|Writer, essayeur, freelance designer and erstwhile New York advertising producer, Jason Sindel is and intends to remain a jack of all trades who prefers the flexible over the rigid, the spontaneous over the planned, the frivolous over the serious. Contact him at jasonsindel at gmail.com.|
As a duo, married singer-songwriters Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist are as close to a match made in musical heaven as anything I’ve seen, but they are far from the perfect couple. Anyone who has attended a dinner party as a guest of a “power-couple” knows the effect a well-played conjugal performance can have on the ill-prepared — the stories told in punctuated harmony that can easily upstage the music, the moments of mutual reverence and the general impression of endless, daily contentment that trigger unwanted envy and understandable insecurity.
These types of couples don’t keep good friends for long, since who wants to cope with a constant reminder that your own marriage seems harder than it should and love isn’t all you need; but Linford and Karin display a remarkable vulnerability in both their on-stage presence and in their music that seduces you with honesty and urges you to cherish what you love. They are the couple you want to love because you want to know them better, not the couple you hate because you can never be like them.
Early in the night, a beautiful rendition of “All My Favorite People” set this tone. The song is a meditation on human frailty and an earnest acceptance that we are all, eventually, damaged goods and better because of it. This humility isn’t fleeting, Karin’s voice throughout their canon is a salve to the unrepentant cynic: “Cause all my favorite people are broken/Believe me, my heart should know/As for your tender heart, this world’s going to rip it wide open, /It aint gonna be pretty, but you’re not alone.”
And the audience didn’t feel alone either. Throughout the night, Linford provided us with measured, well-crafted narratives sharing intimate moments from the couple’s life. He spoke of dusky evenings when a song was born, a glimpse into surprising domesticity, when they sat as the sun went down on the porch of their pre-Civil War farmhouse in the Ohio valley, and wrote a song. But rather than mythologize their love, they seem resigned to suffer it, and in that they share something precious, and real, and troubled at times: “What may seem complicated/Is overstated, downright misunderstood/Love will not be outdated/Maybe placated, but it’s got to be good.”
It is difficult not to engage in speculation with these two. Karin Brequist is a stunning woman whose beauty is captivating long before a note escapes from her lips in song. An earth-bound beauty, she sings from deep within, breathy and rustic and never overwrought — with a signature sound their one-time producer Joe Henry likened to “…blue smoke in rafters.” There is wistfulness to Karin that invites curious assumption and begs the listener for empathy. When an audience member tried unsuccessfully at first to catch her attention by shouting out a snippet from a well-known lyric, “I couldn’t love you more than I love you now,” she quipped in return, “Oh..I thought you were getting fresh with me…” then with a gracious, soft let-down, “and it’s all right if you were,” she left us all to swoon a little. A mystery hangs over her and invites you close, promising intimacy that may overwhelm but seems ready to embrace.
There’s irony in the fact that what most people know about the band Nada Surf is that they once had a mainstream hit in the ’90s by the name of “Popular” — and that’s about it.
The band isn’t that popular and they certainly aren’t mainstream anymore either. Their past three albums — “Lucky,” “If I had a Hi-Fi” and “The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy” — could be read as metaphors for the waves subsequently felt by critics and fans after each release. “Lucky” (2008) established Nada Surf as as a band with serious pretensions at a time when the music industry was being transformed from a label-based, CD-distribution model to a studio-based, peer-to-peer model. As a result, the New Yorkers developed fans they never would have had, but “Hi-Fi” (2010), an album of cover songs, passed many of us by with little fanfare — and judging from Pitchfork and the charts, a degree of indifference took hold.
Which is why I was happy that the audience was so engaged this past Monday at Old Rock House. First, I was happy that the sound they represent — earnest guitar riffs and even more earnest lyrics — isn’t going away. Second, that the band that made the song “See These Bones” a remarkable anthem worthy of R.E.M. or the Pixies back in 2008 wasn’t reduced to dust, despite lyrics like, “Just like we are, you’ll be dust.” It was the highlight of the night for me but left an odd longing. Why couldn’t every song they play be like this?
Nada Surf doesn’t exactly disappoint, but they don’t overwhelm either. Those coming to see a band like Weezer or Death Cab for Cutie won’t get anything close. They are a band of anti-hits, with an anti-hipster style to boot and a stubborn integrity that borders on pathological. I’ve heard others comment that they sound best in a studio (who doesn’t?) and that their live stuff tends towards well-practiced jam-bandiness.
This latest performance didn’t prove otherwise. The vocals could have been a little louder or the drums a bit softer, and the tempo changes should have been more pronounced. All in all, the show lacked the nuance that fills their records, but it still delivered some fine moments — especially “Jules and Jim” and “Let the Fight Do the Fighting,” both songs that show Nada Surf’s depth and set the band apart. Does that sound like equivocation from a wannabe fan? Maybe, maybe not.
