Review: Snow Patrol Brings Victory Lap to New York*

March 28, 2007


By Carrie Alison, Editor
2007.03

Currently one of the biggest bands in the world, Snow Patrol is often pelted with the assertion that they have no balls, by cynics and taste-making music bloggers alike.

Why does being lyrically abstract, or a drug-addict, or Canadian or bookish with a side-swept haircut and funny glasses make a band more edgy, ballsy and relevant over another? On the contrary, Snow Patrol does have balls, and here’s why: they make perfectly lovely, fuzzy, spacey rock music for any occasion, and vocalist Gary Lightbody’s beautifully resonant pitch always goes down smooth, in an age where style is praised over substance. (The Horrors, anyone?)

No doubt on a victory lap since the stratospheric catapult they experienced with the inclusion of “Chasing Cars” on the season two finale of “Grey’s Anatomy” last May, Glasgow’s sensitive road warriors brought along help this time on Monday night with two buzz bands: California’s Silversun Pickups, and video band extraordinaire OK Go.

The former band, which can crudely be described in short form as a “baby Smashing Pumpkins” on every level, and led by the charmingly charismatic Brian Aubert, could have easily drowned on the Theatre at Madison Square Garden’s stage. Their relative, and arguable, inexperience and lack of stardom could have eaten them whole and spat them out. What transpired was a delightful set full of delicious album cuts like “Rusted Wheel” and current radio and video hit single, “Lazy Eye.” This is a band to root for.

OK Go, on the other hand, is not new to attention and fame, although they were new to the Theatre, as lead singer Damian Kulash, pointed out, before beseeching the crowd to “do the wave” in celebration. Fresh off winning the Best Short Form Music Video Grammy for "Here It Goes Again," famously featuring choreographed, synchronized treadmill tomfoolery that begat a YouTube sensation, there was a question as to whether or not the band could rock without a camera pointed at them. The quartet fired back in the affirmative, gamely bringing its hyper hybrid of ZZ Top meets late-career Lenny Kravitz meets Fountains of Wayne to a grateful audience. Choice cuts included the aforementioned video hit, “A Good Idea at the Time,” new single “Do What You Want” and “Get Over It.”

Having seen the “Eyes Open” tour three times now, I couldn’t think of anything else Snow Patrol could dazzle me with, any other tricks they could pull out of their adroit, well-traveled, well-oiled hats. I didn’t anticipate the visual power of their newly-acquired curtain of lights, or the genuine sweetness of a guest singer in place of absent songbird Martha Wainwright, currently recording her new album in Canada. Lightbody paid loving tribute to Wainwright by calling her “the greatest female singer of our time.”

Ushering the evening with a playful “Spitting Games” punctuated by glittering red lights, plowing through a convincing “It’s Beginning to Get to Me” and a heartwarming “Chocolate,” it occurred to me that a lyric in the latter song might be the reason for Snow Patrol’s detractors, other than the absence of a cellist, or whatever the other six members of Arcade Fire play: “On my knees I think clearer.” Surely the ladies love that, and love to think guys mean something like that, but those who prefer more obtuse sentiments might balk.


(Photo credit: JCP for Interference.com)

A surprisingly mellow, but nonetheless crowd-pleasing “How to be Dead,” and a gentle “Grazed Knees” gave way to Lightbody’s trademark comedic banter. Shortly before “Chasing Cars,” Lightbody noticed a girl with a sign in the audience that indicated she had flown from Glasgow and was now “skint,” or, rather, broke. The affable singer wasn’t sure what the girl wanted, but offered to have a “parade of girls” onto the stage, with bassist Paul Wilson and guitarist Nathan Connolly naked for effect.

Our sign-wielding lass would appear two songs later for “Set the Fire to the Third Bar.” Her name was Emma, and, apparently had, in Lightbody’s gleeful estimation, “the best voice of the tour.” He then related, wincingly, a story about a recent go at the torridly sexy ballad in New Jersey with a female fan that didn’t know the words to the song, and didn’t care to look at them, or him.


