If you don't come to Pittsburgh, you won't get to see the running of the pierogis. I'm just saying.
The prelude to attending the Here We Go Magic and Hospitality show Tuesday night at Brillobox is a tale born from one of the best features of social media. In recent months I’d made a hobby out of reading tweets promoting a band’s upcoming tour schedule and if Pittsburgh happened to be absent from the schedule I’d send a return tweet with an obligatory “What do you mean you’re not coming to Pittsburgh?”
A few months ago I received one such tweet from Merge Records (@mergerecords) regarding Hospitality’s upcoming tour. No Pittsburgh. So I immediately fired back. Moments later I receive a tweet from Merge Records. “Happy now, @30hertzrumble?” with additional tour dates, including Pittsburgh. Clearly I thought that was pretty neato and bought a couple of tickets to the May 15th Hospitality show headlined by Here We Go Magic. I probably would have gone anyway, but the communication with the label solidified my attendance and quick ticket purchase. I didn’t have anyone else offhand that particularly wanted to go, but for the amazing low price of $8, I couldn’t buy just one ticket. In the weeks that followed I plugged the show a few times through Twitter. Two damn fine bands for less cash than the cost of a movie ticket. Each time I received a retweet from either Hospitality (@hospitalityband), Here We Go Magic (@herewegomagic) or Merge Records.
Fast forward to last Thursday. I still had a spare ticket. With the one-month-old baby at home, the wife and I had been swapping solo nights out (as she so effectively described in her moonlight-entry on my bl-g regarding the Imagine Dragons show) and I only have a few gamers remaining in my rolodex (gamers are friends that would attend anything, for whatever irrational reason). As I creep briskly into my thirties, those gamers are dropping like flies as time demands increase, not necessarily for their lack of gaming will. Point being, I corresponded with my general go-to gamer for this kind of stuff with this tweet:
A few minutes later, Here We Go Magic checked in on the conversation with this:
I told “Bert Macklin” that he had to attend now because the band knew about him. He did his due diligence, found a song he liked by Here We Go Magic and made a not altogether unfounded crack about the band sounding like Polvo. A band, quite frankly, I’d completely forgotten about. Here We Go Magic doesn’t ride their guitars quite as feverishly as Polvo but there’s some, if not a heap, of connectivity there.
Polvo, for your edification:
…and just when you think the conversation has ended, we received this tweet:
“Bert” and I weren’t entirely sure about the legitimacy of our names being on the guest list for the show, but we still asked a few last minute people to see if they wanted to journey out to the Brillobox for a live show and while many were willing, ultimately I found no “date” to accompany me. We met at Brillobox and down a few libations from the bar before heading upstairs to the venue. After handing over the tickets, I asked the girl with the clipboard if, indeed, James Patrick and “Bert Macklin” were on the guest list. Sure enough– the 1st and 2nd names on the list. (Side note: apparently they’re not avid Parks and Rec viewers.)
Hospitality had just begun their set. The band sounded tight, and the more I listened to Amber Papini’s vocals the more she began to sound like Nina Persson. She’s got some of the same range and raspy qualities of the Cardigans’ frontwoman and I didn’t pick up on this at all from the album recording. Though they appeared a little rigid performing, the music played big and easy in the space for just a three-member band. If there’s any justice, Hospitality gained a few dozen fans and sold a few more records after their set.
Here’s Hospitality performing, my favorite track of theirs, “8th Avenue”:
Before Here We Go Magic we engaged the swag-table girl in some friendly banter, inquiring about which band member ran the Twitter account and proffered guest-list admittance to the show. She refused to answer our inquiries, thereby leading us to believe that she may, in fact, have been in charge. After all, she knew too much. She knew of our Twitter exchange and knew about the supposed “dates” we unsuccessfully procured. Curiouser and curiouser.
