Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sean Rowe at Laurie's Planet of Sound, Chicago - 3/20/13

Sean Rowe's The Salesman and the Shark finished at #6 on my list of favorite albums of 2012. His blend of heart wrenching ballads sung in his unique bass-y vocal style, was just what I needed to listen to during a year that seemed heavy on electronic-music, garage-revival bands, and "too-cool-for-school" hipster rock. Sean Rowe fits in with the group of timeless and classic singer-songwriters, with a sound not far off from the early works of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and other giants.

Both of his albums are excellent and worth owning, although I definitely prefer The Salesman and the Shark. Each go perfect with a tall glass of scotch, and a sexy blonde by your side who's ready to break your heart at any second. The Salesman and the Shark is full of slower, almost crooner-like tunes but also features a few rave-ups that wouldn't be too far off from Tom Waits Rain Dogs phase.

Sean Rowe came to town the other day to play a show at Lincoln Hall with a couple other songwriters. But beforehand, he stopped by Laurie's Planet of Sound in Chicago to perform a short acoustic set. I was thrilled to hear about this, especially since this great record store is only a short 10 minute walk from my apartment! When I showed up, I was expecting a packed audience, but was amazed to find out that I was the only one there!! One more person showed up, and Sean delivered a beautiful 5 song acoustic set, which included a taste of new music he's currently working on, a killer cover of Willie Dixon's classic - "Spoonful", and two more from his amazing last album.

Anyway, I filmed the whole set (which you can view below). Make sure to check out the first video for a very zen-like moment! During the performance of "Signs" (one of my favorites), Sean sings one of his pivotal lines:

I heard a train go by and I thought of you

Just as he sings this line, you can hear the subway train go overhead of the store. Really beautiful stuff!

New Song


New Song ("Razor of Love")

Bring Back the Night
Spoonful (Dixon)

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Latest Guided By Voices Singles - Ranked

A Quick Backstory

It took me until 2009 to finally "get" Guided By Voices. After reading about the band's breakthrough album - Bee Thousand in several music magazines and seeing it listed as one of the greatest indie rock albums ever, I bought the CD in 2002. After several listens, there were a few songs that stood out to me (most memorably "Echos Myron"), but the rest sounded like fluff. I stored the CD away and wouldn't return to it again until several years later. Flash forward to 2005-  I decided to give it another chance, and this time around a few more tracks starting standing out but it was still very strange to me. My brain and ears just weren't ready yet. I almost sold it back to a used CD store for a measly buck or two, but then decided to return to it another day, just in case. A couple more years passed and I woke up one morning with a strange song in my head. It was one of the greatest songs I'd ever heard and quickly dug through all the music I'd listened to in the past month or so, but nothing was coming to mind. This beautiful chorus kept repeating through my hungover and hazy brain:

She runs through the night as if nobody cares
She screams and she cries and ignores all the stares
She wants me to go but I'm never going there
The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory

Did aliens from another planet implant this melody in my mind so I could record it with my own band? Was I going insane? It didn't make any sense! Weeks later I randomly put Bee Thousand back on my stereo for the first time in a couple years, and there it was..... Eureka! Somehow this song which I hadn't paid much attention to before, jumped back into my life. From that point on, Bee Thousand began making complete sense to me. I scoured through every Robert Pollard and GBV release I could find and they have been one of my favorite bands ever since.

The Rankings

Since reuniting the band's "classic" lineup in 2010, they put out not one but three really great albums in 2012 - Let's Go Eat the FactoryClass Clown Spots a UFO (my favorite of the year), and Bears for Lunch. This year, they are planning to release two new albums beginning with English Little League on April 30th. To lead up to its release, they are putting out a new single every 2 weeks until it comes out. These singles which are available on 7" as well as for download have convinced me that English Little League just might top about everything they released last year! Here are my rankings of the new singles with some brief notes.

Flunky Minnows (Pollard) b/w Jellypop Smiles (Pollard)
(Available for Download on 2/19)
5 out of 5

"Flunky Minnows" is a GBV classic and by far the best song found across these singles! This power pop gem immediately needs repeated listens. Despite a great title, "Jellypop Smiles" is a lo-fi dud featuring a reverb drenched recorder, but does offer a nice gloomy contrast to the peppy flip-side.

