Back in July a mutual friend told me about his brother’s band from Nashville. I almost immediately wrote it off because it seems like everyone’s brother has a band, but then he mentioned that the band had recently opened for The Head and The Heart. My ears perked up, knowing that if a band is opening for The Head and The Heart, they’re probably not too bad… and probably not someone I should be ignoring.
I went home, looked up Night Beds and found a couple of their tunes. I was immediately taken aback by the sultry-smooth vocals of Winston Yellen as well as the sparse folk and country infused tones. Winston Yellen is the main man in the foursome as lead vocalist and guitarist, and is backed by Juan Solorzano on guitar and bass (Solorzano plays the bass through some sort of pedal setup all while playing guitar), and St. Louisans Caleb Hickman on lap steel and keyboards, and Taylor Derosa on Drums.
Last September Night Beds stopped by St. Louis for a show at The Old Rock House. It was definitely a great show, however I felt it was lacking a very full sound because at that point the band was touring as a three piece (no bass and no guitarist other than Yellen). Yellen is so passionate about his songs, and in intense moments, his guitar seems to come secondary to his vocals. Never is passion a bad thing in a musician, but since he was the only guitarist during that show, it became sort of distracting to me when the guitar was so minimal, or not being played at all because Yellen became so enveloped in song.
The album was able to come alive in a much fuller way this time around. Listening to the band with a more fleshed out, developed sound made all of the difference for their live show. The music of Night Beds is mostly quiet and introspective, but when there are loud swells and unrestrained moments, the band combined with Winston’s vocals pulled last night’s crowd right into his world of unbridled, shameless emotion.
Yellen started out a capella with Country Sleep album opener “Faithful Heights”. In this recent interview with the Fuel/Friends Music blog, Yellen said he felt insecure about his vocals… but I think most people would have to wonder how he could feel insecure with such a powerful, beautiful voice.
The show went by all too quickly. They played a selection of 10 or so songs from their debut album (I didn’t note their setlist) all while weaving in some fun in-between song banter, and Yellen’s occasional quirky antics with the crowd. He came to the edge of the stage at one point, grabbed my friend David’s shoulder and said something none of us could understand, then continued with the show. After my brother Jon jokingly threw out a song request, Yellen came down from the stage after they played said song and attempted to playfully headbutt my brother. Somehow it all worked- it wasn’t necessarily a surprise that this obviously very intense person might be a little quirky and quite raw- in all of areas of his music- including his interactions with his audience.
I have had a lot of fun watching this band grow over the past couple months and having the opportunity to listen to some of the guys in the band talk about their excitement for this new endeavor is exhilarating. Best of luck to Caleb and Taylor- it’s especially fun to see two talented St. Louis natives move forward into what looks as though to be a promising experience touring and playing with an excellent band.
They’ll be touring the US for the next month and then Europe in April. Their touring will continue on this year- be on the lookout for other new dates!
Last year I found that some of my favorite shows (Active Child and the second time I saw Poliça would be my best examples) were the ones in small venues, emitted big vibes, rad lights, and loud bass. Every show has it’s own personality, but lately I’ve found I can connect well to a show that has those qualities and are most memorable even if I don’t know the band’s music all that well. A band that can create an aura, ambience, and atmosphere unique to their show, is the show I want to go to.
I guess you could say I’m seeking out that high of a groovy show, so San Francisco’s Geographer seemed like maybe they’d be able to deliver this with their bleepy bloop pop music and occasional big bass and Michael Deni’s smooth voice. Geographer really is a great band, they’ve got some catchy songs that are fun, but not songs I see myself wanting to listen to for the rest of my life. I was hoping the band would surpass my expectations with their live show- maybe that it would be big, bassy, and exciting, but it was comparable to how much I enjoy their recorded music- very fun, danceable at times, but not a show I’ll need to see again in the near future.
For people who truly love Geographer’s sound, the show I’m sure was incredible- he did everything right. Michael Deni amped the crowd, came off the stage at one point to stand amidst fans and encouraged them to come close to him as he sang, and put on a passionate show, and thanked us profusely for being such a fun audience.
