27 September 2007

minimix: Jazzercise (sax)

Are you feeling saxy? Here are some might fine blowers for you Friday listening pleasure. As always, you are free to ignore the accompanying musicians, but it's better when you don't. Who am I missing, you nagging completists?


Download the mix

01 Donkey Walk -- Lou Donaldson: Everything I Play Is Funky (1969)
02 East Broadway Run Down -- Sonny Rollins: East Broadway Run Down (1966)
03 Naima -- John Coltrane: Giant Steps (1960)
04 Baba Yaga's Seven League Boots -- Jessica Lurie: Licorice & Smoke (2005)
05 Water Babies -- Wayne Shorter: Super Nova (1969)
06 Portrait of those Beautiful Ladies -- Rahsaan Roland Kirk: The Case of the 3 Sided Dream in Audio color (1975)

Previously in minimix:
Jazzercise.4 (07)
Jazzercise.3 (d)
Jazzercise.2 (g)
Jazzercise.1 (p)

Links: Download update

Barely had time to surf the web, so you send me your links for once! See below for an updated most-downloaded list for OTW offerings with links for you to catch up on the most popular offerings.

To atone, here's a long awaited episode of Conversations with Elljay.

scene: driving home from Yom Kippur services, we join the conversation already in progress...
Elljay: You know what I'm thankful to God for?
Dad: What?

We've topped 3000 downloads recently, with over 150 OTW offerings of minimix, shows and miscellany. Here are the biggest sellers: (last ranking here) -- previous rank in parentheses.

  1. Arcade Fire 17Feb97 (2)
  2. WSP Reno 3/29/97 Part 1 (1)
  3. Best of 2006 disc 2 (3)
  4. minimix 8jun07 -- Comes Alive Vol 3 (7)
  5. minimix 6apr07 -- Americana Is Beautiful.1 (5)
  6. minimix 16mar07 -- Comes Alive Vol. 2
  7. WSP Warfield 3/31/97 Part 1 (5)
  8. minimix 6jul07 -- HORDEstalgia (9)
  9. minimix 16feb07 -- F.Art.S. Vol 2 (Herring) (13)
  10. Reno 97 part 2 (6)
[Dropped out: 13. Best of 2006 disc 1 (8); 16. minimix 27apr07 -- Phishtalgia.1 (10)]

Biggest movers since last I looked:
  1. minimix 27jul07 -- Tinselitis.2
  2. minimix 20jul07 -- Jazzercise.4
  3. wilco warsaw part 3
  4. Arcade Fire 17Feb97 (2)
  5. minimix 10aug07_1 -- Comes Alive Vol. 4

Review: CD's -- Keyed In

Catching up... busy week, hate it when I actually have to work... short reviews of two CD's I was handed in the last month and have spent a good deal of time in the player since, both with two keyboard mavens at opposite ends of their careers:

Baby Elephants: Turn My Teeth Up!
Anyone that's taken Philosophy 101 can tell you that we exist in one of an infinite number of possible universes. The one we've got is equally as possible as one where George W. Bush plays whacked-out funk music and Bernie Worrell is President of these United States. I don't know what such a universe might be like to live in, but I know what the music there sound like: the shit on this CD. It's funk from through the wormhole. We are living in the age of tribute: where tribute albums grow on trees and you can turn a rock over in any Manhattan music club and find a swarm of tribute bands hiding from the light of original compositions. But this album is something different, the self-tribute album -- the whole thing is essentially a tribute to the Wizard of Woo that stars Worrell himself at the center. He's surrounded by Prince Paul and Newkirk, but they essentially serve to fan Bernie with large (hip hop scented) palm fronds while he lounges around being fed grapes. The result is a weird mix of all-over-the-map genre bending with Bernie showcasing his multiple talents on songs that are, for the large part, about him. If that wasn't enough, there are these mostly tongue-in-cheek between-song "skits" and tributary samples that serve to tie it together with a little story. As corny as it sounds, it actually comes off pretty well. A whole slew of guests pepper the tracks with luminaries like George Clinton and David Byrne -- guys who saw through the insanity that is Bernie Worrell and captured some of the magic for their own ends -- coming back to truly pay tribute in the original sense of the word. The first half of the disc has its hits and misses, but this album creeps up on you and midway through (right around the point when Byrne comes aboard to ask "How does the brain wave?") it hits it's stride and gets deep into the "I can't remember if I'm really fucking stoned or not" brand of funk music. I'm not sure the track with Gabby La La ever starts or ends, because every time I've heard it I always seem lost midway through. This is not your bump and grind funk music, more like the hifalutin, dorm room grooves in the P-Funk mold, with some excursions into reggae (w/ Yellowman), hip hop and cheesy urban love ballads. It ain't perfect, but it is, in sum, a perfect tribute to Bernie Worrell and one that will creep up on you if you give it the chance of a few listens. I recommNed. Ned-O-Matic: 6.0

