NO!: AMBULETTE (#201, DEC 9 2006).
This epic closer marked the end of the Fest for me. Hockey Night were coming up next, but it was already a busy end-of-semester weekend, and I didn't really need to stick around for Pavement-meets-Byrds until 9:30. This also meant not seeing the Joanna Newsom headlining show, which I was fine with, and which turned out to be a good thing, since it became such an uncoordinated mess. All in all, what I saw of this Fest was terrific -- nobody as exciting for me as Maritime and Rainer Maria, but good local acts, compelling established names and a great new discovery. Bring on the next one!
NO!: AMBULETTE (#200, DEC 9 2006).
There are a couple songs on Ambulette's debut EP that I think could be mainstream hits now that they're on a major label. One of them is the lead track, "Fall," and the other on is this song. It's actually a bit too big of a sound for the acoustics of the Rathskeller, which means that it doesn't sound perfect in this clip, but I think that's actually something that bodes well for it as a potential single.
NO!: AMBULETTE (#199, DEC 9 2006).
The only act of the second night that I was really excited to see was Ambulette, the new band featuring Maura Davis of Denali. They'd existed briefly as Bella Lea before a dispute with another band led to a name change; since forming they've released one five-song EP, but the songs they played at the Fest (like this one) imply that a full-length is on the way. This song feels like something from a lost era where Billy Corgan came before Kurt Cobain, and everything's a little darker, more shimmery and more electronic. Indie rock remains recognizable, but just a bit different.
NO!: THE BRACELETS (#198, DEC 9 2006).
The Bracelets' EP only has five songs, and this was one of the, I think, three new ones that they played during their set. The new stuff was generally more of the same, but it did tend to contain a bit more sonic expansion and experimentation than the songs on the record.
NO!: THE BRACELETS (#197, DEC 9 2006).
The second night of the Fest ended rather infamously with 1000+ people waiting in three unorganized lines, then waiting inside the Memorial Union's Great Hall for an hour and a half to see Joanna Newsom, but it began quietly with a short set local shoetweezers the Bracelets. Like Sleeping in the Aviary, they're a band I'd wanted to see for a while but never got around to, so it was nice to see them get a chance to play for the folks like me who jump at these kinds of free shows.
Their sound is interesting in that it recalls both late-model Luna and early-model Galaxie 500, but very stripped down and simple. This song is from their self-titled EP, a five-song affair. It fits well there, and it fit well in the short set they played, but I'm not sure if their slight instrumentation is enough to sustain a full-length. Without a more driving sound, or maybe stronger vocal harmonies, they're just sugary enough for small doses, but too saccharine for big ones.
NO!: SLEEPING IN THE AVIARY (#196, DEC 8 2006).
The crowd had started to wind down and disperse by this point, but the band was still going strong. These two songs -- I'm not sure what they're called, but maybe they'll be on the bands upcoming CD, whose release party is on February 2 -- were just as energetic as the ones that opened the set, though by that time it was getting hard to stay awake. Night one of the Fest was a success, for sure, in no small part thanks to these guys' closing.
NO!: SLEEPING IN THE AVIARY (#195, DEC 8 2006).
Like jokes? A broken snare provides the opportunity for an extended joke to be told during this clip. Also, singer Elliott Kozel acquiesces to the crowd's demand that he begin disrobing for some reason. Then comes a cover of a spazzed-out tune from former local favorites Johnny and the Church Camp Rebels. Enjoy!
NO!: SLEEPING IN THE AVIARY (#194, DEC 8 2006).
Sleeping in the Aviary was one of those local bands that I somehow always kept missing. Until the Pop Fest I didn't even know what they sounded like, but I was excited to finally see them after skipping or missing probably half a dozen of their shows over the past couple years. Turns out that they're... hard to describe. Most of their material comes in the form of short, bright-sounding blasts of silly garage pop. This clip features two such songs in the span of a little over two minutes.
NO!: WAX ON RADIO (#193, DEC 8 2006).
I could keep going on about the attention-hungry hipsters who jammed their way up to the front of the crowd, but instead I'll just tell you to dig the transition a few minutes into this clip as it goes from soft to full-on, pounding, heavy rock. It was a little too much for my camera's little mic to handle properly, but the quality is decent enough to feel what's going on. A big sound from these guys, and a joy to be there for.
NO!: WAX ON RADIO (#192, DEC 8 2006).
The excited drunks from the Maps and Atlases set stuck around for Wax on Radio, also from Chicago. This leads me to believe that they were a cadre of Chicago-based scenesters. As annoying as they were, I can't really blame them. I was pretty jazzed about Wax on Radio, who are one of a number of bands vying to fill the alt-prog hole left by Cave In, and they do a pretty good job for the most part.
NO!: MAPS AND ATLASES (#191, DEC 8 2006).
During the Maps and Atlases set, a distinct crowd of attention-seekers showed up and unfortunately spent a lot of time trying to turn the floor into a mosh pit. They seemed pretty loaded are were desperate to get people looking at them, to the point of frequently reaching up to the band for high fives, but the really weird thing is they appeared to know the words for at least half the songs. Maps and Atlases have one seven-song record out, and they haven't been around that long. Are these guys from Chicago? Math-rock fiends? Extremely intuitive? Dunno.
NO!: MAPS AND ATLASES (#190, DEC 8 2006).
Back when I worked a 9-to-5 job and first found myself with nigh-unlimited time to peruse the Internet for new music, I briefly dabbled in the Chicago post-rock/math-rock scene that was home to the likes of Tortoise, Joan of Arc and the Sea and Cake. This dabbling lasted for about a day. I imagine it would've lasted longer if Maps and Atlases had been around then. They actually sound much more like an amped-up version of Minus the Bear than any of those Chicago bands but they fit the scene well and seem to already be generating a bit of a following, based on how the crowd at this show responded to them.
NO!: MASON PROPER (#189, DEC 8 2006).
I got a Myspace comment from one of the Mason Proper guys saying that he'd gone to Michigan Tech for a semester, which is interesting, although my immediate reaction was along the lines of, "Damn you, semester switch!"
One of the nice things about discovering an excellent, new, relatively unknown band at a live show is that they're usually playing first and the crowd hasn't gotten too annoying yet. Mason Proper were playing the first set of the Fest, starting at about 7:00 on Friday night, and though people kept trickling in throughout the set, the attention-starved hipster undergrads hadn't gotten there yet. It actually turned out to be one of the most overall enjoyable sets I've seen at Club 770, between the good band, the good lighting and the fact that none of the Union South sound equipment just decided to stop working suddenly.
And oh yeah, these guys are going to be Important in 2007, I swear.
NO!: MASON PROPER (#188, DEC 8 2006).
Mason Proper are from the Ann Arbor area, which has at least as distinct a musical scene from Detroit's as Madison's is from Milwaukee's, but I think they fit well with the post-White Stripes rock sound that's coming out of Detroit. They're not as spazzy as Thunderbirds Are Now!, but they definitely are in that vein. The recommendations at Last.fm connect them to the Talking Heads and I think that's reasonably accurate. Also, check out that guy plugging and unplugging stuff in his Suitcase of Vintage Keyboard Guts. That's pretty cool!
NO!: MASON PROPER (#187, DEC 8 2006).
And, we're back.
Today I've got the first of 15(!) clips from last weekend's Madison Pop Fest. Mason Proper were the first band of Friday's Union South festivities, but they may have been my favorite of the whole affair. I'd never heard of them before this show was announced, but I think we all will be hearing a lot more from them soon. They apparently played Madison last year, but, according to the singer, "no one came," but I think this performance and their terrific new album will change that the next time they come back.
NO!: THE ELECTED (#186, OCT 26 2006).
This was our second Elected show of the year -- we saw them open for Metric back in April -- and I remain unimpressed. It's not that they're bad. I actually kind of enjoy both this song and the one I recorded before, "I'll Be Your Man." But they're so inconsequential -- when I listen to Sun, Sun, Sun I have a really hard time picking out which song is which, and when one stops and another begins. It seems like they're constructing an atmosphere more than making music, which is fine as far as it goes, but wasn't enough to keep us at this show for more than a couple songs into their set.
NO!: MARGOT & THE NUCLEAR SO AND SO'S (#185, OCT 26 2006).
At the beginning of this clip, Margot singer Richard Edwards notes how cool it is that Union South has a bar downstairs, and challenges any and all comers to venture down to take him on in foosball after the set. I don't know if anybody did, but I do there were noticeably fewer people around for the Elected's set afterwards. We thought about going down to take the challenge ourselves, but quickly realized that we were way too tired for that shit.
NO!: MARGOT & THE NUCLEAR SO AND SO'S (#184, OCT 26 2006).
There was a pretty big crowd on hand to see Margot at Club 770, despite the fact that a) it was their third trip to Madison in four months, b) they were not actually the headliner, and c) Club 770 stinks. I think more people might have watched Margot than watched the Elected later on, and it was nice to get to see them play a full set after their Terrace show got cut short last summer. It was also nice to be treated to this non-album track, the first of I think two they played during their set.
NO!: WHISPERTOWN 2000 (#183, OCT 26 2006).
I wonder if Whispertown 2000 are best buds with Rilo Kiley or something. We saw them in March opening for Jenny Lewis at the Pabst Theatre, and again opening for the Elected (Blake Sennett's side project) at Club 770. They're really a much less interesting band than they should be -- the idea of a Rilo Kiley-influenced band of slight popsters featuring two female singers and a lot of acoustics is very appealing to me, but they don't really execute it very well. Since we've seen them twice this year I figured I should record one song from them at least, but the one I picked turned out to be a short a cappella number that featured the non-vocalists members of the band just sitting around. So I guess you'll just have to take my word for it that they're kind of disappointing as a band.
NO!: JAIL (#182, SEP 23 2006).
A few songs into the set, the lights in the bar started to flicker a bit. Since it was so stormy outside, and there was a giant fan running inside, we figured it was just a momentary brownout. A couple songs later it happened again. Then, during this song, the lights started going all the out and back in with the beat of the song and we realized somebody (behind the bar, perhaps?) was putting together and impromptu stage show for us. So that was kind of nice. Also, at this point in the show a few people in the crowd finally gave into temptation and tried to merge with the band, since there isn't actually in a stage at the River Horse. All in all kind of a hectic, adrenalized show that got pulled off well nonetheless.
NO!: JAIL (#181, SEP 23 2006).
Watching this set was a little like being in the eye of a storm. There were really far too many people inside the bar -- the show was meant to be out in the street, after all -- which produced sort of an organic, constant, wave-type motion in the crowd throughout the set. On top of that, the door was open, letting in a little rain and a lot of wind. The band kept losing their set lists but pressed on confidently nonetheless. Of course, this was before the lights started going crazy...
NO!: JAIL (#180, SEP 23 2006).
The day after the Mates of State show, we suddenly found out Jail was playing at Center Street Days (or Center State Daze or possibly Rockerbox) in Milwaukee that evening. The weather was crap, but we drove over anyway and took a big umbrella just in case. When we got there it was pouring, and there didn't seem to be any kind of street festival going on. We found Emily's parents, went to get food and were going to just turn around and head home when her brother called and told us they were playing at River Horse instead of out in the rain. We got over there just in time to hear them open with this new song, playing to basically an entire street fair packed into a relatively small bar.
And if anybody reading this found a fleece hoodie in a booth at El Chico Zuma on September 23, well, enjoy.
NO!: SYSTEM AND STATION (#179, SEP 20 2006).
As you'll hear before the song starts in this clip, this just wasn't System and Station's night. Of the 50-60 people who were there for the Selfish Gene's set, seven were left by the time of this song. On top of being somewhat mismatched with the bill, and it being a Wednesday night, the show started so late that it didn't finally end until 1:45 in the morning, by which point only loud-mouthed drunks and myself remained. It's too bad, because -- aside from the too-loud guitars -- they put on a really good in support of a solid new album. I'd hope they come back again soon, but that seems somehow unlikely after this experience.
NO!: SYSTEM AND STATION (#178, SEP 20 2006).
I first heard of System and Station when I randomly found a copy of their last album, In the Twilight, in the public library's local music section. The band used to be based in Madison but moved to Portland a couple years ago. That album didn't really impress me, but I like their new one, Here Is Now, quite a bit. This song is one of several good ones on that record, and hopefully they'll be back soon so I can record some of the others.
NO!: SYSTEM AND STATION (#177, SEP 20 2006).
By the time System and Station finally took the stage it was well past midnight and much of the Selfish Gene's audience had taken off. A few more people left after the band started playing, because they seemed to be turned up to 11 for some reason. The audio in this clip unfortunately reflects this -- it's a good track that suffered some severe distortion from the unholy blast of decibels.
NO!: THE SELFISH GENE (#176, SEP 20 2006)
Next up were local favorites the Selfish Gene, who seemed to have brought a lot of their own audience. By the time their set started there were probably 50-60 people in the room, which is quite a few for a Wednesday night without a big name act on the bill.
I hadn't been familiar with them before the show but I mostly liked what I heard. They've got a nice jangly sound and knew how to work the crowd. I wound up buying their record, which generally features longer versions of the songs than they tended to play in their set, and so far they're a good addition to my local band playlist.
NO!: THIS BRIGHT APOCALYPSE (#175, SEP 20 2006)
My backlog of videos is almost all the way worked through! The first clip from System and Station's late-September show comes from This Bright Apocalypse, a recently reformed local band. They are, oddly, something a jam power trio. I was really turned off by them at first, but they grew on me at least enough that I wanted to record them. The singer turned out to have a really entertaining stage presence, and actually used his bongo drum to good effect, so I recommend checking them out if you can. They have one album out from their original incarnation, but I got the feeling that they're working with mostly new material these days.
NO!: MINUS THE BEAR (#174, OCT 6 2006)
The current Minus the Bear tour is kind of an odd one. I missed the first opening act, an instrumental metal act called Russian Circles. Next is a math-y emo band called the Velvet Teen, whose material I've enjoyed in the past, but who didn't really impress me live. They had a lot of their stuff pre-recorded, including keyboard lines that could've easily been played by, say, a live keyboard player; kind of disappointing, to be honest. The last opening act was a Twin Cities-based rapper called P.O.S., who seemed to have a small cell of his own dedicated fans front and center in the pit. He really put himself into his set, but I don't know how many of the rockists he won over. The idea of combining indie rock and underground hip-hop on stage is laudable, but I think it's vital that the opening act have great material. P.O.S. had a couple of interesting songs, but most of his stuff didn't stand out at all from the likes of Ludacris or DMX. Still, the show came off well and if the tour's managed to grow the audience for any of these acts I guess it was a success.
NO!: MINUS THE BEAR (#173, OCT 6 2006)
Minus the Bear played three new songs at this show, but "Ice Monster" was the only one I recorded and the only one I caught the name of. It was also probably my favorite of the three, though they were all a little down-tempo compared to what I've come to expect from them. What it did really well was to lead into "The Fix," which is my favorite song from Menos el Oso and maybe from their whole catalog. It was clearly a crowd favorite as well, as you can tell from the reaction to its distinctive staccato opening.
NO!: MINUS THE BEAR (#172, OCT 6 2006)
I wouldn't have expected Minus the Bear to pack a place as big as the Loft, but they did it. I'd guess there were 150-200 people inside what amounts to large garage with a pit dug in the middle. It's actually one of the strangest venues I've ever been in, and this was my first time. There's a pit about six feet deep, and about ten feet on each side, right in front of the stage, which is at the same level as the rest of the floor. Behind the pit is the mixer, and along the sides are aisles to the stage, which are full of people. This isn't too weird on its own, but in addition to the layout there are lights everywhere. The entire place was lit with about half-intensity house lights for the entire show -- except the stage, which apparently had no lighting of its own. There were stage lights available -- I noticed a reasonably sophisticated lighting setup near the stage and some more equipment near the back of the pit -- they just weren't turned on at all. So, you'll notice that these clips seem a little washed out as a result of all the brightening I had to do.
NO!: RAINER MARIA (#171, SEP 7 2006)
When we saw Rainer Maria at MadisonFest in March, I wanted to record the whole show. Despite the technical problems inherent in a show at Club 770, the new material sparkled and I just couldn't get enough. I had to settle for just ("just"?!?) five clips though, and when they came back I was on a mission to get two songs in particular. "Clear and True" they didn't play, unfortunately, but this was the other one. It was one of the last songs of what felt like a short set -- I think they had to end by midnight or so because it was all ages -- but it was worth waiting for. This is one of those songs (along with "Life of Leisure" and "I'll Make You Mine") that boost my opinion of the whole of Catastrophe Keeps Us Together every time I hear it. It just may wind up being my favorite record of 2006.
NO!: RAINER MARIA (#170, SEP 7 2006)
Rainer Maria seem to dip into their healthy back-catalog fairly often in their live shows, but even still I was surprised to hear this one. "Atlantic" dates from the time when they were just second-wave emo college kids, living just a few blocks from my house -- you can no longer hear the roughness that the original recording has, but the pondering, poetry class signature of mid-90's emo is unmistakable. It's actually kind of surprising how well it fit into their set, because it's a style that's been abandoned by everyone but Mike and Tim Kinsella. I don't think I'd want Rainer Maria to make another Atlantic or Past Worn Searching, but it's nice to hear the old stuff smoothly mixed into the new once in a while.
