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Archive for the ‘NonComm’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LAURA MARLING-NonCOMM (May 18, 2017).

I enjoyed listening to the sets from NonCOMM back in May, so I dug into the archives and found out that a lot of sets are still available.  I was especially happy to see this one from Laura Marling.  The end of the blurb says:

You’ll have another chance to witness this fixating performance when Laura Marling comes to the TLA tomorrow night.

And that’s the show I saw.

After a hearty introduction from Bob Boilen, Laura Marling and crew swan-dived right into debut single, “Soothing,” off of her latest album, Semper Femina.

“Wild Fire” is an amazing example of her incredible voice as she speak-sings, whispers, coos and soars all over the verses which come together in the beautiful harmony of “meeeeeee” in the chorus.  This song has a bunch of curses in it, but she kept it clean for this performance.

With a piercing yet still somehow soft gaze cutting through the crowd (I don’t know how she does the thing, but it’s true), Marling unleashed her otherworldly vocals — flawlessly ebbing and flowing with the track’s funkier rhythm.

“Always This Way” is a beautiful song off of Semper Femina.  The guitar melody is delightful and, of course, her voice is outstanding.

“Next Time” has a simple, quiet, guitar melody which allows her voice to just wend all over this song.  When the backing vocals come it it’s quiet angelic.

“Nothing, Not Nearly” has some wonderfully fast vocals that are as fun to try to figure out as they are to sing along to.  It ends Semper Femina and is my favoirte song on the record.  From the main melody to her wonderfully high notes this song is amazing.

She ended the set with “Once” from Once I Was an Eagle, the album that introduced me to her.

This song is very different from the others, but it still sounded great.  When I saw her I wished she’d played ten songs from each album.  Maybe some day I’ll see her do everything.

[READ: September 7, 2019] “The Stone”

This was an otherworldly story about an earthly object.

As a young girl, the main character’s family drove to an island in Lake Superior every summer.  She was wandering in the brush one day when she felt sure someone was looking at her.  There was no one there, but then she saw the stone.

It was smooth and black, half the size of a human skull and rain had carved what looked like two eye holes in it.

She was spooked at first but then was drawn to it.  She brought it back to the vacation home and put it where she slept.  But then she was sure one of her siblings would try to take it, so she hid it in her sleeping bag.

She brought home after the summer and put it in her room. Her mother saw it as she was getting them ready for school in September. Her mom asked if she’d found the rock the summer.  She nodded and, after dinner, hid it in her room. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NATIONAL-NonCOMM Free at Noon (May 16, 2019).

The National are an interesting band.  They tend to write songs that feel ponderous–sometimes slow and, with Matt Berninger’s deep voice, very intense.  And yet their lyrics can sometimes be inscrutable [“I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees”] and they have done cover songs for Bob’s Burgers on more than one occasion (“Bad Things Happen in the Bathroom”).

So this concert is a bit of a revelation because of how poppy and almost dancey some of these songs are.  Berninger’s voice is nowhere near as deep as I imagined (his speaking voice is deeper than his singing voice) and the songs have a lot of variety to them.

Perhaps it’s the new album, I am Easy to Find.

Expanded to a ten-piece band, The National showcased ten of the album’s sixteen tracks, demonstrating the beauty and strength of the project. Vocalist Matt Berninger led the group’s vast array of instruments and vocalists, and kept everything from sounding overwhelming. The resulting set was a glorious display of emotion and expansive sound.

They opened with “You Had Your Soul With You”,  The track shows their musical horizons starting to expand. Vocalists Kate Stables (This Is The Kit) and Pauline de Lassus (Mina Tindle), joined Berninger on stage, adding a new dimension to the band’s sound. They sung throughout the show, representing the inclusion of female voices and perspectives across the record.

Like many of their songs, it is pretty and invites you to lean in to listen to the lyrics.

Berninger introduced the next song “Oblivions” by emphasizing the “s” “There’s a bunch of them. They keep coming.  Together.”  This song sounded very different, with a synthy, almost dancey vibe.