Marco Benevento -- Live at Tonic
Yeah, the book is usually, almost always better, but sometimes, in those rare instances, the movie elevates the story to something different and distills the essence out of the narrative in a way the author maybe never knew it could. And yes, 9 times out of 10, the recordings don't do justice to the performance, the live show is where the magic happens, but every once it's the tapes that tell the story. I was lucky enough to catch several nights of Marco Benevento's Tonic residency last fall and that November I happily lapped it up as live music purity the perfect confluence of 3 of my favorite live music entities: the weekly resideNYC (greatest concept ever), the late Tonic (probably my favorite venue from 2001-2006) and Marco Benevento. And even though it took him 3 CD's to do it, he's topped the shows themselves with one of the best live albums I've heard in a long, long while. This music is it. What live music is all about. Grand piano, organ, deep funky synth and little toy trinkets -- of course, Marco does it all and with as much as skill as anyone else out there. That alone, Benevento's playing, makes this an album well worth any music lover's while, but there's so much more. For one, it's not even clear to me that Marco is the star of the music. Most of the "wow!" moments are charged by someone else -- I mean disc 1 track 1 doesn't take off until Reed Mathis does something that should probably be illegal with his bass. Marco falls back all over the place, always to perfect effect: Mike Gordon shines on the 3 disc closing tracks; Scotty Metzger wails when the duo covers Combustible Edison and the three-headed drum+percussion beast is happy to take the melody for once while Benevento hangs back and plays rhythm for once. There are few musicians I have seen who take such sheer joy in the playing of music like Marco does -- he might enjoy playing it more than his audience enjoy listening which is saying something -- and it is that spirit that permeates throughout, whether on perfectly executed cover songs, brand new compositional brilliance or just furthest-reaches full-blown improvisation. It was 5 nights in November, 5 completely different ensembles and the album comes off as 3+ hours of one singular epic performance. These CD's make me giddy, one of the better things you can buy this year. Ned-O-Matic: 8.5

25 September 2007

Photo of the Week

Keyword: Joe Russo.

Just because.

No, wait, not just because, because of this:

Debut performance of Anti-Jazz Raygun

Joe Russo -Drums, Blood Splatter
Jonathan Goldberger - Guitar, Effects, Noise
Brandon Seabrook- Bass, Effects, Noise

Tues Sept 25th
Knitting Factory Old Office
8PM sharp

Go go gadget, get involved, take notes, tape it, let me know... or maybe I'll show up if I can get it up.

23 September 2007

Shows of the Week

Finally getting back on track here, apologies for letting things slip. Let me know where I'm missing or wrong.

There's still a week left in September, but it's starting to look a lot like October around here... holy crumb that's a lot of good shows; actually looks a little like ACLFest up here.

Remember * = Ned's picks; # = new additions; if you or someone you know would like this listing in their inbox, go to groups.yahoo.com/group/nyc_sotw and click "Join this Group."


Click here for upcoming shows

Bjork @ Madison Square Garden
*Nellie McKay @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
Beirut @ The Concert Hall
Bettye LaVette @ Highline Ballroom
Jane Getter Trio @ 55 Bar (late)
Nublu Orchestra @ Nublu

Nellie McKay @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
John Vanderslice @ Blend (Ridgewood, NJ)
Mocean Worker @ Nublu
Chris Barron et al @ Rockwood Music Hall
Slide Hampton Trombone All Stars @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
*Jenny Scheinman @ Barbes (Brooklyn) (early)
Steve Vai @ Hammerstein Ballroom
Ralph Alessi Quartet @ CIM (Brooklyn)
Genesis @ Madison Square Garden
Jaik Miller Band @ LUV 24/7

Jim Lauderdale @ Joe's Pub
FREE Beirut, Blakan Beat Box @ Delacorte Theater
*John Vanderslice @ Bowery Ballroom
Steve Earle (Allison Moorer opens) @ Town Hall
Slide Hampton Trombone All Stars @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
The Secret Machines @ The Annex
Tab Benoit @ Lion's Den
Meshell Ndegeocello @ Hiro Ballroom
Megadeath @ Fillmore
Thurston Moore @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
Mahavishnu Project (plays Jeff Beck) @ Iridium (early/late)
Adam Deitch Project @ Club Midway
Blue October @ Nokia Theater

Genesis @ Giants Stadium (E. Rutherford, NJ)
Devendra Banhart @ Grand Ballroom
John McLaughlin @ Town Hall
*Medeski, Martin & Wood @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
Fujia & Miyago, Dirty On Purpose @ Bowery Ballroom
Bakerton Group @ Mercury Lounge
Slide Hampton Trombone All Stars @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
Blue October @ Nokia Theater
Eastern Blok @ Mehanata
Garaj Mahal @ Knitting Factory (early)
ZZ Top @ Beacon Theater
E.S.T. @ Jazz Standard (early/late)
American Babies @ Mexicali Blues (Teaneck, NJ)
Jose Gonzalez @ Blender Theater

E.S.T. @ Jazz Standard (early/late)
Mofro/Assembly of Dust @ Highline Ballroom
Okkervil River @ Webster Hall
Slide Hampton Trombone All Stars @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
ZZ Top @ Beacon Theater
Jose Gonzalez @ Blender Theater
FREE Michelle Shocked et al @ Delacorte Theater
Care Bears on Fire (CD release) @ Southpaw (Brooklyn) (early)
STS9 @ Nokia Theater
Improv night: Hirsch, Mori, Rothernberg, Couvoisier et al @ Roulette
Conspirator @ BB King's (late night)
Amayo's Fu-Arkistra @ Zebulon (Brooklyn)
Dirty Projectors et al @ Mercury Lounge
Big Sam's Funky Nation, Trombone Shorty @ Lion's Den
*Phonograph @ Living Room (late)
Okkervil River @ Webster Hall
Matt Pond PA @ Bowery Ballroom

STS9 @ Nokia Theater
*The Sea & Cake @ Warsaw (Brooklyn)
Lucinda Williams (Fionn Regan opens) @ Fillmore
Marc Ford @ Mexicali Blues (Teaneck, NJ)
E.S.T. @ Jazz Standard (early/late)
Soleside @ BB King's (late night)
Mocean Worker @ Blue Note (midnight)
Mofro/Assembly of Dust @ Highline Ballroom
Jose Gonzalez @ Music Hall (Brooklyn)
Sam Kininger @ Tap Bar
Slide Hampton Trombone All Stars @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
Kaiser Chiefs @ Beacon Theater

Lucinda Williams (Fionn Regan opens) @ Fillmore
*Iron & Wine @ Town Hall
Slide Hampton Trombone All Stars @ Village Vanguard (early/late)
Akron/Family @ Bowery Ballroom
FREE The Black Hollies et al @ Magnetic Field
E.S.T. @ Jazz Standard (early/late)
Stephane Wrembel @ Barbes (Brooklyn)

Click here for upcoming shows

20 September 2007

minimix: Shuffleupagus.3

Another completely out-of-the-hat random draw for your Friday... enjoy!

