Best shows of 2012

January 21st, 2013

charles bradley
Charles Bradley at the Brighton Music Hall, photo by ipickmynose

During 2012, I went to the most concerts I’ve been to since 2009. It still wasn’t that many but I decided I’d like to wrap up the year in concerts in some way.

Top 5 shows:

  1. 2/4 Charles Bradley @ Brighton Music Hall – This show blew me away. Thinking back on it, almost a year later, I’m still a bit in awe. It’s a bit hard to describe why, but here’s a shot: Bradley is truly ecstatic to be performing and when he says “I love you” to the crowd, it feels real (and he backs it up by hugging perhaps dozens of audience members after the show). His band is tight and his performance is fantastic. He’s truly a soul showman, not in some retro way, but like he’s living it.
  2. 5/18 Damien Jurado @ Davis Square Theater – I’ve seen Jurado something like nine times now and a few years ago I thought I’d seen the best show by him that I ever would. Turns out I was wrong. The previous eight times, he performed sitting (and often solo), concentrating on playing his fantastically written songs. Never would I have thought a show would end with him excitedly playing through a song as the clock ticked into the small hours and then finish it on his knees, head on the floor, shout-singing into the microphone. I walked away stunned and happy.
  3. 11/3 Crooked Fingers, John Vanderslice @ Great Scott – Often great shows are a combination of many things, with one element being the music. In this case, an exhilarating and brisk bike ride through Cambridge and Allston brought me to Great Scott, where I hung out with JV and friends, had some nice beers, struck up great happenstance conversations, and ran into an old friend, all while and after both JV and Crooked Fingers put on great sets.
  4. 11/13 David Bazan @ Brighton Music Hall – Here was David Bazan playing my favorite Pedro the Lion album, Control interspersed with other great songs from his catalog and even with an appearance from one-time Pedro member TW Walsh on the drums, all skillfully and passionately. If you know me, you know I’m a big Bazan fan and this may be my favorite full band show I’ve ever seen.
  5. 4/27 Archers of Loaf @ Middle East Downstairs
    In a dark and cramped room full of most 30-somethings, the 41 year old Bachmann and company ripped through classic Archers songs on their first stop through Boston since they reunited. Seemingly in unison the audience was reliving their high school love of unbridled musical energy, and the way that could connect one with other people.

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Best show for old people:

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  • 10/6 Neil Halstead @ Lizard Lounge – This show started at 7:30, had one opener and was done by 9:45. It was seated and gloriously quite. And the bar had a great beer list. If liking that makes me old, so be it. (Also, the music alone was fantastic–this show was a strong contender for the top five shows of the year above.)

Best non-venue show:
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  • 11/15 The Local Strangers @ Sommervile house show – These friends-of-friends put on a really solid set in a small setting as I was sitting on couch next to some nice people I’d just met. Before and after I chatted to the band and other attendees, had some snacks and a beer out of the fridge. If you haven’t gotten onto the house show bandwagon yet, seriously consider it.

An honorable mention for this was Kelly McFarling and Goodnight Texas @ Heartbeat Collective in Jamaica Plain, which is essentially a barn and yard next to someone’s house. Lots of fun as well.

Best standing gig:

  • 3/16 Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens @ Fat Cat, New York City – If you’re in New York early on a Friday, I’d strongly suggest checking out this standing gig, which runs every Friday and will run you all of $3 in cover. Shelton puts on a fantastic set of soul gospel while patrons watch, dance and chat.

Best large show:

  • 11/16 Matt & Kim @ House of Blues – I typically don’t like going to large (1000+ capacity) venues and I will often not go to them because I often don’t enjoy them, but after seeing Matt & Kim last year on Jimmy Fallon’s show, I became a bit obsessed with seeing one of their live shows. It paid off as they were dense balls of energy, dancing through their songs, crowd walking (thinking crowd-surfing, but upright), and singing their lungs out.

Best small show:

  • 8/17 Tom Thumb @ TT the Bear’s – I’ve followed Tom Thumb for a few years and when I finally got a chance to see him, I was excited. It turned out that he was the first of four bands, playing on a CD release show for the headliner at his friend’s request. There weren’t many people at TT’s yet, but he put on a great set, interacting charmingly with the couple dozen people in the audience.

Best nostalgia show:

  • 4/27 Archers of Loaf @ Middle East (downstairs) – See the description above. This was just about the pinnacle of nostalgic rock show.

Of course, David Bazan’s show, described above, would be a good choice for this, but with the set of songs from throughout his catalog, that show wasn’t as purely nostalgia as the Archers show.

Best sing-along

  • 12/20 Sufjan Stevens @ Royale – When I saw Sufjan was embarking on a tour entitled “Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long: Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice”, I was a bit skeptical of all the claims in that title. It turned out, though, the sing-a-long part was very true, with audience member being given lyrics books of various Christmas carols which we all sung together heartily (except for the people trying to do their best impersonation of the dad at the end of Elf). It was oddly fun to unironically sing old carols with 700 or 800 other people tossed into the same room.