Stables and de Lassus opened “The Pull of You” before Berninger joined them.  This song has some interesting drum work as many of them do. Midway through, Berninger has a spoken word section that makes it sound like Tindersticks.

He tells us that his wife wrote “Hey Rosy.” He deadpans, “I thought it was about me.”  There’s a quiet piano intro and I love the very-The National delivery of the chorus “Hey Ro / zee I  / think I know just what the / feeling is.”

“Quiet Light” is a gentle, shuffling song.  The warm horn solos that closed the track were a wonderful touch.

Aaron Dessner spoke before they played the tender “I Am Easy To Find” and dedicated it to his friend, Adia Victoria, who played the same stage yesterday and was watching the set from the balcony.

The song is a duet of female and male vocals.  I love the fast delivery of this chorus as well.  Once again, very The National: “there’s a million little battles that I’m never gonna win / anyway.”

The band contrasted the solemness of these tracks with the brightness of “Where Is Her Head.”

Berninger says, “Mike Mills wrote the lyrics to this one… well, most of them… so he gets all of the publishing.  So now you know whey were doing it.”

Sung mostly by Stables and de Lassus, the track replaced the grey aura that filled the room with glittering oranges and pinks.

The song features a quiet looping of the lyrics as Berninger sings solo vocal runs over their chorus.

“Rylan” continued the upbeat-streak. The song, which declared that “everyone loves a quiet child,” showed The National playing with their volume. Towards the end they repeatedly built up their sound, only to swiftly quiet it.

Easy To Find‘s closing track, “Light Years,” was the simplest and most moving they played. With its heartbreaking lyrics and one of the saddest basslines ever played, the track left the crowd awestruck.

It opens with a gentle piano and Berninger’s deeper, quieter vocals. When the women sang back up with him, it was really lovely.

They could have stopped there, with tears quietly building in everyone’s eyes, but they continued with “Not In Kansas.”

Berninger says. We have one more song. This one’s 25 minutes long.  It was.  Then Mike Mills made it like  6 minutes long.  Whatever.  He was in charge.  Everything that’s bad about the record we always blame on Mike and we take credit for all the good stuff.” He paused “there’s some good stuff.”

It has a lovely quiet guitar intro.

While its lyrics focused on the craziness plaguing the world, the track felt small and insular. In closing with it, The National went out with a polite wave, rather than with a bang.

My friend Armando told me that The National puts on some of the best shows he’s ever been to.  I hope to see them some day.

[READ: June 1, 2019] “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”

I did not like the narrator of this story at all.  She is hiding behind so much. In fairness, she has a lot to get over, but she closes herself off so much that she’s hard for people to get to know (and also hard for a reader to like).

Dina is at Yale orientation.  She does not have to do the trust fall because she “shouldn’t have to fit into any white, patriarchal systems.”

In the next game she had to say what inanimate object she wanted to be.  She said “revolver,” which got her put on psychiatric watch for the entire year and a solo room.

She also saw a therapist whom she wasn’t interested in talking to but who seemed to see right through her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JADE JACKSON-NonCOMM (May 17, 2019).

I thought this was Jade Bird when I saw her name listed.  I have come to like Jade Bird quite a bit.  I had also forgotten about Jade Jackson.

Jackson is getting ready to release her second record, Wilderness, next month, and she and her band came prepared with a seven-song set of catchy country rock tunes.

I guess it’s the “country” part that meant I’d like her less.  I don’t like country music (duh) but I do really like the feminist lyrics that so many country singers have been writing lately.  All of these new country singers who are getting crossover airplay write about strong women.  I just wish I liked their music and their voices (too twangy) better.  Having said that Jackson’s voice is far less twangy than most.

And her lyrics are pretty good. Like in “Bottle It Up”

I cross my heart
I don’t need a man’s hands to open the jar

Although it seems like a lot of modern country songs are about drinking (old ones too, of course).

But her songs are certainly more rocking than country, I’d say.  “City Lights” rocks a lot harder and was more enjoyable to me.

 Jackson pushes the boundaries of that genre label in any way she can, citing influences from Lucinda Williams to Mazzy Star and The Smiths, and enlisting seasoned punk rocker Mike Ness of Social Distortion to produce her records.

