Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kanye West--McKale Memorial Center, Tucson, AZ

There is nothing that Kanye West hates more than cameras, or his spaceship crashing down. But fortunately the latter caused him to “land” in the University of Arizona’s McKale Memorial Center in Tucson, AZ on Thursday, April 24. And fortunately for me, I just happened to have a trip planned to visit my family for my birthday (the 24th as well) during that very same week. As luck would have it, Kanye (and opener Lupe Fiasco) is practically the embodiment of Chicago, so although it may seem slightly random that NQL is reviewing a Tucson show this week, I can assure you that I kept the windy city firmly in mind—as did Kanye and Lupe.

We’ll get to the spaceship reference in a little bit, I promise, but first can we please discuss how many ho’s there are that attend my alma mater? I know Arizona is a warm state and that UA has a high Greek life population, but I really don’t remember there being that many scantily clad young women when I attended school there. Nevertheless, the booty shorts, cleavage-baring tops, and “fuck me” pumps were in full effect as I walked from the venue to my car to put my purse inside. That’s another thing; not only did Kanye not allow cameras inside, but he also made security turn away every girl that was carrying an average-sized purse. Note to concert organizers: such information would have been more useful to the 8,083 attendees before the night of the show.

Once I finally made it inside the massive McKale Center (home to the UA basketball team) and found my seats (lower level, not too shabby at all), I scoped out the crowd for remaining fifteen minutes until the show started. The aforementioned ho’s were plentiful, as were a random scattering of popped-collar bro’s (people still do that?), bandana-clad hipsters, and regular people like myself that were waiting with baited breath to see what tricks Kanye had up his Louis Vuitton monogrammed sleeves.

Unfortunately, we had about three hours ahead of us to wait, as the openers for the Glow in the Dark tour readied themselves. Because Rihanna, who is scheduled to open most of the tour, had a previous engagement that forced her to skip the Tucson tour date and a few others, some random DJ’s and rappers, took her place for thirty minutes. Although the house lights were off and flashing strobes highlighted the venue, there was no denying the fact that the crowd could not have been more bored with Kanye’s entourage. Just because Kanye deems you worthy enough to record for his record label, doesn’t mean you should be allowed to embarrass yourself with amateur-sounding raps in front of thousands of people.

Thankfully, Lupe Fiasco appeared next and made everyone forget about the trio of rappers who graced the stage before him. Dressed head-to-toe in a baggy, bright red, Middle Eastern garb, he made his presence known whipping through some of the best songs on his newest album, The Cool, including “Hip-Hop Saved My Life,” “Paris, Tokyo,” “Go Go Gadget Flow,” and “Superstar.” However, it was Lupe’s older songs that received the bulk of the crowd’s attention, as Food & Liquor’s “Kick, Push” and “I Gotcha” culled roars from the gregarious student body. “Daydreamin’” was the grand highlight of Lupe’s set though, as he faux-conducted the orchestration intro to the song and burst straight into the in-your-face rap following it. The crowd was completely enraptured with his performance and it showed in their enthusiastic dancing and singing.

With Lupe’s beats still ringing in the air, I knew there was no way that has-beens N.E.R.D. could adequately follow-up such a stunning performance, and what do you know? I was right. It definitely says something when your last album (Fly Or Die) came out four years ago and your biggest single (“Lapdance”) was released seven years ago. It says that you’ve been out of the public eye far too long to recapture their attention in one single thirty minute opening slot. But you have to give it to them, because Pharrell, Chad Hugo, and everyone else on stage playing instruments whose name I didn’t know definitely tried as hard as they could to make the crowd care about their washed up hits. “Lapdance” and “Rock Star” had the lively masses jumping up and down, while “She Wants To Move” gave the ho’s of McKale Center their grand opportunity to be singled out in the crowd and pulled on-stage by Pharrell himself. Needless to say, there was lots of booty shaking going on.

When N.E.R.D.’s massive bass (and there was a lot of it, I was totally deaf by the end) finally died down, the crowd laid in wait for thirty minutes while scrambling stage-hands prepared the stage for Kanye’s performance. A little after ten o’clock, the lights went out and the black curtain suspended above the stage dropped, and everyone finally got a good look at Kanye’s stage set-up. Now, bear with me a bit here, because this isn’t the easiest thing in the world to describe, but I’ll give it a go. Kanye stood atop a square-shaped stage with a huge monitor hanging directly over it, resembling a MacBook, even though it was supposed to be his “space ship” that had “crash landed” on an unknown planet (aka Tucson). The space ship was on top of a wavy surface about five feet in the air, which looked like a golf course or a skateboard half-pipe with less of an incline. If you’re a visual person, I apologize, but that’s the best description I can give you. Or you can attempt to look at this blurry picture of the stage set-up and figure it out for yourself. With two screens on each side of the arena-size stage showcasing his every move, Kanye gave the crowd their money’s worth with his energetic performance.

While narrating his journey through space and back to earth, Kanye performed hits from all three of his albums. Such highlights included the multi-colored pyrotechnics that shot out of the floor of his space ship during “Flashing Lights,” the fervent crowd sing-along on “Gold Digger,” the spirited favorite “Good Life,” thousands throwing up the diamond sign gesture during “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” and Lupe Fiasco joining him on-stage for “Touch The Sky.” With sweat dripping down his face, Kanye ran from one side of the stage to the other, barely pausing to take a breath between verses.

Although he delivered a fantastic performance, the space ship theme was a bit cheesy from time to time, especially when he decided to cover Journey’s karaoke classic, “Don’t Stop Believing.” Hearing thousands of college kids belt out the lyrics at the top of their lungs was perhaps the most cringe-worthy experience of my entire life. Despite the corniness though, there is no doubt that Kanye gives the crowd exactly what they came for. Above rapping and producing, he is a true performer and not many people can hold 8,000 college kids in the palm of their hand for ninety minutes, can they?

--Anna Deem

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

May Shows in Chicago

Thurs 5/01
The Lemonheads, Bound Stems, David Singer @ Abbey Pub 8pm

Mahjongg, Mute Era, Tirra Lirra @ Empty Bottle 9pm

The Little Ones, Ladyhawk, Neva Divona @ Schubas 9pm

Fri 5/02
The Lemonheads, The Ladies and Gentlemen, Canasta @ Abbey Pub 9pm

Urge Overkill, Suffrajett, The Life And Crimes Of... @ Bottom Lounge 9pm

Midnight Juggernauts, Shy Child @ Double Door 8pm

Mannequin Men, Tyvek, Sic Alps @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Lacona, Mystery Palace, These Modern Socks @ Hideout 10pm

Ghostland Observatory @ Metro 6pm

The Nothingheads, Elephant Gun, Twin Tigers, We Will Eat Rats To Survive @ Ronny's 6pm

Supernova @ The Note 9pm

Kate Nash @ Vic Theater 7:30pm

Sat 5/03
Dead Meadow, Velcro Lewis & His 100 Proof Band, Plastic Crimewave Sound, Nudity @ Abbey Pub 8pm

Haywood Yards, The Thin Man, Pistols at Dawn @ Bottom Lounge 9pm

Bob Schneider @ Double Door 8pm

The Narrator (last Chicago show!), Joan of Arc, Tight Phantomz, Mannequin Men (DJ Set) @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Indian Jewelry, Warhammer 48k @ Hideout 9pm

Apollo Heights, Papillon @ The Note 9pm

Sun 5/04
The Night Marchers, The Red Eyed Legends, The Muslims @ Schubas 8:30pm

Mon 5/05
South, Silver State, Ki:Theory, Johnny Lloyd Rollins @ Abbey Pub 8pm

Her Space Holiday, Lymbyc System, Over the Atlantic @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Tokyo Police Club, Smoosh, Maps and Atlases @ Metro 8pm

Wed 5/07
Cut Copy, Black Kids, Mobius Band @ Abbey Pub 8pm

Local H, Fig Dish @ Beat Kitchen 6pm

The Black Hollies @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Robyn @ Park West 6:30pm

Film School, Airiel, Urbanites @ Schubas 9pm

Rue Royale, Cedarwell, JP05, Like the Birds @ Subterranean 8pm

Thurs 5/07
Local H, Ultra Sonic Edukators @ Beat Kitchen 6pm

The Black Ghosts, Thunderheist, Lazer Crystal, E-Six & ROAN @ Hideout 9pm

Ministry, Meshugga, Hemlock @ House of Blues 9pm

Lords, Millions @ Subterranean 9pm

Fri 5/08
Presidents of the United States of America @ Abbey Pub 9pm

M.I.A. @ Aragon Ballroom 7:30pm

Fun Club, Local H @ Beat Kitchen 6:30pm

The Heavy, Rocktapussy, w/ the new DJ/electro project from LDW's DJ Mother Hubbard and Jessica Gonyea of OFFICE @ Darkroom 9pm

Singer, Detholz!, Cloudland Canyon @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Le Concorde, Sleep Out, Horse in the Sea @ Hideout 10pm

Ministry, Meshugga, Hemlock @ House of Blues 7pm

The Kills, Telepathe @ Metro 9pm

New Monsoon, The Mother Hips, Glass Trees @ Schubas 9:30pm

Sybris, The Bon Savants, Apteka @ Subterranean 9:30pm

Devotchka, Basia Bulat @ Vic Theater 6:30pm

Sat 5/10
Local H, The Tossers @ Beat Kitchen 6pm

VHS or BETA, Tigercity @ Empty Bottle 10pm

New Monsoon, The Mother Hips @ Schubas 10pm

Jason Anderson, Kid, You'll Move Mountains, Strand of Oaks @ South Union Arts 9pm

