Wednesday, April 28, 2010

For The Music Snob Who Has Everything?

Looking for the perfect gift for the music snob in your life who has everything? The punk-loving lady or gent who is oh-so particular about their presents? Look no further, friends, than the Wendy O. Williams throbblehead!

Obviously much more awesome than regular old bobbleheads, throbbleheads are so very rock. Just check out Wendy, the first lady throbblehead. Only 2000 of these babies have been made, so step on it kids.

Throbblehead Wendy can be yours for only $16.95. For seven inches of punk memorabilia, you could do a lot worse! And if Wendy O. Williams doesn't tickle your fancy, you can get your hands on throbbleheads of Tesco Vee (The Meatmen), GG Allin, or Joe Shithead Keithley of D.O.A.

I'm personally waiting on the Buzzcocks throbbleheads...

100 Shows of 2010 - #17: Backyard Tire Fire @ Black Cat, 4/17/10

I first became familiar with the gents of Backyard Tire Fire with their album Vagabonds and Hooligans, a collection of gorgeous, earthy songs mixing up the blues and the folk and the rock. While hailing from the metropolis of Chicago, their somewhat rustic approach appealed to me greatly. And so, years later, I jumped at the chance to see them (finally) in the flesh. Happily, I wasn't disappointed. These boys know how to put on a show, my friends.

MINI RECAP: Backyard Tire Fire = Consummate Showmen! Overall Score: B+.

The night before Backyard Tire Fire, I was down in Richmond getting my metal on. Let it not be said that we don't spread the love here at LET. My ears having slightly recovered, it was time for them to take another beating, for while BTF doesn't possess the sheer manic volume and scope of a metal show, they can still shake, rattle, and roll with the best of 'em.

I was immediately impressed by their polish, and their stage presence. They were amiable, affable, and full of personality. As a unit they command attention, and the smallish crowd obliged. Backyard Tire Fire is definitely one of those bands that has the live chops to back up what they do on record. Be it new songs ("One Wrong Turn"), older songs ("Downtime"), or cover songs (an excellent version of "Cinnamon Girl" back-to-back with Fleetwood Mac), BTF churned 'em out in a solid, meaty fashion. They frequently felt the need to get down a little, and I appreciate when bands get so into what they're playing. And friends, they're not fussy. The general consensus, if you wanna buy 'em booze, is that "whatever it is" they'll drink it.

All in all, I was really pleased with my first Backyard Tire Fire experience. They've got it down pat, they really do. Their music really goes down smooth, and you might just wanna get out there and check 'em out.

mp3: A Thousand Gigs Ago (Backyard Tire Fire from Good To Be)

Friday, April 23, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #16: Inter Arma @ The Triple, 4/14/10

Sometimes, friends, I need to have my brain melted into oblivion, my ears mashed into a bloody pulp, and my innards shaken and shook and nigh on ripped out. At such times, I turn to my old Richmond friends, Inter Arma. And they rarely disappoint (ok, there was that one time, buuuuuuut that's only cuz I managed to miss them play).

MINI RECAP: Inter Arma = Obliterationtastic! Overall Score: A.

Sure, I'm a gal that loves her some roadtrips, especially when bands are involved. But these days, there aren't all that many bands that can induce me to hit the road (ah, budgetary restraints). Inter Arma, even though I've seen 'em several times before while a Richmond resident, still has the power to make me hop in my car and make the angst-filled drive down to Richmond. I just can't get enough of their insanely, painfully, pulvarizingly loud mess. And I'm not even really into metal! Go figure.

The Triple was, not at all surprisingly, heaving when the band began to play. And as they spewed forth their ferocious, aggressive, full-throttle noise, the crowd stood, enthralled, hanging on every big ole bastard of a note. They absolutely killed their set, butchered it, hung, drew, and quartered it. They are so not my usual type of band, but damned if I don't love 'em (though my eardrums kinda hate them just a little).

