My Bleeding Hipster Heart

BOH Showbox Marquee“Rogue Wave” – 7/17/13 @ Neumos & “Band of Horses” 8/5/13 @ Showbox Market – both Seattle – The kids these days have a lot of categories and sub-categories to tuck music into that we didn’t have back in my day.  Ultimately, I think that’s a good thing.  The more ways we have to understand each other, the better.  However, we can never get to true understanding through a name, a category is just a category.  It’s a good thing when bands challenge their filing status.

One term that seems to easily stir people’s emotions is “Emo” and it’s used a lot.  All we had back in the day was “alternative” and a lot of things fit under it that would get broken out today.  Some, perish the thought, might have been considered Emo.  It even gets mentioned in commercials for major music festivals such as Bumbershoot here in Seattle.  Usually somewhat tongue in cheek and somewhat despairingly.  “Oh, if you’re an over-emotional and loathsome hipster emo-lover, don’t worry, your delicate ego will be appeased with bands that we will judge you for liking.”  Notice how close “emo” and “ego” are.   Hmmm, beyond my intellect to analyze…

All of this is a lead up to my reviews of two recent shows for bands that likely would fit into someone’s idea of Emo music – Rogue Wave and Band of Horses.  Both are bands I’ve liked for a few years now, but at the first show, the Rogue Wave show, going into it, I started to wonder if I don’t challenge myself enough in my musical tastes.  I embrace this whole Emo thing, I’m fine with it, rarely care what people think about me, especially when it comes to music.

But, should I be weary of bands associated w/ the category?  Are my tastes changing?There are so many other bands out there to like, do I take the easy route?  Am I addicted to a sugary-sweet mix that is manipulating my delicate ego?  Ultimately I know these are frivolous questions, they don’t really matter.  To me, these are questions that basically guide me towards the best of the best.  Which gourmet food is the best?  I like to think that with years as music director for my college radio station and many, many shows under my belt, I have a discerning taste in music.  It’s the one and only thing I think I’m justified in being snobby about.  This is clearly a 1st world problem, which indie/alt/emo music is best suited for me?  Is that a question that can even be answered?

Rogue Wave Neumos 2013Anyhoo…I started to wonder if my tastes were getting too broad.  Was I going for the easy fix?  Were my emotions and penchant for simple hooks being toyed with to sell records and/or t-shirts?  I came to realize that I didn’t care.  So f’n what that most of Rogue Wave’s songs seem to be about relationships or that their lead singer handed out flowers at the end of their show.  They still rocked Neumos quite well that night and had one of my friends who attended be surprised by how “heavy” they were.  Even if they are pulling heart-strings through sleeves, they do so in an interesting way that gets satisfyingly psychedelic and crunching at times.

Rogue Wave’s latest album – Nightingale Floors – is a confident offering from a band that was starting to sound a bit too much like Death Cab for Cutie.  Don’t get me started on them and their place in the emo pantheon.  Their latest album features some great psychedelic and poppy explorations from a band that are accessible but also have enough options to explore some appealing sonic landscapes.  One track that I wished they’d played live that I love is “Everyone Wants to Be You”, there is plenty stuffed into its wall of sound to find appealing.  That track is followed up by one they did play live, one of the more respectful and resonant covers in recent memory – Screaming Trees “Nearly Lost You”.  The kind of cover that sends you promptly to the original at high volumes but also has you respecting what the band has done with it.

The Rogue Wave show was great.  I definitely recommend checking them out, they have a varied catalogue to choose from and can put together a set featuring all kinds of goodies.  They will bang on their instruments satisfyingly, if maybe leave some of the more psychedelic explorations disappointingly off the set list.  They might be appealing to some more base emotions and lyrically not pushing the envelope much, but they wrap it all up in oh such a cool way.

BOH CaseThat leads me to the other show I’m folding in here, the Band of Horses show at the Showbox Market.  THIS show I was very excited for.  Just based on logic alone, you have a band that has achieved a healthy portion of “indie” rock success with tunes featured in a variety of TV shows and movies, successful albums and a strong following.  That band is playing at a medium-sized club venue that they easily sell out and I’m left holding a ticket.  Do the math.  As I told a few people leading up to the show, my expectations were high.

