Tag Archive: concert review


Last night I went to the Grey Eagle to see a personal musical hero of mine, Ken Stringfellow. You might know him as the co-leader of The Posies, my favorite band of all time. Or perhaps you know him as That Guy Who Played Keyboards On Tour With REM. Or maybe you know him from his time with a reunited Big Star. Or with his garage rockĀ  side band The Disciplines. Or from all the albums he’s produced. Or maybe you don’t know him at all. But you should. His solo stuff has leaned heavily on piano-rock and experimental jams, all with super-catchy hooks. Good stuff.

The show was a seated event, so I made sure to get there early. Evidently I didn’t need to do, because there were barely more than twenty people who showed up. I was a little bummed out at that, but oh well. As he would later point out, this was his first time playing Asheville, and you have to build your audience somehow. Better to have a passionate and enthusiastic few than a huge crowd of people who don’t care. But I digress.

The opening act was a guy named Greg Cartwright, who plays in a local band called Reining Sound. It was just him solo on electric guitar. He was a good guitarist, and definitely had talent, but it just wasn’t my thing at all. His voice was a little on the nasal side, and he didn’t have much concept of melody. He said that he was so used to playing with a rock band that he had to shout over, and it showed. His songs didn’t hold my attention at all, but the little bits of lyrics I was able to catch here and there sounded pretty cool. Perhaps his songwriting works better in the context of a rock band, but solo he just didn’t grab me. It didn’t help that he played for almost an hour, didn’t speak much in between songs, and spent most of the night walking back and forth between the microphone and his set list sitting on a stool some ten feet away. Maybe his style works for others, but it didn’t for me, so I was kinda glad when he walked off the stage.

After a brief intermission, Ken Stringfellow took the stage. He spent the evening alternating between guitar and a baby grand piano, which evidently belonged to The Grey Eagle. He remarked how he usually has a digital piano with him, but that you just can’t pass up an opportunity like this. In between songs he talked a lot, about anything and everything. Things got off to a rocky start with a groaner of a joke about all of The Eagles being grey, but he somehow made it work. But anyway, about the music…..

He mostly played selections from his newest album, Danzig In The Moonlight. By my count there were three songs not from that album, including two from 2004’s The Soft Commands and one from 2001’s Touched. He didn’t play any Posies songs, because as he explained, he wanted to show people what he did when he wasn’t playing with others. Most of the newer songs worked naturally on just guitar or piano, which forced the listener to focus even more on his always intelligent lyrics. Some songs, like “Superwise,” sounded radically different from their album forms, but most stayed pretty much the same. For the most part he chose to completely forgo the use of the microphone, and when he played guitar he spent more time standing on the ground in front of the audience than up on the stage. It genuinely felt like he was just hanging out playing for some friends in their living room, rather than being a paid performer at a venue. He took the friendly vibe to its logical conclusion with a plea for someone to put him up for the night. This was, as he put it, a “cultural event,” and part of enriching the cultural landscape of a town is to ensure that culture does not freeze to death in its van.

On Danzig In The Moonlight there is a song, “Doesn’t It Remind You Of Something,” that is a slow, countryish duet with Charity Rose Thielen of The Head And The Heart. For this song, he was joined by an audience member, a girl named Vickie who is in a local band called Warm The Bell. I haven’t gotten a chance to check out their stuff, but they have a CD release party coming up in a few months, and based on their descriptions I think I’d probably like them. I’m really only writing this paragraph to remind myself to check them out. If you’re not interested, feel free to ignore it. But I really need to give them a listen, sounds like it might be my kind of thing.

You really couldn’t have asked for a stronger performance. His songs are well written, melodic, and catchy as hell. His passion for music shines through every word and every note. And when he’s not playing, he’s pretty good at soliciting laughter. After about an hour and a half of music and banter, Ken announced that he was finished and would be heading to the merchandise table. He commented about how much he loved Asheville, and that even though the crowd was small, this was a great gig.

