Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On Point: Lee Fields live at the Echoplex

Lee Fields and the Expressions capped off a wild night at the Echoplex with a relentless set of old school soul that kept the crowd in thrall.  He came, saw, dusted off his snappy gold shoes, and conquered.  Backed by The Expressions, he burned through a set drawing largely on his last two releases, My World and Faithful Man, (on Truth And Soul), giving the crowd not only what they wanted, but what they needed.
Fields has worked the trenches for a long time, evolving from his heavily James Brown influenced early 70's singles through a gamut of styles, falling into obscurity until hooking up with Brooklyn based Daptone Records for a few 45's that showed the absorbtion of the JB influences into his own singular thing.  Upon landing at Truth And Soul, his collaboration with their house band The Expressions has proved fruitful, taking him to his highest vantage point yet on a long journey.

As evidenced above and below, Lee Fields just does not quit.  Of the show's highlights, above is "I Still Got It", from Faithful Man.  Below, he perfects his strut & preen on "Money I$ King" from My World.  Upon seeing these, it makes perfect sense why folks were so captivated with his breakout performance at this year's SXSW.  In an age of TV karaoke talent shows, this gentleman is ready for Mt. Rushmore.

Naytronix features Nate Brenner from tUnEyArDs, holding down the opening duties. This project veered off on a hard danceable tip, ignoring chillwave and looking back to the rhythmic side of the New York No Wave explosion.
It was weird, kinetic, and utterly danceable.  An EP is currently available, and they just signed with LA based Plug Research; an album will surely follow soon.

Cody ChesnuTT, journeyman new soul troubador, has been working the underground side of the street since early major label misadventures, and it has reflected well on his music, if not so much on his wallet.  His monster bedroom project The Headphone Masterpiece and a cover of his song "The Seed" are what would ring a bell with most folks.  His last release was an EP in 2010, Black Skin No Value and his future holds a full length entitled Landing On A Hundred, tentatively scheduled for this year.
All his skills were on display in the middle spot, and he got the behinds back on the floor.  Highlight of the night was the jawdropping "No Turning Back", in which he channeled the spirits of Gil Scott-Heron and Donny Hathaway in equal measure.  No superstar duets, just good old down home grooves, and songwriting that doesn't make you wince and grab your head.  Who says they don't make them like that anymore.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Beck: Ready For His Close-Up

24 MAY, 2012

After a few quiet years, with more time seemingly spent behind the boards than in front of them, 2012 appears to be the year Beck returns to the spotlight.  Having just wrapped up recording a new LP in Nashville that will hopefully see the light of day later in the year, Beck's appearance at the Santa Barbara Bowl was something of a mystery timing-wise.
Upon entry to the Bowl, all became clear with seeing the posted signs noting that filming would be taking place, as well as the huge boom camera over the pit, and stage camera placements.  Apparently Giovanni Ribisi is helming the project-it will be interesting to see what final form it takes.  During the set, a camera equipped helicopter made the rounds, much to the chagrin of the neighbors.
 The night certainly played out as an event; Beck set off mass delirium in the pit by opening with "Loser", and it was off to the races from there.  After charging through "Black Tambourine", he revealed the reason for this gathering, noting it as having the band from Sea Change back with him for the first time in many years.  They proceeded to essay luminous takes on songs from that LP, the bittersweetness of which fit the spring night at the Bowl perfectly.  Smokey Hormel was present on guitar, and served as a welcome fulcrum for the evening.  Also, Roger Manning and Justin Meldal-Johnsen (pictured above) were on hand, on keyboards and bass, respectively.
As the show progressed, Beck moved throughout his songbook, touching on his most recent, Modern Guilt, and getting a rapturous response for a trio of tracks from Odelay!, "Devil's Haircut", "Where It's At", and "New Pollution".
Capping off the night was "E-Pro", from Guero, that featured his son Cosimo coming out to bust some moves.  The night underscored Beck up to this point, and as always, it will be fascinating to see where he heads next.

(video courtesy of Justin Wagner, who hit the YouTube lottery with Pitchfork picking up this clip, currently over 42K views!)
Opening the evening at the appointed hour, Devendra Banhart strolled onto the stage, plopped down into a chair, and proceeded to weave his spells.  He was joined after one song by his band, and their 'South American meets Laurel Canyon' vibe was the perfect tone setter for the evening, as the Bowl slowly filled up.  He was unfazed by the talkers, and closed the set strongly.  It will be nice to catch him on his own turf at some point.
 Looking forward, Beck also has a new 45 out this week on Jack White's Third Man Records, "I Just Started Hating Some People Today" b/w "Blue Randy".

