Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Favorite Bands of 2010

In lieu of a “best of” list I’m going to list some bands I especially enjoyed listening to this year due to their new albums and live shows in no particular order:

1. Flaming Lips
2. Blind Pilot
3. The Antlers
4. Sonic Youth
5. The xx
6. Fanfarlo
7. Rural Alberta Advantage
8. Real Estate
9. Surprise Me Mr. Davis
10. Dirty Projectors
11. Tune-yards
12. Phoenix
13. Antony and the Johnsons
14. Florence and the Machine
15. Micachu and the Shapes

Monday, December 14, 2009

Concerts I attended this year

1/6/09- Okkervil River at Bell House
1/30- Antibalas at Southpaw
1/31- STS9 at Bowery Ballroom
2/18/09- antony and the johnsons at Town Hall
Beirut at BAM
2/27/09- david byrne at radio city
2/28/09- grizzly bear at BAM
Les Savy Fav at Brooklyn Masonic Temple

Leonard cohen at Radio City

6/8- david byrne at pp bandshell
6/25- femi kuti at bandshell
7/10/09- aterciopelados and los amigos invisibles
7/18- king sunny ade at bandshell
8/2/09- burning spear at pp bandshell
7/30/09- soullive at pp bandshell
7/31/09= dean and britta at prospect p bandshell
8/7/09- deer tick and grace potter at pp bandshell
8/12- tv on the radio at prospect park bandshell- just hung outside
8/15/09- phenomenal handclap band at the yard
8/19- Islands at Bell House
9/30- James McMurtry at Southpaw
10/31- Junior Boys at Bell House
11/6- the xx at bowery ballroom
11/18- Blind Pilot at the Bowery Ballroom
11/21- surprise me mr. davis/land of talk at Mercury Lounge
11/22- Dirty Projectors/tune-yards at Bowery Ballroom
11/25- sonic youth at Music hall of Wburg
12/2- Phish at MSG
12/3- Phish at MSG
12/4- Phish at MSG

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Surprise Me Mr. Davis and Land of Talk at the Mercury Lounge

It’s 10:30 on Saturday night and outside the classic venue Mercury Lounge in Manhattan’s Lower East Side the energy is starting to build. Crowds of smokers are straddling the curb watching the city chic walk by on their way to barstool, dance floor, and comedy club while preparing for the sold out Surprise Me Mr. Davis/Land of Talk show that is set to begin at 10:45. Inside, the narrow front bar is packed and the intimate stage in the back room is starting to fill up to capacity. Among the crowd is Surprise Me Mr. Davis (SMMD) guitarist and vocalist Brad Barr talking to a friend before hitting the stage. For those that don’t know, SMMD consists of folk troubadour Nathan Moore (vocals, guitar), Slip members Brad Barr (vocals, guitar wizardry), Marc Friedman (bass) and Andrew Barr (drums and percussion), and Marco Benevento (piano). Sadly, Marco Benevento will not be playing with SMMD tonight because he is in Austin, Texas playing The Parish with Garage A Trois.

At 10:45 the band takes the stage wearing crisp suits and their Sunday finest. The three members of the Slip gather around a microphone and begin harmonizing while Nathan Moore begins a beautiful rendition of his song “Tombstone” and Brad Barr accompanies with a ukulele. After a couple of mellow songs, including the poetic “Summer of My Fall” the band breaks into the upbeat “I’m No Good At All” which sounds like something the Bowery Boys would listen to while getting into a barroom brawl. This really gets the crowd moving especially when Brad and Nathan begin rubbing their guitars together and working the audience. Riding this wave of energy the set continues with a soulful “When a Woman” and a classic “I Hate Love”. Next, the band slid into 50’s R & B mode with “That’s the Way” and then a little protest funk with “Sissyfus”. At this point Nathan shows off his magic tricks with a little sleight of hand while dancing around the stage to the rhythm of the beat while the crowd watches enraptured. The set slowed down with the heart wrenching “Joelle” that featured some amazing guitar work and won over some new fans in the audience. At this point Brad mentions that a few of the new songs they have been playing can be found on their new demo that can be purchased at the merch table. However he laments that they only have 4 to sell. The hour long set finishes off much as it began with the acapella “As the Crow Flies” which once again showcases the amazing vocals of Brad Barr and extraordinary range of the band. Though a great set, SMMD seemed hesitant to relinquish the stage just as they were about to really explode.
After witnessing this performance it’s easy to say that the music of Surprise Me Mr. Davis defies categorization. From tender ballads, to thrilling funk, to classic R & B the band traveled in and out of several genres while effortlessly maintaining the groove at the Mercury Lounge on Saturday night. Which is no surprise considering the pedigree of the band. In fact, the only surprise is that they are still playing shows at small intimate venues like the Mercury Lounge. As Nathan said at the end of the show, “We have big things planned for 2010; we will be back with Marco Benevento.” I for one will be there.
After a short set break Canada’s Land of Talk takes the stage a little after midnight to about the same size audience as SMMD. Frontwoman Elizabeth Powell (vocals, guitar) grabs the mic and exclaims, “We’re happy to be here” before ripping into “Corner Phone” and a high energy high tempo set propelled by the rhythm section and her beautiful voice. Staying behind the drumset is Andrew Barr from SMMD and on bass is Joe Yarmush while Michael Felber also appears on a few songs. Throughout the set Elizabeth pounds out notes on her guitar while she gleefully jumps around the stage and grins knowingly at both Andrew and Joe when things really click. After having vocal problems over the past year she is happy to be back in the thick of it, if she is a bit more modest about using the full power of her vocal range. The set included tunes from Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, Some are Lakes, and the new EP Fun and Laughter. Some highlights included “Gimme Back My Heart Attack, “Some are Lakes” and “Its Okay”.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The xx at Bowery Ballroom

