Saturday, March 31, 2012
There I was at home, it's about 8:45 and I'm thinking "I oughta look up who that first band is (Sun Angle), just to see" and holy heck it Northwest stalwart Charlie Salas-Humara (Panther and various other outfits) with Marius Lipman, AKA Copy, erstwhile winner of Willamette Week's band of the year (2006). Add to this Paper/Upper/Cuts Papi Fimbres on drums and flute (sometimes simultaneously) and you've got an intriguing proposition indeed. Trading in a persuasive, engaging brand of droney thrashy prog-psych-pop - let's call it prog-thrash with a mathy precision - bassline-heavy (courtesy Lipman; not a synth in sight), the trio turn in a head-turning set, gaining instant enthusiastic support from what's already a burgeoning crowd, who urged them into an extra song. From what I understand from some minimal follow-up research (thank you, facebook!), Sun Angle played last year's Austin Psych Fest, also to memorable reception. I have no idea whether the members of this band intend to remain in this incarnation but based on what I heard on that Friday night, we all hope so.
Last time I saw Point Juncture WA was PDX Pop Now! in (I believe) 2005. It was one of my then 6-year-old daughter's first live experiences and we both loved them, they were intimate, playful, inveterately tuneful if a bit DIY, charming but in need of maturation (PDX Pop Now! in a nutshell, eh? Why we love it). The intervening years have been very good to them.
If you've seen them recently, you know PJWA have a rather peculiar set-up, with initial/main drummer (they'll switch it up mid-set) Amanda Spring center stage handling or sharing lead vocals, Skyler Norwood on vibes to the left of her. To the left of him Victor Nash sits at a keyboard and with an arrangement like that is it any surprise they're melodic as hell, especially once they dig in to the three-part harmonies.
By such description you might expect something overtly baroque or pastoral but instead we get engaging quirk pop interrupted by bursts of rock wall energy. When Skyler switches to guitar - twinning the attack with Wilson Vediner - that energy amps up exponentially and the band lands in semi-avant pop territory with something close to Thurston Moore-ish shapes getting thrown around up there. Keeping things balanced are the combined voices of Victor and Amanda that, despite coming from opposite ends of the gender divide, share such similar timbres that they meld together wonderfully, thereby winning the harmony-of-the-night award going away.
PJWA are an inventive, restless band, and come mid-set number "When You Wake Up It's Today," Amanda is now at the xylophone, Skyler's on drums while Victor, though still sitting in position and contributing a piano part, is more prominently featured on trumpet, which throughout their performance is a highlight every time he brings that thing to his lips.
It's a short-lived arrangement, however, as for next song "Chronological Order" Amanda has again switched musical hats and now has a guitar strapped on and the song lets loose into a kind of sprawlingly confident Broken Social Scene groove (no wonder Nash has an Expos cap on) and proves to be their strongest song of the night.
PJWA is a band that has grown into their potential, and their hometown audience has grown in kind as they were lauded raucously by a crowd clearly happy to see them.
And speaking of rather peculiar band arrangements, let me just say that it's a bit odd the way that Cleveland band Mr Gnome's drum kit faces sideways, towards the center of the stage. Almost 40 years I've been going to shows and so far as I can recall that's a first. But once they come on and I've been able to crab my way edgewise into the by-now thronging crowd and settle in stage right, the set-up makes perfect sense.
In front of me guitarist Nicole Barille, a phalanx of petals at her feet (which she herself has arranged and tested) and a lone microphone to her right, breaks out a stunning stream of sliced-up, innovative blues-rock riffs and rhythms, serrated, virtuosic. Facing her, husband Sam Meister is a powerful percussive force, a drumming prodigy clearly in proud pounding love with what he does. Often, Nicole will be laying out some lilting, haunting 'oh-oh's that lay like delicate incantations over Sam's furious, almost tribal drumming. It's magic.
