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Tuesday, Aug 11, 2009
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

African music, both traditional and contemporary, seems to be having a moment this summer in New York City. Artists like Oumou Sanger, Rokia Traore, Asa, Amadou and Mariam, and Tinariwen have enlightened ears with stunning cultural cadences. And this past week while ivy leaguers Vampire Weekend emulated West African guitars for rain-soaked teens at All Points West, virtuosos Béla Fleck and Toumani Diabaté played to a decidedly more traditional, and erudite, crowd. They came not only for the hour of acoustic duets between Fleck’s banjo and Diabaté’s kora, but also to view Throw Down Your Heart, a documentary (directed by Fleck’s half-brother Sascha Paladino) about Fleck’s 2005 journey to Africa tracing the banjo’s musical roots.


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Monday, Aug 10, 2009
27 July 2009 - Lake Tahoe, CA

On the third day, Wanderlust rocked. The Sunday line-up offered a tasty array of alternative bands that generally seemed pleased to perform in such a beautiful and natural setting. The sun shone more mercifully than it had on the previous day at the mountainous Squaw Value resort near Lake Tahoe, and the gorgeous weather helped lift everyone’s spirits.


The Honey Brothers opened the Sunday activities around 12:30 pm with a mix of everything from goofy ukulele and banjo pop tunes to more serious, angular electric guitar-based music. The acting fame of drummer Adrian Grenier (HBO’s Entourage) drew many people to attend the day’s first show, but the band transcended its novelty act status through the strength of its performance.


The combination of silly songs and powerful rock kept the crowd intrigued, especially when ex-Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer joined the group on a wacked out performance of Queen’s “We are the Champions”. Palmer loudly reached for notes she couldn’t quite hit but wouldn’t stop trying to in a pretense of desperation as the band smiled and played.


Palmer’s solo set provided the highlight of the festival. She sang many of her best known compositions, including “Coin-Operated Boy” and “House That I Grew Up In”, as well as inspired covers. She opened with a simple and lovely version of Bright Eyes’ “Lua”, and accompanied herself on ukulele while her keyboards went through emergency repair. She later offered a stately version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that showcased the grand melodrama of the lyrics and piano music.


Palmer engaged the crowd with between song patter as well as introducing her material to those who might not be familiar with her work. She commented on the pleasure of playing in front of a mountain and told stories about what she had been up to lately, which lead to a discussion of Comic-Con and Neil Gaiman. She and Gaiman had recently collaborated on a project, and she sang a somewhat bawdy tune they had written together. She ended her set in Pete Townsend like fashion by smashing her bench across the keyboards.


Maybe the problem was following such an incredible talent, or maybe it was because the band’s cellist didn’t make the plane, but the Mates of State who followed Palmer seemed to phone in its performance. Many in the crowd dispersed to get beers, go swimming in the nearby pond, or just grab some shade during the band’s set. The energy level quickly rose when Broken Social Scene hit the stage. Even before the band officially started playing, singer/guitarist Kevin Drew warned the crowd that, “This is gonna be a punk rock show.” The band rocked on all cylinders.


Singer Lisa Lobsinger joined the collective for several tunes, including a hot version of “Fire-Eyed Boy”. However, it was Drew that remained the center of attention. He told the crowd to engage in “scream therapy” and said, “It’s wonderful therapy, just like yoga” and counted to three to be hit by a loud cry in response. The yoga practitioners in the crowd weren’t sure if he was being ironic, but were caught up in the frenzy and joined in. He sincerely told the audience, “Be careful. Be safe. Fight for your right to celebrate and don’t let anyone take it away from you,” before launching into the closing number.


The strange stylings of Andrew Bird came next as he looped himself playing instruments and whistling, and then sang to the rhythms. Bird was burdened by the fact that much of his equipment did not arrive and he had to borrow stuff from Kaki King, Rogue Wave, and Broken Social Scene. In a way, this helped his performance as he became more improvisational and fed on the positive vibrations from the crowd.


Bird performed splendid acoustic fiddle and vocal versions of Delta bluesman Charley Patton’s “Some of These Days” and the old spiritual “Churnin’ Burnin’”. Bird earnestly told the audience, “This is one of the nicest festivals I have ever played,” and it was clear he was sincere.


The Austin band Spoon closed the festival, but rather than mellow out the crowd, the group got everybody re-energized. Spoon played recent favorites, such as “Isla Forever” and “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” as if the group were performing in a sweaty, Texas club on a Saturday night instead of a beautiful retreat in the mountains on an early Sunday evening.


