Thursday, August 22, 2013

San Cisco Sails Forth...

12 AUGUST, 2013
After a weekend traipsing Golden Gate Park in pursuit of all that is Outsidelands, the perfect antidote turned out to be a show that was in one building, too packed to walk more than 10 feet at any given time. The venue was Slims, and the band was San Cisco. Still seeing dividends from their debut last fall on Fat Possum Records, the Australian quartet played to a packed house that got more raucous as the set progressed. I ended up perched on a railing, over a stairwell that was at least twelve feet down, jostled by the passing crowd, later to discover the broken glass underfoot, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. San Cisco was engaging, seeming to delight in the enthusiastic audience, some of which were fellow countrymen/women, and by set's end, I was won over. "Wild Things", in the middle, livened up the proceedings, and the closing one-two punch of "Awkward" and "Fred Astaire" brought things to a close with a flourish. The audience was split fairly evenly, with the girls being the loudest, and the night's abiding memory is the smell of high-end bath and beauty products. On the encore tip, they put their own special spin on Daft Punk's "Get Lucky", and that was the frosting on the cake, as far as the audience was concerned. After slogging across country on a headlining tour, San Francisco must have seemed like home for San Cisco.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nate Birkey: Back On The Block

19 AUGUST, 2013
Nate Birkey brought his quintet back to Santa Barbara for an appearance at Soho. The former resident picked up stakes and moved to NYC seven or eight years back, so any time he makes the local scene, it's an automatic mark on the calender. Testament to his popularity came in the form of a packed house, on a Monday, no less. Birkey's sound is rooted in the cool jazz of the mid-50's, nodding to Miles and Chet Baker, but it's the originals that express his gift to the fullest, taking off in unexpected directions.
The night served as a tune-up for a studio date, and he weighted his set with a few of the numbers. The overriding theme is spirituals and hymns, and based on the songs played, should be a keeper. The vibe brought to mind the Charlie Haden/Hank Jones LP Steal Away in its focused intensity.
The high-water mark of the evening was the set closing take on "Delirio", from The Mennonites, which brought things to a full boil. All told, a night of old friends and precious sounds.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wax Idols: Two For The Road

26 JULY, 2013
08 JUNE, 2013
Keeping up with Hether Fortune and Wax Idols is becoming a full time job, in a good way. Not static, ever mutating, the latest iteration of the group was on display at The Independent, finding ex-drummer Keven Tecon returning to the fold on keyboards and backing vocals, and his intimacy with the songs took away any learning curve whatsoever. The impact was fascinating and helped underline the musicality of the band that sometimes gets buried in the ferocity. Intensity-wise, it was as above, so below. Guitarist Jennifer Mundy had more room to stretch out, laying out insistent filigrees. Rachel Travers seems totally settled into the drum spot now, and Amy Rosenoff, laconic as always on bass, provides the crucial anchor for the storm around her. Highlights were many, but standing out was a towering take on "Dethroned". Wax Idols are still one of the most compelling bands to watch currently, they don't mess around with stage patter or goofiness, they just laser-focus in, and unload.
In June, Wax Idols opened for Lumerians at The Chapel, and I was interested to see, after the rush of initially seeing them, was it just an on night? It took no time at all to dispel any second thoughts I might have had. More dates across the U.S. supporting Discipline + Desire, (Slumberland Records), had solidified the lineup, and the giddy energy was channeled into a savage, full frontal guitar attack, with no quarter given. "Ad:Re:Ian", (below), opened the set with a roar.

The vocal mix was unflattering, with Fortune all but buried under the band's attack, but the raw energy she projected made up for any aural deficiencies. Old favorite "William Says" made an appearance, followed by blistering takes of "Sound Of A Void" and "Scent Of Love". There was no between song chatter, just a relentless charge through the set, ending with an epic rendition of "Stay In" that words can't describe, (below).

Monday, August 5, 2013

Laura Stevenson Steps Out

03 AUGUST, 2013
Alone but for 100 or so of her new best friends, Laura Stevenson held the stage of the Troubadour in LA, armed only with an acoustic guitar and a clutch of songs. The ace in the hole was that a fair number of those songs came from her latest effort, Wheel, out on Don Giovanni, one of the year's sleeper records. Stevenson cut to the essence of the songs, and kept the crowd spellbound with her nimble voice. Her dynamics were unerring, and when she cut loose, it was unforgettable. "L-Dopa" was the high water-mark, all the crowd-talking and clanking of beer bottles disappearing into the void for five minutes of pure bliss. Also notable was "Fire", a brand new song that she had only played a few times before, and "Nervous Rex", reaching back to her debut A Record. Showing a sly humor, Stevenson engaged with the crowd, riffing on her new haircut, and providing valuable insight into songs, such as how TCBY impacted "Journey To The Center Of The Earth". All told, a commanding set from an artist coming into her own. In October, she'll be back with her regular unit The Cans.
Dresses, from Portland, opened the evening with a charming set that ranged from acoustic laments to full throttle spunky pop. While usually I side with Ed Asner on all things spunky, the combination of engaging vocalists and crack rhythm section won me over. At time the bass and drums threatened to overwhelm the proceedings, but when everything melded, it was a delight. "Friends Are Dead" was the keeper track, lodged in the brain long after they finished. Their new EP Sun Shy is out now.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Ready For The Weekend...

26 JULY, 2013
Bay Area to Brooklyn transplants Weekend brought it all back home for an event at the Independent in San Francisco celebrating the release of their 2nd LP Jinx on Slumberland Records. The night featured support by locals Chasms and Wax Idols, (whose set will get its own piece). The question seemingly hovering over the night was how the band followed up 2010's beloved Sports. Jinx is bigger, cleaner, and moodier, recorded in dire circumstances on the West Coast and buffed to a sheen back east. Live, the new songs translate well, with lead vocalist Shaun Durkin keeping the audience transfixed and drummer Abe Pedroza pinned the audience to the walls. The addition of a new bassist allowed Durkan to add to Kevin Johnson's waves of guitar. The set was seeded with enough old favorites, (a stark reading of "End Times"), to keep the faithful in line. All in all, a promising start to an album built for a long tour.
Chasms set the tone for the night with an intense, droning set that built up like holding your breath for half an hour, until the dam broke loose with a set-ending jam that shook the rafters. With one EP, When It Comes, to their name and a new EP, Riser, out shortly, the duo of Jess Labrador and Shannon Madden create grinding glaciers of noise that, while tending long, are so involving that ones scarcely notices the passage of time.  We will cross paths with this band again sooner, rather than later.