Friday, July 30, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #45: Bryan Elijah Smith & The Wild Hearts @ Fireflies, 7/24/10

I’ve got some pretty talented friends, it must be said. I don’t often cover them, for fear of my natural predisposition to automatically love what they’re doing slanting my writing. But every now and again I feel the need to make an exception, like when my friend Jeff told me he would be playing up here in my neck of the woods. So to Alexandria went I, and I tell you what, dearlings. Friends or no, Bryan Elijah Smith & The Wild Hearts (i.e. the aforementioned Jeff Miller slaying the banjo and also including the unfortunately absent fiddle prowess of Jay Austin) pretty much made my weekend.

MINI RECAP: Bryan Elijah Smith & The Wild Hearts = Better Then The Average Bear! Overall score: A.

Bryan and Jeff sat themselves on the stage and proceeded to play over two hours’ worth of a mix of wonderful original material and wonderful cover songs. Let’s face it, any song that starts off with a cover of “Folsom Prison Blues” is gonna be a good one. The two of them made one heck of a pair; Bryan with his acoustic guitar and harmonica, and Jeff with his banjo. It was a simple, classic sound they made, stripped down and pure. And Bryan’s voice, well, that’s something else altogether. You know me, I’m sometimes easily impressed, but this boy has one hell of a voice on him. It’s breathy and rich, a little reminiscent of Ryan Adams and those sensational Love Is Hell EPs, along with shades of the great Joseph Arthur, but with the honesty and purity of the mountains coursing through it. Very salt of the earth, you might say. The timbre of his voice backed by the genuine simplicity of the acoustic and Jeff’s banjo was nothing short of beautiful.

Among the set were excellent covers of Creedence’s “Fortunate Son”, more Cash (“Ring of Fire”), a jaw-dropping rendition of “Wonderwall” that rivaled the Oasis original, and “Blowin’ In the Wind”, to name but a few. And I’ll just go ahead and blaspheme, but this version of “Wonderwall” eclipsed the Ryan Adams cover, in my humble opinion. Each song, cover or no, was given special care, and was played with attention to detail. Towards the end of their set, the boys took requests from the persons in attendance, and my request for the Rolling Stones was kindly granted by covers of “Wild Horses” (gorgeous) and “Dead Flowers”, which sounded a wee bit like that amazing Townes Van Zandt cover.

When it was all over, and Bryan and Jeff packed up and headed off into the night, I was left feeling totally impressed, and rather proud. Hearing a voice like Bryan’s is rare indeed, and I can’t encourage you enough to go see the guys if you happen to get the chance. Fellow Virginians, the trio has dates all over scheduled for this summer, so make sure you don’t miss ‘em.

mp3: Other Side Of Town (Bryan Elijah Smith from Forever On My Mind)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #44: Wye Oak @ Rock’n’Roll Hotel, 7/22/10

This show was, in a cruel, cruel way, a wee bit ironic. I can’t remember the last time a show at the Hotel started at a time even close to the scheduled start time. But of course, on a night when it takes me nearly half an hour to park the car, the show naturally starts on the dot. The end result of that unfortunate promptness was that I missed the daggum amazing Gamble House, but it wasn’t all gloom and doom. I did witness a pretty darned triumphant set by Baltimore’s own Wye Oak, and that turned my little frown right upsidedown. Hot diggity dog, indeed.

MINI RECAP: Wye Oak = Shiver Me Timbers! Overall score: A.

There I was, sulking away in the corner as Wye Oak set up. And then they started to play, and my little black cloud of a mood was instantly mollified. They totally caught me off guard with the sheer awesome of their live sound. Starting off with a big, beefy swell of noise, they kept things turned to 11 for the vast majority of their set. Jenn Wasner’s voice absolutely blew me away, steamy and smoky and alternately sultry and slightly snarling. The driving beat of the drum and that voice together made for quite a pairing, this is a band with big time bite. At times the band veered wildly between ethereal beauty and threatening darkness, and lord knows I love a little dark/light juxtaposition. The noise was extreme, and I loved just about everything about it. Wye Oak, on this night, was a lot more raw than the recorded material I’ve heard of theirs, and the ferocity of the set sounded some kinda wonderful to me.

I must confess, as bummed as I initially was, if I had to miss Gamble House, Wye Oak was certainly more than ample as a runner-up prize. I’d never been much of a fan, but after seeing this set, I might be more inclined to pay due diligence to Wye Oak from now on. You might should do the same.

mp3: My Neighbor (Wye Oak from My Neighbor/My Creator)

Album Review: She & Him – Volume Two

I tell you what, y’all. The wait for this one sure felt like a deep, dark, black hole of oblivion. But the end result, Volume Two certainly proves that old adage that very, very good things come to those who wait. Well, in this instance anyway. She & Him's adorable Zooey and dreamy M. put their heads together once more and came up with another batch of beautiful songs, heavy with the ghosts of country and girl group greats. These two together are utterly irresistible, between Zooey’s voice and M.’s guitar play.

