Friday, July 24, 2009

Dirty Projectors, Atlas Sound, and Miscellany

July 17: Dirty Projectors, Atlas Sound

Andi and I headed from her pleasant apartment in East Atlanta to Flat Shoals for Thai before the show on a beautiful and surprisingly cool (for Atlanta) summer evening, so we walked around as long as possible, or so we thought. After they let us in, there was a long delay, which turned out to be because The Dirty Projectors were still en route from Baton Rouge. Finally, Altas Sound opened the show with a five song set that surprised mainly because angel-voiced Bradford Cox (Deerhunter) added a band (three Selmanaires) two days before and they managed to crunch out a fine country-laced set, departing from Bradford's more electronic Atlas Sound peregrinations. Listen to their set here. We both liked the effort, which I likened to country Radiohead and she compared to early Travis, if that tells you anything. These are definitely worth downloading, even if the band isn't as polished as it will be by the time they tour in support of the forthcoming Logos EP. Bradford played with the confidence and panache of a salsa champion and the band couldn't help but follow his lead, even if there was a misstep here and there.

Dirty Projectors, I'm gonna say it, sound better live than on the record, a fascinating listen regardless, but the studio makes it, well, more studied. Or as another attendee put it, "they were sick. and he sounded more real than i imagined. and they were fabulous." I agree. Live, the timing and precision of vocalists Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and recent addition Haley Dekle arrested and amazed. The effect was most eerie on an extended version of "Remade Horizon," when they traded notes so quickly and flawlessly, they sounded as one perfect instrument. I was reminded of a lecture by Brian Eno I attended at Berkeley years ago, when he talked at one point about working with David Bowie for Low, describing how he assembled a "guitar solo" from notes played individually (yes, simple now because of his work). Eno admitted he was amazed when Adrian Bellew learned to play the impossible solo for the Stage tour, which I caught in Oakland. Theirs was a more impressive accomplishment, their living voices magnified and compelled one to thoughts of spirituality.* Andi and I just looked at each other, awestruck. Yes, they arrived late, road weary, and Haley was sick, so it might have been excusable for Dave and Co. to phone it in, but the music took over and they played with energy and enthusiasm, working mainly through Bitte Orca featuring Dave Longstreth's high capoed Afro-Carribean guitar licks and unusual time signatures pinned down effectively by Brian and Nat, but they also included selections from earlier works, like "Rise Above" and a strong David Byrneless version of "Knotty Pine." "Musical Director" and Yale-alum (Did you know him, Liz?) Dave Longstreth's vocals were unusually measured, but clear and emotive, and his stage presence was relaxed. He was clearly enjoying himself, joking at one point about the stresses of the road on bands (Amber rolled her eyes), and they stopped to announce that it was Angel's "18th" birthday, and we all sang to her, so I suppose all of us there can claim to have sung (sloppily, to be sure) with the Dirty Projectors.

*Of course, this was The Earl, and recognizing the aforementioned spirituality for some (like me) meant setting down the beer and saying, "Oh, shit,"or, in the manner of the tilting girl in front of us, throwing up in her cup and passing out while her boyfriend propped her up because he lacked the decency to take her home ("Hey, I paid for this"). Unfortunately, Andi stepped in it, so we didn't get to hang out much after the show, one worth being relatively sober for given the complexity of the music and the consummate effort of the musicians this cool summer night.

July 22, 24: Locally

Back home, I stood on a log over the pond behind my house between a hunting rat snake in front of me and a young hawk, landing awkwardly just behind me. The snake looked at me and crawled on slowly, while the hawk finally heeded the parental squawk and flew back up. I hopped off the log, walked inside, thinking of this, reflecting on Amy's brief visit. She left before the show at the Bleu Pub that night, which was a good one.

Atlanta's The Wild, on tour with Pedals on our Pirate Ships, opened with an enthusiastic set of songs from their new self-titled EP. They play joyous clear-eyed folk punk and covered a Mountain Goats song. Locals No More Analog played next, and they continue getting tighter and have developed a singular voice. I think they're ready to record and tour seriously. Pedals played a bicycle friendly and active set, and Trailer of Tears finished up late, getting ready for their Friday show in Gainesville with the Virgins (of Richmond, not New York) and the Takers.

At Common Ground, Trailers played a nasty set of their unique neo-glam doo-wop and the Takers followed later with a straight-up country rock set that would sit well on the shelf next to Lucero and Drive-by Truckers any day. I drove the church van back all night, as I won (lost?) the sobriety contest, and the boys (Jeffrey, Bobby, Jason, and Taylor) and me and Wayne and Coody and Jessie played name-a-band-that-begins-with-the-last-letter-of-the-previous-band-name (usually S or R) until the morning. It was a fun trip.

