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[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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augSOUNDTRACK MT. WOLF-“Hex” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 19, 2016).

mtwolfMt Wolf breaks with the tradition of the Lullaby by playing their song in a hotel room!  This is the band’s single.

It’s a 6-minute beautiful song notable for singer Sebastian’s Fox’s soaring falsetto.  His voice is really quite amazing.

The second guitarist plays the quiet melody and then Fox plays a kind of solo over the top of it. After the initial falsetto of the first verse, the second verse shows the range of his voice, as he starts a little lower before soaring the heights once again.  The band has a female backing singer who actually sings high notes that are lower than his.

By four and a half minutes the songs starts to rocks out (and no doubt the room next door starts to wonder WTF)

The feel reminds me a bit of Sigur Rós, with that kind of soaring intensity.  This is definitely a love it or hate it song, but I think it’s quite beautiful.

[READ: February 10, 2016] “The Grand Shattering”

The August 2015 Harper’s had a “forum” called How to Be a Parent.  Sometimes these forums are dialogues between unlikely participants and sometimes, like in this case, each author contributes an essay on the topic.  There are ten contributors to this Forum: A. Balkan, Emma Donoghue, Pamela Druckerman, Rivka Galchen, Karl Taro Greenfeld, Ben Lerner, Sarah Manguso, Claire Messud, Ellen Rosenbush and Michelle Tea.  Since I have read pieces from most of these authors I’ll write about each person’s contribution.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I don’t know poets very well. A. Balkan is a poet whom I had never heard of.

Imagine my surprise to find out that his essay was the most dramatic and exciting and went in directions that I never would have guessed.

He says that when his twin daughters were born, he and his wife were exhausted from all the work.  So his family and friends invited them t0 a cabin where they could relax and have other take care of the kids for a couple of days.

Sounds ideal.  Except that on their second day there, a tornado came through and destroyed the cabin they were staying in (for real!)  Fortunately they were not in it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS-Legend (1984).

I’m white, so that means I own a copy of this CD (according to the book below).  And I do, because it’s mandatory in college that you play “Jammin'” at every party.

Now, I like ska (yup, still).  I know that ska came from reggae, but to me reggae is just boring ska.  I couldn’t agree more with Barney on How I Met Your Mother:

Ted: Oh, get this, she plays bass in a reggae band. They’re having a show this Friday. How cool is that?

Barney: Oh, does she know that one song? Mm-hm chaka, mm-hm chaka. What’s that song called? Oh, right, it’s called every reggae song.

Although in fairness, listening to this again, it is a rather nice album (I guess I know every song).  I have a personal aversion to some of the really overplayed songs, like “One Love” (because if you go to any Caribbean location they all act like it’s the official slogan of hot weather.  We even have a Christmas ornament from St. John that says “One Love”  WTF?  And I don’t think anyone needs a 7 minute version of “No Woman No Cry.”

But some of the lesser played its (“Could You Be Loved” and just about anything with The Wailers backing him are pretty great).  Although I’ve got to admit I can’t take more than a few songs.  I had to skip through some of the last songs (thank goodness I don’t have the 2 disc version).

[READ: July 26, 2012] Whiter Shades of Pale

Christian Lander created the blog Stuff White People Like.  It was very funny (it hasn’t been updated since Feb 2011, so let’s assume it has run its course).

Lander had released a first book of SWPL back in 2008.  I didn’t read it (blog to book deals were overwhelming in 2008), but I had seen enough of the site to assume it was funny.  One of the funnier jokes when the blog first came out was wondering if the creator was white or not.  (Well, the author photo gives that away, but I won’t).

We grabbed this book at a Borders going out of business sale (sorry Borders, you are missed).  This book continues where the first book left off (I gather).  I don’t know if every entry from the blog made it into the book (the thanks at the end of the book lead me to think not), but I have to assume most of them made it (and maybe there is new stuff in the book too?) (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MC PAUL BARMAN-It’s Very Stimulating (EP) (2001).

