Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Frightened Rabbit--The Empty Bottle, Chicago, Illinois

We at NQL are nothing if we are not thorough. Just because a band was good here, does not mean they will be good there. At NQL, we hold bands to a high standard. We know it is not fair, but we want every show to be a good one. It really comes down to responsibilities. The band’s responsibility is to try their best to be in the moment and put on a good show. Unfortunately for bands, our responsibility is report on the musical experience as offered. We understand that bands have off nights. We understand that occasionally a lead guitarist might find out he was dumped before walking on stage and instead of channeling that into blues, he channels into dysfunction.

This being the case, Alex saw Frightened Rabbit in D.C. both recently and awhile back and reported upon good shows delivered by really decent guys who were very much present and aware the unique and beautiful opportunity it is to play music live for fans. So, in keeping with quality control standards, I wondered if such a show might be repeated in the fair city of the first Ferris wheel.

Having read previous posts about this band and being aware of the year end excitement, I was curious to see what the hubbub was about. Frightened Rabbit made some top ten lists for the New Year, and I am generally behind the curve. Al had given me The Midnight Organ Fight due to his excitement of it. I tend to like to hear an album through before I see a band. Something about having a vague familiarity with the music that makes it more enjoyable (I think you know what I am talking about, right? That is everyone, right?).

I had never heard the Organ Fight album so I put it on Friday morning. I listened to the album once and really enjoyed it. I listened again and things opened up a bit. I listened again (compelled, not obligated) and the music started feeling that wonderful combination of familiar and still compelling in an urgent way. By the third spin, it was clear I would be attending the concert. Spin four was just because it is really good. I realized that Frightened Rabbit was not breaking down any innovative doors, but they were going straight to the source of what makes good music: feeling, authenticity, and heart.

I was going to this show solo, and I acquired the ticket from our good friends at Craigslist. Steve had an extra and was not a scalper (however, I think Steve got his tickets for free, so he was still making a buck, but at least he was not scalping). One never knows when one buys a loose ticket at a small show. I have gone on to have wonderful evenings tied to the ticket provider, or other times, I have handed my money to a grunting troll. Steve was a nice guy and offered introductory company to his group of three friends to Page (another ticket buyer) and me.

I had never been to the Empty Bottle before. I was excited because I thought it was a bigger venue. It is small and wonderful. The opening band was Arc in Round. I really enjoyed their set. It was singer songwriter stuff twice removed and more ambiguous with an ethereal atmosphere behind it all juxtaposed with really, really tight, sharp drumming (well done drummer with the moustache!).

Before Arc in Round, Page and I missed the intro poem of apparently iconic and legendary Thax Douglas because Steve was busy explaining who he was. We did catch his poem the second time around before Frightened Rabbit. Go local legend! I hope to be some odd, obscure, eccentric character in a scene that is cross-culture some day. I plan to do this when I am 62.

So the band Frightened Rabbit comes onto stage. They go straight into heart, passion, and appreciation. Since I have stated my knowledge of this band is minor, I will present my comments in bullet form:

  • Frightened Rabbit played two shows: one at 7:00 one at 10:00. They were well aware of this. Seeing the first show did not detract from the energy given by the band. The band had enough energy for four shows. They were so excited to be there. “Aw shucks, this is amazing.” That was the vibe. They felt welcome and appreciated in Chicago, humbled by the two shows selling out and probably high off a well received show last time around.
  • Frightened Rabbit plays music because they mean it. Scott Hutchison is a joy to watch because he embodied the spirit of, “I am in ecstasy that you are all here. I really can’t believe you are all here to see our band and to hear my songs. This is a dream. This is one of the best nights of my life.”
  • When done well, watching someone bare their soul about a tragic breakup in song can be horrible, painful, and monotonous; or amazing, relational, and moving. This show provided the latter.
  • My goodness. How can all of you people just stand there and not move while that sound is happening. I understand cerebrally consuming music, but by God, move a little bit. I tend to dance/move a little bit. This crowd did not move much. They appreciated it, but for the most part, remained motionless. I guess this is the price you pay for having your music listened to by a bunch of people who “know good music when they hear it.”
  • The fashion world loves black. Be it Michigan Avenue or small music scene, the people love black. The place looked like a funeral. Where it not for the amazed grins, elated outburst after the songs, and constrained body sways, I would have thought we were burying Laura Palmer.

I have seen too many shows by artists who are “artists” and play the music because they have created some songs for us to have the benefit to hear. Frightened Rabbit played songs because they wrote them and they meant them. We were all there because they wrote them, they meant them, and the songs meant something to us as well. Or at the very least, we could tell that they meant so very much to the band. It is possible that an audience member might have grown weary and bored if they were looking to hear a wide range of musical style or innovation. But if an audience member was present with the band in their moment to hear what they had to say, the night could not fail. Either sympathetic or empathetic, Frightened Rabbit provided the energy and emotion that provided a night of wonderful communal music.

After the concert, a girl next to whom I had been listening and dancing turned to me and said, “I am not trying to say this in a creepy way or anything, but what are you doing after the show.”
I said, “Oh. I am married, if that is what you mean.”
She said, “Oh no. I am from Milwaukee and was just looking for something to do next.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well. If you would like to come with me, I am going to go check out a DJ and then a local label named Contraphonic is having some of their bands play at this loft place. You are welcome to join me if you would like.”

The girl did join me, proceeded to get drunk, enjoy her evening, and sleep on my couch that night. She is now a staff writer at NQL.