He hung out for a good half hour, making it a point to meet everyone and shake their hands. There was no one running his table, so he personally sold everything. I snagged a show poster and got him to sign it. He asked what my name was, then proceeded to give me an Irish sounding suffix, signing it “Chris O’Moon.” Right on the picture of the moon. Well played, Stringfellow, well played. He fielded a lot of questions, cracked a few jokes, asked for coffee-house recommendations, and eventually had to call it a night. I got a strong impression of sincerity from talking to him. This is someone who doesn’t fake anything – when he seems like he’s enjoying himself, that’s because he actually is. His personality shone through no matter what he was doing – he seemed like the kind of guy you’d want as a friend. Oh, and he makes music too. Awesome music. You should check it out.

 

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So last night was the big night. Jeff Mangum, live at The Grey Eagle. A few months ago I waited outside of Harvest Records for hours to get tickets to what would become the fastest sellout in Grey Eagle history. And it was totally worth it.

I ended up taking my friend Morgan, a big Neutral Milk Hotel fan. I had asked Katie, but she had already planned a birthday party for the same day and didn’t want to shuffle things around. Her actual birthday was Wednesday, but she was in Atlanta until Friday night. We decided that I would go to the concert and then when it was over I would join up with the birthday party, already in progress. But more on that later…

Morgan finally got a car, and drove over to my place a little before the show. It was snowing and she freaked out, so I drove to the concert. Parking was ridiculous. I wound up parking in front of a warehouse about a quarter of a mile from the Grey Eagle. The place was pretty packed, with people lined up into the parking lot waiting to get in. They had two lines going, based on last name, and it was nearly fifteen minutes before we were inside.

The opening band was a duo called Tall Firs. They both played electric guitars in various tunings through lots of effects. It was pretty mellow and atmospheric, with a sort of dream-pop/slowcore vibe going on. I bought one of their albums, but it’s very different. They have a drummer (or did at the time of this album, which came out in 2008) and the sound is more straight ahead rock. Evidently one of the guys is a guitar tech for Sonic Youth and they’re on Thurston Moore’s label. A lot of the CD reminds me of Sebadoh. I hear a little Pavement in there, and possibly some of Sonic Youth’s less experimental and noisy moments. I’m going to have to check out their other stuff and see how it compares, but I like the CD I bought a lot.

After a brief intermission Jeff Mangum took the stage. He looks a bit different from when we last saw him, with a huge greying beard that makes him look very Asheville. He opened with “Holland, 1945” and it quickly became obvious that the entire night would be one giant sing along. He played a few more songs from In The Aeroplane Over The Sea and threw in a few from On Avery Island as well. He didn’t really talk a lot in between songs, except to thank the crowd for being so supportive. On several occasions the usually dark and depressed Morgan suddenly turned into a twelve-year-old cheerleader, screaming her head off and countering every Jeff Mangum thank you with a “no, thank you!”

On several songs during the first half of his performance, Mangum hummed the melodies that were played by a horn section on the album. I like to think of myself as being somewhat observant, so it didn’t escape me that for some reason there were four microphones on stage. Even though I knew it was coming, when the horn section came out for “Oh Comely,” I just about lost it. Everything sounded perfect, perhaps even better than on the album. After thunderous applause from the crowd, he launched into an extended version of “Naomi,” and again the horns came out. He closed with “Two Headed Boy,” but this time the horn section was joined by a guy with a floor tom and another guy with a tambourine. They played the instrumental “The Fool” and then everyone left the stage as the crowd went insane. Jeff returned for an encore of “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.” Pretty much everyone there was singing along, and when the horns came out one last time it was the perfect end to an amazing performance.

I wound up buying In The Aeroplane Over The Sea on 180 gram vinyl, and while I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t a gatefold, the artwork looks amazing. The record itself has the phonograph/plane/whatever picture on the label and the lyrics and credits are on a sheet inside the sleeve. I stuck my ticket stub and bracelet inside the sleeve as well. I was hoping to get him to sign it, but the guy at the merchandise table said he doesn’t usually come out to sign and meet with people. Oh well, still totally worth it.

