As of today, I am officially a member of the Portals team. I’ll be writing album reflections for them on a regular basis. Here’s my first piece, a reflection on Ovlov's latest record Am. I was glad to be able to write about a band from my own state whom I’ve followed for some time as my first piece for the website.
Youth Lagoon - “Mute” (Music Video)
CT folks — Catch Youth Lagoon next Friday (5/8) at The Space in Hamden. Here’s the video for “Mute,” one of the better tracks on their dense new LP Wondrous Bughouse. More info below via Manic Productions:
The Youth Lagoon concert at The Space is only a week away and we’re really excited!!!
Due to popular demand, the show is now ALL AGES, so be sure to get your tickets if you haven’t already!
Now that I’m back from Bulldog Days, it’s time to get down to business. Here’s a flier I made for my band’s next show, which might be my most anticipated show I’ve ever had the opportunity to be a part of. If you’re in the Connecticut area, please come out. The Space might be the most intimate venue that Titus Andronicus and the So So Glos are playing on this tour, and neither band will disappoint live. Also, you get to see my full band play, which may or may not be a plus.
MORE INFO HERE
PREMIERE: Milkshakes - “Distant”
I’m happy to announce the exclusive premiere of a new track from the Connecticut punk band Milkshakes, one of my favorite local acts and a group whom I consider very close friends of mine. This song, entitled “Distant,” will appear on their imminently forthcoming 4-song EP Exactly Where I Need To Be. Some readers may recall that I had this group perform an acoustic set and interview on my radio show last August. Admittedly, when one has friends in the music scene, it’s often hard to think critically and be impartial when appreciating their music. Make no mistake, however; my love for this band’s music has little to do with my love for them as people.
Many times I have seen this group play in basements and DIY spaces across the state, always conveying an unassuming self-effacement that stands in marked contrast with the quality and intensity of their performance. With mature grit and experiential vigor, this mostly-teenaged band sells their brand of emo-stained pop punk terrifically in their live shows, and on “Distant,” they come closer than ever to capturing that unfiltered angst in a studio setting.
In its 3-minute running time, “Distant” oscillates between the crunchy power chord punk of their excellent 2012 split with Wisdom Teeth, and a new, previously unexplored solemnity. It’s as catchy as anything on that split, but there’s an element of maturity present on this recording that wasn’t there in the scrappiness of those three tracks. When frontman Tim Diltz sings “I’m not waiting around for you” towards the end of the track, there is a knowing acceptance in his unexpectedly fragile voice, like a pat on the back from a best friend. His lyrics may be simple, but the sentiment that they express is profound and universal. As the rest of the band lurches behind him, guitars blazing, the listener can feel an overwhelming internal conflict expressed outwardly. This kind of translation is what punk has always been the best at accomplishing in comparison to other genres, and Milkshakes validate that notion with this track.
Exactly Where I Need To Be Tracklist:
- 1. Distant
- 2. Snow
- 3. Bleed Out
- 4. The Boy With the Wagon Tattoo
Stream: Giles Corey - Live In The Middle Of Nowhere (2013)
Here’s a nice surprise— it turns out that Giles Corey recorded his set at the Enemies List Home Recordings warehouse in Meriden, Connecticut on 2/25, which I got to witness firsthand. This was the last show on his recent mini-tour, and in his own words, “probably the best of the three dates.” The recording is unedited and uncut— one continuous 54 minute recording featuring eight terrific songs along with Barrett’s commentary.
I wrote a glowing review of the show the night after, and listening to the recording now, I am reminded of just how special it was. Dan Barrett’s music is truly some powerful stuff. Read my full review HERE and stream/download Giles Corey’s new live album above via bandcamp.
I’m also happy to announce that I’m going to be working with Dan in the near future to have him on my radio show Left of the Dial on WNHU for an acoustic Giles Corey performance and interview. I’m very excited at the prospect of having him on my show, as I’m sure some of my followers are.
Live In The Middle Of Nowhere tracklist:
- 1. “Blackest Bile”
- 2. “Grave Filled With Books”
- 3. “Guilt Is My Boyfriend”
- 4. “The Icon And the Axe” (Have A Nice Life)
- 5. “Deep, Deep” (Have A Nice Life)
- 6. “Earthmover” (Have A Nice Life)
- 7. “Wounded Wolf”
- 8. “Spectral Bride”
GILES COREY live at Enemies List Home Recordings Warehouse. Meriden CT. 2/25/13
In press photos for his solo project Giles Corey, Connecticut singer/songwriter Dan Barrett can be seen wearing a Voor’s Head Device, a mysterious burlap hood with ties to the conceptual roots of his ghostly folk music. Similarly, earlier photos of his renowned shoegaze band Have A Nice Life often feature him covering his face or obscuring himself with foliage. Based on the way that he presents himself, both on the internet and in the mysterious writings that accompany a number of his musical releases, it would appear that there is a disconnect between Dan Barrett the mysterious, ostensibly suicidal genius, and Dan Barrett the regular human being from Connecticut. This disconnect made itself almost shockingly evident last night, when Giles Corey put on a show at a certain warehouse space in Meriden, out of which Dan and his friends run their modest, cult-followed record label Enemies List Home Recordings.
