Live Review: The Feelies, Chicago, IL, June 29, 2009

feelies550The Feelies took the stage at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park on Monday night, playing their first Chicago gig in 18 years. While even more time has passed since the group’s post-punk guitar shtick first reigned in 1977, the little old band from Haledon, N.J., started out rocking hard and only picked up speed as the night progressed, strumming away the years and playing many old favorites in front of thousands.

The weather cooperated nicely for the outdoor show, making it the perfect summer evening for Millennium Park’s free concert series. Bill Million was the penultimate rhythm guitar hero while Glenn Mercer blazed on leads—and the double drumming of Stanley Demeski and Dave Weckerman pushed the beat (and bassist Brenda Sauter) into bouncing, droning overdrive. “Punk never sounded so innocent,” said one observer.

After a blistering 70-minute set that included familiar tunes such as “Deep Fascination” and “Too Far Gone,” the band encored with a cover of R.E.M.’s “Carnival Of Sorts (Box Cars),” its own rave-out “Fa Cé-La” and the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On.” Then, with the overtime clock ticking loudly and a huge throng of dancing fans crushing in the front of the Pritzker stage, the band returned for an accelerated version of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” Word to the wise: Catch the Feelies’ upcoming shows in Hoboken, just so you can say you were there.

—Mitch Myers; photo by Jerry Goldner

Live Review: David Byrne And DeVotchKa, Morrison, CO, June 20, 2009

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What’s different about David Byrne in 2009? His suit fits. The notorious image from Stop Making Sense of Byrne in the big-and-tall suit, undulating like a used-car-lot figurine, is burned in the brains of the YouTube generation. These days? He’s that weird guy with white hair who curated a stage at Bonnaroo two weeks ago. Thankfully, neither of these preconceptions was visible at Saturday’s show at Red Rocks, where Byrne played to an audience who more than likely bought original Talking Heads releases on vinyl.

Known mostly as a “newgrass” and jam-band hub, Colorado has seen a recent wave of indie-leaning acts, highlighted by Denver’s own DeVotchKa. The foursome came dressed for the occasion in matching black suits, save tubist/bassist Jamie Schroder in a black polka-dot dress and red cardigan. Singer Nick Urata crooned in usual fashion over the tribal-orchestral beats supplied by the rotating violin, accordion, tuba, stand-up bass and drums behind him. As made famous by the opening credits of Little Miss Sunshine (for which DeVotchKa played the score), “The Winner Is” was a crowd favorite.  The group closed with a raucous European polka jam that sparked droves of uninhibited Coloradans to dance in their rows, Fat Tire cans in hand.

Like every element of his set, Byrne’s entrance was carefully choreographed. The 57-year-old took the stage at the stroke of 9 p.m., leading a parade of white-clad musicians and back-up singers. Generously offering to forego his customary pre-show babble (he told us this through two minutes of pre-show babble), Byrne opened with a lush version of “Strange Overtones.” It was the first of several songs off of last year’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today with Brian Eno, quickly followed by the heaven-reaching “One Fine Day.” Throughout the set, Byrne was sporadically joined by three interpretive dancers. In the usual style of his live show, their moves seemed to exist independent of time or contemporary culture. But, in the end, that’s a large part of what David Byrne is. Old, but not really. Corny, but still somehow cool. At one point late in the performance, Byrne led the ensemble in a choreographed “sitting” office-chair routine, complete with a high-speed rolling slide across the diameter of the stage to conclude the song.

The natural acoustics of Red Rocks boded well for Byrne and his 10 stage performers, with warm reverberating bass tones and vocals that seemed to carry miles away from the hills of Morrison. The audience contributed to the late-show appearance of power duo “Once In A Lifetime” and “Life During Wartime,” the latter releasing a bottled-up dance blowout in the aisles. Byrne returned for three encores, the first of which included Al Green cover “Take Me To The River.”

—John Hendrickson

David Byrne And Brian Eno’s “One Fine Day” (download):

DeVotchKa’s “You Love Me” (download):

Live Review: Shellac, San Francisco, CA, June 18, 2009

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And, lo, there came a time upon the land, soon after the reign of Nirvana, when many rock bands took on names found on the labels of empty containers that filled the dumpsters of industrial construction sites. And among the hardiest, yet most confounding of these to some, was the group known as Shellac.

I sampled (and eventually discarded) the wares of many of the noisy new bands I found in the pages of MAGNET when I began writing for the mag in early 1995. Chokebore, Unsane and the Jesus Lizard all eventually fell by the roadside. But Shellac‘s 1994 album, At Action Park, turned out to be a keeper. There was something brutally honest about that record, cut by famed alt-rock engineer Steve Albini on guitar, bassist Bob Weston and drummer Todd Trainer. Fifteen years later, here was the same trio back on the prowl. I donned hard hat and eye protection, slipped a six-pack of earplugs into my pocket, grabbed my lunchbox and headed off to the job site.

