All Tomorrow’s Parties, Day 2

AnimalCollectiveMAGNET’s Matt Siblo reports from the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in the Catskill Mountains.

If Friday ended with a Jesus Lizard-induced freakout, Saturday would have to begin gently with the hair of the dog provided by Sufjan Stevens. The quietly enigmatic songwriter has been laying low, only recently reemerging to formally release his ambitious BQE performance piece and a reworking of his 2001 album Enjoy Your Rabbit. With that backward-looking spirit, he performed 2004’s Seven Swans in its entirety, a brief diversion from the states-centric focused project he began in 2003. Decked out in all tie-dye, Stevens and his band launched into a surprisingly moving, but not overtly precious, rendering of the album. Subdued without seeming too bookish, haunting songs like “The Transfiguration” and “Sister” had both emotion and muscle. I believe most Christians would count the performance as attending church, so those pious attendees are all square for tomorrow. The perfect way to start the day.

But the afternoon can be a difficult time to rock. Athens, Ga.’s Circulatory System did its best to get the second stage moving, though its sonic bricolage led to the insertion of some confusing audience applause from still groggy attendees. New York’s Black Dice took Suicide’s deafening cues and amped them to 11 with a menacing, seizure-inducing set that was tough to take. And I mean that in the best way possible.

A new bell/whistle this year was the inclusion of a taping of Ian Svenonius of Nation Of Ulysses/Make-Up fame doing his post-modern Dick Cavett routine for his Vice talk show Soft Focus. Stumbling into his interview with Jon Spencer was like entering a snarky time warp, each gentleman sipping wine and talking shop in front of a plastic fireplace. While both men’s impeccable fashion sense untied them, the similarities stopped there. After 45 comically uncomfortable minutes, the irony and wine ran dry, hurling the interview to its unceremoniously conclusion.

Brandon Cox’s first set of the day (under his Atlas Sound moniker) was an opportunity for a lazy mid-day rest, as attendees sprawled out on the floor for a shoegaze-induced siesta. After continuously baiting the crowd with “Walkabout,” the duet with Panda Bear found on his new record Logos, Cox left the stage by his lonesome. The headband-inspired classic rock of Akron/Family gave the crowd the best of its two worlds: jammy Americana and obnoxious sonic squalor. Its hard charging set was satisfying regardless of preference.

And then, of course, there is Shellac, whose latest jaunt out of hibernation was enough to bemoan its otherwise self-induced non-ATP exile. Albini’s sermon on “The End Of Radio” was the highlight of its lengthy, unrelenting 70-minute set. Most compelling Q&A tidbit: Bassist Bob Weston only has sex with beautiful women, not hoes.

Atlanta’s Deerhunter followed Shellac on the main stage in a performance that Brandon Cox ominously declared as its “last for a while.” These words are said often and acted upon considerably less; it’s a shame to think the band will be sidelined in the midst of its current stride. Its set stemmed primarily from last year’s Microcastle with an inconceivably thicker layer of reverb and distortion. Let’s hope this isn’t goodbye for good.

The idea of Animal Collective (pictured) closing a festival might have sounded like a promoter’s masochistic dare five years ago, but that was then. The notoriously mercurial band’s most recent identity on this year’s Merriweather Post Pavilion is one of joyful bombast, and its celebratory set suited them. If Black Dice’s paranoid racket and dizzying lights transposed the crowd into a hallucinogenic nightmare, Animal Collective’s luminescent jellyfish lights and magical, projector orb induced an infectious state of ecstasy. By the time it closed with “Brother Sport,” there wasn’t a dry shirt on the floor.

All Tomorrow’s Parties, Day 1

JesusLizard

MAGNET’s Matt Siblo reports from the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in the Catskill Mountains.

Not much has changed in the 360-ish days since ATP last left Kushters, the delightfully grodey resort that it calls home. Perhaps that’s not entirely true. The sundries shop now offers tie-dyed T-shirts, while a small group of masseuses offer sliding-scale services in the main hall. Thankfully, hair-coloring services are still available in the lobby.

Friday night’s happiest surprise was the presence of a wandering Nick Cave, who earlier in the evening joined the Dirty Three while I begrudgingly bought snacks at Walmart. No matter, Mr. Cave has been lurching around the hotel ever since, leading to unfounded rumors that he’ll play a set sometime this weekend. It should be noted that Cave’s entourage looks exactly how you’d think they would: stylish Australian pallbearers from 1972.

