Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring Break

It's spring break for me, too.

I'm working and not traveling this week, but the weather is good, and I don't feel like blogging. I want to run and goof off in the sun.

Friday's Big Smith concert at The Blue Note was a hootenanny. A band must be good if it has me thinking, Yeah, two step! I should learn how to two step! Um, what?! Big Smith's fans are a mixed bag— folk-loving 50- to 60-year-olds, bearded farm guys in Caterpillar hats, well-heeled country line dancers, and the random ironic hipster chick—but they all love to dance, and they make it look fun. I felt a little out of my element: I like some bluegrass, but not all of it, and some of the songs were pretty twangy, but I can appreciate the spot-on musicianship. Then again... at one point during the show, one of the stage hands played drums on his naked beer belly. That had me thinking, Yep, I'm in Missourah.

I guess the most important thing is the energy the band puts into its performance. Their fans love them. Who am I to judge?

There have been worse labors of love birthed into this world—such as the 1986 film Troll, which was on late-night tv Monday. Oddly, the main character's name in the film is Harry Potter. Coincidence?

My friend and I stumbled across the climactic ending of Troll after watching The Goonies from start to finish. Now I see where The Fratellis get their name. It's been many years since I saw The Goonies in the theater with my mom and sister, but I could still sing along with the Cyndi Lauper theme song: "It's good enough. It's good enough for me. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah."

(The original Fratellis)

This is my spring break: bluegrass, trolls, and Sloth.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Aural Fix 3/26/2010: "When We Fall In" by Sean Hayes

I discovered Sean Hayes last winter with his song "Flowering Spade." He has one of those shaky, incredibly warm voices that pairs well with a porch, a spring night, and wine in a plastic glass.

Hayes began his career playing traditional American and Irish music throughout the South before settling in San Francisco in 1992. Incidentally, he has a new album out, Run Wolves Run (with a seriously pissed off wolf on its cover).

The album opens with "When We Fall In," a track that grabs you from the beginning with call and response and beats you over the head with love, love, and more love.

"When We Fall In" by Sean Hayes

Download "When We Fall In" [mp3]

Interesting side note: Hayes played Jesus in the 2008 film Evolution: The Musical!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Home" Is Where Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros Are

(The Last Temptation of Edward Sharpe—a.k.a. Alex Ebert)

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros have this hippietastic little song called "Home," and now there's an RAC remix.

Check it out:

"Home (RAC Mix)" by Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros

Download "Home" [mp3] 

I still like this version best:

We're talking communes and love beads and long, shiny flaxin'/waxin' hair and other items of rampant 70s nostalgia.

"Edward Sharpe" is a messianic character created by lead singer Alex Ebert. Sharpe's goal is to save mankind and spread love, but he keeps getting distracted by girls and falling in love. Dig.

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros are rolling their bus into Columbia on June 15 for a show at The Blue Note.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Big Smith at The Blue Note, 3/26

I'm not from these here parts, but I've recently heard tell of the band Big Smith. My sister-in-law, actually, just invited me to go see them this Friday at The Blue Note. The self-described "Ozark hillbilly band" from Springfield, MO, just released their latest album, Roots Shoots & Wings, in February. I'm no bluegrass enthusiast, but I'm willing to give a bunch of neo-hillbillies equipped with a washboard, guitar, fiddle, and mandolin a whole-hearted try based on enthusiastic feedback from people I've talked to.

Intrigued, I checked out their myspace page last week. The first song was a bit twangy for me, but I moved down the playlist and liked what I heard. It should be a fun evening with my sister-in-law, who I've barely seen in the past few months.

If you're really curious, there's even a documentary about the band, Homemade Hillbilly Jam, that's earned lots of praise at film festivals round the world.

Come see Big Smith at The Blue Note, Friday, March 26. Doors open at 8:00.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Women's Day, 3/28, and a Show at Mojo's, 3/24

(Portugal. The Man)

Michelle Grant sent me an invite last week to KOPN's Women's Day this Sunday, March 28, from noon to 7:00 pm. It's going to be an open mic celebration of local female performers, so be sure to give a listen or show up early at 11:00 to be added to the list of performers. Michelle hosts the popular Thursday night program "Women's Issues, Women's Voices" on KOPN.

