Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Guest Post: Bob Reviews Godspeed You! Black Emperor at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC (9/9/15)

Clearly I should just turn this site into a Washington D.C. concert blog where Bob reviews wholly inaccessible music. At least this band is notable enough to have had a joke about them in Pineapple Express.

Fun fact: I was the only person in my theater to laugh at this joke 


Since Matt is too lazy to keep this blog going consistently, I see it as my duty to provide summaries of notable shows that I see.  That, and it's a useful way to supplement my awful memory.  In that spirit, I went and saw Godspeed You! Black Emperor perform at the 9:30 Club on 9/9/15. Unfortunately, due to the capitalist dogs that sign my paycheck, I missed the opener, but the show itself was worth the ticket price ten-fold.

Godspeed, a seminal post-rock band out of Quebec, went into hiatus in 2003.  This hiatus came just before this writer was to get his license and be able to get off of Cape Cod to see concerts.  Thanks, guys.

However, this hiatus came on the heels of releasing what I consider to be two masterwork albums: F#A#(Infinity) and Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven.  (The Yanqui U.X.O. EP is great as well, for the record).  These albums blew my mind apart. They were primarily composed of 20+ minute pieces, each with movements alternating between hypnotizing violin/cello/bass drones with guitar flourishes, and then slowly they'd become more disjointed and intense and chaotic till everyone settled back into a previously-unseen-but-now-obvious melody blasted out with aplomb.

But lo!  They regrouped a few years back and have released good material to boot.  So when I heard about this show coming I bought tickets with a quickness and slowly built up unreasonable expectations for this show.

Subtly, the background house music switched to a low rumbling bass drone.  This went on for a solid five minutes as the DC crowd continued checking work phones and bullshitting with neighbors. Slowly the crowd realized what was happening and quieted down, and from there 'till the end it was one of the most respectful crowds I've ever seen.  No one even checked emails unless it was between movements (yes, this band's music has movements), which in this workaholic town is a goddamned miracle.

This respect was well earned.  The three guitar, two bass, two percussionist, and violist ensemble worked through their latest album basically in order, and it was a study in contrasts.  They'd alternate between relaxing soothing tunes (seriously, I physically felt the tension leave my neck, which my wife has always said is where I hold a lot of tension but never really believed her 'till that moment) and loud loud LOUD messes of chaos that still held together perfectly.  I mean, in my previous review I said I felt my leg hairs vibrate?  Godspeed made my CLOTHES vibrate.

The tunes were paired with 8mm videos played behind the band throughout the show. They generally alternated between scenes of urban decay and desolate prairie landscapes, which sounds really dull, but complemented each song really well.  Also, I want to say here that I really really hate light shows.  I think they are the dumbest thing in the world, and nine times out of ten are more of a distraction than an enhancement.  Give me pretentious films on a white sheet every day, please.

Godspeed's playing of their new material was more than solid, and they did a rendition of their classic tune Moya which was performed beautifully.  To my surprise, though, they finished off the set with The Sad Mafioso, one of the movements in a piece called East Hastings off of F#A#(Infinity).  The whole piece is amazing, but this movement is basically perfection.  It's in my top ten songs of all-time easily, and probably even lands in the top five.  It is haunting and soothing and exhilarating and disorienting all in ten minutes.  I firmly believe the proper setting for listening to this song is in mid-fall, driving late at night down a long road where the speed traps are well documented so you can cruise at top speed with the windows down.  Add angsty cigarettes and/or disillusioned joints at your discretion, but play it fucking loud and stick around for the last minute:

I've imagined seeing this band for over a decade now, and though the setting wasn't quite what I pictured (I thought I'd be seated, stoned to the gills, and definitely not dressed in business casual), Godspeed fulfilled every expectation I had and more.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Guest Post: Bob Reviews Lightning Bolt at the Rock N Roll Hotel in Washington, DC (5/12/15)

Well, clearly I’ve been too lazy to post on the blog lately. So what better time to introduce new Static and Distance Washington, DC correspondent Bob! You may know Bob from past posts such as IHRTLUHC: The Definitive Lawrence University Playlist, and my legendary first post (surely to be archived in the Library of Congress any day now) describing our fabled college radio program “Safe as Milk.” Our tastes overlap a good amount, though his interests veer deeper into the jammy and noisy side of things. Bob and I often argue about the merits of The Grateful Dead, his favorite band [in a shocking recent development I conceded for the first time that there is a Grateful Dead song I love. “Bertha” is a great (Bob edit: goddamned AMAZING) song]. Anyway, I’ve been bugging Bob to write an impassioned defense of The Grateful Dead on the blog for awhile now.  But he keeps procrastinating on that. Maybe he’ll get it together before the Farewell Shows this July. In the meantime, he recently caught a band on the noisier side of the musical spectrum, Lightning Bolt, in concert and was jazzed enough about it to send me a review of the show. So here it is.  I apologize for his language and bizarre analogies.


Hey all, this is Bob putting forth a writing object, let's see how this shakes out.

I went to see Lightning Bolt last Tuesday night at Rock N Roll Hotel, which is always nice cause it's an easy walk to/from my place.  Hooray conveniency.  Plus at $14 it falls right in my ticket price sweet spot: anything much more than that and it's a decision worth thinking about, and if it's much cheaper than that then shit starts to get sonically spotty.

