Vetiver + Papercuts | Bowery Ballroom | 5.03.2009

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I'm learning to embrace my inner hippie. Or at least accept it. Vetiver's new album, Tight Knit, is thick with the kind of sunny folk jams the West Coast is skilled at, minus the extended noodling that I still find mostly intollerable. Live, they can really play and sing, and it's hard not to be impressed, though starting thier set with five or six extremely gentle numbers is no way to keep me interested at 10:30 on a Sunday night. "We're gonna pick it up in a minute," said singer Andy Cabic about four songs in. "But you guys are kinda quiet so we're gonna keep it mellow for a few more." They built steam over their set, but I do with they'd thrown in something upbeat, like thier Record Store Day single "Wishing Well," in to jump-start the evening.

MP3: Vetiver – Wishing Well

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Honestly, I was there mainly to see Portland's Papercuts, whose new album, You Can Have What You Want, is one of my favorites of 2009 so far. I'd heard bad thing about their live shows, which could make sense as the recordings are pretty much created by Jason Quever on his own. How does one recreate purely studio ideas live? Pretty well, turns out. The live four-piece recreated the songs pretty closely on-stage, and on songs like the new "Future Primitive" they really came alive. But even at thier peppiest, Papercuts aren't the most exciting band. Some things remain better on your stereo.

MP3: Papercuts – Future Primitive

Vetiver and Papercuts play this Thursday at the Bell House and more dates around the country. Full tour info after the jump.

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The Rakes | Bowery Ballroom | 4.06.2009

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Rakes, clearly New York has missed you. Not seen here since May 2007, the London four-piece haven't had a record out in the States since their first (and the band just released their third, Klang!, in the UK), but you wouldn't know it judging by the crowd at Bowery Ballroom who are singing along to every word, whooping and hollering and generally going mental. Singer Alan Donohoe, sporting the kind of unfortunate front-only dye-job you might've seen Nick Rhodes wear in 1986, is in top twitchy form, even if he doesn't rock either of my favorite dance moves. (Both of which I've actually named: "The Elbow" and "Hot Corners.") He's got an awkward charisma that could mellow into Jarvis-like appeal in a couple albums. Really. The Class of 2005 may not be the coolest kids in school anymore (and this lot were always the underdogs anyway) but The Rakes, who now include a fifth member on guitars and keys, are as tight and appealing as ever.

SETLIST: You're In It | Retreat | We Danced Together | Terror! | Light From Your Mac | Open Book | Woes of the Working Women | 22 Grand Job | hat's the Reason | Violent | Binary Love | We Are All Animals | 1989 | The Loneliness of the Outdoor Smoker | The World Was A Mess But His Hair Was Perfect | ENCORE: Strasbourg

MP3: The Rakes – The Light from Your Mac

You can buy Klang! from Rough Trade as an import right now, but hopefully these U.S. shows will mean an American label will release it sometime soon.

Someone managed to shoot video of first album nugget "Open Book" without getting the usual Bowery security shutdown:

Mystery Jets | Bowery Ballroom | 2.24.2009

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Last we saw Mystery Jets, circa 2006 at Mercury Lounge, they were crusty youth who weren't sure whether they wanted to be Dexy's Midnight Runners or King Crimson. Fast forward two years and we're at a mostly packed Bowery Ballroom and a lot has changed for the band. Gone is 50-something Henry Harrision, singer Blaine's dad who played with the group and probably said thing's like "That's not how Rick Wakeman would've done it!' at practice. With him went Mystery Jets proggy tendencies, replaced by soaring hooks and a love of Big '80s pop. 

Their look has changed too, an unfortunate sparkly fashion sense seemingly inspired by Blanche on Golden Girls, complete with Prom Pearls. But we all wore some regrettable things when we were 20, as evidenced by the very young crowd many of whom looked like they'd just come from Neverland. (The island, not Michael Jackson's former ranch.) But I digress.

i'm bedazzled
The weird time signatures and other whiffs of the '70s might be gone, but that love of Pentangle and Yes has paid off. Mystery Jets know how to play. They are tight, the harmonies are spot-on and generally sound great. And the eccentricities come out in some genius arrangements. The band stuck mainly to their second album, Twenty One (my #2 album of 2008), which doesn't look like it's ever going to come out in the U.S. (Having just signed to Rough Trade, though, pretty much assures that the next one will.) We also got one new song, "Lady Grey," and the three singles off their debut, Making Dens.

