(Also, isn't it cute when the NY Post pretends to be populist?)
I heard something last night that I don't think I've ever heard at a rock concert before. I was standing up front, just behind the photo pit, directly in Neko Case's line of fire, and after a few tunes, I started to notice something -- whenever she backed off the mic a bit so she could belt one out, I could clearly hear the direct sound of her unamplified voice, right in front of me, ringing out above all the amplified sounds coming from the fill speakers and stacks on either side. Girl's got pipes.
I'm aware this is not exactly an original observation -- who doesn't love Neko's massive, seductive voice, with those tasty post-Patsy Cline inflections? For that matter, who doesn't go a little weak in the knees reading her righteous anti-autotune rant? But, you know, now that I've finally heard her live, I realize she is an even better musician than I'd given her credit for. When I saw the Pornographers at Summerstage last year, Neko was not with them. Kathryn Calder sang Neko's parts, as she does whenever they appear without Ms. Case. Kathryn is a very, very good singer, and I am a big fan of her own band, Immaculate Machine (who will take the opening slot tonight for the second of the two Webster Hall hits -- I'm going to try to catch them at Union Hall on Nov. 11). But Neko is to the New Pornographers' array of harmonizing vocalists what a good concertmaster is to an orchestral string section, or a good lead trumpet player is to a big band -- she is the point, the focus of the sound; she sets the time and the phrasing and the rest of it by being so strong up top that everyone else can't help but fall into place. And she does this even when things get totally fucked up.
Neko didn't look like she was having much fun last night. It appeared that the transmitter for her wireless in-ear monitor wasn't working, because they swapped it out a few tunes into the set. And her mic was clearly set way too hot for such a big voice (like, hello?) -- squeals of feedback marred much of the early set, especially "Challengers." But where at Summerstage the sound issues caused the band to seriously flub their harmony vocals, at Webster, no matter how bad the sound problems got, the group vocals were unfailingly tight and in-tune. Kudos are due to everyone in the band for this, of course, but I think Neko deserves an extra gold star. She was a real pro, working very hard all night to keep everything together. Her most valuable contribution wasn't her solo leads -- although she slayed on "Mass Romantic" -- but the way she led by example on the thick background vocals and harmonized choruses, making them seem effortless and fun and not nearly as tough to sing as they actually are.
The other highlight was the appearance of part-time Pornographer Dan Bejar, who usually contributes three or four tunes to each record but almost never tours with them. The indie rock blogosphere clearly favors Bejar -- who plays the charismatic, idiosyncratic louche -- over Carl Newman, the dependable, somewhat dorky pop craftsman. As an unreconstructed dork, I know where my allegiances lie, but I also really like the contrast between the impeccable Newman songs and the looser, weirder Bejar songs. And while I don't really get what it is that Dan is after with his own band, his Pornographers tunes are mostly catchy enough that I find their quirks endearing instead of alienating. "Myriad Harbour" is his best yet -- in fact, it might even be the best song on Challengers. Bejar's onstage presence was really entertaining too -- kind of like Dean Martin meets Lou Reed or something. (Sorry, Carl. You know I still love you best. Even if the the NY Times indie rock pie chart dude has nothing but snark. If it's any consolation, I think "Failsafe" is a really good song too.)
All told it was a great gig, despite the (seemingly inevitable, with this band) technical glitches. As fantastic as the records are, some things you really need to experience live, and the chorus to "Bleeding Heart Show" is one of those things.
It occurs to me that the Pornographers are basically a prog pop band -- a bit like Queen without the camp. (I mean this as high praise, I assure you.) It helps enormously that they are, you know, actually poppy -- their hooks are so instantly appealing that they fool you into thinking that the songs are a lot more straightforward then they actually are.
I have to say, I am of the (possibly rude) opinion that there is very limited use for mixed meter in pop music – you always sense that the song, if it’s in 7/8 or a funnily divided 9/8 time stops being about the song and starts being about how clever one is to have achieved music in such a meter.
