Thursday, July 31, 2008

Live Review: MGMT @ 9:30 Club, July 28

It’s already a pretty well-established fact that I’m a big fan of the dynamic duo known as MGMT. Evidently, so are a bunch of other people in the DC metro area, as tickets for the show sold out many days in advance, and my local sources reported Craigslist ticket sales upwards of $100 a pop. I was just excited to finally be able to see the band, instead of just enjoying their musical stylings from a mightily obstructed viewing post at Coachella earlier this year.

If you haven’t yet seen a show at the 9:30 Club, there’s a reason it keeps winning Best Club awards. The sound was fantastic, as usual. MGMT put on a splendid show, thanks in part to that glorious sound system. The addition of three extra musicians proved imperative, as the boys really fleshed out the songs and gave them less of the electro-based vibe found on Oracular Spectacular.

“Weekend Wars” was the opener, and was dynamite. In my notes I have written “the drummer is insanely rad,” because, well, he was. During the course of the evening he did some serious skin-pounding. “The Youth” gave off a whiff of hippie love, but that could just be the longish hair and bandanas both on stage and in the crowd. The crowd who, like at many a DC show, was jam packed but relatively tame. At least, for the first half or so of the show.

My two favorite MGMT songs were conveniently played back-to-back (thanks, guys). First the acoustic guitarily awesome “Pieces of What,” which sounded even better with the live benefit of slightly less nasal vocals. It was atmospheric enough on its own, but made even more so with blue lights and the famous 9:30 Club disco ball. The crowd (finally) got worked into a frenzy as soon as “Electric Feel” began, arms waving and bodies undulating in joyful abandon. Naturally, everyone sang along with the “electric eel” line in the song, yours truly included. It was full throttle after that, with a rather rousing rendition of big deal song “Time to Pretend.” The kids on the floor were going absolutely insane, and with good reason.

I abandoned my balcony perch during “The Handshake,” so there was no “Kids” for me. But a girl has needs, you know. I highly recommend not only seeing MGMT live, but also sampling the Pink and Blue Things at the 9:30 Club’s Back Bar (AKA the bar in the basement). They’ll knock you on your ass, much like MGMT, but it’ll be well worth it. Much like MGMT.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Album Review: Does It Offend You, Yeah – You Have No Idea What You’re Getting Yourself Into

The first time I saw their name, I thought it was a joke at the expense of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. But no, these kids from Reading are for real, and they mean business. Does It Offend You, Yeah? has all the smart ass, thrashing brashness of the dearly departed Test Icicles and all the neon-clad, retro-spiked, unabashedly cocky dance floor appeal of the Klaxons, all of which basically means they’re this year’s model. It also makes them substantially better than most new bands. And their LP You Have No Idea What You’re Getting Yourself Into is one of the smartest, most danceable, and flat-out best albums of the year, bar none.

How can one count the many levels of white-hot awesomeness that await you on this album? It’s an album made for strobe lights, for dancing with abandon, for better living through chemistry. It’s an homage to the Atari era, but without all those silly Reaganomics (and bad hair). Two of my favorite tracks, “Dawn of the Dead” and the fantastically named “Being Bad Feels Pretty Good” legitimately sound as though they could have been plucked from any of the John Waters flicks any member of the Brat Pack starred in, breathlessly and synth-ishly wonderful. But Does It Offend You, Yeah? has been very clever indeed, because the album doesn’t ever dwell too long in the 80s, sticking around just long enough to nail it and then move on.

“Attack of the 60 FT Lesbian Octopus” could be the theme music to a late-60s b-movie, and not just because of its name. Frenzied keyboarding meets oodles of distortion in a joyous union. And then, the gears shift again, into the undeniable romp known as “Let’s Make Out,” the new favorite song of amorous folk everywhere. It’s in my regular rotation. After all, who couldn’t fall in love the supremely romantic line “I can’t control myself/when I see you there’s no one else/when I get down all by myself/you’re the one that I think about.” Ah, let’s hear it for 21st century romance.

