Thirty Hertz Rumble

A bl-g about movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick

Category: Live Music (Page 5 of 6)

The Twilight Sad @ the Empty Bottle, Chicago 3/2

The Twilight Sad @ the Empty Bottle, Chicago
March 2, 2012

The Empty Bottle bar

If I hadn’t been riding in a cab to the show I would have had to double check my directions. After arriving at the Empty Bottle in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village I couldn’t believe that a band like The Twilight Sad would venture from Kilsyth to Chicago to play in a corner dive bar. If I hadn’t seen the band’s bassist lingering around the swag table (which flanked a Ms. Pacman cabinet) I’d have called the whole operation into question. No punches pulled, the place is a dive, though a dive in the best possible sense – a local joint where you’d go to see your cousin’s band play a set of Ramones’ covers but only because of the $3 Shiner Bocks. The walls held together by thousands of staples, the wallpaper comprised of the impressive shards of posters documenting past acts.  Tattoo-sleeves on the bartender. Multi-colored Christmas bulbs dangled above the stage. Chiaroscuro spots at the side of the stage, that would in due time, obscure all of my attempts at in-concert photography.

Micah P. Hinson warmed up the early crowd with some standard-fare singer-songwriter angst, albeit wearing white Buddy Holly specs which at least provided a topic of conversation while my party warmed up the back end of the bar.

Young Prisms

The penultimate band, a Bay Area export by the name of Young Prisms, provided a pleasant smattering of Jesus and Mary Chain covers, which actually turned out to be their original material. The perfect opening act – familiar and unmemorable but with some potential to become an “I-saw-them-way-back-when” band. The curious footnote about the Young Prisms’ set, which proved to be a harbinger of things to come: we couldn’t tell if the supposed lead singer was actually singing. I changed my viewing angle of the stage so that the microphone wasn’t blocking the lead singer’s mouth. Yes, indeed, she’d been singing. News to us.

More about the venue. Imagine an L. Place the bar along the long upright and a two-tiered riser for concerts in the short end. The stage at the crux and a brick column flanked by doorways directly in front with room for about two dozen spectators between the stage and the column in a crowded mass. With Stella in hand I pushed near the front end of the bar in anticipation of the Twilight Sad. Though it wasn’t really anticipation per se since they were already on stage testing and honing levels without much fanfare. And then they paused. James Graham huddled over the microphone, wilting inside himself. A pause before synth and haunting distorted bass reverb commandeered the Empty Bottle. Graham’s body seethed with intensity as he brooded the opening of “Kill It in the Morning,” the concluding track on their latest No One Can Ever Know. No translation necessary. Not that deciphering his thick Scottish accent proves necessary to getting lost in the music or understanding Graham’s cryptic lyrics – but because it was almost like he wasn’t singing at all, despite the clear intent and focus on consuming the microphone. The swell of synth and percussion near the end of the song resonated with the largely idle crowd, causing the first head widespread lost-in-the-music head nods and air drumming. With the vocals drowned out by a wall of reverb, I relocated to the two-tier risers, figuring on improved sonic fidelity.

The Twilight Sad (not at the Empty Bottle)

“Don’t Move” followed but instead of reverb distorting their sound, percussion overshadowed the mix. Only when drummer Mark Devine launched the recognizable opening drum cadence for “That Summer, at Home I Became the Invisible Boy” did a song resemble an album recording. Graham belted the repeated chorus “Kids are on fire in the bedroom” clearly and intentionally, the minimal reverb finally allowing an aural connection to the singer but these connections seemed localized to songs from their prior albums. Fan favorite “Cold Days from the Birdhouse” and “Reflection on the Television” succeeded due to a more minimal, precise mix of vocals, drums and guitar. “Cold Days” in particular offered Graham’s voice a chance to come into focus. He lingered on particular passages, slowed the tempo, played with our expectations and highlighted a sadness in the song’s chorus that isn’t wholly apparent on the album version.

But this highlight came too late in the show, perhaps, to hook anyone unfamiliar with the bands catalog. Those already familiar with The Twilight Sad and their music would have reveled in the chance to witness Graham, in the way the prior music generation witnessed Ian Curtis’ localized intensity, his ability to command a two foot space on a stage and thereby an entire room. The orchestration sustaining his performance on stage, eyes closed, lost in the synth and reverb. Songs from the “No One Can Ever Know” album, as great as they are on the album, amplified too large for the space and drowned even Graham’s confident vocals. Poor Stephanie Hodapp of the Young Prisms’ never stood a chance.

Still trying to find that sweet spot, that spot that allowed each component of music to flourish, I nestled into the small crux of the “L” next to the brick column directly in front of the stage and located a semblance of fidelity just as “And She Would Darken the Memory,” a favorite track from Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, concluded. Even the accent-clouded lyrics of the chorus “And their friendly faces with put on smiles” emerged through the din with a measure of intelligibility. Sigh. Once the Twilight Sad left the stage after their curious closer, “At the Burnside” – a song noted for its notorious “wall of sound” comprised of wailing guitar, piano and percussion – I reported my finding to my party, now nursing their final drinks at the rear of the bar. They shrugged and we wandered out into the snowy Chicago evening. We caught a cab and I spent the entire time questioning what went wrong, my voice too loud for the silent cab. I began the process of turning down the volume on the synth and reverb still echoing in my head. I questioned the choice of venue and the sound engineers but never the band. Not even once. The performance was there and showcased brilliantly in fits and spurts. But in the end, I decided that maybe this venue, this corner dive, was precisely the place that the Twilight Sad could be precisely themselves, baring their damaged souls but still hiding among the reverb and causing everyone else to question, exactly, what it all means.