Download the mix

01 Syeeda's Song Flute -- Medeski, Martin & Wood: It's a Jungle In Here (1993)
02 Michael -- Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand (2004)
03 Grand Decision -- Assembly Of Dust: Recollection (2007)
04 Yours Is The Light -- Santana: Lotus (1973)
05 Just My Imagination -- Rolling Stones: Handsome Girls (1978)
06 Fool In The Rain -- Bustle In Your Hedgerow: 31 July 2005

Previously in minimix:

P+R: ACLFest Day 3

Day 1 review
Day 1 photo album
Day 2 review
Day 2 photo album
Day 3 photo album

You'd think after the monster Friday and the big chunks of glee from Saturday that Sunday was just afterthought... that the heat and the exhaustion might have put me into cruise control. But nay! Nay! Sunday was looking, on paper, to be the best of the bunch and if the Wilco vs. My Morning Jacket throwdown of the late afternoon wasn't enough to get this rockaholic psyched, certainly the bouts of epicness from Midlake, the Nocturnals and the possiblity of a big fat close-out by the grandaddy of all 'em would be enough fuel to keep my motor puffing along.

Once again, the lack of the dreaded child-schlep had us up and atom bright and early. Yo La Tengo was a band that somehow has drifted off my radar time and time again. No more. They lit up the AMD stage bright and early with some scattershot genre bending that was just the jolt of musical espresso to get me bowling. This trio is the most unassuming, unlikely bunch of rockmeisters to make their way through Zilker Park, but they wasted no time getting to that louder than loud level. Total off-center guitar shredding started the set off, but it moved too all sorts of different corners of the guitar(or piano)/bass/drum bedroom. A couple songs in the bass player laid down this ultra-groove: two or three notes cylced over and over and over, the repetitiveness building up tension despite going nowhere. It was a glorious stretch as the guitar just blazed and blistered and blew a gasket or two. This went on for a nice long stretch and
pretty much blew me away. Later they got soft and sweet and then followed that up with something a little loopy and dancey. It was a heady mix all bound together by three musicians who know each other damn well. All 3 got to sing, lead the way and hang back. Loved it.
Lunchtime brought me close to Fionn Regan on the stage-you-cannot-avoid. Kinda United Kingdom-esque singer-songwriter on rhythm-heavy acoustic guitar kind of stuff. The twist was that he was paired with a drummer which seemed a bit much, but it worked for the most part. The second twist was the overdressed lady doing backing vocals and adding in some well-times percussive elements. The third twist was the out-of-mode hairdo and what was either the worst mustache ever or just a smudge above his upper lip. Distracting.
ACLFest was full of some very tempting either/or's all weekend long; the promoters certainly thought out the schedule with the idea of fucking with people's heads. Then again, some choices were totally weird that you were wondering if you were missing something. Case in point: The National vs. STS9. If ever two fanbases didn't overlap, there you have 'em. Still, I was determined to get a slice from each pie if I could. We started at Sound Tribe Sector 9 and immediately remarked at how large the crowd was. There wasn't a lot of dance music at the festival and these guys brought the groove from the get-go. There is an undeniable addictive nature to these guys, like shoveling a plateful of vegetable fried rice down your yap and wondering if you could ever get enough in you to be full. Then, after dancing and pulsing as much as the heat will allow, you kind of lose the groove. Part of it is that the music's appeal is in the night, the dark being split by high-tech lights and the eeriness of evening being split by impossible beats and wildly intoxicating synthesized notes. The same effect just can't be had at 2 in the afternoon. Still, I was impressed with these guys once again... but had my fill by 2.5 songs.
You don't go from the Dell stage to the AT&T Blue Room stage without passing by the ubiquitous Austin Ventures stage and thus you cannot transition from STS9 to the National without at least catching a glimpse of The Broken West. And if you like good music and like to rock the casbah like any other true-blooded American, you do not catch a glimpse of The Broken West without saying "damn, that's pretty good, maybe I should stick around." Sometimes it's not that a band is doing anything special or out of the ordinary, it's just that they're really fucking good. That's the kind of band these guys are. They were totally comfortable up there, opening things up, stretching it out just enough, bringing just enough energy and power to the sound. I was mad impressed, but felt obligated to give the National a shot as well. It's a shame I couldn't give these guys more than 2 or 3 tunes, because they deserved my full and undivided. I will return to these guys, no doubt... check 'em out when you get a chance. (PS I love digging on a band like this and then coming home and discovering I've got several tracks on my hard drive... I got them here, go for it).
The National is a band I've run hot and cold with and a band I did not expect to lick my goat in the live setting, but that's why we play the games. They totally nailed it on a sun-streaked Sunday afternoon. Sometimes they come off as a kind of whiny, depressing mess of music to me, but they had a joyous slant and the lead vocalists voice was like thick, sweetly appreciated cloud cover. Nice appearance by some violin and just enough guitar thrashing to raise your pulse a bit. Post-National, I caught a nice little dose of Robert Earl Keen. I remember digging hard on his countried-up rock and roll last time through ACLFest and moved my way over to his stage just in time to catch their opening number. The opening guitar riff of this one was a direct quote of China Cat Sunflower which was highly intriguing, I thought for sure they were going to cover it straight up, but the song materialized into a more standard country tune. Still, the band was tight and the guitarist had a nice Dickey Betts thing going on. A few stages had occasional sign language interpreters doing the lyrics during select sets and I really enjoyed watching this lady get down to Keen's music.
Grace Fucking Potter and the Fucking Nocturnals. Here I use "fucking" as both a means of emphasis -- e.g. "they fucking rocked!" -- as well as the actual movements of the band's leader: Ms. Potter seemed to fornicate with her organ, her guitar, her guitarist and who knows what else. That was all well and good, but damn, do these guys rock. Grace is the perfect kind of front(wo)man, leading her band mates to water and then letting them drink it all up on their own. They were a good rocking pick-me-up at Newport Folk Fest in August, but here they opened things up considerably and just flat out jammed the shit out of everything. The festival certainly was wanting for a little open-ended jam-out and the Nocturnals were utterly untethered. They all kill it, but the guitar/bass combo seemed especially on top of things. Grace ain't too shabby either, wailing away, and doing some way-nifty organ>guitar segues... and there ain't much hotter than a lady making rock and roll sexy time with a Flying V slung around her neck.
