Normal History Vol. 556: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 35-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

“Something’s blowing through the town walls on a current of agreement.”

“Current Of Agreement” from Flood Plain (K, 1993) (download):

The Main Attraction: Elvis Costello And His Imposters Are Still Beyond Belief

Can you trust a band whose leader stole his name from the King and who call themselves the Imposters? The answer is a resounding yes. Elvis Costello & The Imposters brought their “Just Trust” tour to the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., for two nights of some of his greatest hits and hidden gems. MAGNET photographer Wes Orshoski was there, and his aim was true.

Live Review: Moon Duo, Paris, France, Nov. 5, 2019

Encased in a thunderdome of translucent screens, Moon Duo offers a feast for eyes as well as ears. Here in Paris’ cosy Petit Bain nightclub, the experience for the spectator is less like inspecting an objet d’art carefully placed beneath a protective glass than witnessing a flower bulb unfurl within a pot of jasmine tea.

Projected onto those screens, an elaborate light show of strobing kaleidoscopes and geometric shapes dances in front of the players, while inflating their shadows to ghostly effect. The emphasis on light should not be lost on the observer, for the band’s latest album, Stars Are The Light (Sacred Bones), invites fans into brighter, more luminous tones. Previous releases, especially the two volumes of 2017’s Occult Architecture, were dark, monotone, crunchy dirges bordering on psychedelic goth—but admittedly of breathtaking beauty. And yet if the new LP is sunnier and synthier than anything the group has done before, it is no less trippy.

Guitarist Ripley Johnson’s solos ripple with reverb, providing added bounce to “Flying” and “The World And The Sun.” Johnson and keyboardist Sanae Yamada’s vocals are airy and euphoric throughout. They have crafted a live experience that bubbles with energy and exhales before the coughing sets in. 

The group closes the evening with a playful rendition of “Jukebox Babe,” a cover of ’70s synth-punk duo Suicide, the band that provided a template for MD’s sound. A perfectly balanced brew of punk, new wave and psych rock, the Duo is consistently silky where Suicide is occasionally clunky. 

Recommended drug pairing: a dose of Lucy dropped into a pot of Oolong.

Eric Bensel

The Hot Rock, Part 2: Sleater-Kinney, New York City, Oct. 31, 2019

The revamped Sleater-Kinney is on the road supporting the excellent new The Center Won’t Hold (Mom + Pop). While we do miss the mighty Janet, the live five pierce is a music machine. Read our review of S-K’s Philly gig from four nights prior to this show at the Hammerstein Ballroom, where MAGNET photographer Wes Orshoski went for rock ‘n’ roll fun on the last day of Rocktober.

The Hot Rock, Part 1: Sleater-Kinney, Philadelphia, Oct. 27, 2019

Like a lot of fans who were totally onboard for Sleater-Kinney’s triumphant return with No Cities To Love in 2015 but somewhat alienated by this year’s The Center Won’t Hold (with its flashy St. Vincent production) and the subsequent desertion of drummer Janet Weiss, I was less enthusiastic about seeing the band this time around.

On the other hand, I’ve been game to check out whatever Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein create, together or apart, and I’ve found something to dig about every one of their projects, from the Corin Tucker Band and Filthy Friends to Wild Flag, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl, the Spells and Portlandia. If nothing else, I knew they’d play the hell out of anything from the albums I’ve loved and lived with for so many years.

I needn’t have worried: As great as it was to rock out to eternal thrillers like “Words And Guitar,” “Dig Me Out,” “All Hands On The Bad One,” “Modern Girl,” “Entertain,” “Bury Our Friends” and “Price Tag” at the Fillmore, the real reward was hearing Tucker and Brownstein rip through the new material that excited them enough to blow up their modus operandi, their longtime lineup and any baggage that fans and critics may have brought with us.

“Bad Dance,” my favorite The Center Won’t Hold track, was straight-up electrifying; “The Dog/The Body” had me gasping for breath; “Hurry On Home,” the title track and “The Future Is Here” felt like tunes I’ve known forever and loved without realizing it, rather than titles off an album I should’ve spent more time trying to absorb.

That’s one of the downsides of the all-you-care-to-hear musical trough in which we traffic; there’s always so many songs to check out, to revisit, to luxuriate in, to listen perfunctorily to, and never enough time to spend with art that’s harder to digest. But Sleater-Kinney made sure that there was plenty of time for that by allowing The Center Won’t Hold to take up space onstage; the 28-song set included all 11 from the record, as well as post-release stand-alone single “Animal,” which offered the drama we’ve been craving without caving in to expectations or feasting on nostalgia.

