Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Tiny Desk Concert’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MAGGIE ROGERS-Tiny Desk Concert #641 (August 7, 2017).

I had been hearing Maggie Rogers’ name on WXPN and have liked “Alaska” which they’ve been playing.  But I didn’t know much else about her.

But reading the blurb reminded me of where I had initially heard of her:

Maggie Rogers became a viral star on the strength of a video in which Pharrell Williams raves about a demo of what’s become her signature song, “Alaska.” Since then, Rogers has signed a label deal, toured extensively and released a sweetly approachable, inventively arranged EP called Now That The Light Is Fading.

For her Tiny Desk debut, Rogers performed all three of the EP’s best-known songs, opening with the recent singles “On + Off” and “Dog Years,” the latter of which she calls “a song for all the pups.” Then, after dismissing her band, she treated us to a few warm words about public radio before introducing “Alaska.”

Maggie has an interesting voice that sounds similar to someone (it’ll come to me), but with a slight country twang.  It seems like she could easily fall into the country umbrella but her songwriting goes in a slightly different direction.  (I’m also astonished that she looks to be about 18).

She plays three songs (there are 5 on her EP),

“On+Off” starts with a piano intro and Maggie singing. When the middle section kicks in and she plays guitar there a much louder sound. It’s quite catchy.  I really like the delivery of the “Ooohs” that she adds.  There’s something about the way she does it that sounds very cool.

“Dog Years” is a slower, slightly more country-sounding song, but again the “ooohs” won me over.  This time the ooohs are harmonized by her band and it sounds even better.  She also demonstrated some wonderful high notes.

Her band leaves for the final song which she starts by telling everyone that “public radio has been a part of her musical discovery–since she used an NPR compilation to DJ her middle school recess.”  She’s very sweet.

Th final song is “Alaska” which she says is a song about coming back into your body.  It has a really pretty chorus–once again, her voice soaring to lovely high notes.  I prefer the recorded version to this solo version, but she sounds great by herself as well.

[READ: June 27, 2017] “Crossing the River No Name”

I was a little concerned about this story because it was set in Khost, Afghanistan and I thought it was going to be an intense war story–and war stories, like sports stories, pretty much end one of two ways.

So it begins on a rainy night in March 2009.  The narrator and his patrol are sent to interrupt a group of Taliban.  They reached a river and Hal, the leader, called on the best swimmers to swim across and set up the guide rope.  They made it across and secured the line.  The rest of the patrol got across but when it was the narrator and Hals’ turn they hit trouble.

Hal was afraid of the water.  He’d joined the Navy to get over that fear and it worked.  Most of the time.  He knew of one other example when Hal had had a brief freak out.  But this was the second one.  The river grew darker and they were pulled under. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: DIET CIG-Tiny Desk Concert #640 (August 2, 2017).

The guys at NPR have raved about Diet Cig for quite some time.  Especially their live show.  They played at a small club near me and I thought about going but I couldn’t make it.  So I was happy to hear they played a Tiny Desk so I could see what all the fuss was about.

Diet Cig is yet another duo:

with drummer Noah Bowman propelling the high kicks and constant pogo bounce of guitarist and singer Alex Luciano. With a candied voice, she sings of being on the cusp of adolescence — but underneath that bright veneer Alex sings truth to power, and about what it means to be a punk in a skirt, dealing with disrespectful souls. “I think you’re the kind of guy / who would meet me at a party / and forget my name / and try to take me home all the same,” she sings on “Sixteen.”

And while the songs do have some angst, it’s the incredibly happy infectious nature of Luciano that made me instantly fall in love with them and berate myself for not going to see them in a small club when I had the chance–I see they’re selling out shows in London now.

They play 3 songs in 9 minutes (and the last one is pretty extended because Luciano is dancing all over the place: on desks, on the drums, everywhere.  None of the songs are terribly complex, but that’s fine.  They’re charming pop punk nuggets

“Sixteen” is what gets the parental warning. Its starts off slowly:

when I was sixteen I dated a boy with my own name / it was weird in the back of his truck / moaning my own name while trying to fuck

then it picks up and Alex starts bouncing around.  And although the song is kind of sad, “I’ll never barbecue again, and you can keep all of your shitty friends” she can’t stop smiling all the way through.

“Tummy Ache” is when she really starts dancing–doing high kicks and bouncing around all while playing nonstop guitar.  The lyrics are simple but great: “I don’t need a man to hold my hand / and that’s just something you’ll never understand.”

