|I am a pretty standard Midwestern former scholar of literature turned academic administrator once Rock N Roll Craft Show organizer lifelong potter aspiring ballerina committed food blogger now public defender who writes about alternative pedagogy, James Joyce, various forms of injustice, vegetarian menu options, New York, the Fourth Amendment, and, well, now, music too. I don’t like "verbose," and I’ll probably get my feelings hurt with "controltalker," so let’s just leave it as, "I have words." Check them out. See what you think. If you don’t like these, there’s a really good chance there will be more later.|
U.S. Royalty — perhaps named as such because lead singer John Thornley’s swagger is decidedly Mick-Jagger-inspired and bassist Jacob Michael is most certainly this century’s Slash, at least in terms of hair and rocking out — does not, at first glance and listen, make sense.
Perhaps it is the mix of aesthetics — John’s shockingly gold sparkle top and white snakeskin boots, drummer Luke Adams’ buzz cut that could only have been modeled after the most recent armed forces enlistee: This wasn’t the standard indie rock look you see at the Firebird. And the lyrics — a surface listen of which at best conjure some sort of ’80s romance movie soundtrack — “Monte Carlo you keep in your dreams / Along with horses, princes, and kings” — just add to the pastiche. Incongruous, indeed.
But a deeper listen, a willingness to allow these disparate elements of fashion, sounds and sentiments nevertheless to merge into a single moment, a single space, reveals something truly fascinating, and, well, integrated. Under the surface lurks something with integrity. Think raw, southern American blues rock; not so much Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd, but more like the movie Black Snake Moan. Yes, these four skinny-jeaned and lady-blazered white boys from Washington D.C., when they sing, “Come now, follow your heart, young American soul / I hear you crying out in the night / I hear your heartbeat, on these dead end streets / I hear you screaming out to the light,” somehow evoke Samuel L. Jackson in his most “aim to cure you of your wickedness” kind of way.
U.S. Royalty opened for the Joy Formidable last night at the Firebird, touting their single “Equestrian,” which is nice, and which had their fans “oh oh oh oh oh”ing along with them for the chorus, but this more popular tune was not their moment of triumph. Rather, USR’s 10-minute rendition of “The Desert Won’t Save You” from their recent self-released album “Mirrors,” in a single song, accomplished what all openers should and must do: They set the stage for a full-bore rock show. “There’s a strong desert wind / and it’s creepin’ in, creepin’ in… / Oh this is the season of my prime… / Don’t doubt me now… / I’m gonna lay you down.” Laid down we were, prone and primed for The Joy Formidable. “It’s the witching hour.”
There’s a big difference between the nostalgic rock show and the true rock show. For the true rock show, you push all the way up to the stage, your sweat mingling with everyone around you, chest pounding with the rhythm of the drums, voice blending with the lead singer’s.
You go home, ears ringing from your proximity to the six-foot speakers, forever a little bit different — better — from having experienced three hours of being enveloped by something greater than you.
The nostalgic show? You go because you remember…you remember a moment from your past when you lived and breathed that band, those moments when you felt that song or that album defined you. You go to the nostalgic rock show to reclaim and relive. You don’t go to come home different; you go to remember once having felt different.
Last night, I went to the Old Rock House to reclaim a little piece of my long-gone 18-year-old-overalls-and-maroon-patent-leather-Airwalks-wearing self, who traversed my college campus with hand flat out, palm up, carefully cradling my Discman so as not to jostle the defining album of those days — When I Woke.
Why Rusted Root was the soundtrack for my first year of college, when my hours were spent in the painting studio, pushing the boundaries of my still-life-with-marbles-and-blue-rag creativity, I am not sure. Rusted Root did not survive that first year of college; I haven’t dug that old CD out of my storage unit since. But for those first months of college, “Beautiful People” and “Cruel Sun” were unmatched musical masterpieces. They said what I could not — those songs expressed my true adolescent angst in the most accurate of terms.
