Review: Jet “Shine On” in Boston*

May 23, 2007

By Kimberly Egolf, Editor
2007.05

“Hello Boston!” wailed Nic Cester with characteristic rock ‘n’ roll aplomb as Jet took the stage of Boston’s Avalon Ballroom on Thursday, May 10th.

Hoisting beer-holding fists high into the air, the enthusiastic crowd cheered as Cester strapped on his electric guitar and mounted the massive bank of speakers at stage left. Towering over the crowd, Cester wielded his guitar like a weapon, finally breaking the anticipation with an ear-splitting feedback howl that launched the band into their set. A five-song opening salvo seamlessly blended rock anthems from both of the band’s albums, while also showcasing Jet’s musical pedigree.

The single “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” displayed the band’s ability to sing four-part harmony, as well as singer Nic Cester’s stunning capacity to produce visceral rock ‘n’ roll howls from deep within himself – howls which would only become more intense throughout the rest of the evening.

Not to be outdone by his brother, drummer Chris Cester assumed lead vocal duties on the song “Holiday.” Masked in aviator sunglasses, hair blowing wildly in the invisible breeze from a hidden fan, the drummer belted out the rebellious anthem with the conviction of a preacher exorcising demons. Together with Mark Wilson on bass, the two rattled the walls of the Avalon as the elated crowd roared along with every word.


(Jet photo: Kimberly Egolf)

A crowd surfer tried to ride the waves of this enthusiasm during “Take It or Leave It” but was quickly dropped when the band mysteriously left the stage, letting the roaring of the crowd replace their gut-rattling music. The mysterious disappearance was quickly resolved, however, when Nic Cester reappeared cradling an acoustic guitar. After a quick tune-up, he quietly began strumming the opening chords of the bittersweet ballad “Move On.” Chris Cester again featured on vocals as the brothers performed an intimate rendition of the song. Guitarist Cameron Muncey’s perfectly understated electric guitar work and bassist Mark Wilson’s scathing harmonica solo subtly complemented the emotional performance.


( Chris Cester photo: Kimberly Egolf)

After an audience sing-along during “Look What You’ve Done,” it was back to the hard rockin’ with the song that made the band an international sensation in 2003. Grinning widely, Wilson savored his biggest moment of the evening as he thumped out the distinctive bassline of “Are You Gonna Be My Girl.” The audience sang along word for word until Nic Cester stopped the song cold, letting the crowd’s anticipation build to a fever pitch before howling out the question on everybody’s lips: “Well I said…. Are you gonna be my girl?” The answering cheer from the audience almost brought down the house.

Blasting through four more tunes, the band wrapped up the main set with an all-out jam on “Get Me Outta Here.” The screams and howls, the loud music, and Nic Cester’s impromptu trip to the bar in the middle of “Cold Hard Bitch” all declared – if you hadn’t already felt the rattling in your bones – that Jet were putting on a proper old-school rock ‘n’ roll show.

Even earlier, that show began when New York band The Virgins opened this rock ‘n’ roll evening clad in ratty t-shirts and ripped jeans. The band played a short but impressive set of songs from their forthcoming debut EP. Their music showed an impressive array of influences: the song “Rich Girls” (available for download on the band’s MySpace site) featured a laid back, funk groove; “One Week of Danger” held traces of classic T-Rex; and “Radio Christiane” was reminiscent of slower tracks from bands like The Libertines and Razorlight. Yet these influences blended together well to produce an intriguing and unique sound – one that merits further attention by critics and fans alike. With a little more support and exposure, this band just might be the long-awaited American answer to the recent British invasion of post-punk guitar bands.

As the evening drew to a close, Jet played a three-song encore, headed by a solo Nic Cester singing “Shine On” in tribute to his deceased father. As the band took a humble bow, clapping for the audience and showering them with swag from the stage, faint strains of the Carly Simon classic “Nobody Does It Better” could be heard emanating from the speakers. Though often criticized as formulaic and repetitive, there’s no denying that Jet have found a formula that works. Delivering great rock tunes and shows, Jet has consistently provided the public an alternative to overproduced pop songs and emo power ballads. Their popular second album and the current tour show that Jet is here to stay. In the band’s own words: “How they gonna stop us now?”

For more information about Jet, visit http://www.jettheband.com/
For more information about The Virgins, visit http://www.myspace.com/thevirginsnyc

Review: We’re Wide Awake, It’s Evening: Bright Eyes Brings Its Noise to Nashville*

May 22, 2007

By Andy Smith, Editor
2007.05

The healing power of the Bright Eyes “Cassadaga” tour descended on the Nashville venue known to old-timers as “the mother church” last Saturday night for an almost four-hour, triple-bill feast supported by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings along with Oakley Hall.