“Harvard” is the first song they wrote.  It has the amusing chorus of  “fuck your ivy league sweater.” She bounces all over the place, climbs on the desk, steps over to the drums and plays the last chords from the bass drum.  As the final chord rings out she reaches into her fanny pack and throws confetti all over herself as she jumps down.

The set is delightful and adorable and boy, I hope when they come back to the area it’s to another small club.

[READ: August 2, 2017] “New World”

This story centers around a global event that I know nothing about.  That combined with some confusing lineage angles made this story less satisfying for me than it should have been.

The story is about the independence of Ceylon (currently Sri Lanka) from Britain.  The story presumes we will know a few details about this event (I knew none: Independence from Britain occurred in 1948, but had a convoluted history trying to attain full independence).  I assume knowing that is useful to the story.

But for our story the impact is more local.  When the new prime minister Don Senanayake spoke first in English and then in Sinhala–no one knew what he was saying–but they all heard the word Ceylon.  Sir William (no last name given) left the country on the eve of independence and he left all of his property to Mr Balakumar, the Tamil manager.

The story is written from a “we” narrator: “We didn’t see Selvakumar approach.”  The “we” are married ladies (who mustn’t be too old, although they do mention husbands at one point).  They are mostly interested in Selvakumar’s story.

This character was fascinating but slightly confusing–at one point he says of himself:  “How can an Indian bastard be prime minister?”  Selvakumar worked for Mr Balakumar, and the man often whipped the boy for doing a poor job (I loved the grotesque detail that he was beaten so hard with the sugar cane that he “smelled like brunt molasses.”

But the real conflict for Selvakumar is with a boy named Muthu.  Muthu, they said, would grow up to be like his father Mr Padmanathan who thought of himself as a big boss.  Muthu was 10 and that was the only reason his father allowed his son to have a friendship an “Indian coolie.”  Muthu would teach Selvakumar whatsoever he learned in school.  The thing that stuck with Selvakumar the most was Marco Polo and his travels.

While the village was celebrating its independence, a storm came through the village.  The rain came hard and fast and began to knock down the poorly made houses.   It flooded the ground, which turned into raging torrents.  When the rain subsided, the people slept “by the ruins of our homes.”  And yet despite the destruction, they knew that Independence would be a more lasting and powerful event for them.

As they assessed the damage, it became clear that Selvakumar was missing.  Had he been killed?  Everyone scoured he area for him.

But I found this part really confusing.  The main part of the story was full of so much detail that I was really surprised by how unstraightforward the end was.  .

This sentence, once unpacked, makes sense but reading it in context created so many visuals that I couldn’t parse it right away.

By the time we discovered the yellow-tipped butterfly on the fat corpse, Muthu’s father had rounded the hillside, dragging his son by the ear with one hand and comforting the wailing Mrs. Balakumar with the other.”

So much is going on there.

Suffice it to say that someone has died.  But something else largely unexpected has happened as well.

The end of the story sees the women imagining their future and the future of the boys in the village as well.

There was a lot going on in this story and I felt like some things came just out of the blue. It was strange how the story begin speaking of the future as one thing but then things changed dramatically after the storm.  Although apparently not because of the storm.

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: FRAGILE ROCK-Tiny Desk Concert #634 (July 14, 2017).

Fragile Rock are an emo band.  But they are not your typical emo band because they are a band of puppets.

And for just 15 minutes on a glorious spring day in Washington, D.C., National Public Radio became National Puppet Radio.

It was the real-life breakup of band leader Brently Heilborn that led to the formation of the woefully woven band Fragile Rock. But these aren’t just any puppets — no. They are emo puppets, armed with drums and guitars and glum tales to tell, with songs like “Wake Up to the Breakup” and “I Am Sad (And So Am I)” that which draw from the spastic boogie of The B-52s and the laments of The Smiths. At one point, you’ll see Fragile Rock empty a bag of “bloodied” socks, tossing them into the crowd, before breaking into the song “Socks Are Murder,” a playful take on The Smiths’ thoughtful “Meat Is Murder.”

The band consists of seven puppets (handled by 8 performers) and three actual musicians (see below for the details).  They play three punky songs.  And I wish I liked the songs a little more.  There’s something that doesn’t quite live up to the visual fun of the band.

“Wakeup To The Breakup” is a fast punk song, but the song isn’t quite as catchy as I’d like.  But I do like the spirit of the song and the amusing “crowd surfing” of Milo S.  I also enjoyed the amusing commentary afterward: “There’s so many sad breakup songs… but sometimes it’s a wonderful thing.  So if anyone came here today with someone you don’t want to leave with… that song legally counts as your conversation.”