NO!: THE BOX SOCIAL (#169, SEP 7 2006)
When the Box Social opened for Rainer Maria last month, this was one of the few non-new songs they played; it's also my favorite track from their second EP, Golly Gee Whiz. They had a core of about a dozen of their own fans present for their set, whom I expect enjoyed the material quite a bit, but they really should've gotten a lot more out of being on a bill with Rainer Maria. Unfortunately, Madison scheduling rules were in effect -- nobody shows up until an hour and a half after the posted start time, right in the middle of the second band's set. There may have been some of the Rainer Maria draw already there by then, but I doubt it was more than a few people. These guys are one of a number of Madison bands that are in a position to take advantage of the exposure afforded by opening for national acts, and it would be nice if our local venues and promoters found a way to make that work. Shows that start at "9:00" but where the headliners don't go on until after midnight don't quite cut it.
NO!: AWESOME CAR FUNMAKER (#168, AUG 9 2006)
As Awesome Car Funmaker neared the end of their set, there were still only a few people inside the High Noon. ACF kept pushing forward though, their tongue-in-cheek stage show and spazzy post-hardcore winning over those few of us who were there. Granted, it was dark and nobody really knew why they were there, but I'm certainly eager to see them again. I did, however, leave after their set, as Evans Blue didn't strike me as worth staying out until 12:30 or later when I was already well past tired. Hopefully the Burden Brothers will make up their canceled appearance on their upcoming tour.
(By the way, you can download Awesome Car Funmaker's first album in its entirety at their Myspace page. Enjoy!)
NO!: AWESOME CAR FUNMAKER (#167, AUG 9 2006).
The second band up was one I'd wanted to see for quite a while. Awesome Car Funmaker's reputation had preceded them, as I'd read a lot about their energetic live show. It's not for nothing that they've been voted Madison's favorite local rock band. They'd been pretty quiet leading up to this show, finishing their new album, but even with a sparse crowd they spared no theatrics. Afterwards, both they and Apparently Nothing sold me new CDs for $5 and encouraged me to make copies, put them on the Internet, etc., which struck me as really cool. Ironically, I have yet to get around to putting either of the records up on the Internet.
NO!: APPARENTLY NOTHING (#166, AUG 9 2006).
Way back in early August, the Burden Brothers were supposed to play at the High Noon, and I was supposed to go. Then they cancelled, but the show went on with tour opener Evans Blue bumped up to the headlining slot and locals Apparently Nothing added to the front of the bill. I'd already paid my $10 for an advance ticket, so I decided to go and check it out, if for nothing else than for some local band exposure.
Once I got there it became clear that nobody really cared about Evans Blue, as about ten people were holding down the fort. I decided to experiment a little and shoot my videos from the front of the balcony, about mid-way back as compared to the main floor. This, combined with the near-total lack of stage lighting, made from some awesomely dark footage. Really, it's hard to imagine how anyone who was there live could see the show looking at how much lightening I had to do. The sound quality came out good, though, letting the band's youthful, Weezer-y rock shine through. They play a lot in and around Madison, as well as Minneapolis, so if you'd like to see what they look like in the light, check out one of their upcoming shows.
NO!: HARVEY DANGER AND FRIENDS (#165, SEP 29 2006).
Apologetically, they ended their set about three-quarters of the way through, jumping forward to "Private Helicopter" as a closer. The song made it clear that they couldn't go on -- it features a climax that Nelson just couldn't go without tearing his throat out -- despite how much they and the audience wanted to continue. After the song ended, the last chord continued to ring out and they huddled up for a quick band meeting. When they emerged, they had decided the show would go on as Harvey Danger karaoke.
I don't know if they've ever done this before, but they and we dove into it without hesitation. Hands shot up and a girl named Chelsea was picked to sing a ballad from Little By Little..., which got a huge response from the crowd, which by now appeared to fill the Rathskeller. While she sang I found myself trying to remember how a couple of older songs started, and to figure out if I could call up all the words. When she finished, hands went back up and Nelson asked me and another guy what we wanted to sing. I said "Terminal Annex," he said something I couldn't hear, and "Terminal Annex" was the winner.
The rush of it was incredible, even on a stage just six inches off the floor. It's one of my favorite songs to sing, and doing so with that loud, crazed audience in front of me was amazing, even though I did forget a couple of lines. A couple songs later, these two guys -- I think named Tom and Max, but I'm not sure -- got up to sing "Old Hat," the other one I'd thought about doing. They get a little help from Nelson and from the audience, and then from -- no kidding -- the girl from the We Are Scientists show that cajoled everybody into climbing up on the stage.
They ended with the song they love to hate -- their one hit, "Flagpole Sitta" -- which Nelson began, before yielding the mic to about a dozen people. The vibe of the whole show was astounding and encapsulated in that community songcraft at the end. I hope they come back soon with Nelson at full strength, but even if they do I can't imagine how they could put on a better show.
NO!: HARVEY DANGER (#164, SEP 29 2006).
Early on in the set, singer Sean Nelson apologized for his voice, which he said he'd wracked the previous night in Champaign. You can hear it starting to go in this clip, which was probably the eighth or ninth song of the set. All things considered, I was really impressed by how he pushed through the problems he was having, even though it was clear that there were some notes he just couldn't hit. He got help from the audience in some places (most notably on "Picture, Picture," which included a scheduled audience participation portion, and "Carlotta Valdez," on which it was just spontaneous) but he really seemed disappointed in himself for not being able to put on a full-strength show. He even offered (jokingly?) to put on the guest-list anybody who wanted to go out to Seattle for one of their hometown shows. While probably no one will take him up on that, tomorrow's clip shows just how amazingly he made up for his injured voice at the end of this show.
NO!: HARVEY DANGER (#163, SEP 29 2006).
Over the course of the last and the next week or so, Madison has hosted or will host Everclear, Veruca Salt, Gin Blossoms and Harvey Danger; the first three are at the relatively pricey Club Majestic, while the last played a free show in the Memorial Union's dining hall. The show was one of my most anticipated of the year. Harvey Danger's debut album -- a set of demos, really, that accidentally turned into something real thanks to their one-hit-wonderdom -- is one of my all-time favorites, with six songs I still love to listen to frequently while most other 1997 releases have faded into my dusty CD shelves.
After their second album got corporated into obscurity, the band disappeared for several years and return with a self-released effort last year -- you can download it freely and legally from their site. This clip features a slight, loopy cover of David Bowie's "Oh! You Pretty Things," as well as the lead single from their new record, a return-to-form snarkfest called "Cream and Bastards Rise." The crowd reaction says a lot to me, considering many of the people in the audience were 12 when this band was close to becoming a big deal. Their music is just that ingratiating.
NO!: SO MANY DYNAMOS (#162, SEP 29 2006).
The thing I really like about Rathskeller/Terrace/Club 770 shows is that they're so damn punctual. Every other venue in Madison is totally unpredictable when it comes to starting on time -- the campus shows start when they're scheduled and they're done by midnight. What this means is that if I want to skip an opening band I'm not familiar with, I can. In the case of So Many Dynamos, opening for Harvey Danger, I walked in about halfway through their set and now I wish I'd gotten there on time. I'd never heard of them before this show, but their energetic, spazzy sound -- reminiscent of Thunderbirds Are Now! -- quickly won me over, and dragged me to their merch table. As luck would have it, the song I recorded is not on any of their three CD's, which means it's either on their split 7" with Bring Back the Guns or it's new. I ordered the 7" a couple days ago, so I'll know for sure soon enough.
NO!: MATES OF STATE (#161, SEP 22 2006).
Toward the end of the set, the songs began to take on a more rocking tone and some dudes climbed up onto either a corner of the stage or something to perform air guitar. The reason this is worth pointing out is that Mates of State do not employ any guitars -- it's just keyboard and drums. And yet, there he was, having a great time with this tune, the terrific opener from their third album.
Also worth pointing out -- I recorded this song partly because I was getting low on disc space and it's kind of a short one, but I also could've recorded the short breakdown they did in the middle of "Like U Crazy," covering part of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy." It would've made an interesting contrast to the Of Montreal cover at the very least.
NO!: MATES OF STATE (#160, SEP 22 2006).
The morning before the Mates of State show we found one of our parakeets dead. We're not sure exactly what happened and it doesn't really matter: She's gone whether or not we know just why. Later in the day Emily found herself tearing up over the Bring It Back two-fer of "Nature and the Wreck," a lullabye to the Mates' baby daughter, and "So Many Ways," an anthem to love, loss and return. I wanted so badly to record them at the show, but the former they didn't play and the latter isn't recognizable enough to me that I could quickly pick it out to record. When they played it, I wouldn't say it felt somber, but it did feel like a waning, waves of undifferentiated pressure rolling off and away. Part of it was Lassie, our bird, and part of it was just the toxic build-up of life since the last application of music this lovely and sweet.
NO!: MATES OF STATE (#159, SEP 22 2006).
The biggest surprise, to me, about Mates of State selling out the Stage Door was that I wasn't all that surprised by it. How is it that they've gotten so big without it ever seeming weird? Almost exactly a year ago they sold out the Annex, now this, and the next time they come to Madison it'll almost certainly have to be in... the Barrymore. That, of course, means that we probably won't be seeing them again very soon. If that turns out to be the case, they played a pleasantly wide range of material to leave us with. The early part of the set focused on their newest (and in my opinion, weakest) record, Bring It Back. I like this tune, which was the lead single, quite a bit, but some of the stuff that comes later on is a bit dodgy. In the live context, interspersed with just about everything short of their debut 7", it was hard to notice the weak stuff, though.
NO!: STARLIGHT MINTS (#158, SEP 22 2006).
Starlight Mints are the touring opener for the current Mates of State tour, but you wouldn't know it from watching them. From the lowered stage lights, to the K-Mart fancy set design, to the extended orchestral intro, everything about their set made it feel like they forgot they weren't headlining. Maybe they get a little slack for being Mates' labelmates, or for being the indie version of the Flaming Lips, with whom they share a hometown, but it did seem a little much at first. On the other hand, Emily slept through most of their set, since she's used to going to bed early on Friday nights in order to get up for the farmers market, so maybe they could've gone a lot bigger.
This song is my favorite one from their new album, rendered here in a much more organic way than it is on record. Their set as a whole wasn't life-changing, but was fun to see, and that's a lot more than can be said for many of the tag-along bands that have come through here lately.
NO!: MOLITOR (#157, SEP 22 2006).
The Orpheum Stage Door was the only "big" venue in Madison that I hadn't visited before this show. The very strange thing about it was that the doors opened about five minutes before the scheduled start time of 8:00, with the sell-out crowd lined up along Johnson St. waiting to get in. A few minutes after 8:00 -- with most of us still on the sidewalk -- the first opening band, Molitor, began their set. Unfortunately for me, they opened with my favorite two songs from their new EP, Sometimes I Get Like This, and we only got to see about half of the second song.
They also included some unrecorded songs on the set, such as the one heard here, and I'm anxious now to hear their full-length. They have a good, strong, old-school emo sound, and I think they're a real credit to the Milwaukee scene right now.
NO!: THE GOSSIP (#156, SEP 8 2006).
The real surprise moment of the show -- which wouldn't have been a surprise if I'd listened to their new remix EP beforehand -- was Erase Errata singer Jenny Hoyston joining the band to duet on a cover of Aaliyah's "Are U That Somebody." It worked surprisingly well and gave both singers a chance to show off; after the show I couldn't help but imagine Beth Ditto quitting the Gossip to become Missy Elliot's new protege. This all has nothing in particular to do with this clip, except for the fact that Beth introduces it by noting that one of her bandmates has "Sexyback" as a ringtone.
NO!: THE GOSSIP (#155, SEP 8 2006).
I'm a pretty obsessive-compulsive person when it comes to things like properly tagging all my MP3s, using correct full titles, etc., so I was quite surprised to notice at the merch table that only one of the Gossip's albums actually says "The Gossip" on it. Arkansas Heat, Movement and Standing in the Way of Control all just say "Gossip." I really couldn't believe I'd never noticed that before. Now, I'm still pretty sure that they're actually called "The Gossip," but it's kind of embarassing how much this discovery rattled me. Please, bands, use the proper full constructions of your names on all album covers; it's really important.
NO!: THE GOSSIP (#154, SEP 8 2006).
I was very much unsure about going to this show, to the extent that I made sure to buy a ticket in advance to force myself to follow through on it, but I'm so glad I went. My familiarity with the group before the show consisted of only this year's Standing in the Way of Control, which is great, and 2003's live album, Undead in NYC, which is not. Neither one prepared me for the awesome stage presence of singer Beth Ditto, who has maybe the best white-girl blues-rock voice since Janis Joplin.
She also has a smooth physicality while singing that belies her short chubbiness. I assumed there would be some dance in their set -- they are part of the early 2000's wave of "dance-punk" acts, after all -- but I didn't think it would be such a captivating study of the singer's ability to direct a crowd. It really left me with a greater appreciation of the rhythm underlying most of their songs.
NO!: ERASE ERRATA (#153, SEP 8 2006).
Erase Errata have been getting some decent buzz lately, but I've gone up and down several times on their new album, so I was eager to see how they went live. I was also really tired, so I tried an experiment that didn't really pan out: shooting from the raised (and sparsely populated) rear area of the Annex. As it turned out, the stage was probably not lit brightly enough for this to be a good idea, but you can still pretty much see everything.
As for their set, I don't know, it was a little lacking in energy. The material was mostly good but they seemed to be kind of overwhelmed by both the crowd's anticipation for them and the nascent excitement for the Gossip's set. Or maybe I'm just unconsciously comparing them to that set and finding them coming up short. Judge for yourself.
NO!: MIKA MIKO (#152, SEP 8 2006).
Handling the first opening slot at the Gossip's recent Madison show was a band of LA noise punks called Mika Miko. How noise were they? One of their singers sang through a telephone. How punk were they? Their set lasted 18 minutes and they played about 300 songs, and they have no talent. I appreciated their energy, but like most bands that reject the ethos of talent, they could use a bit of it. These two short songs are not on their debut full-length album, and presumably are drawn from their ultra-punk underground-only cassette releases.
NO!: 1090 CLUB (#151, SEP 2 2006).
What really struck me as interesting about these guys was not just their odd instrumentation (piano + guitar + violin + drums + triple vox) but that they used it in such an against-type way. Strings in the indie rock world usually mean ballads, or at least soft pop sound; the same goes for prominent vocal harmonies. 1090 Club, on the other hand, manages to organically incorporate those things into a disjointed and edgy rock sound that's most commonly heard accompanied by three guitars, a fleet of distortion pedals and screaming. I'm quite eager to hear how it translates to the CD. By the way, if you missed them, they're back in town at the King Club on October 24.
NO!: 1090 CLUB (#150, SEP 2 2006).
In their Party in the Park set, 1090 Club only played, I think, six songs, saving their full set for the evening show at the High Noon. The songs are all from their upcoming debut LP ("upcoming" meaning next Tuesday in this case) and while I liked the set opener the best ("Business End," which I didn't record) the whole thing was really solid. I encourage people to buy the record if they like what they hear, or at least go see them live if you're in the vicinity of Montana.
NO!: BAGHDAD SCUBA REVIEW (#149, SEP 2 2006).
Sometime this past summer, on the way out of a show at the High Noon, we saw a stack of free stickers that said "Baghdad Scuba Review" on them, with a clipart picture of a scuba diver. Naturally, we each took one. It wasn't until Party in the Park that I actually noticed by this name on any schedules, however; when I saw that they were scheduled to play early in the afternoon I made a point of seeing them.
First realization: They are a jam band. I gathered this not, at first, from the fact that they have a bongo player, but from the fact that several people in the small crowd were hula-hooping, including one guy with three hoops going at once. So this, it must be acknowledged, is one quick strike against them. But for the potential traps they could fall into, they really don't -- and they manage to skate by with some prog tendencies, too! Their songs go on forever, but they don't really meander; it's pretty much all in the service of a clear song structure. So while I'm not terribly likely to run out and see these guys again, I'm glad I saw them at the park and I enjoyed what I heard.
NO!: THE BOX SOCIAL (#148, AUG 20 2006).
I wouldn't normally post a song I'd already recorded at a past show -- this one was also recorded at a show at the Journey last May -- but in this case something happened that made the clip post-worthy. Before I quite realized that this was a duplicate, one of the more raucous (and wasted) members of the audience was making his way to the stage, pants around his ankles, sporting a bulge in blue briefs. The band knew him, and didn't seem terribly surprised by what was going on, but still, that's a lot to just keep playing through. Especially once he started dancing on them.
NO!: JUNIOR REVOLUTION (#147, AUG 20 2006).
After their recent tour of the west, Madison's the Box Social came home to a show at the High Noon. Opening were a new local act called Coup de Foudre and this band, Junior Revolution, from Cincinnati. I was pleasantly surprised to be impressed by them. Their sound reminded me a lot of late-model Get Up Kids. The one problem is that they're just in love with false stops. Almost every song had a point at which the band came to a full-stop, but then continued on for another couple minutes -- their final song did this four times. Other than that a solid set, though; hopefully they come back soon.
