22 July 2008

summer stock 08

l-r: simon tong, kokanko sata, damon albarn, lobi traore, tony allen. thanx flickr...

been doing a lot of traveling (hence all the not-posting, not to mention the not-making-mixes, etc.) and actually none of it has been music tourism (although i was sorely tempted by the pitchfork fest lineup this year... too bad i can only think of 1 friend who likes in chicago, and planes are so spenny, and i was away every other weekend)... but even so i have managed to see a few shows here and there.

tonight, for instance, i was at the mann center to hear the philly orchestra play carmina burana. righteous good fun, and appropriately accompanied with beer, bread and cheese. just like the middle ages. that makes three free mann shows out of three, with last year's decemberists + orchestra and, a couple weeks back,

ani difranco and regina spektor @ the mann music center
great. i'd been thinking about going, but wouldn't have except matt called me up an hour before show time with an offer of two comps... complete with after-show passes which enabled us to, er, stand around in the grass for awhile and chat with matt's client [difranco bassist todd sickafoose.] ah well.

regina was adorable and definitely kookier than i remembered to expect - she has almost a nellie mckay vibe, though slightly more of-this-century - and her vocal ability is frequently stunning. she played basically all the songs from that album [begin to hope, all i know of her...for now], at least all the ones i could think of, and some others that were just as enjoyable. mostly just solo piano (2-chord guitar on "that time" and another one), though for her last number she had a beatboxer accompany her on the "orca whales and owls" song (which is so poppy - could totally be a big radio hit with the right production.) (you see how i'm being too lazy to look things up? that's good - it makes the blogprocess go much faster and increases the chances that i'll actually finish this and post it.) i couldn't believe she screwed up and stopped and false-restarted in the middle of "fidelity." that was pretty hilarious...

i don't understand the song "samson" (which was easily the most-requested, and was her penultimate selection) - is she supposed to be delilah or a previous lover? if its the former, why does she say the bible doesn't mention them? maybe i don't know the story well enough.

finally, the second half of the second verse of "on the radio" is so beautiful (from memory, so maybe a bit off): no this is how it works/you peer inside yourself/you take the things you like/and try to love the things you took/then you take the love you made/and stick it into some/one else's heart/pumping someone else's blood/and walking arm in arm/you hope it don't get hard/but even if it does/you start it all again. those are some great lyrics.

ani ani ani. wow, i saw her 10 years ago. nine maybe? (it was pre-up up up up up up, i remember, so yeah) have barely paid attention to anything she's done since the first track on the album after that...i wonder what percentage of her audience is, like me, essentially nostalgia fans, not an "active" following. anyway, she played enough new and old songs to please everyone as far as i could tell, me definitely included. "you had time" and "untouchable" and closing dance-number "shameless" and three from [her best alb] little plastic castle including [her best song] "as is" [maybe??] the new ones were plenty good too if characteristically a bit preachy - hey, it's a good thing! - strawberries in super supermarkets and the intelligent design manifested in the atom (i thought there was a line about "the science of boom" but actually it's "doom," a less good phrase, and she was lazy in the factchecking on "i bet there were no women in the room...) oh yeah, she's still a sick sick guitarist...

what else? finally started acting like the west philly folks musicky scener i'm a wannabe, saw
birdie busch, emily bate, a brief view of the hudson @ the green line,
mannerwhich was my first shermanarts/greenline show, and my first time hearing birdie and really my first time seeing em, except that one time with her rock band in a basement and also rehearsing on her roof. she and her music continue to be a total joy - she just gave me her last alb which i am just digging into (somewhat more generic and gestatory, you can tell, also feistier - still well creamy) - and her overall enthusiasm as a human being is only amplified in her on-stage manner (i keep thinking that ani line about a "chipper cheerful free-for-all") new roomie/2nd gtr/banjo(!) buddy zach(k?) is a poker-faced foil. that works out pretty well.