Jade Jackson flew in from California just in time to play the last set of NonCOMM this afternoon. But you’d never guess the singer-songwriter was a bit jet-lagged — and struggling with a guitar that had just endured a cross-country flight in the cargo hold — if she hadn’t told us.

“Finish Line” is slower but still pretty catchy.  “Tonight” is even slower.  She says it’s a personal song about something that happened to her.  The lyrics are not explicit although it is clear what happens and “Jackson emphasized that its very personal content made it the most difficult one on Wilderness to write.”  It’s surprising to make it have such a catchy chorus.

She thanks the audience for being so nice and promises that they will carry on their guitars next time.

Her older songs have a lasting familiarity, like the foot-stomping “Good Time Gone.”

This does sound familiar, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard it before.  It is catchy and foot stomping.

“Secret” opens with an guitar intro that sounds a bit like U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” but which goes in a different direction.  There’s a pretty ripping guitar solo which I adds an edge to the song.  She says she wrote it in her car on the way to the gym.

She ends the set with “Troubled End.”  This one is the real foot-stomper, the one kind of country song I like.

So yes, I guess she’s a country crossover sing that I do like.

[READ: June 3, 2019] “Prosperity”

After reading the essay from Salman Rushdie about India, I was interested to read a story about India–using what I learned from that essay to help flesh out this story.

And this story had everything: torturing dogs, torturing cats, child prostitutes, religious violence, infidelity and incest!

This was, without question, the most horrible story I have ever read.

All of the above things were done by the narrator (well, he didn’t torture the animals, but he did calmly report about it and described it in detail).  All of it is told in first person, which makes it so much worse. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAY FARRAR-NonComm (May 17, 2019).

I didn’t like Uncle Tupelo back in the day. So when they broke up I didn’t really care.  I was supposed to care about the alt-country movement, but I didn’t. So I wasn’t interested in Sun Volt or Wilco.

Years later I have really gotten into Wilco and I feel like I’m supposed to dislike Jay Farrar because of the acrimonous split back in the day. But heck without the split, there’d be no Wilco.

I’ve never given Jay Farrar or Son Volt much thought.  So here’s my first real listen to him.

In this setting I find that he sounds a lot like John Doe, a deep soulful voice with acoustic guitar and electric accompaniment.

Jay Farrar‘s soulful folk sound graced the NPR Music stage Friday afternoon for the last day of NonCOMM. While he softly strummed his acoustic guitar, his Son Volt bandmate Mark Spencer backed him up on electric.

This set was made up of Son Volt songs.

He started with “The Reason” a thoughtful song and an indicator of what the rest of the set would sound like.  Calm music, lovely harmonies and pretty backing guitars.

Up next was “Reality Winner” which he introduced as saying “she was put in jail for sharing the truth.”  It’s a powerful song about a real incident that made news at the time but, like so many other things, it was eclipsed by the daily insanity of our government.  From The Boot:

Reality Winner, born in the South Texas town of Alice, is a veteran of the United States Air Force. On June 3, 2017, Winner was arrested after leaking a confidential document to an online news site, The Intercept.  “It’s a really unjust situation where Reality Winner leaked information for the right reason,” Farrar tells The Boot. “She proved that there was Russian interference in the 2016 [presidential] election.”

The lyrics:

What have you done, Reality Winner?
Reality Winner, what have you done?
This jail is a stone-cold answer
The biggest mistake of a Texas lifetime
In this ballad of the commander-in-chief
Is there any mercy for this standing belief?
Felt like gaslighting, not something to just accept
Proud to serve, just not this president
Those that seek the truth will find the answers

Up next was “Devil May Care”

Spencer harmonized with Farrar on a few songs; their vocals joined beautifully together for the chorus of “Devil May Care.”

There isn’t a lot of diversity in these songs.  Farrar’s voice is great but doesn’t change all that much.  They are good folk/country songs.  But I think it might be his presence that makes these song work so well:

The crowd was singing along to Farrar’s set and there was a feeling of mutual respect flowing between the performer and his audience. He has a stage presence that’s just plain cool. Not everyone can wear sunglasses inside without looking like a total jerk.

