Yeasayer @ Mr. Smalls 7/31

Yeasayer's Odd Blood

Odd Blood

Yeasayer’s second album, 2010’s Odd Blood, remains one of my favorite recent rock albums. Side A contained four songs that made the first cut for my 2010 Best Of list. Leading up to this show on Tuesday I had the record on repeat, all over again. And I found these songs just as fresh as I did upon release, the perfect balance between experimental electro-pop and indie-rock.

Their latest record, Fragrant World, comes out on August 21st. I’ve listened to a stream of the record and the band has taken the next step in fully embracing that electronic undercurrent that existed as only a twinkle on their debut. The album is more experimental, a little more elusive. A record like this takes time to digest, thus I’ve withheld judgment until I can get my hands on the record proper. The thing needs to simmer.

I had these thoughts about the new record in mind as I made the trek out to Millvale for the Yeasayer/Daedelus show. How much of the new stuff would Yeasayer play considering no one would know the material? A band will sprinkle a new track into a live set here and there, but being this near the release date, would Yeasayer treat the show as a Fragrant World tour?

Yeasayer

Yeasayer

I park myself in the boozers section at the back of the venue. This is where Mr. Smalls sequesters those with the liquor from those freewheelers without. Buying a Magic Hat #9 upon arrival has become my tradition. This is also where concert-goers can find a television in front of which to idle. The MLB trading deadline had come and gone that particular day so I found myself drawn to the television because I wanted to see how Travis Snider, the new Pirates’ recruit, would fare in his first game with the team. Beer, baseball, Android Twitter and shortly thereafter, Daedelus, an electronic artist in which I’d only been marginally interested when I was actually into electronic music. It was a veritable cornucopia of multi-tasking and attention deficit.

Daedelus

Hello, did you know I spell my name with an ‘e’ where an ‘a’ should be? The more you know…

If you’ve attended a minor electronic music show, you’ll know it’s like watching professional golf from the 7th tee . It’s just a guy standing behind a box. Daedelus is a talented guy but I was distracted by baseball… and that’s just how it goes sometimes. Travis Snider, by the way, hit an infield single with his first at bat before being plated by a Neil Walker grand slam. You were concerned, I’m sure. Long story short, I was more impressed with his paisley ascot and the magnitude of the dude’s chops than I was his ability to command the crowd. He dresses like a host for BBC’s Masterpiece Theater.

Round of applause. “Yeasayer’s coming up next.” More applause. Daedelus exited stage right, chilled at the swag table.

I went back to watching the baseball game and Tweeting nonsense. It’s the fourth inning by now and AJ Burnett hasn’t given up a hit against the Cubs. To be fair to the Cubs, they are the Cubs (a AAAA lineup), but good for AJ, nonetheless.

Yeasayer, Mr. Smalls 7/31/12

Obligatory nondescript shit on stage picture.

Yeasayer arrives on stage at the end of the 5th, all business, their entrance prefaced by a mix of someone saying “Pittsburgh” over and over again. Without any hesitation they launch into an electronic-heavy song I didn’t immediately recognize. A new song, of course. During shows I like to make notes about the setlist for my write-ups. After the third song, I put my phone and it’s notepad away. Three songs. All new. The crowd’s into it. There’s a nice beat, creative synth, etc. But the show’s growing flatter with each new song. I’d never seen a show start with a handful of songs plucked from an album that hasn’t yet been released. And not once did the band address the crowd. I know some people crave that band/crowd interaction because they want to experience a band’s personality, but I just don’t consider it necessary. If they’re cool with chatting the crowd up, then that’s a bonus. But we came to hear music and music they were going to play. Beirut, The Twilight Sad, all business, no problem.

Rogue Dead Guy on tap

If you see this guy, tap it.

I get my second beer, a Rogue Dead Guy. AJ’s still throwing that no-hitter in the 6th. Yeasayer finally plays their first “recognized” song. I’d tell you what it was but as I said, I gave up on the notes. If I’m tossing out names, I’ll say it was “I Remember” from Odd Blood and move on from there. The crowd jumps into full-on sing mode. Muscle dudes in tank-tops are bobbing, likewise, the PBR sippers. A lively reaction for a mid-tempo rocker from a crowd starved for familiarity.