Here We Go Magic arrived on stage and played a lively, rollicking Krautrock-inspired set of tracks. They embellished the free spirit and eclectic influences in their music. Most succinctly, Here We Go Magic sounds like a melding of Paul Simon afro-beat and Krautrock, but they are anything and everything- varying wildly in pace from song to song, mellow to raucous to pysch-folk and something like a jam-band instrumental. Early in the set, vocalist Luke Temple repeatedly requested that their instrument output be turned up, so much so that the sound may have outgrown the room. This really didn’t work against them. This lent the poppier, more radio-friendly tracks from the new album such as “Make Up Your Mind” (Art Garfunkel via Can?) and “Collector” (from the middle album, Oingo Boingo via Amon Düül II?) extra disturbance, roughing up the edges with reverb and distortion. The standout performance, however, may have been the driving and melodious “Tunnelvision,” which also happened to be my favorite Here We Go Magic track (so I might be biased). It’s just one of those songs that can play on repeat, forever revealing new depth. “Fangala” (based purely on crowd reaction at the show) appeared to be the most widely recognized, provoking a listless crowd to relative hysteria and synchronized clapping.
(Normally I’d have played a clip of a live performance of the song, but I love the video too much too ignore. It was made with no post-production effects. Nail scratching and paint on Super 8mm film. Like a music video directed by Stan Brakhage.)
While there was a definite schism between the old and the new, the songs weaved together seamlessly, but the differences made me the consider the identity choices a band makes along its path from anonymity to, well, wherever it is they’re headed, whether it be pseudo-success playing for small but devoted fans or the cover of Rolling Stone. Even if that choice is to be twenty different things all at once, it’s still a choice. If that band chooses to start playing now obscure German rock from the 70s and then slowly try to bridge that into the mainstream, it’s a choice as much as it is a guiding “muse.” But at the same time, a band must grow in order to survive. Criticism solely based on a change or choice that doesn’t alter the inherent qualities of the music is not only lazy, it’s rubbish.
I had a point at the end of that thought, but it became lost and diluted as I surfed through Krautrock videos on youtube and thoroughly mismanaged an evening of potentially spectacular fiction writing. It had something to do with some of the negativity regarding stylistic choices I read in the Pitchfork reviews of new albums from Here We Go Magic (which is clearly their most consistent and accessible offering) and Silversun Pickups (which Pitchfork just trashes left, right and inside-out).
Anyway, the end of this evening is thus: “Bert” and I never discovered precisely who tossed us on the guest list, we had a great time at a show we perhaps otherwise might not have attended. Here We Go Magic or Hospitality aren’t selling out arenas, but the bands are actively engaging followers via social media and by doing so, they’re breaking down that divide between artists and their fans. And for each person that they or their swag-table lady retweets or messages, they’re creating a relationship that fosters loyalty, spreads word of mouth and inspires certain writers to devote an evening of the precious time to promoting a couple of bands that you might not have previously known.
Odds and ends:
At Brillobox, a bar/venue notorious for it’s hipster problem, I noticed relatively few at the show. It makes me wonder if they hopped on the St. Vincent bus and rode on out of town. I’ll check back after my next show at Stage AE to see if they’re trickling back. Though I have to wonder what kind of hipster following Childish Gambino might encourage.
When Here We Go Magic left Pittsburgh on Wednesday they picked up a hitchhiker somewhere in Ohio that turned out to be John Waters. No goddamn joke. DClist has the story covered. I won’t say any more about this other than I hope the story gains the band extra airplay.
(Courtesy @AvtarK - aka the swag-table lady)
That Here We Go Magic hasn’t painted their van to look like the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine, seems like a lost opportunity. Also, that the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine wasn’t called the Here We Go Magic Van also seems like an egregious oversight.
The Here We Go Magic Mobile
I’ve always been a little skeptical of St. Vincent. Heaps of praise, glowing reviews, widespread (among a certain indie-loving crowd) adulation. I’ve also always been a little bit ambivalent about St. Vincent. On the scale of zero to worship, I’m a vigorous meh. I can pick out a few tracks per album that engage me, throw them on my iPod and I’m not displeased when they pop up on shuffle. With every subsequent album she garners greater buzz, more press and I’m forced to reconsider my meh.