The album's best singles — "Two Doors Down" and last year's best song, "Young Love" — made the least impact live. I didn't mind so much that Blaine Harrison sang Laura Marling's part on "Young Love," but guitarist William Rees, who sings lead on this one, his mike was still set at "backup singer" so it really didn't pop the way it should've. "Two Doors Down" is the kind of song that probably just shouldn't be played live, it's so over-the-top '80s it should just be heard on the radio. And with the songs's saxophone coda being replaced with guitar, it went from sounding like Whitney Houston to Big Country, which is actually okay by me. The night's best songs were the sweeping, more ethereal ones: "Veiled in Grey," "First to Know" and a show-stopping, goosebump-inducing "Flakes" which seemed to lift everyone a couple inches off the floor.

SETLIST: Hideaway | Half in Love with Elizabeth | The Boy Who Ran Away | Young Love | Lady Grey | Flakes | Hand Me Down | First to Know | Alas Agnes | Two Doors Down | Behind the Bunhouse | ENCORE: You Can't Fool Me Dennis | Veiled in Grey

MP3Mystery Jets – First to Know 

You can get the import of Twenty One from Amazon fairly cheap, but there's no legal digital option for us here in America, unfortunately. However, Mystery Jets just signed to Rough Trade which bodes well for us getting future releases.

Also at the show: The Music Slut, Music Snobbery, Sentimentalist, and my cohorts at Brooklynvegan.

Buzzy Hat Trick: Friendly Fires, White Lies and Soft Pack Tour Together This Spring

When I saw this triple-bill announced via Bowery Presents RSS feed, my initial thought was "hey, this is just like those 'Brats' tours NME puts on in the UK." And wouldn't you know it, the UK music mag is actually behind this. It's a good idea that has taken surprisingly long to come to these shores: put three up-and-comers together for one big roadshow. One of whom I genuinely love, another of which I genuinely like, and the third… well color me curious.

The Soft Pack back when they were the Muslims
We'll start backwards from how NME is presenting the lineup. Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity know I'm a huge fan of The Soft Pack ("formerly The Muslims," how many times will I have to write that?). I never got around to writing up their show at Union Pool on January 17, mainly because it turned into a giant, insane, drunken dance party (it was my birthday weekend) that took me three days to recover from. But it was easily the best show I'd seen them play (and I've seen them a lot) and I think they're ready for that next step. And it immediately me think the name-change is a non-issue. They played three new songs, all of which were really good. They're also reissuing their debut (my #6 of 2008) with thee extra songs, fleshing it out to proper album length. They're definitely the odd men out on this tour, as the other two are from the UK, slicker, more dance-y.

MP3: The Soft Pack – Parasites

Friendly Fires at Pianos, CMJ 2008
Co-headliners Friendly Fires are quite good too, and have taken cues from Soulwax, Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem as to the proper way to perform dance music in a live setting. (Seen 'em a couple times.) In their case, it involves two drum kits, plenty of agogo, awesomely spazzy dancing, and a dustbuster. Though there was too much previously-released material for it to make any of my 2008 Best-of lists, their self-titled debut is really, really good, and it's hard to argue with tracks like "Paris," "On Board" and their fantastic new single "Skeleton Boy":

MP3: Friendly Fires – Skeleton Boy (Buy it)

WhiteliesAs for White Lies, they are one of the hottest new bands in the UK right now, and as you can probably guess what they sound like just looking at this picture of them. Gothy club music, which as someone who owns his share of Sisters of Mercy records, is not necessarily a bad thing. More specifically they lie somewhere between Editors and The Killers which is not a place I'm exactly comfortable with… at least not in public. (They are better than The Whip who might also fit that description.) "To Lose My Life" is one of those guilty pleasure songs for me, one that you hear the first time and roll your eyes, but you would probably crank in my car if I had one. I will hold judgement till I see them.

