Concert review and set list: Best Coast awakens from a surf-pop daze at the Firebird, Wednesday, May 30

Jarred Gastreich

Partway through her set at the Firebird last night, Best Coast‘s Bethany Cosentino thanked the crowd for making “our first official St. Louis show” a sell-out.

Best Coast played at the Gargoyle on September 14, 2010, but no matter. Back then they were just a small fuzzed-out Los Angeles band with lots of people assuming “Best Coast” was Cosentino’s stage name.

With last night’s return visit at the Firebird, the packed crowd not only knew Cosentino’s name — it was often screamed in confessions of love from male admirers between songs — but the rest of the country’s becoming familiar with the band, thanks to its new album “The Only Place” getting exposure everywhere and anywhere.

Scheduled openers JEFF the Brotherhood cancelled all their Best Coast opening dates earlier that day after Jake Orrall broke his hand. Locals Sleepy Kitty and Bruiser Queen filled the opening slot.

Best Coast opened with the title track of its new album, a fast-paced romp with lo-fi hollows akin to the style of their 2010 debut. The style doesn’t change much when they move into “Last Year.” It’s full of heavy beats under a ’60s pop melody, grunge-inspired trudging guitars and the modern barrenness of Cosentino’s vocals, which dip into ghostly near-echos, even on upbeat songs.

Third song “Summer Mood” sounded a lot like the first two songs, which isn’t necessarily bad. Best Coast create a very specific mood in a specific place. Longing — for love, sun, home — permeates most of the tracks, and the band rarely veers from this formula. In “Goodbye,” again, a rumbling and deep rhythm section provides a dark foundation for a dulcet guitar riff and a bright lilt in the hollow of Cosentino’s voice.

“When the Sun Doesn’t Shine” continued the longing, which is more pervasive than the surf themes it’s easy to slap on the band upon early listens. As the show progressed, Cosentino’s vocals warmed and grew rawer, more emotive by “No One Like You” and a depressingly upbeat “When I Cry.”

The band peaked with “Let’s Go Home” when it broke out of sleepy surf mode with Bobb Bruno’s pumped-up wah-wah guitar and solid punk-pop drums, simple and hard, without sacrificing the ethereal vocals. The song grew into an extended riff — heavy opening to “Our Deal” that showcased Bruno’s considerable talent.

New songs, like “Do You Love Me Like You Used To” expand the band’s sound without moving too far from the surf roots, incorporating a catchy stop-and-go melody in contrast to the increasing vocal rawness. Thematically, it all remains the same, with the lovelorn longing continuing into “Up All Night.” These slower songs seem to lose the audience, but they were drawn back by a beautifully crooned ending cushioned by rich guitar.

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Thursday morning music news: The return of Bloc Party, the reboot of IUMA and the departure of Doc Watson

Doc Watson has died at the age of 89. KDHX music writer Glen Herbert shares his thoughts and some excellent, deep cuts from Doc’s amazing career.

Rolling Stone is streaming “Americana,” the new album by Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

David Lowery of Cracker gives a hell of a speech to the SF Music Tech Summit.

The Austin Chronicle catches up with legendary New Zealand surf-fuzz band the Clean.

The latest live sessions from the KDHX studios feature Best Coast, Monophonics, the Skekses and Deer Tick.

Bloc Party will be releasing their fourth album and first in four years. You guessed it: It’s called “Four.”

What is the IUMA? It’s the Internet Underground Music Archive — and it’s back online.

Gillian Welch has opened up her own archives.

John Lydon dishes on the new album by Public Image, Ltd.

The new video from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros pretty much rules the dance floor (and street and playground and grass and…). Just watch it.

88.1 KDHX presents Twangfest 16 June 6-9 in St. Louis. Get the lowdown via some KDHX interviews with performing artists Pokey LaFarge, Langhorne Slim, Humming House and Wussy.

Bruce gives the bankers a piece of his mind in Berlin.

