A special ‘Listen local’ post from the road, as I’ll be passing through Indiana tomorrow. Whisper Down is a Terre Haute-based folk/alternative band (they cite influences from The Smiths through Death Cab for Cutie through Tracy Chapman). Like Sloan, they share songwriting and vocal duties. Check them out if you’re in the area.
Archive for July, 2008
zed equals zee is heading west! We’re relocating to Seattle for a year. This blog will still focus on local music – it’ll just be a different version of local. So you have a favourite Seattle band, or are in a Seattle band, please tell us about it in the comments! And if you are a Boston band – say, one of these bands – I’d love it if you followed Freezepop‘s example and do a West Coast tour.
Also note that updating will be spotty this week, during the move. But stay tuned!
Three fantasias which have real public radio personalities as the subject. First, Amanda Palmer tells the story of her unrequited crush on Christopher Lydon (pictured above), former host of The Connection on NPR’s Boston affiliate, WBUR. Next, Jonathan Coulton‘s ode to WNYC host Soterios Johnson‘s secret E- and Red Bull-fueled club lifestyle. Finally, Franz Ferdinand fantasize about being interviewed by Terry Wogan, BBC Radio 2’s legendary morning radio show host.
[embedded YouTube video; if you can't see it, click here]
I think that Sunday’s highlight was Cut Copy, despite everything. They were delayed at the airport and ended up doing an abbreviated set that conflicted with the headliners, Spoon. While the real diehards waited it out through Mike Reed‘s ‘psychedelic doo-wop stylings,’ the rest of us (like me and my friend Jon) headed over to catch the Spoon set, keeping one ear out for the sounds of joyful electropop from the Balance Stage. We returned to immerse ourselves in the mass of dancing indie fans and catch the last couple of songs – it was a great close-out to the fest. And short but intense wins again.
How did I ever forget how much I love Jarvis Cocker, the charismatic former frontman and principal of Pulp, especially since he wrote one of my favourite songs of all time? (“Common People,” off the 1995 album Different Class.) His self-titled solo album came out in 2006, and he played a set at the Pitchfork Music Festival on Saturday night. The standout song was the as-yet-unrecorded “Girls Like It Too”. Cocker introduced it as being based on a line from a reassuring letter that John Peel wrote to his brother as he (the brother) was just becoming sexually aware, which was read aloud at Peel’s funeral in 2004. (The YouTube video, above, is from the March 2008 premiere of the song in Buenos Aires.) And in a typically classy note, Cocker’s encore was the 1987 track “Face It” by Master C & J, a shoutout to Chicago as the birthplace of house. (thanks to Erich for helping me identify the artist).
Previously: Pitchfork highlights: Friday, Mission of Burma
I’m not going to comprehensively blog the 2008 Pitchfork Music Festival; instead I’ll point you here and here and here (and I’m sure you’ll find others, if you’re interested). Rather, I’m just going to focus on one artist from each day.
Unsurprisingly, Mission of Burma was my personal highlight from Friday, playing their album Vs as part of the All Tomorrow’s Parties ‘Don’t Look Back’ series. The played a few non-Vs tracks to start (so that fans would have the ‘definitive edition’) and, as always, they were ferocious and compelling live. As that comment suggests, they also had a signal sense of humour about the artificiality of playing an entire album, in order, including starting each ‘side’ with the sounds of crackly vinyl.
The YouTube link above is of a live performance of the last track on the album, “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate.” I don’t know yet if Pitchfork is archiving the live video; stay tuned.
The Pitchfork Music Festival has finally arrived! It kicks off at 6 pm CDT tonight with z=z local heroes Mission of Burma, performing their album Vs. in its entirety. If you’re not able to attend, the entire festival is being webcast. Given the high potential for a Midwestern version of a Glastonbury-style mudfest – the forecast is for thunderstorms all three days – that might be the best way to experience the concert. No word on whether the vids will be archived for your later enjoyment.
In honour of Rush’s appearance yesterday on the Colbert Report, and Ted Leo’s appearance this morning on the soon-to-be-defunct Bryant Park Project on NPR, here’s Ted Leo’s cover of Rush’s “The Spirit of Radio.” The story is that this song was inspired by CFNY, Toronto’s independent/alternative radio station, which was a formative musical influence on me as a kid growing up in the city (it’s now 102.1 The Edge). Three things I love in one neat package.