Fanfarlo w/ Gardens & Villas @ Mr. Smalls 3/25

Why isn’t Fanfarlo a bigger deal? They play a brand indie-pop of reminiscent of early Arcade Fire,  Talking Heads with some Beirut-style horns mixed in for good measure. I understand the criticisms leveled at them for being derivative. Sure, we all want something new, something thrilling because it’s never been done before. But at the same time, I’ve got to level with you– it’s all already been done in some form or another. To be overly brief, all art is derivative. Even the first cave paintings were inspired by real life; Death of  a Salesman didn’t just spontaneously appear in the mind of Australopithecus. Why then are some critics so offended by similarly sounding music? Fanfarlo is the first modern band I’ve heard that has really nailed the mid-tempo Talking Heads groove. Most bands sound bored or restrained when dealing with that middling pace, but Fanfarlo legitimately understands what made the Heads such a pleasure.

Replicate

There’s something called the Pleasure Principle. We seek pleasure in order to avoid that which might harm us. It’s in our very nature to feel comfortable with familiar music in the same way we’re going to avoid jumping out of a three-story building, just to see what happens. Fanfarlo won’t be knocking on the pearly Pitchfork gates anytime soon but they’re a tight-sounding quintet that has a lot of fun playing music. So in short: Arcade Fire? Good. Talking Heads? Good. Beirut? Good. Joey Tribiani’s Trifle Logic proves true. Fanfarlo. Good. See below for reference.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5v_BE6lFE0o[/tube]

I’d love to tell you more about Gardens & Villas live set but quite frankly I missed the entire thing because I had to get my daughter to bed. The my wife is 9-months pregnant and largely incapable of dealing with a highly-energized (nearly three year old) daughter. So it goes. I bought their solid 2011 debut album on vinyl to make peace.

Fronted by the Swedish Simon Balthazar, Fanfarlo started minimal, opening with a personal favorite track and the first song on their latest album Rooms Filled With Light: “Replicate.” Thanks to Youtube user pghmusicreport for uploading video from this show.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiKd7Ku_NR0[/tube]

The sparse orchestration of the track allows for a cross-section of the sound. Isolated violin. Keyboard. Bass. A couple of songs in, Simon finally began some chatter and mistakenly suggested it was the band’s first trip to Pittsburgh. He was immediately corrected by Cathy (violin, keyboard, vocals) and his drummer Amos who pointed out someone in the front row who had done some drawings of them at that prior show at the Brillobox. Quick wit, from a drummer. I texted my wife to tell her about the drummer with the quick wit. She didn’t believe me.

The band played tight but chatted loosely. Later in the show Cathy again corrected Simon who had incorrectly pronounced the name of the opening act (Vill-ahs rather than the correct Spanish pronunciation Vee-yas). And they had another good laugh at Simon’s expense. Amos later apologized for taking the last small white Fanfarlo T-shirt from the swag booth. Bassist Justin Finch praised some sing-a-longers (specifically the tall guy in the black hoodie) who knew all the words to their songs and then (without pointing fingers) chided those that sang-a-long but didn’t know the words (“It’s actually quite distracting and you should study up before next show.”) All in good fun. I prattle on about their stage prattle because it’s part and parcel with a band that’s up there having fun with their music even though the actual performance goes pretty strictly by the book. There was very little deviation from the recorded versions of the songs. I wouldn’t expect new-ish bands to do much free-styling.  Simon, however, seemed to cut loose a little bit on “Harold T. Wilkins” — the standout track from their 2009 debut. Video again courtesy of pghmusicreport.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_tNMZOoL48[/tube]

So maybe they’re not the most original or the most innovative band. They’re comfort food for the ears and an inherently likeable UK-based quintet that spins carefully orchestrated indie-pop . In these days when a single Pitchfork review can mobilize entire legions of potential fans and bloggers in either direction, it’s a shame that Pitchfork review unfairly labeled Rooms Filled With Light a waste of time. I doubt I have the pull to override even a fraction of the negativity but I’m going to do my best. Listen to Fanfarlo. Support the tour. And learn your lyrics.

 

 

Guster playing with the Colorado Symphony

On March 8th, Guster played with the Colorado Symphony. I really considered buying a ticket to Denver just to see this show. But then I thought about how I’m a responsible parent with a pregnant wife that can’t just jet off to concerts whenever he feels like it and that the last time I flew into Denver a hippie fiddled with a short-wave radio midway through the flight and yada yada yada everyone in my section ended up getting questioned by both Homeland Security and the FBI. True story.

Read More

Beirut @ the Altar Bar, 12/10

Last night. Beirut at the Altar Bar.

I learned a great many things.

Read More

In defense of the Kooks / Our yearly migration “home”

Last weekend, my wife and I took our yearly sojourn to our old home in Cambridge, MA. On these vacations we consume mass quantities, frequent old haunts and attend whatever concert we found on the schedule for that particular weekend. The weekend (with one exception, more on this in a minute) went exactly as planned. We landed at Logan Airport at Too Goddamn Early AM and grabbed a cup of Dunkin and prepped our nostalgia schedule as we waited for the T shuttle.

Read More

Page 5 of 6

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Pin It on Pinterest