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Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley

It’s nearly impossible to understand why the Dears aren’t bigger than they are. Not only do they exude the same intense passion as their fellow Canadians, Arcade Fire, the group’s large membership allows them to create something powerful that is similarly rich with instrumentation. It’s a tour de force sound that could easily fill an arena.


While lineup changes over the past few years—including the unfortunate loss of guitarist Patrick Krief—may have hindered the group’s progress, they are back touring with members of indie band Pony Up and have gained a cohesiveness to support the strong songwriting and musicianship. The result is a live sound that translates the sense of desperation in their songs into something that is transcendent and powerful.


Over the course of the past decade, through four studio albums and two EPs, the one constant has been couple Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak. There’s always been an on stage chemistry between the two, but this time around it was even stronger, with Yanchak leaving her keyboards to sing central next to Lightburn at one point during the set.


Lead singer Murray Lightburn clearly drives the songs and began by entering from the back of the stage in darkness, a sort of disembodied voice floating above the audience. As the set wore on, however, he made a more physical connection with the audience, at times even embracing various audience members.


Lightburn’s lyrics have always been wrought with conflict and though the Dears are touring to support their most recent 2008 release, Missiles, they made sure to acknowledge some of their older favorites such as “Lost in the Plot” and “We Can Have It” off of their treasured 2003 release, No Cities Left. Murray also acknowledged the matched fanaticism of the crowd by playing an encore to his 90-minute set. Though the band deserves to be playing much larger venues to more people, it’s clear their fans are an extremely dedicated bunch who understand how important it is to support them wherever they tour.



Tagged as: the dears
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Monday, May 18, 2009
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

As the Roots slowly adjust to their new day job accompanying Jimmy Fallon and New York-centric lifestyle, their bi-weekly residency at the Highline Ballroom, “The Jam”, has become an unpredictable yet approachable setting to see the group in its element… at least elements of the group. This evening found only Black Thought, ?uestlove—the mainstays of the group—and bass player Owen Biddle leading an open mic night of sorts.


 


The late night set consisted of dozens of young, fledgling musicians sharing the stage with their musical heroes (many gave personal shout outs to the group and/or ?uestlove). It was unclear whether they were all alumni of the same performing arts academy as the Roots themselves (Philadelphia’s High School for Creative and Performing Arts) or just an assortment of their favorite up and coming rappers, vocalists, guitarists, horn players, and percussionists. Regardless, the sell out crowd was supportive and encouraging of the raw talent making its rounds on stage.


However the real story of the night was the stellar rhythm section holding the jam session together—that the Roots are one of music’s best rhythm sections should surprise no one. Naturally de facto music director of the Roots, ?uestlove, was at the helm, micromanaging the shuffling list of musicians from behind his drum kit and also calling out changes and key signatures to the other players. His ambidexterity is awesome, but his real talent is his ability in seamlessly transitioning and transposing multiple musical epochs into one fluid jam. He does it every night and I suspect his work on Late Night is only improving this skill. Along with ?uestlove, the celebrated songwriter and keyboard player James Poyser played back up. Perfectly in sync with ?uestlove the presence of Biddle, on six-string bass, rounded out the extremely adaptable and agile rhythm section.


Given that the Lonely Island (Andy Samberg’s comedy group) had performed on Late Night the previous evening, I was holding out hope that their collaboration with the Roots would spill over into the Highline gig. The band’s ephemeral sets are just another reason to keep coming back for more.



Tagged as: the roots
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Thursday, May 14, 2009
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley

To say the Twlight Sad’s songs are intense would be a drastic understatement. The heartbreak is on the level of Shakespearean proportions. But while the band is clearly one of the most emotional out there in terms of songwriting, they don’t fit into any emo genre. It’s true that the Scottish quartet paint images of kids on fire in bedrooms (“That Summer At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy”) and explore the drunken mind (“And She Would Darken the Memory”), but the bleakness of the lyrics is backed by a turbulent sound that touches on shoegaze at times.


Like the disarming lyrics, the delivery of lead singer James Graham’s vocals—both on record and live—has an intensity that is matched by very few. He caresses the microphone gently, but by the end of each set you feel as though he’s confided some of his deepest and darkest thoughts and experiences. There’s no calming peace as the music behind Graham builds to loud heights. The feeling of conflict in the air is augmented with Graham’s frantic drumming done on his knees to create a crashing effect. Despite this, the crucial element of what holds the songs together never fully dissolves and each climax seems a necessary conclusion.


What’s most surprising is the level of accomplishment in the songs. Most bands struggle through their first few albums to create something as completely alive as the Twilight Sad’s only full length to date Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters and still many never quite make an album this devastating. Likewise, it’s an unusual experience to witness something this honest live and the effect is truly memorable.



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Monday, May 11, 2009
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

The show must go on. So the old adage goes at least, but that was before electronic music and before bands became completely dependent on alternating current and all the gizmos, computers, and samplers that it brings to life. An electronic-based band should hardly have amnesty from such showbiz dogma. And yet the Junior Boys pulled out all the scapegoats at Webster Hall when Matt Didemus’ sampler cut out. Singer Jeremy Greenspan had the unfortunate task of conveying all the bad news to the crowd, though. They chastised the sampler’s manufacturer, AKAI, stressed the frustration of having such problems in New York City rather than Kentucky, and shot out that, “I bet this never happens to Fleet Foxes.”


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Friday, May 8, 2009
Words and pictures by Thomas Hauner

It’s been over a year and a half since Ben Harper’s last release (2007’s Lifeline, recorded in Paris with the Innocent Criminals), but three years since anything of his has really reverberated on American shores (his bifurcated 2006 effort, Both Sides of The Gun). He’s huge in Europe. But despite the prevalence of francophones and the excitement of releasing yet another work (White Lies for Dark Times, this time recorded with a new trio, calling themselves the Relentless7) Harper and the Relentless7 eased into the new repertoire. Opening with Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” deliberately instilled the raw, punishing but harmonic hard rock tone that embodies the new album. “Better Way” became a passionately hard effort on its own (sans tablas), and proved an apt segue from old to new songs.


 


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