Well, there you have it. What were your favorite shows this year?

top song obsessions of 2012

December 27th, 2012

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The Lumineers, seen here at Cafe 939 in April, really caught my ear this year

Song obsessions are those songs that your brain picks for you, those ear worms that get stuck in your head and have you singing them to yourself or going back to hit repeat on your ipod. I like the idea of reporting what my brain got stuck on each year, rather than picking a list of song I think are the ‘best’. Here’s the list of the songs that were stuck in my head the most in 2012.

If you want to read through past years’ lists, here are my top song obsessions from 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.

  1. The Lumineers – Ho Hey (mp3) (buy)
    The Lumineers – Slow It Down (mp3) (download it with subscription)

    “Slow it Down” by The Lumineers from Look Sessions on Vimeo.

    The Lumineers hit me with a double shot this year. Early on Natalie’s obsession with “Slow It Down” got me turned onto this video, which was one I watched dozens of times; later, I got into the rest of the album and the obvious ear-catcher is “Ho Hey”. Both songs employ great dynamics and melodies, but there’s also something honest and straight-forward about them. (Funny enough I’ve been singing “I belong with you// You belong with me// In my sweet home” to myself for months only to just find that those aren’t the right lyrics at all).

  2. Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks (mp3) (buy)

    Of Monsters and Men took a long time for me to get into. I gave them a listen in March and thought they were sort of a more Icelandic version of the Stars. This song struck me a bit in May but this album really hit me in August/ September when I was spent five days driving around Iceland. These songs really go well with landscapes like this. We probably listened to the album a dozen times in those five days, each time settling into the songs more, ratcheting up my enthusiasm for the band, driving the musical hooks deeper into my brain.

  3. Tyler Lyle – I’ll Sing You a Song (mp3) (buy)

    There’s something very sincere and earnest about Tyler Lyle that takes some getting used to, I think. He writes songs that come to you already familiar, like something your songwriter friend wrote, that he played for you as he worked on it during evenings of hanging out. This is particularly true of “I’ll Sing You a Song”. I searched for hours trying to figure out why it sounds familiar, but I couldn’t find any source. Maybe that’s just it: a good melody will always sound familiar.

  4. Kishi Bashi – Bright Whites (mp3) (buy)

    I got introduced to Kishi Bashi through Dave’s song obsession in July. He had good, good reason for being obsessed with this song. Have you heard it? I want to Godzilla dance–I made this up–to the beginning and then attempt to sing along to the rest. It’s a few minutes of layered pop genius that plays like a less frenetic, more accessible Shugo Tokumaru.

  5. Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe (mp3) (buy)

    I’ve always said my song obsessions aren’t about me picking songs but about which songs get stuck in my head. It’s not really me picking songs, but reporting which songs I’m already obsessed with. That said, here’s this song. It’s not exactly my type of music at all, so it’s hard to say why I got obsessed with it. Maybe it was all the cute sing-along videos that popped up over the summer. Maybe it was the catchy melody and that silly-but-amazing line “Before you came into my life// I missed you so bad.” Or maybe it was that the song is not an assertive command (“Call Me.”) but has some doubt or indifference in it (depending on your reading) that has some charm to it.

  6. Read the rest of this entry »

jeff mangum @ sander theatre (review, setlist, etc) + new neutral milk hotel box set to come

September 14th, 2011

On Friday I saw Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, recently out of his self-imposed reclusion, play an acoustic set at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge.

In the Aeroplane over the Sea is an album of great importance–perhaps so Important that it needs to be capitalized–to me, as it is to many people, so you would think that I was unbelievably excited about this show in the days leading up to it.

I was excited but I tried to keep things realistic. Jeff Mangum is a guy that wrote some songs–they happen to be very very good songs–but they’re still just songs. I read some reports from earlier shows and it seemed like he might not actually be every fan’s hermit-savior, despite how nice the mythology of that idea is.

ACME, a string quartet opened the show. They played a nice version of the Erik Satie’s lovely Gymnopédie No.1 and an extended version of Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. Perhaps in a different setting I might have enjoyed them more but I was getting antsy for the main act.

Sanders Theatre is a 1166 capacity wooden theater inside Memorial Hall–a list of all the Harvard students to die in the Civil War is etched into the stone of the lobby–on Harvard’s campus. Completed in 1875, the wood has the weight of history in it; it also was built for an era prior to amplification and the natural acoustics of the space are pretty amazing.

During the time between the string quartet, the anticipation built up in the theater. With tickets selling out within a few minutes of going on sale six months ago, you knew the people in the theater were true fans, perhaps even in the original fanatical meaning. Minutes away, one of my and their favorite artists was coming out to play his first songs[1] in the area since Neutral Milk Hotel’s July 24, 1998 show at the Middle East.

Mangum came out to thunderous applause with some people even giving him a standing ovation before he even played a single note. He sat down in a plain chair surrounded by four acoustic guitars and with a small music stand just to his right. Wearing a brown-and-white plaid shirt, brown corduroys and a black fisherman’s hat over his chin-length hair, he looked not too different from what he did thirteen years prior in the few promotional photos now floating around the internet.