(Michelle Grant)

Wednesday night Portugal. The Man and Port O'Brien are playing Mojo's. It's one of the bigger shows in Columbia this spring. I hope you're fortunate enough to have tickets. Sadly, I'm not. The show starts at 8:30, and tickets are $10. In celebration, here's some Port O'Brien...

I apologize for the brevity, but the sunshine calls. It's too beautiful outside today to spend the lunch hour in a cube.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Like the weather, I feel conflicted this week. I can't make up my mind where I'm going, what I want, whether I'm melting or sunny. What a big drippy mess. 

I think about selling everything except my cello and my computer. I think about grad school. I think about moving west. I think about starting a new blog. I think about painting, print-making, photography. I think about sewing. I think about web design. I think about running a marathon. I think about writing a research novel. I think about volunteering. I think about thinking. I think about thinking too much.

I haven't felt like writing about music lately so much as listening to it loudly.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Aural Fix 3/18/2010: "Swim Until You Can't See Land" by Frightened Rabbit

I'm heading out of town Thursday night to drive my mama to the dentist over in central Illinois. It used to be that when I left town to visit family, I left a frightened pet rabbit behind in my apartment. These days I just listen to Frightened Rabbit.

Here's your quick and dirty Aural Fix for the week: "Swim Until You Can't see Land" from Frightened Rabbit's latest, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, released two weeks ago.

Frightened Rabbit is Scottish, which makes them cool and gives lead singer Scott Hutchison one of the most distinctive voices around. On the Fat Cat Records website, Hutchison describes the first single from their third album:

"Swim Until You Can't See Land" was the title I had in my mind before I even started writing the album; I was becoming more and more interested in the idea of a rejection of the habits and behaviour most people see as normal, and in turn embracing a certain madness. It’s about losing your mind in order to reset the mind and the body. Forget what’s gone before and wash it out. This is not necessarily a geographical journey, as the "swim" can involve any activity in which you can lose yourself. It’s a good introduction to the record as the theme unravels therein.

"Swim Until You Can't See Land" by Frightened Rabbit

Download "Swim Until You Can't See Land" [mp3]

We all want to reinvent ourselves from time to time; for me, I feel the urge several times per day. I usually just stick to the shoreline and listen to music like this when I'm feeling fired up—especially now when the extra daylight has me going. Listening to music about self-reinvention is way safer than selling all my shit and walking to the tip of South America.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Get Lucky with John Lee Hooker, Jr. at The Blue Note

St. Patrick's Day is a slab of corned beef on the plate of holidays. I'm a quarter Irish, but I've never done more than wear a stupid shamrock lei in a bar and drink green beer. This year I'll be playing with my string group after work and maybe eating something vaguely Irishy (like potato soup) with my partner in musical crime. There will be a beer involved, I'm sure. That's right: one beer. I have to sit in a cubicle all day Thursday, after all.

If you're looking for a little more—say, some cabbage with your corned beef—go check out John Lee Hooker, Jr. (son of the famous bluesman) at The Blue Note at 7:30. It's FREE. He'll be pulling out his classic "Blues Ain't Nothing But a Pimp." Fo' sho'.

Happy St. Pat's!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Massive Music Torture Attack

Massive Attack and Damon Albarn paired up recently on the track "Saturday Come Slow" (off MA's latest album, Heligoland). The video for the song is an eight-minute protest against the use of music torture in prisons. I suppose if you were a musician and knew your music was being used to torture people, you might be a bit miffed yourself. (Interestingly, members of Metallica have laughed off the use of their music in Gitmo.) The main issue, of course, is the violation of basic human rights—not the choice of music. Everything from Britney Spears to Barney to speed metal has been used on detainees. Massive Attack's video stresses the damage prisoners suffer when exposed to certain decibels of any music for long periods.

You can watch the video on Feeder.

I play my music too loudly in the car and on my iPod. I don't consider it torture. But what if I had to endure Christina Aguilera at high volume for days on end? I think I'd be more than peeved.