Even with the expansion of synths and electronic drums, the heart of the show was the two frontwomen’s interlocking guitars and complementary vocal styles. While they may not sing circles around each other much anymore, or physically face off as often (although maybe that was due to the warm kombucha everyone but Brownstein consumed before the show), they were undeniably riding the same wave. Whether it was Brownstein taking the lead with teeth clenched and right arm windmilling or Tucker wielding her power-tool vibrato while holding down the low end—or even the numbers with four guitars going at once—they amply proved that experimenting with form has only added to their arsenal.

But it was “Broken,” with zero guitars—just Tucker‘s gut-punch vocals and Brownstein’s no-nonsense keyboard—that was the night’s beating, bleeding heart, giving voice to the gratitude and nausea so many of us felt when Christine Blasey Ford told her truth at tremendous personal cost and it changed nothing.

Doing most of the speaking (maybe chalk that up to the kombucha incident as well), Brownstein underscored the importance of participation—politically, personally and artistically—and wondered what it would be like if we could show up for one another in more ways. If everyone in the room made even a small effort to show up for their friends, city and community the way Sleater-Kinney showed up for an audience of die-hards and skeptics, it could change absolutely everything.

So what’s stopping us?

—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich

A Conversation With Joe Pernice (Pernice Brothers)

Spread The Feeling (Ashmont) is the most accessible Pernice Brothers album in decades—not that it matters much at this point. Even bandleader Joe Pernice acknowledges that it’s hard to know what accessible means these days. One thing is certain: The group’s first LP in nine years is accessible only via Bandcamp.com. No iTunes, no Spotify, no dice.

Pernice is quick to note that he doesn’t feel he’s owed a thing—except maybe a few bucks for a vibrant piece of work that was a bit of a bear to make. At least four of the tracks were salvaged from an album scrapped by a dissatisfied Pernice a few years ago.

More recently, he went back in the studio with engineer Liam Jaeger in Toronto, reworking and remixing a handful of the old tunes and adding new ones. Given the quality of “Skinny Jeanne,” “Throw Me To The Lions” (with Pete Yorn on backup vocals) and especially “The Devil And The Jinn” (with Neko Case), that first LP wasn’t total loss. And the fresh tracks fill out the set quite nicely, at times countering the edgier approach of the other material. 

The Pernice Brothers—which still includes sibs Joe and Bob—just finished up a short tour to support Spread The Feeling. The band will be back on the road again in the first half of 2020. In the meantime, Joe’s got a few things to get off his chest.

It’s been 10 years since the last Pernice Brothers album—though you did record something you weren’t too happy with in that span.
I just wasn’t into it, so I scrapped the record. I didn’t want to put it out. Then I went back and listened to a few of the songs, gave them a little space and decided maybe I should keep a few. With my working partner, Liam Yaeger, I reworked the old takes and finished them off. 

What was it about the album that rubbed you the wrong way?
I just didn’t like the collection of songs—I don’t think they went well together. I scrapped maybe seven songs; we’d recorded 11, and I kept four—the songs Ric (Menck) played drums on. I’m not precious about it. When I’m writing songs, I like being focused and really into something. But that’s where the fun is.

You’ve also done some work for books and TV. How does that differ from songwriting?
I definitely like trying to make something out of words. When it clicks, it can be a pretty good buzz. But the minute I pick up a guitar and hit a chord, it automatically speaks to me in a more emotional way—definitely a kind of ease and an automatic pleasure. Just the sound of music puts me in a good mood when I’m writing a song, whether it’s a happy song or a sad song.

Every track on Spread The Feeling seems to have it’s own sonic space and personality.
We definitely chased down each tune as if it was the only song. We weren’t thinking about getting a unified sound. It was recorded in different places over a longer period of time. With (1998 debut) Overcome By Happiness, for example, we didn’t have the luxury of experimentation, because we were bound by the economics. We just got our drum sound, put our heads down and did it. Now you can own first-class gear in your bedroom and do 40 takes if you want. To be free from the financial constraints of it is no small factor.

