Saturday, June 28, 2008

So Long, Farewell: Sound Team

Sometimes I feel like I'm always the last to know when bands I like dissolve their holy unions. The latest in this litany of band disbandings is Austin's most excellent, and sadly under-appreciated space cadets Sound Team. Evidently, while I was getting acclimated to living here in Richmond, the members of Sound Team were calling it a day. Here's the story, from the mouth (or blog) of one of the founding members, Bill Baird:

"Hello friends,
By now you might have heard that Sound Team is disbanding, so to speak. The reasons are numerous and boring, so I will spare details. They are the typical band problems: stress of the road, diverging tastes, personal tensions, and monetary difficulties. Nothing too dramatic. Just time to move on, that's all.

As to the future

Jordan will of course continue drumming. The man is a machine. I have no idea who he will play for, but that band will be lucky indeed. Gabe has written some great songs on piano and I hope to help him hone / record some of these. Will has been playing and recording as Sleep Good, and will continue doing so. He has started a band with Michael Bain. Preliminary results indicate great things to come. Matt has written a fantastic set of songs, his best yet, and will likely record and release them. Bill (me) will continue recording and releasing music under the {{{ SUNSET }}} moniker ( I have actually changed the name to Silent Sunset). I'm hoping to release an album that far surpasses anything I've previously released. Brighter colors, sharper contrasts, better lyrics. "Raising the bar," it's been called. That is my hope. Sam, part of the original "rock" lineup of ST, left the band in December to pursue his art and painting. His work is prodigious and impressive, and can be found here. Michael, who also left the band last December, has returned to school. Big Orange will change, no doubt, but the dream will remain alive as long as there's breath in my body. I will try to operate the studio more as a commercial venture, engineering bands and producing when asked. If anybody wants help with their music, my rates are quite competitive. Sound Team's Catalog will be available on our website, completely free, and in high quality digital format. Unreleased material will also be available, including live recordings, radio session, b-sides, and outtakes. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Having founded the band with Matt, I feel emotional about all this. I invested years into the group, dreamt crazy dreams, laughed, toured, made great friends. I regret nothing. The band, in my mind, achieved great success and made fantastic music. I set out with this band to restore a sense of joy and exuberance to musical performance. At our best, we achieved that goal."

The silver lining, if there is one in this very sad breakup, is the availability of the band's music. Though the shit went down in September, the music is still there. If you've never gotten into the band, now's your time to give them a listen and appreciate just how good they were. I for one will be thankful for having been able to see them a couple times, and interview them ages ago. So go check them out, and raise a glass to the memory of Sound Team, gone to the great band afterlife much too prematurely.

Introducing: Band Bloggers

It's not just us music nerds who sit down and spend some quality time with our laptops, you know. When they're not being prolific in the studio or spreading their gospel out on the road, some bands take to their computers. They write about the darndest things, anything from bands they love to recapping their latest gig to their bowel movements.

And so, we decided to show some support for our fellow bloggers and post links to their blogs. The list is on the small side at the moment, but it'll be updated whenever we find more band scribes. Please feel free to let us know of any wacky, interesting, kooky band blog we might have missed, and we'll add it right away. On our list you'll find relatively new blogs (Die!Die!Die!, for instance), and longer-running blogs (such as the infamous Deerhunter blog).

Eyes might be the window to the soul, but blogs can provide insights, too.

[photo by Megan Petty]

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Meet the Stevenson Ranch Davidians

Hello, my name is Megan, and I’m a little bit in love with the Stevenson Ranch Davidians.

Their name is a play on those wacky Branch Davidians (remember David Koresh?), but there’s no fiery ending in sight for these Davidians. This is my kind of cult.

Perhaps it’s a cliché, but there’s just something about those bands from California. They sound, and yes I realize this is a point much-belabored, sunny. But what the Stevenson Ranch Davidians do that makes them so appealing is adding that sun-drenched sound not to overly poppy tunes, but to good ole psych-rock. And it’s a rather winning combination. Their influences are all over the place, from Dylan to the Warlocks and everything in between, and you can hear little bits and bobs of all of it. On the delightful “Let It All Go,” for example, there’s the sunshine and the 60s but also heavy doses of the bands of that good Mr. Jason Pierce, in both Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized incarnations. But like any good band they’ve hit on something special. Their songs could be played in the middle of the desert, on Carnaby Street with the Mods, or in your favorite bar tomorrow night. It’s the best of both worlds, the enveloping warmth of California balanced with something weighty, substantial.

The bottom line here, my friends, is that you really ought to do yourself a favor and listen to the Stevenson Ranch Davidians. Immediately.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Live Review: The National @ the National, June 22

Evidently, the novelty of seeing the National play at the National was not lost on my fellow Richmonders. Sure, I haven’t actually seen all that many shows here since relocating last fall, but the National is a big place, and the it was heaving with people. I ventured up to the nosebleed section to avoid the creeping feelings of claustrophobia, and to enjoy a birds-eye view of a band I hadn’t quite realized I had missed so much. The cynical part of me wondered just how many of the assembled masses were here simply to see the double National, while the slightly less cynical part of me felt a little proud that my beloved quintet was now drawing such large crowds.

When last I saw them, the National was touring their absurdly good album Alligator, and the Black Cat was moderately full. The mood was somewhat somber; mouthpiece Matt Berninger was sick and unhappy, and though the show was phenomenal the aftertaste was not so sweet. But something was palpably different this night, from the moment the band walked onstage to the strains of Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” to the last note of the second encore. Maybe it was the crowd’s unbridled affection given voice in rapturous cheers before and after every single song. Maybe it was the band, enjoying headlining a show after a month spent opening for R.E.M. (as Berninger said, “it’s so nice to play inside at night again.”). Maybe it was just the goofiness of playing a venue with the same name as your band. Whatever it was, the band, and for that matter the crowd, was better than I ever thought possible. And believe you me, that’s pretty fucking good.

