Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Your Year in Review 2011

For those who were holding their breath waiting for this, you can now exhale (hi Mum!). Here's a random collection of overshare, loosely based around my top 10 songs of the year.

10. Never Look Back - Slow Club
Slow Club's 2010 debut album "Yeah, So" should really be my album of the year as it spent more time playing this year than any other record else I own, but rules are rules, and it doesn't qualify for this annual parade of indulgence. But this year's "Paradise" is pretty goddamn special too - filled with plenty of boy/girl angst, and a healthy dollop of ukelele picking.

This particular cut starts slow, but sweeps into a full orchestral chorus - and I think I also like the fact that it mentions a marching band, joining the lofty pantheon of other songs that are awesome that mention marching bands (American Pie, that Death Cab one).

They're coming through Vancouver in early March playing a 50 person venue, and I'm looking forward to being woefully awkward trying to talk to them.

9. Weekend - Smith Westerns
Despite being roughly 11, the Smith Westerns have spent more time digging through crates of old T-Rex records than I have (not an elementary achievement), but they have mined 70s glam-rock for its best riffs, basslines and swagger. "Weekend is essentially just a single guitar riff, but its so good it doesn't even matter"

8. I Might - Wilco
To an aging hipster such as myself, there's nothing more stereotypically appropriate than dropping a Wilco song into each year's year-end list. Sure, they're my dad's age, and their new record sounds like their last one, and the one before that, but they just keep writing fantastic songs, and putting on fantastic live shows full of musical mastery.

"I Might" was on repeat for weeks on end and is a perfect slice of Dad-rock.

7. How the West Was One - Kyprios

9 year-old me would think it was pretty awesome that 31 year-old me featured a rap about sports in his year-end list, but everyone else in the universe just thinks its lame. But for three months this year, pretty much all I did was watch the Vancouver Canucks play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. At a time where there wasn't too much other good news floating around, the playoffs were a wild ride, featuring a lot of mid-week drinking, a lot of nervously chewed fingernails, and ultimately, no parade at the end of it (we did muster a pretty sweet riot at the end of it). It was an amazing time to be in and around the city, and this tune from Vancouver's favourite hipster rapper (who has one hell of a live show) does a nice job of capturing the moment.

6. Kaputt - Destroyer
Mostly because the cover photo is taken at the place I play pitch and putt golf 10 blocks from my house. But also largely because it features the sleaziest synths since the pinnacle of 80s porn, as well as an 80s porn themed video.

This is hands-down the most accessible Destroyer record, but still has more than it's share of weirdness.

5. Every Defeat A Divorce - Los Campesinos
For the 5th year in succession, Los Camps! make this list - they're still my favourite band, and North America's favourite soundtrack for Budweiser commercials, and I flew across a continent to spend 24 hours in DC and see them play (and to earn enough airmiles to get access to the Air Canada lounge for a year - but that's a story for another time). This particular song seems to be about watching England get knocked out of the World Cup, which doesn't make it as cheery as something like "World in Motion", but it also doesn't feature John Barnes rapping, which makes it a win in my book. Like the rest of their last record, it's dark, churning, original, and compelling, and I'm still a mega-LosCamps! nerd. Go see them live this February, North America.

4. Need You Now - Cut Copy

I remember seeing Cut Copy when I was a precocious little shit of a 27 year-old and claiming they were just a shit Australian New Order (it might even be somewhere in the blog archives if you're feeling adventurous), but then I spent more and more time with In Ghost Colours, and was forced to quickly revise my hastily informed opinion.

I dunno if Zonoscope is as good as that first record, but it still has its fair share of hits, and Cut Copy and I spent a lovely autumn evening on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay.

3. An Argument With Myself - Jens Lekman

This pretty much only makes the list because halfway through the song Jens Lekman actually has an argument with himself, which might be the most endearingly retarded thing I've ever heard in a pop-song.

2. Heart In Your Heartbreak - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The chorus "she was the heart in your heartache, she was the miss in your mistake" and I really like it when bands drop out the bass and drums for a verse. See, that's all you need to do to make this list - bands of the world, pay attention.

1. Revelations - Devon Williams
I picked up this Devon Williams record after I read the most ridiculously emphatic staff recommendation blurb in Zulu records (as seen in the woefully underrated Jason Lee/Julia Stiles romantic comedy "A Guy Thing"). I think I bought it just so I could be smugly superior next time I went back in there, but I got it home, hit play, and was presented with this as a first track. Like a one-man Polyphonic Spree, the "bom-bom-bom" refrain, the strings, and the pure explosions of joy through this song send it straight to the top of this list.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

my year in lists - 2010

If I had a dollar for every blog that started with a sentiment something along the lines of "Long Time, No Blog", I'd have $7.63 million (thanks, google), so I'm going to ignore the fact that I haven't posted on this blog in nearly 2 years, and just jump straight into the annual festival of self-indulgence that is the year end list.