As the applause died down, he started into the somber epic “Oh Comely”, which lasts 8+ minutes on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and ends with someone in the studio yelling “Holy Shit!” While the performance was immediately good–deft guitar playing and singing in a clear but slightly nasal voice–the expletives likely to be going through audience members’ heads was about seeing Jeff Mangum live rather than about this particular song.

That quickly changed for me on the second song, “Two Headed Boy, Part II.” On the album version (as well as some live versions like that on Live at Jittery Joe’s) he sings in a fragile, almost-broken voice which was lacking on Friday, which left me initially disappointed, but by the time he sings “In my dreams you’re alive and crying// As your mouth moves in mine soft and sweet” I had chills and I was forgetting any comparisons to the album.

Much like the rest of the night, the end of the song was met with a loud round of applause and shouts which seemed to bring out a big grin on Mangum’s face.

After a disappointing miss with the Roky Erickson cover “I Love the Living You”, he invited the audience to sing along to “In the Aeroplane over the Sea”. In a cathartic moment for me and likely many others, we sang along, knowing all the lyrics notes and inflections by heart. (We even sang the fluegelhorn solo later in the song.)

A man from the balcony yelled “I can now die happy!” Mangum had him repeat it twice more, apparently not able to hear him. After considering for a moment, he said he was singing well that night and that he could also die happy.

After the On Avery Island opener “Song About Sex”, he played another track from that album, “Baby for Pree”. With some feedback and some issues with too much reverb on the vocals, the sound hadn’t been perfect all night, but it reached a new low during this song when the microphone cut out immediately. Jeff turned this potential problem into perhaps one of the most awesome moments of the night, walking to the front of the stage while continuing to play, taking a knee and finishing the song unamplified. The acoustics of the hall proved to be excellent as I could hear clearly from my 3rd-to-last-row seat in the balcony.

The set continued. He played a long-time favorite “Naomi” and had us sing along at the end of “Gardenhead”. “King of Carrot Flowers, Parts I-III” quickly became a singalong, with more people in the 20s and 30s hipster set heartily singing ‘I Love You Jesus Christ’ than has probably been seen in a long time. He finished the set with the favorite “Holland, 1945″ which lacked a little bit of the urgency (and all of the distortion) of the recording, but still sounded great.

After leaving the stage and a short amount of booming applause, he returned to play “Holland, 1945″‘s b-side, “Engine”. Then he left the stage again to loud applause.

He obviously hadn’t planned on playing a second encore, but the applause continued. After a few minutes, they brought up the house lights. The applause continued. After a couple more minutes, they started playing some music over the house speakers. The applause continued. It continued, in fact, till Mangum probably had few other options but to return to the stage.

He grabbed his chair and a guitar and brought them to the front of the stage to play a song unamplified. The audience’s focus was intense as he played “Two Headed Boy”. People sang along but quietly. Even in the balcony I could hear his voice ringing out with a supporting chorus of a thousand fans all pleading a surreal story of freaks and sex and love and World War II atrocities. Getting quiet to hear the end, Mangum told us “sing it” and we did. “Dah dee dah dee dee dee// Dee dee dah dee dee dee dee deee// Dee dee dah dee dee dee dee dee deee.” And then we walked into the night, hearts swollen and satisfied, seeing the moon a bit bigger and the sky a bit closer.

Jeff Mangum @ Sanders Theatre, September 9, 2011 setlist:

  1. Oh Comely
  2. Two Headed Boy, Part II
  3. I Love the Living You (Roky Erickson cover)
  4. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (singalong)
  5. Song About Sex
  6. Baby for Pree/ Glow Into You (finished unamplified after mic went out)
  7. Naomi
  8. Ghost (singalong at the end)
  9. Gardenhead
  10. King of Carrot Flowers, Parts I-III (singalong)
  11. Holland 1945
  12. [Encore 1]
    Engine
  13. [Encore 2]
    Two Headed Boy (unamplified, singalong)


Here’s a video of the second encore from this show. Definitely worth watching.

For coverage of the other Boston-area show and some audio, check out this site. Pitchfork also has audio from the Toronto show.

If you haven’t heard, a vinyl box set with all of the release Neutral Milk Hotel along with 16 unreleased tracks will be out in November. (The unreleased tracks will also be available for digital download.) You can pre-order it now (and hear an unreleased track) at the Neutral Milk Hotel website.

[1] Not entirely true: I saw Mangum play with Circulatory System at the Middle East Upstairs in 2001.

top song obsessions for 2009

January 6th, 2010


I couldn’t get a few songs by the Tallest Man on Earth out of my head in 2009

I’m not going to make a best-of 2009 list (thought I did post one other best of 2009 list). I have about 2/3 of the year covered well but the rest of the year’s releases I haven’t covered as well. I still listen to music obsessively, though and so I can make this list without fear of inadequate preparation. As always with song obsessions, I don’t really choose the songs, they choose me. I wish I always knew why a song sticks in my head, but it doesn’t happen that way.

