Monday, June 28, 2010
I couldn't write yesterday after the fest, because I was exhausted. It was the first outdoor concert day that the summer heat actually drained my energy over the course of a few hours. The first three were spent at the CHIRP booth, asking the good liberal and independently-minded fest-goers to write a quick letter to Senator Durbin to approve low frequency FM in Chicago. It's halfway there. Just needs to pass in the Senate now.
But during a beer break I went over to the main stage to check out a bit of Fang Island. This might be a buzz band, but I honestly can't tell if their wave is coming or already swelled and settled. Either way, they're another one of those Yeasayer or Sleigh Bells pseudo-psych bands who sound triumphant with an excessive amount of vocals, but are light on any real musical depth. Enjoyable enough though. Especially in the middle of a summer street fest.
The highlight of the fest was Maps & Atlases, a Chicago band who has been doing the math-rock thing for a few years but now breaks to rock it straight. I got relieved of my CHIRP tabling duties just as their set started, and upon seeing the wildly bearded lead singer, realized I had just told him about the CHicago Independent Radio Project a mere moment prior. He walked up to the table, and was very interested in the history of the station. I wish he would have asked if we play his band's music, because I actually just wrote the positive record review of their newly released album for DJ's heavy rotation this week:
"Indie-pop can get old pretty fast, but Maps & Atlases seem cautiously aware of the field they’re playing on. String quartet bridges and quirky toy-piano fronted hooks staple Maps & Atlases into that tired genre, but the band’s compositional intelligence outweighs any gimmicks. With a knack for unexplored harmonies and a lead singer with one of those voices that’s almost too unique for its own good, the tunes on Perch Patchwork are surprisingly accessible. Each track lives in its own world, but the album isn’t a mess either. Chalk it up to successfully subtle art-rock. "
Their live show brings the rhythms to the foreground, with speed and intensity. Think Anathallo meets Foals meets Dirty Projectors. Oh yes. The new album is definitely worth buying this week.
And then my wife met up with me, with puppy on leash. This is wonderful, but all the more tiring. Everybody is coming up asking to pet him, what's his name/breed/age, how many girls' phone numbers have I been getting, etc.. So by the time the usually slow, depressing and boring David Bazan started, I was ready to head home.
Luckily, Bazan had a full band with him, and they were playing some relatively uptempo stuff. I think Bazan might be less depressed now that he's no longer a Christian. That's the vibe I got as I saw him comfortably playing his songs up on stage. Still, I felt bad for the guy. For the rest of his career, that initial aspect will remain a part of his history. He'll never be able to rid himself of that "christian" connection. Then I feared the same thing for myself. I have no idea where I'll go from here, but if I do end up somewhere with a larger platform, someone can always look back and say "Oh, Dylan Peterson. Yeah, he started as an editor at Relevant Magazine."
But, as long as David and I aren't depressed with what we're doing at present time, I guess there's nothing to worry about. In that sense, I'm proud of him. As he covered Dylan's "Man in Me," I thought about the man he's become. When he was Pedro the Lion, he really wasn't mature. I certainly wasn't mature at Relevant either (I'm still not...). But as time goes on, humans have the potential to learn. They don't have to remain where they started. In fact, they shouldn't. That would be suicide.
All of these thoughts I could not compile yesterday. It took an existential attack at 3 AM and spending some time sitting on the floor with Arlen and Ecclesiastes 9 before I could figure out what I had to say. I'm glad Pedro the Lion is dead and that my dog is here with me. Verse four says, "Anyone who is among the living has hope--even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!"
We're all a bunch of dogs. I resent the way the Bible generally uses dog metaphors, but this is the only instance in which I think it's positive. We don't have to be royalty in order to live life well. We just have to keep our hope maintained. Not hope for riches or success, just hope for ourselves. One way I do that is by going to street fests on the weekends.
I left Green Music Fest towards the end of Bazan's set, because Arlen looked hot and tired (and I was too). So, if you were expecting to hear a show review of Cloud Cult, too bad. Check the other blogs. Later dogz.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Release Date: September 28th, 2010
Who has time to keep up with new music anymore? Well, I actually do. Which is why you continue to see blog posts about bands you've never heard of. So you should thank me! Actually, I'm happy to do it. Getting new music is one of my few joys in life.