A few songs from DeVotchKa were plenty enough. Nice ethnic blend with some cool instrumentation (sousaphone, accordion) -- good, but not good enough to keep me away from Midlake. I've been utterly smitten with these guys since their Van Occupanther album was recommended to me and I proceeded to listen to it a zillion million times in a row... then they blew me away at the Bowery earlier this year PLUS introduced me to St. Vincent at that show. This ACL set wasn't much new or different from the other times I've seen them this year, but it was really, really awesome. The band just sounded so solid and the actual sound was just crisp enough to overcome that overlapping sound from the other stages to do their arrangements justice. I wasn't sure their sort of soft-rock blend would do well in an outdoor festival setting, but they totally nailed it and brought the whole Midlake gestalt up a notch. Needless to say, I stayed for the entirety, moving closer and closer in as the set went on. Midway through they allowed a nice marriage proposal to take place before launching into "Young Bride" which is almost certainly not a very happy song, but still, gotta love it. Anyway, Midlake kicks ass, and proved it, QED at ACL... if you think otherwise I hate you.
I've made very little mention of all those that I totally missed or skipped over, but there were so, so many of those. While Midlake was making me swoon, much of the festival crowd was split between Lucinda Williams and Bloc Party and I assure you that I saw the best that that slot had to offer. In lieu of any bit of Lu, we found a nice shady spot to sit and take in some Patterson Hood. Of course, said shady spot being less important as the sun dipped behind a nice cloud for our entire time there... appropriate because Hood's music, bordering on brilliant at times, is less than sunny. I was expecting it to be a sort of solo acoustic thing, but he had some nice accompaniment with some almost-groovy keyboards layering in some depth to his already powerful songwriting. I almost prefer that arrangement to the Truckers... almost.
In some ways, it was kind of sad, the festival drawing to a close, so many great memories to condense and file away, so little time to form new ones. In another more accurate way, though, we had seen a year's full of kick ass music and the best was arguably left to come. In fact, 4 of the best shows I've seen in the past 12 months were by bands still left to come at this point: Rose Hill Drive, Wilco, The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket... holy shit!
Had they been there to play smashmouth rock and roll with them, Rose Hill Drive would have wiped the floor with Back Door Slam. Whoa boy those guys know how to give you a bloody nose. I especially liked to hear their take on the Beatles' "Birthday" as I was walking away to make camp for MMJ.
There are good live bands out there, lots of them... and a lot of 'em were there for the picking at ACLFest. Then there are can't miss kick-ass bands, musicians who bring things to another level every single night. Sure things are few and far between, but the good folks at Austin City Limits somehow managed to line up two of them at the same time. It's a new form of torture: Wilco or My Morning Jacket? Of course, why choose? We settled into a soundboard spot for My Morning Jacket and were promptly swooning over Jim James & Co's backdrop of a desert island -- few bands brought the whole package, but MMJ would not let us down. Then some guys dressed up in beachwear start sweeping the stage back and forth with metal detectors and the band comes out all dressed up as different stereotypical beachgoers. These guys were there to have fun. The music was heavenly, of course, every MMJ show feels entirely special in some way, because that's the kind of band they are, but really, they are all just instances of the same kick-ass show. How they bring that much energy and that level of showmanship every night is beyond me, but man do these guys fwickin' rock! Ethereal "Wordless Tree" and downright groovtronic "Off the Record" and a heavenly "Gideon" -- it was all, in a word, awesome. The outfits rivaled Bjork's outlandish costumes, the backdrop outdid Arcade Fire's theatrics and the musicianship was up there with Andrew Bird... in fact, who's that up on stage, not only playing along but actually in costume/character? but Mr. Bird himself flailing away at the fiddle and adding just a little bit of extra yummy-in-our-tummy to the My Morning Jacket behemoth. It may have been the only special guest/sit-in of the weekend, utterly unnecessary from a musical point of view, but damn cool in all respects. We bow down to you, My Morning Jacket, you stole the show. Who needs Jack White when you have Jim James?And thus the conundrum... how do you leave such a spectacle, such rock greatness? How do you walk away from a sure thing? We would have been perfectly content with a full set of MMJ, but maybe, just maybe, half a set of them and a half a set of Wilco is even better. There are no wrong answers, no bad decisions. We went to check out Wilco... who of course was kicking ass in their own way. Laying down a sweet mix of old and new, dipping judiciously into the back catalog as the set went on. We had our cake and we ate it, too. Life was good... life was really good.
The second Wilco ended there was a veritable explosion at the Blue Room stage across the way as Ghostland Observatory immediately captured everyone's attention. It was like the scene in Revenge of the Nerds when the fireworks go off and everyone is drawn into the big finale number... clap your hands everybody and everybody clap your hands. Well, Ghostland ain't too far from that nerdrock, a duo augmented by electronics and high-pitched screamed vocals. They're sort of a cross between the Benevento/Russo Duo and the Fiery Furnaces and their first song was the most groovalicious dance number of the weekend. Apparently these guys slayed it last year at the fest and the entire city of Austin seemed totally amped for their appearance. As such, they were showered by a wild light and laser show to draw even more of the moths to their flame. Boom, chicka, boom that was a lot of fun and they kept the energy dialed up to eleven, but at some point the allure started to wear off and I felt a strong desire to catch at least half of the Decemberists downwind. Still, G.O. is on the Nedar and I would love to check out a full show from them inside somewhere. Here's a quick sniff of the Ghostland Observatory in video format:

Unfortunately, the Decemberists were already knee-deep into their routine which proved to be difficult to crack into. Oh, they were good and all, but I think missing the beginning and hopping into the act halfway through, not to mention being relegated to the outskirts of the crowd took away some of the transcendence that might have been. It was worth being a little mehed by Meloy & Co for a chance to get jiggy with the Observatory. No regrets at ACLFest.