With an Inter Arma show, you're always gonna leave happy. Even when your ears are ringing so loudly that everyone you talk to sounds like a Disney mouse, you're totally thrilled with what you've just witnessed. This, my dears, is rock on an epic, epic scale. Everything about them is, well, turned to 11. They are louder than most bands I've seen live. They are better musicians than plenty of bands I've seen live. They are showmen. They're just straight up goddam good at playing metal. They will tear asunder your insides, and you will love it. Guaranteed. There's no shortage of metal bands in Richmond, but I'd pretty much say that Inter Arma has staked claim on being, if not the best, one of the best. Absolutely no question about it.

mp3: Epicenter (Inter Arma from their upcoming Forcefield release Sundown)

100 Shows of 2010 - #15: The Appleseed Cast @ DC9, 4/13/10

Amazing how time flies when something shitty happens! Some neighborhood punks throw a brick through my car window and suddenly it's been over a week since I was at DC9 for the really, really good show put on by The Appleseed Cast. I'll tear myself away from thoughts of castration to tell you just how good this show happens to have been.

MINI RECAP: The Appleseed Cast = Loudy loud loud! Overall score: B+.

Of all the shows I've been to thus far in this long and winding road I've decided to undertake, I've been the least acquainted with The Appleseed Cast. They're just one of those bands that flew well under my radar for whatever reason (perhaps my slight snobbery about bands that might be considered even slightly emo). Obviously, though, they haven't flown under lots of other radars. The DC9 show was sold out, which hasn't happened at a show I've been to there since the floor-wobblingly excellent Does It Offend You, Yeah? show many moons ago. All assembled seemed pretty pleased to be there, and there was a warm, cozy vibe in the place by the time I arrived (mere minutes before the band took the stage).

The Appleseed Cast joined the growing list of bands partaking in the trend of playing albums in their entirety at live shows. This tour, the Low Level Owl Tour, sees the band playing their super massive epic Low Level Owl 1 & 2 (hence the name on those pretty rad tees they had for sale). An ambitious undertaking for sure to try to work through 20+ songs each and every night of a tour! Right from the beginning of the set, I was pretty dang impressed. Their ambient, expansive noise appeals to my need for sheer size and scope of songs, and the accompanying visuals (shown on the club's TVs) of retro scenes and old photographs fit the overall feel of the set perfectly. Song after song was strong, textured, and definitely managed to hold my attention. It was the kind of show that could have lasted hours, maybe even days, and you'd never really be quite sure of just how long the band held you in their clutches. I found the somewhat dark undertones very appealing, and the way some songs came at you in waves of layer upon layer, much like the movement of a dark, stormy sea. Each song bled into the next, keeping a constancy in the set and serving as a way to keep us all reeled in. There was plenty to enjoy about the set, and not just about those hypnotic video images. The guitars were intricate and lively, and I was pretty impressed with each and every member of the band.

For being not really familiar with the band before the show, I was well and truly impressed with them, and a little surprised at how much I enjoyed myself.

mp3: Steps and Numbers (The Appleseed Cast from Low Level Owl vol. 1)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Album Review: Archie Bronson Outfit – Coconut

The odds of being fatally wounded by a falling coconut are about 1 in 250 million. In comparison, the odds that you’ll fall madly in love with the third Archie Bronson Outfit record, Coconut, are substantially higher.

I first fell in love with ABO back in 2004, upon the release of their debut Fur. It was a dark, heady, big bastard of a bluesy rock record, the kind of album that’s drenched in boozy sweat and reeking of ciggies and mornings after. In short, it was fucking brilliant, and I was in fucking love. Derdang Derdang, the second Archie Bronson Outfit record, left some of the filthy blues behind it, relying more on sheer size and scope and noise to see it through. It was sharp and severe, and it was another fine, fine record. Sure, we all expect fine things from bands signed to Domino, but even so, it was a fantastic record. And then, to my chagrin, the boys seemed to vanish. For years there was not a peep, and I feared the worst (i.e. a breakup). Happily, though, this wasn’t the case. And I’ll tell you what, my lovelies, the wait for Coconut was well worth it. In my humble opinion, it’s quite possibly the album of the year thus far.

Right from the start, this record blew my mind. Once again, ABO turned their sound on its arse, and oh my heavens it’s amazing. “Magnetic Warrior” is choc-full of sordidly tribal drumming, charmingly muddy vocals, and a whole lot of noise. Oh, and it’s frighteningly loud (and sounds best played at deafening volume). Upon hearing it I knew in an instant that I was in for a treat. And it gets better, friends. Single “Shark’s Tooth” is painfully good. The chilling, razor’s edge of the guitar, the maddening noisy swirl, the overwhelming feel of fucked-up love that’s come to be so familiar in Archie Bronson songs…it’s nigh on breathtaking. They don’t let up, because next comes “Hoola,” a groovy little song with a more than slightly bawdy bassline that makes me want to do all sorts of bad things. But wait, you say, that’s typical Megan. Well, friends, what can I say, the ABO just brings out the extra saucy in me.

