Thursday, October 30, 2008

CMJ Review

For the WDUB website, I've started writing a regular column called "New Adventures in Hi-Fi." For the first column, I wrote about my experience at CMJ. Here it is:

CMJ 2008: The Full Experience

After toiling as an Assistant Music Director and watching my friends head off to the CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival for three years, it was great to finally get my own opportunity to go. I was pretty pumped to go, so the two-hour drive to the Akron/Canton Airport and the subsequent flight to New York took forever. Once we were there though, we hit the ground running, not stopping until we left on Sunday.

For the first night, we picked the Bowery Ballroom as our first venue. We got here right as opener Corey Chisel and the Wandering Souls were finishing up. It was, needless to say, a bland beginning. Chisel has a great voice, but he wastes it on the same generic singer/songwriter stuff you can hear on any adult contemporary station. Following him was Shugo Tokumaru, a Japanese guitarist who dazzled us with some of the fastest hands I’ve ever seen. His set combined traditional American folk with Japanese avant-garde sounds, leading to a pretty enjoyable set. Following him was Audrye Sessions, a large, booming rock band that took cues from Muse and “Bends” era Radiohead. When the band let go and rocked out, they were fantastic, but their songs seemed to follow a similar pattern, and I had a hard time getting in to it as the set went on.

After these three bands came Love as Laughter, my first new discovery of CMJ. Lead singer Sam Jayne is an energetic and inventive singer who channels the best of blues-rock into an indie-influenced sound. While I thoroughly enjoyed the set, a lot of the crowd seemed disinterested, a fact not lost Jayne, who responded with halfhearted banter in between fantastic rock songs. Love as Laughter was followed by Wild Sweet Orange, an energetic and fun band that didn’t really offer anything that got me too terribly excited, but still led to plenty of toe-tapping and head bobbing.

All of these bands were the lead up to the headliner of the night, Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s. As a fellow Indianapolis native, I’ve followed these guys since their humble beginnings, so seeing them playing to a packed house in New York City was awesome. They delivered, playing a fantastic set that had the entire crowd transfixed and wanting more. I’m glad to see some Indy kids making it on the big stage in such a great way.

On Thursday, we attended panels during the day, but were treated to a lunchtime set by mullet-sporting Memphis Pencils, a seemingly stock indie group that wasn’t too inspiring. That night, we headed over to Webster Hall to check out a couple acts, first of which was my second great new find of CMJ, Lymbyc Systym. A two-piece instumental group that is reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky, the guys rocked out and definitely impressed me enough to buy their album after the set. They were followed by the first really bad group we saw the whole trip, Who Made Who. They were dance rock that basically ripped off The Rapture and were obviously trying too hard to be the next weird, super energetic stage act. Though the rest of the crowd loved it, I was not a fan. After them were Fujiya and Miyagi, a terrific group. While their music isn’t the sort of thing you’d hear at a dance club, the steady beats put you in a trance and you can’t help but nod your head in beat with the music.

Friday was a major night for us. We wanted to go to the Land of Talk/Broken Social Scene show at the Massonic Lodge out in Brooklyn, but they were only letting 45 CMJ badges in, so we got there super early, and it paid off big time. We were right up front for both incredible sets. Land of Talk kicked off and were truly impressive. The band is very cohesive together and lead singer Elizabeth Powell strums her guitar and sings with such gusto that even people that had never heard of them were getting really into the music. They ripped through songs from their EP “Applause Cheer Boo Hiss” and their terrific new album “Some Are Lakes,” providing one of the more satisfying shows of the trip.

After them came Broken Social Scene, one of the best live acts out there. Having already seen BSS three previous times, I knew what to expect, but I was nonetheless blown away again. Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning and Company ripped through tracks not only from their solo albums, but also a substantial amount of older songs and songs by some of the collective’s members’ bands, including Apostle of Hustle, Do Make Say Think, and Hawaii. Elizabeth Powell was on hand again to fill in the female vocals of tracks like “7/4 (Shoreline)” and “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl.” By the end of the night, everyone was dancing like crazy and begging for more. It sounds like BSS is going to take a bit of a break, but I can’t wait to see more.