On his second visit to the Ryman, with a humorous and humbled accolade, singer Conor Oberst echoed many performers who have previously graced this stage. Instead of being entirely reverent, he suggested he felt like he was still “waiting to get thrown out the back door.” When support act and intoxicating singer Gillian Welch spoke of the room, her sincerity rang to the rafters. She must have known in her heart that the venue had a vision its own, operating as an additional member of the band. And really, the fact that an alt-country goddess and all around folkin’ force like Welch would be the “opening act” only testifies to the growing respect that Bright Eyes has earned from peers across the genres.

Having arrived late at the love-it or hate-it Bright Eyes party, I didn’t have to spend eons enduring all the backlash against Oberst’s notoriety as a whining emo-Dylan. (For the record, I was introduced to Bright Eyes by the “Coachella” DVD and its amazing version of “Lua.”)

But anti-Conor is real, a chilly cult of chatter bent on castigating a media image—attacking an alleged more-indie-than-thou persona and once popular perception that his was a voice-like-fingers-on-the-chalkboard. But for those who champion him and his songs, it matters not whether it sounds like he’s channeling Dylan or John Lennon or even a little bit of the Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano—because he’s always channeling the genius that is Conor whether its an infusion of folk or rock or alt-country or punk or all-and-none-of-the-above and all-at-once.

Clearly an icon of an internet-tamed-and-tainted era where fashions become fetishes and figures like this become virtual statues for critics to take potshots at until the mystique starts to tumble down, the mature and magical Conor Oberst can now let that legacy roll off him like water and claim his place in the pantheon of great songwriters without apology. Once known as a boywonder, Oberst now boasts a mature repertoire that is magnetically and musically diverse. Does this make those that always loved him finally feel some sweet vindication?


(Photo credit: Ben Hailey)

Bright Eyes filled Saturday’s show with invigorating interpretations of many tremble-inducing tracks from the new record and highlights from “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” and “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn.” A premiere poet-lyricist in a league all his own, Oberst offered lines and stanzas as pure and sturdy as food, as life’s social currency.

“Four Winds” captures the religious intolerance and apocalyptic ruminations of our historical moment:

Your class, your caste, your country, sect, your name or your tribe
There’s people always dying trying to keep them alive
There’s bodies decomposing in containers tonight
In an abandoned building where
Squatters made a mural of a Mexican girl
With fifteen cans of spray paint and a chemical swirl
She’s standing in the ashes at the end of the world
Four winds blowing through her hair

But when great Satan’s gone… the Whore of Babylon…
She just can’t sustain the pressure where it’s placed

Then, when introducing the dance-in-the-aisles-of-church hymn called “Soul Singer in A Session Band,” Oberst offered a serious gesture to all the aspiring Nashville cultural workers in attendance, saying that keeping their day-jobs and doing paid-by-the-gig stuff on the weekends was like “Picasso painting houses.”

With funky fiddle riffs and a memorable melody, this epic evokes the idea of an instant classic and contains some of my favorite lines in recent rock, including:

I had a lengthy discussion about The Power of Myth
With a post-modern author who didn’t exist
In this fictitious world all reality twists
I was a hopeless romantic now I’m just turning tricks

Or

His room is on fire since he painted it red
There are a stranger’s silk sequins at the foot of the bed
He has been to weddings and funerals but he still never wept
Now sorrow is pleasure when you want it instead

So, what is Cassadaga? Allegedly, it’s an actual place, a town filled with psychics that Conor Oberst visited, and on the current album and tour, Cassadaga visits us. Many fans at the show also collected bizarre, photocopied tracts that it appears Conor himself had made.

A parody of religious propaganda, and somehow sincere in itself, the piece boasted its purpose: “The Spiritual Telegraph: A Brief Tract dedicated to the Revelation of Nature’s Divine Mystery, a Discourse presented to you by the BRIGHT EYES SPIRITUALIST LYCEUM—Est. 1909, Cassadaga, Florida; Rev. Conrad Oberman, Founder.”

The swirling and religiously-tinted “Cassadaga” creates a crown of musical light in the listener’s mind. To some, such stuff will always sound corny and pretentious, but to others it becomes more terrifying and perfect the more one listens. On tour, it’s a traveling medicine show and rock revival that puts its spiritualist spell on any crowd that gathers in the theater the night of the show.

“We’re all hippies now,” chirped Conor Oberst in his fancy white suit. In fact, all of the dozen or maybe more onstage wore white. And they were surrounded by flowers and showered in video projections—with swirling colors or images of a giant etch-a-sketch or of a giant ouija board behind. The impressive touring band included Bright Eyes’ core members, two female drummers, a string section, and so much more.

