Tag Archives: Dan Deacon

Silly Poster

Look at this fucking tour poster:

There’s got to be hundreds of copyright infringements on this thing…

No matter, Dan Deacon seems to get away with a lot of stuff and manages to create some fantastic… well, works. I guess.

Know all the ‘toons? Enter the contest… details here.

Gig Fail

Deacon in the glow of his green skull

Deacon in the glow of his green skull

My review of the Super Secret Summer Surprise – featuring Dan Deacon, Ultimate Reality, and Videohippos – is on Bostonist right now. And it ain’t pretty. That had nothing to do with the musicians involved – just the bumbling mess that was the ICA’s master plan for the evening.

You can read more about the details at Bostonist, but I left out one thing in my review: for much of the performance, it felt like looking at art in a gallery. Granted, the ICA is a museum of contemporary art, but that doesn’t mean that people should interact with performers as if they are just to be stared at and not paid much attention to. It was only until Deacon asked people to move towards the drum kits for the Ultimate Reality set that people seemed to interact with what was going on, but not that much. What’s so great about the Wham City collective (much like the DC emocore scene from Revolution Summer on) is their inherent ability to challenge concert goers with interacting with their surroundings at a show in an entirely different light. Unfortunately, the ICA crowd wasn’t up for that. Even though they moved around during Deacon’s set, I got the sense many did that because they perceived that’s how one acts at a Dan Deacon show and not because the moment grabbed them and allowed them to let loose. How do I know this? Well, probably the fact that people were ready to dance when Deacon was testing some faulty DI boxes, and while they emitted an uncontrollable buzz to the effect of something he didn’t want to send through the PA, much of the crowd took it to mean “this is Dan Deacon music, I must dance like crazy!” Obviously, it’s great when people dance and let loose, but they seemed to entirely betray the points that Deaon wants to make with his music….

And now I’ve gone on a tangent. Read the piece if you’re still interested! And if you disagree, comment on it as well!

Wham

 

Dan Deacons plank o wires

Dan Deacon's plank o' wires

Be on the lookout for a review of the Dan Deacon + Ensemble show at the Middle East Downstairs on Bostonist in the next day or two. As a side note/review preview, it was interesting to note a certain conflict between the ritualization of a performance and Deacon himself, and the thankfully positive resolution of said conflict… in many ways, it’s a modern take on the Revolution Summer days of emocore yore…

But I digress… check out Bostonist soon!

9 Things To Look Forward To in 2009

2008 is almost gone as the New Year will arrive in a matter of hours (or it may have already arrived depending on when you read this). So, in anticipation for the number of times I’ll forget to put “2009” on whatever documents need a proper year, here’s a little listing of 9 things I’ll be looking forward to in the next year…

9. Surprises

I suppose this is something resembling a cop-out in a list, but part of looking forward to the many things that will color our near-future is not knowing what will come next. Some of my favorite things from 2008 I never saw coming, anticipated, or was given any knowledge to anticipate at all. That includes things such as the release of TV On The Radio’s Dear Science, – which was a surprise simply because it was announced less than two months prior to its release so there was not any forewarning or buildup like with Return to Cookie Mountain – to movies such as The Wackness (a great summer coming-of-age movie that could have easily been a bust) and books I’ll pick up randomly, sunny days outdoors… by definition, anything really. Now how can you go wrong there?

8. New Food For Animals LP

Food For Animals – You Right (live in Baltimore)

You read it here folks, from the mouth of the animals themselves. Food For Animals will be dropping a new album in the next year, and if Belly is any indication, it should be one hell of a package. No info or sounds on what the trio of hip-hop noiseniks are cooking up, but in the last year since Belly was released they’ve certainly mastered their live set, and if the mixes posted on their blog offer any indication, they’ve got some great stuff coming around the corner.

7. Say Anything – Say Anything

Say Anything – Woe (live, acoustic)

I’ve been a Say Anything believer since stumbling upon …is a Real Boy in 2004. I’d found so few records that made such honest, emotionally compelling, and furiously anthemic when I picked up the album, and it remains a favorite of mine. The reason this isn’t ranked higher is because the long-awaited follow-up, In Defense of the Genre, was a bit of a disappointment (but really, it must’ve been rough following up that brilliant first record). Still, there were bright spots in that massive double album, and Max Bemis no doubt has set his goals high for a record he has said will discuss the nuances of every day life. Let’s see how people will respond to emo that strives to be simply normal.

6. Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back by Christopher R. Weingarten for 33 1/3

Public Enemy – Bring The Noise (live, Pitchfork Music Festival)

Here’s the math equation: Take one of hip-hop’s best albums done by one of the genre’s best bands, add in the former drummer for one of the best experimental rock outfits today, and multiply it by a publishing company that lets music obsessives run wild. What do you get? It looks like what may be one of the best books in the 33 1/3 book series. According to a certain schedule, Continuum should be releasing the book on It Takes A Nation of Millions… at some point this year, a read which should be wonderful in and of itself. Add in the fact that its written by Christopher R. Weingarten, the former kit-smasher for Parts & Labor who left the band to pursue a career in journalism and to write the Public Enemy book, and you’ve got an equation for what should be a success for Continuum and readers alike.

5. Jimmy Eat World Clarity Tour

Jimmy Eat World – Lucky Denver Mint

This is an emo/Jimmy Eat World/music fan’s wet dream. Celebrating the 10th year anniversary of the little-album-that-record-executives-thought-it-couldn’t-but-did, Jimmy Eat World will triumphantly play Clarity in its entirety for an American tour starting in February. Whether or not the performance will live up to some people’s expectations is one thing; the fact that Jimmy Eat World are touring this record is an entirely different aspect which meets any and all expectations. This is the album that by all intents and purposes was something of a failure; if Jimmy Eat World were to tour one record, it would probably be their critically-acclaimed and commercially-successful self-titled album. However, Clarity remains a fan favorite, and after the many years and stories surrounding the band and that album, J.E.W. are showing what really matters to them: the fans. It should be a fantastic set, simply by the band showing up.

4. The Road Movie

Still from The Road

Still from The Road

I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road this past summer, a little while after it won piles of awards and recognition and a little while before the movie’s release. Turns out it was a little more than a little while before the film came out, as it was unfortunately delayed from its 2008 release. The book sent me into something of a shock after a quick gust through it in a matter of days. The transfer from the page to the screen is usually very tenuous, but McCarthy’s words have a very visual style that will no doubt aid the story’s sense of reality in a post-apocalyptic world. And noting the folks in front of and behind the camera for the movie, this may be on of the best to come out of 2009.

3. Dan Deacon – Bromst

Dan Deacon – Crystal Cat

Dan Deacon may have unintentionally thrust himself into the limelight with 2007’s Spiderman of the Rings, but the man wasn’t unconscious of the world around him as it happened. Deacon has made a concerted effort to experiment in all forms of his life as long as he has everyone’s undivided attention and support (and he probably would if they didn’t). That means crazy local festivals, crazy town-sized tours, crazy kiddie-electronic-cum-rave songs that stick in your brain like putty. And with Bromst, an album that was meant to be released this year but has since been delayed until March, Deacon doesn’t seem to quit. No matter how the record will be received, it will physically (or at least sonically) be received, a testament to his enduring ability to test his own musical will and conceptual might. It should be quite a listen.

2. Watchmen Movie

Watchmen Trailer 2

Why question this? Again, like most of the things on this list, simply existing will make Watchmen memorable. As a movie, who knows whether the thumb of the public will go up or down (or better yet, that of the comic’s cult fan base). But, barring the recent legal activity surrounding the film and its impending release, as long as the movie hits theaters it will be a success. Not only commercially, but for the comic book movie genre and for struggling screenplays everywhere (this film has been in talks for since the original graphic novel first hit stands). And it looks so damn pretty.

1. Inauguration

Barack Obama’s Acceptance Speech

No matter what your political beliefs are, this will be a massive event. “Historic” to a pin. I’ll be there, amongst however many millions of people that are expected to show up and see Barack Obama sworn in as the President of the United States. Just typing that is getting me excited for the new year.

Happy New Year!