(Music torture Clockwork style.)

So what brings all of this on? Turns out Massive Attack is part of the worldwide Zero dB initiative that seeks to raise awareness of and end the use of music as psychological torture. They're joined in their efforts by Rage Against the Machine, David Grey, Pearl Jam, Trent Reznor, R.E.M., and others whose music has been used at Gitmo on captured "enemy combatants." The UN has banned the use of music torture under its Convention Against Torture, etc., but the Convention has been largely unenforced.

In the video, the song itself takes a back burner to images of a former prisoner describing his two days of music torture, but what we hear of "Saturday Come Slow" is typical Massive Attack: dark, forbidding, and growling with barely suppressed menace—a watchdog at the door of human rights.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Italy Takes Germany and Deer Tick Descends

Italy won the Columbia Chorale's Opera Showdown Saturday evening, in spite of the visiting tenor's massive La Traviata flub (he dropped his lines while turning a page and brought the entire production to a halt). My friend and I had never been to a show at the Methodist church on 9th. The pipe organ and structural beams add a certain gravitas to a concert, although it's nearly impossible to see the orchestra from the back of the church. I'd recommend a balcony seat. The whole idea of listening to two operatic selections and then voting and keeping score was gimmicky but fun. Sure, the "Flight of the Valkyries" kind of fell apart at the end ("The wheels are coming off the wagon," my friend muttered), but the mistakes and audience participation helped lighten things up.

We pigged out on pasta post-show at The Rome. The visiting tenor and soprano showed up toward the end of our meal and were treated to a standing ovation. It's always interesting to see and hear where visiting musicians  go to eat in Columbia. For instance, I was in my car listening to KCOU the next day, and the dj was saying that she'd eaten next to Surfer Blood at Main Squeeze on Friday. (Surfer Blood just played Mojo's this past weekend.)

(Surfer Blood fuel)

In other weekend news, NPR's Sunday Weekend Edition featured samples from Peter Gabriel's new covers album, Scratch My Back (just released) My partner in musical crime was stoked (yet another reason I love him). Perhaps this sounds lame—akin to declaring one's love for Sting—but there's something to be said for a 60-year-old experimental musician like Gabriel who still sounds amazing and continues to make music of understated beauty. Gabriel covers Bon Iver, Regina Spektor, David Bowie, The Magnetic Fields, Radiohead, and Talking Heads, among others, with his own ethereal frostiness and without guitars or drums. In the coming months, some of the artists will scratch Gabriel's back and release covers of his songs.

 (Peter Gabriel channels Rasputin. "Look into my eyes... buy my new album.")

My friend and I topped off our weekend with a music-less Sunday evening at Addison's with friends (unless you count the music of NCAA Tournament news as dinner music).

(Luke Harangody brings his deceding hairline to the NCAA Tournament.)

And today? It's the Ides of March, and Deer Tick is in town for a show at Mojo's. Please snag a picture if you happen to see them eating downtown pre-show.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Aural Fix 3/12/2010: "Excuses" by The Morning Benders

This weekend we return to daylight savings time. Welcome back extra hour of post-work sunshine. Welcome back noisy frogs. Welcome back college kids in inappropriate summer clothes. (Flip flops will not protect your toes from frostbite, you dingbats.) Welcome back smell of stinky fish from the weird weekly fish fry in the parking lot outside my office. Welcome back open windows, muddy KT Trail, humidity, thunderstorms, and incongruous indoor heating.

And welcome back Morning Benders...

The Morning Benders' latest album, Big Echo, was just released on Tuesday. The album opener, "Excuses," is a rhythmic lilt of lush 60s pop, layered with real and sampled strings and modern and vintage sounds. Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor helped mix the album, which features a lot of Grizzly-esque echoes and overdubbing, but the pop sensibility is entirely that of The Morning Benders.

"Excuses" by The Morning Benders

Download "Excuses" [mp3]

The Morning Benders made me feel all shame-faced for ripping off a single mp3 when I read this on their website:

We can't tell you how happy we are to be able to share this album with you! We've put a lot of love into it, and we'd love for you to listen to it as it was intended to be heard, as an album, from start to finish.