On the facebook event page, the performance was billed less as a show than as a “house party where some guys play depressing music,” establishing a relatively lighthearted tone for Barrett and Co., who have run Enemies List since 2005. When I arrived, the twenty or so people present were sitting on couches, speaking in hushed tones as ambient folk played over the PA. Enemies List veteran Planning For Burial opened the show with a fittingly harrowing solo performance, incorporating a hearty helping of drone and shoegaze into his act. I didn’t manage to catch the entirety of his performance, but the small amount that I did witness was intriguing to say the least.
Tucked away on the second floor of a massive industrial warehouse, the small room in which the show took place seemed to be the only one not whitewashed by garish industrial lights. Throughout the night, Barrett lurked in the ample shadows of the eerily isolated room, trading words with fans and friends and occasionally selling one of his winkingly self-aware “No Fun. Not Ever.” t-shirts. I wasn’t sure what to make of him or whether I should approach him before his set, but as the night wore on, Barrett’s human side quickly revealed itself. As recent ELHR-signee I Do Not Love worked his way through a shaky and frustratingly amateurish set, Barrett was there by his side the whole time, offering words of encouragement and resounding applause after every song. It was heartwarming to see someone so invested in his work and so trusting in those with whom he associates; I couldn’t help but feel inspired to start my own independent label after witnessing Barrett adopt this remarkable paternal role.
When he took the stage afterwards, Barrett displayed humility and candor that belied his remarkable abilities as a musician. He spoke about how privileged he felt to work with such talented musicians at ELHR and how happy he was that people cared enough about his music to come out to a show of his, especially since he plays live so infrequently. Frankly, his onstage demeanor stood in stark contrast to that of another certain singer/songwriter whom I saw recently, and given that they both performed solo, acoustically, and in a relatively relaxed setting, I could not help but make the comparison as I listened to Barrett perform last night. One thing is certain; both he and Mangum are consummately brilliant musicians capable of creating profound beauty from relatively humble means.
In contrast to Planning For Burial’s pedalboard, a shoegazer’s wet dream, Giles Corey’s setup was considerably less grand but no less effective. Barrett performed with a simple footswitch that activated the reverb and overdrive on his amplifier, through which he ran a black Takamine acoustic guitar. As soon as he began each song, all of which seemed nearly equal in their ability to rend hearts and procure tears, the unexpectedly jovial and easygoing side of Barrett that he displayed offstage faded away abuptly. When he entered his mysterious, dark, performing mode, the results were nothing short of bone-chilling. Setlist opener “Blackest Bile” hummed along in desperate resignation, while “Grave Filled With Books” — apparently adapted at the request of Barrett’s wife Thao — took on the 6:8 pulse of a mournful 1950’s slow jam. On the heels of the release of his new EP Hinterkaifeck, Giles Corey performed two tracks from that album, including the surprisingly heavy, overdriven “Guilt Is My Boyfriend,” which could have easily been a Have A Nice Life song 5 years ago.
Although rumors of a new HANL album have been circulating for the past year, I have yet to hear anything concrete; that said, when Barrett performed a handful of tracks by his old band last night, I could definitely feel that his spirit was still present in them. Unfortunately, without the post-punk backbeat of the Deathconsciousness version, “Deep, Deep” lacked persistence. Similarly, his performance of Deathconsciousness closer “Earthmover” could not come close to capturing the truly earth-shaking heft of the original. That said, his version of HANL’s “The Icon and The Axe” — a studio recording of which he released on Enemies List’s 2011 Christmas album — had just the right mix of tempered grit and emotive folk gentleness. That performance was a particular highlight, along with his closing play-through of “Spectral Bride” (my 11th favorite song of 2011). Before introducing his final song, Barrett took a moment to humorously gripe about bands that leave the stage at the end of a show, knowing that in a few minutes they will come back out and play an encore. Barrett did not give in to this conceit, even though his performance was more deserving of an encore than almost any such bands that I’ve seen. Perhaps this is where the two sides of Dan Barrett find common ground; neither his personality nor his music (aside, perhaps, from his Deconstructionist EP…) display any unnecessary pretense. As unflinchingly honest as his music is breathtaking, I hope to see Dan Barrett continuing with this for a very long time.
Giles Corey Setlist - 2/24/13
- 1. “Blackest Bile”
- 2. “Grave Filled With Books”
- 3. “Guilt Is My Boyfriend”
- 4. “The Icon and the Axe”
- 5. “Deep, Deep”
- 6. “Earthmover”
- 7. “Wounded Wolf”
- 8. “Spectral Bride”
JEFF MANGUM live at the Great Hall at Union Station. Hartford CT. 2/19/13.
(photo by Will Deitz at ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror, 2011)
"No photography or video recording allowed at any time during the show"
Thus read a bold-font note taped to the door of Hartford’s Great Hall at Union Station, where former Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum played a highly anticipated concert last night with Tall Firs and The Music Tapes. The universal photography ban has been in place for nearly all dates on each of Mangum’s three solo tours since his highly publicized return to the stage in December 2010.