He introduced the next song saying that these songs are on the new Son Volt album of protest songs.  You may say “What is there to protest and I’d say Just about everything.”

Before singing “Union,” Farrar made a statement about there being protests about everything lately. He continued to tell this story through song while Spencer killed it on steel guitar.

This is a simple song that lays out our country’s divide and recounts Farrar’s father’s belief about the need for something to bind the country together: “He said national service/ Will keep the union together.”

“The 99” is also straightforward.  It may not be timely in the title (I don’t think people use that phrase as much anymore), but the sentiment is spot on:

Journalists in jail covering the scenes
The profit columns rise for the corporate machines
Take the stand now, protest and holler
Desecration of the land for the almighty dollar
Ninety-nine percent
Ninety-nine percent
It’s a trickle-down world
Like you’re stuck in cement

All of the songs were from the new album Union, but he ends the set with an old song.

The mood was brought back up as the set concluded with “Windfall”, a two-decade-old Son Volt song [from Trace].

It is certainly more positive, I guess from back when things were a bit better (the 90s).

[READ: June 3, 2019] “A Dream of Glorious Return”

It’s not often that people intentionally read twenty-year old news.  Maybe for historical reasons or, in my case, because you want to read a piece by a particular author.

So here is a twenty-year old essay from Salman Rushdie about the first time he returned to India after the fatwa had been put on his head twelve years earlier.

He returned to India in April 2000 (I guess the 90s weren’t great for Rushdie).

But first he talks about the many times he left India.  First when he was thirteen and went to boarding school in Rugby, England.  While he was away his father sold their family home in Bombay.  Salman was devastated and is still angry about it.  He believes he would be living there today if they still owned it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: K.T. TUNSTALL-NonComm (May 16, 2019).

Most artists at NonCOMM get about 20 minutes.  The headliners get about 40 minutes.

When I saw K.T. Tunstall was playing, I assumed she would get 20 minutes–how could she be a headliner? Didn’t she have one hit like a decade ago with “Suddenly I See.”

But there she was with a 45 minute set.  I wondered why.  Possibly because she was playing World Cafe Live again the next night for a full show.  Or possibly because she had a huge hit that I didn’t realize was hers.

Tunstall was by herself on stage.  She had a guitar, a drum machine of some sort, a looping pedal and a kazoo.  Having a lengthy set also allowed for a looser, more talkative set.  She is very funny, bold, foul-mouthed (in the best Scottish way) and smart.

As the last night at NON-COMM was winding down, K.T. Tunstall was able to give the crowd one last hoorah. Tunstall’s set mixed the old and the new nicely, playing anything from covers and mashups to her most recognizable hits.

Tunstall started the set with “Little Red Thread,” the opener to her most recent release Wax. The tune was carried by Tunstall’s percussive guitar tapping and tambourine playing, and it sure got the crowd going.

It had a four note heavy riff with some echoey chords that propel the song.  After two verses she messes something up and says, “that’s a really shitty way to start,” but jumps right back in.

She liked playing the new song but then says, “Let’s trustfall into something familiar.”   She asked if anyone had a long-distance relationship.  “It’s a really fucking bad idea.  It’s good sex; it’s just not regular.”  This was an introduction to the quieter “Other Side of the World” off of her 2004 debut Eye to the Telescope.  The song opens with looping quiet percussion and her raspy voice singing over a gentle acoustic guitar.

“Backlash & Vinegar” is about someone trying to keep you down.  It stays quiet with just her guitar and voice.

She recalled going to a karaoke bar drunk with friends and looking for “Faith” by George Michael which they didn’t have.  WTF?!  The friend she was with said there was a song there that she knew all the words to.  It was her song!  What song was it?  There’s a bit more story.

When she first came to the States she performed her first shows inside Barnes & Noble stores. They close at 8 so you have to play at 7.  There were multiple hot women dressed like Jane Fonda.  Finally she asked a woman why she looked like Lydia from Fame.  She replied (in Tunstall’s great “American” accent: “Honey.  You don’t know? You’re huge in Jazzercise.”

