Now that all the written pieces are out of the way, I wanted to share with you the collection of photos that I took at this year’s Lollapalooza. Before we dive in, I want to make sure you’re aware of a couple things. First and foremost, I was not given a press photography pass for the festival. That means I didn’t have the opportunity to stand right next to the stages and zoom in to get photos of sweat dripping off the faces of every artist that was up there. When you see Jack White looking like an ant in one of these photos, that was taken from pretty far back. I like to think that most of these photos are still reasonably decent though, and I tried my best to only select the ones that worked. Secondly, what I’m posting below is only a small sample of the total photos I took over the duration of the weekend. If you want to see the all the photos, head over to Facebook for day-by-day sets. Also, if you’d like to gain a little perspective on what bands I saw and the good/bad of it all, simply click this link to see all of my coverage of Lollapalooza 2012. Thanks! Photos are after the jump.
Okay, friends. Here’s a selection of photos that I took all this weekend at the Pitchfork Music Festival. In this set I’ve included one photo from each artist, edited down from over 400 photos total. If you’d like to see the complete set of edited photos (4-5 photos from each artist), please visit our Facebook page for all that. Their uploader is easier to use and the pictures look nice in that context. I’ve also given my final thoughts about this year’s fest, in case you missed it. Read 100% of my Pitchfork Music Festival coverage via this link. I think that about wraps things up. Starting tomorrow we return to our regularly scheduled programming of album reviews and mp3s. Until then, click past the jump to glance at some photos from the festival.
Four days, 32 artists, and one physically/mentally tired guy. That about sums up my SXSW 2012 experience. While I was stumbling around Austin in a haze the last hour of the last day, my first trip to SXSW was a wonderful experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. After hearing so many great things about the city and the conference/festival, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and simply had to go just once, just to see what it was like. The end result was largely what I expected it to be, but with a few surprises thrown in as well. My hope here is to chronicle the things I think worked about SXSW, and a few that didn’t. Also, if you click past the jump, you can see all the photos I took while in Austin. If you’d like to read about individual performances that I saw last week, have a look at the following daily reports:
Perhaps the thing that makes SXSW truly great is the sheer size of it all. There are literally thousands of bands performing over a handful of days, almost all of them within the span of about 2 square miles. Getting around from show to show isn’t bad, whether you’re on foot or feel the need to take a pedicab. Of course 6th Street can get a little packed during peak hours and create some slow downs, but it’s never anything too unmanageable, even if you need to get somewhere fast. The wide array of shows and showcases happening at any given time can also create a bit of a headache, as it’s not exactly easy to pick and choose if there are 6 artists you want to see all performing at once. Learning the city and the locations of all the venues both legitimate and illegitimate goes a long way towards helping you make such tough choices based purely on conveniece and distance from where you’re currently at. Do you go see Cloud Nothings playing down the block, or do you walk 6 blocks to see Grimes? As I see it, the decision is pretty much already made for you.
Yet there are also a few SXSW music moments that you can’t always plan for, simply because they weren’t planned. There weren’t many “secret” shows this year so much as there were secret guests like Kanye West jumping on stage at the 2 Chainz show or Eminem showing up to support 50 Cent or Bruce Springsteen bringing out everyone from Jimmy Cliff to members of Arcade Fire to Tom Morello and Alejandro Escovedo. Those extra thrills only make the experience more special. Also a major contributor: the people. Austin is already something of a cultural melting pot, but with music fans and artists coming into town from all over the world, the diversity factor multiplies by about 10. But here’s the thing aboug most music fans: they’re good, friendly people. You could strike up a great conversation with the person standing next to you in line and not blink an eye. Everybody was there because they love music, and the easiest conversation starter was always finding out who they’re most excited to see while in town. The only time I ever saw anybody get angry was when a couple of people cut in line trying to get into a show. The reaction was less anger and more, “That wasn’t cool, guys.” If we as a society behaved more like everyone in Austin at SXSW did, the world would be a more peaceful place. Unless of course you’re at an A$AP Rocky show and somebody’s throwing full beer cans at the stage. That near-riot situation was a showcase of the worst side of humanity.
But outside of good music, good people and good weather, good food is another thing Austin is known for. There were food trucks and street vendors on most corners, each specializing in a different type of cuisine. You could get breakfast tacos at one place, and some Korean version of spaghetti at another. There was plenty of BBQ to be found too. If you’re a fan of slow-roasted meats that are tender and delicious, you didn’t have to walk more than a block in downtown Austin to find some. For the cheapskates, there were also a bunch of showcases giving away free food. It’s worth noting that like grocery store samples, the “food” they give you for free is often small and may not be of the highest quality. It also gets snatched up almost immediately for those reasons as well. You’re costing yourself a potentially great meal if you’re not paying for it.
