Where NY music fanaticism and NY Mets fanaticism need not be mutually exclusive. Next year is now, bitches!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Thinkin' Bout My Doorbell...White Stripes/Shins - 9/24/05

This here blogger turned 26 yesterday, and he figured that spending said occasion at the Mets' Single-A ballpark in Coney Island watching two giants of modern-indie was as good a way as any to spend it.

Slightly off-topic, the original branch of Totonno's Pizza on Neptune Avenue (7-minute walk from Keyspan Park), most certainly lives up to the hype, and may actually be my new favorite NYC slice (with Grimaldi's finishing a close second). You may think its a good idea to hit the joint up before catching this upcoming weekend's Across the Narrows gigs, and you'd be right...just be prepared to spend at least an hour in line, quite possibly longer. Excellent pies though, and they have Brooklyn Pennant Ale.

Considering it's a minor-league baseball stadium, Keyspan Park is actually a decent place to see a show. Sound was good, port-o-johns were plentiful, and if you happen to be on the field, the stage is high enough that the amount of time spent on your tiptoes will be minimal.

I missed Brendan Benson, but suffice it to say, The Shins were The Shins, playing a tight 40-minute set that sounded exactly like the album cuts, save an extra three-minute '"jam" tacked onto the end of "One By One All Day." That the songs can sound exactly like their studio counterparts and still be a blast to hear in concert is a testament to how great a songwriter James Mercer is. There was merely one new song played; a good thing considering that this band has taken the art of milking minimal studio output to unprecedented new heights (and have they played "Fighting in a Sack" live, ever?). The keyboard player was his usual court jester self; quoting John Fogerty's "Centerfield" and bragging about his skills in "shooting the freak" on the boardwalk earlier in the day. And for all of those Zach Braff fans who may have been seeing the band for the first time, while the band opened with "Caring Is Creepy," "New Slang" went unplayed (scandalous!). The Shins are a great band. Just put out that third album already. Seriously. It doesn't need to be any longer than your other two albums. Just do it. The Fiery Furnaces' "EP" is even longer than both Shins albums.

The last time I saw The White Stripes in concert was at a 2002 free show in Union Square sponsored by Chrysler (leading them to open with "The Big Three Killed My Baby," natch). Before that it was at one of their sold-out Bowery gigs. Those shows were fun. The Coney Island show was more than fun...it was borderline awe-inspiring. Did the birthday charity of my friends leave me more than a little drunk during the set? Yes. This band is fun to see sloshed. Didn't matter. Would have enjoyed it just as much sober. Their stage presence was huge (augmented by red and white lights, white bushes, and red tapestries), and the performance never let up; even after the 'how on earth do you top this' opening triptych of "Black Math," "Blue Orchid" and "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" (wowsers). Jack and Meg have five records under their belt now, so they've got more than enough songs with which to rock a stadium crowd. Furthermore, they seldom take longer than a 10 second break (at most) between tunes, so the energy level never sags. The majority of the set was culled from the Elephant album, there were roughly six songs from the recent (and excellent) Get Behind Me Satan, and you had the hits from their other three discs (unsurprisingly, no "Fell In Love With a Girl"). They also played Meg's 30-second "Passive Manipulation twice, and had two bright red timpani drums onstage that were literally only used for the combined minute that Meg sang the song (big glockenspiel too....only used for "The Nurse"). For those curious, "Seven Nation Army" was the second to last song in the 25-minute "encore."

A friend commented that the White Stripes live show features "the rawness that you get with the first two Black Sabbath" albums, and he's correct. As fun as their studio albums can be, I sincerely hope the next White Stripes release is a live disc because that's where they're at their finest. While I was at first unquestionably skeptical of the ability of two individuals to wow a huge crowd at a baseball field, such fears were unfounded. Jack White knows what he's doing, and I've never had more respect for his band than I do now.

(BTW: Jim Jarmusch stood behind my party and I for the whole show; clad in a black ballcap simply reading "Johnny Cash." Rock.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Musical Shorts.....