--Scott Rudolph

Photos by Jackelyn Crystal Wicklund and Scott Rudolph.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Animal Collective--The Metro, Chicago, Illinois

Bands often give cities a feel for their music scene. Mainstays for great music have always been Chicago, New York, Austin, Athens, Nashville, Seattle, DC, Nashville, etc. A recent hotspot has become Baltimore from which Animal Collective hails. Not that I ever really wondered about Detroit’s rock scene, but I got my first taste of D-Town in the opener, Rodriguez. The frontman (I don’t know his name and didn’t look it up, my reasons will be clear in a few moments) wore loose leather (or was it pleather?) clothes including a leather vest, exposing his leathery arms. He donned the always-cool, indoor shades and a black, flat top hat with long, black curly hair spewing out from under the brim. Sound familiar? My thoughts were validated when someone yelled “WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE!!!” just before they began. Who these bozos were, I don’t know. It was an odd choice for opener and thankfully it was a short set. I also felt a little cheated because I never saw an opening band listed on the Metro website and so I thought it was going to be “An Evening With” Animal Collective, one of those shows where the rare, juicy 20-ounce steak is slapped down on your plate without the salad or other opening band appetizers. They appeared to be an average rock band with a questionable lead man. Warm up the bus, Busters, the traffic has parted and the Skyway is wide open.

Last summer, Animal Collective gave an “off-the-hook” performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival, one that drove me wild over red bucket hats and Strawberry Jam. It was a set that ultimately was responsible for me buying Water Curses, Feels and ripping off Merriweather Post Pavillion in a feverish two-week span leading up to this show. And my God, all the talk surrounding Merriweather has been enough to make gossipy teenagers’ heads hang low.

An enthusiastic yet tame crowd made for a great ambience when Animal Collective came on. In a second-hand ghanja haze and slightly more tipsy than need be on a weekday night, I was hypnotized by Animal Collective. Every last body was rockin’, hands in the air, even down to the last person in the back by the bar. Admittedly, I didn’t recognize anything other than “My Girls” and “Lion in a Coma.” Animal Collective is known for their unpredictable shows, so I may have been in the presence of improvisational genius, but I would not have known because I was so hell bent on hearing “Bluish,” “Fireworks,” “Reverend Green,” or “Banshee Beat,” or some live amalgamated version of them. Avey Tare seemed to be running on low fuel, and later it was revealed that he had lost his voice (and they cancelled their LA show the next night). Panda Bear made up for it with his indie rock, billboard-smasher, “Comfy in Nautica.” The igneous Geologist’s head bobbled away with the headlamp and his metamorphic, out-of-any-world-we-know sounds*.

While I enjoyed this show, I second Pitchfork’s review on New York City's show in that something seemed to be missing. And let it be known that I came up with that opinion before I read the bellwether Pitchfork site review. Avey Tare’s kiddish voice punctuated by episodes of screaming at the top of his lungs was notably absent (a style which is absolutely awesome, by the way). Perhaps we were getting him at the beginning of an illness. And we didn’t get the awesome blinding modern light show that New York got the night before. Even so, the songs I consider to be their trademarks did not make the set list. But my ears are AC-na├»ve as this was my first real Animal Collective show. Are they are teasing us by not giving us exactly what we want? Naturally, this makes us like them more -- simple, effective playground politics.

Or maybe we’ve over-speculated this pork belly. There has been such ridiculous hype swirling around this band that it’s become a disappointment that they are not blowing our socks off at warp speed with our hair on fire. They are only really, really good which at the moment is not good enough. This is the curse of receiving a 9.6 rating on Pitchfork.

*For interesting insight into Animal Collective’s “circuit-bending” sounds, check out the Chicago Public Radio story, “Bent” by Delaney Hall, it starts around 14:30 into the program.

--Audrey Wen

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Interview: Scott and Grant Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit

I don’t know if Frightened Rabbit was scheduled to play any of the inaugural balls on Tuesday night (I could see Rahm Emanuel being a big fan), but the night before they did put on a great set at the Rock and Roll Hotel. Before the show, I sat down on the ridiculously uncomfortable couches in the green room to talk with lead singer and songwriter, Scott Hutchison. Not bad, after all, he did write the best album of 2008. Joined half-way through by his brother and drummer, Grant, they discussed The Midnight Organ Fight, and a life of nearly ten straight months on the road.

NQL: First off, when you scheduled this date, did you know what would be going on in DC at the time?

Scott Hutchison: I think our booking agent did. It was picked as a treat for us or something. We’re gonna check out some of the stuff that is going on tomorrow, take a walk around. But yes, I think it was purposeful.

NQL: I saw Josh Groban yesterday at the concert at the mall so tonight you have some big shoes to fill tonight.

SH: [laughs] Well, there will be slightly fewer people, but yeah.

NQL: Do you have any more plans to take in some of the events while you’re here or do you have to get right back on the road?

SH: We have to leave tomorrow afternoon for Baltimore, but that won’t be too hectic of a drive, I guess. We got some last minute shows added. Tomorrow was supposed to be our day off, but we got offered a spot and we said yes. I’ve never played Baltimore.

NQL: But you’re not taking in the Inauguration or anything?

SH: I think we’re gonna do it. We’re staying with a friend and she lives kind of close, so we’re gonna head down. When is it, like mid-day?

NQL: Noon? I don’t know.

SH: But yeah, we’re definitely going to see that. For what it’s worth, that we can actually see. Have you seen any of these before?

NQL: No. I mean, I saw Obama speak yesterday, I guess, but I’ve definitely never been to an inauguration. I saw you guys last summer with Oxford Collapse at the Black Cat, and I didn’t feel well and left after about five songs. But it seemed like you were playing The Midnight Organ Fight from the beginning. And I noticed with your recently-released live album that it’s structured the same way. And I know when I listen to that record it tells a story from beginning to end, so do you feel it almost has to be played that way, like it would be out of order any other way?

SH: We don’t anymore. There was awhile when I quite enjoyed doing it like that. I guess we played that set that way for that whole tour. But I do feel like it’s a story, and it’s fairly chronological. And we were quite happy playing it like that, but it doesn’t really bring any surprises, either, so we stopped doing that.

NQL: Speaking of that, whenever I tell people about your record, I mention “I Feel Better” which is the second track, but in that song you say something to the effect that this will be the last song I sing about you. “You” meaning the girl, I presume. And unless I am interpreting this wrong, I took it as kind of a joke because nearly every song after that seems to be about that same person.