If you’re interested in this, check out my 2008 and 2007 lists.

I know that this is much later than many year-end lists, but as a semi-retired music blogger, I have the luxury of setting my own schedule. It’s pretty nice.

  1. the Tallest Man on Earth – the Gardener (mp3) (buy)

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    Nearly every track on Shallow Grave was among my top listened songs according to last.fm, but this one stood out a bit more than the rest. It has that incessant, but interesting strumming, and beautifully melodic and poignant vocals.

  2. Adele – Hometown Glory (mp3) (buy)

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    I initially wrote Adele off. I thought she was just another manufactured British retro-soul artist. Then I saw her perform “Chasing Pavements” on a few late night shows and my opinion started to turn. But it was when I saw her perform this song on Conan’s show (I can’t find a video, but here’s a similar performance of the song on Letterman) that I realize she was for real. This really is a stunning song. She’s got a great voice and the simple and subdued orchestration works well.

  3. David Ruffin – Anything You Ask For (mp3) (buy)

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    Definitely not a 2009 song but one that I was obsessed with during the year. From the stutter-start drums to the funky guitar to the lush strings to Ruffin’s gravely-but-sweat voice, there’s nothing about this song I don’t like.

  4. the Gaslight Anthem – the ’59 Sound (mp3) (buy)

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    Another band that I initially wrote off but I came around on. I actually like this whole album, but this song is definitely a stand-out. It’s just so catchy and sincere.

  5. Shirley Ann Lee – There’s a Light (mp3) (buy)

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    This is the song that made me want to get yet another of Numero Group’s fantastic releases, Downriver Revival (which I did get and later reviewed). It’s so simple: straight forward guitar work and absolutely burning vocals. One couldn’t ask for more from a soul gospel number.

  6. Henry Lumpkin – Don’t Leave Me (mp3) (buy)

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    I got a lot of Motown in a hurry so some of it slipped by the wayside. In particularly the early stuff didn’t get a full listen. With this year being the 50th anniversary of Motown’s founding, I went back to listen to some of it and found some true gems, like this anguished soul number from someone I’d never heard of. It quickly went into heavy rotation.

  7. Tallest Man on Earth – I Want You (mp3) (free at Daytrotter)

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    If the beginning if the year was dominated by songs from Tallest Man’s Shallow Grave, the latter bit was dominated by this song, a Dylan cover, and others from the Daytrotter session. I’m a sucker for good banjo work and this song is nothing if not a display of great banjo work–it’s also a lovely tune.

  8. Dawes – When My Time Comes (mp3) (free at daytrotter, buy original)

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    This is a good tune with a great and very endearing chorus. It’s that simple. It’s also noteworthy that this is essentially a live-to-tape track—I don’t think there are any overdubs on Daytrotter sessions—so it’s impressive that they just nail the harmonies throughout without any dubs.

  9. Alberta Cross – Low Man (mp3) (buy)

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    Hearya and others have been talking about Alberta Cross for a while so when his new album came out I decided to check out a few tracks. This one played on repeat for much of my time in rural South Africa and later when I was getting settled again in Cape Town.

  10. Jonsi + Alex – Happiness (mp3) (buy)

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    This is another situation where I was really obsessed with an entire album and this song just has a slight lead over the others. Even before I knew this was Sigur Ros-related—it was released on the Dark was the Night comp as a Riceboy Sleeps track—I loved it. Ambiant, long, moving, gorgeous, and slowly developing, it reminds me both of what I like best about Sigur Ros and modern, melody-driven composers like Aaron Copland.

  11. Mayer Hawthorne – Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin’ (mp3) (buy)

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    Retro-soul like any genre has its hits and its misses and I really think Hawthorne’s A Strange Arrangement is a hit. Great production, interesting songs, good beats. This is one of the first songs I heard from it and I really enjoyed its breezy oldies vibe enough that it kept me coming back.

  12. J. Tillman – When I light Your Darkened Door (mp3) (buy)

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    Sometimes I have a problem where if I decide [x] is my favorite album by an artist, I’ll listen to that to the exclusion of their other albums. Trying to fix that (my favorite Tillman album is Minor Works), I went back to some of his other work and this song really struck me. Crushingly beautiful is one way to put it.

  13. Jay Z and Santogold – Brooklyn Go Hard (mp3) (buy)

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    I’m not from Brooklyn and I’m not a big fan of either Jay Z or Santogold, but something about this song had me coming back for it again and again. I think it may be how incessant and intriguing the phrase “we go hard” is to me.

  14. Kid Cudi – Alive (mp3) (buy)

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    It’s pretty easy to pinpoint what had me hooked to this song: the weird swooping synth sounds in the verses. I also like the flow of Common’s verses a lot; they fit the beat well.

  15. John Vanderslice – Too Much Time (demo) (mp3) (buy original)

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    I was obsessed with at least three different versions of this song this year, including the beautiful version with the Magik*Magik orchestra which I first heard at the Tiny Telephone 10th Anniversary Show and later in the linked video above. It’s a good song with a great chorus. I love the demo’s subdued collection of synth sounds under JV’s plaintive vocals.