It just keeps going, this record. “Wild Strawberries” careens at a breakneck pace, a thundering wall of ferocity. “Chunk” marks quite a departure for the band, sounding like an 80s song, albeit one run through a meat grinder until it’s a bloody, raw pulp. In other words, it’s an 80s song given the Archie Bronson Outfit signature. There’s a touch of surf rock in the eye of the noisy hurricane that is “You Have a Right to a Mountain Life/One Up On Yourself,” yet another killer song. “Harness (Bliss)” is another insanely good track, with one hell of an indecently fabulous intro and guitars wavering and shimmering like a mirage in the middle of the hottest desert. The record comes to a close with “Run Gospel Singer”, a track that sounds like it could have been included on Fur, despite its almost uplifting sound (though don’t be fooled, it’s not a happy song). The song, and the record, are over far too soon.

Coconut is quite a record, my friends. It’s gonna take quite an effort to know it out of the apple of my eye status it currently holds. Bands, you’ve been put on notice.

mp3: Hoola (Archie Bronson Outfit from Coconut)


Happy Birthday, Dusty

We all know her voice, that slow burning, naughty but nice smoky sound (perhaps the perfect example of this being the classic “Son Of a Preacher Man”). Dusty Springfield was, in my mind, one of the most gifted vocalists of the 20th century. Listen to Dusty In Memphis and just try to disagree with me. Few people can match her voice, which echoed with not just the sentiment of the song she might have been singing, but with a deeper, constant touch of sorrow. Frequently, in song as well as life, she seemed to be the woman done wrong. And nearly always, she reached the realms of the magnificent with that voice of hers.

In a time when a whole bunch of people didn’t even think about singing songs they had written, Dusty made every song that came her way sound like it was hers and hers alone. With that kinda voice, it was easy to stake claim on just about anything. And so, please take a moment to remember that heavenly, heartbreaking voice, and the woman behind it.

Happy Birthday, Dusty.

mp3: Just One Smile (Dusty Springfield from Dusty In Memphis)



100 Shows of 2010 - #14: Gringo Star @ Black Cat, 4/8/10

I’d been wanting to see Gringo Star for just over a year by the time their Black Cat show rolled around, so it’s about damn time they rolled into town. The weather set a dramatic backdrop for their set at the Black Cat (guess you could say they’re a band that knows how to make an entrance), but not even the torrential downpours of the season’s first major storm could keep me away. And those Atlanta boys sure did make the risk worth the reward, let me tell you.

MINI RECAP: Gringo Star = Hot tamales! Overall score: A.

Sandwiched between locals Typefighter and Exit Clov, Gringo Star was definitely the cream of the evening’s crop, the feather in the night's cap. As soon as they broke out that pair of tambourines, I knew it was gonna be a good night. Forget those Black Lips comparisons you might have heard, I’m pretty sure those are around merely because both bands reside in Atlanta. Not only are they far more genteel, but the Gringos also definitely draw a hefty inspiration from the bands of the British Invasion. The Kinks’ influence is clear, but to me there was a definite dash of the irrepressible “She’s Not There”-era Zombies as well. Jaunty, jangly, and irresistible: that’s the Gringo Star modus operandi.

Their 45-ish minute set simply flew by, a whirl of simple, catchy as hell songs perfect for chasing the clouds away. Not only did the boys fuel my love for them by using not one but two tambourines, but they also utilize a rather unique vocal arrangement: three of them share the lead vocals. Over the course of the set, Nick, Peter, and Pete all got their sing on, and while their voices are all distinct, somehow this singing merry-go-round works perfectly and seamlessly for their sound. The band bobbed like Brits of yore up there on the small stage, and spread their Kinksian love all around the room. Like the bands that inspired them, the Gringo Star songs are short but very, very sweet.