Russian Circles, Tight Phantomz, Call Me Lightning @ Subterranean 9pm

Sun 5/11
Local H, Josh Caterer (of Smoking Popes) @ Beat Kitchen 6pm

Megafaun, Jon Mueller, Jim Becker (Califone) @ Hideout 9:30pm

Madball, M.O.D., Shai Hulud, Bitter End @ Reggie's Rock Club 5pm

Mon 5/12
Local H, Pegboy @ Beat Kitchen 6pm

Clinic, Shearwater @ Empty Bottle 9pm

El Perro Del Mar, Lykke Li, Anna Ternheim @ Schubas 8pm

Tues 5/13
Local H, Mannequin Men @ Beat Kitchen 6pm

Liars, SSION @ Reggie's Rock Club 8pm

Coliseum, Victims, Trash Talk, (Lone) Wolf and Cub @ Ronny's 6pm

Yo Majesty, Does It Offend You, Yeah? @ The Mansion 8pm

Wed 5/14
Flight of the Conchords @ Chicago Theatre 7:30pm

The Big Sleep @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Thurs 5/15
EL-P, Dizzee Rascal, Busdriver @ Abbey Pub 9pm

Bryan Scary & The Shredding Tears, The Mary Onettes @ Beat Kitchen 9pm

The Helio Sequence, Bronze, Yourself & The Air @ Empty Bottle 9pm

The Singleman Affair, Roma Di Luna @ Hideout 9pm

Laura Veirs, Liam Finn @ Schubas 7pm & 10pm

The Von Bondies, Die! Die! Die! @ Subterranean 7pm

Fri 5/16
CPC Gangbangs, CoCoComa, Mother of Tears @ Beat Kitchen 10pm

The Rosewood Thieves, Dragon & Jones, Cairo Gang @ Hideout 10pm

Thrice, Circa Survive, Pelican @ Metro 6pm

Pillars and Tongues, Talibam!, The Binges @ Ronny's 9pm

The Heavenly States, Head of Femur, The Poison Control Center @ Schubas 10pm

Sat 5/17
The Cure @ Allstate Arena 7pm

Subtle, Pit Er Pat, Locks @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Anti-Crew, AM/FM, Color Radio, H20 Soul @ Reggie's Rock Club 10pm

Brighton, MA, Heypenny, Moxie Motive, These Modern Socks @ Schubas 9pm

65daysofstatic, The Felix Culpa, The Glide @ Subterranean 9:30pm

Sun 5/18
Air Traffic @ Bottom Lounge 8pm

Joe Lally (of Fugazi), Michael Columbia, MRDR @ Schubas 9pm

Mon 5/19
KTL, Nemeth @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Tues 5/20
Old Time Relijun, B1g T1me, Spires That in the Sunset Rise, Mayor Daley @ Abbey Pub 8pm

White Rabbits, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, Morning State @ Schubas 9pm

Wed 5/21
The Old Haunts, The Red Eyed Legends, Stanley Ross @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Pela, Minipop @ Schubas 9pm

Nightmare of You, The Graduate, Paper Rival, Edison Glass @ Subterranean 6:30pm

Thurs 5/22
Shipping News, Poison Arrows @ Hideout 8pm

Headlights, The Submarines @ Schubas 8pm

Fri 5/23
Panic! at the Disco @ Congress Theatre 6pm

Blood on the Wall, War on Drugs @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Tiger Army, War Tapes @ Metro 6:30pm

Blueblood, Teenage Prayers @ Schubas 10pm

Snowden, Colour Revolt @ Subterranean 9:30pm

Sat 5/24
Dark Meat, Quiet Hooves @ Av-aerie 9pm

Panic! at the Disco @ Congress Theatre 6pm

The Long Blondes, Drug Rug @ Logan Square Auditorium 8:30pm

The Queers, Lemuria, Bomb the Music Industry, Andrew Jackson, Jihad, Kepi @ Reggie's Rock Club 7pm

Rilo Kiley @ Riviera Theatre 8pm

Sun 5/25
Camera, Star, Maradona, Panda Riot @ Abbey Pub 8pm

Maritime, Make Believe, Mannequin Men, White Savage @ Double Door 8pm

Ben Weasel and His Carnegie Bandsmen, Shot Baker, The Leftovers, The Guts @ Reggie's Rock Club 6pm

Mon 5/26
Thrones, Mr. Russia, Rabid Rabbit @ Bottom Lounge 8pm

Los Campesinos!, Jeffrey Lewis & The Jitters @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Howling Hex @ Hideout 9pm

Thrones, Mr. Russia, Rabid Rabbit @ The Note 9pm

Tues 5/27
Los Campesinos!, Jeffrey Lewis & The Jitters @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Wed 5/28
Jeremy Enigk, Damien Jurado @ Bottom Lounge 8pm

The Ocean, Kylesa, Lair of the Minotaur, Withered @ Reggie's Rock Club 8pm

Langhorne Slim, The Builders & The Butchers @ Schubas 9pm

Thurs 5/29
Airiel, Dragged By Horses, Walking Bicycles @ Darkroom 8pm

French Kicks, Frightened Rabbit @ Double Door 8pm

M83, The Berg Sans Nipple @ Empty Bottle 7pm & 9pm

Langhorne Slim @ Hideout 9pm

Bottomless Pit, The Buddy Revelles @ Schubas 9pm

Dosh, Anathallo @ Subterranean 9:30pm

Fri 5/30
The Presets, Walter Meego @ Abbey Pub 8pm

Mudhoney, Easy Action, The Fake Fictions @ Bottom Lounge 9pm

Firewater @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Sat 5/31
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, Tra-La-La Band, Josh Abrams, The Dead Science @ Logan Square Auditorium 8:30pm

Javelins, Bob Nanna (ex-Braid), The Silent Years, Nouns @ Beat Kitchen 10pm

Dave Fischoff @ Bottom Lounge 9pm

The Eternals (ex-Trench Mouth), The Jai Alai Savant, Reds and Blue @ Empty Bottle 10pm

The Breeders, The Montana Boys @ Metro 8pm

Slings & Arrows, SND on SND @ Schubas 10pm

Daughters @ Subterranean 10pm


Record Review: Constantines

Kensington Heights
NQL Rating: Album of the Year So Far

Considering the natural progression of things, it's inevitable that youth's cynicism is washed away and overtaken by larger, less definable truths and struggles such as love, friendship, getting old, and realizing that you're going to die. The trick is to figure out how to conquer these realities.

Kensington Heights, the fourth album from the Constantines, reveals a change in aesthetic but not necessarily approach. Constantines' first albums had more in common sonically with their post-rock and post-hardcore forebears (Slint, Fugazi, Jawbox)--jittery, edgy, at times unnerving. Kensington Heights, on the other hand, is post-influence: a polished and affable dose of grown-up perspective, with the urgency, stridency, and indignance of their early work tempered by restraint and mannered delicacy but not at the expense of tension or immediacy, an immediacy reflected in the album's spare production. Kensington Heights possesses an organic sound, and as such, it ebbs and flows like a great concert. This is an intimate album that, like Bry Webb's voice, sounds old, lived-in but not worn out--the Birkenstocks you've had since college and keep getting re-soled--so it makes sense to start discussing from the beginning.

"Hard Feelings" and "Million Star Hotel" are the so-so warm-ups that lead to the album's true start: the driving, brooding, all-rhythm "Trans Canada", whose stabbing synths and chugging guitars and bass evoke hurtling down a desolate highway, its darkness occasionally broken by streetlamps and "ghost horns in my head keeping time". After momentum-builder "Shower of Stones" comes the first crest, "Our Age", a song concerning the indefinable qualities of youth made clear in adulthood. Everyone who's lived anywhere near the margins can relate to this sentiment: "I was a hungry little one, / a prodigal, a rising sun / hung up on my confusion. / My age was all, all that I was." Expectations are a bastard, and being a kid can be hard.

Second in a clutch of songs that represent the album's beating heart is supreme comedown "Time Can Be Overcome". In it, the sense that Constantines understand humanity's place in the universe ("now architect, now archaeologist") is paramount; there's no more rush to get things done or said. Youth's preoccupation with running out of time or hurrying to finish and move on to the next thing is gone. The Cons ask, rhetorically, "What do you know, still living so young?" And answer, sagely: "Tomorrow's no burden". You can beat the clock if you ally with it.

The immediately re-energizing "Brother Run Them Down" follows, a "song for sensitive men" that includes one of the tenderest sentiments ever laid to tape: "Friend, to me you're an embassy in the middle of the night in a wayward nation." The song is an invitation to transcend the mundane ("too many restless years"), to reject being defined by some larger construct ("you are not your generation"), and (gasp) to have faith in mankind. Stop chasing a future that's uncatchable and be content to "go out and recognize each other from a common beginning." In this way, "Brother" is reminiscent of "Weak Become Heroes": Living as one of millions, you have no choice but to see yourself in other people and intuit that "I've known you all my life but don't know your name".

After memorable but skippable "Credit River" comes the Constantines' mission statement, the cadre of tunes that close the record. The utter positivity of "I Will Not Sing a Hateful Song" leads into the crushingly gorgeous "New King". Over right-in-your-ear vocals, acoustic strums, and pealing organs, "New King" speaks of destiny without a hint of irony, spans time and place, gender and identity, goals and reality to reveal something beautiful about failure, and the lack of fear of failure--having enough courage to "pull a fortune from a river", so to speak, and when that fails, the wherewithal to "build a bed for new beginning". (Plus, the drum fills are killer.)

In view of what's come before, final track "Do What You Can Do" scans like a benediction, and when Webb intones, "I bid you twelve lengths of peace and quiet, / and all speed away from human sorrow", you believe him. In the first verse alone, Webb recalls Robert Herrick, the Stones, and Talking Heads. And by the end, you can imagine Webb saying, "Go in peace." At its core, Kensington Heights is an astounding bit of humanism--and a welcome slab of seriousness right when we need it from a band more powerful and empowered than ever.

--Brian Herrmann

Louisville's May Concert Calendar

05/02/08 - Mucca Pazza, Wax Fang, Parlour @ Headliners05/02/08

- B-52's @ Waterfront
(ironically, the horse Fucksha*k is not favored to win the Derby).

05/07/08 - Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys @ Jefferson County Memorial Forest

05/12/08 – The Swell Season w/ Rachael Grimes @ Brown Theatre

05/19/08 - KT Tunstall w/ Paddy Casey @ Brown Theatre

05/21/08 – North Mississippi All-Stars w/ The Lee Boys @ Headliners

- Shipping News, Young Widows, and Frontier(s) @ Pour Haus

05/25/08 - Southern Culture on the Skids w/ Pokey LaFarge @ Headliners (I assume Team
Chicago would not even list this concert. Although Pokey LaFarge might not be supporting the Chicago show.)