I’m glad to say that my expectations were largely met.  I guess I expected more fervor from the crowd but the band did put on a great set.  I’ve seen the band be a bit more wacky on stage, breaking fake glass bottled on each others heads for example, maybe the move back to South Carolina has mellowed them out slightly?  This time things were pretty straightforward, they just put on a great set.

I’ve noticed that some bands – like My Morning Jacket – have structured their sets chronologically along with their discography.  That works out really well if you like a bands latest stuff better, but it can make you a bit nervous in the beginning of the show.  That was more noticeable for My Morning Jacket, their music has changed quite a bit from album to album and their older stuff is a lot more rootsy.  I enjoyed the late, psychedelic part of their set more than the beginning.

Same could be said for me about the Band of Horses set, but their catalog isn’t quite as varied from one album to the next.  Still, for me, the energy level definitely picked up near the end of the show and became much more fun.  Nothing much to report as far as antics or crazy light show or anything very surprising about the Band of Horses set, just a solid rock show.  I was glad to get to see them in such a small venue.  They aren’t necessarily an arena act, but it’s rare to be able to see them at a club show and I was glad I got to.

Again, maybe not anything that pushes the edges of my musical tastes, BOH is a very accessible band, and even more accessible in such a small club.  At times their lead singer and founder Bed Bridwell sounds like Perry Ferrell, combined with that alt rock country pop thing they have going on, and there’s the potential for a lot of singing along and good times.

Sometimes you like to listen to music that makes you feel good.  I feel justified in enjoying the occasional sugary band, even if they are designed to pull the heart-strings of people 20 years my junior.  Call me Emo, call me indie, call me a sellout hipster, fine by me, but I like what I like.

Rogue Wave set list (from San Fran a few nights prior, can’t find the Seattle setlist) http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/rogue-wave/2013/the-independent-san-francisco-ca-7bd946a0.html
Band of Horses set list – http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/band-of-horses/2013/showbox-at-the-market-seattle-wa-1bc6d920.html

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My Top 10 Albums for 2012

In some semblance of an order:

  1. Deep Sea Diver – History Speaks
  2. The Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
  3. Dan Deacon – America
  4. Porcelain Raft – Strange Weekend
  5. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel is Wiser…
  6. David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
  7. Tennis – Young & Old
  8. The Big Pink – Future This
  9. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
  10. The Ting Tings – Sounds from Nowheresville

Honorable mentions:

  • Beach House – Bloom
  • Aimee Mann – Charmer

 

Top Fucking Shelf

David Byrne & St. Vincent – 5th Avenue Theater, 10/17/12 – Seattle: I was a little skeptical going into this show, I have to admit.  As much as I love David Byrne and The Talking Heads, the only time I’d ever seen him live was years ago during his solo years at a show at Berkeley in Boston.  It was a very experimental and avante garde show.  I couldn’t get into it.  Mr. Byrne had since released the amazing “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today”, which saw him returning to fertile ground in his partnership with Brian Eno.  It’s an amazing album.  I missed him for that tour, bummer.  So, ok, this would be the next best thing.

Now he was working with an unknown quantity (to me at least) on his collaboration with St. Vincent on the recently released “Love This Giant”.  People were telling me how awesome St. Vincent was, but I hadn’t had time to listen to her before the show.  I also didn’t have a ton of time to really let their collab album sink in.  I could tell there were moments of genius, but I hadn’t really absorbed it yet.

A random group of us with my friend Emily as the nucleus had a great dinner before the show and unfortunately got there 1 song in, they played the single form the album – ‘Who’.  I hate when that happens, but we rolled with it.  The 5th Avenue Theater is a place where a lot of “theater” happens and it is a beautiful place with a lot of seats in the balcony, so we quickly found our home. Proceed with the mind-blowing.  The show was amazing.

