Archive for the ‘Sleater-Kinney’ Category

[ATTENDED: August 18, 2018] Pearl Jam

Two summers ago Sarah and I took the kids to Boston.  It was a vacation that was centered around we adults seeing Pearl Jam at Fenway Park.  When Pearl Jam announced that they were doing a short summer tour, I thought it would be fun to try to get tickets to the Wrigley Field Shows.

I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I used to enjoy baseball and always wanted to see Wrigley Field.  So when the tickets were announced I took a chance and scored two tickets to each night of their dates.  And so we built another vacation out of travelling to see Pearl Jam.

Ironically we’ve never seen them in our home state.

Sarah wrote a great post about all we did in Chicago (a city I had never been to before).  But in sum, in the five days we were there, we went to Navy Pier, The Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park (and saw The Bean), Portillos, The Sears Tower, an architecture cruise, Shedd Aquarium, The Museum of Science and Industry, a wade into Lake Michigan (that’s 4 of 5 Great Lakes for me), and Nuts on Clark.  And of course, Wrigley Field. (more…)


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[ATTENDED: August 7, 2016] Pearl Jam

2016-08-07 18.26.10After the excitement of seeing Pearl Jam at the Wells Fargo Center, we were psyched out of our minds to go to Fenway.  I didn’t realize that Fenway has a regular concert series.  I’d assumed that Pearl Jam were the first band to play there–they weren’t–but that didn’t detract in any way from the coolness of the venue.

Neither of us are baseball fans, although when I lived in Boston two decades ago, I did attend a couple of games at Fenway because it is a landmark (and when I was a kid I loved baseball, so duh).  But we knew that the venue would make the show even more special.

We’d have loved to have gone to both shows, but unlike some people, we couldn’t get tickets for both nights.  However, through a small piece of luck, I won tickets to a screening of Friday night’s show on Saturday night.  What?  Well, each night is filmed.  So the film crew filmed Friday night, then edited the footage together and had it ready on the next night as a really nicely edited package at the House of Blues (across the street from Fenway) on Saturday night.

It seemed kind of dumb to go to a music venue to watch a movie.  And Sarah and I were skeptical about going.  But we did and we had a  great time.  I’ve watched live DVDs and it’s always an okay thing to do–fun, but never like you were really there. But this was different. Having a group of some 600 people in a club–with bars and good lighting and excellent sound–it made it feel (almost) like a real concert.  And even though we laughed at the people who were clapping and cheering (as if the band were actually there), and taking videos of the screen (my battery died or I would have grabbed a few screen shots too), we were caught up in the excitement on several occasions as well. (more…)

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carrieSOUNDTRACK: CATE LE BON-Tiny Desk Concert #337 (February 18, 2014).

cateCate Le Bon has a very interesting style of singing–it reminds me of Grace Slick in her enunciation, but also like someone whose speaking accent is very strong and is somewhat masked by her singing (like the way she sings “reason” as “ree-sun” as opposed to “reezun”).

The blurb explains that her “phrasing is completely tied to her Welsh dialect — in fact, her first record was in Welsh…. The enunciation is completely tied to the loneliness and the questioning.”

 For this concert it is just her and her fellow guitarist H. Hawkline (both wearing super cozy sweaters).  They share the guitar licks very nicely–it’s not always clear who is playing what–with her sometimes finishing his lines (I believe).

“Are You With Me Now?” has a very catchy chorus (with an “ah ha ha ha ha” part that makes it sound like an olde English ballad).

“No God” plays with very simple guitar lines (chords played very high on the neck of her guitar and a simple accompanying riff).  Hawkline plays keys (and sings some great falsetto backing vocals) to flesh out this song.  Everything is so clean you can hear each note from the guitar and her voice.

“Duke” opens with some interesting slightly off sounding from Cate while Hawkline plays a simple chord pattern (his fingers are enormous, by the way).  Hawkline’s falsetto is almost as engaging as the vocal lines that match the guitar line which Cate plays.  And when she says “I’ll see you here” in that unexpected pronunciation, it’s totally captivating.

I like Le Bon a lot and want to hear what she wounds like on record.