If you’ve been feeling like something’s been missing from your life lately, like you need a little spice, you might just want to try Does It Offend You, Yeah? on for size. They’ve got all the hellfire and damnation you could ask for, in a beautifully acid green-covered package. Which, by the way, if you visit their official site and order the album, you'll get a free live EP. Sounds like a good deal to me.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Live Review: Spiritualized @ 9:30 Club, July 25

Catching my latest (fourth? fifth?) Spiritualized show was quite the last minute affair. After dithering and back-and-forthing all day I finally decided to make the trek up 95 to see Jason Pierce AKA J. Spaceman and whatever incarnation Spiritualized was taking on this tour, and I cannot express how happy I am that I did.

Things got off to a ferocious start, with the vitriol of “You Lie You Cheat” leading things off. Pierce, in his dark shades, white tee shirt, and skinny, possibly acid-washed jeans, was joined onstage by a trio of black-clad musicians and a pair of lady singers, all in white. This carried over the sartorial theme from their set at Coachella, though the musicians themselves were 99% new. The new configuration allowed for much more rocking out, as the extended shredding in “You Lie You Cheat” demonstrated. Shifting gears immediately, and bathed in heavenly blue lights, Pierce and co. launched into the ethereal “Shine A Light,” hands down one of the best Spiritualized songs of all time. It was perfect, the sound, the lights, one of those impeccable concert moments. His voice had sounded good out at Coachella, too, but I really noticed how strong Pierce’s voice was. Whereas on the latest album, Songs in A&E, you can hear some wavering, some breaking, some breathiness, tonight his voice was true and beautiful, sturdy yet with the ability to reach levels of beauty few can accomplish.

“Cheapster” was next, Pierce and his band in fine fettle as much rocking was performed. Even Mr. Pierce was not immune to tapping his feet while strumming his guitar. Another of my favorite Spiritualized, the frantic roller coaster that is “Electricity,” was next, the guitars nearly out of control with wickedness. I’d like to add at this juncture that if you don’t yet own the incredible album known as Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, you probably should go pick that up.

The sparkling and lovely “Soul on Fire” was next on the list, Pierce tenderly singing and backed by the gospel stylings of his dynamic lady duo. This song, and indeed most every other song in the set, definitely sounded the better thanks to those ladies and their giant voices. The lighting was great, very stylized and elaborate, and at one point I had this very strange flash of seeing the band in vintage matching suits, on the Ed Sullivan show or something. It was definitely the best lighting I’ve seen in quite some time. Up next was another new song, “Sweet Talk,” featuring some ace guitar virtuosity.

We were all rendered rapt when the band began “Sitting on Fire,” my favorite song from new album Songs in A&E. It sounded even more soulful, with the addition of the ladies and the lack of strings that highlight the album version. A huge treat was in store for us next, with an acoustic guitar-laden version of the Spacemen 3 classic “The Sound of Confusion.” I love how Pierce isn’t afraid of revisiting material from his previous band, and reworks the song so that it could almost be a completely different one. He stripped away all the distortion and fuzz and what emerged was glorious. The rest of the hour and a half set flew by in what seemed to be the blink of an eye. Song after song was a masterpiece. End-of-set songs like the heavy “Death Take Your Fiddle” and classic “Come Together” were particularly masterful and mind-blowing. The man is a marvel, truly, and I felt privileged to be in attendance.

It’s been a pleasure seeing Spiritualized several times over the years, as this is a band that is so amorphous and changes so often you never see the same show, or band, twice. Even tonight, despite the recent release of a new album, Pierce chose not to have the new songs dominate the set. Through all the changes, one thing remains the same: you’re always guaranteed the gig equivalent of an out-of-body experience. Or, as Pierce sings in “Soul on Fire,” it’s like having a hurricane inside your veins.

