Tag Archive: the Grey Eagle


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.

 

Advertisements

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.

 

Milk, booze, and phlegm

Thursday morning I braved the bitter cold to stand outside of Harvest Records for over two hours to get tickets to see Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) at the Grey Eagle. The show isn’t until February, but it became the fastest sell-out in Grey Eagle history. Harvest ran out of tickets in fifteen minutes. The Grey Eagle’s website was sold out in four. Tickets went on sale at 11:00. I got there at 9:00 and was sixth in line. The girl who was first said she spent the night there. Evidently a lot of people still love Neutral Milk Hotel. But yeah so I got two tickets, and while I was there decided to pick up some new music. I got the new Menomena album on double vinyl (but the download doesn’t have any of the vinyl-only bonus tracks, wtf???) and a few used CD’s. A pretty productive morning.

Today I woke up with a sore throat and felt pretty blah for most of the day. A girl I know was having a birthday pub crawl and invited me, but I decided to decline. I watched a little TV and downed a mug of TheraFlu. Hopefully I’ll feel better soon, because tomorrow is a big day…

I’ll be going to the Mountain Xpress Best of WNC Bash to represent True Blue. And I’ll be taking Sarah. She doesn’t know how to get there, so we’re gonna meet somewhere after I get off of work and then take one car over. We’ll probably grab some dinner at the little taco stand inside the Grey Eagle. My boss wants me to be social with her for the first hour or so and then I’m free to do whatever. It’ll be a good chance to meet some local business owners and employees and do a little networking, and as a reward I get to hear free music and spend some time with Sarah. Should be a pretty fun evening.

Sunday is our Customer Appreciation Party. I don’t have to be there at any certain time, but I told her I’d come by for a little while. Other than that I pretty much have the day to do nothing. Sunday night I’ll be getting together with my other friend Sarah, the one who has been my concert hookup for the past year or so. She’s getting ready to head to South Korea to teach English and is trying to get rid of all her stuff. She’s selling me a laptop for $10. I don’t know anything about it, but the price is right. And I still owe her dinner since she bought me dinner on my birthday and then had to cancel when I had agreed to buy her dinner for her birthday. Should be yet another fun evening.

Monday I will get to give my two weeks notice at the gas station, which is most definitely cause for celebration. In addition to a much lower stress level, I’ll have an extra free day each week. And I’m joining a credit union, since I won’t have that gas station direct deposit to keep me from having to pay BB&T’s new monthly fee. Anywho, it appears this TheraFlu is starting to kick in and I’m feeling a bit woozy. Off to bed!

 

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.

 

Before I go any further, let me just get this out in the open… This was without a doubt the best concert I’ve been to in 2012. Okay there, I said it. Now let’s continue and find out what made it such a good show…

The opening band was called Daytona. I’d never heard of them before and wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised, they were great. They were a three-piece, your standard guitar-bass-drums combo. They live in Brooklyn and play indie rock. Yet somehow, everything they did was new and fresh, not in any way the cookie-cutter type stuff one would expect from a Brooklyn three-piece indie rock band. For starters, they sounded absolutely huge. Through some creative sampling, they managed to layer guitars and backing vocals until it sounded like ten people were on stage. On several songs the guitarist (who was also the primary vocalist) would start with an echo-y arpeggiated figure, sample it and loop it, and later in the song play distorted power chords or solos over it. A few tracks saw the bassist and drummer looping their “oooohhh” and “aaaahhh” backing vocals. The bassist himself got into the looping action on one song, beginning with a motif high up on the neck, then looping it and switching to a fuzz pedal and playing a deep groove over it. The drummer was insanely creative as well, often using maracas, tambourines, and sleigh bells in place of drum sticks. On one song he played with his bare hands for part of the song, giving a sound almost like a bongo drum. As for their music itself, it’s just good jangle-pop-influenced rock, with a tendency to jam and get lost on strange sonic detours. A good starting point might be later Pavement, with perhaps a bit of The Slip (the indie rock/post rock/jam band/whatever, not the Nine Inch Nails album). I bought their vinyl EP, which comes in a sleeve hand-painted by the bassist. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was this impressed by an opening act. I’m eagerly anticipating a full length from these guys.

I’m going to take a little detour of my own while I try to collect my thoughts. I’m not really sure how to capture Lost In The Trees in words, so I’ll ramble a bit instead. After the opening band left the stage and the lights came up, an adorable short girl turned around, asked me if I was here to see Lost In The Trees, and when I said yes she high-fived me. We started chatting and hit it off pretty well. She introduced me to a few of her friends, who all seemed really cool as well. Seeing as how I couldn’t find anyone to go to the show with me, they adopted me into their group. As we continued chatting it appeared that tonight would be a replay of yesterday at the laundromat, and when the show was over my suspicion was confirmed – amazing, beautiful, sweet, friendly, intelligent girl with good taste in music… and a long-term boyfriend. ‘Tis the story of my life – the more amazing a girl seems to be, the more likely she is either happily taken or completely psycho. Yay.