So is this guy a joke? Well, he’s very funny.  Very funny, in fact.  But to my ear, not in a novelty sort of way.  He’s got the kind of rhymes that make you laugh but still work upon multiple hearings.  And, yes, Paul Barman is a squeaky, Jewish boy from Ridgewood, New Jersey (again!) and he really can’t rap on the beat and he really doesn’t have much in the way of rhythm, but got awesome skills in the lyrics department and he has production from Prince Paul (that’s the kind of credentials that anyone would like).

The theme of this EP is Paul’s utter failure to get with women (even in his fantasies).  He’s crass and vulgar and yet he’s also quite smart and rather witty (“I think about all the pube I got while reading the Rubaiyat“) .  The music is more or less inconsequential.  As Prince Paul noted, the craziness comes from the lyrics, so you don’t want to overkill the song.  But there’s some great samples and some solid beat work as well.  Nevertheless, we’re here for the words.  So, sample a few of these rhymes:

“The Joy of Your World”

It was time to copulate but we didn’t want to populate
So my bold groin reached for my gold coin proooophylactic
I unwrapped it, you can’t know how I felt
It wasn’t a gold coin condom, it was chocolate Chanukah gelt
The white part crumbled on her tummy and the rest began to melt
Foiled again…..

“School Anthem” or “Senioritis” (this song was renamed for the reissue of the disc it seems)

Homework is tell major lies or plagiarise encyclopedias, so boring
Fresh-faced teachers want to tickle ’em
but a test-based curriculum excludes exploring

I’ll let a mystery gas out of my blistery ass
Just to disrupt the misery of history class

“Salvation Barmy”

She said, “Go get a haircut”
So I showed her my bare butt
Pulled down my Carhartts put my moon in her star-charts

“I’m Frickin’ Awesome” ( I love this especially for the Lila Acheson bit)

It’s nice to be hypnotized by a man you don’t despise yet
He had a type of flow and I can’t quite label it
All I know it made me want to take off my cableknit
Sweater, Oh he better be hetero
I hope they don’t catch us in the Lila Acheson
Wallace Wing when Paulus brings the mattress in–rudely
He backlashed my booty
like I was Susan Faludi over the Grace Rainey Rogers Room rostrum

“MTV Get Off The Air, Pt 2”  (the first two lines are fantastic, but the whole thing is genius).

Smirkin’ jocks with hackysacks
in Birkenstocks and khaki slacks
I’m the hypest lyricist
while they’re like, “What type of beer is this?”

Just wait until the full length for the utter genius that is “Cock Mobster” (how can be s o smart and so stupid at the same time?)

[READ: October 10, 2011] E Pluribus Venom

Like most people, I learned the name Shepard Fairey because of his iconic prints for Barack Obama.   In addition to supporting Obama, I really liked the design of the prints–simple, bold, an easy iconic style (which has since been lifted, morphed and used everywhere).  I know that many of Fairey’s prints actually come from other people’s original photos.  He has a print of Muhammed Ali in this book, and he clearly didn’t take the original photo (I don’t know where it came from).  But since all art is theft, I’m okay with Fairey taking someone else’s work and making something new from it.  I’ve always felt that attribution should be enough if you modify the original enough to call it different (which I feel this print does).  [The fact that he didn’t acknowledge the source does bug me, of course].  But that’s neither here nor there because this book predates all of that.

This book documents events that occurred in 2007.  The E Pluribus Venom show was based largely around two images that Fairey designed to reflect the two sides of capitalism.  The image to the right really doesn’t do any justice to the work itself, but you can kind of see that he created two-sided faux dollar bills.  The front showed all the good things that capitalism can do.  The back showed all of the evils that capitalism causes.  The images resemble dollars, but the text is straightforward in its message.  As with a lot of what Fairey does, it’s blunt and obvious but pretty cool.

As far as I’m concerned, though, this is the least interesting image in the book.  Although I love that they made dollar bill sized prints of these faux dollars and left them scattered around in cities to promote the show.  They way they were folded made them look at a glance like actual currency.  Very cool. (more…)

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