The second song is a lot more catchy (and a bit funnier).  As an introduction, Milo says, “A lot of you don’t want us to get political on National Puppet Radio.”  But they need to speak out that “Socks are Murder.”  The lyrics are largely clever: “argyle is a lie / with every step a puppet dies.”  I rather like the way the chorus starts with him dead panning “Socks Are….”  “socks are murder!”  When the song ends, he glowers: “We don’t appreciate your laughter.”

Before the final song, Milo says “We’re very happy to be here at the legendary Tiny Desk Concert.  We’re assuming we set the bar so high this will be the last one.  So we’d like to close out the series….”  The backing puppets all look aghast: “It’s not funny!”  The song is dedicated to everyone’s dark muse, “Fairuza Balk.” It’s the catchiest of the three with great backing vocals.  I like at the end when the final line is “She was in The Craft” and the guitarist chimes in.  “And The Waterboy.  She was in The Waterboy, etc.”

And in the spirit of the day Fragile Rock managed to crowd surf a puppet bringing giggles to a crowd of reporters, editors and friends, while puppets depicting NPR hosts Susan Stamberg, Michel Martin and Robert Siegel (the latter actually received a playful kiss from none other than Nina Totenberg) — all created by NPR’s own puppet master Barry Gordemer — objectively observed.

As the video ends, you can see the puppets getting of the elevator and then sitting behind the NPR microphone.

It’s a very fun, make no mistake.  I just don’t think I’d enjoy the songs without the visuals.

  • Musicians

    Milo S. (lead vocals, handled by Brently Heilbron); Nic Hole (bass, handled by Megan Thornton); Kyle Danko (guitar, handled by Chadwick Smith); CoCo Bangs (drums; handled by Taylor Love and Luke Wallens); The Cocteau Triplets (back up vocals; handled by Emily Cawood, Kim Stacy, and Bryan Curry); Cindy Ward (bass); Ryan Hill (guitar); Jayme Ramsay (drums)

[READ: August 1, 2017] “Le Réveillon”

This excerpt comes from a 1977 untranslated novel called Livret de famille.  It was translated by .

The piece begins as we learn of the death of Fats.

The narrator was 18 when he met Fats.  He was introduced to the large man (the nickname was not ironic) by a cabaret girl, Claude.  At midnight she would appear on stage wearing a mink coat and evening gown.  She would perform a striptease while two white toy poodles capered around her and snatched her underthings as she removed them.

Fats was a regular presence at her shows and would leave notes for her afterwards.  When she introduced Fats to the narrator, Fats laughed that the narrator had the same name as brand of cards in Italy, so he began calling him Poker. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: ALDOUS HARDING-Tiny Desk Concert # 639 (July 28, 2017).

Aldous Harding is a singer from New Zealand.  Her second album, Party, is full of deeply personal songs with memorable melodies and spare instrumentation.  Aldous Harding’s musical partner for the Tiny Desk is Jared Samuel Elioseff .

I was mesmerized by her performance right from the start.  Her voice is deep and sultry like Nico’s, and I imagined that she was French the way she enunciated.  There’s something about her face–she seems to be filled with what…? disdain? emotion?  as she sings these song.  She grits her teeth, protrudes her lower jaw, makes fascinating expressions all to convey her meanings.

The first song she performs,”Imagining My Man,” is about what she calls the “tender and frightening thoughts that come with being in love,” and what you witness while watching her are often painful, pensive expressions that are as important to the song as the notes being played.

I really like this song a lot–the simple melody, the fascinating delivery and the wonderful touch of a strange little zip sound after each singing of “all my life….”  The way she sings “if you get down” introduces yet another strange expression and an even stranger vocal delivery.  It all borders on comical, but she is not funny she is baring emotion.

In introducing “Blend” she gives Jared the guitar and says “I’m really sorry for what you’re about to see me do, but it’s all for the good of the song.”  And I genuinely can’t tell what she’s talking about.  She doesn’t do anything expect change the drum sound on the keyboard.  This song is whispered and the guitar plays gentle picked notes.

For the final song, “Horizon,” she takes away the guitar, stands up and says “thanks for watching” with a smile.  She stands singing the final song which I think is my favorite.  The expressions she uses as she delivers the first few lines is really intense–almost like a verbal threat:

I broke my neck dancing to the edge of the world, babe
my mouth is wet, don’t you forget it, don’t you lose me

The fact that she stands straight, dressed all in white–unmoving except for some hand gestures–just adds to the subtle intensity of her performance.

[READ: August 1, 2017] “Eric Duncan”

Philip Roth retired from writing in 2012, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get more new material from him (although this isn’t exactly new, since it is from 2008).  This excerpt comes from remarks he gave at his 75th birthday celebration and will be collected in a forthcoming volume.