Best Concerts of 2008

“Best of” lists for records have only become a commodity in recent decades because of technology – I’d like to see what the “best phonograph cylinder list of 1908” was (my guess is Thomas Edison dominated the top ten). However, live music has been around since… well, I can’t quite tell you the exact date, but it’s been around for awhile. There’s just something about a live performance that’s hard to compress into an MP3 file, just like there’s something about recorded sound that cannot be duplicated to the point in a real environment. And who would want that? Some of the best shows I’ve seen this year (and any year at that) have the thrill of the “performance in the moment” – a special quality of experiencing the music literally grabbing you, those around you, and the musicians themselves – that excel beyond the normal trappings of a “rock” show. These lists are always tough, because, unlike records, not everyone was there to experience the moment when (enter your favorite artist here) played (enter your favorite song here) in a certain way in (enter specific venue/town/etc here). This particular list is quite tricky, as a large chunk of shows I’ve seen this year I’ve had some organizational role in; for the sake of this list and whatever hard-to-get-to performance I helped put on, I’ve excluded all those shows I’ve put on in the past year (despite the fact that many of those will always remain favorites of mine). But, without getting ahead of myself, here are my top ten concerts I attended as a paying gig-goer/whatever you want to call it from 2008 (I apologize for leaving off the dates for these shows):

10. TV On The Radio at the Wilbur Theater (Boston)

Six times, and each viewing was a charm, though this performance came with a price, and I’m not talking about the expensive nosebleed seats. Like any number of listeners of “independent” or “underground” music, I was attracted to TVOTR and other acts because they exemplified something entirely different than what was being peddled to the masses… and I wanted to get away from the masses. So it’s a little odd when the masses show up – I wholly enjoy all the success that this group has been getting, but it’s a little upsetting when the only song that gets the crowd moving is their single from a few years ago (“Wolf Like Me”). You’d think people who’d plunk down money for any show over $20 would at least be willing to dance to songs; I’ve never seen a crowd so dumbfounded by a performance. And some of that was the sheer power of TVOTR (the clip below doesn’t do justice to physically seeing them). Their set was surely as heartfelt as any other I’d seen, they mixed in a wealth of excellent new material and blended it in with their older songs, and they kept it fresh with the addition of a horn section, mixing up and rearranging compositions while retaining their original essence. It’s impossible to contain Tunde’s vocal prowess on the page, same as the entire band’s instrumental whirlwinds, so I’ll just leave it at that. If only everyone had their Dancing Choose on…

 

TV On The Radio – Dreams (live, Wilbur Theater):


9. Subtle/Zach Hill/Pattern Is Movement at the Middle East Upstairs (Boston)

After a period of concert-detox, this triple bill of underground oddballs was just the thing I needed to get back into the live show groove. Pattern Is Movement opened the show with a deft display of minimalist punk drumming smashed headstrong into a wave of gothic organ/keyboard work – and man did this duo enjoy their time onstage. Zach Hill kicked it in gear with his “backing band” Peer Pressure (aka a pre-recorded tableau) and for fourty or so minutes my eyes and ears were subject to some of the fastest, careening display of drumwork I’ve ever witnessed. And to cap off an excellent show were Subtle; after a summer soundtracked by this band, I was ready to see this group pull off their egnimatic sound in a live setting. They certainly didn’t dissapoint. With Doseone spitting lyrics a million miles a minute and the rest of the band covering an amalgam of instruments, they created an intricate pattern wholly unique to their presence in the moment. And it wasn’t a bad way to start a birthday either.

Zach Hill and Peer Pressure – Necromancer (live, Middle East):

8. Liars with No Age at Paradise Rock Club (Boston)

It’s great when you see a band surprise you in concert and never see it coming – so went the tale of my Liars/No Age show. I’d been having trouble getting into Liars and heard great things about their live set; I’d heard great things about No Age and enjoyed what music of their’s I’d heard; I’d had a free weekend and desperately wanted to go see a show that I wasn’t involved in planning. What a treat. No Age seemed dwarfed on the rather-lengthy stage at the Paradise, but their zeal couldn’t be contained by the space or their place as openers, as they cleanly burst from one great hardcore-pop gem to the next. It was tough to top, but Liars were up for the challenge. Frontman Angus Andrew barely left his chair in the center of the stage, but was a riveting ringleader, headbanging to the steady, pulsating music that grabbed my rib cage and wouldn’t let go. And I no longer have any problem picking up their recorded material.