After the show we came back to my place. Morgan didn’t stick around, and I attempted to get in touch with Katie. She wasn’t answering her phone, so I assumed either she couldn’t hear it or was already too drunk to perform such a high level action. I remembered that she said their pub crawl was starting at The Yacht Club, so I decided to go down there and see if they were still there. The guy said they had already left and he didn’t know where they were. I decided to try another of her usual haunts, Broadway’s, but they weren’t there either. Finally she returned my text message and said they were at a gay bar. I asked where it was, but she said they were leaving. I told her I’d take a rain check and she should come over tonight so I could give her her birthday present(s). This afternoon I talked to her and she said she was really hung over and hanging out with her family. As of yet she hasn’t gotten home, so I’m thinking we’re not going to hang out tonight. Hopefully I’ll get to see her tomorrow.

I think I’m going to work on some paintings and then attempt to get to sleep at a decent hour. The End.

 

Now that I’ve had a little time to gather my thoughts, I figured it was a good time to finally write a concert review…

Anyone who knows me knows that this was easily the most anticipated concert of the year for me. While I’ve slacked off somewhat on Sun Kil Moon, I’m a huge Red House Painters fan. The second I heard that Mark Kozelek was coming to The Grey Eagle I was sold. I bought my ticket a month ago, not willing to risk it selling out. I’ve been listening to the roller coaster album and Ocean Beach almost nonstop for the past week. In retrospect, perhaps I built things up a little too much in my mind. As a whole the show was good, but it’s hard not to be a little disappointed.

The first source of my disappointment came immediately after walking in the door. I was greeted by a sign telling us that the artist has requested there be no photography, video or audio recording, or even cell phone cameras. I’ve never been one of those people who records shows and trades videos and FLAC files, but I do like to snap a few pictures and record a few of my favorite songs, just for my own benefit. Most performers don’t seem to mind that very much; they’re just happy that you came out to the show. So I was a little bummed over that, but I got over it once the show started.

It was clear that this was meant to be an event, more than a concert. It was a seated show, with the lights very dim. Mark Kozelek took the stage, picked up a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, sat on a stool, and went straight to work. It was several songs before he even said a word to the audience, perhaps preferring to let his music do the talking. He opened with a handful of Sun Kil Moon songs, one RHP track, and a few songs I didn’t recognize that might be new. After this initial set of songs he seemed to loosen up a little, talking more and joking around with the audience. He did a few more songs and then brought a friend up to accompany him on a baby grand piano. They played for almost an hour, doing selections from his entire career, along with a brand new song and a song by his pianist’s band. He abruptly ended things and walked off stage, only to return for an encore in which he took requests from several of the audience members.

Mark’s guitar work was both intricate and sublime, something that doesn’t always come across on his recordings. His voice seemingly hasn’t aged a bit, sounding just as sweet and melodic as it did way back in 1992. But the small, quiet, intimate setting kept the spotlight shining brightly on his lyrics – which seems to be what draws most fans to his music in the first place. Of the songs that I wasn’t familiar with, one in particular was extremely moving. Thanks to his no-taping policy and the fact that this song isn’t on any albums, no one really seems to know much about it. The chorus repeats the line “you missed my heart,” amid verses about lost love, addiction, and other pretty bleak themes. I highly recommend searching for “Mark Kozelek” and “you missed my heart.” There is a version on YouTube that is pretty low quality, but the beauty of the song still manages to come across. One can only hope that this song appears on a future release – or at least that someone manages to record a high quality bootleg.

As he loosened up, Mark showed a pretty crazy sense of humor. He commented on an empty seat up front and how it made him sad. A few minutes later a girl from another part of the audience had moved and filled the seat, prompting him to ask for her number and keep a continuous dialog going for the rest of the show. He made many jokes about being old and not being the sex symbol he was in the mid 90’s. Later in the show someone approached the stage and placed a beer at his feet. He proclaimed that he didn’t drink alcohol anymore, but thanks anyway. The audience mostly took this as a joke – the guy did just finish playing a song about heroin addiction – but seeing him with an O’Doul’s after the show makes me think he was being serious. He talked about how Asheville has been hit hard by the recession, joking (I think?) that the last time he was here people actually paid for merchandise with checks.