Well, maybe one regret, well some really it was just plain sad. Bob Dylan, the godfather, really, of so much of the music that transpired over the weekend, rendered impotent by a voice that was pretty much painful to listen to. We came up with plenty of "it sounds like..." comparisons (e.g. Don Corleone doing a Dylan impression with an orange peel in his mouth), but nothing could do justice to the injustice of Bob trying to make his way through an undecipherable Rainy Day Women to open his set. Every time he opened his mouth our jaws dropped further and it was time to call it a night. As we walked away, Dylan eased into his "Modern Times" repertoire and seemed to sound better the further we got from the stage and the closer we got to the car. Actually, his band sounded terrific, it's a shame. A weird way to end an otherwise wonderful weekend, one of the best 3 days of music I could have imagined.

SSO -- Sunday: 16, total: 59
SPO -- Sunday: 15, total: 40

P+R: ACLFest Day 2

Day 1 review
Day 1 photo album
Day 2 photo album

The call was for a little cooler temps on Saturday, but if anything with significantly less cloud cover it was even hotter. The music selection trended the other way, cooling off a bit from the sizzle of Friday. No matter, in the end it just meant I was seeing larger chunks of da kind instead of spreading myself thin all over the site.

Once again we were in on time and got right to it. I caught a nice chunk of Willy Mason's set before heading over to the big stage for Dr. Dog. This was "make up" day since The White Stripes would not be closing the Saturday festivities, so Dr. Dog got the replacement slot and bumped everyone forward on the spreadsheet. Personally, I was just as excited to finally catch Philly's own Dr. Dog as I would have been for the Stripes. The crowd was a bit thrown off by the schedule change, but those that stuck around got some nice action from the scab players. Actually, the band started off a little shaky, particularly with their vocals, upon which much of their strength relies. It might have been the soul-piercing sun or just the early start time blues, but they were just plain off and I had that sick feeling in my stomach like they were going to blow their big chance... but my fears weren't all that warranted, they licked their wounds and by the first "jam" in the first tune, they were locking horns and getting everyone to sweat even more with the now-patented ACL shuffle (which includes waving a free ad-ridden giveaway fan at your face as furiously as possible and a slightly perceptible head bob). Let's just say I fucking loved this set from the Dog. They rocked out, the vocals started clicking, they were strutting around stage like true rock stars and everything else on down. The album kind of keys them in on a Beatles/Beach Boys throwback, but live they really opened things up superbly. I am happy to report that I took in the entire set from soup to nuts and would have been happy with another 45 minutes on top of that. The crowd grew to respectable proportions and the only thing lacking was the band's inability to mention who they were, which was particularly egregious since they were a fill-in not even listed in the officially handed-out schedule. Dunces, but what do you expect, it's Philly.

Back Door Slam are like the British Rose Hill Drive. Replace long-haired stoners from Colorado with baby-faced Brits and rewind about 5 years and you get the idea. Bands like this begin and end with the chops of the guitar player and this guy had 'em all well and good. Just straight up Band-of-Gypsy's inspired blues/rock power trio stuff. Once you get over how flecking British these guys look, you'll have no trouble pulling the air guitar/bass/drum triumvirate. I still think the bass player looks like he's training at Hogwarts (rock the house Ravenclaw!), but damn he's got the goods.
Unfortunately there were big gaps in the "want to sees" Saturday afternoon, but never fear, The Big Squeeze convinced me to take a dip in the cool waters of Barton Springs which are just a stone's throw from the main stages. It was a quick refresher and a much needed one, but by the time I was dressed and back on the grounds I was already a sweaty mess again.
There was a little Paulo Nuntini, but I headed to the shade to get a nice jump on Railroad Earth. Haven't seen those guys in a while, but was much impressed with their brand of bluegrassy jamericana. It's a big sound that I liken to a sort of WidespreadPanician string band. The second tune, "Seven Story Mountain," was an epic jamdown, with a big, fat wall of sound wending around the tent in fuck-yeah fashion. That was definitely a highlight track of the weekend; powerful stuff.
I would have liked to stayed for more, but I felt obligated to get in close at the Austin Ventures stage for St. Vincent. She was another late add to the festival and one I was more than just a little psyched for, being the psycho Annie Clark lover that I am. I got there a bit early and settled in up front with the rest of the faithful. From there it was easy to hear a nice big chunk of the Cold War Kids. Those guys have a couple of masterpiece-level songs and they played them of course, but they are one of those bands that just don't have that magic in the live setting. Not that I have seen, at least. It makes you appreciate the bands that do totally have it going on on stage and this year's ACLFest made me realize that there are a ton of bands that just flat out kick ass live... what could be better.