So she plays her jazzercise hit “Black Horse And A Cherry Tree.”  This was the massive hit (and it was a massive hit because I’d heard it everywhere) that I had no idea was by her.  It starts immediately recognizably with the looped “who-hoo / whoo-hoo” and if that doesn’t remind you of the song, the chorus is “No no / no no no no / no no / you’re not the one for me.” It sounded sport on.

She ends the song with a kazoo (!) rendition of White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” which she looped in the backgroud of the end of her song.

Up next is “The River” which is about taking a spiritual shower and washing the world from our brains.  It’s a catchy folk song that could easily have been a Starbucks hit (and maybe it was).

She then teaches everyone a Scottish word: “jobby” it means “shit.”  It’s like the name of the poo emoji.  She wrote this song as an antidote to when you have a nice pair of white high tops and just out of nowhere you step in a really big jobby.  It’s the kind you cant get off with a stick and you have to go into a meeting with the jobby–it’s a metaphor for life.  You can smell it, other people can smell it.  And what you need is a song to get you through.

This is the intro to “Feel It All,” a catchy simple guitar riff and a quiet vocal line.   I don’t know what these songs sound like on records but they translate into pretty folks songs here.

She felt like with everything going on (a lot of abortion bans being proposed), she needed a cover by a master.

Tunstall banged away as she sang a fantastic cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” mixing in percussive elements with her thrilling vocals once again.
a rocking raw version

She said she likes to be a purveyor of joy but she needs to speak up.  She dedicates this song to all the women who have achieved incredible things in their lives.  And one of the reasons they’ve been able to achieve it is because they and their partners have had reproductive rights .   This song is meant to give strength to any woman who might have it taken away.

And there was the song I knew from her: “Suddenly I See.”  She started the song, a shuffling rocker, and said, “Every songwriter is like a juicer. You put a few things in and you hope it doesn’t come out brown and weird. This is what happened when I listened to Patti Smith and Bo Diddley on the same day.”

I never would have thought that on my own, but I sure hear it this time.  The song sounds just like I remember it.  Her shockingly un-Scottish-sounding vocals and a super catchy chorus.

I’m glad she got a 45 minute set, it was a great re-introduction to someone I liked a while ago.

[READ: June 1, 2019] “The Smoker”

I don’t understand the title of this story, but I really enjoyed it’s odd revelations.

Douglas Kerchek is a teacher of 12th grade A.P. English at a prestigious all-girls Catholic school in New York City.

Nicole Bonner was a standout student.  He had already written her a recommendation for Princeton.

She read an entire novel every night and retained what she read.  When he proposed a pop quiz, instead of answering the questions, she wrote the entire first page of Moby Dick verbatim.

Although at the end of a recent essay, she had attached a note saying she had noticed the bruise on his ankle and wondered what he had banged it on. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MATTIEL-NonCOMM (May 16, 2019).

I’ve been hearing a lot about Mattiel–she (they) were even supposed to open for a show I as going to (but they were replaced at some point).  I thought I didn’t know their music, but when they played the last song of this set “Keep the Change” that I realized I’d heard it on WXPN quite a lot.

This is another set where the blurb is off.  It mentions the song “Heck Fire” which they didn’t play and only lists four songs in the setlist when, indeed, there were five.

Mattiel‘s five-song set [gave] their audience a taste of Satis Factory, their upcoming June release. Lead singer Mattiel Brown was backed by a four-piece band that really knows how to rock.

Their set began with “Rescue You.” Brown wasted no time getting started; her energy was immediately through the roof as she commanded the crowd’s attention with soulful yelps.

I am rather puzzled by what Mattiel actually plays.  They are described as garage rock and I guess that’s true.  Although this song has a real honky-tonk feel, bordering on an outlaw country vibe.

The second song “Je Ne Me Connais Pas” is indeed sung in French ( I wondered why I couldn’t understand the chanted chorus.  It’s primarily a sharp repeated guitar melodies.  The full band kicks in during the catchy chorus.

