Monday, June 30, 2008

Album Review: Girl Talk

Girl Talk
Feed the Animals
NQL Rating: You'll probably like it.

When the opening track mixes “Nothing Compares to U” to a rapper chanting "I was gettin’ some head, yeah, I was gettin’ some head" you had better strap in for the ride. Mix Ace of Base’s “All That You Want” with the Band’s “the Weight” with a dab of “Footloose” and Beastie Boys and that’s only ten percent of what makes track three. It’s downright schizophrenic. I can’t focus. I need Ritalin.

Mash-up DJ, Gregg Gillis, a.k.a. Girl Talk, carefully crafted this splendid blender of a delight as a follow-up to 2006’s Night Ripper. Feed the Animals is aptly named, if you’ve ever seen this man live and the flocks that he shepherds. His performances/dance parties are often known for Gillis having crowds dancing with him on stage, and he, in an only natural response to his all-out drenching sweat, strips and ends shows mixing in the buck. He is the anti-anti-perspirant. And I love that less than two years ago he was working in a lab as a biochemical engineer.

This album combines the whimsical with pure badassness, and dares not traverse the ocean that lies between. Top forty songs from before you were born to the present, flitting about one after another anchored by infectious hiphop beats. The sample from a song may be only seconds long, but you know what it’s from. And the second you finally place it, you are already ten samples behind. It’s exhausting, but it also makes you realize how much different music you have been exposed to over your lifetime. I got particularly revved up when Journey, Earth Wind and Fire and Ol’ Dirty Bastard made their cameos. I got a little pre-pukey with Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want To Wait”. (But it also reminded me of how much I loved that show when I was in college). Kelly Clarkson got some extended PT with “Since U Been Gone”. Gladly I report that “Unwritten” did not make the cut. There may even be a mix of Public Enemy and Elvis Costello in there, but then again you may be too preoccupied to notice.

I’ve never understood why Mr. Talk bothers with actual tracks because Feed the Animals is one forty-five minute nonstop dancefest, just like those that came before it. There is no break between the tracks, nor is there really any discernible difference to each of the tracks. I felt silly listening to this at a modest volume while sitting at my computer. I should be blasting it, getting sweaty and naked, feeding the inner beast. Then again maybe I was, but no one will ever know because that’s the beauty of living alone. This is a party essential, and its timely release makes it prime to conquer backyard boozers across the nation this summer. It’s free if you want to be like me and ignore any fiscal accountability to the artist (I clicked the “I might donate later” box when asked why I chose not to donate money for the album download). Although I think I like Night Ripper more at this point, but that's purely because this mishmash style was a novelty to me when I first heard it. I thought Girl Talk was pure genius for mixing the Pharcyde with Elton John in Night Ripper. I probably haven’t allowed Feed the Animals enough playtime to let it seep into my consciousness and land in its final resting place on my personal ranklist. Nevertheless, this is fun and you should get your head checked if you don’t get dancey to this.

P.S. I think we may have an early frontrunner for album cover of the year with Feed the Animals. I mean, Girl Talk’s initials scrawled in flames across the front lawn of a vinyl-sided home in suburbia? C’mon!!!

--Audrey Wen

July Shows in Chicago

Tues 7/01
The Cruciforms, Crystal Antlers @ Empty Bottle 9pm

RZA @ House of Blues 8pm

Wed 7/02
Dysrhythmia, American Heritage, Harpoon @ Reggie's 8pm

Dysrhythmia, Harpoon @ Ronny's 9pm

Thurs 7/03
People in Planes, Scattered Trees @ Beat Kitchen 8:30pm

WZT Hearts, Thank You, Gilgamesh @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Nicholas Tremulis, Ezra Furman & The Harpoons @ Hideout 6:30pm

Matt & Kim, The Death Set @ Hideout 9pm

Alkaline Trio @ Reggie's 9pm

Monotonix, Mannequin Men, Matt & Kim, Team Robespierre, Crystal Antlers @ The Mansion 9pm