I had seen Mangum perform twice before last night, first in Boston in September 2011 and again in New Haven in January of last year, and at both of those shows, the rule made sense. Boston’s Jordan Hall and New Haven’s Shubert Theater were both ornate, seated venues; within these storied theaters, which had in the past hosted philharmonics and operas, Mangum’s music felt almost saintly. Attending each felt like witnessing a musical performance as religious experience — to defoul such a private, holy moment with camera flashes and cell-phone video recording would be like photographing the Pope during Easter Mass in the Vatican City. I’ve never experienced that, but I imagine that such activity is frowned upon there.
Last night, however, was different. For the occasion, the central hall of Hartford’s primary train station was transformed into a massive, standing room venue, complete with a four foot high stage, lighting fixtures, and a large and perpetually crowded bar serving alcoholic drinks. It was a radically different setting from the two shows I had seen Mangum perform previously, and at first I was excited at the prospect of seeing him in a relatively more traditional ‘rock concert’ setting. As I soon discovered, though, the more ‘traditional’ setting of the Union Station Great Hall provided more than I had bargained for.
The night began, after doors were postponed from 7 to 7:30, with a frantic rush to the front of the stage. Along with a handful of others, I staked my claim to the very front and center, nervously eager at the prospect of the show that was to come. Tall Firs began the opening set as a solo act, having temporarily lost a member due to a family obligation. David Miles’ moody, blues-inflected folk would have likely caused some tears in a more intimate setting, but the nuances of his restrained voice and skeletal guitar work were lost on much of the audience, who frustratingly talked throughout the entirety of his set. The Music Tapes fared considerably better, amplifying the tinny twee-folk of their records to a dizzyingly high, full-bodied level. Although not as whimsically majestic as their October 2012 performance in Hamden, The Music Tapes’ set was certainly the most sonically engaging performance that I’ve seen them play. Along with his band of horn blowers, key-ticklers, and pipe-pounders (and, of course, the Seven Foot Tall Metronome) Julian Koster looked and sounded like the last thing I would have pinned him as: a rock star.
Thirty minutes after the Tapes closed with a rousing, evocative performance of “Takeshi and Elijah” from last year’s Mary’s Voice, Jeff Mangum took the stage. Heavily bearded and wearing his distinctive flannel, Mangum looked hermetic and rustic, as if he had wandered out of the Connecticut woods and stumbled into Union Station just minutes prior. Exhibiting a cluster of grey at its center, Mangum’s beard was aesthetically questionable, but effective in making him appear older that he is. I don’t blame him — if I, at Mangum’s age of 42, were known exclusively for work that I did in my 20s, I would try to distance myself from appearing young as well. He sat down and, with a brief, mumbled introduction, launched into a seamless performance of “Two-Headed Boy” and its companion piece, “Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2.” As with the two previous performances that I’ve seen, Mangum’s setlist yielded few surprises. The vast majority of songs were gleaned from Neutral Milk Hotel’s two full lengths On Avery Island and In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, both of which are terrific records, and both of which hold unique nostalgic significance for me and countless other fans, many of whom were present in Hartford last night. In the opening set, Tall Firs’ David Miles positively noted how many young fans had been present at all the shows on this current tour, and although the extent to which Neutral Milk Hotel’s legacy has been preserved in the 15 years since Aeroplane's release is certainly admirable, the presence of so many young fans at the show last night was not without its detriments.
I don’t mean to sound curmudgeonly (as I, at seventeen, am quite a young guy myself), but it was frankly difficult not to be annoyed by the level of immaturity that certain crowd members set during Mangum’s performance. A friend described it as “a bunch of six year olds trying to impress their dad,” and I’m inclined to agree with his assessment — it was cringeworthy. I don’t know if half the crowd had just spent their first afternoon on /mu/ earlier that day, but the number of “Jesus Christ” jokes and inane, pointless interjections that the crowd shouted at Jeff in between songs approached an insufferable level. He handled it well enough, but there was a look of weariness on his face by the end of the show that even his thick beard could not cover up.
Mangum encouraged singing, and the crowd unhesitatingly obliged, matching nearly every word and strained vocalization. During the more heavily orchestrated songs, such as “Song Against Sex” and set closer “Ghost,” the audience filled in vocalized versions of horn parts and harmonies atop Mangum’s sparse guitar strums. It was occasionally moving; if the previous shows had been akin to a solemn service at the Vatican City, last night’s show was more like a Baptist spiritual. Still, even as I passionately sang along, I could not shake the impression that something sacred was missing from this strange, communal celebration. For my own peace of mind, I’ll place the blame on the audience rather than on Mangum himself — for one thing, some of the crowd members really could not sing, and the warbled bleats of the immediately post-pubescent boy near me grew increasingly grating as the night wore on. But more importantly, I think the issue was one of familiarity. We all knew the songs so perfectly that there was no potential for surprise or spontaneity at any moment during the show. Even Mangum’s alternate/live version of “A Baby For Pree,” which usually throws some fans off at his shows, failed to startle anybody present last night. Similarly, when former Neutral Milk Hotel member Julian Koster came back on stage to play singing saw on “Engine” and “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea,” it felt trad and predictable, though still entirely welcome.