The xx’s self titled debut album is one of my albums of the year and the Bowery Ballroom is one of my favorite venues in NYC…so why did the show last night seem a bit forgettable? Its not that I did not enjoy the music, in fact I thought they sounded good throughout the set, especially considering it was their first time playing NYC as a 3 piece. They took the stage at about 10:30 dressed in their standard black and played for an hour. Their set included most of the songs from their album and a cover of Teardrops by Womack & Womack. So what was wrong? Was it the crowd? Was it a lack of stage presence? From where I was the crowd seemed like they were into it although as usual there was a few people talking loudly. At one point the girl next to me said. “This may be my new favorite band!” She then continued talking loudly to a drunken Irish guy until she realized everyone was glaring at her. At that point I decided it was a good time to grab a drink and relocate. The band seemed pretty comfortable on the stage, mentioning at different points that NYC was starting to feel like there second home and they had just finished playing their first headline tour. Ultimately I think it’s just that the nature of the downbeat minimalist music they play does not quite translate to a live setting when people want to party. Often throughout the show I was wishing I could have been lying down. I thought they did a good job recreating the song as it is on the record. It’s just that it seems that is all they really do. I guess I could use a little more energy and fire in a live setting. Give the band some time though, they could figure it out. Until then I might as well just listen to the record.

I liked the opener Jon Hopkins. Pushed lots of buttons. Cool stuff.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Medeski at The Stone

Last Saturday night I went to The Stone to see a set with Tisziji Munoz (guitar) John "lam sobo" Medeski (keyboards) Ra-Kalam Bob Moses (drums) John Lockwood, and Don Pate (bass). Medeski is curating all the shows there this month, and he played every night last week 11/3-11/9. Though I love Medeski, I did not enjoy the show very much. I thought he would be leading the band but instead those duties went to the guitar player Tisziji Munoz. Therefore it seemed Medeski’s keys played more of a supporting role while the guitar work of Munoz was showcased. After a chaotic opening song that lasted about 25 minutes with swirling rhythms and Munoz’s assault on the guitar I realized that I was in for a set of free jazz with odd guitar phrasing and seemingly no structure. As the set continued there were a few bright spots and I found myself enjoying every new song a little more than the last. However it seemed the set was cut a little short and by the time I was starting to get into the groove the show was over. As far as The Stone, it’s a small space, and a nice venue to see a show…but it made me really miss the days of Tonic. The Stone felt like a museum where the music was on display and there definitely seemed to be a bit of a reverent tone to the place. While leaving the show my buddy called his wife and after she asked how the show was he replied, “It was your worst nightmare.” So the music definitely was not for everybody.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thee Oh Sees at Mercury Lounge

I didn’t realize it till now but I think I might be falling in love with Thee Oh Sees from San Francisco. After seeing them last night at the Mercury Lounge I’ve been listening to everything I can get my ugly hands on. I left the show last nite in a bit of a daze due to my typically illicit behavior…but everything I’ve been listening to today has been reinforcing my opinion about the show I saw last nite. It kicked a little bit of ass. The entire set wrecked the dirty surf/garage sound that I always thought more bands should strive for. The lead singer/guitarist John Dwyer probably glows in the dark. He hammered thru his 12 string…swallowed the shit out of the microphone…and added screams and yells to the sound of one hell of a band. I was probably most impressed by the drummer. That guy just killed it all nite long. Please Please check out their myspace and go see them if they are playing in your hood. Listen to I was denied. Also nyctaper was at the show. Good quality recordings are ready for download here.