For most of the set, the spacious stage was full, the original five being aided by a trio of boys with horns, keys, and a violin. It seemed imperative the plus three were there, as they helped give the songs a richness beyond even what the albums offer. It took about half of opening song “Start a War” for me to start thinking how much I love this band. In a way, they’re a classic American rock band; poignant lyrics and strong, powerful instrumentation. Matt Berninger is a story-teller, a scene-setter, capable of writing beautiful songs about the little details in addition to standard song fodder.

It was a love-fest from start to finish. The band was jubilant, and even the most mope-inducing songs were played with an air of celebration. Thank-you’s were said after nearly every song, and occasional spates of endearing banter peppered the set. Naturally, the band/venue name thing came up, and Berninger jokingly said how nice it was to have the venue named after them.

High points abounded, from the deafening clap-along to Bryan Devendorf’s pounding opening drums in “Squalor Victoria” to the introduction of “Abel” as “not religious” and Berninger’s intensity therein while shouting “my mind’s not right,” to the dedication of one of my absolute favorites, the hypnotic “Wasp Nest,” to Mama Dessner. The whole show was breathtaking. Many of the songs were given the extended instrumental treatment, featuring various solos and played long past their original stopping points. At the end of “Ada,” one of my favorites from latest album Boxer, someone yelled “amazing,” and the band collectively blushed. Adding to their nice-guy mystique, “Daughters of the Soho Riots” was dedicated to opening band Centro-Matic. “Mistaken for Strangers” was one of the strongest songs of the night, ferocious from start to finish. And to my amazement, the crowd sang along to “Fake Empire,” the final song of the set. It was the perfect way to close, but the crowd wasn’t going anywhere.

Happily, neither was the band. Mere moments later they were back, greeted by a roar from a still-jammed venue. Berninger opened by telling a story about the R.E.M. tour, and how they longed to play encores but weren’t able to. The crew cleared their stuff as soon as they went off stage. Of the trio of songs in the first encore, “All the Wine” was the most impressive to me. I’ve heard it live before, but they absolutely killed it this time. “Mr. November” was dedicated to “Barack,” and I began to think of the song in a whole new way, since I’d never before thought of it as being remotely political. The song itself was a raucous racket, just the way it ought to be.

You might have thought that would be it, another great song to close out their show. But no. The masses weren’t going anywhere, and so the band came back once more. They launched into the lovely, not oft-played “You’ve Done it Again, Virginia,” which I had never heard before. But the piece de resistance came next, their nineteenth and final song of the night. It’s in my top five National songs, and I didn’t expect to hear it. It caught my off guard. “About Today” was so beautiful, it almost made me cry.

I’ve gotta say, if it hadn’t been for that little thing in California I went to earlier, this would be my show of the year. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been to a show where the air was as electric, and the love between audience and band so obvious. Matt Berninger said it was going to “suck to go play other venues after this,” and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to see a show there without remembering this one. As the theme from “Rocky” played, we all emptied out onto Broad Street, and I fell a little bit more in love with a band I thought I couldn’t possibly love any more.

Set List:

Start a War
Secret Meeting
Baby, We’ll Be Fine
Slow Show
Squalor Victoria
Racing Like a Pro
Wasp Nest
Apartment Story
Daughters of the Soho Riots
Mistaken for Strangers
Fake Empire
Green Gloves
All the Wine
Mr. November
You’ve Done it Again, Virginia
About Today

[photo by Megan Petty – from 2006 Black Cat show]

Live Review: Islands @ Black Cat, May 22

My first live Islands experience took place in Brooklyn. It was a rainy spring afternoon, and the band and as many people as could fit into Fix were spending some up-close-and-personal quality time together. The band looked a little grumpy, but played splendidly. The second time, I was with a few hundred additional people, watching Islands don their whites and play at the Black Cat. That, too, was a pretty darned good show. But those shows were both years ago. How would my third Islands show be, what with the evidently abrupt departure of founding member J’Aime and all.

Silly, silly Megan. There was no need to fret. I had a great time, as did the rest of the sardine-can normally known as the Black Cat. The band made an interesting sartorial choice, everyone in black, black, and more black, apart from Nick’s white tank top under a black hoodie. It made sense: new album, new look, new color.

What wasn’t new was the band’s ability to fill the room with large helpings of outstanding oddballness, scintillating silliness, and quixotic quirkiness. The older songs get more cheers than did songs from new release Arm’s Way, but each song was played beautifully, and the crowd loved it all. I think I even caught some smiles coming from the stage, as well. Bathed in red light (which, sadly, didn't make for great photos), the band played and played, a shining example of intensity, radness, and discipline.

Highlights for me, if I had to pick, were the 80s-esque, supremely dance-worthy “Creeper,” instrumentally ambitious “The Arm,” “Pieces of You,” “Life in Jail” (resplendent with live chains!), and my likely favorite Islands song of all time, “I Feel Evil Creeping In.” Each song was bathed in the eccentricity Islands fans have come to know and love, and yet every song also sounded technically perfect. That’s the thing about Islands, the songs are demonstrations of controlled chaos. They might sound like little train wrecks, but rest assured that Nick Thorburn and co. know exactly what they’re doing. And I’m glad they do, because Islands is definitely one of the best live bands around these days.

[photo by Megan Petty]