I've wanted to see these guys for years, but they don't tour often and the timing of my living in a city and their playing there never worked out.  Lightning Bolt are from Providence and they play kind of a super-riffy but sludgy bass line over frenetic drumming with bizarre vocals.  They've been around since ‘99 or so, and solidified a surprisingly decent noise scene out of Providence, not necessarily cause Providence is shitty but more ‘cause it's just small.

Their shows are known for being frankly, fucking nuts.  First off they're insanely loud live. They set up these amps/speakers/whatever that are monstrous- they look like discordant electronics cobbled together to approach the form of Marshall Stacks.  The other key point is they are known for setting up on the floor of a show, à la Dan Deacon or most any indie band that has multiple percussionists that walk off the stage during their final encore cause FUCK the stage this is an intimate SHOW.

I was honestly a bit nervous about the second bit.  That kind of set up is ideal/necessary for basement show type shows, but in a room bigger than a bullshit open concept living room lines of sight could be tricky.  Second is the completely unreasonable nightmare that I somehow get shoved onto the band and destroy some custom pedals or some shit.  I'd have the same rep as the dude who stole Sonic Youth's gear, which is undesirable.

The other notable live aspect is that the drummer is the singer for the group.  He does this not via a mic stand or such, but rather taking what looks like the mic on a CB radio, securing that to a bandana, and tying it around his face.  This combined with the construction site-style ear protection he wears makes him look like a crazy person that's interviewed during an investigation on the X-Files.  But in a good way.

The Truth is Out There

Also in a "only I care about this ‘cause I was a drummer" type way, the drummer's kit is interesting. Dude has no high-hat at all, he basically just beats the shit outta his ride the whole time.  Instead he manipulates all the effects on his vocals via a pedal board with his left foot.  Wacky shit.

With that in mind the show I saw delivered.  They actually set up on the stage, the drummer looked like a madman, and they were loud.  Louuuuuuuuud.  Before the start of the show I saw a sizable amount of people in Gallaudet gear, which confused me because it's the deaf university nearby and generally they're not huge concert goers.  Then when the band started and I could feel the bass line through both the beer can in my hand and somehow through the hairs on my leg (which was really weird and cool), I realized Lightning Bolt are the perfect band for deaf people.

They played for about an hour, which is actually my ideal show length, but christ they PLAYED the whole hour.  The drummer is basically a human being playing blast beats.  He looks like what they have Animal on the Muppets look like when he busts into a Moon solo, except he keeps that intensity going for a straight hour without collapsing.  It doesn't make sense.  Also, when he walked on stage I noticed that he was super skinny. Now I realize it's because he spends his life looking like the participants in an exercise tape watched in fast-forward.

While this musical approximation of the Tasmanian Devil cartoon sits on the right, on the left the bassist looks incredibly calm.  Focused, not standing there like he's waiting for a bus on a nice day, but surprisingly calm.  All the while he's just destroying his bass, going from sludgy Earth-rattling lines to finger tapping and playing a bass line that's like an Eddie Van Halen solo.

The tunes were all solid, which was especially impressive since half of the set was the new album they just released, their first in 5 years or so.  They played Dead Cowboy, which is one of the best, and probably the quintessential LB song.

If you watch that and you don't think "Jesus christ this guy wrote a treatise on THIS shit?" you'll need to see them basically immediately.  Which isn't possible, since I'm pretty sure their tour is ending soon so it'll be awhile till their next show.  But THE NEXT SHOW, go.  It'll be worth it for the experience.  Just bring ear plugs or something.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

My (Shamefully Belated) Favorite Albums of 2014

Little known fact: back in 2007, my colleagues and I at my college newspaper, The Lawrentian, were the first people to ever publish a "Best Albums of the Year" list. See? Literally the first. I remember thinking: "Wow, what an innovative idea! So many albums were released this year! Why not rank the ten best ones! How has absolutely not a single person thought of this before?" And the rest is history. Now, seemingly everyone and their mother publishes a "Best Albums of the Year" list. Even the New York Times got into the game last year! How wacky is that?!

Commonly known fact: I am terrible at making posts on this blog in a timely fashion. But, in the interest of carrying on this storied tradition, I still wanted to share my list of favorite albums from last year with the masses (Webster's Dictionary recently amended the definition of "the masses" to mean "six people"). Typically, I write blurbs about most of the albums, but it is already early April and I am engrossed in what has been a really good year for music here in 2015. So, I am not feeling too motivated to write at length about these albums right now. However, I will still share a few words about the top five because I am just that generous. Here's the list:

Honorable Mentions:
Spoon, Ex Hex, Hundred Waters, Protomartyr

20. Parquet Courts- Sunbathing Animal
19. Aphex Twin- Syro
18. Cloud Nothings- Here and Nowhere Else
17. Future Islands- Singles
16. Lydia Loveless- Somewhere Else
15. Caribou- Our Love
14. Todd Terje- It's Album Time
13. Sun Kil Moon- Benji
12. St. Vincent- St.Vincent
11. Mac DeMarco- Salad Days
10. Swans- To Be Kind
9. Strand of Oaks- Heal
8. Ty Segall- Manipulator
7. Real Estate- Atlas
6. Perfume Genius- Too Bright

5. Grouper- Ruins

This album of atmospheric, mostly piano and voice songs is absolutely beautiful. And as long as Webster's Dictionary is making amendments, they might as well put a picture of Grouper's Liz Harris right next to the word "ethereal." This album also includes the lo-fi moment of the year thanks to the microwave oven beep that occurs near the end of "Labyrinth."