For all the great things that happen in Austin during SXSW, it’s not a perfect situation by any means. First and foremost among the issues is overcrowding. Things may get cramped when you’re walking down the street, but that’s nothing compared to what’s happening inside many of the venues. Jam packed to the gills, trying to get anywhere close to the action was tough, let alone trying to make your way back to the exit. When things did get that bad, the waiting games began. Lines built up outside venues that were a city block or more long, everyone beholden to the “one in, one out” policy. Pitchfork’s evening showcase at Central Presbyterian Church was the height of madness, and I stood in line for 3 hours, missing Fiona Apple, just to get into the 500 capacity venue. Was it worth it? Eh, kinda. Every performance I saw there was a revelation, which is more than I can say about the other venues in town. I’m not entirely sure how all these sound engineers stay employed given how many times I saw an artist ask for a levels adjustment or something broke. I know these artists don’t get a soundcheck during SXSW and they want to put on the best show possible, but constantly stopping or even aborting some songs right in the middle because of a small issue takes away whatever mojo that might have developed in the meantime. The worst night of all was at Clive Bar, where Tycho played without any sub-bass, New Build’s monitors weren’t functioning properly, and Grimes was forced to start her set even after everything wasn’t tested to see if it was working properly (it wasn’t).
Sound issues are just one half of the paradoxes that SXSW presents. The other is overextension. While SXSW can be a great thing for artists (performing in front of music industry bigwigs brings all sorts of exposure along with it), agreeing to play 3 shows a day for 4 days in a row can put you near death’s door. Touring is tough enough when you’ve got one show every night for 3 weeks straight, but SXSW is a marathon compared to that long distance run. Artists function on little to no sleep and can easily blow out their voices from singing too much. On Thursday night I saw Grimes play a perfect show at Central Presbyterian Church. 24 hours later, she had performed at least twice more before arriving at Clive Bar with a voice that was barely there. She fought against it as hard as she could, and eventually had to call it quits in a set that was also plagued with sound problems. It was a valiant effort, but likely left most of the crowd disappointed. Then again, everyone was so kind, understanding and enthusiastic, it probably didn’t matter as much as I thought it did.
Finally, I want to mention the hierarchy that is SXSW. Your amount of access is almost entirely based upon your status within the music industry. If you’re not part of the industry and are simply looking to see some free music, there’s lots to choose from if you don’t mind a bunch of bands you’ve never heard of. If there was a line anywhere, it was almost guaranteed the general public would not be allowed in, as those with badges or wristbands automatically had first dibs. Among the badges and wristbands, only the badges were given priority access into any venue. Every badge would be allowed in before any wristbands would, no matter when they showed up. Of course if I had a badge I probably wouldn’t be complaining about it, it’s just that there were so many of them. There must have been at least a dozen shows I tried to get into but was denied because the room was already filled with badges. Granted, badges cost around $900 and you should be getting something for that money, but it would be more fair if they offerend some balance like for every 100 badges let in, 10 wristbands also get in. Alas, wristband holders got the shorter end of the stick, while the general public was more shafted than anything.
SXSW is something that every obsessive music fan should attend at least once in their lives. It can be a genuine blast if you let it, and only gets better the more access you have. Not but a few years ago, the several day conference/festival served as a proving and development ground for new music talent. Today, that’s not really the case anymore. You may discover your new favorite band while wandering around Austin, but for the most part our discoveries are contained to the hype cycle on the good ‘ol Internet. Then again, were it not for SXSW I never would have stumbled into the band Tearist and one of the most batshit crazy/weird live shows I’ve ever seen. I’m still not sure whether it was supremely stupid or incredibly clever, but if you like incomprehensible psych-pop and somebody showing an iron beam who’s boss with a lead pipe, Tearist could be for you. Outside of the occasional exposure to an artist you didn’t intend to see, you’re quite in control of your own destiny. Unless you’re the adventuresome type willing to walk into a venue without knowing or caring who’s performing, most identify and target acts based on personal tastes or recommendations of others. With so many choices, you can use the time to check a few acts off your personal bucket list. That’s what I did, and though I didn’t get to see every artist I wanted to, I feel like what I did see was extremely worthwhile anyways, with the aforementioned issues or not. I hope I get to go again, be it next year or in 10 years. And if you didn’t go, I hope you take the opportunity to get to Austin soon. It’s a great American city, and the Live Music Capital of the World for a reason.
Click past the jump for photos of many of the bands I saw at this year’s SXSW, in alphabetical order:
In case you haven’t heard, last week Wilco ended their fall/winter U.S. tour in support of their new album “The Whole Love” by performing 5 shows in their hometown of Chicago. Dubbed “The Incredible Shrinking Tour”, each night built upon the one before it as the band started at the 3,500 capacity Civic Opera House and ended a few days later at the 500 capacity Lincoln Hall. Along the way, there would also be stops at The Riviera (2,300), The Vic (1,400) and Metro (1,150). While I would have loved to have attended all 5 shows, time, money and ticket availability reduced me down to only 3 of the 5 nights. Still, 3 Wilco shows are better than 2 or 1 or none, and I also happened to be in attendance at the last two nights in which the band played their smallest shows in years, probably over a decade. Each show I attended also had its own distinct vibe and set list, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to recap and review each one. Let’s go in order.
