damien jurado @ the independent, review, photos; black cab sessions video

September 11th, 2008

Last night I saw Damien Jurado (myspace) and Jennifer O’Connor (myspace) at the Independent.

Jennifer O’Connor was just starting as I locked up my bike and got my tickets from the box office. I walked in and everyone was standing around the edges and sitting in the seats near the bar while she sang and played guitar, and her drummer drummed. She has a really nice voice and is a competent guitar player, but I didn’t find her songs particularly engaging.

Damien Jurado came on next. (Can I tell you how much this blogger likes two act bills, especially mid-week? It’s good for the sleeping and the old knees.)

Damien Jurado “is a band” these days, with Damien himself, Jenna Conrad and Eric Fisher. Damien sings and mostly plays guitar; Jenna sings as well. Jenna and Eric trade off on guitar and drums; Jenna plays some keyboard; Damien played drums on one song. One audience member, early on in the concert, yelled “I like it when you switch instruments!” Jenna calmly responded: “Well you’re in for a treat then.”

There were a few funny bits of banter in the show. I wanted to share another one that I laughed at.

Damien [vaguely to the lighting guy]: I liked the blue lights. Could we get the blue lights back? They calm me, make me feel like I’m in church. Or that I’m in a play.

Jenna: Don’t you think they’re a bit depressing?

[audience laughs]

Damien: That reminds me, they are the same color of the Paxil I used to take.

[audience laughs]

Damien: I’m serious. 30mg.

[Note: reading this back, I realize that this may come across as just depressing–maybe you had to have been there.]

But ANYWAY, back to the music. The audience wasn’t packed in, certainly, but the people who were there were pretty receptive to Jurado. Leaning heavily on material from the new album, the set was fairly full of songs the audience didn’t know but still were responsive to. There were enough old gems in the set that any fan would have been pretty happy. “Ohio”, “Medication” (the closer for the encore), “Great Today”, “Abilene” and quite a few songs from Where Shall You Take Me? in general. I like “Ohio” a ridiculous amount and in six Damien Jurado shows, this is, I believe, the first time I’d seen him play “Medication”, another of my favorites. He also played a lovely song, “Last Rights” that I first heard on his Black Cab Session–see the video below of that.

The band played well and the always anxious Jurado seemed slightly more at-ease than I’d seem him before. There’s always something nice about seeing Jurado. His songs break your heart repeatedly, but I, at least, always leave with some hope–maybe it’s just that he shines light on the fact that there’s such good, straight-forward songwriting out there. I’m not sure about that, but I’m sure I’ll see Jurado again.

(Full disclosure[1])

“Last Rights” on the Black Cab Sessions

the mommyheads @ cafe du nord

September 7th, 2008

Last Wednesday I saw the Mommyheads reunite for their first show in 10 years at the Cafe du Nord.

Having seen defunct bands like Sebadoh reunite and be disappointed by them–Sebadoh was sloppy and didn’t have very good stage presence, for instance–I was pretty reserved and cautious going into this show. Additionally, I’d heard that the band’s first practice in all those years was the Friday before this Wednesday show–not a promising thing to hear. On the other hand, this is a band I’d listened to –quite obsessively at times–for 10+ years and that I had excitedly posted about when they announced their return. Within a song or two, though, my icy skepticism was rapidly melting.

What can I say? They’re still tight. From a band that toured incessantly for nearly a decade, I suppose it shouldn’t seem like a surprise that the band seemed to lock back into that groove, the non-verbal communication and collective musicianship that made the band seem like it’d never stopped.

The crowd definitely had some loyal fans here in their old stomping grounds and they were really receptive of the band.

While my nostalgia reflexes kicked in heavily on the songs I knew, when the band played songs from their new record, I wasn’t familiar with them and still enjoyed them, but they didn’t have ten years of anticipation riding on them.

Overall I was pretty impressed with the band and the show.

neil halstead @ cafe du nord

August 28th, 2008

opener Miranda Lee Richards

On Tuesday night I saw Neil Halstead at the Cafe du Nord.

Miranda Lee Richards (myspace) was onstage when I arrived. She played acoustic guitar and harmonica and sang. Her sound was pleasant enough in the singer-songwriter genre but I didn’t find it too engaging.

Neil Halstead is the front man in Mojave 3 and he was in the seminal shoegaze act, Slowdive, before that. While I don’t know the recorded output of either of those bands particularly well, he has also released two solo albums, Sleeping on Roads and Oh! Mighty Engine (previously), both of which get a good number of plays on the old ipod.

He started his set alone on the stage with “Martha’s Mantra”, one of my favorite Halstead tunes. After a few more tunes, he was joined by another guitarist and a bass player. Halstead’s tunes are the sort that make you want to dance or jump around. They’re actually quite soporific, but their strength lies in the soothing melodies, his hushed vocals, good lyrics and solid finger-picked guitar patterns.

