From the Blog

Jun
18
Posted by Derek on June 18th, 2006 at 8:01 pm

I was just thinking about how I have been to a crapload of concerts in the last year. This is notable just because I had previously averaged 2 to 4 shows a year, and now I’m thinking, off the top of my head, I’ve been to about eleven shows since last June. Part of this, I think, is jsut realizing there are some decent smaller bands out there that I would have overlooked completely before. I’ve really been engrossed in discovering new bands in the last year or so.

Basically, this came to mind because I felt like recapping some of the better shows I’ve been to in the last year, so here we go…

I have to go back to May of last year to talk about The Raveonettes (I didn’t realize until now that this show was over a year ago!)… This was the first show I remember hearing about during 2005 that I just got a big itch to attend. At Christmas 04, The Raveonettes had a song on the “Maybe This Christmas Tree” compliation and I really dug the sound – very melodic with a male/female harmony vocal in a Phil Spector-esque echo chamber. Their LP tracks are a little edgier, awash in crunchy guitars, with occasional feedback or electronic sounds on the fringes. In concert, the band was top notch, making their records sound kind of flat in comparison. Their cover version of “My Boyfriend’s Back” had enormously greater punch live, and my favorite track of their last album, “Ode to L.A.” was represented faithfully by playing back the guest vocals by Ronnie Spector (of the Ronettes/”Be My Baby” fame) from a computer. I really can’t wait to hear the new album from this band and I hope they come back here again when it’s out!

At the end of 05, I stumbled into a group of four good concerts within a space of about three weeks. The first of these was the Canadian band Metric. I really didn’t know much about them, but they stuck in my head because Amazon.com kept putting their album in my reccomendations list based on stuff I already own. I checked out a few tracks of theirs, but again, the band turned out to be even better live. On record, Metric’s songs come across more structred and produced. Live, the vocals come with a bit more unpredicability and the guitar parts cut through the sound and become essential.

Next, I went to see sister duo Tegan & Sara (also Canadian). After hearing the song “Walking With a Ghost” I dug in and checked out some more tunes by them. While their earlier material is more singer-songwrier/acoustic folk, their sound mutated over two records into more of a new wave power pop vibe. The sisters have unque singing voices that blend together rather attractively. And to my utter pleasure, they turned out to have an awesome sense of humor. The banter between the twin sisters was a lot of fun. I would certainly see them in concert again.

Within a few days, I was at a another show, with the band Shout Out Louds. While not as good as the last two shows, this one was still notable. Shout Out Louds have a bit of the “emo” vibe in their songs, with the reaching, stressed emotional vocals but with more of a guitar pop backing. A competent band, but I imagine they were not on the top of their game that night. Also notable was the opening band, The Rosebuds. Very charming, breezy pop tunes. I picked up their CD at the show.

The final show in this string was the one I was most looking forward to, Hot Hot Heat. I was most familiar with songs by them, and despite general disinterest from critics, I thought their second album, “Elevator” was quite to my liking. Hot Hot Heat’s tunes are mostly from the angular new wave school, evoking in my mind comparisons to early XTC (but almost all neo new wavers give me that vibe, so take that with a grain of salt). I have to say that this show didn’t live up to my expectations. The band really didn’t get cooking until half way through their set, and even then they just weren’t doing justice to the album cuts I really liked. Part of this might have been the venue, a cavernous theater with major echo issues. I’m still ready to give them a shot next time round.

February of 06 brought a rescheduled concert from one of my all-time faves, Aimee Mann. If she had made the original date (cancelled due to hurricane), we would have been treated to a full-band show, but the early 06 tour was an acoustic affair. She did have a band with her, but it was not a full-on electric show. Not better or worse, just different. As usual, Aimee was witty and charming, delivering some anecdotes, being generally personable and interacting a bit with the crowd. I am a big fan of her newest album, “The Forgotten Arm.” It’s got a great sound I would have LOVED to hear with the full band, but I wouldn’t even pass up just Aimee and a ukelele.

In April, a tour came around headlined by The Sounds, a Swedish band with a lead singer that evokes Debbie Harry, but with more attitude. Their first album was a bit on the light side, but their second really classed things up, broadened their sound and sported some political edges. The Sounds were dynamic and entertaining, but the big discovery of the evening for me was the opening band, Morningwood. At first, I had just considered this band a guilty pleasure with their leering, come hither songs and balls-out rock attitude. But in concert, the whole enterprise is laid bare and I realized no guilt was necessary. Why feel bad about shameless, unpretentious fun? Morningwood just goes all out and has a good time. It doesn’t hurt that singer Chantal Claret is an adorably sexy ball of energy. As my friend Steve said, “She stole my beer, stole my keys, and stole my heart.” And band co-founder Pedro Yanowitz lays out some awesome bass lines. Just two moths later, Morningwood headed out on their own headlining tour so I eagerly headed back to the same venue for more crazy fun.

