Loving the Langerado Lineup: How’s this for an ‘Alternative Spring Break’?*

February 23, 2007

By Andy Smith, Contributing Editor

Can’t get tickets to Coachella? Can’t wait until Bonnaroo? While these may be the Super Bowl and World Series of rock festivals in North America respectively, the up-and-coming Langerado is spring training. And tickets are still available. This southernmost sonic carnival takes place in a little more than two weeks at Markham Park in Sunrise, Florida on March 9-11, 2007.

Calling itself “South Florida’s most eclectic music festival,” Langerado apparently borrows a good part of its musical philosophy from its wildly successful big sister celebration in Tennessee. Although not in any way officially affiliated with Bonnaroo, Langerado includes some significant crossover with that more famous fest in its featured artists for 2007. But more than that, this “Babyroo” books acts that breathe “eclectic” like circus freaks breathe fire.

Here’s the rocking recipe: Begin with a die-hard jam-friendly focus that features beloved acts like Trey Anastasio, Widespread Panic, and the Disco Biscuits. Then, season soulfully with a funky fusion of groups like Galactic, Soul Live, and Medeski, Martin, and Wood. Add enough alternative rock and world music to satisfy even the most jaded musical junkie.

The weekend will start by getting steeped in some Tea Leaf Green and other rootsy offerings like Assembly of Dust. By late Friday, bring this brew to a full boil with Anastasio and STS9 competing for your attention as the closing sets of the first night.

(Photo credit: Michael Weintrob)

After cooling only slightly overnight, the mid-festival feast features new rock from The Slip and then gets Latin funky with Yerba Buena. Simmer this mix with something seriously stellar: back-to-back Saturday night sets from Michael Franti and Spearhead, and My Morning Jacket.

Next day, you’ll need some severe spiritual healing, so throw in Cat Power’s bluesy confessional and the rappin’ rabbi Matisyahu for some Sunday preachin’ in the late afternoon. To close out the marathon of shows, folks will be able to choose between getting their jammy essentials with the Panic or a wicked mash-up with Girl Talk leading directly into the capstone indy set with The New Pornographers.

Top all this off with the weekend’s taper-friendly policy and an intimate limit of only 15,000 tickets being sold, and this is the festival to begin the year of festivals right. Known for its friendly, hassle-free, chilled-out ambiance provided by the promoters and patrons alike, there’s no better excuse to go to Florida for an alternative Spring Break that doesn’t involve back-breaking good deeds—just fulfilling those good musical needs.

For more information on the Langerado Music Festival, please visit its official website: http://www.langerado.com

Under the Influence of Giants Warm the Cold Boston Night*

February 13, 2007

By Kimberly Egolf, Contributing Editor

On this past wintry and windy Sunday evening, Under the Influence of Giants brought their inspiring brand of dance-pop sunshine to warm up local Boston bar, Great Scott. A small crowd filled the floor as these four SoCal boys, disguised in winter coats appropriate to the 12 degree weather, hung out next to the bar’s bathroom and waited for their crew to finish setting up the stage. When ready, they shed the coats and quietly assumed the stage to check sound levels.

As the last strains of the tune-up by his bandmates faded, Singer Aaron Bruno jumped onto the stage and announced, “We’re here to have a great time and we hope you’ll join us!” The small crowd’s enthusiastic cheering and applause launched the Giants into an exciting set.

The first three songs were “for people to move around,” as Bruno implored. And the beer-holding Bostonians moved as much as they dared without spilling their precious alcohol. High-powered album tracks “Ah ha” and “Got Nothing” —with their themes of love, loss, and solace—motivated the first sing-along of the night. Danceable grooves and pitch-perfect falsetto evoked sonic visions of color-changing dance floors, disco balls, and polyester, clearly revealing the Giants’ indebtedness to the disco era.

Non-album tracks “Beautiful” and “Daysleeper” followed the opening salvo with a more laid-back groove. While the album is centered on an energetic, Bee Gees-like dance sound, these two songs gave the band a chance to demonstrate some more of those influences in their name. “Beautiful” featured a syncopated groove reminiscent of salsa music and overlaid with a synthesizer riff straight out of the eighties. “Daysleeper” —dedicated to “the lazy folks” —was the most surprising track of the evening with its Zeppelin-esque moments of psychedelia (think “No Quarter” or “When the Levee Breaks”). David Amezcua’s fuzzy bassline and Jamin Wilcox’s slow beats provided the perfect grounding for Bruno’s soaring falsetto vocals and guitarist Drew Stewart’s intense solo work.