But enough of that detour… let’s get back to the concert.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, Lost In The Trees is a band centered around Ari Picker, a classically trained composer and former member of The Never, one of the most criminally underrated bands of the past ten years. They play a very symphonic brand of rock, a little bit like a cross between The Moody Blues and Radiohead. While they haven’t really broken big just yet, they have a very passionate fan base. Everyone I met asked me if this was my first time seeing them, and when I said yes proceeded to tell me what I’ve been missing out on. A few people tried to convince me to go to Charlotte tomorrow and see them again. These people love their band, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an audience that was more into a show than this one. The next hour or so would surely make a believer out of even the most hardened cynic. As the band played off the crowd and the crowd in turn played off the band and turned things up a notch, the whole thing basically turned into a giant love fest. This is the sort of vibe you can only get by seeing a lesser known band in a small club and just letting the music and the passion take over. There really aren’t words to describe the experience, you really had to be there.

While they focused mostly on songs from their newest record, A Church That Fits Our Needs, they played a lot of songs off of their first album and their debut EP. While Ari’s guitar and painfully sincere vocals were the main focus, the rest of the band members threatened to steal the show on a number of occasions with their incredible musicianship. A beautiful blonde named Jenavieve played violin, did some background vocals, and even broke out an autoharp for a few songs. Next to her was Drew, who mostly played cello, but occasionally played bass guitar. The usual bassist, Mark, played everything but the kitchen sink, including but not limited to tuba, electric guitar, synthesizer, and glockenspiel. Their keyboardist Emma, who somehow remembered me from a Never show over five years ago, also played various percussion instruments, French horn, and sang. I’m not sure the drummer’s name, and Wikipedia is no help, but let’s just say he was amazing. One particular technique blew my mind – he placed a small cymbal on top of his snare drum and whacked it with a mallet. The sound it made most closely resembled a synth drum, bright and tinny. My drumming skills are very limited, so I’m always looking for new ideas to inspire me and help me create the sounds in my head. I’m definitely going to have to mess around with this idea and see what I can do with it.

Ari proved to be a pretty animated frontman, jumping and wandering all around the stage, sometimes nearly crashing into his bandmates. He switched back and forth between a beautiful hollow body electric guitar and an acoustic that was originally a twelve string, but with the other six tuning pegs completely ripped out of the headstock and six strings strung normally. He and Emma did most of the talking, thanking the crowd and saying how much they love Asheville. Evidently Ari stayed here briefly and wrote a lot of songs during that time, most of which were on their previous album, All Alone In An Empty House. They played a few songs off of that album and a few off the Time Taunts Me EP. Most of the newer songs were played with more aggression and volume, calling to mind the songs off the debut EP, but never losing the intimate beauty of the newest album. They mixed in some unexpected bits, like a sound collage of feedback and some droning synthesizers in between songs. They closed with an epic ten-plus minute medley of two songs off their newest album with some jamming in between.

As they walked off the stage the crowd went berserk, and you knew an encore wasn’t far behind. However, they turned the tables on us and walked into the crowd. An all acoustic lineup of Ari on guitar, their usual string section, tuba, and a single snare drum took its place in the middle of the audience. He proceeded to tell us that they wouldn’t be quite as loud as they were on stage, and might need some help. The crowd had no problem obliging, singing every word to a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “All Alone In An Empty House.” As the song ended and the thunderous applause faded I started to make my way over to my new friends. Everyone was pretty much in agreement – the only word that could describe this concert was “amazing.”

In addition to buying the Daytona EP I also bought A Church That Fits Our Needs on vinyl. Instead of coming with a download code, which has become pretty standard these days, it came with the actual CD of the album. Not to mention a lyric sheet. Evidently they’ve done the same thing for their first album, and their debut EP includes a CD and a download code. I joked around with Emma and Daytona’s merch guy about what else might be included in the more limited pressings of the album – “the band comes to your house once a week to play the album in its entirety” was probably the cleverest idea to come out of our brainstorming. And it wouldn’t surprise me if that became an option at some point in the future. This is a band that loves its fans (one of the band members remembered me from a concert from years ago) and loves to use its music to reach out and touch you. This isn’t a band that tosses off disposable hit singles or headlines faceless stadium tours. This is a band that creates beautiful art and plays best in an intimate setting, one where they can hang out in the middle of the audience and chat with fans after the show. Their music is moving and powerful, and they’re a genuinely nice bunch of people. What more could you ask for?

 

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.

 

A Quickie…

It seems as though WordPress has done a little redesigning. Either that or my not having updated to the latest version of Firefox is causing things to display wonky. Oh well, I found my dashboard and here’s a post.

I’ve been staying pretty busy trying to give legs to my idea of building a professional looking website, but not much has come from it as of yet. I’ve also been working on the newsletter for work.

I have a few new picture ideas, and a Portal-themed series I conceived on the walk home from work tonight. If I can do what I see in my head it should be pretty awesome. I’ve also been writing on my new $12 guitar. I have one song mostly recorded, I’m just finishing up lyrics. I have another with two lines, but my neighbor Angela says she wants to write lyrics and sing it, so hopefully that will go well.

The big news is this is my Week Of Awesome Concerts. Tomorrow night I’ll be going to see Bear In Heaven at the Grey Eagle. On Monday night I will be seeing the legen(wait for it)dary Dick Dale at Jack Of The Wood. I’m pretty pumped about both shows, hopefully neither will disappoint.

And that’s really about it, other than the usual boring stuff. Now to get some sleep, I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow…..