(Photo credit: JCP for Interference.com)

It was the grand performance of another “Grey’s Anatomy” co-opt, the tumultuous ballad “Make This Go on Forever,” that made me wish that the Patrol would release this as the last single from the album instead of “Open Your Eyes.” “Run” predictably lit the room up with its heart-wrenching tone. Looking around I noticed audience members in tears, arms aloft; you had to wonder what they were going through, what they were reliving or surviving in their heads to the song.

Nearing the show’s end, “You’re All I Have” sealed it for me, however, as I came to a realization: Snow Patrol has balls because of their innate, utterly genuine, exquisite ability to touch the heart, the soul and the psyche without being cloying, derivative, or afraid to admit that like the rest of us, they too are unlucky in love, not always nice, or sober, or for that matter, right.

For more information on Silversun Pickups, OK Go and Snow Patrol, please visit the following links:

http://www.silversunpickups.com
http://www.okgo.net
http://www.snowpatrol.com

Review: Cold War Kids, Tokyo Police Club and Delta Spirit Storm Nashville*

March 26, 2007

By Andy Smith, Contributing Editor
2007.03

The touring collective that combines the Cold War Kids, Tokyo Police Club and Delta Spirit is a torrid indie-rock trifecta. After breathing and being at this shakedown of a show, fans and band members alike may need triage.

While each group apparently has its own van and the collaborative is not traveling in a schoolbus-cum-biodiesel-circus caravan (though the latter would be entirely appropriate), the vigorous crew has the spirit of a carnival-esque blues brotherhood and an old-school road show.

Combining one Canadian anti-rock ensemble with two rootsy California crews that sound nothing like California, the soul train started its engine in early March with shows in Minnesota and Wisconsin and will conclude with three sold-out nights at New York’s Bowery Ballroom in early April. (To catch the band’s own dispatches, Delta Spirit lead singer Matt Vasquez is bloggin’ it on MySpace, and the Cold War Kids have great picture albums on their homepage.) Fresh from SXSW and shows in Florida and Georgia, the whole enchilada rolled into “Nash Vegas” for a Saturday night show.

After Delta Spirit’s stellar, gritty Americana-laced warm-up set, the recklessly communal aroma of this unwieldy and wondrous thing congealed in perfect imperfection when Tokyo Police Club took the stage. First, TPC lead singer Dave Monks announced that the band’s drummer was sick and wouldn’t appear and to prepare ourselves for something special. What followed was a reckless treat in spontaneous seduction, and they rip through their EP at a ridiculous clip (it’s under 17 minutes long). Unlike the electric minimalism of TPC’s recorded works, we instead witnessed an acoustic jam session that included members of Delta Spirit and Cold War Kids coming and going from the stage like air being inhaled and exhaled by God.


(Nathan Willett of Cold War Kids/Photo credit: Landin King)

Of course, this beloved chaos could have been a Crash Worship show in the 1990s or an evangelical tent revival in our very own Tennessee backwoods and actually was a little of both. In any event, the otherworldly and playful insanity delighted everyone in attendance, properly preparing the stage for the religiously awesome headliners who provided yet another version of this multi-band superjam during the riveting “Saint John”—a scary song about a man on death row—when all three bands took to the stage, wailed and walloped and stood atop chairs and piano benches, and banged trashcan lids and other found-object percussion instruments, during the middle of the headliner set.

A relatively new band with only one full-length CD called “Robbers and Cowards” to date, Cold War Kids have benefited from a beautiful blogospheric hype and an almost immediate backlash of anti-hype. But street buzz and pompous buzzkill alike couldn’t quell the enthusiastic throng of late teens and twenty-somethings that crowded around the stage. And unlike some shows where you wonder whether the alleged “fan base” actually listens to the record or knows any of the songs, a quick perusal of the pleased faces demonstrated without refute that these people had memorized all the songs and were mouthing along like the devoted choir rock fandom should be.


(Members of all three bands perform “Saint John”/Photo credit: Landin King)

A band with roots in religion (much has been said about the group’s meeting at a Christian college), the songs are all about raw, unmitigated sin and redemption. The addictive refrains don’t reflect the lead singer himself but a limber and literate lyricist who culls characters from the brink of wild wanderings and drunken destruction and brings them into the light of his tenacious yet forgiving vocal vision. Singer Nathan Willett’s archetypal everyman works the dayshift, has a family, gets wasted on Saturday, and tosses coins into the collection plate on Sunday. He’s been to war and to jail and testifies to the hell of humanity’s own folly. As good as this kind of reckoning is on a record, its torrential old-timey sonics are tailored to take on tour.