The opening band, WATERS, was a perfect lead-in for Nada Surf. These guys are so raw they make Jon Voight in “Midnight Cowboy” look like a well-heeled veteran. When their singer, a youngin’ out of San Francisco named Van Pierszalowski, gathered in the crowd for an a capella number, I almost felt bad for him. Just last month, I’d seen Israel Nebeker from Blind Pilot do the same to great effect, but these guys seemed too eager too pull it off. To the contrary, he got an audience as his chorus, and made my cynical and stodgy self feel ashamed at my premature embarrassment.
After WATERS and Nada Surf, I made a small mental note to myself. Relax your expectations a bit man and let it flow; sometimes a little earnestness is what you need.
The story of Flogging Molly begins not in an Irish bar in Dublin but at an Irish-American local scene in Los Angeles.
It’s a distinctly American tale too, that tells of a roving Irish musician, who at a young age (7) was given a guitar as rite of passage in a musical family, suffered the loss of his father not long after, moves to America to make his mark and spends his 20s grinding away for the regulars as an Irish musician with a repertoire of traditional folk and original Irish-style punk made so popular by the Pogues.
The loyal crowds grow, and Dave King and his merry band take the Monday Molly Malone’s show from the stage to the studio, dial the Irish up with fiddle and the requisite Irish themes of drink, lyrical penitence, more drink and maybe a pirate or two, and begin to make a name for themselves in a new and emerging genre called Celtic punk.
If that seems like a cynical take on a beloved band, it is, and apologetically so, because whatever you want to say about Flogging Molly, you inevitably find yourself handcuffed to the label Irish-American, in the way that cities all across this America celebrate St. Paddy’s day, with green beads and green t-shirts and an over abundance of beer. The band, like the holiday, both suffers and succeeds precisely because it is a stereotype and an archetype, and the term Irish-American doesn’t connote any authenticity to their country of origin as much as it signals a particular Celtic brand of Americana. Flogging Molly is a distinctly American invention and not an import, and quite frankly, that’s exactly why the band is so fun.
Dave King and his band are all about the show, and though it possibly bothers the Dublin native when he isn’t recognized on the Emerald Isle, I doubt he cares. The band sells records and schwag by the tons in America. Out of the 10 or so friends I saw them with, at least five were repeats who’d seen the band multiple times — either Floggers or Floggees, I couldn’t say.
Of the packed house at the Pageant, few remained sitting when the band roared through its latest material, and everyone danced when it struck up the classics. The Flogging Molly experience works well because while the venue may have grown, the show probably isn’t much different than the grinding Molly Malone days.
Concert review: Blind Pilot’s ‘We are the Tide’ tour rolls into St. Louis with style, at Plush, Friday, March 2
Why do I even care what a few strangers from Kentucky think of a St. Louis crowd? Why would it bother me when one of them tells me about the Blind Pilot show they attended earlier in the tour at Headliners in Louisville?
Or why would I care that the Louisville crowd had quieted down so obediently during the encore of “Three Rounds and a Sound” that the only noises besides the unplugged band and Israel Nebeker’s sincere voice was the clink of the bartender as he dropped ice into a glass? I’ll never understand why someone shouts “f&%*ing Frat Boy Shut Up!” while trying to get another person to quiet down, but I do know one sure way to silence a few loud talkers — sing louder.
Which I’m proud to say is exactly what a packed house full of rapt music lovers did at Plush in St. Louis on Friday night. Mr. Louisville, you keep quiet, ’cause this rowdy St. Louis crowd knows how to party, and apparently, how to join in on a sing-along.
Beyond the touching encore, there were many great moments in this KDHX-welcomed show: such as when Dave Jorgensen played trumpet for “I Buried a Bone” or Kati Claborn pulled out the dulcimer, or Israel set up a pump organ for “New York,” the final track on their latest album, “We Are the Tide,” and a perfect example of just how earnest their songwriting can get. The ancient-looking organ breathed with the song, exhaling sounds digital organs only approximate.
I have no song favorite: the eponymous “We Are the Tide” became an instant road-trip repeat on a recent drive to Memphis; “The Colored Night” is an all-day-you-must-hum-if-you-can’t-sing-along kind of song; and their opener “Keep Her Right” gave Israel a crush-worthiness that leant Blind Pilot an appeal much wider than just the beard-and-belly set which can dominate the folk music scene.
If you’ve never heard of Blind Pilot, then I’ll take full credit here and now. Go Spotify them as soon as you can, because they just might be your next favorite band.
