What the Hell Just Happened?!? Week: Day 3 — Nick Lowe
Sometimes music feels like a enormous game of connect the dots — one you can play for your entire life and never finish. Nick Lowe’s solo-acoustic opening set before Sunday’s Wilco show at Merriweather Post Pavilion gave me the chance to connect a few dots that I didn’t even know were close to one another, and I’m incredibly glad I was there to see it. Before Wilco released their “I Might” single, the first from their new album The Whole Love, I didn’t know much about Nick Lowe. When I heard the single’s b-side, a cover of Lowe’s “I Love My Label,” I asked my father-in-law about its author and found out about Rockpile, the influential band Lowe fronted alongside Dave Edmunds. I enjoyed what I heard, and was excited when I found out Lowe would be opening for Wilco. But the connection that really blew my mind wasn’t made until halfway though Sunday’s outstanding opening set, when I realized he was playing Elvis Costello’s “Alison.” It was a great “Hey, I know this song!!!” moment. What I didn’t know was that Lowe produced the song, and that he’s credited with writing another tune made famous by Costello, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love And Understanding,” which we also got to hear on Sunday. Lowe’s Wikipedia page is full of these crazy connections, like how he married (and divorced) Johnny Cash’s stepdaughter, but Lowe and Cash remained friends and recorded together and oh god Wikipedia steals so much of my time. But that’s one of my favorite things about music — the dots are just waiting to be connected, and there’s no right or wrong way to do so. Preview Lowe’s new offering, The Old Magic, below and grab the album from iTunes here.
What the Hell Just Happened?!? Week: Day 2 — Reptar
I’ve written before about how an unfamiliar song can hit you just right, forming an instant connection. It’s a great feeling. Now take that feeling, multiply it by 1,500 people, add a healthy dose of personal space violation and what do you get? Reptar! The Athens, GA four-piece was the first of three bands to perform before a jam-packed, early-arriving, capacity crowd at the National in Richmond, VA on Friday night, but if you didn’t know any better, you would have thought they were headlining. Sure, the attendees were no doubt pumped up to see the night’s main attraction, Foster the People. Nonetheless, Reptar elicited a remarkably strong response for an opener with just one EP to its name. What’s even more remarkable is that, to my knowledge, their set included just one song — the wonderfully layered and bouncy “Phonetics” — of the five featured on their EP. (By the way… the name of this EP? Oblangle Fizz, Y’all. I love it. Doesn’t Oblangle Fizz, Y’allsound like it should be the title of an Outkast album? Can’t you hear someone in a record store saying, “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was dope, but Oblangle Fizz, Y’all is my JAM!” And isn’t it a little weird that Reptar hails from Athens, just down the road from Outkast’s Atlanta? Hmmmmmmm…) Testing new material when you’re the first of two opening acts strikes me as ballsy, and that ballsiness was rewarded handsomely, as one new song after another was greeted with cheers, dancing and percussive clapping. In a word, they resonated. It seemed like so many of us were having that rare instant-connection moment, which made for a first impression I will not soon forget. You can preview the first four tracks of Oblangle Fizz, Y’all here, listen to “Phonetics” below, and click here to snag the EP from iTunes.
When I realized I was approaching my 100th You Hear That post, it took me approximately .0382 milliseconds to decide what I wanted to say and what song could help me say it. I’d like to take this opportunity to say a huge and heartfelt thank you to all the amazing people who have supported this blog since I started writing it in March. Whether you have taken time out of your day to read a post, submit a comment, retweet a link, make a suggestion, read a draft (I’m looking at you, Mrs. YHT), write a guest post or include me in your blogroll, I want you to know that these gestures brighten my day tremendously and breathe life into a venture that brings me an immeasurable amount of joy. Talking about music is one of my favorite things in the entire universe, and, to paraphrase Sly Stone, you all let me be myself day after day by entertaining my reactions, recommendations and (often way-over-the-top) enthusiasm. I can’t wait to see what the next hundred posts will bring, and I sincerely hope you’ll continue reading and sharing your thoughts as we find out together. Before going any further, I have a confession to make about “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” My relationship with the song didn’t start with Sly and the Family Stone’s original version — it began when Dave Matthews and Friends (which featured Trey Anastasio and Tim Reynolds on dueling/feuding lead guitars) performed an 18-minute cover version to close their headlining set at Bonnaroo in 2004. Right now you may be saying to yourself, “Geez, 18 minutes? That seems excessive…” Well, you’d be right, and I’m pretty sure Dave Matthews would agree with you. Neither Anastasio nor Reynolds would let the other get the last guitar solo word, and from where I was standing (admittedly, about 100 yards away), it looked like Matthews started shouting at Reynolds to get him to stop playing his instrument. Good times! I hope you enjoy Sly’s (considerably shorter) version above, and thank you thank you thank you falettinme be mice elf. Agin.