After missing the Feelies matinee performance (they took the stage at 4:45, the Drones even earlier), I caught Suicide’s Don’t Look Back rendering of its self-titled debut. A band undeniably remarkable in the epoch to which it belongs, Suicide’s abrasion of the senses couldn’t help but dull in the years and bands that have followed it. Onstage, Alan Vega and Martin Rev had the presence of a museum instillation. At the risk of sounding insolent, once it’s necessary to perform with a music stand with lyrics, it’s hard to come across as a provocateur.

Animal Collective’s Panda Bear faced similar difficulties in engaging a room filled with people while staring at a synthesizer. Whereas Suicide furiously pounded, Panda’s ethereal soundscapes filled the cavernous auditorium with Rorschach-like projections pounding beats. Making a bigger racket than one man with a keyboard ought to make, he reworked much of 2007’s Person Pitch along with assorted Animal Collective favorites that may or may not be rehashed tomorrow.

Favoring laughter over a good cry, I caught Eugene Mirman and David Cross, while Iron And Wine lulled the main room. Mirman’s mix of video comedy and deadpan delivery was sharply on point (insight of the evening: “Religion is not a leap of faith but a boy with high-functioning autism”) whereas Cross’ set was, er, looser. After declaring his intoxication, Cross seemed to unravel before everyone’s eyes. Note to comedians: Drunk people don’t find the antics of the Senate Finance Committee very funny; poop and Jewish jokes go over much better. 

Closing the evening was the Jesus Lizard (pictured), rounding out a victory lap that began earlier this year. I never saw the band in its gloriously drunken heyday, but tonight, the band was shockingly sprightly and precise. David Yow prowled the stage with a maniacal glean and a feral (manchild) intensity. Its hour-long, career-spanning set held its intensity throughout in a rare act of non-nostalgia-inciting glory. 

For those still standing, the Criterion Collection offered a rare screening of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House, a bizarre horror/comedy that defied physics, logic and narrative storytelling.

MAGNET Heads To All Tomorrow’s Parties

ATPFor a certain type of fan, the migration of All Tomorrow’s Parties westward over the Atlantic has been a revelation. Unaccustomed to the small charm of a focused, boutique-style festival, American audiences have become inundated with sprawling monstrosities with 17 stages where every band that put out a record that year plays. In that sense, ATP New York is nothing if not deliberate. With the lineups cherry picked by various luminaries (this year, the Flaming Lips have the honors), the festival is outside the city limits nestled within the mountainous landscape and bygone glory of the Catskills, a vacation spot whose sheen has worn off considerably since Jackie Gleason last worked the rooms. Where else but New York could the resort hosting the festival, the charmingly decrepit Kutshers Country Club, seem chosen due to a vague sense of irony? It is with a brave face and incorruptible journalistic integrity that I will be delivering daily reports for MAGNET, acting as your eyes and ears on the ground in between what I hope to be an endless supply of bloody marys, bocce and my desperate attempts to befriend Jim Jarmusch. Also, I’m pretty sure bands are playing. I’ll be writing about them, too. 

—Matt Siblo

Live Review: Minus 5, Baseball Project, Steve Wynn 4, San Francisco, CA, Aug. 30, 2009

baseballprojectliveScott McCaughey, Steve Wynn, Peter Buck and Linda Pitmon, the foursome who cut an album in 2008 as the Baseball Project, swung for the fences at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall before a modest-sized crowd whose enthusiasm overcame its lack of numbers. Most of those who showed up seemed to be either longtime McCaughey and Wynn devotees or friends of the musicians. Or both.

It didn’t take white home uniforms or grey road ones for the fans to tell who was who onstage. Wynn and Pitmon looked every inch the sharp, uptown New Yorkers. McCaughey and Buck, neither of whom has visited the barber all season, could’ve been mistaken for former members of Seattle-area grunge-meisters the Screaming Trees. It was like the odd couple times two. But not when it came to the music.