After the show I was met with my second major disappointment, when I learned that they couldn’t take debit or credit cards for any of the merchandise. Maybe I should have brought my checkbook? I asked the guy at the table if Mark was going to be meeting with people and he said he wasn’t sure. I wandered around for a while until I eventually found a crowd of people gathered, and sure enough, in the center there he was. He didn’t seem particularly interested in talking to most of them, offering short answers and seeming like his head was elsewhere. A girl who I assume he knows personally walked past and waved, and then he quickly broke away from the group to follow her and talk to her alone. She left and he started to walk towards the back and was once again surrounded by people. Again he found a way to break free from the crowd and track down someone else he seemed to know personally. Somehow I managed to get his attention long enough for him to sign the booklet from my copy of the roller coaster CD, which might have been an odd request, considering he only played one song off of it. But alas, it’s one of my favorite albums of the 90’s, so I made sure to bring it for him to sign.

A lot of people might have left this concert with an unflattering picture of Mark – detached, not very friendly, overly quiet and not much of a performer, etc. What I saw was someone very much like myself – an extreme introvert who never really got comfortable with the spotlight and the need to be outgoing and personable night in and night out. The initial set of songs was him warming up and getting used to being on stage. And tuning – he did that after every song. Then as he overcame his inhibitions, he was able to relax and joke around a bit. Having a friend join him on stage made him even more comfortable, to the point of doing an amazing encore of requests (including two from the girl who moved into the empty seat up front, and a beautiful closing version of “Mistress” that sent chills down my spine.) Once he left the stage and got swamped by people, you could see his comfort level quickly eroding, and in typical introvert fashion, he fled the crowds to seek out meaningful conversations with personal friends. I can’t fault the guy for behaving pretty much exactly how I would if I was playing a gig, but I can definitely see how some people might get the wrong impression about the guy. Luckily he is one of the few songwriters who can truly let the songs do the talking. Between his amazingly intricate guitar playing, smooth and soothing vocals, and achingly beautiful lyrics, he could basically do anything he wanted and true fans would still find a lot to love. Overall, it was a slightly disappointing experience, but the positives far outweighed the negatives, so I can’t really complain too much.

 

I arrived at the Emerald Lounge a few minutes before 9:00, but evidently they are keeping alive the tradition of starting late, which happens at pretty much every Emerald Lounge show. Things didn’t really get underway until a little after 9:30 when opening act Cory Branan took the stage. I wasn’t familiar with his music at all and didn’t know just what to expect. He proceeded to do the last thing I had expected from someone opening for Maps & Atlases – play a set of songs accompanied by only an acoustic guitar and a thick southern drawl. Evidently he’s friends with the guys from Lucero, and that’s probably a good reference point. His guitar playing would alternate between very intricate fingerpicked arpeggios and him basically banging the shit out of his guitar. His lyrics were quirky and well written and his songs had strong choruses and interesting narratives. At times he would raise his voice and his southern accent would disappear, only to be replaced with a gravely growl that sounded a bit like Shane MacGowen from The Pogues. In between songs he would offer up witty banter, clever observations, and drunken nonsense. For someone who plays a completely different style of music than the headlining band, he was pretty well received by the crowd. I ended up buying his album and talking to him for a bit, he seems like a pretty cool guy.

Maps & Atlases wasted no time getting on stage and immediately started their set. I’ve listened to their first album and liked it, but I never actually bought or downloaded it, so I wasn’t terribly familiar with their music – just enough to know that I wanted to check them out live. They play a very technical form of indie rock, with roots in classic math rock, jammy prog rock, and Afropop. To compare them to contemporary bands that might be better known, they sound a bit like a cross between Minus The Bear and Vampire Weekend.

I was constantly blown away by their musicianship – these guys can flat-out play! The lead singer played a semi-hollow body guitar and did a lot of two-handed tapping. Their second guitarist also did some tapping, some slide guitar, some chunky rhythm work, and quite frequently switched off and played an analog synth. On a few songs his backing vocals were run through a vocoder, and on one song he used a sampler to loop his guitar and the singer’s vocals to form the backing track. Their bassist was the epitome of a good bassist, in my mind. He kept a fat and steady low end at all times, even when playing lead parts and runs way into the upper register of his bass. He knew how to lay down a funky groove and really propelled the songs forward. But he also knew when to shut up and take a back seat, letting the guitarists have the spotlight while he thumped out root notes. On one song he played a bass drum and the second guitarist played a snare. On a few other songs he directed the audience on when to clap while he sustained an open note. But the real treat of the night was the drummer. He played extremely technical beats, using everything from mounted bongos to synth pads to wood blocks to a tabletop. He did a lot of polyrhythms, and often used a sampler to loop his own playing and build up layer upon layer of percussion. When he wasn’t being flashy and complicated, he banged the shit out of the drums, often drowning out the rest of the band.

