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Archive for the ‘First Aid Kit’ Category

[ATTENDED: September 8, 2018] First Aid Kit

Seven month ago Sarah and I saw First Aid Kit (sold out) at Union Transfer.  Now here they were back in Philly seven months later playing at the larger Fillmore.

We both enjoyed that earlier show a lot (obviously).  I wasn’t sure if it was smart seeing the band again on the same tour (as with Sloan, there was a lot of duplication).  But there was something quite different about this show compared to the first one.

The (very beautiful) poster was different and this leg of the tour was called the Rebel Hearts Tour (whereas the first one was called the Ruins tour).  So what this meant was that they were still playing mostly songs from their new album Ruins, although not all of them, and, indeed, not the title song.  But they’d added a new song (woohoo!) and one from Ruins that they didn’t play last time.

In a nutshell, it felt like a very different show even though it was more or less the same show. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: September 8, 2018] Julia Jacklin

I had heard about Julia Jacklin from NPR, so I was intrigued to see her live.  Jacklin is Australian, but you can’t really tell from her singing voice (or her speaking voice, really).  Although the way she enunciates “buh sket ball” makes her sound conspicuously non-American.  I had heard a song called “Don’t Let the Kids Win” which contains that basketball.  The title is amusing and I knew she was lyrically dense, so Iassumed there’d be amusing lines throughout the show.  But indeed, no.

Jacklin is not a partier, but nor is she a downer either.  She is thoughtful and inquisitive.  Her music, even live, is fairly spare–except when it’s not–and she sings pretty quietly–except when she doesn’t.

She was charming and funny–delightful in an opening act.  She played a quick six songs and that was that.

“Lead Light” has a kind of old school swing to it, almost 50s rock and roll.  I enjoyed the way the song built and stopped several times.

Her band, three Canadian guys, Harry (lead guitar) Eddie (bass) and Ian (drums) kept perfect accompaniment and backing vocals. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: February 10, 2018] First Aid Kit

I first heard First Aid Kit from a Tiny Desk Concert back in 2012. I was immediately transported by their harmonies. And by the fact that the office looks dark and like they are the only ones in it (Bob, if you read this, if anyone deserves a second Tiny Desk it’s these two–maybe one with lights on!)

I also knew that Sarah would love them, which she did when I put “Emmylou” and “The Lion’s Roar” on a disc for her.  Then we bought the album and she’s become a bigger fan than me.

They played XPN Fest in 2015, but our first year at the Fest was 2016, so we didn’t have an opportunity to see them live until now.  Understandably, this show sold out pretty quickly, but I was quick on the draw and got my tickets right away.

When we got to Union Transfer there was a long line to get in (that ever happens!) And then there was a long (very orderly) line to get merch.  We knew we had to get one of the gorgeous posters which were of somewhat limited supply–although I saw at the end of the show that  they still had some, so I guess poor Sarah didn’t have to carry it all night long.

We were still pretty early and got a good location. The first wonderful thing about the crowd was that they were all short–except for one guy who was literally a foot taller than everyone else (he was very nice and a future librarian and was not in our way).  And unlike some of the more intense shows I’ve been to, nobody pushed his way up front at the last minute.  The crowd was courteous and polite (and even though it was sold out it didn’t feel cramped (maybe half the people had the flu)). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: February 10, 2018] Van William

One of the more enjoyable experiences at a concert is watching an opening act win over an audience.

I don’t know how many people knew Van William before the show.  I didn’t, although I looked him up and really enjoyed the song “Revolution.”  A person behind me said, wait Van William is his name?  So I’m guessing he wasn’t that well known.

Turns out that he goes by Van Pierszalowski (Van William is much easier, even if that singular tense is maddening) and is in the band Waters [who I have sience listened to and really really like] and was the frontman of the band Port O’Brien [who I also rally enjoyed–such songwriting chops on this guy].

He started the show on acoustic guitar, playing a very catchy song called “The Country.”  I loved that the song started slow and then kicked in for the second verse.  And when he gets to that chorus which is basically a big “whooooooa” its hard to resist.  I enjoyed his delivery and the whole song of his folk rock.  It was warmly received.

He told us that he was happy to be here with his best friends First Aid Kit.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIRST AID KIT-The Lion’s Roar (2012).

This album was my first exposure to First Aid Kit and I immediately loved the harmonies and the dark but positive-sounding vocals.

I’m probably one of ten people on earth who doesn’t love Bright Eyes, but I love the production by Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis (with contributions from Bright Eyes’ Nate Walcott and band leader Conor Oberst–maybe I need to re-listen to Bright Eyes).