McCaughey and Wynn, both lifelong baseball fans who’d dreamed of writing paeans to their boyhood heroes, made it all come true with Frozen Ropes And Dying Quails (Yep Roc). To fill out the lineup card for live shows, the foursome pumped up the concept by adding songs from Killingsworth (Yep Roc), the current release of McCaughey and Buck’s combo the Minus 5, and Wynn’s most recent solo outing, Crossing Dragon Bridge (Rock Ridge). Of course, they also ladled plenty of caramel over the Cracker Jack in the form of vintage Wynn-penned, nuevo-psych classics by the Dream Syndicate and a few reckless, last-chance power-drives from McCaughey’s Young Fresh Fellows. Sprinkle on a few peanuts in the form of Wynn’s collaboration with Gutterball, and nobody walked away hungry. Some could barely walk at all by night’s end.

“Past Time,” the Baseball Project tune that got national exposure on Letterman recently, was a fitting introduction to the baseball concept. As its lyrics state: “One thing you can say about the game is it’s not getting any faster,” which brings up the hardball question: “Pastime, are you past your prime?” A guarded “no” is probably the correct answer here.

“Here’s a song about the man who helped A-Rod make $30 million a year,” smirked McCaughey, introducing “Gratitude (For Curt Flood),” about the Cardinals outfielder whose lawsuit brought about free agency for baseball players—a move that came too late for Flood, himself. Afterward, McCaughey asked Wynn if he remembered that mean-spirited, live bootleg album that captured only the off-key vocals of Linda McCartney on a Paul McCartney & Wings tour. “My career could be in ruins if somebody’s recording us tonight,” moaned McCaughey, even though his angelic tenor sounded just fine.

McCaughey dedicated the poignant “Sometimes I Dream Of Willie Mays” to his dad, the man who ferried the youngster 50 miles up the peninsula from their Saratoga, Calif., home to windblown Candlestick Park. The most interesting of the baseball songs was “Harvey Haddix,” the sad tale of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher who threw 12 perfect innings—36 batters faced, 36 outs—only to lose the game and his no-hitter in the unlucky 13th inning.

The first 10 minutes of each of the two sets tonight felt like the early innings of some baseball games: more like a tentative game of catch between the pitcher and the catcher. Not a lot of action. Things really got heated when Wynn brought his flamethrowing Dream Syndicate tunes out of the bullpen. “That’s What You Always Say,” “Tell Me When It’s Over” and “The Days Of Wine And Roses” sounded almost as tree-defoliating as the original Syndicate lineup of Wynn, guitarist Karl Precoda, bassist Kendra Smith and drummer Dennis Duck. Wynn and McCaughey took turns playing Precoda’s squirrelly leads and sometimes went toe to toe, a la Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. But Wynn missed a golden opportunity to bring up a famed remark by venerated Giants announcer Russ Hodges, who once referred to the Phillies infield of the ’60s as “the days of (Bobby) Wine and (Cookie) Rojas.” The unflappable Buck and the power-flapping Pitmon, who stuck exclusively to bass and drums, respectively, were a monstrous rhythm section all night long.

McCaughey’s country-ish “Dark Hand Of Contagion,” with Wynn and Pitmon taking the background vocals originally cut by Portland girl group the SheBeeGees, sounded a little like American Beauty-era Grateful Dead, even without the pedal-steel guitar. Wynn’s signature Dream Syndicate song, “The Medicine Show,” may seem like it has tent-show roots, but it really has more in common with Appalachian murder ballads and the Carter Family than snake oil and bottles of nerve tonic.

You knew they were getting ready to outline the bodies with chalk and seal off the area with crime-scene tape when the quartet dug into “Revolution Blues,” Neil Young’s fairly obscure rocker from On The Beach. Even Young, himself, might’ve followed up that mayhem-inducer with McCaughey’s bellowing “Shit Man.” (If he knew the tune.) And how better to end this blissfully long night than with a ripsnorting version of Great Pacific Northwest eardrum-shredder “Strychnine” from what may have been the best rock ‘n’ roll band of all time, the Sonics.

As a good-night salute, the ever sharp McCaughey said, “Rock ‘n’ roll music appreciates your dedication to rock ‘n’ roll music.” It was enough to finish off what equilibrium remained after a dizzying evening of, you guessed it, rock ‘n’ roll music.

—Jud Cost

Live Review: Joe Pernice, Philadelphia, PA, Aug. 8, 2009

joeperniceliveFor starters, you had to respect Joe Pernice for the degree of difficulty of the tour he is attempting. Working without the safety net of his crack Pernice Brothers cohorts was the least of it. Lots of singer/songwriters do that. But Pernice’s show at Philadelphia’s Tin Angel was advertised as part reading of his new novel and part set of the cover songs he released as a “soundtrack” to accompany the book.