I hope I’m not becoming too much of a cynic with fun live shows, I’ve made it sound like I didn’t like the show- I did. I danced. I sang along. It just didn’t quite fulfill that hope I had for a big, full sounding show that shook my heart and put me in a music (and not drug or alcohol) induced-trance. I think Geographer is onto a good thing though- I’m anxious to see where they take their music in the future.
A couple nights ago I (Katie, The Pickup) had an absolutely fantastic evening because I was able to see My Brightest Diamond for the second time live. Last time I saw her she played a huge venue with a full orchestra, but this time it was just her and all of her instruments in a much smaller setting at City Winery in Chicago. It was a lovely show-she played a great set with songs from all of her albums as well as a Prince cover and another song I wasn’t familiar with. I took a little bit of video to share with you all…enjoy!
In case any of my followers didn’t know, I help (on occasion) run the fymybrightestdiamond blog and so it seemed appropriate I post my video from the show over there. But here it is over here too if anyone is interested.
Tonight I was able to catch James Vincent McMorrow play an opening set at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millenium Park in Chicago. His show was quite enjoyable, but I think his overall performance would have benefitted if he had had a full backing band. James’ stage banter was random and awkward, but it made him all the more charming and endearing.
I took this video during the show of his song “If I Had A Boat” from his album Early In The Morning.
(Rubblebucket pictured above)
The last week has been a whirlwind. I think I’m still recovering from Bonnaroo and adjusting back to the real life. The weekend was well-worth the money, no doubt, but it sure does drain you! I had so many incredible experiences, went to so many fantastic shows, and met some very notable characters throughout the weekend.
I will be doing a series of summary posts about the bands I was able to catch, so today I’ll tell y’all about Thursday’s shows (EDIT: It was pointed out to me that The Kooks played on Friday…so this is partly Thursday/partly Friday). Thursday was the least busy day in terms of bands that were absolute must-sees for me, so me and my friend Madi were able to check out a few shows we wouldn’t traditionally go to had we not been at Bonnaroo. We caught parts of a couple other bands, but these are the shows we got to see basically from start to finish.
Rubblebucket is one of those bands that simply has the best of times every moment they are on stage. They played at the “Solar Stage” so it was a fairly small stage, but there was no shortage of an audience. They played a bunch of fun dance songs led by the powerhouse vocals of lead singer Kalmia Traver and backed by their band full of brass instruments, drums, keyboards, synthesizers. So many bands now have similar sounds, but I came away from the Rubblebucket show convinced that they have definitely developed their own unique sound that will hopefully take them far.
Prior to Bonnaroo, I had never heard of YelaWolf, but when I listened to a couple of his songs, I figured his set might be fun, if nothing else. I love rap and hip-hop, and YelaWolf put on a great, beat-heavy show that created quite the party. I’ll give that to Mr. YelaWolf.
Despite YelaWolf’s enthusiam, I was a bit miffed and frankly surprised at his off-kilter stage banter and lyrical content, which was probably just me being naïve to what YelaWolf is apparently all about. Throughout his set, he confessed his love for weed, which is not very uncommon in hip-hop songs so it didn’t surprise me too much. But then he also confessed his love for crystal meth and then sang an entire song about it. In said song, he also mentioned and glorified LSD and Adderall-which I’m assuming he doesn’t use for his ADHD. I had a fun time at the show, and I know that generally rap songs are going to have more illicit lyrics, but I think he celebrates drugs just a bit too much.
The Kooks played an all-around great set. I am not overly familiar with their music, but they are popular enough that every now and then they played a song that was instantly recognizable to most audience members. They carried great energy through their entire show and were definitely fun to see live.
Yesterday brought a pleasant surprise- I attended the sold out David Bazan house show that happened to be less than two miles from my house. I was unable to buy tickets before they sold out, but Bob, David’s manager was gracious and let me come to the show after I e-mailed him to see if there were any available seats.
When I arrived, there were approximately 10 people there, which eventually grew and topped out around 30-40 people. I had never been to a house show, so watching David with such a small amount of people created a whole new dynamic and atmosphere I’ve never experienced.
Mr. Bazan showed up about 15 minutes late, which was more funny than frustrating, because how could you be annoyed when you get to see David Bazan play with only 30 other people surrounding you? The lovely thing about house shows is that everyone is in it together in a sense, no one needs to push to the front to be near the stage, everyone knows they will be experiencing something special.