[READ: May 18, 2016] Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

After finishing Bob Boilen’s book and thinking about how I don’t really love music-based books, I immediately read Carrie Brownstein’s book.  Carrie Brownstein is one of the two guitarists in Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag.  She is also one of the leads (writer and actor) on Portlandia.  And she wrote for NPR for a while, too.  Basically, Carrie is the shit.

One thing I took away from this book is that I’ve read a few musician memoirs (Mötley Crüe and Marilyn Manson to name a few) and this is the first one I’ve read that was filled with so much sadness.  Not “I was stoned and regret sleeping with that person with an STD sadness,” but like, real family problems and even a dead pet.  And, as Carrie herself jokes, her stories of being on tour and ending up in the hospital are not based on drugs or other debauchery, but on anxiety and even worse, shingles.

The beginning of the book starts in 2006, around the initial break up (hiatus) of Sleater-Kinney.  Carrie is in pain–emotional and physical–and she can’t take much more.  She starts punching herself hard in the face. (more…)

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lumpenSOUNDTRACK: WE ARRIVE ALIVE-“Walls” (2011).

wallsI discovered We Arrive Alive from the Girl Band bandcamp site (it says the bands are friends).  They are from County Wicklow and play very cool post rock instrumentals.  They have three EPs, all of which are available for free on their bandcamp site.

Their first is called Walls.  The opening song “Walls” has fast guitar with a slinky Sleater-Kinney kind of guitar progression. Unlike S-K, there is bass and no vocals. The middle section feels like any number of post-rock instrumentalists like Explosions in the Sky.  But it’s not derivative–it’s expansive and beautiful.  “Save Me from the Morning” is a much faster song with a more intricate bassline underneath the guitar riffs. The structure of the song makes it seem more like a conventional song (ie one with words). But there are no words, and the guitars fill in very nicely for where vocals might appear. But 90 seconds in, the songs switches gears and becomes a bit more jazzy.  Then around 3 minutes the bass takes over with big loud notes—it’s a great transition. There’s yet another part, a quiet section, that ends the song.  That’s a lot of music packed into 6 and a half minutes.

“This is a City” is the final song.  A seven minute slow building instrumental. It starts quietly and the intertwining guitars get louder as they echo more.  I love the way at around 5 minutes the song shifts gears entirely to a sort of electronic feel with pinging notes.  It ends with a  fantastic closing riff.

I’m glad to have discovered these guys, I love a good collection of instrumentals.

[READ: March 17, 2015] A Little Lumpen Novelita

This may be the final extant untranslated book by Roberto Bolaño.  Although I have yet to read The Secret of Evil (that fell right off my radar), as far as I can tell, the only things left untranslated are:

  • Diorama (this book is unpublished at all, so it’s unlikely to be translated anytime soon)  AND
  • Consejos de un discípulo de Morrisona un fanático de Joyce, 1984  [Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic] which has yet to be translated and I don’t know why, so I assume it never will be.

I don’t fully understand the use of the word “Lumpen” in the title, but don’t let that odd word (which is in the Spanish title, so we can’t blame excellent translator Natasha Wimmer) keep you from reading this breezy and entertaining (if not a bit dark) book.

As with many books by Bolaño, there’s not a lot of plot, per se.  In this book, a young woman (Bianca) and her brother have been orphaned at a young age.  Their parents died in a car crash in Italy (which is where they live).  They try to cope as best they can, but they ultimately decide to drop out of school and do nothing except watch a movie a day.  Bianca tells her brother that they can’t afford that lifestyle (especially since he just seems to get X-Rated films), but he continues to do so anyway.

They realize that they will need money of course, so Bianca gets a job as a hair washer at a salon.  Her brother gets a job cleaning floors at a gym.  It seems to be enough for the time being. (more…)

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For reasons unclear to me now, I wasn’t psyched when I heard about this band.  Despite the fact that it was 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney and the force behind Helium joining together, I didn’t jump for joy.  But now that I have listened to the album a million times, I can say that it is one of the best albums not only of that year, but of many years.  Man is it good.

Sleater-Kinney was a great band, they were melodic and tuneful but also abrasive and occasionally off-putting.  Who knew that the majority of the adhesiveness came from Corinne Tucker (well, she was the screamer, admittedly).  It’s pretty clear that Carrie Brownstein is bringing a ton of melody (and a wee bit of amativeness) to the mix.  Mary Timony always included trippy imagery and a weird kind of whispered/loud singing voice.  The tunes are so catchy so strong, so singalongable.