Fall is the best time of year for several reasons. It could be the weather, still relatively warm with a slight chill in the air. It could be the leaves changing, a beautiful reminder that we need to prepare for the harsh winter ahead. There’s also plenty of seasonal foods to enjoy, from pumpkin-flavored treats to freshly picked apples, particularly of the honey crisp variety. But set all those lovely things aside for a moment because fall is also fantastic for its concerts. So many bands are out on tour, freed from the glut of summer music festivals which have massive bills and radius clauses keeping some out of town through much of August and September. And while going to a summer festival where 100+ artists are performing can be a great way to discover new music, going to see a smaller show with just a couple artists on the bill can give you a much more impactful and perhaps surprising experience. You’re paying to see a headliner, but showing up early reaps plenty of rewards in and of itself. Case in point, this past Friday in which I dropped by Lincoln Hall for a headlining show from Cymbals Eat Guitars. Their first two records “Why There Are Mountains” and “Lenses Alien” struck a chord with tastemakers, and the band has been on the rise ever since. On their current fall tour they’re being supported by the band Hooray for Earth, whose debut full length “True Loves” turned many a head this past summer, even as it wound up a little lost in the shuffle of other, bigger releases.
On what was a crisp October evening, the show had an uncharacteristically late start time of 10pm. It makes sense in that none of the 3 bands performing had enough material for a full 90 minute set, but there was no real reason why things couldn’t have kicked off at a more normal 9pm and ended at midnight instead of 1am. Does it make that much of a difference in the end? Not really – once you’re out for the night, there’s not much difference between midnight and 1am. Plus it gives people more of their earlier evening free to do things like drink more before the show and then try to start a mosh pit during Cymbals Eat Guitars. More on that in a minute, but right now I want to give a quick shout out to Chicago’s own Bailiff, who was the first band on the bill Friday night. This was a one-off show for them as they’re not part of the tour, but those that know Chicago’s local music scene were smart enough to arrive on time for their set. While I like what I’ve heard on record from Bailiff, I had never seen them live before, and due to some small travel delays I only had the chance to see the last 10 minutes of their 25 minute set. Those 10 minutes were enough to impress me though, and I can’t help but think that those guys are well on their way to becoming a band that earns worldwide attention. The “it” factor is clearly there, and I’m absolutely looking forward to hearing and seeing much more from them in the next couple years.
A fairly sizable crowd had arrived at Lincoln Hall by the time Hooray for Earth took the stage, and most of them had never heard the band before. I know that because people kept asking me who the band was. That’s great news though, because it means they were intrigued by what they heard and saw. It’s the opening sets where everyone passively watches or talks the whole time that are bad signs. A couple drunk girls asked me if it was Yeasayer on stage. They clearly didn’t know their Yeasayer either, but at least they were in the ball park sonically. One of the great qualities about Hooray for Earth is how they’re able to marry psychedelic and pop sounds with electronica and dance elements, which at this show resulted in an unorthodox dance party. The guys in Hooray for Earth weren’t so much taken aback by the dancing, but they did seem just a touch surprised to see a number of people getting their groove on. It’s relatively challenging to get cross-armed indie kids to dance, so that was just one of the small victories Hooray for Earth could claim during their set. Another was some charming stage banter, highlighted by the mid-set pause in which frontman Noel Heroux called a friend to wish him a happy birthday. Really the music itself did all the talking that was needed though, and in their 45 minute set the band powered through much of their record. Naturally it was the title track off their new album “True Loves” that got the biggest crowd response, aided by the fact that it’s a highly addictive and fun single that has gotten some radio airplay by a few forward-thinking stations. Their live rendition of “Black Trees” was blisteringly cool as well, aided in no small part by the swirling, psychedelic video projections that washed over the band. Hooray for Earth likely made a bunch of new friends thanks to their reliable and enjoyable set. I think they can do even better though, and hopefully bring a little more on stage energy to their songs in the future. As they do more touring and write new material, that should all evolve naturally. Hooray for Earth remains a band to watch, and if we’re lucky, the next time they come through town they’ll be the ones headlining.
It’s been a tough couple years for Cymbals Eat Guitars. Relentless touring around their debut record “Why There Are Mountains” resulted in two of the band’s four members quitting and frontman Joseph D’Agostino blowing out his voice. Such tragedy also comes with a ray of sunshine though, and in this case the sheer exhaustion pretty much meant the band was leaving it all on the stage each and every night. Now with a revamped lineup and a vocal tune-up for D’Agostino, Cymbals Eat Guitars unleashed their sophmore effort “Lenses Alien” to more critical acclaim, effectively proving their debut was not a fluke and they could not only sustain but evolve as well. The small tragedy on Friday night was that more people didn’t make it out to the show. Lincoln Hall wasn’t sold out by any measure, but those that did come were largely die hard fans. The ones that weren’t die hard fans upon arriving hopefully left with a sharply increased appreciation for these guys. They started their set with the bouncy “Indiana”, which had at least a few people jumping up and down right away, though things wouldn’t really escalate until about the final 30 minutes of the show. It was somewhere right around “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)” that things reached an apex they could not top. The track itself is 8.5 minutes long on record, and on stage the band drew it out and enhanced it even more than I ever thought possible. The tension built up over the course of the song was held for as long as possible before the quiet exploded into a wall of sound and D’Agostino’s visceral scream. It has been awhile since a live rendition of a song has given me goosebumps like that. To their credit they also bled “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)” into “Keep Me Waiting” effortlessly, the whole thing seeking to provide the auditory definition of the word “epic”. The seamless combination of songs would happen a couple more times in the second half of the set, and the noisier and more experimental the band got, the more energized the crowd got. That is to say a bunch of guys near the front felt it would be a great idea to start a mosh pit. As they bounced into one another more and more, those of us not looking to potentially get hurt backed away and gave them some space. THankfully things never got overzealous or violent, and respect was maintained not only between sectors of the crowd but towards the band on stage as well.