I feel like his live set could be hit or miss. For me, both times I’ve seen him, I really enjoyed his set. However, I could see that if you’re not in the mood for a very low key show, you might not enjoy it as much.

When the show and encore ended, I looked at my watch and was surprised to see that he’d played for about 1.75 hours; that’s a pretty long set at the Cafe du Nord, especially since much of it was solo or only with a few added flourishes from the other musicians. The time seemed to fly by for me.

rock make street festival 2008

August 25th, 2008

I spent most of Sunday afternoon on Treat Street in the Mission. Blue skies and sunshine greeting the first ever Rock Make Street Festival, co-organized by the rock stars at the Bay Bridged, Tartufi and Whiz Bang Fabrics.

It was a wholly relaxing afternoon with good music, interesting crafts and cool people to chat with. With two stages set up at opposite ends of the block and bands alternating between the two (and crafts between), the only rushing around was portions of the crowd going between the stages during the short set change over times. The stages were actually just tents and the bands being on even ground with the audience made them even more approachable than the normally quite approachable bands are. Almost everything about the afternoon seemed to be geared toward it being a pleasant experience.

Here’s a run down of who I saw.

Settler from San Jose: I arrived right before Settler’s set. While their post rock sound wasn’t ground breaking, it was enjoyable and good.

French Miami: I was obsessed with their “Science Fiction” back in April and I’ve liked their whole EP but I hadn’t seen them before. They put on a pretty tight and energetic set. I’d like to see them again some time. (If you missed this set, they’re playing Tuesday the 26th at the Bottom of the Hill.)

Rademacher and Man/ Miracle: I didn’t hear much of either of these bands as I managed to be at the other end of the street for each.

Emily Jane White (myspace): I’ve seen her a few times now and it’s always been decent, but here her band seemed tighter and the addition of another guitarist/ pedal steel player helped fill out the sound. This was definitely the best I’ve seen her.

Silian Rail: They’d been recommended to me by Will at New & Used Records as really good instrumental indie pop. I’d put they more in line with instrumental indie rock but I did like their sound. The two members (guitar + drums) put on a good show.

Maus Haus: They’ve been really solid both times I’ve seen them. Sunday was no different as they had the crowd into their set of hard-to-describe spastic-freak out-rock.

Tartufi: I chose the wrong time to leave to get a snack. I would have liked to seen their set.

Low Red Land (myspace)
I’d only see them acoustic and on a roof top. Their electric set at the festival was completely different. I didn’t love every song, but they were engaging in the amount of energy they put into their songs and I enjoyed the set overall.

Originally I was a little sad or surprised that the festival was scheduled the same day as Outside Lands’ last day, but in the end I felt it provided an appropriate juxtaposition to that giant, corporate festival: small, DIY, approachable and communal.

winterbirds live @ KZSU, photos, exclusive mp3s, set list

August 21st, 2008

Last night Winterbirds came down and did a really beautiful in-studio session with me at KZSU. Their dark and slow songs came through well in their stripped down set of guitar with two vocals. Remco and Lia (also of) were really nice to boot.

Since I first saw the band almost five months ago, I’ve been listening to their songs on their myspace page and their EP. They’ve taken a while to sink in fully, but they’re really good. Their voices work together so well and Remco’s guitar style works well with the music.

Here’s their set list and some mp3s from the session:

  • the Garden
    Winterbirds – the Garden (Live at KZSU) (mp3, exclusive)

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  • Cold Hand Killer
  • the Thing We Will Forget
    Winterbirds – the Thing We Will Forget (Live at KZSU) (mp3, exclusive)

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  • Really the One
  • Where Shall We Meet
  • Run in Silence
    Winterbirds – Run in Silence (Live at KZSU)) (mp3, exclusive)

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  • Rosewood Casket (American traditional)
    Winterbirds – Rosewood Casket (Live at KZSU) (mp3, exclusive)

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I think the highlight of the night was the 7 and a half minute long “Run in Silence”. The way it alternates between sparse (on both guitar and solo vocals) and fuller and more incessant works to build the song up very well.

It was revealed yesterday that there are only about 50 copies–each with hand-made packaging–of their EP left and it doesn’t look like there will be more after that. You can get your copy by messaging the band through myspace or email the band at info -at- winterbirdsmusic -d0t- com.

geographer, cotillion @ cafe du nord: photos, review, etc.

August 19th, 2008

On Sunday night, I caught Geographer (myspace) and Cotillion at Cafe du Nord.

Walking in during the Cotillion set, there was already a fairly sizable crowd for a Sunday night. People were milling about and chatting in the back and the atmosphere was pretty jovial. Given that it was a Bay Bridged presents show, those guys and some of the other local blogerati turned out.