They really hit the ground running straight away this time. Volume Two seems more polished than the volume that preceded it. It’s shinier, newer, and even sleeker. “In The Sun” shimmies along with that big symphonic sweep of the golden olden days, full of Zooey’s inherent quirkiness and undeniable catchiness. “Don’t Look Back” calls to mind both early Beach Boys and classic Motown, with “doo doo doos” aplenty and a ravishing retro wash to the song’s production. “Ridin’ In My Car” is impeccable in its throwback sound, with Zooey and M. showing off fantastic boy-girl vocals and the whole shebang sounding like a soda fountain classic.

I love the mix of British Invasion sounds and that twangin’ guitar of M.’s on “Gonna Get Along Without You Now”, which also lets Zooey unleash some of that Baby Patsy Cline she’s got in that voice of her. “Gonna find somebody that’s twice as cute/cuz I didn’t like you anyhow,” she prettily pouts, as M. strums along. The acoustic guitar intro to “Sing” is pretty special, and the song itself is just another gem. “Over It Over Again” is one of my favorites, a classic She & Him song with girl group sashaying alongside country and pop to dazzling effect. O, how I love it.

Now friends, with an album of this length, you might expect some throwaway songs. Well, there aren’t any. Each and every song is as good as the one before and after it. I wasn’t sure if lightning could strike twice for this unlikely dynamic duo, but strike it did. I might still be slightly partial to Volume One, but with enough listens to Volume Two I very likely could soon be singing another tune. Hot damn, these two have found musical soulmates in each other, and I’d say we’re all pretty lucky these kids got together to make music. Now, the big question is, are we gonna have to wait this long for Volume Three?

mp3: In The Sun (She & Him from Volume Two)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Album Review: These United States – What Lasts

What do near-death experiences, a stolen laptop, and the Keystone State have in common? The answer, friends, is the latest These United States album, heretofore known as What Lasts. The fourth TUS record (recorded in Pennsylvania, after singer Jesse Elliott’s near-drowning, the poor boy also having had his laptop stolen) is, as I’ve come to expect and look forward to from this band, a triumph. Running through the record for the first time, I awaited the start of each song with baited breath weighted down with heavy anticipation, because as you all know, TUS is most assuredly one of LET’s most pet of pet bands. And once more, they’ve proven their worth as one of the most relevant, most important bands of our time.

Turning another page in the goodness gracious great story that is the tall, tall These United States tale, Jesse Elliott and the fantastic four (aka Robby, Justin, Colin, and Tom) that have become permanent fellows of TUS exhibit nothing short of master class on What Lasts. The record itself feels more intimate, more personal than has any TUS record before it. At times it’s even rather stone cold sobering, the more winsome musical follies of, say, Crimes, a distant memory down a dusty road in the rearview mirror. What lies ahead is the wide open, big sky country sound of maturation, the sound of melancholy, and the sound of serious contemplative introspection.

But lest you think These United States has left the good jangle behind them, fret not. Songs like the splendid “The Great River” and “Water & Wheat” proudly fly that old faithful TUS jingle pop folk banner. It must be said that the bulk of What Lasts is indeed on the more serious side of the coin, though, which while initially disquieting becomes more and more appealing as the record goes on. “Life&Death She&I” is cause for both sadness and joy, regarding the subject matter and 70s-esque feel to the beat with that foxy steel, respectively. Title track “What Lasts” is music to mope to, with the haunting, shimmery steel and Elliott’s voice taking on particularly plaintive emotional tones. They often seem to tread water that greats like The Band might approve of, and that I most certainly do.

Sure, it’s the most serious These United States record to date. It made me furrow my brow just a touch. But What Lasts is a tremendously fantastic record. And hell, I’m still waiting for Jesse to put a foot wrong when it comes to his lyrics. He once more shows the kids how to write a record full of amazing songs. They’ve come such a very long way from the gate to the garden of Eden. And yet, perhaps they’ve just come full circle. When it comes to These United States, only the old devil moon really knows. And that’s the way it ought to be.

mp3: The Great River (These United States from What Lasts)

Happy Birthday, Mick

Y’all know this already, but perhaps it bears repeating that I love The Rolling Stones. Love above just about all else. To me, it doesn’t get much better than Mick & Keith, and that blanket statement applies to many things (voracious appetites for the rock lifestyle, affinity for skinny pants, unbeatable songcraft, etc.). And as such, I certainly couldn’t let the birthday of the leader of my beloved band of legends pass by unheralded.

Yes, little lads and ladettes, today is the birthday of Mister Mick Jagger, otherwise known as The Voice (or The Lips). When it comes to frontmen, there is none better than this man. Nor, possibly, will there be better. Those pouty lips, those undulating hips…his primal persona behind the mic (and probably behind closed doors, too) means that the man is and forever shall be walking sex. And let’s face it. In the realms of rock, that’s exactly how it should be.