David was in his white suit with a headset mic; St. Vincent had her guitar and a honkin’ foot petal set up off to stage left; behind her a keyboardist/synch/sounds guy; back right was the drummer and walking, dancing, strutting, generally killing it was a bevy of wind musicians who rounded out the sound with a ton of big-band-like depth.  You could see Mr. Byrne’s hands all over this, the musicians (save for the drummer and the keyboardist) didn’t just rock, they performed art.  There were choreographed routines where the band with Byrne and Ms. Vincent would march around stage as they performed their songs.  For “Cheerleader” from St. Vincent, the whole band laid down on the floor while she performed a huge powerful cord masher, David Byrne sitting up from his prone position during the rockin parts, his only role on the song without his vocals was to round out the performance art in an interesting and unique way reminiscent of the performance art he would work into the live shows for the Talking Heads.  They did come out of RISD after all…

David Byrne is listed first in the presentation of their group – David Byrne and St. Vincent – but based on the jaw dropping performance of Ms. Vincent, it would be understood if you called them St. Vincent and David Byrne, she was incredible.  The performance they put together with those amazing musicians made me appreciate their album anew, in listens afterwards I heard songs that they played that night that were so amazing and deliver most of what we saw on stage even in a less than ideal car setting.  It also made me understand all of what people were saying about St. Vincent before the show.  I needed to immediately become a fan of hers.

She towers over everything that she does.  She has this raw sexual energy, vamped out in a mini skirt and heels, and a serious understanding of music as theory and as raw emotion.  In my subsequent research, I learned that she started playing guitar at a very young age and attended Berkeley, and the child-like excitement and the technical prowess both shone through.  She is a force to be reckoned with.  There is something I like to call “PJ Harvey 2.0” going on between her and the lead singer for Deep Sea Diver, Jessica Dobson.  All three dark-haired beauties who command and get respect through command of their craft.  Amazing to listen to, transfixing to watch.

Now that I was a convert of Ms. Vincent and this collaboration, I could enjoy all that it had to offer and it offered a lot.  Classics from the Talking Heads like “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” and “Burning Down the House” to songs from St. Vincent’s catalog that were amazing and of course songs from the album.  “Naive Melody” made everyone in the room so freaking happy, there was raw joy in the air that led to a very long-standing ovation afterwards.  St. Vincent told this great story of how she first came to learn about The Talking Heads from the movie “Revenge of The Nerds” which led into “Burning Down The House” after a pit stop at another song.  It was a great tease, “she’s talking about ‘Burning Down the House’, I can’t believe they are going to play that, I’m so excited…oh, they aren’t going to play it…ok…that’s fine…WAIT they are!!!”  The one that was grabbing my attention from their album before the show and delivered completely was the hauntingly poppy “Ice Age” which prominently features St. Vincent.

Overall, this was top fucking shelf entertainment in every way.  Complete professionals at the top of their game and a great collaboration of extremely talented musicians young and old.  Can I have some more please?

Setlist from a San Francisco show, which was very similar to what we heard here, couldn’t find our set list:

Two Fiona Apple Shows, A Dozen Years

Ticket Stub for Fiona Apple

One of the best shows ever.

Last Wednesday night I was able to go see Fiona Apple supporting her 4th album, the 2nd with a super long title that I won’t bore you with.  Suffice to say that the weight of the album title does not weigh down the album itself.  While it’s the least accessible Fiona Album record, a few listens reveals it’s greatness.  Same could be said when you compare the two times I’ve seen her live – once in 2000 in support of her first superbly longly titled album and again last week.  Her early show was at face value a great show, one of the best I’ve ever seen, this last one, while great, didn’t grab me right away. Fiona came on the scene with her debut album “Tidal” and the hit “Shadowboxer” which had that almost trip hop feel to it.  Sultry, jazzy beats over aggressive lyrics, it was a huge hit at the time and seduced me right away.  I re-listened to that album a few times recently and had forgotten how many great songs there are, it still holds up.  It’s a unique record for her now, while she still makes great and accessible songs, none have been as big as they were on that record and she’s focused more on the jazz than the trip hop.