Visually the show was impressive as well. The use of stage lights was well executed and really enhanced things. The drummer’s kit was clear and had yellow and orange lights shining through it. The mounted bass drum that the bass player played on one song was also lit funky shades of yellow and orange. All of the amps were mounted on bizarre triangle-shaped stands, which lit up at different times in several different colors. There were several times where the lights all went down and the band performed parts of songs in complete darkness, which added a vaguely spooky flavor to the show.

All in all, this was a show for thinking musicians and music fans. If you’re impressed by technique, then both of these artists would have blown you away. But they both also know that the song itself is key, and neither band fell prey to pointless noodling. No matter how long Maps & Atlases jammed on a riff, soloed, or inserted random bits of other songs, they always came back to strong melodies and solid choruses. No matter how intricate Cory Branan’s guitar playing got, it was always in the service of the unique stories he told with his songs. These are two artists who don’t shy away from technical ability, but rather use it as a vehicle for constructing great songs. In a musical landscape of technically proficient musicians with boring songs and great songwriters who can barely tune their instruments, it’s refreshing to know that there are still people out there who know how to combine great playing with great songwriting.

 

Well how about another concert review? Sure, why not…

For those of you not familiar with Asheville’s club scene, Jack Of The Wood is probably a name you’ve never heard before. It’s a bar with an Irish theme and its own brewery. They’ve been hosting live music for a long time now, with bluegrass jams and Celtic bands being some of the more common shows. I heard through the grapevine that recently they’ve hired a new guy to do their booking, and evidently he has some pretty serious connections. So now this tiny little hole in the wall pub is getting big name acts like Junior Brown, Jim Lauderdale, Peter Case (who cancelled), and the King Of Surf Guitar, Mr. Dick Dale. Tickets sold out in only a few days, and to say it was “standing room” only would be quite the understatement. You barely had room to stand without bumping into someone. I’m pretty sure if anyone else showed up there would be a few fire code violations. But enough about that, let’s talk about the music…

The opening band was a local act called The Krektones. They’ve resisted the label of “surf rock,” yet in a pre-show “prayer” their guitarist acknowledged Dick Dale as their “heavenly father, who sits in glory in California.” Aside from a few random yells, shouts, oohs and ahs, and banter in between songs their set was mostly instrumental. Their guitarist is quite good, bringing a bit of a psychobilly vibe to their surf rock sound. They had a guy who switched back and forth between trumpet and sax, and occasionally screamed random things into his instrument mic. Their rhythm section was pretty tight, even if they were usually overshadowed by the guitar and horns. They did some original songs, a few well-known covers, and a lot of movie themes. On the latter they sounded almost like a more restrained version of Naked City, minus the hardcore breakdowns and free-form improvisation. Their set was rather enjoyable, I might have to go see them the next time they’re playing around town.

In between the bands DJ Rob Castillo spun 60’s surf hits and obscure garage rock, playing a great selection of stuff. The break seemed to be longer than The Krektones’ entire set – there seemed to be some technical difficulties with the microphone setup. Finally at about 10:20 the headliner took the stage to thunderous applause.

Dick Dale is now 74 years old, with a long white ponytail and an almost fully receded hairline, but once he starts playing you would never know it. After his opening shred-fest, he spent a few minutes fussing at the sound guy to make the microphone louder. He was actually quite hilarious in doing so, asking the guy if he knew where the volume knob was, and then graciously informing him that it had a big “v” on it. He did a song with a call-and-response section and stopped in the middle because he still couldn’t hear himself. It could be a bad sound tech, it could be an aging rocker losing his hearing, but the most likely reason is that his music is just that loud. I’m talking thunderously loud. Even when playing with a clean tone his guitar is pushed into overdrive, stacks of custom Fender amps shaking the entire stage. His bass player’s stack was just as big and the bottom end was huge. His drummer (who I’m guessing is his son? his name was Jimmy Dale) pounds the drums as if his life depends on it. Whether ripping through power chords or soloing at breakneck speed, it’s pretty safe to say that Dick Dale is the most energetic 74-year-old in the music world.

