Live Review: Jason Lytle, San Francisco, CA, June 8 And 9, 2009

jasonlytle300In spite of the fact that Cafe du Nord began selling tickets a month ago for an appearance by “Jason Little” before someone noticed the gaffe, the 153-capacity Castro district club was jammed to the gills tonight for former Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle. It’s tough enough to shed the Grandaddy brand, cultured over the past 10 years, without a typo adding an element of doubt to Lytle’s first San Francisco appearance since the May release of his solo debut, Yours Truly, The Commuter (Anti-).

A clean-shaven Lytle and red-bearded sidekick (and former Grandaddy drummer) Aaron Burtch strode through the crowd to join bassist Rob Murdock and guitarist Rusty Miller onstage without anyone taking much notice. “I can’t fuckin’ wake up,” muttered a sluggish Lytle a couple of tunes into the set. The stupor was caused by a combination of red wine and an over-the-counter decongestant, explained the man who touted Breathe Right nasal strips during his stint as guest editor of MAGNET’s website. “That was one of the best things about moving to Montana: Most of my allergies went away,” Lytle told me recently.

An early sinus-clearing, mariachi-trumpet-punctuated passage seemed to shake Lytle from his lethargy, much like the eye-opening, home-made salsa/recycled crankcase oil dished up by a Mexican restaurant near his former Ceres, Calif., home once did. Lilting piano interludes between songs reinforced Lytle’s occasional obsession with Beethoven (he frequently uses Bernard Rose’s 1994 Ludwig Van flick Immortal Beloved as a motivational tool). You can close your eyes and almost see little Jason picking out “The Moonlight Sonata” on the family piano when the quartet caresses “I Am Lost (And The Moment Cannot Last).”

But it’s still Jeff Lynne, the underappreciated genius behind Electric Light Orchestra, who colors Lytle’s bittersweet, vintage synthesizer-infused sense of melody—maybe now more than ever. “Ghost Of My Old Dog,” an unexpectedly stirring tribute to long-gone family pets, is enough to make you gasp when you realize what he’s singing about. There’s also a new, happier side of the man who once feared his protracted labors on Grandaddy’s 2003 album Sumday would literally kill him. “You should hold my hand while everything blows away/And we’ll run to a brand new sun,” sings Lytle in his cracked-eggshell voice on Commuter‘s best tune, “Brand New Sun.”

Lest you think he’s gone soft, there’s still that cranky Lytle we all know and love, barking out the first lines of Commuter‘s title track: “Last thing I heard I was left for dead/I could give two shits about what they said/I may be limping, but I’m coming home.” Lytle and Co. may not have played much Grandaddy material tonight (I was looking forward to new versions of “Now It’s On” and “I’m On Standby”), but they couldn’t get away without trotting out the instantly recognizable, commercial-worthy “A.M. 180,” much to the crowd’s delight. “Now go out and buy an Enya record,” urged Lytle to the throng as he left the stage.

“I don’t believe you have to be tortured and miserable to stay hungry and productive,” Lytle told me as he was about to relocate to Bozeman in 2006. “The songs are going to get a lot simpler from now on. They’re going to resemble haikus more than anything else.” He hasn’t come close to paring his tunes down to three lines that can be uttered in one breath, but Lytle has always been a master at boiling his work down to the essential elements. The fanatical reception lavished on him tonight only reinforces the belief that Lytle has written some the most appealing songs of anyone over the past 15 years, even if some people haven’t made the connection yet between Lytle and his former life in Grandaddy.

As anyone who loves the guy’s music would agree, one night of Jason Lytle is just not enough. So I returned to San Francisco the following evening to see him open for Neko Case at the Warfield Theatre. Good thing, too, because the 35-minute Warfield set was almost completely different from the one at Cafe du Nord. With a much better view of the stage from the Warfield’s floor, I could plainly see that Lytle played a synthetic type of acoustic piano  on “I Am Lost” and “This Song Is The Mute Button.” “Brand New Sun,” with Lytle wordlessly singing some of the original synthesizer lines, made it into both sets, as did “Rollin’ Home Alone,” an achingly beautiful piece. The real treat of the second night was introduced by Lytle as “one of our guilty pleasures.” As Murdock split, the trio lit the place up with “Today I Started Loving You Again,” a Merle Haggard honky-tonker. “We’re not even a country band. I don’t know, what kind of band are we?” asked Lytle to no one in particular. A pretty versatile one that’s just scratched the surface of what it’s capable of, I’d say.

—Jud Cost

“Brand New Sun” (download):

Film At 11: The Sounds

In the wake of third album Crossing The Rubicon, Swedish quintet the Sounds debut the video for the album’s first single, “No One Sleeps When I’m Awake.” Currently on a summer tour supporting No Doubt, the band will be performing the song on The Late Show With David Letterman on June 15. The video features some generous close-ups of singer Maja Ivarsson’s ripped stocking-clad thighs.

Jazz Notes: Vision Festival, Day 1

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

billybang320It has been said, as well as disputed, that Manhattan is ground zero of the jazz universe. The city has always done quite well providing the opportunity for diverse live jazz performances. With the long-running JVC Jazz Festival (formerly the Newport Jazz Fest) being cancelled this year—a grim sign of the times—the fact that a large, well-organized avant-garde jazz festival can still happen is something to be celebrated. On Tuesday night, down on the Lower East Side at the Abrons Arts Center, the 14th edition of the Vision Festival kicked off in suitably regal fashion. Percussionist Hamid Drake, singer/dancer Patricia Nicholson-Parker and the festival’s founder, bassist William Parker, provided an invocation for the event, revealing an earnest, retro-beatnik spirituality that will undoubtedly pervade the week’s festivities. Parker played an unusual-looking homemade electric bass while his wife danced and recited poetry and Drake supplied intricate waves of rhythm on a large hand drum. Parker later switched to an Eastern-made reed instrument, and Drake added his own voice to the plaintive invocation.

Continue reading “Jazz Notes: Vision Festival, Day 1”

TiVo Party Tonight: Sonic Youth, Rancid, Green Day, Manchester Orchestra

tivosonicEver wonder what will happen during the last five minutes of late-night TV talk shows? Here are tonight’s notable performers:

Late Show With David Letterman (CBS): Sonic Youth
Dave will host Sonic Youth tonight in celebration of the release of its 17th studio album, The Eternal. Fun Fact: SY made its television debut on Letterman 15 years ago.

The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien (NBC): Rancid
According to oversized red-headed Bostonians, punk’s not dead. Rancid will be promoting its new album, Let The Dominoes Fall. Let’s hope this one is indestructible.

Last Call With Carson Daly (NBC): Green Day
Green Day will once again grace us with its anti-media presence on another network late-night show to promote
21st Century Breakdown. So go on, take one more look at the band we hate to love.

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (NBC): Manchester Orchestra
Manchester Orchestra has wrapped up its U.S. tour and is preparing to ship back to the U.K. but not without first receiving a sendoff from Jimmy Fallon. Perhaps the band will replicate its explosive Letterman performance of “I’ve Got Friends” from its latest, Mean Everything To Nothing.

Rhett Miller’s Superfriends: John Marks

rhettmillerlogo100cc2We asked Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller to guest edit this week, and he pawned it off on a bunch of his famous friends: other musicians, actors, writers and comedians. Well played, Rhett. But you can’t hide behind a self-titled solo album. Rhett Miller (Shout! Factory), a Beatlesque beauty featuring Jon Brion, is out this week.

ellenjewelh510John Marks is a former 60 Minutes producer and the author of Reasons To Believe: One Man’s Journey Among The Evangelicals And The Faith He Left Behind. He is, um, kind of smart. John Marks recommends:

Kings Of Infinite Space by James Hynes
A down-on-his-luck academic with woman problems and a checkered past moves to Lamar, Texas (also known as Austin) and gets a job at a seemingly innocuous place called the Texas Department of General Services. The job should be a shot at a new start in life. The work pays decently. The mail girl is cute and likes to party, but Paul Trilby begins to notice oddities. A corpse appears in a cubicle. There seems to be a secret society at the heart of TexDoGs, as the company acronym has it. And what about those zombies? Before long, our man in Texas discovers that an obnoxious boss may be the least of his problems. James Hynes has written outrageously funny satires about life in academia in 1998’s Publish And Perish and 2002’s The Lecturer’s Tale, but in our current economy, the novel that really has bite is 2005’s Kings Of Infinite Space, a scary, witty thrill ride through the lower depths of the American labor market.

Sea Of Tears by Eilen Jewell
Someone definitely broke this woman’s heart. On song after song, whether the sorrowfully plucky “Rain Roll In” or the mordantly seductive “I’m Gonna Dress In Black” or the seriously chilling “Codeine Arms,” Eilen Jewell makes you feel the contact high of total despair. If Sea Of Tears were just depressing, I wouldn’t bother to mention it, but it’s just the opposite. It’s bracing, like the glass of cold water a friend tosses in your face when you’ve been lying in your bed too long. Jewell is a rock classicist here, her songs summoning echoes of the late 1950s and 1960s, but that voice has the binding force of a pair of silk handcuffs. Songs that might seem familiar in other hands throw you off balance. Also, not be to underestimated, is her band, a cat o’ nine tails led by Jason Beeks on drums and harmony, Jerry Miller on acoustic and steel guitars and Johnny Sciascia on upright bass. Their sound lashes her like a cat on nine tails, and damn if she doesn’t seem to enjoy it.

MP3 At 3PM: Magnolia Electric Co.

magnolia400Magnolia Electric Co. is gearing up for its North American tour with the Donkeys; think Chi-town, L.A., Memphis, D.C. and the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Jason Molina and Co. released the title track from their new LP, Josephine (Secretly Canadian), due for release July 21. If Josephine were a movie, this song would be the part where the boy hurls his tattered suitcases into his blue Ford pickup and steps his muddy work boots on the gas pedal, concentrating on the road ahead and not the beautiful affair with the long hair and flowing dress that stands on the dusty old trail behind him. End scene.

“Josephine” (download):

Rhett Miller’s Superfriends: Joe Pernice

rhettmillerlogo100cc2We asked Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller to guest edit this week, and he pawned it off on a bunch of his famous friends: other musicians, actors, writers and comedians. Well played, Rhett. But you can’t hide behind a self-titled solo album. Rhett Miller (Shout! Factory), a Beatlesque beauty featuring Jon Brion, is out this week.


Joe Pernice is living my dream. As part of the Pernice Brothers, Chappaquiddick Skyline and Scud Mountain Boys, he makes beautiful albums with winning melodies and deep, rich lyrics. He also just finished his first full-length novel, It Feels So Good When I Stop. And he lives in Canada, where everyone is nice all the time! Joe Pernice recommends:

The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson
The Unfortunates is an amazing autobiographical novel from 1969 that is both grim and oddly life-affirming. In the novel, B.S. Johnson, on a work assignment as a sportswriter covering a football (English) match, revisits the town where his good friend and colleague had some years earlier lived and later died from cancer. Johnson finds himself unexpectedly bombarded with fresh memories from all angles. The novel consists of 27 unbound chapters. Johnson, who committed suicide in 1973, suggests the reader read chapter one first and chapter 27 last. The other 25 chapters are to be shuffled and read in any order. Not what I’d consider summer beach reading, but you shouldn’t be in the sun anyway. Actually, it’s exactly what I’d consider summer beach reading. (Once you finish Johnson, you’ll want to read Jonathan Coe’s stunning and monumental 2004 biography of B.S., Like A Fiery Elephant.)

Bartleby, The Scrivener by Herman Melville
I know what you’re thinking. To this I say, “Get over it.” I didn’t like Bartleby, The Scrivener in high school, either, because my head was in my ass. The book is a master stroke. And it’s very funny. And it’s short to boot. So go read it. You’ll sound smarter around the punchbowl because, by God, you will be smarter. And isn’t smart supposed to be sexy now, what with Obama and all? (Once you power through Herman Melville, you’ll want to dip your toe into Walden and Self-Reliance and the rest of the American Romanticism shit. Like me, you will no doubt come away asking how was it that Massachusetts produced the majority of historically significant heavy hitters in American literature for that era. I’m just saying. Melville, Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Dickinson—that’s a serious roster. That’s like Motown serious.)

The Cliks’ Lucas Silveira Makes MAGNET A Mix Tape

clciks535Toronto’s the Cliks are a transgender, trans-genre rock outfit whose third album, Dirty King (Tommy Boy), is due June 23. Cliks frontman Lucas Silveira recently made MAGNET a mix tape loosely based on pop music’s most universal theme: heartbreak. Silveira earns extra credit for including a song by Jellyfish, whose relative obscurity is, well, heartbreaking.

“Career Suicide” (download):

RADIOHEAD “Fake Plastic Trees” (1995)
This is the perfect little pop song that digs at your soul so much that you can’t believe it’s a commercial hit. I had my first understanding of the scope that Radiohead would play in influencing me as a songwriter and lover of music with this song. This song made me realize that I was not in love with someone. I understood and I accepted, and then I did the breaking up. Amazing what connecting to another person’s experience though music can do.

ARCADE FIRE “Crown Of Love” (2004)
My heart was beaten and shattered the first time I heard this song. Crawling away from a relationship that I thought was going to last forever. I felt like this song was me in that moment. I later made love for the first time to this record, and when this song came on, I felt that broken part of me repairing. Songs that can do that need no explanation as to why they are good. They just are.

THE BEATLES “Eleanor Rigby” (1966)
When I was five years old, my sister had a Best Of The Beatles tape, and I would listen to it back to front on repeat for hours. I found all the music would make me see things in my head and feel things in my heart that I had never felt. I was obsessed with it. This song in particular brought me my first experience with the feeling of darkness. I thought it was such a creepy song, but I still couldn’t stop listening to it. As an adult, when I listen, it takes me back and helps me to realize how it was this song that inspired so much of how I write today. It is an unbelievable piece of work.

JELLYFISH “Glutton Of Sympathy” (1993)
This is such a beautiful song that trying to describe what it does to me is difficult. The melody is beyond gorgeous, and it is so befitting of the lyrics that go with it. And don’t even get me started on how amazing the harmonies are. Faultless. It’s sad to me that this band never really got its due in mainstream music. I’ve said it a million times, but I truly think Jellyfish is one of the most underrated bands of our time.

JEFF BUCKLEY “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” (1994)
There is something about Jeff Buckley’s voice that just oozes sexuality at its most passionate. In this particular song, it oozes longing for a lover as though his emotion was the only existing in the universe. If I had been the subject of this longing, I would be his love slave forever, not that I’m gay, but every boy has a weakness. Jeff finds a way to divulge his vulnerability and ache to be with his lover with such intensity that you can feel the raw sexuality dripping from his voice. It’s a brilliantly written song, and the performance is nothing less than epic.

DAVID BOWIE “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide” (1972)
This is probably the perfect rock song. The closeness of the vocal, the natural sound of the acoustic guitar in the intro—it’s like you’re in a living room listening to Bowie play in front of you. Songs aren’t recorded like this anymore, and it’s a sad situation. I love the way this song takes you from the calm to the intense, and you don’t know what’s happening but you know you have to follow. It makes you feel like you’re slowly, introspectively walking to the bridge over the highway and that the closer you get, the crazier you feel. This song is the lending hand that makes you glide away from the jump. Unreal.

NINE INCH NAILS “Hurt” (1994)
The first time I heard this song, I cried. In fact, I sobbed. Both versions of the song bring you to the core of what it feels like for every human being on the planet when loneliness and dispare consume you. Whether it’s being sung by Trent Reznor or Johnny Cash, the song is what penetrates you. I find it difficult to this day to listen to because it brings me to a place in myself that I can’t deal with all the time. It’s a true work of art.

JONI MITCHELL “A Case Of You” (1971)
I just found it in myself to start listening to this song again after having it be one of those songs that I related to the worst case of a broken heart I have ever had. You ever had one of those? If anyone in the world can remind you of heartache, it’s Joni Mitchell. This song will forever be timeless. It is one of the most beautiful melodies I can think of ever hearing. That kind of melody that can make you feel the hurt of love. Hurts so good.

LEONARD COHEN “Famous Blue Raincoat” (1971)
Leonard is a poet. That’s the first thing you need to note about this song. These lyrics are the epitome of great lyric writing. This song is the most beautiful painting that was ever painted. I can’t say much about it, because it feels that anything I would say would diminish its perfection.

NEIL YOUNG “It’s A Dream” (2005)
I know he has hundreds of songs that some may think top this song, as it’s one of his most recent, but to me, it’s one of his best. I heard it the first time when he performed on Saturday Night Live. With tears running down my face, all I could think was the history that was held in this one person’s psyche. The world of music and memories that he carried in his soul and how moved I was by hearing one song of hundreds or thousands that he wrote and how I felt the world of music he would one day leave behind had been captured in one. I am in love with this song.

A.C. Newman Tour Diary By Jon Wurster: Part 3

glasgow_view550If you think that post title is catchy, you should hear Get Guilty (Matador), the most recent solo album by New Pornographers frontman Carl “A.C.” Newman. It’ll blow your mind. Jon Wurster, drummer for indie rock’s A-list (Superchunk, Robert Pollard, Bob Mould, Mountain Goats, Whiskeytown), chronicles his recent U.K. tour with Newman this week at

May 21
Today we travel further north to the land that gave us haggis, golf and the Exploited. To say nothing of the many fine products in the Scotch brand tape family. It’s a beautiful drive through the English and Scottish countryside; really inspiring. At a rest stop, we meet a band from Ireland that will also be playing in Glasgow tonight. They’re at a venue called King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. I’ve played there a few times over the years, and my main memory of it will always be sitting down to eat a club-provided pre-show meal and Mac McCaughan being presented with a “tuna potato,” which is, of course, Scottish for “a potato with a lump of tuna stuck in it.” I think he ended up just dropping it in the toilet when nobody was looking.

Later: At the ABC Glasgow, which is a great venue with nice crew and the full backstage spread; they even have my last-minute addition to the rider (six copies of the current issue of Nuts). After running through a few songs, we head out for more Indian. On the way to dinner, a woman asks us for directions. Miranda’s reply will live forever in the annals of greatest things ever said: “I’m sorry, I’m totally from America.”

There’s a small yet very enthusiastic turnout tonight. We play well, and it sounds really great onstage. Several of the Belle And Sebastian folks are here, and there’s a big hangout in the dressing room post-show. But tonight, I’m in “lone wolf” mode for some reason. Everyone seems really nice, but I’m in need of private times. After we load out, Alun and I hang in the van for a bit. He’s a little unsure of the safety of the neighborhood and doesn’t want to leave the van.

After a bit, I head down to Nice ‘N’ Sleazy, the bar where everyone’s gathered. It’s so loud and packed, I turn right around and get a drink in a quiet bar where they’re watching a soccer match. It’s kind of a toss-up between what I enjoy less: watching televised sports (specifically basketball) or listening to the blues. Thankfully, the other TV in this pub is showing the new Green Day video, which is something I could enjoy for all of eternity.

I rejoin Alun in the van and wait for the others to come back. There’s a disco happening at ABC, and we watch the kids queue up outside, carefully avoiding various small puddles of vomit. Suddenly, there’s a big commotion in the lobby. A bunch of security guards spill out onto the street. They’re restraining a guy. A weird sound cuts through the din, like a duck quacking or something. We realize it’s the fellow they’re restraining—he’s deaf. He’s hustled back into the club and held there until the police arrive about 20 minutes later. The cops shove him into their car, and it’s very weird watching his friends trying to reassure him in sign language as he sits there in the back seat. He, of course, can’t sign back because his hands are cuffed behind him.

The incident reinforces the warning we keep seeing on posters addressing the city’s growing crime problem: “Commit a felony in Glasgow and the last sound you’ll hear is the prison door slamming behind you.” (Except, of course, if you’re a deaf. But rest assured, you will hate it just as much as the normal-eared.) Now it’s off to … Hey, look at that: a Premier Inn.

May 22
We have a day off today, and we’ll spend it at the cemetery-gates Premier Inn. Miranda, Shane and I get dinner at the adjacent pub. There’s some kind of bachelorette party going on a few tables away. They call them “hen parties” over here. You think you’ve heard cackling? You know nothing. Everyone’s going out for the night, but I’m going to continue working on some stuff. And by “working on stuff” I mean watching vintage Burger King commercials on YouTube.

Rhett Miller’s Superfriends: Nick Hornby

rhettmillerlogo100cc2We asked Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller to guest edit this week, and he pawned it off on a bunch of his famous friends: other musicians, actors, writers and comedians. Well played, Rhett. But you can’t hide behind a self-titled solo album. Rhett Miller (Shout! Factory), a Beatlesque beauty featuring Jon Brion, is out this week.

national_vincent400Nick Hornby probably needs no introduction. But I’ll go ahead and tell you that he has a knack for finding truth at the heart of complex issues and bringing that truth to light in a way that makes you laugh. That is truly god’s work. His novels and essays are numerous and fantastic. Read them if you haven’t. Nick Hornby recommends:

“Sleep All Summer” by St. Vincent And The National
My favourite song of the year so far is a cover. The original is by Crooked Fingers, and I have never in my life heard of this band, which makes me wonder, and not for the first time, how many other beautiful, brilliant songs are out there hiding away from us. (I’m sure there are thousands—and it’s a good thing, knowing that surprises like this are waiting for us the rest of our listening lives.) The version I’ve been listening to is by the National and St. Vincent, which is a lovely combination of voices anyway, but the song itself is perfect, a real heartbreaker: wistful, wry, precise in its articulation of a mood that doesn’t get explored very often. I got to hear it through I Am Fuel, You Are Friends, an mp3 blog that introduces me to a song I adore probably once a week; I know I’m supposed to miss independent record stores, but people like Heather Browne make it hard to do so.