Though he is willing to grant absolution to Sufjan Stevens, "who seems to get away with it effortlessly (usually)."
While I am sure we can all name a lot of pop songs that are in odd meters for no good reason, and are vastly improved by just putting the damn thing in 4/4 (and, okay, having someone actually credible sing them), when it comes to elegant and subtle use of odd meter in pop songs, I think the New Pornographers cut Sufjan pretty badly. No disrespect to Sufjan, who is obviously brilliant -- and besides, I clearly have a much higher tolerance for odd-meter pop than Nico does. But since he brought it up... which song is more blatantly odd meter-y: "Come On! Feel the Illinoise!" or "Mutiny, I Promise You"?
Photos below the fold....
What's the most important thing in comedy and essays about the unbearable whiteness of indie ro...?
On any given night in an American rock club you can hear bands like Gogol Bordello, Man Man, Beirut and Balkan Beat Box playing odd-metered songs drawing on the rhythms of Eastern European Gypsy music. You might encounter Antibalas or Vampire Weekend riffing on African sounds, Dengue Fever making psychedelic Cambodian pop or a D.J. like Diplo spinning Brazilian funk. On the recent “Kala,” a contender for the year’s most exciting pop album, the British-Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A., who works from Brooklyn, draws on Indian, African and West Indian sounds. The folk-rocker Devendra Banhart creates fusions with Mexican and Brazilian musicians on his recent CD, “Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.” And the veteran musical adventurer Bjork toured this year with a West African percussion troupe and Chinese pipa virtuoso.
And again with the curious omissions -- where the hell is Calexico? Ironically, that band decided to take a break from their signature Southwestern noir soundworld just as "world music" becomes the Next Big Thing in indie rock. Talk about timing.
It is somehow appropriate that Maher Arar was not able to personally attend a congressional hearing into his extraordinary rendition to Syria because "he is still on a U.S. government watch list."
Also, I know this will come as a big surprise, but Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is a hack:
"Yes, we should be ashamed" of what happened in the case, Rohrabacher said. "That is no excuse to end a program which has protected the lives of hundreds of thousands if not millions of American lives."
And your evidence that sending suspects to be "interrogated" in countries who are even more permissive of torture than the US has saved "millions of American lives" is...
Oh, of course -- classified on national security grounds. But trust us -- torture saves millions of lives. Really it does. Don't you watch 24?
On Friday, Oct. 19 — which is to say, tomorrow night — at Barbès, we have Triocracy — which is to say JC Sanford on trombone and Andy Laster and Chris Bacas on reeds — presenting six brand-spakin' new tunes by the composers of Pulse — which is to say, Joe, JC, Jamie, Josh, Yumiko, and yrs trly. More info is available on the Pulse "blog".
8 PM hit.
Barbès is 376 9th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn:
Let me preface this by saying I am a fan of Sasha Frere-Jones -- he's an incredibly gifted, knowledgeable, and compelling writer. Also, I respect his willingness to get in there and mix it up on issues of racial identity and music. This shit is worth talking about, and avoiding the tough questions don't make them any less pertinent.
But what I don't get -- and I am certain I am not alone here -- is how, exactly, you write a 3,500-word New Yorker piece, plus a follow-up blog post and podcast interview, on the general topic of "Why does indie rock sound so goddamned white?" without once mentioning, even in passing, TV on the Radio.
Are they, like Eminem, an anomalous outlier -- the exception that proves the rule? Well okay, but... isn't it worth at least tangentially addressing the fact that the most critically acclaimed band in indie rock is 4/5ths black? I'm not trying to claim that this one group undermines SF-J's entire argument or anything lame like that, but... well, don't you think people might think this was kind of a curious omission?
Sasha's piece is well worth reading, and he makes a lot of solid points (especially w/r/t the scene's inexplicable love of insular mopiness and flat-out inept singing), but I honestly cannot fathom his reasons for dancing around this particular elephant.
Via this expurgated excerpt from Alex Ross's new book, I have just learned of the greatest musical conspiracy theory of all time.