So I went to see Rusted Root last night not to rock out, not to have the sweaty, life-changing experience of a true rock show (like Fitz and the Tantrums last February at the Duck Room, or King Khan and the Shrines last year in Brooklyn, or even Maximo Park, the Double Door, Chicago, 2007 — awesome, awesome, awesome shows), but more like when I went to see Phish at the Fox a few years ago, leaving not better or different, not having noodled or even let loose, but only having remembered a moment of youthfulness and innocence, of Marlboro Reds and dorm-room hanging.
Last night, I did not wear my boyfriend’s Calvins or hook on my chain wallet, I did not wrinkle up my face into one of cool distance, but I went as adult me, to see if I could feel again what it felt like to be an aspiring-artist-psych-major-maybe-pre-med who as yet knew nothing of student loans, mortgages, heartbreak, changing careers, and, well, other music.
Concert review: Foals and Freelance Whales get up close and personal at the Firebird, Saturday, April 23
Truth be told, I went to the Firebird last night to see Freelance Whales, and not the headliner, Foals. What can I say? I like Foals, but I’m a sucker for a banjo. But getting down and dirty with Foals changed everything for me. The whole night rocked.
The Whales, a band from Queens, N.Y. mesmerized a packed venue — many of whom were likewise there to see just them — swapping turns on the glockenspiel while harmonizing vocals and toe-tapping through the standard indie-rock footwork.
Yes, their songs are featured on Starbucks ads and TV shows, and yes they default to the standard indie-rock wear (too-tight jeans, ironic vintage schoolmarm trousers, plaid, plaid, plaid), but the music does not lack integrity. The blend of synthesized electronics with various folk percussion instruments creates a vibrant energy live that is only hinted at in the commercial context.
Overall, the Whales are more than the sum of their parts. Weathervanes ostensibly is the product of the band members’ “dream journals” and “works to tell a simple, pre-adolescent love story: A young male falls in love with the spectral young femme who haunts his childhood home. He chases her in his dreams but finds her to be mostly elusive. He imagines her alive and wonders if someday he’ll take on her responsibilities of ghosting, or if maybe he’ll join her, elsewhere” … right. Well. Don’t let their TV spots or this talk of “ghosting” dissuade you from loving the Whales. So they tend toward the clichéd; it’s only on the surface, I assure you.
The sounds are hauntingly lovely and rife with possibility, and the Whales are definitely something greater than the ordinary indie rock band just emerging from mom’s garage. Dream log weirdness aside, the band members are accessible and friendly — just listen to their lyrics (“I am convinced / that we could be friends,” “since you are my friend”) — so nice! In fact, after their nine-song set, the Whales hung around for the rest of the show and chatted with fans (I even had a pleasant encounter with Nicole aka Doris in the restroom). I may not share your love of ghost stories, but I’m all over your music, and yes, we could indeed be friends the next time you’re in STL.
Old 97′s may come from Texas, and they may be a Texas “bar band” through and through (clad in the requisite cowboy shirts and boots), but last night, to everyone at the Pageant, it felt like they were home again. “When the sun goes down on [St. Louis] town / That’s when I’ll know I’m home.” Right?
“Hiy’all doin’ St. Louis?” lead singer Rhett Miller shouted in greeting to the packed theatre. In response to the fans’ “wooooooo!” Rhett laughed and said, “Yeah me too, me too. It’s nice to be back in St. Louis.” It is nice, Rhett!
“Do you want to dance with me,” fans of the Old 97′s? Apparently, yes, you do. Following Whiskey Folk Ramblers and Those Darlins, we rocked out last night to the Old 97′s most recent return, though Rhett was sure to remind St. Louisans of their long history in this town: “We’ve always had great shows here, all the way back to Cicero’s and the Hi Pointe.” He reminisced, “I always bumped my head on the ceiling at the Hi Pointe. The Pageant has their shit together; they didn’t put a metal beam right here!” What town doesn’t love a band that loves their town?