Fri 7/04
Devon Williams @ Beat Kitchen 8pm

Sat 7/05
Chin Up Chin Up, The Smith Westerns, Mt. St. Helens @ Hideout 9pm

Headlights, Decibully, Rock Plaza Central @ Empty Bottle 10pm

He Who Corrupts, Suicide Note, Lords, Raise the Red Lantern @ Beat Kitchen 9pm

Russian Circles, So Many Dynamos @ Schubas 7:30pm

Russian Circles, Sweet Cobra @ Schubas 10:30pm

Mon 7/07
Le Loup @ Jay Pritzker Stage @ Millenium Park 12pm

Tues 7/08
Wolf Parade @ House of Blues 5:30pm

Wed 7/09
The Mae Shi, The Death Set, Bang!Bang! @ Abbey Pub 8pm

Alkaline Trio @ House of Blues 5pm

Thurs 7/10
Trio In Stereo, Coltrane Motion, Percolator, The Cortlandt Homes @ Bottom Lounge 8pm

Nicholas Tremulis, Deanna Devore @ Hideout 6:30pm

Red Red Meat @ Red Red Meat 9pm

Les Breastfeeders, The Symptoms @ Subterranean 9pm

Fri 7/11
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Berry @ Av-aerie 8pm

Modey Lemon, Lover! @ Beat Kitchen 8pm

The Chamber Strings, La Scala, David Singer, Penthouse Sweets @ Bottom Lounge 8pm

Lacona, Farewell Captain, Kill the Alarm, Santa @ Double Door 8pm

Dengue Fever, Brilliant Pebbles @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Waco Brothers, Jon Langford, Sally Timms, Jean Cook @ Hideout 9:30pm

Bound Stems, Netherfriends, Gentleman Auction House @ Schubas 10pm

Sat 7/12
Urge Overkill, Suffrajett, Lonesome Cougar @ Bottom Lounge 8pm

Tortoise, Tight Phantomz, Disappears @ Empty Bottle 10pm

City on Film, Slithering Beast, State Champion @ South Union Arts 9pm

Sun 7/13
Steed Lord, Million Dollar Mano, Codebreaker @ Abbey Pub 9pm

Mon 7/14
Yaz @ Chicago Theatre 8pm

At The Gates, Darkest Hour, Municipal Waste @ House of Blues 5:30pm

Tues 7/15
Son, Ambulance, Jennifer O'Connor, Fair Herald @ Schubas 9pm

Wed 7/16
Paper Rival @ Reggie's 8pm

Thurs 7/17
Mike Simonetti, Killer Whales, Million Dollar Mano @ Empty Bottle 10pm

The Pack A.D. @ Hideout 9pm

The Watson Twins, Tim Fite @ Lakeshore Theater 10pm

Bottomless Pit, The Kadane Brothers, Wishek @ Schubas 9pm

Fri 7/18
Disappears, Meth Teeth, Box Elders, Radar Eyes @ Beat Kitchen 9pm

Guns'n'bombs, Hollywood Holt, Abe Vigoda @ Empty Bottle 10pm

HEALTH, Mahjongg, Aleks & the Drummer @ Hideout 10pm

Ed Harcourt, Jeff Klein @ Schubas 10:30pm

Public Enemy (It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back), Sebadoh (performing Bubble and Scrape), Mission of Burma (performing Vs.) @ Union Park (Pitchfork Music Festival) 6pm

Sat 7/19
The Dirtbombs, The Goldstars, Team Band @ Abbey Pub 9pm

King Khan & The Shrines, Jay Reatard, Cheap Time @ Bottom Lounge 8pm

The Hood Internet, LMNOP, Slim Twig, Sweatpants Money @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Valient Thorr, Early Man, Architects @ Reggie's 8pm

High Places, Pit Er Pat, Abe Vigoda @ Schubas 10:30pm

Animal Collective, Jarvis Cocker, The Hold Steady, !!! (chik chik chik), Vampire Weekend, Dizzee Rascal, Fleet Foxes, Caribou (formerly Manitoba), Jay Reatard, Titus Andronicus, No Age, Atlas Sound, Extra Golden, Fuck Buttons, Elf Power, The Ruby Suns, Icy Demons, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar @ Union Park (Pitchfork Music Festival) 12pm

Sun 7/20
Boris, Torche, Nachmystium @ Empty Bottle 9pm

The Loved Ones, Love and Squalor @ Reggie's 5pm

Bowerbirds, I Ching Quartet, The Thin Man @ Schubas 8pm

Spoon, Dinosaur Jr., Spiritualized, M. Ward, Ghostface (and Raekwon), Les Savy Fav, Apples in Stereo, Boris, Dirty Projectors, Times New Viking, Cut Copy, Bon Iver, The Dodos, Occidental Brothers Dance Band International, King Khan & His Shrines, El Guincho, HEALTH, High Places, Mahjongg @ Union Park (Pitchfork Music Festival) 12pm