He played most of his biggest songs, along with an interesting selection of covers. He threw in a few famous surf riffs (“Walk Don’t Run” and “Wipeout”) but never played them long enough for the audience to latch onto them. Most of his songs were long jams that took unexpected turns into other songs and styles before coming back to their original riffs. To my surprise he actually sung on a few songs, most notably a bluesy version of “House of the Rising Sun.” At one point he did a monster medley based around the signature riff to “Smoke on the Water” that must have lasted six or seven minutes, incorporating a lot of snippets of classic rock songs. For one song he played harmonica, and while he’s not the greatest, the energy level remained high the entire time. The next to the last song was a crazy jam where everyone got a solo, and then he walked over to the drum set and performed a drum duet with his drummer. He then walked around to the bassist and began to hit the strings of his bass with drumsticks while the bassist fingered chords. Then he flipped the bass over and tapped out a rhythm on the back of it while the bassist got in some ghost notes and slides. The closing number was another extended jam, full of soloing and huge walls of sound.

It was pretty easy to see why Dick Dale is so legendary in the guitar community – the guy can play circles around just about anyone else. His energy is intense, and he’s got a great sense of humor to go with a stage presence that is at once imposing and understated. Even though the show was pretty amazing, a few things really disappointed me. For starters, his set was entirely too short. He barely played an hour, whereas the opening band went on for around forty-five minutes and the break in between was about that long as well. I understand he’s not a young man, and sometimes there are technical difficulties and whatnot – not to mention local noise ordinances – but if I’m going to pay big bucks to see a legendary artist, I’d like a little bit more bang for my buck. Secondly, there was no encore. I realize there’s no rule that says a performer must do an encore, but still it is mostly expected. At first I thought that’s why his set was so short – surely he would be coming back on stage to do a few more songs. After waiting around for almost half an hour it became apparent that this wasn’t happening. By the time I finally left he was comfortably signing autographs at a table where a long line had formed. And this was my final disappointment – it was clear that he embraced his rock star status and turned it into a moneymaking machine. He had all the usual merchandise, and I definitely don’t fault a musician for wanting to make money… but the prices were outrageous. Shirts were $40, signed records were $100, signed CD’s were $35. There were tiny 3″ x 5″ postcards for $15, posters of the show for $20, and if you brought something of your own he would kindly sign it for the low, low price of only $10. I’ve seen a lot of big-name artists, and quite a few “living legends,” but I have never once seen anyone charge to sign something you already had. Like I said, I don’t fault the guy for wanting to make money, but surely he could at least sign things for free. Maybe this sort of thing is more common than I realize, and he obviously plays with a lot of emotion and a genuine love of performing, but his merch table made it look like this was purely a business venture, and business was most certainly good.

Overall I had a good time, and I love Dick Dale the guitarist. I’m just not so sure how I feel about him as the CEO of Dick Dale Enterprises. So what I’m ultimately left with is a night of great music, albeit not quite enough of it, and a final sour taste in my mouth. And a constant ringing in my ears because this show was so incredibly loud. On that note I think I’ll wrap this up and attempt to get some sleep so I can wake up in a few hours for work.

 

Just got back from the show, thought I’d write a little review while things are still fresh in my mind. So here goes…

At the last minute my friend Sarah decided to go with me. We got there kinda early, and the mostly empty building was reverberating with the sounds of a mellow, spacey electronic soundscape, which we later realized was provided by the first performer…