A very hearty, lusty, and enthusiastic birthday to Mick.

mp3: Dead Flowers (Townes Van Zandt from the Big Lebowski Soundtrack)

mp3: I'm A King Bee (The Rolling Stones from England's Newest Hitmakers)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Crossing The Pond: dante

Yes, my little sweeties, yours truly has been known to be quite an Anglophile. And seeing as I’ve been feeling a wee bit nostalgic regarding my many wonderful months spent in bonnie Scotland, I figured now was the perfect time to launch a feature focusing on, you guessed it, bands from the United Kingdom (and Ireland).

I couldn’t ask for a better band to start things off with, given my love of those bands from north of the Borders. Dante is a band of “Edinburghers and Shetlanders who make alt folk music,” but that’s just the very vaguest of overviews of what this band does. Yes, there is indeed folk in mass quantities in their music, no doubt about it. But these wonderful souls also incorporate hearty doses of traditional Scottish music into their fine, fine songs, mostly exhibited with that fantastic fiddle. It’s a delicate balance of old and new, and it works together seamlessly, beautifully. At times you might hear shades of my beloved Idlewild, be it in the dark contemplation of the lyrics to the building walls of instrumentation present in dante’s songs. And on certain occasions, you might just think you were dancing at a traditional ceilidh somewhere in the countryside as the fiddle does cartwheels all around.

Dante is a band not to be missed, ye lords and ladies. Whet your appetite with the pair of songs below, and prepare to fall in love.

mp3: Monochrome (dante from the Monochrome EP)

mp3: This Island (dante from the Monochrome EP)

Album Review: Washed Out – Life Of Leisure EP

I’m deathly afraid of sharks (mamas, don’t let your kiddies alone with Jaws when they’re young and impressionable), which means of course that I don’t venture out into the surf much if I can help it. However, the weather here in the greater DC metro area has been so disgustingly, abysmally, horrifyingly hot and humid lately that the cover of Ernest Greene's, better known as Washed Out’s Life Of Leisure EP makes me want to be that girl, floating along in a glassy sunset sea, preferably while the sharks are otherwise engaged and Washed Out is playing somewhere on a stereo nearby. This EP is a damn fine way to take the edge off the summertime, my sweets, from the very first breath to the last. It takes those hazy crazy days of summer and mixes and undulates and sleeks them into something effortlessly, breathtakingly beautiful.

“Get Up” is a slow, dreamsicle of a song, hithering and thithering along on a placid rhythm, as cool as the other side of the pillow. If possible, “New Theory” is even cooler, icy beats and presenting itself as a perfect party-by-the-beach-fire song. Or the perfect lounge-by-the-pool-while-double-fisting-frozen-drinks kinda song. You get the idea. It’s all things lovely and summerproof. Things keep drifting along gloriously with “Hold Out”, which at three and a half minutes clocks in as the EP’s longest song. “Feel It All Around” has an air of back in the day to it, a song that certainly lives quite a life of leisure. Yet again, the downtempo meander hits the spot. “Lately”, well, that’s another hotdiggitydog song. And “You’ll See It”, friends, if you haven’t already heard it, is nothing short of hypnotic. The liveliest of the songs, it is just about perfect in every way. It’s so good you just might end up listening to it for hours, over and over and over and over. And yes, I am speaking from personal experience.

Sweltering temps regardless, Washed Out has hereby produced one of the finest damn EPs of recent memory. It’s new and old and fresh and clean and hot to trot and ice cold. I suspect I’ll adore this collection of songs just as much in the dead of winter as I do today, in the midst of the sizzle of late July. I love it so, and you might just love it too.

mp3: New Theory (Washed Out from Life Of Leisure) (song removed by request, sorry kiddos. Don't blame us.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #43: The Capstan Shafts/Twins Of A Gazelle @ Black Cat, 7/15/10

To put it mildly, the evening of The Capstan Shafts and Twins Of A Gazelle show was yet another in a seemingly endless stretch of horrid, humid, stolidly stultifying days. My general crankitude was off the charts, but thankfully, as so often seems to be the case, music soothed the savage beast that my temperament had become. I felt like I was alternately seeing the Arcade Fire and reliving the glorious early 90s. And that, friends, was an interesting and fairly pleasing place to be.

MINI RECAP: The Capstan Shafts = Fuzzily Fab! Twins Of A Gazelle = Not-So-Secretly Canadian! Overall score: B.

Twins Of A Gazelle got going just a few minutes after I arrived at the Black Cat. I’m fairly certain I’ve never seen so many people crammed onto that stage before, and somehow, the masses of musicians made it work. Right off the bat, something inside me said, ”I’ve heard this one before.” The brain was racked, and landed upon those cheerfully dour Canadians of the beloved Arcade Fire. Something about the vocals and the lush landscapery of all those instruments together was very much in the vein of the AF. It must be noted that violins seem to be the new black, and quite a few bands I’ve seen lately have been utilizing them to great success. While certainly less gloomy than our Northerly neighbors, locals Twins Of A Gazelle didn’t veer all that much from their sound. “We sound a little bit like this band,” they said, as a cover of “Wake Up” was thrown into the set. Truth be told, I’m not sure how I feel about a cover that sounds kinda sorta like the original version. I really dug their new single, “Constellations,” which sounded the least like the Arcade Fire of any song in their set. It was jaunty and poppy and exuberant, and hopefully that’s the direction in which the bountiful band will move.