I’d seen one of Albini’s previous combos, Big Black, at San Francisco’s I-Beam in the summer of 1987, and since my ears only recently have stopped ringing from that very loud night, I knew what I was in for. But there comes a time when you’ve had it up to here with eccentric, bearded neo-folkies. You have to get your brain laundered. As expected, Shellac’s show is a no-bullshit affair: no chatter between songs, no choreographed stage moves. With lyrics all but indecipherable, Albini’s vocals could have been the shrieks emanating from the nearest urban gunshot-wound emergency trauma center. The only concession to planned hysteria tonight is the set’s opening sequence, with Trainer pointing a drumstick to the heavens to conduct a slow-motion slide into the first tune, whose thundering opening chords after this brief pantomime are a real sinus-clearer. There was one song intro that hinted at the minor-key, surf-guitar pyrotechnics of Dick Dale. Other than that, it was pure Albini, a man who may look like a tax accountant, but has your H&R Block dude ever twiddled knobs for acts that range from PJ Harvey, Cheap Trick and Joanna Newsom to the Pixies, Superchunk and Dirty Three? Toward the end of the set, Weston asked for questions from the packed house. The only good one was: “Is Todd still sponsored by Calvin Klein?” to which Weston answered, “No, but he’s getting blown by Christy Brinkley.”

Almost every time I walk around the faux-painted marble columns inside the ornately Edwardian Great American Music Hall (built in 1907), it reminds me of the Barbary Coast joint where Clark Gable and Jeanette McDonald rode out the first shocks of the legendary 1906 earthquake in the 1936 film San Francisco. After a night of Shellac at its most punishing, it looks like the old club might be good to go for another 100 years.

—Jud Cost

Live Review: Miss Derringer, Philadelphia, PA, June 16, 2009

miss_d0270You could tell who the members of L.A.’s Miss Derringer were as soon as they walked into the crowded Khyber: the boys (guitarists Ben Shields and Morgan Slade, bassist Sylvain de Muizon and drummer Cody James) decked out in their rockabilly-styled outfits and singer Liz McGrath in her bright red uniform and feathers in her hair. When they took the stage, McGrath was all smiles and dancing as the band played ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, American style. The evening’s highlight was “All The Pretty Things,” during which Slade and McGrath dueled it out like Johnny and June. Miss Derringer’s new album, Winter Hill, will be out July 14.

“Black Tears” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/BlackTears.mp3

Jazz Notes: Vision Festival, Day 6

peterbell380bThis week, MAGNET’s Mitch Myers reports from the Vision Festival, the avant-garde jazz event in New York City.

As the 14th Vision Festival winds down, I’m struck by the array of artists whose creative work is considered avant-garde. A number of great musicians were hanging around this week, and the programming for Sunday night’s show was full of amazing talent. Trombonist/composer Steve Swell presented his trio Planet Dream for a matinee performance of utopian chamber jazz, showcasing an intimate collaboration between himself, saxophonist Rob Brown and Daniel Levin on cello. Swell’s compositions were smart and imaginative, but it was the gentle improvisatory aspects of this group that really came across.

Chicago free-jazz patriarch Fred Anderson (pictured) made a memorable, early-evening appearance, supported by his longtime associates and Vision Fest mainstays Hamid Drake and William Parker. Anderson is 80 years old, and his history with Chicago’s avant-garde community goes all the way back to the very first concert given by the AACM in the mid-’60s. On Sunday, Anderson found his way onto the stage, put his tenor saxophone to his lips and didn’t move again for the length of his segment. Behind Anderson, Drake shifted from hand drum to full kit while Parker dabbled with Eastern instruments before settling on his upright bass. This was highly emotive free jazz, echoing the spiritual works of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, and the amazing set ended far too quickly. I guess that’s how you cater to geriatric jazzmen—keep their sets short and the audience wanting more.

Michele Rosewoman has kept Quintessence—an ever-shifting performance collective—together for more than 20 years, and she presented two new compositions. Straddling the line between modern classical and jazz, Rosewoman is a talented pianist/composer, and she surrounded herself with a band of ace musicians including bassist Brad Jones, trombonist Vincent Gardner and alto saxophonist Loren Stillman. Toward the end of their highly arranged set, Quintessence broke into a funky groove with Rosewoman playing an electric keyboard in the style of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters.

The wholly improvisational trio of Whit Dickey (drums), Eri Yamomoto (piano) and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter started out slowly but gained momentum, especially as Carter switched from flute to trumpet to clarinet to saxophone. Dickey’s drumming was flowing and Yamomoto’s piano work cerebral, but Carter demanded the audience’s full attention as he put on a bold display of spontaneous improvisation. Carter deserves more of a spotlight, and Vision Fest programmers would be wise to bring him back next year in a greater capacity.

Finally, much to the chagrin of the weak-hearted jazz fans, German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann closed the evening with his group, Full Blast. A virtual power trio with Brötzmann, electric bassist Mariano Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmüller, Full Blast lived up to its loud/fast moniker with a thundering racket that sent some of the Vision Fest faithful scurrying for the exits. Brötzmann’s brain-frying tenor screeds were imposing, the rhythm section pounding, and despite an occasional melodic interlude, his set was one full force gale and louder than love—the perfect way to finish up an evening of wild, diverse jazz performances.

With just one more night to go, I’m putting my dashiki and skullcap back in the closet and mourning the end of the 14th Vision Festival.