Wait. Do something even more odd, actually go to a record store and buy the CD, so this fantastic band of six from Portland can keep filling their straight-up awesome blue vintage ’71 Crown tour bus with gas and keep playing great shows. That’s right: How does a six-piece band lugging a pump organ from venue-to-venue and city-to-city travel? The blue bus is a kitsch mobile of the highest order. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t run on recycled cooking oil and happy thoughts. But of course, you can’t travel to a place where only real feelings happen and everyone plays banjos and dulcimers in a commercial luxury coach bus.
But I digress. I’m fawning over them a little, and clearly, I have a man crush on this band (perhaps not as enamored as my girlfriend when she first saw Israel take the stage), but it’s not like I drove all the way to Louisville to see a band.
Still, you probably get my point: Blind Pilot is worth the trip, because Blind Pilot is a band that’s going places.
Concert review: Kishi Bashi and the Hibernauts rewrite rock formulas at Off Broadway, Saturday, January 14
As a rule, I’m a comparative thinker. As a writer, I construct parallels and employ juxtaposition all the time. As a critic, I see comparison as a means towards a more accurate definition.
First, let’s dispense with the obvious. The Hibernauts are four very white guys from the local area and Kaoru Ishibashi (AKA Kishi Bashi) is an American violinist of Japanese descent from Seattle. In the words of Kishi Bashi’s sexually charged anthem — which some on Saturday may have remembered from the Luminary’s of Montreal show from last June — that’s “just the tip.” There’s other glaring contrasts that set these musicians into singular categories and points towards their respective fates.
The Hibernauts’ brand of South Side gritty is a classic example of a post-punk paradigm. What do you do when you grow up in the Midwest and make music? If you are a band by the name of the Hibernauts, you adopt the classic two guitar, bass and drums formula and hope to break out of formulaic results. To their credit, they bring energy and verve to the enterprise, and what kept this band together, even when only sporadically doing live shows or recording new music over the years, is what makes them fun to watch — a palpable synchronicity and the ability to play off one another.
That’s fine if you play the odd Off Broadway gig or jam out for the happy hour crowd at Maggie O’s, but in this era of music-by-demand and cloud-driven social phenomena, a band has to work something else: its network. The Hibernauts have fans, and the turnout this Saturday was respectable and lively, but I’m starting to see why they are “retiring”: They just didn’t create the kind of buzz that makes you heard above the fray, and when they played, it sounded familiar and catchy, and sometimes, regrettably, well — too familiar.
With no single vocalist’s voice pulling the band out of the norm, they seem almost destined for comparisons to other more successful bands. Which is too bad, since while it was billed as a review and featured an old setlist that stretched back to the early oughts, the best stuff they played was the newest. Indeed, “Backburner” should have been moved to the front.
If the Hibernauts represent a classic, tried-and-true formula, Kishi Bashi is a mad scientist tinkering with new elements and new recipes. Classically trained on the violin at the Berkeley School of Music, his instruments double as input devices to a series of loop and effects peddles. It’s no wonder he studied film scores, cause there’s a majesty in his music, and enough depth to inspire the imagination and fill in any gaps that might be left by the lack of a full band.
We are in a dark room in a nondescript building in St. Louis. As the lights fade in, we see 5 men sitting on a stage. They are HONUS HONUS, POW POW, CHANG WANG, TURKEY MOTH, and JEFFERSON. They all sit in silence, but this is broken when HONUS HONUS begins to tap his foot repetitively on the ground in a way so it is clear he is anxious about something. A pair of gold sequined slippers rest atop an amplifier; POW walks over to them, peers inside, and seeing nothing, retreats to his drum kit.
Still tapping to an unknown rhythm
Last night… something occurred to me. Something important.
POW stands, sits again.
Important? I better sit down for this.
POW positions himself, facing HONUS, prepared and ready for something.
It wasn’t a dream. It was a revelation, although it felt like a dream as soon as I woke up and I realized it was different than a dream, more like a glimpse into the…into…
Inside a fall.
That is important. We need to paint our faces. Doesn’t everyone need to paint their face?
In light of this news. Yes, I believe we need to. In fact, it may be a matter of life –
and death…don’t forget death. It gets a bad rap. And nothing. “Nothing is everything.”
Concert review: An Horse and Middle Class Fashion ride through the Old Rock House, Sunday, September 18
A Sunday night at the Old Rock House can be a touch-and-go affair. I’ve been there when the band outnumbered the fans and the music bounced around like ping pong balls during bingo night at the rec center. I’ve also been packed in on the floor with no room to move.
Last night, the Australian duo An Horse drew a decent crowd, a fact that wasn’t lost on them since they thanked us several times. St. Louis was apparently the start of a 40 stop tour and Kate Cooper seemed a bit overwhelmed and slightly sad.
