So it’s been a busy month-plus, with nary a second to stop and breathe. And even fewer moments to put fingers to paper or whatever it is one does these days. The last gasps of indie-rock tours have sputtered through town and the majority of bands have now *BAMF’d* off to Europe to do the festival circuit. And so begins the summer of the long sleep. But first! Here’s what I got up to before jetting off to Primavera Festival and after recuperating from the jetlag.
The signs were right for the Black Angels at the Commodore Ballroom on May 23. Rad rock n’ roller Hanni El Khatib opened up, legendary punk photographer Bev Davies was in attendance, and I met a psychologically damaged hippy who explained to me that he was PJ Harvey’s muse and that they communicated in dreams. And then the Grade 10 stoner visuals fired up and out they came with “Vikings” for a start.
There is nowt much more fantasy majical than the voice of Alex Maas, and nowt much more epically swooping than pretty much anything off of Passover, Phosphene Dream and even newb Indigo Meadow, all of which were well represented. Of course, I’ll always still elevate “Young Men Dead” and the Phosphene stuff (“Bad Vibrations”, “Haunting at 1300 McKinley” and “Yellow Elevator #2″) to a step higher than most, but Maas’ solo acapella version of “Ronettes” was…shivery. HAIL THEM.
And all hail, these guys – one of my favouritest live bands ever, FOALS. On May 30th again at the Commodore, Foals’ prelude was just that, a “Prelude” from their latest album Holy Fire, thick and smokey before the band segued into a whack of tracks off of excellent new album Holy Fire.“Inhaler”, “Bad Habit”, “Moon” (in the encore), “Milk & Black Spiders”and the dancey “My Number” all made a showing. Older songs “Blue Blood”, “Red Sox Pugie” and “Two Steps, Twice” rollicked, but this was an over-all mellower set.
Still, a mellower Foals set involves Yannis Philippakis prowling the lip of the stage, lunging, and crowd-surfing whilst playing guitar. But my favourite move, noted only by a few audience members, was when Philippakis hopped off stage left, moved past me at the soundboard, to the very back of the large hall, guitar slung over his shoulder, where he gestured to the bar staff for a shot, got one, drank it, strummed a few chords, then made his way back the other way to the stage, and hopped back up. And the audience? Too busy facing forward, certain he was elsewhere. Nice move, Foals…
…who also nicely moved themselves to Fortune Sound Club after their Commodore show, where drummer Jack Bevan and keyboardist Ed Congreave DJ’d a late-night, also lowish-key, set full of chilled house, some Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and a nice remix of their own “Spanish Sahara”.
…Yeah, no idea either.
This is Moon Hooch. Former New York buskers who I’d come to know through my pal Mike Doughty, Moon Hooch are an avant-alt-something-something jazz rock trio made entirely of horns and drums and instruments best described as “probably used by the Whos Down in Whoville.” See above.
Opening for They Might Be Giants on June 11th at the Biltmore, Moon Hooch held their own amidst the TMBG fannerds. Hate saxophones, love the musical sparring. Compelling NYC band; go see.
And it’s been two DECADES since I’ve seen these guys. John Flansburgh from legendary dorks They Might Be Giants was my second-ever interview when I was a kid, and I’ve not seen them since. So you can imagine the excitement at seeing the Johns (Flansburgh and Linnell) in a tiny club.
But what I couldn’t imagine was getting to the club and seeing a huge tourbus, extra security, more gear than a show six times this size, roadies telling me where I couldn’t put my beer, a drum kit on a riser and a back wall of guitars. What is this, Lollapalooza? If I can hang out with Steve Malkmus, Teenage Fanclub and Dean Wareham here with no big deal, why not TMBG? I wasn’t expecting the band to be ushered in and out via a secret back entrance flanked by security, and there’s soomething weird about the guys you always thought were the most down-to-earth being the most diva. Undoubtedly the show was something weird for TMBG, too, as they opened with comments about how physically close we we all were, and how they weren’t used to us being “four feet away”.
Still, it’s impossible for TMBG to put on a bad show, or an unfunny one. Kings of banter, 2-minute long geek songs about Tesla, Mesopotamia and James Knox Polk, accordions and more, Flansburgh and Linnell ran through, erm, 28 tracks including a cover by 90s local cult-heroes Cub (“New York City”).
They threw in a wodge from new album Nanobots (including banter by a voice-altered “Robot Flansburgh), blessed us all with “Birdhouse for Your Soul” and “Ana Ng” and even wandered sidestage where they donned sock puppets (dubbed The Avatars of They), did a comedy shtick and sang a song “You’re Loco.” They are, that.
HONK! HONK! HONK! HONK! BROOKLYN BUZZBAND ALERT! The next-gen punk Strokes (and I mean that in a good way) arrived at the Electric Owl on June 14th, in the form of four dudes called Parquet Courts.
Starting with new track “Bodies”, bodies eventually slammed and tried to surf to their punkin’ rock in the wide but shallow club. Highlights from the Light Up Gold-en setlist included the self-titled track, “Yr No Stoner” and my fave favest “Stoned and Starving.” (You get the drift, as it were.) The band’s ragged, the guitar’s decent, the vocals are dodgy. Parquet Courts are shaggy good fun.
Finally, to round things up, no place like home. And home is nearly where Vancouver is becoming for my Portland pals Unknown Mortal Orchestra who played the Biltmore Cabaret on June 15. It’s the third time I’ve seen them already this year, twice in Vancouver and once in Toronto, and each time they’re unwinding a little bit more, strengthening.
With a set weighted evenly between both albums, and songs wavering between airy/trippy (“Ffunny Friends”, “Thought Ballune” “Opposite of Afternoon” “From the Sun” et al) and thick/heavy (“No Need For a Leader”). A former introspection is now being replaced by an outward need to shred – bassist Jacob Portrait stoner-facedly is the backbone of the trio, while Animal-like drum warrior Riley Geare gives Portrait and singer/guitarist Ruban Neilson a chance to sit on the floor and hang while he nails epic, 70s, Carl Palmer-sized drum solos. Nielson’s guitar just sings.
Fans who’d not seen the band in a while, stood slackjawed impressed. But I always knew they’d had it, and it’s a reward now, gush gush. And so, if you see them, just buy Ruban a bottle of Canadian Club, okay? I learned afterwards, while we all drank together, that that’s his jam.\m/
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