On second song "Spain," from 2009's Heave Your Skeleton LP, Sam doubles up on synth keys while Nicole picks away at a, yes, skeletal calliope of a guitar figure which eventually loops into a backing track she sings over. Next song is "Bit Of Tongue" off last year's Madness In Miniature - from which derived the majority of their set, of course - Nicole singing with her warbling self by virtue of those many pedals at her feet and the result is transfixing. Sure, there's only two of them up there but the sonic reality is there's five, sometimes six of them: lead singer, back-up singer, lead and rhythm guitarist, drummer and keyboard player. To make it all work they need to stay in touch with each other - hence the drum kit's unusual placement - and it's clear the two are married more than just legally. Their interplay is intuitive and masterful, the intertwining of their lives inseparable from that one sees and hears on stage.
I've read descriptions of Mr Gnome that have used the phrase 'spastic hard rock.' That first adjective is, by any account, an utter mystery. Driving, staggering, barely-contained-but-precise, yes. Spastic, no. As for the 'hard rock' piece of it, to my ears they really only came close to that on "Pirates" off debut LP Deliver This Creature, which they tackle with their typical, rather relentless take-no-prisoners approach that, despite its all-out assault on our spinal cords, still comes at us wrapped in a blues-based groove.
Central to the band's power is the pure dynamism of the couple involved. Nicole's presence is at once forceful and enigmatic, her hair cascading over her face in a fizz waterfall, her voice somehow plaintive, defiant and desperate all in a single stroke. What you end up with a a tough vulnerability. That she's the guitar aficionado cannot go uncommented upon. Not because she's a woman taking that role but because she's brilliant, commandingly so. Sam, meanwhile, provides an unparalleled body of rhythm, an exacting fury of beats that both hews to classic rock templates and strays from them (or stomps all over them) with equal authority and dexterity, all the while maintaining a laconic demeanor in which it's impossible not to understand his full devotion to the task at hand (and feet - which were bare like a Shaolin monk's or something - punishing the bass drum pedal all set long).
What this all adds up to - the dual intuitive onstage communication, the mastery of multiple strands all at once, the instinctual rock 'n' roll dynamism (which includes, perhaps most crucially, their obvious innate familiarity with what's come before them), the charge and gritty urban sparkle, is a band that demands your attention and has every right to get it. Those qualities and that attention-getting were evident the whole time but especially on two tracks off Madness.. "Outsiders," a younger speedier and altogether more curious cousin to House Of The Rising Sun, and pre-encore set closer "Capsize," which barrels into your head like "Train Kept A-Rollin'" before blaring off the track and into those places where hell runs loose. Both were examples of a band that so transcends the limitations of a 2-person band as to make a mockery of that whole numbers game.
On a night that had Sharon Van Etten with War On Drugs at the Aladdin and Of Montreal with Deerhoof at the Crystal, both extraordinary shows I'd rather not have missed, I walked out knowing, without a doubt, that I'd been right where I should have been, right where I wanted to be.
Posted by Dave Cantrell at 11:51 AM
Monday, March 19, 2012
James Low and the Western Front-
Recently, I saw James Low and the Western Front at the Laurelthirst Public House. I have to admit that I'm not that familiar with country music, so I didn't really know what to expect. The show was a record release party for their new album, Whiskey Farmer. The band was founded in 2010, and this is their first album together, but James has put out several on his own including Blackheart in 2002 and The Blackgaurd's Waltz in 2008.
The place was packed by the time we arrived. A good sign, I thought to myself, but I still wasn't sure of what to expect from a country show. I was surprised when the band took the stage. They owned the venue and made the place come alive. The steel pedal guitar gave the music the country flavor the band is known for, but I was really stunned by the drummer. He played as fast and heavy as I would expect from any rock show. OK, so this wasn't going to be just country music. With James Low's emotional voice, they seemed to take a page from the classic heartland rock bands. The working man, blue collar vibe came out in songs like the title track, Whiskey Farmer. You also got the feeling of Neil Young in some of the slower songs. But my favorites were the upbeat, fast paced songs like How Much Do You Love Me? and Back in the Saddle. If you like southern rock, such as Drive by Truckers or Lucinda Williams, you need to check out James Low and the Western Front.
