Saturday, February 27, 2010

Caustic Casanova - The Last Barbarians - Akris -- Asylum - Feb 26 2010

Akris - The soundman was nowhere to be seen when it was showtime, but when he eventually decided to show up, Akris did have enough time for their set (they had another show elsewhere later that night). It was another one of those bass-drum combos which always have me lifting an eyebrow when I see them start. I've seen it work very well with Lightning Bolt and Nomeansno (who sometimes had a third member), but you better get it right. In this case, they did. The woman on bass sang and had got good enough moves on bass to keep the songs interesting. Drone metal is the sound here and the vocals were helpful. The bassist was saying prior to the show that an organ or farfisa might be nice in the future. I would agree, but for now, the sound works well enough.

The Last Barbarians - Here we have a four-piece (guitar, bass, drums,vocals) from Philadelphia. They immediately reminded me of the 80s hardcore scene where a band would take the intensity and energy, but do some oddball moves with a bit of funk or high-not bass playing which is obviously what we had here. The singer was strong and reminded me a bit of the guy from Freeze. The band had chops and the songs were all pretty intense and catchy. The sound was too compressed for my liking. Some of it may be due to the band's choice, but I will blame the sound guy since he was late. There were a few songs that really grabbed me and I do really like this band.

Caustic Casanova - The second time for me, seeing this local three-piece. They were chatting with me before-hand and said they had 50 songs in their itinerary and also try to do different covers regularly. I think that is really helpful, as when I see local bands too many times in a row, I feel like I am reviewing the same show. Not here. The general sound for this band is still hard psychedelic rock. They space out quite nicely or garage it up when they feel like it. Just call it rock, as it does. They medlied a couple covers, and the second one I spotted as Nirvana's "Floyd the Barber".  They remind me of one of my favorites, Motorpsycho, in that it is hard to pin them down, which is a good thing when it is done well. They are not quite Motorpsycho yet, but they will do nicely as we are not in Norway.  Hopefully, more people will discover this band, show by show. On an unimportant note, the guitarist really looks like Glenn Cornick.  

Quote of the Night: "Sorry, no diet coke tonight. Can I get you a cranberry juice or water?" Normally, I might be bummed when a bar didn't have a diet coke for me, but being that bars serve the worst diet cokes on the planet, this was a good night.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Damon Moon & the Whispering Drifters - The Last Monarchs - Kid Architect -- Velvet Lounge - Feb 24 2010

Kid Architect - Keys, guitar, bass and drums combine for an instant blast of nice loud progressive rock present immediately and throughout the set. The keyboardist could really play, as all of them for that matter, and he sang well. I get a Porcupine Tree feel with a touch of Dungen. Prog is reasonably hot these days and if you add good songwriting, spacey psyche touches, you have something. This Fairfax outfit does and I look forward to seeing them some more.

The Last Monarchs - A couple guys on guitar/vocals and drums and a couple women on cello, violin with vocals each. Folk rock is the genre here with a nice mix of instruments. Unfortunately, the first song was overloaded with cello and drums. Between soundman adjustments and the drummer adding a lighter touch, things improved as the set went on. A nice mix of happy/deep and folk/rock. Nice set. A couple of the songs stood out and the others were simple clean songs that still resonated well. Good set.

photo by asmith
Damon Moon & the Whispering Drifters - Five bearded backswoodmen from Georgia set up lots of effects for their two guitars, bass, keyboards and lap steel. They also have a drummer and there is some instrument shifting. I like their simple low lighting they brought in--nothing fancy, but it's a look not used enough. Very spacey psychodelia going on from note one to the last. Vocals in pretty much every song if I remember right, but they mostly help create the psyche ambiance. I enjoyed the sound a lot. I think the songs can be worked on a bit more with a bit more arranging. The swirling noise was great, but it seemed that there can be more done with the instruments on stage. For example, when I saw Spiritualized, my eyes were moving around constantly trying to see what everyone was playing to create the incredible psychedelic mix in my ears. Well, not every Velvet Lounge band is going to be Spiritualized, but it is something to strive for. Until then, Damon Moon and company is still a pretty cool night out.

Quote of the Night: "I want everyone to know that this is my tambourine debut" from Last Monarchs cellist who proceeded to use her off hand to hit the tambourine frame which is kind of the opposite way you should do it. Keep practicing.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fredrik - Meredith Bragg - Pree -- Black Cat - Feb 22 2010

Pree - A five piece with the usual instruments and one woman adding backup vocals, keys, glock, guitar and more. The music is delicate, but had a good head swaying loose rock feel on more than one occasion that was quite nice. The vocals were a bit soft and came close but didn't descend to the Joanna Newsome/Cocorosie style which is too frequent for me these days. All in all, a nice set by a band that is worth checking out. I enjoyed this and would like to see them again some day. Good luck to them on their SxSW visits soon.