05/31/08 - Mudhoney, Phantom Family Halo @ Headliners

08/16/08 - My Morning Jacket w/ special guest @ The Waterfront (It’s never too early to plan ahead.)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Destroyer--The Black Cat, Washington, DC

Never bereft of a muse, Dan Bejar, and his band Destroyer were in town this past weekend. As I headed over to the Black Cat I saw dueling cyclones jackknifing in the street. Talk about a coincidence. A few people I know who used to live in DC have asked if I've had any run-ins with a somewhat legendary vagrant, who used to spend his days in front of the venue shouting, "Black Cat, Black Cat, Black Cat, little change for the homeless?, Black Cat." In my two visits I have yet to see this guy. Sadly, he may have passed.

I have to say, the staff that mans the door at the Black Cat are extremely nice and accommodating. What a nice change of pace from those quasi-Outfit hoodlums that check IDs at the Metro.

Canadian musician Andre Ethier was opening the show. I clarify "musician" because there is an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers that shares the same name. Ethier was the lead singer for the Canadian indie band the Deadly Snakes but also has a couple solo albums under his belt. He was okay. He played very vocal-heavy folk songs that seemed pretty appropriate for a Destroyer-opener. I didn't pay as much attention to him as I should have; I spent most of the time by the right-side bar having drinks and conversation. Over the course of his set, I heard people compare him both glowingly and despairingly to Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Bill Callahan, and even Pete Yorn. He reminded me of Raul Mondesi.

(While this Andre Ethier was trying to keep everyone's attention, the other Andre Ethier was going 1-4, with an RBI and walk, in the Dodgers' 8-7 win over the Colorado Rockies. Not too shabby. However, he did leave four people on base. Thought you'd want to know.)

Everyone always wants to compare to Dan Bejar to some iconic performer of years past. So without further ado: Dan Bejar...he's almost a modern day Lou Reed, with a little bit of Bowie and Bozo the Clown mixed in. Like others, I was a bit late to the party and began to see the Destroyer light not long after Destroyer's Rubies came out in early 2006. I saw a few pictures from his Chicago performance at Logan Square Auditorium last week and he really reigned in the hair for the DC crowd. He was also wearing a flannel shirt that I used to own during my high school days when I was rather superunknown. The band opened with "Rubies" from the aforementioned 2006 release which was great, but sadly, shut the door on Rubies for the evening. The band mostly focused on their latest album Trouble in Dreams. Little known fact about Trouble in Dreams, I was supposed to review it last month for this site. And I was all set to give it a "Good" rating but when it came down to transcribing that to an actual review, I was completely dumbstruck. How does anyone review a Destroyer record? The lyrics (and music) are completely undecipherable. Juxtapose that with Bejar's distinctive voice and you're usually left with something organic and completely unclassifiable--which is why I think I love Destroyer in the first place. (I actually did turn in a final review of the album and I simply stated that I thought it was good and then just proceeded to list a bunch of things in my apartment. Needless to say, the review was never posted.)

First up off the new album was "Dark Leaves Form a Thread" which is most notable for a funky piano solo that's straight from an old Peanuts cartoon. Next came "Rivers" which might be my favorite track on Trouble in Dreams. Right before I moved to DC, we had a bit of a going away get-together for my last weekend in Chicago. My only caveat for the party was that I got to make the playlist (good news for me, trouble for everyone else.) After some blood, sweat, and tears I finally had the perfect came in at 17.5 hours. Convinced that was excessive, I decided to cut it back the best I could and leave only the essentials. I eventually whittled it down to 16.8 hours of carefully selected tunes. That was the final cut, nothing else could possible be eliminated. So why am I telling you this? Because "Rivers" was the very last song to get the axe. This was not an easy decision. After seeing Destroyer play it live (they absolutely shredded it), I really wish I had left it on there. The lyrics could have served for a great conversation piece. (Even without "Rivers" the playlist was incredible. People in Chicago are still talking about it.)

Destroyer ended up playing nearly 75% of the new album, although to my recollection, they inexplicably did not play "Blue Flower/Blue Flame". Scattered into the set was a song about peacocks, a few "la, la, la's", plenty of "na na na na na's" and even a couple "la la la-la-la's". There were also some snaps, claps, whistles, and rattles thrown in for good measure. They bid farewell to the 3/4 filled Black Cat with "Hey, Snow White" from This Night. If anything was disappointing, it was that they only played for about an hour and 20 minutes. For someone with such a large catalog, you would think they could have squeezed out a few more songs. Dan probably wanted to finish up early so he could go backstage and pen an album. That's not to say anything about the night was a letdown. Bejar was fantastic, the band was fantastic, and I was left with a fantastic feeling of wanting more.

Off subject, but the very next day I finally ventured out to find a record store. Up the beaten path on 18th Street is a fantastic place called Crooked Beat Records. Any respectable DC denizen probably already knows this establishment but I wanted to aptly stress my satisfaction. They have a great selection of CD's and vinyl. They really support the local bands, as they're all lumped together in their own "DC" section. The two guys that happened to be working were extremely nice and helpful. When I told one of them I recently moved from Chicago, he mentioned that Chicago and San Francisco are the two places that still really support independent record stores in the digital torrent age. First off, this made me proud of Chicago. Second of all, I was reminded of the slow extinction of independent record stores. I am no martyr...I have burned, ripped, and downloaded my fair share of music. But I also do my best to fight the good fight and trek over to the mom and pops to purchase music on a more than frequent basis. I know a lot of people listening to "indie" music are young and can't afford to buy every single album that is constantly being shoved down their throats by the respective peddlers. I understand and respect that. I've been there. Wait, I am there. And I do think it's better to download or burn an album without paying than to not listen at all. I truly believe that. But if I really love an album, having its contents on my computer alone doesn't provide me with the intimate connection that everyone has with their favorite records. I need something tangible and fixed, and I prefer to have it in the manner intended by the artist. I bristle at the thought of our generation growing old and passing off their music collection to their offspring by handing down their hard drive. So if time and finances are remotely plentiful, head over to Crooked Beat or Reckless or Groovin' High or whatever neighborhood store is nearby and explore some music. If you haven't already, perhaps give Rubies a try, maybe even catch a Destroyer concert, and hold your head high as you tell all your friends you think Dan Bejar is our generation's Bob Dylan.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Rogue Wave--The 9:30 Club, Washington, DC; Schubas, Chicago, Illinois

We've never really done this before, but you're about to read a side-by-side evaluation of two shows. That's band...two shows...separated only by two days, two cities, and 700 miles. To help with the comprehension, just know the DC show was last Wednesday and Chicago was on Friday. And since DC was the first of the two shows, let us start there:

DC (8:05pm): After meeting some friends for a happy hour in Dupont, I made a journey through some parts unknown over to the 9:30 Club. I passed Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street and it smelled incredible. I decided I will remember that when I stumble out of this place in a few hours starving and buzzed. I arrived at the 9:30 Club at around 8:30; not only was there no dreaded two-headed line but the place was dead. To make sure I wasn't crazy, I looked at my watch to make sure I had the right date. Then I pulled out my cellphone to make sure my watch had the right date. I did and so did my watch. Maybe Rogue Wave hasn't immigrated to the east coast yet.

Chicago (7:50pm): (I wasn't technically in Chicago at this point of time, but I was boarding a plane at BWI heading to Chicago so I think that counts.) The plane actually takes off on time and we're in good shape. The airline industry is like a toddler--you feel the need to congratulate and pat them on the back for the most minor of achievements. I start talking to the woman sitting next to me (she's white, which will come into play soon) and I find out she's deathly afraid of flying. Great. During takeoff she had me play this game where I had to guess her name just so it would take her mind off the plane rocketing into the sky. After no hints, and about 13 guesses, I was nowhere close and sick of the game. She thought it was hilarious that I couldn't figure it out. I found this to be annoying...why should I be able to guess her name? Finally, we had this exchange (near maximum altitude at this point):

Me: Listen, I have no idea, give me a hint or tell me.

Her: It's Shanelle (sp?). I know, I know, I have a black person's name. Maybe I should say it like this: (shouting) "Shuh-nell! Shuh-nell!"

Me: (Horrified) Uhh....

After this encounter, I quickly fumbled around for my ipod headphones, located them, and tuned out for the rest of the flight. An hour and 15 minutes later we approached Midway Airport and had the worst landing I've had in a plane since the last time I flew into Midway. Shuh-nell (with two Sprite and Vodkas out of the way, I might add) was literally grabbing my arm and screaming as the plane plunged down onto the runway leaning a little too much on its left side for my liking (both the plane and Shuh-nell), and then came to a screeching halt (just the plane). It was awful. Has anyone ever had a good landing at Midway? I said goodbye to the quasi-racist, hurried outside, and found my ride dutifully waiting. Less than 15 minutes later I was on Lake Shore. I walked into Schubas at around 9pm. I love flying west and gaining an hour. It makes me feel like I'm from the future.

DC (8:30pm): As above, the place was still pretty dead at this point, so I had ample opportunity to walk around and explore the 9:30 Club. And by "explore" I mean "bother people". I didn't get a chance to do this last time. It's a pretty sizable venue. If the Black Cat reminds me of the Double Door, this is probably DC's version of the Metro, only maybe bigger. The interior is rather forgettable but there's a large disco ball in the center of the room. The balcony has levels so there's easy viewing from all angles. There's also a coffee bar (pretty expensive) and a food window. And I mean it when I say food window. Right by the stage, there is a window where you can order food. I love this! I talked to one of the two guys behind the counter (he had a short name, Kip, or maybe Ned...I think there's a mental hospital right nearby) and found out that not only are pizzanini's his favorite item on the menu, it is also the most popular dish for 9:30 Club patrons. Well then, I have to have one. (I liked it.) They had a good menu, too, everything from nachos to hummus. The 9:30 Club is slowly becoming one of my favorite places on Earth. But wait...when's the opening band getting out here? I have work tomorrow...let's get this started!