With the release of her latest LP, Strange Mercy, I repeated this process. Same result. So I decided to take my investigation further. I bought a ticket to her show at the Altar Bar. Her live shows had been gaining a notable reputation for rocking your socks off (even by Tenacious D standards) and I wanted to call shenanigans. I’d seen her perform on the late night TV circuit barely mobile in her slinky black dress, the composed and proper indie darling. The grapevine (i.e. Twitter) told me otherwise. The grapevine told me she goes balls out for the plebes. There’s nowhere better to engage with an artist than at a live show – the soul of the music and the artist, laid bare. She had one more shot to enlist me among these adoring, feverish masses.
St. Vincent on Letterman (8/29/11)
For the record, that's a legit photo of a guy draped in taxidermy.
A few weeks before the show I learned that one of my favorite No-Fail bands, Shearwater, had signed up for the opening bill. The No-Fail band, by definition (my definition) seems incapable of producing a bad album and rarely, if ever, a bad track. Shearwater has been creating achingly beautiful indie-rock for more than a decade now. Eight albums in they’re still fresh and relevant and yet lead singer Jonathan Meiberg still mans the swag booth and engages in conversation with anyone that wants to talk shop. I stopped by, bought some records and chatted him up briefly about the Rook album artwork (the crows, it turns out, are taxidermy), why I’d never seen them in Pittsburgh (“We just always seem to jump around this place on the circuit.”), how much I liked the set (“We were a little loosy-goosy up there.”) and begged a couple of autographs for my new vinyl. He didn’t even have a marker handy. I had to wonder if I was the first to beg an autograph all night. The life of a band opening for a cultural zeitgeist, I suppose. This conversation carried on as intermittently and awkwardly as one might expect with St. Vincent thrashing around on her axe maybe fifty feet behind the swag table. Talk. Pause to register. Talk again. Had there been less guitar-grinding in the background I would have inquired further about his love of birding (a theme that carries throughout the band’s album art). He opened up my copy of Palo Santo to show me some fantastic artwork of an extinct Hawaiian bird on the record. All I could do was nod and appreciate him being a thoroughly interesting and personable dude.
Here’s Shearwater playing the epic “Insolence.”
Anyway, as you may have noticed I vacated my listening post at the back of the Altar Bar near the end of St. Vincent’s set to talk to Shearwater’s Jonathan. She’d played some of the songs I’d come to hear (“Cruel” for example). I’d also come to a conclusion about the value of Annie Clark as an artist and made a final decision about my own appreciation for her music. Plus it was roasting in the Altar Bar. I sent a lame Tweet out between sets joking that the Altar Bar was channeling its holy past to punish us sinners for our transgressions. Also I’d been pushed up against the mixing table, yet again, despite my best efforts to push forward and I couldn’t bring myself to buy yet another $4 bottle of water. I needed to air out at the entrance and find some much needed space away from the dude who kept brushing up against me with his flannel shirt. The last thing I want brushing up against me when I’m hot and sweaty is someone else’s flannel. If you’ve never experienced this, it’s abnormally unpleasant. But, again, I digress. Point being, it was time to preserve sanity rather than devotion to studying the purported awesomeness of St. Vincent.
Would you want this guy rubbing up against you in a hot club? No. I don't care if he is a Jonas Brother.
First, let it be said that Annie Clark is one badass, barefoot rock pixie. I don’t know how accurate the comparison really is but I couldn’t shake the notion that she was some kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. She opens her songs like a Neko Case chanteuse/songbird, rises to crescendo a la the Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan then punctuates the chorus with some Vernon Reid guitar chops and pedalboard guitar-distortion madness. (Dr. Case and Mr. Reid, perhaps.) Studio recordings just can’t relay the vigor of her live performance. Nor, as I said before, do those castrated, teetotaler pleasantries on Letterman. While performing, she’s in the zone, lost in the rise and fall of the music until the very last effects-laden guitar warble when she switches off and returns to being a candid, sweet-natured conversationalist, engaging the crowd with ease. At one point, she said she was “probably getting too VH1 Storytellers” before apologizing directly to the Under-21 quarantine at the Altar Bar for referencing something before their time and that if they had any questions to just Google it when they got home.
Prog, m'f'ers. Do you speak it?