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dum Dum Girls: Into The Gray

Dum Dum Girls
w/Tamaryn, Young Prisms, & Sisu
Echoplex, Los Angeles
18 May 2012
It’s been fascinating to watch the evolution of the Dum Dum Girls, started by Kirstin Gundred, (Dee Dee), as a bedroom project, turning into a tentative performing group, to a kick out the jams band. The recorded progress has evolved to match, with their latest LP, Only In Dreams, (on Sub Pop), capturing the unease of growing up without sacrificing the jangle.  Finding a balance between the two is a trick, and over the course of a night at the Echoplex, that is just what the Dum Dum Girls pulled off.
The set was filled with generous tastes of both their LP’s, starting unevenly with a muddy “Caught In One”, before plunging into the joyously up tempo “He Gets Me High”.  They persevered, and by the time they launched into “Bedroom Eyes”, sound issues were definitely under control, and they finished off the set strongly.
Along with Dee Dee, the band is now comprised of stalwart guitarist Jules, along with Malia James, in for original bassist Bambi, and the irrepressible Sandra Vu, who took over the drum throne from Frankie Rose. Her assertive beat kept things on track all night.
 To their credit, when the encore came, it was treated not as a formality, but full guns blazing as they opened up with “Jail La La”, from I Will Be, followed up with “Teardrops On My Pillow”, and then savaged the remaining faithful with “Coming Down”, an anthem pitched somewhere between Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” and Bob Dylan’s “Knocking On Heaven’s Door”, proving decisively that you can take the ladies out of the garage, but the not the garage out of the ladies.
(below is a nifty cover of the Pale Saints "Sight Of You".)

A generous line of support acts made for a full, rich evening; one can get easily spoiled by four quality bands for $15.  The festivities were started by Sisu, followed by Young Prisms and Tamaryn.
Tamaryn, New Zealand born, San Francisco based singer led a group that turned up the volume considerably, sometimes serving and sometimes overwhelming songs from their debut The Waves, which came out last fall on Mexican Summer.

Young Prisms are a San Francisco based quintet that found a sweet spot of drone amidst the sometimes tricky acoustics of the Echoplex.  Their lush sound was informed by Shoegaze, but not held captive by it.  They were certainly the revelation of the evening.  The newest LP is In Between, on Kanine Records.

Sisu features Sandra Vu, stepping out from behind the kit to lead a sharp four-piece.  Their new EP Demon Tapes, Vol. 2 is hot off the press and available through Bandcamp, (check the widget below the photos).  This is a band you'll be hearing more of soon.

The Dum Dum Girls capped off their L.A. stay with a free show Saturday, May 19 at the Getty Center as part of the “Off The 405” summer concert series.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Afghan Whigs: Back In Business


Brand new music from the newly reformed Afghan Whigs, right in time for their return to live action in an upcoming show at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC, followed by summer European festival dates, and two here, at Lollapalooza in Chicago in August, and All Tomorrow's Parties: I'll Be Your Mirror festival in Asbury Park in September.  Hold your breath for more U.S. dates in the fall, and keep an eye out for an appearance on Late Night w/Jimmy Fallon May 22.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Adam Yauch, 1964-2012 R.I.P. MCA

It is with great sadness that we note the passing of Adam Yauch, (aka MCA of the Beastie Boys).  As a founding member of that troop, he left a mighty imprint on not only hip hop and alternative music and movie culture, helping to found Oscilloscope Laboratories.

He also helped raise political awareness of the situation in Tibet with the co-founding of the Milarepa Fund,  hooking up a generation that was apathetic on a good day to politics of any sort.  He managed the act of growing up in public with grace.  Deepest condolences to his loved ones.

There are already many phenomenal appreciations out there, including excellent tributes from The New Yorker, New York Times, LA Times, NPR, and Rolling Stone

One of the more interesting tributes to appear Friday was the adoption of Beastie Boys songs for walk up music in that evening's game by the New York Mets, something Yauch surely would have appreciated.  Is it mere coincidence that the weekend saw the New York Knicks win their first playoff game in 11 years?

In closing, for Adam Yauch, the journey was the destination.  May he rest in peace.
The fullest measure of the man was on display at an unexpected place, the MTV Music Video Awards (1998):

At this year's Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame ceremonies, the induction honors of the Beastie Boys were handled by none other than Chuck D, who lent his singular perspective to not only the honorees, but the industry at large:

Seems like there's never a bad time to air this one out:

and, as a bonus:

and, finally, their most moving testament:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Coast To Coast With Jeff Mangum

23 APRIL, 2012
There was a heightened sense of excitement in the air for Jeff Mangum's L.A. arrival.  Mangum used the occasion of his Coachella appearance to add on some western dates, including Monday evening's appearance at the refurbished downtown landmark, the Orpheum Theatre.
It's been quite a re.emergence for the artist who spent a dozen years off the radar(*) before last fall's mini-tour and showcase at ATP's 'I'll Be Your Mirror' festival, followed by a visit to the Occupy Wall St site.  In the new year, he visited Europe, and rolled out to the Midwest for a handful of shows.
*(his silence was broken with a 2010 appearance at a benefit for Chris Knox )

As it has gone for his shows, a strict no photo/no video policy has been in place, and it has been very effective in heightening the intimacy of the shows, as well as forcing one to focus on the matters at hand.  Andrew, Laura and Scott once again opened up, serving up songs from Elf Power and various covers, including a taut reading of hometown hero Randy Newman's "In Germany Before The War".  The trio switched instruments with abandon, jelling in to a more cohesive identity than when their stint with Mangum began.  They extended their duties over the course of the tour to backing up Mangum at various points in his set.

