Tag Archives: Siren Music Festival

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…

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Jimes and the New Garage

There’s nothing quite like a musical discovery, and Jimes is not quite like anything else I’ve found in recent memory. Jimes is the kind of thing you inadvertently stumble upon and then mildly-obsess about for a handful of minutes. Jimes is absurd, endearing, and entertaining, simply by being.

Jimes live

Jimes live

Jimes hails from Chevy Chase, an annexed part of the greater Bethesda area that’s all encapsulated in the DC metro area. Despite the feet which separate his home turf from mine, I had to go to New York to even realize such a character/musical entity existed. And so, while searching for a small-scale, underground show to follow up my Siren adventure, I discovered Jimes was scheduled to play a new hole-in-the-wall venue in Brooklyn.

I didn’t make it to the show (I ended up throwing away all my post-festival plans for relaxation), but Jimes certainly stuck with me. The anarchic, non-musician to the extreme, uber-garage pop immediately jumped out at me. Hey, it’s not great musicianship, but there’s an immediacy and power to it that’s lost on a lot of bands I like to lump into the “mainstream.” Clearly, Jimes (who is the singer, but is also the umbrella name for the full-band) isn’t doing this for money or fame, but simply the power of expression… or most importantly, fun.

More Jimes

More Jimes

Of course, Jimes’ forwardness with which he proclaims his inability to create music is easily connected to the first wave of punk, where non-musicians became an icon of the movement (if not exactly the true creators of said punk music). And as emo is as much a part of the narrative of punk as it is a sub-genre, Jimes’ straight-forward creation of music for the sake of creation is reflective of much of the narratives behind emo’s most noteworthy acts. Although many of those acts had different ideas for simply creating their music, one thing is clear throughout; it’s just important to do it. And if Jimes has any relation to those in the Dischord crowd, the kids in the Mid-West emo scene of the 1990s, or the teens bouncing around basements in New Jersey in the late 90s/early 2000s, his drive to create is in part fueled by his derision of the mainstream society around him.

As far as Jimes’ connection to any greater community is concerned, that is a scene I would be very interested to learn more about. Jimes’ playfulness and musical audaciousness is reminiscent of a number of acts from around America, yet ones who don’t appear to have any direct connection to one another. Math the Band readily comes to mind; the New England-based act was originally just a fun-loving guy named Kevin who sang over beats he constructed on his laptop. But Math has since expanded into a full-fledged band that’s been touring with buddies Harry and the Potters (the defining act of wizard rock, which is it’s own little scene) and will soon be playing a festival in Pittsburgh with none other than Bob Dylan. Juiceboxxx is another one of these whatever-you-want-to-call-it acts, though there is a touch of professionalism. Hailing from Milwaukee, Juiceboxxx is known for putting on urgent and insanely danceable shows, all of which can be heard in the immediacy of the goofy-yet-catchy laptop-based hip-hop tracks.

Math the Band

Math the Band

I could be trying to force certain puzzles in place when there isn’t anything there necessarily. Without any immediate connection to one another, there’s a certain lack of any tangible scene, a driving force which has powered emo to this day. And yet, for some reason, all of these acts are cropping up across the United States that have a general aesthetic connection; technologically-driven (though slightly deficient) music and a drive for creativity that is more parts humor and fun than anything else. If anything, this is a mark of the technology on the ability to create music. Just as cassette tape players made it easy for anyone to make some form of music in the 80s (which Calvin Johnson took to heart with K Records), the laptop has made it insanely easy for anyone to record anything.

Juiceboxxx live

Juiceboxxx live

Although mash-ups, techno, dubstep, grime, and any other electronic-based genre have long been the focus of technology-in-music when it comes to the role laptops have played on modern music, they can be (and in the case of Jimes, are) used for simply recording live instrumental playing on the fly. What’s happening now is something similar to the rise of garage bands in the 60s (although not on such a grand, noticeable scale). As rock bands became a commerce of cool, kids across the country formed bands without any thought of ability or community – just make music. And it’s happening again, only with the laptop instead of the guitar.

