Live Review: Modest Mouse, Bethlehem, PA, July 20, 2015


Driving into Bethlehem, I asked a buddy of mine what he thought we could expect out of Modest Mouse’s live performance, to which he simply responded, “I have no idea, man.” This response wasn’t due to any sort of dislike toward the band, rather the uncertainty that seems to surround them. Between issuing Strangers To Ourselves (the band’s first release in seven years) to very mixed reviews, to hardly ever touring, to their live performances typically being met with either praise or scrutiny, it’s difficult to know what to expect out of Modest Mouse these days. There was no way we could have known that we were about to witness Isaac Brock play his guitar with his teeth for nearly five minutes, or accidentally incite a physical altercation among fans. Because here’s the thing that makes Modest Mouse so wonderful; they’re totally unpredictable.

And so we arrived at the Bethlehem Steel Stacks as two devout Modest Mouse fans, without a clue whether we should be overrun with excitement or worried about being let down.

Before digging deeper into Modest Mouse’s performance, I think it’s important to talk a bit about last night’s opening act, Gene Ween. You know how a lot of times you go to a show and the conversation you’re having with your friends about where you are going to drink this upcoming weekend is far more compelling than the opening act themselves? This wasn’t that kind of show. Former Ween vocalist Aaron Freeman and his band had the crowd’s utmost attention through the entirety of their 45 minute set. His interaction with the crowd was met with plenty of laughter throughout the set’s entirety, most notably after making the statement, “This song is about vagina. Unshaved vagina, that is.” before going into fan favorite “Black Bush.” All in all, Freeman provided a more than solid opening act, which had the crowd dancing, laughing and singing along the whole time. Not an easy feat when opening for Modest Mouse.

It was directly after Freeman’s performance that I noticed something strange. I started looking around at the people in the crowd waiting to see Modest Mouse and I realized how diverse it was. Standing to the left of me was a middle-aged couple, maybe in their 50s, accompanied by no children. To the right of me was a man covered head to toe in tattoos with quite possibly the largest gauges I’ve ever seen in any one’s ears, consistently smoking his vaporizer every minute or so. Behind me there were a group of, uh, let’s call them “college bros” wearing tank tops, khaki shorts and backward baseball caps. A few rows in front of me was an older gentleman carrying his Mohawk-haired toddler on his shoulders. This crowd diversity quickly made me realize that I was about to witness something really, really special.

That’s when Modest Mouse stepped onstage to an overwhelming wall of cheering and shouting.

“Hey, we’re the band tonight. Wait, wait, that can’t be right. I think you’re the band tonight?’ muttered frontman Isaac Brock while pointing into the crowd. After taking a sip from his beer he quickly corrected himself, smiling while pointing out the obvious, “Nope, never mind. I had it right the first time. We’re the band tonight.”

Not surprisingly, the band began their hefty two-hour set with a few songs off Strangers To Ourselves, which, also not surprisingly, were received with a bit of a mixed response. Sure, people were dancing and enjoying themselves, but it wasn’t until the fourth song in that Brock’s voice was entirely drowned out by a sea of fans screaming his lyrics back at him. “OK, so, we’re gonna play an older one now if that’s all right.” said Brock with a grin on his face like he knew the overwhelming response he was about to receive. As the band began to play “Out Of Gas,” it was clear that it was a turning point for the rest of the set.

The nearly 20-year-old singalong “Out Of Gas” was followed by several other fan favorites, including “Dashboard” and “Bukowski,” to name a couple, both of which were performed beautifully by the nine multi-instrumentalists making up Modest Mouse’s live band. Although having only two original band members left (Brock on guitar and Jeremiah Green on drums), the seven other musicians accompanying the stage (including Brock’s girlfiend Lisa Molinaro on violin) only added to the band’s live performance. Not only was the stage crowded with fantastic musicians, but a plethora of instruments such as trumpets, trombones, a cello, two sets of drums, a synthesizer and a banjo to name a few. It seemed as though every song had the musicians onstage playing a different instrument, making every song all the more pleasurable to watch.

