In Brooklyn, Modest Mouse Delivers Good Music For People Who Love Good Music

Modest Mouse is in the middle of a U.S. tour that winds up at the Big Adventure fest in Costa Mesa, Calif., on November 4. Issac Brock and Co. floated into Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre to play a high-energy, 17-song set replete with some of the hits as well as a number of old fan favorites. (The band kicked things off with “Dramamine,” the opening track on 1996 debut This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About.) MAGNET photographer Wes Orshoski didn’t miss the boat, did do the cockroach and took these great images.

Live Review: Rhett Miller, Ardmore, Pa, Oct. 6, 2018

Instigator. Believer. Interpreter. Dreamer. Traveler. Messenger. Rhett Miller is all those things and much more. MAGNET’s M.J. Fine (words) and Chris Sikich (photos) witness the Old 97’s frontman alive and wired.

In the Old 97’s “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive,” a candid and kinetic recap of what the band’s been up to for the past 25 years that’s become a staple of their concerts and frontman Rhett Miller’s one-man, one-guitar shows, the singer admits the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle is “both a blast and a bore.” At Ardmore Music Hall, Miller was in full-on blast mode, and even he seemed a bit surprised by the packed venue and the raucous enthusiasm of the crowd.

This is what Rhett Miller does: He rolls into town (on his own or with the 97’s), works up a sweat while racing through an ever-changing set of some of the hookiest, wordiest and most relatable tunes men have written since commercial radio stopped playing that sort of thing, breaks a string or three, shares a few self-deprecating stories and promises to come around again soon.

Just one thing was missing Saturday night: Miller didn’t break a single string, no matter how many times he busted out his signature windmill moves. Everything else was in place, not least the Rhett SweatTM, helped along by the bright lights and full room.

The 26-song setlist was a deliberate mix of introspective yearning and drunken come-ons, that sweet spot where Miller dredges up long-ago romantic failures to charm a following that’s already thoroughly besotted with him. Given the wealth of material at his disposal—11 Old 97’s records and six solo LPs, not counting the teenage debut he’s disavowed—he did an admirable job of giving the fans the staples they crave (“Barrier Reef,” “Big Brown Eyes,” “Salome” and “Time Bomb” all from the band’s excellent third album, 1997’s Too Far To Care), recent standouts (the mildly blasphemous “Jesus Loves You” and “Good With God,” from last year’s solid Graveyard Whistling) and deeper cuts that even he had forgotten (introducing “Ride,” one of two well-received pieces he rescued from 2008’s disappointing Blame It On Gravity; Miller mentioned that he’d been inspired to relearn it after Sirius’ Outlaw Country channel reminded him of its existence recently).

Better yet, of the eight tunes drawn from his solo albums, not one had surfaced during his show earlier this year at World Cafe Live. He paid particular attention to 2002’s The Instigator, with three songs (“Our Love,” “Come Around, “This Is What I Do”) that were among the evening’s biggest crowd-pleasers. So too, was his cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” reprised from 2011 live covers record The Interpreter and a perfect fit for the encore.

Speaking of looking back, having read a magazine article extolling the 25th anniversary of Uncle Tupelo’s Anodyne last week, Miller noted that the Old 97’s first time in a studio was at Cedar Creek, where they recorded their first demo the day after Uncle Tupelo made their final recording there. (“We might have stolen some of the mojo,” he joked.)

But Miller looked forward as well, playing one song apiece from his next solo outing, The Messenger (due November 9), and the Old 97’s forthcoming Christmas album, Love The Holidays (out November 16). For the former, “Total Disaster,” Miller glanced occasionally at his lyric sheet and proved yet again that no one has his number like he himself does: “Girl’s name and the color of her eyes/Street name and the phase of the moon/Write ’em down in a beat-up notebook/Set it to a catchy tune/This is what I do.” Can’t blame him; it’s a winning formula. He can sing that song forever, about a girl that he once knew, if he keeps doing it as well as he did Saturday in Ardmore.

True to form, Miller will be passing through again soon enough, pulling double duty as a solo opener when the Old 97’s holiday extravaganza tours up and down both coasts between Thanksgiving and Christmas, wrapping up with two dates in Texas before the year’s out.

Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.: The Inaugural Sea.Hear.Now Fest Hits The Jersey Shore, With A Little Help From The Boss

The inaugural Sea.Hear.Now Festival kicked off fall at the Jersey Shore, serving up two days’ worth of music, art and surfing in Asbury Park. Jack Johnson and Incubus were the headliners, while the likes of Ben Harper, Blondie, Frank Turner, Langhorne Slim, the English Beat and Deer Tick joined in on the fun. The festival’s highlight came on the second night, when Social Distortion brought out a special guest and local legend for three songs: Bruce Springsteen. (What, you were expecting Southside Johnny?) MAGNET photographer Wes Orshoski was stoked to ride the Sea.Hear.Now wave, dude.

Jack Johnson
Ben Harper
Social Distortion
The English Beat
Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket)

Live Review: Liz Phair, Speedy Ortiz, Philadelphia, Oct. 5, 2018

On the eve of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation, MAGNET’s M.J. Fine (words) and Chris Sikich (photos) take a trip through Guyville with Liz Phair—and Speedy Ortiz

With half the crowd in a state of despair and/or fury over Brett Kavanaugh’s impending confirmation to the Supreme Court on Friday, Liz Phair avoided addressing the headlines head-on at her sold-out Union Transfer show. But she didn’t have to. In a set dominated by songs from 1993 masterpiece Exile In Guyville, Phair spoke volumes. You could almost pick a line at random and find the secret thoughts of any woman who’s been sucked into the orbit of those kind of men.

Take “Help Me Mary,” where Phair paints a scene that’s familiar to any underestimated, overachieving girl: “I lock my door at night/I keep my mouth shut tight/I practice all my moves/I memorize their stupid rules.” As any longtime fan knows, it’s the origin story of the young artist steeling herself to succeed in the male-dominated Chicago music scene of the early ’90s, but it’s just as applicable to suburban teens trying to stay safe in the Reagan years and contemporary corporate climbers who couldn’t lean in any harder without breaking something.

If the lyrics of Guyville have held up all too well, the music proved equally timely. (Just ask Sadie Dupuis, whose band Speedy Ortiz opened the show with a tight set of hooky, pointed tunes that are deeply indebted to Phair both in craft and content.) Phair was in control at all times, smoothly bouncing between cocky (“6’1″”), sunny (whitechocolatespaceegg’s “Polyester Bride”) and transcendent (“Stratford-On-Guy”), with an impressive number of guitars in her rotation and solid-yet-inconspicuous support from mostly anonymous sidemen keeping the focus on her. (Cody Perrin’s Stones-y lick on “Mesmerizing” was a pleasant exception.)

While it wasn’t hard to read the room, it helped to hear so many songs that assured we weren’t alone in feeling this way. Indeed, despair and/or fury couldn’t keep the crowd from clapping throughout “Never Said” or from endorsing the enthusiastic consent at the center of Whip-Smart’s “Supernova” by shouting along.

Though Phair marked the 25th anniversary of her debut LP earlier this year with the Girly-Sound To Guyville boxed set and a smattering of shows that drew from her pre-Guyville juvenilia, her only nod to that much fetishized early material was a stripped-down “Go West” that owed more to the ’91 bedroom demo than the fleshed-out version incarnation that appeared three years later on Whip-Smart.

Phair paid even less heed to her more recent past, playing just four songs from this century. She completely ignored her last studio album, 2010’s Funstyle, and hauled out her acoustic guitar for “The Game,” a twangy, glossy—in her word, “adult-y”—number that may or may not make her next release, whenever that might be. Best of all, her bravado was infectious on “Extraordinary” and “Why Can’t I?”—the back-to-back pop singles from 2003’s polarizing Liz Phair that ended the main set on a fist-pumping high.

Of course, the show wasn’t really over until the double-downer encore of “Fuck And Run” and “Divorce Song.” But even in their brutal honesty and resignation, they fizzed with hard-won triumph in the way one woman turned her despair and fury into art that continues to resonate with listeners a quarter-century on and inspires a legion of younger women to create their own mythologies and make their own messy masterpieces.

It helped, too, that Speedy Ortiz’s Dupuis was willing to speak plainly, letting a heckler’s shouted protest (“This is not a political concert”) prove her point. Between frank songs about flirting (“The Graduates”), harassment (“Villain”) and not drinking (“Ginger”), she took on centrist Democrats; rejoiced at having received her absentee ballot earlier in the day; urged everyone to believe women and to vote; led the crowd in a mass scream at the injustice; and promoted Making Spaces Safer, a pocket guide to stopping harassment that the band has given to each venue on the tour. (Proceeds from the name-your-price download of Speedy Ortiz’s reverent cover of Phair outtake “Blood Keeper” go toward the effort.)

And though Gritty was a no-show despite Dupuis’ campaign for the Flyers mascot to join Speedy Ortiz at its hometown show, I can’t wait to hear how she transforms that disappointment into something you can dance to.

London Band To Watch Shame Brings Its Songs Of Praise To Brooklyn

Chances are, if you’ve spent any time at all with this year’s Songs Of Praise (Dead Oceans), the debut album from Shame, you know this South London quintet is the real deal. But not even an LP this good could possibly prepare you for the live show that Charlie Steen and Co. put on, a sweat-soaked, leave-it-all-on-the-field blast of sometimes-brutal post-punk energy that will leave your ears ringing for days. MAGNET photographer (and true believer) Wes Orshoski recently braved the mosh pit to capture Shame’s live sermons on the Music Hall Of Williamsburg mountain.