Albums of 2014, Six Months In

June 23, 2014

I think I’ve listened to more new albums in 2014 than the past few years combined and there’s been a lot of good stuff out so far. Here’s some albums I’ve enjoyed:

1. St. Vincent, s/t. One of the best live shows I’ve been to this year and one of my favorite albums. Favorite song is Huey Newton, but there’s not any stinkers in the whole album and the whole thing rocks.

2. Sun Kil Moon, Benji. Mark Kozelek bares it all (if he has more to bare, I’m not sure I can handle it) on this confessional string of songs. More than that, each song is a vivid story and his lyrics create a great rhythm that complements the mostly spare arrangements.

3. Mac DeMarco, Salad Days. Mac’s songs on this album somehow come off relaxed and rocking at the same time. It’s a great record for sitting out on your porch on a summer night.

4. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal. Overall a slower affair than the last album which I actually enjoy more, especially when they draw out the songs and let the riffs ride.

5. Todd Terje, It’s Album Time. The Norwegian DJ’s first proper LP is a fun, spacey affair that still maintains a cohesion throughout that reminded me of the Chemical Brothers first album, which is a big compliment from me.

Honorable mentions to First Aid Kit, Sharon Jones, Sylvan Esso, Damien Jurado, Hundred Waters, Liars, Angel Olson and Neneh Cherry. Like I said, a lot of good music this year.

Liars and Cherry Glazerr @ The Fonda, May 27, 2014

June 2, 2014

Back to the Fonda two weeks after seeing Charles Bradley to see something entirely different musically, the Liars. While Bradley does Motown era soul and funk very well, the Liars have constantly moved across musical genres, most recently landing on electronic based rock. I was hoping that Liars would be as good a live act as Bradley and based on video and internet commentry it seemed likely.

Before Liars, local band Cherry Glazerr took the stage. I knew they were local (given the name in honor of a local PBS radio correspondent) but I didn’t know they were so young.  Two of the band members are under 18 and bassist Sean Redman is an ancient 22.  Lead singer Clementine Creevy exuded that detached cool that only a 17 year old can have and she has a strong vocal presence that hopefully will continue to grow as she gets older.  Redman and drummer Hannah Uribe got some good grooves going.  I thought they might just be straight forward punk, but they had some more complex rhythms and tempos.  I would definitely go see them again and I hope this is just the beginning for them.

The Liars new album Mess has a ball of unraveling multi-colored yarn on its cover.  Lead singer Angus Andrew came out in all white with a mask with the same multi-colored yarn that made him look like a scarier version of Animal.  They launched into songs from the new album and lead single from the album, Mess on A Mission, really got the crowd moving as Angus dismissed his mask and whipped around his long blond hair with the banging drums of Julian Gross and the synths and electronic blips and burps of Aaron Hemphill.  Occasionally they picked up a guitar, but true to the new album’s direction, the electronics and beats ruled.  Still, the roots of the band seem to come through as the songs rolled on like some of their earlier works and their music has always been fueled by an engine of percussion.

Angus Andrew was made to be a front man in the same way Bradley is.  They have command over the crowd and feel completely comfortable singing and dancing.  Andrew took it completely in stride when someone threw a jean jacket that hit him in the face when they came out for their encore.  He simply took the jacket that was probably a few sizes too small, put it on and ripped through the encore wearing it.

They breezed through about an hour of material, including that encore that dusted off a classic from their noise rock past, Broken Witch that didn’t seem at all out of place with their new songs.  Another band from my must-see list crossed off.

Here’s  a video from the concert:

Charles Bradley, May 17, 2014 @ The Fonda Theater

May 19, 2014

IMG_0385After seeing Charles Bradley at SXSW in 2013, I vowed that I would try my best to catch him any time he came to LA. He’s that entertaining. So I had snatched up two tickets when they first went on sale and put it on my calendar.

Flash forward to last weekend. We had invited friends over to enjoy a nice LA evening on our new patio furniture. Even though we had talked about the concert that week, it had somehow completely slipped our mind on Saturday. As we were chatting, the subject of concerts came up and one of our friends asked “so have you gone to any concerts lately.” Apparently that was what my brain needed and the connection was made. Oh crap, we actually have a concert tonight. Luckily it was only 7:30. We retreated from the porch, showered, printed tickets and were on the way to Hollywood by 8:15.