I think we forget how much work musicians actually do when they tour. Most of it isn’t glamorous and all of it isn’t home, but that aside, these two are going to have fun. They have a devoted fan base and extra doses of the typical Aussie “can do.” If they started out a little bumpy in St. Louis, I’m pretty sure they’re going to hit their stride in Chicago.
I’ll get back to An Horse in a second, but first a bit about the opening band Middle Class Fashion.
Last night was the first time I caught the St. Louis band’s show, but it’s a good one. If they seem familiar that’s because they are: Half the band play in the Paper Dolls and the other half play in Tight Pants Syndrome, with Jenn Malzone bridging the two. She sings and bangs on her keyboard with the enthusiasm of a happy, sugar-high kid (the best kind). I loved “My Attack,” in which she flat handed chords like playful biatch slaps for a staccato effect. But really the whole set was fantastic and fun. If you get a chance to see them play, in any of the bands many manifestations, don’t pass it up.
An Horse is a much different style, not so much fun filled, as angsty with a touch of leave me alone, wait don’t go. Reading the lyrics now, a day after the show, I’m struck by how depressing some of the songs are. “Airport Death” is pretty much about pessimism and tragedy. While “Company” is essentially the struggle to maintain a brave face against mounting fears.
The material belies their engaging stage presence, but it’s sincere — never self-indulgent or overly broody. “Company” in particular is a great example of their style. It’s plaintive and powerful, and when Kate sings, “I’m trying to be brave,” you want her to succeed.
If you choose to, you can read into those lyrics and get the sense they are at profound odds with the displacement that comes with touring and traveling. There’s a persistent longing to Kate’s refrains and comforting reassurance with Damien Cox’s harmonies. They obviously depend on one another way beyond just the music, as fellow journeymen, friends and refugees far from home.
The songs of Blitzen Trapper arc from sweeping anthems to folk-inspired ballads all bathed in the same lyrical mix of cowboy mythos and Northwestern mountain country soul.
The recipe works. The first time I listened to the Portland-based band’s album Wild Mountain Nation, I was in New York and let myself day-dream of long summer’s past back in the Midwest: a windows-down drive on a dusty, gravel road; a summer’s float trip on intertubes down a languid river; a ice-packed cooler of cheap canned beer. There’s real gold to be mined here and at least most of the time, the quintet found it; but the brash energy of some of their tracks from Furr and Wild Mountain Nation was dialed back at the show at the Firebird this Saturday, in some cases drastically so.
Never having seen them live, I didn’t know what to expect, but that never stops me from having erroneous expectations. In this case, I expected more of a jam fest ala Allman Brothers, but the band refused. I should have known; they are not a jam band. Their material is a mix of story and fantasy, and even if at times Eric Earley’s lyrics can be problematic, finding the obvious rhyme in an obvious line, there’s enough whimsy to throw you off. The set-opener “Destroyer of the Void” and its mysterious “wayward sons” and “galaxies and stars,” and the “demons and dragons” reference in the successional song “Fire and Fast Bullets,” all point to a magical realism that belies the strictly western ballad.
If such lyrics bend the western genre a bit then we’re getting closer to the Blitzen Trapper source. There’s a touch of “Cowboy vs. Aliens” here, right down to the Steve Miller-style space keyboards thrown on top of dual guitar riffs in “Destroyer.” Then there’s “Furr,” a bildungsroman about a boy, his wolfpack and the girl he loves, played in this set at least a quarter tempo slower than it’s album version.
Again my expectation of the band was for energy and pace, and the show failed to satisfy on those two points. According to the band’s website, drummer Brian Koch took a chunk of flesh from his finger in a cymbal accident during the opening number. After a brief chat with Marty Marquis while packing up, I learned that they had recently lost their keyboardist, Drew Laughery, either by mutual or individual decision. I suppose any number of things can cause a performance to fall flat in a few areas, but regardless there were enough high points to smooth it all out.
The band is touring now ahead of a new album release in September, which is somewhat interesting as a sneak peak to new directions. If the handful of new songs they played this Saturday was any indication, the new stuff is heavily weighted on the side of the kind of campfire-rock that worked so well in earlier albums, perhaps re-grounding their material from its occasional and fitful flight into the ethereal on Destroyer with lots a harmonica and a full embrace of the mountain ethos as its subject matter.
The new songs I listened to last night were the best of the set, as was the encore, a cover of Led Zepplin’s “Good Times, Bad Times.” While it wasn’t the best show I’ve seen at the Firebird this year, I left thinking that the new album’s going to be excellent.
Meanwhile, Blitzen Trapper remains a staple of the summer’s playlist for those country drives and midwest river days, and I’ll have to remind myself once again that while the band may not have lived up to my unrealistic expectations in their live show, they are still great enough to inspire me to have such expectations in the first place.