Chicago (9:15pm): I'm hanging out at the bar at Schubas with No Depression drinking a Budweiser. I am happy. And now would be a good time to give props to the Schubas waitstaff. They are unbelievable. Whether it's the cute girl in white that tends bar in the front, or the cute girl that takes care of the back room that typically wears black, it doesn't're always in good hands.

DC (9:10pm): I was feeling pretty good when opening band Grand Ole Party of San Diego finally graced us with their presence. I don't like to rip bands--especially opening bands--but I found this trio to be a bit of a one trick pony, and not in a good way. In fact, towards the end of their set I was so tired of the girl's needling voice and the guys' repititious harmonizing vocals that had you just taped my reaction you would have thought I was watching "2 Girls, 1 Cup". (Sorry, that's a huge cheap shot, and it is completely undeserved, I didn't like them but they were by no means horrible. A lot people in the crowd were really into them. I just needed to find a way to fit "2 Girls, 1 Cup" into the mix somewhere.)

Chicago (10:05pm): There were two opening bands for this show and the first was MegaSuperUltra of Chicago. Apparently they are old friends of Rogue Wave drummer Pat Spurgeon. They were pretty loud and obnoxious which meant I liked them.

DC (10:00pm): As everyone is waiting for Rogue Wave, I found a group of five to talk to. They were very friendly and seemed to find the things I had to say interesting. Three of the five in the group were girls and all were attractive. Very attractive, in fact. I noticed they all had green stamps on both of their hands. Funny, I had just one black stamp on my right hand. As I inquired into the meaning of these mysterious green stamps I was informed that meant they were underage. Of course they were. One of the girls told me she's starting to freak out because she's 19 and "doesn't know what to do with her life." Man, if she doesn't get her act together soon!

Chicago (11:00pm): Grand Ole Party is back for round two. I still don't like it.

DC (10:05pm): Although I found those kids to be very nice, I just couldn't hang out with them all evening so I retreated to an area near the stage just as Rogue Wave came out. I said the place was dead earlier but by this point it was pretty crowded. One could even say it was packed. I've always liked this band, and if you were to ask me why, I'd probably just tell you it's because I think they write really good songs. Zach Rogue has a strange, yet undeniable, stage presence that he pulls off perfectly. They opened with "Like I Needed" from the vastly underrated Asleep at Heaven's Gate, moved quickly to oldie "Every Moment", and after that I was spent when it came to remembering the setlist. They're a fun band to watch. They're the closest thing I can think of that resemble a couple of friends that formed a band and actually made it. They really pull off that "garage band makes big" vibe. Also, I almost get goose bumps watching Spurgeon playing drums knowing he almost died not long ago before getting a kidney transplant. (And here's a good site to check out.)

Chicago (11:55pm): The girl in black danced her way over to us and served us some drinks. Rogue Wave was making their way through the crowd and to the stage. That's another thing you have to love about Schubas. There's no backstage. If you want to get up to the stage you have to get through all of us first. The closest thing to a backstage is that exit door right off the stage. I always love it in the winter when a band plays a furious closer, runs outside to the zero degree weather, only to return with looks on their faces that scream, "I hope this album sells well so we can play the Vic next time." If Rogue Wave's set wasn't identical to DC it was damn close. I'm sure they thought no one would be at both. Little did they know...

DC (11:05pm): Zach Rogue introduced "Bird on a Wire" by saying the song was about being stuck at a job, or place in life, that you're not happy with and want to change. I bet the 19-year-old girl from earlier knew exactly what he was talking about. More importantly, they did an incredible job with that song and as it was ending they all grabbed sticks and began helping Spurgeon out on the drums. As they reached their peak, and missing nary a beat, they retreated back to their instruments and started playing crowd favorite "Lake Michigan". New stuff, old stuff, it didn't matter...the crowd was enjoying all of it.

Chicago (12:30am): I'm not sure why, but for whatever reason Rogue Wave loves playing Chicago. Zach Rogue stated it was their favorite place to play and thanked the crowd. Well, we (I still say "we") thank you for playing here countless times. They soon played "Chicago x 12". Everyone was happy. Later towards the end of the show, after performing the same stunt with "Bird on a Wire", they started playing "Lake Michigan" and stopped in mid-song. Apparently, when Rogue set his guitar down to play drums he set it in such a manner that the entire thing went out of tune. He told the crowd he loved playing "Lake Michigan" too much to not play it right. He fixed the problem and they started over from scratch. Things were moving along splendidly until Gram LeBron somehow knocked the cord from Rogue's guitar completely out of the amp. So instead of being out of tune he was now completely out of sound. Replete with enthusiasm, the gaff was laughed off and the band played on.

DC (11:30pm): Rogue Wave finished their set and left the stage so everyone could clap really loud, hoot, and, of course, holler. I, unfortunately, had to head for the exit if I didn't want to feel exhausted the entire next day at work. As I was leaving I heard the decibel level rise which told me they had returned but I have no idea what they played for the encore. Since the pizzanini was still treating me well, I decided to forego Mr. Ben's chili and instead just headed home straight down Vermont Ave. (This probably isn't the world's safest walk alone at this time of night. However, if I've reached the stage that I'm leaving a rock concert early so I don't feel tired at work the next day, well, my best days are already behind me.) I'm not so sure I like the 9:30 Club as much as the Black Cat, though I'm also not sure it's all that fair to compare the two. They're just too different. The boring interior of the 9:30 Club is matched only by its ugly facade. That aside, it's a pretty great place. The sound is nice, the drinks are rather accessible, and just being there makes you feel like you're seeing something important. Maybe that stems from all my days listening to All Songs Considered live podcasts that are usually streamed straight from the club's stages. But mostly, I think it's because you usually are seeing something important. Huge acts have passed through this place and if you check out the upcoming schedule you'll see that's not coming to an end any time soon.

Chicago (1:20am): It's over an hour into Saturday, Schubas back room is packed, and the server in black still hasn't thrown in the towel. She's the best. The band closed out their set in a similar fashion to what I saw on Wednesday. Zach Rogue then came back and played an acoustic song followed by the rest of the band joining him on stage for a moving rendition of "California". We called it a night soon thereafter and once walking outside, and seeing Belmont laid out before me, I realized I was starving. Schubas doesn't have a food window or pizzaninis. We hit up El Presidente's which is open 24 hours, 7 days a week including holidays. It was terrible as always, but I did have the distinct pleasure of sitting next to a table of drunk morons. After one of them ordered, he looked at the waitress and said "por favor" and proceeded to crack up. He then turned to his friends and said, "Hey, I once dated an Argentinian girl. I know my Spanish lingo!" Yeah, "por favor" is not really Spanish lingo as much as it's their language. Maybe I should have introduced this guy to Shuh-nell.

Side note: Last Saturday, countless independent record stores across the country recognized "Record Store Day". To celebrate the occasion, I stepped in Reckless Records in Wicker Park to do some shopping (I picked up Destroyer This Night and a used copy of The Jesus Lizard's Goat) and who happened to be there putting on an acoustic show? Rogue Wave, of course! They played for about an hour and I heard a few songs for the third time in four days. What a great couple of days. Chicago, I hope to see you again soon.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The New Pornographers, Okkervil River--The 9:30 Club, Washington, DC

The New Pornographers and Okkervil River have received considerable attention on this site so it's no suprise when word spread that they were touring together a collective "Hooray!" was heard outside our Chicago office at 1632 N. Jay Bennett Dr. I was also rather pleased when I saw my relocation to the District wouldn't prevent me from taking this show in. I swaggered north up Vermont Ave to the 9:30 Club and was almost taken aback by how eerily quiet and desolate everything seemed on the way. Then, I turned the corner, saw the fabled yet unassuming venue and was taken aback by the menacing line meandering from the door. Actually there were two lines: one for will call and the other for those already with tickets. Good thing I was hooked up with will call because that line was considerably shorter and the show was set to begin in five minutes. That line of thinking didn't last long as I made my way up to the front and realized once you were handed your ticket you had to go to the end of the other line. Wait in two long lines? You serious?

They were serious. I saw a few Henry Hills jump to the front of the admission line after getting their ticket but I didn't have the gall to do that. Not when I've only lived here a few weeks. (Give me a month or two and I'll be acting like a complete jerk.) By the time I made it to the threshold of the door I could already hear Will Sheff singing "The Presiden't Dead" from the inside. Come on, 9:30 Club. Two lines? Surely you jest. Hopefully things are more sane back in Chicago.

Upon winding down that song they segued immediately into "Black" which is just an incredible song from 2005's Black Sheep Boy. Sheff was more animated than I had ever seen him. At some point in the last couple of years he has really morphed into an incredible frontman. While I was noticing this, I also noticed that Jonathan Meiburg wasn't on hand for the evening. I'm assuming he's tending to Shearwater duties. His replacement (I'm not sure who it was) did a noble job, but it didn't quite feel the same without Meiburg. And, as most of you already know, Brian Cassidy is not around for this current tour and has been temporarily replaced by Charles Bissell of the Wrens. Bissell's most notable contribution, besides his comb-over, was an eerie guitar intro into "It Ends With a Fall" which was the only song they played from Down the River of Golden Dreams.

After Sheff, Bissell, and Scott Brackett guided the bit-too-noisy crowd through "A Stone" the rest of the band returned, settled in, and started to play most of the rockers from The Stage Names. A few years ago I certainly never would have envisioned an Okkervil River concert with so many classic-rock handclaps, but hey, I like it! After getting "A Girl in Port" out of the way, they played "Our Life Is Not a Movie...", "Unless It's Kicks" and "You Can't Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man" in no particular order. Travis Nelsen on drums was in normal form. He's hilarious. I understand what Brian was saying about James from Saved By the Bell but I'm sticking with the Animal comparison.

The most electric part of their set was when they played "For Real" which started right in the intermediate guitar solo before going right back to the beginning of the song. It's pretty amazing how that song often sounds even spookier live than on the album. And it has a lyric right in the middle of the song that I've always really enjoyed.

After playing less than an hour, they laid into inevitable show closer "Westfall" (only track played from Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See) and brought it to a thundering end. They thanked the crowd and left to a pretty loud reception from the 9:30 crowd. This may have been the least memorable Okkervil River show I have seen (to be fair, most other times I saw them they were headlining), but it was still fantastic and fun to watch everyone in the crowd soak them up.