When we walked in it was after 9, and we thought the opener would be in full swing. However, they had not even started.  Turns out the scheduled opener wasn’t going to be there because instead a substitute band played.  Death Valley Girls might be a good band, but they surely didn’t pair well with the soul music everyone came for.  Throw in a drunk lead singer and this was not good.  I think most everyone in the audience would have preferred to just hear more vinyl spun by the two DJs that were playing before and after the opener.  Luckily, they didn’t play for too long.

IMG_0395Similar to his labelmate Sharon Jones, Bradley’s band comes out and hypes up the crowd a bit before Charles comes out.  The Mehanan Street Band is a great band in their own right and pair them with the theatric performer in Bradley and it’s quite the combo.  Bradley toiled as a James Brown impersonator for years in New York before being found.  It’s obvious he’s studied the master, and while he cops a few of Brown’s moves, he’s got his own personal touches.  As well as some sweet outfits, first a red suit with a jacket that had a gold “C” and “B” on each of the lapels.  Later he came out in a black suit with a matching cape.

But it’s not all flash.  He’s got a great voice that can hit all across the spectrum, from raucous to tender.  Above all, he seems so earnest in his delivery and humble in thanking both his band and the crowd for showing up and listening to him.  He made that crowd happy by mixing in songs from both his studio albums.  Standouts like “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)” and “Golden Rule” sound even better live.  He closed with “Why Is It So Hard?” a soulful ballad that, like he did at SXSW, ended with him going out in the crowd to get hugs and love from his fans.  Even after the house lights went up, he was still out in the crowd.  I thought it before when I saw him a year ago, and this performance affirmed it for me, Charles Bradley will be the closest thing I’ll come to seeing in my lifetime to what audiences experienced in seeing James Brown.

Here’s a video someone took from the upper balcony at the Fonda:

Loop & White Fence, May 7, 2014 @ The Church on York

May 13, 2014

Last Wednesday I went to a show in my neighborhood at the newish venue, The Church on York.  A few words on the venue before I get to the bands.  First, no need to bring a ticket or your smartphone, they have a list at the door with your name and how many tickets you bought.  They check you off, stamp your hand and you’re in.  As the name denotes, the venue is an old church.  The stage is a raised dais where the altar probably was and any pews the church had  have been removed for a standing only area around the stage.  There are some benches in two recessed areas along the sides of the main stage.  No alcohol at this point (they are trying to get a liquor license), but you can buy water, sodas and snacks for $2 at the back of the room.  There was also a small merch area back there too.

By the time opener White Fence took the stage, the room was full.  I was hoping that Ty Segall would join Tim Presley and crew on stage, but not tonight.  He produced their newest album, and I thought I caught a glimpse of him in the crowd so maybe he was just enjoying the night as a fan and friend.  I had only heard a little bit of White Fence’s collaboration with Segall, so I was expecting something a little more raw and jammy.  The 60s psychedelic influences are obvious, but instead of meandering, the songs were mostly tight, short tunes that reminded me of some early Stones work.  There was one long instrumental jam that was the favorite song of the set for me, but even the shorter ones had some great grooves, I just wished they had worked them out longer!

After a short intermission, England’s Loop got up and banged out a rolling set.  Formed in 1986 and dormant since 1990, they have recently reformed and are touring.  I have vague recollection of hearing them as a teenager as I was getting into alternative rock, but I hadn’t gotten to listen to them before the show.  My expectation was similar to what I had thought White Fence’s set would be, long instrumental jams with plenty of drone-y guitar work.  Like with White Fence, I was a little off.  There was a lot more rhythm than I expected with strong work by drummer John Wills and bassist Neil Mackay.  Lead singer and the one constant throughout the band’s history, lead singer and guitarist Robert Hampson was enjoying himself and had some good banter with the crowd, including stating his preference for the pronunciation of Los Angeles (“Angeleez”).  When he wasn’t talking with the crowd he sang and led the band through songs that reminded me more of Kraut-rock than psych-rock.  They did stretch out some of the numbers with some repeating grooves and riffs.  The band came back for a short encore and then the appreciative crowd poured out onto York Boulevard.  A fun night with two good live bands and a new venue that I’d definitely go back to.

Here’s a video someone took from Loop’s encore (I didn’t take any pictures at this show):

 

 

Hurray For The Riff Raff, Clear Plastic Masks and Lonesome Leash, April 25, 2014 @ The Echo

April 29, 2014
Hurray For The Riff Raff

Hurray For The Riff Raff

New Orleans’ Hurray For The Riff Raff was another band I missed out on at this year’s SXSW but was coming through LA  that we were able to get tickets for last Friday.  After some great deep dish at Masa, we walked over to the Echo.  First opener was fellow New Orleans artist Walt McClements aka Lonesome Leash.  He later joined HFTRR for a song and they explained he had recorded with them when they were both in New Orleans.