When the moment came, Mangum was sharp and edgy, benefiting from the run of shows by essaying his tunes tightly and almost hurriedly, overtly exhorting the audience at numerous times to sing with him.  His humorous aside about not needing a bright spot on him was apparently too subtle, for he disappeared off stage at the end of a song, and the light immediately dimmed.  When he came back, he seemed a little less tense, and the night proceeded apace.  He has kept the cornerstone songs such as "King Of Carrot Flowers", "Two Headed Boy", "A Baby For Pree", and "In The Aeroplane, Over The Sea" in his set, along with the ace Daniel Johnston cover, "True Love Will Find You In The End", but expanded to include the seldom heard "Little Birds", (described as "the song that did my head in").
All in all, a winning night with an Indie legend.  One hopes only that he has found his peace with performing and making music.

08 AUGUST, 2011
The First Unitarian Church in Burlington, VT dates back to 1816, and as a venue, seemed to have the necessary gravitas for the evening's event: the return to active duty of Jeff Mangum.  As a warmup to being the special guest at the Portishead curated All Tomorrow's Parties 'I'll Be Your Mirror' festival in Asbury Park, NJ in October, Mangum scheduled a series of five warmup dates along the eastern seaboard into Canada, with this being the first.  Circumstances had me planning a trip to N.Y. and CT. around this date, so i went for it, and somehow got a ticket.  The trip ended up falling together as planned, and Monday found me driving across upstate NY, through the Adirondacks, catching a ferry across Lake Champlain, and finally arriving in beautiful Burlington, VT with a few hours to spare.
The church filled quickly, and while I caught a pew in the front left corner, with only 500 tickets sold, there really wasn't a bad seat.  Tall Firs and Andrew, Scott and Laura acquitted themselves well in opening duties, and the crowd was well behaved but tense, awaiting the grand moment.

For those not directly acquainted with Mr. Mangum, the Cliff Notes version is of a cult figure who recorded two LP's under the name Neutral Milk Hotel, the second of which, In The Aeroplane, Over The Sea, is heralded as a cult classic, a singular work that refracts an obsession with Anne Frank into a commentary on humanity.  After the release of which: nothing.  Mangum retreated from the pressure of the business, involved himself only with friends' projects, and for all intents and purposes, walked away from the game.
Which hopefully gives some background to the baited breath of the audience...what would he play? band or solo? what psychic frame was he in?  Neutral Milk Hotel in their productive days did not reach a vast audience, so I think it somewhat safe to say that very few folks in the house had any idea what they were getting into...

It only took one song to allay the fears.  Mangum opened up with arguably the most difficult song in his canon, "Oh Comely", and proceeded to hold the audience in the palm of his hand for close to ten minutes, performing alone on guitar, sitting on a chair, supple of voice and in total command of the songs demanding passages.  That moment is as close as I'll ever come to flying, being relieved of your tether to this world.  He was humble in the face of the thunderous applause, and over the next few tunes, relaxed into his material and his stage patter totally punctured the reclusive hermit myth.

The next flashpoint came a few songs in, when the sound system totally died.  After 90 seconds of small talk, it became obvious it wasn't an immediate fix.  Mangum grabbed his chair and jumped down from the stage, parking himself in front of the first row.  At this point, many from the audience started rushing up front, skidding to their knees and sprawling on the floor in front of him.  What security was in place wisely held their ground when it became apparent that no ill will was intended, and he requested, in the absence of amplification, that we help him out and sing along.
I have been to perhaps too many shows, sitting through bands' lame attempts to bolster their egos by 'joining in', but what broke out in that church on "Two Headed Boy, Part Two", was pure testifying, the sound of community, and to this day, hearing that song gives me goosebumps, and I choke up thinking about that moment, that night.

The remainder of the set flew by in a blur, sticking mostly to the two Neutral Milk Hotel LP's, but finding room for the unheard "Ferris Wheel On Fire", which surfaced later as part of the gigantic Neutral Milk Hotel box set, and a perfectly pitched cover of Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You In The End".  He finished the night on a high note with a rousing take on "Holland, 1945", and surfaced for an encore of "Engine", before unexpectedly hanging out at the foot of the stage to greet the audience and sign stubs, records, and I'm sure, body parts.  Truly an unforgettable evening.