Trying hard not to be drowned out by the CWK, Annie Clark got her set started with a bit of a whimper. For the first time I was a bit disappointed with her set. I was hoping it would be full band again like it was at the Bowery a couple months back, but she was just solo and a bit fussy it seemed. I don't know if the whole festival thing was overwhelming or what, but she didn't have her A game and I'd be curious to see if she made any new fans at ACL. For those who are already converts like myself, it was highly enjoyable, but I wanter her to nail it and she didn't. Still, I'd take a half-assed St. Vincent set most days of the week and somehow managed to enjoy the hay out of the entire set, note for note. One cool surprise was the cover of "Dig A Pony" which was a thrashing, bluesy, off-kilter and totally disjointed rocker in contrast to her somewhat subdued set. The festival was lacking in a few spots and cool, surprising covers was one of them... the others were sit-ins and big, bigger-than-the-music spectacles.
It's sad to say that at this point I was kind of struggling to find something to latch onto for the mid-afternoon. The Ocote Soul Sounds provided a little uplift out of the WaMu tent, getting a big band Afrobeat thing going that would have been called the Budos Band had they been in NYC. Still, even the thrill of some funky "soul sounds" got tiresome after a while. A small taste of Butch Walker also left something to be desired.
At this point it seemed like I was still running on the fumes from the Dr. Dog fumes early in the day, but it wasn't all that bad. This festival just breathes goodness and if anything it was just being spoiled with an overwhelming glut of the Ragu on Friday that made the middle of Saturday seem a little pedestrian. That being said, thank the music gods for Andrew Bird!! Hands down, the most eclectic and electric set of the festival and probably the most talented mofo on site. Bird is one of those "how could anyone not love this?" type of musicians... the kind of guy who you see live once and kick yourself in the groin for ever missing in the past. He played with a small support staff of a drummer and a bass player who were talented and all that, but really just basking in the light. Mr. Bird played guitar and violin (straight up and also plucked expertly like a high-end mandolin) and ran samples of himself playing and singing and whatnot which he grew and pruned like Bonsai trees into marvelous sonic shapes. And the music from there traveled through these circus sized amplifiers and Leslie-type spinning things that brought even more subtle sophistication to a sound that was already luscious, sweet and juicy. Most impressively, though, was the whistling. You've never heard anything like the otherworldly whistling of Andrew Bird and instead of coming off like a freakish gimmick, it represents the next-level foundation of all his music. Of course, it's all nothing without the songs and the lyrics and the vocals... he is the full package and knows how to wrap it all up in a bow live on stage. It still makes me smile thinking about it now.
By the time Bird was winding down, it was approaching the magic hour when the sun hits that angle and you don't fear for the deadly heat stroke/melanoma combination. We made it over for a small dollop of Zap Mama, grabbed a meat-lovers bite to eat and then completed the voyage to the AT&T stage for Damien Rice... i.e. the poor man's Irish Andrew Bird. Well, not really, but some of the same elements in a bit of a bigger/smaller sound combination. Rice has recently lost the secret weapon of his ensemble, Lisa Hannigan, who is an grade-A+ vocal talent in her own right and the music has definitely taken a hit as a result. The songs are there and Damien is still a powerhouse singing and playing guitar and piano, but that little something extra that made his shows something special is most certainly absent and we could feel it noticeably in Austin. Still, Rice is a helluva performer, his songs, while a touch on the cheesy love song side, are still amazing and the set was well worth our attention. We happily stayed for a good fraction of Damien & Co's set and then moved on to set up the endgame for the evening.Aterciopelados, having the most difficult-to-pronounce band name of the festival warranted a song or two. Wonderful world beat kinda stuff, perfectly placed in the tent. I have no doubt that 75% of the people in the big top think/know that they were the best shit happening all weekend. That's the way it goes at ACL. Could we possibly pass up a chance to see at least one song from the Indigo Girls? What song do you think they opened with? My better half told me that it was called "Galileo," and then shuddered through some bizarre high school flashback. A crappy "new song" or two later and we eased our way back toward the masses gathering across the park. This entailed walking by Cross Canadian Ragweed who were much louder and raunchier than I thought they might be. They had a monster crowd rocking out in front of the Austin Ventures stage which seems to specialize in closing out the evening with surprisingly loud and raunchy rock and roll. We caught up with some new friends and settled a ways back from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah who were good and got the heads a-bobbin' but didn't seem to compete too well with sitting down, relaxing with some friendly conversation.
Close-out slot on Saturday was supposed to be the big showdown between The White Stripes and Arcade Fire, which, to me, seemed like a fairly even match, but with the Stripes dropping out and Muse sliding down to be the big bopper, it wasn't even close. The Canadians had a nice crowd, but it was totally manageable and way smaller than I would have guessed... just goes to show how much I know, Muse was most certainly mobbed. I can't imagine what the split would have been like had the White family actually made it. Oh well, all the better for us. We didn't bother moving up too close, but close enough to feel the mad energy, exquisite arrangement and all around good vibrations of an Arcade Fire show. The band seems to grow with each viewing, not necessarily with new members, but with power... the force grows strong in them. The new material was much tighter and blazing hot than when I saw them in the church this past winter. The confidence just oozes on all fronts and makes the largeness of the show -- the antics, the lights, the heavy lyrics -- seem natural. Still, when they closed the show out and needed to bring it up a notch, it was with the older Funeral material that they got the biggest rush out of the crowd and really, from themselves as well. I once thought these guys might have been flash-in-the-pan ready, but something tells me they might have a little more sticking around to do.Every night we walked back to our car and got to listen to the band closing things out somehow get louder and cleared the further away we got. Thank you Muse for the walking music.

SSO -- Saturday: 20, total: 43
SPO -- Saturday: 10, total: 25

19 September 2007

P+R: ACLFest Day 1

OK, I think I can finally settle in and try to recap this, although you'll have to forgive me since I'm working 100% from memory and Ace likely stole all my more astute observations made in situ. So, I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot and probably not formulating all my thoughts with the utmost coherence, but if you read until the end of all 3 days worth of blather, I will reward you with my undying love.