hell, she didn't play every song on fever in the feast.... i'm just gonna have to go see her again sometime and get my "greyhound"/"limos"/"mlle labelle" fix [the all-important midsection]. actually come to think of it she only did five out of ten. loved mouthing along to "warning." loved the gossipy new song with some of her snappiest lyrics (a kiss in the park/a shot in the dark... i've got to hear them again), about easy/difficult nights with difficult/easy women (so typical how she shirks the question of how it will work the third time by...not having a third verse, just ending with a bridge drifting into wordless vowel abruption. "girls with my same name" is still an all-killing #1 [w/ a bullet] in rossland...

hum yeah. also really really liked birdie busch. i think, as a person first, b/c that's how it works with folk, sometimes. it's, there's nothing especially outstanding about her playing or her singing or her songwriting, even, and that's almost exactly it, her charm is all about understated, down-to-earth, genuine normalness (seems normal if you know people like i know people), and that's captivating. b/c it's relatable. and don't we all want some more normalness in our lives (in certain ways, that is.) i mean, the flowery summer-dress is good too. and, especially, her homespun phillyphilia - "i really love it here... i love you guys" she said in reference to having had a sour time in brooklyn the night before, but in the kind of way that means a lot more from five feet away in the local neighborhood coffeeshop even than it would oh twenty feet away in the local districthood public-radio-run 'dedicated music venue.' do you know? we can feel good about being just us, and getting each other.

i bought both birdie's albs for about $2.49 plus shipping online (i figure i'll just slip her a tenner next time i see her around the hood, which i feel like i have twice since the show, though maybe i'm making it up.) so we'll see if that song about the boyfriend giving her an old lp of "songs he thought would last" lives up to the neatness of the concept i thought i heard in it, and if the huff singers song has as much replay value as it has goodhearted plain-spoken earnestness, and so on. as engaging as she was, with simple but sturdy structures to her citysongs, i still found my mind wandering mid-lyric when i thought i was right with her. no matter. i know she don't mind no.

oh yeah - openers brief view of the hudson were also really nice - boy-girl folk-blues hearty-harmonists, emphasis on the latter half of each phrase there - though the most striking thing might have been how uncannily more intoxicating it was when their voices blended on a single line than when they sang separately, even overlapping lines. and how many '00s-era 'mericans have written songs about katrina invoking the primal water/flood/deep-south imagery? that's a good one.

how about besides lady songwriters? saw
juvelen @ the annex on the lower east side.
i told y'all about juvelen right? right. just happened to notice on his myspace that he'd be in new york for three shows the week after i wrote the album review. three shows in somewhat random venues at random times - apparently they were put together with the help of matt from it's a trap, my fellow scandinavian music enthusiast and webcritic, who also reviewed the album, and whom i met at the show. wasn't hard to spot him, as apart from my tiny posse of ben and nan (whom we coaxed along after randomly spotting her umbrella-shopping at uniqlo) and juvelen/jonas's girlfriend, he was evidently the only other person there who was aware in the slightest of the immense and potentially explosive poptalent we were there to witness.

it went something like this:
7:20- roll into the joint and wander up to the balcony to keep an eye on the late-HS/early-college somethings who are onstage diligently delivering their overwrought one-gimmick prog-indie rock'n'rote with a somewhat Arcade-Fiery scope and sobriety. (at least until the keyboardist slams a little too hard on his instrument with his foot and it crashes onto the floor.)

8:00- head back downstage as jonas the 31-year-old one-man boy-band takes the stage and suffuses the largely empty bar with several bursts of synthtastic sentimental dance-pop euphoria, giving it a considerable amount of guts and gusto considering the near-absence of any attention he was receiving. ben and i stand tentatively toward the wall halfway back in the empty "audience" area, tapping our feet and reservedly wiggling in place.

8:10- we fully loosen our ties and wtfs and give it a bit of the ol' h-c-g-d-a, crunkadelic-style for a few songs; juvelen seems appreciative.

