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Archive for July, 2018

[ATTENDED: July 31, 2018] Phoebe Bridgers

I was supposed to see Phoebe Bridgers back in February at World Cafe Live.  En route to the show I got really sick and had to bail.  I was pretty bummed.  But how exciting that she came back to the area just a few months later!

The opener for that show was Soccer Mommy, who I’d still like to see (although Angelica Garcia was terrific).

Phoebe Bridgers isn’t really someone I should like–she sings slow, kinda depressing songs.  In fact the first song I heard from her, “Smoke Signals” was an interesting litmus test for me.  I loved the sound of the song (it’s so Twin Peaks).  The lyrics were great (referencing Motorhead and David Bowie) and I really liked the melody.  But I found the pacing kind of slow and the song felt really long.

Then I heard “Motion Sickness” and I completely loved it.  I love the lyric

I have emotional motion sickness
Somebody roll the windows down
There are no words in the English language
I could scream to drown you out

I find her voice to be very beautiful but also a little peculiar.  There’s something about her delivery/enunciation that I don’t understand.  It’s not an accent (she doesn’t have one when she speaks), but it’s the way she enunciates certain vowels….maybe.

Anyway, I assumed that it would be her with her guitar.  But she had a whole band (and how awesome is that drum head logo for a folk singer?).  She and bassist Anna Butterss (who has wonderful backing vocals) wore black suits with ties, which was cool and was nicely set off by their very blonde hair (Phoebe explained that her hair has been many different colors over the years and she likes this one).

They opened with “Smoke Signals” and it’s evident that I underestimated how good this song is, the way it stretches out.  I loved the little noises and effects that drummer Marshall Vore added to the song.  About two seconds into the song, the woman in front of me took a picture of Bridgers and instantly posted it online with a text overlay that said “an angel from heaven.”

It was followed by one of the saddest songs I know: “Funeral.”

I’m singing at a funeral tomorrow
For a kid a year older than me
And I’ve been talking to his dad; it makes me so sad
When I think too much about it I can’t breathe

….

And last night I blacked out in my car
And I woke up in my childhood bed
Wishing I was someone else, feeling sorry for myself
When I remembered someone’s kid is dead

And yet as you can see by many of these pictures, she smiled and laughed a lot between songs.  In an interview she said of her lyrics, “I don’t consider myself a miserable person, but that’s the place I write from.”

This is totally not my type of lyric, but man she sings it so beautifully.  Most of her song mix that emotion with some humor (this one wisely doesn’t).  An example of her humor comes in the title of her album Stranger in the Alps which is taken from the edited-for-TV version of The Big Lebowski in which Walter’s “Do you see what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass” is changed to “Do you see what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps?”

The show slowly picked up tempo and volume.  “Georgia” sailed along with Harrison Whitford’s slide guitar echoing.  And for “Would You Rather,” Whitford sang the backing vocals.  She told us the song is about her brother.  And she told us he long story which was pretty shockingly sad.  But she assured us that all parties were fine now.

Bridgers mostly played acoustic guitar but for “Chelsea” she brought out her “cheap but cool looking” sparkly electric guitar.

She told us at some point that yes, indeed, she and Angelica went to school together.  They were friends and even played in a band together back in school.

After a few more songs, she and drummer Marshall Vore duetted on Gilliam Welch’s song “Everything is Free.”  I didn’t know the song but it was great and their voices sounded wonderful together.

Then she said that since she was in Asbury Park she had to play a Bruce Springsteen song.  Her band left and as the crowd cheered, she played “I’m on Fire.”  She’s the second performer I’ve seen cover this song recently.  I wonder why they chose this particular song which I think is one of his lamer (and sexist) lyrics.

The crowd was pretty hyped for that, but we were even more psyched to hear “Motion Sickness.”

Introducing “Scott Street” she noted about this song, “they’re all sad, but this one’s especially sad.”  It turns out that many of the songs are about her ex-boyfriend and current drummer Vore.

Keyboardist Nick White added some nice flourishes here and there, especially on the quieter moments.

And then Phoebe left for an encore break.  I was pretty sure the set wouldn’t be very long.  She has only the one album out and it’s only got 10 songs on it, after all.