4. Angel Olsen- Burn Your Fire For No Witness

On March 12th, 2012, my sister sent me an email entitled "do you know her music?" and a link to "If It's Alive, It Will" from Angel Olsen's debut cassette, Strange Cacti. I was immediately transfixed by Ms. Olsen's unique voice. Since then, it has been a pleasure to watch her improve with each subsequent release, including her first full-length (and what records indicate was my third favorite album of 2012), Halfway Home. 2014's Burn Your Fire For No Witness marked a step forward in nearly every facet of her music-- from the production (courtesy of indie rock's preeminent superproducer, John Congleton), to the song-writing itself, which covered wider ground than Halfway Homes' collection of mostly sparse folk songs. On Witness, Olsen wears the hat of both rocker and bar room balladeer, while still including a healthy mix of lovely folk numbers. Truly outstanding music from one of the most intriguing singer-songwriters to come around in quite some time.

3. Sharon Van Etten- Are We There

This album was the surprise of the year for me. I already was a fan of Van Etten's music, courtesy of yet another fantastic recommendation from my sister shortly after she released Epic in 2011. Like the aforementioned Angel Olsen, Van Etten has a wonderful singing voice and a natural talent for creating hauntingly beautiful songs littered with heartbreak. However, I felt that her 2012 album Tramp was a disappointment-- sounding overproduced and flat at times and not living up to Epic's promise. The songs themselves on Tramp were still good, but something was missing. In what was surely a devastating occurrence for Ms. Van Etten, it failed to make my list of twenty favorite albums of 2012. To my delight, Van Etten's self-produced Are We There not only improved upon its predecessor significantly, it also marks easily her finest album to date. Not exactly an uplifting listen, the album finds Van Etten struggling through a broken relationship. The songs range from sweeping epics like "Your Love is Killing Me" to understated ballads like "I Know, with Van Etten consistently succeeding in captivating me during both the album's sparse and more bombastic moments. She also effectively translated these songs to a live setting, performing a powerful set that was a highlight of last year's Pitchfork Music Festival.

2. D'Angelo and the Vanguard- Black Messiah

Though Sharon Van Etten's Are We There was my personal surprise of the year, D'Angelo's third album was the shock of the music industry last December-- not due to its quality, but because of its unexpectedly abrupt release after more than a decade of waiting from D'Angelo's fans (his last album was the 2000 neo-soul classic Voodoo). Prior to 2012, I only knew D'Angelo as the dude with the ripped abs from the "Untitled (How Does It Feel)" music video that received ample airtime back in my halcyon days of obsessively watching VH1. Then, I attended the Bonnaroo music festival that summer, and I had the pleasure of seeing D'Angelo make his first U.S. concert appearance in 12 years as part of a "Superjam" led by Questlove of The Roots. D'Angelo's appearance was concealed from fans until the moment Questlove announced his name and he walked on stage. I remember merely thinking "huh, neat." However, it was not long before I realized I was witnessing something truly special-- a genius musician returning to the fold and in better form than when he left the public eye following Voodoo. In the interim, my fellow Bonnaroo-goers and I soon learned, D'Angelo had spent a significant amount of time sharpening his guitar and piano playing skills-- leading the Superjam band (made up of many of his Black Messiah collaborators) through an unforgettable set of funky covers by The Beatles, Funkadelic, Led Zeppelin, The Time, and others. Suffice to say, I was instantly converted and have been eagerly anticipating whatever music D'Angelo would put out next-- hoping it would capture the magic of that Bonnaroo set. Amazingly, when Black Messiah finally dropped, I was not let down in the slightest. The album is a complete triumph on every level, with the songs brimming with creativity. Black Messiah is a politically-charged album that clearly owes a debt to classics such as Sly and the Family Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On and yet manages to simultaneously sound fresh and, most of all, vital. Turns out that after nearly 15 years out of the spotlight, D'Angelo has a lot to say about the state of the world. He soundtracks his thoughts with songs that are weird, beautiful, and, of course, funky. An astonishing record that should hold up as a classic.

1. The War on Drugs- Lost In The Dream

At 2:12 PM on Sunday, March 2nd, 2014 I declared, via the prestigious platform of a gchat conversation with my friend Bob, that Lost In The Dream was Album of the Year for 2014. 13 months later, that statement holds true. After typing up that glowing D'Angelo review above I had to think hard about whether Black Messiah deserved the number one slot. But nope, Lost In The Dream is still the album that affected me most last year, probably due to it being genetically engineered to appeal to my taste in music. Their sound was already firmly within my wheelhouse by 2011's Slave Ambient. In what is probably my favorite sentence I have ever read on Pitchfork, they described The War on Drugs' music thusly while reviewing that record: "It's as if the Spiritualized and Springsteen albums filed alphabetically next to one another in your record collection had melted together on a hot August afternoon." That description is still apt, but with Lost in the Dream the band's songwriting took a gigantic leap forward. They announce themselves in a big way with 9-minute opener "Under the Pressure," which barrels ahead with a chugging piano line and epic Mark Knopfler-style guitar soloing. That song cedes to "Red Eyes," which would be the best Springsteen song since "Tunnel of Love" if only it had been written by The Boss himself ("Burning," which sounds like a Born in the USA outtake, would be in the running as well). The album never lets up from there, interspersing plaintive ballads with driving rockers like "An Ocean Between the Waves" (with that song's extended outro providing the best moment on the entire album). Though their sound clearly harkens back to rock luminaries of years past, with this album The War on Drugs manage to channel those influences into something completely unique and exhilarating. An endlessly rewarding listen, Lost In The Dream was the album I most often found myself returning to in 2014.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Every Concert I Went to in 2014, Ranked