At this point in the show, technical difficulties stalled the music but not the energy. The band compensated for any lull in the festivities by breaking out their hit song “Mama’s Room.” They grinned widely as the audience sang along and reveled in this ode to illicit lovemaking.

“Heaven is Full” featured another scalding guitar solo by Stewart, followed by the melancholy “Meaningless Love” in which the band members switched places for a few moments of jamming, showing their versatility as musicians. “Faces” brought the dance power back into the room, belying the song’s dark theme of disillusionment.

The Giants literally closed their set with a scream; Bruno howled into the microphone as Amezcua, Stewart, and Wilcox launched into the song slated to be the Giants’ next single. “In the Clouds” stole the entire show. This buoyant song about getting “high” —on life, love, and success—got the crowd moving and singing. Halfway through, the Giants broke it down to bass groove and drum skins while Bruno exhorted the audience to clap along. They happily obliged and even began to dance; the beers now finished and beginning to take effect.

The band chose not to perform an encore, leaving the audience with only one regret for the evening—we didn’t get enough! Without elaborate lights or stage gimmicks, the Giants made us dance and their uniquely influenced pop songs warmed us up on that cold Boston night.

Boston band The Daily Pravda brought their Bowie-inspired rock to the stage in support of the Giants. Though the small audience was largely unresponsive to the witty stage banter of the band, the band persevered and finally let the music speak for itself: songs like “September,” “Holidays,” and their popular single “She’s So Mature” showcased the band’s self-described “Ziggy Stardust meets American Psycho” sound and earned enthusiastic applause.

Under the Influence of Giants is on tour in the US and Europe throughout February and March. Their debut album, as well as The Daily Pravda’s “She’s So Mature” EP, can be purchased on iTunes.

Under the Influence of Giants on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/thegiants
The Daily Pravda on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/thedailypravda

Review: Join Bloc Party for a ‘Weekend in the City’*

February 12, 2007

By Astrid Richardson

Two years ago, Bloc Party was just another one of those new, hyped up UK bands full of dance-rock energy and post-punk influence. Debut album “Silent Alarm” received glowing reviews, praised for its intense rhythm and jarring yet undeniably catchy guitars and ambition. A standard was thusly set, so expectations for the sophomore album were therefore high. “A Weekend in the City” is, thankfully, not just more of the same. Here, Bloc Party not only more lives up to the ambition hinted at with “Silent Alarm” —they have successfully moved their sound forward, proving to be not just the tasty, indie flavor of the week. In fact, they may just be the next truly big thing.

“A Weekend in the City” is, very loosely, a concept album of sorts. Singer Kele Okereke spells it out in the album’s opening lines: "I am trying to be heroic in an age of modernity…I devour flesh and wine and luxury, but in my heart I am lukewarm, nothing really touches me." If “Silent Alarm” was replete a sense of urgency, “A Weekend in the City” is the feeling of incurable boredom and a need for something more. It tells of the cold isolation and monotony of city life, full of references to sex, drugs, TV, trains, and even vampires. Okereke is much more direct in his lyrics. While it leaves the songs less open to interpretation, it also gives the album an overall sense of unity.

The production is slick, but not overly so. Jacknife Lee splices in electronic blips and voices throughout that give the feeling of walking in the city, or merely flipping through TV channels. Moreover, drummer Matt Tong leaves room for a few electronic beats, and Okereke’s voice is often filtered with some sort of effect. But Lee’s production truly shines in the subtle touches, the small little atmospherics one may overlook on first listen.

Despite the Lee touch, this is not a completely different Bloc Party. "Hunting for Witches" has an almost too familiar riff ("Helicopter," anyone?), but you can’t help but tap your foot along, and by the chorus you’ll surely be dancing. "Waiting for the 7:18" is an average mid-tempo Bloc Party song, akin to “Silent Alarm”’s "This Modern Love." However, the moments where “A Weekend” truly shines are when Bloc Party go above and beyond. "Uniform" is an epic track not quite like anything they’ve done before. "There was a sense of disappointment as we left the mall/all the young people looked the same," Okereke sings, as he goes on to criticize the pseudo-rebellious youth culture. The song continually builds up and even features a big guitar solo, not very characteristic of Russel Lissack, before it ends with the same lines with which it began.