The quartet also offered a fast and hard version of Paul Simon’s “Peace Like a River”. The band turned the sad and lonesome tune into a battle cry against the forces that drive one into insomnia and despair. As the show ended, Spoon promised to return again next year if band was invited because the landscape and the audience were so wonderful. As is usually the case when people are having a good time, no one wanted the show to end. The crowd slowly left the venue and descended the mountain with satisfied smiles.


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Thursday, Aug 6, 2009

It’s impossible to be a casual Veils fan. Once you hear the sense of desperation inherent within Finn Andrews’ vocals, you’re hooked. Unlike many bands in this modern age, The Veils have no air of pretense or sense of even standard performance. It’s purer than that and much more human. It’s undeniable that The Veils are capable of composing songs that fit within an indie rock genre with remarkably memorable guitar rifts and the lovely bass playing by Sophia Burn. This is tremendously apparent in songs like “Three Sisters”, “Calliope!”, and “The Letter”. However, it’s the utter raw vulnerability of Finn Andrews that comes out more than anything when you see the band live.


Tagged as: the veils
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Thursday, Jul 23, 2009
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

The SummerStage double bill of Matisyahu and Umphrey’s McGee made for a wildly diverse spectrum of fans from hippie to orthodox Jew, both young and old. It’s because listening to jam bands (and the pre-requisite toke) are a definitive rite-of-passage for today’s youth—and an equally enduring nostalgia trip. Studying the counterculture legacy of their parents, they understand that jam bands are the gateway dancing music for white adolescent males. But it takes time. Naturally Umphrey’s McGee played through several numbers, like “Higgins”, which was too enmeshed with dense arpeggiating guitars, before its sound ever loosened and opened up. The same applied to the dancers in the crowd. With two prolific lead guitarists—Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger—carrying the majority of melodies and solos, their finger-twisting riffs required some etude-like passages to get their blood flowing. By “Turn and Run”, however, the group was practically on cruise control, undulating on the same wavelength and improvising with charted efficiency. They ended their set with a cover, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”—which made relative sense being the longest real song the Beatles composed.



After dismantling McGee’s enormous stage set up to clear space for Matisyahu and his gyrating hops and twists, his five-piece backing ensemble sonically slid into a soft jam before the man himself emerged. Perhaps no reputation precedes any other rising artist more than Matisyahu’s: A degenerate Deadhead turned Hasidic Jew turned international reggae and hip-hop success story. Donning a weathered red trucker hat, his vocals also took a few songs before they were entirely aligned with the band. As Matisyahu sang the incredibly catchy “Time of Your Song” he quickly brought out Nosson Zand who dropped a number of exuberant rhymes before ceding the stage to his mentor. Before Matisyahu’s performance I’d never seen a Hasidic Jew dance or spin as much to such heavy cadences. Throughout the night his band kept a precise but flexible groove, and incorporated a phenomenal conga player midway through. Hits like “King Without a Crown” and “Jerusalem” got wild cheers, but nothing compared to the response Matisyahu’s impressively huge stage dive received near the end. Matisyahu himself was equally pleased saying, “My grandpa would be proud.” So were all the young hippies.



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Friday, Jul 17, 2009
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley

There are almost two different Richard Swifts. There’s the poetic, melancholy Swift whose swirling songs are dreamy in the same way 1930s black and white films are. On the flipside, there’s the entertainer side more akin to an Elton John. Live, he plays this second side up and there’s more emphasis on performance and having a good time rather than dwelling in the lyrics, which is also more consistent with his newest release.


Swift has technically put out eight releases within his nearly decade long career. 2009 finds him touring on his most recent release, The Atlantic Ocean, with a full four piece backing band. Swift alternated between guitar and electric piano with accompaniment that included trumpet, keyboard, drums, guitar, and bass. Swift also whistled and played harmonica while hammering on the electric piano keys. 


Swift’s vocals were also a little more nasal live and less lush and husky than on some of his albums. Occasionally, as in “Lady Luck” they also took on a bit of soul. Gone was the sense of delicateness inherent within some of his songs and, because of this, the set took on a much different mood than a fan of his past recordings may expect, especially when referring to previous albums such as 2005’s The Novelist and Walking Without Effort. Swift appreciated the applause and came off as rather modest throughout his hour-long set and was treated to the audience clapping for an encore.



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