Well, it is February 2015. What better time for me to begin my 2014 year-end retrospective? As anyone who has ever had a conversation with me lasting more than three minutes knows, I go to a lot of concerts. Last year, I went to a concert every 9.6 days (that is 38, for those of you keeping score at home). A few months ago, I was bored enough to rank all 38 of those concerts in order from least to most memorable. And who am I to let a perfectly good list go to waste?

A few things to note: none of these concerts were remotely bad. With a few exceptions, I only went to concerts by musicians I already really liked, so the shows on the bottom of the list fell in those slots due to a combination of a) me being tired (Friday night shows were particularly susceptible to this), b) me having already seen that musician perform recently, c) me not being as into that particular musician relative to other acts I saw this year, or d) Third Eye Blind. Also, you will notice none of the Bonnaroo performances made it onto this list. But, in the famous words of George Harrison, it's been done. Plus, ranking festival sets amidst standalone shows is annoying because they are such different experiences (nonetheless, I still attempted to do so with bands I caught at the Pitchfork Music Festival). With those disclaimers out of the way, here is the list:

38. 6/28: Third Eye Blind at Old St. Pat's Block Party

37. 7/19: tUnE-yArDs at the Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park
As my friends and I trudged through Union Park looking for a spot to view the show, I watched in horror as we planted DIRECTLY in front of someone I had recently been on a date with but had not contacted afterward. Even the quirkiest of songs were not going to save me from feeling extraordinarily awkward during this set.

36. 11/14: The New Pornographers at the Riviera Theatre
I had somewhat high expectations with both Neko Case and Dan Bejar touring with the band, but this show fell somewhat flat for me. They have good, energetic songs but the band was not able to translate that into a particularly memorable live experience. As my friend and I discussed after the show, they need to play faster!

35. 8/10: Bitchin Bajas and Friends Play Terry Riley's "In C" at Constellation
A rare non-rock concert for me- always nice to take in some modern classical. This probably was not the most technically perfect performance of "In C" but it sufficiently provided me a nice soundtrack in which to space out, which is generally my aim at classical concerts.

34. 7/19: Cloud Nothings at the Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park
Absolutely nothing wrong with this set, but having seen them do pretty much the exact same thing at Bonnaroo I was minimally engaged this time around.

33. 7/19: St. Vincent at the Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park
Ditto what I said re: Cloud Nothings, except I saw her at her own show (see below).

32. 6/26: oneohtrixpointnever at Millennium Park
I spent this set eating sandwiches and playing chess.

31. 5/19: Robbie Fulks at the Hideout
This was a performance by a local singer-songwriter who does a weekly Monday residency at my favorite venue in Chicago. For this show, he played Bob Dylan and The Band's Basement Tapes in its entirety. Well, not the complete version that was released last year, the original 1975 version. And he and the band did a really good job! How a band can casually learn the music and lyrics to 24 songs is beyond me (seriously, most of the lyrics appeared to be memorized). Anyway, I am forever grateful to have finally heard Dylan's timeless classic "Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread" live.

30. 8/1: GRMLN at Electric Owl (Vancouver)
I talked about this show in my rundown of last year's West Coast trip. This show ranked as high as it did due to the "I'm at a cool venue in a city very far from Chicago" factor.

29. 6/23: Bob Mould at Millennium Park
Mould and his band sounded fantastic as they ripped through songs from his solo career, Sugar, and Hüsker Dü. 

28. 7/10: Janelle Monae at Taste of Chicago
A bunch of strangers sang me Happy Birthday at this show! Janelle came on stage strapped to a hand-truck Hannibal Lecter-style. Also, she covered the Jackson 5. This show probably deserves to be ranked higher but we were back in the lawn and I spent a lot of it (gasp) socializing rather than focusing fully on the music.

27. 6/22: Swans at Lincoln Hall
Another show that probably deserved to be ranked higher, but I was completely zonked out from this weekend. Even in my extremely fatigued state, Swans' pummeling assault was a sight to behold. Not as memorable as my first time seeing them at Bonnaroo '13, if only because I knew what to expect this time around. Truly one of the more remarkable live rock acts on the planet right now.

26. 7/18: Beck at The Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park
I last saw Beck in 2008 on the Modern Guilt tour, wherein he, for better or worse, took the advice I gave to The New Pornographers above and played every song twice as fast as the recorded version. This time around, touring a much mellower and Grammy ™ award winning (sorry, Kanye) album, he played it straight and delivered a satisfying set of songs spanning his career. Midnite Vultures gem "Get Real Paid" was the highlight for me.