Locally, as fall approaches, there appears to be a venue crisis, as all the house-show holders moved to apartments and Vito's moved from the haunted house to a more upscale location not suited to live music. The Bleu Pub and Jack's shed (and occasionally Sur Este) is all that's left, and that means the local scene is in serious need of a new playground.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Jenny Lewis and Heartless Bastards, June 30, Jacksonville

I packed my cross-eyed Hyundai full of people who like good music (Rebecca, Laura, Kat, and Stuart) and we headed to enjoy the sun and sand at Jacksonville Beach and some decent Mexican food before the show at Freebird's (owned by a former member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, so shout it all you want). It's an interesting venue, two floors with an atrium, a full bar on either floor, so we headed upstairs to get a good view of the stage.

The Heartless Bastards opened the show, but they're so good, I prefer to think of them as co-headliners (Metacritic shows both bands' new albums at solid 75s), despite an abbreviated eight-song set (in no particular order) including "The Mountain," "Out at Sea," "You Could Be So Happy," "Hold Your Head High," "Early in the Morning," "Swamp Song," and "Sway." I compared Erika Wennerstrom's voice elsewhere to Grace Slick's, and I've read others compare her to Janis Joplin, PJ Harvey, even Robert Plant. Let's say she possesses the emotional urgency of the latter group and the vocal fog-piercing clarity of Grace. Erika's a blue-collar angel belling over the crunchy, deeply felt blues-rock she and her band lay down. It's a different band than the three-piece that toured with Lucinda Williams a couple of years ago. Erika moved to Austin after breaking up with Mike, the former bass player, and made The Mountain with studio musicians and, for the first time, a producer (Mike McCarthy), but because her vox and writing have always been the focus of the Heartless Bastards' sound, The Mountain sounds like an HB record. For the tour she added old friends Jesse Ebaugh and Dave Colvin, who played on the original HB demo, and capable Knife in the Water guitarist Mark Nathan. The addition of Nathan frees Erika from having to carry so much of the sonic burden, and she seemed more relaxed at this show than she did in Tallahassee with Lucinda, less working the music and more loving it. I mentioned this to Erika after the show and she agreed that she felt more relaxed and that she enjoyed the added elements that a four-piece allows, including at one point a nice extended dual guitar jam. On the other hand, part of the relaxed mood may be because, as Jesse explains, "Touring with Jenny Lewis has been fun. They're so funny and we've been laughing the whole tour."

I suppose that's not surprising given that Jenny Lewis spent her youth performing with the likes of Lucille Ball and the Golden Girls. She's spent the last ten proving that video hasn't quite killed the radio star, as her music achieves ever more mainstream cred, along with Elvis Costello's seal of approval (and vox "Carpetbaggers"). After Rilo Kiley's Under the Blacklight, it's not surprising that she strutted onstage confidently, vamping like a trailer-park cougar. No more innocent promish dresses and Toys R Us keyboards for Jenny (Execution of All Things tour). She's bringing back hotpants sass with energy and a wide smile. The crowd, populated by many young women, sang along and raised fists on cue, cheered and reveled over the course of her respectable set (list below) that began with the ambitious "The Next Messiah" and then moved back and forth equally between Rabbit Fur Coat and Acid Tongue, plus two new songs: "Just Like Zeus" and "Big Wave" and one Rilo Kiley song ("Silver Lining"). Her supporting band, including "boo" Jonathan Rice on lead guitar and duets, seemed very happy to be on stage with her. Barbara Gruska pinned down rhythm with deft drumbeats along with Jonathan Wilson on bass, while Farmer Dave Scher stepped out from rhythm guitar to bend fine and lonesome lap steel notes. Our little group, ladies and gentlemen all, fell in love with Danielle Haim (listen!), whose innocent look foiled Jenny's vamping beautifully, and she seemed to be having more fun than anyone else, shifting from guitar to cowbell to drums and backing up on vocals with spirited enthusiasm and a hell of a voice. The show ended with Danielle and Barbara hammering out a primitive drum duet to close "Born Secular" as everyone else left the stage.

We took our happy ears out to the beach's more primitive soundscape and frolicked a bit before the two-hour drive home featuring a lively literary discussion about some British classics ("Heathcliff's a dick!" "No he's not!").

All photos by Rebecca Lynn. Pictured Kat and Laura (front) and Stuart, me, and Rebecca.