Cranky philosopher/critic Theodor Adorno, student of Schoenberg and champion of icy Germanic modernism, a man who had nothing but contempt for jazz and all other forms of popular music, is alleged to have have secretly written the Beatles's entire body of work... (wait, there's more... ) as part of a mass brainwashing experiment conducted by the Committee of 300 and the Illuminati.
Oh ho -- you think I'm kidding?
The phenomenon of the Beatles was not a spontaneous rebellion by youth against the old social system. Instead it was a carefully crafted plot to introduce by a conspiratorial body which could not be identified, a highly destructive and divisive element into a large population group targeted for change against its will. New words and new phrases--prepared by Tavistock(1)-- were introduced to America along with the Beatles. Words such as "rock" in relation to music sounds, "teenager," "cool," "discovered" and "pop music" were a lexicon of disguised code words signifying the acceptance of drugs and arrived with and accompanied the Beatles wherever they went, to be "discovered" by "teenagers." Incidentally, the word "teenagers" was never used until just before the Beatles arrived on the scene, courtesy of the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations.
As in the case of gang wars, nothing could or would have been accomplished without the cooperation of the media, especially the electronic media and, in particular, the scurrilous Ed Sullivan who had been coached by the conspirators as to the role he was to play. Nobody would have paid much attention to the motley crew from Liverpool and the 12-atonal system of "music" that was to follow had it not been for an overabundance of press exposure. The 12-atonal system consisted of heavy, repetitive sounds, taken from the music of the cult of Dionysus and the Baal priesthood by Adorno and given a "modern" flavor by this special friend of the Queen of England and hence the Committee of 300.
Tavistock and its Stanford Research Center created trigger words which then came into general usage around "rock music" and its fans. Trigger words created a distinct new break-away largely young population group which was persuaded by social engineering and conditioning to believe that the Beatles really were their favorite group. All trigger words devised in the context of "rock music" were designed for mass control of the new targeted group, the youth of America.
The Beatles did a perfect job, or perhaps it would be more correct to say that Tavistock and Stanford did a perfect job, the Beatles merely reacting like trained robots "with a little help from their friends"--code words for using drugs and making it "cool." The Beatles became a highly visible "new type"-- more Tavistock jargon--and as such it was not long before the group made new styles (fads in clothing, hairstyles and language usage) which upset the older generation, as was intended. This was part of the "fragmentation-maladaptation" process worked out by Willis Harmon and his team of social scientists and genetic engineering tinkerers and put into action.
Following the Beatles, who incidentally were put together by the Tavistock Institute, came other "Made in England" rock groups, who, like the Beatles, had Theo Adorno write their cult lyrics and compose all the "music." I hate to use these beautiful words in the context of "Beatlemania"; it reminds me of how wrongly the word "lover" is used when referring to the filthy interaction between two homosexuals writhing in pigswill. To call "rock" music, is an insult, likewise the language used in "rock lyrics."
You gotta love the gratuitous homophobia at the end, coming out of nowhere. It's the little touches like these that make for a truly museum-quality conspiracy.
PS You should probably buy Alex's book, you know.
Matana Roberts is bringing her blood narrative, Coin Coin, to Brooklyn's Issue Project Room tomorrow night (Thursday, Oct. 11), assisted by Jessica Pavone and Amelia Hollander (viola), Shoko Nagai (piano), Thomson Kneeland (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums), and Daniel Givens (video).
I will be on hand to moderate/instigate a post-concert discussion, which will no doubt touch on some of the thorny personal, political, and social issues Matana has been exploring on her amazing blog, Shadows of a People.
Coin Coin is deeply moving and personal music. Hope to see you there.
So now that we've all gotten our downloads, what does everyone think of In Rainbows?
First impressions are all over blogdonia, of course, but so far I'm most sympathetic to Jay Smooth's take.