Rhett set a perfect tone for the night — humor, excitement, familiarity with the local scene. And the band opened the set strong with “The Grand Theatre,” followed by a handful of songs from recent albums (2008′s Blame it on Gravity and 2010′s The Grand Theatre: Volume 1). From my vantage point, I could see the standing-room-only crowd pushed close to the stage, grooving and swaying (“Movers and martini shakers”), and even noticed the seated crowd who, judging from the median age, were likely fans of the Old 97′s since the early days (mid-1990s), nodding their heads and relishing this opportunity to see them live, maybe again after having seen them at the Hi Pointe years ago, or maybe for the first time (“Once in your life / And the time has come”). It’s always nice to see a band you love make it, and even nicer to see a group known as being a “bar band” successfully fill a big venue and not get lost in the space.
Yes, a lot of niceness all around last night, all the way through song 14. And 15. Aaaaaaaand 16. (“Yeah, I’m a little bit afraid that we’re out of control now.”) At song 17, Rhett exclaimed, “Don’t get too excited St. Louis — we’re NOT DONE YET!” Indeed.
Maybe like any long-lost love or friend or relative coming home again, fondness is commensurate with the length of the absence. And maybe like any house guest who can overstay the welcome, a 27-song show is a bit much.
But after song 21, the obligatory pre-encore stage exit, audience cheering, and band return, the encore seemed likely to deliver an earlier promise of “But you make it all right, you make it OK.” All right, Old 97′s, “I’ll stay all night / I’ll wait right here.” Let’s see what you’ve got for us.
For the first song of the encore, Rhett performed an acoustic solo of “Singular Girl.” It was lovely, truly. The second encore song featured bassist Murry Hammond performing an acoustic solo of “Valentine” with Rhett harmonizing. Very, very lovely. Then for the third song of the encore, the whole band rocked out solidly to “The Fool.” Fantastic.
Admittedly around song 14 I had thought that perhaps I didn’t want to stay until the end. By song 2 of the encore, I fully felt those lyrics, “You make me sorta glad that I waited”; yes, indeed, Old 97′s, “you thought I wasn’t listening / but I was.” Those first three songs of the encore were more than nice — truly, they were an awesome close to a really good rock show.
But then, oh wait, there’s another song? And another? Oh my god, there are SIX encore songs? At encore song 5, I asked the doorman how many more, and when he answered “2 more,” I hate to admit it, but as I tried to avoid standing in the way of the masses exiting the Pageant, the words they sang hit a little close to home: “‘The end is coming soon,’ but not soon enough / Restring all your guitars / Pack up all your stuff.” Now, I won’t go so far as to say that I would have embraced the sentiment behind the lyrics, “Now I’m begging and I’m pleading,” but I will say that after nearly 2 hours, I did enthusiastically join the refrain of “I’m on my way / I’m on my way / I’m on my way.”
Concert review: Someone fell in love with Fitz and the Tantrums last night. I think it was St. Louis. Saturday, February 12
I believe Fitz and the Tantrums initiated what no doubt will prove to be a long-term steamy love affair with St. Louis at the Duck Room last night. (Or, if lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick’s paralyzing gaze means anything — I’m sure it does, right? — Fitz started one with me… nah, it was probably between the band and St. Louis generally… yeah, probably). Anyway, all night Fitz and vocalist Noelle Scaggs professed their love for the STL audience, exclaiming, “We love our fans in St. Louis!” and “St. Louis — you guys F***ING ROCK!” The band members even hung around after the show to meet their STL fans (yes! I got a picture with Fitz!).
Maybe it was his intense gaze, maybe it was the intimacy necessarily bred when hundreds of people overfill a small, dark, underground venue, or maybe it was the looming holiday that made us all feel oh-so in love (yes I’m referencing Valentine’s Day). Whatever it was, love, lust, sex and passion were in the air. “The world outside is oh so cold,” they sang. Well, last night, mere feet away from Fitz and his Tantrums, “I found a solution to all of my confusion”; yes indeed, “Sweet dreams are made of this.” Hot and steamy, the crowd pushed all the way up to the stage and danced with the band and each other — whoever was around — it was a regular love-fest.
