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.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How The Meat Puppets Won The West

09 NOVEMBER, 2013
Interesting historical fact: when I first moved to the great state of Arizona in the late '80's, practically the only things I knew about it were Barry Goldwater and the Meat Puppets, and in the case of the latter, that was enough. A trio of the Kirkwood Brothers and Derrick Bostrom in their initial incarnation, the band upon rebirth is now a quartet, sans Bostrom and anchored by the brothers. Dogged by more than enough travails to fill an episode of Behind The Music, including label issues and drug shenanigans, the band seemingly never met a bridge it didn't burn. For me they were always a talisman, helping to pave a brave new post-hardcore world by helping to lay the groundwork for what would become Americana, and it's hard to imagine the current San Francisco psych scene without their trailblazing. Their legacy is secure from their early 80's run on SST Records that influenced many, including a young man named Cobain, who repaid the debt by featuring a cycle of their songs during Nirvana's Unplugged performance.
On this night, it was back to basics, as two albums into their resurrection, the band is on the road working its way back up, shining a light for those not fortunate enough to catch them the first time, or gray vets looking for that taste, trying to recapture that first vivid high. While mixing in new tunes, they didn't ignore the old, working in SST-era material, including a handful from high water mark Meat Puppets II, including "Oh Me", "Plateau", and "Lake Of Fire" to much thrashing from the assembled. Audience response seemed heaviest for songs from Too High To Die and a high octane cruise through early classic "Lost", but the high point of the night, and the moment where the set elevated for keeps was a burning take on Freddie Fender's "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" into "Que Paso", investing them both with the Meat Puppets own brand of badassery. Based on the number of fresh faces in the audience, it looks like the Meat Puppets are building a new bridge.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Getting Misty In L.A.

02 NOVEMBER, 2013
Father John Misty put the finishing touches on his solo acoustic expedition at the Wiltern Theater, so named for its location of the corner of Wilshire and Western in Koreatown. Since September's warmup date in Big Sur as a benefit for the Henry Miller Library, the Misty juggurnaut has travelled across the country. Net changes in the set amount to few, other than natural tightening that occurs over the course of dates. It was impressive to note the packed upper corners of the Wiltern, his biggest sole-appearing LA appearance to date, and staging for the most part was spartan, but well-used. Throughout the show, a lady in a black bikini with thigh high leather boots and a giant rabbit head perched on a chair behind him, motionless but for shifting position every few songs. As an unsettling counterpoint, it was second to none, and midway through the set, the already-fabled I-Phone cutout swung down from the rafters to occupy pride of place onstage.
Charging right in, he opened with "I'm Writing A Novel", pushing traditional opener "Fun Times In Babylon" to midway through. After "Only Son Of A Ladies Man", he worked into the new with a rousing "I Love You Honeybear", and what we'll guess is called "Funny Girls", a bitter crowd-pleaser that addressed misuse of the word "literally" to pleasing effect. Another new song was rolled out after "Fun Times In Babylon", a slow charmer that we'll know for now as "Chateau Lobby #9". The Dory Previn cover  that he played in Big Sur reappeared here, and one of the evening's high points was yet another new song, (provisionally we'll call it "Awful Things"), that underlined the energy that Misty brought to the table, underscoring the difference with the intimate, more probing versions of songs heard in Big Sur. It was a harrowing tune, and adds another facet to the emotional spectrum of the forthcoming LP. For Mistyologists, the inclusion of a spoken word father-son talk in "How I Learned To Love The War" was something new and entertaining, and for his encore, he backed up "Tee Pees 1-12" with the new "The Atom Bomb and Me" (our title...), that had a philosophical rumination on the cultural phenomenon of opportunistically invoking "Free Bird". Tillman finished off the night with a bang, concluding with the rarely played, "O I Long To Feel Your Arms Around Me", the only song from Fear Fun I'd yet to hear him play live. Speculation on why he never played it live seems to range from 'too personal' to 'too Fleet Foxes-like'. Hell, likely none of the above for what we've seen of Misty. The song itself is but a brief heartfelt interlude in the middle of the insanity of the album, and with repeated listenings, takes on the weight of a hymn, akin to Son Volt's "Windfall". Tonight's take missed the lonesome organ lines of the studio version, but was more than made up for by the sheer power of his delivery. And with that, Misty waved to the crowd, and arm in arm, strolled off the stage with his bunny.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Day Of The Dead with Flaming Impala

01 NOVEMBER, 2013

Could there be a more fortuitous mating than the combination of the Flaming Lips and Tame Impala in the Santa Barbara Bowl for Day Of The Dead? As Wayne Coyne himself observed from stageside: "I wish this could be every day". Our community held up their end, with a nice percentage of the crowd boasting painted faces, and a troop of dancers who entertained between sets, and invading the stage during Tame Impala. Also notable was a memorial set up in the glen to stars that have played the Bowl and since passed, including Bob Marley and Joe Strummer.
 Flaming Lips always rise to an Occasion, (remember their gig at Hollywood Forever Cemetery?), and this was no exception. Kicking off with a Miley Cyrus lookalike perched on top of a bear pouring a bucket of blood on Wayne Coyne in a recreation of Carrie pretty much covers your need to know. As with latter-day Lips shows, it's all about spectacle and the execution of concept, and it rarely gets more executed than that. Musically, it hewed largely to The Terror, devoting almost half the set to their most recent release, and, given the date, couldn't have been more timely. As always, its easy to overlook in the spectacle, but the contributions of core members Michael Ivins, Kliph Scurlock, and Steven Drozd are what keep this spaceship running. Time and again, it was their soundtrack that made this movie work. "Silver Trembling Hands" provided a high point, as well as a knockout combination of "The Terror" into "Race For The Prize". Abandoning the madness of the pit to climb up above provided a majestic view of the proceedings by the time they made it to "Spoonful Weighs A Ton", and all told, there could be no finer way to end a concert season.
old faithful
 Tame Impala, while we've heard them both inside, (Fonda Theater), and outside before, (Golden Gate Park), have never sounded quite as heavenly as inside the confines of the County Bowl. Their waves of sound bounced warmly around the walls of the venerable (WPA-era) structure, and filled all with a warm glow. Aside from cherry-picking their two full-lengths, they found time to drop the bottom out of "Elephant", segueing into Michael Jackson's "Thriller", accompanied by the aforementioned troop of local dancers, and showed off their cover of Flaming Lips "Are You A Hypnotist", joined by main man Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd on drums.

Wayne Coyne lends a hand to Tame Impala