SH: It’s not a joke. The reason it is on the front end of the album is because that was the genuine feeling at that time, unfortunately. Well, fortunately, actually because we ended up getting a whole record out of it. It could have just been an EP. But there’s definitely a reason why it’s on the front end of the record.

NQL: Gotcha. The third track, “Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms,” I probably heard that song ten times before I even noticed the lyrics, and that it wasn’t just some nice, romantic song but actually had a more bitter, funny, and sinister tone to it. Is that something you planned for the listener? To take kind of what seems to be a beautiful song, but once you peel back a layer, you realize there’s something completely different there?

SH: Yeah. I think the two parts kind of come from different parts of my brain. The music kind of satisfies the side that kind of likes that, you know, and the music doesn’t stray far from indie-guitar rock and the lyrics hopefully contrast that and have some surprises in there, and people will be like, “Whoa, did he just say that?”. But yeah, I really enjoy that contrast. It’s weird that it took you that many listens.

NQL: It really did.

SH: Personally, I’m not really a lyrics kind of guy when I listen to other people’s music. But, I definitely like that contrast.

NQL: And that might be my thing, maybe as a listener. Kind of like a Pavement thing where lyrics aren’t always necessarily meant to be heard.

SH: It’s true, and it’s kind of nonsense as well. It takes a really strong lyric to make me listen to it. But it’s definitely nice that a song can be enjoyed on both of those levels though, you know. Just as a mellower song, but with deeper kinds of levels. We’ve been doing a cover of a Neutral Milk Hotel song…

NQL: Which song?

SH: “Song Against Sex.”

NQL: Oh, yeah, first track on On Avery Island, right?

SH: Yeah. But take a song like that, and we play it, and I’m surprised I even know the lyrics.

NQL: Just curious, can you get all the syllables down like Mangum can?

SH: I kind of got it. You just have to pick where you breathe, otherwise you’ll keel over.

NQL: I can’t sing along to that.

SH: Yeah, yeah, it’s tough, it’s been tough, but I think I got it down. We’ve been playing it on a lot of cities on this tour. It’s nice to sprinkle something different in there that people aren’t expecting, otherwise it’s just the same old set.

NQL: That reminds me, I remember before The Midnight Organ Fight came out, you said you were getting kind of sick of playing the first record (Sing the Greys), and that you couldn’t wait for the next album to come out so you could start playing those songs. Do you feel that way about this record yet?

SH: No, I don’t think so.

Grant Hutchison: I don’t think we’re sick of it. It’s more just like we’re ready to do new ones on top of our other stuff.

SH: I’m not sick of it, because whenever we come back to play it in the U.S., there seems to be a whole new set of people at the shows because the way the album has grown has been quite gradual and quite consistent. So there are people who weren’t there from the start, and it’s new to them, and that makes it fresh to me. And people that have been at the shows seem to be very excited about the songs, and that kind of feeds back to us, I think, so I’m not tired of it yet. I’m tired of touring.

NQL: [laughs] It seems the album had a pretty strong word-of-mouth well after it was released.

SH: That’s it. Absolutely. Especially at the end of the tour, which I think has been heavily affected by all those end-of-the-year polls. And we got included in a lot of good ones.

NQL: You were # 1 on mind, by the way.

SH: That’s great.

NQL: A few of my friends had it farther down.

SH: That’s all right.

GH: It’s really helped, because it’s been close to a year now and there are still plenty of people who are seeing us for the first time, and it’s been ten months at least, that we’ve been touring on this album, so to still have people seeing us for the first time is pretty great, and like you said, it’s that word of mouth, slow build kind of thing. And the end-of-year lists have added to that. But most importantly, as long as the crowd is still excited, you’re going feed off of that.

SH: I know a lot of people didn’t really like Midnight Organ Fight the first time they heard it, and told me they weren’t that impressed, but then they just sort of came across a lot of the songs on shuffle on their iPod, and we’re like “Who is this?” and realized that maybe that hadn’t really given it a chance. And a lot of people then kept going back to record, and back again, and then they were just sort of addicted to it. So even then, with people who bought the record, it took them awhile to get into it and figure out what it was about.

NQL: I really liked it from the beginning, mostly because I thought “The Modern Leper” (first track) was such a strong song. But like you said, I don’t think I really “got” the album until I listened to it multiple times. And I realized there was a funny story going on, maybe not funny, but one that deserved to be paid attention to because it’s so relatable to probably 99% of the population

SH: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I think that’s the reason people still come back to it is because the album really hit home for a lot of people, with normal experiences that people go through.

NQL: I feel it touches on all the right stages with anger, revenge, acceptance. It basically covers the whole timeline of a break-up.

SH: It (the breakup) happened six month prior to me writing the songs. And I was able to get a view of it from the outside and deconstruct the narrative of it. And it’s semi-fictionalized, parts of it were for effect and stuff, but a majority of it is absolutely true, and it’s not out of the ordinary. It happens to everybody, but I think because it’s such a well-trodden path, that drove me to a new way to express these things, because it’s been expressed so often, but I don’t think it has been expressed in this way, like leprosy for instance, and it drove me to try and find a new way to describe how it feels, I guess.

NQL: I couldn’t agree more. I certainly have never heard a line like, “I’m drunk, and you’re probably on pills. If we both have the same diseases, it’s irrelevant, girl.” When you write a line like that, I mean, do you laugh, or pat yourself on the back, because that’s pretty hilarious.

SH: Well, it’s funny but it’s true. And because it’s true, I’m not bothered that people find it hilarious. Some of my favorite lyricists like Nick Cave, Craig Finn, they still use a lot of humor in relation to pretty dark themes and I think it’s a really human way of dealing with a lot of things.

NQL: Especially when writing a breakup record I would think, because there’s that fear of getting pigeonholed as a whiner or “oh, man, this guy is depressing me” type of thing.

