09 December 2008

Oxford American's 10th Southern Music Issue

Yesterday I opened the mail and found this image of a grinning Jerry Lee Lewis standing there, donning a baby blue plaid suit, spectacularly white shoes against vivid red shag carpet and drapes. I grinned back. I was holding my copy of the new Oxford American magazine. I generally don't get too excited these days, much less over a magazine. But as I pulled the new OA out of its plastic wrapper I felt like a kid opening a pogo stick shaped birthday present. (I always wanted a pogo stick but never got one.) At that moment, I truly felt truth in the hackneyed saying: "it's the little things that matter."

Now, any issue of the Oxford American magazine is a treat for me, but this one particular issue each year is my very favourite. It is the MUSIC ISSUE. If you are already familiar with the past OA sampler discs, you know what I'm talking about. If not, lemme let you in on a treat.

The annual OA music issue is the best mix-tape you'll get all year. Especially if you have more than a passing interest in Southern and Southern-inspired music. Even in these internet days of it being easy to find just about anything you can name, when you don't have to dig through dusty record bins and endure cooler-than-you store clerks, you'd likely still not come up with this comprehensive a collection of tunes. Many of the tunes are cooler than one might expect at first glance. Some of them might not even like at first, but many of them grow on you and get down in the recesses of your brain, maybe evoking something you might've heard, or maybe just dreamed. The songs span from 1928 to 2008. From Blind Willie McTell to Richard Hell, The Residents and the Hampton Grease Band, Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, Big Star and Jerry Lee Lewis. And, as they say, so much more.

This issue, being their 10th anniversary, the folks at Oxford American have treated us to a double CD with 28 songs on each, and there's not a dud among them. I'm sure of this because I've just listened through it twice even though it's been less than a day since I peeled the cellophane off. Some of the songs, naturally, you'll like more than others, but all are worth a listen. Some of the stuff I can near to guarantee that you've not heard before. Not even on the coolest Radio 1190 show or whatever nifty little indie radio station you happen to have within your airwaves. Then, mixed in with the obscure is the relief of some familiar favourites like Lucinda Williams, Neko Case and R.E.M.

And, as if the discs weren't enough, there's the magazine! Some of the best music writers around (and I say that in true sincerity as I really don't like much music writing anymore) treat us to some genuine, smart and funny writing on the artists. I forget it's music writing. I've just started Jack Pendarvis' article on Neko Case and maybe it's not that funny, but I've already laughed my stomach muscles sore.

Just when I was falling into a numb, music-saturated, oh so sick of all the peripheral static of keeping up with a music scene and all its neurotic stuff phase, just when all I craved was silence, the Oxford American leaned over the muddy waters with a steady hand to pull me out.

17 November 2008

Resurrection of the Elvis Tent Revival

Or, this is how we do things in Kentucky.

I am so happy to see my all-time favorite public access offering back up for public viewing (albeit now in ten parts.) These folks here are some old friends of mine from back in the day in Lexington. It's from them and some others that I learned all about punk rock shows at the VFW and the community center, skating, 'zines, and making your own damn fun. It's pure fun for me to watch this stuff again.

Thanks to 64mm Chris for resurrecting this video and stuff.

13 November 2008

This ain't no Little Miss Sunshine

But it is a Denver band doing the film scoring thing.

I am really looking forward to hearing what Bad Luck City came up with for the what has to be some of the most elaborate and terrifying clay animation films I've ever seen.

Saturday 15 November 2008, 2:45 pm, I will be at the STARZ Film Center to see An Evening with Bruce Bickford. One of the films, CAS'L', runs as a silent film and will feature live musical scoring from Bad Luck City. Dark music--played in the dark.

If 2:45 pm is too early in the day for you, they'll do it all again on Sunday at 9:45 pm.

I may just go to both.

27 September 2008

show review: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Disclaimer: It's nearly false notice to title this post as a show review, because I don't feel like this is going to turn out like one. But here goes.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Bambi Lee Savage
Ogden Theatre
Denver, Colorado
26 September 2008

I like Nick Cave's music. Quite a lot. But still, I wouldn't call myself a super-fan. I can't recite his catalogue like I can my honest faves. But in spite of my Nick Cave ignorance, I appreciated that I was in for a treat on this September evening. Though I don't know the names of but a few of the songs, I definitely recognize that voice when I hear it. And I dig those songs. But my copy of Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds has sufficed as almost enough Nick Cave for me. That's just how it is. So super Nick Cave fans, judging from my little contact with y'all last night, unless you are a friend of mine curious what I thought of the show, you're probably just going to get annoyed at my ignorance. You are warned.

The Ogden was packed to capacity. And where I was standing, actually over capacity. It was a sweaty energetic crowd who knew these songs by heart. It was overwhelming, both from the emotion of the crowd and the heat. I thought I might faint.

Not having heard but one song off the newest release, Dig Lazarus Dig, I reckoned I wouldn't recognize many songs, but it seemed like about half to more of them are on my best-of disc.

I had heard that there was a problem with their gear making it from Seattle to Denver and that the band had to rent near to all their gear for the show. That seems like it'd have to rattle anybody, but the Bad Seeds are truly professionals. I wouldn't have known there was a problem. Except for Nick Cave's temper tantrum over some monitor problem where he apparently couldn't hear the keyboard he was playing. So he kicked it over. Tech guys scrambled and ducked glares and what not from Mr. Cave. One might surmise it was simply rock n roll dramatics, but even if this was the case, it was a fine performance. From inviting a call-and-response session of singing with the crowd to the artful arrangement of the set list, Nick Cave knows what his crowd will appreciate. And I always appreciate a good performance.

