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Archive for the ‘Death Cab For Cutie’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: J.S. ONDARA-Tiny Desk Concert #936 (January 24, 2020).

WXPN has been playing J.S. Ondara quite a lot since his album came out.  And while the DJs would often give some details about his life story, he gives a bit more here.

J.S. Ondara’s journey to the Tiny Desk is a fascinating one. From his home in Nairobi, he listened on his sister’s radio to American artists, including Nirvana, Jeff Buckley, Death Cab For Cutie and, most importantly, Bob Dylan. He wanted to be a folk singer, so he moved to Minnesota, Dylan’s home state.

In between songs he narrates his life in a wonderfully comically understated style.

Ondara told us his story. “I remember, at one point, someone told me about this contest that you guys do called ‘the Tiny Desk Contest.’ And I was, at the time, desperately trying to be a folk singer. And I’m not quite. I’m not a big fan of contests, but I like NPR. So I figured I’d give it a shot. And I’d just written that song, ‘Lebanon.’ So I made a video of me playing that song, and I submitted it. And I suppose that things didn’t go quite in my favor. So I figured I’d find a bit of a roundabout way to get here, which involved making a record and touring it relentlessly and stalking Bob [Boilen] all around South by Southwest. (I actually didn’t do that part.) I was thinking about it. And now I’m here. The journey would have been a lot shorter had I just won the bloody contest. It’s on me, not you, I suppose, I should have written a better song.  But in the very wise words of Miley Cyrus, ‘it’s not about how fast you get there, it’s about the climb.’  I can’t stop quoting that song, it’s one of those words even when I don’t want to.”

“Lebanon” is a slow ballad with Ondara’s unique singing style (S. and I genuinely didn’t know if Ondara was a man or a woman upon hearing his song “Saying Goodbye” because his voice is so multivaried.  I really like the passion of the lyrics and how it is countered with the slowness of the music.

In the water, fire
I’ll go wherever you go
In the valley, in the canyon
I’ll go wherever you go
Hey, love, I’m ready now
Can’t you see this riot
Inside of my veins
Hey love, I’m overcome
By desire
How must I wait?
Up next is “Days of Insanity” with this fascinating lyric

There is a bear at the airport, waiting on a plane
There is a cow at the funeral, bidding farewell
There is a goat at the terminal, boarding the C-train
There is a horse at the hospital, dancing with the hare
Somebody call the doctor, from the university
Somebody call upon the witch and the wizardry
Somebody call the rabbi, the pastor and the sheikh
Coz we are coming on the days of insanity
The days of insanity.

In talking about this song he says it is such a rich time to be a folk singer in America.  He wrote the song while making the record.  He was watching videos of kittens and puppies as he does every night before bed and the video suggested watching Stephen Colbert with John Mulaney.  Mulaney took a trip to Japan and described things in America as being like seeing a horse loose in a hospital.  It’s like something no one’s ever seen before.  Ondara encourages us to watch the clip and he is right–it is hilarious!

“Saying Goodbye” is the song that’s been getting the airplay.  It’s passionate and powerful and when he sings in the higher register it really is otherworldly.

This live version is quite a revelation.  His delivery is different–much more slow and deliberate.  But he can still hit that glorious high notes..

Amazingly, Tales of America was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Americana Album (not bad for a guy from Kenya).  Sadly it didn’t win.

[READ: June 2, 2018] Cleopatra in Space Book Five

It took Maihack seventeen months to make this book!  He says that sixteen of those months were spent growing the bear on his author picture.

This story is action-packed with some fascinating twists and turns.  Consequently, seventeen months is a long time to go between books.  Fortunately, Maihack’s quality of illustration and storytelling has maintained its high standards.

The book opens with a flashback to the moment when Cleo first disappeared from Gozi while they were having target practice (back in book 1).

The actual story has followed Cleo on her adventures.  But now we see what happened to Gozi.  He was attacked by … someone … and imprisoned.  Gozi believes that whatever happened to Cleo–it was her choice not to return and help him.

I have to admit I was more than a little confused as to just what happened next, [Gozi explains things later on].  IN the montage of events, there’s a spaceship and lots of cats (I suspect that if I had read the other books more recently this would be more clear).  In whatever happened, Gozi is badly burned and the pain never goes away.  He was wrapped in bandages but that didn’t really help at all.  Then we see exactly what happened to make Gozi tun into Octavian and to agree to use the Lion’s plasma to carry out the ruin of the galaxy. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: November 14, 2019] Charly Bliss

I really liked the first Charly Bliss album and was pretty excited when they opened for Death Cab for Cutie back in 2018.  They were hugely energetic, but they seemed dwarfed by the enormous stage (and from how far away we were).  Nevertheless, they were so much fun that I knew I’d want to see them again.