I also loved Still Life Still. If you get a chance check them out. I love the song Kids and I think they may be on their way.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lush Life: A Book Review

I first heard about Richard Price’s latest book Lush Life on NPR over a year ago. After trying to get my hands on it at the local Brooklyn library a few times I gave up, but last week I finally got a copy and read it…and I’m a little disappointed. It’s not that I think it’s a bad book, its just that I love The Wire and I lived in the Lower East Side which is where the events in the book take place so maybe my expectations were a little too high. The book revolves around the murder of a young privileged white man by a couple of project kids on Eldridge St.(i lived on that street)and the ongoing police investigation and public outcry that follows. The story arc is definitely similar to The Wire in that it provides the perspective of all the involved players including the murder police, the victim’s family, the shooter, and those with the victim while he was murdered. It also made me think of characters in the book as versions of characters in “The Wire”. Yolanda reminds me of Kimya, Matty reminds me of McNulty, the Lower East Side fills in as Baltimore, and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, I like the characters in The Wire way better than the similar characters in Lush Life. Everyone in the book seems to live bleak unfulfilled dystopian lives where booze, unfulfilled relationships, disappointment, and hatred are typical constants that completely control their lives. The only character in the book that I can relate to is Ike Marcus…and he is murdered in the first couple of chapters!

"You know the thing I loved about Ike the most? He was a good kid and all, but the best thing about him was that he always seemed so ready. Does that even make sense?"
"Sure," Matty said.
"And the, the irony is, Billy always kicked himself for having to leave Ike behind, but the truth of the matter? That kid turned out good to go. A big heart and happy. A lot happier than either of his parents."
Minette hoisted her bag to her shoulder and wiped her eyes. "It just works out that way sometimes, you know?
A moment after she left, Yolanda murmured to her computer screen, "If the kid had been a little less 'ready', he might still be alive, you know what I'm saying?"

Mr. Price is truly a master of dialogue and setting and his use of language and the Lower East Side as vehicles to tell his story were brilliant.
A few examples below.

"Let me tell you something. This right here isn't about researching your next role. Its a job. In face, were paying you. And I'm gonna tell you something else. It's proactive. Customers don't come to a bar for the drinks, they come for the bartender. Any bartender worth a shit knows this, but you, you stand there, got a one-word answer for everything: huh, uh, duh, yes, no, maybe. You make people feel like losers, like they're your punishment from a jealous God or something. I swear, Cleveland?" Nodding to the Rastahead at the far end now. "The guy makes a martini like he's got hooks for hands, but he's twice the bartender you are because he works it. Everybody's a regular with that guy, and he never stops moving, never comes off like this gig is some demeaning station of the cross on his way to the Obies. I mean, watching the two of you back here tonite? Its like a blur and a boulder. And to be honest, right now even with the traffic the way it is, I'd rather cash you out on the spot, have him work a solo, or draft one of the waiters or even come back there myself than let you pull this "I'd rather be in rehearsals' crap ten more minutes, you hear me?"

“You know why this isn’t too bad a place? The kids are so close to all walks of life around here, you know? Most projects are kind of like, that’s all they know, but you go two blocks in any direction from here, you got Wall Street, Chinatown, the Lower East Side, they’re like release valves, you know? They give you the confidence to mix it up in the world—”

“And jux everybody in sight,” Iacone murmured.

I also loved taking the fictional places mentioned in the book and guessing which real world places they were based on. I think that Beekmans Cafe is Schiller's(on the book cover), the no name speakeasy is Milk and Honey, the cop hangout bar Chinaman's Chance is the Delancey? Are there any more? All in all I think this is a book that should definitely be read for the descriptions of the Lower East Side and the dialogue alone if not for the actual story and interactions among the characters.

James McMurtry live at Southpaw

On Thursday, September 24, 2009 James McMurtry brought his brand of Texas rock to Southpaw in Brooklyn. Having only listened to a few songs and read a bit of his bio, I went to the show without really knowing what to expect. As I stepped to the bar to order a round of PBR’s, McMurtry and his band started playing. McMurtry with his signature hat, long hair, guitar, and voice immediately got my attention; but it was the rich sounds of the bass and drums that made everything really work live. After playing a few songs, McMurtry tried to get folks to dance but it seemed that most just wanted to watch. NYC is definitely not the natural setting for this kind of music. It certainly is a lot different than most of the concerts I go to, but it was a welcome change. My buddy mentioned that when he saw McMurty in Georgia the place was sold out and everyone was going crazy. Southpaw could have used a little more energy on this particular night. However, it sounded great and they had grenades of Colt 45 for a dollar at the bar so I was feeling just fine. Some of my favorite songs from the set were Red Dress and Choctaw Bingo. At the merch table McMurtry was selling a new live CD from his tour in Europe which I would definitely recommend checking out.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The XX

The XX at Pianos

After hearing a bit of the buzz, I listened to the XX's debut album XX two times today. Despite the name I liked what I heard. The band from England creates music that's downbeat, minimalistic and sounds clean(if that makes sense) using subdued and interchanging male and female vocals, hypnotic guitar riffs, strong bass lines, a drum machine, and some keys. The album slowly brings you along and quietly reveals itself song by song. Its the kind of rare album you could listen to over and over again and always find something new. Check out a few of their songs at their myspace page and if you like what you hear pick up some tickets for their show at the Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday, November 11th. I'll see you there.