SH: Yeah, right. Otherwise it reads like sort of a "Dear Diary" entry and I wanted to be less selfish than that, and allow people to actually walk in and be the person in the song.

NQL: Backing up a bit, you said something about the year-end lists and those are just everywhere now, but obviously you guys pay attention to them, and do you find that’s true with most bands?

SH: We have the Google alerts working on our hotmail account, and everyone has one now, the blogs and stuff like that, but when you throw a lot of those together they can become a pretty powerful force. Just on a pure numbers level, album sales doubled for us I think in the middle of December until now. Actually, we went from about 350 sales a week to almost a thousand. So it’s really had a lasting effect.

GH: It’s good to find new albums as well, just to see other people’s top ten.

NQL: That’s really interesting to hear that from the other side of the fence. Because I do that, I notice. I’ll keep seeing some band name pop up and eventually I’ll feel compelled to check it out.

GH: Exactly. And since we’ve been on tour for ten months, it’s kind of hard to keep up with everything, especially with new releases week-by-week. Obviously there are certain ones you know about, and certain ones that after a month people will be talking about, so it’s good just to see what everyone else is listening to.

NQL: So you guys have been on tour for ten months. Scott, earlier I heard you say you were sick of it.

SH: It’s only because, if we had two more months of touring then I’d be in the mind frame of like, “Yeah, two more months, let’s do it.” But since we’re approaching the end, it feels more like your last week of school or something. It’s been great. I’m not sick at all of playing live. The shows on this tour especially have been great, and enthusiasm has been huge so that really helps.

NQL: So going back ten months, I guess that’s about right when the album came out, how different are things now? You must be pretty satisfied with the past year?

SH: Absolutely. I mean we never predicted we’d be headlining a show at the Bowery Ballroom, or just playing there.

NQL: That’s New York City, right?

SH: Yeah. I guess we feel now that we got everything by working very hard so that’s very satisfying to see that it actually does pay off, to just really hammer it.

GH: We haven’t really said "no" to much.

SH: We just said we’d do any shows. They can be shitty, we don’t care. And they have been shitty and incredible and everywhere in between.

NQL: What makes the difference, just the crowd?

SH: Any number of things can make a show good or shitty. It can be the room…

NQL: Speaking of which, this is a pretty sweet green room or whatever you want to call it. The 9:30 Club which I guess is the main venue in this town has nothing on this place. I’ve seen much worse than this. The couches leave a little to be desired. [Interviewer's note: The room was very spacious and had a refridgerator stocked with beer.]

SH: We played in at the Great Scott in Boston last night where your green room is the men’s toilet. Or the women’s, I guess. And when you come off the stage, you just sort of wait by the stage until you go back on. Which is pretty strange. But yeah, we’ve had some crappy venues and crappy audiences. Like the UK is not as into us as the U.S., so some of the venues we’ve played there are pretty tiny.

NQL: I remember reading something about Black Flag and how when Henry Rollins first joined the band he was bummed when only five people showed up to the show, but then (Greg) Ginn pulled him aside and said, “Those people are here to see us. It’s not their fault no one else showed up so we’re gonna put on a good show.” But how hard is it to actually do that versus saying that?

SH: It’s not hard. When we were in Austin we played for about four people in a room a little bit smaller than the one downstairs and they fucking loved it. And it probably ended up being the longest set of the tour because we were like “Well, we’re here, let’s have fun.” And you can play in front of a bunch of people and have it feel like shit or feel weird. It’s completely random, sometimes.

GH: It keeps it exciting. These past three shows have all sold out, and they have all been pretty good. And it just changes so much from city to city, especially in the States, and you can’t predict what a crowd is going to be like.

NQL: Any city or venue that has really stuck out over the last ten months?

SH: I really enjoyed Chop Suey in Seattle. You can get about 250 people in there and it seemed to be quite the exiting place. And also 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis.

GH: I was just about to say Minneapolis. It’s actually part of a pretty large venue and Of Montreal was playing in the large room, and the small venue is really small, but it’s very personal.

SH: I had no preconceived notion of Minneapolis as a town. I know New York is awesome, Chicago is great, it’s always been good to us. But when you turn up in a town like Minneapolis and see a bunch of people, that is great. So yeah, Minneapolis really surprised me.

NQL: Are you getting ready to work on a new record or is that something you don’t even want to think about right now?

SH: No, I’m really starting to think about it. Now more than ever. It’s nice to be able to switch the head around and be in that mode.

GH: It’s completely different from touring.

SH: It’s completely different. Touring is not creative, and not nourishing to your brain, it’s actually damaging, and for the most part (damaging) to your body.

NQL: [laughs] And I assume you can be home when you make a record.

SH: Yeah. We plan to do that in Scotland. The reasons behind that are mostly because we miss the place. I think it will be nice to feel productive again rather than just being on automatic pilot all day. I don’t really like being on the road.

NQL: When was the last time you were in Scotland?

GH: Christmas day.

SH: Yeah, we left Scotland on Christmas day.

GH: It’s just more, in the past ten months, we haven’t had more than a period of four or five days back home.

NQL: This is going to be a stupid question, but one I have always wondered. When you’re on tour, what do you do with shit like your mail? Who looks after your place when you’re gone for ten months?

SH: I don’t have a place. My mail goes to my parents’ place but they don’t open it. I think my dad would freak if he saw the bank statement.

GH: I just moved back as well, but previously I lived with one other guy in an apartment and spent just way too much rent when I wasn’t there at all so I just moved back home. So I can come home to huge pile of bank statements and phone bills.

SH: I should be paying more attention to what’s going on in the bank but there is generally very little to look at.

NQL: Well, I am going to wrap this up, but give my friends in Chicago a good show when you go there soon. Empty Bottle, right?

SH: Yeah. We got to add another show, so now we have an early and a late show. I think Chicago is one of the places we can get away with playing more of the first album as well. Chicago kind of picked up on it quicker than anywhere in the world, I guess. In fact, there is this radio show called Sound Opinions

NQL: Oh, sure. With Jim (DeRogatis) and Greg (Kot).