There’s little moments in each song that are amazing.  The backing vocals (and the pitch shift in the chorus) in “Romance”.  The way “Something Came Over Me” sounds so different from “Romance” (and is clearly a Timony-sung song).  I absolutely love the guitar “solo” that begins each verse and how it stands out but fits in so nicely as a baritone guitar sound (I assume from Carrie?)  “Boom” is just a full-on rocker with some great guitar pyrotechnics and Carrie’s more extreme vocals.  And man is it catchy.

“Glass Tambourine” is a cool trippy psychedelic workout  that’s still catchy and interesting.  “Endless Talk” has a strange British retro vibe.  (Carrie seems to be singing with a kind of punk British voice).  And there’s lot of keyboards.  It’s great that the album has so many different sounds, but still sounds cohesive.  “Short Version” has some great guitar soloing in the front and back.  “Electric Band” is like a perfect pop song–great backing vocals, great poppy solos and a cool video to boot.  “Future Crimes” is another amazing tune, with a keyboard solo!

“Racehorse” is probably my least favorite song on the disc.  It’s got some cool parts and some interesting swagger (and I like the live versions where they really jam) but the album version feels a little dragged out (although the chorus is really hot).  The disc ends with the wonderful “Black Tiles” which could easily be a Helium song, but which still sounds very Wild Flag.

And, I can’t say it enough, Janet Weiss is amazing on drums.  I feel badly because I tend to leave out the keyboardist–because I don’t know who she is or the band that she came from.  But her keyboards play an essential role in the music.  They fill out the spaces that the two guitars don;t always fill.  They even introduce the opening of the album.

If you go back through previous posts you’ll see I’ve mentioned them 3 times already because they have special bond with NPR and three of their concerts are available there.  I can’t wait for more from them.

[READ: May 8, 2012] Grantland 2

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Grantland #1.  So I was pretty excited to get Grantland #2.  #2 has all of the elements that I loved about #1–non-sports articles about entertainment (video games, music, TV), and sports articles that are short and digestible for a non-sports fan.  This issue also features a number of really long articles about basketball.  I like basketball fine, but I can’t say I paid any attention to the lockout.  Thus, much of this was lost on me. It probably doesn’t help that I don’t know any sports people either.

I may have said this last time, but I will reiterate for Issue #3–for those of us who don’t follow sports, or those of us who may not remember back to September when most of these articles were written, or heck, for people who are going to read this in ten years’ time:  For certain articles, can you give us an epilogue about what happened after the article was written.  If you speculate about  the lockout. Have an epilogue to say about how the lockout turned out.  If you talk about a game 5 of a series and the series didn’t end, have an epilogue that tells us how the series ended.  It doesn’t have to even fit the style of the article, just a few words: so and so ended like this. It can show how prescient the writers were.  And it can help us complete the stories.

So, despite a few articles that I thought were too long, (although probably aren’t if you love basketball) I really enjoyed this issue of Grantland, too. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WILD FLAG-SXSW April 1, 2011 (2011).

Wild Flag has released one of the best albums of 2011.  I can’t stop listening to it.  So, it’s funny that this show has been sitting on NPR’s download page for months without me checking it out because I didn’t know who the band was until the album came out.  Wild Flag is Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony and Janet Weiss (and a keyboardist who I will never remember because I never heard of the band she was originally in). 

This show at SXSW is one of their earlier shows.  It’s so early that one of the songs in the setlist appears on the album with a different title.  And the band is full of raw energy and passion. 

Although research shows that they’d been touring since November, Mary Timony seems somewhat hesitant in a few songs.  But Carrie Brownstein seems fired up to be playing again, and she rages and jumps around the stage, her voice as aggressive and fun as it was in Sleater-Kinney.  Janet Weiss, as ever, kicks massive ass on the drum kit.  man can she wail–she is a vastly underrated drummer. 

The band has great cohesion and they seem like they’re really enjoying themselves. 