  16. Fanfarlo – I’m a Pilot (mp3) (buy)

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    I’ve long been a Fanfarlo fan and so when the first hints of their new album came out, I was listening with keen interest. With keen interest over and over and over.

  17. the Welcome Wagon – But for You Who Fear My Name (mp3) (buy)

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    It’s funny that I have two stomp-clap songs in a row. I like this rousing Sufjan-produced campfire song.

  18. Passion Pit – Sleepyhead (the One AM Radio remix) (mp3) (from tour only b-sides compilation)

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    My most recent obsession on the list[1]. It’s an obsession entirely because it’s so ridiculous. And that it’s on the makes-me-smile side of the ridiculous line.

  19. The Swinging Tigers – Snake Walk, Part 1 (mp3) (buy)

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    If you’ve paid attention to my mixes or when I used to do soul sets on my radio show, you know I’m a sucker for hard swinging soul instrumentals. I found this one listening back to some early Motown stuff early on in the year. Every time I heard this one, I want to do an anachronistic and over-the-top dance to it.

  20. the National – Wasp Nest (mp3) (buy)

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    I don’t know who or what pointed me this song midway through the year, but I quickly got the rest of the Cherry Tree EP and found myself wondering why didn’t anyone tell me this EP was so good?. I really like the interplay between the vocals and the shimmery instrumentation on this one.

[1] But not my last obsession of 2009. That would be “Prarie Night (Card Game at Night” from Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid

best personal music moments; or, top memorable music moments of 2009

December 21st, 2009

Sandy from Slowcoustic asked me if I wanted to take part of his “Best of…Bloggers” series and I was happy to take part. This originally appeared at there. I had a bit of a hard time deciding what “Best of” I could do for 2009 since my music involvement has been very different for the last four months of it, so I decided to do this.

Of possibly everything related to music that people rate, probably one of the most subjective is live performances. There’s so much besides the music that factors into the experience–what else happened that day, were you with friends or alone, what your expectations were, what the people standing near you were like–that one’s review sometimes not even up to the performers.

With that in mind, I present to you, in chronological order, very personal list of most memorable music moments from 2009.

  • David Bazan @ house show, Berkeley (2/18)
    I saw two of Bazan’s house shows this year but this was easily the better. Attentively sitting on someone’s living room floor, about thirty big-time Bazan fans watched him perform without amplification a few feet away. The music was great, the between-song conversation was good, the crowd was awesome–there wouldn’t be a lot of ways to make this show better.
  • david bazan @ san jose house concert

  • Yoni Wolf @ Apple Store (2/28)
    I hadn’t much considered Why? before this. This show with the frontman and an electric piano changed that somewhat. But what is most memorable about this performance was the once-off cover of “This is the Day.” I remember the hymn from church growing up but Wolf’s version that day was dark and haunting and still sticks with me.
  • yoni wolf

  • Les Savy Fav @ the Mezzanine, San Francisco (3/1)
    I’d heard many stories about the antics of Les Savy Fav live show and, in particular, frontman Tim Harrington’s antics. This show did not disappoint whatsoever. Harrington came out covered in toilet paper but quickly stripped down to his shorts. Before the night was up he spit beer into the crowd, licked the lens of the photographer standing next to me and duct-taped a girl to him. In between all of this, he managed to sing some songs.
  • spitting water

  • The Rural Alberta Advantage @ Central Presbyterian, Austin (3/19); @ Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco (7/9)
    Two very different shows but both very memorable. At the Central Presbyterian show during SxSW, I saw the band completely win over an audience of people largely unfamiliar with their music. They were on top form and I had chills for about half the show. When the finished the show acoustically in the main aisle of the church, I was in awe like everyone around me. The Bottom of the Hill show was the last Ipickmynose Presents show and it was a rousing success. Two days after their debut album came out to much acclaim, the band seemed to still be surprised by their success and performed a fantastic show.
  • rural alberta advantage

  • The Tallest Man on Earth @ the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco (3/25)
    I’d been obsessing about Shallow Grave for months leading up to this show, which was just a week after I’d seen the Swede, Kristian Matsson, at SxSW. This show was more noteworthy than the SxSW in that this performance was just perfect. Matsson has a way of performing that is just as much about movement as it is about music. He sits during the slow beginning of a song and then stands moves fluidly to the front of the stage and looks out into the audience. After this show nearly everyone I talked to said they thought he was looking right at them, bringing the performance to each audience member in a way few artists do.
  • tallest man on earth

  • Damien Jurado @ Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco (5/5)
    I’ve seen Jurado perform about six or seven times now, but this show seemed to have what would have been my hand-picked setlist of favorites performed with intensity. In his first four songs were “Ghost of David”, “Medication” and “Ohio” and I knew it would be a good night.
  • damien jurado