In a word, the concert experience felt cheap — worth the $30 that most fans paid for their tickets, certainly, but perhaps not entirely worth the hastily-arranged flight that I booked back from Washington, D.C. when I learned that the show had been postponed from its original date due to snow. From a certain perspective, it was a perfect show, featuring two especially great performances and a smattering of some of the best folk songs I’ve ever heard, and yet, it was also painfully hollow and lacking in the urgent, vital essence that made all those Neutral Milk Hotel songs so great in their original incarnations. To put it plainly, I was conflicted in a way that I have never really felt before. After the full hall sang along to “Aeroplane,” with Koster conducting the crowd to match Scott Spillane’s absent horn solo, saw-bow in hand, the two former bandmates bowed and calmly exited the stage.
In my pocket I held a Kodak disposable film camera, which I kept there, primed and full of film, for the entire duration of the show. I considered saving it until the very end, allowing myself minimal possibility of punishment, and justified its potential use by virtue of the archaic quality innate within a disposable camera. Surely there were kids wielding Kodaks at Neutral Milk Hotel’s shows in the ’90s, right? Ultimately, I decided against using it at all. After nearly three hours of terrific, powerfully familiar songs, overwhelming waves of nostalgia, and some fundamentally cringe-inducing crowd involvement, I considered it my obligation to preserve whatever dignity remained in Union Station that night. After meeting up with the Music Tapes once more and thanking them for their particularly stellar performance, I walked out into the rainy Hartford night, left with a frustratingly mixed, thoroughly exhausted impression.
Setlist - 2/19/13
- 1. Two-Headed Boy
- 2. Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2
- 3. Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone
- 4. Song Against Sex
- 5. King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1
- 6. King of Carrot Flowers Pts. 2-3
- 7. Oh Comely
- 8. A Baby For Pree/Glow Into You
- 9. Oh Sister
- 10. Holland, 1945
- 11. Naomi
- 12. Ghost
- 13. Engine (with Julian Koster) (encore)
- 14. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (with Julian Koster) (encore)
Watch: Jeff Mangum & Julian Koster play “Engine” in Ithaca, NY - 2/13/13
Stream: The Guru - Go Easy (2012)
There is a moment on Go Easy, the new LP from The Guru, in which the precocious Connecticut four-piece seems to transcend their particularly infectious brand of Modest Mouse-indebted psych-pop, simply by lampooning it. It arrives within the first minute of the title track, as an agonizingly smooth saxophone line introduces itself and proceeds to bleed out all over the sunny array of guitars and Eddie Golden III’s surprisingly detached vocals. As the sax plays on throughout the track, the mood changes from comedic to self-fulfilled. It adopts a kind of self-aware attitude not unlike Destroyer's last LP, through which disco tropes and smooth jazz aesthetics aren't inherently detrimental to the 'seriousness' or quality of a band's music.
Unfortunately, that moment fades, and the rest of the album fails to pick up the slack as it continues on. True to its name, Go Easy is a gentle, relaxed album, free from the manic energy and forceful, consummate positivity of Native Sun, the band’s excellent LP from last year. Although the record benefits from the change in style, its apparent motivational deficiency is often stifling. If Native Sun could be described as positively forceful, like a good friend who drags you to a show on a night when you’re feeling down, Go Easy feels forcefully positive. After the stellar opening track, the band plods along without much urgency or direction, twinkling through the country-ish twang of the previously released single “Indian Day” and the stuttering noodles of “Tony Waves.” In between, “Foreign Moon” drags on slowly and without purpose, as does the lo-fi, experimental dirge “Pyramids.” Many of the faster cuts feel like lesser-quality holdovers from Native Sun, while the slow jams strain to hold the listener’s attention.
It’s not all bad of course — “Guacamole” features some really interesting distorted guitar, for instance, and “Cow” has one of those earworm choruses that so many of the songs on Native Sun could also lay claim to. The title track, too, is among the better songs I’ve heard this year. And yet, Go Easy is a frustratingly limited album that suffers most from feeling under-developed. Native Sun was the result of years of songwriting, touring, and recording. Those songs were birthed, developed, and honed over a lengthy period of time and finally released in their best possible form. By contrast, Go Easy feels rushed and lacking focus. It’s clear that there are some truly great new ideas in the mix, but that’s all they are — ideas in dire need of full realization and development. If you listen closely, you can hear that development happening, but it’s incomplete. In other words, this is the sound of a young band growing up, shaking its wings, and losing some of its charm in the process. Thankfully, though, they’ve always had plenty to spare.
Stream Go Easy above and buy it now on bandcamp for $3 or more. If you’re in the Connecticut area, you can catch The Guru live tonight at their record release show at The Space, with Tigers Jaw, Brian Stankus, and Disco Teen ‘66. More information about that show can be found HERE.