Echo and the Bunnymen - Siberia

This hit shelves yesterday, and from what I can tell after a half dozen listens or so, it's not half bad. Basically picks up where 2001's Flowers left off, which is to say more sweeping ballads about how a now craggy-voiced Ian McCulloch ain't the young buck that he used to be. Granted, he's roughly the same age as Bono, but sounds twenty years older on account of his multiple pack a day Marlboro Red habit (seriously...listen to the vocals on Porcupine and then compare...smoking kills, kids). The production is far more full than its been in awhile, and though there's at least one mid-tempo ballad too many, "Parthenon Drive," "Stormy Weather" and "Sideways Eight" would have sounded nicely at home on Ocean Rain. Bass player Peter Wilkerson does a considerably admirable job of replacing Les Pattinson's bounce (especially on "Parthenon Drive") and there's a lot more Will Seargent on Siberia than on any of the other late 90's Bunnymen-MK II discs. A little goopier than I would have liked, and the subject matter seldom strays from 'oh man, look how friggin' old I am' but Siberia constitutes good proof that the Bunnymen are still far more relevant than nearly any one of the current crop who cite McCulloch and co. as a major influence (cough, cough, Coldplay, cough).

The Strokes - "Juicebox" - Kudos to Stereogum for providing a download link for (what I believe) is the new Strokes single. That being said....what the hell is this crap? I don't mind the now uber-glossy production (relatively speaking), but this sounds like four songs stitched together, none of them being overly good. A seriously de-tuned bassline with what sounds like power chords seems to herald a heavier, angry version of this band, and then you've got Julian sounding oddly like Kurt Cobain as he wails that "we've got a city to love!" Maybe this will grow on me, and while I appreciate the band's willingness to explore their horizons...it sounds like they're trying a little too hard here.

King Biscuit Time - "C I AM 15" - More props to Stereogum are in order for providing a link to a new video from King Biscuit Time, a/k/a the now defunct Beta Band frontman Steve Mason's solo project. While I was aware that King Biscuit Time was going to release a record at some point, I was unaware that the street date was Spring of 2006 (too long!) or that a single was even in the works. This video is a mere reaffirmation of the obvious; Steve Mason fucking rules. This has made my day.

Monday, September 19, 2005

This Heart's On Fire...CMJ goes Sub Pop @ The Bowery

Hey now. No secret that this here blog has been an orphan now for longer than I care to admit. This was brought on by a combination of lack of free time, using said free time to submit to here, and such utter disgust and frustration with my day job that any urge to write in a blog that may or may not be read by seven people was diminished.

My new job starts in a week, and things have been looking up in general lately (gfriend moving in, b-day coming up soon, NY Giants appear respectable), so hopefully this is the beginning of more and better posts. And without further adieu....

Last Saturday night's Sub Pop showcase at CMJ was the only actual 'label showcase' I attended all weekend; the Friday night decision to go see the horrible adaptation of Everything is Illuminated instead of the Hello Sir! showcase with TigerBearWolf and We Versus The Shark not being one of my smarter moves. While Neil Young meets GBV wunderkind Chad Van Gaalen hit the stage at 7, myself and fellow CMG writer Sean Ford didn't arrive until 9:45, at the end of the Fruit Bats (a/k/a C-grade Shins) set. They really weren't letting in folks with CMJ badges at this point, which was odd considering the only time the place even approached looking sold out was when Wolf Parade was on.

Instrumental rockers Kinski hit the stage at 10:05, playing the first four tracks off of their recent Alpine Static in order in addition to two older songs, and what I was told was a Travelling Wilbury's cover (?) with actual lead vocals. Kinski have only been around since 1998, but they just look old. One guitarist is bald, and the other is a hefty dude with facial hair suggesting that he's listened to The Allman Brothers at Fillmore East more than a couple of times in his life. But they completely rocked. I very much dug Alpine Static, and it translates incredibly well to the stage, offering all the hairpin turns of the studio tracks with the extra noise, improvisation, and requisite rocking out that a good live show should provide. These guys simply enjoy themselves onstage, which is why its a shame that the venue was about 1/3 full for their set, and they won't sell any copies of Static because the Fork crapped on it (by Joe Tangari no less....stick to Britpop dude). Fans of Black Sabbath or the out of print/underrated 1993 Navarro/Avery project Deconstruction would do well to check Kinski out when they're in your hood.