Addicted to Mad Men? This Spotify playlist is for you.

Paste would have you believe that these really are the best 60 albums of the ’60s.

Adios, Ween. It was weird while it lasted.

Comedian Gazan Hani Almadhoun gives his take on what’s hot and what’s not in Arab pop.

Sir Paul McCartney talks to Drowned in Sound about songwriting and the new reissue of “RAM.”

NPR is streaming new releases from Japandroids, Liars and Twangfest-performing artist Kelly Hogan.

Watch Laurie Anderson’s commencement address to the School of Visual Arts in New York.

What if 8-bit were the standard when Radiohead released “Kid A”? Warning: Not safe for headphones.

Album review: The Walkmen take listeners to rock ‘n’ roll ‘Heaven’

The Walkmen
Fat Possum

The Walkmen have transcended steadily into their sound on “Heaven,” with propulsive drum beats and harmonized vocals not unlike those of the Everly Brothers.

“Heaven,” the band’s seventh studio album, is a cohesive collection punctuated by vocal consonance, rhythmically-coercive drums and guitar and bass that are as cordial as they are not overbearing. Walkmen fans and listeners that are familiar with the band’s previous work might notice a happier, lighter mood on “Heaven.”

The album starts out slow on “We Can’t Be Beat,” which showcases close vocal harmonies. Hamilton Leithauser croons “Golden dreams are losing glow/I don’t need perfection, I love the hope,” backed by acoustic guitar and subtle background vocals, allowing for a switch to electric guitar and gentle drum stomping mid-song. Leithauser’s voice keeps any attention from straying from what he’s singing, or more appropriately, reminiscing about, when he says “It’s been so long/but I made it through.”

The album’s title track is a prime four-minute showcase of drums and guitars as heard on other tracks, but the vocals are more robust in expression. Coupled with a more prominent backing of bass, guitar and directing drums, “Heaven” jars the listener out of a pleasantly lethargic part of the album and rouses one into the remainder, where more traditional elements of rock ‘n’ roll move forward.

With a chorus consisting of “Remember, remember what we fight for,” the title track is undoubtedly nostalgic, especially when Leithauser pleads and courts listeners, opening with “Our children will always hear romantic tales of distant years/Our gilded age may come and go/our crooked dreams will always glow.” For a band that’s been admired by fans for their endearing instability, the Walkmen haven’t dulled, though the band’s work on “Heaven” certainly stands on its own.

In “The Love You Love,” Leithauser half-sings and half-shouts “Where we are and where we should be” and “Baby it’s the love you love, not me” signaling a sound similar to albums past. “The Love You Love” signifies an ideal split between sides on a vinyl album. The tempo’s faster, Leithauser’s voice is less like Don or Phil Everly, and simply carries as Leithauser’s own sound — the kind heard on earlier songs, such as “Little House of Savages” — but that’s not to say that Leithauser’s vocals haven’t refined on “Heaven.”

The songs on “Heaven” share simplified lyrics and precise arrangements that sometimes echo ’50s rock ‘n’ roll. The lyrical content overlaps nostalgia and reminiscence, and while there’s no teeth-clenching guitar riffs and whines that may have been considered a staple of the band a decade ago, the album more than holds up based on its sound and its own terms.

“Heaven” will be released on June 5 on Fat Possum Records. 88.1 KDHX welcomes the Walkmen to St. Louis for a show at Plush on June 28.

‘Whatever that magical thing is’ A pre-Twangfest interview with Langhorne Slim

Kate McDaniel

Langhorne Slim has friends with crooked tails, guitars for sale on eBay and a burning desire for music and traveling.

On a rainy Brooklyn afternoon, Langhorne Slim stepped into a nearby shop to receive a perfectly-timed phone call from here in St. Louis. I was the phone call; he was the affable musician. We spoke about his raw rock ‘n’ roll and folk sounds, his new album “The Way We Move” and the comfort he feels on the road. Langhorne will venture to St. Louis to play Twangfest 16 at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room on Friday, June 8.