“Food for Thought” opens with a slow bass and a lurching melody.  I really started to like them by this song.  Things slowed down slightly for “Millionaire” which has a grungy riff and a chanted oh oh oh

The set concluded with “Keep the Change”, the first single that Mattiel released.

It’s an obvious single–upbeat and catchy with  a sweet guitar melody and a sing along chorus:

I’ve wasted all my time
Don’t pay me any mind.

I’ll bet they are fun live.

[READ: June 1, 2020] “The Passenger”

This story takes a surprising twist that turns it from one thing into something else–without ever losing the tone and ideas behind the original idea.

I was intrigued to read this opening line.  I guess in 2000 it was timely, now in 2020 it seems so passe.

I have a ring in my nose and a ring in my navel, and people make assumptions about me.  None of them are true.  I’m not a punk or slave, a biker chick or a fashion bug.

A slave?

The narrator, Babe is 23.  She drives a limo around Los Angeles.  Her dispatcher is darkly humorous–possibly the only thing that can get her through the day.

She has a pickup at LAX (Ex-Lax).  They are a couple named Chin.  This was written before 9/11 so it’s interesting how much grief she is given at the airport even before then. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RODRIGO Y GABRIELA-NonCOMM (May 16, 2019).

The biggest shame of NonCOMM 2019 is that Rodrigo y Gabriela only got 19 minutes. Oh man, these two need an hour to show off everything they can do.  The other shame is that the person who wrote the blurb doesn’t know the song titles.

Normally their show–two people playing acoustic guitar–is a surprisingly loud and percussive affair.  Gabriela slaps her guitar and plays amazing drum-like sounds across the strings, while Rodrigo solos all over the fretboard.  Even though they play acoustic guitars, they have metal in their blood (they recently covered Slayer).

But this show is a rather quiet affair.  They begin with a quiet piece with a simple backing guitar line and a lead line that runs through the song.

Rodrigo y Gabriela may have started off their set with a soft, lullaby-ish tune, illuminated only by a single spotlight. But don’t get too comfortable with that mellow sound, beautiful as it is, because what followed after was a loud, jarring song that gave us a taste of what heavy metal might sound like if it could only be played with two guitars.

It segued into “Krotona Days” a heavy opening thuds before the two masters take off through fast and slow, loud and quiet.

Often standing face to face with their guitars in hand, Rodrigo y Gabriela engage in a conversation without any words, their narration punctuated by lighting perfectly selected to match each emotion. Even in the absence of lyrics, the listener is drawn into the band’s vulnerability; it’s as if they’ve invited us in as witnesses of their funky, fiery story as it unwinds song by song.

‘After Gabriela talks to everyone, they play “Electric Soul,” another quieter song.  Usually they are blowing our minds with speed, but here they demonstrate beautiful restraint.

The next song starts slowly, but after a build up of Gabriela’s percussive guitar it… returns to a quiet melody again including some harmonics.  I’m almost disappointed that they didn’t really do what they are known for, but this demonstration of a different side of them is pretty amazing too.

Most of these songs come from their new album Mettavolution, which features six original instrumental compositions, many of which we did get to hear.

They end the set with the titular song “Mettavolution.”  On the record it is a big loud raucous affair with loud pummeling chords to open.  It’s a bit more subdued here even if the main riff is still pretty intense.

I’m not sure why they chose to play so quietly, but it’s an interesting take on their music.

[READ: June 1, 2019] “On Impact”

When I was in high school, Stephen King was my favorite writer.  I read everything he’d written.  When I got to college I was really bummed that the school library had no Stephen King at all.  My freshman year I read the Tommyknockers and didn’t really like it and I think that was the last I’d thought about Stephen King.

At some point in the 1990s I read some of his newer books and remembered why I liked him so much.  Maybe I should go back and start all over again–will Salem’s Lot freak me out now as much as it did then?  I don’t know.

I don’t recall if I knew that he had been in a car accident.  I know I found out some years later (possibly when I read On Writing).  It’s also possible that this essay comes from that book.  It’s been 19 years, don’t remember, but I’m guessing the title of this is a nod to the book. (more…)

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