Liars – Clear Island (live, Paradise Rock Club):

7. Why? at the MFA (Boston)

Sure, I complained about the conceit of close-minded hipsters at this Why? show in a previous post, but that was only a slight blight on what was a powerful performance. Simply the fact that the band forced people out of their seats and onto the stage by the end of the show is a testament to the force of this band’s live draw. Beyond that, there’s just something about the way they play live. It could be Yoni Wolf’s nasally drawl hitting every note just right; it could be the instrumental rearrangement of numerous songs, turning many an aesthetically muddy piece into fully-fledged bangers. It could be the great catharsis that came with dozens and dozens of fans passionately screaming alongside Wolf’s verbose lyrical displays. And it’s easily the combination of all of these things that really hit it all home.

Why? – Yo Yo Bye Bye (live, MFA):

6. Mission of Burma performing all of Vs. at Paradise Rock Club (Boston)

This show was a wet dream for any Mission of Burma fan – their entire first full length performed in full. Add on two encores and a venue packed with the hometown crowd and you’d be hard pressed to not be pumping your fists in the air. Even though Burma decided to do the whole “play your best/favorite/seminal album in full,” they subverted the business as usual method of performing these kind of shows and began with a handful of tracks at the end of the record (“Laugh The World Away,” “OK/No Way,” etc). And with the whole band in perfect synchronicity, it was simply an astounding show, with one great song after another. But, is that really any different from a “normal” Burma show?

Mission of Burma – The Ballad of Johnny Burma (live, Paradise):

5. Mark Kozelek at the MFA (Boston)

Mark Kozelek (aka Sun Kil Moon/Red House Painters) was completely at ease in the MFA auditorium. Outright I was happy simply to be at this show; after several years of trying, I’d made it to a live performance featuring one of the most moving voices I’ve listened to in years. And that voice didn’t let down; the minute Kozelek opened with “Trucker’s Atlas,” he on an acoustic guitar accompanied by a touring partner on another guitar, the hair on my arms stood on end when Kozelek made an impromptu humming pattern where there was none on the record. And it just got better, with Kozelek knocking out hits from the past three Sun Kil Moon records and digging deep into his Red House Painters and solo material. Even with the live version of “Duk Koo Kim” stretching into the double digit minute run time, the show was as moving and haunting as anything Kozelek has committed to record. His encore, four different songs from his long repertoire strung together in a makeshift medley left me completely elated for days on end.

Unfortunately, there is no video of this show available online at the moment. Instead, here is a brief snippet of Kozelek performing Duk Koo Kim in California from 2004:

4. Ponytail at The Talking Head (Baltimore)

Spend half a day in a tiny Baltimore club and you’d be tired as shit. But cram that place with 50 friends and put Ponytail onstage long after midnight, and it makes for one hell of a party. I’d convinced a friend to drive down to Baltimore from DC to check out the band live, and was it worth the (sometimes awkward) wait. After seeing these folks play three times this year, their hometown show was by far the best out of the lot, with the entire band putting their whole essence into one captivating half hour that sent normally stiff concert goers into a spastic, dancing frenzy. With Molly Siegel’s bemusing and careening whoops and hollers at the helm, the band took off from the first song until the seven-minute closer, “Celebrate the Body Electric.” I left Baltimore tired and ultimately triumphant.

Ponytail – Celebrate the Body Electric (live, Talking Head):

3. Parts & Labor at Siren Music Festival (New York)

Siren’s a tough gig to do. There’s the scorching heat, the terrible sound, the crowds of oft-disinterested scenesters packed into one big sweaty mess, and the whole thing takes up most of the day. Great bands have gone through mediocre and ok sets at the hands of this festival. Parts & Labor weren’t one of them. Returning from a European tour, they gave the hometown crowd all that was in them, which was quite a bit. It was my first viewing of the band as a quartet, and it certainly knocked me out, as the group delivered one of the best performances at Siren I’ve seen, period. The hits kept coming through (“The Gold We’re Digging,” “Death,” etc), and Parts & Labor were as taught as ever. And thankful to boot; it’s often rare to see a band member smile while performing, but Dan Friel grinned while tossing his head back and forth throughout the set. And if you didn’t believe that the band really cared about each and every song of their set, perhaps the moment when B.J. Warshaw launched his well-worn bass into the crowd at the end of “Changing of the Guard” sealed the deal. It certainly did for one lucky fan.