Upon receiving The Red River's Little Songs About the Big Picture in the mail a few days ago, I knew instantly by looking at its packaging that it was going to be an album I'd be talking about. The CD came wrapped in tissue paper, when unfolded revealed the title of the album and the band's name, along with the tracklist and everything else you'd expect to see in an album leaflet. Their official album cover art was this tissue paper. Charming already, no?
But buried within the paper were other gifts like original photographs of people cooking in a kitchen and strangers at a park. Were these people in the band? Or just pictures of everyday, anyday, occurrences? Either way, it made me smile. And finally, out dropped a balloon. I was beaming before I even turned the music on.
Remember Page France? I hope you do, because they were one of the best little indie bands that existed in the 2000s'. If you've been looking for a band that could take their place, The Red River is all that quirky, multi-instrumental niceness and soft melody that Page France won the gold in. But these new guys keep it slow. And that's not to say boring, just a little bit subdued.
It's acoustic, and casio-toned. It's cute, and heart-wearming. String and horn sections are not surprising, nor are lyrics about first loves and nighttime. And there's always plenty of hand clapping. These eight siblings make happy music, unapologetically and without obligation for thanks. They even sing "Who will be thankful if I'm not? So I will give thanks. I will give thanks."
And that, my dear readers, is what the "big picture" is all about. Don't worry about what I say, or what somebody else believes. Just be thankful for what you're thankful for. Be happy just because you are, not for anyone else. This is what music like Page France and The Red River reminds me to do. I'm not a publicist. I just enjoy music. If you enjoy music too, check out this band. You just might have the same feelings towards it as I did.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
"Remember when we used to wonder what city we'd leave Chicago for?"
"Yeah... There were so many possibilities..."
"Now that we've moved back. It feels like there's not really any reason to ever leave again."
"Yep. This is a great city."
This is the conversation my wife and I had while waiting for The Books to hit the Pritzker Pavilion stage. We were looking up at the Frank Gehry architecture, remembering how perplexed we were back in high school when we discovered that the half-finished design was actually complete. The Chicago of our youth was an exciting place. And thanks to summer solstices like today, the town is still working its magic on us.
At noon, Dosh played a free show to a crowd of just over 100 people. The few there were treated to a four-person band, the highest number of players I've ever counted at a Dosh show. The looping was not as frantic this time around, because a back-up drummer was the greater source of polyrhythms than Dosh's usual one-man percussion omnipotence. And an extra guitarist with soaring ambient noise riffs helped make Dosh's live songs sound more gigantic than ever.
That show alone would've been enough for my weekly fill of live music, but Millennium Park had even more planned for later that evening. The Books played some new songs, old favorites, and those other tracks from Red Hot comps and DVD albums. As usual, visual accompaniment was the highlight. As fun as it is to hear the edits on The Books' albums, it's ever better to see them. Found sounds and images brought waves of laughter and contemplation, and then, somehow, fits of wild dancing.
I suppose this must always be the possible detriment to a free, all-ages show in a public venue. High school kids.
At the front of the lawn, a large group of teens decided that they HAD to dance around to the music of The Books. I'm just hoping they were on drugs. Because otherwise, that's just goofy. The best part of a Books show is being able to sit and enjoy the visual show comfortably.
By the encore, the kids had charged down the aisles and started dancing on the stage. This was certainly a first for Millennium Park. I've seen that kind of juvenile nonsense at the Metro plenty of times, but the Pritzker Pavilion? During The Books?? Whatever kids.
But I can't really blame them for feeling so good that they had to dance. Every time I see The Books, my soul is replenished. At some point in the show, my eyes always seem to get blurry with tears. It's probably the most I smile all year, that day I get to see The Books. Images of wild animals running free, goofball faith healers falling on the ground in front of offering buckets, super 8 film of old family vacations at the beach, blurry spots of color raining like pixels out of a monitor, and it's all set to the most creative music that was made this past decade.