Well, sort of. Maybe it was the pressure of sexual competition (there’s only one Fitz and one Noelle to go around, ladies and gentlemen!) that caused a couple of jealous flare-ups resulting in one dude grabbing another and declaring, “If you don’t stop bumping him, I will kill you. He’s famous.” (Ironically, this “famous” kid apparently operating on an I-bump-you-but-don’t-bump-me-or-my-skinny-bodyguard-will-kill-you policy was escorted out after Noelle scolded the crowd to “stop bumping” — “The truth is you won’t / be coming here no more… I’m showing you the door / Wave goodbye now, it’s time for you to go.”). And then there was the woman who yelled in my girlfriend’s ear, “That’s MY HUSBAND.” Not sure why, as she was dancing with her boyfriend…
Anyway, once those moments passed and we all got over the petty jealousies (“Me, I’m doing fine”), the band seemed to forget the unfortunate “bumping” incidents and grooved on awesomely — “Hold your head up, movin’ on / Keep your head up, movin’ on!” “Hey! WOOP!”
And we DANCED (we didn’t BUMP anymore, mind you) last night; we totally rocked out, jammed up against each other with Fitz doing his own personal blend of finger-pointing and arm-flapping a la Mick Jagger and indie funk hip hop toe-tapping. Though Fitz claims, “I’ve been known to have some pretty awkward dance moves myself,” his moves were anything but; indeed Fitz “g[a]ve people permission to have fun.” Well, most people, that is. (Ok I’ll let it go! I know that forgiveness is the basis of any loving relationship!)
Tokyo Police Club keyboardist Graham Wright once described its first EP as “very quick, quick, quick, one, two, three. Some of the songs don’t have a lot of space in them and the album doesn’t have a whole lot of room to breathe.”
Yep, that’s about right. Last night, TPC bounded on stage around 10:15 p.m. at a packed-to-capacity Firebird amidst 400 kids dancing and churning and sweating, shoulder to shoulder, high five to high five, head nod to head nod, and even spilling out the door in a line about 50-deep, then sped through 15 songs, ultimately exiting stage right 45 minutes later. Fast, tight, frenzied. In the words of my 13-year-old nephew, “that was so awesome.”
Yes, I was rocking with the kids last night. I took my nephew and his buddies to their first real rock show — well, not counting when they saw the Eagles at Savvis with Dad — anyway, as my adolescent escorts shrieked while jumping and fist-pumping right in front of the stage, they “felt right at home!” Like singer/guitarist Dave Monks was “a kid like just like one of them!” (A kid, indeed, born in 1987!) I can’t believe “they wired all of their instruments through a 1970s Champ Amp!” Clearly, TPC has a specific audience (the “Citizens of Tomorrow”?). Uh huh, TPC, “Tell me how’s your younger brother / What grade’s he in?”
But though this was an “all ages” show, and though the Firebird was crammed with black-X-marked minors (“We showed them what the backs of our hands is for”), TPC did not alienate the 20- and 30- and 40-something St. Louis indie rockers.
TPC’s new album, Champ, has interesting moments; but it sounds, uh, youthful. Live, however, TPC explodes with energy, power, and really, with maturity. Whereas the recorded songs have a metallic, poppy, high-school garage band aesthetic, on stage, in the words of my nephew, they were “all vibrations” — it was like a “2-way currency between us and them!” And that “us” was all of us — truly. Though maybe “You were looking back on your days / How you spent them all in a blur,” still, regardless of your age, “your favourite food still tastes the same.” We were all there “making up for lost time.” Yes, TPC can rock all ages with the best of them.
TPC followed opener Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, another quick 45-minute set featuring TPC band members adding percussion (more cowbell!, to be specific, according to drummer Greg Alsop) to the last song, and for the grand finale, Prince Caspian-looking SSLYBY guitarist Will Knauer reverse-stage-dove into the drum kit behind him. Ahh, teenage antics! “Cool for sure!” As my nephew no doubt declared to my sister last night, “I wanna tell you there’s a really good reason / Why I came home wasted in the middle of the night” (damn those double-tall PBRs, Firebird!).