So, get with it, then! That’s what we did as the sound took us to the irrevocable melody and irresistible chorus, when music itself became the heaven inside the hell that helps us survive the day-to-day. Face-all-scrunched-up in an almost orgasmic expression, Willett hunched over his keyboard confessional, pouring out the communion wine with his power whine. With each piece a kind of moral catharsis complete with lyrical blood-letting, the audience becomes the priest, as if Willett just whispered these stanzas into our ears in private. This is nailed by this lyric from “Tell Me in the Morning”:

I confess to self deception
pull the lock and pry it open
they’re pretending to be stolen
I am my own thief in the night

Without doubt, Cold War Kids produce primal and revelatory music that makes rock possible again, a new kind of badass, working-class white boy mystique that furthers much of the pure spirit injected directly into the underground by the likes of Jack White.

After so much sweaty jangle and swaggering jubilation, the band’s blistering stage presence is matched only by the fan’s admiration and affirmation. To satisfy the more dedicated, after the show, members of all the bands held court at the merchandise table.

Smoking American Spirits and speaking with focus and passion, Willett told me that he would only do this as long as his “intentions stayed sincere.” For Willett, starting the band was a surprise detour from a career as a high school English teacher, and he spoke with the sense that he’d one day return to that gig as his ultimate calling after rock music ran its course in his life. But magical stage presence, perspiring live delivery, and plain command of the song suggest that the Cold War Kids might have a real long time to go doing this rock and roll thing.


(Willett of Cold War Kids/ Photo credit: Landin King)

May I testify that all the blushing blogger hype only approximates the authentic article but is spot-on in spirit? And may the anti-hypers of the post-hipsterati find another band to bash. This is something too interesting and inspiring in itself. “The joy and misery,” Willett reminds us in “Hospital Beds.” “Bring the buckets by the dozens/ bring your nieces and your cousins/ come put out the fire on us,” he preaches with melody. And of course, his is a fire that a hurricane couldn’t put out.

For more information on Delta Spirit, Tokyo Police Club and Cold War Kids, please visit the following sites:

http://www.deltaspirit.net
http://tokyopoliceclub.net
http://www.coldwarkids.com

Book Review: ‘Dying to be Famous: A Pop Culture Murder Mystery’*

March 14, 2007


By Matt Anderson
2007.03

“Dying to be Famous” is a murder mystery that musters all the tension of a Scooby-Doo caper.

Murder on the Dancefloor

The plot is simple. During the early rounds of “Star Maker” (an obvious parody of “American Idol”) the most promising candidate is found dead in his room, drugged and asphyxiated. Was it the pizza delivery boy? Was it one of the other talentless hacks competing to become America’s next throwaway sensation? Was it that egotistical lead judge with a British accent? Or was it some random third party contrivance?

Well, Jim McNamara, gumshoe to the stars, reluctantly flies to Los Angeles all the way from the East Coast to crack the case.

McNamara’s a loaded deck of eccentricities and clichés. He’s a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, he doesn’t own a cell phone and— gasp!—he hates “Star Maker.”

Author David Hiltbrand tells this wannabe sordid tale in first person and his lead character, McNamara, acknowledges he’s no Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot; he’s a former music industry talent scout turned private eye.

At least he’s honest. Since Hiltbrand is fond of constantly throwing pop culture references to his readers, here’s one right back: Lacking the intrigue of an Agatha Christie mystery or the controversy of a Dan Brown conspiracy, Hiltbrand’s latest has all the urgency and the shelf life of a novelization of a made-for-the-USA Network movie.

Here’s another: Perhaps Hiltbrand was shooting for something along the lines of Gregory Mcdonald’s hip journalist-sleuth, Fletch. But he misses that target by several miles.

Who Did It? Who Cares?

“Dying to be Famous” is a mystery/parody that doesn’t strive to rise above its shallow source of inspiration in order to give itself some appearance of authority; instead, it’s content to wallow in the superficial muck.

Those who hate “American Idol” will quickly grow tired of the novel’s lightweight shenanigans and fans of “American Idol” will likely be turned off in the early going as they come to realize they’re the butt of many jokes.