If we’re talking about musicianship we need to talk about Brock. The man is fucking amazing. For all the qualms people have regarding his vocals, there is absolutely no taking away his ability to absolutely shred on guitar. During classic “Doin’ The Cockroach,” Brock began screaming lyrics into his guitar as he was playing. Now, I’ve seen musicians do that before, and while not entirely original, it’s always great to watch. What came next, however, I had never seen. Brock began a scratchy guitar solo, lasting nearly five minutes, the majority of which was played with his teeth. Yes, you read that right. Isaac Brock played his guitar with his teeth for nearly five minutes, and it was nothing short of amazing.

About three-quarters of the way into the set came the highlight of the entire show. The band played “The World At Large,” “Night On The Sun” and mega-hit “Float On” back to back to back. An argument can be made for each of these songs being the best material the band has offered to date, and seeing them performed was a dream come true for any Modest Mouse fan.

In the midst of this wonderfully positive experience came one negative moment. “Have you guys ever been stung by anything?” asked Brock before performing “Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes,” the last song of the set. “I’m only asking because I saw you guys swatting at what looked like bees.” A man in the crowd yelled something back at Brock, to which he responded, “You shouldn’t answer questions anymore. Seriously, don’t answer questions anymore,” in a very obviously joking tone. While Brock’s joking tone seemed very obvious to me as an audience member, it seems as though it wasn’t quite as obvious to others. “Asssshole, asssshole, Asssshole,” chanted members of the crowd at the man who answered Brock’s question about bees. This chant was followed by a physical altercation among the fan that Brock was addressing and another man in the crowd, to which Brock intervened, “Come on. Don’t hurt him. I was joking. I’m the asshole. This is the game I play with the crowd. Come on. Don’t hurt him.” The altercation quickly subdued, and Modest Mouse began their last song.

Not surprisingly, the band was begged by the crowd to return to the stage for an encore through a series of typical chants by the crowd. Upon returning to the stage, Modest Mouse pleased fans with a four-song encore, ending with fan favorite “The Good Times Are Killing Me.” Brock apologized once again for accidentally inciting a fight among fans, thanked the crowd for an amazing time and concluded the incredible experience Modest Mouse put on for their fans.

For all the uncertainty that seems to be surrounding Modest Mouse as of late, one thing became clear. Modest Mouse is a band that provides fans with an unforgettable concert-going experience. As soon as I finish typing this, I am going to purchase a ticket to Philly’s annual Made In America festival, solely so Modest Mouse can melt my brain once again. You should do the same. I promise you won’t regret it.

—Wes Akers

Aarhus Jazz Festival, 2015


Welcome to Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark, an original settlement for the Vikings more than a thousand years ago, and a home to jazz since the 1950s. The 27th edition of the Aarhus Jazz Festival begins at the end of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, allowing for some natural crossover, and features some of the finest jazz artists Denmark has to offer.

Monday’s programming was rewarding, as the Nicolaj Hess Nonet had an early show at the Kunsthal Aarhus venue, showcasing Hess’ piano skills as well as his compositional savvy. Using musicians from Denmark and Norway, the sounds were often gentle, leaning into European-classical terrain while incorporating Brazilian, Latin and African rhythms and leaving space for improvisation. The ace rhythm section of Anders “AC” Christensen on bass and Nicolaj’s brother Mikel on drums was augmented by percussion, reeds, brass, guitars and singer Sissel Vera Pettersen, whose wordless vocals added an ethereal quality to the proceedings. Nicolaj and Mikel Hess split their time between Denmark and NYC, so keep an eye out for them stateside.