So when they announced a show in Philly on June 6 at the Foundry, I grabbed a ticket right away assuming they’d sell out.  And then a few weeks before the show, we received this email:  “Due to scheduling conflict at The Foundry, Charly Bliss‘ 6/6 show at The Foundry has been postponed to November 14th.”

I’m not sure what kind of conflict could happen two months before a scheduled date, but during the show, singer Eva Hendricks suggested it was their fault and they were glad to have finally made it back to Philly.

Whatever the reason for the delay, it certainly didn’t dampen the quality or excitement of their show.

Hendricks came out on stage wearing a body suit covered in feathers.  It was fun and silly and when she pogoed (which she did a lot) the feathers flopped around and pieces fell out all over the stage.  She was the most joyous and fun performer I’ve seen. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: September 12, 2019] Built to Spill

After the last time I saw Built to Spill (which was amazing), I felt like I didn’t really need to see them again.  The show was excellent and I was right in front of Doug–an amazing vantage point.

Then he announced he was touring the Keep It Like a Secret album.  This is the album that introduced me to the band 20 years earlier and it has some of my favorite songs on it.  So yes, of course I was going to go see that.  It turned out that the Philly show was on a night I was busy (but I did get a ticket just in case–turns out my plans changed but then Babymetal announced a show for that night so I sold my BtS ticket for and went to Babymetal instead).  But this show at Starland Ballroom was going to happen the night before my plans anyway, so I grabbed a ticket for this show.

I have mixed feeling about Starland.  If you get there late–and it’s a popular show–forget about it.  When we saw Death Cab for Cutie, we were lucky to get in the door.  So for BtS I left really early and got there really early and was about the 17th person in the building.  So I had my pick of where to stand.

Last time I saw BtS, I was right in front of Doug Marstch, like right on the stage.  It was incredible watching him from so close.  And yet, due to acoustics, I could barely hear him at all.  So I told myself that this time I would stand back and enjoy the whole experience.  But things got the best of me.  First off, there was a gate, so I wasn’t going to be right up against the stage.  But more importantly as I stood back in a sweet spot, I watch all these tall people push past me and I couldn’t help myself, I had to grab a railing spot.  So once again I was right in front of Doug and his massive amplifier.  I could hear the vocals a little bit better than last time, but again, it wasn’t the same as hearing the full band.  And, honestly I could barely hear the second guitarist.  So, I have really learned my lesson for next time.  But again, it was so cool seeing him work his magic up close that I’m willing to overlook some things.

But NEXT TIME, for sure I will stand back.

Oh and check out this cool poster for the tour.

(more…)

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[ATTENDED: June 10, 2019] Death Cab for Cutie

It’s not often that you get to see a band twice on the same tour–eight months apart.

When I saw that Death Cab for Cutie were playing Starland Ballroom, at first I thought I didn’t want to go because we had seen them a few months earlier (and amazing show at the tower Theatre in Upper Darby).  Then I looked at some set lists and I saw that they were mixing things up a bit.  It was still a tour for the new album, but they were changing placement of songs and adding different ones.

I also didn’t realize until we got there that they had changed their lights how (for this performance at least).  Last time their lights were very tall–two layers of lighting rigs with a giant video screen behind and above them. This time there was no video screen and only one bank of lights.  Smaller club lighting maybe?  The keyboardist Zac Rae was actually between two light poles so we could see him whenever he didn’t lean too far forward.

I had hoped we could move from where we were on the side because I’d remembered the lighting was so cool.  From where we were, the lighting rigs blocked some of the stage (but only a little) and while the lighting was cool, it was much more subdued than last time.

It turns out the setlist wasn’t radically different from last time either.  They played four different songs than last time (and one fewer because I think one of the newer songs had a lengthy jam tacked in the middle). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: June 10, 2019] Jenny Lewis

I somehow missed Rilo Kiley from the get go.  It’s not that I didn’t like them, i didn’t know them.  I may have heard a song or two, but otherwise nothing.