Mon 7/21
Yakuza, Indian Big Band, Sweet Cobra, The Sixth, Lynyrds Innards @ Beat Kitchen 8pm

Wed 7/23
Scale Model, Tiny Speakers, Le Concorde, Coltrane Motion @ Double Door 8pm

Thurs 7/24
The XYZ Affair, Locksley, Par Avion @ Beat Kitchen 8:30pm

Helmet, Egostatic, Quatre Tete, With A Gun @ Double Door 8pm

The Black Ghosts, Bio Booster, Pete Augusta @ Metro 10pm

Jeremy Jay, Coupleskate, The Black Umbrella @ Schubas 9pm

Roommate, The Singleman Affair @ South Union Arts 8pm

Fri 7/25
Z-Trip @ Abbey Pub 8pm

Hair Police, Hive Mind, Oakeater, Bruce Lamont, Bloodyminded @ Empty Bottle 10pm

The Honorary Title, The New Frontiers, Paper Rival @ Reggie's 10pm

Takka Takka, Grammar, Alina Simone @ Schubas 10pm

Polvo, The Red Eyed Legends, Sybris @ Subterranean 9pm

Sat 7/26
Imaad Wasif And The Two Part Beast, Pussy Pirates, Star @ Abbey Pub 9pm

Shot Baker @ Beat Kitchen 9pm

Ariel Pink, Chairlift, Magical, Beautiful @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Earlimart, Peter and The Rabbits @ Hideout 9pm

Canasta @ Schubas 11pm

Isis, Dub Trio @ Subterranean 8pm

Sun 7/27
Joan of Arc, Tirra Lirra @ Beat Kitchen 9pm

Secret Chiefs 3, Brilliant Pebbles, The Scarring Party @ Double Door 8pm

CoCoComa, Witch Hat, Daily Void, Loto Ball Show @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Matmos, Leprechaun Catering @ Lakeshore Theater 9pm

David Vandervelde, The Lickety-Splitz @ Schubas 9pm

Mon 7/28
The Dials, Walking Bicycles, Aleks & the Drummer @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Jay Brannan @ Lakeshore Theater 9pm

Wed 7/30
The Boy Bathing, The Carribean @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Shopping, Daylight Robbery, Fault Lines, The Elephant Walk, Action Finger @ Ronny's 9pm

Thurs 7/31
The Black Keys, Magic Wands @ Metro 9pm

Tigercity, Violens (Lansing-Dreiden) @ Schubas 9pm


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Love Is All--Bowery Ballroom, New York City

About two weeks ago, I walked by the Bowery Ballroom and shamefully realized that I’ve lived four blocks from it for two years and have never been there. As I passed, I told myself, “Self, enough of that shit”. I went home, checked the venue’s calendar, saw that Love Is All was playing on the 16th, smiled, and bought a ticket. Then two weeks happened.

I got to the Bowery about halfway into Crystal Stilts’ set. A little post-show research reveals that they’ve recently released a pretty well received self-titled album and that they are from, obviously, Brooklyn. Allow me to address the Crystal Stilts for a second:

Get your fucking act together. It sounds like you might have some very good songs buried somewhere in that mess of a sound. First, learn how to set up your live show so that your vocals don’t sound like humming mixed with a garbage disposal. I know there were distinct words in there because I saw your singer’s lips move. What I heard was “ummmKKnnuuhh mmm sssnnnnuuGGGmm”. I hope this isn’t an artistic choice. If it is a choice, it’s wrong. Fix it. Second, your lead guitarist should not ever be seated unless absolutely necessary (i.e. he has no legs). You guys are in serious need of some stage presence and it doesn’t help that your lead guitarist, universal source of band charisma, looks like he’s on the toilet. The only person on stage who looks like they give a shit is the drummer, who looks like Christian from Project Runway. I know I’m being hard on you, but your sound is good and it’s being wasted. You have a nice little surf rock guitar thing going on and a tight rhythm section. I’m even going to try to track down your album. I might even pay for it if my $10 will go towards guitarist-stool disposal.