David walked up with one guitar, sat down on his wooden stool, front and center of the host’s living room and started the night off with a tune (because of the intimacy of the show, I didn’t take many notes…therefore didn’t keep much track of what songs he played). From his first word, his voice blew me away. The man can belt it out- he possesses so much power and projection in his voice…which took me by surprise because that power just doesn’t translate onto the albums as much. Every few songs, David took a 5-10 minute break to answer questions from his audience. The night was about 60% music and 40% chatting, which I believe was just fine with everyone in attendance. Hearing the thoughts, opinions, and stories behind the music and musician is something most people don’t ever have the chance to hear firsthand, which is another reason the house show is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
Throughout his hour and half set, David chatted about many topics people asked him about; what David was reading and listening to, who has inspired him the most musically (which happens to be The Beatles), and how be believes “Spotify is just the devil”.
In the midst of one of the mini question and answer sessions, David said something along the lines of “Choice is a bummer…it’s what ruins all of us…”. It seems that in most of Pedro the Lion’s albums, and now David’s solo albums, he’s always questioning, doubting, or addressing some universal life issue. It’s been interesting to see his transformation from identifying as a Christian for so long, then as time has gone on, for him realizing Christianity is not the path he wants to follow. In an interview from Christianity Today from 2010, David talks about his change of heart towards the Christian faith, and seeing him live made me understand him a bit more. When you see him in person honestly singing out his struggles from years past and even joking about his own ongoing inability to pinpoint how to live life in the best way possible, it just solidifies and reminds us that it’s okay that none of us really know what we’re doing… even when we think we do.
That’s what I appreciate about David’s music and story. He’s just putting his thoughts out into song, and you can take them or leave them, accept them or reject them, but it’s difficult not to relate to them in some way. He said he doesn’t like choice, and because of this, his music doesn’t force you into one choice or the other, it allows you to process and hopefully come to a conclusion (or not) on your own.
Thursday night I had the pleasure of seeing Active Child with Balam Acab and Superhumanoids supporting.
Superhumanoids, a foursome from LA, kicked off the night with some pretty rad keyboard and synthesizer playing, as well as the lovely voices of Sarah Chernoff and Cameron Parkins. Since they had two lead vocalists, they each were able to focus on their instruments while the bassist/keyboardist and drummer laid the beats down in the back. The band tried to get the audience to dance and loosen up a bit a couple songs into the set by telling us we were going to play a dancing game, but despite this, the crowd still stood mostly still. Their music is very danceable in the right setting, but it’s just a tad slower than the average dance music. I think that combined with the fact that they were an opening band is why people didn’t get super into them. Even though they didn’t pull the crowd in immediately, they still put on a fantastic show that was quite pleasing to the ears. Download "Too Young For Love" on Soundcloud (and a couple other songs)- it was my favorite from the night, it employs some really sweet drone synthesizer sounds- and is especially great live.
Next up was Balam Acab. Let’s first start off with his attire, which was a pretty good indicator of his overall persona. He was wearing the classic Teva Sandals, glasses, some sort of 90’s graphic tee with Dinosaurs on it, jeans, and an old ball cap. He looked like he should be hanging out in a comic book store or maybe just taken straight back to the 90’s. He never spoke while on stage, except for a couple muffled words in the middle of his set when he thanked us for coming. Balam Acab, AKA Alec Koone, takes samples and sound bytes and remixes them into well blended songs. When reviewing his See Birds EP, Pitchfork pointed out that he plays his music around 65 beats per minute, while the average BPM for a fast techno song can be anywhere from 120-180 BPM. The slowness of Balam Acab’s music became ever so apparent when watching him work live. About ten minutes into the his set, I began to realize how repetitive and soothing his music was- in a very unconventional way. Since he doesn’t play actual instruments, he was just hunched over his table full of knobs and buttons the entire time, in a completely dark room while onlookers tried to figure out what the heck he was doing. Even though he didn’t really even do that much, the sounds he created entranced the audience. His set was rather long, and after a while, I was ready for Active Child take the stage. In what seems to be a very Balam Acab style move, he pressed his last couple buttons without a word, and walked off stage.