Interestingly, Monday’s late night Aarhus show featured another large group, the Jakob Bro Tentet featuring poet Peter Laugesen (who makes it 11 people onstage). Jakob Bro is Denmark’s most auspicious guitar player, and much like Nicolaj Hess, he performs in a variety of settings with a number of different players. He also has a recent CD release on the ECM label. Jakob Bro’s Tentet was compelling, featuring two drummers and three bassists—Nicolai Munch-Hansen, the great Thomas Morgan and again, Anders “AC” Christensen. I can’t tell you what Laugesen’s beat-styled poetry was about besides some jazz references, but the band surrounded his spiel with emotive strength, and showcased three saxophonists, alto man Jesper Zeuthen and Americans Andrew D’Angelo and Chris Speed. Bro’s playing was understated and sonically textured, making for a dreamlike evening that was easy to enjoy. You can check out Bro’s amazing Tentet on the album Hymnotic/Salmodisk, which is also available on vinyl, bro.

—Mitch Myers

Copenhagen Jazz Festival, 2015


Shouting Fire! Orchestra In A Crowded Theater
The 37th Edition of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival has just concluded after 10 full days of music and celebration. While the fest is more loyal to authentic jazz than most other large festivals, they still endeared themselves to the masses with pop shows by the likes of Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, Al Jarreau and Jamie Cullum. Besides other high-profile jazz acts including the Brad Mehldau Trio, singers Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright, Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock and Brazilian legends Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil, the fest’s programming was actually quite progressive.

With more than 100 venues participating all over the city, there was never any trouble finding left-of-the-dial, improvisational and/or free/jazz gigs. That said, Italian pianist Enrico Peiranunzi played at Gustavs Bistro, which harkened back to the days of classic piano bars (like the old Bradley’s in NYC). Other piano legends such as Kenny Barron and Kirk Lightsey appeared, as did modernists like Vijey Iyer and the Bad Plus with guest saxophonist Joshua Redman.

One of the more unusual highlights was undoubtedly the Fire! Orchestra, which played two action packed shows at the Jazzhouse. Led by Swedish power saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, the Fire! Orchestra is a huge, sprawling collective with at least 20 members. The band brings to mind other anarchic jazz armies like Sun Ra’s band or Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. Boasting multiple horn players, guitarists, drummers and singers, Gustafsson led his troops through a wailing, thrashing, high-energy show that kept the Copenhagen audience fully engaged and set everyone’s minds on fire. This frantic mix of Scandinavian musicians epitomized the wild experiences possible at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. The only question is how to take this band on the road—perhaps Babylon by bus? I repeat, Fire! Orchestra. Listen now.

—Mitch Myers

Montreal International Jazz Festival, Part 1


It’s the 36th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

One Nation Under A Groove
The 36th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal is officially in full swing. The fest is 10 days and nights, running from June 26 through July 5, and although jazz is the byword, the ambitious music programming also encompasses rock, blues, pop, flamenco, folk, hip hop and EDM for a well-rounded, populist experience. Big fun for serious music lovers with plenty of distractions for the whole family, the Montreal fest features hundreds of concerts, many of which are free on outdoor stages as well as a number ticketed gigs held within a range of indoor venues. Hosting recognizable mainstream artists like the Steve Miller Band, Erykah Badu and hometown favorites like the Barr Brothers, the Montreal fest has fought off some rainy weather and ultimately seems just too big to fail.

Hardcore jazzers have had their hands full with tons of quality options. Italian trumpeters like Enrico Rava and Paulo Fresu both attracted attention, as did American horn-man Christian Scott, the hip-hop-inflected Robert Glasper Trio, the Bad Plus with guest saxophonist Joshua Redman, and the Joe Lovano-John Scofield Quartet. Veteran fusion stars Stanley Jordan, Al Di Melola and Stanley Clarke were all crowd pleasers, as was contemporary axe-man Kurt Rosenwinkle, who hosted three consecutive nights for his part of the vaunted Invitation Series. Jazz elders Gary Bartz, Al Foster, Buster Williams and Larry Willis brought the old-school back to life as the Heads Of State, progressive cornet player Ron Miles mixed it up nicely with guitar hero Bill Frisell and drummer Brian Blade at the Monument-National, and the amazing Wayne Shorter Quartet was once again a festival highlight.