Outside in the Music City, gangs of unsupervised yet obviously “saved” folk roamed the neon streets. A loud and contemporary Christian music festival had taken over downtown. From the Ryman stage, Oberst half-seriously wondered why Bright Eyes had not been invited to play there, and then, launched into an impeccable (better than the album) version of “I Believe in Symmetry.”

Getting to the show, we saw gaggles of obedient people with a common mother and matching outfits strolling up Second Avenue. Christians everywhere, but up the street at the bars on Broadway, drunken women in low-cut shirts and drunken men in cowboy hats danced sinfully to cover songs. At that point, it would be hard for the sensitive observer to not feel trapped in one of the more surreal scenes in Robert Altman’s landmark film that bears the name of our fine city.


(Photo credit: Ben Hailey)

Then, before Bright Eyes, we got with Gillian Welch’s haunting and heavenly pipes proudly laying down lyrics about wild love and whiskey or Jesus and Elvis. Yes, the lovely May day gave way to a calm and cool May night. And then, it was hard not to imagine that all of us were inside a strip of celluloid in the cosmic mind on the downtown strip where the lyrics, the power, and the spirited stage presence of Bright Eyes were eternal. But then, in the last song of my wide-awake evening, with Welch and Rawlings by his side, Oberst reminded us that “what was normal in the evening by the morning seems insane.”

For more information on Bright Eyes, visit
http://www.saddle-creek.com/cassadaga, or to learn more about Gillian Welch, visit http://www.gillianwelch.com/ . "Cassadaga" was released by Saddle Creek on April 10.

Review: The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree: Words from the Heart*

May 16, 2007


By Jennifer B. Kaufman
2007.05

U2 fans are not your typical rock and roll fans. Sure, they buy the CDs and go to the concerts, but being a U2 fan is so much more than that. U2 fans are motivated. They are inspired to open their minds, learn new things, and get involved in causes bigger than themselves. However, they are also inspired to use own creativity. This is evident in a slim, yet powerful book of poetry and short stories called “The Little Red Book of Poet-ee-tree: Words from the Heart.”

“The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree” is a volume containing heartfelt prose by a collection of U2 fans throughout the globe. Their love of U2’s music and the written word lead these fans to “The Heart.” The Heart was an Internet poetry forum where writers cultivated their writing skills, shared their work with others, and got their creative juices flowing. Sadly, it shut down in 2003, but fortunately for the Heart community, U2 fans, and lovers of good writing, the works created for the Heart are not lost forever. They are compiled into “The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree.”

All royalties of “The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree” go to the African Well Fund, a charity founded in 2002 by a group of U2 fans to provide a clean water sources to many African communities. In the past five years, the African Well Fund has built and supplied clean water and sanitation projects in Uganda, Angola and Zimbabwe. “The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree” is just one part of the African Well Fund’s comprehensive vision to help others.

The poets published in “The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree” write about love and loss, heartbreak and joy. They write with clear-eyed optimism and downcast despair. These poems take us on a journey of both the writers’ hearts and souls, and our individual interpretations to their work. Some poems a mere few lines, whereas others nearly tell a story.

Jennifer’s startling “Modern Day Warfare” uses the frightening images of “mustard-gas lies” and “biological-warfare thoughts,” along with “rat-ta-tat fists” to chillingly describe abuse both emotional and physical.

Kel, in the poem “Africa” describes the continent as a living, breathing human female, inhaling “her warm earthy air.” This poem puts a very personal face on one’s personal journey throughout the African landscape.

Mrs. F. conveys the love a mother has for her children in the poem “Earth and Angels.” Phrases like “He darts in dizzy zig zags…Listens wide-eyed, hoots at the owl” and “Head filled with fairies and music…She skips and sings” give us an intimate look at the special qualities that make our sons and daughters so special to us.

All the poems, whether short or lengthy, are very strong, and open to many interpretations. I don’t know how these poets came to their words. Sometimes a poem just comes to someone and easily flows out onto paper. Sometimes constructing a poem is like throwing a bunch of words into the air, and then constructing a poem using the scattered words. However the poems came to be in this book, they came through what Allen Ginsberg once called, “ordinary magic.”

Several short stories are also collected in “The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree.” When writing a short story, writers also face challenges. Writers need to grab the reader and tell a complete story in a short amount of words. And these stories have to be engaging, draw the reader in, and achieve a believable conclusion without seeming to be tacked on in haste.

