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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2008
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

What can I say, except that Friendly Fires took the Bowery Ballroom by complete surprise and ran away with the show. Completely maximizing their allotted time, the group was in it to win it from the downbeat of “Photobooth” to the last echo of their dust-buster-fueled feedback (you can’t make this stuff up!). And the crowd was both awed and thrilled to see such maniacal dancing by lead singer Ed Macfarlane after a comparatively listless performance by Miles Benjamin. Relentless in their energy and hip shaking, they charged through catchy tune after catchy tune from their eponymous debut album.


Most electrifying was “On Board”, which seemed to charge the lead singer both sexually and emotionally, leading him to jump and thrust uncontrollably yet perfectly in time with his drummer—not to mention the percussionist with whom he always made time for a cowbell breakdown. Macfarlane was also intent on getting the audience on board with Friendly Fires and their infectiously concocted sound that mixed Prince, LCD Soundsystem, and Beck’s Midnite Vultures aesthetic and tropical beats, airdropped onto the dance floor and was readily devoured. 



Tagged as: cmj, friendly fires
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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2008
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

It’s the “sound that you hear in the moment…” sang Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson on the opening number of his seemingly impromptu set. But it wasn’t improvised, just hastily thrown together amid spilled beers and cocktails. Announcing that he and his band, the Family Robinson, were going to play “some stuff you’ve probably never heard before,” there was an air of uncertainty throughout their brief set. One could feel the audience grimace as Robinson treated the performance as a time slot, as opposed to opening band, and they didn’t necessarily warm up to his jester-like stage presence. 


Overall Robinson abandoned the grizzled folk sound of his eponymous debut, opting for grunge, guitars, and feedback to accompany his aged vocals. Despite some shoddy sound mixing, his earnest, weathered, jaded vocal style alleviated any angst in his grungy new tone. Mostly a pounding bass drum persisted in each of his songs, suggesting more new wave than folk. But Robinson and his band did sound good when everything chilled out and he could play around with inebriated or just phantom guitar lines, where only his left hand made shadows of actual plucked notes. That, and also when he sang rusty vocals with a damning conviction over a simple chord.



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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2008
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

As Jamie Lidell’s musical style comes full circle, one thing remains clear: It’s all about the beat. In his beginnings he was a techno master, mixing vocable-fueled beats into dub-like rhythms and melodies. Though he chose Prince as a middle-school idol—an un-cool decision that countered Morissey’s then popularity—it was only until high-school, when he bought a sampler and became the controller of his own musical destinies. Buying it, he says, was one of the best decisions he ever made.


Fast-forward to 2005 when the then-Berlin resident evolved his beatbox-techno style into a one-man soul show, with friends Gonzales and producer Mocky helping fill in the instrumental and inspirational gaps. The resulting Multiply became an underground sensation, tapping into the demand for retrograde soul melodies with an electronic twist.


It’s Lidell’s latest release, Jim, that he was – still—touring in support of that found him back in New York City. The album, in its recorded form, is the manifestation of Lidell’s throwback maturation: Handclaps, hooks, harmonies, and beats that make one long for roller-skates and disco-balls. With producer Mocky—who shares production and writing credits—Lidell was able to shed his electronic identity, forging a new one in the Jamiroquoi-esque blue-eyed soul direction.


After a lengthy PA prelude of disco-era classics, Lidell and his band took the stage and room by storm with “Where D’You Go”. Always the zealous performer, Lidell was at once dancing at all edges of the stage, sharing backup vocal duties with the front row, and helping get his four-piece band even more riled up (including simultaneous double horn playing from saxophonist Andre Vida and an Elvis-clad guitarist). Adding to his bouncy character of a skinny-white Brit singing soul was his ruffled tuxedo, thick frames, and greasy hair—a fashion nod to Neil Hamburger perhaps.


On “Figured Me Out” the band had a beatboxing face-off so intense that they jumped into the crowd leaving the victor, Lidell, to expound the beats in his head—which he would resuscitate later in a solo DJ portion of the set. But first he crooned out “Rope of Sand”, showing surprising flexibility and agility in his soothing voice.


Flexing some live variability, “Another Day” slipped into whisper quiet verses only to vigorously revive itself each chorus. Encore “Multiply” threw another wrench into his traditionally minded laid back sound, shooting the song into a heated double-time.