She came out for the encore and played a gorgeous version of “You Missed My Heart” a cover of a song by Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle that is as powerful and poignant as the songs she writes.   I assumed it was her own song on the record.  Midway through the song she sat down in front of the drums and sang plaintively

I asked him one more time, this time pulled out my shiv
Struck him in the back and I pulled it out slow
And I watched him fall down, and as the morning sun rose
He looked at me and said
“You missed my heart, you missed my heart
You got me good; I knew you would
But you missed my heart, you missed my heart”

I really love the way the lyrics twist that title phrase in the next verses:

I chased her up the stairs and I pinned her to the ground
And underneath her whimpering I could hear the sirens sound
I rattled off a list of all the things I missed
Like going to the movies with her and the way she kissed me

Driving into downtown Wheeling, showing her off
Backyard barbecues and reunions in the park
I said I missed her skin and when she started laughing
And while I clenched down on her wrist, she said “that’s quite a list
But there’s one thing you missed
“You missed my heart, you missed my heart
That’s quite a list, but what you really missed
You missed my heart, you missed my heart

That song meant she’d played everything off of her album.  But the crowd was still buzzing and the woman in front of me kept nudging her fella hoping Phoebe would play the next song which was a romping cover of Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy.”

It was the kind of lighthearted but earnest ending, almost a joke given how dark her songs were, that perfectly capped off the show.  A show full of powerfully personal songs with a lyrical twist (and charming crowd interactions)  that kept the show from being maudlin.

And of course, Bridgers’ voice sounded amazing.  You could hear every whisper and breath in that quiet bowling alley.

It was crazy going from the noise of My Bloody Valentine last night to the chill folk of Phoebe Bridgers.

I’m so glad I got to see her before she really takes off.

 

  1. Smoke Signals *
  2. Funeral *
  3. Georgia *
  4. Would You Rather *
  5. Chelsea *
  6. Demi Moore *
  7. Killer *
  8. Steamroller
  9. Everything Is Free (Gillian Welch)
  10. I’m on Fire (Bruce Springsteen)
  11. Motion Sickness *
  12. Scott Street *
  13. encore
  14. You Missed My Heart (Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle) *
  15. If It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow)
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[ATTENDED: July 31, 2018] Angelica Garcia

I had never been to Asbury Lanes before (Apparently there is a feud about those who are mad that the club re-opened and isn’t as scuzzy as it used to be, or something.  Since I’d never been there before I have no boat in that race).  I can say that it was a great place to see a band.  The stage is very visible, the acoustics are great and the floor is intimate but not cramped.  And while there is bowling, there is no bowling during a show.

I was excited to see Phebe Bridgers, although I hadn’t heard of her opening singer,  Angelica Garcia.  She came out with her guitar and started singing and I figured she was a pleasant enough singer songwriter.

But with each song, she added some new component to her music.

The second song was in Spanish.  Then she sang a song that mentioned ICE (with great lyrics).   Her voice was powerful and impressive.  She could go either pop or country, but she straddled the line really well.  Perhaps having just her guitar made her seem more folkie.

But then she pulled out a looping pedal.  She started looping her voice and making amazing backing vocals.  She did a couple of songs like this totally acapella–just many layers of her voice and they sounded amazing.

We all chuckled when she pulled out her phone and played drums on it while looping–honestly I don;t know how she sang and tapped that small screen and never missed a beat.

And, wow did she prove she had a strong powerful voice.  By the end oft he show she was hitting and holding notes that blew everyone away.

About half way through the show she told us that she went to school with Phoebe Bridgers.  She didn’t give any more details, but Phoebe did a little later.

Angelica was great and she was hanging over by her merch table when the show was over.  I chatted briefly and she was super nice too.  Definitely check her out.

 

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nyoct20

SOUNDTRACK: MOBY-One Song, Two Days, Three Versions (Project Song: May 4, 2010).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The fifth and (presumably) final one they did was about six months after the previous one.  This Project was offered to Moby.

Moby generally works alone in his New York apartment, but for Project Song, we asked him to bring along a collaborator. He picked Kelli Scarr, a Brooklyn-based singer and songwriter with a breathtaking voice. They arrived at NPR, a bit nervous and eager.

It takes weeks, even years, to write a song. NPR Music’s Project Song challenges musicians to do it in just two days. And every Project Song participant has worked right up to the last-minute — that is, until Moby.

He and collaborator Kelli Scarr finished their song in a little more than a single day. In fact, they had so much time left over, they recorded a second version of the song. And after that, they gave a small concert for the staff at NPR.

