Thursday, February 21, 2008

Poison Control Center

Robyn and I went to a newish coffee shop type place this weekend in uptown called The Beat. Although I will agree with most people that coffee shops, in general, are lame and suck....The Beat is an all right little place. The lattes and cappuccinos (or whatever people drink these days) business was happening right as you walked in the door, with a large room in the back. This room was just an empty space with minor decorations and a sound guy in the back with some tables scattered around. Without alarming the fire department, you could maybe fit 80 people in the place, and that estimate may be high, which lends to a quaint, if not intimate, musical experience.

The band I have wanted to see for a while, Poison Control Center, was on a double bill with fellow Afternoon Records band Now, Now Every Children. I have been constantly listening to PCC awesome full length debut, A Collage of Impressions, ever since I picked it up a couple of months ago. Smart and sharp, it is exactly what a post-pavement band should sound like. Some of the songs are weird and zany and filled with fictitious names and places, others deep and witty with interesting people and places from history. All are tightly played with high levels of musical talent. I was a little disappointed to find out that only two of the members were able to make it as the other two were doing things for grad school. The two PCC members left decided to take it in their hands that the crowd would not be left with two acoustic troubadours singing at the front of a coffee shop. They spent 30 minutes playing gem after gem from the catalogue all over the room. They stood on chairs and tables, they did the splits, they screamed, they led a conga line and they kept the crowd tightly wound around their fingers the whole time. Although I would have preferred hearing the whole band, this was a very interesting experience.(also a little frightening for two people who did not expect a full on assault of our personal bubbles) I don't think anyone could have left that show thinking that they had not got their money’s worth from these two guys(some of the people may not have dug the in your face experience, but they couldn't say they did not get a show) After seeing the PCC show, it made me more desirous to see the whole band and really experience their music live.

We didn't stay around for Now, Now Every Children, but I have a couple of thoughts.

-They looked like they had an average age of 15, which is really cool if they are even close to as young as they look. I was not making indie rock when I was 15. (or any rock for that matter, I was probably getting drunk off high life and arguing about Stairway to Heaven and Freebird)
-I think Robyn and I may have been the only people there not related to/friends of the band. I swear it seemed like a parents and friends only show
-I saw some people from the Afternoon Record label there, which I thought was really cool. Not only are they a label that puts out local bands, they also make an effort to support each other, which is awesome.
-Although they seemed mildly horrified to be playing, I think Now, Now Every Children had potential and could be pretty good. I saw they will be opening for Beach House and Papercuts, who I plan on seeing, so I will be able to get a better impression then.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

In-Store performances

Two bands that I like, Times New Viking & Super Furry Animals, played a show Friday night at the Varsity Theatre which was very seriously considering getting tickets to for Robyn and I. The problem is that although I think both bands are great, I was having serious reservations about the $15 tickets. (Disclaimer: I am one of those people that others would could frugal (or in its more nasty and hateful way: cheap) in most aspects of my life) Luckily, my problem was solved when BOTH bands decided to do free in-store performances.

Thursday night brought newly minted "Best new Music" recipients Times New Viking to the cozy hipster-magnet record store Treehouse records in Uptown. For the record....I cannot recommend this store enough for any fans of true independent music. I have only been a couple times, but I have made it a point from now on to do my record shopping there. By the time the band set up and started playing (*cough*an hour late*cough*) the store was pretty full. In an unusual and welcomed move, the band brought their full setup (drums, guitar and keyboard) to the back of the store and set up shop. This may have been because their Pavement-esqe skuzzy garage rock nuggets would not have transferred over well (at all?) into an acoustic setting. Either way, the pushed through 8-10 songs in a brisk 25 minute set that was as high energy as I have ever seen for an in-store. I thought their boy-girl melodies and simple song structures were very good. I think this band showed a lot of potential. If they can evolve from the genre constraints that made songs blend into each other, they could make some amazing albums down the road. Overall: I would say check them out if you like any of these genres/influences: Pavement, psychedelic/garage rock, Guided by Voicea or the pop aspects of Brian Jonestown Massacre.

