Saturday, December 14, 2013

This Is Our Music: Waxahatchee/Swearin'/Upset live

05 DECEMBER, 2013
In a welcome change of pace, December, usually a run-off month for shows at best, has spawned some monsters. In what could very well be the best value-per-dollar bill of the year, the Center For The Arts Eagle Rock welcomed an FYF presentation of Waxahatchee, Swearin', and LA's Upset on Thursday night. More than most bills, it was a uniform presentation, unfolding neatly over the night as a movement in three acts: Confrontation, Abandon, and Catharsis.
Upset has been on our radar lately, with October and November slots at the Echoplex, and it was up to them to kick things off, betraying a certain nervousness in stage manner, but certainly not in execution. Perhaps it was the gravity of the lineup, but they had nothing to fear, as the audience could certainly be considered a home crowd. Once they started playing, everything fell into place, and went accordingly. This evening's twist was a reversion to the Mark I lineup that recorded the LP, with Katie Goodman (Vivian Girls, La Sera, Kickball Katie) carving out time from her hella busy schedule to rejoin the fold. They maintained their core set from the debut album, and aside from running order, the cool change up was a blistering 7 Seconds cover. Taking it head on, Upset emerged victorious.
Swearin' filled the middle slot, and proceeded to lay waste to the proceedings. Fronted by Allison Crutchfield, (sister of Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield), and Kyle Gilbride (Producer of Upset's She's Gone), they parlayed ragged but right harmonies, (reminiscent of X's John Doe and Exene Cervanka), and an electrifying band into a short but brutal set, drawing in equal measures from their two studio albums. The unstoppable "Kenosha", from their debut, was an early highlight, and the set took flight with "Echo Locate" from November's Surfing Strange. and built to a fiery climax with "Young", "Crashing", and "Dust In The Gold Sack".
NYC by way of Alabama-Waxahatchee is Katie Crutchfield, the solo project that spawned last years American Weekend, now fleshed into a full band. Crutchfield undersold the set as "...ready for a bunch of sad songs?", then proceeded to turn what on lp are lullabies of grief into projectiles of pain and anger. Working tightly with the band, it was expected that the acoustic songs from American Weekend would be transformed, but even the tunes from this year's winning Cerulean Salt were goosed up hard in intensity. It was difficult to imagine anyone topping the full frontal assault of Swearin', but with a neat sidestep and a healthy clutch of songs from one of the year's best albums, Waxahatchee cut deep.

Scenes of the night that will stay with me for a long time were seeing Alison Crutchfield front and center in the audience for Upset, watching Ali Koehler air-drumming and singing during Waxahatchee, and seeing Kyle Gilbride singing along nowhere near a mic during Swearin'. Unlike the vibes of many multi-band shows, this was family, a well-matched night of musical and emotional connections.

Friday, November 29, 2013

We're An American Band: Quasi On The Road

14 NOVEMBER, 2013
Fresh on the heels of a new LP, Quasi found time to visit Soho Santa Barbara, and give us their own inimitable take on rock and roll. The Portland duo of Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss celebrate 20 years of adventure, and the sprawling double LP set that is Mole City explores every nook and cranny of their existence. Combine that with the tour covers EP: Quasi Interprets 2013, and you have the groundwork of a hard won ideology, and a worthy case of why this music is still worth fighting for. A whole page could be devoted to their bio, (and is on their website), but briefly, Coomes came out of the Donner Party and Heatmiser (with Elliot Smith), and joined Weiss in Motorgoat, before they formed Quasi. Weiss came to the attention of most as the powerhouse drummer in Sleater-Kinney, before going on to sit in with Steven Malkmus and the Jicks and Bright Eyes, among others. Recently, around Quasi, she found time to anchor Wild Flag, with ex-Sleater-Kinney mate Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony, and Rebecca Cole. Suffice it to say, when other people count sheep to fall asleep, my personal gambit is to try to discern whether I've seen Janet Weiss or Superchunk's Jon Wurster drum live more.
While touching on tracks from favorites Sword Of God and American Gong, the focus was on the new, and "An Icecube In The Sun", "See You On Mars" and "You Can Stay But You Got To Go" were standouts. Coomes started the night on keyboards before switching over to guitar, and the pleasure of the night was finally getting a close up spot to watch Weiss in action. To see her in a duo setting is to more appreciate her control and pacing, aside from the usual being slackjawed at her raw power. Truly one of the country's underappreciated drummers...For the encore, they dipped into the aforementioned covers EP, essaying a commanding take on Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" and hewing closer to the overload of Elvis Costello's take on Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?" Capturing Coomes and Weiss on camera is akin to tracking a hummingbird, but our best efforts are below. A memorable night despite the light turnout, but, as Coomes noted-the LA crowd the night before was staid and arms crossed, but those who showed up on this night were ready to rock, and Quasi delivered.
Pennsylvania's Blues Control held down the opening slot on this tour, and the duo set the tone for the evening with a heavy excursion into the outer limits of noise/drone business. I quite look forward to their return to this coast. It was heartwarming to see what audience was their react positively, as the set certainly wasn't for the weak of heart, or ears.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Upset Goes Back To School

21 NOVEMBER, 2013
Thursday night saw the return of Upset to the Echoplex, not a month after their last appearance here, but with a difference: more shows under their belt, and in good company, touring with label mates/label anchor Screaming Females. It was a more assured Upset that hit the stage, spinning through the same set in different order, (from their debut LP She's Gone), plus their Guided By Voices cover. The crucial difference was the mood, at once looser and more ferocious. "Oxfords and Wingtips", (below), remains their signature song, and "Never Wanna" and "You And I" retained their double-timed thrash. Jenn Prince took the spotlight for her "Game Over", and Ali shed her guitar for the aforementioned GBV cover, "Chasing Heather Crazy", putting full focus on the vocal. As always, the powerhouse rhythm section of Rachel Haden and Patty Schemel carried the day, with Haden's melodic touch shining on "She's Gone", and Schemel, frankly, turbocharged every song. While the tag of 'supergroup' gets tossed their way because of the players' diverse backgrounds, the tricky part is growing up the band in public, and the key to their success at this point would appear to be their chemistry. Hopefully it won't be too far down the road when we check in again with Upset...the status report for now is full steam ahead.