It is with great relief that we report the selections from It Feels So Good When I Stop were entertaining and compelling, both in content and in Pernice’s delivery. There was none of the awkwardness that stifles some author readings or the raging egotism that spoils others. Pernice read with the same keen ear he brings to singing his gorgeous and literate pop songs. He read two sections, both funny and sharply observed. One related a drunken conversation about Hitler’s mustache, the other a fictional (ahem) interaction with Lou Barlow during a gig at Brownie’s in New York.

The best gauge of Pernice’s reading: When he said he was finished reading from the book, none of the 75 or so in attendance cheered in that let’s-get-on-with-the-music tone that would have changed the temperature of the whole performance.

The second part of Pernice’s gamble paid off, as well. You don’t generally go to see a songwriter of Pernice’s caliber to hear him sing other people’s songs, especially oddities like “Chim Cheree” from Mary Poppins or Sammy Johns’ ’70s hit “Chevy Van.” But the twist here worked. These are songs that figure in the novel, and they’re in the novel because they affected the author in some profound way during his formative years (mostly).

So it turned out that Pernice playing covers with an acoustic guitar is a wonderful idea. His passion for the songs came through, and they were transformed by his airy, ethereal voice and songwriter’s sense of dynamics. Highlights included Barlow’s “Soul And Fire” and James And Bobby Purify’s “I’m Your Puppet” and, yes, Pernice’s heartbreaking take on “Chim Cheree.”

Pernice capped the evening with a short set of his own songs, selected, he said, because they worked best without the lush pop arrangements of the recordings. “Amazing Glow,” “How Can I Compare” and “Pisshole In The Snow” felt more immediate and direct in this setting. And “Bum Leg,” from way back on the Chappaquiddick Skyline album, was a perfect downer of an encore.

There’s no way to know whether Pernice will focus on writing fiction or making records from here on out. This project takes a step in a new direction with the book while standing firmly on familiar ground with the CD. For a night, at least, Pernice made the two pieces fit perfectly.

—Phil Sheridan

Live Review: Count Five, San Jose, CA, Aug. 2, 2009

count_five2Count Five, the San Jose, Calif., garage-rock legends who hit the top of the national charts in 1966 with “Psychotic Reaction,” returned to the scene of past glories at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. An unseasonably temperate 75-degree Sunday in August should have drawn more than the 50 or so curious souls who wandered in to plop down onto plastic patio chairs for a ripping good 90-minute set of ’60s smashes. It was hard to believe this was the same venue that once drew mobs of the faithful for Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin—all at the top of their game—for the Northern California Folk-Rock Festivals of 1968-69. That’s because things have changed dramatically since then.

With its archaic concrete bleachers demolished years ago and dwindling attendance since then, the local county fair pretty much went out of business for a while. Now it’s back on a very scaled-down basis (free admission, free parking), but if the skimpy Sunday-afternoon crowd is an accurate barometer, the basic operation is still on life support. The big chips this weekend were no doubt riding on the success of a Sunday-evening show in a newly opened mini-arena: an all-’80s event that featured Missing Persons, Naked Eyes, A Flock Of Seagulls and Tommy Tutone at $25-$35 a pop.

The jury is still out on that one, but Count Five sounded amazing, playing for a crowd you could have wedged into a 7-Eleven. Harmonica-wielding singer Kenn Ellner has become an even more dynamic entertainer than he was in the band’s early days, now very comfortable with the Keith Relf-like vocals on Yardbirds staples “I’m Not Talking,” “I Wish You Would” and “I Ain’t Got You.” And the razor-sharp leads of original guitarist John “Mouse” Michalski (who once made American Bandstand‘s Dick Clark smirk, “Yeah, the big guy is always called Mouse,”) is still the closest thing going today to his readily apparent six-string hero, Jeff Beck. Matched with the band’s original bassist, Roy Chaney, the effect is devastating.

Kicking things off with a rousing version of the Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” Count Five cherry-picked a superb set of ’60s gems to flesh out their short list of band originals (“The Morning After,” “Double Decker Bus”). Ellner recalled the night the band opened for the Dave Clark Five at San Jose Civic Auditorium, then blew the place up with DC5’s “Glad All Over,” dynamic enough for a ponytailed blond in a pink and lavender sun dress to skip and pirouette in all the right places as she walked by.