Which has been fine by me.  Her 2nd album is a triumph.  Intricate lyrics supported by hooky jazz, it’s impossible not to love it.  She was supporting that album when I saw her with my friend Kelly in 2000 at the Orpheum in Boston.  I think it was one of the first times I bought tickets from a broker, I was willing to pay top dollar for that one.  It was worth it, we had great seats on the floor, super close.  At the time stories of Fiona’s live melt downs were legendary, but there was none of that this time.  I remember her spending most of her time at the piano facing back towards the band and belting out tune after tune.  It was awesome.

It was all that crisp, trip hoppy stuff from the first record and that breakbeat Jazz from the 2nd.  All supported by lyrics that she clearly pours everything into.  It’s a big reason as to why I like Fiona Apple so much, she is smearing her heart onto the lyric sheet.  She does more than wear it on her sleeve.  You know that she’s felt what she’s writing about deeply and it translates into songs that are gut wrenching in their lyricism, accompanies my simple, searing Jazz scores.

Her 3rd record, out 6 years after the first (I think she either waits that long to accumulate enough worthy experience to write the kinds of rich stories she builds into her songs or she agonizes for that long over every album detail, maybe a bit of both) – Extraordinary Machine – delivered on a similar Jazzy feel, but was a bit less approachable.  Her lyrics are always standofish, but the music was more jarring as well.  It took a few extra listens to realize that it too was an amazing record full of deep cuts.  Rumors at the time were that the record was reformulated at the insistence of the record company as the first version she submitted was too avant garde for their taste.  I’ve not listened to the original version that I hear is available, but you can find the full story of its development here.  Great early story of the democratization of the internet and the ability of fans to pressure the record company to do the right thing.

Then, another long hiatus – 7 years this time.  Fiona released her 4th album, and the 2nd since “When the Pawn…” with one of those long titles.  This one required the most patience and perseverance to come to terms with.  Each album she releases requires more of my attention to get wrapped around, but it does always eventually happen.  Maybe that’s as good example of what it means to know her, she’s challenging. That’s certainly evident from her lyrics.

I wasn’t sure I was ever going to like the new album.  But consistent listening reveals its genius.  At first, the albums seems to be too experimental, but those jazzy hooks we have come to rely on from her reveal themselves soon enough.  I’ve come to love the record and find it reverberating in my head long after I’ve listened to it.  There are many great tracks on it and I recommend it to anyone who likes the genre or has ever been a Fiona fan.  Give it a chance, or 3 or 6 chances.

Fiona Apple @ the Paramount

This time, West Coast

So, with all of this history and the memory of her first show coming back to me, I was very excited to have a chance to see her again.  My friend Emily and I arrived at the Paramount just as the lights had gone down and the crowd cheered her pending arrival on stage.  I don’t think I’ve ever timed the arrival to a show so well.  It was another great show, there is no doubt, but I don’t think I could say it was one of the best ever.  She played a lot of those intimate songs and was a welcome sight behind the piano carving out songs I’ve been longing to hear live.  However, a song like “Shadowboxer” would start along its luxurious path and deliver us along with it and then in the 2nd verse she’d mix it up with a lyrical delivery that was more poetry slam than jazz virtuoso.  I’m not one to get bent by a performance that deviates from the record – I don’t need a note for note representation of the album, but when she would start with a nicer representation and then take (IMHO) the air out of the song by changing it up and making it harsher, it was a little disappointing. But, those moments were few and far between.  For the most part, those downer-beat songs delivered immense beauty and brought the room into fits of rapture and much hooting and hollering.  It was also a welcome sonic-scape to hear her modify her songs to fit the 4 piece band she had, a much more rock than jazz oriented approach than she had the last time.They were great versions of the songs and made for a great show, but I missed the consistent intimacy she gave us in Boston.  But, then again, it seems she’s always had a hard time with intimacy.  Maybe intimacy isn’t her thing.  Then why does she always keep pulling me right in…?