Bambi Lee Savage and her backing band for the evening, Denver's own o.g. line-up of Red Cloud West, gave an enjoyable and solid performance. You might know that I am more than a bit biased here, but I'll try to keep it objective. There were some vocal Bambi Lee and Red Cloud fans giving a few shout outs, many recognizing the Bambi Lee Savage song from the Slingblade soundtrack, and others recognizing a Red Cloud song (sung as a pretty duet between Ross Etherton and BLS,) but truth is, much of the crowd was antsy to see Nick Cave, and no opening band could really make those folks happy.

By the end of the evening, I'd decided a couple things. I was really glad to have been at the show. All the way through. It had that feeling of one that I'd be sorry I had missed if I hadn't gone (like PJ Harvey, or John Cale, or Daniel Johnston, or... well you know the type of show I mean.) And two, the energy of these die-hard Nick Cave fans, paired with the energy of the performance has spurred me to give more of the Nick Cave catalogue a closer listen. And that's a longer list of stuff to look forward to. Which is why I keep listening.

06 September 2008

The Future is Unwritten

I heard a little snippet of the new Joe Strummer documentary on Radio 1190 a couple weeks ago and upon hearing the sound of Joe Strummer’s confident and sharply honest voice I set the movie near the top of my Netflix queue. To tell the truth, lately I haven't wanted to listen to anything. The deadening of music has been creeping up on me little by little for months and it is a truly terrible loss. Always, at my lowest times, I’ve been able to turn my ear to music and feel alive again. Not so lately. I haven’t felt alive at all. And music has been no help. Even music I love and have turned to before sounds drowned by the imitations that followed them. When I listen, it sounds wrung out and tired and I have to turn it off. Nothing new fires up my senses either. It’s all deadening. With no input that can make me feel confident I am really alive, I've had no fuel for output. Writing has been out of the question.

So, last night, with only half the heart I would’ve had in the past, I sat down to watch The Future is Unwritten. And I almost remembered how it felt when I first discovered the Clash. For me it’s a very fuzzy deal pulling memory from over twenty years ago. I forget things. But I should remember this. The Clash, and especially Joe Strummer made my life feel livable at a time when I didn’t think that could ever happen. Better than that, listening to The Clash, following along lyrics written on album sleeves, I felt that some things mattered, and mattered a whole lot. I knew I existed because I could feel it and was unshakably confident in that. It’s one of the few times I’ve ever held that sort of confidence. That confidence may have been a bit borrowed from how I perceived Joe Strummer, and how I tried to imitate him at that time, (wish I still had a picture from those days) but somehow it felt more real than mere copying. It felt like recognition of something I knew was true, and how I wanted to be. I wasn’t looking up to Strummer because he was cool (he was but that was not the common sentiment at Christ the King or Tates Creek, places where I went to school at that time—I assure you quite the contrary.) Joe Strummer was cool to me because he was the real deal. Things he said resonated with a vital-ness and truthfulness that registered in every sense I had.

Now I know, obviously, I was hardly the only kid being inspired by the Clash. Books and reissued discs with copious essays in the liner notes abound. The people they've inspired could populate a large metropolis. Even people who don't care too much one way or the other about the Clash recognize "the only band that matters." But back when London Calling came out and I was playing it over and over, I was unaware of so many other listeners and was astounded when I met someone who had even heard of the Clash (this is what it was like growing up in Kentucky.) The few times I did meet a fellow Clash fan it was an instant recognition of a like-minded friend. I guess Combat Rock changed that. Not that it was the band's fault but after that record The Clash, the band began to be lost to The Clash, the product. I guess both exist, but the documentary I can't help but at least partially see as just another way to profit off a bit of history that's bound to sell. Watching it didn’t change and recharge my life, but it did stir a memory and remind me that, yes, those things can happen. Life can be shaken and you can really feel alive. Especially if you weather the downs and keep listening, and reading, and paying attention. Don’t shut off the input, and eventually something will fire.

15 August 2008

Fate and Favourites

As some of you may have noticed, I am continually suggesting shows I reckon to be worth the while to attend over at The Donnybrook Writing Academy's regular Friday feature The Problem of Leisure. My favourites tend to appear a lot, but since the folks running things over there haven't complained about my continual recommendations of Bad Luck City, Bad Weather California, Bela Karoli, Overcasters, and Porlolo, I will keep recommending them, as I deem apt.

This week was no exception:

The Truth: The Mercury Cafe.
Porlolo, Joseph Pope III and Ian Cooke. 9 PM

I’ve never been to the Mercury Cafe. I realize that might be hard to believe. This place has been around longer than many interesting Denver places and it’s often talked about by an eclectic and large set of people. One look at it’s calendar will evidence that this is an involved and community-minded place. And you can eat very healthy sounding food there too. So, why wouldn’t I have been there at least once? I can’t explain.

The eternally hip Radio 1190 presents an all-ages show at the Merc this Saturday. That means youngsters can come. The always lovely Porlolo, the ever charming Ian Cooke and the equally endearing Joseph Pope III will all perform. And it is only $7. I am tempted to ferry myself and my little entourage over there for a listen. According to the calendar, if you get there too early you’ll run into a Green Party benefit…is Ralph Nader really still running for president?

I thought this would be a good show to take the kids to, they love Porlolo and Ian Cooke and I think they'd like Joe Pope's music too. But then I remembered that $7 means per person. With my little entourage, that gets outta my current budget for an evening. So I decided, well, I guess not. But then, fatefully, my rental car wouldn't start. Why fatefully? And what does that have to do with the show? I'll tell you.

This is the story of how I got stuck in a Chevy Cobalt listening to Radio 1190 late Thursday morning and ended up with a plus one to the show.

Wednesday I took my none-so-gold-as-mine minivan for a major tune up. I was overdue. Oh, I mentioned, could you check the brakes? They seem a little off. I guess that happens when all the brake fluid has drained out of the rear drums. They weren't working at all the auto repair place told me. Oh and the transmission solenoid is leaking. And the front axle something. And something, something. I couldn't take listening anymore than to find out I could get it all fixed for a little under 2K. But, they would put me in a rental car for the next day no charge. Okay. That's how I got the Chevy Cobalt. It was the only car they had.

