Reviews

Less Than Jake and Goldfinger with Big D and the Kids Table

Chris Conaton

The second annual edition of Less Than Jake's Shout it Loud summer tour recently rolled through the Detroit area, bringing Goldfinger, Big D and the Kids Table, and Suburban Legends along for the ride.

Less Than Jake

Less Than Jake and Goldfinger with Big D and the Kids Table

City: Royal Oak, MI
Venue: The Royal Oak Music Theatre
Date: 2008-07-01

The second annual edition of Less Than Jake's Shout it Loud summer tour recently rolled through the Detroit area, bringing Goldfinger, Big D and the Kids Table, and Suburban Legends along for the ride. The 2007 tour came to the same venue with Reel Big Fish and Streetlight Manifesto in tow. Apparently the latter two acts are worth several hundred more people than Goldfinger and Big D, because this year's show played to a house that was maybe 80% full, while last year's concert was packed to the gills. The package did bring in a surprisingly diverse crowd, though. There were old-schoolers in their late twenties and thirties, plenty of high school kids, some very young teens, and a few folks who seemed well into their fifties, plus multiple families with very small children. We arrived at the show just before Big D and the Kids Table played, so we missed Suburban Legends. Big D has been playing a variation on the ska-punk thing for years, but I had never really gotten into them. However, my older cousin, who remains a total punk rocker to this day, recommended their live show, telling me that they would probably be the best act of the night. So we made the effort to get there in time to see them, and it was sorely disappointing. Their set ranged from fast and punky to slithery lounge music as well as a goofy anthem that seemed to be about the Ice Capades. The musicians in the band, from the guitar and bass to the horn section, seemed like competent players, but it was all undermined by Big D's terrible front man David McWane. As a lead singer, he can't sing, speaking and sort-of-shouting his way through the songs, and as a performer he has zero stage presence. You'd think that after more than a decade of relentless touring he would've figured out how to inject some energy into his performance. Perhaps it was because the band's van broke down on the way to the show and they arrived just in time to play their set. They even had to use the Suburban Legends' drums, so maybe I'm being too harsh, but I was not impressed at all. Next up was Goldfinger, ostensibly a co-headliner on this tour. I was a gigantic fan back in the '90s, and I still think their first three albums are some of the better punk to come out of that decade. But since 2000's Stomping Ground, the band has had a host of missteps, resulting in a pair of terrible albums. First, lead singer/songwriter John Feldmann became a militant vegan and decided the rest of the world needed to hear about it on the preachy Open Your Eyes. Then Feldmann spent years producing albums for a host of mediocre emo-punk bands, which led to the poorly-written and shamelessly-poppy Disconnection Notice. It was a blatant attempt at getting mainstream rock and pop radio airplay, and it was predictably ignored. The band has since retreated to indie label SideOneDummy and attempted to regain some credibility with this year's Hello Destiny, but you wouldn't have known it from their live set. Sticking largely to material from those first three albums, the band put on a solid show that felt more like a nostalgia trip than an active, working group. At least Feldmann, in contrast to Big D's McWane, knows how to work a crowd. The consummate front man, he was all over the stage, standing on monitors and exhorting the audience to sing along with Goldfinger classics like "Counting the Days" and "Here in Your Bedroom". He invited anyone in the crowd who had seen the band play before to join them onstage to sing along with "Mabel", an ultra-catchy classic from their first album. What looked like 150 people eagerly complied, bouncing around and looking overjoyed to actually be up on the stage. Surprisingly, they all politely filed back off at the end of the song. The band also brought along a pair of saxophone players with them to play on a handful of tunes. And despite their youthful looks (they could have been nephews or children of some of the band members or crew) they did a very good job, particularly on "Superman", possibly the band's best song. The couple of songs the band played from the Open Your Eyes album got noticeably less crowd reaction, and they stayed away from Disconnection Notice entirely. It was telling, though, that they only played a single song ("Get Up") from their new album. For a group that was supposed to be a co-headliner touring in support of a new release, Goldfinger's set sounded suspiciously like a band that knows its best days are behind them. Less Than Jake, on the other hand, opened their set with "Does the Lion City Still Roar?" from the brand new GNV FLA album. They went on to play a wide-ranging, slightly goofy show that was full of highlights. From the start, though, something seemed slightly off with the group. The band's saxophone player, JR, was conspicuously absent and replaced by Suburban Legends trumpet player Luis Beza. Beza quickly traded off his spot to Matt, one of the saxophone players from Goldfinger, for the next two songs (the LTJ classic "Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts" and the laid-back "The Science of Selling Yourself Short"). Lead singer/guitarist Chris Demakes then explained that JR was attending his grandmother's funeral and that they were grateful for the help from the other bands' horn players. Beza and Matt continued to switch back and forth (and fill in ably) throughout the set, and there were a few songs where the band just played as a foursome, with trombonist Buddy as the only horn. Early in the show Demakes apparently made a disparaging remark about Toledo, Ohio, offending an audience member from Toledo in the process. A few songs later, he invited the guy onstage, apologized to him, gave him a beer, and let him watch the rest of the set from the side of the stage. In keeping with the color scheme of their new album, the band's light show was filled with pastel shades of lavender, sea green, and pink. It made for a decidedly different onstage appearance from the typical rock show. The band played fan-favorite "Look What Happened" to a massive audience sing-along that filled the whole theatre and was impressively on key. "Al's War", played as a special request, did not fare so well, as Demakes admitted that they hadn't rehearsed it at all. It was easy to tell as the song suffered during its multiple slow-to-fast transitions. The wacky asides continued as the show went along, with Demakes briefly discussing his childhood growing up in Michigan and mentioning that he had 21 family members in attendance. He also brought up an elderly couple to dance while the band played "Sugar in Your Gas Tank". Despite his over-the-top exhortations to "dirty dance" and "get really nasty,” the couple seemed to be having a really good time. Demakes finally went too far when he brought a member of the security staff up and offered him a beer. The guy politely declined because he was on the job and, despite Demakes' pleading and cajoling, he never did take the beer. At this point Demakes became insulting, which caused bassist Roger Manganelli to defend the poor security guard and gave him permission to "Kick (Demakes') ass after the show." Despite the multiple instances of chatter, Less Than Jake knows that the focus of their shows is the music, and they delivered a typically high-energy, dynamic set. Regardless of whether they're playing the speedy "Last One Out of Liberty City" and "All My Best Friends are Metalheads" or the more subdued "Krazy Glue", they always seem to be putting forth maximum effort. It's this effort and energy level that set them apart from many of their now-defunct mid-'90s peers, and a big part of the reason why they continue to outshine their fellow headliners and opening acts. They finished with the one-two encore punch of "Gainesville Rock City" and "Plastic Cup Politics", before concluding with more chatter. This time, however, it was a heartfelt thank you to the audience.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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