In addition to the guitar/cello combo that's worked for The Books' live show for years, tonight they brought out a new member to play keyboards, violin, and guitar. It's an addition the band should have made a long time ago, but right in time for their new album.
It hasn't leaked yet, but it'll be out next month. Just like their old albums' music, the songs from The Way Out work paradoxically. Though entirely synthetic, there's a strangely natural texture. Like riding a wave down the stream of consciousness, The Books subtly and cleverly sneak psychology, biology, theology and anthropology into three and a half minute musical happy meals.
It was another night that reminded me just how lucky I am to live in this city. I won't miss out on the good music. I can't. It's inescapable. Chicago has me in its cultural clutches, and I'm not fighting. And it's only the first day of summer... Good Lord. What a place.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Here I am, another source of energy. And like everything else, I was most vibrant at the earliest stages. Post-development, and without realization, I thrust myself into the world.
I lived, ate candy, drew pictures, played with toys and explored forests. Imagination was all I really needed, and my parents took care of the rest. My energy level was high, the highest it would ever be.
(This was you too.)
As we grow older, candy tastes less sweet, and life seems less exciting. We become obsessed with sex as a hurried substitute for the pleasures we lost with childhood. And then even that obsession passes and life dims a little more. But, at least for a little while longer, it remains interesting. We soon encounter our own intellectualism, and develop interests in existential matters like personal freedom through political involvement and religious belief. But then, even all of that ceases to be interesting after a while.
The energy starts as a flurry of creativity, eventually settling dramatically down by way of term papers. We didn't realize how important life was until we got to college, and then a few years later we wondered what we got all excited about in the first place. Energy decreases steadily, maintaining a gentle glow during the "career phase".
And this is just coasting. We live and pay bills. We pick up a gallon of milk so our spouse can have cereal in the morning. We succumb to habits and simplicity, and we take our dog out for a walk.
Any belief we once had, and any magic that preceded it, is now overcome by banality. We comfortably admit that we are not special, and do not feel sad by saying so. We look upon those who still have beliefs as a sailor looks to a fashion designer. There is work to be done, but none too important.
What do you still believe in? Was it what you believed in a few years ago? In college? When you were six years old?
And what less will you have in the years to come?
The times of silence I so valued have even now become habit. I drive around in the middle of the night, thinking about nothing. Oh how I used to value my solitude, but now it is just another aspect of my existence. Nothing is sacred anymore, though I have heard parents say that children bring a fresh perspective to an adult's tired eyes. But of course, I don't believe them.
It's not a matter of happiness or depression. Old age and suicide are but two sides of the same coin. There is no glory in death of any kind. Martyrdom is absurd, and patriotism is a myth. All humans are better off living with wolves, dancing if they're lucky. Whatever the animals believe is what we should be after, not our own permutations.
The Welsh poet Thomas said to rage against the dying of the light. Well, that's one way to go. The light always goes out, and it may be just as well to watch its long fade. Until it's nothing more than a single firefly in a cornfield, making one last flicker before being caught up in a mason jar. Suffocation follows, for there are no holes poked in the lid. Our only hope is to leave a smear behind on the glass, something that will eventually be washed off, but not for a little while at least.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Remember when kids started wearing 80s' hi-tops and flat-brimmed baseball caps again? I guess they're still doing it. At least they were today at Millennium Park for the free Cool Kids show at noon. About 95 percent White Sox caps too. It's a beautiful thing.
And if it's still cool to wear these goofy shoes and hats at a Cool Kids show, then it's still cool. This is how the Cool Kids make their mark in the rap world. They're not as interested in street cred as they are fun/cool cred. They rap about video games, 90s' basketball, and Chicago. Their albums could've been the soundtrack to NBA Jam. They sound like a couple of guys who grew up with the Bulls dynasty, and smoothly transferred their sweet childhood memories into inoffensive hip hop jams.
Inoffensive, but fun. Just like video games and the NBA in the 90s'. Of course, there's some caution. After all, Mortal Kombat was pretty bloody. And Dennis Rodman was wormy. But it's all good with the Cool Kids. Being youthful isn't about being bad, it's about having fun. So of course we're gonna hear rhymes about bicycles and Penny Hardaway. The Cool Kids have no intention of offending. They just wanna make people happy the way the Bulls did for Chicago. The way Sega did for junior highers of the 90s'.