  • Iron & Wine @ Swedish America Hall, San Francisco (5/7)
    I’d seen Iron & Wine a few times, including one magical time in 2004 at the Great American Music Hall, but even that time wasn’t at a venue as small as the Swedish American. Maybe this show stuck with me because his setlist, chosen by fans on his website, was filled with nostalgic favorites. Maybe it was because the Swedish American has great acoustics for solo shows. Maybe it was just a great performance.
  • iron & wine

  • Or, the Whale @ the Independent, San Francisco (6/6)
    I love Or, the Whale and this show was good, but the experience here wasn’t about the music (which was great as always). Two months before I was to leave for South Africa, the experience was noteworthy because every time I turned around there was a friend of mine or someone I wanted to talk to. It was a blast and I went home thinking I might be making a mistake moving away.
  • or, the whale

  • John Vanderslice @ Secret House Show, San Francisco (7/25)
    I’m still not sure how this all came together but my going away party in San Francisco was a secret show by John Vanderslice in my apartment to me and thirty of my friends. Completely without amplification, JV was accompanied by Jamie Riotta on upright bass and vocals. My cheeks hurt from grinning so much. It was utterly spellbinding and will probably go down as one of my most memorable music experiences in my entire life.
  • White Plains from ipickmynose on Vimeo.

  • “Oh How I’d Miss You” @ my apartment, San Francisco (7/25)
    Following JV’s performance, I played a killer soul playlist with this Marvin Gaye/ Tammi Terrell number on it. After people trickled out, my lady friend and I spontaneously danced in an empty living room to this song. But, given that I was leaving the country a week later, the lyrics were a bit too topical and near the end of the song I looked up to see her crying.
  • Sangoma Ceremony @ private home, Khayelitsha, South Africa (8/15)
    Saying yes to a series of opportunities led me to be in a tiny tin-sided house off a dirt path in a township outside Cape Town. A new sangoma (sometimes translated as ‘witch doctor’) was being initiated and there was much dancing, singing and clapping among the couple dozen people packed into the house. It was an experience that few outsiders get to have.
  • sangoma ceremony

  • Zulu hymns @ small church, Ingwavuma (9/6)
    This church is at the end of the road, literally. The tar road ends about 2km before it and the dirt road ends right at it. A few hundred meters father, the hill drops off steeply into Swaziland. The hymns during the actual service were sung in both Zulu and English but were largely not noteworthy. While I was sitting waiting for the service to begin, though, women scattered around the room spontaneously and seemingly without coordination started the most beautiful hymns I’d ever heard. Four part harmony filled the room. It was baking hot in that room and I still had chills.

What have been your most memorable music moments this year?

how to write a music blog

July 29th, 2009

I have some strong opinions on how to write and run a music blog. I thought I’d share some of my recommendations on that. If you don’t feel like reading my opinions about this, tune in tomorrow for a different post entirely. I realize I’m not the right person to tell you how to start a music blog that’ll get huge but I have a decent readership and more importantly, I think what I’ve done here is good.

Originally, this was going to be a rant called What’s Wrong with the Music Blogosphere, but I thought I’d turn it into something a little more positive. If you’re interested in the technical aspects of how to run a music blog, I’m sure they’re covered elsewhere.

  1. Create original content
    This is the most important thing here. What sets your blog apart if all you do is post mp3s that other people are posting with the same promo photo that everyone else is posting? Write interesting things about the music you like or shows you see. Take and post your own photos. Make original videos or post mp3s of exclusive sessions with bands. Do interesting interviews with bands. There are so many different ways you can create original content. Be, well, original.
  2. Don’t do it for money or page views
    You’re not going to become rich or famous starting a music blog in all likelihood. You might make some pocket change from advertising or you might choose to do without ads, but the point is you should have a blog because you love music and want to share it. If you find yourself changing your blog just for the hits or posting something just because you think it’ll bring page views, reconsider.

    I think it’s okay to want more readers, but the way you get new readers and the way you get page views are different.