“It’s been a blast,” TPC and SSLYBY. I guess you’re right when you say, “Your future’s with us”… nope, “You don’t need to change.”
Tokyo Police Club Setlist
1. Favourite Color
2. ? (maybe Favourite Food)
4. Top Five
5. End of a Spark
6. In a Cave
8. Hands Reversed
9. Citizens of Tomorrow
10. Be Good
12. Breakneck Speed
13. Wait Up (Boots of Danger)
14. Your English is Good
Encore (with Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin)
15. Cheer it On
As it turns out, most of the music that caught my fancy this year was not from this year… I spent much of early summer tangled in a passionate affair with Tom Petty’s “Time to Move On,” and for the better part of October, I enveloped Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire” in my embrace, and then the entirety of Up From Below by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, which, honestly, jesus-crap-I’m-falling-for-this-am-I-really-falling-for-this-god-help-me, took a hold of me months and months ago and hasn’t set me down yet.
Besides these random moment’s of musical ecstasy, however, much of this year was not especially mind blowing. Nevertheless, in attending to every click-my-iPhone-three-times-to-make-this-song-“repeat,” a singular theme emerges: strong female singers, layered vocals with lots of self-harmonizing, myriad instruments with a combination of electric and acoustic and old and new (think harp and banjo and electric bass and the best of all, ukulele), mid-song tempo changes, discordance between the music and the vocals that creates a startling if not haunting aesthetic. In a word, girl music grown up.
Ok that’s four words, forgive me (verbose, overtalker, etc. etc. and so on…). But for a girl who learned about music from Tiffany and Whitney Houston played on a purple tape recorder, I’m thrilled that my devotion to female pop vocalists not only can thrive in today’s world, but can also mature and, well, have a bit more integrity. These Top Ten Female Vocalists with 2010 releases aren‘t just singers or musicians; they are all all-woman – all power, all passion, all of them make you feel alive and transcendent.
10. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
Evocative best describes her voice, as it creeps and crawls and dances over harp and violin and horns and piano. Odd tempo shifts and mood changes dominate her three-album release. Her tone is quirky yet soulful, dripping with femininity yet solidly powerful. Not quite something to rock out to; rather, this album is best for curling up for a long session of “me time.”
Best song: “Good Intentions Paving Co.”
9. CocoRosie – Grey Oceans
Murky and haunting, the sounds these sisters create are as diverse as their two voices (one childlike and the other operatic). At moments CocoRosie evokes Bjork – well, that is, a Bjork minus the techno-dance of Debut and the silliness of the Sugarcubes; yeah, more like a Bjork that you locked in a dark closet for a few years, whose eyes are still adjusting to the light. The song “Lemonade” is particularly tasty, featuring the two voices piled one upon the other and the requisite mid-song tempo change and the juxtaposition of funeral sad with playground giddy.
Best song: “Lemonade”
8. Beach House – Teen Dream
Eerie and shadowy, but not somber; Beach House creates an atmosphere of calm with a touch of longing. Victoria Legrand’s vocals are at once clear and husky, weaving in and out of the background “oohs” and “aahhhs” and electronics and keys like the whine of a bent saw. Though slow-paced, the electric guitar, bass, keys and percussion (shakers, drums) keep a steady rhythm, giving way to crescendos of cymbals and bells, and my favorite part, intermittent jangles of a calliope organ. Best listened to through earbuds so you can absorb the subtle complexity, Beach House is perfect for couch-bound snowy Saturdays – “you are coming home… coming home any day now.”
Best songs: “Zebra” and “Used to Be”
7. The Joy Formidable – A Balloon Called Moaning
Electronic synthesizers, with keys, horns, organ-sounding hoots and subtle bass, guitar and drums. The vocals alternate with the swelling blend of instruments. Joy Formidable emits a touch of desolation, but adds in a solid rocking-out feel à la girl punk band. What is it about good girl rock that gets you right in the gut? “All these things about me you never can tell.”