The next day I was lucky enough to see the wonderful Welsh rock band Super Furry Animals at the Electric Fetus. If you do not know them, I would say check them out (I can't provide any starting point to the 10 albums, but I have not been disappointed with anything I have heard from them). As they stated many times, we only got 2/5 of SFA, but those 2/5 did not disappoint. Blending UK flavored soaring pop music, childlike enthusiasm and Flaming Lips psychedelic rock, they played for about 35 minutes to a pretty packed Electric Fetus (especially considering it was at 3pm on a weekday). The two men only had their acoustics (lead singer Griff's was a classical righty turned upside down with an extra piece velcroed on to make it look like a lefty, the first time I have seen that) and some eclectic backing toys. On a table between them they housed a vibe, a metronome, a box that hummed dissonant notes and a little keyboard with programmable beats they used as accompaniment to their songs. On the last song, they had an audience member come up and use scissors to keep the beat. Another song they had the entire crowd put their hands on their heads like ears and wiggle their fingers for the whole song, which was very amusing. (Their reason was it made the song sound better) Needless to say is that the show was engaging and entertaining for everyone there, from dedicated followers to SFA newbie’s. They spent most of the show taking requests from the crowd, although many they said they did not remember (“We have put out 10 albums and have bad memories”), including my request of “It’s not the end of the world”. This was the only let down of the otherwise great performance.

I assume the show was great and that with a full stage of musicians and a sound checks, both bands were amazing at the Varsity Theatre Friday.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cat Power First Ave 2/11

After seeing Cat Power live in concert, I can decisively say that Cat Power is wonderful....on CD. I am sure others may say differently, but the sultry voiced chanteuse, whose birth name is Chan Marshall, was underwhelming to me. My friend Smitty had scored free tickets (people paid $25......$25!!!!) to this nearly if not completely sold out show, so before people take offense, remember that I am not claiming to be a Cat Power aficionado, only a casual fan who went into the show with enormous respect for her and left with that respect intact. I would even consider seeing her again life....if it was in a more appropriate setting. Like with seats. I have trouble standing in a crowd who I can't see over (not their fault I'm short, but still) in a packed club where half of the crowd is chatting and 3/4 are fighting to even see Marshall as she roamed the stage. I had no desire to fight to the front, but that doesn't mean I didn't want to see her at least.

The crowd to hear her slow burning soul songs also skewed a little older than I am used to. I felt like I was in the small minority of people who only had vivid memories of one Bush administration. Lots of happily employed babysitters in Minneapolis for the quasi hipster parents who were hitting the town tonight. Well, I guess the moral of the story is that for me, leaving early and coming home to a warm bed, a good book and The Greatest on my stereo is the way that I can appreciate Cat Power the most. Glad it didn't cost me $25 to figure that out.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Daniel Johnston

Daniel Johnston was great. Sad and somber mostly, but I don't recklessly associate that with not being a celebratory experience. He is taking his situation and trying to make the most out of it. Within that situation, he is making beautiful music that, I would venture to say, is as real and heartfelt as any artist could ever be. There is not a contrived bone in his body. When he sings of being lost, he is coming from places that most of us will never experience. After hearing his music and seeing the documentary, this live show was a nice connecting ground to bring it all together. He isn't just a prodigious musician or an erratic character from the movie. He is very real, and that includes both the good(amazing music) and bad(his daily struggles).

The show was broken up into three portions: Daniel and his guitar, Daniel with a more polished guitar player while he sang, and a whole band backing him. My favorites were in the order that they were presented. Seeing Daniel up there frantically strumming his guitar and singing his wonderful songs was something that was quite an experience. Highlights during the show for me were "Speedy Motorcycle" and "Living Life", although I will admit that I do not have the set list and with his giant discography, there were a few songs I recognized but could not remember their titles(I would give my left arm for those binders of music he brings on much genius in them)