NO!: 1090 CLUB (#146, SEP 2 2006).
How about a sneak peek at my Party in the Park clips, which will be going up next week (and by that I mean that I have one too many to make them fit nicely in the calendar)? I didn't get to stick around for much, but I made a point of seeing 1090 Club and I'm glad I did. They've got an interesting and exotic take on the indie/college rock sound, borne out of their use of strings and vocal harmonies. Their debut record comes out in a week and a half, on the same label as Charlemagne's records, and I recommend checking it out. If you go to their web site, or download the rest of their clips next week, you can hear a few more songs from it.
NO!: CRACKER (#145, AUG 31 2006).
Cracker was, of course, part of the wave of alternative rock bands that arrived in 1993 following the success of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. They, along with the Breeders, Belly, Soul Asylum, the Lemonheads and various others seemed to be getting their due for being such important parts of the college rock scene of the 80s -- in the case of Cracker, it was via their genesis in the demise of Camper Van Beethoven. I didn't know that at the time though, all I knew was "Low" and that video with Sandra Bernhard boxing. This was my freshman year at college and I was a commuter. One morning, on the 15-minute drive to school, I heard "Euro-trash Girl" on the student radio station and it blew me away. It was like what I'd felt hearing "Lithium" and "Sweetness Follows" for the first time -- a new dimension in Cracker's sound was revealed to me, which helped me better understand a wide swath of the rock landscape. It also made me desperately want a copy of Kerosene Hat.
Last Thursday night, it was one of a number of highlights from a two-hour set. They played Camper Van's "Take the Skinheads Bowling," which was amazing and preceded by "Ain't Gonna Suck Itself," the fuck-you to Virgin Records they included on their covers album, Countrysides -- their cover of "Duty Free," also from that album, was incredible. In the middle of the encore they finally did "Sweet Thistle Pie," and everybody somehow still had the energy for it. The stunning thing was really what they didn't play. They've got probably at least two hours worth of great material in their catalog, and something is always going to get left out. If they come back touring a different set list, I'll be there in a heartbeat.
(BTW, the audio of this show is available for download in several formats via the Internet Archive. Enjoy!)
NO!: CRACKER (#144, AUG 31 2006).
It's not really a surprise, but Cracker really packed the High Noon 13 years after the height of their fame. Their set was pretty low-key -- reflecting the sound of their non-commercial years, which you can hear on their latest, Greenland -- but was quite well received by the audience. Most songs, including this one, were slightly extended jams on the studio versions, all of which built up to a more than two-hour set. I wasn't quite sure what I was getting when I bought my ticket for this show -- they haven't made a record I've really liked in about ten years -- but the career-spanning and creative set they played was well worth it.
NO!: CHARLEMAGNE (#143, AUG 23 2006).
Madison's final Charlemagne show -- at least until Carl Johns returns as a touring act in March -- ended with an apologetic whimper. The set closed with "(We Are) Making Light," and the crowd followed that with extended applause and calls for more; after a few moments Carl told us, sadly, that was all they had. I'd not recorded that song, expecting to record the encore that never came, so this track is all I have from Charlemagne's set. It's a good one, though -- as he dove into the beginning of this song, he stopped suddenly when the rest of the band didn't follow him. Instead they began to sing "Happy Birthday" and somebody brought him a shot. It was a nice, sweet way for him to go out, I think, and a good song to do it with.
NO!: THE SUPER EIGHTS (#142, AUG 23 2006).
Now, I despise Texas as much as the next right-thinking American (that is to say, a lot), but when I first saw the Super Eights last fall, this is the song that stuck with me after the show. A lullaby based on "Deep in the Heart of Texas," this is maybe the group's sweetest song, and certainly their softest. It's an almost mournful tone given the song's subject matter -- all the expansive natural wonder that no longer represents a state dominated by energy conglomerates, big-money politicking and suburban sprawl. Texas isn't a whole other country anymore, it's Houston now, and it's been left behind in many ways by an American West that is remaking itself in progressive populism. Mourning it seems both odd and right as the prairie wind sound of this song passes through you.
NO!: THE SUPER EIGHTS (#141, AUG 23 2006).
2006 has been kind of vicious for the Madison rock scene, and there's still a third of it left. A number of high-profile bands have moved or just called it quits, and three venues have shut down. Add to that gas prices that make touring more dicey than ever and things start to look grim. So it was really nice, if this show had to be a wake of sorts, for the evening to be such a celebratory one. Shazy Hade, a new group formed by members of one of those that broke up, opened the show with just the right tone (though I confess I couldn't really get into the music), and the Super Eights' set brought it up a notch. We don't get many truly local showcase shows in Madison, so it was really awesome to be part of a packed house so clearly happy to have one last chance to hear these songs.
NO!: THE SUPER EIGHTS (#140, AUG 23 2006).
Wednesday night's Carl Johns going-away show also marked the last show for local pop-rockers the Super Eights, for whom Johns played keyboard. I'd only seen them once before, and their bowing out was as much a draw for me to this show as Charlemagne.
The Super Eights write songs about states, with the occasional country or city thrown in to shake things up. If you've never heard them before, it takes a few songs for it to sink in. You'll hear a song about Ohio, then one about Virginia, then this one about New Mexico, and you'll think to yourself, or out loud if you're drunk, "Hey, are these songs all about states?" Also, almost all of their songs are two-minute blasts of catchy guitar energy, and this one is no exception. It's a real shame that all they ever released was a 7" and some compilation songs.
NO!: CHARLEMAGNE (#139, JUN 11 2006).
One of the impressive things about Charlemagne's live shows -- particularly when there are a dozen-plus people on stage -- is how well the songs from the stripped-down, mostly acoustic self-titled album translate to a full-band setting. Songs such as this one (or the one I recorded on Wednesday night, "How Could He?") sound as if they're being played in their original configuration, which says a lot about the pop core at the heart of even the most folky Charlemagne song.
NO!: CHARLEMAGNE (#138, JUN 11 2006).
After nine years and several bands in Madison, Carl Johns is taking his act to Philly full-time this fall. His last show as a local is tonight at the High Noon Saloon. Also playing and taking their leave of existence are the Super Eights, who are left with a hole upon Johns' departure. Shazy Hade, presumably not playing their last show here, will open. Things get started at 9:00 and it's only $5, so show up for what may turn out to be a truly epochal event. If you don't, you will be sad.
NO!: CHARLEMAGNE (#137, JUN 11 2006).
Charlemagne is actually songwriter Carl Johns and a rotating cast of performers -- a trio on their recent tour, sometimes five or more. And sometimes over a dozen. This set at this past June's Marquette Waterfront Festival on the shore of Lake Monona opened with an invocation of political defiance, during which it became clear that the 12 or so people standing on stage -- including the kid with the guitar -- weren't going anywhere.
The lot of them launched into a rousing version of their standard opener, "Pink and Silver," which got the lakeshore crowd up and moving. Even though the Waterfront Festival feels at times more like a backyard barbeque than anything else, the audience was clearly ready to get into the music.
NO!: OF MONTREAL (#136, AUG 7 2006).
I suppose it was inevitable that this song -- performed by somebody -- would wind up in my recordings this year. As the band themselves point out, it's the song of the summer, as inescapable as it is enthralling. And in the Barrymore, it kind of succeeded despite itself. As good as the song is, and as well as the band pulled it off, the acoustics in there threatened to derail the whole thing. Throughout the show, the band and their weirdly active but ineffective sound guy struggled to deal with how the room reflected their high-treble sound. The place is just not built for rock music, and definitely not the bright-sounding stuff Of Montreal brought in -- it's the same thing we heard during the New Pornographers show, and this time it seemed to be bad enough to actually move some people toward the back of the room and out into the lobby. I was happy with the band at this show, but I don't think I'm going back to the Barrymore anytime soon.
NO!: OF MONTREAL (#135, AUG 7 2006).
Kevin Barnes went through three outfits during the show. This second one was a gold lame blouse that he said he got from an old woman who wore it to show off her "teetas" -- he later revealed that the woman in question was beloved comedienne Bea Arthur, of Maude and The Golden Girls. He makes good use of it while bouncing around to this dark, rhythmic tune from their most recent release.
NO!: OF MONTREAL (#134, AUG 7 2006).
After the Minders, we were still beat, so we planned to stay seated. Our plans were thwarted, however, when Of Montreal's opening flag routine (yes, flag routine) caused the whole audience to stand up. The Barrymore had its usual coterie of security guys, so I tried to keep the camera hidden for this clip and wound up with some of the same problems as the New Pornographers clips had, but I think they're only really noticeable in this one.
This tune is apparently something of an old favorite -- actually it's from 2002's Aldhil's Arboretum, their last record before their new electrified sound won them so much acclaim. It might be the best sounding of my clips, owing to its more traditional instrumentation in the Barrymore's ultra-trebley acoustics.
NO!: THE MINDERS (#133, AUG 7 2006).
Here's a terrific idea for anybody who's got some time on their hands. Fly to the west coast. Stay there for a week, then come home on the redeye. After you get back to your house at about noon, sit around for seven hours and go to a big rock show. See if you feel like staying awake, let alone standing up at the front of the crowd.
That's what we did last week and, unfortunately, the Minders weren't really up to keeping our attention. We sat in the middle of the theatre and had to fight against falling asleep for much of their set. It's too bad, because most of what I've heard from them is pretty decent material, but it's kind of light and unexciting. Their set, at least what I remember of it, reflected that. Hopefully they'll come back soon and play a smaller venue at a time when I'm not passing out.
NO!: BLOC PARTY (#132, AUG 4 2006).
Of the new Bloc Party songs I've heard (both at this show and recorded from other shows), I think I like this one the best. It's got a sound that's a step away from that of Silent Alarm, but at the same time it's not tepid the way "Waiting For the 7:18" and "Two More Years" kind of are. It might also help that around the point in the show they began playing most of my favorites -- "Banquet," "Helicopter," "Like Eating Glass" -- so I'm anxious to hear how this one sounds on the new record.
NO!: BLOC PARTY (#131, AUG 4 2006).
They noted a couple times during the set that this was their biggest headlining gig ever, but I think their celebrating technique could use a bit of work. The first time they mentioned what a special night it was, and proceeded to have everyone shout, "Special!" The next time they had everybody do the wave a couple times, only they called it a "Mexican wave." A tip for next time: fewer crowd participation moments, more awesome new songs.
NO!: BLOC PARTY (#130, AUG 4 2006).
By the time Bloc Party was ready to take the stage -- after a lengthy technical problem with singer Kele Okereke's monitor -- the venue had begun to show just how sold out it was. The upper seats and lawn, which had been sparsely used during the Mew and Two Gallants sets, were filled with late-comers, all the space around us on the floor had been taken as well.
This set-opener was once of three new songs they played, and already seems to be well known among the band's fans. As they begin playing, you'll hear a noticable cheer of awareness. One of the band members noted later, that's the power of the Internet.
NO!: BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE (#129, AUG 4 2006).
The second opener was a two-piece Saddle Creek rock act called Two Gallants. They, let's say, didn't fit the show. I kind of liked their new album the first time I heard it, but since then I've soured on it and their set didn't help. Mainly, their guitar and drumkit combo didn't do much to fill the open-air amphitheatre, and I'm kind of wondering how Mates of State will sound when they play there this Friday.
Next up were the much-loved Broken Social Scene -- all 10+ of them. I've never really been able to get into them, but this is one of their songs I like quite a bit. The title is apt -- it's probably the only pop single ever written in 7/4 time, though I don't know that for sure -- and it fits a piece of smooth contemporary rock for adults. I find that BSS's exploration often doesn't work for me, but songs such as this one and "KC Accidental" hit all the right notes.
NO!: MEW (#128, AUG 4 2006).
In the middle of our week in San Francisco, we headed over to Berkeley with my sister, Sarah, to see Bloc Party and a coterie of opening bands. As it turned out, this was the only show we'd make it to during the trip.
Once we parked and began walking down the steep hill from the parking lot to UC-Berkeley's Greek Theatre, we could hear Mew repeatedly soundchecking a song, "Am I Wry? No," which I'd put on a mix for Emily way back when. It took hearing that to really drive home why I'd liked them so much for a brief period of time, around the same time I was suddenly big on the Radio Dept. and the Dears. When I first heard And the Glass Handed Kites it didn't have that same resonance, but it does sound good live. They did a surprisingly good job of energizing a sparse, early crowd with often instrumental material, and I was glad for the chance to see them, if only for half a dozen songs. I realized in the middle of their set that I couldn't remember the last time I saw a European band live -- the only one ever may have been Spain's Aina opening for Burning Airlines and the Promise Ring -- so I'm glad that Bloc Party brought these guys over with them.
NO!: MARGOT & THE NUCLEAR SO AND SO'S (#127, JUL 13 2006).
The opening act for this show was supposed to be a local power-pop act called the Roman Candles, but unfortunately for them, only the drummer and singer/guitarist Mark Hopper remembered to show up. They waited quite a while before going on, and eventually Hopper just played a solo set, while being clearly annoyed by his erstwhile bandmates. The So and So's set was ultimately cut short because of the delay, since Terrace shows have to end by midnight, but they promised to keep it going in the parking lot until the cops kicked them out -- whether they did or not is an open question.
NO!: MARGOT & THE NUCLEAR SO AND SO'S (#126, JUL 13 2006).
There were maybe half a dozen people who were really into the band, and whom I assumed were part of whatever rising crest of popularity Margot et al. are on. One of those people led the charge to get the crowd to stand right up next to the stage, and then proceeded to dance all over the place, while introducing her friends to each other, talking to random strangers, getting phone calls, etc. She can be heard in this clip offering to "move her body." It seems kind of strange that the Terrace is feeling more and more like the Annex lately.
NO!: MARGOT & THE NUCLEAR SO AND SO'S (#125, JUL 13 2006).
These guys sort of just appeared out of nowhere, and now I'm seeing them all over the place. After seeing their odd name on the Terrace schedule, I gave them a listen and approved of what I heard. Now they have early fall dates scheduled in Madison again and Milwaukee, they were recently featured on AOL and they seem to have the ears of several prominent MP3 bloggers. Their recently re-issued debut, The Dust of Retreat, has attracted something of a following, apparently, as this was the last song of their Terrace set with relatively few people standing up by the stage. Perhaps they're the next big OMG! Teh Internets Make U Like Weird Bandz!!! story?
NO!: JAIL (#124, JUL 20 2006).
[I'm pretty sure I screwed this up in the podcast feed originally, so I've reposted it.]
The show ended with a rollicking cover of Huey Lewis' "If This Is It," which they gave kind of a gigantified bar-band feel. Emily speculated after hearing it that Vinnie had been spending a lot of time listening to thrift store cassettes.
The band just finished a short tour so they don't have much on their schedule right now, but they will be playing a "Firecracker Studios Presents" show at the Inferno in Madison on August 18, so come on out if you can.
NO!: JAIL (#123, JUL 20 2006).
Both of these songs were originally released on one of Vinnie's solo recordings from a few years ago, Whimsy & the Slugs -- as was yesterday's, "Boogie Down," which will perhaps wind up on their next record. They work pretty well in their full-band configurations, especially the aptly named "Rocker," even when the bass gets a little too cranked and distorty as it sometimes does in this clip.
NO!: JAIL (#122, JUL 20 2006).
I didn't catch the full story of how this show came about, but what it was was a benefit for the drummer from Klipspringer's brother, who recently underwent a heart transplant. This maybe accounts for the odd line-up: first, a poetry reading, followed by Dr. Nick playing solo with a synth, then one white boy rapper with a disorganized set, then another one, then Jail. Kind of a disconnected show all things considered, but Mad Planet has Cracker Jack at the bar, so we were able to spend some distraction time playing with our free special prize -- a folding picture of Ben Franklin.
NO!: JAIL (#121, JUL 20 2006).
Way back when -- about eight months ago, that is -- the very first episode of this podcast featured my brother-in-law's band, Jail. They've scarcely played in Wisconsin since then, so we made sure to go to this hastily-put-together show at Milwaukee's Mad Planet.
They have a new five-song EP out, from which both of these set-opening songs are taken. You can check out a couple of the studio versions at their MySpace page.
NO!: THE REPUTATION (#120, JUL 15 2006).
Earlier on the night of the Reputation show, I won $10 at poker/going-away party for somebody from the j-school who's leaving town. A couple hours later, I gave Elizabeth Elmore that same $10 in exchange for a t-shirt. And that's the circle of life.
NO!: THE REPUTATION (#119, JUL 15 2006).
The first Reputation album won me over quickly, with a burst of four great songs to open it, but the follow-up, 2004's To Force a Fate, was a little less cohesive. The songs I liked didn't come in runs and were mostly found in the second half of the record. The result is that I didn't listen to it much when it came out, and only recently remembered just how great this song, its opener, is. This performance of it is great too, even the part where somebody comes up and asks me if they can use any of the empty chairs scattered all around me.
NO!: THE REPUTATION (#118, JUL 15 2006).