They played mostly new songs at the show, because, as Mikey reminded us, "the hometown gets it first." And the new stuff fits right in with the rest. Old school rap beats and witty rhymes hook in the listener for an easy head nod. No pressure.
And even though the Cool Kids make some of the best summertime music in the world, their standout song was about freezing Chicago winters. "Bundle Up!" was the chorus. Something I've always heard and said for my entire life in this town, but never stopped to think if it might be a uniquely "Chicago" saying. Leave it to the Cool Kids to bring the simple vocab of the Midwest into a rap show. But yeah, we do live by the "City of the frozen lake," and we do need to bundle up in a few months.
But definitely not for a few months. Because that would mean that the free summer concerts are over. And I'm not gonna miss out on that.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Tonight I realized that hippie celebrations beckon rain. The people become one with the wet earth as they dance to drums. A couple weeks ago, my cousin got married in a barn up in northern Illinois. The minister quoted some Grateful Dead song before pronouncing them husband and wife. The husband tossed his massive dreadlocks behind his shoulders and kissed his hippie bride as the raindrops hit the barn's roof. Then we all ate a pig roast and danced to Rusted Root. Wet dogs roamed the premises, and a good time was had by all. The soggy, hay-covered ground of the muddy barn seemed to heighten the "hippie wedding" experience.
Oh and dogs always help too. Hippie parties need dogs. We took our 11-week old puppy to his first Chicago neighborhood street fest today, Metronome in Logan Square. We walked around with him, letting him meet other dogs. Children and adults would stop us to pet him and tell us how cute he is (like it wasn't obvious!). It was great for his socialization.
But the headlining band of the evening was Akron/Family. Now, while this band may fit in more with a hipSTER crowd than hippie, there were enough dreads and sandals in the audience to warrant an argument for the latter. At the very least, this band is rhythmically psychedelic. And in my book, that's cause for hippie categorization.
So with our dogs, and Akron/Family getting wild on stage, of course it started to rain. Wet dogs were shaking off on humans, humans were dancing to outdoor experimental jam sessions, and umbrellas were wielded only by the weak. The event caused neighbors to hug each other for no apparent reason other than to express the blissful emotion that comes from dancing in the streets of Chicago with dogs and Akron/Family blaring.
It was my first time seeing Akron/Family live, and I didn't realize that only three guys were in the band. On album, it certainly doesn't sound like just three players, but I suppose I can toss that up to high production values. But they sounded just as full today as they do on record. These guys were great, and I feel bad for having left early to avoid the thunderstorm. But we had to get the doggy to the safety of our apartment.
It was a big day for our puppy, who had never walked more than a couple blocks away from home. Today, he got the biggest workout of his short life. And after his bath, he started dozing off early. He's sleeping soundly right now, and I'm so proud of him for hanging out at his very first street fest.
Dogs, downpours, and drums. This is what summer is all about. We were a part of the rain dance today, sorry if you missed out.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
There must be something about northern Europeans and You Can Call Me Al. The last time I heard this song covered was a few years ago at the Logan Square Auditorium when Swedish sensation Jens Lekman got the party on with his all-female band's cute-as-hell rendition. But, honestly, that paled in comparison to Kings of Convenience's tour-closer last night at The Metro.
It might've been the most enjoyable conclusion to a show I've ever seen. The energy level rose gradually from the first song, and it was the most drastic build-up show I've ever seen. For the first few songs, the Kings stood side by side with their acoustic guitars and sang as quietly as The Metro's system could handle. Annoying, buzzing feedback from hundreds of past punk rock shows plagued this part of the set, keeping the interaction between audience and performers consistently awkward.
But as the show continued, both parties began to say "eh, what the hell," and everybody loosened up. During the intro to a more upbeat tune, the gangly, moppy-red-headed Erland subtly danced over to a piano at stage right, tinkering briefly. "Just checking," he quipped in the most fantastic accent known to man. He sounds like Dr. Nick Riviera all hushed and adorable. But the more he talked, the more people smiled and happier the building became.
