Tuesday, March 29, 2011

review- godspeed you! black emperor at the vic- 3.28.11

Sorry, Chicago, but London has you beaten by miles. Say what you will about the English, but they are a well-behaved bunch at live shows. I’m beginning to think that my four months in London seeing tons and tons of amazing shows ruined my show-going life forever more and it wasn’t until seeing godspeed at the Vic tonight that I realised this. Yup, I used the English spelling. You had your personal space, people weren’t constantly pushing past you like you weren’t there to get closer to the action or elbowing their way to the bar the entire night and everyone also *gasp* listened to and cared about the music considerately. My first time seeing godspeed was at the Scala in seedy King’s Cross while on an exchange program during my junior year of college. It was how my parents convinced me to stay in college- they sent me to London for four months and gave me $900 a month to do whatever I wanted with. I saw a show practically every week and at least ten of these shows ended up being pivotal experiences in my long and illustrious show-going life—Radiohead in Glasgow, Scotland on the tent tour, Elliott Smith at the Forum in Kentish Town and I even managed to see Bright Eyes in a teeny bar in Camden and Modest Mouse at the Garage in Highbury for £7. Godspeed at the Scala has long been one of the most special shows I’ve ever attended. I recorded the show that night and cherish few of my recordings as much as that one. The crowd was at rapt attention the entire time- during the quiet moments you could hear a pin drop it was so still and then the band would build up to ungodly heights of volume. Nothing fell short of astonishing the entire night.

Last night I’d say outdid the London show in length (over two hours), visually (the projections were all gorgeous- the stop-motion loops of smoke-stacks and bridges during 'Monheim' were quite stirring) and in emotional intensity—I’ve been to very few shows that have stirred me up emotionally in the same way. Sigur Rós at the Civic Opera House in 2006 springs to mind (I almost cried about five times during one song), but this was different—this was ‘Dancer in the Dark’ intense by the end. Perhaps this was what made the petty annoyances of the way that the people around me were behaving as inescapably irritating as I found them. It’s long been a gripe of mine at shows that people as a whole seem empirically incapable of sitting and enjoying music without acting like inconsiderate little ids the entire time (i.e. talking loudly during quiet ‘boring’ bits, making sure that they have a beer to suck down during every second they are present no matter how many people they have to elbow and push through to accomplish this, texting, tweeting, facebooking, snapping crappy photos on their cellphones, what have you). I had the displeasure of standing next to someone who felt the need to narrate every little thought he was having to his friend the entire time—‘dude, this is the song that was in ‘Friday Night Lights,’’ ‘Whoa, fucking amazing!’ ‘This part’s kind of boring,’ etc. Someone near me even dropped a fartbomb at one point—a first for me in over sixteen years of going to shows. There was a man dancing maniacally the entire time to my right—the people in that section gave him a good ten foot berth to either side which he took full advantage of. As irritating as I found his need to take up that much room and make such a spectacle of himself (I suppose it’s not enough to enjoy a show yourself, you should do your best to make it as much about you as anything else for those around you) it did teach me a valuable lesson that also holds true when you feel uncomfortable during your late night subway ride home—just pretend you’re nuts and people will give more than enough personal space and leave you alone. By the end of the evening the dancing guy was the least annoying part of the entire experience—at least he was enjoying the music.