The second opener was Versus, who I had never heard of before, but who apparently had a loyal New York following in the ‘90s. A group of people were definitely at the show specifically to see this band. These guys (well, two guys and a girl - no pizza place) have been around for a while and clearly know what they’re doing. The dude singer/guitarist played a Rickenbacker, which I always think is awesome, and the non-dude singer/bassist reminded me a lot of Kim Deal, probably because she has dark hair and is the singer/bassist for an alternative band that had a following in the ‘90s. It was a tight set if not a little bland. I can see why people like Versus, even though their straightforward alterna-rock isn’t really my style.

Love is All (or, as Swedes apparently pronounce it, “lava-sule”) is more my style. I’ve wanted to see them play since I started listening to the consistently excellent Nine Times That Same Song on heavy rotation about a year and a half ago - it’s one of my favorite albums. I realized before Love is All walked on stage that I don’t think I’ve even seen a picture of them before. It’s strange when you have no idea what a band that made one of your favorite albums looks like. I think I expected a pigtailed pixie in lederhosen jumping around the stage like a possessed Swedish pogo stick surrounded by Peter Forsberg, Jesper Parnevik, Roger Federer (I get very confused by the whole Swiss / Swede thing), and Tiger Woods’ hot wife. What I got was pretty close.

Lead singer/keyboardist Josephine is just adorable. She’s small and cute and her talking voice sounds exactly like her singing voice. The first time she spoke to say how she didn’t expect so many people to be at the show, the audience exuded a collective “Awww”. The rest of the band (guitarist, bassist, saxophonist, and drummer) are all named Markus and looked very Swedish. Actually, I’m not sure all of them are named Markus. I know the drummer is named Markus. Maybe the other ones have different names but probably not. Maybe one of them was a Niklas. Or maybe Sven. Those are the three Swedish dude-names.

They opened with a couple new songs, which were all very good and similar in sound to those on Nine Times, maybe a little harder. The guitarist broke a string during the first song. Then he broke a string on his backup during the second song. Then he asked the audience if anyone brought a spare guitar to the show. I’m pretty sure he was serious because he looked terrified. After a good minute of confusion, a guitar magically appeared and the band tore into Nine Times' opener “Talk Talk Talk Talk”. From then on, the rest of the show was a blast - the band sounded great and looked like they were having a lot of fun. They played through most of Nine Times, adding in a few new songs and some covers from their new EP. The only cover I recognized was A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran,” which sounded fresh while still being very recognizable, even without the preposterous haircuts. They closed with a fist-pumping rendition of “Make Out Fall Out Make Up” and then left the stage and a very satisfied crowd.

It was only after the first encore song, “Felt Tip”, that I realized they hadn’t yet played my favorite Nine Times track, “Spinning and Scratching.” Josephine said that the next song would be their last and asked the crowd what we wanted to hear. Luckily, practically everyone else must have realized the same thing I did because I don’t think there was a single person there (including me) who didn’t shout “SPINNING AND SCRATCHING” at the top of their lungs - less of a request, more a demand. The band seemed a little taken aback by the fervor and unanimity of the audience’s wish, acted like they didn’t really hear what we said for a second, jokesters, and then ended everyone’s night in the perfect way: with the song I wanted to hear the most.

--Jim Powers

Friday, June 13, 2008

Record Review: Wolf Parade

Wolf Parade
At Mount Zoomer
NQL Rating: Those who claim that Apologies to the Queen Mary is a better album cannot be trusted.

A lot of people will try to re-sell the Spencer Krug/Dan Boeckner duality tip, but don't believe it. If Apologies to the Queen Mary saw two songwriters working each as the other's foil, At Mount Zoomer represents a unified front. (Krug and Boeckner even employ the same phrase--"strike up the band"--on "Bang Your Drum" and "The Grey Estates", respectively. Great minds, etc.) Because of this unity, At Mount Zoomer has much more pathos, bolstered by crisper production, stronger melodies, tighter groove, and looser instrumental interplay.