THE MUSIC TAPES live at The Blank Canvas. Hamden CT. 11/3/12
It’s hard for me to put into words what the past 24 hours have been like for me, but I will do my best. It was, to put it briefly, an utterly surreal experience. As soon as I walked into The Blank Canvas (a temporary warehouse space owned and operated by The Space), it was as if I had transcended this drab, material plane of existence and entered something entirely transmundane. On record, The Music Tapes are at best capable of merely alluding to this exo-world, giving fuzzy and brief glimpses into it through the nostalgic hiss of old magnetic tape and the gentle bleat of a bowed banjo. Although their recorded music has come to occupy a very special space in my heart, their live show — especially on this tour — is completely incomparable.
I first saw The Music Tapes nearly a full year ago, when they opened for Jeff Mangum at the Shubert Theater in New Haven. It was an appropriate pairing, given that Mangum and The Music Tapes’ frontman Julian Koster were once both members of Neutral Milk Hotel, and the Tapes certainly brought that Elephant 6 Collective whimsy and pyschedelia to the show last night as well. The difference between the New Haven show and this one was as much a matter of intimacy as it was of scope. Along with the previous night’s show in Massachusetts, this show was a preview of the band’s boldest live vision yet. It’s called the “Travelling Imaginary” tour, and it involves the Music Tapes bringing a giant rectangular circus tent to every show and allowing the attendees to come in and sit inside it, inviting them into a dreamlike, musical world for the duration of the night.
Although the band was still working out some logistical kinks (it was, after all, a preview show), the Travelling Imaginary experience was delightfully playful and, at times, soberingly beautiful. It was also surprisingly interactive, featuring film projections, a carnival-style beanbag toss, and a silly Romanian ball game (played with red balloons) that Julian Koster curated and played with the raptly attentive audience of approximately 75 people. When the band was actually playing, they sounded better than I’ve ever heard them, on record or otherwise. Koster was joined by longtime collaborator Robbie Cucchiaro, who played various horn instruments, along with a keyboard player and a multi-instrumentalist who occasionally found himself playing three instruments at once. The four piece was supplemented by an accoutrement of Music Tapes members of the inanimate variety, including a “mechanical organ tower” and a 7-foot tall metronome that stood ominously and obelisk-like behind the group. Koster himself frequently switched instruments from orchestral banjo (which he played with a violin bow) to singing saw, and even to heavily distorted bass guitar, which he used on “S’ Alive to Be Known (May We Starve),” much to the audience’s delight. No matter what instrument he was playing, a wide-eyed smile never left Koster’s perpetually youthful face, which filled the iridescent tent with enough warm energy to staunch the cold air from outside.
Much of the setlist was culled from the band’s newest and best album, Mary’s Voice, which is out now on Merge Records. Album opener “The Dark Is Singing Songs (Sleepy Time Down South)” made for a wonderful highlight in the middle of the show, with Cucchiaro’s muted trouble accenting Koster’s pining vocals, while “Spare The Dark Streets” found Koster’s banjo waltzing in time with Cucchiaro’s valve trombone. The setlist also included standout tracks from the band’s other two LPs, including the metronone-assisted “The Minister of Longitude” from 2008’s Music Tapes For Clouds and Tornadoes. Although the show was filled with evocative instances of beauty both great and small, there was one moment in particular that stood out as truly moving and memorable. When Julian Koster solemnly stood in the center of the tent for the last time to play “Takeshi and Elijah,” surrounded by his bandmates and their various eccentric instruments, it was akin to when I saw Jeff Mangum close with “Ferris Wheel on Fire” in Boston last September. As “Takeshi’s” forlorn banjo chords rang out amidst the hushed, cross-legged crowd, the room assumed the kind of indescribable energy that many of Julian’s endearingly imagined folk stories are about. It’s as if there was an abstract understanding reached amongst everyone packed into the tent last night — some profundity so immaterial that it could only be conveyed through music, specifically that of Julian Koster The song’s last, lone banjo note seemed to last forever, as if in an eternal solipsism, as a testament to the timelessness of Koster’s legacy. By the time the full band came crashing in at the very end, keyboards and horns blaring, it seemed more like a celebration than a requiem. The Travelling Imaginary may have ended for us that night in an objective sense, but it nevertheless left an indelible mark on everybody who was there.
Of course, if you’ve been paying attention to what I’ve been posting in the past day, you know that my experience with The Music Tapes didn’t actually end at The Blank Canvas that night. When I drove home with Julian Koster in my car, ate veggie burgers a diner on Dixwell Avenue with seven of the loveliest people I now know, and eventually made breakfast and drank coffee with them this morning, I saw a human side to a group of people who just last night had made a pretty good case for idolization. It made me realize a truth about modern music culture, specifically with regards to The Music Tapes, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Elephant 6. There are no rock stars anymore — just people who are creative and/or crazy enough to survive this kind of musical existence. Julian Koster and the Music Tapes do that and more; they thrive in their lifestyle and inspire others to do the same. When Julian signed my copy of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea before we all headed back to Hamden to take down the tent today, it felt oddly anti-climactic, but the truth is, he had already left his mark on me. That mark — the mark of influence, respect, and hope for the future — was more permanent than any autograph could ever be.