For me, the only disappointing thing about CEG’s set was an apparent lack of applause/cheering by the crowd once they finished their set. Perhaps my perception was off and the crowd was smaller than I thought, but I just assumed it would be a louder response for an encore than what was given. Almost as if they resigned to do an encore because they were headlining and less because it was demanded of them, the band came back out after a very brief moment backstage to play one more song. It was a nice cap on the evening, though it probably wasn’t necessary. They played for an hour, hit all the songs I had wanted them to and slayed them all, and while I was cheering for the band when it was all over, I was also satisfied to the point where I didn’t need any more. If the crowd isn’t going to give you the sort of response that warrants an encore, my opinion is don’t do one. Again, maybe I just had a disconnection between crowd size and the loudness of said crowd and everyone was begging for an encore. It’s also very possible my hearing was a bit off after such a loud and punshing set. Ultimately my stance is this: for the talented bands involved, this show should have been close to sold out – especially for a Friday night. That it wasn’t is the biggest disappointment of them all. Bands like Cymbals Eat Guitars and Hooray for Earth are the type worth listening to and investing in because they push creative boundaries within their respective genres. If you can’t be bothered to go and see them, they can’t be bothered to make more music. Please take that into account the next time either of them rolls through Chicago or whatever city you live in.
Yes, it’s been nearly a week and a half since Lollapalooza ended. I’ve written piece after piece on it. I’ve said all I’m going to say about it for 2011. All I’ve got left is to SHOW you some of the things that went down. So this is a collection of edited photos that I snapped over the course of the 3 day weekend. As it gets later in the day and the crowds built up, my photos got further and further away. Which explains why the headliners look like little dots in the background. What can I say – I did what I could. I hope you enjoy these (mostly good) photos. Perhaps we’ll do it all again next year. Click past the jump to see the assortment, in the order I saw each band in.
Click past the jump to see a whole lot of photos from Day 3 of the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival. You can see photos of Yuck, Kurt Vile and the Violators, OFWGKTA, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Baths, Superchunk, Deerhunter, Cut Copy and TV on the Radio.
Click past the jump to see a huge number of photos from Day 2 of the Pitchfork Music Festival. Artists in this photo set include: Julianna Barwick, Woods, Sun Airway, Cold Cave, No Age, Wild Nothing, Gang Gang Dance, Destroyer, The Radio Dept., The Dismemberment Plan, Twin Shadow, Zola Jesus and Fleet Foxes.
Rare is the occasion when you can find a triple bill of bands touring together where all three deserve to headline every night. The trouble is, naturally, that only one band can truly headline. When two headliners share the stage for multiple dates together the decision on headliners is sometimes an evenly split rotation from night to night or occasionally a luck of the draw. When it’s three bands though, how does such a decision get made? In the case of Deer Tick, Dawes and Middle Brother, there are special circumstances that make the entire process easier. First and foremost, as members of both Deer Tick and Dawes are part of Middle Brother along with Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez, the supergroup takes precedence and closes out the evening because of the collection of talent. Secondly, Dawes have really made a name for themselves in the past few months by scoring a radio hit courtesy of their song “When My Time Comes”. Deer Tick, by contrast, have put out a couple albums and built a strong fan base but haven’t quite scored a genuine hit yet. They do have at least one high profile fan in the form of NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams though, who featured them on his inaugural edition of music-based interviews known as BriTunes. The thing about these three separate but equal bands playing together though is that they all really get along well with one another and are great friends. The dynamic of it, the way it’s all presented, matters less than simply going out, having fun and putting on a great show for people. Funny enough, that’s exactly what they did when their tour ran through Chicago on Saturday night, and you’d probably consider yourself foolish if you skipped even a minute of it.
Deer Tick have always been a force to be reckoned with live, and a venue like the Metro only enhances that intensity. They came flying out of the gate with their naturally playful energy that the crowd was more than happy to eat up. There was bouncing, there was swaying, there were saxophone solos, and there were covers. From the beginning, a number of people mentioned in just general crowd chatter that John McCauley’s vocals were placed too low in the mix because much of what he was saying seemed unintelligible. Considering that the Metro is one of the best-sounding concert venues in Chicago if not the world, they don’t really ever screw up mixing like that. In fact it was more McCauley’s voice with its rather nasal, Bob Dylan charm that made things a bit muddy. That’s no fault of his own, and such a thing should not have prevented most if not everyone from getting a little something out of Deer Tick’s set. They jumped all over their catalogue, from “Something to Brag About” to “Smith Hill” to “Choir of Angels” to “Ashamed” and the massive “Christ Jesus”. There were a handful of new songs too, leaving something to look forward to whenever they get around to putting out another record. The band also started what would become a theme throughout the night, which is the spirit of collaboration. Mid-set they brought out Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez to take the lead on a few songs, perhaps in part because the rest of his band was not on this tour. He sang a new song along with a pair of covers – Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing in the Streets” followed by Nirvana’s “Scentless Apprentice”. The transition from The Boss to Nirvana was jarring and weird, but hot damn does Vasquez do a great Kurt Cobain. Deer Tick is playing a set of Nirvana covers at SXSW this upcoming week under the name Deervana, and if Vasquez joins them (he likely will, among others), keep an eye out for some killer YouTube videos. On the whole, it was yet another excellent Deer Tick set in a long line of excellent Deer Tick sets, providing more proof that they’re one of the more engaging live acts around today.