Much has been said regarding Zoomer's roots in studio improvisation, a fact that's evident on "Fine Young Cannibals" and "Kissing the Beehive"--behemoth and leviathan, terrestrial terror and aqueous freakout--with their dime-cut dynamics and minutes-long outros. Also suggesting improv is the album's heavy reliance on rhythm and groove. In service of such, drummer Arlen Thompson is a metronome, providing a subtly rigid backbone while managing to stand out without outshining anyone--he's the secret show-thief, signaling important changes, adding texture, and playing with precision and restraint. The rest of the band aren't slouches, either: Boeckner's guitar rings, squeals, and buzzes; Krug's keys (dig the arpeggios on "Language City") lead the melody more often than not; and Hadji Bakara's electronics work almost subliminally.

Lyrically, the album ranges from obtuse--"I rode horse shap├ęd fire dragging stereo wire" on Boeckner's appropriately martial "Soldier's Grin"--to direct--"I would've left if you'd just asked me to" on Krug's "California Dreamer". Boeckner, ever the poet, uses words as sculpture, in service of his songs: if on their own the words don't mean anything, damn if they don't sound great in context. On "The Grey Estates" (a kind of modernization of Roxy Music's "In Every Dream Home a Heartache", minus the blowup sex doll spouse), for example, Boeckner implores us to "let the iron in your heart's blood ring"--an empty metaphor, to be sure, but one that works in a song about ditching useless accumulated shit, remembering there's blood in your veins, and returning to Wordsworthian pastoralism. Krug, on the other hand, is the storyteller, the keenly perceptive folklorist, weaving noir ballads ("Call It a Ritual"), tales of love and loss ("California Dreamer"), and spouting truisms ("you will remember me most by my funeral"). When Krug asks, "do the young stay pretty, do the pretty stay quick", one gets the sense that he already knows the answer is "no."

The album receives a few demerits, however, because the keys in "California Dreamer" sound--both in tone and the actual notes played--too much like "Riders on the Storm" (I prefer to think of this as an homage), and the la-dee-das of "Animal in Your Care" are too "The Boxer". But these are nitpicks, and if Spencer Krug has the staying power of Jim Morrison or Paul Simon, fuckin'-a.

Some (okay, most) albums are trifling period pieces inextricable from a specific era. Not so here. In addition to its accessibility, At Mount Zoomer possesses the intangible quality that makes an artifact timeless: the overriding sense that something else is there, something indefinable. Moreover, the cumulative effect of layering hook upon hook upon hook--guitar upon keys upon (what sounds like) steel drum--is titanic, thrilling, and daunting--and ultimately inviting. At Mount Zoomer begs you to dissect it, to parse it into digestible bits only to consume it whole again.

--Brian Herrmann

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Interview: Chris Chu of The Morning Benders

Again, it's summer time. At least it feels like summer, although here in DC it feels like a sweltering swamp in hell. (I feel I was not adequately warned about this; I'm moving back to Chicago.) But more importantly, now is the time to find that great summer record/band. This month I'm going to recommend the Morning Benders of Berkeley. Their album, Talking Through Tin Cans, came out last month and I briefly caught up with lead singer/guitarist Chris Chu over email to discuss the album and their influences. (Please note, as you will see, I did not receive an answer to my Bash Brothers question which I was very proud of. They may have been a bit before Chris' time. In retrospect, I should have brought up the "tuck rule" instead.)

: How did you all get hooked up with the Kooks for this current tour?

Chris Chu: Jonny (Kaps of Plus One Music) introduced them to us and we got to do a couple of "intimate" shows with them in LA. "intimate" for the kooks, but some of the biggest shows we ever played. they are super cool and humble dudes, and we got along really well. then they asked us to come on the full us tour with them. we were pretty excited, to say the least.

NQL: I saw you guys opened up for the Cure* in Washington (state) not that long ago. Tell me about it!

CC: (It was) amazing. That was our first time going to Washington, and getting to play the Gorge, of all places!! Amazing!!! That is one of the venues I've only seen pictures of, but have wanted to go to for a long time. It was pretty awesome getting to go there for the first time to play a show.

NQL: You guys have a pretty nice breezy sound, which I would assume is kind of facilitated by your California roots. Who did you all grow up listening to that influenced your sound?

CC: This first album is very much influenced by a lot of 60's and 70's pop and rock bands and artists. Beatles, Beach Boys, Neil Young, Dylan, Phil Spector, etc... This was some of the first music we felt really passionate about, we were pretty much listening to old stuff exclusively. No new music. It definitely influenced the sound of the songs on Talking Through Tin Cans.

