everybody's singing along, come on
Yes, it's more erratic posting from yours truly! I started this post over the weekend, but have been slacking off on finishing it all week. Here it is.
While I haven't paid much attention to college basketball this year, I always have much love for The Tournament, especially the opening weekend. So many games, you can't possibly watch 'em all. It's my favorite sporting event & the hometown Gophs play today. I didn't see much of yesterday's coverage, as I've been too preoccupied with this recap to watch.
As previewed last Wednesday, I took in back-to-back multi-band bills at the Triple Rock last week & it was good times. On Wednesday (3/9), Rachel & I rolled down to the Triple Rock around 10pm & got a primo parking spot (my fortuitous parking karma would later come back to haunt me).
After a drink in the bar, we went next door to the venue & were both very impressed with local upstarts Melodious Owl, who went on first. Hailing from my ol' GV hood, these kids put on a great show, mixing new wave & post-punk & doing it way better than The Fever. The drummerless trio worked the early crowd nicely, with vocalist Wes Statler doing his best manic Pelle Almqvist imitation (but selling it nicely), guitarist Joe Berns laying down danceable guitar riffs & keyboardist/saxophonist Jon Kuder providing Minnesota's answer to Gabe Andruzzi. While Melodious Owl could come off as faux-hipster, they seemed pretty earnest & friendly, so I didn't get that vibe. Wes said they are working on a new album (to follow up on their basement recorded Transition EP), and I'll definitely be on the lookout for that come May/June. It's apparently being produced by local rocker Mark Mallman, who Melodious Owl will be supporting at a couple Triple Rock shows later this month (3/25). David de Young also has a few words about the band's performance over at the How Was The Show blog.
After Melodious Owl's suprisingly entertaining performance, Seattle-based Aqueduct was a bit of a letdown, IMO. Their brand of likeable synth-pop just wasn't clicking with me, and their white boy covers of "Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta" and "99 Problems" seemed kinda like cheap ploys to connect with the audience, who were appreciative. The band seemed to be having a good enough time, as frontman Matt Nader (who Rachel thought look a bit like Andrew McCarthy, though I didn't see it) was full of smiles all nite. Much like their I Sold Gold LP, Aqueduct were good but nothing special.
Fellow sons & daughters of Seattle United State of Electronica took the stage after midnite to a moderate-sized midweek crowd, but those of us in attendance came poised to get down. After keyboardist Noah Star Weaver soundchecked his vocoder with a little "Robot Rock", U.S.E. took the stage full force, launched into "Open Your Eyes" & got everybody moving. Their high energy set included plenty of songs from their self-titled LP, including "Emerald City", "Climb The Walls", "Takin' It All The Way" & "There's Always Music", as well as a number of other (new?) tunes that I didn't recognize. For the set closer "IT IS ON!", the band pulled a whole gang of people (including Rachel & I) on stage with them to dance & sing along, and it got pretty crowded up there. As you can see, Rachel got her hands on a tammy & went right to work. Despite my desire for a "Night Shift" > "La Discoteca" encore, a bunch of other people were quite vocal in their request for "Vamos a la Playa" (wishful thinking in a chilly Mpls), and that's what we got. While U.S.E. may not have exactly lived up to my lofty expectations as the ultimate party band (lagging behind The New Deal & Gogol Bordello IMO), they were still an absolute blast. For more U.S.E. goodness, check out their MySpace page or stream tracks from a 2003 performance at Seattle's KEXP.
Wes Holmes has another review of the nite over at HWTS.
Thursday (3/10) brought me back to the Triple Rock. While Friday's sold-out bill featured Visqueen & The Reputation, I was interested to see the first nite's line-up, which included Detroit punks Thunderbirds Are Now!. I've got the band's spaz-rock debut album Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief, but the track or two I'd heard from their follow-up Justamustache (out March 22 on French Kiss), and the buzz surrounding it, suggested a big stylistic progression on their sophomore effort. And I wanted to see/hear for myself.
