Night Beds at Off Broadway 2.11.13

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! 

David Bazan (of Pedro The Lion) House Show in St. Louis, MO 6.14.2012

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. 

Active Child at The Firebird, 5.17.12

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. 

Bonnaroo Bands

I’ve been waiting a couple years to hit up a music festival, and it’s finally happening. The lineup for Bonnaroo is pretty stellar this year, so I couldn’t pass this one up. As I research and listen to bands who are playing at Roo this year, I hope to share those bands with you all. If you’re going to Bonnaroo, I hope this will help you figure out your lineup and prioritize who you plan to see. 

If you’re not going to Bonnaroo, no worries because oftentimes, many of the bands who play festivals tour in the areas around the festival. Since Bonnaroo is in Tennessee, St. Louis is probably going to be fortunate enough to get some bands rolling through town the week prior to and the week after Bonnaroo, so keep an eye on tour schedules and venue calendars around town. 

The Head and the Heart is a band that makes music you can’t shake from your brain, most likely because you’ve been singing along with their tunes for a couple hours. Their genuineness and down to earth feel certainly comes through their music full force. About a week and a half ago, they stopped by for a show in St. Louis (which I couldn’t go to unfortunately…) but they also recorded video for a new, unreleased song “Virginia” atop a St. Louis building. Check it out above, and if you haven’t yet had the opportunity, check out their 2011 self-titled album on Spotify

The Pickup is on Facebook!

I know 99.9% of you all have Facebook, so go ahead and “Like” The Pickup! I’ll be posting more frequent little updates there and letting you all know about new blog posts in case you don’t check Tumblr as much. If you feel inclined…go ahead and reblog this! 


Andrew Bird at The Pageant, 3.22.12

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. 

Poliça at Old Rock House, 2.27.12

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

Band to Watch: Ravello

Ravello // Daddy’s Plastic from Strange Bird Media on Vimeo.

I don’t post too much about rock music, but the new band Ravello is one that I’ll definitely be looking out for in the future. The guys in the band come from all over the US and have brought their extensive musical backgrounds to create some pretty fantastic tunes. Their Asperatus EP  centers around commanding guitar riffs, aggressive drums, sometimes subdued, sometimes saucy vocals, and bass lines that weave everything together into one big pulsing rock package. If you want to know more about Ravello, be sure to like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter for the latest tour dates and news.