Posted by Andrea at 9:35 AM
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Posted by Dave Cantrell at 10:34 AM
Micah P Hinson represents, in a sense, the joys and tribulations of being a singular talent on the great American landscape. As he has no record deal in this country right now, he has no label support and therefore could not afford to bring a band along on the tour. It is emblematic that it was the patronage of a band from the UK - where his popularity far outdistances that of his native land; his most recent record, Micah P Hinson & The Pioneer Saboteurs can be found in shops there but not here - that brought him before his adoring US fans, of which there were a fair number attending this night.
Dressed in drainpipe jeans the color of a western desert and sporting enormous white-framed glasses that couldn't help but suggest Buddy Holly in negative, he was a warm but enigmatic presence on stage, at once self-effacingly polite and gently acidic. Hinson's main weapon, aside from disarmingly honest songs, is his voice, a boy-next-door baritone, albeit a boy with some dark secrets, a boy that's done some livin'. Watching him, hearing him, it's hard to believe that that voice comes from such a slight frame. Regardless, it's to his great credit that my initial disappointment with his bandlessness was vanquished from the off. The moment he hard-strummed into 'Take Off That Dress' from the Saboteurs record, wielding a sticker-bedecked electrified Godin Seagull acoustic, it was a palm-of-the-hand deal. I've been a fan since the first record (The Gospel Of Progress) so this 6-string version of "You had me at hello" was no surprise. But I should think that even those less eager to see him live than I would have been easily won over. Hinson manages somehow to be both fidgety and comfortable at the same time, and as such his stage persona, though outwardly gawky, never lacked authority. Highlights included - oh hell, all eight songs in his quick set were highlights, but for special mention I'll city "2s & 3s," also from Saboteurs, "The Life, Living, Death And Dying Of A Certain And Particular L.J. Nichols" (his grandfather and introduced with the inclusion of a cousin a few feet from stage) and closer "God Is Good," a scathing paean to existential doubt in the face of overwhelming social pressure, the classic spiritual conundrum into which Hinson was thrust via the simple agency of his birth. Great set, glad I saw him, finally.
The Twilight Sad, I must admit, is new to me (my bad - 3 LPs, 3 EPs since their 1st in 2006 but better late than never), though new in that way that betokens great interest, excitement even. In short, I'd heard great things, both via reviews I'd read and what I'd actually heard on youtube. Such spirited anticipation was not unrewarded.
No live account of this band can avoid the volume question so let's address that straightaway. The Twilight Sad is loud. Very loud. Hinson mentioned it in the course of thanking them during his set, citing My Bloody Valentine and in fact not since seeing MBV in 1992 have I witness such a sonic hurricane of a show. But I knew this going in, as did most of those in attendance and nearly all of us had earplugs safely in place as the band hurled themselves into the business at hand.
It seems hard to believe but no band that I can think of offhand has yet to marry shoegaze's sheets of sound to post-punk's slightly icy, driving template of melody and passionate, full-of-portent vocals. Thankfully, The Twilight Sad are here to remedy that oversight. Earlier in their career they described their sound as "folk with layers of noise, " but in recent years such influences as Can, Cabaret Voltaire, PiL and Magazine have come to the fore and were immediately evident in opening song "Kill It" from recent album No One Can Ever Know. Had the suggestion of such influence escaped me sonically - though that's not likely given Andy MacFarlane's commanding, McGeoch-like dexterity on guitar and the haunting melodics of organ from hired hand Martin 'Dok' Dohery (The Sad are a trio in the studio) - it would certainly have been brought to mind by lead singer James Graham's manner of lurching around in a controlled epileptic passion, jerked by the power of the band behind him, conjuring images of Ian Curtis though, OK, not quite that tic-driven. The further they get into their set the more the singer's commitment to song reminded me of Billy Mackenzie of The Associates, another (sadly-missed) Scot with memorable lungs. At one point early on, though, MacFarlane's on his knees as if praying to the mic, which as it turned out was futile as said mic insisted on cutting out.