25. 7/1: New Order at Aragon
Two things would have made this show better: a different venue (remember how I said the Hideout is the city's best venue? The Aragon is the worst) and the presence of Peter Hook on bass. Hooky may seem like a bit of a jerk, but he was such an integral part of the band that the fact the band now exists without him is a shame. I usually avoid partial-lineup reunion shows but in this instance I decided that this was as good of a chance as I'd ever have to hear these songs live. Despite my reservations, I'm glad I went. 2014 New Order still have a pulse, playing versions of their old hits ranging from good to excellent in quality. Really lame crowd, though. Who just stands there during "Blue Monday"??

24. 4/2: Mac DeMarco at Empty Bottle
Anyone who covers Neil Young's "Unknown Legend" in full while getting the entire crowd to kneel and then rise to their feet and loudly sing the "Somewhere on a desert highway" refrain in unison is all right by me.

23. 5/4: Angel Olsen at Lincoln Hall
A lovely performance by Ms Olsen, who (spoiler alert) delivered one of my favorite albums of the year. Not quite as memorable as the last time I saw her at The Hideout in 2013 but only because that show had the thrill of seeing someone I felt was on the verge of breaking through to a much larger audience. In fact, I bet one of my friends who accompanied me to that show that within five years she would be headlining the (1,200 person capacity) Vic Theatre. She's been selling out 600-800 capacity venues lately so I could still totally win that bet (you just wait and see, Danny).

22. 1/17: Darkside at Metro
I wish this wasn't a Friday night show because I was exhausted but trying my best to appreciate what was quite a unique performance. Darkside melded (past tense because they no longer exist :( ) rock and electronic elements better than pretty much anyone else, and it was fascinating to see that unfold in the live setting. Most impressive was their encore, with a completely improvised ending.

21. 3/27: Real Estate at Metro
They opened with my favorite song of theirs, proving that one of my preferred mixtape strategies (starting with a song that ends the album it is on) works well in a live setting too. This was a show where the band didn't do much other than get on stage and play their songs well, but I remember it fondly because I was really in the mood to hear those sweet shimmering guitar notes that particular evening.

20. 7/19: Neutral Milk Hotel at the Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park
Singing along to "O Comely" with 15,000 people is fun.

19. 8/5: Parquet Courts at Vera Center (Seattle)
Not sure anything from this show topped the shrimp I ate at Toulouse Petit beforehand, but I enjoyed myself. Did I enjoy myself as much as I would have if I had elected to see Diarrhea Planet instead that evening? Probably not. With that said, Parquet Courts' performance of "Sunbathing Animal" was quite rockin'. 

18. 4/5: St. Vincent at the Riviera Theatre
I've had the privilege of watching St. Vincent's entire career develop before my eyes over the past eight years- going from no-name opener for Arcade Fire in 2007 to Millennium Park headliner in 2009 to indie guitar god touring "Strange Mercy" in 2011 to a poised, confident musical force firing on all cylinders in 2015. It was a joy to see Ms Clark displaying such intensity and managing to increase her showmanship while still delivering a musically stellar performance.

17. 5/13: Neko Case at The Chicago Theatre
Neko Case and her killer band played an eminently satisfying set showcasing her outstanding catalogue of songs- with her and backup singer/pal Kelly Hogan's often hilarious banter creating a joyous atmosphere.

16. 7/18: Giorgio Moroder at The Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park
Well this was just hilarious. Watching a 74-year-old Italian dude throw a dance party for a bunch of 20-somethings is not something you see every day. Never did I think I would hear Moroder's glorious synthesizer masterpiece "Chase" (from the 1978 film Midnight Express) live, but it happened. Hearing snippets from that and other wonderful songs he produced throughout his career made clear that Moroder is truly one of the most important figures in the development of dance and electronic music. I was privileged to see him.

15. 12/12: Wilco at the Riviera Theatre
I have seen Wilco 18 times. EIGHTEEN times. Even I am embarrassed by that figure. But when you are me from 2006-2008 and one of your very favorite bands is from your city and plays in it all the time, you are going to see them every single chance you get. Since then, my Wilco fandom has cooled somewhat but it is still highly enjoyable to see a band live when you know their songs by heart. Wilco might be the band whose catalogue I know the best, and so to go to a show and be able to sing along to nearly every song is a wonderful thing. There was nothing particularly special about this show relative to other Wilco shows I've seen (the 2008 residency will always be tops in my mind), but after 2.5 Wilco-less years it warmed my heart to hear their songs performed again. Also, my friend Jamie scored free tickets. Thanks, Jamie!

14. 9/23: Ty Segall at Thalia Hall
Not quite as mindblowing as his Bonnaroo performance but only because (as with Swans) I now knew what to expect. However, this time, I had listened to Manipulator on repeat so it was fun to hear Segall and co. rip through a bunch of tracks from what I consider his best work to date. The sloppy David Bowie medley in the encore was the icing on the cake ("Happy David Bowie Day, everyone!").

13. 4/19: The Mountain Goats at the Old Town School of Folk Music
The Mountain Goats are one of the few bands that I am game to see every time they come to town. No two shows are alike, and John Darnielle's stage banter is always delightful. It was a treat to see him in the intimate confines of the Old Town School this time around. Playing a set of rarities (no "This Year!") and closing with an adorable 45-second song about a pig he wrote for his young son, this was one of the best of the half-dozen or so Mountain Goats shows I've seen. Listen to it here (or just skip to the pig song at the end).