Wow. What the hell just happened?!? Let’s see… Seven bands. Five days. Three venues. Two states. One blown mind. My head actually exploded, and it’s going to take a full week to put it back together, so I hope you’ll grab a glue stick and join me as I collect the pieces. I already shared my experience from Wednesday’s headlining Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr set, but I haven’t yet mentioned their dynamite opening act, Kyle Andrews. The past five days have been an embarrassment of opening act riches, and I know I’ve said it once, but I’ll keep saying it until the Statue of Liberty is buried in sand and the apes won’t let us use the interweb anymore — heading to concerts early is one of the best ways to discover new music. Fortunately, my wife and I were way early to Wednesday’s show, and we were ready when Mr. Andrews hit the stage with his artful marriage of efficient pop songcraft and upbeat synth. Andrews’ latest album, Robot Learn Love, sets out to explore the relationship people have with the machines that we use on a daily basis, and I enjoyed the results, both in the car on the way to the Southern and in person once we were there. We were even treated to a guest appearance by Dale Jr Jr on Andrews’ “Heart U 4 Ever” — fitting, given that the Detroit duo recently remixed the song. Check out the original and the remix below, buy Robot Learn Love here, and check back for another trip to the awesome opening act buffet!
I have to begin this post by saying thank you to RVA Magazine, because the RVA Music Festival has proven to be the gift that keeps on giving. Not only did I have an incredible time on Sunday, September 11, walking between the two main stages, enjoying some of Richmond’s best home-grown music, I also walked away with a gluttonous haul of merch. If you’re a regular reader of You Hear That, you may already know about my raging merch addiction. True to form, I did my fair share of business at the merch tables at the RVA Music Fest, and even though I’m enjoying all of the spoils, I’m a bit concerned, because The Trillions are threatening to claim squatter’s rights to my car’s CD player. I’ve been listening to an advance copy of their new full-length album ever since I bought it at the festival. I can’t stop. The truth is that it’s not up to me any more, because some of the songs on the still-unnamed album are solidly stuck in my head, underpinning what might be the band’s greatest achievement: writing guitar lines, lyrics and melodies that your brain begs to hear again. From the sweeping chorus of “Win Some Lose Some” to the descending notes that open, and reappear in, “Calm Down” to the fact that saying the words “You Gotta Be Kidding Me” instantly makes the song start playing in my mind (I’m completely serious. It’s like saying “Beetlejuice” three times… Michael Keaton WILL show up), there are so many moments for which “catchy” is not a strong enough word. Add to these moments an abundance of driving rhythms, an almost supernatural aptitude for choosing guitar sounds that enhance the notes they’re expressing and an exceedingly beautiful song in “What, When, Where,” and you have a sophisticated and rewarding album that’s extremely hard to put down. Check out their performance of “Calm Down” from the RVA Music Fest below, and click here to grab your advance copy of their new album.