The 9:30 Club is very punctual. At 9:30 the lights dimmed which signaled time for some Canadian power pop. The New Pornographers have to be the only band where it feels like some game of indie roulette as they emerge onto the stage. You never know who's going to be there! When I saw them at the Metro last October and realized everyone was in attendance, which included Dan Bejar and Neko Case, I felt like yelling out "Bingo!" So as they walked on stage I was being pretty attentive (I already knew Mr. Destroyer was absent) and saw the only red hair belonged to Carl Newman. Later he told us that Case was actually on the current tour but was incredibly sick and they had to sacrifice an evening. Looks like we were the lambs. On the bright side, it was announced that it was Newman's birthday. Hopefully someone kindly gets him an opaque t-shirt as a gift. Honestly, get a bra on that guy! If I have to spend an evening with Carl Newman's breasts one more damn time...

To be honest, I didn't really care that Case wouldn't be playing. I had seen them before without her and I know Kathryn Calder can more than hold down the fort when Case is absent. They opened with, ummm, who the hell remembers.....something fun and from Challengers. (I think it was "All Things That Go That Make Heaven and Earth".) After some more Challengers, "Jackie Dressed in Cobras" was touched on and the evening was in full swing. And I've never seen a group of people look more Canadian than the New Pornographers. They all looked like they hadn't seen sunlight since last July. I hope their tour is heading down south soon.

They did a pretty good job of spreading the joy and attention to all four of their albums with the highlight for me being the title track from Challengers with Calder doing the lead vocals. Around this time someone in the crowd yelled, "I love you synthesizer girl!" Hey, me too! More fun was had with "Twin Cinema", "The Laws Have Changed", and "Mystery Hours". After playing "The Bleeding Heart Show" (by the way, in the time it has taken you to read this article, I've earned a degree in rock journalism from University of Phoenix) the band exited the stage for the inevitable cheering and encore. I decided to leave because it was a week night and I am a working man. Plus, I wanted to beat the two lines on the way out. But as I was leaving they came back and started covering "Don't Bring Me Down" by ELO (and covered it very well, I might add) which made me stop in my tracks and enjoy what was on stage a little longer before exiting the 9:30 Club.

Quite a fantastic night. Not the best I've seen from both, but anytime you get to see two of your favorite bands on the same stage in the same evening (and it's not at some $250 summer festival) you know you've done well. I wanted to give more of an evaluation of the 9:30 Club but my late arrival and early departure didn't leave me much time to dissect the place. I am returning to the behemoth very soon so stayed tuned.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Bon Iver--Lakeshore Theater, Chicago, Illinois

(Our "No-Depression" guest writer returns after absorbing Bon Iver at the Lakeshore Theater.)

Bon Iver is derived from the French, meaning good winter. Poetic indeed, but rumor has it Justin Vernon’s moniker came from Northern Exposure, the loony TV show about a big city doctor practicing medicine in rural Alaska. In a particular episode, characters repeatedly greeted one another during winter with “Bon Hiver”. Convalescing from breakups with a girlfriend and a band, Vernon retreated to a hunting cabin in northwestern Wisconsin, finding inspiration and solitude in the countryside. There over the course of three months in the dead of winter he churned out the introspective album, For Emma, Forever Ago. Bon Iver released it sans sponsorship and caused rumblings on silly little music blogs. Jagjaguwar caught wind, signed him and gave it an official release in February.

Opening for Bon Iver was Josh Scott, a fidgety young man with perfectly mussed blonde hair. He filled the quietness of the theater in between songs with incomprehensible, blundering dialogue that to his credit was funny at times. He attacked the unsuspecting seated audience in the front row like a stand-up comedian, and even threw a few zingers Bon Iver’s way by playfully mispronouncing his name. An act that seemed a little salty at first became uncomfortably amusing. Oh and he sang a few songs with his electric guitar, too.

Bon Iver’s haunting, high-pitched voice evoked a sense of self-awareness and reflection. Impressive for this flannel-clad, lumberjack of a man to sing ninety percent of the time in falsetto - a sure sign of a secure man! Vernon’s wandering vocals were tethered nicely to the ground by simple almost tribal-like beats. The songs had direction. The pulsatile rhythm of “The Wolves (Act I and II)” mimicked a heart beating slowly as if calm and meditative, only to begin racing, fueled by anger and heartache. Depressing as it may seem, Vernon’s eerie voice at times morphed into a gentle cooing, giving the performance a distinct tinge of promise. Imagine a candle burning in a window on a dead cold night, lovers walking arm in arm through a snowstorm, or a groundhog seeing his naked shadow in front of millions on network TV. Bon Iver gave us something to hope for in this carefully orchestrated cold and darkness. It was the key difference between my reacting to his music by wanting to kill myself versus being hopeful for the coming of spring. At the end, Vernon’s support quietly left the stage leaving him alone, thawing us out with the last track of his album, “Re: Stacks” - it’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away/ your love will be/ safe with me. Whether it was the onset of hay season or an intensely fragile moment, Vernon graciously thanked the audience while wiping tears from his eyes.

--Audrey Wen

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Okkervil River--Buskirk-Chumley Theater, Bloomington, Indiana

The timing of this show was a bit inopportune: The NCAA men's basketball final was the same night, and it's Little 500 week in Bloomington, meaning that the kids say, "Fuck it all," and party from Sunday to Sunday. However, I didn't think there would be much overlap among fanbases, but I may have been wrong--the balcony at Buskirk-Chumley was strikingly empty for a band as acclaimed as Okkervil River.

Bloomington's own Kentucky Nightmare opened, sporting a two-guitar attack and super-slick drummer. They suffered a bit sound-wise, with the bass overwhelming everything--especially the vocals--a problem they rectified mid-set to reveal some inventive guitar interplay and clever, witty lyrics. They reminded me of There's Nothing Wrong With Love-era Built to Spill, and there's nothing wrong with that. I would see them again.

Howlin Rain, about whom I know nothing, was next, and I admit, I spent almost their entire set in the men's room and then in the beer line (the BBC Belgian Ale was so much better than the warm Heineken. By the time I got back to my seat Howlin Rain were about half-done with their closer, and my friend Mark was sitting there, agitated, head in hand. I asked what's the deal, and he launched a diatribe about how their set was "an exercise in mediocrity" and how he "couldn't concentrate on anything but the singer's bald spot." I think Howlin Rain gave Mark a migraine. Based on what little I saw and heard, I'm not terribly surprised: Howlin Rain struck me as a jam-band tryin not to be jam-band-y. I would not see them again.

Before Okkervil River came on, I was nervous--genuinely nervous. They're one of my favorite bands (after three or four beers I'd argue to anyone that Will Sheff is the greatest songwriter alive), their live show comes very highly recommended, and I had never seen them before, let alone in one of my favorite venues. (Plus, last time I was at Bus-Chum, I almost got into a fight because I "stole" someone's seat at a general admission show. Those dicks just didn't understand the rules: show up together, leave one at a time.) My mind raced. What if it sucks? What if it doesn't live up to the hype? But my trepidation was assuaged almost immediately. Sheff and the rest of the gang--including Charles Bissell of the Wrens, a nice treat--came onstage, full well raimented, and Sheff announced that this was "like, the eighth time we've played Bloomington." I guess that's a lot.

The band commenced with "The President's Dead" and segued into "Black" (to our tape-trading hippie readers: President's Dead > Black) with a couple efficient chord changes, and the concert had legs. Big legs. Big sweaty angry emo legs. Cobbling together a linear set list from this point on is impossible because the band did not break stride and took next to no time between songs for banter, wind-bag-y introductions, to provide provenance, or anything else. (In fact, the only time I remember Sheff directly addressing the crowd, other than to display gratitude, was to say, off-mic, to someone in the pit, "'Unless It's Kicks.' That was called 'Unless It's Kicks.'" Advice: If you're within earshot of the songwriter, know his songs' names.) Suffice it to say, the set was pretty breathlessly amazing, equal parts Black Sheep Boy and The Stage Names with a little Golden Dreams and Fall in Love for some color. Highlights included the aforementioned "Black" and "Unless It's Kicks", "John Allyn Smith Sails" (oddly less grand live than on wax), "So Come Back, I Am Waiting" (appropriately grander live than on wax).

The concert's towering centerpiece, however, was Sheff's rendition of "A Stone" (a personal favorite), with slight accompaniment from Bissell and Jonathan Meiburg. When Sheff keened, "And I think that I know the bitter dismay / of a lover who brought fresh bouquets every day / when she turned him away to remember some knave who once gave just one rose, / one day, / years ago", the crowd was rapt, silent. Not a thing could be heard except the floorboards creaking beneath Sheff's well-shod feet--as though the entire audience was holding its breath, hanging on every single utterance, every syllable and strum coming from center stage. Rarely have I witnessed anything as reverent. Eerily, the verse represents the moment: Of all the concerts I'll ever go to, I'm sure that these 30 seconds will stick out as some of the most memorable. Almost on par with "A Stone" was show-closer/murder ballad "Westfall", which saw every band member contributing backing vocals, backed away from their mics, rendering an already haunting song even more haunting.

Random notes:

Bissell is a pretty incredible guitarist in his own band, playing long, winding textural passages that give Wrens songs a high-sheen melancholy (cf. "She Sends Kisses"), and I was curious to see what he would do with Okkervil River's canon. The answer: nothing. He played it straight, and that's perfect--the most respectful thing he could've done.

Okkervil River wins the award for tallest average height. Sheff and bassist Patrick Pestorius are enormous. I saw Pestorius on the sidewalk before the show, and he made me feel small. I'm 6'3".

Speaking of gigantic personages, there was a kid on the floor who was like NQL Contributor Emeritus Jim x 3. Jim is a big, lummoxy, lovable fellow, but this chap made Jim look as graceful and poised as a ballet dancer. I saw him barely keep his balance while dancing shoeless, and lean into a high-five only to get poked in the eye. Poor guy. He appeared to be having fun, though.