It took a damn long time for me to finally see them, but Gringo Star did not disappoint. Their throwback sound warmed the cockles of my little heart, and believe me when I say this is definitely a band you’ll want to make sure to catch live. They’ll show you one heck of a good time. I hope it doesn’t take nearly as long to see them a second time.

mp3: Ask Me Why (Gringo Star from All Y’all)


Monday, April 12, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #13: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ 9:30 Club, 4/5/10

Ah, the number 13. Unlucky for some, but for others, pretty dang fortunate. It seems appropriate, somehow, to have the divine Black Rebel Motorcycle Club as the 13th show in the 100. I've always had good luck seeing them live, never once have they let me down, and in fact they always leave me feeling even more satisfied than I had imagined. And so, when a last-minute invite came my way, I couldn't resist. After all, BRMC has been one of my favorite bands for many years now, and how on Earth could I pass up a chance to see them touring new record Beat The Devil's Tattoo? And so it was that I found myself, with plenty of other happy folks, soaking up the fuzz and the drone and the noise on a Monday night at the world-famous 9:30 Club. And it was magic.

MINI RECAP: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club = Scorchingly Sexy Rock! Overall Score: A.

I've been fortunate enough to see BRMC on many stops along their road, from the days touring their debut B.R.M.C. to the glorious, sultry Howl era to the breathtaking Baby 81. It's been a long, wonderful trip, and their newest incarnation (along with new full-time drummer Leah Shapiro) is just as fantastic as the others. And of course, not only do I find their music fucking awesome, I also harbor a major crush on Peter Hayes. Just another reason to love 'em, folks.

As per recent BRMC shows, they pulled fairly equally from their (non-instrumental) records, which as a fan of just about everything they're recorded sure did make me happy. Their blazing set was nearly 20 songs long, and they were on the 9:30 Club stage for just about 2 hours. In that span, I witnessed a band at the top of their form. Their sexy, pulsating rock veered as it does from fuzzy nouveaugaze to brilliant Bible Belt blues to driving, confident rock. I couldn't take my eyes off of the three of them, (alright, perhaps when a strobe light was burning my retinas) and they near about knocked me off my feet. Old favorite "Red Eyes and Tears" was given an extended treatment, and sounded even louder and fuzzier than the most excellent album version, while new favorite "Beat The Devil's Tattoo" was also a highlight, the husky smokiness of Shapiro's vocals blending well with those sultry pipes of Hayes and Robert Turner.

The set also included scathingly fierce versions of "Love Burns", "Berlin", "Weapon of Choice", "Ain't No Easy Way", "Spread Your Love", "American X", "Rifles", and a very noteworthy rendition of another favorite, "White Palms." Peter's guitar on that song absolutely kills me, it's so deliciously vicious as he defiantly dares "Jesus I dare you to come back." It's an intoxicating effect, and it never ceases to seduce.

The entire set was deafening, and might be the loudest I've ever heard them. It was a sultry night inside the club (thanks to the unseasonable warmth outside and subsequent half-hearted attempt at AC), and the humid feeling was the perfect backdrop for the show. There's a devil-may-care vibe at BRMC shows, a feeling that something shambolic is right beneath the surface of their nearly perfect play. Hot damn, I love this band.

mp3: Red Eyes and Tears (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club from B.R.M.C.)

mp3: Long Way Down (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club from Beat The Devil's Tattoo)

Friday, April 9, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #12: Past Lives/Snack Truck @ DC9, 4/4/10

We've all been to this kinda show. It happens every so often, perhaps a couple times a year, where I go to a show and am totally stunned by the sparseness of the crowd. When I rolled up to DC9 on Easter Sunday, friends, I was gobsmacked (hi, British friends!) by the teensy tiny little crowd assembled for the show. Sure, it was Easter Sunday, but I was totally psyched for this show which means other people should have been, too. Come on now, DC. Get your shit together. Y'all missed one hell of a rock show, I'll tell you that much.

MINI RECAP: Snack Truck = Mind-Liquifying! Past Lives = Head-Crushing! Overall score: A.

Having lived in Richmond for a little while, I was already rather familiar with Snack Truck. I saw them once, at the now-defunct Artist's Underground, and that was enough to make me love them long time. I'll vouch for them as one of Richmond's best bands any day of the week. They're one of the only bands I know of to successfully and kick-assedly utilize the stick skills of not one but two drummers, and watching the two of them have a go as they beat the holy hell out of their respective drum kits is pretty hypnotic. So too is the wailing guitar and furious bass that round out the Snack Truck sound, a sound that is so overwhelming and raging that I couldn't hear myself think about thinking, let alone hear myself think. I'm pretty sure they've gotten louder, too, in the months since I last saw them. Five minutes in my ears were already hurting, but I wanted more. I'm a glutton for such heavenly punishment, this swirling, pulsating mass of sonic energy, brilliant in its deafening, kaleidoscopic noise. They're a band that definitely keeps to Richmond's whole "give me loud bastard rock or give me death" thing. I sing the gospel of Snack Truck, friends, so make sure you check 'em out.