One rule - each band is only allowed one entry overall, just to keep this list from becoming a Hold Steady and Arcade Fire love-fest.

Favourite Songs...

5. Younger Us - Japandroids
I can count the number of times I moshed at a show this year on two fingers, and during this song was one of them (for those keeping score, the other time was about four songs later, during Young Hearts Spark Fire). But this three minute nugget of distortion revels in nostalgia for the recent past, in which two 27 year old kids wistfully rock on their porch swing and remember their golden youth, the high point of which seems to be "that time you were already in bed and said "fuck it" and got up to drink with me instead". If I wrote the song, I'm sure I'd remember something a little more lofty, like "do you remember that time we were on the snuggie pub crawl of silicon valley and we got kicked off the caltrain for being a suicide risk". But I guess it doesn't roll of the tongue the same way.

4. Write About Love - Belle and Sebastian
I'm a sucker for Belle and Sebastian. I believe my entire year-end list of 2004 was merely an essay about how Belle and Sebastian were awesome because liking them made girls like me. I'm apparently much older, and wiser, now, but album and poster imagery featuring beautiful, pale-faced scottish girls gazing wistfully into the middle distance, and a song featuring a couple of lines extolling the virtues of being intellectual, some boy-girl call and response, and a Stevie Jackson surf guitar solo. and they're romping right back into 2010's year end list. (In other news, I saw them live for the first time in San Francisco, and they were charmingly awesome, and got cute girls (and Surfer Blood) up on stage to dance with them.)

3. Lingering Still - She and Him

Sure, the second She and Him record sounds a lot like the first She and Him record, but they're still fantastic, and M. Ward still has the shiniest guitar known to man. You can see that thing from space. This sugary pop-nugget wedges its way into my subconscious for months at a time, becoming the soundtrack to bus rides, showers, and marathon Angry-Birds playing sessions.

2. We Used To Wait - The Arcade Fire
Apparently its the year 2010 right now, so it is somewhat appropriate that at least one song on this list is based on a web experience - namely this amazing film here: (best viewed in Chrome) wherein a young man in a hoodie runs through deepest, darkest, Bucklands Beach, New Zealand, before arriving at my parent's house, only to be presented with a postcard from his older self, telling him that in the Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis is actually a ghost.

But in all seriousness, it was a good year for me and the Arcade Fire - "Suburbs" is a fantastic record, their Vancouver show this year was so epic I had a 50-year old asian man crowdsurf over me, and every time I hear Rebellion (Lies), I think its the olympics again, and I start to cry.

1. Tightrope - Janelle Monae
Again, another web-sourced piece of genius, but I'm glad I found it. Janelle Monae's performance on Letterman should a blueprint for how to perform on television. I see this song has made its way to a car commercial already, but if there's any justice, it should be propping up dancefloors the world over for the next 40 years. Doo Wop Motown Pop recast with an art-school aesthetic, and catchy as all hell. Plus, its from a record that seems to be about Robots.

Favourite Albums...

5. This is Happening - LCD Soundsystem
I think I've bought every LCD Soundsystem record to this point, and I can't honestly say I've ever sat down and listened all the way through any of them. For every fantastic slice of brilliance (daft punk is playing at my house, all my friends) they always seemed to be a couple of tracks that seem to be there solely to act as source material for amateur DJs to mash up. Hands up if you've ever made it all the way through the full 9 minute version of "Yeah" - nobody? I thought as much.

This is Happening seems like more of a pop record than a dance music record, and is filled with bullets, from the opening quiet, quiet, quiet, car-speaker blowing loud of "Dance Yourself Clean", through the best 4-song run of the year - "I can change", "All I Want", "You Wanted a Hit" and "Pow Pow".

If it really is the last LCD record, its a fitting bookend to their particular narrative arc. But if the amount of fun they were having the two times I saw them live this year is any indication, there's a good chance it won't be.

4. Astro Coast - Surfer Blood
These kids look like they're 12, but I suspect they're closer to 21 (and the singer looks like a tubby Kevin Arnold from the Wonder Years), but at either age they're still far too young to be this talented. The record is full of big, nuggety riffs drenched in distortion, and hooks thatsounds instantly familiar, and cause me to ask "what is this" every time I get in the car and it's playing.