The first show I saw after moving to Madison almost four years ago was the Reputation playing at the Terrace. They were touring in support of their self-titled debut album, which I'd just found out about after having gotten into Elizabeth Elmore's last band, Sarge, after their break-up. I didn't know anybody here and was just kind of sinking into myself at the time. I got there early and got a seat at the front, from whence I took a bunch of pictures of the band and their opening act, the Beatings, and wrote a love letter that failed.
I've seen them several more times since then, always at free shows at the Memorial Union, and they continue to impress me. Usually the sound is awful, as it often is as these Union shows, but last Saturday's Terrace show sounded great. This new song, presumably from their next record, provided an energetic opening blast. The bombast that they put into their Terrace shows is all the more impressive when you consider that, as Elmore told me after the set, almost nobody there has heard of them or cares that much about the show. Even if it's just for the dozen or so of us who wound up dancing in front of the stage, they always put it all out there.
NO!: HARRY AND THE POTTERS (#117, JUL 9 2006).
I wound up leaving the show a little bit before the end out of hunger and exhaustion, but how long I stayed is a testament to what a fun show it was. During the intermission I'd actually decided to quickly record a couple clips and take off to get a late lunch, but the early and consistent energy of the show drew me back in and kept me recording. Just at the end of this spazzed out cut -- easily the most high-voltage song I saw them perform -- my batteries ran out and I took that as a sign. They were still rocking the joint when I left, though, and I suspect they made more than a few of those kids into rock converts.
NO!: HARRY AND THE POTTERS (#116, JUL 9 2006).
About halfway through the set, the Potters started playing songs with a bit more punk flare to them and also moving out into the crowd a lot. The result was both that the audience (particularly those in costume) got really energized and that things like what's seen in this clip happened -- the keyboard-playing Potter found himself a little tangled up in his mic cord and took it to the logical extreme, wrapping up most of his head in the cord's considerable slack.
NO!: HARRY AND THE POTTERS (#115, JUL 9 2006).
The unfortunate side-effect of how entertaining this show turned out to be is that I wound up recording five clips, and now must write blurbs for five clips. But I kind of made my big point about these guys yesterday, which is that they're sneaking uncompromised rock music to a new and receptive audience, and now I'm going to have to stretch a little. So here's something quickly, to go with this short clip.
One way in which they seem to differ considerably from "regular" rock bands is in dealing with new material -- their new record, Harry and the Potters and the Power of Love, just came out last week, but most of what they played (and three of the songs I recorded) came from their self-titled debut. I think this is probably a purposeful strategy on their part, considering how many kids sang along with the older stuff. They got a lot of energy moving in the room that was only possible because such a large part of the audience knew the material well.
NO!: HARRY AND THE POTTERS (#114, JUL 9 2006).
In contrast to the Malfoys' somewhat ramshackle set, Harry and the Potters (featuring two Harry Potters and one Bill Weasley) put on something very much like a standard DIY rock set. Mostly in costume, they played from atop banquet hall chairs and a coffeetable to simulate the effect of a stage. They also got what I can only call a stunning response from the audience -- the crowd of predominantly middle school-looking kids seemed to be quite familiar with most of their material. Considering that this is a band that started when, a few years ago, two brothers made up a bunch of songs about Harry Potter to amuse their friends, I'm really impressed with what they've been able to build using the Internet for word-of-mouth.
I've also got to say that, stylistically, I love that they're playing untempered indie rock whose lyrics just happen to deal with a popular book & film series. It's a kind of music that most of their audience would otherwise not get to hear very readily -- it doesn't get played on the radio or even on TV that much. If some of the kids at this show find themselves graduating to local acts like the Super Eights or the German Art Students in a few years, this band will have done a tremendous service.
NO!: DRACO AND THE MALFOYS (#113, JUL 9 2006).
My friend Sharon sent me an e-mail mid-week that just said, "Go cover this band," so I did.
The band she was talking about was Harry and the Potters, a band that makes silly, bedroom indie rock about what it's like to be Harry Potter. Their opening act, appropriately enough, is called Draco and the Malfoys, a band that makes silly, bedroom indie rock about what it's like to be Draco Malfoy. At least I assume it's appropriate enough, because I've never heard a Harry Potter book nor seen a Harry Potter movie. (I know, I know, they're so good, they're not just for kids, blah blah blah. Look, I'm a little busy trying to slog through Grant Morrison's highly overrated Doom Patrol books right now, OK?) The good thing is that you don't need much context to enjoy the show.
The Malfoys' stage act is a pretty minimalist affair -- two guys on guitar, both identifying themselves as Draco Malfoy (year 19 and year 14, respectively), plus pre-recorded rhythm lines playing through the PA. They played a relatively wide range of material, from this mostly soft, sparse love song to a cover of "99 Luftballons," repurposed as "99 Deatheaters."
NO!: THE BELLRAYS (#112, JUN 23 2006).
As I mentioned a couple days ago, I wasn't planning to go to this show until I got into SSM, but I wind up enjoying the BellRays' set quite a bit. They bill themselves as "rock & soul," which I think is mostly accurate. I don't necessarily think just having a vocalist that sounds like Tina Turner is enough to be a "soul" band, but their rock certainly is soulful and draws on soul music in the same way the band's proto-punk forerunners did. To be honest, though, I did leave the show a song or two before where I expected the end of the set to come. With two shows in two nights, and one of them in Milwaukee, I was just dead tired, and after 15 or so songs, I was starting to hear them all melding together. They're a lot of fun to watch, but I think their show would have a lot more appeal if they re-incorporated some of the jazzier sound that their very earliest material has.
The one thing that really surprised me about this show (and later, about the fact that I couldn't find the second song from yesterday's clip) is that they seem to have a well established fanbase, at least here in Madison. By the time they came on, there was a pretty full crowd on the floor and the people I talked to before their set were really excited. I find this interesting mainly because they exist so far out of the spheres of influence that are successful in the indie rock touring scene right now. Their sound, their image and their age would seem to put them at a major disadvantage compared to a band like the show's first openers, the Dials, but here they are, getting it done and causing skinny, little, button-down-shirt guys to bounce around for a solid hour.
(The Dials were pretty good too, BTW, but I don't know if anybody but me was paying attention.)
NO!: THE BELLRAYS (#111, JUN 23 2006).
Well, it's finally happened -- I've got a song here that I can't identify and that I'm sure isn't simply new and unreleased. The first part of this two-song medley was clearly "Snotgun" from the BellRays' new album, Have a Little Faith, but the second? No clue. Distortion caused by the heavy bass end makes it kind of hard to make out all the lyrics, but the first few lines are very clear, as is the basic melody line. I listened to basically all of the BellRays' catalog and didn't find a match, which means they either have more new material that they're playing out but didn't put on the record, or this is some hard-to-identify b-side. So this one's kind of a mystery -- if you know what the song is, please let me know.
In tomorrow's post I'll talk a bit about the concert, and about the guy who, literally, comes bouncing into frame about halfway through the clip.
NO!: SSM (#110, JUN 23 2006).
After SSM concluded what was probably the best non-headlining set I've seen at the High Noon this year I went over to the merch table in the hopes that they had shirts with cockatiel heads on them. They did. While there I had a nice conversation with Marty, the band's guitarist/co-vocalist, about their set, how I'd found out about them only a couple weeks prior via their poster, why I hate Myspace, the state of things in Madison and where they fit in Detroit. I also told him I was looking forward to their next Madison visit, which I hope sounded enthusiastic enough to seem like I might bring 100 people with me instead of the three of four that are more likely. Either way, they're in our regional sphere and will likely be back soon, so I encourage everybody in the upper midwest to check them out when you next have the chance.
NO!: SSM (#109, JUN 23 2006).
I don't know what happens at the High Noon's occasional metal shows, but I don't believe I've ever seen much in the way of light shows when I've been there. SSM didn't really have a light show, per se, but they did have a wicked strobe light that they put to good use during several songs. This one in particular is the track that really caught my ear at their Myspace page. The sound quality is a little rough in this clip, but you can certainly hear the form and thrust of the tune. It also captures the album pretty well, so if you like it be sure to seek the disc out.
NO!: SSM (#108, JUN 23 2006).
Until the Craftacular in mid-June I'd never heard of SSM. While I was there, sitting at Emily's table and eating lunch, I saw a poster featuring a spaceship and three naked women with cockatiel heads. Since I like spaceships, naked ladies and cockatiels, I decided to check the band out. Turns out that they make a pretty interesting mix of Detroit garage and New York dance-punk, which compares favorably with the likes of Thunderbirds Are Now! and LCD Soundsystem. This doesn't really explain why they were on a bill with the Dials and the BellRays, but such are the vagaries of the indie rock touring circuit. Suffice it to say that I wasn't going to go to this show, but the poster (which is also the cover art from their recently released record) and the tracks they have available online were enough to get my $10.
NO!: WE ARE SCIENTISTS (#107, JUN 22 2006).
For some reason, the house lighting got a little less maniacally dark during the last two sets, but the stage lights for the We Are Scientists set were really dim. As you will see in this clip, it was difficult to make people out on the stage, and the camera couldn't capture much of anything in a tight angle. That was as good an excuse as any to back out of the crowd after this song, since we somehow managed to find ourselves surrounded by the three most annoying people in the theater. A quick look around revealed that, except for these three people immediately adjacent to us, nobody was dancing in such a way that obstructed anyone else's view or caused a lot of solicited jostling. My position on these things tends to be that if everyone else is doing it, fine, but if not, and you do, you're a jerk. We watched the last few songs from the seating area, which turned out to be better anyway, as we could actually see the whole stage and had the benefit of a little more ambient light. The set as a whole was really terrific, and that's what I took away.
(On a side note, it turns out that these guys have a really rich back catalog from their independent days, and while they generally stayed away from it, it was nice to hear this b-side get played late in the show, when the crowd was probably starting to get itchy for their big singles.)
NO!: WE ARE SCIENTISTS (#106, JUN 22 2006).
What you're not seeing before this clip is the minute and a half of stage banter that went on while the band stopped to tune yet again, apparently because the Miramar's monitors didn't work. This happened several times throughout the show, along with generally muddy mixes the whole time. The theater seems like a nice little room in which to see a rock band, but they're going to have to figure out how a sound system works for music first.
Of the five really good songs on With Love and Squalor, a record which manages to make Interpol fun, "It's a Hit" was the only one I managed to record. Indeed, it was the only one that came in the middle of the set at all. The others comprised the opening and closing pairs of the show. It also is, I think, the only W.A.S. clip in which the theater's severe darkness wasn't that much of a problem.
NO!: WE ARE SCIENTISTS (#105, JUN 22 2006).
After W.A.S. opened their set with a two-song medley of a pair of my favorite songs from With Love and Squalor -- "This Scene Is Dead" and "Inaction" -- everything started to go to hell. The girl standing right in front of me, the only person between me and the stage, who had been talking to somebody throughout the first two songs, suddenly asked if "we" could get up on stage and proceeded immediately to do so. Nobody seemed to want to go along with this, for obvious reasons, but she eventually dragged a couple people up, which meant everybody else had to follow in order to see the fucking show. A couple minutes into the song, security passed through to keep everyone away from the edge, and then to tell everybody to just get back down. This, of course, resulted in a number of things I'd like to be able to cover in the clip, but cannot, owing to my single-camera operation.
A few songs later I noticed that the stage provocateur was gone. I hope she got kicked out.
NO!: AU REVOIR SIMONE (#104, JUN 22 2006).
Until I saw the We Are Scientists show appear on a calendar, I'd never heard of the Miramar Theatre. As far as I can tell, they've only just started booking bands in there -- it is, in fact, a little black box theater. We got to the show about 20 minutes late, and when we walked in it was into the darkest concert venue I have ever seen. Onstage, the three-piece keyboard-and-drum-machine Brooklynites of Au Revoir Simone were in the middle of their set.
Some of what they did was really good and some was just too thin or underdeveloped, which mirrors the quality of their debut EP. I liked this new song, but it did seem to go on a little too long for what it did. I'd be really interested in seeing them again with a live drummer, since most of what they did with the drum machine could be easily replicated with a simple kit.
I've got three clips coming up from the We Are Scientists set, but none from the Double, who played second. I thought their record, Loose in the Air, was mediocre but inoffensive, but their live set was really ungood. The mix was extremely muddy, and the second "song" they played was a 17-minute atonal noise medley that I think won over few listeners. So, no clips from them.
NO!: THE NEW KENTUCKY QUARTER (#103, JUN 15 2006).
I'm not generally a fan of MySpace, but if you like the New Kentucky Quarter, I highly recommend you check out their page. This song (and two others) are available for download, and this one in particular is why I wanted to see them play. It's the title track from their new EP and is quickly becoming one of my favorite songs of 2006. After their set we waited in the drizzle to buy it (it's pretty good, but none of the other songs are as good as this one) and because they couldn't find their cashbox, we got it for $5 instead of $8. This was especially lucky since the one big beer we bought cost $6.
NO!: THE NEW KENTUCKY QUARTER (#102, JUN 15 2006).
The New Kentucky Quarter were opening for Milwaukee's Decibully, who are one of those indie pop bands that's always kind of on my radar but hasn't ever broken through into my heavy rotation. Unfortunately for them and us, the sporadic sprinkle during TNKQ's set got persistent toward the end, so we took off after buying their new EP. I figure since Decibully's from Milwaukee -- which I didn't know until TNKQ's singer mentioned it -- there'll probably be ample opportunity to see them in the future.
NO!: THE NEW KENTUCKY QUARTER (#101, JUN 15 2006).
It's kind of amazing, but I think last Thursday's set by the New Kentucky Quarter was the first show I'd seen on the Terrace in two years. The last time I remember being there for any kind of event at all was for the freezing-ass Michael Moore rally late in the 2004 election season. How I missed out on all of 2005 I don't know, but this show was the first of several Terrace shows I'm looking forward to this summer.
I'd never seen local openers the New Kentucky Quarter before, but I'd read up and them and checked out their downloads, which I found pretty impressive. They're being written up in some places as alt. country-ish, but I think that has to do with their name as much as anything else. Their sound is more in line with sweet-souled guitar rock of early Coldplay or late Soul Asylum, only balanced with female harmonies and less weighed down by chiming lead guitars. This tune -- not yet released on a record -- is a solid opener, but it took them a couple songs to really hit their stride, partly due a number of ongoing problems with the mix.
NO!: JILL SOBULE (#100, JUN 9 2006).
I think the best thing about Jill's set is how comfortable and congenial she was with the audience. She's been around and been successful for a while now, and can't have been thrilled with the relatively small crowd that showed up for this 7:00 show, but she was awesome about talking to people and telling stories and riffing off people's reactions. This song, another part of her new repertoire, is about a recent unnamed tourmate whom she had long been a fan of but who turned out to be a big jerk; a bit of back and forth with someone in the audience prompted her to briefly claim the subject was Jo Anne Worley.
(And hey, 100 of these already. Neat!)
NO!: JILL SOBULE (#99, JUN 9 2006).
Jill has been cranking out a lot of new material lately, using the web as a kind of sounding board for a slew of politically oriented songs. Most notably, she's been occasionally posting songs to the Huffington Post and has just released (with Kay Hanley and Michelle Lewis, performing as the Broadband) a pro-net neutrality song called "God Save the Internet." One of those HuffPo songs, "Under the Disco Ball," is heard in this two-part clip. It's a song about a conservative mother realizing her son has fallen under the spell of the evil homosexual agenda -- it's also the shortest song of Jill's set, which is why it's in this two-fer. After finishing, Jill briefly sang the shortest song she ever wrote: "Ritalin kid/Ritalin kid/Hey, look at that squirrel."
Later on in the set, she played a block of even newer songs that she didn't quite remember all the lyrics to, and had somebody come up to the stage to hold her laptop so she could read them. She wrote the one heard here when she learned that some conference organizers wanted her to introduce Al Gore's global warming presentation... in two hours. The song came out pretty fully formed, all things considered, and the video of that introductory performance can be found at her website.
NO!: JILL SOBULE (#98, JUN 9 2006).
I kind of didn't expect Jill Sobule to put on such a rollicking, funny show, especially without a band to play off of or much of a crowd in front of her. With maybe 70 people at the High Noon, she spent about half her set vamping on new material. By my count she played three songs from her last studio album, Underdog Victorious, one each from Pink Pearl and Happy Town, and four from her hit self-titled album, two of which were requests. This was one of those that was in her planned set list -- a quirky piece of cabaret pop about a waitress who dreams of being in the French resistance. Her studio material mostly translated pretty well to the solo acoustic environment, but as the next couple clips will show, it was the off the wall, politically oriented new stuff that really got the crowd going.
NO!: TAPES 'N TAPES (#97, JUN 1 2006).
I've been in Madison for four years, but I almost never see people I know -- except at rock shows. The last few shows, in particular, I've been noticing many of the same people doing the same things night in and night out, and then bumping into people I know. It's like there's this regular background cast and another handful of main characters that I must see at each show. Many of them have been assigned roles in my head, which makes me wonder how many people see me at any given show and think, "Hey, there's that video guy again." At the Tapes 'n Tapes show, we ran into somebody Emily knew on the way in and saw people we knew throughout the show. The next day, somebody from the j-school asked me on the bus if she'd seen me at the show. What's really interesting is seeing The Scene coalesce around particular shows (at a guess I'd say this is the first such big get-together since Metric), then kind of disperse to separate sub-scenes for a little while until the buzz gets big enough again. Looking at what's on the calendar now, that's probably August.