The good folks at NPR recorded the show, which you can listen to here. They’ve also posted the setlist, but there’s an error: song #8 was “The Sound of Confusion,” not “Walking with Jesus.” And the photo is a shot I snapped with my phone, of the ridiculously tricked-out Spiritualized tour bus.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Album Review: Santogold – s/t

I have this silly little tendency on occasion, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned, to stubbornly turn my nose up at the "It" band of the moment, simply because I don’t want to listen to the same shit everyone else I know is listening to. I don’t know why I do it, or how I decide which bands to ignore, but this snobbery rears its ugly head more often than I’d like. Most notably, I was rather late to the Arcade Fire bandwagon, which I am still kicking myself for. The latest example of my negligence is the one-woman ferocity known to the world as the face of Santogold, and to her mother as Santi White.

I should have fallen in love with the album immediately, what with all that gorgeous gold glitter on the cover. But no. Week after week went by, month after month, and I ignored Ms. White with a studious diligence. Eventually, when Santogold showed up on E-music, I caved and downloaded it. And after totaling seven thousand plays (alright, this figure is a slight exaggeration), I happily (or unhappily, as the case may be) admit that it was rather foolish of me to ignore said album for as long as I did.

Santogold is, in fact, golden from the get-go, not to mention top to bottom. “L.E.S. Artistes” is a swaggering piece of mocktacular electropop, using wicked beats to back White’s honeyed yet razor-sharp belting. You might hear shades of Cyndi Lauper (!) in “You’ll Find a Way,” along with bouncy, healthy beats. There are two songs on Santogold that I can’t stop listening to, and as luck would have it they’re back-to-back. The first, feisty grrrl anthem, “I’m A Lady,” is impossibly appealing, with its mellow, almost reggae feel, and particularly spicy vocals from Madame White. The other, “Anne,” is a delicious blend of 80s synth, slightly Kate Bush-ian “ooohs,” and straight up irresistibleness, all wrapped up neatly in a meaty and beaty package. I have seriously listened to it on repeat for entire days.

The entire album has a seriously party-centric vibe, making it perfect for listening to while prepping for a night out, while cruising along in your fuel-efficient vehicle, or pretty much at any hour of any given day. Consider it a lesson learned, my friends, that sometimes it doesn’t pay to be an ├╝bersnob. If hordes of people are listening to something, it doesn’t always mean it’s overrated, overhyped, and overblown. Sometimes, as with the Arcade Fire and Miss Santogold herself, hearing is believing.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What Costume Shall a Poor Girl Wear...

Ah, September. Beloved by those who enjoy slightly cooler temperatures than the previous few months, not to mention all those lovely turning leaves. But now there's another reason to consider September your favorite month, at least as far as I'm concerned, because as of today I shall be one of only 3000 or so revelers at All Tomorrow's Parties, NY edition. The festival will be going on from Friday, September 19 through Sunday September 21, in lovely (well, I can't really say it's lovely, as I haven't yet been there, but I'm sure it's peachy) Monticello, New York. You can join me, because tickets in the final block appear to still be available. If you've got a spare $500-ish lying around, and hey, who doesn't these days, you too can attend what promises to be a phenomenal weekend. After all, who doesn't love the idea of a weekend full of music, music, potential debauchery, and perhaps even more music? Not to mention the likely lack of heat and humidity, which always tends to put a damper on even the bestest of the warm weather festivals. I like to think of it as a rock'n'roll resort, because after all, the festival is being held at some sort of country club. And anyone who was anyone used to go get their resort on in New York State in the early part of the last century.