If you like what you hear, please consider "Excuses" a sample introduction to the album and then go out and listen to the entire thing.

And don't forget to spring your clocks ahead on Saturday.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kel Green and Friends Return to the Rocheport General Store, Friday, March 12

I missed the last Kel Green show at the Rocheport General Store, which means I have yet to hear them or check out their eclectic venue. Well, this Friday Kel and his friends will be back for another show. Come see them in Rocheport from 8:00 to 10:30 at the General Store.

Kel sent the following invite earlier this week via Facebook:

I'm pleased to be back @ Rocheport General Store for the 3rd edition of Kel Green and Friends. Paul Zullo will be laying down some dulcet tones thru his resonator cones. We've convinced Denise Bowmaker to bring her sweet sax back to the river shacks. There are even rumors of a Sir Jimmy Steffan siting. Now really, who better than Kelly Green could kick off the annual St. Patty's Road bowling weekend with some music, food, and libation? John and Dean will be wearin the green and hearing it too. How about you? :)

The first two shows have been great fun and great learning experiences too! Thanks to all my friends, old and new, for your support! See you Friday!

I appreciate the rhymes. There is nothing but good nature and good music here.

This Friday I have a work-related happy hour and probably won't hop in the car afterward, but seeing these guys at the Rocheport General Store is on my list of spring things to do. Hope you can make it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

SXSW Kicks Off This Weekend

I've never been to Austin, but like most people, I've been bludgeoned over and over by the implication that everything is cooler in Austin. I can't speak for the veracity of this statement, but Austin does have that one huge festival/music conference each year—a little something called SXSW. The SXSW® Music and Media Conference runs from March 12–21 and features over 2,000 artists, bands, films, new media presentations, and panel discussions. There are over 80 stages in downtown Austin; a massive trade show; celebrity interviews; gamers, bloggers, widget inventors, and more. If you're an Austinite, this is either the coolest thing to happen to your city once a year, or the biggest headache.

Either way, there are going to be a ton of your favorite artists and bands down there and some new ones, too. The music festival starts on March 17 (St. Patrick's Day). Here's the schedule.

SXSW is an eclectic gathering with a little something for all: Motorhead (if you're so inclined) and Fanfarlo, Miike Snow and Frightened Rabbit, hip hop, metal, world, acoustic, electronic, folk, etc. The schedule is huge. I gave up on scrolling through the damn thing. Just assume that everyone I write about in this music blog will be there.

Question: Is this thing just a huge corporate sell-out? I ask because the website seems geared toward "the industry." Then again, what's the harm if people enjoy it, get to hear music, watch films, and have a good time?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sad News from Sparklehorse

This past weekend Sparklehorse frontman Mark Linkous shot himself through the heart in Knoxville. He was only 47. According to The New York Times, he shot himself in an alley outside a friend's home. Linkous was in the process of moving to Knoxville, where he planned to set up a studio and finish the latest Sparklehorse album.

Growing up, Linkous was influenced by bluegrass and country, got into punk rock, and eventually formed Sparklehorse so he could create a sound close to Tom Waits' Swordfishtrombone.

Here's a video of Sparklehorse performing "Saturday" live:

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Night Oscar Preview

(Please... not again.)

I'm writing this late Sunday afternoon, and the schlockfest known as the Academy Awards starts in a few hours. Of course I'll be watching. Once a year I indulge in this particular awards show for no other reason than, like most people, I enjoy watching movies, and I enjoy watching the people in those movies go scriptless. Of course, we know there are prewritten presentation jokes and preplanned speeches and all of that, but there's still a slight potential for improv, disaster, or wackiness.  The fact that so-and-so might have a meltdown makes for an entertaining evening.

Usually what I take from the Oscars is a list of films I want to see in the coming weeks. Generally, they're foreign films I've never heard of. (This happened in 2007 when The Lives of Others won Best Foreign Film.) But sometimes they're Best Actor/Actress nominated films that haven't gotten much press (The Last Station/Helen Mirren is a good example for this year).

And now back to music...