Alexi, Blythe, and Burton of the Botticellis are all in Cotillion, a band which also boasts members of Bright Eyes and Judgement Day. Given the shared membership, there are some shared sonic similarities with the Botticellis, but it really is an entirely different vibe. Reverb certainly isn’t as evident. They also have a trio of backup singers.

It was the release show for Geographer’s debut full-length, Innocent Ghosts, and a big portion of the crowd seemed to be out for the event.

Their set up was back to a four-piece, though a different four-piece than when I first saw them in February. They had the same trio we’ve all grown to love–Mike on keys and guitar, Nate on cello and sequencer, Brian on drums–but they’ve added a fourth on bass. Even with the new line-up, they had obviously practiced sufficiently, because they were tight.

I’ve been enjoying listening to Innocent Ghosts. It’s a nice mix of various influences from pop to folk to the electronic touches. It’s a good album, but the band’s live show is great. It’s engaging and fun and I had a good time. Their set seemed to go by in a flash.

I didn’t stay for much of Judgement Day’s crazy string metal, but I did want to note that the violinist’s bowing and fingering patterns reminded me of some styles Anglo-American fiddling. At the very least, the violinist is quite talented.

You can view my photo album online.

(Full disclosure [1,2])

Birdmonster @ KZSU (photos, exclusive mp3s, playlist)

August 14th, 2008

Last night San Francisco band Birdmonster (myspace, blog) came down and did an acoustic ipickmynose/ KZSU in-studio session. It was a good time and they sounded good.

Here’s their playlist and some mp3s:

  • My Love for You
  • Concrete Lights
  • the Iditarod
    Birdmonster – the Iditarod (Live at KZSU) (mp3, exclusive)

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  • Born to Be Your Man
    Birdmonster – Born to Be Your Man (Live at KZSU) (mp3, exclusive)

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  • Only One
  • Our Ashes
  • Lost at Sea
  • I Might Have Guessed
    Birdmonster – I Might Have Guessed (Live at KZSU) (mp3, exclusive)

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  • Black Tornado (Dan Bern Cover)

Their next show in the Bay Area is September 3 at Great American with Nada Surf. Country-wide dates are still being added to their tour so check back on that if they’re not already coming to your town.

Don’t forget to tune in next Wednesday, August 20, at 9pm for a live in studio from Winterbirds.

my brother the welder @ the red and the black (DC)

August 12th, 2008

While traveling, I often check tour schedules to see if bands I like will be playing in the towns I’m going to. It’s worked out pretty well: I’ve seen A Silver Mt. Zion in London, Godspeed! You Black Emperor in Athens and Benni Hemm Hemm with Casiotone for the Painfully Alone in Boston. I didn’t do that this last trip though, but a friend in DC found a show for us to go together. He found this show, it turns out, because he was playing in the backing band of a friend of his.

Up until this point, My Brother the Welder has been one man, Taylor Jenkins, in his bedroom. He’s produced a handful of demos (some of which you can download from the band’s my(brotherthewelder)space) and a new 7″. Last Thursday’s show, the band’s first, served as the release party for the 7″.

The small upstairs room of DC’s the Red and the Black was fairly full with mostly friends and family. There was some nervous energy in the atmosphere, but it didn’t show in the band’s performance. The band’s soft pop folk songs, often reminding me of early New Amsterdams, came across well. The two guitars and Taylor’s voice held down the sound, which was rounded out by glockenspiel, banjo and wurlitzer.

I have to say that for a first performance, I was pretty impressed. Besides the almost entire lack of banter, one wouldn’t have been able to tell that this band hadn’t taken the stage before.

(full disclosure[2])

top 5 quirks of San Francisco venues

August 7th, 2008

top 5 quirks of San Francisco venues:

  1. the bathroom attendant (and a whole lot of velvet) at Bimbo’s
  2. the basket of apples at the entrance of the Fillmore
  3. the backstage area so small that bands usually don’t even put their instruments in it at the Hemlock
  4. free posters after sold out shows at the Fillmore
  5. the mezzanine balcony almost right above the stage at the Hotel Utah

What did I miss? What is your favorite quirk of an SF venue?

how I regained my faith in music: an interview with robert schneider of apples in stereo

August 5th, 2008

Back in October, shortly after their set at the Wall in Taipei and despite losing his voice, Robert Schneider, the singer, guitarist, main songwriter and producer of the Apples in stereo was nice enough to talk to me and answer some of my questions.

When I heard that the Apples were coming to Taipei, I was basically blown away; American bands just didn’t come to Taiwan much. When I heard back from their manager that an interview was possible, my mind started racing. After all, this is one of the first indie pop bands I ever liked. My first exploration into the Elephant 6 collective after In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was Science Fair. Tone Soul Evolution came shortly afterwards and still sits among my favorite indie pop albums of all time.