Joe Roberts: How are you? How’s it going?

Langhorne Slim: I’m good, man. I just came into this little shop here to get out of the rain. Hopefully you can hear me all right. But, I’m doing really well.

You’re on the road right now, is that right?

We got a house show tonight in Brooklyn. And then we leave for Boston tomorrow, which is the official start of our tour.

It seems like you’re on the road a lot. Do you ever catch a break?

Yeah! In fact, I’m just coming off of one right now that is way too long, about a month and a half of a break. Yeah, we tour all the time because I think it’s the way to get music out there, and also it’s just, I feel a lot more at home on the road, and inspired and free when I’m traveling and playing. So it’s a huge part of the lifestyle that I really enjoy.

When you do get a break, what do you do during that time?

Write music. See friends. I had a girlfriend for five years, so I’d spend time with her. I don’t have her anymore, so I don’t spend time with her. But, I’ve been traveling and I’m working on new songs. Just getting ready for the album to finally come out, you know.

It’s a crazy process. You just spend a bunch of time writing new songs and you record them to a record and then you got to wait five to six months for the actual record to come out. So I’m just really, really excited for this thing to finally get out there and to get back out on the road.

How do you think all of the touring has changed you as a person and as a musician?

I don’t know! I’m 31, I’ve been doing it for ten years. So, it’s pretty much most of my entire adult life. It’s just a natural thing for me to do. It was never a conscious thought. I never sat down and thought, “This is what I’m gonna do.” It was just a burning desire to write and perform and to travel with it.

I guess I never even realized that all bands didn’t travel as much. It’s only occurred to me when other people say, “You guys particularly travel a lot.” I’m sure it’s changed me as a person, I just wouldn’t know how. I think I’m just a person that is suited for that kind of lifestyle.

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‘You have to embrace the now’ A pre-Twangfest interview with Pokey LaFarge

Nate Burrell

From roaming the country to touring the world, Pokey LaFarge never forgets his roots. They run deep.

His penchant for the early 20th century transcends fedoras and suspenders; it inspires original music and frames his sense of self. LaFarge doesn’t claim to be a revivalist, but instead a preservationist — his mission is to continue a tradition of distinctly American culture.

Along with his group, the South City Three, LaFarge has met recent success including a European tour, a working relationship with Jack White and an in-progress album collaboration with Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show. His current release, “Middle of Everywhere,” is an upbeat ride down a dusty road that showcases LaFarge and the South City Three in all of their old-time glory. The group joins the Twangfest lineup (presented by 88.1 KDHX) for the first time, appearing at the Schlafly Tap Room on June 6.

The following excerpt is from a phone interview that took place as LaFarge waited for a plane to New York City. He reflects on the importance of travel, personal identity and good beer.

Francisco Fisher: Travel has been a theme in your music. What was it like to travel around as a busker and a hitchhiker, and what is it like now?

Pokey LaFarge: Traveling around hitchhiking was certainly not a preferred means of travel. I had to do it because I was forced to, because I didn’t have any other way to get around at one time. But it started out growing up, not necessarily romanticizing the idea, but reading a lot of mid-20th century literature like the Beat writers, specifically Kerouac, and reading Steinbeck from an early time. It was really wanting to be ensconced in a different side of American culture that was never really popularized.

It’s a romantic side of the American culture, specifically train-hopping and the hitchhiking. The riverboat culture and the train culture — nobody else has that. That’s a pure Americana thing. I think that along with the music I was listening to at a very young age, I was like, man, I’ve got to get out there and get to the core of this country and, in the mean time, search what’s at the heart of me, to go out there and take a journey. And that’s what hitchhiking was.