Same with Jenny Lewis solo.  I know a lot of people love her, but I just missed her completely.  I’ve heard a few of her songs from her last album and I rather liked them.  So I was pleased enough that she was opening for Death Cab for Cutie.

Obviously I had no idea that they had a connection to her.  (From the same region, on the same label, she sang on Ben Gibbard’s side project).  So this was a nice tour for them.

We arrived at Starland Ballroom to find a line wrapping around the parking lot.  So although we were early, we didn’t get into the building until about 5 minutes before she went on (and it wasn’t even sold out!).  It was packed though and trying to find a spot in the center was impossible.  So we wound up standing on the elevated platform off to the right.  Not the best location, but honestly if we were on the floor, it would have been really crowded and really hard to see. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 8, 2018] Death Cab for Cutie

I can remember listening to a compilation CD [I believe it came with Future Dictionary of America] in my car and “Title and Registration” was on it.  I couldn’t stop listening to the song.  I had heard of Death Cab for Cutie but didn’t know them.  And this song set me on a years-long path of enjoyment.

So I’ve liked the band for some 15 years but I’d never seen them live.  I was pretty much okay with that because from videos I’d watched, they didn’t seem like they were very dynamic live.

Then they announced this show at the Tower (which sold out and they announced a second).  When WXPN played the extended version of “I Will Possess Your Heart” and S. said how much she liked the intro and that was enough for me to get us tickets for the show.

The seats were great (3rd row mezzanine) and we could fully enjoy the lighting spectacular.

Yes, lighting spectacular.  I never assumed that Death Cab for Cutie would have a big light show.  It just doesn’t seem to fit with them.  And it wasn’t crazy big or anything but it was pretty dramatic and worked very well with the music.  There was a video screen above the band too but it just seemed to be projecting nonsense so–whatever about that.  Occasionally there were colors which added to the visuals, but mostly it was half images of static.

DCFC’s latest album Thank You for Today (I enjoyed this welcoming video) had recently come out but I hadn’t had much opportunity to listen to it (except for single “Gold Rush”).  They played 7 of 10 songs from it, so there was a lot that was unfamiliar to me.

But here’s the thing about DCFC for better or worse.  A lot of their songs sound similar.  Not that they are indistinguishable, but that the opening chord patterns and playing style are pretty much the same before they turn into their own animals.  So a number of times I thought they were starting one song bu it turned out to be something else.

They interspersed those new songs with songs from nearly their entire discography, which was awesome.  After playing two new songs, they played one from 2015’s Kingusti which I realized I hadn’t listened to very much.

But then we got into really familiar territory.  They played the wonderful “Long Division” (to be a remain… remain…. remain… remainder) from Plans.  And then they played “Title and Registration” and I was instantly swept back to that day driving in the car.

The new song “Gold Rush” is fun to sing along to but they went really far back into their catalog (2001’s The Photo Album) for the delicate “A Movie Script Ending” (I was on the high-way… high-way… high-way).

They followed this with two more songs from Plans.  First was the tremendous “Crooked Teeth” (I love that bass line).   Then Ben Gibbard moved back to the piano for the lovely ballad “What Sarah Said.”  They followed it with another piano song, the new “60 & Punk” which I was sure was an older song–it must have sunk in when I listened to the record. It’s a great melancholy song.

Gibbard played piano, electric guitar and acoustic guitar. And the overall sound of the band was fantastic.  I loved that you could very clearly hear Zac Rae on guitar–especially when he played some crunchy chords.  Which was often.  I was delighted with just how noisy the show was.  Not ugly…just not polished and sleek.  It was also cool that Dave Depper on keys also played guitar from time to time–there could be three guitars on stage at once.

Then came the moment S. and I were waiting for.  That awesome bass line of “I Will Possess Your Heart.” “Not only did they play the extended intro they jammed it for about 10 minutes and it was fantastic.

They followed it with the oldest song of the night, 2000’s “Title Track.”  I have always liked this guitar riff and it was great to hear it live.  Then back to the new album with “Autumn Love” and then to Kintsugi with the awesome “Black Sun” (I guess I have listened to that album a bit).

Then it was onto Transatlanticism for “Expo 86.” The crowd went nuts when we heard those opening notes (they had recently played all of Transatlanticism the other night in Chicago, but I’m glad they didn’t for us (kind of).