Still, the Montreal crowd loves to move and groove, and nothing got them going like the Snarky Puppy show at the Metropolis dancehall. A swirling, funky big band with two drummers, two keyboardists and a thriving horn section, these guys have quietly grown from playing under the radar to recent Grammy nominations and nonstop touring. Playing original material as well as snatches of P-Funk and even the pounding melody of “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” these guys brought all the different jazz generations together, as in, “one nation under a groove.”

That’s the Montreal Jazz Fest, pure and simple, which keeps on trucking through the holiday weekend—how about you?

—Mitch Myers

Live Review: The Firefly Festival, 2015


Two years ago, when I mentioned that I was going to Firefly in the weeks preceding the festival, I got mostly blank stares. “Um, what’s Firefly?” Now, even the kindly old lady who rings me up every day at Wawa said, “Oh, I’ve heard about that! It’s in Delaware, right?” My co-worker told me that her teenage daughter has been wearing her Firefly wristband since she received it in the mail several weeks ago, and every major TV and radio station in the Philadelphia metro area ran coverage of the festival.

Four years after the inaugural event in The Woodlands at Dover International Speedway that drew about 30,000 attendees, the East Coast can now lay claim to a premier music festival—the kind that hippies and college kids will drive creaky, spray-painted Volkswagon buses to from across the country in droves.

If you are not a camper, or even a glamper, you needed to book 12 months in advance if you wanted to score a hotel room within a 50-mile radius of the festival this year. In 2015, all 90,000 four-day passes sold out a week prior, prompting giddy press conferences from local leaders about the millions of dollars in economic benefits it will generate, as well as grumblings from Dover residents who just wanted to grab toilet paper and cereal from Walmart that weekend.

The West Coast has Coachella and Sasquatch. The Midwest has Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. The South has, well, Austin, Texas. And now the East Coast has Firefly.

Like previous years, the main headliners (Paul McCartney, Kings Of Leon andtThe Killers) were yawn. You see the same 10 headliners at every festival. The real meat was in the second-and third-tier acts, which are fresher and more intriguing. Big Data, Vacationer and Walk The Moon came out of nowhere to dominate radio waves. Modest Mouse isn’t much of a touring band and has recently put out its first album in seven years. Matt And Kim and RJD2 always perform a lively show. And the rest of the bill has been popping up all over Soundcloud and iTunes playlists.

For those needing a break from the music, there was an arcade, a hammock hangout area, a secret woods rave and a coffee house that offered a full cafe experience and music performances throughout the day. Wine and craft beer bars also scattered the festival grounds. With stage names such as the Porch, the Lawn and the Backyard, Firefly gave festival-goers a carefree summer weekend vibe, despite uncooperative weather.

The day before festivities were scheduled to begin, 65,000 campers stared down a strong chance of thunderstorms Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and periodic drenching all four days. With the gloomy forecast, I was grateful for the hotel room I booked six months prior. Even though it was 40 minutes from Dover, I had premonitions of leaky tents and long lines for a cold rinse in a communal shower and opted for clean sheets and a continental breakfast. My broke college days are long gone, and I can’t tolerate wet sleeping bags and beer for breakfast like I used to.

After waiting in the muddy press area behind the Backyard Stage on Friday afternoon and straining to listen to garbled songs and muffled cheers from fans while anticipating several artist interviews, I was ready to hear some music.

Even with minimal touring experience and only one album under their belt, Durham, N.C.-based duo Sylvan Esso has been creating buzz. Watching them in the flesh, it’s easy to see why. Listening to a Sylvan Esso song live is a pretty transcendent event. Singer Amelia Meath’s striking voice makes you feel like you’ve just stepped into a hot shower after a long day on the ski slopes, simultaneously warm and tingly and content. Her down-to-earth lyrics filter through the membrane of your soul, while producer and keyboardist Nick Sanborn’s throbbing-yet-simple bass lines circulate through your body.

The diminutive Meath stomped onstage with studded four-inch platforms, no makeup, and a messy bun, commanding the crowd with a cheerful confidence. Those in the audience weren’t just there because they wandered by and wanted to check out a random band—they love Sylvan Esso. The way legions of glitter-covered festival-goers sang along with the lyrics and screamed excitedly every time the first chords of one of their less-popular songs were played, you would swear you were at a Taylor Swift concert. It’s only a matter of time before they are a household name.