Just as ardent, if not quite as winsome, was the shirt-less Charlie Manson look-alike who shook it down in front of the band nonstop, from the Stones’ “It’s All Over Now” to Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right.” Most of the rest of the sedentary crowd managed to get up and shake something to the grand finale, a tree-defoliating runthrough of “Psychotic Reaction.” It’s an anthem that once caused notorious rock writer Lester Bangs to rhapsodize about purchasing Count Five’s only album, then fantasize about a non-existent string of follow-up LPs, detailed in his posthumous, Greil Marcus-edited compendium Psychotic Reaction And Carburetor Dung. You could almost feel the presence of the revered other gonzo journalist this afternoon, rumbling, bumbling and stumbling through the clouds in pure ecstasy.

—Jud Cost

Live Review: Mark Eitzel, Philadelphia, PA, July 28, 2009

eitzel350bAs the leader of American Music Club and a solo artist, 50-year-old Mark Eitzel has toured with numerous configurations and players during the past two-plus decades, from a full band to solo with guitar. This night in Philadelphia was the penultimate stop on a small tour mostly confined to the Northeast corridor that featured a new arrangement: just Eitzel and a piano player, Marc Capelle. Billed as “Mark Eitzel Performs American Music Club,” this “kind of a Tony Bennett thing I guess,” as Eitzel wrote on his blog, gave him the freedom to concentrate solely on singing—and his hilarious stage antics. Eitzel has always been a mix of stand-up comic, self-deprecating curmudgeon who constantly apologizes for his “stupid songs” and confident showman. And with just a microphone in his hand, here Eitzel was free to fully indulge in a sad-clown lounge-act persona that fit him well.

Hopping onto the stage at Johnny Brenda’s in a trucker hat and baggy chino pants, a bearded Eitzel fidgeted around the whole set, repeatedly sitting down on a chair, then getting back up again (often during songs), all while alternately beaming to the crowd and shying away. After saying hi, he talked about getting a new career, such as cleaning toilets, but only for “people who are sanitary.” Then, on a dime,  he started singing and sent the crowd from loose laughter to arrested silence with a longing cover of “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” and his own wrenching “Mission Rock Resort.”

This pattern would happen throughout the show. Eitzel would crack jokes about his life, his age, Roberta Flack, other shows on the tour, former band members, Facebook, and then casually launch into poignant laments such as AMC tunes “Decibels And Little Pills,” “The Thorn In My Side Is Gone” and “Nightwatchman” (Eitzel got choked up at one point during this one) that just inspired awe with their bruised lyrics and Eitzel’s room-filling voice. He may have the most human voice in rock music. It is all of this at once: sad, defiant, wounded, sentimental, understanding, hopeful, resigned. Big as the biggest adjective and commanded with elegantly flawed grace, Eitzel’s voice can make your ears cry. The way he draws out syllables, the way he pulls back from the microphone to sing unamplified and then leans loudly back in. Astonishing.

On a few tunes, including a beautifully rendered “Last Harbor” and one from a musical Eitzel recently wrote with British playwright Simon Stephens, Capelle would start the song and Eitzel would immediately ask him to slow it down. “Slower, slower, slower,” he said at one point, walking over to the keyboard and coaching Capelle’s fingers down to a lilting crawl.

If you have seen Eitzel live, you know he sometimes can’t seem to wait to get off the stage and has a tendency to abort songs and end sets abruptly. On this night, he never seemed to want to leave. After taking a bow together following the main set, Eitzel and Capelle treated the crowd to two encores. The first featured a cheeky reading of “Me And Mrs. Jones” with the “Mrs.” changed to “Mr.” For the second, Eitzel offered a choice of either “Blue And Gray Shirt” or “No Easy Way Down.” The fans shouted competing preferences. So they played both, the piano floating just perfectly, unobtrusively, under that wondrous voice.