Even though I’m still not going to throw a St. Vincent record on the turntable and let it spin indefinitely, I reached a contented middle-ground. Appreciation without adulation. I now get the appeal of her live show. She’s a true performer with a unique musical perspective. She simultaneously recalls the free-spirit of indie-rock’s infancy while expanding the anticipated elements of the genre. Fans might not recognize the tropes, but they’re ingesting a heaping helping of prog-rock in much of St. Vincent’s music. The abrupt tempo changes, starts and stops, brief jazz-like improvisations, unusual melodies, scales and vocal stylization. Prog-folk, perhaps? (Edit: apparently someone already coined the term prog-folk to refer to politically-oriented folk artists like Jethro Tull. The term evolved to include more recent artists like the Decemberists who actually used the aforementioned tempo changes, etc. on The Hazards of Love album. Who knew?) In lieu of Prog-folk, how about prog-pixie or prog-chanteuse? I dunno. We’ll get there.
To wrap this whole thing up in well under, uh, 1500 words… I’ll no longer be entering into discussions about St. Vincent with the leading phrase: “I really just don’t get her.” Now I can offer a much more definitive verdict. I think she’s cool as hell, what she does speaks to a lot of people, but it’s just not my thing. And then that will be followed up with one last assertion:
…I would absolutely go see her show again…
And for comparison’s sake, here’s another live video from the real St. Vincent owning that guitar at the Met:
Odds and ends…
Apparently it’s okay to be twenty-something and wear Keds. So all you ten year olds that never grew up, now’s your chance to relive that dream. Go rock yourself a pair of brand new Keds.
Keds: Not Just for prepubescents anymore.
Also, it’s apparently a thing to wear knee-socks with Keds. I saw a dude wearing shorts, red, hiked-up socks and Keds. He was 5”6” (tops) and making out with his 5’5” girlfriend (who sported the requisite haircut for a female St. Vincent attendee) and all I could think was: C’mon, you could do so much better than this guy. I mean, he’s wearing Keds with red socks.
The requisite female haircut for attending a St. Vincent show is apparently some sort of shorty cut that looks like a bike helmet…. Which is fascinating, considering that Annie Clark has a badass mop of curly, shoulder-length black hair that reminds me of Vernon Reid’s old dreads when she’s up there thrashing on her guitar. Yes I’m stuck on this Vernon Reid thing.
Thick, black eyeglass frames are very in right now. I think they were checking at the door. You could enter if you wore Keds or had black eyeglass frames. Thankfully, I wore mine. Phew.
A St. Vincent “roadie” spent forever tuning her white and red guitar. He started with that one, went through the other three or so and then came back to that white and red one. Full concentration. I’ve never seen someone so intent on one guitar. Something tells me, at some point or another, he had to face the wrath of an out-of-tune St. Vincent. Hell hath no fury…
Here are some videos from the show, courtesy of the pghmusicreport on Youtube:
Some time ago I fancied myself a filmmaker. I even had an acceptance to the USC director’s program. This was my first project in college (technically second but I don’t count directing/editing a two camera interview show): a little sketch comedy show called The Shepherds. A summary of the whole Episode 1 endeavor: we didn’t know what we were doing. I’m shocked it came out as well as it did. Ignore the audio-sync problem in Part 3. Don’t know what happened with the import from the DVD. But if you’re watching Part 3, production quality isn’t necessarily high on your list of wants. We were going to be the next Kids in the Hall. *sniff*
The Shepherds: Episode 1
The Millennium Falcon tortilla
I’m a writer that consumes music, movies and media of all varieties. I have OCD in my blood, and therefore I collect. Much to the dismay of my wife (and eventually my daughters, I assume) I often seek shelter among this stuff, these collections, these Threadless t-shirts, books, movies, video games and music. The natural progression was to write about these things.
When I contracted some of that uniquely first-world depression that’s been going around, I sought help in *gasp* therapy, a practice I’d long regarded as frivolous self-obsession; however, when I found myself unable to function, unable to enjoy anything about life, I could think of nowhere else to go. From these ongoing therapy sessions, I took away an important concept: I hadn’t been present in my own life for some time now. As I clawed myself up out of this pit, I found solace in a new collection. And true to my repressed inner hipster, I went retro and cutting edge and kitschy and blended them all up into a new obsession while maintaining all the old. There are only, after all, 24-hours in the day.