“Have you seen ‘em live?” is a question that’s getting more and more difficult to answer. On one level, it’s a basic yes or no question about whether you’ve dragged your physical being out to a music venue to see a band perform. Why complicate something so simple? Well, because chances are, if you want to find out what a band’s live performance is like, you can do so right this very second by going to YouTube. Of course YouTube isn’t the same as being there yourself, with the lights a-flashin’, bass a-thumpin’ and that tall guy inevitably swooping in to stand in your line of sight, but the interweb does make it possible to see and hear how the potential energy of studio tracks are transformed into kinetic energy onstage. This transformation is particularly intriguing for bands that use samples in the studio, as Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr does. That’s why I was so excited when I saw this video of “Nothing But Our Love” from their recent set at the Austin City Limits festival. The song bursts out of its studio seams with a spectacular final sequence, adding aggressive dashes of spice to a dish that previously thrived on its sweetness. With this clip in the back of my mind, I gleefully dragged my physical being to the Southern in Charlottesville, VA last night to get the full, lights-bass-tall-guy, Jr Jr experience. It was an incredible show of talent, showmanship, jackets (my enjoyment of their costumes and marketing knows no bounds) and production savvy. It’s no surprise that these two are involved in the remix community — onstage and off they make one smart musical decision after another, carefully managing instrumentation, samples and harmonies to maximize the impact of each song. We were treated to a booming version of “We Almost Lost Detroit,” an extremely catchy new tune and, as I’d hoped, the evolutionary ending to “Nothing But Our Love.” Did already having seen this ending on YouTube spoil the moment? Not even a little. It was glorious. Check out the ACL performance above, the studio version below, and buy their album It’s A Corporate World here.
Everyone loves a good mix CD. Just as their tape-based ancestors did, mix CDs let you discover new artists, revisit old favorites and revel in anticipation as you wait to find out what the next track will bring (my wife grew up in a household where you weren’t even allowed to glance at the hand-written track listing until you’d heard the CD all the way through once). Plus, there’s no better window into the soul than what the mix maker chooses to include [Rob Gordon nods in agreement]. So what if you had to make a mix CD to give to… wait for it… the Queen of England AND President Barack Obama? What would you put on that bad boy? Well, if you’re the Irish Association of Songwriters, Composers & Authors working in association with First Music Contact and Culture Ireland, you’d put a little Fionn Regan on there! I first learned about Regan when TwentyFourBit, one of my favorite music blogs in the whole world, posted a link to an outdoorsy solo performance of the title track of his new album, 100 Acres of Sycamore. I was struck right away by how he made difficult things — intricate finger-picking, lyrics rich in metaphor, sitting against a tree in what appear to be some pretty tight pants — seem so effortless. Moments afterward, Wikipedia told me about how the aforementioned Irish cultural organizations included Regan’s song “Put A Penny In The Slot” on a compilation album that was designed to give “the gift of Irish music” to Her Royal Highness and the Barackstar when they each visited Ireland earlier this year. A single listen was enough for me to hear why this song and its writer were placed in such a venerated position. His lyrics are remarkable not just for their insight but because they take small pictures with big meaning, zooming in on detail in a most beautiful and arresting way. Listen to “Put A Penny In The Slot” below to see what I mean, and buy his album The End of History here. And if you’d like to hear what else was rocking the Air Force One sound system on the way back from Ireland, you can check out the rest of the IASCA mix here.
Driving up Staples Mill yesterday, I caught an unfamiliar time-chunk (I believe that’s the technical term for it) of NPR, and I heard something that didn’t fully hit me until I was halfway through last night’s Avett Brothers concert at the Charlottesville Pavilion. It came from an interview that cellist Clancy Newman did with Performance Today for their series about how musicians practice. Newman said sitting down to play his cello is so sacred that he never practices with scales or exercises, only pieces of music that carry “emotional meaning.” In that way, he can be sure that each of his performances will tap into his passion and his instrument’s emotive power. At first it seemed a little over the top… until I watched Joe Kwon. Kwon is the cellist for the Avetts, and he is not your average sit-and-stay cellist. He spent all of last night’s show upright and dancing, playing with his cello tucked under his chin as he accumulated broken strands at the end of his bow. It was a sight to behold, not just because of the difficulty involved, but because his eyes-closed, engulfed-in-the-music passion couldn’t be constrained by a chair, or a space, or the tensile strength of horsehair (Really? They still use actual horsehair for bows? That seems weird. I also feel, as a former A-HEM [straightens tie] middle school violinist, I should have known that without asking Wikipedia.) You could see the same quality in Scott Avett, whose deluge of enthusiasm is too much for a single instrument (he often pounds a kick drum as he strums his banjo) and in Seth Avett, who moved with every beat of every song, played his acoustic guitar like the strings would never snap (two did during the course of the evening), and absolutely screamed select song lyrics along with his brother. The two frontmen even did a short set around a single microphone, without any other amplification, as if the sound system itself could not conduct all of their musical energy. It was a phenomenal display, and it helped me understand what Clancy Newman meant in his interview. For Newman, it’s careful reverence. For the Avetts, it’s unbridled irreverence. But the Avett Brothers scream, play cello and pound on deconstructed drum sets with the same passion that’s so strong in Clancy Newman that he doesn’t even want to touch his instrument sometimes. That is such a beautiful thought, and it was a true gift to see it come to life before my eyes last night. One song the Avett Brothers played that I think embodies this thought particularly well is “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” from their latest album I and Love and You. Listen to the song below, and grab the album here.