Not yet convinced? One look at the lineup ought to have you headed straight for the old credit card, eagerly parting with some financial solvency. Those darling organizers have unleashed a fierce mix of legends, bona fide established bands, and up-and-comers, and it's looking pretty flawless from top to bottom. Here's what's going on:

Day 1

Thurston Moore
Tortoise
Meat Puppets
Built to Spill
Bardo Pond

Day 2

Fuck Buttons
Low
Growing
Edan
Shellac
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra
The Drones
Polvo
Wooden Shjips
Harmonia
Om
Autolux
Apse
Alexander Tucker
Les Savy Fav

Day 3

My Bloody Valentine
Dinosaur Jr.
Lilys
Yo La Tengo
Mercury Rev
Mogwai
Le Volume Courbe
Bob Mould
Spectrum
Gemma Hayes
The Wounded Knees

And there are still, evidently, lineup announcements to be made. But do you really need to see anything else? I mean, there are two themes to this lineup, as far as I can see. 1) Noise. 2) Awesomeness. And that's pretty much it. I was hooked by My Bloody Valentine, but looking at the rest of the bands scheduled to perform it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that this will, in fact, be amazing. So stay tuned for some special ATP treats, my friends, in the weeks leading up to the festival.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Untitled Interview #6: Starring Alex Maas (the Black Angels)

Keeping in the spirit of (still unofficial) Black Angels month, I'd like to offer the second installment of the Untitled Interview, this time with the man with the hypnotic howl, Alex Maas. In my humble opinion, there are few vocalists out there with even a fraction of the sound and fury that comes out of this gentleman's mouth. His voice is exceptionally powerful and utterly unmistakable. And one thing I noticed whilst seeing them at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel a few weeks ago, despite the astronomical heat inside the venue and his voluminous beard, Mr. Maas didn't seem to break a sweat. Which only indicates just how cool he really is. Further evidence can be heard on every song where he opens his mouth.

Les Enfants Terribles: How the hell are you?
Alex Maas: Heavenly.

LET: What was the last song you listened to?
AM: The X-Files theme.

LET: For your money, who is/was the best Austin band ever?
AM:

LET: Playing music is ___
AM: Heaven on earth and our religion.

LET: What album most made you realize that you wanted to make music?
AM: Abbey Road.

LET: Beatles or Stones?
AM: Beatles.

LET: What're your top 5 albums?
AM: In no specific order but this week it is the Velvet Underground Nico album, Spacelines or The Perfect Prescription by Spacemen 3, Os Mutantes by Os Mutantes, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, and Dr. Octagonecologyst by Dan the Automator and Dr. Octagon.

LET: Favorite non music-related movie?
AM: "No Country For Old Men." ;)

LET: What city or venue would you like to play, but haven't yet been to?
AM: The largest venue in Tokyo.

LET: Half-full or half-empty?
AM: Half full, fool.

LET: Apart from your band, which of your peers do you think is making the best music these days?
AM: Conrad from, Possesed by Paul James

LET: What's the first thing you think when you wake up in the morning?
AM: "Oh shit, where is all my stuff?"

LET: The greatest record store in the world is:
AM: Waterloo Records vs. Amoeba.

LET: What's the longest flight you've ever been on?
AM: 14 hours.

LET: Shaken or stirred?
AM: Shaken not stirred.

LET: What was your backup band name, in case the Black Angels was taken?
AM: The Shiny Boots of Leather.

LET: If you weren't in a band, you'd be:
AM: Wasting my time.

LET: Best song ever written?
AM: "The Stranger" by Leonard Cohen.

Zut Alors!: The Best Of Debacle

I first noticed it while working in my first record store many years ago. I was shelving some new releases when a Hilary Duff Greatest Hits CD caught my attention. I stopped dead in my tracks and wondered when I’d missed the moment in time when a teenager (the Jackson 5 excluded, naturally) had enough of a back catalogue to warrant a greatest hits collection. Ever since that day, I’ve noticed an increasing stream of bands, with perhaps one or two songs you’d recognize at most, releasing greatest hits albums. And every time, I feel like I laugh a little bit more. I don’t know if it’s desperation on the part of record labels, or an attempt to refill coffers that have long since run dry, but whatever it is, the amount of bands with completely unwarranted greatest hits compilations has reached an all-time high. Or, rather, low.