That issue hastily resolved, the band plowed with merciless, emotionally-charged efficiency through a 13-song set with the bulk of selections coming from No One... and previous album Forget The Night Ahead. Throughout, that profound sound of a band pulled from the heady height of 1979 through a early 90s reverb-soaked wall and into the full throat of the present never falters. Drummer Mark Devine, along with journeyman bassist Johnny Docherty, keep them steadily anchored to the stage while MacFarlane, with his shaved head, outlaw mustache and Jazzmaster-looking Fender (wasn't close enough to be any more precise) soars regularly - though economically - into the stratosphere, Graham rolls the occasional 'R' and pop epic after thundering crescendo flow past to appreciative roars from the audience.
By the end - a fitting closer called "Burnside" from Forget The Night Ahead - they have indeed reached a level that can only be described as punishingly (if enduringly, endearingly) loud and even a bit shrill with a touch of feedback blowing over some very pretty piano notes and the deliberate beat of a cymbal. It's a telltale moment. The Twilight Sad, through hard work and the absorption of disparate elements, have carved a unique niche in the current musical environment, faring quite deservedly well in this brave new world of zip file mp3 hear-it-on-your-iPhone temporality. The band, in the end, make an inspiring racket that is decidedly outside all that. Soaring and shamelessly intense, this is a music from before the internet. Thank you, Twilight Sad.
Posted by Dave Cantrell at 10:30 AM
Saturday, March 3, 2012
The Twilight Sad are an indie rock band from Kilsyth, Scotland, comprising James Graham (vocals), Andy MacFarlane (guitar), and Mark Devine (drums). The band are currently signed to Fat Cat Records and have released three full-length albums, as well as several EPs and singles. Their 2007 debut album, Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, drew widespread critical acclaim, noted by Graham's thick Scottish accent and MacFarlane's dense sonic walls of shoegazing guitar and wheezing accordion. The Twilight Sad's notoriously loud live performances have been described as "completely ear-splitting, and the band toured for the album across Europe and the United States throughout 2007 and 2008. Sessions inspired by stripped-down and reworked live performances yielded the 2008 mini-album, Here, It Never Snowed. Afterwards It Did.
Their second album, Forget the Night Ahead, marked a shift in the band's direction; lyrically more personal and musically darker and more streamlined, it was released in 2009 to further acclaim. Recording sessions for the album also produced the mid-2010 release The Wrong Car, which followed the departure of founding bassist Craig Orzel in February 2010. The Twilight Sad's third album, No One Can Ever Know, was released in February 2012 and marked another stylistic shift, with the band citing industrial music and krautrock influences for a darker, sparser sound. The band describes their sound as "folk with layers of noise," and music critics have described the band as "perennially unhappy" and "a band that inject some real emotion and dynamic excitement into a comparatively standard template."
Combine this with Micah P Hinson, the legendary (& still young, just 31 years old) Texas songwriter that has thus far produced six albums of emotion-shredding genius (not a gratuitous use of that word) packed with songs that hang in your limbic system like brilliant, bruised friends that inspire empathy and scorn in equal measure. Very few songwriters limn the sinuous border that separates regret and defiance better than Mr Hinson.
I said it last week, I'll say it again: this is NOT a show to be missed. I wasn't wrong last week (I mean, just check out that post re: Elliott BROOD) and I won't be wrong this week. Again, this show is at the Doug Fir on Sunday, March 11th. Not only will you not regret it, you'll be so thrilled you went you'll never doubt another word I say. See you there...
Posted by Dave Cantrell at 9:11 PM
Pack AD were ably covered in these blog pages by Andrea after that earlier appearance, and I reviewed them as well for a friend's webzine but still, it has to be said, Becky and Maya - not to put too fine a point on it - just..plain..rock. Becky Black with her Joan Jetting Ramones-y guitar prowess, Maya Miller being her usual, an amazing monster human drum engine, both women with a panache and presence that keeps you riveted to the stage as long as they're on it. It's hard to think of a band that basically comes at you with a garagey punk rock assault yet leaves you smiling, pulled toward the action, begging for more. Though the majority of the crowd that night was likely there for Elliott BROOD, the Pack AD, by the end of their set, had a whole new legion of fans.
Elliott BROOD, of course, are a much woodsier proposition, readily apparent by one glance at the drum kit, the bass drum cover made to look like the ringed cross-section of a tree trunk, the rest of the kit given the appearance of aspen bark. Which is appropriate, since one has to guess that the band will not encounter a decor more suitable to their sound than the urban bucolic mojo of the Doug Fir.