But happily, the awesome didn't stop there. I've been listening the hell out of the new Past Lives record, Tapestry of Webs. I never really got into any of the band member's prior bands (Blood Brothers, Chromatics, Shoplifting, etc.), but damned if I'm not pretty smitten with them now. The song "Paralyzer" in particular gets me all in a tizzy, with the slow burn and fuzzy guitars and shouty vocals. Gorgeous. And addictive. Right off the bat the band sounded totally Ziplock tight, wonderfully angular and slightly dissonant and crushingly loud. At times Past Lives reminded me of one of my favorite, sadly now-dead DC bands Black Eyes: A perfect mix of shouting and rhythm and fierce, fierce riffs. Mark Gajadhar, the drummer for Past Lives, gets major shout outs for his ferocity and thrashing behind the kit. Seriously folks, he's good. But then again, they're all good. Even singer Jordan Blilie, being one of the recently vocally afflicted (I'm gonna blame the pollen count), belted out the songs with vim and vigor. This band absolutely killed it. And yes, my beloved "Paralyzer" sounded as bitchin' as I had hoped.

This show was a doozy, and I'm so glad I took a break from the Easter candy to be there. Friends, go see these bands whenever you can. See them now, ask questions later.

mp3: Paralyzer (Past Lives from Tapestry of Webs)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #11: Nada Surf @ 9:30 Club, 4/2/10

There’s a small handful of bands that I look to for consistency, bands I trust for their awesome reliability, their dependable radness. They’re like the Old Faithfuls of music, the ones that never ever ever let you down. The ones that rule the school any day of the week, and like cockroaches might just outlive us all. Nada Surf belongs in this bunch, and they proved once more that when it comes to throwing a killer live show, they’re hard to beat.

MINI RECAP: Nada Surf = Kings Among Men! Overall score: A.

I was pleased to see that the 9:30 Club was suitably full for the show, so much so that it felt a little steamy up in the balcony. But what’s a few beads of sweat among Nada Surf-loving folks? When the supplemented trio (along with a couple of friends) took the stage it was to rapturous cheers from the packed house. I could see their grins from the tip of the club, as they enthusiastically proclaimed, “Awesome” and, “It’s nice to be back.”

Hours of top-notch music ensued from those indie stalwarts, as you might expect. They pulled from every corner of their catalog, mixing in covers from their new record with old favorites. “Hyperspace,” one such oldie, off the oft-overlooked album The Proximity Effect, was a welcome inclusion into the set, and like most of the more uptempo songs was good and poundingly loud. The inclusion of the extra guitar and keys made the sound even bigger, meaning it felt like you were being totally wrapped in their glorious noise. I inwardly squealed like a little schoolgirl anytime the band launched into a song from my favorite Nada Surf record, Let Go. It’s such a classic album, and the songs therein are so stunning and intricately constructed. “Killian’s Red” is one of those songs, and I will forever be smitten with that dark, stormy bass and the tantalizing guitar, not to mention Matthew Caws’ warm, distinctive voice. I’ll never be talked out of thinking his is one of the finest voices of a musical generation. The band tended to throw in extended jamming at the end of certain songs, adding chunky guitar and very heavy drums on the end of the gorgeous “Killian’s Red.”

“What Is Your Secret?”, from The Weight Is A Gift, immediately followed, and it was during that song that I wrote a note to myself about how Nada Surf live sounds not record perfect but live perfect, which is totally different. We all know that anyone can sound good in a studio, but what sets bands apart is their ability to be amazing live. Not just good, but amazing. And Nada Surf, well, they’re pretty much amazing live. “Can you hear the 90s influence?,” a dude behind me asked his date. I smirked, and the band began to play a breathtaking rendition of “Your Legs Grow,” one of their best ballads. It’s a song that could launch a thousand lighters, as could the painfully lovely “Blonde on Blonde,” which came a little bit later on in the set. Just when I thought it wasn’t possible to love Nada Surf anymore, they went and covered one of my all-time favorite ever songs: Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence.” Introduced as their “goth-disco song,” it was totally divine. After that it was a solid run from Let Go, “Blizzard of ’77,” “Neither Heaven Nor Space,” Hi-Speed Soul,” and “The Way You Wear Your Head,” and each song was flawless. Which is pretty much the way you could describe the entire set.