More news coming soon…
These guys booked Empire Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate), The World Is A Beautiful Place…, Algernon Cadwallader and many other great bands in Connecticut for their festival last summer. Next year’s festival could prove to be even better.
Follow them on tumblr for more information about Bramble Jam III as it develops.
INTO IT. OVER IT. live at Webster Underground. Hartford CT. 10/21/12
"Cherish it," said a sweaty and bespectacled Evan Weiss, reflecting on the topic of DIY music in the state of Connecticut. If there were any audience members packed into the Webster Underground last night who didn’t heed his advice before the show, there certainly aren’t any now. As any reader of this blog will know, punk music in this state is very near and dear to my heart. I have come to cherish it due to the kindness, acceptance, and occasional musical brilliance that has defined so many of the shows I’ve seen since I first entered The Cookie Jar as a precocious young high schooler years ago. For me, along with probably many others, last night’s show was a sustained moment of validation that proved why Connecticut DIY — and DIY at large — is worth cherishing.
For Weiss, the show also represented a more specific validation: it was the only Connecticut date on a lengthy tour across Europe and America — the first tour in which he is bringing his long running Into It. Over It. project into full band fruition. On stage, Weiss described at length his relationship with Connecticut and the acceptance that he had found here over the years, but one thing came through more clearly than anything else: he was nothing short of ecstatic to be playing his music the way he had always envisioned it.
This show actually marked the fortuitous convergence of two important tours, as openers Slingshot Dakota and The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die are currently touring the East Coast as well. Having seen the former band perform once in the past, at the final show of CT legends My Heart To Joy, I was not particularly excited to see them again. Nevertheless, I was won over by their new material, which bolsters their effervescent piano pop/punk with stronger melodies and more developed lyrics. Their mix was somewhat off, however, and the propulsive drums often overpowered the quieter keyboard parts and vocal nuances.
The World Is A Beautiful Place played next, and in spite of some rather last minute lineup changes and other issues, they managed to deliver a suitably goosebumps-inducing performance. Frontman Tom Diaz had recently fallen under the weather and was unable to perform with the band, so Greg Horbal took over lead vocal duties during the set. The communal feeling of the songs and the typically diminutive nature of Diaz’ stage presence at most of their normal shows made this potentially crippling issue not much of a detriment; it actually seemed to encourage more crowd participation, and Horbal was an adorably geeky substitute. The band also featured a new cello player and One Hundred Year Ocean's Katie Shanholtzer-Dvorak on keyboards, as well as Chris Zizzamia, who delivered spoken word in the ambient introductions of a number of songs for the third time that I've seen The World Is. Zizzamia provided a powerful highlight at the very end of the set, delivering a gut-wrenching poetic tirade against ignorance and casual racism that came to a head just as the band launched into “Victim Kin Seek Suit.” It was, at once, a moment that made me consider how far Connecticut and this wonderful band have come, and how much further we all still have to go in order to make DIY a truly welcoming environment.
If there’s any band leading the charge for that cause, it was the subsequent group — Wallingford’s own Hostage Calm. Fresh off the release of their new album, the perfectly-titled Run For Cover Records LP Please Remain Calm, these hard-charging power pop rebels are currently touring with Into It. Over It. and seemed particularly excited to be playing a home state gig. Their set was heavy on new material, but the crowd devoured it nonetheless, lending credence to the immediacy of tracks like their set opener “Brokenheartland” and the album highlight “Woke Up Next To A Body,” the latter of which incited the night’s most spirited series stage dives. Although the setlist was somewhat sparse with respect to songs from their 2010 self-titled album, they hit all the necessary marks; “War On A Feeling” was as life-affirming as ever, and the marriage equality anthem “Ballots/Stones” seemed particularly appropriate during this election season.
Maybe it was just the amount of bruises and head batteries that I had sustained during Hostage Calm’s set, but once they finished, I could scarcely believe or even really articulate to myself that full band Into It. Over It. was playing immediately after. The atmosphere seemed almost dreamlike. To me, Into It. Over It. had always been just Evan Weiss, and the concept of anything more felt fantastical — even imagined. In truth, the full band has been a long time coming. The three other members of the touring group are all actually members of Stay Ahead Of The Weather, one of Weiss’ other songwriting outlets, and they announced their plans to tour as a four piece a number of months ago. And yet, it was not until they had all taken the stage and launched into the sputtering sonic cave-in of “Embracing Facts” that I could fully appreciate what that meant. This was a shockingly tight punk rock band playing some of the most lyrically developed songs that punk has born witness to since at least the 1990s. Whether they were tackling the melodrama of “Where Your Nights Often End” or the riff-laden burst of “Humboldt,” Into It. Over It. played with vigor, energy and intensity. Despite Weiss’ quips about being “too old and fat” for the touring experience, the band’s newfound sense of empowerment was palpable. At one point, Weiss played a deep cut after asking the audience how many of them had been listening to him since his ambitious 52 Weeks project came out in 2009. As someone who has, seeing Weiss live out his dreams and manifest his music the way it was intended to be played was nothing short of revelatory.