What’s worse, though, is the utter lack of suspense. There’s no real sense that any other contestant might be in danger; indeed, not a single threat is made toward any other contestant following the murder of the top contender, Matt Hanes.

Up until the fairly ludicrous conclusion, it never feels like McNamara is in any particular danger. And the rather sloppy and rushed denouement makes one think even Hiltbrand was tired of the situation he created.

Blood on the Carpet

At best, “Dying to be Famous” is a way to kill a couple hours, pun intended; it’s most suitable for a coast-to-coast flight or an afternoon on the beach, or maybe even to bide time while stranded during a blizzard.

But consider all other options first.

Hiltbrand’s bio boasts that his “years as a journalist reporting on music pop culture have given him inside perspective on celebrity culture” and he’s “interviewed everyone from Paul McCartney to Metallica’s James Hetfield” (whatever that might mean). Hiltbrand has written for New York Daily News and such shallow symbols of American pop culture as People, TV Guide, and—yikes!—“All My Children.”

That sounds rather impressive, but Hiltbrand turns right around and during the course of “Dying to be Famous” slams another pop publication, USA Today. Careful there, Hoss. There’s irony in somebody writing for People then taking pot shots at “McPaper.” It’s kind of like that clichéd analogy of the ol’ pot calling the ol’ kettle black.

As it stands, all that experience has become nothing more than an excuse to make pop culture references left and right, dropping names such as Donald Trump, Papa Roach, U2, Phil Jackson, and so many others with reckless abandon.

In fairness, Hiltbrand can put words together. But the end result of this modern-day version of the throwaway dime novel is not compelling in any way.

Rating: 1.5/4

“Dying to be Famous: A Pop Culture Murder Mystery” was published in December 2006 by Harper.

Franti Tells Sweet Little Lies and the Jacket Jacks It: Langerado Day Two*

March 11, 2007


By Andy Smith, Contributing Editor
2007.03

Tell me that the rain won’t fall today
Tell me that the tax man lost his way (oh, oh)
Tell me that the hurtin ain’t gonna hurt no more
Tell me that somebody stopped the war (please tell me)

—Michael Franti, “Sweet Little Lies”

Michael Franti, lead singer of Spearhead, whispered his sweet “Lies” into my ears and pumped many other tracks from the tremendous and relevant “Yell Fire.” An album released in the middle of 2006 and being supported with a tour that will last most of 2007, Franti has come a long way from the Beatnigs and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.

Even though it’s steamy hot down here in Sunrise, nobody is complaining about the sunny weather. “I’ve been freezing my ass off all winter,” Franti admitted in the Saturday press conference. “I’d never been to a festival until I played at one,” confessed JJ Grey, lead singer of Mofro.

Franti agreed, “The first festival I played at was in Germany and called the Lorelei. More interesting and influential though was when I was 12 years old, and I went to see the Commodores. My friend’s Mom had to take us. So there was Mrs. Wizner, she had grey hair. And there was pimp standing next to us dancing, and at one point, he leaned over to Mrs. Wizner and handed her a joint. I remember Lionel Richie coming out from underneath the stage with a white piano singing ‘Once, twice, three times a lady,’ and I was hooked. Someday I would have a white piano, but the closest I ever got was a big afro.”

At what’s being called the unofficial opening to an entire festival season, Franti followed his heart to talk about the hardest places and somehow make it all better. Just past sunset, Franti provided us a private show, as up close and personal as you can get with fifteen thousand of our best friends.

At the end of the Spearhead show, I had to high tail it to the main stage. The Saturday headliner for the whole pineapple of peace and strummed up strawberry lightshow was the Louisville, Kentucky heirs to rock, also known as My Morning Jacket.


(Jim James of My Morning Jacket. Photo credit: Jonathan Marx Photography/jonathanmarxprophoto.com)

To put this in perspective, Saturday night mainstage was the slot that Radiohead held at Bonnaroo and is an enviable and venerated spot, one that even Trey Anastasio and Widespread Panic (the Friday and Sunday headliners respectively) could not steal. With the foresty backlit ambience and a hyper happy Jim James, Carl Broemel, Two Tone Tommy, Patrick Hallahan, and Bo Koster took the place apart. All morning at the merch tent, people who had never ever heard them were demanding CDs like “Z” and “Okonokos.” The Jacket jacked it. Move over plantations, retirees, Disney and Dolphins, and the whole tourist industry; apparently, the band owns Florida now. Allegedly, this was the last show until a new studio album, and the group went out in superb style.


(Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket. Photo credit: Jonathan Marx Photography/jonathanmarxprophoto.com)

I started to scrawl the set list in my journal, but I lost the book. Then I lost my mind. The Jacket can do that to you if you’re not careful. The first song I heard was “One Big Holiday,” an apt summation of what the festival means for the “knew” nation of twenty-something wanderers who can’t seem to ever get enough of the music, the tours, the shows.

Thanks to some other attendees, though, I have some choice notes on the Jacket. On Friday (which seems like two years ago now), Melissa and I compared our intended itineraries, which inevitably led us to talk Jacket.

Melissa: “My Morning Jacket—you’ve never seen a guy rock so hard. And that lead singer is delicious.”
Me: “His name is Jim James.”
Melissa: “Jim James is delicious.”

Today at the media tent, I met a writer who recited to me from the scribbles in her notebook. So, Sara Kiesler from DeLand, Florida jabbers about the Jacket:

“All day I was trying to decide between Bisco and MMJ. After dancing my ass off to Soulive, Yerba Buena, Mofro, and Blackalicious, I was really looking forward to something to chill to. That’s what I was expecting coming into the Jacket.

But what I got was this textured rock band, reggae band, groove band, and the best performers I have seen since Umphrey’s McGee at the Canopy Club. You did not see a single person in the crowd not feeling it, dancing, and getting blown away by the sheer talent and energy. Nothing else at this festival even compared.


(Two Tone Tommy and Patrick Hallahan of My Morning Jacket. Photo credit: Jonathan Marx Photography/jonathanmarxprophoto.com)

U2 meets Porno for Pyros meets Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin meets Wilco meets Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips and even a little Violent Femmes.”

Since there’s no pool here and the “No Swimming” signs around the serene water here warn of wild alligators, I decided at dawn to leave for the beach. After an impromptu dawn trip to baptize myself in the Atlantic and meet with a psychic priestess on the beach, I scurried and hurried back to Markham Park to break camp, donate to the food drive, take a shower, meet the photographer with my “phresh” Jacket pictures, find my camera, and get back to the media tent in time for today’s press conference.

As I write, a hard rock band called Pepper are killing it on the mainstage. It’s time to save this shit, power down the ‘puter, and go swallow my last dose of mind food for the weekend. Monday is going to be rough, but it’s been entirely worth the effort to see, be, and feel this love.

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

Langerado Day One Roundup*

March 10, 2007


By Andy Smith, Contributing Editor
2007.03

That the sweet tongued and socially charged soul vibrations of Dubconscious would open the main stage at the 5th Annual Langerado Music Festival makes complete sense. A white reggae band from Athens, Georgia, this crew serenaded the sun-soaked throng of early birds for a stellar start to what’s inevitably going to be a sonically cosmic weekend.

Their infectious and inspired presentation resonates with everything that the post-modern hippy festival has become: a social mash-up and spiritual mix-tape where a complicated pastiche of cultural influences is held down by the singular metronome of love. While gaggles of tank-topped (or topless, in some cases) dervishes began to shake their collective groove thing, the band’s lyrics encapsulated a message of love and unity. Just in case the fans couldn’t figure out that the operative idea here is unconditional compassion, lead singer Adrian Zelski preached between songs that we as Americans need “a new political system” and (referring to the ridiculously over-hyped red state-blue state chasm) that “all this division is bullshit.”

While previously the secret of Woodstock legends, Lollapalooza misfires, and the sweaty rituals of our European kin at places like Glastonbury, the rock festival resurrected itself in epic fashion at the turn-of-the-century. And amazingly, just past all the hoopla about the larger convergences like Coachella and Bonnaroo, a second tier of smaller soirees exist around the bend, and more keep popping up like spring flowers all over the continent. Langerado joins this fresh genre of gigs where the traveling circus that descended from Deadhead culture mutates and percolates in many forms while relying on the central formula of solid, funky sounds that keep the children dancing. Bopping to the global heartbeat, the dusty and dread-headed nomads somehow find their way from show-to-show, with this south-Florida excursion marking the official start to the 2007 season—and oh what a season it promises to be! Other events of this ilk include Wakarusa in Kansas, 10,000 Lakes in Minnesota, and All Good in West Virginia. While on the one hand it appears that the market’s being insanely oversaturated, there apparently exists a huge appetite among young Americans for his kind of counterculture.