Meredith Bragg - This is one man act--a guy with an acoustic guitar and voice. We've all seen it thousands of times, but he captured my attention instantly with an excellent first song. Very deep with his singing and delicate finger work. He then varied it a bit from a British psyche-folk feel to an Americana type song, to light rock and more. He's not Roy Harper, but any variety in this format when you can write a decent song is a good recipe for a good set. He had a percussionist come out briefly and a cellist for about half the set. That only enhanced things and brought about a well received ovation at the end. Next stop, a few sets at SxSW, as there are lots of bands I am seeing that are warming up for the 2010 version.

Fredrik - Two guys from Sweden are Fredrik. One plays guitar and sings lead. The other does stand-up drumming and electronics. The percussion was mostly maracas on floor toms with a large film reel set up as a cymbal (Reminds me of one of my rare recorded works where I had a home made drumkit with a cookie cover lid as a cymbal. You will not receive further information on this). I thought the sound was going to be very electronica, but it was more of a smooth guitar that went a bit into the shoegaze style, but also rocked lightly and had a good smooth psyche feel. They pretty much strived for an accessible pop rock sound and succeeded. The vocals were more Dead Can Dance light sort of non-word chants with some lyrics now and then. I was just listening to Neu! right before the show, so the percussion reminded me a bit of Neu!'s motortik, but instead of a quick highway beat, it was more of a slow canoe ride in icy waters. Good stuff. They have created their own space and I enjoyed being a part of it tonight.

Quote of the Night: "I just realized I played the one song with swearing on it" from Meredith Bragg after a song that he played that he had introed by introducing us to his pregnant wife and told us to watch our language as his baby was hearing everything.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mission of Burma - Office of Future Plans -- Black Cat - Feb 20 2010

Office of Future Plans - The band lines up with guitar, bass, cello and drums. A couple guys sing and things start out nicely. After a couple of songs, I was getting a little disinterested as the songs weren't really connecting. The style was in a Fugazi post-punk mode, lively, pounded, jagged guitar, etc. Then, they did a slow number which varied things nicely. The next up-tempo number connected a lot better and I was enjoying it. The cello switched to guitar and the sound did not change much actually. But the songs continued to get better or grow on me. I ended up enjoying a good band in the end. They are from Baltimore so I will likely catch them again some time.

 Mission of Burma - Three of the biggest and best post-punk bands out of the Boston area have all reunited in recent years to much acclaim. There are the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., and Mission of Burma. Only the last two have actually made it an enjoyable full-time operation with new releases and extensive touring. Nothing wrong with just doing it for the one-time bit of fun (and of course, just a bit of $$), but it has been more enjoyable for me to see the latter two bands on multiple tours and hear lots of good exciting music. Burma has a great style of loud somewhat clashing sounds pulled together in an almost garage-band style of post punk attack. Very tuneful they are, and lots of sound coming from just the three guys on stage. The soundman is their fourth member who did play bass on one cut and worked a magic box plugged into the mixing board. He has been a key member of Burma which is fair as their sound is the key to their success. But without the songs, they would fall back into obscurity. And they delivered again to a very full Black Cat crowd. Still plenty of life in this band as long as their guitarist's ears hold out (their initial breakup was due to severe tinnitus).

Quote of the Night: "The dog said 'I don't deserve this.'"

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Yell County - The Courtesans - Secret Pop Band -- The Red & the Black - Feb 19 2010

Secret Pop Band - The farewell show for them, as their drummer is headed to Japan. They were giving away their CDs and wanted to go out with a lot of friends and family present. So there is not a whole lot of point to me going into much detail here. They were a pop band and none to secretive about it. The guitarist/singer reminded me of a friend of mine I worked with at FHA who was in a covers band, but was of course much older than this chap. Anyway, simple decent music here. A good enough start for my night.

The Courtesans - They are another trio and share the same drummer as the Secret Pop Band. So, it is their last show as well. I enjoyed their set more as they rocked out a bit more in a loose, fun fashion. Maybe some of these guys will pop up again some time or they move on to their normal lives which can be lucrative, but oh so dull...
Yell County - Not only is this band not breaking up but they added a second guitarist. That obviously filled out the sound a bit and they are likely working on doing some different arrangements as it seemed to be an early show with this line-up. This band is very enjoyable. They play a good hook oriented, steady rock music with roots in punk. It's accessible and fun. Definitely one of the better bands around these parts. Tonight was a bit off unfortunately due to a borrowed bass amp cutting out a lot for a couple of measures every now and then. So I will wait until next time to see how everything comes together for this interesting bunch.