While preserving the manic energy of their earlier work, Thunderbirds Are Now! have moved toward synth-heavy new wave & the overdone dancepunk thing, but have done so successfully without coming off too redundant. Sure, they sound a bit like labelmates Les Savy Fav, but in a good way (see yesterday's Pitchfork review or this recent profile).
As Jay Good Times Roll (scroll down) & Uncle whatevs were kind enough to remind me of, Pitchfork's Sam Ubl gave this track four & a half stars back in early February. So I'll let the "professional" do the talking:
When that prefab Casio dance beat kicks in you'll wonder, "Who are these guys trying to fool"? But then comes the sideswiping swinging tremolo guitar line, and eventually you realize that French Kiss' latest have popped the lid off of a lightning-in-a-bottle post-punk anthem. Mercurial and unhinged, Thunderbirds Are Now! are what Les Savy Fav might sound like dressed up as the Futureheads, and "198090 (Aquatic's Cupid)" is their best song.
The sheer energy is alluring enough, but this Detroit quintet knows how to bang out a solid chorus/chorus/chorus structure, crafting new hooks at every turn through subtle permutations. By my count, there are seven distinct sections. Only two of them repeat because the rest really don't have to; they come doused in syrup and like to roll around in feathers. So, Unicorns, move over: Here's finally a band with the decency to learn how to play their instruments before nixing pop convention.
Thunderbirds Are Now!'s frenetic tone carries over nicely to their live peformance, which makes for an intense, body-shaking post-punk show. Keyboardist Scott Allen is particularly a flamboyant rock showman, strutting & banging & leaping all over the place throughout the set. Just wind him up & watch him go. For more on TAN!, check out their bio over at 230 Publicity, and pick up an old EP track from yesterday's 20 Jazz Funk Greats.
bonus MP3 Thunderbirds Are Now! - "From: Skulls" (via)
Next up was Baltimore's the Oranges Band, who played a decent set of rock that didn't engage me all that much, although Craig Finn joined them for a song on vocals which was fun. But it was only prelude to the rock that was about to be dropped on us by the main event, The Hold Steady. After hitting the Andrew Bird show earlier that nite, JRDN thankfully made it to the Triple Rock before Finn & company took the stage a little after midnite. They opened up with a semi-ode to Edina MN entitled "Hornets! Hornets!", the lead-off track from their forthcoming sophomore release Separation Sunday. A whole bunch of new tunes from the new album (due out May 3rd), many of which reference Craig Finn's formative years here in Mpls (lyrics at the band's website). Of course, Finn was unsuprisingly talkative throughout the set, as these Mpls shows are like homecoming events, despite the fact that he & the rest of the band are now based in Brooklyn, NY. Between songs, he spoke a lot about the rock/hardcore scene he grew up with, including meeting the guys from Dillinger Four (who own the Triple Rock) & his years w/Lifter Puller, dedicating a song to underappreciated locals Soul Asylum & their ailing bassist Karl Mueller. Finn also talked about the multitude of "scenes" in NYC, dissing on the hipster discopunks for trying to "teach the indie rock kids to dance again" (I don't know if he was referring to Keith & his new Bloggie specifically) while introducing "Most People Are DJs". The band closed the main set with a few more songs from Almost Killed Me, and encored with "Positive Jam" and "Barfruit Blues" to cap off a kick-ass show. I happily picked up a sweet Aesthetic Apparatus poster on the way out, but returned to my car to find a parking ticket. Ugh. Damn parking karma.
Dinosaur in Trouble also reports on the Hold Steady's first nite in Mpls.
And then I did nothing all last weekend. But on Monday (3/14), I went to the 400 Bar, where I met up with JRDN & Jim B from HWTS (look out for his forthcoming review) for a nite of Canadian indie pop goodness.