—Doug Sell; photo by Lea Bogdan

Live Review: The Weakerthans, San Francisco, CA, July 23, 2009

weakerthansIt doesn’t take long for Weakerthans frontman John K. Samson to size up what kind of a crowd he’s been dealt in San Francisco tonight. When his tongue-in-cheek announcement of a local curling tournament (that bizarre sport most U.S. citizens notice only during the Winter Olympics that involves sliding a heavy polished stone, shuffleboard-like, down an icy pitch) gets a pretty good response, he’s home free, preaching to the choir for the rest of the evening. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Manitoba quintet, with a topnotch set list of folk/rock songs with plenty of power-pop flourishes, is playing to a sold-out house that seems at least half full of transplanted Canadians, ready to sing along in between trips to the washroom to offload the Molson. With guitarist/pedal-steel whiz Stephen Carroll, bassist Greg Smith and drummer Jason Tait (along with an unnamed utility man who aptly handles keyboards and trumpet and a female French horn player in for a couple of tunes), the Weakerthans are easily the best Canadian band seen in these parts since Vancouver’s Pointed Sticks played their fabulous Stiff Records debut single “Out Of Luck” to a pogoing crowd at the Mabuhay Gardens three decades ago.

Samson, in his mid-30s, is blessed with a perpetually innocent, Holden Caulfield kind of voice, one perfectly suited to the final line of “Relative Surplus Value,” a song about the alienation of a young man at a faraway business convention: “Could you come get me?” This stuff couldn’t be sung more convincingly by the peach-fuzzed trio from Superbad. On the other hand, the stylish lyrics, well worth a read on 2007’s Reunion Tour, at times are worthy of Neutral Milk Hotel’s 1998 masterpiece In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. High praise indeed.

Halfway through the set, as the rest of the boys go take a pee, Samson delights the crowd with a stripped-down version of the frostily titled “One Great City!” It’s an homage/wrecking ball swung with love in the direction of the Weakerthans’ hometown. (And former base of operations for a chart-topping rock band and an NHL franchise.) “The Guess Who sucked, the Jets were lousy anyway,” warbles Samson as he urges the throng to join in on the song’s tagline: “I hate Winnipeg!” They readily oblige with a roar that might have been heard all the way back to Manitoba. “Civil Twilight” and “Confessions Of A Futon Revolutionist” are roaring anthems that still leave plenty of space to peek through sheer curtains, like some night-stalking Peeping Tom, at the occasional neurotic episode inside. Carroll found time to unholster what looks like either a styrofoam bullwhip or an oversized cat’s toy; swung overhead at different speeds, it makes a couple of notes that resemble the quirky electronic throb of a theremin.

The populist leanings of the Weakerthans are put to the test when they pull some kid in a black ballcap out of the crowd to play the guitar solo on “Wellington’s Wednesdays,” a ripsnorting number that also poaches a bit of New Order’s 1982 single “Temptation.” “It’s in the key of E,” says Samson as he hands over his guitar. The kid does just fine, to the crowd’s delight. The fans are so into it tonight, someone even calls out for “Elegy For Gump Worsley,” the heartfelt, spoken-word tribute to the Hall Of Fame goalie who won four Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens in the mid-’60s. When another devotee shouts out, “Weaker than what?” Samson, to his credit, turns a deaf ear, refusing the stock, Marlon Brando-like  reply: “Whaddaya got?”

—Jud Cost

“Sun In An Empty Room” (download):

Live Review: Pitchfork Music Festival, Chicago, IL, July 18 And 19, 2009

flaminglips

The weather was mostly pitch perfect for the weekend at Chicago’s Union Park, insignificant showers on Saturday, 70 degrees on Sunday. The audience, as usual, was informed, committed and up for anything, but the aptly named Fucked Up gave some of its fans more than they bargained for when they leapt from the Aluminum Stage with their guitars. Rapper Daniel Dumile (a.k.a. MF Doom) was one of few carrying the hip-hop flame this year with his stage mask, wild camouflage attire and massive dreadlocked sidekick—not to mention his relentless, articulate flow. Beirut’s Zach Condon blended Balkan brass music with French chanson, doubling on trumpet and ukulele in front of a fresh-faced seven-piece band that featured accordionist Perrin Cloutier. Although the National headlined Saturday, it was on the Balance Stage at the south end of the park where most of the action was happening. Something of a Scandinavian enclave, this stage hosted Norwegian mixmaster Hans-Peter Lindstrøm and Danish rockers Mew, but it was the manic pop duo of Matt And Kim followed by the insurgent Black Lips that set that side of the park alight. The Atlanta-based Lips hit like extras from Pirates Of The Caribbean, storming onstage with abandon. Almost immediately, Ian Saint Pé made matchwood of his guitar, and later the band urged the crowd to surge and worry security. Despite their reputation as hell-raisers, the rest of the set was strictly business, an outlaw stew of garage punk, busted well beyond the garage.