I went home a very, very happy girl last Friday night, my friends. If, by some chance you haven’t yet seen Nada Surf live, you really owe it to yourself to amend that situation as soon as you can. There aren’t many bands around that you can count on, but you can definitely count on Nada Surf. I love that band to smithereens, and always will.

mp3: Killian's Red (Nada Surf from Let Go)

Monday, April 5, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #10: Megafaun/Sharon Van Etten @ Black Cat, 3/31/10

In my humble opinion, sometimes the best shows are the ones that sneak up on you, the ones that you might not have expected to be one of the best you've seen all year, the ones that are so full of sheer awesomeness that you just can't believe what you just saw. Friends, I'm hear to tell you that the Megafaun/Sharon Van Etten show at the Black Cat was one such show. I went in sans expectations, and left with one hell of a smile on my face.

MINI RECAP: Sharon Van Etten = Delightful! Megafaun = Just plain fantastic! Overall score: A.

When I arrived, the fabulous Sharon Van (not Von, mind you!) Etten was already doing her thing. She has this great sweet yet sassy thing going on, with really top-notch folktastic songs and a killer voice. She told us stories, including my favorite one involving her playing an all-day metal show. Sharon has a disarming stage persona that totally draws you in and makes you totally comfortable, and then she wows with her big, haunting voice and her solid songs. By the time she was done she had totally impressed me, and judging by the constant stream of people going to talk to her at the merch area, I wasn't the only one she had under her spell.

And then it was time for the wonderfully bearded trio of Megafaun (having lived in Richmond, I defintely have a fondness for beards). I wasn't at all prepared for how good they were going to be, or for how much I was going to love them by the end of the evening. "We're Megafaun, we're really thrilled to be here," they began, before launching into a lengthy set of beautiful, rustic, inspired folk. I was so impressed with everything about Megafaun; how their voices compliment one another so perfectly, how they played their instruments just so, and how they totally win the best banter of 2010 award with their amusing little anecdotes and trivia questions. My probable favorite song of the night, "Kaufman's Ballad," was even lovelier than on record, with the soaring harmonies and delicious pickin' on the banjo. They can go from making exquisitely fragile, delicate sounds to steamrolling some loud as all get out noise, and somehow it's all equally gorgeous. There's an overall rhythm in their music that makes me think of a backwoods version of The Band, both in terms of skill and the textures of the music. As with The Band, music seems effortless coming from them. And they're so dang humble and endearingly silly. "We've been accused of talking too much, I don't get where that happens," was just one of the little asides that engrained them into my heart. And then there was the encore. People, take note. The best way to do an encore is to have a singalong in the middle of the venue, not on the stage, surrounded by happy, singing fans. It was a fitting, glorious end to a just-about-perfect show.

I kept chiding myself during the course of their set, for not already being a huge Megafaun fan. But I'm gonna fix that, I can guarandamntee it. I'll tell you this right now, compadres, I loved everything about their set. No lie. When they moved from the stage to the floor, that was awesome. The way they built up a total lovefest between themselves and the crowd. That too, was awesome. Megafaun pretty much came out of left field and bowled me over. Go see this band. Frequently. That's all there is to it.

mp3: Kaufman's Ballad (Megafun from Gather, Form and Fly)


Saturday, April 3, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #9: Fanfarlo @ The Norva, 3/30/10

It is a long, long way from here to Norfolk, my friends. A very long way. But the endless stretches of highway were certainly not enough to keep me from seeing the band that made the best record of last year (in my humble opinion), so drive and drive and drive I did. And I tell you what. It was so worth it, I'd do it all again tomorrow. In a heartbeat. Fanfarlo is worth any distance.

MINI RECAP: Fanfarlo = splendiforous! Overall score: A.

The crowd was, shall we say, a bit sparse (though seeing as The Norva is pretty cavernous, the crowd size just might have seemed a bit smaller than it was in actuality). Located in what appears more of a Hollywood set than an actual city, The Norva is still a pretty good venue. I arrived just in time to assume a good observing position and catch my breath before the band strolled onstage. Decked out in lovely, springy pastel button downs (on the menfolk), the band gets points for choosing a look and going all the way with it. Though I'm just not sure about Simon's day-glo socks and the tucking therein of his pants into said socks. The music, however, was far less questionable.