Drummer Travis Nelsen looks like James, that character from Saved By the Bell that Zack hired to pose as a Harvard recruiter who only wanted to recruit Jessie in order to make her feel better after Zack scored a 1500 on his SAT and Jessie only got 1200. You remember. It's the one where James's fake mustache kept falling off in Mr. Belding's office--the only genuinely funny SBTB moment aside from when the gang pulled Mr. Carosi into all that mud at the Malibu Sands end-of-summer luau's tug-o-war contest. Oh brother. I'm laughing just thinking about it.

--Brian Herrmann

Friday, April 11, 2008

NQL Interviews Patrick Hallahan of My Morning Jacket

Chicago is no stranger to My Morning Jacket’s ability to "leave everything on the stage" during the nine plus years of traveling up Interstate 65 from the biggest city in Kentucky. As the Kentucky Derby and one the most anticipated albums of the summer are on the horizon, Louisville’s most famous drummer took some time to talk about Vishnu, limestone cuisine, Montel Jordan and the theft of Blossom’s Air Jordans.

NothingQuiteLike: I’ve seen you at the gym recently. So, now is the time to come clean, how much ya bench?

Patrick Hallahan: Right now I’m benching about 5 benches, 4 kittens, and a bean. On the elliptical machine, I’m running about 20,000 leagues. It’s all about getting stamina up for future touring.

NQL: It was just announced that you will be playing once again in the heralded "midnight slot" at Bonnaroo this year. Can you give us any hints as to how you plan to top your extremely awesome performance of two years ago?

PH: Hiring Vishnu to hover over the entire audience has proven to be a little out of our budget, so we’re going back to the drawing boards for the next bright idea. Other than that, we offer two years of rest, insight, and growth…who knows what the hell that will yield.

NQL: Does the band prepare itself differently for a festival appearance like Bonnaroo versus, let’s say, your upcoming 22-minute sold out performance at Radio City Music Hall in New York? If so, how?

PH: Every event is different in feel and meaning, and is treated as such. We love figuring out the spirit of the place and adapting our set list and/or stage to the occasion. There are few things better in life than getting that mixture perfect…

NQL: I believe the upcoming album, Evil Urges, is the first album that has all five members of My Morning Jacket returning from the previous album. What, if any, affect did this have in preparing and recording the new album?

PH: Stability. Comfort. Trust. All the things you need when creating an anchor for your next stretch.

NQL: Music critics often praise the band for the ability to constantly evolve its sound from album to album. Do you think that explains the bands viability and continued growth over the past few years. Additionally, what if anything, did you draw inspiration from in making Evil Urges.

PH: Each album is a measurement of where we are in our lives, and therefore it will always be different.

NQL: It seems like it has been an eternity, at least in My Morning Jacket touring years, since your performance at Lollapalooza last summer. Other than record/finalize Evil Urges, how have you occupied your time?

PH: I gave up street fighting, so I’ve been kinda restless. Lots of family time, cooking, exercising, listening to music, playing with two kittens my wife and I adopted from the humane society, missing playing live, and missing my boys. MY FRIENDS!

NQL: I can’t remember the band ever taking such an extended break in touring. And by doing so, the band made a conscious decision to forego having a show in Louisville for an indefinite period. As one proud Louisvillian to another, what would you say to those fans that are frustrated over not having a local show in over 15 months?

PH: WE LOVE LOUISVILLE. There was NEVER a "conscious decision to forego having a show in Louisville." We took time off, an album had to be made….end of story.

NQL: Since this music site is based out of Chicago, I seldom get the opportunity to talk about how proud I am of our hometown. When you are out touring, and someone asks you about Louisville, or to describe our city, what do you tell them?

PH: I usually say "it’s a city that doesn’t know if it’s northern or southern, rural or urban, and therefore has it’s own identity." People from Louisville are proud citizens, and those who visit pick up on that immediately.

NQL: My Morning Jacket has always seemed to have the support of the Chicago music fan. Is there a specific show that you remember in Chicago and why?

PH: We’ve played Chicago so many times it’s not even funny, and each one is amazing in it’s own way. There are certain cities that BRING IT every time, and Chi-town is among the best. Plus, Louisville and Chicago have had a special bond for the last 20 years. Our music scenes have lived harmoniously. Ps: Thanks Touch and Go/Quarterstick.

NQL: Waterworld was a critical and commercial failure--one of the worst of all time. However, with age and further consideration, the film presents a particularly cogent view of our possibly dystopic near-future. If you had to, could you grow gills? That first liquid breath would be tough, but after that I bet it would be gravy.

PH: I’m pretty adaptable, Matt. I would desperately try to grow gills, but if that wasn’t going so smoothly, I’d call my old friend, Ed Harris, and see about getting that oxidized red liquid they used in The Abyss for deep sea diving.

NQL: Morgan Freeman is president. Tea Leoni is the most trusted face in cable broadcast news. Two meteors--the smaller one cleaved off the larger one in a failed attempt to avert cataclysm--are hurtling toward earth and you've just been selected to live out the two-year nuclear winter in an elaborate series of caves in the limestone beneath Missouri--but you can only take with you that which you can carry. What do you pack?

PH: I over pack for anything I do, so I’d try to fit in: my wife (unless she could come too, then we’d split the payload), my kitchen aid (for making delicious limestone cuisine….see ya, teeth), my toothbrush (only one, though, since I’ll be eating limestone), dentures with reinforced chompers, Super Polygrip® to hold those badboys to my gums, Kombucha tea, my camera, pictures of my family and friends, and probably a few bottles of vodka…being trapped in a cave system for 2 years would really suck.

NQL: You are back in the old conversion van on tour, and you’re sitting in shotgun. You get to choose an album for each member (including yourself) that you feel either encompasses that person or their musical tastes, what would be played. Feel free to elaborate.

PH: Bo: Boyz II Men "Phillihighharmony"
Carl: Third Base "Pop Goes The Weasel"
Two-Tone Tommy: Montel Jordan "This Is How We Do It"
Jim: Rick Astley…entire catalogue…with matching dance moves
Patrick: Public Enemy "Apocalypse ’91"

NQL: It’s no secret among that you and Jim have been friends since you were little kids. Could you tell the fans something they might be surprised to know about him or your guys’ childhood? Additionally, did you ever have that "aha" moment growing up where you knew that you two would become rock stars? If so, when?

PH: Let’s see…we were kids that grew up right down the street from eachother. We enjoyed video games, playing outside, listening to music, spending the night at friends’ houses, making bike ramps, lighting fireworks, hoopin’ it up, being awkward, building forts, causing what we thought was "trouble," having Little Debbie® eating contests, lighting fires, and smelling like outside. Completely different than any other childhood.

I think my first "aha" moment was when….oh wait, that hasn’t happened.

One regret: we lived right around the corner from Scott Carney and didn’t even know it. How the hell did that happen??? Oh well, we’re making up for lost time now. We have a date with secret the bike track near Bradford Grove in one hour.

NQL: I know you are now a married man. However, assuming that wasn’t the case back in 1992, where you more of a Six guy or did you like your girls in Air Jordan like Blossom?

PH: I need substance, not vacancy. Blossom…but I’d steal her Air Jordans while she was sleeping, and burn that hat. Maybe then, just then, I could jump over a campfire without burning my ass.

--Matt Farra

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Vampire Weekend--Turner Hall, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I’m always a bit wary about going to all ages shows. Although I’ve only legally been allowed to step foot inside of a bar for about two years now, there is nothing I hate more than going to a show full of obnoxious, text-messaging, chatty little high school kids. Call me an ageist, call me whatever you want, it’s the honest truth.

Despite this concern, my unabashed love of Vampire Weekend led me to attend their Milwaukee show on Saturday, as their Chicago show on Sunday at the Metro sold out in roughly five seconds. Yes, Vampire Weekend, that little band that no one had ever heard of a year ago and is now in daily rotation on MTV, modern rock radio, and selling out venues in cities they’ve never been to before.

Case in point: Milwaukee. After driving around looking for parking for twenty minutes and finally giving in and paying $10 to the disgruntled employees of a public lot, I realized that downtown Milwaukee is pretty similar to Chicago. Walking inside the gothic-looking Turner Hall, (fun fact: it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1996), I noticed another similarity: hipsters, hipsters, and more hipsters, all of who made themselves front and center for opening band, Yacht.

Now, when I say “band,” what I really mean is one guy, a microphone, and a MacBook. With an arsenal of repetitive dance beats, Yacht aka Jona Bechtolt, threw his skinny body around the stage, bopping his head, swaying his arms, and shaking his hips as best as any twenty-seven year old white guy can attempt to do. I don’t know when one guy with a Napoleon Dynamite overbite dancing to prerecorded beats became eligible to be deemed “music,” but apparently no one sent me the memo. I guess the teenaged hipsters got the message though, because their enthusiasm near matched Bechtolt’s. You’d think that someone was holding a dance contest for a lifetime supply of PBR there were that many mustached faces and scrawny American Appareled figures flailing about.

Thankfully, Bechtolt’s set only lasted thirty mortifying minutes, coming to a close around 8:45. With only Vampire Weekend left to play, it dawned on me that this show was going to end extremely early. It was at that point that I started to feel about forty-three instead of twenty-three, and it probably didn’t help that everyone standing in the vicinity of me was barely old enough to vote. About thirty minutes later, the boys of Vampire Weekend nonchalantly strolled on-stage, politely said “Hello,” and kicked off their set with the boppy “Mansard Roof,” the first track from their Self-Titled debut.

Vampire Weekend’s pleasant mannerisms were unfortunately not reflected in the demeanor of the young crowd. They pushed, they shoved, they jumped, they sang louder than Vampire Weekend singer, Ezra Koenig. I had every intention of staying in my spot a few feet back from the barrier, but one can only take so much before they’re forced to step to the side of the unruly crowd. Plus, it was hot as hell. Somebody tell Turner Hall to invest in a proper ventilation system, seriously.

