Andrew Jackson Jihad - “#Armageddon” (Live)
New song from Phoenix’s AJJ.
"We were all taking pictures with camera phones to prove that we were there."
Julia Brown - “Library” (Live @ Orchid Tapes Showcase. NYC. 5/18/2013)
Conor Oberst - “You Are Your Mother’s Child” (Live in Fairfield CT 7/26/12)
Happy mother’s day, everybody! My mom is great and I bet yours is too. Enjoy this new Conor Oberst song which will appear on the soundtrack of the movie Writers this year.
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
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”
JOYCE MANOR live at Bethesda Lutheran Church. New Haven CT. 2/25/13
I remembered that Joyce Manor existed two days ago, when a series of tweets and tumblr posts indicated to me that, at one of their recent shows with Desaparecidos, Conor Oberst’s punk band played a cover of “Constant Headache,” the anthemic midtempo closer from Joyce Manor’s self-titled album. My eventual reaction was surprise; it prompted a tweet the next night about how something like that could only really happen in 2013, when the Oberst-indebted Joyce Manor and Oberst’s own reunited band stand on virtually the same level in terms of the sizes of their respective fan bases. And yet, my immediate reaction to the news was not one of surprise but rather one of fuzzy, warm acceptance. Mostly, I felt like I was living vicariously through frontman Barry Johnson. I don’t think it would surprise anyone reading this that I would probably be able to die happy if Conor Oberst covered one of my songs. Still, the thought of something so crazy happening to this band worried me somewhat. Considering the possibility of a major ego boost to a band that I have already documented extensively as being egocentric, I was hesitant about their show at New Haven’s Bethesda Lutheran Church last night.
First, a word about the space: I wasn’t familiar with this church by name, but as it turned out, it’s in an affluent neighborhood of New Haven with which I’m very familiar. It was kind of adorably hilarious to see scuzzy punks and Tumblr kids (of which there were many) wandering about cluelessly on St. Ronan Street, directly across from the imposing hill of Yale’s Divinity School. Also, the church’s representatives, who were present throughout the night to sell snacks and oversee the whole affair, made a point to mention that they were worried about “the flying thing” (known to us punks as ‘stage diving’) that everyone started doing during TWIABP’s set. The Arc Agency, who booked the show, jokingly updated the facebook event as a “No Fly Zone.” Cute!
By the time that I arrived around 7 PM, I had missed a good majority of the wrestling-inspired post-hardcore outfit Enzuigiri’s set. What I heard was enjoyable though — heavy, bass-driven punk rock with alternating, dual vocals and a surprising amount of sonic heft for a power trio. Soon after they finished, an early highlight of the show came in the form of a terrific performance by SUNY Purchase indie kids LVL UP (pictured above). I’ve caught LVL UP nearly every time they’ve been to Connecticut in the past year, and each show has been tighter and more enjoyable. They remind me of how The World Is… was a couple years ago; this band is on an upward trajectory towards something great and the release of their forthcoming Extra Worlds 7” should aid that surge. From the Real Estate-aping “Bro Chillers” to the hilariously mosh-inducing performance of “*_*,” there was a lot to love about LVL UP’s set last night, but one of their unreleased songs proved to be the true highlight, with a jaunty power pop progression and multiple unique vocal parts. I can’t wait to hear their new studio material.
The next band on the bill was a New Jersey emo duo called Dads, with whom you’re probably familiar. Of course Dads played this show. Frankly, the experience would have felt incomplete without their mere presence, to say nothing of the performance itself. Having never seen them live before, but having paid attention to their presence on the internet for about three years, I wasn’t sure what to expect. To be honest, I don’t enjoy their music much at this point; it feels too passé — too aesthetically and conceptually linked to a revivalist era of emo that has run its course a few too many times. What bothered me, though, was the manner in which the group presented itself to the crowd, mixing deadpan sarcasm with what occasionally scanned as genuinely self-important conceit. “We’re just going to get right into the hits,” drummer/vocalist John Bradley said, cloyingly, at the beginning of the set. It was a little off-putting, but their fans seemed to enjoy it extensively. Their enthusiasm was lost on me, sadly.