3. Romance is Boring - Los Campesinos!
Disclaimer: I'm a Los Campesinos! nerd. I may have just signed up for their new zine subscription service, I may have driven to Seattle to see them play this year, and I may also be currently drinking tea out of a Los Campesinos! coffee mug. However, I still listened to this record more than any other this year, and there are redeeming features that should be appreciated by even non-fanboys.

a) Romance is Boring, the band's second proper "record", and third full-length, shows them shelving the all-out wall of sound that characterized the first two, and making use of space and lush instrumentation, best captured in "The Sea is a Good Place to Think of Future", linked below.
b) One song details a plan to move to Malta, get citizenship, and then get picked for the national football team, therefore being able to play England, France, Spain etc in World Cup qualifiers. This is notable, because I had the same plan, and would often discuss it with my co-conspirators, Messrs Dave Pearce and Christopher Burton. This is the part where you appreciate the irony of 3 people, who weren't even on the best team at their suburban football club, in a nation of 4 million people who aren't really very good at football, thinking that they could up sticks and head to Europe and waltz onto a national team.
c) Another song features the line "I think we need more post-coital and less post-rock", a sentiment we should all take to heart.
d) When you see them live, it is perfectly acceptable to shout "Can't we all please just calm the fuck down" over and over again.

2. Chant Master - Lawrence Arabia
The trainspotters reading this will note, quite accurately, that this record came out in 2009. However, I'm using the fact that this soundtracked my 2010, as well as the fact that it didn't get a North American release until this year, and the fact that I make the goddamn rules around here, ok, to sneak it under the bar into this years list.

It's somewhat gratifying to see someone who you've seen play in such luminary venues as the masonic, Edens (which still has the distinction of being the best club I've ever been to that was under a strip club) and that crappy flat party in Kingsland, show up in your transplanted home town playing a grand old theater, opening up for Crowded House. And then join you for a beer at the library square afterwards, where we tried to explain L&P to canadians.

The record is a magnificently listenable, totally unclassifiable, and stunningly unique. And James maintains one of the greatest twitter accounts ever, especially if you like cricket, or current events.

1. The New Pornographers - Together
The best New Pornographers record yet, it has all the elements of power-pop magic, but it sounds like an album of a proper band, instead of a disparate set of songs from a group of separate songwriters. Silver Jenny Dollar, Your Hands (Together) and If You Can't See My Mirrors are fantastic highlights, and showcase the individual talents of the group at large.Their show at the gorge during Sasquatch is the first time I've seen them play live with both Neko Case and Dan Bejar, and everything sounded fantastic, even if I did get myself in trouble in a rather unfortunate popcorn incident.

Best Shows... (Vancouver, unless otherwise specified)

7. Zeus/Jason Collett - The Biltmore
The first time I saw Zeus, in Victoria late last year, I thought they sounded like the Beatles. The second time I saw them, they still sounded like the Beatles, but at this show at the Biltmore they had some assistance, with Jason Collett, of Broken Social Scene affiliation, and Bahamas. Zeus apparently were Jason Collett's backing band for a while, before striking out to create their own pop gems. At this show at the wonderfully cosy, low ceilinged Biltmore nominally had three bands playing, but mostly had the same 10 musicians on stage throughout all three sets. Zeus were a particular highlight - the band constantly change instruments and lead vocals, and even threw in a Genesis cover for good measure.

6. Wilco - The Olympics
I could write any number of posts about the awesomeness that was the olympics. Put aside the corporate sponsorship and non-stop TV coverage that you get from afar, when you're in the host city, your olympic experience becomes a 2 week party, where every non-working hour was spent strolling the streets, pavilions, and licensed establishments of the city, trying to absorb a constant onrush of cultural experience, from watching curling at the Saskatchewan House, to a 2am Cadence Weapon show (at which the curling team was present, I believe) at Alberta House, to high-fiving cops while drinking beer on a streetcorner after the hockey final, it was amazing madness

One particular highlight on day one of the olympics was the city-run livesite, which featured international-caliber bands playing live for free less than a kilometer from my house, and the opening act on the first day was none other than Wilco. It was rainy, and nobody really knew how busy the shows were going to be, so we showed up at 2pm for a 7pm show, and got good and wet through, but within 30 seconds of Wilco stepping on stage, it was instantly worth it. The joy of the Wilco live experience has been extensively catalogued elsewhere in these pages, but their sound is always brilliant, they are incredibly talented musicians, Nels Cline plays guitar like a retard getting electrocuted, and Jeff Tweedy seemed comfortable in the spotlight, cracking jokes, making fun of Canadians, and totally revelling in the fact that playing a show at the olympics is kinda weird.

5. Matt and Kim - The Rickshaw
If you've not had the pleasure of experiencing Matt and Kim live, and they come to your town, and you don't go, you lose.

The played a mid-october show at the Rickshaw, an old movie theater in the downtown eastside with the first half of the seats ripped out, and while the sound isn't too fancy, the beer is cheap and accessible, and it feels like a good earthy place to

Matt and Kim are a boy-girl, drums-keys combo, with unbelievable energy, and within 5 minutes of them coming out on stage the air was filled with balloons, and the kids were going nuts.

The played their feelgood hits, Yea Yeah and Daylight, and I think I sweated out most of my bodily fluid. But that didn't stop Matt coming out after the show to give out hugs to anyone who wanted one. We got ours, and he was still giving them out half an hour later. It took two days to wipe the smile off my face.