In between Morningwood shows, I saw two other bands that I rank very highly. First up was all-time favorite They Might Be Giants, returning to Florida for the first time in something like four years. I have seen TMBG more than ten times, and while I’m always happy to see them, this show unfortunately ranked near the bottom of the list. First off, since the band is pretty much releasing their own records, the hard sell factor was a bit more obvious during the show. Second, the show had an odd flow considering the mix of songs from their excellent full-length album “The Spine”, their noveltyish project “Venue Songs” and a handful of new, unreleased songs planned for the next record produced by the Dust Brothers. I have to say I am salivating over the potential of the new record, because I really liked the sound of the new songs. They stopped the show cold, though, because the concert crowd obviously wanted more familiar material.

Lastly, I’ll mention the band Wheatus, going above and beyond in concert, impressing me to no end. I won’t get into it too much because I wrote a blog on it following the show, so I’ll just point you to that one (called “Someday you’ll learn”)…

I’m looking forward to another show coming up this week, which will be Panic! At The Disco with OK Go opening. I remember those guys opening for They Might Be Giants a while back, and their new album is a bit edgier and interesting. I’ll have to claim ignorance on Panic! At the Disco. I’m sure I’ve heard some of their songs, but I wouldn’t be able to identify them. Evidently I’m finally behind the curve on this one, because the show’s sold out. Tune in Thursday to hear all about it, kiddies.

Until then, Keep on Rockin in the $10 World…

= Derek =

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May
29
Posted by Derek on May 29th, 2006 at 12:07 am

Okay, folks, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll usually end up going to concerts by myself, but I’m going to start rubbing it in.

I just got back from an evening of Wheatus, and despite the fact that there were probably less than 50 people in the audience, it was an absolute blast.

Those of you with longer memories for semi-obscure tunes will recall Wheatus’ 2000 geek anthem “Teenage Dirtbag.” I obtained a second-hand copy of the self-titled debut album just for that tune, but the disc turned out to have more to offer.

After the one glorious moment in the sun, the band went through a series of label battles and lineup changes, eventually self-releasing two further albums. More on that later…

Flash forward to a few weeks ago as I peruse a flyer for upcoming concerts and I see Wheatus will play the State Theater on May 28. Only five bucks (or eight on the day of show)! My gosh, what a bargain! Despite the price, I was sure the turnout would be light. I also wondered exactly what to expect from the band – the songwriting on everything I heard had been melodic and intriguing but some parts of the debut record seemed to hint at hip-hop influence, which is not quite my taste.

The first indication that this show would be a bit out of the ordinary was the stage setup. Instead of being set up center stage, the drum kit was placed stage left, facing the opposite side instead of the audience. I later realized that the entire kit was electronic as well. In fact, the entire lineup of instruments on stage (all three of them) had to be routed to the sound system to be heard. Lead singer/songwriter Brendan B. Brown played one acoustic-style guitar the entire show achieving a wide range of sounds with outboard equipment. Rounding out the instrumental lineup was a slim electric stand-up bass. In another unique twist on the typical rock show, Wheatus also features two live female back-up vocalists.

As the band took the stage, Brendan B. Brown (or bbb as he is referred to on the Wheatus website) revealed that the band has no setlist and asked for requests. To his surprise (and mine) the tiny audience were rabid Wheatus fans and nobody asked for “Teenage Dirtbag” for more than 45 minutes.

I’m sure a lot of bands would cringe at the thought of letting the audience dictate what songs are to be played, but in this case, the idea went smashingly. I will venture a guess, however, that the band must be a bit disappointed to only get in one song from their newest album, “Too Soon Monsoon.” I almost spoke up to request the beautiful “Hometown,” a meditation on the skyline of New York City before and after the loss of the Twin Towers. They did manage to play an also-worthy tune called “The London Sun.” (They also played a track called “BMX Bandits,” but that was more like an encore for the very vocal fans.)

If there was one thing I took away from the evening, however, it is that Wheatus’ troubled sophomore effort is an overlooked gem. The story goes something like this… When the band finished their second album – a more serious effort to be titled “Hand Over Your Loved Ones” – their label, Sony, had major disagreements about the record and how to market it. A small release of the album with the original title happened in the UK, but it wasn’t until the band won control over the record that the general public got to hear it. And sadly, the intent and feel of the album were forever ruined for the band. Two tracks were added and the whole collection was mischievously rechristened “Suck Fony.” (No college degree necessary to figure out the meaning of that title.)

The whole story is a big shame, since “Hand Over Your Loved Ones” would have been a spectacular and well-reviewed follow-up, showing a band adding a bit of depth to what seemed at first to be a jokey outfit. It reminds me a bit of how Weezer grew from their debut album into “Pinkerton.” Of course, that album flopped at first, but the artistic merit of the record has been proven with the passage of time. The Wheatus album now known as “Suck Fony” is quite an accomplishment and deserves to be heard by a wider audience.

In concert, Wheatus pulls off their songs with gusto and charm. The members of the band have no airs or pretensions and interact with the audience with ease. One member of the audience remarked that the whole thing was like watching the band in their living room. I can’t think of a more apropos way to describe it. And let’s not forget that the band is essentially playing music “on demand” so they have to know the entire catalog. Sure, it’s only three albums, but still… They even managed to accommodate a fan’s request for a b-side called “Pretty Girl” and it came off like they play it every night.