NQL: Speaking of which, you all come from Oakland. Care to share your favorite Bash Brothers memory? And wait, are you guys from Oakland? I've also read San Francisco, Berkeley, and Sac-town. Help out this Midwesterner, which is it? And why is San Jose not getting any love?

CC: Haha. We live in the East Bay. Oakland/Berkeley. We say San Francisco to a lot of people from other states, just because it's more recognizable. Sorry for the confusion.

NQL: Your cover of Roy Orbison's "Crying" sounds great. Whose idea was that?

CC: Thanks! I just recorded that one on a whim at home. There wasn't really an idea behind it - just liked the song.

NQL: Your debut album Talking Through Tin Cans came out on Tuesday the 6th of May (the track "Waiting for a War" is catchy as hell, btw). Were you at all nervous that people would have been too hungover from Cinco De Mayo to make it to the record store the next day? And I'm sure someone out there has already been listening to Talking Through Tin Cans for awhile. I'm always interested to get up-and-coming bands' thoughts on (illegal) downloading because it is people like you that this phenomenon probably impacts the most. Does the rush that people are listening to your music trump the fact that they're not paying for it?

CC: think it's great. I think the internet is a WONDERFUL and SCARY place. I encourage people to download music, especially new music, because it only leads to new fans / but I also encourage people to support music. If you downloaded the album, go to a show, buy a t shirt, buy the CD directly from the band. Do something to support the people who are making this stuff!

NQL: You guys just played the Vic in Chicago on the 2nd. How was it?

CC: This was our first time to Chicago, and it was killer. It's the first big city we hit after going through all the states in the middle. And it was really nice to get a good, healthy meal.

NQL: Your sound has been compared to the likes of the Beatles, the Shins, Tom Petty, and the Kinks (the Kinks is my call, btw). How much are these comparisons a blessing and how much are they a curse? Seems like that could be a lot of unneeded pressure to have those names casually thrown around.

CC: Those bands are all pretty commemorated bands, so I don't think we can take it any way but as a compliment. I don't feel much pressure from those comparisons. I don't think we sound like any of those bands really, but I also think I am probably the worst person to judge/describe our music. I just hope people use the comparisons as a jump-off point, not an end-point. I hope people listen to the music and it hits them in a unique, personal way.

*Granted, it was at Sasquatch, but I think that counts.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Death Cab For Cutie, Rogue Wave--Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, Chicago, Illinois

So I went on a date tonight. He’s someone I’ve known for years now. He’s an old friend - reliable, ever-present, solid as a rock. He gets cold for months at a time, but he always warms up to me. We always find awesome things to do especially in the summertime. I’m trying to leave. (I’m moving for a few months to Seattle this fall) But I have an undying, unconditional love for him, one that will pull me back like a moth to the flame this winter.

Bear with me, I’m getting to the point.

I walked up to Millennium Park and grabbed my tickets at will call from a squirrely lady who received attitude or silent guffaws from the ticketless patrons. Then I headed for that dreaded security fustercluck of a “line” to make my way in. I tried, hard as I might, to sneak in my wine bottle by attempting the ol’ “grape juice” foil. The yellow-jacketed security man gave me one hard, “don’t play me for a fool” look and I shot back a “c’mon dude, be cool” look. No dice. It was goodbye to grape juice. I was meeting my date on the lawn and I was flustered from being called out on illegal smuggling activities. I shoved and elbowed my way through the crowd, looking for an adequate piece of turf to claim as mine for the next few hours. I sat down on my precious two square feet of real estate and chilled out for a minute. I looked up scanning the crowd, the pavilion and the skyscrapers and there he was, my date – Chicago. No, not that Chicago; this Chicago.

It might be evident that I have a love affair with this city. Quite possibly there's nothing quite like sitting on that lawn in Pritzker Pavilion with the magnificent skyline in the backdrop and amazing acoustics of the amphitheater bedazzling your ears. I sat on the lawn, tickled that we were just at the beginning of another Chicago summer. There are more festivals here than you can shake a stick at. It’s like trying to drink water from a firehose, except instead of your mouth it’s your ears and instead of water it’s a ton of awesome live music. Ok, bad analogy. But the energy here is particularly palpable this year, with our Olympic bid (top four!) and our next president being this state’s senator. As a son of African man and Kansas woman, this city’s summer sure provides hope for those disheartened by the conservative winter.