It was a truly pleasant, albeit kinda mellow, evening of Broken Social Scene offshoots, starting with guitarist Andrew Whiteman's avant-pop group Apostle of Hustle. Though he was without the gorgeous atmospheric production work of Dave Newfeld that made Folkloric Feel such a delight, Whiteman has been able to nicely transition his AoH songs into the live arena. While getting a hand from some of his fellow BSS/Stars crew on a few tunes (Evan Cranley on trombone for example) helps round out the band's sound, the addition of keyboardist/percussionist/vocalist/flamenco dancer Ilse Gudino to AoH really gives their performance a broader sense of theatricality, a more dense musical output, and a necessary shot of estrogen. I was very impressed by how it all managed to come together.
Here's another standout track from Folkloric Feel that has grown on me over time. It opens with some thunderous beats & a big fat guitar riff, then settles into a calm, subtle shuffle underneath Whiteman's hushed vocals during the verses before going loud again. It's all very groovy, even during the cluttered & noisy "Strutters' Ball" outro. Whiteman displayed some notable guitarwork at the 400 bar & I get a little sense of that here.
Next up was Stars, who I was also seeing for the first time. Their latest album, Set Yourself on Fire, had finally been released here in the U.S. the previous week after having been out for months in Stars' native Canada. Their set featured a lot of material from the new disc, though they also played a number of songs from 2003's Heart as well as 2001's Nightsongs.
Chatty frontman Torquil Campbell said that most of Stars' songs were about "f**king", though I'm not sure that applies here, since this tune seems to be more about high school nostalgia & suburban regret. Then again, I suppose Torq's earnest pleas for "one more chance to be young & wild & free" could also be about sex. When the band launched into "Reunion" at the 400 Bar, I saw Jim B with a wide smile on his mug, much like mine.
My only real gripe with the Stars' performance was that it was kinda difficult to hear Amy Milan's soft & lovely voice through the mix at times, especially during epic songs like "Elevator Love Letter" & "Ageless Beauty". Otherwise, it was a great set of saccarhine-but-not-too-saccharine pop melodies, with only a brief polemic pit-stop during the dark "He Lied About Death" (though I laughed out loud at the "I hope your drunken daughters are gay!" line) that was later brightened by the requested "What The Snowman Learned About Love" encore. I just hope they made it safely down to SXSW.
The merch table at the show had a red hoodie for sale that read "Soft Revolution" across the chest, which I might have bought if it had some Stars artwork or something on the back. But it didn't. Anyway, I love the hurried immediacy of this song, which feels very cinematic to me for some reason. It's like being hurled or propelled forward until the explosive, wordless chorus blasts in (luv those horns) & sends me hurling off a cliff, the rush of it all washing over me. Then the dust settles, and I land as the song ends on a quiet note. I like that this song takes me on a journey.
Not enough pretty pictures to look at? Not to worry. Brooklyn Vegan and Kathryn Yu both have more photos from Stars' 3/8 show at NYC's Mercury Lounge, and Chromewaves has some Stars & AoH pix from last year.
You can stream recent in-studio performances & interviews (by DJ Mary Lucia) w/The Hold Steady, Andrew Bird, Apostle of Hustle, Stars & many others at 89.3FM The Current's audio archive. It's some good sh**, yo.
a few more random notes
In case you missed it, Pitchfork has a lengthy interview with talk of the town M.I.A. by Mark Pytlik, and Carl Wilson checks in with his thoughtful commentary as well. Arular drops this coming Tuesday, March 22nd.
Also out on Tuesday is Picaresque, the latest from The Decemberists. As has been widely reported, frontman Colin Meloy & company unfortunately had their trailer & gear stolen after the second date of a hefty tour to support the new album. If anybody out in the pacific northwest has any info on the perps, please contact Colin & alert the Portland (Oregon) police ASAP.
Annie's debut LP Anniemal finally gets a stateside release on May 24th. Info Leafblower points to a Guardian UK interview w/the Swedish popstress.
Finally, listen to Matt Fluxblog inform the masses about the mp3 blog phenomenon from Wednesday's NPR (around the 16 minute mark).
Whew! That was a long post. No wonder it took all friggin' week to write.