Xeno Pariah (Pollard) b/w Little Jimmy the Giant (Pollard)
(Available for Download on 4/2)
5 out of 5

"Xeno Pariah" is an instantly catchy power pop nugget and the opener to English Little League. The song sounds like a brighter and poppier cousin of "She Lives in Airports" from last years Bears for Lunch album. While "Little Jimmy the Giant" is a rockin' little number that was recorded in 1983. The song was originally released as a solo acoustic demo on the Suitcase box set, but here features electric guitars and a full band. 

Islands (She Talks in Rainbows) (Sprout) b/w She Wore Blue and Green (Sprout)/Full Framed Luberon (Pollard)
(Available for Download on 3/5)
4 and 1/2 out of 5

If you love Tobin Sprout as much as I do, this is the single for you!  "Islands", which marks the first A-side written solely by Sprout is a harmony-laden, dreamy track that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. While "She Wore Blue and Green" is a sing-your-kids to sleep folk song. Pollard's - "Full Framed Luberon" is one of his numerous deranged experimental messes filled with grating guitars, and        
exhausting reverb heavy shouting.

Trash Can Full of Nails (Pollard) b/w Build a Bigger Iceberg (Sprout)
(Available for Download on 3/19)
4 out of 5

Although the A-side is my least favorite of these five singles, it could be one that makes absolute sense when heard in contrast with the rest of the new album. This tune leans heavy the prog-rock side with its' irregular battle march beat. The Tobin Sprout penned "Build a Bigger Iceberg" is an excellent psych-pop tune that features a breezy sing-along chorus.

Noble Insect (Pollard/Sprout) b/w Waves of Gray (Sprout)/See You Soon (Pollard)
(Available for Download on 4/16)
4 out of 5

"Noble Insect" captures a return of the side project - Airport 5, featuring Tobin Sprout providing all of the instrumental parts while Pollard sings the main melody. The second side showcase Sprout and Pollard trading off a pair of songs on the piano; with "Waves of Gray" being a short and jumpy number, while "See You Soon" mixes Pollard's raw pop brilliance with experimental weirdness.

Download the songs at gbvdigital.com

Monday, March 18, 2013

Veronica Falls at The Empty Bottle, Chicago - 3/14/13

Sometimes it takes seeing a band in concert to decide what level of fandom to gravitate towards. As someone who can't live without music, I literally love hundreds of bands and artists in all different genres. Between LPs, CDs, cassettes, and downloads; I feel the need to keep thousands of albums in my possession. Some of which are sadly only listened to a few times while others I've been obsessed with for more than a decade. Still with others, I'll go years without listening to, and then suddenly fall in love all over again. The bands and artists that span my collection range from: groups I like but have no desire to see in concert; groups I enjoy but would think twice before before picking up that third album; and then there are the ones that reach a peak in my musical obsession where they can do no wrong. Sure, some of their music is better than others, but you learn to love all their albums equally, as though they were a brother or sister. In cases like this, I don't feel the need to listen to music samples on iTunes before pre-ordering a new release; and I take every opportunity I get to see these artists in concert (Guided By Voices, Ryan Adams, The Black Angels, Wilco, and David Bowie all come to mind). 

Veronica Falls were a borderline band for me: I was one step towards becoming a fan for life, and one step towards being happy with the occasional new release. After falling in love with their debut single in 2010 ("Found Love in a Graveyard"), and everything else they've put out since, I finally got the chance to see them in concert. This time I made sure to get my tickets early, after just barely missing them at South By Southwest a few years back. I'm still fairly new to Chicago, so it was a pleasure to not only catch the band but also to see them at The Empty Bottle. With an excellent beer selection (including $3 Lonestar) and decent prices, a photo booth, arcade games, pool tables, great sound, this intimate rock club might be my favorite venue ever! The crowd was largely comprised of young and skinny, fashion conscious hipsters, so I didn't quite fit in, but who cares.

A local indie duo known as Love of Everything opened up the show. Led by the soft vocaled frontman - Bobby Burg, he looper layers upon layers of noisy guitar which only got more and more intense as their 30 minute set went on. At one point, he used an old flash camera next to the pickup of his guitar to add some interesting spacey effects. This was my first time witnessing these guys but won't be my last.