Following up on their (presumably successful) compilation of Radiohead covers, Rapster Records corraled a dozen electronic artists to create their own versions of David Bowie songs and released Life Beyond Mars: Bowie Covered. As a lifelong Bowie fan and someone who loves electronic music and covers, I feel like I personify the target demographic for this album (and I did, in fact, buy the CD). Sadly, however, I found the song quality to be rather uneven. As might be expected, given the genre, the song choices are heavy on Bowie’s Berlin years, and the standout track is definitely Matthew Dear’s cover of “Sound & Vision.” Most artists chose lesser-known Bowie songs, rather than hit singles – understandable, really, as who’d want to take on the challenge of reinterpreting a beloved masterpiece? – but the The Thing took a different approach. Their ‘cover’ of “Life on Mars” has nothing discernibly in common with the original besides its title. I’m going to politely describe its style as ‘experimental,’ including sounds like rusted metal-on-metal creaks and squeaky balloons. I’d suggest the version below instead.
“]Regular readers of this blog could probably compile a list of what I think is notable in music: local artists; funny, sexy or geeky lyrics; band members with academic or scientific day jobs; hooky, danceable songs; great live shows. If you had to create a band that I would love, Frankenstein-like, you’d probably come up with Electric Laser People. A minor disclaimer – I initially went to see them play because they are friends of friends.
Musically, think electroclash crossed with hip-hop, with a dash of punk, and a soupçon of opera, thanks to classically-trained Jess Riley’s soaring vocals. The Boston-based (check) band sing songs like “Disco 3000,” about going to the future and trying to get with ‘permatan honeys’ at a club where ‘everyone is beautiful/and owned by Monsanto’ (lyrics: check). Lead singer and bassist Dan Paluska is an award-winning robotics engineer for art installations – check out this insane video of one of his pieces – and guitarist Grant Kristofek is a design consultant; we share a colleague, in fact. (day jobs: check).
Their album, Straight Talk on Raising Kids, is permanently embedded in my car stereo, to say nothing of my brain, since many of their songs are catchy to the point of becoming earworms (hooky: check). However, they really come into their own live. Like Dan Deacon or Holy Fuck, they just seem like they are having enormous fun on stage, and that gets communicated to the audience (great live: check). Electric Laser People play at Church on August 20th. Go check them out.
Guest blogger Scott, who’s familiar with my preferences regarding singing at concerts, says:
This isn’t necessarily a great cover, but it’s one of the best illustrations imaginable (short of a performer actually stopping and berating someone, which would be awesome) of why you don’t sing from the audience. Everyone is basically behaving themselves, except for one guy, who drunkenly sings along (and then mis-sings along) at the quietest parts of the song.
MP3: The Dresden Dolls – Karma Police [Radiohead cover]
Here at zed equals zee, we’re big fans of education. As musicians go, Queen guitarist Brian May pretty much has everyone beat – after setting his doctoral work in astrophysics aside to concentrate on music full-time, he returned to his dissertation some 30 years later, received his PhD, and is now Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University (the photo above is of him at his investiture). We’ve already talked about the Bon Savants, whose lead singer, Thom Moran – as everybody knows – worked as a rocket scientist at MIT, although I don’t know what his academic background is (they are playing at the Middle East Upstairs on Wednesday, July 9th, so you could probably ask him). There are also a couple of artists that I can think of who are actively balancing academic and musical careers. Another z=z fave, The Franklin Kite, features a frontman who did a PhD in astrophysics at MIT, and is now doing postdoctoral research at that university up the river. Even more notably, the lead singer of Bad Religion, Greg Graffin, not only has a PhD in zoology from Cornell, but he teaches at UCLA – apparently, he is on the timetable to teach Life Science 1 in the upcoming winter quarter (January 2009), after which the band will return to the studio.
Know any other scientist/academic/musicians that I missed? Tell us about them in the comments!
Probably the single biggest contributor to having a good time at a live performance is familiarity with the music. The Pitchfork Music Festival grasps this point – as it has for the last couple of years, they’ve teamed up with eMusic to provide free downloads of songs by artists who’ll be performing. If you plan on attending, it’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the bands you may not know. And if you can’t make it, it’s a terrific way to get a taste of the always well-curated festival. Ignore the pissy comments – there are some great songs there. Try Mission of Burma‘s “Academy Fight Song,” Animal Collective‘s “Grass,” and Apple in Stereo‘s “Energy” for a start.