Also, as I feared, the low bitrate (160 kbps) brings things down a bit. I am looking forward to the eventual release of a proper CD (i.e., one that doesn't cost $80 plus international shipping).
N.B. This post will remain at the top of the blog until Jan. 12. New posts (including tour updates, I promise!) will continue to appear below. Users without RSS readers are encouraged to make with the scroll.
Secret Society North is the Canadian cousin to my New York-based steampunk bigband, Secret Society. It began as a response to the bigband leader's dilemma -- how the hell do you go on the road with an 18-piece ensemble? I realized I could make it work if I put together a hybrid edition of Secret Society, one that augments the core of the NYC band with some of my favorite Canadian musicians, a handpicked group made up of friends and collaborators from my years on the Montreal jazz scene. I call this band Secret Society North.
Secret Society North have been invited to perform at the 2008 IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education) Conference in Toronto. This is by far the largest jazz event in the world, regularly attracting over 7,000 attendees. Our gig there is an important opportunity to present Secret Society tunes to a much wider audience, but more than that, it's a chance for us to perform fresh and forward-looking music for students and educators who too often let their focus on jazz's past obscure their view of what is happening right now.
Secret Society North will also be playing non-IAJE hits at a couple of very cool venues -- La Sala Rossa in Montreal and Tranzac in Toronto. Believe it or not, this is the first opportunity I've had to present Secret Society music in my home and native land.
While at IAJE, we will also have the great honor of premiering the 2008 ASCAP/IAJE commissioned works by Established Composer Tim Hagans and Emerging Composer Ayn Inserto. And on top of that, Tim will be joining us on Friday Jan. 11th at Tranzac -- he is someone who actually came up through the big bands, old-school (Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, the Danish Radio Big Band under Thad Jones), and that's a depth of knowledge he brings to his current gig as artistic director of the Norrbotten Big Band, so it's an incredible honor and privilege for us to perform Tim's music, and to have Tim perform my stuff as well. Ayn is someone I have known since grad school -- like me, she is a Brookmeyer protegé, and if you don't know her stuff, you should. Ayn's piece will also feature another special guest -- George Garzone on tenor sax. I'm not sayin' anything, I'm just sayin'. The commissioned works will be performed at IAJE on Jan. 10 at 2 PM, and we will reprise Tim's piece at Tranzac on Friday Jan 11.
However, we cannot do this alone. It's never easy asking for money but we really do need your help to make this mini-tour happen. Like most events of this kind, IAJE does not actually pay the bands that perform there. And we do not have the luxury of a record-company supported showcase gig -- instead, we are appealing directly to you, our loyal fans. We humbly ask for your support to help us defray the travel expenses and other costs associated with bringing our innovative and genre-defying music to audiences in Toronto and Montreal that have never heard anything quite like it before.
Or, if you prefer to contribute by check, that can also be arranged -- contact me for details.
Please allow me to introduce the members of Secret Society North:
If you are not familiar with these tremendous musicians, take a moment to click through to their individual websites. It is my great honor to have them perform my music.
Please consider joining the august ranks of those who have already made a contribution to this project.
MANDATORY DISCLAIMER GOES HERE: Darcy James Argue's Secret Society North's Winter '08 Tour is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of Darcy James Argue's Secret Society North may be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
When Arcade Fire's Funeral first hit in the fall of '04, accompanied by the legendarily torrential hype, I was perplexed. This band is from Montreal? That's not what Montreal bands sound like. Montreal bands sound like Bran Van 3000. (Remember them? "Drinking In L.A."? "Couch Surfer"?) That was the slacker neosoul sound everyone seemed to be chasing back in the 1990's when I lived there. So what the hell was a vocal jazz major from my alma mater doing in this shambly, punky, anthemic indie rock band, featuring what at the time sounded to me like a really quirky instrumentation -- accordion, recorder, xylophone, harp, etc. -- plus all those great Owen Pallett string arrangements.
A lot has happened in the three years since Arcade Fire broke. At the time, the whole indie rock scene was barely on my radar at all. But I heard Funeral and I thought, hmm, maybe I ought to check out more bands like this.