Suddenly, ubiquitous AWOLNATION ripped through an energetic set early Friday evening as the sun singed its last couple faces and backs before sinking behind the tree line. Since first album Megalithic Symphony exploded in 2011, the Southern California product, fronted by singer/producer Aaron Bruno, has been heard everywhere from television shows to Red Bull commercials. The set started out with the intense title track from latest album Run and culminated in seductive hit “Sail.” In between, Bruno threw his body around the stage like a BMX rider at the X-Games, throttling the microphone during “Thiskidsnotalright” and the anthemic “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf).”

Modest Mouse drew a Paul McCartney-sized crowd for its set. The indie-rock legends released a long-awaited new album in March, but made sure to include a substantial dose of old favorites such as “Dashboard,” “Dramamine” and the banjo-heavy “Satin In A Coffin.” Singer/guitarist Issac Brock delighted the senior millennials in the crowd, who were reliving their best high school years that night as they listened to his distinct growling voice and deliberate guitar twangs.

While more wet weather had saturated the already sloppy grounds overnight, Saturday afternoon and early evening offered sunny-yet-sticky festival conditions. Thankfully, I was given a reprieve from the scorching rays when I was invited to an exclusive performance by 311-esque, reggae-tinged rap/rock group Dirty Heads at the Treehouse, a timber stage nestled in the woods. The “Treehouse Sessions,” hosted by Mixradio, gave select festival-goers access to multiple Firefly acts throughout the weekend. This afternoon, the small crowd enjoyed an intimate performance under a glorious canopy of trees, listening to unplugged versions of “My Sweet Summer” and “Dance All Night.”

Later in the day, Matt And Kim unleashed their characteristic frenzied routine of crowd incitement and Master P interludes, with a couple of actual Matt And Kim songs thrown in. Their uncanny ability to control the audience would make Oprah jealous. A rowdy intro injected Red Bull energy into the throng of sweaty festival-goers, priming them for what was next. To the chagrin of the security personnel, Matt shouted, “Who here has never crowd surfed?” Thousands of hands went up. “Well this is your time!” Dozens of people were hoisted in the air and rolled around atop a sea of hands as the duo banged out “Now.” The very next song, Matt instructed, “I want you to get up on the shoulders of the person next to you!” About 200 girls’ heads popped up above the crowd. For the finale, 75 percentof the audience members’ shirts came off, and they waved them above their heads like Terrible Towels.

Over the past two decades, Spoon has generated a body of work that includes such beloved and critically acclaimed albums as Girls Can Tell and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. On Saturday night, unfortunately, the band’s uninspiring set belied its talent. Spoon is at its best when it plays its simplest, catchiest songs such as “Don’t You Evah,” but the band chose to stick mostly with its fuzzier, less-refined tracks and succeeded in sounding like a lo-fi version of itself.

On the other side of the field, Vacationer started up immediately following Spoon. The band’s easygoing, tropical sound fit perfectly with the welcome breeze flowing over countless sunburned arms and legs as dusk fell. Unfortunately, the relief was short-lived. Around 9:30 p.m., reported nearby storms forced festival organizers to evacuate the grounds. Campers retreated to their tents and RVs while the rest of the crowd formed a long line of cars by the exit.

Fickle weather couldn’t dampen the vibe, or my excitement for next year. Firefly is no longer “under the radar.” For the fourth straight year, Firefly has continued to cement a reputation as one of the can’t-miss summer festivals. I plan to book my hotel today for 2016.

—Maureen Coulter

Another photo after the jump.

Continue reading “Live Review: The Firefly Festival, 2015”

Live Review: Nashville Pussy, Paris, France, May 21, 2015



There, I said it.