Unfortunately, there is no video of this show available online at the moment. Instead, here is a performance of Changing of the Guard in Dallas from this year:

2. Boredoms at Paradise Rock Club (Boston)

I think my mind literally melted during this show. Boredoms have put out a lot of records – many of them unlistenable and unpalatable for those with the slightest distaste for punk. But I’d be hard pressed to find someone who likes to dance who wouldn’t have freaked out at this performance. With three members on drums and frontman Eye on a combination of synths, 8-necked guitar, two strange glowing balls of light that made static noise, and random chanting, Boredoms put together a fantastic and fluid set that was more a rave than a punk show. Hip shaking syncopated beats  provided by the three drumsets gave way to techno-like synths with change ups that tugged at your ears and feet. It lasted well over and hour and a half, but ended far to quickly.

Unfortunately, there is no video of this show available online at the moment. Instead, enjoy this selection from their ATP set from 2006:

1. The Baltimore Round Robin Tour at Mass Art – Feet Night (Boston)

This is what shows should be like. Bands packed in, playing for the thrill of performance and a sense of urgency that cannot be covered by a ticketmaster fee, a big chaotic mess wherein things fall apart, but everyone is there to help pick it up, where concert goers and performers intermingle freely and lines are blurred to the point where no one really cares who is who, where one act who may not mean anything to folks outside of a certain city performs as an equal to other musicians who get more press than folks who spend lifetimes in the PR industry could dream of, where a four and a half hour show gets you twelve different bands of a diverse set of genres, all pleading with you to dance and enjoy life and take a chance because hell they just did by treking around parts of North America to show you their community. It’s about community and it’s about creating and it’s about music for the sake of music and not hype or fame. And man is it thrilling. So thrilling it’s made attending most shows afterwards seem downright complacent by design. You have to give it a hand to the Wham City crew for pulling that show together; equipment broke, set times ran long, the Pozen Center at Mass Art smelled like a middle school locker room, but it fucking worked. It was in the moment, and the moment was captivating. Although some of the acts didn’t quite perform as passionately/deftly/well as others, they tore it up just by being there. Double Dagger brought the political punk mosh pit, but not before the Deathset provided a heady mix of electronics and thrash punk, while Smartgrowth had some downright danceable mashups, Future Islands got everyone to dance even in cramped conditions, Videohippos overcame technical difficulties to bring some lo-fi dance pop, and Nuclear Power Pants were downright in-your-face hilarious. Of course props to Dan Deacon, who ended the evening with a stellar performance of “Wham City”; as most of the hype-following crowd members had abandoned the show in droves before the end of the fourth and final go-round of the Round Robin, it felt like one big communal celebration, with members of the Wham City family and the concert die-hards dancing and singing around Deacon to what has ultimately become that community’s theme song. Right then, everyone there was a member of Wham City and a performer in the traveling circus of the Baltimore Round Robin. Now that’s in the moment.

Dan Deacon at Feet Night (live, Mass Art):

(Very) Honorable Mentions:

Iron & Wine (Pearl Street, Northampton): Sam Beam’s voice can warm a thousand + person crowd while the rain outside provides ample acoustic rhythms.

Shudder to Think (Paradise Rock Club, Boston): Reuniting for the first tour after their break up in the later half of the 90s, these first-wave prog-emo rockers kicked out all the best of the best of their backcatalog.

Edie Sedgwick (Oxfam Cafe, Somerville): Minimalist twee-styled punk done by a full band – complete with a couple of chorus singers in matching dresses – and an outlandish sense of self-aware humor not unlike labelmate trailblazers Nation of Ulysses and you’ve got one hell of a fun dance party.

Videohippos (Union Square, Somerville): A great set as part of an outdoor art festival in Union Square, this duo brought a surprising amount of energy and whipped up people into something resembling a dancing frenzy.

The Hold Steady/Drive By Truckers (The Orpheum Theater, Boston): These two bands just want to have fun (as if the smile on Craig Finn’s face didn’t tell you), and the Hold Steady certainly stole the show with one guitar-fueled-Americana song after another. Their pairing may have felt a little awkward, but these two bands certainly had a great time.

After the Jump Festival at four stages in Brooklyn: Four stages of free sets by a range of Brooklyn artists, this was an excellent place to check out those artists about to burst onto the national scene. Great sets by Noveller, an acoustic two-manned version of Extra Life, a pre-iPod fame Chairlift, and finally, where would a great noise fest be without Ponytail.