On Saturday, we headed out to an AAM showcase at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Though we missed the band I was most excited to see, Annuals, we got to catch a few awesome groups. First up was Crystal Antlers, a heavy rock group that would have been a lot better had their lead singer not been screaming through every song. They were followed by the Ruby Suns, a New Zealand duo that use all sorts of pedals, loops, and live instrumentation to a create a very mellow, danceable sound. I had heard them before, but enjoyed their live show a lot more than I expected. All of these were followed by A Place to Bury Strangers, who put on the loudest show I’ve ever seen. At one point, the lead singer took his vocal mic and placed it next to his guitar amp, making it even louder. At another point, he was thrashing his guitar around, ripping off its strings after one of them broke. A fantastic set, but I’m not sure if my ears will ever recover.

This led us to our final showcase of the trip at the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night. Kicking things off were All The Saints, a three-piece that sounded like if My Bloody Valentine had been Hendrix fans. After them was Marnie Stern, with one of the better sets of the trip. An incredible guitarist, Stern blasted through a series of songs, all with a huge smile on her face. Not only was the music good, but she seemed to be having so much fun that it wore off on the crowd. The last act we saw was Vivian Girls, my favorite discovery of my CMJ experience. Three girls from Brooklyn, Vivian Girls combine classic punk and 60’s girl group sounds, creating what a collaboration between The Ramones and They Crystals. Their first, self-titled album is only 20 minutes long, so the set was pretty quick, but the songs were all so unbelievable catchy and enjoyable it seemed like a lot longer.

Overall, CMJ was pretty great. There weren’t any really terrible bands that we saw. A few that weren’t great, but nothing that really made my ears bleed. My CMJ recommendations:

- Love as Laugter
- Margot & the Nuclear So and Sos
- Lymbyc Systym
- Land of Talk
- Ruby Suns
- A Place to Bury Strangers
- Marnie Stern
- Vivian Girls

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CMJ

From Wednesday to Sunday, I'll be at the CMJ Music Marathon in NYC with WDUB. I'll have pictures and a review up when I get back, but I'm also doing a live Twitter blog from the festival which you can check out here. Be sure to check it out!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Jeff Mangum Plays "Engine"!!!

Tonight, I went to see the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise tour in Columbus and got to see one of the greatest things I've ever gotten to see. Jeff Mangum, the leader of Neutral Milk Hotel, came out and played the NMH song "Engine" with band mate Julian Koster. Not only was he playing, he was playing in the middle of the crowd, five feet from me. I took a video which is being shared on WDUB TV, but can be viewed below.
UPDATE: There is an MP3 link below.

Jeff Mangum - "Engine" (MP3)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Concert Review: Mirah


Last night was one of the shortest, yet most pleasant concert-going experiences I've ever had when I saw Mirah with No Kids at Skully's in Columbus. The doors opened early, at 6:30, and by 7, No Kids were on and playing. They were an okay band that grew on me the longer they played, but they had no energy and their songs got a bit repetitive as they went on. Finally, at around 8, came Mirah. When she came out to get set up, she just grabbed the mic, not bothering to even have the mystery of coming on stage to start. Though she was playing without the use of her pinkie, which she'd cut a few days prior, Mirah very sweetly worked her way through several new and recent songs. Just her on stage with the guitar, and less than 100 people in the audience, it felt like she was playing for a group of friends and was easily the most intimate show I've ever been to. In between songs, her banter was cheerful and warm, and she communicated with the crowd like we were a single friend standing before her. The show was no longer than an hour, and was done by 9, but the songs warmed me up so much inside, I didn't care.
Grade: A

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Bloody Valentine Aragon Ballroom 9/27/2008


I'd like to write a few words about one of my most recent, and unique musical experiences. On September 27th , I took the Mega bus from St. Louis to Chicago to witness My Bloody Valentine live. If you don't know who they are, I don't think any description of their music really does it justice; so my best advice for you is to just go pick-up some of their music and give it a listen. For those who have heard them, you probably don't know what their shows are like live. This has something to do with the fact that their current tour is the first in the U.S. in 16 years. So I guess without say too much else here are my thoughts.