Gratuitous? Well, that’s kinda the point, for Nashville Pussy is provocation personified. In fact, the band has conjured an entire career out of little more than titillation and bravado. As for the actual music, any number of labels suffice: redneck rock, biker boogie, white-trash cowpunk, Southern-fried scum metal. Granted, a tag is nothing more than an invitation to take a whiff. Once you stick your nose in deep, you can determine if it really passes the smell test.

But in this case, the Pussy does indeed reek of all of the above.

In the late ’90s, the group’s raunchier-than-thou, AC/DC-meets-Skynyrd shtick, packaged in a live show suitable for softcore porn, garnered a rabid following and even a Grammy nomination. Then-bassist Corey Parks—a 6’3” former model who wore leopard-skin bras and sported an “Eat Me” tatt a hair north of the cooch—would tongue-kiss guitarist Ruyter Suys onstage then throat-fuck her with a beer bottle. The shows would end shortly after Parks jumped into the crowd and belched a mushroom cloud of fire at fleeing fans.

Not surprisingly, the spectacle tended to overshadow the music. Which, to be honest, was probably for the best: an actual pussy can fart better melodies.

A decade and a half after the group’s debut, the lineup has changed, but the music hasn’t. Gone are the pyrotechnics and lesbian peepshow, but the sentiment is still orgy-cum-bar fight.

Tonight, the grease and grime of the band’s studio work are faithfully reproduced in concert. The quartet runs through highlights from all six of its LPs (“Go Motherfucker Go,” “Struttin’ Cock,” “Keep On Fuckin’,” “Good Night For A Heart Attack,” “I’m So High,” “Rub It To Death” and a dozen more shit-kickers). In the closest that Nashville Pussy gets to “sensitive” (the slow-yet-muscular “Go To Hell”), the band tacks on a few verses from the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.” The two songs dovetail seamlessly, which isn’t exactly a recommendation for either.

To be fair, such music should not be judged on its artistic merits but rather on its effect on the listener. Nashville Pussy speaks directly to our basest desires: taking drugs, getting laid, making noise and beating the hell out of those who done us wrong. The band preaches a hedonist gospel, and it’s hard not to testify.

“How many of you are high tonight?” asks lead singer Blaine Cartwright. “I heard this is a stoner club.” With that clever setup, the group launches into—wait for it—“High As Hell.”

Ah, out of the mouths of babes. And out of the lips of Pussy.

—Eric Bensel

Live Review: Mudhoney, Rouen, France, May 2, 2015


The drum break in set closer “In ‘N’ Out Of Grace” builds toward orgasm. The guitar sprays thick wah loads and then lets a power chord resonate like a delirious exhalation. Mudhoney singer Mark Arm steps to the mic and—with his trademark nasally snarl—screams, “Oh god, how I love to haaaaate,” through a wry smile.

It is the quintessential Mudhoney moment. Yes, the distorted frenzy following a slow build is textbook grunge formula, but the band’s dung-in-cheek animosity always set it apart from its Pacific Northwest brethren. Where Soundgarden wailed, Mudhoney sneered. Where Nirvana wrung hands, Mudhoney grabbed balls.

More than a quarter century into its career, and Mudhoney is still authentic, which may account for its lack of household name recognition. In fact, prior to tonight’s show in Rouen’s 106 club, Arm and guitarist Steve Turner conducted a radio interview, during which the local DJ cheekily commented that Mudhoney was witness to the grunge phenomenon, as it unfolded.

The insinuation wasn’t lost on Arm: “[The other bands] were on the playing field. We were in the front row.”

Indeed, despite recording multiple full-lengths for a major label in the ’90s, Mudhoney never left the garage. But for all its dust and dank, that garage produced a number of enduring anthems.

The performance tonight features a healthy dose of those classics: “If I Think,” “Broken Hands,” a cover of the Dicks’ “Hate The Police” and, of course, the incendiary “Touch Me I’m Sick” with the most irresistible riff since the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” Although they may lack some of the bite of the original recordings, “Suck You Dry” and “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More” compensate by sounding so much heavier, which actually adds an interesting new color.