Besides feeling a little like the Yugo I learned to drive manual in, it was okay. At least it was getting me around to places I needed to go. Until I was in the parking lot of that assisted living center, needing to get to a lunch appointment. The key wouldn't turn. I called the rental place and they said, um, yeah that's happened before. Try jiggling the steering wheel. Do you have your foot on the brake? Take the key out and put it back in. No? Jiggle the wheel again. Near to ten minutes of this in the sun, and finally it starts. And at that very moment the dj was giving away tickets to the show. Third caller. I called. You are the second caller. Oh no I said. But you can call back he said. So I did. And I won. Now I only have two tickets to pay for and that is much better.

As for that Cobalt...when I got home, the key wouldn't turn again and all the jiggling and finessing of the key was for naught. I had to call the rental car travel club rescue service. The tow truck driver tries the same to the same effect and says, Oh, I know how to fix this. He jogs back to his truck and comes back with a hammer, smiling, It just needs a little TLC. My eyes bugged out as he starts hammering on the key in the ignition. And you know what? Yeah, it fixed it.

06 August 2008

cd release: Blue Million Miles

Blue Million Miles cd release this Saturday 9 August 2008 at the Hi-Dive in Denver.

Each time I listen to Blue Million Miles, I appreciate them even more. One part dream-like, one part driving, they kind of creep into your memory and stick. And you're not sorry for the invasion. There are a few Denver bands I've actually felt relieved to find out they were definitely recording their songs, so no matter what happens, they'll always be there for another listen. Friday, I'll be in line to get my own copy of Blue Million Miles newest release, Of Building Walls. And as if that weren't enough reason to get to the show, the fabulously amazing Bad Luck City and consistently spectacular, The Overcasters, will both be playing too. I'd not miss it.

03 August 2008

dpums 2008: a couple lists

Too tired to write in sentences. Mostly. So, lists:

Who I managed to see at least some, and in some cases, all of:

American Relay. Reverend Deadeye. Bad Weather California. Overcasters. Bad Luck City. Orangu-tones. Rachel Pollard. Jason Cain. Aaron Collins. Ellison Park, George Inai, Blue Light. Joseph Pope III. Andy Tanner. Married in Berdichev. Andrea Ball, Jen Korte, Jack Redell. Cowboy Curse. Hearts of Palm. Bela Karoli. Hot IQs. Porlolo. And a few others bits here and there walking up and down Broadway. I didn't get to listen to everything I wanted to hear, but I listened to all I was able.

Some of the worst parts:

People talking louder than Porlolo’s set in the Skylark,
then the jukebox starting up.
Sketchy sound systems.
House music playing at Blue Ice during Cowboy Curse,
and American idol on a wide screen TV.
Trying to see two bands at once.
Not trying to see two bands at once.
Leaving in the middle of a set.
Just missing someone you really wanted to see.
Griping about this stuff.
Blisters on feet.
Being hungry and thirsty.
The hot hot sun.
Sitting on the itchy grass.
Forgetting to bring earplugs for the kids.
Being overwhelmed and overtired.
Sweaty and over-packed Hi-Dive.

Some of the best parts:

I hate being packed in, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the show.
Friday night, appreciating what a great club the 3 Kings Tavern is.
The Overcasters and Bad Luck City back to back.
Not being able to stop smiling.
All those fabulous all-ages venues.
Being able to bring my kids Saturday.
My kids thanking me (so much) for taking them.
The people who stopped chatting and started listening to Porlolo.
Roger Green learning a Porlolo song on the stage,
and it still sounding amazing.
Cowboy Curse playing a great set in spite of the club.
My daughter napping on a stack of carpets
Mellow singer/songwriter round sets.
Volunteering. Really.
Just the right-sized outdoor stage.
Nathaniel Rateliff pushing his gear around in a K-mart shopping cart.
Cold drinks.
Aaron Collins child-like-playful solo performance in Rock the Cradle.
Marching my children into the Skylark to hear Porlolo
and nobody stopping us.
Inviting people who don’t usually come out to the shows
and seeing them there.
So many creative and diversely talented folks doing their stuff.
Feeding my kids those yummy Sputnik french fries
one order sweet, one order white.)
Feeling the genuine and impossible-to-fabricate good-will vibe.
All the cool stuff I actually caught.
Realizing some festivals are not so bad.
And all this in Denver.

25 July 2008

show review: Porlolo cd Release!

Porlolo CD release party with: Bad Weather California, Wentworth Kersey, Sorellina and the dancing Team Firefox.
Friday 18 July 2008, Hi-Dive, Denver

by Linda Ruth Carter

Cd release shows are always hold a little more excitement than any other. It’s kind of like a birthday celebration. (New songs are born and here’s this shiny document to prove it.) Friday at the Hi-Dive was definitely a celebration of Porlolo’s second full length release, Meadows.

This show was fun. If you read no further, just know that much is true. I’ve not kept it a secret that Porlolo is one of my all-time favorites, inside or outside of Denver, and I’ve been looking forward to the release of this cd for the past year or so, ever since I started hearing the first versions of the songs on it being performed. And Friday I got to be there.

As the rainbow unicorn cake on the merchandise table read: Porlolo believes in you. And from the people spilling in the door of the Hi-Dive, lots of people believe in Porlolo too. Present were not only the usual crowd of Hi-Dive regulars, but people who’d made a four hour drive from Gunnison just to be there.

Opening the evening was Sorellina, who is the Anna half of the duo cellists of Matson Jones. Though I couldn’t make out a great deal of the lyrics, I’d characterize Sorellina’s songs as being of the feminine singer-songwriter sort. Even the buzzy and a little too bright sound of a cello turned up loud at the Hi-Dive couldn’t hide that this girl has a lovely voice, and can play that cello to pieces. I’d like to hear her in a place where the sound is more conducive to what she is doing, but I was glad for the introduction.