This is his recollection of the first things he ever wrote on his mothers Underwood typewriter.  In 1943, Philip’s mother was teaching him to type–white keys with black letters and number which “constituted all the apparatus necessary to write in English.”

He says that as soon as he mastered touch typing, he wrote his first title: “Storm Off Hatteras.”  But he says that instead of writing his own name, he wrote by Eric Duncan: “There’s little that can bestow more confidence and lend more authority than a name with two hard c’s in it.” (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: THE SHINS-Tiny Desk Concert #638 (July 24, 2017).

Although this is billed as The Shins, it is actually James Mercer solo (although really The Shins are more or less Mercer’s solo gig anyway).

Mercer plays three songs with just his voice and acoustic guitar: two new tracks and one that reached back to 2003 from the album Chutes Too Narrow.

The first two are slow and very folky–I don’t know the new album yet.

“Mildenhall” has a country flare and is something of an autobiography.  “I thought my flattop was so new wave until it melted away.”  The chorus is nice: A kid in class passed me a tape a later chorus reveals: “a band called Jesus and Mary Chain.”     Started playing his dads guitar and that’s how we get to where we are now.”  I love the unexpected ending chord.

“The Fear” is a delicate, simple song that fits perfectly with his voice.  It’s also quite sad.

“Young Pilgrims” is the recognizable song from Chutes to Narrow (the song even mentions that phrase).  It doesn’t sound that different in this stripped down format–there’ some missing extra guitars bit other wise the acoustic format fits it well. The biggest difference is that he seems to be singing in lower register here.

In fact none of the songs sounded like him exactly and I think that’s why– he usually sings in more of a kind of higher pitch, so it’s interesting to hear it slower and lower.

[READ: June 29, 2017] “The Mustache in 2010”

I really enjoyed the story.  I loved the strange way it was constructed and that even though it didn’t seem to start as a story, it certainly was one.

It begins

Social historians will record that in the early twenty-first century, the fashion for a clean-shaven face lost its dominance in metropolitan North American Bourgeoisie society.

After some lengthy discussion about the merits of various facial hair construction ,we meet Alex, a youngish (36 is youngish in New York City) businessman.  He availed himself of this trend by shaving only every third Monday.  His growth was dense and black.

One morning he realizes that he had left large sideburns, which amused him.  Thereafter he “subtracted facial hair so as to create an amusing residue.”  He never wore the stylized looks outside, they were private jokes for him and his wife.  Although there was always a scream of horror because he would sneak up on her.

This all l leads to some more details about Alex.  He was Québécois living in New York.  His English was fine but “fell just short of the level required for wittiness.”  This left him with an unjustly wooden personality.  So his wife was always looking for nonverbal diversion for him. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: ALBIN LEE MELDAU-Tiny Desk Concert #637 (July 20, 2017).

I’d never heard of Albin Lee Meldau.  His style reminds me of a number of gruff powerful-voiced singers.

So who is he?

Meldau grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden the son of musical parents. His mother is a music teacher and jazz singer, while Meldau says his father is a “punk rocker.” (Both write and record their own songs.) As a kid, Meldau originally played trumpet but mostly dreamed of being a professional soccer player.

The blurb notes:

When I [Robin] first saw him perform, at a church in Austin … it felt like the entire audience was on the edge of its seat, hanging on every twisted word. His voice is breathtaking, soulful, thunderous and impossible to ignore.

Watching Meldau in this Tiny Desk set, the first thing you’ll notice, apart from that voice, is how possessed he is by the music. The words and melodies seem to take hold of him while at the same time offering a release, if only for a moment, from the knot of emotions he’s carrying inside. It’s in no small part because Meldau’s music is so personal, centered on desperate souls in deeply troubled times.

He sings for songs and his voice is powerful, loud, aggressive and emotive.  He is hard to ignore, for sure.  His band consists of Simon Andermo (bass) and Simon Söfelde (guitar).  For the first two songs Kalle Stenbäcken plays piano, but on the third song he switches to drums.

“Lou Lou,” the track he opens with and his most popular song, is a story of drug addiction and mental illness, inspired by a girl he knew while growing up in Sweden. It’s short and powerful, you can feel the anguish in his voice–he seems really transformed by it.

His other two songs, “Mayfly” and “Persistence,” are more about hanging on when it seems there’s nothing left to live for.

He says the “Mayfly,” she only lives for one day.  Like the first song, it’s barely 2 minutes long.