Dr. Dog (Rickenbacker Park, Philadelphia): People of all ages from all across town packed into a park on a beautiful day – isn’t that what summer’s all about? And Dr. Dog was there to pull all those warm ‘n fun summer feelings together with over 2 hours of classic rock cum modern indie. If only every summer day could be so great…

Falling Out if there’s no Dance Dance

The New York Times had a great two-hitter of music articles this weekend:
*Jon Caramanica’s profile on Patrick Stump, mainstream rock’s “most invisible frontman,” offers some great insight into Fall Out Boy and has given me even more newfound respect for the band. Even as they flirt with tasteless arena rock, the band sure manages to experiment with performance archetypes, right down to their structure.

You can stream Fall Out Boy’s new album, Folie à Deux, on myspace right now.

*Apparently hipsters don’t like change, or so went the audience reaction to Dan Deacon’s new performance concept. Wait, people obsessed with trends don’t like it when something they expected to see wasn’t the way they had read/heard/thought it was going to be? Whodathunkit?

To wrap things up, my favorite newscast…

Bloods On Fire

Translation = still sick.

So, I’ll do a quick recap of the recent shows I saw this weekend in a spare, odds ‘n’ ends sort of way.

Future Islands - Feet Night

Future Islands - Feet Night

Baltimore Round Robin Tour at MassArt, Feet Night (October 3rd)

Performance Rotation:

The Deathset

Adventure

Nuclear Power Pants

Lizz King

Double Dagger

DJ Dog Dick

Videohippos

Height

Future Islands

Blood Baby

Smart Growth

Dan Deacon

Pinback

Pinback

Pinback at the Paradise (October 5th):

Set list for the sometimes-described-as-emo indie pop group:

Torch

Boquet

Non-Photo-Blue

Microtonic Wave

Penelope

Good To Sea

How We Breath

Bloods on Fire

Walters

Boo

Tripoli

Loro

Fortress

Devil You Know

From Nothing to Nowhere

Off By 50

A.F.K.

Encore:

Sender, Manchuria, June

Dan Deacon @ Feet Night, Boston (video):

Pinback – Good To Sea (fan video):

All The Random Stuff That’s Fit

Let’s break this down in bullet points:

*TV on the Radio‘s Dear Science, has officially been released online, one week early. Who knows why Interscope made the decision, and really, who cares? You can purchase the album on iTunes or stream it for free at Lala (you must sign up first). Upon first listen it is… amazing. There really is no reason to doubt the band, and it sounds that with each growing album they continue to challenge one another as a unit to create a bombshell of a discography. ‘Nuff said.

TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio

*Mean Magazine has one of the oddest things I could have imagined: a video of Ben Kingsley as Ian MacKaye “performing” the song “Minor Threat”. As if my respect for Kingsley as an actor couldn’t grow any more, and then this popped online. My only wish is that there was less of a photo-collage feel and maybe a little narrative. No bother. To think that just a couple of months ago Kingsley was stealing scenes in local movie theaters as a drugged-up shrink in The Wackness; just to see him in the same pose as MacKaye in his Minor Threat days send chills up my spine. It’ll be an odd day when that actually turns into a film, but one I’d love to see. A significantly older man (Kingsley) playing a verbosely young musician (then-teenaged MacKaye) in the pinnacle of hardcore punk bands… now there’s something that would put I’m Not There to shame. Now I can’t seem to get the thought of Adrien Brody as Guy Picciotto for some sort of Revolution Summer project alongside Kingsley…

*Now for a little personal plug: I’ve organized a show at P.A.’s Lounge in Somerville this coming Sunday (September 21) featuring none other than Juiceboxxx, who I wrote about in an earlier post. It’ll also feature sets from Wham City/Baltimore scene stalwarts Narwhalz and DJ Dog Dick (the later who will be performing alongside Dan Deacon on his Baltimore Round Robin Tour), and an opening slot from Boston’s very own Ppalmm. All of these artists have their own unique take on electronic-based music, and it should be one amazing show. At $6 a pop ($9 for those 18-20), you really can’t go wrong.

Juiceboxxx – Thunder Jam III (video):

Narwhalz – Phar-Oooh (live):

Save the rest for Sunday…

I’m Not A Real Dr., But…

When approached with the subject of beloved cult band They Might Be Giants I’m usually a bit hesitant to say much of anything. I’m not much of a TMBG fan, or really a fan at all. But today when the subject came up, I bravely threw out that my favorite song of their’s is “Dr. Worm.”