Next up was the eight member dance troupe known as Team Firefox. Donning spandex, leg warmers, and glow sticks as necklaces, bracelets and anklets, Team Firefox danced a coordinated choreographed number to “Never Let Me Down” by Depeche Mode. The stage was too small for this performance so they used the whole floor from the half-wall back to the wall and from the stage almost back to the little stage in the rear. It was fun to watch, though I had to stand on a chair to see. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it in the Hi-Dive. I mean, they were really dancing. But they had the crowd watching, smiling, clapping, and perhaps trying to remember some of those dance moves too.

With smiles on faces from the cheerful dancing, next came the debut of Wentworth Kersey. I was one of the fortunate early kids to get a copy of their disc along with my new Porlolo (and a copy of Roger Green’s newest too.) Pretty awesome.

If Wentworth Kersey sounds oddly familiar for a debut band, it should. This is the musical project of Joe Kersey Sampson (A Dog Paloma) and Jeffrey Wentworth Stevens (George and Caplin) and if you like either or both of these people’s prior musical releases, you will likely dig this new collaborative set of songs. I did. After a couple songs Wentworth Kersey retired from the stage and joined the crowd to listen to featured band of the evening.

Porlolo said they chose to go on before Bad Weather California so they could sit back afterwards and enjoy hearing their friends play. Having heard a few of the pre-released songs off Meadows already, people were already calling out requests, many of them for “Animals” an extraordinarily catchy poppy sounding song sung with the saddest most tear-jerking lyrics, simultaneously hitting your emotions in two places at once. It’s fabulous.

No two times I can recall have I seen the exact same set of musicians accompanying Erin Roberts, though I believe I’ve seen her solo more than once. The cast of supporting players have many amazing repeat performers and whomever of her friends that accompany, I’ve always heard an enjoyable set. Whatever the line-up, the songs always seem to sound just right. On this night, accompanying Erin were: the overall-wearing guitar-sorcerer Roger Green; the ever consistent and copacetic drummer, Xandy Whitesel; the lovely and heart-stirring stringed sounds of Bela Karoli: Julie Davis on upright bass and Carrie Beeder on violin; and the talented songstress Kate Magnus (Placerville) on guitar, electric bass, and a hand-held keyboard. They played a few songs from Storm and Season, but mostly performed a nice long set of songs from Meadows. Song after song, the listeners smiled and cheered. Did I already say it was fun? I’m writing these words two days later and I’m still smiling thinking about it all.

Bad Weather California took the stage to send off the night. Chris Adolf is another Denver songwriter that has been known to take the stage either solo or with a different arrangement of musicians from show to show, but for some time now he’s had the stable line-up of Xandy Whitesel, Joe Sampson and Adam Baumeister making Bad Weather California an identifiable group. But things haven’t gotten stuck in any rut. Indeed there is always a vibe of unpredictability with a Bad Weather California performance. Lyrics are elastic and verses change from show to show, like the songs have a life of their own and have to be wrangled somehow to get them out in the air. But the chorus is familiar enough that the crowd is often chanting along in communal song. That might sound corny if you haven’t been there, but it is pure fun. Believe it.

13 July 2008

Top Twenty?

In spite of my skepticism about the relevance of polls, I recognize they've got their place. They tell a little bit of the story, though nowhere near the whole thing, and if we keep that perspective, it can be some fun. One good thing the DPUMS (and other best-of events like the Westword showcase) does is give a concrete occasion to mark and celebrate a portion of the great sounds around town. I really love some of the music being made in this town, and I try to listen to as much of it as I can make time to hear. Being asked to play a little part in this celebration makes me glad.

So, I got my ballot yesterday, and with only three days before it was due, I looked at the alphabetical list of local bands, then set about the work of making my own top twenty. I scanned the list, subtracting bands I knew to be broken up, noting my inability to make judgment on bands that I had yet to hear from and adding a couple for consideration that weren't on the list. Coming up with a ranked list of twenty local bands is a challenge. And truthfully, the unavoidable arbitrariness involved in deciding who is at number six versus seven or even seventeen, makes it less than satisfying work. I needed some guidelines. And since none were explicitly given, I made up my own. This turned out to be the best part of putting together the list.

My guiding factors in voting on my choices for the DPUMS:

1. I have heard them play. Should be obvious, but can't say how many times I've heard someone give an "opinion" about stuff they clearly haven't really listened to but are mimicking what's been said by others. In most cases I've seen each of these bands/artists at least once live and in all cases I've listened even more times to stuff they've recorded.

2. Pleasure. Simply, I enjoy listening to the band. Subjective? Yes. But that's what a personal opinion is: confidence without proof. And it's a place to start.

3. Talent. This really is another obvious one, but still an important factor. They've got to know how to play their instruments.

4. Genuineness. Sincerity is tough to judge and near impossible to prove, but when I recognize it, I'm confident in my judgment. Soul-less sounds soon wear thin. But when the band really means it--you can feel it is substantial. The real thing, as they say.

5. Distinctiveness. Originality is where judgment gets less subjective although is limited by what I'm familiar with. I haven't heard everything out there, and I never will, but I believe I've listened to enough to have an inkling. Many songs sound the same and many bands wear their influences on their sleeve. This isn't bad. It's a place to start. But it's magical when artists take their influences, integrate it into their own work and truly make it a new work. It becomes theirs, not a knock-off or imitation. Listeners can tell.

6. Hard-working. If the task is to rank the best of the past year, in my opinion, the band has to have played out a bit: either locally or even toured outside Denver, or perhaps they've spent time recording and releasing their music. Even if I liked what they did two years ago, if they haven't played out or released anything recently, and especially if I know they are already disbanded I decided I shouldn't be able to vote them at the top of a 2008 poll. Ditto for promising new bands that haven't played enough for me to form a substantial opinion on yet.