SH: Yeah, I didn’t even know they did a radio show, but the message board that is attached to the show caught on to our music very early on. And a lot of them are based in Chicago.

NQL: Actually, I remember listening to Sound Opinions earlier last year and they were talking about The Midnight Organ Fight and then they took a swipe at your name. I think they said they loved your music and played “The Modern Leper” but didn’t care for the name Frightened Rabbit.

SH: Well, “Sound Opinions,” that’s wonderfully creative. Jesus Christ.

NQL: [laughs]


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

11 Random and (Mostly) Musical Observations From Inauguration Weekend

1. The concert at the National Mall on Sunday was fantastic. Had I been watching on television, I’m guessing I would have changed the channel after about five minutes, but being there with thousands of people is a completely different experience. And I feel this way even though I was very far from the stage and had to rely mostly on the large screens. But you don’t have to be front and center to know Stevie Wonder will be the coolest man in the room until the day he dies.

2. Bruce Springsteen was the first performer. Later, Josh Groban took the stage. For those interested in semantics, you could argue Springsteen opened up for Groban. If I were Groban, after Springsteen left the stage I would have approached him and said, “Thanks for warming up the crowd 'Boss' [singular quotation mark used to signify speech in a derisive tone], but I’ll take it from here.”

3. I was thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday for obvious reasons. I think he was an optimistic man who truly believed one day an African-American would take the oath of office to be President of the United States. However, had you told him the very same weekend Garth Brooks would entertain thousands of people of all colors and creeds by playing the Isley Brothers’ “Shout”, he probably would have branded you a liar.

4. In between the musical acts, they had an amazing collection of speakers from Tom Hanks to the President-Elect himself. I started to ponder which top three speakers, if invited, could have immediately sucked the life out of such a wondrous event and eventually settled on Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Bernie Madoff, and a recently pardoned OJ Simpson.

5. I was at a club on Saturday night. I debated with a friend whether it would be kosher for a DJ to ever play Girl Talk. Is that cheating? Or is it more like the DJ-equivalent to a play-within-a-play? Are there any DJ’s out there that want to answer this for me? Do you all play Girl Talk? Or is that a one-way ticket to being ostracized from the DJ-ing community? And has anyone ever enjoyed a play-within-a-play? I haven’t. Perhaps that alone should remove it from any comparisons to Girl Talk.

6. The DJ did play “Big Pimpin’” by Jay-Z. What a ridiculous song. I think someone approached the Jigga Man with that horrible beat and dared him to try and make something out of it. A week later Jay-Z had another hit song. And that’s why he’s the king.

7. The Rock and Roll Hotel is a great place. I went out there on Monday night to interview Frightened Rabbit (more on that later this week), and take in their show. It’s a bear getting out there (especially on the eve of the Inauguration), but that’s my only complaint. It has a great feel and good sound. And if you arrive before the doors open, Sova Espresso is three doors down and serves a mean Bulgarian roast.

8. While I was waiting to get in the venue, a very out-of-place-hippie-looking woman behind me in line with a natural fiber backpack asked who I was there to see. I told her Frightened Rabbit, and curiously asked her the same question. She told me that she and her male companion were in town for a Burning Man meet-and-greet that was taking place inside the club. Really? She asked me to describe Frightened Rabbit. I did the best I could. I asked her to describe a Burning Man meet-and-greet. I was told it was a “gathering of like-minded people looking to spread love and celebrate President Bush’s last day in office.” When we got up to the doors, the ticket-taker asked for their tickets and the hippie woman very confidently told her she wasn’t there for the show, but rather the Burning Man function. I felt bad, but I started laughing. You would have too had you seen the look on the ticket-taker’s face. The ticket-taker had no idea what she was talking about, told them she was unaware of such an event, and upon realizing they didn’t have a ticket to the show, denied them entrance. So the like-minded people had to spread their love elsewhere. Just out of curiosity, I did a Google search and actually found that there was supposed to be a Burning Man meet-and-greet at the Rock and Roll Hotel that night. Maybe the burners didn’t realize that they had to actually call and make reservations. They don’t always operate the same way as the rest of us.

9. The bathrooms at the Rock and Roll Hotel have those old-school Soldier Field-like troughs for urinals. If you value short lines over sanitary conditions, then this is the place for you. And who are these bands promoting themselves by putting their stickers on the inside of the trough? Whatever the case, I ran into Thom Yorke of Radiohead in the bathroom, and several of us egged him on and promised him $30 to do "this." I was lucky to capture the action on my camera phone.

10. Frightened Rabbit is a great band and I’m not the only one that knows. The place was packed and sold out. A few people asked me why I didn’t go to the Hideout sponsored Inauguration bash at the Black Cat that same evening to see Andrew Bird, Ted Leo, Tortoise, and others. I could have, but I opted for Frightened Rabbit. Scott Hutchison beginning the encore playing “Poke” by himself and away from the microphone validated my choice.

11. While everyone was waiting for the first band, the DJ played “Paper Planes.” If I am standing in a room with at least 3+ people, that song will always put a smile on my face. I notice I am not alone. Everyone seems to always perk up when that song comes on. After the show was over and we were shuffling out of the club, they played a blistering-loud “Like Eating Glass” by Bloc Party and that, combined with the reminder that the next day would bring Barack Obama’s Inauguration, made me smile again.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Under-Appreciated Albums, Part 2: The '80s

I thought the '80s would be full of under-appreciated albums, but after scouring my iPod in search of some, I came up pretty empty. I think the recent wave of '80s tribute bands like Junior Boys and Interpol has kind of paved the way for bands who might have slipped through the cracks to be found by interested and backwards-looking music fans. Like me. Seven years ago, I thought that The Cure was only that band with the ridiculous looking lead singer and that The Jesus and Mary Chain was some sort of ancient bondage relic. Now I realize that both of those bands' '80s output is classic and that Robert Smith still looks ridiculous. I'm not alone. If you look at any best of the '80s list, they're generally full of what I believe they should be full of. But I did find some bits of '80s music that I still feel don't get their due. Because I had trouble finding full under-appreciated albums, I'm going to change the rules for this round and then return to the album-only treatment with the '90s. So, same as before: listen to this shit.