MP3: White Lies – Lose My Life (Pre-order from Insound, get a free DVD)

The NME tour hits most major North American cities, including two nights at Bowery Ballroom, tickets are on sale now. Tour dates…

March 24 Washington, DC, Black Cat
March 25 Philadelphia, PA, First Unitarian Church
March 26 NYC, Bowery Ballroom
March 27 NYC, Bowery Ballroom
March 28 Boston, MA, Paradise Rock Club
March 30 Montreal, QUE, Les Saints
March 31 Toronto, ONT, Lee's Palace
April 01 Ann Arbor, MI, Blind Pig
April 02 Indianapolis, IN, Radio Radio
April 03 Chicago, IL, Double Door
April 04 Minneapolis, MN, Triple Rock Social Club
April 07 Seattle, WA, Neumo's
April 08 Vancouver, BC, Richard's on Richards
April 09 Portland, OR, Doug Fir Lounge
April 11 San Francisco, CA, Slims

Some videos after the jump….

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The Futureheads | Bowery Ballroom | 6.17.2008

Futureheads1 I hadn't seen The Futureheads since that Rothko show in September '04 but they were pretty much as I'd remembered: shit-hot and tight as hell. And funny too, especially guitarist Ross Millard who was also prone to guitar heroics. The band, who hadn't played an American show in nearly two years, blazed through 15 songs in a little less than an hour with newish single "Beginning of the Twist" being the set's highlight — along with some orchestrated audience participation for their still-amazing cover of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love."

MP3:  Futureheads – Hard to Bear

And the setlist…
Futureheads Setlist
More pictures at my Flickr.

Love Is All + Versus + Crystal Stilts | Bowery Ballroom | 6.16.2008

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I know this wasn’t the coolest show of the night (Sigur Ros) or the coolest show of Love Is All’s visit (Cake Shop or Market Hotel win over this) but what show! And band-for-band one of the best I’ve seen this year.

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Somehow I’ve managed to not see Love Is All till now. I had tickets to that Knitting Factory show, like everybody else, way back when but couldn’t go, or didn’t go for some reason. And I liked, not loved, their album Nine Times That Same Song and wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about. I do now. Of course, Love is All are giant grin wonderful on stage, with boundless energy. It’s a kind of joy that CSS have too, that makes you stop being cynical, momentarily, and be glad you’re here seeing this amazing band. I was won over in about 30 seconds.

MP3: Love is All – I Ran

That’s from a tour-only CDR called Love Is All Play 5 Covers. From the back cover: “We each picked a song with no member getting a say, recorded live at practice.” You might have seen the YouTube footage of them doing this Flock of Seagulls nugget at Cake Shop last week. Other covers on the EP include Dire Straits’ “So Far Away” and Prince’s periodical-loving classic, “Darling Nikki.”

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Underappreciated ’90s indie rockers Versus, who broke up in 2001 but have played one-off shows here and there since (including Union Hall last November), seem to be back for real and this show is arguably their highest-profile gig since the Teenbeat 20th Anniversary. (Certainly the biggest venue.) No lyrics sheets tonight, the three-piece Versus (James and Patrick were busy with +/- duties) seemed pretty tight and brought with them a handful of new songs. (One of the Fontaine-sung ones was really good.) And there were a lot of people there just to see them, which I must admit surprised me… happily. Rumors are flying about a new album — and a label to put it out — but for now I’d just like to say welcome back.

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Crystal Stilts
were on first. The band have been getting a lot of good press — a glowing Pitchfork review, they’re part of the same Brooklyn scene that Vivian Girls, ca-USE co-MOTION (both of whom were there at the show), and Pains of Being Pure at Heart are apart of. And I do think it’s a scene — new groups influenced by C86, Slumberland Records, etc. I really, really like The Crystal Stilts record, which is so Jesus and Mary Chain (or the Bodines or Jasmine Minks) at times it borders on theft but they do it so well I don’t care.

Despite a friend telling me they were awesome when they opened for the Clean at Cake Shop, I was a little worried Crystal Stilts would be, well, stilted live. They’ve definitely got a schtick. The singer stands motionless, eyes closed, the guitarist was sitting the whole time. And new drummer Frankie Rose plays standing up, with only three pieces to her kit: bass drum, floor tom and a snare, though she used a tambourine instead of a right stick on some songs. Super cool: She’s like Mo Tucker and Bobby Gilespie rolled into one. Schtick it is, but it’s a brilliant one makes for a complete package with their reverby, garagey sound. I can see how it would be better to see them somewhere smaller, darker but they held their own on the bright Bowery Ballroom stage.