I had heard that My Bloody Valentine puts on a loud show (some contest it's the loudest, some fans spotting 132 dBs on the board). And I had heard they were handing out earplugs to everyone. But finally getting to venue, and seeing the sheer number of speakers and equipment on stage, I knew I was in for a loud night. My father and I got there about a half-hour early, which let us snag spots right in front of the soundboard.

After waiting through the opener (I can't find the name), who were good but not why I was there, My Bloody Valentine finally took the stage. Kevin Shields, Belinda Butcher, Debbie Googe and Colm O’Ciosoig are by no stretch of the imagination rock stars. This was obvious when at the start of I Only Said, the opener, bright white lights started to strobe around the stage, almost blinding you from seeing the band. Throughout the night Kevin Shields and Belinda Butcher would step up to the mic and step back without much apparent emotion or enthusiasm. Debbie Googe and Colm O’Ciosoig on the other hand were moving and playing as you might expect from the music that was being played.

Actually in general, I didn't know what to expect. I knew what shoegazing was, but only in words. It turned out to be something more and less then what I expected. During the show, it was as if the whole crowd was transfixed on something else. No one was rowdy, and the only movements I really saw was a head nod here or a sway there. Everyone was even standing in rows. It was one of the calmest shows I've ever been too. It was something completely different.

The music itself was amazing. The music overwhelmed the vocals even more then they do on the album; but everything sounded great. On Nothing Much To Lose, Colm O’Ciosoig drum rolled his heart out; delaying the hook of the song. On When You Sleep (personal favorite song right now) we saw a green path leading to nowhere in particular. Much like the music itself, the graphics that backed every song were distorted just enough that you couldn't fully tell what was happening. Every song sounded familiar but different.

And then it happened. The moment I had heard and read about. Belinda and Kevin said their thanks and good-byes, and launched into You Made Me Realise. A song that on their groundbreaking Creation single is under four-minutes, here was a sprawling song, whose length I did not measure. While the song starts off as a regular song, it quickly turns into a single chord repeated over and over again. The distortion builds and builds until the whole room is one noise. At this point the lights are going full tilt as well. Strobe lights that blind you, and surely put at least one person into an epileptic fit were everywhere. I fell into a trance like state at one point, and was only brought out of it when I took my earplugs out to feel the whole of the experience. Suddenly all of my senses came back in an instant. I was awake, aware, and my whole body felt like I was in some kind of storm. I can't do the experience justice, so I won't try too much.

After they finally finished You Made Me Realise, the crowd was stunned. White lights from the stage flooded the room, preventing you from seeing the stage. No one seemed to know what to do, and most people took a few minutes before they finally turned to talk to those around them. While we knew it wouldn't happen, we all hoped that they would come back on for just one more song.

After fighting the crowd out of the theater, it was a shock to not be constantly bombarded with noise. A slight ringing was in my ear, but it doesn't seem like it will be a problem. An experience unlike any other, I recommend that if you ever have a chance see them live. With the current tour, and rumors of a third LP, this might be easier then ever before.

Grade: A+

Set list:
I Only Said
When You Sleep
You Never Should
When You Wake
Cigarette in Your Bed
Come in Alone
Only Shallow
Thorn
Nothing Much to Lose
To Here Knows When
Slow
Soon
Feed Me With Your Kiss
You Made Me Realise

Friday, October 10, 2008

Concert Review: Death Cab for Cutie


I've waited a couple of days to give this review of Wednesday night's Death Cab for Cutie show at Lifestyles Community Pavilion in Columbus because I needed some time to let it settle in. Death Cab is a band that I first had back in 2002 on their album "The Photo Album," and since then, their music has had tremendous personal meaning to me. "Transatlanticism" basically got me through high school and "We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes" has been in regular rotation since starting college. All that being said, I think I came into Wednesday night's show with high expectations.

Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed in my concert going experience. I'm just a few short months away from turning 22, but I felt particularly old and more concert savvy than everyone else at the show. I commented to my roommate whom I was with that I'd never been to a show where the audience didn't care that they were there. Throughout the entire show, people were talking loudly, ignoring every song that was on an album before "Plans" (with the exception of "Sound of Settling"). Cellphones have replaced lighters and you could tell when the crowd didn't like a song because they all pulled out their cameras with their bright LCD screens illuminating the night. As someone who attaches great personal meaning to music, I can't fault someone for finding "Plans" and "Narrow Stairs" their personal favorite albums, but it truly baffled me to see so many people who shelled out around $50 to see the show just ignore it whenever an old song came up. Usually, I go to a show because I like a band overall, not for an album or two.

As for the music itself, the band has been better. They aren't a dynamic live act like My Morning Jacket, but they usually deliver a solid and entertaining show. On Wednesday, they seemed to be holding back just a little bit. To me, the best moment of all of "Plans" is Chris Walla's solo on "Crooked Teeth" where the band seems just to just let go and fall into the echos of his solo. While the echo was there at the show, the grandiose swoop of it all wasn't. Similarly, the crash into the instrumentals of "We Looked Like Giants" wasn't really there, instead muted to sound plain and generic. They saved a lot of the epic rocking for new songs, including "Long Division" and "I Will Possess Your Heart."

The setlist of the show was pretty solid, covering a great deal of the band's catologue. IT was great to hear "We Have the Facts" tracks like "Employment Pages" and "Company Calls," and surprising to hear "Something About Airplanes'" "Champagne From a Paper Cup." They seemed to stay away from tracks from "Narrow Stairs," but the ones they played were done quite well.

This was not the best show I've been to, nor was it even close to the best Death Cab show I've been to (see: Bonnaroo 2006). I still can't decide if the crowd put me off so much I didn't enjoy the music or if it just truly wasn't that great. Regardless, it was overall all a fairly forgettable show.

Grade: C

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Concert Review: My Morning Jacket


Already one of my favorite live acts, I knew that My Morning Jacket would deliver on a great show. There was no opening act and doors opened at 7, so I had a feeling that this show was going to be epic, and indeed it was. From opener "Evil Urges" to closer "One Big Holiday," Jim James and crew relentlessly pounded on their instruments and bounced around the stage with seemingly endless energy. It has always impressed me about them that no matter if they're playing a midnight show at Bonnaroo or playing a medium size city in the middle of a long tour, they play like their life depends on it. James is perhaps the most fun musician to watch on stage as he thrashes around on his guitar, hides behind a cape as he sings, and most impressive, slides across the stage. The show showcased My Morning Jackets cohesiveness as a group. They seamlessly integrate extended jams and solos into their already epic songs, making improvisation look planned. The material from "Evil Urges" surprisingly fits in nicely with some of their older material, even though it doesn't necessarily sound similar at all. The highlights were predictable, as they always are at an MMJ show, but were still incredible. They included a romp through "Off the Record" and the dueling guitars of "Lay Low," but undoubtedly the best moment of the night was the last, "One Big Holiday." This might be a little biased because it's one of my all-time favorite songs, but I think the band closes with this song because it blows everything else out of the water. Even after almost six years of playing that song night after night, the band still rocks out the hardest of it and doesn't hold back a single bit. All and all, I'd say that this show will easily make my list of top 5 shows of the year. A solid effort from the boys from Louisville.
Grade: A+

Monday, October 6, 2008

Introducing WDUB TV


Since the start of the year, I've been working on a project for WDUB called WDUB TV. WDUB TV is an online channel of content produced by WDUB to compliment our on air programming. Our first episode went live just a few minutes ago and can be found below. You can also visit the channel's site on YouTube for more. In Part 2 of the first episode, I review Jenny Lewis' new album, "Acid Tongue."

Part 1

Part 2