gotta Move / Out the Door / Full Circle / Fight / On My Way / Sawdust Man / Gossip / Falling / Red Eye / Jealous Girl / Penny on the Train Track

BLITZEN TRAPPER – 07.14.12 – STUYVESANT TOWN OVAL (1 hour, 10 minutes)

Astronaut / Hey Joe / Saturday Nite / Sleepytime in the Western World / Texaco / Love the Way You Walk Away / Taking It Easy Too Long / God & Suicide / American Goldwing > Lady on the Water / Furr / Silver Moon / Black River Killer / Fletcher / Evening Star / Wild Mountain Nation / Gold for Bread > Jericho > Big Black Bird

Sunday, July 15, 2012

An Arrow of Katy Perryness Misses the Bullseye But Hits the Target

"It's like being shot with an arrow of Katy Perryness," replied a young fan when asked what she thought of the show she attended on Katy Perry's California Dreams Tour.  Katy Perry's new documentary/concert film Katy Perry: Part of Me attempts to recreate this arrow for moviegoers, and while it does look fun, it's missing some magic.

I have to disclose some things before I continue.
1) I do listen to Katy Perry; not that often, but I've listened to every song on Teenage Dream at least 3 times.
2) I went to see this film mainly to see Katy's boobs in 3D.

Part of Me is a document of the behind-the-scenes dealings of Katy Perry's 2011 California Dreams Tour with 3D concert clips interspersed.  It also chronicles Katy's rise to fame from her Pentecostal upbringing to her first hit to her record-breaking five #1 singles from one album by a female.  It follows the same structure of Justin Bieber's Never Say Never, even down to the fan YouTube testimonials (Katy's fans albeit slightly older and way gayer).

The obvious difference between Perry's and Biebs' flicks is the conflict: Justin has a sore throat; Katy has a failing marriage with Russell Brand.  We get to witness a few of their interactions and put together our own conclusions as to why the fairytale ended.  Katy's rigorous yearlong tour schedule only made time for the occasional 3-day break, which she spent flying around the world to meet Russell.  Russell sends her a picture message of a McDonald's in LA with an address matching their anniversary, claiming they should name their firstborn Ronald.  "Babies can't have babies, and I'm still a baby," Perry admits in a confessional.  Sadly, the documentary crew has a horrible time keeping their shots in focus, and it looks very unprofessional.

The majority of the 3D concert footage, on the other hand, is a colorful treat for the eyes... and ears.  Katy sings all her songs live, and I respect her greatly for that.  The frequent costume changes (about 7 in "Hot N Cold" alone), mimes on wires, and giant purple Kitty Purry mascot add to the spectacle, but even though it's 3D, you never really feel like you're there; just wishing that you were.  It's a little like watching a tape of a Broadway show.

Unfortunately, for most of the movie, these two worlds rarely feel like part of the same film.  When they do come together, however, the film succeeds.  (SPOILER ALERT/BEST PART OF MOVIE ALERT)  At the movie's climax, Katy Perry's marriage has fallen apart and she's weeping backstage in her dressing room.  Her manager informs her, "You have two options.  You can cancel the show, or you can go out there and do your best."  As Katy Perry waits below a trap door, pinwheels spinning on her breasts, she is crying.  She composes herself and puts on a wide smile, which quickly fades to a shaky frown.  As the platform begins to rise to stage level, she reapplies the smile, this time with a little less teeth.  It's a moment that documentary filmmakers live for, and thankfully they got it in focus.

There is some nice boobage in the movie, though with the majority of 3D movies now preferring recessed dimension over outward projection, the most you're gonna get in your face is a microphone stand.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

STOP FUCKING GOING TO CONCERTS TO FUCKING TALK!!! Also, Donavon Frankenreiter Starts Livin'

I saw Donavon Frankenreiter for the third time last night. It's always been a good show, from watching his original amazingly talented percussionist stageside at Bowery Ballroom, to being genuinely shocked at seeing him perform "Lovely Day" last year at the Bowl. And these moments will be the memories that remain with me for as long as I will see Mr. Frankenreiter perform. Sadly, last night's show was so obfuscated by crowd noise that it will likely be the noise itself that I remember.