  3. Respect artists
    We all do this because we love music and want to promote great artists, right? Posting full albums doesn’t help an artist. Posting without linking to where someone can buy the record or failing to inform readers of an upcoming live date when you post mp3s doesn’t hep the artist. And if an artist asks you to take down an mp3, do it politely.
  4. Write the blog you want to read
    Don’t write the blog you think people want to read. Besides a few comments here and there, you probably won’t get a good idea of what most of your readers want to read, so just write what you think is good. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t ever listen to constructive criticism, just that you shouldn’t tailor your blog to something you think people want.
  5. Have a singular vision
    I really think the biggest benefit of music blogs, besides being able to point readers directly to music (as mp3 or video), is that they can have a singular vision: a consistent opinion or taste. After reading a blog for a while, I’ll get to know what the writer’s taste is and how much trust I put in their opinion. For example, I know I should at least consider any band Frank at Chromewaves highlights. Does this mean I think you shouldn’t have co-writers? Not necessarily as it is possible for people to have similar enough tastes that the site still has a consistent taste, but few multi-writer sites achieve a singular vision. HearYa is one of the better ones at having multiple writers while having a consistent taste.
  6. Know what you’re talking about
    No one is immune from mistakes and no one can known every band, but nothing makes me want to read a blog less than obvious factual mistakes or a gross lack of knowledge of bands.
  7. Share news in limited quantities
    This is a tricky one and I know some people disagree with me on this, but I really think you can assume every music fan reads Pitchfork news, Brooklyn Vegan or Stereogum, so they know when Band Goes on Tour! or Band Reveals Album Art! Of course there are times when news is appropriate. That artist you love is doing a house concert in your area, tickets will sell out quickly and you haven’t anything about it elsewhere? Go for it. An alternative to posting a list of tour dates is to use the tour stop in your town to do a feature about the artist where you write about why they’re good.
  8. Make your blog’s presence multi-faceted
    Promote live shows with bands you support, have bands into the studio, or have a radio show or podcast. I just think it’s more interesting than a straight-up mp3 blog.
  9. Find your niche
    Whether it be a region or a genre or whatever, I think blogs with a more specific focus tend to be more interesting and have a more loyal readership. What could be a more narrow focus than digitized cassettes from one continent? But Awesome Tapes from Africa is incredible.
  10. Ask for what you want
    There’s no point in wondering why another blogger got a press pass to an event or an interview with an artist if you didn’t even bother to ask for it. Do you want to do an exclusive session with a band? Ask for it. You might get rejected, but it’s worth a try.
  11. Be mindful of hyperbole, but be enthusiastic
    Blogger hyperbole is almost a cliche at this point, so be weary of saying everything is the best ever. At the same time, no one wants to read emotionless chatter. Every time I hear someone talk about I am Fuel, You Are Friends, they say they love how enthusiastic Heather is in her writing.
  12. There’s nothing wrong with criticism, but don’t spend all your time doing it
    I really think there’s value to honest criticism. If all you’re saying is that everything is incredible then the value of your praise becomes diminished. On the other hand, if all you’re doing is criticizing, you may come across as ornery or overly snarky.
  13. What’s with all the redesigns?
    Especially in an era where a lot of people read their blogs in RSS readers, if your site is readable and fairly easy to navigate, there’s no reason to redesign it every six months. Spend your time creating content instead.
  14. Figure out what to do when you get burnt out.
    If you post all the time, you’re probably going to get burnt out. Figuring out what works for you when you get burnt out is important. I tend to shift focus a bit, talking about types of music I like but don’t blog about a lot. For you it might be going through some old favorites or reviewing some out-there concert or who knows.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know why in the comments.

last six CDs in my car

July 16th, 2009

I sold my car recently. I’ve had the same 6 CDs in the multi-disc player for the past six months or so:

  • Octopus Project Hello, Avalanche
  • The Lightning Bug Situation A Leaf; A Stream
  • Kings of Leon Because of the Times
  • The Dodos Visitor
  • The National Boxer
  • Fionn Regan The End of History

bands: how to promote yourselves to music blogs

July 8th, 2009

IPMN is winding down and there are a few things I’d like to talk about. First is my recommendations to bands about how to approach music blogs.

Ipickmynose is certainly not in a class with Stereogum, Brooklynvegan or Gorilla vs Bear, but I still post about bands I like and bands still try to get me to post about them. I’ve gotten a lot of emails over the last 2+ years from bands. Sometimes I get dozens a day (and more from labels and PR companies). Basically this means I’m probably not going to listen to everything a band sends in. How do I decide what I’ll listen to then? Some of it is random but often it’s what is in the band’s email.

How to promote your band to music blogs/ bloggers:

  1. Remember music bloggers are people
    Less a specific recommendation than a general reminder. Few music blogs are so big that they have hierarchy or paid music writers. The vast majority of music bloggers do it because they love music and want to find and share music. I like being approached as a person and a music fan.
  2. Personal attention from you helps get personal attention in return
    If you want me to spend 10+ minutes with your music–at minimum I’ll listen to four of your songs on myspace–you may want to spend more than 2 seconds adding my email address to some big mass mailing. I don’t expect you to write a completely new email to every different blogger, but some personal attention at the beginning is nice. Bloggers often put their names on their blogs; use it. Showing that you actually understand the blog and truly think the blogger might like your stuff based on his taste is even better.
  3. Be honest
    The single worst email I’ve gotten said “I’ve been a fan of your blog for three years!” At the time, I’d had a blog for a year and a half. I like to be flattered just like everyone else, but it’s easy to tell if you just searched for “indie folk music blog”, found my blog and then email me about your indie folk band; in such a case, claiming you love my blog doesn’t get you anywhere. Also, don’t pretend you’re a fan of a band that’s trying to share a new discovery with the blogger if you’re actually in the band. There’s no need to lie.
  4. Send music you’re proud of
    I’ve received a lot of emails with links to demos or live recordings. Or the email will say “we recorded these in a hurry”. If you’re saying things like that, it’s time to record the songs better, not to try to promote them. I know music bloggers loved Lily Allen’s demos, but in most cases, sending demos will just cause the blogger to discount your band.
  5. Find out how the blogger wants the music
    Music bloggers are all different (that’s important to remember in general!). Most will tell you how they like to get music, though. I like myspace links with an offer to send a digital/ physical copy of the album if I like it. Some hate myspace; some love getting mp3s in the emails. Some would rather you just send the CD. Figure out what the blogger wants and do it.
  6. Give the blogger an idea what (or who) you’ll sound like
    I get emails with “Hey, check out our music” and then just a myspace link. Unless I’m in a mood to click on random links, I usually don’t listen to these. In your email, give a general description of what your band sounds like. You can also compare yourself to bands the blogger knows (or may know). But think this through; little pisses me off like feeling duped by a band who claims to be “indie pop” or “post rock” or to sound like Neutral Milk Hotel when they sound nothing like that.
  7. If you offer something, do it
    If you said you’d mail the CD, do it. If you said you could get them on the guest list for the show, do it.
  8. I hate when bands “follow up”…but it’s effective
    Despite not liking it, I have to admit that there’s a better chance I’ll listen to their music when a band follows up.
  9. If a blogger replies to let you know he didn’t like your music, politely accept it
    I understand most bloggers don’t let bands know if they listened to their music and don’t like it. If I were in a band, I would want to hear back, even if it’s in the negative, so that’s what I do. I don’t like writing emails like that, so it’s even harder when a band comes back with a hard-sell or a plea to reconsider after that. Also, don’t ask why I didn’t like it as I’d rather not detail out why I don’t like a band.
  10. Don’t add a blogger to your mailing list
    This goes along with the “personal attention” one. Though there might be exceptions if you know a blogger really loves your stuff (though wouldn’t they just add themselves in that case?), just don’t add people to your mailing list without asking. If I didn’t like your stuff to begin with, getting constant reminders about your shows will only get me to mentally filter your band out entirely.
  11. Give the blogger something they can post
    Myspace links are great, but I’m going to have to be ridiculously psyched about a band to tell readers to go to a band’s myspace page without having an mp3 or video in the post.
  12. Find the sweet spot time-wise
    I’ve gotten emails about a show two months off and I’ve gotten an email about a show the next day. In both cases, I ignored it; in the first case because it was too far off to even consider and in the second because it was so close I already had plans. Two weeks before a show is about right (for me) while a month or two before an album comes out is fine.
  13. Actually read the blog/ be a fan of the blog for a while before you send in music
    This may be the hardest to do. There are just too many blogs out there to read them all. But if I notice a regular reader/ commenter (bloggers remember who these people are, trust me) sends in their music, I always make time to listen to it. I’ll even give it a few chances if I don’t like it initially.

I recognize that doing all these things isn’t easy. Promoting your music well isn’t easy. It’ll take time and effort.

8 bands whose live show changed how I listen to their recordings

June 30th, 2009


Andrew Bird, changing the way I hear his music, at the Fillmore, May 2007

Usually, I like a bands’ recordings and then I’ll see them live. Sometimes, though, something about a band’s music won’t click until I see them live. I find the oddest part of this phenomenon not that I’ll like bands live whose recordings didn’t work for me, but that when I go back to listen to the recordings afterwards, I’ll hear them differently often forever.

For example, I’d listened to Mumford & Sons before SxSW and thought they were ‘meh’. I saw them there and really liked their show and now I love listening to their recordings, though they’re the same recordings I thought were ‘meh’ before.

Bands whose live show changed how I listen to their recordings [in chronological order from first show]

  1. Mates of State
    (first seen: October 2001 at the Middle East (upstairs), Cambridge)
  2. the Polyphonic Spree
    (first seen: August 2003 at the Paradise, Boston)
  3. Ted Leo
    (first seen: March 2007 at the Great American, San Francisco)
  4. the Dodos
    (first seen March 2007 at the Cafe du Nord, San Francisco)
  5. Mount Eerie
    (first seen April 2007 at ATA, San Francisco)
  6. Andrew Bird
    (first seen May 2007 at the Fillmore, San Francisco)
  7. Frightened Rabbit
    (first seen: November 2008 at the Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco)
  8. Mumford & Sons
    (first seen: March 2009 at the Flamingo Cantina, Austin)

So which bands changed the way you heard them?

10 things not to yell between songs at a concert

June 15th, 2009

“You rock!” may be an appropriate thing to yell between songs at an indie rock concert. Here are some things that may not be appropriate to yell:

  1. “If you were on the radio I would not change the station!”
  2. “I am not bored!”
  3. “I liked that last song much better than the one before it”
  4. “I am undecided whether to buy your CD or not!”
  5. “Your instruments seem to be in tune!”
  6. “You guys are OK!”
  7. “Does your band consider Flannery O’Connor an influence on your lyrics because you have a similar Southern Gothic-like narrative voice with twisted characters and an eye toward redemption?!”
  8. “That was almost as good as the version on the CD!”
  9. “Your singing voice has really improved since last time I saw you!”
  10. “Your bassist is not unattractive!”

So what don’t you yell between songs at shows?