Best songs: “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade” and “Whirring”
6. Kate Nash – My Best Friend is You
Although perhaps she is the most seemingly standard girly-pop star of this list, Kate Nash nevertheless embodies authentic, raw power. Maybe it’s that she yells rather than laments about soured romances, “cried my stupid eyes out,” or maybe it’s the pissed-off spoken word laid over the clapping and synthesizers, or maybe it’s that this album has matured since her last, with schizophrenic shifts between melodic lyricizing and screeching. Maybe it’s that she’s mastered that lovely quality of self-harmonizing. Whatever it is that makes her so engaging, she’s definitely not your standard Katy Perry pop, though certainly she can hold her own on the Billboard charts. My favorite song on this album is the acoustic “You Were So Far Away” with only guitar and her voice folded over itself singing about heartbreak-induced death – “I can taste the metal, feel the gun in my mouth.” Kate Nash makes you feel deeper than you thought was safe. There’s something going on there, and I like it.
Best songs: “Later On” and “You Were So Far Away”
Concert review: To all the 18-year-olds at the Billiken Club on Saturday, November 20: The Hood Internet crushed it, and it was sick
If I were 18 again, I’d throw out the fake ID I got by paying $8 and showing only my county library card to a nameless “state official” from an unmarked storefront on Cherokee Street, before Cherokee Street had streetlamps and coffee shops and rock venues, so that I could get into Stages: Five Levels of Dancing on the East Side. Instead I would just be my age, and go to the Billiken Club, eschewing alcohol and sporting a blue wristband instead of the yellow one, and I would dance my face off to the Hood Internet.
Apparently, if I were 18 again, now and not then, my older sister’s emerald green and aqua one-shouldered poufy prom dress with the silver-sequined mermaid ruffle could be hemmed daringly short, paired with Kardashian-worthy 5-inch nude suede platform Louboutin stilettos and a side pony, while the guy who lived 2 houses away from me could wear a Ghostbusters tee, checkered slip-on Vans, not because these things are timely now, but because these days when you are 18 years old, everything is new again, and everything is “sick.”
If I were 18 again, I would be cool not because I know how to play Axel F on my Casio keyboard in tune with the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack on my boombox, but because when Steve Reidell lays Major Lazer over it, he totally “crushes it,” and I can shake my ass to it like nobody’s business.
If I were 18 again, and it was dark, and everyone around me was sweating, and Cyndi Lauper came on, I wouldn’t be at home with my girlfriends mouthing the words to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” while I mimic Courtney Cox from the “Dancin’ in the Dark” video, because instead I would be rocking my black American Apparel leggings with my vintage boots purchased used at Urban Outfitters — such a great find — and I would probably be able to achieve level 16 of Dance Dance Revolution with my sweet moves on the floor. It would be sick.
If I were 18 again, when I heard Alvin and the Chipmunks, I wouldn’t be wearing knit stirrup pants but instead would be rocking my mom’s old drippy gold lamé shirt, but as a dress with a belt around not just my waist but also around my head, and the Chipmunks wouldn’t be singing “we are the chipmunks, guaranteed to brighten your day,” but instead would be maniacally repeating “how low can you go, how low can you go, how low can you go” laid over Ludacris. Me and my braless girlfriend — wearing a belt around her head, too — would be squatting limbo-style, but not limbo-style like with a pole at a pig roast, but rather all sexy and dirty and low and bootylicious and full of potential, and it would be so hot.
When Beastie Boys came on, it wouldn’t be “Sabotage” blasting from the back speakers of my friend’s mom’s minivan as we sped around west county tp-ing boys’ houses, it would be in the midst of a full-on booty-shake to “Good Old Rump Shaker” with Mike D. laid over Matt & Kim. And when Dr. Dre came on, I wouldn’t be proudly reciting “1, 2, 3 and to the 4, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the door” bleeping out the bad words, as a sort of sideshow entertainment to my parents’ friends’ dinner party, because it wouldn’t be “Nuthin’ but a G Thang,” baby; rather, it would be “Nuthin’ but a Journal Thang,” with Dre and Snoop laid over Class Actress synth. Hell yeah, “never been on a ride like this before.” I would crush it.