4. Phoenix - The Orpheum

This show should have been an early indication of how awesome the Olympics were going to be - it was about a month before they kicked off, and this show was part of the "cultural olympiad", whatever that is. Regardless, it brought Phoenix to a grand old theater downtown, which normally hosts opera, orchestra, and the occasional adult contemporary reunion tour. The show was kicked off by local dance-poppers You Say Party!, who were great despite nobody being there (the joy of a 6pm show).

Phoenix came on stage, looking as stylish and french as possible, and played a solid set that spanned all three of their records, dipped into Air's Playground Love, and all was well, apart from the fact that most of the crowd was still sitting down.

Then they come out for their encore, and one kid jumped up on stage and danced around. He was expecting security to come out and turn him away, but nobody did. It appears they forgot to hire security for the show. Within seconds there were thousands of people on stage -I know for a fact that I stood on some of the guitarists gear, yet after initially looking terrified, the band played on, even playing 1901 while being completely surrounded by crowd. Excuse the sound in the video below, but otherwise its tres awesome.

3. Die Antwoord - Treasure Island Music Festival, San Francisco
I'm not much into Zef-Rap, but Die Antwoords live show is quite something else. It all starts off with them wearing boilersuits detailed with cartoon characters (one of which seems to be a caricature of the male singer holding his dick - which also seems to be tattooed on his arm)

There was much fist pumping, hip thrusting in inappropriate trousers, and ass flashing, but it was a train wreck I couldn't look away from. Couple that with the fact that I could look to the left and see alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco downtown, and it was a pretty satisfying afternoon.

2. The Hold Steady - The Showbox, Seattle
If you know anyone that doesn't believe in the beauty of rock and roll in its purest form, you need to take them to a Hold Steady show to convert them. These are 5 guys who love the simple action of standing in front of a crowd of people, and playing songs to them, and it shows in the grin on the face of the lead singer.

This show was one of those happy accidents - I was away on a work trip, and my plans changed last minute, leaving me in Seattle with nothing to do. A quick scan of the local street paper revealed a Hold Steady show, so within 4 hours of finishing work I had a ticket, and a couple of beers under my belt.

And I'm so glad I did - a Hold Steady show is a wonderfully awesome place to be - Craig Finn says things that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, like "Tonight we're going to have a lot of fun", and through his literate stories of teenage characters ("you're a beautiful girl, and a pretty good waitress" from Hurricane J), and his knack for getting people to chant unlikely things (the word "sequestered" doesn't feature often in rock choruses, but it does here).

Somewhere towards the end he said something along the lines of "all any of us ever need is this room, you people, and a whole lot of good times" and it made a lot of sense. Until I went outside and realized I'd forgotten where I was staying.

1. Pavement - Central Park, New York
I'm a nerd. And I'm proud of that fact. And myself, and a fair number of my peers made their way to Central Park in New York for the centerpiece of Pavement's reunion tour on a sunny September afternoon.

In order to get tickets for these shows, you had to purchase them nearly a year in advance, with only a day's notice between them being announced, and them being sold out. It takes a certain kind of person who is willing to take that sort of leap of faith, and it was evident when looking around the crowd.

I've been a Pavement fan as long as I can remember (i think I stole Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain off my then 12 year old sister), yet I'd never seen them live. I changed that three times this year, but the New York show was the best. The crowd was the nerdiest group of music snobs I've ever seen, but they saw no shame in belting out every lyric to every song Pavement played, whether it be MTV video hit, or unreleased b-side, and it was utterly fantastic.

The other two times I saw them, there was obvious tension on stage, but in New York, I think they could see the end of the road, and were just happy to bathe in the admiration.

For extra points, see if you can figure out how the song linked below is the inspiration for my blog/twitter name.

Monday, January 19, 2009

My Year In Lists

So its 19 day's late, and much more than a dollar short, but I wouldn't be an annoying idiot with a penchant for overwrought analysis of popular culture if I didn't put out a year-end list.

and songsmith can only entertain me for so long

So here it is - My Year In Lists

Song of the Year
1. My Year In Lists - Los Campesinos.  You see what I did there? Just sit back and appreciate the irony of naming a song about not wanting to compile a new year list at the top of a new year list.
But happy coincidence aside, in 1 minute and 42 seconds, 7 precociously talented whippersnappers from Cardiff cram in enough great lyrics for Belle and Sebastian to build a career from, more glockenspeil taps than a Brunettes record, and the best boy/girl harmony since Ike and Tina or Lee and Nancy.

"I declined because I decided I do not believe in the new year any more"


2. Keep Me in Mind, Sweetheart - Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell

Mark Lanegan's gravelly baritone is a bit much on its lonesome, but on this highlight from his second collabaration with ex-Belle and Sebastian Yoko Isobel Campbell, it balances perfectly. There's a simplicity to it that brings to mind classic Johnny and June Cash, and proves that sometimes all you need is a melody, an acoustic guitar, and a couple of different voices.