I kicked off the songwriting process by showing them a series of photographs and words. The surreal images came from New York artist Phil Toledano; you can see more of his work at NPR’s Picture Show blog. Moby and Scarr are both drawn to an image of a man in the woods wearing a trenchcoat. [Moby: “A disconcerting loneliness that I really like”].  There’s a brown briefcase on the earthen floor beside him, and his head looks like a glowing storm cloud.

Next, I gave them a series of words to choose from. Moby picked the word “flight.” Scarr chose “Sunday,” which Moby calls “the most depressing day of the week.”

Not too long after, Moby puts the card with the word “Sunday” printed on it, along with the photograph, on a nearby chair. He picks up a bass guitar and immediately starts playing a riff in the key of E. Turns out, this hastily played bass line would become the bedrock for their new song.

Just six hours later, the first of three versions of “Gone to Sleep” was recorded.

When he arrives he says he thought about cheating with chords ahead of time, but he likes the idea of jumping headlong into a project.  And as the blurb says, within minutes he’s got a bass line, some synths and drums.  Then a guitar line and more keyboard sounds.

Then they work on lyrics.  Moby says, “My favorite type of unsettling art is art that isn’t immediately unsettling.”  he cites the classic example of “Mack the Knife.”  You first hear it and it’s happy and then you listen to the lyrics and its terrifying.

The end of the video clip plays the whole song, guitar and piano and atmospheric.  Then over the closing credits they play a somewhat less atmospheric, gentler version of the song.  And then there’s the Tiny Desk which is altogether different.

It’s like Moby broke Project Song by making it seem too easy.

[READ: July 27, 2017] “Christina the Astonishing (1150-1224)”

I’ve read a few things by Vladez Quade, but this one is quite different from anything else.  It’s actually quite different form anything else I’ve read, period.  The closest author this reminded me of would be Brendan Connell, who likes to thoroughly investigate a historical character (real or imagined).

But this story is based on an actual; person:

St. Christina the Astonishing has been recognized as a saint since the 12th century. She was placed in the calendar of the saints by at least two bishops of the Catholic Church in two different centuries (17th & 19th) that also recognized her life in a religious order and preservation of her relics.

The story tells of her life from the point of view of her older sister and is written in a rather formal, almost canonical, style with section headings in an old style: “How She was Led Forth from the Body and How She Lived Again.”

The narrator, Mara, tells us that Christina lay dead in her coffin, a grave awaiting her.  Mara is sad, she loved Christina, “I see this now.  She was difficult, unknowable but I loved her.”

But at the same time she says that perhaps if they had hastened, outrun the melody.  If we’d only got those last words out, “He might have spared us our miracle.”

For indeed, the dead Christina not only rose bodily from her coffin, she levitated to the rafters. The narrator and her sister Gertrude clutched each other in fear. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 30, 2018] My Bloody Valentine

Back in the 1990s I loved My Bloody Valentine.  I can recall checking the racks in Newbury Comics on a weekly basis just to see if there was some kind of follow up to Loveless (this is before the internet told us when things were coming out).  After waiting some 20 years I basically gave up on the band.  When mbv came out, I didn’t even bother listening to it, the hype was so much.

When they announced this tour I wondered whether it was worth going.  But I was assured that they always put on a good show.  I was also warned that it would be loud.  Really loud.  Like, people leaving the theater loud.  It actually made me a little nervous.  They were giving out earplugs at the entrance (which is a good idea for any show, nut especially for this one).

I knew I wouldn’t be there early enough to get too close.  But I’ve learned from past show that being up too close ruins the vocals.  So that was fine.  The crowd was pretty large when we arrived and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be.  (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 30, 2018] Heavy Blanket

About a day before this show, I looked up who Heavy Blanket were.  Imagine my surprise to read that they are a side project of J. Mascis.  So this makes four times I’ve seen Mascis live now (twice with Dino. Jr and once when he jammed with Pearl Jam in Boston).

Heavy Blanket put out an album 5 years ago ( I completely missed it) and the backstory of the band is pretty funny:

It was the summer of 1984, and a teenage j Mascis was bored. Sure, his band Deep Wound were still playing shows and melting faces.  [but] he wanted to start something new. He wanted to shed the pretentiousness and elitism that had risen around him  – to slow things down and turn the volume way, way up.