Rayland Baxter was the first to compete with the disrespectful audience. The complete lack of enthusiasm from the concertgoers (even though they still filled the front of the room) meant I was the lone person clapping when he asked how we were. He thanked me into the microphone. Buzzing from the amp on the first song did not help the matter, but Rayland had the sound tech fix the issue before he continued. Awkward stage banter ensued: "My middle name's Alan. I'm a fuckin' Libra." He reminded me of early Matt Costa with more of a country bent, germinated from his lifelong residency in Nashville. Despite the din of the majority, there were some of us paying attention to Baxter's folksy ditties, so he continued to push on, playing a 53-minute opening set. His debut album drops in late August on ATO, so be sure to click through to his website, provide your email address, and get a free download of the instantly likable "Driveway Melody." Or watch a heart-wrenching rendition of his song "Olivia" below:

Donavon and crew took their places a little before 10pm. I immediately noticed a difference in his appearance/attitude than past times. Sporting a shorter haircut (though still shaggy), a red button-down, and white pants, he seemed a little more mature than a professional surfer; more like a surfer dad. The set started with "Free," this version taking its cues from Hawaii ร  la Revisited, with Matt Grundy supplying the ukulele. After "Glow," he premiered "You" off of his new album, Start Livin', free to anyone in attendance. As is lamentably the case with new songs at concerts, the audience took the chance to start talkin'. So Donavon roped everyone back in with "What'cha Know About." It was at this time that I looked around and identified this as the most populated show I've seen at Brooklyn Bowl. And that almost everyone was talking.

Donavon makes wonderful "barbecue music." You can put it on at a cookout, and no one will stop eating or speaking to perk up their ears, but they will enjoy it when they catch themselves listening when whoever they're talking to goes to the bathroom, or during a lengthy chew on an overcooked piece of steak. Unfortunately, if you go to a Donavon concert, expect a lot of people to have never left the backyard. I can't even tell you how many reunions I overheard instead of lyrics to new Donavon songs. Even old Donavon songs. One gaggle of cunts was especially annoying until they thankfully migrated closer to the stage. And why do people ever take pictures together in the crowd at a show? Not even with the stage in the background! "And here's us in a group of strangers." When Donavon asked for requests, he was met with "American Girl!" He obliged, and improved it since last year, but why not shout one of his songs? I wish there was some sort of required concert-going etiquette course that everyone has to pass before they can fill out the captcha on Ticketmaster.

In spite of all this bullshit, the show was still good. Most of the set drew from his first album, which is no surprise from Donavon, but he sprinkled some newbies in, including "Shine" and "Start Livin'," with its chirpy organ. Donavon said the show was surreal because he was watching his family bowl the whole time, and was unsuccessful in his attempts to get his son Hendrix to drum on "Call Me Papa." The band had some fun with "Lovely Day," but the real highlight was the final three-song funkfest of "The Way It Is," "Move by Yourself," and a chunky "Byron Jam." Donavon came out solo for the encore, saying, "I'll play anything you wanna hear." I don't know if anyone actually requested it, but he chose "On My Mind." The band rejoined him for "It Don't Matter," which devolved into a karaoke contest, with crowd members literally taking turns coming onstage to sing the chorus into the mic. I would've preferred another song or two instead of that nonsense, but it was the perfect conclusion for the crowd full of assholes.

RAYLAND BAXTER – 07.07.12 – BROOKLYN BOWL (53 minutes)


Keep Your Head Up* / The Man / Willy’s Song / White Buffalo* / Mountain Song / Olivia / The Cold & Easy Life of a Loner* / Birdy Blue / Bad Things* / Dreamin’*

DONAVON FRANKENREITER – 07.07.12 – BROOKLYN BOWL (1 hour, 30 minutes)


Free / Glow / You / What’cha Know About / Heading Home / American Girl / West Coast Fool / Shine / Life, Love, & Laughter / Your Heart / Call Me Papa / Bend in the Road / Lovely Day / Start Livin’ / The Way It Is / Move by Yourself / That’s Too Bad (Byron Jam)


On My Mind / It Don’t Matter