And then, it was time for something completely different. Dean Wells, otherwise known as The Capstan Shafts, creates pretty neato lo-fi nuggets that suggest those denizens of fuzz Guided By Voices, among others. Wells, adorable as he is, showed himself to be a true frontman, eschewing instruments to direct all his energy to the task of vocalizing his lyrics. Backed by his interesting assortment of friends, Wells and his voice endeared himself to me at once. Taking his songs out of the bedroom, Wells was charmingly affable and guardedly self-deprecating, saying “We’re open to criticism. Not terribly open to criticism, but open…” The songs benefited from the expanded instrumentation, particularly that drummer, who won serious points for his take-no-prisoners approach to hitting the skins on quite a few songs. Mixing it up sonically, at times the band shredded with rock and fury, while other times the songs took a gentler, quieter tone. The lo-fi approach wasn’t the vibe of the night, for sure. There was a slight air of discomfort onstage, which kept things feeling slightly off-kilter to me during the set. Whether or not Wells would rather be back in the bedroom studio he didn’t say, but somehow the awkwardness worked, for the most part. I was rather happy to have been around for the band’s “first second show somewhere.”

It was an unusual pairing, I think, but I was still rather entertained by the musical endeavors of the two. I’d reckon both bands would be worth seeing again, and you might just want to check ‘em out, dearies.

mp3: Middles Of June (The Capstan Shafts from Fixation Protocols)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Untitled Interview #48: Starring La Strada

Dear loves, you know by now, I would hope, how very much I do so adore a little band called La Strada. This coterie of Brooklynites has totally, utterly, and completely won my devotion with their irresistible hodgepodge of all things musically good and wonderful. If you haven’t yet heard their latest record, New Home, yet, well, I have no choice but to frown in your general direction.

Introductions aside, the band recently took some time from their task of winning the world over one city at a time to answer the burning questions I presented them with. And sweet as pie, the band answered as a collective. So may I present to you, friends, the collective answers of James Craft, Devon Press, Brady Miller, Ted Lattis, Daniel Baier, and Isaiah Gage. Pull up a hammock, pour a glass of your favorite wine, and spend a few quality minutes getting to know one of my new favorite bands.

Les Enfants Terribles: How the hell are you?
La Strada: Pretty good, most of the time.

LET: What was the last song you listened to?
LS: “New Speedway Boogie” by Grateful Dead.

LET: Playing music is:
LS: Generally a fun thing to do.

LET: What album most made you realize you wanted to make music?
LS: Graceland (Paul Simon).

LET: Beatles or Stones?
LS: Beatles.

LET: Top 5 albums (of now, of this month, or of ever):
LS: MTV Smooth Jams Vol. 1-5.

LET: Favorite music-related movie?
LS: Romantico.

LET: Half-full or half-empty?
LS: Half-full.

LET: Which of your peers do you think is making the best music these days?
LS: Hospitality and Frances.

LET: What’s the first thing you think when you wake up in the morning?
LS: I'm going back to bed.

LET: Little-known La Strada fact?
LS: Our van was once owned by Rick Astley's evil twin, Harold Astley, III.

LET: The greatest record store in the world is:
LS: Rough Trade (London).

LET: Everyone probably asks this, but is La Strada in fact the band’s favorite Fellini flick?
LS: No, but 8 1/2 isn't a great band name.

LET: Shaken or stirred?
LS: Beer.

LET: Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
LS: Check the menu at Subway restaurants. Sometimes, the BLT is the same price as the veggie sub, so you might as well get the bacon.

LET: If you weren’t in a band you’d be:
LS: Grad students?

LET: If you were so inclined, whom would you form a tribute band in honor of?
LS: MC Hammer.

LET: Best song ever written?
LS: "Africa".

mp3: Go Forward (La Strada from New Home)

{Photo by Zandy Mangold}

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, Screamin’ Jay

Creepy. Kooky. Mysterious. And yes, perhaps even a little spooky. No, I’m not talking about the family Addams. I’m talking about the one, the only, the cat with a slight case of the crazies: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. The music world has never had a shortage of characters, and Screamin’ Jay still stands as one of the biggest, baddest characters the industry has ever seen. And we sure do love that here at Les Enfants Terribles!

To start with, the man had enough kids to start his own child army. He wrote a song about constipation. And standing as perhaps the crown of his eccentricities, the man had a skull that he named Henry. For all his, er, quirks, Screamin’ Jay should probably be better known for that voice of his. The impetuous, lively, gorgeous, theatrical voice that you hear in all of his songs, but perhaps most notably in the song you’ll find below.