NO!: TAPES 'N TAPES (#96, JUN 1 2006).
I don't record many instrumentals, for the simple reason that rock instrumentals are pretty hard to find these days. This track isn't strictly an instrumental but it's pretty damn close -- there is only a minimal vocal part and it doesn't have what you might call lyrics. Also, this is one of several Tapes 'n Tapes songs to feature their keyboard player blowing on a baritone, which is itself pretty out of the ordinary at a rock show.
NO!: TAPES 'N TAPES (#95, JUN 1 2006).
Tapes 'n Tapes are the new buzz band of the moment -- tickets to the San Fran and NYC shows and going for upwards of $75 on eBay -- and they were originally scheduled to play the Journey last Thursday. I've had a good time when I've gone to the Journey (and I certainly hope that their eviction drama has faded) but there was no way it was going to hold this show. It got switched to the Annex a couple weeks ago, and I believe it sold out anyway.
Do they live up to the hype? Well, I guess they do as much as most such bands, which is to say, kind of. They're not doing anything groundbreaking, but they have an entertaining show (complete with occasional baritone playing) and I was surprised at how many of their songs I remembered, since I haven't listened to their self-released debut, The Loon, that many times. They're certainly worth seeing if you can get a face-value ticket.
NO!: COLD WAR KIDS (#94, JUNE 1 2006).
Tapes 'n Tapes are the latest hipster buzz band to come rolling through Madison -- so buzzy are they, in fact, that their show had to be moved from the Journey to the Annex to accommodate ticket demand. The band with the lucky task of opening for them on their current tour is Cold War Kids, a sort of Modest Mouse soundalike from LA. They got a great reaction from Ryan over at Muzzle of Bees, and I think I would've felt the way if they'd only played a handful of songs. Their first three or four were really energetic, wild and great -- punctuated most notably by their guitar player also using a maraca to bash a cymbal that had been set on top of a wooden crate -- but the stuff after that started to sound a little samey. It might be that I'm just getting of that early Modest Mouse/Wolf Parade sound, but I came away just thinking they were good after a great start.
NO!: ZOLOF THE ROCK & ROLL DESTROYER (#93, MAY 25 2006).
The crowd seemed a little small at this show -- we met the owner of the Journey at last night's Tapes 'n Tapes show and he said he was surprised how few people turned out for what should have been a packed event. Those who did come seemed to be diehards, though. The crowd was wild from the beginning of the set, and even seemed genuinely into the obscure encore, "Ode to Madonna," from the band's self-titled debut. Here's hoping it was enough to get them to come back when more likely attendees are in town.
NO!: ZOLOF THE ROCK & ROLL DESTROYER (#92, MAY 25 2006).
After the first opening band finished (a local act called Clamorous, who reminded me a lot of Hello, Trauma, who opened last year for Karmella's Game, who remind me a lot of Zolof), we went upstairs to buy some merch. While I was deciding on a shirt, Emily asked the Zolof guy to play "Popsicle," because she thought it was the song I'd been talking about wanting to hear earlier in the day. He said that because he was new to the band they'd been playing a pretty strict set, which didn't include that song. In actuality, the song I wanted was "Crazy = Cute," the second song in this brief medley. This was the song that really awakened me to the band, and it's maybe the best two minutes of insane, 12-year-old scream pop ever made. If this song doesn't make you want to run around and jump and yell, you have no soul and you're a jerk.
("Argh... I'm a Pirate" is pretty good, if only for the lyrics about "plunder[ing] each other.")
NO!: ZOLOF THE ROCK & ROLL DESTROYER (#91, MAY 25 2006).
Best set of the year -- of the year -- thus far. I don't know if I've ever seen so much energy in such a small show before, with the possible exception of the first Motion City Soundtrack show I saw at the Union Terrace. Maybe it's just something about sugary synth-pop bands that brings out this kind of thing. There couldn't have been more than 40 people in the crowd, but the exchange of passion between the band and the audience was palpable from the first note of the set. The stage banter from singer/keyboardist Rachel Minton and guitarist Vince Ratti, as seen in this clip, was very crowd-friendly the whole time (an effect of the Journey's four-inch-high stage, I think) and they really seemed appreciative throughout their set. The only bad news -- a combination of the weird mixing and my location on the floor left the sound a little dull on these clips. They're still perfectly watchable and listenable, but some of the pre-song back-and-forth may be hard to make out -- just key in on "cheese castle" and you should be fine.
NO!: CHARLEMAGNE (#90, MAY 21 2006).
So, the weirdest thing about Charlemagne right now is that Detour Allure got a 7.0 from Pitchfork and the local media went insane. Apparently they saw a brief surge in record sales after the review came out, which led to all sorts of breathless stories about the power of Pitchfork as an opinion-leader and how the band was now on their way, etc., many of which spun off of the now legendary folktales of the Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
Look, the record's good and Charlemagne is one of Madison's most promising pop bands right now, but a Pitchfork 7.0 is not that big a deal. As far as I can tell from their interviews and live show, they're not taking the bait, which is nice. Ultimately, Pitchfork is what it is, but the band seems to know what they need to do take advantage of it.
NO!: CHARLEMAGNE (#89, MAY 21 2006).
Charlemagne played a handful of songs from their self-titled debut, and most of them have the stink of debut all over them. The leap they made on Detour Allure was quite impressive -- Charlemagne was one of those mostly slow, mostly simple debuts that sounds like it comes from a band that's not quite ready to put a record out yet, where Detour Allure arrived fully formed. "Holland Daisy" is one of the good, upbeat tunes from the debut, and one that shows the promise they would later fulfill. Carl Johns is still no Andrew Bird, though.
NO!: CHARLEMAGNE (#88, MAY 21 2006).
One of the first clips I posted last fall was of the German Art Students playing at the Capitol as part of the Lunchtime Live series. In it, about a dozen kids went nuts near the stage area while the band played "Dick Clark." There were a lot of kids wandering around at the WORT Block Party, but only one that seemed to really be into Charlemagne's show. This toddler spent most of the set running back and forth between the stage and her mother, carting a bottle of water around, dancing or being mesmerized by the sound of the triangle. Practically speaking, she may have gotten some permanent hearing damage from the speaker stacks she was playing near, but for my purposes I found it hilarious.
NO!: CHARLEMAGNE (#87, MAY 21 2006).
Last Wednesday, we were going to go see Some By Sea at the Journey, mostly because local popsters Charlemagne were opening. Then the show got cancelled. Luckily for us, Charlemagne were the marquee attraction at yesterday's WORT Block Party. Indeed, so marquee were they that they were the only act we saw -- we got there just in time to hear the Selfish Gene's last song (but not see them) and left right at the end of the set to go get burritos. It was an impressive performance and certainly shows them to be worth all the accolades they've been gathering since the release of last year's Detour Allure.
(And starting this week, enjoy a new title card with this year's NO! art!)
NO!: MIKE DOUGHTY (#86, MAY 4 2006).
I'll admit, I was quite surprised to see Doughty come back to Madison so quickly. His October show was certainly a success at the door, but Madison isn't really a must stop on any tour itineraries, especially if you're also stopping in Milwaukee. He's been touring a lot since Haughty Melodic came out and is certainly worth repeat visits, so I hope this becomes a regular thing. The older High Noon crowds are a little annoying (I'm going to see Jill Sobule next month, and I'm expecting the people to be completely insufferable) but they've been better for Doughty than for some of the other sold-out shows of late. I know we're a little out of the way for a Brooklyn guy, but the kind of shows he's had here recently have to be a strong draw.
NO!: MIKE DOUGHTY (#85, MAY 4 2006).
Midway through his set, Doughty did the now-mandatory all-the-way-solo mini-set (see also Feist, Jenny Lewis), which included an audience-choice Soul Coughing song. Now, I have always been of two minds about Soul Coughing. The beginning of their first album is some really weird experimental alt. rock and the rest of their catalog is scattered with catchy songs. Their last stab at mainstream success -- the 1998 single "Circles" -- was probably their best attempt (it didn't work).
So Doughty gave the audience a choice between "Circles" and "Janine," the closing track from their 1994 debut. To my shock and slight dismay, the people chose "Janine" by a wide margin, even though I'm pretty sure he played it when he was here last fall (he also responded to a request with "Fuck 'Circles'" last fall.) So, this is a decent little song for what it is, but I really wish "Circles" had gotten picked instead.
NO!: MIKE DOUGHTY (#84, MAY 4 2006).
Haughty Melodic came on in waves as one of my favorite records of 2005. I was quickly grabbed by "Madeline and Nine" and "Busting Up a Starbucks," but this was part of the second wave of obsession. Scrap's bowed bass is all the rhythm found in this rendition, which is really all that's needed. Doughty's rhythmic "small rock" guitar does most of the work during the verses, providing this sweet song with the bounce it needs. One of the songs I'm really glad to have recorded.
NO!: MIKE DOUGHTY (#83, MAY 4 2006).
And just like that, Doughty's back in Madison. Just about seven months after his last Madison, Doughty returned with just his bass player, "Scrap" Livingston, along. It was another one of those packed High Noon shows with a line extended across half the parking lot and a bunch of talky townie hipsters yammering away during the opening act. By the time I got inside, opener Mark Mallman had only two songs left -- no big loss, though, as I saw him in Milwaukee a couple years ago and wasn't impressed.
Doughty's set had only two guitars and an upright bass to tune, but they took 40 minutes to come out anyway. When they did they started strong, playing this excellent tune early in the set. "27 Jennifers" is supposedly the song that prompted Dave Matthews to offer Doughty a deal on his label, and you can hear why. It's extremely catchy, and it would've been a real crime if it had stayed under the radar on the self-released Rockity Roll EP.
NO!: WAKING ASHLAND (#82, MAY 2 2006).
When I mentioned in the last post that Waking Ashland had only two particularly good songs, this is one of the songs I was talking about (the other, "Silhouettes," didn't get played). Unfortunately, the singer had to take the the soaring vocal part down an octave because he was having throat problems or something -- they wound up not being able to do an encore because of it.
Even though Waking Ashland didn't do that much for me, I was kind of impressed overall by the show that the Journey put together. Five bands for $7 is almost always a good deal (though I suspect it means the band themselves were criminally underpaid) and that kind of variety means you likely to find something new to enjoy. The last of the opening bands was Agent Sparks -- who I later found out had formed out of the ashes of Audiovent, of all things -- who Emily really got into, so I think it was $7 well spent.
NO!: WAKING ASHLAND (#81, MAY 2 2006).
When we went to see the Box Social last week, they were the first of four bands opening for Waking Ashland. I downloaded their LP last year and, while they have a couple of decent songs, I immediately slotted them somewhere in between Plans-style Death Cab and Keane on the wuss-mo spectrum. The set pretty much bore that out, I think. Their piano-playing singer was really, you know, emoting so much, and their sort of vague lyrics just kind of floated by. It's kind of ironic that I'd avoided shows at the Journey so far because I'd assumed most of them were filled with covert Christian mall-punk bands, but maybe I should've been avoiding them for the fourth-generation Travis knock-offs. It's not that Waking Ashland is bad, they're just not doing anything interesting or original, and when you don't break the formula your big successes are going to be few and far between.
NO!: THE BOX SOCIAL (#80, MAY 2 2006).
The Box Social's first LP is due out later this year, and this song will presumably be on it. (It's also possible that this is from their debut EP, which I don't have, but since they've disowned that record, I doubt it.) While it's true that the hard-edged sound of Blown to Bits is nowhere to be found in this song, it remains a harder approach than their previous EP, which was described to me as "pop-punk," but which I think would be more correctly classified as college rock. This song sounds like something on the hard end of the spectrum in the genre that I'm calling rademo (rayd-ee-moh) -- the radio-friendly emo-style rock of bands such as Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab. It'll be interesting to see if they can pull it off, since rademo is best characterized by its easy tendency to slip into LiveJournal soundtracking for 14-year-old girls, and I don't think that fits with the Box Social's tone at all.
NO!: THE BOX SOCIAL (#79, MAY 2 2006).
Almost a year and a half ago, I made a resolution to see more local bands. I also had made a point of trying to see the Box Social in particular, as their guitarist had been one of my students a few semesters ago. Since then I've seen enough local bands to count on one hand, and none of them had been the Box Social until yesterday. I had actually skipped seeing them at the King Club last weekend (and another local show at the Slipper Club), so finally getting to one of these shows really was an event.
When Nick, the guitarist, was in my class, he gave me a copy of their then-current EP, Golly Gee Whiz!, which was kind of a laid-back pop affair, but their 2005 follow-up is much heavier. He told me that they basically had five songs that were much heavier than everything else they were working on and decided to segment them off, so I guess their upcoming full-length will sound a bit different. Whatever the record sounds like, I expect it to drop with an impact in the Madison/Milwaukee uber-scene, as they're putting in a ton of work and have been picking up some decent publicity.
NO!: CENTRO-MATIC (#78, APR 9 2006).
I've gotten pretty lucky in my recording this year -- this is already my third favorite song from a favorite 2006 album I've happened to record. And as much as I love Jenny Lewis' "You Are What You Love" and Rainer Maria's "Life of Leisure," this might be the best song of the batch. The soft melancholy of this tune recalls both the recent vintage indie tones of bands like Matt Pond PA and the early Warner days of R.E.M.; if you squint, you can kind of hear Michael Stipe singing, "You can't touch the feeling of our hurricane hearts." This is the song that really launches Fort Recovery, and toward the end of the set it's a song that can make an annoying crowd or an extra-dark stage just disappear. Pure awesome.
NO!: CENTRO-MATIC (#77, APR 9 2006).
The King Club turned out to be kind of a weird venue for this show. First of all, there's a disco ball and crazy stage lights going the whole time, which is kind of odd in a club that's about 10 feet wide. When the first band up, Goat Radio, took the stage, there were maybe 15 people in there and most of the lights were on. Their sound fit the headliners well, but the next band, Toronto's Great Lakes Swimmers, were a surprising choice. Their folky, acoustic-y ballads -- played in near-complete darkness -- wowed some of the crowd but put me to sleep. Sorry.
It seemed to actually get darker when Centro-matic come out. Frontman Will Johnson's banter -- much of it about baseball on the cold weather from their last Madison show -- helped to bring the audience in through the darkness, but I was shocked to be able to get anything out of these clips. I'm going to another King Club show this Friday, so we'll see if that's just how shows are there or if it was particular to Centro-matic's stage presence.
NO!: CENTRO-MATIC (#76, APR 9 2006).
I had no idea what to expect from this show. I'd never been to the King Club before and I'm a recent convert to Centro-matic, a band which turns out to be much more well established than I'd realized. Not only have they been around and prolifically recording for much longer than I knew, they seem to have a dedicated fanbase made up primarily of former frat boys who need that southern rock twang to enjoy what is, essentially, emo. My theory goes like this -- Centro-matic : Cracker :: Braid : Pixies. Reasonable? Maybe?
The reason I bring SAT-style analogies into this is that there were no fewer than three of these former frat guys standing adjacent to me who had to constantly bite their lower lips and close their eyes so that they could really get into it. One of them said, "Oh, YEAH," as every song began; another said it as every song concluded. I don't want to make too much more of them, because it kind of undercuts my own enjoyment of the band, but it just seemed like the only outlet they had for, you know, really feelin' it, man.
NO!: METRIC (#75, APR 12 2006).
The thing I forgot about Metric before the show was how damn long their songs tend to be. This was the first show at which I filled up my entire memory stick -- it cut off just a few seconds before this song actually ended. If only they'd played the amazing "IOU," which precedes this song on Old World Underground, I'd've had plenty of free MB's to spare.
(By the way, it was National High Five Day yesterday -- did you do your part?)
NO!: METRIC (#74, APR 12 2006).
It would be easy to tire of Metric if not for songs like this. They have probably four or five really great songs in their catalog, and this one might be the best. At any rate, it's the one that I've perceiving as the most important -- I included it on my best of 2005 compilation, it'll be on the 2006 DVD and they played it on Late Night a couple months ago.
This performance fits the song perfectly. It's both frantic and manic, subdued at times and lost in outsized anger in others. As a piece of social commentary, it's less harsh and pointed than "IOU," the best song from their first LP, but it's just right (and coming at just the right time) to break into the mainstream consciousness. I just hope some programming directors out there are listening.
NO!: METRIC (#73, APR 12 2006).
Like the Nada Surf show, the Metric show produced noticeably distorted bass on my recordings, and this clip is probably the worst of the bunch. I don't know if the Annex has a new sound guy this year or what -- none of my pre-2006 stuff from there sounds like this. I think it's more of a problem with relatively soft songs like this one that get laid over prominent bass lines.