MP3: Crystal Stilts – Bright Night Nusery
(buy it)

Grand Archives | Bowery Ballroom | 6.13.2008

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Grand Archives kind of look like Lumberjacks (skinny lumberjacks) and make gentle, harmony-laden music that would be perfect for maple syrup commercials. "Whether it's flapjacks, waffles or for the Master Cleanse, make sure your syrup is real Vermont Maple." I joke but I really don't mean that in a derogatory way and I guess I'm specifically talking about their song "A Setting Sun" which reminds me of CSNY's "Our House" which I feel like was used to sell pancakes (or coffee… it was Maxwell House, wasn't it) back in the early '90s. Grand Archives make great breakfast music.

MP3: Grand Archives – A Setting Sun (buy it from Sub Pop)

If you're unaware, this is Mat Brooke's new band — he of Carrissa's Weird and then Band of Horses. I like their self-titled Sub Pop debut a lot. It is exceedingly pleasant but in the best possible way. And they're fun to watch too, good performers and, crucially, they nail the all-important harmonies. Plus they always throw in a choice cover. When I saw them at SXSW earlier in the year they did a medley of the Beegees' "I Started a Joke," the Zombies' "Care of Cell 44" and Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown." At Bowery on Friday we got Sam Cooke's "Just Got Paid" which you might know from Cat Stevens, Jimmy Buffett or Johnny Kemp's versions of it, all of which were hits. Good show.

Grand Archives tour rolls on…
Jun 17 LOCAL 506     CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina
Jun 18 THE EARL     ATLANTA, Georgia
Jun 19 EXIT/IN     NASHVILLE, Tennessee
Jun 20 STICKY FINGERZ     LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas
Jun 21 STUBBS JR.     AUSTIN, Texas
Jun 22 THE CAVERN     DALLAS, Texas
Jun 24 SANTA FE BREWING CO.     ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico
Jun 25 PLUSH     TUCSON, Arizona
Jun 26 CASBAH     SAN DIEGO, California
Jun 27 THE ECHO     LOS ANGELES, California
Jun 28 SLIM’S     SAN FRANCISCO, California
Jul 13 SP20 FESTIVAL     MARYMOOR PARK, Washington

Swervedriver + Dirty on Purpose | Bowery Ballroom | 6.11.2008

.Swerved_bowery There were not a lot of girls at Bowery Ballroom last night. It shouldn't have been that surprising to me. Swervedriver have always been a Dudes Band. But I hadn't been to such a dude-heavy show in a long time. And, as you often get with shows by veteran band, you could tell a lot of the dudes hadn't been to a show in a long time. I texted my friend Don before they started: "There are like 10 girls here. Five are bartenders, the rest are here against their will." I was excited to see Swervedriver's first NYC show in ten years, but all this, um, dudeness was freaking me out. A bit. At one point I thought it might be funny to take pictures of all the women at the show and ask them what they got out of the deal for agreeing to come to the show. Might be funny for the blog, right? The ladies perspective.

But then Swervedriver came out and just killed it. Like the last ten years never happened. Jaw-droppingly, why-aren't-you-still-a-band-and-making-records good. And maybe it's just the decade that's passed, but they almost seemed better than I remembered. Swervedriver's sound hasn't dated I don't think — it's the sound of vapor trails off hot desert pavement, or after-burners on a spaceship. On songs like the slow-burn "Duress" it felt like gravity lost its grip on us just a little bit. The band was clearly into it as much as the crowd. Adam Franklin is a cool dude, looking more like Geoffrey Wright having long-since shaved off his signature dreads, and didn't say more than ten word to the crowd the whole show but he had a smile on his face every time he did. Dudes win.

MP3: Swervedriver- Duress 

Swervedriver play tonight at Music Hall of Williamsburg. It's sold out but if it's anything like last night's show, there will likely be people selling tickets outside. And probably a few available at the door. If you were on the fence about seeing them, I can say without hesitation… go.