After a brief break, Dawes came out to do their thing. It’s hard to believe that their debut album “North Hills” came out in 2009, but it’s taken this long for them to get really noticed. They’ve been paying their dues though, consistently touring and playing music festivals whether you’ve known it or not. After a couple quick songs from that first record, they played a new one about their hometown of Los Angeles. What’s moderately funny and also just a touch disappointing is that they’ve already written a couple songs about L.A. before and at some point it just becomes excessive. Still, despite the subject matter the song was good, as was their entire set. One of the best moments came courtesy of their new song “Fire Away”, as frontman Taylor Goldsmith tried something new and got the crowd to sing in divided-by-gender harmony. Not to boost some egos, but it sounded quite good. With just the one album and a couple new songs to play over the course of their hour-long set time, Dawes kept up with the collaborations by bringing their friend Jonny Corndawg out on stage to sing a few of his original country tunes. If you are unfamiliar with Jonny Corndawg, he can often be found wearing the traditional cowboy hat and boots, and he’s got a relatively large catalogue of songs that are both bizarre and heartfelt at the same time. You’d think the guy was a parody of country singers if he didn’t carry himself so earnestly. Yet there’s a sly, oddball sense of humor that permeates his lyrics and makes you sit up and notice what might otherwise be just a collection of country standards. Dawes loves the Corndawg, as does Deer Tick and one would assume Delta Spirit by proxy. They all share a lot of the same qualities, even if their approaches are a little different. After performing 5 of his songs with Dawes, a whole bunch of people rushed the stage, including Matt Vasquez and members of Deer Tick for a set-closing rendition of the Dawes hit “When My Time Comes”. Yeah, it was one massive sing-along where everyone on stage eventually turned their microphones out to the crowd to take over. The collective release of energy was something that had been building all night to that point, and when it finally happened there was such catharsis you knew it wouldn’t be topped.
Middle Brother began their set with “Blue Eyes” after yet another short break, and it was a smart choice over the beautiful but very slow opening track “Daydreaming” off their debut record. Most bands like to start their sets with the first track of their latest album, but in this case a bouncier and catchier song won out. Of course “Daydreaming” would pop up a few songs into the set anyways, mostly because Middle Brother played every song they’ve put out thus far. But McCauley did an exceptional job with hjs lead vocal on “Daydreaming”, making it one of the evening’s brightest spots. Highlights also included Taylor Goldsmith’s intense vocal performance on “Blood and Guts”, which was heartwrenching on record but even moreso live. The rollicking single “Me Me Me” has been getting a little bit of radio airplay in town, and probably went over best with the crowd during that particular set. The stage completely cleared out as Goldsmith took on “Wilderness” completely on his own, which was nice to have that short respite from the balances and imbalances that having such a collection of talent together at once. As for Matt Vasquez, he was great when sharply rocking out on guitar for most of the night, but also did a more than admirable job taking lead on “Theater” and “Someday”. If anybody was underused or underrepresented not just during Middle Brother’s set but all night it was Vasquez, but that also makes a bit of sense given that his main band Delta Spirit is significantly less alt-country/folk than Deer Tick and Dawes are. He’s an essential part of Middle Brother, no doubt about that, he’s just more of the quiet one that sits in the corner quietly blowing everyone away rather than sucking up the spotlight (not that McCauley or Goldsmith are begging for attention, they’re probably just more outgoing). Of course everyone came together at the very end of the night, including Jonny Corndawg and the guys from Deer Tick and Dawes to perform the song “Middle Brother” and then an encore that included their cover of The Replacements’ “Portland” and a supremely round-robin version of The Band’s “Down South in New Orleans”. That’s how the night ended, with about 15 people on stage and random band members grabbing the microphone and belting out verses in the most theatrical and spectacular ways possible. For a brief moment it felt like one massive gospel and blues show, with new surprises emerging at every turn.
The ability to not just pull one, but multiple rabbits out of a single hat is a big part of what makes a good show great, and by that count every band nailed it Saturday night. I had a great admiration for all three bands that were on the bill Saturday night, and even the one (Delta Spirit) that wasn’t, but I couldn’t honestly say that I loved any one of them. As a result of this show, every one of them has sharply risen in my esteem. The spirit of collaboration and friendship completely overflowed on stage, really bringing out the best in each act and helping to create great memories for everyone that was in the room. There wasn’t anything earth shattering or epic that happened, but sometimes it’s the little things, the personal connections and a love of good music that make for the best times.
Click past the jump for more photos!
For all you Christians out there, welcome to Lent. It’s a time of sacrifice and reflection, all leading up to Easter when we break out the jelly beans and Peeps while putting images of bunnies and colored eggs everywhere. Pretty righteous, isn’t it? Anyways, more on that later. Let’s get right to Pick Your Poison for today. Packed to the gills with songs, many of them excellent. What I can vouch for are tracks from Alela Diane, Amor De Dias (which counts The Clientele’s Alasdair MacLean as a member), Boats, Grand Atlantic, Here We Go Magic, Leverage Models, and Memory Map. The Dogs are also a pretty cool up-and-coming band from Chicago you might want to look into as well. In the Soundcloud section, you’ll find great new songs from Oupa (the side project of Daniel Blumberg of Yuck) as well as Sondre Lerche.