Of course, the much more interesting thing about this clip is that singer Emily Haines took time out before it to talk about Madison's apparent reputation as a werewolf town. No, really. She's been hearing this from everybody while on tour -- Madison has a werewolf. I don't think she was joking either, as she seemed genuinely stunned that no one in the audience knew what she was talking about.
NO!: METRIC (#72, APR 12 2006).
The first thing I noticed about this show: Metric's t-shirts, none of which were very eye-catching, were $25. The second thing: The opening band they'd brought along from Toronto, playing their first American show, was awful. The third thing: Metric really is a Big Band, and ought to be playing the kinds of venues where $25 t-shirts and lame openers that are friends with the headliners are the norm.
Their music may or may not be enough to make that happen in America, as it already has in Canada. They have a handful of transcendent tracks, but the album cuts like this one don't seem to be what the American pop audience is necessarily looking for. It'll be a delicate balance of songwriting for them to keep growing in the States, but as far as the live show goes, they start strong and stay strong.
NO!: THE ELECTED (#71, APR 12 2006).
If Motion City Soundtrack was my most highly anticipated show of the year thus far, Metric was by far and away Emily's. She's completely nuts for those guys. She likes Rilo Kiley, too, so you'd think that an RK side-project opening for Metric would be a perfect setup. Not so much, though. After the first openers, From Fiction, ended their painfully bad set, the Elected came on and were kind of disappointing. I've found both their records to be kind of mediocre, but I thought it was maybe the kind of mediocre music that was impressive when heard live. Instead it was the kind that stayed mediocre no matter what. This was probably the best song of their set, one of their many 70's AM pop gold soundalikes. It's a little catchier than the rest, and a little less like a CSNY reunion.
NO!: OK GO (#70, FEB 16 2006).
This was the song -- according to the geniuses at Crapitol Records -- that was supposed to make OK Go huge. Instead it peaked around the mid-30's on the modern rock charts and their first album fizzled. But it's such a great, anthemic tune, and an important part of their live act. What's clear from this performance is that they don't just do a club-sized piss-take of a big rock show -- they really do a big rock show, but for power-pop nerds. Their first album reminded me a lot of Elvis Costello, but their follow-up and general evolution smacks more of Cheap Trick now.
They're a treat to see in person, and not just for the dance routines that have gotten them some minor mainstream success, albeit novelty success. They're top-quality showmen doing terrific music, and I hope they swing back through Madison this year.
NO!: OK GO (#69, FEB 16 2006).
I'm writing this blurb in the middle of the night, so I'll keep this short. OK Go seemed very at-home on the big stage, even though their set had to be redesigned from the club tours they're used to. I'll get into what this means for their dance routines tomorrow, but suffice it to say that they are ready for prime-time, even if prime-time's not ready for them.
NO!: MOTION CITY SOUNDTRACK (#68, FEB 16 2006).
Ever since I first got hold of a copy of Commit This to Memory -- my #1 record of 2005 if I ever finish my write-up, which I swear will be soon -- I'd been anxious to see the new songs performed live. Part of it was that there were spots in both of the first two tracks that just begged for big crowd clap-alongs. They just seemed to have been designed out of the same rave-up mold as songs like "The Future Freaks Me Out" and "My Favorite Accident." But, oddly, when the weird keyboard guy stepped to the front of the stage to get the crowd going, it was never during those songs. There were a couple other moments from the new material, but the explosions I was waiting for in "Attractive Today" and "Everything Is Alright" just weren't there. So now I'm wondering if I just hear these songs differently than everybody else or what. Either way, I still find myself clapping along when it's not too conspicuous.
NO!: MOTION CITY SOUNDTRACK (#67, FEB 16 2006).
I usually run all the clips from one show in chronological order but in this case I'm posting the headliner before the opener to put all the clips in context. The day we drove over to Milwaukee for the Motion City Soundtrack/OK Go show, there was a blizzard and a half and we briefly considered not going and just eating the cost of the tickets. Instead we decided to leave early, take it slow and see what happened. We got there just fine, though it took forever, and were kind of surprised to see that the show was packed despite the weather. Even weirder, they were having some kind of marathon high school rock band extravaganza in the Rave Bar before and during the main show.
For the first opening act, the Spill Canvas, we went up to the balcony to wait it out and see if there were any decent spots up there. The band had this weirdly active cell of fans down in the middle of the floor, but I found them as insufferable as all those Fall Out Boy/My Chemical Romance clones that somehow manage to be less compelling than their influences. The balcony was really too crowded to be any good anyway, so we kind of wandered around and checked out the merch before moving into the main crowd for the next set. Luckily, the second scheduled opener, Plain White T's, were nowhere to be found, and it was straight on to OK Go.
We got to a place where Emily could see reasonably well, and usually I wouldn't ask her to go into a pack of tall people like that. The reason I did was this Motion City Soundtrack song. I've seen them twice, but only in the small campus venues in Madison. What I wanted was to see the big Rave crowd go completely insane for this song -- mayhem and chaos with a camera in the middle. It's a little hard to tell quite what's going on in most of this clip, which is a lot like how you feel when this song comes on.
NO!: RAINER MARIA (#66, MAR 24 2006).
For right now at least, this is by far my favorite song on Catastrophe. It gives the band, and particularly singer Caithlin de Marrais, a chance to really display their musicianship and the growing they've done in the last few years. Unfortunately, they got sabotaged by the crappy sound equipment in Club 770 -- about a minute and a half into the song, the vocals cut out, and it was neither the first nor the last time that would happen. They stopped, regrouped and dove back in without missing a beat, so to speak, but is it really too much to ask that Club 770 (and the Memorial Union, for that matter) have some decent hardware and mixing expertise on hand?
NO!: RAINER MARIA (#65, MAR 24 2006).
During the opening sets, the stage lights were unusually bright for Club 770. If you've seen some of my other clips from there (particularly Of Montreal and Divide By Zero) you might have noticed the dark red cast that is ever-present in them. For MadisonFest, the lights were on, bright and full-spectrum, which was too much for Rainer Maria. They spent a few minutes at the top of their set finding out that Club 770's light don't really "dim," per se, they just go on or off or turned in a different direction. They ultimately found a solution that worked to a) not blind them, b) allow their drummer to see what he was doing, and c) not have them in full upstage darkness. Kyle Fischer wound up almost completely unlit, unfortunately, but I think I tweaked the clips enough that you can still kind of see him.
NO!: RAINER MARIA (#64, MAR 24 2006).
There are a handful of songs on Catastrophe Keeps Us Together that are especially good and a bunch more that haven't clicked with me yet; this is one of the terrific ones. Most of the crowd didn't seem to have downloaded the leaked album, but many got into this song and the other new ones. Guitarist Kyle Fischer took advantage of the reaction to show off for the crowd, slinging his axe around his back in what turned out to be a darkened corner of the stage, and Caithlin de Marrais made the most of her yet-again improved voice to really belt this one out. The last (and only previous) time I saw them they were much more distant, but at this show they really had something organic going.
NO!: RAINER MARIA (#63, MAR 24 2006).
"Artificial Light" was probably the first Rainer Maria song I ever heard, after some browsing at the All Music Guide led me to download A Better Version of Me, maybe the last great record of the genre that we used to call "emo." I was glad to hear it at this show -- and, indeed, a fairly wide selection of earlier material. They played a couple from Version, a few from Long Knives Drawn and at least two from their late 90s output (no "Planetary," though). The nice surprise was that the crowd of mostly mall-hipster undergrads seemed genuinely into it and knowledgeable about the band. Somebody called out for "Breakfast of Champions" at one point and a number of people were dancing and singing along. These kids are easy to make fun of for the most part, but they know how to be a good audience.
NO!: RAINER MARIA (#62, MAR 24 2006).
The marquee attraction of MadisonFest -- and a pretty good "get" for free event like this one -- was Rainer Maria, formerly of Madison themselves but currently trying to make it big in New York. They've been hard at work on their fifth full-length for about three years and it hits stores tomorrow. The songs are a little cleaner and the songs less pock-marked than their older material; some of it is great, some is not. This song feels like an ambition that didn't quite get all the way done; it's different for them but not quite a fully working Big Piece Of Guitar Pop. It's more successful in a live setting, especially as an early-in-the-set energy-builder.
NO!: MARITIME (#61, MAR 24 2006).
Maritime put on a surprisingly energetic set -- Davey von Bohlen was covered in sweat by the time they were done, and it wasn't because the room was overly hot. This two-song overture marked the physical and musical peak of a set dominated by new material that's a degree of magnitude better than their older stuff. Their live set, too, is a step beyond where they were as a three-piece a couple years ago. I hope they're positioning themselves to find some big success, because the music and the show are right there and ready to go.
NO!: MARITIME (#60, MAR 24 2006).
Since coming to Madison as a grad student three and a half years ago, I've gotten used to being the old guy at certain shows, especially at Club 770 shows. So I'm always surprised when I'm the only person really getting into some hot-sounding, hard-working band. By the time Maritime had gotten a few songs into their set, Emily and I were bouncing around, singing along, letting the music do its thing, but everybody else just kind of sat there and watched (although not in the sense that people sat and watched the City on Film, which is to say, by sitting cross-legged on the floor). The band kept the energy up throughout their set, but as polite and appreciative as the crowd was, they never quite got past their hipster self-consciousness.
NO!: MARITIME (#59, MAR 24 2006).
It's really unfortunate that Maritime's second record, We, the Vehicles, took six months to come out in the US following its Japanese release. It's loaded with good songs and potential singles, and could've been the kind of break-through record that Death Cab's We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes was way back when, except every indie rock nerd on the planet downloaded it last October. Hopefully that translates into touring success for them -- it's certainly the reason I was so excited to see them at MadisonFest -- but US sales are definitely not going to be what they could've been.
This song, early in the set, was sandwiched between my two favorite Maritime songs, "Someone Has to Die" (from Glass Floor) and "Tearing Up the Oxygen." I didn't much mind not recording those, though, as this is one of my favorites, too. The song and the clip are both good indicators of the quick, fun energy the band is able to dive right into.
NO!: THE CITY ON FILM (#58, MAR 24 2006).
I didn't get to see as much of MadisonFest as I'd wanted, but what I did see was pretty good. Emily and I got there in time for the last two songs from the City on Film (better known as former Braid and Hey Mercedes frontman Bob Nanna), then saw Maritime and Rainer Maria on Friday night. I didn't make it back on Saturday but I'm hopeful that the bands I missed will be back in town soon.
I realized sometime during the evening that the top of the Friday night bill was kind of an awesome throwback to the days when emo wasn't something you could buy in bulk at the mall. Ten years ago, Nanna was with Braid, Maritime's Davey von Bohlen was with his pioneering previous band, the Promise Ring, and Rainer Maria was Rainer Maria (except in Madison instead of New York). All of them were heavy hitters in a scene that didn't know what to do with heavy hitters. Now, all of them never quite made it, while Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab do body shots off the cast of The O.C.. And yet, they keep on truckin', playing free shows in campus cafeterias for whoever will show up.
Nanna closed with this sweet, fanciful reading of a true classic in the late history of pop. He's back in town for another free show this Saturday, opening for the Smoking Popes on the terrace, so check him out if you're in Madison.
NO!: JENNY LEWIS (#57, MAR 13 2006).
Jenny ended her set with a lengthy, walk-off version of "Born Secular," which culminated in an explosive true drum solo -- the drummer was the only person left onstage. Her encore began a few minutes later when she came back out by herself to play a solo version of "It Wasn't Me," effectively the closer of Rabbit Fur Coat. I assumed that would be it, but instead she played a few more that really got the revivalist revue flavor up. The Watson Twins came back out for an a cappella rendition of Laura Nyro's "I Met Him on a Sunday" and they closed with a rollicking, quasi-pentecostal take on the Grateful Dead's "Cold Jordan." I wouldn't have expected to love a secular gospel record this year, but goddamn if Jenny Lewis hasn't made it happen.
NO!: JENNY LEWIS WITH THE WATSON TWINS (#56, MAR 13 2006).
This song has got the Kiley-philes of the Internet all riled up, so to speak, and with good reason. It's the musical and thematic high point of the Jenny Lewis Revivalist Revue and the moment when it's clearest what she's trying to do while apart from her band. Jenny sits down behind the piano for this one, allowing her guitarist and call-and-answer partner to take center stage. The song itself is a throwback about love, jealousy, murder and regret -- a perfect homage to the 60's and 70's sub-radar tours of Johnny Cash and the Carter Family. The only bad thing about it is that it's likely to be relegated to b-side status, since Jenny will probably be back recording with Rilo Kiley again before she puts together another full album's worth of solo material. It deserves more prominent exposure than that, and hopefully the reaction of the online fan community can help spur that on.
NO!: JENNY LEWIS WITH THE WATSON TWINS (#55, MAR 13 2006).
Generally when I list a song as "untitled," that actually just means I couldn't find the title anywhere. In this case, this song is actually new and untitled -- Jenny solicited title suggestions before they began playing. I like "Tonight." It's vague, doesn't get in the way of the song, etc. Anyway.
The unfortunate thing about where we sat is that when I zoomed in as far as I could, to capture at least a little bit of detail, it was just a little too far to be able to get the entire stage in the frame, which meant one Watson twin had to get cut out of most of the action. The instrumentation for this song sounded like it might not yet be complete, which meant all they did was sing occasional accents, but on "You Are What You Love" the one that got cut off had a zither or something, which mostly didn't show up in the clip. As for this song, complete or not, it's a nice little ballad, full-bodied but sparse, that would fit well closing an album, assuming Jenny has another "solo" effort up her sleeve.
NO!: JENNY LEWIS WITH THE WATSON TWINS (#54, MAR 13 2006).
I don't remember the last time I went to a sit-down-only show -- maybe never when it comes to pop music. The Pabst Theatre is a sit-down venue, though, and we found ourselves sitting near the front of the balcony where we had a good view of the stage and of the entire venue. It's really a nice, impressive looking place, but I doubt it could take anything more rocking than Jenny Lewis's Carole King-via-June Carter routine.
She played this song early in the set and I was glad to hear it. It's my favorite song from Rabbit Fur Coat, maybe because it's the most like a new Rilo Kiley song, and while I don't think it translated perfectly to the atmosphere she created onstage, I'm really happy to have captured it.
NO!: ROBBERS ON HIGH STREET (#53, OCT 12 2005).
Here's an illustration of just how much these guys sound like Spoon. You know those Pontiac ads that inexplicably urge you to "Google 'Pontiac'" at the end? This song is the song that plays under those ads. Emily, well familiar with the Robbers' record, was shocked when I pointed that out, because she was so sure the ad used a Spoon song. For the record, Spoon has music in no commercials, or at least no commercials that I've encountered, but maybe it's telling that these guys managed to successfully commodify the sound before Spoon did.
NO!: ROBBERS ON HIGH STREET (#52, OCT 12 2005).
I seem to have amazing luck when it comes to recording new or rare songs. By my quick count, out of 63 tracks that I've recorded since I started doing this, 12 were not released (or not close to being released) at the time -- including two new songs at Monday's Jenny Lewis show. I think that's mostly pretty cool, but the downside is that I occasionally wind up with no title to put on the title card and the RSS feed. Such is the case with this song. There's no particular fan community presence on the Internet for these guys, and nowhere in particular to find info about unreleased and new songs. So, here it is; feel free to make up whatever title you might like for it.
NO!: ROBBERS ON HIGH STREET (#51, OCT 12 2005).
This week I'm closing out the 2005 clips with the band that out-Spooned Spoon. This is surely heresy among the chattering classes of indie rock elites, but Tree City, from Robbers on High Street, was a much more fulfilling effort than Spoon's Gimme Fiction, in my opinion. They lose some points for sounding exactly like Spoon -- really, it's kind of unbelievable how much every aspect of the band sounds like Britt Daniel et al. -- and they lose a few more for being in those Pontiac commercials -- the particular song from which will be posted on Friday -- but they still come out with the more pleasing record.
This didn't translate into show attendance, though. Less than a dozen people saw the Hat Party and the King of France open the show, and not too many more came in for the headliners. It's too bad, because the set was really strong and they threw in some new material to boot. This track is one of Emily's favorites from their LP and it's got a driving punch that's hard to ignore. Just remember: They're not actually Spoon.
NO!: HELIGOATS (#50, JAN 18 2006).
The Heligoats set ended with a brief digression about a fortune cookie fortune, and then an upbeat run-through of this song from the last Troubled Hubble album. But I want to talk about Jason Anderson instead.
When Chris finished, he handed the guitar over to Anderson, little-known as the frontman for a band called Wolf Colonel. You've almost certainly never heard of the band or the dude, as I hadn't before that night. I frankly wondered why the hell Chris Otepka was playing a six-song set to open for nobody in particular. And then something illuminated the coffee shop, the night, the entire ramshackle procession of noise, steam and man that we call live music.
Anderson stepped into the middle of the room, into an area maybe a yard in diameter, surrounded by kids and peering out from under a faded hat. He began to play some driving, simple chord progression and sing with a mid-range rasp. He immediately called on us to sing call-backs and we did it, reluctantly at first, and then less reluctantly. He cajoled the holdouts personally and it quickly got loud -- I wondered what outside passers-by must have thought hearing a coffee shop shouting "Hell yes!" en masse.