This was our 3rd Austin City Limits festival and the 1st without lugging the kids around, so it was really all about devouring as much music as humanly possible. And whoa-boy, did I get it by the wheelbarrowful! There were bands that I saw a significant portion of (SPO) -- meaning at least 20 minutes of the sets, which ranged form 45 minutes to an hour plus -- and some that I just saw some of (SSO), that is about two songs before moving on... I'd say about 90% of it was worth sticking around for the entire set, but there was so much going on, it was tough to stay still. The best shirt we saw all weekend (and there were quite a few good 'uns) was the one with the AC/DC logo with a lightning bolt replacing the forward slash... except it said AD/HD and it was on the back of a 15ish-year-old boy who's probably seen his fair share of Focusin... and that's exactly the way I felt. Unable to stick to one stage when I was worried about what I was missing, twitching and stumbling from one stage to the next. Thankfully, the festival is so perfectly sized that it was easy to zigzag across Zilker Park and catch 2-3 bands within a single block and still feel like you got enough of each.

The park was like a giant Venn diagram where sounds and bands and tastes overlapped and it was up to the audience to find the spot that met their needs. For me, the acts fell into a few different categories: bands I've seen before and loved and wanted to see again (and again and again), bands I know from albums but have never seen before, bands I've heard of and have wanted to check out, and finally, the most intriguing at all, the high risk/high reward category of musicians I was totally oblivious to and stumbled upon for worse, but mostly better.

With that intro out of the way, I'll split this into 3 days and try to mention every band I saw, but keep my wordage to just a sentence or two about each. I've got a few pix below, but have taken way way, too many more. For the full day 1 album, go here.

Landed about 11:15ish, picked up the rental car and made it on-site with music filling our souls by the 12:30 set. L'shana tova to us! First band I caught was Asleep At the Wheel, which just screams "Austin!" in so many ways. Full-on country rockabilly that got me deep into the Texas mood within moments. Steel guitars, fiddles, et al, all the cowboy hats in attendance were quickly validated.
Within the 1st hour, it was decision time. But with the OTW method of festival enjoyment, it's never an either/or. Heartless Bastards are one of those bands I've heard and always wanted to catch and they totally kicked butt. The lady rockmatrons were in full effect all weekend long and the Bastards feature one of the better ones up front on guitar and lead vocals, giving this power trio a little something extra. Her voice is what makes the band, it's like she's got this classically trained songbird inside that's just screaming to rock out. It seems like it shouldn't work, but it's the most endearing thing about these guys. But, it'd only be a SPO as I made sure to see a nice big chunk of Del McCoury's set over at the always-awesome Austin Ventures stage. It was hot out already, but watching these guys pull the profesh bluegrass fully suited-up made everyone sweat that much more. That is one badass mandolin player Del has spawned. Who doesn't love these guys? Country>rock>bluegrass and I hadn't even munched my first BBQ of the weekend yet.

Still, the heat was too much to keep me huddled around the huddled-around microphone and I decided to let the band name "Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts" pull me to the Dell Stage for a try. I gave them one song that was kinda generic pop-rock and started to drift, but the second number intrigued me and when I noticed that the semi-shredding on guitar was the second axewoman of the afternoon, I decided to stick around. JoeArt was the nominal leader of the band, but it was the girls on guitar and bass who really seemed to carry these guys, er... gals. Then he announced they were from Brooklyn and I was left wondering how I'd never heard of them before. Things opened up quite a bit and the guitarist reminded me of a slightly tamer Scott Metzger, down to the nasty tone and perfectly placed chops. Her raccoon eye make-up and Twisted Sister t-shirt did little to lessen the appeal. I overheard guys in the audience talking about potential 20 minute epics from these guys, but we were stuck with just the garden variety sweetness. I may be lacking on more detail due to the 50+ bands I saw after these guys, but I will definitely be checking out more of them -- sick! I will, though, here relay the observation I made at almost every stage all weekend long: no matter what the band, the first few rows of that stage were undoubtedly convinced that that band, that their band was the best thing to ever happen to music. I know that feeling, it's a wonderful notion and it permeated the whole festival.

Something tells me this rock goddess is neither an astronaut nor really all that lonely.

One of these dudes is Peter Yorn, but they're all pretty darn good.

Will Hoge gets his Shearwater on

Pete Yorn was much better than expected, even though I have no idea what I was expecting. Totally giddy-up Uncle-Tupelo-esque alt-country with the perfect instrumentation to match. Very impressed with these guys. Didn't really want to leave, but it's been like nearly a decade since I last saw the Flecktones, so I sauntered across town to give 'em a listen. On the way I discovered some raunchy rock from Will Hoge which kinda reminded me of the band from Almost Famous... almost. Oh yeah, and I almost forgot there was a big ass fire that interrupted the Yorn set and got everyone's digital camera clicking away. It was totally bizarre and invited extensive use of variations on the "it was the heat" double entendre. Totally smokin!

Bela and company were as I remembered them from the days 10 years ago when I felt like I was seeing too much of them. Not sure that pound for pound you'll find a more talented band and they played that way for most of the set. They settled on material mostly from their newest (Grammy-winning) album which, as Bela was sure to point out, had all these nifty time signatures that probably no one in the audience gave two sweaty shits about. Still, overall enjoyable and I was still batting 1.000.