Here are the nominees for Best Music (Original Score):

  1. Avatar by James Horner
  2. Fantastic Mr. Fox by Alexandre Desplat
  3. The Hurt Locker by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders
  4. Sherlock Holmes by Hans Zimmer
  5. Up by Michael Giacchino

I'm a bit biased in this category because Fantastic Mr. Fox is on my list of all-time favorite films. I don't remember the music from either Avatar or Up, and I haven't seen The Hurt Locker or Sherlock Holmes. But I do remember the instrumental delights of Alexandre Desplat, which include tinkling glockenspiel, a children's choir, and even some banjos.

In this video, director Wes Anderson works with Alexandre on the film score:

Hot box!

Of course, I often lavish affection on films that get shafted at the Oscars, so it's not likely Fantastic Mr. Fox will win the award.

For Best Original Song, we have the following nominees:

1. "Almost There" from The Princess and the Frog by Randy Newman
2. "Down in New Orleans" from The Princess and the Frog by Randy Newman
3. "Loin de Paname" from Paris 36 by Reinhardt Wagner
4. "Take It All" from Nine by Maury Yeston
5. "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart by Ryan Bingham and T. Bone Burnett

(Crazy Heart)

I'm not familiar with any of the nominated songs, but I'm sure we'll be treated to a glitzed-up version of each during tonight's spectacle.

This video samples each of the five songs:

The Randy Newman nominees sound very Randy Newman, and the Nine number is a not-bad showtune. We're left with a whiskey-soaked theme song and a cabaret-style French chanson. Tough call. I suspect Randy Newman is going to sweep this category with his Disney affiliation, but I'd like to see the award go to ether Crazy Heart or Paris 36.

(Paris 36)

On an unrelated note, my friend and I got to see the animated short films at Ragtag Saturday afternoon. I'm crossing my fingers for A Matter of Loaf and Death or Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty, although The Lady and the Reaper was also fun.

(Granny O'Grimm)

If you're reading this on Monday, it's old news. Get to work.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Aural Fix 3/5/2010: "Giant Stairs" by A Weather

I just happened to stumble across these guys Wednesday night in between paying bills and skimming other music blogs. On one site with a crazy number of new music links, I randomly clicked on "Giant Stairs" and liked what I heard. The vocals are soothing and make me feel like the band looks in the picture above.

Yes, A Weather are YET ANOTHER Portland, Oregon indie-folk band. But the warm, intermingled voices of Aaron Gerber and Sarah Winchester are so nice! The band's sophomore album, Everyday Balloons, dropped earlier this week via Team Love Records, the label founded by Mr. Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst.

"Giant Stairs" by A Weather

Download "Giant Stairs" [mp3]

A Weather will be at Off Broadway in St. Louis on April 28.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

STL's New Groove Show, Friday, March 5

I'm horrible about updating, visiting, or even opening Facebook. But when an invite pops up, I usually click on it to see what's going on. A week or two ago the folks behind STL's New Groove, which consists of members of the band Rhyme Or Reason, sent me an invite for an upcoming show. This Friday you can see them play with The Steve Ewing Band and Chrissy Renick at The Old Rock House in St. Louis. Artist Joan Marie will also be displaying her "live abstract art" (no word yet on what that entails). Doors open at 8:00.

Rhyme Or Reason list the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stevie Wonder, Jason Mraz, and the Dave Matthews Band as favorites on Facebook and describe themselves as "pop/rock/funk." Expect to hear hip hop beats mixed with soulful vocals, jazz piano, and jamming guitar. Steve Ewing is well-known in the St. Louis area as the former lead singer of The Urge, which disbanded in 2001.

...And The Old Rock House just looks like a neat place. I haven't been there, but I have a penchant for old buildings. Check out the bar:

(The Old Rock House, St. Louis)

I've been meaning to get over to St. Louis for a while now to spend a couple hours at the art museum, stuff my face, and just explore. I probably won't make the drive this Friday night, but if you happen to be heading in that direction or not a weenie about sitting in the car, this show will definitely rev up your weekend.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Carpe Diem and Miscellany

Blame it on the warmer weather this week: my thoughts are leaping leprechauns jumping from one random thought to another.

