11 February 2007

taking (live)stock

yee-haw, it's for a concert round-up.

i saw akron/family play at olde club the other night. man, olde club is on fire this semester, it's almost like them glory days of old before your time (or mine), though it's too bad they don't book three or four acts for every show, like time was. no deal this time though 'cause these crazies played for like two hours, at least! i kept thinking their set was about to be over, but, nope.

even before they started with the flat-out jamming (around the middle hour or so of their set), i kept thinking about phish, perhaps in part because de facto main dude seth olinsky (on the far right in that photo) has a definite
trey anastasio thing going on. (on the other hand, since phish were in some ways the first contemporary rock band, i may be predisposed to find their resonances in other groups - for a long time i mentally conflated trey with steve malkmus.)

well, sure, call it hippie music if you like. "jam band" is such a loaded term at this point that it's hard to use it profitably in any context. "experimental" is even more meaningless, especially when it's used to mean the same thing (in which case it's more a value judgment than anything.) and they certainly have this almost adorable mystical/spiritual bent which is not what one expects from indie rock these days. in any case, a/f put on a cracking good show, and i think got everyone in the room to relax and just enjoy it in spite of themselves. you could say that they never let the noise/"skronk" go on for too long without injecting some sweetness and melody (and harmony!) - though at the beginning of the set i did think that balance was a bit off - but i think it's more apt (and more impressive) to note how they gradually allowed the chaotic and potentially off-putting aspects of their music to develop into something approachable in their own right, without toning down their intensity or lunacy.
it takes guts to do little more than bang out an unadorned "tribal" rhythm for upwards of thirty minutes; it's the kind of scenario where either the crowd follows you all the way through sheer force of will, or else you're just sunk. hard to say what, but these guys know what they're doing, and they do it deliberately, playfully, intelligently and - this is so key - lovingly. after over an hour of slowly mutating jams (which on one or two occasions unexpectedly imploded into group chants and other clearly precomposed segments), they kept right on, returning to more folky, song-oriented material, notably "a song about their t-shirt," the quietly anthemic "love is simple," and eventually inviting much of the audience onstage to dance and play maracas, recorders, finger cymbals, etc.

crowning loveliness of the night, however, was getting a hugely helpful ride back to philly with panda riot, whose opening set i had unfortunately, unwittingly missed. they gave me their cd, which i listened to all day yesterday, and it is fantastic - highly redolent of mbv, "pre-sellout liz," and, most especially, the cocteau twins (conspicuously absent from their "influences" list), but fantastic nonetheless(?). i highly recommend you check out the tunes on theirspace. i shall endeavor get them to play at totally wired in the coming months.

the night before that i sawr jonathan richman and tommy larkins at johnny brenda's, with my mom and then tara (after the first five or six songs, at which point my mom couldn't take the exhaustion and heat.) always great to see jojo of course, this was time no. 4, and right up there though not as thrilling as SF '01. (couldn't have hoped to be, so that's no problem.) i do think he's getting more and more eccentric every time i see him. and he's pretty eccentric to begin with, so...

in general, no surprises. he did more modern lovers songs than i'd ever heard: "pablo picasso" of course, and "girl fren", and also a substantially reworked "old world." "her mystery," "springtime in ny," "lesbian bar," "the world was showing it's tricks," "give paris one more chance" - no surprises. (except i'd never thought before about how we ought to be appropriating the title of that last one.) some great new (to me) ones though, notably "love and hate" ["i too inspire love and hate/first i charm, then i irritate"] and "stupenda e misera citta." one song each in italian, french, and spanish - but the definite high point of the whole thing were his virtuoso polyglot characterizations of a jilted boyfriend and his defiant ex (times four different languages and cultures) in the middle of "let her go into the darkness."

last weekend alyssa and i saw david byrne and company at carnegie hall, performing music from david's new project with fatboy slim, here lies love, based on the life of imelda marcos. at this point it's essentially a narrative song cycle, with (in this case) byrne providing some necessary exposition in between numbers, but ultimately it wants to be "something more theatrical," which is to say a musical. as this article suggests, the work is decidedly still unfinished; hopefully a further realization will do a better job at fleshing out the narrative. i felt like too much of the running time was devoted to the early days, which were fairly conventional bio material (country girl grows up, moves to the big city, falls in love) and it took way too long for the darker elements of the story to appear.

the music was reasonably effective but also seemed somewhat conventional, like competent "traditional" or i guess music-theatre-style songwriting (except for the dancy rhythmic emphasis, which i enjoyed even though it sometimes distracted from understanding the songs themselves), along the lines of some of the more straightforward songs from grown backwards. (this was particularly notable on several songs where mauro played marimba, and even more so when an orchestra joined for the last few numbers.)

on the other hand, the few songs on which david took the mike really shined. he tends to write a lot of short phrases, which the other two singers didn't necessarily do much with, but he knows how to draw them out and make them really soar. plus his voice is really distinctive and enchanting and powerful. and they might not have been miked very well.

specifically: "a perfect hand," sung from the perspective of ferdinand marcos, probably the catchiest and most dynamic number in the show, david's encore rendition of a song that we'd heard earlier, "the rose of tacloban," which is a sweet and simple folky-sounding song that includes lyrics taken from imelda's high school yearbook, and the set-closing reprise of the title tune, whose chorus melody sounds a lot like some pop or possibly country song that i still can't place.

anyway, it was fun to be there (way way way high up in the balcony) and amusing to see david so jittery and nervous, and it was neat to see this stage of the creative process, but it definitely made me want to see it revised and broadened and presented in a more finished form. so hopefully that will happen.

i also saw camera obscura recently, at olde club. they were as adorable as you'd expect, an probably even more convincing/commanding as live musicians. (even unassuming as they look.) they played everything from LGOOTC ("country mile" as an encore) and most of my favorites from the earlier record, but not "books written for girls." they seemed open to my request, but traceyanne said, "what, do you want to depress everybody?" and i sort of shrugged and the crowd murmured dissent, so they played something more upbeat, but they promised me they'd play it next time.

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