Still, it was the Flaming Lips and their wacko costumed characters that won out with an impossibly arty finale. Topping off a Sunday night that included Grizzly Bear, Vivian Girls and the Walkmen, the Lips’ Wayne Coyne made perhaps the safest crowd surf of the festival in his trademark plastic bubble, subsequently bestriding a giant gorilla head. Coyne’s between-song patter was surprisingly inane, but as night descended, the spectacle became as trippy as a close encounter, with streamers and giant balloons festooning Union Park. Coyne largely obliged Pitchfork’s “Write The Night” demand, including confused-machismo anthem “Fight Test,” “Enthusiasm For Life Defeats Existential Fear” (from the band’s Fearless Freaks film) and the wishful “Bad Days,” closing out with 1993’s “She Don’t Use Jelly.” The Lips’ psychedelic orange-clad tech crew had worked since 7.30 a.m. setting up for this big send-off, much to the amazement of Pitchfork staff, who are probably still clearing the park after the awesome rain of confetti at this otherwise recycle-conscious event, now firmly entrenched as one of the hippest in the Chicago calendar.

—photos and text by Michael Jackson

Live Review: Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey, San Francisco, CA, July 18, 2009

hospsaplestanley225501“I guess we won’t try to surf the crowd tonight,” chuckled Peter Holsapple, patting my arm as he circumnavigated the 40 or so paying customers seated in San Francisco’s Cafe du Nord on a foggy Saturday night. The house would eventually swell to more than 60, all there to hear the heroic blend of Holsapple and Chris Stamey, the onetime (and future) creative core of revered North Carolina jangle-rockers the dB’s, play numbers from their current release, Here And Now (Bar None), as well as select gems from their abundant back catalog.  

The always simpatico vocal duo enhanced their rich blend by frequently singing into the same mic at center stage, a la the Everly Brothers. Then, at times, they’d scratch a Simon & Garfunkel itch (more like Simon & Simon, actually) on a couple of faintly Latin-flavored tunes, with drummer Gary Greene beating his snare like a conga while Jeff Crawford added solid bass lines.  The best early moments came on “Santa Monica,” a haunting new tune that sounds as though it could have been an outtake from Who’s Next. Supported all night by Holsapple’s lithe acoustic (and something that looked like a fretted cigar box but sounded like a mandolin), the still boyish-looking Stamey dug into his powder-blue electric and made it squirm like Tom Verlaine. 

“At one time, we were the only kids in Winston-Salem who didn’t believe the Allman Brothers were the second coming of Jesus,” smirked Holsapple.now sporting a clean-shaven head, horn-rimmed glasses and a Pancho Villa mustache. “We were  young art-rockers who loved the Move, Can and Amon Düül.” To prove his point, they played “My Friend The Sun,” a lovely obscurity from Leicester, England, prog-rockers Family. Wisely, neither singer attempted to replicate the notorious goat-like vibrato of Roger Chapman, Family’s frontman. A collective gasp went up from the crowd when they recognized the ethereal “I Am The Cosmos” by Chris Bell of Big Star, killed in a 1978 car crash at age 27. The song, originally released by Stamey’s Car label earlier that year, reaffirms an important link in the DNA of the dB’s. 

Terrific covers aside, it’s the Tarheel twosome’s indelible originals these folks came to hear, and Holsapple and Stamey did not disappoint, with impeccable workouts on “She Was The One” and “Angels” from the duo’s 1991 album, Mavericks. “We were in a pretty famous band at one time, and I know you’re all thinking of Rittenhouse Square,” joked Stamey as the group rolled classic early jangle-punk dB’s single “Black And White” out of the garage. It may have sounded less frantic 30 years later, but it was every bit as much of an arrow right through the heart.  

“Here’s a little number to send you home happy,” said a sweat-drenched Holsapple as the boys ended their brief encore with an excruciatingly beautiful version of the Everlys’ “Let It Be Me,” the perfect dessert cognac to a magical evening. 

—Jud Cost

“Here And Now” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/HereAndNow.mp3