(A Langeradian enjoys the scene. Photo credit: Jonathan Marx Photography/jonathanmarxprophoto.com)

Even though most festivals replicate similar logistical scenarios and many contain an overlapping musical roster, the culture has a ravenous craving for something spiritually authentic that does not revolve around Christian fundamentalism. The festival scene provides the Dionysian counterpoint to what the sex-hating and war-loving mainstream looks for on Sunday morning.

Two fans from Philadelphia shared their summary of why this kind of movable feast and family reunion has found such a devoted audience. Heather testified, “Festivals are very important for humanity because they are one of the only experiences that you’ll get where it’s completely peaceful and you don’t have to worry.” Melissa conferred, “I’ve never made more friends than at a festival—good friends. I have friends in almost every single state from festivals.”

These kinds of evangelistic testimonies proliferate with varying degrees of profundity. Because being articulate descends (as the day grows older) as spirit ascends to a non-verbal blisssed-ness, it’s best to catch these kinds of eyewitness clips during the day. Like at the public showers this morning, where hippies young and old gave their versions of the visions they’d experienced the night before, shouting their statements from stall to stall. (And who said we don’t shower anyway?)


(Ben Ellman of Galactic. Photo credit: Jonathan Marx Photography/jonathanmarxprophoto.com)

A forty-something dad named Paul from Indiana had this to say about how the traveling and dancing culture has evolved since the days of the Dead: “It was never about one band. It was never about a band. It’s always been about the music. It’s still about the music. We’re chasing the music.” The longer the wine flows and weed smokes, the people get happier and happier until they stumble back to the tent or pass out in a parking lot turned drum circle after the show. May God protect the people who didn’t score a campsite and have to drive back and forth each day!

Even though I come to this place from the indie rock side of the tracks, my inner hippy was long overdue for some nurturing. Rather than seeing only the specific shows on my earlier sketch of the day, I got swept off my feet by the well known spontaneity that makes a party like this such a high-quality party. Since I found myself in sunny jamland, I decided to do as the jam band kids do. From Dubconscious, I went to Lotus. From Lotus, I went to Tea Leaf Green. From Tea Leaf Green, I went to New Monsoon. Before yesterday, I was not familiar with one of these groups, but horns and keyboards and percussion and guitars and more all blended together into a smoothie sensational musical theater. By this late afternoon point, the beer-drenched and sun-fried body needed a break. I took my tired ass back to the tent for a power nap. Thank the spirits I didn’t sleep past 7:30pm.

My closing set of the day was as symbolic of what the whole fusion that the festival world represents as my first. After catching just a taste of Trey Anastasio (and yummilicious one at that), I took my freshly showered body in its glowing orange evening attire from the Everglades stage to the Swamp Tent where Sound Tribe Sector Nine was still setting up. Having heard the buzz but not the studio albums or live recordings, this was my virgin incarnation at that certain level of intoxication that Friday nights have always inspired.

Who would have known? While I couldn’t escape the feeling that I’d arrived at the party rather late, the STS9 party doesn’t show any signs of stopping soon. This jamtronica dance party creates one of the most addictively energetic and active spaces of spaced out spinning heads imaginable. The fact that soulful, spiritual musical seekers would play techno on laptops only bears witness to the over-the-top amalgam that the music scene has become in the years since 2000. This is where the music goes into your body to take you out of your head. The religious allusions are no accident because dance parties like this are so flipped out and freaking fabulous. It’s where the ethereal becomes carnal to become something indescribably good. While the terms “New Age” and “Age of Aquarius” have been beaten into corny pejoratives, attending the contemporary musical festival can make you a believer in sonic beauty’s unbelievable power. Spirit made flesh in an irrepressible day of dancing, prancing, and trancing.

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

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