So put on your satin cape, grab a hold of that skull you hold dear, and throw on some Screamin’ Jay today in celebration of this legend. Happy Birthday, Mr. Hawkins.

mp3: I Put A Spell On You (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins from I Put A Spell On You)

mp3: I Put A Spell On You (Nina Simone from I Put A Spell On You)

mp3: I Put A Spell On You (Creedence Clearwater Revival from Chronicle)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Zut Alors!: Brian O'Connor Benefit

Los Angelinos, I hope you've gone ahead and bought your tickets for the August 12th Brian O'Connor benefit show. Bitchin' band brethren Queens Of The Stone Age and Eagles Of Death Metal are joining forces and sharing a stage to assist EODM bassist Brian O'Connor with his treatment costs, O'Connor having been recently diagnosed with cancer.

Personally, I find it horrifying that our society at large can have a new cell phone every other week and we as a nation can spend billions of dollars on ridiculous wars, yet we can't seem to cure a disease that afflicts so many people year after year. It just doesn't seem like our priorities are in order, sometimes.

Getting back to the point, as I'm sure we all know, hospital bills ain't cheap. So even if you don't live in LA, you can donate a little green to help Brian deal with things during this very difficult time. Bands give us as music fans so much, and it's definitely fair that we help when we can.

mp3: Cherry Cola (Eagles Of Death Metal from Death By Sexy)

Meet The Get Down

Fletcher’s is dead. Long live The Get Down!

For those of you locals that remember, Fletcher’s in Baltimore was once a wonderful, grimy and gritty little dive where one could see any number of really, really loud bands play in one of those super small places that years later one could brag about when said band garnered themselves some fanfare. After many a golden year, regime change brought about unfortunate circumstances, and Fletcher’s was forced to close those hallowed doors for good. Until now.

A magic wand has been waved, and in place of that scuzzball of a beloved dive now sits a club you’d never imagine could exist in Baltimore. The Get Down is a den of gleaming, super shiny sleekness, utterly gorgeous and glamorous and the total opposite of what existed within those walls for years. The crowd at the club’s preview party seemed dazed by the gorgeous interiors, the abundance of super fancy lighting (seriously, find me another club within 100 miles that looks like this), and the overall VIP treatment by an awesome staff. The Get Down is the place to go to get your indulgence on. Hang out in the VIP balcony, lounging on one of those uber modern (and uber comfy) couches, sipping a cocktail while watching the DJ spin and the wall of lights undulate endlessly. Or grab a fancy booth on the ground floor, and watch the floor fill up with sassy dancers. The invited company was a great mix of clubgoers dressed to the 9s, neighborhood folks, and card carrying Baltimore hipsters, a conglomeration that promises widespread success for the club. For me, the reasons to drive up to Baltimore are few and far between, but with the birth of The Get Down, I might just be making a few more drives up 95.

Any and all traces of Fletcher’s have been surgically and thoroughly removed. Baltimore might have lost a concert space, but they gained one hell of a place to have a party. Fletcher’s is dead and buried, friends. Hold on to those memories. But get yourself good and ready to make some new memories at The Get Down. Get a head start on the good times with the added bonus of some Hot Chip. Yay!

mp3: Over & Over (Hot Chip from The Warning)

[Photo by Megan Petty]

Friday, July 16, 2010

Album Review: Loose Lips – Lower Your Expectations And Be Happy EP

Loose lips sink ships, so they say. But what do they know, anyway? This DC variety of Loose Lips has nothing whatsoever to do with sinking your battleship or any other type of maritime vessel, but they sure can rock your little socks off, and get you fighting the serious urge to shake your behind, too.

My darling little iTunes library calls them “indie rock,” but there’s much more to Loose Lips than meets such a vague classification. Sure, they’re indie. And yes, they do, in fact, rock. But somewhere in that broadness, the band manages to capture the essence of DC, in the form of an infectious little 5-song EP. It’s got the grit and grime of the city we know and love, as well as the rock and punk elements of DC’s past, mixed with some shiny sleekness and careful execution. Oh, and there’s some kicky little grooves to get you dancin’ to boot. I knew the band had gotten under my skin when I found the song “Be Happy” popping into my head at random times. At the library? Yep. Sitting on the couch at home? Check. The catchiness cannot be escaped, my friends.

Having listened to Lower Your Expectations And Be Happy, and considering the recent live performance I witnessed, I might just have to go ahead and hereby proclaim Loose Lips to be one of my top 5 local bands. This pretty fine EP makes me really excited to see what else the band has up its collective sleeve.

mp3: Be Happy (Loose Lips from the Lower Your Expectations And Be Happy EP)

The Untitled Interview #47 – Pitchfork Edition: Starring Sharon Van Etten

It’s Pitchfork’s annual concert throwdown this weekend, up there in the Windy City. Sadly, I’m missing yet another festival this year, and I’m just a little crankypants about it. Those of you lucky souls that are there, I’m sure you’ll have a splendid time, what with all the good music that’s going to transpire. Hours and hours and hours of it. (No, I'm not bitter).