P.S. – Seattle setlist – http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/fiona-apple/2012/paramount-theatre-seattle-wa-13dc8125.html

Boston setlist – http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/fiona-apple/2000/orpheum-theatre-boston-ma-13de4951.html

Interesting Summer/Fall Seattle Concerts

  • Shearwater – 7/20 @ the Croc – A good friend’s favorite band ever…
  • Fiona Apple on the 25th @ the Paramount – Ticket Holder, should be goosebumps inducing
  • Seattle Rock Orchestra Plays Arcade Fire @ the Neptune – 8/25 – interesting…
  • My Morning Jacket @ Marymoor – 9/7 – Ticket Holder, I expect these guys to work an outdoor venue like this properly
  • Aimee Mann @ the Neptune – 10/3 – Going to get a ticket for shizz….her last show here at the Zoo was a bomb.  Not her fault, she had to open for Marc Cohen, ouch…
  • Dinosaur Jr. @ the Neptune – 10/10 – Would be good to see these old dudes again…
  • Dan Deacon @ the Neptune – 10/27 – The one time I ever saw him at the suggestion of a friend was crazy.  He’s so nuts and awesome live.  Go see him, even if you don’t know his stuff.

The Neptune is killing it these days…

Ticket Stub Tour #5 – Tricky in ’97

Tricky - Jan 97

Tricky – Jan 97

Recently, as I was playing Tricky’s Pre Millenium Tension at work to get myself reacquainted with Tricky for this post, I had to leave my desk and attend to some business.  When I came back the music was off.  Someone wasn’t feeling it and turned my speakers down.  They turned Tricky off.  A lot of people have done that over the years.

But not at first.  Tricky originally was a part of the bar-setting trip hop collective Massive Attack (by way of his membership in The Wild Bunch), a band who to this day has continued to be the defining artist of the genre.  MA’s first release Blue Lines is on my top 10 list of the albums of all time, but isn’t really a trip hop album.  It’s got a lot more heart and soul than every other trip hop album combined and still maintains that dark edge that you come to expect trip hop .  It’s a true work of art.  Tricky offers his rap stylings on the album.

Tricky - Maxinquaye Album Cover

Best Trip Hop Album Ever?

With his discovery of the 15-year-old Martina Topley-Bird and their cut of an initial single that Massive Attack were not interested in, Tricky struck out on his own.  He used his new-found freedom to explore the harder “hop” edges of the trip hop sound.  Out of the gates he created a masterpiece with Maxinquaye, joining Blue Lines as one of the best albums ever.  It has track after track of darkly dusted soundscapes with deep beats, lush lyrics and smart samples, my favorite of which borrows from the Smashing Pumpkins “Suffer”.  I listened to the album again recently and it absolutely holds up, creating much of the same excitement as when it first came out.

Tricky - Pre-Millennium Tension

Pre-Millennium Tension Album Cover

Tricky followed up Maxinquaye with Pre Millenium Tension in ’96 and based on that record, it seemed like Tricky was destined for greatness, the album was/is awesome.  It flows a little less easily than Maxinquaye does but still a very well crafted record of intense artistry.  Tricky challenged his audience only a bit more on this record, he still delivered some melodic trip hop goodness, but with a few more heavy and halting breaks and experiments that pushed the genre deeper into dark territory.  The album continued Tricky’s partnership with the amazingly talented Topley-Bird whose hauntingly sweet voice gives a track like “Makes Me Wanna Die” the chance to give me the chills each time I listen.  Typically whenever I get into a conversation about Tricky and his early career, Maxinquaye and PMT are mentioned together as work that are in partnership.  Most people are fans of both records even if PMT is a tougher pill to swallow.  If you like what Tricky was doing on Maxinquaye, you go to that place that he brings you on PMT, even if it’s a bit more work because the reward is so great.