7. My boyfriend is not in the band. To avoid the presumption of a conflict of interest, I am not voting for Bad Luck City or Overcasters. Even though they are two of my favorites, for the reasons listed above, not just because of my affection for someone in them.

The showcase has been a fun time the past two years I've attended.
I expect this year will be too.

04 July 2008

show review: Moonspeed, The Wheel, Ross Etherton

reposted from the notorious Donnybrook Writing Academy:

Show Reviews | Moonspeed
By The Truth • Jun 30th, 2008 • Category: Headlines from the Manor, Show Reviews

Show Review: Moonspeed, The Wheel, Ross Etherton
Saturday 28 June 2008 at the Hi-Dive, Denver
by Linda Ruth Carter
Photos by Laurie Scavo

The up-side of having established a musical reputation in town is that you can fill the place up with your new band’s public debut. The down-side, well, hang with me and we’ll get to that.

I was pretty excited about Saturday’s show for a number of reasons. One, there was no shortage of talented people scheduled to take the stage. Two, Denver being the relatively small musical scene that it is, I’ve become friends with many of these people and it’s always nice to see them. Three, two out of the three acts scheduled to perform would mostly be playing stuff I’d not heard before. And four, the thematically unified line-up (in that all three acts have a considerable reputation with their other bands preceding them,) promised to provide an interesting dynamic to the evening.

Walking around outside before the show we caught Ross Etherton in the parking lot behind the Hi-Dive, on the porch of the Theater on Broadway, rehearsing, writing down some last minute lyrics and figuring out his set list. It felt a privilege, getting that exclusive and personal preview, seeing him fuss over what songs he should play. And later, inside, Etherton brought that same inclusiveness and friendliness onto the stage, sharing stories about the songs with all who were listening. Then I felt twice-privileged. Some songs were familiar old favorites to Red Cloud West fans. Other songs, like the endearing lullaby for his new baby girl, are gems that surely will shine all the more with time and the polish of more performances. I’m looking forward to listening.

The Wheel, I’ve probably seen at least half a dozen times by now, either by himself, or with the accompaniment of violin and keyboard. The songs are beautiful in either incarnation and although by now I know to expect it, the first couple songs I’m still blown away by what a great voice and sense of delivery Rateliff brings. The songs feel like they have a strong sense of central character and I find myself listening carefully for the story. Perhaps I should listen more lightly next time though because after about four songs, I’m tired. Like when I pile my plate high with good food, eat too much and feel overstuffed and sleepy.

Moonspeed got all eleven members settled on stage, seated in a kind of orchestral manner. I’m sorry I don’t have everyone’s last names but here’s how it looked: The two drummers, James and Kit were mirrored in the back and flanked on either side by the synthesizers: Darren to the left, Shannon Stein to the right. Stage left featured the three guitarists, I believe it was Ryan, Jim and Matthew on two acoustic and one electric. Stage right sat Adam on bass, and in front of Shannon, Hayley Helmerick on melodica and Doug Spencer on various percussive elements: tambourine, triangles and wind chimes. Center of it all sat Jeff Suthers on vocals and guitar with his signature sounding trade secret pedals. But what did Moonspeed sound like? Not surprisingly, big. And the sound man (I think it might’ve been Xandy) deserves a medal for making everyone clear and audible.

Definitely, Moonspeed wears the influences of bands cited on their Myspace like My Bloody Valentine and Angels of Light. And while Moonspeed is not exactly blazing any new musical trails, they do seem to be having a good time making their own trip down the road, and gauging from the crowd of listeners I witnessed, it would seem they’ve got a good number of fans happy to follow them.

And now we get around to the down-side of the debut: it’s difficult to not bring Bright Channel performance expectations to the show. I tried to keep in mind that this was Moonspeed’s public debut, and though they didn’t quite have the tightly crafted delivery of oft-rehearsed songs, everybody onstage did remarkably very well listening to each other and keeping things woven together pretty well, if a little loosely. Should be a good time keeping up with where it all goes.

Tagged as: , Angels of Light, Bright Channel, Hi-Dive, Monofog, Moonspeed, My Bloody Valentine, Nathaniel Rateliff, Red Cloud West, Ross Etherton, The Wheel

27 May 2008

I'd love to see The Breeders...again

I would. I loved that band.

But I probably won't make it. I don't have a ticket, my bank account is negative until Thursday, I found out today that the IRS is after me so I must find an accountant to help me respond, and my parenting obligations for tomorrow include watching the youngest perform "Hot Cross Buns" on the accordion at school (very cute), taking the middle child to violin lessons (highlight of her week) and then attending an academic awards ceremony where my eldest child be lauded for his, well, academic skills and stuff. It doesn't take a fortune teller to predict, come evening time, I will be very tired.

Even so, maybe I will still find a way. I've got reasons.

I always liked the Breeders back in the day, in all their various line ups. When Pod came out I remember it striking me as really cool to have both Kim Deal and Tanya Donnelly in a band together because I really liked both the Pixies and Throwing Muses. It's harder to imagine now, but there still weren't all that many girls in popular bands at that time, even "alternative" bands. And hardly any good bands were all girls. I noted Albini producing and still crack up at hearing him in the background asking "Josephine [Wiggs] do you think you are going bald?" and talking about the weather or some nonsense. But mostly, I stuck with The Breeders as a fan because their songs were catchy, fun and good. I still play those records sometimes. I sing along with them when nobody is listening. They have me wishing I had the aptitude to write songs, discontent to just write about songs.