To which a friend quickly responded: “Yes! Don’t you think that’s the saddest song?”

To which I immediately said: “Yes, yes I do.”

Actually, I hadn’t put much thought about the emotional stasis of the song before answering. Probably because I hadn’t thought of, or even listened to, “Dr. Worm” in a handful of years. But my gesture and response was sincere, and the more I think about it, the more “Dr. Worm” strikes me as an excellent piece of emotional abstraction in music. Take a listen:

The song is tight and poppy, filled with upbeat hooks and sections you can chant along to. And the vocal styling is quite sincere and displays a degree of happiness alongside it. And yet, the lyrics are oddly, well, sad, especially when juxtaposed against the song’s performance. It’s all about a little creature pretending to be something he’s not (a doctor), practicing his hardest at something he’s not quite sure he’s good at (drums), and asking for a little attention and friendship. And the singing style seems to evoke this sadness in a way, permeating the light-hearted sonic layer to give the work a certain amount of depth. Now that’s a quality that should be taken to heart and used in all genres – emo or otherwise. It seems unfortunate, but in a number of ways numerous emo acts today have tossed aside this intellectual sincerity of song-craft for violence in lyrical gestures and presentation. Some, not all. And some don’t quite add up to some form of reputable works of music. It happens in all genres, but for the one that is known for a substantially higher “emotional” quality (in the guise of the devil’s advocate), for some reason the grip of emotion seems lost on numerous bands, replaced with easy-to-replicate three-chord pop ditties. Which is not necessarily wrong, just not necessarily interesting.

EXTRA:

Round Robin tour poster

Round Robin tour poster

Tickets for Dan Deacon’s Baltimore Round Robin Tour for Boston are now available to purchase. At $8 for one night or $15 for both nights, all-ages performances and an irresistible and eclectic lineup with a killer performance idea (a rotating performance of songs around the perimeter of the venue), it goes to show that Deacon and Co. certainly are as forward-thinking as any of America’s great underground music minds. Get your tickets through Bodies of Water Arts and Crafts.

Double Double

In one corner, weighing in at 6 members is The Mae Shi, with support from The Death Set, at Great Scott.

The Mae Shi live

The Mae Shi live

In the other, pulling together as a duo is No Age, with a little help from High Places and Abe Vigoda, at the Middle East Downstairs.

No Age

No Age

It is a challenge to behold… For music fans of Boston, tonight’s concert calendar will have a tough choice, but either event will provide a winner. This may be a match for an individual’s night, but it is no way a battle between acts. This cavalcade of musicians rolling through town represents some of the brightest acts from the three pivotal underground music communities today.

The Mae Shi, No Age, and Abe Vigoda mastered their craft and honed in on their acts out in LA. There, they (along with a multitude of other acts) formed a community dedicated to furthering the boundaries of art and punk. It’s a living, breathing unit that can be seen in the 40 Bands 80 Minutes documentary (it is what it says – 40 bands performing 2 minute songs in a sweaty LA venue) or on any regular evening at The Smell, the all ages venue that No Age placed smack dab on the cover of their 2007 album Weirdo Rippers. With the critical acclaim these three acts – alongside peers such as HEALTH and Mika Miko – have been receiving, the LA underground scene has once again been thrown into the national music limelight.

The Smell

The Smell

Although LA has received a considerable amount of attention, so has Brooklyn (home of High Places) and, more than any other area, Baltimore (home of The Death Set). Forever cast in the shadows of nearby, larger areas (Baltimore has DC, and although Brooklyn is a part of NYC, Manhattan has always dominated the other burroughs), these tiny, seemingly-culturally deprived areas have burst with creative ingenuity in all forms of the arts. Baltimore has built an insular community to match its small sized, and has since been propelled to the national level thanks in part to the Wham City collective and its unofficial head Dan Deacon; in little pockets of a city that most residents have either forgotten or never cared about, out came a sprawling arts basin that seems as communally inbred as it is creative. Venture north a number of hours and you hit Brooklyn, itself a sprawling mass of space that’s cheaper – and therefore, more attractive to aspiring artists looking to make it in the big city. Any busted-up storefront could easily be turned into an art gallery or performance space, and a good number of them art (at least in the Williamsburg area). Out of it has formed numerous art-punk acts as wide spread, yet communally linked; TV On The Radio, Battles, Parts & Labor, and a ton of others all call this place home.