"Where is Home?" is another standout track, starting with only cold vocals over a dark hum. Perhaps the album’s most exhilarating moment is when the guitar finally kicks in after two minutes for a huge chorus. When Okereke asks (with that lovely falsetto), "Where is it? Where is home?," the urgency of “Silent Alarm” is back, but bigger and better. The album’s opening track, "Song for Clay (Disappear Here)," is noteworthy as well, if for nothing else its intriguing backing vocals.

Bloc Party also has wisely chosen the leading singles. "The Prayer" is the first single for the U.K., and it features an addictive, synth-ridden chorus. Perhaps most interesting are the verses, carried by humming under Tong’s almost hip-hop beat, or Lissack’s unexpected Tom Morello arcade style solo. In contrast, the first single for the U.S. is "I Still Remember," which is the album’s brightest song. Though not particularly groundbreaking, it’s nonetheless heartwarming and catchy.

If the album falls short at all, it’s arguably in the slower songs. "Kreuzberg" and "On" are fine, but aren’t as moving as previous ballads like "So Here We Are" and "Tulips." The album’s closer, "SXRT," is not incredibly compelling until the surprisingly (and perhaps overly) bombastic end. "Sunday" is probably the best of the bunch, with the tom-tom heavy drums and a solo The Edge would be proud of. Lyrically “A Weekend” occasionally falls short, but Okereke is able to get his points across.

Overall, “A Weekend in the City” is a step in the right direction. Bloc Party have kept what makes them unique and pushed forward to greater heights, avoiding that dreaded sophomore slump. They’ll surely lose some older, hipster fans with this record due to its gloss, but will doubtlessly gain a larger mainstream audience. This is a band destined for greatness. Why shouldn’t they reach the masses if possible?

For more information on Bloc Party, visit the official website and MySpace page. “A Weekend in the City” was released on February 6, 2007 on Vice Records.

Review: Fall Out Boy’s ‘Infinity on High’*

February 6, 2007

By Dan Hanzus

For Fall Out Boy fans, the initial inspection of “Infinity on High” —the group’s fifth studio album and first since their 2005 multi-platinum breakthrough “From Under the Cork Tree” —will likely produce a huge sigh of relief. Rest easy, Wentzites. The group has not grown beards. They make no public response to the war in Iraq. Their increased production budget did not beget a strings section.

In other words, they haven’t gone off and gotten all damn serious on us. Bassist Pete Wentz is still writing songs about girls, and singer Patrick Stump is still composing and delivering those confessional offerings with all the passion of a crushed teenage boy alone at home on the 14th of February.

This is, of course, a good thing. We Americans have a soft spot for such simplicity in our pop music. There’s nothing wrong with songs about Saturday night. And while Wentz’s public image and the group’s considerable popularity amongst the teen set make FOB a polarizing entity, it should be noted that they may be smarter than they’re given credit for. “Infinity on High” is the sound of a band seizing their moment in the cultural spotlight and running towards it, not away. And while there might not be anything as instantly gratifying as “Dance Dance” or “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down,” there is certainly enough over the 14 tracks and 48 minutes to warrant repeat listens.

Take the first single from “Infinity,” “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arm Race,” a pounding three-and-a-half minute romp that starts out like an old-school R&B jam before thrusting into a chorus that’ll deposit itself in your head. Throw in a Justin Timberlake-inspired call and answer break before the final chorus, and you have yourself a well-earned hit single.

FOB are clearly disciples of the Primitive Radio Gods school of unwieldy song titles, culminating in the album’s highpoint, “I’m Like a Lawyer with the Way I’m Always Trying to Get You Off (Me & You).” Unfortunate moniker aside, “Lawyer” hits on all cylinders with a bouncy verse segueing into a catchy-as-hell chorus. Other album highlights include the high energy “Thanks For The Memories,” charging “The Carpel Tunnel of Love,” and hand-clap sing-along “Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?”

A superfluous drop-in by label mate Jay-Z (“Thriller”), obligatory yawn-inducing ballad (“Golden”), and some softness on the back end keeps “Infinity” earth bound, but by then the album has already proved its worth. This is pop music for the 21st century listener—clean, catchy, and infinitely accessible. And while it can be speculated on whether FOB’s hordes of “TRL” devotees will follow them as they evolve, it’s impossible to deny that they admirably represent their place in time.

For more information on Fall Out Boy, visit the band’s official site or MySpace page. “Infinity on High” was released on Island Records.

Dan Hanzus is a freelance writer based in New York City. He can be reached at dhanzus@gmail.com.