The feedback seemed to stop once he started playing piano. Either that, or the band and crowd just got too into it to let a little buzzing bother the fun.
Then they brought out their opening band to play some louder songs. Now there was dancing. And the cheering got louder. When they played I'd Rather Dance With You, there wasn't a stiff body in the place. Any buzzing dragon that may have existed before was slain by the good Kings of Norway. It was a party.
Of course, they pretended that it was their last song, and they left the stage. But The Metro erupted, getting louder than a swarm of tweens at a Justin Bieber show. It was the loudest I'd heard the venue in years.
When the Kings of Convenience returned, Erland picked up an electric guitar for the first time of the evening as they brought the crowd to tearful silence with an absolutely perfect performance of Homesick. It was alarming to hear such beautiful harmonies at such low volumes after the excitement of I'd Rather Dance. But it worked.
After that song, as the crowd was marveling at the harmonies they'd just heard, one audience member asked them why they sing in English. And they actually had a story for the answer. It wasn't just because English appeals to American pop culture, because it wasn't initially their intention at all. Erland and Eirik started in a band singing Norweigan, and hadn't harmonized while doing so. But one day Eirik decided to play a Joy Division song, and Erland decided to harmonize with it. The sound worked so well, they decided to make it their trademark.
That's when they gave the crowd one more song as a duo, before they closed the night out with the whole band again and You Can Call Me Al. Erland put down his guitar, replacing it with noodly dance moves all over the stage. At the high point he declared that the crowd must make a pit, and a dance-off would commence. "I will come down to the pit, and one of you must challenge me!" Of course, no one could dethrone the good King, but he sure did please his followers when he came down there with them. Like I said, it may have been the best show-ending I've seen.
Two men quietly harmonizing with their acoustic guitars. It's a simple formula, but especially when contrasted with a dance party, this really is some of the best music in the world. If you missed out, they play in North America once every five years or so. But don't worry, it'll still be good when we're in our thirties. And You Can Call Me Al will still get the dance floor crowded.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
I'm not sure if I'll be able to post a download link for this set, but I will update this post if so. Until then, here's my afternoon's playlist:
2:01PM Blitzen Trapper Destroyer of the Void from Destroyer of the Void (Sub Pop)
2:08PM Iggy and the Stooges Raw Power from Raw Power (Columbia)
2:13PM Holy Fuck Latin from Latin (XL)
2:18PM Shout Out Louds The Comeback from Howl Howl Gaff Gaff (Capitol)
2:20PM The Black Keys Ten Cent Pistol from Brothers (Nonesuch)
2:24PM The Zombies Friends of Mine from Odessey and Oracle (Repertoire Records)
2:27PM Menomena Five Little Rooms from Mines (Barsuk)
2:32PM Janelle Monae Tightrope from The Archandroid (Bad Boy)
2:37PM Crystal Castles Pap Smear from Crystal Castles II (Fiction)
2:40PM Konono Nº1 Kule Kule from Congotronics (Crammed Discs)
2:45PM Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five Scorpio from The Message (Dbk Works)
2:51PM Tortoise Ten-Day Interval from TNT (Thrill Jockey)
2:56PM Traditional Sacred Harp Schenectady from Awake My Soul (Awake Productions)
2:58PM Lymbyc Systym Fall Bicycle from Love Your Abuser (Mush)
Monday, June 07, 2010
This isn't as much of a "you missed out" post in regards to tonight's performance as it is for the sponsor of the show. And since I haven't blogged about CHIRP yet, this is a perfect opportunity. CHIRP (CHicago Independent Radio Project) is the best radio station in the city. That's actually what I was saying to attendees of the free She & Him concert all evening from behind a table at the back west corner of the Pritzker Pavilion's seating area. Thanks for stopping by if you were there.
I probably only talked to less than one percent of the concertgoers tonight, because it was disgustingly crowded. Thousands of people were there, most of them white suburban high-schoolers. But lucky for them, CHIRP decided to sponsor this concert and MC the event. For any kids looking to get a head start on their musical education, they've now been made aware of the best source in Chicago.