This is expertly done in Laurie CK’s “Pennycake.” In this story, carefree memories of a 1970’s childhood are recalled with its birthday rituals and lazy summer days. The brief mentions of Noxzema, Keith Partridge, and 8-Track tapes give the reader a strong idea of a certain place in time. This story also evokes what it is like to be a child facing real life unexpected grief and a subsequent loss of faith.

The one quibble I do have with this book (and it is a minor one) is the limited amount of writers. I don’t know if this is because only a few writers were accepted or only a few writers chose to submit their work. This could also be because the Heart was a small group to begin with. If this book is successful, I’d like to suggest a sequel.

“The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree” is published by Lulu, and edited by Mrs. Fields. To learn more about the book, you can visit http://www.myspace.com/littleredbookofpoeeetree. To learn more about the African Well Fund, please visit http://www.africanwellfund.org.

Review: The Cosmic Choir Kicks In: Polyphonic Spree Previews New Album in Nashville*

May 10, 2007


By Andy Smith, Contributing Editor
2007.05

While a live show is often a magical experience, many bands never match the sheer musical precision and lasting presence of their recorded works. But with the Texas cult-like miracle that is the Polyphonic Spree, the CDs simply pale in comparison to the real thing. In fact, comparing the digital replica to this Dionysian reality is dangerous. Fans of musical theater would never expect that original cast recording to compare to the stage show, and the same logic applies here.

This past Monday, the Spree launched a mini-tour to build up some buzz before the release of “Fragile Army,” coming this June. Nashville’s City Hall was the venue for this early Monday night show—although Nashville’s Centennial Park on a Sunday afternoon might have been more cosmically conducive to the small but enthusiastic flock of fans with their mock Spree uniforms, with their bubbles and bindis.

The Polyphonic Spree is so much more than the “choral symphonic rock” moniker suggests. Of course, we love the multiple drummers, the drama queen keyboards, the flute and fiddle, the trumpet and trombone, the harp and French horn. But the combined creative impact transcends merely massive instrumentation to invoke the immanence of joy—and a surreal and serene kind of candy corn it is at that. Imagine the Partridge Family at Burning Man; imagine your band camp experience on acid; imagine your church choir director chugging cough syrup. Rather like the bastard grandchild of the traveling pop gospel group Up with People hosting a Human Be-In at the megaplex, the Spree sprays pixie dust on the dour decadence of our age.

In front of a giant white banner inscribed with the simple message “Hope,” the military brigade of beauty and healing took the stage with staggering, cinematic strength.
Nothing this sonic happening conjures is small. The wondrous and wizardly lead singer and band conductor Tim DeLaughter requires that everything is operatic and over-the-top, raising his arms on the wave of the first synth and keyboard strains like Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips teaching a hundred school children to sing “Where The Streets Have No Name.”


(Photo courtesy of Hal Samples/halsamples.com)

Speculating about the sudden lack of color in this freshly-dressed family reunion, we need not worry that the Polyphonics have lost their polychromatic feel. Even dressed in black, the shiny happy people that brought us lines like “Hey now it’s the sun/and it makes me shine” have not lost their musical alternative to anti-depressants. Ingesting the Spree cures most mood disorders, although those allergic to such sincere and grandiose gestures may wish to stay away. To some the Polyphonic Spree will inevitably come off as a Pollyanna spritz for sick society beyond repair.

Clearly, DeLaughter can balance any hints of a Christ complex with the sheer sincerity and selflessness of the whole show. Really, an old-school rock three-piece doesn’t need to worry about how to fit everyone inside one tour bus or even how to pay them when the gate receipts are small. The massive Spree cannot come together on its vibes alone. To call the Polyphonic Spree a labor of love may be overstating the obvious, but when we consider the ridiculous logistics of the endeavor, it really feels quite astonishing and heart-felt.

This theater arts ensemble clearly rehearsed for the grand opening of the fragile revolution. Most bands expect glitches the first night out almost as a rite-of-passage, and few acts have as much to coordinate as these folks do. But from the first note to the last refrain—which DeLaughter wailed from atop a step ladder, looking out at the crowd like a Jesus who had just fed the five thousand—this intricate happening happened in all its hopeful splendor without slipping on any bananas or butchering any hymns.


(Photo courtesy of Hal Samples/halsamples.com)

Let’s admit it. Some of us from Generations X, Y, and Z have spent most of our lives being told we should have been roaming the Haight-Ashbury district in 1967 or dancing naked at Woodstock instead of being conceived there. Now we don’t need to wonder what those Summers of Love were really all about. We just need our Polyphonic Spree.

http://www.thepolyphonicspree.com