Now that I’ve gotten the venting out of the way, the setlist was completely different from the previous time I’d seen them with the addition of two new songs that I’d never heard (maybe I should call them ‘pieces’ as ‘songs’ isn’t really a proper description of godspeed’s body of work)—in my searches for sound recordings on archive.org (I highly recommend you check some of these recordings out, by the way) they are referred to as ‘Hope Drone’ (which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like—a largely structureless piece built from absolutely nothing that they opened with) and ‘Albanian’—which I would describe as an admirable exercise in Spacemen 3-style droning minimalism during its main movement before it gave way to their penchant for more ornate and repeated wind-downs and wind-ups and unlike anything they have ever done before. Once they broke into the more ornate sections of ‘Albanian’ I have to admit that I found myself pining for a more droning minimal approach favored (and accomplished excellently) by the Warlocks. They played the title track from ‘Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven’ (or ‘Levez Vos Skinny Fists Comme Antennas to Heaven’ for every other country the record was released in) second which I found to be the highlight of the evening (that one’s a personal favourite of mine). They played a lot more of their slower, moodier pieces that were less prone to explosion—i.e. ‘Monheim’ and ‘World Police/Friendly Fire.’ The ending triplet was brutally affecting and by the end of ‘Blaise Bailey Finnegan III’ I was having some pretty dark thoughts (it’s been a rough month). ‘Slow Moving Trains’/’The Cowboy’ was particularly breathtaking to hear live as I’d never really seen an example or heard tell of them playing it at these recent shows. ‘Dead Metheny’ was good to hear again (that and ‘Lift Yr. Skinny Fists…’ were the only two that they’d played at the Scala all those years ago). The only bummer for me was that they didn’t play ‘Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls’ which is the best godspeed piece in their entire ouvré and blew my socks off completely when I witnessed it live in London. The recorded version of it on ‘Yanqui U.X.O.’ doesn’t even come close.

During ‘Blaise Bailey Finnegan III’ I found myself pulled inexorably into the bleakest tenets of their music. The song is dense, long, unyieldingly intense and possibly the most depressing, hopeless piece of music I’ve ever heard in my life. I’m certainly not the type of person to shy away from depressing music, either—just look at any of my diary playlists. I’ve never listened to it much as I have some bitter memories associated with it. My introduction to godspeed was through this song and it happened when I was driving a friend back to Lawrence, KS from Kansas City after a thoroughly disheartening and disappointing band practice. This friend was in two bands with me at that time and we would try to practice for both bands (one band was an infant version of shalloboi and the other was a hardcore band that was largely the pet of my best friend at the time), but my best friend at the time would often skip over shalloboi practice in favor of the other band while also somehow convincing me to pick up and drive home this friend from Lawrence despite the fact that I was constantly getting screwed out of practice for my own band. Given this memory and the nature of the song it puts me in a bit of an odd place and because of this I’ve never listened to it much. By the end of it it was quite clear that there would be no encore. In the interest of a little levity Stefanie and I went to Schuba’s to have a drink with my friend who had played there that night.

It appears that godspeed have finally returned from their eight-year disappearance into tangential side-projects. Throughout the show a particularly loud-mouthed audience member kept making strange comments (‘It’s my birthday!’ for example), however, one comment was quite poignant—in the middle of the show she called out, ‘We missed you! Never go away again!’ Fair enough.

for your consideration-
2011.03.28- the vic- chicago, il
2000.11.22- the scala- london, uk (taped by yours truly with a tape recorder purchased at best buy for $20)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

diary 3.5.11- wave a white flag

song- artist- album

1. let's jump in- dead meadow- 'feathers'
2. guider- disappears- 'guider'
3. love on the sea- moon duo- 'love on the sea' 12"
4. outta my head- wooden shjips- 'vol. 2'
5. awake- black rebel motorcycle club- s/t
6. summer holiday- wild nothing- 'gemini'
7. blue as your blood- the walkmen- 'lisbon'
8. majesty/magic- low- 'c'mon'
9. this may be the last time- staple singers- 'spacemen 3 110 comp'
10. take care of my baby- dum dum girls- 'he gets me high' 12"
11. i'm a fool to want you- ketty lester- 'love letter' 7"
12. how can you mend a broken heart- al green- 'let's stay together'
13. spiral dream- jessica bailiff- 'feels like home'
14. in here the world begins- broadcast- 'mother is the milky way'
15. you're lionel richie- mogwai- 'harcore will never die, but you will'
16. won't get to heaven (the state i'm in)- spiritualized- 'let it come down'
17. netty's girl- beastie boys- 'the sounds of science'

Saturday, March 5, 2011

review- vivian girls- 'share the joy'

Vivian Girls- ‘Share the Joy’

Another pre-ordered album that came early in digital form. The third Vivian Girls album arrived in my world almost out of nowhere. I wasn’t even aware that they had been recording a new album until I found the pre-ordering info via twitter. I figured that Cassie Ramone and Katy Goodman were busy with their other projects- the Babies and La Sera respectively. I’d even begun to think that we wouldn’t be hearing anything new from the band in quite a while as their presence had been so all-consuming and impossible to ignore for the better part of two years.