Meanwhile, Arcade Fire blew up even bigger with this year's Neon Bible, to the point where they are now anchoring an all-day, five-band outdoor festival at Randall's Island. I'm not normally a fan of standing packed cheek-to-jowl on the blacktop for eight hours on an unseasonably hot October afternoon. But since I'd been either busy, out of town, or cruelly thwarted in all of my previous attempts to see Arcade Fire live, I figured it was worth giving it a go. Turned out Saturday's show is their last NYC hit for a couple of years.
Since this was my first, I can't compare this to other Arcade Fire shows, but I strongly suspect that the soaring "uhh-- ahh-- uhh ahh uhh ohh ohh-- ahh--" chorus on "Wake Up" gains a little something from being sung in delirious unison by something like 25,000 people. Despite the band's famously manic stage show (Will Butler upped the ante by climbing the scaffolding next to the jumbotron, King Kong style, with a field drum strapped to him) and the instrument-juggling that has become almost de rigeur for indie bands these days (Régine Chasagne and Win Butler both took turns behind the genuine pipe organ, and Régine even played kit on a few tunes), the band (mostly) kept up their road-seasoned tightness.
My only complaint is the sound -- it had been admirably clear and balanced all day, but for Arcade Fire, the mix did okay by the front line but mostly buried the two violinists and the pair of horn players at the back. I do love how Régine's voice slices right through even the densest textures, though, and her stage presence is adorable.
Brooklyn Vegan has the setlist and more photos/links. The highlights for me were the haunting extended take on "My Body Is A Cage" and the "Tunnels"/"Power Out" pairing. One amazing moment came after the end of the main set -- instead of the usual "we demand an encore" rhythmic clapping, a bunch of people up front just kept chanting the long "ooh" background vocal line from "Rebellion (Lies)" -- is there another band where the best-loved hooks are all wordless melodies? I'm sorry I missed the now-famous "secret" second encore, but that's what YouTube is for, innit? (Perhaps Win Butler could take a moment to explain the internets to Keith Jarrett.)
As good as Arcade Fire were, though, James Murphy's LCD Soundsystem totally stole the show. And I say this as someone who is decidedly not a fan of the thumping, relentless four-on-the-floor club music that is the foundation of their sound. On record, this band doesn't do a whole lot for me, but live, drummer Pat Mahoney made me a believer, laying down an inexhaustible stream of perfectly placed hihat sixteenth notes and electro-snare backbeats. Tunes like "Get Innocuous!" made me realize that this band is a lot closer in spirit to my beloved Remain In Light-era Talking Heads than I'd previously given them credit for. "Someone Great" reminds me (in a good way) of a remixed version of Corey Dargel's music. And "Yeah (Crass Version)" distills the anthemic singalong chorus to its purest essence. Their set was so good, I almost didn't mind the coked-up swim team fratboy in front of me trying really hard to jump on my toes.
Blonde Redhead have been around for a while now, but I'd never quite gotten around to checking them out before. This is clearly a big oversight on my part, since they do that languid, stretched-out minor-key artrock thing that always grabs me -- one tune in particular sounded like a stripped-down Sonic Youth/Radiohead hybrid. However, the aforementioned coked-up fratboy and his pals would simply not shut the fuck up during the quiet bits, which tended to spoil the mood a tad. I'm looking forward to hearing them again under better conditions.
So yeah, Les Savy Fav... There's no way to say this without coming across as completely humorless, but... well, apparently at one of their first shows, frontman Tim Harrison -- who at the time, was wearing the emptied-out carcass of a huge stuffed animal -- asked the crowd "Is the shtick too loud?"