Blonde Redhead was as good live as they are on CD, which is to say they were fucking awesome. Definitely a big highlight of day one for me. I love their newest album and they hit on that heavily as well as some well-placed back catalog. More sexy ladies doing the rock and roll with the men. This is a band that is locked into one another very nicely with some nicely laid loops and all that jazz. I still can't get "23" out of my head a week later and without even knowing the friggin' words. Now that's a title track. I kinda wish I had had the energy to check out their after hours show, but alas, they'll just have to leave me wanting mo'.
I did not want to pull myself away from BR and I'm not even a big fan of them, but I felt obligated to check out Peter Bjorn and John just in case it came to be that they were the sickest thing since influenza. Alas, it was a wasted trip. Just as their album fails to pass muster with my highly trained sick-or-not-sick meter, their live set was topping out on the shoulder-shrug scale. The whole thing seemed like a bad translation of what rock and roll should be. Like when someone learns English from a book but has no conversational skills, PB&J (best band abbreviation, though!) has all the words right, but is somehow missing the grammar to make it work. This was best illustrated when the guitar player jumped into the trench in front of the crowd and sort of "soloed" -- a term I place in quotes for a reason -- and thrashed about like he was some sort of rock star, when really he just looked like a dork with a tennis racket in front of his bedroom mirror. And that's all I can say about that. PBJ from left field

Between those two was a song or two from Manchester Orchestra which I remember as loud and rocking and not much else... which is to say pretty darn good, but not good enough for me to change horses midstream.

Manchester Orchestra

Met up with Ace after many crossed paths in the WaMu tent which sort of serves as a NOLAJazzfest in miniature... well, not just miniature, but on the head of a pin... housing not just all the Nawlins music but all the stuff that would probably be featured at their fest, not the least of which was a ton of gospel acts and other PTL types. Our first trip there was for Big Sam's Funky Nation which may not be quite as large as to require U.N. consideration, but is most certainly way, way funky. This was a deep, spaced out get-your-mind-and-body-out-there funk that had the entire tent in "throw your hands in the air" mode and dancing like it was merely 90 degrees outside. Hey, what can I say, they done killed it, no doubt.
What's that one song that Crowded House hit it big with? yeah, that's the one. We got about 3 football fields away from the stage where they were playing, heard that one, marked our life lists and turned around. Good timing by we. Similarly, we hit the stage where Joss Stone was playing and made it for one long, soulful medley; heard the funky-butt backing band, the sweet soul of the backup singers and got a quick throw-you-to-the-floor from Stone's voice and realized one thing... we didn't see quite as much of Joss Stone as we should have. Oh well! The beauty of the Austin Ventures stage = on the way back and forth, in between and significantly afterward we got a heavy dollop of Mofro (featuring and starring the one and only JJ Grey). Dude's got it, see if you can find him in the below picture.

I really wanted to get a nice heavy dose of LCD Soundsystem but by this time in the afternoon the festival grounds were frogging packed with people. On top of that, a lethal combination of hallucinatingly hot heat and hitch-halting hipsterism caused a level 1 no-dance zone a good fraction of a mile around the stage where they were playing. I have little doubts in the right circumstances that these guys would blow the lid off of the right sized venue, but in that heat with that crowd of people around, it was dead on arrival. Gave 'em a couple songs and realized I would have been better off in the hotel listening to their CD (which you certainly should buy!) so we moved on.

Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective
are from Belize, I believe, which sparked an almost bizarre conversation with the lady standing next to us outside the WaMu tent... oh, the people you'll meet! Anyway, this was an unexpected detour and, no surprise, quite a nice one. Total Latin grooving that pushed the genre count for the day to the toes.

The endgame was in sight here, I had to unbutton the top button of my swampass shorts to make room in there for the rest of the music. It was only day one and the whole concept of pacing oneself seemed to have drowned in my sweat back around 3:45. Anyway, the end of the day/night went something like Spoon > Queens of the Stone Age > Kaiser Chiefs > Rev. Horton Heat > Gotan Project > Rev. Horton Heat > The Killers > Bjork > [imitates voice from the Fly (original i.e. VincentPrice, not JeffGoldblum version)]HELP ME HELP ME!

Spoon was totally awesome, I think they played almost all stuff from their newest, damn good album. A horn section materialized halfway through and kinda brought things up a level in the way a really well-placed horn section can. Very nice addition, ye hometown heroes. QoTSA (2nd best abbreviation, renamed "Al Qotsa") were like the frantic near-metal inclusion of the festival and might have held me for an entire set had I not been bent on Spoon.

Kaiser Chiefs were one of the big outta leftfielders for me on Friday, just crazy, crazy, crazy energy. Those guys connected with their audience better than any other band I saw all weekend long, they just had the crowd going absolutely nuts and played 'em like the best can. It was pretty hard not to be enthralled by these guys. I didn't have them pegged as this sort of Franz Ferdinand like party band that maybe even better than those guys (who killed the last ACLFest I went to as well), but damn! Color me impressed. I felt obligated to check out Gotan Project midway through cause maybe they were just as awesome, ya never know, you know? Those guys had one of the better concepts that I've seen, but somehow the delivery wasn't as engaging as the idea. Basically, they were playing this tango music heavily leaning on an accordion player and then there was a string section and a piano player and behind all this were a couple of DJ's and a guy rapping in a language that wasn't English (I want to say it was French, but it could have been Spanish... I would even agree to Portugese if my arm were twisted that way. Google could settle this, but why ruin the mystery?). Anyway, it was fun and totally inoffensive and kept me interested for a song or three, but eventually I realized that I would have much more fun at the Kaiser Chiefs. In between was Rev. Horton Heat which was just plain loud and raunchy and not nearly as good as KC.

The Killers were just not all that to me, although I gave 'em a fair shot and I was much more interested in getting at least a small sniff of what Bjork was up to across the way, so I ditched on them. Bjork was one of the few acts of the weekend that brought something more than just musicians playing music to their stage. She had the whole visual thing going and outfits for everyone that synched up with the music and the lights and a full-on French horn section, etc. Bjork is what it is and I enjoyed it, but I was exhausted from waking up at 4am for our flight and 95 degree heat in the form of Texas sun on my neck all day, so we packed it in for day 1.

Ay carumba, that's a lot of music. Final tally for Friday was 23 bands seen in total, with a SPO of 15. Stay tuned for days 2 and 3 soon....