Honorable mention to some of the stuff that Mark did with Greg Dulli, formerly of the Afghan Whigs as the Gutter Twins - which is also worth a look.

3.  The Hold Steady - Sequestered in Memphis

The genius of Craig Finn and the Hold Steady is that he can write barnstorming festival- and dive bar-rocking anthems, without failing to be literate, obscure, and unfailingly witty. The sight of a sun-drenched field of college-aged hipsters chanting "Subpoenaed in Texas - Sequestered in Memphis" was one of the most gratifying things I saw this year.

At their live show in Vancouver, Reggie Youngblood prefaced this number with the statement - "This is gonna be one of your mad jamz, yo", and he was pretty goddamn close to the truth. It stomps, stamps and doowops, totally unhindered by the silliest couplet of the year, and really hits its straps when it breaks down and the twin female vocalists take center stage and play the song out. I'm not sure if it's just because of the memory of watching them grin, sparkle and shimmy their way through a live show, but it always makes me feel good. 

5. I Know Your Girlfriend Hates Me - Annie.
Some may call it tokenism, and to a degree it is, but you can't fail but appreciate genius pop music. And in a year when Justin et al did nothing of note, the best pop song of the year came out of Norway. 

It's marginally less sugary than 2004 year-end favourite "Chewing Gum", but it still is classic Richard X production pop, that reminds of those heady days in the early 2000 when that ruled the airwaves. Rachel Stevens, anyone?

She's the norwegian Kylie, don't you know? and the wikipedia entry for this song says it is inspired by Prince's Kiss, which should be the inspiration for much more stuff.

6. Knots - Pete and the Pirates.

The bastard child of a C-86 Sarah Records twee pop band and the Clash, Pete and the Pirates are one-part charming, and two-parts energetic. Everything about this song is dead simple, but it rollicks through and is good enough to force me to stick an extra song onto my top 5.

Albums of the Year

1. Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, Silver Jews 
2. The Luxury of Hysteria, Tim Rogers
3. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
4. Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes
5. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, Los Campesinos

Shows of the Year

1. Cadence Weapon, Vancouver
2. Jarvis Cocker, Pitchfork Festival, Chicago
3. Jonathan Richman, Vancouver
4. The Blakes, San Francisco
5. The Decemberists and Barack Obama, Portland

Five pieces of random culture that have re-entered my sphere of influence this year
1. The Thrills' So Much For The City
2. Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde
3. The Wombats' Let's Dance to Joy Division
4. Pavement's Brighten the Corners
5. Superchunk 

Five other things that are rattling my dags
1. Songsmith
2. Physics raps
4. The New York Times Crossword on Sundays
5. Entourage

more detail to follow...because I won't rest until this is at least 10,000 words

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Los Campesinos, You Say Party! We Say Die!, The Parenthetical Girls, The Plaza, Vancouver, June 1, 2008

gareth!Things are getting kinda ridiculous - it's been exactly a month since I updated this blog, and I've got a backlog of 11 shows to write about, all of which I have incredibly charming and wonderful things to write about (or not - does anyone really wanna read a clumsily assembled argument about why baseball is better than basketball, and therefore, rocknroll is better than dance music?).

But because I've run out of excuses, and because I've already seen the episode of Beauty and the Geek that I'm currently sitting in front of (and that is a show I could totally excel on), I should probably get the feet wet again. And you'll be pleased to know that democracy is, in fact dead, because despite asking for submissions on which show review to write first, I've gone with something completely different entirely.

Sunday night began with an excursion to see my favourite band of the past 9 months, Los Campesinos!. I've had a little bit of a Los Camps! problem since someone pointed my to their Myspace page in January 2007, and while I can see how you could find the male singer's voice annoying, and the glockenspiel-fueled wall of noise is a matter of personal taste, their boy/girl charm, lyrical wit, punctuational appropriateness and Pavement-referencing awesomeness had me hooked from the first, well, hook.

The attraction soon turned into an obsession, which this year saw me purchase two copies of their debut LP, Hold On Now, Youngster, one downloaded from iTunes, and another physical copy, just because I wanted the artwork (downloaded music is so aesthetically unsatisfying, even with the fancy graphics on my iPod). The record has been keeping me in oh-so-witty facebook statuses for the last 3 months (example - "G-there were conversations about which Breakfast Club you'd be - I'd be the one that dies A- no one dies G- well then what's the point?.”) and accompanying me on late night walks home, much to the chagrin of the unfortunate folk who live close enough to the granville street bridge to hear me singing as I walk across it at 4 in the morning.

So, like a 14-year old girl going to a Fall Out Boy show, I was lined up outside the Plaza just a tick after 7pm, with the other 14-year old girls, who probably also like Fall Out Boy (on that point I'm guessing, but the two bands aren't that far apart). Being an all ages show, I'd come prepared, by getting drunk much much earlier in the afternoon, which was a worthwhile endeavour, as there was nary a drink to be had in the Plaza (surely they could open the upstairs bar and just keep the kids out - not that I want to seem like a crotchety old drunk).