That was early on. And then of course the beginning of my traveling solo about five years ago, I was driving around in a car and sleeping in my car. And then with the boys, that’s been about three and a half years in a van, and we were sleeping in the van for about the first year and a half. I’m proud to say that we’re making a good living now, and we don’t have to sleep in the van anymore.

But traveling has always been something that’s come along with the territory. If you want to go out to see the world, or if you want to spread your music out there around the world, you have to travel to do it. It’s something you learn to embrace, and it becomes what you know. It becomes an art form, traveling, in it’s own right. But a lot of my songs are about traveling, because you write about what you know.

The way I travel now, flying and driving, just allows me to make a living and get more rest, to attempt to be more healthy and to spend more time at home. I have family all over the world, but the core of my family has and always will be Illinois and the Midwest, the middle of the heart of it all.

The name of the new album is “Middle of Everywhere.” What does that title mean to you?

Going back to the Midwest thing, we’re right here in the middle of the country. But at the same time, we’re always traveling, so I’m always in between one place and another, always in the middle of some place, always in between somewhere.

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Album review: ‘The Only Place’ isn’t the sunniest place for Best Coast

Best Coast
“The Only Place”
Mexican Summer

On Best Coast’s second album “The Only Place,” singer-songwriter Bethany Cosentino’s ultra-polished voice gives the power to L.A.-based power pop duo Best Coast, and, stripped of the fuzzy lo-fi quality of their last album, sometimes sounds a little too perfect for a band with a retro California/slacker reputation.

As on 2010′s debut full-length album “Crazy For You,” uncomplicated lyrics about the sun, doing what you want and relationships are delivered with multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno’s surf guitars to create a “fuck it, guys, let’s just hang out” attitude. Best Coast are unabashed lovers of the laid-back lifestyle that West Coast living is advertised to provide, although on this year’s “The Only Place,” there is evidence of a little more time, a little more care, and slicker production value from producer Jon Brion as well as an upgraded recording venue, Capitol Records’ Studio B.

Half of “The Only Place” is filled with ’60s-inspired melodies, while the other half is a combination of this and ’90s disaffected girl group rock. The title track is a mid-summer festival party tune and fan letter to the band’s home state, all rapid-fire simple rhymes and beachy layered guitars. It begins the album on a supremely easygoing note, segueing into “Why I Cry” and “My Life,” similarly upbeat expressions of detached girly angst.

The retro fandom begins later, as “How They Want Me To Be” is exemplary of Best Coast’s fondness for doo-wop harmonies, and the chord progressions of “Better Girl” are nostalgic for the first country-and-western crossovers of the ’70s. Cosentino and Bruno seem to approach the sounds they reference with a casual enjoyment rather than a dedicated scholarship, preferring to stick to short syllables and easy warmth that can be coupled with almost any structure.

While “The Only Place” is more technically precise than “Crazy For You,” unfortunately, it doesn’t have the magic of the debut album’s standouts, namely the wistful “Boyfriend” and the rough-but-dreamy “When I’m With You.” At best, “Crazy For You” and fewer parts of “The Only Place” affect a sweet frivolousness; at worst, this style on the new album has been re-branded as puerile laziness, using recycled fills and songwriting that’s gone beyond train of thought into stoners trying to rhyme something with “orange.” These cases include tracks “No One Like You” and “Dreaming My Life Away,” both dully repetitive, as well as the derivative quality of some songs to repeat earlier tracks on the album, albeit at mildly different tempos and with a few subbed lyrics.

The smoothed edges and Cosentino’s edge-of-chanteuse voice sound nice, but “The Only Place” doesn’t come close to getting an A for effort. Best Coast is going to have to try a lot harder than this if they actually want to grow up someday. I realize that this may be the antithesis of their whole deal, but if they’re willing to go this far with their California worship, they would do well to remember that the patron saints of California rock ‘n’ roll got serious about songwriting eventually, and it was this buckling down that still lets them get away with “Kokomo.”