12. 10/30: Slowdive and Low at The Vic Theatre
Reunited shoegaze greats Slowdive did their reunion right, reforming with their entire classic lineup and sounding every bit as good as they did in their heyday (not that I was there the first time around, but that seems to be the consensus). Excellent visuals, too. Low also provided a great opening set, with me being particularly thrilled to hear my favorite song of theirs, Starfire, live for the first time.

11. 7/18: Sharon van Etten at The Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park
It is not easy for me to be completely transfixed by a musician while standing in the back of a field with a large group of friends, but Sharon van Etten managed to have that effect on me at Pitchfork this year. Playing selections from her wonderful album Are We There (another 2014 favorite of mine), she performed powerful versions of song after heartbreaking song.

10. 8/26: Arcade Fire at The United Center
The rare indie band that knows how to play to the rafters at a stadium show, Arcade Fire brought the spectacle for this show with legendary opening acts (Devo!), multiple stages, confetti galore, gigantic bobblehead versions of themselves, and hometown-centric cover songs. Though I wasn't fortunate enough to hear Mavis Staples join the band (that happened the following night), I did get to hear them tear through a raucus cover of the Bo Diddley classic "Who Do You Love?"

9. 5/31: White Mystery at House Show in Pilsen
My first ever house show (not counting college, of course). White Mystery were the perfect band to see in some stranger's scuzzy basement, playing an energetic set of rockers.

8. 4/21: Neil Young at the Chicago Theatre
Though not as memorable as the Crazy Horse performance I saw in 2012, it was neat to see Neil play a solo set stacked with songs from his '60s and '70s peak (save for a few covers from his A Letter Home album). Me having a soft spot for his '70s "Ditch Trilogy," hearing him perform "Mellow My Mind" on banjo was particularly special. Plus, Neil made corny jokes! (for example, as he sipped from a glass of water: "Tonight's show is brought to you by water. And also glass." And then later "and this glass is brought to you by sand and fire").

7. 3/14: John Prine at Symphony Center
My dad had been telling me to listen to John Prine since I was in high school, but I was never too interested until a few years ago. Point being: High School Me was an idiot. Prine's self-titled debut, Sweet Revenge, and Bruised Orange are amazing singer-songwriter records. This show occurred months after it was announced that Prine had (operable) lung cancer, making it all the more special to see him play a set heavy on songs from those three albums in the confines of Chicago's beautiful Symphony Center. The penultimate performance of "In Spite of Ourselves" was particularly memorable (somehow I'd never heard that song before! It's so good!). Apparently the crowd of mostly people twice my age weren't too keen on recording songs and posting them on youtube, but I've placed a different (and equally lovely) performance from 2006 below.

6. 4/17: John Cale at the Old Town School of Folk Music
Anytime I get to sit in a room with less than 400 people, and one of those 400 people is a founding member of the Velvet Underground, that makes for a good day. Though he has not satisfied my desire to hear any of that fabled band's songs performed live either of the times I have seen him, given the high quality of his solo material, seeing Cale doesn't exactly leave one disappointed. My dad scored seats right up front (thanks, dad!) so I spent most of the show thinking "holy crap this guy literally played on 'Sister Ray.'" He and his outstanding band tore through a number of songs from his 45-year solo career, with the set-closing performance of Fear's "Gun" (with a little bit of "Pablo Picasso" thrown in) particularly thrilling me.

5. 3/23: The War on Drugs at Metro
To the shock of no one who knows my taste in music, The War on Drugs made my favorite album of 2014. As someone who spends way more time than he should thinking about what experiences will be cool to look back on years from now, I always particularly enjoy catching bands touring a career-highlight album. You know, when the new songs are the ones you care most about. This was definitely one of those shows. I have been a fan of The War on Drugs ever since my friend Matt put the song "Taking the Farm" on our fabled "Matt 2 Matt" mix exchange back in 2009. It has been fun to watch them get better with each ensuing album, culminating in the masterwork that is Lost in the Dream. Live, they more than did the songs justice- playing powerful renditions of every song on the album (and some old favorites to boot).

4. 2/7: Neutral Milk Hotel at The Riviera Theatre
I still kind of cannot believe this show is an actual thing that happened. I remember googling Jeff Mangum when I was first getting into Neutral Milk Hotel back in 2007 and viewing him as almost this mythical person. No one knew why he disappeared from music or what he was doing exactly. I certainly never expected to see him perform, but then there was his 2012 solo tour and, to my delight, a full-blown NMH reunion tour the following year. As mentioned earlier, I dislike reunions that are missing key members from the classic lineup, but this was the real deal. These were the four dudes that made the iconic In the Aeroplane Over the Sea record and they were standing on stage at the Riv playing the hell out of those songs and seemingly having a ball. After years of thinking I'd never hear Mangum's voice anywhere but coming from my computer speakers, it was surreal and wonderful to hear his distinctive vocals reverberate within the very same building in which I stood. This concert also occurred after a really, really frustrating day at work and this show completely lifted my spirits.