Brendan B. Brown said at one point in the evening that they would keep coming back again and again until they could fill the room. Sure, it might have been a bit of hyperbole for the excited fans, but here’s hoping they actually follow through.

So here’s your homework: go buy some Wheatus CDs (or download them from iTunes) and find out what you’ve been missing (like “Love Is A Mutt From Hell,” “Anyway,” or “American In Amsterdam” to name a few). Then when Wheatus comes back to town, you’re coming with me!

Post-script…

I was just reading up on Wheatus and discovered that back-up singer Connie Renda and drummer Kevin Garcia have only been part of the band for less than a month (at least the announcement of such happened within the last month)… making this band’s cohesive performance all the more remarkable.

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Aug
03
Posted by Derek on August 3rd, 2005 at 3:46 am

I mentioned a week or two back in my rant about Elvis Costello that “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” may be overlooked because it lacks irony. Some might find it interesting to note that the song originated with Costello’s producer, Nick Lowe, in his band Brinsley Schwarz. The original version was a mocking commentary on the peace anthems of the ’60s. Considering Costello’s persona at the time – sometimes called the “avenging dork” – his own version of the tune should logically follow a similar M.O. In a recent commentary on Costello’s album, Armed Forces, Franklin Bruno suggests that audience for pop criticism may be unlikely to accept the argument that Elvis Costello and company produced an unironic and sincere take on the material. Bruno mentions two alterations from the original song. First, Costello sings complete the song’s title line, whereas Lowe’s original interpretation trailed off in mocking blather. Second, a heavy-handed four-line spoken interlude was removed. Adding this to the Attractions’ spirited performance and Costello’s soulful vocals leads us to the conclusion: “I don’t presume to know whether EC, or Lowe, or anyone else involved ‘means it, man‘; it’s enough that the record they chose to produce and release does.” And how.

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Jul
26
Posted by Derek on July 26th, 2005 at 12:32 am

Saturday night, a DJ at The Bank played “This Year’s Girl” by Elvis Costello.

Thanks!

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Jul
21
Posted by Derek on July 21st, 2005 at 4:42 pm

I’m sitting eating a chimichanga today and among a barrage of Top 40-ish radio hits, I hear a familiar bass riff leading into the unmistakable keyboard swirl of Steve Nieve. My God, Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” in a burrito establishment?! Now, normally I’m all for Elvis Costello music in public establishments; the guy is surprisingly underrepresented in this area. In fact, the most common Elvis-related piece of music I’ve heard in public is his co-composition with Paul McCartney, “My Brave Face.” This is always in supermarkets, oddly enough. I supppose someone figures the lyric “I’ve been breaking up dirty dishes and been throwing them away” is going to remind someone to buy Cascade (or paper plates). Actually, you’d think “Veronica” would be a good choice for supermarket shopping. It’s another collaboration with McCartney, but it’s far catchier and infinitely more poignant. It was recorded around the same time, too. Jesus Christ people, that was his biggest selling album, ever. But somehow, Costello keeps getting the shaft from even the muzak people. Anyway, hearing “Pump It Up” while eating cheesy bits of chicken made me think of one thing: The DJ at a club I go to will play this song but no other Elvis tunes. I suppose since DJs make their reputation by reading the crowd and playing what they want to hear, this means there is some clamor from the public for this particular song. Sadly, I seem to think a lot of this comes from drunken morons who think they’re really listening to the inferior rip-off of “Pump It Up” by Escape Club (“Wild Wild West,” in case you forgot). I come here today to embolden you with more knowledge of the great tunesmith of Costello. I’ve already mentioned how “Veronica” is perfect for roaming supermarket aisles, but say you want to just rock out on the dance floor. How about “No Action.” the lead-off track from Costello’s second album. The bass and drums seethe under the verse while the guitar periodically rings in like stabs of energy. Once the chorus comes around, the whole band just pounds away making this song just rock like no other. Try it. How come nobody ever plays “Alison” anymore? Somehow, this song transcends everything Costello put on his first album and has rightfully been recognized as a beautiful ballad. Everyone goes nuts when he plays it in concert, but I never hear it anywhere else. And what happened to that brief time when you heard “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding” on all the commercials for “Lost In Translation?” Nobody seems to have picked up on how awesome that song is since then. Oh, maybe it’s too straight. It’s got no irony. Still a damn good song. As I’ve recently been discovering in depth, Elvis Costello has an AMAZING back catalog. Almost all his albums are worth owning, but a couple are absolutely essential. Seriously, if you like new wave music in the least, buy the album “This Year’s Model.” You won’t regret it. And if you lean more toward Stax and Motown, buy “Get Happy!!”, which has so many catchy tunes, you’ll never be able to pick a favorite. But if you take one thing away from my rant today, consider this: Just say no to “Pump It Up”!

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