If you consider that Radiohead, a band with a relatively long lifespan, has only recently released a greatest hits, that should begin to put things into perspective. Comparatively, and this most recent example is what pushed me over the GH-hating edge, the Libertines, as good as they were during their brief reign, recently released their own Best Of. Perhaps it’s just me, but two albums and a few singles do not a Greatest Hits make. Besides, if you asked most people these days, the only thing they’d probably remember of the Libertines would be Pete Doherty and his wacky antics, not to mention his eventual departure from the band. Oh, and quite possibly the band’s penchant for red military coats. To further illustrate my point, when the Verve, one of my top three favorite bands of all time, released their Greatest Hits, I didn’t buy it. I did download the two previously unreleased tracks from iTunes, but as for the actual CD, I left well enough alone. And believe you me, I love the Verve more than I love most things in life.

What drives people like Hilary Duff, the Libertines, the Gin Blossoms, et. al. to think that taking the Greatest Hits route is a good move? Sure, there might be those completeists out there who want everything ever recorded by a certain band, but the financial windfall from that can’t be enough of a reason. It can’t be the street cred, either, because there’s not much of that to be had in the land of Best Of’s. I’d have to say mainly it’s either a) ego or b) the record label. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. I vote for going back to the days when releasing a Greatest Hits was done at the twilight of one’s musical career. The days when a Best Of was full of songs you knew. Because, really, if it’s not song after song of familiarity, it’s not much of a Greatest Hits, is it?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Good Ship Rediscovery: Levy - Rotten Love

Sure, it's not that old. But Levy's 2005 album Rotten Love never got as much adulation as I feel it so richly deserved, and I'd like to call your attention to it this very minute. Because like they say, better late than never. And you'll thank me as soon as you give it a listen.

The first time I heard Rotten Love, I had a nagging feeling that it reminded me of something. Some other really good band. It was the heir apparent to someone, but whom?! The answer finally struck me, and what a noble lineage it turned out to be indeed: Levy struck me as the second coming of my beloved Magnetic Fields. For you see, Levy is the young kids' equivalent to Stephin Merritt's group of melancholy mopesters.

Mouthpiece James Levy recalls the very tone of Merritt, all self-deprecating and cynical towards the kooky thing we call love. But as with the Magnetic Fields, part of Levy's charm lies in the mixing of bittersweet sentiment with perky, poppy, pain-killingly pleasant music. The overall message might be that love sucks, but this is transmitted in the sweetest, most charming ways possible. The ten songs on Rotten Love are urban relationship snapshots, featuring everyone from cheaters to unrequited lovers, Levy touches them all. Invariably, each song is exquisitely crafted, slightly fuzzy in production, and extremely relateable.

Rotten Love is a very New York album, though the band has subsequently relocated to Texas. But close your eyes and you'll hear the Big Apple all over.

Every song on the album has been my favorite at one point in time, but tonight it's the wistful regrets of "On the Dance Floor." I hope you love it as much as I do.

Live Review: Fleet Foxes @ Black Cat, July 7

My oh my, how Fleet Foxes has got DC all in a tizzy. The show was sold out many times over, the mainstage packed, and the air hummed with the electric buzz of excitement. The bearded, be-vested, and be-hatted Fleet Foxes spent a little while checking their own sound, and I could swear I saw one of them sipping tea. Or at least, it was a liquid enjoyed out of a tea cup. It was all so civilized. And then, the first strum, and it was lights out from there.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am of the mindset that some things are in fact too good to be true. I was wondering if perhaps Fleet Foxes would prove that, given how bloody good their first album is. Surely, those delicate, perfectly-pitched harmonies and glorious strumming wouldn’t translate live. Or would they? The answer, friends, is a hearty yes. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Upon hearing their album you wouldn’t think it possible, but Fleet Foxes live proved even better than Fleet Foxes on record. Their show at the Black Cat was jaw-droppingly, earth-shatteringly, how the hell did they do that good, and I’d hazard a guess that’s the collective sentiment of everyone who was there. If not, well, obviously the dissenters have horrible taste and don’t know a thing about music.