His material would, on paper, appear to be straight out of the Bright Eyes handbook, but it was so much less... horrible. Where Conor Oberst whines, Anderson exalts. Where Oberst whimpers, Anderson reminisces. His tales of youth and young manhood were both obvious and edifying; what he was doing was a secular revival. As he rocked -- and he did rock that tiny acoustic guitar -- he traveled more than performed, and he brought us with him. He told us where we were going and why. With every song, with every shout-out-loud, he demonstrated communion with ourselves, with who we were and who we are. We came together and we knew who we were -- who he was -- even though we didn't.
Near the end of the set, it became clearer and clearer that this was something special. An emo boy across the room from us took off his sweater and began to cry -- I couldn't help but be reminded of the fake emo record review I wrote a few years ago. Anderson seemed to understand what was happening and he began to preach the gospel of rock. Don't let this go and don't discount it, he said. "This is our church," but not in a creepy way. It's what we have to bind us, to bring us together across distances. Afterwards, Anderson hugged everybody who came up to talk to him and said it was the most amazing thing he'd ever been a part of -- he even warned potential CD buyers that the recordings couldn't possibly duplicate what we'd just done.
I don't have any clips of Anderson's set because I couldn't record it. It was a singular live event, ephemeral in its peculiarities but eternal in its essence, played out again and again at every show in every city. To record it, to step outside and observe through the flat moire of the viewscreen, it would've been disgraceful. This may never happen again in this way, but it happened once, and that's enough.
NO!: HELIGOATS (#49, JAN 18 2006).
I had two last chances to see Troubled Hubble and I didn't take either one. They announced their break-up just a couple days after the second of the two, which has bothered me ever since (ever since meaning for the last six months). After their split, frontman Chris Otepka went out on a few mini-tours with his solo-ish side-project, Heligoats, one of which stopped at a tiny coffee shop on Regent St.
The place was packed -- we were lucky to get actual seats and even luckier to wind up right at the front of the crowd. Chris and his tourmate Jason Anderson had only one piece of equipment between them: an acoustic guitar that looked like they'd just pulled it off the shelf at ShopKo. I wasn't very familiar with Chris' Heligoats material before the show, but I bought both CD's he had available (Emily bought a shirt, and he only wanted $15 for the whole mess of it); this song isn't on either of them, or on the out-of-print Manitoba, so I assume it's from his upcoming full-length. Considering the glee with which he played his six-song set, I can't wait to hear what that record sounds like.
NO!: NADA SURF (#48, MAR 4 2006).
I almost didn't go to this show, because I'm not what you'd call a "fan" of either Nada Surf or Rogue Wave -- I like some of their material, but when I saw the show announced it wasn't like the Motion City Soundtrack/OK Go show or next month's Metric show. And frankly, there are better things I could spend $13 on than shows I'm not fully committed to. The reason I ultimately went with my gut and bought a ticket was this song, the greatest indie pop love ballad since, well, maybe ever.
When I record I almost never try to get certain songs, because it's kind of annoying to do and it goes against the ethos of enjoying the shows themselves. I do, however, try to guess when certain songs are coming up in the set and base judgments about how many songs I want to record based on whether those certain songs have been played yet. In this case I wanted to get a second song but didn't really expect "Inside of Love" to be coming up. As they began playing I smiled, recorded the whole thing and pocketed the camera for the rest of the night.
NO!: NADA SURF (#47, MAR 4 2006).
Two hours. Two damn hours! I don't think I've ever seen such a long headlining set at a club show. They ended with an eight-song encore -- eight! -- which really brought the house down. Both Inara George and Zach Rogue came out to do songs with them, there was a fight right next to me near the end of the set and they managed to hold the crowd in thrall through to the end of a four-hour show. Awesome.
This is one of the songs I like from The Weight Is a Gift, which I think is generally a much lesser album than Let Go. Live, they take on a surprising energy that not only sets the similar-sounding songs apart, but moves far past their three-piece nature. Good show, and highly recommended if they're coming to your town.
NO!: ROGUE WAVE (#46, MAR 4 2006).
Who would've expected such a thorough sell-out at a Nada Surf show in 2006? Not only that, but a sell-out packed with fans who know all the words and the old songs and everything? Not I, I'll tell you that.
But more on Nada Surf when I post the first of their clips tomorrow. The show was opened by Inara George, whose beautiful voice (reminiscent of the singer from Eisley) was poorly matched with uninteresting material. Then came critical darlings Rogue Wave, who I saw about a year and a half ago opening for A.C. Newman. To be honest, they were really boring at that show, and I've basically given up trying to be a fan of their records. And yet, their set before Nada Surf was really terrific, much better than their actual albums. The new material from Descended Like Vultures was especially good. Ryan from Muzzle of Bees has video of them at an "in-store" appearance (actually "in-parking-garage") from earlier in the day, which is great as well.
By the way, if the sound is distorted in this clip it's basically because the bass was turned way up and I was literally right underneath the left speaker stack. It turned out to be an interesting spot later on, though...
NO!: THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS (#45, FEB 22 2006).
The back end of the show featured less banter than the beginning, and it ended kind of abruptly. I realized during the break that, even though I didn't see the end of the set coming, it was a pretty full set, which included most of what I wanted to hear. One of the few I was left waiting for was the title track from their latest album, which they used to open the encore (and which I recorded, of course).
At this point I no longer cared about the security presence, so I actually used the LCD display and got a clip that looks pretty decent. I also wound up recording a slight digression about the gap left by Guided By Voices in the drunken shenanigan band market, which sort of came out of nowhere and went right back there. There's a bit of a let's-get-off urgency to the song, but it has a tightness that works well for the encore. It really was time, naturally, for the show to wrap up and they brought things to a close pretty well.
NO!: THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS (#44, FEB 22 2006).
Just after shooting this clip, I realized what it was that I didn't like about Twin Cinema, or at least that made me rank it well below Electric Version: The non-standout songs go on way too long. This is one of those songs. It's a decent album track -- not a contender for song of the year by any means, but a good enough listen, until you realize that it ends with about a minute and a half of extraneous chorus repeats. If you realize this at a live show, you'll also notice it happening with other songs from this album, but not with songs from their previous albums. I'm not sure why they took that approach, as all of the too-long songs could just end before the repeats, but there you go. The song in tomorrow's clip, also from Twin Cinema, is perfectly compact, so maybe there is no good explanation.
NO!: THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS (#43, FEB 22 2006).
Although the show was pretty great all around, there was something a little weird about the beginning of the New Pornographers' set. Maybe it was the acoustics and/or the mix, maybe it was the awkwardness of coming onstage four months late, maybe it was not having Neko Case and Dan Bejar along. They got past it pretty quickly, whatever it was, and it wasn't long before A.C. Newman began extolling the wonders of the Canadian health care system after every song.
Speaking of the absent Neko Case, this clip features the set's first prominent singing part for her understudy, Kathryn Calder of Immaculate Machine, also A.C. Newman's niece. She did a pretty job as Not-Neko, probably as good as could be expected, and it didn't seem like they skipped anything in particular because Neko wasn't with them. I still can't help but be annoyed that we missed Neko but Milwaukee will soon get a solo show and a full-on New Pornographers show, though.
[Warning: Same bad angle mishaps as the Matt Pond clip in this one.]
NO!: MATT POND PA (#42, FEB 22 2006).
It was delayed for four months, but the New Pornographers' Madison appearance ultimately turned out to be a terrific show. To replace their originally scheduled openers they absorbed a Matt Pond PA/Dios (Malos) show that had been planned for the same night at the Annex -- quite a boon for those two bands, as they put on impressive sets in front of a much bigger Barrymore audience.
Unfortunately for me, the show had an enormous security presence -- probably as many guys in "Event Staff" shirts as there were at the Rave for Motion City Soundtrack, and that place is at least twice the size of the Barrymore. I didn't know how they might react to the camera, so I played it coy at first, which meant skipping the Dios (Malos) set and blowing the video on my first Matt Pond PA clip because I was shooting blind with the camera on my knee (the audio's available, though -- click here for "Kc"). I got things figured out for the second try, however, and everything came out pretty well. Things are a little dark due to our distance from the stage, but Pond's pleasant stage approach and light, thoughtful pop come through loud and clear.
NO!: MICHAEL PENN (#41, APR 16 2005).
Besides stopping to tune all the time, Penn spent almost as much time talking about his songs as playing them, VH1 Storytellers-style. I included this tune on last year's DVD without the minute-and-a-half-long introduction, but I've restored it here so you can see what I'm talking about. Before launching into this new song, he kind of rambles on about his obsession with 1947 (which he mentioned several times), George W. Bush (also a couple times) and an ex-girlfriend. I really don't get at all how it related to the song, which is pretty good.
NO!: MICHAEL PENN (#40, APR 16 2005).
In last week's Nine Inch Nails clips, you may have noticed very bright, prominent colors; in today's and tomorrow's Michael Penn clips, you'll see just the opposite. At Penn's acoustic set from last spring, there were barely any lights on and I didn't think the clips would be usable because they were so dark. Somehow, AviSynth managed to find something in there.
This is still the only show I've ever seen at Café Montmartre -- we went because my mother-in-law is a huge Michael Penn fan. She loved it, Emily was kind of bored, I thought it was decent enough but that Penn had a really weird flow. He spent a lot of time tuning and talking to the audience. This opening pair of songs, the first an old spiritual, set the tone for the whole set, a low-key and bare affair. Later on, somebody told me to stop recording, which is the only time that's ever happened to me.
[Psst! New Pornographers coming next week!]
NO!: ANDREW BIRD (#39, FEB 17 2006).
[Geez, I got all famous for calling out the don't-care-about-the-show-they-paid-$15-for contingent. Weird. I hope the High Noon doesn't blacklist me or something now.]
The crazy thing, the thing I really, literally was not expecting and was taken aback by, was Andrew Bird's unassisted whistling ability. Seriously, when he came out and started blowing, it sounded like somebody had put the "Kill Bill" soundtrack on the PA, or possibly that Zamfir, master of the pan-flute, was in the house. The guy can whistle like, I don't know, a crazy whistling dude. His volume, his pitch, his melodicism, it's uncanny. It's hard to believe he's from Chicago, because a whistle like that can only come from summer day after summer day of walking down to an old North Carolina fishin' hole.
If you love that whistle, I suspect you'll dig this eight-minute, extended rock-out on "I."
NO!: ANDREW BIRD (#38, FEB 17 2006).
Before saying anything else, I'd like to note that the crowd at this show was probably the rudest I've ever seen in Madison. Two-thirds of the room spent the entire show talking loudly, drowning out most of the opening set by Haley Bonar. As if that weren't bad enough, a couple individuals felt the need to make drunken shout-outs from the bar and drop glasses on the floor in the middle of the room. The amazing thing is that this is becoming endemic at the High Noon, while venues that skew younger (such as the Annex) don't appear to have any such problem.
I wasn't part of the 2005 aging hipster circlejerk over Andrew Bird (or Antony & the Johnsons or Sufjan Stevens, for that matter), but I found The Mysterious Production of Eggs to be enjoyable enough, as did Emily, so it seemed like it would be worth going to his show. Other than the awful audience, it was -- he played a number of new songs, like this one, and was really impressive as a performer. He switched from violin to guitar and from whistling to singing with ease and built up long songs that never felt as long as were (except when I was watching to recording clock on the camera tick over eight minutes(!) on one song). His stage demeanor was pretty good, too, and while I'm still not blown away by his music, I think I'd go see him again if he played somewhere in Madison other than the High Noon.
NO!: NINE INCH NAILS (#37, FEB 11 2006).
No pun intended, but I was really pleased to get to see this song performed live. They didn't play much from The Fragile -- indeed, when I saw them touring The Fragile in early 2000 they didn't play much from it -- but this is one of my favorite songs from that album. I wish they'd played more from it, frankly ("Even Deeper," which they played at the show before this one, or "No, You Don't") but I can understand that the NIN back catalog is a more valuable performance asset than the new stuff. I'll keep seeing them when they come through, hopefully often enough to get to see all those great album tracks at least once.
NO!: NINE INCH NAILS (#36, FEB 11 2006).
I was still a little edgy about the anti-camera brigade when I started recording "Closer," so I decided to put my thumb over the camera's display, making myself less visible. Of course, the result of this is that I was shooting blind until I gave up on that strategy about 30 seconds in.
This performance was actually an interesting microcosm for what NIN has become -- the original six-minute version of maybe their most recognizable song was shortened to four and a half, with the chorus lick from "The Only Time" teased during the instrumental break. I'm not sure what to make of it -- it was certainly exciting to be part of the crowd singing along -- but it strikes me as somehow telling.
NO!: NINE INCH NAILS (#35, FEB 11 2006).
It's been I don't know how long since I saw a big show like this without being accompanied by a short woman -- probably close to five and a half years. Since then I've seen a number of big acts -- Weezer, Ben Folds, Godsmack, the Shins, Interpol, Garbage -- from anywhere but in the pit. So while going to a show alone stinks, it was pretty great to be down on the floor, amongst the filthy, screaming masses again.
The only thing that concerned me was the camera -- not that it would get knocked away from me or anything, but that it would get me kicked out. At one point during this clip, you'll notice that the viewpoint suddenly dives and the sound gets all muffled. That was when a security guard, who'd come into the crowd to tell some shoulder-riding girl to dismount, was making his exit, right in my direction. This was a really bright show, as you'll see, and I'm sure he could see exactly what I was doing. I dropped the camera to my side, he kept going, and I stopped worrying. I guess they don't really care about cameras once you get them past the gate.
NO!: FEIST (#34, JAN 28 2006).
Feist began her encore with an extended and largely reworked version of her cover of the Bee Gees' "Inside and Out," which wound up featuring most of her and Jason Collett's bands on back-up vocals, and Feist herself wearing an Onion trucker hat. It was a much more deliberate performance than the one on Let It Die, and clearly signalled that the night was ending. She probably couldn't have used any other song to such effect in that spot -- a proper ending to a terrific show.
NO!: FEIST (#33, JAN 28 2006).
The mid-set solo performance block has become practically de rigueur at shows I've been seeing lately. I actually found that a little disappointing from Feist, because Let It Die is so full of sound, but she managed to do a lot by herself. Her proficiency with the loop machine is pretty impressive, and her wan voice cut through the crowd surprisingly well. "One Evening" is one of the songs I was excited to hear, and I think it came out pretty well in the solo mini-set.
NO!: FEIST (#32, JAN 28 2006).
I honestly expected Feist to be laid-back, even retiring, onstage. I was familiar only with her TV appearances, which were not the kind of energetic, involved affair put on at the High Noon. I also wasn't expecting such a full-on sell-out crowd. Of all the shows I've been to at the High Noon, including a few sell-outs, I've never seen a line out the door just to get your ticket torn and your hand stamped until this show.
During the early part of Feist's set, my view was partially obscured by a really tall guy who kept moving with me, but about five feet in front of me. I had a pretty good spot to record from otherwise, but that got really annoying. I was somewhat distracted at the beginning of the set anyway, though, because I was so anxious to hear a bunch of songs that didn't come until near the end, that I didn't even really notice what I could and couldn't see.
NO!: JASON COLLETT (#31, JAN 28 2006).
I was going to hold the clips from the Feist show until I'd finally gotten to the last of the 2005 videos, but the Madison blog response to the show has been crazy, and I want to get in on some of that hot linking action. So, bang! Link it, blogifiers!
Opening the show was Feist's fellow Broken Social Scenester Jason Collett, a rockier, Canadian Dylanite with good stage presence and forgettable material. Feist herself came out for a couple songs -- once to sing, once to drum -- and there were, at one point, five guys playing guitar. The non-album track "Not Over You" is a nice slice of his pleasant melancholia, and a good microcosm for the whole set. Likeable, but not exactly show-stealing.
What everybody really wants is coming later in the week -- three full Feist clips!
NO!: GARY TUNSTALL (#30, JUL 2 2005).
Gary plays a lot of songs -- mostly in his repertoire of covers -- that involve audience participation. "Alice" is perhaps the most enjoyable of these. It is meant to be performed in a bar full of participants, rather than in a bowling alley full of nobody, but you'll get the general idea. WARNING: Foul language ahead.
NO!: GARY TUNSTALL (#29, JUL 2 2005).
Gary tours around the upper midwest sometimes, and it's kind of a crapshoot. My friend Sharon and I have seen him in bars packed with diasporic Tech alums (and a few stunned locals) and we've seen him with three other people. This past July in Appleton, it was the latter kind of night. It was a warm summer evening, and Appleton's smoking ban had gone into effect the day before; besides us, there were never more than a dozen people in there. Ironically, we'd seen Gary play this particular venue before, and it was so crowded that Sharon found herself selling access to the bar.
It's really a striking contrast to the shows he puts on in Houghton. I actually recorded the same song as Monday's clip, "Straight Up," at this show, and would've included it if I thought anyone would download an extra 30MB of Gary just to analyze differences in performance technique, but this clip shows a lot of the same distinctions.
NO!: GARY TUNSTALL (#28, FEB 11 2005).