Supporting this evening, and on the rest of the tour (and who I suspect were unceremoniously bumped to a ridiculous 7.30pm time slot by the other support band) were The Parenthetical Girls, out of Portland, Or. Featuring a lead singer that resembled the guy from Criminal Minds that dresses nerdy on the show, but that you know is probably a male model in real life (IMDB check - turns out I was right), a moustachioed gentleman in a vaudevillian striped jacket, and a pretty wee thing playing keyboard, they kicked off with the singer wending his way through the crowd to sing the opening number. Like a less dancy Of Montreal (the comparison could possibly attributed to the singer's effeminate stage presence), they shimmied through a series of tunes, that I wish I'd been paying more attention to (there seemed to be an outstanding amount of instrument swapping), and had the audacity to claim that this was "the most punctuationally outstanding bill they'd been on", but I was slightly distracted by the fact that Gareth Campesinos was standing in front of me.

Like the aforementioned 14 year old girl, I was desperately wracking my brain for something, witty, charming, and knowledgeable to drop in to casual conversation, eliciting an invitation to come backstage and drink their contraband alcohol (part of me wanted to meet the band, but most of me was just getting really thirsty by this point). So, after 3 songs of such deliberation, the Parenthetical Girls finished, and it was my time. So I stepped up, and delivered my line:

"So, what time do you guys go on?"
"About 9.30"

After which he gave me a look that said "I pity you for being a clumsy fan-boy, but I also understand, because I've done that too".

After that, it was time to drink, so we nipped across the road for a quick pint, stopping first to purchase a t-shirt from the drummer, and then do a complete about face as I walked outside and the bassist was standing out there alone smoking. Did I stop, and invite her across the road for a drink, or say something witty? Nope. Instead I decided to stare at her for a couple of seconds, before turning around again to continue crossing the road.

After the interlude, we returned to the second headliner, You Say Party! We Say Die!, who are a Vancouver live staple, that I'm yet to have the pleasure of experiencing.

They began with a quick warm up stretch, and a quick bout of call and response (you say! we say!) and launched into a multi-instrument, high energy spree of pop songs. The dude with the emo haircut danced angularly, and I found myself shaking along, but I again found myself distracted. For the rest of Los Campesinos! had decided that next to me would be a great place to stand and watch the band. LC! and YSP!WSD! toured Europe together last year, and the two bands obviously hit it off, as the kids from Los Campesinos! had set up shop not far from the front of stage. Also, they had alcohol, although they weren't sharing. I stood on Aleksandra Campesinos' toe at one point, during a bout of overenthusiastic shimmying, and she apologized to me, which I thought was a nice touch.

Los Camps! were invited up on stage to play and sing along during one of YSP!'s final numbers, and between the two bands, there were about 12 people on stage, clapping hands and singing songs, and it looked and sounded pretty good. Next time I see You Say Party! We Say Die!, I'm going to have to make a point of paying more attention.

Los Campesinos! proper hit the stage next, and by this point I'd worked myself into a fairly feverish fit of anticipation. The drummer, who looks like a 16 year old child, stripped off his shirt within 15 seconds of being on stage, to reveal a 16 year old's body (not that I'm in any position to be casting aspersions on others' pectoral physique), and the other 6 members assumed their positions.They kicked off with the shouted 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 intro to "Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats", and a sizeable portion (which in vancouver, translates to roughly 30%) of the crowd start jiggling and pogoing in time. The primary strengths of the LC! sound are all quite nicely encapsulated in this one tune - from the off-key shout-singing of Gareth's verses, the sugary cooing of Aleksandra's choruses, and the wall of guitar/glockenspiel/violin sound in betwee, coupled with some wtf lyrics that sound much too intelligent for a 3 minute dance pop song ("Singing I see songs in shapes and colours/Like nuclear physics or pottery ovens").

After a few songs it became apparent that things weren't going too well on the sound front - half the stage couldn't hear anything through their monitors, which means they were pretty much playing blind, and there were a couple of mis-steps that were probably due to this. The singer quipped "when you go home and blog about this, make sure you mention that we couldn't hear ourselves". Consider it done.
Otherwise, pretty much every song on "Hold On Now, Youngster", got a showing, along with the International Tweexcore Underground. Their outstanding rendition of Pavement's Frontwards was prefaced with "hi we're Los Campesinos!, and this next song isn't one of ours, which is probably a good thing - it's by a band called Pavement". I wanted to grab the 14 year old kids by their collars and shout "Pavement are the best band in the universe, look them up, appreciate them, and then appreciate the fact that LC! took a middling EP b-side and turned it into an anthemic call to arms. So much style that it's wasted, indeed.