Quote of the Night: After playing their pro wrestling song, the bass player shows a bloody finger to his drummer "Juicing!". "Yeah, I bled the hard way".  Nice use of the vernacular, you smart marks, you.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Little Bigheart & the Wilderbeast - Red Sammy -- Velvet Lounge - Feb 18 2010

Red Sammy - Apologies to the opener as I had theater tickets for the Studio Theater's presentation of "In the Red and Brown Water" which was quite good. I have also seen the Folger's "Orestes" which I enjoyed and "Antony and Cleopatra" presented by the best theater company in the world, the Synetic Theater. If you have never seen their work, by all means go. They do stunning visual and audio presentations that make for innovative and accessible theater. Exciting stuff, but back to the music...
Little Bigheart & the Wilderbeast - This is my second time for these young upstarts and they were again able to perform a set I enjoyed. The sound was off early with too much bass and not enough lead guitar and inconsistent vocal microphones. But the soundman was on top of that and everything was corrected. I still enjoy their harmonies and find some of their songs quite inventive. They are all good players and have a really good start on putting together a package of progressive rock with lots of dynamic shifts from quieter pieces to heavy rockers. It's not Canterbury prog, but I was thinking often of some lesser known UK acts like Quintessence or Gravy Train. I can only hope they keep working up to the former's level as Quintessence is one of the little known jewels of the late 60s/early 70s. They closed with "Metropolis" which has some kind of King Crimson like counter lines surrounding the main melody. Good stuff. The crowd dug it, although it was loaded with friends as is often the case for younger bands and that is a good thing. The newcomers will slowly work their way in to see this band and the many other good local bands that keep playing out around town. At least I hope so.

Quote of the Night: I did not really get there in time to pick up anything, so I will mention my new gig as a CD reviewer for a Dutch on-line magazine that mostly covers the folk scene. I will provide a link and more detail when the next issue comes out. I am always available to review CDs or MP3s both for this site and that magazine. Just get in touch.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers - Toby Walker -- Birchmere - Feb 16 2010

Toby Walker - The show gets rolling with a solo guitarist fingerpicking his way through a classic sounding blues song with great style and flair. He is playing fingerstyle or maybe it's clawhammer-strum as Allan Taylor called his similar style. Whatever you call it, Walker clearly is a master player and a good showman. His set has some standards like "Spoonful" with some originals which were also good and featured plenty of pyrotechnic playing and a decent voice. There are plenty of people to have open up a blues show, so it helps to make an excellent choice like this--a guy who can play, who has a sense of humor and a flair for pulling the audience in and getting everyone revved up for some up-tempo blues. Toby Walker is a great choice for that.

John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers - 77 year old John Mayall quickly bounds up on the stage. I looked around to make sure that was really him as no 77 year old should be that spry. He does one song solo before bringing out his band. The band hits the stage and is fairly lean featuring drums, bass, keyboards, and electric guitar. Mayall handles all singing, harmonica, keyboards and plays guitar on one song. Mayall had lots of classics and songs from his lengthy back catalogue. Every time I tried to think of the song I used to hear on the radio in the seventies, I kept hearing Steve Miller Band's "Living in the USA". Thankfully, he closed with the song "Room to Move", so I now can complete my memory with a sound. Although this version was a bit extended and varied from the original. The night mostly featured keyboard solos even more than guitar solos, but on this final number, the bass player came forward and delighted the crowd with a pretty amazing solo. The drummer briefly did his thing and then the band left to a rousing ovation. Everyone was talented and I really do not believe I just saw a 77 year old performer bopping around the stage, never taking a seat or a break and carrying as much of a load as anyone out there. Heck, he even had enough hair to tie up a pony tail. The only signs of age were a heavily reverbed voice and one senior moment where the other keyboardist had to help him with a preset on his keyboard. But even with that, I think if you had no knowledge of Mayall, you would probably guess the guy was no more than 60 based on what you saw. How long can this guy go? We shall see as he shows no sign of slowing down with 62 dates through June and four more in August. I need a rest just thinking about this.

Quote of the Night:  Mayall recounting a comment about his harmonica playing-- "Sonny Boy Williamson thought I was shit."