I had listened to the few songs he has online; they seemed a little somber.  Live, it came off much more upbeat and I’m always amazed by the talent folks have that are multi-instrumentalists.  In addition to singing, he played the accordion, a bass drum, hi hat, and at time also pulled out a trumpet.  I don’t have the type of brain that would allow me to be doing so many things at once, so I’ll always give props to those that can.  His vocals reminded me of a less raspy Tom Waits, which isn’t my favorite, but it was a good compliment to the accordian and the overall vibe of his set.  He is now living in LA, and I hope he gets to make some more music out here.

Clear Plastic Masks

Clear Plastic Masks

Next up was the Nashville by way of NYC band Clear Plastic Masks.  We had seen the guys from the band hanging outside on the patio earlier in the night and they seemed to be loose and ready to go.  They played straight ahead rock n roll and there was nothing wrong with that because they do it well.  Singer and guitarist Andrew Katz seems to embrace his inner Mick Jagger with both his vocals and his stage presence.  He had friendly banter with the audience, though towards the end of his set he mentioned some sort of trouble in San Francisco and selling their stuff after the show.  A joke or serious, I couldn’t tell.  Back to the music, the rhythm section was solid and I thought shined even more on the slower numbers.  Katz’s lyrics are clever and they were a good warmup for the headliner.

Alynda Lee Segarra’s big hair is matched by an equally big voice.  She is the heart and soul of the band, and her voice is just as full and velvetly live as it is on their latest record Small Town Heroes.  Joined by a fiddle and stand up bass as well as guitar and drums, the band doesn’t hide its Southerness.  Segarra pulled out a banjo for one tune and answered the cheers by saying “you have to go back to where you started”, a nod to her beginnings as a banjo player.  Songs I recognized were Blue Ridge Mountain (Segarra introduced it as a song about the Carolinas) and The Body Electric.  She also played a Lucinda Williams cover, a choice that makes a lot of sense for her.  It was a really fun, rollicking show of Southern folk and rock. The crowd was really enjoying themselves and was happy to clap along to several of the band’s numbers.  They came back for a short encore and had members of Clear Plastic Masks join them.

For a few hours, each of the bands made us drop the California from Southern California.  We stepped back into California when the show ended, but if you do want to escape to the South for a few hours any of these three bands will do the trick.

No videos I found from the show, so here’s a nice live version of St. Roch Blues:

Mikal Cronin and Tijuana Panthers, April 4, 2014 @ LA Natural History Museum

April 7, 2014

I hadn’t been to a concert at The Natural History Museum’s First Friday since they started charging for admission. The museum shows the shows on screens outside the room where the actual show is and the sound is decent.  But when I saw Mikal Cronin was playing in April, I thought “I want to be in the room for that.”

First Friday’s at the NHM is always a fun time.  Get there early for the guest speaker and stay for the drinks, DJs, and live music.  There’s usually two bands and tonight the opener was Long Beach’s Tijuana Panthers.  I didn’t have a chance to check them out before the show so I didn’t know what to expect.  It was apparent they had a following because the room was filled up by the time they started playing.  The room in question is a long hall with dioramas of North American mammals.  A large display of bison is directly behind the stage and bears, bighorn sheep and wolves surround everyone listening to the band.  It’s a neat place to see a show.

Tijuana Panthers

Tijuana Panthers

Tijuana Panthers is a three piece, drums, guitar, bass and all three get in on the singing duties.  They definitely have a California sound.  I’d describe them as surf rock playing at punk tempos (mostly).  They packed in a bunch of songs, first mostly from their new album, Semi Sweet.  A funny moment was when a fan yelled for the band to play “Tony’s Song” and then guitarist Chad Watchel smirked and told him “We just played that one.  Sorry Tony.”  Other songs I recognized by name were Boardwalk, One Way Ticket, and Pushover.  They also played some of their older stuff to the delight of their fans, including a really good song called Red Headed Girl.  In addition to being good musicians, they are fun to watch.  We both concentrated on drummer Phil Shaheen, whose tall, wiry frame bopped and flailed around like he was sitting on springs.  His hair bounced along like it was its own being.  I would definitely recommend seeing them or listening to their record.