‘Share the Joy’ would fall into the category of their cleanest-sounding record. While ‘Everything Goes Wrong’ was their first recorded in a ‘proper’ studio, it retained that gritty, sloppy charm that was their hallmark at that particular point in time. They were doing so much so quickly that they always opted for leaving in mistakes and off-key vocals. Since Ali Koehler has left the band in favor of Best Coast’s endless touring schedule it seems that Ramone and Goodman made a concerted effort to get the songs sounding tighter, the singing more focused and in-key and the results sound very refreshing indeed. I’m not sure if I can compare it to their other two records as, to me, the first will probably always be untouchable, but the second is a great record that will never get a fair shake- for instance it’s probably the only record I’ve ever heard of that has been referred to as ‘overlong’ while still clocking in at under 45 minutes. ‘Share the Joy’ glistens and shines, the production is pristine but for the occasional buzz of a tube amp during the fadeouts. It’s surprising how clean it is considering the fact that it was done at Rear House, the home studio of Jeremy Earl, the genius behind perpetually lo-fi (well, at least until last year) Woods. While the vocals are more in-key than they were before, they are also defiantly and obviously free of auto-tune. I find it difficult to believe that naysayers are still so quick to call ‘foul’ on their famously lax singing styles- perfectly on-key-at-all times vocals have never been what the Vivian Girls have been going for. The fact that they aren’t perfect musicians or singers but are still able to craft such vibrant songs and play them in their own, distinctive way without relying on the modern-day cheats that are now so often part and parcel for digital radio-ready recordings is now officially remarkable. Even if the harmonies aren’t always perfect or Ramone can be heard struggling to grab the guitar melodies she's reaching for the emotion is always there and the effect is always achieved. It’s similar to the way that Neil Young worked and it’s encouraging to hear a new and very hyped about band bravely put themselves up for such scrutiny so readily. There's a purity to this method that can yield inspiring results.

The most intriguing feature of this record are the complexity of the songs- they would be unbearably pretentious epics in less capable hands. The closing track is six minutes- an eternity compared to anything on the first record- and it never feels overblown or self-indulgent. The melodic break in opener ‘The Other Girls’ meanders and moves somewhat awkwardly at times- wavering but never falling down and it keeps going and going, ascending and ascending clear into the angelic ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ of the bridge. It’s incredibly intriguing to hear the band push their sound into new territory in this way and it never gets old or feels forced in the slightest. Even songs that sound like they are going to be missteps upon first listen take ideas that shouldn’t work and bend them to the bands' will in these incredibly creatively dense songs. ‘Dance (If you Wanna)’ sounds like a tossed-off attempt at a shameless pop song for about thirty seconds and then kicks itself into overdrive and takes you in at least three different directions that you weren’t expecting at all and builds upon itself in the simplest, subtlest ways. Even a song like ‘Take it As it Comes’ should not work at all- it’s such an obvious attempt at an old-style girl group conversational song and yet they somehow manage to pull it off with an effortless skill that is severely lacking in most fawned-over bands these days. The chorus of that song is irresistible no matter how hackneyed the premise seems at first.

The record also features two previously released tracks- ‘Lake House,’ which has been present in their live set for at least two years and on the ‘The World’s Lousy With Ideas Vol. 8’ compilation and ‘Death,’ which was the B-side to the excellent ‘Moped Girls’ 7” but here appears in a more vocally toned-down form. Both versions of ‘Death’ serve as a good litmus test for the evolution present on this album- the differences are deceptively subtle. It’d be fairly easy for them to slip by unnoticed, it just means that you have to listen a little closer.