Opening with "Drowning Men," the sound immediately came across as vibrant and crisp. Some bands are just impeccable live, Fanfarlo being one of this type. Simon Balthazar's soaring vocals play so nicely with the large sound created by the rest of the band, through trumpeting and keyboards and violins...it's such a beautiful noise. The driving "I'm a Pilot" was up next, a glorious wash of enchantment. Lone lady of Fanfarlo, Cathy, proclaimed that The Norva was a lot like America, "vast" and with "lots of empty space," as she enouraged "population density" towards the front of the room. "Finish Line" followed this request, and yet again was sublime. I'm sure by this point I was grinning like an idiot. But what else do you do when your favorite album of an entire year is done so perfectly right in front of your eyes?

A rousing rendition of "Harold T. Wilkins, or How to Wait for a Very Long Time" was next up. As I looked around The Norva, I saw reflections of what was probably on my face - tons and tons of awe-struck, mesmerized faces (and some crazy dancers). Also finding their way into the incomprably transcendent set: "The Walls Are Coming Down," "Fire Escape," an especially gorgeous version of "Comets," and a sped-up, very jaunty take on "Luna." After a very, very brief time away from the stage, the band was urged back to the stage by the very vocal little crowd, for what Simon called "one more before bedtime." That one more was a stunning rendition of "Ghosts," and it (and the entire set) had me leaving Norfolk feeling as happy as the cat that got that darn canary.

Fanfarlo live was even better than I had expected (and believe me, my expectations weren't exactly low). The band was affable and personable and charming, and they played with a natural grace and elegance that few bands are lucky enough to possess. It was a night of heavenly music, and I am so very glad to have been there. And should you happen to see them live, I recommend picking up one of their delightful little Fanfarlo sweatshirts, done up in a sort of retro ski sweater style. Other bands couldn't pull that kind of merch off, you know.

mp3: Comets (Fanfarlo from Reservoir)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

100 Shows of 2010 - #8: The xx @ 6th and I Synagogue, 3/28/10

When was the last time you saw a show before dark? I couldn't remember the last time I got my rock on before sunset, until last Sunday. With tickets to the matinee of a doubleheader, I braved Caps fans and tourists alike to partake in some foxy English dance music courtesy of The xx.

MINI RECAP: The xx = breathtaking! Overall score: B+.

Burning incense and a giant cutout letter "X" set the stage for the show. Perched in the synagogue balcony, I waited excitedly to see how The xx would do live, especially in an unusual (though awesome) venue such as the 6th & I Synagogue. The trio ambled onto the stage, Romy clutching a cup of tea. Starting with album opener "Intro," the band began to work their magic. Immediately I knew this was going to be a good set, with the beats provided by Jamie sounding straight out of the club and the bass and guitar sounding a bit slower, though fuller, than on record. I got a chill when they launched into "Crystallised," so icy cool it was. Oliver certainly has a way with his bass, not to mention that unbearably sexy voice of his. There are bedroom eyes, and there are bedroom voices, and his smoky, come-hither voice definitely qualifies.

It was soon evident what was causing Romy to suck on some tea, her voice sounded a little bit raw. She still sounded great, mind you, but it was obvious all was not right. Perhaps the pollen count here got to her poor throat. "Heart Skipped a Beat" was lit with red lights, appropriately, and was even more appealing than on the record. It didn't take me long to realize that the choice of a house of worship was a venue was a good one. There was a kind of reverential gap between the band and their disciples, looking down at the crowd was like looking into a sea of rapt believers. I also found Oliver's deliberate, purposeful movement rather hypnotic. Be it running his hands through his hair, pushing up his sleeves, one by one, or stalking around the stage, he had a commanding presence. One of the most wonderful moments of the show came during the encore, when the band played the slow-burner "Stars," lit up by a backdrop of twinkling fairy lights. It was a beautiful moment.

When it was all over (far too soon), I sat back and enjoyed the revelatory feeling that comes just after I see a special show. Vocals roughness aside, the band sounded fantastic, and the synagogue was the absolute spot-on place for them to play. If you ever find yourself in their path, make sure you go see The xx. You won't be sorry.

mp3: Heart Skipped a Beat (The xx from The xx)