The first song I’d heard was the opening cut “The Lion’s Roar.”  The song starts with a minor key guitar chord progression and “electronic flute.”  It’s atmospheric and a bit spooky-sounding, but when they come in with the chorus “And I’m a goddamn coward, but then again so are you” in wonderful harmony that is at times right on and other times kind of dissonant, it’s goose-bump-inducing.  Oh wow. what a moment

Pitchfork describes that electronic flute as “one deeply eerie flute tone that lingers throughout, floating in and out of scenes like a sly specter” and that’s pretty accurate.

It’s followed by “Emmylou” the most gorgeous country song I’ve ever heard, complete with pedal steel guitar and a wonderfully evocative chorus: “I’ll be your Emmylou, and I’ll be your June/ If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny, too,” (do watch them sing it to Emmylou Harris at an award ceremony and watch her brought to tears).

“In The Hearts Of Men” slows things down with some wonderful moments as the sisters sing the “la la las” throughout the chorus.  Once again, there’s surprisingly dark lyrics for two women around 23 and 21.  And speaking of dark lyrics, the pretty xylophone and guitar play a chirpy melody in “Blue” which has this stark and dark verse:

And the only man you ever loved / You thought was gonna marry you / Died in a car accident when he was only 22 / Then you just decided, love wasn’t for you / And every year since then / Has proved it to be true

Damn.  How does a song with that lyrics have a beautiful soaring chorus that is so uplifting and Abba-esque and yet again lyrically:

But you’re just a shell of / Your former you / That stranger in the mirror / Oh, that’s you / Why’d you look so blue?

“This Old Routine” features more of that uncanny, how are you only 21 years old lyrics sung with such beautiful harmony (and delicate mandolin sprinkled in):

This old routine will drive you mad
It’s just a mumble never spoken out loud
And sometimes you don’t even know why you loved her.
Well you look at her now, and you see why.

The second half of the song has strings and such, playing a simple five note melody.  There’s a moment near the end where the strings play that five note riff and its followed by the mandolin playing the same melody one step up and it’s just gorgeous.

“To a Poet” has a fast tight guitar melody.  As the song builds, a harmonium is added.  The chorus goes in a high register until the simple catchy end line: “There’s nothing more to it / I just get through it.”  The poet in question is Frank O’Hara

But Frank put it best when he said
“You can’t plan on the heart”
Those words keep me on my feet
When I think I might just fall apart

The string section ending is bit of a surprise since neither one of them palsy on it but it does add some nice texture to this song that has just grown from a tiny guitar to full orchestration over the course of 6 minutes.

That cool flute sound returns on “I Found a Way,” as it runs through the falsetto-filled chorus.  “Dance To Another Tune” slows things down for a while until the middle features another string section.  This time the sisters add their “bah bah bahs” to it and it sound terrific.

“New Year’s Eve” brings back the autoharp (you can really hear the plectrum zipping along the strings–something I’ve never noticed when others play it).  It’s a suitably quiet song with a gentle harmony on the final line of the chorus: “that’s what’s going to save me.”  And I love that no other instrumentation is added.

The end of the record is quite different from anything else.  “King of the World’ is a dynamic romp, easily their fastest, loudest, stompingest song.  It’s got a full band behind them and a vocal turn from Conor Oberst.  There’s all kinds of strings and mandolin tucked in the corners that peek out here and there.  There’s even horns which sound a bit like Calexico.

This album is just fantastic.  And their harmonies get better and more confident with each album.

[READ: January 22, 2018] “Writing Teacher”

I have not really enjoyed any of the stories I’ve read by Wideman.  This was the first one that I felt was on the right path to my enjoyment.  And then it kind of drifted away from me at the end.

It also features one of the things I hate most in stories–more on that in a moment.

This is the story of a writing teacher.  He is reading and reviewing a story by a student, Teresa McConnell who, “wants to help other people.”  The story “wishes to save the life of its main character, a young woman of color, a few years out of high school, single, child to support, no money, shitty job, living with her mother who never misses an I-told-you-so chance to criticize her daughter’s choices.”

What I hate most in stories comes a few sentences later: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIRST AID KIT-The Big Black and the Blue (2010).

Following their debut EP, Johanna and Klara Söderberg recorded a full length album, this one also produced by their dad.

This album feels a little bigger, a little fuller, overall. I’m sure the drums help, but also the guitar feels enveloping.  The biggest development is how terrific the sisters’s voices sound together.  They have really gotten their harmonies (including falsetto) totally in sync.

“In the Morning” has nearly one minute of gorgeous a capella harmony until a simple but interesting guitar motif comes in–and the powerful harmonies continue.  “Hard Believer” is acoustic guitar and Klara’s solo voice until the chorus when Johanna’s harmony adds heft to the song.  More instruments follow as well–mandolin shows up here and there.

“Sailor Song” opens with an autoharp, normally a jokey kind of instrument, but it works very well with their voices.  When the song launches into a 1-2 stomp, a nod to some of their country love, it really takes off.  “Waltz for Richard” is, indeed, a waltz with knock-out harmonies in the chorus.