Even the newer tracks impress and excite: the celebratory bounce to “I Like It Small” and the hardcore hysteria of “Chardonnay” (both from 2013’s Vanishing Point) energize a crowd that is 5,000 miles removed from the group’s hometown Seattle and on average two decades younger than the band members. But great punk—and Mudhoney certainly fits that description—transcends geographical and generational barriers.

That rich, healthy hatred expressed in the final encore just may explain why Mudhoney is so genuine, so consistently refreshing. Punk is about revolution, and revolutionaries require a foil to piss them off.

An extensive backlog of punk masterpieces, an unfailingly snotty attitude, and a mastery of the form that has survived middle age. What’s not to hate?

—Eric Bensel

Live Review: Beauty Pill, Arlington, Va., May 2, 2015


Beauty Pill’s recent three-day residency at Artisphere functioned as a release party for its amazing album Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are (Butterscotch). But it was also a lot more than that.

The shows were billed as the final installment of Immersive Ideal—an experimental collaboration between the D.C.-based band and the unfortunately soon-to-close arts center in Arlington’s Rosslyn neighborhood. The first installment occurred in July 2011 when the group recorded the LP there in public. (We covered it in issue #81.) The following January, Beauty Pill unveiled a multimedia presentation of the sessions, including surround-sound mixes of the completed songs. After some delays and complications (see issue #113), the album was finally released a few weeks ago.

Oh, and these dates were Beauty Pill’s first shows since 2007. In the intervening time, frontman Chad Clark contacted a heart virus and almost died. Two heart surgeries saved his life.

Most bands would be content to simply play a regular gig following such an eventful recent past. But Beauty Pill—Clark, Basla Andolsun, Drew Doucette, Jean Cook and Devin Ocampo—is not like most groups. When Beauty Pill took over Artisphere’s Black Box Theatre (capacity: 125) for the third time, it made Immersive Ideal more literal than ever. The band stationed itself around the perimeter of the room; each member had his or her own stage and speaker. The audience was encouraged to walk around and observe the band from different angles as it played.

On the final night, the band members exchanged visual cues and knowing glances from across the room to each other. They had adjusted well to the innovative setting. It was almost as if it wasn’t all that different from playing together on one stage.

But at the same time, it was equally clear that they were energized here, especially when playing songs from the new album. Describes Things is a rare and unique work, filled with time-warped samples and loops interacting with dynamic band performances. Clark’s melodies are seductively hooky, and his lyrics are vivid, provocative and often profound.

The band delivered songs from the album like “Ann The Word” and “Afrikaner Barista” with aplomb. Cook (who’s played violin for Pulp, Jon Langford, Jenny Toomey and others) controlled and manipulated many of the samples with a Monome, a handheld, lighted controller. The sounds ping-ponged around the theater, interlocking with the daring rhythms of Andolsun (bass) and Ocampo (drums), and Clark and Doucette’s intertwining guitars. (Vocals are handled by Clark and Cook.) In these moments, Immersive Ideal had all the live conceptual heft and musical glory of Stop Making Sense.

Older songs like “The Idiot Heart,” “The Western Prayer” and, from Clark and Ocampo’s prior band Smart Went Crazy, “Tight Frame Loose Frame” also received revelatory performances. But arguably it was Clark himself who was the biggest revelation. Despite his long hiatus from the stage, he’s still an engaging frontman—dryly witty and indisputably committed to the music. Around his belt was a battery pack that connects to his heart and keeps him healthy and alive.

After the show, Clark expressed a wish to take Immersive Ideal on the road to other arts centers. The band has East Coast and Midwest shows scheduled for May and June. But these are at standard rock clubs. Galleries interested in an innovative, artful band would be wise to take note.

—Michael Pelusi

Live Review: Acid King, Paris, France, April 28, 2015


The longer a hiatus is extended, the more unreasonably high expectations will soar.

Ten long years have been pissed away while metal fans waited for Acid King to release a new album. Touring regularly during that period, the Bay Area trio has not been thoroughly inactive, but one can forgive a hesitancy to record. The previous album, 2005’s III, set the standard for stoner sludge and established the band as a slow-mo Sabbath. But following up a classic is a tall order.