Tomorrow at 2 PM (Chicago time), I'll be DJing my first shift for CHIRP. I'll only be on for an hour, so stream if you can:
Listen throughout the week either way, because CHIRP is run by the coolest "music people" in Chicago. Former NPR producers, music journalists, and local music personalities make up the station, entirely on a volunteer basis. They even made Metromix's latest list of the 50 Thing that Make Chicago Great.
The next CHIRP event I'll be working at is the Green Music Fest on June 27th. Come out and say hi before enjoying a free David Bazan show.
Don't miss out on the good music. CHIRP is streaming now.
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
"Oh you do dental surgery?"
"Not the surgery actually, I'm the assistant."
"So do you get to put people under?"
"Yep, I get to gas 'em."
"Nice. I've never been under the gas."
"It's great. You sit back, and then right when you think you're about to get started, the dentist tells you you're all finished."
He caught the blond looking at him again. This could go on all night, he thought. But he didn't look back for too long. He returned to the "so what do you do?" party small talk.
"I need to go to a new dentist soon actually." he said over-excitedly as he looked the brunette girl in the mouth. "One of my teeth is messed up and needs to come out."
"Oh I can give you a professional recommendation if you'd like." This was spoken as if a wink ought to have followed.
"I love my dentist. He's on Damen and Cortland."
"Cool, yeah. My last trip to the dentist wasn't too great. I actually just picked up my x-rays to bring them somewhere else."
"Oh, this dentist is so good, here let me write down his name for you."
As the band set up to play at the far end of the dimly lit apartment, the brunette pressed a show flyer against the paint-chipped, beer stained wall and wrote a name and number on the back. To the blond across the room, the guy appeared to have scored some digits. So she ceased eye contact for the remainder of the evening.
But the blond would have been out of luck either way, because this guy was married. And he made sure to mention his wife at the beginning of his small-talk conversation with the brunette. Had he not, maybe that pen and paper would have been used for her own number instead. Long gone are the nights of meeting artsy girls with lofty hopes of summer romance. Now a fully fledged mid-20's gentleman, the point has finally come where the only numbers he gets from pretty girls are their recommendations for dentists.
His wife was only two blocks away too. The only reason he went out to this house show was because his friend was performing between bands (some bad poetry that only punk rock kids can forgive). He threw a few bucks in the donations jar anyway, even though his friend wasn't getting a cut. Gotta support the local arts. Or something in that realm, somewhere...
They turned to watch the band. Bearded mountain punks from Arizona. The Portland type--dirty faces and every article of clothing with a cut-off somewhere. Cut-off jeans shorts above the knee, black t-shirt cut to a frayed sleeveless, and their shoes might have even been cut at the ankles. They played that gypsy rock of the Gogol Bordello brand. A single snare drum, mandolin, banjo and acoustic guitar all worked at rapid speeds and out of tune. Totally unplugged, of course. The rain outside was almost louder.
The sudden downpour kept him from going home to his wife, who only stayed at the apartment to take care of their new dog. He stepped out back to call her between songs.
"Hey, he read already, like, half an hour ago. I'm just gonna try to wait this rain out."
"That's fine. How'd he do?"
"Good. You know. About 30... 45 kids here. It's nice to blend spoken word with music like this. I dig these kinds of house shows. I'm glad I was able to come support."
"Well let me know if you want me to pick you up in case the rain doesn't let up."
And at that moment, he decided to run through the rain. Why not get wet for the one you love? Actually, that's generally how it should always work...
He ran past Ronnies' bar where the scummy clientele smoked Camels under a sliver of an awning. And as he ran he heard other music playing throughout the neighborhood, none of it acoustic gutter punk. Wild gospel seeped out the cracked windows of Salem Iglesia. Droning shoegaze from another corner of a Logan Square two-flat. The reggaeton thumping behind closed windows in the cars at the stoplight. Music was all around him, even through the softening rain and yelling of bandwagon Blackhawks fans. All would go quiet when he opened his door.
He found his love. Their muscles ached together, and they stayed in for the night.