“Heavy Storm” has some great music–a slight departure form the standard strum, and it’s quite engaging with their voices.  “Shot Down” opens with a harmonium (or accordion). It turns into a pretty, slow piece with spare piano.  It mind-boggling to think that these two songwriters were just 19 and 17 when they were writing lyrics like

And I remember how you told me
All that you wanted to do
The dream of Paris in the morning
Or a New York window view
And I can see it now you’re married
And your wife is with a child
And you’re all laughing in the garden
And I’m lost somewhere in your mind

“Josefin” is a pretty song with layered harmonies over a simple one-two bass rhythm.   “A Window Opens” has a great waltz rhythm and a cool guitar melody.  And “Winter Is All Over You” has s lovely spare guitar melody with Klara’s voice soaring over it.  (I love the aaaaahh section, it is really gorgeous).  “I Met Up With A King” is one of my favorite songs on the disc.  The delicate flute and their close harmonies are just beautiful in this spritely song.  I also love the way they sing “Thank Gawwwwwwd” in an almost aggressive style with the rough note that they hold a lot longer than expected.

The disc ends with a delicate pastoral “Wild of the River” a delightful folk song.

While it’s true that each successful album gets bigger and better, this is a wonderful debut full length, especially if you like their folkier style.

[READ: January 9, 2018] “Foreign-Returned”

Hassan works in Connecticut.  He and his wife had moved from Pakistan when he had gotten a job in Manhattan.  But he was let go and before his Visa coul run out, he quickly got a new job in Stamford.  It was quite a come down.  And despite the huge savings in rent, the place they lived was nothing compared to Manhattan.

He had been in Stamford for eight weeks, with his own desk and everything, when a young woman, early 20s, was introduced at his workstation.  She would be sharing space with him.  Her name was Hina and she was also Pakistani.

She had computer manuals, a velvet-covered Quran and wore a scarf.  He found her rather annoying. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIRST AID KIT-Drunken Trees EP (2008).

First Aid Kit is a band made of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg.  When they released this debut EP, Johanna was 18 and Klara was 15.  It was produced by their dad and made a big splash in Sweden.  When they uploaded a video of their cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” (included on the reissue of this disc) Fleet Foxes linked to it and raved about it and that brought them more attention.

This album feels homemade in the best way.  It feels quiet and cozy–like a family sitting around a fireplace playing guitar and autoharp (their dad was in a band as well, and he plays on the album too).

“Little Moon” opens with a lengthy spoken section (over a pretty melody).  The sisters start singing in harmony after a minute and the song is cute (the ra ra ra ra section is a little jarring).  “You’re Not Coming Home Tonight” has a surprisingly grown up sentiment:
Yeah you cooked his dinners
You raised his children
Still he’s not satisfied
He says “I’d rather switch with you
You don’t know how hard it is
To work from 9 to 5”

But the heroine of the story leaves the man and sets off on a new life.  “Tangerine” is a bit less empowering–and it sure seems like there was some kind of domestic trouble at home (although there doesn’t seem to have been): “I’m not going to beg just say please, please, please / Be good to me.”

“Jagadamba, You Might” this is a darker, slower song, and like the first song they sing “Jagadamba” as a kind of syllabic sound which is strangely jarring.

“Our Own Pretty Ways” is the fullest sounding song with a flute and a prominent two-step.  “Pervigilo” features an organ and runs over 5 minutes.  It’s a pretty song and while never striking, it doesn’t overstay its welcome either.  “Cross Oceans” has a loud (for them) bass and drum rumble.  It hints at a direction they would explore more but ultimately deviate from.

The addition of “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” is a treat as their harmonies are really striking in the chorus–the way they know when to harmonize and when to keep the harmonies a bit more distant.  It’s really striking.

The album is a strong beginning.  They are certainly still finding their way, but it’s a pretty and fun recording.

[READ: January 8, 2018] “Whoever Is There Come on Through”

My brief exposure to Colin Barrett suggests that he writes about Ireland and drugs.  This story is about Ireland and drugs.

Eileen is waiting for her friend Murt at the bus depot.  He has just gotten out of rehab.  The first thing he asked was who won the U.S. election.  “Whoa,” he said flatly.

They have been friends–very close, but never more than friends–for a dozen years. When they were sixteen, he confessed to having a crush on her, but she said they should just be friends.  A few weeks later he we into the hospital for the first time.  She naturally blamed herself, but he assured her that she was just one of a bunch of causes.

When he arrived at her car he asked her to take him to his Uncle Nugent’s.  He talked a bit about his current state and then asked to go to McDonald’s.  He ordered two Happy Meals and then wondered if they ever ask adults who order Happy Meals if there is a child with them.  Murt says he is tired, which automatically raises red flags for Eileen, but she didn’t want to be too pushy with him. (more…)

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