I've never been in the Army, but I've always imagined that it's something like going to Michigan Tech. In a remote, desolate place, you train yourself and wait for your orders, banding together to survive and remain human. The man with the 12-string guitar who plays chaplain to this ragged unit of engineers and hockey players is Gary Tunstall; the annual benefit show he plays during Tech's Winter Carnival has become a kind of pilgrimage for Chreaster Tech alums (have I taken this too far yet?). This past year, the crowd got so rambunctious that he actually had to stop playing at one point to let everybody know that they were totally blowing the sing-along rhythm with their craziness. This clip, of a classic-sounding major-key instrumental, illustrates perfectly the relationship Gary has with the students and alumni at Tech. Later in the week I'll post a couple of contrasting clips from a show he did in Appleton the following summer. What you'll see here is, if not totally unique, a rare atmosphere.
NO!: BRIEF CANDLES (#27, JAN 7 2006).
Whoever's responsible for putting three opening bands and a $5 cover on the Dials show -- whether the Dials themselves or the folks at High Noon -- has my thanks. The New Year's resolution that I never seem to pull off is to see more local bands on their own, rather than opening for out-of-towners, and this show gave me three Madison and Milwaukee acts to follow up on. Having limited space on the camera, I decided not record anything from His & Her Vanities or Screamin' Cyn-Cyn & the Pons (but wound up getting a one-minute song from the Pons anyway) since I figure I'll have plenty of opportunities to see them again soon, but made sure to get a song from Brief Candles, in from Milwaukee.
They seemed like an odd choice to open for the Dials -- all shoegazey and with a singer who could double as a blond, female James Iha -- but I enjoyed their set nonetheless. There's a hard edge to the current crop of shoegaze nostalgists that I always found lacking in the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Galaxie 500. Taking cues from bands like Hum, Cave In, even the Smashing Pumpkins, Brief Candles has that edge, the Life and Times has that edge. Their stage presence is a little odd, what with the singer putting on a big mope while the rest of the band goes crazy, but it worked for me. They have an EP out now, and a full-length coming later this year, maybe one to look forward to.
NO!: GOMEZ (#26, APR 27 2005).
Surprising fact: There are rabid Gomez fans in or around Madison. Shocking, I know. I hadn't paid Gomez much attention myself in about five years -- so little attention, in fact, that I screwed up the title card for this clip. When I Googled the lyrics, I mistakenly read "Detroit Swing 66 (In Our Gun)" as the complete title of the song, rather than the song and the album it's from. Whoops.
Anyway, these rabid fans. We got pretty decent seats, even though it seemed like we were kind of far back in the line before the doors opened. But right in front of us were these people who just went nuts when Gomez came out, who danced and high-fived each other throughout the set. The intro to every song was a new moment of awakening bliss for them. I'll admit that, while I enjoyed the set, I enjoyed quietly mocking them more.
NO!: THE DIALS (#25, JAN 7 2006).
I wish I had more to say about the Dials' set for each of these videos, but there weren't that many spectacular moments to write about. I did like their matching outfits, so I guess that's something. But really, I want to talk about Screamin' Cyn-Cyn & the Pons' set in the third opening slot.
Wow. Even though I've been in Madison for three and a half years, I hadn't really known anything about them before seeing their show. Their act, kind of Hedwig + Tenacious D + Short Music For Short People, is a revelation of insanity. I want to make a point of seeing them again soon, if only to get video of the main Pon galloping around on his hobby horse, hopefully with the dress still on. For what it's worth, you can see him and Screamin' Cyn-Cyn herself in the foreground of this last Dials clip.
NO!: THE DIALS (#24, JAN 7 2006).
Probably the weirdest thing about the Dials' set was the break right before "Sick Times," conveniently included on this clip. They had been cruising along, doing minimal banter but not being distant, then just suddenly stopped. It seemed like they were waiting for somebody to retune or something, telling stories about how, in Stevens Point, they had to fill for like 12 minutes and tell jokes about "The Manchurian Candidate," except, nobody was fixing anything. Maybe you can see something in the video that I missed, but it seems like they just wanted to do some banter but had no material.
NO!: THE DIALS (#23, JAN 7 2006).
I was going to wait until I'd run everything from 2005 to start the 2006 clips, but I just can't hold them back anymore -- this week, it's three clips from the Dials' show on January 7!
I had this show marked on the calendar for what seemed like months, and eventually I couldn't even remember why it was there. Mostly it was the four bands for $5 factor, I think; I'd listened to the songs on the Dials' site, and they were good, but not life-changing. The live show was really a blast, though. The third opener, Screamin' Cyn-Cyn & the Pons, nearly stole the show with their tongue-in-butt-cheek drag-punk extravaganza, but the Dials did a great job following them up with a lot of playful sexiness and guitar-grrl swagger.
NO!: CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH (#22, SEP 25 2005).
OV-er-RAT-ed! *clap* *clap* *clap clap clap* Aw, I'm just kidding around, hipsters. (But not really.)
Yeah, come on, these guys aren't the Talking Heads or any of the other folks they're being compared to. I went to see their show because, hey, who knows, maybe they're amazing live, or maybe they're going to become a big-time arena band in 2006. Turns out they're not amazing live, and if you don't think their songs are great, they're downright boring. To be honest, their openers, the Super Eights of Madison and Canasta of Chicago, were a lot more entertaining. But, well, if you like 'em, you like 'em. Enjoy!
(And OK, I'll cop to this being one of two songs on their record that I like.)
NO!: THE HOLD STEADY (#21, MAY 28 2005).
I recently discovered that I had a second video from that acoustic Hold Steady set -- and it's another non-album track! This one is even sparer than the last, just a couple minutes of vocals and guitar strum, slotting in nicely to the panorama created by Separation Sunday. It's also not the greatest visual display ever captured, mostly because of the hipster in front of me who kept swaying through my shot. Oh well, you get what you pay for, I guess.
NO!: MURDER BY DEATH (#20, NOV 5 2005).
At some point, Murder By Death must've become Myspace superstars. That's the only thing that explains the turnout at this show -- the crowd was literally packed to the door in Union South's cafeteria-turned-concert-hall. Their brand of death metal meets rockabilly meets a funeral dirge doesn't strike me as having the market potential of, say, "My Humps." But whatever, lots and lots of kids came out for them.
I saw Murder By Death about a year and a half ago, third of four bands opening for Thursday. They were completely mismatched on that bill. They were pretty good -- good enough that I didn't mind waiting through them for Piebald, whom I was really there to see. This time out they weren't so great. Maybe it's because I couldn't see them very well, maybe it's the cafeteria acoustics, maybe it's that I liked their opener, the Life and Times, a lot more. The MBD set was OK, and they played a decent selection of new, old and really old songs, but the whole thing seemed a little staid.
NO!: TROUBLED HUBBLE (#19, MAR 23 2005).
I went to see this show because I'd been enthralled by the demo version of Making Beds in a Burning House that had been floating around the Internet since late 2004, but I had no idea it would be the first and only time I saw Troubled Hubble. What makes it such a tragedy is that they had such great live presence, and such great rapport with the audience. I wish I could've recorded more of this show, but this one song was enough to fill up the memory card I had at the time. Unfortunately, it'll probably be a while before another band comes along doing what they did.
NO!: DIVIDE BY ZERO (#18, JAN 28 2005).
At my first Club 770 show of 2005, I left about ten minutes into the headlining act. It was a Spitalfield show, and I'd been moderately getting into them, but they were far overshadowed by both the first band up, Faultlines, and Chicago-based Divide By Zero, who got the kids going in a way that openers at 770 usually don't.
Contrasted with Spitalfield and the dominant strains of modern "punk," DBZ's set burst with urgent legitimacy. Their use of complicated song structures was a big surprise, and they basically left me feeling good about the no-name openers of the indie rock world again. So sorry, Spitalfield, you've got some work to do.
NO!: 8889 (#17, JAN 5 2005).
This was my very first attempt at capturing video of a full song, and at the time I thought it was a complete failure. For the first half of the year or so, I thought a lot of my clips were coming out too dark to be of use -- later on I found out that my processing application, AviSynth, handled the darkness quite well. I had totally forgotten about this clip by that point though, and just remembered I had it while archiving some of the other 2005 videos.
8889 released their debut EP at this show, and I went to it because a $5 local show (with free CD!) sounded like a good idea. I had never heard of them or their openers, but their midwestern power-pop was pretty pleasing. Another band on the bill, the Moon and Mars, really impressed me, but I haven't had a chance to see them again yet.
NO!: THE CONSTANTINES (#16, OCT 29 2005).
I have to admit, I don't get the attraction to the Constantines. Tons of people think they're amazing, but I really can't see anything special about them. I only saw them live, in fact, because they were on a bill with two other bands I like a lot. They were decent enough, but I wasn't swayed by their show. Solid, workmanlike, indie rock, I guess, but certainly nothing groundbreaking. I don't know. I recorded a song from their set because I figured other folks might really enjoy it, but I can still take or leave them.
NO!: MATES OF STATE (#15, SEP 29 2005).
Emily and I met at a Rainer Maria show, with Mates of State opening; we've seen them three or four times since. (As a side note, they play Madison all the time, they're back again next spring.) Before their set, she watched the band setting up and asked me if she should go tell Kori -- the blonde, female, keyboardy half of the band -- how we met. I said sure; she did and asked if they would dedicate a song to us, and Kori was all, "Oh, that's so great, of course, etc, etc!"
Emily asked for "Whiner's Bio," and I was all set to record it -- I got the intro where she mentioned us and pointed us out in the crowd. Then, though, she had us come up on stage and dance while they played it, so I had to stop shooting. Thus, I spliced the intro into my subsequent recording of "Along For the Ride," totally fooling all of you. Er, until spilling the beans right here.
[BTW, I'm at my practical limit on web space, so I'll be taking older episodes offline and moving them to the NO! archive; if you want to get any of these archived episodes, contact me and I'll set something up.]
NO!: OF MONTREAL (#14, SEP 5 2005).
The show ended with a two-song medley of an encore -- a cover of Brian Eno's "The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch" into the lead single from their last guitar album, "Jennifer Louise." They still had a lot of energy at that point, were still rocking the butterfly capoes, but Barnes had put his blouse thing back on, much to the consternation of the young ladies in the audience. It struck me at the time, and it still does now, that pairing this obscure Brian Eno track with a very accessible guitar pop tune was kind of strange; not sure what to make of that.
NO!: OF MONTREAL (#13, SEP 5 2005).
When I record at shows, I don't try to get particular songs. Generally, I try to get two or three from the first half of the set, but it varies; the main downside to this is that I'm basically stuck with whatever songs I randomly happen to record. I got lucky this time, though. "Disconnect the Dots," the opening track from their breakthrough album, Satanic Panic in the Attic, is one of my favorites and I think it showcases their new sound really well.
NO!: OF MONTREAL (#12, SEP 5 2005).
Kevin Barnes and his Of Montreal crew seem to be the only remaining survivors of Elephant 6, and the collective's end has raised their profile tremendously. Putting out two great records with a significantly changed sound doesn't hurt either, and so they're now able to bring out pretty sizable hipster crowds. This particular show was the reddest show of the year at Club 770, where red gels are all the lighting guy has. I think there was supposed to be some interesting color to the shirt Barnes took off early in the set, as well as some of the other stuff onstage, which was all totally washed out. RED! This is the first of three clips I'll be posting from this show, so keep your eyes peeled all week.
NO!: MIKE DOUGHTY (#11, OCT 14 2005).
Doughty was probably the best showman I saw all year. He kept the banter up throughout the set, including his solo mini-set at the halfway point. As his band left the stage, he asked what people wanted to talk about -- many of them wanted to "talk about" various songs of his, but one guy wanted to talk about cookies.
NO!: MIKE DOUGHTY'S BAND (#10, OCT 14 2005).
Ah, aging hipsters.
I was quite surprised to see Mike Doughty sell out the High Noon. His former band, Soul Coughing, was a big deal in college rock during the mid-90's, but their last album came out in 1998 and he's basically haunted Internet messageboards since then. I'm guessing the people who came out to see him mostly know him from the Soul Coughing days -- they were old, lots in their 30's, easy. A couple of them kept yelling for "Circles," one of Soul Coughing's minor mainstream hits; they all cheered the loudest for the cover of "Hungry Like the Wolf." I don't think they really got what he was doing. I think I did, though, and the set was great. Doughty's a showman and a half, and his new material is vibrant and true.
NO!: ERIN MCKEOWN (#9, OCT 14 2005).
A special set this week -- three songs from the Mike Doughty show at the High Noon! First up, opening DiFranco-alike Erin McKeown, who was both sick and celebrating her birthday at this show. She's kind of a traditional singer/songwriter, playing solo onstage, even though her new record includes a fair amount of well-placed studio flourish. Her set was pretty good, despite everybody in the club talking the whole damn time. Honestly, you've paid $15 to get in, shut up and listen! The only times most people stopped talking were when she recruited us all for her too-complicated choruses, which her wracked voice couldn't handle. Later on, she came out to duet with Mike Doughty on "I Hear the Bells," which was pretty cool.
NO!: THE REPUTATION (#8, MAR 5 2005).
Of all the upper midwest indie rock bands that visit Madison regularly, the Reputation really should have the best reputation of all. The Chicago band drives up I-90 a couple times a year to play free shows on campus and are really crowd-friendly onstage and off. The only problem is -- and I don't know if they bring their own sound guy along or not -- their mix is always completely fucked up, usually leaving the vocals totally washed out. Literally every time I've seen them, a couple songs have had no audible vocals, and only half the set is mixed decently. It's too bad, because they put on a pretty tight, energetic show and a lot of it just gets lost.
NO!: THE LIFE AND TIMES (#7, NOV 5 2005).
There was a time, between grunge and post-rock, where it looked like shimmery, heavy, intricate rock was going to take over the indie world. And then it didn't. A handful of bands took up the sound being molded by the likes of Hum and Jawbox, one of which, Shiner, was the precursor to the Life and Times. This track is a new song, but the ten songs on their debut LP, Suburban Hymns make for a compelling and cohesive album and live set. Truth be told, I liked these guys a lot more than Murder By Death, whom they were opening for. They're never going to light up Myspace, but hearing their fuzzrock in a cafeteria full of spastic high school students was enthralling.
NO!: CAKE (#6, APR 27 2005).
Pushing along, workmanlike, out of the 90's, I never expected Cake to be a live show powerhouse. They're at the point where they really should be finding themselves in smaller venues again, maybe trying to get one of those old-timer's contracts with Sanctuary. And yet, there they were, packing a theatre with relatively young fans and remaking the art of the sing-along pop blast. They commanded the stage like nobody else I saw this year, with the possible exception of Mike Doughty, and like I don't think I've seen generally since Bob Pollard ruled Summerfest a few years ago.
And after the show, Emily got to shake John McCrea's hand, which was pretty awesome.
NO!: OK GO (#5, FEB 18 2005).
Seems like quite a while ago, and long before they became backyard-dancing sensations, that OK Go showed up at the Annex with a bunch of new material. (They also showed up at the Annex again just four days ago, but not so much with new stuff.) With a new guitarist on hand, and a new album being sat on by Capitol until late summer, the band killed a crowd that seemed skeptical that any kind of follow-up to their self-titled debut could work. But between the manic hotness of some of their old songs and the dirty bite of the new ones, they put on one of best sets of 2005.
NO!: THUNDERBIRDS ARE NOW! (#4, OCT 29 2005).
I've talked about this show before, but man, what a show! They played three new songs, even though their latest album is only half a year old, and this was probably the best one. And since this was officially a Halloween show, their keyboard/second guitar guy put on an old California Raisin costume for a while. I still don't get why nobody else was really into the craziness that they had going.
NO!: THE HOLD STEADY (#3, MAY 28 2005).
Last May, we went to New York for five days for a big communication research conference. We didn't have any particular plan for entertaining ourselves when not at the conference, but upon arriving we found out Rilo Kiley was in town that very night. Awesome! Except, the show was sold out, and really, we never could've gotten from the airport to the hotel to the show in time anyway. Luckily, though, the Hold Steady had an acoustic set at a record store in Williamsburg, which sated our live music needs and our viewing-hipsters-in-their-natural-habitat needs. And the really great thing was that they played this unreleased song, "212-MARGARITA," about those law firm ads in the NYC subways. Sweet!
NO!: THE GERMAN ART STUDENTS (#2, JUL 12 2005).
Local power-popsters the German Art Students, recently dethroned as Madison's favorite band by Garbage, are on baby-induced hiatus these days. Their new record features a song called "Dick Clark" -- the true tale of their experience in a select competition of unsigned bands, run by the old man's production company. They didn't win, but they got a good song out of explaining the loss.
NO!: JAIL (#1, AUG 12 2005).
Jail released their second CD last August (previously discussed here), and this song opened their set at the release party. The show was typically odd, as local act release shows often are -- two bands I'd never heard of, whose music wasn't particularly compatible with Jail's, opened, to less than enthusiastic reception from the crowd. During Jail's set, a couple of hipsters dressed in flapper clothes went kind of nuts near the stage. I assumed they were known by the band, but that turned out not to be the case.