Dop_bowery Dirty on Purpose were about as close to perfect an opening band as you could find. There's definitely a throughline from Swervedriver to DoP's effect-laden sound, especially in guitarist George Wilson's whammy-bar, guitar-manhandling style — which was in full effect on the set-closing instrumental "Monument." No matter how similar their styles were, a few impatient types in the crowd couldn't help themselves and shouted 'SWERVEDRIVER!" throughout the set, to which guitarist Joe Jurewicz responded. "Swervedriver are on next. Maybe you want to wait to wait downstairs in the bar till they're on."

Blowin’ Cool

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Of all the bands from the original '90s shoegaze scene, Swervedriver were probably the best. Overall. They never made a bad album, never wasted a million dollars and 15 years testing out the sound of tube amps while not making music, and got out of the game before making an "back to basics" record of substandard Zepplin-esque blues rock. And their live shows smoked. Even while being kicked around by record labels (Creation in the UK; A&M in America) and the UK music press, Swervedriver remained cool.

Having never quite got their due in the '90s, it's heartening to see the excitement around the Swervedriver  reunion, including selling out two nights in NYC. I haven't seen them play since July 1997 at Tramps, when the band was over for whatever they were calling the New Music Seminar that year. Reviews of the reunion shows have been glowing, and as their four albums all hold up I can only imagine this is going to be a triumphant return.

Unfortunately almost all of Swervedriver's releases are out of print, except for a well-chosen but expensive compilation, Juggernaut Rides. f you're going to any of the remaining shows but aren't all that familiar with the band (yes, it seems unlikely) or if you want to know what you'll be missing, here's a track from each of the four albums.

MP3: Swervedriver – Rave Down

MP3: Swervedriver – Duel

MP3: Download Swervedriver_Birds

MP3: Swervedriver – 99th Dream

If you want to hear more, there are live versions of every song from every album available as free downloads on Swervedriver's website.

You shouldn't ignore the opening bands either. At both shows are Glasgow's Terra Diablo, who are actually managed by Swervedriver drummer, Jez. Musically similar, but vocally are a little too emo for my liking. Tonight at Bowery Ballroom are also Dirty on Purpose who have been lauded many times on this blog and their new RCRD LBL EP is among the best things they've ever done; Thursday's show at Music Hall of Williamsburg has Longwave on the bill, who I'm sure can swap label horror stories with Swervedriver. The new songs posted on their MySpace sound great.

Andrew Scott on Sloan’s “Reggae” Song + Bowery Shows

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In the weeks leading up to the release of Sloan's new album, Parallel Play (which is out today), Yep Roc records has been sending out emails with each of the band's four members giving behind the scenes looks at the songs they wrote for the album. We got the last one today, drummer Andrew Scott who contributes four songs to the album. Two of them are unlike anything Sloan have done before, one being the overtly Dylan-esque "Down in the Basement;" and the other being the controversial "reggae" number, "Too Many."

In his typical no-bullshit way, here's what Andrew Scott has to say about it:

I've been
addicted to Trojan box sets, and Studio One box sets and the like and
generally overload on vintage Jamaican ska, rocksteady, dub, etc. I think
the musicianship is outstanding and the whole scene was so formulaic in
that every song could almost be interchangeable yet each recording is
totally different and individual. If i were teaching somebody an instrument
– I'd recommend anything from this era (of which there is shitloads) and
I'd say "play along with this stuff." Also the productions are mind
boggling in their varied use of all the same simple elements – echo and
reverb. One doesn't even have to be a stoner to get into it either –
however it certainly doesn't hurt every now and then. I wanted to pretend I
was Prince Buster. I wanted it to be repetitive and kind of hypnotic but
tuneful as well. The only thing I regret is not putting horns and sax on
it. Next time…

MP3: Sloan – Too Many

Next time indeed. He also drops this nugget about the group's dynamic, which might be a little bit to "behind the curtain" for some:

I play all the instruments on my songs for expediencies sake
and because I am very picky about what gets played and how on "tape." When
we learn to play our records live, after they are made – then everyone else
has free license to play as they feel. It just sort of ended up being that
way since our third record.

I knew they basically did everything by themselves on the last couple records but was unaware it had been that way since One Chord to Another. Sloan plays Bowery Ballroom next Thursday and Friday and tickets are still available for both shows. I sound like a broken record, but if you've never seen Sloan live, you're really missing out.