I was intrigued that they kept playing new songs throughout the night.  Sometime the end of a set can get hits-heavy, so it was nice to keep everyone on our toes.  I was amazed at how much “Northern Lights” and especially “Doors Unlocked and Open” sounded like a Rush song circa Grace Under Pressure–the way the bass and guitar intertwined.

Next up was “Cath…”  It was on this song that I was really aware of how great the drums from Jason McGerr sounded.  It sounded terrific, but it was nothing compared to the excitement the crowd felt during “Soul Meets Body.”  The crowd sang along perfectly to the bah bah bah bah bah part (and pretty much everything else).

A few songs earlier I realized that I didn’t know how long they had been playing and I didn’t know how long the show was going to be.  I assumed that DCFC would not play a super long show, and yet they have been around for 20 years, so they could play forever.  And as they played “Soul Meets Body” I realized that there were probably a half dozen songs that I loved which they hadn’t played.

Turned out they were ready to end the main set and they returned Transatlanticism (they played 5 of 11 songs) for “The Sound of Settling” (bah bah, bah bah, this is the sound of settling).

After a fairly short encore break, Ben Gibbard came back out with an acoustic guitar.  The lighting was great and Ben started singing the opening to “I Will Follow You Into The Dark.”  The sound was great and the crowd was initially respectful as Ben started singing.  But it was hard to hold back and soon everyone was singing along with him.

It was a beautiful moment and could have easily ended the show.  But they were not done by a long shot.

A recent trend, it seems, is to include a new song in the encore.  It’s disappointing if you are expecting a favorite hit, but it usually means that there will be a few more songs.  So you can sit back and enjoy a song like “Near / Far” and appreciate it and want to listen to it more.  Once the other songs are done, of course.

They ended the night with two more songs from Transatlanticism (which was great).  The first, “Tiny Vessels,” a sad but lovely song (“she is beautiful, but she don’t mean a thing to me”) that builds to a pretty big rocker in the middle.

Then came the slow buildup of the title song “Transatlanticism.”  It starts on piano and effects.  Then the beautiful guitar riff–two three note melodies and a big slow chord  that propels the song forward.  I have always like this song because of that riff, but I never expected what they would do with this song.  It takes about three minutes for the drums to begin–a slow steady rhythm which is joined by the bass (Nick Harmer).  Then Ben came from behind the piano and picked up his guitar.  The band began jamming the middle of the song–repeating that guitar riff and the lyrics “I need you so much closer.”    And the song just kept getting bigger and bigger and louder and louder.  They must have repeated that section for three or for minutes just getting fuller and fuller until was almost unbearable.  It felt like the walls might come down.  I still get chills thinking about it.

It was one of the best endings to a show I’ve ever seen.

SETLIST

I Dreamt We Spoke Again ¥
Summer Years ¥
The Ghosts of Beverly Drive  ℘
Long Division ⇑
Title and Registration ™
Gold Rush ¥
A Movie Script Ending ∏
Crooked Teeth ¶
What Sarah Said ¶
60 & Punk ¥
I Will Possess Your Heart ⇑
Title Track ϖ
Autumn Love ¥
Black Sun ℘
Expo 86 ™
Northern Lights ¥
Doors Unlocked and Open ⊗
Cath… ⇑
Soul Meets Body ¶
The Sound of Settling ™

Encore:
I Will Follow You Into The Dark ¶
Near / Far ¥
Tiny Vessels ™
Transatlanticism ™

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ϖ We Have the Facts And We’re Voting Yes (2000)
∏ The Photo Album (2001)
™ Transatlanticism (2003)
¶ Plans (2005)
⇑ Narrow Stairs (2008)
⊗ Codes and Keys (2011)
℘ Kintsugi (2015)
¥ Thank You for Today (2018)

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[ATTENDED: October 8, 2018] Charly Bliss

This was our second and last ever show at the Tower Theater.  The last time we had run into all kinds of traffic and it took forever to get there.  This time, we decided to go a slightly different route and (although we found free parking) because of traffic it still wound up taking nearly 2 hours to get there.  No more.

We walked in just as Charly Bliss was starting their set, so we missed the very first few minutes but I could hear them fine from the balcony area.  If you can get lower balcony seats, they are excellent.  We had a great view and the sound was terrific.  And the lobby was 1000 times less chaotic than downstairs.  Again, shame we’ll never go there again.

Charly Bliss hits a sweet musical spot for me–90s alternagrungepop with smart women as lead singers.

They are a relatively new band and they are just full of boundless energy and hooks galore. (more…)

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