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Residents - 9:30 Club - Feb 7 2010

The Residents - Walking about a mile through 2 feet of snow only plowed at some points, was the task before me prior to a date with the Residents.  Being that tours are infrequent (they did not happen for at least a decade back in the day) for this band that has been around for 40 some years, the snow difficulty was a small price to pay. The fireplace and beat up lounge chair on stage looked inviting. They also had the three circular projection screens set up that I saw the one prior time I saw them in the mid 80s. Three Residents hit the stage, one in an old man half-mask complete with bathrobe. The other two looked like rastafarian cyborgs. They flanked the stage on guitar and keyboards/electronics.  The old man went by the name of Randy and the others were Chuck and Bob. He explained Carlos had retired which was fine as they did not miss his ten minute drum solos. Of course all of this only exists in their bizarre world, as their real identities have always been a mystery. They have done such a good job of secrecy, they will be able to keep this band going for centuries. Perhaps in the early days it would have been tough recruiting people into their very strange and singular music, but they have paved the way for many other bands that do this sort of thing. Still, as I listened, there is just something about their peculiar style that makes you feel their brand of weird and fun music. They mixed musical short stories with songs of varying tempos, even a couple that rocked a bit. Light humor, dark themes, good staging, very similar to the previous show with an entirely different set of songs. There was good slide guitar work, strong electronics and even a harmonica that would fit in Once Upon a Time in the West. All surrounded the active vocalist who had a lot to say and a lot to sing. No eyeball heads, alas, but the Residents do move on (as is obvious if you follow them musically). A refreshing show from my past which resonated just as well today.

Quote of the Night: The usual door routine-- "Could you pull (your hood out of the way so I can see your face)", "What I really look under 50?", "Yeah, not a day over 16". Oh the fun of dealing with the 9:30 workforce.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Retribution Gospel Choir - Last Tide - Shapiro -- Rock'n'Roll Hotel - Feb 4 2010

Shapiro - A local five-piece with a couple of guitarists, rhythm section and lead vocalist with keyboard. Both guitarists used small synthesizers, quite often as it turned out. The vocals shined brightly and were at the forefront of the sound along with the keyboards. The drummer offered some good backup vocals as well. The band was solid and in a good indie pop-rock style that leaned more toward pop. The sound was a little soft at times, but a propulsive rhythm section kept things moving nicely. The last number rocked hard and there were nice changes in that song and others. I do appreciate that they play with their songs in a different way and not go into too many cliches. Nice job, well received by the crowd.

Last Tide - Another local five-piece with the same instrumentation as above without the extra keyboards. The vocals were buried early but the soundman righted that problem as the night wore on. A guitarist sang most with the female keyboardist filling in nicely and doing a couple leads herself. I always find it nice when you get varied vocal styles in a band. There was a muddy garage sound that clarified itself as the songs went on. But it was good mud, very dense with good psychedelic feel. All three axemen had lots of pedals and switches but retained a solid rock sound. I really liked this band a lot. I am not sure they are a break-out band destined for stardom, but they have a great command of psychedelic rock and good variance in the songs and I will be happy to see them at any show.
Sparhawk Garrington Pollard
Retribution Gospel Choir - Two members of Low make up 2/3 of this band. All that changes here is that the guitarist's wife is not here on drums. Instead they have a guy who also contributes backing vocals. I have seen Low and they are a smart, talented band--very good songs that rock out, but keep the focus on the song. Well, that structure has been amped up big time with this line-up. I was not prepared to how amazingly heavy this band would be. Tough, muscular playing, gutsy, powerful. There were great psyche sounds coming from the guitarist who did some looping to fill it out even more. The bass playing was fluid and excellent and the drummer pounded away nicely. They sounded more like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club I thought, but even more rocking. The songs were as also as good as the overall sound. This is a fantastic band that has moved up very high on my list.

Quote of the Night: "Greetings from Lake Superior". Oh yeah, I forgot that these guys are from Duluth, the city where both myself and Bob Dylan were born. Maybe that's an added connection.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Alberta Cross - Hacienda -- Black Cat - Feb 3 2010

Hacienda - From San Antonio, comes a four-piece with the usual players and a full time keyboardist. They all sing with two primarily in the lead position. The sound is kind of garage rock and I like the swirling organ in the opening jam. There is a feel for some of that old time Texas garage rock which is pretty powerful stuff, even beyond the well known bands. The rhythm was a bit primitive and the songs did not really vary a lot so I didn't get anything that really stood out for me. But I did enjoy the quality and the sound, so it was a solid opening set.

Alberta Cross - This is the second time for me seeing this band. I was quite surprised and impressed the first time I saw them as an opening act. Apparently I was not alone as the backroom was jam packed with fans, many admitting to seeing them the last time in town. They cover a range of styles in the indie world with a bit of Americana, rock and folk in the brew. The songs are so strong, it does not beg one to spend time on categories. They are loud and quiet, driven by guitars or keyboards, whatever they choose. And I am not sure I believe my ears. Is that a mellotron they are touring with or something similar? Wonderful, great sounds, good creativity and just plain great songs. Recommended for music lovers everywhere.


Quote of the Night: Well, actually during the day at home: After the evil creature shouts "I'm your Id!!", the response is "You don't scare me with your big words" Huh? I am too embarrassed to mention the source on this one.