Friday, July 14, 2006

Music Update

After a brief hiatus, lots of music (and music news) has registered on the c/s radar recently. It's a good thing, as you can only listen to so much sports talk radio before you feel like you've heard it all before. So, without further delay, the comanche/soul music update...

Starting with the sad news, Syd Barrett, founding member of Pink Floyd, passed away this week at age 60. One of the more famous acid-casualty cult figures, he left the band after it's second LP, A Saucerful of Secrets. Due to mental illness probably caused by regular LSD use, his behavior had become increasingly erratic; he once supposedly appeared at a recording session with a bowl of oatmeal on his head (note: this is a totally unconfirmed rumor I've heard). His crowning achievement, however, remains Floyd's debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and specifically that album's tour de force, "Interstellar Overdrive", which I first heard about 3 am on a Tuesday morning at the University of Kentucky college radio station 8 years ago. Slate has a nice obituary here. Read allmusic's here.

The Fiery Furnaces are on tour with Man Man this summer. They recently came through DC -- I missed the show -- but it sounds like a wise decision. Why? Read Popmatters' live review of the band a friend once ridiculously called "the most important band in music today."
*Late addition: My good friend and Seattle music scenester (just kidding...he would surely frown at this title) Andrew Huffer (also, ace guitarist/vocalist of Juggernaut) writes in regarding the Furnaces' tour:
In regards to your recent comments about the Fiery Furnaces, I would have to agree that they were disappointing at best in their live show. Part of the attraction of the furnaces for me is some of the subtle melodic nuances that Matt employs on guitar or keyboard. Unfortunately they have elected for some reason to pump the volume up in their live show to a point where these touches are completely drowned out, leaving a wall of fuzzed out guitar noise. Matt is clearly a very talented guitarist but unfortunately the effects are wasted. This decision has the additional effect of pushing Eleanor's vocals way down in the mix, leaving her trademark delivery lacking in punch. Kate and I actually left their set early, and it was interesting to note that as soon as we were in the street, the sound quality seemed to increase a good deal. The night was not a total waste, as the openers Man Man put on a fascinating show. If you imagine five of the Animal character from the Muppets playing a rotating collection of instruments complete with shouts and whoops you'll get a pretty good idea of what they are like. I'd never heard any of their music before, but you can't help getting into the show. The music itself is kind of a mix of sea shanties and experimental percussion, all sung by their gruff-voiced lead singer. I definitely recommend going to see them play if you get a chance


The Arcade Fire are back in the studio, and Pitchfork has a short update. While I'm a little skeptical of their ability to follow up the tremendous Funeral -- an album that, like Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, got so big and so great so quickly that it later experienced some growing pains -- I'm still looking forward to what might be in store.

The Pipettes have finally released their full-length, We Are the Pipettes, and I think I might have to buy it. Just as my good buddy Smokey loves Cat Power for reasons that border on impure or unclean, there's definitely some pull towards the Pipettes. I think it's mostly the girl-group shtick and the polka-dot dresses, but the songs are okay too.

The Legends, Live at DC9, w/ the Positions
I had the tremendous pleasure of venturing down to DC9 to hear some live music on a Tuesday night. Always good to have a show early in the week -- kind of energizes me a little and gets my musical blood flowing, so to speak. Of course, DC local band the Positions were not so much of the tremendous pleasure. Whether they copped their sound directly from "Indie Success for Dummies" (somewhat cute female lead singer - check, guitarist who can't play - check, no real hooks - check). To be fair, they weren't that bad, it's just that every song ran together and they relied too heavily on the incessant horn parts for any hint of melody or catchiness.

The Legends -- Sweden's former umpteen piece pop collective now condensed to five members -- then took the stage to a packed house (packed meaning roughly 150 people) and played a superb set. They dressed like your standard issue hipsters but brought along a solid stage presence that served them well. Too often up-and-coming bands playing small venues seem unable to really fill the room, as though they have to be seem totally unassuming in order to appear "real."

But as usual (I must say this every time I see a good band), none of this would matter if the tunes weren't good. The Legends did a set of half old, half new material, and both were equally strong. The lead singer rightly and humorously referred to their new material as "disco" -- it had that standard hi-hat and snare pattern that's all the rage with bands like the Killers these days -- only to later claim that he "hates disco" but was going to play it anyway. Another particularly telling moment came when he labeled a new song as our "Joy Division" song, and it was just that: moodier, a little darker, and sung with a tweaked accent, but still melodically strong.

What really stuck out from the show and what made dalliances into Ian Curtis territory interesting (and even fun) was the production. I swear, I've never heard such nuanced production at a live, club show, especially in a venue this small. But on that night, the drums had real depth and variation in tones, the guitar echoes were perfectly foggy, and the vocals lifted and crystal clear when they needed to be. Of course, the band took almost two hours to soundcheck (and maybe more before we got there), so I'm guessing this was a case of efforts paying off. Not to knock the loud, sloppy rock show (and yes, I'll be there on Saturday at the 9:30 Club for the Drive-by Truckers, currently one of America's two best rock and roll bands), but this should still come as a reminder of what a little attention to detail can do for a show.

Unfortunately, we left before the Acid House Kings took the stage, so I can't really comment on them. I'm guessing a little trippy and perhaps with some strange instrumentation and/or driving, persistent beats? Who knows...

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