Duran Duran - Rio (1982), Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983)

Duran Duran was my first favorite band. I had all of their records and knew them by heart. I remember watching MTV for hours just hoping to see one of their videos. I even carved "Duran Duran" into our nice, wood dining room table with a steak knife. My parents were not amused. I grew out of them in probably 1986 or so because they were lame or something, I don't remember, but people grow out of things and I grew out of them. About three years ago though, I was going through some boxes at my parents' house and dug out my old records. I found my battered, scratched copy of Rio and brought it back to my apartment. I threw it on and quickly came to a realization: Duran Duran is (still) completely fucking awesome.

Everyone knows and loves "Rio", "Hungry Like the Wolf", "Union of the Snake", etc. But everyone loves them as guilty pleasure hits from the '80s equivalent of a boy band. Duran Duran is not a boy band. First of all, they took their name from the sci-fi cult classic Barbarella. I'm not sure what that means, but it's not something some pussy boy band would do. Also, they wrote and co-produced their own stuff and were one of the first bands to remix their own songs. The only similarities they have with a boy band are that they're good looking and that, during their heyday, they couldn't go outside without being deafened by screaming teenage girls. And, I guess, they wore makeup, but who didn't wear makeup in the '80s? I strongly maintain that if Duran Duran's classic-period career spanned from 2000-2008 instead of 1980-1988, they would be the Strokes (who I also believe are [still] completely fucking awesome) and would be critical darlings.

So, I ask that you listen to Rio and Seven and the Ragged Tiger with fresh ears. Don't listen to them as Duran Duran albums--try to listen to them thinking you've never heard them before. Sure, there are some duds, but pay attention to the great intro to "Rio", the uncharacteristic strangeness of "The Chauffeur", how "The Reflex" is brilliantly constructed with a bunch of sounds that shouldn't work together, and the pop perfection of "New Moon on Monday", one of my favorite songs ever. Then realize that one of the most successful bands of the '80s was also one of the best.

David Bowie - "Modern Love" (1983)

Say what you want about Let's Dance: that it's one of Bowie's bigger missteps, that you took one look at the cover and ran away, that the title track makes you have a seizure, but don't knock "Modern Love." It starts out with a little guitar part, then the drums kick in, then Bowie quietly growls as the piano starts, "I know when to go out / I know when to stay in / Get things done". Then the next four-and-a-half minutes are propelled by that classic drum beat and piano riff with this awesome sense of urgency that Bowie's voice matches. The horns even work to add to the tension and everything comes together at about the 4:15 mark in a great climax before the fade-out. It's one of those songs that, no matter the situation, I'm always glad to hear.

The Smiths - Louder than Bombs (1987)

All right, I'm definitely cheating a bit here because there's no way that anything by The Smiths should ever appear on any list having anything to do with not being appreciated. Especially because they're probably the most loved '80s band whose career began and ended within that decade. But I think Louder Than Bombs gets overlooked a bit because it's a compilation. But, somehow, maybe because it's perfectly sequenced, it's a compilation that also works as an album. I just checked my iTunes and it turns out that this is the Smiths album I listen to the most by far. It's got everything you need: poppy Smiths ("Ask", "Is it Really so Strange", "Panic"), angry Smiths ("William, it Was Really Nothing", "You Just Haven't Earned it Yet, Baby"), weird Smiths ("Golden Lights", "Rubber Ring"), and, of course, depressing-as-hell Smiths ("Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want"). It's far better than any of the Smiths' greatest hits collections that are out there, probably because their greatest hits are greatest when they're heard in the context of a whole album. I think that's why Louder Than Bombs works so well. Because it's a collection of one-off songs, each track doesn't belong to another album first--it belongs to Louder Than Bombs.

Roger Waters featuring some of Pink Floyd – The Final Cut (1982)

I think you either love The Final Cut or hate it. I love it. It gets dismissed as a Roger Waters solo album and, therefore, it must kind of suck. That's half right. It is basically a Waters album, but it doesn't suck. I don't really have more to say about it because I don't think I can influence anyone's opinion who has already heard it. But if you haven't heard it, listen to it. If you hate it, it's only about an hour of your time. If you love it, though, it might become one of your favorites.

--Jim Powers

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Nothing Quite Like...Here Come The Warm Jets

Jim Powers recently released his most under-appreciated albums of the '70s, and while I wholehearted agree with his selections, I would be remiss if I did not use the opportunity to discuss what I believe to be not only one of the most under-appreciated albums of the '70s, but one of the most under-appreciated albums, ever: Brian Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets (hereinafter HCTWJ). Initially, I was prepared to discuss this over-looked-album-almost-to-the-point-of-travesty in the comments section under Jim's article, but before posting, I thought to myself, "This is just indicative of this album's existence as an afterthought in Eno's oeuvre; this album deserves a full post with a .jpeg of the album cover and large fonts, the bloggy works, and should not just be relegated to the comments section." (Not to diminish the comments section, please continue to post your thoughts, and yes, the word "oeuvre" does arise in my internal dialogue.)

Outside its inclusion in Pitchfork's Top 25 of the '70s, this album simply does not get the love it deserves. Critics, for the most part, fail to give HCTWJ the singular praise it deserves, rather grouping the album with the rest of Eno's brilliant '70s output, to include Before & After Science, Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) (the best way to take Tiger Mountain, if you ask me), Ambient 1, and Another Green World (which tends to garner the most individual praise).

Not to detract from any of these works, as each deserves independent appreciation, but Here Come The Warm Jets...Here Come The Warm Jets...Here Come The Judge...Here Come The Warm Jets. Another Album with a capital 'A', Here Come The Warm Jets might just be the best rock album to make prodigious use of the synthesizer, might just be the best glam rock album, might just be the best album of the 1970s, might just be the best classic rock album, might just be…one of the best albums…ever.