Under a reddish glow, the band picked, strummed, and harmonized their way through nine songs, a set that seemed both too short and like it had gone on for hours. Their sound to me is like wandering in the woods in earliest spring, a hint of chill in the air but freshness and light everywhere you turn. It is woodsy, it is natural, it is of the earth. Not in the sense that they’re up there on stage communing with nature or anything, but in the way that there is absolutely nothing false about what they’re doing. They play beautifully and confidently, and the way their voices come together in harmony is something you’ve just got to experience for yourself. It’ll send shivers up your spine, at least it did to me.















My favorite Foxes song, “White Winter Hymnal,” was so gorgeous I almost couldn’t take it. The encore, featuring only mouthpiece Robin Pecknold, achieved something I’ve probably never heard while at a show in DC: complete audience silence. The collective breath of all assembled was held as Pecknold and his guitar pulled at heartstrings with his stunning voice. You could have heard a pin drop. And that, my dears, is the best example I can give of just how good this show was. How do they do it, really? How do they manage to sound so blissful? They take elements of the Band, Fleetwood Mac, and Neil Young, and meld it into something golden and warm and haunted and nearly, dare I say, perfect. Consider me part of the bandwagon, and what a lovely ride it is, and hopefully will be for a long time to come.















[Photos by Laura O’Neill]

The Untitled Interview #5: Starring Christian Bland (the Black Angels)

Ok, it's probably safe to unofficially declare July to be Black Angels month around these parts, because here comes more BA goodness. At the risk of sounding (too) redundant, you already know I am a wee bit enamored of the five-piece from Austin with the swirling psychedelic chip on their shoulder. Really, if you're not already as smitten as I am, you should seriously reconsider. And now, without further ado, here comes the first half of the Untitled Interview, part one featuring lead guitarist/vocalist (and also graphic designer extraordinaire) Christian Bland.

Les Enfants Terribles: How the hell are you?

Christian Bland
: We're doing great. We've been out on tour for almost 5 weeks now, so we'll be returning home to Austin in about 10 days.


LET: What was the last song you listened to?
CB:
"Red Rooster: - the Warlocks (during sound check)


LET: For your money, who is/was the best Austin band ever?
CB:
13th Floor Elevators = Best Stevie Ray Vaughn= Worst.

LET:
Playing music is _________.
CB:
Our portal into the fifth dimension.

LET:
What album most made you realize that you wanted to make music?
CB:
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

LET: Beatles or Stones?
CB:
the Beatles.

LET:
What're your top 5 albums?
CB:

1. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

2. Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators

3. Psychocandy

4. The Velvet Underground & Nico
5. Bo Diddley


LET:
Favorite music-related movie?
CB:
Pink Floyd - Live at Pompeii

LET:
What city or venue would you like to play, but haven't yet been to?
CB:
I'd like to play in Italy.

LET:
Half-full or half-empty?
CB:
Half & half.

LET:
Apart from your band, which of your peers do you think is making the best music these days?
CB:
Psychic Ills & Lower Heaven.

LET:
What's the first thing you think when you wake up in the morning?
CB:
What am I gonna do today?

LET:
The greatest record store in the world is:
CB:
Amoeba in LA.

LET:
What's the longest flight you've ever been on?
CB:
Houston, TX to Paris, France.

LET:
Shaken or stirred?
CB:
Barbequed.

LET:
What was your backup band name, in case the Black Angels was taken?
CB:
The Black & Green Scarecrowes.

LET:
If you weren't in a band, you'd be:
CB:
A preacher.

LET:
Best song ever written?
CB:
"The Ballad of Paladin" - Johnny Western.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Meet Sunking!

So a couple weekends ago I was spending a little quality time at Gallery 5 here in Richmond, checking out a band that was recommended to me, the Young Sinclairs (more on them one of these days, as they’re also worth your while and I highly endorse them). One of the three bands playing with those Young Sinclairs was, well, themself. Oh really, you might ask? You see, several band members also play in a little band called Sunking!, and if I may be so bold as to say it, I hereby declare them to be rather good. They certainly caught my attention, and I like to think I'm rather picky.