I returned to the turntable and the vinyl record. I returned for childhood nostalgia, for the albums I hadn’t heard in twenty years. I returned for the soundtracks of the 80’s, and the cover art and, most importantly, to be present in the moment and aware that life is going on all around me because someone has got to flip the damn record. I returned because new artists are once again embracing the medium. I returned because visiting the record store and sifting through new records became something I could do with my oldest daughter. Even though she doesn’t yet understand the thrill of the hunt, sifting through stacks and stacks of tattered sleeves fishing for a curiosity (like the oft-forgotten 1984 soundtrack for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis headlined by Freddy Mercury, Bonny Tyler, Adam Ant and Loverboy), she’s begun to love music of all kinds. I’m proud to be the parent of my very own vinyl-loving toddler, a hipster toddler. When she wants to listen to “tunes” she walks over to the turntable – not the CD player or the iPod dock – and presses the power button on the receiver. I couldn’t be prouder.
Thanks to the Internet, I fumbled my way through setting up my dad’s turntable (which he graciously donated to the cause), replacing parts, and learning how to properly care for records. Now I seek out local record shops, plan trips around Pittsburgh and search for new (and old) records with nothing specific in mind. Hopefully these endeavors lead to some interesting stories. If not, I’ll just make them all up and sprinkle in plenty of my own unsubstantiated hyperbole about music, writing, movies, video games, hockey, antique maps, baseball and why wanting to be a fiction writer is just a godawful idea, you know, just to waste some extra binary code out there on the interwebs. …as if I’m not already wasting enough.
Find me on Facebook and Twitter.
Guest bl-gged by Mrs. 30Hz…
I was due to have a baby on April 8. I elected to have my very healthy and beautiful baby girl induced on April 1 for a variety of reasons, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that at least one of those reasons was so that I could attend the Imagine Dragons concert at the Brillobox on April 12. Yup, that’s right. I planned a baby around a concert. (There were also medical reasons why I induced as well, but this is a blog about music, not the messy birthing process. Ugh.) Listen, potential haters, my husband claims bl-gging is a form of therapy and if there’s anything a new mom needs it’s therapy. So I took this opportunity to attend a show and participate in guest bl-gging, aka “therapy.
I fell in love with Imagine Dragons about eight weeks ago. I’d listened to their six-song EP for about the twenty-seventh time on my iPod at work one day when I decided to see if maybe, just maybe, they were going to come within 300 miles of Pittsburgh. My husband claims Pittsburgh isn’t such a destitute concert destination anymore, but I’m not sold yet. Imagine my shock when I learned the Dragons would be IN Pittsburgh on April 12 at Brillobox. A small indie band (that I wanted to see) coming to Pittsburgh precisely when I needed them to come to Pittsburgh. Unheard of. I purchased two tickets, cleared babysitting duties with my visiting mom and informed my husband that come hell or high water we were having this baby in time for me to attend this show.
Despite delivering my child, our second, in plenty of time to recover before the show – life threw an awesome curveball and my mother, through no fault of her own, was absolutely unavailable to babysit on April 12. Great. My husband immediately offered up his mother, and while she is a great choice, I declined.
My husband attends countless concerts, sporting events and movies at night without me and has an absolutely wonderful time doing so. I have no problem with this. Seriously. I encourage it. The man is a part-time stay at home father so I consider these outings an absolute necessity in an effort to maintain his sanity. However, the main reason Jay has such a wonderful time on his nights out is because he does not have to spend one second worrying about the kids or about getting home at a reasonable hour for the babysitter. I wanted a piece of this luxury. And so, at the risk of seriously pissing him off, I told him his butt was staying home while I went to the concert. If I hadn’t just finished carrying around another child for 9 months he might have told me where to stuff it. But he didn’t. Because he’s part saint.
I quickly coerced another mom-friend into attending the show with me. This was my first time to Brillobox and I have to say, what an awesome venue. Great sound and the “feel” of the place was exactly what I wanted for my intimate indie-band show. And I loved the wallpaper in that place. I can’t help it, I’m a girl. I notice these things.