After only a couple more familiars, Yeasayer continued with the new tracks. Still no introductions, chatter or whimsy. And I realize why it’s sometimes useful for a band to address the audience. People have more fun at shows when they know the music, there’s an intimate connection with a song you love and have listened to a few hundred times. Fans notice subtle differences, and the choices a band makes in its live set provide some nice watercooler conversation around the old blogosphere. The crowd’s being treated to some great music but when that familiarity’s not there, the song doesn’t register and therefore no connection. Even minimal interaction with the crowd could have created some grounded anticipation. Instead those new Yeasayer songs just washed over me without leaving any particular lasting impression. During a Swell Season show a few years ago, Glen Hansard prefaced each song with a one sentence synopsis like “So, I wrote this when I had my heart broken by a pretty girl from London,” which was pretty much his backstory for every song. Even this would have offered the evening some shape. Even now, one day later, as I try to remember details about their set, I’m grasping at air.

With “Ambling Alp,” sanity is restored and I can’t help but think that we’re being treated to a band at the height of it’s powers, bolstered by fan expectation for the third album, an album that,  due to its more experimental nature, can never really succeed in the same way as Odd Blood. The more ambitious sound lends itself to close examination rather than immediate gratification. It is a stark contrast to what has come before it, e.g. “Ambling Alp” and the still unplayed “Madder Red.” And then as I’m thinking all of these self-proclaimed profundities about the liquid awesomeness of this band, they hop off-stage, concluding their set.

I check the baseball score. End of the 7th. Was that a short set? Or was that just me?

Wendy's Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger

Why would I crave you again? Bah. I do. I want one.

The band returns a minute later, concludes their set by playing the remaining necessaries and then vacates, once again, all before the conclusion of the 8th inning. On one hand, I’m disappointed. The first album remained ignored. I felt like the entire act came and went faster than a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger. During those Odd Blood Side A tracks, I saw a crowd ignited by music, wanting more more more from this band, and the band responded by dancing to the beat of their own drum, almost oblivious to the audience’s cravings (speaking of cravings, I could go for a Jr. Bacon right about now). The concert-going experience proved to be analogous to my early feelings about the new album. I’m excited for the prospect of growth. I desperately want to know what this band can do, but I’m conflicted; I really want to hear “Madder Red” and “O.N.E.” and “Ambling Alp,” but Yeasayer seems content to tell me that I’ll like the new stuff better. And while that might be true, I’m just not ready to open my heart to a new record.

On the other hand, the show ended early enough that a bunch of guys, myself included, sidled up near the televisions to watch AJ try for the no-hitter and talk Pirates baseball. Something that, quite frankly, has never happened in all of the years I’ve lived in Pittsburgh. Burnett lost the no-hitter with two outs in the 8th. Many Wrigley faithful, with very little to cheer about on the home side, stand and applaud. I throw the gathered gents a nod and wander out into the night, chewing reluctantly on my conflicted thoughts about the concert, the new Yeasayer tracks and a near no-hitter because I know that my Wendy’s has already closed.

A.J. Burnett's one-hitter against the Cubs

The Cubs’ lineup card. That has to be a welcome sight for any opposing pitcher.

Notes:

I’ve said it before. Why do guys in madras shorts constantly date girls well above their pay grade? I spotted at least another three, maybe four guys wearing madras shorts at this concert.

Why was Mr. Smalls showing the WGN feed of the Pirates’ game? This bothered me for hours. But do you really go up to either bartender to be the dick that says “Hey, you know the local feed for this game is on another channel.” No. You don’t. Because they get your beer and you don’t jeopardize that relationship.

Daedelus spells his name with that random ‘e’ and not the, you know, according to the Daedalus of Greek mythology that fathered Icarus. So my bad about all those misspelled Tweets, dude.

 

 

 

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

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.