Naturally, I was immediately smitten with the whole Sunking! name, being a history afficianado and potential closet Francophile. But this Sunking! is less about excessive spending, gilt furniture, and powdered wigs and more about embracing one's inner flower child. Having been overwhelmingly impressed by their live performance (so much so that I think I might have to bug them until they come back to Richmond), I procured a copy of their audio offering, Dreamy of the Sunchildren. It’s a string of eight brief yet immediately likeable and well-crafted pop songs dripping with the kaleidoscopic golden honey glow of the late 60s. It goes by in a flash, but it’s the dreamiest eighteen minutes you could probably ask for. Lest I have painted them as mere throwbacks, rest assured they are aren’t confined by mere emulation. Their whimsical lyrics and charming instrumental approach make Sunking! perfect listening for sun-dappled summer afternoons. If you're old enough to remember those old Breck shampoo commercials, that's the kinda feeling I'm talking about. Not for your hair, but your soul.

Don't think I'm trying to shoehorn them, mind. Sunking! are simply splendid, no matter the season.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Live Review: The Black Angels @ Rock’n’Roll Hotel, July 2

As it usually does, the drive up to DC from Richmond took a little longer than expected, so as I was walking into the Rock’n’Roll Hotel, the Warlocks’ equipment was being loaded off the stage. I was a little sad not to have seen them, but at the same time I was a woman on a mission. It would appear the Black Angels have grown in popularity since last I saw them, which is great for them but bad for the late-arriving, vertically-challenged amongst us.

When the five space cadets from Austin ambled onto the stage, it seemed that as soon as they touched their instruments a wall of sound began to fill the room, and it would only get louder. To give you an idea, I didn’t wear earplugs, and my ears were still ringing at lunchtime the day after the show. Up first on the set list was the deviantly good “Manipulation,” so droning and so loud I felt like the music was this wave that seeped into every pore. Despite slight volume issues with his mic initially, singer Alex Maas absolutely shredded his vocals, adding extra passion into his vocal parts to play against guitarist Christian Bland’s slightly more controlled vocals. It didn’t take me long to rank this show as a tie for my second-best of the year, and when the lyric “You got the FBI/they ain’t on your side” came up, from second song “You On the Run,” I had my reaffirmation that what I was witnessing was very, very special. What better place to hear that line than in DC?

“The Sniper at the Gates of Heaven” was next, and though it’s always been one of my favorite Black Angels songs, tonight it was even better than the hundreds of times I’ve listened to it. The guitar was extra wicked and almost a little raunchy, and Maas’ flat delivery seemed a tad venomous. It was a spooky little piece of psych rock, played against a backdrop of some sort of projections (again, I said my time there was mostly aural, I couldn’t see much of anything) that swirled and danced across the back of the stage and over the band members. I leaned against the wall during the emphatically excellent “Mission District” and noticed it throbbing from the beautiful noise.

O, sweet fuzzy guitar, how I love you; “Black Grease” was extra fuzzy on this night, and was definitely an audience favorite. I looked at the band, and what I saw was one of the best (and, frankly, best-looking) bands I’ve seen in quite some time. The first time I saw them was no fluke, they really are goddamned amazing. “Doves” was the best I’ll probably ever hear it played, a shimmering fiery mess of time and space and sound. Before launching into the song, Maas thanked the Warlocks, and said something about them being an inspiration (at this point in the night when people weren’t singing they tended to sound like Mickey Mouse, and I couldn’t make out words very well. Always wear earplugs, kids).

“Science Killer” was unbelievably good, the bass louder and the drums pounded into the furthest reaches of oblivion. It, and the rest of the show, was an intense experience. A triumphant “Young Men Dead” was next in line, even more mesmerizing in its’ drone than on the album Passover. As was the rest of the packed room, I was completely entranced. They’re like pied pipers, leading us into the great sonic promised land. “Surf City (revisited)” followed, according to the set list, though I could have sworn I heard "Empire" instead, and they closed out the set with the extended version of the already-lengthy “Never/Ever,” delicious in its far out schizophrenia.