The opening act was just one guy who went by the name Doldrums. I’m still not sure exactly what I think about his music, nor do I have any idea how to classify it. It had all of the elements of dance music – drum loops, synthesizers, keyboards, samples, digitally effected vocals – but in no way was it dance music. His compositions took pretty abstract forms, with jerky transitions and no apparent structure. His beats were rather subdued for the most part, definitely not something you could dance to. When they did occasionally move to the forefront they were still mostly undanceable – very irregular rhythms with touches of tribal drums and lots of stops and starts. His samples were mostly annoying, with a helicopter sample reappearing entirely too frequently for my tastes. His vocals were flat-out horrible – high-pitched and nasally, drowned in reverb, and run through so many vocoders and effects that he often sounded more like a text to speech program set on “Japanese woman” than a lanky white boy with a hipster haircut. For stretches of a minute or two he would start doing something that sounded really cool, but ultimately it would morph into something painful to listen to. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, since he is clearly trying new things and attempting to do something unique, but it just didn’t work. Sarah absolutely hated his set, and more than a few members of the audience walked away, preferring to sit outside and chat or get drinks at the bar to listening and trying to figure out what the hell he was doing. So the overall verdict is his music is creative and definitely different, but not something I (or a large part of the audience) would ever want to listen to again.

The second act was a four piece band called Blouse. They had a girl singer who played guitar, another girl who played keyboards, and two guys handling bass and drums. Whoever was running the soundboard mixed them horribly – the vocals were buried and the keyboards were so loud that they almost hurt my ears when she played higher notes. The frontwoman (is that a word?) was constantly bending down to adjust her monitor and her effects pedals, and on one occasion she apologized for things not sounding quite right. But in spite of technical difficulties they kept on and managed to give a pretty good performance. Their sound was very dark, yet atmospheric, sort of like a mix of The Cocteau Twins, Fever Ray, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The singer’s voice, although hard to discern from the mix, had a certain sweetness that made me think that at some point in time they would break out into a huge pop chorus, but that never really happened. This isn’t to say their songs weren’t accessible, they most definitely were, just not in a mainstream rock sort of way. The rhythm section was tight, the keyboard textures were usually pretty interesting, and the guitar tones ranged from jangly to full-on distortion, sometimes in the same song. I was especially impressed with the drummer’s use of synth pads and triggers in addition to acoustic drumming. Fans of some of the more abstract New Wave stuff coming out of England in the early 80’s, the shoegaze movement, or 90’s alternative rock would probably like them a lot. While they didn’t blow me away, I enjoyed them.

By the time the headliners took the stage there was a pretty big turnout. After a false start and some tinkering with the light fixtures behind them, they finally kicked things off in grand fashion. A keyboard arpeggio and crashing drums set the tone for their set, which was somewhere in between arena rock concert and rave. The singer spent a lot of time playing with a Kaoss pad and a few other synths and loops, and frequently played bass on songs where the usual bassist switched to guitar. For those who aren’t familiar with Bear In Heaven, they build their songs around synth loops and arpeggios, and at times sound like they’re more content to jam on a groove than construct a pop song. Live this translated even better than I had expected, they managed to pull off a huge grandiose sound with such minimal instrumentation. Their drummer is flat-out amazing, often sounding like three drummers at once. He really pounds the shit out of his drum set, but is still able to lock in perfectly with all the loops and play amazingly intricate and unconventional rhythms. They have a knack for taking the most otherworldly sounds and beats and fitting them together into a long, deep groove that practically dares you to surrender to the music. The combination of strobes, colored lights, LED track lighting, lasers, and smoke machines made for a very visual experience as well. The whole spectacle had the vibe of a great party, except instead of a DJ you had an amazing live band. Even after being a fan for a few years, I’m at a loss for words. They definitely take things to a new level with their energy, top-notch musicianship, and all-powerful groove. Bloggers and hipsters like to toss around a lot of big words and name drop obscure Krautrock and industrial dance bands, but experiencing these guys live gives on the feeling that they are one of the few bands out there who are truly doing something unique that defies easy classification.

After the show I picked up a copy of Bear In Heaven’s newest album, I Love You, It’s Cool. The packaging and artwork on the vinyl release is pretty great. I just downloaded the mp3 copy and I’m almost through my first listen as I’m writing this. It’s a little different from their last album, and not nearly as huge sounding as their live show, but so far it’s very good. Most of the stylistic detours they take are successful, the production is crisp and fits the tone of the music perfectly, and the songs sound just as strong as on previous releases. If you’re already a fan, definitely pick up the new album. If they come anywhere near you, by all means go and see them. If you’re not a fan, their live show could most certainly win you over. And if you’re not familiar with them, what are you waiting for? For once the assclowns at Pitchfork got something right – Bear In Heaven is one of the most original and important bands currently making music.