Pat Grossi of Active Child is somewhat unassuming- he’s a good looking guy and dresses fairly conservatively in comparison to some musicians, but the music he creates is anything but conventional. On record, Active Child’s music is pretty low key and most certainly, as I figured out, a watered down version of his live performance (not to say his recorded music is bad, it’s just is a whole new sound and experience when performed live).
Thursday night he was accompanied by two bandmates, a drummer who not only had the traditional drum set but also an electric drum set, and a bassist/keyboardist. Grossi rotated between playing a small harp and his own keyboard. The moment Active Child played their first note, I was completely mesmerized. For a smaller show, they had the absolute best lights and effects I’ve ever seen. The smoke machine was in full use- the pulse of the drum somehow queued the smoke and lazers and drew everyone into the transcendental atmosphere of the show. Grossi’s voice sometimes sounds unnatural as he uses his falsetto about 90% of the time, but it works, adding balance to the beats and synths in the background.
I spoke with Grossi after the show, and maybe it sounded bad, but I went into the show knowing it would be good, but I didn’t have any incredible expectations. I told him that the show far exceeded whatever expectations I did have going into it in the best way. Probably one of my favorite shows of 2012 so far.
Since March 6, I’ve been listening to Andrew’s new album Break It Yourself nonstop. It took a few listens for it to soak in, but I’ve grown to really love it. In comparison to some of his older albums, especially Armchair Apocrypha, it’s less rocky, and overall sounds more homegrown. At some points, especially in “Orpheo Looks Back” I even feel like I’m listening to music that could be a part of an irish square dance jig… if those exist. Listen to it for yourself and get back to me with your thoughts and let me know how far off I am…after all, I’m not an irish dance music expert.
Anyway, I’ll get on with my thoughts on the show. I loved how well the feel of the album translated to the live stage. I absolutely loved the set with the lights, spinning two-sided phonograph and swirly pieces that hung in the back. The elements were so simple, yet so fitting of Andrew’s music and created the perfect atmosphere. I’m not sure if there is an official name for the giant swirly things that hung, but with the lights and projectors, they looked mesmerizing. The set most definitely did not ever take away from Andrew’s performance, only enhanced it.
Andrew is a pretty captivating performer, he put his hands out in the air as though he had to tangibly feel the songs, tick-tocked his head, closed his eyes, and went into his own little world of plasticities and nyatitis as he plucked away at his violin and whistled his tunes. He mentioned how he had become sick over the last couple weeks, but apart from what seemed to be chills when he adjusted his scarf or jacket collar, you wouldn’t have been able to predict his being ill.
As I listened to a new song played, then an older song, it was so interesting to hear the difference in energy behind them. The older songs he played such as “Fake Palindromes” or “Tables And Chairs” were certainly louder and more guitar heavy whereas his newer songs were lighter sounding and incorporated a lot more violin it seemed. Seeing these nuances are what I love about the live show, it’s something I probably would not have noticed until experiencing them in person.
I loved that Mr. Bird decided to play this little diddy about halfway through the show even though it wasn’t on the setlist. After the song he said that “It’s been a rough day, that song just makes me feel better”. Which, I’m sure for everyone else who was having a rough day, it helped make them feel better too. During the encore he brought everyone back together with another communal moment by gathering ‘round a single microphone with his bandmates and sang a harmony-driven cover of “So Much Wine” by The Handsome Family. They finished up with a couple other songs new and old, and left the stage with many waves goodbye.
Seeing Andrew live was a pleasure and I hope to have the opportunity again in the near future…a seriously wonderful musician and entertainer.
School and work have been keeping me pretty busy so last Monday when I awoke from a much needed late afternoon nap I actually considered not going to the Polica show. I weighed my options… stay home and catch up on some relax time, or go out to a show by myself? I already bought my tickets and had been excited about this show for a while, so I couldn’t quite justify not going. I needed a little pre-concert pump up so I grabbed a Red Bull and headed out. Best decision of my week.
I usually like to research opening bands, but decided not to this time around and wasn’t sure what to expect with the openers Total Fucking Blood and Marijuana Deathsquads. As I walked into the Old Rock House I heard quite the raucous coming from the stage. The sounds of Total Fucking Blood. They’ve got a grungy/hardcore/thrash thing going on, and frankly I wasn’t really sure why such an intense band would open for the Polica. Hardcore bands aren’t usually my thing, but in hindsight, the flow of the music beginning with TFB, then listening to Marijuana Deathsquads play before Polica worked pretty nicely.