[If you want the condensed version of the interview, jump down to the question about the band’s transitional period.]

the Apples in stereo – the Silvery Light of a Dream, Pt. 2 (mp3, from Tone Soul Evolution)

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Adrian of IPMN: I love that you do the “hello” and “thank you”s [during your show] in Chinese.

Robert Schneider: I studied Chinese in college but I’ve totally forgotten it now. But it turns out having traveled, I know the most basic shit in a few languages, but that really gets you by. Because most of your interactions with average people is–you have to know how to say “hey”, “please”, “thank you”, “I’m sorry”. “I’m sorry” is a good one. Whenever I go to a new country I learn “I’m sorry” first because it really keeps you out of trouble.

[We’re walking and Dan, the band’s manager, approaches to discuss some logistical details. After that, as we’re leaving we need to pass a local.]

R: Dui bu qi [I’m sorry].

A: See! So useful.

R: I know how to say “sorry” in multiple languages. It really gets you by. If you want to be chatty with someone it won’t get you by, but it gets you in average interactions.

A: How do you like playing for the Taiwan crowds?

R: It’s been amazing. We’ve had really good shows. Our show at the Megaport Festival was awesome.

We were playing against the water and there were gigantic fucking ships behind us–huge industrial ships. It was incredible, you know. It was really cool. We had to bring up the volume to meet the [volume of the] gigantic ships and the shipyards. We stayed in the–what’s it called–the Skytower. It’s the 14th tallest building in the world. [Ed: Now’s it’s the 16th tallest, but at the time of the interview it was the 14th.] A huge hotel–

A: Is this in Kaohsiung?

R: Yeah, this was in Gaoxiong, or Kaohsiung or however you say it. It was awesome. It was amazing.

A: So Megaport brought you over? How’s that work? They just called up your people and said, hey, can you do this…?

R: Yeah. They only brought over three international bands: two Japanese bands and then us. So I guess they didn’t do it with a lot of people but that’s what they did. They just called us and said, we’ll pay for this whole trip. We have hotels and everything taken care of, every single thing. Plane tickets and everything. I got to bring my wife and child over. It totally rocked. We had an amazing time. We had a translator/ guide and she took care of everything. She was amazing. It’s been pretty awesome. They were great.

A: So the last few years seem like a bit of a transitional period for the band. Is that fair to say?

R: Yeah, I’d say so. I mean, our whole career has been a transitional period in a sense because we’re always changing and doing different things. Also, making records and stuff has always been tied up in learning how to record. We usually home recorded and stuff. It’s been this whole journey of learning how to have a studio, record, and make productions, write songs and play together. We could barely play our instruments when we started our band. So [the] whole [time we’ve been a] band has been a transitional period, but the last few years has been much more transitional.

A: Was it a purposeful break that you took between, uh, sorry, uh, Velocity of Sound and New Magnetic Wonder?

R: No, it wasn’t purposeful but we were working on having a new sound and stuff. We were trying to work on new things and we had kind of a high goal for we wanted to achieve. So we just took time–also there was other stuff that happened. We toured in that time.

Many of us have other bands. Our drummer Hillary Sydney quit about a year and a half ago, after we recorded New Magnetic Wonder. About a year ago, actually. She was our drummer from our first–from the beginning of our band.

Actually, musically it was transitional. I went through a period, around Velocity of Sound and before that where I lost faith in the principles I always believed in as far as music goes. I always had this faith when I was growing up, when I was a teenager and when I was going into the Apples, going into my 20s and being a part of Elephant 6, which was this collective I was a part of and stuff–I’d always had this–it was my religion. It’s not overstating it to say it was my religion. My religion was big production, pop music, harmonies, psychedelia. When I say it, it doesn’t really mean enough–it really was my religion. I breathed it. It was the universe to me, you know? Brian Wilson and John Lennon and Paul McCartney and the Zombies and the Kinks. These guys were like my deities, you know. And my only deities.

I kind of went through a period where I lost faith in it. I came to feel like–not the songwriting–but the production and the drum sounds and the horn parts and the harmonies and the sound effects and stuff that’s all very important, it seemed very empty to me. I started to feel like–I can’t describe it. I went through a period where I started to feel that stuff was kind of superficial. What was real–you can listen to a record, like a Robert Johnson record or an old Dylan record. It’s just a guy and an acoustic guitar. You hear the voice and you hear the guitar. The voice is most of it and the guitar is equivalent to the whole big production. How important is that? You hear a guy singing some songs and you hear something else, some chords. Is it an orchestra, is an acoustic guitar or a piano? It doesn’t matter. And I started to lose faith because it’s like, if it can just be an acoustic guitar, why do I need this whole orchestra?

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