Dads’ set was followed by a high profile performance from locals The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, a band that never truly disappoints live despite occasional, frustrating issues that impede the perfection of which I so thoroughly believe they are capable. Last night, though, they were tighter than ever. Settling into his relatively new role as lead vocalist for the third time that I’ve seen him, David Bello seemed unprecedentedly comfortable onstage. The band as a whole has swelled to 8 members in size, and their collective sound is truly something to behold. Yet despite the intensity that their arsenal of guitars, drums, keyboards, trumpet et. al. can provide, the best moment of their set was also the most tempered and gentle. They closed with a new song, featuring lush, four part harmonies that ended the performance on a powerfully subdued note.
In my experience seeing this band so many times, I’ve realized that to listen to The World Is A Beautiful Place is to give in a little— to a embrace some pretense and allow oneself to experience a certain profundity that may or may not actually be there behind the passionate screams and intertwining melodies. That said, when a couple hundred kids gather in a literal church and sing along as the band’s 8-member orchestra plays their transcendent brand of emotive post-rock, it’s hard not to feel like some kind of pseudo-religious experience is occurring. These guys should consider starting a full-on cult when their new album drops; I hear that’s a terrific promotional strategy.
When Joyce Manor took the stage, I had resigned to relative passivity, although I won’t deny that I was a little intrigued. Within seconds of the opening surge to the front, as the power chords that signal the beginning of “Beach Community” rang out, I found myself buying into it to an extent that I never thought I would. I’ll be honest— I don’t think I had listened to Joyce Manor’s music at all in the five months since they headlined The Space in August, but I actually think that my lack of immediate familiarity made me enjoy the experience more. Their songs (particularly those on the 2011 self-titled record) have a particular way of sticking in one’s brain; hearing them last night amongst the peripheral moshing and communal revelry ignited a welcome feeling of celebration within me, to the point that I actually found myself quite moved. Part of it definitely came from the extent to which the band seemed genuinely happy to be there, rocketing through some peppy new songs and grinning ear to ear during the older cuts. Although the crowd was certainly energetic, no one seemed to get hurt and there was no mean-spirited aggression present at Bethesda Church last night. It was rather cute, really. I received a small scrape on my right arm during “Call Out (Laundry)” and considered it my Joyce Manor mosh injury.
In a night that displayed a fair amount of pretense, some entirely welcome (particularly TWIABP) and others rather unexpected (Dads.. what was going on there?), it was nice to see that Joyce Manor seem to have come to terms with their own identity, with which they previously seemed confused. For a long time I’ve held the belief that there is nothing special or revelatory about their music, but more than ever before, I saw last night how little this matters. Tracks like “Derailed,” which set off a particularly heavy flurry of stage dives, may not be uniquely good, but they certainly are good nonetheless. Joyce Manor knew this, and it seemed as though everybody at the Bethesda Lutheran Church last night knew it too.
Keep up with The Arc Agency on tumblr to find out about more shows like this. Thanks for reading.
Desaparecidos - “Constant Headache” (Joyce Manor cover) (2/24/13)
Honestly this is just the best thing I’ve seen and listened to in a long time and I’m kind of in awe of the fact that it even happened so I thought I’d share. Wow. Watch for 1:24 when Barry Johnson is having the best moment of his entire life, singing along to his own song while Conor Oberst covers it.
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
Some shots from our recent show with Kindred Queer and Waxahatchee at the People’s Art Collective in New Haven. Thanks Lane Nelson
Stream/Download: Low - Plays Nice Places EP (2012)
Slow-burning indie rockers Low just announced that they will follow up their excellent 2011 LP C’mon with a new full length record in 2013 entitled The Invisible Way, which is being produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. That announcement was made all the more sweet by the additional immediate release of a new live EP called Low Plays Nice Places, which was recorded on their recent tour with Death Cab For Cutie.
The EP includes live versions of some of the best songs in Low’s extensive catalog, including the delicate, beautiful “Sunflower” from Things We Lost In The Fire and the heavy, dirge-like “Witches.” The real reason to grab this EP is for the rare performance of “Words,” a track from Low’s first full length, which features Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard on backing vocals. It’s a pretty spectacular performance, especially considering that they almost never play material from their first two albums.
- 1. “Words” [ft. Benjamin Gibbard]
- 2. “Waiting”
- 3. “Sunflower”
- 4. “Witches”
- 5. “Pissing”
- 6. “Murderer”
Stream the live EP above and download it for free at the embedded link. The Invisible Way is out March 19th on Sub Pop.
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.
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)