Call it “New Garage.” Call it whatever you want. In the same way that garage rock produced hundreds of hundreds of bands across the country, each unique and the same all at once, that commitment to music above all else is happening all over again. And that’s a great thing.

You can download most of the Jimes catalog here. Below are clips of live shows from Jimes, Math the Band, and Juiceboxxx.

Jimes:

Math the Band:

Juiceboxxx:

Building the Playing

Down in New York for the weekend, I decided to take a break from some ear-shattering concerts (short review: Deerhoof rocked Prospect Park, Parts & Labor absolutely killed it at Siren Music Festival) to check out David Byrne’s Playing the Building exhibit at the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan. The instillation is a wonderful little experiment. Byrne rigged up an old organ and attached each key to a tube that then sets off a sound within different parts of the building. Each key either triggers the sound of banging, whistling, or vibrating in different portions of the structure, thereby creating the concept of “playing the building.”

There are various ideas encapsulated within the instillation that resonate within emo and numerous punk and post-punk genres, to which Byrne himself has been such a vibrant part of since he was a founding member of Talking Heads. The instillation is meant to be an exploration of music in that the sounds emitting from the organ are in no ways linear by classical standards of tuning or performance; while classically-trained musicians will find frustration in the process, those without any musical background and “non-musicians” should potentially use the opportunity to explore making music on such an open template. Whereas knowing how to play an instrument versus a lack of experience or knowledge is the first of many boundaries that helped create the olde world rock status that punk revolted against, Byrne’s installation destroys all those boundaries. If anything, it shifts those boundaries against those with formal training, making it frustrating for those individuals to attempt to create the kind of compositions they’re used to.

Aside from that, Byrne’s exhibit makes it able for anyone with access to said exhibit and patience to wait in line the temporary ability to try their hand at making music (or just plain noise) for a temporary amount of time. Part of what makes emo (and other punk genres) so appealing is that it’s focused on allowing every individual to make music by their own means (or rather, any individual who is up to the task of doing that). But hey, instruments aren’t like penny candy, and those are usually the first resources to grab in order to make music. With Playing the Building, all you need is a Metro card and the ability to sign a waver and you have your chance to make your own noise.

After a 20 minute wait, I tried my hand at “Chopsticks” and fooled around with the keys before quickly getting up, taking a good-humored bow for the patient folks who were behind me. Look out Lil Wayne, I’m about to grab your spot on Billboard.

EXTRA EXTRA:

TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio

More good news from the land of upcoming releases. TV on the Radio have announced the release of their next album! Due out at the end of September, Dear Science, should be another great addition to what has been a wonderful array of noise, punk, and art-rock releases for 2008. Never mind my usual attempts to discuss hype, but whatever you want to call this collection of underground music bubbling up around the country it’s looking to be big. The new new alternative? Maybe. Whatever the case may be, it sure sounds great.

UGK vs TV on the Radio – I Was an International Player (Hood Internet)

Gifts and Siren

Hey Folks,

Don’t consider this a plug, more a word of advice. If you’re in the Boston area, head on down to the Newbury Comics at Government Center soon; they’re liquidating their supply of everything before their move to Faneuil Hall and putting everything on sale. But, get there sooner than later before everything is sold out.

I’ll have to leave it at that. Be prepared for plenty of allusions to emo in seemingly separate culture happenings. As for now, I must pack for Siren Music Festival!

2008 Siren Music Festival poster

2008 Siren Music Festival poster

Enjoy the weekend!