It’s amazing how much change there’s been around the music industry since Overcome By Happiness was released.
I remember doing our first studio recording with the Scud Mountain Boys, and there was this new technology: You could get a CD-R burned of your session and play it on a CD player. The studio was $60 an hour. Making records is a breeze now—it’s really quite amazing. But selling them is harder. I think of the first Scud Mountain Boys record … The guy that made it pressed 1,000, and we never got paid for any of them—he kind of fucked us over. But the point is: He got paid. Nowadays, a band that puts out 1,000 records is hustling to sell any of them. People just don’t buy records, so it’s harder to make a living.

Speaking of making a living, what else are you doing these days?
I was writing scripts for a homicide show on Canadian TV. It doesn’t pay as much as [American TV], but I was still like, “Holy crap. That’s still a lot of money.” I’ll probably do another album and work on another television show.

So, these days, it’s more about getting the music out there?
I’m not going on tour for this album to make money. We put it out on Bandcamp.com, so if you want the record, there it is. Not to be a prima donna, but I really think the way money is distributed in such a small way to the artist [with streaming] is devaluing the music. I’m not looking to retire; I’m not gouging people out of tons of money. But like, “Fuck it. If you want the record, you can buy it.” I’m not gonna do it for free. But I’m also not selling belt buckles with my name on them for $50 each. I really do want to stress that I don’t feel like I’m owed anything. I just decided that I want to put my records out using a model that’s fair to me. If people want to come along and be part of that, beautiful. If they don’t, that’s fine, too. I just don’t want to be part of the problem.

Now that you’ve had some time to process Spread The Feeling, where do you see it falling in the Pernice Brothers catalog?
It’s one of the better ones—though I don’t think about it much because I’m on to another one already. I’m not being a smart-ass when I say that I really don’t think about an album much after I put it out. I drove my wife to work today, and I reached into a stack of CDs and pulled out a burn of this album. I was like, “Oh, fuck. There’s no way I wanna put that on.” For me, it’s all about the writing and recording. When that’s done, it’s like the tide—another song comes moving in.

—Hobart Rowland

Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.: The Sea.Hear.Now Fest Hits The Jersey Shore For Its Second Straight Year

Dave Matthews

The Sea.Hear.Now Festival kicked off fall at the Jersey Shore for the second straight year, serving up two days’ worth of music, art, surfing, food and sustainability in Asbury Park. Dave Matthews and the Lumineers were the headliners, while the likes of Sharon Van Etten, the B-52s, Bad Religion, Dropkick Murphys and Rainbow Kitten Surprise joined in on the rock action. MAGNET photographer Chris Sikich had fun in the sun.

The Lumineers
Sharon Van Etten
The B-52s
Bad Religion
Low Cut Connie
Dave Hause And The Mermaid

Sea.Hear.Now Fest (The Portraits): Rainbow Kitten Surprise, Work In Progress, Black Pumas, St. Paul And The Broken Bones, The Wrecks And Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

Rainbow Kitten Surprise

The Sea.Hear.Now Festival kicked off fall at the Jersey Shore for the second straight year, serving up two days’ worth of music, art, surfing, food and sustainability in Asbury Park. Dave Matthews and the Lumineers were the headliners, while the likes of Sharon Van Etten, the B-52s, Bad Religion, Dropkick Murphys and Rainbow Kitten Surprise joined in on the rock action. These are portraits of some of those who performed, taken by MAGNET’s Chris Sikich.

Work In Progress
Black Pumas
St. Paul And The Broken Bones
The Wrecks
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

Normal History Vol. 555: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 35-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

“Ribbon” was always one of my favorite songs to perform live because of its lack of specific focus in terms of imparting a concept. Ambiguity was enticing terrain after writing what were sometimes called anthems for various causes.

The ominous repetition of several potentially unrelated phrases presented audiences with the opportunity to make what they wanted of it more than many of our previous songs. The never-mentioned ribbon was a loose and flowing connection between ideas.

Streaming out behind us, filaments on fire.

You’re marked.

We’re the news from nowhere.

We played “Ribbon” many times in the ’90s, but as newer songs came into our setlist, it was dropped due to time constraints. Strangely, this nub of sociopolitical songwriting philosophy is back in play in my current painting practise. Viewers are free to make what they want of the individual portraits as I post them almost every day on Facebook, but in a somewhat unexpected interactive component to the project, every now and then I am privy to evidence of how other people compile and compose individual paintings.

“Ribbon” from Flood Plain (K, 1993) (download):