Oakland, California’s Rogue Wave opened. While I can’t speak for NQL’s presidential endorsement, I can, however, vouch for their Rogue Wave fanaticism. Truth? I came more for Rogue Wave than Death Cab For Cutie. They opened with none other than “Chicago x 12” and professed their love for Chicago accordingly. Frontman Zach Rogue quipped about being REO Speedwagon and some flighty girls sitting next to me actually believed them. Their set heavily favored songs from Asleep at Heaven’s Gate. They finished with “Harmonium” and throughout the performance received polite, albeit inadequate applause.

Death Cab for Cutie* brought their Seattle rain clouds with them but the masterfully engineered lawn of the pavilion was dry despite the torrential rainfall earlier in the day. The stain-resistant Bugle Boys of lawns! They opened with “Bixby Canyon Bridge” from Narrow Stairs, followed by “New Year” from Transatlanticism. While Death Cab isn’t exactly rock-the-f-out music, it was enough to get us two-bit, lawn-seat steerage on our feet and bobbling. On a night where Obama clinched the democratic nomination, Ben Gibbard roused the crowd on this historical evening by stating firmly that Obama will be our next president. Ironically, he followed it by dedicating “I’ll Follow You into the Dark” to him. Highlights from their new album included “Your New Twin Size Bed” and “I Will Possess Your Heart.” They also flexed their power by playing hits from older albums including “Soul Meets Body” and “Your Heart is an Empty Room” from Plans. Collective fist-pumps and yeses abounded as they closed with favorites “405” and “Transatlanticism”

As the sun set, calming sea green, magenta and midnight blue lights reflected off the metallic overhangs of the pavilion. Wind in my hair, cool grass between my toes, throwing a beer down my gullet…ahhhh yes, once again ‘tis the season where we can spill into the streets and take everything we once did holed up inside- the dining, the films, the concerts, hell, even the tanning – and move it outside.

*My friend has a silly past time. He has a habit of coming up with alternative names for bands. For example, Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah becomes Applause in Affirmation, M. Ward becomes Montgomery Ward. The best I could come up with for Death Cab for Cutie was Schmoopy’s Hearse, Rogue Wave is Greet Viciously.

--Audrey Wen

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Record Review: Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes

NQL Rating: Very Good

From the opening old-timey crackle and sun-kissed guitar strums of “Sun It Rises,” it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Fleet Foxes have a wonderful debut album on their hands. The Seattle-based quintet are no strangers to success, though, as their previous EP, Sun Giant, had bloggers and music critics alike panting for more hymnal pop songs when it was released back in February. Fortunately, the wait for new music wasn’t very long, as Fleet Foxes’ self-titled full length made its way into stores this Tuesday, a mere four months later.

There’s no denying the fact that Sun Giant is a hard collection of songs to live up to; even a casual listener knows how incredibly solid those five tracks are. But, Fleet Foxes certainly tries its hardest to one-up it, and, for the most part, is fairly successful. Track 2, “White Winter Hymnal”, is the standout song among the ten others, boasting a haunting a-capella opening with all five Foxes singing, which is closely followed with brushes of percussion and soft guitars, before booming open with pounding drums, hollow guitars, and beautiful vocal harmonies. It’s one of those songs that is damn near impossible to get sick of.

While none of the other tracks on Fleet Foxes quite match the beauty of “White Winter Hymnal”, there are still a few other gems on this album. The rollicking melodies of “Ragged Wood” and Band of Horses-esque vocal acrobatics from Foxes singer, Robin Pecknold, are inspiring. The interweaving guitars and exuberant reverb on "Quiet Houses" and the warm organ sounds on "Your Protector" also add nice elements to the record by giving more depth to Fleet Foxes’ pastoral sound.

The only downfall of Fleet Foxes is the dragging second half of the album. Perhaps that's the difference between a five-song EP and an eleven-song full length, but Fleet Foxes appear to have more strength when they have fewer songs to worry about. This letdown is shown right before the end of the album, with the boring “Meadowlark” and the even more forced “Blue Ridge Mountains” that directly follows it. It’s not that these two tracks are bad, they just simply don’t show any new sides to Fleet Foxes palette, and when you’re trying to make an impact with your debut album, you’d best want to bring your A game.