 In many respects this band sounds like Sleater-Kinney (2/3 of the band are here).  But the addition of Timony’s lyrics and more gentle voice bring a cool change.  And the keyboards flesh out the songs in wonderful ways as well–for a band with no bassist, it’s funny that the most pronounced keyboards riffs are at the high end of the register.

There’s a few flubs during the set, in one of the more pronounced keyboard riffs, there’s a pretty major gaffe.  And sometimes it seems like they don’t know exactly how they should be harmonizing with each other (not true on the record at all).  And during the extended soloing of “Glass Tambourine” (6 minutes), I’m not really sure what Mary is up to.  But that’s okay.  The band is all about rawness, so that can be forgiven. 

While the album is better, this live show is a good introduction to the band. 

Since Carrie Brownstein worked for NPR I almost expect all of their shows to be available here.  But for now, watch the whole show here.

[READ: January 17, 2012] “Old Mrs. J”

Stephen Snyder translated this story that was originally written in Japanese.  It’s interesting to me when a work is translated from another culture.  Does the translator intend to keep the other culture obvious or does the translator try to make the story, in this case, more European or American.  There’s some inevitability in that, since the language is changed, and yet the sensibility of the original often remains.

I bring this up because I tend to think of Japanese writing as being very distinctive.  And yet this story didn’t really “read” very Japanese to me (Kiwi fruit aside).  It did read a little bizarre, but that was the fun part.

The story starts out simply enough: a young writer (who is a woman, although you don’t find that out until very late in the story unless, unlike me, you assume the main character is a woman because the author’s name is Yoko).  The author works late and sleeps in til noon or so.  It’s a quiet, peaceful place.  The landlady is older and somewhat feeble.  Until, that is, she gets into her garden and then she seems possessed by a fire. 

The landlady hasn’t really talked to the writer.  Then one day the writer hears the landlady in the garden cursing at a stray cat.  The landlady hates cats and curses them up and down.  Finally the writer tells her to put pine needles down, that cats hate prickly things on their feet.  This I did not know.

And they strike up a friendship.  The landlady reveals that her husband was no good and that he left her.  She also reveals that she gives massages.  And she begins leaving the writer vegetables from her garden.  Then one day, the landlady brings her a strange carrot with 5 “fingers” coming off of the central stalk.  The carrots are quite special.  And she keeps them a secret until sure enough, she begins growing lots and lots of them.  Even the newspaper comes to take a picture.

This idyllic story is interrupted in the last few paragraphs.  First by what seems like metaphorical scariness and then, ultimately, with reality.  It is a wonderfully realized story, wonderfully told and with enough hints of magical realism throughout that the ending isn’t totally unbelievable–even if it is quite unexpected.

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SOUNDTRACK: WILD FLAG-World Cafe, November 10, 2011 (2011).

I’ve been really enjoying Wild Flag’s debut album.  Wild Flag consists of Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, Rebecca Cole, who I don’t know but who has been in a few different indie bands, and Mary Timony from Helium.

This World Cafe episode is a brief interview (mostly with Carrie, although all four women are present), in which they talk about the origins of the band and what it’s like to play as a foursome. 

There are three songs and the band sounds tight and perfect.  In fact they sound so perfect I almost wondered if they were really playing live (but there’s one keyboard flub that proves that humans are involved).

It’s a great sample of the record, which is all great, and it’s a good chance to get caught up with these rocking women. 

[READ: November 15, 2011] “The First Venom”

This is an excerpt from Marcus’ forthcoming novel, The Flame Alphabet.   I’ve read a number of Marcus’ things in the past and I realized that most of his McSweeney’s pieces I do not like.  Some of the short stories in the New Yorker I have enjoyed, although usually not right away.  So, clearly Marcus and I don’t see eye to eye on fiction.

And that’s the case with this excerpt.  It’s hard for me to say I wouldn’t read a longer piece based just on an excerpt because who knows what else the rest of the book contains (this could be a small fraction of a much different story), but this excerpt absolutely didn’t make me want to read any more.

In the excerpt, a married couple is sickened by their daughter.  Literally.  All of the words that she says and whispers and scribbles wash a sickness over her parents.  They cringe and try to get away but she keeps talking and talking.

At first this seemed like a metaphorical sickness–who hasn’t grown tired of their kid’s incessant chatter, but it soon becomes clear that this is very real. (more…)

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