The shtick this time started innocuously enough, with Tim throwing dollar-store party favors out into the crowd while the band set up. The rest of the story is probably best told with pictures (see below). Tim's backing band -- and how could they be anything but a backing band, with a frontman like that? -- was soild enough, full of catchy, if familiar-sounding, punkrock hooks. But seriously, it's like they're playing a completely different show from their frontman. If the music was actually integrated into the spectacle (the Industrial Jazz Group know how this is done), then we might have something, but the near-complete disconnect between Tim's outsized antics and the comparatively pedestrian musical accompaniment really started to bug me after a while. If you're going to take it out, guys, then take it out, dammit.
I know this band is beloved and I sound like a total curmudgeon, but still.
Wild Light are a young band from New Hampshire. Clearly, there weren't many people in the crowd who had even heard of these guys before, but they came out strong and rocked hard. Their most memorable tunes were "Fuck California" (which, they observed, "always goes down better on the East Coast") and a sweet Rhodes-driven song I didn't catch the name of. They might have sounded a wee bit green and generic compared to the other bands on the bill, but I gotta respect them for playing their hearts out for a crowd that had only just began to gather.
Many thanks to my concert companion, whose company made the day's events that much more enjoyable.
More pics below the fold...
SETLIST - SET 1 (click to listen/right-click to download)
1) MP3: Phobos
Solos: Jon Wikan - cajon; Mark Small - tenor sax
2) MP3: Ferromagnetic
Solo: Kenny Warren - trumpet
3) MP3: Chrysalis
Solo: Erica vonKleist - alto flute/soprano sax
4) MP3: Transit
Solo: Ingrid Jensen - fluegelhorn
5) MP3: Habeas Corpus (for Maher Arar)
Solo: James Hirschfeld - trombone
SETLIST - SET 2
1) MP3: Indcution Effect
Solo: André Canniere - fluegelhorn
2) MP3: Flux in a Box
Solos: Rob Wilkerson - alto sax; Jesse Stacken - piano
4) MP3: Redeye
Solo: Sebastian Noelle - guitar
5) MP3: Lizard Brain
Solo: Josh Sinton - bari sax
Damn, it's good to be back.
We unveiled two new tunes at the Jazz Gallery on Thursday night -- "Ferromagnetic" (which draws [unironic] inspiration from the aforementioned awesome trailer), and "Redeye," a gentle ode to the effects of sleep deprivation. (Hey, write what you know, right?) This tune was rescued from the ashes of a much earlier attempt at developing this material -- one that did not end at all well.
My deepest thanks to all who came out to hear us play -- this was perhaps the most satisfying hit yet, on every level. Naturally, I was delighted to see that there were some fellow bloggers in the house. (PS Thanks for the writeups, Yooni, Chris, and Kelly! )
Thanks to the good people at Fractured Atlas, you may now make a secure, online, and tax-deductible donation to Secret Society:
Secret Society's clandestine infiltration of the jazz establishment begins anew as we return from summer hiatus, and return to The Jazz Gallery (having made our debut at the west SoHo space in April of this year). Truly, can a Down Beat cover story, lavish major label recording contract, and whirlwind international tour be far behind? With Secret Society set to perform at the 2008 IAJE convention, no doubt we will soon be catapulted to Chuck Mangione-like levels of fame. Yes, the day is fast approaching when we too will be banned from the Umbria Jazz Festival for heaping scorn and abuse upon thousands of fans -- but you, my friends, will be able to proudly claim that you were scorned and abused by Secret Society back when they were cool. Mayhap even afore they were cool.
The performance will include some never-before-heard compositions from yrs trly, inflected by
the mellifluous voices of Ingrid Jensen, Sam Sadigursky, James Hirschfeld, and
all your favorite co-conspirators. Join us as we revel in the
bacchanalian pleasures of euphonious spectacle -- before we all become
old, jaded, and indifferent.
2 sets - 9:00 PM and 10:30 PM. $12. Tickets at the door, or in advance here. The Jazz Gallery is at 290 Hudson St.
* Due to circumstances beyond our control, Jonathan Finlayson is no longer able to make this hit. He will be replaced by Kenny Warren.
N.B. This post will appear at the top of the page until Oct. 4. New posts will appear below, so make with the scroll, y'all.