3. 1/11: Songs: Molina - A Memorial Electric Co. at The Hideout
Yes, a tribute show was my third favorite concert of the year. This was no ordinary tribute show, though. Songs: Molina honored the life of one of my very favorite musicians and creator of the song for which this blog is named, Jason Molina. Having never seen Molina perform (why oh why did I not see Magnolia Electric Co. at The Abbey Pub in 2008? I will regret that for the rest of my life), it was wonderful to hear his beautiful, tragic songs performed live. And these weren't some shlubs off the street either- these were the actual musicians who recorded and toured with Molina over his 13-year recording career. The show consisted of two sets- one by "Songs: Ohia" (band members who played with Molina during the first half of his career) and the latter by his bandmates from Magnolia Electric Co. They played fantastic versions of pretty much every song I could have wanted to hear including, yes, "Farewell Transmission." Though this show did not quite make up for that gaffe in 2008, it was a nice consolation prize- and a fitting tribute to one of the best songwriters who has ever walked on this earth (that is not even hyperbole. He was that good).

2. 11/2: Patti Smith at the Old Town School of Folk Music
I am going to let myself from minutes after the show ended summarize why this show was so amazing, preserved in a rather excitable Whatsapp voice message to my girlfriend as I sat in my car before driving home. You'll see that I am better at writing than talking (this is why I almost never raised my hand in eight years of high school and college). Here is a verbatim transcript of what I said, "ums" and "ahs" and all:

So, the show just ended, and that was fucking incredible. I will never forget that show. That was really, really, really, really good. Very special to get to see her in such a small, intimate setting. And it was just her, and her bassist, and her son. Just the three of them. And, um, ah! It was, just...such incredible performances spanning her entire career. Paying tribute to important people from her life as well as, like, wonderful musicians. Um, she covered a Velvet Underground song that I love called "Pale Blue Eyes" as a tribute to Lou Reed. She, um, covered "Beautiful Boy" by John Lennon, um, both as a tribute to her son's...um, her son's son that is just about to celebrate his first year birthday..and also as a tribute to John Lennon. She covered a Neil Young song too, she paid tribute to Jerry Garcia. She, um, and then she, um, I'm, um, I'm just really rambling at this point but, um, um, uh, she finished the night with, um, "Because the Night" um, and, just rocking out and it doesn't get...doesn't get much better than that. Um, and (clears throat) it was just really, really wonderful. She's such an inspiring human being so it was really great to see her.

Um, uh, the only thing I'll add is that her banter was amusing and charming (why yes Patti Smith, you may spend five minutes telling a story about getting a hair cut in Paris), and that her performance of Horses standout "Birdland" was fantastic.

1. 9/13: Replacements at Midway Stadium (St Paul, MN)
After typing up those last two show synopses, I had to think: was this really the best show I saw this year? The answer is yes, which is a testament to how special this Replacements show was. Before I go any further, I must apologize to my dad, who initially asked me if I wanted to go to this show but I declined, thinking that seeing them the previous year at Riot Fest was satisfactory and that they would come back to Chicago again at some point (and hey! I was right about that. You're still going to see them, dad!). But then my dear Minneapolis friends Sam and Keith kept asking me to join them at the show and I wanted to get up to Prince-land at some point that fall to visit them anyway, so I relented. In conclusion: I am a bad person for making my dad miss this show because it was incredible. Now, earlier I ranted about how I dislike incomplete reunion shows. And yes, if we resurrected Bob Stinson and convinced Chris Mars to drop his art career and rejoin the band, sure, this show would have been better. But even without those treasured members of the band present, I don't think a single person in the crowd of 14,000 hometown fans left disappointed. 

This was a reunion show done right, thanks to original members Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson and an able backing bad. Sure, there was no new album to support, with the setlist consisting of nearly all old favorites from their original run from 1981-1991 along with a handful of covers. But this was not a band going through the motions just to collect a paycheck by any means. Though barely acknowledging the magnitude of the occasion (this was The Replacements' first hometown show since 1991), the band was energized on stage and played the hell out of every song- while still maintaining their ramshackle, rough-around-the-edges charm. Additionally, the setting was absolutely perfect. Already geeking out over seeing the legendary Replacements in their home city, I was elated to see them at Midway Stadium, home of the St. Paul Saints independent league baseball team (this was actually the last event held in that stadium before it was demolished, with the Saints moving to a brand new stadium downtown). Any event that combines rock and roll and baseball is going to be a winner for me. 

There was a jubilant atmosphere in the ballpark, with what seemed to be a good majority of the crowd consisting of longtime fans who had seen them many times in their original iteration. I was honored to watch the show among them. Given the above, as well as the fact that I listened to The Replacements non-stop in the weeks leading up to the concert, becoming intimately familiar with their entire (amazing) catalogue, everything just clicked for me at this show. So often when I am at a concert I find my mind drifting off- thinking about what I need to do at work the next day, or "shit, I need to do laundry." There was none of that at this show. I was completely engrossed. The band saved the best moment for last, with Westerberg smoking a cigarette and slowly plucking the intro to one of their greatest songs, "Unsatisfied." (not played since '91!) and bursting into an emotionally charged rendition. An unforgettable ending to what was absolutely the best concert I saw last year.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Top Five Posts I Thought About Making But Didn't In the 7 Months Since I Last Posted on This Blog

Hello loyal blog reader! (I refuse to admit there is more than one of you). Well, it's been awhile. I've been busy doing....stuff! Possibly things, too. In all seriousness, I guess I have been somewhat busy. Though in my experience everyone thinks they are busy, so maybe I am just lazy. Regardless, I've suddenly got the urge to start writing on here again. Will this urge last? Probably not! But in the meantime I am determined to take staticanddistance.blogspot.com to a new, glorious era. An era where posts occur monthly. Nah, that's too ambitious. Bi-monthly. Yeah. YEAH.