Once I stepped out of the crowd, I was able to really enjoy Vampire Weekend’s set. They played every song from their debut album, as well as the b-side “Ladies of Cambridge.” Classics like “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” “Campus,” and “M79” killed it. Introducing hit single, “A-Punk,” Koenig told the crowd that if they were going to dance to any song, this one was the easiest. The dancing didn’t let up and the whole room seemed to form one writhing mass of waving hands and shaking heads in front of the stage. During “One (Blake’s Got A New Face),” the crowd’s penchant for loud singing paid off as Koenig asked them to sing back the refrain “Blake’s got a new face” to him. They complied and their voices rang out in unison inside the cavernous Turner Hall.

A mere hour after their set started, Vampire Weekend walked off-stage, waited about thirty seconds, and walked back to their spots. Koenig addressed the crowd, telling them that because they have one album out, they only had one remaining song to play from it. That song was “Walcott,” a whirling dervish of a track that closed the night out perfectly with its bouncy keys and catchy chorus about getting the hell out of Cape Cod. As I walked out of Turner Hall nearly four minutes later among all the wide-eyed teenagers, I couldn’t help but wonder when I stopped wanting to go to shows where people jumped and pushed and sang loudly and when I started to be more interested in actually hearing the band I paid money to see. Although I don’t miss being a teenager, I realized that I miss the enthusiasm that teenagers feel at shows, their unbridled eagerness to be as close as possible to the band that they love. That being said though, I’m still going to think twice before attending another all ages show.

--Anna Deem

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Les Savy Fav--The Black Cat, Washington, DC

Walking solo to a club to check out a band I think is the mark of official citizenry, so one and half weeks into my DC tenure I finally feel like a resident. Red Carino's Spaghetti Slingers' shirt in tow, my immigration took me over to the Black Cat to check out Les Savy Fav. The Black Cat is an almost straight shot up 14th Street from where I live so it was a quick 15 minute walk. (To give you a bit of a visual of my new neighborhood, there is a Whole Foods on nearby P Street. I've noticed west of the Whole Foods are upscale restaurants and bars. On the east side there, uhhh, aren't. I, of course, live on the east side of the great gentrifier.) The Black Cat opened in 1993 and Dave Grohl is one of the founders. They have coat check, although I didn't get a price. And that's mostly because I was scared away by the woman behind the counter who didn't like my needling questions since I didn't even have a coat. (It was over 60 degrees.) Attached to the venue is the Red Room which has a cafe that serves primarily vegetarian food. Oh, brother. I'm not in Chicago anymore. I can hear the 3lb. meatloaf at Schubas' Harmony Grill laughing at me.

Awesome show! I'm a bit drunk! Who's up for a carrot?!

Inside the venue is rather awesome. It's dark and mangy and reminds me a lot of the Double Door. And there are two long bars that line each side of the club. I grabbed a seat along the bar on the right side and was pretty close to the stage to check out the Dodos of San Francisco who were the first opening act. I just heard of these guys pretty recently but I was very impressed. I wish I knew the name of their songs because whatever tune they opened with was fantastic. They're a duo (although every once in awhile some third dude would jump on stage and play something) and they play pretty long-winded, psychedelic pop songs. But it's really good. And by really good, I mean today I considered walking around to find a record store to pick up their album Visiter. (Is there a good record store near Logan Circle? Someone help me out here.) I think these guys are going to be big soon. Or maybe they already are big. Who the hell even knows anymore.

Being a bartender at the Black Cat would be a pretty great job if you like live music. They're pretty close to the stage instead of being shoved in the back like at most music venues. In fact, we were so close I needed some earplugs. I ordered a Budweiser ($4 in a bottle) and asked about earplugs. The bartender directed me to go downstairs to some old machine that he said only took quarters. Hey, this sounds interesting, follow me!

On the way downstairs I was checking out the crowd and it was about 80% male and 20% was of the caliber that nearly made me wish it was 100% male. Yeah, not good. Memo to cute girls in DC (if you even exist): You're allowed to like rock music. And you're allowed to go to rock shows. Keep that in mind.

I found the earplug machine downstairs and it was one of those old school candy machines that takes a quarter, requires a turn of the knob, and a prize comes out of some rusty slide. It was next to some rip off Runts and Spree machines. I thought this was great except the machine didn't work. It would not take my quarters, but what it would do is make me look like a complete jackass while I tried to play with it for 15 minutes. I finally conceeded and bought some of the rip off Runts and luckily got two bananas that I could stick in my ears. (If anyone else had this problem, and you're experiencing any sort of tinnitus, please contact me. I'm thinking of some sort of class action lawsuit against the Black Cat.) I went upstairs to the bar on the opposite side and the woman behind the bar was nice enough to hook me up with some ear plugs. However, now the place was packed and I was pushed so far back from the stage I didn't even need them anymore. I love irony even when it screws me.

The Big Sleep (also of French Kiss Records, just like the Dodos and Les Savy Fav) of Brooklyn were up next. I loved that movie when I saw it 8 years ago in film as art class so I was expecting big things. They're a long-haired trio that employs a very classic rock/dream pop sound with big guitars and very few vocals. Either James Iha or a girl was handling bass duties...I'm pretty sure it was the latter, but remember, I was pretty far away at this point and in no position to make the call. (In fact, a google image search demonstrates that she doesn't even remotely look like James Iha. Apologies to both...I really need to start getting closer to the stage.) It's safe to say that I really like this band in the same way that I like a band like Black Mountain. More intelligent and bearable than just some bland stoner rock, their songs keep your attention even when in the midst of a repeated chorus or long guitar solo. Give their track "Pinkies" a listen to see what I mean. Why don't we go ahead and chisel in the faces of Danny Barria, Sonya Balchandani, and Gabe Rhodes alongside Raymond Chandler and Humphrey Bogart in the Mount Rushmore of big sleepers.

For those that read our 2007 year in review (and most of you did, as it won several Pulitzers) you may remember Les Savy Fav's latest record Let's Stay Friends popping up frequently in our contributors' top records of the year. It was more than well deserved as I have yet to grow tired of it. But more importantly, I had yet to see these guys live and that's the whole point of Les Savy Fav, isn't it? That's what I've always heard. I also knew hanging out in a section of the Black Cat that allowed me to confuse an earlier performer with an early 90s alt-rock hero of a different sex was unacceptable. Time to move to the front. This was much easier than I thought it would be. I made my way down the right side of the room and found a place right by the stage (and right by the stage-right speakers...the once unneeded courtesy earplugs turned out to be a huge score. Thank you Black Cat staff, I will call off the class-action suit.)

Before I knew the band was even on stage I heard some odd, slightly incoherent yammering coming from the speakers. There I saw incomparable lead singer Tim Harrington sitting on the stage droning into the microphone about space ships, presidential assassinations, the Shirt Tales, and god knows what else. Before I knew it the rest of the band was on stage and they thrashed into "The Equestrian" from the aforementioned Let's Stay Friends. If that song is not your idea of a good time please kindly leave this site and don't return. And, yes, the rumors are true...Harrington is an absolute maniac! He was all over the place, running around in the crowd, screaming into the microphone, etc. I can tell this already good night is going to morph into a fantastic one. And I would be remiss to not mention Harrington's legendary attire which at first featured jeans and a very innocuous sweater but was converted into a shirt-bra within 30 seconds. (I just, to no avail, scoured through countless images of women in bras looking for a good shirt-bra picture to help out with the visual. I will look again for another couples of hours, but you all know what I mean by shirt-bra, right?) For a majority of the show the top-heavy lead singer was running around without a shirt on. It reminded me of that classic SNL skit with Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze trying out for Chippendales...with Harrington obviously playing the part of Farley. And I am right now picturing a great re-enactment of this skit. We already found the part of Farley. How about Kevin Barnes for the Swayze role? Perfect! Hey PitchforkTV, give me a call...we'll make this happen!

Latest album favorite "Patty Lee" (here is a pretty good video that captures both the song and Harrington in all his glory) was hit up next, followed by "What Would Wolves Do?" The band then settled into a lot of oldies but goodies from Inches and Go Forth. Each song was usually proceeded by an often hilarious apocalyptic monologue by Harrington. His other antics continued and the band was with him every step of the way. Harrison Haynes' drumming was the show I expected it to be, and bassist Syd Butler seemed to bring some sanity to the evening when he would speak into the microphone and actually make sense. If my memory isn't betraying me, I recall especially enjoying "Reprobate's Resume" and "Raging in the Plague Age" which were played towards the end of the evening. The Black Cat crowd was great, too. I was left with the sense that most in attendance have been with the band going back to the 3/5 days. Everyone did a good job of reciprocating the overflowing energy that was emanating from the stage. And to help Harrington with his constant wardrobe changes, people were more than willing to offer up a hat, flip-flop, and even a pair of glasses.

I don't really remember any of the encores just that they were loud (I was still standing right by the speaker) and abrasive. When they finally left the stage, I gathered up my equilibrium from the floor and headed downstairs to the Red Room for some drinks. Let me just say this about the Black's an incredible venue and I really look forward to returning. I have a date with the 9:30 Club very soon so I'll be able to compare and contrast what seem to be the two big spots in town, but so far, DC is off to a good start.

If any of you wonder what it's like going to shows by yourself (in Chicago I lived near plenty of venues that fed my appetite so I'm an old hand at this) it's not as bad as you would think. Sometimes I would get bored and leave early if the band on stage wasn't keeping my attention. But most times I would get adopted by another group of people or find someone to chat up. And by the time I left Chicago, if I was at a show and wasn't in the company of friends I would typically see familiar faces, be it other concert goers or venue staff, that I never even thought twice about it. I have forgotten more of the shows than I vividly remember, but I do know that some of the best nights of my life have been spent at some dark and sweaty rock club with some band on stage that would usually only register with 1% of the general population. That's family, that's camaraderie, that's everything. I feel like I'm starting over now in DC but I think that can be a good thing. So let me end with a quick message to the District: I am here, this is going to be fun, let us do this.


Friday, April 4, 2008

Interview: Ben Swanson, Secretly Canadian Label Head

Ben Swanson, who runs Secretly Canadian with his brother Chris and friend Jonathan Cargill, took time from his hectic schedule to dish on the label's history, its day-to-day operations, its philosophy, and its unsung heroes; to hint at what's in store in the coming year; and to profess his love for Prince and the one-hit-wonders of the 1980s.