To celebrate the weekend of Pitchforkery, the lovely and enchanting songstress Sharon Van Etten answered a mini slew of Pitchfork-related questions. You might remember my gushery over the Megafaun show here a little while back, and Sharon’s performance was a big part of all that high praise. With her beautiful, antique crystal fragile voice and delicate, glorious songs, Miss Van Etten won me over from the word go. Her songs seem to hover somewhere along classic folk songs with a contemporary twist, and her live show is not to be missed. Do you hear me, Chicago? Not. To. Be. Missed. She’s playing this very day, so get your skates on. And buy one of her nifty new tees while you’re at it.

Les Enfants Terribles: How are you getting to Pitchfork: plane, train, or automobile?
Sharon Van Etten: Plane and autmobile.

LET: Inevitably, you will forget to pack:
SVE: A toothbrush, socks.

LET: Who will you be sharing a stage with on the day?
SVE: El-P, Robyn, Modest Mouse.

LET: Band you're most looking forward to seeing at the festival?
SVE: Cass McCombs, St. Vincent, Here We Go Magic, Beach House, Panda bear, Kurt Vile, Tallest Man on Earth.

LET: What's the first thing you plan on doing upon arrival in Chicago?
SVE: Picking up my new t-shirts! We made a fun logo - (the Van Halen logo... haha).

LET: What was the first festival you ever attended, either as a musician or member of the general public?
SVE: It was at Count Basie Theatre - Evan Dando (old Jr. high crush), The Murmurs, Frente, Pete Droge, The Whirling Dirvishes, and Soup Dragons. HA. That was great...

LET: Favorite thing about festivals?
SVE: How crazy people are. I love watching people. The energy...the applause of a big crowd and being part of that is pretty thrilling.

mp3: Love More (Sharon Van Etten from the forthcoming Epic)

[Photo by Victoria Jacob]

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Untitled Interview #46: Starring Steve Kille (Dead Meadow)

I think it’s entirely possible that I’m still in recovery mode from the wickedly amazing Dead Meadow show here in DC back on my birthday last month. Their transcendental, triumphant swirl of stoner rock, psych rock, post rock, and rock rock both cleared my mind of cobwebs and filled it with still more, though much more interesting, cobwebs. It also might have cleared out my sinuses, so there's medicinal qualities to be found in Dead Meadow, too.

They possess one of the loudest, biggest, fullest live sounds I’ve ever come across, and a big piece of that extraordinary sonic puzzle comes courtesy of bitchin’ bassist Steve Kille. Profuse thanks to Steve for answering some queries for LET. Read on as Steve waxes on and off about Fugazi, Thin Lizzy, and yes, Chuck Norris, and make sure to throw on some Dead Meadow while you read. It’s the perfect accompaniment.

Les Enfants Terribles: What was the last song you listened to?
Steve Kille: “Superstition” - Stevie Wonder.

LET: Playing music is:
SK: No choice.

LET: What album most made you realize you wanted to make music?
SK: Oddly enough, Fugazi’s Repeater. I figured, "I could do this."

LET: Beatles or Stones?
SK: Neil Young or both!!! It really depends on the mood.

LET: Top 5 albums (of now, of this month, or of ever):

Thin Lizzy – Jail Break
Neil Young – Zuma
Beatles – Rubber Soul
Guilded By Voices – Alien Lanes
Best of Don Ho (I love the tropic escape)

LET: Favorite music-related movie?
SK: Rock N Roll High School. No question.

LET: Half-full or half-empty?
SK: Broken.

LET: Which of your peers do you think is making the best music these days?
SK: Nick Cave.

LET: What’s the first thing you think when you wake up in the morning?
SK: How to pay bills.

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

LET: Shaken or stirred?
SK: Poured with rum, an umbrella and splash of pineapple, I don’t like martinis.

LET: Little-known Dead Meadow fact?
SK: We have a guilty tour pleasure of watching Walker, Texas Ranger. No joke.

LET: If you weren’t in a band you’d be:
SK: Rich?

LET: How often do you make it back to DC? And what, if anything, surprises you about the city when you’re back here?
SK: Hardly ever. I am surprised that there is nothing to do there anymore.

LET: If you were so inclined, whom would you form a tribute band in honor of?
SK: Thin Lizzy!!! No question.

LET: Best song ever written?
SK: “Dancing in the Moonlight” by Thin Lizzy.

mp3: Darlin (Dead Meadow from Three Kings)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #42: She & Him/The Chapin Sisters @ 9:30 Club, 7/7/10

Please forgive me if I’m turning into a broken record, but there was a time, not too long ago, when for one reason or another, I wasn’t all that fond of female singers. Yeah, I can’t really explain it either. Thankfully, that period of unjust musical discrimination against my fair gender has passed, and I fully appreciate when one of my fellow ladies has serious pipes on her. As luck would have it, I was able to see not one, not two, but three such fierce little ladies do their thing last Wednesday, and it was, friends, rather an awesome spectacle. Between the raw, stripped down harmonies of the California dreamin' Chapin Sisters and the fantastical, retro country pop stylings of Miss Zooey Deschanel of She & Him, sisters were definitely workin’ it out. And yes, for those of you that were wondering, Zoeey was indeed wearing black tights. Even in the DC heat. Girl is dedicated.