The main set finished up with a stirring rendition of "You Throw Parties! We Throw Knives!", featuring another on stage appearance from You Say Party! We Say Die!, before disappearing backstage. They got called back for an encore, and I thought they were going to rise to the occasion and forgo the obligatory, but they popped back for the bonus track off the record, "2007, the year punk rock broke my heart", which ends in a satisfying fortress of noise, which was an appopriate way to go out.
And then I was turfed onto the street, to find it was only 10pm, and I could still get home and to bed at a reasonable hour. Maybe all ages shows aren't that bad, after all.

I'm heading to Music Waste tomorrow, and I'm excited. I actually ended up at the opening night at Fake Jazz at the Cobalt, "Vancouver's Hardcore Bar". It was the weekly Fake Jazz, which is an experimental music showcase, and while Ejaculation Death Rattle is an outstanding name, detuned saxophones, violins, and miscellaneous knob twiddling from a dude in a cop moustache is not my cup of tea, at least not on a wednesday. At least there was a full house, and I knocked out a high score on the PacMan machine (crushing the hopes and dreams of the young man who highscored before me, who was pretty happy with his performance).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

something much more exciting than the democratic nomation race

So, life gets in the way of blog sometimes, and there's a live show backlog that would put Chinese Democracy to shame. In order to organize the trickle of these items into a meaningful order, I'm leaving it up to you, my faithful readers (yes, both of you) to request what you want first. Here's your options:

Daniel Johnston
Stephen Malkmus
The Kills
The Cure
The Decemberists (w/ Barack Obama)
Simian Mobile Disco
Queens of the Stone Age
Mars Volta
The Dirtbombs
The Von Bondies
Los Campesinos

Votes on the back of the postcard to the usual address (or for those of you who are into this new-fangled world-wide-internetweb, you can use the comments thread).


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Mobius Band, Black Kids, Cut Copy, Richards on Richards, Vancouver, April 29, 2008

Things have been kinda crazy of late, and there's a blog backlog of unprecedented proportions. I've been to a bunch of shows of late that I'm yet to write about, but sometimes necessity prevents doing things in chronological order. So with deep apologies to Daniel Johnston, Simian Mobile Disco, Stephen Malkmus and the Queens of the Stone Age, I hereby present a stirring account of my night out at the Black Kids et al.

To say I was excited about the show this evening would be an understatement. I still remember the first time I played a Black Kids song (which is not that much of a nostalgic stretch, given that it was less than 9 months ago), but I remember finding it somewhere on the internet while mid-conversation with a young lady. The title caught my attention to begin, but within a dozen bars the conversation had ceased due to my distraction and the sheer catchiness pumping out of the stereo. I don't believe the young lady in question was happy, but I didn't even notice.

Within a week or so I'd downloaded their Internet-only Wizard of Aaahs EP, and those 4 songs soon came to soundtrack my weekend. Hurricane Jane became my Friday afternoon, driving home from work, blow out, Not Gonna Teach was my pre-night-out anthem, and Underestimated my Charm was a Sunday morning hangover cure of the finest calibre.

News that they were to be playing as part of the post-Coachella caravan of quality music up the west coast was greated with great anticipation, so I was pretty excited to be rolling in to Richards at a gig-appropriate time on a Tuesday night.

First up were Brooklyn's the Mobius Band. Apart from the outstanding name, they're notable for a drummer with outstanding painfully contorted facial expressions (and it has already been noted in these very pages that this is an essential element of any successful live show), some interesting drum effects boxes, dual singers, one of which looked a little like a guy i used to know, and some laid back country/electronic Lucksmiths-esque pop songs of a relatively high standard. It didn't send me rushing for the merch table, but it could be worth investigating further. But to be honest, my affections were promised to another.

The Black Kids were up next, and they strolled out to a packed house and some cheers. The lead singer, Reggie, sports an impressive mop of curly hair, which probably doesn't suit his face shape, but looks goddamn impressive when shaken in time to a pop song. The two girls manning the keys/organ/electronic shimmy and shake while hunched over their instruments, while cooing Supremes-esque backing vocals into the mix, and the drummer and bassist are ice-cold, barely breaking a sweat as they hold down the bottom end.

It's always a risk going to see a band play when their recorded output amounts to 6 songs (of which one is a Sophie B. Hawkins cover), but the Black Kids weren't wanting for material. All 5 non-Sophie B tracks (alas, Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover didn't make an appearance this evening) were featured, and elicited head nods, mis-steps, and over-enthusiastic air-punching in the "DANCE DANCE DANCE DANCE" crescendo of "Not gonna teach" (or maybe that was just me).

Reggie has a cultured arrogance about him on stage, which is something I admire in all my pop-rock heroes, but the stars of the show are the two girls on the keys, who bop, hunched over their instruments, all the while grinning from ear to ear, as if they've just realized that they get to spend the rest of their summer, and possibly much further, playing upbeat pop songs to packed houses the continent (and world) over.