PS, a little update:

Be sure the check out the Watchmen trailer, which just hit the internet recently. As I mentioned in my post about comic books, I absolutely love this graphic novel, and I cannot wait for the movie to come out. Although most book-to-movie adaptations can never achieve the same depth as its inspirational basis, Zach Snyder is clearly the best choice to direct this film; that man understands how to integrate comic book imagery onto film in a near-flawless manner, and the trailer shows it. Here’s one of many YouTube Watchmen trailer postings (though it may not work once Warner Brothers finds it):

Art With Flavor

Giddy would be a great explanation for how I felt when I saw this news release from Jagjaguwar:

We’re proud to announce that PARTS & LABOR will be releasing their new album, “Receivers,” on 10/21/08 here in the US and 11/03/08 in the UK.

Brooklyn’s Parts & Labor has become one of my favorite bands in recent years, and it’s been simply wonderful to see them grow as an artistic entity and in the eyes of the music community. In a handful of years and successive releases, they’ve turned from an anthemic noise act of uncompromising creativity into the center of a vibrant underground music scene in Brooklyn. With the release of Receivers in October, there is no doubt they’ll continue on their trajectory of making outstanding music. From the sound of it, they’ve already managed to do that. Pitchfork released the track titled “Nowheres Nigh” today, and chances are, P&L aren’t far off from joining a number of their critically-acclaimed contemporaries. The song is pure pop, but still contains those elements that make Parts & Labor such an anomaly; the clashing sounds of electronic blips float with ease atop shoegaze waves of fuzz, while Joe Wong maniacally bashes away on the drum-kit in the background and BJ Warshaw exemplifies the poppiest vocal work to rival any previous track the band has made. It’s a change-up for the band, but it keeps to their mantra of pushing their own creative notions.

old Parts & Labor live pic

old Parts & Labor live pic

I’ve been lucky enough to see Parts & Labor grow in time with a bit of my own maturation. While interning at Rock Sound magazine in London, I introduced the folks at the magazine to Parts & Labor after throwing their then-upcoming release (Mapmaker) onto the stereo. The staff instantly fell in love with the band as I won a little cred in their books; pretty soon I was interviewing Dan Friel for an “Exposure” piece on the band, no doubt bringing them into the homes of many new UK fans. A year later I had the pleasure of putting on a show with the band at Brandeis University; I was involved in putting on a lot of great shows in Chums coffeehouse (the venue of choice at Brandeis), but the Parts & Labor show was one of my favorites. A month ago I treked down to Brooklyn for the After The Jump Fest, where Dan pointed out what acts to check out, which included a set by newly-acquired P&L guitarist Sarah Lipstate’s solo project, Noveller.

I’m more than happy to say that I will also be a part of the next Parts & Labor album. While they worked away on Receivers, Parts & Labor asked fans to send in audio samples, leaving four questions as guides. I sent in a little something, and although I have no idea how they used it, the band has decided to use every single submitted audio sample for their record. Now if that’s not the sign of an inclusive, open community I don’t know what is. Of course, those ideas go hand in hand with Parts & Labor; besides the musical influence of punk’s past, the ideological influence of the DIY, hardcore and post-hardcore greats that filled the 80s is especially strong in how the band runs everything. And community, as strong as it is within the lineage of emo (and I shall write no more on emo and community for this post), is an especially strong aspect of Parts & Labor’s existence and coexistence. Friel and Warshaw even went as far as to create their own record label – Cardboard records – in order to release material from bands that they felt a strong ideological, musical, and personal connection to. Just as, say, Dischord (ok, I lied a little bit about two sentences ago) became an epicenter for a small, DC punk community, Cardboard has become a connection for like-minded musicians across the country. Just pick up Love and Circuits, a double album compiling all the bands that Parts & Labor has shared a communal bond with, and you’ll hear a fraction of the bands involved in the American art-punk/noise/whatever you want to call it community. Just as a record label, a venue, or a town can become centers of musical and cultural scenes, in their own way Parts & Labor – as a band and an idea – have also become something of a meeting point for a community.

The Cardboard Family

The Cardboard Family

Parts & Labor will be performing at Siren Music Festival this Saturday and Whartscape this Sunday. Make it to the shows if you can.

Parts & Labor – Nowheres Nigh

Parts & Labor – The Gold We’re Digging (video):