The ultimate highlight for me was the one song encore with him singing "True love will find you in the end". Seeing him up there trying to control his trembling hand to hold the microphone while singing this magnificent song was both exceptionally uplifting and massively crushing. Itwas a fitting finale to a wonderful show. A man who has spent his entire life fighting his demons up on a stage in front of 1,500 people singing a reaffirming song telling us all that love will, indeed, find a way.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Yeasayer/MGMT 2/7

As I have stated before, I am a big fan of the band Yeasayer, so I dutifully jumped at the opportunity to see them Thursday at the 7th Street Entry. They were in the middle slot of a pretty good bill with local indie-dance provocateurs Battle Royale and hipster/stoner/dance-psychedelic hot-shots MGMT. Going into the show, I had yet to hear Battle Royale but had been having both Yeasayers debut All Hour Cymbals and MGMT's debut Oracular Spectacular in heavy rotation. Yeasayer has been finding a way to stay in the mix for the past couple months, while MGMT's disc just came out, so it was a little more fresh to me.
The show was "very sold out", which is horrible to me. Not that I do not want the bands I like to do well, I just hate huge crowds. I love the shows where there are a lot of people and there is a high energy, but you can move and lift your arms without spilling your bearded, scarfed neighbor’s tallboy out of their hands. This was not one of those nights. Of course I also was behind Annie Lebowitz who took about 6,000 of the same picture and kept leaning back to get a wider angle shot, which put her hair in the same vicinity of my mouth, which was not pleasant. I like people who take pictures at shows (because I am too lazy to), but I think there is big difference between people who have done it before and are professional and Joe-blow who is going to have 60 under lit and crappy pictures to put on their facebook. You can tell the people who have been around. They are either at the show early and in the front or on the sides. And I would bet my paltry salary that their 20 pics have about 20 more quality shots than the drunk girl sending text messages and screaming and holding her camera above her head (and in front of my face) and just clicking. Sorry, end of rant.

Battle Royale started the show around 10 and brought their drum machine/keyboard heavy dance rock to the already large crowd. I thought they were good and definitely have potential, although I feel their musical and performing talents are leaps and bounds above their singing and lyric writing talents, but there were some really good songs. I liked that they shared singing duties, with the guitar player and girl bass player being the strongest in my opinion. The lead singer was a little grating, but I think that it could appeal to a lot of people. I could see them making it out of the Minneapolis scene, especially since they have such a developed sound and they are all under 21. As far as first openers in a three band night go, I don't think I could have asked for much more than Battle Royale.

I won't go into much detail of Yeasayer, other than to say they are amazing. Their live show only solidified my feelings that they are a wonderful band (although I would not have minded if the drummer could have kept his shirt on) Their CD translated well into the live setting and they showed huge amounts of talent with their multiple vocal harmonies and deft instrumentation. I cannot say a bad word about their show. If you ever have a chance to see Yeasayer, I recommend them on the highest level.

The show was progressing nicely, but MGMT did not continue that trend. Whenever I read any write-ups about MGMT, I heard art school and hipster, which to me are red flags for possible bullshit, but their CD had given me hope. It is a lush and pretty album that was filled with good and a few great songs that was an overall success. After the show I wondered how much of this had to do with it being produced by one of my favorites, Dave Fridman. He has pushed the buttons on someone of my favorite albums, including Mercury Rev's Deserters Songs and The Flaming Lips two latter career masterpieces The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. The band sounded flat and hollow live, and I couldn't make myself see past the hipster demeanor and the lead singer with the ironic pot leaf necklace. We get it buddy, you are rock star. Without the sweeping orchestration behind them, MGMT sounded like a mid-level psychedelic rock band, and the dance rock songs that sound tight and forceful on the CD came across and light and contrived (especially after Battle Royale nailed the genre earlier in the evening). I still like the CD (I am actually listening to it right now), but my excitement for MGMT has waned and I don't think I would see them again.


What an amazing experience. It was very crowded, but still really cool. The previous high for voter turnout in my precinct was 400....they said they think there was 3,000 last Tuesday. It is cool that people are getting excited for politics. I hope that whomever you think should be out next president (Democrat or Republican) you went out and voted Tuesday night.