Though Lidell proved himself musically precarious, he was always entertaining, provoking the audience into going along with him. His solo beatboxing-sampling exhibitions meandered, resulting in a mashed up metal-noise disco sound. But because he was equally content at his console or cowbell, his unbridled funk-energy rivaled that of King Khan and paid tribute to his schoolboy hero Prince.



Tagged as: jamie lidell
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Monday, Oct 20, 2008
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley

It’s hard to believe that Deerhoof, the four-piece band out of San Francisco, California, just released its 13th album and has been a band for 12 years. Touring to support their latest full-length, Offend Maggie, the band has definitely refined their unique sound during these years, yet they still maintain the energy, excitement, and cutting edge quality of newer bands. In other words, Deerhoof carry no baggage but instead sound as fresh and inviting as ever.


This excitement really shone through at their packed show in Chicago. Lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki not only demonstrated an awesome chemistry with her band members—play fighting and jumping on amps—but she also interacted with the audience, spreading around bags of tortilla chips and loaves of bread. She possessed an ease and sense of happiness that projected well across the audience and made the evening infinitely more enjoyable.


The band concentrated on their most recent albums, but the flow of the overall set had an unexpected quality considering the jarring transitions between some of the individual song’s verses and choruses. Despite the idiosyncratic rhythm patterns and other aspects of their sound, Deerhoof always come off as really tight live and stay essentially true to their recordings.


This show was definitely no exception with band members willing to start and stop on a dime. Matsuzaki’s vocals – in English and Japanese—filled up these songs with an enchanting feminine and repetitive element that fit well with the musical accompaniment. It’s true that Deerhoof manages to create something truly original, which is quite something in this day and age. However, the true talent of its four members lies perhaps in their ability to take their eccentric chord changes, rhythms, timing, and vocals and somehow transform them into interesting pop songs.



Tagged as: deerhoof
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Friday, Oct 17, 2008
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

Ray LaMontagne is that unassuming success story of awe-shucks charm and high-end luck. He worked a dead-end shoe-factory job in Lewiston, Maine after barely graduating from high school in Utah until one morning he heard Stephen Stills’ song “Treetop Flyer” playing on the radio. After purchasing Stills Alone he made the decision to follow in his absent father’s footsteps and pursue music. 


Demo tapes followed as did local club appearances and sooner than later his tape found its way to a publisher at Chrysalis Music, who recorded his first album and then sold it to RCA records. That album, Trouble—full of melancholy acoustic ballads, echoey melodies, and serenading fiddles—was his launching pad into the folk-rock realm. Since then he has steadfastly, but timidly, held his own, refining his sentimental songwriting and soaring arrangements with producer Ethan Johns, who helped merge LaMontagne’s intertwining folk, rock, and funk sounds.


His current tour, in support of his third release Gossip in the Grain, features LaMontagne with the new album’s musical personnel and a gracefully mature, sensitive sound. He also brought his notorious reclusion, gently leading off each song with a whispered, “One, two, three, four…”



The evening’s setlist heavily favored tracks from Gossip in the Grain, which was understandable as the instrumentation on stage suited the album’s rich arrangements. Beginning with the blues-trodden opening track “You Are the Best Thing”, LaMontagne’s adaptable brass section punched lively despair into it. “Hey Me, Hey Mama” and the crowd pleaser “Three More Days” also received the full funk brass treatment, while others evoked a more traditional Preservation Hall jazz sound.


Most remarkable was the touch and dynamics applied by LaMontagne and his ensemble—which included Wurlitzer, pedal steel guitar, drums, and bass. Known for his devastatingly evanescent Van Morrison-style voice, (on “Roses and Cigarettes” his voice even seemed to sublimate, one moment solid, the next vaporous) the ability of the band to match his hazy vocal idiosyncrasies gave shape and emotional weight to each of the songs.


This was most effective in gorgeously slow pastoral ballads like “Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s a Shame)”, “Sarah”, the ambiguously ironic but still playful “Meg White”, and the evening’s denouement, “Trouble”. Later solo, LaMontagne reverberated off of Radio City’s stellar acoustics.


Though LaMontagne maintained his shy persona, he could not hide from the crowd’s roaring response. It necessitated playing two encores (six songs total) to complete his own pinch-me, “Are you kidding me?” Radio City return—something the folk singer does not succumb to that easily.



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