Cold Showers were next up and could have been an excellent headliner on their own. Their dark brooding goth tunes were a perfect soundtrack to a vampire party. With echoes of The National, The Cure, and The Smiths, the band sound was full of big pounding drums and cold bass lines, deep baritone vocals, and a guitarist that seemed to be a big fan of Johnny Marr. I was also unfamiliar with this band but really enjoyed their set. 

Veronica Falls closed the show and from the moment they walked on stage, they were
everything I hoped they would be and more! While watching the gig, I came to the 
conclusion that if I were to form any band I wanted starting tomorrow, it wouldn't be too far
off from this group. Two girls, two guys; a nice concoction of dark subject matter with light
and shimmery musicianship; vocal harmonies that were so spot-on you'd think they were lip
syncing; the Velvet Underground influenced chugging guitar rhythms of James Hoare; even the look and movement of the band onstage was all too perfect for words. Compared with the
more polished studio renditions of their songs, there was very little difference (other than the
guitars being slightly out of tune on a song). However hearing these songs live with more
prominent rhythms, louder guitar playing, and seeing the vocals all falling into sync, it really
wasn't an issue. A couple of the songs that they played which were some of my least favorite
on their respective LPs ("Wedding Day" and "Buried Alive") finally clicked with me after
hearing them in context with the rest of the set. As far as the other songs played, with only
two albums under their belt, it already felt like a greatest hits set.

After witnessing this UK band in concert, they have cemented my feelings of being one of my favorite new bands of the last 10 years..... And I will blindly buy everything they put in front of me!

The Set List

Tell Me
My Heart Beats
Beachy Head
Broken Toy
Waiting for Something to Happen
Bad Feeling
Found Love in a Graveyard
If You Still Want Me
Buried Alive
Wedding Day
Come on Over

Right Side of My Brain

Check out these bands at the following links:
Love of Everything - http://loveofeverything.bandcamp.com/
Cold Showers - http://www.facebook.com/coldshowersband
Veronica Falls - http://veronicafalls.com/

Monday, March 11, 2013

Eels at The Vic Theater, Chicago - 2/23/13

I'll start this review off by admitting I've been a little out of the loop with Eels over the past seven years. The trilogy of releases in 2009 and 2010 didn't connect with me like with many fans. And the latest - Wonderful, Glorious although a welcome return still didn't floor me like 2005's amazing - Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. Still I really love Mark Oliver Everett (aka: E) and the gang and continue to see them in concert and check out every bit of new music I can find.

On Saturday night, the Eels took the stage in some of the niftiest stage costumes I've seen in a long time - Blue Striped Adidas Tracksuits straight out of the 80's, and Aviator Sunglasses! Band members - E, The Chet, P Boo, Kool G Murder, and Knuckles were not to be messed with as they walked on stage one by one; opening the show with an impending wall of feedback, and bombastic drums that led into the first track off the new album - "Bombs Away". With E playing the rain stick, "Bombs Away" sounded every bit as energetic and fun as the studio version; as was the case on almost all of the songs from Wonderful Glorious.

What I love about the Eels live show is the band's ability to rearrange old songs with every tour. They don't simply play the same songs every night, performing them note for note like the studio renditions. Instead old songs are re-imagined to sound like they were just written last week. Tonight, "Dirty Girl" was played slower with E stretching the syllables out of every note. "Fresh Feeling" was given a more jangly, feel good, summertime vibe. While "Trouble with Dreams" wasn't as punchy but took on a jammier noise rock theme between verses. 

Not only were these new renditions surprising but so were the choice of cover songs. The band showcased their instrumental prowess and delved into Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" which featured P-Boo and The Chet trading off bluesy guitar solos and E singing in his perfect raspy growl; and "Itchykoo Park" by the Small Faces which is 60's pop at its' finest and sadly somewhat unknown in America. Between songs, Everett took the time to congratulate each members of the band for a job well done, yelling "Good Job!" into the mic, and sprinting off "the singer's riser" to give celebratory bear hugs.

The Eels put on a great show but also never took themselves too seriously. During band introductions, Everett talked about receiving an "electronic mail" the other day from guitarist - The Chet. In it, The Chet announced that it was the tenth year that the two of them had been playing music together. To mark the occasion, E and The Chet renewed their vows onstage, while drummer - Knuckles performed a romantic impromptu performance of "Wind Beneath My Wings". The gig ended with not one, but three encores including one with the house lights on, and half the audience cleared out of the venue. 