HCTWJ manages to be both deceptively conventional and profoundly odd. On one hand, a casual listener could find this album consistent with the output of many '70s acts, largely melodic pop-rock songs with a good bit of guitar and synthesizer wankery thrown in the mix. However, close or repeated listenings erase the initial impressions of jazzy rock jamming and reveal the deliberate composition underneath. Riffs are placed, not merely played, and background atmospherics, bells, and whistles are exposed as absolute compositional necessities that you can only realize in hindsight.

Yet each of these tracks can stand on its own as a little pop nugget. As a rule, I love any eight-minute or shorter song in which the lyrics come in somewhere after the two-minute mark. "On Some Faraway Beach" is no exception, and is likely the reason for the rule. After the beautiful first three minutes of the song, I'm torn between wanting to hit the mark (GNR "Patience"-style) singing the lines "Given the chance/I'd die like a baby/On some faraway beach/When the season's over", or breaking down in tears. This truly unforced epic should be in heavy rotation on your hometown's ubiquitous classic rock station. A thinking man's "Turn the Page" (though, are fans of "Turn the Page" really looking for a "thinking man's" anything?).

"Cindy Tells Me" should have the highest play-count on any lover of indie pop's iPod. Then there's "Dead Finks Don't Talk." Utterly bizarre, undeniably awesome. "Dead Finks" features spoken word, choral chanting, and a pre-Debbie Harry white rap interlude. Yet the most genius choice of the song (and maybe the album…and… I'll begrudgingly refrain from further hyperbole) is the inclusion of the odd "oh no"s in the ostensible chorus. Yet this song is objectively outstanding and not in a novelty sense. Jeff Lynne is rolling around in his grave right now wishing he wrote this song.

HCTWJ seamlessly ends with "Some Of Them Are Old" segueing into the complementary closing title track, which I'd take over the coda of "Layla" any day. The perfect way to end this masterpiece, a virtual aural victory lap that seems to hearken back to the joys and successes of the previous thirty-eight minutes.

I often threaten to sit down and write out my top ten favorite, or what I believe to be the best albums of all time. I never have, but I imagine my picks would reflect the conventional tastes of my fellow peers who like to read and write about music on the internet, with your OK Computer, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, David Bowie, Abbey Road, Lonesome Crowded West, late '70s, early '80s punk and post punk, Secret Samadhi, etc. And somewhere on that short list would be this album. But I do not want this to be some kind of mark of uniqueness, an obligatory "break from the pack" pick. I want this to be a consistent, obvious, and boring choice. At the very least, I want to have one conversation with a music dork/geek/snob who is with me on this issue. So if you have not given this album its due attention, I urge you to do so.

Then check out Jim Powers's suggestions, they're nice.

--Travis Newman

Sunday, January 11, 2009

No. 4. Everyone Has One...What The F*ck Is In A Name?

In our fourth installment of Everyone Has One (an opinion, that is), I wanted to discuss band names. The latest episode of Sound Opinions briefly mentioned the Canadian band Fucked Up and it reminded me of something Brian had written in passing for one of our year-end lists regarding the inordinate amount of “fuck” bands (Fucked Up, Holy Fuck, Fuck Buttons, et al) currently driving the kids wild. Pretty great names, huh? In fact, all three are really good bands (I currently can’t get enough of that Fucked Up record), so it’s not as though they have to use shock value as some sort of crutch. But I can’t help but wonder, what exactly was going through their R-rated heads when they sat down and had the “band name” discussion?

Let’s see, I’m thinking we need a name that makes us increasingly difficult to market and eliminates any chance we ever had of playing on Letterman. Who’s with me? [Everyone nods in agreement.]

On the other end of the spectrum, you have bands with completely ungoogeable names like Office and Women. It almost makes me wonder if any band has snatched up the name “The” yet. I have no problem with these bands, mind you. I like Office and Women, and would probably listen to a band called The. And as for “fuck bands,” I still believe in that element of rock music that is supposed to make your parents angry, so I’m all for it.

But my question is this, what does a band name mean to you? If the Replacements had decided to call themselves “Windshield," would you still enjoy Let it Be as much?

Also, I want to see a list of the worst possible and/or least marketable band names you can think of. For example, I think a band that just has a silhouette of a tennis racquet as their name (like what Prince did with his symbol), but actually refers to themselves as “Golf Club” just for the sake of confusion would be pretty great.

(Oh, and let’s have a concerted effort to keep them moderately clean. I rule the comment section with an iron fist straight out of East Germany. And besides, anything you can think of has already been one-upped by Seth Putnam. Let's hope he's not reading.)


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Under-Appreciated Albums, Part 1: The '70s

Many of my favorite albums are universally loved. Few will argue that classics like OK Computer, Abbey Road, and Closer haven't gotten their just due from the music press and from listeners. But many of the rest of my favorite albums are either ignored, mocked, or forgotten by the press, the blogosphere, and even my like-minded friends. Starting today, I'm going to talk about those albums, grouped by release decade. These are albums that I love and that have, for one reason or another, fallen by the wayside. Maybe I'm wrong and the album actually objectively sucks; maybe the band in question has released a few crap follow-ups that make people forget that they were once good; maybe the album is universally well regarded and I'm missing something. But I love these albums, and I hope that whoever reads this will give them another shot or listen to them for the first time. Today, four albums from the '70s.