And I actually did see The Breeders live once before. It was probably one of the most surreal shows I attended and still can recall. They were opening up for Nirvana at the Lakeland Civic Center in Lakeland, Florida. I believe it was 1993. I went to the show with my niece Kelley and two guys. I generally detest shows of arena size, but this seemed like one not to miss, even at the time. When The Breeders hit the stage, Kim Deal was clearly pissed off. They started sans Kelley Deal. Kim explained to the audience that they had "lost" her in Miami and left without her. Well, they started off and before a couple songs had passed Kelley comes wobbling on stage in a bright red skirt-suit and heels and plugs in and starts playing. From across the arena you could clearly see that Kim looked disgusted. My niece and I couldn't figure out if this was staged shenanigans or some genuine rock-n-roll moment. It was...odd. Anyway, one of the best rock-show moments I've witnessed was later when Pat Smear (who was touring with Nirvana) comes out wearing Kelley's red suit, and heels, and proceeds to rock out and save the show from being a total curmudgeon contest between Cobain and Deal. It's still kinda hard for me to recall how obviously miserable the guy was, and how oblivious so many people around me were to that.

So. Even not having had a chance yet to hear the newest effort under The Breeders moniker, not having heard whether there are better motivations and substance behind with reunion tour compared to some other reunion tour I've seen some people on...I still want to go.

03 May 2008

show review: Hearts of Palm, Velella Velella and Bad Weather California

I really wanted to make it to this show, but I was tired. Inertia and anxiety pulled and threatened to keep me home and put me to an early bed as they have many times before. But I fought it. I have more "favourite" bands than I can count on my fingers but two who have never failed to affirm my faith in the magic of music were playing together yesterday, Friday the 2nd of May 2008.

I was tired as everybody else these days, but I am glad I made it to this show.

Never knowing when a show is actually going to start at the hi-dive, and knowing Bad Weather California was coming on first, I aimed for a conservative 9:00 arrival and relieved to find I hadn't missed a note. I had time to chat with some friends I hadn't seen in a while, and then awkwardly stand around waiting for the music to begin. When Chris, Joe, Adam and Xandy took the stage, I was ready to listen, and anxious to hear how they'd play the songs this time. Every time I've heard "My Brave Friend" or "I'm Not the Poet" or any of them songs that don't have a set name, they reach my ears sounding somewhere between a little and a lot different. It makes me think of those great chefs who don't follow a recipe but make what is structurally the same dish using what's in season, never failing to come up with a slightly different but consistently spectacular dish just right for that moment. And it always is good. You always leave the table grateful for such fine sustenance. These are some of my consistently favourite sustaining things about a Bad Weather California show: songs that you never know the name of, but still always know how to sing along with; genuine playfulness; instruments I never see other people use but still sound like the song was meant for it; fierce sincerity; adding and changing lyrics on the fly; optimism in the face of it all. But mostly I love those smiles they deliver that are surely leaving cracks on our faces.

I had never heard Velella Velella before, who I learned are currently on tour from Seattle, but since they were playing in between Bad Weather California and Hearts of Palm I would soon find out what they sound like. I had a little clue from watching them unpack the full-size xylophone, vintage organs, and electronic things. I suspect someone who's more knowledgeable about such gear that I can at best ignorantly refer to as "electronic things" would be more excited than I was, but it looked interesting. With these previously mentioned things, some hand held percussion, a flute and a Rickenbacker bass, (no guitar) they turned out some danceable sounds. They are an energetic foursome, sometimes reminding me of catchy Michael Jackson riffs and other times kinda falling out of time in a discordant muddle. If you are in a dance club mood and want the feeling of a live performance this band might be just the thing for you to check out.

It was getting late, I was sleepy and wanted to go home, but was determined to hang in there for Hearts of Palm. I wish it was easier than it is to switch to calling them Hearts of Palm instead of Nathan & Stephen, because I respect the inclusion the name change reflects, but I know I still slip up. It was announced that last night was to be Jonathan's last night playing as a regular member of the band. Matthew is reportedly going leave Stephen and Dan to carry all the guitar duties and take up his brother's bass duties for the group. I wouldn't be surprised to see Jonathan sharing the stage with them again, but seems to be a case of only having so much time in the day, and a lot of other good things going on. So the stage will have one less person on it but that still leaves eight people up there, who play remarkably nicely together. In Hearts of Palm, there's a sense of celebration of many people and things, threaded through with strands of sorrowful realisations. Overwhelmed with joy, so much that you have to watch out for elbows of exuberance up near the front of the stage. But I don't mind. I made it to the show! And I left happy that I did.

28 April 2008

Saturday -- A Wild Slew Indeed

I've been meaning to get out to one of these Anarchist Variety shows, otherwise known as Louis Vuitton Night at the Mercury Cafe, but something always gets in the way. Last time I tried to go I got lost in Commerce City after dark (trying to avoid that giant sinkhole on I-25) and once I finally found my bearings I was too rattled. Kids, Commerce City is no place for me to be lost after dark. But this Saturday, barring mishaps, I will be here:

Saturday May 03, 2008 at 9:30 PM

Mercury Cafe at 2199 California Street

$3 optional donation for the Denver Zine Library

Fashion Theme: JURASSIC PARK (enough said)

As usual, we have a wild slew of amazing bands and stunning acts but to lubricate your whistle here's a few of the highlights: Tom Murphy presents the Surprise Headlining Band, Royal Rush Dance Troupe performing Janet Jackson, Susan Susan, Israel-San's DIY Shibari, Sparrow of Cirkus Dorkus, Bellydancing by Khalijah, Frieda's Violin Modern, Dr. Meg presents cutting edge research on the Chaos Theory, Druglas' Fast and Fucking Furious Performance Art, Denver Community Group Ditties and much much more!

18 April 2008

Girls Rock!

Yes they do.

And this weekend you can hear all about it.

More information here.

10 April 2008

Monday, Pretty Songs, Some About Animals

The best part about local artists opening for bands touring from places yonder is that, when paired with knowledge and thoughtfulness, it can turn you on to one or the other that you might not have otherwise given a listen.

It's no secret that I love Porlolo, so when they open for another band, I'll make time to give them a listen. With the convenience of MySpace, it's hardly a time commitment, but as it is, I gave a click and a listen and decided I do indeed like Blitzen Trapper. I thought they sounded a lot like they'd been listening to a lot of Big Star, but since I've loved Alex Chilton's band ever since I heard Paul Westerberg croon the name, this is all good with me.