At this point in time, a full-on Dismemberment Plan reunion is still pending. Sure, you can call the several live dates the band has scheduled an effective reunion, but really it’s more like a collection of one-offs. As the guys describe it themselves, they’re going to play some dates, see how it goes, and figure things out from there. It has been close th 8 years since they broke up, though at least a couple of the guys have had their own musical projects since then. Travis Morrison went solo, which turned into failure on a massive scale, then formed the Travis Morrison Hellfighters, which went down in flames. That resulted in Morrison officially “retiring” from making music, touring, and other such things in 2010. Clearly that didn’t last too long. Additionally, Eric Axelson spent a couple years playing bass in the band Maritime before leaving to start up Statehood with former D-Plan drummer Joe Easley. At this point, Statehood is on a break, if not permanently disbanded due to the death of singer Clark Sabine. So with all the guys essentially not doing a whole lot these days music-wise, and with Morrison hopefully learning a thing or two from that slice of humble pie served to him courtesy of a not-so-hot solo career, The Dismemberment Plan is tentatively back, at the very least to maybe and briefly cash in on a legacy that was never properly heralded in its time. With reunions all the rage these days, why not? Really they’re claiming that the very few tour dates they’ve played (and the one more still scheduled for March) are more part of a celebration of the “Emergency & I” remastered vinyl reissue that came out last month. Anyways, after returning from a couple days in Japan, the band played two Chicago dates (their only Midwest shows) this past weekend. I was privileged enough to attend the first one on Saturday night, and here’s a brief recap of how that whole thing went down.
One of the really nice things that The Dismemberment Plan did for their Chicago shows was to recruit a couple of local bands to open for them on each of their two nights in town. Saturday night JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound along with Kid You’ll Move Mountains were the chosen ones. I’m familiar with and can recommend both of them, though unfortunately a tight schedule prevented me from seeing their sets on Saturday. Instead, I ran straight inside from the entrance doors just in time to catch The Dismemberment Plan emerging on stage and making a short introduction before launching into “Emergency & I” opener “A Life of Possibilities”. It was a fine choice, particularly considering that it’s a tradition for bands to open with the first track on the album they’re promoting. As the track itself goes, things started out just a little bit slow and sparse, but when the bridge finally hits, it explodes into something magical. And so it went, a pretty verbatim version of the track, if not slightly more energized and refined than before, and the crowd ate it up with the intensity and pleasure you might expect from seeing a great band for either the very first time or the first time in a very long time. Faring even better was “The Face of the Earth”, which haa a great energy about it that got everybody riled up, including the band. One gets the impression from the way the crowd reacted that even sub-par live versions of so many “classic” songs would have satisfied, but thankfully The D-Plan are a better band than that. Despite having only played a handful of shows in the last couple months after years apart, they sounded just about perfect, and every song was either album quality or better, with Morrison’s often bizarre stage antics and some ferocious guitar and drums work.
Speaking of Travis Morrison, his banter was typically witty, first dedicating the show to the union workers in Wisconsin currently staging protest, then demanding that everyone look at his new orange kicks (shoes) and refusing to play another song until everyone did and complimented them. So you know, a little of this, and a little of that. There was some rousing cheering for what amounted to perhaps the most amazing double tambourine attack I’ve ever seen (though it may also be the only double tambourine playing I’ve ever seen), and also a sing-along of Biz Markie’s legendary “Just A Friend” that started on stage between songs as just a joke before the crowd took over and made it something more. But of course there were highlights peppered all throughout the D-Plan’s set, as they pulled from all their albums and even the somewhat rare “The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich” off their split EP with the band Juno (the song is also available as a bonus on the vinyl reissue of “Emergency & I”). It was really damn exciting to hear thoroughly charged renditions of “Following Through”, “Superpowers” and “Gyroscope”, among others. Naturally though, the band’s most popular songs were the ones that sounded best, from a strong “You Are Invited” to “What Do You Want Me to Say?” and “Time Bomb”. I was exceptionally happy to hear “Ellen and Ben”, which is perhaps my favorite Dismemberment Plan song. They closed out the main set as they typically do, with an extended and oft-improvised version of “OK Joke’s Over” from their first record. Morrison went on and on about a number of things, naturally personalizing it for Chicago and sports and such, while also doing just a touch of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”. Excellent as usual, and that only extended into the encore. Tons of people got on stage for “The Ice of Boston”, and what shocked me the most about it was that it sounded absolutely perfect both instrumentally and vocally despite the everyone jumping around and singing at the top of their lungs. Moving from that to a scorching version of “The City” was the 1-2 knockout punch of the night. Really the encore handled every last D-Plan highlight you could have wanted that hadn’t already been played. Ending on the “Emergency & I” closer “Back and Forth”, complete with the crowd waving their hands in the air was just sort of a communal coming together and ultimate lovefest. There we all were, a sold out crowd together to celebrate the career of a great band and singing along every step of the way. For that two hour period, though nobody would openly acknowledge it, we were all family.