Jethro Tull - Aqualung (1971)

The worst thing that ever happened to Tull was winning that Grammy because it turned them from a band into a punch line. All of their classic-period output was immediately changed from respectable classic rock to those songs by that band who won a heavy-metal Grammy over Metallica by playing a flute. Aqualung is a concept album to the bone (the concept basically being "fuck religion"), from album art to production values to lyrics, and from beginning to end. It begins with that classic six-note riff of the title track and charges through harder, radio friendly songs ("Aqualung" and "Locomotive Breath") dotted with brief, intimate cuts ("Wond'ring Aloud", "Cheap Day Return", "Slipstream") that are, in many ways, the heart of the album. And, yes, there might be a three-minute flute solo during "My God", but it's the best three minute flute solo you ever heard. This is one of the first albums I listened to growing up that made me realize that an album was an Album, and not just a collection of songs. I honestly believe it's one of the best albums of that late '60s / early '70s classic rock period, and one that I would have a hard time not including in a short list of my favorite albums ever.

Can - Soon Over Babaluma (1974)

This album gets overlooked because it's the first Can album since Monster Movie that doesn't include the vocal freak outs of music critic idol Damo Suzuki (vocals on Soon Over Babaluma by Schmidt and Karoli). Suzuki is certainly an interesting character, and his presence is essential on the adored triptych of Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, and Future Days, but his absence in Soon Over Babaluma forces the focus back on the music and Can's four incredible musicians. Can's brand of Krautrock always bordered on ambient, and this album is the bridge between their earlier music with vocals and their later music without. Opener "Dizzy Dizzy" is a great pop song and the original side-B of the LP consisting of "Chain Reaction" and "Quantum Physics" is among the best pieces of music the band ever recorded. If you don't like Can you probably won't like this, but if you like their earlier output and haven't heard this for whatever reason, give it a try.

Paul and Linda McCartney - Ram (1971)

Some of the stuff on Ram is just as good as any of Paul's non-second-half-of-Abbey Road Beatles output. A lot of the commentary regarding this album focuses on the shots that Paul takes at John and Yoko, but it's a better album if those shots can be ignored. I love the hell out of "Dear Boy", especially the layering at the end. "Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey" is pretty much a classic, and "The Back Seat of My Car" is a great closer. I think people pay less attention to this album because it gets overshadowed by Band on the Run and McCartney (not to mention All Things Must Pass and Plastic Ono Band), because Paul is less "cool" than John and George, and because of its stupid album art, but this is my favorite post-Beatles solo record.

The Jam - All Mod Cons (1978)

This is directed at NQL's stateside audience, as the UK seems to love this album unconditionally. Actually, most of the critical U.S. loves this album too. How The Jam are basically ignored by the listening public here is beyond me, but All Mod Cons should be lumped with Pink Flag, Singles Going Steady, etc. as a late '70s masterpiece. I actually know very little about The Jam. I know that Paul Weller is their guitarist and that I always see him in the pages of Mojo and Q, and I know that they informed a lot of the new British bands that all of the kids are listening to. I also know that All Mod Cons is superb-- the lyrics are sharp and the songs are catchy as hell. The album just sounds like England, kind of like how Parklife did in the '90s.

--Jim Powers

Monday, January 5, 2009

NQL Resolutions for 2009

And we're back. 2009 just feels like it's going to be a good year for music. Maybe it's the odd-numbered year thing (for reference, see Nirvana's Nevermind (1991), The Clash's London Calling (1979), Ludwig Van Beethoven's Symphony #2 (1803)); maybe it's because of all the intriguing albums set for release in the coming months; or maybe it's just because we all love music and would be happy no matter what year it is. To that end, a few contributors have offered up New Year resolutions, as they pertain to music, to fully maximize 2009's potential.

Alex Crisafulli
I resolve…to actually listen to an album before I rank it in my top ten records of the year. (For the first time yesterday I got around to listening to Frightened Rabbit’s The Midnight Organ Fight, my pick for top album of 2008. After four songs I couldn’t take any more of that Scottish guy’s whining and turned it off. )
…to listen to “Less Than You Think” by Wilco all the way through before I get in another ill-advised argument with one of my friends that A Ghost is Born is a better album than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
…to make enough money in 2009 to pay back the security deposit I owe Wolf Parade for the album "art" I did for them on At Mount Zoomer. Sorry about that one, guys.

Brian Herrmann
I resolve…to tell the dude from Crystal Castles that his jacket is too small.
…to cull my digital and physical music archives to that which I actually do, or might reasonably one day listen to.
…to get a new job that's not next to a construction site whose sounds aren't drown-outable even with noise-canceling headphones.
The mirrors at the Salvation Army can be a bit deceiving.

Travis Newman
I resolve…to see more shows. I likely attended less shows in 2008 than in any year since I have been of concert-going age. The blame rests in part with the lack of quality shows in the Louisville area in ’08, and in part with me. Louisville concerts tend to skew in favor of the Roots-Rock Crowd. I understand Wilco is great and all, but beyond them Roots-Rock and/or AAA format bands amount to little more than modern day Big Head Todds. Much more bitter than sweet.

At the same time I skipped out on concerts that in previous years I would have definitely attended: The Hold Steady, because they shared the bill with the Drive By Truckers, and were in an awful venue; Man Man, because everyone I know hates Man Man and I did not want to go by myself; and Magnolia Electric Company, because it was on a Wednesday. In 2009, realizing that the Radioheads, Animal Collectives, and Spencer Krug Projects of the world will not be playing the 'Ville in the months to come, maybe I will attend that blogster endorsed show recommended by local bloggers Backseat Sandbar or Peter Berkowitz. Or I could always suck it up and see Iron & Wine, or, God-forbid, this guy.

Jim Powers
I resolve...to listen to at least two new albums in full each week so that my year end top 10 list won't come from a pool of 11 possible albums, with one of them being as bad as Bloc Party's Intimacy.
…when I buy tickets to a show, I will go to that show, and not make up excuses to not go like I'm tired or I have to do laundry.

Audrey Wen
I resolve…to move to Gary, Indiana and start an underground music movement in a dilapidated, abandoned warehouse alongside terrier-sized rats and crackheads and be hailed as the "best music scene" by Rolling Stone.
…to once and for all get over the fact that I will look like an idiot and finally wear earplugs at a show.
…to do somethin' like this.

Happy New Year, everyone.
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