Tricky - Angels With Dirty Faces

Angels With Dirty Faces Album Cover

I haven’t been willing to go much further than that with Tricky, which is a cop-out on my part.  We all get a little bit lazy in our old age, and I just haven’t been that willing to work too hard to keep up with Tricky’s later career.  The album “Angel’s With Dirty Faces” was the album that started to put me off-balance.  It was as if Tricky was trying to make a record that wouldn’t be recognizable by his fans.  You have to give artists credit for pushing boundaries and for NOT re-making their successful sound (should they be lucky enough to have one) and taking the easy route each time.  It’s part of what confirms that Tricky is a true artist, always looking to expand his canvas.  Tricky didn’t like the “trip hop” label he was carrying, and leading, yet he was motived to rule the airwaves in ways that his hip hop compatriots have done.  To do that, Tricky would have had to compromise too much integrity, even though he has it in spades.

I honestly still haven’t gone back to re-listed to “Angels…” since I started writing this entry.  Since then, Tricky has released 5 other albums and I’m sure that across them much of his genius is still intact and in some cases even very approachable.  I just need to get off my lazy music ass and dig into Tricky’s late catalog as I’m sure to be rewarded.  Tricky hasn’t insulted us by trying to ride the potential cash cow as the king of trip-hop.  He’s challenged himself as an artist and us as an audience and it’s up to us to take the challenge or not.

The show?  Well, this is still another one of those old shows that I can barely remember, but I do remember being disappointed.  Given that Tricky was touring on Angels at this time, his show was not a “greatest hits” set of the best stuff from Maxinquaye and PMT, but of a bit of a ranting mess in comparison.  He didn’t have Topley-Bird with him for the show, which was a BIG bummer.  She hadn’t yet committed suicide (one of the biggest losses in music), so that wasn’t the reason she wasn’t there.  It could have been a variety of reasons – she didn’t like to tour, Tricky was trying to distance himself from her – who knows.  I wonder what Tricky would be like to see live these days…maybe I’ll have the courage to find out…

Ticket Stub Tour 4 – The Cranberries

The Cranberries ticket stub - '96
The Cranberries ticket stub – ’96

If my memory of these shows of old are limited, they are REALLY limited for this show.  Ok, I’ll go ahead and say it, I was trashed.  I was THAT GUY at this show.  I barely remember any of The Cranberries performance.  I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless.  I sacrifice my stellar reputation for this blog, I hope you appreciate it.

A couple of things I can talk about – the Cranberries as a band and the venue of Great Woods.  I think for me, the Cranberries helped me more fully embrace the softer side of “alternative” music.  I come from a heavy/black/thrash/death metal background and after I started to get into more alternative music (more on that in another post), I would still lean towards those with a harder edge.  With the Cranberries first album, it was a much softer, kind of 10,000 Maniacs sound that they came out with, and I definitely found it interesting, but I wasn’t yet sold.  I think they were even admitting to their grabbing of coattails, the first album was called “Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?”

It wasn’t until their second album and the huge hit “Zombie” when I had a real appreciation for a band that was willing to take some risks.  Of course, their risk was creating a simple grungy song that fit very cleanly into the sounds of the time.  They weren’t pushing music forward, but they were saying – at least to me – that they were not just some 10,000 Maniac’s cover band.  I loved them for that.  The Cranberries are not a band that I return to very often, but I think they did serve as bridge for me to get from my harder edge background to some of the softer sides of alternative music.  They made that landing even more soft for me with a song that appealed by my need to be a head banging fool from time to time.  I thank them for that.

So, a bit about Great Woods, which I’ll talk more about when I look at my experiences at the original Lollapalooza’s.  Great Woods was this outdoor venue outside Boston with a covered seated section and an uncovered lawn to dress up the cheap seats for the unwashed masses.  When the unwashed masses are a bunch of Massholes, some crazy stuff can happen.  Take the tearing down and burning of the chemically laden fence – bonfire style – at Lollapalooza 2, for instance.

Not that I blame Great Woods for me forgetting the Cranberries show, but I will say that at that young impressionable age it was easy to get wrapped up in the nutsyness of the Great Woods lawn and it’s BYOB policies.  I certainly got wrapped up in that visit.