MINI RECAP: She & Him = Be Still My Heart! The Chapin Sisters = Swing Low Sweet Chariot! Overall score: A.

The Chapin Sisters, brothers and sisters, are nothing short of magnificent. They walked onstage, resplendently reminiscent of the 70s with their long, pastel dresses and long, sun-kissed blonde locks. From the moment they opened their mouths, they did nothing short of blow me away. Their voices, o their voices. Breathy but so full, big and bold but delicate at the same time. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the sisters Chapin (Lily and Abigail, just so you know), is that regardless of the stage configuration, i.e. with acoustics and a tambourine or two, with backing from the gents of She & Him, or just plain singing, they will absolutely leave you breathless. Among their beautiful original material was a song dedicated to the “original bad girl, Britney Spears,” a cover of said Brit’s “Toxic”. Suffice it to say, the Chapin version is infinitely better than the manufactured original. If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, believe you me, it’s not. These ladies can outsing just about any gal out there. Those glorious, haunting harmonies are nothing short of intoxicating. They did ten songs in their set, and they could have done ten more, and still I would have wanted more.

After the too-soon departure of The Chapin Sisters, after a short interval it was time for the sold out crowd to welcome She & Him to the stage. I held off listening to the new record, Volume Two, because I wanted to hear it live for my first time. And I wasn’t sorry about that, no sir. It had been two long years since I saw M. & Zooey’s band play, not since the Virgin Fest of 2008. At the time, I decided that to me, Zooey sounded like a baby Patsy Cline, and my opinion hasn’t changed. They began with a wonderful rendition of “Change Is Hard”, and a dude near me made an epic understatement as he commented, “She’s got a good voice.” The sound was deliriously good, wistful, mournful tones of twang all over the place. One of the high(est)lights came early, with a seriously killer version of “I Was Made For You”, featuring the cooing and girl group stylings of The Chapin Sisters (who, adorably, had changed into outfits of charcoal dresses and black tights, to match Zooey). “I’ve never been to DC before,” proclaimed Zooey, before the band stormed through one of my favorites, “Black Hole”. I will forever love the sadness hidden behind the perkiness, and the line “I’m alone on a bicycle for two.” Glorious.

The first few songs were all from the first record, but the band soon mixed things up. The new tunes felt comfortably familiar alongside those from the first album, though they were definitely less country-tinged. As per usual, “You Really Got A Hold On Me” was stunning, with Zooey and M. trading vocals backed by an acoustic guitar. And oh, how the little ladies in the crowd went absolutely crazy every single time M. sang a note. It was incredible, the level of frenzied shrieks. “Brand New Shoes” was perfect. “Ridin’ In My Car” was perfect. And then they went and pulled an almost unfair trick from under their collective sleeve. “We’ve never done this song before but we’re gonna do it for you guys,” Zooey declares, before the band launches into an impeccable, irresistible cover of the Beach Boys’ classic, classic summer song, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. It was sheer bliss.

Looking back on it, this show was definitely in the top handful of shows I’ve had the pleasure of attending this year. Both bands really, really wowed me. The Chapin Sisters, well, they were just plain exquisite. Make their acquaintance immediately (hint: they’ll be back on the road later in the year). As for She & Him, they were even better than the last time I saw them. They’ve developed into one of the finest live bands around, if I may be so bold as to say so.

mp3: I Was Made For You (She & Him from Volume One)

Monday, July 12, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #41: La Strada @ Black Cat, 7/6/10

I won’t even try to hide it from you, my loves, I was so incredibly beyond excited to see La Strada in the flesh (FINALLY) I was as giddy as Colin and Justin remodeling someone’s tacky Canadian house (if you’ve never seen those two on TV, please amend that immediately, for then you shall know just how bloody happy I was to head up to the Black Cat for what I had absolutely no doubt whatsoever would be a fantastic set. Not even the disgusting, awful, horrible 100 degree temperatures could keep me away. And guess what? I was right. The sweltering was totally worth it.

MINI RECAP: La Strada = Humidly Sublime! Overall score: A.

The weather did keep some folks away, I’m sure, as the crowd backstage wasn’t quite big enough (in my humble opinion), but those of us who braved the outdoor sauna were treated to a splendid little set courtesy of this sextet of Brooklynites. Even the pre-set music was great, Bowie’s Hunky Dory record to be exact. It set the tone, and the band took it from there. You already know I love them to bits and pieces, and what they did on that stage just cemented and put a plaque on my admiration for this band.

They began with the weather-beaten, rambunctiously-opening “My New Home”, the sound filling every nook and cranny of the room, drawing people in from the main bar like moths to a sonic flame. Man alive, any band that breaks it down with an accordion in the middle of a song is head of the class. The live version of the most excellent “Where You Want To Go” was even more nuanced and sensational than on record. It has to be said that even before they had finished the first song of the set, I was already loving them just about as much as air-conditioning.