A decade after its masterpiece, the group has just released Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere, and it feels like the logical next album. A cynic would criticize the minimal artistic growth in 10 years. But if this LP had found the band widely diverging or considerably evolving, fans would have justifiably complained of not having witnessed the interesting intermediate steps.

Instead, the release continues a clear trend in the band’s sound. On earlier recordings, Lori S.’s singing is presented up front, strident and wailing and aggressive. Over time, she has toned down the verbal posturing, mellowed and integrated her voice more snugly into the music. Set well behind thick layers of sonic gauze, her vocals now float, hover really. In parallel, the band’s sound on Middle has become more psychedelic, dreamier, spacier.

Acid King has become more “mood” than “dude.”

But the thrum of a Harley still runs through the band’s songs. Tonight, the trio plays a selection of the new tracks (“Red River,” “Silent Pictures,” and “Coming Down From Outer Space”), but the crowd pops its biggest boner for the epic “2 Wheel Nation” from the previous disc. Lori’s guitar playing is primarily single notes, but notes so heavily distorted that they carry the weight of mammoth chords.

For the encore, the group performs III’s “War Of The Mind”: the quintessential Acid King song, plodding, powerful and poignant. Expressing a scornful fatalism, the tune drags, which is clearly the whole point. It draws out the pain until the pain hypnotizes. Doom drapes a burial shroud over the listener with the deliberation of descending fog.

But like Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere, it’s well worth the wait.

—Eric Bensel

Live Review: Metz, Paris, France, Mar. 5, 2015


Ever since Pete Townshend applied Gustav Metzger’s theory of auto-destructive art to the Who’s live shows, rock etiquette requires that a gig end with an explosion of sound—if not actual destruction of instruments then at least a ringing, feedback squawk that washes away everything that preceded it.

Tonight, Toronto trio Metz places this formula on its head.

While tuning his guitar before the set formally begins, Alex Edkins stomps on the looper pedal, wrenches out a tortured riff that heaves and ho’s under the weight of distortion, then places his instrument against the amp and walks off stage. For a full five minutes, the guitar, unaccompanied, wheezes out an aural palette cleansing.

Gentlemen, start your engines.

The band opens with the shrieking blitz of “Dirty Shirt.” The tone is immediately set: whatever restraint existed on record—performances tightly executed, with vocals relegated to the cheap seats—is thoroughly shot to shit in concert. Onstage, the group expands and explodes. “Wasted” elicits both euphoria and malevolence. “The Mule” is Unsane reimagining Sonic Youth.

At its best, the band burns with the light of a thousand suns. At its worst, a few hundred suns.

With 2012 self-titled debut, Metz drew favorable comparisons with late ’80s/early-’90s harDCore. The record is indeed Lungfish-ian in its arrow-straight riffing, and when it chooses to be “angular” (a key rock crit term of the period), it throws elbows like Bill Laimbeer playing in Fugazi. But the group’s sound is thicker than that of the Dischord legends: it revives the grating aggression of the Jesus Lizard, Big Black and AmRep’s finest noise-meisters.

Metz is the sound of two Transformers fucking: hard driving, unrelenting and as abrasive as metal scraping against metal.

To the delight of all, the group performs a number of songs from forthcoming sophomore album II (“Wait In Line,” “The Swimmer,” “Acetate,” “Spit You Out,” “Nervous System,” “Kicking A Can Of Worms”), all of which stack up admirably alongside those from the debut. Judging by tonight’s performance, the first record has a right to claim sincere flattery.

Despite the show’s hour-long assault on the ears, the trio is actually insufferably polite, even apologizing between songs for its poor mastery of French. When some joker yells out the lame witticism “Metz we can!” from the crowd, bassist Chris Slorach giggles, a little too generously. He then promises to adopt the quip as the title of the group’s next album.

“That or Black Sabbath Volume 4,” counters Edkins.

Once again, impeccable taste in influences.

—Eric Bensel