After a lengthy set that included a slowed-down, teary-eyed performance of “Connecticut Steps” and a lot of other tracks from last year’s Proper, Evan Weiss and Co. exited the stage. The headlining act, a Hartford group called Make Do And Mend, assumed it shortly thereafter and delivered a rather middling performance that lacked in heart and tightness. To me, along with others who stood off to the side during their set, they are a band that represent Connecticut punk’s old guard — remnants of a less refined scene that could never quite match the DIY community in its current state. In a way, the show represented a symbolic passing of the torch and a transition from old to new. In that respect, it made me hopeful for the future of DIY here in Connecticut and beyond. With terrific young bands like these supplying the scene, it would seem that the best years may still be ahead.
MORRISSEY live at The Palace Theater. Waterbury CT. 10/6/12
As somebody who has seen a handful of artists who released their most acclaimed material in the 1980s perform in the past few years, it was hard not to immediately notice how different the atmosphere at Morrissey's show last night felt. This was not like The Feelies' show at Daniel Street in 2010, filled with lanky 50-somethings with thick-framed glasses and cheap beers, nor was it like the English Beat show I saw a few months after that, at which I watched an unknowingly past-their-prime band perform to an audience full of equally unknowing middle-aged women. Although both of those demographics were appropriately represented at Waterbury’s opulent Palace Theater last night, what set this show apart was the diversity of the rest of the crowd; bespectacled hipsters were seated next to mallcore scenesters, and tattooed punk dudes rubbed elbows with Apple-indie teenage girls. Morrissey fanatics, as it turns out, come in all shapes and sizes. With that in mind, it was appropriate that my whole family went to the show — my parents, who saw The Smiths during their 1980s heyday, my sister, who liked 500 Days of Summer a lot, and myself, who inherited my love of Morrissey from my father’s record collection.
This diversity spoke to a trans-generational appeal of Morrissey’s perfectly relatable commiseration anthems. His intensely self-obsessed moroseness has garnered him a healthy share of haters since the 80s, but it’s also the reason that his following has remained so devoted in the 25 years since The Smiths’ bitter end. More than just about any other songwriter, Morrissey’s work is an extension of his persona — a persona that is practically archetypical in the way that it has been imitated in the past two decades.
But this show was more than a celebration of Morrissey’s many achievements as a singer and lyricist. Although it would be easy for him to rest on his laurels, Morrissey brought the fire and energy of a much younger performer to Waterbury last night. Backed by a competent but nondescript band of similar-looking men clad in matching outfits, Morrissey had no trouble of establishing himself as the center of attention. Whether he was dusting off an old Smiths classic like “Shoplifters of the World Unite” or belting out the winsome chorus of his 2009 single “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” Morrissey was as painfully open and sincere as he has ever been. This was not a man living in the shadow his former glory, but rather a glowing star, unendingly convinced of his own brilliance and utterly captivating in his ability to render it on stage. In between songs, however, Morrissey was less transparent: “Every song, written in blood,” he said, teasing the adulating audience after the final notes of “Ouija Board, Ouija Board” had faded away. “Not mine…”
There were, of course, moments in which Morrissey’s age began to show, particularly when he tore off his shirt after covering Frankie Valli’s “To Give (The Reason I Live).” I can only hope that he was going for a humorous reaction, because that is what the audience gave him as he strode off the stage to find another deep v-neck. Nevertheless, as he and his band launched into the jaunty beat of The Smiths’ “A Rush And A Push and The Land Is Ours,” it was once again hard not to be won over by Morrissey’s charm, energy, and especially his voice.
One of the reasons that Morrissey continues to pump out solid solo albums so many years into his career is that his voice has held up remarkably well; there was virtually no noticeable difference in vocal quality between Morrissey’s performance last night and his singing on record, and he actually sounds stronger and more in control than he did on The Smiths’ live LP Rank. The highlight of his vocal performance came towards the end, when he broke into a rendition of “I Know It’s Over” so passionate and evocative that I was brought back to the very first time I heard The Queen Is Dead. I tried not to show it, but I nearly shed a tear in front of my parents.
By the time he and his band closed the show with “Still Ill,” eager fans had jumped out of their seats and were storming the stage to hold him in an embrace. He welcomed it, not only accepting but reveling in his role as indie rock’s greatest commiseration provocateur. Last night, Morrissey demonstrated that he is not only still a terrific showman and performer, but an eternally vital and relevant voice in a musical climate in which gauging those qualities has become increasingly difficult.
Morrissey Setlist - 10/6/12
- 1. “You Have Killed Me”
- 2. “The Youngest Was The Most Loved”
- 3. “You’re The One For Me, Fatty”
- 4. “Shoplifters of the World Unite”
- 5. “Everyday Is Like Sunday”
- 6. “Ouija Board, Ouija Board”
- 7. “Maladjusted”
- 8. “Spring-Heeled Jim”
- 9. “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris”
- 10. “People Are The Same Everywhere”
- 11. “Fantastic Bird”
- 12. “Meat Is Murder”
- 13. “To Give (The Reason I Live)” (Frankie Valli cover)
- 14. “A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours”
- 15. “Speedway”
- 16. “I Know It’s Over”
- 17. “Let Me Kiss You”
- 18. “One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell”
- 19. “I’m OK By Myself”
- 20. “Still Ill” (Encore)
Photos: The Antlers live at Center Church. New Haven CT - 9/23/12
The Antlers played an absolutely heavenly headlining set inside New Haven’s colonial-era Center Church last night, and I was there to behold the majesty. Check out some of my photos above, and read my full review of this show HERE.