A lot has happened in the last seven months: I joined a gym and have gone like eight times. I saw the Baltimore Orioles defeat the Chicago White Sox 5-1 on August 19th. I learned how to play "Mary Jane's Last Dance" on the guitar. I received a refrigerator magnet set of the most commonly used words in Kanye West's Yeezus at a holiday gift exchange. And I ate a really, really good burrito. I also thought about posting on this blog a fair amount! Below are the top five posts I never quite got around to making.

5. Songs From My Work Year
I worked at a school last year that would always blast music at the beginning and end of each day. And for this, I am grateful. For otherwise, I would have forgotten about Des'ree.

4. Various Concert Reviews
Well, I did write that Bonnaroo concert rundown, but otherwise I failed miserably at reviewing any of the 38(!) concerts I went to last year. I did manage to take the time to rank those concerts so I'll post that list soon.

3. Stepdad Songs: The Primitives- Lovely
Hey remember when my stepdad gave me a few hundred records? That was pretty great. Well, he is now my former stepdad. But I remain eternally grateful for his contribution to my record collection. Back in May, I pulled out a random album he gave me by this band The Primitives and meant to review it on the blog because I really enjoyed it. Lovely is a delightful indie pop record. The song "Crash" was a minor hit when the album was released in 1988, but the song that has stuck with me most is called "Spacehead." So catchy! See for yourself.

2. Concerts of Yore: The National at The Metro in Chicago, June 7th 2007
I had this idea a few months ago that I would review important concerts from my past. I still like that idea and maybe will do something with it someday. Anyway, this show by The National was one of the more memorable concerts I have ever been to. First of all, 2007 was the year I discovered that good music was created after 1975. Up to that point I had never been to a concert with less than 2-3,000 people in attendance (turns out Eric Clapton doesn't tend to book shows at Schubas). In the months leading up to this concert, I consumed an insane amount of new music at a rate that has never been surpassed by me in the ensuing eight years. The National's Boxer leaked about a month before this show, and I was just blown away. Completely obsessed. And then I realized they were playing at The Metro a day after I returned home from college. I quickly snatched up tickets and brought my friend Scott along with me. As 20-year-olds are wont to do, we showed up 30 minutes before doors opened and ended up right against the stage. I remember one of the Dessner brothers coming on stage before the show started to set up his gear, and he was RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME which was not a feeling I was used to at a concert. And then the show started and it was just wonderful. Boxer and Alligator remain two of my favorite albums and this concert almost entirely consisted of songs from those two records. And then during the encore, they played "Mr. November" and Matt Berninger jumped into the crowd right next to me and oh my god a video of this exists on youtube! I love the internet sometimes. You can see the back of my head directly below the guitarist for the first 45 seconds or so of the video. Anyway, this was an amazing concert, and it created a thirst for being right up front at concerts that lasted until....eh, 2012 or so. Now I am more comfortable in the back away from all the 20-year-olds. But let me tell you, being one of those 20-year-olds was really fun.

1. July-August West Coast Trip Rundown
I spent about two weeks out west last summer (San Francisco, Davis, Los Angeles, Seattle, Vancouver). It was ridiculously fun. Being from Chicago, I relish every opportunity I can to go places with mountains and an ocean. There were several musical highlights on this trip. For instance, I learned that Aquarius Records in San Francisco is one of the best-curated record stores I have ever visited (and that they write amazingly wonderful and detailed descriptions on the front of each record), and that Zulu Records in Vancouver has an excellent selection of used vinyl. I also caught two shows while I was out there: Parquet Courts at the Vera Project in Seattle, and GRMLN at The Electric Owl in Vancouver. The Parquet Courts show was fun though in retrospect I wish we'd instead gone to see Diarrhea Planet, who were tragically playing that same night. Lesson learned: always choose Diarrhea Planet. As for the GRMLN show, I'm not really a fan and was more looking for something to do as I was in town by myself. But it was a good show, and the venue was really cool. I also went to the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum in Seattle, which was fantastic (thank you dad for the recommendation). Look at this guitar sculpture!!

And this is Jimi Hendrix's copy of Sgt. Peppers!

While in Seattle, I also paid tribute to its most revered former resident, Shawn Kemp...err...Kurt Cobain. In addition to viewing an excellent gallery about Nirvana at the EMP museum, I trekked over to the Madrona neighborhood to see the house where Kurt and Courtney were living at the time of his death. Naturally, I also visited Viretta Park next door, which has become the city's unofficial shrine to Cobain- with two park benches scrawled with tributes to the grunge legend.

And there you have it: the top five posts I meant to write over the past seven months. Surely America will be debating these selections for months to come. Next up: as mentioned above, I wrote out a list of all the shows I went to last year so I'll post that with some descriptions. And then after that I'll post my "best of 2014" list! And then "27 Jazz Metal Albums You NEED to Hear Before You Die" (I forgot to mention that Buzzfeed bought my blog).