The music gods giveth, and the music gods taketh away. I learned this lesson the hard way on May 11, 2008, when my friend Coyle and I, Radiohead tickets in hand, inched northward on I-95 towards Nissan Pavilion in a driving rain and an astounding amount of traffic, only to watch the entire duration of the show tick by on the cruel, green-blue-numbered digital clock that was built into the dash of Coyle’s Jeep Grand Cherokee by Satan himself. Turns out, the rain had washed away one of the venue’s main entrances, and along with it, my dreams of seeing Radiohead for the first time. I still haven’t seen them. Le sigh. I don’t know exactly why the music gods punished me that day (My closet top-40 habit? Accepting requests for “Freebird?” Downloading mp3s with Kazaa in college?), but I do know why they were pissed at me this past Sunday — waiting until the last minute to print my RVA Music Fest tickets. As I scrambled to find a working printer, I had flashbacks of that May evening, not just because I was running late, but because I was filled with excitement as I rushed to see another band for the first time: White Laces. Thankfully, there was no Radiohead repeat. The music gods were in a giving mood, and I made it in time to see the last three songs, which were worthy of every bit of the anticipation. Not only did I get to experience how sublimely weighty “Sick of Summer” feels in person (this song has a transfixing gravity to it — the drums and bass had me mesmerized all the way through to the final explosive moments), I also got to hear a really cool, winding, stopping, starting new tune that I learned will be included on a 7” single the band is recording this weekend at Mystic Fortress studio in Roanoke. I can’t wait to hear that one again, and I can’t wait for the 10” record coming out in mid-November that will feature one of my favorite White Laces tunes of all, “Hands In Mexico.” Check out the song’s delectably sinister video above, listen to “Sick of Summer” below, grab their self-titled EP here, and learn from my mistake — never wait until the last minute to print your tickets. The music gods don’t like it, and printers are pure, unadulterated evil.
Gregg Gillis said it best. Near the end of his set, the most high-profile performer of the night pointed out*, while standing atop his Panasonic Toughbook’s necessarily sturdy table, that he’s been to tons of festivals, but it was special to see so much of Richmond in the inaugural RVA Music Fest. RVA Magazine did a truly great job organizing, as Sunday was an outstanding snapshot of some of Richmond’s best musicians, and I felt really lucky to be there. One of the bands that reinforced that feeling most was Black Girls. I think everyone’s experienced this moment — you’re at a show, and a performance so totally and completely fills the space around you that the room/theater/amphitheater you’re in feels tiny in comparison to the size of the moment you’re in. Black Girls set up shop in exactly that type of moment on Sunday, giving an amazing show that preceded Stage Two’s headlining act, No BS! Brass Band. In a chaotic festival setting, where people had only moments ago been milling around, snagging (delicious) tacos from Nate’s Taco Truck, Black Girls seemed totally in control, belting out danceable, falsetto-fueled rock and soul songs with a captivating swagger that emanated from every corner of the band. Plus, I got my wish and members of No BS! joined them onstage for closing song “Broadway,” a tune that joyously melds the two bands’ upbeat personalities. Check out the studio version of their collaboration below, pick up Black Girls’ self-titled album here, and the vinyl-inclined can grab the two bands’ split 7″ here.
*I’m paraphrasing here. By this point, dancing had supplanted any sort of note taking, mental or otherwise. Though no direct quotes are available, we can safely assume that I yelled “Oh shit!” when “Thriller” kicked in. UPDATE — Who needs a memory when you have YouTube? Here’s the clip.