20 March 2009

no more pushing words around: a.c. newman speaks his mind

redheads in blue. photo by jenny f.

the bits of get guilty, a.c. newman's new one, which make any kind of sense, which aren't too many, generally have something to do with the malleability and imprecision of language: stop twisting your words into shapes/shapes you can only make out when you squint. your careful walls of conversation stacked in towers so high... no more pushing words around. make of that what you will. or, just as effective: yo ho. bah bah bah bah. la la la la/la la la la/la la la la la la la la.

so much for self-reflexivity. otherwise, it's all more or less a wash. thanks to michael pelusi's citypaper preview for pointing out carl's predecessors in perplexity: robyn hitchcock, lil wayne, duh dylan. but did any of them ever offer such utterly, gleefully empty syntax – words strung together without a trace of semantic coherence; rhyme without reason – as this:

i took the red-eye back to glory
but the more i got the facts straight
turns out that the story's getting shorter...

can't take them out with baby artillery
lady it's secretarial

that spam-worthy nonsense is from possibly his best song, certainly the highlight of his johnny brenda's gig the other night, "secretarial", which he described as "a song about god knows what, from my 2004 album the slow wonder." aptly put, though it's a little weird to hear musicians using quasi-rock-critic-speak like that.

anyway, he had plenty of smart talk to offer on tuesday; words with meanings, and even inflections. he took the stage with a bizarrely sardonic quip about the size of the venue (he called it "big," which i guess was supposed to be both sarcastic and a dig), and went on to sound off about the disorienting, "unreal" nature of the space, about the dubiousness of st. patrick's accomplishments, about people mistaking him for irish because of his red hair, and about the canadian obsession with hideous celtic music (he joked that mashing-up dan bejar's tunes with an unnamed celtic funk star would be a good way to rake it in.)

b.h.'s critical mass review of the show captured many of the highlights of the highly entertaining banter. i just wanted to respond to a couple of things: newman's theory about irish redheads being the result of scandinavian rape'n'pillage doesn't quite pan out with red hair being a recessive trait (right?) and george thorogood out-drawing the new pornos in ithaca does suggest they'd at least be more loaded in HOURS.

also, carl correcting his (i think?) erroneous allusion to "loaded in a thorogood sense" to "loaded in a los lobos sense" made him the second new pornographer to shout out the wolves this year, after neko case enthusing in her liner notes about having steve berlin play on the album. not to mention the news about david hidalgo playing accordion on the forthcoming bob dylan album.

hokay. as for the music... well, it was a fun show. i definitely still like wonder a good deal more than guilty, but seeing it live did help a few of the new songs edge along towards potential favorite territory, in particular the rockers: "the palace at 4a.m." (my current go-to track on the album) and "collected works" (of exes? exits? excess?) i find "ten or twelve" to be a clunky album-opener, albeit a pretty good song, and it wasn't much better as a live opener – it gives the band a chance to get big right away, which is nice, but it's still so slow and gloopy. actually, "miracle drug" felt just as weird in the #2 slot – something about the opening drum groove seemed off, which is really what drives the energy of the whole song. (and it has a lot.)

"heartbreak rides" and "all my days..." come off quite well, with some of the vocal gorgeousness of the wonder highlights "the cloud prayer" and (of course) "drink to me, babe, then," whereas the title track, which he introduced as a waltz, still felt a bit clunky. and "submarines of stockholm," with its driving "la la la"s and baffling chorus hook ("one in a series of") was the one that got stuck in my head as i biked home.

as you can see, my camera loses out to jenny's iphone as far as clarity goes. but at least the openers, the broken west, had better lighting for their set – i was annoyed at how the blue lights clashed with the coloring of the redheaded heart-throbs on stage (the swooningly stubbly carl and his fetching, slightly feisty fiddler – excuse me, violinist – who shared an amusingly awkward moment when he asked if she was a real redhead.)

it was great to check out the broken west, a californian combo signed to merge (up until now their most noteworthy attribute in my mind), who felt like a quintessential indie-rock/pop band. almost a throwback these days – i could definitely see myself having been pretty excited about them c. 2001 or so. as it is i probably won't find the time (no longer my genre...), but they're definitely a solid band. the word that kept coming to mind was "workmanlike", which sounds like faint praise, but i mean it as a positive – it was an entirely enjoyable, and pleasantly familiar set. their songs were good too, though for recognition factor alone the highlight of the set was probably their cover of tegan and sara's micro-hit "back in your head," which they played straight and poppy (piano hits and all) but with a tiny bit of country shuffle to color it a bit.

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