He remembered a couple kids from his early high school days – stoner kids he’d always admired for their “who gives a shit” attitude. Those kids, Johnny Pancake and Pete Cougar, had been kicked out of marching band for smoking weed out of a tuba. Way better musicians than the marching band deserved, they’d formed a duo that was all rhythm section – no vocals, no guitar, a sick, punchy brew of Band of Gypsies and Japanese hard psych (Johnny’s uncle was a US Marine stationed on Okinawa in 1973. From his frequent visits to Tokyo, he brought home a killer psych record collection. And a mean dose of the clap). These were the guys he needed. He rounded them up and it soon became obvious that the heavy rhythms they created were the perfect backdrop to young Mascis’ insane, fluid ability on the guitar. The trio came up with six blistering tracks, named themselves Heavy Blanket, and set a date to record.

But then, tragedy struck. Johnny hit his head and nearly drowned while swimming in an old stone quarry in southern Vermont. His recovery was… incomplete. He gave up playing altogether and became something of a recluse, retreating to the relative safety of his grandmother’s basement. Disheartened by Johnny incapacitation, Pete moved out to Ohio to work in his uncle’s second-hand furniture store. He later did a stint in federal prison for repeatedly passing low-denomination counterfeit bills at the local Stop’n’Shop. Mascis went on to form Dinosaur jr, and the rest is history. The boys lost touch, and those blistering tracks were lost to history.

Fast forward to the winter of 2011. While on his semi-annual ski retreat to Stowe, Mascis runs into an old friend. Johnny had emerged from his grandmother’s basement (having been forced to, once her demise stopped the flow of milk and sandwiches to his underground lair) and taken a job grooming the ski trails with a Snowcat. Convinced his long-ago accident was the handiwork of those schemers in Pearl Jam, Johnny begged j to reform the band. It was the only way to get back at them, he insisted. A quick search of Ohio prison records turned up Pete, living in a halfway house in Columbus. After securing the proper permissions from his parole officer, Pete boarded a Greyhound with the only recording of Heavy Blanket in existence – an old practice cassette. Building off those old tune structures, the boys – now men – have finally succeeded in fulfilling the promise of that long past summer.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS WALLA AND J. ROBBINS-Create ‘Mercury’ (Project Song: October 12, 2009).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The fourth one they did was over a year and a half after the previous one.  This Project was offered to Chris Walla (of Death Cab for Cutie) and a performer he’d admired, J. Robbins (of Jawbox and Burning Airlines).

What made this project especially difficult was that the two had never even met before they stepped into NPR’s performance studio.

I supplied some inspiration for their song: photo collages created by artist Tom Chambers [The picture are really, really cool]. They chose a photograph of a house in a canyon filled with water, tilted and flooded. Not far from the house is a dog on a boat, floating either toward or away from the house. I also supplied a series of words. They selected the word “cerebral” and promised when they wrote the song not to be too cerebral about it.

Unlike the pairing from Georgie James, this pair is instantly excited at the possibilities–changes and ideas.

Robbins says he will not write any lyrics, it takes him a month and a half to hone them,

But it didn’t take long for Robbins to pick up his bass guitar, for Walla to pick up a guitar, and for the two to begin their musical friendship.

They were inspired by JG Ballard and his drowned world series. In these books there are people who know the world is dying but they embrace it as a forward movement into the unknown

J. get a great bass line right away (its sounds very Death Cab, interestingly).  Bob asks about the music and J. says the music sounds like a dog on a boat heading towards a half-submerged house.  And Walla is singing the word “mercury.”

Walla and Robbins were joined by Robbins’ friend, drummer Darren Zentek.

He adds a wonderful beat and the song sounds great.  They get excited filling out the possibilities–end on the bridge!

Walla goes off by himself to write lyrics.  And Robbins works on a piano part.  And then things really come together when Walla picks up the 12 string.

The song they created, “Mercury,” takes its subject matter from that photograph, which is a bit of a cataclysmic scenario turned into a song about the climate crisis.

The result has a definite Death Cab feel, but with Robbins and Walla alternating lead vocals it is a different, wonderful thing.

[READ: July 23, 2018] “I Walk Between the Raindrops”

This story centers around Valentine’s Day.  But it’s a T.C. Boyle story so there’s always something else to look forward to.

I love the way this story opens with Brandon the narrator telling us.

This past Valentine’s Day, I was in Kingman, Arizona, with my wife, Nola, staying in the Motel 6 there, just off the I-40. You might not think of Kingman as a prime location for a romantic getaway (who would?), but Nola and I have been married for fifteen years now, and romance is just part of the continuum….  Were we slumming?  Yes, sure.  We could have stayed anywhere we liked…and if it’s not ideal, at least it’s different.