You can find more photos from this and other shows at the Lewis and his Blog facebook page!
THE ANTLERS live at Center Church. New Haven CT. 9/23/12
As the sun began to set on the New Haven Green yesterday, a legion of pale, shivering couples huddled close to each other outside of Center Church, waiting to get inside. Fall was in the air, and The Antlers were in town to ring in the new season with their emotional brand of atmospheric pop. Although the band’s music has become increasingly dreamy as they have evolved, seeing them at the onset of autumn provided concertgoers with the opportunity to nostalgize the cold months of 2009, when I and so many others clutched our copies of Hospice and sobbed until long after the final acoustic plucks of “Epilogue” had faded into the ether.
But just as the seasons change, so too must bands develop. By the release of last year’s visionary full length Burst Apart, Peter Silberman’s pet project had solidified into a full band, and with this development came a profound stylistic shift. Garish bursts of lo-fi shoegaze gave way to lucid guitar lines, and pining acoustic elegies were replaced by mournful dream pop. The Undersea EP, released earlier this year, marked the completion of this shift; it was utterly (and disappointingly) aqueous in both form and concept.
Even though their earlier work will always be most dear to my heart, it’s clear that the Antlers’ new direction has struck a chord with some younger artists. This was undoubtedly evident during the performance of Port St. Willow, who opened the show around 8 PM to a raptly attentive audience inside the colonial-era church. Much like The Antlers once were, Port St. Willow is officially a solo project; however, frontman Nick Principe is being joined by a keyboard player and drummer on this tour. Together, the power trio created a remarkably expansive sound that reverberated through the walls of the church. They opened their set with a continuous 30-minute suite that channeled the post-rock catharsis of Sigur Ros and the atmospheric qualities of The Antlers’ own records. Principe’s voice in particular — a lofty coo with seemingly limitless upward range — strikingly recalled that of Peter Silberman. The band performed music mostly from their new full length album Holiday, which is available to stream or purchase now from Bandcamp.
Port St. Willow’s meditative, restrained energy provided a perfect introduction to The Antlers’ headlining performance, which began shortly after the openers left the stage. Despite operating with the same four-piece lineup that they had when I saw them play at The Space in June 2011, it was remarkable to me how immediately different the atmosphere of this show felt. Part of that was due to the venue — a beautiful old church built in the 1600s — which added a gorgeous amount of natural reverb to the band’s collective sound. This effect was demonstrated rather by accident during the opening song “Drift Dive,” when the PA cut out towards the end and the band went on playing without vocal amplification or microphones until the song was over. In the final few seconds, Peter Silberman set down his guitar, and with his hands cupped around his mouth like an emphatic preacher, he projected a wordless wail down the old church’s central aisle. It was a surprisingly audible moment that, for a moment, felt nothing short of miraculous.
Once the PA began working again, the band settled into a set that leaned heavily on newer material, from the slow burn of Burst Apart's “Rolled Together” and “No Widows” to Undersea's dragging “Endless Ladder,” which built itself up in its Pink Floyd-reminiscent first half only to dissolve into a sonic puddle in the final four minutes. Thankfully, the rest of Undersea (which they played in full) sounded much more convincing at high volume. Although there was something oddly jarring about hearing the moody, sexualized throb that pervades Undersea's “Crest” and most of Burst Apart in such a sanctified setting, it would be hard to describe the breathtaking climax that the Antlers brought to “Rolled Together” last night as anything but divine.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the show for me was the way in which the band amended and changed the older material that they played. A three song suite from Hospice occupied the middle of the set, and although the songs themselves had not changed, the live arrangements were drastically different in some respects from the recorded versions. “Kettering” was slowed down to a sludgy, glacial pace that made it seem frustratingly aimless, as did the final verse of the anthem “Sylvia,” in which Silberman traded the subtlety and nuance of the album version for Burst Apart-reminiscent vocal theatrics. Despite these disappointments, it was a treat to hear the Hospice deep-cut “Shiva,” which was brought to life in a dream-like waltz. The band wrapped their set up shortly afterwards, and returned for a two-song encore set that closed with the Burst Apart closer “Putting The Dog To Sleep,” a fear-of-death anthem that topped my Favorite Songs of 2011 list. With its doo-wop chord progression and gospel-influenced harmonies, it was a fitting closer for a rather heavenly night.
The Antlers Setlist - 9/23/12
- 1. “Drift Dive”
- 2. “Rolled Together”
- 3. “No Widows”
- 4. “Endless Ladder”
- 5. “Kettering”
- 6. “Sylvia”
- 7. “Shiva”
- 8. “Crest”
- 9. “Hounds”
- 10. “Zelda” (Encore)
- 11. “Putting The Dog To Sleep” (Encore)