Rogue Wave came on next, and despite accolades a plenty, the only Rogue Wave song I am familiar with is "Kicking the Heart Out" from hearing on a Virgin Megastore sampler. Everybody says they sound too much like the Shins, but I found this to be inaccurate after witnessing their very good set (especially considering they toured with the Fruit Bats). They're simply a very pleasant sounding rock band with good charisma and a melodic sound. They definitely do have the charming/ordinary somewhat disheveled look that I guess could make them odd hearthrobs among the Death Cab set (especially the lead vocalist...sort of a hipster's take on a young Steven Stills), and their set got better as it went on. Maybe their first record sounds more like The Shins than the new one. At any rate, I'm looking forward to it.

If you have any plans to catch Wolf Parade's show at the Bowery Ballroom on October 24th, buy tickets now. Methinks that once Pitchfork gives their upcoming Apologies to the Queen Mary a 9 point something, its all o-vah. I've been listening that record for about a month now. The first few times you listen, you'll write them off as Modest Mouse Jr. But give it a chance, and you'll be completely hooked. They're buddies with the Arcade Fire, but really sound nothing like them, opting for a considerably rawer, maybe Tom Waits meets early Mouse sound. There's hints of Frog Eyes (who members of Wolf Parade have played in) in the vocals too.

Clearly, judging from the now large crowd, this band was who the kids wanted to see, and at least to these ears, they didn't disappoint in the slightest. Despite being seemingly wasted., guitarist/lead vocalist #2 Dan Boecker was extremely amusing, contorting his emaciated frame on each song while only committing the amateurish sin of constantly telling the crowd how drunk the band was in between tunes. Keyboard player/lead vocalist #1 Spencer Krug seemed to be more together, despite his displeasure on having to play on a gigantic rented electric piano that he claims to have never seen in his life. Live, the band exuded a degree of nervous energy that nearly reached breaking point levels on songs like the jittery Krug-sung anthem "I'll Believe in Anything," jittery Boecker-sung anthem "This Heart's On Fire" and swingin' keyboard showcase "Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts." They looked like a mess, and took the longest to set up the stage, but Wolf Parade's set killed. There was even something resembling a mosh pit in the very front row, leaving one dude with a huge gash on the side of his head (which he said was awesome...ew).

So this left the Constantines at 1:30, whose set I stuck around for mostly out of respect, not because I think that either their first record or Shine a Light are particularly good. But I wasn't about to be one of those guys who flip out for the hyped opening act and then split for the more seasoned headliner (like those disrespectful bitches last week at The National gig), so I was game. The Constantines have a reputation for being a live band whose shows transcend their studio recordings, and the relatively (maybe 2/3 full) large crowd seemed to back this up. And they actually were very good live, tight and energetic, leading me to think maybe I need to give Shine A Light another chance. Their set seemed to be split evenly between that record and the upcoming Tournament of Hearts (cool name for an album).

Few additional notes....Chad Van Gaalen seems to be everybody's best friend, prancing onstage and singing inaudible backup vocals during both Rogue Wave's and The Constantines' set. Maybe they all felt bad that he had to go on at 7. Furthermore, if you listen to his excellent Infiniheart , you'd think he was a diminuitive, Oberst-like dude...but he's easily over 6 feet, and kind of looks like Will Ferrell with a shaved head.

And if you live in the NYC area and want to see Wolf Parade, but don't want to be bombarded by scenesters on a Monday night, head out to New Haven, CT on Saturday 10/22 to see them at Cafe Nine. While I currently reside in the East Village, I'm a native of the Greater New Haven area, and it never ceases to blow my mind how 100 minutes on the Metro North train is the difference between hyped bands playing sold-out 500 seat venues versus 50-person dives far more suited to hosting Blueshammer! than blogosphere darlings (or seeing non-sold out Doves and Decemberists gigs at the 700 capacity Toad's Place). Seriously....I've had friends who used to bartend at Cafe Nine....Yalies don't even go there. It's all old men and professional drunks. It's a five dollar show. If you've ever wanted to get real up close and personal with your new favorite Canadian band, here's your chance.