I recommend:

At the hi-dive
Monday 14 April 2008
Radio 1190 presents

Blitzen Trapper

Fleet Foxes


(Porlolo and Placerville)

Wish I could be there, but Mondays are a no show night out for me. Maybe you can go and tell me all about it?

Good Listening for Friday

I've heard a rumour that the Overcasters may be laying low from the live performances while they hole up in some place called the Starburst Factory, taking great care in recording the songs they love.

If you haven't caught them yet, indeed if you have, you won't want to miss:

Dig it.

Light Travels Faster

The Falcon

Friday 11 April 2008

04 April 2008

Doing It For Themselves--Hipster Style

Since you will surely be broke after attending that Daniel Johnston show on Saturday night, you might appreciate a nice, nearly free event on Sunday.

From those who bring you Denver's Most Elegant Anarchist Variety Show, this Sunday, the Free Boutique is kick-starting with a Spring Donation Extravaganza!

You probably have some cool clothes taking up space in your closet, so bring three or more of them down to the Brooks Art Center and leave them, swap them, alter them... Get the idea?

Also take in some live music by State Bird (NYC), Mad Happy (Miami), BDRMPPL, Laura Goldhammer and Tanukis with photography by Hanna Quevado.

Where: Brooks Arts Center (14th and Williams)
How Much: Please bring 3 or more items or $5 suggested donation for the Brooks Art Center
When: April 6th, 3:00pm Donation Tea Party, 6:00pm Show and Potluck
What to bring: All day long:
Clothing, Clothing, Clothing! Jewelry, Bags, Accessories, Shoes, Children's Books. Other Books (to benefit Ironfeather Bookstore) Plants and Plant Supplies, Kitchen/Housewares, Bicycles, Tools, Gear, etc. (to benefit Bizarre Denver Bazaar).

17 March 2008

Jonathan Richman! At the Lion's Lair?!

When I saw that Jonathan Richman was touring again it struck me with the same giddy surprise that happens every time his music shows up in my life. My spastic reaction upon hearing "I'm a Little Airplane" on Sesame Street was one of the first times my son looked at me with the sober judgment that I was totally nuts.

I wish that I could go see Jonathan Richman this Tuesday at the Lion's Lair. It is surely one of those missed shows that'll stick in my memory with super glue regret. I've heard his live shows are amazing and put real meaning into the word "live." I bet he makes you smile. I can't say first hand though, having only heard recorded stuff. I know he pulls off stuff that would, sung out of other mouths, make me cringe at the sappiness, but with Richman, I somehow believe it's all right.

It all comes back to this: Sincerity is a hard thing to judge. I've written that before and I expect I will again, but Jonathan Richman just radiates sincerity as brilliantly as the real star he is. It feels rare to run into any artist, hell, anybody is truly sincere anymore. Sincerity is boring, irony is fun. But not too fun. Not like Jonathan Richman.

And seeing him at Denver's little ol' Lion's Lair. Incredible.

28 February 2008

CD review: Bad Luck City - Adelaide (2008)

"I am stealth, I am secret, I've got a cover and I'm going to keep it."

So goes the line in Bad Luck City's song "Stealth." But it's hard to imagine this band's music really staying secret any more than one could imagine anybody staying seriously undercover "hunting ETs and chupacabras...by moonlight and candelabra."

Like many of the songs on the album, "Stealth" is serious and spooky, but balanced with a smart sense of humour, albeit something of a tragic sort of giggles. Light and dark take turns so deftly they almost seem the same thing. "Stealth" is about a self-proclaimed demon hunter, drink by drink and verse by verse, becoming more blurred as the story moves along until the demon and hunter blur into union. The layering of Hayley Helmerick's (Monofog) and Dameon Merkl's vocals brings a captivating and insidious execution to this song. But with no less than ten guaranteed FCC censor's heart attacks, this song won't be sailing the public airwaves.

From the slow and haunting melodies to the heart pumping, crescendo rising ones, every song on Adelaide is threaded with a delightful sort of creepiness. Weaving the line between recitative and ballad, the lyrics deliver stories of a longing stalker in "Suffer the Day," the forlorn "Widow Frances Colver," a regretful morning after "The Night Before" (a great cover of the Lee Hazlewood song) and the tragic tear-jerker end of a race horse "Distaff." All these, vignettes and snapshots of dark but lightly familiar characters and scenes. The music likewise, inseparably surrounds and carries the words. Even the artwork on the cover reflects Adelaide's setting of mysterious and dramatic places captured in a manner of playful yet elegant pencil-line accuracy.

With six people in the band not counting the additional vocalists and players of piano, trumpet and such on the recordings, you might think there'd be some unruly scrapping for attention and center spotlight. But no. Musical deference prevails. Pair that musical courtesy and talent with the remarkably clean mixing of sound and everything comes out sounding great.

Photo courtesy of Bad Luck City.
Album cover artwork designed by Jonathan Till.

Bad Luck City CD Release Show! This Friday!

Bad Luck City is rad
man, that sextet is cool
Radio 1190 loves Adelaide
and the Truth does too

Friday 29 February 2008
at the fabulous 3 Kings Tavern
with Monofog and Oblio Duo

27 February 2008

Preservation Dolls?

Actually, this is not a review of Tuesday night's New York Dolls show at the Gothic Theatre.

I was thinking about it though. I mean, New York Dolls! I love that band. A great band in their day, and those recordings still hold up as great today. Even if you take issue with that opinion, you can't deny them their status as a Highly Influential Punk Band. The glam and the hair, yes, the attitude and the music... all the genuine article.