There were a bunch of new songs, that I've seen bootlegged on blogs across the 'web, but the most memorable was one called "I Wanna Be Your Limousine", which was introduced with the lead in "this is gonna be one of your monster jamz, yo", and shimmies all over with Prince-baiting glory.

So, the sound was rubbish, but I was still pretty stoked with my Black Kids experience. And I left with a most fetching "I'm not gonna teach your boyfriend how to dance with you t-shirt".

After that, I was in excitement hangover, so I moved to the back of the room for Cut Copy. It pains the music perfectionist in me that I spent many years of my life being subjected to Australian music by default (and to be honest, enjoying most of it a great deal), but I'd never really heard of Cut Copy. I'm familiar with the school of Australian indie dance music, and I must admit I was expecting something a little different than what I got.

Which was New Order. I don't know if it's because most of the bands I see live have north american accents, and I've forgotten what a good antipodean singing voice sounds like, but all the rattling hi-hats, the nasal vocals, and the crazy kids jumping and bopping around made me feel like I was in Manchester in the mid-80s. Or at a rugby league stadium in the early 2000s, which was the last time I saw New Order.

I don't mean the comparison as a bad thing, and while certain elements may sound a little like them, their songs are completely different. Apparently Duran Duran were also playing that evening, and the band thanked us for choosing them over Simon leBon et al (although I'm told Duran Duran did a pretty impressive Kraftwerk tribute/takeoff).

Unfortunately, I'm a little short on Cut Copy details, but I do know that they finished the set off with kids dancing on the pillars at the front of the stage, and with my favourite rock and roll set closing move, which was the singer and keyboard player grabbing a spare drumstick and pounding away on the cymbals while the drummer kept time. I think the best example I've scene of this was at the Franz Ferdinand secret show in 2005, but this one comes a close second.

Righto, Daniel Johnston, Simian Mobile Disco, Queens of the Stone Age, Stephen Malkmus and hopefully Dirtbombs reviews to follow. Watch this space.

Monday, April 28, 2008

King Cannons, the Rebelles, Atsushi and the Moisties: The Thirsty Dog, Auckland: April 12, 2008

Shamefully, this was my first time at the Thirsty Dog. It won't be my last: anywhere with live music yet carpets this plush deserves a second visit. Squares that we are, we were a little early - I'm getting awfully confused in my old age about whether a rock gig that says it starts at 9:00 starts at 9:00 or at 11:45, and I've been burned a few times recently. Anyhow, there were cosy benches, a stereo with various Clash and Mescaleroes records on shuffle and a handy system where my coloured bits of paper can be exchanged for their bottles of cold beer, so passing the time was easy.

Atsushi and the Moisties have a memorably awful name and a handy brass section who like to dance when not musically employed. Atsushi himself wears a cow costume and plays a mean guitar; it was unclear whether the gentleman in the front row in a similar outfit was a Moisties associate or just a particularly dedicated fan. I've never quite decided how I feel about ska: I'm pretty confident there's only been one ska song ever written, and every ska band plays it eleven times each night (I'd wager the name Rudy in the title somewhere), but it's a pretty decent tune to hear a few times on a saturday night after a few beverages. Given the dancing horn section and the multiple bovines, vocals would have been one gimmick too many, but if you're after an instrumental ska band to open your night, you won't go too wrong with the Moisties.

I'd seen the Rebelles once before, as the post-game entertainment at a roller derby, which was about as perfect a venue for their three girl, one boy ramalama as you could get. Here, they blitzed through about 15 songs in around 20 minutes and still found time to incite a human pyramid in the front rows. Their singer's Kat Bjelland / Poly Styrene-styled voice is a powerful thing, and carrying on singing without missing a beat even when being tackled to the ground by your fans is pretty impressive. I'm not sure how the Rebelles would fare as headliners, given the brevity of the tunes and the intensity with which they are played, but if a short, sharp statement is what you want, they do a fine job.

The King Cannons sound is reggae bottom end with a punk sensibility, buttoned-up Ben Sherman style. The band is new to me, but they've been round long enough to have a record for sale behind the bar, and long enough to know just how to work a friendly crowd such as this. I'm trying awfully hard not to use the word skanking, but even someone as allergic to reggae as me was getting into the rhythm, and the Cannons' stage presence is undeniable. Faithfully covering "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" is a pretty decent way to get the non-believers on board too...

Taking advantage of free tickets (thanks, job) to the unfortunately deserted *mantis show at Rising Sun was a nice way to finish off the evening: following up a punk reggae act with a hip hop gig was almost too unusual for my poor little brain, but some comfortably familiar squid rings at the Burgerie, just like after every rock show ever, sorted me out just fine. Take note, indie kids - if you're worried you're expanding your musical horizons a little too much, greasy takeaways do a pretty good take-two-aspirins-and-call-me-in-the-morning job