Baltimores Video Hippos at Brooklyns Death by Audio

Baltimore's Video Hippos at Brooklyn's Death by Audio

Both Baltimore and Brooklyn offer scenes that are in close proximity to areas of cultural resonance, but their chance location has given both places an almost-secluded quality which has allowed these communities to prosper and trade ideas amongst one another without the eye of the mainstream music world staring down upon them. LA, though a mainstream cultural capital in its own respect, is so spread out that over the past few decades, it has allowed for numerous musically-based culture movements to spawn and spread out of little pockets in the vast city side and across the suburban sprawl. These communities are created and developed in the guise of complete creativity, without the influence and impact of commercial interest to hinder, attract, or distract anything or anyone from the ultimate goal of creation. These qualities are the typical stamp-of-approval for the development of underground art communities in the US; the resources are there in almost every location in America, but it takes a special formula of location, individuals, and atmosphere to make it work.

This is an important aspect of the development and continued thriving of emo as an underground cultural force. It’s still one that drives the many different voices of emo in its current underground status. True, emo has become a fashionable commodity, but it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t continued to thrive as an underground culture, one separate from its mainstream state. It’s the ideas of creativity and independence that the innovators of the culture imbued into its artistic essence that not only kept emo in the underground for so long (around 15-17 years, depending on when you choose to mark its beginning and entrance into the mainstream). When what became known as “emo” began in the ashes of DC’s hardcore scene, a good chunk of the punk music community scorned it as hardcore had yet to hit its dramatic fall on the national level. DC was (and in many ways, still is) ignored by the music industry as an important place, so emo transformed, unfettered by outsiders and made for the better by community members. As Fugazi became the scene’s main touring act and magnet, their sound became a beacon to anyone looking beyond the convention of punk and broadcast a vibrant and diverse aural image of emo around the world.

Fugazi

Fugazi

From there, communities outside of the insular DC scene began to form around the idea of emo. The strongest cross-state emo community to arise didn’t occur until the mid 90s. While connections formed among artists from different scenes (Sunny Day Real Estate and Shudder To Think as touring partners comes to mind), the mid 90s provided a time when scenes across the country formed their own little pockets and ideas of emo, yet would come together to share them. Outside of DC (which added Chisel and The Dismemberment Plan to their list), the East Coast had pockets of sound; NYC had Texas Is The Reason, New Jersey had Lifetime, Boston had Karate and Jejune (who later moved to California), and down in Florida (if you want to count it as the East Coast) there was Hot Water Music.

Mineral

Mineral

But the mid 90s and emo will forever be associated with the Mid-West, where the bands were as connected to their hometown scenes as they were with the rest of the middle-country-divide. Cap’n Jazz, The Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World, Mineral, Christie Front Drive, Braid, The Get Up Kids, Boy’s Life, and dozens more upon hundreds of those which may never be heard by the masses have formed a dominant portrait of a land and time in the emo narrative. The places they came from are all different and so are their ideas, but they all came together to form a variety of sounds that continue to exist within popularized forms of emo today. Consider it the time of multiculturalism in underground American punk. While the national hardcore scene transformed local sounds into one big rule-based notion of musical defiance summarized in a minute and a half of screams and thrashing guitars, the mid 90s Mid-West emo scene allowed for individual pockets to develop their version of emo undeterred by outsiders all while coming together to form bonds and trade ideas to enhance their individual perspectives. This can be seen in everything from split singles on vinyl (such as the Jimmy Eat World/Christie Front Drive split that attracted the attention of Captiol Records) to a shared creation of lyrics (The Promise Ring’s “Picture Postcard” attributes some lyrical content to Braid’s Bob Nanna), to simple ties of friendship that extend past inter-state routes. Just as the movers and shakers of today’s underground music scenes breach state lines to form communities while continuing to build their local ones, emo became a strong presence throughout America before it became a mainstream phenomenon. Those connections kept it a living, moving center of a community, and that notion continues to drive like-minded individuals who operate under whatever label they choose to this very day.
No Age – Eraser

The Mae Shi – Vampire Beats (video):