It is, without a doubt, wonderful to see The Dismemberment Plan together on stage once again and playing a majority of their stellar catalogue. Even if their final scheduled date in Seattle next month is their last, those of us that caught any of the shows in the past couple months hopefully will carry those memories with us for a long time to come. All the guys legitimately looked like they were having fun on stage and it really does sell the idea that they should keep this whole “reunion” train going. If they really wanted to, they could just pull a Pavement and play a bunch of shows over the course of the year before returning to their normal, everyday working lives. Or they could push for something more full time by writing new material and putting out at least one more record. Thinking about it now in the purest of retrospectives, I’ll be highly satisfied whatever they choose to do (or not do) from here on out. If they come back through Chicago I’ll be sure to see them again, and it’d be nice if people in cities other than the few they’ve played had a chance to see them too. If they release a new album, I’ll probably buy it sight unseen and note unheard. But if they want to legitimately retire from music, as Travis Morrison said he’d be doing last year (before any rumors of a reunion ever emerged), at least they popped their collective heads up for one quick go-around. It’s certainly better than the alternative of doing nothing.
A Life of Possibilities
The Face of the Earth
Spider in the Snow
You Are Invited
What Do You Want Me to Say?
That’s When the Party Started
The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich
Ellen and Ben
Do the Standing Still
OK Joke’s Over
The Ice of Boston
Pay for the Piano
I Love A Magician
Back and Forth
The Dismemberment Plan – The Face of the Earth
The Dismemberment Plan – Time Bomb
The Dismemberment Plan – Ellen and Ben
The Dismemberment Plan – What Do You Want Me to Say?
The Dismemberment Plan – The City
Click through the jump for more photos!
It takes a lot of courage to buy a ticket to a show from a band that you haven’t heard one note from. Of course the comfort level is automatically increased if you know the band is comprised of members whose musical talents you trust. In the fall of 2009, I willingly purchased a ticket to see a little band now known as Them Crooked Vultures at their very first show ever. Nobody knew what kind of product the combination of Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones would produce, but it turned out to be the start of something great. It was with that same shaky confidence that I made the decision to go see Mister Heavenly on Friday night. Unlike Them Crooked Vultures though, Mister Heavenly have already played a small handful of shows, all of which resulted in a whole lot of press coverage thanks to their very special guest on bass, the perennial awkward teen known as Michael Cera. But Cera had nothing to do with the formation of Mister Heavenly, nor is he an “official” member of the band. What makes this band attention worthy even without a celebrity presence is the collaboration between three great indie talents that are already well known in their own rights. Nick Diamonds is best known for his work as part of the band Islands and, formerly, The Unicorns. Honus Honus is better known as the frontman for the wild group Man Man. Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer helps to make this trio complete. The original intention was to just put together a one-off 7-inch instrumental single, but once the creative juices got flowing, an entire album poured out. As it was revealed at the show on Friday, that album will be released by Sub Pop this September (tentatively). Coincidentally though, Mister Heavenly chose to release their first two songs ever just hours before they were set to take the stage in Chicago. Outside of some rough YouTube videos filmed on some earlier tour dates, this was the first legitimate glimpse into the band’s material, which up until then bore only the description of a new genre called “doom-wop”. In a nutshell, it is intended to combine the classic doo-wop melodies with the tragic tales that are doomed love songs. More on that and the show in a minute, but first let’s talk opening bands.
The Mister Heavenly show was yet another part of the 5-night festival called Tomorrow Never Knows. Earlier in the week I saw a bill that included Lia Ices, Frankie Rose and the Outs, and The Besnard Lakes. The idea behind the shows, which take place at a couple different venues around Chicago, is to give exposure to a number of up-and-coming artists. Aside from Mister Heavenly headlining on Friday night, the bill was also shared by New York band The Dig, former Q and Not U/Georgie James member John Davis performing under the name Title Tracks, and New Jersey underground female-fronted punk band Screaming Females. As I was spending time with friends, I missed the first two sets of the night, though I have heard and can recommend both The Dig and Title Tracks as bands worth checking out if you haven’t yet. But speaking exclusively about Screaming Females, whose set I saw all of, if you’re not aware of this trio, you need to jump on them quick. Frontwoman Marissa Paternoster is a one person wrecking ball, and all of us are standing in her way. If she doesn’t take you down with her immensely skilled guitar playing, she’ll do so with a scream so intense that a microphone isn’t needed to hear it across a crowded room. Mike Abbate’s bass work is almost equally as good, strongly recalling the highly melodic work of Green Day’s Mike Dirnt. He might consider that comparison to be insulting, but personally I think that Dirnt is among the top 10 bass players active today. Then there’s drummer Jarrett Dougherty, who completely wails on his kit with little regard for common decency. Put these three powerhouses together and it makes sense as to why Screaming Females are a band very much on the rise. That they’ve done so almost entirely on their own terms without much support save from their tiny label Don Giovanni Records is even more impressive. They don’t need a marketing team – the music and the live shows speak for themselves. Sonically, the band holds strong ties to Sleater-Kinney, as Paternoster’s guitar and vocals are remarkably Carrie Brownstein-esque. The energy, the outrage and the pure, unadultrated guitar solos have the ability to send shivers down your spine. That was the case right from the beginning of their set at Lincoln Hall, as the large crowd went from a state of calm to a fever pitch in a matter of minutes. There may not have been any mosh pits, as with the punk rock there certainly could have been, but the reaction in pure applause and cheering was testimony enough as to how well they were doing. To put it another way, Mister Heavenly had their work cut out for them after such an inspired set by Screaming Females.