8:15- set's over. j packs up his stuff and goes to chat with matt and his gf at the bar; we go say hi and talk a bit too (tho i wasn't there when j sheepishly admitted to ben, by way of explaining his recent transformation to solo pop-god that he "was late to pick up on prince" or something like that) until the next band starts and it's too noisy to continue.

oh man he better blow up. he just better.

one more, which may take so much explaining to begin with that i'm not sure i'll have the energy left to add my own comments...

damon albarn presents the honest jons revue @ lincoln center
as pictured above. i'd just link you to the press release, but it's weirdly hard to track down. screw it. so damon albarn (maybe the biggest-name/lowest-pretension/highest success-rate recent rockstar-turned-freelance-collaborator/label-head/project-whore/general musical shepherd, though frankly i'd be just as happy if he ever allowed blur to really become a going concern again...) rounded up tony allen, candi staton, a bunch of malian musicians, many of whom he'd worked with on mali music, an underheralded, unassuming personal favorite of mine, a 6-or-7-or-8-piece jazz-funk brass band of brothers who usually play in union square subway, and a couple of singer-songwriters, and stuck them all on stage together.

a tight two-hour show in the swanky-stuffy avery fisher hall, i was worried it was either going to drag and be drab or else feel not nearly long enough to take in all the talent on hand. actually it was just about right lengthwise, and about as satisfactory as i could have realistically imagined. there was some amount of cross-pollination, as allen and the hypnotic brass acted more or less as the house band for anybody who needed it (albarn's right-hand guitarist simon tong was also on hand, and maybe a bassist or two, though damon himself did little more that add a bit of harmonium and melodica color here and there which you could barely even hear.) but for most of the show it was just one thing after another, rapid-fire, blues to brass to folk to soul and back to africana, one song apiece for kokanko sata, who is unmistakably virtuosic on her deceptively dinky-looking 3-string harp, traditionally a male-only instrument; victoria williams, southern folkslinger whom the program described as "notably eccentric" [how do you think that makes her feel, guys?]; candi staton [omg candi staton...more on that in a second...]; the aptly-named hypnotics, whose opening selection was a good deal subtler and less blazingly groovy than i'd have guessed, though they did that too; 'desert blues' demigod afel boucom; cutesy simple-song folker simone white (liked her a lot - a bunny in a bunny suit/tiger in a tiger mask...) and yeah.

ok, all so good, musical talent, yes yes, multicultural swath, very impressive. hands-down, though, the most stirring and memorable parts for me were the considerable number of songs i actually knew [thanks i guess to my hj's via astralwerks hookup back in college paper days]... most of them from mali music, a surprise since it's six years old now, but not, since many of these were the guys who played on it originally and (i sometimes forget), "world musicians" will more or less draw from a finite compositional repertoire just like western pop artists do. so yes, there were a handful of pieces i smilingly recognized from that album, including the (by-then obvious) show-closer "sunset coming on," damon's one moment behind the mic and stage-center (much as it is on the album), and an absolutely lovely song that sounded just great in that setting with accompaniment from the full assemblage, especially as it spilled beyond its sweeping contemplative balladry into a danceable (but too short) groovy jam section.

ok, but one more thing. candi staton was there, and she sang "i'm just a prisoner (of your good loving.)" [insert many exclamation points!!!!!] i have to think about this...would i have paid $50 (plus fees) just to see that alone? um um, i'm not sure, but actually part of the brilliance was i really wasn't expecting it, so it was a special extra bonus treat. look, it's one of my official favorite songs ever. [see, it's on the mix!] and it was recorded in...1968? 1969? and i just heard her sing it. minor internal freakout. so what if she later revealed herself to be a rather soft-headed and dippy stage presence, and somehow managed to make her soulful comeback-album standout "i'll sing a love song to you" seem saccharine and almost dull (i think it had something to do with her introducing it as a love song that she was going to sing to us), and preciously persisted in clapping on the one along with many of the later groovy african jawns... that was just so cool. ok, geekin' over and out.

on the radar comin' up maybe bon iver if i decide i actually like him and liz phair playing all of exile omg omg omg and maybe...maybe radiohead? and oh man totally joan as police woman at the tin angel...! if i'm not out of town that weekend. well we'll well.

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