‘Weird underlying tensions you can’t put your finger on’ A pre-Twangfest interview with Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker of Wussy / Jay Brown

Cincinnati-based band Wussy will be playing Twangfest 16 at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room on Thursday, June 7. Formed in the early 2000s by Chuck Cleaver (formerly of Ass Ponys) and Lisa Walker, the band plays witty and catchy indie rock, most recently demonstrated on the albums “Strawberry” and “Funeral Dress II.”

Cleaver and Walker gave KDHX a few minutes of their time to talk about what they’re listening to, how Lana del Ray makes them cry and the thick soup that is midwestern summer.

Joe Duepner: How are you guys doing?

Chuck Cleaver: We’re doing well. Well I can only speak for myself.

Lisa Walker: I’m doing fine [laughs].

What are you guys doing right now?

LW: This time of the week we cut out to do band stuff like answer emails or phone calls and things like that.

CC: Yesterday we ordered T-shirts.

LW: Today we order stickers.

CC: But if you didn’t mean what are we doing immediately and meant what is the band doing, we’re gearing up to go on a tour. We play your place first. Your town, not your house. Then we’re going to head west and go down the California coast across the desert.

Do you find touring in the summer is easier than touring in the winter?

CC: Generally, yeah, just because of the weather. Heat is a pain in the ass though.

Do you think more people come out to shows in the summer?

CC: It really depends. Any town that is a college town no, but it really depends where. Places like Chicago where they are really used to shitty weather people will come out anytime. Places that aren’t used to bad weather though, you don’t get anybody at the gig. Some people won’t come out just because of rain.

LW: Like here [in Cincinnati].

CC: I’ve had people say “I can’t come out because it’s supposed to thunderstorm.” I say, “Really?”

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Concert review: Horse Feathers (with Matt Bauer) serenade and stun fans at the Firebird, Thursday, May 24

Horse Feathers at the Firebird. Photo by Abby Gillardi.

Portland, Ore.’s Horse Feathers, helmed by frontman and singer/guitarist Justin Ringle, is not to be missed. Once a collaboration with Peter Broderick, Horse Feathers has grown into an artful orchestra complemented by fine singing and poetic lyrics.

Matt Bauer opened the show at the Firebird and gave an excellent performance. He stood alone playing his mostly banjo-led tunes that consisted of heartbreak and dark observations that recall Robert Frost. The songs that really struck me, “Rose and Vine” and “Don’t Let Me Out,” were all from Bauer’s 2008 release, “The Island Moved in the Storm.”

After Bauer finished and Horse Feathers was setting up, I walked over to the merch table to shake Bauer’s hand and inform him that I had learned about his music and Horse Feathers’ at approximately the same time in 2008. I found it both extraordinary and fascinating the two were double billed, on this night, four years later.

A rotating cast of musicians appeared on stage and Ringle stood starkly before the microphone with his scuffed-up Gibson acoustic. Besides the band leader, the only other semi-permanent member of Horse Feathers is first violinist Nathan Crockett, who appeared with Horse Feathers last year at Off Broadway. This time the performers included Dustin Dybvig providing a heavier and more exciting form of drumming, Lauren Vidal on cello and Angie Kuzma on the second violin.

The first song, “Last Waltz” from the 2012′s “Cynic’s New Year,” opened with long violin draws from Crockett and Kuzma. Ringle’s voice broke above the orchestral bed with a near falsetto clarity. Weaving through the venue, the sound caused the jaws of beer-sipping fans to drop in awe.

In “Belly of June,” from 2010′s “Thistled Spring,” drummer Dybvig rocked the tune to new heights with liberal use of the bass pedal and mallets on the snare drum. This raw sound, beautiful with the ornate cello, Ringle’s voice and the two violins, was a nice juxtaposition.

“Better Company” rose from a cacophony of strings and concerned itself with images of two lovers at Puget Sound. The song built toward a heady chorus and ebbed back to nothing like vapor trails following a jet.

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