After a brief moment offstage doing the expected pre-encore buildup, the Black Angels came back and played a rousing rendition of “The Return,” and while Bland was “oooh ooh-ing” I realized once more how good this band has become. The final song of the evening was another from new album Directions to See a Ghost, “You in Color.” The frantic jamming was raw to the point of pain, but in the best way. And then, they were gone, leaving hundreds of happy hipsters to flood the streets of DC, ears buzzing and smiles on their faces.

In closing, I’d like to urge you to see this band whenever possible. I'm thinking of following them around the country on their tour, instead of being a Dead Head I'll be an Angel Head. They are the real deal, and I love them to pieces.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Album Review: Spiritualized – Songs in A&E

The penultimate space cowboy, Jason Pierce (AKA J. Spaceman, AKA the one constant member of and driving force behind Spiritualized) has been making achingly glorious noise for some twenty-odd years now. Songs in A&E is Pierce’s first outpouring of new music since being hospitalized in 2005 with a life-threatening illness. Most of the album was written before his hospitalization, but you’d never know it. There is a whisper of death through the whole album, but also joy. It’s pretty much par for the course for a Spiritualized album in that regard, but the reality of Pierce’s near-death experience lends new weight to the album itself.

Interspersed by six harmonies (think of them as interludes), the twelve new Spiritualized songs are beautiful, heartbreaking, and well worth the wait. Pierce cooked up new depths to his trademark lovelorn despair, as well as some exceedingly lovely arrangements. That’s the thing about Jason Pierce, he’s not just the voice of Spiritualized, he’s also the (main) composer (not to mention the producer). He is the man behind the curtain, and you should definitely pay attention to this wizard.

Of particular note on Spiritualized latest space rock opus is a little trio of songs I refer to as the “Fire Trilogy,” otherwise known as “I Gotta Fire,” “Soul on Fire,” and “Sitting on Fire.” The first, “I Gotta Fire,” is frantic, loud, and a bit harried. Which, if you think about it, makes perfect sense. My favorite of the trilogy, “Soul on Fire,” is a lush soundscape full of lovely lyrics like “baby, you set my soul on fire/I got two little arms to hold on tight/and I wanna take it higher,” and “I got a hurricane inside my veins/and I wanna stay forever.” It is quite possibly one of my all-time favorite Spiritualized songs. “Sitting on Fire” is another new favorite, crackling with emotion and the occasional break in Pierce’s voice, potentially a side-effect of the aforementioned illness. The breaks actually work in J. Spaceman’s favor, lending further fragility to the bittersweet song.

Snapping you out of the depths of “Soul on Fire” comes the firecracker known as “Yeah Yeah,” featuring the vocal talents of the Dirtbombs and hearkening back to the early days of Spiritualized (and maybe even a ghost of the Spaceman 3). “Don’t Hold Me Close” is an ethereal duet with Harmony Korine’s wife Rachel, and the pair of voices float together beautifully.

All in all, Songs in A&E is a yet another great Spiritualized album. Kudos to Pierce for keeping up the good fight and giving us the gift of another collection of songs. I don’t think it’s too early to predict this one’s gonna end up on quite a few year-end “Best Of” lists. I can pretty much guarantee it’ll be on mine.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

July 2: Black Angels Day

In honor of the recent release of their killer sophomore album and their show tonight at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel, we at Les Enfants Terribles hereby declare today, July 2nd, to be Black Angels Day. It might not yet be a nationally-recognized holiday, but we feel this band is much deserving of their own day. So mark it on your calendars, put on one (or both) of their albums, and raise a glass to Stephanie, Christian, Kyle, Alex, and Nate, otherwise known as one of the finest darned rock bands out there today, won't you?

And if you're in the DC Metro area (or just driving up from Richmond, like our own Megan is), make sure to stop by the Hotel to catch the Black Angels and similarly-minded psych-rockers the Warlocks for a double bill of mind-blowing.