“Mean That Much” harmonized its way to near-perfection, and in some way the pop overture reminded me a smidge of the Beach Boys in their California heydays. Well, the Beach Boys as filtered through a traveling Eastern European circus perhaps. “There’s Only Love” sent chills down my spine with all that lovely, pitch-perfect harmonizing. Keeping four voices in tune like that is no easy feat, and when you throw in the violin, cello, and yes, the accordion, well, it’s sheer magic. The song was wistful yet totally uplifting, much like the La Strada sound as a whole. “Wash On By” was possibly my favorite of a set of favorites, the bouncy, jaunty irresistibility was spellbinding.

I don’t know what else I can say, my little darlings. La Strada is not to be missed live. I’ve told you how amazing they as a band are, but really, how could you help but love a band that a) names their accordian, and b) names it The Beast? Quite obviously, you’ll agree, you can’t not love them. So go see them, buy their merch, and buy them a drink or five.

mp3: Mean That Much (La Strada from New Home)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #40: Loose Lips/Detox Retox @ Black Cat, 6/19/10

Imagine, if you will, a sultry Saturday evening. Whatever is a girl to do on such an icky sticky night, especially when she’s in the mood for some music. Happily, I found the answer to this quandary in the form of a pair of super fly local bands, Loose Lips and Detox Retox, at my bar away from home, the Black Cat. As far as Saturday nights go, this one was definitely alright (alright alright).

MINI RECAP: Loose Lips = Oh Feistypants! Detox Retox = Oh Sassypants! Overall score: B+.

Detox Retox was up first, and with drummer Kabir Khanna sporting his sunglasses at night I knew the night was gonna be good. “Enough fucking around, let’s start dancing” was the theme of their set, and they immediately caught my attention with their solid, solid dancepop. At times, singer Michael Parker reminded me a little of Placebo’s Brian Molko with his fabulously sneering, naughty precociousness. Their entire set was pretty dang saucy, and I liked it. There was plenty to like, really, between the Molko-esque vocals, the sassy bass, and the snarling mess of the guitar. Detox Retox won me over with their feistiness, sounding at times like LET faves The Rakes would had they been decamping in DC for a while. The songs proved to be shiny, polished, and full of good beats. Not only were the songs way enjoyable, but the band’s stage presence was top-notch as well. Cheeky and totally fun, Detox Retox is without a doubt one of, if not the, sassiest band around these parts. As an added bonus, the band was joined onstage for their final song by Loose Lips, for a fantastic cover of one of my favorite Bowie songs, “Suffragette City”. It was the perfect end to a great set.

After a short breather, it was on to Loose Lips. For whatever reason, every time I hear the band’s name I hear The National’s Matt Berninger singing the line “loose lips sink ships,” though Loose Lips and The National certainly aren’t reminiscent of one another in the slightest. But I digress. They had barely strapped on their guitars before launching into the set, so impatient they seemed to get things going. What they emitted was a big, beaty sound with powerfully driving guitar and percussion and a hearty amount of danceability. They almost seemed to play with a slight chip on their shoulder, aggressively and powerfully. I instantly liked them quite a bit. They weren’t all that big on banter, going from song to song without more than a few words in between, but with songs like this there isn’t much to say. Between the fine little groove of the bass and the herky-jerky guitars, I was verily pleased with their set. The songs were rich and full, and darned if they weren’t getting the kids dancing. As the set wore on, the band got more and more into it, bouncing and thrashing and undulating their way across the stage. Bassist Jeremy Cassano probably staked the biggest sassy claim, but all the band got down with the get down. And their song “The Ghost” sounded to me a bit like a sped-up version of The Jam’s “Eton Rifles”, and who doesn’t love that song? They were appealingly rambunctious, those Loose Lips boys, and they made me rather happy.

Having seen Loose Lips and Detox Retox in the flesh, I can firmly state that they’re two of the finest bands we’ve got in this here metropolis. Locals, go forth and see them around town, and you other folks should check ‘em out whenever they visit your fair hamlets. You won’t be sorry.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jack

Gather round, wee lads and lassies. I can still remember it so very well. There I was, living (and occasionally living it up) in bonnie Scotland, many years ago, when I heard of some new American bands. These bands were causing quite a kerfuffle among the British contingent, and it's still entirely possible they were more popular, as are many a good band over the years, in the UK than in their homeland.

The bands in question? That would be the ones usually given credit for popularizing the "The" movement in band naming: The Strokes, and this birthday boy's band, The White Stripes. I instantly loved them both, and found something ever so fascinating about a red-and-white-clad duo who got their jollies keeping the music press guessing about whether they were siblings or ex-lovers. Ever the oddball, Jack White has managed to create many an album of good old, dirty bluesy rock. And while he's a pretty big name now, what with all those other bands and movies and whatnot, let's all pause to remember the olden days, the days of the red and the white and the way those two Whites crashed the scene like nobody's business.

So then, Happy Birthday, indeed, Jack White.

mp3: Hello Operator (The White Stripes from De Stijl)