The band's most recent album, Days Into Years, had its official release just a day previous so it shouldn't be surprising that eight of the twenty (!) songs that made up their set should originate with that album. It's been widely reported that said album derived much of its impetus from a visit the band happened to make to a World War I cemetery in France - each of the three of them have an avid interest in military history - and, finding many Canadian names among the fallen, were determined to write an album reflecting the deep resonance they felt there. Which may make it all sound like a sobering affair but I assure you, not only is the album a romping, rocking delight, the show was that multiplied a hundred-fold.
Immediately the trio's energy and that aforementioned charm take over. Their spirit is totally infectious, and though I was up near the front, where everyone was bouncing around from the start and never stopped, it's hard to imagine a similar effect wasn't felt back by the bar as well. They began with My Mother's Side off the new album before sliding into a couple tracks from 2006's Ambassador, the fabulous driving country stomp of Bridge and then a storming Second Son, lead singer/(mostly)rhythm guitarist Mark Sasso switching to electrified banjo and singing in a near-Waitsian growl, albeit far less shopworn. The tone was clearly set for the night: this was going to be a wild joyous ride.
The musicianship is notable, which is an understatement. Casey Laforet, the entire night sporting a snake-charmer's glimmer in his eyes, doubled up his acoustic/electric guitar set up with a bass pedal, thereby becoming two, two, two musicians in one, and both of them (ha ha) are exquisitely expressive, not to mention virtuosic. And drummer Stephen Pitkin? He just plain brings it, beats of rolling wonderment, rollicking splashes of cymbal, all the while decked out in a white shirt and red bow tie, a soda jerk magician of a drummer. Meanwhile, Sasso, looking in his vest and boots something between the barber, the country lawyer and the sheriff, trading off mandolin, acoustic and that banjo, is the default ringleader, singing with utter commitment, leading his 3-man posse through a whirlwind. Through much of the night the band are floorlit, lending each of them an otherworldly glow, while the music itself could not have hewed harder to the earth we were all jumping around on.
Now, you may love Elliott BROOD on record - and who doesn't - but it is imperative to see them live. Though there were times when they slowed things down - as on their rather anthemic Northern Air, paradoxically the most Middle American roots/country song of the night - they more often take songs that have a more deliberate pace on the album and juice them up in the live context. Ambassador's Johnny Rooke is a perfect example, ramped up close to triple time Wednesday night in keeping with the pace in general. Thing is, when the band isn't rocking, such as on the Laforet-sung If I Get Old off the new album, they're hitting points of poignance that pull your heart out of your chest and on to your sleeve. Somehow, and I hope this makes sense, Elliott BROOD makes their audience honest because they're so honest.
And boy to they know how to play a room. At one point, and I'm sorry I can't say during which song, forgot to make that note, they paused for a sec so Casey could say "This part of the song is about waking up Sunday morning at Pickathon," garnering a predictable roar from the crowd. From the fun the band was obviously having, it's impossible to say whether Elliott BROOD loves Portland more or Portland loves Elliott BROOD more. Let's call it a tie.
Reviews often depend on common reference points to help encapsulate a band's sound, and if forced to do so I'd go with Frightened Rabbit running with The Band, though neither of those would suffice to describe the punky energy the band exhibits. There's this word I picked up years ago, "djank." It's that final note of a song slammed down by the entire band and to the best of my memory, this was the first time I ever experienced a banjo djank.
I don't know the last time I had this purely unadulterated of a good time at a show. Maybe Bombino back in January at Dante's, though this was more participatory. By the final song of their set before the encore, Write It All Down For You from last year's Mountain Meadows LP, they'd passed out steel pie pans and wooden spoons and everyone was either banging along with those or clapping wildly to the rhythm and helping shout out the song's HEY! HEY! HEY!'s in the utmost hopalong sync, the whole crowd jouncing about as one. It was a helpless symbiosis, the band couldn't have been as good as they were without us and we couldn't have been as thoroughly rocked to our bones without them.
What a night, an absolutely joyous punk hoedown.