After TFB, in the middle of the floor at the Old Rock House, members of Marijuana Deathsquads gathered around a table that was set up with quite the array of pedals, synthesizers, and other electronic-sound producing things. Imagine Dan Deacon, but more hardcore and less weird, with lots of autotune and vocal effects, and you probably have something fairly close to the sound produced by Marijuana Deathsquads. The band is led by Ryan Olson of Gayngs and a couple other members, but that evening Channy Leaneagh and both drummers from Polica stood in with the band as well. Since I didn’t have much previous knowledge of the band, I was a bit confused about whether or not the members from Polica were in the band or not. Later on I talked to Polica’s manager (also one of Bon Iver’s managers), Nate Vernon, and he said that Marijuana Deathsquads has a rotating cast of members, much like Gayngs, which I’m sure keeps things pretty interesting.
Polica took the stage and played most of their tunes from their newly released album Give You The Ghost as well as a couple new songs. Channy Leaneagh led the group, but didn’t stand front and center, instead opting to stand in the shadows of the lights stage right. Although there are reoccurring themes of abandonment and unease throughout Polica’s lyrics, Channy sang with an overwhelming calmness. Despite the calm, it was easy to see the emotion and passion emanating from within her through her closed eyes and unconfined dancing. Channy set the mood and set it right.
Polica is composed of Channy’s vocals, two drummers who also manned the background electronics, and bass. A simple setup with a lot of oomph. Whenever a band has two drummers and pulls it off well, I’m automatically impressed and Polica certainly didn’t fall short. Listening to the songs live definitely made them come alive and jump out, but still maintained the sound of the album really well. Polica has gained some well-deserved notoriety lately, and I sure hope you’ll catch them on tour in the next few months. They’re done touring for a couple weeks but start back up on March 19th at The Basement in Nashville. Check out their full tour schedule here.
When you first hear Other Lives music, you might think they emerged straight from the woods of the northwest with all of their folky and orchestral tendencies, but in actuality, they’re just a couple friends hailing from Stillwater, Oklahoma, a town of 45,000.
In the past couple months, Other Lives has been high on my list of newly discovered music. They’ve got a big full orchestral sound, remnant of Bon Iver’s self-titled album, and the folk leanings of Fleet Foxes.
You can certainly hear that fullness on their latest album Tamer Animals, but seeing it played out live is an entirely different experience.
I had the privilege of seeing them earlier this week at The Gramophone, a venue here in St. Louis that has a capacity of about 200-300. A lot of the time when I go to smaller shows such as this one, it’s not for a band I’m absolutely in love with yet, but this time around I was very familiar with their music and got to stand about three feet away from the band as they unravelled their tunes one by one. Seeing bands live usually doesn’t get much better than that in my opinion.
Most bands have just one multi-instrumentalist, or that “one guy” who plays everything, while the rest stick with their guitar or the drums, but everyone played at least two instruments. Jenny, their [mainly] cello player pulled out clappers at one point, antlers with bells attached, played the xylophone, among other things, and throughout the show other band members played trumpets, guitars, violins, bells, a timpani, lap steel guitar, bass guitar, several keyboards, harmonica…you name it and it was probably there.
When a band has such a large inventory of instruments, I think it really allows them to make a fuller sound and more complex sounds as well. Although they have a fairly traditional indie band feel, there were many times I felt as though I was watching a conductor direct his orchestra. Jesse would queue the drums, or the cymbal clash, motioning everyone with his hands and making mini hand gestures at the moment the sounds came in. It certainly solidified the cohesiveness of the band, and although Jesse brings most of the central ideas to the table and acts as “director” for the band, it’s so very evident that Other Lives is a very collaborative effort, with each band member contributing their ideas.
These friends who originally just got together to jam in a small town in Oklahoma are now out headling on their own, and will soon be on tour opening for Radiohead to sold-out stadiums throughout the United States in March. If this isn’t any indication of how incredible they are, I’m not quite sure what is.
Here’s a short clip I took during the show of their song “Dust Bowl lll”.
Fun Fact: Jesse Tabish used to be a member of The All-American Rejects. We should all rejoice in the fact that he dropped out of that endeavor and went on to bigger and better things with Other Lives.