A high degree of “jockeying for position” happened once Screaming Females walked off the stage. People were looking for the best vantage points, most likely in which to see Michael Cera, so there was a bit of pushing and shoving and mean looks being thrown around at the sheer annoyance of it all. Looking around at the crowd demographics, it was close to a 50-50 male/female spread. Given that most indie bands draw a much higher percentage of men over women, you kind of knew what everyone had shown up for: the bass player in Mister Heavenly. The crowd cheered wildly as all four guys walked out on stage, though there was a rather funny moment right before they launched into their first song where a small group of people gave a shout-out to Honus Honus. Earlier show reviews seemed to emphasize the distracting nature of having Michael Cera on stage with the rest of the band, saying that the crowds kept yelling quotes from his movies before, during, and between songs. While that did happen once or twice, including a, “Let Michael tell us a story!”, for the most part people were respectful of the music and cheered appropriately for the songs themselves and not any one thing in particular (the cameras, however, were an entirely different matter). Speaking of the songs, the band opened with their self-titled track “Mister Heavenly”, which was one of the two songs they had released for free earlier in the day. I was unable to download and listen to them prior to going to the show, but apparently a lot of people were, to the point where they already had the lyrics memorized. There were at least three people I saw surrounding me that sang along for all of that and the other just-released song “Pineapple Girl” later in the set. Celebrity influence or not, hopefully this band is going to make an impact. Their “doom-wop” sound is interesting to say the least, largely coming off as what it’d sound like if one guy from Islands and one guy from Man Man got together and had a 1950’s-era musical baby. So there’s a hook-riddled pop edge to the songs courtesy of Nick Diamonds that’s balanced out by the experimental and odd quirks Honus Honus brings to the table. It’s all held together by Joe Plummer’s almost equally strong presence behind the drum kit. Cera is a capable bass player, but given he’s not an official member of the band and didn’t record the debut album with them, most anybody with strong knowledge of the instrument could have jumped in and done an equally excellent job. Of course not anybody can deliver an awkward punchline quite the way Cera can, which meant that some stage banter revealed some extra amusing moments. A sample:
Nick Diamonds: Hey Mike, what’s your favorite cheese?
Michael Cera: My favorite cheese? Oh, well I’d have to go with Havarti. Does anybody here love Havarti cheese?
(crowd cheers loudly)
The band then plays another song. After the song…
Nick Diamonds: Hey Mike, what’s your favorite cheese?
Michael Cera: I Havarti told you once.
Jokes don’t get much cleaner than that. Nicely played. But beyond corny jokes like that one, Both Nick Diamonds and Honus Honus tried to give the crowd some insight as to how they came up with certain song titles and lyrics. For example, the song “Diddy Eyes” is apparently about the basketball player Rolando Blackman and how, in a photo they saw of him, his eyes looked just like Diddy’s (or P. Diddy or Puff Daddy or Sean Combs or whatever name he’s going by these days). That’s a weird and funny thing to write a song about, though it does leave me wondering if they were just kidding when telling that story. Another song was written in reaction to a series of sniper shootings that were happening around New York at the time they were writing the album. “The shootings happened on a night just like this. In a room just like this. From very high up, just like the balcony in here,” Diamonds said, messing with us. Outside of playing most (if not all) the songs slated to appear on the Mister Heavenly debut album, the band also brought out a cover or two. They did “Bad Man” by The Oblivions about halfway through the set, and for their encore totally rocked out to The Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments”. That legitimately started a mosh pit courtesy of about 5-6 people, leaving everyone else annoyed at all the intense pushing and shoving going on. But it was a fun way to end the night, which was also Honus’ birthday, as revealed at the start of said encore. He was wearing a Chicago Bulls jersey too, so more power to him for that, as well as coming out and talking to people after the show. The same goes for Nick Diamonds, who I was able to chat with briefly before finally giving up thanks to so many people jumping in and interrupting. Among the information I was able to extract was that A) Honus and Diamonds shared songwriting duties on the Mister Heavenly debut album, tentatively scheduled for release in September and B) Diamonds returns to his main band Islands next month when they’ve got some studio time booked to make a new record. He’s got about 35 songs written and they plan on picking the best ones for the album before doing an Islands tour in the late summer/early fall. No official word on future Mister Heavenly tour plans, but it can be assumed they’ll be back on the road together around the album’s September release.
So overall it was a very fun night, with the wild and technically impressive Screaming Females playing alongside the highly amusing and pleasantly catchy throwback style of Mister Heavenly. Both were great for entirely different reasons, and both are absolutely worth seeing, though they’ll never play together again methinks. Separately though, check them out. The biggest hope that I have from the night is that it inspired some people just showing up to see Michael Cera in person to actually become invested in either Mister Heavenly or indie rock in general. If it takes a Hollywood star to get you into this type of music, then so be it. The more people we have listening to challenging artists and bands, the better off we’ll be as a society. Now then, check out more photos, the set list, and download two songs from Mister Heavenly after the jump (click on a photo to view a slightly larger version).