I love so many bands from that era. Even though I wasn't of that era. Well, I was around but when these bands were writing their songs, I was just a baby learning to read. Still, when I got wind of this punk rock thing in the early 80s...it was life changing stuff. When I saw Iggy Pop and the Pretenders, it was great, but still the experience felt diminished by virtue of the fact that I was only seeing them in 1987. Again with the Ramones and Blondie and Tom Tom Club on their "Escape from New York" tour in 1990. One of the best line ups I've ever witnessed, great shows, great bands, but still steeped in slightly bitter "after the fact." I looking over my shoulder watching out for that creepy feeling of "nostalgia."

'Round about 1990 I took a trip to New Orleans and went to the Preservation Hall. I didn't know too much about it except that it was some old jazz dive where the serious old jazz bands used to play. Cool. Except that I was surrounded by a bunch of sandaled midwesterners in hawaiian shirts weilding flashing Minoltas. The musicians performing were old black jazz musicians and I felt bad for them making their living in this surreal way. The music was good, but in that context, it felt all wrong.

Nowadays I get to feeling uneasy when some of my favorite old bands start the tour bus up and well, I'd like to see them perform, but then I wonder if I really want to see them right now. It's tricky. Although twenty years ago was closer to the fact than now, I got into some of the the early punk rock bands because it was somewhat preserved, in audio recordings and such, so why do I feel so uneasy about these cats coming back around again for more kids to get into?

I don't have a definite answer. I have been and expect I will be struggling with this troublesome aging rocker issue for a while. I've no doubts I've got company too.

22 February 2008

Round 'em up for the Cowboy Curse show

I’ve heard from reliable sources that this’ll be Cowboy Curse's last show for many a month as they take time to tend to other creative endeavors… so you might should get up and go. I’ll be there.

That's at Bender's this very Friday evening.

It's all about me, really.

I admit being partial.

This is one of my privileges of remaining at an unpaid fanzine level of writing. I can exclusively write about only the stuff I like, or feel like writing about. Even if it seems I only write about my friends’ bands, (which incidentally isn’t completely accurate,) I think it’s an honest way to write. I don’t write about a band simply because I read about them in some music magazine from somewhere, saw on a list, or that someone else already told me was pretty good. Don’t get me wrong, this is how I find out about a lot of good stuff out there too. But if I’ve heard about it this way, unless it’s made some unique impact on me, I probably don’t have a lot to add to the conversation. I feel I’d just be tatting off a rewording of what I already heard. There are places for that, spreading the word and all, but I rarely do it.

Go to the source.

I far prefer to write about things where I have first-hand knowledge. It's my opinion that if you’ve seen something first hand, and on more than one occasion, you’ve got more depth of perception and more likely that you’ve got something of substance to say. If I know the environment and the other people in that scene, I’m going to have a greater perspective than some performer or band I’ve only seen once. And if some of the musicians I write about are my friends too, well it isn’t odd to become friends with people whose work you admire. Is it?

It is impossible.

“The heart of a melody can never be put down on paper.” I read this quote somewhere and I don’t know who to credit, but it sounds right to me. One can never get in words to the places where music can easily reach. Some people can write technically about music, and that can be useful, but it comes about as close to the heart of a melody as a list of ingredients describes what it’s like to eat your favorite meal. Though you might try to be objective, bringing music that matters to you in a review to other people really is never objective, but always personal.

It is love.

I think many times the better review turns out to be slightly more about the receiver of the music than the giver or the music itself. Even so, the attempt and the struggle to describe the heart of a melody in words, with some luck, compels fellow music lovers to find that melody and give it a listen for themselves. I’m grateful when I read something that makes me want to listen. And that is why I keep trying to describe the music I love.

15 February 2008

Planes Mistaken For Stars Final Show

Yet another chunk of marble is being carved

For the illustrious Denver Music Scene Graveyard.

What could be the epitaph for Planes Mistaken for Stars?

Perhaps, "We're glad for all that time spent in bars."

If they've been a part of your personal music history too

Stop by and tell the boys, "Hey" and "Thank you"

04 February 2008

looking forward to this

I'm admittedly a little partial, but this should be a very good show. I am totally looking forward to it. Also, I've seen the new Overcasters t-shirts and stickers and they are awesome. As of this writing there is no other way to hear this band than to get yourself out to the show and hear them. I know it's cold outside but if you love it when the music is so huge you forget everything else, you should get out for this one. And as you see, the vast and enchanting sounds of Blue Million Miles and Sonnenblume will also be there for your musical pleasure. Click on the links for a listen. Friends, I hope to see you there. Rock!

09 January 2008

CD review: Bela Karoli, Furnished Rooms

Double-posted at The Donnybrook Writing Academy

Bela Karoli is complicated simplicity, a paradox. But this is a band that makes songs out of Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot poems for goodness sake. So complicated simplicity makes a kind of perfect sense.

Furnished Rooms, Bela Karoli’s debut release, will make you pay attention and listen to familiar sounds like they were new.

In the first track, “Snow,” the rich and warm signature upright bass sound of Julie Davis is followed by the artful bow strokes of Carrie Beeder’s violin and then by the recognizable airy tones of Brigid McAuliffe’s accordion. The music is as inventive and playful as you might suspect with that admittedly unusual orchestration.

The sense of warmth and palpable life that reside in these twelve songs will make you feel the air passing through vocal cords, in and out of accordion bellows, bringing oxygen to blood pumping through arms that move bows, fingers that pluck strings. I could wax on in this vein but then paradox arises again. There in the background is a machined rhythm of programmed drum tracks. Like in the song “Invertebrate” where the lyrics, “we are soft cells; we have metal shells” suggest a duality, the songs themselves also feel as if existing as a cellular life of their own though encased in that hard and cold shell. It’s a compelling contrast, though I have to admit I miss the presence of a human drummer.

Bela Karoli is like nothing you’ve heard before. Not exactly. Like their version of “Summertime” you’ll recognize it as familiar, sort of, but it’s not an instantaneous recognition. Like no other, this is a furnished room you’ll find yourself glad to be sitting in.