Thankfully, Fleet Foxes is saved by closing track, “Oliver James,” a stunningly intimate song that is structured around Pecknold’s earnest vocals and doesn’t feature much more than a soft acoustic guitar melody in the background. It’s a bold way to close an album and not many bands could pull off such a statement, but Pecknold knows exactly what he’s doing as his chilling voice sings out “Oliver James / Washed in the rain/ No longer” in the last few seconds of the album. Ultimately, Fleet Foxes may not be as strong all around as its EP predecessor, but it’s hard to fault a band this amazing for a few rookie mistakes. Keep an eye on these Foxes, because they’re definitely not retreating anytime soon.

--Anna Deem

Do Division Street Festival, Chicago, IL

You know its summer in Chicago when you’re standing outside in the middle of a street that’s usually packed with cars, and you’re surrounded instead by people in shorts swigging from cans of PBR, chowing down on funnel cake, and craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the next band about to play on a makeshift stage. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, street festival season is now upon us in Chicago and seeing as this will be the first full summer that I’ve lived in the city, I knew I owed it to myself to see what this tradition was all about. Plus, what person in their right mind would miss a chance to see Ted Leo & The Pharmacists for free?*

The 1900's performing at Do Division. Photo: Anna Deem.

The Do Division Street Festival happened on May 31st and June 1st, but because I could really care less about Saturday’s line-up, I decided to show up just for Sunday. The sun was still shining as I walked onto Division Street early Sunday evening. I could hear local Chicago favorites, The 1900’s, playing on the festival’s sole stage at the corner of Damen and Division, so I waded through the sea of drunks and vendor booths selling everything from jewelry to hookahs, and made it into the large crowd of hundreds gathered in front of the stage. I managed to catch the last four songs of their set and noticed their ‘60s-inspired melodies winning over the crowd, as people nodded their heads and danced along. They closed with “Two Ways,” a three minute blast of pure pop from their latest album, Cold & Kind.

Gil Mantera’s Party Dream was due to play next, but I had more important things to worry about, like getting food and finding an unoccupied curbside to sit on. One hotdog, an order of fries, a lemonade, and too much money later, I was satiated and ready to see what the Party Dream was all about. Although I remembered hearing that they were a gimmicky band and kind of categorized them in my brain as Har Mar Superstar-esque, I was definitely not prepared for the ridiculousness that Gil Mantera and Co. unleashed that evening. First off, their music was fairly unimpressive dancey, vocoder shit that found me leaning against a brick apartment building and people-watching more than listening. But their music wasn’t even the worst part, oh no, it was the two main dudes stripping down to Speedos and humping instruments (among other things). Or, how about all the profanities that the singer apparently felt were necessary to hurl out when there were clearly an abundance of children in attendance? Maybe I’m just too cynical for music this silly, but I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists performing at Do Division. Photos: Anna Deem.

After what felt like an eternity of watching the Party Dream, it was finally time for Ted Leo & The Pharmacists to close out the festival. Even though this was my third time seeing Leo and I clearly knew what to expect, I was still anxiously anticipating their set. It doesn’t matter if they’re performing in a tiny club or an outdoor stage, Ted Leo and his Pharmacists always know how to bring it. Leo and the three members in his band strode on-stage a little after 8:30, kicking things off with Leo’s solo version of “Bleeding Powers.” From there, things proceeded to get even better, as they tore into tracks from 2007’s Living With The Living (“Sons of Cain,” “Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.,” “Who Do You Love?”), among older classics like “Counting Down The Hours,” “Me and Mia,” and “Biomusicology.” The crowd seemed to lose interest during a block of four new songs (which all sounded excellent, by the way), but things picked backed up again with crowd favorite “Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?” later on. The foursome walked off-stage after their fifth new song, only to return a minute later to blast through a Mekons cover and a scorching version of “Ballad Of The Sin Eater,” from Hearts of Oak, the latter of which found Leo setting his guitar down, grabbing the microphone in hand, and commanding full attention of the crowd.

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists performing at Do Division. Photos: Anna Deem.

Soon enough, the last notes of “Sin Eater” were fading away, and I was following the rest of the masses down Division. As my sneakers crunched discarded beer cans and plastic cups on the way out, it was clear that I was just one of the many that had a fantastic time at Do Division.

*Okay, it was a $5 donation, but I may have bypassed the entrance point by accident. Whoops.

--Anna Deem
eXTReMe Tracker