Before “Persistence” he says “give it up for My Beautiful Sweets (the backing band).  They don’t come cheap, do they?”  He’s going to play one more song with them and then he seems to jokingly say (but who can tell) “I wouldn’t dance with no other, baby.”  It starts slow, but the addition of he drums is a great kick in the pants.  The guitar and melody are pure Dire Straits, and the chorus is outstanding.

Before the final song he jokes, “It’s a deep honor to be here,” Meldau told the NPR audience. “I’ve been to the BBC and now I’ve been here, so now I can die.”   But he’s so deadpan it’s hard to know how much he’s joking.

He calls “Bloodshot,” the track he closes with, “dark and horrible,” about the wreckage of a tortured relationship and the crazed paranoia of jealousy.  He says “Let’s see if I can remember the chords.”  He does and he sounds great.  When his voice grows powerful and strained it’s really emotional.

If he can capture the same wave of love that people gave Hozier (with whom he has stylistic traits in common) I could see him going far.

[READ: July 20, 2017] “Because You Have To”

This is a rambling story inside a woman’s head.  There are many thoughts, but none are especially compelling. Things like:

If you stop answering the phone, eventually it stops ringing.

Essentially she misses someone.  When she hears her dog barking, she almost called out “your name.”  But it was actually Wayne who had found a loose dog and wondered if it was hers.  Which it obviously wasn’t, since her dog was right there.

I love the line that her grandmother was “the most beloved fascist in the family.”  She used to say “You have to count your blessings, and when the narrator dared to ask why, “she gave me a great smack to the ear: “Because you have to.” (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: RARE ESSENCE-Tiny Desk Concert #636 (July 19, 2017).

I have learned of go-go music exclusively from Tiny Desk Concerts:

Dominated by drive and momentum, heavy on percussion and bass, go-go music is all about the beat. Live, “songs” can continue on for half an hour, as the percussion continues to simmer and punctuate between and across different pieces. “That’s why we call it go-go, because it goes on and goes on and goes on,” as guitarist Andre Johnson put it in a documentary film.

This visit by Rare Essence perfectly encapsulated the genre’s incomparable meld of soul, R&B and, most importantly, funk (with a dash of Afro-Cuban influence).

So that’s go-go.  What about this band?

Rare Essence emerged not long after go-go itself did, beginning as a group in 1976 in Washington D.C. Ever since the group has kept a steady schedule playing around town and around the world.

The band plays seven–SEVEN–songs in sixteen minutes.  Many of them are just riffs that go on for a minute or so like “Down for My Niggas.”  Whereas “Rock This Party” is a bit more of a call and response piece–with some good congas.  “Freaky Deak” is pretty much a riff or two before they start talking to the audience.

They thank Suraya for arranging the show and there’s a lot of shouts outs and hand waving.  And then they start with one of their favorites, “One on One.”

All of the songs more or less flow into each other as one long jam.  There are multiple lead singers and everyone participates in the responses.

After a spell of their name (R-A-R, Double E, S-S-E-N, C-E) the lead guitarist sings lead on “Bad Bad” (he’s the oldest looking guy but he still has the power in his voice).

As they segue into “Lock It,” We apologize we could play this song for ever but I know everyone got to go back to work.  We’re gonna play the short version  We could play this for at least an hour.  They keys plays a nice Cuban sounding melody–almost like xylophones.

“After three minutes, he says this ant even the first part of the song–we still got about fifty more minutes.” Then they segue into “Overnight Scenario” which everyone sings along t o.

Anthony Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson (guitar, vocals); James “Funk” Thomas (vocals); Charles “Shorty Corleone” Garris (vocals); Leroy “RB” Battle, Jr. (keyboards); Calvin “Killer Cal” Henry (vocals); Michael Baker (bass); Kenneth “Quick” Gross (drums); Samuel “Smoke” Dews (congas); Kym Clarke (trumpet); Derryle Valentine (sax, flute)

[READ: July 23, 2017] “Bonebreaker”

I find Nell Zink’s stories to be weird but compelling.  She writes about strange things in unusual ways.  The people are often peculiar but compelling.

But this story was especially odd to me because the two characters seem really stupid

Both Jed and Laurie are fleeing the States.  As the story begins they go to the airport with a lot of cash.  But they knew that the TSA would be suspicious of that.  So when they see the “money sniffing” dogs, they know the TSA is on to them.  They leave their stuff at the airport and return home–which puts them on the no-fly list.

After a few more aborted attempts, they decide to take a barge–a real refugee situation. Not only do they not get where they are going, they lose a lot of money and are mostly miserable.

Why are they fleeing? (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: