Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

Misadventures of TMC: Pitchfork Day 2

In Misadventures of TMC on 07/27/2009 at 2:56 am

Right, like you guys have been holding your breath for this one. Turns out documenting just four bands for the first day was a monumental task. I couldn’t face the remaining full days of the fest ’til now.


Cymbals Eat Guitars‘ set in a word: nervy

Photo by Leigh Ann Hines @

During CEG’s upbeat set, I kept getting this feeling that I had seen the band before somewhere. Maybe it had something to do with Joseph D’Agostino’s yelping the notes out despite being obviously hoarse. This young band doesn’t have the veneer of years of road polishing, but it does have plenty of talent. Of course, a song as ambitious as “And the Hazy Sea” is a bit tricky to pull off live.

Am I a fan now? I’ll give the boys a chance.

Cymbals Eat Guitars – And the Hazy Sea
01 And the Hazy Sea.mp3

The Dutchess and the Duke‘s set in a word: breezy

Photo by Joseph Mohan @

Somehow sounding like every 60’s-era folk song you ever knew, the assembled royalty and some of their friends were just here to have a down-to-earth good time. Mixing themes of love, loneliness, and death (duh!) with sun-flecked melodies, group harmonies, and the occasional sing-along, TDATD hooked me from the start. By the joyful conclusion, the crowd was having almost as much fun as the band. Yes, I’m feeling alright, thank you very much.

Am I a fan now? Duh!

The Dutchess and the Duke – Reservoir Park

The Antlers‘ set in a word: cascade

Photo by Jeremy Farmer @

I wasn’t at all prepared for The Antlers. If they were this good outdoors on a bright afternoon, they must be brilliant in a hazy bar. With just three members, the band poured on a shimmering landscape of sound, rising, breaking, and falling to pieces to match the heartbreak of the lyricism. The guys played their souls to shreds. I was just happy to catch them before they break into the spotlight. It won’t be long.

Am I a fan now? Without a doubt.

With this and the previous show, I felt that I already got my money’s worth for the festival. Not bad for three shows in.

The Antlers – Two
antlers – two.mp3

The Antlers – Bear
antlers – bear.mp3

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart‘s set in a word: cursory

Photo by Francis Chung @

Maybe it’s just me, but I thought TPOBPAH was taking it a little easy but skating by on their cult status. Arriving late from The Antlers, I had to settle for a mediocre spot, but Peggy Wang’s less-than-tuneful vocals were still quite audible. I don’t want to bash the band or anything, but I will suggest that perhaps this band has been pushed into the spotlight a trifle too quickly. My impression of their music is similar to that of their show: lost in the noise somewhere is the feeling that yes, they really mean it. As the band bounced from song to song, I wandered off to get a spot for Final Fantasy.

Am I a fan now? I can tolerate it. Does that mean no?

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Come Saturday
02 Come Saturday.mp3

Final Fantasy‘s set in a word: dexterous

Photos by Nolan Wells @

An odd choice for any festival, FF draws inevitable comparisons to Andrew Bird, the elder indie statesman of classical violin, intellectual tone, and songs built around complex loops. Okay, so maybe Mr. Fantasy, Owen Pallett, isn’t entirely original. But his musical dexterity and ability to hold a large crowd’s attention by himself (he admitted this was the largest setting he’s played in) are notable. His version of classical-pop-spectacle is a tad more nerdy (is he writing songs about WOW scenarios? Medieval legends?) than Bird’s, which incorporates a little more pop sensibility and a bigger vocabulary. Either way, I was engrossed, although the formula can get a little repetitive over the course of a set. Oh, Owen also gets props for handling string arrangements for such gems as Arcade Fire’s albums.

Am I a fan now? In small doses. FF can be a little…how shall we say it?…precious.

Final Fantasy – Arctic Circle
01. arctic circle.mp3

Yeasayer‘s set in a word: sharp

Photo by Francis Chung @

When they choose to be, Yeasayer can be as inaccessible and left-of-center as anyone. However, their percussive set resulted in more dancing than confused listening. One of the day’s highlights was the all-out dance party during a new song, which the band predicted “the summer jam 2010.” Despite adding a few members recently, they’re a tight band whatever genres they tackle, from dance to psychedelia. This afternoon, they showcased their skills during a set of mostly crowd-pleasers and triumphed over the light showers plaguing the weather.

Am I fan now? Sure, although a direct comparison of album and show was disorienting.

Yeasayer – Sunrise

DOOM‘s set in a word: lackluster

Photo uncredited

And you don’t know just how hard it is for everyone’s favorite metal-masked rapper with alter-egos to deliver a lackluster set. Nothing against the man’s flow, it was solid, but despite the hype man’s best efforts, the show never demanded more than an idle curiosity from the crowd. Accusations of lip-syncing (how do you lip-sync when no one can see your lips?) have emerged in the bitterly disappointed aftermath. I find that implausible. What I do find plausible is the simple explanation that DOOM just wasn’t as incredible as he was hyped to be. I lost interest after twenty minutes and eased my way out of the dense crowd over to Lindstrøm’s set. Best accidental decision I ever made.

Am I a fan now? Nope. But if the hype was deserved, then maybe his albums are the way to go.

DOOM – Doomsday (recorded as MF Doom)

Lindstrøm‘s set in a word: RAVE

Photo uncredited

Wandering over to the smaller B stage to await Matt & Kim, I didn’t think much at first of the bearded man in the cowboy hat bobbing behind a laptop and MIDI controller. But after a few minutes of smooth, sweeping, pulsing techno, I found myself with the uncontrollable urge to dance. And dance I did, with a crowd of strangers. This brother knows how to make gorgeous music with progression and development that you can still dance to. Oh, and the louder, the better. Hooked up to some considerable wattage, Lindstrøm killed, although his stage action was still less than inspiring.

Am I a fan now? Shyeah!!

Lindstrøm – Grand Ideas
02 Grand ideas.mp3

Matt & Kim‘s set in a word: frenzy

Photo by Leigh Ann Hines @

As the perpetually smiling duo entered the stage, deafening cheers erupted, and the energy rarely subsided over the long set. With Kim pounding the devil out of the drums and Matt shouting out the lyrics with the bouncing crowd, the decidedly lo-fi fun was contagious and irrepressible. From their own punk-influenced melodies to a cover of “The Final Countdown,” these two delivered a delightfully raucous show. I was carried away, almost against my will. I didn’t crowdsurf, though, although plenty did.

Am I a fan now? I am, whether or not I wanted to be when the show began

Matt & Kim – Daylight
01 Daylight.mp3

Matt & Kim – Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare
Good Ol Fashion Nightmare.mp3

The National‘s set in a word: stately

Photo by Marty Perez

And no, by stately I do not mean boring. I can’t believe I hadn’t been exposed to this fantastic band before the festival. Playing music not particularly catchy but with plenty of gravitas (some of that due to Matt Berninger’s fabulous baritone), the indie vets kept the huge crowd singing along. Despite my sore feet, I was enthralled by the rich lyrics of the songs (although I must confess I sat down for the encore). The band provided the perfect soundtrack to the growing evening, signaling the end to yet another remarkable day.

Am I a fan now? Simply, yes.

The National – Fake Empire
01 Fake Empire.mp3

Thanks to Pitchfork for the photos. One day to go!


Misadventures of The Music Connoisseur: Pitchfork Day 1

In Misadventures of TMC, News on 07/21/2009 at 3:45 am

Well, I went to Pitchfork Music Festival this weekend. And if I’m going to be on my feet in crowds for 9 shows in a row, there’s no way I’m not going to write about it. I’d like to imagine there was some altruistic reason I can’t walk today.

Just kidding. It was a blast, and there were plenty of bands I’d never heard recorded, let alone live. So here are my quick takes on the shows I caught, with songs from each artist, one festival day at a time. Just to clarify – these are reviews of the SETS, not the band.


Tortoise‘s set in a word:  professional


Friday night was “Write the Night,” where bands played fans’ most-requested songs, so I assume Tortoise was playing the hits. I guess a band with no vocals still has hits. I got a nice spot near the sound tent, and the sound was perfect. The show favored music over personality, but the tight rhythms, featuring multiple percussionists and two drum kits on stage, were rarely dull. A highlight midway through the set featured aggressive vibraphone work from 3 members simultaneously. A solid performance, my only complaint being that the music, like their albums, became more glaze-inducing as the afternoon turned into evening.

Am I a fan now? As much as I ever was before.

Tortoise – Northern Something


Yo La Tengo‘s set in a word: soft

Yeah, I know the veteran band is supposed to be shoegaze indie, but the sound was way too quiet. Still, the fans seemed to enjoy it, swaying to the mellow bed of sound punctuated by the occasional jarring, impressively violent guitar solo from Ira Kaplin, bent double over his guitar and twisting knobs. The trio played with the assurance of years spent making music together, with their frequent switching off on various instruments and vocals offering proof, but in the end the set was bordering on blase as the crowds wandered away to get a spot for The Jesus Lizard.

Am I a fan now? In a halfhearted way.

Yo La Tengo – Mr. Tough

04 Mr Tough.mp3

The Jesus Lizard‘s set in a word: chaos

This band’s reunion carried the biggest expectations of the evening, and front man David Yow and company delivered. Known for their angry riffs and Yow’s punk attitude and insane antics, The Jesus Lizard finally delivered on the personality lacking to this point tonight. Yow greeted the cheers with, “Shut up, c’mon for chrissakes. Another day, another dollar” before plunging headfirst into the crowd. He was there as much as was on stage the rest of the show, somehow screaming dementedly while riding the surf of raised middle fingers. His bandmates, unfortunately overshadowed, churned out tight, searing rock that fueled Yow’s fire. The band put on a great show, but I don’t think they or the crowd were as angry as they pretended to be – the insanity was simply for the fun of it, and the curious hipsters and aging punks were definitely having fun. I don’t go for that sort of music, but I have to admit it was entertaining. By the end of the show, Yow looked like the tired old man he must have been.

Am I a fan now? If I could be, I would be.

The Jesus Lizard – Puss

05 Puss.mp3

Built to Spill‘s set in a word: meander

Obviously a step down in intensity after The Jesus Lizard (anyone would have been), Built to Spill made up for it in melody. Unassuming power pop accompanied by massive soloing was the order of the night. Other than the solos which dragged on interminably and derailed any sense of focus, the songs were likable enough to be interesting to a non-fan. My tired feet were ready to leave about twenty minutes before the show ended, though…two more festival days ahead! I was glad I stayed for the impressive closer, “Carry the Zero.”

Am I a fan now? Probably, pending more listening. And assuming the studio tracks are a little more reined in.

Built to Spill – Strange

01 Strange.mp3

Built to Spill – Carry the Zero

03 Carry The Zero.mp3

All in all, a good first day. I did feel that to really get the most of the evening’s music, I would have had to have been born 10 years ago. Most of these bands had their heydays in the 90s, before I even encountered popular music, and now are unfamiliar names with daunting discographies. I apologize for the ignorance of youth. But nothing else.


Song of the Week: Welcome, Ghosts

In Song of the Week, Stuff You Should Know on 07/09/2009 at 4:18 pm

Welcome to the nebulous world of “post-rock.” Only God knows if that actually means anything, but the term has been lavished on the sounds of (Texas-based!) Explosions in the Sky, who evidently don’t share the need to be anything more than a rock band. What a relief. They may not sing, but who needs singing when you have “cathartic mini-symphonies”?

I went to their 10-year anniversary show at the Congress in Chicago with Jason Lytle. They still are far from well-known, but they deserve to be. Their sweeping, towering prog-epics ascend from intimate, painstaking plucked melodies to screeching bombast. You won’t find a song shorter than 5 minutes – and it needs to be that way, the way the band develops each song and gives it space to inflate and collapse. Here is your entry point: one song from their most recent release All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone and the final track from their seminal Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever.
02_Welcome_Ghosts.mp3 (sorry, mp3 removed)

For more, check out the albums page of their website. They have a free track for download from each of their releases, and for one album (The Rescue) you can grab the whole thing.


Song of the Week: The Spirit vs. the Kick Drum

In News, Song of the Week on 07/03/2009 at 10:57 pm

I’ve always maintained that Derek Webb was a smart guy. But viral marketing campaign smart? Just shows you never know somebody until they start leaking mysterious emails with hidden messages. Derek is building massive amounts of hype for his upcoming “controversial” album Stockholm Syndrome, which is supposed to feature cuss words and edgy messages (I guess this equates dangerous in the safe monopoly of so-called Christian music).

Derek needs to stay out of fights.

Derek needs to stay out of fights.

I’ve moseyed around the labyrinth of passwords and websites a little myself. The Bloggable Music Network has a handy rundown of the action here if you’re interested.

If you’re more interested in the music, I have two songs for you.

The SOTW is a pre-mix of a song that samples Sesame Street and is described by blogger Stephen Lamb:

Derek’s song is titled “The Spirit vs. the Kick Drum,” and is apparently built around a great quote from Rich Mullins about worship. In an interview about the Caedmon’s Call record In the Company of Angels, Cliff Young relates this story: “Rich used to talk about how people would come up to him after concerts and say, ‘Wow! The Holy Spirit really moved at that certain point in the song,’” Young remembers. “And Rich would respond by saying, ‘No actually, that’s where the kick drum and the bass came in.’ It’s easy to mistake energy and emotion for worship.”

Interesting thoughts. And it adds up to a groovy song with frenetic beats punctuating Derek’s earnest confession of his inclinations to settle for a faith that is less than real.

Derek’s song is titled “The Sprit vs. the Kick Drum,” and is apparently built around a great quote from Rich Mullins about worship. In an interview about the Caedmon’s Call record In the Company of Angels, Cliff Young relates this story: “Rich used to talk about how people would come up to him after concerts and say, ‘Wow! The Holy Spirit really moved at that certain point in the song,’” Young remembers. “And Rich would respond by saying, ‘No actually, that’s where the kick drum and the bass came in.’ It’s easy to mistake energy and emotion for worship.”

(Sorry, mp3 removed)

The next song was unlocked, piece by piece, through a giant scavenger hunt. I don’t have the time or the software to put it all together, but someone else evidently did. This one, “What Matters More,” is the one befitting all the hype. Complete with colorful language denouncing the hatred that (truthfully or not) characterizes evangelicalism in America, the song opens with this salvo and only gets better:

You say you always treat people like you like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
‘Bout what you believe, make you sound like a freak

Although his songs are often message-driven, don’t overlook D-Webb’s musical genius. From what I’ve heard so far, he’s embracing an electronic/experimental sound that matches his lyrics-heavy, street-preacher flow well.

Finally, a question: do you think Derek’s use of language considered to be profane is helping or hurting his ability to communicate? Sound off!

See you in Stockholm –


UPDATE: I’m all about supporting the artists on this blog. You can pre-order the album in a variety of packages (immediate digital download!) at Derek’s website. This is also the only place you can get the FULL version of the album (with “What Matters More”).