Set List

Bombs Away
Kinda Fuzzy
Dog Faced Boy
Oh Well
Tremendous Dynamite
In My Dreams
On the Ropes
Dirty Girl
Climbing to the Moon
Peach Blossom
Trouble with Dreams
The Turnaround
New Alphabet
Fresh Feeling
The Sound of Fear
Wind Beneath My Wings -->Go Knuckles
Itchykoo Park
Souljacker Part 1
Wonderful Glorious

Encore 1 
Brave Little Soldier
My Beloved Monster/Mr. E's Beautiful Blues

Encore 2 
Fresh Blood

Encore 3 
Stick Together
Go Eels

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Lost Classic: Evan Dando - Baby I'm Bored (2003)

There are very few singers-songwriters that I can listen to at any time of the day and not get a little tired of. Even the greats- like Bob Dylan, Neil Young - all have small quirks that sound like nails on a chalkboard when played at the wrong moment. Evan Dando hasn't had nearly as much influence or success as either of these guys, some would even characterize his band - The Lemonheads as a lost 90's one-hit-wonder group. Still there's something to be said for being able to write a short, often funny, catchy tune and deliver it with the laid back ease of Evan Dando.

I've seen Evan in concert many times. Each time he rarely spoke to the crowd except for saying "Good night" at the end of the show. He never seemed wasted or like he didn't want to be there though. All of the shows were 30-40 songs long and featured wide ranging covers from Whitney Houston to Gram Parsons to The Misfits. Each song was always sung as if it was his own- never forced, always relaxed, yet always moving. Evan has always seemed to follow the beat of his own drum. Whether taking his time to write and release a new Lemonheads record, or deciding not to show up at record store autograph signings, he has never seemed to treat music as a job. Still when you meet Evan in person or listen to his latest release, it feels like reuniting with an old friend.

Although Dando mentioned in interviews that most of the albums by the Lemonheads in the 90's were basically "solo" albums, to this day Baby I'm Bored (title refers to the sticker on the back of many cars - Baby on Board) remains pretty far out there compared with the Lemonheads oevre.

The hazy, sometimes druggy vibe of the album feels like a dream, somewhere in between falling asleep and waking up. At times there is a dizzying sense of being lost and drifting along. Still, this short and sweet album features just enough quirkiness in the production to keep the album from ever coming close to feeling as though it's dragging along.

As of 2013, it remains the only official solo album released by him. When it came out in 2003, it was his first studio release since The Lemonheads Car Button Cloth, seven years earlier. During that time, which some had called his "lost weekend", he traveled around the world, developed addictions to heroin and alcohol but kicked the habits, and met his wife - a model named Elizabeth Moses. His nomadic lifestyle during these 7 years seemed to have a large effect on the finished product. Pulled together from 22 songs that were recorded in three very different studios, with different producers, and different musicians in each one, gives Baby I'm Bored a fairly eclectic feel, musically. However the songs themselves and Evan's vocals tend to ground it and make it all sound very cohesive.

"I'll tell you what the deal is," he finally says. "This record was just the cumulative process of gathering enough tunes. I threw away way more songs than I've ever thrown away before. We have tons of B-sides and odds and sods and whatever. Because I really wanted to get to the point where I had twelve collections of noises that I could really stand behind 100 percent. I don't think of them as songs. They're just collections of sounds. I waited and waited and waited. I was spending my own money, going into studios, and waiting until I had twelve songs that I really liked and that all fit together as an album....." - Evan Dando (from interview by Matt Ashare/No Depression)

He mentioned that his two major catalysts for finishing this album (which started in 1999), were witnessing the 9/11 Twin Towers attack from his apartment down the street in New York City; and the encouragement from friends Ben Kweller and Ben Lee who pushed him to carry on and finish the project. Besides encouraging Evan, Ben Lee also played a monumental role in the creation of the album, writing two of the record's best songs (and within a week of each other) - the beautiful "All My Life" (featuring the mantra-like chorus: "All my life I thought I needed/ all the things I didn't need at all") and "Hard Drive" (an acoustic song about the constant wheel of life and the feeling of spinning out of control).