They were there because Nola’s father lives nearby and they decided to pay a visit and to let Nola search for antiques.  They went to Denny’s (the only place her father will eat), and after eating, Nola went antiquing and Brandon went to a bar to wait for her.

It’s not unfriendly (despite some graffiti like “fuck you, liberal pussies” (which he chooses to take as ironic), but he doesn’t order a Pinot Noir or anything.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NELLIE McKAY-Reveals ‘Cavendish’ (Project Song: April 2, 2008).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The third one they did was five months after the previous one.  As with the Stephin Merritt project, McKay was solo, but she had a lot of problems and recriminations.

When I invited Nellie McKay to participate in Project Song, I figured she’d write some witty words and hammer something out on the piano. I don’t mean to make it sound so simple, but listen to the music of Nellie McKay, and she’s the one who makes it seem so easy.

McKay came into our studio looking as if she’d just walked off a movie set. In fact, at times in conversation, a young Judy Garland came to mind. She took great care with her curly blonde hair and her beautiful pinstriped suit.

I laid some photographs [all from the Library of Congress] and some words on our makeshift bar for her to consider as jumping-off points for the song she would write over the next few days.

It didn’t take long for McKay to settle on a black-and-white photograph of some men dancing the Charleston out in front of a movie theater. To go with the picture, she chose the word “Bravado.” Those two things would inspire and inform her song.

And then, despite a bit of hemming and hawing, McKay proceeded to sit behind the grand piano and begin drawing musical staff lines on some note paper. She began composing her song.

Although perhaps the consternation and questioning was more of her conscious mind, because it sounds like she was much more confident than she appeared.  “Why couldn’t I have written a song in secret and brought it in and pretended to be confused?”

Here’s what I now know that I didn’t know at the time: In just a few hours of playing at the piano, Nellie McKay wrote her song. I know that now, because I can look at the zoom lens of our video camera and see all the scribbles in her notebook. The words are mostly there, and so is the music.

She pokes out notes on the piano and scribbles in her book.  Then she plays the ukulele (with wah wah).  She hems and haws quite a bit, playing with Bob’s computer to make three distinct drum parts.  She talks with Bob.

“Its hard enough to do a bad pastiche which is what I’m aiming at now.  This is the worst thing, I wrote a complicated bad song.”

She finally asks Bob, the constant cheerleader, “where’s your cynicism, you work for NPR?”

From my perspective in the control room of our studio, what I heard for the better part of our first day was some tinkering, some scribbling, and more tinkering. She’d pick up the ukulele and play more piano, but I couldn’t hear a song emerging.

Then she plays some cello on top.  Then it’s on to some haunting backing vocals.

Bob’s mind is boggled: “to put down the uke part first after what I’ve heard, why not play the piano first?  Her answer: “I’m sick of the piano!”

She says she’s big on secrecy and doesn’t understand how other people did it.  Before revealing that she decides to put down “the thunderclap, perhaps the loon, a little bit of backing vocals, and then I’ll freak out a bit more and then I’ll try to do the main vocals.”

The lyrics, however — and even the title — were a closely kept secret until the final hours of the final day.

Then she reveals the dramatic, multi-faceted, three-part song.  It is stunning that she came up with this.  There’s sound effects, spoken word, Latin rhythms and then a torch song part with horns and falsetto.

And this is it, a song about a London hotel called the Cavendish. A song about some of its guests, like D.H. Lawrence and The Beatles, and of better, simpler times. A wonderful theatrical journey from Nellie McKay — someone who seems connected with the past and unsure of her present.

The Cavendish was a real hotel.  They went through a lot of change.  The hotel has been through two wold wars.  The Latin part is exotic–lovely and yet unsettling.

[READ: January 24, 2018] “The Gulch”

The centerpiece of this story is vile and horrible even to think about.  The story begins with it, it focuses on it but then it also kind of dismisses it at the end.

The story is basically about three juvenile delinquents who have crucified a boy in their class (he did not survive).  It begins with a description of the cross they created with pressure-treated wood and rope from a neighborhood laundry line.

It is written in a kind of casual style from Detective Collard’s point of view.  There’s lots of parenthetical asides “The one who dreamed up the scheme (for lack of a better word).”

One of the boys admitted to digging the hole but then said he wasn’t there in sport or heart. (more…)

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