Nothing Quite Like: When did you decide to start a label (in your mind, not on a timeline), and when did you realize it would be viable long-term? For readers who don't know, would you give a brief history of Secretly Canadian?

Ben Swanson: I was in high school in Fargo, North Dakota. My older brother, Chris, had moved to Bloomington to attend IU a couple years earlier and began working at the college station, WIUS (now WIUX). He kept sending back all this great new music that was barely available in Fargo.

This was 1994/95/96, so finding independent music was still something of a treasure hunt. I was getting ready to graduate, and knew I needed to get out of Fargo and do something; really anything, I was just really restless in Fargo--I'm not sure if it's a product of a just having grown up there, or the over-riding sense that you're honestly in the middle of nowhere with little hope of making any sort of impact outside the immediate region. Somewhere along the line Chris met Jonathan Cargill (they worked together in a dormitory cafeteria) and Eric Weddle (at WIUS) and the idea was floated to start a label. We had no idea how, just knew there were all these great bands in Bloomington being overlooked. Eventually in the summer of '96 I moved out to Bloomington and we went to work.

Eric eventually left to start his own Family Vineyard label; it was totally amicable, and we're still very much friends.

NQL: What's a typical day for you? For the label? What's the general vibe in your office?

BS: I usually get up and check email before work. I come to work, check email all day. That's the bulk of it. Going to shows, etc., is obviously huge…this sounds really boring…basically it's a lot of logistics, putting together marketing plans, having publicity meetings, talking (with) bands, booking agents, etc…the vibe is pretty loose here, there's 10 of us in the Label Department (we have 5 companies run out of this office); everyone comes in between 9-9:30 and leaves around 6-8pm…We have a great staff, everyone works super hard and is a lot of fun to hang out with.

NQL: I've always been curious about the A&R process. Can you provide some insight? Do you actively recruit, or do you receive/listen to demos, or some combination of the two?

BS: Pretty much a combination of the two, it usually starts with seeing a show or hearing some sort of music. I can't think of an instance where we received a demo and got so stoked that we wanted to begin working with the band…usually if something (piques) our interest we get in touch with the band and go from there. It's a lot of dialogue, as we like to work really closely with our artists.

NQL: What was the first major success for SC? Conversely, what do you think should've caught on but didn't? What zeitgeist-y album failed to garner the attention it deserved? Personally, I think Marmoset should be indie-normous.

BS: Our first success was definitely Songs: Ohia. Putting out that first 7” and album opened a lot of doors for us, especially (with regard to) distribution.

I agree, Marmoset never received the love they deserved, I think they're the biggest heartbreaker. It's been fun watching how their records have sort of grown into the subconscious in a very small way. We get emails all the time professing their love for Marmoset. They're our Lungfish.

NQL: Is there a label-wide aesthetic you try to adhere to, some golden thread that connects the artists on your roster with one another? I'm not claiming to have heard SC's entire catalog, but the gulf between Antony and the Johnsons and Catfish Haven is pretty vast. Or do you consciously try to avoid being pigeonholed as, say, "the lo-fi label from Indiana?"

BS: I think the only thing we really try to ground ourselves in, is asking ourselves "Is this a record or artist we'll want to listen to in 20 years?"

NQL: You've had long-standing partnerships with countless artists, and I have never heard of anyone leaving your fold amid acrimony. What do you do to cultivate such fruitful relationships? What's your underlying philosophy?

BS: It goes back to the A&R process I think. When we work with an artist, we become 50/50 partners with them. It's us against the world, and we really strive to provide the best, most sustainable home for our artists. We have so many long dialogues about this partnership before beginning to work with and artist, and it's not for everyone--which is fine. For us it needs to be grounded in that core idea for it to work; and I think it minimizes a lot of awkward dialogues later on down the line.

NQL: How do you balance the needs of the business (i.e., making money) with artistic freedom? You can't put creativity on a timetable, but there has to come a time where the interested parties say "enough perfectionism." Are artists as eager to get their material out there as you are?

BS: There's no hard and fast rule. Our core principal is to make these projects sustainable. It doesn't do anyone any good to invest a ton of money in something if it doesn't make sense financially. Sure we have our loss leaders, but it's part of a bigger picture. And we take risks for sure, but they're calculated…I guess it's always a balancing act between a sustainable budget and total artistic freedom.

Personally I don't believe an unlimited budget provides (artistic) freedom. The best art is made adhering to certain parameters; be it financial, conceptual, timing, or whatever. Usually it's a combination of these and a myriad of other things. In most cases, loosing the financial constraints necessitates a tighter control over the focus/concept/ideas behind the project for it to be artistically/culturally successful.

NQL: With the Internet being a vehicle for self-releasing, how do you sell an artist the idea that the benefits of being on a label outweigh any risks or encumbrances? Of course some artists choose to remain staunch in their independence, but would you say that most eventually want to land label support? Do you ever see an end to the morass of self-released music on myspace, for example? Or is this just the evolution of a kid in his basement with a boombox, a guitar, and a bad microphone? What happened to quality control? Just because you can make music doesn't mean you should make music.

BS: I think most artists still want a solid home for support. Sure it's easier to self-release a record digitally, though it's more difficult (than) it has been in the last 10 years to self-release a record physically. Financial support aside, the single most important thing a label provides is context. Whenever I talk about records with people, the first or second question that's invariably asked is "What label are they on?" Instantly you're given a shorthand into what an artist is all about, much like "Sounds like so-and-so mixed with so-and-so."

NQL: Simplistically stated, Dead Oceans sprang from a distribution partnership coupled with common passions and creative impulses. Now it seems like every few weeks a new buzz-album comes out on DO, yet all are wildly different. What's your secret?

BS: Dead Oceans has been fun because it's been starting a label from scratch, but allowing us to play the game of "if I only knew then what I know now." Obviously it has a leg up because DO has a built in staff, distribution infrastructure, etc. But mostly it's Phil Waldorf, the GM of Dead Oceans. He does the A&R, and we have many long discussions about it, but it's pretty much his label to shape.

NQL: Does SC have any tricks up its sleeve for the rest of '08? What are you most looking forward to this year?

BS: Lots of stuff, it's crazy. SC specifically has three new bands that I'm super excited about: Seattle's Throw Me The Statue (have) gotten some good momentum in Seattle, but it's been exciting introducing them to the rest of the world.

Philadelphia's The War on Drugs just made the most classic record out of the gate, I can't get it out of my car stereo…I'm stoked for people to hear it.

LA's Bodies of Water: their first record did very well, especially for being self-released, we're definitely excited to put out their second record. They have to be the sweetest bunch of people on the face of the planet as well.

Antony's new record should come out this year, which will be amazing to work on again. He's such a genius. We also have David Vandervelde, new Damien Jurado, Frida Hyv√∂nen, Catfish Haven and a slew of others…that's just SC…

NQL: If you weren't running a venerable independent record label, what would you be doing? If I weren't a low-level employee of a large public university, I'll tell you what I'd be doing: astronaut. NASA already asked me once, but I was on tour with Phish at the time, and grilled cheeses were selling like hotcakes.

BS: I have no idea…probably something computer oriented or something with sustainability. Maybe move to Guatemala and become a bum.

NQL: What era or movement in pop music is your favorite? I hesitate to make any assumptions based on what your label releases.

BS: Mid-80's is so good. Talking Heads, Prince (PRINCE!!@#!!), Madonna, New Order, Guns N' Roses, INXS. It's the era of THE HOOK. The hook was everywhere, even in bad music. Like Phil Collins, he's easy to rip on, but the dude had HOOKS. He'll get in your brain like no one's business, and I have an immense amount of respect for that. There's all the one-hit-wonders too…I'm a total sucker for a good hook…

NQL: Who are your stand-by artists, the ones you put on and every time make you be like, "Yeah."

BS: PJ Harvey through To Bring You My Love (majorly disappointed with everything afterwards; those early records are some of the most raw and perfect pieces I've ever heard).

Talking Heads: Remain in Light is, what, 25 years old? (It's almost 28. --Ed.) It still sounds like it's from the future.

NQL: What are your favorite SC releases? The record-buying public, I think, recognizes that everyone has favorites--even label heads.

BS: You're right it's hard to choose, I have favorites at different times. Windsor For The Derby's We Fight Til Death is a total classic I keep coming back to regardless of mood and was generally underappreciated. I can't say that's my favorite though.

NQL: What are your hobbies outside of music? Do you even have time for hobbies?

BS: Hanging out with my lady and our dog. Obsessing over our house, trying--often in vain--to fix things…Playing music (we have a band together)…

NQL: What do you like most about Bloomington?

BS: I love that it's a small town, but there's enough to do where you never get bored. I couldn't live in a big city for very long, but I get bored easily…

NQL: Bloomington's population is largely transient, and at the same time there's a thriving arts culture. What effect do you think this transience has on the local artistic landscape?

BS: It's hard, it ebbs and flows…I think because of that it's difficult for a good infrastructure to be developed, the momentum is just so erratic…

NQL: Would you consider yourself a townie? I've heard different criteria for what constitutes a townie. Someone told me that you're not a townie if you're affiliated with IU (even spousally), but my understanding of townie has always been "lives there but isn't a student," ergo, I am a proud townie. What's your take? What are your criteria? Or is townie a reductive, offensive, bourgeois term that should be stricken from our lexicon?

BS: I'm not sure, I think I'm slowly becoming a townie…but then you go to the hospital or Spencer or something and you realize what a bubble you live in.

NQL: Morgan Freeman is president. Tea Leoni is most trusted face in cable broadcast news. Two meteors--the smaller one cleaved off the larger one in a failed attempt to avert cataclysm--are hurtling toward earth and you've just been selected to live out the two-year nuclear winter in an elaborate series of caves in the limestone beneath Missouri--but you can only take with you that which you can carry. What do you pack?

BS: My lady and dog.

NQL: Are you hiring? I personally know one enterprising young go-getter with a can-do attitude, a liberal arts degree, a background in writing and book publishing, and gumption to spare.

BS: Haha, we're not currently hiring but tend to have something open up every couple months…

--Brian Herrmann
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