In 2000, Dando began writing and recording songs for Baby I'm Bored, with producer Jon Brion in his Los Angeles studio. Brion who was another major contributor to the album, and best known for his soundtrack work, produced many of the songs, and played a mish-mash of instruments from drums to marxophone. Together they co-wrote almost half of the songs, which gave the finished product a smart, almost Beatle-esque pop finish.  The best of which, a catchy song called "It Looks Like You" has a sunny California country rock vibe, with great harmonies, and some excellent production in the bright layering of acoustic guitars. Why Do You Do This to Yourself"(which could be autobiographical), is a deceptively spare acoustic country song, where Dando seems to channel one of his heroes - Gram Parsons. While, "Stop My Head" and "Repeat" are two slightly experimental tracks you'd likely never hear on a Lemonheads album.

If there were any songs that seemed to be more in line with The Lemonheads circa 1993, it would be those recorded during sessions in Brooklyn, New York. Featuring bassist - Royston Langdon, from the Bowie-loving glam rock group - Spacehog; and guitarist - Chris Brokaw, from the underrated Boston alternative band - Come; Dando is backed by an inventive group of hard rocking musicians. Both Langdon and Brokaw provide some well textured noisy guitar parts on "My Idea"(a co-write between Brokaw and Tom Morgan) and "Rancho Santa Fe" (a song influenced by Heaven's Gate). "Waking Up" is a weird experimental pop tune and another highlight, which Dando wrote with Langdon, and features some out of this world vocal layering.

The last set of sessions for Baby I'm Bored which took place in Tucson; offered a nice contrast with less production, and a more live, rough around the edges sound. Although only spawning two songs ("Hard Drive" and "In the Grass All Wine Colored"), the backing band, which featured members of Giant Sand and Calexico, provided the perfect backdrop for Dando's vocals with their eerie desert sound.

Although the album wasn't a huge seller, there remains to be very few that sound anything quite like Baby I'm Bored. Timeless and effortless sounding, yet to this day it still holds plenty of surprises for listeners, and remains a staple of my collection. There's no doubt that Evan Dando deserved a break after almost twenty years of playing in the Lemonheads. During the seven year wait between albums, Dando took time to live as a human being again - traveling, kicking drugs, and meeting his future wife; the album proves that once in a while good things take time.

Evan went on to put out two more new Lemonheads releases in 2006 and 2009, and one archival release in 2012.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Roadrunner : The Official Rock n' Roll Song of Massachusetts

Is there really any other song out there that makes you prouder to be from Massachusetts than "Roadrunner" by The Modern Lovers?

Although I was born in a different time and place, I spent nearly 8 years of my life in the Boston area, and have always felt a strong connection to the place and the song. Many nights I've spent driving along the pot-hole filled roads of route 9 and 128, past the Stop and Shops. Usually there was always wicked awful traffic, but those long trips in and out of the city gave me plenty of time to listen to life-changing music. I was young, and dumb, and didn't have much money; but I did have the power of rock n' roll radio blaring from my car speakers. "Roadrunner" and the rest of the Modern Lovers' debut album from 76' was a soundtrack to those times.

Jonathan Richman isn't a household name. He's probably best known as the serenading singer in the film - There's Something About Mary. But over the years he has influenced many artists. He's been called the "Godfather of Punk", with songs that have been covered by acts as diverse as The Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, Frank Black, and David Bowie.

Recently I came across a bunch of articles that there were several bills being introduced to state legislature to pick an official rock n' roll song for the state of Massachusetts. A few years ago, a former A&R rep from Sub Pop Records put together a petition which was presented to Dorchester representative - Marty Walsh. Since then other state representatives have come to the forefront and suggested that "Dream On" by Aerosmith would be a more suitable choice. Of the song, Rep. Josh Cutler calls it "a classic ballad that's all about holding on to your dreams and seizing an opportunity".

I'll admit it's pretty great song, I have a soft spot for Aerosmith and I do like the band's early years. They're awesome in concert, they're uber talented, but where's the connection to Massachusetts? Although they formed in Boston, they weren't all from the state. Whereas Jonathan Richman was born just down the road in Natick. "Dream On" could be about anyone in any town, but "Roadrunner" is total - "I'm in love with Massachusetts!".

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Roadrunner, roadrunner
Going faster miles an hour

Gonna drive past the Stop 'n' Shop
With the radio on
I'm in love with Massachusetts
And the neon when it's cold outside
And the highway when it's late at night
Got the radio on
I'm like the roadrunner
AlrightI'm in love with modern moonlight
128 when it's dark outside
I'm in love with Massachusetts
I'm in love with the radio on