TeamMate perform at the Brillobox, note the wallpaper. Photo by Wick Photography (wickphotography.com)
Imagine Dragons started on time – a big thank you to them considering my finite time out of the house as a nursing mom. I was shocked when they came on stage. Sorry if I offend anyone, least of all the band themselves, but surely I can’t be the only one with this reaction. For those of you who haven’t heard their EP, let me give you some background. The songs are generally upbeat indie-pop. Guster meets Yeasayer or Hot Chip. “On Top of the World” and “Round and Round” both cause rampant chair dancing in the car (I can’t call it car dancing because I just think of models at the auto show, but I digress). My two-year old is partial to “My Fault,” despite its more somber tone, although her true favorite is “Radioactive,” a minimalist-ish song with simple lyrics and pounding bass and percussion. I’ll admit it. Once she started singing the chorus to “Radioactive” under her breath in the car, I was hooked.
Anyway, back to the point. Imagine Dragons looks like a grunge band, flannels and all. Being from Vegas, I anticipated some leather and glam- not a band that got lost on their way to Seattle. Preconceptions aside, their lead singer is the perfect frontman and struck a great report with the young Pittsburgh crowd. And man can he club that bass drum. Yes, the lead singer plays an enormous bass drum through almost every song as he sings. A bigass bass drum people! There is really no better sight than watching a lead singer belt out a chorus while slamming a bass drum. Not something you see every day. Certain songs include a serious round of man-on-drum love. I hope that bass drum has a name. If I find out that the drum remains unnamed I’ll be very disappointed.
Where do you even buy plaid in Vegas?
Sadly the baby’s schedule didn’t let me stay for the Jezebels… a regrettable misfortune. I’m pretty sure Jay is still ashamed of me for not attending. Still, what a great event for my first night out after the baby.
Regarding nights out after having a baby, I have to admit I’m a little taken aback by the shocked responses by so many of my friends when they found out I attended a concert less than two weeks after having a baby. I’m confused. Does having a baby mean my love for going out and listening to great music abruptly dies? I have to confess I don’t understand why people in my age group, specifically parents, only seem to attend concerts of mega-artists such as U2 or Jimmy Buffet (so help me I do not understand this country’s obsession with that man) is in town. I recently saw a magazine ad that really ticked me off. It said “Before I have kids, I will do _____” When did having kids become a death sentence worthy of a “bucket list?”
I ripped this from another blog (Just Thinking) that spent more time pondering this absurd notion of the Baby Bucket List. Click the image to go right to her post.
It is entirely possible that you can raise children to enjoy music other than Radio Disney. As both I and my husband have noted on this blog, my daughter’s favorite bands include The Knack, The Cars, The Killers, The Black Keys and now Imagine Dragons. I’ll overlook her love of Huey Lewis— an obsession for which I am wholly not responsible. (If you’ve read any of this bl-g, I’m betting you know the guilty party.) Even better – when we attended a Kooks concert last fall, Jay and I actually felt guilt when they played “Junk of the Heart” – at the time, her absolute favorite song in the world– that she was not present to hear it live. Then we couldn’t decide if she’d come to understand that “tunes” came from real people playing instruments and that led to a much longer debate about what she actually thinks is happening if she thinks about it at all.
As a parent, I get a lot more out of attending a concert these days than just the live music. While I can appreciate the “big” show that a band like U2 puts on, I much prefer to hear bands live and in small venues. They remind me just how good they are at what they do (despite a considerable lack of appreciation), how much better music can be live, and that there is passion in this world beyond the crazy parents, crazy politics and crazy callers on sports radio shows. I love that about concerts. Some of my friends recently said over dinner that they were hoping their daughters became doctors or lawyers. People still predominantly think this way, that there are only two “successful” career paths. I’m a lawyer and I think this is complete rubbish. I enjoy my job (more often than not), but that doesn’t mean they will. Jay and I regularly comment that we would be ecstatic if one of our daughters turned into a passionate musician, artist or chef. I want my kids to dream, to know their passion. I want them to… wait for it… imagine dragons.
Until next time, reader(s). Here’s one of the better Imagine Dragons live clips on Youtube and it’s still not a very good capture of the band. If you’re going to shows, get some video loaded up, people. I’m just not very tech savvy.