First of all, did anyone check out the Avett Brothers show last night? I hope it was banjo-string-poppin' good.

As for me, last night I bid my first-ever cello instructor adieu over chai tea lattes at Starbucks on Ninth Street. Being a violist herself, she's passing me off to an actual cellist to continue my lessons. We downed lattes instead of having a final lesson, but it was the perfect close to a six-month run of our sarcasm-laden weekly lessons through Carpe Diem—the new culture center on Locust Street co-owned by Alex Innecco. (Alex is also the artistic director of the Columbia Chorale and the 9th Street Philharmonic Orchestra) As we were saying our goodbyes, we ran into Alex himself...

...and he gave me two free tickets to the Opera Showdown next Saturday, March 13, at the United Methodist Church on Ninth. Let's just say, this performance features dueling opera singers and audience participation. Italy vs. Germany...Sweet!

I'm also getting excited for the "festival" of 2010 Oscar-Nominated Short Films currently playing at Ragtag. My partner in musical crime (and all things geeky) and I are all over this! You can view the new Wallace and Gromit animated bread-baking murder mystery. Or see live-action films on magic, modern-day slavery, and Chernobyl (not all in the same film—sorry). Don't forget that the Academy Awards air Sunday night.

Last night after my "lesson," I drove to my friend's apartment and heard an acoustic version of Phoenix's "1901" on KCOU. This got me thinking, What is this song about, anyway? Lead singer Thomas Mars describes it as a song about early twentieth-century Paris. "Paris in 1901 is better than it is now. So the song is a fantasy about Paris." Well, of course! I'm sure every soccer mom and hipster cranking "1901" in the car is celebrating the Belle Époque. At any rate, I didn't enjoy the acoustic version nearly as much, but it did get me wondering about lyrics and our enjoyment of music. Half the time we don't even know what some of our favorite songs are about, but we still love them. Are we failing to appreciate them on some basic level? Does it matter?

A live performance of "1901" (not the version I heard on KCOU)

Perhaps that's a post for another day.

The evening ended on a somber note as my friend and I watched Frontline before we fell asleep. It was a piece about "suicide tourists": terminally ill patients who pay for legal euthanasia in foreign countries. The episode profiled the final days of a retired computer science professor suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), who chose to end his life in Switzerland with the help of Dignitas, a center for assisted suicide. Craig Ewert was diagnosed with the disease after retiring early and planning to spend the rest of his life traveling the world with his wife. Instead he lost the ability to feed himself or use his limbs and journeyed to a nondescript apartment building in Zurich to drink a solution that would put him to sleep forever.

(Craig Ewert) 

We write songs about idealized time periods, go to shows, learn new things, and drink fatty lattes with friends, but it doesn't last forever. Craig Ewert will never see the new Wallace and Gromit or wonder what the lyrics to his favorite song might mean. Let this post be your little memento mori for the day, but let it also remind you of what you have.

Carpe diem and all of that.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Avett Brothers Tonight at The Blue Note--SOLD OUT

Ever since last October, people have been planning for tonight's Avett Brothers/Low Anthem show at the Missouri Theatre. Half of Columbia seems to be attending this show, and so it comes as no surprise that it's sold out. I haven't heard any recent shows get so much hype...and I really can't explain it. I don't have anything against the Avett Brothers; I've just been lazy when it comes to them, I suppose. Thanks to BXR, which usually drives me away with Dave Matthews drivel, I've heard "I And Love And You," but that's pretty much the extent of it. I wasn't motivated enough to buy tickets for the show.

Reading up on the Avett Brothers a bit, I learned that Seth and Scott are actual brothers and artists who adorn their album covers with their paintings and sketches. Scott Avett owns his own gallery in Concord, North Carolina.

They play with upright bassist Bob Crawford and sometimes with cellist Joe Kwon.

Here they are performing for NPR:

According to the Avett Brothers' site, they are known for their high-energy shows and for "popping banjo and guitar strings right and left while inciting stomping singalongs." If you're going to the show—and I imagine 50% of my 10 readers are—it sounds like you're in for a raucous treat. Enjoy.