After that fun set, it was time for some more California rock with Mikal Cronin.  The 28 year old’s MCII record was one of my favorite last year.  It was a record that could be both sweet and sunny and then turn on a dime into a scraping guitar solos.  Not sure if others hear it, but it reminds me of a more grungy early 90s Matthew Sweet.  I was interested to see what side of Cronin would dominate during his show.

Mikal Cronin

Mikal Cronin

We got an inkling of what we were in store for when Cronin and his band came out looking like roadies for Motorhead, jeans, black tshirts, and no one had hair that was shorter than shoulder length.  Mikal seemed genuinely giddy to be playing in the museum, remarking about several of the animals that were surrounding the stage.  And with that, they started playing and then it got loud.

He played a good number of songs from MCII and while the songs did have those sweet moments when Mikal sang his verses, the choruses and guitar solos would have sent even the grizzly bear (if he wasn’t stuffed) sprinting for the hills.  “Shout It Out” and “See It My Way”, two of my favorite songs of his were in the set list.   Mikal showed off his chops as did his other guitarist, as they traded solos and got some headbanging in with that long hair.

You can tell from his interactions with the crowd and his bandmates that Mikal really enjoys just getting up on a stage and playing and is thankful for the opportunity.  I’ll definitely try to see him again, I just will make sure to have my earplugs along, my old ears can’t take that glorious racket as well as they used to!

Here’s a video of Cronin playing “See It My Way” at last year’s Pitchfork festival:

 

 

SXSW 2014 Wednesday Day Session: Pusha T

April 2, 2014

P1100273

Pusha T was playing at the Mohawk’s outdoor stage when we were exiting from the indoor set of Deap Vally, so we decided to stick around and see the last few songs of his set closing down the day show at Mohawk.  I haven’t heard much of his stuff as a solo artist, but I’d always liked the songs by Clipse I’ve heard.  The crowd seemed to really be hyped up and we couldn’t get much closer than the back bar.

It was a fun ending to the day and kept our energy going from the last set.  He’s got a nice flow and has a great stage presence.  When he was signaled that it was time to end his set, he politely declined and played another song.  The crowd was not upset over that decision.  Hands were thrown in the air, Pusha gave a shout out to some of the Odd Future rappers that were in the crowd, and he left the stage triumphantly on his own terms.

Crowds were already queuing up outside for the night show.   Our plans for the night were down the street at Stubb’s so we walked down the closed off street that hours later would be the site of a horrible accident.  But for now, we were in a great mood after a fantastic first afternoon at SXSW 2014.

Here’s some footage from Pusha’s set, mostly his performance of Clipse hit “Grindin” that also explains why the Odd Future love got shown.

SXSW 2014 Wednesday Day Session: Deap Vally

March 27, 2014

P1100257We took the good vibes from Thumpers set and went out into the afternoon sun to walk over to the Mohawk. The goal was to see Angel Olson and then stick around for Deap Vally, who I hadn’t listened to but had gotten some good words from Operation Every Band.  We spent a lot of time at the Mohawk last year and had always been able to walk right in and enjoy either the relatively spacious outdoor stage or squeeze into the small indoor stage.

This year we were met with a rather long line.  Dang.  Our only hope was that there had been enough delays during the day that we’d make it through the line before Angel went on.  In my haste to get into the line I got too close to a palm tree, which cleanly sliced the sleeve of my shirt and my shoulder.  First blood of SXSW drawn!

As the minutes ticked by and we did not move, we resigned ourselves to not seeing Angel Olson.  But we decided to stay to see if we could get in for Deap Vally.  Finally people started leaving (probably from Angel’s set) and we were in.  We grabbed a beer and slid into the back of the indoor stage.  The two women of Deap Vally were doing their soundcheck.  Lindsey Troy sings and play guitar, Julie Edwards drums and also has some vocal duties.  The soundcheck was relatively tame and didn’t prepare me for the rocking I was about to receive.

Donned in a sequined halter top and matching short shorts, Troy played fast and loud and her singing reminded me of Janis Joplin,P1100267 if she had made it in life to punk rock.  And Edwards, also bedazzled, bashed the drums and kept pushing the songs faster.  They had portions of the crowd headbanging along with them as they moved from song to song with minimal crowd talk and maximum riffing.  My reaction was this was a mix of Rubber Factory-era Black Keys and Black Sabbath because of the heaviness of their sound.  Which means I liked it a lot.

Having found that they are from the San Fernando Valley and met in Silver Lake, I was stoked to know we could be seeing them again in the future in LA.  I had already forgotten about missing Angel Olson.  We were almost done with our Wednesday day sessions, but we had one very short walk to see our last band before dinner.

 

 

SXSW 2014 Wednesday Day Session: Thumpers

March 21, 2014
Lead singer Marcus Pepperell from Thumpers.

Lead singer Marcus Pepperell from Thumpers.

Out in the streets of Austin now, we headed under the 35 highway and to the North Door to see Thumpers as part of Sub Pop’s showcase. North Door was a new venue for us. A big open first floor has a smallish stage at one end, stairs at either end of the room lead to a second floor balcony that would be a great escape if the main floor was crowded.

We didn’t head up there because the main floor was definitely not crowded. I was surprised. Guess either Sub Pop has lost its cache with the kids and/or the buzz I’d heard about Thumpers wasn’t that widespread.

I was also interested in why a label I associated with American grunge music was hosting a showcase featuring a UK indie pop outfit. Doing some research later, I found they are no longer entirely independent and have ties to one of the big boys, Warner and are the label of the more genteel indie rock bands like The Shins. Which makes the pairing more logical.

Thumpers is the duo of childhood friends Marcus Pepperell (vocals and guitar) and John Hamson (drums), though for this show they had two additional musicians playing bass, keyboards, additional percussion, and backing vocals.  As soon as they started playing, my wife leaned over and said, “it’s this year’s Bastille“.  I totally concurred.  We saw Bastille last year at SXSW, well before they broke through in the U.S. with the song Pompeii, which now is on the once an hour rotation with Katy Perry, Imagine Dragons and other U.S. pop staples here on L.A. pop stations.

What’s the similarities?  A photogenic, charismatic  lead singer with a good voice, a ton of energy with their live show, and infectious groovy songs.  Despite playing to a small room, they exuded positive vibes and seemed genuinely happy to be playing to the small group gathered at the North Room.  John Hamson’s drumming anchors the band’s sounds and he got to show off his chops throughout the set.  Pepperell isn’t a shredding guitar player, but that’s ok as they aren’t trying to be the Black Keys.  Even though we had only heard one of their songs, Unkinder (which was just as good live as the recorded version), everything else they played was fun and everyone that was there was getting more into as the set went on.

Speaking about getting into it, halfway through the set, a guy in glasses, burnt orange corduroys, and shoulder length straight hair (think a slightly nerdier version of this guy circa Dazed and Confused) came in and immediately got his dance on.  I wondered if he knew the band because he was dancing like he was very familiar with their songs and was rocking out almost a little too much.  Did Thumpers have a hype man they were planting in the crowd?  Before we could get any answers they finished up their set.  I expect to hear more from these guys.  But right now, we were trying to speed over to the Mohawk for another up-and-coming act.

Here’s a live version from another showcase Thumpers did playing Sound of Screams, another song we heard at the North Room:

Sound of Screams

SXSW 2014 Wednesday Day Session: Tennis

March 18, 2014

P1100240We arrived in Austin around noon, dropped off our stuff at our hotel, and hoofed it over to the Convention Center to pick up our badges. Since we were already at the Convention Center we decided to see some things while we were there to start the day.

My wife opted for the St. Vincent interview with Ann Powers, while I wandered over to the Radio Day Stage to see Denver’s Tennis.  In what would develop into a theme for the week, they were running late and the soundcheck took what seemed to be  a long time.

The Radio Day Stage has its pros and cons. On the good side, there’s no lines (only badge and wristbands can get in), there’s seats (which can be a godsend after standing for hours), easy access to drinks, a decent sound set up, and no need to worry about weather. On the negative side, it’s sterile, cavernous, and can be prone to small, lethargic audiences. Which means it can consume bands that don’t have a ton of energy and cause bands to play scared or apathetic.

I wondered if Tennis would get overwhelmed as a similar indie pop band we saw last year, Cayucas.  Fortunately, they did not and played a pleasant set of five songs.  Started as a husband and wife duo, they’ve added a drummer, and for this set a bass player. Singer Alaina Moore has a pretty, though not overly rangy, voice that goes well with the summery music the band plays.  I’m not that familiar with the band, so I only recognized Mean Streets and Petition.  Mean Streets is really catchy and packs a little more attitude than some of their other songs.  It was just as good live.  I would definitely go see them again, I’d imagine they’d be even better in a smaller venue.  A good start to the day, I met up with my wife to hear about the interesting interview with St. Vincent (I was only slightly bummed to have missed it) and we headed out of the confines of the Convention Center and into the city.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 274 other followers